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The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality

The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality.
Frances Vane, Viscountess Vane.

Taken from “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle”

“By the circumstances of the story which I am going to relate, you will be convinced of my candour, while you are informed of my indiscretion. You will be enabled, I hope, to perceive, that, howsoever my head may have erred, my heart hath always been uncorrupted, and that I have been unhappy, because I loved, and was a woman.

“I believe I need not observe, that I was the only child of a man of good fortune, who indulged me in my infancy with all the tenderness of paternal affection; and, when I was six years old, sent me to a private school, where I stayed till my age was doubled, and became such a favourite, that I was, even in those early days, carried to all the places of public diversion, the court itself not excepted, an indulgence that flattered my love of pleasure, to which I was naturally addicted, and encouraged those ideas of vanity and ambition which spring up so early in the human mind.

“I was lively and good-natured, my imagination apt to run riot, my heart liberal and disinterested, though I was so obstinately attached to my own opinions, that I could not well brook contradiction; and, in the whole of my disposition, resembled that of Henry V., as described by Shakespeare.

“In my thirteenth year I went to Bath, where I was first introduced into the world as a woman, having been entitled to that privilege by my person, which was remarkably tall for my years; and there my fancy was quite captivated by the variety of diversions in which I was continually engaged. Not that the parties were altogether new to me, but because I now found myself considered as a person of consequence, and surrounded by a crowd of admirers, who courted my acquaintance, and fed my vanity with praise and adulation. In short, whether or not I deserved their encomiums, I leave the world to judge; but my person was commended, and my talent in dancing met with universal applause. No wonder, then, that everything appeared joyous to a young creature, who was so void of experience and dissimulation, that she believed everybody’s heart as sincere as her own, and every object such as it appeared to be.

“Among the swains who sighed, or pretended to sigh for me, were two that bore a pretty equal share of my favour (it was too superficial to deserve the name of love). One of these was a forward youth of sixteen, extremely handsome, lively, and impudent. He attended in quality of page upon the Princess Amelia, who spent that season at Bath. The other was a Scotch nobleman turned of thirty, who was graced with a red ribbon, and danced particularly well, two qualifications of great weight with a girl of my age, whose heart was not deeply interested in the cause. Nevertheless, the page prevailed over this formidable rival; though our amour went no farther than a little flirting, and ceased entirely when I left the place.

“Next year, however, I revisited this agreeable scene, and passed my time in the same circle of amusements; in which, indeed, each season at Bath is exactly resembled by that which succeeds, allowing for the difference of company, which is continually varying. There I met with the same incense, and again had my favourite, who was a North Briton, and captain of foot, near forty years of age, and a little lame, an impediment which I did not discover, until it was pointed out by some of my companions, who rallied me upon my choice.

He was always cheerful, and very amorous, had a good countenance, and an excellent understanding, possessed a great deal of art, and would have persuaded me to marry him, had I not been restrained by the authority of my father, whose consent was not to be obtained in favour of a man of his fortune.

“At the same time, many proposals of marriage were made to my parents; but as they came from people whom I did not like, I rejected them all, being determined to refuse every man who did not make his addresses to myself in person, because I had no notion of marrying for anything but love. Among these formal proposers was a Scottish earl, whose pretensions were broke off by some difference about settlements; and the son of an English baron, with whom my father was in treaty, when he carried me to town, on a visit to a young lady. with whom I had been intimate from my infancy. She was just delivered of her first son, for whom we stood sponsors; so that this occasion detained us a whole month, during which I went to a ball at court, on the Queen’s birthday, and there, for the first time, felt what love and beauty were.

“The second son of Duke H–, who had just returned from his travels, was dancing with the princess royal, when a young lady came and desired me to go and see a stranger, whom all the world admired.

Upon which I followed her into the circle, and observed this object of admiration. He was dressed in a coat of white cloth, faced with blue satin, embroidered with silver, of the same piece with his waistcoat; his fine hair hung down his back in ringlets below his waist; his hat was laced with silver, and garnished with a white feather; but his person beggared description. He was tall and graceful, neither corpulent nor meagre, his limbs finely proportioned, his countenance open and majestic, his eyes full of sweetness and vivacity, his teeth regular, and his pouting lips of the complexion of the damask rose. In short, he was formed for love, and inspired it wherever he appeared; nor was he a niggard of his talents, but liberally returned it, at least, what passed for such; for he had a flow of gallantry, for which many ladies of this land can vouch from their own experience. But he exclaimed against marriage, because he had, as yet, met with no woman to whose charms he would surrender his liberty, though a princess of France, and lady of the same rank in –, were said to be, at that time, enamoured of his person.

“I went home, totally engrossed by his idea, flattering myself that he had observed me with some attention; for I was young and new, and had the good fortune to attract the notice and approbation of the queen herself.

“Next day, being at the opera, I was agreeably surprised with the appearance of this amiable stranger, who no sooner saw me enter, than he approached so near to the place where I sat, that I overheard what he said to his companions; and was so happy as to find myself the object of his discourse, which abounded with rapturous expressions of love and admiration. I could not listen to these transports without emotion; my colour changed, my heart throbbed with unusual violence, and my eyes betrayed my inclination in sundry favourable glances, which he seemed to interpret aright, though he could not then avail himself of his success, so far as to communicate his sentiments by speech, because we were strangers to each other.

“I passed that night in the most anxious suspense, and several days elapsed before I saw him again. At length, however, being at court on a ball-night, and determined against dancing, I perceived him among the crowd, and, to my unspeakable joy, saw him advance, with my Lord P–, who introduced him to my acquaintance. He soon found means to alter my resolution, and I condescended to be his partner all the evening; during which he declared his passion in the most tender and persuasive terms that real love could dictate, or fruitful imagination invent.

“I believed his protestations, because I wished them true, and was an unexperienced girl of fifteen. I complied with his earnest request of being permitted to visit me, and even invited him to breakfast next morning; so that you may imagine (I speak to those that feel) I did not, that night, enjoy much repose. Such was the hurry and flutter of my spirits, that I rose at six to receive him at ten. I dressed myself in a new pink satin gown, and my best laced night-clothes, and was so animated by the occasion that, if ever I deserved a compliment upon my looks, it was my due at this meeting. The wished-for moment came that brought my lover to my view. I was overwhelmed with joy, modesty, and fear of I knew not what. We sat down to breakfast, but did not eat. He renewed his addresses with irresistible eloquence, and pressed me to accept of his hand without further hesitation. But to such a precipitate step I objected, as a measure repugnant to my decency, as well as to that duty which I owed to my father, whom I tenderly loved.

“Though I withstood this premature proposal, I did not attempt to disguise the situation of my thoughts; and thus commenced a tender correspondence, which was maintained by letters while I remained in the country, and carried on, when I was in town, by private interviews twice or thrice a week at the house of my milliner, where such endearments passed as refined and happy lovers know, and others can only guess. Truth and innocence prevailed on my side, while his heart was fraught with sincerity and love. Such frequent intercourse created an intimacy which I began to think dangerous, and therefore yielded to his repeated desire that we might be united for ever. Nay, I resolved to avoid him, until the day should be fixed, and very innocently, though not very wisely, told him my reason for this determination, which was no other than a consciousness of my incapacity to refuse him anything he should demand as a testimony of my love.

“The time was accordingly appointed, at the distance of a few days, during which I intended to have implored my father’s consent, though I had but faint hopes of obtaining it. But he was by some means or other apprised of our design, before I could prevail upon myself to make him acquainted with our purpose. I had danced with my lover at the ridotto on the preceding evening, and there perhaps our eyes betrayed us. Certain it is, several of Lord W–‘s relations, who disapproved of the match, came up and rallied him on his passion; Lord S–k, in particular, used this remarkable expression, “Nephew, as much love as you please, but no matrimony.”

“Next day, the priest being prepared, and the bridegroom waiting for me at the appointed place, in all the transports of impatient expectation, I was, without any previous warning, carried into the country by my father, who took no notice of the intelligence he had received, but decoyed me into the coach on pretence of taking the air; and, when we had proceeded as far as Turnham Green, gave me to understand, that he would dine in that place.

“There was no remedy. I was obliged to bear my disappointment, though with an aching heart, and followed him up-stairs into an apartment, where he told me he was minutely informed of my matrimonial scheme. I did not attempt to disguise the truth, but assured him, while the tears gushed from my eyes, that my want of courage alone had hindered me from making him privy to my passion; though I owned, I should have married Lord W–, even though he had disapproved of my choice. I reminded him of the uneasy life I led at home, and frankly acknowledged, that I loved my admirer too well to live without him; though, if he would favour me with his consent, I would defer my intention, and punctually observe any day he would fix for our nuptials. Meanwhile I begged he would permit me to send a message to Lord W–, who was waiting in expectation of my coming, and might, without such notice, imagine I was playing the jilt. He granted this last request; in consequence of which I sent a letter to my lover, who, when he received it, had almost fainted away, believing I should be locked up in the country, and snatched for ever from his arms. Tortured with these apprehensions, he changed clothes immediately, and, taking horse, resolved to follow me whithersoever we should go.

“After dinner, we proceeded as far as Brentford, where we lay, intending to be at my father’s country house next night; and my admirer putting up at the same inn, practised every expedient his invention could suggest to procure an interview; but all his endeavours were unsuccessful, because I, who little dreamed of his being so near, had gone to bed upon our first arrival, overwhelmed with affliction and tears. In the morning I threw myself at my father’s feet, and conjured him, by all the ties of paternal affection, to indulge me with an opportunity of seeing my admirer once more, before I should be conveyed from his wishes. The melancholy condition in which I preferred this supplication, melted the tender heart of my parent, who yielded to my supplications, and carried me back to town for that purpose.

“Lord W–, who had watched our motions, and arrived at his own lodgings before we arrived at my father’s house, obeyed my summons on the instant, and appeared before me like an angel. Our faculties were for some minutes suspended by a conflict of grief and joy. At length I recovered the use of speech, and gave him to understand, that I was come to town in order to take my leave of him, by the permission of my father, whom I had promised to attend into the country next day, before he would consent to my return; the chief cause and pretence of which was my earnest desire to convince him, that I was not to blame for the disappointment he had suffered, and that I should see him again in a month, when the nuptial knot should be tied in spite of all opposition.

“My lover, who was better acquainted with the world, had wellnigh run distracted with this information. He swore he would not leave me, until I should promise to meet and marry him next day; or, if I refused to grant that request, he would immediately leave the kingdom, to which he would never more return; and, before his departure, sacrifice Lord H. B–, son to the Duke of S. A–, who was the only person upon earth who could have betrayed us to my father, because he alone was trusted with the secret of our intended marriage, and had actually undertaken to give me away; an office which he afterwards declined. Lord W– also affirmed, that my father decoyed me into the country with a view of cooping me up, and sequestering me entirely from his view and correspondence.

“In vain I pleaded my father’s well-known tenderness, and used all the arguments I could recollect to divert him from his revenge upon Lord H–. He was deaf to all my representations, and nothing, I found, would prevail upon him to suppress his resentment, but a positive promise to comply with his former desire. I told him I would hazard everything to make him happy; but could not, with any regard to my duty, take such a step without the knowledge of my parent; or, if I were so inclined, it would be impracticable to elude his vigilance and suspicion. However, he employed such pathetic remonstrances, and retained such a powerful advocate within my own breast, that, before we parted, I assured him my whole power should be exerted for his satisfaction; and he signified his resolution of sitting up all night, in expectation of seeing me at his lodgings.

“He had no sooner retired, than I went into the next room, and desired my father to fix a day for the marriage; in which case I would cheerfully wait upon him into the country; whereas, should he deny my request, on pretence of staying for the consent of my mother’s relations, which was very uncertain, I would seize the first opportunity of marrying Lord W–, cost what it would. He consented to the match, but would not appoint a day for the ceremony, which he proposed to defer until all parties should be agreed; and such a favourable crisis, I feared, would never happen.

“I therefore resolved within myself to gratify my lover’s expectation, by eloping, if possible, that very night; though the execution of this plan was extremely difficult, because my father was upon the alarm, and my own maid, who was my bedfellow, altogether in his interest. Notwithstanding these considerations, I found means to engage one of the housemaids in my behalf, who bespoke a hackney-coach, to be kept in waiting all night; and to bed I went with my Abigail, whom, as I had not closed an eye, I waked about five in the morning, and sent to pack up some things for our intended journey.

“While she was thus employed, I got up, and huddled on my clothes, standing upon my pillow, lest my father, who lay in the chamber below, should hear me afoot, and suspect my design. Having dressed myself with great despatch and disorder, I flounced downstairs, stalking as heavily as I could tread, that he might mistake me for one of the servants; and my confederate opening the door, I sallied out into the street, though I knew not which way to turn; and, to my unspeakable mortification, neither coach nor chair appeared.

“Having travelled on foot a good way, in hope of finding a convenience, and being not only disappointed in that particular, but also bewildered in my peregrination, I began to be exceedingly alarmed with the apprehension of being met by some person who might know me; because in that case, my design would undoubtedly have been discovered, from every circumstance of my appearance at that time of day; for I had put on the very clothes which I had pulled off overnight, so that my dress was altogether odd and peculiar.

My shoes were very fine, and over a large hoop I wore a pink satin quilted petticoat trimmed with silver, which was partly covered by a white dimity night-gown, a full quarter of a yard too short; my handkerchief and apron were hurried on without pinning; my nightcap could not contain my hair, which hung about my ears in great disorder; and my countenance denoted a mixture of hope and fear, joy and shame.

“In this dilemma, I made my addresses to that honourable member of society, a shoe-black, whom I earnestly entreated to provide me with a coach or chair, promising to reward him liberally for his trouble, but he, having the misfortune to be lame, was unable to keep up with my pace; so that by his advice and direction, I went into the first public-house I found open, where I stayed some time, in the utmost consternation, among a crew of wretches whom I thought proper to bribe for their civility, not without the terror of being stripped. At length, however, my messenger returned with a chair, of which I took immediate possession; and fearing that, by this time, my family would be alarmed, and send directly to Lord W–‘s lodgings, I ordered myself to be carried thither backwards, that so I might pass undiscovered.

“This stratagem succeeded according to my wish; I ran upstairs, in a state of trepidation, to my faithful lover, who waited for me with the most impatient and fearful suspense. At sight of me his eyes lightened with transport: he caught me in his arms, as the richest present Heaven could bestow; gave me to understand that my father had already sent to his lodgings in quest of me; then applauding my love and resolution in the most rapturous terms, he ordered a hackney-coach to be called, and, that we might run no risk of separation, attended me to church, where we were lawfully joined in the sight of Heaven.

“His fears were then all over, but mine recurred with double aggravation: I dreaded the sight of my father, and shared all the sorrow he suffered on account of my undutiful behaviour; for I loved him with such piety of affection, that I would have endured every other species of distress, rather than given him the least uneasiness; but love, where he reigns in full empire, is altogether irresistible, surmounts every difficulty, and swallows up all other considerations. This was the case with me; and now the irrevocable step was taken, my first care was to avoid his sight. With this view, I begged that Lord W– would think of some remote place in the country, to which we might retire for the present, and he forthwith conducted me to a house on Blackheath, where we were very civilly received by a laughter-loving dame, who seemed to mistake me for one of her own sisterhood. I no sooner perceived her opinion, than I desired Lord W– to undeceive her; upon which she was made acquainted with the nature of my situation, and showed us into a private room, where I called for pen and paper, and wrote an apology to my father, for having acted contrary to his will in so important a concern.

“This task being performed, the bridegroom gave me to understand, that there was a necessity for our being bedded immediately, in order to render the marriage binding, lest my father should discover and part us before consummation. I pleaded hard for a respite till the evening, objecting to the indecency of going to bed before noon; but he found means to invalidate all my arguments, and to convince me that it was now my duty to obey. Rather than hazard the imputation of being obstinate and refractory on the first day of my probation, I suffered myself to be led into a chamber, which was darkened by my express stipulation, that my shame and confusion might be the better concealed, and yielded to the privilege of a dear husband, who loved me to adoration.

“About five o’clock in the afternoon we were called to dinner, which we had ordered to be ready at four; but such a paltry care had been forgot amidst the transports of our mutual bliss. We got up, however, and when we came downstairs, I was ashamed to see the light of day, or meet the eyes of my beloved lord. I ate little, said less, was happy, though overwhelmed with confusion, underwent a thousand agitations, some of which were painful, but by far the greater part belonged to rapture and delight; we were imparadised in the gratification of our mutual wishes, and felt all that love can bestow, and sensibility enjoy.

“In the twilight we returned to Lord W–‘s lodgings in town, where I received a letter from my father, importing that he would never see me again. But there was one circumstance in his manner of writing, from which I conceived a happy presage of his future indulgence.

He had begun with his usual appellation of ‘Dear Fanny,’ which, though it was expunged to make way for the word ‘Madam,’ encouraged me to hope that his paternal fondness was not yet extinguished.

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