Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 2/Letter 33
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Volume 2/Letter 33
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To MRS. RUXTON.
8 HOLLES STREET, April 10, 1822.
The great variety of society in London, and the solidity of the sense and information to be gathered from conversation, strike me as far superior to Parisian society. We know, I think, six different and totally independent sets, of scientific, literary, political, travelled, artist, and the fine fashionable, of various shades; and the different styles of conversation are very entertaining.
Through Lydia White we have become more acquainted with Mrs. Siddons than I ever expected to be. She gave us the history of her first acting of Lady Macbeth, and of her resolving, in the sleep scene, to lay down the candlestick, contrary to the precedent of Mrs. Pritchard and all the traditions, before she began to wash her hands and say, "Out, vile spot!" Sheridan knocked violently at her door during the five minutes she had desired to have entirely to herself, to compose her spirits before the play began. He burst in, and prophesied that she would ruin herself for ever if she persevered in this resolution to lay down the candlestick! She persisted, however, in her determination, succeeded, was applauded, and Sheridan begged her pardon. She described well the awe she felt, and the power of the excitement given to her by the sight of Burke, Fox, Sheridan, and Sir Joshua Reynolds in the pit. She invited us to a private reading-party at her own house: present only her daughter, a very pretty young lady, a Mrs. Wilkinson, Mr. Burney, Dr. Holland, Lydia White, Mr. Harness and ourselves. She read one of her finest parts, and that best suited to a private room—Queen Katherine. She was dressed so as to do well for the two parts she was to perform this night, of gentlewoman and queen—black velvet, with black velvet cap and feathers. She sat the whole time, and with a large Shakespear before her; as she knew the part of Katherine by heart, she seldom required the help of glasses, and she recited it incomparably well: the changes of her countenance were striking. From her first burst of indignation when she objects to the Cardinal as her judge, to her last expiring scene, was all so perfectly natural and so touching, we could give no applause but tears. Mrs. Siddons is beautiful even at this moment. Some who had seen her on the stage in this part assured me that it had a much greater effect upon them in a private room, because they were near enough to see the changes of her countenance, and to hear the pathos of her half-suppressed voice. Some one said that, in the dying scene, her very pillow seemed sick.
She spoke afterwards of the different parts which she had liked and disliked to act; and when she mentioned the characters and scenes she had found easy or difficult, it was curious to observe that the feelings of the actress and the sentiments and reasons of the best critics meet. Whatever was not natural, or inconsistent with the main part of the character, she found she never could act well.
We spent three days at Easter at the Deepdene; the company there were Mr. C. Moore, Mr. Philip Henry Hope, Mr. and Miss Burrowes, Mr. Harness, Lord Fincastle, Lady Clare, and Lady Isabella Fitzgibbon, and Lord Archibald Hamilton. Deepdene is beautiful at this time of the year—the hawthorn hedges, the tender green of the larch and the sycamore in full leaf.
To MRS. EDGEWORTH.
HOLIES STREET, April 20.
We are going at two o'clock, and it is now half-past one, to a private view of Sir John Swinburne's pictures, and we are to dine nine miles out of town, at Flasket House, with Mrs. Fry.
Barry Fox came yesterday to Grove House, and looked much like a gentleman, as he is, and seemed pleased with his cousins, as well he might be.
I wish, my dearest mother, you would write a note to Dr. Holland in your next; he has been so kind and sympathising. Miss Bessy Holland has come to stay some weeks with her brother—good for her, and for us; she is very amiable. I find a card from Jeffrey was left here while we were at Grove House.
Just returned from water—colour pictures; some of Prout's of old towns abroad, like Chester; met there—not at Chester—Lord Grey, Wilkie, Mulready, Lord Radstock, and the Miss Waldegraves, and Lady Stafford, who has more ready and good five minutes' conversation than anybody I know. She says the French have lost all their national recollections; in travelling through France she asked for various places famous in history, of which they had lost all memory.
Carriage at the door, and I have not begun to dress!
The day before yesterday we saw Mrs. Tuite at Lady Sunderlin's. They have an admirable house. Miss Kitty Malone sees, and is most grateful for it.
Mrs. Fry's place at Flasket is beautiful, and she is delightful at home or at Newgate.
Paid a visit to Lady Derby; full as agreeable as when we saw her, half as fat, and twice as old; asked most kindly for you, and received your daughters with gracious grace.
Monday, went with Mr. Cohen and Mr. Cockerell to St. Paul's; he showed us his renovations done in excellent taste. Dined at Miss White's with Mr. Luttrell, Mr. Hallam, Mr. Sharpe, and Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Nicholson; she is Lady Davy's half-sister. Most agreeable conversation; no dinners more agreeable than Lydia White's. Poor creature! how she can go through it I cannot imagine, she is dying. It is dreadful to look at her!
In the evening at Miss Stable's, Anna's friend; met there Mrs. Cunliffe, who was Miss Crewe, very agreeable and, though not regularly handsome, very pleasing in countenance and person.
Tuesday, spent a happy hour at the Museum. We dined at Mrs. Marcet's, with only herself and children. Then to an "at home," at Mrs. Ricardo's, merely for ten minutes to see the famous Mr. Hume. Don't like him much; attacks all things and persons, never listens, has no judgment.
Since Harriet last wrote we have been to Harrow to hear the speeches of the first class of boys, our future orators. It was a very interesting scene, attended by many ladies, as well as gentlemen. Two of the speeches were from Henry IV., one the crown tried on, well repeated. The situation of the school is beautiful, the lawn laid out with great taste; the master, Dr. Butler, a very well-informed agreeable man, with a picturesque head. We had a very elegant collation, and I sat beside a very agreeable thin old nobleman of the old school, Lord Clarendon. Upon the whole, after hearing the speeches and recitations of these youths, I said to myself, how much better my father taught to read and recite than any of these masters can.
The sudden death of the Primate and the horrible circumstances attending it have incapacitated me from any more home-writing at this moment. Mrs. Stuart gave him the medicine; he had twice asked for his draught, and when she saw the servant come in she ran down, seized the bottle and poured it out without looking at the label, which was most distinct "for external application." When dying, and when struggling under the power of the opium, he called for a pencil and wrote these words for a comfort to his wife: "I could not have lived long, my dear love, at all events."
I enclose a note from Lady Louisa Stuart, the Primate's sister; it is most touching, especially the account of the feelings of his parishioners.
We have been at the Caledonian ball—Harriet has written a description of it to Pakenham; and also to a very pleasant dance at Mrs. Shaw Lefevre's, where Fanny and Harriet had good partners.
I have subscribed £10 to the Irish poor subscription. Spring Rice, whom I very much like, tells me he has been touched to the heart by the generous eagerness with which the English merchants and city people have contributed to this fund. A very large sum is already at his disposal, and he has wisely considered that if this money be not judiciously applied it will do more harm than good. He has done me the honour to consult me about his plan, of which I enclose a copy.
At Captain Kater's breakfast yesterday we met Greenough, Captain Beaufort, Warburton, and young Herschel, a man of great abilities, to whom Sir Humphry Davy paid an elegant compliment the other day in a speech as President to the Royal Society. "His father must rejoice in such a son, who secures to him a double immortality."
Just received yours of the 17th. Curious that you should have been saying to me the same thing I was saying to you about the Irish subscriptions. Poor Peggy Mulheeran! her letter is most pathetic. Fanny and Harriet are at this moment dining at dear Mrs. Lushington's, and I am going alone to a dinner at Lydia's, to meet Sidney Smith—they come in the evening. We met Lady Byron lately at Mrs. Lushington's. Dinner at Lord and Lady Darnley's—all manner of attention. Greenough has been most kind; admirable collection of fossils—taking out all his thousand drawers for us. Bellman.
In the hurried life we have led for some weeks past, and among the great variety of illustrious and foolish people we have seen pass in rapid panoramas before us, some remain for ever fixed in the memory, and some few touch the heart. We have just breakfasted with Spring Rice and Lady Theodosia. She has a placid, amiable, and winning countenance—pretty curly-haired children, such as you or Sir Joshua would paint.
At this breakfast were Mr. Rice's sister, Lady Hunt, a charming woman. Mr. Grant, our late secretary, with sense, goodness, and indolence in his countenance, and Mr. Randolph, the American, very tall and thin, as if a stick instead of shoulders stretched out his coat; his hair tied behind with a black ribbon, but not pigtailed, it flows from the ribbon, like old Steele's, with a curl at the end, mixed brown and gray; his face wrinkled like a peach-stone, but all pliable, muscles moving with every sensation of a feeling soul and lively imagination; quick dark eyes, with an indefinable expression of acquired habitual sedateness, in despite of nature; his tone of voice mild and repressed, yet in this voice he speaks thoughts that breathe and words that burn; he is one of the most eloquent men I ever heard speak, and there is a novelty in his view of things, and in his new world of allusions, in art and nature, which is highly interesting.
Besides the pleasure we should naturally have taken in his conversation, we have been doubly pleased by his gratifying attention to ourselves, and, my dearest mother, still more by the manner in which he distinguished your Francis, who was with us. Spring Rice told us that Mr. Abercromby, who had met him at Joanna Baillie's, told him he was one of the finest and most promising boys he had ever seen.
Do, for heaven's sake, some good soul or body, write forthwith to Black Castle, and learn whether Aunt Ruxton likes the gown I sent her—gray cloth. If not, I will get her another.
FROGNEL, HAMPSTEAD, June 3.
A few lines ever so short and hurried are better than none. We gave up our house and paid all our bills on Saturday; left London and came to Frognel—delicious Frognel! Hay-making—profusion of flowers—rhododendrons as fine as four of mine, flowering down to the grass. All our friends with open arms on steps in the verandah to receive us.
A large party of Southebys, etc., including Mrs. Tuite, put by for future description. Second day: Wollaston, Dr. and Miss Holland. Harriet sat beside Wollaston at dinner, and he talked unusually, veiling for her the terror of his beak and lightning of his eye. He has indeed been very kind and amiable in distinguishing your daughters as worth speaking to.
To-day I came to town with Mrs. Carr, and my sisters, and the Miss Carrs, and they went to a Prison Discipline meeting to hear Macintosh speak; but I was not able to go, and have done worlds of business since.
We have changed our plans a little: going to Portsmouth first, and to Slough on our return; we were to have gone by Slough, but the Prince of Denmark and the King going to Ascot took up all horses and beds, so we were obliged to go the other road.
51 MANCHESTER STREET, LONDON,
We have accomplished, much to our satisfaction, our long-intended journey to Portsmouth. On Tuesday, at nine o'clock in the morning, we found ourselves according to appointment, in our own dear carriage, at your brother's door, and he and Francis seated themselves on the barouche seat. The weather was bronzing and melting hot, but your brother would insist on being bronzed and melted there during the heat of the day, in a stoical style disdaining a parasol, though why it should be more unmanly to use a parasol than a parapluie I cannot, for the sense of me, understand.
Lady Grey, wife of the commissioner—he is away—ordered all the works and dockyard to be open to us, and the Government boat to attend upon us; saw the Nelson—just finished; and went over the Phaeton, and your brother showed us his midshipman's berth and his lieutenant's cabin. And now for the Block machinery, you will say, but it is impossible to describe this in a letter of moderate or immoderate size. I will only say that the ingenuity and successful performance far surpassed my expectations. Machinery so perfect appears to act with the happy certainty of instinct and the foresight of reason combined.
We took a barge to the Isle of Wight—charming day. You take a sociable, and the Felicity-hunter goes in it as far as the horses can take him. It was the most gratifying thing to me to see "Uncle Francis" and all of them so happy. We slept at Steephill; and in the morning went to see Carisbrook Castle. Dined at Portsmouth with Sir James and Lady Lyon.
But oh, my dear mother, at the little pretty flowery-lawned inn where we dined on our way to Slough, as your brother was reading the newspaper, he came to the death of our dear Mr. Smith, of Easton Grey. At Sir Benjamin Hobhouse's, a few months ago, he was the gayest of the gay, and she the fondest and happiest of wives.
At Slough we saw the great telescope—never used now. Drove to Windsor—building and terrace equal to my expectations. At night the clouds were so good as to disperse, and we saw a double star.
* * *
Miss Edgeworth's wonderful conversational powers, combined with her homely aspect, and perfectly unassuming manners, made a great impression upon many of those who met her in London. Ticknor says of Maria Edgeworth: "There was a life and spirit about her conversation, she threw herself into it with such abandon, she retorted with such brilliant repartee, and, in short, she talked with such extraordinary flow of natural talent, that I don't know whether anything of the kind could be finer."
On 27th June Miss Edgeworth returned with her half-sisters to Edgeworthstown, taking up the thread of her domestic affairs as if there had been no interruption, and she immediately set to work on the sequel to Harry and Lucy.
- On the death of Miss Edgeworth's beloved "aunt", Mrs. Charlotte Sneyd of Edgeworthstown.
- Hon. William Stuart, Archbishop of Armagh, fifth son of the third Earl of Bute; he married Sophia, daughter of Thomas Penn of Stoke Poges.
- Daughter of Lady Elizabeth Whitbread, married to Charles Shaw Lefevre, afterwards Viscount Eversley.
- Afterwards Sir John Herschel, the famous astronomer and philosopher.
- Her half-brother, son of Mrs. Edgeworth.
- To Mr. Carr's