Rev. Thomas Birch

Elizabeth Montagu to Gilbert West, 1754; Montagu, Letters (1809, 1813) 3:271-72.

Pray has Mr. Birch sent you his Queen Elizabeth? I have not seen it, and I know I shall read it with sorrow. A belle passion at threescore is worse than eating salt fish in the gout. I shall hate these collectors of anecdotes if they cure one of that admiration of a great character that arises from a pleasing deception of sight. I desire you not to read aloud this part of Queen Bess's story, when the ass is at your door; it would make a bad chapter for us in her history of of human reason, 60 odd to twenty-one! instinct never made such a blunder. An old woman and a young man, a sin against nature, an old queen and a young counsellor, a sin against politics and prudence. "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff." I shall begin to believe Madame Scudery's romances, in which Lucretia is adroit at intrigue, the stern Brutus a whining lover, and Cato the censor admirable at writing the billet doux. I cannot forgive Mr. Birch for bringing this story to light in such a manner; I supposed with Shakspeare, that, in spite of Cupid's idle darts, "she pass'd on in maiden meditation fancy free."