"Nothing, I trust in Heaven, has befallen my husband!" said I, with a voice scarcely articulate.
Lord Lyttelton hesitated.
"How little does that husband deserve the solicitude of such a wife!" said he; "but," continued his lordship, "I fear that I have in some degree aided in alienating his conjugal affections. I could not bear to see such youth, such merit, so sacrificed—"
"Speak briefly, my lord," said I.
"Then," replied Lord Lyttelton, "I must inform you that your husband is the most false and undeserving of that name! He has formed connection with a woman of abandoned character; he lavishes on her those means of subsistence which you will shortly stand in need of."
"I do not believe it," said I, indignantly.
"Then you shall be convinced," answered his lordship; "but remember, if you betray me, your true and zealous friend, I must fight your husband; for he never will forgive my having discovered his infidelity."
"It cannot be true," said I. "You have been misinformed."
"Then it has been by the woman who usurps your place in the affections of your husband," replied Lord Lyttelton. "From her I received the information. Her name is Harriet Wilmot; she resides in Soho. Your husband daily visits her."
I thought I should have fainted; but a torrent of tears recalled the ebbing current of my heart, and I grew proud in fortitude, though humbled in self-love.
"Now," said Lord Lyttelton, "if you are a woman of spirit, you will be revenged!" I shrunk with horror, and would have quitted the room. "Hear me," said he. "You cannot be a stranger to my motives for thus cultivating the friendship of your husband. My fortune is at your disposal. Robinson is a ruined man; his debts are considerable, and nothing but destruction can await you. Leave him! Command my powers to serve you."
I would hear no more,—broke from him, and rushed out of the apartments. My sensations, my sufferings were indescribable.
I immediately took a hackney-coach, and proceeded to Prince's Street, Soho,—Lord Lyttelton having given me the address of my rival. Language cannot describe what I suffered till I arrived at the lodgings of Miss Wilmot. The coachman knocked, a dirty servant girl opened the door. Her mistress was not at home. I quitted the coach and ascended to the drawing-room, where the servant left me, after informing me that Miss W. would return in a very short time. I was now left alone.
I opened the chamber door which led from the drawing-room. A new white lustring sacque and petticoat lay on the bed. While I was examining the room, a loud knocking at the street door alarmed me. I reentered the front apartment, and waited with a palpitating bosom till the being whose triumph had awakened both my pride and my resentment appeared before me.
She was a handsome woman, though evidently some years older than myself. She wore a dress of printed Irish muslin, with a black gauze cloak and a chip hat, trimmed with pale lilac ribbons; she was tall, and had a very pleasing countenance. Her manner was timid and confused; her lips as pale as ashes. I commiserated her distress, desired her not to be alarmed, and we took our seats, with increased composure.
"I came to inquire whether or not you are acquainted with a Mr. Robinson," said I.
"I am," replied Miss Wilmot. "He visits me frequently." She drew off her glove as she spoke, and passing her hand over her eyes, I observed on her finger a ring, which I knew to have been my husband's.
"I have nothing more to say," added I, "but to request that you will favour me with Mr. Robinson's address; I have something which I wish to convey to him."
She smiled, and cast her eyes over my figure. My dress was a morning deshabille of India muslin, with a bonnet of straw, and a white lawn cloak bordered with lace.
"You are Mr. Robinson's wife," said she, with a trembling voice. "I am sure you are; and probably this ring was yours; pray receive it—"
I declined taking the ring. She continued, "Had I known that Mr. Robinson was the husband of such a woman—"
I rose to leave her. She added, "I never will see him more,—unworthy man,—I never will again receive him."
I could make no reply, but rose and departed.
On my return to Hatton Garden, I found my husband waiting dinner. I concealed my chagrin. We had made a party that evening to Drury Lane Theatre, and from thence to a select concert at the Count de Belgeioso's, in Portman Square. Lord Lyttelton was to join us at both places. We went to the play; but my agitation had produced such a violent headache that I was obliged to send an apology for not keeping our engagement at the imperial ambassador's.
On the following morning I spoke to Mr. Robinson respecting Miss Wilmot. He did not deny that he knew such a person, that he had visited her; but he threw all the blame of his indiscretion on Lord Lyttelton. He requested to know who had informed me of his conduct. I refused to tell; and he had too high an opinion of his false associate to suspect him of such treachery.
At one of Mrs. Parry's card parties I met Mrs. Abington. I thought her the most lively and bewitching woman I had ever seen; her manners were fascinating, and the peculiar tastefulness of her dress excited universal admiration. My imagination again wandered to the stage, and I thought the heroine of the scenic art was of all human creatures the most to be envied.
About this period I observed that Mr. Robinson had frequent visitors of the Jewish tribe; that he was often closeted with them, and that some secret negotiation was going forward to which I was a total stranger. Among others, Mr. King was a constant visitor; indeed, he had often been with my husband on private business ever since the period of our marriage. I questioned Mr. Robinson upon the subject of these strange and repeated interviews. He assured me that the persons I had seen came merely upon law business, and that in his profession it was necessary to be civil to all ranks of people. Whenever I urged a farther explanation, he assumed a tone of displeasure, and requested me not to meddle with his professional occupations. I desisted; and the parlour of our house was almost as much frequented by Jews as though it had been their synagogue.
Mr. Robinson's mornings were devoted to his bearded friends, his evenings to his fashionable associates; but my hours were all dedicated to sorrow, for I now heard that my husband, even at the period of his marriage, had an attachment which he had not broken, and that his infidelities were as public as the ruin of his finances was inevitable. I remonstrated—I was almost frantic. My distress was useless, my wishes to retrench our expenses ineffectual. Mr. Robinson had, previous to our union, deeply involved himself in a bond debt of considerable magnitude, and he had from time to time borrowed money on annuity,—one sum to discharge the other,—till every plan of liquidation appeared impracticable. During all this time my mother was at Bristol.
Lord Lyttelton, finding every plan of seduction fail, now rested his only hope of subduing my honour in the certainty of my husband's ruin. He therefore took every step, embraced every opportunity of involving him more deeply in calamity. Parties were made to Richmond and Salt Hill, to Ascot Heath and Epsom races, in all of which Mr. Robinson bore his share of expense, with the addition of post-horses. Whenever he seemed to shrink from his augmenting indiscretion, Lord Lyttelton assured him that, through his interest, an appointment of honourable and pecuniary importance should be obtained, though I embraced every opportunity to assure his lordship that no consideration upon earth should ever make me the victim of his artifice.
Mr. Fitzgerald still paid me unremitting attention. His manners toward women were beautifully interesting. He frequently cautioned me against the libertine Lyttelton, and as frequently lamented the misguided confidence which Mr. Robinson reposed in him. Lord Lyttelton's shameless conduct toward an amiable wife, from whom he was separated, and his cruel neglect of a lady of the name of Dawson, who had long been attached to him, marked the unworthiness of his character. He was the very last man in the world for whom I ever could have entertained the smallest partiality; he was to me the most hateful of existing beings. Probably these pages will be read when the hand that writes them moulders in the grave, when that God who judges all hearts will know how innocent I was of the smallest conjugal infidelity. I make this solemn asseveration because there have been malevolent spirits who, in the plenitude of their calumny, have slandered me by suspecting my fidelity even at this early period of my existence. These pages are the pages of truth, unadorned by romance and unembellished by the graces of phraseology, and I know that I have been sufficiently the victim of events too well to become the tacit acquiescer where I have been grossly misrepresented. Alas! of all created beings, I have been the most severely subjugated by circumstances more than by inclination.
About this time a party was one evening made to Vauxhall. Mr. Fitzgerald was the person who proposed it, and it consisted of six or eight persons. The night was warm and the gardens crowded. We supped in the circle which has the statue of Handel in its centre. The hour growing late,—or rather early in the morning,—our company dispersed, and no one remained excepting Mr. Robinson, Mr. Fitzgerald, and myself. Suddenly a noise was heard near the orchestra. A crowd had assembled, and two gentlemen were quarrelling furiously. Mr. R. and Fitzgerald ran out of the box. I rose to follow them, but they were lost in the throng, and I thought it most prudent to resume my place, which I had just quitted, as the only certain way of their finding me in safety. In a moment Fitzgerald returned. "Robinson," said he, "is gone to seek you at the entrance-door. He thought you had quitted the box."
"I did for a moment," said I, "but I was fearful of losing him in the crowd, and therefore returned."
"Let me conduct you to the door; we shall certainly find him there," replied Mr. Fitzgerald. "I know that he will be uneasy."
I took his arm and we ran hastily toward the entrance-door on the Vauxhall Road.
Mr. Robinson was not there. We proceeded to look for our carriage. It stood at some distance. I was alarmed and bewildered. Mr. Fitzgerald hurried me along. "Don't be uneasy; we shall certainly find him," said he, "for I left him here not five minutes ago." As he spoke, he stopped abruptly. A servant opened a chaise door. There were four horses harnessed to it; and by the light of the lamps on the side of the footpath, I plainly perceived a pistol in the pocket of the door which was open. I drew back. Mr. Fitzgerald placed his arm around my waist, and endeavoured to lift me up the step of the chaise, the servant watching at a little distance. I resisted, and inquired what he meant by such conduct. His hand trembled excessively, while he said, in a low voice, "Robinson can but fight me." I was terrified beyond all description. I made him loose his hold, and ran toward the entrance-door. Mr. Fitzgerald now perceived Mr. Robinson. "Here he comes!" exclaimed he, with easy nonchalance. "We had found the wrong carriage, Mr. Robinson. We have been looking after you, and Mrs. Robinson is alarmed beyond expression."
"I am, indeed!" said I. Mr. Robinson now took my hand. We stepped into the coach, and Mr. Fitzgerald followed. As we proceeded toward Hatton Garden, the sky incessantly flashed lightning. I was terrified by the combination of events, and I was in a situation which rendered any alarm peculiarly dangerous, for I was several months advanced in that state which afterward terminated by presenting to me my only child, my darling Maria.
I had often heard of Mr. Fitzgerald's propensity to duelling. I recollected my own delicate situation; I valued my husband's safety. I therefore did not mention the adventure of the evening, particularly as Mr. Fitzgerald observed, on our way to Hatton Garden, that he had "nearly made a strange mistake, and taken possession of another person's carriage." This remark appeared so plausible that nothing further was said upon the subject.
From that evening I was particularly cautious in avoiding Fitzgerald. He was too daring and too fascinating a being to be allowed the smallest marks of confidence. Whenever he called, I was denied to him, and at length, perceiving the impracticability of his plan, he desisted, and seldom called, excepting to leave his name as a visitor of ceremony.
I do not recount these events, these plans for my enthralment, with a view to convey anything like personal vanity, for I can with truth affirm that I never thought myself entitled to admiration that could endanger my security or tempt the libertine to undermine my husband's honour. But I attribute the snares that were laid for me to three causes: the first, my youth and inexperience, my girlish appearance and simplicity of manners; secondly, the expensive style in which Mr. Robinson lived, though he was not known as a man of independent fortune; and thirdly, the evident neglect which I experienced from my husband, whom Lord Lyttelton's society had marked as a man of universal gallantry.
I was now known by name at every public place in and near the metropolis. Our circle of acquaintances enlarged daily. My friend Lady Yea was my constant companion. Mr. Robinson became desperate, from a thorough conviction that no effort of economy or professional labour could arrange his shattered finances, the large debt which he owed previous to his marriage with me having laid the foundation of every succeeding embarrassment.
The moment now approached when the arcanum was to be developed, and an execution on Mr. Robinson's effects, at the suit of an annuitant, decided the doubts and fears which had long afflicted me. I was in a great degree prepared for this event by the evident inquietude of my husband's mind, and his frequent interviews with persons of a mysterious description. Indeed, this crisis seemed rather consolatory than appalling, for I hoped and trusted that the time was now arrived when reason would take place of folly, and experience point out those thorns which strew the pleasurable paths of dissipation.
At this period, had Mr. Harris generously assisted his son, I am fully and confidently persuaded that he would have pursued a discreet and regular line of conduct. His first involvement was the basis of all his misfortunes. The impossibility of liquidating that debt (the motive for which it was contracted is to this hour unknown to me) rendered him desperate. Indeed, how could a young man, well educated, subsist in such a metropolis without some provision? Mr. Harris was a man of fortune, and he ought to have known that necessity is the most dangerous associate of youth; that folly may be reclaimed by kindness, but seldom fails to be darkened into vice by the severity of unpitying natures.
From Hatton Garden we removed to a house which was lent to us by a friend at Finchley. Here I hoped at least to remain tranquil till the perilous moment was passed which was to render me a mother. I here devoted my time to making my infant's little wardrobe; my finest muslin dresses I converted into frocks and robes, with my lace I fondly trimmed them. It was a sweetly pleasing task, and I often smiled when I reflected that only three years before this period I had dressed a waxen doll nearly as large as a new-born infant.
Mr. Robinson had much business to transact in London, and I was almost perpetually alone at Finchley. Of our domestic establishment there was only one who did not desert us, and he was a negro!—one of that despised, degraded race, who wear the colour on their features which too often characterises the hearts of their fair and unfeeling oppressors. I have found, during my journey through life, that the two male domestics who were most attached to my interest and most faithful to my fortunes were both negroes!
My mother now returned from Bristol, and I had the consolation of her society. I divided my time betwixt reading, writing, and making a little wardrobe for my expected darling. I little regretted the busy scenes of life; I sighed not for public attention. I felt by this change of situation as though a weighty load were taken from my heart, and solaced my mind in the idea that the worst had happened which could befall us. Gracious Heaven! How should I have shuddered, had I then contemplated the dark perspective of my destiny!
Mr. Robinson went almost daily to London, and sometimes my brother George, who was still a boy, accompanied him upon a little pony. One day, after returning from one of their rides, my brother informed me that he had been with Mr. Robinson to Marylebone, and that he had waited and held Mr. Robinson's horse, while he made a morning visit. I had then no acquaintance that resided at Marylebone. I questioned my brother as to the place, and he persisted in his original story. "But," added he, "if you say anything about it to Mr. Robinson, I never will tell you where we go in future." I promised not to mention what he had said, and my mind was deeply engaged in a variety of conjectures.
A few days after, Mr. Robinson made another visit, and my brother was introduced to the lady. From the manner and conversation of both parties, even a youth scarcely in his teens could draw conclusions of no favourable nature. By the side of the chimney hung my watch, which I had supposed lost in the general wreck of our property. It was enamelled with musical trophies, and very remarkable for a steel chain of singular beauty. The moment my brother described it my suspicions were confirmed; and Mr. Robinson did not even attempt to deny his infidelity.
Mr. Robinson, finding his creditors inexorable, and fearing that he might endanger his personal liberty by remaining near London, informed me that I must, in a few days, accompany him to Tregunter. I felt a severe pang in the idea of quitting my adored mother at a moment when I should stand so much in need of a parent's attentions. My agony was extreme. I fancied that I never should behold her more; that the harshness and humiliating taunts of my husband's kindred would send me prematurely to the grave; that my infant would be left among strangers, and that my mother would scarcely have fortitude sufficient to survive me. Then I anticipated the inconvenience of so long a journey, for Tregunter House was within a few miles of Brecon. I dreaded to encounter the scornful vulgarity and the keen glances of Miss Betsy and Mrs. Molly. I considered all these things with horror; but the propriety of wedded life commanded the sacrifice, and I readily consented to make it.
With tender regret, with agonising presentiments, I took leave of my mother and my brother. Such a parting would but mock the powers of language! My delicate situation, my youth, my affection for my best of mothers, all conspired to augment my sorrow; but a husband's repose, a husband's liberty were at stake, and my Creator can bear witness that, had I been blessed with that fidelity and affection which I deserved, my heart was disposed to the observance of every duty, every claim which would have embellished domestic propriety.
We set out for Tregunter. On our arrival there, I instantly perceived that our misfortunes had outstripped our speed. Miss Robinson scarcely bade us welcome, and Molly was peevish, even to insulting displeasure.
Mr. Harris was from home when we arrived. But he returned shortly after. His greeting was harsh and unfeeling. "Well! so you have escaped from a prison, and now you are come here to do penance for your follies? Well! and what do you want?" I could not reply. I entered the house, and instantly hastened to my old chamber, where my tears gave relief to that heart which was almost bursting with agony.
Still Mr. Robinson conjured me to bear his uncle's wayward temper patiently, I did, though every day I was taunted with idle and inhuman questions, such as, "How long do you think that I will support you? What is to become of you in a prison? What business have beggars to marry?" With many others, equally feeling and high-minded!
The mansion of Tregunter presented but few sources of amusement for the female mind. Mr. Harris had acquired a considerable fortune in trade, and, however the art of accumulating wealth had been successfully practised, the finer pursuits of mental powers had been totally neglected. Books were unknown at Tregunter, excepting a few magazines or periodical publications, which at different periods Miss Robinson borrowed from her juvenile neighbours. There was, however, an old spinet in one of the parlours. Music had been one of my early delights, and I sometimes vainly endeavoured to draw a kind of jingling harmony from this time-shaken and neglected instrument. These attempts, however, frequently subjected me to insult. "I had better think of getting my bread; women of no fortune had no right to follow the pursuits of fine ladies. Tom had better married a good tradesman's daughter than the child of a ruined merchant who was not capable of earning a living." Such were the remarks of my amiable and enlightened father-in-law!
One day, I particularly remember, Mr. Harris had invited a large party to dinner, John and Charles Morgan, Esqrs., members of Parliament, with an old clergyman of the name of Jones, and several others were present. I was then within a fortnight of my perilous moment. One of the company expressed his satisfaction that I was come to give Tregunter a little stranger; and turning to Mr. Harris, added:
"You have just finished your house in time for a nursery."
"No, no," replied Mr. Harris, laughing, "they came here because prison doors were open to receive them."
I felt my face redden to scarlet; every person present seemed to sympathise in my chagrin, and I was near sinking under the table with confusion. Mr. Robinson's indignation was evident; but it was restrained by duty as well as by necessity.
The manor-house was not yet finished; and a few days after our arrival Mr. Harris informed me that he had no accommodation for my approaching confinement. Where was I to go? was the next question. After many family consultations, it was decided that I should remove to Trevecca House, about a mile and a half distant, and there give to this miserable world my first-born darling.
I removed to Trevecca; it was a spacious mansion at the foot of a stupendous mountain, which, from its form, was called the Sugar-loaf. A part of the building was converted into a flannel manufactory, and the inhabitants were of the Huntingdonian school. Here I enjoyed the sweet repose of solitude; here I wandered about woods entangled by the wild luxuriance of nature, or roved upon the mountain's side, while the blue vapours floated around its summit. Oh, God of Nature! Sovereign of the universe of wonders! in those interesting moments how fervently did I adore thee!
How often have I sat at my little parlour window and watched the pale moonbeams darting amidst the sombre and venerable yew-trees that shed their solemn shade over the little garden! How often have I strolled down the woody paths, spangled with the dew of morning, and shaken off the briery branches that hung about me! How tranquil did I feel, escaped from kindred tyranny, and how little did I regret the busy scenes of fashionable folly! Unquestionably the Creator formed me with a strong propensity to adore the sublime and beautiful of his works! But it has never been my lot to meet with an associating mind, a congenial spirit, who could (as it were abstracted from the world) find a universe in the sacred intercourse of soul, the sublime union of sensibility.
At Trevecca House I was tranquil, if not perfectly happy. I there avoided the low taunts of uncultivated natures, the insolent vulgarity of pride, and the overbearing triumphs of a family, whose loftiest branch was as inferior to my stock as the small weed is beneath the tallest tree that overshades it. I had formed a union with a family who had neither sentiment nor sensibility; I was doomed to bear the society of ignorance and pride; I was treated as though I had been the most abject of beings, even at a time when my conscious spirit soared as far above their powers to wound it as the mountain towered over the white battlements of my then solitary habitation.
After my removal to Trevecca, I seldom saw Miss Robinson or Mrs. Molly; Mr. Harris never called on me, though I was not more than a mile and a half from Tregunter. At length the expected, though to me most perilous, moment arrived, which awoke a new and tender interest in my bosom, which presented to my fondly beating heart my child,—my Maria. I cannot describe the sensations of my soul at the moment when I pressed the little darling to my bosom, my maternal bosom; when I kissed its hands, its cheeks, its forehead, as it nestled closely to my heart, and seemed to claim that affection which has never failed to warm it. She was the most beautiful of infants! I thought myself the happiest of mothers; her first smile appeared like something celestial,—something ordained to irradiate my dark and dreary prospect of existence.
Two days after my child was presented to this world of sorrow, my nurse, Mrs. Jones, a most excellent woman, was earnestly desired by the people of the manufactory to bring the infant among them; they wished to see the "young squire's baby, the little heiress to Tregunter." It was in vain that I dreaded the consequences of the visit, for it was in the month of October; but Mrs. Jones assured me that infants in that part of the world were very frequently carried into the open air on the day of their birth; she also hinted that my refusal would hurt the feelings of the honest people, and wear the semblance of pride more than of maternal tenderness. This idea decided my acquiescence; and my little darling, enveloped in the manufacture of her own romantic birthplace, made her first visit to her kind but unsophisticated countrywomen.
No sooner did Mrs. Jones enter the circle than she was surrounded by the gazing throng. The infant was dressed with peculiar neatness, and nothing mortal could appear more lovely. A thousand and a thousand blessings were heaped upon the "heiress of Tregunter," for so they fancifully called her; a thousand times did they declare that the baby was the very image of her father. Mrs. Jones returned to me; every word she uttered soothed my heart; a sweet and grateful glow, for the first time, bespoke the indescribable gratification which a fond parent feels in hearing the praises of a beloved offspring. Yet this little absence appeared an age; a variety of fears presented dangers in a variety of shapes, and the object of all my care, of all my affection, was now pressed closer to my heart than ever.
Amidst these sweet and never-to-be-forgotten sensations, Mr. Harris entered my chamber. He abruptly inquired how I found myself, and, seating himself by the side of my bed, began to converse family affairs. I was too feeble to say much; and he had not the delicacy to consider that Mrs. Jones, my nurse, and almost a stranger to me, was a witness to our conversation.
"Well!" said Mr. Harris, "and what do you mean to do with your child?"
I made no answer.
"I will tell you," added he. "Tie it to your back and work for it."
I shivered with horror.
"Prison doors are open," continued Mr. Harris. "Tom will die in a gaol; and what is to become of you?"
I remained silent.
Miss Robinson now made her visit. She looked at me without uttering a syllable; but while she contemplated my infant's features, her innocent sleeping face, her little dimpled hands folded on her breast, she murmured, "Poor little wretch! Poor thing! It would be a mercy if it pleased God to take it!" My agony of mind was scarcely supportable.
About three weeks after this period, letters arrived, informing Mr. Robinson that his creditors were still inexorable, and that the place of his concealment was known. He was cautioned not to run the hazard of an arrest; indeed, he knew that such an event would complete his ruin with Mr. Harris, from whom he should not receive any assistance. He communicated this intelligence to me, and at the same time informed me that he must absolutely depart from Trevecca immediately. I was still extremely feeble, for my mental sufferings had impaired my corporeal strength almost as much as the perils I had recently encountered. But the idea of remaining at Trevecca without my husband was more terrible than the prospect of annihilation, and I replied, without a hesitating thought, "I am ready to go with you."
My good nurse, who was a very amiable woman, and under forty years of age, conjured me to delay my journey. She informed me that it would be dangerous to undertake it in my then weak state. My husband's liberty was in danger, and my life appeared of little importance; for even at that early period of my days I was already weary of existence.
On the succeeding morning we departed. Mrs. Jones insisted on accompanying me on the first day's journey. Mr. Robinson, my nurse, and myself occupied a post-chaise; my Maria was placed on a pillow on Mrs. Jones's lap. The paleness of death overspread my countenance, and the poor honest people of the mountains and the villages saw us depart with sorrow, though not without their blessings. Neither Mr. Harris nor the enlightened females of Tregunter expressed the smallest regret or solicitude on the occasion. We reached Abergavenny that evening. My little remaining strength was exhausted, and I could proceed no farther. However singular these persecutions may appear, Mr. Robinson knows that they are not in the smallest degree exaggerated.
At Abergavenny I parted from Mrs. Jones, and, having no domestic with me, was left to take the entire charge of Maria. Reared in the tender lap of affluence, I had learnt but little of domestic occupation; the adorning part of education had been lavished, but the useful had never been bestowed upon a girl who was considered as born to independence. With these disadvantages, I felt very awkwardly situated, under the arduous task I had to perform; but necessity soon prevailed, with the soft voice of maternal affection, and I obeyed her dictates as the dictates of nature.
Mrs. Jones, whose excellent heart sympathised in all I suffered, would not have parted from me in so delicate a moment, but she was the widow of a tradesman at Brecon, and having quitted her home, where she had left two daughters,—very pretty young women,—to attend me, she was under the necessity of returning to them. With repeated good wishes, and some tears of regret flowing from her feeling and gentle heart, we parted.
On the following day we proceeded to Monmouth. Some relations of my mother residing there, particularly my grandmother, I wished to remain there till my strength was somewhat restored. We were received with genuine affection; we were caressed with unfeigned hospitality. The good and venerable object of my visit was delighted to embrace her great-grandchild, and the family fireside was frequently a scene of calm and pleasing conversation. How different were these moments from those which I had passed with the low-minded inhabitants of Tregunter!
My grandmother, though then near seventy years of age, was still a pleasing woman; she had in her youth been delicately beautiful; and the neat simplicity of her dress, which was always either brown or black silk, the piety of her mind, and the mildness of her nature, combined to render her a most endearing object.
As soon as my strength recovered, I was invited to partake of many pleasant entertainments. But the most favourite amusement I selected was that wandering by the river Wye, or of exploring the antique remains of Monmouth Castle, a part of which reached the garden of my grandmother's habitation. I also constantly accompanied my amiable and venerable relative to church; and I have often observed, with a mixture of delight, and almost of envy, the tranquil resignation which religion diffused over her mind, even at the very close of human existence. This excellent woman expired of a gradual decay in the year 1780.
We had resided at Monmouth about a month, when I was invited to a ball. My spirits and strength had been renovated by the change of scenery, and I was persuaded to dance. I was at that time particularly fond of the amusement, and my partial friends flattered me by saying that I measured the mazy figure like a sylph. I was at that period a nurse; and, during the evening, Maria was brought to an antechamber to receive the only support she had ever yet taken. Unconscious of the danger attendant on such an event, I gave her her accustomed nourishment immediately after dancing. It was agitated by the violence of exercise and the heat of the ballroom, and, on my return home, I found my infant in strong convulsions.
My distraction, my despair, was terrible; my state of mind rendered it impossible for me to afford any internal nourishment to the child, even when her little mouth was parched, or the fit in the smallest degree abated. I was little less than frantic; all the night I sat with her on my arms; an eminent medical man attended. The convulsions continued, and my situation was terrible; those who witnessed it cautiously avoided informing me that the peril of my infant proceeded from my dancing; had I known it at that period, I really believe I should have lost my senses.
In this desperate state, with only short intervals of rest, my darling continued till the morning. All my friends came to make inquiries, and, among others, a clergyman who visited at my grandmother's. He saw the child, as it was thought, expiring; he saw me still sitting where I had taken my place of despair on the preceding night, fixed in the stupor of unutterable affliction. He conjured me to let the child be removed. I was in a raging fever; the effects of not having nourished my child during twelve hours began to endanger my own existence, and I looked forward to my dissolution as the happiest event that could befall me.
Still Maria lay upon my lap, and still I resisted every attempt that was made to remove her. Just at this period the clergyman recollected that he had seen one of his children relieved from convulsions by a simple experiment, and he requested my permission to try its effects. The child was given over by my medical attendant, and I replied, "However desperate the remedy, I conjure you to administer it."
He now mixed a tablespoonful of spirit of aniseed with a small quantity of spermaceti, and gave it to my infant. In a few minutes the convulsive spasms abated, and in less than an hour she sunk into a sweet and tranquil slumber. What I felt may be pictured to a fond mother's fancy, but my pen would fail in attempting to describe it.
Some circumstances now occurred which gave Mr. Robinson reason to believe that he was not safe at Monmouth, and we prepared for a removal to some other quarter. The day was fixed for commencing our journey, when an execution arrived for a considerable sum, and Mr. Robinson was no longer at liberty to travel. My alarm was infinite; the sum was too large for the possibility of liquidation, and, knowing Mr. Robinson's desperate fortune, I thought it unjust as well as ungenerous to attempt the borrowing of it. Fortunately the sheriff for the county was a friend of the family. He was a gentlemanly and amiable man, and offered—to avoid any unpleasant dilemma—to accompany us to London. We set out the same evening, and never slept till we arrived in the metropolis.
I immediately hastened to my mother, who resided in Buckingham Street, York Buildings, now the Adelphi. Her joy was boundless. She kissed me a thousand times, she kissed my beautiful infant; while Mr. Robinson employed the day in accommodating the business which had brought him to London. He had been arrested by a friend, with a hope that, so near a father's habitation, such a sum would have been paid; at least, such is the reason assigned for such unfriendly conduct!
The matter was, however, arranged on an explanation taking place, and Mr. Robinson engaged a lodging near Berners Street, whither we repaired on the same evening. My little collection of poems, which I had arranged for publication, and which had been ready ever since my marriage, I now determined to print immediately. They were indeed trifles, very trifles; I have since perused them with a blush of self-reproof, and wondered how I could venture on presenting them to the public. I trust that there is not a copy remaining, excepting that which my dear, partial mother fondly preserved, and which is now in my possession.
I had been in town a few days, when some female friends persuaded me to accompany a party which they had formed to Ranelagh. Mr. Robinson declined going, but after much entreaty I consented. I had now been married near two years; my person was considerably improved; I was grown taller than when I became Mr. Robinson's wife, and I had now more the manners of a woman of the world than those of girlish simplicity, which had hitherto characterised me, though I had been some months absent from London, and a part of them rusticated among mountains. The dress which I wore was plain and simple; it was composed of pale lilac lustring. My head had a wreath of white flowers; I was complimented on my looks by the whole party, and with little relish for public amusements, and a heart throbbing with domestic solicitude, I accompanied the party to Ranelagh.
The first person I saw, on entering the rotunda, was George Robert Fitzgerald. He started as if he had received a shock of electricity. I turned my head away, and would have avoided him; but he instantly quitted two friends with whom he was walking, and presented himself to me. He expressed great pleasure at seeing me once more in "the world;" was surprised at finding me for the first time in public without my husband, and requested permission to pay his respects to me at my house. I replied that I was "on a visit to some friends." He bowed, and rejoined his companions.
During the evening, however, he never ceased to follow me. We quitted the rotunda early; and, as we were waiting for the carriage, I again observed Fitzgerald in the antechamber. We passed the vestibule, and at the door his own carriage was waiting.
On the following noon I was correcting a proof-sheet of my volume, when the servant abruptly announced Mr. Fitzgerald!
I was somewhat disconcerted by this unexpected visit, and received Mr. Fitzgerald with a cold and embarrassed mien, which evidently mortified him; I also felt a little worldly vanity in the moment of surprise, for my morning dress was more calculated to display maternal assiduity than elegant and tasteful deshabille. In a small basket near my chair slept my little Maria; my table was spread with papers, and everything around me presented the mixed confusion of a study and a nursery.
From the period of Mrs. Jones's quitting me at Abergavenny, I had made it an invariable rule always to dress and undress my infant. I never suffered it to be placed in a cradle, or to be fed out of my presence. A basket of an oblong shape with four handles (with a pillow and a small bolster) was her bed by day; at night she slept with me. I had too often heard of the neglect which servants show to young children, and I resolved never to expose an infant of mine either to their ignorance or inattention. It was amidst the duties of a parent, that the gay, the high-fashioned Fitzgerald now found me; and whenever either business, or, very rarely, public amusements drew me from the occupation, my mother never failed to be my substitute.
Mr. Fitzgerald said a thousand civil things; but that which charmed me, was the admiration of my child. He declared that he had never seen so young a mother, or so beautiful an infant. For the first remark I sighed, but the last delighted my bosom; she indeed was one of the prettiest little mortals that ever the sun shone upon.
The nest subject was praise of my poetry. I smile while I recollect how far the effrontery of flattery has power to belie the judgment. Mr. Fitzgerald took up the proof-sheet and read one of the pastorals. I inquired by what means he had discovered my place of residence; he informed me that his carriage had followed me home on the preceding night. He now took his leave.
On the following evening he made us another visit; I say us, because Mr. Robinson was at home. Mr. Fitzgerald drank tea with us, and proposed making a party on the next day to dine at Richmond. To this I gave a decided negative; alleging that my duties toward my child prevented the possibility of passing a day absent from her.
On the Wednesday following, Mr. Robinson accompanied me again to Ranelagh. There we met Lord Northington, Lord Lyttelton, Captain O'Bryan, Captain Ayscough, Mr. Andrews, and several others, who all, in the course of the evening, evinced their attentions. But as Mr. Robinson's deranged state of affairs did not admit of our receiving parties at home, I made my excuses by saying that we were at a friend's house and not yet established in a town residence. Lord Lyttelton was particularly importunate; but he received the same answer which I had given to every other inquirer.
A short time after, Mr. Robinson was arrested. Now came my hour of trial. He was conveyed to the house of a sheriff's officer, and in a few days detainers were lodged against him to the amount of twelve hundred pounds, chiefly the arrears of annuities and other demands from Jew creditors; for I can proudly and with truth declare that he did not at that time, or at any period since, owe fifty pounds for me, or to any tradesmen on my account whatever.
Mr. Robinson knew that it would be useless to ask Mr. Harris's assistance; indeed, his mind was too much depressed to make an exertion for the arrangement of his affairs. He was, therefore, after waiting three weeks in the custody of a sheriff's officer (during which time I had never left him for a single hour, day or night), obliged to submit to the necessity of becoming a captive.
For myself I cared but little; all my anxiety was for Mr. Robinson's repose and the health of my child. The apartment which we obtained was in the upper part of the building, overlooking a racket-ground. Mr. Robinson was expert in all exercises of strength or activity, and he found that amusement daily which I could not partake of. I had other occupations of a more interesting nature,—the care of a beloved and still helpless daughter.
During nine months and three weeks, never once did I pass the threshold of our dreary habitation; though every allurement was offered, every effort was made, to draw me from my scene of domestic attachment. Numberless messages and letters from Lords Northington and Lyttelton, from Mr. Fitzgerald and many others, were conveyed to me. But they all, excepting Lord Northington's, were dictated in the language of gallantry, were replete with professions of love, and wishes to release me from my unpleasant and humiliating situation,—and were therefore treated with contempt, scorn, and indignation. For God can bear witness that, at that period, my mind had never entertained a thought of violating those vows which I had made to my husband at the altar.
What I suffered during this tedious captivity! My little volume of poems sold but indifferently; my health was considerably impaired; and the trifling income which Mr. Robinson received from his father was scarcely sufficient to support him. I will not enter into a tedious detail of vulgar sorrows, of vulgar scenes; I seldom quitted my apartment, and never till the evening, when for air and exercise I walked on the racket-ground with my husband.
It was during one of these night walks that my little daughter first blessed my ears with the articulation of words. The circumstance made a forcible and indelible impression on my mind. It was a clear moonlight evening; the infant was in the arms of her nursery-maid; she was dancing her up and down, and was playing with her; her eyes were fixed on the moon, to which she pointed with her small forefinger. On a sudden a cloud passed over it, and the child, with a slow falling of her hand, articulately sighed, "All gone!" This had been a customary expression with her maid, whenever the infant wanted anything which it was deemed prudent to withhold or to hide from her. These little nothings will appear insignificant to the common reader, but to the parent whose heart is ennobled by sensibility they will become matters of important interest. I can only add, that I walked till near midnight, watching every cloud that passed over the moon, and as often, with a rapturous sensation, hearing my little prattler repeat her observation.
Having much leisure and many melancholy hours, I again turned my thoughts toward the muses. I chose "Captivity" for the subject of my pen, and soon composed a quarto poem of some length; it was superior to my former production, but it was full of defects, replete with weak or laboured lines. I never now rend my early compositions without a suffusion on my cheek, which marks my humble opinion of them.
At this period I was informed that the Duchess of Devonshire was the admirer and patroness of literature. With a mixture of timidity and hope I sent her Grace a neatly bound volume of my poems, accompanied by a short letter apologising for their defects, and pleading my age as the only excuse for their inaccuracy. My brother, who was a charming youth, was the bearer of my first literary offering at the shrine of nobility. The duchess admitted him, and with the most generous and amiable sensibility inquired some particulars respecting my situation, with a request that on the following day I would make her a visit.
I knew not what to do. Her liberality claimed my compliance; yet, as I had never, during my husband's long captivity, quitted him for half an hour, I felt a sort of reluctance that pained the romantic firmness of my mind, while I meditated what I considered as a breach of my domestic attachment. However, at the particular and earnest request of Mr. Robinson, I consented, and accordingly accepted the duchess's invitation.
During my seclusion from the world, I had adapted my dress to my situation. Neatness was at all times my pride; but now plainness was the conformity to necessity. Simple habiliments became the abode of adversity; and the plain brown satin gown, which I wore on my first visit to the Duchess of Devonshire, appeared to me as strange as a birthday court-suit to a newly married citizen's daughter.
To describe the duchess's look and manner when she entered the back drawing-room of Devonshire House would be impracticable; mildness and sensibility beamed in her eyes and irradiated her countenance. She expressed her surprise at seeing so young a person, who had already experienced such vicissitude of fortune; she lamented that my destiny was so little proportioned to what she was pleased to term my desert, and with a tear of gentle sympathy requested that I would accept a proof of her good wishes. I had not words to express my feelings, and was departing, when the duchess requested me to call on her very often, and to bring my little daughter with me.
I made frequent visits to the amiable duchess, and was at all times received with the warmest proofs of friendship. My little girl, to whom I was still a nurse, generally accompanied me, and always experienced the kindest caresses from my admired patroness, my liberal and affectionate friend. Frequently the duchess inquired most minutely into the story of my sorrows, and as often gave me tears of the most spontaneous sympathy. But such was my destiny, that while I cultivated the esteem of this best of women, by a conduct which was above the reach of reprobation, my husband, even though I was the partner of his captivity, the devoted slave to his necessities, indulged in the lowest and most degrading intrigues; frequently, during my short absence with the duchess,—for I never quitted the prison but to obey her summons,—he was known to admit the most abandoned of their sex, women whose low, licentious lives were such as to render them the shame and outcasts of society. These disgraceful meetings were arranged, even while I was in my own apartment, in a next room, and by the assistance of an Italian, who was also there a captive. I was apprised of the proceeding, and I questioned Mr. Robinson upon the subject. He denied the charge; but I availed myself of an opportunity that offered, and was convinced that my husband's infidelities were both frequent and disgraceful.
Still I pursued my plan of the most rigid domestic propriety; still I preserved my faith inviolate, my name unsullied. At times I endured the most poignant sufferings, from the pain of disappointed hope, and the pressure of pecuniary distresses.
During my long seclusion from society, for I could not associate with those whom destiny had placed in a similar predicament, not one of my female friends even inquired what was become of me. Those who had been protected and received with the most cordial hospitality by me in my more happy hours now neglected all the kind condolence of sympathetic feeling, and shunned both me and my dreary habitation. From that hour I have never felt the affection for my own sex which perhaps some women feel; I have never taught my heart to cherish their friendship, or to depend on their attentions beyond the short perspective of a prosperous day. Indeed, I have almost uniformly found my own sex my most inveterate enemies; I have experienced little kindness from them, though my bosom has often ached with the pang inflicted by their envy, slander, and malevolence.
The Italian whom I took occasion to mention as the cicerone of my husband's gallantries was named Albanesi. He was the husband to a beautiful Roman woman of that name, who had some years before attracted considerable attention in the hemisphere of gallantry, where she had shone as a brilliant constellation. She had formerly been the mistress of a Prince de Courland, and afterward of the Covet de Belgeioso, the imperial ambassador; but at the period in which I first saw her she was, I believe, devoted to a life of unrestrained impropriety. She frequently came to visit her husband, who had held a situation an the opera-house during the management of Mr. Hobart, now Earl of Buckinghamshire. I remember she was one of the handsomest women I had ever seen, and that her dress was the most extravagantly splendid. Satins, richly embroidered, or trimmed with point lace, were her daily habiliments; and her personal attractions were considerably augmented by the peculiar dignity and grace with which she walked: in a few words, this woman was a striking sample of beauty and of profligacy.
Whenever she came to visit her sposo, she never failed to obtrude herself on my seclusion. Mr. Rabinson rather encouraged than shunned her visits, and I was obliged to receive the beautiful Angelina (for such was her Christian name), however repugnant such an associate was to my feelings. At every interview she took occasion to ridicule my romantic domestic attachment; laughed at my folly in wasting my youth (for I was not then eighteen years of age) in such a disgraceful obscurity; and pictured, in all the glow of fanciful scenery, the splendid life into which I might enter, if I would but know my own power, and break the fetters of matrimonial restriction. She once told me that she had mentioned to the Earl of Pembroke that there was a young married lady in the most humiliating captivity with her husband; she said that she had described my person, and that Lord Pembroke was ready to offer me his services.
This proposal fully proclaimed the meaning of Signora Albanesi's visits, and I resolved in future to avoid all conversation with her. She was at that time between thirty and forty years of age, and her day of splendour was hourly sinking to the obscurity of neglect; she was nevertheless still reluctant to resign the dazzling meteors which fashion had scattered in her way, and, having sacrificed every personal feeling for the gratification of her vanity, she now sought to build a gaudy, transient fabric on the destruction of another. In addition to her persuasions, her husband, Angelo Albanesi, constantly made the world of gallantry the subject of his conversation. Whole evenings has he sitten in our apartment, telling long stories of intrigue, praising the liberality of one nobleman, the romantic chivalry of another, the sacrifice which a third had made to an adored object, and the splendid income which a fourth would bestow on any young lady of education and mental endowments who would accept his protection, and be the partner of his fortune. I always smiled at Albanesi's innuendoes; and I still found some amusement in his society, when he thought fit to divest his conversation of his favourite topic. This Italian, though neither young nor even tolerably well-looking, was uncommonly entertaining; he could sing, likewise imitate various musical instruments, was an excellent buffoon, and a very neat engraver; some of his plates were executed under the inspection of Sherwin, and he was considered as a very promising artist.
Were I to describe one-half of what I suffered during fifteen months' captivity, the world would consider it as the invention of a novel. But Mr. Robinson knows what I endured, and how patiently, how correctly I suited my mind to the strict propriety of wedded life; he knows that my duty as a wife was exemplary, my chastity inviolate; he knows that neither poverty nor obscurity, neither the tauntings of the world, nor his neglect, could tempt me even to the smallest error; he knows that I bore my afflicting humiliations with a cheerful, uncomplaining spirit; that I toiled honourably for his comfort; and that my attentions were exclusively dedicated to him and to my infant.
The period now arrived when Mr. Robinson, by setting aside some debts, and by giving fresh bonds and fresh securities for others, once more obtained his liberty. I immediately conveyed the intelligence to my lovely Duchess of Devonshire, and she wrote me a letter of kind congratulation; she was then at Chatsworth.
The first moments of emancipation were delightful to the senses. I felt as though I had been newly born; I longed to see all my old and intimate associates, and almost forgot that they had so unworthily neglected me. Everything that had passed now appeared like a melancholy vision. The gloom had dissolved, and a new perspective seemed to brighten before me.
The first place of public entertainment I went to was Vauxhall. I had frequently found occasion to observe a mournful contrast when I had quitted the elegant apartment of Devonshire House, to enter the dark galleries of a prison; but the sensation which I felt on hearing the music, and beholding the gay throng, during this first visit in public after so long a seclusion, was indescribable. During the evening we met many old acquaintances,—some who pretended ignorance of our past embarrassments, and others who joined us with the ease of fashionable apathy; among these was Lord Lyttelton, who insolently remarked, "that, notwithstanding all that had passed, I was handsomer than ever." I made no reply but by a look of scornful indignation, which silenced the bold, the unfeeling commentator, and convinced him that, though fallen in fortune; I was still high in pride.
Mr. Robinson having once more obtained his liberty, how were we to subsist honourably and above reproach? He applied to his father, but every aid was refused; he could not follow his profession, because he had not completed his articles of clerkship. I resolved on turning my thoughts toward literary labour, and projected a variety of works, by which I hoped to obtain at least a decent independence. Alas! how little did I then know either the fatigue or the hazard of mental occupations! How little did I foresee that the day would come when my health would be impaired, my thoughts perpetually employed, in so destructive a pursuit! At the moment that I write this page, I feel in every fibre of my brain the fatal conviction that it is a destroying labour.
It was at this moment of anxiety, of hope, of fear, that my thoughts once more were turned to a dramatic life; and, walking with my husband in St. James's Park, late in the autumn, we were accosted by Mr. Brereton, of Drury Lane Theatre. I had not seen him during the last two years, and he seemed rejoiced in having met us. At that period we lodged at Lyne's, the confectioner, in Old Bond Street. Mr. Brereton went home and dined with us; and after dinner the conversation turned on my partiality to the stage, which he earnestly recommended as a scene of great promise to what he termed my promising talents. The idea rushed like electricity through my brain. I asked Mr. Robinson's opinion, and he now readily consented to my making the trial. He had repeatedly written to his father, requesting even the smallest aid toward our support until he could embark in his profession; but every letter remained unanswered, and we had no hope but in our own mental exertions.
Some time after this period, we removed to a more quiet situation, and occupied a very neat and comfortable suite of apartments in Newman Street. I was then some months advanced in a state of domestic solicitude, and my health seemed in a precarious state, owing to my having too long devoted myself to the duties of a mother in nursing my eldest daughter Maria. It was in this lodging that, one morning, wholly unexpectedly, Mr. Brereton made us a second visit, bringing with him a friend, whom he introduced on entering the drawing-room. This stranger was Mr. Sheridan.
I was overwhelmed with confusion. I know not why, but I felt a sense of mortification when I observed that my appearance was carelessly deshabille, and my mind as little prepared for what I guessed to be the motive of his visit. I, however, soon recovered my recollection, and the theatre was consequently the topic of discourse.
At Mr. Sheridan's earnest entreaties, I recited some passages from Shakespeare. I was alarmed and timid; but the gentleness of his manners, and the impressive encouragement he gave me, dissipated my fears and tempted me to go on.
Mr. Sheridan had then recently purchased a share of Drury Lane Theatre, in conjunction with Mr. Lacey and Doctor Ford; he was already celebrated as the author of "The Rivals" and "The Duenna," and his mind was evidently portrayed in his manners, which were strikingly and bewitchingly attractive.
The encouragement which I received in this essay, and the praises which Mr. Sheridan lavishly bestowed, determined me to make a public trial of my talents; and several visits, which were rapidly repeated by Mr. Sheridan, at length produced an arrangement for that period. My intention was intimated to Mr. Garrick, who, though he had for some seasons retired from the stage, kindly promised protection, and as kindly undertook to be my tutor.
The only objection which I felt to the idea of appearing on the stage was my then increasing state of domestic solicitude. I was, at the period when Mr. Sheridan was first presented to me, some months advanced in that situation which afterward, by the birth of Sophia, made me a second time a mother. Yet such was my imprudent fondness for Maria, that I was still a nurse; and my constitution was very considerably impaired by the effects of these combined circumstances.
An appointment was made in the greenroom of Drury Lane Theatre. Mr. Garrick, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Brereton, and my husband were present; I there recited the principal scenes of Juliet (Mr. Brereton repeating those of Romeo), and Mr. Garrick, without hesitation, fixed on that character as the trial of my debut.
It is impossible to describe the various emotions of hope and fear that possessed my mind when the important day was announced in the playbills. I wrote to the Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth, informing her of my purposed trial, and received a kind letter of approbation, sanctioning my plan and wishing me success. Every longing of my heart seemed now to be completely gratified; and, with zeal bordering on delight, I prepared for my approaching effort.
Mr. Garrick had been indefatigable at the rehearsals, frequently going through the whole character of Romeo himself until he was completely exhausted with the fatigue of recitation. This was only a short period before the death of that distinguished actor.
The theatre was crowded with fashionable spectators; the greenroom and orchestra (where Mr. Garrick sat during the night) were thronged with critics. My dress was a pale pink satin, trimmed with crape, richly spangled with silver; my head was ornamented with white feathers, and my monumental suit, for the last scene, was white satin, and completely plain, excepting that I wore a veil of the most transparent gauze, which fell quite to my feet from the back of my head, and a string of beads around my waist, to which was suspended a cross appropriately fashioned.
When I approached the side wing, my heart throbbed convulsively; I then began to fear that my resolution would fail, and I leaned upon the nurse's arm, almost fainting. Mr. Sheridan and several other friends encouraged me to proceed; and at length, with trembling limbs and fearful apprehension, I approached the audience.
The thundering applause that greeted me nearly overpowered all my faculties. I stood mute and bending with alarm, which did not subside till I had feebly articulated the few sentences of the first short scene, during the whole of which I had never once ventured to look at the audience.
On my return to the greenroom I was again encouraged, as far as my looks were deemed deserving of approbation; for of my powers nothing yet could be known, my fears having as it were palsied both my voice and action. The second scene being the masquerade, I had time to collect myself. I never shall forget the sensation which rushed through my bosom when I first looked toward the pit. I beheld a gradual ascent of heads. All eyes were fixed upon me, and the sensation they conveyed was awfully impressive; but the keen, the penetrating eyes of Mr. Garrick, darting their lustre from the centre of the orchestra, were, beyond all others, the objects most conspicuous.
As I acquired courage, I found the applause augment; and the night was concluded with peals of clamorous approbation. I was complimented on all sides; but the praise of one object, whom most I wished to please, was flattering even to the extent of human vanity. I then experienced, for the first time in my life, a gratification which language could not utter. I heard one of the most fascinating men, and the most distinguished geniuses of the age, honour me with partial approbation. A new sensation seemed to awake in my bosom; I felt that emulation which the soul delights to encourage, where the attainment of fame will be pleasing to the esteemed object. I had till that period known no impulse beyond that of friendship; I had been an example of conjugal fidelity; but I had never known the perils to which the feeling heart is subjected in a union of regard wholly uninfluenced by the affections of the soul.
The second character which I played was Amanda, in "A Trip to Scarborough." The play was altered from Vanbrugh's "Relapse;" and the audience, supposing it was a new piece, on finding themselves deceived, expressed a considerable degree of disapprobation. I was terrified beyond imagination when Mrs. Yates, no longer able to bear the hissing of the audience, quitted the scene, and left me alone to encounter the critic tempest. I stood for some moments as though I had been petrified. Mr. Sheridan, from the side wing, desired me not to quit the boards; the late Duke of Cumberland, from the stage-box, bade me take courage: "It is not you, but the play, they hiss," said his Royal Highness. I curtseyed; and that curtsey seemed to electrify the whole house, for a thundering appeal of encouraging applause followed. The comedy was suffered to go on, and is to this hour a stock play at Drury Lane Theatre.
The third character I played was Statira, in "Alexander the Great." Mr. Lacey, then one of the proprietors of Drury Lane Theatre, was the hero of the night, and the part of Roxana was performed by Mrs. Melmoth. Again I was received with an eclat that gratified my vanity. My dress was white and blue, made after the Persian costume; and though it was then singular on the stage, I wore neither a hoop nor powder; my feet were bound by sandals richly ornamented, and the whole dress was picturesque and characteristic.
Though I was always received with the most flattering approbation, the characters in which I was most popular were Ophelia, Juliet, and Rosalind. Palmira was also one of my most approved representations. The last character which I played was Sir Harry Revel, in Lady Craven's comedy of "The Miniature Picture;" and the epilogue song in "The Irish Widow" was my last farewell to the labour of my profession.
Mr. Sheridan now informed me he wished that I would accustom myself to appear in comedy, because tragedy seemed evidently, as well as my forte, to be my preference. At the same time he acquainted me that he wished me to perform a part in "The School for Scandal." I was now so unshaped by my increasing size that I made my excuses, informing Mr. Sheridan that probably I should be confined to my chamber at the period when his since celebrated play would first make its appearance. He accepted the apology, and in a short time I gave to the world my second child, Sophia. I now resided in Southampton Street, Covent Garden.
Previous to this event I had my benefit night, on which I performed the part of Fanny, in "The Clandestine Marriage." Mr. King, the Lord Ogleby; Miss Pope, Miss Sterling; and Mrs. Heidelberg, Mrs. Hopkins.
Mr. Sheridan's attentions to me were unremitting. He took pleasure in promoting my consequence at the theatre; he praised my talents, and he interested himself in my domestic comforts. I was engaged previous to my debut, and I received what at that time was considered as a handsome salary. My benefit was flatteringly attended. The boxes were filled with persons of the very highest rank and fashion, and I looked forward with delight both to celebrity and to fortune.
At the end of six weeks I lost my infant. She expired in my arms in convulsions, and my distress was indescribable. On the day of its dissolution Mr. Sheridan called on me; the little sufferer was on my lap, and I was watching it with agonising anxiety. Five months had then elapsed since Mr. Sheridan was first introduced to me; and though, during that period, I had seen many proofs of his exquisite sensibility, I never had witnessed one which so strongly impressed my mind his countenance on entering my apartment. Probably he has forgotten the feeling of the moment, but its impression will by me be remembered for ever.
I had not power to speak. All he uttered was, "Beautiful little creature!" at the same time looking on my infant, and sighing with a degree of sympathetic sorrow which penetrated my soul. Had I ever heard such a sigh from a husband's bosom? Alas! I never knew the sweet, soothing solace of wedded sympathy; I never was beloved by him whom destiny allotted to be the legal ruler of my actions. I do not condemn Mr. Robinson; I but too well know that we cannot command our affections. I only lament that he did not observe some decency in his infidelities; and that while he gratified his own caprice, he forgot how much he exposed his wife to the most degrading mortifications.
The death of Sophia so deeply affected my spirits that I was rendered totally incapable of appearing again that season. I therefore obtained Mr. Sheridan's permission to visit Bath for the recovery of my repose. From Bath I went to Bristol—to Bristol! Why does my pen seem suddenly arrested while I write the word? I know not why, but an undefinable melancholy always follows the idea of my native birthplace. I instantly behold the Gothic structure, the lonely cloisters, the lofty aisles, of the antique minster,—for, within a few short paces of its wall, this breast, which has never known one year of happiness, first palpitated on inhaling the air of this bad world! Is it within its consecrated precincts that this heart shall shortly moulder? Heaven only knows, and to its will I bow implicitly.
I transcribe this passage on the 29th of March, 1800. I feel my health decaying, my spirit broken. I look back without regret that so many of my days are numbered; and, were it in my power to choose, I would not wish to measure them again. But whither am I wandering? I will resume my melancholy story.
Still restless, still perplexed with painful solicitudes, I returned to London. I had not then, by many months, completed my nineteenth year. On my arrival I took lodgings in Leicester Square. Mr. Sheridan came to see me on my return to town, and communicated the melancholy fate of Mr. Thomas Linley, the late brother of Mrs. Sheridan,—he was unfortunately drowned at the Duke of Ancaster's. In a few days after, Mr. Sheridan again made me a visit, with a proposal for an engagement to play during the summer at Mr. Colman's theatre in the Haymarket. I had refused several offers from provincial managers, and felt an almost insurmountable aversion to the idea of strolling. Mr. Sheridan nevertheless strongly recommended me to the acceptance of Mr. Colman's offer; and I at last agreed to it, upon condition that the characters I should be expected to perform were selected and limited. To this Mr. Colman readily consented.
The first part which was placed in the list was Nancy Lovel, in the comedy of "The Suicide." I received the written character, and waited the rehearsal; but my astonishment was infinite when I saw the name of Miss Farren announced in the bills. I wrote a letter to Mr. Colman, requesting an explanation. He replied that he had promised the part to Miss Farren, who had then performed one or two seasons at the Haymarket Theatre. I felt myself insulted. I insisted on Mr. Colman fulfilling his engagement, or on giving me liberty to quit London: the latter he refused. I demanded to perform the part of Nancy Lovel. Mr. Colman was too partial to Miss Farren to hazard offending her. I refused to play till I had this first character, as by agreement, restored to me, and the summer passed without my once performing, though my salary was paid weekly and regularly.
During the following winter I performed, with increasing approbation, the following characters:
Ophelia, in "Hamlet."
Viola, in "Twelfth Night."
Jacintha, in "The Suspicious Husband."
Fidelia, in "The Plain Dealer."
Rosalind, in "As You Like It."
Oriana, in "The Inconstant."
Octavia, in "All for Love."
Perdita, in "The Winter's Tale."
Palmira, in "Mahomet."
Cordelia, in "King Lear."
Alinda, in "The Law of Lombardy."
The Irish Widow.
Araminta, in "The Old Bachelor."
Sir Harry Revel, in "The Miniature Picture."
Emily, in "The Runaway."
Miss Richley, in "The Discovery."
Statira, in "Alexander the Great."
Juliet, in "Romeo and Juliet."
Amanda, in "The Trip to Scarborough."
Lady Anne, in "Richard the Third."
Imogen, in "Cymbeline."
Lady Macbeth, in "Macbeth," etc.
It was now that I began to know the perils attendant on a dramatic life. It was at this period that the most alluring temptations were held out to alienate me from the paths of domestic quiet,—domestic happiness I cannot say, for it never was my destiny to know it. But I had still the consolation of an unsullied name. I had the highest female patronage, a circle of the most respectable and partial friends.
During this period I was daily visited by my best of mothers. My youngest brother had, the preceding winter, departed for Leghorn, where my eldest had been many years established as a merchant of the first respectability.
Were I to mention the names of those who held forth the temptations of fortune at this moment of public peril, I might create some reproaches in many families of the fashionable world. Among others who offered most liberally to purchase my indiscretion was the late Duke of Rutland; a settlement of six hundred pounds per annum was proposed as the means of estranging me entirely from my husband. I refused the offer. I wished to remain, in the eyes of the public, deserving of its patronage. I shall not enter into a minute detail of temptations which assailed my fortitude.
The flattering and zealous attentions which Mr. Sheridan evinced were strikingly contrasting with the marked and increasing neglect of my husband. I now found that he supported two women, in one house, in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. The one was a figure-dancer in Drury Lane Theatre; the other, a woman of professed libertinism. With these he passed all his hours that he could steal from me; and I found that my salary was at times inadequate to the expenses which were incurred by an enlarged circle of new acquaintance, which Mr. Robinson had formed since my appearance in the dramatic scene. Added to this, the bond creditors became so clamorous, that the whole of my benefits were appropriated to their demands; and on the second year after my appearance at Drury Lane Theatre, Mr. Robinson once more persuaded me to make a visit at Tregunter.
I was now received with more civility, and more warmly welcomed, than I had been on any former arrival. Though the assumed sanctity of Miss Robinson's manners condemned a dramatic life, the labour was deemed profitable, and the supposed immorality was consequently tolerated! However repugnant to my feelings this visit was, still I hoped that it would promote my husband's interest, and confirm his reconciliation to his father; I therefore resolved on undertaking it. I now felt that I could support myself honourably; and the consciousness of independence is the only true felicity in this world of humiliations.
Mr. Harris was now established in Tregunter House, and several parties were formed, both at home and abroad, for my amusement. I was consulted as the very oracle of fashions; I was gazed at and examined with the most inquisitive curiosity. Mrs. Robinson, the promising young actress, was a very different personage from Mrs. Robinson who had been overwhelmed with sorrows, and came to ask an asylum under the roof of vulgar ostentation. I remained only a fortnight in Wales, and then returned to London, to prepare for the opening of the theatre.
We stopped at Bath on our way to town, where Mr. Robinson met with Mr. George Brereton, with whom, at Newmarket, he had some time before become acquainted. Mr. Brereton was a man of fortune, and married to his beautiful cousin, the daughter of Major Brereton, then master of the ceremonies at Bath. At a former period Mr. Robinson had owed a sum of money to Mr. George Brereton, for which he had given a promissory note. On our arrival at Bath we received a visit from this creditor, who assured Mr. Robinson that he was in no haste for the payment of his note, and at the same time very earnestly pressed us to remain a few days in that fashionable city. We were in no hurry to return to London, having still more than three weeks' holidays. We resided at the "Three Tuns," one of the best inns, and Mr. Brereton was on all occasions particularly attentive.
The motive of this assiduity was at length revealed to me, by a violent and fervent declaration of love, which astonished and perplexed me. I knew that Mr. Brereton was of a most impetuous temper; that he had fought many duels; that he was capable of any outrage; and that he had my husband completely in his power. Every advance which he had the temerity to make was by me rejected with indignation. I had not resolution to inform Mr. Robinson of his danger, and I thought that the only chance of escaping it was to set out immediately for Bristol, where I wished to pass a few days, previous to my return to the metropolis.
On the following morning, as we were quitting the inn in Temple Street, to visit Clifton, Mr. Robinson was arrested at the suit of Mr. George Brereton, who waited himself in an upper room in order to see the writ executed. I forget the exact sum for which Mr. Robinson had given his promissory note, but I well remember that it was in magnitude beyond his power to pay. Our consternation was indescribable.
In a few minutes after, I was informed that a lady wished to speak with me. Concluding that it was some old acquaintance, and happy to feel that in this perplexing dilemma I had still a friend to speak to, I followed the waiter into another room. Mr. Robinson was detained by the sheriff's officer.
On entering the apartment, I beheld Mr. Brereton.
"Well, madam," said he, with a sarcastic smile, "you have involved your husband in a pretty embarrassment! Had you not been severe toward me, not only this paltry debt would have been cancelled, but any sum that I could command would have been at his service. He has now either to pay me, to fight me, or to go to a prison; and all because you treat me with such unexampled rigour."
I entreated him to reflect before he drove me to distraction.
"I have reflected," said he, "and I find that you possess the power to do with me what you will. Promise to return to Bath—to behave more kindly—and I will this moment discharge your husband."
I burst into tears.
"You cannot be so inhuman as to propose such terms!" said I.
"The inhumanity is on your side," answered Mr. Brereton. "But I have no time to lose; I must return to Bath; my wife is dangerously ill; and I do not wish to have my name exposed in a business of this nature."
"Then for Heaven's sake release my husband!" said I. Mr. Brereton smiled as he rang the bell, and ordered the waiter to look for his carriage. I now lost all command of myself, and, with the most severe invective, condemned the infamy of his conduct. "I will return to Bath," said I; "but it shall be to expose your dishonourable, your barbarous machinations. I will inform that lovely wife how treacherously you have acted. I will proclaim to the world that the common arts of seduction are not sufficiently depraved for the mind of a libertine and a gamester."
I uttered these words in so loud a tone of voice that he changed colour, and desired me to be discreet and patient.
"Never, while you insult me, and hold my husband in your power," said I. "You have carried outrage almost to its fullest extent; you have awakened all the pride and all the resentment of my soul, and I will proceed as I think proper."
He now endeavoured to soothe me. He assured me that he was actuated by a sincere regard for me; and that, knowing how little my husband valued me, he thought it would be an act of kindness to estrange me from him. "His neglect of you will justify any step you may take," added he; "and it is a matter of universal astonishment that you, who upon other occasions can act with such becoming spirit, should tamely continue to bear such infidelities from a husband." I shuddered; for this plea had, in many instances, been urged as an excuse for libertine advances; and the indifference with which I was treated was, in the theatre, and in all my circle of friends, a subject of conversation.
Distressed beyond the power of utterance at this new humiliation, I paced the room with agonising inquietude.
"How little does such a husband deserve such a wife!" continued Mr. Brereton; "how tasteless must he be, to leave such a woman for the very lowest and most degraded of the sex! Quit him, and fly with me. I am ready to make any sacrifice you demand. Shall I propose to Mr. Robinson to let you go? Shall I offer him his liberty on condition that he allows you to separate yourself from him? By his conduct he proves that he does not love you; why then labour to support him?"
I was almost frantic.
"Here, madam," continued Mr. Brereton, after pausing four or five minutes, "here is your husband's release." So saying, he threw a written paper on the table. "Now," added he, "I rely on your generosity."
I trembled, and was incapable of speaking. Mr. Brereton conjured me to compose my spirits, and to conceal my distress from the people of the inn. "I will return to Bath," said he. "I shall there expect to see you." He now quitted the room. I saw him get into his chaise and drive from the inn door. I then hastened to my husband with the discharge; and all expenses of the arrest being shortly after settled, we set out for Bath.
Mr. Robinson scarcely inquired what had passed; but I assured him that my persuasions had produced so sudden a change in Mr. Brereton's conduct. I said that I hoped he would never again place his freedom in the hands of a gamester, or his wife's repose in the power of a libertine. He seemed insensible of the peril attending both the one and the other.
Expecting letters by the post, we waited the following day, which was Sunday, at Bath; though, in order to avoid Mr. Brereton, we removed to the White Lion Inn. But what was my astonishment, in the afternoon, when, standing at the window, I saw Mr. George Brereton walking on the opposite side of the way, with his wife and her no less lovely sister! I now found that the story of her dangerous illness was untrue, and I flattered myself that I was not seen before I retired from the window.
We now sat down to dinner, and in a few minutes Mr. George Brereton was announced by the waiter. He coldly bowed to me, and instantly made a thousand apologies to Mr. Robinson; declared that he had paid the note away; that he was menaced for the money; and that he came to Bristol, though too late, to prevent the arrest which had happened. Mr. Robinson skeptically replied that it was now of little importance; and Mr. Brereton took his leave, saying that he should have the honour of seeing us again in the evening. We did not wait for his company, but immediately after dinner set out for London.
On my arrival in town I saw Mr. Sheridan, whose manner had lost nothing of its interesting attention. He continued to visit me very frequently, and always gave me the most friendly counsel. He knew that I was not properly protected by Mr. Robinson, but he was too generous to build his gratification on the detraction of another. The happiest moments I then knew were passed in the society of this distinguished being. He saw me ill-bestowed upon a man who neither loved nor valued me; he lamented my destiny, but with such delicate propriety that it consoled while it revealed to me the unhappiness of my situation. On my return to town the Duke of Rutland renewed his solicitations. I also received the most unbounded professions of esteem and admiration from several other persons. Among the list, I was addressed with proposals of libertine nature by a royal duke, a lofty marquis, and a city merchant of considerable fortune, conveyed through the medium of milliners, mantua-makers, etc. Just at this period my eldest brother visited England; but such was his unconquerable aversion to my profession as an actress, that he only once, during a residence of some months in London, attempted to see me perform. He then only attempted it; for, on my advancing on the boards, he started from his seat in the stage-box, and instantly quitted the theatre. My dear mother had no less a dislike to the pursuit; she never beheld me on the stage but with a painful regret. Fortunately, my father remained some years out of England, so that he never saw me in my professional character.
My popularity increasing every night that I appeared, my prospects, both of fame and affluence, began to brighten. We now hired the house which is situated between the Hummums and the Bedford Arms, in Covent Garden; it had been built (I believe) by Doctor Fisher, who married the widow of the celebrated actor Powel; but Mr. Robinson took the premises of Mrs. Mattocks, of Covent Garden Theatre. The house was particularly convenient in every respect; but, above all, on account of its vicinity to Drury Lane. Here I hoped to enjoy, at least, some cheerful days, as I found that my circle of friends increased almost hourly.
One of those who paid me most attention was Sir John Lade. The good-natured baronet, who was then just of age, was our constant visitor, and cards contributed to beguile those evenings that were not devoted to dramatic labour. Mr. Robinson played more deeply than was discreet, but he was, at the end of a few weeks, a very considerable winner.
In proportion as play obtained its influence over my husband's mind, his small portion of remaining regard for me visibly decayed. We now had horses, a phaeton and ponies; and my fashions in dress were followed with flattering avidity. My house was thronged with visitors, and my morning levees were crowded so that I could scarcely find a quiet hour for study. My brother by this time had returned to Italy.
Mr. Sheridan was still my most esteemed of friends. He advised me with the gentlest anxiety, and he warned me of the danger which expense would produce, and which might interrupt the rising progress of my dramatic reputation. He saw the trophies which flattery strewed in my way; and he lamented that I was on every side surrounded with temptations. There was a something beautifully sympathetic in every word he uttered; his admonitions seemed as if dictated by a prescient power, which told him that I was destined to be deceived!
Situated as I was at this time, the effort was difficult to avoid the society of Mr. Sheridan. He was manager of the theatre. I could not avoid seeing and conversing with him at rehearsals and behind the scenes, and his conversation was always such as to fascinate and charm me. The brilliant reputation which he had justly acquired for superior talents, and the fame which was completed by his celebrated "School for Scandal," had now rendered him so admired, that all ranks of people courted his society. The greenroom was frequented by nobility and men of genius; among these were Mr. Fox and the Earl of Derby. The stage was now enlightened by the very best critics, and embellished by the very highest talents; and it is not a little remarkable that the drama was uncommonly productive, the theatre more than usually attended, during that season when the principal dramatic characters were performed by women under the age of twenty. Among these were Miss Farren (now Lady Derby), Miss Walpole (now Mrs. Atkins), Miss P. Hopkins (now Mrs. John Kemble), and myself.
I had then been married more than four years; my daughter Maria Elizabeth was nearly three years old. I had been then seen and known at all public places from the age of fifteen; yet I knew as little of the world's deceptions as though I had been educated in the deserts of Siberia. I believed every woman friendly, every man sincere, till I discovered proofs that their characters were deceptive.
I had now performed two seasons, in tragedy and comedy, with Miss Farren and the late Mr. Henderson. My first appearance in Palmira (in "Mahomet") was with the Zaphna of Mr. J. Bannister, the preceding year; and though the extraordinary comic powers of this excellent actor and amiable man have established his reputation as a comedian, his first essay in tragedy was considered as a night of the most distinguished promise. The Duchess of Devonshire still honoured me with her patronage and friendship, and I also possessed the esteem of several respectable and distinguished females.
The play of "The Winter's Tale" was this season commanded by their Majesties. I never had performed before the royal family; and the first character in which I was destined to appear was that of Perdita. I had frequently played the part, both with the Hermione of Mrs. Hartley and of Miss Farren: but I felt a strange degree of alarm when I found my name announced to perform it before the royal family.
In the greenroom I was rallied on the occasion; and Mr. Smith, whose gentlemanly manners and enlightened conversation rendered him an ornament to the profession, who performed the part of Leontes, laughingly exclaimed, "By Jove, Mrs. Robinson, you will make a conquest of the prince, for to-night you look handsomer than ever." I smiled at the unmerited compliment, and little foresaw the vast variety of events that would arise from that night's exhibition!
As I stood in the wing opposite the prince's box, waiting to go on the stage, Mr. Ford, the manager's son, and now a respectable defender of the laws, presented a friend who accompanied him; this friend was Lord Viscount Malden, now Earl of Essex.
We entered into conversation during a few minutes, the Prince of Wales all the time observing us, and frequently speaking to Colonel (now General) Lake, and to the Honourable Mr. Legge, brother to Lord Lewisham, who was in waiting on his Royal Highness. I hurried through the first scene, not without much embarrassment, owing to the fixed attention with which the Prince of Wales honoured me. Indeed, some flattering remarks which were made by his Royal Highness met my ear as I stood near his box, and I was overwhelmed with confusion.
The prince's particular attention was observed by every one, and I was again rallied at the end of the play. On the last curtsey, the royal family condescendingly returned a bow to the performers; but just as the curtain was falling my eyes met those of the Prince of Wales, and with a look that I never shall forget, he gently inclined his head a second time; I felt the compliment, and blushed my gratitude.
During the entertainment Lord Malden never ceased conversing with me. He was young, pleasing, and perfectly accomplished. He remarked the particular applause which the prince had bestowed on my performance; said a thousand civil things; and detained me in conversation till the evening's performance was concluded.
I was now going to my chair, which waited, when I met the royal family crossing the stage. I was again honoured with a very marked and low bow from the Prince of Wales. On my return home, I had a party to supper; and the whole conversation centred in encomiums on the person, graces, and amiable manners of the illustrious heir-apparent.