1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Trefusis

William Beloe, in The Sexagenarian (1818) 1:368-70, 175-83.



This lady was first known to the Sexagenarian, and obtained a place in his Recollections, by one of those singular accidents, which sometimes bring individuals together, who, entering the world at the opposite ends of the diameter, with different objects, pursuits, and employments, have but little seeming probability of ever meeting, at the centre. ELLA was extravagantly fond of poetry; it occupied all her thoughts, and was seated in her very soul. Among other trifles which our friend had written for amusement, and which had found their way into the world, a poem, which had received more of his time and attention than he usually gave to such things, (for he did not estimate his talents in this line very highly) was sent to a friend, who happened at this period to be resident under the same roof with ELLA.

It mightily struck her fancy, and she determined on obtaining the author's acquaintance. Her mind was of that eager and ardent temperature, that having once resolved on any measure, she spared no time or pains in accomplishing it. She accordingly sent him by the post, a copy of verses, complimenting him on the late production of his muse, in terms like herself, easy, airy, and elegant. The writer was soon discovered, (or as Pope said of Johnson, deterre) and a familiar acquaintance commenced, which was only terminated by death.

If ELLA'S mind and talents had been under the regulation of sedate feelings and sober judgment she would have been one of the most delightful and interesting creatures in the universe; but unfortunately for her, she was in every thing an enthusiast. She obeyed, without reflection, the first impulse of her mind. She read whatever excited public attention and curiosity, but she read to little or no effect; she impatiently hurried over the volumes before her, that she might begin something else; the consequence unavoidably was, that in a very short interval, she retained no recollection of the principal features, facts, and characters, of the books she had recently perused.

She also wrote a great deal, and some specimens of her poetical taste and talent are really very beautiful; but she wrote with extreme haste, and revised nothing. She was particularly solicitous, and not always with sufficient discrimination, to have a personal acquaintance with those of both sexes, who were distinguished in the world by their reputation for talents. Unhappily for her, there was no moderation in her attachments, from which she frequently became the victim of artifice and fraud. Perfectly artless and unsuspicious herself, she thought that intellectual superiority necessarily involved ingenuousness, honesty, and truth; nor was she cured of this infirmity, till her fortune had been irretrievably impaired. Her liberality knew no bounds, and she literally gave, till no more remained for her to bestow.

Her captivating manners, her high birth, her connections, her talents, necessarily drew a croud of young men about her, for many of whom, in their turns, she suffered love; but the flame wee transitory in its effects, nor did she ever seriously entangle herself in an engagement which had marriage for its object, except with one individual, as unlike herself, in every possible particular, as the imagination can conceive.

Her playfulness and most bewitching familiarity often, however, were the cause of her entangling others. Some might be named, who, though grave, reserved, and dignified personages, were unable to resist the fascination of her charms and manners, and glided into her net with the easiest captivity imaginable....

The case of entanglement, on the side of ELLA, alluded to in the former chapter was this: — Her limited fortune, notwithstanding her high and proud connections, made it expedient for herself and sister, to live with an elderly lady, who had also other female boarders. An officer, who had been wounded in the service of his country, in a distant climate, with a constitution apparently broken, made application to be received into the family, of which our heroine was a member. The circumstance excited great alarm, and occasioned much serious debate. At length, after many sage discussions, and beds of justice, it was resolved, "nemine contradicente," that a wounded officer, somewhat advanced in life, and with an impaired constitution, was not an object to awaken the scruples, or alarm the fears of the sisterhood. Things, however, turned out quite contrary. "Love" (as it is said) "laughs at locksmiths;" and such a dart was shot from ELLA'S bright eyes through the thorax of the Major, where, by the way, there was a ball lodged already, which no medical skill could extract, that he surrendered at discretion. It is a little whimsical, that this catastrophe was maliciously predicted to the Lady by our Sexagenarian; but the prophecy was at first received with something like indignation. Could it be supposed that a worn-out soldier, of no family, fortune, or pretensions, could excite any other emotion than pity? Pity, however, it is well known, is next akin to love, and so it proved in this instance. The final issue may be narrated in a few words. Application was made to ELLA'S great and noble friends, for their consent to this ill-suited union, to which the Horatian adage might strictly be applied; most certainly might they be termed "impares formas atque animos," and the "jugum," had it been worn, would have been truly "aheneum."

These mighty people, however, whose generosity never extended beyond giving their relative an occasional dinner, wrapped themselves in their magnificence, and in stately terms, forbade the banns. What was to be done in this dilemma? After due deliberation, it was determined that they should consider themselves as solemnly pledged, and wait for a favourable change of circumstances. Month, however, succeeded month, and year followed year, and no such change took place. At length, the gentleman's health appeared to be growing worse and worse, and it was deemed indispensably necessary for his convalescence, that he should remove to Bath. Upon this occasion, the lady behaved with a characteristic nobleness of mind. She thought her friend and lover would return no more, and that the circumstances in which he was placed, with respect to herself, might induce him to make a will in her favour. As soon, therefore, as he had arrived at the place of his destination, she wrote to inform him, that, after duly considering the little probability there existed of their ever being happily united, she thought it best for both, that the engagement should be dissolved, and the connection at an end. Under this impression, therefore, she was determined positively to decline any favourable intention he might retain towards her, if induced to make his will. She added the strongest recommendation in favour of his nephew, whom he had materially assisted in life, and who had also experienced many solid benefits from her friendship.

The lover felt and acknowledged the great good sense and honourable conduct of his mistress; and thus terminated a connection commenced under no very auspicious omens, protracted till mutual esteem was succeeded by the most perfect indifference, and which ever, during its continuance, was interrupted by jars and bickerings, the unavoidable consequence of inequality in temper, habits, and age; and presenting at no period, any favourable prospect of an harmonious union.

The catastrophe of this young lady's history was very melancholy. With every talent and accomplishment necessary to adorn the most elevated station, with every pretension of loveliness, grace, and manners, with a fortune which, by prudent management, might have secured an honourable, though not a splendid independence, her final exit was not very much unlike that so beautifully recorded by Pope, of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

She first of all impoverished herself, by the profuse liberality of her presents to those to whom she was partial. She was subsequently induced to lend, with the truest motives of generosity and friendship on her part, a portion of her capital, on very insufficient security. This she accordingly lost. There was an enthusiasm in her attachments bordering on infatuation, and very indiscriminating in the choice of its objects. Talent was her great idol, before which she bowed, but she often neglected to examine and investigate the private character and conduct by which it was accompanied. The consequence was, that she was perpetually imposed upon, and did not discover her error till it was too late.

Her finances became finally so exceedingly narrowed and embarrassed, that penury began to stare her in the face. Her friends, in some degree to ward off this evil, suggested the expediency of her publishing two volumes of her poems. This was accordingly done, under the inspection of a most judicious, able, and compassionate friend, whose attentions cheered and soothed the last sorrowful moments of her life. To him they were inscribed, with a very appropriate address The reader may not be averse to see a specimen. Ex uno disce omnia.

THE BOY AND THE BUTTERFLY.

Proud of its little day, enjoying
The lavish sweets kind Nature yields,
In harmless sports each hour employing,
Ranging the gardens, woods, and fields.
A lovely Butterfly extending
Its grateful wing to Sol's warm beams,
No dreaded danger saw impending,
But basked secure in peaceful dreams.
A wandering Urchin viewed this treasure,
Of gaudy colours fine and gay,
Thoughtless, consulting but his pleasure,
He chased it through the live-long day.
At last the young but sly dissembler
Appeared to follow other flies,
Then turning seized the little trembler,
Who crushed beneath his finger dies!
Surprized he sees the hasty ruin
His reckless cruelty had wrought,
The victim which so long pursuing
Scarce raised a wish, or claimed a thought.
Now bid the tear of genuine sorrow
O'er his repentant bosom flow,
Yet he'll forget it ere the morrow,
And deal to others equal woe.
Thus the vain man, with subtle feigning,
Pursues, o'ertakes, poor woman's heart,
But soon his hapless prize disclaiming,
She dies the victim of his art.

Her compositions were all of the same character and tendency — tender, elegant, and tinged with the most romantic sensibility. Whether their publication answered the proposed purpose to any effect, may reasonably be questioned; for in her last illness, if she did not actually want the necessaries incident to her situation, she had but a very scanty supply of them.

After her death, when the kind friend above alluded to, undertook the office of executor, and the superintendence of her funeral, barely sufficient was got together, to have the last offices performed with due decency.

She carried the preposterous enthusiasm of her misguided partialities to the very last. All the valuable trinkets, rings, and jewels, which she had inherited, had long since been given away, or otherwise disposed of, one diamond ring excepted, which had for time immemorial remained in her family. In drawing up her will, she bad bequeathed this jewel to a popular theatrical performer. Her executor having timely knowledge of this, insisted upon its erasure, and positively declined having any thing to do with her affairs, unless she bequeathed this ring. to her sister. She was prevailed upon, though reluctantly, to do so.

She died very prematurely, but she had been as negligent of her health, as of her worldly affairs, and indulged in habits, than which nothing could be more pernicious in themselves, or more injurious to her constitution. Being occasionally subject to great depression of spirits, and habitually a very bad sleeper, she indulged in the use of aether and laudanum, to an excess that can hardly be credited; by which, and by various other acts of similar imprudence, she doubtless much accelerated her end.

Among her intimate friends were many of the most elevated rank, and she was personally acquainted with all the females of her time, who were in the least celebrated for their intellectual accomplishments. She was the correspondent of Anna Seward, much acquainted with Mrs. Piozzi, Helen Maria Williams, and others who have already been mentioned in this narrative.

Be it permitted us to lament, yes, deeply to lament, that no friendly pilot among those upon whom she had the claims of kindred and of blood, stepped forward, in the progress of her little life, to steer her frail vessel through the storms and perils of a treacherous world. She was left, at a very early age, an orphan adventurer, to find her way, as best she could, o'er unknown seas and regions, and many a pelting did she get from divers pitiless storms.

Poor Ella! one tear at least is paid to thy memory, by an individual who knew thy worth, admired thy talents, and loved thee with the truest warmth of friendship.

Being so poetical herself, and so addicted to the society of those who had the same disposition, volumes might perhaps be made of the poems addressed to her. The following is selected, as particularly descriptive of her character.

Wit, beauty, goodness, sentiment refin'd,
The brightest genius, with the purest mind;
Quick nerves, to sympathy too nicely strung,
And sportive innocence for ever young;
Gay beaming smiles, and each still varying grace
Accordant harmony of voice and face;
Sweet chat, that might despairing anguish soothe,
A soul all energy, a heart all truth;—
Give it but wings, 'tis angel, goddess, elf;
Or add caprice and — ELLA — 'tis thyself.