This forenoon our town was plunged into a state of ludicrous excitement by the spectacle of Madame Lola Montez rushing through Mill Street, with a lady's delicate riding whip in one hand and a copy of the Marysville Herald in the other, vowing vengeance on "that scoundrel of an editor," etc. She met him at the Golden Gate Saloon, a crowd, on the qui vive, following in her footsteps. Having struck at him with her whip, she then applied woman's best weapon—her tongue. Meanwhile, her antagonist kept most insultingly cool. All her endeavours being powerless, the "Divine Lola" appealed to the miners, but the only response was a burst of laughter. Mr. Shipley, the editor, then retired in triumph, having, by his calmness, completely worn down his fair enemy.
The immediate cause of the fracas was the appearance of sundry articles, copied from the New York Times, referring to the "Lola Montez-like insolence, bare-faced hypocrisy, and effrontery of Queen Christina of Spain." The entire scene was decidedly rich.
One can well imagine it.
Never prepared to accept hostile criticism without a protest, Lola sent her own version of the occurrence to a rival organ:
"This morning, November 21," she wrote, "the newspaper was handed me as usual. I scanned it over with little interest, saw a couple of abusive articles, not mentioning me by name, but, as I was afterwards told, had been prepared by the clever pen of this great statesman of the future, and present able writer, as a climax and extinguisher to all the past and future glories of Lola Montez. I wonder if he thought I should come down with a cool thousand or two, to stock up his fortune and cry 'Grace, Grace!'
"This is the only attempt at blackmail I have been subjected to in California, and I hope it will be the last. On I read the paper till I saw my name in good round English, and the allusions to my 'bare-faced hypocrisy and insolence.' Europe, hear this! Has not the 'hypocrisy' been on the other side? What were you thinking of, Alexandra Dumas, Beringer, Mery, and all my friends when you told me my fault lay in my too great kindness? Shipley has judged me at last to be a hypocrite. To avenge you, I, bonnet on head and whip in hand—that whip which was never used but on a horse—this time to be disgraced by falling on the back of an ASS.... The spirit of my Irish ancestors (I being three-quarter Irish and Spanish and Scotch) took possession of my hand; and, on the most approved Tom Sayers principles, I took his, on which—thanks to some rings I had—I made a cutting impression. This would-be great smiter ended the combat with a certain amount of abuse, of which—to do him justice—he is a perfect master. Sic transit gloria SHIPLEY! Alas, poor Yorick!"
The atmosphere of Grass Valley could scarcely be described as tranquil. Its surface was always being ruffled; and it was not long before Lola was again embroiled in a collision with one of her neighbours. This time she had a passage at arms with a Methodist minister in the camp, the Rev. Mr. Wilson, who, with a sad lack of Christian charity, informed his flock that this new member among them was "a feminine devil devoid of shame, and that the 'Spider Dance' in her repertoire was an outrage." There were limits to clerical criticism. This was clearly one of them. As she could not take her whip to a clergyman, she took herself. "Resolved to teach the Rev. Wilson a lesson, she called on him in her dancing dress, while he was conducting a confirmation class."
"Without," says a member of the gathering, "any preliminaries beyond saying 'Good afternoon,' she proceeded to execute the dance before the astonished gaze of the company. Then turning to the minister, she said, 'The next time you think fit to make me and this dance a subject for a pulpit discourse, perhaps you will know better what you are talking about.' She then took her departure, before the reverend gentleman could sufficiently collect his senses to say or do anything."
But, notwithstanding these breaks in its monotony, Lola felt that she was not really adapted to the routine of Grass Valley. Once more, the theatre called her. Answering the call, she went back to it. But on the return journey she did not take Patrick Hull. She also shed the name he had given her, and resumed that of Countess of Landsfeld.
"It looks better on the bills," she said, when she discussed plans for a prospective tour.
The Grass Valley Telegraph gave her a good "send off" in a fulsome column; and the miners presented her with a "farewell gift" in the form of a nugget. "Rough, like ourselves," said their spokesman, "but the genuine article."
This time Lola was going further afield. A long way further. Two continents had already been exploited. Now she would discover what a fresh one held.
Her plan was to leave the Stars and Stripes for the Southern Cross. As an initial step, "she sold her jewels for 20,000 dollars to the madam of a fashionable brothel." Having thus secured adequate funds, she assembled a number of out-of-work actors and actresses and engaged them to accompany her on a twelve months' tour in Australia. Except for Josephine Fiddes (who was afterwards to understudy Adah Isaacs Menken, of Mazeppa renown) and, perhaps, her leading man, Charles Follard, they were of a distinctly inferior calibre.
The departure from California was duly notified in a paragraph sent round the press:
"We beg to inform our readers and the public generally that on June 6 the celebrated Lola Montez left San Francisco, at the head of a theatrical troupe of exceptional talent, bound for distant Australia. The public in the Antipodes may confidently look forward to a rare treat."
The voyage across the Pacific being in a sailing vessel, was a longish one and occupied nearly ten weeks from start to finish. However, anchor was dropped at last; and on August 23, 1855, a "colossal attraction" was announced in "Lola Montez in Bavaria" at the Victoria Theatre, Sydney. There, thanks to the interest aroused by her exploits in other parts of the world, the newcomer was assured of a good reception.
But theatrical stars were always accorded a special measure of deference by the colonists. Thus, Miss Catherine Hayes, who was playing at an opposition house, was invited to luncheon by the Bishop of Sydney and to dinner by the Attorney-General; and a Scottish conjurer, "Professor" Anderson, was given an "address of welcome" by the Town Council.
While these particular honours were not enjoyed by Lola (who, for some reason best known to herself, had elected to be entered in the passenger-list as "Madam Landsfeld Heald"), she was none the less accorded considerable publicity. "The eccentric and much advertised Lola Montez," said the Herald on the morning after her New South Wales debut, "pounces upon us direct from California, and the excitement of her visit is emptying the opposition theatre. Last night the Countess looked positively charming and acted very archly.... On the fall of the curtain, she presented Mr. Lambert (who played the King of Bavaria) with an elegant box of cigarettes."
Naturally enough, the star was interviewed by the journalists. "At the Victoria Theatre," says one of them, "I was privileged to have a talk with Madame Lola after the performance had concluded. I found her—much to my surprise—to be a very simple-mannered, well-behaved, cigar-loving young lady."
An odd picture of Sydney audiences is given by the author of Southern Lights and Shadows. "The young ladies of Australia," he says, "are in many respects remarkable. At thirteen they have more ribbons, jewels, and lovers than any other young ladies of the same age. They prattle insipidly from morning to night. The first time I visited a theatre I sat next one of them who had at least half a dozen rings worn over her gloves.... The affectation of ton among them is astonishing. They are special patrons of the drama, and, on the appearance of a star, they flock to the dress circle in hundreds. The pit is generally well filled with a display of shirt-sleeves, pewter pots, and babies. The upper boxes are usually given up to that division of the community partial to pink bonnets and cheeks to match; and flirtations are carried on in the most flagrant and unblushing manner."
The author of this sketch also has something to say about Sydney as a town:
"One part of George Street is as much like Bond Street in London as it is possible for one place to resemble another. Like Bond Street, too, it is hourly paraded by the Bucks and Brummels of the Colony. The Cafe Francois is much frequented by the young swells and sprigs of the city. Files of Punch, The Times, sherry coblers, an entertaining hostess, and a big-bloused lubberly host are the special points left in my recollection. They serve 800 meals a day at this establishment, the rent of which is L2,400 a year."
During this Sydney engagement, Lola, ever interested in the cause of charity, organised a "Grand Sebastopol Matinee Performance," the proceeds being "for the benefit of our wounded heroes in the Crimea." As the cause had a popular appeal, the house was a bumper one. Possibly, it was the success of this matinee that led to an imaginative chronicler adding: "Our distinguished visitor, Madame Lola Montez, Countess of Landsfeld, is, with her full company of Thespians, on the point of leaving us for Balaclava. There, at the special request of Lord Raglan and Miss Florence Nightingale, she will inaugurate a theatre for the enjoyment of our gallant warriors and their Allies."
Another odd tit-bit was sent to England by the theatrical correspondent of a London paper. This declared that a masculine member of her company "jumped into the harbour, mortified at discovering that Madame Lola had turned a more friendly face on a younger brother of the Duke of Wellington who had followed her to Sydney from Calcutta." The artistic temperament.
At intervals, however, other and better established items of news were received from Australia and, as opportunity offered, found a niche in the London papers. From these it would appear that all was not going smoothly with Lola's plans, and that the start of the Antipodean venture was somewhat tempestuous.
"In Sydney," says a letter on the subject, "a regrettable fracas recently occurred at the theatre where Madame Montez has been playing. Stepping in front she endeavoured to quell the uproar by announcing that, while she herself 'rather liked a good row,' she would appeal to the gallantry of the gentlemen in the pit and gallery to respect the wishes of a lady and not interfere with the enjoyment of others by interrupting the performance. The request, however, fell on deaf ears. The uproar continued for some time, and was much increased by the actors and actresses squabbling among themselves on the stage."
There was a good deal of "squabbling" among the company. Its members were not a happy family. They had been engaged by their principal to support her. Instead, however, of rendering such support, a number of them did all they could to wreck the tour. Thereupon, Lola, adopting strong measures, discharged the malcontents and left for Melbourne by the next steamer. That she was justified in her action is clear from a letter which her solicitors sent to the Press:
"Our client, Madam Lola Montez, was unwise enough to engage, at enormous cost to herself, a very inferior company in California. Before starting, she made large advances to every one of them; paid their passages from America (where they were nearly all heavily in debt) to Australia; and trusted that, in return for her immense outlay, she would at least receive efficient assistance from them. But this band of obscure performers not only loaded her with insults while they continued to live on her, but on their arrival in Sydney they one and all refused to discharge their allotted tasks."
"When Madam Montez (not unnaturally irritated by such conduct) proposed, through us, to cancel their agreements on reasonable terms, they insisted on the fulfilment of the contract which they themselves had been the first to break, and made claims upon her amounting to about L12,000. This moderate demand being very properly refused by our client, they secured an order for her arrest in respect of a number of separate actions. Only one of these (a claim for L100) was lodged in time for a warrant to be issued. When, furnished with this, Mr. Brown, the sheriff's officer, appeared on board the steamer, Madam tendered him L500, which, however, he refused to accept, insisting that she should also settle the various other claims for which he did not have warrants. Our client refused to leave the vessel, for which refusal, we, as her solicitors, are quite willing to accept responsibility."
The fact that there was talk of instituting proceedings against the captain of the steamer and his subordinates led the solicitors to add a postscript:
"Those who governed the movements of the Watarah are ready to answer for their conduct. They saw a lady threatened with arrest at the last moment for a most unjust claim, tendering five times the amount demanded, and having that offer refused. Hence, they did not feel called upon to interfere."
Another account of the episode is a little different. This declares that, just before starting from Sydney, she "dismissed with a blessing" two members of the company. As they wanted something more easily negotiable, they issued a writ of attachment. When the sheriff's officer attempted to serve it: "Madame Lola, ever ready for the fray, retired to her cabin and sent word that she was quite naked, but that the sheriff could come and take her if he wanted to." An embarrassing predicament; and, unprepared to grapple with it, "Poor Mr. Brown blushed and retired amid roars of laughter."
Having thus got the better of the Sydney lawyers, and filled up the vacancies in her company with fresh and more amenable recruits, Lola reached the Victorian capital without further adventure. A picture of the city, as it was when she landed there, is given by a contemporary author:
"Melbourne is splendid. Fine wide streets, finer and wider than almost any in London, stretch away for miles in every direction. At any hour of the day thousands of persons may be observed scurrying along them with true Cheapside bustle." The Melbourne youth, however, appears to have been precocious. "I was delighted," remarks this authority, "with the Colonial young stock. The average Australian boy is a slim, olive-complexioned young rascal, fond of Cavendish, cricket, and chuck-penny, and systematically insolent to girls, policemen, and new chums.... At twelve years of age, having passed through every phase of probationary shrewdness, he is qualified to act as a full-blown bus conductor. In the purlieus of the theatres are supper-rooms (lavish of gas and free-mannered waitresses), and bum-boat shops where they sell play-bills, whelks, oranges, cheroots, and fried fish."
But, notwithstanding the existence of these amenities, all was not well where Lola was concerned. The Sydney correspondent of the Argus had injured her chances of making a favourable impression by writing a somewhat imaginative account of her troubles there:
"I need not tell you that the Montez has gone to Melbourne, as she will have arrived before this letter, and is not the sort of woman to keep her arrival secret. It may not, however, be so generally known that she has made what is colonially termed a 'bolt' from here.... Thinking, perhaps, that Australia was not yet a part of the civilised world, and that a company of players could not be secured here, Madame brought a set of comedians from San Francisco. They were quite useless. More competent help could have been had on the spot."
Lola said nothing. Her leading man however, Mr. Follard, had something to say, and wrote a strong letter to the editor:
"Permit me to state, with all due deference to your correspondent's term 'bolt,' that Madame Lola Montez left quietly and unostentatiously.... The attempt to stop her leaving Sydney and prevent her engagement in Melbourne was an exhibition of meanness at which every honest heart must feel disgusted. Alone, in a strange land, without friends or protector, her position as a woman should in itself have saved her from the unmanly abuse heaped upon her and the contemptible attitude manifested by some of her company."
A second adverse factor against which Lola had to contend in Melbourne was that prices had been doubled for her engagement there. This was considered a grievance by the public. The difficulty, however, adjusted itself, for the programme she offered was one that proved specially attractive.
"The highest degree of excitement was," ran the Herald criticism, "produced upon visitors to the Theatre Royal by the actual presence of this extraordinary and gifted being, with the praises of whose beauty and esprit the whole civilised world has resounded.... After curtseying with inimitable grace to the audience, the fair artiste withdrew amidst a fresh volley of cheers."
But Lola, who never missed an opportunity of airing her opinions, aired them now:
"At the end of the performance," says a report, "Madame Lola Montez was vociferously called and addressed the audience in an animated speech, commenting upon some remarks that had been published in a certain journal. When a gentleman ventured to laugh while she was enumerating the political benefits she had conferred on Bavaria, the fair orator promptly informed him that such conduct was not usually considered to be courteous."
The Melbourne engagement finished up with a triple bill. The principal item was a novelty she had, the "Spider Dance," which Lola had brought from America. In this she appeared with hundreds of wire spiders sewn on her attenuated ballet skirts; and, when any of them fell off, she had to indulge in pronounced wriggles and contortions to put them back in position. The accompanying movements of her body were held to be by some standards "daring and suggestive." In fact, so much so that the representative of the Argus dubbed the number "the most libertinish and indelicate performance that could possibly be given on the public stage. We feel compelled," he continued solemnly, "to denounce in terms of unmeasured reprobation the performance in which Madame Montez here figures." Yet, Sir Charles Hotham, the Governor, together with Lady Hotham and their guests, had witnessed it without sustaining any serious damage. But perhaps they were made of tougher material.
The critic of the Morning Herald at this period (understood to be R. H. Horne, "the Jules Janin of Melbourne") was either less thin-skinned or else more broad-minded than his Argus comrade. At any rate, he saw nothing much to call for these strictures. Thinking that the newcomer had not been given fair play, he endeavoured to counteract the adverse opinion that had been expressed by publishing a laudatory one of a column length, in which he declared: "Madame Montez went through the entire measure with marked elegance and precision, and the curtain fell amid salvoes of well merited applause."
Convinced that here was a critic who really knew his business, and a friend on whom she could rely to do her justice, Lola wrote to the editor:
GRAND IMPERIAL HOTEL,
A criticism of my performance of the "Spider Dance" at the Theatre Royal was published in this morning's Argus, couched in such language that I must positively answer it.
The piety and ultra-puritanism of the Argus might prevent the insertion of a letter bearing my signature. Therefore, I address myself to you.
The "Spider Dance" is a national one, and is witnessed with delight by all classes in Spain, and by both sexes from Queen to peasant.
I have always looked upon this dance as a work of high art; and I reject with positive scorn the insinuation of your contemporary that I wish to pander to a morbid taste for what is improper or indelicate.
I shall be at my post to-morrow evening; and will then adopt a course that will test the value of the opinion advanced by the Argus.
The promised "course" was merely to deliver a long speech from the stage, and ask the audience to decide whether she should give the vexed item, or not. The audience were emphatic that she should; and, when she had finished, "expressed their views on the subject by uttering loud groans for the Argus and lusty cheers for the Herald."
Honours to Lola!
But the "Spider Dance" was still to prove a source of trouble. The next morning a certain Dr. Milton, who had constituted himself a champion of morals, appeared at the police-court and applied for a warrant for the arrest of Lola Montez, on the grounds that she had "outraged decency."
"I am in a position," he declared, "to produce unquestionable evidence of the indelicacy of her performance."
"You must take out a summons in the proper fashion," said the magistrate, who clearly had no sympathy with busybodies.
But, before he could do so, Dr. Milton found himself served with a writ for libel. As a result, nothing more was heard of the matter.
In addition to its Mawworms, of which it was afflicted with an appreciable number of specimens, the city of Melbourne would appear to have had other drawbacks at this period. According to R. H. Horne, local society was somewhat curiously constituted. "There is an attempt," he says, "at the nucleus of a 'court circle'; and if the Home Government think fit to make a few more Australian knights and baronets there may be good hopes for the enlargement of the enchanted hoop. The Melbourne 'Almack's' is to be complimented on the moral courage with which its directors have resisted the claims for admission of some of the wealthy unwashed and other unsuitables. Money is not quite everything, even in Melbourne."
There were further strictures on the morals of Victoria, as compared with those of New South Wales:
"The haunts of villainy in Sydney are not surpassed by those in Melbourne; but, with regard to drunkenness and prostitution, the latter place is far worse than Sydney. The Theatre Royal contains within itself four separate drinking-bars. The Cafe de Paris, in the same building, has two bars. In the theatre itself there is a drinking public every night, especially when the house is crowded. Between every act it is the custom of the audience to rush out for a nobbler of brandy. The only exceptions are the occupants of the dress-circle, more especially when the Governor is present."
By the way, the "List of Beverages" shows that, in proof of her popularity, a "Lola Montez Appetiser," consisting of "Old Tom, ginger, lemon and hot water," was offered to patrons.
Alcohol was not alone among the objects at which "Orion" Horne tilted. He also disapproved of cricket. "The mania," he says, "for bats and balls in the boiling sun during last summer exceeded all rational excitement. The newspapers caught the epidemic, and, while scarcely noticing other far more useful games, they devoted columns upon columns to minute accounts of the matches of a hundred different clubs. The very walls of Melbourne became infected. On the return of the Victorians from Sydney, a reporter for the Herald designated them 'the laurelled warriors.' If there is no great harm in this, the thing has been carried too far."
It is just as well, perhaps, for Horne's peace of mind that the present day value attached to "Ashes" had not arisen, and that an Australian XI did not visit England until another twenty years had passed.
After Melbourne, the next step in Lola's itinerary was Geelong. The programme she offered there was a generous one, for it included a "Stirring drama, entitled, Maidens, Beware! and the elegant and successful comedy, The Eton Boy," to which were added a "sparkling comedietta" and a "laughable farce." This was good value. The Geelong critic, however, did not think very much of the principal item in this bill. "It has," he observed solemnly, "an impossible plot, with situations and sentiments quite beyond the understanding of us barbarians."
This supercilious attitude was not shared by the simple-minded diggers, who found Maidens, Beware! very much to their taste. But nothing else could have been expected, for it offered good measure of all the elements that ensure success every time they are employed. Thus, the hero is wrongfully charged with a series of offences committed by the villain; a comic servant unravels the plot when it becomes intricate; and the heroine only avoids "something worse than death" by proving that a baronet, "paying unwelcome addresses," (but nothing else) has forged a will.
Having a partiality for the society of diggers, with whom she had always got on well, Lola next betook herself to Ballarat. It was an unpropitious moment for a theatrical venture in that part of the world. The atmosphere was somewhat unsettled. The broad arrows and ticket-of-leave contingent who made up a large section of the community were clamouring for a republic; and there was a considerable amount of rioting. A rebel flag had been run up by the mob; and the military had to be called out to suppress the activities of the "Ballarat Reform League." Still, Lola was not the woman to run away from danger. As she had told a Sydney audience, she "rather liked a good row."
The coming of Lola Montez to Ballarat was heralded by a preliminary paragraph:
"Our readers will be pleased to learn that the world-renowned Lola, a lady who has had Kings at her beck, and who has caused nearly as much upheaval in the world as Helen of Troy, is about to appear among us. On leaving Melbourne by coach, she presented the booking clerk with an autographed copy of a work by the famous Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Young gentlemen of Ballarat, look out for your hearts! Havoc will assuredly be played among them."
Her colourful career attracted the laureates. One of them found in it inspiration for a ballad, "Lola, of the rolling black eye!" which was sung at every music-hall in the Colony. A second effort regarded the matter in its graver aspects. The first verse ran as follows:
She is more to be pitied than censured, She is more to be helped than despised. She is only a lassie who ventured On life's stormy path ill-advised. Do not scorn her with words fierce and bitter, Do not laugh at her shame and downfall, For a moment just stop to consider That a man was the cause of it all!
Ludwig of Bavaria had done better than this. A lot better. Annoyed at the innuendo it contained, Lola flourished her whip afresh and threatened the bard with an action for damages.
The Victoria Theatre, Ballarat (where Lola Montez was to give the diggers a sample of her quality), was a newly built house, "reflecting," declared an impressed reporter, "every modern elegance. In front of the boxes," he continued, "are panels, chastely adorned with Corinthian festoons, encircling a gilded eagle emblematic of liberty. Above the proscenium is an ellipse, exhibiting the Australian coat of arms. The ceiling is ornamented by a dome, round which are grouped the nine Muses, and the chandelier is the biggest in the Colony. From the dress-circle there is direct communication with the adjoining United States Hotel, so that first-class refreshments can be procured without the slightest inconvenience. There are six dressing-rooms; and Madame Lola Montez has a private and sumptuously furnished apartment."
As the repertoire she offered was to include ("by special request") the "Spider Dance," she took the precaution of sending a description of it to the Ballarat Star:
The characteristic and fascinating SPIDER DANCE has been performed by MADAME LOLA MONTEZ with the utmost success throughout the United States of America and before all the Crowned Heads of Europe.
This dance, on which malice and envy have endeavoured to fix the stain of immorality, has been given in the other Colonies to houses crammed from floor to ceiling with rank and fashion and beauty. In Adelaide His Excellency the Governor-General, accompanied by Lady McDonnell and quite the most select ladies of the city, accorded it their patronage, while the Free and Accepted Masons did Madame Lola Montez the distinguished honour of attending in full regalia.
It was on February 16, 1856, that Lola Montez opened at Ballarat. A generous programme was offered, for it consisted of "the elegant and sparkling comedy, A Morning Call; the laughable farce, The Spittalsfields Weaver; the domestic drama, Raffaelo, the Reprobate; and the Shakespearean tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra; all with new and sumptuous scenery, dresses, and appointments."
In accordance with the fashion of the period, the star had to recite a prologue. An extract from it was as follows:
'Tis only right some hurried words to say As to the name this theatre bears to-day, For I would have you fully understand I seek for patrons men of every land. 'Tis not alone through prejudice has been Attached the name of Britain's virtuous Queen. And may your gen'rous presence and applause Mutual content and happy evenings cause!
But this was merely an introduction. There was more to follow, for the "personal" touch had yet to be delivered.
As for myself, you'll find in Lola Montez The study how to please my constant wont is! Yet I am vain that I'm the first star here To shine upon this Thespian hemisphere. And only hope that when I say "Adieu!" You'll grant the same I wish to you— May rich success reward your daily toil, Nor men nor measures present peace despoil, And may I nightly see your pleasant faces With these fair ladies, your attendant Graces!
But, despite this auspicious start, all was not set fair at Ballarat. As had happened in other places, Lola was to fall foul of a critic who had disparaged her. Furiously indignant, and horse-whip in hand, she rushed into the editor's office and executed summary vengeance upon him.
"A full account of this remarkable business," announced the opposition journal, "will be given by us to-morrow. Our readers may anticipate a perfect treat." They got it, too, if one can trust the report of a "few choice observations" delivered by Lola to her audience on the second night of her engagement:
"Ladies and Gentlemen: I am very sure that all of you in this house are my very good friends; and I much regret that I now have a most unpleasant duty to perform. I had imagined that, after all the kindness I have experienced from the miners in California, I should never have had anything painful to say to you. Now, however, I am compelled to do so.
"I speak to the ladies, as members of my own sex, and to the gentlemen, as my natural protectors. Well, what I have to tell you is that there is a certain gentleman in this town called Seekamp. Just take out the E's, and what is left of his name becomes Skamp. Listen to my story, and then judge between us. This Mr. Seekamp, who is the editor of the Ballarat Times, actually told me, in the hearing of another lady and two quite respectable gentlemen, that the miners here were a set of ——. No, I really cannot sully my lips with the shocking word he used—and that I was not to believe them.
"Mr. Seekamp called on me, with a certain proposition, and accepted my hospitality. You all know he is just a little fond of drinking. Well, while he was at my house the sherry, the port, the champagne, and the brandy were never off the table. He ate with me, and he drank with me. In fact, he drank so freely that it was only my self-respect that prevented me having him removed. But I said to myself, 'After all, he is an editor; perhaps this is his little way.'
"Well, I did as Mr. Seekamp wanted, and as a result, I was a ten pound note out of pocket by it. I was green, but I was anxious to avoid making enemies among editors. Yet, when his paper next appears, I am referred to in it as being notorious for my immorality. Notorious, indeed! Why, I defy everybody here, or anywhere else, to say that I am, or ever was, immoral. It's not likely that, if I wanted to be immoral, I should be slaving away and earning my bread by hard work. What do you think?
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I appeal to you. Is it fair or generous of this Seekamp person to behave to me like this? The truth is, my manager, knowing that he was a good-for-nothing fellow, gave my printing orders to another editor. In revenge, the angry Seekamp says he will hound me from this town. Ladies and Gentlemen, I appeal to you for protection."
"And here," adds the report, "the intrepid Lola retired amid deafening applause. Three hearty cheers were given for Madame and three lusty groans for her cowardly traducer."
On the following night there was more speech-making. This time, Lola complained to the audience that she had been freshly aspersed by the objectionable Seekamp. "I offered," she said, "though merely a woman, to meet him with pistols, but the cur who attacks a lady's character runs away from my challenge. He says he will drive me from the Diggings. Well, I intend to turn the tables, and to make Seekamp de-camp. I very much regret," she added, "having been compelled to assert myself at the expense of Mr. Seekamp, but, really it was not my fault. His attacks on my art were most ungentlemanly. I challenged him to fight a duel, but the poltroon would not accept."
In the best tradition of the Eatanswill Gazette, the Ballarat Star referred to the Ballarat Times as "our veracious contemporary and doughty opponent," and alluded to the "unblushing profligacy of its editorial columns." The proprietor of the United States Hotel and the solicitor for Lola Montez also sailed into the controversy and challenged Mr. Seekamp to "eat his words." That individual, however, not caring about such a diet, refused to do anything of the sort.
The matter did not end there, and a number of correspondents took up the cudgels on behalf of Lola Montez.
"Is it possible," wrote one of them to the editor of the Star, "that Mr. Seekamp can, in his endeavour to blacken the fair fame of a woman, insinuate that he is also guilty of the most shocking immorality? I blush to think it." There was also a letter in a similar strain from "John Bull," and another from "An Eton Boy," animadverting upon Mr. Seekamp's grammar.
Feeling herself damaged in reputation, Lola's next step was to instruct her solicitor to bring an action for libel against Seekamp. The magistrate remitted the case to the superior court at Geelong. But, as an apology was offered and accepted, nothing more was heard of it.
This, however, was not the end of her troubles at Ballarat, for horse-whips were again to whistle in the air. But, this time Lola got more than she bargained for. She was using her whip on one Mr. Crosby, the manager of the theatre there, when that individual's spouse—a strong-minded and muscular woman—wrested the weapon from her and laid it across her own back.
The account given by an eye-witness is a little different. "At Ballarat," he says, "Lola pitched into and cross-buttocked a stalwart Amazon who had omitted to show her proper respect."
"Cross-buttocked" would appear to be an expression which, so far, has eluded the dictionary-makers.
In other parts of the Colony, however, Lola's reception more than made up for any little unpleasantnesses at Ballarat. "Her popularity," says William Kelly, an Australian squatter, "was not limited to the stage. She was welcomed with rapture on the gold fields, and all the more for the liberal fashion in which she 'shouted' when returning the hospitality of the diggers. Her pluck, too, delighted them, for she would descend the deepest shafts with as much nonchalance as if she were entering a boudoir."
From Sandhurst Lola Montez travelled to Bendigo, where the tour finished. There, says a pressman, "she lived on terms of the most cordial amity with the entire populace, and without a single disturbing incident to ruffle the serenity of the intercourse."
Having completed her tour in Australia, with considerable profit to herself, Lola Montez disbanded her company, and, in the autumn of 1856, returned to Europe. She had several offers from London; but, feeling that a rest was well earned, she left the ship at Marseilles and took a villa at St. Jean de Luz. While there, she appears to have occupied a certain amount of public attention. At any rate, Emile de Girardin, thinking it good "copy," reprinted in La Presse a letter she had written to the Estafette:
ST. JEAN DE LUZ,
September 3, 1856.
Sir: The French and Belgian papers are announcing as a positive fact that the suicide of Monsieur Mauclerc (who deliberately precipitated himself from the top of the Pic du Midi cliff) was caused by various troubles I had occasioned him. If he were still living, Monsieur Mauclerc would himself, I feel certain, contradict this calumny.
It is true that we were married; but, finding, after eight days, that our union was not likely to turn out a happy one, we parted by mutual consent. The story of my responsibility for the Pic du Midi business only exists in the imaginative brain of some journalist who revels in supplying tragic details. Anyhow, Mr. Editor, I count upon your sympathy to exculpate me from any share in the melancholy event.—Yours, LOLA MONTEZ.
Mauclerc, however, so far from being dead, was still very much alive, and was sunning himself just then at Bayonne. Having read this letter, he answered it in the next issue:
I have just seen in the columns of La Presse a letter from Lola Montez. This gives an account of a deliberate jump from the top of a cliff and of a marriage with myself as the chief actor in each catastrophe. All I have to say about them is that I know nothing of these important occurrences. I assure you, sir, I have never felt any desire to "precipitate" myself, either from the Pic du Midi or from anywhere else; nor have I ever had the distinction of being the husband of the famous Countess of Landsfeld for a matter of even eight days.—MAUCLERC. Artist dramatique.
September 9, 1856.
Lola ignored this dementi. Possibly, however, she did not read it, for she was just then arranging another trip to America.
FAREWELL TO THE FOOTLIGHTS
Having booked a number of engagements there, in December, 1857, Lola landed in New York for the second time. Directly she stepped off the ship, she was surrounded by a throng of reporters. Never losing the chance of making a speech, she gave them just what they wanted.
"America," she said, as they pulled out their note-books, "is the last refuge left the victims of tyranny and oppression in the old world. It is the finest monument to liberty ever erected beneath the canopy of heaven."
For her reappearance she offered the public Lola Montez in Bavaria, which had already done good service. By this time, however, it was a little frayed.
"The drama represents her as a coquettish and reckless woman," was the considered opinion of one critic. "We assure our readers she is nothing of the sort."
This testimonial was a help. Still, it could not infuse fresh life into a piece that had obviously outlived its popularity. Hence, she soon changed the bill for a double one, The Eton Boy and Follies of a Night. But the cash results were not much better; and when she left New York and tried her luck in Boston the week's receipts were scarcely two hundred dollars. This, in theatrical parlance, was "not playing to the gas."
Realising that she was losing her grip, she cast about for some fresh method of attracting the public. It was not long before she hit on one. As she was in a democratic country, she would make capital out of her "title." A plan was soon matured. This was to hold "receptions," where anybody would be welcome who was prepared to pay a dollar.
A dollar for ten minutes' chat with a genuine countess, and, for another 50 cents, the privilege of shaking her hand. A bargain. The tariff appealed to thousands. Among them Charles Sumner, the distinguished jurist, who declared of Lola Montez that, "She was by far the most graceful and delightful woman I ever met."
Her next scheme for raising the financial wind was to employ her pen. It was true that her "memoirs," strung together in Paris, had fallen flat—owing to the pusillanimity of the editor of Le Pays—but a full length "autobiography" would, she thought, stand a better prospect. Apart, too, from other considerations, there was now more material on which to draw. An embarrassing amount of it. She could say something—a lot—about the happenings in Bavaria, in France, in California, and in Australia. All good stuff, and a field hitherto untouched.
The pen, however, being still an unaccustomed weapon, she availed herself of outside help; and practically the whole of the Autobiography of Lola Montez was written for her (on a profit-sharing agreement) by a clerical collaborator, the Rev. Chauncey Burr.
The tale of the Odyssey—as set forth in this joint production—established contact with glittering circles and the breathing of perfumed air. Within its chapters emperors and kings and princes jostle one another; scenes shift continually from capital to capital; and plots follow counter-plots in breathless fashion. Yet those who purchased the volume in the fond belief that it would turn out to be the analysis of a modern Aspasia were disappointed. As a matter of fact, there was next to nothing in it that would have upset a Band of Hope committee-meeting. This, however, was largely because, an adept at skating over thin ice, the Rev. Mr. Burr ignored, or coloured, such happenings as did not redound to the credit of his subject.
The "Autobiography" (alleged) finishes on a high note:
"Ten years have elapsed since the events with which Lola Montez was connected in Bavaria; and yet the malice of the diffusive and ever vigilant Jesuits is as fresh and as active as it was at the first hour it assailed her. It is not too much to say that few artists of her profession ever escaped with so little censure; and certainly none ever had the doors of the highest social respectability so universally open to them as she had, up to the time she went to Bavaria. And she denies that there was anything in her conduct there which ought to have compromised her before the world. Her enemies assailed her, not because her deeds were bad, but because they knew of no other means to destroy her influence."
Although too modest to acknowledge it, this passage is obviously the Rev. Chauncey Burr verbatim.
An offer to serialise part of the "autobiography" in the columns of Le Figaro was accepted. In correcting the proofs, Lola still clung to the earlier account that had already done service in the "memoirs" contributed to Le Pays. But she embellished it with fresh embroideries. Thus, to keep up the Spanish connection, she now claimed as her aunts the Marquise de Pavestra and the Marquise de Villa-Palana, together with an equally imaginary Uncle Juan; and she also, for the first time, gave her schoolgirl friend, Fanny Nicholls, a sister Valerie.
The "autobiography" had originally been accepted for Le Pays by Antenon Joly. When, however, shortly afterwards, MM. de la Gueronniere and de Lamartine acquired the journal, they repudiated the contract. Hence, its transfer to Le Figaro. But this organ also developed a sudden queasiness, and, after the first few instalments had appeared, declined to print the remainder, on the grounds that they were "too scandalous." Some time afterwards, Eugene de Mirecourt, thinking he had a bargain, secured the interrupted portions and made them the basis of a chapter on Lola Montez in his Les Contemporains. This chapter is marked throughout by severe disapproval. Thus, it begins:
"The woman who revives in the nineteenth century the scandals of Jeanne Vaubernier belongs to our gallery, and the abject materialism accompanying her misconduct will be revealed in the pages that follow."
De Mirecourt was not too happy in his self-appointed task. Like everything else from his pen, the entire section is distinctly imaginative. Thus, he declares that Lola, while living in Madrid, was "supported by five or six great English lords"; and, among other amorous incidents, says that a Brahmin priest fell in love with her; that she conducted a "scandalous intrigue" with a young French diplomat who was carrying despatches to the Emperor of China; and that her husband, Lieutenant James, once intercepted a tender passage between herself and a rajah. Further embroideries assert that Lola's father was the son of a Lady Gilbert, and that her mother was the daughter of a "Moorish warrior who abjured paganism." To this rigmarole he adds that she was sent to a boarding-school at Bath, kept by a Mrs. Olridge, where she had an early liaison with the drawing-master.
It was perhaps as well for de Mirecourt, and others of his kidney, that libel actions had not then been added to the perils of authorship. Still, if they had, Lola would not have troubled to bring one. To take proceedings in America against a man living in France was difficult. Also, by this time she was so accustomed to studied misrepresentation and deliberate falsehoods that she refused to interfere.
"It doesn't matter what people choose to say about me," she remarked contemptuously, when she was informed by a friend in Paris of the liberties being taken with her name.
Although (except when she took it into her own hands) she liked to keep clear of the law, this was not always possible. Such an instance occurred in March, 1858, when a Mr. Jobson of New York brought an action against her in respect of an alleged debt. The proceedings would appear to have been conducted in a fashion that must have been peculiar to the time and place; and, in an effort to discredit her, she was subjected to a cross-examination that would now be described as "third degree."
"Were you not," began the plaintiff's counsel, "born in Montrose, the daughter of one Molly Watson?"
When this was denied, he put his next question.
"How many intrigues have you had during your career?"
"None," was the answer.
"We'll see about that, Madam," returned the other, consulting his brief. "To begin with, were you not the mistress of King Ludwig?"
"You are a vulgar villain," exclaimed Lola indignantly. "I can swear on the Bible, which I read every night, but you don't, that I never had what you call an 'intrigue' with him. As a matter of fact, I did him a lot of good."
"In what way?" enquired the judge, looking interested.
"Well, I moulded his mind to the love of freedom."
"Before you ran off with your first husband," continued counsel, "were you not employed as a chambermaid?"
"Never," was the emphatic response. "And, let me tell you, Mr. Attorney, it is not at all a shameful thing to be a chambermaid. If I had been born one, I should consider myself a much more distinguished woman than I am."
When her own counsel, coming to the rescue, dubbed Mr. Jobson a "fellow," there followed, in the words of a reporter, "an unseemly fracas." From abuse of one another, the rival attorneys took to fisticuffs; the spectators and officials joined in the struggle; and an ink pot was hurled by the furious Jobson at the occupants of the jury-box. This being considered contempt of court, he was arrested, and the judge, gathering up his papers, left the Bench, announcing that the further hearing would be adjourned.
After this experience, Lola developed a fresh activity. Like a modern Joan of Arc, she suddenly announced that she heard "Voices," and that, on their instructions, she was giving up the stage for the platform. Her plans were soon completed; and, on February 3, 1858, she mounted the rostrum and made her debut as a lecturer, at the Hope Chapel, New York.
There were beery chuckles from the reporters who were "covering" this effort. "Lola Montez in the chapel pulpit is good fun," was the conclusion at which one of them arrived; and another headed his column, "A Desperado in Dimity."
Judging from his account of this initial sample (a lecture on "Beautiful Women"), the Tribune representative did not regard it very seriously:
"Temperance, exercise, and cleanliness, preached Lola the plucky; light suppers and reasonable hours; jolly long walks in thick boots and snug wrappers for the benefit of the complexion. From these, said Lola, come good digestion, good humour, and good sense. And that's the way, my dear Flora, to be healthy and wealthy—speaking crinolinely and red-petticoatedly—and wise."
Lola was before her time. Nowadays she would have set up as a "beauty specialist." Had she done so, she would have secured a big income from the sale of creams and perfumes, powders and paints, and dyes and unguents, and all the other nostrums with which women endeavour to recover their vanished charms. But, instead of becoming a practitioner, she became an author and compiled a handbook, The Arts of Beauty, or Secrets of a Lady's Toilet. This went very fully into the subject, and had helpful hints on "Complexion Treatment," "Hair Culture," "Removal of Wrinkles," and what was then coyly termed "Bust Development." Importance was also attached to "Intellect," as a sovereign specific for repairing the ravages of advancing years. "A beautiful mind," announced the author, "is the first thing required for a beautiful face."
Lola's light was not hidden under any bushel. An American firm of publishers, convinced that there was money in this sort of thing, made an acceptable offer and issued the work with a prefatory inscription:
TO ALL MEN AND WOMEN OF EVERY LAND WHO ARE NOT AFRAID OF THEMSELVES WHO TRUST SO MUCH TO THEIR OWN SOULS THAT THEY DARE TO STAND UP IN THE MIGHT OF THEIR OWN INDIVIDUALITY TO MEET THE TIDAL CURRENTS OF THE WORLD, THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR
The title-page of this effort ran as follows:
- THE ARTS OF BEAUTY OR SECRETS OF A LADY'S TOILET WITH HINTS TO GENTLEMEN ON THE ART OF FASCINATION BY MADAME LOLA MONTEZ COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD NEW YORK DICK AND FITZGERALD, PUBLISHERS 18 ANN STREET -
A Canadian publisher, John Lovell, on the look-out for a novelty, read this effort and suggested that a friend of his, Emile Chevalier, of Paris, should sponsor an edition of Lola's Arts of Beauty for consumption on the boulevards. "I am too much an admirer of the gifted author," was M. Chevalier's response, "to undertake the work without consulting her." Accordingly, he got into touch with Lola, offering to have a translation made. "Thank you," she replied, "but I wish to do it myself. You, however, can put in any corrections you think necessary. I have not written anything in French since the death of poor Bon-Bon [Dujarier], and I want to see if I still remember the language." Apparently she did so, for, shortly afterwards, the manuscript was sent across the Atlantic and delivered to M. Chevalier. Within another month it was on the bookstalls. "I have retouched it very little," says the editor in his preface, "as I was anxious to preserve Madame Lola's distinctly original style. Her pen is as mordant as her dog-whip."
M. Chevalier was charmed with the fashion in which Lola had acquitted herself, and wrote florid letters of thanks to her in New York. With a supplementary lecture on "Instructions for Gentlemen in the Art of Fascination," which was added to fill up the book, he declared himself much impressed. "This," he says, "exhibits a profound knowledge of the human heart, and is altogether one of the finest and most piquant criticisms on American manners with which I am familiar." "Who," he continues, warming to his work, "is more thoroughly qualified to discuss the development and preservation of natural beauty than the Countess of Landsfeld?"; and in an introductory puff he adds: "These observations are very judicious, and as applicable in Europe as in America. They should, I feel, be indelibly engraved on the minds of all sensible women."
Perhaps they were. At any rate, the result of M. Chevalier's enterprise was a distinct success, and the Paris bookshops soon got rid of 50,000 copies. In fact, Lola was very nearly a best-seller.
In addition to her expert views on "Beautiful Women," Lola had plenty of other subjects up her sleeve, to be incorporated in a series of lectures. The list covered a wide range, for it included such diverse headings as "Ladies with Pasts," "Heroines of History," "Romanism," "Wits and Women of Paris," "Comic Aspects of Love," and "Gallantry." On all of these matters she had plenty to say. On some of them quite a lot, for they ran to an average of a dozen closely printed pages, and, when delivered in public, took up three hours. In the one on "Beautiful Women" precise details were given as to the adventitious causes contributing to her own sylph-like figure, glossy hair and pearly teeth, etc., and a number of prescriptions were also offered. These, she recommended, should be manufactured at home. "For a few shillings and a little trouble," she pointed out, "any lady can secure an adequate supply of all such things, composed of materials far superior to the expensive compounds bought from druggists;" and the recipes, she insisted, "had been translated by herself from the original French, Spanish, German, and Italian." Among these were Beaume a l'Antique, Unction de Maintenon, and Pommade de Seville; and "a retired actress at Gibraltar" was responsible for a specific for "warding off baldness." Lola put it in two words—"avoid nightcaps." But she was sympathetic about scalp troubles. "Without a fine head of hair, no woman can be really beautiful.... The dogs would bark at and run away from her in the street." To be well covered on top was, she held, "quite as important for the opposite sex." "How like a fool or a ruffian," she remarked, "do the noblest masculine features appear if the hair of the head is bad. Many a dandy who has scarcely brains or courage enough to catch a sheep has enslaved the hearts of a hundred girls with his Hyperion locks!"
Although nominally the author of them, these lectures were, like her previous flight, really strung together by that clerical "ghost," the Rev. Chauncey Burr, with whom she had collaborated in her "memoirs." Wielding a ready pen, he gave good value, for the chapters were well sprinkled with choice classical quotations and elegant extracts from the poets, together with allusions to Aristotle and Theophrastus, to Madame de Stael and Washington Irving.
In the lecture on "Gallantry," Lola had a warm encomium for King Ludwig.
"His Majesty," she informed her audience, "is one of the most refined and high-toned gentlemen of the old school of manners. He is also one of the most learned men of genius in all Europe. To him art is more indebted than to any other monarch who has ever lived. King Ludwig is the author of several volumes of poems, which are evidence of his natural genius and elaborately cultivated taste.... He worships beauty like one of the old troubadours; and his gallantry is caused by his love of art. He was the greatest and best King Bavaria ever had."
In another passage she had a smack at the Catholic Church:
"An evil hour brought into Ludwig's counsels the most despotic and illiberal of the Jesuits. Through the influence of his ministers the natural liberality of the King was perpetually thwarted; and the Government degenerated into a petty tyranny, where priestly influence was sucking out the very life-blood of the people."
More than something of a doctrinaire, her observations on "Romanism" (which she dubbed "an abyss of superstition and moral pollution") might have fallen from the lips of a hot-gospeller of to-day. "Who," she asked her hearers, "shall compute the stupefying and brutalizing effects of such religion? Who will dare tell me that this terrible Church does not lie upon the bosom of the present time like a vast, unwieldy, and offensive corpse? America does not yet recognise how much she owes to the Protestant principle. It is that principle which has given the world the four greatest facts of modern times—steamboats, railroads, telegraphs, and the American Republic."
This somewhat novel definition of "the four greatest facts of modern times" was received with rapture by its hearers.
Despite certain jeers from some of the reviewers, the lectures continued to attract the public. The novelty of Lola Montez at the rostrum drew large audiences everywhere; and she had no difficulty in arranging a long tour. Feeling, when it came to an end, that a similar measure of success might be secured on the other side of the Atlantic, she resolved to visit England.
Just before leaving America for this purpose, she wrote to a one-time Munich acquaintance, who was then editing a New York magazine:
August 20, 1858.
MY DEAR MR. LELAND,
I wish to thank you for the very kind notice you gave in your interesting magazine of my first book, and I have requested Messrs. Dick and Fitzgerald, my publishers, to send to your private address a copy of my Arts of Beauty. I hope, as a critique, it will be found "not wanting" (I do not mean not wanted).
Will you give my best and kindest regards to our friend Caxton; and, with the hope of hearing from you before I leave for Europe, which will be in a couple of months, I remain, far or near, your friend,
Of course, there was a postscript:
"The subject of my lectures in Europe will be on America. This should prove attractive."
Another letter suggests that an appointment with Leland had not been kept:
I should have much liked to have seen you before my departure for Ireland on Tuesday by Pacific, but I cannot control circumstances, you know; and therefore all I ask you until my return next July is a "place in your memory." Maybe, I shall write to you, or, maybe, not. But, whatever is, be sure that You will not be forgotten by Yrs.
Again the inevitable postscript:
"Give my best and kindest regards to our friend. Tell him I shall certainly manage to fill his columns with plenty more newspaper lectures."
According to himself, Lola looked upon the young American with something more than mere friendship. "Once," he says, in his reminiscences, "she proposed to make a bolt with me to Europe, which I declined. The secret of my influence," he adds smugly, "was that I always treated her with respect, and never made love."
It was at the end of November, 1858, that Lola landed once more in the United Kingdom. She began her campaign there in Dublin, where, twenty-four years earlier, she had lived as a young bride, danced at the Castle, and flirted with the Viceroy's aides-de-camp. During the interval a crowded chapter, and one full of colour and life and movement, had been written.
All being in readiness, the public were duly informed of her plans by an advertisement:
MADAME LOLA MONTEZ, COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD, will give a Lecture on "America and its People," at the Round Room, Rotundo, on Wednesday evening, December 8. Reserved seats, 3s.; unreserved, 2s. 6d.
The debut would appear to have been highly successful. "The announcement of the lecture," said a report the next morning, "created a degree of interest almost unparalleled among the Dublin public. The platform was regularly carried by a throng of admirers, giving Madame Lola Montez barely space to reach her desk. She was listened to with enraptured attention and warm manifestations of approval"; and "very properly, an ill-bred fellow, who exclaimed, 'hee-haw' at regular intervals, was loudly hissed."
For some reason or other, Lola was constantly embroiled with journalists. Thus, during this Dublin visit she had a passage at arms with one of them, who had published some damaging criticisms about her life in Paris. Thereupon, she wrote an angry letter to the editor of the Daily Express. As, however, she was alluding to events that had taken place nearly fifteen years earlier, her memory was somewhat at fault. Thus, she insisted that, when Dujarier met his death, she was living in the house of a Dr. and Mrs. Azan; and also that "the good Queen of Bavaria wept bitterly when she left Munich."
But, if Lola Montez was not very reliable, the editor of the Dublin Daily Express was similarly slipshod in his comments. "It is now," he declared, "well established that Lola Montez was born in 1824, her father being the son of a baronet."
Crossing from Ireland to England, Lola, prior to appearing in London, undertook a tour in the provinces. On January 8, 1859, she appeared at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, where her subject was "Portraits of English and American Character." This went down very well, although, to her disappointment, John Bright declined to take the chair. At Liverpool, however, "the public went almost wild with excitement"; and, as a result, her share of the box-office receipts was L250. But, although she attracted the mob, she managed to upset the susceptibilities of the critics. "Some of Madam's allusions," declared a shocked hearer, "were in questionable taste, and, as she delivered her address, the epithet 'coarse' fell from several members of the audience."
A visit to Chester, which followed the Liverpool one, was marked by an unfortunate incident:
"We learn with sorrow," said an eye-witness, "that on Thursday last the lady introduced, if not American, certainly not English, manners into one of our most venerable cathedrals. When, accompanied by a masculine escort, she entered the sacred edifice, the gentleman (?) demurred to removing his hat. While in dispute on this point of etiquette, Madam's pet dog attempted to join her. On being informed by the sexton that such canine companionship was inadmissible, her anger was aroused and she withdrew in considerable dudgeon."
The provincial tour was an extensive one; and, during it, she encountered a certain amount of competition. Thus, at Bristol she was sandwiched in between Barnum and a quarterly meeting of the Bible Society. None the less, "the fair Lola had a very cordial reception from a number of respectable citizens." But she was to have a set-back in one town that must have held many memories of her girlhood. This was Bath, where she appeared in the Assembly Rooms. The attitude of the press was distinctly inimical. "We must say," was one acid comment, "that a greater sell we have not met with for a very long time. All the audience got for their money were some remarks of the most commonplace and twaddling description. They lasted about an hour, and even this was an hour too much." Still, Brighton, where the tour finished, more than made up for Bath; and she was so successful there that "the Pavilion was crammed to the doors, and additional lectures had to be given." Thus, all was well that ended well.
A provincial triumph was worth having. Lola, however, had set her heart on conquering London. With this end in view, accordingly, she despatched an emissary ahead to make the preliminary arrangements. Offers of theatres were showered upon her. One was from that remarkable figure, Edward Tyrell Smith. She would probably have done well under his management, for nobody understood showmanship better than this British Barnum. In this direction he had nothing to learn from anybody. Beginning his career as a sailor, he had soon tired of a life on the ocean wave, and, abandoning the prospect of becoming another Nelson, had joined the police force as a humble constable. But he did not remain one long; and became in turn a Fleet Street publican, the proprietor of a Haymarket night-house, an auctioneer, a picture dealer, a bill discounter (with a side line in usury), and the editor of a Sunday organ. Next, the theatre attracted his energies; and in 1852 he secured a lease of Drury Lane at the moderate rental of L70 a week. On Boxing-night he offered his first programme there. This consisted of Uncle Tom's Cabin (with "fierce bloodhounds complete"), followed by a full length pantomime and a "roaring farce." Value for money in those palmy days. But, as an entrepreneur, Mr. Smith was always ahead of his period. Thus, he abolished the customary charge for booking; and, instead of increasing them, he lowered his prices when he had a success; and it is also to his credit that he introduced matinees.
Such a manager deserved to go far. This one did go far. Having discovered his niche, the pushful Smith soon had his fingers in several other pies. Thus, from Drury Lane he went to the Alhambra, and from the Alhambra to Astley's, with intervening spells at the Lyceum and the Elephant and Castle. He also took in his stride Her Majesty's and Cremorne. All was fish that he swept into his net. Some, of course, were minnows, but others were Tritons. Charles Mathews and the two Keans, together with Giuglini and Titiens, served under his banner, as did also acrobats, conjurers, and pugilists. He "ran" opera, circuses, gambling hells, and "moral waxworks" simultaneously; and, these fields of endeavour not being enough for him, he added to them by standing for Parliament (opposing Samuel Whitbread) and editing the Sunday Times. Always a man of resource, when he was conducting a tavern he put his barmaids into "bloomers." This daring stroke had its reward; and, by swelling the consumption of beer, perceptibly increased his bank balance. Hence, it is not perhaps unnatural that such widely spread activities should have inspired a lyrical apostrophe:
Awake, my Muse, with fervour and with pith, To sing the praise of Lessee Edward Smith!
Yet, shrewd as he was, Mr. Smith was himself once bitten. During his money-lending interval, he happened to discount (at what he considered a "business" rate) some bills for L600 out of which Prince Louis Napoleon, then sheltering in London, had been swindled by some card-sharpers at the notorious Judge and Jury Club. The next morning, the victim, coming to his senses, went to the police, and the police went to the sharpers. As a result, the members of the gang were arrested and the bills were cancelled. Feeling that he had a genuine grievance, since he was out of pocket by the transaction, the acceptor waited until a turn of Fortune's wheel had established Louis Napoleon at the Tuileries. He then wrote to him for permission to open some pleasure gardens in Paris on the lines of those he had conducted at Cremorne. The desired permission, however, was withheld.
"No gratitude," said the disappointed applicant.
Tempting as were the prospects he offered, Lola, after some discussion, felt that she could do better, from a financial point of view, without the help of Mr. E. T. Smith. Accordingly, making her own arrangements, she hired the St. James's Hall, where, on April 7, 1859, she delivered the first of a series of four lectures.
Although a considerable interval had elapsed since she was last in London, the public had not forgotten the dramatic circumstances under which she had then appeared at Marlborough Street police court. This fact, combined with the lure of her subject, "Beautiful Women," was sufficient to cram every portion of the building with an interested and expectant audience. They came from all parts. Clapham and Highgate were no less anxious for guidance than Kensington and Belgravia. If an entertainment-tax had been levied at that period the revenue would have benefited substantially. "The appearance on the platform of the fair lecturer," said one account, "was responsible for the most extensive display of opera glasses that has been seen in London since the Empress Eugenie visited the Opera."
By an unfortunate coincidence, the St. James's Hall premiere clashed with another attraction elsewhere. This was the confirmation that evening of the dusky King of Bonny by the Bishop of London. Still, a considerable number managed to attend both items; and, of the two, the lecture proved the greater draw.
Striking a note of warning at the outset, Lola began by telling her hearers that, "It is the penalty of Nature that young girls must fade and become as wizened as their grandmothers." But she had a message of hope to offer, for, she said, "wrinkles can be warded off and autumn tresses made to preserve their pristine freshness." The cure was merely careful dieting and the "abolition of injurious cosmetics and the health-destroying bodice." Taking the measure of her audience, she laid on flattery with a trowel. "You have," she assured them, "only to look into the ranks of the upper classes to see around you the most beautiful women in Europe; and where this is concerned, I must give the preference to the nobility of England." Among the examples held up for admiration by her were the Duchess of Sutherland—"the paragon and type of Britain's aristocracy"—and "the very voluptuous Lady Blessington." Approval for the Duchess of Wellington, however, was less pronounced, since, while admitting her physical charms, Lola declared her to be "of little intellect, and as cold as a piece of sculpture."
Claiming to have visited Turkey (but omitting to say when), Lola offered an item unrecorded in the archives of the British Embassy there:
"In Turkey I saw very few beautiful women. The lords of creation in that part of the world treat the opposite sex as you would geese—stuff them to make them fat. Through the politeness of Sir Stratford Canning, English Ambassador at Constantinople, I was kindly permitted to visit the Sultan's harem as often as I pleased and there look upon the 'lights of the world.' These 'lights of the world' consisted of five hundred bodies of unwieldy avoirdupois. The ladies of the harem gazed upon my leanness with commiserating wonder."
The lecture finished up on a high note:
"It has been my privilege to see some of the most celebrated beauties that shine in the gilded courts of fashion throughout the world—from St. James's to St. Petersburg, from Paris to India—and yet I am unaware of any quality that can atone for the absence of an unpolished mind and an unlovely heart. A charming activity of soul is the real source of woman's beauty. It is that which gives the sweetest expression to her face and lights up her personnel."
In the matter of publicity Lola had nothing of which to complain; and the next morning descriptive columns were published by the dozen.
The debut of Madame Lola Montez (announced the Star), in the presence of a large and fashionable gathering, was a decided success. Every portion of the spacious and elegant building was completely filled. Madame presented herself in that black velvet costume which seems to be the only alternative to white muslin for ladies who aspire to be considered historic. Not Marie Stuart herself could have become it better than Lola Montez. Her face, air, attitude, and elocution are thoroughly and bewilderingly feminine. Perhaps her smartest and happiest remark was the one in which, with a pretty affectation, she says, "If I were a gentleman, I should like an American young lady to flirt with, but a typical English girl for a wife." This dictum was received with much applause.
One can well believe it.
An anonymous leader, but which, from its florid touches, was evidently penned by George Augustus Sala, dwelt on Lola's personality:
Some disappointment may have been caused by the appearance of the fair lecturer. A Semiramis, a Zenobia, a Cleopatra, in marvellous robes of gold and silver tissue, might have been looked for; but, in reality, the rostrum was occupied by a very handsome lady, with a very charming voice and a very winning smile.... Madame Lola Montez lectures very well and very naturally. Some will go to hear the accomplished elocutionist; others will be envious to see the wife of Captain James and silly Mr. Heald; the friend of Dujarier and Beauvalon; the cara sposa of King Ludwig. Phryne went to the bath as Venus—and Madame Lola Montez lectures at St. James's Hall.
Taking a professional interest in everything connected, however remotely, with the drama (and having more time in which to do it) the Era offered its readers a considered opinion at greater length:
If any amongst the full and fashionable auditory that attended her first appearance fancied (with a lively recollection of certain scandalous chronicles in the newspapers touching upon her antecedents) that they were about to behold a formidable-looking woman, of Amazonian audacity and palpably strong-wristed as well as strong-minded, their disappointment must have been grievous; greater if they anticipated the legendary bulldog at her side, and the traditionary pistols in her girdle, and the horse-whip in her hand. The Lola Montez who made a graceful and impressive obeisance to those who gave her on Thursday night so cordial and encouraging a reception appeared simply as a good-looking lady in the bloom of womanhood, attired in a plain black dress, with easy unrestrained manners.... The lecture might have been a newspaper article, the first chapter of a book of travels, or the speech of a long-winded American Ambassador at a Mansion House dinner. All was exceedingly decorous and diplomatic, slightly gilded here and there with those commonplace laudations that stir a British public into the utterance of patriotic plaudits. A more inoffensive entertainment could hardly be imagined; and when the six sections into which the lady had divided her discourse, were exhausted, and her final bow elicited a renewal of the applause that had accompanied her entrance, the impression on the departing visitors must have been that of having spent an hour in company with a well-informed lady who had gone to America, had seen much to admire there, and, coming back, had had over the tea-table the talk of the evening to herself. Whatever the future disquisitions of the Countess of Landsfeld may be, there is little doubt that many will go to hear them for the sake of the peculiar celebrity of the lecturer.
To this, the Era reporter naively added: "Her foreign accent might belong to any language from Irish to Bavarian."
Lola did not have the field entirely to herself. While she was telling the St. James's Hall public how to improve their appearance at very small cost, a rival practitioner, with a salon in Bond Street, was, in the advertisement columns of the morning papers, announcing her readiness to furnish the necessary requisites at a very high figure. This was a "Madame Rachel," some of whose dupes parted with as much as five hundred guineas, on the understanding that she would make them "Beautiful for ever!"
Like Lola Montez, "Madame Rachel" brought out a puff pamphlet, directing attention to her specifics. This production beat the effort of the Rev. Chauncey Burr, for it bristled with references, to the Bible and Shakespeare, to Grace Darling and Florence Nightingale. Among her nostrums was a bottle of "Jordan Water," which she sold at the modest figure of L15 15s. a flask. Chemical analysis, however, revealed it to have come, not from Palestine, but from the River Thames. She also supplied, on extortionate terms, various drugs and "medical treatment" of a description upon which the Law frowns heavily. As a result, "Madame Rachel" left Bond Street for the dock of the Old Bailey, where she was sent to penal servitude for swindling.
In the lecture on "Wits and Women of Paris," Lola did not forget her old friends. She had a good word for Dumas:
"Of the literary lights during my residence in Paris, Alexandre Dumas was the first, as he would be in any city anywhere. He was not only the boon companion of princes, but he was the prince of boon companions. He is now about fifty-five years old, a tall, fine-looking man, with intellect stamped on his brow. Of all the men I ever met he is the most brilliant in conversation. He is always sought for at convivial suppers, and is always sure to attend them."
Discretion, perhaps, prevented her saying anything about Dujarier and the tragedy of his death. Still, she had something to say about Roger de Beauvoir, whom she declared to be "one of the three men that kept Paris alive when I was there." Her recollection of Jules Janin rankled. "He was," she said, "a malicious and caustic critic. Everybody feared him, and everybody was civil to him through fear. I do not know anyone (even his wife) who loves him in Paris." But Eugene Sue was in another category. "He was an honest, sincere, truth-loving man; and it will be long before Paris can fill the place which his death has made vacant."
In the "Heroines of History" lecture the audience were told that "All history is full of startling examples of female heroism, proving that woman's heart is made of as stout a stuff and of as brave a metal as that which beats within the ribs of the coarser sex." But, feminist as she was, Lola had no sympathy with any suggestion to grant them the franchise. "Women who get together in conventions for the purpose of ousting men will never," she declared, "accomplish anything. They can effect legislation only by quiet and judicious counsel. These convention women are very poor politicians."
The last lectures in the series dealt with "Comic Aspects of Love," and "Strong-minded Women." Among the typical specimens offered for consideration were such diverse personalities as Semiramis, Queen Elizabeth, the Countess of Derby, George Sand, and Mrs. Bloomer. In the discourse on "The Comic Aspects of Love" the range swept from Aristotle and Plato to Mahomet and the Mormons. If the B.B.C. had been in existence, Lola would undoubtedly have been booked for a "talk." As it was, two of the lectures were reprinted in The Welcome Guest, "a magazine of recreative reading for all," with Robert Browning, Charles Kingsley and Monckton Milnes among its contributors. Thinking they had a market, an enterprising publisher rushed out a volume, The Lectures of Lola Montez. When a copy reached the editor, it was reviewed in characteristically elephantine fashion by the Athenaeum:
"We can imagine the untravelled dames of Fifth Avenue listening with wonder to a female lecturer who seems to have lived hand in glove with all the crowned heads of Europe; and who can tell them, not only Who's-Who, but also repeat their conversations, criticise their personal appearances, and describe the secret arts by which the men preserve their powers and the women their beauty."
THE CURTAIN FALLS
At the end of the year 1859, Lola, once more a bird of passage, was on the way back to America, taking with her some fresh material for another lecture campaign. This, entitled "John Bull at Home," fell very flat; and instead of, as hitherto, addressing crowded halls, she now found scanty gatherings wherever she was booked. Even when the charge of admission was reduced from the original figure of a dollar to one of 25 cents, "business" did not improve. Uncle Sam made it obvious that he took no sort of interest in John Bull, either at home or elsewhere.
America, however, was, as it happened, taking a very lively interest in something else just then that did happen to be connected with John Bull's country. This was the visit of the Prince of Wales. It had been announced by an imaginative journalist that H.R.H. was to be "piloted" during his tour by John Camel Heenan, otherwise the "Benicia Boy." It was, however, under the more rigid tutelage of General Bruce that the distinguished guest landed on American shores. Mere prose not being adequate to record the historic incident a laureate set to work:
He came! A slender youth and fair! A courtly, gentlemanly grace—the Grace of God! The tenure of his mother's Throne, and great men's fame Sat like a sparkling jewel on his brow. Ah, Albert Edward! When you homeward sail Take back with you, and treasure in your soul A wholesome lesson which you here may learn!
While he was in New York a ball in honour of the Prince was given at the Opera House by the "Committee of Welcome." This inspired a second laureate, Edmund Clarence Stedman:
But as ALBERT EDWARD, young and fair, Stood on the canopied dais-chair, And looked from the circle crowding there To the length and breadth of the outer scene, Perhaps he thought of his mother, the QUEEN: (Long may her empery be serene! Long may the Heir of England prove Loyal and tender; may he pay No less allegiance to her love Than to the sceptre of her sway!)
The visit of the Prince of Wales was not the only attraction challenging the popularity of Lola Montez at this period. There was another rival, and one in more direct competition with herself. This was Sam Cowell, a music-hall "star" from England. A comedian of genuine talent, he took America by storm with a couple of ballads, "The Rat-Catcher's Daughter" and "Villikins and his Dinah." The public flocked to hear him in their thousands. Lola's lectures fell very flat. Even fresh material and reduced prices failed to serve as a lure. The position was becoming serious.
But, while her manager looked glum when he examined the box-office figures, Lola was not upset, for she had suddenly developed another activity, and one to which she was giving all her attention. This was the occult. The "Voices" at whose bidding she had abandoned the stage a couple of years earlier were now insistent that she should drop the platform; and, casting in her lot with the "Spirits," get into touch with a mysterious region vaguely referred to as "the Beyond."
It was a time when spiritualism was flourishing like a green bay tree. Mrs. Hayden ("the wife of a respectable journalist") and the Fox Sisters had been playing their pranks for years and collecting dollars from dupes all over the country; and their rivals, the Davenport Brothers, with Daniel Dunglas Home (Browning's "Sludge, the Medium") were humbugging Harvard professors, financial magnates, and Supreme Court judges; and, not to be behindhand, other experts were (for a cash consideration) calling up Columbus and Shakespeare and Napoleon, who talked to them at seances as readily as if they were at the end of a telephone, but with pronounced American accents.
Lola's first reaction was all that could be desired. There never was a more promising recruit or a more receptive one. Quite prepared to take the "Voices" on trust, and to contribute liberally to the "cause," she attended a number of psychic circles, arranged by Stephen Andrews and other charlatans; listened to mysterious rappings and tappings coming out of the darkness; felt inanimate objects being lifted across the room; heard tambourines rattled by invisible hands; and unquestionably swallowed all the traditional tomfoolery that appears to be part and parcel of such "phenomena."
This state of things might have continued indefinitely. By, however, an unfortunate mischance, a "medium," from whom much was expected, went, in his endeavour to give satisfaction, a little too far. Not keeping a vigilant eye on European happenings, he announced at one such gathering that the "spirit" addressing the assembly was that of Ludwig of Bavaria. As, however, Ludwig was still in the land of the living (where, by the way, he remained for several years to come) it was a bad slip. The result was, Lola felt her faith shaken, and, convinced that she was being exploited, shut up her purse, and withdrew from the promised "guidance."
Under stress of emotion, some women take to the bottle; others to the Bible. With Lola Montez, however, it was a case of from Bunkum to Boanerges, from the circle to the conventicle. Spiritualism had been tried and found wanting. Casting about for something with which to fill the empty niche and adjust her equilibrium, she turned to religion for consolation. The brand she selected was that favoured by the Methodists. One would scarcely imagine that Little Bethel would have had much appeal to her. But perhaps its very drabness and remoteness from the world of the footlights proved a welcome relief.
Having "got religion," Lola fastened upon it with characteristic fervour. It occupied all her thoughts; and in the process she soon developed what would now be dubbed a marked inferiority-complex.
"Lord," she wrote at this period, "Thy mercies are great to me. Oh! how little are they deserved, filthy worm that I am! Oh! that the Holy Spirit may fill my soul with prayer! Lord, have mercy on Thy weary wanderer, and grant me all I beseech of Thee! Oh! give me a meek and lowly heart. Amen."
A doctor, had she consulted one just then, would probably have prescribed a blue pill.
There is a theory that the "Light" had been vouchsafed as the result of a chance visit to Spurgeon's Tabernacle when she was last in England. Although Spurgeon himself never put forward any such claim, a diary that Lola kept at the time has a significant entry:
September 10, 1859.
How many, many years of my life have been sacrificed to Satan and my own love of sin! What have I not been guilty of in thought or deed during these years of wretchedness! Oh! I dare not think of the past. What have I not been! I only lived for my own passions; and what is there of good even in the best natural human being! What would I not give to have my terrible and fearful experience given as an awful warning to such natures as my own!
A week later, things not having improved during the interval, she took stock of her position in greater detail:
I am afraid sometimes that I think too well of myself. But let me only look back to the past. Oh! how I am humbled.... How manifold are my sins, and how long in years have I lived a life of evil passions without a check!
To-morrow (the Lord's Day) is the day of peace and happiness. Once it seemed to me anything but a happy day. But now all is wonderfully changed in my heart.... This week I have principally sinned through hastiness of temper and uncharitableness of feeling towards my neighbour. Oh! that I could have only love for others and hatred of myself!
Another passage ran:
To-morrow is Sunday, and I shall go into the poor little humble chapel, and there will I mingle my prayers with the fervent pastor, and with the good and true. There is no pomp or ceremony among these. All is simple. No fine dresses, no worldly display, but the honest Methodist breathes forth a sincere prayer, and I feel much unity of souls.
The "conversion" of Lola Montez was no flash in the pan, or the result of a sudden impulse. It was a real one, deep and sincere and lasting. Her former triumphs on the stage and in the boudoir had become as dust and ashes. Compared with her new-found joy in religion, all else was vanity and emptiness.
"I can forget my French and German, and everything else I have valued," she is declared to have said to a pressman, who, scenting a "news story," followed hot-foot on her track, "but I cannot forget my Christ."
She had been "Montez the Magnificent." Now she was "Montez the Magdalen." The woman whose voluptuous beauty and unbridled passion had upset thrones and fired the hearts of men was now concerned with the saving of souls. As such, she resolved to spread "the Word" among others less happily circumstanced. To this end, she preached in conventicles and visited hospitals, asylums, and prisons, offering a helping hand to all who would accept one, and especially to "unfortunates" of her own sex. She had her disappointments. But neither snubs nor setbacks, nor sneers nor jeers could turn her from the path she had elected to tread.
"In the course of a long experience as a Christian minister," says a clergyman whom she encountered at this period, "I do not think I ever saw deeper penitence and humility, more real contrition of soul, and more bitter self-reproach than in this poor woman."
"With," he adds, in an oleaginous little tract on the subject, "a heart full of generous sympathy for the poor outcasts of her own sex, she devoted the last few months of her life to visiting them at the Magdalen Asylum, near New York.... She strove to impress upon them not only the awful guilt of breaking the divine law, but the inevitable earthly sorrow which those who persisted with thoughtless desperation in sinful courses were assuredly treasuring up for themselves."
But, except those who encountered her charity and self-sacrifice, there were few who had a good word for Lola Montez in her character as a Magdalen. People who had fawned upon her in the days of her success now jeered and sneered and affected to doubt the reality of her penitence. "Once a sinner, always a sinner," they declared; and "Lola in the pulpit is rich!" was another barbed shaft.
In thus abandoning the buskin for the Bible, Lola Montez was following one example and setting another. The example she followed was that of Mlle Gautier, of the Comedie Francaise, who, after flashing across the horizon of Maurice de Saxe (and several others), left the footlights and retired to a convent. "It is true," she says in her memoirs, "that I have encountered during my theatrical career a number of people whose morals have been as irreproachable as their talents, but I myself was not among them." This was putting it—well—mildly, for, according to Le d'Hoefer, "her stage career was marked by a freedom of manner pushed to the extremity of licence."
In the sisterhood that she joined the new name of Mlle Gautier was Sister Augustine. As such, she lived a Carmelite nun for thirty-two years. But time did not hang heavy on her hands, for, in addition to religious exercises and domestic tasks, she occupied herself with painting miniatures and composing verses. "I am so happy here," she wrote from her cell, "that I much regret having delayed too long entering this holy place. The real calm and peace I have now discovered have made me imagine all my previous life an evil dream."
The example that Lola Montez was setting was to be followed, fifty years later, by another member of her calling. This was Eve Lavalliere, who, after a distinctly hectic career, cut herself adrift from the footlights of Paris and entered the mission-field of North Africa. "Here at your feet," she says in one of her letters, "lies the vilest, lowest, and most contemptible object on earth, a worm from the dung-heap, the most infamous, the most soiled of all creatures. Lord, I am but a poor sheep in your flock!"
There is also something of a parallel between the career of Lola Montez and that of Theodora, who, once in the circus ring, and, at the start, a lady of decidedly easy virtue, afterwards became the consort of the Emperor Justinian and shared his throne. Like Lola, too, Theodora endeavoured to make amends for her early slips by voluntarily abandoning the pomp and power she had once enjoyed and giving herself up to the redemption of "fallen women."