LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU, we must remember, was born a hundred and forty-seven years ago, and has now been dead more than seventy. Considering this, and also that the incidents of her life were in no respect linked to those historical or political facts which fix in men's memories even trifles if connected with them, it cannot be expected that her descendants themselves should possess very ample means of giving or gaining information upon a subject borne almost beyond their reach by the lapse of time. The multitude of stories circulated about her — as about all people who were objects of note in their day — increase, instead of lessening the difficulty. Some of these may be confidently pronounced inventions, simply and purely false; some, if true, concerned a different person; some were grounded upon egregious blunders; and not a few upon jests, mistaken by the dull and literal for earnest. Others, again, where a little truth and a great deal of falsehood were probably intermingled, nobody now living can pretend to confirm, or contradict, or unravel. Nothing is so readily believed, yet nothing is usually so unworthy of credit, as tales learned from report, or caught up in casual conversation. A circumstance carelessly told, carelessly listened to, half comprehended, and imperfectly remembered, has a poor chance of being repeated accurately by the first hearer; but when, after passing through the moulding of countless hands, it comes, with time, place, and person, gloriously confounded, into those of a book-maker ignorant of all its bearings, it will be lucky indeed if any trace of the original groundwork remain distinguishable.
To give a sample or two of the metamorphoses which this process can effect. — Pinkerton, in his Walpoliana, mentions that Horace Walpole told him he had known Lady Mary Wortley from the very beginning of her life, having been her playfellow in his childhood. Mr. Pinkerton could have no motive for inventing this, so doubtless he thought, or dreamt he had heard it; yet it is impossible that Lord Orford should ever have said anything so ridiculous, since Lady Mary was the contemporary of his mother and his aunt, and at least seven-and-twenty when the former brought him into the world.
Another pretty striking instance is furnished by a Review, which informed us some years ago that "the greater part of Lady Mary's epistolary correspondence was destroyed by — her mother! that good and gothic lady," as the reviewer sarcastically calls her for having thus dared to infringe upon property in his opinion rightfully belonging to the public — the unconscious public, whose grandfathers and grandmothers were for the most part yet unborn. Now, the good (and very possible gothic) lady in question departed this life before her daughter could either write or read; therefore the nineteenth century and its public may let her memory sleep in peace.
For the reasons stated above, the particulars offered here cannot be otherwise than scanty, and may appear uninteresting and frivolous; but authentic they must be, because either received directly from the late Countess of Bute, or else gathered from documents formerly seen in Lady Mary Wortley's own handwriting.
A tale of pedigree would be little to the purpose; yet, as Lady Mary's letters allude more than once to her family history, it may throw some light upon passages of this kind to say that, in the great Civil War, the second Earl of Kingston, created Marquis of Dorchester by Charles the First, espoused the royal cause; while his next brother, William Pierrepont of Thoresby, surnamed Wise William, Lady Mary Wortley's great-grandfather, adhered to the Parliament. The currency of such an epithet speaks his reputation for sagacity and prudence; he had considerable weight with his own party, and, according to tradition, was much courted and consulted by Cromwell. His eldest son died in his lifetime, having married a Wiltshire heiress, whose maiden name, Evelyn, has ever since been a favourite christian name, for both men and women, in most of the families descended from her. Lord Dorchester, leaving no male issue, the earldom of Kingston devolved successively upon the three sons of this marriage, grandsons of Wise William. The third, Evelyn, fifth Earl of Kingston, created Marquis of Dorchester by Queen Anne in 1706, and Duke of Kingston by George the First in 1715, had by his wife, Lady Mary Fielding, three daughters, Mary, born in 1690 , Frances, and Evelyn, and one son, William, whose birth she did not long survive. Her mother, Mary, Countess Dowager of Denbigh and Desmond, was the grandmother of whom Lady Mary Wortley speaks so highly as having had a superior understanding, and retained it unimpaired at an extraordinary age.
Lady Kingston dying thus early, her husband continued a widower till all his children were grown up and married; though, if Lady Mary may be believed, not through any overanxious concern for their welfare. Richardson, she affirms, drew his picture without knowing it in Sir Thomas Grandison, the gay father of his hero Sir Charles, which says a great deal to those who have read the book and observed the character — that of a man of pleasure, far too fine a gentleman to be a tender or even a considerate parent. Such men, always selfish and commonly vain, begin to view their offspring as rivals the moment they are old enough to put beholders in mind that those to whom they owe their birth can hardly be much less than a score of years older. But playthings are cherished while new, seldom flung aside in the first hour of acquisition; and, besides being an admirable plaything, a sprightly beautiful child, while it is a child, reflects lustre upon a young father, from whom it may be presumed to have partly inherited its charms. Accordingly, a trifling incident, which Lady Mary loved to recal, will prove how much she was the object of Lord Kingston's pride and fondness in her childhood. As a leader of the fashionable world, and a strenuous Whig in party, he of course belonged to the Kit-Cat Club. One day, at a meeting to choose toasts for the year, a whim seized him to nominate her, then not eight years, old, a candidate; alleging that she was far prettier than any lady on their list. The other members demurred, because the rules of the club forbade them to elect a beauty whom they had never seen. "Then you shall see her," cried he; and in the gaiety of the moment sent orders home to have her finely dressed and brought to him at the tavern, where she was received with acclamations, her claim unanimously allowed, her health drunk by every one present, and her name engraved in due form upon a drinking-glass. The company consisting of some of the most eminent men in England, she went from the lap of one poet, or patriot, or statesman, to the arms of another, was feasted with sweetmeats, overwhelmed with caresses, and, what perhaps already pleased her better than either, heard her wit and beauty loudly extolled on every side. Pleasure, she said, was too poor a word to express her sensations; they amounted to ecstasy: never again, throughout her whole future life, did she pass so happy a day. Nor, indeed, could she; for the love of admiration, which this scene was calculated to excite or increase, could never again be so fully gratified; there is always some allaying ingredient in the cup, some drawback upon the triumphs of grown people. Her father carried on the frolic, and, we may conclude, confirmed the taste, by having her picture painted for the club-room, that she might be enrolled a regular toast.
There can be no dispute that Lady Mary showed early signs of more than ordinary abilities; but whether they induced Lord Kingston to have her bred up with her brother and taught Latin and Greek by his tutor, is not so well ascertained. The boy was two or three years younger than the girl, which makes against it. Lady Bute expressly said that her mother understood little or no Greek, and by her own account had taught herself Latin. And besides, would she, while so earnestly recommending a learned education for women, have complained of her own as "one of the worst in the world," if it had had this classical foundation? Most likely not; most likely her father, whose amusement in her ceased when she grew past the age of sitting on a knee and playing with a doll, consigned all his daughters alike to the care and custody of such a good homespun governess as her letters describe; and, having thus done his supposed duty towards them, held himself at liberty to pursue his own pleasures, which lay elsewhere than at home. One remnant of his illegitimate progeny, an old General Armytage, was still living long after the accession of George the Third.
But, admitting that Lady Mary's talents were only self-cultivated, her literary progress might not be the less considerable. Where industry, inspirited by genius, toils from free choice, and there exists unchecked that eager devouring appetite for reading, seldom felt but in the first freshness of intelligent youth, it will take in more nourishment, and faster, than the most assiduous tuition can cram down. It is true, the habit of idly turning over an unconnected variety of books, forgotten as soon as read, may be prejudicial to the mind; but a bee wanders to better purpose than a butterfly, although the one will sometimes seem just to touch the flowerbed and flit away as lightly as the other. Lady Mary read everything, but it was without forgetting anything; and the mass of matter, whencesover collected, gradually formed its own arrangement in her head. She probably had some assistance from Mr. William Fielding, her mother's brother, a man of parts, who perceived her capacity, corresponded with her, and encouraged her pursuit of information. And she herself acknowledges her obligations to Bishop Burnet for "condescending to direct the studies of a girl." Nevertheless, though labouring to acquire what may be termed masculine knowledge, and translating under the bishop's eye the Latin version of Epictetus, she was by no means disposed to neglect works of fancy and fiction, but got by heart all the poetry that came in her way, and indulged herself in the luxury of reading every romance as yet invented. For she possessed, and left after her, the whole library of Mrs. Lennox's Female Quixote — Cleopatra, Cassandra, Clelia, Cyrus, Pharamond, Ibrahim, &c. &c. — all, like the Lady Arabella's collection, "Englished," mostly "by persons of honour." The chief favourite appeared to have been a translation of Monsieur Honore d'Urfe's Astrea, once the delight of Henri Quatre and his court, and still admired and quoted by the savans who flourished under Louis XIV. In a blank page of this massive volume (which might have counterbalanced a pig of lead of the same size), Lady Mary had written in her fairest youthful hand the names and characteristic qualities of the chief personages thus: — the beautiful Diana, the volatile Climene, the melancholy Doris, Celadon the faithful, Adamas the wise, and so on; forming two long columns.
These ponderous books, once hers, black in outward hue, and marked with the wear and tear of almost a century, might have been disrespectfully treated by her junior grandchildren and their nursery-maids — put to any use except reading them — but for the protection of an excellent person, who, when young, had been Lady Bute's own attendant before her marriage, and ever after made part of her family. Her spectacles were always to be found in Clelia or Cassandra, which she studied unceasingly six days of the week, prizing them next to the Bible and Tillotson's Sermons; because, to give her own words, they were all about good and virtuous people, not like the wicked trash she now saw young folks get from circulating libraries." To her latest hour she used to regret having lost sight of another romance, beautiful beyond them all — the History of Hiempsal, King of Numidia. This, she said, she had read only once, and by no pains or search could ever meet with or hear of again.
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 Sevigne 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.
Some particulars, in themselves too insignificant to be worth recording, may yet interest the curious, by setting before them the manners of our ancestors. Lord Dorchester, having no wife to do the honours of his table at Thoresby, imposed that task upon his eldest daughter, as soon as she had bodily strength for the office: which in those days required no small share. For the mistress of a country mansion was not only to invite — that is, urge and tease — her company to eat more than human throats could conveniently swallow, but to carve every dish, when chosen, with her own hands. The greater the lady, the more indispensable the duty. Each joint was carried up in its turn, to be operated upon by her, and her alone; — since the peers and knights on either hand were so far from being bound to offer their assistance, that the very master of the house, posted opposite to her, might not act as her croupier; his department was to push the bottle after dinner. As for the crowd of guests, the most inconsiderable among them — the curate, or subaltern, or squire's younger brother — if suffered through her neglect to help himself to a slice of the mutton placed before him, would have chewed it in bitterness, and gone home an affronted man, half inclined to give a wrong vote at the next election. There were then professed carving-masters, who taught young ladies the art scientifically; from one of whom Lady Mary said she took lessons three times a week, that she might be perfect on her father's public days; when, in order to perform her functions without interruption, she was forced to eat her own dinner alone an hour or two beforehand.
Most of the intimacies formed by Lady Mary in her youth having died away before her daughter began to know what was passing, only a few of her early companions can be mentioned: viz. Mrs. Smith, maid of honour to Queen Anne, and daughter of the Whig Speaker Smith; the beautiful Dolly Walpole, Sir Robert's sister, afterwards the second wife of Lord Townshend; Lady Anne Vaughan, only child of Lord Carberry, the last of a family noted for having given Jeremy Taylor an asylum at Golden Grove. This young lady was precisely in the situation which Lady Mary always maintained to be the most perilous and pitiable incident to womankind; that of a great heiress at her own free disposal. And truly her fate justified the paradox. She bestowed herself and her wealth upon Lord Winchester (third Duke of Bolton), a handsome agreeable libertine, who, much worse than indifferent to the first half of the gift, cast her off without any long delay, and, when her melancholy life at last came to an end, married the famous actress, Miss Fenton, best known by her stage-title of Polly Peachem.
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?"
Mrs. Wortley, the mother of the family, from whom it derived both estate and name, died before Lady Mary Pierrepont became acquainted with any branch of it: therefore all she could tell concerning her was, that she had been forced to demand a separation from her husband, and that her son always spoke of his father's conduct towards her with resentment and indignation. For Mr. Sidney Montagu had not breathed in the atmosphere of Charles the Second's reign during his best years without inhaling some of its poison. This old gentleman, and the scene surrounding him, were distinctly recollected by his granddaughter. She described him as a large rough-looking man with a huge flapped hat, seated magisterially in his elbow-chair, talking very loud, and swearing boisterously at his servants. While beside him sate a venerable figure, meek and benign in aspect, with silver locks overshadowed by a black velvet cap. This was his brother, the pious Dean Montagu, who every now and then fetched a deep sigh, and cast his eyes upwards, as if silently beseeching Heaven to pardon the profane language which he condemned, but durst not reprove. Unlike as they were in their habits and their morals, the two brothers commonly lived together.
It is hard to divine why, or on what authority, Mr. Edward Wortley has been represented by late writers as a dull phlegmatic country gentleman — "of a tame genius and moderate capacity," or "of parts more solid than brilliant," — which in common parlance is a civil way of saying the same thing. He had, on the contrary, one of those strong characters that are little influenced by the world's opinion, and for that reason little understood by the unthinking part of it. All who really knew him while living held him a man distinguished for soundness of judgment and clearness of understanding, qualities nowise akin to dulness; they allowed him also to be a first-rate scholar; and as he had travelled more than most young men of his time, a proof will presently appear that he surpassed them in the knowledge of modern languages. Polite literature was his passion; and though our having a taste for wit and talents may not certainly imply that we are gifted with them ourselves, yet it would be strange if the alderman-like mortal depicted above had sought out such companions as Steele, Garth, Congreve, Mainwaring, &c., or chosen Addison for his bosom friend. The only picture of Mr. Wortley in existence belonged to Addison, from whose daughter Lady Bute obtained it through her (Miss Addison's) half-sister, Lady Charlotte Rich. It is now in the possession of Lord Wharncliffe. The face seems very young, and, in spite of wig, cravat, and other deforming appendages, very handsome.
Miss, or Mrs. Addison, Addison's daughter by Lady Warwick, and his only child, far from having sufficient endowments to keep up the credit of her great name, was one of those singular beings in whom nature seems to have left the mind half finished; not raised to the average height of human intellect, yet not absolutely imbecile, nor so devoid of judgment in common every-day concerns as to need the guardianship of the law. With this imperfect understanding she possessed a gift, which, it is said, may sometimes be found where there is no great power of thinking, — such an astonishing memory that she could repeat the longest sermon word for word after hearing it once, or get by heart the contents of a whole dictionary. As she inherited all her father had to leave, her circumstances were affluent; but, by the advice of her friends, she lived in retirement at a country-seat, and never attempted to enter the world.
Mr. Wortley's chief intimates have been already named. His society was principally male; the wits and politicians of that day forming a class quite distinct from the "white-gloved beaus" attendant upon ladies. Indeed, as the education of women had then reached its very lowest ebb, and if not coquettes, or gossips, or diligent card-players, their best praise was to be notable housewives; Mr. Wortley, however fond of his sister, could have no particular motive to seek the acquaintance of her companions. His surprise and delight were the greater, when one afternoon, having by chance loitered in her apartment till visitors arrived, he saw Lady Mary Pierrepont for the first time, and, on entering into conversation with her, found, in addition to beauty that charmed him, not only brilliant wit, but a thinking and cultivated mind. He was especially struck with the discovery that she understood Latin, and could relish his beloved classics. Something that passed led to the mention of Quintus Curtius, which she said she had never read. This was a fair handle for a piece of gallantry; in a few days she received a superb edition of the author, with these lines facing the title-page:
Beauty like this had vanquished Persia shown,
The Macedon had laid his empire down,
And polished Greece obeyed a barb'rous throne.
Had wit so bright adorned a Grecian dame,
The am'rous youth had lost his thirst of fame,
Nor distant Indus sought through Syria's plain;
But to the Muses' stream with her had run,
And thought her lover more than Ammon's Son.
How soon this declaration of love in verse was followed by one in prose, does not appear; but Mrs. Anne Wortley grew more eloquent in Lady Mary's praise, and more eagerly desirous of her correspondence. No wonder; since the rough draught of a letter in her brother's hand, indorsed "For my sister to Lady M. P.," betrays that he was the writer, and she only the transcriber of professions and encomiums that sound extravagant as addressed by one woman to another. But she did not live to be long the medium through which they passed; a more direct correspondence soon began, and was continued after her decease. When married, Mr. Wortley and Lady Mary agreed to put by and preserve as memorials of the days of courtship all their letters; a curious collection, and very different from what a romance writer would have framed; on his side, no longer complimentary, but strikingly expressive of a real strong passion, combated in vain by a mind equally strong, which yielded to it against its conviction and against its will. "Celui qui aime plus qu'il ne voudrait," as a French author somewhere says, is, after all, the person on whom love has taken the fastest hold. They were perpetually on the point of breaking altogether: he felt and knew that they suited each other very ill; he saw, or thought he saw, his rivals encouraged if not preferred; he was more affronted than satisfied with her assurances of a sober esteem and regard; and yet every struggle to get free did but end where it set out, leaving him still a captive, galled by his chain, but unable to sever one link of it effectually.
After some time thus spent in fluctuations, disputes, and lovers' quarrels, he at length made his proposals to Lord Dorchester, who received them favourably, and was very gracious to him, till the Grim-gribber part of the business — the portion and settlements — came under consideration; but then broke off the match in great anger, on account of a disagreement which subsequent events have rendered memorable. We see how the practice of a man's entailing his estate upon his eldest son while as yet an unborn child and unknown being, is ridiculed in the Tatler and Spectator; whose authors, it may be observed, had not estates to entail. Mr. Wortley, who had, entertained the same opinions. Possibly they were originally his own, and promulgated by Addison and Steele at his suggestion, for, as he always liked to think for himself, many of his notions were singular and speculative. However this might be, he upheld the system, and acted upon it, offering to make the best provision in his power for Lady Mary, but steadily refusing to settle his landed property upon a son who, for aught he knew, might prove unworthy to possess it — might be a spendthrift, an idiot, or a villain.
Lord Dorchester, on the other hand, said that these philosophic theories were very fine, but his grandchildren should not run the risk of being left beggars; and, as he had to do with a person of no common firmness, the treaty ended there.
The secret correspondence and intercourse went on as before; and shortly Lady Mary acquainted her lover that she was peremptorily commanded to accept the offers of another suitor ready to close with all her father's terms, to settle handsome pin-money, jointure, provision for heirs, and so forth; and, moreover, concede the point most agreeable to herself, that of giving her a fixed establishment in London, which, by-the-by, Mr. Wortley had always protested against. Lord Dorchester seems to have asked no questions touching her inclination in either instance. A man who is now about to sell an estate, seldom thinks of inquiring whether it will please or displease his tenantry to be transferred to a new landlord; and just as little then did parents in disposing of a daughter conceive it necessary to consult her will and pleasure. For a young lady to interfere, or claim a right of choice, was almost thought, as it is in France, a species of indelicacy. Lady Mary nevertheless declared, though timidly, her utter antipathy to the person proposed to her. Upon this, her father summoned her to his awful presence, and, after expressing surprise at her presumption in questioning his judgment, assured her he would not give her a single sixpence if she married anybody else. She sought the usual resource of poor damsels in the like case, begging permission to split the difference (if we may so say) by not marrying at all; but he answered that then she should be immediately sent to a remote place in the country, reside there during his life, and at his death have no portion save a moderate annuity. Relying upon the effect of these threats, he proceeded as if she had given her fullest and freest consent; settlements were drawn, wedding-clothes bought, the day was appointed, and everything made ready, when she left the house to marry Mr. Wortley.
The father's rage may be imagined; Lady Frances Pierrepont, afraid it should lead him to examine her sister's papers, and apprehending that he might there find matter to exasperate him still further, hastily burned all she could find, and amongst them a diary which Lady Mary had already kept for some years, and was not very well pleased to lose.
Soon after her marriage she resumed the practice of writing a journal, and persisted in it as long as she lived; communicating what she wrote to no person whatever. The diary of course became voluminous. Lady Bute, who knew nothing of it till it came into her possession a few days before her mother's death, always kept it under lock and key; and though she often looked over it herself, and would sometimes read passages from it aloud to her daughters and friends, yet she never trusted any part out of her own hands, excepting the five or six first copy-books, which, at a late period, she permitted one of her family to peruse alone, upon condition that nothing should be transcribed. All that she thus in any way imparted related to distant days, to transactions long since past, and people of a former generation. Meanwhile she constantly declared it was her determined resolution to destroy the whole, as a sacred duty owing to the deceased, whose having forgotten or neglected to leave express orders for the purpose, made it only the more incumbent upon her survivors. The journal was accordingly burned, although with evident reluctance, and not till Lady Bute felt the close of her life drawing near; when the act itself sounded too solemn a note of preparation for those who loved her as she deserved to think of opposing it, or indeed to care at all about a matter which would then have seemed totally indifferent had it concerned the finest work in the world.
Lady Bute so admired her mother's writings, and took such pleasure in reading her letters to persons whom she thought endowed with taste enough to relish them, that it might have been held sufficiently certain she had the most cogent reasons for making what clearly appeared a sacrifice. Yet, as youth is inconsiderate, and the fragments she did allow to be seen or heard were not a little amusing, she was very often assailed with entreaties to forego her design. When pressed on this head, she would ask whether, supposing the case one's own, one could bear the thought of having every crude opinion, every transient wish, every angry feeling that had flitted across one's mind, exposed to the world after one was no more? And though she always spoke of Lady Mary with great respect, yet it might be perceived that she knew it had been too much her custom to note down and enlarge upon all the scandalous rumours of the day, without weighing their truth or even their probability; to record as certain facts stories that perhaps sprang up like mushrooms from the dirt, and had as brief an existence, but tended to defame persons of the most spotless character. In this age, she said, everything got into print sooner or later; the name of Lady Mary Wortley would be sure to attract curiosity; and, were such details ever made public, they would neither edify the world, nor do honour to her memory. These were Lady Bute's arguments; and what could any one who had a sense of rectitude urge in reply? especially since it must be acknowledged, that in the volumes which she did communicate, the earliest written, and (one may be confident) the least exceptionable, there occasionally appeared traits of satire that showed what might ensue when the vexations and cares of advancing life should have soured the mind, given objects a darker shade of colour, and made further demands upon a Christian charity not at all likely to have increased in the mean time.
These volumes comprise the years immediately succeeding Lady Mary's marriage, 1713, 1714, 1715; and also the time of Mr. Wortley's embassy. What passed every day was set down; often only in a line, or half a line, as thus: "Stayed at home alone — went to such a place — saw such a person:" so that frequently three or four weeks took up but a single page. Sometimes, again, an occurrence or a conversation would be given at very great length; sometimes despatched with one sharp sentence, like the following humorous application of a speech in Dryden's Spanish Friar: "Lady Hinchinbroke has a dead daughter — it were unchristian not to be sorry for my cousin's misfortune; but if she has no live son, Mr. Wortley is heir — so there's comfort for a Christian."
The three years previous to the embassy were passed by Lady Mary in various abodes, and occasionally apart from Mr. Wortley, while he attended parliament. She was sometimes, however, though seldom, in London; sometimes at Hinchinbroke, the seat of Lord Sandwich; sometimes near it, in the town of Huntingdon, for which Mr. Wortley was member; but more often at hired houses in Yorkshire. About the time of Queen Anne's death, she dates her letters from Middlethorpe, in the neighbourhood of Bishopthorpe and of York. It is a mistake that she ever resided permanently at Wharncliffe Lodge. Mr. Sidney Wortley Montagu chiefly inhabited that himself; and with him his daughter Mrs. Katherine Wortley, his youngest son Mr. John Montagu, his brother the Dean of Durham, and the dean's chaplain. How so many people, together with their servants, could be packed into so small a space, will appear sufficiently wonderful to those who have seen the little dwelling; but a couple more could hardly have been stowed in by any human contrivance.
The first mention of Wharncliffe in Lady Mary's journal, after calling there to visit her father-in-law when on her road to some other place, was very remarkable; considering that she had hitherto known only the midland counties and the environs of London, and probably had never before seen anything like picturesque or romantic scenery. One would have supposed the first sight of so wild and beautiful a prospect as that eagle's nest commands, very sure to occasion surprise, if not excite transport, in a mind gifted with the least imagination. But no; nothing could be colder or more slight than the notice she took of it, almost making an excuse for saying thus much in its favour — "that it was a sequestered rural spot, quite of a rude nature; yet had something in it which she owned she did not dislike, odd as her fancy might appear." In after days, her letters to Mr. Wortley do it more justice; possibly to please him; but the journal gave the original impression, and how may that be accounted for? Can it be that the tastes and pleasures which we now esteem most peculiarly natural, are in fact artificial? what we have merely read, and talked, and rhymed, and sketched ourselves into? plants that require manure and culture, instead of sprouting freely from the soil? Certainly our forefathers were little more alive to them than the American settler, who sees in a wood a nuisance he must clear away, and in a waterfall only the means of turning a mill. Burnet, of the Charter-house, lived and wrote but a few years before Lady Mary Wortley: it may be remembered that his theory of the antediluvian globe supposes it to have had a surface perfectly flat, smooth, and level: and for this reason amongst others, because the earth in its goodly pristine state, the fair work of an Almighty Creator, could not have been deformed by such unsightly protuberances as rocks and mountains. These were the tokens of Divine wrath, vestiges of that awful convulsion which tore the old world to pieces; therefore we naturally regarded them with horror. His hypothesis might have been the same, how contrary soever the opinion of his contemporaries; but he never would have brought this argument to support it, if the majority of the postdiluvians he was writing to, had, like ourselves, considered Earth's protuberances as her finest features. How far were they from suspecting that a future generation would delight in viewing the lakes and climbing the fells of Cumberland!
To resume the journal. In the year 1713, Lady Frances Pierrepont married the Earl of Mar, then Secretary of State for Scotland: — a match of which Lady Mary seems to have augured ill, having but an indifferent opinion of him, detesting the party he belonged to, and believing that her sister was drawn in by the persuasion of an officious female friend, — his relation. These sentiments, however, were expressed without any great warmth, and not as if the event interested her deeply. But the death of her brother, Lord Kingston, which soon followed it, does seem to have really touched her heart. It gave her the greater shock, because she knew nothing of the poor young man's illness until he was past all hope of recovery; for, as Lord Dorchester had not yet entirely forgiven her stolen marriage, he did not allow her to have much intercourse with the rest of his family. Lord Kingston, who died of the small-pox under age, though already a husband and a father, was of a most amiable disposition, and so affectionate to her, that he would have taken her part openly, and have done everything in his power to facilitate her marriage, if the temper of Lord Dorchester had not been such as to render his endeavouring to oppose him more dangerous to himself than useful to his sister. Her reflections on his fate were consequently very bitter as well as very sorrowful; accusing her father of having blighted his youth, and destroyed all the peace and happiness of his short life, by marrying him to a silly, childish girl, for the sake of securing her fortune, before he could judge for himself or make a choice of his own. In him she appeared to think she had lost her best, if not her only, natural friend.
Whenever Lady Mary's attention was much attracted by any report spread concerning one of her acquaintance, or any incident that happened in her society, a piece of good or ill fortune, a death or a marriage, her journal would often branch off into a kind of memoir while the subject was fresh in her mind. She certainly dwelt with most complacency upon whatever afforded the groundwork of a love-story, and as certainly did not spare her censures where the occasion called for them. The composition cost her no pains; she had the gift of writing freely in the first words that presented themselves; so that the fair pages of the diary seldom betrayed a blot or an erasure. Both her daughter and the old servant, who had often seen her at her writing-desk, bore witness to this extraordinary facility.
The most interesting of the narratives was a history of her early companion, Dolly Walpole (as she always called her) — according to her description a beautiful, innocent, well-meaning girl, but endowed with only a moderate portion of sense; giddy, thoughtless, vain, open to flattery, utterly ignorant of the world; in short, though not capable of acting wrong designedly, just the person, if we may use the vulgar tongue, to get often into scrapes. Her eldest brother, then Mr. Walpole, had brought her to London in hopes that her beauty, the pride of his county, might captivate something superior to a Norfolk squire. But being immersed in politics, and careless of what passed at home, he left her to the guidance of his wife, an empty, coquettish, affected woman, anything rather than correct in her own conduct, or spotless in her fame; greedy of admiration, and extremely dissatisfied at having to share it with this younger fairer inmate. In spite of her envious machinations, lovers soon crowded round Dolly, and one of the number presently obtained the preference he languished for. He had all manner of good qualities, was handsome, pleasing, as passionately in love as romance could have required, and heir to a competent fortune; but not altogether his own master: he depended upon his friends. A young man's friends, in this sense, meaning parents, guardians, old uncles, and the like, are rarely propitious to love. As no second sight revealed to them the long glories of Sir Robert Walpole's reign, they looked solely to a matter nearer at hand — Dolly's portion; and finding that null, entered their protest in a determined manner. Mrs. Walpole triumphed; she told tales, made mischief, incited Dolly to flirt with other admirers, and then lamented her fickleness and coquetry to the very people who, she knew, would he sure to speed the lament onward with no favourable comments. Lady Mary took to herself the credit of having been all this while her simple friend's protecting genius; of having often counteracted Mrs. Walpole, and sometimes unmasked her; given Dolly the best advice, and cleared up the misunderstandings between her and her lover that continually arose from jealousy on one side and indiscretion on the other. The story proceeded like its fellows in the Scudery folios, with ins and outs and ups and downs, more than can be remembered; but the sequel was, that the suitor, either inconstant or disgusted, finally withdrew from the chase, and the nymph remained disappointed and forsaken. Just at this unlucky moment, Lady Mary Pierrepont being absent at Thoresby, poor Dolly's evil star prevailed, and, while her mind was in that depressed, mortified state which makes us thankful to anybody who will give us so much as a kind look, led her into acquaintance with Lady Wharton, the very worst protectress she could acquire — a woman equally unfeeling and unprincipled: flattering, fawning, canting, affecting prudery and even sanctity, yet in reality as abandoned and unscrupulous as her husband himself. — So said the journal.
It is worth noting that Lady Mary Wortley, who abhorred the very name of Dean Swift, should yet have spoken of both Lord and Lady Wharton precisely as he did. The portraits were so alike that one might have been believed a copy of the other. To be sure, she was (in Doctor Johnson's phrase) almost as "good a hater" as the dean himself, and the diary proved it by certain passages relating to Queen Anne, Mrs. Masham, and also to persons obnoxious to her for private reasons: but neither private nor public operated against Lord Wharton, with whom she had had no quarrel, who was intimate with her family, and on the same side with her in party; therefore she probably only echoed the general voice in pronouncing him "the most profligate, impious, and shameless of men." Dolly Walpole, however, knowing nothing of any one's character, felt elated at being caressed and courted by so great and good a lady as the Countess of Wharton, told her all her secrets, and complained to her of all her grievances. The result was, that after one of these confidential conversations, when Mrs. Walpole had done something particularly spiteful, and Mr. Walpole happened to be out of town, Lady Wharton pressed the poor girl to leave his house for a few days and pass them in hers, where she should enjoy comfort and tranquillity. Dolly consented with joy, not in the least aware that there could be any objection; and Mrs. Walpole made none, because perfectly well aware, and secretly exulting in what she knew likely to follow.
Now, as Lady Mary proceeded to state, Lord Wharton's character was so infamous, and his lady's complaisant subserviency so notorious, that no young woman could be four-and-twenty hours under their roof with safety to her reputation. Dean Swift says nothing much stronger than this. Upon Mr. Walpole's return home, enraged at finding whither his sister had betaken herself, he flew to Lord Wharton's, and, thundering for admittance, demanded her aloud, regardless who might hear him. My lord, not at all inclined to face him in this temper, thought it safest to abscond; so, crept privately out of his own house by a back door, leaving my lady to bide the pelting of the storm, pitiless as it threatened to prove. Sir Robert, it is well known, was at no time apt to be over delicate or ceremonious: he accosted her ladyship in the plainest English, bestowed upon her some significant epithets, and, without listening to a word of explanation, forced away his weeping sister, with whom he set out for Norfolk the next morning.
Thus ended the first chapter of Dolly's adventures; but she was not doomed to be finally unfortunate. After doing penance for two or three years in a very dull retirement, she had the good luck to light upon a more capital prize in the country than she had ever aimed at in London, the person being Lord Townshend, one of the most unblemished statesmen and respectable gentlemen of that age. Foreign employments had kept him abroad until Queen Anne's change of ministry, and since that he had been a long and sincere mourner for his first wife, the sister of Lord Pelham. Dolly was to him, therefore, a new beauty, no tattle concerning whom had ever reached his ears. Falling in love at once, he proposed, she accepted, and the news of the match prompted Lady Mary to sit down and write her history.
This brief memoir, it is observable, furnishes a clue to the origin of Horace Walpole's excessive dislike of Lady Mary Wortley. His mother and she had been antagonists before he was born; "car tout est reciproque," says La Bruyere. We see how Lady Mary represented Lady Walpole, and may take it for granted that Lady Walpole did not love or spare Lady Mary; and if they continued to keep up the outward forms of acquaintanceship, which of course brought them often into contact, they would naturally hate each other all the more.
Mr. Walpole's affection for his mother was so much the most amiable point in his character, and his expressions whenever he names or alludes to her are so touching, come so directly and evidently from the heart, that one would very fain think of her as he did, and believe she had every perfection his partiality assigns to her. But, in truth, there was a contrary version of the matter, not resting solely, nor yet principally, upon the authority of Lady Mary Wortley. It filled so prominent a place in the scandalous history of the time, that the world knew as well which way Captain Lemuel Giilliver was glancing when gravely vindicating the reputation of my Lord Treasurer Flimnap's excellent lady, as what he meant by the red, green, and blue girdles of the Lilliputian grandees, or the said Flimnap's feats of agility on the tightrope. Those ironical lines also, where Pope says that Sir Robert Walpole
Had never made a friend in private life,
And was besides a tyrant to his wife,
are equally well understood as conveying a sly allusion to his good-humoured unconcern about some things which more straitlaced husbands do not take so coolly. Openly laughing at their nicety, he professed it his method "to go his own way, and let madam go hers." In a word, Horace Walpole himself was generally supposed to be the son of Carr Lord Hervey, and Sir Robert not to be ignorant of it. One striking circumstance was visible to the naked eye; no beings in human shape could resemble each other less than the two passing for father and son; and, while their reverse of personal likeness provoked a malicious whisper, Sir Robert's marked neglect of Horace in his infancy tended to confirm it. A number of children, young Walpole one, were accustomed to meet and play together. Such of them as, like himself, lived to grow old, all united in declaring that no other boy within their knowledge was left so entirely in the hands of his mother, or seemed to have so little acquaintance with his father; the fact being, that Sir Robert Walpole took scarcely any notice of him, till his proficiency at Eton school, when a lad of some standing, drew his attention, and proved that, whether he had, or had not, a right to the name he went by, he was likely to do it honour.
Though in all probability Lord Orford never suspected that any doubt hung over his own birth, yet the mortifications of his youth on his mother's account could not but be severe; for, as she lived till he reached manhood, he must have known how completely she was overlooked and disregarded, though not ill treated, by her husband; and, before his tears for her loss were dried, he had the pang of seeing Miss Skerritt, the rival she hated, installed in her place. That Lady Mary Wortley had been the chief friend and protectress of his stepmother, was alone enough to make him bitter against her. In another instance, we must allow, he showed true generosity of mind. When Sir Robert Walpole, not content with publicly owning his natural daughter by Miss Skerritt, stretched his credit with the crown to the extent of obtaining for her a rank and title till then never conferred on the illegitimate offspring of any man but a prince, his son Horace, instead of murmuring at it, or viewing her with an evil eye, frankly opened his arms to her as a sister, and so called and considered her the rest of his life.
The daughter was not brought forward in this manner till after the death of the mother, who enjoyed her married situation a very few months. But the tale the recognition told could hardly be new to any one. Lady Bute never adverted to it without pain and regret, having a tenderness for Miss Skerritt's memory, which the recollection of her many agreeable qualities, her sweetness of temper, and fondness of herself as a child, rendered it difficult to overcome.
Upon the death of Queen Anne, Mr. Wortley's friends coming into power, he was appointed a Lord of the Treasury. He had long been an active, efficient member of parliament, and when he first obtained this office, people expected that he would have a considerable sway in the new king's counsels: for a reason which will now seem rather surprising — he was the only man at the board (excepting, perhaps, Lord Halifax) who could converse with his majesty, because the only one who spoke French; consequently, much of the business must have gone through his hands, if the sovereign, like his predecessors, William and Anne, had assisted in person at the meetings of the commissioners. But George the First leaving finance affairs and all others to be managed as his ministers pleased, Mr. Wortley had no more personal intercourse with him than the rest. Lady Mary presently attracted his notice, and likewise that of the Prince of Wales (George the Second). By her journal, indeed, it might have been imagined that the latter admired her rather more than the princess (though usually far from jealous) could quite approve. For once, in a rapture, he called her royal highness from the card-table to look how becomingly Lady Mary was dressed! "Lady Mary always dresses well," said the princess, dryly, and returned to her cards. However, his favour was soon withdrawn, and hers regained. The father and son were already, almost at their first setting out, upon such hostile terms, that, the moment the prince heard of Lady Mary's having been at one of the king's select parties, he grew not only cool but resentful, taunting her as a deserter gone over to the enemy's camp; and thenceforward she dressed becomingly in vain. An increase of graciousness on the part of the princess made her amends.
A former edition tells us, "that the Court of George the First was modelled upon that of Louis the Fifteenth." A whimsical model! Since Louis was about seven years old when George, a man near sixty, ascended the British throne. One would think Louis the Fourteenth must have been the person meant, but that the retired habits of the English monarch accorded no better with the stately ceremonial of the elder French one, than with the amusements and regulations of his great-grandson's nursery. George the First went to the play or opera in a sedan-chair, and sate, like another gentleman, in the corner of a lady's (a German lady's) box, with a couple of Turks in waiting instead of lords and grooms of the bedchamber. In one respect his Court, if Court it could be called, bore some resemblance to the old establishment of Versailles. There was a Madame de Maintenon. Two ladies had accompanied him from Hanover, Mademoiselle de Schulenberg, and Madame Kilmansegg, nee Platen. The former, whom he created Duchess of Kendal, was lodged in St. James's Palace, and had such respect paid her as very much confirmed the rumour of a left-hand marriage. She presided at the king's evening parties, consisting of the Germans who formed his familiar society, a few English ladies, and fewer English men: among them Mr. Craggs, the secretary of state, who had been at Hanover in the queen's time, and by thus having the entree in private, passed for a sort of favourite.
Lady Mary's journal related a ridiculous adventure of her own at one of these royal parties; which, by-the-by, stood in great need of some laughing-matter to enliven them, for they seem to have been even more dull than it was reasonable to expect they should be. She had on one evening a particular engagement that made her wish to be dismissed unusually early; she explained her reasons to the Duchess of Kendal, and the duchess informed the king, who, after a few complimentary remonstrances, appeared to acquiesce. But when he saw her about to take her leave, he began battling the point afresh, declaring it was unfair and perfidious to cheat him in such a manner, and saying many other fine things, in spite of which she at last contrived to escape. At the foot of the great stairs she ran against Secretary Craggs just coming in, who stopped her to inquire what was the matter — were the company put off? She told him why she went away, and how urgently the king had pressed her to stay longer; possibly dwelling on that head with some small complacency. Mr. Craggs made no remark; but, when he had heard all, snatching her up in his arms as a nurse carries a child, he ran full speed with her up-stairs, deposited her within the ante-chamber, kissed both her hands respectfully (still not saying a word), and vanished. The pages seeing her returned, they knew not how, hastily threw open the inner doors, and, before she had recovered her breath, she found herself again in the king's presence. "Ah! la re-voila!" cried he and the duchess, extremely pleased, and began thanking her for her obliging change of mind. The motto on all palace-gates is "HUSH!" as Lady Mary very well knew. She had not to learn that mystery and caution ever spread their awful wings over the precincts of a Court; where nobody knows what dire mischief may ensue from one unlucky syllabic blabbed about anything, or about nothing, at a wrong time. But she was bewildered, fluttered, and entirely off her guard; so, beginning giddily with "Oh Lord, sir, I have been so frightened!" she told his majesty the whole story exactly as she would have told it to any one else. He had not done exclaiming, nor his Germans wondering, when again the door flew open, and the attendants announced Mr. Secretary Craggs, who, but that moment arrived, it should seem, entered with the usual obeisance, and as composed an air as if nothing had happened. "Mais comment donc, Monsieur Craggs," said the king, going up to him, "est-ce que c'est l'usage de ce pays de porter des belles dames comme un sac de froment?" "Is it the custom of this country to carry about fair ladies like a sack of wheat?" The minister, struck dumb by this unexpected attack, stood a minute or two not knowing which way to look; then, recovering his self-possession, answered with a low bow, "There is nothing I would not do for your majesty's satisfaction." This was coming off tolerably well; but he did not forgive the tell-tale culprit, in whose ear, watching his opportunity when the king turned from them, he muttered a bitter reproach, with a round oath to enforce it; "which I durst not resent," continued she, "for I had drawn it upon myself; and indeed I was heartily vexed at my own imprudence."
The name of George the First recals a remarkable anecdote of his mother, the Princess Sophia, which Mr. Wortley and Lady Mary heard from Lord Halifax. When he and Lord Dorset were despatched by the Whig administration upon the welcome errand of announcing to her the act of parliament that secured the Hanover succession, at the same time carrying the Garter to the electoral prince, her grandson, they were received, as may be supposed, with every mark of distinction. At their first formal audience, as they commenced a set speech, after delivering their credentials, the old electress, who was standing, gave a kind of start, and almost ran to one corner of the room, where, fixing her back against the wall, she remained stiff and erect as if glued to it, till the ceremony ended, and they withdrew. Her behaviour being in all other respects very dignified and decorous, they were at a loss to divine what could have occasioned this extraordinary move, and very curious to discover the meaning of it; a secret which Lord Halifax at length got at, by dint of sifting and cross-questioning her courtiers. She had suddenly recollected that there hung in that room a picture of her cousin, the PRETENDER, and, in a fright lest it should catch their eyes, could hit upon no expedient to hide it but by screening it with her own person. The good princess, however, was not in the least disloyal to herself; she harboured no dislike to the prospect of a crown, nor any scruples about accepting it; but, nevertheless, valuing her Stuart-descent, she had a family feeling for the young man, whom she firmly believed to be as much James the Second's son, as George the First was her own. That is to say, she was what at the time all England would have styled "a rank Jacobite."
The only event particularly interesting to Lady Mary that seems to have taken place between the king's accession and her journey to Constantinople was the marriage of her father, now Duke of Kingston, to "the Fair Isabella," as she is called in the journal; in common speech, Lady Belle Bentinck, the youngest daughter of the late Earl of Portland, King William's favourite. She was one of the most admired beauties in London, and had long been the object of his grace's pursuit. Her previous history supplied the diary with a romantic tale, but Lady Mary did not pretend that it had come under her own cognisance, like Dolly Walpole's, or say from what authority she gave it. The heads of it were, a passion for a younger lover, and the combats and conflicts of love on one side, with interest and ambition on the other; until these latter, gaining a complete victory, made the offers of a man who had three married daughters older than the lady herself appear too tempting to be refused. It is needless to add that Lady Mary was free from any partial feeling towards a mother-in-law who, as she supposed, aimed straight at becoming a rich widow. If so, she had not the happiness of being one long; for, notwithstanding the disparity of their ages, she survived her husband but two years. He died in 1726; Lady Bute remembered having seen him once only, but that in a manner likely to leave some impression on the mind of a child. Her mother was dressing, and she playing about the room, when there entered an elderly stranger (of dignified appearance, and still handsome), with the authoritative air of a person entitled to admittance at all times; upon which, to her great surprise, Lady Mary instantly starting up from the toilet-table, dishevelled as she was, fell on her knees to ask his blessing. A proof that even in the great and gay world this primitive custom was still universal.
Lady Bute witnessed the observance of another, now obsolete, in the ceremony that her grandfather's widow had to go through soon after his funeral was over. It behoved her to see company; that is, to receive in person the compliments of condolence which every lady on her grace's visiting list was bound to tender, in person likewise. And this was the established form: the apartments, the staircase, and all that could be seen of the house, were hung with black cloth; the duchess, closely veiled with crape, sate upright in her state-bed under a high black canopy; and at the foot of the bed stood ranged, like a row of mutes in a tragedy, the grandchildren of the deceased duke — Lady Frances Pierrepont, Miss Wortley herself, and Lady Gower's daughters. Profound silence reigned: the room had no light but from a single wax taper; and the condoling visitors, who curtseyed in and out of it, approached the bed on tiptoe; if relations, all, down to the hundredth cousin, in black-glove-mourning for the occasion.
We may perceive from this that Sir Richard Steele's comedy of the "Funeral" contained no exaggeration. Nor was the custom of putting houses into mourning for their defunct owners confined to the great. In the supposed letter of Partridge the astrologer, the undertaker, concluding that "the doctor must needs have died rich," sets about measuring the wainscot, and says, "Let's see; the passage and these two rooms hung in close mourning, with a stripe of black baize round the others, will be sufficient." How a miser must have grudged the expense of dying!
It has been already said that the volumes containing Lady Mary Wortley's journal while in Turkey, were among those which Lady Bute trusted one of her family to peruse alone. This portion of her diary was retained some time, compared with the printed letters, and examined with very great attention. It proved, as far as what we may call a negative can be proved, that the story, so generally prevalent, of Lady Mary's having had admittance into the Seraglio, was totally false and groundless. In those pages intended to meet no eye but her own — where, as in the preceding volumes, every event was set down day by day, every day accounted for, however briefly, every place she went to specified — not one word denoted, not a mysterious or ambiguous expression left the least room to surmise that she had ever set her foot within the walls of the Sultan's palace, either at Adrianople or Constantinople; nay, that she had ever sought to do it, or ever thought of it as a thing practicable. The respectable gentleman who edited her works in 1803, was no way to blame for having adopted a notion which he found commonly received by the world; yet it would appear strange, if we did not know the power of prejudice, that his prepossessions on the subject could make him fancy he saw in the printed letters, which had lain so long under everybody's eyes, what was not there. "Many people," he says, "were at first inclined to doubt the possibility of her acquiring the kind of information she has given respecting the interior of the Harem;" — respecting which, the Royal Harem, she has given no information of any kind, excepting what she obtained from the Sultana Hafiten. Nobody can doubt the possibility of one person's hearing what another says; and her words are, "I did not omit the opportunity of learning all I possibly could about the Seraglio, which is so entirely unknown among us." In none of her letters, saving that where this visit is described, does she so much as mention, or allude to, the interior of the Seraglio. At Adrianople she writes: "The Seraglio does not seem a very magnificent palace; but the gardens are large, plentifully supplied with water, and full of trees, which is all I know of them, never having been in them." Again, at Constantinople: "I have taken care to see as much of the Seraglio as is to be seen; — it is a palace of prodigious extent, but very irregular. The gardens take in a large compass of ground, full of high cypress-trees, which is all I know of them." Do not these two paragraphs say the self-same thing — viz. that she knew nothing of either building but the outside? Yet this note is appended to the latter: "It is evident that Lady Mary did not mean to assert that she had seen the interior of the Seraglio at Constantinople. She had certainly seen that at Adrianople."!!!
But let us hear the testimony of the natives; first taking into our account the wide difference of their position in the beginning and at the close of the last century. Mr. Wortley's embassy found the Turks in full power and pride. Their arms had driven the Venetians out of Greece. Peter the Great of Russia, hemmed in with his whole army by that of the Grand Vizier, had been reduced to buy the permission of making a safe retreat. The hero of Europe, Charles the Twelfth, had become their suppliant, their pensioner, and finally, their captive. At that period they disdained to send ambassadors to any foreign court, and affected to regard those sent to them, either as mere commercial agents, or as the bearers of homage from their respective sovereigns. In 1799, we saw a Turkish ambassador smoking his pipe in the garden of Portman-square. The Ottoman empire, curtailed, humbled, dejected, despoiled of whole provinces by Russia, about to have the fairest of those remaining wrested from it by Bonaparte, was lying, "like a sick fallen beast," at the feet of England. Was this a time for the Porte to refuse a favour which it had freely granted in its haughtier days? Yet, when the English ambassadress asked leave to visit the ladies of the Seraglio, it was peremptorily denied, as contrary to the fundamental rules of their monarchy.
The customs of the East are known to be unchangeable, and more respected by the Oriental nations than our laws by us. The usage debarring any foreign minister's wife from entering the Royal Harem, was of this nature; held too sacred for the Grand Signor himself to infringe. Lady Mary Wortley's example being pleaded, the Turks, male and female, laughed at the story as a ridiculous fable, invented by some one grossly ignorant of their manners; and declared that if she herself said she was ever in the Seraglio of Achmet the Third, she told a falsehood which only Frankish credulity could believe. Shortly afterwards, on the news of our success in Egypt, the Valida, or queen-mother, by an act of condescension till then unknown, consented to give the ambassadress an audience — but not within the Seraglio, that could not be. She removed for the purpose into a palace of her own quite apart from it, and there the ceremony passed.
The belief which these impartial judges laughed to scorn, did, as they said, take its rise from a fable; an absurd, but also a malicious tale, fabricated some time after Lady Mary's return to England. She alludes to it with contempt in a letter written from Florence, and imputes its invention to the malignity of Pope; whether justly or not, is nothing to our present purpose. This letter being one of those published in an additional volume in 1767, and rejected in the edition of 1803, from a doubt of their authenticity, it may be proper to state why they are reprinted here. In Lady Bute's lifetime, a person who had heard that there was such a doubt, yet thought their style and spirit spoke them genuine, begged her to decide the question. She sent for the book, and, after turning over half a dozen pages, exclaimed, "Genuine beyond all dispute;" a sentence she confirmed as she went on, saying of one letter in particular, "I am as sure my mother wrote this as if I had seen the pen in her hand."
During Lady Mary's travels, she copied into her diary the letters of Pope and Congreve as she received them; and it contained the whole substance of her own meaning of those printed in 1763. The descriptions of her journey, of the court and society of Vienna, of inoculation of Fatima, of the Sultana Hafiten, of the antiquities, baths, mosques, janissaries, effendis, &c. &c., were all there; sometimes more diffusedily given, but oftener in the very same words. It seemed her custom to note everything down without a moment's delay; and then, when she wrote a letter, to transcribe from the journal the passages she thought fittest to be communicated to her friends, or, one may say, to the world. For, although she did not design the correspondence for publication while she was living, she had it copied, and allowed many people to read it. The diary, of course, contained further details; but the cream having been skimmed for the letters, the rest was not very interesting or important. No Valida ever was named, therefore the princess represented by Voltaire as so active in befriending Charles the Twelfth, had probably died before Mr. Wortley's arrival at her son's court. Upon the whole, Lady Mary led a retired life most of the time she passed in that country.
It is known that when on her way to die, as it proved, in her own, she gave a copy of the letters to Mr. Sowden, minister of the English church at Rotterdam, attesting the gift by her signature. This showed it was her wish that they should eventually be published; but Lady Bute, hearing only that a number of her mother's letters were in a stranger's hands, and having no certainty what they might be, to whom addressed, or how little of a private nature, could not but earnestly desire to obtain them, and readily paid the price demanded — five hundred pounds. In a few months she saw them appear in print. Such was the fact; and how it came about, nobody at this time of day need either care or inquire.
The first editor of these letters — a Mr. Cleland, as it is supposed, or whoever else he might be — ascribes the preface, dated in 1724, and signed M. A., to a lady of quality, whom he terms "the fair and elegant prefacer:" epithets most unluckily chosen, unless the lovers of fine style hold them as inseparably annexed to a petticoat, as, in parliamentary language, "honourable" is to an M.P. This fair and elegant lady of quality was no less a person than Mistress Mary Astell, of learned memory, the Madonella of the Tatler, a very pious, exemplary woman, and a profound scholar, but as far from fair and elegant as any old schoolmaster of her time: in outward form, indeed, rather ill-favoured and forbidding, and of a humour to have repulsed the compliment roughly, had it been paid her while she lived. For she regarded such common-place phrases as insults in disguise, impertinently offered by men through a secret persuasion that all women were fools. She may be thought to have dealt in wholesale praise herself, but her encomiums, though excessive, were, sincere; she was an enthusiast, not a flatterer, and felt for Lady Mary Wortley that fond partiality which old people of ardent tempers sometimes entertain for a rising genius in their own line. Literature had been hers; and she triumphed in Lady Mary's talents as proofs of what it was her first wish to demonstrate, namely, the mental equality of the sexes; if not the superiority of woman to man. Many a tract have the worms long ago eaten, or the pastry-cooks demolished, in which she laid down this doctrine; exposing the injustice and tyranny of one sex, and maintaining the capacity of the other, if allowed fair play, for the highest attainments. But, like most people who are bent upon establishing a theory which they know others will controvert, and suspect they may laugh at, she often wrote herself into a passion as she went on, and made more free with the words jackanapes, puppy, booby, and blockhead, than we should think becoming in a fair and elegant authoress at present.
Among Lady Mary Wortley's books there was one of these treatises, splendidly bound, and inscribed "From the Author." The language was coarse but forcible, Mrs. Astell's wrath and zeal and spite against saucy mankind comically bitter, and her indignation excessive at the eagerness of foolish womankind to get husbands; but for which unaccountable weakness, she felt assured that a new leaf might be turned over, and the tyrants be brought to confusion. This sentence is recollected: "If a young fellow do but know enough to keep himself clean, you shall have him thinking, forsooth, that he may pretend to a woman of the best quality and understanding." And when by chance the clean men succeeded better with the high and wise women than their presumption deserved — an accident which will now and then happen — it was matter of positive pain and grief to her righteous spirit.
The tract in question, long out of print and forgotten, could hardly have been known to Mary Wolstonecroft; yet it so resembled her "Rights of Women," that the effect was ludicrous, considering how directly the two ladies were contrasted in character, principles, and practice: the ancient championess of the sex being a devout Christian, a flaming high-church-woman, deeply read in abstruse divinity, strictly virtuous, and eminently loyal; the modern one, if we may trust her husband's report and her own, the reverse of all these things. This, however, enabled her to take the field unencumbered with some difficulties which must have shackled her forerunner; for instance, certain passages in the third chapter of Genesis, such as, "He shall rule over thee."
How Mrs. Astell got over these is not remembered; but assuredly it could not be, like the freethinking Mary, by contemning their authority. Whatever were her foibles and prejudices, her piety was genuine, fervent, and humble: cordially loving as well as admiring Lady Mary Wortley, she had nothing so much at heart as to promote her spiritual welfare, and turn her attention from the vanities of this world to the chief concern of accountable beings.
One day, after a serious discussion of some religious subject, very eagerly pursued on Mrs. Astell's side, she paused, and, gazing at Lady Mary with melancholy earnestness, said, impressively, "My days are numbered: I am old; that you know; but I now tell you in confidence, I have a mortal disease which must soon bring me to the grave. I go hence, I humbly trust in Christ, to a state of happiness; and if departed spirits be permitted to revisit those whom they have loved on earth, remember I make you a solemn promise that mine shall appear to you, and confirm the truth of all I have been saying." — Surely a most affecting proof of true and tender friendship, whether the forming such an intention be thought presumptuous or pardonable. A few weeks afterwards she died (of a cancer); but Lady Mary said the awful apparition never came.
One word more of Mrs. Astell, although she may have already engrossed too many. Lady Mary Wortley had what we should now call an album, a book of poetical scraps, ballads, epigrams, elegies, lampoons, the floating ephemera of the moment; almost all collected previously to the year 1730. Amongst these was the following Ode to Friendship, addressed to herself by Mrs. Mary Astell:
Friendship! peculiar gift of Heav'n,
The noble mind's delight and pride,
To Wortley and to angels giv'n,
To all the lower world denied:
While Love, unknown among the blest,
Parent of rage and hot desire,
The human and the savage breast
Inflames alike, with equal fire.
With bright but oft destructive gleam
Alike o'er all his lightnings fly;
Thy lambent glories only beam
Around the fav'rites of the sky.
Thy gentle flow of guiltless joys
On fools and villains ne'er descend:
In vain for thee the monarch sighs
Who hugs a flatt'rer for a friend.
When virtues, kindred virtues meet,
And sister-souls together join,
Thy pleasures, lasting as they're sweet,
Are all transporting, all divine.
Oh! may this flame ne'er cease to glow
Till you to happier seats remove!
What raised your virtue here below,
Shall aid your happiness above.
The reader will perceive that this is the same ode which, with some variations for the better, Boswell has given us as written at an early age by Dr. Johnson. Query, which of these two conscientious people, the Doctor or Mrs. Astell, could be guilty of purloining their neighbour's goods and passing them off for their own? And also, the difference of ages and distance of abodes considered, what breeze could have wafted the stanzas of the one into the scrutoire of the other? The sentiments undoubtedly seem better suited to an austere maiden gentlewoman, ever the sworn foe of Love, than to a stripling at the time of life when "that boy and that boy's deeds" (as lately sang Sir James Bland Burgess) are seldom held in any great abhorrence. Not that we dare build upon this argument, because many young people will defy him stoutly before they have the misfortune to make his acquaintance. But dates, as Johnson himself would have said, are stubborn things. Boswell tells us that this ode was first published in the year 1743. Now, Mrs. Astell had then been dead twelve years; and, since her ghost never did pay Lady Mary Wortley a visit, it is to be presumed she gave her the verses while she was alive. In short, the pro and con. of the affair might find the Gentleman's Magazine in matter of controversy for a twelvemonth.
Lady Mary's introduction of inoculation on her return from the East, is a subject of far greater importance. The smallpox was a disorder which she had sufficient reason to dread: it carried off her only brother, and had visited her so severely that she always said she meant the Flavia of her sixth Town Eclogue for herself, having expressed in that poem what her own sensations were while slowly recovering under the apprehension of being totally disfigured. Although this did not happen, yet the disease left tokens of its passage, for it deprived her of very fine eyelashes; which gave a fierceness to her eyes that impaired their beauty. Former sufferings and mortifications therefore, she acknowledged, led her to observe the Turkish invention with particular interest; but only the higher motive of hoping to save numberless lives could have given her courage to resolve upon bringing home the discovery. For what an arduous, what a fearful, and, we may add, what a thankless enterprise it was, nobody is now in the least aware. Those who have heard her applauded for it ever since they were born, and have also seen how joyfully vaccination was welcomed in their own days, may naturally conclude that when once the experiment had been made, and had proved successful, she could have nothing to do but to sit down triumphant, and receive the thanks and blessings of her countrymen. But it was far otherwise. The age she belonged to resembled Farmer Goodenough in Miss Edgeworth's popular tale "The Will," who sets his face doggedly against all changes, innovations, and improvements, no matter what. How like ours may peradventure be to the same author's Marvel, ever prone to run headlong after every new device, no matter what, we will not inquire. Lady Mary protested that in four or five years immediately succeeding her arrival at home, she seldom passed a day without repenting of her patriotic undertaking; and she vowed that she never would have attempted it if she had foreseen the vexation, the persecution, and even the obloquy it brought upon her. The clamours raised against the practice, and of course against her, were beyond belief. The faculty all rose in arms to a man, foretelling failure and the most disastrous consequences; the clergy descanted from their pulpits on the impiety of thus seeking to take events out of the hand of Providence; the common people were taught to hoot at her as an unnatural mother, who had risked the lives of her own children. And notwithstanding that she soon gained many supporters amongst the higher and more enlightened classes, headed by the Princess of Wales (Queen Caroline), who stood by her firmly, some even of her acquaintance were weak enough to join in the outcry.
We now read in grave medical biography that the discovery was instantly hailed, and the method adopted, by the principal members of that profession. Very likely they left this recorded; for whenever an invention or a project — and the same may be said of persons — has made its way so well by itself as to establish a certain reputation, most people are sure to find out that they always patronised it from the beginning; and a happy gift of forgetfulness enables many to believe their own assertion. But what said Lady Mary of the actual fact and actual time? Why, that the four great physicians deputed by government to watch the progress of her daughter's inoculation, betrayed not only such incredulity as to its success, but such an unwillingness to have it succeed, such an evident spirit of rancour and malignity, that she never cared to leave the child alone with them one second, lest it should in some secret way suffer from their interference.
Lady Bute herself could partly confirm her mother's account by her own testimony, for afterwards the battle was often fought in her presence. As inoculation gained ground, all who could make or claim the slightest acquaintance with Lady Mary Wortley used to beg for her advice and superintendence while it was going on in their families; and she constantly carried her little daughter along with her to the house, and into the sick-room, to prove her security from infection.
A child, especially a solitary child, if intelligent, attends to what passes before it much earlier and more heedfully than people imagine. From six years old upwards, Lady Bute could see the significant shrugs of the nurses and servants, and observe the looks of dislike they cast at her mother. She also overheard anxious parents repeating to Lady Mary the arguments that had been used to deter them from venturing upon the trial; and aunts and grandmothers, in the warmth of their zeal against it, quoting the opinion of this doctor or that apothecary. All which, well remembered, enabled her to conceive how strong were the prejudices it originally had to encounter.
It may be urged with some justice that the obstinacy of Farmer Goodenough produced one excellent effect: the matter was, in Chaucer's words, "boulted to the bran;" it underwent a far more severe and thorough investigation than if it had been at first received with open arms, or suffered to pass with less opposition. But what will be does not alter what is; and Lady Mary was surely pardonable for sometimes regretting that the prospect of future good to the world at large had induced her to incur present personal evil.
Perhaps it will not be straying too widely from the subject to mention here a remarkable passage in the life of Lady Mary Wortley's grandson, William Stuart, the late Primate of Ireland. During the long time that he was only vicar of Luton in Bedfordshire, a malignant smallpox broke out in that neighbourhood, almost equal, upon a smaller scale, to some of the pestilences recorded in history. The mortality increased so fast, and the minds of the country people were so distracted with terror, that he at length, taking his resolution, offered to have every person who was still uninfected inoculated at his own expense.
A religious scruple lingered yet among the dissenters, who were very numerous in that parish and those adjoining; but excessive apprehension overcame it: they, like the rest, crowded to signify their assent, and within a fortnight above two thousand persons of all ages underwent the operation. Mr. Stuart stood alone without coadjutor or adviser; his family, who were at a distance, knew nothing of the transaction; he had only a country practitioner and country nurses to depend upon; add to this, that it was impossible such a number of patients could all be dully prepared or properly attended to; neither persuasion, entreaties, nor authority, could make the poor always observe the directions he gave them; and some, whom he would fain have deterred on account of their advanced age or sickly habits, would run the risk in spite of his prohibition. Yet it pleased God to grant him complete success. Very few difficult cases occurred, and only three people died; an infirm unhealthy woman, a man past eighty years old, and an infant whose mother afterwards confessed she knew it had already caught the disease, which in her ignorance she supposed inoculation was to cure. To crown all, for several succeeding years the small-pox scarcely reappeared in that district. But when his parishioners were safe, Mr. Stuart himself began to sink under all that he had suffered in body and mind. The exertions daily and nightly required to supply what was wanted, and overlook what was passing (often at a considerable distance), made his fatigues very severe; but the deep feeling of responsibility, and the anxiety which he had to stifle and keep concealed, whatever the effort might cost, were a thousand times more oppressive. Many months elapsed before he recovered his former health and spirits. — This digression the reader must forgive.
The next point of much consequence in Lady Mary Wortley's history is her quarrel with Pope. If this had made less noise and been less canvassed, it would be desirable to pass it by unnoticed; for when two persons of distinguished ability misemploy their talents and degrade themselves by striving to vilify each other, the honest part of their admirers must feel more inclination to avert their eyes from the conflict than to engage in it as partisans of either. Her own statement, however, was this: that at some ill-chosen time, when she least expected what romances call a declaration, he made such passionate love to her, as, in spite of her utmost endeavours to be angry and look grave, provoked an immoderate fit of laughter; from which moment he became her implacable enemy.
When we see how a personal defect, comparatively trifling, weighed upon Lord Byron's mind, and, by his own avowal, warped his character, we cannot wonder that a temper so irritable as Pope's should have winced at being reminded of his extreme deformity more forcibly than by a thousand words. Doubtless, too, his vanity had taken as encouragement her permitting him to write her love-letters — i.e. letters commonly so called, expressive neither of passion, nor affection, nor any natural feeling whatsoever; tissues of far-fetched conceits and extravagant compliments; the prose counterparts of those love-verses which Dr. Johnson christened metaphysical. But let it be observed, in justice to Lady Mary's taste, that her answers treat this kind of language with tacit contempt. Viewing it probably, with the widow in Hudibras, as only "high-heroic fustian," she returns him a recital of some plain matter of fact, and never takes the smallest notice of protestation or panegyric.
Pope certainly thought that ladies could not be addressed without these flourishes, or in any simpler style than that of Balzac and Voiture, then the received models of letter-writing. To men he wrote differently; yet surely his letters, even to them, to his intimate friends, smell of the lamp, and bear the marks of study and composition as visibly as his most finished poems.
ALAS! — is all that can be said about the warfare that followed. It is to be hoped that Lady Mary had little share in the "Verses to the Imitator of Horace," and some others which shall not be reprinted in this edition. If they were chiefly Lord Hervey's, they have no business here; and, at any rate, are better forgotten than remembered.
The readers of Dr. Johnson will recollect this passage in his Life of Pope: "The table (Lord Oxford's) was infested by Lady Mary Wortley, who was the friend of Lady Oxford, and who, knowing his peevishness, could by no entreaties be restrained from contradicting him, till their disputes were sharpened to such asperity that the one or the other quitted the house." When Lady Bute read the Lives of the Poets on their first publication, she pointed out this paragraph to one of her daughters, observing, "How ill Johnson must have been informed! My mother's intimacy with Lady Oxford was by no means of an early date; their acquaintance first began within my own memory, long after the quarrel with Pope had risen to such a height, and become so public, that it would have been insulting her grossly to admit him into any house where she was one of the guests expected. I am confident they never met at Lord Oxford's table in their lives."
Upon her mentioning the subject to her friend the Dowager-Duchess of Portland, Lord Oxford's only child, the duchess, who, being her elder by three years, could go those three years farther back, and speak to the point so much more positively, said she was certain that no such meeting had ever taken place beneath her father's roof. "If he could have dreamed of inviting them at the same time (said she), which his good breeding and sense of propriety made impossible, my mother, who adored Lady Mary and hated Pope, would no more have consented to it than she would have put her hand in the fire." That great poet, it was clear from many expressions that escaped the duchess, had not won the good will of Lord Oxford's family in the same degree as Matthew Prior; of whom she always spoke with affection, and said he made himself beloved by every living thing in the house, — master, child, and servant, human creature or animal.
It is a common remark, that people of brilliant parts often have no objection to relax, or rest, their understandings in the society of those whose intellects are a little more obtuse. Here was an instance: the gods never made anybody less poetical than Lady Oxford; and yet Lady Mary Wortley, though in general not over tolerant to her inferiors in capacity, appears upon the whole to have loved nobody so well. And there was an exception equally striking in her favour; for Lady Oxford, heartily detesting most of the wits who surrounded her husband, yet admired Lady Mary with all her might; pretty much as the parish clerk reverences the rector for his Greek and Hebrew. Lady Bute confessed that she sometimes got into sad disgrace, by exclaiming, "Dear mamma! how can you be so fond of that stupid woman?" which never failed to bring upon her a sharp reprimand, and a lecture against rash judgments, ending with, "Lady Oxford is not shining, but she has much more in her than such giddy things as you and your companions can discern." Her daughter, the duchess, perhaps from being at that unripe season giddy too, was suspected of having penetrated no farther into the hidden treasures of her mother's mind than any of her young friends. Dulness assuredly had no share in her own composition.
Another of Lady Mary's friends, the famous Lord Hervey, however blackened or extolled, must have been anything but stupid. Their intimacy did not always prevent her from laughing at him, as is proved by the well-known sentence, almost a proverb, "that this world consisted of men, women, and Herveys," which was originally hers. And so might be a chance epigram or ballad besides, yet no great harm done. For as there are some people who must be handled seriously or not meddled with, and a few whom it would be sacrilege and profanation to laugh at, there are others with whom their friends take that liberty every day; nay, who invite it by laughing at themselves. This is very commonly the case with those who, being conscious of some whimsical peculiarity, and withal no fools, think that humorously exaggerating their own foible, gives them a privilege to indulge it. The exaggeration then gets abroad, and by that the character is stamped. For "half the strange stories you hear in the world" (said one who knew it well) "come from people's not understanding a joke." Accordingly it has been handed down as a proof of the extreme to which Lord Hervey carried his effeminate nicety, that, when asked at dinner whether he would have some beef, he answered, "Beef? — Oh, no! — Faugh! Don't you know I never eat beef, nor horse, nor any of those things?" Could any mortal have said this in earnest?
Lord Hervey dying a few years after Lady Mary Wortley settled abroad, his eldest son sealed up and sent her her letters, with an assurance that none of them had been read or opened. The late Lord Orford affirmed that Sir Robert Walpole did the same with regard to those she had written to his second wife; but she probably destroyed both collections, for no traces of them appeared among her papers. To Lord Hervey's heir she wrote a letter of thanks for his honourable conduct, adding, that she could almost regret he had not glanced his eye over a correspondence which would have shown him what so young a man might perhaps be inclined to doubt, — the possibility of a long and steady friendship subsisting between two persons of different sexes without the least mixture of love. Much pleased with this letter, he preserved it; and, when Lady Mary came to England, showed it to Lady Bute, desiring she would ask leave for him to visit her mother.
His own mother, Lady Hervey, made no such request; for she had partaken neither of the correspondence nor the friendship. That "dessous des cartes," which Madame de Sevigne advises us to peep at, would here have betrayed that Lord and Lady Hervey had lived together upon very amicable terms, "as well-bred as if not married at all," according to the demands of Mrs. Millamant in the play; but without any strong sympathies, and more like a French couple than an English one. It might be from suspecting this state of things, that his avowed enemies, Pope for one, went out of their way to compliment and eulogise her. However, their praises were not unmerited: by the attractions she retained in age, she must have been singularly captivating when young, gay, and handsome; and never was there so perfect a model of the finely polished, highly-bred, genuine woman of fashion. Her manners had a foreign tinge, which some called affected; but they were gentle, easy, dignified, and altogether exquisitely pleasing. One circumstance will excite surprise: notwithstanding her constant close connexion with the old Court, she was, at heart and in opinion, a zealous Jacobite; hardly, perhaps, to the pitch of wishing the Pretender's enterprise success, yet enough so to take fire in defence of James the Second if ever she heard any blame laid to his charge.
At the time of Lady Mary Wortley's return home, Lady Hervey was living in great intimacy with Lady Bute, for whom she professed, and it is believed really felt, the highest esteem and admiration. On hearing of her mother's arrival, she came to her, owning herself embarrassed by the fear of giving her pain or offence, but yet compelled to declare, that formerly something had passed between her and Lady Mary which made any renewal of their acquaintance impossible; therefore, if she forbore visiting her, she threw herself upon Lady Bute's friendship and candour for pardon. No explanation followed. Lady Bute, who must have early seen the necessity of taking care not to be entangled in her mother's quarrels, which, to speak truth, were seldom few in number, only knew that there had been an old feud between her, Lady Hervey, and Lady Hervey's friend, Mrs. (or Lady) Murray; the particulars of which, forgotten even then by everybody but themselves, may well be now beyond recal. Those treble-refined sets of company who occupy the pinnacle of fashion, are at all times subject to such intestine jars as only the French word "tracasseries" can fitly express. Lady Mary's letters to Lady Mar betray how much of this sort of work was continually going on in their society.
Mrs. Murray, whom she so often mentions, was the daughter of Mr. Baillie, of Jerviswood, Bishop Burnet's near relation, a leading man in Parliament, of most respectable character. Though married, she resided with her father, as did also the rest of his family. Lady Hervey's Letters, published in 1821, contain a warm panegyric upon her; and Lady Mary Wortley herself could not deny her the praise of being very pretty, very agreeable, and very generally admired; all which rendered only the more grating a strange adventure that befel her in the midst of her brilliant career. One of her father's footmen, probably either mad or drunk, entered her room at midnight, armed with a pistol, and declared a passion for her, which he swore he would gratify, or take her life. Her cries brought assistance: he was seized, tried, and transported; she forced to give evidence against him at the Old Bailey. How such a story, and such a public appearance must have wounded the feelings of a gentlewoman, it is easy to conceive. Any allusion to it must have been galling; and one cannot wonder if she took unkindly even Lady Mary's "Epistle from Arthur Grey in Newgate," although complimentary to her charms, and containing nothing injurious to her character. But she accused Lady Mary of having also made her the subject of a very offensive ballad; and this Lady Mary positively denied. Various bickerings took place; peace seems to have been sometimes patched up, but war to have quickly broken out afresh, and, like all other wars, to have left marks of its footsteps long visible on the soil.
In these old days, people's brains being more active and ingenious than their fingers, ballads swarmed as abundantly as caricatures are swarming at present, and were struck off almost as hastily, whenever wit and humour, or malice and scurrility, found a theme to fasten upon. A ballad was sure to follow every incident that had in it a ludicrous corner, from
The woeful christening late there did
In James's house befal.
and the King's turning his son and daughter out of doors after it, down to a lady's dropping her shoe in the Park. Though printed on the coarsest paper, sung about the streets, and sold for halfpence, they often came from no mean quarter. That just now quoted was ascribed to Arbuthnot; Lord Binning wrote an admirable one, describing the Duke of Argyll's levee; Mr. Pulteney, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Hervey, had the credit of others; and Lady Mary Wortley was a person who often fell under suspicion in matters of the kind, because known to have talents which the world would not believe she left unemployed. But, as she said herself, it attributed to her a great deal of trash that she never wrote — never even saw; and thus made her an object of ill-will to people whose adventures she was so far from having celebrated, that she hardly knew their names.
The impression these unjust imputations made upon her mind will now be shown. When Lady Bute was nearly grown up, some of her young friends wanted to bring about an acquaintance between her and Miss Furnese, an heiress of their own age. Miss Wortley had no objection; but Miss Furnese held off, and so resolutely, that they insisted upon knowing the reason. "Why, then," said she, at last, "I will honestly own your praises of Miss Wortley make me sure I shall dislike her. You tell me she is lively and clever, now I am very dull; so, of course, she will despise me, and turn me into ridicule, and I am resolved to keep out of her way." The young set laughed most heartily at this avowal; and Lady Bute, laughing too when told of it, ran to divert her mother with the story. But, instead of amusing Lady Mary, it made her unusually serious. "Now, child," she began, after a moment's reflection, "you see nothing in this but a good joke, an absurdity to laugh at; and are not aware what an important lesson you have received; one which you ought to remember as long as you live. What that poor girl in her simplicity has uttered aloud, is no more than what passes in the mind of every dull person you will meet with. Those who cannot but feel that they are deficient in ability always look with a mixture of fear and aversion on people cleverer than themselves; regarding them as born their natural enemies. If ever then you feel yourself flattered by the reputation of superiority, remember that to be the object of suspicion, jealousy, and a secret dislike, is the sure price you must pay for it."
No one who has seen much of the world will think this assertion altogether unfounded. But the lurking grudge (supposing it always alive) may be lulled into slumber, or it may be stirred up and provoked to show its teeth in the guise of open animosity; and Lady Mary Wortley took the latter course with it too often. She was not ill-tempered; for our men and maids are the best judges of us in that particular, and the old servant fostered under her roof used to talk of her indulgence and familiarity, was fond of repeating her sayings, and almost seemed to have tasted her wit. But mankind is so made, that reproaches, invectives, nay, veritable injuries, are not half so sharply felt, or bitterly resented, as the stings of ridicule: therefore a quick perception of the ridiculous must ever be a dangerous quality, although in some few persons it wears a playful harmless shape, and is quite distinct from the spirit of satire. Lady Mary, one cannot deny, united both qualities, instantly seized the comical point, saw the matter of mirth wherever it was to be found; but had as keen an eye to detect matter of censure, and rarely forbore a cutting sarcasm out of tenderness to the feelings of others. In short, a professed wit, flushed with success and bent on shining in society, hears too much resemblance to a staunch foxhunter eager in the chase, who takes a leap over his fallen companion, whether friend or foe, without stopping to examine how he came down or what bone he has broken.
The truth is, that affectation and folly must be borne with, or at least let alone, if one would go peaceably through this motley world; which Lady Mary could not expect to do, because she had not Christian patience with either, but attacked and exposed them when they were guiltless of hurting anybody but their owner; and thus made mortal enemies of the vain tribe who would have plumed themselves upon her acquaintance if they could have hoped to escape her animadversions. For example, her former friend, or correspondent, Lady Rich, when become that melancholy thing — a decayed beauty, strove to keep up the appearance of youth by affecting a girlish simplicity, which suited her age much worse than rose-coloured ribands, and served as a constant whetstone to Lady Mary's raillery. The Master of the Rolls happened to be mentioned; the same old Sir Joseph Jekyll "who never changed his principles or wig," and who had held the office so long that he was identified with it in every one's mind. "Pray who is Master of the Rolls?" asked Lady Rich, in an innocent tone. "Sir Humphrey Monnoux, madam," answered Lady Mary, naming off-hand the most unlikely person she could think of. The company laughed, and the lady looked disconcerted; but not daring to betray her better knowledge by disputing the fact, went on in desperation to be more simple still. "Well! I am vastly ashamed of being so prodigiously ignorant. I dare say I ask a mighty silly question; but pray now, what is it to be Master of the Rolls? What does he do? for I really don't know." "Why, madam, he superintends all the French rolls that are baked in London; and without him you would have no bread-and-butter for your breakfast." There was no parrying this: Lady Rich coloured, flirted her fan, and professed herself unable to cope with Lady Mary Wortley's wit — she had no wit. "Nay; but look you, my dear madam, I grant it a very fine thing to continue always fifteen — that everybody must approve of; it is quite fair: but, indeed, indeed, one need not be five years old."
Yet there was one very conspicuous, very assailable, and very irritable person, whom Lady Mary, let her say what she would, in jest or in earnest, could never affront or offend; and this was no other than Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, so celebrated for quarrelling with all the rest of human kind. She would take in good part the most home truths if spoken by Lady Mary, who seemed to be out of the hurricane-latitude, securely stationed beyond the scope of those capricious fits of anger which she continually saw bursting like water-spouts on the heads of her acquaintance. The Duchess also grew partial to Lady Mary's daughter: both of them were privileged to visit her at any hour and be always welcome. Lady Bute often sate by her while she dined, or watched her in the curious process of casting up her accounts. Curious, because her grace, well versed as she was in all matters relating to money, such as getting it, hoarding it, and turning it to the best advantage, knew nothing of common arithmetic. But her sound clear head could devise an arithmetic of its own; to lookers on it appeared as if a child had scrabbled over the paper, setting down figures here and there at random; and yet every sum came right to a fraction at last, in defiance of Cocker.
She was extremely communicative, and, it need not be added, proportionably entertaining; thus far, too, very fair and candid — she laboured at no self-vindication, but told facts just as they were, or as she believed them to be, with an openness and honesty that almost redeemed her faults; though this might partly proceed from never thinking herself in the wrong, or caring what was thought of her by others. She had still, at a great age, considerable remains of beauty, most expressive eyes, and the finest fair hair imaginable, the colour of which she said she had preserved unchanged by the constant use of honey-water — hardly such as perfumers now sell, for that has an unlucky aptitude to turn the hair grey. By this superb head of hair hung a tale, an instance of her waywardness and violence, which (strange to say) she took particular pleasure in telling. None of her charms, when they were at their proudest height, had been so fondly prized by the poor Duke her husband. Therefore, one day, upon his offending her by some act of disobedience to her "strong sovereign will," the bright thought occurred, as she sat considering how she could plague him most, that it would be a hearty vexation to see his favourite tresses cut off. Instantly the deed was done; she cropped them short, and laid them in an ante-chamber he must pass through to enter her apartment. But, to her cruel disappointment, he passed, entered, and repassed, calm enough to provoke a saint; neither angry nor sorrowful; seemingly quite unconscious both of his crime and his punishment. Concluding he must have overlooked the hair, she ran to secure it. Lo! it had vanished — and she remained in great perplexity the rest of the day. The next, as he continued silent, and her looking-glass spoke the change a rueful one, she began to think she had done rather a foolish thing. Nothing more ever transpired upon the subject until after the Duke's death, when she found her beautiful ringlets carefully laid by in a cabinet where he kept whatever he held most precious; and at this point of the story she regularly fell a crying.
The only topic upon which she seemed guarded was what concerned Queen Anne, whom she never mentioned disrespectfully, but in general avoided speaking of; while she liked to dilate upon the first arrival of the present royal family, and would describe with great glee many little circumstances of their ways and manners which were new and somewhat uncouth to English eyes. She had had a nearer view of them than perhaps it was prudent to give her; for, at their outset, wishing to conciliate the Marlborough party, they invited her to a degree of intimacy sure to end in proving the truth of that wise saying about familiarity which we can all remember to have indicted in round hand. The second or third time she had the honour of being admitted, she said she found the Princess (Queen Caroline) maintaining discipline in her nursery, where one of the children, having been naughty, had just undergone wholesome correction, and was roaring piteously in consequence. The Duchess tried to hush and console it. "Ay! see there," cried the Prince, with an air of triumph; "you English are none of you well bred, because you was not whipt when you was young." "Humph!" quoth her grace, "I thought to myself, I am sure YOU could not have been whipt when you were young, but I choked it in." Not being at all accustomed either to choke her thoughts in, or to stand in awe of royalty, she soon made her attendance more formidable than agreeable, and gladly returned to her natural vocation of governing others, instead of reverencing the powers entitled to rule over her.
The most vindictive Highland chief never had so many feuds; but her deadliest, unlike his, were in the bosom of her own clan. To begin by her daughters: she was not on speaking terms with Henrietta Duchess of Marlborough, and Mary Duchess of Montagu. The two others, Lady Sunderland and Lady Bridgewatar, had died betimes; and some of the children of the former were the objects of as much affection as she could feel, especially Robert Earl of Sunderland, the eldest son, a man who deserved her partiality, and, as his date was short, did not outlive it. With the second, Charles, she agreed pretty well till he succeeded to the Marlborough titles and fortune; when money, that main-spring — hidden or manifest, remote or immediate — of all family quarrels, quickly produced a rupture between them. She laid claim to a portion of her late husband's personal estate, and the affair could only be settled by what is called an amicable suit; but for a suit with her to go on amicably was a thing about as likely as for an oil-shop set on fire to be slow in burning; so the flame no sooner kindled, than she insisted upon giving it full vent, and amused the world by pleading her own cause in the Court of Chancery. Among the property disputed was the famous diamond-hilted sword. "That sword," said she, to the court emphatically, "that sword, my lord, would have carried to the gates of Paris. Am I to live to see the diamonds picked off one by one and lodged at the pawnbroker's?" The new duke's habits of squandering and running in debt gave force to the sarcasm; yet people smiled when they recollected that his younger brother, Jack Spencer, who, besides equalling him in these respects, made the town ring with some wild frolic every day, kept a fast hold of the old lady's favour all the while, and in her eyes could do nothing wrong.
Two more of her descendants must be named — Lady Anne Spencer, Lady Sunderland's eldest daughter, married to Lord Bateman, and Lady Anne Egerton, the deceased Lady B.'s only one, married first to Wriothesley Duke of Bedford, and secondly to Lord Jersey. Both these ladies inherited such a share of their grandmother's imperial spirit, as to match her pretty fairly, and insure daggers drawing as soon as it should find time and opportunity to display itself. But, ere the stormy season set in, the grandame had acquired Lady Bateman's picture; which she afterwards made a monument of vengeance, in no vulgar or ordinary mode. She did not give it away; nor sell it to a broker; nor send it up to a lumber-garret; nor even turn its front to the wall. She had the face blackened over, and this sentence, "She is much blacker within," inscribed in large characters on the frame. And thus, placed in her usual sitting-room, it was exhibited to all beholders.
Many other people remarkable in different ways must have been known to Lady Mary Wortley; many authors appear to have courted her approbation, but only those persons are mentioned here of whom Lady Bute could speak from her own recollection or her mother's report. Both had made her well informed of every particular that concerned her relation Henry Fielding; nor was she a stranger to that beloved first wife whose picture he drew in his Amelia, where, as she said, even the glowing language he knew how to employ did not do more than justice to the amiable qualities of the original, or to her beauty, although this had suffered a little from the accident related in the novel — a frightful overturn, which destroyed the gristle of her nose. He loved her passionately, and she returned his affection; yet led no happy life, for they were almost always miserably poor, and seldom in a state of quiet and safety. All the world knows what was his imprudence; if ever he possessed a score of pounds, nothing could keep him from lavishing it idly, or make him think of tomorrow. Sometimes they were living in decent lodgings with tolerable comfort; sometimes in a wretched garret without necessaries; not to speak of the spunging-houses and hiding-places where he was occasionally to be found. His elastic gaiety of spirit carried him through it all; but, meanwhile, care and anxiety were preying upon her more delicate mind, and undermining her constitution. She gradually declined, caught a fever, and died in his arms.
His biographers seem to have been shy of disclosing that after the death of this charming woman he married her maid. And yet the act was not so discreditable to his character as it may sound. The maid had few personal charms, but was an excellent creature, devotedly attached to her mistress, and almost broken-hearted for her loss. In the first agonies of his own grief, which approached to frenzy, he found no relief but from weeping along with her; nor solace, when a degree calmer, but in talking to her of the angel they mutually regretted. This made her his habitual confidential associate, and in process of time he began to think he could not give his children a tenderer mother, or secure for himself a more faithful housekeeper and nurse. At least this was what he told his friends; and it is certain that her conduct as his wife confirmed it, and fully justified his good opinion.
Lady Mary Wortley had a great regard for Fielding; she pitied his misfortunes, excused his failings, and warmly admired his best writings; above all Tom Jones, in her own copy of which she wrote "Ne plus ultra." Nevertheless, she frankly said she was sorry he did not himself perceive that he had made Tom Jones a scoundrel; alluding to the adventure with Lady Bellaston. She would indeed have seldom passed a wrong judgment on what she read, if her natural good taste had taken its way unbiased; but where personal enmity or party prejudice stepped in, they too frequently drove it blinded before them. A book is a book, no matter who wrote it; in fair criticism it has a right to stand upon its own proper ground, and should no more be condemned for the sins of its author, than commended for his virtues. This, to be sure, was not her way of handling any contemporary performance. Most people will now admit that Pope betrayed unmanly and mean malevolence in his attacks upon her; yet when she pronounced his verses to be "all sound and no sense," she was aiming a pointless arrow at a poet who, wherever he judged it expedient, could compress more meaning into fewer words than almost any other in our language. Not Pope alone however, but the larger half of that noble band of authors, that rendered the literary age of Anne illustrious, lay for her under an interdict, a species of taboo, obnoxious both as Tories and as his confederates. She forbade herself to relish the wit and humour of Swift and Arbuthnot; and could not, or would not, be sensible that the former, Bolingbroke, and Atterbury, ranked with her own friend Addison as the standard writers of English prose.
With regard to later works, though her remarks upon Richardson have incensed his zealous admirers beyond measure and past forgiveness, yet, while making them, she has involuntarily borne a more convincing, unquestionable testimony to his chief merits than if she had been ever so eloquent, in his praise. She acknowledges having sobbed over his volumes; — she could not lay them down, she sate up all night to finish them. What greater triumph could an author who wrote to the feelings desire? But then it seems she was guilty of saying that, never having lived in the society of real gentlemen and ladies, he had given his fictitious ones a language and manners as different from theirs as could be devised. So was it also said of Garrick, the first and finest of actors, that, performing every other part in exquisite perfection, he never could succeed in that of a mere ordinary gentleman. Both assertions were strictly true, and they amount to nothing more than a proof of the old trite position that "every one must fail in something." If Richardson's inelegancies disturb us less than they did Lady Mary Wortley, it is because we take for old-fashioned much that our fathers and mothers knew to be vulgar, or even ridiculous. A man's living friends will have the presumption to find fault with his portrait when their eyes tell them it has no likeness to him, though it may not be at all the worse picture a hundred years hence; and this was exactly the case with Lady Mary, who thought no otherwise than her neighbours at the time. Mrs. Donellan, an accomplished woman, whom the readers of Swift may recollect to have been one of his correspondents, told the late Mr. Edward Hamilton, her godson, that Richardson once brought her a manuscript volume of Sir Charles Grandison, begging her to examine it, and point out any errors she perceived in this very particular. He was conscious, he said, of his own ignorance touching the manners of the people of distinction; and, knowing that she had passed her life in the best company, he could depend upon her judgment. Mrs. Donellan, who both admired his genius and respected his character, undertook the task with good faith as well as good will; but no sooner did she begin criticising, than she found she had to deal with an Archbishop of Grenada. Richardson changed colour, shut up the book, and muttering sullenly, that if there were so many faults, he supposed his best way would be to throw it into the fire at once, walked off in the mood vulgarly, but expressively, yclept dudgeon. It was long ere he troubled her with another visit.
After all, Lady Mary Wortley's insensibility to the excellence, or, let us say, the charm of Madame de Sevigne's Letters, is the thing most surprising in her observations on literary subjects; and it can only be accounted for by a marked opposition of character between the two women. The head was the governing power with the one, the heart with the other. If they had lived at the same time, and in the same country and society, they would not have accorded well together. Madame de Sevigne would have respected Lady Mary's talents, but rather dreaded than coveted her acquaintance. Lady Mary, in lieu of prizing that simplicity of mind which Madame de Sevigne so wonderfully preserved in the midst of such a world as surrounded her, might have been apt to confound it with weakness; and to hold in contempt not only her foible for court favour, but her passionate devotion to her daughter.
As writers also they were dissimilar: Lady Mary wrote admirable letters; letters — not dissertations, nor sentimental effusions, nor strings of witticisms, but real letters; such as any person of plain sense would be glad to receive. Her style, though correct and perspicuous, was unstudied, natural, flowing, spirited; she never used an unnecessary word, nor a phrase savouring of affectation; but still she meant to write well, and was conscious of having succeeded. Madame de Sevigne had no such consciousness; she did not so much write, as talk and think upon paper, with no other aim than to make Madame de Grignan present at every incident, and partaker of every feeling, throughout the twenty-four hours of her day. By this means she makes us present likewise; as we read, we see her, hear her, feel with her, enter into all her concerns. Not that she ever dreamt of pleasing us. "If the post knew what it carried," says she, "it would leave these packets by the wayside." "Keep my letters," said Lady Mary, on the contrary; "they will be as good as Madame de Sevigne's forty years hence." And in some measure she said true. What she terms the tittle-tattle of a fine lady would have lost nothing in her hands. She could relate passing events, and satirise fashionable follies with as much vivacity and more wit than Madame de Sevigne herself; and there was more depth in her reflections, for she had the superiority in strength of understanding. But all that she sought to degrade by the epithet "tittle-tattle of an old nurse," including, as it does, so many touches of truth and nature; all the little traits that bring before our eyes the persons spoken of; all the details which render Les Rochers and Livry as interesting to us as Versailles; all this part, it must be confessed, lay out of Lady Mary's province; and she proved it did so by viewing it with disdain.
From the books Lady Mary Wortley died possessed of, which were but few, she appears to have been particularly fond of that ancient English drama lately revived among us; for she had several volumes of differently sized and wretchedly printed plays bound up together, such as the Duke of Roxburgh would have bought at any price; the works of Shirley, Ford, Marston, Heywood, Webster, and the rest, as far back as Gammer Gurton's Needle, and coming down to the trash of Durfey. But Lillo's domestic tragedies were what she most admired; for "My lady used to declare," said the old servant so often quoted, "that whoever did not cry at George Barnwell must deserve to be hanged." And she passed the same sentence on people who could see unmoved the fine scene between Dorax and Sebastian in Dryden, who was also one of her favourite authors. She had his plays, his fables, and his Virgil, in folio, as they were first published; Theobald's edition of Shakspeare, manifestly much read; and Tonson's quarto Milton. Besides Cowley, Waller, Denham, &c., there were some less known poets, and some of an earlier age, such as Suckling and Drayton. Nothing further can be called to mind, excepting the outward shape of three ultra-sized volumes, the works of Margaret Duchess of Newcastle.
Some of Lady Mary Wortley's early letters, expressing vividly all a mother's fondness for her infant son, give sufficient occasion to moralise over the fate of those parents who are doomed to see the object of such intense affection, the creature whose birth made them so happy, become, when grown up, the curse, the torment, and the disgrace of their lives. Young Wortley hardly waited so long to signalise his propensity to vice and folly; betraying from the beginning that surest symptom of inveterate moral (or mental) disease — an habitual disregard of truth, accompanied by a fertile ready invention never at fault. Where these prevail, it is building upon a quicksand to attempt working a reformation. He was a mere child when he ran away from school; and this first exploit was followed at short intervals by others still more extraordinary, until he finally sealed his ruin by marrying while under age a woman of very low degree, considerably older than himself; one for whom he could scarcely have felt more than a momentary liking, since he forsook her in a few weeks, and never sought to see her again, though her life lasted nearly as long as his own. To be capable at a mature age of such an act as drawing a youth into a disproportionate marriage, did not denote much principle or feeling; yet, as her conduct was not licentious, she never put it in his power to obtain a divorce. In future, more than one lady took the title of his wife, with or without the pretext of a ceremony which, it is to be feared, he would not have scrupled to go through any number of times, if requisite for the accomplishment of his wishes. But the last person so circumstanced, and the loudest in asserting her claims, met him upon equal ground, having herself a husband living, from whom she had eloped; therefore she at least could not complain of deception.
Notwithstanding all the mistakes, inaccuracies, and exaggerations attending public rumour, this singular man's various adventures, at home and abroad, were perhaps better known to the world at large than to the near relations who must have heard of them with pain, and shunned, instead of seeking, particular information upon so distressing a subject: consequently little light respecting it could glimmer downwards to more distant generations. He was said to have had a handsome person, plausible manners, and a liveliness of parts which report magnified into great talents; but whether he did really possess these may be doubted. They are often gratuitously presumed to exist in conjunction with profligacy, whenever that takes any wild extraordinary form, because the notion of such an affinity has in it something wonderfully agreeable to two very numerous classes of men, the direct opposites of each other. The disorderly and vicious are parties concerned; they rejoice to claim kindred with superiority of mind; and would fain have it a point established, that clever people can never by any possibility remain tethered within the pale of discretion and virtue. While, on the other hand, nothing delights sober, self-satisfied mediocrity and dulness like a fair opportunity of stigmatising genius as incompatible with common sense, and the faithful ally, if not the parent, of every baneful extravagance.
Thus much is certain; Mr. Wortley and Lady Mary (neither of them an incompetent judge) were far from thinking highly of their son's abilities and understanding. His irregular conduct was imputed by them rather to weakness of character than to "the flash and outbreak of a fiery spirit" conscious of its own powers; and from first to last they held him utterly incapable of pursuing any object or course whatever, praiseworthy or blamable, with that firmness and consistency of purpose which perhaps belongs as necessarily to the great wicked man as to the eminently good one. They would have passed upon him the sentence of the patriarch on his firstborn: "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel."
Why Lady Mary Wortley left her own country, and spent the last two-and-twenty years of her life in a foreign land, is a question which has been repeatedly asked, and never can be answered with certainty, for want of any positive evidence or assurance on the subject. It is very possible, however, that the solution of this supposed mystery, like that of some riddles which put the ingenuity of guessers to the farthest stretch, would prove so simple as to leave curiosity blank and baffled. Lady Mary writing from Venice (as it appears, in the first year of her absence) tells Lady Pomfret that she had long been persuading Mr. Wortley to go abroad, and at last, tired of delay, had set out alone, he promising to follow her; which, as yet, parliamentary attendance and other business had prevented his doing; but, till she knew whether to expect him or not, she could not proceed to meet her (Lady Pomfret) at Rome. If this was the real truth, and there seems no reason to doubt it, we may easily conceive farther delays to have taken place, and their reunion to have been so deferred from time to time, that, insensibly, living asunder became like the natural order of things, in which both acquiesced without any great reluctance. But if, on the contrary, it was only the colour they chose to give the affair; if the husband and wife — she in her fiftieth year, he several years older — had determined upon a separation, nothing can be more likely than that they settled it quietly and deliberately between themselves, neither proclaiming it to the world, nor consulting any third person; since their daughter was married, their son disjoined and alienated from them, and there existed nobody who had a right to call them to an account or inquire into what was solely their own business. It admits of little doubt that their dispositions were unsuitable, and Mr. Wortley had sensibly felt it even while a lover. When at length convinced that in their case the approach of age would not have the harmonising effect which it has been sometimes known to produce upon minds originally but ill assorted, he was the very man to think within himself, "If we cannot add to each other's happiness, why should we do the reverse? Let us be the friends at a distance which we could not hope to remain by continuing uneasily yoked together." And that Lady Mary's wishes had always pointed to a foreign residence is clearly to be inferred from a letter she wrote to him before their marriage, when it was in debate where they should live while confined to a very narrow income. How infinitely better would it be, she urges, to fix their abode in Italy, amidst every source of enjoyment, every object that could interest the mind and amuse the fancy, than to vegetate — she does not use the word, but one may detect the thought — in an obscure country retirement at home!
These arguments, it is allowed, rest upon surmise and conjecture; but there is proof that Lady Mary's departure from England was not by any means hasty or sudden; for in a letter to Lady Pomfret, dated the 2nd of May, 1739, she announces her design of going abroad that summer; and she did not begin her journey till the end of July, three months afterwards. Other letters are extant affording equal proof that Mr. Wortley and she parted upon the most friendly terms, and indeed as no couple could have done who had had any recent quarrel or cause of quarrel. She wrote to him from Dartford, her first stage; again a few lines from Dover, and again the moment she arrived at Calais. Could this have passed, or would the petty details about servants, carriages, prices, &c., have been entered into between persons in a state of mutual displeasure? Not to mention that his preserving, docketing, and indorsing with his own hand even these slight notes as well as all her subsequent letters, shows that he received nothing which came from her with indifference. His confidence in her was also very strongly testified by a transaction that took place when she had been abroad about two years. Believing that her influence and persuasions might still have some effect upon their unfortunate son, he entreated her to appoint a meeting with him, form a judgment of his present dispositions, and decide what course it would be best to take, either in furthering or opposing his future projects. On the head of money, too, she was to determine with how much he should be supplied, and very particularly enjoined to make him suppose it came, not from his father, but herself. These were full powers to delegate; such as every woman would not be trusted with in the families where conjugal union is supposed to reign most uninterruptedly.
The Lady Pomfret mentioned above was so highly honoured and admired by her own family, and her name and memory were so long held in a sort of veneration amongst her descendants, that one would think there must have been some ground for the feeling; although Horace Walpole laughs at her as a ridiculous pretender to knowledge and wisdom which she does not possess. A few grains of affectation will often suffice to spoil the taste of much that is good in a character; and, supposing this to have been the case with her, it may account for such contradictory opinions. Lady Mary Wortley speaks of her as the first of women; — but then it is to herself, and in a correspondence too full of studied compliments and professions to have flowed from the honesty of cordial, familiar friendship. Even Lady Mary's style labours and grows stiffer than usual while pouring them forth. It was not thus, probably, that she wrote to Lady Stafford, or the Duchess of Montagu. The former, a foreigner by birth and education, daughter of the famous Comte de Grammont and "la belle Hamilton," was said to have inherited her uncle Count Anthony Hamilton's vivacity and talents for conversation, which made her the most agreeable woman of her time. Her death happened before Lady Mary left England, and as it affected her deeply, might be one cause of her desire to change the scene.
As for the particulars of Lady Mary's history, society; and way of life, during her residence on the Continent, they must be gathered from her own letters, which lie before the reader. Those of latest date, written after she finally established herself at Venice, seem to turn very much upon the annoyances she suffered from the behaviour of Mr. Murray, then the British minister there; between whom and her reigned, or rather raged, the utmost animosity. But none of the letters explain, nor are there now any means of discovering, whence the quarrel first sprang, or which of the parties was the most to blame. It certainly tells against him that his enmity extended to so respectable a man as her friend, Sir James Steuart of Coltness, whose situation as an exile soliciting recal must have made him more cautious of giving any real cause of offence than a free unfettered person, even if he had not been too much engrossed by his literary labours to meddle with diplomatic intrigues.
She survived her return home too short a time to afford much more matter for anecdotes. Those who could remember her arrival, spoke with delight of the clearness, vivacity, and raciness of her conversation, and the youthful vigour which seemed to animate her mind. She did not appear displeased at the general curiosity to see her, nor void of curiosity herself concerning the new things and people that her native country presented to her view after so long an absence: yet, had her life lasted half as many years as it did months, the probability is that she would have gone abroad again; for her habits had become completely foreign in all those little circumstances, the sum of which must constitute the comfort or discomfort of every passing day. She was accustomed to foreign servants and to the spaciousness of a foreign dwelling. Her description of the harpsichord-shaped house she inhabited in one of the streets bordering upon Hanover-square grew into a proverbial phrase: "I am most handsomely lodged," said she; "I have two very decent closets and a cupboard on each floor." This served to laugh at, but could not be a pleasant exchange for the Italian palazzo. However, all earthly good and evil were very soon terminated by a fatal malady, the growth of which she had long concealed. The fatigues she underwent in her journey to England tended to exasperate its symptoms; it increased rapidly, and before ten months were over she died in the seventy-third year of her age.
In a letter, which may be referred to, dated from Louvere, October the 2nd, 1752, Lady Mary tells her daughter that she amuses herself with writing the history of her own time, but regularly burns every sheet as soon as she has finished it. Her account of George the First, his family, and his Hanoverian society, is evidently a fragment of that history, which, by accident, or oversight, escaped the flames; as it has neither beginning nor end, and she declares it meant solely for her own perusal. Mr. Wortley also left a fragment somewhat similar, relating to the same period, and describing the state of parties at and after the demise of Queen Anne: but his sketch, ten times more shapeless than hers, is a mere rough copy, so blotted and interlined as to be scarcely readable. He appears to have aimed chiefly at drawing a distinct line between what he calls court Whigs and country Whigs, and explaining why the latter (amongst whom he ranked himself) so constantly opposed Sir Robert Walpole. He, in short, dwells upon grave and solid politics. Lady Mary, slightly noticing these, keeps to the chapter of court intrigue; which, in a government like ours, may possibly influence them but little, though at a certain distance of time it furnishes better entertainment to careless, idle readers. She therefore is led to give details, and portray individuals; and we must admit that her touches are (as usual) rather caustic. Her husband enters into no particulars of the kind; yet there is one remarkable point upon which the two narratives perfectly agree. We have long been taught to believe that the charge of having accepted a bribe, brought against Sir Robert Walpole in 1712, was a groundless accusation, trumped up for party purposes, and his expulsion from the House of Commons a flagrant instance of party malice and injustice. Nor will what is said on the subject in Swift's Journal avail much to persuade us of the contrary. But these two people, writing separately, Mr. Wortley and his wife, both thoroughly hostile to the queen's last ministry and the parliament it swayed, both ready to condemn every proceeding sanctioned by either, do yet both mention Walpole as a man whom the clearest conviction of corrupt practices had left with a blot upon his character that nothing could efface. Whichever way truth may lie, he afterwards proved how keenly he felt the mortifying transaction; but proved it in a manner creditable to his heart, — by showing gratitude, not by seeking revenge. On his being ordered to withdraw while the House voted his commitment to prison, one personal friend only, Daniel Campbell, of Shawfield, a Scotch member, arose, went out with him, and attended him to the gates of the Tower. Sir Robert did not forget this when he was minister. Mr. Campbell, a moderate man, asked few favours for himself; but any person in whose behalf he could be induced to say a word, had a fairer chance of success than if patronised by the greatest and most powerful of Walpole's supporters. His paramount influence, and the consequence it gave him, are hinted at in Lord Binning's satirical ballad upon the Duke of Argyll's levee:
Great Daniel showed his face.
At sight of him low bowed the peer;
Daniel vouchsafed a nod:
"I've seen Sir Robert, and 'tis done."
"You've kept me in, by —!"
Mr. Wortley, writing (it appears) within a twelvemonth after the accession, says that the Regency then appointed was so chosen as to deserve and win universal approbation. Yet, before the King came over, it had split into separate factions; Lord Marlborough (i.e. the Duke), Lord Halifax, and Lord Townshend, each aiming at the whole power, and each trying to strengthen himself among the Tories; because it was understood that a junction between the two parties would be a thing agreeable to the new sovereign. But even the men most willing to promote this were still for the punishment of the criminals; he gives the late queen's ministers no softer name. Therefore Lord Halifax lost ground, from being suspected of a wish to save Harley; and what he lost was gained by Lord Townshend, or rather by Mr. Walpole, who had got the entire government of his brother-in-law, and rose upon his shoulders. The Tories, however, as well as the Whigs, are divided by Mr. Wortley into two classes, court and country: nay, he adds, "The country Whigs and country Tories were not very different in their notions; and nothing hindered them from joining but the fears that each had of the other's bringing in the whole party." While, according to him, "the court Whigs had quite lost the esteem of the nation when Lord Oxford got into power, so that the country Whigs did everything that was done against the Court during that infamous ministry;" — and he details instances at some length. He finds fault with the reigning government for several of its measures: chiefly, the long delay of the impeachments, which gave "the criminals" a material advantage; the wording of the proclamation calling a new parliament, which too openly declared it the king's wish to have none but Whigs elected, and thus exasperated the Tories without doing the Whigs much service; the gross and unusual injustice shown in trying elections; the demand of more money for the civil list; the arbitrary changes that displaced not only Tories but Whigs, if unacceptable to Mr. Walpole, and this especially in the Treasury, the commissioners of which, he says, used to be men of considerable importance, and were never dependent upon the First Lord, or nominated by him, till the time of Lord Oxford: — all these sins he lays to the charge of Walpole, "whose violence and imprudence (says the manuscript) is censured by all the Whigs but those that depend upon the Court." "The chief men in place are the Speaker, Sir Richard Onslow, Mr. Aislaby, Mr. Smith, Mr. Lechmere, Mr. Boscawen, Mr. Bayley, Mr. Pulteney, and Mr. Stanhope. Except the two last, every one of the nine has expressed his dislike of Walpole's conduct; and these two were never reckoned among the men who were able to judge of the House of Commons, or of the inclinations of the people." When the same Pulteney, no longer Walpole's friend, headed a powerful opposition against him, perhaps Mr. Wortley grew to allow him some skill in managing both the House and the people. But to let him speak on: "Mr. Walpole, who has less credit than any of the nine, is set at the head of them by Lord Townshend's favour. Lord Townshend acts against his own interest in setting up Mr. Walpole above the rest; but he was never thought to have a strong judgment, though his language and winning carriage and honest intention made all the Whigs justly wish to see him Secretary of State. Nothing could have sunk his credit with them, unless his blindness to Mr. Walpole's actions should set them against him."
Next follows, "But there may be another reason why Mr. Walpole is thus supported. Baron B. is said to take what money he can, and Mr. Walpole is the most proper man in England to assist him in getting it. Why should Baron B. join himself to a man so suspicious, unless he did take it?" — and he proceeds to show how closely they are linked together. Then, as Mr. Walpole "is already looked upon as the chief minister" — and Mr. Wortley thinks him in the direct road actually to become so — "can it," he asks, "be for the honour of the government to have a man marked for corruption declared first minister? Can he bear the envy of such a post?"
This account of what was passing cannot be well called impartial, since the writer obviously leans — does more than lean — to one side; but he sets down his real opinions, formed on the spot, and recorded only for himself; and surely it may be desirable, though but as a matter of curiosity, to learn how the facts and characters at which we are now looking back through the telescope of time, through the long series of years that has made them historical, appeared to the eyes of their contemporaries.