SIR JOHN SEBRIGHT'S,
BEECHWOOD PARK, Jan. 16.
A very fine park it is, with magnificently large beech trees, which well deserve to give their name to the place. The house, a fine-looking house, was a convent in the days of Edward VI. Library forty feet long; books in open shelves, handsome and comfortable. Dr. Wollaston kindly recognised Fanny. Mrs. Marcet—we were glad to secure her. Mrs. Somerville—little, slightly made; fair hair, pink colour; small gray, round, intelligent, smiling eyes; very pleasing countenance; remarkably soft voice, strong, but well-bred Scotch accent; timid, not disqualifying timid, but naturally modest, yet with a degree of self-possession through it, which prevents her being in the least awkward, and gives her all the advantage of her understanding; at the same time, that it adds a prepossessing charm to her manner, and takes off all dread of her superior scientific learning.
To MISS RUXTON.
BEECHWOOD PARK, Jan. 17, 1822.
I have this moment heard an anecdote, which proves beyond a doubt—if any doubt remained—that Walter Scott is the author of the novels. He edited The Memorie of the Somervilles, and in the MS. copy are his marks of what was to be omitted; and among these what suggested to him the idea of Lady Margaret and the famous dis jeune which His Majesty did her the honour to take with her—continually referred to by an ancestor of Lord Somerville's.
We have spent two days pleasantly here with Dr. Wollaston, Dr. and Mrs. Somerville, Mr. Giles, and Mr. Franks, besides our own dear friend, Mrs. Marcet. Mrs. Somerville is the lady whom La Place mentions as the only woman in England who understands his works. She draws beautifully; and while her head is among the stars, her feet are firm upon the earth. Sir John Sebright himself is very entertaining—quite a new character: he amused me incessantly: strong head, and warm heart, and oddity enough for ten. He showed us his pigeons, one which he said he would not part with for a hundred guineas; he took it up in his hands to show me its pretty white head, but I could not see the difference between it and one not worth ten shillings. The pouting pigeons, who have goitres, as Mrs. Marcet said, are frightful; they put in their heads behind these bags of wind, and strut about as if proud of deformity. We saw four Antwerp pigeons, one of which went, Sir John told us, from Tower Hill to Antwerp in six hours.
To MRS. EDGEWORTH.
MARDOAKS, Jan. 19, 1822.
We called at Hatfield on our way here: a fine pile of old house with many pictures—Burleigh, Cecil, Leicester, and Elizabeth. Do you remember meeting Lady Salisbury [Footnote 1: Amelia, daughter of the first Marquis of Downshire, and wife of the first Marquis of Salisbury. She was burnt to death in Hatfield House, 27th November 1835.] at Lady Darnley's? little, lively, good-humoured, very alert and active. What do you think of her fox-hunting, though past seventy? Mr. Franks and Mr. Giles, whom we met at Beechwood, and all the young men, declare that she is more lively and good-humoured out hunting than any of them. An old groom goes out with her on a hunter a little better than her own, always a little before her, to show her where she may go, and turns to her every now and then, "Come on! why the d—-l don't you leap?" or "You must not go there! why the d—-l do you go there?"
We arrived here in our usual happy time—firelight, an hour before dinner: most cordially received both by Sir James and Lady Macintosh: house pretty, library comfortable, hall and staircase beautiful: house filled with books.
I must tell you an anecdote of Wilberforce and a dream of Dr. Wollaston's. Mr. Wilberforce, you know, sold his house at Kensington Gore: the purchaser was a Chinaman, or, I should say, the keeper of a china-shop in Oxford Street—Mr. Mortlock. When the purchase-money was paid, L10,000, and the deeds executed, Mr. Mortlock waited upon Mr. Wilberforce, and said, "This house suits you, Mr. Wilberforce, so well in every respect, that I am sure your only motive in parting with it is to raise the money: therefore permit me to return these title-deeds. Accept this testimony of esteem, due to your public character and talents."
Wilberforce did not accept this handsome offer.
Dr. Wollaston told us that he was much pleased with his own ingenuity in a dream. He wished to weigh himself, but suddenly fell, and was hurried forward on the ground till he came to a spot where the power of gravity ceased to act. He bethought himself of a spring steelyard, and with the joy of successful invention, wakened. Sir John Sebright, however, would not allow Wollaston to be proud of this, as it would have occurred to him, or any one acquainted with the principle of a steelyard. We argued this point for a quarter of an hour, and each went away, as usual, of his or her original opinion.
HERTFORD COLLEGE, Jan. 23.
Do you recollect a Cornish friend of Davy's who supped with him the night when Lady Darnley and the Russian Prince and the Sneyds were there? and Davy saying that this Cornish friend was a very clever man, and that he was anxious to do him honour, and be kind? This Cornish friend was Mr., now Dr. Batten, at the head of Hertford College. He had with him a rosy-cheeked, happy-looking, open-faced son, of nine years old, whom we liked much, and whose countenance and manner gave the best evidence possible in favour of father and mother.
Le Bas is as deaf as a post; but that is no matter, as he is professor of mathematics, and deals only in demonstration. He has a very good-natured, intelligent countenance. He laughed heartily at some nonsense of mine which caught his ear, and that broke the mournful gravity of his countenance.
Fanny had some rides with little Macintosh while at Mardoaks—Robert, a very intelligent boy of fifteen, little for his age; like his father, but handsomer, and he listens to his conversation with a delight which proves him worthy to be the son of such a father, and promises future excellence better than anything he could say at his age. Sir James is improved in the art of conversation since we knew him; being engaged in great affairs with great men and great women has perfected him in the use and management of his wonderful natural powers and vast accumulated treasures of knowledge. His memory now appears to work less; his eloquence is more easy, his wit more brilliant, his anecdotes more happily introduced. Altogether his conversation is even more delightful than formerly; superior to Dumont's in imagination, and almost equal in wit. In Dumont's mind and conversation, wit and reason are kept separate; but in Macintosh they are mixed, and he uses both in argument, knowing the full value and force of each: never attempting to pass wit for logic, he forges each link of the chain of demonstration, and then sends the electric spark of wit through it. The French may well exclaim, in speaking of him, "Quelle abondance!"
He told us that, at Berlin, just before a dinner at which were all the principal ambassadors of Europe, Madame de Stael, who had been invited to meet them, turned to a picture of Buonaparte, then at the height of his power, and addressed it with Voltaire's lines to Cupid:
Qui que ce soit, voici ton maitre, Il est, le fut, ou le doit etre.
Fanny and Harriet say that Macintosh has far surpassed their expectations. The two new persons Fanny wished most to see in England were Ricardo and Macintosh: she has seen them in the best possible manner, in their own families, at leisure not only to be wise and good, but agreeable. Harriet and she have heard more of their conversation than they could in a whole season in London. Think how happy I must feel in seeing them quite satisfied. Sir James and Lady Macintosh seem to like them, and I and they delight in Miss Macintosh: she is one of the best-informed and most unaffected girls I ever knew, with a sweet voice and agreeable conversation.
GROVE HOUSE, KENSINGTON,
Jan. 27, 1822.
As if wakening from a long dream, I find myself sitting in exactly the same comer, on the same chair, in the same room where Fanny, and Honora, and I were three years ago! Lady Elizabeth Whitbread [Footnote: Eldest daughter of the first Earl Grey.] looks better than she did when we left her, though much thinner: her kindness and the winning dignity of her manners the same as ever. She was at breakfast with us at half-past nine this morning, when she went to her church and we to Kensington—Mrs. Batty's pew—Harriet and I. Fanny stayed at home for the good of her body, and Lady Elizabeth left with her, for the good of her soul, that wicked Cain. [Footnote: Lord Byron's Cain, which was preached against in Kensington Church by Mr. Rennel.]
Miss Grant will be here on Monday, absent a fortnight nursing Mrs. Nesbitt. A new dog, Jubal: Lady Elizabeth heard one of the little Battys say, "Lion has hatched a new dog," and the sister correcting her, "Oh, my dear! hatched! you mean laid!" Jubal is very like Lion, only younger and handsomer: milk-white, and shorn poodle fashion.
To MRS. RUXTON.
GROVE HOUSE, Feb. 1822.
I am glad you like the preface to Frank: the engineer and the scientific part will tire you—skip and go on to the third volume. Delightful breakfast to-day at Mr. Ricardo's. We have this last week seen all Calcott's principal pictures, and those by Mulready, an Irish artist: one of a messenger playing truant; the enraged mistress, and the faces of the boys he is playing with, and the little child he had the care of asleep, all tell their story well; but none of these come near the exquisite humour and ingenuity of Hogarth. I have the face of that imbecile, round-eyed, half-drunk friend of ours in the corner of the "Election Dinner" now before me, and I can never think of it without laughing.
We have seen Sir Thomas Lawrence's magnificent picture of the King in his coronation robes, which is to be sent to the Pope. [Footnote: Now in the Lateran Palace.] He flatters with great skill, choosing every creature's best. An admirable picture of Walter Scott; ditto ditto of Lady Jersey and Lady Conyngham. Lord Anglesea came in while we were with Sir Thomas: he is no longer handsome, but a model for the "nice conduct" of a wooden leg. It was within an inch of running through Walter Scott's picture, which was on the floor leaning on the wall; but, by a skilful sidelong manoeuvre, he bowed out of its way. His gray hair looks much better than His Majesty's flaxen wig—bad taste.
To MRS. EDGEWORTH.
KENSINGTON GORE, Feb. 6, 1822.
A dreadful storm two nights ago, which blew down two fine old trees in the park, and a miserable wet day, in which we made our way to the dentist's.
Colonel Talbot dined here—cast in the same mould as all the other Talbots I have ever seen: his face has been bronzed by hardships, and scorched by the reflection from American snows: his manner of speaking slow—not too slow, only slow enough to be calmly distinct; and when relating wonders and dangers, gives you at once the certainty of truth, and the belief in his fortitude and intrepid presence of mind. He related the visit from his European friend, when he had built his log house, and was his own servant-of-all-work; and gave us an account of an attack of the Indians upon Fort Talbot. He gives me the idea of the most cool courage imaginable. I could not help looking at him, as if he were Robinson Crusoe come to life again, and continuing stories from his own book. He has now a very good house, or palace I should say; for he is not only lord of all he surveys, but actually king.
Do you recollect American Mrs. Griffith writing to tell me that Mr. Ralston would come to see us, and my extreme disappointment at his finding in Dublin that Miss Edgeworth was not at home, and so not going down to Edgeworthstown, and not seeing Lovell's school? He has found us out now, and Lady Elizabeth invited him here. He has travelled over half Europe and is going to Spain; but upon my giving him a note to Macintosh, with a draft upon him for five minutes' conversation, and notes to some other celebrated people, he, like a sensible man, determined to delay his journey on purpose to see them. Lady Elizabeth has been so kind to ask him to dine here to-day, and commissioned me to invite whoever I pleased to meet him. First we wrote to your brother, but be could not come; and then to Dr. Holland, but he was engaged to Holland House. In his note to me he says, "I have seen Mr. Ralston several times, and have been greatly pleased with his ingenuousness, acquirements, and agreeable manners." His father and mother are grand—and what is rather better, most benevolent—people in Philadelphia. Meantime I must go and write a letter of introduction for him to Count Edouard de la Grange, who is just returned from Spain to Paris, and may serve him. But I forgot to finish my sentence about the invitations to dinner. My third invitation was to Mr. Calcott, the painter, with whom we made acquaintance a few days ago. He has been more civil than I can tell you, promising us his ticket for the Exhibition, and preparing the way for our seeing pictures at Lord Liverpool's, Sir John Swinburne's, etc.; so I was glad to have this opportunity of asking him, and he breaks an engagement to the Academy to accept of Lady Elizabeth's invitation.
Now I must "put on bonnet" to go to Lady Grey's. She is the most touching sight! and Lady Elizabeth's affection and respect for her! She has desired to see Fanny and Harriet to-day.
Like a child who keeps the plums of his pudding for the last, but who is so tedious in getting through the beginning, that his plate is taken away before he gets to his plums, so I often put off what I think the plums of my letters till "the post, ma'am," hurries it off without the best part.
In my hurried conclusion I forgot to tell you that Mr. Ralston has lately become acquainted with Mr. Perkins, the American, who has tried experiments on the compressibility of water, the results of which have astonished all the scientific world.
Wollaston, as Mr. Ralston affirms, has verified and warrants the truth of these experiments, which have not yet been published. The most wonderful part appeared to me incredible: under a great degree of compression the water, Mr. Ralston said, turned to gas!
Lady Lansdowne was here yesterday while I was in town; she heard that Fanny and Harriet were at home: got out and sat with them: very agreeable. Lady Bathurst has been here, and Lady Georgiana: asked us to a select party—Princess Lieven, etc.,—but we declined: could not leave Lady Elizabeth. I do not know that there is any truth in the report that Lady Georgiana is to marry Lord Liverpool: I should think not; for when we were at Cirencester, Lady Bathurst read out of a letter, "So I hear Lady Georgiana is to be our Prime Minister," which she would not have done if the thing were really going on; and when I went to Lord Liverpool's a few days ago, he was in deep mourning, the hatchment still up on his house, his note-paper half an inch black border. If he were courting, surely the black border would diminish, and the hatchment would be taken down. I wish it were true, for I like both parties, and think it would be remarkably well suited.
Yesterday Captain Beaufort walked here to see us, and then walked with Harriet and me to Lady Listowel's, ci-devant Lady Ennismore, looking just the same as when we saw her at Kilkenny: excessively civil to us. Two curious pictures there done by an Irish boy, or man, of the name of Grogan, of Cork: one of these is an Irish wake; there is a great deal of original humour and invention in it, of the Wilkie, or, better still, of the Hogarth style.
But all this time you would be glad to know whether I am likely to have a house over my head or not? it cannot be decided till Tuesday—8, or 12, Holles Street.
Yesterday we went to see Mrs. Moutray at Mr. Sumner's most comfortable and superb house. She had been to see the poor Queen's pictures and goods, which are now for sale: a melancholy sight; all her dress, even her stays, laid out, and tarnished finery, to be purchased by the lowest of the low. There was a full-length picture of her when she was young and happy; another, beautiful, by Opie or Lawrence, standing screwing up a harp with one hand, and playing with her little daughter with the other.
To MRS. RUXTON.
8 HOLLES STREET, March 9.
We are comfortably settled in this good central situation. We were last Monday at a select early party at Mrs. Hope's. The new gallery of Flemish pictures given to Mr. Hope by his brother is beautifully arranged.
I have had the greatest pleasure in Francis Beaufort [Footnote: Brother of the fourth Mrs. Edgeworth.] going with us to our delightful breakfasts at Mr. Ricardo's—they enjoy each other's conversation so much. It has now become high fashion with blue ladies to talk Political Economy, and make a great jabbering on the subject, while others who have more sense, like Mrs. Marcet, hold their tongues and listen. A gentleman answered very well the other day when asked if he would be of the famous Political Economy Club, that he would, whenever he could find two members of it that agree in any one point. Meantime, fine ladies require that their daughters' governesses should teach Political Economy. "Do you teach Political Economy?" "No, but I can learn it." "O dear, no; if you don't teach it, you won't do for me."
Another style of governess is now the fashion,—the ultra-French: a lady-governess of this party and one of the Orleans' or liberaux met and came to high words, till all was calmed by the timely display of a ball-dress, trimmed with roses alternately red and white,—"Garniture aux prejuges vaincus." This should have been worn by those who formerly invented in the Revolution "Bals aux victimes."
Yesterday we breakfasted at Mrs. Somerville's, and sat in her painting-room. Left her at one o'clock, and went by appointment to Lansdowne House. Lady Lansdowne quite affectionate to Fanny and Harriet; had fire and warm air in the superb new statue saloon on purpose for them. Mrs. Kennedy,—Sir Samuel Romilly's daughter,—came in, invited to meet us, very pleasing manners. Mrs. Nicholls,—Lady Lansdowne's niece,—"I like that you should know all I love."
Then we went with Captain and Mrs. Beaufort to Belzoni's tomb,—the model first, and then the tomb as large as life, painted in its proper colours,—a very striking spectacle, but I need not describe it; the book represents it perfectly.
Next door to the tomb are the Laplanders, the man about my size, at work, intently, but stupidly, on making a wooden spoon. The wife was more intelligent: a child of five years, very quiet gray eyes. In the middle of the apartment is a pen full of reindeer,—very gentle and ravenously eager for moss, of which there was a great basket. This moss, which they love as well as their own, has been found in great quantities on Bagshot Heath.
We went one night to the House of Commons: Mr. Whitbread took us there. A garret the whole size of the room—the former chapel—now the House of Commons; below, kitcats of Gothic chapel windows stopped up appear on each side above the floor: above, roof-beams. One lantern with one farthing candle, in a tin candlestick, all the light. In the middle of the garret is what seemed like a sentry-box of deal boards and old chairs placed round it: on these we got and stood and peeped over the top of the boards. Saw the large chandelier with lights blazing, immediately below: a grating of iron across veiled the light so that we could look down and beyond it: we saw half the table with the mace lying on it and papers, and by peeping hard two figures of clerks at the further end, but no eye could see the Speaker or his chair,—only his feet; his voice and terrible "ORDER" was soon heard. We could see part of the Treasury Bench and the Opposition in their places,—the tops of their heads, profiles, and gestures perfectly. There was not any interesting debate,—the Knightsbridge affair and the Salt Tax,—but it was entertaining to us because we were curious to see and hear the principal speakers on each side. We heard Lord Londonderry, Mr. Peel, and Mr. Vansittart; and on the other side, Denman, Brougham, and Bennett, and several hesitating country gentlemen, who seemed to be speaking to please their constituents only. Sir John Sebright was as much at ease as in his own drawing-room at Beechwood: Mr. Brougham we thought the best speaker we heard, Mr. Peel next; Mr. Vansittart the best language, and most correct English, though there was little in what he said. The Speaker, we were told, had made this observation on Mr. Vansittart, that he never makes a mistake in grammar. Lord Londonderry makes the most extraordinary blunders and mal-a-propos. Mr. Denman speaks well. The whole, the speaking and the interest of the scene surpassed our expectations, and we felt proud to mark the vast difference between the English House of Commons and the French Chambre des Deputes. Nevertheless, there are disturbances in Suffolk, and Lord Londonderry had to get up from dinner to order troops to be sent there.
To MRS. EDGEWORTH.
8 HOLLES STREET, March, 1822.
Your brother Francis is kind to us beyond description, and lets us take him where we will; he dined with us at Mrs. Weddell's,—this dear old lady copied last year in her seventy-second year a beautiful crayon picture of Lady Dundas,—and here we met Lady Louisa Stuart, Mr. Stanley of Alderley, and many others.
Yesterday we went the moment we had swallowed our breakfast,—N.B. superfine green tea given to us by Mrs. Taddy,—by appointment to Newgate. The private door opened at sight of our tickets, and the great doors and the little doors, and the thick doors, and doors of all sorts, were unbolted and unlocked, and on we went through dreary but clean passages, till we came to a room where rows of empty benches fronted us. A table on which lay a large Bible. Several ladies and gentlemen entered and took their seats on benches at either side of the table, in silence.
Enter Mrs. Fry in a drab-coloured silk cloak, and plain borderless Quaker cap; a most benevolent countenance,—Guido-Madonna face,—calm, benign. "I must make an inquiry,—Is Maria Edgeworth here? and where?" I went forward; she bade us come and sit beside her. Her first smile as she looked upon me I can never forget.
The prisoners came in, and in an orderly manner ranged themselves on the benches. All quite clean, faces, hair, caps, and hands. On a very low bench in front, little children were seated and were settled by their mothers. Almost all these women, about thirty, were under sentence of transportation, some few only were for imprisonment. One who did not appear was under sentence of death,—frequently women when sentenced to death become ill, and unable to attend Mrs. Fry; the others come regularly and voluntarily.
She opened the Bible, and read in the most sweetly solemn, sedate voice I ever heard, slowly and distinctly, without anything in the manner that could distract attention from the matter. Sometimes she paused to explain, which she did with great judgment, addressing the convicts, "we have felt; we are convinced." They were very attentive, unaffectedly interested I thought in all she said, and touched by her manner. There was nothing put on in their countenances, not any appearance of hypocrisy. I studied their countenances carefully, but I could not see any which, without knowing to whom they belonged, I should have decided was bad; yet Mrs. Fry assured me that all those women had been of the worst sort. She confirmed what we have read and heard, that it was by their love of their children that she first obtained influence over these abandoned women. When she first took notice of one or two of their fine children, the mothers said that if she could but save their children from the misery they had gone through in vice, they would do anything she bid them. And when they saw the change made in their children by her schooling, they begged to attend themselves. I could not have conceived that the love of their children could have remained so strong in hearts in which every other feeling of virtue had so long been dead. The Vicar of Wakefield's sermon in prison is, it seems, founded on a deep and true knowledge of human nature,—"the spark of good is often smothered, never wholly extinguished."
Mrs. Fry often says an extempore prayer; but this day she was quite silent while she covered her face with her hands for some minutes: the women were perfectly silent with their eyes fixed upon her, and when she said, "you may go," they went away slowly. The children sat quite still the whole time,—when one leaned, the mother behind set her upright.
Mrs. Fry told us that the dividing the women into classes has been of the greatest advantage, and putting them under the care of monitors. There is some little pecuniary advantage attached to the office of monitor which makes them emulous to obtain it.
We went through the female wards with Mrs. Fry, and saw the women at various works,—knitting, rug-making, etc. They have done a great deal of needlework very neatly, and some very ingenious. When I expressed my foolish wonder at this to Mrs. Fry's sister, she replied, "We have to do, recollect, ma'am, not with fools, but with rogues."
There is only one being among all those upon whom she has tried to make salutary impression, on whom she could make none,—an old Jewess. She is so depraved, and so odiously dirty that she cannot be purified, body or mind; wash her and put clean clothes on, she tears and dirties them, and swarms with vermin again in twenty-four hours. I saw her in the kitchen where they were served with broth: a horrible spectacle, which haunted me the whole day and night afterwards. One eye had been put out and closed up, and the other glared with malignant passion. I asked her if she was not happier since Mrs. Fry had come to Newgate. She made no direct reply, but said, "It is hard to be happy in a jail; if you tasted that broth you'd find it is nothing but dishwater." I did taste it, and found it was very good.
Far from being disappointed with the sight of what Mrs. Fry has effected, I was delighted. We emerged again from the thick, dark, silent walls of Newgate to the bustling city, and thence to the elegant part of the town; and before we had time to arrange our ideas, and while the mild Quaker face and voice, and wonderful resolution and successful exertions of this admirable woman were fresh in our minds, morning visitors flowed in, and common life again went on.
Three or four of these visitors were very agreeable, Sir Humphry Davy, Major Colebrook, Lord Radstock, and Mrs. Scott,—Mrs. Scott of Danesfield, whom and which we saw when at Lord Carrington's. The Bellman.
Fanny and Harriet have been with me at that grand exclusive paradise of fashion, Almack's. Observe that the present Duchess of Rutland who had been a few months away from town, and had offended the Lady Patronesses by not visiting them, could not at her utmost need get a ticket from any one of them, and was kept out to her amazing mortification. This may give you some idea of the importance attached to admission to Almack's. Kind Mrs. Hope got tickets for us from Lady Gwydyr and Lady Cowper; the Patronesses can only give tickets to those whom they personally know; on that plea they avoided the Duchess of Rutland's application, she had not visited them,—"they really did not know her Grace;" and Lady Cowper swallowed a camel for me, because she did not really know me; I had met her, but had never been introduced to her till I saw her at Almack's. Fanny and Harriet were beautifully dressed: their heads by Lady Lansdowne's hairdresser, Trichot: Mrs. Hope lent Harriet a wreath of her own French roses. Fanny was said by many to be, if not the prettiest, the most elegant looking young woman in the room, and certainly "elegance, birth, and fortune were there assembled," as the newspapers would truly say.
Towards the close of the evening Captain Waldegrave came to me with Mr. Bootle Wilbraham, who has been alternately Wilbraham Bootle and Bootle Wilbraham, till nobody knows how to call him: no matter for me, he came to say he was at our service and our most devoted humble servant to show us the Millbank Penitentiary whenever we pleased. He is a grand man, and presently returned with a grander,—the Marquis of Londonderry, who by his own account had been dying some time with impatience to be introduced to us; talked much of Castle Rackrent, etc., and of Ireland. Of course I thought his manner and voice very agreeable. He is much fatter and much less solemn than when I saw him in the Irish House of Commons. He introduced us to jolly fat Lady Londonderry, who was vastly gracious, and invited us to one of the four grand parties which she gives every season: and it surprised me very much to perceive the rapidity with which a minister's having talked to a person spread through the room. Everybody I met afterwards that night and the next day observed to me that they had seen Lord Londonderry talking to me for a great while!
We had a crowded party at Lady Londonderry's, but they had no elbows.
I recollect that I left off yesterday in the midst of a well-bred crowd at Lady Londonderry's,—her Marchioness-ship standing at her drawing-room door all in scarlet for three hours, receiving the world with smiles; and how it happened that her fat legs did not sink under her I cannot tell. The chief, I may say the only satisfaction we had at Lady Londonderry's, while we won our way from room to room, nodding to heads, or touching hands, as we passed,—besides the prodigious satisfaction of feeling ourselves at such a height of fashion, etc.—was in meeting Mr. Bankes, and Lady Charlotte, and Mr. Lemon behind the door of one of the rooms, and proceeding in the tide along with them into an inner sanctuary, in which we had cool air and a sight of the great Sevres china vase, which was presented by the King of France to Lord Londonderry at the signing of the peace. Much agreeable conversation from this travelled Mr. Bankes. We heard from Lady Charlotte that her entertaining sister, Lady Harriet Frampton, had just arrived, and when I expressed our wish to become acquainted with her, Mr. Bankes exclaimed, "She is so eager to know you that she would willingly have come to you in worsted stockings, just as she alighted from her travelling carriage, with sandwiches in one pocket and letters and gloves stuffing out the other."
Enter Mr. and Mrs. Hope. Mr. Hope, characteristically curious in vases, turned me round to a famous malachite vase which was given by the Emperor of Russia to Lord Londonderry—square, upon a pedestal high as my little table; and another, a present of I forget who. So, you see, he has a congress of vases, en desire-t-il mieux?
Many, many dinners and evening parties have rolled over one another, and are swept out of my memory by the tide of the last fortnight: one at Lady Lansdowne's, and one at Mrs. Hope's, and I will go on to one at Miss White's. Mr. Henry Fox, Lord Holland's son, is lame. I sat between him and young Mr. Ord, Fanny between Mr. Milman (the Martyr of Antioch) and Sir Humphry Davy (the Martyr of Matrimony), Harriet between Dr. Holland and young Ord: Mr. Moore (Canterbury) and old-ish Ord completed this select dinner. In the evening the principal personages were Lord James Stuart and Mrs. Siddons: she was exceedingly entertaining, told anecdotes, repeated some passages from Jane Shore beautifully, and invited us to a private evening party at her house.
We have become very intimate with Wollaston and Kater, Mr. Warburton, and Dr. and Mrs. Somerville: they and Dr. and Mrs. Marcet form the most agreeable as well as scientific society in London. We have been to Greenwich Observatory. You remember Mr. and Mrs. Pond? I liked him for the candour and modesty with which he spoke of the parallax dispute between him and Dr. Brinkley, of whom he and all the scientific world here speak with the highest reverence.
We went yesterday with Lord Radstock to the Millbank Penitentiary, where by appointment we were met by Mr. Wilbraham Bootle. We had the pleasure of taking with us Alicia and Captain Beaufort. Solitary confinement for the worst offences: solitary confinement in darkness at first. There are many young offenders; the governors say they are horrid plagues, for they are not allowed to flog them, and they are little influenced by darkness and solitary confinement: oldish men much afraid of it. The disease most common in this prison is scrofula; and it is a curious fact that those who work with their arms at the mills are free from it, those who work with their feet at the tread-mills are subject to it.
Adieu. I must here break off, as Mrs. Primate Stuart has come in, and left me no time for more. The Primate has recovered, and has set out this day with his son for Winchester, to see some haunts of his youth, takes a trip to Bath, and returns in a few days, when I hope we shall see him.
I left off in the Millbank Penitentiary, but what more I was going to say I cannot recollect; so, my dear mother, you must go without that wisdom. All that I know now is that I saw a woman who is under sentence of death for having poisoned her sister. She appeared to me to be insane; but it is said that it is a frequent attempt of the prisoners to sham madness, in order to get to Bedlam, from which they can get out when cured. One woman deceived all the medical people, clergyman, jailer, and turnkeys, was removed to Bedlam as incurably mad, and from Bedlam made her escape. I saw a girl of about eighteen, who had been educated at Miss Hesketh's school, and had been put to service in a friend's family. She was in love with a footman who was turned away: the old housekeeper refused the girl permission to go out the night this man was turned away: the girl went straight to a drawer in the housekeeper's room, where she had seen a letter with money in it, took it, and put a coal into the drawer, to set the house on fire! For this she was committed, tried, convicted, and would have been hanged, but for Sir Thomas Hesketh's intercession: he had her sent to the Penitentiary for ten years. Would you not think that virtue and feeling were extinct in this girl? No: the task-mistress took us into the cell, where she was working in company with two other women; she has earned by her constant good conduct the privilege of working in company. One of the Miss Wilbrahams, when all the other visitors except myself had left the cell, turned back and said, "I think I saw you once when I was with Miss Hesketh at her school." The girl blushed, her face gave way, and she burst into an agony of tears, without being able to answer one word.
Yesterday we breakfasted at Mrs. Somerville's, and I put on for her a blue crape turban, to show her how Fanny's was put on, with which she had fallen in love. We dined at Mrs. Hughan's, [Footnote: Jean, daughter of Robert Milligan, Esq., of Cotswold, Gloucestershire.] niece to Joanna Baillie: select party for Sir William Pepys, who is eighty-two, a most agreeable, lively old gentleman, who tells delightful anecdotes of Mrs. Montague, Sir Joshua, Burke, and Dr. Johnson. Mrs. Montague once whispered to Sir William, on seeing a very awkward man coming into the room, "There is a man who would give one of his hands to know what to do with the other." Excellent house of Mrs. Hughan's, full of flowers and luxuries. In the evening many people; the Baillies, and a Miss Jardine, granddaughter of Bruce, the traveller. We carried Sir William off with us at half-past nine to Mrs. Somerville's, and after we had been gone half an hour, Mr. Pepys, a young man between forty and fifty, arrived, and putting his glass up to his eye, spied about for his uncle, discovered that he was gone, and could not tell how or where! Miss Milligan, sister to Mrs. Hughan, told him Miss Edgeworth had carried him off. His own carriage arrived at eleven, and carried Mr. Pepys, by private orders, not knowing where he was going, to Mrs. Somerville's. We had brought Sir William there to hear Mrs. Kater sing and play Handel's music, of which he is passionately fond. It was worth while to bring him to hear her singing, he so exceedengly enjoyed it, and so does Wollaston, who sits as mute as a mouse and as still as the statue of a philosopher charmed.
I forgot to tell you that Lady Elizabeth Belgrave, [Footnote: Daughter of the first Duke of Sutherland] as pretty and winning as ever, came to see us with Lady Stafford; and yesterday, the third time of calling at her door, I was told by a pimpled, red-blotched door-holder that "her ladyship was not at home," but after he had turned the card to another form out of livery, he said, "My lady is at home to you, ma'am." So up we went, and she was very entertaining, with fresh observations from Paris, and much humour. She said she was sure there was some peculiar charm in the sound of the clinking of their swords in walking up and down the gallery of the Tuileries, which the old stupid ones pace every day for hours. She says she has met with much grateful attention from the royal family, and many of the French whom she had formerly known, but cannot give entertainments, because they have not the means. The Count d'Artois apologised; he has no separate dinner—always dined with the King, and "very sorry for it." Lady Stafford asked us all to dinner, but we were engaged to Mr. Morritt. She is to ask again after our return from the Deepdene, where we spend Monday and Tuesday with the dear Hopes.
To MRS. RUXTON.
8 HOLLES STREET, April 10, 1822.
The great variety of society in London, and the solidity of the sense and information to be gathered from conversation, strike me as far superior to Parisian society. We know, I think, six different and totally independent sets, of scientific, literary, political, travelled, artist, and the fine fashionable, of various shades; and the different styles of conversation are very entertaining.
Through Lydia White we have become more acquainted with Mrs. Siddons than I ever expected to be. She gave us the history of her first acting of Lady Macbeth, and of her resolving, in the sleep scene, to lay down the candlestick, contrary to the precedent of Mrs. Pritchard and all the traditions, before she began to wash her hands and say, "Out, vile spot!" Sheridan knocked violently at her door during the five minutes she had desired to have entirely to herself, to compose her spirits before the play began. He burst in, and prophesied that she would ruin herself for ever if she persevered in this resolution to lay down the candlestick! She persisted, however, in her determination, succeeded, was applauded, and Sheridan begged her pardon. She described well the awe she felt, and the power of the excitement given to her by the sight of Burke, Fox, Sheridan, and Sir Joshua Reynolds in the pit. She invited us to a private reading-party at her own house: present only her daughter, a very pretty young lady, a Mrs. Wilkinson, Mr. Burney, Dr. Holland, Lydia White, Mr. Harness and ourselves. She read one of her finest parts, and that best suited to a private room—Queen Katherine. She was dressed so as to do well for the two parts she was to perform this night, of gentlewoman and queen—black velvet, with black velvet cap and feathers. She sat the whole time, and with a large Shakespear before her; as she knew the part of Katherine by heart, she seldom required the help of glasses, and she recited it incomparably well: the changes of her countenance were striking. From her first burst of indignation when she objects to the Cardinal as her judge, to her last expiring scene, was all so perfectly natural and so touching, we could give no applause but tears. Mrs. Siddons is beautiful even at this moment. Some who had seen her on the stage in this part assured me that it had a much greater effect upon them in a private room, because they were near enough to see the changes of her countenance, and to hear the pathos of her half-suppressed voice. Some one said that, in the dying scene, her very pillow seemed sick.
She spoke afterwards of the different parts which she had liked and disliked to act; and when she mentioned the characters and scenes she had found easy or difficult, it was curious to observe that the feelings of the actress and the sentiments and reasons of the best critics meet. Whatever was not natural, or inconsistent with the main part of the character, she found she never could act well.
We spent three days at Easter at the Deepdene; the company there were Mr. C. Moore, Mr. Philip Henry Hope, Mr. and Miss Burrowes, Mr. Harness, Lord Fincastle, Lady Clare, and Lady Isabella Fitzgibbon, and Lord Archibald Hamilton. Deepdene is beautiful at this time of the year—the hawthorn hedges, the tender green of the larch and the sycamore in full leaf.
To MRS. EDGEWORTH.
HOLIES STREET, April 20.
We are going at two o'clock, and it is now half-past one, to a private view of Sir John Swinburne's pictures, and we are to dine nine miles out of town, at Flasket House, with Mrs. Fry.
Barry Fox came yesterday to Grove House, and looked much like a gentleman, as he is, and seemed pleased with his cousins, as well he might be.
I wish, my dearest mother, you would write a note to Dr. Holland in your next; he has been so kind and sympathising. [Footnote: On the death of Miss Edgeworth's beloved "aunt", Mrs. Charlotte Sneyd of Edgeworthstown.] Miss Bessy Holland has come to stay some weeks with her brother—good for her, and for us; she is very amiable. I find a card from Jeffrey was left here while we were at Grove House.
Just returned from water—colour pictures; some of Prout's of old towns abroad, like Chester; met there—not at Chester—Lord Grey, Wilkie, Mulready, Lord Radstock, and the Miss Waldegraves, and Lady Stafford, who has more ready and good five minutes' conversation than anybody I know. She says the French have lost all their national recollections; in travelling through France she asked for various places famous in history, of which they had lost all memory.
Carriage at the door, and I have not begun to dress!
The day before yesterday we saw Mrs. Tuite at Lady Sunderlin's. They have an admirable house. Miss Kitty Malone sees, and is most grateful for it.
Mrs. Fry's place at Flasket is beautiful, and she is delightful at home or at Newgate.
Paid a visit to Lady Derby; full as agreeable as when we saw her, half as fat, and twice as old; asked most kindly for you, and received your daughters with gracious grace.
Monday, went with Mr. Cohen and Mr. Cockerell to St. Paul's; he showed us his renovations done in excellent taste. Dined at Miss White's with Mr. Luttrell, Mr. Hallam, Mr. Sharpe, and Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Nicholson; she is Lady Davy's half-sister. Most agreeable conversation; no dinners more agreeable than Lydia White's. Poor creature! how she can go through it I cannot imagine, she is dying. It is dreadful to look at her!
In the evening at Miss Stable's, Anna's friend; met there Mrs. Cunliffe, who was Miss Crewe, very agreeable and, though not regularly handsome, very pleasing in countenance and person.
Tuesday, spent a happy hour at the Museum. We dined at Mrs. Marcet's, with only herself and children. Then to an "at home," at Mrs. Ricardo's, merely for ten minutes to see the famous Mr. Hume. Don't like him much; attacks all things and persons, never listens, has no judgment.
Since Harriet last wrote we have been to Harrow to hear the speeches of the first class of boys, our future orators. It was a very interesting scene, attended by many ladies, as well as gentlemen. Two of the speeches were from Henry IV., one the crown tried on, well repeated. The situation of the school is beautiful, the lawn laid out with great taste; the master, Dr. Butler, a very well-informed agreeable man, with a picturesque head. We had a very elegant collation, and I sat beside a very agreeable thin old nobleman of the old school, Lord Clarendon. Upon the whole, after hearing the speeches and recitations of these youths, I said to myself, how much better my father taught to read and recite than any of these masters can.
The sudden death of the Primate [Footnote: Hon. William Stuart, Archbishop of Armagh, fifth son of the third Earl of Bute; he married Sophia, daughter of Thomas Penn of Stoke Poges.] and the horrible circumstances attending it have incapacitated me from any more home-writing at this moment. Mrs. Stuart gave him the medicine; he had twice asked for his draught, and when she saw the servant come in she ran down, seized the bottle and poured it out without looking at the label, which was most distinct "for external application." When dying, and when struggling under the power of the opium, he called for a pencil and wrote these words for a comfort to his wife: "I could not have lived long, my dear love, at all events."
I enclose a note from Lady Louisa Stuart, the Primate's sister; it is most touching, especially the account of the feelings of his parishioners.
We have been at the Caledonian ball—Harriet has written a description of it to Pakenham; and also to a very pleasant dance at Mrs. Shaw Lefevre's, [Footnote: Daughter of Lady Elizabeth Whitbread, married to Charles Shaw Lefevre, afterwards Viscount Eversley.] where Fanny and Harriet had good partners.
I have subscribed L10 to the Irish poor subscription. Spring Rice, whom I very much like, tells me he has been touched to the heart by the generous eagerness with which the English merchants and city people have contributed to this fund. A very large sum is already at his disposal, and he has wisely considered that if this money be not judiciously applied it will do more harm than good. He has done me the honour to consult me about his plan, of which I enclose a copy.
At Captain Kater's breakfast yesterday we met Greenough, Captain Beaufort, Warburton, and young Herschel, a man of great abilities,[Footnote: Afterwards Sir John Herschel, the famous astronomer and philosopher.] to whom Sir Humphry Davy paid an elegant compliment the other day in a speech as President to the Royal Society. "His father must rejoice in such a son, who secures to him a double immortality."
Just received yours of the 17th. Curious that you should have been saying to me the same thing I was saying to you about the Irish subscriptions. Poor Peggy Mulheeran! her letter is most pathetic. Fanny and Harriet are at this moment dining at dear Mrs. Lushington's, and I am going alone to a dinner at Lydia's, to meet Sidney Smith—they come in the evening. We met Lady Byron lately at Mrs. Lushington's. Dinner at Lord and Lady Darnley's—all manner of attention. Greenough has been most kind; admirable collection of fossils—taking out all his thousand drawers for us. Bellman.
In the hurried life we have led for some weeks past, and among the great variety of illustrious and foolish people we have seen pass in rapid panoramas before us, some remain for ever fixed in the memory, and some few touch the heart. We have just breakfasted with Spring Rice and Lady Theodosia. She has a placid, amiable, and winning countenance—pretty curly-haired children, such as you or Sir Joshua would paint.
At this breakfast were Mr. Rice's sister, Lady Hunt, a charming woman. Mr. Grant, our late secretary, with sense, goodness, and indolence in his countenance, and Mr. Randolph, the American, very tall and thin, as if a stick instead of shoulders stretched out his coat; his hair tied behind with a black ribbon, but not pigtailed, it flows from the ribbon, like old Steele's, with a curl at the end, mixed brown and gray; his face wrinkled like a peach-stone, but all pliable, muscles moving with every sensation of a feeling soul and lively imagination; quick dark eyes, with an indefinable expression of acquired habitual sedateness, in despite of nature; his tone of voice mild and repressed, yet in this voice he speaks thoughts that breathe and words that burn; he is one of the most eloquent men I ever heard speak, and there is a novelty in his view of things, and in his new world of allusions, in art and nature, which is highly interesting.
Besides the pleasure we should naturally have taken in his conversation, we have been doubly pleased by his gratifying attention to ourselves, and, my dearest mother, still more by the manner in which he distinguished your Francis,[Footnote: Her half-brother, son of Mrs. Edgeworth.] who was with us. Spring Rice told us that Mr. Abercromby, who had met him at Joanna Baillie's, told him he was one of the finest and most promising boys he had ever seen.
Do, for heaven's sake, some good soul or body, write forthwith to Black Castle, and learn whether Aunt Ruxton likes the gown I sent her—gray cloth. If not, I will get her another.
FROGNEL, HAMPSTEAD, June 3.
A few lines ever so short and hurried are better than none. We gave up our house and paid all our bills on Saturday; left London and came to Frognel [Footnote: To Mr. Carr's]—delicious Frognel! Hay-making—profusion of flowers—rhododendrons as fine as four of mine, flowering down to the grass. All our friends with open arms on steps in the verandah to receive us.
A large party of Southebys, etc., including Mrs. Tuite, put by for future description. Second day: Wollaston, Dr. and Miss Holland. Harriet sat beside Wollaston at dinner, and he talked unusually, veiling for her the terror of his beak and lightning of his eye. He has indeed been very kind and amiable in distinguishing your daughters as worth speaking to.
To-day I came to town with Mrs. Carr, and my sisters, and the Miss Carrs, and they went to a Prison Discipline meeting to hear Macintosh speak; but I was not able to go, and have done worlds of business since.
We have changed our plans a little: going to Portsmouth first, and to Slough on our return; we were to have gone by Slough, but the Prince of Denmark and the King going to Ascot took up all horses and beds, so we were obliged to go the other road.
51 MANCHESTER STREET, LONDON,
We have accomplished, much to our satisfaction, our long-intended journey to Portsmouth. On Tuesday, at nine o'clock in the morning, we found ourselves according to appointment, in our own dear carriage, at your brother's door, and he and Francis seated themselves on the barouche seat. The weather was bronzing and melting hot, but your brother would insist on being bronzed and melted there during the heat of the day, in a stoical style disdaining a parasol, though why it should be more unmanly to use a parasol than a parapluie I cannot, for the sense of me, understand.
Lady Grey, wife of the commissioner—he is away—ordered all the works and dockyard to be open to us, and the Government boat to attend upon us; saw the Nelson—just finished; and went over the Phaeton, and your brother showed us his midshipman's berth and his lieutenant's cabin. And now for the Block machinery, you will say, but it is impossible to describe this in a letter of moderate or immoderate size. I will only say that the ingenuity and successful performance far surpassed my expectations. Machinery so perfect appears to act with the happy certainty of instinct and the foresight of reason combined.
We took a barge to the Isle of Wight—charming day. You take a sociable, and the Felicity-hunter goes in it as far as the horses can take him. It was the most gratifying thing to me to see "Uncle Francis" and all of them so happy. We slept at Steephill; and in the morning went to see Carisbrook Castle. Dined at Portsmouth with Sir James and Lady Lyon.
But oh, my dear mother, at the little pretty flowery-lawned inn where we dined on our way to Slough, as your brother was reading the newspaper, he came to the death of our dear Mr. Smith, of Easton Grey. At Sir Benjamin Hobhouse's, a few months ago, he was the gayest of the gay, and she the fondest and happiest of wives.
At Slough we saw the great telescope—never used now. Drove to Windsor—building and terrace equal to my expectations. At night the clouds were so good as to disperse, and we saw a double star.
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Miss Edgeworth's wonderful conversational powers, combined with her homely aspect, and perfectly unassuming manners, made a great impression upon many of those who met her in London. Ticknor says of Maria Edgeworth: "There was a life and spirit about her conversation, she threw herself into it with such abandon, she retorted with such brilliant repartee, and, in short, she talked with such extraordinary flow of natural talent, that I don't know whether anything of the kind could be finer."
On 27th June Miss Edgeworth returned with her half-sisters to Edgeworthstown, taking up the thread of her domestic affairs as if there had been no interruption, and she immediately set to work on the sequel to Harry and Lucy.
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MARIA to MRS. RUXTON.
EDGEWORTHSTOWN, July 23, 1822.
Honora is staying at Lough Glyn with Mr. and Mrs. Strickland; they are making judicious and incessant exertions for the relief of the poor and the improvement of the people in their neighbourhood. It is very extraordinary that, in the part of the County of Monaghan to which Mr. Strickland went last week for flax seed for the poor tenants in his neighbourhood, he found that there is plenty of everything—no distress felt. The famine seems to have been as capricious as the malaria in passing over some places and settling upon others. Here we go on in our parish without having recourse to public subscription.
We have just returned, all of us, from walking two miles on the Mullingar road, in hopes of meeting Francis, who was expected in a chaise from Mullingar, as the coach sleeps there. Just as we had reached the hall door by moonlight, in despair, we heard a doubtful noise, which none but a maternal ear—a very nice ear on some occasions—could judge whether of cart or chaise: it was a chaise, with Francis in it; and here he is, one of the most agreeable and happy boys I ever saw.
I have written to Walter Scott, claiming his promise of coming here; but I doubt his being in Ireland: I agree with you that his play is very stupid. Joanna Baillie [Footnote: Halidon Hill] suggested the subject, and he wrote it as a contribution to a miscellany formed of voluntaries from all the poets and wits of the day, to make a fund for some widowed friend of hers in great distress. He wrote it with good intentions; but, as Madame de Stael says, "Les bons intentions ne sont pour rien dans les ouvrages d'esprit."
Never read The Lollards if it falls in your way, unless you like to see John Huss burned over again. What pleasure have people in such horrid subjects?
You ask me what I am doing besides Early Lessons, and if I have made any progress in "Travellers." [Footnote: A tale she had thought of writing, but she never even made a sketch of it.] Do you think, my dearest aunt, that I can write Early Lessons with my left hand and "Travellers" with my right? You have too good an opinion of my dexterity. I assure you it is all I can do to satisfy myself tolerably as I go on with this sequel to Harry and Lucy, which engages all my attention. I am particularly anxious to finish that well, as it was my dear father's own and first book. As it must be more scientific than the other Early Lessons, it is more difficult to me, who have so little knowledge on those subjects, and am obliged to go so warily, lest I should teach error, or pretend to teach what I do not know. I have written about fifty pages. I fear you will not like it as well as you were so kind as to like Frank. I could never be easy writing anything else for my own amusement till I have done this, which I know my father wished to have finished. You will see in Dr. Holland's letter some admirable hints for "Travellers," and I expect many more, from you, dear aunt: we will talk it over in the days of October. How many things we have talked over together! Rackrent especially, which you first suggested to me, and encouraged me to go on with.
My dear aunt, I know how you must have been shocked when you heard of the manner of Lord Londonderry's death. As Dr. Holland says, "If we were to have looked from one end of the British Empire to the other, we could not have pitched on an individual that seemed less likely to commit suicide."
Whitbread, Sir Samuel Romilly, Lord Londonderry—all to perish in the same manner!
In this frank you will receive a copy of a very interesting letter from Fanny Stewart. The post and steam vessels bring the most distant parts of the world now so much within our reach that friends cannot be much more separated by being at "Nova Zembla, or the LORD knows where," than by being in different counties of the same kingdom. There is Fanny Stewart dining with Sneyd's friends, the Bishop of Quebec's family; and young Mountain was in Switzerland when we were at Interlachen with Sneyd and Henrica, and the year before at Ardbraccan and Edgeworthstown. Things are odd till they pair off, and so become even. Sneyd and Henrica, who were at Geneva, have been invited to the Baron Polier's, near Lausanne, the brother of Madame de Montolieu, whom I told you of. Madame Polier was the intimate friend of an intimate friend of Henrica's, Miss French, of Derby, who has married a Cambridge friend of Sneyd's, Mr. Smedley, and they are now on a visit at the said Madame Polier's—a Derbyshire party in the heart of Switzerland, and by various connections felted together!
When Honora is on the sofa beside you, make her give you an account of Francis's play, Catiline, which he and Fanny, and Harriet and Sophy, and James Moilliet and Pakenham got up without our being in the secret, and acted the night before last, as it were impromptu, to our inexpressible surprise and pleasure. Francis, during his holidays with us in London, used to be often scribbling something; but I never inquired or guessed what it was. Fanny and Harriet, in the midst of the hurry of London dissipation, and of writing all manner of notes, etc., for me, and letters home innumerable, contrived to copy out fair for him all his scraps; and when put together they made a goodly tragedy in two acts, wonderfully well written for his age—some parts, for any age, excellent.
After tea the library became empty suddenly of all the young people. My aunt Mary, my brother Lovell, and I remaining with Quin, who had dined here, talking on, never missed them; and the surprise was as great as heart could wish when my mother put into our hands the play-bills, and invited us to follow her to her dressing-room.
A Tragedy, in Two Acts.
Catiline (in love with Aurelia) Francis. Cato (father of Aurelia) Pakenham. Cicero (in love with Aurelia) Harriet. Caesar Moilliet. Aurelia (daughter of Cato) Sophy. Julia (wife to Cato) Fanny.
We found Lucy on her sofa, with her feet towards the green-house; a half-circle of chairs for the audience, with their backs touching the wardrobe—candlestick-footlights, well shaded with square sofa-cushions standing on end.
Prologue spoken by Harriet; curtain drew back, and Catiline and Aurelia appeared. Fanny had dressed Francis, from Kennet's Antiquities, out of an old rag-chest, and a more complete little Roman figure I never saw, though made up no mortal can tell how, like one of your own doings, dear aunt, with a crown of ilex leaves. Aurelia was perfectly draped in my French crimson shawl; she looked extremely classical and pretty, and her voice was so sweet, and her looks alternately so indignant to Catiline and so soft when she spoke of the man she loved, that I do not wonder Catiline was so desperately enamoured.
Pakenham was wonderful: he had received no instructions. They had determined to leave him to himself, and see what would come of it. He had brought down an old wig from the garret, and Catiline and Cato could not settle which it became best or worst; so Catiline wore his ilex crown, and Pakenham a scarlet cap and black velvet cloak, his eyebrows and chin darkened, a most solemn, stern countenance, a roll of white paper in his hand, the figure immovable, as if cut in stone: the soul of Cato seemed to have got into him. I never heard any actor speak better, nor did I ever see a part better sustained; it seemed as if one saw Cato through a diminishing glass. In one scene he interrupts Cicero, who is going off into a fine simile—"Enough: the tale." He said these three words so well, with such severity of tone, and such a piercing look, that I see and hear him still. His voice was as firm as a man's, and his self-possession absolute. He had his part so perfectly, that he was as independent of the prompter as of all the rest of the world.
Moilliet recited and played his part of Caesar wondrous well. You may think how well Pakenham and all of them must have acted, when we could stand the ridicule of Pakenham's Cato opposite to Moilliet's Caesar. One of James Moilliet's eyes would have contained all the eyes of Cato, Catiline, and Cicero. Fanny, as Julia, was beautiful.
BLACK CASTLE, Dec. 6, 1822.
How do you all do, my dear friends, after last night's hurricane? [Footnote: Numbers of the finest trees were blown down. The staircase skylight was blown away, and the lead which surrounded it rolled up as neatly as if just out of the plumber's: roofs were torn off and cabins blown down.] Have any trees been blown away? Has the spire stood? Is Madgy Woods alive? How many roofs of houses in the town have been blown away, and how many hundred slates and panes of glass must be replaced? The glass dome over the staircase at Ardbraccan has been blown away; two of the saloon windows blown in. The servants in this house sat up all night; I slept soundly. My aunt, roused at an unwonted hour from her bed this morning, stood at the foot of mine while I was yet dreaming; and she avers that when she told me that eight trees and the great green gates were blown down, that I sat up in my bed, and, opening one eye, answered, "Is it in the newspaper, ma'am?" When I came out to breakfast, the first object I beheld was the uprooted elms lying prostrate opposite the breakfast-room windows; and Mr. Fitzherbert says more than a hundred are blown down in the uplands.
Now I have done with the hurricane, I must tell you a dream of Bess's: she thought she went to call upon a lady, and found her reading a pious tract called "The Penitent Poodle!"
To MRS. O'BEIRNE.
BLACK CASTLE, Jan. 15, 1823.
We are delighted with Peveril, though there is too much of the dwarfs and the elfie. Scott cannot deny himself one of these spirits in some shape or other; I hope that we shall find that this elfin page, who has the power of shrinking or expanding, as it seems, to suit the occasion, is made really necessary to the story. I think the dwarf more allowable and better drawn than the page, true to history, and consistent; but Finella is sometimes handsome enough to make duke and king ready to be in love with her, and sometimes an odious little fury, clenching her hands, and to be lifted up or down stairs out of the hero's way. The indistinctness about her is not that indistinctness which belongs to the sublime, but that which arises from unsteadiness in the painter's hand when he sketched the figure. He touched and retouched at different times, without having, as it seems, a determined idea himself of what he would make her; nor had he settled whether she should bring with her "airs from heaven," or blasts from that place which is never named to ears polite.
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In May 1823 Miss Edgeworth took her half-sisters Harriet and Sophy to Scotland. It was a very happy time to her, chiefly because there she made an acquaintance with Sir Walter Scott, which soon ripened into an intimate and lasting friendship. He had already admired her stories, which he spoke of as "a sort of essence of common sense."
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MARIA to MISS HONORA EDGEWORTH.
KINNEIL, June 2, 1823.
I wish you were here with us. We arrived between nine and ten last night. The sea-shore approaching Kinneil House is exactly the idea I had of the road to Glenthorn Castle; the hissing sound of the wheels and all, and at last the postillion stopped where one road sloped directly down into the Frith of Forth, and another turned abruptly up hill. He said, "This is a-going into the water; I ha' come the wrong way." And up the narrow road up the hill he went and turned the carriage, and down again, and back the road we had come some little distance, and splash across to a road on the opposite side, and then by the oddest back way that seemed to be leading us into the stables, till at last we saw the door of the real house, an old but white-washed castle-mansion. A short-faced old butler in black came out of a sort of sentry-box back door to receive us, and through odd passages and staircases we reached the drawing-room, where we found fire and candles, and Mrs. Stewart and a young tall man; Mrs. Stewart, just as you saw her at Bowood, received Harriet and Sophy in her arms, spoke of their dear mother and of Honora, and seated us on the sofa, and told Sophy to open a letter from Fanny, which she put into her hand, and "feel herself at home," which indeed we did. The tall young man was no hindrance to this feeling; an intimate friend, a Mr. Jackson, who has been staying with Mr. Stewart as his companion ever since his illness.
We passed through numerous ante-chambers, nooks, and halls—broad white stone corner staircase, winding with low-arched roof. Our two rooms open into one another—mine large, with four black doors, one locked and two opening into closets, and back stairs, and if you mount to another story, all the rooms are waste garrets. Mrs. Stewart told us this morning that there were plenty of ghosts at our service belonging to Kinneil House. One in particular, Lady Lilyburn, who is often seen all in white, as a ghost should be, and with white wings, fluttering on the top of the castle, from whence she leaps into the sea—a prodigious leap of three or four hundred yards, nothing for a well-bred ghost. At other times she wears boots, and stumps up and down stairs in them, and across passages, and through bedchambers, frightening ladies' maids and others. We have not heard her yet.
When we looked out of our windows this morning we saw fine views, and in the shrubbery near the house some of the largest lilacs I ever saw in rich flower. From another window, half a mile length of avenue with gates through which we should by rights have approached the front of the house. But all this time I have not said one word of what I had intended to be the subject of this: Lanark and Mr. Owen's school. I am called down to Lady Anna Maria Elliot; [Footnote: Afterwards Countess Russell.] my mother may remember her in former days—she is said to be like Die Vernon.
To MRS. RUXTON.
EDINBURGH, 32 ABERCROMBY PLACE,
June 8, 1823.
You have had our history up to Kinneil House. Mr. and Miss Stewart accompanied us some miles on our road to show us the palace of Linlithgow—very interesting to see, but not to describe. The drive from Linlithgow to Edinburgh is nothing extraordinary, but the road approaching the city is grand, and the first view of the castle and "mine own romantic town" delighted my companions; the day was fine and they were sitting outside on the barouche seat—a seat which you, my dear aunt, would not have envied them with all their fine prospects. By this approach to Edinburgh there are no suburbs; you drive at once through magnificent broad streets and fine squares. All the houses are of stone, darker than the Ardbraccan stone, and of a kind that is little injured by weather or time. Margaret Alison [Footnote: Margaret, daughter of Dr. James Gregory, married to William Pulteney Alison, Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh.] had taken lodgings for us in Abercromby Place—finely built, with hanging shrubbery garden, and the house as delightful as the situation. As soon as we had unpacked and arranged our things the evening of our arrival, we walked, about ten minutes' distance from us, to our dear old friends, the Alisons. We found them shawled and bonneted, just coming to see us. Mr. Alison and Sir Walter Scott had settled that we should dine the first day after our arrival with Mr. Alison, which was just what we wished; but on our return home we found a note from Sir Walter:
"DEAR MISS EDGEWORTH,
"I have just received your kind note, just when I had persuaded myself it was most likely I should see you in person or hear of your arrival. Mr. Alison writes to me you are engaged to dine with him to-morrow, which puts Roslin out of the question for that day, as it might keep you late. On Sunday I hope you will join our family-party at five, and on Monday I have asked one or two of the Northern Lights on purpose to meet you. I should be engrossing at any time, but we shall be more disposed to be so just now, because on the 12th I am under the necessity of going to a different kingdom (only the kingdom of Fife) for a day or two. To-morrow, if it is quite agreeable, I will wait on you about twelve, and hope you will permit me to show you some of our improvements.
"I am always,
"Most respectfully yours,
"Postscript.—Our old family coach is licensed to carry six; so take no care on that score. I enclose Mr. Alison's note; truly sorry I could not accept the invitation it contains.
"Postscript.—My wife insists I shall add that the Laird of Staffa promised to look in on us this evening at eight or nine, for the purpose of letting us hear one of his clansmen sing some Highland boat-songs and the like, and that if you will come, as the Irish should to the Scotch, without any ceremony, you will hear what is perhaps more curious than mellifluous. The man returns to the isles to-morrow. There are no strangers with us; no party; none but all our own family and two old friends. Moreover, all our woman-kind have been calling at Gibbs's hotel, so if you are not really tired and late, you have not even pride, the ladies' last defence, to oppose to this request. But, above all, do not fatigue yourself and the young ladies. No dressing to be thought of."
Ten o'clock struck as I read the note; we were tired—we were not fit to be seen; but I thought it right to accept "Walter Scott's" cordial invitation; sent for a hackney coach, and just as we were, without dressing, went. As the coach stopped, we saw the hall lighted, and the moment the door opened, heard the joyous sounds of loud singing. Three servants—"The Miss Edgeworths" sounded from hall to landing-place, and as I paused for a moment in the anteroom, I heard the first sound of Walter Scott's voice—"The Miss Edgeworths come."
The room was lighted by only one globe lamp. A circle were singing loud and beating time—all stopped in an instant, and Walter Scott in the most cordial and courteous manner stepped forward to welcome us: "Miss Edgeworth, this is so kind of you!"
My first impression was, that he was neither so large, nor so heavy in appearance as I had been led to expect by description, prints, bust, and picture. He is more lame than I expected, but not unwieldy; his countenance, even by the uncertain light in which I first saw it, pleased me much, benevolent, and full of genius without the slightest effort at expression; delightfully natural, as if he did not know he was Walter Scott or the Great Unknown of the North, as if he only thought of making others happy. [Footnote: Miss Edgeworth describes Sir Walter Scott in her Helen: "If you have seen Raeburn's admirable pictures, or Chantrey's speaking bust, you have as complete an idea of Sir Walter Scott as painting or sculpture can give. The first impression of his appearance and manner was surprising to me, I recollect, from its quiet, unpretending good-nature; but scarcely had that impression been made, before I was struck with something of the chivalrous courtesy of other times. In his conversation you would have found all that is most delightful in all his works—the combined talents and knowledge of the historian, novelist, antiquary, and poet. He recited poetry admirably, his whole face and figure kindling as he spoke; but whether talking, reading, or reciting, he never tired me, even with admiring. And it is curious that, in conversing with him, I frequently found myself forgetting that I was speaking with Sir Walter Scott; and, what is even more extraordinary, forgetting that Sir Walter Scott was speaking to me, till I was awakened to the conviction by his saying something which no one else could have said. Altogether, he was certainly the most perfectly agreeable and perfectly amiable great man I ever knew."] After naming to us "Lady Scott, Staffa, my daughter Lockhart, Sophia, another daughter Anne, my son, my son-in-law Lockhart," just in the broken circle as they then stood, and showing me that only his family and two friends, Mr. Clark and Mr. Sharpe, were present, he sat down for a minute beside me on a low sofa, and on my saying, "Do not let us interrupt what was going on," he immediately rose and begged Staffa to bid his boatman strike up again. "Will you then join in the circle with us?" he put the end of a silk handkerchief into my hand, and others into my sisters'; they held by these handkerchiefs all in their circle again, and the boatman began to roar out a Gaelic song, to which they all stamped in time and repeated the chorus which, as far as I could hear, sounded like "At am Vaun! At am Vaun!" frequently repeated with prodigious enthusiasm. In another I could make out no intelligible sound but "Bar! bar! bar!" But the boatman's dark eyes were ready to start out of his head with rapture as he sung and stamped, and shook the handkerchief on each side, and the circle imitated.
Lady Scott is so exactly what I had heard her described, that it seemed as if we had seen her before. She must have been very handsome—French dark large eyes; civil and good-natured. Supper at a round table, a family supper, with attention to us, just sufficient and no more. The impression left on my mind this night was, that Walter Scott is one of the best-bred men I ever saw, with all the exquisite politeness which he knows so well how to describe, which is of no particular school or country, but which is of all countries, the politeness which arises from good and quick sense and feeling, which seems to know by instinct the characters of others, to see what will please, and put all his guests at their ease. As I sat beside him at supper, I could not believe he was a stranger, and forgot he was a great man. Mr. Lockhart is very handsome, quite unlike his picture in Peter's Letters.
When we wakened in the morning, the whole scene of the preceding night seemed like a dream; however, at twelve came the real Lady Scott, and we called for Scott at the Parliament House, who came out of the Courts with joyous face as if he had nothing on earth to do or to think of, but to show us Edinburgh. Seeming to enjoy it all as much as we could, he carried us to Parliament House—Advocates' Library, Castle, and Holyrood House. His conversation all the time better than anything we could see, full of a-propos anecdote, historic, serious or comic, just as occasion called for it, and all with a bon-homie, and an ease that made us forget it was any trouble even to his lameness to mount flights of eternal stairs. Chantrey's statues of Lord Melville and President Blair are admirable. There is another by Roubillac, of Duncan Forbes, which is excellent. Scott is enthusiastic about the beauties of Edinburgh, and well he may be, the most magnificent as well as the most romantic of cities.
We dined with the dear good Alisons. Mr. Alison met me at the drawing-room door, took me in his arms and gave me a hearty hug. I do not think he is much altered, only that his locks are silvered over. At this dinner were, besides his two sons and two daughters, and Mrs. Alison, Mr. and Mrs. Skene. In one of Scott's introductions to Marmion you will find this Mr. Skene, Mr. Hope, the Scotch Solicitor-General (it is curious the Solicitor-Generals of Scotland and Ireland should be Hope and Joy!), Dr. Brewster, and Lord Meadowbank, and Mrs. Maconachie, his wife. Mr. Alison wanted me to sit beside everybody, and I wanted to sit by him, and this I accomplished; on the other side was Mr. Hope, whose head and character you will find in Peter's Letters: he was very entertaining. Sophy sat beside Dr. Brewster, and had a great deal of conversation with him.
Next day, Sunday, went to hear Mr. Alison; his fine voice but little altered. To me he appears the best preacher I have ever heard. Dined at Scott's; only his own family, his friend Skene, his wife and daughter, and Sir Henry Stewart; I sat beside Scott; I dare not attempt at this moment even to think of any of the anecdotes he told, the fragments of poetry he repeated, or the observations on national character he made, lest I should be tempted to write some of them for you, and should never end this letter, which must be ended some time or other. His strong affection for his early friends and his country gives a power and a charm to his conversation, which cannot be given by the polish of the London world and by the habit of literary conversation.
Quentin Durward was lying on the table. Mrs. Skene took it up and said, "This is really too barefaced." Scott, when pointing to the hospital built by Heriot, said, "That was built by one Heriot, you know, the jeweller, in Charles the Second's time."
There was an arch simplicity in his look, at which we could hardly forbear laughing.
I remember, my dearest aunt, how fond you used to be of the song of Roslin Castle, and how fond my father used to be of it, from having heard you sing it when you were young. I think you charged me to see Roslin if ever I came to Scotland; this day I have seen it with Walter Scott. It is about seven miles from Edinburgh, I wish it had been twice as far; Scott was so entertaining and agreeable during the drive there and back again. The castle is an ugly old ruin, not picturesque, but the chapel is most beautiful, altogether the most beautiful florid Gothic I ever saw. There is infinite variety in the details of the ornaments, and yet such a unity in the whole design and appearance that we admire at once the taste and the ingenuity of the architect. I wished for you, my dear aunt, continually during parts of the walk by the river and through the woods—not during the whole, for it would have been much too long. How Walter Scott can find time to write all he writes I cannot conceive, he appears to have nothing to think of but to be amusing, and he never tires, though he is so entertaining—he far surpasses my expectation.
Mr. Lockhart is reserved and silent, but he appears to have much sensibility under this reserve. Mrs. Lockhart is very pleasing; a slight elegant figure and graceful simplicity of manner, perfectly natural. There is something most winning in her affectionate manner to her father: he dotes upon her.
To MISS LUCY EDGEWORTH.
CALLANDER, June 20, 1823.
Here we are! I can hardly believe we are really at the place we have so long wished to see: we have really been on Loch Katrine. We were fortunate in the day; it was neither too hot, nor too cold, nor too windy, nor too anything.
The lake was quite as beautiful as I expected, but that is telling you nothing, as you cannot know how much I expected. Sophy has made some memorandum sketches for home, though we are well aware that neither pen nor pencil can bring before you the reality. William [Footnote: William, one of Miss Edgeworth's half-brothers, had joined his sisters at Edinburgh.] says he does not, however, fear for Killarney, even after our having seen this. Here are no arbutus, but plenty of soft birch, and twinkling aspen, and dark oak. On one side of the lake the wood has been within these few years cut down. Walter Scott sent to offer the proprietor L500 for the trees on one spot, if he would spare them; but the offer came two days too late; the trees were stripped of their bark before his messenger arrived. To us, who never saw this rock covered with trees, it appeared grand in its bare boldness and in striking contrast to the wooded island opposite. Tell Fanny that, upon the whole, I think Farnham lakes as beautiful as Loch Katrine; as to mere beauty, perhaps superior: but where is the lake of our own, or any other times, that has such delightful power over the imagination by the recollections it raises? As we were rowed along, our boatman, happily our only guide, named to us the points we most wished to see; quietly named them, without being asked, and seemingly with a full belief that he was telling us plain facts, without any flowers of speech. "There's the place on that rock, see yonder, where the king blew his horn." "And there's the place where the Lady of the Lake landed." "And there is the Silver Strand, where you see the white pebbles in the little bay yonder."
He landed us just at the spot where the lady
From underneath an aged oak, That slanted from the islet rock,
shot her little skiff to the silver strand on the opposite side. When William asked him if the king's dead horse had been found, he smiled, and said he only knew that bones had been found near where the king's horse died, but he could not be sure that they were the bones of King James's good steed. However, he seemed quite as clear of the existence of the Lady of the Lake, and of all her adventures, as of the existence of Benledi and Benvenue, and the Trossachs. He showed us the place on the mountain of Benvenue, where formerly there was no means of ascent but by the ladders of broom and hazel twigs, where the king climbed,
with footing nice, A far-projecting precipice.
At the inn the mistress of the house lent me a copy of the Lady of the Lake, which I took out with me and read while we were going to the lake, and while Sophy was drawing. We saw an eagle hovering, and, moreover, Sophy spied some tiny sea-larks flitting close to the shore, and making their little, faint cry. Returning, we marked the place where the armed Highlanders started up from the furzebrake before King James, when Roderic Dhu sounded his horn, and we settled which was the spot at
Clan Alpine's outmost guard,
where Roderic Dhu's safe conduct ceased, and where the king and he had their combat. I forgot to mention a little incident, which, though very trifling, struck me at the moment. As I was walking on by myself on the road by the river-side leading to the lake, I came up to a Highlander who was stretched on the grass under a bush, while two little boys in tartan caps were playing beside him. I stopped to talk to the children, showed them my watch, and, holding it to their ears, asked if they had ever seen the inside of a watch. They did not answer, but they did not seem surprised, nor were they in the least shy. I asked the man if they were his children.
"Mine! oh no! they are the sons of Glengyle—the Laird of Glengyle, he who lives at the upper end of the lake yonder—McGreggor, that is, the McGreggor, the chief of the McGreggor clan."
Rob Roy and his wife and children rose up before my imagination. Times have finely changed. It may be a satisfaction to you, and all who admire Rob Roy, to know that his burial-place is in a pretty, peaceful green valley, where none will disturb him; and all will remember him for ages, thanks to Walter Scott, a man he never kenned of, nor any of his second-sighted seers. By the bye, Harriet on our journey read Rob Roy to me, and I liked it ten times better than at the first reading. My eagerness for the story being satisfied, I could stop to admire the beauty of the writing: this happens to many, I believe, on a second perusal of Scott's works.
FINISHED AT TYNDRUM.
Very good inn at Callander, and another at Loch Katrine—both raised by the genius of Scott as surely and almost as quickly as the slave of the lamp raises the palace of Aladdin. We spent one day and part of another at Callander and Loch Katrine, and yesterday went to, and slept at, Killin, along a very beautiful, fine, wild, romantic road. At Killin took a very pretty walk before tea, of about two miles and a half, and back again, to see a waterfall, which fully answered our expectations: you see, I am very strong. I had taken another walk in the morning to see the Bridge of Brackland, another beautiful waterfall, with a six-inch bridge over a chasm of rocks, which looked as if they had been built together to imitate nature.