1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Montagu

Alexander Carlyle, 1764; in Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle (1910) 484-85.



Gregory had met with old Montague at the Royal Society in London, who was fond of all mathematicians, and had made himself master of his mind. Montague introduced him to his wife, a fine woman, who was a candidate for glory in every branch of literature but that of her husband, and its connections and dependencies. She was a faded beauty, a wit, a critic, an author of some fame, and a friend and coadjutor of Lord Lyttelton. She had some parts and knowledge, and might have been admired by the first order of minds, had she not been greedy of more praise than she was entitled to. She came here for a fortnight, from her residence near Newcastle, to visit Gregory, who took care to show her off; but she did not take here, for she despised the women, and disgusted the men with her affectation. Old Edinburgh was not a climate for the success of impostures. Lord Kames, who was at first catched with her Parnassian coquetry, said at last that he believed she had as much learning as a well-educated college lad here of sixteen. I could have forgiven her for her pretensions to literary fame, had she not loudly put in her claim to the praise and devotion of the heart, which belongs to genuine feelings and deeds, in which she was remarkably deficient. We saw her often in the neighbourhood of Newcastle, and in that town, where there was no audience for such an actress as she was, her natural character was displayed, which was that of an active manager of her affairs, a crafty chaperon, and a keen pursuer of her interest, not to be outdone by the sharpest coal-dealer on Tyne; but in this capacity she was not displeasing, for she was not acting a part. Mrs. Montague was highly delighted with "Sister Peg," which Fergusson had written, and congratulated Mrs. Carlyle on having a husband whose conversation must be a constant source of entertainment. She did not advert to it, that in domestic life the scene did not always lie in the drawing-room.