Junius and Lord Lyttelton's Ghost
by Andrew Lang
'Sir,' said Dr. Johnson, 'it is the most extraordinary thing that has
happened in my day.'
The most extraordinary thing that had happened in Dr. Johnson's day was
the 'warning' to the noble peer generally spoken of as 'the wicked Lord
Lyttelton.' The Doctor went on thus: 'I heard it with my own ears from his
uncle, Lord Westcote. I am so glad to have every evidence of the spiritual
world that I am willing to believe it.' Dr. Adams replied, 'You have
evidence enough—good evidence, which needs no support.' Dr. Johnson
growled out, 'I like to have more!'
Thus the Doctor was willing to believe what it suited him to believe, even
though he had the tale at third or fourth hand; for Lord Westcote was not
with the wicked Lord Lyttelton at the time of his death, on November 27,
1779. Dr. Johnson's observations were made on June 12, 1784.
To Lord Westcote's narrative we shall return.
As a study in Russian scandal, and the growth and development of stories,
this anecdote of Lord Lyttelton deserves attention. So first we must
glance at the previous history of the hero. Thomas Lord Lyttelton was
born, says Mr. Coulton (in the 'Quarterly Review,' No. 179, p. 111), on
January 30, 1744.* He was educated at Eton, where Dr. Barnard thought his
boyish promise even superior to that of Charles James Fox. His sketches of
scenery in Scotland reminded Mrs. Montagu of the vigour of Salvator Rosa,
combined with the grace of Claude Lorraine! At the age of nineteen,
already affianced to Miss Warburton, he went on the Grand Tour, and
excelled the ordinary model of young debauchery abroad. Mr. James Boswell
found a Circe at Siena, Lyttelton found Circes everywhere. He returned to
England in 1765; and that learned lady, Mrs. Carter, the translator of
Epictetus, 'admired his talents and elegant manners, as much as she
detested his vices.' In 1768 he entered the House of Commons, and, in his
maiden speech, implored the Assembly to believe that America was more
important than Mr. Wilkes (and Liberty). Unseated for bribery in January
1769, he vanished from the public view, more or less, for a season; at
least he is rarely mentioned in memoirs, and Coulton thinks that young
Lyttelton was now engaged—in what does the reader suppose? In
writing 'The Letters of Junius'!**
*The writer was not Croker, but Mr. Coulton, 'a Kentish gentleman,'
says Lockhart, February 7, 1851, to his daughter Charlotte.
Lyttelton went to Italy on being ejected from Parliament, as Mr. Rigg
says he did in the 'Dictionary of National Biography,' Coulton's theory
will be hard to justify.
He was clever enough; his rank was like that assumed as his own by Junius;
his eloquence (as he proved later in the House of Lords) was vituperative
enough; he shared some of Junius's hatreds, while he proclaimed, like
Junius, that the country was going to the dogs. Just as Junius was ending
his Letters, the prodigal, Thomas Lyttelton, returned to his father's
house; and Chatham wrote to congratulate the parent (February 15, 1772).
On May 12, 1772, Junius published his last letter in 'The Public
Advertiser;' and on June 26 Mr. Lyttelton married a widow, a Mrs. Peach.
He soon left his wife, and was abroad (with a barmaid) when his father
died in 1773. In January 1774 he took his seat in the Lords. Though Fox
thought him a bad man, his first speech was in favour of securing to
authors a perpetual copyright in their own works. He repeated his
arguments some months later; so authors, at least, have reason for judging
Mr. Carlyle would have admired Lyttelton. His politics (at one juncture)
were 'The Dictatorship for Lord Chatham'! How does this agree with the
sentiments of Junius? In 1767-69 Junius had exhausted on Chatham his
considerable treasury of insult. He is 'a lunatic brandishing a crutch,'
'so black a villain,' 'an abandoned profligate,' and he exhibits 'THE
UPSTART INSOLENCE OF A DICTATOR!' This goes not well with Lyttelton's
sentiments in 1774. True, but by that date (iii. 305) Junius himself had
discovered 'that if this country can be saved, it must be saved by Lord
Chatham's spirit, by Lord Chatham's abilities.' Lyttelton and Junius are
assuredly both of them ruffianly, scandal-loving, inconsistent, and
patrician in the manner of Catiline. So far, the likeness is close.
About America Lyttelton wavered. On the whole, he recognised the need of
fighting; and his main idea was that, as fight we must, we should organise
our forces well, and fight with our heads as well as with our hands. He
disdained the policy of the ostrich. The Americans were in active
rebellion; it could not be blinked. He praised Chatham while he opposed
him. He was 'fighting for his own hand.' Ministers felt the advantage of
his aid; they knew his unscrupulous versatility, and in November 1775
bought Lyttelton with a lucrative sinecure—the post of Chief Justice
of Eyre beyond the Trent. Coulton calls the place 'honourable;' we take
another view. Lyttelton was bought and sold, but no one deemed Lyttelton a
person of scrupulous conscience.
The public prospects darkened, folly was heaped on folly, blunder on
blunder, defeat on defeat. On April 24, 1779, Horace Walpole says that
Lord Lyttelton 'has again turned against the Court on obtaining the
Seals'* November 25, 1779, saw Lyttelton go boldly into Opposition. He
reviewed the whole state of the empire. He poured out a torrent of
invective. As to his sinecure, he said, 'Perhaps he might not keep it
long.' 'The noble Lords smile at what I say!'
*Is this a slip, or misprint, for 'on NOT obtaining the Seals'?
They need not have smiled. He spoke on Thursday, November 25; on Saturday,
November 27, the place in Eyre was vacant, and Lord Lyttelton was a dead
The reader will keep in mind these dates. On Thursday, November 25, 1779,
the first day of the session, Lyttelton overflows in a volcanic speech
against the Court. He announces that his place may soon be vacant. At
midnight on November 27 he is dead.
On all this, and on the story of the ghostly 'warning' to Lord Lyttelton,
delivered in the night of Wednesday, November 24, Coulton builds a
political romance. In his view, Lyttelton, expelled from Parliament,
lavished his genius and exuded his spleen in the 'Letters of Junius.'
Taking his seat in the Lords, he fights for his own hand, is bought and
muzzled, wrenches off his muzzle, blazes into a fierce attack on the
wrongs which he is weary of witnessing, the hypocrisy which he is tired of
sharing, makes his will, sets his house in order, plays one last practical
joke by inventing the story of the ghostly warning, surrounds himself with
dissolute company, and at midnight on November 27 deliberately fulfils his
own prediction, and dies by his own hand. It is a tale creditable to
Coulton's fancy. A patrician of genius, a wit, a profligate, in fatigue
and despair, closes his career with a fierce harangue, a sacrilegious
jest, a debauch, and a draught of poison, leaving to Dr. Johnson a proof
of 'the spiritual world,' and to mankind the double mystery of Junius and
of the Ghost.
As to the identity of Junius, remembering the warning of Lord
Beaconsfield, 'If you wish to be a bore, take up the "Letters of Junius,"'
we shall drop that enigma; but as to the alleged suicide of Lord
Lyttelton, we think we can make that seem extremely improbable. Let us
return to the course of events, as stated by Coulton and by
The warning of death in three days, says Coulton, occurred (place not
given) on the night of November 24, 1779. He observes: 'It is certain
that, on the morning after that very day' (November 25), 'Lord Lyttelton
had related, not to one person alone, but to several, and all of them
people of credit, the particulars of a strange vision which he said had
appeared to him the preceding night.' On Thursday, the 25th, as we saw, he
spoke in the Lords. On Friday, the 26th, he went down to his house at
Epsom, Pitt Place, where his party, says Coulton, consisted of Mr. (later
Lord) Fortescue, Captain (later Admiral) Wolsley, Mrs. Flood, and the
Misses Amphlett. Now, the town had no kind of doubt concerning the nature
of Lord Lyttelton's relations with two, if not three, of the Misses
Amphlett. His character was nearly as bad, where women were concerned, as
that of Colonel Charteris. But Walpole, writing to Mann on November 28
(the day after Lord Lyttelton's death), says: 'Lord Lyttelton is dead
suddenly. SUDDENLY, in this country, is always at first construed to mean
BY A PISTOL... The story given out is, that he looked ill, AND HAD SAID HE
SHOULD NOT LIVE THREE DAYS; that, however, he had gone to his house at
Epsom... with a caravan of nymphs; and on Saturday night had retired
before supper to take rhubarb, returned, supped heartily, went into the
next room again, and died in an instant.'
Nothing here of a dream or ghost. We only hear of a prophecy, by
Lyttelton, of his death.
Writing to Mason on Monday, November 29, Walpole avers that Lord Lyttelton
was 'attended only by four virgins, whom he had picked up in the Strand.'
Here Horace, though writing from Berkeley Square, within two days of the
fatal 27th, is wrong. Lord Lyttelton had the Misses Amphlett, Captain
Wolsley, Mr. Fortescue, and Mrs. Flood with him. According to Walpole, he
felt unwell on Saturday night (the 27th), 'went to bed, rung his bell in
ten minutes, and in one minute after the arrival of his servant expired!'
'He had said on Thursday that he should die in three days, HAD DREAMT SO,
and felt that it would be so. On Saturday he said, "If I outlive to-day, I
shall go on;" but enough of him.'
Walpole speaks of a DREAM, but he soon has other, if not better,
information. Writing to Mason on December 11, he says that ghost stories
from the north will now be welcome. 'Lord Lyttelton's vision has revived
the taste; though it seems a little odd that an APPARITION should despair
of getting access to his Lordship's bed, in the shape of a young woman,
without being forced to use the disguise of a robin-redbreast.' What was
an apprehension or prophecy has become a dream, and the dream has become
an apparition of a robin-redbreast and a young woman.
If this excite suspicion, let us hasten to add that we have undesigned
evidence to Lord Lyttelton's belief that he had beheld an APPARITION—evidence
a day earlier than the day of his death. Mrs. Piozzi (then Mrs. Thrale),
in her diary of Sunday, November 28, writes: 'Yesterday a lady from Wales
dropped in and said that she had been at Drury Lane on Friday night.
"How," I asked, "were you entertained?" "Very strangely indeed! Not with
the play, though, but the discourse of a Captain Ascough, who averred that
a friend of his, Lord Lyttelton, has SEEN A SPIRIT, who has warned him
that he will die in three days. I have thought of nothing else since."'
Next day, November 29, Mrs. Piozzi heard of Lord Lyttelton's death.*
*Notes and Queries. Series V., vol. ii. p. 508. December 26,1874.
Here is proof absolute that the story, with apparition, if not with robin,
was current THE DAY BEFORE LORD LYTTELTON'S DECEASE.
Of what did Lord Lyttelton die?
'According to one of the papers,' says Coulton, vaguely, 'the cause of
death was disease of the heart.' A brief 'convulsion' is distinctly
mentioned, whence Coulton concludes that the disease was NOT cardiac. On
December 7, Mason writes to Walpole from York: 'Suppose Lord Lyttelton had
recovered the breaking of his blood-vessel!'
Was a broken blood-vessel the cause of death? or have we here, as is
probable, a mere inference of Mason's?
Coulton's account is meant to lead up to his theory of suicide. Lord
Lyttelton mentioned his apprehension of death 'somewhat ostentatiously, we
think.' According to Coulton, at 10 P.M. on Saturday, Lord Lyttelton,
looking at his watch, said: 'Should I live two hours longer, I shall
jockey the ghost.' Coulton thinks that it would have been 'more natural'
for him to await the fatal hour of midnight 'in gay company' than to go to
bed before twelve. He finishes the tale thus: Lord Lyttelton was taking
rhubarb in his bedroom; he sent his valet for a spoon, and the man,
returning, found him 'on the point of dissolution.'
'His family maintained a guarded and perhaps judicious silence on the
subject,' yet Lord Westcote spoke of it to Dr. Johnson, and wrote an
account of it, and so did Lord Lyttelton's widow; while Wraxall, as we
shall see, says that the Dowager Lady Lyttelton painted a picture of the
'warning' in 1780.
Harping on suicide, Coulton quotes Scott's statement in 'Letters on
Demonology:' 'Of late it has been said, and PUBLISHED, that the
unfortunate nobleman had determined to take poison.' Sir Walter gives no
authority, and Coulton admits that he knows of none. Gloomy but
commonplace reflections in the so-called 'Letters' of Lyttelton do not
even raise a presumption in favour of suicide, which, in these very
Letters, Lyttelton says that he cannot defend by argument.* That Lyttelton
made his will 'a few weeks before his death,' providing for his fair
victims, may be accounted for, as we shall see, by the threatening state
of his health, without any notion of self-destruction. Walpole, in his
three letters, only speaks of 'a pistol' as the common construction of
'sudden death;' and that remark occurs before he has heard any details. He
rises from a mere statement of Lord Lyttelton's, that he is 'to die in
three days,' to a 'dream' containing that assurance, and thence to
apparitions of a young woman and a robin-redbreast. The appearance of that
bird, by the way, is, in the folk-lore of Surrey, an omen of death.
Walpole was in a position to know all current gossip, and so was Mrs.
*Coulton's argument requires him to postulate the authenticity of
many, at least, of these Letters, which were given to the world by the
author of 'Doctor Syntax.'
We now turn to a narrative nearly contemporary, that written out by Lord
Westcote on February 13, 1780. Lord Westcote examined the eldest Miss
Amphlett, Captain (later Admiral) Charles Wolsley, Mrs. Flood, Lord
Lyttelton's valet, Faulkner, and Stuckey, the servant in whose arms, so to
speak, Lord Lyttelton died. Stuckey was questioned (note this) in the
presence of Captain Wolsley and of MR. FORTESCUE. The late Lord Lyttelton
permitted the Westcote narrative to be published in 'Notes and Queries'
(November 21, 1874). The story, which so much pleased Dr. Johnson, runs
thus:—On Thursday, November 25, Mrs. Flood and the three Misses
Amphlett were residing at Lord Lyttelton's house in Hill Street, Berkeley
Square. Who IS this Mrs. Flood? Frederick Flood (1741-1824) married LADY
Julia Annesley in 1782. The wife of the more famous Flood suits the case
no better: his wife was LADY F. M. Flood; she was a Beresford. (The
'Dictionary of National Biography' is responsible for these facts.) At all
events, on November 25, at breakfast, in Hill Street, Lord Lyttelton told
the young ladies and their chaperon that he had had an extraordinary
He seemed to be in a room which a bird flew into; the bird changed into a
woman in white, who told him he should die in three days.
He 'did not much regard it, because he could in some measure account for
it; for that a few days before he had been with Mrs. Dawson, when a
robin-redbreast flew into her room.' On the morning of Saturday he told
the same ladies that he was very well, and believed he should 'BILK THE
GHOST.' The dream has become an apparition! On that day—Saturday—he,
with the ladies, Fortescue, and Wolsley, went to Pitt Place; he went to
bed after eleven, ordered rolls for breakfast, and, in bed, 'died without
a groan,' as his servant was disengaging him from his waistcoat. During
dinner he had 'a rising in his throat' (a slight sickness), 'a thing which
had often happened to him before.' His physician, Dr. Fothergill, vaguely
attributed his death to the rupture of some vessel in his side, where he
had felt a pain in summer.
From this version we may glean that Lord Lyttelton was not himself very
certain whether his vision occurred when he was awake or asleep. He is
made to speak of a 'dream,' and even to account for it in a probable way;
but later he talks of 'bilking the GHOST.' The editor of 'Notes and
Queries' now tries to annihilate this contemporary document by third-hand
evidence, seventy years after date. In 1851 or 1852 the late Dowager Lady
Lyttelton, Sarah, daughter of the second Earl Spencer, discussed the story
with Mr. Fortescue, a son of the Mr. Fortescue who was at Pitt Place, and
succeeded to the family title six years later, in 1785. The elder Mr.
Fortescue, in brief, is said to have averred that he had heard nothing of
the dream or prediction till 'some days after;' he, therefore, was
inclined to disbelieve in it. We have demonstrated, however, that if Mr.
Fortescue had heard nothing, yet the tale was all over the town before
Lord Lyttelton died. Nay, more, we have contemporary proof that Mr.
Fortescue HAD heard of the affair! Lyttelton died at midnight on the
Saturday, November 27. In her diary for the following Tuesday (November
30), Lady Mary Coke says that she has just heard the story of the 'dream'
from Lady Bute, who had it from Mr. Ross, WHO HAD IT FROM MR. FORTESCUE!*
Mr. Fortescue, then, must have told the tale as early as the Monday after
the fatal Saturday night. Yet in old age he seems to have persuaded
himself that the tale came later to his knowledge. Some irrelevant, late,
and fourth-hand versions will be found in 'Notes and Queries,' but they
merely illustrate the badness of such testimony.
*See The Letters and Journals of Lady Mary Coke, iii. 85. Note—She
speaks of 'a dream.'
One trifle of contemporary evidence may be added: Mrs. Delany, on December
9, 1779, wrote an account of the affair to her niece—here a bird
turns into a woman.
In pursuit of evidence, it is a long way from 1780 to 1816. In November of
that year, T. J. wrote from Pitt Place, Epsom, in 'The Gentleman's
Magazine;' but his letter is dated 'January 6.' T. J. has bought Pitt
Place, and gives 'a copy of a document in writing, left in the house'
(where Lyttelton died) 'as an heirloom which may be depended on.' This
document begins, 'Lord Lyttelton's Dream and Death (see Admiral Wolsley's
But where IS Admiral Wolsley's account? Is it in the archives of Sir
Charles Wolseley of Wolseley? Or is THIS (the Pitt Place document) Admiral
Wolsley's account? The anonymous author says that he was one of the party
at Pitt Place on November 27,1779, with 'Lord Fortescue,' 'Lady Flood,'
and the two Misses Amphlett. Consequently this account is written after
1785, when Mr. Fortescue succeeded to his title. Lord Lyttelton, not long
returned from Ireland, had been suffering from 'suffocating fits' in the
last month. And THIS, not the purpose of suicide, was probably his reason
for executing his will. 'While in his house in Hill Street, Berkeley
Square, he DREAMT three days before his death he saw a bird fluttering,
and afterwards a woman appeared in white apparel, and said, "Prepare to
meet your death in three days." He was alarmed and called his servant. On
the third day, while at breakfast with the above-named persons, he said,
"I have jockeyed the ghost, as this is the third day."' Coulton places
this incident at 10 P.M. on Saturday, and makes his lordship say, 'In two
hours I shall jockey the ghost.' 'The whole party set out for Pitt Place,'
which contradicts Coulton's statement that they set out on Friday, but
agrees with Lord Westcote's. 'They had not long arrived when he was seized
with a usual fit. Soon recovered. Dined at five. To bed at eleven.' Then
we hear how he rebuked his servant for stirring his rhubarb 'with a
tooth-pick' (a plausible touch), sent him for a spoon, and was 'in a fit'
on the man's return. 'The pillow being high, his chin bore hard on his
neck. Instead of relieving him, the man ran for help: on his return found
This undated and unsigned document, by a person who professes to have been
present, is not, perhaps, very accurate in dates. The phrase 'dreamt' is
to be taken as the common-sense way of stating that Lord Lyttelton had a
vision of some sort. His lordship, who spoke of 'jockeying the GHOST,' may
have believed that he was awake at the time, not dreaming; but no person
of self-respect, in these unpsychical days, could admit more than a dream.
Perhaps this remark also applies to Walpole's 'he dreamed.' The species of
the bird is left in the vague.
Moving further from the event, to 1828, we find a book styled 'Past
Feelings Renovated,' a reply to Dr. Hibbert's 'Philosophy of Apparitions.'
The anonymous author is 'struck with the total inadequacy of Dr. Hibbert's
theory.' Among his stories he quotes Wraxall's 'Memoirs.' In 1783, Wraxall
dined at Pitt Place, and visited 'the bedroom where the casement window at
which Lord Lyttelton asserted the DOVE appeared to flutter* was pointed
out to me.' Now the Pitt Place document puts the vision 'in Hill Street,
Berkeley Square.' So does Lord Westcote. Even a bird cannot be in two
places at once, and the 'Pitt Place Anonymous' does seem to know what he
is talking about. Of course Lord Lyttelton MAY have been at Pitt Place on
November 24, and had his dream there. He MAY have run up to Hill Street on
the 25th and delivered his speech, and MAY have returned to Pitt Place on
the Friday or Saturday.** But we have no evidence for this view; and the
Pitt Place document places the vision in Hill Street. Wraxall adds that he
has frequently seen a painting of bird, ghost, and Lord Lyttelton, which
was executed by that nobleman's stepmother in 1780. It was done 'after the
description given to her by the valet de chambre who attended him, to whom
his master related all the circumstances.'
*It was a ROBIN in 1779.
**Coulton says Friday; the Anonymous says Saturday, with Lord Westcote.
Our author of 1828 next produces the narrative by Lord Lyttelton's widow,
Mrs. Peach, who was so soon deserted. In 1828 she is 'now alive, and
resident in the south-west part of Warwickshire.' According to Lady
Lyttelton (who, of course, was not present), Lord Lyttelton had gone to
bed, whether in Hill Street or Pitt Place we are not told. His candle was
extinguished, when he heard 'a noise resembling the fluttering of a bird
at his chamber window. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw the
figure of an unhappy female, whom he had seduced and deserted, and who,
when deserted, had put a violent end to her own existence, standing in the
aperture of the window from which the fluttering sound had proceeded. The
form approached the foot of the bed: the room was preternaturally light;
the objects in the chamber were distinctly visible. The figure pointed to
a clock, and announced that Lord Lyttelton would expire AT THAT VERY HOUR
(twelve o'clock) in the third day after the visitation.'
We greatly prefer, as a good old-fashioned ghost story, this version of
Lady Lyttelton's. There is no real bird, only a fluttering sound, as in
the case of the Cock Lane Ghost, and many other examples. The room is
'preternaturally light,' as in Greek and Norse belief it should have been,
and as it is in the best modern ghost stories. Moreover, we have the
raison d'etre of the ghost: she had been a victim of the Chief Justice in
Eyre. The touch about the clock is in good taste. We did not know all that
But, alas! our author of 1828, after quoting the Pitt Place Anonymous,
proceeds to tell, citing no named authority, that the ghost was that of
Mrs. Amphlett, mother of the two Misses Amphlett, and of a third sister,
in no way less distinguished than these by his lordship. Now a ghost
cannot be the ghost of two different people. Moreover, Mrs. Amphlett lived
(it is said) for years after. However, Mrs. Amphlett has the preference if
she 'died of grief at the precise time when the female vision appeared to
his lordship,' which makes it odd that her daughters should then have been
revelling at Pitt Place under the chaperonage of Mrs. Flood. We are also
informed (on no authority) that Lord Lyttelton 'acknowledged' the ghost to
have been that of the injured mother of the three Misses Amphlett.
Let not the weary reader imagine that the catena of evidence ends here!
His lordship's own ghost did a separate stroke of business, though only in
the commonplace character of a deathbed wraith, or 'veridical
Lord Lyttelton had a friend, we learn from 'Past Feelings Renovated'
(1828), a friend named Miles Peter Andrews. 'One night after Mr. Andrews
had left Pitt Place and gone to Dartford,' where he owned powder-mills,
his bed-curtains were pulled open and Lord Lyttelton appeared before him
in his robe de chambre and nightcap. Mr. Andrews reproached him for coming
to Dartford Mills in such a guise, at such a time of night, and, 'turning
to the other side of the bed, rang the bell, when Lord Lyttelton had
disappeared.' The house and garden were searched in vain; and about four
in the afternoon a friend arrived at Dartford with tidings of his
Here the reader with true common sense remarks that this second ghost,
Lord Lyttelton's own, does not appear in evidence till 1828, fifty years
after date, and then in an anonymous book, on no authority. We have
permitted to the reader this opportunity of exercising his acuteness,
while laying a little trap for him. It is not in 1828 that Mr. Andrews's
story first appears. We first find it in December 1779—that is, in
the month following the alleged event. Mr. Andrews's experience, and the
vision of Lord Lyttelton, are both printed in 'The Scots Magazine,'
December 1779, p. 650. The account is headed 'A Dream,' and yet the author
avers that Lord Lyttelton was wide awake! This illustrates beautifully the
fact on which we insist, that 'dream' is eighteenth-century English for
ghost, vision, hallucination, or what you will.
'Lord Lyttelton,' says the contemporary 'Scots Magazine,' 'started up from
a midnight sleep on perceiving a bird fluttering near the bed-curtains,
which vanished suddenly when a female spirit in white raiment presented
herself' and prophesied Lord Lyttelton's death in three days. His death is
attributed to convulsions while undressing.
The 'dream' of Mr. Andrews (according to 'The Scots Magazine' of December
1779)* occurred at Dartford in Kent, on the night of November 27. It
represented Lord Lyttelton drawing his bed-curtains, and saying, 'It is
all over,' or some such words.
*The magazine appeared at the end of December.
This Mr. Andrews had been a drysalter. He made a large fortune, owned the
powder-mills at Dartford, sat in Parliament, wrote plays which had some
success, and was thought a good fellow in raffish society. Indeed, the
society was not always raffish. In 'Notes and Queries' (December 26, 1874)
H. S. says that his mother, daughter of Sir George Prescott, often met Mr.
Andrews at their house, Theobalds Park, Herts. He was extremely agreeable,
and, if pressed, would tell his little anecdote of November 27, 1779.
This proof that the Andrews tale is contemporary has led us away from the
description of the final scene, given in 'Past Feelings Renovated,' by the
person who brought the news to Mr. Andrews. His version includes a trick
played with the watches and clocks. All were set on half an hour; the
valet secretly made the change in Lord Lyttelton's own timepiece. His
lordship thus went to bed, as he thought, at 11.30, really at eleven
o'clock, as in the Pitt Place document. At about twelve o'clock, midnight,
the valet rushed in among the guests, who were discussing the odd
circumstances, and said that his master was at the point of death. Lord
Lyttelton had kept looking at his watch, and at a quarter past twelve (by
his chronometer and his valet's) he remarked, 'This mysterious lady is not
a true prophetess, I find.' The real hour was then a quarter to twelve. At
about half-past twelve, by HIS watch, twelve by the real time, he asked
for his physic. The valet went into the dressing-room to prepare it (to
fetch a spoon by other versions), when he heard his master 'breathing very
hard.' 'I ran to him, and found him in the agonies of death.'
There is something rather plausible in this narrative, corresponding, as
it does, with the Pitt Place document, in which the valet, finding his
master in a fit, leaves him and seeks assistance, instead of lowering his
head that he might breathe more easily. Like the other, this tale makes
suicide a most improbable explanation of Lord Lyttelton's death. The
affair of the watches is dramatic, but not improbable in itself. A
correspondent of 'The Gentleman's Magazine' (in 1815) only cites 'a London
paper' as his authority. The writer of 'Past Feelings Renovated' (1828)
adds that Mr. Andrews could never again be induced to sleep at Pitt Place,
but, when visiting there, always lay at the Spread Eagle, in Epsom.
Let us now tabulate our results.
At Pitt Place, Epsom, or Hill Street, Berkeley Square, On November 24,
Lord Lyttelton Dreamed of, or saw, A young woman and a robin. A bird which
became a woman. A dove and a woman. Mrs. Amphlett (without a dove or
robin). Some one else unknown.
In one variant, a clock and a preternatural light are thrown in, with a
sermon which it were superfluous to quote. In another we have the
derangement of clocks and watches. Lord Lyttelton's stepmother believed in
the dove. Lady Lyttelton did without a dove, but admitted a fluttering
For causes of death we have—heart disease (a newspaper), breaking of
a blood-vessel (Mason), suicide (Coulton), and 'a suffocating fit' (Pitt
Place document). The balance is in favour of a suffocating fit, and is
against suicide. On the whole, if we follow the Pitt Place Anonymous
(writing some time after the event, for he calls Mr. Fortescue 'Lord
Fortescue'), we may conclude that Lord Lyttelton had been ill for some
time. The making of his will suggests a natural apprehension on his part,
rather than a purpose of suicide. There was a lively impression of coming
death on his mind, but how it was made—whether by a dream, an
hallucination, or what not—there is no good evidence to show.
There is every reason to believe, on the Pitt Place evidence, combined
with the making of his will, that Lord Lyttelton had really, for some
time, suffered from alarming attacks of breathlessness, due to what cause
physicians may conjecture. Any one of these fits, probably, might cause
death, if the obvious precaution of freeing the head and throat from
encumbrances were neglected; and the Pitt Place document asserts that the
frightened valet DID neglect it. Again, that persons under the strong
conviction of approaching death will actually die is proved by many
examples. Even Dr. Hibbert says that 'no reasonable doubt can be placed on
the authenticity of the narrative' of Miss Lee's death, 'as it was drawn
up by the Bishop of Gloucester' (Dr. William Nicholson) 'from the recital
of the young lady's father,' Sir Charles Lee. Every one knows the tale. In
a preternatural light, in a midnight chamber, Miss Lee saw a woman, who
proclaimed herself Miss Lee's dead mother, 'and that by twelve o'clock of
the day she should be with her.' So Miss Lee died in her chair next day,
on the stroke of noon, and Dr. Hibbert rather heartlessly calls this 'a
The Rev. Mr. Fison, in 'Kamilaroi and Kurnai,' gives, from his own
experience, similar tales of death following alleged ghostly warnings,
among Fijians and Australian blacks. Lord Lyttelton's uneasiness and
apprehension are conspicuous in all versions; his dreams had long been
troubled, his health had caused him anxiety, the 'warning' (whatever it
may have been) clinched the matter, and he died a perfectly natural death.
Mr. Coulton, omitting Walpole's statement that he 'looked ill,' and never
alluding to the Pitt Place description of his very alarming symptoms, but
clinging fondly to his theory of Junius, perorates thus: 'Not Dante, or
Milton, or Shakespeare himself, could have struck forth a finer conception
than Junius, in the pride of rank, wealth, and dignities, raised to the
Council table of the sovereign he had so foully slandered—yet sick
at heart and deeply stained with every profligacy—terminating his
career by deliberate self-murder, with every accompaniment of audacious
charlatanry that could conceal the crime.'
It is magnificent, it is worthy of Dante, or Shakespeare himself—but
the conception is Mr. Coulton's.
We do not think that we have provided what Dr. Johnson 'liked,' 'evidence
for the spiritual world.' Nor have we any evidence explanatory of the
precise nature of Lord Lyttelton's hallucination. The problem of the
authorship of the 'Junius Letters' is a malstrom into which we decline to
But it is fair to observe that all the discrepancies in the story of the
'warning' are not more numerous, nor more at variance with each other,
than remote hearsay reports of any ordinary occurrence are apt to be. And
we think it is plain that, if Lord Lyttelton WAS Junius, Mr. Coulton had
no right to allege that Junius went and hanged himself, or, in any other
way, was guilty of self-murder.