Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 2/Letter 79
To HER SISTER HARRIET—MRS. R. BUTLER.
1 NORTH AUDLEY STREET,
March 16, 1831.
The days are hardly long enough to read all men's speeches in Parliament. I get the result into me from Fanny, and read only the notables. Mr. North's speech was, as you say, the best and plainest he ever made, and was so esteemed. Macaulay's reads better than it was spoken, quite marred in the delivery, and he does not look the orator; but no matter, in spite of his outside, his inside will get him on: he has far more power in him than Mr. North.
Get the eleventh volume of the new edition of Sir Walter's poems, containing a new Introduction and Essay on Ballads and ballad writing, all entertaining, and a model for egotists which very few will be able to follow, though many will strive and be laughed at for their pains.
Old as I am and imaginative as I am thought to be, I have really always found that the pleasures I have expected would be great have actually been greater in the enjoyment than in the anticipation. This is written in my sixty-fourth year. The pleasure of being with Fanny has been far, far greater than I had expected. The pleasures here altogether, including the kindness of old friends and the civilities of acquaintances, are still more enhanced than I had calculated upon by the home and the quiet library, and easy-chair morning retreat I enjoy. Our long-expected visit to Herschel above all has far surpassed my expectations, raised as they were and warm from the fresh enthusiasm kindled by his last work.
Mrs. Herschel, who by the bye is very pretty, which does no harm, is such a delightful person, with so much simplicity and so much sense, so fit to sympathise with him in all things intellectual and moral, and making all her guests comfortable and happy without any apparent effort; she was extremely kind to Fanny, and Mr. Herschel to Lestock.
Thursday I went down to Slough alone in Fanny's carriage, as Lestock was not well, and she would not leave him. There was no company, and the evening was delightfully spent in hearing and talking. I had made various pencil notes in my copy of his book to ask for explanations, and so patient and kind and clear they were.
On Saturday I began to grow very anxious about six o'clock, and Mrs. Herschel good-naturedly sympathised with me, and we stood at the window that looks out on a distant turn of the London road, and at last I saw a carriage glass flash and then an outline of a well-known coachman's form, and then the green chaise, and all right.
There were at dinner the Provost of Eton in his wig, a large fine presence of a Provost—Dr. Goodall; Mrs. Hervey, very pretty, and gave me a gardenia like a Cape jessamine, white, sweet smelling—much talking of it and smelling and handing it about; Mrs. Gwatkin, one of Sir Joshua Reynold's nieces, has been very pretty, and though deaf is very agreeable—enthusiastically and affectionately fond of her uncle—indignant at the idea of his not having himself written the Discourses; "Burke or Johnson indeed! no such thing—he wrote them himself. I am evidence, he used to employ me as his secretary: often I have been in the room when he has been composing, walking up and down the room, stopping sometimes to write a sentence," etc.
On Sunday to Windsor Chapel; saw the King and the Queen, and little Prince George of Cambridge, seen each through the separate compartments of their bay window up aloft. The service lasted three hours, and then we went, by particular desire, to Eton College, to see the Provost and Mrs. Goodall, and the pictures of all the celebrated men. Some of these portraits taken when very young are interesting; some from being like, some from being quite unlike what one would expect from their after characters. We saw the books of themes and poems that had been judged worth preserving. Canning's and Lord Wellesley's much esteemed. Drawers full of prints; many rare books; the original unique copy of Reynard the Fox—the table of contents of which is so exceedingly diverting I would fain have copied it on the spot, but the Provost told me a copy could be had at every stall for one penny.
Got home to Herschel's while the sun yet shone, and I having the day before begged the favour of him to repeat for Fanny and Lestock the experiments and explanations on polarised light and periodical colours, he had everything ready, and very kindly went over it all again, and afterwards said to Mrs. Herschel, "It is delightful to explain these things to Mrs. Wilson; she can understand anything with the least possible explanation."
It was a fine moonlight night, and he took us out to see Saturn and his rings, and the Moon and her volcanoes. Saturn, I thought, looked very much as he used to do; but the Moon did surprise and charm me—very different from anything I had seen or imagined of the moon. A large portion of a seemingly immense globe of something like rough ice, resplendent with light and all over protuberances like those on the outside of an oyster shell, supposing it immensely magnified in a Brobdingnag microscope, a lustrous-mica look all over the protuberances, and a distinctly marked mountain-in-a-map in the middle shaded delicately off.
I must remark to you that all the time we were seeing we were eighteen feet aloft, on a little stage about eight feet by three, with a slight iron rod rail on three sides, but quite open to fall in front, and Lestock repeatedly warned me not to forget and step forwards.
Monday, our visit, alas! was to come to an end. Mr. Herschel offered to take Lestock to town in his gig, which he accepted with pleasure, and Fanny and I went with Mrs. Herschel to see Sir Joshua's pictures at Mrs. Gwatkin's. There is one of Charles Fox done when he was eighteen: the face so faded that it looks like an unfinished sketch, not the least like any other picture I have ever seen of the jolly, moon-faced Charles Fox, but some resemblance to the boy of thirteen in the print I begged from Lord Buchan. The original "Girl with a muff" is here; the original also of "Simplicity," who has now flowers in her lap in consequence of the observation of a foolish woman who, looking at the picture as it was originally painted, with the child's hands interlaced, with the backs of the hands turned up, "How beautiful! How natural the dish of prawns the dear little thing has in her lap!"
Sir Joshua threw the flowers over the prawns.
There appeared in this collection many sad results of Sir Joshua's experiments on colours; a very fine copy of his from Rembrandt's picture of himself, all but the face so black as to be unintelligible. There was the first Sir Joshua ever drew of himself—and his last; this invaluable last is going—black cracks and masses of bladdery paint. He painted Mrs. Gwatkin seven times. "But don't be vain, my dear, I only use your head as I would that of any beggar—as a good practice."
Her husband is a true Roast Beef of Old England King and Constitution man, who most good-naturedly hunted out from his archives a letter of Hannah More's, which happened to be particularly interesting to me, on Garrick in the character of Hamlet; it was good, giving a decided view of what Garrick at least thought the unity of the character.
From metaphysics to physics, we finished with a noble slice of the roast beef of Old England, "fed, ma'am," said Mr. Gwatkin, "by his present Majesty, GOD bless him."
Arrived at No. 1 in good time, and dined yesterday at Lady Davy's. Rogers, Gally Knight, Lord Mahon, and Lord Ashburner, who was very agreeable. He has been eleven years roaming the world, and is not foreign-fangled. Mrs. Marcet, who came in the evening, was the happiness of it to me.
- Lestock Wilson.