Lady Louisa Stuart: Selections from Her Manuscripts

Author(s): Stuart, Lady Louisa


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NOTE. — The Frontispiece is a Photogravure from a picture
by G. Hayter, now in the possession of Lieut.-Colonel
Clinton of Ashley Clinton, Hants.
LADY LOUISA STUART, the subject of this volume,
was the youngest daughter of John, third Earl of
Bute, Prime Minister at the beginning of the reign
of George III.
She was born 12th August 1757, and died unmarried,
4th August 1851, in her ninety-fourth year.
The youngest of a large family, for she was only four
years old when her eldest sister, Lady Lonsdale,
married, and being of a very uncommon and sensitive
character, and endowed with abilities far above those
of her elder sisters, and in fact of most young ladies
of her time, she found her mother, for whom she
had the deepest affection, far more of a companion
than her sisters, except the one nearest to her in age,
her favourite, Caroline, afterwards Lady Portarlington.
Her father had retired from public life in 1763, when
Lady Louisa was only five years old, and as in doing
so he practically secluded himself from general society
also, this contributed to the solitude of her existence.
All these circumstances, as she herself describes in
her letters in later life, threw her much upon her
own resources, one of them being a habit of composition
both in prose and verse that began at a very
early age. Though she went through the usual phase
of a young lady of her position, that of going out
into London society with her mother, she never seems
to have taken much interest in it. Much of the year
was, in fact, spent at her father's place, Luton, in Bedfordshire,
and also at Highcliffe, a villa that he built
for himself near Christchurch in Hampshire. Her
father died in 1792, and after the death of her
mother in 1794 Lady Louisa settled in a house in
Gloucester Place, which continued to be her residence
till her death. The quiet and retired habits of her
youth continued through her long life. Little as she
appeared in the London world, she had that power
of attracting the notice and affection of women who,
like herself, were of character and ability above the
common, which is a sure proof of goodness of heart and
superiority of mind; thus she gradually became the
centre of a select circle of intimate friends, an intimacy
that lasted till death removed them one by
one from her. Few, however, of these friends were
allowed to know of her literary efforts. From her
own sisters the secret was most carefully kept. Her
great friend from early youth, Lady Emily Kerr, afterwards
Macleod, was one of the few to whom it was
confided. Many of the papers were destroyed by
herself shortly before her death; a certain number
remain, and those who are acquainted with them have
thought that a time might come when a selection
of the best might be made known to the world; her
own strong shrinking from publicity being one of
the chief reasons for hesitation about this. When
Lady Louisa was urged by her nephew Dr. Corbet
to contribute an introduction or some notes to the
Life of her grandmother, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
she was very unwilling to agree, owing to an old and
strong prejudice against appearing in print — a prejudice
that she retained through life; for in her
early days it was considered a loss of caste for a
woman of good position in society to write for publication.
She yielded at last to Dr. Corbet's request,
partly in order to do him a kindness, and partly to
please her relation Lord Wharncliffe, the editor of
the book. The result of her consent was that admirable
chapter of 'Introductory Anecdotes,' that
is sufficiently well known. This is the sole specimen
of her writing that has hitherto been published. One
of her objections to appearing in print — a fear that
her peace of mind might be disturbed by the criticisms
of the press — is obviously at an end now. It is hoped
that her other scruples may also be fairly considered
as applying only to her own lifetime, and that after a
lapse of nearly fifty years since her death there can
be no valid objection to publishing more of her compositions.
Her share in Lord Wharncliffe's book has
already given such proof of her abilities that it seems
to be only doing justice to herself and to the public to
take a fitting opportunity of confirming that reputation.
With this object the present volume is issued.
The 'Introductory Anecdotes' above mentioned are
so well known and so easy of access that it seems
unnecessary to reprint them here.
The account of John Duke of Argyll and his family,
which is placed first in this volume, has already been
twice privately printed: first in a small volume by
itself in 1863, and secondly in 1889, incorporated in
the Introduction to the Journal of that Lady Mary
Coke of whom Lady Louisa gives such an amusing
description in the Argyll Memoir. There are two
copies of this Memoir in Lady Louisa's autograph:
one in the possession of Lord Home, the other belonging
to Colonel Clinton of Ashley Clinton; they
differ only in unimportant verbal details.
The Notes to the tales of the Fairies' Frolic
and the Diamond Robe, which come next in order, are
printed by the kind permission of Mrs. Clark of Tal--
y-garn, Glamorganshire, the inheritor of the greater
portion of Lady Louisa's MSS. through her great-aunt,
Lady Anna Maria Dawson, niece of Lady Louisa,
daughter of her sister Lady Portarlington. The
metrical tales themselves will be found in the Appendix.
They have been placed there as their merit is
considered not to be equal to their prose Introductions
— a question that readers may decide for themselves.
Lady Louisa's correspondence with Sir Walter Scott
comes last in the volume. That part of it which has
already been included in Lockhart's Life of Scott and
in the Familiar Letters is not reprinted here. The
most interesting of those letters not hitherto published
are now given from the originals at Abbotsford, and the
editor takes this opportunity of thanking Mrs. Maxwell
Scott for her generous permission. Sir Walter's
high opinion of Lady Louisa is sufficiently evident
from Lockhart's Life. She was one of the few to
whom he intrusted the secret of the Waverley Novels.
He first made her acquaintance at Bothwell Castle
through their common friendship with one of the
greatest friends of both, Frances Lady Douglas.
A memoir of Lady Louisa, under the title of
Gleanings from an Old Portfolio, containing a large
number of her letters, has lately been admirably
edited, and issued privately by Mrs. Clark of Tal--
y-garn. The letters contained in it are chiefly to
her sister Lady Portarlington. A great number of
Lady Louisa's letters still remain in MS. It is proposed
before long to submit to the public a selection
of these letters beginning from the date of
Lady Portarlington's death, at which date Mrs.
Clark's book closes. J. A. H.
Jany. 30, 1899.
'THE following Memoir was written by Lady Louisa
'Stuart, daughter of the Earl of Bute, Minister of
'George III., for the purpose of giving to Caroline Lucy
'Lady Scott, an account of her great grandfather John,
'Duke of Argyll and of his family. Lady Scott was
'descended from the Duke, through her mother (Lady
'Louisa's very dear friend), Lady Frances Scott, second
'wife of Archibald Douglas of Douglas, created Baron
'Lady Frances Scott was sister of Henry, Duke of
'Buccleuch, and posthumous daughter of Francis, Earl of
'Dalkeith, by his wife Lady Caroline Campbell, eldest
'daughter of John, Duke of Argyll and Greenwich. Lady
'Dalkeith married secondly the Right Honble Charles
'Townshend, who died Chancellor of the Exchequer.
'She was created Baroness Greenwich, with remainder to
'the issue male of her second marriage; but, a daughter
'only by Mr. Townshend surviving her, the title became
'extinct at her death.'
Extract from the Preface to the privately printed
edition of 1863.
JAMES, Earl of Bute, my grandfather, married Lady
Anne Campbell, the sister of his two chief friends,
John, Duke of Argyll, and Archibald, Earl of Islay;
and, dying early, appointed them guardians of his
children. My father, who went to Eton school at
seven years old, returned no more to Scotland till
almost a man; but passed his holidays at the home
of one of his uncles, most frequently at that of the
Duke, with whose daughters he was therefore bred up
as a brother.
The early history of the Duke and Duchess, a very
singular one, was often told me by my mother, who,
besides the fragments of it that general report and
family tradition could furnish, had gathered its minutest
details from two of their contemporary friends —
Lady Suffolk (concerning whom see Lord Orford) and
Mrs. Kingdon, a remarkable person, still living in my
mother's days, and at past ninety years old retaining
all her faculties, although thought 'a little ancient,' 1
according to Swift, when maid of honour to Queen
Mrs. Warburton — respectable young ladies were not
yet styled Misses — Mrs. Jane Warburton, a country
gentleman's daughter, of an old Cheshire family, 2 was
maid of honour at the same time. By what means or
interest she became so, I never could understand; for,
though well born, in a herald's sense of the words, her
education had not fitted her for a stately, elegant
court. Accustomed as we have now so long been to
the quick general communication which throws the
whole kingdom together, it is very difficult to carry
our ideas back a century or more, to the period when
there were no stage-coaches, no post-horses, no turnpike-roads,
and when, in the distant counties, men
made their wills before they undertook a journey to
London. The habits of the town and country were
then, of course, much more distinct from each other.
Mrs. Warburton, raw from Cheshire, brought with her
a coarseness of language and manners which we should
hardly expect to find in the dairymaid of her father's
1 'Colonel Disney said of Jenny Kingdon, the maid of honour, who
is a little ancient, that the Queen should give her a brevet to act as a
married woman.' — Swift's Journal to Stella. See Journal of Lady Mary
Coke, 24th June 1767.
2 Her father was Thomas Warburton, Esq., son of Sir George
Warburton of Winnington, Cheshire. Her mother was Anne, daughter
and co-heir of Sir Robert Williams, third Baronet of Penrhyn, whose
youngest daughter, Gwen, was the 'sister Yonge' mentioned in the
letter given in the note on the next page, second wife of Sir William
Yonge, third Baronet of Culleton, Devon. — ED.
equal at present. 1 Unluckily, she had few personal
charms to make amends for the rusticity, ignorance,
1 The following specimen of the literary powers of her mother was
found among the Duke of Buccleuch's papers:—
Addressed —
'To the Honble. Mrs. Warburton,
Maide of Honer to her Royal Highnesse the Princesse.'
Sept. 5th, 1715.
'DEAR CHILDE, — I hope you have recd the 100 Bill wch Mr.
Williams drew on his Brother. I did endorse it, & my sister Yonge
sed she wod putt it up safe for you in her Box yt was Lockt. The
silver Decanter which yr Father gave you is but an ugly thing. I think
it weighs 39 oz. & tis charg'd alt 7s. an ounce, so yt there wod be
great losse in parting with it. Therefore yr Father gives you 20£ in
money, wch you must pay yrself. Perhaps at present the money will
be most usefull, but hereafter, when you have more of yr own, 'twill be
as well to make a show of your Father's guift in a piece of plate. I
have been writeing this post to Sir Walter Yonge about the Pattens for
Chamberlaine,* wch Mr. Justice Cumberbatch has been much too
bussy in, & has been writeing up to know if the King can't grant yt
pattent. If there shod be any discourse of it, 'tis fitt it shod be known
'tis his doings merely for the profitt that accrews to him, for Mr.
Warburton never spoke nor once thought of such a thing; and, to be
sure, the officers yt belong to the prince will represent it as it deserves,
if such a thing be done; & Mr. Warburton will not medle with it, but
as the prince has gratiously granted it to him.
Yr Brother Hugh's fine horse I hope is come to him, but it & the
Master will be very unfitt for travel into Scotland. I trust in God there
will be no occasion. Wt good can these poor raw men do? There
will be occasion for another horse if he goes out of England, but I think
not otherways. If Hugh be not oblidg'd to buy everything of yr Rob
Riches draper, 'tis best to oblidge Mr. Simson, who indeed I think has
us'd us well. Remember the pattern for the cornish of the bed — 4 lb.
of good fresh coffee. I don't forget yr cheese; it will go next week. I
wod not be att the parting, yet I am convinc'd deare Hugh does wt becomes
a man & a Christian to putt too his helping hand for this service.
If my seven sons were liveing, I shod not think it too much for them all
to fight in this cause. Deare childe, write some comfortable news if you
can. — I am, yr most affectionate Mother, A. WARBURTON.'
— ED.
* i.e. The Chamberlainship of Carnarvonshire, Merioneth, and Anglesey. See
'Townshend Papers,' Hist. M.S. Commission, p. 341. — ED.
and want of breeding that soon rendered her the standing
jest of her companions in office. The honourable
sisterhood then subsisting were as fond of spitefully
teasing each other as their predecessors, celebrated by
Count Hamilton, or their successors in Queen Charlotte's
train; so what a life poor Jenny Warburton
led amongst them, ever blundering, getting into scrapes,
and blurting out vulgar expressions, may easily be
imagined. One of her bright sayings remains upon
record. The removals of the court (while there was a
court) from palace to palace were superintended by a
state-officer called the Harbinger. As the ladies consulted
together about their packages, on a rumour of
the Queen's going suddenly to Windsor, 'Well! for
my part,' said Jenny, 'I shan't trouble myself — must
not the Scavenger take care of us maids of honour?'
This was her situation, when John, Duke of Argyll,
arrived from the Continent with all his blushing
honours thick upon him, and a military reputation
inferior to Marlborough's alone. Trained under King
William, who gave him a Dutch regiment before he
was seventeen, he had passed his life either in the
field or in transacting the public business of Scotland,
and mingled with London society rarely, only in the
intervals between his campaigns. By this means he
was a sight, an object of curiosity, to many of the
company at a crowded drawing-room on the Queen's
birthday, where he made his appearance newly invested
with the Garter, the admired hero of the hour. Lady
Mary Wortley says that women see men with their
ears. He might have gained by being so seen; but
he had likewise everything to attract and charm the
eye — personal beauty, an expressive countenance, a
commanding air, and the most easy, engaging gracefulness
of manner. My mother, who was unborn at
the time, and could not have known him till five-and--
twenty years after it, described him as, even then, one
of the finest-looking men she ever beheld, as well as
the most pleasing; and Lady Betty Mackenzie used
to affirm that my brother Charles 1 (of whose beauty
you have heard the fame) was his very picture.
Thus much premised, you will not wonder that he
should have been the chief subject of conversation at
a dinner which the Duke of Shrewsbury, Lord Chamberlain
of the Household, gave to the maids of honour,
according to the usage of Queen Anne's days, upon
her birthday. The cloth being removed, and the
ladies' toasts called for, while all the rest named old
bishops or generals, the men farthest from their
thoughts, honest Mrs. Warburton went straight to the
man uppermost in hers, and fairly toasted the Duke of
Argyll. Her colleagues set up a shout of laughter. —
'Oh, ho! He was her favourite, was he? Truly she
had taken care not to choose too humbly: they wished
be did but know his valuable conquest; no doubt he
would be amazingly flattered — perhaps made rather too
vain!' And thus the raillery, or, as we moderns term
it, the quizzing, went on, till the victim fell a-crying,
1 General Sir Charles Stuart, K.B. — a distinguished general, father
of the late Lord Stuart de Rothesay. — ED.
and the master of the house was forced to interpose
and make peace. At night, when everybody met again
at the ball, the Duke of Shrewsbury said to Argyll,
who stood near him, 'My Lord, you little think what
mischief you have occasioned to-day. A poor young
lady has been shedding bitter tears on your account.'
Upon my account! How so?' Shrewsbury told him
what had passed. 'Oh, poor thing!' exclaimed he;
it was very hard upon her, indeed. I have a great
mind to go and talk to her, by way of avenging her
cause. Which is she? Introduce me.' And the
quizzers, to their astonishment, and, as Mrs. Kingdon
acknowledged, their no small mortification, saw him
devote himself to Jenny Warburton for the remainder
of the evening. Possibly what they threw out in scorn
came nearer the truth than they suspected. No man
can help being a little flattered by the sincere, involuntary
preference of almost any young woman; and
he might secretly imagine that the impulse of such a
preference had thrown the innocent girl off her guard.
Be this as it might, one conversation gave birth to
others; these led to visits. The visits grew frequent,
grew daily; and in a short time his attachment to her
became notorious, and was as passionate as extraordinary.

The wonder of it, however, lay principally in her
want of beauty. Her other deficiencies were not
calculated to disgust a man of very peculiar opinions,
whose shining abilities and loftiness of mind did not
prevent his harbouring the most illiberal contempt
of women. At Athens of yore, it is said, all reputable
matrons and virgins were nonentities, shut up within
four walls to pursue their domestic labours unheard
of and unseen; while knowledge, accomplishments,
vivacity, everything that can render society agreeable,
belonged exclusively to the courtesans. Now the
Duke of Argyll thought this just as it should be, or
rather as it necessarily must be, and actually was.
He had been married very young to a rich citizen,
whom he hated: 1 they parted quickly, and the little
acquaintance he could be said to have had with women
since was confined to the followers of a camp; or,
if a few foreign ladies came in his way, you may be
sure he passed upon them the same general sentence
as Captain Winterbottom, 2 in the Mirror; for where
inveterate prejudice reigns paramount, the highest
mind will judge like the lowest. In a word, he
believed scarcely any woman truly virtuous; but held
it certain that none could be so who had the slightest
share of mental endowments, natural or acquired.
And though Jenny Warburton was quite free from
these impediments to chastity, yet, trusting to the
inherent frailty of the sex and the liberty allowed
a maid of honour, he at first concluded that she would
fall his easy prey. But when on the contrary she
1 Mary, daughter of Thomas Browne, whose wife, Ursula Duncombe,
was sister and heiress of Sir Charles Duncombe of Helmsley, Lord
Mayor of London. The Duchess's brother, Thomas Duncombe, was
grandfather of the first Lord Feversham. — ED.
2 'Roman ladies? Ay, they are papists; and they are all —.'
Mirror, No. 97.
proved absolutely immovable, not to be tempted by
promises, or presents, or magnificent offers, nor yet
to be worked upon by all the arts and powers of
captivation, which he could not but know he eminently
possessed, his admiration exceeded even his surprise.
He remained convinced that he had found the pearl
of price, the most virtuous woman, if not the only
one in the world; all the while never doubting that
this heroic resistance cost her dear, and was the fruit
of many a painful struggle with secret love.
Here his own ardent imagination, aided by his
vanity, led him into a trifling mistake. Virtuous, the
good simple soul really was, and from principle steadily
observing those plain precepts which her limited capacity
permitted her to comprehend; but in the present
instance it cost her no struggle at all. Virtue had
neither a warm constitution, nor a tender heart to
contend with; and as for romantic love, its torments,
raptures, conflicts, illusions, perplexities — nothing in
Sir Isaac Newton's works could have been less intelligible
to a mind like Jenny's. She positively would
not, for all his Grace was worth (and so she told him),
be — that thing, whose proper name it did not
abhor her, as it did poor Desdemona, to speak very
distinctly. But she had no delicacy to be wounded
by the affronting proposal; nor did she see in it any
reason for keeping him at a greater distance than
before, since she felt herself in no danger; and it
was not forbidden by the Ten Commandments, nor
in any part of the Bible, to let a man, whether handsome
or ugly, sit by one's fireside an hour or two every
morning. Their intercourse, therefore, continued undiminished;
continued so for years. And what was
remarkable, but a proof that the world can sometimes
be just, it raised no scandalous reports to her prejudice:
the town, the court, nay, the sister maids of
honour — watchful spies upon all that passed — bore
witness to its perfect innocence, and pronounced her
character unimpeachable.
On the death of Queen Anne, Jenny would in all
probability have travelled back to her father's seat in
Cheshire, with or without a small pension, if the Whig
leaders whom that event brought into power had not
whispered to each other, 'We must provide for Mrs.
Warburton, that we may secure the Duke of Argyll.'
Consequently her name stood foremost in the list of
ladies appointed maids of honour to the new Princess
of Wales (Queen Caroline), who no sooner arrived in
England herself, and began to study the carte du pays
— the relations of things and persons here — than she
also took care to treat the object of his Grace's regard
with particular attention.
But in less than two years after the Queen, died the
Duchess of Argyll, his separated wife, who had long
been a languishing invalid, hopeless of recovery. A
fever of gossiping instantly ran through the court.
What would happen? Would the Duke verily and
indeed marry Jenny Warburton? or would he now
come to his senses, make her his best bow, and seek
out a more advantageous match elsewhere? — for he
was held to be rather too fond of money, and Jenny
had not twenty-pence portion. When Queen Caroline
heard the news, the feeling of one woman for another
made her say to Lady Suffolk (then Mrs. Howard),
'How I pity that poor Warburton! Her agitation
must be cruel; and she must so dread appearing in
public, where everybody will be whispering, every eye
watching her looks! Go and tell her I excuse her
from attendance; she need not wait to-day, 1 nor indeed
till all this tattle has subsided.' Mrs. Howard hastened
with the good-natured message; but instead of relieving
the person pitied, whom she found sitting, stitching
with the greatest composure, it only made her stare.
Not wait to-day! Why must not I wait? What 's
the matter? Is the Princess angry with me? Have
I done anything?' 'Done! Bless us, no! My dear
Mrs. Warburton, it is her Royal Highness's kind consideration
for you. She concludes you cannot like to
wait; she is afraid of your being distressed.' 'Dear! I
always like waiting exceedingly, and I a'n't in distress;
who told her I was?' 'Oh! she is sure it must overpower
you; you will never be able to stand it.' 'Not
able to stand! Why, does she think me sick? Pray
tell her I am as well as ever I was in my life, and
perfectly able to stand: it's the oddest fancy to have
come into her head!' And back went Mrs. Howard,
laughing, to make the Princess quite easy about the
agitations and sensibilities of poor Warburton.
1 The maids of honour then lived in the palace, and there was a sort
of drawing-room every day.
Not so cool was the other party concerned. He
flew to her with ardour, wanted to omit the form
of mourning for a woman with whom he had long
ceased to think himself connected, and urged her to
let their hands be joined without delay. This she
peremptorily refused, though, as it appeared, rather
from a whimsical kind of superstition than any sentimental
nicety: 'No, indeed; she would never marry
a man who had a wife above ground — not she.' And
all his arguments and entreaties being answered only
with the same words, repeated over and over again,
he was forced to relinquish his design. In six months'
time, 1 when the decent ceremonial had been observed,
and the first wife might be presumed quite safe in her
grave, their union took place.
Marriage, you know, is held an eminent breaker
of spells, and Time another. Yet, palpably bewitched
as the Duke of Argyll was, neither could accomplish
his disenchantment. To say he proved an excellent
husband would be speaking poorly: he remained
throughout life a faithful, doating, adoring lover.
My mother told me she had often seen him stop on
entering the room, stand a moment or two gazing at
the Duchess as at the loveliest object on earth, then
come forward and clasp her fondly to his bosom.
Upon which she never failed to look round and cry,
1 The peerage books make the first Duchess die in January 1716,
and the Duke marry again in June 1717. But both events happened in
1717. Before the New Style began, the year was held to commence
in March.
Do you see, you young folks? On such a day we
shall have been married so many years: will your
husbands' love last as long, think ye?' Human affections
are so wayward, that his love perhaps lasted
the longer for the comfortable indifference with which
it was repaid — an indifference, however, which she
could not help. She loved him as much as she had
the faculty of loving anything, and Dido or Eloisa
could have done no more. His infatuation did literally
equal what philtres and sorcery were believed to produce
of old; since, over and above the charm of transcendent
virtue, she certainly had that of beauty in
his eyes, although in no other person's. My mother
one day downright affronted him by happening to
observe that a picture of her just brought home was
very like. 'Like?' repeated he hastily; 'no, not like
at all: how can anybody think it so? It does not
do her justice in any respect. But step this way, my
dear, and I will show you another sort of likeness'
— taking out of his pocket a beautiful miniature without
the least resemblance (that she could discern) to
her Grace. Much embarrassed, she began to praise
the painting. 'Yes' — said he, as to himself, not
minding her — 'this is my Jane.'
This uncommon passion stood the test of what in
many cases has poisoned matrimonial comfort — of a
disappointment too apt to put men unreasonably out
of humour with their wives. Without undervaluing
women as much as he did, it was natural that the head
of so great a family should long for a son; and he
longed most inordinately; while, as if to tantalise him,
daughter perversely followed daughter, to the number
of five (one dying a child); and his hopes, often renewed,
regularly ended in fresh mortification — not the
less bitter because Lord Islay was his presumptive heir.
The brothers frequently disagreed about politics, and
usually about everything else; at some times were on
a foot of intimacy, at others not upon speaking terms.
I have heard my father say, that when he was a boy
under their joint direction, he could remember occasions
where (non-intercourse chancing to prevail) all
arrangements respecting him were to be made by letter.
At best, there was that direct fundamental difference
in their natures, which will rarely allow the nearest and
even the kindest relations to be partial sympathising
friends. The one was, properly speaking, a hero; the
other, altogether a man of this world. The Duke
thought Lord Islay undignified and time-serving; Lord
Islay thought the Duke wrong-headed and romantic.
Yet both were assuredly superior men. John had
genius, with all the lights and shades thereunto appertaining;
Archibald strong clear sense, sound judgment,
and thorough knowledge of mankind. John, a soldier
from his cradle, was warm-hearted, frank, honourable,
magnanimous, but fiery-tempered, rash, ambitious,
haughty, impatient of contradiction; Archibald, bred
a lawyer, was cool, shrewd, penetrating, argumentative
— an able man of business, and a wary, if not crafty,
politician. 'I wanted to discuss such an affair with my
brother,' he would say, 'but all went wrong. I saw the
Tollemache 1 blood beginning to rise, so I e'en quitted
the field.'
To resume the parallel. John took pleasure in wit,
poetry, and the belles-lettres; Archibald in philosophical
experiments, mechanics, natural history, and
what had no name and little existence in his days, but
is now called Political Economy. He planted your
neighbour Hunt's garden for Sir Harry Bellenden, and
made a place for himself (Whitton) out of a piece of
Hounslow Heath, on purpose to try what shrubs and
trees he could bring the barrenest soil to bear. The
Duke of Argyll had a kind of court round him, consisting
of a few sensible party-men, not a few Scotch
dependants, a set of dull old officers who had served
under his command, and a whole tribe of Campbell--
cousins. Amongst these was the very handsome, very
stupid, Colonel Jack Campbell, in future himself Duke
of Argyll, and grandfather of the present family. Lord
Islay's humble companions were the ingenious men who
assisted him in his scientific pursuits, or those whose
inventions he patronised. Conversing as he did with
all manner of people, yet still keeping his proper place
in the best and highest society, the younger brother
could not well be supposed to share the elder's prejudice
against intelligent women. He saw women (and men
too) just as they were, had no toleration for fools of
either sex, and felt a supreme contempt for his sister--
1 Their mother, a lady of very high spirit, was a Tollemache, daughter
of the Duchess of Lauderdale (Countess of Dysart in her own right) by
her first husband Sir Lionel Tollemache.
in-law, who, in return, hated him cordially and delighted
in pecking at his friends or picking up nonsensical
stories about his amours. Whenever she deplored her
ill-fortune in bringing the Duke no male heir, the burthen
of the lament was sure to be — 'Ay! the estate will
go to my Lord Islay, and he will give it all to his —.'
If I say his mistresses and his natural children, you will
think me sufficiently plain-spoken: the terms she used
belonged to much more primitive English; for having
been so long the companion of a man whose polished
language was almost proverbial had not in the least
improved her diction. It is true that he never dreamed
of correcting it: his beloved Jane's vulgarity passed for
uprightness and simplicity with him, and who else
might reprehend the Duchess of Argyll?
Her female court, the wives of the cousins and retainers,
were of course more obsequious to her than she
had ever been to Queen Caroline or Queen Anne. And
what homage was paid her by her own Cheshire relations
we may conjecture from the reverential style of
her very mother, in those letters found among Lady
Greenwich's papers.
I do not deny that the good lady seems to have been
formed by nature for an old nurse; yet I question
whether Eton 1 would have fallen quite so prostrate
before you if you had married a Duke of the blood--
royal. It is, or it was, an etiquette with Princes
(possibly brought from Germany), that in formally
addressing the Sovereign, his collateral relations should
1 A nurse. — ED.
alter the term of kindred, if it implied superiority.
For example, when Princess Amelia wrote to our late
king, her nephew, she subscribed herself 'his Majesty's
most dutiful niece.' Old Mrs. Warburton ought to
have adopted this form, and remained 'her Grace's
most dutiful daughter'; for so completely does the
poor woman's mind quail beneath the awful idea of a
Duchess that she can scarcely find words to express her
grateful sense of the honour conferred upon her when
the dear young ladies' (her own grandchildren) are
sent to pay her a visit in the country.
With regard to the acquaintances her Grace made
in the world at large, where everybody must make
some, they could hardly help having manners more
genteel than her own; but as there are always to be
found goodies and gossips of very high quality, they
were pretty much upon a par with her otherwise, and,
like herself, guiltless of any affinity to that proscribed
class, 'your clever women,' whom her Lord's maxims
authorised her to esteem for the most part no better
than they should be. Gladly did she bar her doors
against all such cattle — one person excepted, who by his
express mandate had constant admittance, free egress
and regress, and even no small share of authority.
This was Lady Suffolk, whose judgment he valued so
highly as to insist upon her being consulted in all cases
which he felt his Jane incompetent to decide.
I asked my mother how such a respect for Lady
Suffolk's understanding could be reconciled to his contemptuous
opinion of the sex? 'Oh! easily enough,'
replied she; 'you may be confident he thought she had
once been George the Second's mistress; therefore had
purchased her superiority at the established price,
and was an instance to confirm his system instead
of defeating it.'
It did nevertheless undergo something like a defeat in
the latter part of his life, after he had finally broken with
Sir Robert Walpole and joined the Tories against the
court. Opposition, you may observe, is almost always
a much more sociable body than the partisans of Government.
The part of attacking raises people's spirits, gives
them the spring of a vigorous courser on rising ground,
makes them all hope and animation. Ministers have
a load of care on their shoulders; they are to do the
business as well as to talk about it; they are a little
teased and perplexed by their enemies, and a vast deal
more by their friends; they give formal dinners, as in
duty bound, and rejoice when the task is performed.
Not to mention that, having the solid loaves and
fishes to distribute, it is natural they should neglect
using lesser means of attraction. In the meanwhile
their adherents, all and each out of humour about
something or other, as well as fully occupied with their
own schemes and pretensions, are far better disposed
to sit still and grumble than to make any lively
exertions in support of the common cause. Opposition,
on the contrary, who have only the easy task of
finding fault, and as yet no bones of contention among
themselves, are gay and disentangled, ready to engage
in rounds of dinners and suppers, festive meetings,
pleasant parties, and all sorts of amusements. It is no
slight object with them to render their side of the
question the most fashionable. Making their houses
agreeable operates as a measure of policy, keeps their
troops together, and gains fresh recruits, especially
amongst the rising young men of promising talents.
The ladies whom this brings into play, pleased to be
of use and consequence, fall to work with their whole
souls in behalf of the party their husbands, or lovers,
or friends belong to; and though subject to spoil
matters by their violence, yet sometimes succeed in
managing them by their address.
The Duke of Argyll, now forced to bear his part in
such a bustling scene, saw more of the real world and
lived more in mixed company than he had ever done
before; and thus unavoidably became acquainted with
several women of fashion — women of exemplary lives
and unspotted reputation — whom, to his great surprise,
he found remarkably conversable and well-informed.
He acknowledged to the other men having hitherto
disbelieved that any character of the kind could exist;
and he owned, with candour, that the discovery raised
serious doubts whether his former notions of the sex
had had a just foundation. Let me tell you, the frank
avowal of these doubts was the proof of a great mind;
since an ordinary one, equally under the dominion of
prejudice, is ever precisely the horse in the proverb,
whom one man may bring to the water, but twenty
cannot make him drink. Forcing open my eyes, and
inducing me to examine the objects placed before them,
are quite different things; nor need we go far to light
on persons who, supposing them to have the same given
prepossessions as the Duke, combated by the same facts,
would solve the difficulty by resolving to believe that
the ladies in question secretly favoured their footmen,
and, settling the matter thus, cling to their own
opinion as tenaciously as before.
In the Duke's case, conviction or wisdom came too
late, as she mostly does. All his daughters, except
Lady Mary, were grown up; his lot was cast, his
career nearly closed; his home circle past all chance
of improvement. My mother said it was absolutely
grievous and provoking to behold the society (if
society it could be called) of that house; the spirit of
dulness predominating; the toad-eaters, the prosers,
the chatterboxes, the old housewives, and housekeepers
surrounding a man not only so eminent, but so peculiarly
agreeable, who, with a tone and manner that
would have made nonsense pleasing, had such a variety
of interesting conversation. But those that (like herself)
were capable of tasting it, seldom got leave to
enjoy it for five minutes in peace. Either his Jane
came up and took the words out of his mouth without
ceremony, or else the clack of her tea-table arose, and
some tale of scandal, or history of a game at quadrille,
or dissertation about buying dishclouts drowned his
harmonious voice, and drove him to take refuge in a
corner with one of his political or military followers.
Amongst other gifts, he told a story admirably, with
particular energy and terseness, and, conscious of excelling,
did not dislike to find a willing hearer. Alas!
three times out of four, no sooner had he begun than
the Duchess's shrill pipe struck in: 'No, no; it was not
so'; 'No, now, my lord, you don't tell that right; let
me.' Upon which, moving quietly off, he fell into
his usual way of walking up and down the room, with
his head bent and his hands behind him (a habit which
was also my father's), till she had hammered and
stammered out as much of the matter as she could
recollect; then, turning round with a placid smile, he
would say, 'There, Jane has told it you.'
Notwithstanding many similar instances of complaisance,
you must not think he was a man governed by
his wife. No one could be more master at home, where
his decrees, once issued, were the nod of Jupiter, allowing
no resistance, nor, indeed, meeting with any; for a
sense of duty disposed her to obey; and although she
had the obstinacy of a fool in the petty concerns that
she viewed as her own province, yet it is but fair to say
that she was quite free from any taint of the cunning
which often attends weak understandings. Therefore,
she never sought to sway him by cajoling or artifice.
Plain truth and downright honesty were the principal
features of her character; she always trod a straight
path, and always meant to take the right one. In a
word, she was a good woman, to the utmost of her
knowledge and power. On these valuable (or rather
invaluable) qualities he used to declare that his strong
affection for her was grounded, and who can call such
a basis insufficient?
He would, however, as soon have consulted her cat
as herself upon any point of importance. When graver
subjects demanded consideration, the wife, the woman,
was to keep her due distance, and not presume to
intermeddle. But then grave subjects and important
points are so few, light and unimportant so many,
and these latter start up so continually in the course
of every common current working-day, that the party
to whom they are carelessly (but constantly) yielded
creeps on acquiring, crumb by crumb, a wonderful
portion of something which, if not actual dominion,
does just as well. Nor is this the least apt to happen
where she has been held at the outset too utterly insignificant
to alarm the pride of imperial man with a
suspicion that it was in the nature of things she should
ever prove the conqueror. Could a wren possibly
possess some glimmering of human intellect, it would
have a far better chance of influencing us than a whole--
reasoning elephant, or one of Swift's Houyhnhnms who,
coming with the wisdom of Solomon, would find us
all set in battle array to oppose him. The Duchess
was her husband's darling little bird, whom he loved
to indulge, dreaded to hurt, and could not have the
heart to handle roughly. In addition to this tender
feeling, allowances were to be made for the weakness
of the sex, and its whimsies and waywardness; and it
was idle to argue with women, and women must have
their own foolish way. And thus it ended in her
having hers pretty generally in all ordinary daily proceedings,
which were all she cared for.
On the head of money — that frequent cause of dissension
between husband and wife — they did not differ
very widely, both being of saving tempers. Not that I
was by any means taught to suppose him the 'miser'
he is represented by Lord Orford — ever caustic, and
especially bitter against him as the opponent of his
father. My authorities pictured him as strictly just,
habitually regular and careful, maybe somewhat too
careful, in his expenses, but never mean; very capable
of generous actions, and when he gave, giving nobly.
His table, his equipage, his whole establishment, were
as handsome as possible, and as well suited to his rank
and fortune. In the lesser domestic details, which he
knew nothing of, and she managed as she pleased,
Jenny Warburton's head would sometimes peep out
over the Duchess's robes. Yet she was charitable
to the poor, and on the whole rather narrow than
covetous, only retaining here and there fragments of
those early habits of frugality which, in her maiden
state, had been both necessary and laudable. After
his death she remembered with reverence the grandeur
of his notions; and, though still occasionally disturbed
about twopence-halfpenny, was desirous that in the
main her arrangements should be such as became the
Duke of Argyll's widow.
You are sensible how often things, seemingly of no
moment at all, come, in some unforeseen manner, or at
some distance of time, to bear strongly on others of
the greatest, and it is amusing to detect the concealed
chain of circumstances by which this is brought to
pass. But we need not trace the course and effects of
her Grace's influence through any intricate mazes: it
went directly to one point — in most people's opinion,
sufficiently material. The daughters, being daughters
of the useless, mischievous sex — their birth a calamity,
themselves an incumbrance — were unfortunately classed
amongst the trifles left to her sole superintendence,
their father interfering only with a negative, so curious
and characteristic that it would be a pity to pass it
over unnoticed. He forbade them learning French
because 'one language was enough for a woman to talk
in'; and the Duchess, who did not know a word of it,
had not the least mind to dispute the position. As
what they should be taught was a question wholly
beneath his attention, and as she was convinced by her
own experience and example, ready at hand to refer to,
that most other branches of education were equally
needless with foreign tongues, the young ladies learned
writing and accompts from the steward, and needlework
from a governess very little superior to the
housekeeper. 'For after all,' reasoned their mother,
if you had a pack of girls, if you were so unlucky,
what upon earth could you do with them but find
husbands to take them off your hands?' Well, then,
she knew nothing of this, and she never was taught
that; and, pray, had not she married? Ay, and
married the Duke of Argyll! No wonder she thought
the argument conclusive. Her grudge against them
for not being boys (which was yet greater than
his), together with the natural indifference of her
temper, prevented her concerning herself about them,
while children, further than to ascertain that they were
safe and well; and she could rest satisfied without
constant ocular demonstration of that, seldom suffering
them to come and disturb the dogs and cats who
occupied her drawing-room, plagued the company
at dinner, 1 and engrossed all the fondness she had to
bestow. Lady Caroline, the eldest daughter, dined
below stairs on a Sunday; and was just so far distinguished
in a few other particulars as to let the humble
friends of the family perceive that it would be prudent
to begin celebrating her charms and perfections. Otherwise
she chiefly inhabited the nursery, which the rest
hardly ever quitted. At Sudbrook this was the small
house, built on purpose for them, and called the Young
Ladies' House. Here they did what they pleased,
nobody caring, and romped as much as they pleased
with my father and uncle when the Eton holidays
added them to the parties.
If Time would have but stood still, this order of
things might have lasted for ever unchanged. But
he has a trick of moving onward: the children grew
up, as all children do, and the parents — although surprised
at it, as most parents are, could no longer exclude
them from their society. The seven stages of
1 One poor mortal, a daily guest, had an antipathy to cats. 'To
break him of it,' as she said, she would place a huge he-cat on the
back of his chair, as he sat at table. The Duke, after making fruitless
efforts to protect him, was forced to laugh it off as a joke not worth
minding. Her dogs were always pugs; and down to the end of her
days, every visitor on every visit was assured that Pug and Puss (pronounced
alike) did not live together like dog and cat.
human life have been the same ever since Adam and
Eve commenced peopling the world; yet few persons
can slide from the second to the third, from childhood
into youth, without amazing their elder friends as
much as if the thing had never happened before. This
said in a parenthesis, we resume the house of Argyll.
Lady Caroline, the eldest child, and in some sort the
heiress (for the Duke meant to make her a son by
giving her his English estates), was presented at Court,
and her sisters were admitted into the parlour, where,
for some time, fear of their father kept them all in
silence and decorum, Lady Mary excepted, who was
too young (being only fifteen or sixteen when he died),
and had too much of the Tollemache blood to be afraid
of anybody. Her fearless prattle entertained him;
and she grew a favourite, to the great detriment of
her future disposition. It is strange how very inconsiderate
men, sensible men, nay, men of great abilities,
will often be in their treatment of children. Reversing
the practice of the children themselves, who invariably
talk to their dolls as rational creatures, they
toy with their luckless plaything as if it were destined
never to become one, and had no more to do with mind
and soul than a dancing-dog or a monkey. I have
repeatedly heard my father impute the ungovernable
violence of Lady Mary's temper in after life to his
uncle's injudicious indulgence of her at the period
when she was just old enough to know she ought to
overcome her passions, and young enough to have resisted
them with some success. Not indulgence alone;
for, exactly as you have seen a schoolboy teach his
pony to lash out, and his cur to snap at people's fingers,
he took delight to put her in a fury, crying, 'Look!
look at Mary!' when she flew like a little tigress,
screaming, scratching, and tearing; then, after laughing
heartily, he would finish the improving lesson by
coaxing her with sugar-plums to kiss and be friends.
The timid reserve of the elder ladies did not last
long. Lord Strafford, a very young man of large
fortune, happening to dine at their father's on his
return from his travels, was so charmed with the
beauty of the second, Lady Anne, that he immediately
asked her hand in marriage. After she was disposed
of, all restrictions seemed to cease, all bounds
were broken down; the others freely exalted the discordant
voices which they all inherited from their
mother, and became the most noisy, hoydening girls in
London. In my own day, when they were the most
unmerciful censurers of young people's dress and
behaviour, my mother, who had herself a mind far
above laying an absurd stress upon trifles, used to laugh
at certain of her recollections, and attribute their violent
wrath against the gay world to spleen at growing old,
and envy of the pleasures they could no longer partake.
I mention my own day. Ere that could well be said
to dawn, I remember having seen the last Earl of
Lichfield; 1 a red-faced old gentleman, shaking all
1 The last but one — George Henry Lee, third Earl of Lichfield,
Chancellor of Oxford University. Gilly Williams writes to G. Selwyn,
11th January 1765:— 'At the rehearsal on Wednesday night of the
speech at Lord Halifax's, Lord Lichfield came extremely drunk, and
over with the palsy, who had almost drunk away his
senses, and seemed hardly to know what he was saying
or doing. Marvellous are the metamorphoses produced
by Time. You may suppose I found it very difficult
to believe that this object, formerly Lord Quarendon,
had been not only handsome, lively, and agreeable,
but much more — the most promising in point of parts
amongst all the young men of the Tory (then the
Opposition and Patriot) party — a bud of genius fostered
by its chiefs as likely to prove the future pride of their
garland. The Duke of Argyll, in particular, caressed
and extolled him, made him free of his house, and, one
might say, taught his family to admire him. Blind,
meanwhile, like many a man in the same case, to the
glaring probability that a young lady would not admire
long without admitting some warmer feeling, he never
asked himself how he should relish so natural an occurrence.
Lord Quarendon had a father alive, not inclined
to part with his money; a mother and sisters 1 to be
provided for; — in short, he was not by any means a
great match. Therefore, since it was certain nothing
but a great match would do for Lady Caroline Campbell,
it never came into his Grace's head that either party
proposed amendments and alterations, to the no small amusement of
the company.' Lord Lichfield married Dinah, daughter and heiress
of Sir Thomas Frankland, Bart., of Thirkleby, but died s.p. 1772,
when the title went to his uncle, Robert, fourth and last Earl, who
therefore never could have been Lord Quarendon. The first Earl, Sir
Edward Lee, fifth Baronet of Ditchley, married Charlotte Fitzroy,
daughter of Charles II. by Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland. — ED.
1 Ditchley went to the eldest sister, Lady Dillon, on the death of
her uncle, the last Earl. — ED.
could possibly think of the other. But they found it
both possible and pleasant to think, and think on;
and he remained almost the only person not apprised
of their mutual attachment, until Lord Dalkeith's
making her serious proposals brought about a partial
The Buccleuch family had rested in comparative
obscurity for two or three generations past. However
inclined King William had once appeared to favour
the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth, yet a direct
attempt to claim the Crown was a fact to be jealously
remembered by its successive wearers; and, so far from
reversing his attainder and restoring his honours, as
was done in other cases (for instance, to the Argylls
themselves), William hastened to bestow the title elsewhere,
creating Lord Mordaunt Earl of Monmouth.
The Duchess presently married a second husband, Lord
Cornwallis, who had his own interests to mind. Lord
Dalkeith, her eldest son, died in her lifetime, at thirty
years old; and her grandson, now Duke of Buccleuch,
a man of mean understanding and meaner habits, did
no credit to his ancestry. In his youth a match was
settled between him and your grandmother, Lady Jane
Douglas, 1 but broken off; and her brother, the Duke
of Douglas, fought a duel with him in consequence.
Supposing a story true which was current at the time,
that she had owned to the Duke of Buccleuch her
repugnance, and, throwing herself on his honour,
desired to be screened from the anger of her relations,
1 The Lady Jane of the 'Douglas Cause.' — ED.
this duel would seem to denote something chivalrous
on his part, auguring better things than ensued. He
married another Lady Jane Douglas, the Duke of Queensberry's
sister; but, after her death, which happened
in a few years, plunged into such low amours, and lived
so entirely with the lowest company, that, although he
resided constantly in the neighbourhood of London,
his person was scarcely known to his equals, and his
character fell into utter contempt. 1
Yet, in spite of the thousand disadvantages of having
such a father, the son proved a gentleman; far from
handsome, it was true — not of brilliant parts, no Lord
Quarendon, but essentially good, amiable, and worthy.
These qualities, added to great rank and fortune, made
the Duke of Argyll readily accept his offer, not at all
doubting his daughter's cheerful concurrence. And if
(as I grant it probable) he thought she had nothing to
do with the business further than to receive his commands
and obey them, still you must beware of going
headlong, and setting hint down as an unfeeling tyrant.
To judge fairly of those who lived long before us, or
of foreigners, we should put quite apart both the usages
and the notions of our own age or country, and strive
to adopt for the moment such as prevailed in theirs.
1 It was believed that not long before his death he married a Windsor
washerwoman. Your uncle, Henry, Duke of Buccleuch, told me that
when he was a boy at Eton, a middle-aged woman of decent appearance
one day insisted upon seeing him. She gazed at him earnestly,
kissed and blessed him, and, without saying anything more, went
away. He had afterwards reason to think that this was his grandfather's
widow, who received an annuity from his guardians on condition
of not assuming the title.
He followed hard upon the time, remember, when it
was common for mere children to be united, or at least
betrothed, by their parents; when Lady Russel, had
she been asked, in the midst of her negotiation with
Lord Devonshire, whether young Mistress Rachel was
enamoured of his son, would infallibly have deemed the
question an impertinent, insipid jest, or the inquirer
a madman.
Nor were marriages thus arranged among the great
alone; the very proverb, framed, as all proverbs are,
by and for the vulgar, 'Marry your daughter betimes,
for fear she should marry herself,' is a convincing proof
of the contrary. Consult, indeed, an author of much
later date, one certainly not too well versed in the
manners of high life, one whose theme and object it
was to treat of love — Richardson, I mean, the great
father of modern novels — Richardson himself cannot
help betraying an evident predilection for matches thus
soberly settled. In No. 97 of the Rambler (written by
him) you find his beau-idéal of a matrimonial transaction
carried on exactly as it ought to be. The young
man can see the young woman only at church, where
her beauty and pious demeanour win his heart. He
applies to her parents through a mutual friend; they
acquaint her with his offer; she is all resignation to
their will, for perhaps (mark the perhaps) she had seen
him at church likewise. Then it proceeds: 'Her
relations applaud her for her duty; friends meet, points
are adjusted, delightful perturbations, hopes, and a
few lovers' fears fill up the vacant space, till an interview
is granted.' In plain English, the two persons concerned
have never exchanged a single syllable in their lives
till they meet as an affianced couple. And this he
calls marrying for love! Brush away all the fine words,
and how far it differs from Dr. Johnson's scheme of
people being paired by the Chancellor I leave you to
determine. But I have been drawn into a terribly
long digression.
As facts tell themselves, I need not say Lord
Dalkeith's addresses were successful; but you will be
impatient to hear what resistance they met with, and
how it was overcome. When Miss Townshend 1 eloped
forty years afterwards, a vulgar, abusive newspaper,
such as your present John Bull, caught this old anecdote
by the tail, and, giving a blundering version of it, bade
her mother recollect 'that she had nearly been in the
oven herself.' Upon which, Lady Greenwich thought
fit to tell Lady Emily Kerr (Macleod) her own story
in her own way. And a very fine one she made it as
ever formed the foundation of tragedy or romance: a
conflict between passionate love and sacred duty, adorned
with tears, fits, despair, and (for aught I know) delirium.
She kept her bed, she said, for many days; the
physicians gave but faint hopes of her recovery; — yet
still her dear father remained inflexible. Then she
had such a love, such a profound veneration for him —
and, to say the truth, Lord Dalkeith was so unexcep1
Miss Anne Townshend, Lady Dalkeith's daughter by her second
husband, Charles Townshend. She married, in 1779, Richard Wilson,
Esq. — ED.
tionable. In short, after sufferings not to be described,
she was led to the altar more dead than alive, and
there plighted her unwilling vows. But in time,
becoming sensible of her husband's excellencies, she
perceived the great wisdom of her father's choice, which
(Heaven knew!) had made her far happier than she
could have been had she followed her own foolish
Nothing could sound more reasonable; only, something
nearer the time of action, my mother heard a
different tale from Lady Betty Mackenzie, who, though
not wise, was ever a straightforward person of strict
veracity. She freely acknowledged that a positive
engagement subsisted between her sister and Lord
Lichfield, perfectly well known to her mother and
every other person in the house, saving its master.
Even little Lady Mary could give her verdict upon
the cause; and she hit right, as children and young
folks are sometimes led to do by their natural reason.
I know sister Caroline must not marry Lord Quarendon
if papa disapproves of it; but, to be sure, she
cannot marry anybody else.' Sister Caroline did cry,
as sentiment required, for near a week; and Lady
Betty and Lady Strafford cried too, in concern for her
distress, and dread of the scene likely to follow when
papa should know all. Before this came to pass,
however — to the best of Lady Betty's belief — one
morning, on opening the unhappy lady's door, she
was accosted with these words, 'Well, sister, I have
consented to marry my Lord Dalkeith,' uttered in
such an easy, indifferent tone, that she protested she
stood staring as if a sudden blow had taken away her
breath. Thenceforth she saw no more symptoms of
grief or discontent: the old lover ceased to be named,
the new one was graciously smiled upon, and everybody
fell to discussing wedding-clothes and equipages
with the usual alacrity.
Very soon after their marriage the Duke did his
son-in-law a most material service by obtaining for his
father and family the restoration of one of the Duke
of Monmouth's forfeited English peerages — the earldom
of Doncaster, by which title their descendants now sit
in Parliament. I mention this here to avoid future
interruption; for we have not yet done with Lord
Quarendon, who bore his disappointment so unlike a
patient, good Christian as to prove that he put little
faith (whoever might put much) in the reluctance of
the bride or her agonising struggles, or her pious submission
to parental authority. He was furious: far
too angry for any magnanimous feeling. He went
about calling her a mercenary jilt to whoever would
listen, with all the other epithets which men, whether
of high or low degree, are apt to lavish upon such
occasions. Not content with this, he took measures
to lay the whole affair before the Duke of Argyll: it
is even said, sent him her letters — a severe revenge
upon the person least to blame, since, in fact, the
Duke had never imagined that anything more than
a mere girlish fancy stood in the way of her accepting
Lord Dalkeith. And, however great his displeasure
might have been on finding her otherwise engaged
without his consent, he was the last man in the world
to have sanctioned, much less exacted, a direct breach
of promise. He thought, like Walpole's Florian —
'A soldier's honour is his virtue. Gownmen
Wear it for show, and barter it for gold,
And have it still: a soldier and his honour
Exist together, and together perish.'
The blow, then, struck at his heart; not solely on
account of Lady Caroline's conduct (although that
gave him mortification enough), but because it forcibly
overthrew his good opinion of the Duchess. She had
been privy to all. She had concealed all from him.
She had helped her daughter to deceive him. There
was an end of his firm reliance on her affection, her
truth, her integrity. The cherished illusion of his
life was at length dispelled and done away. About
the same time his health began to break; a paralytic
disorder afflicted his nerves; but my mother said the
tokens of a deeply wounded spirit were very distinguishable
from the effects of the disease, as was also
the change of manner towards his Jane. He did not
become harsh to her; but his coldness, silence, and
melancholy abstraction were striking — tacit reproaches,
altogether unfelt and even unperceived. The good
woman, who in reality had erred only from sheer
weakness and folly, being the dupe of a daughter
cleverer than herself, saw nothing that ailed him but
bodily illness; and, to show due concern for that,
fulfilled the duty of a faithful wife by fidgeting and
fussing about him with a tormenting assiduity which
must have been the one thing wanting to complete
Job's trials. Tease — tease — tease, from morning till
night. 'Now, my lord, do eat this.' 'Now, my lord,
don't eat that.' 'Now, pray put on your great-coat.'
Now, be sure you take your draught.' 'Now, you
must not sit by the fire; it 's too hot.' 'Now, you
should not stand at the window; it 's too cold. 'Oh,
how well I remember the way of it,' said my mother;
and how I used to pity the poor man!' He never
spoke one word in answer; seldom raised his head to
look at her; but, for the sake of peace, usually did
as she would have him, seeming quite unable to contend.
In this condition he lingered, with transient
gleams of amendment, but in the main drooping more
and more, until repeated paralytic attacks carried
him off, a twelvemonth after the marriage of Lady
It has been abundantly shown that the Duchess's
nature was not susceptible of very violent emotions.
She could grieve (as she loved) only as much as she
could. Yet on this event she uttered an expression
that was touching, because it implied a meek sense
of her own inferiority of character. 'Well' (said
she, fetching a deep sigh), 'I have been the favourite
of a great man!' She continued to inhabit Sudbrook
and the town house in Bruton Street, both of which
he bequeathed her for her life; and this outlasted his
such a number of years that I myself have a faint
recollection of being put into mourning on her
decease. 1
I once heard Lady Betty relate a circumstance that
greatly contributed to depress her father's spirits in
the last sad year of his life. Lord — 2 (I have
totally forgotten the name), a very old acquaintance,
whom he had not seen since they were both young
men, came unexpectedly to Adderbury. The Duke
gave him the most cordial reception, showed him
his grounds, insisted he should stay dinner, and
seemed so cheered by his company that the day passed
over uncommonly well. But at parting, when he
attended his guest to his carriage, 'that creature,'
quoth Lady Betty, suddenly turned round on the
step to whisper, 'I had orders to give you this,'
slipped a paper into his hand, leaped in, and drove
away. It was a letter from the Pretender, full of
high-flown compliments on his Grace's public spirit
in opposing the Court: 3 a conduct which, it might
be hoped, was a sure sign of his having at last (though
late) espoused the rightful cause, and resolved to reinstate
his lawful sovereign. Support like his must
ensure success; and, were that once obtained, what
reward could be denied him? He instantly sent the
1 She died on April 15th, 1767, at No. 16 Bruton Street, when
Lady Louisa was nearly ten. The Duke died 4th October 1743.
— ED.
2 James, fourth Earl of Barrymore. This happened in 1742. See
H. Walpole, i. 182. Walpole's insinuations against the Duke's loyalty
arose entirely from party feeling. — ED.
3 He had lately resigned all the posts he held, as he did not approve
of the policy of the Government. — ED.
letter to the King, together with another professing
unalterable loyalty, and protesting his utter abhorrence
of the treason suggested: protestations which were
perfectly sincere; for the Hanover succession had no
steadier friend. 1 Yet that its enemies should have
dared thus to tamper with him, and have interpreted
his political conduct as forwarding their designs,
wounded him to the very soul. He writhed under
the insult; could not forget it; and Lady Betty
affirmed that to his last hour it rankled in his mind.
His English dukedom of Greenwich became extinct;
his brother Archibald succeeded to the Argyll titles
and estates; and his eldest daughter inherited considerable
property, including Adderbury in Oxfordshire,
and Caroline Park near Edinburgh. So she was rich,
prosperous, and, above all, fortunate in a husband.
By all I could gather concerning Lord Dalkeith, he
belonged to the species of those quiet, silent, dull men,
who are overlooked in gay society and seldom mentioned
by the world. But I imagine he very much resembled
his uncle Charles (the good) Duke of Queensberry, in
mildness, benevolence, kindness of heart, and extreme
1 In answering an attack on himself in the House of Lords during
the Porteous debate, the Duke of Argyll said — '… I have, ever since
I set out in the world (and I believe few set out more early), served my
Prince with my tongue; I have served him with any little interest I
had, and I have served him in my trade; and were I to-morrow to be
stripp'd of all the employments I have endeavoured honestly to deserve,
I would serve him again to the utmost of my power, and to the last
drop of my blood….' During Queen Anne's last illness, he and the
Duke of Somerset attended the Council without summons, in their
right as Privy Councillors, and frustrated the intention of those who
proposed to proclaim the Chevalier de St. George. — ED.
sweetness of temper. Like him, too, he fondly loved
his wife, and was content to let the government be on
her shoulder. Her Grace of Queensberry — a spoiled,
wilful beauty, most bewitching, most perverse and
provoking, with superior natural parts, but what the
Scotch term an enormous bee in her bonnet — wanted
the control of a far stronger hand than the poor
Duke's to curb her innumerable whims and caprices,
which ran riot, and would have tired out the patience
of any other man breathing. Lady Dalkeith, a woman
of a more common sort, could rest pretty well satisfied
with having her own way in every particular, and be
good-humoured (at least while young) as long as she
was pleased. Accordingly, her lord and she were
reckoned the happiest of happy couples during the
brief period of their married life. Placed at the head
of the world, and of an age to enjoy its gifts, they
spent their time gaily in entertaining their friends at
home, or in seeking livelier pleasures abroad.
You may have heard of their acting plays: this was
set on foot by the Duchess of Queensberry, 1 who had
always some rage, some reigning fancy, which she
carried to excess. For one year she could think of
nothing but the stage, and fitted up a small theatre
in Queensberry House, 2 where Otway's Orphan, a
1 She invited Quin, of whom she was very fond, down to Amesbury.
'And now, Mr. Quin,' said she, 'I have been considering how to amuse
you in the country. Suppose we act a play?' 'Madam,' replied
Quin, if you asked a grocer to dinner, would you treat him with figs?'
2 Queensberry House, built in 1726, stood in Burlington Gardens
(No. 9); the site is now occupied by the Western Branch of the Bank
of England. (Royal Kalendar and Wheatley's London.) — ED.
good deal clipped and pared, and Young's Revenge,
were each acted three times. The performers were a
family party of brothers and sisters, or cousins bred up
together from childhood: Lord and Lady Dalkeith,
Lady Betty (then unmarried), my father, Mr. Mackenzie,
and a beautiful youth, Colonel Campbell's
second son, long afterwards known to you as that
beautiful old man Lord Frederic Campbell; Mrs.
Campbell's brother, Sir Harry Bellenden, and two or
three elderly dependants of the Argylls and Queensberrys
were pressed into the service to fill minor parts;
the Duchess not acting herself, but indefatigably
managing, prompting, and overlooking the whole.
The Orphan, in particular, succeeded so well through
Lady Dalkeith's Monimia and my father's Castalio,
that Frederick, Prince of Wales, had his wish to see
it intimated to the Duke of Queensberry; and it was
therefore performed a fourth time for the Prince and
Princess, 1 and the audience they chose to nominate.
For then, and down to a much later day, whenever
any of the royal family accepted an entertainment
from a subject, they pointed out the company they
would have invited to meet them. The pictures 2 you
have seen of your grandfather and grandmother, and
1 Behold the whole and sole foundations of my father's 'having
been used to act plays for the amusement of the Prince and his Court.'
Had Lord Henry Fitzgerald become a Minister, some memoir-writer
would tell the world he had performed Varanes and Lord Trinket at
Richmond House, to pay his court to the present King. [See H.
Walpole, ix. 123-126.]
2 Now at Dalkeith. — ED.
those of Lady Betty and Mr. Mackenzie, were taken
in their dresses for the characters of the Orphan.
Perhaps I dwell too long on these trifles; in my own
youth they pleased my imagination, and I had such
delight in getting at all the details of former days
that I believe I made my mother tell me every old
story a thousand times, and teased her with a thousand
questions about every little circumstance.
As I intimated above, the holiday-season of Lord
and Lady Dalkeith's festivities was destined to have
a very short duration. They had been married but
about seven years, when the former, going for a few
days to Adderbury with Sir James Peachy, 1 his intimate
friend, and by alliance his near relation, was
seized with a sudden illness. Danger came rapidly
on, and the fourth day he died in Sir James's arms,
having just had power to dictate and sign a will which
his friend took down on the first scrap of paper at
hand. This left to Lady Dalkeith ten thousand
pounds — all he could dispose of — and constituted her
the guardian of his children. Their eldest son had
died an infant. There remained living, a daughter,
Caroline, who survived her father but three or four
years, and three boys — Henry, shortly after Duke
of Buccleuch, James, and Campbell. ANOTHER CHILD 2
had not yet seen the light.
1 Created Lord Selsey in 1794. He married Lady Caroline Scott,
daughter of Lord Deloraine, and granddaughter of the Duke of
Monmouth — of course Lord Dalkeith's cousin.
2 Lady Frances Scott, afterwards the second wife of Lord Douglas,
and mother of Lady Scott, for whom this Memoir was written. — ED.
THE circles produced by throwing stones into water,
dear Car, are no bad emblem of the influence which
generations, as they pass, have on those that succeed
them. That of the immediate parents upon the
children is strong and visible; the grandchildren
show its traces but faintly; when it widens to great--
grandchildren it vanishes wholly away. John, Duke
of Argyll, is no more to you than his ancestor the
Marquis; Lady Greenwich herself very little; yet she,
and even her sisters, had so much to do with a subject
in which you take the deepest interest, that their
characters must be developed in order to render this
well understood. Setting her aside for certain reasons,
let me give you an idea of the other three.
Lady Strafford was held strikingly like her father,
must have been beautiful when young, and when old
retained uncommon sweetness of countenance. To
quote Horace Walpole's early description of her in his
Advice to a Painter:—
'The crescent on her brow displayed
In curls of loveliest brown inlaid,
With every charm to rule the night,
Like Dian, Strafford wooes the sight.
The easy shape, the piercing eye,
The snowy bosom's purity;
The unaffected gentle phrase
Of native wit in all she says —
Eckhardt, for these thy art's too faint,
You may admire, but cannot paint.'
Whether the 'native wit' was truth or compliment,
may be doubted. Physical causes prematurely weakened
her understanding; but I should suppose it could
never have ranked above the mediocre, or what the
men mean when they say (rather saucily), 'Such a one
has sense enough for a pretty woman.' Although
habitually led by her sisters to inveigh, as they did,
against all present fashions, she had neither spleen nor
bitterness in her own nature; nor was there much
resemblance between her and them except in a loud
shrill voice common to the four, which gained them a
variety of nicknames, such as the Screaming Sisterhood,
the Bawling Campbells, and so forth, and made Lord
Strafford, who was not without humour, say, slyly, 'I
can always tell whether any of my ladies are in a house
by the time I set my foot in the porter's hall.'
Notwithstanding this voice, she had a mild, gentle
temper; and having been married out of the nursery,
and never in her life accustomed to act or think for
herself, she was very like an amiable child, looking up
to its governor with great respect but some portion of
fear, while the said governor, alias husband, though
extremely fond of her, held the reins of authority tight,
and would be obeyed. When I knew her, she loved
company and diversions as well as any girl of eighteen,
and brooked as ill the restraints imposed by his lordship,
who (long since tired of them himself) often forbade
her going into crowds, always insisted upon her
coming home at an early hour, and (worst of all)
usually carried her off to Yorkshire a month sooner
than anybody else left town. He was of a selfish
temper, yet in this (to give him his due) he chiefly
consulted her welfare; for she had that terrible infirmity,
the falling sickness, with such an unconsciousness
of it, that she would say carelessly, 'The little
faintings I am subject to now and then.' Never did I
behold my mother so shocked and unhinged as at her
return from a card-party, where she had witnessed one
of these little faintings: in reality, a succession of the
most frightful convulsions, which came on suddenly,
and lasted above an hour. The moment assistance
was summoned, Lady Strafford's footmen ran in to
hold her, a task far beyond women's strength; and
they told the company that they had their lord's strict
orders never to quit any place where she was, but
always to wait below stairs unknown to her, in case
their help should be wanted. The next morning we
had scarcely breakfasted when Lord Strafford arrived.
I left the room, and he opened his heart fully to my
mother, for whom he had ever a particular respect.
'I am aware (said he) how churlish and tyrannical
Lady Strafford's sisters think me for thwarting her
inclinations as much as I am forced to do. You know
those ladies: they are not convinceable people; if they
once take a notion in their heads, no human power
can beat it out again; so I cut the matter short, am
peremptory, and let them rail at me as loudly as they
please. But now, when you have seen with your own
eyes what her malady is, can you wonder I wish to
hinder its being perpetually exposed to the world?
She never goes to a public place, but I pass the evening
in misery, dreading what may have happened. Hot
rooms, noise, bustle, and even the hurry of spirits
produced by pleasure, have an evident tendency to
bring on these attacks, which are fast undermining
her constitution. While she leads a quiet life in the
country, keeping good hours, and breathing pure air,
they occur comparatively seldom. Am I, then, to
blame for shortening her stay here as much as I
possibly can?'
Thus far he defended himself well; but he should
also have considered the necessity of rendering retirement
pleasant to a woman of an uncultivated, vacant
mind, unused to reading, and soon tired of working
cross-stitch in spectacles. At this time their intimates
were mostly dead or dispersed; they had few neighbours,
fewer visitors; he was too stiff to make new
acquaintances; he hated humble companions; and, in
short, Wentworth Castle became a magnificent hermitage,
where the Mackenzies and other relations, who
sometimes called in their way to or from the farther
North, rarely stayed above four-and-twenty hours.
Lady Mary Coke, indeed, had been in the habit of
paying it longer visits; but latterly her domineering
spirit, and his love of his own way, increased in such
happy proportion that, after one stormy encounter, he
made a private vow she should never invade him again.
And poor Lady Strafford, who lived in constant
apprehension of their quarrelling outright, and whom
Lady Mary had once or twice scolded into fits, honestly
owned she did not regret his determination. That
sister was beyond control; the others stood in too
much awe of him to take liberties, being warded off by
a formal civility, an array of bows and ladyships, which
nothing less than prowess like hers could attempt to
break through.
Lady Strafford delighted in animals of every sort
and species; had favourite horses, dogs, cats, squirrels,
parroquets, and singing-birds. Nay, I remember to
this hour the pleasure it gave me, when a child, to see
a couple of tame green lizards, which she kept in a
box, let loose to sport and catch flies in the sunshine.
She was also passionately fond of children, courting
all young mothers to bring her their babies, and even
their schoolboys and girls. Indeed, she would have
lived surrounded by young people, if her lord had
indulged her taste as freely in this respect as in the
other. But he protected the brute creation himself,
and shrank from the two-legged ungovernables likely
to throw his house out of the windows. The truth
was this: both of them bitterly deplored their ill-fate
in being childless; both (she more especially) felt the
want of objects deeply interesting the heart. But, as
lesser motives of regret will often mingle with greater,
the feeling operated differently upon the man who had
longed for heirs and the woman who pined for playthings.
Besides, the most complying, most tractable
young folks on earth must have put him, more or less,
out of his way — that same way which is ever the first of
all considerations with the selfish.
Poor man! he suffered severely for having clung to
it; and, through his dislike to admit any third person
as a permanent inmate, forgot how dangerous it was
for Lady Strafford ever to be left a single instant quite
alone. The servants, on opening her dressing-room
door, one winter's day, discovered her lying senseless
against the grate, too much burned for recovery,
although she lingered near a week in existence. This
manner of dying was shocking; the event itself not to
be regretted, as her intellects were already impaired by
the epileptic disease, and she would probably have
become utterly imbecile had she lived a very little
To poor Lord Strafford, however, it was checkmate
— the loss of his all. It left him alone in the wide
world; nor do I believe he ever enjoyed another
moment of comfort during the few years he survived
her. But not even his real, deep, and hopeless sorrow
could awe the indefatigable spirit of gossiping, or
prevent it from finding him a second wife in six months'
time; and of all the birds in the air, and all the fishes
in the water, whom should it think fit to bestow on
him but — Myself!!! Our approaching nuptials were
announced in every newspaper. Having always looked
on him as an old uncle, I should as soon have expected
that the world would marry me to Mr. Mackenzie, if
Lady Betty had been the person deceased. Therefore,
it was impossible to forbear laughing, in spite of my
concern for his misfortune; and when the return of
winter brought him to London, I am afraid he made
me laugh still more; for no man of five-and-twenty
could have seemed more fearful of confirming the report
by being seen to speak to me or look at me. I tell
you this nonsensical story chiefly for the sake of an
admirable bon mot (tant soit peut libertin), which it
drew from Lady Dye Beauclerk, who knew nothing of
either, except our ages. 'Soh!' said she to Mrs.
Herbert, 'your friend Lady L. S. is going to marry
her great-grandfather, is she? If she can hold her
nose, and swallow the dose at once, it may do very
well. But most people would be apt to take a little
sweetmeat in their mouths afterwards.'
LADY BETTY MACKENZIE'S figure, though always too
thin, passed for fine in her youth; her face was even
then plain, but not yet seamed and disfigured as we
saw it by the confluent smallpox. The older she grew,
the stronger those who had known her mother thought
the resemblance between them in features, manner, and
mind. Like the Duchess, she was honest, upright,
well-meaning, good-natured; like her, ill-bred, positive,
and anything but wise. She did not, however, inherit
her Grace's insensibility: there they were very dissimilar;
for Lady Betty had a warm heart, and most
assuredly the power of loving. I defy a more devoted
attachment to exist than she had to my uncle; and
being love of the genuine, sterling kind (marked by a
sincere preference of another to self), which always
ennobles the character, it raised her above the folly of
hers wherever he was concerned. Her constant attention
to his wishes, and visible delight in his presence,
were not debased by any silly fondness unbecoming
their age. If, through youthful flippancy, one sometimes
simpered at the looks of affection exchanged
between the ugly, wayward old woman and the good
man in a bob-wig, one's heart presently smote one;
since, in sober earnest, one could not but allow that
their steady, cordial, perfect union was a sight beautiful
to behold. Originally, as I have heard, the love began
on her side. He could have rested in cousinly — or
brotherly — regard and esteem for ever, had not her
fervent passion at length attracted his notice, and won
a grateful return. When people marry on these terms,
the wife is sure to be very humble, very submissive;
and so was Lady Betty for several years, knowing no
will but his: an order of things that had changed
before my time. His easiness leaving most matters
to her guidance, she ended by having all that influence
which, in the long-run, foolish women seldom fail to
acquire (the Lord knows how) over sensible husbands.
With respect to Mr. Mackenzie, I came in at the
fifth act of the play, as he must have been near fifty
when I first remember him. But, by all accounts, I
should have seen him much the same man five-and--
twenty years earlier. The principal change was what
time often effects: a temper once impetuous had subsided
into calmness, and left him the best-humoured
mortal alive — always in good spirits, always happy,
fond of society, and from his lively, amusing conversation
formed to delight it; yet with pursuits in mathematics,
astronomy, and all the exact sciences (to say
nothing of a close attention to business), which occupied
his mind pleasantly when he was alone. Such as I
describe him, you may suppose he could make himself
very agreeable to the young: only with us, his relations,
he had a trick teasing to all except absolute simpletons.
You never grew up for him: at eighteen, you were
five years old; at thirty — nay, forty — not above
twelve; assailed with jokes and nursery-stories, 'enough,'
as Miss Hoyden says in the play, 'to make one ashamed
before one's love.' Girl or woman, you found this
annoying; but for men — ! I have seen my elder
brothers ready to knock him down.
At the same time, he felt little indulgence for youthful
follies — apparently because his own nature was too
placid and steady ever to have known the force of
strong temptation, his blood too temperate to have
ever boiled. He had been a man of gallantry, we were
told; and we could easily believe it. He had liked
what is called flirting rather more than Lady Betty
approved. This, too, was very credible; but in my
life I never saw a person I should have pronounced so
passionless. A sort of instinct would have made you
refrain from giving way to the least enthusiasm in his
presence; you would have forborne to speak before
him of those emotions that convulse and tear the heart;
you would scarcely have risked naming an unfortunate
attachment — not through your dread of his frowns
and remonstrances, but for fear of being most good--
humouredly chucked under the chin. The conclusion
I draw is, that in this uncle of mine there had existed
two separate, different men; that one soul had at a
certain moment quitted his frame, and another of quite
distinct properties entered it, and taken peaceable
possession. For surely there are extraordinary mental
commotions which (once thoroughly experienced) do
in general leave as indelible marks behind them as
those violent bodily diseases which change the whole
mass of our blood; and it would not have been more
astonishing to learn that a woman with the loveliest
smoothness of complexion had had the same virulent
smallpox as Lady Betty, than to hear — what was the
fact — that Mr. Mackenzie's reason and his life were
once upon the point of falling a sacrifice to the wildest
and most romantic passion that ever agitated a human
The object of it was the Barberini, a celebrated
opera-dancer, known and admired throughout Europe,
of decent manners and uncommon attractions, but in
no part of the wicked world held more inflexibly cruel
than other ladies of her profession. I cannot tell
whether Mr. Mackenzie first saw her abroad, or in
England, where she danced for one season. Wherever
it was, he became her slave almost immediately, loving
her, not as opera-dancers are usually loved, but
'With that respect, that fearful homage paid her,'
which might have gratified an archduchess of Austria,
and with a diffidence which made him tremble to propose
the only terms he believed it possible that purity
like hers could listen to. For what was he? — what
had he to offer in rank, wealth, and situation worthy
her acceptance? How might he dare to indulge the
presumptuous hope of gaining that interest in her heart
which alone could tempt so exalted a being to bless
him with her hand? When after a proper interval
of difficulty and delay, the prospect of such happiness
did open upon him, his raptures were immoderate.
He announced his good fortune to my grandmother,
Lady Mary Wortley, in a letter which she preserved,
informing her that he had reason to think himself
the most lucky of men: he was about to marry a
woman whose preference did him the highest honour —
one infinitely his superior in every particular excepting
birth. What his family might say to it, he could not
tell, and did not care; he only knew they ought to be
proud of the connection. But he really thought a man
of his age was fully competent to judge for himself,
and provide for his own happiness. To the last sentence,
Lady Mary affixed this pithy marginal note, 'The poor
boy is about nineteen.'
On these occasions relations and guardians are sad
troublesome people. My uncle's uncle, Archibald,
Duke of Argyll, such another cool, considerate person
as his future self, instead of feeling due pride in the
connection, or leaving 'a man of his age' to secure his
own happiness, officiously took measures to disturb it.
Though the lovers were to be united far off, at Venice,
where they hoped they might defy his authority, yet,
having long hands, and putting many irons in the fire,
he discovered that before the lady formed her present
plans of aggrandisement, she had signed articles binding
herself to dance that winter at the Berlin theatre.
This being ascertained, his friend Lord Hyndford, then
our ambassador in Prussia, easily induced that Court
to demand of the Venetian Government that she should
be compelled to fulfil her engagement. Accordingly
she was arrested by order of the Senate, and, on the
very day fixed for her marriage, sent off under a guard
to Germany.
Mr. Mackenzie had made a friendship in Italy with
a very worthy Catholic abbé, an Italianised Scotchman,
named Grant, eight or ten years older than himself.
This Abbé Grant, when an old man, came over
to England to visit him and my father, and stayed
near a month at Luton Park, where some of us found
great amusement in putting him on the chapter of
events long past, and getting at the particulars of the
Barberini story. He was at Venice when the thing
happened, and was sent for by Mr. Mackenzie's servants,
who did not know what to do with their master.
He sat up with him all night, expecting every moment
to see him breathe his last; for he was quite delirious,
and fell from one convulsion fit into another. The
abbé declared he never beheld a scene so distressing;
the poor young man's throes of anguish, his state of
distraction and despair, excited in him such a degree
of compassion that he owned he could not have withheld
from him the object of his wishes if he had had
the power of restoring her, notwithstanding the disgrace
and ruin which he, as well as Mr. Mackenzie's
other friends, thought inseparable from the marriage.
As soon as the lover regained his self-possession, he
followed his captive mistress to Berlin; but Lord
Hyndford, aware that this might be the case, had prepared
matters for his reception. On alighting from
his carriage, he was saluted with a peremptory order
to quit the King of Prussia's dominions in four-and--
twenty hours; and a file of unpitying grenadiers forthwith
escorted him beyond the frontier. Thence he
sent a challenge to the ambassador, who laughed and
put it in the fire. He vowed eternal enmity to the
Duke of Argyll, he renounced all friendship and kindred
with my father — in a word, he committed every
extravagance which love and rage could dictate, till
the conflicts of his mind, overpowering his bodily
strength, threw him into a dangerous fever. When,
by the aid of youth and a good constitution, he had
struggled through it, the news that awaited him on
his recovery probably caused that kind of revulsion
which paralytic patients feel when a torpid limb (or
frame) is restored to action by the galvanic battery.
The Barberini was married to another. An artful
adventurer, conceiving her to be rich, had passed himself
upon her for a foreign nobleman of high rank, as
desperately enamoured as the young Englishman, who
now seemed 'a bird escaped from the snare of the
fowler,' considerably richer, and with no relations entitled
to control him. Duped into eagerness, she
made haste to secure the prize.
Thus ended an adventure which yet was not the
most remarkable part of her history. She certainly
must have had extraordinary abilities, since she drew
within the attraction of her sphere something as
opposite to an inexperienced youth as it is possible
to imagine — no less a person than Frederick the
Great 1 himself, of all men the least likely to be fascinated
by female charms. Nor did he admire or
pursue her as a woman. Jealous of being suspected
of such a weakness, he took care always to have eye--
witnesses of their interviews. But he was avowedly
very fond of her conversation; a far prouder distinction,
and one that, perhaps, no other of the sex ever
could boast. She availed herself of his favour to some
purpose, when she found she had been entrapped into
becoming the wife of a needy impostor. 2 On her representing
to him what were the circumstances of her
marriage, his Majesty stretched forth his iron sceptre, 3
supreme over law and gospel, to annul it as fraudulent,
banished the sharper, and soon after made (or at least
sanctioned) a match for her with a subject of his own,
a gentleman by birth. As a Prussian lady she passed
the rest of her life in good repute and comfort.
1 Describing Frederick's palace at Potsdam in August 1773, Lady
Mary Coke says:— 'In the room where he writes he has a full-length
picture of the Barberini in the attitude of one of her high dances,
and a tambourin in her hand. It seems to be extremely well painted,
and I believe it is very like, tho', to say the truth, my remembrance of
her is very imperfect….' — ED.
2 Not quite a needy impostor' according to Carlyle. Though a
schoolmaster's grandson, he was the son of Frederick's Chancellor
Cocceji. Carlyle says the divorce was owing to incompatibility of
temper. He does not give the name of the second husband, 'a Graf of
sixteen quarterings.' — Carlyle's Frederick the Great, book xiv. cap. viii.
3 The witty Prince de Ligne, when dining with Frederick at Potsdam
in 1780, pretended to mistake a plate of Berlin porcelain for Dresden,
and expressed surprise that the mark was only one sword, and not the
usual Dresden mark of two swords crossed. Frederick explained that
the mark was not a sword but his sceptre. 'J'en demande pardon à
votre majesté, mais il ressemble si fort à une épée qu'on pourrait bien
s'y méprendre.'
It happened one day at our King's levée that a
young man just arrived from abroad accosted Mr.
Mackenzie rather pertly in my brother James's hearing,
and told him he had lately seen an old friend of
his, Madame la Baronne —, naming this very Prussian
lady. My uncle for a minute looked confounded; but,
recovering himself, drew the traveller into a corner,
and held with him a long and earnest conversation,
seeming to ask him many questions. But for this
incident I should have supposed he remembered no
more of the affair than of any pain or pleasure he had
felt in his nurse's arms. I am sure no recollection of
it ever appeared to flash across his mind while he was
wondering at the indiscretions of his neighbours.
At the time I knew them, perhaps neither he nor
Lady Betty could be deemed void of selfishness. It is
the vice, alas! of age, and also that of prosperity; and
their prosperity had been uninterrupted, for they
possessed all the good things of this world, and one
might say, in the words of the Psalmist, that, excepting
the loss of two infant children 1 (long since forgotten),
'no evil had come nigh their dwelling.' As
her sway over him was unbounded, and he, again, had
great influence on my father, she sometimes made a
good deal of mischief in our family — not by design,
but need I tell you in how many ways want of sense
can answer that purpose equally with injurious inten1
One died at Turin in 1759, when Mr. Mackenzie was British
minister there. See H. Walpole to Conway, Aug. 14, 1759, vol. iii.
p. 246. — ED.
tions? Capricious as the wind, or the weather-cock it
turns, and subject to those whimsical fits of fondness or
aversion called in French engouements (for which I know
no precise English word), she had, even in the passing
crowd unknown to her, her charming favourite and
her odious anti-favourite of the season, like her summer
and winter gowns; while among ourselves there was
always some one who could do nothing wrong, and
some one other who could do nothing right. The
same individual often acted both parts in the course of
half a year — suddenly metamorphosed from white to
black; if a woman, for wearing a feather or a ribbon
she disliked: if a man, for something of corresponding
importance. I myself usually stood high in her favour,
but I had a long interval of grievous disgrace on the
score of a new-fashioned trimming, yclept by the
milliners frivolité. Still, bitter as she would be against
the present offender, we were more inclined to laugh at
these fluctuations than to resent them. Those less used
to her could not so well tolerate the peremptory tone
she was apt to assume in all places and companies, from
meeting with no contradiction at home, and having
elsewhere that species of consideration which is acquired
by giving excellent dinners. Mrs. Anne Pitt, Lord
Chatham's sister and counterpart, who continually met
her at our house, being my mother's intimate friend,
said, in her pointed, peculiar manner: 'Lady Betty
takes the liberty in society of telling one that — one
lies, and that — one is a fool; and I cannot say I
think it at all agreeable.'
WE now come to that extraordinary person, Lady
Mary Coke, a study for the observers of human character
as a rare plant or animal would be for the
naturalist. Her beauty had not been undisputed like
Lady Strafford's. Some allowed, some denied it; the
dissenters declaring her neither more nor less than a
white cat — a creature to which her dead whiteness of
skin, unshaded by eyebrows, and the fierceness of her
eyes, did give her a great resemblance. To make
amends, there were fine teeth, an agreeable smile, a
handsome neck, well-shapen hands and arms, and a
majestic figure. She had the reputation of cleverness,
when young, and, in spite of all her absurdity, could
not be called a silly woman; but she was so invincibly
wrong-beaded — her understanding lay smothered under
so much pride, self-conceit, prejudice, obstinacy, and
violence of temper, that you knew not where to look for
it, and seldom indeed did you catch such a distinct view
of it as certified its existence. So also her good qualities
were seen only like the stars that glimmer through
shifting clouds on a tempestuous night; yet she really
had several. Her principles were religious. She was
sincere, honourable, good-natured where passion did
not interfere, charitable, and (before old age had
sharpened economy into avarice) sometimes generous.
For her friendships, they were only too warm and too
zealous for the peace of the mortals upon whom they
were bestowed — I am afraid I might say inflicted.
In information she greatly surpassed her sisters,
having a turn for reading, and reading of a solid kind
— history and State-papers, in which she was well
versed, as far, at least, as related to England. But
she had not a grain of taste for any work of genius.
She esteemed Milton and Pope very fine poets, because
such was the creed of her youth; but if their verses
had been printed pell-mell with Blackmore's, she
would not have found out which was which. Nor
did she discriminate better in prose; a writer's style,
his reasoning and reflections, she scarcely attended to;
the language of Swift and Rapin, Burnet and Burke,
went down alike; and the Parliamentary Journals
pleased her above them all, as most authentic. Thus
conversant with the dryest matter of fact alone, she
contrived to apply it to the increase of her own self--
importance, and heated her brains with history as
others have done with romances. Don Quixote became
a knight-errant by poring over Amadis de Gaul;
Lady Mary, an historical personage by studying Rushworth's
Collections and Lord Strafford's trial. I verily
believe that if she could have been committed a close
prisoner to the Tower on a charge of high treason,
examined before the Privy Council, tried, and of
course gloriously acquitted, by the House of Lords,
it would have given her more delight than any other
thing physically possible. But living in an age when
all this was little less than morally impossible, she had
no way of getting upon a level with the Queen Marys
and the Lady Jane Greys who were always running in
her head, except by striving to magnify every common
matter that concerned herself, like the Don when he
turned windmills into giants, and carriers' inns into
castles. Nothing ever happened to her after the
fashion of ordinary life. Not to mention the unprecedented
behaviour of most men, women, and children
whom she had anything to do with, she could not
be caught in a shower but it was such rain as never
before fell from the skies. The dry-rot that broke out
in her house was totally different in its nature from
the dry-rot at her next neighbour's; and in case of
a cold, or a sore throat, woe to the apothecary who
ventured to quicken her pulse and excite her ire by
tendering that established consolation, 'It is going
about, madam, I assure you; I suppose I have now
twenty patients with just the same symptoms as your
ladyship's'; — for all her disorders were something
nobody else could judge of, or had ever experienced.
I once heard her literally talk of the exquisite pain she
suffered from pricking her finger.
Cervantes, we know, designed to give his hero a
taint of real madness, which he represents as at one
time on the point of being subdued by judicious
medical treatment. Here the parallel will fail us.
However, a stranger might have construed some of
Lady Mary's visions, she had no insane tendency —
not so much as what is familiarly termed a twist.
Her delusions were altogether wilful, springing from
a noble disdain of being nothing more than simply
and barely the person she was. Therefore, all the
bleeding and blistering imaginable would not have
put one of them to flight, nor lowered the distressed
princess, the persecuted heroine, into a reasonable
woman, of high quality, rich and surrounded with
advantages, but debarred from the cognisance of State
affairs — in the first place, by her sex; in the second
by want of power to influence a cobbler's vote at a
Westminster election. So much for the portrait. It
is time to put the original in action.
Lady Mary's marriage was an affair conducted in
the old-fashioned manner; overtures being made by
Lord Coke's relations to hers, terms proposed and
rejected, others acceded to, and the bargain finally
struck for two thousand five hundred pounds per
annum jointure and five hundred pin-money, as the
fair equivalent for her twenty thousand pounds, which
at that time was a larger portion than could often
be met with out of the city. Still the Duchess of
Argyll demurred in perplexity, averse from the connection
on account of Lord Leicester's notoriously
dissolute and violent character. Yet the son, though
faithfully following his father's footsteps, won her
good graces. But this is a matter that a young man
may always manage with an old woman, even of a
wiser class. Then officious friends brought her favourable
reports of him — another thing sure to happen;
he had sense, he had good-nature, he had this, and
that, which, when his wild oats were sown, a prudent
woman — according to custom again — might work upon
and do wonders. To conclude, Lady Mary, who at
nineteen had a very positive will of her own, intimated
that she liked and chose to accept him. Yet no
sooner were the conveyancers set to work, and the
suitor's visits freely admitted, than she gave all outward
and visible signs of a coyness approaching to
aversion. He dutifully attended her mother's tea--
table, stroked her Grace's cats, listened to her long
stories, talked goodness and morality, and kept his
countenance admirably throughout; every now and
then lowering his voice to its softest tone, and tenderly
addressing the lady of his love: while she, bridling
with ineffable disdain, turned away her head and
hardly vouchsafed him an answer. Those who knew
the Celadon could read in his face a humorous enjoyment
of the scene, but yet foresee that her airs of
scorn would not go unpunished — for be was inwardly
as haughty as herself, thoroughly unprincipled and
profligate, had abundance of wit and humour, and not
the smallest personal liking for her to counterbalance
the secret resentment which such contemptuous usage
As the lawyer's labours advanced, and the day of
execution drew near, her dislike to him seemed to
increase; she wept all the morning above stairs, and
in the evening sat below stairs, the silent picture of
despair. 'Then, for the love of Heaven,' said honest
Lady Betty, my dear sister, why don't you break
off the match? — where is the difficulty?' It was a
jest, as Lady Betty well knew, to suppose Lady Mary
afraid of her mother; but, granting she were so, she
(Lady Betty) offered again and again to save her every
discussion — to acquaint the Duchess, dismiss Lord Coke,
take all the embarrassing part of the business upon
herself. 'No,' replied Lady Mary, as often as this was
urged, 'no — it will be time enough at the altar.' To the
altar then she went (in April 1747), and there, instead
of an effectual 'No,' Catherine uttered the irrevocable
'Yes,' gave Petruchio her hand, and submitted to be
sacrificed. But — but — a circumstance awkward to hint
at is, as you will find, the main hinge of the story.
But rumour whispered that the sacrifice remained incomplete.
To speak out, the bridegroom, who conceived
he had a long score of insolence to pay off,
and was predetermined to mortify the fair bride by
every means in his power, did not scruple entertaining
his bottle-companions with a ludicrous detail of particulars.
He found her ladyship, he said, in the mood
of King Solomon's Egyptian captive —
'Darting scorn and sorrow from her eyes';
prepared to become the wretched victim of abhorred
compulsion. Therefore, coolly assuring her she was
quite mistaken in apprehending any violence from
him, he begged she would make herself easy, and
wished her a very good-night.
The happy pair went on thenceforward in a way
suited to this promising outset. He almost immediately
resumed his former habits of gaming and drinking,
and when they were alone together gave her pretty
coarse language, although before company it was, 'My
love! My life! My angel!' — acting the fondest of
husbands. More in mockery than hypocrisy, however,
since he lost no opportunity of attacking her father's
memory, ridiculing her mother, disparaging the name
of Campbell, and slyly throwing out whatever else could
irritate her most. You will inquire how she bore such
treatment. Why, her lawyers answer the question, for
they set forth 'that she ever comported herself in a
courteous and obliging manner; she, the said Lady
Mary, being of a sober, modest, chaste, and virtuous
conversation, and of a meek, mild, and affable temper
and disposition'; which perforce reminds one of the
meek spirit ascribed to Humphrey Hoen's wife (Sarah,
Duchess of Marlborough) in Arbuthnot's History of
John Bull. But we must remember that the said
Lady Mary's teeth and claws were not yet fully grown;
besides, people who, like her, fairly love a grievance,
always support real evils better than those fabricated
by their own imagination. As heroic sufferers they
are in their proper element; it is exactly the character
they aspire to exhibit, and it inspires them with a sort
of self-satisfaction calculated to produce apparent
Three months after their marriage, the young couple
accompanied Lord and Lady Leicester to Holkham
for the summer; and, as all the family travelled
together, it brought about a discovery. When the
Leicester coach-and-six stopped at Lord Coke's door
early in the morning, Lady Mary was dressed and
ready, his lordship had not yet returned from the
tavern. Finding upon inquiry that such were his
customary hours and practices, his father expressed
the most indignant displeasure that so fine a young
woman should be so shamefully neglected, and took
her part in the warmest manner. This, by the by,
never does a woman much service. No third person
can step in between a married couple without the risks
attending those who handle gunpowder; but perhaps
it would be safer for the lady to have any other advocate
than one of whom her husband stands in awe,
whether it be father, master, or prince; above all, the
first, whose pre-eminence is most indisputable, and who
cannot be asked that stout question, available against
everybody else, namely, 'What have you to do in my
house, and with my subject?' It puts the son in a
humiliating predicament, sending him back to the days
of his boyhood; and though he may submit to paramount
authority, he bears her a grudge for having
appealed to it, of which she is sure to rue the effects
long after her momentary triumph has ceased. Thus
it happened here. The Duchess of Argyll writes to
Lady Dalkeith that her sister Mary's letters from
Norfolk speak highly of Lord and Lady Leicester's
kindness to her, but say nothing of Lord Coke's. In
fact, they were upon worse terms than ever. After
their return to town, he scarcely kept any measures
with her; and in consequence of their declared quarrel
she received a most flattering letter from his father at
the commencement of the new year, extolling her as
an angel, and calling her husband 'brute' and 'beast'
in express terms. The depraved wretch, who had
proved himself unworthy of such a blessing as Heaven
had granted him in her, should henceforth be renounced
by him (Lord Leicester), and she regarded as his own
beloved daughter married into another family.
Upon the face of this epistle — which is long and
elaborate, and was afterwards produced in proof of her
ill-usage — I think you would have said, "The gentleman
doth protest too much'; or have quoted the
French proverb, Qui prouve trop ne prouve rien, for its
exaggerated language is very unlike that of a sincere
person. In a short time she herself learned to mistrust
it; his behaviour at their next interview being cold
and constrained, and his manner of listening to her
complaints discouraging. A second letter soon followed,
intimating that he found Lord Coke so truly penitent,
so convinced of her merit, and desirous of regaining
her affections, that, if she would but agree to a reconciliation,
he was persuaded they might still live happily
together. Her papers do not show how she replied;
it only appears that one day Lord Leicester unexpectedly
arrived in a furious passion, turned some
relations of his own who were sitting with her out of
the house, railed at her pride and stubbornness, told
her Lord Coke had done her the greatest honour in
marrying her; in short, raved like a madman. She
sent for her mother and Lady Strafford, to whom he was
not much more civil; and the former, she owns, made
matters something worse by scolding him in return.
What caused such a sudden change in Lord Leicester's
sentiments and conduct, she professes herself unable to
guess; but I have heard it sufficiently explained. He
was, in one sense, impartial, as he cared not a straw
who was right or who was wrong: nor had he any very
tender paternal feelings to blind him, knowing his
son's faults full well; but his heart was set upon having
heirs to his title and estate. With a fair prospect
of gaining this point, he would have protected his
daughter-in-law, whether angel or devil, and supported
her against her husband to the utmost of his power;
and the indignation he expressed at Lord Coke's neglect
of her and abandoned life was but what he really felt
as long as these seemed the sole or chief obstacles in
the way. But now the case was altered.
'As women wish to be who love their lords,'
the woman did not wish to be who hated her lord. It
is possible that, knowing how important the object
was to the family, she might take a perverse pleasure
in disappointing them; and far from improbable that
she might be partly actuated by pique at the affront
originally offered to her personal charms, upon which
no poor little, frivolous, weak woman of us all could
secretly set a higher value. Her motives, however,
were best known to herself: the magnanimous vow she
made and proclaimed was, never to cohabit as a wife
with Lord Coke; and she adhered to it with all her
characteristic obstinacy. The moment his father understood
this, it converted him into her determined enemy.
Making light of directly contradicting his former professions
(as indeed he had little reputation for honour
or consistency to forfeit), he gave a loose to the brutality
of his nature without reserve.
Nevertheless, through Archibald Duke of Argyll's
mediation, a kind of truce was made. Lady Mary,
being much indisposed, had permission to live two or
three months at her mother's house in Bruton Street;
while Lord Coke, who was also ill, resided with his
parents. But he often called to inquire after the
health of his beloved spouse, and never once gained
admittance, although she received other visitors; in
excuse for which she pleaded that her nerves were too
weak to bear the agitation that an interview with him
would have caused. Meantime, her uncle pressed Lord
Leicester to let the ill-matched pair be formally
separated; but his arguments and persuasions had no
effect: neither father nor son would hear of it; and all
he could obtain was, that both should give him (the
-Duke) their words of honour to treat her more kindly
in future.
The husband and wife, once more reunited, then
went to drink a mineral water at Sunninghill, and with
them her unmarried sister Lady Betty, whose presence
proved no check to their quarrels nor restraint upon
Lord Coke's violence. Throwing the mask and the
scabbard aside together, he told Lady Mary it was his
resolution to make her as miserable as he could, and he
should take her to Holkham for that express purpose.
She answered that she would not go unless carried by
force. Yet go she did; and from that moment the
feud was regularly established, and the war of tongues
kindled; the families, as well as the individuals, abusing
each other to the right and left: that is to say, widening
the breach every hour — in this instance without doing
much harm, for the animosity of the principals could
not be increased. But how often does it occur that
some small grain of kindness, some remnant of affection,
still lies lurking in the bosoms of a couple, whose
passions, flaming above their reason, have set them at
variance! And then how fatal a step it is to call in
even the best-meaning friends as auxiliaries.
Hitherto we have hardly named Lady Leicester — a
peaceable, inoffensive woman, long inured to obedience;
who, as the father was yet more ill-tempered than the
son, and addicted to the same vices, had borne submissively
for thirty years the trials that exhausted
Lady Mary's scantier stock of patience in three months.
Her lord did not fail to point out the contrast to
others, and ask, exultingly, whether a daughter of
the House of Thanet, inheriting in her own right one
of our oldest English baronies, 1 would not have been
quite as well entitled to rebel and give herself airs as
the Infanta he now had to deal with? Quiet as she
was, her daughter-in-law, treating her as a foe, in some
1 The barony of De Clifford.
measure made her one. It could not be expected that
she should side with her against a son, her only child.
Nor was she wholly inexcusable if she thought (even
taking his character at the worst) that a wife of gentler
mood might have had a fairer chance of reforming him.
However, continuing passive as she had always been,
she neither prompted nor opposed the decision of the
higher powers.
On Lady Mary's arrival in Norfolk, where she was
doomed to remain upwards of a twelvemonth, the affair
might be considered at issue: the parties fell to work
in earnest. Lord Leicester and Lord Coke firmly
determined to master her refractory spirit; her ladyship
equally resolute not to be overcome. First they
skirmished with her, saying and doing whatever was
most slighting and contemptuous, and letting all their
dependants perceive that the fewer marks of respect
they showed her the better they would pay their court.
This produced bitter resentment, but no humility; she
was not to be mortified into surrendering at discretion.
She retreated to the citadel of her own apartment, and
declared herself too ill to leave it; which the Leicesters,
discrediting, regarded as a pretext adopted to cast
odium upon them and excite compassion in the neighbourhood.
I own I have heard old Lady Cecilia Johnstone
say, that when she and her sister Lady Diana
Clavering (then young ladies) were at Holkham, with
their father Lord Delawar, Lady Mary used to invite
them up to her room, and be very merry, and, to all
appearance, very well, though muffled in a night-cap
and sick-dress, and refusing to associate with the
family. For some months she persisted in thus
secluding herself; nor could the medical men she
consulted ever prevail upon her to stir out of doors
or breathe the fresh air — a way of life which, together
with fretting and vexation, brought on real nervous
disorders. But her antagonists believing, or choosing
to believe, all her complaints affected, proceeded
to turn this voluntary confinement into downright
compulsory durance. They demanded her keys, seized
her papers, and opened the letters she wrote and
received; previously taking the opinion of counsel
how far they might legally go, and putting this query
in particular, viz., 'Whether a wife's obstinately
denying her husband his conjugal rights did not
justify his placing her under unusual restraint?'
Lord Leicester, in a letter written about this time
to her sister Lady Betty, lays a great stress upon the
same point, as 'contrary to the laws of God and man.'
And it was so publicly known and canvassed, that it
became a standing jest among his very servants to
nickname her (profanely enough) 'our Virgin Mary.'
Now began to peep forth and to be seen her propensity
to give things a high historical colouring. Her
actual situation, with all the terrific power that a
husband may exert by strictness of English law, about
to thunder on her devoted head, was sufficiently
grievous; and no very common case either. Yet still
it wanted a certain grandeur of peril, which her
imagination sought to supply by stretching beyond
the locking up and other severities threatened, and
directing her apprehensions to assassination and poison.
When I first commenced observing my fellow-creatures,
Lady Mary's humour had long been so well understood
that the dangers which perpetually menaced her life
from one deadly enemy or another were things of
course that startled nobody. We were almost too
much used to the fancy to laugh at it. But in these
early days, before even her nearest friends had found
her out (pardon the expression), they naturally imagined
she could not admit such horrible suspicions upon any
other than good grounds; therefore, the dreadful fate
she had reason to fear was hinted, and whispered, and
told in confidence; till the rumour, growing loud,
reached the ears of the parties accused, whom it only
served to exasperate and impel to acts more decidedly
hostile. In March 1749, Lord Coke absented himself,
empowering his father, by a letter of attorney, to
take certain strong measures, beforehand agreed upon
between them: to dismiss Lady Mary's maid without
warning, place about her another of their own choice,
remove her from the new house at Holkham into the
adjoining old one, and strictly forbid the domestics to
admit any of her relations who might attempt to visit
her. That she was now in bad health and pitiable
distress is credibly testified; yet she continued fighting
upon her stumps with all the bravery of Witherington.
She would not let the new maid approach her person.
'Mighty well,' said Lord Leicester, 'then she may
wait upon herself!' She refused paving the apothecary's
bill. It was well, his lordship said again; as
he knew her illness to be 'all d—d affectation.'
If she did not choose to defray the expense of it
out of her pin-money, she might do without doctors
and physic; and he prohibited the man's further
attendance. 1
In this state of persecution and imprisonment she
lived five or six months, finding means, however, to
correspond with her family all the while, whether by
the assistance of servants, or by that of the apothecary
and the chaplain — whom compassion partly won over
to her side — I am ignorant. By this time Lady Betty
was married, and Lady Mary had acquired a zealous,
active protector in Mr. Mackenzie, who consulted the
best lawyers, transmitted her their advice, sent her
queries to answer and papers to sign: in a word, took
unremitting pains to effect her release. Not without
difficulties to combat at home. It was his task to spur
the Duchess of Argyll into action, and to hinder her
acting foolishly: neither an easy matter. Nay, once
— if not oftener — he encountered a sudden squall from
that point of the compass whence it seemed least that
any adverse wind should blow. Plainly speaking, the
captive lady herself wrote him a furious letter, full of
1 'Went to the Princess Amelia…. The Princess said Lady Sarah
Bunbury's conduct was still more surprising … her running away
from him (her husband) would give him a right to lock her up for the
rest of her life. I told H. R. H. that times were alter'd, & I was persuaded
she wou'd not be locked up, tho' I remembered when people
were locked up for no fault at all. The Princess smiled, & said that
some people had been locked up for being too virtuous….' — Lady
Mary coke's Journal, Feb. 23, 1769. — ED.
bitter reproaches, enclosing another to Lady Betty
equally violent, and pretty nearly desiring him to
meddle no more with her affairs. With great consistency,
she next wondered he had not meddled much
further; asking why he omitted doing this, or that,
which she thought expedient? A proof that then, as
well as ever after, she knew better what was to be done
than all her friends and all the lawyers in Westminster
Hall, Chancellor and Judges included. In my uncle's
first amazement he begins his answer with 'Madam';
but soon seems to soften towards her; and afterwards,
on her making him some little apology, assures her,
with manly good-nature, that his displeasure had not
lasted half an hour, as he attributed all she had said
to the irritating effects of misery upon her spirits.
At length a decisive step was taken. The Duchess,
attended by Mr. Mackenzie and a solicitor, went down
to Holkham, demanded, before witnesses, to have access
to her daughter, was refused it, made affidavit of the
fact on her return to town, and obtained from the
Judges of the King's Bench a writ of Habeas Corpus,
enjoining Lord Coke to produce his wife before them
on the first day of Term in November. Lady Mary,
when thus brought up, swore the peace against him,
and instituted a suit of divorce on the score of cruel
usage, the Chief Justice declaring her to be under the
protection of the court in the interim, and ordering
that her near relations should have free admittance to
her, together with her lawyers and physicians.
I have often and often heard my mother describe
the ceremony of Lady Mary's public appearance. The
court was crowded to excess, the bench filled with
ladies, for the Duchess and her daughters not only
assembled those related to them, but engaged all the
most respectable of their acquaintance to countenance
her by attending. Her male kindred and friends
assisted likewise. On the other hand, Lord Leicester
and his son, having no great interest with respectable
women, gathered together a numerous posse of lively,
clever, wild young men; all the rakes and all the
geniuses of the age came to back Lord Coke, or rather
to enjoy au exhibition in their eyes very diverting.
Lady Mary's faction found it far otherwise; the poor
old Duchess was crying bitterly, Lady Strafford repeatedly
fainting away, and my mother said she never
saw a more moving scene in any tragedy. If one durst
form such a surmise, perhaps it distressed her and the
rest of the troop more than it really did the chief
actress; for I cannot but suspect that there was something
in the dignity and solemnity of the transaction
wonderfully consonant to Lady Mary's inclinations.
However, she came forth feeble, squalid, and in a
wretched plight, dressed almost in tatters, which (by
the way) the Leicesters maintained that it was her
good pleasure to wear, since her pin-money had never
been withheld, and she had spent it as she thought
proper. I should wrong you greatly by omitting one
incident. The mob, which was prodigious, pressing to
gain a sight of her, broke the glass of her sedan-chair.
'Take care!' said the tender husband as he handed her
out of it. 'My dearest love! Take care and do not
hurt yourself.'
While the suit was pending she resided in the garret
of Lord Leicester's town house, about which garret
again were two stories. She affirmed that they would
allot her no better apartment; they, that she perversely
preferred it to any other, in order to appear
cruelly used. Her friends daily clambered up to it,
notwithstanding its inconvenient height, and my mother
was present more than once when Mr. Mackenzie and
the lawyers laboured to extort from her the information
necessary to form the base of their proceedings —
'— labour dire it was, and weary woe.'
Reclining on a couch, Lady Mary returned this comprehensive
answer to all their interrogations:— 'Never
was any human creature treated as I have been.'
That we do not doubt, madam; but the law requires
of us proof. We must go upon specific grounds. Will
you please to enter into particulars?' 'It is enough
to say that in every respect my usage was most barbarous.'
'But how and in what precise respect?
Cannot your ladyship state some one act on some
one day?' 'Oh! a thousand acts every day.' And
in this mode of answering she would persist, maugre
argument and entreaty, till the learned gentlemen
visibly gave some of Lady Townley's gulps to swallow
wrong words; and one may safely presume they said
to each other, as they went downstairs, 'Well! if her
husband did thresh her, he was not without excuse.'
But all she could bring forward in the article of
battery was this, that once, in a violent passion, Lord
Coke struck her on the arm, and tore her lace-ruffle.
It was once too often, to be sure; yet even among
gentlemen and ladies, who certainly ought not to
war with their fists, one blow can no more constitute
inhuman usage than the one swallow of the proverb
make a summer. In short, law, like arithmetic, passes
assertion through so fine a sieve that a considerable
portion of it is apt to stick by the way. And when
you read poor Lady Mary's memorial, or, technically,
libel, addressed to the Spiritual Court, you need be
no deep civilian to perceive how little beside assertion
it contains. As may be expected, it tells only her
own story, and makes the most of that, leaving you
quite convinced that she had the ill-luck (which betides
many a woman) of what is vulgarly called catching a
Tartar, or lighting upon a very bad husband. But
neither bad husbands nor bad wives can be easily got
rid of in our stiff, straitlaced country, whose austere
old statutes invest the former with an authority which
Lord Coke had taken care not to overstep, save in
a single instance, i.e. when he denied her mother the
permission of seeing her. Had the doors been freely
opened to the Duchess, they might have continued
fast closed upon Lady Mary for ever.
To prove her life endangered, the libel states that
Lord Leicester had talked of sending her to the Hundreds
of Essex, or some place equally unwholesome. The
law, fortunately for most of us, does not mind what
nonsense people talk. Yet this formal legal document
records other sayings which one is still more surprised
to see there. For example, what, I suppose, Lady
Mary herself held too heinous an offence to be omitted
— that once upon a time, Lord Coke, finding her
employed in reading Locke upon the Human Understanding,
told her she could not understand a word of
the book, and was an affected b—h for her pains.
Doubtless a most rude, affronting speech, and sorely
grating to the ears of a wife (a wise woman, too!);
but if the judges preserved their gravity on hearing
it repeated, they did all that decency could demand
of mortal men. Another time, it seems, Lord Leicester
said she was a piece of useless lumber, fit only to be
locked up in a garret, out of the way. Useless, you
will observe, had a comical meaning, a sense in which
it was true. And again the bench must have been
tempted to smile.
I am uncertain whether the cause ever came to a
hearing, or was given up without one; but it fell to
the ground so completely as to leave Lady Mary at
the mercy of her enemies; and she would have had
no choice but to fly her country or return to her
prison, if they themselves, satisfied with their victory,
had not grown a little tired, perhaps a little ashamed,
of persecuting her further. Lord Hartington (in after
days Duke of Devonshire), the friend of Lord and
Lady Strafford, offered himself as a mediator, and the
Leicesters, by his persuasion, consented to let her live
at Sudbrook unmolested, upon condition that she
should withdraw her suit, pay its expenses herself,
never set her foot in town, and have no separate
maintenance but her pill-money. Hard terms, yet
softened down from those stipulated at first, which
were, that she should on no pretence come within
twenty miles of London, and should publicly give
herself the lie — that is to say, acknowledge, through
her lawyers, in open court, that her complaints had
been totally void of foundation.
No Turkish prince, yesterday living immured in the
seraglio, and to-day placed upon the Ottoman throne,
ever experienced a more agreeable change of situation
and prospects than Lady Mary, when Lord Coke's
excesses, producing an early decay, brought him to
the grave only three years after their separation. 1
At six-and-twenty she emerged from a very dull retirement,
a state of constant humiliation and fear, into
the perfect freedom of an independent widow, with
a jointure of twenty-five hundred pounds a year, fully
equivalent to what five thousand would be at present.
Re-entering the world, too, with the advantage of its
good opinion; for she had been generally pitied, and
everybody but a few friends of the Leicester family
rejoiced at her deliverance. She conciliated further
good-will by her decent behaviour on the occasion;
not affecting a concern she could not feel, but wearing
mourning, and abstaining from amusements for the
usual space of time.
When she left off her weeds, the Duke of Argyll
1 August 1753.
and Colonel Campbell, as I have heard, wished to
bring about a match between her and Young Jack,
the latter's eldest son, who was passive, if not assenting.
But she said she could not possibly marry a
man whom she had always viewed as a brother.
Indeed, her uncle's robust constitution set the dukedom
and marquisate at such a distance from this
young heir of the family that he had then nothing
to tempt ambition, though perhaps everything to
inspire love. Now Love was affirmed by Lady Temple
— a very sensible woman, who knew Lady Mary well
— to be 'the only passion that had no place in her
composition.' The same Lady Temple wrote a complimentary
portrait of her as follows:—
'She sometimes laughs, but never loud;
She's handsome, too, but somewhat proud:
At court she bears away the bell,
She dresses fine, and figures well:
With decency she's gay and airy;
Who can this be but Lady Mary?'
So dignified a person, though extremely willing to
receive homage from admirers, held out no encouragement
to the younger brothers, the inferior fortune--
hunters, who pursue rich widows in serious earnest.
They must have perceived that such an aim was
hopeless; and I never heard that any adorers of a
higher class laid titles and estates at her feet. If
they had, it is not an utter impossibility that their
offers might have been taken into consideration. At
least, I know a story which seems to imply thus much;
and as it is entertaining, and I can quote the best
authority for it, chapter and verse, you shall have
it at full length. By certain dates, I conjecture that
at the time she must have stood upon the verge of
The Duke and Duchess of Queensberry had two sons,
both of whom lived to be men. The eldest, when
travelling through Yorkshire with them and his new--
married wife, rode onward, and either shot himself or
was killed by his pistol going off, almost within view
of their carriage. 1 The second died of a consumption
the following year. And thus the Duke's nearest
collateral relation — Lord March (the Old Q., whom you
remember) — became his next heir. He was then the
most brilliant, most fashionable, most dissipated young
man in London, the leading character at Newmarket,
the support of the gaming-table, the supreme dictator
of the Opera-house, the pattern whose dress and equipage
were to be copied by all who aimed at distinction,
and (need we add?) the person most universally
admired by the ladies. Naturally a male coquet, he
made love to every pretty woman of his own class,
and bought it ready-made (in Quin's 2 phrase) from
every one of a lower who set it to sale. He would
have been held a great matrimonial prize notwithstand1
October 1754. — ED.
2 Alluding to Quin's famous repartee when the Duchess of Queensberry
asked him, 'Pray, Mr. Quin, do you ever make love?' She
meant upon the stage, where he commonly acted tyrants, villains, etc.;
but, giving her question a different turn, he answered, 'No, madam,
I always buy it ready-made.'
ing — as a duke's heir, with an earldom and a good
estate in present — could any young lady have had
reasonable hopes of winning him; but prudent mammas,
frightened, sought to keep their daughters aloof, and
it was pretty plain that whoever dared the adventure
must pursue it at her own peril.
The Queensberrys, overwhelmed by the load of
calamity which thus fell suddenly upon them, had
retired to Amesbury, 1 and there lived a year or two
secluded from the world, keeping up hardly any correspondence
with their friends. My mother was much
surprised therefore, when she received a letter from
the Duchess, to say that, particular business calling
them to town, they earnestly wished she would drink
tea with them on the evening of their arrival. Of
course she obeyed the summons, and the meeting
passed as it usually does between people so circumstanced,
when pain has been deadened by time, and
both parties strive to converse as if they had forgotten
what the sight of each other never fails to recall.
Presently Lady Mary Coke appeared, who was welcomed
with extraordinary kindness, and seemed to have been
expected. She was all graciousness in return, but
august beyond her usual dignity, like a person wound
up to act a solemn part on some important occasion.
Next entered the Earl of March, looking excessively
out of humour. He paid his respects sullenly to their
Graces, made her Ladyship a very grave bow, then,
spying my mother, cleared up his countenance, as if
1 Their place in Wiltshire. — ED.
thinking, 'Ah! here will be a resource'; and sitting
down by her, he began to rattle away upon whatever
news occupied the town at that moment. The Duke
and Duchess joined in the conversation whenever they
had an opportunity, and were visibly anxious to make
Lady Mary bear a part in it also; but they toiled at
that pump in vain: dry monosyllables and stately
bows of assent being all their utmost efforts could draw
forth. I need not describe the pantomime, for you
have seen it a hundred times, and I a thousand. At
last, the Duchess, perceiving my mother about to rise,
caught her by the sleeve, and whispered, 'No, no;
don't go; pray outstay them. I want to speak to you.'
In the second that whisper lasted, Lord March contrived
to turn on his heel and escape, without looking
behind him. Lady Mary stayed a little longer, still
magnificently silent; then departed, high and mighty
as she came.
When the door was fairly shut upon her, 'Now,'
said the Duchess, 'do, I beseech you, tell us the meaning
of all this?' 'The meaning of what?' asked my
mother. 'Why, of these two people's behaviour to
each other.' 'Nay, how can I tell you anything about
it?' 'Why, are not you in the secret? Don't you
know they are going to be married?' 'Not I, indeed;
it is the last thing I should have thought of.' 'Why,
truly,' rejoined the Duchess, 'it would not have occurred
readily to me; yet so it is: behold it under Lady
Mary's own hand!' And she produced a letter in
which Lady Mary announced that Lord March had
been pleased to make his addresses to her: his preference
assuredly did her great honour, and so forth; but
her high respect for their Graces induced her to defer
giving him a favourable answer till certain of their
entire concurrence: should either of them have the
slightest objection, she would instantly put an end to
the treaty. 'You may be sure we did not hesitate,' continued
the Duchess; 'the object nearest the poor dear
Duke's heart is that March should give over his pranks
and make a creditable marriage; and none can exceed
this for birth, fortune, and character. She has her
foibles, undoubtedly; but, perhaps, a spirit like hers
may do best to cope with his wildness. At any rate,
that is his affair. I wrote by return of post to say how
very happy the news had made us, and to assure her of
our heartiest approbation. The Duke wrote the same
thing to March; and without loss of time here are
we come trundling up to London. We thought that
you, as her relation and our friend, would be just the
right person to meet them and prevent any awkward
embarrassment. But they seemed determined not to
exchange a word. What can possess them? Have
they been quarrelling already?'
My mother, who thought within herself that Lord
March's marrying at all was half a miracle, 1 and his
pitching upon Lady Mary a whole one, could give no
clew to the mystery; which grew more incomprehen1
See the Selwyn Correspondence, i. 318-343, for a rumour of his
engagement to Lady Anne Conway, and Lady Mary Coke's Journal
for Miss Pelham and Lady Susan Stewart's desire to marry him. — ED.
sible day after day, and week after week. The Duke
and Duchess were at their wits' end. The lover ingeniously
eluded most of their invitations; but whenever
they did force him into the company of his mistress,
the same scene presented itself over again: he was as
distant, she as imperial as at first. Another thing
was much stranger yet: he had for some time protected,
as your precious modern delicacy styles it, a certain
Madame Arena, 1 the prima donna of the opera. This
protection, instead of being withdrawn, or modestly
concealed, was now redoubled and paraded. You never
drove into the Park, or through St. James's Street,
without meeting him with the Arena in his chariot.
The Arena sat at the head of his table; the Arena
hung upon his arm at Ranelagh: his attentions to the
Arena on the opera-stage were conspicuous in the face
of the audience, and under Lady Mary's own nose if
she chanced to be present. Tired out, the Duchess of
Queensberry resolved to attempt fathoming his intentions;
but set about it very gently; for even she was
afraid of him.
'She hoped nothing unpleasant had occurred between
him and Lady Mary?' 'No: nothing that he knew.'
'And yet he must be sensible that there were circumstances
which wore an odd appearance. If one might
put so home a question, Did he in earnest design to
marry her?' 'Oh! certainly: he should be quite
ready at any time; that is, if her Ladyship chose
it.' 'Nay, my dear March; this is no answer.' 'Why,
1 The real name was Rena apparently. See Selwyn, i. 210. — ED.
what more would your Grace have? I can't marry her
unless she chooses it; can I?' 'Now, do be serious
one moment. You know very well what I allude to.
Plainly, what must she think of the Arena's remaining
in your house?' 'The Arena, ma'am? The Arena?
Pray, what has Lady Mary Coke to do with the Arena's
living in my house, or out of it?' 'Bless me! how can
you talk thus? Do not common decency and propriety
require —' 'My dear madam, leave propriety and
Lady Mary to protect themselves. She is no girl:
she will act as she pleases, I dare say, and so shall I.'
The springs of this impertinence could not be
divined; but its drift was manifest; and the Duchess,
having a real regard for Lady Mary, next undertook
the nice task of representing to her how poor a chance
of happiness she would have with such a volatile
husband; and delicately hinting that it might be her
wisest way to give the matter up, and draw off while
she could still retreat with the honours of war: all
which good counsel fell upon the ear of a statue.
The lady, impenetrable and stately as ever, 'could
not by any means permit herself to doubt of my Lord
March's honour; nor had he given her any cause of
offence.' Thus baffled on both sides, the poor Duchess
had nothing for it but to sit still and wait the event.
As far as her nephew 1 was concerned, however, the
whole club at White's could have expounded the riddle.
To them he was abundantly communicative, vowing
vengeance against Lady Mary, and swearing she had
1 Welsh nephew. Lord March was son of the Duke's first cousin.
played him the most abominable trick that ever woman
played man. He saw, he said, that she had no dislike
to admiration: she was a widow, independent;
of an age to take care of herself; so, thinking her
tolerably handsome, to be sure, he supposed he might
try his fortune in making a little love. If it pleased
her, why, well; if not, she knew how to repulse him.
But the big, wicked word MARRIAGE had never once
entered his head, nor issued from his mouth; nor
yet anything ever so distantly tending to it; and
would any woman in England past fifteen pretend she
took him for a marrying man? To go, then, and
bring him into the hazard of disgrace with the Duke
and Duchess of Queensberry, by catching up his first
civil speech as a proposal, was an exploit she should
pay dear for. With all his impudence, he durst not
give them this explanation; therefore let her help
him out of the scrape as she had thrust him into it;
the whole burthen should rest upon her own shoulders.
He understood his antagonist ill. No chilling
demeanour, no neglect, no affront, even with the
Arena-flag openly hoisted, could provoke the enemy
to leave her entrenchments. Finding her steadiness
invincible, he had recourse to an opposite mode of
warfare. He paid her a morning-visit: what passed
never fully transpired; but he got what he wanted,
an outrageous box o' the ear, and a command never
to approach her doors again. Overjoyed, he drove
straight to Queensberry House with a cheek still
tingling; put on a doleful face, and was mortified
beyond expression at having unwittingly incurred
Lady Mary's displeasure. Who could account for
the capricious humours of ladies? Though quite unconscious
of any offence, he had tendered the humblest
apologies; but she would listen to none: and since
everybody knew the noble firmness of her determinations,
he feared, alas! he must look upon his rejection
as final. Blind as you may think this story, he met
with no cross-examination or perplexing inquiry into
whys and wherefores; for the good Duke and Duchess
had been so teased by the conduct of both parties,
and by that time were grown so sick of the whole
affair, that they rejoiced almost as much as himself
to see it at an end.
Possibly his Lordship's version of its origin should
be received with grains of allowance: for, though one
may well believe he neither mentioned nor thought
of matrimony, yet it is likely that his professions of
love had been more direct than he chose to allow.
But granting them such as she might fairly take for
a proposal, it was easy to ask him whether he had
consulted his friends; and I suppose no woman but
herself would have proceeded to inform them of it
without his participation.'
1 'Dined at the French Ambassador's. Lord March sat by me at
dinner, & expected, I believe, that I should be flatter'd with his attention,
instead of which I endeavour'd to convince him he was not so
delightful a creature as some Ladys made him believe, & as I never had
contributed to give him that false notion of himself, I shou'd be enough
his friend to tell him he had many faults. He seem'd much surpris'd
& more mortified than I expected….' — Lady Mary Coke's Journal,
14th June 1767. — ED.
And now let us quit love and marriage for things
more congenial to Lady Mary's disposition. She no
sooner began to chalk out her own path after regaining
her freedom, than it became her chief object to
connect herself with the Court, and acquire at once
the favour of Princess Amelia (or Emily), George the
Second's daughter, and that of the person her Royal
Highness most disliked, his declared mistress, Lady
Yarmouth. His mistress! — You are startled. It is
not among the smallest praises of our late King that,
'By his long reign of virtue' — to use Walter Scott's
words — he rendered such a sound strange in our ears;
that we, who were to his manner born, naturally recoil
at the thought of reverencing a woman so designated.
But for near a century before he ascended the throne,
scarcely any sovereign in Europe had ever been without
a female favourite thus publicly acknowledged.
All did not lead the profligate lives of Charles the
Second and Louis the Fifteenth. Some few, if married
men, forbore giving the lady an obnoxious title, and
left the question of what was her real place about
as dubious as it is with us whether we should view
the Head of the Treasury as Prime Minister. Otherwise,
a Master of the Horse or Captain of the Guard
could not be a more regular part of the State establishment.
Even the ungallant William, as if for form's
sake, appointed Lady Orkney to the post after Queen
Mary's death; and after Queen Caroline's, George the
Second's bestowing it on Lady Yarmouth neither surprised
nor scandalised the gravest of his subjects.
Nor, indeed, bating the name (which they were so well
used to) did there appear anything very scandalous in
the connection; for if he had been a private person,
nobody would have entertained an evil thought of the
stiff old gentleman and his respectable housekeeper,
who led together a life dull and dignified' as that of
your ancestors in Tantallon Hold. Lady Yarmouth
was a quiet, orderly, well-behaved, well-bred, honest
German; long past her youth, and without the least
pretension to wit or beauty. She treated the King
with profound respect, and every one else with great
civility; entered into no cabals, did no mischief, made
no enemies; and though she had a daily intercourse
with the ministers, like Queen Caroline, never, like
her, meddled with their business, but listened silently
to what they said, and faithfully reported it to their
master — without giving, or perhaps forming, any
opinion of her own. The only sin the nation could
lay to her charge was, that she sold a few places, titles,
and ribbons; and in this she acted by his Majesty's
express consent and advice — having refused the first
offer made her, and, when she told it him, being asked
in his German-English, 'And why was you such a
great fool?'
Yet pray do not misconstrue my meaning: when I
say Lady Yarmouth held the place of Queen, and
received the homage due to it, I am far from seeking
to justify your aunt on the poor pretence of her
having swum with the stream, and done but what she
saw others do — the last error she could ever be accused
of falling into. Nor yet must you take her to have
been at this period less outrageously virtuous, or more
lenient towards frail women, than when you knew her
fifty years later. No such thing. But, by some
revelation or inspiration granted to her alone among
all the mortals subject to King George either in
Britain or Hanover, she had acquired a positive certainty
that he and her spotless friend were privately
married. And from this faith, to do her justice, she
never swerved to the end of her days. It could not
but gratify the person chiefly concerned; add to
which, that the favourite lady, although bowed down
to with equal respect by the whole crowd of great
and small approaching St. James's, must have discerned
Lady Mary to be perhaps the only person
there who literally courted her for her own sake;
wanting none of the good things she could dispense,
excepting her gracious smiles in public, and a gruff
word or two extraordinary from old Squaretoes (as
he was most irreverently called) at the Drawing-room.
Such a disinterested attachment claimed, at least, the
return of good-will; notes and letters passed between
them, and presently Lady Yarmouth's hair, or her
picture, I forget which, shone on Lady Mary's arm
in a magnificent bracelet set with diamonds. It is
but fair to add, that the King's decease no way
diminished the devotion vowed by the wearer of the
bracelet to the giver, though the latter left England
directly, and therefore it could only he testified at
a distance.
Princess Emily, a woman of quick parts and warm
feelings, but without Lady Yarmouth's bonhomie, saw
further into Lady Mary's character; for her Royal
Highness knew more of the world than princes usually
do; partly from native sagacity, partly from keeping
better company and having a mind above that jealous
fear of the superior in understanding which so often
leads them to prefer associating either with people of
mean capacity, gratuitously dubbed good creatures, or
else with those who can cunningly veil their sense and
act the part of butts and buffoons for interested
purposes. As Bishop Watson 1 once told me that he
had wisdom enough of his own, and would rather meet
with something a little more amusing in his acquaintance,
so might she have said of dignity. She had
quite enough of her own; therefore the solemn grandeur
of the mock princess often tired the real one, and
always struck her as very ridiculous. Unluckily, too,
her favourite friend Caroline, Marchioness of Lothian 2
— as yet Lady Ancram — had a wicked wit, prone to
disconcert all ultra-gravity; and was the person in the
world whose jokes Lady Mary most dreaded encountering.
Many a trick, I fear, did these able confederates
play her; but she obliged them by playing herself one
that surpassed all the rest.
You have seen at Newbattle the whole-length
portrait of Lady Ancram, holding a large lute. Lady
1 Bishop of Llandaff, 1782-1816. — ED.
2 Lady Caroline D'Arcy, sister of the last Earl of Holdernesse.
Their mother was the daughter of Meinhardt, Duke of Schomberg.
Mary Coke chose to be painted with a large lute also.
Now, the individual lute, 1 that sat for its picture bodily
in both instances, belonged to the former lady, who
played upon it very agreeably. The latter borrowed
it from her, took a lute-master, laboured and strummed,
and made nothing of it, because she had no ear, and,
like Hortensio's pupil in Shakespeare, was subject to
mistake her frets and fingering. 2 After a reasonable
time, Lady Ancram wished to have her lute back
again; but Lady Mary, equally loath to buy an
instrument for herself, or to give over strumming as a
lost cause, found twenty excuses for still keeping
possession, in spite of repeated billets, serious and
comic, that came to dun her in English, French, and
Italian. As a last resource, Lady Ancram resolved to
try dunning her in German — a language she knew her
to be intently studying (with much the same success
as the lute) for the sake of their royal friend and that
of Queen Yarmouth. This required Princess Emily's
assistance. She wrote a proper note for Lady Ancram
to copy, and remained in good hope of seeing some
curious Anglo-German jargon in answer. But the
event was better still, and far exceeded their expecta1
The lutes are not identical. Lady Ancram's is an ordinary lute,
held in the hands, a feat difficult to perform with the one in Lady
Mary's portrait. The correct name for this instrument is apparently
a Theorbo or base lute — Italian 'Chiterrone.' Both pictures are
by Allan Ramsay. Lady Ancram's is at Newbattle, Lady Mary's at
Mounstuart. — ED.
2 'I did but tell her she mistook her frets,
And bowed her hand to teach her fingering.'
Taming of the Shrew.
tions. Lady Mary arrived with an air of inward
satisfaction, and soon fell to moralise on most people's
aptness to overrate their own talents. Then proceeding
to apply — as it behoves a pious preacher — 'Why,
now, madam, between ourselves, there's my Lady
Ancram. She is very clever — no dispute of that; but,
really, she can't do every thing, as she will fancy she
can. In strict confidence, I'll show your Royal Highness
a note I have had from her in what she takes to
be German. Do but look at it. German, indeed!
Your R.H., who knows what German is, will be
amused with the bungling, blundering attempt she has
made to write a language she knows nothing of.' The
Princess, not daring to move a muscle for fear of
betraying herself, shook her head pityingly over her
own note; and confessing what was strictly true — but
how true the other little suspected — 'that, to be sure,
poor Lady Ancram could not write a word of German,'
allowed Lady Mary to go off in triumph.
All this while a youth was growing up in the same
high quarter, whose name Lady Mary would not willingly
have had left out of her history. You are aware
I mean Edward, Duke of York: and curious, I do not
doubt, to inquire his character. As people will take
liberties with their own relations, it was given very
concisely by his aunt Princess Emily, when, in after
days talking to a friend of mine, she described his late
Majesty's brothers, all in a lump, as 'the best-humoured
asses that ever were born.' With regard to one of
them — Henry, Duke of Cumberland — the expression,
however strong, was happy, almost picturesque; no
alteration could mend it. Not so for the Duke of
Gloucester, who, though a weak man, with many
failings, had good qualities and princely manners, and
could not justly, be pronounced a fool. Nor did the
Duke of York's folly, I believe, approach the towering
height of his brother Cumberland's; but I have always
heard that he was silly, frivolous, heartless; void alike
of steadiness and principle; a libertine in his practice,
and in society one of those incessant chatterers who
must by necessity utter a vast deal of nonsense.
Horace Walpole's letters record the laugh that arose
on Prince Edward's asking a lady 1 how she liked
Young Clackit in the farce. 2 You see the cause.
Young Clackit struck the company as so precisely his
Highness's very self, that it got the better of a respect
which daily familiarity with royalty, here and there
and everywhere, had not then worn away. He was the
first of his race who began the good work of demolishing
it, by running about giddily to all sorts of places
with all sorts of people — of course, principally the
worst sort — until his frolics won the public attention,
and the Duke of York's crew grew a phrase used, as
the lawyers say, in common parlance.
1 The Duchess of Richmond. See Walpole's Letters, vol. iii. 221.
'Prince Edward is grown very fickle. Lady Millbank is already
forgot, & given place to the Duchess of Richmond, who he pursues
with great earnestness, but meets with so little encouragement from
her Grace that I fancy he will soon grow weary….' — Lady Mary
Coke to Lady Dalkeith, 8th April 1758. — ED.
2 The Guardian by Garrick. — ED.
The friendship — or call it league — he formed with the
Delavals, a family renowned for their wild profligacy,
spread his fame through the northern counties, where
he more than once visited Sir Francis Delaval and his
sister Lady Mexborough at their country-seats; and
Yorkshire rang long and loudly of the orgies therein
celebrated. The most innocent of their pastimes consisted
of practical jokes played on each other, and, if
possible, on some luckless stranger of an age or character
to render such pleasantry an affront. This man saw
his bed sink through the floor just as he was stepping
into it; that was awakened before day by a sluice of
cold water from the ceiling. The gentlemen started
out of closets to catch the ladies at their toilets; the
ladies stole and hid necessary parts of the gentlemen's
dress in revenge. Mr. Wedderburne, afterwards Chancellor,
passing near one of these enchanted castles when
going the circuit, thought it proper to pay his duty to
the King's brother, and was received with much civility;
in secret with exultation, for he and his wife were fresh
game, of the right breed. But a fearful figure in a
white sheet appearing in the middle of their bedchamber,
which, upon examining it, he found full of
trap-doors, he took Mrs. Wedderburne away betimes
next morning, without the ceremony of bidding his
Royal Highness farewell.
Among the motley tribe of gamblers, jockeys, boon
companions, fiddlers, singers, and writers of good (i.e.
infamous) songs, who enlivened this illustrious association,
Foote, the famous mimic actor, held an eminent
place, and paid no less than one of his limbs for the
honour. He rode very ill; therefore it was an excellent
joke to mount him upon a vicious horse, declared gentle
enough to carry any lady. The animal threw him, as
might be expected, and the surgeons could save his life
only by instantly cutting off a leg which he had fractured
in a horrible manner. However, the accident
made his fortune: since the Duke, feeling some compunction
on the occasion, engaged the King to give
him the patent of the little theatre in the Haymarket,
the source of all his future affluence.
Considering the inglorious nature of the Duke of
York's brief career, you will wonder to hear that high
expectations of him were entertained in his childhood —
at least by his parents: I know not whether by any
one beside. But he was decidedly their favourite son,
and their preference of him to his eldest brother a feeling
openly avowed. Some distinguished foreigner
praising the latter — 'Oh, ay,' replied the Prince of
Wales coldly — 'Yes; George is a good boy; but
Edward has something in him, I assure you. Edward
will be somebody. You will hear of him one of these
days.' And even when both were advancing to the
age of men, the Princess Dowager took little pains —
not enough — to conceal the same partiality. The
reasons of it I have a mind to make Dr. Johnson assign
instead of myself; his words being so much better than
mine, and the passage I shall quote so apposite;
although beginning with a position cruelly discourteous

'Women, by whatever fate, always judge absurdly
of the intellects of boys.'
I am afraid this comes nearer the truth than one
would wish to admit. But then I maintain that the
mind has a sex, notwithstanding a common saying to
the contrary; and minds may occasionally be misplaced
— lodged in wrong habitations. A voice I once dearly
loved to listen to used to assert that there were in the
world almost as many he-women as she-women, instancing
particularly a whole flourishing family of
brothers and sisters, who had not anything like a
MAN among them. With this caveat let Dr. Johnson
go on —
'The vivacity and confidence which attract female
admiration are seldom produced in early life, but by
ignorance at least, if not by stupidity; for they proceed
not from confidence of right, but fearlessness of
wrong. Whoever has a clear apprehension must have
quick sensibility, and where he has no sufficient reason
to trust his own judgment, will proceed with doubt
and caution, because lie perpetually dreads the disgrace
of error. The pain of miscarriage is proportionate
to the desire of excellence; therefore till men are
hardened … diffidence is found the inseparable
associate of understanding.'
Here Johnson, without knowing it, was drawing an
exact picture of the royal house, and pointing out
accurately how the heir of the crown, silent, modest,
and easily abashed, differed from his next brother,
whom brisk animal spirits and volubility of speech,
added to that first of gifts, a good assurance — hourly
strengthened by encouragement — enabled to join in,
or interrupt every conversation, and always say a something
which the obsequious hearers were ready to
applaud. If the other ever faltered out an opinion,
it was passed by unnoticed; sometimes knocked down
at once with — 'Do hold your tongue, George: don't
talk like a fool.' And everybody knows that young
persons — or any persons — under the curse of bashfulness,
will talk below themselves when afraid to hear
the sound of their own voices, and fearful that whatever
they utter will be treated with scorn. Let alone
conversing, it requires considerable self-possession, if
not some share of impudence, to carve a leg of mutton,
if you see all around you ready primed to laugh at your
failure. Yet, when thus abruptly silenced, George the
Third did not brood over it with the dark sullenness
pretty sure to follow where early shyness conceals, as it
often does, a haughty temper, and a high, though
smothered, self-esteem. 'Pride and sharpness were
not in him.' It only tended to augment, perhaps
create, the awkward hesitation we remember in that
most excellent Prince; whose real good sense, innate
rectitude, unspeakably kind heart, and genuine manliness
of spirit, were overlooked in his youth, and indeed
not fully appreciated till a much later time.
You will think I have diverged most widely from
the main point: but never fear, Lady Mary will
appear again by and by; and, as this may not be the
last time I shall fly off at a tangent, you must use
yourself to digressions and prosing. On Prince
Edward's first setting out, hardly yet freed from a
governor's control, the underlings of his mother's court
praised and puffed him as far as they durst for shame;
and the highest company were ready to give him
welcome, because, by the then received notions of
society, he did them an honour in seeking their
acquaintance. So thought even Mr. Walpole, whom
(with the good leave of a swarm of magazine-critics
that never saw his face) no one who knew him in his
lifetime would ever have accused of servility. Kings
and princes were no rarities to him: nor was he really
elated by their notice; he took it at its current value,
neither more nor less, as we accept the sovereign
proffered us for twenty shillings without troubling
ourselves to weigh it. When he knelt in form to kiss
the Duke of York's hand at his own door, 1 he probably
had a politic view quite unsuspected by the aforesaid
critics: that of warding off too close an intimacy,
and preventing the illustrious young gentleman from
skipping in and out of his house at pleasure. To keep
at a profoundly respectful distance from our superiors
is the true way, as he perfectly knew, of keeping them
at a convenient distance from ourselves. Let each
man stand in his proper place, and none can press
heavily upon another.
All this is now so changed that I seem to be
1 He performed this ceremony twice within an interval of twenty--
eight years to two Dukes of York — the uncle and the nephew (see H.
Walpole, iii. 347, and ix. 150), and gives his reasons for doing it to
Lady Ossory, ix. 152. — ED.
speaking of the world before the Flood. But who
has changed it? They have, the Great themselves.
'Tu l'as voulu, George Dandin.' 1 It is their own
act and deed. Whatever you hear about the diffusion
of light, and the downfall of prejudice, and
the march of intellect, and many more fine things,
set forth in fine writing, and retailed in speech by
innumerable parrots without feathers; did princes
associate chiefly with persons of superior rank and
consequence, such persons would still jealously value
the privilege of approaching them. Were eminent
merit and shining talents the principal exceptions, it
would become a mark for merit and talents to aim at.
And this because it is, and ever was, and ever will be,
the nature of man to prize highly what he cannot
easily obtain; independently of the thing's intrinsic
worth, or its want of it. For mere eating, how little
does a blackcock excel a chicken? Yet nobody
wonders that a sportsman should waste the livelong
day in pursuing the one 'o'er moor and mountain';
whereas, if he rose early to go into his own farmyard
and shoot the other, his heirs, in case they were
aggrieved by his will, would perhaps bring it forward
as a legal proof that he had lost his senses.
To proceed. In days when royalty was yet a gem
for few to cheapen, you may conclude it could not fail
to shine brightly in the eyes of one who had such a
natural bent to admire it as Lady Mary Coke. She
addressed the Prince still more respectfully than Lord
1 Molière's George Dandin.
Orford; but tempered her respect with all the attractive
smiles and graces which could make the handsome
young man feel himself flattered by the handsome
woman's curtsying so particularly low to him. Honestly
speaking — observe — the young man was not handsome.
As described to me, he had a little, mean figure,
and a pale face, with white eyelashes and eyebrows, and
a certain tremulous motion of the eye 1 that was far
from adding to its beauty. Their ages at this time
stood as follows: — his barely twenty, hers thirty-two;
a disparity which would spoil a romance, but in real
life spoils nothing; on the contrary, gives a zest and
spirit to flirtation, by gratifying the vanity of both
parties. The lady who at two-and-twenty would have
despised a boy of nineteen, finds something mighty
soothing in his attentions when conscious of being
rather past her bloom: while the boy, looking down
upon insipid misses — Anglicè, pretty girls of his own
age — is exalted above measure in self-estimation by
the preference of the fine woman whom he sees others
admire, and believes to stand on the pinnacle of fashion.
In this way probably commenced the friendship, or
whatever it was, we speak of. Lady Mary, however,
having a reverend care of her reputation, kept upon
1 Frederick, Prince of Wales, was questioning a gentleman newly
come from Germany, about the family of a Sovereign at whose Court
he had been Minister. 'Have they turned out well-looking?' said he.
Oh Lord, sir, hideous; they have all white, shaking eyes.' 'Ah!
replied the Prince, very composedly, 'to he sure that must disfigure
them; it is the case with some of my children, as you will see
high ground, admitted his Royal Highness's visits but
sparingly, and wholly avoided any suspicious familiarity.
In consequence his letters (which are boyish enough)
abound with complaints of the prudish strictness that
holds him so far aloof, and inspires him with such awe
that he hardly dares hazard the most innocent expressions,
for fear of being misunderstood, and giving her
nicety a causeless alarm. 'Strong symptoms of love--
making,' you cry. I do not deny it; yet one of these
letters betrays, I think, some nearly as strong of
Quizzing. How the world went on so long without
that useful verb I cannot imagine: it had early acquaintance
with the mischievous thing. He tells her
he has been studying the History of Scotland, and is
wonderfully struck with the resemblance of character
between herself and Queen Elizabeth. Nobody can
question that this was the most deliciously palatable
compliment he could have concocted, considering the
peculiar taste of her he sought to please. But the
woman whom it did please to be likened to Queen Bess
by a lover must have known little of love and its
whimsical ways, and, indeed, just as Lady Temple
affirmed, have had no such passion in her nature. 1
1 The following is the text of the letter referred to:—
'Friday Morn.
'P. Edwards complts to Lady Mary Coke, and cannot help making
another attempt to enquire how she does. Is provok'd with himself
for not remembering the fashionable hours better than to send to
enquire after a lady's health at so early an hour as must oblige her to
send back word she's asleep, out of compliance and conformity to an
idle, dissipated, unthinking age.
'This is an offence I have the more reason to plead an excuse for,
But the presumptions of quizzing do not rest here.
Lady Susan Stewart, 1 the Lady Augusta's lady of the
bedchamber and favourite, used to tell my elder sisters,
Lonsdale and Macartney, who were her intimate companions
in their youth, how the Duke of York daily
diverted her mistress and her with accounts of Lady
Mary's pomposity, of the awful reserve maintained and
the distant encouragement held out by turns, and, more
than all, of her evident intention to become the wife of
his bosom. Nay, Lady Augusta 2 herself seldom spoke
to them (my sisters) at the drawing-room without
as my life is far spent in my morning occupations before this time, and
being at present employ'd in the Scotch History, where Queen Elizabeth
makes her name of so great importance, that, sway'd by some
part of her behaviour (which always strikes me with a great resemblance
to my present correspondent, and wou'd not at all be unworthy
of her, were it not for that duplicity in her conduct and cruelty to
Queen Mary, which is a blemish that must always attend that great
Princesses memory), the resemblance of the rest of the character made
me forget for a minute the age I live in; I otherwise should not have
been so old fashion'd. However I have suffer'd enough from my
reitterated absurdity, and flatter myself to that alone I owe the anxiety
I am in concerning the health of her to whom these lines are address'd.'
— ED.
1 Daughter of Lord Galloway. She married Granville, Earl Gower,
created Marquis of Stafford, in 1786, and was mother by him of Lord
Granville, Lady Georgiana Eliot, the Duchess of Beaufort, and Lady
Harrowby. — ED.
2 The late Duchess of Brunswick. Frederick, Prince of Wales, who
studiously affected English manners (perhaps in a spirit of contradiction
to his thoroughly German father), revived the old English custom of
styling his daughters the Lady Augusta, the Lady Elizabeth, etc.; justly
deeming this, our national title (like the Madame of France or Infanta
of Spain), more dignified than that of Princess, so common on the Continent,
and there, so far from being confined to Royal persons. But
Queen Charlotte saw the matter in another light: the Lady wounded
her ears, and she re-established the (German) Princess.
making ludicrous inquiries after her sister Mary.
'What is sister Mary about just now? Is she disturbed
at this or graciously pleased with that? Come! you
must tell me something of my dearly beloved sister.'
And, with all possible respect be it spoken, the
simper I was wont to see stealing over King George's
countenance long after, whenever he heard Lady Mary's
name mentioned, seemed to betoken that in early life
he too had had his full share of the diversion. In short,
I can have no doubt that her lofty aims were a standing
jest with all the royal family.
Not that this precludes the possibility of the Duke's
having felt a great degree of liking for her, and believed
in the reality of hers for him. Men — men of the idle
world at least — are so made that their turning a woman
into the most cruel ridicule is nothing to the purpose.
They may still be extremely vain of her partiality, and
inclined rather to overrate it than suppose it feigned.
Of course, they will think of her with a good deal of
kindness; perhaps with more than they care to own;
but that a very dissipated man — in plain English, a
rake — should continue long harbouring in the depth of
his heart a romantic passion, a faithful, fervent attachment,
to a pattern of rigid virtue, one dozen of years
older than himself —! Do but consider the likelihood
of such a thing! —
'—for aught that ever you could hear,
Could ever read in tale or history.'
We all may have known instances of such extraordinary
affection subsisting where there was a considerable
difference of age on the wrong side; but then
either the women have been otherwise than virtuous or
else the men have not been rakes. Take the former
supposition: it implies the existence of consummate
skill and powers of allurement, which, aided by the
force of habit, have riveted the chains that chance or
caprice originally forged. In the latter case (a far rarer)
habit may operate too: but the best feelings of an
honest, affectionate heart are usually engaged; and
esteem must have helped to ripen the man's sentiments
into something more like the strongest degree of
brotherly or filial tenderness than love properly so
Lady Greenwich once told Lord Haddington that she
really believed the Duke of York and Lady Mary were
secretly married. Why she thought so, or chose to say
so, I shall not pretend to conjecture. I should never
have guessed this to be her opinion. I am certain it
was not that of her other sisters, or their husbands; for
they were sufficiently explicit upon the subject: sometimes
laughing like the rest of the world; sometimes
wishing they could deter Lady Mary from exposing
herself. It is past my power of belief that she would
ever have destroyed one scrap of paper tending to prove,
I will not say a marriage, but a promise, an engagement,
an undefined connection, an obscure and nameless
tie between them; since she preserved his veriest
notes of three lines, written in a great schoolboy's
scrawl, to hope her cold was better, or to recommend
a tuner for the lute of famous memory. The longest
and latest epistle of all, dated from Rome in 1764,
and subscribed 'Your affectionate friend, Edward,'
instead of containing a single phrase trenching on
the tender or the mysterious, is rather what sentimental
folks would spurn at, as a mere matter-of-fact
letter. Any gentleman might have addressed it to any
lady, young or old, or even to one of his own sex. It
simply tells where he has been, whom he has seen, and
how he has been received by the Pope and other princes;
concluding with a grumbling comparison between his
own situation and income, and those of his 'brother
Sosia,' meaning the Cardinal of York. 1
1 The following is the letter referred to: —
ROME, April 25th, 1764.
'DR LY MARY, — Nothing having happen'd worthy troubling you
with a further account of than what report of newspapers wou'd suffise,
has made me defer writing till now. The attentions I have met with
everywhere were what I might flatter myself with receiving in some
degree. The manner of showing them has been conducted in the most
friendly or respectful manner to the King, according to the different
situations from whence they came: all in the most obliging, some even
with affectionate tenderness towards me. I need hardly tell you I mean
those paid me by the King of Sardinia. Enquire of G. Pitt, who will
give you a full account of it. The D. of Modena & Madame Zimonetta
did all they con'd to make Milan as agreeable as possible, in which they
succeeded so well that I promis'd the Duke to meet him at the Fair at
Regio. My tour to Naples was interupted by the famine riot and disorder,
that I fear will still prevail there for some time. This made me
stay at Florence & the environs till the Holy week brought me to Rome.
Sr Horace Man did the honours of the last place. It is requisite to know
the good nature, good humour, good sense and real well understood
hospitality he possesses, to know how agreeable he can make himself.
I desire you will tell his friend H. Walpole how much I am pleas'd
with him. At my arrival here I receiv'd the same attentions as elsewhere
from the foreign ministers and nobility of the country. The Pope
pays me every mark of distinction possible. I have assisted at all the
Upon his death, which happened at Modena 1 in
1767, Lady Mary's affliction was excessive; and it was
affiché — for I must borrow a French word — displayed
and proclaimed to all hearers and beholders. His body
being brought home for interment, she went down into
the vault as soon as the funeral was over, attended by
Colonel Morrison, his groom of the bedchamber, to
kneel and weep beside the coffin. This Morrison, whom
I remember an old general, was a tall lank man, with a
visage uncommonly rueful and ugly. 'Umph!' said
George Selwyn, in his grave, slow manner; 'if her ladyship
wished to enact the Ephesian matron, I wonder she
did not choose a better-looking soldier.' For some years
she constantly repeated these visits to the Duke's remains
whenever the opening of the royal vault on the demise
functions. The very Tribune in St Peters which us'd to be fitted up for
the old Chevalier was transferr'd to me. The Governor of Rome is my
particular friend. Cardinal Albani gave me a ball last night, an event
not seen these two years, and forbid then by the Pope, but approved of
on this occasion. There is another tonight at the Corsini Palace. Tomorrow
there's a horse race in the town. I visited yesterday the Castle
of St Angelo, which was lin'd from top to bottom with soldiers. The
officers saluted me as I passed. As for Brother Sosia, he has gone to
reside at his Bishoprick: whether he is the true or the false one is not for
me to determine, but I am sure, 'Il est celui chez qui on devroit diner,'
for he is a Cardinal with £40,000 a year. I have no chance of ever
being a Bishop. His private establishment is at present £15,000 for
life, & will be more when his father dies; alas! mine is but £12,000,
and that only during pleasure. I think of returning to Florence in a
few days. I cannot conclude without acquainting you I never knew
Ldy Spencer so well as at present. Your friendship for her I am sure
will make you rejoice at hearing so good an account of her. Adieu. I
find I must be very soon among you in the autumn, when I hope to
assure you in person of the esteem & regard with which I am — Yr very
affectionate Friend, E.' — ED.
1 By mistake for Monaco.
of a prince or princess gave her an opportunity: 1
but all her acquaintance were expected to know that
the hallowed building containing them must never be
named or alluded to in her presence. Lady Emily
Macleod, while still a girl in a white frock, got into a
sad scrape on this account. Her father and mother had
a very pretty villa near Blackheath, which Princess
Emily one morning drove down to see, carrying Lady
Mary Coke with her. As Lord Lothian was absent,
and Lady Lothian not quite well, her Royal Highness
took the young lady to show her the walks and prospects.
Now they stopped to look at a fine view of
Greenwich Hospital, now at a noble reach of the river
crowded with shipping. 'And here, madam, this way,
your Royal Highness may catch a glimpse of Westminster
Abbey.' 'My dear!' exclaimed Lady Mary,
rather sharply, 'if you please do not talk of Westminster
Abbey before me.' The Princess laughed; and
they walked on and on till they came to an eminence,
where poor Lady Emily, forgetting the injunction,
pointed out the Abbey, as it seemed to rise in awful
solemnity from a grove of elms within the place.
'Child!' cried Lady Mary in her shrillest key, 'what
do you mean? Have you a mind to make me faint
away? Did I not forbid you to say anything about the
Abbey?' People of warm tempers are subject to mistake
in the mode of expressing their feelings, and
confound one kind of emotion with another: so the
1 See journal of Lady Mary Coke, 21st May 1768. — ED.
girl went home and asked her mother why that lady
always flew in such a passion at the sight (or sound) of
Westminster Abbey.
Nothing could be more characteristic of both parties
than the first interview between Princess Emily and
Lady Mary after the Duke of York's decease. The
one, neither feeling concerned nor seeking to feign it,
talked on common topics as usual, resolved not to
notice the other's mournful silence, bows, and monosyllables.
A violent burst of tears ensued. 'Dear
Lady Mary!' quoth her Royal Highness, 'do not
make yourself so miserable about my sister (this was
the Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel, who had a fit of
illness); I assure you my accounts of her are quite
satisfactory.' Here the paroxysm redoubled. 'Nay,
but surely you may trust me; I am not in the least
uneasy now; by yesterday's post I received a letter
from herself to say how fast she was recovering.' At
last Lady Mary, taking none of these hints — for broad
hints they were meant to be — sobbed forth the name
of York; and at last also Princess Emily, losing
patience, broke out with all the rough bluntness of her
father, 'My good Lady Mary, if you did but know
what a joke he always used to make of you, I promise
you you would soon have done crying for him.' I
presume this abrupt dialogue induced Lady Mary to
send the incredulous aunt all his notes and letters, in
order to show her what his sentiments had been; but
the packet came back with only one brief dry sentence
in answer as follows: 'I thank you for the letters,
which I return, and wish I could prevail on you to
burn them all. — AMELIA.'1
In three or four years, ere the wound was well
healed, two surprising public events took place; ostensibly
not at all concerning Lady Mary, yet felt by
her as personal injuries and mortifications to herself.
These were the Duke of Cumberland's marriage, and,
what it probably hastened, the public avowal of the
Duke of Gloucester's. I was then beginning to open
my eyes and ears, and to attend to the conversation
of my mother's visitors; and I can bear witness that
Lady Mary lost her rest and appetite, and ran some
risk of losing her wits upon these royal misalliances.
She foamed at the mouth as she declaimed against
them. Knowing the whole affair, certainly one can
conceive nothing more irritating to a great lady,
duchess-dowager of York by her own creation, yet,
with all the Campbell blood in her veins, unable to
prove herself so, than to behold two such persons
authentically Duchesses of Gloucester and Cumberland.
Lady Waldegrave was a most lovely woman; not of
much sense, but blameless in character and conduct. She
had the manners of the high society in which she had
always moved; she was the widow of a distinguished
man of quality; but — there was no disguising it — the
illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole, by a
mistress whom, if report spoke true, the keeper of some
infamous house, descrying her uncommon beauty, had
1 The packet still exists, with this note attached in Princess Amelia's
writing. — ED.
fairly beckoned in from the top of a cinder-cart. The
widow Horton had no such stain of birth, but in every
other respect was far less fit for a princess. Her father,
Simon Luttrell,1 might be pronounced the greatest
reprobate in England. He once challenged his eldest
son, the late Lord Carhampton, who in return sent
him word that if he (the father) could prevail on any
gentleman to be his second, he would fight him with
all his heart. Such was the style of the family. The
daughters had habits suited to it; vulgar, noisy, indelicate,
and intrepid: utter strangers to good company,
they never were to be seen in any woman of
fashion's house, though often leaders of riotous parties
at Vauxhall or Ranelagh. Yet Mrs. Horton was not
accused of gallantry. She belonged to that disgusting
class of women who possibly spread wider corruption
than many of the more really, or — let me say — more
nominally vicious: women who have never blushed in
their lives; who set modesty and decency at defiance
in cold blood; and because they have done nothing,
take the liberty of saying everything; as if desirous
to proclaim that it is not principle but want of sufficient
temptation alone, that hinders their walking
the Strand. Lady Margaret Fordice said, very aptly,
that after hearing the Duchess of Cumberland talk
for half an hour, one ought to go home and wash
one's ears.
The King, highly offended with his brothers on this
occasion, forbade them his sight, and notified that no
1 Created Lord Irnham, and afterwards Earl of Carhampton.
one who frequented their courts should be received at
St. James. So had William and Mary done to Queen
Anne, and George the First and Second to their refractory
sons. But their successor was much too good--
natured to enforce his edict; especially against the
Duke of Gloucester, whom he loved. Were you ever
at a trial by the Peers in Westminster Hall? When
first proclamation is made that 'our sovereign Lord
doth strictly charge all manner of persons to keep
silence on pain of imprisonment,' everybody is struck
totally dumb for about five seconds: then our fair
sex (if not the other) recover their fright, and go on
whispering and clattering just as before. His Majesty's
prohibition had like effects. It overawed people for
the first month; in the second they stole a visit to
Gloucester or Cumberland House,1 went to Court early
in the third, and, being spoken to as usual, troubled
their heads no more about the matter. It soon grew
a dead letter, which nobody pretended to mind but
the household, the ministers, and their wives. Meanwhile,
as it pointed out to the Opposition a cheap
and safe way of showing disrespect to the Crown, their
zeal instantly flamed high for the Princes in disgrace;
and never were Princesses so reverenced and Royal
Highnessed by patriots, as the ladies whose consequence
Aunt Emily overturned with one careless word. 'Well!
to talk no more of my nephews and their women —'
1 Gloucester House, now Grosvenor House, was purchased from
the Duke of Beaufort in 1761. Cumberland House was built for
Henry, Duke of Cumberland, in Pall Mall, and is now part of the
War Office. (Wheatley and Cunningham's London.) — ED.
Neither of the proscribed houses, then, was at all
deserted; but they differed materially from each other
in point of society, for the Duchess of Gloucester
maintained a degree of state, approved of by the
Duke, that gave some stiffness to her parties, which
were commonly rather select. Unbounded freedom
reigned at Cumberland House, as its mistress, laughing
forms and etiquettes to scorn, was better pleased that
tag, rag, and bobtail (pardon the vulgar phrase) should
flock in, than that numbers should ever be wanting.
This did not spring from humility. — Query, does it
in any case? She was not honestly indifferent to
the honours she affected to undervalue; but she had
sense enough to know that nothing could ever place
her upon the same level with the persons born in
purple: therefore she bore them an inveterate hatred,
and made whatever appertained to rank, birth, or
dignity the object of her contemptuous sarcasms.
Her sister, Miss Betsy (or Lady Elizabeth) Luttrell,
who had a great deal of real, though coarse, wit, and
was more precisely what the Regent Orleans entitled
a Roué than one would have thought it practicable
that anything clad in petticoats could be, governed
the family with a high hand, marshalled the gaming--
table, gathered round her the men, and led the way
in ridiculing the King and Queen. Buckingham
House served as a byword — a signal for the onset of
Ho! Ho! Ho! — and a mighty scope for satire was
afforded by the Queen's wide mouth and occasionally
imperfect English, as well as by the King's trick of
saying What? What? his ill-made coats, and general
antipathy to the fashion. But the marks preferably
aimed at were his virtues; his freedom from vice as a
man; his discouragement of it as a sovereign; the
exclusion of divorced women from his court; beyond all,
his religious prejudices — that is to say, his sincere piety
and humble reliance upon God. Nothing of this scoffing
kind passed at Gloucester House: the Duke respected
his brother and himself too much to permit it, and the
Duchess, however sore on her own account, saw nothing
ridiculous in conjugal fidelity, nor yet in going to
church and saying one's prayers — superstitious practices
to which the unenlightened woman was greatly
addicted herself.
Now, upon my statement,would not you conclude that,
of these two obnoxious couples, the Cumberlands must
have been most the objects of Lady Mary's abhorrence?
Yet was it quite the reverse. She regarded them with
supreme disdain; but at the name of the Gloucesters
her eyes struck fire, and her teeth absolutely gnashed
together. I hope for the honour of history, and for
hers, that no paltry female feeling lay lurking at the
root of this bitter animosity — no original grudge
against the beautiful Lady Waldegrave for having,
on her first appearance, eclipsed other people who
were far less young, and never had been half so handsome.
Perhaps the mere circumstance of a slight
common acquaintance between them operated disagreeably.
It might be more galling to have a person
put over one's head, who a moment ago stood in the
ranks by one's side, than to see a stranger promoted
from another brigade. In short, I only warrant the
fact — I cannot tell the reason. The unconscious
Duchess of Gloucester seemed to run pins and needles,
goads and stings into her, drawing blood every day by
some fresh piece of arrogance or sauciness; though
all the while, notwithstanding the airs she — that
woman — chose to give herself (‘that woman' — not
pronounced in the cool tone of Princess Emily, but
with a killing emphasis), the woman was not MARRIED:
the Duchess of Cumberland was.
To explain this to your comprehension. The widow
Horton, when she had secured her idiot-prince — by
means, it was said, of some stern hints from a resolute
brother, 'un certain Alcidas qui se mêloit de porter
l'épée' (see Molière's Mariage Forcé) — took especial
care to be wedded in the face of day, and have register,
certificate, and witnesses all forthcoming. The Duke
of Gloucester, who at first intended to keep his
marriage a profound secret, found himself hampered
by the precautions he had used for that purpose, and
in consequence could not produce his proofs so readily.
But the King, though angry, ever upright and honourable,
as he had no manner of doubt on the subject in
his own mind, would not suffer any to be started in
Council, and I believe none was entertained by the
world at large: so Lady Mary stood out alone — as
she had the glory of doing against the foolish notions
of her ignorant fellow-creatures in many another
A year or two after these marriages, Lady Mary
resolved to leave the land where such monstrous acts
could be committed, and breathe a while the pure
air of countries more strictly governed. It was not
her first sally abroad. She had made two or three
excursions into Germany since his late Majesty's
accession, and formed intimacies with sundry German
princesses — Mary of England, in particular, Landgravine
of Hesse-Cassel — her professions of attachment
to whom had authorised that wicked wilful mistake
of Princess Emily's recorded above. The Royal and
Serene Highnesses in question (most of them her correspondents)
were now to be revisited at their respective
courts for the refreshing of friendship: then she purposed
paving her respects to the hero Frederick of
Prussia, and then pushing on to Vienna. The hero
proved not only inaccessible but invisible. At Berlin
his brothers and sisters and his poor cipher queen were
as civil to her as could be wished, and she saw many
of the generals who had gathered laurels in the Seven
Years' War; but vainly did she spend a whole week
at Potsdam, go to the opera, and attend the parade.
Frederick, rather than meet her eyes, forbore enjoying
his music and exercising his troops, and continued
obstinately shut up in his private apartments till
assured of her final retreat. Seriously, she persuaded
herself that there was something in his seclusion
during her stay that did regard her, and was too
marked not to be intentional; therefore, as distinction
is all in all, she remained nearly as well satisfied
as she would have been with a favourable reception.
The King of Prussia, she thought, did not take pains
to avoid an insignificant person, one of no political
Ample amends awaited her at Vienna, where the
British envoy, Sir Robert Murray Keith,2 was then
all-powerful; being universally popular, and cherished
as a familiar friend by the Emperor Joseph. Our
ambassadors at foreign courts had not yet learned to
dread invasions from their countrywomen: travelling
boys and tutors frequently gave them a great deal
of trouble, but English ladies did not at that time
go swarming all over Europe. The arrival, then, of
a woman of high quality and unstained character,
like Lady Mary Coke, was an incident rather acceptable
to Sir Robert, who, by paying her particular
respect himself, insured her obtaining attention from
the crowned heads: to whom he made her birth and
rank fully known, and introduced her in the most
advantageous manner. A duck — or why have not I
the grace to say a Swan? — takes the water by instinct,
1 Frederick was always present at the daily exercise of the troops at
Potsdam. When Lady Mary was there he did not come, upon which
she said to Lord Marischall, in the presence of one of his (the king's)
aide-de-camps, 'that I hoped his Lordship would tell him, that altho'
I allowed him to be a very great Hero and a great King, I prefer'd
the Heros of Antiquity, for they had complaisance for Ladies, and
that his Majesty had none, which I looked upon as a great defect in
his character.' (Journal, 4th Augst. 1773.) — ED.
2 The British envoy in 1770, when Lady Mary first visited Vienna,
was Lord Stormont. Sir Robert Keith was not appointed till 1772, on
Lady Mary's second visit to Vienna. He had the difficult task of
steering clear of her quarrels during her third visit in 1773. — ED.
swims proudly along, and is happy. Thus in a court
Lady Mary found her natural element. Here, making
a graceful curtsy, playing her fan with a good air, and
dressing magnificently, were all things of some moment;
and her knowledge of history and pedigree, foreign
and domestic, turned to still better account. The
Empress-queen received and treated her with all her
habitual graciousness; Joseph, ever a most agreeable
man in society, was well-bred and courteous to Sir
Robert Keith's friend; Prince Kaunitz, the prime
minister, followed his example; Count Seilern, who
had been ambassador in England, welcomed her as an
old acquaintance; the Thuns, the Lichtensteins, the
Esterhazis, invited her to superb entertainments; and,
on the whole, I suppose the months she passed amongst
them were decidedly the happiest of her long life.
When about to go away, she had a private audience
of the Empress, who, with many flattering expressions
of regret for her departure, desired she would accept
a fine medallion set with jewels, and wear it for her
All this was so much sunshine beaming on Lady
Mary's mind. In extraordinary good-humour, breathing
nothing but admiration for the perfect beings she
had left, she came home to recount her prosperities, as
Madame de Sévigné would have said, to a set of cold,
incredulous hearers. No doubt her descriptions were
pompous, and people laughed at her, as they had the
confirmed habit of doing, let her talk of what she
would; but I shall confess that, for once, I had no
inclination to join them: her conversation interested
me more than it ever did before or since. First, it was
fluent — an epithet that seldom belonged to it, unless
when anger prompted her to pour out invectives. In
the next place, she had something worth talking of —
the mountain did not now bring forth a mouse: heroic
language suited an heroic subject, and when she expatiated
on the talents and virtues of the great princess
by whom she boasted herself favoured — on her spirit,
her despatch, her penetration, her magnanimity, her
justice, her clemency — to listen 'I did seriously incline':
for I was very young, and very enthusiastic — to speak
the truth — and had in my heart a greater hankering
after heroes and heroines than I durst openly acknowledge,
for fear of becoming as good a joke as Lady
I still retain a lively remembrance of her painting
the scene she said she had witnessed during an illness,
in which the Empress lay for some days seemingly at
the point of death, the physicians giving scarcely a
hope of her recovery. Every church was crowded, day
and night, with persons of every class from the highest
to the lowest: all kneeling promiscuously, and praying
with such fervency, as if each individual had been
petitioning the Almighty to spare the object dearest
to his own bosom. The multitude who thronged round
the palace-gates stood watching for the moment of
their opening in breathless, silent anxiety; not a sound
to be heard but now and then a sob that could not
be suppressed — the soldiers stationed to prevent the
populace from rushing in weeping the most bitterly
of all. For the courtiers and nobility — if asked after
her, they began their answers in due form, with 'Her
Imperial Majesty,' but melted as they went on, till her
high titles sank into 'Notre chère Marie Thérèse,'
uttered in that tone of true affection, that voice of the
heart, which can neither be feigned nor mistaken. It
was at length judged necessary to administer the last
sacraments; and as the Emperor, her son, advanced to
receive the priests bearing the Host and holy oil for
extreme unction, the tears were seen streaming down
his cheeks. But men are men, and power is power: on
another day the symptoms of universal despondency
drew from him a remark which betrayed that he did
not view it without an inward sensation of jealousy —
'This excessive despair,' he said, 'looks not only as
if they loved her, but as if they were afraid of her
successor.' 1 Very probably no unjust inference.
Besides such anecdotes of Maria Theresa, I had
pleasure in learning particulars concerning Prince
Kaunitz, considered as the wisest statesman in Europe;
Laudohn, esteemed by the King of Prussia one of its
greatest generals; Marshal Lacy, long the leader of
the Imperial armies; and many other remarkable
characters. Then the grandeur of the Hungarian
nobles, their ancient descent, their magnificent palaces,
1 This attack (smallpox caught from her son Joseph's second wife,
who died of it) took place in 1767, three years before Lady Mary's
first visit to Vienna. Madame Cobenzl, wife of the Prime Minister at
Brussels, gave Lady Mary an account of what Lady Louisa describes.
See Journal of Lady Mary Coke, 18th July 1767. — ED.
even their plate and diamonds, and feasts and balls and
shows, went for something with an imagination hardly
yet weaned from the enchantment of the Arabian tales.
So, I repeat it, I was for the first and last time an
attentive, gratified auditor. Others, less captivated
by the theme, grew sooner tired of its constant recurrence,
and, besides, felt a strong impulse to rebel when
poor old England was unmercifully run down, and
declared to have nothing in it worthy to be seen or
spoken of. It was true, nobody could say much in
behalf of the tarnished tapestry at St. James's, or of
that wainscotted ballroom which would have made a
decent figure if seated over the market-house of a
country town, and lit with tallow candles. We had
always a woeful deficiency of regal splendour. 1 But
what were the Duchess of Bedford's suppers and the
Duchess of Norfolk's concerts to those of the Princess
1 'Your saying you wish'd I had been at the Christening [of Princess
Amelia, youngest daughter of George III.] made me smile. You had
at that time forgot how many great courts I had been at, & had seen
Royal marriages and a royal christening in magnificent Palaces, performed
with all the pomp & ceremonies of the Church of Rome.
Judge, then, how poor a sight a christening in the dirty rooms of St.
James' must appear to me! & indeed I don't know what part I have not
seen: The rooms I have often seen lighted up: The table with a piece
of red velvet over it I have seen, as also four gilt candlesticks upon the
table; an Archbishop in his lawn sleeves performing a ceremony; a
great deal of had company, which you know must always be the case
where Privy Councillors' wives are admitted; &, after all, I fancy I
have as good a right as anybody who goes there, tho' I never intend to
claim that new pretension of being a Privy Councillor's wife. To say
the truth, I know of but two ceremonies worth seeing in this country —
a Coronation and the trial of a Peer. . . .' — Journal of Lady Mary
Coke, 4th October 1783. — ED.
Something with half a dozen hard names? And you
might see more massive gold-plate at Prince Esterhazy's
table than the whole peerage of the three
kingdoms could furnish pitiful silver!
This, however, is a traveller's trick, not peculiar to
Lady Mary. 'Disable all the benefits of your own
country, or I will scarce think you have swum in a
gondola.' But as such assertions are sure to be stoutly
combated, contradiction, often carried beyond the truth,
whetted her zeal to the sharpest edge, and trebled her
passionate fondness for Vienna. Unfortunately, the
natural consequence of this was a longing to return
thither, which it would have been more prudent to
resist than to gratify. Our second visit to a place that
has extremely charmed us on a first very rarely answers.
I suppose, because a certain lapse of time enables that
busy artist, imagination, so imperceptibly to colour
and improve the sketches drawn by memory, that, no
longer distinguishing the handiwork of each, we ascribe
the whole picture to the latter. Then, upon again
viewing the real objects, and finding the likeness
unfaithful, we call them to account for our disappointment,
and insist that they are themselves altered and
How far this occurred in the present instance I
cannot pretend to say, nor do I know the exact details
of what passed. I only understood generally that Lady
Mary, being now quite at home at Vienna, acted as
she was prone to act at home, and very shortly either
took a warm part in some feud she found raging, or
else declared a war of her own against a court-lady,
near the Empress's person, and long established in her
favour. The Empress was so unreasonable and unjust
as to side with her Grande Maîtresse; perhaps, too, to
think that an officious foreigner had no business to
come and meddle with the intrigues of her court, much
less to lead parties and stir up dissensions. No more
audiences or medallions were to be obtained; the
sovereign's frown had its accustomed effect upon the
courtiers; and there was no doing what might so
readily be done in England, if the King had spat in
your face, or, for that matter, you in his; no leaguing
yourself with the friends of freedom, and holding your
head higher than ever. Lady Mary left the territories
of her enemy in complete, thorough, perfect dudgeon:
with only one consolation, videlicet, as perfect a conviction
that Maria Theresa, the last of the illustrious
line of Austria, the Empress of Germany, the Queen of
Hungary, the leading power of Europe, was her enemy
I remember hearing it suggested that some rumours
respecting the deceased Duke of York might have
reached the Empress's ear, and, as she was much
surprised at Lady Mary's unlooked-for appearance a
second time,1 led her to suspect the wandering heroine
of evil designs on the heart and hand of Joseph. This
I utterly disbelieve. I dare say her Imperial Majesty
knew mankind better than to apprehend any danger
for her son (a man of full age, already twice married)
1 It was really the third visit. — ED.
from the wiles of a fair traveller, considerably on the
wrinkled side of forty. But the surmise was not a little
agreeable to Lady Mary, as I myself ascertained ten or
twelve years afterwards. I must defer telling you how,
for it would be too long a parenthesis at present.
From Vienna she pursued her way through the Tyrol
into Italy, at every step meeting with those difficulties
and disasters which seem to beset us, by some fatality,
whenever we ourselves are prodigiously out of humour;
just as every species of food is nauseous to the taste
when our stomachs are loaded with bile. Italy would
not do at all; so, bending her course homewards, she
next visited Paris, but only to undergo additional evils.
The young King and Queen of France had but lately
assumed the crown destined to be torn from their heads
in so cruel a manner, and were now in the zenith of
apparent prosperity, enjoying that brilliant deceitful
calm so finely pictured by Gray —
'Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows,
While proudly riding o'er the azure realm,
In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,
Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm.'
In those days one of the unfortunate Queen's chief
sins appears to have been a want of attention to that
resentful part of the Creation, Old Women, and consequent
disregard of all the forms, etiquettes, decorums,
and nice observances which old women value and recommend
— not always unwisely, as her melancholy history
may prove. Now, imagine a tall, elderly, English
noblewoman, full fraught with all these offensive things,
wearing a large flat hoop, long ruffles, and a sweeping
train, holding herself very upright, speaking very bad
French, and, to crown all, abusing the Queen's mother
without mercy. I say imagine such a wight arriving
amidst the revelry then reigning at Versailles, and judge
whether the giddy crew and their leader were likely
to receive her with open arms? Probably poor Marie
Antoinette rejoiced to have so fair a pretext as this
grave personage's recent disgrace at Vienna for declining
to be annoyed with the vieille cour of England, in
addition to that of France, which it was not in her
power to shake off. But Lady Mary along with the
smart had at least the balm of thinking that the
daughter acted by the special injunctions of the implacable
mother, whose couriers went and came to and
fro for no other purposes than what concerned her.
So all was well — or ill — as you choose to term it.
One of the most memorable consequences resulting
from this last luckless expedition was a breach between
Lady Mary and Horace Walpole, once her intimate
acquaintance, her correspondent, the poet of her praise.1
He had always been more or less guilty of laughing at
her, it is true; but that was what most of her friends
took the liberty of doing, and his printed letters show
you it might be done with impunity, for she was so
cased in self-satisfaction that the keenest raillery, if
couched in civil language, would pass upon her for a
1 Walpole's praise had not begun in 1746. 'Lord Coke is to have
the youngest of the late Duke of Argyll's daughters, who is none of our
beauties at all.' — (To Sir H. Mann, vol. ii. p. 49.)
compliment. So their intimacy remained unaltered.
But he had gradually cooled towards her ever since
she took the field so fiercely against his niece, the
Duchess of Gloucester; and now, when life's flowery
season was closed for both, when she was of the middle
age and he a humoursome old bachelor, her imprudence
put his remaining regard to a test it could not
stand. When you approach the confines of fifty, dear
Car, avoid, as far as you may, having any kind of
difference with a young beauty. If it cannot be
helped, manage it by yourself, meekly and silently,
and never — oh! never! — expect a MAN, an old acquaintance,
an old friend, even an old lover — no, not
if parson of the parish, not if your confessor (supposing
you a Catholic) — to espouse your cause with zeal or
readiness. Lady Mary's malignant stars, or her genius
for quarrelling, led her to fall out with Lady Barrymore,
a daughter of the famous Lady Harrington —
'daughter every way' — but as yet only just entering
on her career: very pretty, very lively, bold as a lion,
and highly admired at Paris, the fashion there, which
is saying everything. This did not particularly concern
Mr. Walpole, who was by no means one of those
old fops or fools who vie with younger fops for the
favour of ladies; yet when summoned to act as champion
on the opposite side, to wage war with the fashion,
he quailed, or what was worse, presumed to investigate
the merits of the cause, point-blank against all the
laws of chivalry and friendship; at least, so it appeared
to Lady Mary.
We had not the details of the business from herself.
She returned to England in no communicative mood,
touching either that or her greater wrongs; commonly
sitting rapt and absorbed in awful, portentous silence,
or, at most, throwing out hints, very significant, but
not explanatory of particulars. 'Well, Lady Mary,'
my mother began, 'I suppose you saw Mr. Walpole
at Paris?' 'Yes, I saw him, as FALSE as ever he could
be.' 'Why,' returned my mother, who had known
him from a boy, and did not herself think sincerity
his constant characteristic, 'you might now and then
have seen cause to suspect that before, Lady Mary.'
'I know it pretty certainly NOW!' and, as if too indignant
to say more, she folded her arms, threw herself
back in her chair, and looked the rest. We got
no further information till he arrived from abroad,
when he very soon came to tell us his own story; how
fairly, I do not know; how entertainingly, you shall
'My dear Madam!' said he, 'do but conceive that
I was fast asleep in my warm bed, at peace with the
whole world; when my Swiss valet-de-chambre comes,
in his nightcap, sputtering and fussing, to wake me
at five o'clock in the morning. I must get up immediately.
"Oh Lord!" cried I; "is the house on fire?"
No; but there was a lady in distress. Miledi Coke — il
lui est arrivé quelque malheur; elle est tout éplorée — and
she must positively see Monsieur that instant. So
Monsieur was forced to comply, sorely against his will.
I huddled on some decent clothing, and hobbled into
my salon, where I found her ladyship, tout éplorée
indeed, pacing up and down the room in such a taking,
that I trembled to ask whether she had been robbed
or ravished. She had bid me adieu, you will observe,
and was on the point of setting out for England; so
the scene amazed me the more. I could make neither
head nor tail of anything she said for some minutes.
At last, when it transpired that Lady Barrymore had
enticed away her confidential courier and factotum, I
fetched my breath once more; and, I am afraid, made
a sad slip of the tongue. "Is that all?" said I. I own
I deserved to have my ears boxed; and truly I was near
getting my deserts, for I wish you had heard the tone
in which ALL! was thundered back again. I drew in
my horns as fast as possible, humbly admitting the
loss of an useful servant to be a very serious evil, and
his leaving her at the eve of a journey a most vexatious
circumstance. I did not say, how could I help or
hinder it? I only proffered my best services in looking
for another fit person to fill his place; and then,
like a blockhead, I begged her to compose herself, take
a few drops, go home, and lie down; and at noonday
I would wait upon her to concert further measures. I
might have guessed that this would throw oil on the
fire. Mercy! what a blaze followed! She fell into
the most absolute Tantrum you ever beheld; wrung
her hands and tore her hair. She was betrayed, abandoned,
devoted to destruction, had not a real friend on
the face of the earth. If I were the tenth part of one,
I should go and scold Lady Barrymore, and bring back
the courier vi et armis. She expected no less from my
former professions, but now she saw nobody was to be
relied upon; there was neither faith, truth, nor humanity
existing. She next proceeded to unveil mysteries,
and told me the true state of the case; which, if it had
been true, would, to be sure, have rendered my interference
vastly easier and more efficacious! Lady Barrymore,
it should seem, was but an instrument, a tool, in
the hands of the Queen of France; and she again only
executed the commands of her mother, the Empress
of Germany, who had projected the whole affair long
beforehand. Lady Mary was to be assassinated on the
road between Paris and Calais; and to that end this
faithful courier — the sole obstacle to their murderous
designs — by whom her life had already been defended
two or three times from the Empress's myrmidons, was
to be wiled away at any price. I thought to myself, it
would have been the shortest way to poison him, as the
thieves sometimes serve one's house-dog at Twickenham;
but I durst not utter such a word. Now, dearest
madam, what could I possibly say? If I had attempted
to convince her that the Empress did not know, and
the Queen did not care, whether she and her courier
were at Paris or at Pekin, and that their Majesties
were as likely to plan the murder of my favourite pussycat,
you know I should have acted as simply as the
good clergyman who comforted the penitent author
by assuring him that no mortal had ever heard of his
writings. And, besides, my person might have been
endangered. I am not built for a hero, and she is for
an Amazon. I confess to you those two fists of hers
struck no small terror into my cowardly soul; and, as
she flounced out of the house, I could hardly believe I
had escaped without a scratched face or a black eye.
I caught a little cold from my air-bath in the morning,
and it brought on a little gout; but that did not much
As I said above, I will not answer for the strict
accuracy of the narrative; but one part of it — that
respecting the Imperial plots conjured up by Lady
Mary's imagination — Lord Orford neither invented
nor exaggerated. She left us in no doubt on this head,
as you shall see when I have finished the chapter of
Coke and Walpole.
The flames of discord subsided more quickly than
you would have expected after such an explosion. Not
that peace was ever formally made, much less familiarity
renewed; but Mr. Walpole only withdrew to a civil
distance; and Lady Mary, though she hated him from
that day forward, felt an awe of him that bridled her
temper. To break with him totally would have been
to quarrel (in the child's phrase) with her bread and
butter. For he was intimate with almost all her
friends; she could not exclude him from Princess
Emily's card-table, nor lessen his influence over Lord
and Lady Strafford. Therefore, they soon began again
to play at Loo together, like well-bred Christians; and
I really think he viewed her with more indifference
than enmity. She presented herself to his mind merely
as a ridiculous, wrong-headed woman; the less one had
to do with whom the better.1 But that his love of laughing
at her increased, I cannot deny. Many years after
the time I speak of, he one day said to me — I forget
on what occasion, it was something relating to her —
'Lady Louisa, I will teach you to make verses — good,
regular verses — and we will address them to Lady Mary
Coke, who, you know, is famous for always scolding
the Living and crying over the Dead. I will make
the first line of the couplet, and you shall make the
second. You shall not be able to help it. Now, mark
mine —
'The more you scold the less you'll kiss.
You may believe I was as little able to help bursting
into a most improper fit of laughter.
While Lady Mary was still abroad, somewhere in
Italy, Lady Betty Mackenzie came to us, one morning,
in serious alarm at a letter she had just received from
her, giving most deplorable accounts of her health and
situation. Lady Betty read us the greater part of it
aloud. It said she was miserably ill, and without a
human creature near her whom she could trust. Her
maid — who, she saw plainly, was in other interests than
1 Lady Mary thus speaks of him in 1780:— '24 July … I mentioned
in my last Journal my intention of going to Park Place this
week. but having wrote to Ly Aylesbury on Saturday to know if they
were to be at home, I this day received her answer to beg me to fix
some other time, for this week their house was full, tho' when she
named them there was not so many as there were last year when I was
there; but I suppose there is one she did not name, who never chuses
to meet me, and that is Mr. Walpole.' By his letters of this date
Walpole does not appear to have been at Park Place at this time. — ED.
hers — treated her with the greatest insolence; well
aware she should be supported and rewarded — no need
of saying by whom. Not to enter into her various
causes of complaint against this wretch — perhaps, indeed,
it might be hardly safe in a common post-letter — let it
only be mentioned that there was every reason to believe
she had robbed her of her fine pearls.1 Lady Betty
knew not what to think or to do; but the particular
purport of the letter being to desire she would fetch
certain keys from Coutts's, and search a certain trunk
for such and such papers, she did so immediately; and
lo! the very first thing apparent in the trunk was a case
containing the identical pearls the maid had been purloining
in Italy under the auspices of Maria Theresa, —
the nameless personage thus mysteriously glanced at,
and the saucy Abigail's secret protectress. In this predicament
it availed Lady Mary nothing to dismiss that
individual waiting-woman; for, as fast as she could turn
away men and maids the Empress was sure to supply her
with others; every new one ten degrees worse than any of
the old: besides heaping upon her all the injuries that
could be inflicted through the medium of postmasters,
1 '.… My pearls being found at Notting Hill has given me the
greatest disquiet, as 'tis a proof beyond all doubt Deehens [her servant]
has been in England, and likewise in my house, which I always feared
would be the case. … I have all the reason in the world to think the
French maid was in all his secrets. … She acknowledges that he must
have stole the Pearls, and that he or his wife must have carried them to
Notting Hill, for she does not in the least deny my having wore them
at Berlin. In short, the treachery and baseness of almost all my servants
is shocking to think of. …' — Lady Mary Coke to Lady Greenwich,
Paris, 15th May, 1774. — ED.
innkeepers, blacksmiths, custom-house officers, sentinels
at the gates of fortified towns, and vendors of the
necessaries of life. 'Kings have long hands' says the
proverb; of course, the greatest sovereign in Europe
might well have the longest, beyond the reach of which
it was impossible to travel. Imagine what it was to be
the object of such a persecution! That is, imagine the
pride and pleasure of it. For hate, like love, has an
equalising power; and our inveterate foes, however
loath, cannot avoid raising us, by their very hostility, to
a level little beneath their own. To have, then, not a
lion, but an empress, always in the path, and, nevertheless,
so far to defeat her malice as to bring off life and
limb as safe as if one had never offended the House of
Austria — what a triumph! So Lady Mary felt it.
Through all the multiplicity of her grievances and the
gloom they caused, we could descry a wonderful increase
of self-importance. To use a familiar expression,
she came home a foot taller, and looked down
upon common things and common mortals more scornfully
than ever.
One circumstance puzzled me a good while. She
often complained of rheumatic pains in her arm and
shoulder, and when a pang seized her, would grasp the
part with her other hand and cry, 'Ay, there it is —
going on as usual, for fear I should forget. Ay! I
suppose I am to be reminded by this token as long
as I live — Ay, Ay!!' All this uttered with a bitter
laugh, 'un cotal riso amaro,' and the air of a high--
minded sufferer resolved to contemn somebody's malignity.
I did not know what to make of it. The pains,
it seemed, were not to be brought in 'by the visitation
of God': yet Lady Mary was no believer in sorcery, nor
had she ever, as far as I could learn, been cast into any
damp dungeon. And how one's worst enemy, whether
Empress-queen, or Grand Signor, or Great Mogul,
could give one the rheumatism otherwise, I was at a loss
to comprehend; but by putting hints together and
listening heedfully to all she said of her travels,
I caught the right clew at last. As she traversed
the Milaneze, her post-boys, dutiful subjects of the
Empress, purposely mistook the road, and drove her
full into the middle of a river, or a mill-stream, where
it was their mistress's design she should be drowned.
That they themselves must have been drowned the
foremost, their loyalty or their villainy set them above
minding; for Maria Theresa had her creatures in as
good order as the Prince of Lebanon his assassins of
old. Lady Mary's sole protector, the faithful courier,
afterwards seduced by Lady Barrymore, rode forward,
produced his pistols, and compelled them to stop;
but could not induce them to relinquish their purpose
until chance sent to his aid some foreign travellers,
who by main force turned about the horses' heads and
escorted Lady Mary to the next post-house. While
the dispute lasted she sat up to her knees in water, the
least ill effects of which was the rheumatism aforesaid.1
1 This adventure is fully described in Lady Mary's Journal, 7th
November 1773.
In her Journal, 20th July 1774, Lady Mary says, 'I have had a very
violent pain in my right arm almost ever since I return'd to England,
which I think I catch'd with sitting with my back to a window open.'
— ED.
Let me relate one other instance of this relentless
pursuit of her, and then have done. She had always
been a good economist, and now, growing more and
more attentive to pounds, shillings, and pence, did
not scruple taking some small trouble to save a few
even of the two latter. The furniture of an ordinary
house in her neighbourhood was to be sold by auction;
she went to reconnoitre it, and amongst the useful
articles spied and fixed upon a walnut-tree chest of
drawers likely to go for about twenty shillings; but,
instead of sending her butler or her carpenter to
bid for her, she went in person and in full majesty —
a sure signal inviting all the brokers to bid against her.
This was done with such perseverance by one swarthy,
shabby looking fellow, that he raised the sum to a
ridiculous height. 'I now perceived the meaning of
it,' said she: 'the matter being so trifling, I protest it
had not occurred to me before; but nothing escapes the
vigilance of THAT PERSON, nothing is below her attention.
Oh! I could tell you such stories, ha, ha, ha!'
(and again came the scornful laugh). 'I gave the man
a Look which I fancy he could perfectly understand,
and then said to him significantly, 'Well, sir, I see
you are determined you will have it, and you must; I
contend no longer.' THAT PERSON we all knew to be
the omnipresent Empress of Germany, whose restless
spite, grudging Lady Mary's housekeeper a cheap
second-hand or tenth-hand chest of drawers, had commissioned
forth Moses or Nathan, from the Seven
Dials, to bid the old walnut-tree affair up to the
price of new mahogany. The look darted at the Jew--
broker must have been worth seeing; and oh! that
Maria Theresa, while actively governing her extensive
dominions, and (one grieves to add) busy in partitioning
Poland, could but have known the minor feats she
was supposed to perform in England! Perhaps she
lived the longer for her happy ignorance. I heard
much of her from the Marquise di Circello, long the
Neapolitan ambassadress at Vienna, who said she
was not always grave, but like most persons of real
ability, could laugh most heartily on a fair occasion;
therefore on this she might have risked breaking a
blood-vessel, and expiring in the literal sense of the
Everybody knows how quickly after her death the
various changes devised by the philosophic genius of
that very arbitrary monarch, her son, embroiled all his
affairs, and drove part of his subjects into open rebellion.
Yet at first it was the fashion here to applaud everything
he did or attempted to do; and while that
humour prevailed, the late Lord Stafford laid a comical
trap to disconcert Lady Mary. So, madam,' — he
began over the whist-table — 'I am quite charmed with
your Emperor Joseph; he fulfils all you used to promise
for him — so liberal, so enlightened! And then what
he has done for Prince Kaunitz is admirable.' 'Prince
Kaunitz!' repeated she, much pleased, 'what of him?'
Why, have you not heard?' 'No, nothing of Prince
Kaunitz.' 'Oh, then I am so glad to tell it you. You
know that nasty, cross, bigoted old woman never would
let the poor Prince have a mistress. Well, the
Emperor has declared him at full liberty, and now he
keeps three.' The other men present set up a roar,
and poor Lady Mary looked as people look when civilly
patting a great dog they are afraid of, and dare not
kick out of the room. A joke was a thing that always
puzzled, even if it failed to offend, her; but she took a
magnanimous tone with regard to the deceased Empress,
giving you to understand she had buried her just
resentments in her great adversary's grave, and was
willing once more to recall her merits, only premising,
this it is but fair to say — thus much I must acknowledge
— justice compels me to bear testimony' — and
such other candour-breathing sentences by way of
preface or apology.1
Now for the incident I would not introduce sooner.
Once upon a time, as the fairy-tales say, I took a fancy
to divert myself with going, well disguised, to the
house of an acquaintance who saw masks on the night
of a great public masquerade. I was then past my girlhood,
but not past my shy-hood, if I may coin such a
word; the eyes of my fellow-creatures still had power
1 On Dec. 23rd, 1780, Lady Mary says in her Journal:— 'I must
once more return to the subject of the late Empress Queen, whose
death is still talk'd of, though the news is now a fortnight old: when I
first learnt it I felt exactly as you and Lord Strafford imagined I shou'd;
her former graciousness and kindness not only revived in my mind, but
represented themselves in lively colours; her unjust persecutions were
buried in her grave; as to my admiration, it had never ceased: the
great qualities and virtues I knew she possessed, her very engaging
manner, such as I never saw in any other person, must excite admiration
in everybody, & as she has now closed the scene with uncommon
greatness, nothing remains to deprive her of it.' — ED.
to cast a spell over my tongue, which a mask seemed to
set free by giving me something like the sensation of
the little woman in the nursery-ballad — 'Sure enough
it's none of I' — for this very reason, those most used
to me were the last to discover me. 'Three great
oaths would scarce have made them believe' I could
be the mask who found so much to say; Lady Mary
Coke in particular — though she came to us five days
in the week, and staid, and staid, and staid, Heaven
knows many a wearisome hour — knew my face better
than my voice, and minded my presence no more than
that of the round-cheeked marble boys that supported
the old-fashioned chimney-piece. If they, or if I, had
begun battling a point with her, her surprise would
have been but equal. Safe, then, upon the sheltered
ground of insignificance (which, by the by, is a much
more convenient comfortable post than most people are
disposed to think it, and infinitely the best for observation),
I challenged her boldly to compare notes about
our mutual friends at Vienna. I had all their names
and histories by heart; could remind her of everything
that passed at Prince Such a one's fête, given in honour
of such an Archduchess's marriage; lament the untimely
death of the beautiful Countess — , to whom he was
supposed to be secretly attached — 'wonder whether her
daughters had grown up pretty? were there two of
them, or three? Did Lady Mary know their aunt, the
Chanoinesse,1 who so hated returning to her chapitre
1 Comtesse Canal. See Journal of Lady Mary Coke, 24th August
1773. — ED.
at Prague? Did she recollect the hunting-party at
Baron —'s country seat? And the fright some of
us were in when the wild boar made towards the grove
of firs?' She was quite enchanted; so was I when I
heard her peremptorily silence the company's guesses
at the mask with — 'Pshaw! you are all wrong. It is
somebody who has lived a long time at Vienna; she
knows the whole society there — that I can answer for.
She has mentioned things about which it would be
rather difficult to deceive me.' Ah! thought I, I may
try fortune-telling next, since I see how easy it is to
make people believe you have told them what they have
told you. Thus encouraged, I fell to discussing the
national character of the Hungarians; thence diverged
to the conduct of Joseph; and lastly, ventured to say
outright that I understood from good authority he had
been so captivated by a certain English lady, not far
off, that nobody knew what might have happened but
for his mother's tyrannical interference. Lady Sackville,
who was sitting by, opened her eyes very wide
and stole a fearful look at Lady Mary, concluding, I
believe, that she would rise in a fury and tear off my
mask. No such matter, indeed. She bridled, simpered,
fanned herself, almost blushed, and, I assure you, looked
as prettily confused but as well pleased as ever was
boarding-school girl on hearing her charms had smitten
the Captain in quarters.
With this last extensive tour Lady Mary's voyages
and travels closed; for if she ever went abroad again
(which I doubt) it was only for a few weeks, to Spa or
some place of the same kind.1 She had therefore no
more opportunities of being at deadly feud with any
foreign potentate. But as Sir Arthur Wardour, who
could remember having once been guarded to the
Tower by a troop of dragoons, lived to see himself in
his old age carried to gaol for vulgar debt by a couple
of bailiffs, so was it her lot to stoop from braving the
enmity of empresses and queens, and live to dread the
revenge of John and Betty, leagued with an atrocious
cheesemonger. Plots against her still abounded, if
you would believe her own report; but now she ascribed
them to the servants she was perpetually changing,
and the tradespeople she accused of roguery. I
dare say you recollect the set of ragamuffins composing
her household, people who, for want of a character,
could get no other place. The only one among them
that stuck long and gained a vast hold of her favour
was a certain Claire from the French West Indian
Islands, a mulatto in hue, but well-shaped, and it may
be presumed no fool. A fancy sometimes seized the
watchmen of Berkeley Square to cavil at Claire's
proceedings, merely, Lady Mary said, because rather
late in the evening she had just stepped out to see a
1 Lady Mary was in Paris in 1775, and at Spa in 1781. Walpole
says to Lady Ossory in 1781: — '… Lady Mary Coke has had an
hundred distresses abroad that do not weigh a silver penny altogether.
She is like Don Quixote, who went in search of adventures, and when
he found none imagined them. She went to Brussels to see the Archduchess,
but either had bad intelligence, or the Archduchess very good,
for she was gone when Lady Mary arrived; so was the packet boat at
Ostend, which she believes was sent away on purpose, by a codicil in
the Empress Queen's will ….' — H. Walpole, viii.
sick friend, or had been suddenly sent for by a San
Domingo cousin. Since all she did could he so well
accounted for, I wonder they ever parted; but everything
must come to some end. Claire left her mistress,
and dived under the earth for aught any of us knew.
She was no more heard of till, fifteen years afterwards,
at the very least, up she started, the favourite sultana
of Sir Harry Englefield, whose friends were never tired
of complimenting him on his taste for the black princess
— the Queen of Sheba — 'the glowing dames of Zama's
royal race' — and so forth. He bore their raillery as
a great philosopher should do, gravely maintaining
that beauty consisted wholly in form, and was quite
independent of colour.
Claire, then, during Lady Mary's reign over her, or
hers over Lady Mary, stood acquitted of robbery and
murder, and everything else; but the rest of the crew
kept their lady in constant alarm for her throat, or
her casket of jewels. However, any mortal foes were
better than none: these suspicions filled up chinks in
her mind, or relaxed it from its greater cares concerning
the nation, about the government of which she
took more trouble than the whole Cabinet Council. In
politics she always adhered to the loyal side of the
question, yet at the same time generally disapproved
of the ministerial measures: the opposition was sure
to be wrong, but the others never right; by which ingenious
mode of viewing things she kept herself richly
supplied with subjects of disturbance and objects of
censure all the year round.
Matters went yet worse in that more frivolous world
which was equally honoured by her superintendence.
Say what she would, protest, argue, and harangue,
sacks were left off, ostrich-feathers worn, and a thousand
fantastic dresses invented. Nay, in process of
time, the hoop vanished after the sack, and like Tilburina's
confidante, everybody ran mad in white linen.
Of all these abominations, there was no sin so crying
as the feathers, which Lady Mary, and I must own
many calmer older ladies, deemed a positive badge of
depravity — a test of virtue or vice. Perhaps she
might abhor them the more as in some sort the test
of youth or age; for, in spite of the wisdom added by
increase of years, she had no relish for growing old.
Twelvemonth stealing after twelvemonth, however,
this inevitable evil would come; and as she grew
sourer in consequence of it, more overbearing, more
contradictions, less regardful of common civility,
temper at length got such an entire mastery of every
other feeling, that she put the finishing stroke to her
absurdities by contriving to hatch a quarrel with
Princess Amelia.
It is an ugly lineament in human nature, but certainly
friendships, or what the world calls so, are
subject to the wear and tear of time, as well as things
less precious. Old companions (sometimes including
old husbands and wives) do insensibly grow tired of
bearing each other's faults and infirmities, and suppressing
their own; as if on both sides ill-humour, waxing
larger, wanted more elbow-room, and rejoiced to get
rid of what confined it within decent bounds. The
Princess and Lady Mary were almost arrived at this
dangerous point. Nobody could be easier to live with
than the former, but she would have the respect due to
her observed: if Lady Mary was great, she was much
greater; if old, much older; therefore she had every
claim to a deference which the other's turbulent spirit
would no longer yield; and, as dispute and contradiction
now and then went the length of downright
impertinence, her Royal Highness's patience began to
be on the ebbing tide.
In such cases you may observe that the actual cause
of rupture is usually next to nothing — a drop that
makes the full cup run over — a spark that lights upon
a pile of combustibles, you scarcely perceive how or
when. Lady Mary sate down to cards one evening in
a mood of superlative perverseness; sought occasions
to squabble, found fault with the Princess's play,
laughed her assertions to scorn, and finally got a very
sharp reply for her pains. In lieu of recollecting herself,
she took fire, and retorted more sharply still. The
Princess declined further altercation, with an air that
said, 'I remember who I am,' and the company gazed
at each other in silence. When the party broke up,
Lady Mary departed unspoken to, and all concluded
she would be admitted into that house no more. But
Princess Emily gave her fairer play than they expected:
she desired to see her alone, and calmly entered
upon a good-humoured expostulation. 'We are
such old friends,' said she, 'that it really is too foolish
to fall out and part about a trifle; but you must be
conscious you were very provoking the other night.
As I lost my temper too, I am the readier to forgive;
only say you are sorry, and I will never think of it
Here was a noble opportunity to display unyielding
firmness of character. Lady Mary drew herself up to
her utmost height, and answered, with all the dignity of
Charles the First at his trial, or Algernon Sidney confronting
Judge Jefferies, or Cornelius de Witt quoting
Horace upon the rack, or any other pattern of inflexible
virtue you can name: 'Madam, I respect your
Royal Highness, as I ought; my loyalty to your illustrious
house has been sufficiently proved, my attachment
to your person is beyond dispute; but I cannot
give up my integrity and honour — I cannot retract the
opinions I have once delivered while I continue persuaded
they are just. Your Royal Highness yourself
would be entitled to despise me, did I act so
meanly; I am no sycophant — no flatterer; adulation
will never flow from me — 'Pooh! Pshaw! Nonsense!'
cried the Princess, interrupting her — 'where's
the use of all these heroics about nothing? Who
wants you to retract, and flatter, and I know not
what? Cant you say, as I say myself, that you are
concerned for this very silly business, and so let us be
friends?' 'No, madam; my honour — honour, which
is dearer to me than life —' and then followed another
tirade. After one or two more vain endeavours to
bring her down from her stilts, the other rose to
her full height likewise, and, assuming all the King's
Daughter 'Well, madam,' she said, 'your Ladyship
knows your own pleasure best. I wish you health and
happiness for the future, and at present a good morning.
Here!' to the page in waiting, 'Order Lady
Mary Coke's carriage'; then gravely bowing in token
of dismissal, turned away. From that moment they
never met again. The loss was altogether Lady
Mary's, and also the mortification. This she betrayed
by a constant fidgeting anxiety to know whatever
passed at Princess Emily's parties, who came and who
went, and what her Royal Highness said or did. The
Princess survived their final rupture but two or three
Very little remains to be added. After the Prince
of Wales grew up, his conduct engrossed almost all
Lady Mary's attention; you may suppose not often
winning her praise: and as for his connection with
Mrs. Fitzherbert it went near to make the old Gloucester
and Cumberland fever rage in her veins anew.
1 The quarrel took place probably in 1781. The Journal for 1781
begins on May 25th. The last mention of intercourse with the Princess
Amelia before this apparently is on January 13th, 1780, when Lady
Mary entertained her at dinner at Notting Hill. So the quarrel must
have taken place between January 1780 and June 1781. Among a few
letters from Princess Amelia is the following in her writing, undated:—
'The Charter House Petitioner has brought me Ldy Mary's letter —
one so greatly born must allwais be well come at my Table, & is constantly
expected of Tuesdays, provide she will be a little less contradicting
and hide her great ability's from those she thinks are inferior
to hers.
(3rd June 1781.) 'Sunday. — Some days ago I had a card from the
Dutchess of Marlborough to invite me the seventh of this month to
The Regency question in 1789 kindled, if possible, a
still fiercer flame, and enabled her to do something
more than scream her Anathemas; since then, for
the first time in that reign, ladies obtained a power of
meddling with State affairs which — lady though I am
who say it — may they never have again. While the
poor King held the reins in his own hands, he resolutely
kept petticoats aloof; but now his calamity
forcing the Queen into the front of the battle, every
woman belonging to court, lady or lady's chambermaid,
arose and was busy. The opposition Shes took care
not to fall short of them in activity, and as a peaceable
stander-by, I saw enough to convince me that
female whisperings and caballings greatly envenomed
the public contest: a good work which Lady Mary
forwarded with all her might; besides blowing the
coals in some private families divided in opinion (as
many were) upon a subject that produced more
bitterness and ill-blood than any other within my
meet the Princess Amelia. How this happened I can't tell, but I
wrote my excuse, which I seal'd up, where I told the Dutchess that
as the Princess Amelia was to be there I thought it improper for me,
which was my only reason for not waiting on her Grace ….'
On January 27th, 1785, Lady Mary says:— '… The game of Lu
is in its last stage: 'tis rarely play'd excepting at the Princess Amelia's
two or three times in the week. The great losings & winnings are
generally conceal'd, but I heard by accident Ly Margaret Compton
lost one day last week a hundred & fifty guineas. I have always
thought the same of high play, & therefore disengaged myself from that
Princess Amelia died in 1786. Lady Mary expressed sincere anxiety,
and made constant inquiries after her during her illness. — ED.
Here, then, I think I may pause, as I have nearly
brought my recollections down to the place where
yours may be expected to begin. I need not tell you
how Lady Mary passed the latter years of her
life, nor assist you to piece what you witnessed with
what I have related, as you will find it all dovetail
together perfectly well. Her character was thoroughly
singular, if not unique; but never contradictory: you
always knew in what direction to look for her, although
sometimes your imagination might not stretch far
enough, or soar high enough to overtake her.
It may be worth while to bestow a moment's consideration
on the manner in which that character
affected her relations and familiar society. People
who plod straight along the beaten road of life leave
no mark of their passage; but the footsteps of those
uncommon travellers who go tramping over strange
ground are in general traceable. You can distinguish
the effects of their influence, whichever way it operates.
If directly, as with some, it founds a sort of school:
their example and spirit continue to bear sway even
after their existence is at an end. With others, on the
contrary, it works, and strongly, too, in an inverse
ratio to what they would have wished. This was the
case with Lady Mary, who preached us out of good--
breeding, regular economy, respect for authority, and
many other commendable things, by dint of incessantly
preaching us into them; and as her notions were
ordinarily more exaggerated than erroneous, one was
at times half-tempted to regret the certainty of their
summary condemnation without appeal. You may
have heard it observed that Cervantes brought about
an unfavourable change in the character of the Spanish
nation, because while he demolished what was fantastic
and absurd, his resistless attack overthrew the chivalrous
spirit itself, and with it much that it would have
been desirable not only to preserve but to cherish.
The very same thing might be said of Lady Mary,
who, without doubt, was the person of all actually
treading on earth that came nearest to the Hero of
his work. She lowered the tone of thinking in those
connected with her as Don Quixote did in his readers.
Every act or opinion bordering on the great, the
noble, the dignified, every thing elevated above the
conceptions of the common 'worky-day world,' had a
chilling shadow of ridicule cast over it, as 'just suited
to Lady Mary Coke.' And the fear of being pronounced
like her frequently led one to stifle one's real
sentiments, if not force a laugh, on occasions when
one's young heart beat quick, and inwardly glowed
with feelings very opposite to derision.
In another respect, too, this anti-influence of hers
had mischievous consequence. It became the ready
shield of protection for a degree of housemaid-ish
ignorance which people would otherwise have blushed
to avow. If you were caught supposing Lord Chatham
and Lord Clarendon to have flourished together, or
concluding that James the First was Queen Elizabeth's
eldest son, you had but to shrug your shoulders and
cry, 'Well, for my part, I don't pretend to Lady
Mary's Coke's amazing knowledge of history,' and
you came off with flying colours. So likewise for
the time present: you might confound the offices of
Chamberlain and Chancellor, and ask whether the
Secretary of State usually voted with Ministry or
Opposition, yet have the laugh for you instead of
against you, as soon as you declared yourself 'no profound
stateswoman like Lady Mary Coke.' There
might sometimes be malice in the matter, I own: a
mischievous contention who should scandalise poor
Lady Mary most. Her skill in genealogy and etiquette
made one flippant girl think it a pretty air not to
know how she was related to her first cousins; and
another assert she could not see the use of bowing and
curtsying to the King and Queen: the men, indeed,
only grew a trifle more bearish after one of Lady
Mary's lectures, resuming tolerable good manners as
the taste of it wore off. To wind up all with something
like a moral, be it remembered that we do the
worst office possible to whatever is serious or praiseworthy,
by carrying it to an extreme which must inevitably
excite laughter; but at the same time be it
confessed, that we cannot habituate ourselves to look
constantly and exclusively at the ridiculous side of
almost any object without in some degree injuring, if
not debasing, our own minds.
Finished at Ditton Park in March 1827.
'TO —,
with the foregoing tale, 1830' 1
You may have seen people contemplating with a sort
of tenderness the old doll or plaything of their childhood,
by chance discovered in some trunk brought
from the lumber garret. Just such a foolish feeling of
partiality led me at a very mature age to undertake
remodelling and completing this tale, the first part
of which I wrote when I was barely seventeen! — though
not exactly as it now stands. To speak truth, its
identity is like that of the miser's famous stockings,
darned with silk till every thread of their pristine
worsted had disappeared. But the idea was the same.
Two fairies visited the London world for the purpose
of shining as a female wit and a fashionable
beauty. What to do with them when they had performed
their parts I did not know; so they went back
to Oberon's Court abruptly and awkwardly enough,
without attempting to leave any lesson behind them.
Some trifling particulars relating to Zirphe's dresses
and tradespeople remain unaltered. Fashions in dress
being pretty sure to come round again in a course of
years, and Madame Beauvais sounding as well as the
Madame of 1814, or even as Madame Maradin Carson
1 In the MS. these notes come at the end of the metrical tale, for
Which see Appendix I., p. 279.
herself, I thought it useless to modernise such
matters in my rifacimento. The expensive sedan-chair
indeed may require a word of explanation, since the
enormous magnitude of our present town has made
the thing (once so common and convenient) almost as
much a theme for the antiquarian as Louis the Fourteenth's
huge coach with a couple of portières. But while
Bloomsbury and Portman Squares, Hyde Park Corner
and Whitehall were the farthest points at which we
had to seek our acquaintance, sedan-chairs were the
usual vehicles for women. Maiden ladies and those
of narrow fortune had no other. The rich and great
always kept two, a plain one for constant daily use,
and another magnificently decorated, which, with two,
three, or sometimes four footmen before it, carried them
to court, to formal visits and public entertainments.
With regard to the state of society, that in which
Zirphe is supposed to move may seem to have undergone
some change; but it only seems, for, unlike the
metamorphosed worsted, its warp and woof continue
the same. There was then a very fine set. Is there
not now? And has there not always been one as far
back as the days of Ben Jonson? — a certain number
of persons, some of high rank, some distinguished for
beauty, some few for ability, some for nothing at all,
who by linking themselves together and assuming
superiority, obtain, if not the reality, at least the reputation
of it; who sit fastidiously apart looking
down upon the rest of the world (nobody presumes to
ask why), despising all attempts to rival them, and
cherishing mysteries in dress, language, sentiment — ay,
and in morals too — above the comprehension of the
uninitiated? Collegiates (see Ben Jonson's Silent
Woman), Leaders of the ton, Exclusives, Exquisites,
Dames du Château, Merveilleux and Merveilleuses —
the cant name flits by, grows first vulgar then
obsolete, and gives place to a newer; the class remains
permanent, or rather reproduces itself in every succeeding
generation. This fact of its being only reproduced,
not new and fresh created, is ever a stumbling-block to
young people, who cannot at first sight discern any
affinity between that precious object now denominated
a Dandy, and my Lord Foppington with his full--
bottomed wig, embroidered coat, and gold-clocked
stockings, mincing the letter o into a, and going to
church to ogle the ladies. Yet they would readily
acknowledge a horse to be a horse and nothing but
a horse, whether 'barded from counter to tail,'
glittering with gilt caparisons, or simply bridled and
saddled after the modern manner. And I am apt to
believe that in both cases the difference lies solely in
the outward trappings of the animal.
Orinda's world may perhaps have varied more
essentially — I will not say for the worse. A certain
portion of knowledge is more generally diffused among
women; and men are inclined rather to wonder when
they do not find it in a lady than to stand astounded
when they do. Authoresses are likewise become too
abundant to be either worshipped as divinities on one
side, or ranked with learned pigs and bullfinches on the
other. You still hear the epithet bluestocking, but it
is uttered playfully, not in rancour and scorn, unless
by those below the average height of sense and information.
In my time it was a bitter reproach with
some, resented as bitterly by others, according to the
company you fell into. The set at whom it was
principally levelled made head boldly against their
maligners by gathering together all who had literary
talents, pretended to them or admired them, in select
parties sacred to rational conversation alone — that is,
without cards, dancing, or music. I am afraid this
was not always productive of what Pope describes, in
a line which they were particularly fond of quoting,
'The feast of reason and the flow of soul.'
For Reason, she might predominate, or might not;
but you may judge how there could be any flow of
soul, where most of the company came with a set purpose
of shining, and all were well aware that they could
not pronounce a word which would pass unscrutinised.
Mercy on the people who understood what they were
about so ill as to vent the first whimsical thought that
chanced to come into their heads! I have known it
happen (for incorrigible naturals do exist) and seen it
disconcert the whole assembly, as it would a band of
musicians if Roy's Wife should be suddenly struck up in
the middle of an intricate concerto. Everybody stared
and nobody knew what to answer, nor how to get back
again into regular order.
This reminds me of a French anecdote not irrelevant
to the subject. A partisan of Madame Geoffrin, the
Paris Aspasia, was extolling her dexterity in sorting
her guests. She set apart one fixed day of the week
for entertaining les beaux arts, the artists and virtuosi;
another for les beaux esprits, les philosophes, les gens de
lettres. 'Mais hélas!' — said a lady, who had no pretensions
beyond being very pretty and very agreeable
— 'N'y-a-t-il pas un jour pour les simples mortels?'
With us, it is true, les simples mortels could not be thus
wholly excluded; otherwise I must have stood without
the door of the sanctuary. Young ladies followed their
mothers and aunts as the byelaws of good old England
enjoin; and, according also to these, if even the heads
and oracles of the congregation happened to have
wooden husbands or ignorant, insipid wives (no rare
occurrences), they were forced to come with their encumbrances
in tow. But then we who gained admittance
upon this humble foot served to fill the stage, and
knew it was our duty to keep silence — to break it,
indeed, requiring as much intrepidity as to make a
speech in Parliament.
The only bluestocking meetings which I myself ever
attended were those at Mrs. Walsingham's and Mrs.
Montagu's. To frequent the latter, however, was to
drink at the fountain-head; for although Miss Monckton
(now old Lady Corke), Mrs. Thrale, Lady Herries,
etc., gave similar parties, Mrs. Montagu eclipsed them
all. Nor was she a common character. Together with
a superabundance of vanity — vanity of that happy,
contented, comfortable kind — disturbed by no uneasy
doubts or misgivings, which keeps us in constant good--
humour with ourselves, and consequently with everything
else — she had quick parts, great vivacity, no
small share of wit, a competent portion of learning,
considerable fame as a writer, a large fortune, a fine
house, and an excellent cook. Observe the climax, for
it is not unintentional: the cook may be the only one
of the powers I have enumerated who could carry
on the war single-handed. Thus endowed, she was
acquainted with almost all persons of note or distinction.
She paid successful court to all authors, artists,
critics, orators, lawyers, and clergy of high reputation;
she graciously received and protected all their minor
brethren who paid court to her; she attracted all
travellers and tourists; she made entertainments for all
ambassadors, sought out all remarkable foreigners
(especially if men of letters); nay, she occasionally
exhibited a few of the very fine exclusive set themselves,
at whom her less worldly visitants, country or
college geniuses, with nothing but a book in their
pockets, were glad to have an opportunity of gazing.
But there was a deplorable lack of one requisite — of
that art of kneading the mass well together, which I
have known possessed by women far her inferiors. As
her company came in, a heterogeneous medley, so they
went out, each individual feeling himself single,
isolated, and (to borrow a French phrase) embarrassed
with his own person; which might be partly owing to
the awkward position of the furniture, the mal-arrangement
of tables and chairs. Everything in that house,
as if under a spell, was sure to form itself into a circle
or semicircle. I once saw this produce a ludicrous
scene. Mrs. Montagu having invited us to a very
early party, we went at the hour appointed and took
our stations in a vast half-moon, consisting of twenty
or five-and-twenty women, where, placed between two
grave faces unknown to me, I sate, hiding yawns with
my fan and wondering at the unwonted exclusion of
the superior sex. At length a door opened behind us,
and a body of eminent personages — the chancellor (I
think), and a bishop or two among them — filed in from
the dining-room. They looked wistfully over our
shoulders at a good fire, which the barrier we presented
left them no means of approaching; then, drawing
chairs from the wall, seated themselves around us in an
outer crescent, silent and solemn as our own. Nobody
could be more displeased at this than the mistress of the
house, who wanted to confer with them face to face, and
not in whispers. But there was no remedy; we must
all have died at our posts, if one lady had not luckily
been called away, whose exit made a gap for the wise
men to enter and take possession of the fireplace.
A circle such as here described, though the worst
shape imaginable for easy familiar conversation, may
be the best for a brilliant interchange of — I had nearly
said snip-snap — of pointed sentences and happy repartees.
Every flash being visible, every argument
distinctly heard from one end to the other, the consequent
applause may act like a dram upon bodily combatants,
invigorating wit and provoking fresh sallies.
As fitted for actors and an audience, it may likewise
suit whoever has interesting anecdotes to tell and the
talent of telling them well; or whoever can clearly and
pleasantly explain something which the surrounding
hearers wish to understand. If you had good luck,
therefore, you might not only be greatly amused at
Mrs Montagu's, but carry away much that was well
worth remembering. But then, alas! the circular
form is not less convenient to prosers and people who
love to hear themselves talk; so you might, on the
contrary, come in for the most tiresome dissertations,
the dullest long stories, the flattest jokes, anywhere to
be found. All which, by a sort of courtesy, or policy
that seemed conventional, were listened to with a complacent
show of edification, no one venturing to betray
inattention or fidget in his chair, or recollect having
heard the same thing (perhaps fifty times) before, or
put in a claim to it on behalf of 'Joe Miller.'
Another entertainment you were pretty sure to meet
with, unless the presence of some such wicked spirit as
Horace Walpole or Soame Jenyns excited apprehensions
of ridicule. When matters took their usual
course, studied high-flown compliments were fired off
on your right hand and returned with increase on your
left, all the louder if no particular goodwill subsisted
between the complimenting parties. A bureau d'esprit
never yet was the temple of sincerity.
And in this scene, amongst these people solely
occupied with themselves, did I form a lasting friendship
with the late Mrs. Alison, then Miss Gregory,
whom Mrs. Montagu had almost adopted as a
daughter — the perfection of strict truth, blunt honesty,
and clear understanding. She verified the old Scotch
proverb, 'An ounce of mother wit is worth a pound
of clergy.' 'That is a Natural,' said Mr. Walpole,
and the expression exactly suited her. Gifted with a
great deal of humour, she enjoyed like a comedy much
that passed before her eyes, yet would never permit a
word to be said derogatory to Mrs. Montagu, at whom,
I confess, I had sometimes a mind to laugh, but I
never durst let Miss Gregory perceive it, although we
were girls at the time, and soon treated each other
with the freedom and familiarity usual at our age. It
cannot be denied that constant pretension of some sort
gave a tinge of pedantry and affectation to the bluestocking
set, taken collectively: yet there were individuals,
classed among them in common speech, wholly
untainted with either. For instance, Mrs. Carter,
upon whom the sound scholarship of a learned man
sate, as it does upon a man, easily and quietly, and
who was no more vain of being a profound Grecian
than an ordinary woman of knowing how to spell.
But the very humility and plainness of her character
made it avail nothing towards simplifying the general
tone of the rest, for she loved listening far better than
talking; and as she had no quick perception of other
people's failings and absurdities, much less any disposition
to expose them, she sate still, honestly admiring
what a livelier (though perchance a shallower) person
would have criticised.
The name of 'Carter' alone will prove that Mrs.
Montagu was not without sincere and valuable friends.
And even some of the men who diverted themselves
most with her foibles would nevertheless, when speaking
seriously, avow a high opinion of her abilities. Of
this number was my brother-in-law, Lord Macartney,
who piqued himself upon carrying compliments beyond
the moon, and maintained that they were always
acceptable to every woman without exception: although
he paid them in a manner so glaringly ironical, took
so little pains to look decently grave, that one wondered
how the bait could possibly be swallowed by anybody
who had the use of a pair of eyes. I have heard him
laugh peal upon peal as he repeated behind Mrs.
Montagu's back the compliments he had made, or
intended to make her, bringing in (would you believe
it?) Venus as well as Minerva, extolling the personal
charms of a woman nearly old enough for his mother,
and one who (to do her justice) was quite free from
the weakness of wishing to disguise her age. 'Oh,
never mind' (said he), 'you all like hearing of your
beauty to the very last.' Yet when the laugh was
over he would conclude with, 'After all, though, she
is the cleverest woman I know; meet her where
you will, she says the best thing you hear in the
From these premises you will infer that she
was likely to have many of those flatterers by
trade, vulgarly termed toad-eaters, who are apt to
abound wherever the possessors of power, wealth,
or influence, or even the mere givers of good
dinners, betray any relish for the commodity they
deal in.
But beside the more common kind, there crept
around her a species just one step above them —
dabblers in literature, literary coxcombs, male and
female, who, not rejecting with absolute scorn the beef
and pudding, chiefly coveted her recommendation —
the reflected lustre of her celebrity, and a repayment
of praise proportioned in quantity and quality to the
loads of it they came to lay down. In a word, she had
toad-eaters from interest, and toad-eaters from vanity
— poor paltry insects both, and both often furnished
with a concealed sting.
But neither flattered her so inordinately as a very
different race of beings — good, worthy, sincere people,
who said nothing which they did not think, and would
not have sworn to upon the parish Bible; gentry, in
whose skulls the phrenologist (granting his science
authentic) would infallibly have found the organ of
admiration extraordinarily prominent, and that of discrimination
almost imperceptible. Downright sycophants,
whose encomiums the vainest of us must now
and then in spite of self-love secretly mistrust, are perhaps
companions less dangerous to persons eminently
gifted than such excellent mortals as these. Their
truth and integrity being unquestionable, the lavish,
superlative universal applause which they pour forth
from their hearts — at first possibly declined, or put by
with a compassionate smile — may in time grow so
agreeable to the habituated car, as to make just
approbation and distinguishing praise grate upon it
like censure.
At Mrs. Montagu's, these kind souls used to take us
young people under their especial charge, acting as
flappers, for fear we should lose opportunities of
improvement by our want of attention to what was
passing. We were pulled by the sleeve — 'My dear,
did you listen?' 'Did you mind?' 'Mrs. Montagu
said,' 'Miss Hannah More observed,' 'Mr. Harris
replied.' And it was well that none of us ever cried,
What then?' For since the most superior men and
women must often discuss ordinary topics in ordinary
language, it would sometimes happen that even Mrs.
Montagu and Mr. Harris were only debating whether
the clouds at sunset had threatened rain or promised
fair weather.
I have rambled far and wide, flying off at every
tangent presented by recollection; but this you
must forgive. Old age has a right to be garrulous;
and as I am little prone to abuse the privilege
viva voce, I may let my pen run on with the less
scruple; for reading is a voluntary act, hearing
(I do not say listening) may be a painful necessity.
The Spanish Queen in Dryden's play tells us her
lover's words descended on the ear like flakes of
feathered snow. Oh that those of some great talkers,
equally noiseless, could descend only upon a sheet of
Now for the point to which I ought to have come
long ago. The sequel of my tale is nothing more
than an extended comment upon a very old text;
namely, the brief admonition of Pericles to the female
part of the assembly whom he was haranguing. I
forget how the words are given in history, but their
plain meaning, familiarly rendered, I presume to be
this — 'The less that is said of you, the less that is
heard of you, the better for you.' Time was, I confess,
when I thought this doctrine harsh, affronting, illiberal,
savouring of barbarism, and dictated by prejudice, if
not by jealousy. So every woman who joins a high
spirit to some degree of self-conceit will probably think
it, while on the bright sunny side of twenty-one. But
what was thus indignantly repelled made itself remembered;
it could not be quite got rid of. And why?
Because it was grounded on truth. Strong doubts
arose upon the subject ere youth had taken its leave;
and when the fruits of time — observation, reflection,
experience — began to ripen, I cannot say any doubt
remained. It is too surely a misfortune to women to be
rendered conspicuous even without their own consent,
as in the case of transcendent personal beauty or a high
and responsible situation. But if a woman labours to
attain the dangerous pinnacle of power, fame, fashion,
or any other species of distinction, she will find reason
to pronounce the Athenian statesman not only a sage
but a prophet. Talk of prejudice as much as you
please, there are sentiments too general, one might say
too instinctive, not to have some foundation in our
nature. The indolent, inactive man who has passed
his useless days without peeping from his shell cannot
be respected, can hardly respect himself like him who,
as Prior words it, 'in life's visit leaves his name' —
though but a shopkeeper whose industry and activity
have raised him to the mayoralty of his native town.
While for a woman to lead a quiet private life, fulfilling
her duties and pursuing unnoticed her domestic
avocations is universally deemed matter of praise. The
one has stayed in the place legally assigned her: the
other seems in some sort to have shrunk from entering
on his proper career.
Madame de Staël has justly said that love is but an
episode (she might have added an insignificant one) in
the life of a man; the whole poem, the main story in
that of a woman. And whether it be love commonly
so called, or friendship, or maternal, or filial, or sisterly
affection, no one can deny that some affection, something
belonging to the heart, influences female conduct
and fate far more than male. What goes by the name
of that organ is woman's vulnerable part, the defenceless
side of her citadel. I do not say this in censure
of men; I barely state a fact which the expression in
daily use, unmanned, will certify. But such as men and
women were created, such, I presume, is (in a certain
sense) what they ought to he. 'Why has not man a
microscopic eye? For this plain reason — man is not
a fly.' Why has not he (generally speaking) feelings
that melt his resolution, impede his exertion, weaken
his reason, combat his interest, overpower his prudence?
For this plain reason — he is not a woman.
Were it otherwise, how could the business of the world
be carried on? how a single step be taken in public
You may now perceive the drift of my argument.
An animal whose make disqualifies it for climbing
should keep upon level ground; a being whose heart is
subject to become thus troublesome should avoid those
ambitious or vainglorious pursuits in which it will both
prove a clog, and be exposed to rougher usage than it
can bear. But why, you may ask, are women who covet
admiration and aspire at celebrity more likely than
others to be unfortunate in what concerns their affections?
I can only answer that they are more swayed
by imagination, and remind you that our forefathers
used Fancy and Love as synonymous terms — through
no great error in language, for their kindred is near,
their resemblance close. Whatever exalts and inflames
the one will as surely tend to introduce the other as
high living and spirituous liquors to fever the blood.
Alluring forms play before the mind's-eye; images of
perfection which are soon supposed realised by some
individual in bodily existence The Zirphes picture to
themselves nothing less than the leaders of the fashionable
world, men for whom all other women are to
languish and die; handsome, attractive, animated, full
of feeling, full of delicacy, just inconstant and impertinent
enough to make fixing them a triumph,
but, when fixed, so capable of the most violent
passion! The Orindas conjure up a phantom more
shadowy still; they hope to find a man of supereminent
talents, universally admired, yet gifted with
such a candid and generous spirit that, while they
glory in his superiority, their own endowments, fully
appreciated, will be his proudest boast and principal
All this would do very well if castle-building went
on as merrily, and a counterpart were as much longed
for on the opposite side. But far from it: upon no
point do the sexes differ so widely. Woman, conscious
(whether owning it or not) of inferiority, unable to
stand firmly alone, looks to man for support and elevation:
therefore in her waking dreams she ever beholds
him seated on an eminence above her. The vainer she
is of her own qualifications, the higher she exalts the
imaginary object of her preference. With men it is
exactly the reverse. The more highly a man values
his own merits, the more moderate are his demands for
merit of the same kind in a mistress or a wife. He
has enough for both, and something to spare. The
exquisite fine gentleman can content himself with a
homespun mate, even one homely in person, who, while
he shines abroad, will nurse the children, scold the
servants, and carefully manage the family concerns,
without wincing much if treated with a little contempt.
The man who piques himself upon his brilliant parts —
unless so cool-blooded as to make a similar choice, that
is, to take a housekeeper — goes in quest of the prettiest
woman he can find, and is likely to consider the ornaments
of her mind about as philosophically as the lover
in an old Scotch song, of which I remember but this
one stanza —
I took it in my head
To write my love a letter;
But the lassie canna read,
An' I like1 her a' the better.'
We blunder wofully, then, when we deplore the hard
lot of a man whose lofty character commands our own
admiration, but whom malicious fate (as we settle the
matter) has thrown away upon a partner so far from
being fitted for his companion that she is neither
capable of admiring nor of comprehending him. A
most melancholy case, I admit; and in bewailing it we
do but overlook one trifling circumstance, viz., that
the man married himself. The High Chancellor of
England, although his authority may sometimes hinder
and sometimes help to dissolve a matrimonial union,
decrees none whatsoever. Nor can the elders of our
Church, as with the Moravians, peremptorily assign
Sister Tabitha unto Brother Joseph. The woman for
whose insipidity you pity your hero or your genius
is that woman whom it was his will and pleasure to
prefer; and if a brighter star had guided his choice to
one as intelligent and high-minded as in your opinion
he deserved, it is possible that your compassion would
1 'Lo'e' is the correct word in the song. The chorus at the end of
the verse is:
'Aye waukin' o', waukin' aye and weary,
Sleep I can get nane,
For thinkin' o' my dearie.'
The previous verse is:
'When first she came to town
They called her Jess Macfarlane,
But noo she's come and gane,
They ca' her the wandering darling.
Aye waukin', etc.'
now have to flow in an opposite channel; for she
might be the party undervalued and misunderstood.
I am aware that you will say (and with truth) that
we often see women of sense — nay, what presses more
directly on the point, women proud of their sense —
strongly attached to men far their inferiors in understanding.
This cannot be denied, yet I believe it
almost always occurs rather from the imagination
having seduced the heart, and the heart blinded the
judgment, than from such an indifference on the subject
as would have made the deficiency disregarded if
really perceived. I dare own myself convinced that no
sensible woman ever yet fell in love with a fool — or
even a blockhead, which is a different thing — knowing
and deeming him what he was. She must at first have
been persuaded, or deluded, or bewitched, into a contrary
belief, before any familiar acquaintance could
take place. The glamour cast, the flame kindled,
passion came and effectually sealed down her eyes.
Whereas a man who is captivated by a silly woman
needs no self-deception, and seldom has recourse to
any. Either her beauty, her good humour, her devotion
(real or feigned) to him, or some other charm
overpowers his objections to her folly, or else he has
no objections to be overpowered. His pride may
make him assure his friends that she has a better
capacity than they give her credit for; but he cheats
himself only by assuming that her lack of sense can do
him no harm, and rests well satisfied until taught
otherwise by experience.
Take notice, however, that we are here treating
of inclination, of preference, affection, love — not of
marriage. The motives for this last are many and
various: Miss Jenny in the comedy — 'hopes she shall
marry a fool, for she loves to govern dearly.' And
without doubt some accomplished ladies agree with
To conclude: if I have at all effected my purpose,
you will observe a shade of difference between the fates
of the two Fairy-adventurers. Both repent of their
rash project, both are disappointed, both unhappy;
but Orinda is the most deeply so — 'Thought brings
the weight that sinks the soul to woe.' The reflecting
character, slow to admit passion, and admitting it only
in the specious disguise of a just esteem for worth, or
a propensity (secretly thought meritorious) to admire
enthusiastically whatever seems to surpass the common
standard in merit or in intellect, is the most completely
mastered by it when once overcome. Besides, the
gift of Beauty, coveted by Zirphe, though insufficient
to do for her all she expected, had done something;
and, at worst, had never operated against her. Her
lover did not forsake her because she was beautiful.
Therefore her dejected spirit could still in a certain
measure rally and find some relief, some faint gleam of
satisfaction in her undiminished power of attracting
general admiration. Not so that of Orinda, who had
reason to think her boasted accomplishments the bane
of her peace; and to suspect that they rendered her
distasteful to the only person she wished to please.
In his eyes she had naturally flattered herself that they
would appear peculiarly valuable. And from the
moment she discovered her mistake it was equally
natural that they should become worthless in her own.
For, without supposing so strong a case, if those who
are our constant associates, though but agreeable to us
in a common way, have no taste for the particular art
in which we excel, we gradually learn to hold it cheap
ourselves; as a tradesman sets little value on the
goods for which he finds he has not any demand.
Diamonds and pearls, where unsaleable, cease to be
precious. And can we look for a less effect from the
influence of the most imperious and absorbing of all
passions? Surely not: surely Madame de Staël, in
making Corinne exert and triumph in her extraordinary
talents when actually dying of a broken heart, demonstrated
that she herself understood Vanity so much
better than Love as to be ignorant how entirely the
one, if unhappy and unrequited, would annihilate the
'Humble as maiden who loves in vain,'1
a line big with meaning, fell carelessly from a pen, not
like hers, professedly sentimental, but belonging to a
closer observer of human nature.
1 Bridal of Triermain, Canto 1, Stanza 1. — ED.
THE incident of the ambassadors is borrowed from a
French fairy tale; the invisible robe from a story in
the 27th discurso (chapter or section) of Balthazar
Gracian's Agudeza y Arte de Ingenio, a kind of treatise
upon wit. He professes to give it from El Conde
Lucanor, an old book written by the Prince Don Juan
Manuel, son of the Infant Manuel, and grandson of
Ferdinand, the saint king of Castile and Toledo, in
the thirteenth century.
Literal translation of the passage in Gracian: 'Among
many moral tales, he (Don Juan Manuel) produces
this, to show how a general delusion may sometimes
take place; how all men will follow the opinion of
others against their own judgement, praising (without
understanding) what those others celebrate, lest they
should pass for persons of inferior capacity or of a
worse taste. Yet at last the falsehood fades away, and
powerful truth prevails.
Three cozeners came to a king, offering to weave
for him a sort of cloth, so gifted that it could not be
visible to a person of disgraceful2 birth, one illegiti1
The metrical tale will be found in the Appendix, p. 293.
2 De malaraza. Perhaps it properly means of a mixed race — a
race mingled with the Jew or the Moor, not vieja Christiana, old
mate or wronged by his wife. The king, highly
pleased, assigned them a palace for their work, and
they, taking a profusion of gold, silver, and silk, set
up their loom, and gave out that they were continually
weaving. In a few days one of them informed the
king that the work was begun, and the most beautiful
thing in the world; if his majesty wished to see it he
must come alone. For greater security he first sent
his chamberlain, but gave him no charge to detect
the imposture should it prove one. The chamberlain,
hearing their account of the cloth's peculiar virtue, had
not courage to avow that be beheld no such thing, but
told the king he had seen both cloth and embroidery,
and that all was most admirable. The king then sent
another gentleman, who brought back a like report.
In short, all his messengers affirming they had seen
the cloth, he at length went himself. He found the
cozeners pretending to be busy, and was told, "Behold
the cloth — look at the embroidery — this is such a
history — this figure such a person — here we introduce
such a colour"; all agreeing in their description.
Hearing this, yet finding that he could not see what
had been visible to every one else, he was ready to
expire. He now doubted his being his father's son,
etc. etc.; but for that very reason he loudly praised
the cloth, and, returning home, told wonders of its
excellence and beauty. Three days afterwards he
sent his Grand Alguazil, who, afraid of disgracing
himself, extolled the cloth as much as his master, or
more. The following day another favourite was
despatched, with the same success. In this manner
the prince and all his subjects remained deluded, for
no one durst assert that the cloth did not exist. And
thus the matter passed until the approach of a great
festival, upon which the king was advised to wear it.
The weavers, feigning to bring it wrapped up, gave
him to understand that they unfolded it, then took
his measure, and made as if they were cutting something
out. On the feast day they returned, saying
they had brought the garment compleated, with which
they accordingly pretended to enrobe him. Thus
apparelled, he mounted his horse, and, attended by
all his grandees, rode through the court. As soon as
the people saw him coming, and understood that whoever
could not perceive the cloth must be a bastard,
a Jew, or a dishonoured husband, they all exclaimed
they beheld it, and applauded with violence. At last
a negro who took care of the king's horse, coming up
to him, said, 'Sir, you are half-naked, going about in
your shirt.' A man who heard this cried out something
similar, and first one, then another proceeding to
confess they saw nothing, the king and the nobles,
losing their apprehensions, finally acknowledged themselves
cozened. The jugglers were sought for, but
they had already disappeared, carrying with them the
gold, silver, and silk, beside a large sum of money
given them by the king.
'Thus, observed Gracian, do many deceptions succeed
in the world, and such power has the dread of risquing
our credit by appearing singular.'
1814. — Some years after this translation was made,
Sir Charles Stuart procured for me in Spain that
curious old book El Conde Lucanor itself. But the
difference between the story as there told and as given
(rather abridged) by Gracian is trifling, and in no way
affects its purport. Perhaps I have only spoiled by
attempting to embellish it. The simple original, like
one of Esop's fables, affords a lesson adapted to all
times, and worthy of being borne in constant remembrance.
For who has not witnessed the reign of some
enchanted robe or other; some epidemic disease of
mind, spreading as if infectious, disordering every
brain in its progress, and when it subsides, leaving
us in the bewildered state of patients just recovering
from epileptic fits, scarcely conscious of what we have
said or done? No matter whether such a mania rage
for or against its particular object —
Whether we hate, or whether we desire,
In either case, believe me, we admire.
An eager and catching zeal about some absurdity,
which at a soberer time would be too gross for our
own belief, is its essential, characteristic quality.
Accordingly, it was the cry suddenly raised against
an imaginary evil which first made me think of amplifying
Gracian's (or rather Don Juan Manuel's) tale,
and tagging it with rhyme.
During the transient calm that followed the Peace of
Amiens, a few French actors, stealing over, performed
two or three plays very privately in London, so much
to the satisfaction of their audience that it excited a
wish to have a small French theatre here, if such a
thing could be managed without giving umbrage to
our sovereign masters — the mob. To effect this, somebody
proposed establishing subscription assemblies at
the Argyll Street rooms upon the plan of those held
at Almack's long before, and, like them, under the
direction of ladies, whose admission of only a limited
number of subscribers should exclude indifferent
company and guard against a crowd. With these
regulations, it was hoped that Molière and Racine
might furnish part of the evening's entertainment,
unknown to the populace. Vain were both the hopes
and the precautions; the secret soon transpired and
the theatres took alarm. There lay before them an
obvious and easy method of crushing the whole scheme
at once by setting up a genuine English hue and cry
against encouraging foreigners, introducing French
fashions, and so forth.
Nor perhaps would such resistance have much displeased
some thinking persons prone to disapprove of
anything, however harmless in itself, that seemed to
betoken or forerun a change in our national habits.
But Mr. Sheridan, the rightful leader of the theatrical
forces as manager of Drury Lane play-house, belonged
to a political party, with whose views resistance upon
this ground did not accord. Ever since the French
Revolution his friends had been labouring to cure John
Bull of all narrow national prejudices, and instead of
Down with the French' teach him to hollow 'Reason,
philosophy, peace, and fraternity'; and they knew
very well that one syllable denouncing the 'parly voos'
would operate as the squeak of a mouse did upon the
cat transformed to a woman. There would be an end
of fraternity and philosophy along with the French
play. Yet, setting aside that main point, what was
there to find fault with? — what harm, or novelty at
least in a subscription ball and supper? Apparent
difficulties produce the triumph of Genius. Mr.
Sheridan's masterly hand aimed a blow just at the
place which common minds would have deemed
unassailable; and the project was attacked on account
(truly) of its being perfectly new under the sun, and
profligate beyond all former examples. The people
were called upon to combat this monstrous device, this
unheard-of dissipation, this disgrace of our age and
country. If the uncorrupted vulgar did not oppose
and overthrow it, decency would abandon Britain. So
said Vindex and Verax, and a Foe to quality-vices, and
a Lover of decorum, and forty more correspondents of
the Morning Chronicle. These serious invectives were
aided by numberless witty paragraphs upon the refined
pastimes of our virtuous nobility, and both faithfully
copied into all the other papers. The stage meanwhile
defending its interest with its own proper weapons,
every new farce abounded with similar sarcasms; peals
of applause followed, and nine-tenths of the audience
went home faithful believers, not in a robe of light,
but in one of darkness almost as extraordinary, directly
imported from the dominions of Pluto. Reasoning
from probability only, not from fact and experience,
could we ever suppose that the influence of newspapers
extended beyond the bar of an ale-house? Yet it does
in reality both reach and govern the minds of many
respectable people who live out of the world, swaying
them more than we imagine, nay, more than they
themselves are aware of. We wonder at the ancient
heathens for not having suspected that the voice of
the priest uttered the oracle. But I have some worthy
acquaintances who, I am tempted to think, must
unconsciously harbour a private notion that the newspaper
writes itself. For should John or Thomas bring
them a surprising account of what was passing in
the next street, they would consult their own reason,
and examine how he gained his intelligence before they
gave him credit. Not so when the omniscient newspaper
details a secret transaction or confidential conversation
that took place last week between a foreign
prince and his wife, or his confessor a thousand miles
off. Every particle of that oracle is accepted with a
faith so reverential that assuredly it cannot be in
earnest believed to flow from certain mere mortals
frequenting certain coffee-houses, and upon a fair
average not much better or wiser than the Johns or
Thomases whom we personally know.
For the Argyll rooms once more. The precise cause
that rendered them so dangerous and detestable remained
all this while in awful obscurity, shadowed
by a cloud of mysterious horror. No particular species
of wickedness had ever been pointed out, no explanation
vouchsafed of what was to be done in Argyll
Street which was not done in Hill Street or Harley
Street, or Pall Mall, or Whitechapel. Therefore
several well-meaning people could not but conclude it
something too flagitious to be expressly named, and
were ready to cry, 'Avaunt!' and 'Avoid thee, Satan!'
without investigation. It is true that a rumour had
gone forth of Picnic Suppers. Picnic as expounded by
the learned signifies a custom prevalent in Germany
when familiar friends have a festive meeting. To avoid
ceremony and expense, each furnishes his quota of provisions
towards the entertainment. 'You send in a
cold ham, I a couple of chickens.' An injudicious
plan possibly for a large company, because likely to
produce a bitter bad supper, but with what offence to
God or man it would be difficult to determine judging
in cool blood. However, as the Cardinal de Retz told
us long ago, in all party-work fixing upon a name is
half the battle; and Picnic was a precious one for the
purpose, being at that time quite new, uncouth, unintelligible,
and of a ridiculous sound. The most
opprobrious which we were used to and understood
would not have done near so well. It fitted all the
regular commonplaces to a hair. Queen Bess and
Queen Anne encouraged no Picnics. Archbishop
Tillotson never heard of a Picnic. Picnics were
unknown to our immortal Lockes and Miltons, to
Algernon Sydney, John Duke of Marlborough, and
General Wolfe. For which reason, if masters of families
could tamely sit still and let their wives and daughters
mingle in Picnic society, it was vain for the baffled
moralist to contend. The doctors and the proctors at
the Commons might rejoice and cry 'Picnic for ever.'
The greatest lawyers, it is said, acknowledge it difficult
to prove a negative: if so, how much more difficult
must it become where there is no specific affirmative to
disprove. The promoters of the Picnic stood in this
predicament. They might have defended themselves
against a charge of gaming, gallantry, or treason; but
being arraigned for the Lord knows what, found hardly
a possibility of pleading 'Not Guilty.' Had Mr.
Sheridan been counsel on their side instead of the
other, he could have taught them that nonsense should
always be refuted with greater nonsense, and the
cabbage as big as a house encountered by the porridge--
pot bigger than a temple. Blessed with no such
advice, for want of it they did nothing but blunder.
They passed by the fictitious objection, and foolishly
combated the real one; alledging that their scheme
could not injure the regular theatres, because the
French play was not to begin till an hour when the
English one would be over. Now had they said that
the proposed amusement would be of too serious a
nature to clash with any prophane diversion, and
maintained that they should frequent Argyll Street
to hear sacred music or to say their prayers, their
antagonists might have been puzzled how to reply.
But the unlucky truth was a club instantly snatched
out of their hands and laid about their own ears without
mercy. 'How! Were they then sufficiently audacious
to avow their design of turning night into day? Let
the public judge what would be the tendency of such
scandalous assemblings. If midnight orgies were to
pass uncontrolled, if we were once come to that, then
indeed farewell to every semblance of national morality.'
Midnight orgies! The words spread consternation.
Not that late hours were prodigies first known in the
portentous year 1802. Some of us could remember
having even in our youth regularly repaired to
Almack's at the very witching time of twelve. We
had afterwards extinguished poor Ranelagh by not
chusing to go to it till one o'clock in the morning.
And previous to the commencement of the present dispute,
it was a favourite assertion with all croakers over
the degeneracy of the age that the hours grew later and
later every year. But this on a sudden enchanted us
back to those good days when the House of Commons
used to meet after an early breakfast, and, according
to Lord Clarendon, once, for a great wonder, happened
to be 'still sitting at three of the clock in the afternoon.'
Had the zealous Anti-Picnickians been asked
during the beat of the controversy whether they ever
before heard of such a thing as dancing all night, I
verily believe they would have answered, 'Oh no! never
in our lives.' One circumstance attending the affair
was wonderfully humorous. The foremost and loudest
in making the outcry were the very people who piqued
themselves upon their virtuous abhorrence of its concealed
instigator — those termed (for lack of a more
definite phrase) good sort of women. They are perhaps
always prone to regard Wit with suspicion as akin to
something sinful, if not itself a sin; but they infallibly
think much the worse of any other sin for being caught
in its company; and as Sheridan had more of it than
his neighbours, and led no very strict life, he was what
the French would have called their béte noire. Little
did they dream that he drew them, one and all, in a
string; that they were going about busily publishing
what he, like the mover of a puppet show, chose to
put in their mouths. No absurd stuff could be grafted
upon the reports originally sown by his emissaries,
but they were ready to take it for gospel, while at the
same time, if be in his own person had attested any
fact upon oath in a court of justice, they would have
sighed, shaken their heads, and hoped that even Mr.
Sheridan would not perjure himself — by way of charitably
hinting that it was extremely probable he would.
More than once did I happen to be questioned by some
of these grave ladies whether I belonged to the Picnic?
No, Madam, not I.' 'Ah, I thought not' (brightening).
I was sure that such a project could never
obtain your ladyship's approbation; your principles
are too well known.' Principles!!!
The first opening of old deceased Ranelagh, as I
learned from my elders, produced almost as great
a combustion; possibly with much more reason, such
promiscuous assemblies being really an innovation in
that less dissipated age. As usual, however, the
clamour soon grew nonsensical; strange stories were
circulated; people renounced their creed and stood
upon their heads the moment they got into Ranelagh;
Ranelagh would corrupt the morals and destroy the
peace of the country; the clergy ought to exert themselves,
the magistracy to interfere, and, in short, everybody
was in such a bustle that the then Chief Justice
(Ryder, I believe) resolved to go himself and be eyewitness
of the enormities practised there, before he
issued his warrant for their suppression. After taking
half a dozen turns he stopped short, and looking
round, said to his friends, 'Well, now, I profess I can
see no harm in this place — but the folly of it.' I expected
to be like him, to see no harm in Argyll Street
but the dulness of it. French plays I despaired of,
and I well knew what kind of dissolute scene would be
presented in lieu of them — to wit, misses and their
mammas sitting upright ranged upon benches, young
men lounging up and down, too lazy to dance, and the
fiddles vainly playing the same tiresome tune over and
over again to provoke a beginning. Such, in fact,
were the worst orgies performed. But the renewal of
war diverting men's thoughts, the Argyll Rooms were
left to go on as they would, and the whole business
sank into oblivion. Was not this a Diamond Robe?
I can give the history of another mania which prevailed
in the days of my earliest youth — the outrageous
zeal manifested against the first introduction of
Ostrich Feathers as a head-dress. This fashion was
not attacked as fantastic or unbecoming or inconvenient
or expensive or anything else which a woman's
wearing feathers or wearing fiddlesticks' ends upon her
head might very well be, but as seriously wrong and
immoral. Ladies have since gone almost naked without
occasioning a similar uproar, or any uproar at all.
The delicacy of the practice has been a little called in
question; a few jokes and caricatures have assailed it;
but though frequently censured, it has never been persecuted:
nobody has begun clapping his hands and
hallooing it down. Whereas the unfortunate feathers
were insulted, mobbed, hissed, almost pelted wherever
they appeared, abused in the newspapers, nay, even
preached at in the pulpits, and pointed out as marks
of reprobation. The good Queen herself, led away
like the rest of the world, thought it her duty to declare
how highly she disapproved of them; and consequently
for two or three years no one ventured to wear
them at Court, excepting some daring spirits either
too supreme in fashion to respect any other kind of
pre-eminence, or else connected with the Opposition,
and glad to set her Majesty at defiance. So an Ostrich
Feather, in addition to the inherent evil of its nature,
had the glory of becoming treasonable, or at least disaffected.

Note added in 1835. — About this time poor Marie Antoinette and
her gay court were amusing themselves with inventing new dresses
every day, all which came over to us, no doubt, very curiously exaggerated
and giving abundant cause for laughter; but people chose to
be angry. A passage in Hannah More's Letters (lately published)
will show you what grave indignation they threw away upon such
worthy objects as caps and petticoats. One lady appearing with a
tree in her head, another with a bunch of kitchen vegetables; Miss
More, shocked and scandalised, invokes the shade of Addison to arise,
and wishes anything could shame Englishwomen back into modesty.
Modesty! Immodesty in dress implies, I take it, an undue exposure
At length there issued from the press a most wise
and solemn quarto pamphlet, intitled A Letter to the
Duchess of Devonshire, taking that poor lady severely
to task for her eager pursuit of pleasure, her want of
thought and reflection (N.B. She was then in her
twentieth year), and many other errors, but representing
it as by no means her least offence to have adopted
and promoted a mode so blameable. The author did
indeed allow dress to be in general an indifferent
matter; yet, observed he shrewdly, it was rather a
suspicious circumstance that women of high rank
should assume as ornaments the known emblems of
lightness and frivolity. When we saw feathers waving
without, we might be apt to judge unfavourably of
the brains within. Nevertheless, were the said feathers
plucked from the tails of hens and turkeys, sober
domestic birds, something could be urged in their
behalf. But before we decided on the propriety of
the plumes now fashionable, he bade us consider the
character of the ostrich. Now this was no easy thing
to do, considering how little we knew of his life and conof
the person. And at no time, before or since, was that ever so fully
covered — indeed so effectually disguised — as when Hannah More wrote
this Philippic. If a North American Indian had seen a well-dressed
lady's stiff stays, round hoop, and high-heeled shoes, her hair stuffed
with bushels of powder and paste, and her neck overlaid with ruff,
puff, frill, and tippet, he would never have suspected that an animal
shaped and limbed like his own squaw lurked within the structure.
Modesty then had no more concern in the business than Justice, Mercy,
or any other cardinal virtue; and as for Sense and Taste, the parties
really aggrieved, perhaps they were as much set aside by those whose
wrath flamed thus against the foolish fashion as by its followers or its
versation, for nothing, good or bad, could we deduce
from his digesting iron, were it ever so well ascertained.
But then his female leaves her eggs scattered
in the sand. And what kind of wives and mothers
were those ladies likely to prove who borrowed their
favourite decoration from a creature thus unnatural?
There was something in this — not exactly sense, to be
sure, but so like it, so easily mistaken for it, that the
effect was prodigious, especially among Mr. Sheridan's
friends, the good sort of women. The Feathered Race
became their war-cry, and each of them would have
chosen a she-ostrich itself for her daughter-in-law rather
than one of the depraved girls guilty of wearing its
abominable feathers.
Thus we may learn how much good or ill luck has to
do with the reputation both of persons and things.
When buckskin was first used as the material of an
unnameable garment, profound thinkers might have
asked with great parity of reason how courage or any
manly virtue could be supposed to exist in him whose
clothing was supplied by that quaking animal, emblem
of cowardice, the deer? But nobody chancing to give
the matter this moral turn, buckskin breeches innumerable
went about and prospered, and are still held to
bear an irreproachable character.
The silly things here recounted came to pass in that
trifling circle which those who move in it style the
world, where a mania is almost always a comedy more
or less ludicrous to the quiet stander-by. But human
actors, whether they move on a wide or a contracted
stage, must be human actors still. Therefore, take the
word World in a larger sense as the mass of one nation
or more, the world of politicians, the world of history,
and this, too, has its manias, although seldom of a
comic cast, or, to speak more correctly, seldom producing
comic effects. For the Picnic, remaining the very
picnic it was, without the smallest difference in itself,
might have been made the instrument of shaking the
Commonwealth to its foundation, if laid hold of at a fit
time by any political or religious faction. Its partisans
might have been pursued to the stake or the scaffold as
rebels or tyrants, or heretics, or aristocrats, or democrats,
or criminals of what kind you will, still merely for
subscribing to the Argyll Rooms, and still by the very
same process which we saw actually employed against
them. We may find sufficient examples to prove this,
though civilly steering clear of our immediate contemporaries
(just as the company present are excepted in
polished conversation), and yet not going too far back,
for fear of entangling ourselves with lepers, and knighttemplars,
and, above all, with the First Crusade. The
French Mississippi madness and our own South Sea,
both precisely Diamond Robes, are the least tragical
on record. As they escaped being dyed in blood, they
may be contemplated without shuddering, notwithstanding
the ruin they occasioned. Indeed, when run
mad for love instead of hatred, our passion can grow
ferocious only in its recoil. And this it did upon
the bursting of the English bubble. Read the annals
and speeches of the time; you will find that no man
condemned himself, blushed for the folly which had
made him aspire at impossibilities, or repented of his
rapacity in seeking immoderate gain. On the contrary,
we behold in the conduct of our ancestors — our Lords
and Commons, ancestors in Parliament assembled — the
self-same spirit which would have actuated their footmen
in hunting a pickpocket, and not much more
consideration of law or justice. If the cozeners, or
South Sea delinquents (whose guilt is now said to be very
doubtful), had not placed their persons in safety on the
Continent, some summary bill of attainder might have
disgraced us for ever by awarding capital punishment
without trial. As for the mania in its most terrific
form, surrounded by dread suspicion and fury, suspending
the reasoning faculties, bearing away the wise along
with the foolish, and during its prevalence turning man
into a wild beast, Modern History supplies few instances
of it more striking than the New England
witches and the Popish Plot. While the former frenzy
raged, no girl could have a fit of the vapours without
endangering the lives and characters of all who had the
misfortune to live in her neighbourhood. Still, however,
the full extent of human credulity can never
appear where supernatural agency is admitted. To
admit it in such a case may be grossly absurd, but this
one absurdity franks and justifies all the rest. It is
quite rational to conclude that the devil would not
come abroad for nothing, and to expect from his
immediate interference a few feats beyond mortal
power or ability. On this ground may we not pronounce
a good simple faith in ghosts and witchcraft
to be philosophical compared to belief in alchemy,
astrology, or any other imposture, past or present, that
deals in jargon and pretends to work miracles by
mystical yet not miraculous means? But in neither
way can we lose our wits so compleatly as where our
own species alone is concerned. Earthly motives and
proceedings only were to be considered in the Popish
Plot; therefore that astonishing transaction, above all
others, best evinces the nature of a mania: a whole
people seeming then to adopt by consent the principle
which I once heard expressly avowed with regard to
the strangest quackery of our own days, Animal
Magnetism. An unbeliever in that mystery presumed
to talk of common sense. 'Common sense,' exclaimed
a proselyte, 'oh, but I tell you common sense must be
altogether set aside in the first place.' Dr. de Mainaduc
would have died worth millions could he but have
brought this about as effectually as Lord Shaftesbury
and Titus Oates, common sense being a stumbling-block
that seems never to have obstructed their path for a
moment. Whatever else the plot, if real, might aim
at, Charles the Second was to be murdered. That his
death was (in law language) compassed could not be
disbelieved without discrediting the whole. For this
criminal purpose, solemnly sworn to, were numbers condemned
and executed, and if it never existed, their
innocence and the perjury of the witnesses must have
been self-evident.
Yet those enthusiastic Protestants whose unlimited
faith in the plot made them account it just and pious
to bring every Jesuit to the gallows, by no means
questioned Charles's partiality to the papists or doubted
his secret furtherance of their designs, nor did they
suppose the Catholics themselves were ignorant of
either. But the more reason they saw to suspect such
a mutual good understanding, the more sacredly true
they held the plot. Although this was no other than
believing that his own friends and confederates, those
to whom his life must be of most value, were combining
to take it away — nay, and had some thoughts of dispatching
the Duke of York, their fellow-papist after his
brother — their secret suspicion of the king only led
them to entertain a confused shapeless sort of surmise
that he himself had some share in the dark conspiracy.
Which put into words would run thus — Charles is
perhaps secretly plotting to dethrone and assassinate
Charles. But when once men's brains are thoroughly
heated they never do put anything into words. Whoever
has seen the sea in a storm knows that it is usually
obscured by a mist arising from its own foam, which
prevents our discerning any object distinctly. So
apt in every particular is the comparison implied in
that sublime sentence, 'He stilleth the rage of the
sea, and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the
Bewildering as the hurricane was, one man at least
(meaning one honest man) kept his senses in the midst
of it — the cool-headed impartial Sir William Temple,
who, although he gives no direct opinion of the plot —
indeed says he was absent when it began, and knew
not what to believe one way or the other — yet so
repeatedly protests against having anything to do with
it, or with its chief prosecutor Shaftesbury, that we
may divine his private sentiments. He evidently suspected
the king of secretly favouring the Catholic
party, and probably had little doubt that the papists
were machinating to re-establish their religion; but it
was not for this that wretched men were daily hanged,
drawn, and quartered. We find him hinting to the
Marquis of Halifax that the plot was too mysterious
a matter to be comprehended except by those who
had been at the beginning of it. A man not desirous
of martyrdom could hardly speak plainer. Nor did
Temple himself speak so plainly till, as he tells us,
provoked into some heat of temper.' For the
moment he recommended a little common justice and
humanity towards Catholic priests (the mad dogs of
the hour). Halifax — the head, be it observed, of the
moderate party — threatened to represent him as himself
a papist. And this after making the following
memorable declaration: We must handle the plot as
if we believed it, whether we do believe it or not' —
language which assuredly none of its sincere believers
would have condescended to hold. Mr. Hume, after
giving the history of the Popish Plot, says that, 'its
memory should be perpetuated in order to warn posterity,
if possible, from again falling into so shameful
and barbarous a delusion.' The peace-making particle
if may reconcile opposite propositions as it does adverse
persons; otherwise I am afraid he might as well have
concluded his account of the sweating sickness by bidding
us take warning and never again permit the
spreading of an infectious fever. The next pestilence
which Providence may send upon earth will in all probability
differ from the disease of Henry the Seventh's
days, and the next frenzy that overpowers our intellects
prompt us to persecute neither witches nor Jesuits; but
both the bodily and mental distemper may break out
with virulence in some unthought-of shape to-morrow
morning; and which of us can dare to call himself certain
that he shall resist the contagion of either? As a
sound constitution and habitual temperance would give
us the best chance of escape in one case, so might
steadiness of mind and the habit of always thinking
for ourselves in the other. Nor would it be unwholesome
to keep in mind this maxim — that though units
make a sum, it can never be made by noughts, however
multiplied; therefore the foolish story which we hear
with contempt when whispered by one foolish individual
deserves no better reception when shouted out by
ten thousand tellers of the same class in understanding.
After all, this and every other precaution may fail
when the mania reaches a height correspondent to that
stage of the plague at which the very physicians sicken
apace, and the people in despair shut up their houses
and write 'Lord, have mercy upon us,' over the doors.
No better resource remains in a mental epidemic when
men of sense begin to catch the disorder and recommunicate
it to the multitude. The poor citizen who is,
notwithstanding, left by some rare chance uninfected,
may learn from Sir William Temple to forbear struggling
with his delirious neighbours, and to seize any
plausible pretext for relinquishing the subject as one
above his capacity. The humility of such an avowal
must, however, be proved unfeigned by solemnity of
tone and aspect, and even silence itself, qualified with
Alas!' and 'Heaven defend us!' ejaculated at intervals.
Otherwise the jealousy always attendant on red--
hot zeal may be aroused; and those who never know
either doubt or medium, who, because they look at only
one side of an affair, are confident that it has but one
face, and can admit of but one way of thinking, will
take alarm and whet their offensive weapons. Like
that model of party-women who wore Dr. Oates engraven
upon her fan and pocket-handkerchief, 'The
silent man must be against the doctor in his heart.
She suspected as much by his saying nothing.'1
Where effects are great enough to astonish us, we
cannot help looking for a cause bearing them some
proportion in importance; yet seldom indeed shall we
find this to have been the case with the most raging
To raise a popular cry is a thing so analogous to the
act of raising the mob themselves, that we may judge
how easily the one could be accomplished from the
success of an experiment formerly tried on the other.
Mr. Garrick once laid a wager that he would gather
1 Spectator, No. 57. — Supposed to glance at the more recent mania
for Sacheverell.
together a formidable crowd in ten minutes' time without
uttering a word. He posted himself at the corner
of a well-frequented street and looked earnestly up at
the heavens, using, we may presume, all the power of
his matchless eye and countenance to denote that he
saw something extraordinary. The first man who
passed by, stopped, very naturally, and began looking
up likewise. So did the next, and the next, and the
next, and the next. Presently the whole neighbourhood
was in commotion, and every window filled with
gazers; women and children ran flocking to the spot;
the alleys poured forth their swarms, the dingy inhabitants
of underground dens ascended into daylight;
gentlemen stopped their horses and ladies their coaches
to inquire what was the matter. The bet thus clearly
won, Garrick flapped his hat over his face and stole
away. Had he chosen to carry the jest one small step
farther, no doubt the good people would have perceived
in the skies any ousel or whale pointed out to them.
And if led by a person of worse intentions, they might
have knocked down an inoffensive passenger, or set fire
to a house, before they dispersed, just to satisfy themselves
that they had not assembled in vain. Would it
require any greater effort to produce a mania? Let it
be tried. Lay a wager that in such a time, say a week
or fortnight, you can make a blue coat the object of
universal abhorrence; declare it the token, the rallying
signal of some unpopular opinion; give out that some
ingredient in its dye will generate the yellow fever, or
no matter what else you can invent most absurd. At
present the Press must be employed; you must disburse
a few pounds for the insertion of lies, and grave reasonings
upon the lies, in the newspapers, so that your joke
may cost more than Garrick's; but in a fortnight's
time he will be a bold man who dares defend a blue
coat, and a rash who ventures to wear one.
Enough — and, I fear, far more than enough. It is
high time to end this unconscionably long rambling
dissertation, and, returning homeward, see what can
be said for the alterations of the original fable. In
point of taste, perhaps nothing. Its simplicity, consequently
its beauty, may be spoiled by making the
jugglers weave diamond thread instead of silken, and
converting them into pompous adepts who pretended
to be five hundred years old. But — I know it will
appear a paradox — but by doing so I have brought the
story nearer to probability, and rendered it more like
what might really pass in the world — in England, in
London, or Westminster — were such a cheat attempted
now. Yes, I maintain the assertion: there must be no
modifying, no moderating where a wonder is concerned.
Those inclined to open their mouths for it at all will
stretch them to any size, and the more marvellous a
marvel can be made, gulp it down the more readily.
If you would practise as a mountebank, yet scruple
administering physical impossibility, you betray want
of genius, but if you stop at moral, hide your head
for a coward and a bungler. The name of Count
Cagliostro, once so famous, being now almost forgotten,
it may hardly be recollected that after his
French adventures he paid a short visit to this country,
partly for refuge, and partly to try what he could do
with us in the way of business. He found us for the
major part upon our guard against him. His character
and history were then so notorious, so fresh in
our remembrance, that he could not venture upon any
eminent exploit, such as enacting the Wandering Jew,
or calling up the Mighty Dead, like Swift's governor of
Glubdubdribb. So he condescended to utter nostrums
in medicine after the manner of ordinary quack doctors;
yet even thus contrived to hook in a few converts; and
I had the good fortune to know two or three of the
number, persons by no means deficient in understanding.
They put on most significant mysterious faces
when you mentioned Cagliostro. 'That was a point
one could not tell what to think of. Some circumstances
respecting him were very odd. He had powerful
protectors somewhere.' 'There were bankers in
town upon whom he had unlimited credit.' 'Could
draw for a hundred thousand pounds.' Which, by the
customary progress of repetition, soon grew into half
a dozen millions. Now these people were not conscious
of believing in the Philosopher's Stone. Nor did they,
to their own knowledge, think Beelzebub the invisible
potentate who dispensed the treasure. Nor had they
retained from their days of childhood a fond lingering
faith in Fortunatus and his purse. What it was which
they thought and believed, they themselves probably
could not have defined; but as long as the thing remained
formless, an Ombre Chinoise, 'half seen, half
hid,' all was well; they beheld it glimmer with great
complacency and a grain or two of awe. But for
argument-sake, let us suppose that Cagliostro had contented
himself with giving out what would be deemed
a more plausible story, one shaped as follows: — 'However
it has come to pass, he is secretly protected by the
Empress Catherine of Russia. His ample supply of
money must proceed from some such source. It is
certain that he has brought over letters of credit upon
"Child" from the Hopes of Amsterdam for ten
thousand pounds.' Why, this rational, credible, probable
lie would scarcely have found a single believer.
Not simply because any clerk in Child's house could
have contradicted it, but because, dazzling no one's
imagination, it would have left every one's reason undisturbed,
free to act, and each would have assailed it
with a doubt or a cavil. 'This vagabond worth ten
thousand pounds? If he were, would he be a vagabond
still? How should he have obtained the Empress of
Russia's protection? If as a spy, when has she employed
him, and where? Besides, ten thousand pounds would
make a thundering sum in roubles. She bestows land
and jewels, but has no such abundance of ready money,
etc. etc. etc.'
Such would have been the consequence of attempting
to weave a miraculous robe with possible materials.
Don Juan Manuel was a wise man, but he flourished
nearly six centuries ago; and there lie before the
present age six hundred volumes of experiments upon
the nature and actions of man which he never saw and
we have the power of perusing. With their aid we
may carry our researches farther than he did; just as a
smatterer in natural history, assisted by the Philosophical
Transactions, may look beyond the theories of
Boyle or Bacon. If the Castilian Prince had witnessed
half the absurdities that have taken their turns to
reign and been deposed since he wrote El Conde Lucanor,
he might have forestalled any additions by making his
cozeners weave air and fire, and the cozened, instead of
recovering their senses on the first flash of detection,
wage a seven years' war with the detectors in defence
of his invisible imposture.
NOTE. — The reader will probably recognise that the plot of this tale
is the same as that used by Hans Andersen in his tale of the 'Emperor's
New Clothes.' — ED.
THE above reflections were written some years ago;
yet little more than a twelvemonth has elapsed since
THE FORTUNATE YOUTH presented us with a case so
precisely in point, that I myself could almost believe
it the circumstance which suggested them. Therefore
'meet it is I set it down,' and at full length as it
deserves, beginning at the beginning. Namely, some
slight mention in the newspapers of an odd occurrence;
a young man of the middling class having inherited a
large property by the will of an old gentleman not at
all related to him. Few people noticed the paragraph
and fewer seemed to care. Presently we got further
details. The Fortunate Youth — for this became his
established title, as the young Roscius had been Master
Betty's — the Fortunate Youth was now about eighteen.
While still a schoolboy, he had by chance travelled in
a stage-coach along with an elderly gentleman unknown
to him, who in conversing with the other passengers
advanced some opinions which he took the liberty to
oppose. A dispute ensued: the lad maintained his
argument so resolutely and ably, that the liberal old
man, more pleased than offended, praised his manly
spirit, shook him by the hand at parting, and requested
that their acquaintance might continue; although, for
certain reasons of his own, he insisted that it should
be kept a secret from the boy's parents and every one
beside. They had private meetings afterwards, the
gentleman supplied him handsomely with money, and
at length told him — still upon condition of the strictest
secrecy — that having no relations in the world, and
being charmed with the independence of his character,
he had resolved to adopt and make him his heir. He
was now no more; and the youth, inheritor of all his
wealth, had used a part of it worthily, according to
some of the papers, by providing for a venerable father.
Others lamented that the joyful surprise, overpowering
his reason, had left him in a state delicately termed
one of nervous debility. Others made him consumptive
and sent him to Bristol. Others consoled us with
assurances that his health and his intellects were
equally unimpaired. In short, they played the tune
with a set of harmonious variations.
Thus far the tale, though romantic and singular,
had in it nothing incredible. There might be a rich
man without heirs; he might be a humorist; he
might adopt a stranger-boy, or endow a hospital, as
he liked best: who could tell? And a great fortune
was a commonplace, vague, uncertain phrase, sometimes
signifying fifty thousand a year, sometimes only
five: so whether the acquisition of it had or had not
unsettled its possessor's wits, the sound produced so
slight an effect upon ours, that as long as the story
rested there, it excited small attention. People said
coolly, 'It is very extraordinary, if true; but perhaps
it is not true — very likely a fiction from beginning to
end.' This sober-minded indifference was put to flight
in a curious manner. Some county gazetteer published,
and the London papers copied, a document which,
they were persuaded, must afford their readers the
highest gratification, a genuine authentic letter, dated
at — (one dash), written by — — (two dashes),
Esquire, a gentleman of great eminence and known
respectability in the law (name withheld from motives
of delicacy), to Mr. — — — (three dashes), at
— (one dash), minutely stating the particulars of
the Fortunate Youth's inheritance. It consisted of
millions in the English funds — 'not one or two millions'
(were the words), 'but millions, many millions,' of
immense mortgages at home and abroad, of considerable
estates in almost every shire in England, and vast
tracts of land in several foreign countries, especially
Poland and Spain. I think there were also hoards of
inestimable jewels. Briefly, all Aladdin's riches, without
the lamp and the genie: that is to say, without
the means of accounting for them. For, again, be it
humbly suggested, that we had better believe in magic
than in nonsense. Yet how many grave grown men
listened to these marvels, who would have pulled a
little boy's ears and called him a simpleton for supposing
Princess Scheherezade a reciter of true history.
When the flight of a few more years shall have converted
this anecdote into 'an auld warld story,' there
will not be two opinions amongst its hearers. They
will unanimously conclude that the foregoing detail set
the subject completely at rest, and made the whole
kingdom exclaim in the words of Prince Harry, 'Why,
these lies are gross as a mountain, open and palpable.'
Oh, what different creatures are we at sea or on
shore! Actually engaged in life's bustle, or viewing it
at a distance! The moment this stupendous stride
was taken from the surprising to the impossible, the
moment the Fortunate Youth indulged us with this
peep into unsearchable mines of countless treasure, he
became an object of general curiosity and interest,
about whom all grew eager to hear and to repeat fresh
wonders. The mighty THEY, accepting it as a retaining
fee, heartily espoused his cause. THEY said — this,
that, and t'other. They laboured hard to perform their
accustomed office of each throwing the ball a pace or
two beyond his neighbour. And notwithstanding the
meritorious endeavours of the hero himself to render
exaggeration impracticable, one must allow that even
his story did not lose by the telling. What astonishing
things (it was observed) one does hear of this boy's
fortune! 'Do you know, they say, that the interest of
what he has in our funds alone amounts to three
hundred and forty thousand pounds a quarter?' If
you answered with an interjection, or cried for mercy,
or held up your hands, you were silenced by a more
serious and solemn appeal to the same great authority
— 'Nay, now, in earnest I assure you they really do say
so.' After which, who could presume to doubt any
Who indeed can dare to contest their immemorial
privileges, the exemption They claim from that tedious
process of weighing and calculating, of spelling and
putting together which common sense prescribes to
individuals? That two and two make only four, that
nobody can be in two places at once, that black is not
white, nor ice fire, are propositions that They have an
undoubted right to disregard. Yet let us just hint
that the stocks were high at the time, therefore the
principal yielding such interest must have been above
forty millions sterling. A pittance forming only part
of the miraclous old man's bequest. Most of the
European sovereigns owed him enormous sums of
money. And no tradesman ever spoke more handsomely
of a lord who pays his bills at sight, and whom
he wishes all noblemen resembled, than our young
heir of the magnanimous Alexander's august mother,
empress-dowager of Russia. Honourable woman! She
was punctual to a day — though, to be sure, in a matter
of trifling importance. For every virtue has its drawback:
these exact old ladies, so scrupulous about paying,
will be scrupulous about borrowing also; there
is a narrowness, a shabby economy, in their notions,
which prevents their dealing largely and nobly like
their high-minded sons and grandsons. However, five
thousand a year, the interest of the pitiful hundred
thousand pounds which she had ventured to borrow,
ever found its way, with love in the ballad, 'over the
mountains or under the waves,' the very instant it was
due. Certain other crowned heads, he acknowledged,
gave him a great deal of trouble. And in truth he
found the management of his immense continental
property cruelly perplexing; the weight of his whole
business almost insupportable. He warned his friends
against the mistake of believing wealth a source of
happiness. His spirits, he said, were depressed; the
cheerfulness of youth had forsaken him; and, worst of
all, he candidly confessed that he could perceive the
love of money gaining ground upon his better disposition;
so close and cool an observer was he of the
workings of his own mind. But the evil influence of
riches spread yet farther; revenge crept in as well as
avarice. Along with his actual possessions, he had
inherited certain rights, his claiming which by law
might bring ruin upon many families now unconscious
of their danger. He could legally dispossess two great
noblemen, whom he prudently forebore naming, of
their whole estates. To one of these he owed no ill--
will, so perhaps he should leave him unmolested; but
the other had given him offence, while his condition
was humble, by some piece of aristocratical insolence,
and he did not deny exulting at the thoughts of effecting
his downfall.
After all, the Fortunate Youth (to do him justice)
was himself a phenomenon almost as wonderful as the
fabulous tale he made us swallow. It would be scarcely
three degrees more extraordinary to light upon a
benevolent ancient in a stage coach, worth fifty
millions of consols, and owner of half the territory in
Spain, than to find a lad of eighteen gifted with such
a knowledge of the world, and deep insight into the
weaknesses of human nature, as his conduct of the
imposture seemed to prove. Well aware, by whatever
revelation from above — or below — he came to know it,
that Mystery is ever the sine quâ non, the grand
ingredient without which no dish of the kind can have
its right flavour, he did not let it be wanting. He
was far from telling outright and straightforward all
that I have related. He hinted one circumstance; he
betrayed another when apparently off his guard; a
third was drawn from him against his will. He would
begin a confidential statement of his affairs, check himself
abruptly, and shut up again. The newspaper
puffs made him so angry that there was no suspecting
he had written them himself; yet he led you to think
him displeased, not because they asserted falsehoods,
but because they told truths which he wished to keep
concealed. Nor were the names of the two grandees
in jeopardy the only secrets he withheld from his
nearest friends. He never revealed whereabouts his
estates in England lay, and never could be induced to
show his benefactor's will. Everybody knows that a
will, to take effect, must be made as public as an act
of Parliament. Everybody did know it, but nobody
chose to remember it. You would have sworn that
the whole testamentary law had been repealed in his
favour, and that he alone stood exempted from the
legacy-tax of ten per cent.; for not one of those busy
in discussing the subject ever appeared sensible that
there was anything to hinder his slipping the windfall
into his pocket, as quietly as he might have done a
handful of rusty coins which he had picked up when
digging by himself in his own garden.
And yet — and yet — and yet — will it be credited?
— will it be deemed possible? — his chief dupe was a
lawyer, a solicitor in good practice!!! — One cannot
help thinking of the giant fishing —
His hook he baited with a dragon's tail,
And sate upon a rock, and bobbed for whale.
Such a whale (or rather shark) once taken, no
wonder the net he proceeded to throw should sweep
away multitudes of us poor shoal-fish, naturally prone
to swim blindly one after the other, whichever way the
current may carry us. The eagerness of tradesmen to
secure his custom, supply his wardrobe, build his
carriages, and furnish his palaces can excite no
surprise. But the gamesters at the clubs, and the
jockeys at Newmarket, began speculating upon the
chance of having so magnificent a pigeon to plume;
bankers solicited the honour of keeping his cash, and
the voters of independent boroughs tampered with his
confidants to learn how much of it he would be willing
to exchange for parliamentary influence. I heard a
man well versed in business and the world affirm that
to his knowledge the sale of a large estate in Norfolk
had been deferred, and a fair price for it refused, in
hopes that the Fortunate Youth might fancy the
purchase, and bid a higher. Nay, as in this country,
politics are sure to meddle with everything — in return
for every one's meddling with them — even the ministers
of the day were said to have paid him a little secret
court, or at least showed some desire to ascertain what
party he meant to embrace — a point about which
their antagonists would no doubt have been wholly
indifferent. But these rumours did not spring forth
till all was over, till the youth and his millions had
vanished from our sight, and each man, woman, and
child amongst us were (according to custom) protesting
that — 'For my part, I always thought the story very
absurd.' — 'And for mine, I never believed a word of it.'
That we never had believed it soon became our own
steadfast faithful persuasion; and ill fared the impertinent
remembrancer who insisted upon bringing back
our forgotten words to prove the contrary.
In one respect the termination of the affair was
singular, it dissolved instead of exploding. The young
gentleman, after complaining heavily of his agents
abroad, found himself obliged to visit his foreign
dominions in person, and no sooner did he embark for
the continent, than all mention of him seemed to die
softly away. Very possibly those whose purses had
enabled him to maintain the cheat so long learned
wisdom late, and thought it better to sit down in
silence with their loss than to risk making themselves
objects of ridicule by proclaiming it. However this
might be, no explanation of his motives for inventing
the romance, no account of the advantage he reaped,
or sought to reap, from it ever transpired: the waters
of oblivion closed over his head, and not a trace of him
remained. Peace and mirth go with him! He has
established, beyond any of his predecessors (always
excepting the bottle conjurer), the certainty of this
position — that there is nothing which men may not
be brought to believe; that even where the engines
most powerful in moving our nature, religious zeal or
political, the desire of health or of wealth, the force of
interest or passion, are in no way employed, yet still
marvel, for itself marvel, has an attraction which
human beings cannot withstand.
One more observation (grounded on this last story)
and I have done. On considering any remarkable
deception, how often do we find it accomplished by
seemingly inadequate means? — truth lying all the while
in the sight and at the feet of the parties whom some
unaccountable impulse prompted to leap over it with
their eyes shut, and leave it unperceived. Thus, also,
the riddle hardest to guess is seldom the most ingenious,
but often conceals a meaning so silly, so flat, so obvious,
that when told it we turn away with a peevish 'pshaw
— disappointed and half indignant. No wonder we
should be mortified at hearing a question of greater
moment expounded as follows: — 'Look you, there is
no such thing — dispute no more about circumstances,
quantity, or quality, for the substance does not exist.
I tell you there is no such thing.' — Let this relieve us
from ever so much perplexity, we shall still hear it
with a blank aspect, and dislike to be convinced that
we have been pondering, arguing, perhaps quarrelling,
perhaps fighting, about positively and veritably
Nothing. Of course we are always slow to make the
discovery by our own voluntary of efforts. Not the
vulgar or ignorant We only, but men of talents, men
of science themselves, if once imposed upon. And
that they sometimes are so with regard to the subjects
they understand best, the Fortunate Youth's attorney
does not stand single as a proof. Were the old history
of Elizabeth Canning 1 now related, every lady who
attends the Royal Institution, every flippant boy and
girl tolerably well read in Beauties and Abridgements,
would be sure to cry, 'How foolishly our ancestors
were duped! The world is rather wiser at present.'
Yet who was one of the dupes? Henry Fielding, the
eminent wit, the acute observer of manners and charac1
An account of Elizabeth Canning will be found in Chambers's
Encyclopædia and Paget's Paradoxes and Puzzles. Briefly, the
story is this: — Elizabeth Canning was a girl in service in London.
On New Year's Day 1753, she went for a holiday to her parents
in another part of London. She disappeared on her return to her
master, and nothing was heard of her, till on January 29th she
appeared at her home, half-starved and in rags. Her story was that
she had been kidnapped in Bloomsbury Square by two men who blindfolded
and gagged her, and carried her to a house in Epping Forest,
where she was confined in a garret, with a few crusts and a pitcher of
water, till she contrived to escape. Popular excitement grew till, as
Lady Louisa says in a letter, 'John Bull ran bellowing mad.' Owing
to Canning's evidence a gipsy-woman named Squire was condemned
to death. Doubts of Canning's story, however, caused a new trial,
which ended in Squire's release and the transportation of Canning to
New England for perjury. Some idea may be formed of the obscurity
of the story by the fact that thirty-eight witnesses were in favour of
Squire, and twenty-seven against her! — ED.
ter, and (what comes more home to the purpose) the
able and active magistrate.
I shall conclude with another instance warranted by
the 'narrative old age' of an excellent old man familiar
in my father's house when I was young. He had been
chief surgeon to the court and the army, and intimate
with the highest characters of his time, being as much
beloved for his humanity as respected for his integrity
and skill. He loved relating anecdotes or (if you will)
telling old stories, and here was one which, I have
heard, made no small noise when the event happened.
A young lady of quality fell ill of a strange disease.
Blotches broke out on her face, arms, and neck, suddenly
appearing and disappearing, and perpetually
shifting from one spot to another. A surgeon, particularly
attached to her family, attended her long
with the greatest assiduity, but as he wrought no cure,
all the principal doctors were called in to assist, and
all were alike unsuccessful. They could not remove
the obstinate humour. Yet her pulse continued
regular, her tongue clean, her strength unimpaired;
and, what perplexed them most, some powerful medicines
which they administered with fear and trembling
did her neither good nor harm. At length came an
unexpected crisis. One fine morning, off together
went the patient and the confidential family-surgeon
in a post-chaise and four; the formidable medicines
were found untouched in her closet, and the learned
brethren of the bridegroom remained confounded like
the king and courtiers in our Spanish tale. 'Now,'
said the good old man, do not go and fancy, from
what you read in the Bath Guide, that we came with
our canes at our noses, and pocketed double fees for
talking politics over the fire. We were all, I assure
you, very honestly and really puzzled; indeed, unusually
anxious to get to the bottom of a case so
extraordinary. We racked our brains, and tumbled
over our books — and so might we have gone on doing
to the end of our lives — for,' (proceeded he, chuckling,)
not one of us — great blockheads as we were! — ever
bethought himself of the effectual remedy close at
hand — videlicet, dipping a clean towel in a basin of
fair water, and washing her ladyship's face.'
EDINBURGH, 7th Feb. 1826.
MY DEAR LADY LOUISA, — I am flattered and delighted
with your kind inquiries just received. Were I to say
I was indifferent to losing a large proportion of a
hard-earned fortune I should lie in my throat, and a
very stupid lie it would be considered as an attempt
to impose on your sagacity. But yet it is inconceivable
to myself how little I feel myself care about it, and
how much I scandalise the grave looks and grasps of
the hand and extremity scenes which my friends treat
me to to the tune of a Grecian chorus, exclaiming
about gods and fates, and letting poor Philgarlick
enjoy his distress all the while.
Every person interested, so far as I yet know, are
disposed to acquiesce in measures by which they will
be at no distant period completely satisfied. We shall
only have to adopt some measure of economy of no
very frightful nature, and which we meditated at any
rate, for the number of visitors made Abbotsford very
untenable during the autumn months. Now, those
who get in must bring battering cannon, for no billet--
doux will blow open the gates, come from whom it
may. My children are all well provided for, so that
I have not that agonising feeling, and we have ample
income for ourselves. I am ashamed to think of it, and
mention it as a declension, knowing so many generals
and admirals who would be glad to change fortunes
with me. My land remains with me, being settled on
my son, and I look round and round and do not see
one domestic comfort abridged, though I shall willingly
lay down some points of parade of servants and
equipage and expensive form (which I always detested),
and all the rout of welcoming strange folks, which,
my age advancing a little, and the want of my sons to
do honours, made very annoying last season. I have
everything else — my walks, my plantations, my dogs
great and small, my favourite squire, my Highland
pony, my plans, my hopes, and my quiet thoughts.
So, like the upholsterer, Mr. Quidnunc, I ask myself,
How are we ruined? I shall make play, too, in the
language of the turf, and try what I can do to recover
my distance. None can calculate on the public favour,
yet I have had a pretty strong hold of it, and have
done more extraordinary things in my day than recover
my whole loss within three years. This, however, is
not to be much counted for, because novels and works
of imagination are not like household bread, in fashion
all the year round, but, like minced pies and hot-cross
buns, have only their season. Such is my plan, and
the only unpleasant part of it is that giving up my
house in Edinburgh, I must necessarily live at my
club, where we have excellent accommodation, for such
time as I must attend the sittings of the Court. But
there are plenty of conveyances to Abbotsford, so once
a week or a fortnight in summer I can make my wife
and daughter a visit, and in winter we may take
lodgings together for perhaps a month or six weeks
in the gay season. This is the worst part of my
retrenchment; but I am rather a solitary monster,
and sit much by myself at all times. I am sure you
are very good to think half so well of me as you do,
my dear Lady Louisa. I am conscious of meriting it
so far, that I have done good to some people, and never
willingly injured a human being in my life. I will soon
have to send you three volumes. The fates have not
smiled on them, for you may be sure they have been
written at disadvantage, even much greater than
Ivanhoe, much of which was dictated while I was in
agony with the cramp in my stomach, and scarce able
to utter two words without a pause. But there are
some sort of vexations worse than bodily pain. Thank
God! they seem all settled with me, and no unforeseen
obstacle intervening, a fair field lies before me. When
your ladyship can honour Sophia with a call she will
be found at 25 Pall Mall. The loss of her is very
serious at this moment, for had they remained keeping
house in Edinburgh it would have been a great comfort
to me. But if it proves in the end for their
advantage I must be satisfied. They have a little boy
about whose health I am truly anxious, an only child
as yet, and very clever, from being so much talked to
and fondled. I do fear London on its account not
a little. But we will not anticipate evil. God bless
you, my dear Lady Louisa; you have been since I
knew you the ready and active comforter of much
distress. Indeed I think that things have happened
to exercise your feelings in the behalf of others merely
because you really have that sincere interest in the
griefs of others which so many people make the
ostensible show of. Do not think upon my losses as
a thing to be vexed about, but let me have the great
pleasure of hearing from you now and then, which will
always enhance the pleasure of fair weather, and make
this which is rough the more endurable. I heard from
Morritt lately, which I was very glad of, as his letter
contradicted an ugly report of his nephew's illness. — I
am always, dear Lady Louisa, most truly yours,
DITTON PARK, 11th March 1826.
MY DEAR SIR WALTER, — Your welcome letter, together
with the particulars Lord Montagu gave me,
partly dispelled the anxiety that had prompted me to
write in a manner which perhaps it was very kind in
you not to take ill; for report, according to custom,
magnified the evil twentyfold, and I dreamed of nothing
less than utter ruin and desolation. Mr. Morritt, who
at first did so too, vows this shall cure him of ever
believing half what the world says, which before he
thought a good safe proportion. Still, the truth, such
as it is, would be overwhelming to most minds; and
were I to tell you how your calm fortitude affected
me, and how often I read over with admiration the
little you say on the subject, I should be afraid of your
thinking I dealt in the figure of speech called palaver.
But there is something that makes one's heart glow
when one meets with a character, even in books,
'that is not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please' —
and the effect may well be stronger where one knows
and values the person. I do own that if I had not
checked myself I should have returned fire and expressed
all I felt directly. However, by delaying I
can speak on a theme you will like better, and give
you a late account of Mrs. Lockhart, who has been
here for two days of this week. I saw her in town just
before I left it (a month ago); her looks are mended
since then, and though her situation is pretty apparent,
she did not seem the worse for a whole morning spent
in viewing Windsor Castle within and without, old
part and new — the most fatiguing thing in the world.
At night she sung us two or three of her wild songs,
and I wish you had seen the eager eyes of some of the
younger listeners, to whom she was a huge lion as your
daughter, and who had been sucking in whatever she
said of you. I find her the same Sophia she ever was,
as natural and as engaging; and her husband just
what you described him, a Spanish nobleman, or
suppose we say the Master of Ravenswood, with a
face for painters to study, but a brow rather awful
notwithstanding its beauty. It was a delight to me
to renew acquaintance with her; twelve hours in a
country house, you know, do more than eight-and--
forty morning visits in London, therefore I looked
forward to her coming as my best opportunity; and
she was so glad to breathe some fresh air and meet her
old friends Lady Anne (Scott) and Lady Isabella (Cust)
that I believe she enjoyed her visit as much as we did
her company, although pulled back by her poor little
boy. He seems a fine lively spirited child. I am
sorry his constitution is so delicate.
I do not know what may be the case with Woodstock,
but I am sure Malachi Malagrowther ne ressent pas de
l'apoplexie. Who would have expected amusement
from anything any human being could write upon
banknotes and currencies? So I rest perfectly satisfied
that the master-spring remains unbroken, 'though
I feel a cowardly dread of the nest of hornets Malachi
is drawing about his ears; some mighty to sting, however
unequal to answer.
I write this before I go away, which I shall do early
in next week, having made them here a visitation.
They are to be in town themselves after Easter.
With kind remembrance to Lady Scott, believe me,
most truly yours, L. STUART.
ABBOTSFORD, 13th April 1826.
MY DEAR LADY LOUISA, — For some time writing has
been painful to me saving what I must needs write, and
that being the discharge of a duty is always a sort of
pleasure — at least you are interested while about it and
contented when it is over. But of late I have had and
still have terrible anxiety on Sophia's account and that
of the poor child. I hardly ever regarded him but as
something lent to us from another world, and viewed
with terror the doating anxiety of the poor father and
mother. The sweet little boy was in himself very
taking, and I have frequently hardened my heart as
well as I could to prevent its twining itself around my
own heart-strings as it did about theirs. It is very
clever, perfectly natural, and good-humoured; in short,
the thing you would most wish to see at your knee had
it had less of the stamp of early fragility fixed upon it.
They are now, the mother and baby, as your ladyship
probably knows, at Brighton, and I own to you my
best hopes are that God will conduct my daughter
through her approaching confinement, and permit her
to be the mother of a healthy infant before
'the bird is flown
That we have made so much of.'
My wife, too, the faithful partaker of much weal and
woe, and who has in judging of what is upright and
honourable the spirit of a hundred princesses, is very
unwell. She is obliged to take foxglove, a terrible
medicine in its effects, but which alleviates very considerably
the disease, and gives me hope to see her
restored to tolerable health.
My own affairs assume every day a more comfortable
aspect. My chief and only subject of impatience is
the regret that requires people to wait a little for their
due so far as I have been involved in the misfortunes of
others. But my agent John Gibson, whom I four or
five years since recommended to Lord Montagu, has
done among the booksellers more in a few weeks than I
have done in many years. He has sold the impending
novel of Woodstock for £8000 and upwards, and has
similar offers for my sketch of Napoleon. If these
hold, a year or two's labour will place me in the happy
alternative called statu quo. But I am very easy about
that matter so long as I see the speedy prospect of
getting rid of debt. I feel much like my friend John
Hookham Frere, whom they could not get out of
the lazaretto at the expiry of quarantine. I could
not help telling said John Gibson that if be would
maintain my establishment, which is very comfortable,
in the present style and leave me my pleasant walks at
Abbotsford I would, to chuse, remain as I now am, with
every rational and many irrational wants supplied, and
let the rest go to Colin Tampon, as the French song
But write I must — it has become a part of my
nature, and as I become daily more solitary, the pen
and reading are, of course, my best resources. Every
sort of society which I cared for is very much diminished
by death and absence. The only man in this
country whom I could regard quite as a companion from
his taste and accomplishments, poor John Scott of Gala,
is I fear very ill. I saw a letter from him to his man
of business signed with his initials only — and such
letters! I had a sincere love for him. We spent part
of a little tour in France together, immediately after
Waterloo, and I shall never forget his matchless good--
humour, and on one or two occasions, where there really
seemed serious personal danger, his ready gallantry
and spirit. One night we were apparently in the predicament
of fighting for our lives. I was even then a
horse in point of strength and fearless by constitution,
and yet with his delicate person and softer breeding he
was the foremost of the two, let me do what I would.
Poor, poor fellow!
I am delighted that Lockhart passes current with
you. He really is a fine fellow, a scholar, a man of
taste, and point de vice the gentleman. I am sometimes
angry with him for an exuberant love of fun in
his light writings, which he has caught, I think, from
Wilson, a man of greater genius than himself perhaps,
but who disputes with low adversaries, which I think a
terrible error, and indulges in a sort of humour which
exceeds the bounds of playing at ladies and gentlemen,
a game to which I have been partial all my life. You
would see, dear Lady Louisa, that I commenced
politician for a start in a small way, incensed all my
friends for pointing out their egregious blunders, and
raised a racket of which I had not anticipated the
least idea. I had half a mind to have followed up the
controversy, for I had the cards in my hand, but, after
all, I thought it as well to let it stand after I had said
my say. It is not worth while to vex old friends about
the past, and if they do not look better to their bats in
time to come it will be their fault not mine. But they
are playing a bad game in Scotland, if not in England,
and turning people's heads round with such a constant
succession of experimental changes that those to whom
the vertigo is communicated will become incapable of
remaining still; and when that time comes, Scotland,
with her love of theory, her depth of brooding long
and sullenly over her plans and the many clever revolutionists,
for that is the word, whose game they are
playing in mere wantonness, will some day wind them a
pirn. I hope this will not happen till I am dead and
gone, for I am too old to have any share in the row. I
was not (between you, my dear Lady Louisa, and myself
be it said) a bit sorry for this turn up — as the
blackguards call it. My friends were some of them
poor, manning me a little too much for one who was
asking nothing from them, and had asked nothing
during my pilgrimage for myself, though I have been
often a suitor for others. But I don't like they should
think I am fallen out of the line. But this is all nonsense
again, says my uncle Toby to himself.
I have had this lying by me till I should have occasion
to write to Lord Montagu, which has suddenly
and unexpectedly occurred through the very unexpected
death of Sir Alexander Don. It will be a great
shock to Lord Montagu, and would have been a still
more severe one to his poor dear brother. As for me,
I think the world is gliding from under my feet,
'For many a lad I loved is dead,
And many a lass grown old,
And when I think on those are fled
My weary heart grows cold.'
But this has been, will be, and must be.
All health to you, my dear Lady Louisa, and all
happiness. — Believe me, most truly and respectfully
You will have difficulty, I fear, in reading this, but
my eyes are failing me fast. I cannot charge them
with idleness.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, 24th April 1826.
YOUR letters are always so acceptable, dear Sir
Walter, that I wish it were not painful to you to write.
Yet since it is, I would fain have it a thing understood
that you need not answer mine, especially as I dare say
I am not the only foolish woman who plagues you in
this way. I trust your mind has been partly relieved
since you wrote by Mrs. Lockhart's safe confinement,
which I was most heartily glad to hear of. For the
poor little boy, it must be as Providence wills, and at
best I fear a source of long and wearing anxiety; but
sometimes children such as you describe him live and
do well at last. I am sure one might have used your
very words — 'something lent to us from another
world' — about Lady Harriet Scott,1 who is now as
likely to live as any of her family, and rather less
liable to illness than some of the rest. It gives me
still more concern that you should have cause for
uneasiness on account of Lady Scott's health. May
God restore it and preserve her to you! How well
I understand the indifference you feel about mere
worldly matters when objects so dear are in any kind
of jeopardy; then the probe reaches the quick, and all
before goes for nothing. Still, I must rejoice these
secondary things go so well, the more from its being
a proof that the public mind is not changed nor the
public appetite cloyed. Another thing pleases me,
the general approbation of the last Quarterly Review,
Mr. Lockhart's first, I believe, and one in which your
cloven foot is visible. It had something to set it off,
however; for I think verily the temporary editor of
the work during the interregnum must have been
bribed into his extreme degree of dulness. By the
by I have lately had a long bad cold, such as reduces
one to trash and slops, novels and barley-water, and
amongst the books my friends kindly sent me to
while away time was the first volume of one puffed in
the newspaper, The Last Man, by the authoress of
Frankenstein. I would not trouble them for any more
of it, but really there were sentences in it so far exceeding
those Don Quixote ran mad in trying to comprehend,
that I could not help copying out a few of
1 Married, 1842, Rev. Edward Moore, and had ten children.
them; they would have turned Feliciano de Silva's
own brains. For example: —
Her eyes were impenetrably deep; you seemed to
discover space after space in their intellectual glance,
and to feel that the soul which was their soul comprehended
an universe of thought in its ken.'
And this: 'The overflowing warmth of her heart, by
making love a plant of deep root and stately growth,
had attuned her whole soul to the reception of
I amused myself with turning the metaphor to
matter of fact. The overflowing warmth of the stove,
by making the geranium strike root and grow vigorous,
tuned the pianoforte to the reception of God save the
King. Since the wonderful improvement that somebody
who shall be nameless, together with Miss Edgeworth
and one or two more, have made in novels, I
imagined such stuff as this had not ventured to show
its head, though I remember plenty of it in the days
of my youth. So for old acquaintance-sake I give it
welcome. But if the boys and girls begin afresh to
take it for sublime and beautiful, it ought to get a
rap and be put down.
The Montagus settle in town the end of this week
for the remainder of the season, which the expected
dissolution of Parliament is likely to abridge, therefore
I wish they had come sooner. Poor Sir Alexander
Don's death is a sad shock to them. I have not heard
anything lately of Scott of Gala, but think his uncle,
the admiral, was to visit him or be visited by him a
week or two ago. I am going to stay a few days with
the Scotts at Petersham previous to their setting out
for Bothwell early in May, and if I can pick up any
tidings of the nephew more satisfactory than what you
seem to have had, I will send them you on my return,
provided that if I do you are not even to say thank ye.
I can easily conceive the blank his absence must cause
in your neighbourhood. But alas that you, who as
Canton says in the play1 'are chicken to me,' should
already talk of the world gliding from beneath you!
Certainly it must be one day, but indeed 'tis o'er soon,
and I hope there will come brighter moments tempting
you to retract the hasty word. God bless you!
Dear Sir Walter, I say it from my heart.
I was going to conclude, and forgetting to mention
Mr. Morritt, whose domestic happiness remains unabated.
He trundles his whole cargo of nephew and
nieces down to Rokeby on the fifteenth of May, and if
all should go well, builds upon the hope of luring you
to come so far in summer. Now farewell. Believe me,
always affectionately yours, L. STUART.
P.S. — Since I wrote the above I have called in Pall
Mall, and Mr. Lockhart, who was at home, sent word
that all was going on well at Brighton.
1 Coleman's Clandestine Marriage.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, 5th May [1826].
DEAR SIR WALTER, — I should have written again the
moment I returned from Petersham if Admiral and
Mrs. Scott had told me anything of their nephew
which it would have given you pleasure to hear, but
alas! this was not the case; and finding Woodstock
on my table when I came back, I could not help reading
it first. Scott of Gala and his wife had been some
days at Petersham the week before I went there, and I
am sorry to say they think his health and spirits little
improved. My Mrs. Scott, commonly called Car, is as
partial to him as you are, and grieves to see him so
unequal to any enjoyment of society. After talking
agreeably for half an hour he is forced to get up, go
to his own room, and remain a long time entirely quiet
and inactive. One evening he made her play to him
some of Handel's music, and was so delighted, he said,
'Well, I cannot resist it; I will fetch my flute and try
to accompany you'; but before he could get through
one tune, the pain in his head came on and drove him
away. It is the same thing when he attempts any
solitary occupation, he can read only for a few minutes
together. The medical man he consults is of opinion
that the stomach, originally deranged by the injury of
the head, now reacts on the head in its turn; therefore
he is applying mercurial remedies. Dr. Baillie
told Admiral Scott that time and nature must act for
themselves, medicine could do nothing. I hope this
man — I think they named Abernethy (the surgeon) —
will prove the contrary.
Lord Montagu desires me to tell you that the Duke
of Buccleuch left London to go abroad yesterday, and
the day before was privately presented to the king in
the uniform of the Dumfriesshire militia, the first
time in his life, it seems, that he had ever had on the
utterly unnameable garment (for one may talk loudly
of pantaloons), and he was as awkward and as much
ashamed of showing his legs as any young lady. His
Majesty, perhaps, would be still more so, having the
gout in both feet, though otherwise well. He received
the uncle and nephew very graciously, and told the
latter that he was sitting for his picture to Lawrence,
and meant to give it him, if he chose to accept of
it, for Dalkeith House. The Duke returns home in
Now let me thank you a thousand times for Woodstock.
All I shall say about it is this, that I felt as
anxious for Charles the Second's escape, and held my
breath, as if I had not known he did escape, and been
sure he must. I may add, too, as if he had been better
worth saving. It was wise of you to refrain from reading
Brambletye House, for after reading it you would
yourself have blushed to bring it into comparison; the
coarse caricature, the vulgarity, as evident in the book
as in the author, whom I have seen and heard sing his
buffoon-songs! I read it first, and to be sure it set off
not only your cavaliers, but your Cromwell and your
Presbyterians. It is impossible, I think, that Woodstock
should not have brilliant success.
What you will care more for, I trust, Mrs. Lockhart
and her children are going on well. I called in Pall
Mall yesterday, but Mr. L. was absent, and they had
no later news than I learned there some days ago.
Lord Montagu says you wrote him a far better account
of Lady Scott, which I am sincerely glad of, hoping so
marked an amendment will be followed by recovery.
Remember you are not to answer this letter, nor even
to read it except in a very leisure hour; but always
believe me yours, with the truest regard,
P.S. — I rejoice to bear young Harden 1 comes into
CHISWICK, 4th Sept. 1826.
I FORBORE writing to you when I wished most to do
it, dear Sir Walter, for there are moments and feelings
upon which none but the nearest friends, and hardly
they, ought to intrude; but God knows you were as
much in my thoughts all the while as if I had told you
how I felt for you. I saw Mrs. Lockhart in town, and
afterwards heard from her, for I could not help asking
whether the newspaper story of your being King's
Printer had any truth in it. By her answer I found it
was what Lord Montagu calls a mare's nest. However,
she wrote me a comfortable account of you, and
1 Scott of Harden, the late Lord Polwarth.
spoke of her poor little boy hopefully, as likely to
outgrow at last the mischiefs that threatened his
infancy. I trust it will be so; and may every cloud
pass over him harmless! The Montagus talk of going
to Brighton, where they will find her out if still there.
You know, perhaps, that the hooping-cough in their
family hindered their journey to Scotland, or rather
delayed it, for I think they are likely to take it some
weeks hence. When I asked Lord M. for a frank, he
bade me tell you he had been on the point of writing
to you himself, but hearing of you very fully from the
Drumlanrig party, he put it off till another occasion.
Now to say honestly why the spirit moves me to
plague you with a letter at present. That French
pirate, Galignani, has gathered together in two small
volumes your Prefaces to the British novelists, and
published them at Paris, whence some copies have been
brought over hither. Everybody who opens the book
is charmed with it. To use the French expression, on
se l'arrache; and nobody that I have met with seems
ever to have heard of the prefaces before, but all are
eager to get it from France. Were it to be got in
England at double or treble the price, they would send
to the next bookseller, but they will not lay out a
large sum for the Gil Blas', Clarissas, and Tom Joneses
they have by heart already. The whole collection can
only be a library book, furniture for a country house,
like the Bibliothèque de Campagne. Surely it would
answer to Ballantyne himself to publish the Prefaces
apart, and if there were two more volumes added (or
four if you will) it would run like wildfire. Either
Galignani has not printed all, or many are wanting
whom you certainly do not mean to pass by: Moore's
Zeluco, Godwin's Caleb Williams and St. Leon, Charlotte
Smith, Miss Burney, Miss Hamilton, Miss Edgeworth,
Miss Austen, and may I petition for a word in favour
of Charlotte Lennox, Dr. Johnson's favourite, whose
female Quixote delighted my childhood so much that I
cannot tell whether the liking I still have for it is from
taste or memory. General Burgoyne took the plot and
characters of his admired comedy The Heiress almost
wholly from another novel of hers, Henrietta, and when
he printed the play did not name her in the preface,
which, considering he was a great man and she a
starving authoress, I thought ungenerous.
I am lately returned from a friend's house where
these prefaces have been devoured by man, woman, and
child. One evening after they were finished, a book
was wanting to be read aloud, and what you said of
Mackenzie made the company choose the Man of
Feeling, though some apprehended it would prove
too affecting. However, we began. I, who was the
reader, had not seen it for several years, the rest did
not know it at all. I am afraid I perceived a sad
change in it, or myself, which was worse, and the
effect altogether failed. Nobody cried, and at some
of the passages, the touches that I used to think so
exquisite — oh dear! they laughed. I thought we
should never have got over Harley's walking down
to breakfast with his shoe-buckle in his hand.
Yet I remember so well its first publication, my
mother and sisters crying over it, dwelling upon it
with rapture! And when I read it, as I was a girl
of fourteen not yet versed in sentiment, I had a
secret dread I should not cry enough to gain the
credit of proper sensibility. This circumstance has
led me to reflect on the alterations of taste produced
by time. What we call the taste of the age, in books
as in anything else, naturally influences more or less
those who belong to that age, who converse with the
world and are swayed by each other's opinions. But
how comes it to affect those who are as yet of no
age, the very young, who go to an author fresh, and,
if one may say so, stand in the shoes of his first
original readers? What instinct makes them judge
so differently? In my youth Rousseau's Nouvelle
Heloise was the book that all mothers prohibited,
and all daughters longed to read; therefore somehow
or other they did read, and were not the better for it,
if they had a grain of romance in their composition.
Well! I know a young person of very strong feelings,
one 'of imagination all compact,' all eagerness and
enthusiasm, she lately told me she had been trying
to read the Nouvelle Heloise, but it tired and disgusted
her, so she threw it by unfinished. I was
heartily glad to hear it, but I own a good deal surprised,
for if she, the same she, had lived fifty years
ago, she would have been intoxicated and bewildered
and cried her eyes out.
Now do consider and expound this, not in a letter
to me, but in the next Waverley novel, or Preface,
or Review. It is a theme well worth your handling
as a curious trait in human nature, and I should very
much like to see how you would account for it.
Remember no answer is required. I only venture to
write upon that condition; otherwise I should abstain,
as your eyes are far too precious to be worn out and
wasted in correspondence. — Believe me always, with
the warmest good wishes, most truly yours,
DITTON PARK, 1st March 1827.
AND so the murder is out, dear Sir Walter! I have
been reading the newspaper account of your meeting
for the Theatrical fund, and dislike only one ominous
expression — 'that the rod of Prospero is broken and
buried.' I hope — 'that's poetry, Miss' — as Mason
said to an old friend of mine who quoted his own
words to him in opposition to some opinion he was
giving, — I hope the rod will still work miracles under
The Montagus and I have been comparing notes on
the subject; they had no notion that I knew it, nor
I that they knew it, which I think speaks us a good
trusty honourable set of people, considering how much
and often the novels used to be canvassed amongst
us. The poor late Duke was their informer, to whom,
by the by, you must know you gave your word of
honour that you were not the author, in so serious and
solemn a manner, that it was quite impossible you
could be so, unless indeed you had given up all regard
to character. This is one of five hundred stories I
have heard positively affirmed since you owned the fact
to me a dozen years ago, many of them supported by
such evidence as there was no refuting. One work
had been actually read in Canada, and another certainly
heard of in Germany long before they appeared
in print here, and this person knew, and that could swear
to proofs, not presumptions, but clear proofs that you
wrote none of them. Then, too, in reasoning on the
books themselves: Old Mortality, for instance, was
plainly written by three or four different hands; people
could point out traces of the patchwork, which it was
perverseness or want of taste not to distinguish. One
had nothing for it but to assent peaceably to whatever
they chose to say, and without denying one's own
belief, allow that they supported theirs by very strong
It has increased my knowledge of this world we live
in a hundredfold, and I must confess gone far to
convince me of the truth of the proverb 'truth lies in
a well'; for, without intentional falsehood, how most
people do lose sight of it in the heat of an argument,
and how very inaccurately most stories are told! It
has garred me make some reflections on myself too, as
well as on my neighbours. When inclined to be eager
and vehement, in maintaining or combating any point,
I have recollected that on this, which I was sure of, I
said as little as I could, and took care not to attract
notice. And I have thought to myself, 'perhaps some
silent person is now sitting in a corner who has the
same certainty of the present matter, and to whom my
prating is a comedy.' I shall like to see how those
that were so certain will eat up their proofs and their
knowledge. The usual way, I know, is by forgetting
all, and flatly denying they ever thought so and so;
and in that case they never forgive you if you put them
in mind of their former assertions.
I have been here above a fortnight, but managed
things so awkwardly as to pass most of the time in my
own room confined with a bad cold, which is the harder,
as I had had a pretty severe one just before I came. I
was in great hopes to have met the Lockharts, whom
Lady Montagu proposed asking to meet me. Now I
am well again, she says she will still try, but I cannot
stay here for ever and aye. I suppose you know Mr.
Morritt has inherited a considerable property from an
old uncle of eighty-seven, who, I believe, was a determined
miser. I hear the nephew, to be quite sure of
not hoarding in his turn (though in no great danger
of it), has portioned his two nieces most handsomely,
added nobly to young Morritt's income, and so forth.
Very like himself, and I dare say all true, as his own
words are that this acquisition has enabled him to
render those about him as comfortable as money can
make them. These repeated stupifying colds have
prevented my answering his letter (now five or six
weeks old) and asking further particulars. You see
I have bestowed all my tediousness on you instead; but
remember our bargain — no answer required.
I wish I could have any reasonable hopes of your
coming up this spring, and bringing Napoleon out in
your proper person. I am afraid that short spurt in
the autumn is all we are to have of you. Wherever
you are, may all that is good attend you! — Believe me,
always your obliged and sincere, L. STUART.
P.S.— My lord and lady are gone for two days to
Richmond, so I have no message to give you from
EDINBURGH, 8th March 1827.
MY DEAR LADY LOUISA, — I have your kind letter,
and as I love contradiction as well as other folks, I proceed
to answer it immediately. The avowal of the
novelist character was a mere accident. The circumstances
attending Constable's bankruptcy placed the
secret such as it was in the hands of too many persons
to suppose that a denial could any longer be taken at
my hands, and whenever that became the case I only
looked for some decent opportunity to lay aside the
mask, which was grown as thin as my aunt Dinah's.
Besides, the joke had lasted long enough, and I was
tired of it. I had not, however, the most distant
intention of choosing the time and place, where the
thing actually took place, for making the confession.
Lord Meadowbank, who is a kind and clever little
fellow, but somewhat bustling and forward, said to me
in the drawing-room — ‘Do you care anything about
the mystery of the Waverley novels now?' 'Not I,'
I replied; 'the secret is too generally known.' I was
led to think from this that he meant to make some
jocular allusion to Rob Roy. I trusted to find something
to reply when I should hear, being willing on
such occasions (like an old cudgel player as I am) to
take up the baskets at any time for the amusement of
the good company. But when, instead of skirmish of
this kind, he made a speech in which he seriously
identified me with the author of Waverley, I had no
opportunity of evasion, and was bound either to confess
or deny, and it struck me while he was speaking
it was as good and natural an occasion as I could find
for making my avowal. And so out it came, to the
great astonishment of all the hearers. My secret was
just in the case of Jack Meggot's monkey, which died
just when Jack got completely tired of him. Besides,
I was sorry for telling lies which were not believed.
A lawyer, like Fag in the Rivals, never cares for telling
a lie either to serve himself or his client, but it goes
against one's conscience to be found out. In fact, as
to my denials, I could not have kept my secret a
moment unless I had shut the mouths of people who
thought themselves entitled to pry into what they had
no business with. Your ladyship knew the parties too
well to suppose poor Duke Charles would press for an
instant on the secret of any friend. He was the
person in the world who observed most delicacy on
such occasions, and the way that his Grace came to
know the circumstances was precisely contrary to those
in which I was said to have denied them. The subject
being brought on by some inquisitive person at Drumlanrig,
I could not help saying the next time we were
alone together that I was surprised his Grace had never
testified any curiosity on the subject, and told him the
secret at the same time, although I do not believe he
ever doubted how the thing stood. There was a
singular circumstance the other day, like some of those
which happened with respect to omens, dreams, etc.,
corresponding with the original. Two gentlemen of
Cambridge had a wager depending upon the question
whether I was or was not the author in question. The
bet remained unsettled for twelve years, till of late that
the gentleman who maintained the negative gave up
his wager as lost, from the result of some inquiries, I
suppose, and a day was fixed for announcing a handsome
entertainment suitable, as the newspaper says, for
the importance of the occasion. Just as the party were
going to dinner, lo! arrives the news of the formal
avowal. Was not this a very odd coincidence? To
conclude, I think I must say some few things about
the confession, and put them into a printed shape.
Your ladyship is well entitled to hear all how and
about it. I put it off till I should get to the country,
out of the way of being farther poked or plagued about
it. I am delighted with Morritt's good fortune. I
remember the worthy defunct opened his hoards, and
gave Morritt at some Jewish sort of interest the price
which he purchased Brignal with, and which acquisition
brought him so much amusement. Fortune is in her
brightest mood when she bestows her favours on those
who are sure to make a good use of it. He has had in
some part of his life great anxiety and distress, as your
ladyship and I well know; I hope and trust it will be
made up to him in the love and gratitude of his
adopted children. I have rarely seen any one more
improved than young Morritt. It was my advice which
sent him into the army, as the best way of teaching
him some knowledge of the world, where he got rid
of all the conceit and nonsense of a young genius, and
is now a pleasant, gentlemanlike, sensible young man.
If this finds your ladyship at Ditton, pray have me
most respectfully and kindly remembered to the lord
and lady, and all the young ladies. I understand the
Duke and his sisters are to be down here in summer.
He is likely to be indulged in his wish to keep the
Midlothian pack of hounds at his own expense, and
it will probably bring him much to Scotland, which is
devoutly to be desired for his own sake and that of
the country. I send this to Sophia to forward as she
may. — Ever your ladyship's truly obliged and most
respectful humble servant, WALTER SCOTT.
I go to Abbotsford Monday.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, 1st July 1827.
DEAR SIR WALTER, — I know not how to thank you
enough for your present, which I received on Friday
afternoon, and fell to without a moment's delay. I
have finished the first volume. What others think of
it I am entirely ignorant, and I feel it almost an impertinence
to give my own opinion upon such a work;
but this I can truly say, I have read it with just the
same avidity as I ever did any of your novels, and
I think enjoyed it much the more, instead of the less,
from knowing, from having in a manner witnessed, the
events it records. We do not see distinctly what is too
near our eye, or judge calmly of things while they are
actually passing before us. Various reports, different
versions of every story, let alone party disputes, tend to
confuse the mind and leave it in a sort of uncertainty.
It is therefore most agreeable (I speak for myself) to
see the intricate road one has actually travelled laid
down in a good map, to have a fair, clear, candid,
luminous statement of the momentous scenes that, when
present, only bewildered one's faculties. And if ever
I met with a statement deserving these epithets, I
protest it is yours. If ever I beheld the causes leading
to the French Revolution traced with a masterly hand,
it is in your first and second chapters, where you have
steered quite clear of the rock on which I had some
fear of your splitting, i.e. too partial a regard for
aristocracy, and so expressed yourself, that I shall
wonder if even a real Whig can find fault, though a
Radical may like your sentiments all the worse for
being both moderate and just. I also admire particularly
the description of the National Assembly and
that of our House of Commons in the fourth chapter;
and throughout am delighted with those flashes of
poetical genius which, by one happy allusion, sometimes
only one word, light up a complete image in the
mind and, what is more, illumine the subject, render
it better understood. I am going too far, and deserve
you should recollect Dr. Johnson's speech to a bluestocking
lady: 'Consider what your flattery is worth,
madam, before you choke me with it.' But I affront
myself by naming flattery, for I never flattered anybody
in my life, and 'though I may judge mistakenly I
do it honestly, as this naïve remark of a young friend,
who chanced to meet with me Friday evening, and to
whom I read some of these passages, will prove —
'Why, Lord! you read it as if you had written it
yourself.' She meant con amore, and indeed I believe
it was true.
You have made a mistake in calling the Emperor
Francis, Leopold's brother, instead of his son, and have
followed false information in your note, page 327,
which you may think no great matter; but I can tell
you it will serve to ascertain one point. Depend upon
it, no ghost ever does, or did, or will walk, if poor
Lord Sheffield's has not paid you a fearful visit by this
time. He, as Colonel Holroyd, was the person who
said to Lord George Gordon he would stab or shoot
him on the first entrance of the mob into the House
of Commons, and further, threatened to tear the blue
cockade out of his hat, unless he put it instantly in his
pocket, which Lord George, quailing, submitted to.
Colonel Holroyd's fencible cavalry was one of the
regiments whose coming up saved the town, and for
his activity at its head Lord North made him an Irish
peer. In his last years, when I knew him, these
matters had grown exactly 'His sacred Majesty's
disjune at the Tower of Tillietudlem,' and put all his
friends to flight in the same manner. Whenever we
saw the riots of 1780 impending, one person slipped
out of the room, another spied a thunder-cloud in the
sky, another even asked questions about his own
pamphlets on the Corn Laws — nothing would do. As
his newest acquaintance I was a favourite victim. In
vain did I plead that I was grown up and in London
at the time, and had had too hearty a fright to forget
a single circumstance — our house being on the condemned
list. No matter, I must read the old newspapers
and magazines treasured up in his library,
because containing the most accurate accounts of all
that passed. For Cosmo Gordon1 — no General — nor, I
believe, ever an M.P., — I remember no person (of a
gentleman) so generally despised in society, or rather
out of it; for a strong suspicion that much dirty scandal
in the Morning Post about the Duchess of Gordon, Lord
William, and others of his connections, came from him,
sent him altogether to Coventry, whence he never returned.

I am afraid you will begin to think Lord Sheffield
dropped his mantle on my shoulders when he left this
world, yet I cannot help retailing an old story he was
fond of telling, it seems so pat to what is going forward
1 To whom the story was erroneously attributed.
in the world at present, to Mr. Brougham's high opinion
of Lord Eldon, and twenty other things happening,
now that people are every day eating up their words
with any sauce that can be devised.' Oh! how
I wish I could hear you for half an hour on these
Well! The old gentleman said he was a youth on
his travels, Ensign Holroyd, when Wilkes came to
Geneva during his outlawry. All the young men
there were fond of his company as a remarkable person
and a man of wit, and he made up to him still more
than the rest; of course was in his favour. One day he
took the liberty of saying to him — 'Mr. Wilkes, may
I ask you what gave you such a hatred of Lord Bute?'
'I a hatred of him,' returned Wilkes very coolly.
'Nobody could hate him less: I am sure he was always
very civil to me; and for that matter, I protest, I
thought him a very good minister.' — 'You!!! You
thought him so?' — 'Ay! Why should not I
Good God! Why did you attack him so violently,
then?' — 'Why?' repeated Wilkes, turning round and
staring, 'Why, because it was my game, to be sure;
I wanted to be somebody, and as matters stood, I had
not much chance of getting anything from Government,
so you know my business was to attack it.' —
'And had you no scruple of throwing the whole kingdom
into confusion?' — Wilkes squinted at him with
a look of fun. — 'Why, if I had had such a scruple, I
should not have been JOHN WILKES, but a vaa-ry
vir-tu-ous Holroyd.' And so the conversation ended.
Will you remember me in the kindest manner to
Mrs. Lockhart; it does me good to know you are now
together, and her little boy in so fair a way of complete
recovery. I wish she would write to me and tell me
all about you and herself, for I grudge your pen and
ink being wasted, therefore do not desire any answer.
I meant to have enclosed a note to her to this purpose,
but the hour is too late to permit me writing it. I
can only add that I am, ever truly yours,
July 1827.
MY DEAREST LADY LOUISA, — I cannot devolve on
any other person, however confidential, the task of
returning my best and warmest thanks for all your
kindness. Venturing to make a considerable allowance
for the partiality of old friendship, there remains
enough in your kind approbation to give good hopes
that I have been in some degree successful in concluding
the most severe and laborious undertaking which
choice or accident ever placed on my shoulders. I
positively felt last week like Christian when released
from his burden, and could willingly have sung when
I went on my way. My way too was a pleasant one,
for I got holiday for four days from the Court, and
Anne and I went to spend it at Abbotsford among my
plantations and in the company of my dogs and rustics.
I beg pardon of the human dignity for the collocation,
but both classes are great additions to my happiness.
I do not think I ever saw the earth look so beautiful,
the weather neither too scorching or too chilly, but the
air smelling and feeling like balm itself, the turf more
highly embroidered with wild-flowers, and spreading a
fresher and a greener turf than I ever before observed,
and being at once velvet to the step and the most
beautiful embroidery to the eye. Then the delightful
recollection in the morning that I was quit of my late
yoke was something like the holiday morning of my
schooldays, when I wakened at six to remember that
I was not obliged to rise.
However, this springtide of pleasurable enjoyment
could not last long, and my return to Edinburgh and
to my official duty was attended with some anxious
apprehensions as to the reception which my finished
labours might find with the public. I could not quite
view the matter couleur de rose, knowing with what haste
the work was executed and the number of inaccuracies
which it must necessarily contain, so that your
kind letter, my dear Lady Louisa, came as a cordial,
when a cordial was a little wanted; for though I am
resolute in not worrying myself about what I cannot
now help, yet I do not profess to be so entirely beyond
the ordinary feelings of authorship as not to accept
with the utmost gratitude the applause of those whose
judgment I must needs value so highly as I do that of
Lady L. Stuart. I was aware of the blunder about the
Emperor Francis. It had slipped from me more in a
mistake, for certainly I knew the fact very well. In
that respecting Lord Sheffield I was misled by Burke's
and Dodsley's annual register, which ascribes the anecdote
to Gordon; but if a second edition be called for
assuredly I will give Lord Sheffield his due. The trait
was worthy of the stout old Lord Mayor who knocked
down Wat Tyler, and would no doubt [be] executed
as bravely as it was said. It is odd what straws a
free and a thinking people will draw before them. I
have often thought that either the absolute knave like
John Wilkes, or the positive madman like Lord George
Gordon, will succeed in making use of the popular
credulity much better than men that are decently
honest or reasonably sagacious, who fail in leading the
animal to the utmost from uncertainty of the immense
quantity of nonsense which may be imposed on it. I
am glad your ladyship thinks I have attained the
high praise of impartiality. I have certainly endeavoured
to do so, and however incompetent I might be
to judge of so comprehensive and powerful a character
as Napoleon's, I have always endeavoured to regard
Napoleon as a person upon his trial, and I myself one
of his jury who was of course to condemn or absolve
him. I should be particularly sorry to do injustice to
Lord Sheffield, because I knew him a little in his latter
days, and was much delighted with his spirit and
urbanity at a late period of human life, and particularly
with the spirit with which I have met him riding
his pony in the park. I must never have been very
high in his favour, for we never came so close together
as to get the story of the Riots, and I rather wonder at
it, for I remember the surprise and resentment of my
father at the impertinence of the mob who took the
Protestant reformation for their watchword, and more
especially the supine negligence and cowardice of the
magistrates who suffered such infinite disorder to take
place. I was always a willing listener to tales of broil
and battle and hubbub of every kind, and now I look
back on it, I think what a godsend I must have been
while a boy to the old Trojans of 1745, nay, 1715,
who used to frequent my father's house, and who knew
as little as I did for what market I was laying up the
raw materials of their oft-told tales. My choice friend
was a certain Alaster Stuart of Invernahyle, a leader of
no ignoble portion of your ladyship's royal clan of the
Stuarts, namely of Appine, which he led on many a
bloody day. I shall never forget one of his answers to
me. I was, I suppose, about ten years old, and, seated
on his knee, listened to his warlike exploits, of which
he was no loath narrator. 'O Inver' (this was his
familiar and pet name in the family), 'will you tell me
if you were ever afraid?' 'Troth, Gurdie mavourneen'
(Walter, my darling), said the old man, 'the first
time I gaed into action, when I saw the red coats rank
opposite to us and our people put up their bonnets to
say a bit prayer, and then scrag their bonnets down
ower their een and set forward like bulls, driving each
other on and beginning to fire their guns and draw
their broadswords, I would have given any man a
thousand merk to insure me I wad not run away.' Poor
Alexander Stuart! I saw his son the other day, a grey,
drinking, half-pay captain, who has spent the little
estate, and is now an idle stupid animal, and yet I can
never help feeling kindly to him and stopping to talk
to him about the memory of the high-souled enthusiastic
old man. All this is very little to the present
purpose. Sophia has stuck herself into one of those
lodging-houses in Portobello, where she pickles the
children duly, I hope to their advantage, for certainly
it is not to her comfort or theirs either. The place is
a stew-pan in hot weather, a watering-pan in rainy
weather, and affords the accommodation of a piggery
at all times, when she might live at Abbotsford like
a princess, up to the ears in flowers and vegetables
and as happy as a cow. There is no accounting for
tastes, and I have suffered too severely for interfering
in matters of health. For, after all, a fellow who has
had the constitution of a Bonassus for the greater part
of his life is no very capable judge how women and
children ought to be treated. I expect my youngest
son to-morrow from London dignified with the title of
Master of Arts, and I hope like to turn out intellectual.
Walter fills his own place very well. He has good sense
and the most perfect good temper, bel cavalier beau
sabreur, a very kind husband to his little wife. He
is, besides, mathematical, however he picked up this
quality, and a good draughtsman. All this does well for
a youngster who hath lands and beeves, but the younger
brother has or ought to have more stirring qualities,
and accordingly Charles I think has a decided turn for
reading, and a good deal of something like talent that
may turn out dross or good metal as God pleases. He
has, however, like his brother, a generous and noble
heart, and I have good hope of him and of both from
their great affection to me, their sisters, and each
other. Such is papa's tale. I have no mind to say
anything about the public except that, looking as an
'My friends by turns my friends oppress,
Betraying and betrayed';
and thinking as one of the public, I can only say —
'A plague of both your houses.'
They are teaching the world at large to call them
all self-seeking knaves, which the world, as Mother
Quickly observes, will do fast enough of itself. It is a
sad scene of party passion.
I will put my sheepish nonsense like Win Jenkins
under my lord's own kiver, for certes it were hard
measure to pay postage for it. Should it find your
ladyship at Ditton, I need hardly beg to be most
kindly and respectfully remembered. I have hardly
left room to say how much I am your ladyship's
respectful and obliged humble servant,
DITTON PARK, 31st Jany. 1828.
THREE months have stolen away, dear Sir Walter,
since I begged for the little bit of paper I enclose,
meaning to send it you directly; but various melancholy
and untoward circumstances (to borrow the
word my betters are squabbling about in Parliament)
occurred one after the other to prevent my writing.
Mind, I make no excuse for that — excuses are more
wanted when I do write. But to explain the merits
of the scrap. It was part of a letter my sister-in-law
received from her brother Granville Penn, a man of
letters and an author, chiefly on theological subjects.
A year ago he had an overwhelming misfortune — his
favourite daughter, happily married, was carried off by
a week's sudden illness. Struggling to recover this by
plunging yet deeper in his Greek studies, in order to
finish an elaborate work for the press, he so injured his
eyesight that the oculists prohibited all use of it whatever,
and, like most people accustomed to read much
to themselves, he could not like being read to, until
your Life of Napoleon so riveted his attention that
his children declare it has been a perfect blessing, for
which they shall thank you as long as they live. He
sat listening to it from morning to night.
Now, though I firmly believe you as free from
author's vanity as you say in the introduction to the
Tales of the Canongate, is not there a something in
you quite distinct from that (or vanity of any sort), a
something to which the praises of the poor half-blind,
afflicted man will give sensible pleasure? I will not
think otherwise, for it seems to me that none of the
French mountebanks who crowned Voltaire at the
theatre paid him so gratifying a compliment.
The next thing to it is the delight of the children
in the Tales of a Grandfather. I have made two or
three sets very happy with them, but they have carried
away my copies too fast to let me read more of them
myself than the first volume, which, indeed, Mrs. Lockhart
lent me before they were published. Apropos of
her — now in some degree my neighbour — I saw her
during the very few days I was in town before I came
here last week, and have seldom seen her looking so
well. Little Johnnie, whom I found at the door just
getting into his wicker-coach to go out, had a healthy,
fresh colour, and as for his next brother, he was standing
manfully on his legs, one of the finest, sturdiest
fellows I ever beheld. I bade her give you hints of
some trifling matters to be minded when the new
edition of Napoleon is printed. People complain
bitterly for want of the years marked on the margin,
as is customary in most historical works; and they
would also thank you greatly for a general index. I
know this is a very troublesome demand, but have you
not what Dean Swift calls some under-spur-leather,
some drapery-painter, to do such drudgery for you?
If not, I should for one grudge its taking up your own
time, and very much prefer a few more Tales of the
Canongate. You may suppose that having known
Mrs. Anne Keith added to the interest I felt in them.
She once passed a winter in London with Lady Hardwicke,
and we made some acquaintance through the
friend to whom I owed (and owe) most of the bright
gleams chequering my life, and amongst whose papers
— bequeathed to me in sacred trust — are many of Mrs.
Keith's letters. I can therefore fancy I hear the latter
tell her own stories, although it is so long since I saw
her; latterly, I believe, she hardly ever left old Lady
Balcarres. In town I remember she was thought to
prose, a propensity on which sentence is always passed
without mercy, for very few people stop to distinguish
between prosing about something and prosing about
nothing, 'though froth and plum-pudding are not more
I say nothing of the two [the Duchess-Dowager of
Buccleuch and first Lord Douglas] that have finally
closed a chapter in the families united here. For I
should say too much if I entered on the theme at all,
and it is still a painful one to me as well as to those
more nearly concerned. Both Lady Montagu and Mrs.
Scott are sadly dejected. The thing is the decided
break, the line it draws along the middle of life — and
then having kept what you loved and revered longer
than you could hope, does not make you the more
willing to part with it. Lord M., too, was deeply
affected by the death of his mother. You will rejoice
to hear that nothing could be more amiable, more feeling
throughout than the conduct of the young man,
or more fervent than the gratitude he expressed (on
coming of age) to his uncle. But, an you talk of
prosing, I am sure I have prosed long enough; so farewell.
— Ever truly yours, L. STUART.
P.S. — Pray how do you approve of my nephew's
title, Stuart de Rothesay? H.M. laughed, and called
him 'a sly fellow for stealing one of his names.'
GLOUCESTER PLACE, 4th June 1830.
DEAR SIR WALTER, — When I bespoke the frank,
Lord Montagu bade me give you a message, but I was
afraid of blundering, so he has put his own words in
the cover, where you will find them.
Excuse my annoying you with a letter. As I enclose
one to Sophia, longing to know how she accomplished
her voyage in that tempestuous weather, and how she
does after it, I own I cannot resist saying a word or
two to yourself. However, it will require no answer.
I, like many others, felt cruelly disappointed at your
not coming up in the spring. Next year or this seems
all one to young people, but at my time of life puttings
off are most uncomfortable. Not that youth, alas! is
much more secure. The Montagus, Scotts, etc., have
just put on mourning for Lady Charlotte Stopford,
Lord Courtown's youngest daughter, who has been
several months wasting away in a consumption, like her
cousin Lady Anne Kerr, and has now followed her to
the grave, at Hastings. Thus have gone five cousins--
germain of the race in two years — these two, the other
Lady Charlotte, Robert Stopford, and poor Isabella.
With regard to the king, in whom I know you take
a deeper interest than most of his subjects, he is undoubtedly
better for the present, whether relieved by
nature or art. One hears both affirmed so confidently,
one knows not what to believe. If it were the former
it would show a strength of constitution that might
almost lead one to hope for his recovery; yet this
nobody ventures to talk of as possible.
Well, no more on melancholy subjects; it is but a
sad world, and we owe the greater thanks to those who,
while we do live, make life pass pleasantly, withdrawing
our minds from its cares and sorrows. Whom can
this apply to, if not to you? It has been particularly
good in you (or your publisher) to let us have the
eleventh volume of the new edition (of the poems)
separately. At least I think so, because I have two
editions already, yet could not have rested without
what that volume contains. By the by, one of your
reasons for abandoning poetry I deny to be valid.
Pray, had not Pope the same fate? For half a century
after him did not man, woman, and child write smooth
ten-syllable couplets, copying, tant bien que mal, the
tone of his versifications? And do we like his poems
the worse for all the dull, heavy things in Dodsley's
collection? Nay, an you go to that, has your favourite,
Lord Byron, escaped any better? The Annualist Companies,
who cover our tables with volumes in red silk
have learned to write so like him that till one falls to
examining the meaning of their stanzas one sees little
difference. Just so I remember a certain Mrs. Powell
on the stage, who had caught the voice, tone, and
manner of Mrs. Siddons so exactly that I was more
than once surprised into thinking: 'How comes Mrs.
Siddons to act so ill to-night?'
Yet it did not spoil Mrs. Siddons herself to me the
next time I saw her. If we cannot now delight in
Cowley as our ancestors used to do, surely it is because
the style of his poetry was vicious and unnatural in
itself, not because his imitators, the metaphysical
poets, as Dr. Johnson calls them, were innumerable
and unreadable.
Mr. Morritt, who is in great feather this year, leaves
town next week. I dare say he will either visit you at
Abbotsford or seduce you to Rokeby ere long. May
no visitation of Wranghams or Hugheses, no invasion
of impertinent tour-makers disturb the comfort of
your meeting. I wish I could be of the party, but
steam-carriages are not yet brought to perfection, and
I had enough of steam-vessels in my last summer's
excursion to France. Adieu, with every prayer for
your health and prosperity, always yours most sincerely
and affectionately, L. STUART.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, 25th October 1830.
DEAR SIR WALTER, — I have been feasting upon the
Demonology and Witchcraft; yet some stories freshly
rung in my ears, and I am sure fully equal to any of
those you tell, give me a longing to attack you for
civilly supposing the present enlightened age rejects
the superstitions of our forefathers because they were
absurd, though I grant it has dropped them because
they are out of fashion. Vanity and expense in dress
were not left off along with hoops and bag-wigs, nor
credulity with the belief in hobgoblins. And I own
that I think, of the two, it is more rational to ascribe
a miracle, a supernatural fact, to the agency of a devil
or even a fairy, than to imagine it effected by itself
without any agent at all, divine or diabolical. But
hear what has happened in 1829-30.
You know, perhaps, that the mania of Animal
Magnetism rages anew, and more than ever both in
France and Germany. A lady, by name Miss Stevens,
went from Cheshire to Paris, I am told, and there was
cured last winter by a magnetising doctor of some
inward disease. This is nothing, a straw in the
balance: mark the next. The process, performed
before a large circle, who carefully noted down what
passed, cast her into a deep sleep, a trance, a state of
total insensibility, during which she was unconscious
of anything she uttered. However, on being properly
questioned, she described her complaints most accurately,
using the scientific anatomical terms that
none but a professional person could understand. I
did not hear that she talked Greek, but you will agree
that she might as well. This done to everybody's
edification, they began to think she might give them
information on other points. So an English lady
asked her if she could tell where a certain Captain
Smith then was, and what he was doing. Now, Miss
Stevens, alive and waking, knew nothing of Captain
Smith, not so much as that such a person existed, but
Miss Stevens entranced answered readily that he was
in Ireland and had lately had a dangerous fall from
his horse, which has since been ascertained by exact
comparison of dates as a positive truth. And this is
credited by people who are enlightened up to the
throat, who subscribe to London Universities, frequent
Royal Institutions, and who would have the face to
laugh at a Cock-lane-ghost; nay, who, I am afraid,
would take a contemptuous tone about things of more
importance. For one is often enough reminded of
Charles the Second's exclamation: 'Odds fish! This
learned doctor believes everything but the Bible.' My
dear Sir Walter, it is not for you to toad-eat the
March of Intellect when it can counter-march in such
a manner.
What you say of the disorder that presents apparitions
to the eye interests me particularly, for I knew
an instance and had an account of it from the person
herself, an old Mrs. Middleton, widow of the once
great surgeon David Middleton, and the last of the
Yorkshire family of Fairfax. She was past fourscore,
but in clear possession of a very sound understanding,
and, having lived much with medical men, saw the
subject in the light they would have done, without
alarm or perplexity. She assured me she had no other
symptom of delirium at the time, nor did she feel
herself ill; though her servants, frightened at her
asking why the garden was full of people, sent in all
haste for Dr. Warren (the present one), who made her
go to bed, and by bleeding her sent off the spectres.
They, however, haunted her for three days, but were
not troublesome or disagreeable; on the contrary, she
said it rather amused her to lie and look at their
figures and dresses, 'till one of them came and sate
upon her bed. Then, growing displeased, she tried to
push it away, and found that her hand went through
vacancy. The same thing, she told me, had occurred
to her once before, though in a far slighter degree —
certainly from none of the causes you assign, for there
could not be a more temperate person, nor a better
regulated mind.
In the bushel of advertisements tacked to the
Quarterly Review, I spy two from Cadell that I am
very glad to see — New Tales of a Grandfather and
Robert of Paris. By the by, it has struck me that
the review of Southey's John Bunyan bears some tokens
of coming from that quarter. But Pope said of old,
Every coxcomb knows me by my style' — so I dare not
be confident. And now I have told you the two
stories your book made me wish you should hear, I will
have done. I hope by your visiting Drumlanrig with
the Lockharts you were all well. If ever you come
again to London and find me living, there is nobody it
will give more pleasure to. — Ever affectionately yours,
No answer required, you know.
[The following letters to Mrs. Lockhart and Lady
Montagu are added from their connection with Sir
Walter Scott.]
24th July 1831.
MY DEAR MRS. LOCKHART, — You have no notion how
grateful I was for your letter of July the 10th,
though it may not appear from my delaying so long
to answer it. The truth is, it came just before I left
town, and at a very sad moment, when the loss of
a very old and most valued friend, Mrs. Weddell,
took up all my thoughts. This deprived me of the
freedom of mind requisite for writing, and yet as in
such circumstances one looks around with anxiety on
those who still are spared to one, I was perhaps only
the more glad to receive a pretty good account of your
father. I thought it so, because I cannot but believe
his spirits the most material point, and if they are
improved I hope everything else will mend. I have
been as cautious as you could wish, and mentioned
the plan of his going abroad to nobody except Lady
Montagu; only said that his family desired he should
leave home next winter. There can be no doubt that
if he has health enough to enjoy such a tour even in
the least degree, it must be of infinite service to him,
and this in every way, awaking new thoughts, giving
new views; so Mr. Cadell may well recommend the
scheme, and the world rejoice at it. I am sorry he
has incurred your hatred, for I suppose it is by being
in general troublesome and teasing and counteracting
your endeavours to make Sir Walter lie by and give
his mind some rest. I wish you could be of the foreign
party, as well as your brother or Mr. Lockhart, though,
if I live till another year, the wish is against my own
interest; but I think it would do you good, and might
do Johnny more. However, I know all the difficulties
of moving from place to place with a young family,
and can hardly hope you will be able to overcome
them. You say nothing of the influenza, which has
been raging in London, and, as far as I know, in the
country too — whole families laid up with it. Lord
and Lady Montagu and three of the girls had it a
fortnight ago, and are now at Ditton to recruit. He
suffered the most, being of a constitution easily knocked
down by an accidental illness. With other people it
has attacked their servants, and sent half a dozen to
bed at once. And I hear it has been to the full as
prevalent at Paris, where their name for it is la grippe.
Still, there seems in it nothing dangerous nor permanently
detrimental. It has entered my house, for
my maid had it, but I escaped, by which I conclude
it is not catching. You say you can send me nothing
but a bulletin. This I am always glad to receive, and
you will truly oblige and gratify me by renewing it
from time to time, as little as I can offer you in return.
Mrs. Scott and I are chiefly alone together, and learn
no news but from the newspapers, which just now I
sicken at and hate to read. And I own that my
thoughts turn so much upon my poor friend, and the
blessing and comfort she had been to me for near fifty
years, that I have little heart for other subjects. But
there never was so resigned a spirit, nor so peaceful
and happy a death, undisturbed by pain of body (that
had quite ceased for the last week) or uneasiness of
mind. 'I am on my passage,' said she, 'and should
not at all like to be interrupted.' One ought not
therefore to repine at a change most happy for herself.
Forgive what I have no business to trouble you with.
The Stewart Mackenzies are in town, but I believe
she is going soon to Leamington, where an old aunt
of hers resides, who has taken the boys for their holidays.
One of them, and she herself, had the influenza.
She got out of her bed to go to Court, and returned to
bed when she came home, therefore stayed in it longer
than she would have done had she taken care of herself
at first. As it is five years since I saw her, she looks,
to my eyes, a good deal older than she did, but in all
other respects is just the same, as entertaining and
captivating as ever. Some minds have what one may
call an elastic quality, and I am sure hers is one. A
visitor from London for the Saturday and Sunday,
engaged in Reform — that is, mischief — the rest of the
week, gives me an opportunity, I am glad to seize, of
sending you this stupid letter franked. My love to
your father, and kind remembrances to Mr. L. and
your sister Anne. God bless you all, my dear Sophia.
Pray write again. I shall be here two or three weeks
longer, but it is always best to direct to Gloucester
Place. — Ever affectionately yours, L. STUART.
Mrs. Scott will be very angry if I do not say something
very kind for her.
DITTON PARK, 18th December.
MY DEAR MRS. LOCKHART, — In the first place, I want
very much to hear something of you, and have some
account of little Johnny; in the next, Lady Montagu is
much vexed that she has not yet dared to propose your
meeting me here; but an untoward thing has happened.
One of Lady Lothian's girls, who came down the same
day I did, a fortnight ago, was immediately taken ill,
and it proved the smallpox. She is lodged quite apart,
and has done so well she will go away in two or three
days, yet still Lady M. thinks you would not like to
come till time enough has elapsed to have her apartment
and all that wing of the house thoroughly aired,
fumigated, and purified. She hopes by the end of the
month all will be perfectly safe, and then nothing will
make her so happy as to see you and Mr. Lockhart.
Meanwhile she charges me to tell you, and bid you tell
your father, how delighted we are with the new Tales
of a Grandfather, which I am reading aloud to the
congregation in an evening, and have nearly finished.
I protest I think few things he has written can surpass
them. A book for children indeed! The account of
the progress of civilisation in the first volume would
alone mark a master's hand; and Lord Montagu was
last night observing that in all which ensued respecting
the political parties, no stranger would be able to
guess to which the author himself inclined, so fair and
impartial were the statements. For my part, what I
chiefly wonder at is his power of making a subject that
has been so hackneyed, so often trod over even in his
own works, as interesting as if one had never read a
word about it before. I have a crow to pluck with
him myself though. Pray dun him for the information
I asked him to send concerning the names of poor Queen
Mary's attendants on the scaffold. Madame Vanderbruggen
(née Vanderstichill) is still in painful suspense
about her descent from one of them, and my friend at
Ghent has more than once dunned me. I was in town
for three or four days the beginning of this month, and
should have called on you, but that the day I came a
great surprise awaited me — a very pleasant one, however.
I found a niece of mine was going to be well
married, so she and her affairs completely absorbed my
attention. Mr. Morritt writes me word he and Anne
are going to usher in the New Year at Abbotsford,
hoping the lion will then be at rest from the hunters.'
Mother Hughes's persevering chase has made such an
impression on him he cannot forget it. I wish he
would not defer his journey till the end of the year,
for it has hitherto been so unnaturally warm that my
mind misgives me it will change all at once in the
Christmas week, and we shall have a hard winter.
Stainmoor and Mosspaul are ugly passes when it snows.
Adieu. We shall all be very anxious for a favourable
answer, including Miss Clinton, who is here, and desires
to be particularly remembered to you. As I stay till
the middle of January (unless my niece summon me
sooner to her wedding), I am a party deeply concerned
in your complying with Lady Montagu's request, and
always most sincerely yours, L. STUART.
GLOUCESTER PLACE, Thursday Morning.
MY DEAR MRS. LOCKHART, — I have not yet got
horses, and the weather has been too bad for walking,
which has hindered my calling on you. You will see
by what I send with this that I have been engaged in
a melancholy occupation, looking over the letters it
once gave me such delight to receive. Those here
picked out seem to me most characteristic, and also
to explain most his purposes in the works he was
planning. You will consider whether they can be of
use to Mr. Lockhart. … The first note relates to the
history of The Luck of Muncaster, which I had got
for him from Mr. Morritt, with whom he was not then
acquainted. King Henry the Sixth, after one of his
defeats, took refuge in the old castle of the Penningtons,
beyond Wast Water, the farthest of the Lakes,
and stayed there several weeks. When about to flee
farther into Scotland, he said he was too poor to offer
his host any adequate reward, but he would leave him
his drinking-glass, which he solemnly blessed, and
prayed over it that, while it remained unbroken, the
Pennington family might never want a male heir. Mr.
Morritt saw it when visiting Lord Muncaster (Lady
Balcarres's father and this lord's uncle); he describes
it as a thick Venice glass, in shape like a Scotch quaich.
Lord M. brought it out at a meeting of his tenantry,
and the poor people all fell on their knees, attaching
to it some idea of sanctity, derived probably from
Roman Catholic times. I had mentioned the story
to your poor father at Bothwell, when he read us the
first canto of Marmion; he was mightily taken with
it, and begged me to get him the particulars more
fully. The paper at the bottom of the parcel (sent
in the last letter I ever had from him) relates to a
question of mine which, however, it does not directly
answer — Why very young people, who do not yet know
the existing world, should so far partake of the spirit
of their age as to judge according to it of books that
are as new to them as they were to their parents or
forefathers when they first came out? What suggested
it to me was this: In my own day all mothers strictly
forbade their daughters to read Rousseau's Nouvelle
Heloise, and all daughters, of course, longed to read
nothing so much. I knew one young lady who owned
to me that she stole a reading of it standing on the
top steps of her father's library-ladder; and another,
who procured it and carried it into the country with
her on her wedding-day, as the first fruits of being her
own mistress. To say the truth, I believe no book
ever did so much mischief. Yet within these few
years I happened to hear a girl of very warm feeling,
enthusiastic, romantic, just the person whose head it
would have turned of old, declare she had tried to read
it, but been so disgusted that she threw it away before
she got through half the first volume. Forgive this
long prosing. Let me add that you would be perfectly
welcome to look over all the rest of his letters
whenever you liked. If Mr. L. wishes to insert (or
extract from) any of these I will beg not to be named.
It is not that I am not proud enough of having been
honoured with his regard, but I never yet saw my name
in print, and hope I never shall. — Affectionately yours,
Nov. 1835.
I HAVE learned the name of the lady, poor Sir Walter's
first and perhaps only love, so beautifully touched upon
in the Life. You will be surprised to hear it was Sir
John Forbes's mother, the only daughter of a Sir
Gilbert Stewart. Her husband, mentioned, you know,
in one of the prefaces to Marmion, came forward in the
handsomest manner, on the failure of Constable, with
an offer of £50,000. Sir Walter was heard to say that
after her marriage he withdrew his waking thoughts
from her, but nothing painful ever happened to him
that he did not dream of her before it. Remember
the passage about dreaming we read the other day
in the Lady of the Lake. He read it to us at
Buchanan in private, and I recollect spoke with a
thrill about the renewal of feelings (long hushed) in
a dream. … The Mimosa lines in Marmion were
certainly applied to Sir William Forbes, son of the
good Sir William, at the time of its publication, when
I carried it to Mr. Alison's, and read it to the family.
24th Oct. 1837.
… I HAVE now got half through my fifth volume
of Lockhart. … Mark the scheme of letters of James
the First's time; for, what will surprise you, I had a
principal finger in that pie, though I never knew it was
the origin of the Fortunes of Nigel. When poor Sir
Walter came up this time six years he brought the
printed copy of the letters with him, and what passed,
till I saw it, proved rather a disturbance to me, as I
had so totally forgotten the whole transaction that I
faced him down he was mistaken, and it must be somebody
else he had confounded with me. A staring
proof of forgetfulness is not at all pleasant at a certain
age. …
WHEN swiftly with departing night
Had fled the goblin and the sprite,
While Demogorgon cracked his whip
Lest fairies should in daylight trip;
Two elves one autumn morn outran
Ev'n Ob'ron as he led the van,
And 'till next eve' conferring staid
Apart from all his cavalcade.
A princely pair; among the chief
Who worshipped Chaucer's mystic leaf;
In mutual friendship fondly twin'd
But proud, and of a restless mind,
That mocked accustomed sports and plays
Bequeathed them by their grandame-fays,
Thefts, antics, gambols, roundelays.
They for a nobler frolic plann'd,
To burst the bounds of fairy-land,
Take female lineaments, assume
The cumbrous hoop, the lofty plume,
And ponder Woman's fate, the while
They led the fashion in our isle.
Not new the thought; for manifold
Such metamorphoses of old;
From Pallas — Mentor with her friends —
And Jove — disguised for naughty ends —
With scores of other names at hand
Down to King James of fayre Scotlande.
But princes bent their pow'r to hide,
And heathen gods transmogrified,
Of borrow stations did but taste,
And took their own again in haste.
Not thus the fairies' purpose; they
Have heard such tales of Beauty's sway,
From straggling gnomes frequenting town
Such wonders learned of Wit's renown,
That either gift they prize beyond
Possession of their monarch's wand,
And long as life in man may last
Aspire to act a part so cast.
As friends, as sisters, still, they mean
To enter on their human scene;
One, lovelier than the morn ere rose,
To reign a despot o'er the beaus,
Break hearts, and madden heads, 'till all
On this side thirty victims fall;
The other, Wit's and Learning's pride,
Where-e'er these flourish to preside;
And 'though her subjects, past their prime,
May keep their wits whole all the time,
The mightier things they understand
To rule them with the higher hand.
Thus, cherished, celebrated, buoy'd,
Fed full with praise, but never cloy'd,
By lovers worshipped, sung by bards,
No change, no downfall on the cards,
(For age nor sickness dares surprise
Your fairy, errant in disguise)
A life like this may prove a feast
Some fourscore years, they think, at least.
'Tis well for children, oft' they 're told,
Their headstrong wills can be controll'd;
'Tis well for men, too, preachers cry;
And rash the voice that says they lye.
Perhaps great Ob'ron now might make
Some such reflection ere he spake;
For sans his nod their scheme's a vision;
And nod he does — but in derision.
— ‘Some fourscore years!' he cries — 'When four
Are fairly finished, sue for more —
But mark me, 'till those four be past
You're aliens from your place and caste.
Examine earth by Us unsent? —
You shall — and you shall 'bide th' event;
Not use your fairy-pow'r and skill
To guard the woman with at will,
But take her heart as well as form;
That heart where griefs and evils swarm,
Which can be thrilled, and bruised, and pained,
And still will struggle though enchained.
Your course — you are not to foreknow —
Enjoy your four years' frolic — Go —.'
No more deterred than is the boy
From meeting Christmas-tide with joy
Because the pedagogue he fears
Pours a full warning in his ears,
They snatch the leave, forget the frown,
And straight are Ladies — come to town.
The shape that Zirphe chose to wear —
But epithet and trope we spare.
Take youth's own freshness, lightness, bloom,
The softness of the dove's own plume,
The head, the features, moulded, plac'd,
As Grecian art had willed when chaste,
The form all-exquisite, the whole
Alive, and flashing forth a soul;
You then have Zirphe — Zirphe 'spied,
And who flung half a look aside
At faces which but yesterday
Men flocked and panted to survey?
Their owners brooked this ill; but found
'Twas useless to contest the ground,
Whether with haughtiness or guile,
A pensive aspect or a smile,
Each gazer now to Zirphe flown,
They languished and they laughed alone:
Each gazer — all — whoever saw,
In purple fostered or on straw
Like charmed birds, the multitude
Grew still and silent as they view'd;
The crone, who grumbling gave them place,
Looked up, and, startled, blessed her face;
The sober thrifty drudge in trade
Stood mindless that his bill she paid;
The beggar tend'ring open palms
Gazed, and examined not her alms:
Nay, ev'n the child's delighted eye
Showed nature felt true Beauty by.
Meanwhile a conscious glow betray'd
That what she was she knew and weigh'd,
Yet welcomed such full pow'r to charm
With wonder bord'ring on alarm.
How formed Orinda, ill or well,
Our story stands not pledged to tell.
Bright eyes and murd'ring dimples, hence!
Make way for talents, genius, sense,
Quick parts, and understanding sound
That felt no science too profound;
Not that whose wond'rous pow'r appears
To poise the stars and guide the spheres,
Not that which numbers herb and ore
And searches nature to the core.
What Tully spoke, what Homer sung
She read, and read in either's tongue,
Wrote she herself — 'twas force, 'twas fire,
High eloquence, invention high'r,
Or did she speak — in every phrase
Flashed brilliant Fancy's clearest rays —
Her wit, resistless weapon, low
Laid pert opponents at a blow
Whene'er she chose; but that was rare,
It gratified her more to spare;
And this, and many a gift beside,
There were who'd face you down she tried,
And wished, and did her best, to hide —
But here cross accidents o'ercame;
She always stumbled so on fame
That men of crooked minds believed
No fainter wish was ere conceived.
Let's tell plain truth then; bound in honour
To take the trade compleatly on her,
She soon saw 'twould be driv'n but ill
If modest excellence sate still
Expecting, as good books advise it,
The Godlike Few to come and prize it;
The Many gained, she found the Few
Were apt to sneak in basely too,
And mountebanks (all said and done)
The field from fairer practice won;
She let her banner stream in fine,
Or, if you will, hung out her sign,
Encouraged puffers of her goods,
And had her whims and altitudes,
With some ostents, which, we're afraid,
Her better reason had withstaid.
Thus in her chamber she perhaps
Left medals tossed about, and maps,
Planted her telescope just where
You 'd put your myrtles forth to air,
And (for gilt clock and china cup)
Set globe and bust and fossil up
'Till all the wicked laughed aside;
While plain well-wishers could have cried,
And simpletons abhorred the niche
Like the dread circle of a witch.
There, when buzz wigs and stockings blue
Did ape indeed a conj'ring crew,
We grant she mid them sate elate;
And who had witnessed their debate
Might well have, in the cramp words utter'd,
Supposed some incantation muttered.
Zirphe meantime consigned her hair
To grave Toussaint's adorning care,
Built up her head 'till with its plumes
It swept the ceilings of the rooms,
And wore, on Flamand's neatest stays,
The last invented polonaise,
Then, like a sov'reign newly crown'd,
Made wise alliances around:
Ma'ame Beauvais ne'er in anger bore
A slighted bandbox from her door,
Nor carried back Gobère decried
Th' embroid'ry France had last supplied,
Nor did loquacious King complain
That Zirphe's cash was hard to gain,
Nor yet had Vaugh'n a hint to spare
Expence and taste in Zirphe's chair.
Almack, Gallini, all their tribe
Proclaimed her aptness to subscribe;
And wisely, for, had she been miss'd
Desertion would have thinned their list.
Unless she deigned the dance to lead
Quadrilles themselves could scarce succeed;
Unless her voice the concert grac'd
One's list'ning proved one's vulgar taste.
Rude is our age — their beaus, we're told,
Our haughty grannums more controll'd, —
But Zirphe ne'er was heard to cry
That men were rough, or scarce, or shy:
The brutes — if brutes were those she saw —
Gave her a down and velvet paw,
And scratched her neighbours (she believed)
But when they were misused or grieved.
If at a ball or masquerade
A word of dancing Zirphe said,
If, when the morning star arose,
She talked of seeking soft repose,
The sauciest son of Brooks's there
Would ask her hand or call her chair;
Would whisper compliments, and sigh,
And praise that love-inspiring eye,
Abuse all other females near,
And hint a passion — so sincere! —
While cold hard self-conceit thus woo'd,
The burning youth, who silent stood,
Would think — 'If I like these could shine.'
Or — 'Oh! did wealth and worth combine
To let me boldly cry — "Be mine!"'
For wealth gives courage, 'tis confest;
And, stout of heart, some forward press'd
By vet'ran rent-rolls flanked and nerved,
While jewels formed their corps reserved;
These set both but and if aside,
And cried — 'Be mine!' — with fearless pride.
Thus feasted Zirphe; drank thus deep
Of that sweet bowl which lays asleep
Alarm and caution. Now let's ask
The flavour of Orinda's flask? —
Why, 'twas a rich one, one of pow'r,
Nor in the settling turned it sour,
Nor was there held to Beauty's lip
A cup could scorn its fellowship.
In short, if nectar be the phrase
By which old stories pictured praise,
Each sister at a draught took more
Than Jove could swill or Hebe pour.
Flutt'ring from bush to bush we see
Beauty — a butterfly — a bee —
But wit, a sob'rer thing, sits down
To chaw the cud of its renown:
And thus Orinda sate and chaw'd
I' th' centre of a crescent broad,
Thro' which, if she but stirr'd her fan,
Applause and expectation ran,
But if she smiled, tee-hees awoke
Prophetic of her unborn joke.
Then — talk she of whate'er she wou'd,
Tom Thumb's red cow or Robin Hood —
It charmed and edified all one. —
'Ma'am, there 's no woman like her — none —
Hers is such real sense — always
Such profit to one's mind conveys —
That nuts are harmless 'till they're crack'd
Sounds obvious, a familiar fact;
But she gives things so new a turn
That something rare one seems to learn.'
So the wise women all averr'd
In bustling whispers well o'erheard;
While, for their dignity, wise men
Took snuff and seemed to think again.
Grave clocks, whose striking, you'd presume,
Set all the watches in the room:
To whom the ladies turn, when gravell'd,
To get perplexing points unravell'd,
Beseeching with a jury's awe
The bench would speak and give them law.
From these, howe'er, when once it came,
Burst adulation like a flame;
No speech they issued but to chime
'Minerva! Muse! Divine! Sublime!' —
No work to which they did not pin
Some note that lugged her merit in;
On law, on geography 'twas hung;
They preach'd, they quoted her, they sung;
Submitted, as her voice decreed,
This book to censure, that to read,
Besought her sanction for their toils,
And owned themselves, at best, her foils.
Thus, while with speed their moments flew
Nor care nor grief the fairies knew.
Life seems to post and these to creep,
Yet on so steadily they keep
That, pass it fleeter than a blast,
They track it and o'ertake at last.
Like moths, who long work unperceived,
At first small evils lightly grieved;
With that grave gossip Form unite
The keen confed'rates Spleen and Spite,
Who scarce could in their beds take rest
While Zirphe went about so drest, —
'Ma'am it's prepost'rous' — 'Ma'am it's worse;
It shows some folks a notion nurse
That they're above the world, and them
Tis bound to cringe to, not condemn' —
I hate affected airs' — 'And I
Am modesty's declared ally,
Beauty (though I know those who think
Of ugliness she's on the brink),
Beauty the coxcomb's eye may gloat on,
But sense is what men ought to doat on.'
They ought; but with these graceless males
The old grand error still prevails,
While Beauty, with whate'er combin'd,
Finds neither judge nor bishop blind,
Their sons Orinda maul as follows —
'Now guard us, Jove, from female scholars
Let boys for sapping famed at Eton
Her classic ground the lady meet on;
We tremble to be there entrapp'd
Who (lazy fellows!) never sapp'd.
This deep-read dame too, I conclude,
Must by her charter be a prude,
Sententious, and no doubt precise —
Has told eighteen, I take it, twice —
Looks down on us, unlettered crew! —
Zirphe! How she must envy you!'
Then, for your busier steadier souls
Who know the price of soap and coals,
They listened but made no replies
When people thought themselves so wise.
They — and their taste they could not curse —
Liked prose: they understood not verse,
They but with common sense were blest,
But, humbly speaking, 'twas the best —
For grant all science hers — compound for 't
(And half was puffing, they'd be bound for 't)
To reckon stars and read Greek lives
'Is that what husbands want in wives? —
Then what, she writes — say what she plunders
Well I could never bear such wonders.'
But where consummate splendour reigns
We scarcely note how narrow brains
Are glorying o'er our specks and stains.
Men laugh, observes the saw, that win;
Beauty looks round, and Wit within;
Nor care they, gay and gratified,
How beldames carp or fools deride,
More than the sun for what may do
Those clouds he can at will break thro';
Disperse they, blacken, flit they, lour,
He knows eclipsing past their pow'r.
As time, howe'er, yet farther fled,
Malice clomb up from where 'twas bred,
From secret, sordid nooks (where long
In dirt it burrows 'till it's strong)
And, helped by Envy, got installed
Where never reptile should have crawled.
In forms too sweet, in minds too high,
For such a snake to venture nigh,
Alas! it nestled. Zirphe found
The lie she laughed at could rebound
From lips that should have loathed and curs'd
Back to the mob who sped it first;
Haply in all its progress run
More welcomed and upheld by none
Than him who'd wooed and had not won:
By none with more complacence heard
Than the fair rival not preferr'd;
Who, first of all, made notice sure
By whisp'ring with an air demure,
Then stole a meaning smile — then tried
The teller of the tale to chide.
If thus 'tis with that lighter school,
Vot'ries of giddy gay misrule,
Who, when their latitude offends,
Talk of the heart that makes amends,
How fares Orinda 'mid a train
Who boast themselves all head and brain?
In scenes where flatt'ry, 'though 't be doled
With shovels, like a banker's gold,
Like that, is strictly summed, and meant
To bring in int'rest ten per cent,
May one bold hand unquestioned come,
And clear the table of a Plum? —
No — wonder's motionless, but brief;
Soon the raised parish hunt the thief.
Soon hostile rivalry far off
Aims slander, epigram, and scoff;
Nay, ev'n the unsuspected band
Of warm admirers near at hand,
Adoring poets, prim divines,
(Still for th' Amphytrion where one dines),
Ev'n these three steps beyond her hearing,
Vie with the vulgar crew in sneering,
And call good puddings, just like cits,
The worthiest works of female wits.
This damped, and did (though slowly) bring
A trifle downward fancy's wing,
Dispelled some dreams, and taught the fays
That life must see some low'ring days,
But pride and hope, in vigour still,
Resisted and survived the chill;
And not one throb expounded yet
The scope of Ob'ron's parting threat.
That heart on which he laid such stress
Thus far had sought to meddle less
Than kings just castled do at chess;
Kept facing forward, tame and quiet
As nags are on a cornless diet,
Unable seemed to rear or paw,
And started not whate'er it saw.
But many a broken bone proceeds —
Young riders! — from these sober steeds;
On whom one feed of oats bestow'd
May make them mind nor rein nor road
But, frantic with the sense of pow'r,
Leap walls, and o'er the country scour.
Then, if you can, with bits secure,
Then pat 'em back to pads demure,
Starve them and curb, as heretofore;
Lie down they may, they pace no more.
The Fairy-prince, who, by the bye,
Still on his truants kept an eye,
Aware what shortly would succeed,
Now watched them with the closer heed,
And saw those sluggish hearts (supposed
Scarce living things because they dozed)
An inward quickening testify
By tremors he alone could spy.
Uneven grew their motion, late
So measured, equable, sedate,
They fluttered now, they paused anon,
Lay for a while as sense were gone,
Then lab'ring seemed beneath some yoke,
Mourned — fetched their first strong sigh — AWOKE.
We wake in fevers from the deep
Oppressive torpor, miscalled sleep,
Delirious wake, affirm we see
Bright forms and hear sweet symphony;
So at this hour of aweful change
Poor Zirphe hailed each feeling strange
As some bright beam from Heav'n, that threw
On life, on time, a colouring new;
As some sweet thrilling sound, that brought
Delight unfigured yet by thought.
She trembled; but not long she stood
In doubt what vanquisher pursued.
She recognised the wings and flame,
And called her master by his name. —
'Twas thou, O Love! — Adored — avow'd —
Of thy resplendent fetters proud,
Thy slave, intoxicated, spurned,
The peace which, parting, ne'er returned.
Not thus, audacious as thou art,
Cam'st thou to seize Orinda's heart
In all thy matchless might confest,
Like Jove at Semele's request.
Unconscious she that aught assailed;
Thy voice was hushed, thy form was veiled;
Thy tread the silent thief's; and slow
Was thy light footstep fain to go
As crawls the burthened ant to gain
A sand-hill's summit with her grain;
But fail and backward slide may she —
No ground e'er crumbled yet for thee,
Who never mov'st but onward still,
Be sand or adamant the hill.
By no fierce burning taught to fear
Revulsion or disorder near,
Orinda's soft'ning bosom opes
To wand'ring thoughts, to whisp'ring hopes,
That, indistinctly murm'ring, win
Small notice when they first begin,
But breathe a tale that holds at last
Her riveted attention fast.
They tell of quiet bliss conferr'd
By Friendship — false and fatal word!
Cool draught whose milky seeming hides
The deadliest poison Love provides.
Of mutual trust they tell, and aid,
Of truths from mind to mind convey'd,
Of Reason still supreme (alas!),
And balmy hours that are to pass,
'Till, all relaxed and undermined,
Her spirit's to the dream resigned.
Yet Love, the tyrant that subdues
That sister whom she pitying views,
She still accounts a bugbear-ill,
Which they may put to flight who will;
Her calmer mind conceives not why
So sparkled Zirphe's raptured eye
As long as at her feet lay One —
Not worthiest sure beneath the sun —
Nor wherefore when the fop withdrew
A faith but valueless if true,
There followed, 'stead of freedom, pain
That left the suff'rer scarcely sane:
While she, with a yet dormant pest,
A frozen serpent, near her breast
Warming to vigour day by day,
Is tranquil, confident, and gay;
Nor ever calls to mind or feels
The fearful inmate she conceals,
'Till, sudden, to her heart's deep core
Its tooth has pierced, and all is o'er.
Ay! — jealousy's envenomed fang
Then wakes her with so dread a pang
No fear illusion should remain;
She knows her foe, she feels her chain,
And, as she strives against it, finds
It heavier weighs and faster binds.
Oh! now with envy she could see
Those poor short hours of ecstasy
Enjoyed by Zirphe, while allowed
To credit all a false one vowed;
They flitted quick, were purchased dear;
But she has had no hour to cheer,
No happiness to make amends
For the long misery that impends.
'Now to the test,' stern Oberon said,
Your fame is, as you wished it, spread;
Bid fame a cure, a solace bring,
Bid Wit draw forth the barbéd sting,
Or Beauty's consciousness defy
The anguish of a hopeless sigh —'
And said his taunting whisper true?
Could Hope to Beauty bid adieu? —
Ah, worse! — Bewild'ring Hope long staid
To vex and harass, not to aid:
Hov'ring o'er Zirphe's glass each day,
'Look! — Look, and trust me,' would she say
'Till Zirphe, losing pow'r to trust,
Turned from that glass, and saw (unjust!)
Her lovely shadow with disgust.
What cruel days ensued! — If brief
The period of impassioned grief,
Yet, oh! spectator of its throes,
Give it thy pity while it flows,
For life is brief — and life would fail
Ere told were ev'n our shortest tale,
Did some sharp wounds for aye withstand
Time's secretly assuaging hand.
Outlive thou may'st, serenely too,
The bitt'rest sigh poor Love e'er drew;
But if thou, ere thine end, maintain
'Twas light, and gave thee little pain,
Nor shudder inwardly, nor seem
Like one that's troubled at the theme, —
Why then thy memory, overplied,
Hath wasted, and before thee died.
As in some town, where midnight fire
Hath late revealed its aspect dire,
The frightened householder, who fled
Half wild and naked from his bed,
Creeps trembling home again when told
The flames are quenched, the walls are cold
Yet scarcely, whatsoe'er they say,
Can feel the peril passed away,
Sees all his goods, if left unburned,
Disordered, ransacked, overturned,
Finds bawling tumult at his door,
And sleep and safety knows no more.
To Zirphe thus, recalled at last,
Came Reason back, but came aghast,
Confused and dizzy, to be braved,
And tremble while the passions raved,
And yet erelong, resolved anew,
Her own vocation to pursue,
Gay scenes again our Fairy sought —
Perhaps with half a lurking thought
That one deserter might, for shame,
Rejoin the standard graced by fame.
'Twas soothing, from long use, beside
With vows and praises to be plied;
Though, vapid now and void of zest,
These only whiled the hour at best;
And, every soft address she heard,
Remembrance like a thorn recurr'd —
'Thus fondly pleaded, thus complained,
The One' — ne'er rivalled, ne'er regained.
Nor was (as Ob'ron had forecast)
Ev'n this vain pastime long to last.
No house of cards, no rolling stone,
Unsteadier thing than Fashion's throne;
And (as some mining hand below
Were lab'ring for its overthrow)
It now beneath our Zirphe quaked
Like Etna when the Titans waked.
Unchanged, such beauty might despise
Contending with inferior eyes,
Nor grudge the newer face its right
Of hasty glance and homage slight,
But Magnanimity herself
Looks foolish laid upon the shelf;
And when did Fashion's turning tide
With pitying slowness gently glide
By halves from the forsaken shore? —
It rushed at once — it instant bore
Its gifts and glories back amain
To pour them on another's reign:
And that — oh, wormwood in the draught!
That prosp'ring Other, she, whose craft
O'er Zirphe had already cast
The influence of an evil blast;
Whose charms, while yet accounted mean,
Had aimed one arrow all too keen,
And snatched from hers that only thrall
Whom wayward love held worth recall
When slaves and worshippers were All.
Then such fair riddance of the rest
Her drooping sister would have blest,
Whose heart ev'n sickens at the name
Of praise, of homage, or of fame;
Who shrinks, as from a blow, when told
How high the place her talents hold,
And nearly could give way and weep
When questioned on her studies deep.
The words convey, as if design'd,
Reproach and mock'ry to her mind,
And flatt'ry leaves a sorer sting
Than malice could have pow'r to bring:
'Though now no more unfelt the gibe
At she-philosopher and scribe
That malice flung, and levity
Rang changes on, it knew not why;
For self-upheld no more she stood,
But timid watched one hearer's mood,
If haply aught his eye exprest,
To avenge her of the paltry jest? —
And He — sate unconcerned (his smile
A cruel sanction gave the while)
Who tow'r'd above the lettered tribe,
And was, what authors but describe;
At whose cold glance, though scarce a frown
Her vanity unnerved sank down,
Sank, not to rise with lessened pow'r,
But perish like the trampled flow'r.
Despondent, but not yet debased, —
Ill-will and enmity she chaced,
And only with a sigh survey'd
The graces of his chosen maid;
A blooming girl, unfledged, untaught,
Who ne'er had read, nor felt, nor thought,
Who, pleased, approaching wedlock saw,
But prized not him, nor held in awe. —
Him — at whose very sight a spell
Like dumbness on Orinda fell,
Whose hand had been so dear a meed! —
She broke from thought, and strove to read —
Ay, strove and strove — then cast a look
So bitter on the closèd book
It spoke what, noted and enrolled,
A volume hardly could have told —
'Away!' it sorrowfully said,
'And fye upon the choice I made.
The eminence whereon I plann'd
Alone and unapproached to stand,
While happiness beneath had been
Perhaps attained; perhaps, unseen,
Had never witched me with its mien.
Fye on the love that, dry and dull,
Thus frets the pain 'tis wooed to lull;
And doubly fye upon the Muse,
Who lent illusion brighter hues,
O'er vulgar virtue raised mine eye
To glories indistinct and high,
And seasoned, if not filled in part,
The cup whose poison slew my heart.'
The wretched sisters! How they blest
The mercy of their king's behest,
The frown that first their scheme o'erthrew,
And limited their years to few.
Now past were three; yet they complained
A ling'ring century remained.
Linger it did, oppress, and weigh;
And as crept on each weary day
They met no wife who honouring eyed
Her kind protector, prop, and guide,
No maiden giv'n to household cares
Who fed the poor and said her pray'rs,
But inly — spoke a wishful sigh —
Another choice — and such were I.'
'Tis said (the word of pardon past,
And fairyhood resumed at last)
They pity still the thing they were,
Take Woman to their charge and care,
And hush the heart that heaves her breast,
And bid it value peace and rest;
Oft whispering (though not often heard) —
'The shadier path — be that preferr'd, —
The ray will scorch, the gust will chill;
Let Man with firmness tread the hill,
Who, born to front them and to 'bide,
Must leave no rude extreme untried.
But thou, while hedgerow, copse, and bow'r
May screen thee from their searching pow'r,
Be mindful of thy feebler frame,
And shun, oh shun, the Heights of Fame!'
BRAVE is the man who in the breach can stay
The rushing victor and the sack delay;
Heroic he whom duty still detains
When fate upon the flaming vessel gains;
And great of spirit who serenely eyes
The wheel injustice for his doom supplies.
But he that on dry land, in days of peace,
Can thro' the world's wide common brave its geese,
Make onward sturdily for reason's hill,
And while with throat upstretched and op'ning bill
In gen'ral cackle all exclaim, 'They say,'
Demand undauntedly, 'And who are they?'
Nay, he that, but with passive courage blest,
Forbears a while to cackle with the rest
And keep a neutral eye or vacant ear
Where Common-sense may find one inlet clear
When she shall come (the hubbub hushed) again
To drive each silenced gander to his pen;
Valiant beyond the chief besieged is he,
The rack's contemner or the burned at sea.
Let only those who boast such valour theirs
Deride the narrative my muse prepares,
Or (fitter) borrows. Twice an age ago
Castile from subtle Gracian heard it flow —
Castile, the nurse of spirits grave and slow,
Who never, by the gadfly sudden stung,
Caught random frenzy from each other's tongue,
But brewed their notions like their Xerez wine,
Closed up the cask and left them to repine.
Oh, had the sage who thus his Spain portrays
Seen us, and seen us in our mania-days,
Had he but witnessed how a word — and one
Of undetermined meaning or of none —
Could cheer us on to worship or attack
(As if a huntsman slipped his eager pack),
Away, head-foremost, open-mouthed and wild,
Still zealous woman first, then man and child,
What apt additions would the tale have known,
The pithy tale which we no more postpone! —
There reigned a monarch once — (our author's pen
Is too concise to mention where and when),
A prince, whatever clime beheld his sway,
Of pomp and pastime fond, and rich array;
Who let the sabre hang untouched and dry,
While castanet and lute 'twas loyalty to ply.
Benign as jovial, an auspicious lord,
None lacked his willing smile and free reward
Who piped, or harped, or capered well, or wooed
The muse of masque and jocund interlude;
Nor failed of recompense their humbler pains
Who wrought him costly trappings, spurs, and chains,
Nor dealt he less than royally when trade
Her gems and merchandise before him laid,
Bounteous to all. But did some sable gown,
Some venerable beard, approach the town,
Some worthy sav'ring of the sage occult,
Who bids a patient alchemist exult,
One with the stars who privy dealings held,
Or into bondage fiend and fay compell'd,
On such a wight, how people, court, and king
Would gold uncounted and unvalued fling!
For brains (as may be noted by the wise)
Were here no prodigies for strength or size;
Merry the crew, the pilot debonnaire,
But sounding deep they held not their affair;
And as for good old books that smelt of must,
Who prized them might peruse them — 'twas but just.
Now soft sweet air the tender leaflet stirred,
And loud to carol was the woodlark heard,
And white anemones in tufts were pil'd
Beneath his foot who wandered thro' the wild;
For hard at hand was May — a month of joy
Which ancient usage bade the court employ
In banquetings and jousts, as consecrate
To splendid revelry and feasts of state.
But had it challenged from no former year
More honours than dull March, its gloomy peer
A gallant welcome 'twould in this have won,
And all its plumed minstrels been outdone:
Outdone in song, in gaudy hues outvied
By the gay masquers and the ladies' pride.
This year was marked with more than common grace,
An heir bestowed upon the royal race
Drew tributary lords and knights unknown
From distant provinces to hail the throne;
And (looked for long) ambassadors were nigh,
Chief nobles of a potent proud ally,
On whose arrival May must overflow
('Twas purposed and proclaimed) with sport and show.
Fermenting folly thus had room to sway;
No goldsmith, no embroid'rer idle lay,
The tailor woke ere Phosphor shed his beams,
The courtier's wits were buried in his dreams,
New braveries to devise and colours blend
Which e'en his wayward mistress might commend,
When lo! alarm thro' all the city flew,
Each bade his toys and trifles quick adieu,
And hurrying ran, tho' wherefore no one knew;
Sudden as out of earth they just had sprung,
Or from a cloud been with the raindrop flung,
The outer gate and palace porch between,
Advanced three strangers of mysterious mien,
Whose shrouding garments, shapeless, dark, and wide,
Save a vast beard left nothing human spied,
Who slowly moved, in silence so profound,
That mute and solemn too grew all around,
And ev'n the guard, austere to every class,
As if afraid to challenge, let them pass
Unquestioned whence they came, for signs they made,
Refusing to be catechised or staid;
Arrived before the throne, they kneel and pay
Commanded homage, but with grave delay,
As conscious of their worth, tho' deigning to obey.
Yet ask they not (for welcome all to hear)
A private audience or a secret ear,
But let the chiefs surround their lord, and them
Be circled by a crowd of lowlier stem,
While list'ning warders bar but ill the door,
And menials peep, and in the burghers pour;
So swallowed all at first or second-hand,
What thus the spokesman ladled to the land.
'O prince! O people! in each other blest,
May pleasure still embrace you, wealth and rest;
Long have we known, though distant our career,
The rev'rence paid to Mystic Science here,
And oft, as chiefest of her sons, design'd
To glad you with our presence, free and kind,
Ere that dread hour should close our pilgrimage
Which comes to all, though slowly to the sage,
The true adept, survivor doomed to be
While generations melt and ages flee.
Five have we numbered now, three toiling past
In unremitting study, prayer, and fast,
The rest in travel. We have dared to probe
The womb and burning centre of the globe,
Have heard the mermaid, seen the dragon coiled,
Gazed while the roc the mighty mammoth foiled,
Held conference with Druid, Brachman, Mage,
Enthralled — but peace! or we unseal a page
Forbidden to the unhallowed. Nameless Pow'rs!
Obedience was your bond, and silence ours,
Whereof to murmur, blab the when and where,
Tho' under earth or o'er this breathing air,
Revolt were to provoke, and deadly peril dare.
'No further preface. 'Tis enough that we
Have mastered secret Learning's inmost key.
Yet far be from us all unholy skill
And sorcery's wicked pride in working ill.
Nor aught, O king! we 'gainst thy crown contrive,
Nor would thy treas'ry of a mark deprive:
We come with gentler purpose — 'tis to show'r
Fresh glories and delights on this fair hour,
Add to thy worthy fame of rich and gay,
And proffer, for the livery of thy May,
Such raiment, luminous and strange of hue,
As glistened on that fiend whom Delos knew,
That Phœbus, worshipped as a God erewhile,
Tho' but in truth the demon of the isle.
For him what craftsmen wove it, well we know;
Their loom is ours, and it again shall go.
Nor ask we aught but mere materials — toys,
The ruby, diamond, em'rald, pearl, turquoise,
Whence filaments we draw, and radiant thread
With sunbeams manufactured, seen to spread
Till robes of living light effulgent flow;
So thin, he feels them not on whom they glow,
Tho' close the web, and decency concur
With warmth that Scythians scarcely find in fur.
By these with sudden loveliness endow'd
Majestic grows the form, the stature proud,
The strength a lion's, the diminished age
Recedes to just on this side pupilage,
With beauty glows the cheek, with wit the eye,
Good luck and friends, and merits multiply.
'Well may ye marvel; hut far more remains,
Or little would the work deserve our pains.
Stand all dishonour fearfully aloof,
Nor try the virtues of a charmed woof
That tries the gazer too. Alone the man
Who terror never felt nor truth outran,
Son of a matron chaste, and, if he wive,
Husband of her whose suitors fail to thrive,
He (and but he), from stainless fathers sprung;
No Jew, no Saracen the race among;
No felon, churl, on sire's or mother's side
Who died the death that angry laws provide;
He with unclouded eyeball shall behold
The sparkling texture, brighter than foretold.
His heart shall at the glorious vision swell,
And his wild praise all eloquence excel.
'But he whom fear hath mastered and disgraced,
Whose soul, or fraud or falsehood hath debased,
Whose helpmate, at the best not wholly true,
Grudges a frown when graceless lovers woo,
Who boasts a father he might disobey
If half his mother's secrets met the day,
Or harbours mongrel blood, whose course contains
One drop from Jewish, Moorish, Ethiop veins,
One blot of crime or slur of dastardy —
Invisible to him our work shall be;
Unmoved, unseeing, shall he pass it o'er
And question happier men what object they adore.'
The monarch paused, but scarce a thinking space;
Remembrance spake no act, no feeling base;
Consort and mother like Lucrese he deemed;
And, certes, with such fame and honour teemed
No other line that down from Adam streamed.
'Hail, Sages!' cried he, 'to the proof — prepare
A robe which I shall view, I trust, and wear:
Waste all my jewels ere ye scant a thread.'
Now owned the courtiers, think you, doubt or dread?
With grave demurring faces came they round
And argued out the point on reason's ground,
Or if not so, divine ye what restrained?
A spaniel soul! By you forsooth disdained,
The sycophants (you hold) belied their wit,
And the king's fiat made his knaves submit?
No, in good truth. Be lofty minds apprised
That judgements oft'ner wildered than disguised.
When sped the arrow, who shall countermand?
The floodgate opened, who the wave withstand?
The mighty wave, which, like the people, ne'er
Permits an obstacle to say forbear,
But, deaf and deafening, as it downward goes,
Whirls on the mounds and fences that oppose.
Nor mound nor mortal thus opposing now
Faces the tide and lifts a hostile brow.
All borne along, unanimous, and sure
That never prophets uttered truth so pure,
Revere the mighty strangers, burn to see
The robe, the lucid robe, the prodigy,
Bring with the crowns their jewels to be spun,
And hold the promised work perceptible and done.
Three suns had ris'n and set; now moments press'd,
And the king panted for his radiant vest.
To reconnoitre then the work, and bring
Full confirmation of the wond'rous thing,
He chose a counsellor of trust; one famed
For every gift the fiery trial claimed,
A saint-like spouse and ancestry unblamed.
Serene and confident, the sages hear
His charge delivered with a steadfast cheer,
No time in useless parleying consume,
But manifest at once the vacant loom,
And teach their grave inspector how to gaze,
Nor risk a sudden blindness from the blaze.
'There, where the diamond beams, and beams alone,
Be this thin veil (they cry) a moment thrown;
'Tis safer viewing what we now unfurl.
Here rest thine eye, where, gleaming mild, the pearl
Athwart that lustre steals a greyer white,
And soft cerulean sapphire heals the sight.'
Much more they said, but briefest tales are best;
'Twere wasting precious rhyme to give the rest,
Heard only by themselves; no ear He lent
Whose consternation figured for assent,
Who, all aghast and scarcely breathing, strove
To dream he saw and picture something wove;
But 'twould not be; pure emptiness was there,
And (dark or shining) viewed he not a hair.
Now creeping through some crevice of his brain
An humble doubt that feared to be prophane,
Just shook its head, just murmured 'fraud,' when down
'Twas instant knocked by all the rising town,
The mob of thoughts, who straightway rushing cried,
The man that sees not, evil him betide —
To brand himself that man, confess he drew
Some thousandth drop of life-blood from a Jew,
Resign his pedigree, his honour wave,
Accept the blot of coward or of knave,
Or claim the crest no wedded front desires,
Or shame the buried brow believed his sire's,
What wonder if a shrinking heart said nay,
And hardly could a swoon be chased away.
The crafty weavers of the viewless thread
Perceived how paleness quenched a burning red,
But termed it feebleness of nerve, th' alloy
That nature mingles with ecstatic joy,
And ministered (say some) a cure benign
In goblets filled from no ignoble vine,
Where Bacchus, missing truth, set courage free,
And drowned perplexing doubt and nice integrity.
But wherefore should we sift the means employed
To fortify the man or fill the void?
Whate'er the cordial or the charm, at last
A firm regard upon the loom he cast
And praised the splendour; coldly praised, 'tis true,
But, cheered and prompted by the wily crew,
Took better heart at every lie, arose,
Considered, and his course maturely chose,
Then issued, fitted to confront the throng
Of questioners and fools who, thousands strong,
Beleaguer now the porch, and testify
Their tow'ring expectations by their cry.
'Twas well; a calmer audience might have marr'd
The piece at once, and borne the player hard,
Who, copying close his master-knaves, designed
To stun the faculties and storm the mind,
Rushed forth with such an ardour, eyes so keen,
Such lifted hands, and eagerness of mien,
That ere a saucy question could obtrude,
Exulting shouts from all and mad applause ensued.
Belief thus won beforehand, what remained,
The colouring of the tale, was soon attained;
For had the diamond cloth indeed been spun,
Or cloth of beaten stars, or cloth of sun,
No fiercer beams description could have cast;
It flashed, it glittered, while his breath would last.
Dismissing then the people, on he flew
To quell each doubt his anxious master knew,
To kindle the bright blaze of gems again,
Exalt the work, and magnify the men
(Or more than men), by Heav'n despatched to bear
Its fav'rite prince the garb that seraphs wear.
This drudg'ry done, our minister at last
Went home to ruminate on what had past.
Oft darted he that eve (report was rife)
An eye she knew not on his bosom's wife,
And when appeasing slumber shunned his bed,
Sang wayward requiems to those grandsires dead,
Of whose ill deeds or shame or coward stains
Thus lit on luckless him the penalties and pains.
This night, indeed, the lucid robe will keep
From many a courtly pillow quiet sleep;
Its fame hath, like an autumn vapour, spread,
Fills all the air and works in every head.
Ere morning reddens, up the nobles spring,
Impatient each to importune the king,
Though not, as usual, laden with demands
Of pow'r and gold, vice-royalties and lands,
Precedence and degree, but all on fire
For licence to survey the bright attire.
If certain of them quailed (they best knew why),
Sir Pride, that learned in the law, stood by,
Glossed o'er the evidence, and proved that still
Oneself might find the ordeal iron chill;
While Christian charity — Ah! snug sate she,
No loophole showed by which a friend might flee,
No journey-work beyond her threshold sought;
She bustled but within, as housewives ought.
In secret then each baron made a jest
Of his foolhardy neighbour's rash request,
Bade luck attend the perilous enterprise,
Wished but as safe his honour as his eyes,
At worst would warrant their escaping harm,
Then blest himself at self-deception's charm.
Not so the gracious ruler of the train;
He triumphs in a court thus free from stain,
Approves their virtuous ardour, and agrees;
Whoe'er petitions gains a sight — and sees —
A convert each, whose clamours aid the fraud
And bind th' approaching novice to applaud:
For each came singly; 'twas a fixed decree
Discreetly issued by the mystic Three.
So throve they merrily and safe, deranged
By neither wink or syllable exchanged.
Did some — but, counts mine author, few were they,
Like hounds sagacious scent the coz'ner's way,
These weighed the risque, the warfare might betide
With folly schooled and knavery defied,
And ended by out-bellowing all beside.
But when our mock magicians thus had fast
A score of thinking men and highly class'd,
Who, self-entangled in their net, were fain
The cheat for very prudence to maintain,
They felt themselves at ease, securely rode
Without a curb, and opened their abode
For all the tribe in such dilemmas sure
To rule their restive eyesight or abjure,
Those active stirrers in the world's concerns
Whom anything can drive, though nothing turns,
Whom once let accident or man's design
Speed with a touch along some given line,
And on they go till doomsday, if you please,
Convinced the moon's a pancake or a cheese.
A goodly phalanx, and a strong (I hold
Linked closer than the Macedons of old),
Round whose firm edge shall hover Wit in vain,
And Argument, dismounted, bite the plain.
These won, the fortune of the day's secured;
The rest, some terrified and some allured,
Come in apace, no cavilling offends
A fact as sacred for its foes as friends.
For foes existed; spirits stern and sour,
Devout old crones abhorring Satan's pow'r,
The jealous vulgar, stomachful when told
Of sights that nobles could alone behold.
These roared for judgements on the Diamond Robe,
Thought dallying Heav'n too slowly smote the globe,
And fain would cleansing fires meanwhile have plann'd
To purge those wicked weavers from the land;
On this ran Party, as it uses, high;
But none stood boggling at the keystone lie.
Thus far triumphant, free from present fear,
In caution still our sages persevere,
Take feasts and gifts and honours as their due,
But keep one object like a star in view,
Th' expected embassy whereof we told,
Which summons all the court and clothes with gold,
And which to welcome will the sovereign wear
The tissued gems and glories they prepare.
They watch its coming, as they sought to show
Their prowess on the frontier 'gainst a foe,
And dreamed that this pacific princely band
Would slay the peasant and lay waste the land,
Not cordial vows and costly tokens bring
To attest the kindness of a brother-king.
Soon as the panting courier speaks it near,
Our feigned adepts must shorten their career,
Nor stay, like fools with consciences at rest,
Till these untutored strangers spoil the jest,
Who, faithful to their senses, right or wrong,
May speak and startle the believing throng.
Enough — the fraud is ripe, th' event prepared,
Their flight resolved, their precious booty shared
And to the royal dupe this saying borne,
'Thy finished mantle may at will be worn.'
Alas! good Prince, it pities us for thee,
The meanest courtier crouching at thy knee
His eyes hath glutted and thine ears hath fed
With floods of light not twenty suns could shed;
No tongue hath murmured doubt, no blush betrayed
A conscience loathing what the lips conveyed;
All, all have gazed, and vainly not a man;
On thee alone is fallen the dreaded ban,
Thy single hand the lot of shame hath drawn,
What then! Asunder shall thy queen be sawn?
Shall she who bare thee, to the stake consigned,
Be roasted for the sin that made thee blind?
Such purposes at first confus'dly formed,
Before thy dizzy soul like atoms swarmed;
But these thy waking wisdom rose and chased;
The ill we cannot fly must be outfaced.
Veil, veil thine agony, thy weapon sheathe,
Thou too shalt transport, thou shalt triumph breathe
To thee, as to thy servants, need shall waft
That sight-assisting tube, behoveful craft,
Through which thy sharpened eye shall view, no fear,
All they (beshrew the varlets) find so clear;
The voice, as fits it, shall out-trumpet theirs,
And gainsay them and thee let him who dares.
Yes, ev'n this final visit but concurr'd
To prop the cheat, and with a monarch's word.
The gale that night (had frowning planets willed)
Have made the navy mastless ere 'twas stilled,
Swept over lovingly, nor swelled a wave,
Nor from its moorings one poor pinnace drave;
This weathered, not a shelf or breaker now
Can harm our mariner's advent'rous prow,
And welcome is the whirlwind's self to blow
That, forcing from the shallows, leaves them free
And speeds with all their cargo out to sea.
The day arrives; before its matin bell
Th' ambassadors' approach loud clarions tell,
Awakening joy and bidding splendour rise
To grace the entry of the State's allies.
Th' impatient court they need not urge; 'tis all
Assembled at the palace ere their call,
In solemn still convention ranged around,
As grave as if the sov'reign yet uncrown'd,
Were first t' assume his regal honours now
And plight inauguration's aweful vow.
Still graver, as becomes his chief degree,
He enters last; forthwith the ready Three
From a rich coffer feign to pluck the vest
And fold that Nothing o'er his royal breast
Whose radiance straight each feeble eye forbears
And every lip to glowing Heav'n compares.
This done, mysterious duties early vow'd
Recall its rev'rend weavers from the crowd
To fashion pious rites and solemnise
What privacy must screen from earthly eyes.
Rites? ay in verity — they such perform
As age to manhood sans a spell transform,
Make raiment, beard, complexion disappear,
And do away all remnant of the Seer,
Unmarked they then their sev'ral journies chuse,
And many a league are fled ere aught pursues.
Nor was it strange if ceremonial's pace
Proved somewhat tardy for an outlaw's chase;
The marshalling was long, and many a cause
Disturbed and made the slow procession pause,
Beside that on its path the rabble burst,
Still gath'ring here again when there dispersed;
Parading squadrons, maidens strewing flowers,
Dull orators haranguing, took up hours,
And day well-nigh departed ere at last
The 'missioned nobles to their audience past.
But oh, that spectacle! Since time began
Was ne'er so tried the gravity of man.
Perched on his throne, an antic prince or mad
In unbeseeming garb succinctly clad,
While pomp and state and grandeur round him blaze,
And scarce an eye his prostrate subjects raise.
Though wise the stranger lords and stern withal,
A laugh they could not stifle shook the hall;
Yet kindling at the scorn they thought implied
(As ceased their merriment and rose their pride),
They willed the framers of that sport to know
'Twas an ill jest converting friend to foe;
Avenging arms might teach the scoffing king
Another mode of royal welcoming;
Defiance in his teeth and shame for shame!
Then, brandishing their swords, all parley they disclaim.
Truth instant flashed, like light on objects dim
For which we sit devising form and limb.
Though brief the glimpse, tho' deep return the shade,
No longer we mistake them, once surveyed;
Not all the might of fancy can renew
Those shapes she gave them on a twilight view.1
Now look met look, demure, observing, sly,
And questions seemed to steal from eye to eye —
'Did you speak honestly?' 'Said you your mind?
Or are we all but vermin of a kind?'
Signs followed next; then murmurs passage found;
The thread was clutched, and fast the clew unwound.
As straight from brine by chemic process tried,
Its watery particles in vapour glide,
And leave pure salt — and crystallised — behind,
So now exhaling folly fled the mind.
— There halt, my simile. Alas! we view
No search commencing for the residue,
No poring to perceive if in the brain
1 Note. — In Mr. Dugald Stewart's preface to the Encyclopædia, published
several years after these lines (which he certainly never saw)
were written, he says: 'This is remarkable in the history of our prejudices
that as soon as the film falls from the intellectual eye, we are
apt to lose all recollection of our former blindness. Like the fantastic
and giant shapes which in a thick fog the imagination lends to a block
of stone, or to the stump of a tree, they produce, while the illusion
lasts, the same effects with truth and realities; but the moment the eye
has caught the exact form and dimensions of the object, the spell is
broken for ever, nor can any effort of thought again conjure up the
spectres which have vanished.'
Unless Mr. Stewart and I both borrowed this image from some
common original, forgotten by me, this is a singular instance of
coincidence where there could be no possibility of plagiary.
Thy crystals, Wisdom (purest salt), remain;
For pride and fury, folks unapt to pore,
Have mast'ry of the time and lead the roar —
'The thieves — Pursue 'em, fetter, flay 'em, broil' —
The thieves, who, calmly treasuring their spoil,
Have left, to pay all forfeits in their room,
Their fearless effigies and empty loom;
Wherewith may sate herself (and welcome) Rage,
And a fooled nation play 'till waxèd sage.
When came that blessed hour is yet untold,
Or which way surfeited that rage grew cold;
But let old Gracian vouch it or deny,
Thus much for sequel might a child supply,
That soon as Time had o'er the story cast
His light beginning haze, and marked it past,
The robe became a proverb; never named
But this man moralised and that declaimed;
Told, laughing-, how the world was once bewitched,
How cowards wavered and how blockheads preached,
Nor aught forgot, or sparingly detailed,
Save (ever) how with One the cheat prevailed.
Each had himself — dispute it if you durst —
Adhered to sense and reason from the first,
In prudence held his peace, for that was fair —
Who'd face a tropic whirlwind if aware? —
But, cool as morning, kept his own firm head,
And smiled or sorrowed as the madness spread.
Experience! Pearl by Egypt's unsurpassed!
For thee we dive where line was never cast,
Our sole rich recompence declare thee still
For life's long struggle with the surge of ill;
Yet, half possessed, permit entombed to lie
In thine unopened oyster till we die.
Thus by a nation bought, and bought so dear,
Thro' lack of mem'ry wast thou prisoned here,
For when the next vagary, fresh and strong,
Came whirling brains and spurring tongues along,
The man who should have cried, 'My brethren, hold,
To shun new errors, ponder well your old;
That drowsy reason who withstood them not
May chance to slumber through a second plot,
And leave you, when her lethargy is o'er,
A byword for the mockers as before.'
Like Troy's poor prophetess, rebuffed and spurned,
This answer had he had where'er he turned —
That dark the age and weak indeed the mind
Which foolish fables, Diamond Robes, could blind,
But for the worthier thing about to draw
Within its vortex every stick and straw,
The point now clamoured for with might and main —
'Twas manifest — 'twas certain — truth in grain —
What Time (were Time appealed to) would but tend
To fix and hallow, let alone defend;
For ere to-morrow's cry revoked to-day's,
The sun should see the owlet court his blaze,
Or hear the lark salute his evening rays.
Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty
at the Edinburgh University Press


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Lady Louisa Stuart: Selections from Her Manuscripts

Document Information

Document ID 30
Title Lady Louisa Stuart: Selections from Her Manuscripts
Year group 1850-1900
Genre Expository prose
Year of publication 1899
Wordcount 83479

Author information: Stuart, Lady Louisa

Author ID 254
Title Lady
Forenames Louisa
Surname Stuart
Gender Female
Year of birth 1757
Place of birth London, England
Occupation Author
Father's occupation Nobleman, politician
Other languages spoken Latin, French