A Critical Gossip with Lady Mary
The character of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is about as
little known to the generality of readers as the source of the Nile, or the
precise position of the North Pole. She has taken her place in public
estimation as a forward, witty, voluptuous woman of fashion, who
flirted, if she did not intrigue, with Pope; who was initiated into all
the mysteries of a Turkish harem, and who chronicled those mysteries
with no very delicate hand:—who affected friendships, lampooned
her associates, and wrote verses of single-entendre; who married
rashly, loved unwisely, and led a life of ultra-friendship and long
unexplained divorce. Such is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu supposed
to be! so prone is biography to perpetuate the fleeting scandals of
the day, to distort mystery or obscurity into indecorum or baseness,
and to darken and discolour the stream of time with the filth that is
vulgarly and maliciously thrown into it at its source. The period appears
to have arrived at which Lady Mary's character has obtained
the power of purifying itself. With many faults, constitutional as
well as acquired, there can be no doubt that she was a lady of surpassing
powers of mind, of extreme wit, an easy command of her
own as well as of the learned languages, a surprising knowledge of
the world even in her youth, a vivid poetical imagination, a heart full
of foibles, but fuller of love for her own circle, and that of her
friends; and, above all, an abundance of common sense, which regulated her
affections, her actions, her reflections, and her style, so as to render
her the most accomplished lady of her own, or of the subsequent age.
We do not think we can do justice to this fascinating creature in a
better way than by lounging through the three volumes which Lord
Wharncliffe's ancestral love, literary ability, and elegant taste, have
given to the world. We may gossip with this work as we might with
her who originated it, stroll with her in her favourite gardens, listen
to her verses, catch her agreeable anecdotes, receive her valuable
observations on human nature, as though she were actually before us in
her splendid and eternal nightgown, or in her Turkish dress, (so sweet
in Lord Harrington's charming miniature) or in her domino at Venice,
or in her lute-string, or in her English court-dress. Our gossip,
however,—save as to the remarks we may, to use the phrase of the
dramatist, utter aside to that vast pit, the public,—will very much
resemble that between Macbeth and the armed head, at which the
witches give their admonitory caution. That caution will not be lost
upon us—for it will nearly be,—
"Hear her speak,
and say thou nought."
The introduction to this interesting work is from the editor,
and it is written with a Walpole felicity in its points, though we would rather
have had it more continuous than anecdotical. Our purpose we
have professed to be, to gossip with Lady Mary, and we therefore
shall make but two extracts from the introduction,—the one because
it is perhaps leaning to the unfeeling; the other, because it is
indisputably the truth of feeling. Madame de Sevigné did not deserve the
phrase which we have marked in italics in the following passage, and
indeed Lady Mary, in one of her letters, announces herself as a successful
rival of this very agreeable French letter-writer,—an announcement
which ought to have cautioned an editor against depreciating
the powers of one whom the edited had chosen to select as a rival.
"The modern world will smile, but should however beware
of too hastily despising works that charmed Lady Mary Wortley in her
youth, and were courageously defended by Madame de Sevigné even
when hers was past, and they began to be sliding out of fashion. She,
it seems, thought with the old woman just now mentioned, that they
had a tendency to elevate the mind, and to instil honourable and generous
sentiments. At any rate they must have fostered application
and perseverance, by accustoming their readers to what the French
term des ouvrages de longue haleine. After resolutely mastering
Clelia, nobody could pretend to quail at the aspect of Mezeray, or even
at that of Holinshed's Chronicle printed in black letter. Clarendon,
Burnet, and Rapin, had not yet issued into daylight."
With the foregoing extract (and all critics should get
rid of their bile as quickly as they can) all that is unpleasant is at rest.
Let us give the following feeling, beautiful anecdote.
"The name of another young friend will excite more
attention—Mrs. Anne Wortley. Mrs. Anne has a most mature sound to our
modern ears; but, in the phraseology of those days, Miss, which had
hardly yet ceased to be a term of reproach, still denoted childishness,
flippancy, or some other contemptible quality, and was rarely applied
to young ladies of a respectable class. In Steele's Guardian, the
youngest of Nestor Ironside's wards, aged fifteen, is Mrs. Mary Lizard.
Nay, Lady Bute herself could remember having been styled Mrs.
Wortley, when a child, by two or three elderly visitors, as tenacious of
their ancient modes of speech as of other old fashions. Mrs. Anne,
then, was the second daughter of Mr. Sidney
Wortley Montagu, and the favourite sister of his son Edward. She died in
the bloom of youth, unmarried. Lady Mary, in common with others who had
known her, represented her as eminently pretty and agreeable; and
her brother so cherished her memory, that, in after times, his little
girl knew it to be the highest mark of his favour, when, pointing at
herself, he said to her mother, "Don't you think she grows like my
poor sister Anne?"
Lady Mary had Lord Byron's fate. She wrote a journal
of her life; she became the historian of her own genius, her youthful love,
and her young trials. It chanced to be her fate, that the one into
whose hands her manuscript fell, considered it her duty (wisely and
affectionately, or not, is immaterial for our purposes) to doom it to be
a work of destruction. It is hard for genius that it cannot find an
executor who regards the future in preference to the present; who
cannot absolve himself from immediate ties, living incumbrances,
pressing prejudices, conceived personalities,—to yield immortality its
due!—who, in fact, in the blindness of temporary fears and temporary
associations, classes that which he holds, erringly as that of
the age,—which should be, and in its spirit was destined to be, "for
all time." We have mentioned two immortal names; and before we
pass into the three volumes, we cannot help endeavouring to connect
them in the minds of our readers, as they are by their spirit connected
in ours. Lord Byron was a moody, fiery, brooding child,—full of passion,
obstinacy, and irregularity, in his teens;—Lady Mary was a
single-thinking, classical, daring, inspired girl long under one-and-twenty.
Lord Byron at a plunge formed his own spreading circles on
the glittering still-life lake of fashionable society: Lady Mary with
her beauty and her genius effected the same result by the same impetuosity.
Lady Mary made, as it would appear, a cold unsatisfactory
marriage, but, it must be admitted, with one possessed of a patience
untainted by genius:—Lord Byron iced himself into the connubial state,
but shuddered at its coldness. The press, and the poets, and the
prosers united with serene ferocity against both. Both, alas! were
"Souls made of fire and children of the sun,
With whom revenge was virtue!"
Their revenge was mutual-minded. Misunderstood, calumniated,
they quitted the land which was not worthy of them. Genius-borne, they
both passed to the east; and to them we owe the most sensible,—the
most passioned,—the most voluptuous,—and the most inspired pictures
of "the land of the citron and myrtle," that have ever waked
the wish and melted the heart of us southron readers. A mysterious
divorcement from the marital partner marked the absence—the long
last absence—of each! Mind-banished,—person-expatriated,—they
vented upon their country that revenge of which injured genius can
alone be capable. And looking at the calumnies upon the one, and
the female animosities towards the other,—regarding the banishment
of mental beauty and magic power in both,—we cannot better convey
to our readers the revenge which genius gave, and must ever give,
than by making a common cause of the two, and explaining it in the
inimitable lines of the one.
"And if my voice break forth, 'tis not that now
I shrink from what is suffered; let him speak
Who hath beheld decline upon my brow,
Or seen my mind's convulsion leave it weak
But in this page a record will I seek.
Not in the air shall these my words disperse,
Tho' I be ashes; a far hour shall wreak
The deep prophetic fullness of this verse,
And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse.
That curse shall be forgiveness!"—
This is indeed the inspiration of forgiveness. We feel an
awe after reading this humane and lofty imprecation, which calls for a pause.
There is the same feeling upon us from which we cannot escape,
as that to which we are subject when we wander under the arched
roof and sculptured aisles,—in the breathing, breathless, cathedral
silence,—in the awful stone repose,—in the contemplation of
"The uplifted palms,
the silent marble lips!"
The similarity between the genius of Byron and that of Lady Mary,
and their fates,—except as to the death and duration of life of the
two, (the one dying at the age of thirty-seven, and the other at the
age of seventy-three,—a sad and strange reverse figures!)—are
singularly interesting and affecting. The one,—sexually to distinguish
them,—was Rousseau with a heart,—the other De Staël
with one.—But we grow serious, critical, and minute. We are not certain
that we are not growing anatomical. We shall therefore enter upon our
conversazione with our charming, high-born, easy
caftan,—Minerva,—Lady Mary Wortley Montagu!
We pass silently over her biography, and at once commence
with the unmarried Lady Mary Pierrepont and the married Montagu!
What can be livelier than the following York picture. It is
Hogarthian!—and let it not be forgotten that the lady was
only twenty, and unwedded.
"TO MRS. WORTLEY."
"I return you a thousand thanks, my dear,
for so agreeable an entertainment as your letter in our cold climate, where the
sun appears unwillingly—Wit is as wonderfully pleasing as a sun-shiny day;
and, to speak poetically, Phœbus is very sparing of all his favours.
I fancied your letter an emblem of yourself: in some parts I found the
softness of your voice, and in others the vivacity of your eyes: you
are to expect no return but humble and hearty thanks, yet I can't
forbear entertaining you with our York lovers. (Strange monsters
you'll think, love being as much forced up here as melons.) In the
first form of these creatures, is even Mr. Vanbrug. Heaven, no doubt,
compassionating our dulness, has inspired him with a passion that
make us all ready to die with laughing: 'tis credibly reported that he
is endeavouring at the honourable state of matrimony, and vows to
lead a sinful life no more. Whether pure holiness inspires the mind,
or dotage turns his brain, is hard to find. 'Tis certain he keeps Monday
and Thursday market (assembly day) constantly; and for those
that don't regard worldly muck, there's extraordinary good choice indeed.
I believe last Monday there were two hundred pieces of woman's
flesh (fat and lean): but you know Van's taste was always
odd: his inclination to ruins has given him a fancy for Mrs. Yarborough:
he sighs and ogles so, that it would do your heart good to see
him; and she is not a little pleased in so small a proportion of men
amongst such a number of women, that a whole man should fall to
her share. My dear, adieu, My service to Mr. Congreve.
There is a charming poem by Lady Mary, which is
singularly supported by her letters. It certainly acknowledges a love of pleasure
which is not "quite correct;" but it is so unaffected,—so
melodious,—so heartfelt,—so confiding,—that we could read it,
and read it, "for ever and a day!"
"THE LOVER: A BALLAD.
"TO MR. CONGREVE.
"At length, by so much importunity press'd,
Take, Congreve, at once the inside of my breast.
This stupid indiff'rence so often you blame,
Is not owing to nature, to fear, or to shame:
I am not as cold as a virgin in lead,
Nor are Sunday's sermons so strong in my head:
I know but too well how time flies along,
That we live but few years, and yet fewer are young.
But I hate to be cheated, and never will buy
Long years of repentance for moments of joy.
Oh! was there a man (but where shall I find
Good sense and good nature so equally join'd?)
Would value his pleasure, contribute to mine;
Not meanly would boast, nor lewdly design;
Not over severe, yet not stupidly vain,
For I would have the power, though not give the pain.
No pedant, yet learned; no rake-helly gay,
Or laughing, because he has nothing to say;
To all my whole sex obliging and free,
Yet never be fond of any but me;
In public preserve the decorum that's just,
And shew in his eyes he is true to his trust!
Then rarely approach, and respectfully bow,
But not fulsomely pert, nor yet foppishly low.
But when the long hours of public are past,
And we meet with champaign and a chicken at last,
May every fond pleasure that moment endear;
Be banish'd afar both discretion and fear!
Forgetting or scorning the airs of the crowd,
He may cease to be formal, and I to be proud,
Till lost in the joy, we confess that we live,
And he may be rude, and yet I may forgive.
And that my delight may be solidly fix'd,
Let the friend and the lover be handsomely mix'd;
In whose tender bosom my soul may confide,
Whose kindness can soothe me, whose counsel can guide.
From such a dear lover as hero I describe,
No danger should fright me, no millions should bribe;
But till this astonishing creature I know,
As I long have liv'd chaste, I will keep myself so.
I never will share with the wanton coquette,
Or be caught by a vain affectation of wit.
The toasters and songsters may try all their art,
But never shall enter the pass of my heart.
I loathe the lewd rake, the dress'd fopling despise:
Before such pursuers the nice virgin flies;
And as Ovid has sweetly in parable told,
We harden like trees, and like rivers grow cold."
This delightful epistle to Congreve appears to have been written
at the time she resided at Twickenham,—lured there by the quiet and
loveliness of that classic spot, and the fascination of Pope's society.
The following letter would seem to confirm the sincerity of these
racy verses;—and the presence of "Doctor Swift and Johnny Gay,"
—ballad-writing too,—must have had some influence over the pen
of the poetess.
"TO THE COUNTESS OF MAR.
—I was very glad to hear from you, though there
was something in your letters very monstrous and shocking. I wonder
with what conscience you can talk to me of your being an old
woman; I beg I may hear no more on't. For my part I pretend to
be as young as ever, and really am as young as needs to be, to all intents
and purposes. I attribute all this to your living so long at Chatton,
and fancy a week at Paris will correct such wild imaginations,
and set things in a better light. My cure for lowness of spirits is not
drinking nasty water, but galloping all day, and a moderate glass of
champaign at night in good company; and I believe this regimen,
closely followed, is one of the most wholesome that can be prescribed,
and may save one a world of filthy doses, and more filthy doctor's
fees at the year's end. I rode to Twickenham last night, and, after
so long a stay in town, am not sorry to find myself in my garden;
our neighbourhood is something improved by the removal of some old
maids, and the arrival of some fine gentlemen, amongst whom are
Lord Middleton and Sir J. Gifford, who are, perhaps, your acquaintances:
they live with their aunt, Lady Westmoreland, and we endeavour
to make the country agreeable to one another.
"Doctor Swift and Johnny Gay are at Pope's,
and their conjunction has produced a ballad,
which, if nobody else has sent you, I will, being never better pleased
than when I am endeavouring to amuse my dear sister, and ever yours,
What a picture we have of Mrs. Lowther! How the Mall
is revived with its strollers of fashion and beauty!
"I am yet in this wicked town, but purpose to leave
it as soon as the parliament rises. Mrs. Murray and all her satellites have so
seldom fallen in my way, I can say little about them. Your old friend Mrs. Lowther
is still fair and young, and in pale pink every night in the parks."
To the name of Mrs. Lowther is appended the following
note,—and we do not know that we ever remember an anecdote,
in years, better set off.
"Mrs. Lowther was a respectable woman, single, and,
as it appears by the text, not willing to own herself middle-aged. Another lady
happened to be sitting at breakfast with her when an awkward country
lad, new in her service, brought word that 'there was one as
begged to speak to her.'—'What is his name?'—'Don't know.'—'What
sort of person? a gentleman?'—'Can't say rightly.'—'Go
and ask him his business.'—The fellow returned grinning. 'Why,
madam, he says as how—he says he is—'—'Well, what does he say,
fool?'—'He says he is one as dies for your ladyship.'—'Dies for
me! exclaimed the lady, the more incensed from seeing her friend
inclined to laugh as well as her footman,—'was there ever such a
piece of insolence! Turn him out of my house this minute. And
hark ye, shut the door in his face.' The clown obeyed; but going
to work more roughly than John Bull will ever admit of, produced a
scuffle that disturbed the neighbours and called in the constable. At
last the audacious lover, driven to explain himself, proved nothing
worse than an honest tradesman, a dyer, whom her ladyship often employed
to refresh her old gowns."
Can the following trifle of whipt fashion and satire
be surpassed even by the pointed and light pleasantries of Walpole?
"My Lady Stafford set out towards France this morning, and has
carried half the pleasures of my life along with her; I am more stupid
than I can describe, and am as full of moral reflections as either Cambray
or Pascal. I think of nothing but the nothingness of the good
things of this world, the transitoriness of its joys, the pungency of its
sorrows, and many discoveries that have been made these three thousand
years, and committed to print ever since the first erecting of
presses. I advise you, as the best thing you can do that day, let it
happen as it will, to visit Lady Stafford: she has the goodness to
carry with her a true-born Englishwoman, who is neither good nor
bad, nor capable of being either; Lady Phil Prat by name, of the
Hamilton family, and who will be glad of your acquaintance, and you
can never be sorry for hers.
"Peace or war, cross or pile, makes all the conversation; this town
never was fuller, and, God be praised, some people brille in it who
brilled twenty years ago. My cousin Buller is of that number, who
is just what she was in all respects when she inhabited Bond-street.
The sprouts of this age are such green withered things, 'tis a great
comfort to us grown up people: I except my own daughter, who is to
be the ornament of the ensuing court. I beg you will exact from Lady
Stafford a particular of her perfections, which would sound suspected
from my hand; at the same time I must do justice to a little twig belonging
to my sister Gower. Miss Jenny is like the Duchess of
Queensberry both in face and spirit. A propos of family affairs: I
had almost forgot our dear and amiable cousin Lady Denbigh, who
has blazed out all this winter; she has brought with her from Paris
cart-loads of riband, surprising fashion, and of a complexion of the
last edition, which naturally attracts all the she and he fools in London;
and accordingly she is surrounded with a little court of both,
and keeps a Sunday assembly to shew she has learned to play at cards
on that day. Lady Frances Fielding
is really the prettiest woman in
town, and has sense enough to make one's heart ache to see her surrounded
with such fools as her relations are. The man in England
that gives the greatest pleasure, and the greatest pain, is a youth of
royal blood, with all his grandmother's beauty, wit and good qualities.
In short, he is Nell Gwin in person, with the sex altered, and
occasions such fracas amongst the ladies of gallantry that it passes
description. You'll stare to hear of her Grace of Cleveland at the head
of them. If I was poetical I would tell you—
"The god of love, enrag'd to see
The nymph despise his flame,
At dice and cards misspend her nights,
And slight a nobler game;
"For the neglect of offers past
And pride in days of yore,
He kindles up a fire at last,
That burns her at threescore.
"A polish'd wile is smoothly spread
Where whilome wrinkles lay;
And, glowing with an artful red,
She ogles at the play.
"Along the Mall she softly sails,
In white and silver drest;
Her neck expos'd to Eastern gales,
And jewels on her breast.
"Her children banish'd, age forgot,
Lord Sidney is her care;
And, what is a much happier lot,
Has hopes to be her heir.
"This is all true history, though it is doggerel rhyme: in good earnest
she has turned Lady D—— and family out of doors to make
room for him, and there he lies like leaf-gold upon a pill; there never
was so violent and so indiscreet a passion. Lady Stafford says nothing
was ever like it, since Phædra and Hippolitus.—'Lord ha' mercy
upon us! See what we may all come to!'
Again—the following words are as colours taken
from the pallet of a Sir Joshua:
"I cannot deny, but that I was very well diverted
on the Coronation day. I saw the procession much at my ease, in a house which I
filled with my own company, and then got into Westminster-hall
without trouble, where it was very entertaining to observe the variety
of airs that all meant the same thing. The business of every walker
there was to conceal vanity and gain admiration. For these purposes
some languished and others strutted; but a visible satisfaction was
diffused over every countenance, as soon as the coronet was clapped
on the head. But she that drew the greatest number of eyes, was
indisputably Lady Orkney. She exposed behind a mixture of fat and
wrinkles; and before, a very considerable protuberance which preceded
her. Add to this, the inimitable roll of her eyes, and her grey
hairs, which by good fortune stood directly upright, and 'tis impossible
to imagine a more delightful spectacle. She had embellished all this
with considerable magnificence, which made her look as big again as
usual; and I should have thought her one of the largest things of
God's making if my Lady St. J**n had not displayed all her charms in
honour of the day. The poor Duchess of M***se crept along with a
dozen of black snakes playing round her face, and my Lady P***nd
(who is fallen away since her dismission from court) represented very
finely an Egyptian mummy embroidered over with hieroglyphics."
Lady Mary read, and of course loved, the writings of Fielding.
He was related to her. She had in her service a Fanny at the time she
read Joseph Andrews, and thus she writes of her:
"TO THE COUNTESS OF BUTE.
"My dear Child,—
have at length received the box, with the
books enclosed, for which I give you many thanks, as they amused me
very much. I gave a very ridiculous proof of it, fitter indeed for my
grand-daughter than myself. I returned from a party on horseback:
and after having rode twenty miles, part of it by moonshine, it was
ten at night when I found the box arrived. I could not deny myself
the pleasure of opening it; and falling upon Fielding's works, was
fool enough to sit up all night reading. I think Joseph Andrews better
than his Foundling. I believe I was the more struck with it, having
at present a Fanny in my own house, not only by the name, which
happens to be the same, but the extraordinary beauty, joined with an
understanding yet more extraordinary at her age, which is but few
months past sixteen: she is in the post of my chambermaid. I fancy
you will tax my discretion for taking a servant thus qualified; but my
woman, who is also my housekeeper, was always teizing me with her
having too much work, and complaining of ill health, which determined
me to take her a deputy; and when I was at Louvere, where I
drank the waters, one of the most considerable merchants there pressed
me to take this daughter of his: her mother has an uncommon
good character, and the girl has had a better education than is usual
for those of her rank; she writes a good hand, and has been brought
up to keep accounts, which she does to great perfection; and had herself
such a violent desire to serve me, that I was persuaded to take
her: I do not yet repent it from any part of her behaviour. But there
has been no peace in the family ever since she came into it; I might
say the parish, all the women in it having declared open war with her,
and the men endeavouring all treaties of a different sort: my own
woman puts herself at the head of the first party, and her spleen is
increased by having no reason for it. The young creature is never
stirring from my apartment, always at her needle, and never
complaining of any thing. You will laugh at this tedious account of my
domestics (if you have patience to read it over), but I have few other
subjects to talk of."
Nothing can be livelier or happier than the following agreeable
outbreak at Lady J. Wharton lavishing herself away upon one unworthy her.
"Lady J. Wharton is to be married to Mr. Holt, which
I am sorry for;—to see a young woman that I really think one of the agreeablest
girls upon earth so vilely misplaced—but where are people matched!—I
suppose we shall all come right in Heaven; as in a country dance,
the hands are strangely given and taken, while they are in motion, at
last all meet their partners when the jig is done."
The observations on Richardson are a little too harsh,—
but the sobbing over his works is a compliment which no criticism could dry up.
"This Richardson is a strange fellow. I heartily despise
him, and eagerly read him, nay, sob over his works, in a most scandalous manner.
The two first tomes of Clarissa touched me, as being very resembling
to my maiden days; and I find in the pictures of Sir Thomas
Grandison and his lady, what I have heard of my mother, and
seen of my father."
Time having made us wiser than the Wortley,
it is amusing to see her guessing at and confounding authors and their works.
"TO THE COUNTESS OF BUTE.
"My dear Child,—I have promised
you some remarks on all the books I have received. I believe you would easily forgive
my not keeping my word; however, I shall go on. The Rambler is certainly
a strong misnomer; he always plods in the beaten road of his predecessors,
following the Spectator (with the same pace a pack-horse
would do a hunter) in the style that is proper to lengthen a paper.
These writers may, perhaps, be of service to the public, which is saying
a great deal in their favour. There are numbers of both sexes
who never read anything but such productions, and cannot spare time,
from doing nothing, to go through a sixpenny pamphlet. Such gentle
readers may be improved by a moral hint, which, though repeated over
and over, from generation to generation, they never heard in their
lives. I should be glad to know the name of this laborious author.
H. Fielding has given a true picture of himself and his first wife, in
the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Booth, some compliments to his own
figure excepted; and, I am persuaded, several of the incidents he
mentions are real matters of fact. I wonder he does not perceive Tom
Jones and Mr. Booth are sorry scoundrels. All this sort of books have
the same fault, which I cannot easily pardon, being very mischievous.
They place a merit in extravagant passions, and encourage young
people to hope for impossible events, to draw them out of the misery
they choose to plunge themselves into, expecting legacies from unknown
relations, and generous benefactors to distressed virtue, as
much out of nature as fairy treasures. Fielding has really a fund of
true humour, and was to be pitied at his first entrance into the world,
having no choice, as he said himself, but to be a hackney writer, or a
hackney coachman. His genius deserved a better fate: but I cannot
help blaming that continued indiscretion, to give it the softest name,
that has run through his life, and I am afraid still remains. I guessed
R. Random to be his, though without his name. I cannot think Ferdinand
Fathom wrote by the same hand, it is every way so much
below it. Sally Fielding has mended her style in her last volume of
David Simple, which conveys a useful moral, though she does not
seem to have intended it: I mean, shews the ill consequences of not
providing against casual losses, which happen to almost everybody.
Mrs. Orgueil's character is well drawn, and is frequently to be met
with. The Art of Tormenting, the Female Quixote, and Sir C. Goodville,
are all sale work. I suppose they proceed from her pen, and I
heartily pity her, constrained by her circumstances to seek her bread
by a method, I do not doubt, she despises. Tell me who is that
accomplished countess she celebrates. I left no such person in London;
nor can I imagine who is meant by the English Sappho mentioned
in Betsy Thoughtless, whose adventures, and those of Jemmy
Jessamy, gave me some amusement. I was better entertained by the
valet, who very fairly represents how you are bought and sold by your
servants. I am now so accustomed to another manner of treatment,
it would be difficult to me to suffer them: his adventures have the
uncommon merit of ending in a surprising manner. The general want
of invention which reigns among our writers inclines me to think it is
not the natural growth of our island, which has not sun enough to warm
the imagination. The press is loaded by the servile flock of imitators.
Lord Bolingbroke would have quoted Horace in this place. Since I
was born, no original has appeared excepting Congreve, and Fielding,
who would, I believe, have approached nearer to his excellencies, if
not forced, by necessity, to publish without correction, and throw
many productions into the world, he would have thrown into the fire,
if meat could have been got without money, or money without scribbling.
The greatest virtue, justice, and the most distinguishing prerogative
of mankind, writing, when duly executed, do honour to human
nature; but, when degenerated into trades, are the most contemptible
ways of getting bread. I am sorry not to see any more of
Peregrine Pickle's performances; I wish you would tell me his name!"
An ancestor of Lord Moira was capable of making a nice distinction:
"I cannot believe Sir John's advancement is owing
to his merit, tho' he certainly deserves such a distinction; but I am persuaded
the present disposers of such dignitys are neither more clear-sighted,
or more disinterested than their predecessors. Even since I knew
the world, Irish patents have been hung out to sale, like the laced
and embroidered coats in Monmouth-street, and bought up by the
same sort of people; I mean those who had rather wear shabby
finery than no finery at all; though I don't suppose this was Sir
John's case. That good creature, (as the country saying is,) has not
a bit of pride about him. I dare swear he purchased his title for
the same reason he used to purchase pictures in Italy; not because
he wanted to buy, but because somebody or other wanted to sell.
He hardly ever opened his mouth but to say 'What you please, sir;'—'Your
humble servant;' or some gentle expression to the same
effect. It is scarce credible that with this unlimited complaisance
he should draw a blow upon himself; yet it so happened that one of
his own countrymen was brute enough to strike him. As it was done
before many witnesses, Lord Mansel heard of it; and thinking that
if poor Sir John took no notice of it, he would suffer daily insults
of the same kind, out of pure good nature resolved to spirit him
up, at least to some shew of resentment, intending to make up the
matter afterwards in as honourable a manner as he could for the
poor patient. He represented to him very warmly that no gentleman
could take a box on the ear. Sir John answered with great
calmness, 'I know that, but this was not a box on the ear, it was
only a slap o' the face.'"
The following is a smart sketch—perhaps a little too piquant:
"Next to the great ball, what makes the most noise
is the marriage of an old maid, who lives in this street, without a portion, to a man of
7,000l. per annum, and they say 40,000l. in ready money.
Her equipage and liveries outshine any body's in town. He has presented her
with 3,000l. in jewels; and never was man more smitten with these
charms that had lain invisible for these forty years; but, with all his
glory, never bride had fewer enviers, the dear beast of a man is so
filthy, frightful, odious, and detestable. I would turn away such a
footman for fear of spoiling my dinner, while he waited at table.
They were married on Friday, and came to church en parade on
Sunday. I happened to sit in the pew with them, and had the
honour of seeing Mrs. Bride fall fast asleep in the middle of the
sermon, and snore very comfortably; which made several women
in the church think the bridegroom not quite so ugly as they did before.
Envious people say 'twas all counterfeited to please him, but
I believe that to be scandal; for I dare swear, nothing but downright
necessity could make her miss one word of the sermon. He professes
to have married her for her devotion, patience, meekness, and
other Christian virtues he observed in her: his first wife (who has
left no children) being very handsome, and so good-natured as to
have ventured her own salvation to secure his. He has married this
lady to have a companion in that paradise where his first has given
him a title. I believe I have given you too much of this couple;
but they are not to be comprehended in few words.
"My dear Mrs. Hewet, remember me and believe that
nothing can put you out of my head."
The noble dukes of the present day, and the learned members of
the faculty, are by no means of so sportive a turn as they were in the
goodly times of Mrs. Hewet. We confess we should like to have to
get up some fine morning to be in St. James's Park in time to see
some such elegant struggle between the Duke of Devonshire and Sir
Henry Halford as the following:
"There is another story that I had from a hand I dare
depend upon. The Duke of Grafton and Dr. Garth ran a foot-match in the
Mall of 200 yards, and the latter, to his immortal glory, beat."
With a strong turn for building herself, Lady Mary makes some
sensible remarks on its folly in others.
"Building is the general weakness of old people; I
have had a twitch of it myself, though certainly it is the highest absurdity,
and as sure a proof of dotage as pink-coloured ribands, or even matrimony.
Nay, perhaps, there is more to be said in defence of the last; I mean
in a childless old man; he may prefer a boy born in his own house,
though he knows it is not his own, to disrespectful or worthless nephews
or nieces. But there is no excuse for beginning an edifice he
can never inhabit, or probably see finished. The Duchess of Marlborough
used to ridicule the vanity of it, by saying one might always
live upon other people's follies: yet you see she built the most ridiculous
house I ever saw, since it really is not habitable, from the excessive
damps; so true it is, the things that we would do, those do we
not, and the things we would not do, those do we daily. I feel in
myself a proof of this assertion, being much against my will at Venice,
though I own it is the only great town where I can properly reside, yet
here I find so many vexations, that, in spite of all my philosophy, and
(what is more powerful,) my phlegm, I am oftner out of humour than
among my plants and poultry in the country. I cannot help being
concerned at the success of iniquitous schemes, and grieve for oppressed
merit. You, who see these things every day, think me as unreasonable,
in making them matter of complaint, as if I seriously
lamented the change of seasons. You should consider I have lived
almost a hermit ten years, and the world is as new to me as to a
country girl transported from Wales to Coventry. I know I ought to
think my lot very good, that can boast of some sincere friends among
But we must put an end to this agreeable conference,—though
we think, that if we could for ever listen to such vivid gossip, we should
never grow old. We had intended to have treated of the romantic
intimacy, and subsequent determined hatred, that existed between
Lady Mary and Pope; but our limits warn us that we must not
indulge in a lengthy discussion of the subject. She, it is clear, was
flattered by his wit and his mental beauty. In him real passion took
root. His advances she appears to have repulsed, and he was thus
suddenly driven to the galling contemplation of his own person, and
he at once from the adoring poet became the "Deformed Transformed"
into hate itself. Byron never forgave an allusion to his
lameness. The separation of Mr. Wortley from his accomplished
wife still remains unexplained; but it is clear that kindly and
respectful feelings were preserved unblemished between them; and there is
a delicate tenderness in each towards the other in the veriest trifles,
which shows how feeble a thing is absence over sincere affections.
We are rather surprised that no letters from Lady Mary to her
grand-daughter Lady Jane, (one of the daughters of the Countess of
Bute,) have not straggled into print. How beautifully must she
have written to children, and particularly to such a child as Lady
Jane appears to have been! The letters, however, we fear are lost.
If we might be permitted to adopt a new manner of
life, and to pitch our tent in whatever part of his Majesty's dominions we
pleased,—we have no hesitation in saying that we should lose no time in
directing those people, however respectable they may be, who inhabit
Strawberry Hill, to get out! We should then send down by the
Twickenham carrier complete sets of the works of Pope, Swift, Johnny
Gay, and the dear Arbuthnot,—of the Letters of Horace Walpole, of
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Pepys' Memoirs, Evelyn's Memoirs,
Shakspeare, and some other works of trifling interest,—begging they may
be placed in that little library with the stained glass. We should
then Ourselves go down!—have a comfortable annuity from government,
and a moderate handful of servants from the neighbourhood;
and there we would pass away our life, "from morn to noon,—from
noon to dewy eve,—a summer's day!" This plan has something in
it so modest and reasonable, that we cannot help thinking it will attract
the attention of the existing ministry, and in the end be realized!