1744 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Jane Brereton

Anonymous, "An Account of the Life of Mrs. Brereton" Brereton, Poems on Several Occasions (1744) i-xv.



Mr. Thomas Hughes of Bryn-Griffith, near Mould in the County of Flint, by his Wife Mrs. Anne Jones, had two Daughters. Anne, the eldest, died at the Age of Fourteen, to the inexpressible Grief of her Parents, her Person being extremely beautiful, and having, even in that early Season of Life, discover'd an uncommon Share of Understanding: But as Jane the Younger, who was born in 1685, grew up, (and who is the Subject of these Sheets) she shew'd herself no Way inferior to her deceased Sister in the Beauties of her Mind: Her Father observ'd, with the utmost Pleasure, the great Capacity with which Nature had endow'd her, and took Care to improve it with all necessary Instruction, being himself a Person of excellent Parts, and greatly esteem'd by the Gentlemen of Taste and Politeness in the Neighbourhood. But he dying when she was about sixteen, she lost the unspeakable Advantage of his Conversation and Care; however, her natural Endowments were so great, that she needed little from Art: She soon discover'd a peculiar Genius for Poetry, which was her chief Amusement; and all her Acquaintance encouraged it by the Delight they took in whatever She composed. And, before she was Twenty, the Perfections of her Mind, the Amiableness of her Person, and Sprightliness of her Temper, render'd her generally admired. On the twenty ninth of January 1711, Mrs. Jane Hughes married Mr. Thomas Brereton, at that time a Commoner of Brazen-nose College in Oxford, only Son of Major Brereton, Son and Heir of William Brereton of — Esq; an antient Family, in the County Palatine of Chester. The Major's Father being a Roman Catholick had his Son educated at St. Omers, designing him for a Priest; but after he had seen a little of the Bigotry and Superstition of the Church of Rome, he return'd Home, determined against entering into Orders, at which his Father was so incensed that he disinherited him. But his Sister Mrs. Dorothy Brereton, pitying her Brother's Condition, made him a considerable Present, tho' she was of the Religion which he renounced, and went afterwards with King James's Court to St. Germains. With her Bounty he bought himself a small Post in the Army, and behaving himself with great Bravery under the Duke of Marlborough, in several of his Battles, was rais'd to be a Major. 'Tis hoped it will not be thought a Digression to mention this Particular, so much to the Honour of a Convert to the Church of England; and it may justly be said, that he aim'd at the Reward which is promised in the Text, viz. "There is not Man that hath not left Father, or Mother, or Sister, or Brother, or Lands, for my Sake, or the Gospel's, but shall receive an hundred Fold, now in this Time, and in the World to come, Life everlasting."

When Major Brereton died, he left his Son a considerable Fortune in Money; but being too young and in the Management of Guardians, and his Mother marrying Captain Brown, there was not that Care taken of his Education that ought to have been: Mr. Brereton was so much a fine Gentleman that he soon ran out of most of his Fortune. He went over for a short Time to Paris; and, at his Return, the Earl of Stair, then Ambassador there, was pleased to recommend him, in the strongest Manner, to the Duke of Marlborough, as the Son of his old Soldier Major Brereton, and his Grace seem'd determined to provide for him, if his ill State of Health had not prevented it. Some Time after this, Mrs. Brereton was advised, by all who had any Regard for her, to separate from her Husband: But tho' all the Reason in the World pleaded for it, yet she express'd great Reluctance at it, especially unless she could have her Children with her; and that being at last brought about, she left London about the Year 1721, and retired to her native Country Wales, where she led a solitary Life, seeing little Company, except some intimate Friends, Persons of great Merit; well knowing what a critical Case it is to behave without the Censure of the World, when separated from an Husband. Soon after this Mr. Brereton had a Post given him by the late Earl of Sunderland, belonging to the Customs at Park-Gate, near Chester. This brought him down from London. That Nobleman had promised also to advance him the first proper Vacancy; but he liv'd not to claim it; for on the — day of February 1722, he was unfortunately drown'd in adventurously crossing the Water of Saltney, when the Tide was coming in. His Body was afterwards found, and decently interr'd in Shotwick Chapel belonging to Thomas Brereton, Esq; one of the Representatives in Parliament for Liverpoole, his intimate Friend and Relation, and in whose Service he lost his Life; for this Gentleman being at that Time concern'd in an Election, with a very great Zeal for his Friend, wrote a Sort of Libel against the Gentleman, and in it he gave himself such a Loose as to come within the Power of the Law; upon which Mr. Brereton advis'd him to abscond to avoid Prosecution (tho' he highly lik'd the Piece which was written by his Instigation,) and so, by making too much Haste to get beyond the Knowledge of his Persuers, rush'd into Eternity. He was an unhappy Proof of the Prejudice of an indulgent Education. He used to say himself, that he never in his Life remembered being contradicted. His Parts were naturally very good; but entirely neglected. He was very positive and passionate; but could upon Occasion command himself surprizingly; so that while he made his Addresses to Mrs. Hughes, she took him for a Person of sweet calm Temper: And his first Fit of Passion, after their Marriage, was like a Thunder-clap to her; yet he would sometimes, in a handsome Manner, acknowledge his Fault, and seem so sensible, that any, who did not know him too well, would have imagined him secure against a Relapse. He was generous to a Fault; a very indulgent Father; used frequently to admire his Wife's Oeconomy; and confess that his Fortune must have been spent long before it was, had it not been for her surprizing Management. He was remarkable for his Skill in Swimming, beyond most Men, on which he relied too much, at the Time of his Death; and he was entreated by People on the Shore, not to quit his Horse, which he would do, and so perish'd about the two and thirtieth Year of his Age. He frequently saw his Children, while he as in that Neighbourhood, and had that Satisfaction the very Night before he was lost. So sudden a Death was an inexpressible Grief to his Wife; she could hardly support herself under the Shock; she fell into violent Faintings, when a Clergyman of great Pietry, acquainted her with the News, tho' she was perfectly free from any Kind of Fits, till this unhappy Accident.

Soon after this, Mrs. Brereton remov'd to Wrexham in Denbighshire, for the Benefit of her Children's Education; and was herself soon distinguish'd by the most considerable Families in and about that Town: And it must be allow'd by all, that that Neighbourhood is remarkable for Politeness, Taste, and Hospitality. She had the Happiness and Honour to commence a strict Friendship with some of the most eminent of both Sexes, which continued till the Time of her Death, which happen'd on Thursday the seventh of August 1740 about Nine at Night. Her Distemper was the Gravel, which was very afflictive and painful, and lasted about five Weeks, most of which Time she was in great Agonies; yet in her Intervals of Ease, she was very cheerful, and even the Day she dy'd, she convers'd with an Acquaintance that came to see her in a pleasant Manner: She rejoyc'd at every Symptom of approaching Death, and was all Resignation. A short time before she expir'd she said, "Now I'm perfectly easy and free from Pain, and will try to sleep;" which she did, and breath'd her last in Peace without one Groan. Her Corpse was handsomely interr'd on the tenth of August, in Wrexham Church, near the Altar: And on a Pillar adjoyning is a Brass Plate with the following Inscription; ('till something more suitable to her Memory can be erected) "Here Lies the Body of Jane Brereton, Gent. who departed this Life, August the 7th, 1740. Aged 55."

Her Person was of a middle Stature, well shaped and easy; her Complexion inclining to Brown; her Hair a dark Brown, a good Forehead, fine arch'd Eye-brows, small grey Eyes, a remarkable handsome Nose, an agreeable Mouth, and a fine Set of Teeth: Her Face was well turn'd, an engaging Sweetness was diffused over her Countenance. She had four Children, Thomas and John, who died Infants, and lie buried at London; and two Daughters, Lucy and Charlotte, both Living; the Eldest with her Uncle in Cork, and the other at Stratford, in Essex.

She was the most affectionate and dutiful Wife; and always behav'd with good Humour, Patience, and Submission. This might afford a large Field for displaying her Virtues: But as it can't be done, without casting a Cloud on Mr. Brereton, those who stand in the same Relation to both, chuse to have it omitted, believing there is enough to give Lustre to her Character, without making another's a Foil to it. She was the most indulgent tender Parent, chusing to govern her Children more by Love than Fear; and was particularly anxious about her Daughters Education, and instilling into their Minds Religion and Virtue; and would often with Tears say to them, "My Dear Girls, you don't know what Snares and Temptations there are for young Women, in the wicked, designing World, to draw your Hearts from God: But if you'll in every Thing rely on his Providence, and make him the sole Object of your Love, he will guard you from them all; and you'll find his Promise accomplish'd of being a Father to the Faithless." She was extremely devout and obedient to all religious Duties; was regular in her own Devotions; and constantly twice a Day call'd her little Family together to Prayers. When sitting only with her Children, she frequently lifted up her Heart to God in pious Ejaculations, ever with the greatest Gratitude acknowledging his Care of her and hers, and acquiescing with an entire submission to his Dispensations. Tho' she liked Wit, she could never bear any Thing that seem'd to her to be scurrilous; and some Things that she wrote, at the Entreaty of her Friends, that were a little Satirical, afterwards gave her great Uneasiness. She was a true Member of the Church of England; but had great Charity to all those of different Persuasions. She had a stedfast Affection and Loyalty for the present Royal Family, as may be seen in her Works: But that did not prevent her being on good Terms of Friendship with some Ladies of Distinction, tho' of an opposite Opinion; for she had the most exalted Notions of Friendship, and never in the smallest Article swerv'd from its Rules. She was an excellent Mistress using her Servants like her Children, and thought the Souls of her Servants were Part of her Care, as well as their Bodies; and would therefore hear them herself read a Chapter out of some of the Gospels, and see that they understood it, and show'd an Inclination to follow those sacred Rules. Her Care of the Poor was ever impress'd on her Mind: She allotted on Friday an Allowance to be given them at her own Door: As it was the Day on which the Saviour of Mankind suffer'd, she thought it most proper to make some Acknowledgement to his poor Members, besides such occasional Charities as her small Income would afford.

She made it her Business to find out distress'd Objects, and recommend them to her Acquaintance; and used to go herself, and see them in their Houses, and examine into their Circumstances, that she might give to each, in proportion to their Wants; and by this Search frequently found out some very miserable Objects, who either from Age, or very great Infirmities, could not make their Condition known. She was extremely modest and diffident of herself, and spoke but little, when with much Company. She liked Music, and sung agreeably, and sometimes play'd at Cards, tho' but a bad Player; as she used to say, they could never engage her Thoughts enough to mind her Game, and therefore she never made a Party but to oblige others. She approv'd much of a well written Play, chiefly Tragedies, and believ'd that well chosen Ones very much improved the Minds of young Persons, and gave them many just and delicate Sentiments, but could not bear Romances, nor any Thing inclining that way. She was very nice in the Choice of her Poetry, tho' when a bad Poem came thro' her Hands, she pass'd no Reflections on the Author, and would only make some innocent Joke of it. She would indeed sometimes say, she pitied the Author that knew not how to apply his Talent to greater Profit. Her Poetical Name of Melissa was given her by a Gentleman of her Acquaintance, from the Latin Word "Mell," as bearing some Allusion to the Sweetness of her Numbers. Writing was her darling Entertainment, and was to her a Relaxation from her Cares; tho' she would not consent to have her Works published by Subscription, when proposed by a Gentleman, in a very pressing Manner. She approv'd of a particular Sanctity of Behaviour on Sunday, and always commended the Dissenters for training up their Children by that Rule; and for not allowing them what some call innocent Sport, for their Health, on that Day; which she thought should be employ'd in a more serious Manner, even by Children; for as Solomon tells us, "Train up a Child in the Way which he should go, &c." Tho' she was of a very cheerful Temper, and shew'd a great deal of Life and Fire, she thought too much Austerity, even in the most important Subjects, only gave frightful Ideas of Religion, and terrified, instead of charming, the gayer Part of the World.

She had only one Brother Thomas, who, being a little unlucky at his first setting out in Life, sold his Estate of Bryn-Griffith, and went to Ireland, where, applying to the Business of a Brewer, he had such Success as to raise a plentiful Fortune; and is now one of the most considerable Men in the City of Cork. He was very desirous of his Sister's spending with him, the latter Part of her Life, but she thought her Situation so agreeable at Wrexham, that she excused herself, tho' it would have been advantageous to her: For she was quite free from all mercenary Views. Art was a Stranger to her, and Deceit she abhorr'd, with every Thing in Speech, or Behaviour, that wanted true Delicacy. Her Memory will ever be rever'd by all who knew her, and when her youngest Daughter was in Wales, about two Years after her Death, some Ladies of the first Rank both in Fortune, and Understanding, could not mention her Name without Floods of Tears, particularly those Ladies to whom the Verses, and Ballad are address'd in her Poems (Page 37 and 39) and in the sincerest Manner regretted the Loss (as they express'd themselves) of so wise, and entertaining a Friend; and her Daughter as she went thro' the Streets, had Blessings pour'd upon her by the Poor whom her Mother had frequently reliev'd, not only with her own Mite, but by making Application for them to Persons of Fortune, and Generosity; so that she was several Times oblig'd to turn into a Friend's House, or take some by-way, to avoid the public Acknowledgement of these poor People; especially as it excited so many mix'd Sensations of Pain and Pleasure in her Soul, that she was often ready to sink under the Oppression. — She had a very low Opinion of herself, and always confess'd the great Honour that was done her by the Acquaintance of so many Persons of distinguish'd Sense; and seldom receiv'd a Letter from a young Lady of eminent Merit and Learning, an Ornament to her Sex, and who corresponded with her towards the Close of her Life, but she acknowledged her Surprize, how one so learn'd and universally admir'd, could be the least pleas'd with her artless unpolish'd Epistles (as she called them) and frequently express'd her obligations to that Lady for every Line she favour'd her with.

It only can be added, that she was Amiable in every Character of Life, as the modest Maid, the chaste and prudent Wife, the tender and fond Parent, the decent Widow, the sincere and wise Friend, the indulgent Mistress, and the good, pious, and exemplary Christian.