The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality thumbnail

The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality

“At supper we were visited by Lord W–‘s younger sister, who laughed at us for our inconsiderate match, though she owned she envied our happiness, and offered me the use of her clothes until I could retrieve my own. She was a woman of a great deal of humour, plain but genteel, civil, friendly, and perfectly well bred. She favoured us with her company till the night was pretty far advanced, and did not take her leave till we retired to our apartment.

“As our lodgings were not spacious or magnificent, we resolved to see little company; but this resolution was frustrated by the numerous acquaintance of Lord W–, who let in half the town: so that I ran the gauntlet for a whole week among a set of wits, who always delight in teasing a young creature of any note, when she happens to make such a stolen match. Among those that visited us upon this occasion was my lord’s younger brother, who was at that time in keeping with a rich heiress of masculine memory, and took that opportunity of making a parade with his equipage, which was indeed very magnificent, but altogether disregarded by us, whose happiness consisted in the opulence of mutual love.

“This ceremony of receiving visits being performed, we went to wait on his mother, the duchess of H–, who, hearing I was an heiress, readily forgave her son for marrying without her knowledge and consent, and favoured us with a very cordial reception; insomuch, that for several months, we dined almost constantly at her table; and I must own, I always found her unaltered in her civility and affection, contrary to her general character, which was haughty and capricious. She was undoubtedly a woman of great spirit and understanding, but subject to an infirmity which very much impairs and disguises every other qualification.

“In about three weeks after our marriage, I was so happy as to obtain the forgiveness of my father, to whose house we repaired, in order to pay our respects and submission. At sight of me he wept; nor did I behold his tears unmoved. My heart was overcharged with tenderness and sorrow, for having offended such an indulgent parent; so that I mingled my tears with his, while my dear husband, whose soul was of the softest and gentlest mould, melted with sympathy at the affecting scene. Being thus reconciled to my father, we attended him into the country, where we were received by my mother, who was a sensible good woman, though not susceptible to love, and therefore less apt to excuse a weakness to which she was an utter stranger. This was likewise the case with an uncle, from whom I had great expectations. He was a plain good-natured man, and treated us with great courtesy, though his notions, in point of love, were not exactly conformable to ours. Nevertheless, I was, and seemed to be so happy in my choice, that my family not only became satisfied with the match, but exceedingly fond of Lord W–.

“After a short stay with them in the country, we returned to London, in order to be introduced at court, and then set out for the north, on a visit to my brother-in-law the duke of H–, who had, by a letter to Lord W–, invited us to his habitation. My father accordingly equipped us with horses and money; for our own finances were extremely slender, consisting only of a small pension, allowed by his grace, upon whom the brothers were entirely dependent, the father having died suddenly, before suitable provision could be made for his younger children.

“When I took leave of my relations, bidding adieu to my paternal home, and found myself launching into a world of care and trouble, though the voyage on which I embarked was altogether voluntary, and my companion the person on whom I doted to distraction,–I could not help feeling some melancholy sensations, which, however, in a little time, gave way to a train of more agreeable ideas. I was visited in town by almost all the women of fashion, many of whom, I perceived, envied me the possession of a man who had made strange havoc among their hearts, and some of them knew the value of his favour. One in particular endeavoured to cultivate my friendship with singular marks of regard; but I thought proper to discourage her advances, by keeping within the bounds of bare civility; and, indeed, to none of them was I lavish of my complaisance; for I dedicated my whole time to the object of my affection, who engrossed my wishes to such a degree, that, although I was never jealous, because I had no reason to be so, I envied the happiness of every woman whom he chanced at any time to hand into a coach.

“The duchess of –, who was newly married to the earl of P–, a particular friend of Lord W–‘s, carried me to court, and presented me to the queen, who expressed her approbation of my person in very particular terms, and, observing the satisfaction that appeared in my countenance, with marks of admiration, desired her ladies to take notice, how little happiness depended upon wealth, since there was more joy in my face than in all her court besides.

“Such a declaration could not fail to overwhelm me with blushes, which her Majesty seemed to behold with pleasure; for she frequently repeated the remark, and showed me to all the foreigners of distinction, with many gracious expressions of favour. She wished Lord W– happiness instead of joy, and was pleased to promise, that she would provide for her pretty beggars. And poor enough we certainly were in every article but love. Nevertheless, we felt no necessities, but passed the summer in a variety of pleasures and parties; the greatest part of which were planned by Lord W–‘s sister and another lady, who was at that time mistress to the prime minister. The first was a wit, but homely in person; the other a woman of great beauty and masculine understanding; and a particular friendship subsisted between them, though they were both lovers of power and admiration.

“This lady, who sat at the helm, was extremely elegant, as well as expensive in her diversions, in many of which we bore a share, particularly in her parties upon the water, which were contrived in all the magnificence of taste. In the course of these amusements, a trifling circumstance occurred, which I shall relate as an instance of that jealous sensibility which characterised Lord W–‘s disposition.

A large company of ladies and gentlemen having agreed to dine at Vauxhall, and sup at Marble-hall, where we proposed to conclude the evening with a dance, one barge being insufficient to contain the whole company, we were divided by lots; in consequence of which, my husband and I were parted. This separation was equally mortifying to us both, who, though married, were still lovers; and my chagrin increased when I perceived that I was doomed to sit by Sir W. Y–, a man of professed gallantry; for, although Lord W– had, before his marriage, made his addresses to every woman he saw, I knew very well he did not desire that any person should make love to his wife.

“That I might not, therefore, give umbrage, by talking to this gallant, I conversed with a Scotch nobleman, who, according to common report, had formerly sighed among my admirers. By these means, in seeking to avoid one error, I unwittingly plunged myself into a greater, and disobliged Lord W– so much, that he could not conceal his displeasure; nay, so deeply was he offended at my conduct, that, in the evening, when the ball began, he would scarce deign to take me by the hand in the course of dancing, and darted such unkind looks, as pierced me to the very soul. What augmented my concern, was my ignorance of the trespass I had committed. I was tortured with a thousand uneasy reflections; I began to fear that I had mistaken his temper, and given my heart to a man who was tired of possession; though I resolved to bear without complaining the misfortune I had entailed upon myself.

“I seized the first opportunity of speaking to him, and thereby discovered the cause of his chagrin; but, as there was no time for expostulation, the misunderstanding continued on his side, with such evident marks of uneasiness, that every individual of the company made up to me, and inquired about the cause of his disorder; so that I was fain to amuse their concern, by saying, that he had been ill the day before, and dancing did not agree with his constitution.

So much was he incensed by this unhappy circumstance of my conduct, which was void of all intention to offend him, that he determined to be revenged on me for my indiscretion, and at supper, chancing to sit between two very handsome ladies, one of whom is lately dead, and the other, at present, my neighbour in the country, he affected an air of gaiety, and openly coquetted with them both.

“This was not the only punishment he inflicted on his innocent wife. In the course of our entertainment, we engaged in some simple diversion, in consequence of which the gentlemen were ordered to salute the ladies; when Lord W–, in performing this command, unkindly neglected me in my turn; I had occasion for all my discretion and pride, to conceal from the company the agonies I felt at this mark of indifference and disrespect. However, I obtained the victory over myself, and pretended to laugh at his husband-like behaviour, while the tears stood in my eyes and my heart swelled even to bursting.

“We broke up about five, after having spent the most tedious evening I had ever known; and this offended lover went to bed in a state of sullen silence and disgust. Whatever desire I had to come to an explanation, I thought myself so much aggrieved by his unreasonable prejudice, that I could not prevail upon myself to demand a conference, till after his first nap, when my pride giving way to my tenderness, I clasped him in my arms, though he pretended to discourage these advances of my love. I asked how he could be so unjust as to take umbrage at my civility to a man whom he knew I had refused for his sake; I chid him for his barbarous endeavours to awake my jealousy, and used such irresistible arguments in my own vindication, that he was convinced of my innocence, scaled my acquittal with a kind embrace, and we mutually enjoyed the soft transports of a fond reconciliation.

“Never was passion more eager, delicate, or unreserved, than that which glowed within our breasts. Far from being cloyed with the possession of each other, our raptures seemed to increase with the term of our union. When we were separated, though but for a few hours, by the necessary avocations of life, we were unhappy during that brief separation, and met again like lovers, who knew no joy but in one another’s presence. How many delicious evenings did we spend together, in our little apartment, after we had ordered the candles to be taken away, that we might enjoy the agreeable reflection of the moon in a fine summer’s evening! Such a mild and solemn scene naturally disposes the mind to peace and benevolence; but when improved with conversation of the man one loves, it fills the imagination with ideas of ineffable delight! For my own part, I can safely say, my heart was so wholly engrossed by my husband, that I never took pleasure in any diversion where he was not personally concerned; nor was I ever guilty of one thought repugnant to my duty and my love.

“In the autumn, we set out for the north, and were met on the road by the duke and twenty gentlemen, who conducted us to H–n, where we lived in all imaginable splendour. His grace, at that time, maintained above a hundred servants, with a band of music, which always performed at dinner, kept open table, and was visited by a great deal of company. The economy of his house was superintended by his eldest sister, a beautiful young lady of an amiable temper, with whom I soon contracted an intimate friendship. She and the duke used to rally me upon my fondness for Lord W–, who was a sort of humourist, and apt to be in a pet, in which case he would leave the company and go to bed by seven o’clock in the evening. On these occasions, I always disappeared, giving up every consideration to that of pleasing my husband, notwithstanding the ridicule of his relations, who taxed me with having spoiled him with too much indulgence. But how could I express too much tenderness and condescension for a man, who doted upon me to such excess, that, when business obliged him to leave me, he always snatched the first opportunity to return, and often rode through darkness, storms, and tempests to my arms? “Having stayed about seven months in this place, I found myself in a fair way of being a mother, and that I might be near my own relations in such an interesting situation, I and my dear companion departed from H–n, not without great reluctance; for I was fond of the Scots in general, who treated me with great hospitality and respect; and to this day, they paid me the compliment of saying, I was one of the best wives in that country which is so justly celebrated for good women.

“Lord W– having attended me to my father’s house, was obliged to return to Scotland, to support his interest in being elected member of Parliament; so that he took his leave of me, with a full resolution of seeing me again before the time of my lying-in; and all the comfort I enjoyed in his absence, was the perusal of his letters, which I punctually received, together with those of his sister, who, from time to time, favoured me with assurances of his constancy and devotion. Indeed, these testimonials were necessary to one of my disposition; for I was none of those who could be contented with half a heart. I could not even spare one complacent look to any other woman, but expected the undivided homage of his love. Had I been disappointed in this expectation, I should, though a wife, have rebelled or died.

“Meanwhile my parents treated me with great tenderness, intending that Lord W– should be settled in a house of his own, and accommodated with my fortune, and his expectations from the queen were very sanguine, when I was taken ill, and delivered of a dead child, an event which affected me extremely. When I understood the extent of my misfortune, my heart throbbed with such violence, that my breast could scarce contain it; and my anxiety, being aggravated by the absence of my lord, produced a dangerous fever, of which he was no sooner apprised by letter, than he came post from Scotland; but, before his arrival, I was supposed to be in a fair way.

“During this journey, he was tortured with all that terrible suspense which prevails in the minds of those who are in danger of losing that which is most dear to them; and, when he entered the house, was so much overwhelmed with apprehension, that he durst not inquire about the state of my health. As for my part, I never closed an eye from the time on which I expected his return; and, when I heard his voice, I threw open my curtains, and sat up in the bed to receive him, though at the hazard of my life. He ran towards me with all the eagerness of passion, and clasped me in his arms; he kneeled by the bedside, and kissed my hand a thousand times, and wept with transports of tenderness and joy. In short, this meeting was so pathetic as to overcome my enfeebled constitution, and we were parted by those who were wiser than ourselves, and saw that nothing was so proper for us as a little repose.

“But how shall I relate the deplorable transition from envied happiness to excess of misery which I now sustained! My month was hardly up, when my dear husband was taken ill; perhaps the fatigue of body, as well as mind, which he had undergone on my account, occasioned a fatal ferment in his blood, and his health fell a sacrifice to his love. Physicians were called from London, but alas! they brought no hopes of his recovery. By their advice, he was removed to town, for the convenience of being punctually attended. Every moment was too precious to be thrown away; he was therefore immediately put into the coach, though the day was far spent; and I, though exceedingly weak, accompanied him in the journey, which was performed by the light of flambeaus, and rendered unspeakingly shocking by the dismal apprehension of losing him every moment.

“At length, however, we arrived at our lodgings in Pall Mall, where I lay by him on the floor, and attended the issue of his distemper in all the agonies of horror and despair. In a little time his malady settled upon his brain, and, in his delirium, he uttered such dreadful exclamations, as were sufficient to pierce the most savage heart. What effect then must they have had on mine, which was fraught with every sentiment of the most melting affection! It was not a common grief that took possession of my soul; I felt all the aggravation of the most acute distress. I sometimes ran down the street in a fit of distraction: I sent for the doctors every minute: I wearied Heaven with my prayers; even now my heart aches at the remembrance of what I suffered, and I cannot, without trembling, proceed with the woeful story.

“After having lain insensible some days, he recovered the use of speech, and called upon my name, which he had a thousand times repeated while he was bereft of reason. All hopes of his life were now relinquished, and I was led to his bedside to receive his last adieus, being directed to summon all my fortitude, and suppress my sorrow, that he might not be disturbed by my agitation. I collected all my resolution to support me in this affecting scene. I saw my dear lord in extremity. The beauties of his youth were all decayed; yet his eyes, though languid, retained unspeakable sweetness and expression. He felt his end approaching, put forth his hand, and, with a look full of complacency and benevolence, uttered such a tender tale–good Heaven! how had I deserved such accumulated affliction, the bare remembrance of which now melts me into tears? Human nature could not undergo my situation without suffering an ecstasy of grief. I clasped him in my arms, and kissed him a thousand times, with the most violent emotions of woe; but I was torn from his embrace, and in a little time he was ravished for ever from my view.

“On that fatal morning, which put a period to his life, I saw the duchess of L– approach my bed, and, from her appearance, concluded that he was no more; yet I begged she would not confirm the unhappy presage by announcing his death; and she accordingly preserved the most emphatic silence. I got up, and trod softly over his head, as if I had been afraid of interrupting his repose. Alas! he was no longer sensible of such disturbance. I was seized with a stupefaction of sorrow; I threw up the window and, looking around, thought the sun shone with the most dismal aspect; everything was solitary, cheerless, and replete with horror.

“In this condition I was, by the direction of my friend, conveyed to her house, where my faculties were so overpowered by the load of anguish which oppressed me, that I know not what passed during the first days of my unhappy widowhood; this only I know, the kind duchess treated me with all imaginable care and compassion, and carried me to her country house, where I stayed some months; during which, she endeavoured to comfort me with all the amusements she could invent, and laid me under such obligations as shall never be erased from my remembrance. Yet, notwithstanding all her care and concern, I was, by my excess of grief, plunged into a languishing distemper, for which my physicians advised me to drink the Bath waters.

“In compliance with this prescription, I went thither towards the end of summer, and found some benefit by adhering to their directions.

Though I seldom went abroad, except when I visited my sister-in-law, who was there with the princess; and, upon these occasions, I never failed to attract the notice of the company, who were struck with the appearance of such a young creature in weeds. Nor was I free from the persecution of professed admirers; but, being dead to all joy, I was deaf to the voice of adulation.

“About Christmas I repaired to my father’s house, where my sorrows were revived by every object that recalled the idea of my dear lamented lord. But these melancholy reflections I was obliged to bear, because I had no other home or habitation, being left an unprovided widow, altogether dependent on the affection of my own family. During this winter, divers overtures were made to my father by people who demanded me in marriage; but my heart was not yet sufficiently weaned from my former passion to admit the thoughts of another master. Among those that presented their proposals was a certain young nobleman, who, upon the first news of Lord W–‘s death, came post from Paris, in order to declare his passion. He made his first appearance in a hired chariot-and-six, accompanied by a big fat fellow, whom (as I afterwards learned) he had engaged to sound his praises, with a promise of a thousand pounds, in lieu of which he paid him forty. Whether it was with a view of screening himself from the cold, or of making a comfortable medium in case of being overturned, and falling under his weighty companion, I know not; but, certain it is, the carriage was stuffed with hay, in such a manner, that, when he arrived, the servants were at some pains in rummaging and removing it, before they could come at their master, or help him to alight. When he was lifted out of the chariot, he exhibited a very ludicrous figure to the view. He was a thin, meagre, shivering creature, of a low stature, with little black eyes, a long nose, sallow complexion, and pitted with the smallpox; dressed in a coat of light brown frieze, lined with pink-coloured shag, a monstrous solitaire and bag, and, if I remember right, a pair of huge jack-boots. In a word, his whole appearance was so little calculated for inspiring love, that I had, on the strength of seeing him once before at Oxford, set him down as the last man on earth whom I would choose to wed; and I will venture to affirm, that he was in every particular the reverse of my late husband.

“As my father was not at home, he stayed but one evening, and left his errand with my mother, to whom he was as disagreeable as to myself; so that his proposal was absolutely rejected, and I heard no more of him during the space of three whole months, at the expiration of which I went to town, where this mortifying figure presented itself again, and renewed his suit, offering such advantageous terms of settlement, that my father began to relish the match, and warmly recommended it to my consideration.

“Lord W–‘s relations advised me to embrace the opportunity of making myself independent. All my acquaintance plied me with arguments to the same purpose. I was uneasy at home, and indifferent to all mankind. I weighed the motives with the objections, and with reluctance yielded to the importunity of my friends. In consequence of this determination, the little gentleman was permitted to visit me; and the manner of his address did not alter the opinion I had conceived of his character and understanding. I was even shocked at the prospect of marrying a man whom I could not love; and, in order to disburden my own conscience, took an opportunity of telling him, one evening, as we sat opposite to each other, that it was not in my power to command my affection, and therefore he could not expect the possession of my heart, Lord W–‘s indulgence having spoiled me for a wife; nevertheless, I would endeavour to contract a friendship for him, which would entirely depend upon his own behaviour.

“To this declaration he replied, to my great surprise, that he did not desire me to love him; my friendship was sufficient; and next day repeated this strange instance of moderation in a letter, which I communicated to my sister, who laughed heartily at the contents, and persuaded me, that since I could love no man, he was the properest person to be my husband.

“Accordingly, the wedding clothes and equipage being prepared, the day–the fatal day–was fixed; on the morning of which I went to the house of my brother-in-law, duke H–, who loved me tenderly, and took my leave of the family, a family which I shall always remember with love, honour, and esteem. His grace received me in the most affectionate manner, saying at parting, “Lady W–, if he does not use you well, I will take you back again.”

“The bridegroom and I met at Ox– Chapel, where the ceremony was performed by the bishop of W–, in presence of his lordship’s mother, my father, and another lady. The nuptial knot being tied, we set out for my father’s house in the country, and proceeded full twenty miles on our journey before my lord opened his mouth, my thoughts having been all that time employed on something quite foreign to my present situation; for I was then but a giddy girl of eighteen. At length my father broke silence, and clapping his lordship on the shoulder, told him he was but a dull bridegroom; upon which my lord gave him to understand that he was out of spirits.

This dejection continued all the day, notwithstanding the refreshment of a plentiful dinner which he ate upon the road; and in the evening we arrived at the place of our destination, where we were kindly received by my mother, though she had no liking to the match; and, after supper, we retired to our apartment.

“It was here that I had occasion to perceive the most disagreeable contrast between my present helpmate and my former lord. Instead of flying to my arms with all the eagerness of love and rapture, this manly representative sat moping in a corner, like a criminal on execution day, and owned he was ashamed to bed with a woman whose hand he had scarce ever touched.

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