LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU
Her Life and Letters (1689-1762)
WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY AUBREY HAMMOND, AND SIXTEEN OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS
To EDITH AND JOHN CABOURN
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has her niche in the history of medicine as having introduced inoculation from the Near East into England; but her principal fame is as a letter-writer.
Of her gifts as a correspondent she was proud, and with reason. It was in all sincerity that in June, 1726, she wrote to her sister, Lady Mar: "The last pleasures that fell in my way was Madame Sevigne's letters: very pretty they are, but I assert, without the least vanity, that mine will be full as entertaining forty years hence. I advise you, therefore, to put none of them to the use of waste paper." And again, later in the year, she said half-humorously to the same correspondent: "I writ to you some time ago a long letter, which I perceive never came to your hands: very provoking; it was certainly a chef d'oeuvre of a letter, and worthy any of the Sevigne's or Grignan's, crammed with news." That Lady Mary's belief in herself was well founded no one has disputed. Even Horace Walpole, who detested her and made attacks on her whenever possible, said that "in most of her letters the wit and style are superior to any letters I have ever read but Madame de Sevigne's." A very pleasant tribute from one who had a goodly conceit of himself as a letter-writer.
Walpole, as a correspondent, was perhaps more sarcastic and more witty; Cowper undoubtedly more tender and more gentle; but Lady Mary had qualities all her own. She had powers of observation and the gift of description, which qualities are especially to be remarked in the letters she wrote when abroad with her husband on his Mission to the Porte. She had an ironic wit which gave point to the many society scandals she narrated, a happy knack of gossip, and a style so easy as to make reading a pleasure.
Some of the incidents which Lady Mary retails with so much humour may be accepted as not outraging the conventions of the early eighteenth century when it was customary to call a spade a spade; when gallantry was gallantry indeed, and the pursuit of it openly conducted. What is not mentioned by those who have written about her is that she was possessed of a particularly unsavoury strain of impropriety which outraged even the canons of her age. Some twenty years after her death, it was mentioned in the Gentleman's Magazine that Dr. Young, the author of Night Thoughts, had a little before his death destroyed a great number of her letters, assigning as a reason of his doing so that they were too indecent for public inspection. Only the other day I had confirmation of this from a distinguished man of letters who wrote to me: "I have somewhere hidden away a copy of a letter by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, which was sent to me by a well-known collector about thirty-five years ago, because he couldn't destroy it and wouldn't for worlds be found dead with it in his possession—so terrific is it in character. I'll tell you about it some day when we meet: I can't write it. In any case you couldn't use it or even refer to it.... I suppose that my friend quite felt that the document, however objectionable, should not, on literary grounds, be destroyed. What my executors will think of me for having it in my possession, the Devil only knows."
Whether this strain permeated the diary which Lady Mary left behind her when she eloped in 1712, and which was destroyed by one of her sisters, no one can say; but it is a curious fact that the diary she kept in later years was destroyed by her devoted daughter, Lady Bute. "Though Lady Bute always spoke of Lady Mary with great respect," wrote Lady Louisa Stuart, "yet it might be perceived that she knew it had been too much her custom to note down and enlarge upon all the scandalous rumours of the day, without weighing their truth or even their probability; to record as certain facts stories that perhaps sprang up like mushrooms from the dirt, and had as brief an existence, but tended to defame persons of the most spotless character. In this age, she said everything got into print sooner or later; the name of Lady Mary Wortley would be sure to attract curiosity; and were such details ever made public, they would neither edify the world, nor do honour to her memory."
Lady Bute heard that her mother's letters were in existence, and, fearful of what they might contain, purchased them. "It is known that when on her way to die, as it proved, in her own country, Lady Mary gave a copy of the letters to Mr. Snowden, minister of the English church at Rotterdam, attesting the gift by her signature," Lady Louisa Stuart has written. "This showed it was her wish that they should eventually be published; but Lady Bute, hearing only that a number of her mother's letters were in a stranger's hands, and having no certainty what they might be, to whom addressed, or how little of a private matter, could not but earnestly desire to obtain them, and readily paid the price demanded—five hundred pounds. In a few months she saw them appear in print. Such was the fact, and how it came about nobody at this time of day need either care or inquire."
With regard to other correspondence of Lady Mary, Sir Robert Walpole returned to her the letters she had written to his second wife, Molly Skerritt, after the death of that lady; and when Lord Hervey died, his eldest son sealed up and sent her her letters, with an assurance that he had read none of them. To Lord Hervey's heir, Lady Louisa Stuart has mentioned, Lady Mary wrote a letter of thanks for his honourable conduct, adding that she could almost regret he had not glanced his eye over a correspondence which would have shown him what so young a man might perhaps be inclined to doubt—the possibility of a long and steady friendship subsisting between two persons of different sexes without the least mixture of love. Much pleased with this letter, he preserved it; and, when Lady Mary came to England, showed it to Lady Bute desiring she would ask leave for him to visit her mother.
It is to be presumed that Lady Mary, or her daughter, Lady Bute, destroyed these collections. For her part, Lady Mary returned letters that she had received from Lord Hervey, but only those that belonged to the last fourteen years of an acquaintance that had endured twice so long. These are for the greater number platonic in character, although there are a few phrases of a freer kind. Croker, who edited Lord Hervey's Memoirs, mentions that Hervey, answering one of her letters in 1737, in which she had complained that she was too old to inspire passion, after paying a compliment to her charms more gallant than decorous, said: "I should think anybody a great fool that said he liked spring better than summer merely because it is further from autumn, or that they loved green fruit better than ripe only because it was further from being rotten. I ever did, and believe ever shall, like women best—
"Just in the noon of life—those golden days, When the mind ripens as the form decays."
Lady Mary was then in her forty-ninth year, being six years Hervey's senior.
Lady Louisa Stuart, writing in 1837—that is, seventy-five years after the death of her grandmother, Lady Mary—wrote indignantly of the attacks that had been made upon her ancestress. "The multitude of stories circulated about her—as about all people who were objects of note in their day—increase, instead of lessening, the difficulty," she said. "Some of these may be confidently pronounced inventions, simple and purely false; some, if true, concerned a different person; some were grounded upon egregious blunders; and not a few upon jests, mistaken by the dull and literal for earnest. Others, again, where a little truth and a great deal of falsehood were probably intermingled, nobody now living can pretend to confirm, or contradict, or unravel. Nothing is so readily believed, yet nothing is usually so unworthy of credit, as tales learned from report, or caught up in casual conversation. A circumstance carelessly told, carelessly listened to, half comprehended, and imperfectly remembered, has a poor chance of being repeated accurately by the first hearer; but when, after passing through the moulding of countless hands, it comes, with time, place, and person, gloriously confounded, into those of a bookmaker ignorant of all its bearings, it will be lucky indeed if any trace of the original groundwork remains distinguishable."
Lady Mary's most redoubtable assailants were Pope and Horace Walpole, and both were biassed. The story of Pope's quarrel with her is told in the following pages. Walpole, it has been suggested, disliked her much because she had championed his father's mistress, Molly Skerritt, against the mother to whom he was devoted. Pope, of course, knew her well; but Walpole, who was twenty-eight years her junior, only met her in her late middle age. Walpole's prejudice was so great what when Lady Mary said, "People wish their enemies dead—but I do not. I say, give them the gout, give them the stone," he reported it solemnly.
Of course, it is not to be assumed that Lady Mary had not her full share of malice—she was undoubtedly well equipped with that useful quality—and she did not turn the other cheek when she was assailed. She could even stand up to the vitriolic Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and stand up so effectively that they tacitly agreed to an armed neutrality that verged perilously upon friendship. The young Duke of Wharton sometimes beat her in open fight, but she harboured no very angry feelings towards him. As regards Pope, if it was not tit-for-tat with him, at least she gave him hard knocks. Pope, great poet as he was, never played fair in war.
"Lady Mary, quite contrary," she might have been dubbed, for she was frequently in trouble. The Remond scandal, that will presently be unfolded, was a thing apart; but her witty tongue made her many enemies and cost her many friends. Had the contents of her letters about London society become known at the time, nearly every man's and all women's hands would have been against her. She had, in fact, little that was kind to say about people; when she had, she usually refrained from mentioning it.
In this work Lady Mary's letters, either whole or in part, are given only in so far as they have biographical or historical value. At the same time I have, wherever possible, allowed Lady Mary to tell her story, or to give her impressions, in her own words. The quotations have been taken, by kind permission of Messrs. J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., from the edition of the letters in their "Everyman Library" (edited by Mr. Ernest Rhys), with an introduction by Mr. R. Brimley Johnson.
The first edition of the letters appeared in three volumes in 1763, believed to have been edited by John Cleland. A fourth volume, issued in 1763, is regarded by Sir Leslie Stephen as of doubtful authenticity. James Dallaway, in 1803, brought out an enlarged collection and added to it the poems, and a second edition, with some new letters, appeared fourteen years later. Lady Mary's great-grandson, Lord Wharncliffe, edited the correspondence in 1837, and this, revised by Mr. Moy Thomas, was reprinted in 1861 and again in 1887.
There have been published selections from the correspondence by Mr. A.R. Ropes (1892) and by Mr. Hannaford Bennett (1923).
The principal authorities for the life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu are the Memoirs of James Dallaway prefixed to an edition of the Works (1803) and the Introductory Anecdotes in a new edition (1837) by Lady Louisa Stuart, the daughter of Lady Bute and the granddaughter of Lady Mary. There is another account of Lady Mary by the late Moy Thomas in revised editions of the letters and writings (1861 and 1887). Sir Leslie Stephen was responsible for the memoir in the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1907 appeared Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her Times, by that sound authority on the eighteenth century, "George Paston," who was so fortunate as to discover many scores of letters hitherto unpublished.
Other sources of information are to be found in Pope's Correspondence, Spence's Anecdotes, Dilke's Papers of a Critic, Cobbetts Memorials of Twickenham, the Stuart MSS. at Windsor Castle, the MSS. of the Duke of Beaufort, and the Lindsay MSS.
My thanks—though not, perhaps, the thanks of my readers—are especially due to that ripe scholar Mr. Hannaford Bennett, who suggested this work to me. I am indebted to Mr. M.H. Spielmann and other friends and correspondents for information and suggestions. Finally, I must acknowledge the valuable assistance of Mrs. E. Constance Monfrino in the preparation of this biography.
London, March, 1925.
Birth of Mary Pierrepont, after Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—Account of the Pierrepont family—Lady Mary's immediate ancestors—Her father, Evelyn Pierrepont, succeeds to the Earldom of Kingston in 1790—The extinct marquisate of Dorchester revived in his favour—His marriage—Issue of the marriage—Death of his wife—Lady Mary stays with her grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Pierrepont—Her early taste for reading—She learns Latin, and, presently, Italian—Encouraged in her literary ambitions by her uncle, William Feilding, and Bishop Burnet—Submits to the Bishop a translation of "Encheiridion" of Epictetus—An attractive child—A "toast" at the Kit-Cat Club—Acts as hostess to her father
Lady Mary makes the acquaintance of Edward Wortley Montagu—Montagu attracted by her looks and her literary gifts. Assists her in her studies—Montagu a friend of the leading men of letters of the day—Addison, Steele, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and others—The second volume of the Tatler dedicated to him by Steele—Montagu a staunch Whig—His paternal interest for Lady Mary does not endure—He becomes a suitor for her hand—Lady Mary's devotion and respect for him—Her flirtations—She and Montagu correspond through the medium of his sister, Anne—Lady Mary's mordant humour—Her delight in retailing society scandal—The death of Anne Wortley—Lady Mary and Montagu henceforth communicate direct—Her first letter to him
COURTSHIP, ELOPEMENT, AND MARRIAGE (1710-1712)
A lengthy courtship—Montagu a laggard lover—Lady Mary and Montagu exchange views on married life—Montagu proposes for her to Lord Dorchester—Dorchester refuses, since Montagu will not make settlements—Montagu's views on settlements expressed (by Steele) in the Tatler—Although not engaged, the young people continue to correspond—Lord Dorchester produces another suitor of his daughter—She consents to an engagement—The preparations for the wedding—She confides the whole story to Montagu—She breaks off the engagement—She and Montagu decide to elope—She runs up to London—Marriage—Lady Mary's diary destroyed by her sister, Lady Frances Pierrepont
EARLY MARRIED LIFE (1712-1714)
An uneventful existence—Montagu's Parliamentary duties take him to London—Lady Mary stays mostly in the country—Correspondence—Montagu a careless husband, but very careful of his money—Later he becomes a miser—Lady Mary does not disguise the tedium of her existence— Concerning a possible reconciliation with her father—Lord Pierrepont of Hanslope—Lord Halifax—Birth of a son, christened after his father, Edward Wortley Montagu—The mother's anxiety about his health—Family events—Lady Evelyn Pierrepont marries Baron (afterwards Earl) Gower—Lady Frances Pierrepont marries the Earl of Mar—Lord Dorchester marries again—Has issue, two daughters—The death of Lady Mary's brother, William. His son, Evelyn, in due course succeeds to the Dukedom of Kingston—Elizabeth Chudleigh—The political situation in 1714—The death of Queen Anne—The accession of George I—The unrest in the country—Lady Mary's alarm for her son
THE ACCESSION OF GEORGE I (1714)
Lady Mary shows an increasing interest in politics—She tries to incite her husband to be ambitious—Montagu not returned to the new Parliament—His lack of energy—Correspondence—The Council of Regency—The King commands Lord Townshend to form a Government—The Cabinet—Lord Halifax, First Lord of the Treasury—Montagu appointed a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury—Correspondence—The unsatisfactory relations between Lady Mary and Montagu
LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU'S ACCOUNT OF THE COURT OF GEORGE I
AT HERRENHAUSEN AND ST. JAMES (1714-1716)
The Elector George Lewis not delighted at his accession to the British throne—A greater man in Hanover than in London—Lady Mary modifies her first impression of the King—She is in high favour at Court—An amusing incident at St. James's—The early unpopularity of George I in England generally, and especially in the capital—The Hanoverians in the Royal Household—The Duchess of Kendal—The Countess of Darlington—Lady Mary's description of the Hanoverian ladies—The Duchess of Kendal's passion for money—Her influence with the King in political matters— Count de Broglie—The scandal about Lady Darlington refuted—Lady Mary and the Prince of Wales—The King and the Prince of Wales—The poets and wits of the day—Gray's tribute to Lady Mary—Pope's verses on her—"Court Poems"
THE EMBASSY TO THE PORTE (1716-1718)—I
Montagu loses his place at the Treasury—His antagonism against Walpole—Lady Mary, "Dolly" Walpole, and Molly Skerritt—The Earl and Countess of Mar leave England—Montagu appointed Ambassador to the Porte—Leaves England for Constantinople, accompanied by his wife— Letters during the Embassy to Constantinople—Rotterdam—Vienna—Lady Mary at Court—Her gown—Her interest in clothes—Viennese society— Gallantry—Lady Mary's experience—Court Tarrocco—Precedence at Vienna—A nunnery—The Montagus visit the German Courts—A dangerous drive—Prince Frederick (afterwards Prince of Wales)—Herrenhausen
THE EMBASSY TO THE PORTS (1716-1718)—II
Adrianople—Turkish baths—Lady Mary wears Turkish dress—Her description of the costume—Her views on Turkish women—She becomes acquainted with the practice of inoculation—Her son engrafted—Her belief in the operation—She later introduces it into England—Dr. Richard Mead—Richard Steele supports her campaign—Constantinople—Lady Mary homesick—Exposes the British ignorance of Turkish life—Montagu recalled—Addison's private letter to him—Lady Mary gives birth to a daughter—The return journey—The Montagus at Paris—Lady Mary sees her sister, Lady Mar
Montagu re-enters the House of Commons—His miserliness—Pope refers to it—Comments on Society—Lady Mary and a first-class scandal—Remond— His admiration for her—Her imprudent letters to him—The South Sea Bubble—Lady Mary speculates for Remond—She loses money for him—He demands to be re-imbursed—He threatens to publish her letters—She states the case in letters to Lady Mar—Lady Mary meets Pope—His letters to her when she was abroad—He affects to be in love with her—Her matter-of-fact replies—Her parody of his verses, "On John Hughes and Sarah Drew"
The Montagus take a house at Twickenham—Lady Mary's liking for country life—Neighbours and visitors—Pope—Bononcini, Anastasia Robinson, Senesino—Lord Peterborough—Sir Geoffrey Kneller—Henrietta Howard—Lord Bathurst—The Duke of Wharton—His early history—He comes to Twickenham—His relations with Lady Mary—Horace Walpole's reference to them—Pope's bitter onsaught on the Duke—An Epilogue by Lady Mary—"On the Death of Mrs. Bowes"—The Duke quarrels with Lady Mary
A FAMOUS QUARREL
Pope and Lady Mary—He pays her compliments—His jealousy of her other admirers—The cause of his quarrel with her—His malicious attacks on her thereafter—Writer of her as "Sappho"—Lady Mary asks Arbuthnot to protect her—Molly Skerritt—Lady Stafford—Lady Mar's malicious tongue and pen—Mrs. Murray—"An Epistle from Arthur Grey"—Lady Mary, Lord Hervey, and Molly Lepell—Death of the Earl of Kingston—Lady Gower—Lady Mar—Marriage of Lady Mary's daughter
ON THE CONTINENT (1739-1744)
Lady Mary leaves England—She does not return for twenty years Montagu supposed to join her—The domestic relations of the Montagus—A septennial act for marriage—Lady Mary corresponds with her husband—Dijon—Turin—Venice—Bologna—Florence—The Monastery of La Trappe—Horace Walpole at Florence—His comments on Lady Mary and her friends—Reasons for his dislike of her—Rome—The Young Pretender and Henry, Cardinal York—Wanderings—Cheapness of life in Italy—Lady Mary's son, Edward—He is a great trouble to his parents—His absurd marriage—His extravagance and folly—Account of his early years—He visits Lady Mary at Valence—Her account of the interviews
LADY MARY AS A READER
Her fondness for reading—Her difficulty to get enough books while abroad—Lady Bute keeps her supplied—Lady Mary's catholic taste in literature—Samuel Richardson—The vogue of Clarissa Harlowe—Lady Mary tells a story of the Richardson type—Henry Fielding—Joseph Andrews—Tom Jones—Her high opinion of Fielding and Steele—Tobias Smollett—Peregrins Pickle—Lady Vare's Memoirs of a Lady of Quality—Sarah Fielding—Minor writers—Lord Orrery's Remarks on Swift—Bolingbroke's works—Addison and Pope—Dr. Johnson
LADY MARY ON EDUCATION AND WOMAN'S RIGHTS
The choice of books for children's reading—The dangers of a narrow education—Lady Mary advocates the higher education of women—Girls should be taught languages—Lady Mary's theories of education for girls—Women writers in Italy—A "rumpus" made by ladies in the House of Lords—Woman's Rights—Lady Mary's views on religion
ON THE CONTINENT (1745-1760)
Lady Mary stays at Avignon—She removes to Brescia—And then to Lovere—She abandons all idea of Montagu joining her abroad—Her house at Lovere—Her daily round—Her health—Her anxiety about her son—An amazing incident—A serious illness—A novel in a letter—Her correspondence attracts the attention of the Italian authorities—Sir James and Lady Frances Steuart—Politics—She is in the bad books of the British Resident at Venice—Lord Bute—The philosophy of Lady Mary—Letters to Lady Bute and Sir James Steuart
LAST YEARS (1760-1762)
Lady Mary writes the history of her own times—Her health—Death of Edward Wortley Montagu—His will—Lady Mary ponders the idea of returning to England—She leaves Italy—She is held up at Rotterdam—She reaches London—Horace Walpole visits her—Her last illness—Her fortitude—Her death—She leaves one guinea to her son
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (age 8) at the Kit-Cat Club—Frontispiece
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Lady Mary Pierrepont
Evelyn Pierrepont, first Duke of Kingston
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1720
Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Frances, Countess of Mar
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret
John, Lord Hervey of Ickworth
Mary, Countess of Bute
Edward Wortley Montagu, Junior
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:
Her Life and Letters
Birth of Mary Pierrepont, after Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—Account of the Pierrepont family—Lady Mary's immediate ancestors—Her father, Evelyn Pierrepont, succeeds to the Earldom of Kingston in 1690—The extinct marquisate of Dorchester revived in his favour—His marriage—Issue of the marriage—Death of his wife—Lady Mary stays with her grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Pierrepont—Her early taste for reading—She learns Latin, and, presently, Italian—Encouraged in her literary ambitions by her uncle, William Feilding, and Bishop Bumet—Submits to the Bishop a translation of "Encheiridion" of Epictetus—An attractve child—A "toast" at the Kit-Cat Club—Acts as hostess to her father.
Mary Pierrepont, afterwards Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, was born in May, 1689, and was baptised on the twenty-sixth day of that month at St. Paul's, Covent Garden. In the register is the entry: "Mary, daughter of Evelyn Pierrepoint, Esquire, and Lady Mary, his wife."
The event, it may be remarked, was not one of any considerable social interest, for the Hon. Evelyn Pierrepont was merely a younger son and remote from the succession to the Earldom of Kingston.
The Pierreponts of Holme Pierrepont were a Nottinghamshire family of considerable antiquity, though of no particular distinction. One Robert Pierrepont, who was born in 1584, the son of Sir Henry by Frances, sister of William, first Earl of Devonshire, was the first of the family upon whom a peerage was bestowed. He was created in 1627 Baron Pierrepont of Holme Pierrepont and Viscount Newark, and in the following year was elevated to the dignity of Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull, Co. York. A zealous royalist, he was in 1643 appointed Lieutenant-General of the King's forces in the counties of Lincoln, Rutland, Huntingdon, Cambridge, and Norfolk, and soon after taking up this command was accidentally shot near Gainsborough, when being carried off in a pinnace as a prisoner to Hull by the Parliamentary Army. He married in 1601 Gertrude, eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir William Reyner, of Orton Longueville, Co. Huntingdon. She survived her husband six years.
The second Earl was Henry Pierrepont, who was born in 1607. From 1628, when his father was given the earldom, he was known under the style of Viscount Newark. In that year he was elected Member of Parliament for Nottingham, and he represented that constituency until 1641, when he was summoned to the House of Lords in his father's barony as Lord Pierrepont. He, too, was an ardent supporter of the King, and was a member of His Majesty's Council of War at Oxford. He was created Marquess of Dorchester in 1645. After the Restoration he was in high favour at Whitehall. He was Commissioner of Claims at the Coronation of Charles II, and in 1662 and again in 1673 he acted as Joint Commissioner of the office of Earl Marshal. He was twice married, but had no direct heirs, and on his death in 1680 the marquessate became extinct.
The earldom passed to the family of the younger brother of the last holder. This was the great grandfather of Lady Mary, William Pierrepont, who deservedly earned the title of "Wise William." He sided with the Parliament, and during the Long Parliament, in the proceedings of which he took an active part, he sat for Great Wenlock. He was one of the Commissioners selected to treat with Charles in 1642, and after the failure to open negotiations he was anxious to retire from public affairs. However, he was persuaded not to resign, and in 1644 was appointed one of the Committee of both Kingdoms. He became a leader of the independent party, and did not always see eye to eye with Cromwell. He quarrelled with his party, disapproving of its attitude towards Purge's Pride and the trial of the King. After this he took little part in politics, though the Protector sought, and he gave on occasions, his advice. In February, 1660, he was elected to the new Council of State at the head of the list, and in the Convention Parliament represented Nottingham. In the negotiations with Charles II he was a moderating influence. Afterwards, he retired into private life. He died in 1678 or 1679. His eldest son, Robert, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Evelyn, pre-deceased his father, dying in 1666, and the earldom passed to his eldest son, Robert, who died unmarried in 1682. The title then went to his next brother, William, who died without issue eight years later.
A younger brother of Robert and William, Evelyn Pierrepont, now succeeded as (fifth) earl. He was the father of Lady Mary. Born in 1665, he was returned to Parliament for East Retford in 1689, but his stay in the House of Commons was brief, for in the following year the peerage descended to him. In December, 1706, the higher dignity that had once been in his family was revived in his favour, and he was created Earl of Dorchester, with a special remainder, failing heirs male of his body, to his uncle Gervase Pierrepont, who had himself been raised to the peerage as Lord Pierrepont of Ardglass in Ireland and later was given the dignity of Lord Pierrepont of Hanslope in Buckinghamshire. Lord Pierrepont died in 1715, and both his titles became extinct.
The Marquess married Mary, daughter of William Feilding, third Earl of Denbigh, by his first wife, Mary, sister of John, first Baron of Kingston, in the peerage of Ireland. Lady Mary was, therefore, a relation of the novelist, Henry Fielding, whose surname was spelt differently because, he explained, his branch of the family was the only one that could spell correctly.
Of this marriage, there was issue:
(i.) William, who took the style of Viscount Newark until 1706, and then was known as Earl of Kingston until his death in 1713, at the age of twenty-one. He had married before 1711 Rachel, daughter of Thomas Baynton, of Little Charfield, Wilts, who outlived her husband eight years. There was a son, Evelyn, who succeeded to the peerage.
(ii.) Lady Mary, the subject of this memoir.
(iii.) Lady Frances, who in 1714 became the second wife of John Erskine, sixth or eleventh Earl of Mar; and
(iv.) Lady Evelyn, who married John, second Baron, and afterwards first Earl Gower, and died in June, 1727.
In the winter of 1697, when Lady Mary was eight years old, her mother died. After this, the little girl was allowed to run rather wild. Lord Kingston was very much a man about town and a gallant, and was too greatly occupied with his affairs and his parliamentary duties, which took him often from home, to concern himself about her education. In fact, before her mother's death, it would seem that Lady Mary spent months at her grandmother's, Mrs. Elizabeth Pierrepont, at her house at West Dean. When she was in her ninth year she returned to Holme Pierrepont, where, as she later complained, she was left "to the care of an old governess, who, though perfectly good and pious, wanted capacity."
Lady Mary early had a taste for books, and enjoyed to the full the library, where she no doubt read much that was good for her, and a good deal that was not. She read everything that she could lay her hands on, the old romances, poetry, and plays. One account has it that she was taught Greek and Latin by her brother's tutor; but Sir Leslie Stephen was doubtful about the Greek and inclined to the belief that she taught herself Latin. Later, certainly, she taught herself Italian, and quoted Tasso in her letters. In her studies she was encouraged by her uncle, William Feilding, and also by Bishop Burnet, of whom she said many years later: "I knew him in my very early youth, and his condescension in directing a girl in her studies is an obligation I can never forget." She had literary aspirations, and just after her twenty-first birthday she submitted to Burnet, with the following letter, a translation of "Encheiridion" of Epictetus from the Latin version. This will be found in the collected works.
"July 20, 1710.
"Your hours are so well employed, I hardly dare offer you this trifle to look over; but then, so well am I acquainted with the sweetness of temper which accompanies your learning, I dare ever assure myself of a pardon. You have already forgiven me greater impertinencies, and condescended yet further in giving me instructions and bestowing some of your minutes in teaching me. This surprising humility has all the effect it ought to have on my heart; I am sensible of the gratitude I owe to so much goodness, and how much I am ever bound to be your servant. Here is the work of one week of my solitude—by the many faults in it your lordship will easily believe I spent no more time upon it; it was hardly finished when I was obliged to begin my journey, and I had not leisure to write it over again. You have it here without any corrections, with all its blots and errors: I endeavoured at no beauty of style, but to keep as literally as I could to the sense of the author. My only intention in presenting it, is to ask your lordship whether I have understood Epictetus? The fourth chapter, particularly, I am afraid I have mistaken. Piety and greatness of soul set you above all misfortunes that can happen to yourself, and the calumnies of false tongues; but that same piety which renders what happens to yourself indifferent to you, yet softens the natural compassion in your temper to the greatest degree of tenderness for the interests of the Church, and the liberty and welfare of your country: the steps that are now made towards the destruction of both, the apparent danger we are in, the manifest growth of injustice, oppression, and hypocrisy, cannot do otherwise than give your lordship those hours of sorrow, which, did not your fortitude of soul, and reflections from religion and philosophy, shorten, would add to the national misfortunes, by injuring the health of so great a supporter of our sinking liberties. I ought to ask pardon for this digression; it is more proper for me in this place to say something to excuse an address that looks so very presuming. My sex is usually forbid studies of this nature, and folly reckoned so much our proper sphere, we are sooner pardoned any excesses of that, than the least pretensions to reading or good sense. We are permitted no books but such as tend to the weakening and effeminating of the mind. Our natural defects are every way indulged, and it is looked upon as in a degree criminal to improve our reason, or fancy we have any. We are taught to place all our art in adorning our outward forms, and permitted, without reproach, to carry that custom even to extravagancy, while our minds are entirely neglected, and, by disuse of reflections, filled with nothing but the trifling objects our eyes are daily entertained with. This custom, so long established and industriously upheld, makes it even ridiculous to go out of the common road, and forces one to find as many excuses, as if it were a thing altogether criminal not to play the fool in concert with other women of quality, whose birth and leisure only serve to render them the most useless and most worthless part of the creation. There is hardly a character in the world more despicable, or more liable to universal ridicule, than that of a learned woman; those words imply, according to the received sense, a talking, impertinent, vain, and conceited creature. I believe nobody will deny that learning may have this effect, but it must be a very superficial degree of it. Erasmus was certainly a man of great learning, and good sense, and he seems to have my opinion of it, when he says Foemina qui [sic] vere sapit, non videtur sibi sapere; contra, quae cum nihil sapiat sibi videtur sapere, ea demum bis stulta est. The Abbe Bellegarde gives a right reason for women's talking overmuch: they know nothing, and every outward object strikes their imagination, and produces a multitude of thoughts, which, if they knew more, they would know not worth their thinking of. I am not now arguing for an equality of the two sexes. I do not doubt God and nature have thrown us into an inferior rank, we are a lower part of the creation, we owe obedience and submission to the superior sex, and any woman who suffers her vanity and folly to deny this, rebels against the law of the Creator, and indisputable order of nature; but there is a worse effect than this, which follows the careless education given to women of quality, its being so easy for any man of sense, that finds it either his interest or his pleasure, to corrupt them. The common method is, to begin by attacking their religion: they bring them a thousand fallacious arguments, which their excessive ignorance hinders them from refuting: and I speak now from my own knowledge and conversation among them, there are more atheists among the fine ladies than the loosest sort of rakes; and the same ignorance that generally works out into excess of superstition, exposes them to the snares of any who have a fancy to carry them to t'other extreme. I have made my excuses already too long, and will conclude in the words of Erasmus:—Vulgus sentit quod lingua Latina, non convenit foeminis, quia parum facit ad tuendam illarum pundicitiam, quoniam rarum et insolitum est foeminam scire Latinam; attamen consuetudo omnium malarum rerum magistra. Decorum est foeminam in Germania nata [sic] discere Gallice, ut loquatur cum his qui sciunt Gallice; cur igitur habetur indecorum discere Latine, ut quotidie confabuletur cum tot autoribus tam facundis, tam eruditis, tam sapientibus, tam fides consultoribus. Certe mihi quantulumcunque cerebri est, malim in bonis studiis consumere, quam in precibus sine mente dictis, in pernoctibus conviviis, in exhauriendis, capacibus pateris, &c."
This was not the sort of letter that in the opening years of the eighteenth century even Bishops received from young ladies of rank, who usually took their pleasure in other and lighter ways. Lady Mary, however, loved to exercise her pen. She later composed some imitations of Ovid, and tried her hand at one or two romances in the French manner. She thus acquired a facility of expression that stood her in good stead when she came to write those letters that constitute her principal claim to fame.
Lady Mary was an attractive child, and her father was very proud of her, especially when she was in what may be called the kitten stage. The story is told that, when she was about eight years old, he named her as a "toast" at the Kit-Cat Club, and as she was not known to the majority of the members he sent for her, where, on her arrival, she was received with acclamation by the Whig wits there assembled.
Sometimes Lady Mary in her girlhood stayed at Thoresby, and occasionally came up to her father's London house, which was in Arlington Street, which visits, accepting the story told by her granddaughter, Lady Louisa Stuart, cannot have been an unmixed delight. "Some particulars, in themselves too insignificant to be worth recording, may yet interest the curious, by setting before them the manners of our ancestors," Lady Louisa says. "Lord Dorchester, having no wife to do the honours of his table at Thoresby, imposed that task upon his eldest daughter, as soon as she had bodily strength for the office: which in those days required no small share. For this mistress of a country mansion was not only to invite—that is urge and tease—her company to eat more than human throats could conveniently swallow, but to carve every dish, when chosen, with her own hands. The greater the lady, the more indispensable the duty. Each joint was carried up in its turn, to be operated upon by her, and her alone; since the peers and knights on either hand were so far from being bound to offer their assistance, that the very master of the house, posted opposite her, might not act as her croupier, his department was to push the bottle after dinner. As for the crowd of guests, the most inconsiderable among them—the curate, or subaltern, or squire's younger brother—if suffered through her neglect to help himself to a slice of the mutton placed before him, would have chewed it in bitterness and gone home an affronted man, half inclined to give a wrong vote at the next election. There were then professed carving-masters, who taught young ladies the art scientifically; from one of whom Lady Mary said she took lessons three times a week that she might be perfect on her father's public days, when, in order to perform her functions without interruption, she was forced to eat her own dinner alone an hour or two beforehand."
Lady Mary makes the acquaintance of Edward Wortley Montagu—Montagu attracted by her looks and her literary gifts—Assists her in her studies—Montagu a friend of the leading men of letters of the day—Addison, Steele, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and others—The second volume of the Tatler dedicated to him by Steele—Montagu a staunch Whig—His paternal interest for Lady Mary does not endure—He becomes a suitor for her hand—Lady Mary's devotion and respect for him—Her flirtations—She and Montagu correspond through the medium of his sister, Anne—Lady Mary's mordant humour—Her delight in retailing society scandal—The death of Anne Wortley—Lady Mary and Montagu henceforth communicate direct—Her first letter to him.
At the age of fourteen the precocious Lady Mary, when on a visit to Wharncliffe Lodge, some thirty miles from Thoresby, made a conquest that was vastly to influence her life. The conquest was no less a person than Edward Wortley Montagu, son of Sidney Wortley Montagu, who was the second son of Edward, first Earl of Sandwich, the famous Admiral of Charles II. Sidney had taken the name of Wortley on his marriage to Anne, daughter of Sir Francis Wortley. To Sidney Wortley Montagu, of whom there is to-day little known, is an interesting reference in a letter from the Earl of Danby to his wife, dated from Kiveton, September 6, 1684: "I have had Mr. Montague with me—my Lord Sandwich his son—who lives at Wortley, and calls himself by that name, and is really a very fine gentleman and told me he was sorry that any of his relations—much more of his name—should have carried themselves so unjustly towards me, and he hoped I would not have the worse opinion of him for their ill-behaviour."
Edward Wortley Montagu, who was then twenty-five, was already a person of some distinction. He was a good classical scholar, acquainted with modern languages, and versed in what his grand-daughter, Lady Louisa Stuart, styled "polite literature." He was interested in the pretty, clever girl, and encouraged her to talk to him of her reading and writing. "When I was very young," she said, as is recorded in the Anecdotes of the Rev. Joseph Spence, "I was a great admirer of Ovid's 'Metamorphosis,' and that was one of the reasons that set me upon the thoughts of stealing the Latin language. Mr. Wortley was the only person to whom I communicated my design, and he encouraged me in it. I used to study five or six hours a day for two years in my father's library, and so got that language whilst everybody else thought I was reading nothing but novels and romances."
Montagu affected the company of men of letters. He was intimate with Addison, a close friend of Steele, and on terms with Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Garth, the author of The Dispensary. Steele, in fact, dedicated the second volume of the Tatler to him.
"When I send you this Volume, I am rather to make a Request than a Dedication. I must desire, that if you think fit to throw away any Moments on it, you would not do it after reading those excellent Pieces with which you are usually conversant. The Images which you will meet with here, will be very feint, after the Perusal of the Greeks and Romans, who are your ordinary Companions. I must confess I am obliged to you for the Taste of many of their Excellencies, which I had not observed till you pointed them to me. I am very proud that there are some things in these Papers which I know you pardon, and it is no small Pleasure to have one's Labours suffered by the Judgment of a Man who so well understands the true Charms of Eloquence and Poesie. But I direct this Address to you, not that I think I can entertain you with my Writings, but to thank you for the new Delight I have from your Conversation in those of other men.
"May you enjoy a long Continuance of the true Relish of the Happiness Heaven hath bestowed on you. I know not how to say a more affectionate Thing to you, than to wish you may be always what you are, and that you may ever think, as I know you now do, that you have a much larger Fortune than you want. I am,
"Your most Obedient and most Humble Servant,
Montagu was also interested in politics. He was a staunch Whig, and in favour with the leaders of his party. He sat in the House of Commons from 1705 to 1713 as member for Huntingdon, where there was family interest. It was not, however, until after the accession of George I that he held office.
At first, it may be, Montagu took some kind of paternal interest in Lady Mary. This attitude did not long endure. When the change in his feelings took place there is no means of knowing. He does not seem to have been a passionate man, nor a very ardent lover, but there is no doubt that at this period he inspired the girl with a very real devotion and respect, even though perhaps her heart was not deeply engaged.
Montagu would have had the girl find her pleasures exclusively in books and in his own conversation. She, at the age of twenty, on the other hand, was full of the joy of life and liked the various social pleasures that came her way. Naturally, she tried the effect of her good looks and wit on men. In fact, she was fond of flirting, and as it must probably have been impossible to flirt with Montagu, she indulged herself in that agreeable pastime with more than one other—to the great annoyance of that pompous prig of an admirer of hers. The following letter, dated September 5, 1709, written to Anne Wortley for her brother's perusal, was clearly an endeavour to sooth away the man's jealousy.
"September 5, 1709.
"My dear Mrs. Wortley, as she has the entire power of raising, can also, with a word, calm my passions. The kindness of your last recompenses me for the injustice of your former letter; but you cannot sure be angry at my little resentment. You have read that a man who, with patience, hears himself called heretic, can never be esteemed a good Christian. To be capable of preferring the despicable wretch you mention to Mr. Wortley, is as ridiculous, if not as criminal, as forsaking the Deity to worship a calf. Don't tell me any body ever had so mean an opinion of my inclinations; 'tis among the number of those things I would forget. My tenderness is always built upon my esteem, and when the foundation perishes, it falls: I must own, I think it is so with every body—but enough of this: you tell me it was meant for raillery—was not the kindness meant so too? I fear I am too apt to think what is amusement designed in earnest—no matter, 'tis for my repose to be deceived, and I will believe whatever you tell me.
"I should be very glad to be informed of a right method, or whether there is such a thing alone, but am afraid to ask the question. It may be reasonably called presumption in a girl to have her thoughts that way. You are the only creature that I have made my confidante in that case: I'll assure you, I call it the greatest secret of my life. Adieu, my dear, the post stays, my next shall be longer."
Lady Mary was probably more complaisant on paper than actually in her conduct of life. She desired male as well as female companionship; she liked the admiration and the flattery of men, and, no doubt, did her best to evoke it. It is strange, however, that with her beauty—for that she was in her early years beautiful has generally been accepted—she was not unduly attractive to men. It may be that her good looks brought young men to her feet, and that her tongue drove them away. In no age has a clever woman been very popular with the other sex, and in the early years of the eighteenth century, when girls could do little more than read and write—and not always so much—wit such as hers and the readiness of reply with which she was gifted must have been a deterrent. What could the ordinary social butterfly think of a Lady Mary who had as a friend Mary Ansell, the author of a Serious Proposal to Ladies— what, though perhaps not one of them had read the book?
Still, there was enough levity in Lady Mary's behaviour in society for her to think it desirable to make some explanation to Montagu.
"[Indorsed '9 April,' 1711.]
"I thought to return no answer to your letter, but I find I am not so wise as I thought myself. I cannot forbear fixing my mind a little on that expression, though perhaps the only insincere one in your whole letter—I would die to be secure of your heart, though but for a moment:—were this but true, what is there I would not do to secure you?
"I will state the case to you as plainly as I can; and then ask yourself if you use me well. I have shewed, in every action of my life, an esteem for you that at least challenges a grateful regard. I have trusted my reputation in your hands; I have made no scruple of giving you, under my own hand, an assurance of my friendship. After all this, I exact nothing from you: if you find it inconvenient for your affairs to take so small a fortune, I desire you to sacrifice nothing to me; I pretend no tie upon your honour: but, in recompence for so clear and so disinterested a proceeding, must I ever receive injuries and ill usage?
"I have not the usual pride of my sex; I can bear being told I am in the wrong, but tell it me gently. Perhaps I have been indiscreet; I came young into the hurry of the world; a great innocence and an undesigning gaiety may possibly have been construed coquetry and a desire of being followed, though never meant by me. I cannot answer for the [reflections] that may be made on me: all who are malicious attack the careless and defenceless: I own myself to be both. I not anything I can say more to shew my perfect desire of pleasing you and making you easy, than to proffer to be confined with you in what manner you please. Would any woman but me renounce all the world for one? or would any man but you be insensible of such a proof of sincerity?"
From an early age Lady Mary indulged her somewhat mordant humour, not less in her letters than in her conversation, and as that quality must have some subject upon which to exercise itself, she was generally on the look-out for some tit-bit of scandal which she could relate in her own inimitable manner.
"Next to the great ball, what makes the most noise is the marriage of an old maid, who lives in this street, without a portion, to a man of L7,000 per annum, and they say L40,000 in ready money," she wrote to Mrs. Hewet about the beginning of 1709. "Her equipage and liveries outshine anybody's in town. He has presented her with L3,000 in jewels; and never was man more smitten with these charms that had lain invisible for these forty years; but, with all his glory, never bride had fewer enviers, the dear beast of a man is so filthy, frightful, odious, and detestable. I would turn away such a footman, for fear of spoiling my dinner, while he waited at table. They were married on Friday, and came to church en parade on Sunday. I happened to sit in the pew with them, and had the honour of seeing Mrs. Bride fall fast asleep in the middle of the sermon, and snore very comfortably; which made several women in the church think the bridegroom not quite so ugly as they did before. Envious people say 'twas all counterfeited to please him, but I believe that to be scandal; for I dare swear, nothing but downright necessity could make her miss one word of the sermon. He professes to have married her for her devotion, patience, meekness, and other Christian virtues he observed in her; his first wife (who has left no children) being very handsome, and so good natured as to have ventured her own salvation to secure his. He has married this lady to have a companion in that paradise where his first has given him a title. I believe I have given you too much of this couple; but they are not to be comprehended in few words."
Here is another malicious story that appealed to Lady Mary's wayward fancy,
"Mrs. Braithwayte, a Yorkshire beauty," she wrote to the same correspondent in March, 1712, "who had been but two days married to a Mr. Coleman, ran out of bed en chemise, and her husband followed her in his, in which pleasant dress they ran as far as St. James's Street, where they met with a chair, and prudently crammed themselves both into it, observing the rule of dividing the good and bad fortune of this life, resolved to run all hazards together, and ordered the chairmen to carry them both away, perfectly representing, both in love and nakedness, and want of eyes to see that they were naked, our first happy parents. Sunday last I had the pleasure of hearing the whole history from the lady's own mouth."
Love-affairs, other people's love-affairs anyhow, had an attraction for Lady Mary. "You talk of the Duke of Leeds," she wrote. "I hear that he has placed his heroic love upon the bright charms of a pewterer's wife; and, after a long amour, and many perilous adventures, has stolen the fair lady, which, in spite of his wrinkles and grandchild, persuade people of his youth and gallantry." The nobleman in question, Peregrine Osborne, second Duke of Leeds, was then fifty-six—which, after all, regarded from the standpoint of to-day, is not such a great age as is suggested by the story.
If Montagu objected to the indiscretions of Lady Mary, it does not appear that he was in any hurry to get married to her. Of course, it may be—it is only fair to him to say—that Lady Mary held him temporarily at bay, preferring the frivolities of those of her own age to the austere attentions of one who acted as if he might have been her father.
For some years she and Montagu were apparently content with writing long letters to each other when they were not both in town. When the correspondence started is uncertain. The first letter of Lady Mary that has been preserved is dated Thoresby, May 2, 1709; but there can be no doubt that they had been in regular communication before then.
It is specially to be noted that the earlier letters of Lady Mary were addressed to Montagu's sister, Anne. It is evident, however, that they were definitely written for his perusal, and it is equally clear that Anne's replies were inspired, and sometimes, if not always, drafted by him. This practice continued until the death of Anne Wortley in March, 1710. Yet there seems to have been no reason for this camouflage. In 1709 Lady Mary was twenty years of age, and Montagu was a very eligible parti.
The respectful, highfalutin gallantry that is the key-note of the correspondence recalls the correspondence that presently was exchanged between Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, and the octogenarian Earl of Peterborough.
Some typical passages from the letters to "My dear Mrs. Wortley" may be given—it should be mentioned that it was the social custom of the day to address as "Mrs." maiden ladies as well as married women.
"Thoresby, August 8, 1709.
"I know no pretence I have to your good opinion but my hearty desiring it; I wish I had that imagination you talk of, to render me a fitter correspondent for you, who can write so well on every thing. I am now so much alone, I have leisure to pass whole days in reading, but am not at all proper for so delicate an employment as choosing you books. Your own fancy will better direct you. My study at present is nothing but dictionaries and grammars. I am trying whether it be possible to learn without a master; I am not certain (and dare hardly hope) I shall make any great progress; but I find the study so diverting I am not only easy, but pleased with the solitude that indulges it. I forget there is such a place as London, and wish for no company but yours. You see, my dear, in making my pleasures consist of these unfashionable diversions, I am not of the number who cannot be easy out of the mode. I believe more follies are committed out of complaisance to the world, than in following our own inclinations—Nature is seldom in the wrong, custom always; it is with some regret I follow it in all the impertinencies of dress; the compliance is so trivial it comforts me; but I am amazed to see it consulted even in the most important occasions of our lives; and that people of good sense in other things can make their happiness consist in the opinions of others, and sacrifice every thing in the desire of appearing in fashion. I call all people who fall in love with furniture, clothes, and equipage, of this number, and I look upon them as no less in the wrong than when they were five years old, and doated on shells, pebbles, and hobby-horses: I believe you will expect this letter to be dated from the other world, for sure I am you never heard an inhabitant of this talk so before. I suppose you expect, too, I should conclude with begging pardon for this extreme tedious and very nonsensical letter; quite contrary, I think you will be obliged to me for it. I could not better show my great concern for your reproaching me with neglect I knew myself innocent of, than proving myself mad in three pages."
"August 21, 1709.
"I am infinitely obliged to you, my dear Mrs. Wortley, for the wit, beauty, and other fine qualities, you so generously bestow upon me. Next to receiving them from Heaven, you are the person from whom I would chuse to receive gifts and graces: I am very well satisfied to owe them to your own delicacy of imagination, which represents to you the idea of a fine lady, and you have good nature enough to fancy I am she. All this is mighty well, but you do not stop there; imagination is boundless. After giving me imaginary wit and beauty, you give me imaginary passions, and you tell me I'm in love: if I am, 'tis a perfect sin of ignorance, for I don't so much as know the man's name: I have been studying these three hours, and cannot guess who you mean. I passed the days of Nottingham races, [at] Thoresby, without seeing or even wishing to see one of the sex. Now, if I am in love, I have very hard fortune to conceal it so industriously from my own knowledge, and yet discover it so much to other people. 'Tis against all form to have such a passion as that, without giving one sigh for the matter. Pray tell me the name of him I love, that I may (according to the laudable custom of lovers) sigh to the woods and groves hereabouts, and teach it to the echo. You see, being I am [sic] in love, I am willing to be so in order and rule: I have been turning over God knows how many books to look for precedents. Recommend an example to me; and, above all, let me know whether 'tis most proper to walk in the woods, encreasing the winds with my sighs, or to sit by a purling stream, swelling the rivulet with my tears; may be, both may do well in their turns:—but to be a minute serious, what do you mean by this reproach of inconstancy? I confess you give me several good qualities I have not, and I am ready to thank you for them, but then you must not take away those few I have. No, I will never exchange them; take back the beauty and wit you bestow upon me, leave me my own mediocrity of agreeableness and genius, but leave me also my sincerity, my constancy and my plain dealing; 'tis all I have to recommend me to the esteem either of others or myself. How should I despise myself if I could think I was capable of either inconstancy or deceit! I know not how I may appear to other people, nor how much my face may belie my heart, but I know that I never was or can be guilty of dissimulation or inconstancy—you will think this vain, but 'tis all that I pique myself upon. Tell me you believe me and repent of your harsh censure. Tell it me in pity to my uneasiness, for you are one of those few people about whose good opinion I am in pain. I have always took so little care to please the generality of the world, that I am never mortified or delighted by its reports which is a piece of stoicism born with me; but I cannot be one minute easy while you think ill of
"This letter is a good deal grave, and, like other grave things, dull; but I won't ask pardon for what I can't help."
Was the sentiment expressed in the following letter, written about the same time as that printed above, intended for Anne or her brother, or both?
"When I said it cost nothing to write tenderly, I believe I spoke of another sex; I am sure not of myself: 'tis not in my power (I would to God it was!) to hide a kindness where I have one, or dissemble it where I have none. I cannot help answering your letter this minute, and telling you I infinitely love you, though, it may be, you'll call the one impertinence, and the other dissimulation; but you may think what you please of me, I must eternally think the same things of you."
Lady Mary was occasionally wearisome owing to the reiteration of the assurance that she believed her letters to be dull, the more so as she certainly was conscious of the skill with which she composed them. "What do you mean by complaining I never write to you in the quiet situation of mind I do to other people?" she asks Anne Wortley. "My dear, people never write calmly, but when they write indifferently."
After a letter dated September 5, 1709, a passage from which has been printed here, there is a break in the (preserved) correspondence. In the spring of the following year Anne Wortley died, and Lady Mary, on March 28, paid tribute to her departed friend, addressing herself for the first time direct to Montagu.
"Perhaps you'll be surprized at this letter; I have had many debates with myself before I could resolve on it. I know it is not acting in form, but I do not look upon you as I do upon the rest of the world, and by what I do for you, you are not to judge my manner of acting with others. You are brother to a woman I tenderly loved; my protestations of friendship are not like other people's, I never speak but what I mean, and when I say I love, 'tis for ever. I had that real concern for Mrs. Wortley, I look with some regard on every one that is related to her. This and my long acquaintance with you may in some measure excuse what I am now doing. I am surprized at one of the 'Tatlers' you send me; is it possible to have any sort of esteem for a person one believes capable of having such trifling inclinations? Mr. Bickerstaff has very wrong notions of our sex. I can say there are some of us that despise charms of show, and all the pageantry of greatness, perhaps with more ease than any of the philosophers. In contemning the world, they seem to take pains to contemn it; we despise it, without taking the pains to read lessons of morality to make us do it. At least I know I have always looked upon it with contempt, without being at the expense of one serious reflection to oblige me to it. I carry the matter yet farther; was I to choose of two thousand pounds a year or twenty thousand, the first would be my choice. There is something of an unavoidable embarras in making what is called a great figure in the world; [it] takes off from the happiness of life; I hate the noise and hurry inseparable from great estates and titles, and look upon both as blessings that ought only to be given to fools, for 'tis only to them that they are blessings. The pretty fellows you speak of, I own entertain me sometimes; but is it impossible to be diverted with what one despises? I can laugh at a puppet-show; at the same time I know there is nothing in it worth my attention or regard. General notions are generally wrong. Ignorance and folly are thought the best foundations for virtue, as if not knowing what a good wife is was necessary to make one so. I confess that can never be my way of reasoning; as I always forgive an injury when I think it not done out of malice, I never think myself obliged by what is done without design."
Lady Mary, who was now one-and-twenty, was no bread-and-butter miss. She knew her mind and had the gift to express herself, and in this same letter she very prettily rebukes her laggard lover.
"Give me leave to say it, (I know it sounds vain,) I know how to make a man of sense happy; but then that man must resolve to contribute something towards it himself. I have so much esteem for you, I should be very sorry to hear you was unhappy; but for the world I would not be the instrument of making you so; which (of the humour you are) is hardly to be avoided if I am your wife. You distrust me—I can neither be easy, nor loved, where I am distrusted. Nor do I believe your passion for me is what you pretend it; at least I am sure was I in love I could not talk as you do. Few women would have spoke so plainly as I have done; but to dissemble is among the things I never do. I take more pains to approve my conduct to myself than to the world; and would not have to accuse myself of a minute's deceit. I wish I loved you enough to devote myself to be for ever miserable, for the pleasure of a day or two's happiness. I cannot resolve upon it. You must think otherwise of me, or not at all."
"I don't enjoin you to burn this letter," she said in conclusion. "I know you will. 'Tis the first I ever writ to one of your sex, and shall be the last. You must never expect another. I resolve against all correspondence of the kind—my resolutions are seldom made and never broken."
Whatever happened to most of Lady Mary's resolutions, this one, at least, was not kept. Actually, Lady Mary was not quite so emancipated at this time of her life as she may have imagined. She never sent a letter, except in fear and trembling. "I hazard a great deal if it falls into other hands, and I write for all that," was her constant cry. Yet, there was nothing in the correspondence, save the fact of it, to offend even a most austere maiden aunt of the day.
The correspondence, of course, continued. The lovers, if so they can be called, now indulged in a slightly acid academic discussion, or rather a number of slightly acid academic discussions, about marriage. It is evident that Montagu held strong views as to the duty of a wife; so undoubtedly did Lady Mary—only, the trouble was, the views were by no means identical. If he were determined to set himself up as the strong loquacious man, his fiancee was certainly not prepared meekly to obey his behests in silence. They indulged in a somewhat candid examination of each other's character—and of their own. It is really rather amusing, this careful cold-blooded dissection of their feelings. It is a safe guess that at this game Lady Mary scored heavily.
"I wish, with all my soul, I thought as you do," she wrote on April 25, 1710. "I endeavour to convince myself by your arguments, and am sorry my reason is so obstinate, not to be deluded into an opinion, that 'tis impossible a man can esteem a woman. I suppose I should then be very easy at your thoughts of me; I should thank you for the wit and beauty you give me, and not be angry at the follies and weaknesses; but, to my infinite affliction, I can believe neither one nor t'other. One part of my character is not so good, nor t'other so bad, as you fancy it. Should we ever live together, you would be disappointed both ways; you would find an easy equality of temper you do not expect, and a thousand faults you do not imagine. You think, if you married me, I should be passionately fond of you one month, and of somebody else the next: neither would happen. I can esteem, I can be a friend, but I don't know whether I can love. Expect all that is complaisant and easy, but never what is fond, in me. You judge very wrong of my heart, when you suppose me capable of views of interest, and that anything could oblige me to flatter any body. Was I the most indigent creature in the world, I should answer you as I do now, without adding or diminishing. I am incapable of art, and 'tis because I will not be capable of it. Could I deceive one minute, I should never regain my own good opinion; and who could bear to live with one they despised? If you can resolve to live with a companion that will have all the deference due to your superiority of good sense, and that your proposals can be agreeable to those on whom I depend, I have nothing to say against them."
COURTSHIP, ELOPEMENT, AND MARRIAGE (1710-1712)
A lengthy courtship—Montagu a laggard lover—Lady Mary and Montagu exchange views on married life—Montagu proposes for her to Lord Dorchester—Dorchester refuses, since Montagu will not make settlements—Montagu's views on settlements expressed (by Steele) in the Tatler—Although not engaged, the young people continue to correspond—Lord Dorchester produces another suitor for his daughter—She consents to an engagement—The preparations for the wedding—She confides the whole story to Montagu—She breaks off the engagement—She and Montagu decide to elope—She runs up to London—Marriage—Lady Mary's diary destroyed by her sister, Lady Frances Pierrepont.
After seven years or so of acquaintance, matters at last looked like coming to a head. It would appear that Montagu, tentatively at least, had put the question, because Lady Mary gives her views as to the life they should lead after marriage. She is not averse from travelling; she has no objection to leaving London; in fact, she would be willing to spend a few months in the country, if it so pleased him. It is all so extraordinarily unloverlike. There is too much philosophy about it. Love does not see so clearly.
"Where people are tied for life, 'tis their mutual interest not to grow weary of one another," she wrote on April 25, 1710. "If I had all the personal charms that I want, a face is too slight a foundation for happiness. You would be soon tired with seeing every day the same thing. Where you saw nothing else, you would have leisure to remark all the defects; which would increase in proportion as the novelty lessened, which is always a great charm. I should have the displeasure of seeing a coldness, which, though I could not reasonably blame you for, being involuntary, yet it would render me uneasy; and the more, because I know a love may be revived which absence, inconstancy, or even infidelity, has extinguished; but there is no returning from a degout given by satiety."
Perhaps Lady Mary believed that, while it is well to hope for the best, it is sound policy to prepare for the worst.
Montagu may have found some comfort in the lady's assurance that if she had a choice between two thousand a year or twenty thousand a year she would choose the smaller income.
An apartment in London would satisfy Lady Mary. She would not choose to live in a crowd, but would like to have a small circle of agreeable people—she was very precise as to her desires: actually she wants to see eight or nine pleasant folk. She does not believe that she can find entire happiness in solitude, not even (or perhaps especially not) in a solitude of two; and she is at least as sure that he would not either. Anyhow she has not the slightest intention of taking the chance.
It becomes increasingly clear that she had had about enough of this epistolary philandering, and she indicated this in no uncertain manner. "I will never think of anything without the consent of my family," she wrote. "Make no answer to this, if you can like me on my own terms. 'Tis not to me you must make the proposals; if not, to what purpose is our correspondence?"
And now comes a touch of the spur: "However, preserve me your friendship, which I think of with a great deal of pleasure. If ever you see me married, I flatter myself you'll see a conduct you would not be sorry your wife should imitate."
Even this did not bring Montagu to the point of asking Lord Dorchester for the hand of his daughter. The correspondence, however, still continued, and soon they were hard at it again.
"Kindness, you say, would be your destruction," she wrote in August, 1710. "In my opinion, this is something contradictory to some other expressions. People talk of being in love just as widows do of affliction. Mr. Steele has observed, in one of his plays, the most passionate among them have always calmness enough to drive a hard bargain with the upholders. I never knew a lover that would not willingly secure his interest as well as his mistress; or, if one must be abandoned, had not the prudence (among all his distractions) to consider, a woman was but a woman, and money was a thing of more real merit than the whole sex put together. Your letter is to tell me, you should think yourself undone if you married me; but if I would be so tender as to confess I should break my heart if you did not, then you'd consider whether you would or no; but yet you hoped you should not. I take this to be the right interpretation of—even your kindness can't destroy me of a sudden—I hope I am not in your power—I would give a good deal to be satisfied, &c.
"As to writing—that any woman would do that thought she writ well. Now I say, no woman of common sense would. At best, 'tis but doing a silly thing well, and I think it is much better not to do a silly thing at all. You compare it to dressing. Suppose the comparison just: perhaps the Spanish dress would become my face very well; yet the whole town would condemn me for the highest extravagance if I went to court in it, though it improved me to a miracle. There are a thousand things, not ill in themselves, which custom makes unfit to be done. This is to convince you I am so far from applauding my own conduct, my conscience flies in my face every time I think on't. The generality of the world have a great indulgence to their own follies: without being a jot wiser than my neighbours, I have the peculiar misfortune to know and condemn all the wrong things I do.
"You beg to know whether I would not be out of humour. The expression is modest enough; but that is not what you mean. In saying I could be easy, I have already said I should not be out of humour: but you would have me say I am violently in love; that is, finding you think better of me than you desire, you would have me give you a just cause to contemn me. I doubt much whether there is a creature in the world humble enough to do that. I should not think you more unreasonable if you was in love with my face, and asked me to disfigure it to make you easy. I have heard of some nuns that made use of that expedient to secure their own happiness; but, amongst all the popish saints and martyrs, I never read of one whose charity was sublime enough to make themselves deformed, or ridiculous, to restore their lovers to peace and quietness. In short, if nothing can content you but despising me heartily, I am afraid I shall be always so barbarous to wish you may esteem me as long as you live."
At last Montagu formally approached Lord Dorchester, who had no objection whatever to him as a suitor for the hand of Lady Mary. They could not come to terms in the matter of settlements. Dorchester demanded that the estates should be put into entail. Also he desired that his future son-in-law should provide a town residence for Lady Mary. This did not seem unreasonable, but Montagu did not see his way to agree to them. He was willing enough to make all proper provision for his wife, but he declined absolutely to settle his landed property upon a son who, as he put it, for aught he knew, might prove unworthy to inherit it, who might be a spendthrift, an idiot, or a villain—as a matter of fact, the only son of the marriage turned out most things he should not. Anyhow, Montagu held strong views on the subject, and these he expounded to Richard Steele, who presented them in No. 223 of the Tatler (September 12, 1710).
"That this method of making settlements was first invented by a griping lawyer, who made use of the covetous tempers of the parents of each side, to force two young people into these vile measures of diffidence for no other end, but to increase the skins of parchment, by which they were put into each other's possession out of each other's power. The law of our country has given an ample and generous provision for the wife, even the third of her husband's estate, and left to her good-humour and his gratitude the expectation of farther provision, but the fantastical method of going farther, with relation to the heirs, has a foundation in nothing but pride, and folly: for as all men with their children as like themselves, and as much better as they can possibly, it seems monstrous that we should give out of ourselves the opportunities of rewarding and discouraging them according to their defects. The wife institution has no more sense in it, than if a man should begin a deed with 'Whereas no man living knows how long he shall continue to be a reasonable creature, or an honest man, and whereas I.B. am going to enter into the state of matrimony with Mrs. D., therefore I shall from henceforth make it indifferent to me whether from this time forward I shall be a fool or knave. And therefore, in full and perfect health of body, and a sound mind, not knowing which of my children will prove better or worse, I give to my first-born, be he perverse, ungrateful, impious, or cruel, the lump and bulk of my estate, and leave one year's purchase only to each of my younger children, whether they shall be brave or beautiful, modest or honourable, from the time of the date hereof, wherein I resign my senses, and hereby promise to employ my judgment no farther in the distribution of my worldly goods from the date hereof, hereby farther confessing and covenanting, that I am henceforth married, and dead in law....'
"How strangely men are sometimes partial to themselves, appears by the rapine of him, that has a daughter's beauty under his direction. He will make no scruple of using it to force from her lover as much of his estate, as is worth ten thousand pounds, and at the same time, as a justice on the bench, will spare no pains to get a man hanged that has taken but a horse from him.
"It is to be hoped that the legislature will in due time take this kind of robbery into consideration, and not suffer men to prey upon each other when they are about making the most solemn league, and entering into the strictest bonds. The only sure remedy is to fix a certain rate on every woman's fortune, one price for that of a maid, and another for that of a widow: for it is of infinite advantage, that there should be no frauds or uncertainties in the sale of our women."
Unless Montagu were tactless beyond the general, the position as regards himself and Lord Dorchester must indeed have been hopeless before he inspired the paper in the Tatler on settlements. Anyhow, Montagu, who was used to having his way, and was probably very cross at being thwarted on this occasion, would not yield a step; and Lord Dorchester maintained his attitude that philosophic theories were all very well in their way, but he would not sanction a marriage that involved the risk of his grandchildren being left beggars.
Lady Mary was powerless in the matter, but, although her father said there was no engagement between her and Montagu, the young people continued their correspondence with unabated vigour.
"I am going to comply with your request, and write with all the plainness I am capable of," she replied in November, 1710, to one of Montagu's effusions. "I know what may be said upon such a proceeding, but am sure you will not say it. Why should you always put the worst construction upon my words? Believe me what you will, but do not believe I can be ungenerous or ungrateful. I wish I could tell you what answer you will receive from some people, or upon what terms. If my opinion could sway, nothing should displease you. Nobody ever was so disinterested as I am. I would not have to reproach myself (I don't suppose you would) that I had any way made you uneasy in your circumstances. Let me beg you (which I do with the utmost sincerity) only to consider yourself in this affair; and, since I am so unfortunate to have nothing in my own disposal, do not think I have any hand in making settlements. People in my way are sold like slaves; and I cannot tell what price my master will put on me. If you do agree, I shall endeavour to contribute, as much as lies in my power, to your happiness. I so heartily despise a great figure, I have no notion of spending money so foolishly; though one had a great deal to throw away. If this breaks off, I shall not complain of you: and as, whatever happens, I shall still preserve the opinion you have behaved yourself well. Let me entreat you, if I have committed any follies, to forgive them; and be so just to think I would not do an ill thing."
Shortly afterwards, Lady Mary wrote again to Montagu. "I have tried to write plainly," she said; and she did not have to reproach herself with failure. It had now come to a struggle for mastery, and she would not yield a foot of her ground.
"Indeed I do not at all wonder that absence, and variety of new faces, should make you forget me; but I am a little surprised at your curiosity to know what passes in my heart (a thing wholly insignificant to you), except you propose to yourself a piece of ill-natured satisfaction, in finding me very much disquieted. Pray which way would you see into my heart? You can frame no guesses about it from either my speaking or writing; and, supposing I should attempt to show it you, I know no other way.
"I begin to be tired of my humility: I have carried my complaisances to you farther than I ought. You make new scruples; you have a great deal of fancy; and your distrusts being all of your own making, are more immovable than if there was some real ground for them. Our aunts and grandmothers always tell us that men are a sort of animals, that, if they are constant, 'tis only where they are ill used. 'Twas a kind of paradox I could never believe: experience has taught me the truth of it. You are the first I ever had a correspondence with, and I thank God I have done with it for all my life. You needed not to have told me you are not what you have been: one must be stupid not to find a difference in your letters. You seem, in one part of your last, to excuse yourself from having done me any injury in point of fortune. Do I accuse you of any?
"I have not spirits to dispute any longer with you. You say you are not yet determined: let me determine for you, and save you the trouble of writing again. Adieu for ever! make no answer. I wish, among the variety of acquaintance, you may find some one to please you; and can't help the vanity of thinking, should you try them all, you won't find one that will be so sincere in their treatment, though a thousand more deserving, and every one happier. 'Tis a piece of vanity and injustice I never forgive in a woman, to delight to give pain; what must I think of a man that takes pleasure in making me uneasy? After the folly of letting you know it is in your power, I ought in prudence to let this go no farther, except I thought you had good nature enough never to make use of that power. I have no reason to think so: however, I am willing, you see, to do you the highest obligation 'tis possible for me to do; that is, to give you a fair occasion of being rid of me."
There is now another break in the (preserved) correspondence until the end of February, 1711, and then Lady Mary, writing with more than a tinge of bitterness, broke off all relations with him—or, at least, affected to do so.
"I intended to make no answer to your letter; it was something very ungrateful, and I resolved to give over all thoughts of you. I could easily have performed that resolve some time ago, but then you took pains to please me; now you have brought me to esteem you, you make use of that esteem to give me uneasiness; and I have the displeasure of seeing I esteem a man that dislikes me. Farewell then: since you will have it so, I renounce all the ideas I have so long flattered myself with, and will entertain my fancy no longer with the imaginary pleasure of pleasing you. How much wiser are all those women I have despised than myself! In placing their happiness in trifles, they have placed it in what is attainable. I fondly thought fine clothes and gilt coaches, balls, operas, and public adoration, rather the fatigues of life; and that true happiness was justly defined by Mr. Dryden (pardon the romantic air of repeating verses), when he says,
'Whom Heav'n would bless it does from pomps remove And makes their wealth in privacy and love.'
These notions had corrupted my judgment as much as Mrs. Biddy Tipkin's. According to this scheme, I proposed to pass my life with you. I yet do you the justice to believe, if any man could have been contented with this manner of living, it would have been you. Your indifference to me does not hinder me from thinking you capable of tenderness, and the happiness of friendship; but I find it is not to me you'll ever have them; you think me all that is detestable; you accuse me of want of sincerity and generosity. To convince you of your mistake, I'll show you the last extremes of both.
"While I foolishly fancied you loved me, (which I confess I had never any great reason for, more than that I wished it,) there is no condition of life I could not have been happy in with you, so very much I liked you—I may say loved, since it is the last thing I'll ever say to you. This is telling you sincerely my greatest weakness; and now I will oblige you with a new proof of generosity—I'll never see you more. I shall avoid all public places; and this is the last letter I shall send. If you write, be not displeased if I send it back unopened. I force my inclinations to oblige yours; and remember that you have told me I could not oblige you more than by refusing you. Had I intended ever to see you again, I durst not have sent this letter. Adieu."
The above letter was evidently sent in a fit of pique. Certainly the position must have been almost unbearable to a young woman of spirit. Here was Lady Mary, in her twenty-second or twenty-third year, for all practical purposes betrothed, and her father and her lover quarrelling over settlements. Her friends were all getting married and having establishments of their own, and she more or less in disgrace, living at one or other of her father's houses.
Nothing came of her announcement that she desired no further relation with Montagu. She could not bring herself definitely to break with Montagu, and he would neither wed her nor give her up. The correspondence continued with unabated vigour.
"I am in pain about the letter I sent you this morning," she wrote in March, 1911. "I fear you should think, after what I have said, you cannot, in point of honour, break off with me. Be not scrupulous on that article, nor affect to make me break first, to excuse your doing it; I would owe nothing but to inclination: if you do not love me, I may have the less esteem of myself, but not of you: I am not of the number of those women that have the opinion of their persons Mr. Bayes had of his play, that 'tis the touchstone of sense, and they are to frame their judgment of people's understanding according to what they think of them.
"You may have wit, good humour, and good nature, and not like me. I allow a great deal for the inconstancy of mankind in general, and my own want of merit in particular. But 'tis a breach, at least, of the two last, to deceive me. I am sincere: I shall be sorry if I am not now what pleases; but if I (as I could with joy) abandon all things to the care of pleasing you, I am then undone if I do not succeed.—Be generous."
It was about this time that she confided her troubles to Mrs. Hewet. "At present, my domestic affairs go on so ill, I want spirits to look round," she wrote. "I have got a cold that disables my eyes and disorders me every other way. Mr. Mason has ordered me blooding, to which I have submitted, after long contestation. You see how stupid I am; I entertain you with discourses of physic, but I have the oddest jumble of disagreeable things in my head that ever plagued poor mortals; a great cold, a bad peace, people I love in disgrace, sore eyes, the horrid prospect of a civil war, and the thought of a filthy potion to take. I believe nobody ever had such a melange before."
The unsatisfactory situation, apparently, might have continued indefinitely, for, even if Montagu had been more pressing, Lady Mary, in spite of her independent attitude, was most reluctant, indeed, almost determined, not to marry without her father's consent.
In the early summer of 1712, however, Lord Dorchester created a crisis. Thinking, perhaps, that his daughter might one day get out of hand and, in despair, defy him, he decided to find her a husband other than Montagu. At first, from a sense of weariness and from filial duty, Lady Mary inclined to obey the parental injunction—to her father's great delight. All the preparations for the wedding were put in train—then, ultimately, Lady Mary declared that she could not and would not go through with it on any terms. Who the bridegroom was she does not mention, but, in a manner somewhat involved, she in a letter in July, 1912, confided the whole story to Montagu.
"I am going to write you a plain long letter. What I have already told you is nothing but the truth. I have no reason to believe I am going to be otherwise confined than by my duty; but I, that know my own mind, know that is enough to make me miserable. I see all the misfortune of marrying where it is impossible to love; I am going to confess a weakness may perhaps add to your contempt of me. I wanted courage to resist at first the will of my relations; but, as every day added to my fears, those, at last, grew strong enough to make me venture the disobliging them. A harsh word damps my spirits to a degree of silencing all I have to say. I knew the folly of my own temper, and took the method of writing to the disposer of me. I said everything in this letter I thought proper to move him, and proffered, in atonement for not marrying whom he would, never to marry at all. He did not think fit to answer this letter, but sent for me to him. He told me he was very much surprized that I did not depend on his judgment for my future happiness; that he knew nothing I had to complain of, &c.; that he did not doubt I had some other fancy in my head, which encouraged me to this disobedience; but he assured me, if I refused a settlement he had provided for me, he gave me his word, whatever proposals were made him, he would never so much as enter into a treaty with any other; that, if I founded any hopes upon his death, I should find myself mistaken, he never intended to leave me anything but an annuity of L400 per annum; that, though another would proceed in this manner after I had given so just a pretence for it, yet he had [the] goodness to leave my destiny yet in my own choice, and at the same time commanded me to communicate my design to my relations, and ask their advice. As hard as this may sound, it did not shock my resolution; I was pleased to think, at any price, I had it in my power to be free from a man I hated. I told my intention to all my nearest relations. I was surprised at their blaming it, to the greatest degree. I was told, they were sorry I would ruin myself; but, if I was so unreasonable, they could not blame my F. [father] whatever he inflicted on me. I objected I did not love him. They made answer, they found no necessity of loving; if I lived well with him, that was all was required of me; and that if I considered this town, I should find very few women in love with their husbands, and yet a many happy. It was in vain to dispute with such prudent people; they looked upon me as a little romantic, and I found it impossible to persuade them that living in London at liberty was not the height of happiness. However, they could not change my thoughts, though I found I was to expect no protection from them. When I was to give my final answer to——, I told him that I preferred a single life to any other; and, if he pleased to permit me, I would take that resolution. He replied, he could not hinder my resolutions, but I should not pretend after that to please him; since pleasing him was only to be done by obedience; that if I would disobey, I knew the consequences; he would not fail to confine me, where I might repent at leisure; that he had also consulted my relations, and found them all agreeing in his sentiments. He spoke this in a manner hindered my answering. I retired to my chamber, where I writ a letter to let him know my aversion to the man proposed was too great to be overcome, that I should be miserable beyond all things could be imagined, but I was in his hands, and he might dispose of me as he thought fit. He was perfectly satisfied with this answer, and proceeded as if I had given a willing consent.—I forgot to tell you, he named you, and said, if I thought that way, I was very much mistaken; that if he had no other engagements, yet he would never have agreed to your proposals, having no inclination to see his grandchildren beggars.
"I do not speak this to endeavour to alter your opinion, but to shew the improbability of his agreeing to it. I confess I am entirely of your mind. I reckon it among the absurdities of custom that a man must be obliged to settle his whole estate on an eldest son, beyond his power to recall, whatever he proves to be, and make himself unable to make happy a younger child that may deserve to be so. If I had an estate myself, I should not make such ridiculous settlements, and I cannot blame you for being in the right.
"I have told you all my affairs with a plain sincerity. I have avoided to move your compassion, and I have said nothing of what I suffer; and I have not persuaded you to a treaty, which I am sure my family will never agree to. I can have no fortune without an entire obedience.
"Whatever your business is, may it end to your satisfaction. I think of the public as you do. As little as that is a woman's care, it may be permitted into the number of a woman's fears. But, wretched as I am, I have no more to fear for myself. I have still a concern for my friends, and I am in pain for your danger. I am far from taking ill what you say, I never valued myself as the daughter of——, and ever despised those that esteemed me on that account. With pleasure I could barter all that, and change to be any country gentleman's daughter that would have reason enough to make happiness in privacy. My letter is too long. I beg your pardon. You may see by the situation of my affairs 'tis without design."
The marriage with the gentleman unknown was thus called off—to the very considerable anger of Lord Dorchester. Lord Pierrepont wrote offering to come to her aid, by representing to her father the hardship he was inflicting by endeavouring to force her inclination. He went so far as to say that he would assist her to marry a man of moderate means, if there were such an one in her heart. She was little used to sympathy, and the proposal affected her deeply. "The generosity and goodness of this letter wholly determines my softest inclinations on your side," she wrote with unusual gentleness to Montagu on a Thursday night in August. "You are in the wrong to suspect me of artifice; plainly showing me the kindness of your heart (if you have any there for me) is the surest way to touch mine, and I am at this minute more inclined to speak tenderly to you than ever I was in my life—so much inclined I will say nothing. I could wish you would leave England, but I know not how to object to anything that pleases you. In this minute I have no will that does not agree with yours."
There is a reference in the letter just printed to a meeting of Lady Anne and Montagu, but how often they saw each other at this time there is no knowing.
However, it must have been in August that, failing the consent of Lord Dorchester to their marriage, they made up their minds to elope. From whom the suggestion first came, who can say? Let it be hoped for the sake of maiden modesty it came from Montagu. What drove them to this step may well have been the fear that Lord Dorchester might, to all intents and purposes, imprison his daughter on one of his estates. Even at the eleventh hour, Lady Mary was determined that there should be no misunderstanding between her and her fiance. She wrote to him saying that if she came to him in this way, she would come to him without a portion. To this part of her letter he vouchsafed no reply, so she again touched upon the matter.
"You made no reply to one part of my letter concerning my fortune. I am afraid you flatter yourself that my F. [father] may be at length reconciled and brought to reasonable terms. I am convinced, by what I have often heard him say, speaking of other cases like this, he never will. The fortune he has engaged to give with me, was settled on my B. [brother]'s marriage, on my sister and on myself; but in such a manner, that it was left in his power to give it all to either of us, or divide as he thought fit. He has given it all to me. Nothing remains for my sister, but the free bounty of my F. [father] from what he can save; which, notwithstanding the greatness of his estate, may be very little. Possibly, after I have disobliged him so much, he may be glad to have her so easily provided for, with money already raised; especially if he has a design to marry himself, as I hear. I do not speak this that you should not endeavour to come to terms with him, if you please; but I am fully persuaded it will be to no purpose."
Lady Mary assured Montagu that Lord Dorchester's attitude was this: She had consented to an engagement with another man, that she had let him incur an expenditure of some four hundred pounds for a trousseau, and that, by breaking it off, had made him look foolish. In fact, her father, she added, had given her clearly to understand that he would entertain no dealings whatsoever with any suitor other than the one of his choice, that he would send her to his estate in the north of England, and that it was his intention to leave her, on his death, only an annuity of four hundred pounds.