1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Walter Shirley

Katherine Byerley Thomson, in Recollections of Literary Characters (1854) 2:267-68.



In 1752, Lord Ferrers married; the unhappy object of his choice was Mary, the sister of Sir William Meredith. Gentle and timid, this lady soon experienced the most brutal treatment from her husband. Violent fits of passion were, perhaps, scarcely so intolerable as the direful suspicion of every low connexion, the endless and bitter jealousies by which those storms of fury were fed, like a turbid stream from a foul source. Nor could any thing be more revolting to a young and refined woman than the earl's ordinary demeanour. Wine, in which he habitually indulged to excess, infuriated him to what appeared madness. His calmer moments were diversified by making mouths in the looking-glass, and spitting upon it; or, grinning, clenching his fists, walking up and down the room, biting his lips, and tearing the pictures. These were the amusements of his sober hours; and even in these "tranquil" moments violent and causeless bursts of passion would shake the fortitude of the stoutest of his companions. Sometimes at table fierce attacks and bitter railings broke up all peace. One day he followed his brother, Mr. Walter Shirley, up stairs, and planting himself with his back to the fire, in the presence of the ladies, broke out into insulting and violent language, without, apparently, the slightest provocation. To these vehement passions there was not the alleviation of a generous and feeling temper, such as often accompanies a disposition of this kind. Lord Ferrers was wholly devoid of honour; remorse was unknown to him: he lived only for himself, and tyrannised over all around him. His younger brothers and sisters could not obtain from him the fortunes left to them, without lawsuits, and hence he was continually at warfare with these, his nearest connexions. His lady, however, was by far the greatest sufferer, and at length her forbearance was exhausted. She appealed to the law for redress, and obtained a divorce by Act of Parliament; and by the same Act is was ordered, that a receiver of the rents accruing from Lord Ferrers' estates should be appointed, and should apply those rents as the Act directed.