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MEN AND MANNERS OF THE EIGHT
POPE AND LADY MARY.
LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU was born in 1690 and died in 1762. She was Lady Mary Pierrepont, the daughter of the Duke of Kingston, thus by birth belong- parentage. ing to the best society of her time. She married Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu, a diplomatist and, amongst other things, a personal friend of Addison, and thus was brought in contact with the literary people. She was herself a brilliant letter-writer, and her letters have been published. These things fit her especially for my purpose, as, during a long life she saw and was a part of that society which we desire to become acquainted with, the circle of wits and fashionable people, of brilliant writers and dull peers, of men of genius who condescended to frivolity and women of the world who aspired to wisdom. Her letters were edited in 1837 by her great-grandson, Lord Wharncliffe, whose book is already old-fashioned, and for this reason has a flavor more suited to the present purpose than later less flattering though perhaps better considered estimates of Lady Mary. There can be no doubt that she was celebrated, even from her childhood, for a vivacious intellect, precocious mental acquirements, and for the beauty and grace of her
Incident of the
A trifling incident, which Lady Mary loved to recall, will prove how much she was the object of her father's pride and fondness in her childhood. As a leader of the fashionable world, and a strenuous Whig in party, he of course belonged to the Kit-cat Club. One day, at a meeting to choose toasts for the year, a whim seized him to nominate her, then not eight years old, a candidate, alleging that she was far prettier than any lady on their list. The other members demurred, because the rules of the club forbade them to elect a beauty whom they had never seen. "Then you shall see her," cried he; and in the gaiety of the moment sent orders home to have her finely dressed and brought to him at the tavern; where she was received with acclamations, her claim unanimously allowed, her health drunk by every one present, and her name engraved in due form upon a drinking glass. The company consisting of some of the most eminent men in England, she went from the lap of one poet, or patriot, or statesman, to the arms of another, was feasted with sweetmeats, overwhelmed with caresses, and, what perhaps already pleased her better than either, heard her wit and beauty loudly extolled on every side. Never again, she has said later, did she pass so happy a day.
However, it is probable that her father, whose amusement in her ceased when she grew past the age of sitting on his knee and playing with a doll, consigned all his daughters alike to the care of a good homespun governess such as her letters describe, and, having thus done his supposed duty toward them, held himself at liberty to pursue his own pleasures, which lay elsewhere than at home. Her mother died when Lady Mary was four years old.
But, admitting that Lady Mary's talents were only self-cultivated, her literary progress might not be the less considerable. When industry, inspirited by genius, toils from free choice, and there exists, unchecked, that large devouring appetite for reading seldom felt but in the first freshness of intelligent youth, it will take in more nourishment, and faster, than the most assiduous tuition can cram down. It is true the habit of idly turning over an uncounted variety of books, forgotten as soon
as read, may be prejudicial to the mind; but a bee wanders to better purpose than a butterfly, although the one will sometimes seem just to touch the flower-bed and flit away as lightly as the other. Lady Mary read everything, but it was without forgetting anything; and the mass of matter, whençesoever collected, gradually found its own arrangement in her head. She probably had some assistance from Mr. William Fielding, her mother's brother, a man of parts, who perceived her capacity, corresponded with her, and encouraged her pursuit of information. And she herself acknowledges her obligations to Bishop Burnet for "condescending to direct the studies of a girl."
Nevertheless, though laboring to acquire what may be termed masculine knowledge [this was written in 1836] and translating under the bishop's eye the Latin version of Epictetus, she was by no means disposed to neglect works of fancy and fiction, but got by heart all the poetry that came in her way, and indulged herself in the luxury of reading every romance as yet invented. For she possessed, and left after her, the whole library cele- Old romances. brated in Mrs. Lennox's "Female Quixote," viz.: "Cleopatra,' "Cassandra," "Clelia," "Cyrus,' 'Pharamond," "Ibrahim,” etc., etc., all, like the Lady Arabella's collection, "Englished mostly by persons of honor." The chief favorite appears to have been a translation of Monsieur Honoré d’Urfé's “Astrea," once the delight of Henri Quatre [died 1715] and his court, and still admired and quoted by the savants who flourished under Louis XIV. In a blank page of this massive volume (which might have counterbalanced a pig of lead of the same size) Lady Mary had written, in her fairest youthful hand, the names and characteristics of the chief personages, thus: the beautiful Diana, the volatile Climene, the melancholy Doris, Celadon the faithful, Adamas the wise, and so on, forming two long columns.
These ponderous books, once hers, black in outward hue, and marked by the wear and tear of almost a century, might have been disrespectfully treated by her junior grandchildren and their nursery maids-put to any use except reading thembut for the protection of an excellent person, who when young had been Lady Bute's own attendant before her marriage [the only daughter of Lady Mary became Lady Bute], and ever after made part of her family. Her spectacles were always to be
"Clelia" and 66 'Cassandra."
Customs of the table.
found in "Clelia" or "Cassandra," which she studied unceasingly, prizing them next to the Bible and Tillotson's sermons; because, to give her own words, "they were all about good and virtuous people, not like the wicked trash she now saw young folks get from circulating libraries." To her latest hour she used to repent having lost sight of another romance, beautiful beyond them all-the "History of Hiempsal, King of Numidia.' This, she said, she had read only once, and by no pains or search could ever meet with or hear of again.
The modern world will smile, but should, however, beware of too hastily despising, works that charmed Lady Mary Wortley in her youth, and were courageously defended by Madame de Sévigné, even when hers was past, and they began to be sliding out of fashion. She, it seems, thought, with the old woman just now mentioned, that they had a tendency to elevate the mind, and to instill honorable and generous sentiments. At any rate they must have fostered application and perseverance by accustoming their readers to what the French term ouvrages de longue haleine.
These ancient heavy tomes are almost inaccessible now, and only to be found in the darkest places of a few long-suffering libraries. When found they are soon relegated to their shelves, for modern application and perseverance are quite incapable of wading through their long, involuted sentences.
Some particulars, in themselves too insignificant to be worth recording, are valuable as recording the manners of our ancestors. Lady Mary's father, who became Lord Dorchester, by the time she had strength for the office, imposed upon his eldest daughter the task of doing the honors of his table at Thoresby, which in those days required no small share. For the mistress of a country mansion was not only to invite-that is urge and tease-her company to eat more than human throats could conveniently swallow, but to carve every dish, when chosen, with her own hands. The greater the lady, the more indispensable the duty. Each joint was carried up in its turn to be operated on by her, and her alone, since the peers and knights on either hand were so far from being bound to offer their assistance that the very master of the house, posted
opposite to her, might not act as her croupier; his department was to push the bottle after dinner. As for the crowd of guests, the most inconsiderable among these, the curate, or subaltern, or squire's younger brother, if suffered through her neglect to help himself to a slice of the mutton placed before him, would have chewed it in bitterness, and gone home an affronted man, half inclined to give a wrong vote at the next election. There were then professed carving-masters, who taught young ladies the art scientifically; from one of whom Lady Mary took lessons three times a week, that she might be perfect on her father's public days; when, in order to perform her functions without interruption, she was forced to eat her own dinner alone an hour or two beforehand.
The young friends of Lady Mary were such as the beautiful Dolly Walpole, sister of Sir Robert, Lady Anne Vaughan, the last of a family noted for giving Jeremy Taylor an asylum at Golden Grove; amongst them was Mistress Anne Wortley.
Mrs. Anne has a most mature sound to our modern ears, but in the phraseology of those days, Miss, which had hardly yet ceased to be a term of reproach, still denoted childishness, flippancy, or some other contemptible quality, and was rarely applied to young ladies of a respectable class. Nay, Lady Bute herself could remember having been styled Mistress Wortley, when a child, by two or three elderly visitors, as tenacious of their ancient modes of speech as of other old fashions.
Mistress Anne was the favorite sister of Edward Wortley, whom Lady Mary married. Their father was Mr. Sidney Montagu. This old gentleman and the scene. surrounding him were distinctly recollected by his granddaughter, Lady Mary's daughter, who married the Earl of Bute.
She described him as a large, rough-looking man, with a huge Description of flapped hat, seated magisterially in his elbow-chair, talking Sidney very loud, and swearing boisterously at his servants; while Montagu. beside him sate a venerable figure, meek and benign in aspect, with silver locks, overshadowed by a black velvet cap. This