The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Edited by her Great-grandson, Lord Wharncliffe. 3 vols. 8vo. London. 1837.
These volumes will, we fear, disappoint in some degree the public expectation; indeed it could hardly be otherwise. When a work is known to have been published with certain prudential restrictions, there is always a strong curiosity excited about the suppressed parts; and it is supposed that what has been concealed must be much more piquant than what has been published. This feeling exists especially with regard to private letters and memoirs, and in no case was it more likely to be pushed to its extreme than with regard to the gay, witty, and superabundantly frank correspondence of Lady Mary Wortley. "When such things have been printed, what," it is naturally asked, "must that be which is kept back?" Now, in truth, in this as in most cases, it turns out that the suppressions have been much less important than was fancied; they bear but a small proportion to the whole work, and generally apply to matters — delicate perhaps at the moment of the first publication, but — of very little interest to the general reader of after-times. We cannot but suspect, also, that every reperusal of Lady Mary's "Letters" will tend to a doubt whether her merit has not been somewhat exaggerated. When they first appeared, a traveller and an author of Lady Mary's rank and sex was a double wonder — which was much increased by Lady Mary's personal circumstances, and by the vivacity, spirit, and boldness of her pen. But now that the extraneous sources of admiration have run dry, we confess that the intrinsic value of the letters seems less striking; and that if we were to deduct from Lady Mary's pleasantry and wit, those passages which a respectable woman ought not, perhaps, to have written, we should very considerably reduce her claims to literary eminence. The additional letters now produced will add little to Lady Mary's fame, and take little from her reputation. They exhibit her neither wittier nor looser than she was already known to be — on the contrary, the pleasantry and the coarseness being diluted, as it were, by a large addition of very commonplace matter, the peculiarities of Lady Mary appear on the whole, we think, less pungent than in the earlier editions.
But this observation applies only to the additions from Lady Mary's own pen; for there are some very remarkable and interesting circumstances connected with this publication. It is edited by Lord Wharncliffe, the descendant and heir of Lady Mary, with a liberality and candour deserving the thanks and worthy of the imitation of all literary men: but his lordship claims but a secondary merit in the work, the most important as well as the most interesting novelty in the edition, being an ample introduction under the title of Biographical Anecdotes, and frequent explanatory notes from the pen of Lady Louisa Stuart, the daughter of Lord and Lady Bute — the grandchild of Lady Mary.
It will surprise the generality of readers to find that we have still amongst us, in the full vigour and activity of her faculties, a lady, who, herself born in the reign of George II., received the maternal caresses of Lady Mary Wortley, and who thus forms a link — the only one probably now existing — between the reigns of William III. and William IV. — between 1690 and 1837, a period of almost 150 years.
The wonder and pleasure that such a circumstance is in itself sure to excite, will be greatly increased by the perusal of her anecdotes, which narrate the experience of age with all the vivacity of youth. It is with great justice that Lord Wharncliffe remarks, "that the spirit and vigour with which these anecdotes are written must satisfy the reader that a ray of Lady Mary's talent has fallen on one of her descendants." — vol. i. p. 4.
But entertaining and interesting as these recollections are, it is obvious that they can go but a little way towards elucidating the obscure passages of Lady Mary's life, or even of her letters. Lady Louisa, only five years old when Lady Mary died, barely saw — "tantum vidit" — her celebrated grandmother — all she knows she derives from her conversations with Lady Bute and the perusal with which Lady Bute indulged her of part of a journal, kept by Lady Mary throughout her whole life, but of which Lady Bute's delicacy and prudence allowed but a small and very early portion to be seen by her daughter. The more piquant topics of the personal history and correspondence of such a woman as Lady Mary, it is obvious that Lady Bute herself was not likely to have fully known — and was still less likely to have imparted to her children.
Lady Mary, we are here informed, kept journals even from her earliest youth. That prior to her marriage was, on her elopement with Mr. Wortley, in 1713, destroyed by her sister, Lady Frances Pierrepont, afterwards Countess of Mar, lest it should fall into her father's hands and further exasperate him. "After her marriage she renewed the practice and continued it as long as she lived: at her death the journal fell into the hands of Lady Bute, who always kept it under lock and key; and though she often read passages to her family and friends, would never trust any part out of her own hands, except a few of the early copy-books which she allowed one of the family"— no doubt Lady Louisa herself — "to peruse alone, on condition that nothing should be transcribed;" and a short time before her death Lady Bute burned the entire journal, to the great grief of at least the younger part of the family. To Lady Louisa's recollections of the small portion she was thus permitted to read, we are indebted for these anecdotes; and we are therefore not surprised at finding them somewhat meagre as to the most delicate points of Lady Mary's own history, and rather too abundant in scandal about all her society. But indeed Lady Louisa characterizes with great honesty her source of information, and fairly puts us on our guard against her own traditions derived from so suspicious an authority.
"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-the burning the journal. 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.
"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 farther demands upon a Christian charity not at all likely to have increased in the mean time." — Anecdotes, vol. i. pp. 21, 22, 23.
This candid and sensible admission does Lady Louisa infinite honour, and ought, in fact, to constitute the preface of any edition of Lady Mary's works — for her letters and her verses are full of the kind of scandalous gossip which Lady Louisa thus censures. We shall have occasion byand-by to return to these anecdotes, and to show in some remarkable instances the justice of Lady Louisa's warning.
Lord Wharncliffe himself has, as every body must regret, contributed little to the work; and with the exception of Lady Louisa's notes and of a few attempts — not always successful — to correct disorder and explain obscurities — he has contented himself with adopting the arrangement and annotations of Mr. Dallaway's edition of 1817. He states, however, that—
"The editor of the present edition having had an opportunity of comparing Lady Mary's letters in their original state, with Mr. Dallaway's book, found that he had not only omitted several letters altogether, but that he had thought fit to leave out passages in others, and even to select portions of different letters, on different subjects, and of different dates, and, having combined and adapted them, to print them as original letters. He has also throughout both his editions frequently suppressed the names of the persons mentioned, and given the initials only. In the edition now offered to the public these defects are remedied." — Preface, p. ii.
We shall see by-and-by that these defects are very imperfectly remedied, and the additions, as we have already said, will be found of no great extent or value, for, though a considerable number of new letters are given — many of them are short notes; others had been omitted obviously because they contain nothing of interest, and the rest because they are on topics merely domestic, which it is probable the family (naturally more sensitive twenty or thirty years ago than they are now) desired Mr. Dallaway to suppress, as being painful to themselves, without affording sufficient compensatory amusement to the public. As to the editorial defects, we cannot, however, but express a wish that Lord Wharncliffe had filled up all Mr. Dallaway's blanks, and found leisure to have made a general revision of that gentleman's notes, and above all, of the dates and order in which Mr. Dallaway had arranged the letters. In adopting, as he generally does, Dallaway's views, Lord Wharncliffe has repeated a great number of inaccuracies and errors — some so very obvious, that we wonder that they could have escaped him; and in some of the corrections which he has attempted on Dallaway, we think he has been by no means successful — at least he has left a great deal still to be done before Lady Mary's letters are cleared from biographical and chronological difficulties.
Besides the additions to the former correspondence, and Lady Louisa's anecdotes, the editor states—
"The most considerable novelties to which this edition pretends, consist in the letters to Lady Pomfret, those to Sir James Steuart of Coltness, and Lady Frances;" — Preface, p. v. but he does not here notice a more important class than either of those which he mentions, which is equally new to us, namely, twenty-four letters written between 1744 and 1750, to the Countess of Oxford. These letters are of a more sober cast than any of the others — the character of the amiable and respectable lady to whom they, were addressed, seems to have sobered Lady Mary's fancy and formalized her style. The letters to Lady Pomfret are in a tone rather more lively; but the notes and letters to Sir James and Lady Frances Steuart — twenty-seven in number — seem to us as destitute of any talent or interest, as any hatch of familiar letters in our language; and neither they nor even the letters to Ladies Oxford and Pomfret will, we are satisfied, add anything to Lady Mary's epistolary fame — but we do not, therefore, blame the noble editor for inserting them. His edition being intended "to give a complete view of the character of Lady Mary," he has inserted much that a less honest editor might have suppressed, and he, therefore, does quite right in giving us the less lively but more respectable portion of her correspondence.
Indeed, we have been struck with the kind of instinctive skill which guided Lady Mary in suiting — we suspect unconsciously — her style to the characters of her correspondents. To her late and transient acquaintance, Sir James and Lady Frances Steuart, her letters are verbose and empty — to Lady Oxford, a high-bred lady of the old school, she talks the language of a grave and somewhat formal friendship — to Lady Pomfret, a kind of Blue, she intersperses her chit-chat with scraps of learning and antiquarianism — with her sister and Mrs. Hewet, the companions and confidants of her youth, she is giddy, sarcastic, and even coarse-towards her husband she always employs a sober, respectful, and business-like style — to her daughter, she mingles maternal tenderness with a decent pleasantry and much good sense-and finally (to end almost where she began), in the celebrated "Letters during the Embassy," — which she obviously intended for the world at large, and which she therefore addressed to a variety of correspondents — there is a combination of the easy grace — the polished wit — the light humour — the worldly shrewdness of the clever and not over scrupulous woman of fashion.
It would be superfluous to extract any specimens of these various styles, from the letters which have been so long the admiration of the world; but we shall select some passages from those which are either new or little known, and we shall make our selections with a double view; first, to fulfil the editor's intention of giving the world "a complete view of Lady Mary's character;" and, secondly, to endeavour to correct some of the mistakes into which all the editors appear to us to have fallen.
On the first point it will, we fear, turn out that we shall differ very much from the editor's amiable partiality towards his heroine; but as his work is avowedly published in an honourable anxiety for telling the whole truth, and as we shall abstain from stirring any obnoxious topic which has not been already brought before the public, either in his own edition, or in authorities to which he refers, we trust we shall be excused if the result be not quite so favourable to Lady Mary's character as her descendants might wish. On the second point, we are sure he will be obliged to us for pointing out errors into which he has been led, either by his predecessors or his own inexperience in the dull and complicated duties of an editor. As his work must carry with it such authority as would, if now unquestioned, be hereafter considered as decisive, we think it our duty to show that it is in the details of editorship by no means entitled to implicit deference.
It is not without some hesitation that we venture to give any specimen of her ante-nuptial correspondence with Mrs. Hewet, which is replete with wit and shrewdness, but superabundantly sprinkled with something more than levity; but that which the Reverend Mr. Dallaway thought not unfit to be printed, and which Lord Wharncliffe has republished we hope we may be forgiven for quoting, not merely as a sample of Lady Mary herself, but as a fact in the history of female manners, if not morals, in England.
"I was last Thursday at the new opera, and saw Nicolini strangle a lion with great gallantry. But he represented nakedness so naturally, I was surprised to see those ladies stare at him without any confusion, that pretend to he so violently shocked at a poor double entendre or two in a comedy; which convinced me that those prudes who would cry lie! lie! at the word naked, have no scruples about the thing. The marriage of Lord Willoughby goes on, and he swears he will bring the lady down to Nottingham races. How far it may be true, I cannot tell. By what fine gentlemen say, you know, it is not easy to guess at what they mean. The lady has made an acquaintance with me after the manner of Pyramus and Thisbe: I mean over a wall three yards high, which separates our garden from Lady Guildford's. The young ladies had found out a way to pull out two or three bricks, and so climb up and hang their chins over the wall, where we, mounted on chairs, used to have many 'belles conversations a la derobee' for fear of the old mother. This trade continued several days; but fortune seldom permits long pleasures. By long standing on the wall, the bricks loosened; and, one fatal morning, down drops Miss Nelly; and, to complete this misfortune, she fell into a little sink, and bruised her poor — self to that terrible degree, she is forced to have surgeons, plaisters, and God knows what, which discovered the whole intrigue; and their mamma forbade them ever to visit us but by the door. Since that time, all our communications have been made in a vulgar manner, visiting in coaches, &c. &c., which took away half the pleasure. You know danger gives a haut gout to everything." — vol. iii. pp. 206, 207.
We shall venture on one more extract:
"My poor head is distracted with such a variety of gallimatias, that I cannot tell you one bit of news. The fire I suppose you have had a long and true account of, though not perhaps that we were raised at three o'clock, and kept waking till five, by the most dreadful sight I ever saw in my life. It was near enough to fright all our servants half out of their senses: however, we escaped better than some of our neighbours. Mrs. Braithwayte, a Yorkshire beauty, who had been but two days married to a Mr. Coleman, ran out of bed en chemise, and her husband followed her in his, in which pleasant dress they ran as far as St. James's-street, where they met with a chair, and prudently crammed themselves both into it, observing the rule of dividing the good and bad fortune of this life, resolved to run all hazards together, and ordered the chairman to carry them both away, perfectly representing — both in love and nakedness, and want of eyes to see that they were naked — our first happy parents. Sunday last I had the pleasure of hearing the whole history from the lady's own mouth." — vol. iii. p. 210.
We do not pretend to know whether there is more female virtue now-a-days than "in the reign of good Queen Anne," — but we are confident that there is more both of decency and delicacy, and that there is not now an unmarried Lady Mary in England who would or could sully her paper with that species of wit which constitutes the chief merit of these letters to Mrs. Hewet.
To Lady Mary's strange argumentative love-letters to Mr. Wortley before marriage, already published, there is an addition of half-a-dozen, exhibiting the same combination of sober calculation and headlong giddiness. We extract the last passage of a long letter written on the very eve of her elopement with Mr. Wortley
"Reflect now for the last time in what manner you must take me. I shall come to you with only a night gown and petticoat, and that is all you will get by me. I told a lady of my friends what I intend to do. You will think her a very good friend when I tell you, she proffered to lend us her house. I did not accept of this till I had let you know it. If you think it more convenient to carry me to your lodgings, make no scruple of it. Let it be where it will: if I am your wife, I shall think no place unfit for me where you are. I beg we may leave London next morning, wherever you intend to go. I should wish to go out of England if it suits your affairs. You are the best judge of your father's temper. If you think it would be obliging to him, or necessary for you, I will go with you immediately to ask his pardon and his blessing. If that is not proper at first, I think the best scheme is going to the Spaw. When you come back, you may endeavour to make your father admit of seeing me, and treat with mine (though I persist in believing it will be to no purpose). But I cannot think of living in the midst of my relations and acquaintances after so unjustifiable a step: — so unjustifiable to the world, — but I think I can justify myself to myself. I again beg you to have a coach to be at the door early on Monday morning, to carry us some part of our way, wherever you resolve our journey shall be. If you determine to go to the lady's house, you had best come with a coach and six at seven o'clock to-morrow. She and I will be in the balcony which looks on the road; you have nothing to do but to stop under it, and we will come down to you. Do in this what you like; but after all think very seriously. Your letter, which will be waited for, is to determine everything.
"You can shew me no goodness I shall not be sensible of. However, think again, and resolve never to think of me if you have the least doubt, or that it is likely to make you uneasy in your fortune. I believe, to travel is the most likely way to make a solitude agreeable, and not tiresome: remember you have promised it.
"'Tis something odd for a woman that brings nothing to expect anything; but after the way of my education, I dare not pretend to live but in some degree suitable to it. I had rather die than return to a dependancy upon relations I have disobliged. Save me from that fear if you love me. If you cannot, or think I ought not to expect it, be sincere and tell me so. 'Tis better I should not be yours at all, than, for a short happiness involve myself in ages of misery. I hope there will never be occasion for this precaution; but, however, 'tis necessary to make it. I depend, entirely upon your honour, and I cannot suspect you of any way doing wrong. Do not imagine I shall be angry at anything you can tell me. Let it be sincere; do not impose on a woman that leaves all things for you." — vol. i. pp. 190-192.
So odd a mixture of prudence and temerity, — so keen an eye to her own personal objects, and such blindness to all other considerations, — are very indicative of that wayward head and selfish heart which continued to misguide all her subsequent life.
We next arrive at the celebrated letters written during Mr. Wortley's embassy, in 1716 and 1717, — but as there is no addition whatsoever made to them, and as they are in the hands of everybody who has any book of the class, we shall only observe upon them an oversight which has hitherto been made by all the editors, arid we suppose by most readers, — certainly by ourselves, till we discovered the fact in our recent examination: — these letters were not all written during the embassy to Constantinople, properly so called. It seems, from a comparison of the dates, that Mr. Wortley and Lady Mary arrived at Vienna about the first week in September, 1716, and remained there nearly two months, when we find them retracing their steps to Prague, Dresden, Brunswick, Hanover — where George I. then was — which they reached towards the end of November; and the letters show that their friends in England expected them home, and that their arrival in London was actually announced, when, suddenly, we find that they had once more crossed Germany, and arrived again at Vienna, on the 1st of January, 1717 — having made, in the depth of winter, this long and fatiguing march and countermarch — which is not only unexplained, but, as far as we know, unnoticed. Yet it must have had some grave cause; — perhaps some attempt was made to supersede Mr. Wortley, and he may have gone back to Hanover to appeal to the king in person; — perhaps he had some special mission to Vienna, which obliged him to return to make his report in person; at all events, this is a remarkable movement, of which we are surprised that the present Editor has not endeavoured to offer some explanation.
To this class of letters Lord Wharncliffe has added four from the edition of 1789, which Mr. Dallaway rejected as spurious, but which Lady Bute thought genuine; Lord Wharncliffe, therefore, admits them; but we do not understand why he has not inserted them in their proper places. It is remarkable that there is not in this edition one single alteration in the arrangement, nor one additional line of explanation, as to this class of letters. They are in order as they appeared in the first imperfect editions, and except Mr. Dallaway's rare and meagre notes, we have almost nothing — we believe we might say positively nothing — in elucidation of the obscurer circumstances to which the letters allude, or of the personages to whom they were addressed. — We shall give one out of many instances of this defect. Some of these letters are addressed to the Abbot of —, while others are addressed to the Abbe —. The same person we suppose is meant, — but why is he in one place called the Abbot, and in another the Abbe, which, in common parlance, mean very different things; and who, after all, was this distinguished correspondent? We suspect the Abbe or Abbate Conti — an Italian literato, who, we know, visited George I. at Hanover, about the time that Lady Mary was there, and who afterwards came with the king to England, and was one of the earliest to make the name of Newton popularly known on the continent. We have no doubt that all these letters should be addressed to the Abbe Conti, and this is the kind of information which we chiefly look for from the editor of such a work.
Next to these "Letters during the Embassy," the most important class for wit and cleverness at least, are those addressed to her sister Lady Mar, between 1720 and 1726. To about thirty letters of this class thirteen or fourteen are now added. They are like their predecessors, light and gay, seasoned with a good deal of scandal and some rather coarse wit. We shall extract the first of these — both because it is as good a specimen as any of the rest, and because it gives a proper occasion for offering some suggestions for a future edition of the work:—
I am heartily sorry, dear sister, without any affectation, for any uneasiness that you suffer, let the cause be what it will, and I wish it was in my power to give you some more essential mark of it than mere pity; but I am not so fortunate; and 'till a fit occasion of disposing of some superfluous diamonds, I shall remain in this sinful seacoal town; and all that remains for me to do, to shew my willingness at least to divert you, is to send you faithful accounts of what passes among your acquaintance in this part of the world. My Lord Clare attracts the eyes of all the ladies, and gains all the hearts of those who have no other way of disposing of them but through their eyes. I have dined with him twice, and had he been dumb, I believe I should have been in the number of his admirers; but he lessened his beauty every time he spoke, 'till he left himself as few charms as Mr. Vane; though I confess his outside very like Mrs. Duncombe, but that the lovely lines are softer there, with wit and spirit, and improved by learning.
"The Duke of Wharton has brought his Duchess to town, and is fond of her to distraction; to break the hearts of all the other women that have any claim upon his. He has public devotions twice a day, and assists at them in person with exemplary devotion; and there is nothing pleasanter than the remarks of some pious ladies on the conversion of so great a sinner. For my own part I have some coteries where wit and pleasure reign, and I should not fail to amuse myself tolerably enough but for the horrid quality of growing older and older every day, and my present joys are made imperfect by my fears of the future." — vol. ii. pp. 121, 128.
To the passage relative to the Duke of Wharton, the editor subjoins the following note:—
"This passage does not help us to fix the date of this letter, unless we suppose it to have been written very early after his first marriage, in the year 1716. His second wife, as it appears by the account in Chalmers' Biographical Dictionary, did not come to England till after his death. His first wife died 1726." — vol. ii. p. 128.
This note proves that the editor feels the advantage — we should say the necessity — of ascertaining the dates of the several letters, and of identifying the personages alluded to, without which all familiar letters become in a certain degree unintelligible, and — more than proportionably — uninteresting. We therefore entirely concur in the noble editor's view, but we submit to his re-consideration whether in many instances — and in this one, for example, he has adequately worked out his intention. In the first place, he might, we think, have spoken with more certainty of this letter having been written at an early period of Wharton's union with his first duchess; but there is not wanting in the letter itself another circumstance which should not have been overlooked, the mention of Lord Clare — who was Lord Clare? The only Lord Clare of those times was a very remarkable man — Thomas Hollis Pelham — Lord Pelham, created Earl of Clare in October, 1714, and Duke of Newcastle on the 29th July, 1715. Was this handsome young fellow, "who lessened his beauty every time he spoke," that same Duke of Newcastle who for near half a century had so great a share in the administration of England? This is a little biographical circumstance which, we think, the editor should have cleared — but it involves a still more serious difficulty as to the date of the letter. This title of Clare seems to fix the writing of the letter to the short period between October, 1714, and July, 1715; and "the sinful sea-coal town," seems to limit it still further to the winter months — so that it was probably written while the title of Clare was in its first novelty, in the winter of 1714-15. But then what becomes of the Duke of Wharton, whose marriage the editor places in 1716, and whose creation as Duke did not take place till the 20th January, 1718? How are these discrepancies to be reconciled? Has the editor copied the letter from an authentic original? or are the passages which mention Lord Clare and the Duke of Wharton — titles which never were coexistent — fragments of different letters erroneously united? Or is Lord Clare's name altogether a mistake? We think we may say that the matter required more elucidation than the editor has given.
There is one letter of this series published in the old editions, but which, as it seems to us to be on the whole the liveliest letter which ever fell from Lady Mary's pen, we think our readers will forgive us for extracting as a specimen of her very best style; and we must add, that we doubt whether there is any other letter in the whole collection of equal merit:—
"Oct. 31, 1723.
I write to you at this time piping-hot from the birth-night; my brain warmed with all the agreeable ideas that fine clothes, fine gentlemen, brisk tunes, arid lively dances, can raise there. It is to be hoped that my letter will entertain you; at least you will certainly have the freshest account of all passages on that glorious day. First you must know that I led up the ball, which you'll stare at; but what is more, I believe in my conscience I made one of the best figures there; to say truth, people are grown so extravagantly ugly, that we old beauties are forced to come out on show-days, to keep the court in countenance. I saw Mrs. Murray there, through whose hands this epistle will be conveyed; I do not knew whether she will make the same complaint to you that I do. Mrs. West was with her, who is a great prude, having but two lovers at a time; I think those are Lord Haddington and Mr. Lindsay; the one for use, the other for show.
"The world improves in one virtue to a violent degree, I mean plain-dealing. Hypocrisy being, as the Scripture declares, a damnable sin, I hope our publicans and sinners will be saved by the open profession of the contrary virtue. I was told by a very good author, who is deep in the secret, that at this very minute there is a bill cooking-up at a hunting-seat in Norfolk, to have NOT taken out of the commandments and clapped into the creed, the ensuing session of parliament. This bold attempt for the liberty of the subject is wholly projected by Mr. Walpole, who proposed it to the secret committee in his parlour. William Young seconded it, and answered for all his acquaintance voting right to a man: Doddington very gravely objected, that the obstinacy of human nature was such, that he feared when they had positive commandments to do so, perhaps people would not commit adultery and hear false witness against their neighbours with the readiness and cheerfulness they do at present. This objection seemed to sink deep into the minds of the greatest politicians at the board, and I don't know whether the bill won't be dropped, though it is certain it might be carried on with great ease, the world being entirely 'revenue du bagatelle,' and honour, virtue, reputation, &c. which we used to hear of in our nursery, as much laid aside and forgotten as crumpled ribands. To speak plainly, I am very sorry for the forlorn state of matrimony, which is as much ridiculed by our young ladies as it used to be by young fellows: in short, both sexes have found the inconveniences of it, and the appellation of rake is as genteel in a woman as a man of quality; it is no scandal to say Miss — the maid of honour, looks very well now she is up again, and poor Biddy Noel has never been quite well since her last confinement. You may imagine we married women look very silly; we have nothing to excuse ourselves, but that it was done a great while ago, and we were very young when we did it." — vol. ii. pp. 159, 160.
The concluding letter of this series we shall also extract, although it is not now published for the first time, because it affords strong characteristic traits of Lady Mary, and suggests some observations on the present editor's mode of arrangement in a case where he differs from his predecessors:—
"It is very true, dear sister, that if I writ to you a full account of all that passes, my letters would be both frequent and voluminous. This sinful town is very populous, and my own affairs very much in a hurry; but the same things that afford me much matter, give me very little time, and I am hardly at leisure to make observations, much less to write them down. But the melancholy catastrophe of poor Lady Lechmere is too extraordinary not to attract the attention of every body. After having played away her reputation and fortune, she has poisoned herself. This is the effect of prudence. All indiscreet people live and flourish. Mrs. Murray has retrieved his Grace, and being reconciled to the temporal has renounced the spiritual. Her friend Lady Hervey by aiming too high has fallen very low; and is reduced to trying to persuade folks she has an intrigue; and gets nobody to believe her; the man in question taking a great deal of pains to clear himself of the scandal. Her Chelsea Grace of Rutland has married an attorney, — there's prudence for you!" — vol. ii. p. 201.
This letter is one of those which Mr. Dallaway is charged with having garbled and misplaced — and the fact is, that in his edition it appears as part of a letter under the date of 1725; but Lord Wharncliffe states in a note, that the death of Lady Lechmere (who died on the 10th April, 1739) ascertains the date of this letter, which he accordingly places at the end of the whole correspondence, and no less than twelve years later than that which immediately precedes it.
No doubt the prima fade evidence justifies this arrangement the fact of Lady Lechmere's death as stated by Lady Mary, and its known date, lead naturally to that conclusion — and yet it is certainly erroneous. The "melancholy catastrophe" thus imputed by Lady Mary to one of her own earliest friends, never took place at all. The letter was, we are satisfied, really written about 1724, subsequent to which Lady Lechmere became a widow, was Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby, and died a natural death in 1739, a period at which there had, we believe, ceased to be any epistolary intercourse between Lady Mary and Lady Mar. We believe, also, that the anecdote of the marriage of the Duchess of Rutland is equally unfounded. These are instances of the justice of Lady Louisa's observation, that Lady Mary would "record as certain facts stories that perhaps sprung up like mushrooms from the dirt, and had as brief an existence;" but they are also just such cases as the editor ought, in justice, to have examined and corrected.
We next arrive at the letters to Lady Pomfret, which commence in July, 1738, and end in 1742; they are of two classes; the first ten are written from London to Lady Pomfret in Italy, and are full of the tittle-tattle of the town — the other twenty-five were written abroad, and contain chiefly the anecdotes that she picks up of the travelling English, who then, as now, swarmed in Italy.
The following account of the storming of the gallery of the House of Lords by a body of Amazons, is amusing in itself, but leads also to some more serious considerations:—
"At the last warm debate in the House of Lords, it was unanimously resolved there should be no crowd of unnecessary auditors; consequently the fair sex were excluded, and the gallery destined to the sole use of the House of Commons. Notwithstanding which determination, such a tribe of dames resolved to shew on this occasion, that neither men nor laws could resist them. These heroines were Lady Huntingdon, the Duchess of Queensbury, the Duchess of Ancaster, Lady Westmoreland, Lady Cobham, Lady Charlotte Edwin, Lady Archibald Hamilton and her daughter, Mrs. Scott, and Mrs. Pendarvis, and Lady Frances Saunderson. I am thus particular in their names, since I look upon them to be the boldest assertors, and most resigned sufferers for liberty, I ever read of. They presented themselves at the door at nine o'clock in the morning, where Sir William Saunderson respectfully informed them the Chancellor had made an order against their admittance. The Duchess of Queensbury, as head of the squadron, pished at the ill-breeding of a mere lawyer, and desired him to let them up stairs privately. After some modest refusals he swore by G— he would not let them in. Her grace, with a noble warmth, answered, by G— they would come in, in spite of the Chancellor and the whole House. This being reported, the Peers resolved to starve them out; an order was made that the doors should not be opened till they had raised their siege. These Amazons now shewed themselves qualified for the duty even of foot-soldiers; they stood there till five in the afternoon, without either sustenance or evacuation, every now and then playing vollies of thumps, kicks, and raps, against the door, with so much violence that the speakers in the House were scarce heard. When the Lords were not to be conquered by this, the two Duchesses (very well apprised of the use of stratagems in war) commanded a dead silence of half an hour; and the Chancellor, who thought this a certain proof of their absence (the Commons also being very impatient to enter), gave order for the opening of the door; upon which they all rushed in, pushed aside their competitors, and placed themselves in the front rows of the gallery. They stayed there till after eleven, when the House rose; and during the debate gave applause, and shewed marks of dislike, not only by smiles and winks (which have always been allowed in these cases), but by noisy laughs and apparent contempts; which is supposed the true reason why poor Lord Hervey spoke miserably. I beg your pardon, dear madam, for this long relation; but 'tis impossible to be short on so copious a subject; and you must own this action very well worthy of record, and I think not to be paralleled in any history, ancient or modern. I look so little in my own eyes (who was at that time ingloriously sitting over a tea-table), I hardly dare subscribe myself even, Yours." — vol. ii. pp. 222-224.
Lord Wharncliffe adds—
"The debate to which this story relates, must have been that of May 2, 1738, on the depredations of the Spaniards, which appears to have been closed by a speech of Lord Hervey's. (See Parl. Hist. vol. x. p. 129)." — vol. ii. p. 223.
If this be so, then the letter is misplaced, for the two preceding letters are certainly subsequent to May, 1738. One of them offers another inaccuracy on the part of the editor, which it is but justice to set right. Lady Mary, after telling, in a style of very exaggerated satire, Lady Harriet Herbert's resolution to marry Beard, the actor, expresses some doubt as to how the matter was to end, on which the editor remarks,—
"Lady Harriet Herbert, daughter of the last Marquis of Powis. She did marry Beard in spite of her relations. He was a singer at Vauxhall, and an actor in musical pieces at the theatres; but what was much worse, a man of very indifferent character." — vol. ii. p. 218. (Note.)
Now here is at least one very serious mistake, — Lady Harriet Herbert was (as all the books assert, and as we believe) not the daughter of the last Marquis of Powis, — nor, indeed, of the Herbert blood at all, — she was a daughter of Earl Waldegrave, and only the widow of Lord Henry Herbert. As to Beard's character, which is stated to be "indifferent," we never heard anything worse of him than his marrying this foolish woman; and we hope Lord Wharncliffe may have been as much mistaken about his reputation as he certainly is about his lady's parentage.
In another instance, in this series, when Lady Mary states, inter alia, that Lady Margaret Hastings had disposed of herself to a poor wandering Methodist, the editor says, "Perhaps none of this news was true — by the peerage books it appears that Lady Margaret Hastings died unmarried." — vol. ii. p. 254. Now Collins's peerage states that Lady Margaret Hastings married the Rev. Mr. Ingham, — and the notes on the "Correspondence between Lady Hertford and Lady Pomfret" (vol. i. p. 50) state the same fact.
The next series of letters (which is divided, we know not why, into two, one ending in March, and the other beginning in May, 1744,) extends from her going abroad in 1739 to her return about 1760, and comprises her letters to her husband and her daughter Lady Bute, during that period, and are the most respectable, though not the most entertaining portion of the volumes. They are about one hundred and fifty in number, of which about twenty-seven are new, and, except one, of little interest. They were obviously omitted from the former edition, because they, for the most part, relate to her eccentric and unfortunate son.
The first feeling that the consideration of this mass of letters creates, is some wonder that they do not explain, nay, do not afford the slightest clue to the mysterious cause which led to Lady Mary's prolonged separation from her husband, her family, and her country. In the "introductory Anecdotes" there is a passage which we dare say tells candidly enough all that her descendants know on this subject:—
"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 hum 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 re-union 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 harmonizing effect which it has sometimes been 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." — vol. i. pp. 89, 92.
This is expressed with delicacy and good taste, but, considering the position of the amiable writer, it is impossible not to see that she suspects that the separation did arise from incompatibility of temper, or some more serious cause; and as no one has accused Mr. Wortley of any eccentricity or severity, we cannot but conclude that the fault was chiefly if not altogether Lady Mary's. It appears, we think, incidentally, in the correspondence that Mr. Wortley was at least twice abroad during the interval — once as far as Bohemia — but that they never met; this proves that it was not mere 'business in England' which prevented his seeing her. Causes for this separation have been rumoured of a nature which, of course, never could have reached her grand- daughter, — but which, if true, make it wonderful only that Mr. Wortley should have so long borne with such eccentricities of conduct and temper, and should have arranged the separation with so much good feeling and good sense.
The new part of this correspondence is principally occupied by the melancholy confidences which Mr. Wortley and Lady Mary have to make to each other about their unhappy son; a subject which Mr. Dallaway was no doubt forbidden to expose. That reserve is now removed, and the following account given in the Introductory Anecdotes of this extraordinary man will be read with interest:—
"Some of Lady Mary Wortley's early letters, expressing vividly all a mother's fondness for her infant son, gave sufficient occasion to moralize 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 signalize 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 he 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 he 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 stigmatizing 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 blameable, 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.'" — vol. i. pp. 86-89.
After this preparation we shall now extract one of the letters which gives an account of an interview which Lady Mary had, by Mr. Wortley's desire, with their son, in the hope of persuading him to a more rational line of conduct.
"Avignon, June 10, N.S. 1742.
I am just returned from passing two days with our son, of whom I will give you the most exact account I am capable of. He is so much altered in person, I should scarcely have known him. He has entirely lost his beauty, and looks at least seven years older than he did; and the wildness that he always had in his eyes is so much increased it is downright shocking, and I am afraid will cud fatally. He is grown fat, but he is still genteel, and has an air of politeness that is agreeable. He speaks French like a Frenchman, and has got all the fashionable expressions of that language, and a volubility of words which he always had, and which I do not wonder should pass for wit, with inconsiderate people. His behaviour is perfectly civil, and I found him very submissive; but in the main, no way really improved in his understanding, which is exceedingly weak; and I am convinced he will always be led by the person he converses with either right or wrong, not being capable of forming any fixed judgment of his own. As to his enthusiasm, if he had it, I suppose he has already lost it; since I could perceive no turn of it in all his conversation. But with his head I believe it is possible to make him a monk one day and a Turk three days after. He has a flattering insinuating manner, which naturally prejudices strangers in his favour. He began to talk to me in the usual silly cant I have so often heard from him, which I shortened by telling him I desired not to be troubled with it; that professions were of no use where actions were expected; and that the only thing could give me hopes of a good conduct was regularity and truth. He very readily agreed to all I said (as indeed he has always done when he has not been hot-headed). I endeavoured to convince him how favourably he has been dealt with, his allowance being much more than, had I been his father, I would have given in the same ease. The Prince of Hesse, who is now married to the Princess of England, lived some years at Geneva on £500 per annum. Lord Hervey sent his son at sixteen thither, and to travel afterwards, on no larger pension than £200; and, though without a governor, he had reason enough, not only to live within the compass of it, but carried home little presents to his father and mother, which he shewed me at Turin. In short, I know there is no place so expensive, but a prudent single man may live in it on one £300 per anuum and an extravagant one may run out ten thousand in the cheapest. Had you (said I to him) thought rightly, or would have regarded the advice I gave you in all my letters, while in the little town of Islestein, you would have laid up £150 per annum; you would now have had £150 in your pocket, which would have almost paid your debts, and such a management would have gained you the esteem of the reasonable part of the world. I perceived this reflection, which he had never made himself, had a very great weight with him. He asked me whether you had settled your estate. I made answer that I did not doubt (like all other wise men) you always had a will by you; but that you had certainly not put any thing out of your power to change. On that he began to insinuate, that if I could prevail on you to settle the estate on him, I might expect any thing from his gratitude. I made him a very clear and positive answer in these words: 'I hope your hither will outlive me, and if I should be so unfortunate to have it otherwise, I do not believe lie will leave me in your power. But was I sure of the contrary, no interest, nor no necessity, shall ever make me act against my honour and conscience; and I plainly tell you, that I will never persuade your father to do any thing for you 'till I think you deserve it.' He answered by great promises of good behaviour, and economy.
"The rest of his conversation was extremely gay. The various things he has seen has given him a superficial universal knowledge. He really knows most of the modern languages, and if I could believe him, can read Arabic, and has read the Bible in Hebrew. He said it was impossible for him to avoid going back to Paris; but he promised me to lie out one night there, and to go to a town six posts from thence on the Flanders road, where he would wait your orders, and go by the name of Mons. du Durand, a Dutch officer; under which name I saw him. These are the most material passages, and my eyes are so much tired I can write no more at this time. I gave him 240 livres [less than £12] for his journey." — vol. ii. pp. 324-328.
The editors seem anxious to acquit the parents of all blame in their treatment of this wayward temper, and in essentials, no doubt, young Wortley had no excuse, — but we cannot think that the very small allowance which was made him (though justified by the examples quoted by Lady Mary), and the narrow system of economy which she recommended to him, were at all judicious — particularly considering the enormous wealth which the father was accumulating. "Have you heard," writes Mr. Walpole to George Montagu, "what immense wealth old Wortley has left — one million three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. It is all to centre on Lady Bute and her family." — (9th Feb. 1761.) We do not say that more liberality would have corrected this perverse being, but it was an expedient which ought, we think, to have been tried by a father who could accumulate out of his income anything like £1,350,000!
To complete the story of this extraordinary man we shall extract Lord Wharncliffe's own account of the conclusion of his career.
"It was not until a conviction of his being irreclaimable was forced upon Mr. Wortley that he adopted the severe measure of depriving him, by his will, of the succession to the family estate. But even this step was not taken without a sufficient provision being made for him; and in the event of his having an heir legitimately born, the estate was to return to that heir, to the exclusion of his sister Lady Bute's children. This provision in Mr. Wortley's will he endeavoured to take advantage of, in a manner which is highly characteristic. Mr. Edward Wortley early in life was married in a way then not uncommon, namely, a Fleet marriage. With that wife he did not live long, and he had no issue. After his father's death he lived several years in Egypt, and there is supposed to have professed the religion of Mahomet, and indulged in the plurality of wives permitted by that faith.
"In 1776, Mr. E. Wortley, then living at Venice, his wife being dead, through the agency (as is supposed) of his friend Romney the painter, caused an advertisement to be inserted in time 'Public Advertiser' of April 16th in that year, in the following words:
'A gentleman, who has filled two successive seats in parliament, is nearly sixty years of age, lives in great splendour and hospitality, and from whom a considerable estate must pass if he dies without issue, hath no objection to marry a widow or single lady, provided the party be of genteel birth, polite manners, and is five or six months gone in her pregnancy. Letters directed to — Brecknock, Esq. at Will's Coffee-house, will be honoured with clue attention, secrecy, and every mark of respect.'
"It has always been believed in the family that this advertisement was successful, and that a woman having the qualifications required by it was actually sent to Paris to meet Mr. E. Wortley, who got as far as Lyons, on his way thither. There, however, while eating a becafigua for supper, a bone stuck in his throat, and occasioned his death; thus putting an end to this honest scheme." — vol. iii. pp. 446, 447.
We had often heard this story of the advertisement for a wife, but never could believe that it was a serious project — and the story, as now told, only increases our doubts. For if it had been serious, would it have been so published? A pregnant unmarried woman is not so rare an article as to be had only in England, nor there only to be found by public advertisement. Nay, an Englishwoman so found, was the only person with whom the object could not have been accomplished — for if it could be shown that she had not been out of England, while he had not been in England, and if all the circumstances — to which the advertisement could not fail to direct public attention — could have been proved, there is no tribunal which would not have in such a case overruled the general proposition of "pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant" — the rule of law never could have covered a physical impossibility. It is observable, also, that whoever penned the advertisement, was not even acquainted with time christian name of the solicitor who was to conduct the affair. In short, mad as Mr. Wortley was, we think he had more method in his madness than to have published such an advertisement, if he really intended to carry the design into effect. It was probably a mere scheme of intimidation.
As all the novelty in this series consists of letters relating to the younger Wortley, we need make no further extracts from them; but we must notice — by way of example — a few of the anachronisms and errors of the present arrangements and notes; and, when we show what strange mistakes have been made in matters where the editors are personally concerned, our readers will judge of what must be the inaccuracy on other subjects.
Dallaway had placed under the date of May, 1749, a letter congratulating Lady Bute on the birth of "a new daughter." Lord Wharncliffe alters this to May, 1754, and places it in a later volume. We cannot discover why. None of the authorities that we have consulted place the birth of any of the children in 1754, and the letter specially intimates that this is the fourth daughter.
"I have already wished you joy of your new daughter, and wrote to Lord Bute to thank him for his letter. I don't know whether I shall make my court to you in saying it, but I own I cannot help thinking that your family is numerous enough, and that the education and disposal of four girls is employment for a whole life." — vol. iii. p. 86.
Now the fourth daughter, Lady Augusta, is stated in Douglas's Scottish Peerage (the best work of the kind we ever consulted) to have been born in 1749, which agrees with Dallaway's arrangement. But still more strange is a mistake, as it seems to us, made about the birth of Lady Louisa herself, and a mistake made by adding some years to her real age.
A letter, dated 9th October, 1754, acknowledging the receipt of one from Lady Bute, says—
"I am fond of your little Louisa — to say the truth, I was afraid of a Bess, a Peg, or a Suky, which all give me the ideas of washing-tubs and the scowering of kettles." — vol. iii. p. 101.
Now, as we have just said, there was no daughter born in 1754, though, if we were to credit the editor's arrangement, there must have been no less than three — viz. Lady Augusta the fourth in the spring, and Lady Louisa the sixth in the autumn, and, of course, Lady Caroline the fifth in some intermediate month. The fact is, that Lady Augusta was born, as we have said, in 1749, Lady Caroline in 1750, and Lady Louisa on the 15th August, 1757; which event Lord Bute immediately announced to Lady Mary in a letter, which she acknowledges on the 30th September (vol. iii. p. 146); and Lady Bute herself, on the very day her month was up — viz. 15th August — announced the christening of Lady Louisa, and the grandmother replies (as we have seen) on the 9th October, all of 1757—
"I have received yours of the 15th September, and am fond of your little Louisa." — vol. iii. p. 101.
And these dates are on the face of the volumes. Lady Louisa must excuse us for knowing her age better than she seems to do herself, and for proving that she is in her eightieth year, and not in her eighty-fourth, as the dates assigned to the letters would import, nor in her eighteenth, as might be suspected from the vivacity of her style.
Such mistakes, made by parties themselves, are very strange; but another, in which Lord Wharncliffe is specially concerned, is still more so. A letter to Lady Bute, which Dallaway had placed under the date of 27th May, 1749, is by the present editor dated the 27th May, 1754, and, transposed accordingly, it begins—
"I had the pleasure two days ago of your letter, in which you tell me of the marriage of Mr. Mackenzie." — vol. iii. p. 90.
To which is appended this note—
"James Stuart Mackenzie, only brother of John Earl of Bute, married Lady Betty Campbell, second daughter of John Duke of Argyll. He died in 1798."
When we add, that Lord Wharncliffe is thus not only Mr. Mackenzie's grand-nephew, but that he has, we believe, inherited his estate, no one could entertain any doubt that Dallaway must have been egregiously wrong, and that, in what relates to such intimate relations, the editor must be infallibly correct — but it seems not to be so.
In the first place, the date now assigned to the letter of 1754 is wrong by five years; for Mr. Mackenzie was married to Lady Betty the 16th February, 1749 (Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, vol. i. p. 286); the birth of their first child was the 21st December, 1749 (ib.). Nor did Mr. Mackenzie die in 1798. He survived his lady (who died the 19th July, 1799) — dying himself on the 6th April, 1800 (ib.); and his library was sold by auction in the following month, and attracted some notice. That Lord Wharncliffe should have made these mistakes about the death of his granduncle, which happened some years after he himself came of age, and winch he has such daily cause for remembering, seems very surprising nor could we ourselves believe it, if we had not verified the dates in Douglas by reference to contemporaneous authorities.
Another mistake, though not quite so surprising, is more generally important, and requires correction, because it confounds national history.
Lady Mary writes to Lady Bute, under date of the 26th July, 1753—
"I am glad you are admitted into the conversation of the prince and princess." — vol. iii. p. 16.
To which Lord Wharncliffe subjoins a note on the word "prince" — "Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III." — ibid.
It escaped Lord Wharncliffe's memory that Prince Frederick, father of George III., had died on the 20th March, 1751, and that the prince here mentioned was George III. himself.
We could make observations of a similar kind to a greater extent than we have room for, but these are sufficient to show that editorship is not so easy a task as it may seem, and that there is a good deal in the way of arrangement and annotation to be amended in another edition. We are very well aware of how difficult it is to avoid mere errors of date in such matters, and how unimportant they sometimes are; but when the errors in the dates go so far as to alter and confuse the course of the correspondence, they become important.
Of the grave letters to Lady Oxford, and the empty ones to Sir James and Lady Frances Steuart, we have already expressed our opinion, and we have no room for any extracts from them.
To the Works — so called of Lady Mary — there is no addition whatsoever, but a new version of a worthless ballad already in the collection, and a few satirical and indelicate lines on General Churchill, attributed, on what seems insufficient authority, to Lady Mary. Indeed, we know not on what authority many of the verses are charged on Lady Mary, and if the editor has no other ground than that he finds them ascribed to her in former collections, he should, we think, have said so; because his edition is in itself an authority, and many of those things assuredly do her no honour.
As our readers may be glad to have a specimen of her poetical talents, and as the only new piece is rather too loose for quotation, we extract one of the old ones, which has a peculiar interest, that will be obvious to everybody—
"John, Duke of Marlborough."
When the proud Frenchman's strong rapacious hand
Spread over Europe ruin and command,
Our sinking temples and expiring law
With trembling dread the rolling tempest saw;
Destin'd a province to insulting Gaul,
This Genius rose, and stopp'd the ponderous fall.
His temperate valour fomn'd no giddy scheme,
No victory rais'd him to a rage of fame;
The happy temper of his even mind
No danger e'er could shock, or conquest blind.
Fashion'd alike by Nature and by Art,
To please, engage, and int'rest ev'ry heart;
In public life by all who saw approv'd,
In private hours by all who knew him lov'd. — vol. iii. p. 313.
It is exceedingly curious that this should be as exact a portrait of our living hero, as it was above a century ago of the great Duke of Marlborough.
We are surprised, however, that Lord Wharncliffe should not have inserted a copy of verses which are undoubtedly by Lady Mary, and which (as far as the mere poetry goes) are about the best she ever wrote; they are to be found in the correspondence of Lady Pomfret, to whom Lady Mary herself gave them—
"Addressed to —, 1736."
With toilsome steps I pass thro' life's dull road,
No pack-horse half so tired of his load;
And when this dirty journey shall conclude,
To what new realms is then my way pursued?
Say, then, does the unbodied spirit fly
To happier climes, and to a better sky?
Or, sinking, mixes with its kindred clay,
And sleeps a whole eternity away?
Or shall this form be once again renew'd,
With all its frailties, all its hopes, endued;
Acting once more on this detested stage
Passions of youth, infirmities of age?
I see in Tully what the ancients thought,
And read unprejudic'd what moderns taught;
But no conviction from my reading springs—
Most dubious on the most important things.
Yet one short moment would at once explain
What all philosophy has sought in vain;
Would clear all doubt, and terminate all pain;
Why, then, not hasten that decisive hour;
Still in my view, and ever in my pow'r?
Why should I drag along this life I hate
Without one thought to mitigate the weight?
Whence this mysterious bearing to exist,
When every joy is lost, and every hope dismiss'd?
In chains and darkness wherefore should I stay,
And mourn in prison whilst I keep the key?
—Correspond. of Ladies Hertford and Pomfret. vol. i. p. 53.
We cannot resist adding the observations made by Lady Hertford on the receipt of this apology for suicide, and we give them the rather from the contrast they afford in their ladylike style and Christian spirit to the coarseness with which Lady Mary treated Lady Hertford — if, indeed, the allusions and the verses at vol. iii. pp. 137, 295, of this edition (which Dallaway, and Lord Wharncliffe, we suppose, in deference to him — though without a word of explanation why they do so — apply to Lady Hertford) are really aimed at that respectable woman—
"My Dear Lady Pomfret, — Lady Mary Wortley's verses have a wit and strength that appear in all her writings; but her mind must have been in a very melancholy disposition when she composed them. I hope it was only a gloomy hour, which soon blew over to make way for more cheerful prospects. If I had been near her then, I should have persuaded her to look into the New Testament, in hopes that it might have afforded her the conviction which she had sought in vain from Tully and other authors. She has so much judgment and penetration, that I am satisfied, if the Scriptures were to become the subject of her contemplation, and if she would read them with the same attention and impartiality that she does any other hooks of knowledge, they would disperse a thousand mists which, without such assistance, will too certainly hang upon the finest understandings." — ibid. p. 105.
What good-breeding, charity, and truth! Lady Pomfret, in her reply, makes some further observations on these verses, which belong to Lady Mary's personal history:—
"What pity and terror does it create to see wit, beauty, nobility, and riches, after a full possession of fifty years, talk that language — and talk it so feelingly, that all who read must know that it comes from the heart! But, indeed, dear Madam, you make me smile when you proposed putting the New Testament into the hands of the author" — ibid. p. 111.
In a subsequent part of this correspondence Lady Pomfret sent to Lady Hertford Lady Mary's town eclogue, entitled "Saturday," in which an altered beauty laments "her disfigured face," and both the ladies treat it as descriptive of Lady Mary's own case — we doubt how justly; but Lady Hertford's observations on the subject give us the least suspicious evidence that we know of Lady Mary's personal charms:—
"Nothing can he more natural than her complaint for the loss of her beauty; but as that was only of her various powers to charm, I should have imagined she would have felt only a small part of the regret that many others have suffered in a like misfortune, who, having no claim to admiration but the loveliness of their persons, have found all hopes of that vanish much earlier in life than Lady Mary — for, if I mistake not, she was near thirty before she had to deplore the loss of beauty greater than I ever saw in any face but her own!" ibid. p. 169.
This is all we need say on the subject of Lady Mary's poetical works, which are but too well known: — but prefixed to the Letters are two pieces in prose, which are both new, and both possess some historical interest: one, by Lady Mary, is an "Account of the court of George I. at his accession;" the other, by Mr. Wortley, is "On the state of party at the accession of George I." The lady deals in personal, the gentleman in political, scandal; there may be, and probably is, some truth at the bottom of their satire, but it is pretty clear that Mr. Wortley's not having had a sufficiently great or lasting share of the golden shower which the accession of the House of Hanover poured on the Whigs in general, was the primum mobile the exciting spirit of the pens both of the husband and wife. Mr. Wortley's paper is chiefly, and Lady Mary's incidentally, directed against Sir Robert — then Mr. — Walpole, whom they both accuse of scandalous corruption in the Pay Office (for which, indeed, he was sent to the Tower in the queen's time), and they — contemporary witnesses and Whigs — boldly pronounce that affair to have been the result of notorious culpability, which Horace Walpole filially represents as the mere injustice of party. It must be observed, that Mr. Wortley was in the commission of the Treasury formed on the accession of George I., but continued there for only a year, when he was displaced by a board of which Walpole was the head, as Chancellor of the Exchequer; and it seems to us clear that this paper of Mr. Wortley's was the draft of a remonstrance against that catastrophe. We select two or three extracts, which exhibit portraits of Whigs in the best Wing times, by the hand of an eminent Whig:—
"Before the opening of the session, Mr. Walpole was in full power; and when the places of consequence were to be disposed of, Mr. Walpole named as many as he thought fit, striking out of the list presented by the Treasury to the king, not only Tories but Whigs, when he wanted to put others in their places ,and at a debate, at which eight of the cabinet and about as many commoners were present, Mr. Walpole carried it that the books, letters, and papers on which the late ministers were to be impeached, should not be read till the orders were made. Mr. Walpole pretends he did not think Lord Halifax was to be trusted with them. But most people are of opinion Mr. Walpole wanted to have the whole credit of the management of this affair, and, by knowing more of these papers, to seem an able talker and writer.... It was owing to him that, in the proclamation for choosing the parliament, it was declared in pretty strong terms that it was the king's desire that Whigs should be chosen; and was an open declaration that no Tories were to have any share in the king's favour.... The injustice shown in trying of elections has perhaps this sessions been greater than ever.... Lord Townshend acts much against his own interest in setting up Mr. Walpole above the rest; but Lord Townshend 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. He is the fittest man for it in the blouse of Lords; nothing could have sunk his credit, or can ever make the Whigs see him changed, unless his blindness towards Mr. Walpole's actions should set them against him, as it has made them less for him than they would have been otherwise. Mr. Stanhope, who has doubled his fortune in one year by the favour, as he thinks, of Lord Townshend, will always second what he does; and perhaps his want of judgment, or want of skill in the Rouse of Commons, may give him a great opinion of Mr. Walpole.
"There may be another reason Mr. Walpole is so supported. Baron B— is said to take what money he can. Mr. Walpole is the most proper man in England to assist him in getting it; and why should Baron B. join himself with a man so suspicious, unless he did take it? There are very strong circumstances for suspecting Baron B. has got great sums, and — is known to be the director of Baron B.; and, indeed, this alliance is so well known, that no man ever says anything of Mr. Walpole, except in praise of him, to any of them.
"Mr. Walpole is already looked upon as the chief minister, made so by Lord Townshend; and when he is in the Treasury, it will he thought that the king has declared him so.... Can it be for the honour of the government to have a man marked for corruption declared first minister? Can he bear the envy of having such a post; especially when he has already the places of two paymasters, and a place for his uncle, though a Tory. If he is to be in it (the Treasury), is it reasonable he should make all the rest?... If there be one or two in the commission who are not of Mr. Walpole's choosing, they cannot hinder any of his projects, so that they can do no harm; and can do no good but to inform the king of his affairs. This is what Mr. Walpole will endeavour to prevent all he can." — vol i. pp. 123-128.
All these charges of corruption against Stanhope, Walpole, and the Hanoverian ministers, may be true, but it is obvious that Mr. Wortley was very reluctant to be put out of the Treasury by the nomination of Walpole and his friends to that board.
Lady Mary's sketches are more general and more satirical. Her Account is really a curious piece of court gossip, worthy to stand by the side of Horace Walpole's sprightly, but very inaccurate, Reminiscences. As this piece is not to be found in the former editions, we shall make extracts — as large as decency will permit — from her sketches of time remarkable characters of that court.
"The new court with all their train was arrived before I left the country. The Duke of Marlborough was returned in a sort of triumph, with the apparent merit of having suffered for his fidelity in the succession, and was reinstated in his office of general, &c. In short, all people who had suffered any hardship or disgrace during the late ministry would have it believed that it was occasioned by their attachment to the House of Hanover. Even Mr. Walpole, who had been sent to the Tower for a piece of bribery proved upon him, was called a confessor to the cause. But he had another piece of good luck that yet more contributed to his advancement: he had a very handsome sister, whose folly had lost her reputation in London; but the yet greater folly of Lord Townshend, who happened to be a neighbour in Norfolk to Mr. Walpole, had occasioned his being drawn in to marry her some months before the queen died. Lord Townshend had that sort of understanding which commonly makes men honest in the first part of their lives; they follow the instruction of their tutor, and, till somebody thinks it worth while to shew them a new path, go regularly on in the road where they are set.... This was his character when the Earl of Godoiphin sent him envoy to the States; not doubting but he would be faithful to his orders, without giving himself the trouble of criticising on them, which is what all ministers wish in an envoy. Robotun [Robethon], a French refugee, (secretary to Bernstoff, one of the Elector of Hanover's ministers,) happened to be at the Hague, and was civilly received by Lord Townshend, who treated him at his table with the English hospitality; and he was charmed with a reception which his birth and education did not entitle him to.
"When King George ascended the throne, he was surrounded by all his German ministers and playfellows, male and female. Baron Goritz was the most considerable among them both for birth and fortune. He had managed the king's treasury, for thirty years, with the utmost fidelity and economy; and had the true German honesty, being a plain, sincere and unambitious man. Bernstoff, the secretary, was of a different turn. He was avaricious, artful, and designing; and had got his share in the king's councils by bribing his women. Robotun was employed in these matters, and had the sanguine ambition of a Frenchman. He resolved there should be an English ministry of his choosing; and, knowing none of them personally but Townshend, he had not failed to recommend him to his master, and his master to the king, as the only proper person for the important post of secretary of state; and he entered upon that office with universal applause, having at that time a very popular character, which he might probably have retained for ever if he had not been entirely governed by his wife and her brother Robert Walpole, whom he immediately advanced to be paymaster, esteemed a post of exceeding profit, and very necessary for his indebted estate.
"Lord Halifax, who was now advanced to the dignity of earl, and graced with the garter, and first commissioner of the treasury, treated him with contempt. The Earl of Nottingham, who had the real merit of having renounced the ministry in Queen Anne's reign, when he thought they were going to alter the succession, was not to be reconciled to Walpole, whom he looked upon as stigmatized for corruption.
"The Duke of Marlborough, who in his old age was making the same figure at court that he did when he first came into it, — I mean, bowing and smiling in the antechamber while Townshend was in the closet, — was not, however, pleased with Walpole, who began to behave to him with the insolence of new favour; and his duchess, who never restrained her tongue in her life, used to make public jokes of the beggary she first knew him in, when her caprice gave him a considerable place, against the opinion of Lord Godolphin and the Duke of Marlborough....
"The king's character may be comprised in very few words. In private life he would have been called an honest blockhead; and fortune, that made him a king, added nothing to his happiness, only prejudiced his honesty, and shortened his days. No man was ever more free from ambition; he loved money, but loved to keep his own, without being rapacious of other men's. He would have grown rich by saving, but was incapable of laying schemes for getting; he was more properly dull than lazy, and would have been so well contented to have remained in his little town of Hanover, that if the ambition of those about him had not been greater than his own, we should never have seen him in England; and the natural honesty of his temper, joined with the narrow notions of a low education, made him look upon his acceptance of the crown as an act of usurpation, which was always uneasy to him. But he was carried by the stream of the people about him, in that, as in every action of his life. He could speak no English, and was past the age of learning it. Our customs and laws were all mysteries to him, which he neither tried to understand, nor was capable of understanding if he had endeavoured it. He was passively goodnatured, and wished all mankind enjoyed quiet, if they would let him do so.
"Mademoiselle Schulenberg was duller than himself, and consequently did not find out that he was so; and had lived in that figure at Hanover almost forty years (for she came hither at threescore), without meddling in any affairs of the electorate; content with the small pension he allowed her, and the honour of his visits when he had nothing else to do, which happened very often. She even refused coming hither at first, fearing that the people of England, who, she thought, were accustomed to use their kings barbarously, might chop off his head in the first fortnight; and had not love or gratitude enough to venture being involved in his ruin. And the poor man was in peril of coming hither without knowing where to pass his evenings; which he was accustomed to do in the apartments of women; free from business. But Madame Kilmansegg saved him from this misfortune. She was told that Mademoiselle Schulenberg scrupled this terrible journey; and took the opportunity of offering her service to his Majesty, who willingly accepted of it....
"Madame Kilmansegg deserves I should be a little particular in her character, there being something in it worth speaking of. She was past forty she had never been a beauty, but certainly very agreeable in her person when adorned by youth; and had once appeared so charming to the king, that it was said the divorce and ruin of his beautiful princess, the Duke of Zell's daughter, was owing to the hopes her mother (who was declared mistress to the king's father, and all-powerful in his court) had of setting her daughter in her place; and that the project did not succeed, by the passion which Madame Kilmansegg took for M. Kilmansegg, who was son of a merchant of Hamburgh, and, after having a child by him, there was nothing left for her but to marry him.... She was both luxurious and generous, devoted to her pleasures, and seemed to have taken Lord Rochester's resolution of avoiding all sorts of self-denial. She had a greater vivacity in conversation than ever I knew in a German of either sex. She loved reading, and had a taste of all polite learning. Her humour was easy and sociable. Her constitution inclined her to gallantry. She was well-bred and amusing in company. She knew both how to please and be pleased — and had experience enough to know it was hard to do either without money. Her unlimited expenses had left her with very little remaining, and she made what haste she could to make advantage of the opinion the English had of her power with the king, by receiving the presents that were made her from all quarters; and which she knew very well must cease when it was known that the king's idleness carried him to her lodgings without either regard for her advice, or affection for her person, which time and very bad paint had left without any of the charms which had once attracted him.
"His best-beloved mistress remained still at Hanover, which was the beautiful Countess of Platen.... That lady was married to Madame Kilmansegg's brother, the most considerable man in Hanover for birth and fortune; and her beauty was as far beyond that of any of the other women that appeared. However the king saw her every day without taking notice of it, and contented himself with his habitual commerce with Mademoiselle Schulenberg.... In those little courts there is no distinction of much value but what arises from the favour of the prince; and Madame Platen saw with great indignation that all her charms were passed over unregarded; and she took a method to get over this misfortune which would never have entered into the head of a woman of sense, and yet which met with wonderful success. She asked an audience of his highness, who granted it without guessing what she meant by it; and she told him that as nobody could refuse her the first rank in that place, it was very mortifying to see his highness not show her any mark of favour; and, as no person could be more attached to his person than herself, she begged with tears in her fine eyes that he would alter his behaviour to her. The elector, very much astonished at this complaint, answered that he did not know any reason he had given her to believe he was wanting in respect for her, and that he thought her not only the greatest lady, but the greatest beauty of the court. 'If that be true, sire,' replied she sobbing, 'why do you pass all your time with Mademoiselle Schulenberg, while I hardly receive the honour of a visit from you?' His highness promised to mend his manners, and from that time was very assiduous in waiting upon her. This ended in a fondness, which her husband disliked so much that he parted with her.... The elector, however, did not break with his first love, and often went to her apartment to cut paper, which was his chief employment there; which the Countess of Platen easily permitted him, having often occasion for his absence. She was naturally gallant; and, after having thus satisfied her ambition, pursued her warmer inclinations.
"Young Craggs came about this time to Hanover, where his father sent him to take a view of that court in his tour of travelling. He was in his first bloom of youth and vigour.... The elder Craggs was nothing more considerable at his first appearance in the world than footman to Lady Mary Mordant, the gallant Duchess of Norfolk, who had always half-a-dozen intrigues to manage. Some servant must always be trusted in affairs of that kind, and James Craggs had the good fortune to be chosen for that purpose. She found him both faithful and discreet, and he was soon advanced to the dignity of valet-de-chambre.
"King James II. had an amour with her after he was upon the throne, and respected the queen enough to endeavour to keep it entirely from her knowledge. James Craggs was the messenger between the king and the duchess, and did not fail to make the best use of so important a trust. He scraped a great deal of money from the bounty of this royal lover, and was too inconsiderable to be hurt by his ruin; and did not concern himself much for that of his mistress, which by lower intrigues happened soon after. This fellow, from the report of all parties, and even from that of his professed enemies, had a very uncommon genius; a head well turned for calculation; great industry; and [was] so just an observer of the world, that the meanness of his education never appeared in his conversation.
"The Duke of Marlborough, who was sensible how well he was qualified for affairs that required secrecy, employed him as his procurer both for women and money; and he acquitted himself so well of these trusts as to please his master, and yet raise a considerable fortune, by turning his money in the public funds, the secret of which came often to his knowledge by the duke's employing him....
"Young Craggs had great vivacity, a happy memory, and flowing elocution; he was brave and generous; and had an appearance of openheartedness in his manner that gained him a universal good-will, if not a universal esteem. It is true, there appeared a heat and want of judgment in all his words and actions, which did not make him very valuable in the eyes of cool judges, but Madame Platen was not of that number. His youth and fire made him appear a conquest worthy her charms, and her charms made her appear very well worthy his passionate addresses. Two people so well disposed towards each other were very soon in the closest engagement; and the first proof Madame Platen gave him of her affection was introducing him to the favour of the elector, who took it on her word that he was a young man of extraordinary merit, and he named him for Cofferer at his first accession to the crown of England, and I believe it was the only place that he then disposed of from any inclination of his own....
"I have not yet given the character of the Prince. [George II.] The fire of his temper appeared in every look and gesture; which, being unhappily under the direction of a small understanding, was every day throwing him upon some indiscretion. He was naturally sincere, and his pride told him that he was placed above constraint; not reflecting that a high rank carries along with it a necessity of a more decent and regular behaviour than is expected from those who are not set in so conspicuous a light. He was so far from being of that opinion, that he looked on all the men and women he saw as creatures he might kick or kiss for his diversion; and, whenever he met with any opposition in those designs, he thought his opposers insolent rebels to the will of God, who created them for his use, and judged of the merit of all people by their ready submission to his orders, or the relation they had to his power. And in this view he looked upon the Princess as the most meritorious of her sex; and she took care to keep him in that sentiment by all the arts she was mistress of. He had married her by inclination; his good-natured father had been so complaisant as to let him choose a wife for himself. She was of the house of Anspach, and brought him no great addition either of money or alliance; but was at that time esteemed a German beauty, and had that genius which qualified her for the government of a fool, and made her despicable in the eyes of men of sense; I mean a low cunning, which gave her an inclination to cheat all the people she conversed with, and often cheated herself in the first place, by showing her the wrong side of her interest, not having understanding enough to observe that falsehood in conversation, like red on the face, should be used very seldom and very sparingly, or they destroy that interest and beauty which they are designed to heighten." — vol. i. pp. 103-118.
The reader will have observed with some surprise, that George I., so quiet and contented in other respects, should have involved himself in the complicated trammels of three mistresses at a time; which is one more than even Horace Walpole, in his scandalous chronicle, assigns to him. But the fact is, that Walpole confounds Madame Kilmansegg, the sister of Count Platen, with his wife. By the foreign fashion, all the daughters of a house called themselves by the patronymic title, and Madame Kilmansegg having been nee Countess of Platen, became confounded with her sister-in-law, and thus George I. was deprived of one-third of his amatory fame, to which, however, Lady Mary — a suitable historian of such matters — has now restored him. But this is not all. His Majesty, it seems, thought there was a charm in the number three, and as the Countess of Platen would not come over, "he paid," says Walpole, "his new subjects the compliment of taking an English mistress — Miss Brett, daughter, by the second husband, of the notorious Countess of Macclesfield, Savage's pretended mother. After the king's death, Miss Brett married Sir William Lemon." The history of this amour is told in Walpole's Reminiscences — we notice it here because, first, it completes Lady Mary's historical sketch — and secondly, it explains an allusion in one of her letters, vol. ii. p. 260, to Sir William Lemon's marriage and death, of which the editor takes no notice, and which is unintelligible without it.
Lady Louisa remarks, that her grandmother states that while at Louvere, in 1752, she amused herself in successively writing and destroying the sheets of a "history of her own time," of which Lady Louisa supposes the piece we have just quoted to be a fragment. We cannot be of that opinion. It is, we think, clear by internal evidence that this paper was written during the life of George I., and probably early in the reign, under the influence of the same sentiments of personal disappointment which prompted Mr. Wortley's pen. But whenever written, we may be well assured that the facts are strongly discoloured by the passions and prejudices of the writer.
We have now done with Lady Mary Wortley's works and letters, and must return to the interesting "Introductory Anecdotes" of Lady Louisa Stuart — of which our readers will be obliged to us for giving them a few further specimens — though it may happen that we shall have to question some of the facts stated, and many of the conclusions drawn. Lady Louisa states nothing of her own knowledge, but relates from Lady Mary's journal, which she candidly admits cannot be received as indisputable authority.
Lady Louisa attributes to Horace Walpole an excessive dislike of Lady Mary, though we can see no evidence that he thought worse of her ladyship than the generality of the world about her did — but she accounts for it by endeavouring, on the authority of Lady Mary's journal, to turn the tables on Walpole's mother—
"His mother and she had been antagonists and enemies 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 Gulliver 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 tight-rope. 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 strait-laced husbands do not take so coolly. Openly laughing at their nicety, be professed it his method 'to go his own way, and let madam go her's.'" — vol. i. pp. 32, 33.
Here — before we copy the scandal that follows — we must pause to say that it may be very true that Lady Walpole was gallant, and Sir Robert over easy; but that the evidence Lady Louisa brings in support of Lady Mary's charge does not support it. The pleasantry in "Gulliver's Travels" about the Treasurer Flimnap's lady turns on the very contrary of Lady Louisa's supposition — it being directed against the morbid jealousy of the husband in a case where it must have been groundless. The fun is in the punctilious gravity with which the man-mountain vindicates the character of a lady who was not so tall as the little finger of her supposed admirer. And again, as to Pope's lines, they occur in a passage in which, if ever he could be so, he must have been sincere, for the praise of Walpole is coupled with that of his own dearest friends — Cobham, Marchmont, Lyttelton, and Bolingbroke — a sneer in this place would have been a sneer on them, and is morally impossible to have been meant: and finally the sneer would have been worse than pointless, because poor Lady Walpole was dead and buried before the poem was written. Pope and Swift, therefore, who have malice enough of their own to answer for, are certainly no accomplices in this of Lady Mary. We proceed with the extract:—
"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 Eaton school, when a lad of some standing drew his attention, and proved that, whether he had or not, a right to the name he vent by, he was likely to do it honour." — vol. i. pp. 33, 34.
Now we will not deny that Horace's persons and tastes were in many respects unlike those of Sir Robert — nay, we will admit that in them and some other peculiarities he may have resembled the Herveys, but we must say that the additional and corroborative evidence advanced by Lady Louisa seems to us wholly groundless. What! because a prime minister leaves — for all the public may know — his youngest son in the hands of his doating mother, and is only observed to take notice of him when he has become a school-boy (a course which happens in the family of many men less occupied than Sir Robert), are we therefore to infer that he knows the son to be illegitimate? Sir Robert's "care and tenderness" to Horace are gratefully recorded by himself; and certainly, if Sir Robert had any such suspicion, he was the most placable and generous of men; for he distinguished Horace not only by as much affection as he showed any of his children, but by some very remarkable favours. Again:—
"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." — vol. i. p. 34.
We wonder Lady Louisa does not see in this revelation a more probable explanation of the whole preceding story. Sir Robert Walpole had an intrigue with, and a natural child by, this Miss Skerritt — Lady Mary's protegee. Lady Mary herself, we think, quotes the Italian proverb — "Chi offende perdona mai." Lady Mary and her "dear Molly Skerritt" having inflicted the most scandalous injury on Lady Walpole, may have thought it would be some justification of themselves if they could make her appear guilty of antecedent misconduct; and they were therefore likely enough to calumniate the poor woman after having insulted and injured her in the last degree.
We cannot afford room for a similar examination of all the scandalous anecdotes which Lady Mary's journal afforded. We only offer this as a sample of our historic doubts. We proceed to other matters.
Lady Mary's father, the Duke of Kingston, died in 1726.
"Lady Bute remembered having seen him once only, but that in 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 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 visiters, 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." — vol. i. pp. 42, 43.
The preface affixed to the first edition of the letters, dated 1724, and signed M. A. was, Lady Louisa informs us, written by Mrs. Mary Astell, "of learned memory, the Madonella of the Tatler, a very pious, exemplary woman, and a profound scholar." This lady had, it seems, addressed to Lady Mary a copy of an Ode to Friendship, which is preserved in an album or scrap book of Lady Mary's. This ode turns out to be that which Boswell, on the authority of Mr. Hector, assigned to Dr. Johnson. — (See Croker's Boswell, vol. i. p. 134.)
On this Lady Louisa asks—
"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' 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 he 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." — vol. i. pp. 54, 55.
We beg her ladyship's pardon; there is not matter for a ten minutes' controversy anywhere. — Whoever wrote the verses, this copy of Mrs. Astell's is assuredly not the original, as the first stanza sufficiently testifies — which stands in the version given by Boswell—
Friendship peculiar gift of Heaven,
The noble mind's delight and pride,
To men and angels only given,
To all the lower world denied—
meaning, as the sequel exemplifies, that the sensual passion was common to man and brutes — the lower world — but that friendship was the attribute of men and angels. Good Mrs. Astell, who had somehow got hold of the verses without understanding them, thought that they might be turned into a pretty compliment to her friend Lady Mary, and so she altered the third line into—
To Wortley and to angels given,
To all the lower world denied—
which makes nonsense of the whole poem; first, By confounding the distinction on which the ode is founded, between the higher or intelligent world, and the lower or brute creation; secondly, By supposing that should there be such a timing as a solitary friendship for all the human race, Wortley alone enjoyed the gift; thirdly, This tirade against love, and this eulogy of Platonic friendship, is addressed to one who had eloped with a lover, and was leading, at the time that the verses must have been written, a life of, to say the least of it, fashionable levity. We therefore conclude, that by whomever written, they never could have been addressed to Lady Mary, except by the pen of a plagiarist and flatterer.
We must add another instance of the mode in which anecdotes are, in the progress of repetition, altered and falsified. — Lady Louisa, amongst her grandmother's anecdotes of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, tells the following:—
"Lady Anne Egerton, one of the duchess's grand-daughters, inherited such a share of her 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 her 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, Site 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." — vol. i. pp. 18, 19.
Horace Walpole in Ills Reminiscences tells the same story, almost in the same words, of another grand-daughter, Lady Anne Spencer, the wife of Lord Bateman; but though there was some colour for the story, the details are exaggerated — the following we believe to be the truth. The duchess had several small whole-lengths of her family in her closet at Marlborough House, with the arms and name of the person painted in a corner of the picture — amongst them was that of Lady Bateman — and the picture bears evidence — not that the face was blackened, but — that the duchess's vengeance had contented itself with erasing the name of the offender, as is still evident on the picture, which we ourselves have seen, and which is, we believe, in the possession of Lord Spencer, at Althorpe. The coincidence (excepting the mistake of one Anne for another) of Lady Louisa's story with that of Horace Walpole, is a sufficient proof of the accuracy of her ladyship's memory in reporting what she had read, but the facts afford an equally strong example of the mode in which anecdotes are embellished by such wits as Walpole and Lady Mary.
We have by no means exhausted these very amusing anecdotes, nor the critical observations which we could make upon them, but we have already exceeded our limits, and must conclude, "in order to give," as Lord Wharncliffe says, "a complete view of Lady Mary's character," with some allusions to her personal conduct, which, thanks to the friendship and the enmity of Pope, as well as to her own talents and eccentricities, have formed for above a century a topic of literary debate.
We have already said that this is an honest work, — that Lord Wharncliffe and Lady Louisa have performed their parts with remarkable, we had almost said, unexampled candour; — but it would have been beyond human nature that they should have been altogether impartial — that they should not have felt and cherished a belief that the various discreditable stories about Lady Mary were absolute falsehoods or gross exaggerations. The worst of them, of course, if they ever reached the eyes of Lady Louisa, would be utterly unintelligible to her; and Lord Wharncliffe, although he does (as we shall see presently) advert to one or two of these stories, appears to be by no means apprized how Augean the task would be of clearing Lady Mary's character from all the imputations which her contemporaries for half a century concurred in heaping upon it. We are not going to rake up all that filth, nor indeed to go farther into such questions than the observations of the editors lead us, but we think that a regard for moral justice and historical truth obliges us to enter our protest against the entire and absolute acquittal which Mr. Dallaway and Lord Wharncliffe, both writing under the influence of a laudable partiality, are inclined to pronounce upon her whole conduct. We abhor, with Lord Wharncliffe, Pope's detestable and unmanly charges — "inter politos non nominanda," — which have eventually done at least as much injury to his own character as to Lady Mary's, — which constitute the chief drawback on his popularity, and will for ever exclude his works from the unrestricted perusal of youth and innocence. But, on the other hand, it must be recollected that if Pope had dared to make even one, — the least, — of these atrocious attacks, on a Lady of reputable character, he must have been either shut up in a madhouse or a gaol — or at all events been punished by total exclusion from society.
We have seen that neither Lady Louisa nor Lord Wharncliffe attempt to assign any precise reason for Lady Mary's strange resolution of leaving England in the year 1739, and her never returning till Mr. Wortley's death, two-and-twenty years after, — when she immediately returned. Dallaway attributes this emigration to her declining health, but the letters for several years after do not afford the least colour for that supposition; one letter, written thirteen years after she had left England, gives an account of health and diet, so very inconsistent with such a delicate state as should exile her from her country, and is, withal, so curious that (though published in the old edition,) we will here insert it. Talking of a new novel, "Pompey the Little," which she had been reading, and in the characters of which she recognises some of her friends, Lady Mary proceeds,—
"I also saw myself (as I now am) in the character of Mrs. Qualmsick. You will be surprised at this, no Englishwoman being so free from vapours, having never in my life complained of low spirits, or weak nerves; but our resemblance is very strong in the fancied loss of appetite, which I have been silly enough to be persuaded into by the physician of this place. He visits me frequently, as being one of the most considerable men in the parish, and is a grave, sober, thinking, great fool, whose solemn appearance, and deliberate way of delivering his sentiments, gives them an air of good sense, though they are often the most injudicious that ever were pronounced. By perpetual telling me I eat so little, he is amazed I am able to subsist. He had brought me to he of his opinion; and I began to be seriously uneasy at it. This useful treatise has roused me into a recollection of what I ate yesterday, and do almost every day the same. I wake generally about seven, and drink half a pint of warm asses' milk, after which I sleep two hours; as soon as I am risen, I constantly, take three cups of milk coffee, and two hours after that a large cup of milk chocolate; two hours more brings my dinner, where I never tail swallowing a good dish (I don't mean plate) of gravy soup, with all the bread, roots, &c. belonging to it. I then eat a wing and the whole body of a large fat capon, and a veal sweetbread, concluding with a competent quantity of custard, and some roasted chestnuts. At five in the afternoon I take another dose of asses' milk; and for supper twelve chesnuts (which would weigh two of those in London), one new laid egg, and a handsome poringer of while bread and milk. With this diet, notwithstanding the menaces of my wise doctor, I am now convinced I am in no danger of starving; and am obliged to little Pompey for this discovery." — vol. iii. pp. 7, 8.
Thus swallowing, at an interval of two hours each, a series of meals which would, in quantity at least, satisfy an English ploughman; and this, thirteen years after she had been obliged to expatriate herself on account of declining health! The present editors, though unable to unravel the mysterious emigration, are too candid to adopt Dallaway's ridiculous pretence, which can have no other effect than to prove that the real reason was one which his informant did not venture to tell.
But we have a picture of her — "ad vivam" — by a master, the very year after her emigration, which (though the name has been left in blank,) there is no mistaking. Horace Walpole, then a young man on his travels, writes to Mr. Conway, from Florence, 25th Sept. 1740,—
"Did I tell you that Lady — [Mary Wortley] is here? She laughs at my Lady W— [Walpole, afterwards Lady Orford], scolds my Lady Pomfret, and is laughed at by the whole town. Her dress, her avarice, and her impudence, must amuse any one that never heard her name. She wears a foul mob [cap], that does not cover her greasy black locks that hang loose, — never combed nor curled; an old mazarine blue wrapper, that gapes open and discovers a canvass petticoat. Her face swelled violently — [here follows a passage which we cannot copy] — partly covered with a plaster, and partly with white paint, which, for cheapness, she has bought so coarse that you would not use it to wash a chimney. In three words I will give you her picture, as we drew it in the Noctes Virgilianae,— 'Insanam vatem aspicias.'" — Lord Orford's Works, 4to. edition, vol. v. p. 13.
The present editors have taken several occasions of attributing to Walpole a personal enmity to Lady Mary, — but, however he may be suspected of overcolouring his pictures, there can he no doubt that the broad features of the foregoing portrait cannot be imaginary — they are too graphic not to have been in some degree drawn from nature — they are given to a person who must have known Lady Mary, and who probably had seen her in England in the preceding year; and Walpole appeals to the testimony of several other Englishmen — Gray, Mr. Coke, Sir Francis Dashwood, &c. then at Florence — in a way which he could not have ventured to do if his story could be substantially contradicted. And this story of the swelled face, and its cause, which is the most serious part of the whole, is accidentally and strangely confirmed by her biographers, — who state, assigning, however, mere eccentricity for the motive, — that she was in the habit, when English visitors waited on her, of receiving them in a mask!
This piece of evidence, though it has been long before the public in the great edition of Horace Walpole's works, Lord Wharncliffe does not notice. It probably had escaped his observation; for he very candidly quotes and discusses, in his appendix, two other passages of Walpole's more recently published letters to Sir Horace Mann, which reflect more grossly — if more be possible on Lady Mary.
"The first of these is to be found in letter 231, dated Mistley, August 31, 1751, and is in these words: — 'Pray, tell me if you know anything of Lady Mary Wortley: we have an obscure story here of her being in durance in the Brescian or the Bergamesco; that a young fellow whom she set out with keeping has taken it into his head to keep her close prisoner, not permitting her to write or receive any letters but what he sees: he seems determined, if her husband should die, not to lose her as the Count — lost my Lady O.' [Orford.] And in the next letter he again alludes to this report." — vol iii. p. 431.
On this the editor, with remarkable candour, admits that
"Among Lady Mary's papers there is a long paper, written in Italian, not by herself, giving an account of her having been detained for some time against her will, in a country-house belonging to an Italian count, and inhabited by him and his mother. This paper seems to he drawn up either as a case to be submitted to a lawyer for his opinion, or to be produced in a court of law. There is nothing else to be found in Lady Mary's papers referring in the least degree to this circumstance. It would appear, however, that some such forcible detention as is alluded to did take place, probably for some pecuniary or interested object; but, like many of Horace Walpole's stories, he took care not to let this lose anything that might give it zest, and he therefore makes the person by whom Lady Mary was detained 'a young fellow whom she set out with keeping.' Now, at the time of this transaction taking place Lady Mary was sixty-one years old. The reader, therefore, may judge for himself, how far such an imputation upon her is likely to he founded in truth, and will hear in mind that there was no indisposition upon the part of Horace Walpole to make insinuations of that sort against Lady Mary." — vol. iii. pp. 431-434.
Now, we entertain, with Lord Wharncliffe, a strong opinion of Walpole's disposition to exaggeration, but we confess that we never expected to have found anything like such a confirmation of this story as the discovery in Lady Mary's papers of a law-case attesting the substantial facts. As to the objection drawn from the Lady's age, we can only say that it would have been more cogent had it been the gentleman who was sixty-one — for the histories of the Empress Catherine, and of many less notorious ladies, prove that age does not always correct irregularity when it has grown habitual. Besides, we have a strange avowal of Lady Mary herself, in one of her letters to Lady Bute, about 1758, that vanity, or some other still more discreditable motive, was still so strong in her that—
"it is eleven years since I have seen my figure in a glass, and the last reflection I saw there was so disagreeable, that I resolved to spare myself such mortifications for the future, and shall continue that resolution to my life's end." — vol. iii. p. 171.
The circumstance, too, that no trace of so serious an affair is to be found in any of her letters to her family, nor (with the exception of the law case) in her private papers, seems to justify a suspicion that there was something to be concealed. If such an insult had been offered to an innocent and well-reputed English lady of sixty, is it credible that she would have thus hushed up so shocking an outrage? — "The reader," as Lord Wharncliffe very fairly says, "must judge for himself."
His Lordship proceeds—
"The other passage is in Letter 232; and after saying that he had lately been at Woburn, where he had had an opportunity of seeing fifty letters of Lady Mary's to her sister Lady Mar, 'whom she treated so hardly while out of her senses,' Horace Walpole adds as follows: — 'Ten of the Letters, indeed, are dismal lamentations and frights on a scene of villany of Lady Mary's, who having persuaded one Ruemonde, a Frenchman, and her lover, to entrust her with a large sum of money to buy stock for him, frightened him out of England by persuading him that Mr. Wortley had discovered the intrigue, and would murder him; and then would have sunk the trust. That not succeeding, and he threatening to print her letters, she endeavoured to make Lord Mar or Lord Stair cut his throat. Pope hints at these anecdotes of her history in that line — 'Who starves a sister or denies a debt.'" — vol. iii. p. 432.
Upon this Lord Wharncliffe observes—
"Nothing whatever has been found to throw light upon the ill treatment of Lady Mar by Lady Mary; and that accusation is supposed, by those who would probably have heard of it if true, to be without foundation. But nine letters to Lady Mar relating to a transaction with a person whom Lady Mary calls R., a Frenchman, are among the papers which have been communicated to the editor, which must be the letters alluded to by Horace Walpole, although there appears to be one short of the number mentioned by him, possibly by mistake. In order that the reader may be enabled to see the actual grounds upon which a charge of so scandalous and heinous a character has been made by Mr. Walpole, these letters are now given to the public." — ibid. pp. 432, 433.
Now these letters (which are much too long to be quoted in extenso) seem to us to confirm, in a very extraordinary way, Horace Walpole's impression.
Nine letters are found on this subject — Walpole says he saw ten — which, as Lord Wharncliffe says, might be a natural miscounting, but we shall see presently that there is reason to suspect that he saw one which is not now extant. Walpole calls the hero Ruemonde — where he got the name does not appear, — but the letters admit that there was a certain transaction with a Mons. R—.
That transaction the letters state to have been a complaint of the Frenchman (a very unjust one they, of course, allege) that having entrusted Lady Mary with some money to buy stock, she wanted to cheat him out of it. These letters further admit that the Frenchman was in possession of some letters of hers which were of the greatest importance to her character. Now, if the case had been — as she represents it in the business part of the letters — a mere money difference on the score of certain stock-jobbing transactions in that season when all the world were South Sea mad, we can hardly understand why Lady Mary should have been in such an extreme panic as she certainly was.
"I have attestations and witnesses [she says] of the bargain I made, so that nothing can be clearer than my integrity in this business; but that does not hinder me from being in the utmost terror for the consequences (as you may easily guess) of his [R—'s] villany; the very story of which appears so monstrous to me, that I can hardly believe myself while I write it; though I omit (not to tire you) a thousand aggravating circumstances..... I beg your pardon (dear sister) for this tedious account; but you see how necessary 'tis for me to get my letters from this madman. Perhaps the best way is by fair means; at least they ought to he first tried. I would have you, then, (my dear sister,) try to make the wretch sensible of the truth of what I advance, without asking for my letters, which I have already asked for. Perhaps you may make him ashamed of his infamous proceedings by talking of me, without taking notice that you know of his threats, only of my dealings. I take this method to be the most likely to work upon him. I beg you would send me a full and true account of this detestable affair.... I am too well acquainted with the world (of which poor Mrs. Murray's affair is a fatal instance,) not to know that the most groundless accusation is always of ill consequence to a woman; besides the cruel misfortunes it may bring upon me in my own family. If you have any compassion either for me or my innocent children, I am sure you will try to prevent it. The thing is too serious to be delayed. I think, (to say nothing of either blood or affection,) that humanity and Christianity are interested in my preservation.
"I cannot enough thank you, my dear sister, for the trouble you give yourself in my affairs, though I am still so unhappy to find your care very ineffectual. I have actually in my present possession a formal letter directed to Mr. W. to acquaint him with the whole business. You may imagine the inevitable eternal misfortunes it would have thrown me into, had it been delivered by the person to whom it was intrusted. I wish you would make him sensible of the infamy of his proceeding, which can no way in the world turn to his advantage—.... All he can expect by informing Mr. Wortley, is to hear him repeat the same things I assert; he will not retrieve one farthing, and I am for ever miserable.
"I am now at Twickenham: 'tis impossible to tell you, dear sister, what agonies I suffer every post-day; my health really suffers so much from my fears, that I have reason to apprehend the worst consequences. If that monster acted on the least principles of reason, I should have nothing to fear, since 'tis certain that after he has exposed me he will get nothing by it. Mr. Wortley can do nothing for his satisfaction I am not willing to do myself... I desire nothing from him, but that he would send no letters or messages to my house at London, where Mr. Wortley now is. I am come hither in hopes of benefit from the air, but I carry my distemper about me in an anguish of mind that visibly decays my body every day. I am too melancholy to talk of any other subject. Let me beg you (dear sister) to take some care of this affair, and think you have it in your power to do more than save the life of a sister that loves you." — vol. iii. pp. 435-443.
Lord Wharncliffe thinks that all this is the natural anxiety to conceal from Mr. Wortley and the world the indiscretion (if it can even be called so) of her having undertaken to purchase a few hundred pounds of South Sea stock; but surely this passionate terror is quite disproportioned to any such cause, particularly as she asserts, and seems indeed able to prove, that her pecuniary transaction was quite correct, and that she is ready and anxious to refund the balance.
But there are not wanting a few sentences here and there which seem to point to a more serious cause — a cause much more reconcileable with the terror we have just read. We find in her first letter on the subject.—
"A person whose name is not necessary, because you know it [that is R—], took all sorts of methods during almost a year, to persuade me that there never was so extraordinary an attachment (or what you please to call it) as they had for me. This ended in coming over to make me a visit against my will, and, as was pretended, very much against their interest. I cannot deny I was very silly in giving the least credit to this stuff: But if people are so silly, you'll own 'tis natural for any body that is good-natured to pity and be glad to serve a person they believe unhappy on their account. It came into my head, out of a high point of generosity (for which I wish myself hang'd), to do this creature all the good I possibly could, since 'twas impossible to make them happy their own way. I advised him very strenuously to sell out of the subscription, and in compliance to my advice he did so; and in less than two days saw he had done very prudently. After a piece of service of this nature, I thought I could more decently press his departure, which his follies made me think necessary for me. He took leave of me with so many tears and grimaces (which I can't imagine how he could counterfeit) as really moved my compassion; and I had much ado to keep to my first resolution of exacting his absence, which he swore would he his death. I told him that there was no other way in the world I would not be glad to leave [qu. serve?] him in, but that his extravagancies made it utterly impossible for me to keep him company." — vol. iii. p. 434.
Here, it must be admitted, that there is evidence of coquetry at least — of a flirtation begun abroad, and lasting almost a year — in consequence of which R— followed her to England — where, in order to bribe him to go back again, she turned it into a stock-broking affair. Let it be recollected, also, that we have only her own account of the transaction, in which, of course, even if she had "made him happy in his own way," she could hardly be expected to confess it.
But Lord Wharncliffe thinks that Walpole's malice and falsehood are clearly proved, because he says "that she endeavoured to make Lord Mar or Lord Stair cut his [Mons. R.'s] throat"—
"she certainly threatened him, through Lady Mar, in case of his coming to England; but no one who reads that threat can imagine that it is meant to convey the idea of her intending to have his throat cut by any body." — vol. iii. p. 445.
Her letters certainly do not, in express terms, talk of cutting throats, which, however, at that time, was only a cant phrase for fighting a duel; but after having, in the eight first letters, tried what "fair means" would do, she, in the ninth, talks of measures of violence—
"I am told he [R—] is preparing to come to London. I desire you would assure him that my first step will he to acquaint my Lord Stair with all his obligations to him as soon as I hear he is in London; and if he dares to give me any further trouble, I shall take care to have him rewarded in a stronger manner than he expects; there is nothing more true than this; and I solemnly swear, that if all the credit or money that I have in the world can do it, either for friendship or hire, I shall not fail to have him used as he deserves; and since I know his journey can only be intended to expose me, I shall not value what noise is made. Perhaps you may prevent it; I leave you to judge of the most proper method; 'tis certain no time should be lost; fear is his predominant passion, and I believe you may fright him from coming hither, where he will certainly find a reception very disagreeable to him." — vol. iii. pp. 433, 434.
It is fair to observe that, though in the nine letters published in Lord Wharncliffe's appendix there is no mention of Lord Mar, it is possible that in the tenth letter, which Walpole speaks of, and which Lord Wharncliffe has not found, Lord Mar's name may have been employed by way of intimidation, as Lord Stair's, in our judgment, certainly was.
There is one circumstance more which, if explained, might corroborate or impair Walpole's evidence. Amongst the letters which he saw, was one in which (he says) he found the following passage, which, for its originality and wit, he remembers and quotes:—
"We all partake of Father Adam's folly and knavery, who first ate the apple like a sot, and then turned informer like a scoundrel." — Letters to Mann, iii. 41.
Now, there is a passage in Lady Mary's letters which has some similarity to this, though the witticism is not so strongly put:—
"This is a vile world, dear sister, and I can easily comprehend, that whether one is at Paris or London, one is stifled with a certain mixture of fool and knave, that most people are composed of. I would have patience with a parcel of polite rogues, or your downright honest fools; but Father Adam shines through his whole progeny." — vol. ii. p. 187.
This proves, we think, that Walpole had a general recollection of a passage about "Father Adam;" but Lord Wharncliffe, or whoever is in possession of the originals, can tell whether the profane wit exists in the original, or was an addition of Walpole's own.
We have given a large space to the detail of this curious affair, because we think that, in fact, Lord Wharncliffe's ten pages of Appendix give us more insight into Lady Mary's personal conduct and real character than all the rest of the volumes. Lord Wharncliffe, in his desire to weaken Walpole's authority, states, vol. iii. p. 446, that—
"Mr. Cole, in his MS. now in the British Museum, states of Lady Mary, that he had heard from Madame Geoffrin and Mr. Walpole, who knew her well, that she was the vilest of womenkind, notwithstanding her talents for wit, vivacity, and genius, and elegance of taste, were unexceptionable"—
Whereas Lord Wharncliffe doubts whether Walpole could have known her very well, as she went abroad when Walpole was barely of age. But surely this does not impair Walpole's veracity. In the first place, Mr. Cole may not have accurately repeated the exact words, but — even if he did — the expressions seem quite justifiable by the facts. Walpole must have known Lady Mary from his childhood, as an acquaintance of his mother's. He had also seen her in Italy, where he seems to have spent some months in her society. All this would justify the popular phrase that he knew her well — so, at least, thought Lady Mary herself, for she writes to Lady Bute (vol. iii. p. 167), that "she was well acquainted with" "Horry" Walpole, as she in another place (vol. iii. p. 87) familiarly calls him. We think, therefore, that Lord Wharncliffe gives too much importance to what he thinks a false statement, and which we do not think even an inaccurate expression.
Of Lady Mary's appearance and manners on her return to England, there is another lively sketch by the hand of Walpole.
"February 2, 1762.
Lady Mary Wortley is arrived; I have seen her; I think her avarice — her dirt, and her vivacity, are all increased — her dress, like her language, is a galimatias of several countries — the groundwork rags, and the embroidery nastiness. She needs no cap, no handkerchief, no gown, no petticoat, no shoes — an old black-lace hood represents the first; the fur of a horseman's coat, which replaces the third, represents the second; a dimity petticoat is deputy, and officiates for the fourth; and slippers act the part of the last." — Letters to Montagu, 4th edit. vol. vi. p. 211.
And on the following June he thus announces the approach of the moment which was to bring-for the first time-this extraordinary woman to the mere level of other mortals.
"Lady Mary Wortley is dying of a cancer in her breast." — ibid, p. 292.
Walpole was well informed; she died, in fact, on the 21st of August following. Mr. Dallaway says, "of a decline," and the present editors seem to evade the mention of the immediate cause of her death. We wonder what objection there could have been to assigning the real disease — particularly as it justifies a hope that what Pope and Walpole have dwelt upon in terms not to be quoted, may have been, in fact, a constitutional disorder. It is probable that something of the style of dress which Walpole and others attribute to eccentricity, such as the "domino" in Italy (Dallaway, vol. i. p. 112), and "the horseman's coat" (probably only a pelisse), in England — were rendered necessary by the dreadful calamity under which she was suffering. How unjust and how cruel do these sarcasms on her dress appear, when we know what a vulture was gnawing her vitals, and with what admirable fortitude she bore it!
To conclude. We are strongly persuaded, that Lady Mary Wortley's fame, both as an author and a woman, stood highest when it rested on the Letters during the embassy, in which her literary talent shines brightest and purest; and her maternal and moral courage in the introduction of innoculation by trying the experiment on her own son, gives her an honourable immortality as one of the benefactors of the human race. We regret to be obliged to express our opinion that every subsequent publication has impaired her character for good nature and good conduct — and, judging by the last of all which has appeared — this Appendix — we are warranted in suspecting that the more her life is examined, and the more her history is sifted, the less personally creditable they will be found.
In a literary point of view it is to be hoped that Lord Wharncliffe, or some other editor having more leisure and inclination for the details of such an affair, may one day present us with the letters of Lady Mary Wortley arranged in a strictly chronological order, interspersed with such a running commentary of illustrations and notes as might, with a little trouble, be made to render all that is worthy of the curiosity of the world clear and intelligible. To such an edition of Lady Mary's letters, her other genuine writings would form a proper and not a bulky appendix.