Beaux and Belles of England
Part 2 out of 4
Mr. Robinson, finding his creditors inexorable, and fearing that he
might endanger his personal liberty by remaining near London, informed
me that I must, in a few days, accompany him to Tregunter. I felt a
severe pang in the idea of quitting my adored mother at a moment when I
should stand so much in need of a parent's attentions. My agony was
extreme. I fancied that I never should behold her more; that the
harshness and humiliating taunts of my husband's kindred would send me
prematurely to the grave; that my infant would be left among strangers,
and that my mother would scarcely have fortitude sufficient to survive
me. Then I anticipated the inconvenience of so long a journey, for
Tregunter House was within a few miles of Brecon. I dreaded to encounter
the scornful vulgarity and the keen glances of Miss Betsy and Mrs.
Molly. I considered all these things with horror; but the propriety of
wedded life commanded the sacrifice, and I readily consented to make it.
With tender regret, with agonising presentiments, I took leave of my
mother and my brother. Such a parting would but mock the powers of
language! My delicate situation, my youth, my affection for my best of
mothers, all conspired to augment my sorrow; but a husband's repose, a
husband's liberty were at stake, and my Creator can bear witness that,
had I been blessed with that fidelity and affection which I deserved, my
heart was disposed to the observance of every duty, every claim which
would have embellished domestic propriety.
We set out for Tregunter. On our arrival there, I instantly perceived
that our misfortunes had outstripped our speed. Miss Robinson scarcely
bade us welcome, and Molly was peevish, even to insulting displeasure.
Mr. Harris was from home when we arrived. But he returned shortly after.
His greeting was harsh and unfeeling. "Well! so you have escaped from a
prison, and now you are come here to do penance for your follies? Well!
and what do you want?" I could not reply. I entered the house, and
instantly hastened to my old chamber, where my tears gave relief to that
heart which was almost bursting with agony.
Still Mr. Robinson conjured me to bear his uncle's wayward temper
patiently, I did, though every day I was taunted with idle and inhuman
questions, such as, "How long do you think that I will support you? What
is to become of you in a prison? What business have beggars to marry?"
With many others, equally feeling and high-minded!
The mansion of Tregunter presented but few sources of amusement for the
female mind. Mr. Harris had acquired a considerable fortune in trade,
and, however the art of accumulating wealth had been successfully
practised, the finer pursuits of mental powers had been totally
neglected. Books were unknown at Tregunter, excepting a few magazines or
periodical publications, which at different periods Miss Robinson
borrowed from her juvenile neighbours. There was, however, an old spinet
in one of the parlours. Music had been one of my early delights, and I
sometimes vainly endeavoured to draw a kind of jingling harmony from
this time-shaken and neglected instrument. These attempts, however,
frequently subjected me to insult. "I had better think of getting my
bread; women of no fortune had no right to follow the pursuits of fine
ladies. Tom had better married a good tradesman's daughter than the
child of a ruined merchant who was not capable of earning a living."
Such were the remarks of my amiable and enlightened father-in-law!
One day, I particularly remember, Mr. Harris had invited a large party
to dinner, John and Charles Morgan, Esqrs., members of Parliament, with
an old clergyman of the name of Jones, and several others were present.
I was then within a fortnight of my perilous moment. One of the company
expressed his satisfaction that I was come to give Tregunter a little
stranger; and turning to Mr. Harris, added:
"You have just finished your house in time for a nursery."
"No, no," replied Mr. Harris, laughing, "they came here because prison
doors were open to receive them."
I felt my face redden to scarlet; every person present seemed to
sympathise in my chagrin, and I was near sinking under the table with
confusion. Mr. Robinson's indignation was evident; but it was restrained
by duty as well as by necessity.
The manor-house was not yet finished; and a few days after our arrival
Mr. Harris informed me that he had no accommodation for my approaching
confinement. Where was I to go? was the next question. After many family
consultations, it was decided that I should remove to Trevecca House,
about a mile and a half distant, and there give to this miserable world
my first-born darling.
I removed to Trevecca; it was a spacious mansion at the foot of a
stupendous mountain, which, from its form, was called the Sugar-loaf. A
part of the building was converted into a flannel manufactory, and the
inhabitants were of the Huntingdonian school. Here I enjoyed the sweet
repose of solitude; here I wandered about woods entangled by the wild
luxuriance of nature, or roved upon the mountain's side, while the blue
vapours floated around its summit. Oh, God of Nature! Sovereign of the
universe of wonders! in those interesting moments how fervently did I
How often have I sat at my little parlour window and watched the pale
moonbeams darting amidst the sombre and venerable yew-trees that shed
their solemn shade over the little garden! How often have I strolled
down the woody paths, spangled with the dew of morning, and shaken off
the briery branches that hung about me! How tranquil did I feel, escaped
from kindred tyranny, and how little did I regret the busy scenes of
fashionable folly! Unquestionably the Creator formed me with a strong
propensity to adore the sublime and beautiful of his works! But it has
never been my lot to meet with an associating mind, a congenial spirit,
who could (as it were abstracted from the world) find a universe in the
sacred intercourse of soul, the sublime union of sensibility.
At Trevecca House I was tranquil, if not perfectly happy. I there
avoided the low taunts of uncultivated natures, the insolent vulgarity
of pride, and the overbearing triumphs of a family, whose loftiest
branch was as inferior to my stock as the small weed is beneath the
tallest tree that overshades it. I had formed a union with a family who
had neither sentiment nor sensibility; I was doomed to bear the society
of ignorance and pride; I was treated as though I had been the most
abject of beings, even at a time when my conscious spirit soared as far
above their powers to wound it as the mountain towered over the white
battlements of my then solitary habitation.
After my removal to Trevecca, I seldom saw Miss Robinson or Mrs. Molly;
Mr. Harris never called on me, though I was not more than a mile and a
half from Tregunter. At length the expected, though to me most perilous,
moment arrived, which awoke a new and tender interest in my bosom, which
presented to my fondly beating heart my child,--my Maria. I cannot
describe the sensations of my soul at the moment when I pressed the
little darling to my bosom, my maternal bosom; when I kissed its hands,
its cheeks, its forehead, as it nestled closely to my heart, and seemed
to claim that affection which has never failed to warm it. She was the
most beautiful of infants! I thought myself the happiest of mothers; her
first smile appeared like something celestial,--something ordained to
irradiate my dark and dreary prospect of existence.
Two days after my child was presented to this world of sorrow, my nurse,
Mrs. Jones, a most excellent woman, was earnestly desired by the people
of the manufactory to bring the infant among them; they wished to see
the "young squire's baby, the little heiress to Tregunter." It was in
vain that I dreaded the consequences of the visit, for it was in the
month of October; but Mrs. Jones assured me that infants in that part of
the world were very frequently carried into the open air on the day of
their birth; she also hinted that my refusal would hurt the feelings of
the honest people, and wear the semblance of pride more than of maternal
tenderness. This idea decided my acquiescence; and my little darling,
enveloped in the manufacture of her own romantic birthplace, made her
first visit to her kind but unsophisticated countrywomen.
No sooner did Mrs. Jones enter the circle than she was surrounded by the
gazing throng. The infant was dressed with peculiar neatness, and
nothing mortal could appear more lovely. A thousand and a thousand
blessings were heaped upon the "heiress of Tregunter," for so they
fancifully called her; a thousand times did they declare that the baby
was the very image of her father. Mrs. Jones returned to me; every word
she uttered soothed my heart; a sweet and grateful glow, for the first
time, bespoke the indescribable gratification which a fond parent feels
in hearing the praises of a beloved offspring. Yet this little absence
appeared an age; a variety of fears presented dangers in a variety of
shapes, and the object of all my care, of all my affection, was now
pressed closer to my heart than ever.
Amidst these sweet and never-to-be-forgotten sensations, Mr. Harris
entered my chamber. He abruptly inquired how I found myself, and,
seating himself by the side of my bed, began to converse family affairs.
I was too feeble to say much; and he had not the delicacy to consider
that Mrs. Jones, my nurse, and almost a stranger to me, was a witness to
"Well!" said Mr. Harris, "and what do you mean to do with your child?"
I made no answer.
"I will tell you," added he. "Tie it to your back and work for it."
I shivered with horror.
"Prison doors are open," continued Mr. Harris. "Tom will die in a gaol;
and what is to become of you?"
I remained silent.
Miss Robinson now made her visit. She looked at me without uttering a
syllable; but while she contemplated my infant's features, her innocent
sleeping face, her little dimpled hands folded on her breast, she
murmured, "Poor little wretch! Poor thing! It would be a mercy if it
pleased God to take it!" My agony of mind was scarcely supportable.
About three weeks after this period, letters arrived, informing Mr.
Robinson that his creditors were still inexorable, and that the place of
his concealment was known. He was cautioned not to run the hazard of an
arrest; indeed, he knew that such an event would complete his ruin with
Mr. Harris, from whom he should not receive any assistance. He
communicated this intelligence to me, and at the same time informed me
that he must absolutely depart from Trevecca immediately. I was still
extremely feeble, for my mental sufferings had impaired my corporeal
strength almost as much as the perils I had recently encountered. But
the idea of remaining at Trevecca without my husband was more terrible
than the prospect of annihilation, and I replied, without a hesitating
thought, "I am ready to go with you."
My good nurse, who was a very amiable woman, and under forty years of
age, conjured me to delay my journey. She informed me that it would be
dangerous to undertake it in my then weak state. My husband's liberty
was in danger, and my life appeared of little importance; for even at
that early period of my days I was already weary of existence.
On the succeeding morning we departed. Mrs. Jones insisted on
accompanying me on the first day's journey. Mr. Robinson, my nurse, and
myself occupied a post-chaise; my Maria was placed on a pillow on Mrs.
Jones's lap. The paleness of death overspread my countenance, and the
poor honest people of the mountains and the villages saw us depart with
sorrow, though not without their blessings. Neither Mr. Harris nor the
enlightened females of Tregunter expressed the smallest regret or
solicitude on the occasion. We reached Abergavenny that evening. My
little remaining strength was exhausted, and I could proceed no farther.
However singular these persecutions may appear, Mr. Robinson knows that
they are not in the smallest degree exaggerated.
At Abergavenny I parted from Mrs. Jones, and, having no domestic with
me, was left to take the entire charge of Maria. Reared in the tender
lap of affluence, I had learnt but little of domestic occupation; the
adorning part of education had been lavished, but the useful had never
been bestowed upon a girl who was considered as born to independence.
With these disadvantages, I felt very awkwardly situated, under the
arduous task I had to perform; but necessity soon prevailed, with the
soft voice of maternal affection, and I obeyed her dictates as the
dictates of nature.
Mrs. Jones, whose excellent heart sympathised in all I suffered, would
not have parted from me in so delicate a moment, but she was the widow
of a tradesman at Brecon, and having quitted her home, where she had
left two daughters,--very pretty young women,--to attend me, she was
under the necessity of returning to them. With repeated good wishes, and
some tears of regret flowing from her feeling and gentle heart,
On the following day we proceeded to Monmouth. Some relations of my
mother residing there, particularly my grandmother, I wished to remain
there till my strength was somewhat restored. We were received with
genuine affection; we were caressed with unfeigned hospitality. The good
and venerable object of my visit was delighted to embrace her
great-grandchild, and the family fireside was frequently a scene of calm
and pleasing conversation. How different were these moments from those
which I had passed with the low-minded inhabitants of Tregunter!
My grandmother, though then near seventy years of age, was still a
pleasing woman; she had in her youth been delicately beautiful; and the
neat simplicity of her dress, which was always either brown or black
silk, the piety of her mind, and the mildness of her nature, combined to
render her a most endearing object.
As soon as my strength recovered, I was invited to partake of many
pleasant entertainments. But the most favourite amusement I selected was
that wandering by the river Wye, or of exploring the antique remains of
Monmouth Castle, a part of which reached the garden of my grandmother's
habitation. I also constantly accompanied my amiable and venerable
relative to church; and I have often observed, with a mixture of
delight, and almost of envy, the tranquil resignation which religion
diffused over her mind, even at the very close of human existence. This
excellent woman expired of a gradual decay in the year 1780.
We had resided at Monmouth about a month, when I was invited to a ball.
My spirits and strength had been renovated by the change of scenery, and
I was persuaded to dance. I was at that time particularly fond of the
amusement, and my partial friends flattered me by saying that I measured
the mazy figure like a sylph. I was at that period a nurse; and, during
the evening, Maria was brought to an antechamber to receive the only
support she had ever yet taken. Unconscious of the danger attendant on
such an event, I gave her her accustomed nourishment immediately after
dancing. It was agitated by the violence of exercise and the heat of the
ballroom, and, on my return home, I found my infant in strong
My distraction, my despair, was terrible; my state of mind rendered it
impossible for me to afford any internal nourishment to the child, even
when her little mouth was parched, or the fit in the smallest degree
abated. I was little less than frantic; all the night I sat with her on
my arms; an eminent medical man attended. The convulsions continued, and
my situation was terrible; those who witnessed it cautiously avoided
informing me that the peril of my infant proceeded from my dancing; had
I known it at that period, I really believe I should have lost
In this desperate state, with only short intervals of rest, my darling
continued till the morning. All my friends came to make inquiries, and,
among others, a clergyman who visited at my grandmother's. He saw the
child, as it was thought, expiring; he saw me still sitting where I had
taken my place of despair on the preceding night, fixed in the stupor of
unutterable affliction. He conjured me to let the child be removed. I
was in a raging fever; the effects of not having nourished my child
during twelve hours began to endanger my own existence, and I looked
forward to my dissolution as the happiest event that could befall me.
Still Maria lay upon my lap, and still I resisted every attempt that was
made to remove her. Just at this period the clergyman recollected that
he had seen one of his children relieved from convulsions by a simple
experiment, and he requested my permission to try its effects. The child
was given over by my medical attendant, and I replied, "However
desperate the remedy, I conjure you to administer it."
He now mixed a tablespoonful of spirit of aniseed with a small quantity
of spermaceti, and gave it to my infant. In a few minutes the convulsive
spasms abated, and in less than an hour she sunk into a sweet and
tranquil slumber. What I felt may be pictured to a fond mother's fancy,
but my pen would fail in attempting to describe it.
Some circumstances now occurred which gave Mr. Robinson reason to
believe that he was not safe at Monmouth, and we prepared for a removal
to some other quarter. The day was fixed for commencing our journey,
when an execution arrived for a considerable sum, and Mr. Robinson was
no longer at liberty to travel. My alarm was infinite; the sum was too
large for the possibility of liquidation, and, knowing Mr. Robinson's
desperate fortune, I thought it unjust as well as ungenerous to attempt
the borrowing of it. Fortunately the sheriff for the county was a friend
of the family. He was a gentlemanly and amiable man, and offered--to
avoid any unpleasant dilemma--to accompany us to London. We set out the
same evening, and never slept till we arrived in the metropolis.
I immediately hastened to my mother, who resided in Buckingham Street,
York Buildings, now the Adelphi. Her joy was boundless. She kissed me a
thousand times, she kissed my beautiful infant; while Mr. Robinson
employed the day in accommodating the business which had brought him to
London. He had been arrested by a friend, with a hope that, so near a
father's habitation, such a sum would have been paid; at least, such is
the reason assigned for such unfriendly conduct!
The matter was, however, arranged on an explanation taking place, and
Mr. Robinson engaged a lodging near Berners Street, whither we repaired
on the same evening. My little collection of poems, which I had arranged
for publication, and which had been ready ever since my marriage, I now
determined to print immediately. They were indeed trifles, very trifles;
I have since perused them with a blush of self-reproof, and wondered how
I could venture on presenting them to the public. I trust that there is
not a copy remaining, excepting that which my dear, partial mother
fondly preserved, and which is now in my possession.
I had been in town a few days, when some female friends persuaded me to
accompany a party which they had formed to Ranelagh. Mr. Robinson
declined going, but after much entreaty I consented. I had now been
married near two years; my person was considerably improved; I was grown
taller than when I became Mr. Robinson's wife, and I had now more the
manners of a woman of the world than those of girlish simplicity, which
had hitherto characterised me, though I had been some months absent from
London, and a part of them rusticated among mountains. The dress which I
wore was plain and simple; it was composed of pale lilac lustring. My
head had a wreath of white flowers; I was complimented on my looks by
the whole party, and with little relish for public amusements, and a
heart throbbing with domestic solicitude, I accompanied the party
The first person I saw, on entering the rotunda, was George Robert
Fitzgerald. He started as if he had received a shock of electricity. I
turned my head away, and would have avoided him; but he instantly
quitted two friends with whom he was walking, and presented himself to
me. He expressed great pleasure at seeing me once more in "the world;"
was surprised at finding me for the first time in public without my
husband, and requested permission to pay his respects to me at my house.
I replied that I was "on a visit to some friends." He bowed, and
rejoined his companions.
During the evening, however, he never ceased to follow me. We quitted
the rotunda early; and, as we were waiting for the carriage, I again
observed Fitzgerald in the antechamber. We passed the vestibule, and at
the door his own carriage was waiting.
On the following noon I was correcting a proof-sheet of my volume, when
the servant abruptly announced Mr. Fitzgerald!
I was somewhat disconcerted by this unexpected visit, and received Mr.
Fitzgerald with a cold and embarrassed mien, which evidently mortified
him; I also felt a little worldly vanity in the moment of surprise, for
my morning dress was more calculated to display maternal assiduity than
elegant and tasteful _déshabille_. In a small basket near my chair slept
my little Maria; my table was spread with papers, and everything around
me presented the mixed confusion of a study and a nursery.
From the period of Mrs. Jones's quitting me at Abergavenny, I had made
it an invariable rule always to dress and undress my infant. I never
suffered it to be placed in a cradle, or to be fed out of my presence. A
basket of an oblong shape with four handles (with a pillow and a small
bolster) was her bed by day; at night she slept with me. I had too often
heard of the neglect which servants show to young children, and I
resolved never to expose an infant of mine either to their ignorance or
inattention. It was amidst the duties of a parent, that the gay, the
high-fashioned Fitzgerald now found me; and whenever either business,
or, very rarely, public amusements drew me from the occupation, my
mother never failed to be my substitute.
Mr. Fitzgerald said a thousand civil things; but that which charmed me,
was the admiration of my child. He declared that he had never seen so
young a mother, or so beautiful an infant. For the first remark I
sighed, but the last delighted my bosom; she indeed was one of the
prettiest little mortals that ever the sun shone upon.
The nest subject was praise of my poetry. I smile while I recollect how
far the effrontery of flattery has power to belie the judgment. Mr.
Fitzgerald took up the proof-sheet and read one of the pastorals. I
inquired by what means he had discovered my place of residence; he
informed me that his carriage had followed me home on the preceding
night. He now took his leave.
On the following evening he made us another visit; I say us, because Mr.
Robinson was at home. Mr. Fitzgerald drank tea with us, and proposed
making a party on the next day to dine at Richmond. To this I gave a
decided negative; alleging that my duties toward my child prevented the
possibility of passing a day absent from her.
On the Wednesday following, Mr. Robinson accompanied me again to
Ranelagh. There we met Lord Northington, Lord Lyttelton, Captain
O'Bryan, Captain Ayscough, Mr. Andrews, and several others, who all, in
the course of the evening, evinced their attentions. But as Mr.
Robinson's deranged state of affairs did not admit of our receiving
parties at home, I made my excuses by saying that we were at a friend's
house and not yet established in a town residence. Lord Lyttelton was
particularly importunate; but he received the same answer which I had
given to every other inquirer.
A short time after, Mr. Robinson was arrested. Now came my hour of
trial. He was conveyed to the house of a sheriff's officer, and in a few
days detainers were lodged against him to the amount of twelve hundred
pounds, chiefly the arrears of annuities and other demands from Jew
creditors; for I can proudly and with truth declare that he did not at
that time, or at any period since, owe fifty pounds for me, or to any
tradesmen on my account whatever.
Mr. Robinson knew that it would be useless to ask Mr. Harris's
assistance; indeed, his mind was too much depressed to make an exertion
for the arrangement of his affairs. He was, therefore, after waiting
three weeks in the custody of a sheriff's officer (during which time I
had never left him for a single hour, day or night), obliged to submit
to the necessity of becoming a captive.
For myself I cared but little; all my anxiety was for Mr. Robinson's
repose and the health of my child. The apartment which we obtained was
in the upper part of the building, overlooking a racket-ground. Mr.
Robinson was expert in all exercises of strength or activity, and he
found that amusement daily which I could not partake of. I had other
occupations of a more interesting nature,--the care of a beloved and
still helpless daughter.
During nine months and three weeks, never once did I pass the threshold
of our dreary habitation; though every allurement was offered, every
effort was made, to draw me from my scene of domestic attachment.
Numberless messages and letters from Lords Northington and Lyttelton,
from Mr. Fitzgerald and many others, were conveyed to me. But they all,
excepting Lord Northington's, were dictated in the language of
gallantry, were replete with professions of love, and wishes to release
me from my unpleasant and humiliating situation,--and were therefore
treated with contempt, scorn, and indignation. For God can bear witness
that, at that period, my mind had never entertained a thought of
violating those vows which I had made to my husband at the altar.
What I suffered during this tedious captivity! My little volume of poems
sold but indifferently; my health was considerably impaired; and the
trifling income which Mr. Robinson received from his father was scarcely
sufficient to support him. I will not enter into a tedious detail of
vulgar sorrows, of vulgar scenes; I seldom quitted my apartment, and
never till the evening, when for air and exercise I walked on the
racket-ground with my husband.
It was during one of these night walks that my little daughter first
blessed my ears with the articulation of words. The circumstance made a
forcible and indelible impression on my mind. It was a clear moonlight
evening; the infant was in the arms of her nursery-maid; she was dancing
her up and down, and was playing with her; her eyes were fixed on the
moon, to which she pointed with her small forefinger. On a sudden a
cloud passed over it, and the child, with a slow falling of her hand,
articulately sighed, "All gone!" This had been a customary expression
with her maid, whenever the infant wanted anything which it was deemed
prudent to withhold or to hide from her. These little nothings will
appear insignificant to the common reader, but to the parent whose heart
is ennobled by sensibility they will become matters of important
interest. I can only add, that I walked till near midnight, watching
every cloud that passed over the moon, and as often, with a rapturous
sensation, hearing my little prattler repeat her observation.
Having much leisure and many melancholy hours, I again turned my
thoughts toward the muses. I chose "Captivity" for the subject of my
pen, and soon composed a quarto poem of some length; it was superior to
my former production, but it was full of defects, replete with weak or
laboured lines. I never now rend my early compositions without a
suffusion on my cheek, which marks my humble opinion of them.
At this period I was informed that the Duchess of Devonshire was the
admirer and patroness of literature. With a mixture of timidity and hope
I sent her Grace a neatly bound volume of my poems, accompanied by a
short letter apologising for their defects, and pleading my age as the
only excuse for their inaccuracy. My brother, who was a charming youth,
was the bearer of my first literary offering at the shrine of nobility.
The duchess admitted him, and with the most generous and amiable
sensibility inquired some particulars respecting my situation, with a
request that on the following day I would make her a visit.
I knew not what to do. Her liberality claimed my compliance; yet, as I
had never, during my husband's long captivity, quitted him for half an
hour, I felt a sort of reluctance that pained the romantic firmness of
my mind, while I meditated what I considered as a breach of my domestic
attachment. However, at the particular and earnest request of Mr.
Robinson, I consented, and accordingly accepted the duchess's
During my seclusion from the world, I had adapted my dress to my
situation. Neatness was at all times my pride; but now plainness was the
conformity to necessity. Simple habiliments became the abode of
adversity; and the plain brown satin gown, which I wore on my first
visit to the Duchess of Devonshire, appeared to me as strange as a
birthday court-suit to a newly married citizen's daughter.
To describe the duchess's look and manner when she entered the back
drawing-room of Devonshire House would be impracticable; mildness and
sensibility beamed in her eyes and irradiated her countenance. She
expressed her surprise at seeing so young a person, who had already
experienced such vicissitude of fortune; she lamented that my destiny
was so little proportioned to what she was pleased to term my desert,
and with a tear of gentle sympathy requested that I would accept a proof
of her good wishes. I had not words to express my feelings, and was
departing, when the duchess requested me to call on her very often, and
to bring my little daughter with me.
I made frequent visits to the amiable duchess, and was at all times
received with the warmest proofs of friendship. My little girl, to whom
I was still a nurse, generally accompanied me, and always experienced
the kindest caresses from my admired patroness, my liberal and
affectionate friend. Frequently the duchess inquired most minutely into
the story of my sorrows, and as often gave me tears of the most
spontaneous sympathy. But such was my destiny, that while I cultivated
the esteem of this best of women, by a conduct which was above the reach
of reprobation, my husband, even though I was the partner of his
captivity, the devoted slave to his necessities, indulged in the lowest
and most degrading intrigues; frequently, during my short absence with
the duchess,--for I never quitted the prison but to obey her
summons,--he was known to admit the most abandoned of their sex, women
whose low, licentious lives were such as to render them the shame and
outcasts of society. These disgraceful meetings were arranged, even
while I was in my own apartment, in a next room, and by the assistance
of an Italian, who was also there a captive. I was apprised of the
proceeding, and I questioned Mr. Robinson upon the subject. He denied
the charge; but I availed myself of an opportunity that offered, and was
convinced that my husband's infidelities were both frequent and
Still I pursued my plan of the most rigid domestic propriety; still I
preserved my faith inviolate, my name unsullied. At times I endured the
most poignant sufferings, from the pain of disappointed hope, and the
pressure of pecuniary distresses.
During my long seclusion from society, for I could not associate with
those whom destiny had placed in a similar predicament, not one of my
female friends even inquired what was become of me. Those who had been
protected and received with the most cordial hospitality by me in my
more happy hours now neglected all the kind condolence of sympathetic
feeling, and shunned both me and my dreary habitation. From that hour I
have never felt the affection for my own sex which perhaps some women
feel; I have never taught my heart to cherish their friendship, or to
depend on their attentions beyond the short perspective of a prosperous
day. Indeed, I have almost uniformly found my own sex my most inveterate
enemies; I have experienced little kindness from them, though my bosom
has often ached with the pang inflicted by their envy, slander, and
The Italian whom I took occasion to mention as the _cicerone_ of my
husband's gallantries was named Albanesi. He was the husband to a
beautiful Roman woman of that name, who had some years before attracted
considerable attention in the hemisphere of gallantry, where she had
shone as a brilliant constellation. She had formerly been the mistress
of a Prince de Courland, and afterward of the Covet de Belgeioso, the
imperial ambassador; but at the period in which I first saw her she was,
I believe, devoted to a life of unrestrained impropriety. She frequently
came to visit her husband, who had held a situation an the opera-house
during the management of Mr. Hobart, now Earl of Buckinghamshire. I
remember she was one of the handsomest women I had ever seen, and that
her dress was the most extravagantly splendid. Satins, richly
embroidered, or trimmed with point lace, were her daily habiliments; and
her personal attractions were considerably augmented by the peculiar
dignity and grace with which she walked: in a few words, this woman was
a striking sample of beauty and of profligacy.
Whenever she came to visit her _sposo_, she never failed to obtrude
herself on my seclusion. Mr. Rabinson rather encouraged than shunned her
visits, and I was obliged to receive the beautiful Angelina (for such
was her Christian name), however repugnant such an associate was to my
feelings. At every interview she took occasion to ridicule my romantic
domestic attachment; laughed at my folly in wasting my youth (for I was
not then eighteen years of age) in such a disgraceful obscurity; and
pictured, in all the glow of fanciful scenery, the splendid life into
which I might enter, if I would but know my own power, and break the
fetters of matrimonial restriction. She once told me that she had
mentioned to the Earl of Pembroke that there was a young married lady in
the most humiliating captivity with her husband; she said that she had
described my person, and that Lord Pembroke was ready to offer me
This proposal fully proclaimed the meaning of Signora Albanesi's visits,
and I resolved in future to avoid all conversation with her. She was at
that time between thirty and forty years of age, and her day of
splendour was hourly sinking to the obscurity of neglect; she was
nevertheless still reluctant to resign the dazzling meteors which
fashion had scattered in her way, and, having sacrificed every personal
feeling for the gratification of her vanity, she now sought to build a
gaudy, transient fabric on the destruction of another. In addition to
her persuasions, her husband, Angelo Albanesi, constantly made the world
of gallantry the subject of his conversation. Whole evenings has he
sitten in our apartment, telling long stories of intrigue, praising the
liberality of one nobleman, the romantic chivalry of another, the
sacrifice which a third had made to an adored object, and the splendid
income which a fourth would bestow on any young lady of education and
mental endowments who would accept his protection, and be the partner of
his fortune. I always smiled at Albanesi's innuendoes; and I still found
some amusement in his society, when he thought fit to divest his
conversation of his favourite topic. This Italian, though neither young
nor even tolerably well-looking, was uncommonly entertaining; he could
sing, likewise imitate various musical instruments, was an excellent
buffoon, and a very neat engraver; some of his plates were executed
under the inspection of Sherwin, and he was considered as a very
Were I to describe one-half of what I suffered during fifteen months'
captivity, the world would consider it as the invention of a novel. But
Mr. Robinson knows what I endured, and how patiently, how correctly I
suited my mind to the strict propriety of wedded life; he knows that my
duty as a wife was exemplary, my chastity inviolate; he knows that
neither poverty nor obscurity, neither the tauntings of the world, nor
his neglect, could tempt me even to the smallest error; he knows that I
bore my afflicting humiliations with a cheerful, uncomplaining spirit;
that I toiled honourably for his comfort; and that my attentions were
exclusively dedicated to him and to my infant.
The period now arrived when Mr. Robinson, by setting aside some debts,
and by giving fresh bonds and fresh securities for others, once more
obtained his liberty. I immediately conveyed the intelligence to my
lovely Duchess of Devonshire, and she wrote me a letter of kind
congratulation; she was then at Chatsworth.
The first moments of emancipation were delightful to the senses. I felt
as though I had been newly born; I longed to see all my old and intimate
associates, and almost forgot that they had so unworthily neglected me.
Everything that had passed now appeared like a melancholy vision. The
gloom had dissolved, and a new perspective seemed to brighten before me.
The first place of public entertainment I went to was Vauxhall. I had
frequently found occasion to observe a mournful contrast when I had
quitted the elegant apartment of Devonshire House, to enter the dark
galleries of a prison; but the sensation which I felt on hearing the
music, and beholding the gay throng, during this first visit in public
after so long a seclusion, was indescribable. During the evening we met
many old acquaintances,--some who pretended ignorance of our past
embarrassments, and others who joined us with the ease of fashionable
apathy; among these was Lord Lyttelton, who insolently remarked, "that,
notwithstanding all that had passed, I was handsomer than ever." I made
no reply but by a look of scornful indignation, which silenced the bold,
the unfeeling commentator, and convinced him that, though fallen in
fortune; I was still high in pride.
Mr. Robinson having once more obtained his liberty, how were we to
subsist honourably and above reproach? He applied to his father, but
every aid was refused; he could not follow his profession, because he
had not completed his articles of clerkship. I resolved on turning my
thoughts toward literary labour, and projected a variety of works, by
which I hoped to obtain at least a decent independence. Alas! how little
did I then know either the fatigue or the hazard of mental occupations!
How little did I foresee that the day would come when my health would be
impaired, my thoughts perpetually employed, in so destructive a pursuit!
At the moment that I write this page, I feel in every fibre of my brain
the fatal conviction that it is a destroying labour.
[Illustration: William Brereton in the Character of Douglas From a
painting by N. Hone]
It was at this moment of anxiety, of hope, of fear, that my thoughts
once more were turned to a dramatic life; and, walking with my husband
in St. James's Park, late in the autumn, we were accosted by Mr.
Brereton, of Drury Lane Theatre. I had not seen him during the last two
years, and he seemed rejoiced in having met us. At that period we lodged
at Lyne's, the confectioner, in Old Bond Street. Mr. Brereton went home
and dined with us; and after dinner the conversation turned on my
partiality to the stage, which he earnestly recommended as a scene of
great promise to what he termed my promising talents. The idea rushed
like electricity through my brain. I asked Mr. Robinson's opinion, and
he now readily consented to my making the trial. He had repeatedly
written to his father, requesting even the smallest aid toward our
support until he could embark in his profession; but every letter
remained unanswered, and we had no hope but in our own mental exertions.
Some time after this period, we removed to a more quiet situation, and
occupied a very neat and comfortable suite of apartments in Newman
Street. I was then some months advanced in a state of domestic
solicitude, and my health seemed in a precarious state, owing to my
having too long devoted myself to the duties of a mother in nursing my
eldest daughter Maria. It was in this lodging that, one morning, wholly
unexpectedly, Mr. Brereton made us a second visit, bringing with him a
friend, whom he introduced on entering the drawing-room. This stranger
was Mr. Sheridan.
I was overwhelmed with confusion. I know not why, but I felt a sense of
mortification when I observed that my appearance was carelessly
_déshabillé_, and my mind as little prepared for what I guessed to be
the motive of his visit. I, however, soon recovered my recollection, and
the theatre was consequently the topic of discourse.
At Mr. Sheridan's earnest entreaties, I recited some passages from
Shakespeare. I was alarmed and timid; but the gentleness of his manners,
and the impressive encouragement he gave me, dissipated my fears and
tempted me to go on.
Mr. Sheridan had then recently purchased a share of Drury Lane Theatre,
in conjunction with Mr. Lacey and Doctor Ford; he was already celebrated
as the author of "The Rivals" and "The Duenna," and his mind was
evidently portrayed in his manners, which were strikingly and
The encouragement which I received in this essay, and the praises which
Mr. Sheridan lavishly bestowed, determined me to make a public trial of
my talents; and several visits, which were rapidly repeated by Mr.
Sheridan, at length produced an arrangement for that period. My
intention was intimated to Mr. Garrick, who, though he had for some
seasons retired from the stage, kindly promised protection, and as
kindly undertook to be my tutor.
The only objection which I felt to the idea of appearing on the stage
was my then increasing state of domestic solicitude. I was, at the
period when Mr. Sheridan was first presented to me, some months advanced
in that situation which afterward, by the birth of Sophia, made me a
second time a mother. Yet such was my imprudent fondness for Maria, that
I was still a nurse; and my constitution was very considerably impaired
by the effects of these combined circumstances.
An appointment was made in the greenroom of Drury Lane Theatre. Mr.
Garrick, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Brereton, and my husband were present; I
there recited the principal scenes of Juliet (Mr. Brereton repeating
those of Romeo), and Mr. Garrick, without hesitation, fixed on that
character as the trial of my debut.
It is impossible to describe the various emotions of hope and fear that
possessed my mind when the important day was announced in the playbills.
I wrote to the Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth, informing her of my
purposed trial, and received a kind letter of approbation, sanctioning
my plan and wishing me success. Every longing of my heart seemed now to
be completely gratified; and, with zeal bordering on delight, I prepared
for my approaching effort.
Mr. Garrick had been indefatigable at the rehearsals, frequently going
through the whole character of Romeo himself until he was completely
exhausted with the fatigue of recitation. This was only a short period
before the death of that distinguished actor.
The theatre was crowded with fashionable spectators; the greenroom and
orchestra (where Mr. Garrick sat during the night) were thronged with
critics. My dress was a pale pink satin, trimmed with crape, richly
spangled with silver; my head was ornamented with white feathers, and my
monumental suit, for the last scene, was white satin, and completely
plain, excepting that I wore a veil of the most transparent gauze, which
fell quite to my feet from the back of my head, and a string of beads
around my waist, to which was suspended a cross appropriately fashioned.
When I approached the side wing, my heart throbbed convulsively; I then
began to fear that my resolution would fail, and I leaned upon the
nurse's arm, almost fainting. Mr. Sheridan and several other friends
encouraged me to proceed; and at length, with trembling limbs and
fearful apprehension, I approached the audience.
The thundering applause that greeted me nearly overpowered all my
faculties. I stood mute and bending with alarm, which did not subside
till I had feebly articulated the few sentences of the first short
scene, during the whole of which I had never once ventured to look at
On my return to the greenroom I was again encouraged, as far as my looks
were deemed deserving of approbation; for of my powers nothing yet could
be known, my fears having as it were palsied both my voice and action.
The second scene being the masquerade, I had time to collect myself. I
never shall forget the sensation which rushed through my bosom when I
first looked toward the pit. I beheld a gradual ascent of heads. All
eyes were fixed upon me, and the sensation they conveyed was awfully
impressive; but the keen, the penetrating eyes of Mr. Garrick, darting
their lustre from the centre of the orchestra, were, beyond all others,
the objects most conspicuous.
As I acquired courage, I found the applause augment; and the night was
concluded with peals of clamorous approbation. I was complimented on all
sides; but the praise of one object, whom most I wished to please, was
flattering even to the extent of human vanity. I then experienced, for
the first time in my life, a gratification which language could not
utter. I heard one of the most fascinating men, and the most
distinguished geniuses of the age, honour me with partial approbation. A
new sensation seemed to awake in my bosom; I felt that emulation which
the soul delights to encourage, where the attainment of fame will be
pleasing to the esteemed object. I had till that period known no impulse
beyond that of friendship; I had been an example of conjugal fidelity;
but I had never known the perils to which the feeling heart is subjected
in a union of regard wholly uninfluenced by the affections of the soul.
The second character which I played was Amanda, in "A Trip to
Scarborough." The play was altered from Vanbrugh's "Relapse;" and
the audience, supposing it was a new piece, on finding themselves
deceived, expressed a considerable degree of disapprobation. I was
terrified beyond imagination when Mrs. Yates, no longer able to bear the
hissing of the audience, quitted the scene, and left me alone to
encounter the critic tempest. I stood for some moments as though I had
been petrified. Mr. Sheridan, from the side wing, desired me not to quit
the boards; the late Duke of Cumberland, from the stage-box, bade me
take courage: "It is not you, but the play, they hiss," said his Royal
Highness. I curtseyed; and that curtsey seemed to electrify the whole
house, for a thundering appeal of encouraging applause followed. The
comedy was suffered to go on, and is to this hour a stock play at Drury
The third character I played was Statira, in "Alexander the Great." Mr.
Lacey, then one of the proprietors of Drury Lane Theatre, was the hero
of the night, and the part of Roxana was performed by Mrs. Melmoth.
Again I was received with an _éclat_ that gratified my vanity. My dress
was white and blue, made after the Persian costume; and though it was
then singular on the stage, I wore neither a hoop nor powder; my feet
were bound by sandals richly ornamented, and the whole dress was
picturesque and characteristic.
Though I was always received with the most flattering approbation, the
characters in which I was most popular were Ophelia, Juliet, and
Rosalind. Palmira was also one of my most approved representations. The
last character which I played was Sir Harry Revel, in Lady Craven's
comedy of "The Miniature Picture;" and the epilogue song in "The Irish
Widow" was my last farewell to the labour of my profession.
Mr. Sheridan now informed me he wished that I would accustom myself to
appear in comedy, because tragedy seemed evidently, as well as my
_forte_, to be my preference. At the same time he acquainted me that he
wished me to perform a part in "The School for Scandal." I was now so
unshaped by my increasing size that I made my excuses, informing Mr.
Sheridan that probably I should be confined to my chamber at the period
when his since celebrated play would first make its appearance. He
accepted the apology, and in a short time I gave to the world my second
child, Sophia. I now resided in Southampton Street, Covent Garden.
Previous to this event I had my benefit night, on which I performed the
part of Fanny, in "The Clandestine Marriage." Mr. King, the Lord Ogleby;
Miss Pope, Miss Sterling; and Mrs. Heidelberg, Mrs. Hopkins.
Mr. Sheridan's attentions to me were unremitting. He took pleasure in
promoting my consequence at the theatre; he praised my talents, and he
interested himself in my domestic comforts. I was engaged previous to my
début, and I received what at that time was considered as a handsome
salary. My benefit was flatteringly attended. The boxes were filled with
persons of the very highest rank and fashion, and I looked forward with
delight both to celebrity and to fortune.
At the end of six weeks I lost my infant. She expired in my arms in
convulsions, and my distress was indescribable. On the day of its
dissolution Mr. Sheridan called on me; the little sufferer was on my
lap, and I was watching it with agonising anxiety. Five months had then
elapsed since Mr. Sheridan was first introduced to me; and though,
during that period, I had seen many proofs of his exquisite sensibility,
I never had witnessed one which so strongly impressed my mind his
countenance on entering my apartment. Probably he has forgotten the
feeling of the moment, but its impression will by me be remembered
I had not power to speak. All he uttered was, "Beautiful little
creature!" at the same time looking on my infant, and sighing with a
degree of sympathetic sorrow which penetrated my soul. Had I ever heard
such a sigh from a husband's bosom? Alas! I never knew the sweet,
soothing solace of wedded sympathy; I never was beloved by him whom
destiny allotted to be the legal ruler of my actions. I do not condemn
Mr. Robinson; I but too well know that we cannot command our affections.
I only lament that he did not observe some decency in his infidelities;
and that while he gratified his own caprice, he forgot how much he
exposed his wife to the most degrading mortifications.
The death of Sophia so deeply affected my spirits that I was rendered
totally incapable of appearing again that season. I therefore obtained
Mr. Sheridan's permission to visit Bath for the recovery of my repose.
From Bath I went to Bristol--to Bristol! Why does my pen seem suddenly
arrested while I write the word? I know not why, but an undefinable
melancholy always follows the idea of my native birthplace. I instantly
behold the Gothic structure, the lonely cloisters, the lofty aisles, of
the antique minster,--for, within a few short paces of its wall, this
breast, which has never known one year of happiness, first palpitated on
inhaling the air of this bad world! Is it within its consecrated
precincts that this heart shall shortly moulder? Heaven only knows, and
to its will I bow implicitly.
I transcribe this passage on the 29th of March, 1800. I feel my health
decaying, my spirit broken. I look back without regret that so many of
my days are numbered; and, were it in my power to choose, I would not
wish to measure them again. But whither am I wandering? I will resume my
Still restless, still perplexed with painful solicitudes, I returned to
London. I had not then, by many months, completed my nineteenth year. On
my arrival I took lodgings in Leicester Square. Mr. Sheridan came to see
me on my return to town, and communicated the melancholy fate of Mr.
Thomas Linley, the late brother of Mrs. Sheridan,--he was
unfortunately drowned at the Duke of Ancaster's. In a few days after,
Mr. Sheridan again made me a visit, with a proposal for an engagement to
play during the summer at Mr. Colman's theatre in the Haymarket. I
had refused several offers from provincial managers, and felt an almost
insurmountable aversion to the idea of strolling. Mr. Sheridan
nevertheless strongly recommended me to the acceptance of Mr. Colman's
offer; and I at last agreed to it, upon condition that the characters I
should be expected to perform were selected and limited. To this Mr.
Colman readily consented.
The first part which was placed in the list was Nancy Lovel, in the
comedy of "The Suicide." I received the written character, and waited
the rehearsal; but my astonishment was infinite when I saw the name of
Miss Farren announced in the bills. I wrote a letter to Mr. Colman,
requesting an explanation. He replied that he had promised the part to
Miss Farren, who had then performed one or two seasons at the Haymarket
Theatre. I felt myself insulted. I insisted on Mr. Colman fulfilling his
engagement, or on giving me liberty to quit London: the latter he
refused. I demanded to perform the part of Nancy Lovel. Mr. Colman was
too partial to Miss Farren to hazard offending her. I refused to play
till I had this first character, as by agreement, restored to me, and
the summer passed without my once performing, though my salary was paid
weekly and regularly.
During the following winter I performed, with increasing approbation,
the following characters:
Ophelia, in "Hamlet."
Viola, in "Twelfth Night."
Jacintha, in "The Suspicious Husband."
Fidelia, in "The Plain Dealer."
Rosalind, in "As You Like It."
Oriana, in "The Inconstant."
Octavia, in "All for Love."
Perdita, in "The Winter's Tale."
Palmira, in "Mahomet."
Cordelia, in "King Lear."
Alinda, in "The Law of Lombardy."
The Irish Widow.
Araminta, in "The Old Bachelor."
Sir Harry Revel, in "The Miniature Picture."
Emily, in "The Runaway."
Miss Richley, in "The Discovery."
Statira, in "Alexander the Great."
Juliet, in "Romeo and Juliet."
Amanda, in "The Trip to Scarborough."
Lady Anne, in "Richard the Third."
Imogen, in "Cymbeline."
Lady Macbeth, in "Macbeth," etc.
It was now that I began to know the perils attendant on a dramatic life.
It was at this period that the most alluring temptations were held out
to alienate me from the paths of domestic quiet,--domestic happiness I
cannot say, for it never was my destiny to know it. But I had still the
consolation of an unsullied name. I had the highest female patronage, a
circle of the most respectable and partial friends.
During this period I was daily visited by my best of mothers. My
youngest brother had, the preceding winter, departed for Leghorn, where
my eldest had been many years established as a merchant of the first
Were I to mention the names of those who held forth the temptations of
fortune at this moment of public peril, I might create some reproaches
in many families of the fashionable world. Among others who offered most
liberally to purchase my indiscretion was the late Duke of Rutland; a
settlement of six hundred pounds per annum was proposed as the means of
estranging me entirely from my husband. I refused the offer. I wished to
remain, in the eyes of the public, deserving of its patronage. I shall
not enter into a minute detail of temptations which assailed my
The flattering and zealous attentions which Mr. Sheridan evinced were
strikingly contrasting with the marked and increasing neglect of my
husband. I now found that he supported two women, in one house, in
Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. The one was a figure-dancer in Drury Lane
Theatre; the other, a woman of professed libertinism. With these he
passed all his hours that he could steal from me; and I found that my
salary was at times inadequate to the expenses which were incurred by an
enlarged circle of new acquaintance, which Mr. Robinson had formed since
my appearance in the dramatic scene. Added to this, the bond creditors
became so clamorous, that the whole of my benefits were appropriated to
their demands; and on the second year after my appearance at Drury Lane
Theatre, Mr. Robinson once more persuaded me to make a visit at
I was now received with more civility, and more warmly welcomed, than I
had been on any former arrival. Though the assumed sanctity of Miss
Robinson's manners condemned a dramatic life, the labour was deemed
profitable, and the supposed immorality was consequently tolerated!
However repugnant to my feelings this visit was, still I hoped that it
would promote my husband's interest, and confirm his reconciliation to
his father; I therefore resolved on undertaking it. I now felt that I
could support myself honourably; and the consciousness of independence
is the only true felicity in this world of humiliations.
Mr. Harris was now established in Tregunter House, and several parties
were formed, both at home and abroad, for my amusement. I was consulted
as the very oracle of fashions; I was gazed at and examined with the
most inquisitive curiosity. Mrs. Robinson, the promising young actress,
was a very different personage from Mrs. Robinson who had been
overwhelmed with sorrows, and came to ask an asylum under the roof of
vulgar ostentation. I remained only a fortnight in Wales, and then
returned to London, to prepare for the opening of the theatre.
We stopped at Bath on our way to town, where Mr. Robinson met with Mr.
George Brereton, with whom, at Newmarket, he had some time before become
acquainted. Mr. Brereton was a man of fortune, and married to his
beautiful cousin, the daughter of Major Brereton, then master of the
ceremonies at Bath. At a former period Mr. Robinson had owed a sum of
money to Mr. George Brereton, for which he had given a promissory note.
On our arrival at Bath we received a visit from this creditor, who
assured Mr. Robinson that he was in no haste for the payment of his
note, and at the same time very earnestly pressed us to remain a few
days in that fashionable city. We were in no hurry to return to London,
having still more than three weeks' holidays. We resided at the "Three
Tuns," one of the best inns, and Mr. Brereton was on all occasions
The motive of this assiduity was at length revealed to me, by a violent
and fervent declaration of love, which astonished and perplexed me. I
knew that Mr. Brereton was of a most impetuous temper; that he had
fought many duels; that he was capable of any outrage; and that he had
my husband completely in his power. Every advance which he had the
temerity to make was by me rejected with indignation. I had not
resolution to inform Mr. Robinson of his danger, and I thought that the
only chance of escaping it was to set out immediately for Bristol, where
I wished to pass a few days, previous to my return to the metropolis.
On the following morning, as we were quitting the inn in Temple Street,
to visit Clifton, Mr. Robinson was arrested at the suit of Mr. George
Brereton, who waited himself in an upper room in order to see the writ
executed. I forget the exact sum for which Mr. Robinson had given his
promissory note, but I well remember that it was in magnitude beyond his
power to pay. Our consternation was indescribable.
In a few minutes after, I was informed that a lady wished to speak with
me. Concluding that it was some old acquaintance, and happy to feel that
in this perplexing dilemma I had still a friend to speak to, I followed
the waiter into another room. Mr. Robinson was detained by the
On entering the apartment, I beheld Mr. Brereton.
"Well, madam," said he, with a sarcastic smile, "you have involved your
husband in a pretty embarrassment! Had you not been severe toward me,
not only this paltry debt would have been cancelled, but any sum that I
could command would have been at his service. He has now either to pay
me, to fight me, or to go to a prison; and all because you treat me with
such unexampled rigour."
I entreated him to reflect before he drove me to distraction.
"I have reflected," said he, "and I find that you possess the power to
do with me what you will. Promise to return to Bath--to behave more
kindly--and I will this moment discharge your husband."
I burst into tears.
"You cannot be so inhuman as to propose such terms!" said I.
"The inhumanity is on your side," answered Mr. Brereton. "But I have no
time to lose; I must return to Bath; my wife is dangerously ill; and I
do not wish to have my name exposed in a business of this nature."
"Then for Heaven's sake release my husband!" said I. Mr. Brereton smiled
as he rang the bell, and ordered the waiter to look for his carriage. I
now lost all command of myself, and, with the most severe invective,
condemned the infamy of his conduct. "I will return to Bath," said I;
"but it shall be to expose your dishonourable, your barbarous
machinations. I will inform that lovely wife how treacherously you have
acted. I will proclaim to the world that the common arts of seduction
are not sufficiently depraved for the mind of a libertine and a
I uttered these words in so loud a tone of voice that he changed colour,
and desired me to be discreet and patient.
"Never, while you insult me, and hold my husband in your power," said I.
"You have carried outrage almost to its fullest extent; you have
awakened all the pride and all the resentment of my soul, and I will
proceed as I think proper."
He now endeavoured to soothe me. He assured me that he was actuated by a
sincere regard for me; and that, knowing how little my husband valued
me, he thought it would be an act of kindness to estrange me from him.
"His neglect of you will justify any step you may take," added he; "and
it is a matter of universal astonishment that you, who upon other
occasions can act with such becoming spirit, should tamely continue to
bear such infidelities from a husband." I shuddered; for this plea had,
in many instances, been urged as an excuse for libertine advances; and
the indifference with which I was treated was, in the theatre, and in
all my circle of friends, a subject of conversation.
Distressed beyond the power of utterance at this new humiliation, I
paced the room with agonising inquietude.
"How little does such a husband deserve such a wife!" continued Mr.
Brereton; "how tasteless must he be, to leave such a woman for the very
lowest and most degraded of the sex! Quit him, and fly with me. I am
ready to make any sacrifice you demand. Shall I propose to Mr. Robinson
to let you go? Shall I offer him his liberty on condition that he allows
you to separate yourself from him? By his conduct he proves that he does
not love you; why then labour to support him?"
I was almost frantic.
"Here, madam," continued Mr. Brereton, after pausing four or five
minutes, "here is your husband's release." So saying, he threw a written
paper on the table. "Now," added he, "I rely on your generosity."
I trembled, and was incapable of speaking. Mr. Brereton conjured me to
compose my spirits, and to conceal my distress from the people of the
inn. "I will return to Bath," said he. "I shall there expect to see
you." He now quitted the room. I saw him get into his chaise and drive
from the inn door. I then hastened to my husband with the discharge; and
all expenses of the arrest being shortly after settled, we set out
Mr. Robinson scarcely inquired what had passed; but I assured him that
my persuasions had produced so sudden a change in Mr. Brereton's
conduct. I said that I hoped he would never again place his freedom in
the hands of a gamester, or his wife's repose in the power of a
libertine. He seemed insensible of the peril attending both the one and
Expecting letters by the post, we waited the following day, which was
Sunday, at Bath; though, in order to avoid Mr. Brereton, we removed to
the White Lion Inn. But what was my astonishment, in the afternoon,
when, standing at the window, I saw Mr. George Brereton walking on the
opposite side of the way, with his wife and her no less lovely sister! I
now found that the story of her dangerous illness was untrue, and I
flattered myself that I was not seen before I retired from the window.
We now sat down to dinner, and in a few minutes Mr. George Brereton was
announced by the waiter. He coldly bowed to me, and instantly made a
thousand apologies to Mr. Robinson; declared that he had paid the note
away; that he was menaced for the money; and that he came to Bristol,
though too late, to prevent the arrest which had happened. Mr. Robinson
skeptically replied that it was now of little importance; and Mr.
Brereton took his leave, saying that he should have the honour of seeing
us again in the evening. We did not wait for his company, but
immediately after dinner set out for London.
On my arrival in town I saw Mr. Sheridan, whose manner had lost nothing
of its interesting attention. He continued to visit me very frequently,
and always gave me the most friendly counsel. He knew that I was not
properly protected by Mr. Robinson, but he was too generous to build his
gratification on the detraction of another. The happiest moments I then
knew were passed in the society of this distinguished being. He saw me
ill-bestowed upon a man who neither loved nor valued me; he lamented my
destiny, but with such delicate propriety that it consoled while it
revealed to me the unhappiness of my situation. On my return to town the
Duke of Rutland renewed his solicitations. I also received the most
unbounded professions of esteem and admiration from several other
persons. Among the list, I was addressed with proposals of libertine
nature by a royal duke, a lofty marquis, and a city merchant of
considerable fortune, conveyed through the medium of milliners,
mantua-makers, etc. Just at this period my eldest brother visited
England; but such was his unconquerable aversion to my profession as an
actress, that he only once, during a residence of some months in London,
attempted to see me perform. He then only attempted it; for, on my
advancing on the boards, he started from his seat in the stage-box, and
instantly quitted the theatre. My dear mother had no less a dislike to
the pursuit; she never beheld me on the stage but with a painful regret.
Fortunately, my father remained some years out of England, so that he
never saw me in my professional character.
My popularity increasing every night that I appeared, my prospects, both
of fame and affluence, began to brighten. We now hired the house which
is situated between the Hummums and the Bedford Arms, in Covent Garden;
it had been built (I believe) by Doctor Fisher, who married the widow of
the celebrated actor Powel; but Mr. Robinson took the premises of Mrs.
Mattocks, of Covent Garden Theatre. The house was particularly
convenient in every respect; but, above all, on account of its vicinity
to Drury Lane. Here I hoped to enjoy, at least, some cheerful days, as I
found that my circle of friends increased almost hourly.
One of those who paid me most attention was Sir John Lade. The
good-natured baronet, who was then just of age, was our constant
visitor, and cards contributed to beguile those evenings that were not
devoted to dramatic labour. Mr. Robinson played more deeply than was
discreet, but he was, at the end of a few weeks, a very
In proportion as play obtained its influence over my husband's mind, his
small portion of remaining regard for me visibly decayed. We now had
horses, a phaeton and ponies; and my fashions in dress were followed
with flattering avidity. My house was thronged with visitors, and my
morning levées were crowded so that I could scarcely find a quiet hour
for study. My brother by this time had returned to Italy.
Mr. Sheridan was still my most esteemed of friends. He advised me with
the gentlest anxiety, and he warned me of the danger which expense would
produce, and which might interrupt the rising progress of my dramatic
reputation. He saw the trophies which flattery strewed in my way; and he
lamented that I was on every side surrounded with temptations. There was
a something beautifully sympathetic in every word he uttered; his
admonitions seemed as if dictated by a prescient power, which told him
that I was destined to be deceived!
Situated as I was at this time, the effort was difficult to avoid the
society of Mr. Sheridan. He was manager of the theatre. I could not
avoid seeing and conversing with him at rehearsals and behind the
scenes, and his conversation was always such as to fascinate and charm
me. The brilliant reputation which he had justly acquired for superior
talents, and the fame which was completed by his celebrated "School for
Scandal," had now rendered him so admired, that all ranks of people
courted his society. The greenroom was frequented by nobility and men of
genius; among these were Mr. Fox and the Earl of Derby. The stage
was now enlightened by the very best critics, and embellished by the
very highest talents; and it is not a little remarkable that the drama
was uncommonly productive, the theatre more than usually attended,
during that season when the principal dramatic characters were performed
by women under the age of twenty. Among these were Miss Farren (now Lady
Derby), Miss Walpole (now Mrs. Atkins), Miss P. Hopkins (now Mrs. John
Kemble), and myself.
I had then been married more than four years; my daughter Maria
Elizabeth was nearly three years old. I had been then seen and known at
all public places from the age of fifteen; yet I knew as little of the
world's deceptions as though I had been educated in the deserts of
Siberia. I believed every woman friendly, every man sincere, till I
discovered proofs that their characters were deceptive.
I had now performed two seasons, in tragedy and comedy, with Miss Farren
and the late Mr. Henderson. My first appearance in Palmira (in
"Mahomet") was with the Zaphna of Mr. J. Bannister, the preceding year;
and though the extraordinary comic powers of this excellent actor and
amiable man have established his reputation as a comedian, his first
essay in tragedy was considered as a night of the most distinguished
promise. The Duchess of Devonshire still honoured me with her patronage
and friendship, and I also possessed the esteem of several respectable
and distinguished females.
The play of "The Winter's Tale" was this season commanded by their
Majesties. I never had performed before the royal family; and the
first character in which I was destined to appear was that of Perdita. I
had frequently played the part, both with the Hermione of Mrs. Hartley
and of Miss Farren: but I felt a strange degree of alarm when I found my
name announced to perform it before the royal family.
In the greenroom I was rallied on the occasion; and Mr. Smith, whose
gentlemanly manners and enlightened conversation rendered him an
ornament to the profession, who performed the part of Leontes,
laughingly exclaimed, "By Jove, Mrs. Robinson, you will make a conquest
of the prince, for to-night you look handsomer than ever." I smiled at
the unmerited compliment, and little foresaw the vast variety of events
that would arise from that night's exhibition!
As I stood in the wing opposite the prince's box, waiting to go on the
stage, Mr. Ford, the manager's son, and now a respectable defender of
the laws, presented a friend who accompanied him; this friend was Lord
Viscount Malden, now Earl of Essex.
We entered into conversation during a few minutes, the Prince of Wales
all the time observing us, and frequently speaking to Colonel (now
General) Lake, and to the Honourable Mr. Legge, brother to Lord
Lewisham, who was in waiting on his Royal Highness. I hurried through
the first scene, not without much embarrassment, owing to the fixed
attention with which the Prince of Wales honoured me. Indeed, some
flattering remarks which were made by his Royal Highness met my ear as I
stood near his box, and I was overwhelmed with confusion.
The prince's particular attention was observed by every one, and I was
again rallied at the end of the play. On the last curtsey, the royal
family condescendingly returned a bow to the performers; but just as the
curtain was falling my eyes met those of the Prince of Wales, and with a
look that I never shall forget, he gently inclined his head a second
time; I felt the compliment, and blushed my gratitude.
During the entertainment Lord Malden never ceased conversing with me. He
was young, pleasing, and perfectly accomplished. He remarked the
particular applause which the prince had bestowed on my performance;
said a thousand civil things; and detained me in conversation till the
evening's performance was concluded.
I was now going to my chair, which waited, when I met the royal family
crossing the stage. I was again honoured with a very marked and low bow
from the Prince of Wales. On my return home, I had a party to supper;
and the whole conversation centred in encomiums on the person, graces,
and amiable manners of the illustrious heir-apparent.
Within two or three days of this time, Lord Malden made me a morning
visit. Mr. Robinson was not at home, and I received him rather
awkwardly. But his lordship's embarrassment far exceeded mine. He
attempted to speak--paused, hesitated, apologised; I knew not why. He
hoped I would pardon him; that I would not mention something he had to
communicate; that I would consider the peculiar delicacy of his
situation, and then act as I thought proper. I could not comprehend his
meaning, and therefore requested that he would be explicit.
After some moments of evident rumination, he tremblingly drew a small
letter from his pocket. I took it, and knew not what to say. It was
addressed to Perdita. I smiled, I believe rather sarcastically, and
opened the _billet_. It contained only a few words, but those
expressive of more than common civility; they were signed Florizel.
"Well, my lord, and what does this mean?" said I, half angry.
"Can you not guess the writer?" said Lord Malden.
"Perhaps yourself, my lord," cried I, gravely.
"Upon my honour, no," said the viscount. "I should not have dared so to
address you on so short an acquaintance."
I pressed him to tell me from whom the letter came. He again hesitated;
he seemed confused, and sorry that he had undertaken to deliver it.
"I hope that I shall not forfeit your good opinion," said he; "but--"
"But what, my lord?"
"I could not refuse--for the letter is from the Prince of Wales."
I was astonished; I confess that I was agitated; but I was also somewhat
skeptical as to the truth of Lord Malden's assertion. I returned a
formal and a doubtful answer, and his lordship shortly after took
A thousand times did I read this short but expressive letter. Still I
did not implicitly believe that it was written by the prince; I rather
considered it as an experiment made by Lord Malden, either on my vanity
or propriety of conduct. On the next evening the viscount repeated his
visit. We had a card-party of six or seven, and the Prince of Wales was
again the subject of unbounded panegyric. Lord Malden spoke of his Royal
Highness's manners as the most polished and fascinating; of his temper
as the most engaging; and of his mind, the most replete with every
amiable sentiment. I heard these praises, and my heart beat with
conscious pride, while memory turned to the partial but delicately
respectful letter which I had received on the preceding morning.
The next day Lord Malden brought me a second letter. He assured me that
the prince was most unhappy lest I should be offended at his conduct,
and that he conjured me to go that night to the Oratorio,  where he
would by some signal convince me that he was the writer of the letters,
supposing I was still skeptical as to their authenticity.
I went to the Oratorio; and, on taking my seat in the balcony-box, the
prince almost instantaneously observed me. He held the printed bill
before his face, and drew his hand across his forehead, still fixing his
eyes on me. I was confused, and knew not what to do. My husband was with
me, and I was fearful of his observing what passed. Still the prince
continued to make signs, such as moving his hand on the edge of the box
as if writing, then speaking to the Duke of York (then Bishop of
Osnaburg), who also looked toward me with particular attention.
I now observed one of the gentlemen in waiting bring the prince a glass
of water; before he raised it to his lips he looked at me. So marked was
his Royal Highness's conduct that many of the audience observed it;
several persons in the pit directed their gaze at the place where I sat;
and, on the following day, one of the diurnal prints observed that there
was one passage in Dryden's Ode which seemed particularly interesting to
the Prince of Wales, who--
"Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sigh'd, and look'd, and sigh'd again."
However flattering it might have been to female vanity to know that the
most admired and most accomplished prince in Europe was devotedly
attached to me; however dangerous to the heart such idolatry as his
Royal Highness, during many months, professed in almost daily letters,
which were conveyed to me by Lord Malden, still I declined any interview
with his Royal Highness. I was not insensible to all his powers of
attraction; I thought him one of the most amiable of men. There was a
beautiful ingenuousness in his language, a warm and enthusiastic
adoration, expressed in every letter, which interested and charmed me.
During the whole spring, till the theatre closed, this correspondence
continued, every day giving me some new assurance of inviolable
After we had corresponded some months without ever speaking to each
other (for I still declined meeting his Royal Highness, from a dread of
the _éclat_ which such a connection would produce, and the fear of
injuring him in the opinion of his royal relatives), I received, through
the hands of Lord Malden, the prince's portrait in miniature, painted by
the late Mr. Meyer. This picture is now in my possession. Within the
case was a small heart cut in paper, which I also have; on one side was
written, _"Je ne change qu'en mourant;"_ on the other, "Unalterable to
my Perdita through life."
During many months of confidential correspondence, I always offered his
Royal Highness the best advice in my power; I disclaimed every sordid
and interested thought; I recommended him to be patient till he should
become his own master; to wait till he knew more of my mind and manners,
before he engaged in a public attachment to me; and, above all, to do
nothing that might incur the displeasure of his Royal Highness's family.
I entreated him to recollect that he was young, and led on by the
impetuosity of passion; that should I consent to quit my profession and
my husband, I should be thrown entirely on his mercy. I strongly
pictured the temptations to which beauty would expose him; the many arts
that would be practised to undermine me in his affections; the public
abuse which calumny and envy would heap upon me; and the misery I should
suffer, if, after I had given him every proof of confidence, he should
change in his sentiments toward me. To all this I received repeated
assurances of inviolable affection; and I most firmly believe that his
Royal Highness meant what he professed--indeed, his soul was too
ingenuous, his mind too liberal, and his heart too susceptible, to
deceive premeditatedly, or to harbour even for a moment the idea of
At every interview with Lord Maiden I perceived that he regretted the
task he had undertaken; but he assured me that the prince was almost
frantic whenever he suggested a wish to decline interfering. Once I
remember his lordship's telling me that the late Duke of Cumberland had
made him a visit early in the morning, at his house in Clarges Street,
informing him that the prince was most wretched on my account, and
imploring him to continue his services only a short time longer. The
prince's establishment was then in agitation; at this period his Royal
Highness still resided in Buckingham House.
A proposal was now made that I should meet his Royal Highness at his
apartments, in the disguise of male attire. I was accustomed to perform
in that dress, and the prince had seen me, I believe, in the character
of the Irish Widow. To this plan I decidedly objected. The indelicacy of
such a step, as well as the danger of detection, made me shrink from the
proposal. My refusal threw his Royal Highness into the most distressing
agitation, as was expressed by the letter which I received on the
following morning. Lord Malden again lamented that he had engaged
himself in the intercourse, and declared that he had himself conceived
so violent a passion for me that he was the most miserable and
unfortunate of mortals.
During this period, though Mr. Robinson was a stranger to my epistolary
intercourse with the prince, his conduct was entirely neglectful. He was
perfectly careless respecting my fame and my repose; passed his leisure
hours with the most abandoned women, and even my own servants complained
of his illicit advances. I remember one, who was plain even to ugliness;
she was short, ill-made, squalid, and dirty; once, on my return from a
rehearsal, I found that this woman was locked with my husband in my
chamber. I also knew that Mr. Robinson continued his connection with a
female who lodged in Maiden Lane, and who was only one of the few that
proved his domestic apostacy.
His indifference naturally produced an alienation of esteem on my side,
and the increasing adoration of the most enchanting of mortals hourly
reconciled my mind to the idea of a separation. The unbounded assurances
of lasting affection which I received from his Royal Highness in many
scores of the most eloquent letters, the contempt which I experienced
from my husband, and the perpetual labour which I underwent for his
support, at length began to weary my fortitude. Still I was reluctant to
become the theme of public animadversion, and still I remonstrated with
my husband on the unkindness of his conduct.
* * * * *
_[The narrative of Mrs. Robinson closes here.]_
BY A FRIEND
Among those persons who have at various periods attracted the attention
of the public, there are few whose virtues have been so little known, or
whose characters have been so unfairly estimated, as the subject of the
preceding memoir. To compress within narrow limits the numerous
circumstances by which the later years of Mrs. Robinson's life were
chequered, will be a task of no little difficulty. The earlier periods
of her existence, rendered more interesting as narrated by her own pen,
have doubtlessly been justly appreciated by the reflecting and candid
reader, whose sympathy they could not fail to awaken. That she lived not
to conclude the history of a life scarcely less eventful than
unfortunate, cannot but afford a subject of sincere regret.
The conflicts which shook the mind, and the passions which succeeded to
each other in the breast of Mrs. Robinson, at the period when her
narrative closes, a crisis perhaps the most important in her life, may
be more easily conceived than described. A laborious though captivating
profession, the profits of which were unequal to the expenses of her
establishment, and the assiduities of her illustrious lover, to whom she
naturally looked for protection, combined to divide her attention and
bewilder her inexperienced mind. The partiality of her royal admirer had
begun to excite observation, to awaken curiosity, and to provoke the
malignant passions which, under an affected concern for decorum, assumed
the guise of virtue. The daily prints teemed with hints of the favour of
Mrs. Robinson with "one whose manners were resistless, and whose smile
was victory." These circumstances, added to the constant devoirs of Lord
Malden, whose attentions were as little understood as maliciously
interpreted, conspired to distract a young creature, whose exposed
situation, whose wavering and unformed character, rendered her but too
obnoxious to a thousand errors and perils.
To terminate her correspondence with the prince appeared the most
painful remedy that could be adopted by a heart fascinated with his
accomplishments, and soothed by his professions of inviolable
attachment. She was aware that, in the eye of the world, the reputation
of the wife is supposed unsullied, while the husband, enduring passively
his dishonour, gives to her the sanction of his protection. The circles
of fashion afforded more than one instance of this obliging acquiescence
in matrimonial turpitude. Could Mrs. Robinson have reconciled it to her
own feelings to remain under the roof of her husband, whose protection
she had forfeited, and to add insult to infidelity, the attentions of
her illustrious admirer might have given to her popularity an additional
_éclat_. Neither might her husband have suffered in his worldly
prospects, from being to the motives of his royal visitor a little
complaisantly blind. But her ingenuous nature would not permit her to
render the man for whom she had once felt an affection an object of
ridicule and contempt. She determined, therefore, to brave the world,
and, for a support against its censures, to rely on the protection and
friendship of him to whom she sacrificed its respect.
The managers of Drury Lane Theatre, suspecting that Mrs. Robinson
purposed, at the conclusion of the season, to withdraw from the stage,
omitted no means that might tend to induce her to renew her engagements.
With this view, they offered a considerable advance to her salary, while
to their solicitations she returned undecisive answers. Hourly rising in
a profession to which she was enthusiastically attached, the public
plaudits, which her appearance never failed to excite, were too
gratifying to be relinquished without regret.
During this irresolution she was persecuted by numerous anonymous
letters, which she continued to treat with derision or contempt. The
correspondence between Mrs. Robinson and the prince had hitherto been
merely epistolary. This intercourse had lasted several months, Mrs.
Robinson not having acquired sufficient courage to venture a personal
interview, and bid defiance to the reproaches of the world.
At length, after many alternations of feeling, an interview with her
royal lover was consented to by Mrs. Robinson, and proposed, by the
management of Lord Malden, to take place at his lordship's residence in
Dean Street, Mayfair. But the restricted situation of the prince,
controlled by a rigid tutor, rendered this project of difficult
execution. A visit to Buckingham House was then mentioned; to which Mrs.
Robinson positively objected, as a rash attempt, abounding in peril to
her august admirer. Lord Maiden being again consulted, it was determined
that the prince should meet Mrs. Robinson for a few moments at Kew,
on the banks of the Thames, opposite to the old palace, then the summer
residence of the elder princes. For an account of this incident, an
extract from a letter of Mrs. Robinson, written some years afterward, to
a valued and since deceased friend, who during the period of these
events resided in America, may not be unacceptable to the reader. The
date of this letter is in 1783.
[Illustration: The First Meeting of Mrs. Robinson and the Prince of
Wales Original etching by Adrien Marcel]
"At length an evening was fixed for this long-dreaded interview. Lord
Maiden and myself dined at the inn on the island between Kew and
Brentford. We waited the signal for crossing the river in a boat which
had been engaged for the purpose. Heaven can witness how many conflicts
my agitated heart endured at this most important moment! I admired the
prince; I felt grateful for his affection. He was the most engaging of
created beings. I had corresponded with him during many months, and his
eloquent letters, the exquisite sensibility which breathed through every
line, his ardent professions of adoration, had combined to shake my
feeble resolution. The handkerchief was waved on the opposite shore; but
the signal was, by the dusk of the evening, rendered almost
imperceptible. Lord Maiden took my hand, I stepped into the boat, and in
a few minutes we landed before the iron gates of old Kew Palace. The
interview was but of a moment. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York
(then Bishop of Osnaburg) were walking down the avenue. They hastened to
meet us. A few words, and those scarcely articulate, were uttered by the
prince, when a noise of people approaching from the palace startled us.
The moon was now rising; and the idea of being overheard, or of his
Royal Highness being seen out at so unusual an hour, terrified the whole
group. After a few more words of the most affectionate nature uttered by
the prince, we parted, and Lord Maiden and myself returned to the
island. The prince never quitted the avenue, nor the presence of the
Duke of York, during the whole of this short meeting. Alas! my friend,
if my mind was before influenced by esteem, it was now awakened to the,
most enthusiastic admiration. The rank of the prince no longer chilled
into awe that being who now considered him as the lover and the friend.
The graces of his person, the irresistible sweetness of his smile, the
tenderness of his melodious yet manly voice, will be remembered by me
till every vision of this changing scene shall be forgotten.
"Many and frequent were the interviews which afterward took place at
this romantic spot; our walks sometimes continued till past midnight;
the Duke of York and Lord Malden were always of the party; our
conversation was composed of general topics. The prince had from his
infancy been wholly secluded, and naturally took much pleasure in
conversing about the busy world, its manners and pursuits, characters
and scenery. Nothing could be more delightful or more rational than our
midnight perambulations. I always wore a dark coloured habit, the rest
of our party generally wrapped themselves in greatcoats to disguise
them, excepting the Duke of York, who almost universally alarmed us by
the display of a buff coat, the most conspicuous colour he could have
selected for an adventure of this nature. The polished and fascinating
ingenuousness of his Royal Highness's manners contributed not a little
to enliven our promenades. He sung with exquisite taste, and the tones
of his voice breaking on the silence of the night have often appeared to
my entranced senses like more than mortal melody. Often have I lamented
the distance which destiny had placed between us. How would my soul have
idolised such a husband! Alas! how often, in the ardent enthusiasm of my
soul, have I formed the wish that that being were mine alone! to whom
partial millions were to look up for protection.
"The Duke of York was now on the eve of quitting the country for
Hanover; the prince was also on the point of receiving his first
establishment; and the apprehension that his attachment to a married
woman might injure his Royal Highness in the opinion of the world
rendered the caution which we invariably observed of the utmost
importance. A considerable time elapsed in these delightful scenes of
visionary happiness. The prince's attachment seemed to increase daily,
and I considered myself as the most blest of human beings. During some
time we had enjoyed our meetings in the neighbourhood of Kew, and I note
only looked forward to the adjusting of his Royal Highness's
establishment for the public avowal of our mutual attachment.
"I had relinquished my profession. The last night of my appearance on
the stage, I represented the character of Sir Harry Revel, in the comedy
of 'The Miniature Picture,' written by Lady Craven, and 'The Irish
Widow.' On entering the greenroom, I informed Mr. Moody, who played in
the farce, that I should appear no more after that night; and,
endeavouring to smile while I sung, I repeated,--
'Oh joy to you all in full measure,
So wishes and prays Widow Brady!'
which were the last lines of my song in 'The Irish Widow.' This effort
to conceal the emotion I felt on quitting a profession I
enthusiastically loved was of short duration, and I burst into tears on
my appearance. My regret at recollecting that I was treading for the
last time the boards where I had so often received the must gratifying
testimonies of public approbation; where mental exertion had been
emboldened by private worth; that I was flying from a happy certainty,
perhaps to pursue the phantom disappointment, nearly overwhelmed my
faculties, and for some time deprived me of the power of articulation.
Fortunately, the person on the stage with me had to begin the scene,
which allowed me time to collect myself. I went, however, mechanically
dull through the business of the evening, and, notwithstanding the
cheering expressions and applause of the audience, I was several times
"The daily prints now indulged the malice of my enemies by the most
scandalous paragraphs respecting the Prince of Wales and myself. I found
it was now too late to stop the hourly augmenting torrent of abuse that
was poured upon me from all quarters. Whenever I appeared in public, I
was overwhelmed by the gazing of the multitude. I was frequently obliged
to quit Ranelagh, owing to the crowd which staring curiosity had
assembled around my box; and, even in the streets of the metropolis, I
scarcely ventured to enter a shop without experiencing the greatest
inconvenience. Many hours have I waited till the crowd dispersed which
surrounded my carriage, in expectation of my quitting the shop. I cannot
suppress a smile at the absurdity of such proceeding, when I remember
that, during nearly three seasons, I was almost every night upon the
stage, and that I had then been near five years with Mr. Robinson at
every fashionable place of entertainment. You, my dear sir, in your
quiet haunts of transatlantic simplicity, will find some difficulty in
reconciling these things to your mind--these unaccountable instances of
national absurdity. Yet, so it is. I am well assured that, were a being
possessed of more than human endowments to visit this country, it would
experience indifference, if not total neglect, while a less worthy
mortal might be worshipped as the idol of its day, if whispered into
notoriety by the comments of the multitude. But, thank Heaven! my heart
was not formed in the mould of callous effrontery. I shuddered at the
gulf before me, and felt small gratification in the knowledge of having
taken a step, which many who condemned would have been no less willing
to imitate had they been placed in the same situation.
"Previous to my first interview with his Royal Highness, in one of his
letters I was astonished to find a bond of the most solemn and binding
nature containing a promise of the sum of twenty thousand pounds, to be
paid at the period of his Royal Highness's coming of age.
"This paper was signed by the prince, and sealed with the royal arms. It
was expressed in terms so liberal, so voluntary, so marked by true
affection, that I had scarcely power to read it. My tears, excited by
the most agonising conflicts, obscured the letters, and nearly blotted
out those sentiments which will be impressed upon my mind till the
latest period of my existence. Still, I felt shocked and mortified at
the indelicate idea of entering into any pecuniary engagements with a
prince, on whose establishment I relied for the enjoyment of all that
would render life desirable. I was surprised at receiving it; the idea
of interest had never entered my mind. Secure in the possession of his
heart, I had in that delightful certainty counted all my future
treasure. I had refused many splendid gifts which his Royal Highness had
proposed ordering for me at Grey's and other jewellers. The prince
presented to me a few trifling ornaments, in the whole their value not
exceeding one hundred guineas. Even these, on our separation, I returned
to his Royal Highness through the hands of General Lake.
"The period now approached that was to destroy all the fairy visions
which had filled my mind with dreams of happiness. At the moment when
everything was preparing for his Royal Highness's establishment, when I
looked impatiently for the arrival of that day in which I might behold
my adored friend gracefully receiving the acclamations of his future
subjects, when I might enjoy the public protection of that being for
whom I gave up all, I received a letter from his Royal Highness, a cold
and unkind letter--briefly informing me that 'we must meet no more!'
"And now, my friend, suffer me to call God to witness, that I was
unconscious why this decision had taken place in his Royal Highness's
mind. Only two days previous to this letter being written I had seen the
prince at Kew, and his affection appeared to be boundless as it was
"Amazed, afflicted, beyond the power of utterance, I wrote immediately
to his Royal Highness, requiring an explanation. He remained silent.
Again I wrote, but received no elucidation of this most cruel and
extraordinary mystery. The prince was then at Windsor. I set out in a
small pony phaeton, wretched, and unaccompanied by any one except my
postilion (a child of nine years of age). It was near dark when we
quitted Hyde Park Corner. On my arrival at Hounslow the innkeeper
informed me that every carriage which had passed the heath for the last
ten nights had been attacked and rifled. I confess the idea of personal
danger had no terrors for my mind in the state it then was, and the
possibility of annihilation, divested of the crime of suicide,
encouraged rather than diminished my determination of proceeding. We had
scarcely reached the middle of the heath when my horses were startled by
the sudden appearance of a man rushing from the side of the road. The
boy, on perceiving him, instantly spurred his pony, and, by a sudden
bound of our light vehicle, the ruffian missed his grasp at the front
rein. We now proceeded at full speed, while the footpad ran endeavouring
to overtake us. At length, my horses fortunately outrunning the
perseverance of the assailant, we reached the first 'Magpie,' a small
inn on the heath, in safety. The alarm which, in spite of my resolution,
this adventure had created, was augmented on my recollecting, for the
first time, that I had then in my black stock a brilliant stud of very
considerable value, which could only have been possessed by the robber
by strangling the wearer.
"If my heart palpitated with joy at my escape from assassination, a
circumstance soon after occurred that did not tend to quiet my emotion.
This was the appearance of Mr. H. Meynell and Mrs. A----. My foreboding
soul instantly beheld a rival, and, with jealous eagerness, interpreted
the hitherto inexplicable conduct of the prince from his having
frequently expressed his wish to know that lady.
"On my arrival the prince would not see me. My agonies were now
undescribable. I consulted with Lord Malden and the Duke of Dorset,
whose honourable mind and truly disinterested friendship had on many
occasions been exemplified toward me. They were both at a loss to divine
any cause of this sudden change in the prince's feelings. The Prince of
Wales had hitherto assiduously sought opportunities to distinguish me
more publicly than was prudent in his Royal Highness's situation. This
was in the month of August. On the 4th of the preceding June I went, by
his desire, into the chamberlain's box at the birthnight ball; the
distressing observation of the circle was drawn toward the part of the
box in which I sat by the marked and injudicious attentions of his Royal
Highness. I had not been arrived many minutes before I witnessed a
singular species of fashionable coquetry. Previous to his Highness's
beginning his minuet, I perceived a woman of high rank select from the
bouquet which she wore two rosebuds, which she gave to the prince, as he
afterward informed me, emblematical of herself and him.' I observed his
Royal Highness immediately beckon to a nobleman, who has since formed a
part of his establishment, and, looking most earnestly at me, whisper a
few words, at the same time presenting to him his newly acquired trophy.
In a few moments Lord C---- entered the chamberlain's box, and, giving
the rosebuds into my hands, informed me that he was commissioned by the
prince to do so. I placed them in my bosom, and, I confess, felt proud
of the power by which I thus publicly mortified an exalted rival. His
Royal Highness now avowedly distinguished me at all public places of
entertainment, at the king's hunt near Windsor, at the reviews, and at
the theatres. The prince only seemed happy in evincing his affection
"How terrible, then, was the change to my feelings! And I again most
solemnly repeat that I was totally ignorant of any just cause fur so
sudden an alteration.
"My 'good-natured friends' now carefully informed me of the multitude of
secret enemies who were ever employed in estranging the prince's mind
from me. So fascinating, so illustrious a lover could not fail to excite
the envy of my own sex. Women of all descriptions were emulous of
attracting his Royal Highness's attention. Alas! I had neither rank nor
power to oppose such adversaries. Every engine of female malice was set
in motion to destroy my repose, and every petty calumny was repeated
with tenfold embellishments. Tales of the most infamous and glaring
falsehood were invented, and I was again assailed by pamphlets, by
paragraphs, and caricatures, and all the artillery of slander, while the
only being to whom I then looked up for protection was so situated as to
be unable to afford it.
"Thus perplexed, I wrote to you, my friend, and implored your advice.
But you were far away; your delighted soul was absorbed in cherishing
the plant of human liberty, which has since blossomed with independent
splendour over your happy provinces. Eagerly did I wait for the arrival
of the packet, but no answer was returned. In the anguish of my soul I
once more addressed the Prince of Wales; I complained, perhaps too
vehemently, of his injustice; of the calumnies which had been by my
enemies fabricated against me, of the falsehood of which he was but too
sensible. I conjured him to render me justice. He did so; he wrote me a
most eloquent letter, disclaiming the causes alleged by a calumniating
world, and fully acquitting me of the charges which had been propagated
to destroy me.
"I resided now in Cork Street, Burlington Gardens. The house, which was
neat, but by no means splendid, had recently been fitted up for the
reception of the Countess of Derby, on her separation from her lord. My
situation now every hour became more irksome. The prince still unkindly
persisted in withdrawing himself from my society. I was now deeply
involved in debt, which I despaired of ever having the power to
discharge. I had quitted both my husband and my profession. The
retrospect was dreadful!
"My estrangement from the prince was now the theme of public
animadversion, while the newly invigorated shafts of my old enemies, the
daily prints, were again hurled upon my defenceless head with tenfold
fury. The regrets of Mr. Robinson, now that he had lost me, became
insupportable; he constantly wrote to me in the language of unbounded
affection, nor did he fail, when we met, to express his agony at our
separation, and even a wish for our reunion.
"I had, at one period, resolved on returning to my profession; but some
friends whom I consulted dreaded that the public would not suffer my
reappearance on the stage. This idea intimidated me, and precluded my
efforts for that independence of which my romantic credulity had robbed
me. I was thus fatally induced to relinquish what would have proved an
ample and honourable resource for myself and my child. My debts
accumulated to near seven thousand pounds. My creditors, whose insulting
illiberality could only be equalled by their unbounded impositions,
hourly assailed me.
"I was, in the meantime, wholly neglected by the prince, while the
assiduities of Lord Malden daily increased. I had no other friend on
whom I could rely for assistance or protection. When I say protection, I
would not be understood to mean pecuniary assistance, Lord Mailden
being, at the time alluded to, even poorer than myself,--the death of
his lordship's grandmother, Lady Frances Coningsby, had not then placed
him above the penury of his own small income.
"Lord Maiden's attentions to me again exposed him to all the humiliation
of former periods. The prince assured me once more of his wishes to
renew our former friendship and affection, and urged me to meet him at
the house of Lord Malden in Clarges Street. I was at this period little
less than frantic, deeply involved in debt, persecuted by my enemies,
and perpetually reproached by my relations. I would joyfully have
resigned an existence now become to me an intolerable burthen; yet my
pride was not less than my sorrow, and I resolved, whatever my heart
might suffer, to wear a placid countenance when I met the inquiring
glances of my triumphant enemies.
"After much hesitation, by the advice of Lord Malden, I consented to
meet his Royal Highness. He accosted me with every appearance of tender
attachment, declaring that he had never for one moment ceased to love
me, but that I had many concealed enemies, who were exerting every
effort to undermine me. We passed some hours in the most friendly and
delightful conversation, and I began to flatter myself that all our
differences were adjusted. But what words can express my surprise and
chagrin, when, on meeting his Royal Highness the very next day in Hyde
Park, he turned his head to avoid seeing me, and even affected not
to know me!
"Overwhelmed by this blow, my distress knew no limits. Yet Heaven can
witness the truth of my assertion, even in this moment of complete
despair, when oppression bowed me to the earth, I blamed not the prince.
I did then, and ever shall, consider his mind as nobly and honourably
organised, nor could I teach myself to believe that a heart, the seat of
so many virtues, could possibly become inhuman and unjust. I had been
taught from my infancy to believe that elevated stations are surrounded
by delusive visions, which glitter but to dazzle, like an unsubstantial
meteor, and flatter to betray. With legions of these phantoms it has
been my fate to encounter; I have been unceasingly marked by their
persecutions, and shall at length become their victim."
[Illustration: Mrs. Robinson From a painting by Gainsborough]
Here the narrative of Mrs. Robinson breaks off, with some reflections to
which the recital had given rise. Though diligent search has been made
to elucidate the obscurity in which the preceding events are involved,
but little information has been gained. All that can be learned with
certainty is her final separation from the Prince of Wales in the
The genius and engaging manners of Mrs. Robinson, who was still very
young, had procured her the friendship of many of the most enlightened
men of this age and country; her house was the rendezvous of talents.
While yet unconscious of the powers of her mind, which had scarcely then
unfolded itself, she was honoured with the acquaintance and esteem of
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Messrs. Sheridan, Burke, Henderson, Wilkes, Sir
John Elliot, etc., men of distinguished talents and character. But
though surrounded by the wise, the witty, and the gay, her mind,
naturally pensive, was still devoured by secret sorrow; neither could
the blandishments of flattery, nor the soothings of friendship, extract
the arrow that rankled in her heart. Involved beyond the power of
extrication, she determined on quitting England, and making a tour
To desert her country, to fly like a wretched fugitive, or to become a
victim to the malice, and swell the triumph of her enemies, were the
only alternatives that seemed to present themselves. Flight was
humiliating and dreadful, but to remain in England was impracticable.
The terrors and struggles of her mind became almost intolerable, and
nearly deprived her of reason. The establishment of the prince had now
taken place; to him, for whom she had made every sacrifice, and to whom
she owed her present embarrassments, she conceived herself entitled to
appeal for redress. She wrote to his Royal Highness, but her letter
remained unanswered. The business was at length submitted to the
arbitration of Mr. Fox, and, in 1783, her claims were adjusted by the
grant of an annuity of five hundred pounds, the moiety of which was to
descend to her daughter at her decease. This settlement was to be
considered as an equivalent for the bond of twenty thousand pounds given
by the prince to Mrs. Robinson, to be paid on his establishment, as a
consideration for the resignation of a lucrative profession at the
particular request of his Royal Highness. To many persons the assurance
of an independence would have operated as a consolation for the
sufferings and difficulties by which it had been procured; but the
spirit of Mrs. Robinson bent not to a situation which the delicacy of
her feelings led her to consider as a splendid degradation.
About this period, Mrs. Robinson, notwithstanding the change in her
affairs, determined to visit Paris, to amuse her mind and beguile her
thoughts from the recollection of past scenes. Having procured letters
of introduction to some agreeable French families, and also to Sir John
Lambert, resident English banker at Paris, she quitted London, with the
resolution of passing two months in the gay and brilliant metropolis of
France. Sir John Lambert, on being informed of her arrival, exerted
himself to procure for her commodious apartments, a _remise_, a box at
the opera, with all the fashionable and expensive etceteras with which
an inexperienced English traveller is immediately provided.
This venerable chevalier united to the cordiality of the English
character the _bienfaisance_ of a Frenchman; every hour was devoted to
the amusement of his admired guest, who came to him highly recommended.
Parties were, with the most flattering assiduity, formed for the
different spectacles and places of public entertainment. A brilliant
assemblage of illustrious visitors failed not to grace at the opera the
box of _la belle Anglaise_.
A short time after the arrival of Mrs. Robinson at Paris, the Duke of
Orleans and his gallant friend and associate, the Duke de Lauzun
(afterward Duke de Biron), were presented to her by Sir John Lambert.
This unfortunate prince, with all the volatility of the national
character, disgraced human nature by his vices, while the elegance of
his manners rendered him a model to his contemporaries.
The Duke of Orleans immediately professed himself devoted to the fair
stranger. His libertine manners, the presumption with which he declared
his determination to triumph over the heart of Mrs. Robinson, assisted
to defend her against him; and, while he failed to dazzle her
imagination by his magnificence, he disgusted her by his hauteur.
The most enchanting fêtes were given at Mousseau, a villa belonging to
the Duke of Orleans. near Paris, at which Mrs. Robinson invariably
declined to appear. Brilliant races _à l'Anglaise_ were exhibited on the
plains _des Sablons_, to captivate the attention of the inexorable
_Anglaise_. On the birthday of Mrs. Robinson a new effort was made to
subdue her aversion and to obtain her regard. A rural fête was appointed
in the gardens of Mousseau, when this beautiful pandemonium of splendid
profligacy was, at an unusual expense, decorated with boundless luxury.
In the evening, amidst a magnificent illumination, every tree displayed
the initials of _la belle Anglaise_, composed of coloured lamps,
interwoven with wreaths of artificial flowers. Politeness compelled Mrs.
Robinson to grace with her presence a fête instituted to her honour.
She, however, took the precaution of selecting for her companion a
German lady, then resident at Paris, while the venerable chevalier
Lambert attended them as a chaperon.
Some days after the celebration of this festival, the Queen of France
signified her intention of dining in public, for the first time after
her accouchement with the Duke of Normandy, afterward dauphin. The duke
brought to Mrs. Robinson a message from the queen, expressing a wish
that _la belle Anglaise_ might be induced to appear at the _grand
convert_. Mrs. Robinson, not less solicitous to behold the lovely Marie
Antoinette, gladly availed herself of the intimation, and immediately
began to prepare for the important occasion. The most tasteful ornaments
of Mademoiselle Bertin, the reigning milliner, were procured to adorn a
form that, rich in native beauty, needed little embellishment. A pale
green lustring train and body, with a tiffany petticoat, festooned with
bunches of the most delicate lilac, were chosen by Mrs. Robinson for her
appearance, while a plume of white feathers adorned her head; the native
roses of her cheeks, glowing with health and youth, were stained, in
conformity to the fashion of the French court, with the deepest rouge.
On the arrival of the fair foreigner, the Duke d'Orleans quitted the
king, on whom he was then in waiting, to procure her a place, where the
queen might have an opportunity of observing those charms by the fame of
which her curiosity had been awakened.
The _grand convert_, at which the king acquitted himself with more
alacrity than grace, afforded a magnificent display of epicurean luxury.
The queen ate nothing. The slender crimson cord, which drew a line of
separation between the royal epicures and the gazing plebeians, was at
the distance but of a few feet from the table. A small space divided the
queen from Mrs. Robinson, whom the constant observation and loudly
whispered encomiums of her Majesty most oppressively flattered. She
appeared to survey, with peculiar attention, a miniature of the Prince
of Wales, which Mrs. Robinson wore on her bosom, and of which, on the
ensuing day, she commissioned the Duke of Orleans to request the loan.
Perceiving Mrs. Robinson gaze with admiration on her white and polished
arms, as she drew on her gloves, the queen again uncovered them, and
leaned for a few moments on her hand. The duke, on returning the
picture, gave to the fair owner a purse, netted by the hand of
Antoinette, and which she had commissioned him to present, from her, to
_la belle Anglaise_. Mrs. Robinson not long after these events quitted
Paris, and returned to her native country.
In 1784 her fate assumed a darker hue. She was attacked by a malady, to
which she had nearly fallen a victim. By an imprudent exposure to the
night air in travelling, when, exhausted by fatigue and mental anxiety,
she slept in a chaise with the windows open, she brought on a fever,
which confined her to her bed during six months. The disorder terminated
at the conclusion of that period in a violent rheumatism, which
progressively deprived her of the use of her limbs. Thus, at four and
twenty years of age, in the pride of youth and the bloom of beauty, was
this lovely and unfortunate woman reduced to a state of more than
infantile helplessness. Yet, even under so severe a calamity, the powers
of her mind and the elasticity of her spirits triumphed over the
weakness of her frame. This check to the pleasures and vivacity of
youth, by depriving her of external resource, led her to the more
assiduous cultivation and development of her talents. But the
resignation with which she had submitted to one of the severest of human
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