1760 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Dodd

Horace Walpole to George Montague, 28 January 1760; Letters, ed. Cunningham (1906) 3:282-93.



A party was made to go to the Magdalen-house. We met at Northumberland-house at five, and set out in four coaches. Prince Edward, Colonel Brudenel his groom, Lady Northumberland, Lady Mary Coke, Lady Carlisle, Miss Pelham, Lady Hertford, Lord Beauchamp, Lord Huntingdon, old Bowman, and I. This new convent is beyond Goodman's-fields, and I assure you, would content any Catholic alive. We were received by — oh! first, a vast mob, for princes are not so common at that end of the town as at this. Lord Hertford, at the head of the governors with their white staves, met us at the door, and led the Prince directly into the chapel, where, before the altar, was an arm-chair for him, and a blue damask cushion, a prie-Dieu, and a footstool of black cloth with gold nails. We sat on forms near him. There were Lord and Lady Dartmouth in the odour of devotion, and many city ladies. The chapel is small and low, but neat, hung with Gothic paper, and tablets of benefactions. At the west end were enclosed the sisterhood, above an hundred and thirty, all in greyish brown stuffs, broad handkerchiefs, and flat straw hats, with a blue ribband, pulled quite over their faces. As soon as we entered the chapel, the organ played, and the Magdalens sung a hymn in parts; you cannot imagine how well. The chapel was dressed with orange and myrtle, and there wanted nothing but a little incense to drive away the devil — or to invite him. Prayers then began, psalms and a sermon: the latter by a young clergyman, one Dodd, who contributed to the Popish idea one had imbibed, by haranguing entirely in the French style, and very eloquently and touchingly. He apostrophised the lost sheep, who sobbed and cried from their souls; so did my Lady Hertford and Fanny Pelham, till I believe the city dames took them both for Jane Shores. The confessor then turned to the audience, and addressed himself to his Royal Highness, whom he called, most illustrious Prince, beseeching his protection. In short, it was a very pleasing performance, and I got "the most illustrious" to desire it might be printed. We had another hymn, and then were conducted to the parlor, where the governors kissed the Prince's hand, and then the lady abbess, or matron, brought us tea. From thence we went to the refectory, where all the nuns, without their hats, were ranged at long tables, ready for supper. A few were handsome, many who seemed to have no title to their profession, and two or three of twelve years old; but all recovered, and looking healthy. I was struck and pleased with the modesty of two of them, who swooned away with the confusion of being stared at. We were then shown their work, which is making linen, and bead-work; they earn ten pounds a week. One circumstance diverted me, but amidst all this decorum, I kept it to myself. The wands of the governors are white, but twisted at the top with black and white, which put me in mind of Jacob's rods, that he placed before the cattle to make them breed. My Lord Hertford would never have forgiven me, if had joked on this; so I kept my countenance very demurely, nor even inquired, whether among the pensioners there were any novices from Mrs. Naylor's.