A Shining Constellation of Wit and Beauty
Illustrated with Portraits
The aim of these stories is not historical exactitude nor unbending accuracy in dates or juxtaposition. They are rather an attempt to re-create the personalities of a succession of charming women, ranging from Elizabeth Pepys, wife of the Diarist, to Fanny Burney and her experiences at the Court of Queen Charlotte. As I have imagined them, so I have set them forth, and if what is written can at all revive their perished grace and the unfading delight of days that now belong to the ages, and to men no more, I shall not have failed. Much is imagination, more is truth, but which is which I scarcely can tell myself. I have wished to set them in other circumstances than those we know.
What would Elizabeth Pepys have felt if she had read the secrets of the Diary? If Stella and Vanessa had met—Ah, that is a tenderness and terror almost beyond all thinking! How would my Lady Mary's smarting pride have blistered herself and others if the Fleet marriage of her eccentric son— whose wife she never saw—had actually come between the wind and her nobility? Was there no finer, more ethereal touch in Elizabeth Gunning's stolen marriage with her Duke than is recorded in Horace Walpole's malicious gossip? Could such beauty have been utterly sordid? What were the fears and hopes of the lovely Maria Walpole as, after long concealment of her marriage, she trembled on the steps of a throne? How did those about her judge of Fanny Burney in the Digby affair? Did she wholly conceal her heart? From her Diary we know what she wished to feel—very certainly not entirely what she felt.
Perhaps of all these women we know best that Elizabeth who never lived— Elizabeth Bennet. She is the most real because her inner being is laid open to us by her great creator. I have not dared to touch her save as a shadow picture in the background of the quiet English country-life which now is gone for ever. But her fragrance—stimulating rather than sweet, like lavender and rosemary—could not be forgotten in any picture of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries and among the women whom all the world remembers. They, one and all, can only move in dreamland now. Their lives are but stories in a printed book, and a heroine of Jane Austen's is as real as Stella or the fair Walpole. So I apologise for nothing. I have dreamed. I may hope that others will dream with me.
Table of Contents
I. The Diurnal of Mrs Elizabeth Pepys Had she Read her Husband's Diary
II. The Mystery of Stella Why might not she and Vanessa have met?
III. My Lady Mary To Dispel the Mystery of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's quitting England in 1739
IV. The Golden Vanity A Story of the First Irish Beauties—the Gunnings
V. The Walpole Beauty A Tale in Letters about Maria Walpole, Countess of Waldegrave, Duchess of Gloucester, Niece of Horace Walpole
VI. A Blue Stocking at Court Why Fanny Burney, Madame D'Arblay, retired from Court in 1791
VII. The Darcys of Rosing A Reintroduction to some of the characters of Miss Austen's Novels
Elizabeth Cunning Portrait by Catherine Reed
Mrs Pepys as St. Katharine Portrait by Hayts
Esther Johnson, "Stella" Portrait by Kneller
Hester Vanhomrigh, "Vanessa"
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Portrait by Kneller
Maria Gunning Portrait by Cotes
Maria Walpole and Her Daughter, Elizabeth Laura Portrait by Reynolds
Fanny Burney, Madame D'Arblay After Portrait by E. F. Burney
Elizabeth Pepys 1640-1669
"So home to dinner with my wife, very pleasant and pleased with one another's company, and in our general enjoyment one of another, better we think than most other couples do."
Elizabeth St. Michel, daughter of a French Huguenot, was fifteen when Pepys married her. She was only twenty-nine when she died. Pepys himself at their marriage was twenty-two. It is the skirmishing of young folk that he describes when he reports such animated scenes as the occasion when his wife threatened him with the red-hot tongs. They had their brisk encounters and their affectionate interludes as well, when "very merry we were with our pasty, well-baked, and a good dish of roasted chickens; pease, lobsters, strawberries."
In odd moments, Pepys applied himself to his wife's education. Dismissing her dancing-master by reason of jealousy, he began instead a course in Arithmetic. He himself taught her Addition, Subtraction, and the Multiplication Tables; but, says he, "I purpose not to trouble her yet with Division, but to begin with the Globes to her now."
At her early death he mourned sincerely, and erected a memorial celebrating the accomplished charms of Elizabeth, his wife,—
"Forma, Artibus, Linguis Cultissima."
The Diurnal of Mrs. Elizabeth Pepys
2d May.—Sam'l now in great honour at the Navy Office, whereat my heart do rejoice, and the less for the havings, which do daily increase, than that I would willingly see him worshipfully received, the which indeede his hard work do plentifully deserve, he sparing himselfe in nothing for the advancing of his busyness.
And I do reason with myselfe that though he have faults many and great (which God knowes is true) yet he do come up in the world and our gettings are very good and do daily increase. How they go I know not, for that little and grudging is spent on my clothes, and though Sam'l goes very noble still it is not possible but much is saved, though he do lament himself in very high wordes of our spendthrift way of life and small saving.
But of this more anon.
Up and dressed a pease pudding with boyled rabbets and bacon to dinner for want of a cook-mayde, Sarah leaving us at dawn, and he loving it mightily. The which he should not have this day but that I have a month's mind to a slashte wastcote which hitherto he hath soured upon. This done, a brave dish of cream in the which he takes great delight; and so seeing him in Tune I to lament the ill wear of my velvet wastcote as desiring a Better, whereon he soured. We jangling mightily on this I did object his new Jackanapes coat with silver buttons, but to no purpose. He reading in the Passionate Pillgrim which he do of all things love. But angry to prayers and to Bed.
But it is observable that this day I discover Sam'l in the keeping of a Journal and very secret in this, and come at it I will, he being much abroad on his occasions the while I sit at home.
3d.—This day awakes Sam'l in a musty humour as much over-served with meat and Drink, and in great discontent calling me, do bid me rise and fetch his Pills that olde Mother Wigsworth did give him at Brampton. I merry and named him the Passionate Pillgrim from his love to these, whereupon he flings the Pills in my face and all scattered, Deb grudging to gather them it being Lord's Day. So I to churche, leaving him singing and playing "Beauty, Retire" to his Viall, a song not worthy to be sung on a holy Day however he do conceit his skill therein. His brown beauty Mrs Lethulier in the pew against us and I do perceive her turn her Eye to see if Sam'l do come after. She very brave in hanging sleeves, yet an ill-lookt jade if one do but consider, but with the seeking Eye that men look to, and Sam'l in especial. Fried Loyne of mutton to dinner, and Sam'l his head akeing I did sit beside him discoursing of the new hangings for the small closet, wherein great pleasure for it will be most neat and fine. And great content have we in such discourse and in our house and the good we are come to.
4th.—This day do Sam'l speak handsomely enough of his humour yesterday, charging it upon the Rabbets, and so I left it. And strange it is how when he do so repent my heart do take part with him though I would better renounce him awhile to learn him manners. So he to the Exchange and buys me a piece of Paragon to a pettycote, and though it be not what I would have of my own choosing yet I do receive it with many goode words as hoping all will yet be as I desire. So to sup on a good dish of beef a la mode, and he well content, it appearing he have this day bestowed upon himself at the Exchange a good Theorbo, four Bookes, and a payre of Globes, talking very high how these be for my instruction rather than his own liking. The which I receive smyling, but do think—Lord! what fools men be that will have a woman so lightly deceived, fine wordes buttering no parsnips. Sure they be but Children when all said and done, and their Innocency in this a pleasant thing to see.
Comes Mr Collins with his new Wife, a pretty well-shaped Woman with black hayre and Eyes, and she, much cried up for her skill on the Theorbo, do after play a Lesson upon it, but very ill, and pretty to see Sam'l that was hoping great things (loving musique) in pain and grief to hear her mean false playing and yet making fine wordes of it to please her, and they gone, do call her slut and baggage and I know not what all. So to prayers and bed.
5th.—Sam'l this day reading over his vows not to drink strong waters or wines nor yet go to the play for two weekes. But I do ask myself (though not Sam'l) whether these vows be convenient. For I do surely think he do it only because it is the greater pleasure to drink and see the play, it being thus forbid. And in Saml' it is to be noted and methinks in other Men also that they do suck more pleasure from a thing forbidden and hard to come at than from the same thing when comely and convenient to be done in the sight of all. This day, he being with his Lordship, I to gain a sight of his Journal, he carelessly leaving it about, but took nothing by my pains, it being writ in secret writing, which do plainly show it to be what he would be shamed if known. Whereas mine owne is voide of all offence, and I do lay it under the smocks in the great armoire only because it is not seemly that Sam'l should know my thoughts, I having to deal with him as best I may.
Mem. To ask of Mrs Jemimah Crosby if her father, being a scrivener, knoweth and can instruct in secret writings.
Sam'l home late this day, and the supper, a calve's head, very good, with a noble Barell of oysters, he bringing with him Mr S. Lucy, and so supt very merry, and after in the garden, Sam'l to play on his flageolette, it being full moon. So to bed, omitting prayers. A pleasant day and content together.
6th.—This day, seeing Mrs Jemimah Crosby, I to ask her earnestly if her father the scrivener do teach the secret writing, and she replying that so it was, I after the mayde's cleaning the house, do forth and to his lodging behind Paternoster Row, he being a worthy olde Gentleman with a long white bearde, very reverend. I enjoining him to be secret, which he the more willingly promised that I have obliged him and Mrs Jem with codiniac and quince marmalett of my own making, do tell him how my father (which is unknown to him) have documents and papers which he would willingly decipher but for his bad Eyes. Wherein God forgive me, for his eyes are the best Part of him. Olde Mr Crosby thereon urgent that my father entrust him with the worke, but I sticking at the expense, no more said. So I to show him a line of Dots and hooks which I did copy from Sam'l his Journal, and he reading it with ease, what should it prove to be but this:—
"Took occasion to fall out with my wife very highly about her ribbands being ill matcht and of two colours, and to very high words, so that I did call her Beaste."
So finding all as I thought and it being very needful that I should know Sam'l his thoughts (and indeed he is very simple to write them unless he think he have a fool to his wife) I do covenant with the olde Gentleman for Lessons which are dear enough, but to be paid from the housekeeping, and indeed the better that Sam'l should live plaine awhile in consideration of his ailing. So home in good time, and do find Sam'l and our she-cousin Scott very merry with capping of Epitaphs and sayings, wherein I also delighte. A very merry witty woman and harmlesse. Suppt on a Westfalia Ham and so with prayers content to bed.
7th.—This day Sam'l returning from the Office takes me to a fine collacion at Hamling's house, wherein the fine silver set forth upon the table do give us great pleasure, but I a little shamed because the ladies so brave, Mrs Hamling very Rich in an embroidered suit, and Mrs Pegg Penn in flowered sattin, which God knows she do not become, and heads set out with the new French frizzle. I very plain in my olde black silk new-laced all over with black silk gimp, Sam'l declaring I am very pretty in this, but I trust him not herein, he willing to save his Purse. One passage of Sam'l kissing the little black beauty, Mrs Deakin, that he do call his Morena, displeased me, she being known for a frolicsome jade. He later singing, "Gaze not on Swans," and "Goe and be Hanged—that's Good-bye," all did applaud, and great mirth. It was observable that Captain Wade, kissing me on parting, did a little detain my Hand, and for this Sam'l did so betwit and becall me, returning in the Coach, that I pretended sleep, which did put him in a great discontent and so angry and without Prayers to bed. Yet sure this shows his good liking to me, and I think his heart sound, though he do Friske as I would he did not.
8th.—This day hear that my Lady Sandwich is Delivered of a young Lady and all well. Sam'l thinking (on some jest of my Lord's) to stand Godfather and give the name—though how to call the Babe for him I see not—do at once provide silver Spoons and a Porringer. Which, seeing he is not yet bidden, doth I confesse, appear exceeding foolish and like a man that hath more silly pride than sense, the rather that I lack a French mantle that he hath promist but not performed. But I say nothing, according to the olde wise saw of Goody Gorum,—
Nothing say, But take your way.
He this day in his new Cote of the fashion and half cloth stockings going to give my Lord joy, do indeed seem very brave and noble, and hath a neat legg, and it pleases me to see him go as he should, for he is a personable man when well set out. And if he did but consider how it is to his honour that his Wife should go as fine as he I could the more rejoice therein, but it is not so, and great dishonour it is to him to consider how this quarter he hath spent fifty pounds on his clothes and but twelve on me, a thing not fit to be said of him. But I wait my time.
10th.—This day Sam'l refuses me the French mantle as beyond his Purse, but offers a payre of gloves—I refusing this. Slipt out for Lesson, olde Mr Crosby being a worthy and patient teacher, but it is a science very hard to be come at, and I weary enough in the learning of it, though indeed it be so needful. Still, some progress, and he saying merrily I would be at some mischief in this, with love Letters or such Toys, do make me to blush, so as I never did but when Sam'l was courting me. Yet no guilty deed, but what is very fitting for a woman. Was instant with the olde Gentleman that he should speake of my Lessons to none, the more so (I did say) that my father would not have these papers known to any, great matters hanging on it. Which indeed is true though not as he takes it.
So I home and with Sam'l to the Play, where my Lady Castlemaine, which indeed is a great Beauty, nor can I deny it, but sure it is not hard to be a beauty in Clothes and jewels that do dazzle the Eyes of all that Gaze upon her. But, Lord! to see how bold and unmannerly in staring upon strangers and the men on the stage, and in fine do not please me with her Freedoms. This Sam'l disputing very hotly after we had supt upon a Jowl of Salmon, I to speake my mind, asking if he would have his Wife casting oranges to the actors and blowing Kisses all about the house, and he not knowing what to answer, I do say, "Then prayse it not in others, for, if you will have me a bold Slut, no doubt but I will do my endeavours to please you," and so whiskte off, he sitting astonied. And strange how men will like in otheres what in their own Wives they love not but fear.
14th.—This day I by my Lady's desire to see the young Lady which is a fine Babe and like to do well. But no word of Sam'l to stand Godfather, and Sir J. Minnes and Lrd Brouncker spoke of, which is no more than I thought, but will make Sam'l madd with his spoones. But no loss herein if it do make him more biddable in women's matters. Her La'ship observing that my Lutestring suit is well worn and do me no credit, I did adventure to beseech her that she would break a word with Sam'l on his next waiting upon her that he would give me a Gown of Moyre which is now all the fashion, and this, with many good words she promist very lovingly, desiring that I would come in a weeks time to learn how she hath sped. So I home in good Tune as knowing he oweth his duty to my Lord and Lady and will be said by her. In comes fayre Mrs Margaret Wight to sup on a dish of Eggs and butter of Sparagus that Sam'l hath ate with my Lord Carlingford and do highly commend. And indeed it is rare meat. After, we dancing and very merry with Mrs Margaret, and she gone, I take occasion to tell Sam'l of the Godfathers like to stand for the young Lady. Whereat he in a great Tosse, but I willing to smoothe all betwixt him and my Lady do tell him the honourable words she have spoke of him to myself and others, the more especially of his Velvet suit with scarlet ribands. The which pleasing him, we fall to discourse of what to do with the Spoons and Porringer, resolving the spoons do go to Betty Michell where certayne it is I do stand Godmother, and the Porringer to Mrs Lane, whose name I know not but will come at shortly, and he do cry her up for a sober and God-fearing woman. So pleasantly to bed and good frends.
16th.—This day comes my new cook-Mayd, Jane Gentleman, and heaven send she prove worthy of her name, for I am drove almost madd with mayds that are not mayds but Sluts and know not diligence nor cleanliness, to their own undoing and mine. And strange it is to consider how in the olden days before my mother and Grandmother (who suffered great horroures from the like) the mayds were a peaceable and diligent folk, going about their busyness to the great content of all housewives. But now it is not so. And it is only two days sennight that I coming suddenly in did find Sarah with my new silk Hood upon her Frowsy head and Will discoursing with her and thrumming upon Sam'l his viallin. Whereat I did catch her a sound souse of the Ear, but she never a whit the better of it and answering me so sawcily that we parted on it, Sam'l upholding me in this, though it be hard enough to fill her place the wench being a good Cooke-mayde, though sluttish.
20th.—Sam'l to visit my Lady, who receives him with great content and satisfaction, though she railed bitterly at my Lord that is so taken up with his pleasures and amusements that he goeth not to Court as he should, and she fears will be passed over and forgot for others that keep more stir. Requiring Sam'l that he would deal plainly with my Lord on this, making known to him that his Reputacion do hereby decay. But this methinks is a difficult matter, and I do counsel Sam'l that he put not his finger between the Bark and the Tree, lest it come by a shrewd squeeze, but let rather my Lady deal with her Lord as a Wife should do. But he would not harken, whereby I foresee trouble.
He then, pulling out of his pocket a little Packett, do say pleasantly, "What, my Deare, shall you and I never go a-fairing again? What think you I have here? And how many Kisses will you bid me for a sight?"
Much merriment and pleasure from this, he holding it high, and I leaping for it like a Dogg. At the last he opens it, and lo a fine Lace of the new fashion for my bosom, and I do well perceive that my Lady hath been at him, and am well content I did break the matter to her, though an honest gown had been more to my Purpose. Yet well begun is half done. Though but half, as Sam'l shall find.
Our she-cousin Scott did visit me this day with sore complaints of her husband's humours and constant drizzling, which is more than a woman can or ought to bear. Therefore I should remember that with Sam'l it is not so, but a spurt or flame of anger when he will be very high with me, yet quickly snuft out and friends again. And generally, it is noticeable, with some little gift for peacemaking, so that I have more than once of set purpose Baited him to this end. Yet not often. Considering therefore the husbands I do know, I think Sam'l no worse a bargain than any and better than some, but shall be better assured in this when I shall come at his Journal. My seventh lesson today in the secret writing, and progress made, but it do make my head ake extremely and were it not needful would not continue on therein.
Comes this day my old Mayd Gosnell that Sam'l and I do call our Marmotte, she telling me that Jane my mayde is naught and she hath herself seen her abroade in light company. Yet cooking as she cooks Sam'l sticks on this and bids me wink my eyes and observe nothing, and such like are men!
21st.—This day Sam'l his feast for the recovery of his ailment which he do always solemnly keep with great store of meat and Drink and company. And this is a great day with him and a troublous one with me, and to the Mayds also such as would madd a Saint. Yet all said and done a noble Dinner, enough and to spare, being a dish of Marrowbones, a legg of Mutton, a loin of Veal, a dish of fowl, being three Pullets and 24 Larks all in a great dish, a Tart, a neat's tongue, a dish of anchovies, a dish of Prawns and cheese. His company seven men (Captain Fenner and both Sir Williams among them) and seven women and all reasonable merry. But I beseeching Sam'l privately to eat and Drink sparingly for the pain in his Toe, he do so becall me that it was ten to an Ace that I did hurle the Spit and the birds withal into the fire. Yet knowing he would pay dear next day, I said the less and so continued on, bidding him take his own way and pay for his liking. But indeed great company and the Dinner well cooked and served and they did drink my health on it. Also the house very handsome with Plate displayed and fires where the Company did sit. And the greatness of living we are come to did make Mrs Pierce's Mouth to water though she in her flowered Lutestring and liking well of it. So she green and yellow with spite as I did well perceive. Great Musique after, with "Great, good and just," and Sam'l at the top of his Tune, and so to cards and wine. Weary to bed, Sam'l starting up in the night with Nightmare not knowing what he did, and did so shreeke and cry that the Mayds in affright did run in, and the Watchmen passing called to know was any poor Soul murthered within. But this no more than my Expectation, and so quietly to sleep.
22d.—This day a noble gift of Plate being two Candelsticks and a dish from Capt Salmon, he looking for favour from Sam'l concerning the Henrietta shippe that he would have on next going to Sea. Which do plainly prove to what honour and advancement we are come to be so courted, and do gladde his heart and mine. Sat long discoursing of this, and, turning the case, what should fall out but a ring set with an Orient perle for me, which as not expecting I received with great good will. Sam'l to the office and I to my lesson wherein very diligent and commended of olde Mr Crosby, and indeed I am come already to the reading of many wordes, yet not glibbly. So home, but Sam'l coming home and I combing his hayre he did say, "Who do I meet this day in Broade Street but olde Crosby, Mrs Jem's father, that I did think long dead and buried, not having seen him this year and more, and so to talk with him."
And, Lord! to see how I did redden, my heart so beating in my bosom as I could have thought it would choak me, and do even sweat in the writing of it. For sure it might well be the olde Gentleman would think Sam'l did know all my father's business and speak thereon. But I could not speak and my hand shaked so in the Combing that I did drop the comb. And he continuing, "So I asked him how he did and he answered, 'Bravely'; and more I would have said for it is a worthy man, but little Mrs Deakin passing, that I do call my Morena, I would not be seen talking to one so scurvily clad, and so incontinently left him standing and hasted away."
So it passed, nor did I ask him if he hasted after his Morena, for heaven be thankt that she did pass by, though I thought not to live to say it. But I will take order with olde Mr Crosby, for olde men be tattlers more than any woman or is convenient. And so a great escape.
So Sam'l carries me to the Paynter where he sits for his face and very like it is, yet do not please, he thinking it do make his Eyes too small and ill-favoured, but I not so, and Lord! to see him sit Smirking upon Mr Savile since Mrs Knipp hath commended his Smyle! But Mr Savile the Paynter seeing me did speak in very handsome language, telling Sam'l he hath a Beauty to his wife worthy that her picture should be with the Court Ladies' pictures, and much more fine things, harping on the same string, whereto Sam'l made answer that he would consider of it. But to see the Vanity of men, when all the world knows that the sight of a pretty Woman's face is worth all the men that ever were or will be! So I sat devising how to set myself off if this should be, and did like well of my Cardinal sattin suit with a chapeau de poil tied beneath my chin. Or it may be, perles in my hayre, and to borrow my Lady's if so she will. Fritters for supper, the best I ever did eat, Sam'l confirming me in this, and he discoursing very high of the corruption of the times, and no regard to clean living in court or city, and glad I am that thus he thinks, and do hope he acts answerably, as he should.
27th.—This day, by long promise, Sam'l do carry me to White Hall to see the Queen in her presence Chamber playing at Cards with her ladies, and the people looking and crowding upon them. He commending Mrs Stewart for a great Beauty and so indeede she is, and one I do not weary in looking on, and do far outshine my Lady Castlemaine as I well perceive His Maj'tie do also thinke. Her Maj'tie appearing very comely in a Gown of silver lace, but Lord! how no one takes heed of her when my Lady Castlemaine is by, which is a great dishonour to a sweete Lady in her owne Court, and I am much mistook if Her Maj'tie be not the best Lady of them all, and that not saying much! But strange to see how beauty sways all and how Sam'l do uphold my Lady Castlemaine in all things.
Captain Holmes accosted us and very fine in his gold laced suit, and it is noticeable that Sam'l troubled in mind because he well knows that Captain H—— hath called me for a Toast and the greatest Beauty in Town. And this Sam'l likes well of for his own Pride, yet not for me to know. So saying we must return in Haste, he would bid adieu to the Captain, but he followed and escorted me very gallant to the Coche, hat under his arm, and so kissed my hand at parting not once but twice. Now I know well to make Captain Holmes or any other Captain keepe his Distance, but Sam'l, thinking all one as himself, in a sadd musty humour, and yet would not come forth with what ailed him. So I do Debate with myself if it be not well he should see that Men of court and Fashion do judge me worth a thought. And I think it be, and so I do learn my Part.
In comes Mrs. Knipp to play and sing. Very witty and pleasant doubtlesse, and they very merry. I with Jane, contriving my olde pettycote with a broade blacke lace at the foot to hide the wear. But indeede I begin to be full of thoughts considering if I do well in going to Brampton, when Sam'l alone in Towne do friske and please himself as he will, Jane confirming me in this. He home with Knipp, returning in a great Tosse because I did not bid her to sup with us, and do pull his supper all about the floor, a good hasht hen as ever a man did eat, when he should the rather soberly thank heaven for meat and appettite. But sorry later, there being nought else but sops and wine. And so, good friends and to bed, the Storms coming and going, but I think he do love me at heart, and indeede I do love him well.
28th.—Lord's Day. To church at St. Olave's where a poor dull sermon from a bawling Scotman, and Sam'l to sleep, a thing unseemly in the Church, but I awake and did fix in my mind the pattern of my Lady Batten's Hood, the which I would not ask of her for that we do of late a little make ourselves strange to her and her family, but the less matter because I now have it in my Eye. Mrs Lethulier masqued, which methought a strange thing to be seen at Worshipp, though the great Ladies do now carry their masques to the Play that none may see them Blush, or rather, as Sam'l do say, that none may see they cannot blush if they would. And indeed all the Men do now complain that the Beauties hide their faces.
Mem. To Buy a masque in Paternoster Row when I do go to Mr Crosby. This night to bed in the little green chamber—the Chymney swepers in our own.
1st June.—To my Lady this day and do give her my thankfull gratitude for that she hath spoke with Sam'l concerning my poore clothes, telling her of the Lace he did give, she pishing and pshawing it for a meane gift, remembering the money that do pass through his hands whereof my Lord hath informed her. Comes Sam'l later to carry me home, and my Lady speaking with him of my Lady Jem's marriage with young Mr Carteret do say he is so abasht and so little coming forward with his courtship that it do much discomfort poor Lady Jem as not knowing what he would be at. So my Lady beseecht Sam'l that he would instruct him how to court a lady, he otherwise doing very well, and a worthy Gentleman, and one my Lady Jem could like of if not so shamefaced. Sam'l simpring upon this, as who should say, "None better," do make us merry, seeing him already conning over what manner of Speeches and approaches will grace the Gentleman, but I do know him well able in such matters. And indeed in all.
2d July.—Lesson, and do now begin well to read. Bought masque of the Toy woman, in the Row, she saying, "Lord! is this the fayre Mrs Pepys, wife to Mr Sam'l Pepys, that is known for a great man to be? Sure Madam was well pleased with the French mantle that he did buy for her a sennight come Saturday?"
So seeing she was a little ugly talking woman, I did sound her on this, for it vexed me cruelly since he hath sent it to another. And for all, I do and will believe it is but sporting and jesting, which if I did not, God help us all! So sadly and soberly home, but yet said nothing. Pray God all be well.
24th July.—For many days have I not writ, for at the last I did come to read what I would, and though not all, for some is in Greeke or I know not what, yet what I did read hath broke my heart. His Mrs Lane that he did prayse for a God-fearing woman, his Deb—but what do I say?—sure he hath not a heart but a stone. So I telling him certayne things of my knowledge (and yet not how I did know them), he in great fear and terrour and as I thought unlike a man of Courage. Which did shame me for him that I could scarce bring myself to look in his face and see him thus, remembering his high carriage that I did use to see in him. And times there were when I would the rather he did Brazen it out, it seeming so poor a thing to see him so low, and times again when in Madness I would have taken a knife to him, but he did pull it away with weeping Teares and promise of amendment. But how to trust him or any I cannot tell. And I have bid Will Hewer (Sam'l humbly agreeing thereto) that he continue with his master and oversee him in all his walks abroad, doing me to wit where he goeth. Yet, how to trust Will—for sure all men are alike and will give the other countenance in Deceit. So what way to surety, for if a man regard not his wife where shall she look for good? And truly I do believe that in such Trafficking men do chip and whittle away their heart till none be left and they cannot love if they would, and no anchorage in so rotten a Holding ground. And thus have I learned that a woman may be young and yet aweary of her life, which I did not think to be true.
Sometimes I would I had not read, and again I would know more and run the knife yet deeper in my heart, and in that curst book never will I read again, and even in the writing of this well do I know I cannot forbear to read, and so Teares my drink and all my content gone. But let me remember there was here and there a word where he hath writ tenderly of his poor Wife, and when I did see him weep my heart did pity him. But what hope or help, for a Jar mended may hold water, but yet the Cracks remain, and the worth gone for ever and a Day.
Well, God mend all, and yet I think He cannot. But in this Booke of mine will I never write more, for the mirth and the little Frets that I did think so great alike do pierce my heart to read. So farewell, my Booke, that was a good friend in sunshine but an ill friend in storm, for I am done with thee and with many things more this day.
And so to the work that must be done and the day that must be lived though Brows ake and heart break.
(Elizabeth Pepys died at the age of twenty-nine.)
Esther Johnson "Stella" 1681-1728
Jonathan Swift's cousin and biographer sums up his views of the mystery of Stella in definite fashion: "For that she was married to Dr Swift about the year 1716, I am thoroughly persuaded, although it is certain they continued to live in separate Houses in the same manner they had usually done before." Other contemporaries of Swift are equally persuaded that no marriage took place at all. Under the circumstances, it is no great marvel if, as one gossip suggests, "her spirits might have become dejected, by her frequent revolving in her mind the Odness of her Situation."
When Esther Johnson's mother was companion to Lady Giffard, sister of Sir William Temple, the "Platonick" friendship between the young girl and Temple's secretary began. There are reports of Stella's charm, not only in the Journal, but in a general tradition that she was "surrounded by every Grace and blessed with every Virtue that could allure the Affections and captivate the Soul of the most stubborn Philosopher." Says John Hawkesworth: "There was a natural musick in her Voice, and a pleasing complacency in her aspect when she spoke. As to her wit, it was confessed by all her acquaintance and particularly by the Dean, that she never failed to say the best thing that was said whenever she was in company."
She died at forty-seven, and was buried in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Swift, seventeen years later, by his own instructions, was buried at her side.
The Mystery of Stella
This paper have I wrote for certain grave considerations which make me suppose it well it were one day placed in the hands of the Dean. 'Tis, however, possible I may destroy it, but this time shall determine ere my death. Writ an: 1727 by me, ESTHER JOHNSON.
When the Dean paid his last visit to London, an: 1726, he writ thus in a letter directed to Mrs Dingley, but for her and me:—
"Farewell, my dearest lives and delights I love you better than ever, as hope saved, and ever will. I can count on nothing but MD's love and kindness, and so, farewell, dearest MD. PRESTO."
So he signs himself, and so it seems the old screen will still be kept up and the letters to me wrote to her also, and in the child's talk that pleaseth him, lest any in the world suspect the famous divine hath a man's heart. But hath he? This I have not known, nor shall. Let me tell my own heart yet again how deep my debt to him, remembering the sickly child of Moor Park, to whom he brought not alone learning but companionship, and all the joy known to her childhood. For it pleased Dr Swift, then a young man, to condescend to a child's humours, to solace her solitary hours, forsook as she was of her mother's company, and not alone to teach her to write, but all store of knowledge. And Dr Swift hath since been pleased to acknowledge that, having instilled in this poor child the principles of honour and virtue, she hath not swerved from them in any passage of her life.
Yet have I not? Again I question my heart. 'T is the most I can hope that the woman hath repaid the child's debt. On this I will be judged.
A keen remembrance begins not much before the age of eight, nor can I recall a time when I did not love him. My mother's time was took up in making her court to my Lady Giffard, sister to our benefactor, Sir William Temple; and Rebecca Dingley's (a kinswoman of the Temples) in making her court to all; and the child Esther might run as she pleased, chid only when she was remembered.
And this young man took pity on her. I remember very well Dr Swift's face in youth. 'Twas extraordinary handsome and commanding, the eyes blue and piercing, the features strong, and a something that very early distinguisht him from others, so that great persons coming of errands to Sir William Temple were not seldom drawn into intercourse with his secretary.
Mr Swift was not then so prudent as he became later. What need with a child? He permitted his fancy to range in all he said; and seated by the lake at Moor Park, with this child at his knee looking up into his face, he would discourse of things in heaven and earth, forgetting his hearer. For he who could charm all charmed himself no less, and often hath said to me laughing:—
"There's no company so good as Jonathan Swift's—and he himself would choose it before all others!"
Of this I am not certain, for the Dean hath been and is very partial to the company of the great and famous of either sex.
'Twas thus, sitting by the lake and gazing down the great perspective cut in the trees, he saw the peasants going homeward up the hill, no greater than ants, and looking into my eyes (from which and my name he called me Star, and later, Stella), he said:—
"What say you, Mrs Star, if these folk were really no bigger than now they seem? What if this country were peopled by a race of little creeping Hop-o'-my-Thumbs?"
"O rare, rare!" I cried, and clapt my hands. "Tell me the history of them, Mr Swift, and their little homely ways and houses like bees' cells for size."
And as I looked up and the words came from him, truly all was visible before me. 'Tis a gift Mr Swift hath had from the beginning, that men should see what he would. And women,—O Father Almighty,—women!
So that was the beginning of Gulliver his travels, that being told for a child's pleasure hath since become a world's wonder. It had not then the meanings he gave it later, nor were there any Yahoos.
If I ask myself when this harmless love did change to a woman's, I cannot tell, because with my growth it grew. But the first pain it brought (and sure pain is love's shadow) was an: 1697, when I was sixteen years of age. For I sat by the housekeeper's window, and Sir William and Mr Swift were pacing the path, their voices coming and going. Mr Swift was now dressed as the young Levite he sometimes called himself since he returned from Ireland a clergyman; and he walked with his eyes fixed moodily on the ground, listening to Sir William.
"Why, as to that, Jonathan," said he familiarly, "I ever thought it behoves a parson to marry when he hath got preferment. There is room for Mrs Parson's help with the women and children of the parish and 't is meet she should set an example with her neat parsonage, and be a notable woman with her possets and cordials for the sick. Now what like is this pretty Varina that Dr Holmes hath brought news of from Belfast?"
"Miss Waring," says Mr Swift, very grave, "is a commendable young lady, but I design not for marriage as yet, Sir, nor for a long time to come."
They past out of hearing and, returning, I heard but the last part of Sir William's words:—
"'T is a cruel thing for a man to raise hopes he means not to be answerable for, and I am told the young lady grows very melancholy upon it. True it is, a man must sow his wild oats even though he honour his cloth; but 't is not well to sow them in a harmless girl's acre, Jonathan. Sow them by the wayside, and then they come not up to her confusion and your own."
"A sound precept, Sir; but better still to sow none. This shall be my care. As to the connection you speak of, 't is long broke off, and was at all times impossible, the lady having no portion, and myself—as you know!"
His brow was like a thunder-cloud ere it bursts; but, looking up, he catcht sight of me, and continued with no pause:—
"As for that matter of the publishers, Sir—they have writ to say that they wait your commands anent the Letters of Phalaris. Asking your pardon, time goes, and we should be speaking of this and not of child's toys."
I knew by the black blink of his eyes that I had heard what he would not; and as they turned, my heart beat so that I laid my hand on it, as if that poor fence might hide its throbbing. And for the first time in my life I knew I had in this world an enemy, and that was this Varina; and from that hour mine eyes waited on him.
More often mine eyes than my company, for, especially since this conversation with Sir William, Mr Swift was now grown very cautious. In public he addressed me as "Mrs Johnson," or, when Sir William rallied him, as "Mrs Esther," affecting an awful distance, which was not in his heart, for therein was still the tenderness for his child and pupil, as he had used to call me. And he was good enough to signify to Mrs Dingley, who carried it to me, that he found me grown to his liking; "beautiful, graceful, and agreeable," says he, and condescended to praise even my black hair and pale face, after which I would not have exchanged it against the golden hair of Helen. But still held aloof except when I was in company with others. And I took note that, of all the ladies that came and went at Moor Park, there was not one but hung upon his talk, and held up her head when he came near, spreading out all her graces. Mr Swift had always that power with our sex and, if he used it, 't is but what all men do. Providence made us fair game, to our undoing and theirs. 'T is not all men who have this gift, and never have I seen one who, having it, spared to use it, whether from liking or policy.
Yet he used it strangely. I remember, when the fair Lady Mary Fane came to Moor Park,—a widowed beauty and toast,—the look of scorn she cast from her fine eyes on the young secretary.
"I marvel, Sir William," says she, "that you will have your servant ever at your elbow, so that a body hath never a word with you alone. I would not presume to censure, but certainly my father's chaplain does not so intrude himself into company; and 'tis difficult for persons of quality to speak their mind in such underbred society."
"Why, your Ladyship," says he, laughing, "be gracious to my young Levite. He is not of the common sort of creeping parson, but I dare venture will yet be heard of. Simple as your Ladyship thinks him, he is at home in all company, be it great or little; and I had not known him three year when I sent him to London on a secret errand—and I was not mistook."
"Such persons," says the lady, very haughty, "are paid to exert themselves in our service. We may expect no less."
So it passed; but a busybody carried this, with other tattle, to Mr Swift, who questioned me also. I looked to see him mighty angry; and first his brows frowned, and then he laughed, as if a thought pleased him.
"Said she so, the painted jade! What, Madam Stella, shall not a stinking pride be taught its place by the Church? I'll give the hussy her lesson."
That very day, my Lady Mary sitting to embroidery on the great terrace in the shade, and I holding her threads, she threw Mr Swift a word as he past, to ask the name of the nymph that was turned to a bush to escape the pursuit of Apollo; for that was the subject of her needle.
"Daphne, Madam," says he. "Have I your permission to look upon your work? Oh, fie!—this bush—'t is a rosebush, and Daphne became a laurel. Sure, a lady with your Ladyship's reputation for wit will not be in error."
She stopped with the needle in her hand and lookt at him angrily.
"Sir, if you know better than Mrs Weyland who drew my pattern, instruct me. I am not too proud to learn from my—betters."
She made the word an insult, and went on:—
"Have I done amiss to give Apollo wings to his feet?"
"Why, indeed, Madam,'tis Mercury carries the wings. In another lady's presence I had said 'tis Cupid, but from some ladies love cannot fly."
So it began. In a moment more she had bid him be seated, and tell her stories that a lady might paint with her needle. And presently her hands dropt in her lap, and her eyes fixed on his face, and 't was not long ere I was dismist.
That evening he came into Dingley's room, where I sat with her to repair the household linen, and rattled on, full of wit and good humour; and when Dingley went out to fetch a cordial for him, he says:—
"Well, Mistress Stella, did we give the lying slut her lesson today—did we? Sure,'twas a pure bite!"
And says I:—
"I have seldom heard your Reverence more entertaining."
And he, laughing hugely:—
"A cat may be choked with cream as well as fishbones, Mrs Stella. Keep your pretty little eyes open, child, and thou shalt see."
In a week she was his humble servant. 'T is scarce credible, but I saw her once lay her hand, sparkling with jewels, upon his, and he shake it off as if 't were dirt. I saw the water brim her eyes as she lookt at him and he laught and turned away. Indeed, her Ladyship had her lesson ere she left Moor Park, and I knew not then enough to pity her. Pity—'t is a flower that grows in the furrows of a heart ploughed over by sorrow, and my day was not yet come. He laught with me over the disconsolate beauty, when she importuned him to be her son's tutor, and he replied he had far other views.
Yet for all his caution we met sometimes, when I be gathering flowers and lavender, or fruit for Mrs Groson the cook. And I knew he loved to talk with me. He loves it still. Many was the jest we had—jests with their root in childhood and folly to all but him and me.
So came the day that changed all.
'Twas a fair sunset, with one star shining, and I stood in the copse far from the house, to hear the nightingale; and, though I thought of him, did not see that he leaned against the King's Beech, until he stirred and made my heart to flutter.
"I watch your namesake, Stella," says he, "and wonder if in that sweet star are plots and envyings—a Marlborough intriguing against his King, a Burnet plotting for an archbishopric, an ugly Dutch monsterkin on the throne—and a naughty rogue called Stella, that hath forgot her old tutor and loves him no more. Yet if that love should miscarry, I know not—"
"If it miscarry," says I, trembling, "there will be many to succeed it. But I think, Mr Swift, it cannot."
"Many?" he answered, and up went his brows. "Such as my Lady Mary and such-like? But that is no love, Stellakin. 'T is only thy innocence could mistake it. The true name is none so pretty, and not for thy lips. Get thee to a nunnery, child—the world is not for such as thee."
So I faltered out: "What is love?"
"A thing that hath no existence between man and woman in this world, so mixed is it with lust and hatred and jealousy. True, there is love, but it is not that one. 'T is the loves filial and paternal, and friendship, better than all the loves the rhymesters hang with their namby-pamby. The love between the sexes—'t is a game wherein the weaker loses, and then— voe victis! Hast forgot thy Latin, child?"
And then I broke out into a great sobbing, as if my bursting heart would break; for, I know not why, but this cut me like a knife. And he took my hand with anxious kindness to soothe me; and at the bird's rustle in the tree, dropt it and stood apart. He lived in the eye of the world even in such affections as he owned. But I sobbed on.
"Pray, pray, don't sob, Stella," he says. "This is mighty, mighty ill and like a child. Dry those pretty eyes,—prettier, gadso! than any Lady Mary's of them all!—and tell me wherein I have offended 'T was not willingly."
So, drowned in tears, I lookt up, and having lookt, turned away weeping, and could say no more. For what skill had I to argufy with a man of such infinite parts? And yet well I knew that in this matter of love I was the wiser, though but a simpleton. But he caught my hands.
"Have I hurt thee, Stella? I were a devil if I did. What ails my girl at love? What is it to thee? Keep away from that raging fire. Souse it with every stream of reason and honour. Heap the ice of the Pole on it, for it is not only hell itself but feeds the flame of hell eternal."
He so wrung my hand that it pained; and I saw his face work like a man most desperately sick and ill. It dried the tears in my eyes, and I stood trembling and staring upon him, and the twilight was sweet about us with a smell of grass and growing things and flowers; a night for lovers—and I most miserable.
"I doubt—" he began and stopt; and then, with a cry that choked in his throat, he put his arms about me and I laid my head on his breast.
Should I blame myself for that half-hour? Should I blame my Dear, the Desire of mine eyes? 'T was but a step to take across the line that parts innocence from—No, no, never will I say guilt! 'T was not guilt, if all the tongues of men and angels should so preach. 'T is in the later denial of love that guilt lay hid. But these things I did not then know, and I thought in my simplicity the world changed and the foolish girl become a woman and beloved, and our lives together in a fair prospect before us.
And suddenly—"Go—go!" he cried, rejecting me and thrusting me from him. "Go, and never again let me see your face. I sicken—I sicken at what is done. No—no! Speak not, utter not, lest I strike you and myself dead. Leave me, for God's pity's sake! Go!"
So did the Angel with the flaming sword drive our first parents out of Paradise. I drew apart shuddering, and he cried after me in a loud whisper:—
"Let none see your face. Go in by the covered door, and so to your room, and plead headache if Dingley see you. Go."
I left him in the dark. I drew my palatine about my face and none saw; and so to my room, and outed the light, and sat by the window till the dawn came.
Now, if I am condemned herein, I take the blame, but cannot change my thought. What woman in giving all met ever so sorry a return—and why? I broke my brain with thinking, and at that time found no answer. Later, I knew. But to escape the hue and cry of question, I washed the tears from my eyes in the morning, and so to the housekeeper's room. And he was there, reading in a great book, and my heart leapt like the last leap of a hare with the dogs on it.
"Why, Stellakin—saucy-nose!" says he, laughing, but his face was pale. He could cheat with his words, but I saw his face bleacht like a linen clout behind his laugh, and I swear at that time he loved me, though he loved advancement better. "You are bright and early, young woman! Are you for the garden, to get you a stomach for breakfast? Well, so-so! and pray for poor Presto as you go; for in honour and conscience, his Ppt is the child of his heart."
How could I endure this? I closed the door, and left him laughing with white lips.
So went the day, and now I saw his drift. He would hold the little language of childhood for a shield betwixt us. I should be nothing more for ever than Ppt,—poor pretty thing,—Stellakin, the pretty rogue. He would not fail in this, but only in all my hopes. He would give me all but that I longed for. He would glut me with sugar-comfits but never a taste of the living bread.
And next day a new thing. Dingley and I sitting together, he came upon us, and in all he said included ker. She was his second MD. He was her poor Presto, also. I saw his will and knew he built a fence about himself.
Sometimes I thought I had but a mean spirit so to live, and thought to ask his meaning; but dared not, for he struck an awe into my very soul. So gradually the days covered that sunset, and't was impossible I should speak; and life went by, and still I studied with him, but Dingley always present.
Hath he a heart? I know not. That sunset was a grave between us; and had the corpse risen and stared him in the face, I think he had run mad. In my solitary hours, I would imagine I spoke. Sometimes I would kneel before him entreating, and he would raise me up, as a certain king did another Esther. Sometimes he would fall at my knees, and I would bow my head upon him, weeping for joy.
But yet always I knew that, if we glanced near that secret, he would rise and stare upon me with a ghastly face, and I would see him no more. Yet at that time he loved me. To himself he will not lie in reading this.
'Twas in 1699 Sir William Temple died, and the household at Moor Park was broke up. Mr Swift took the kindest part in my settlement and the laying out of my little fortune. "And be easy about money, you nauti-nauti, dear girls," says he to old Dingley and me; "for what is mine is yours; and were it my blood, 't is all one."
And so laid his plans that we should come to Ireland, where he had preferment at Laracor near Dublin, and the prebend of Dunlavin in St. Patrick's Cathedral. And, God forgive me, I asked myself if the thought to keep me under his guidance mingled not itself with all his kindness.
So I, being twenty years old, and Dingley a kind bustling woman, we went; and Ireland was a kindly home, for 't was near him, and I might see him. Not as I would—oh, never that! but as a friend, provided 't was with caution. For as he now mounted in the Church, and his ambition strengthened on him (and sure Wolsey himself did not more suffer from that failing of noble minds), caution grew to be his main thought; for he said the adventure of our coming looked so like a frolic that censure might hold as if there were a secret history in such a removal; but this would soon blow over by circumspect conduct, and this too was used to put a distance between us. But 't was the condition of our intercourse, and thus I accepted it. For aught I could discern, all else was clean forgot, and we lodged near him and met as friends—no more.
Nor could I think otherwise when Mr Tisdall, his friend, made suit to me. I was cold,—what else,—for I thought myself a wife, if a forsaken one, and Mr Tisdall imagined that Dr Swift opposed his suit, objecting that his means did not come up to the expectation he formed for me, who was, he said, in a manner, his ward.
Poor Mr Tisdall writ in haste on this, and brought me Dr Swift's reply (who had not broke the matter to me) and thus it ran:—
My conjecture is that you think I obstruct your inclinations to please my own. In answer to all which I will, upon my conscience and honour, tell you the naked truth, [The naked truth! O God, if it were told!] If my fortunes and humour served me to think of that state, I should certainly make your choice, because I never saw that person whose conversation I entirely valued but hers. This was the utmost I ever gave way to. [But once—but once!] And this regard of mine never once entered my head as an impediment to you, since it is held so necessary and convenient a thing for ladies to marry, and that time takes off the lustre of virgins in all other eyes but mine.
This Mr Tisdall offered on his knees, declaring it must remove my last objections, since the worthy friend of my childhood supported his suit. I received it sedately, and dismist him with the compunction so worthy a gentleman merited. Was this letter honest to his friend? I say not.
Henceforth he disliked Mr Tisdall. Could I impute this to jealousy? Why not? A man will be jealous if his dog but lick the hand of another; and, though he reserve himself perfect freedom, no man must so much as sigh for the woman he hath once honoured with his regard. Truly there is a something Oriental in the passions of men; and if a woman break through this, 'tis at her peril.
So stood matters when the Doctor went to London, an: 1710, on his errand of obtaining the First Fruits for the Irish Church from the Crown—and he chosen all others to this, for his commanding talent and presence, though then but forty-two years of age, and many dignitaries older, yet not wiser. It created much envy.
I missed him, and yet took a sad ease in his going. 'Twas the easier to talk with Dingley, to play at ombre with the Dean and Mrs Walls; for when he was in presence, my heart waited upon his speech, and he wounded with many a word and look he thought not on. And he writ often in the form of a Journal to Dingley and me, saying:—
"I will write something every day to MD, and when it is full, will send it; and that will be pretty, and I will always be in conversation with MD, and MD with Presto."
'T was near a year since his going when Mrs Coleburn came to Dublin, full of London talk, and her friendship with the great Dr Swift, the hope of the Tories. Indeed, it made her a great woman with the clergy in Dublin, that she knew so much of his sayings and doings, and in what high company he was got, and the clutter he made in London. Much was true, as I knew under his own hand. Much was idle twattle and the giddiness of a woman that will be talking. Now, one day, she visited me, dressed out in the last London mode, and talked as I knotted, and presently says she:—
"And, Mrs Johnson, what will be said, the Doctor being made a Bishop as he now looks for, if he bring home a fine young bride from London? Sure he lives at Mrs Vanhomrigh's, so often is he there; and Hessy is as pretty a girl as eye can see, in her young twenties and a bit of a fortune to boot. I have ever said the Doctor was not on the market for nothing. He is not the man for a portionless beauty. Hath he wrote of this? for all the tongues are wagging, and the lady in such a blaze with the tender passion that she can't by any means smother it."
"Doctor Swift hath often writ of Mrs Vanhomrigh and her hospitalities," says I, smiling. "Also of the charming Miss V. Her name is no stranger here."
So I baffled the woman, and could see her petty malice dumbed. I held the smile on my face like a mask.
"Well, 'tis a charming creature, and the Doctor commends her wit in all quarters; and 't is certain lie should be a judge, for he tutors her in Latin. There's many a man would gladly tutor the seductive Miss Hessy."
When she took leave, I writ to the kind Patty Holt in London. When her reply returned, 't was but to confirm Mrs Coleburn. Then I turned over all his letters—yet did not need—for mention of this woman, and found but three, though of the mother and her house he writ in almost every letter, but making somewhat too light of it. 'Twas a raging pain that he should be her tutor—I had thought that was mine only and not to recur—a memory stored where neither rust nor moth might touch it. Well—what could I but hate the girl? And to hate is a bitter thing: it saps the life and breaks the strength, and so no escape night or day. I must then fancy his letters cooling, and later says Dingley unprompted:—
"The Doctor is took up with his fine friends and his business. La!—for sure he writes not as he did, but is plaguey busy. Two simple women can't expect so much of his time that duchesses go begging for."
He stayed long away, and Patty Holt writ often, discreet and willing to serve me; and one day comes a packet from her, and when I cut the seals, out falls a letter—his. I read it first.
Miss Hessy, I am so weary of this place ['t was Windsor] that I am resolved to leave it in two days. I will come as early on Monday as I can find opportunity, and will take a little Grub Street lodgings pretty near where I did before, and will dine with you three times a week and tell you a thousand secrets, provided you will have no quarrels with me. I long to drink a dish of coffee in the sluttery, and hear you dun me for secrets, and "Drink your coffee—why don't you drink your coffee?"
So he writ, and more—much more could I read unsaid. For him, this was much—I knew it. Then, another letter—a woman's hand.
It is inexpressible the concern I am in ever since I heard from Mrs Lewis that your head is so much out of order. Who is your physician? Satisfy me so much as to tell me what medicines you have took and do take. O what would I give to know how you do this instant. My fortune is too hard. Your absence was enough without this cruel addition. I have done all that was possible to hinder myself from writing for fear of breaking my promise; but it is all in vain; for had I vowed neither to touch pen, ink, or paper, I certainly should have had some other invention, and I am impatient to the last degree to hear how you are. I hope I shall soon have you here.
The two were wrapt in a sheet from Patty who had writ thereon:—"Dropt by the Doctor when in a giddy attack, visiting me."
I think she was shamed. So was not I. As well ask the hound if he is shamed when tracking the deer. Had it been to save my life, instead of lose it, I had less eagerly read. 'T was clear they understood one another. With me, in his caution, Dingley must be joined when he writ. With her, not so. Her happiness was a knife turned in a bleeding wound.
So I writ him, in a letter of many matters, somewhat scornfully of the family as marvelling a little that he whom all solicited could be satisfied with such inconsiderable people. In time he replied thus:—
Sir A. Fountaine and I dined by invitation with Mrs V. You say they are of no consequence—why, they keep as good female company as I do male. I see all the drabs of quality at this end of the town with them. I saw two Lady Bettys there this afternoon. Rare walking in the Park now. Why don't you walk in the Green of St. Stephen's? What beasts the Irish women are, never to walk. Men hide not matters so well as women. They say too much or not enough.
Much later he writ: "I found Mrs V. all in combustion with her landlord. Her eldest daughter is of age, and going to Ireland to look after her fortune and get it in her own hands."
So I was to think it concerned them not to be apart. Immediately I set my wits to discover where was her estate, and 't was not long ere I knew 't was Marlay Abbey, near Celbridge; but the lady would reside in Dublin while making her dispositions, being Mrs Emerson's guest, and was like to be at a rout at her house. 'Twas long since I attended a rout, but I intrigued to be bidden as courtiers intrigue for an inch of blue ribbon; and in such a fever and anguish as I think I had died of it if not successful.
So, when the day was come, I went with Mrs Stoyte; and the first person I saw was a young lady on the stair-head as we went up, and Mrs Emerson presenting her to many. A fine young London madam, who curtseyed to me, taking no more heed than of any other.
Shall I admit her beauty? I did not think her charming, despite fine sparkling eyes and a luxuriance of brown hair. Her lips were full and her chin round, but she looked full her age, and between the brows was a line that I would call the Doctor's sign-manual. I have it myself—I have seen it in others—'t is the claw-foot of care, care never-ending and cruel unrest, and hope that sickens the spirit and fades the bloom; and in her, though but just of age, the first bloom was gone that is like morning dew in a young girl's eyes. He loves to tyrannise over women and show his familiarity by a certain brutality of address, and the line comes not slowly.
I caught sight of her person with mine in a long glass—she in her sea-green sacque flowered with pink, and myself in gray,—"an angel's face a little cracked,"—that was the best he could say for Stella! She gave not a thought to the faded Dublin lady that would have given all but her eternal hope to read in that girl's soul. Oh, the mask of the human face behind which none may look!
So she went, and after a year he returned, now Dean of St. Patrick. He was kind, but 't was a kindness that stood apart and viewed itself carefully, lest it diminish my due. 'Twas easy seen he was engaged in thought. Well— shall a woman expect more from a man in the world's eye? Let her be humbly grateful for the crumbs he lets fall.
Also for the crumbs from her rival's table; for Miss Hessy following, and now an orphan, was established soon after at Marlay; and whether I would or not, I knew when the Dean's rides took him that way, my Mrs Prue being courted by his man Samuel, and all he did trickling through that channel. 'T was at this time also that copies were handed about of his poem, "Cadenus and Vanessa," and 't was the very top of talk and admiration. Many might guess who was the lady, and the Dean was mighty angry, and said 'twas but a jest, and no friend to him who took it otherwise.
He asked me with a feigned carelessness if I had read it; and I replying carelessly that I thought it extreme fine and could wish he would write oftener in that vein, he smiled and looked pleased, and so it passed. But again and yet again I conned the lines:—
'T is to the world a secret yet Whether the nymph, to please her swain, Talks in a high romantic strain, Or whether he at last descends To act with less seraphic ends. Or, to compound the business, whether They temper love and books together, Must never to mankind be told, Nor shall the conscious Muse unfold.
I knew the meaning of that passage where others guesst. I read it by the light of a sunset many years gone, and lived in hell.
'T was when Mr Dean was next in London, came a letter to me
Madam, I have great and urgent reason to wish the honour of meeting you and a half hour's conversation. Any place you may condescend to appoint will be perfectly agreeable and the favour prized by
Your obedient humble servant,
(who would not ask it unless it concerned Mrs Johnson as nearly as herself).
I broke my brains thinking, should I or should I not? Nor can I now unravel all the motives at work. But in two days' time I writ:—
Madam, I have a difficulty to come at the reason for your request, but am compelled by courtesy to appoint three o' the clock at the rooms of Mrs Dew, my old servant, at Kidder Street, No. 12. Your obt humble servant,
Strange our names should be alike!
She was the first at the meeting. I ensured this, delaying my chair at the corner of Kidder Street till I saw her enter.
The room was small and poorly decent, and her hoop and mine filled it. She curtseyed low, as did I, and though she aimed at composure, I could see her lips work. The line between her brows was eight years deeper, her face pale, the bloom faded, and her mouth droopt. Had she been any other, I had pitied her. His friendship is fatal to my sex, though I have wore it like an honour. For me, I was composed. It's not for nothing I have spent my life in that school—she was a newer pupil.
Being seated, I asked her to favour me with her commands, and she came straight at the business with a kind of directness pitiable enough.
"Madam, all the world talks of the goodness of Mrs Johnson. I am not long a resident of these parts, but am no stranger to your merits. 'Tis my confidence in them causes this explanation. May I ask pardon for plain speaking?"
"Madam, if the subject is one I can admit of, speech cannot be too plain."
"So I have been told. Accept me therefore as a plain-dealer, Madam, and have the goodness to read what I cannot speak. But first,"—she put her hand to her throat as if she might swoon, and so closing her eyes for a moment, opened them clearly on me,—"Madam, between a certain gentleman and myself have been love-passages tending, as I believed—hoped—to marriage. A passion that, with due regard to honour, hath been the ruler of my life hath brought me to Celbridge, as I did think for the happiness of both. Being arrived, I have the happiness to see this gentleman often, and he hath had the goodness to say that no person hath ever been so loved, honoured, esteemed, ADORED by him as your humble servant. Yet I am told that a former attachment doth so constrain his honour that little can be hoped."—(Her voice broke.) "Madam, will you read this paper, and say Yes or No?"
I opened it, and thus read:—-;
Madam, of your angelic goodness be pleased to answer, are you indeed the wife of one I name not? If it be true, I will utterly withdraw my intrusive presence. In pity, answer me.
It seemed many minutes I sat with this in my hand, and she dropt on her knee at my feet, looking up in agony. Time passed and I heard my voice as if it were another's, and strange to me.
"Madam, am I expected to disclose my secrets to one of whom I know not if she tells truth? What are you to the Dean, and what proof do you give of what you are, that I should answer?"
She said very low:—
"I had not thought of that. But 'tis very true. And, trembling and looking fearfully about her, she put her hand inside the whalebone of her bodice and drew out letters.
"I thought not these would be seen by any, but buried with me when I die; but't is impossible you should know me for honest, and because honour speaks in your face—read these."
I took them, trembling inwardly. She, poor wretch, was newer to her trade, and was like to faint. I knew the writing.
I will see you tomorrow, if possible. You know it is not above five days since I saw you, and that I would ten times more, if it were at all convenient.—Cad bids me tell you that, if you complain of difficult writing, he will give you enough to complain of.
"Cad"? Then I remembered—"Cadenus and Vanessa." So—she might call him by a little familiar name, but I, never. I stopt there.
"Madam, have you thus writ to him?"
"Always of late, Madam. With a dash before it, as here you will see the cause."
She pushed a letter into my hand, eager, as I thought, to convince not only me but herself of his regard. And thus it read:—
I wish your letters were as difficult (cautious) as mine, for then they would be of no consequence if dropped by careless messengers. A stroke thus—signifies all that may be said to Cad at beginning or conclusion.
"So," says I, "a stroke means endearments. Otherwise 't is difficult to conclude these sentimental letters."
"Madam," she broke out, "it means more than tongue can tell. And since you still doubt, have the condescension to read this letter of my own which he returned to me in rebuke. 'Twill show you our terms."
—Cad, you are good beyond expression. I thought that last letter I writ was obscure and restrained enough. I took pains to write it after your manner. I am sorry my jealousy should hinder you from writing more love letters. Pray tell me, did you not wish to come where that road to the left would have led you? I am now as happy as I can be without seeing— Cad. I beg you will continue happiness to your own Heskinage.
I read, and was silent—reading this letter by the light of a dead sunset. I never dared so write. There was that between them that he had never shared with me, and yet all his old caution, as with me. I thought not, however, so much of his feelings as of hers, for I think his care for women is but skin-deep at-best. He was ever willing to take the tribute of their hearts—nay, of their lives; but should they incommode him, or trespass across the line he hath marked—this careless liking is changed to hatred, and he will avenge himself brutally on the weak creatures that love him.
Who should know this but I—I who have lived beside him and retained his friendship only because I have in all things submitted to his will—silent to death? Had I anything to lose to this unfortunate woman? No, I had lost all many a long year ago. She still had hopes; I, none. Why torture a wretch so miserable?
She kneeled before me, pale as a corpse. 'Twas the strangest meeting. I could scarce hear her voice.
"Madam," says she, "I have put my life in your hand; for if Mr Dean knew that I had come here—that I had dared—O Madam, he can be cruel to women!"
I strove to collect my thoughts; then heard my own voice as a stranger's:—
"Madam, to your question, the answer is No. There is no marriage between Mr Dean and me. I have no claim on him that obstructs your own."
She looked up like one in a stupor of amazement—so dazed and white that I repeated my words. Then, suddenly, she gathered herself into composure like my own, but her poor lips trembled. I saw in her my girlhood long dead.
"If I say I thank you, Madam, with all my heart and soul for thus opening your mind to a most miserable woman, I say little. What is left of my life shall be a study to deserve your compassion. What would you have me do?"
I replied: "I think you will not fail in what honour and conscience dictate. 'Tis not for me to say. 'Tis between you and Mr Dean. And now, Madam, will you give me leave to withdraw, for this hath been a painful meeting for us both."
"Not before I bless you with all my broken heart," she cried, and took my hand. "For I will now tell you that, for all these letters, I know he loves not me, nor any. I may please him better than another in moments, but there's no security. He hath a contempt for women that scorches, and to hurt them—but 'tis not this I would say. I feared to find an exulting rival when I came to you, Madam, and instead I find an angel of compassion. Sure I read it in your eyes. In this life we shall meet no more; but in my prayers you will be present, and I beseech you, as the last favour, to give me an interest in yours, that I may know myself not utterly forsook. My one sister is not long dead—I am utterly alone in the world."
She could not continue, but kissed my hand, and her tears fell on it. I told her that this meeting should remain secret, but she needed not assurance. We embraced, and so, curtseying, separated, she departing first. A good woman, if I have known one. 'Tis of good women men make their victims. The ill women cannot and do not suffer; they but repay our score. When I reached home I found her paper still in my hand.
I must now be brief. Mr Dean returned, and all was as before; but I wearied yet more of the child's play and prattle he still continued for my amusement. He was much engaged with writing. I thought him ill at ease.
I was seated by the window on a day he will recall, when he entered pale and furious.
"What hath gone amiss?" I cried, starting up.
"This," says he, in a voice I scarce knew, so awful was it; and laid before me the poor Vanessa's paper that I believed I had destroyed weeks agone. O, what had I done? 'Twas another paper I had burned, and this had lain in my pocket. 'Twas most certainly Mrs Prue—But what matter? He had what for her sake and mine I had died to hide.
"Hath that vixen dared to come anigh you?" he cried. "Hath she ventured to disquiet my friends, the wanton jade, the scheming—" and so on, pouring horrid words upon her that chilled my blood. 'T was terrible in him, that he could so swiftly change to these furies with one he had favoured, and to a rage frightful to see.
I tried to moderate him, to speak for her; but nothing availed. Finally I rose to withdraw, for he would hear nothing.
"But I'll break her spirit," he said, with clenched hands. "I'll ride to Celbridge and face her with her crime—"
I held him back. "For God's sake, no. Have patience. She hath done no harm, and no eye but mine saw the paper. I pitied her—we parted friends."
"Then you saw her? She came?"
But I can write no more. He tore his coat from me, and so down the stair like a madman; and I heard his horse clatter down the street, while I prayed for a soul in agony, and that she might not think I betrayed her.
Hours went by. He returned, still riding furiously, and told me how he had dashed the paper on the table before her, and how she had sunk down speechless when he so spoke as satisfied even his vengeance. And so continued:—
"But I am resolved. Such sluts, such tongue-snakes shall not cross my path. You have been obedient, Stella, through good and ill report, and merit reward. I will speak with the Bishop of Clogher and he shall marry us forthwith, though privately. And we will live apart, for I cannot bend my will and habits to live with any woman; but Stella shall know she is my wife, and the knowledge pierce that ——'s heart."
So, at last, the words I had once died to hear came and found me cold. Indeed, I despised them, though still I honour my friend. I mused, while he leaned against the window, breathing heavily and waiting my reply.
"It comes too late," I said. "There was a time when it had been welcome, but not now. Also, my sympathies are engaged in a quarter where I think a little mercy had become you. With your permission, Mr Dean, this is a subject that shall detain us no more."
I pickt up my knotting as Dingley entered. He stared upon me and went out, nor was it ever again mentioned.
After, she writ me a word: "Madam and my friend, I know 'twas not your doing. That needs no words. I am very ill, and were it possible we should meet, 'twould be my solace, but 'tis impossible. May the happiness the good should enjoy attend you, as do my prayers. Your grateful humble servant, E.V."
I answered thus: "Madam and my friend, God be with you in life and death. The question you put to me I shall for ever answer as then. Comfort yourself, for sure there is a world that sets this right, else were we of all men most miserable."
She was dead in three weeks, of a broken heart, For me, my own hour draws on. I have writ this paper, yet think to destroy it, and know not what is best. No happiness lies before him in old age, for 'tis a plant he pulled up by the roots for himself and others—alas! how many. Should I then cause him to suffer more? He hath had the mercy of my silence for a lifetime. 'Tis not so hard to be silent in the grave.
(Stella died in the year 1727. The letters in this story to or from Dean Swift are authentic.)
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu 1689-1762
"I thank God witches are out of fashion," observes Lady Mary, in a letter to her daughter, when spicy gossip about her doings abroad had been circulated in London, "or I should expect to have it deponed, by several credible witnesses, that I had been seen flying through the air on a broomstick."
Conspicuous always, she was nominated a "toast" in the Kit-Kat Club when she was eight, occupied herself with Latin at ten, was married when she was twenty-three, began her campaign for smallpox inoculation when she was twenty-nine, held salons in London, Constantinople, Brescia, Rome, and Venice, and died when she was seventy-three, bequeathing a fortune and twenty large manuscript volumes of prose and verse to her daughter, one guinea to her son, and two volumes of correspondence to a gentleman in Holland, with the request that the letters be published at once.
"Her family," writes Horace Walpole, "are in terror lest they should be, and have tried to get them. Though I do not doubt but they are an olio of lies and scandal, I should like to see them. She had parts, and had seen much."
Admirers and foes alike will be pleased to note that Edward Wortley Montagu, in the days of courtship, used to direct his love letters to her, simply,—
The Lady Mary Pierrpont With Care and Speed.
My Lady Mary
[Letters from my Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, celebrated for her Beauty and Talents no less than for the introduction of the Practice of Inoculation for the Smallpox into England, to her Friend the Lady D——n in Paris. These Letters will dispel the Mystery to the Publick of the Lady M.W.M.'s quitting England in the year 1739.]
Writ in the year 1737, Their Majesties George II & Queen Caroline reigning.
I resume my pen, my dear Madam, to acquaint you with the news of the day, though 'tis what you scarce deserve from your silence, unless indeed a letter have miscarried, and 'twill not surprise me if my last hath not come to your hands, which if so, is provoking, it being writ in my best manner. I willingly would hear from you, was it but to say you still exist, for I begin to find myself in the mind of the worshipper of Minerva, who, receiving no answer to prayers and vows, discharged a pitcher of foul water in her Goddess-ship's face, declaring he would not longer be at the trouble to address a lady who would not be at the trouble to listen, and she might go to the devil for him. 'Tis not however quite come to this with me, so I continue.
The world riots on at its common pace, and is now come to the pass that vice is scarce worth the pain of concealing. Yet when it becomes the general rule, sure there is nothing so stale! Its facility damns it, and it then must simulate some of the airs of virtue to be alluring. Indeed, I conclude it not wholly imaginary that, if it was made easier to be virtuous than vicious, the whole moral balance of the universe would shift and our present monarch and Madame Walmoden be the saints of a new calendar. 'Tis here we need the clergy, and, for the life of me, I see not how else. They lend a haut gout to vice by condemning it; and if they should disappear, vice must cease to interest and go with them. I gave this for my opinion to the Queen and Lady Sundon, when they were fond to discuss metaphysics, adding that the Seven Deadly Sins required the flames of the infernal regions for their heating and the Ten Commandments for their encouragement if they could be hoped to flourish in the future as at present—and they had the condescension to agree.
All this being so, it will give you neither surprise nor concern to hear my Lord H——d hath run off with his ward, Miss Nanny Graves, leaving his lady with four children. We shall have them back in a few months with reputations so little worse crackt than those of the decentest among us as will not be worth the trouble of censuring, and give neither themselves nor others the smallest uneasiness.