Beaux and Belles of England
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Stan Goodman and PG Distributed Proofreaders
The Attempted Abduction
Original painting by B. Wesley Rand]
Beaux & Belles of England
Mrs. Mary Robinson
Written by Herself
With the Lives of the Duchesses of Gordon
and Devonshire by Grace and Philip Wharton
EDITION DE LUXE
INTRODUCTION TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION
The following brief memoirs of a beautiful, engaging, and, in many
respects, highly gifted woman require little in the way of introduction.
While we may trace same little negative disingenuousness in the writer,
in regard to a due admission of her own failings, sufficient of
uncoloured matter of fact remains to show the exposed situation of an
unprotected beauty--or, what is worse, of a female of great personal and
natural attraction, exposed to the gaze of libertine rank and fashion,
under the mere nominal guardianship of a neglectful and profligate
husband. Autobiography of this class is sometimes dangerous; not so that
of Mrs. Robinson, who conceals not the thorns inherent in the paths
along which vice externally scatters roses; For the rest, the
arrangement of princely establishments in the way of amour is pleasantly
portrayed in this brief volume, which in many respects is not without
its moral. One at least is sufficiently obvious, and it will be found in
the cold-hearted neglect which a woman of the most fascinating mental
and personal attractions may encounter from those whose homage is merely
sensual, and whose admiration is but a snare.
The author of these memoirs, Mary Robinson, was one of the most
prominent and eminently beautiful women of her day. From the description
she furnishes of her personal appearance, we gather that her complexion
was dark, her eyes large, her features expressive of melancholy; and
this verbal sketch corresponds with her portrait, which presents a face
at once grave, refined, and charming. Her beauty, indeed, was such as to
attract, amongst others, the attentions of Lords Lyttelton and
Northington, Fighting Fitzgerald, Captain Ayscough, and finally the
Prince of Wales; whilst her talents and conversation secured her the
friendship and interest of David Garrick, Richard Brinsley Sheridan,
Charles James Fox, Joshua Reynolds, Arthur Murphy, the dramatist, and
various other men of distinguished talent.
Though her memoirs are briefly sketched, they are sufficiently vivid to
present us with various pictures of the social life of the period of
which she was the centre. Now we find her at the Pantheon, with its
coloured lamps and brilliant music, moving amidst a fashionable crowd,
where large hoops and high feathers abounded, she herself dressed in a
habit of pale pink satin trimmed with sable, attracting the attention of
men of fashion. Again she is surrounded by friends at Vauxhall Gardens,
and barely escapes from a cunning plot to abduct her,--a plot in which
loaded pistols and a waiting coach prominently figure; whilst on another
occasion she is at Ranelagh, where, in the course of the evening, half a
dozen gallants "evinced their attentions;" and ultimately she makes her
first appearance as an actress on the stage of Drury Lane, before a
brilliant house, David Garrick, now retired, watching her from the
orchestra, whilst she played Juliet in pink satin richly spangled with
silver, her head ornamented with white feathers.
The fact of her becoming an actress brought about the turning-point in
her life; it being whilst she played Perdita in "The Winter's Tale"
before royalty that she attracted the Prince of Wales, afterward George
IV., who was then in his eighteenth year. The incidents which follow are
so briefly treated in the memoirs that explanations are necessary to
those who would follow the story of her life.
The performance of the play in which the prince saw her, probably for
the first time, took place on the 3d of December, 1779. It was not until
some months later, during which the prince and Perdita corresponded,
that she consented to meet him at Kew, where his education was being
continued and strict guard kept upon his conduct. During 1780 he urged
his father to give him a commission in the army, but, dreading the
liberty which would result from such a step, the king refused the
request. It was, however, considered advisable to provide the prince
with a small separate establishment in a wing of Buckingham House; this
arrangement taking place On the 1st of January, 1781.
Being now his own master, the prince became a man about town, attended
routs, masquerades, horse-races, identified himself with politicians
detested by the king, set up an establishment for Mrs. Robinson,
gambled, drank, and in a single year spent ten thousand pounds on
clothes. He now openly appeared in the company of Perdita at places of
public resort and amusement; she, magnificently dressed, driving a
splendid equipage which had cost him nine hundred guineas, and
surrounded by his friends. We read that: "To-day she was a _paysanne,_
with her straw hat tied at the back of her head. Yesterday she perhaps
had been the dressed belle of Hyde Park, trimmed, powdered, patched,
painted to the utmost power of rouge and white lead; to-morrow she would
be the cravated Amazon of the riding-house; but, be she what she might,
the hats of the fashionable promenaders swept the ground as she passed."
This life lasted about two years, when, just as the prince, on his
coming of age, was about to take possession of Carlton House, to receive
£30,000 from the nation toward paying his debts, and an annuity of
£63,000, he absented himself from Perdita, leaving her in ignorance of
the cause of his change, which was none other than an interest in Mrs.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
In the early fervour of his fancy, he had assured Mrs. Robinson his love
would remain unchangeable till death, and that he would prove
unalterable to his Perdita through life. Moreover, his generosity being
heated by passion, he gave her a bond promising to pay her £20,000 on
his coming of age.
On the prince separating from her, Perdita found herself some £7,000 in
debt to tradespeople, who became clamorous for their money, whereon she
wrote to her royal lover, who paid her no heed; but presently she was
visited by his friend, Charles James Fox, when she agreed to give up her
bond in consideration of receiving an annuity of £500 a year.
She would now gladly have gone back to the stage, but that she feared
the hostility of public opinion. Shortly after, she went to Paris, and
on her return to England devoted herself to literature. It was about
this time she entered into relations with Colonel--afterward Sir
Banastre--Tarleton, who was born in the same year as herself, and had
served in the American army from 1776 until the surrender of Yorktown,
on which he returned to England. For many years he sat in Parliament as
the representative of Liverpool, his native town; and in 1817 he gained
the grade of lieutenant-general, and was created a baronet. His
friendship with Mrs. Robinson lasted some sixteen years.
It was whilst undertaking a journey on his behalf, at a time when he was
in pecuniary difficulties, that she contracted the illness that resulted
in her losing the active use of her lower limbs. This did not prevent
her from working, and she poured out novels, poems, essays on the
condition of women, and plays. A communication written by her to John
Taylor, the proprietor of the _Sun_ newspaper and author of various
epilogues, prologues, songs, etc., gives a view of her life. This
letter, now published for the first time, is contained in the famous
Morrison collection of autograph letters, and is dated the 5th of
"I was really happy to receive your letter. Your silence gave me no
small degree of uneasiness, and I began to think some demon had broken
the links of that chain which I trust has united us in friendship for
ever. Life is such a scene of trouble and disappointment that the
sensible mind can ill endure the loss of any consolation that renders it
supportable. How, then, can it be possible that we should resign,
without a severe pang, the first of all human blessings, the friend we
love? Never give me reason again, I conjure you, to suppose you have
wholly forgot me.
"Now I will impart to you a secret, which must not be revealed. I think
that before the 10th of December next I shall quit England for ever. My
dear and valuable brother, who is now in Lancashire, wishes to persuade
me, and the unkindness of the world tends not a little to forward his
hopes. I have no relations in England except my darling girl, and, I
fear, few friends. Yet, my dear Juan, I shall feel a very severe
struggle in quitting those paths of fancy I have been childish enough to
admire,--false prospects. They have led me into the vain expectation
that fame would attend my labours, and my country be my pride. How have
I been treated? I need only refer you to the critiques of last month,
and you will acquit me of unreasonable instability. When I leave
England,--adieu to the muse for ever,--I will never publish another line
while I exist, and even those manuscripts now finished I will destroy.
"Perhaps this will be no loss to the world, yet I may regret the many
fruitless hours I have employed to furnish occasions for malevolence and
"In every walk of life I have been equally unfortunate, but here shall
end my complaints.
"I shall return to St. James's Place for a few days this month to meet
my brother, who then goes to York for a very short time, and after his
return (the end of November), I depart. This must be secret, for to my
other misfortunes pecuniary derangement is not the least. Let common
sense judge how I can subsist upon £500 a year, when my carriage (a
necessary expense) alone costs me £200. My mental labours have failed
through the dishonest conduct of my publishers. My works have sold
handsomely, but the profits have been theirs.
"Have I not reason to be disgusted when I see him to whom I ought to
look for better fortune lavishing favours on unworthy objects,
gratifying the avarice of ignorance and dulness, while I, who sacrificed
reputation, an advantageous profession, friends, patronage, the
brilliant hours of youth, and the conscious delight of correct conduct,
am condemned to the scanty pittance bestowed on every indifferent page
who holds up his ermined train of ceremony?
"You will say, 'Why trouble me with all this?' I answer, 'Because when I
am at peace, you may be in possession of my real sentiments and defend
my cause when I shall not have the power of doing it.'
"My comedy has been long in the hands of a manager, but whether it will
ever be brought forward time must decide. You know, my dear friend, what
sort of authors have lately been patronised by managers; their pieces
ushered to public view, with all the advantages of splendour; yet I am
obliged to wait two long years without a single hope that a trial would
be granted. Oh, I am tired of the world and all its mortifications. I
promise you this shall close my chapters of complaints. Keep them, and
remember how ill I have been treated."
Eight days later she wrote to the same friend:
"In wretched spirits I wrote you last week a most melancholy letter.
Your kind answer consoled me. The balsam of pure and disinterested
friendship never fails to cure the mind's sickness, particularly when it
proceeds from disgust at the ingratitude of the world."
The play to which she referred was probably that mentioned in the sequel
to her memoirs, which was unhappily a failure. It is notable that the
principal character in the farce was played by Mrs. Jordan, who was
later to become the victim of a royal prince, who left her to die in
poverty and exile.
The letter of another great actress, Sarah Siddons, written to John
Taylor, shows kindness and compassion toward Perdita.
"I am very much obliged to Mrs. Robinson," says Mrs. Siddons, "for her
polite attention in sending me her poems. Pray tell her so with my
compliments. I hope the poor, charming woman has quite recovered from
her fall. If she is half as amiable as her writings, I shall long for
the possibility of being acquainted with her. I say the possibility,
because one's whole life is one continual sacrifice of inclinations,
which to indulge, however laudable or innocent, would draw down the
malice and reproach of those prudent people who never do ill, 'but feed
and sleep and do observances to the stale ritual of quaint ceremony.'
The charming and beautiful Mrs. Robinson: I pity her from the bottom
of my soul."
Almost to the last she retained her beauty, and delighted in receiving
her friends and learning from them news of the world in which she could
no longer move. Reclining on her sofa in the little drawing-room of her
house in St. James's Place, she was the centre of a circle which
comprised many of those who had surrounded her in the days of her
brilliancy, amongst them being the Prince of Wales and his brother the
Duke of York.
Possibly, for the former, memory lent her a charm which years had not
utterly failed to dispel.
J. Fitzgerald Molloy.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Attempted Abduction
William Brereton in The Character Of Douglas
The First Meeting of Mrs. Robinson and the Prince of Wales
The Prince of Wales
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
MRS. MARY ROBINSON
At the period when the ancient city of Bristol was besieged by Fairfax's
army, the troops being stationed on a rising ground in the vicinity of
the suburbs, a great part of the venerable minster was destroyed by the
cannonading before Prince Rupert surrendered to the enemy; and the
beautiful Gothic structure, which at this moment fills the contemplative
mind with melancholy awe, was reduced to but little more than one-half
of the original fabric. Adjoining to the consecrated hill, whose antique
tower resists the ravages of time, once stood a monastery of monks of
the order of St. Augustine. This building formed a part of the spacious
boundaries which fell before the attacks of the enemy, and became a part
of the ruin, which never was repaired or re-raised to its former Gothic
On this spot was built a private house, partly of simple, and partly of
modern architecture. The front faced a small garden, the gates of which
opened to the Minster Green (now called the College Green); the west
side was bounded by the cathedral, and the back was supported by the
ancient cloisters of St. Augustine's monastery. A spot more calculated
to inspire the soul with mournful meditation can scarcely be found
amidst the monuments of antiquity.
In this venerable mansion there was one chamber whose dismal and
singular constructure left no doubt of its having been a part of the
original monastery. It was supported by the mouldering arches of the
cloisters, dark, Gothic, and opening on the minster sanctuary, not only
by casement windows that shed a dim midday gloom, but by a narrow
winding staircase, at the foot of which an iron-spiked door led to the
long gloomy path of cloistered solitude. This place remained in the
situation in which I describe it in the year 1776, and probably may, in
a more ruined state, continue so to this hour.
In this awe-inspiring habitation, which I shall henceforth denominate
the Minster House, during a tempestuous night, on the 27th of November,
1758, I first opened my eyes to this world of duplicity and sorrow. I
have often heard my mother say that a mare stormy hour she never
remembered. The wind whistled round the dark pinnacles of the minster
tower, and the rain beat in torrents against the casements of her
chamber. Through life the tempest has followed my footsteps, and I have
in vain looked for a short interval of repose from the perseverance
In the male line I am descended from a respectable family in Ireland,
the original name of which was MacDermott. From an Irish estate, my
great-grandfather changed it to that of Darby. My father, who was born
in America, was a man of strong mind, high spirit, and great personal
intrepidity. Many anecdotes, well authenticated, and which, being
irrefragable, are recorded as just tributes to his fame and memory,
shall, in the course of these memoirs, confirm this assertion.
My mother was the grandchild of Catherine Seys, one of the daughters and
co-heiresses of Richard Sey's, Esq., of Boverton Castle, in
Glamorganshire. The sister of my great-grandmother, named Anne, married
Peter, Lord King, who was nephew, in the female line, to the learned and
truly illustrious John Locke--a name that has acquired celebrity which
admits of no augmented panegyric.
Catherine Seys was a woman of great piety and virtue--a character which
she transferred to her daughter, and which has also been acknowledged as
justly due to her sister, Lady King. She quitted this life when my
grandmother was yet a child, leaving an only daughter, whose father also
died while she was in her infancy. By this privation of paternal care my
grandmother became the _élève_ of her mother's father, and passed the
early part of her life at the family castle in Glamorganshire. From this
period till the marriage of my mother, I can give but a brief account.
All I know is, that my grandmother, though wedded unhappily, to the
latest period of her existence was a woman of amiable and simple
manners, unaffected piety, and exemplary virtue. I remember her well;
and I speak not only from report, but from my own knowledge. She died in
the year 1780.
My grandmother Elizabeth, whom I may, without the vanity of
consanguinity, term a truly good woman, in the early part of her life
devoted much of her time to botanic study. She frequently passed many
successive months with Lady Tynt, of Haswell, in Somersetshire, who was
her godmother, and who was the Lady Bountiful of the surrounding
villages. Animated by so distinguished an example, the young Elizabeth,
who was remarkably handsome, took particular delight in visiting the
old, the indigent, and the infirm, resident within many miles of
Haswell, and in preparing such medicines as were useful to the maladies
of the peasantry. She was the village doctress, and, with her worthy
godmother, seldom passed a day without exemplifying the benevolence of
My mother was born at Bridgwater, in Somersetshire, in the house near
the bridge, which is now occupied by Jonathan Chub, Esq., a relation of
my beloved and lamented parent, and a gentleman who, to acknowledged
worth and a powerful understanding, adds a superior claim to attention
by all the acquirements of a scholar and a philosopher.
My mother, who never was what may be called a handsome woman, had
nevertheless, in her youth, a peculiarly neat figure, and a vivacity of
manner which obtained her many suitors. Among others, a young gentleman
of good family, of the name of Storr, paid his addresses. My father was
the object of my mother's choice, though her relations rather wished her
to form a matrimonial alliance with Mr. S. The conflict between
affection and duty was at length decided in favour of my father, and the
rejected lover set out in despair for Bristol. From thence, in a few
days after his arrival, he took his passage in a merchantman for a
distant part of the globe; and from that hour no intelligence ever
arrived of his fate or fortune. I have often heard my mother speak of
this gentleman with regret and sorrow.
My mother was between twenty and thirty years of age at the period of
her marriage. The ceremony was performed at Dunyatt, in the county of
Somerset. My father was shortly after settled at Bristol, and during the
second year after their union a son was born to bless and
Three years after my mother gave birth to a daughter, named Elizabeth,
who died of the smallpox at the age of two years and ten months. In the
second winter following this event, which deeply afflicted the most
affectionate of parents, I was born. She had afterward two sons:
William, who died at the age of six years; and George, who is now a
respectable merchant at Leghorn, in Tuscany.
All the offspring of my parents were, in their infancy, uncommonly
handsome, excepting myself. The boys were fair and lusty, with auburn
hair, light blue eyes, and countenances peculiarly animated and lovely,
I was swarthy; my eyes were singularly large in proportion to my face,
which was small and round, exhibiting features peculiarly marked with
the most pensive and melancholy cast.
The great difference betwixt my brothers and myself, in point of
personal beauty, tended much to endear me to my parents, particularly to
my father, whom I strongly resembled. The early propensities of my life
were tinctured with romantic and singular characteristics; some of which
I shall here mention, as proofs that the mind is never to be diverted
from its original bent, and that every event of my life has more or less
been marked by the progressive evils of a too acute sensibility.
The nursery in which I passed my hours of infancy was so near the great
aisle of the minster that the organ, which reechoed its deep tones,
accompanied by the chanting of the choristers, was distinctly heard both
at morning and evening service. I remember with what pleasure I used to
listen, and how much I was delighted whenever I was permitted to sit on
the winding steps which led from the aisle to the cloisters. I can at
this moment recall to memory the sensations I then experienced--the
tones that seemed to thrill through my heart, the longing which I felt
to unite my feeble voice to the full anthem, and the awful though
sublime impression which the church service never failed to make upon my
feelings. While my brothers were playing on the green before the
minster, the servant who attended us has often, by my earnest
entreaties, suffered me to remain beneath the great eagle which stood in
the centre of the aisle, to support the book from which the clergyman
read the lessons of the day; and nothing could keep me away, even in the
coldest seasons, but the stern looks of an old man, whom I named Black
John from the colour of his beard and complexion, and whose occupations
within the sacred precincts were those of a bell-ringer and sexton.
As soon as I had learned to read, my great delight was that of learning
epitaphs and monumental inscriptions. A story of melancholy import never
failed to excite my attention; and before I was seven years old I could
correctly repeat Pope's "Lines to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady;"
Mason's "Elegy on the Death of the Beautiful Countess of Coventry," and
many smaller poems on similar subjects. I had then been attended two
years by various masters. Mr. Edmund Broadrip taught me music, my father
having presented me with one of Kirkman's finest harpsichords, as an
incitement to emulation. Even there my natural bent of mind evinced
itself. The only melody which pleased me was that of the mournful and
touching kind. Two of my earliest favourites were the celebrated ballad
by Gay, beginning, "'Twas when the sea was roaring," and the simple
pathetic stanzas of "The Heavy Hours," by the poet Lord Lyttelton.
These, though nature had given me but little voice, I could at seven
years of age sing so pathetically that my mother, to the latest hour of
her life,' never could bear to hear the latter of them repeated. They
reminded her of sorrows in which I have since painfully learned to
The early hours of boarding-school study I passed under the tuition of
the Misses More, sisters to the lady of that name whose talents have
been so often celebrated. The education of their young pupils was
undertaken by the five sisters. "In my mind's eye," I see them now
before me; while every circumstance of those early days is minutely and
indelibly impressed upon my memory.
I remember the first time I ever was present at a dramatic
representation: it was the benefit of that great actor who was
proceeding rapidly toward the highest paths of fame, when death, dropped
the oblivious curtain, and closed the scene for ever. The part which he
performed was King Lear; his wife, afterward Mrs. Fisher, played
Cordelia, but not with sufficient _éclat_ to render the profession an
object for her future exertions. The whole school attended, Mr. Powel's
two daughters being then pupils of the Misses More. Mrs. John Kemble,
then Miss P. Hopkins, was also one of my schoolfellows, as was the
daughter of Mrs. Palmer, formerly Miss Pritchard, and afterward Mrs.
Lloyd. I mention these circumstances merely to prove that memory does
not deceive me.
In my early days my father was prosperous, and my mother was the
happiest of wives. She adored her children; she devoted her thoughts and
divided her affections between them and the tenderest of husbands. Their
spirits now, I trust, are in happier regions, blest, and reunited
If there could be found a fault in the conduct of my mother toward her
children, it was that of a too unlimited indulgence, a too tender care,
which but little served to arm their breast against the perpetual arrows
of mortal vicissitude. My father's commercial concerns were crowned with
prosperity. His house was opened by hospitality, and his generosity was
only equalled by the liberality of fortune: every day augmented his
successes; every hour seemed to increase his domestic felicity, till I
attained my ninth year, when a change took place as sudden as it was
unfortunate, at a moment when every luxury, every happiness, not only
brightened the present, but gave promise of future felicity. A scheme
was suggested to my father, as wild and romantic as it was perilous to
hazard, which was no less than that of establishing a whale fishery on
the coast of Labrador, and of civilising the Esquimaux Indians, in order
to employ them in the extensive undertaking. During two years this
eccentric plan occupied his thoughts by day, his dreams by night: all
the smiles of prosperity could not tranquillise the restless spirit, and
while he anticipated an acquirement of fame, he little considered the
perils that would attend his fortune.
My mother (who, content with affluence and happy in beholding the
prosperity of her children, trembled at the fear of endangering either),
in vain endeavoured to dissuade my father from putting his favourite
scheme in practice. In the early part of his youth he had been
accustomed to a sea life, and, being born an American, his restless
spirit was ever busied in plans for the increase of wealth and honour to
his native country, whose fame and interest were then united to those of
Britain. After many dreams of success and many conflicts betwixt
prudence and ambition, he resolved on putting his scheme in practice;
the potent witchery possessed his brain, and all the persuasive powers
of reason shrunk before its magic.
Full of the important business, my misguided parent repaired to the
metropolis, and on his arrival laid the plan before the late Earl of
Hilsborough, Sir Hugh Palliser, the late Earl of Bristol, Lord Chatham
(father to the present Mr. William Pitt), the chancellor Lord
Northington, who was my godfather, and several other equally
distinguished personages; who all not only approved the plan, but
commended the laudable and public spirit which induced my father to
suggest it. The prospect appeared full of promise, and the Labrador
whale fishery was expected to be equally productive with that of
Greenland. My parent's commercial connections were of the highest
respectability, while his own name for worth and integrity gave a
powerful sanction to the eccentric undertaking.
In order to facilitate this plan, my father deemed it absolutely
necessary to reside at least two years in America. My mother, who felt
an invincible antipathy to the sea, heard his determination with grief
and horror. All the persuasive powers of affection failed to detain him;
all the pleadings of reason, prudence, a fond wife, and an infant
family, proved ineffectual. My father was determined on departing, and
my mother's unconquerable timidity prevented her being the companion of
his voyage. From this epocha I date the sorrows of my family.
He sailed for America. His eldest son, John, was previously placed in a
mercantile house at Leghorn. My younger brothers and myself remained
with my mother at Bristol. Two years was the limited time of his
absence, and, on his departure, the sorrow of my parents was reciprocal.
My mother's heart was almost bursting with anguish; but even death would
to her have been preferable to the horrors of crossing a tempestuous
ocean and quitting her children, my father having resolved on leaving my
brothers and myself in England for education.
Still the comforts, and even the luxuries of life distinguished our
habitation. The tenderness of my mother's affection made her lavish of
every elegance; and the darlings of her bosom were dressed, waited on,
watched, and indulged with a degree of fondness bordering on folly. My
clothes were sent for from London; my fancy was indulged to the extent
of its caprices; I was flattered and praised into a belief that I was a
being of superior order. To sing, to play a lesson on the harpsichord,
to recite an elegy, and to make doggerel verses, made the extent of my
occupations, while my person improved, and my mother's indulgence was
My father, several years before his departure for America, had removed
from the Minster House, and resided in one larger and more convenient
for his increased family. This habitation was elegantly arranged; all
the luxuries of plate, silk furniture, foreign wines, etc., evinced his
knowledge of what was worth enjoying, and displayed that warm
hospitality which is often the characteristic of a British merchant.
This disposition for the good things of the world influenced even the
disposal of his children's comforts. The bed in which I slept was of the
richest crimson damask; the dresses which we wore were of the finest
cambric; during the summer months we were sent to Clifton Hill for the
advantages of a purer air; and I never was permitted to board at school,
or to pass a night of separation from the fondest of mothers.
Many months elapsed, and my mother continued to receive the kindest
letters from that husband whose rash scheme filled her bosom with regret
and apprehension. At length the intervals became more frequent and
protracted. The professions of regard, no longer flowing from the heart,
assumed a laboured style, and seemed rather the efforts of honourable
feeling than the involuntary language of confidential affection. My
mother felt the change, and her affliction was infinite.
At length a total silence of several months awoke her mind to the
sorrows of neglect, the torture of compunction; she now lamented the
timidity which had divided her from a husband's bosom, the natural
fondness which had bound her to her children; for while her heart bled
with sorrow and palpitated with apprehension, the dreadful secret was
unfolded, and the cause of my father's silence was discovered to be a
new attachment--a mistress, whose resisting nerves could brave the
stormy ocean, and who had consented to remain two years with him in the
frozen wilds of America.
This intelligence nearly annihilated my mother, whose mind, though not
strongly organised, was tenderly susceptible. She resigned herself to
grief. I was then at an age to feel and to participate in her sorrows. I
often wept to see her weep; I tried all my little skill to soothe her,
but in vain; the first shock was followed by calamities of a different
nature. The scheme in which my father had embarked his fortune failed,
the Indians rose in a body, burnt his settlement, murdered many of his
people, and turned the produce of their toil adrift on the wide and
merciless ocean. The noble patrons of his plan deceived him in their
assurances of marine protection, and the island of promise presented a
scene of barbarous desolation. This misfortune was rapidly followed by
other commercial losses; and to complete the vexations which pressed
heavily on my mother, her rash husband gave a bill of sale of his whole
property, by the authority of which we were obliged to quit our home,
and to endure those accumulated vicissitudes for which there appeared
It was at this period of trial that my mother was enabled to prove, by
that unerring touchstone, adversity, who were her real and disinterested
friends. Many, with affected commiseration, dropped a tear--or rather
seemed to drop one--on the disappointments of our family; while others,
with a malignant triumph, condemned the expensive style in which my
father had reared his children, the studied elegance which had
characterised my mother's dress and habitation, and the hospitality,
which was now marked by the ungrateful epithet of prodigal luxuriance,
but which had evinced the open liberality of my father's heart.
At this period my brother William died. He was only six years of age,
but a promising and most lovely infant. His sudden death, in consequence
of the measles, nearly deprived my mother of her senses. She was deeply
affected; but she found, after a period of time, that consolation which,
springing from the bosom of an amiable friend, doubly solaced her
afflictions. This female was one of the most estimable of her sex; she
had been the widow of Sir Charles Erskine, and was then the wife of a
respectable medical man who resided at Bristol.
In the society of Lady Erskine my mother gradually recovered her
serenity of mind, or rather found it soften into a religious
resignation. But the event of her domestic loss by death was less
painful than that which she felt in the alienation of my father's
affections. She frequently heard that he resided in America with his
mistress, till, at the expiration of another year, she received a
summons to meet him in London.
Language would but feebly describe the varying emotions which struggled
in her bosom. At this interesting era she was preparing to encounter the
freezing scorn, or the contrite glances, of either an estranged or a
repentant husband; in either case her situation was replete with
anticipated chagrin, for she loved him too tenderly not to participate
even in the anguish of his compunction. His letter, which was coldly
civil, requested particularly that the children might be the companions
of her journey. We departed for the metropolis.
I was not then quite ten years old, though so tall and formed in my
person that I might have passed for twelve or thirteen. My brother
George was a few years younger. On our arrival in London we repaired to
my father's lodgings in Spring Gardens. He received us, after three
years' absence, with a mixture of pain and pleasure; he embraced us with
tears, and his voice was scarcely articulate. My mother's agitation was
indescribable; she received a cold embrace at their meeting--it was the
last she ever received from her alienated husband.
As soon as the first conflicts seemed to subside, my father informed my
mother that he was determined to place my brother and myself at a school
in the vicinity of London; that he purposed very shortly returning to
America, and that he would readily pay for my mother's board in any
private and respectable family. This information seemed like a
death-blow to their domestic hopes. A freezing, formal, premeditated
separation from a wife who was guiltless of any crime, who was as
innocent as an angel, seemed the very extent of decided misery. It was
in vain that my mother essayed to change his resolution, and influence
his heart in pronouncing a milder judgment: my father was held by a
fatal fascination; he was the slave of a young and artful woman, who had
availed herself of his American solitude, to undermine his affections
for his wife and the felicity of his family.
This deviation from domestic faith was the only dark shade that marked
my father's character. He possessed a soul brave, liberal, enlightened,
and ingenuous. He felt the impropriety of his conduct. Yet, though his
mind was strongly organised, though his understanding was capacious, and
his sense of honour delicate even to fastidiousness, he was still the
dupe of his passions, the victim of unfortunate attachment.
Within a few days of our arrival in London we were placed for education
in a school at Chelsea. The mistress of this seminary was perhaps one of
the most extraordinary women that ever graced, or disgraced, society;
her name was Meribah Lorrington. She was the most extensively
accomplished female that I ever remember to have met with; her mental
powers were no less capable of cultivation than superiorly cultivated.
Her father, whose name was Hull, had from her infancy been the master of
an academy at Earl's Court, near Fulham; and early after his marriage
losing his wife, he resolved on giving his daughter a masculine
education. Meribah was early instructed in all the modern
accomplishments, as well as in classical knowledge. She was mistress of
the Latin, French, and Italian languages; she was said to be a perfect
arithmetician and astronomer, and possessed the art of painting on silk
to a degree of exquisite perfection. But, alas! with all these
advantages, she was addicted to one vice, which at times so completely
absorbed her faculties as to deprive her of every power, either mental
or corporeal. Thus, daily and hourly, her superior acquirements, her
enlightened understanding, yielded to the intemperance of her ruling
infatuation, and every power of reflection seemed lost in the unfeminine
All that I ever learned I acquired from this extraordinary woman. In
those hours when her senses were not intoxicated, she would delight in
the task of instructing me. She had only five or six pupils, and it was
my lot to be her particular favourite. She always, out of school, called
me her little friend, and made no scruple of conversing with me
(sometimes half the night, for I slept in her chamber), on domestic and
confidential affairs. I felt for her a very sincere affection, and I
listened with peculiar attention to all the lessons she inculcated. Once
I recollect her mentioning the particular failing which disgraced so
intelligent a being. She pleaded, in excuse of it, the immitigable
regret of a widowed heart, and with compunction declared that she flew
to intoxication as the only refuge from the pang of prevailing sorrow. I
continued more than twelve months under the care of Mrs. Lorrington,
during which period my mother boarded in a clergyman's family at
Chelsea. I applied rigidly to study, and acquired a taste for books,
which has never, from that time, deserted me. Mrs. Lorrington frequently
read to me after school hours, and I to her. I sometimes indulged my
fancy in writing verses, or composing rebuses, and my governess never
failed to applaud the juvenile compositions I presented to her. Some of
them, which I preserved and printed in a small volume shortly after my
marriage, were written when I was between twelve and thirteen years of
age; but as love was the theme of my poetical fantasies, I never showed
them to my mother till I was about to publish them.
It was my custom, every Sunday evening, to drink tea with my mother.
During one of those visits a captain in the British navy, a friend of my
father's, became so partial to my person and manners that a proposal of
marriage shortly after followed. My mother was astonished when she heard
it, and, as soon as she recovered from her surprise, inquired of my
suitor how old he thought me; his reply was, "About sixteen." My mother
smiled, and informed him that I was then not quite thirteen. He appeared
to be skeptical on the subject, till he was again assured of the fact,
when he took his leave with evident chagrin, but not without expressing
his hopes that, on his return to England,--for he was going on a two
years' expedition,--I should be still disengaged. His ship foundered at
sea a few months after, and this amiable gallant officer perished.
I had remained a year and two months with Mrs. Lorrington, when
pecuniary derangements obliged her to give up her school. Her father's
manners were singularly disgusting, as was his appearance; for he wore a
silvery beard which reached to his breast; and a kind of Persian robe
which gave him the external appearance of a necromancer. He was of the
Anabaptist persuasion, and so stern in his conversation that the young
pupils were exposed to perpetual terror. Added to these circumstances,
the failing of his daughter became so evident, that even during school
hours she was frequently in a state of confirmed intoxication. These
events conspired to break up the establishment, and I was shortly after
removed to a boarding-school at Battersea.
The mistress of this seminary, Mrs. Leigh, was a lively, sensible, and
accomplished woman; her daughter was only a few years older than myself,
and extremely amiable as well as lovely. Here I might have been happy,
but my father's remissness in sending pecuniary supplies, and my
mother's dread of pecuniary inconvenience, induced her to remove me; my
brother, nevertheless, still remained under the care of the Reverend Mr.
Gore, at Chelsea.
Several months elapsed, and no remittance arrived from my father. I was
now near fourteen years old, and my mother began to foresee the
vicissitudes to which my youth might be exposed, unprotected, tenderly
educated, and without the advantages of fortune. My father's
impracticable scheme had impoverished his fortune, and deprived his
children of that affluence which, in their in fancy, they had been
taught to hope for. I cannot speak of my own person, but my partial
friends were too apt to flatter me. I was naturally of a pensive and
melancholy character; my reflections on the changes of fortune
frequently gave me an air of dejection which perhaps etched an interest
beyond what might have been awakened by the vivacity or bloom of
I adored my mother. She was the mildest, the most unoffending of
existing mortals; her temper was cheerful, as her heart was innocent;
she beheld her children as it seemed fatherless, and she resolved, by
honourable means, to support them. For this purpose a convenient house
was hired at Little Chelsea, and furnished, for a ladies'
boarding-school. Assistants of every kind were engaged, and I was deemed
worthy of an occupation that flattered my self-love and impressed my
mind with a sort of domestic consequence. The English language was my
department in the seminary, and I was permitted to select passages both
in prose and verse for the studies of my infant pupils. It was also my
occupation to superintend their wardrobes, to see them dressed and
undressed by the servants or half-boarders, and to read sacred and moral
lessons on saints' days and Sunday evenings.
Shortly after my mother had established herself at Chelsea, on a
summer's evening, as I was sitting at the window, I heard a deep sigh,
or rather a groan of anguish, which suddenly attracted my attention. The
night was approaching rapidly, and I looked toward the gate before the
house, where I observed a woman evidently labouring under excessive
affliction; I instantly descended and approached her. She, bursting into
tears, asked whether I did not know her. Her dress was torn and filthy;
she was almost naked; and an old bonnet, which nearly hid her face, so
completely disfigured her features that I had not the smallest idea of
the person who was then almost sinking before me. I gave her a small sum
of money, and inquired the cause of her apparent agony. She took my hand
and pressed it to her lips. "Sweet girl," said she, "you are still the
angel I ever knew you!" I was astonished. She raised her bonnet--her
fine dark eyes met mine. It was Mrs. Lorrington. I led her into the
house; my mother was not at home. I took her to my chamber, and, with
the assistance of a lady who was our French teacher, I clothed and
comforted her. She refused to say how she came to be in so deplorable a
situation, and took her leave. It was in vain that I entreated, that I
conjured her to let me know where I might send to her. She refused to
give me her address, but promised that in a few days she would call on
me again. It is impossible to describe the wretched appearance of this
accomplished woman! The failing to which she had now yielded, as to a
monster that would destroy her, was evident even at the moment when she
was speaking to me. I saw no more of her; but to my infinite regret, I
was informed some years after that she had died, the martyr of a
premature decay, brought on by the indulgence of her propensity to
intoxication, in the workhouse of Chelsea!
The number of my mother's pupils in a few months amounted to ten or
twelve, and just at a period when an honourable independence promised to
cheer the days of an unexampled parent, my father unexpectedly returned
from America. The pride of his soul was deeply wounded by the step which
my mother had taken; he was offended even beyond the bounds of reason:
he considered his name as disgraced, his conjugal reputation tarnished,
by the public mode which his wife had adopted of revealing to the world
her unprotected situation. A prouder heart never palpitated in the
breast of man than that of my father: tenacious of fame, ardent in the
pursuit of visionary schemes, he could not endure the exposure of his
altered fortune; while Hope still beguiled him with her flattering
promise that time would favour his projects, and fortune, at some future
period, reward him with success.
At the expiration of eight months my mother, by my father's positive
command, broke up her establishment and returned to London. She engaged
lodgings in the neighbourhood of Marylebone. My father then resided in
Green Street, Grosvenor Square. His provision for his family was scanty,
his visits few. He had a new scheme on foot respecting the Labrador
coast, the particulars of which I do not remember, and all his zeal,
united with all his interest, was employed in promoting its
accomplishment. My mother, knowing that my father publicly resided with
his mistress, did not even hope for his returning affection. She devoted
herself to her children, and endured her sorrows with the patience of
At this period my father frequently called upon us, and often attended
me while we walked in the fields near Marylebone. His conversation was
generally of a domestic nature, and he always lamented that fatal
attachment, which was now too strongly cemented by time and obligations
ever to be dissolved without an ample provision for Elenor, which was
the name of my father's mistress. In one of our morning walks we called
upon the Earl of Northington, my father having some commercial business
to communicate to his lordship. Lord Northington then resided in
Berkeley Square, two doors from Hill Street, in the house which is now
occupied by Lord Robert Spencer. We were received with the most marked
attention and politeness (I was presented as the goddaughter of the late
Chancellor Lord Northington), and my father was requested to dine with
his lordship a few days after. From this period I frequently saw Lord
Northington, and always experienced from him the most flattering and
gratifying civility. I was then a child, not more than fourteen years
The finishing points of my education I received at Oxford House,
Marylebone. I was at this period within a few months of fifteen years of
age, tall, and nearly such as my partial friends, the few whose
affection has followed me from childhood, remember me. My early love for
lyric harmony had led me to a fondness for the more sublime scenes of
dramatic poetry. I embraced every leisure moment to write verses; I even
fancied that I could compose a tragedy, and more than once
unsuccessfully attempted the arduous undertaking.
The dancing-master at Oxford House, Mr. Hussey, was then ballet-master
at Covent Garden Theatre. Mrs. Hervey, the governess, mentioned me to
him as possessing an extraordinary genius for dramatic exhibitions. My
figure was commanding for my age, and (my father's pecuniary
embarrassments augmenting by the failure of another American project) my
mother was consulted as to the propriety of my making the stage my
profession. Many cited examples of females who, even in that perilous
and arduous situation, preserved an unspotted fame, inclined her to
listen to the suggestion, and to allow of my consulting some master of
the art as to my capability of becoming an ornament to the theatre.
Previous to this idea my father had again quitted England. He left his
wife with assurances of good-will, his children with all the agonies of
parental regret. When he took leave of my mother, his emphatic words
were these,--I never shall forget them--"Take care that no dishonour
falls upon my daughter. If she is not safe at my return, I will
annihilate you!" My mother heard the stern injunction, and trembled
while he repeated it.
I was, in consequence of my wish to appear on the stage, introduced to
Mr. Hull, of Covent Garden Theatre; he then resided in King Street,
Soho. He heard me recite some passages of the character of Jane Shore,
and seemed delighted with my attempt. I was shortly after presented by a
friend of my mother's, to Mr. Garrick; Mr. Murphy, the celebrated
dramatic poet, was one of the party, and we passed the evening at the
house of the British Roscius in the Adelphi. This was during the last
year that he dignified the profession by his public appearance. Mr.
Garrick's encomiums were of the most gratifying kind. He determined that
he would appear in the same play with me on the first night's trial; but
what part to choose for my début was a difficult question. I was too
young for anything beyond the girlish character, and the dignity of
tragedy afforded but few opportunities for the display of such juvenile
talents. After some hesitation my tutor fixed on the part of Cordelia.
His own Lear can never be forgotten.
It was not till the period when everything was arranged for my
appearance that the last solemn injunction, so emphatically uttered by
my father, nearly palsied my mother's resolution. She dreaded the
perils, the temptations to which an unprotected girl would be exposed in
so public a situation; while my ardent fancy was busied in contemplating
a thousand triumphs in which my vanity would be publicly gratified
without the smallest sacrifice of my private character.
While this plan was in agitation, I was one evening at Drury Lane
Theatre with my mother and a small party of her friends, when an officer
entered the box. His eyes were fixed on me, and his persevering
attention at length nearly overwhelmed me with confusion. The
entertainment being finished, we departed. The stranger followed us. At
that period my mother resided in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane,
for the protection which a venerable and respectable friend offered at a
moment when it was so necessary. This friend was the late Samuel Cox,
Esq., the intimate friend of Mr. Garrick, and an honour to those laws of
which he was a distinguished professor.
It was Mr. Garrick's particular request that I would frequent the
theatre as much as possible till the period fixed on for my appearance
on the stage. I had now just completed my fifteenth year, and my little
heart throbbed with impatience for the hour of trial. My tutor was most
sanguine in his expectations of my success, and every rehearsal seemed
to strengthen his flattering opinion.
It happened that, several evenings following, the stranger officer,
whose name, for motives of delicacy toward his family, I forbear to
mention, followed me to and from the theatre. It was in vain that he
offered his attentions in the box; my mother's frown and assiduous care
repulsed them effectually. But the perseverance of a bad mind in the
accomplishment of a bad action is not to be subdued. A letter was
written and conveyed to me through the hands of a female servant; I
opened it; I read a declaration of the most ardent love. The writer
avowed himself the son of Lady----, and offered marriage; he was
graceful and handsome. I instantly delivered the letter to my mother,
and, shortly after, he was, by an acquaintance, presented with
The idea of my appearing on the stage seemed to distract this
accomplished suitor. My mother, who but half approved a dramatic life,
was more than half inclined to favour the addresses of Captain ----. The
injunction of my father every hour became more indelibly impressed on
her memory; she knew his stern and invincible sense of honour too well
to hazard the thought of awakening it to vengeance.
After a short period, the friend who had presented Captain----, alarmed
for my safety, and actuated by a liberal wish to defend me from the
artifice of his associate, waited on my mother, and, after some
hesitation, informed her that my lover was already married; that he had
a young and amiable wife in a sister kingdom, and that he apprehended
some diabolical stratagem for the enthralment of my honour. My mother's
consternation was infinite. The important secret was communicated to me,
and I felt little regret in the loss of a husband when I reflected that
a matrimonial alliance would have compelled me to relinquish my
I had, also, at this period, another professed admirer, a man of
splendid fortune, but nearly old enough to be my grandfather. This suit
I never would listen to; and the drama, the delightful drama, seemed the
very criterion of all human happiness.
I now found myself an object of attention whenever I appeared at the
theatre. I had been too often in public not to be observed, and it was
buzzed about that I was the juvenile pupil of Garrick,--the promised
Cordelia. My person improved daily; yet a sort of dignified air, which
from a child I had acquired, effectually shielded me from the attacks of
impertinence or curiosity. Garrick was delighted with everything I did.
He would sometimes dance a minuet with me, sometimes request me to sing
the favourite ballads of the day; but the circumstance which most
pleased him was my tone of voice, which he frequently told me closely
resembled that of his favourite Cibber.
Never shall I forget the enchanting hours which I passed in Mr.
Garrick's society; he appeared to me as one who possessed more power,
both to awe and to attract, than any man I ever met with. His smile was
fascinating, but he had at times a restless peevishness of tone which
excessively affected his hearers; at least it affected me so that I
never shall forget it.
Opposite to the house in which I resided lived John Vernon, Esq., an
eminent solicitor. I observed a young inmate of his habitation
frequently watching me with more than ordinary attention. He was
handsome in person, and his countenance was overcast by a sort of
languor, the effect of sickness, which rendered it peculiarly
interesting. Frequently, when I approached the window of our
drawing-room, this young observer would bow or turn away with evident
emotion. I related the circumstance to my mother, and from that time the
lower shutters of our windows were perpetually closed. The young lawyer
often excited my mirth, and my mother's indignation; and the injunction
of my father was frequently repeated by her, with the addition of her
wish, that I was "once well married."
Every attention which was now paid to me augmented my dear mother's
apprehensions. She fancied every man a seducer, and every hour an hour
of accumulating peril! I know what she was doomed to feel, for that
Being who formed my sensitive and perpetually aching heart knows that I
have since felt it.
Among other friends who were in the habit of visiting my mother there
was one, a Mr. Wayman, an attorney of whom she entertained the highest
opinion. He was distinguished by the patronage of Mr. Cox, and his
reputation required no other voucher. One evening a party of six was
proposed for the following Sunday; with much persuasion my mother
consented to go, and to allow that I should also attend her. Greenwich
was the place fixed on for the dinner, and we prepared for the day of
recreation. It was then the fashion to wear silks. I remember that I
wore a nightgown of pale blue lustring, with a chip hat trimmed with
ribands of the same colour. Never was I dressed so perfectly to my own
satisfaction; I anticipated a day of admiration. Heaven can bear witness
that to me it was a day of fatal victory!
On our stopping at the "Star and Garter," at Greenwich, the person who
came to hand me from the carriage was our opposite neighbour in
Southampton Buildings. I was confused, but my mother was indignant. Mr.
Wayman presented his young friend,--that friend who was ordained to be
Our party dined, and early in the evening we returned to London. Mr.
Robinson remained at Greenwich for the benefit of the air, being
recently recovered from a fit of sickness. During the remainder of the
evening Mr. Wayman expatiated on the many good qualities of his friend
Mr. Robinson: spoke of his future expectations a rich old uncle; of his
probable advancement in his profession; and, more than all, of his
enthusiastic admiration of me.
A few days after, Mr. Robinson paid my mother a visit. We had now
removed to Villars Street, York Buildings. My mother's fondness for
books of a moral and religious character was not lost upon my new lover,
and elegantly bound editions of Hervey's "Meditations," with some others
of a similar description, were presented as small tokens of admiration
and respect. My mother was beguiled by these little interesting
attentions, and soon began to feel a strong predilection in favour of
Every day some new mark of respect augmented my mother's favourable
opinion; till Mr. Robinson became so great a favourite that he seemed to
her the most perfect of existing beings. Just at this period my brother
George sickened for the smallpox; my mother idolised him; he was
dangerously ill. Mr. Robinson was indefatigable in his attentions, and
my appearance on the stage was postponed till the period of his perfect
recovery. Day and night Mr. Robinson devoted himself to the task of
consoling my mother, and of attending to her darling boy; hourly, and
indeed momentarily, Mr. Robinson's praises were reiterated with
enthusiasm by my mother. He was "the kindest, the best of mortals!" the
least addicted to worldly follies, and the man, of all others, whom she
should adore as a son-in-law.
My brother recovered at the period when I sickened from the infection of
his disease. I felt little terror at the approaches of a dangerous and
deforming malady; for, I know not why, but personal beauty has never
been to me an object of material solicitude. It was now that Mr.
Robinson exerted all his assiduity to win my affections; it was when a
destructive disorder menaced my features and the few graces that nature
had lent them, that he professed a disinterested fondness; every day he
attended with the zeal of a brother, and that zeal made an impression of
gratitude upon my heart, which was the source of all my
During my illness Mr. Robinson so powerfully wrought upon the feelings
of my mother, that she prevailed on me to promise, in case I should
recover, to give him my hand in marriage. The words of my father were
frequently repeated, not without some innuendoes that I refused my ready
consent to a union with Mr. Robinson from a blind partiality to the
libertine Captain----. Repeatedly urged and hourly reminded of my
father's vow, I at last consented, and the banns were published while I
was yet lying on a bed of sickness. I was then only a few months
advanced in my sixteenth year.
My mother, whose affection for me was boundless, notwithstanding her
hopes of my forming an alliance that would be productive of felicity,
still felt the most severe pain at the thought of our approaching
separation. She was estranged from her husband's affections; she had
treasured up all her fondest hopes in the society of an only daughter;
she knew that no earthly pleasure can compensate for the loss of that
sweet sympathy which is the bond of union betwixt child and parent. Her
regrets were infinite as they were evident, and Mr. Robinson, in order
to remove any obstacle which this consideration might throw in the way
of our marriage, voluntarily proposed that she should reside with us. He
represented me as too young and inexperienced to superintend domestic
concerns; and while he flattered my mother's _armour propre_, he rather
requested her aid as a sacrifice to his interest than as an obligation
conferred on her.
The banns were published three successive Sundays at St. Martin's
Church, and the day was fixed for our marriage,--the twelfth of April.
It was not till all preliminaries were adjusted that Mr. Robinson, with
much apparent agitation, suggested the necessity of keeping our union a
secret. I was astonished at the proposal; but two reasons were given for
his having made it, both of which seemed plausible; the first was, that
Mr. Robinson had still three months to serve before his articles to
Messrs. Vernon and Elderton expired; and the second was, the hope which
a young lady entertained of forming a matrimonial union with Mr.
Robinson as soon as that period should arrive. The latter reason alarmed
me, but I was most solemnly assured that all the affection was cherished
on the lady's part; that Mr. Robinson was particularly averse to the
idea of such a marriage, and that as soon as he should become of age his
independence would place him beyond the control of any person
I now proposed deferring our wedding-day till that period. I pleaded
that I thought myself too young to encounter the cares and important
duties of domestic life; I shrunk from the idea of everything
clandestine, and anticipated a thousand ill consequences that might
attend on a concealed marriage. My scruples only seemed to increase Mr.
Robinson's impatience for that ceremony which should make me his for
ever. He represented to my mother the disapprobation which my father
would not fail to evince at my adopting a theatrical life in preference
to engaging in an honourable and prosperous connection. He so powerfully
worked upon the credulity of my beloved parent that she became a decided
convert to his opinions. My youth, my person, he represented as the
destined snares for my honour on a public stage, where all the
attractions of the mimic scene would combine to render me a fascinating
object. He also persuaded her that my health would suffer by the
fatigues and exertions of the profession, and that probably I might be
induced to marry some man who would not approve of a mother's forming a
part in our domestic establishment.
These circumstances were repeatedly urged in favour of the union. Still
I felt an almost instinctive repugnance at the thought of a clandestine
marriage. My mother, whose parental fondness was ever watchful for my
safety, now imagined that my objections proceeded from a fixed
partiality toward the libertine Captain----, who, though he had not the
temerity to present himself before my mother, persisted in writing to
me, and in following me whenever I appeared in public. I never spoke to
him after the story of his marriage was repeated to my mother; I never
corresponded with him, but felt a decided and proud indignation whenever
his name was mentioned in my presence.
My appearance on the stage had been put off from time to time, till Mr.
Garrick became impatient, and desired my mother to allow of his fixing
the night of important trial. It was now that Mr. Robinson and my mother
united in persuading me to relinquish my project; and so perpetually,
during three days, was I tormented on the subject, so ridiculed for
having permitted the banns to be published, and afterward hesitating to
fulfil my contract, that I consented--and was married.
As soon as the day of my wedding was fixed, it was deemed necessary that
a total revolution should take place in my external appearance. I had
till that period worn the habit of a child, and the dress of a woman, so
suddenly assumed, sat rather awkwardly upon me. Still, so juvenile was
my appearance, that, even two years after my union with Mr. Robinson, I
was always accosted with the appellation of "Miss" whenever I entered a
shop or was in company with strangers. My manners were no less childish
than my appearance; only three months before I became a wife I had
dressed a doll, and such was my dislike to the idea of a matrimonial
alliance that the only circumstance which induced me to marry was that
of being still permitted to reside with my mother, and to live
separated, at least for some time, from my husband.
My heart, even when I knelt at the altar, was as free from any tender
impression as it had been at the moment of my birth. I knew not the
sensation of any sentiment beyond that of esteem; love was still a
stranger to my bosom. I had never, then, seen the being who was destined
to inspire a thought which might influence my fancy or excite an
interest in my mind, and I well remember that, even while I was
pronouncing the marriage vow, my fancy involuntarily wandered to that
scene where I had hoped to support myself with _éclat_ and reputation.
The ceremony was performed by Doctor Saunders, the venerable vicar of
St. Martin's, who, at the conclusion of the ceremony, declared that he
had never before performed the office for so young a bride. The clerk
officiated as father; my mother and the woman who opened the pews were
the only witnesses to the union. I was dressed in the habit of a
Quaker,--a society to which, in early youth, I was particularly partial.
From the church we repaired to the house of a female friend, where a
splendid breakfast was waiting; I changed my dress to one of white
muslin, a chip hat adorned with white ribbons, a white sarsnet
scarf-cloak, and slippers of white satin embroidered with silver. I
mention these trifling circumstances because they lead to some others of
From the house of my mother's friend we set out for the inn at
Maidenhead Bridge, Mr. Robinson and myself in a phaeton, my mother in a
post-chaise; we were also accompanied by a gentleman by the name of
Balack, a very intimate acquaintance and schoolfellow of my husband, who
was not apprised of our wedding, but who nevertheless considered Mr.
Robinson as my avowed suitor.
On his first seeing me, he remarked that I was "dressed like a bride."
The observation overwhelmed me with confusion. During the day I was more
than pensive,--I was melancholy; I considered all that had passed as a
vision, and would scarcely persuade myself that the union which I had
permitted to be solemnised was indissoluble. My mother frequently
remarked my evident chagrin; and in the evening, while we strolled
together in the garden which was opposite the inn, I told her, with a
torrent of tears, the vouchers of my sincerity, that I was the most
wretched of mortals! that I felt the most perfect esteem for Mr.
Robinson, but that, according to my ideas of domestic happiness, there
should be a warm and powerful union of soul, to which I was yet totally
During my absence from town, a letter was written to Mr. Garrick,
informing him that an advantageous marriage (for my mother considered
Mr. Robinson as the legal heir to a handsome fortune, together with an
estate in South Wales) had induced me to relinquish my theatrical
prospects; and a few weeks after, meeting Mr. Garrick in the street, he
congratulated me on my union, and expressed the warmest wishes for my
The day after our marriage, Mr. Robinson proposed dining at
Henley-upon-Thames. My mother would not venture in the phaeton, and Mr.
Balack occupied the place which was declined by her. On taking his seat
between Robinson and myself, he remarked, "Were you married, I should
think of the holy anathema,--Cursed is he that parteth man and wife." My
countenance was suddenly suffused with the deepest scarlet; I cautiously
concealed the effect which his remarks had produced, and we proceeded on
Descending a steep hill, betwixt Maidenhead Thicket and Henley, we met a
drove of oxen. The comic opera of the "Padlock" was then in high
celebrity, and our facetious little friend a second time disconcerted me
by saying, in the words of Don Diego, "I don't like oxen, I wish they
had been a flock of sheep!" I now began to discover the variety of
unpleasant sensations which, even undesignedly, must arise from
conversation, in the presence of those who were clandestinely married. I
also trembled with apprehension, lest anything disgraceful should attach
itself to my fame, by being seen under doubtful circumstances in the
society of Mr. Robinson.
On our return to London, after ten days' absence, a house was hired in
Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was a large, old-fashioned
mansion, and stood on the spot where the Freemasons' Tavern has been
since erected. This house was the property of a lady, an acquaintance of
my mother, the widow of Mr. Worlidge, an artist of considerable
celebrity. It was handsomely furnished, and contained many valuable
pictures by various masters. I resided with my mother; Mr. Robinson
continued at the house of Messrs. Vernon and Elderton, in Southampton
The stated time of concealment elapsed, and still my husband was
perpetually at chambers in Lincoln's Inn. Still he was evidently under
the control of his articles, and still desirous that our marriage should
be kept a secret. My mother began to feel a considerable degree of
inquietude upon the subject; particularly as she was informed that Mr.
Robinson was not exactly in that state of expectation which he had
represented. She found that he was already of age, and that he had still
some months to serve of his clerkship. She also heard that he was not
the nephew and heir, but the illegitimate son of the man from whom he
expected a handsome fortune; though he had an elder brother, now
Commodore William Robinson, who was then in India, reaping the fruits of
industry under the patronage of Lord Clive.
It was now for the first time that my mother repented the influence she
had used in promoting our union. She informed Mr. Robinson that she
apprehended some gross deception on his part, and that she would no
longer consent to our marriage being kept a secret. The reputation of a
darling child, she alleged, was at stake; and though during a few weeks
the world might have been kept in ignorance of my marriage, some
circumstances that had transpired, now rendered an immediate disclosure
Mr. Robinson, finding my mother inexorable, resolved on setting out for
Wales, in order to avow our marriage, and to present me to his "uncle,"
for such he still obstinately denominated his father. My mother wished
to avail herself of this opportunity to visit her friends at Bristol,
and accordingly we set out on the journey. We passed through Oxford;
visited the different colleges; proceeded to Blenheim, and made the tour
a tour of pleasure, with the hope of soothing my mother's resentment,
and exhilarating my spirits, which were now perpetually dejected. I
cannot help mentioning that, shortly after my marriage, I formed an
acquaintance with a young lady, whose mind was no less romantic than my
own, and while Mr. Robinson was occupied at chambers, we almost daily
passed our morning hours in Westminster Abbey. It was to me a soothing
and a gratifying scene of meditation. I have often remained in the
gloomy chapels of that sublime fabric till I became, as it were, an
inhabitant of another world. The dim light of the Gothic windows, the
vibration of my footsteps along the lofty aisles, the train of
reflections that the scene inspired, were all suited to the temper of my
soul; and the melancholy propensities of my earliest infancy seemed to
revive with an instinctive energy, which rendered them the leading
characteristics of my existence. Indeed, the world has mistaken the
character of my mind; I have ever been the reverse of volatile and
dissipated. I mean not to write my own eulogy, though with the candid
and sensitive mind I shall, I trust, succeed in my vindication.
On our arrival at Bristol, Mr. Robinson thought it most advisable to
proceed toward Tregunter, the seat of his "uncle," alone, in order to
prepare him for my cordial reception, or to avoid the mortification I
should experience, should he refuse to sanction our union. Mr. Robinson
left me a few guineas, and promised that his absence should be short,
and his affection increasing.
I had now been married near four months; and, though love was not the
basis of my fidelity, honour, and a refined sense of feminine rectitude,
attached me to the interest as well as to the person of my husband. I
considered chastity as the brightest ornament that could embellish the
female mind, and I regulated my conduct to that tenor which has
principle more than affection to strengthen its progress.
At Bristol my mother experienced the most gratifying reception; all her
former friends rejoiced to see her; I was invited daily to feasts of
hospitality, and I found that fortune was to common minds a never
failing passport. Mr. Robinson was represented as a young man of
considerable expectations, and his wife was consequently again received
as the daughter of Mr. Darby. The house in which I first opened my eyes
to this world of sorrow, the minster, its green, the schoolhouse where I
had passed many days, the tomb of my lost relatives in the church of St.
Augustine, were all visited by me with a sweet and melancholy interest.
But the cathedral, the brass eagle in the middle aisle, under which,
when an infant, I used to sit and join in the loud anthem, or chant the
morning service, most sensibly attached me. I longed again to occupy my
place beneath its expanding wings, and once I went before the service
began to gratify my inclination.
Language cannot describe the sort of sensation which I felt when I heard
the well-known, long-remembered organ flinging its loud peal through the
Gothic structure. I hastened to the cloisters. The nursery windows were
dim and shattered; the house was sinking to decay. The mouldering walk
was gloomy, and my spirits were depressed beyond description: I stood
alone, rapt in meditation, "Here," said I, "did my infant feet pace to
and fro; here did I climb the long stone bench, and swiftly measure it
at the peril of my safety. On those dark and winding steps did I sit and
listen to the full-toned organ, the loud anthem, the bell which called
the parishioners to prayer." I entered the cathedral once more; I read
and re-read the monumental inscriptions; I paused upon the grave of
Powell; I dropped a tear on the small square ground tablet which bore
the name of Evelyn. Ah! how little has the misjudging world known of
what has passed in my mind, even in the apparently gayest moments of my
existence! How much have I regretted that ever I was born, even when I
have been surrounded with all that could gratify the vanity of woman!
Mr. Robinson, on his arrival at Tregunter, despatched a letter informing
me that his "uncle" seemed disposed to act handsomely, but that he had
only ventured to avow an intention to marry, fearful of abruptly
declaring that he had been already some months a husband. Mr. Harris,
for that was the name of my father-in-law, replied that "he hoped the
object of his choice was not too young!" At this question Mr. Robinson
was somewhat disconcerted. "A young wife," continued Mr. Harris, "cannot
mend a man's fortune. How old is the girl you have chosen?"
"She is nearly seventeen!"
I was then only fifteen and a few months.
"I hope she is not handsome," was the second observation. "You say she
is not rich; and beauty without money is but a dangerous sort
"Will you see her?"
"I have no objection," said Mr. Harris.
"She is now with her mother at Bristol,--for," continued Mr. Robinson,
with some hesitation, "she is my wife."
Mr. Harris paused, and then replied, "Well! stay with me only a few
days, and then you shall fetch her. If the thing is done, it cannot be
undone. She is a gentlewoman, you say, and I can have no reason to
refuse seeing her."
The same letter which contained this intelligence also requested me to
prepare for my journey, and desired me to write to a person whom Mr.
Robinson named in London, and whom I had seen in his company, for a sum
of money which would be necessary for our journey. This person was Mr.
John King, then a money-broker in Goodman's Fields; but I was an entire
stranger to the transaction which rendered him the temporary source of
my husband's finances.
One or two letters passed on this subject, and I waited anxiously for my
presentation at Tregunter. At length the period of Mr. Robinson's return
arrived, and we set out together, while my mother remained with her
friends at Bristol. Crossing the old passage to Chepstow in an open
boat, a distance, though not extended, extremely perilous, we found the
tide so strong and the night so boisterous that we were apprehensive of
much danger. The rain poured and the wind blew tempestuously. The boat
was full of passengers, and at one end of it were placed a drove of
oxen. My terror was infinite; I considered this storm as an ill omen,
but little thought that at future periods of my life I should have cause
to regret that I had not perished!
During our journey Robinson entreated me to overlook anything harsh that
might appear in the manners of his "uncle,"--for he still denied that
Mr. Harris was his father. But above all things he conjured me to
conceal my real age, and to say that I was some years older than he knew
me to be. To this proposal I readily consented, and I felt myself firm
in courage at the moment when we came within sight of Tregunter.
Mr. Harris was then building the family mansion, and resided in a pretty
little decorated cottage which was afterward converted into domestic
offices. We passed through a thick wood, the mountains at every break
meeting our eyes, covered with thin clouds, and rising in a sublime
altitude above the valley. A more romantic space of scenery never met
the human eye! I felt my mind inspired with a pensive melancholy, and
was only awakened from my reverie by the postboy stopping at the mansion
Mr. Harris came out to receive me. I wore a dark claret-coloured
riding-habit, with a white beaver hat and feathers. He embraced me with
excessive cordiality, while Miss Robinson, my husband's sister, with
cold formality led me into the house. I never shall forget her looks or
her manner. Had her brother presented the most abject being to her, she
could not have taken my hand with a more frigid demeanour. Miss
Robinson, though not more than twenty years of age, was Gothic in her
appearance and stiff in her deportment; she was of low stature and
clumsy, with a countenance peculiarly formed for the expression of
sarcastic vulgarity--a short snub nose, turned up at the point, a head
thrown back with an air of _hauteur_; a gaudy-coloured chintz gown, a
thrice-bordered cap, with a profusion of ribbons, and a countenance
somewhat more ruddy than was consistent with even pure health, presented
the personage whom I was to know as my future companion and kinswoman!
Mr. Harris looked like a venerable Hawthorn; a brown fustian coat, a
scarlet waistcoat edged with narrow gold, a pair of woollen
spatter-dashes, and a gold-laced hat, formed the dress he generally
wore. He always rode a small Welsh pony, and was seldom in the house,
except at eating-time, from sunrise to the close of the evening.
There was yet another personage in the domestic establishment, who was
by Mr. Harris regarded as of no small importance: this was a venerable
housekeeper of the name of Mary Edwards. Mrs. Molly was the female
Mentor of the family; she dined at the table with Mr. Harris; she was
the governess of the domestic department; and a more overbearing,
vindictive spirit never inhabited the heart of mortal than that which
pervaded the soul of the ill-natured Mrs. Molly.
It may easily be conjectured that my time passed heavily in this
uninteresting circle. I was condemned either to drink ale with "the
squire," for Mr. Harris was only spoken of by that title, or to visit
the Methodistical seminary which Lady Huntingdon had established at
Trevecca, another mansion house on the estate of Mr. Harris. Miss
Robinson was of this sect; and though Mr. Harris was not a disciple of
the Huntingdonian school, he was a constant church visitor on every
Sunday. His zeal was indefatigable; and he would frequently fine the
rustics (for he was a justice of the peace, and had been sheriff of the
county) when he heard them swear, though every third sentence he uttered
was attended by an oath that made his hearers shudder.
I soon became a considerable favourite of "the squire," but I did not
find any yielding qualities about the hearts of Miss Betsy or Mrs.
Molly. They observed me with jealous eyes; they considered me as an
interloper, whose manners attracted Mr. Harris's esteem, and who was
likely to diminish their divided influence in the family. I found them
daily growing weary of my society; I perceived their sidelong glances
when I was complimented by the visiting neighbours on my good looks or
taste in the choice of my dresses. Miss Robinson rode on horseback in a
camlet safeguard, with a high-crowned bonnet; I wore a fashionable
habit, and looked like something human. Envy at length assumed the form
of insolence, and I was taunted perpetually on the folly of appearing
like a woman of fortune; that a lawyer's wife had no right to dress like
a duchess; and that, though I might be very accomplished, a good
housewife had no occasion for harpsichords and books,--they belonged to
women who brought wherewithal to support them. Such was the language of
vulgar, illiberal natures! Yet for three weeks I endured it patiently.
Knowing that Mr. Harris was disposed to think favourably of me,--that he
even declared he should "have liked me for his wife, had I not married
Tom," though he was then between sixty and seventy years of age, I
thought it most prudent to depart, lest, through the machinations of
Miss Betsy and Mrs. Molly, I should lose the share I had gained in his
affections. My mother was still at Bristol; and the morning of our
departure being arrived, to my infinite astonishment Mr. Harris proposed
accompanying us thither. It was in vain that Molly and Miss interfered
to prevent him; he swore that he would see me safe across the channel,
whatever might be the consequence of his journey. We set out together.
On our arrival at Bristol, Mr. Harris was presented to my mother, and by
her introduced to many respectable friends. He was consequently invited
to several dinner-parties. I was his idol; he would dance with me; when
he had taken the evening draught, he would sing with me, and I was to
him the most delightful of beings. Many embellishments for Tregunter
House were submitted to my taste and choice; and I remember, on his
giving orders for the marble chimney-pieces, he said, "Choose them as
you like them, Mrs. Robinson, for they are all for you and Tom when I am
no more." Indeed, he frequently assured me, while I was at Tregunter,
that the estate should be my husband's.
After passing many days at Bristol Mr. Harris returned to Wales, and our
party set out for London. Mr. Robinson's mind was easy, and his hopes
were confirmed by the kindness of his uncle; he now considered himself
as the most happy of mortals. We removed from Great Queen Street to a
house, No. 13, in Hatton Garden, which had been recently built. Mr.
Robinson hired it, and furnished it with peculiar elegance. I frequently
inquired into the extent of his finances, and he as often assured me
that they were in every respect competent to his expenses. In addition
to our domestic establishment, Mr. Robinson purchased a handsome
phaeton, with saddle-horses for his own use; and I now made my début,
though scarcely emerged beyond the boundaries of childhood, in the broad
hemisphere of fashionable folly.
A new face, a young person dressed with peculiar but simple elegance,
was sure to attract attention at places of public entertainment. The
first time I went to Ranelagh, my habit was so singularly plain and
Quaker-like that all eyes were fixed upon me. I wore a gown of light
brown lustring with close round cuffs (it was then the fashion to wear
long ruffles); my hair was without powder, and my head adorned with a
plain round cap and a white chip hat, without any ornaments whatever.
The second place of polite entertainment to which Mr. Robinson
accompanied me was the Pantheon concert, then the most fashionable
assemblage of the gay and the distinguished. At this place it was
customary to appear much dressed; large hoops and high feathers were
universally worn. My habit was composed of pale pink satin, trimmed with
broad sable; my dear mother presented me a suit of rich and valuable
point lace, which she had received from my father as a birthday gift,
and I was at least some hours employed in decorating my person for this
new sphere of fascination; I say some hours, because my shape at that
period required some arrangement, owing to the visible increase of my
As soon as I entered the Pantheon rotunda, I never shall forget the
impression which my mind received; the splendour of the scene, the dome
illuminated with variegated lamps, the music, and the beauty of the
women, seemed to present a circle of enchantment. I recollect that the
most lovely of fair forms met my eyes in that of Lady Almeria Carpenter.
The countenance which most pleased me was that of the late Mrs.
Baddeley. The first Countess of Tyrconnel also appeared with
considerable _éclat_. But the buzz of the room, the unceasing murmur of
admiration, attended the Marchioness Townshend. I took my seat on a sofa
nearly opposite to that on which she was sitting, and I observed two
persons, evidently men of fashion, speaking to her, till one of them,
looking toward me, with an audible voice inquired of the other, "Who
Their fixed stare disconcerted me; I rose, and, leaning on my husband's
arm, again mingled in the brilliant circle. The inquirers followed us;
stopping several friends, as we walked around the circle, and repeatedly
demanding of them, "Who is that young lady in the pink dress trimmed
with sable?" My manner and confusion plainly evinced that I was not
accustomed to the gaze of impertinent high breeding. I felt uneasy, and
proposed returning home, when I perceived that our two followers were
joined by a third, who, on looking at me, said, "I think I know her." It
was the late Earl of Northington.
We had now to pass the group in order to quit the rotunda. Lord
Northington, leaving his companions, approached me. "Miss Darby, or I am
mistaken," said he, with a bow of marked civility. I replied that my
name was now changed to that of Robinson, and, to prevent any awkward
embarrassment, presented my husband, on whose arm I was still leaning.
Lord Northington continued to walk around the Pantheon with us, made
many inquiries after my father, complimented me on the improvement of my
person, and "hoped that he should be permitted to pay his respects to
Mr. and Mrs. Robinson."
We now entered the tea-room; there was not a seat vacant; I was
considerably fatigued, and somewhat faint with the heat of the rotunda.
I quitted the tea-room, and seated myself on a sofa near the door. In a
few minutes Lord Northington brought me a cup of tea, for Mr. Robinson
did not like to leave me alone, and at the same time presented his two
inquisitive friends, Lord Lyttelton and Captain Ayscough.
I now proposed departing. Mr. Robinson accompanied me to the vestibule,
and while he was seeking the carriage Lord Lyttelton offered his
services. I had never till that evening heard his name, but there was an
easy effrontery in his address that completely disgusted, while his
determined gaze distressed and embarrassed me, and I felt inexpressible
satisfaction when Mr. Robinson returned to tell me that the carriage
On the following morning Lords Northington, Lyttelton, and Colonel
Ayscough made their visits of ceremony. Mr. Robinson was not at home,
but I received them, though not without some embarrassment. I was yet a
child, and wholly unacquainted with the manners of the world; yet, young
as I was, I became the traveller of its mazy and perilous paths. At an
age when girls are generally at school, or indeed scarcely emancipated
from the nursery, I was presented in society as a wife--and very nearly
as a mother.
Lord Lyttelton, who was perhaps the most accomplished libertine that any
age or country has produced, with considerable artifice inquired after
Mr. Robinson, professed his earnest desire to cultivate his
acquaintance, and, on the following day, sent him a card of invitation.
Lyttelton was an adept in the artifices of fashionable intrigue. He
plainly perceived that both Mr. Robinson and myself were uninitiated in
its mysteries; he knew that to undermine a wife's honour he must become
master of the husband's confidence, and Mr. Robinson was too much
pleased with the society of a man whose wit was only equalled by his
profligacy, to shrink from such an association.
Fortunately for me, Lord Lyttelton was uniformly my aversion. His
manners were overbearingly insolent, his language licentious, and his
person slovenly even to a degree that was disgusting. Mr. Robinson was
in every respect the very reverse of his companion: he was unassuming,
neat, and delicate in his conversation. I had not a wish to descend from
the propriety of wedded life, and I abhorred, decidedly abhorred, the
acquaintance with Lord Lyttelton.
In the course of a few days his lordship presented me the works of Miss
Aitken (now Mrs. Barbauld). I read them with rapture. I thought them
the most beautiful poems I had ever seen, and considered the woman who
could invent such poetry as the most to be envied of human creatures.
Lord Lyttelton had some taste for poetical compositions, and wrote
verses with considerable facility.
On the following Monday I again visited the Pantheon. My dress was then
white and silver. Again I was followed with attention. Lord Lyttelton
was my _cavaliere servente_ that evening, though, as usual, his chief
attention was paid to Mr. Robinson. During the concert he presented the
Count de Belgeioso, the imperial ambassador, one of the most
accomplished foreigners I ever remember having met with. Lord Valentia
was also introduced, but as his lordship had recently made some _éclat_
by his attentions to the celebrated Mrs. Elliot, I rather avoided than
wished to cultivate his acquaintance.
Mr. Robinson's intercourse with the world was now rapidly augmenting.
Every day was productive of some new association. Lord Lyttelton
presented many of his friends; among others, Captain O'Byrne, and Mr.
William Brereton, of Drury Lane Theatre. In the course of a short time
we also became acquainted with Sir Francis Molyneux, Mr. Alderman Sayer,
and the late unfortunate George Robert Fitzgerald. Lord Northington
was also a constant visitor, and frequently rallied me on what he
thought my striking likeness to his family.
Among my female friends, those for whom I entertained the strongest
esteem were Lady Yea, the wife of Sir William Yea, and the sister of Sir
John Trevellyan. She was a lovely and accomplished woman. Mrs. Parry,
the wife of the Rev. Doctor Parry, and the author of "Eden Vale," a
novel, was also one of my most favourite acquaintances. Mrs. Parry was a
woman of considerable talents, a wit, and of remarkably
Of those who frequented our house Lord Lyttelton was most decidedly my
abhorrence; I knew that he frequently led my husband from the paths of
domestic confidence to the haunts of profligate debasement. Toward me
his lordship affected great indifference. He has even in my presence
declared that no woman under thirty years of age was worth admiring;
that even the antiquity of forty was far preferable to the insipidity of
sixteen; and he generally concluded his observations by hoping he had
not made "the pretty child angry."
I soon discovered that his intercourse with Lord Lyttelton produced a
very considerable change in Mr. Robinson's domestic deportment. They
were constantly together, and the neglect which I experienced began to
alarm me. I dedicated all my leisure hours to poetry; I wrote verses of
all sorts; and Mr. Robinson having mentioned that I had proposed
appearing on the stage, previous to my marriage, in the character of
Cordelia, Lord Lyttelton facetiously christened me the Poetess Corry.
It was with extreme regret, and frequently with uncontrollable
indignation, that I endured the neglect of my husband and the tauntings
of the profligate Lyttelton. "The child"--for so he generally called
me--was deserted for the society of the most libertine men and the most
abandoned women. Mr. Robinson became not only careless of his wife, but
of his pecuniary finances, while I was kept in total ignorance as to the
resources which supported his increasing expenses.
Among my other friends, Lady Yea frequently inquired by what means my
husband supported his household disbursements. Our table was elegantly,
though not profusely, served. Mr. Robinson seldom attended to his
profession, and I was too young, as well as too inexperienced, to look
after family affairs. My younger brother George, whom, upon my marriage,
Mr. Robinson and myself adopted as our own, now finding his health
impaired, my mother attended him at Bristol, so that I had no friend to
advise me who felt any real interest in my welfare. Dress, parties,
adulation, occupied all my hours. Mr. Robinson's easy temper was
influenced by the counsel of his friend Lyttelton, and he every hour
sunk more deeply in the gulf of dissipation.
Among the most dangerous of my husband's associates was George Robert
Fitzgerald. His manners toward women were interesting and attentive. He
perceived the neglect with which I was treated by Mr. Robinson, and the
pernicious influence which Lord Lyttelton had acquired over his mind; he
professed to feel the warmest interest in my welfare, lamented the
destiny which had befallen me in being wedded to a man incapable of
estimating my value, and at last confessed himself my most ardent and
devoted admirer. I shuddered at the declaration, for, amidst all the
allurements of splendid folly, my mind, the purity of my virtue, was
I repulsed the dangerous advances of this accomplished person, but I did
not the less feel the humiliation to which a husband's indifference had
exposed me. God can bear witness to the purity of my soul, even
surrounded by temptations and mortified by neglect. Whenever I ventured
to inquire into pecuniary resources, Mr. Robinson silenced me by saying
that he was independent; added to this assurance, Lord Lyttelton
repeatedly promised that, through his courtly interest, he would very
shortly obtain for my husband some honourable and lucrative situation.
I confess that I reposed but little confidence in the promises of such a
man, though my husband believed them inviolable. Frequent parties were
made at his lordship's house in Hill Street, and many invitations
pressed for a visit to his seat at Hagley. These I peremptorily refused,
till the noble hypocrite became convinced of my aversion, and adopted a
new mode of pursuing his machinations.
One forenoon Lord Lyttelton called in Hatton Garden, as was almost his
daily custom, and, on finding teat Mr. Robinson was not at home,
requested to speak with me on business of importance. I found him
seemingly much distressed. He informed me that he had a secret to
communicate of considerable moment both to my interest and happiness.
"Nothing, I trust in Heaven, has befallen my husband!" said I, with a
voice scarcely articulate.
Lord Lyttelton hesitated.
"How little does that husband deserve the solicitude of such a wife!"
said he; "but," continued his lordship, "I fear that I have in some
degree aided in alienating his conjugal affections. I could not bear to
see such youth, such merit, so sacrificed--"
"Speak briefly, my lord," said I.
"Then," replied Lord Lyttelton, "I must inform you that your husband is
the most false and undeserving of that name! He has formed connection
with a woman of abandoned character; he lavishes on her those means of
subsistence which you will shortly stand in need of."
"I do not believe it," said I, indignantly.
"Then you shall be convinced," answered his lordship; "but remember, if
you betray me, your true and zealous friend, I must fight your husband;
for he never will forgive my having discovered his infidelity."
"It cannot be true," said I. "You have been misinformed."
"Then it has been by the woman who usurps your place in the affections
of your husband," replied Lord Lyttelton. "From her I received the
information. Her name is Harriet Wilmot; she resides in Soho. Your
husband daily visits her."
I thought I should have fainted; but a torrent of tears recalled the
ebbing current of my heart, and I grew proud in fortitude, though
humbled in self-love.
"Now," said Lord Lyttelton, "if you are a woman of spirit, you will be
_revenged_!" I shrunk with horror, and would have quitted the room.
"Hear me," said he. "You cannot be a stranger to my motives for thus
cultivating the friendship of your husband. My fortune is at your
disposal. Robinson is a ruined man; his debts are considerable, and
nothing but destruction can await you. Leave him! Command my powers to
I would hear no more,--broke from him, and rushed out of the apartments.
My sensations, my sufferings were indescribable.
I immediately took a hackney-coach, and proceeded to Prince's Street,
Soho,--Lord Lyttelton having given me the address of my rival. Language
cannot describe what I suffered till I arrived at the lodgings of Miss
Wilmot. The coachman knocked, a dirty servant girl opened the door. Her
mistress was not at home. I quitted the coach and ascended to the
drawing-room, where the servant left me, after informing me that Miss W.
would return in a very short time. I was now left alone.
I opened the chamber door which led from the drawing-room. A new white
lustring sacque and petticoat lay on the bed. While I was examining the
room, a loud knocking at the street door alarmed me. I reëntered the
front apartment, and waited with a palpitating bosom till the being
whose triumph had awakened both my pride and my resentment appeared
She was a handsome woman, though evidently some years older than myself.
She wore a dress of printed Irish muslin, with a black gauze cloak and a
chip hat, trimmed with pale lilac ribbons; she was tall, and had a very
pleasing countenance. Her manner was timid and confused; her lips as
pale as ashes. I commiserated her distress, desired her not to be
alarmed, and we took our seats, with increased composure.
"I came to inquire whether or not you are acquainted with a Mr.
Robinson," said I.
"I am," replied Miss Wilmot. "He visits me frequently." She drew off her
glove as she spoke, and passing her hand over her eyes, I observed on
her finger a ring, which I knew to have been my husband's.
"I have nothing more to say," added I, "but to request that you will
favour me with Mr. Robinson's address; I have something which I wish to
convey to him."
She smiled, and cast her eyes over my figure. My dress was a morning
_déshabille_ of India muslin, with a bonnet of straw, and a white lawn
cloak bordered with lace.
"You are Mr. Robinson's wife," said she, with a trembling voice. "I am
sure you are; and probably this ring was yours; pray receive it--"
I declined taking the ring. She continued, "Had I known that Mr.
Robinson was the husband of such a woman--"
I rose to leave her. She added, "I never will see him more,--unworthy
man,--I never will again receive him."
I could make no reply, but rose and departed.
On my return to Hatton Garden, I found my husband waiting dinner. I
concealed my chagrin. We had made a party that evening to Drury Lane
Theatre, and from thence to a select concert at the Count de
Belgeioso's, in Portman Square. Lord Lyttelton was to join us at both
places. We went to the play; but my agitation had produced such a
violent headache that I was obliged to send an apology for not keeping
our engagement at the imperial ambassador's.
On the following morning I spoke to Mr. Robinson respecting Miss Wilmot.
He did not deny that he knew such a person, that he had visited her; but
he threw all the blame of his indiscretion on Lord Lyttelton. He
requested to know who had informed me of his conduct. I refused to tell;
and he had too high an opinion of his false associate to suspect him of
At one of Mrs. Parry's card parties I met Mrs. Abington. I thought
her the most lively and bewitching woman I had ever seen; her manners
were fascinating, and the peculiar tastefulness of her dress excited
universal admiration. My imagination again wandered to the stage, and I
thought the heroine of the scenic art was of all human creatures the
most to be envied.
About this period I observed that Mr. Robinson had frequent visitors of
the Jewish tribe; that he was often closeted with them, and that some
secret negotiation was going forward to which I was a total stranger.
Among others, Mr. King was a constant visitor; indeed, he had often been
with my husband on private business ever since the period of our
marriage. I questioned Mr. Robinson upon the subject of these strange
and repeated interviews. He assured me that the persons I had seen came
merely upon law business, and that in his profession it was necessary to
be civil to all ranks of people. Whenever I urged a farther explanation,
he assumed a tone of displeasure, and requested me not to meddle with
his professional occupations. I desisted; and the parlour of our house
was almost as much frequented by Jews as though it had been their
Mr. Robinson's mornings were devoted to his bearded friends, his
evenings to his fashionable associates; but my hours were all dedicated
to sorrow, for I now heard that my husband, even at the period of his
marriage, had an attachment which he had not broken, and that his
infidelities were as public as the ruin of his finances was inevitable.
I remonstrated--I was almost frantic. My distress was useless, my wishes
to retrench our expenses ineffectual. Mr. Robinson had, previous to our
union, deeply involved himself in a bond debt of considerable magnitude,
and he had from time to time borrowed money on annuity,--one sum to
discharge the other,--till every plan of liquidation appeared
impracticable. During all this time my mother was at Bristol.
Lord Lyttelton, finding every plan of seduction fail, now rested his
only hope of subduing my honour in the certainty of my husband's ruin.
He therefore took every step, embraced every opportunity of involving
him more deeply in calamity. Parties were made to Richmond and Salt
Hill, to Ascot Heath and Epsom races, in all of which Mr. Robinson bore
his share of expense, with the addition of post-horses. Whenever he
seemed to shrink from his augmenting indiscretion, Lord Lyttelton
assured him that, through his interest, an appointment of honourable and
pecuniary importance should be obtained, though I embraced every
opportunity to assure his lordship that no consideration upon earth
should ever make me the victim of his artifice.
[Illustration: _Lady Lyttelton_ Engraved by Chas. Townley from the
painting by Richard Casway]
Mr. Fitzgerald still paid me unremitting attention. His manners toward
women were beautifully interesting. He frequently cautioned me against
the libertine Lyttelton, and as frequently lamented the misguided
confidence which Mr. Robinson reposed in him. Lord Lyttelton's shameless
conduct toward an amiable wife, from whom he was separated, and his
cruel neglect of a lady of the name of Dawson, who had long been
attached to him, marked the unworthiness of his character. He was the
very last man in the world for whom I ever could have entertained the
smallest partiality; he was to me the most hateful of existing beings.
Probably these pages will be read when the hand that writes them
moulders in the grave, when that God who judges all hearts will know how
innocent I was of the smallest conjugal infidelity. I make this solemn
asseveration because there have been malevolent spirits who, in the
plenitude of their calumny, have slandered me by suspecting my fidelity
even at this early period of my existence. These pages are the pages of
truth, unadorned by romance and unembellished by the graces of
phraseology, and I know that I have been sufficiently the victim of
events too well to become the tacit acquiescer where I have been grossly
misrepresented. Alas! of all created beings, I have been the most
severely subjugated by circumstances more than by inclination.
About this time a party was one evening made to Vauxhall. Mr. Fitzgerald
was the person who proposed it, and it consisted of six or eight
persons. The night was warm and the gardens crowded. We supped in the
circle which has the statue of Handel in its centre. The hour growing
late,--or rather early in the morning,--our company dispersed, and no
one remained excepting Mr. Robinson, Mr. Fitzgerald, and myself.
Suddenly a noise was heard near the orchestra. A crowd had assembled,
and two gentlemen were quarrelling furiously. Mr. R. and Fitzgerald ran
out of the box. I rose to follow them, but they were lost in the throng,
and I thought it most prudent to resume my place, which I had just
quitted, as the only certain way of their finding me in safety. In a
moment Fitzgerald returned. "Robinson," said he, "is gone to seek you at
the entrance-door. He thought you had quitted the box."
"I did for a moment," said I, "but I was fearful of losing him in the
crowd, and therefore returned."
"Let me conduct you to the door; we shall certainly find him there,"
replied Mr. Fitzgerald. "I know that he will be uneasy."
I took his arm and we ran hastily toward the entrance-door on the
Mr. Robinson was not there. We proceeded to look for our carriage. It
stood at some distance. I was alarmed and bewildered. Mr. Fitzgerald
hurried me along. "Don't be uneasy; we shall certainly find him," said
he, "for I left him here not five minutes ago." As he spoke, he stopped
abruptly. A servant opened a chaise door. There were four horses
harnessed to it; and by the light of the lamps on the side of the
footpath, I plainly perceived a pistol in the pocket of the door which
was open. I drew back. Mr. Fitzgerald placed his arm around my waist,
and endeavoured to lift me up the step of the chaise, the servant
watching at a little distance. I resisted, and inquired what he meant
by such conduct. His hand trembled excessively, while he said, in a low
voice, "Robinson can but fight me." I was terrified beyond all
description. I made him loose his hold, and ran toward the
entrance-door. Mr. Fitzgerald now perceived Mr. Robinson. "Here he
comes!" exclaimed he, with easy nonchalance. "We had found the wrong
carriage, Mr. Robinson. We have been looking after you, and Mrs.
Robinson is alarmed beyond expression."
"I am, indeed!" said I. Mr. Robinson now took my hand. We stepped into
the coach, and Mr. Fitzgerald followed. As we proceeded toward Hatton
Garden, the sky incessantly flashed lightning. I was terrified by the
combination of events, and I was in a situation which rendered any alarm
peculiarly dangerous, for I was several months advanced in that state
which afterward terminated by presenting to me my only child, my darling
I had often heard of Mr. Fitzgerald's propensity to duelling. I
recollected my own delicate situation; I valued my husband's safety. I
therefore did not mention the adventure of the evening, particularly as
Mr. Fitzgerald observed, on our way to Hatton Garden, that he had
"nearly made a strange mistake, and taken possession of another person's
carriage." This remark appeared so plausible that nothing further was
said upon the subject.
From that evening I was particularly cautious in avoiding Fitzgerald. He
was too daring and too fascinating a being to be allowed the smallest
marks of confidence. Whenever he called, I was denied to him, and at
length, perceiving the impracticability of his plan, he desisted, and
seldom called, excepting to leave his name as a visitor of ceremony.
I do not recount these events, these plans for my enthralment, with a
view to convey anything like personal vanity, for I can with truth
affirm that I never thought myself entitled to admiration that could
endanger my security or tempt the libertine to undermine my husband's
honour. But I attribute the snares that were laid for me to three
causes: the first, my youth and inexperience, my girlish appearance and
simplicity of manners; secondly, the expensive style in which Mr.
Robinson lived, though he was not known as a man of independent fortune;
and thirdly, the evident neglect which I experienced from my husband,
whom Lord Lyttelton's society had marked as a man of universal
I was now known by name at every public place in and near the
metropolis. Our circle of acquaintances enlarged daily. My friend Lady
Yea was my constant companion. Mr. Robinson became desperate, from a
thorough conviction that no effort of economy or professional labour
could arrange his shattered finances, the large debt which he owed
previous to his marriage with me having laid the foundation of every
The moment now approached when the arcanum was to be developed, and an
execution on Mr. Robinson's effects, at the suit of an annuitant,
decided the doubts and fears which had long afflicted me. I was in a
great degree prepared for this event by the evident inquietude of my
husband's mind, and his frequent interviews with persons of a mysterious
description. Indeed, this crisis seemed rather consolatory than
appalling, for I hoped and trusted that the time was now arrived when
reason would take place of folly, and experience point out those thorns
which strew the pleasurable paths of dissipation.
At this period, had Mr. Harris generously assisted his son, I am fully
and confidently persuaded that he would have pursued a discreet and
regular line of conduct. His first involvement was the basis of all his
misfortunes. The impossibility of liquidating that debt (the motive for
which it was contracted is to this hour unknown to me) rendered him
desperate. Indeed, how could a young man, well educated, subsist in
such a metropolis without some provision? Mr. Harris was a man of
fortune, and he ought to have known that necessity is the most dangerous
associate of youth; that folly may be reclaimed by kindness, but seldom
fails to be darkened into vice by the severity of unpitying natures.
From Hatton Garden we removed to a house which was lent to us by a
friend at Finchley. Here I hoped at least to remain tranquil till the
perilous moment was passed which was to render me a mother. I here
devoted my time to making my infant's little wardrobe; my finest muslin
dresses I converted into frocks and robes, with my lace I fondly trimmed
them. It was a sweetly pleasing task, and I often smiled when I
reflected that only three years before this period I had dressed a waxen
doll nearly as large as a new-born infant.
Mr. Robinson had much business to transact in London, and I was almost
perpetually alone at Finchley. Of our domestic establishment there was
only one who did not desert us, and he was a negro!--one of that
despised, degraded race, who wear the colour on their features which too
often characterises the hearts of their fair and unfeeling oppressors. I
have found, during my journey through life, that the two male domestics
who were most attached to my interest and most faithful to my fortunes
were both negroes!
My mother now returned from Bristol, and I had the consolation of her
society. I divided my time betwixt reading, writing, and making a little
wardrobe for my expected darling. I little regretted the busy scenes of
life; I sighed not for public attention. I felt by this change of
situation as though a weighty load were taken from my heart, and solaced
my mind in the idea that the worst had happened which could befall us.
Gracious Heaven! How should I have shuddered, had I then contemplated
the dark perspective of my destiny!
Mr. Robinson went almost daily to London, and sometimes my brother
George, who was still a boy, accompanied him upon a little pony. One
day, after returning from one of their rides, my brother informed me
that he had been with Mr. Robinson to Marylebone, and that he had waited
and held Mr. Robinson's horse, while he made a morning visit. I had then
no acquaintance that resided at Marylebone. I questioned my brother as
to the place, and he persisted in his original story. "But," added he,
"if you say anything about it to Mr. Robinson, I never will tell you
where we go in future." I promised not to mention what he had said, and
my mind was deeply engaged in a variety of conjectures.
A few days after, Mr. Robinson made another visit, and my brother was
introduced to the lady. From the manner and conversation of both
parties, even a youth scarcely in his teens could draw conclusions of no
favourable nature. By the side of the chimney hung my watch, which I had
supposed lost in the general wreck of our property. It was enamelled
with musical trophies, and very remarkable for a steel chain of singular
beauty. The moment my brother described it my suspicions were confirmed;
and Mr. Robinson did not even attempt to deny his infidelity.
Back to Full Books