MRS. MONTAGU was born at York on the 2nd of October, 1720. Her father, Matthew Robinson, Esq., of Edgeley, in Yorkshire, was the grandson of Sir Leonard Robinson, the youngest son of Thomas Robinson, Esq., of Berkely, in Yorkshire, who was killed in the civil wars.
At the early age of eighteen, Mr. Robinson married Elizabeth, the daughter, and, subsequently, by the death of her brother, the heiress, of Robert Drake, Esq.
Elizabeth, the elder of Mr. Robinson's two daughters by the above-named lady, was earl distinguished for beauty and wit, and great attention was paid to her education by Dr. Middleton, the author of the Life of Cicero, who was the second husband of her maternal grandmother.
The first seven years of Mrs. Montagu's life were spent at West Layton Hall, which Mr. Robinson derived by inheritance from the heiress of the ancient family of Layton, and at Edgeley, in Wensley Dale, where her father resided during the summer months. The winter was generally passed at York. In one of her letters she refers to the vivid recollection she retained of the funeral of a dean, which she had viewed from a window there, when but four years old. The impression appears to have remained like a picture upon her mind.
At this period of her life, Mr. Robinson was induced to leave Yorkshire for Coveney, in Cambridgeshire, on its becoming the property of his wife, upon the demise of her brother. It was at this time that Miss Robinson became the object of Dr. Middleton's affectionate attention; and it was here that she formed an intimacy, which lasted through life, with Lady Margaret Cavendish Harley, the only daughter and heiress of Edward, second Earl of Oxford.
Notwithstanding some disparity in their age, Lady Margaret being a few years older than Miss Robinson, the girlish acquaintance, which had been commenced during different visits at Wimpole, paid there by the latter with her father and mother, gradually ripened into friendship, and a regular correspondence was kept up by letters, a long series of which have been published, and which give an entertaining account of the pursuits and opinions of Mrs. Montagu in her early youth. Conspicuous throughout these letters are that love of gaiety, and that fondness for society, which Mrs. Montagu retained through life.
Her father, who was a person of great intellectual attainments, and who was endowed with much taste and great talents for conversation, appears to have participated in the dislike felt by his lively daughter for the retirement of a country life, to which, however, from prudential motives, he was induced to submit; and from him she inherited the sarcastic wit, which, in her letters, is perhaps too often exercised in satirical descriptions of her country neighbours. There is, however, no malice discoverable in her lively remarks, and her flippancy was, probably, indulged in to amuse her noble friend and correspondent, who, in 1734, married William, second Duke of Portland.
Miss Robinson's frequent and prolonged visits, both at Bulstrode and Whitehall, appear to have been productive of the greatest pleasure to both parties; and there she had an opportunity of meeting the first society, in which, indeed, from her own connexions, she was well entitled to move.
When Miss Robinson was thirteen years old, her father removed from Cambridgeshire to Mount Morris, near Hythe, in Kent, and here she principally resided, till her marriage in 1742. Of the dulness of this county she makes frequent complaints, although the Robinsons evidently visited all the leading families in the neighbourhood.
More than a century has elapsed since Miss Robinson first went into Kent; yet, so little antiquated is the style of her letters, that they might pass for the composition of a clever and lively girl of the present day. We may gather from them, that our progenitors were not at all wiser than their descendants, and our great grandfathers and mothers were as much occupied with balls and assemblies, elections and races, in the eighteenth as in the nineteenth century. For instance, in 1734, Miss Robinson writes — "Should I give you an account of our bustle about the election, it would not entertain you extremely. I think I may tell you, our new members have given a ball, and I am very glad they met with success, since they have made so good a use of it. I have in winter gone eight miles to dance to the music of a blind fiddler, and returned at two o'clock in the morning, mightily pleased that I had been as well entertained. I am so fond of dancing, that I cannot help fancying I was at some time bit with a tarantula, and never got well cured of it. I shall this year lose my annual dancings at Canterbury races, for my papa has made a resolution (I assure you without my advice) not to go to them.
"Lady Thanet has set an assembly on foot about eight miles from hence, where we all meet at full moon, and dance till twelve o'clock, and then take an agreeable journey home. Our assembly, in full glory, has ten coaches at it. In town the ladies talk of their stars, but here,
If weak women go astray,
The moon is more in fault than they.
Will-o'-wisp never led the bewildered traveller over hedge and ditch, as a moon does us country gentlefolks. A squeaking fiddle is the occasion, and a moonlight night an opportunity, to go ten miles in bad roads at a time."
In the article of roads, indeed, we are considerably improved. Thanks to Mr. M'Adam, an overturn is an event as rare in the present day as it appears then to have been of repeated occurrence. And, perhaps, these adventures, and misadventures, and hair-breadth escapes, gave piquancy to the sameness of a country neighbourhood, and of rural pursuits. They formed a topic of conversation, something to think of and to dilate upon, in the interval occurring between the assembly of the one full moon and that of the following.
But though Miss Robinson's vivacity and love of the ridiculous, might have induced her to describe her country neighbours in somewhat ludicrous terms, it is not to be supposed that they were really as dull and as stupid as she then imagined. Probably every lively girl is equally apt to consider her own neighbourhood in the same light; and, in the present day, we too are, perhaps, equally fond of evincing, by satirical remarks, our sense of our superiority to the circle in which we are doomed to move.
Miss Robinson's good qualities procured her numerous friends, and amongst her earliest correspondents appears Mrs. Donnellan, with whom she became acquainted at Bath, in 1740, during a visit she was making there for her health.
Rash, as she is familiarly termed in the correspondence, was Miss Catherine Dashwood, the "Delia" of the poet; and she seems to have often formed one of the Bulstrode coterie.
Mrs. Anstey, the sister of the author of the Bath Guide, was likewise among Miss Robinson's early correspondents; so also was Dr. Freind, afterwards Dean of Canterbury, the son of Dr. Freind, the head-master of Westminster School, who was, connected with her by his marriage with Miss Grace Robinson, the sister of the Primate of Ireland.
Nine years of Miss Robinson's life were passed in Kent, at Mount Morris, varied by trips to Tunbridge Wells, an occasional excursion to Bath, and repeated visits to Bulstrode and Whitehall. When absent from home, her sister, for whom she entertained the warmest affection, was one of her constant correspondents, and, when writing to her, perhaps her style is more easy than when she was labouring to produce effect in her letters to the Duchess, or when moralising in those to Dr. Freind.
Miss S. Robinson subsequently became the wife of George Lewis Scott, Esq., sub-preceptor in Latin to George III.; but a separation took place early in life, and Mrs. Scott then resided with her friend Lady Barbara Montagu, the sister of Lord Halifax, and became the authoress of several works — The History of Gustavus Ericson, King of Sweden; The History of d'Aubigne; The History of Mecklenburgh; Millennium Hall; and Sir George Ellison, &c. She is said to have equalled her sister in epistolary excellence, but her letters were burnt by her own desire.
Mrs. Montagu was equally fortunate in her brothers, who were literary men and distinguished scholars. Emulation thus produced corresponding zeal in the sisters, and a degree of scholarship unusual in females of that day was the consequence, — as appears from the frequent classical allusions in the letters of Mrs. Montagu. In their domestic circle, too, it is said there was often a struggle for mastery in wit, and superiority in argument; and their mother, from her gentle sedateness, was termed The Speaker, as being the mediator and moderator of their disputes.
This lady died in 1746, and in a letter to Mrs. Freind, Mrs. Montagu gives a touching account of her amiable and tender parent.
In the summer of 1742, Miss Robinson became the wife of Edward Montagu, Esq., grandson to the first Earl of Sandwich, and member for the borough of Huntingdon. He was consequently cousin to Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu, who married Lady Mary Pierrepoint.
Mr. Montagu was considerably older than Miss Robinson; it, therefore, cannot be imagined to have been what is termed a match of affection. Indeed, from her own account, love seems to have been a passion never felt by this vivacious lady. Mr. Montagu was a man of large fortune, of a certain station in the world, having an excellent character; and though, on her part, it probably was a marriage of prudence, yet it seems to have been productive of considerable happiness to both parties, and she everywhere expresses the greatest respect, esteem, and attachment for her husband, and gratitude for his undeviating kindness and attention to her.
Those who may be disposed to quarrel with Miss Robinson for the want of romance in her disposition, which induced her to give her hand, in the first instance unaccompanied by her heart, must remember she was somewhat peculiarly situated. Though accustomed to move in the first circles, yet her father's family was too large for her to expect much fortune, and yet she had acquired a taste for the pleasures and gaieties of this life, and had evidently either formed, or had had the idea impressed upon her, that it was necessary to marry for an establishment. By her marriage, she secured to herself luxuries which had almost become necessaries to her, and the happiness both of Mr. Montagu and of herself appears to have been increased by their union. The society of an amiable and sensible man, for whom she entertained sentiments of respect and esteem, had evidently a most beneficial effect upon her, and the girlish levity of her early years gradually sobered down into a tranquil and cheerful mood of mind.
The birth of a son in the year following her marriage appears to have opened a source of tender emotions, which might not have been expected to have been found in a person of her sprightly disposition. But this beloved object was, shortly after, taken from her, and this, her first sorrow, she felt most acutely.
After her marriage, Mrs. Montagu's time was chiefly divided between Mr. Montagu's houses at Allerthorpe, in Yorkshire, at Sandleford, near Newbury, in Berkshire, and in Dover-street, in London. But though evidently adapting her tastes and pursuits as much as possible to those of her kind husband, yet in her letters, a distaste for retirement, and a love of society, are still apparent, though perhaps in not so great a degree as heretofore. Her health, which was very indifferent, induced her to pay frequent visits to Tunbridge Wells, and this, together with Mr. Montagu's parliamentary and other public duties, produced frequent separations. By the death of a relation of the name of Rogers, Mr. Montagu became possessed of large property in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, whither duty rather than inclination subsequently frequently led them.
Mrs. Montagu was now on intimate terms, not only with many persons of the highest rank and fashion, but also with several of the principal literati of the day. Among these may be enumerated, Lord Lyttelton, the Earl of Bath, Gilbert West, Dr. Moncey, Mr. Stillingfleet, Lord Chatham and his sister, Dr. Young, Hume, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Chapone, Miss Talbot, Mrs. Boscawen, Miss Burney, and Mrs. Vesey. With many of these Mrs. Montagu regularly corresponded, and the letters which passed between herself and Mrs. Carter evince that in learning Mrs. Montagu far exceeded the generality of her sex.
In conjunction with her friend, Lord Lyttelton, she wrote Dialogues of the Dead, the three last of which were her composition, and the whole of which were most favourably received by the public. Her frequent ill-health, however, together with her other numerous engagements, probably prevented her at the time from commencing any other literary undertaking.
In 1763, Mrs. Montagu, accompanied by her husband, Lord Bath, and Miss Carter, made a tour to Spa, and to some parts of Germany; and about this time she also travelled in France, where she was greatly shocked with the depressed and miserable condition of the peasantry. She subsequently paid another visit to that country, in company with tier nephew and heir, Mr. Montagu, and his tutor, Mr. Blondell; her godson Montagu Pennington, the nephew of Mrs. Carter; and Miss Gregory, the daughter of Dr. Gregory, afterwards the wife of Dr. Alison, whose early years were almost entirely spent with Mrs. Montagu.
In 1770, accompanied by Mrs. Chapone and Dr. Gregory, she made a tour in Scotland, when she received great and marked attention from the literati of Edinburgh; and on their return home, they visited Hagley, the celebrated seat of Lord Lyttelton. Some years after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Montagu removed from Dover-street to a very elegant house in Hill-street, where she fitted up a room in the Chinese style, to which frequent allusions are made by her correspondents. It was not till after she became a widow that she removed, in 1781, into the magnificent mansion she built for herself in Portman-square. This is now the property of her great nephew, the present Lord Rokeby.
It was in the house at Hill-street, however, that the celebrated meetings of the Bas-bleu Society originally took place, which perhaps were the first and only attempts at a literary conversazione for both sexes in England.
The "Gens de Lettres," or "Blue Stockings," as they were commonly denominated, formed a very numerous, powerful, compact phalanx in the midst of London. Mrs. Montagu was, according to Sir Nicholas Wraxall, the Madame du Deffand, of the English capital, and her house constituted the central point of union for all those persons who already were known, or who emulated to become known, by their talents and productions.
These assemblies continued in their brilliancy for about fifteen years, from 1770 to 1785, and were held, not only at Mrs. Montagu's magnificent house, where the full dress and parade of the day were required, but also in a more simple style at the house of Mrs. Vesey, who was more desirous of assembling celebrated literary characters beneath her roof, than of becoming one herself.
These parties, according to Madame D'Arblay, were originally instituted at Bath, and owed their name to an apology made by Mr. Stillingfleet, in declining to accept an invitation to a literary meeting at Mrs. Vesey's, from not being, he said, in the habit of displaying a proper equipment for an evening assembly. "Pho," cried she, with her well known, yet always original simplicity, while she looked inquisitively at him and his accoutrements, "don't mind dress! come in your blue stockings!" With which words, humorously repeating them as he entered the apartment of the chosen coterie, Mr. Stillingfleet claimed permission to appear, and these words, ever after, were fixed in playful stigma upon Mrs. Vesey's associations.
Though still headed by Mrs. Vesey, the original coterie was transferred from Bath to London, and there hers were perhaps surpassed in brilliancy and grandeur by the rival parties at Mrs. Montagu's. Mrs. Vesey, however, had so great a horror of what was styled "a circle," from the stiffness and awe which it produced, that she was wont to push all the small sofas, as well as chairs, pell mell about the apartments, and her greatest delight was to place the seats back to back, so that individuals could, or could not, converse as they pleased, whilst she herself flitted from party to party, armed with an ear-trumpet, being exceedingly deaf, catching an occasional sentence here, or a word there, endeavouring to hear and to understand everything that was passing around.
The company there collected was so generally of a superior cast, that talents and conversation soon found their level, and the difference of reception at Mrs. Vesey's and Mrs. Montagu's houses must have afforded an amusing contrast, and both must have preserved an air of originality, without any apparent attempt at imitation or rivalry on either side. Of Mrs. Montagu's parties, Madame D'Arblay observes:
"While to Mrs. Vesey, the Bas Bleu Society owed its origin and its epithet, the meetings that took place at Mrs. Montagu's were soon more popularly known by that denomination, for though they could not be more fashionable, they were far more splendid.
"Mrs. Montagu had built a superb new house, which was magnificently fitted up, and appeared to be rather appropriate for princes, nobles, and courtiers, than for poets, philosophers, and blue-stocking votaries. And here, in fact, rank and talents were so frequently brought together, that what the satirist uttered scoffingly, the author pronounced proudly, in setting aside the original claimant, to dub Mrs. Montagu Queen of the Blues.
"But, while the same 'bas bleu' appellation was given to these two houses of rendezvous, neither that, nor even the same associates, could render them similar. Their grandeur or their simplicity, their magnitude or their diminutiveness, were by no means the principal cause of this difference; it was far more attributable to the lady presidents than to their abodes; for though they instilled not their characters into their visitors, their characters bore so large a share in their visitors' reception and accommodation, as to influence materially the turn of the discourse, and the humour of the parties at their houses.
"At Mrs. Montagu's, the semi-circle that faced the fire retained, during the whole evening, its unbroken form, with a precision that made it seem described by a Brobdignagian compass. The lady of the castle commonly placed herself at the upper end of the room, near the commencement of the curve, so as to be courteously visible to all her guests; having the person of the highest rank or consequence, properly, on one side, and the person the most eminent for talents, sagaciously, on the other, or as near to her chair and her converse as her favouring eye, and a complacent bow of the head, could invite him to that distinction.
"Her conversational powers were of a truly superior order; strong, just, clear, and often eloquent. Her process in argument, notwithstanding an earnest solicitude for pre-eminence, was uniformly polite and candid. But her reputation for wit seemed always in her thoughts, marring their natural flow and untutored expression. No sudden start of talent urged forth any precarious opinion; no vivacious new idea varied her logical course of ratiocination. Her smile, though most generally benignant, was rarely gay; and her liveliest sallies had a something of anxiety rather than of hilarity, till their success was ascertained by applause.
"Her form was stately, and her manners were dignified; her face retained strong remains of beauty throughout life: and though its native cast was evidently that of severity, its expression was softened off in discourse by an almost constant desire to please.
"Taken for all in all, Mrs. Montagu was rare in her attainments, splendid in her conduct, open to the calls of charity, forward to provide for those of indigent genius, and unchangeably just and firm in the application of her interest, her principles, and her fortune, to the encouragement of loyalty and the support of virtue."
Among this brilliant constellation of talent and wit which then illumined the mansions of these two ladies, shone a star of the first magnitude, the mighty Dr. Johnson, and indeed his death, according to Sir Nicholas Wraxall, was one cause for the subsequent decline of these assemblies. More probably, Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Vesey themselves, at this time, began to suffer from the infirmities of age and ill-health.
Accompanying Dr. Johnson, generally might be seen Mrs. Thrale, afterwards Mrs. Piozzi, who was by some thought to have possessed as much information and more brilliancy of intellect than even Mrs. Montagu herself, but she was in the habit of talking much more, as well as more unguardedly, on every subject. There also sparkled Garrick, whose presence always diffused a gaiety through the room.
Among others, may be enumerated Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, author of Reliques of English Poetry; Dr. Shipley, Bishop of St. Asaph; Sir Nicholas Wraxall, the historian; Dr. Burney; Lord Erskine, who was just then commencing his subsequent brilliant career; Mr., afterwards Sir W. Pepys; Sir Joshua Reynolds; Dr. Beattie, and his biographer, Sir William Forbes; the Earl of Lyttelton, the poet and the historian; the clever and eccentric Lord Monboddo; Horace Walpole; Edmund Burke; Langton, the friend of Johnson; Soame Jenyns; and Owen Cambridge, who were generally termed "the Old Wits," and who, with a long retinue of talent and learning, constantly frequented these assemblies.
Among the ladies must be mentioned the learned and the excellent Mrs. Elizabeth Carter; Hannah More, then more known as a poetess and a wit, than for the piety and morality since so warmly advocated by her; Miss Burney, afterwards Madame d'Arblay; Miss Shipley, subsequently the lady of the celebrated Sir William Jones; Mrs. Boscawen, the wife of Admiral Boscawen, (who received the thanks of the House of Commons for his eminent services in North America,) daughter of William Evelyn Glanville, of St. Clare, in Kent, and mother of the then Lord Falmouth; Mrs. Chapone, then well known as the author of "Letters on the Improvement of the Mind;" Mrs. Barbauld, celebrated alike for her poems and poetical essays.
Though these assemblies were chiefly literary, and every species of play was excluded, yet rank and beauty were also to be found in the coterie; among whom were frequently seen the Duchess of Portland, Mrs. Montagu's earliest friend and correspondent, herself a woman of distinguished taste in various branches of art; and the lovely and fascinating Duchess of Devonshire, then in the first bloom of youth.
These assemblies have been celebrated by Miss Hannah More, in a poem termed The Bas Bleu; and when the number of celebrated characters who then or who have since figured in the annals of fame, is taken into consideration, it can scarcely be deemed that justice has been done to them by Sir Nicholas Wraxall, who decidedly gives the palm to the French assemblies of Madame du Deffand and Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse; more particularly, when the religious and moral excellence of the parties are compared, for those who constituted the Bas-bleu society were, generally speaking, as conspicuous for their worth as for their talents. Not so many of the French wits and philosophers, who have distinguished themselves as the bane rather than as the benefactors of the human race, and many of whose works are already deservedly consigned to oblivion.
Mrs. Montagu had at this time taken an elevated place among the writers of the day, by her Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare, which was produced in 1779, in consequence of Voltaire's attacks, not very long after her return from France in 1776, where, as well as in 1763, she had astonished the literati of that metropolis, not only by her wit, but by her splendid style of living, and by her apparently immense fortune. Indeed, those who were not among her panegyrists appear to consider that some part of the admiration she excited, not only in England but in France, arose as much from the magnificence of her establishment, as from the beauty of her person and the brilliancy of her talents.
In 1775, the death of Mr. Montagu left Mrs. Montagu, a widow with an immense property; and among the earliest acts of her munificence was the settling £100 per annum on her less affluent friend Mrs. Carter, with whom she was on terms of affectionate intimacy. Herself and her style of living at this period are described by another of her friends, who was only then beginning her subsequent career of brilliancy and utility. Hannah More, at the age of thirty, thus writes of Mrs. Montagu, who was then about fifty-five years of age:
"Mrs. Montagu received me with the most encouraging kindness; she is not only the finest genius, but the finest lady I ever saw; she lives in the highest style of magnificence; her apartments and table are in the most splendid taste; but what baubles are these when speaking of a Montagu! Her form (for she has no body) is delicate even to fragility; her countenance the most animated in the world; the sprightly vivacity of fifteen with the judgment and experience of a Nestor. But I fear she is hastening to decay very fast; her spirits are so active, that they must soon wear out the little frail receptacle that holds them."
Fortunately, in this, Hannah More did not evince herself a true prophetess, for Mrs. Montagu's life was prolonged for nearly thirty years after the date of her prophecy.
In 1781, she built her magnificent house in Portman Square, and also continued her building and planting at her country residence, Sandleford. Here Mrs. Hannah More was a frequent visitor, and has given some spirited sketches of their mode of living, in her correspondence. Subsequently, Hannah More writes as follows:
I write from the delightful abode of our delightful friend. There is an irregular beauty and greatness in the new buildings, and in the cathedral aisles which open to the great gothic window, which is exceedingly agreeable to the imagination. It is solemn without being sad, and gothic without being gloomy. Last night, by a bright moonlight, I enjoyed this singular scenery most feelingly. It shone in all its glory, but I was at a loss with what beings to people it; it was too awful for fairies, and not dismal enough for ghosts. There is a great propriety in its belonging to the champion of Shakspeare, for, like him, it is not only beautiful without the rules, but almost in defiance of them.
The fortnight spent with our friend Mrs. Montagu, I need not say to you, was passed profitably and pleasantly, as one may say of her, what Johnson said of some one else, 'that she never opens her mouth but to say something.' The great apartment, that was the chapel, is quite in order; and the romantic scenery presented to the eye by the gothic aisle which fronts the great window, is very delightful.
My visit was an exceedingly pleasant one; we passed our time in the full enjoyment of the best blessings this world has to bestow, friendship, tranquillity, and literature. You agree with me, that what makes our accomplished friend so delightful in society, is, that in her company 'les jeux et les ris' constantly act as pages and maids of honour to Apollo and the Nine, who always owe one half their attractions to their lively train, and who, though very respectable without them, can never be entirely captivating."
Even at seventy-years of age Mrs. Montagu seems to have retained her youthful love of society and gaiety, for in 1790, Hannah More thus writes:—
Yesterday I dined with the Montagus, and passed the evening in Portman Square. She is fitting up her great room in a superb style, with pillars of verde antique, and has added an acre to what was before a very large town garden. Still the same inexhaustible spirit, the same taste for business and magnificence. Three or four great dinners in a week, with the Luxemburghs, Montmorencies, and Czartoriskis."
In 1792, she again writes: "We had a very gay thing for quiet country people. You must know, Mrs. Montagu had, last week, the honour of entertaining the Queen and six Princesses at breakfast in Portman Square; and yesterday, she had a great breakfast for subjects, to which we went. (She was staying with the Bishop of London.) Almost all the fine people were there, to the number of two or three hundred. Breakfast was ready at one. The Duke of Gloucester and Mrs. Montagu sat at the head of the table, the foreign Princesses next. There was a great profusion of ices, fruits, and all sorts of refreshments, and the gay 'coup d'oeil' — the sight of so many distinguished persons was pleasant enough, but we were glad to get back to Mongewell."
But Mrs. Montagu's attentions were not confined to those moving in the higher circles; for one of her numerous acts of kindness and benevolence was, the interesting herself in behalf of an unfortunate class, to whom but too little attention was at that time paid by others. On the 1st of May, she used to give an entertainment to all the little chimney sweepers in the metropolis, who, in the same mansion where she received royalty and nobility, were entertained with beef and plum pudding; a dance succeeded, and when the whole was over, each individual, on his departure, received a shilling for a present.
Mrs. Montagu seems also to have taken equal interest in the unfortunate slaves in the West Indies, and Miss Hannah More, and "the Red Cross Knight," as Mrs. Montagu playfully termed Mr. Wilberforce, for his exertions in abolition of the slave trade, whilst abused and libelled by some, had the reward, at least, of the approbation and zealous good wishes of a Montagu. Of her, Mr. Wilberforce says in his Journal, 1789, "Mrs. Montagu, senior, has many fine, and great, and amiable qualities. Young Montagu is all gratitude, and respect, and affection to her, and of most pure and upright intentions." Mr. Wilberforce appears to have been intimate with the nephew, and was a frequent guest at Mrs. Montagu's house at this period.
In 1799, Mrs. Carter writes as follows:
"Of Mrs. Montagu I am able to give you a more comfortable account. She is in perfectly good health and spirits, though she has totally changed her mode of living, from conviction that she excited herself too much last year, (she was then not far from eighty,) and that it brought on the long illness from which she suffered so much. She never goes out except to take the air of a morning, has no company to dinner, (I do not call myself company,) lets in nobody of an evening, which she passes in having her servant read to her, as her eyes will not suffer her to read to herself. I flatter myself that this pause of exertion will restore her to us, and will help to prolong her life, and that a taste for the comfort of living quietly will, for the future, prevent her from mixing so much with the turmoils of the world as to injure her health."
Although Mrs. Montagu latterly lost the use of her sight, she retained her mental faculties to the last. She died on the 25th of August, 1802, in her eighty-second year, having survived her husband twenty-seven years. She was buried in Westminster Abbey; the body of her infant son, of whom she had been deprived nearly sixty years, being, by her own desire, removed out of Yorkshire, and placed in her own tomb.
Few women have run a more brilliant career than Mrs. Montagu, and excepting in the loss of her only son, and in the death of friends, which must ever be the lot of those whose existence is protracted to any lengthened period, she appears to have experienced little in the shape of calamity. She was warmly attached to her own family, and was the friend of the wisest and best, the wittiest and most learned of the age. Poets, politicians, historians, critics, orators, all were anxious to obtain her society, and she secured the esteem and attachment of all. She speaks of herself and Mr. Montagu as "moderate Whigs," but persons of all politics appear to have mixed in her assemblies.
In her youth, she was admired for the peculiar animation and expression of her dark blue eyes, and high arched eyebrows, and for the contrast her brilliant complexion formed with her dark brown hair. She was of the middle stature, but stooped a little, which gave an air of modesty to a countenance whose features were rather strongly marked. From her perpetual activity of body and mind, she obtained amongst her friends the playful soubriquet of "la petite fidget."
Sir Nicholas Wraxall describes Mrs. Montagu as "qualified to preside in her circle, whatever subject was started; but her manner was more dictatorial and sententious than conciliatory or diffident. There was nothing feminine about her; and though her opinions were generally just, yet the organ which conveyed them was not soft or harmonious. Destitute of taste in disposing the ornaments of her dress, she nevertheless studied or affected those aids more than would seem to have become a woman professing a philosophic mind, intent on higher pursuits than the toilet. Even when approaching to fourscore, this female weakness still accompanied her, nor could she relinquish her diamond necklace and bows, which formed of evenings the perpetual ornament of her emaciated person. I used to think that these glittering appendages of opulence sometimes helped to dazzle the disputant whom her arguments might not always convince, or her literary reputation intimidate.
"Notwithstanding the defects and weaknesses that I have enumerated, she possessed a masculine understanding, enlightened, cultivated, and expanded by the acquaintance of men as well as of books."
Mrs. Montague was celebrated for her epistolary, excellence, and two volumes of her letters, from 1731 to 1744, when she was only twenty-three years of age, were published by Matthew Montagu, Esq., M.P., her nephew and executor, in 1809. A second part, containing her correspondence from that period to the year 1761, appeared in 1813.
Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare, 1779.
Four Volumes, of Letters, 1809 and 1813.
Dialogues of the Dead, in parts, 1760.