Vesey, Elizabeth (DNB00)

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VESEY, ELIZABETH (1715?–1791), one of the ‘blue-stocking’ coterie in London, born about 1715, was the second daughter of Sir Thomas Vesey, bishop of Ossory, who married Mary, only surviving daughter of Denny Muschamp of Horsley, Surrey [see under Vesey, John]. Elizabeth married, first, William Handcock of Willsbrook, Westmeath, M.P. for Fore; and secondly, before 1746, Agmondesham Vesey, M.P. for Harristown, co. Kildare, and Kinsale, co. Cork, who held the appointment of accountant-general of Ireland, probably from 1767. In the summer of 1762 the Veseys went with Lord Bath, Elizabeth Montagu [q. v.], and Dr. Monsey to Lord Lyttelton's seat of Hagley (Doran, Lady of Last Century, p. 132), and Vesey assisted Lyttelton in his ‘Life of Henry II’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. app. i. 491). In 1777 they visited Burke at Beaconsfield. Vesey was made a privy councillor in Ireland in the spring of 1776, and on 2 April 1773, through the friendship of Burke, who described him as ‘a man of gentle manners,’ he was elected a member of ‘The Club.’ Malone wrote that his desire for election was so great that he had ‘couriers stationed to bring him the quickest intelligence of his success’ (ib. 12th Rep. app. x. 344).

Johnson, when forming from the members of ‘The Club’ the staff of an imaginary university, erroneously assigned to Vesey ‘Irish antiquities or Celtic learning.’ Vesey was quite ignorant of any such subjects. Architecture was his hobby, and he indulged it in his house at Lucan, near Dublin. The old house, which he had improved in 1750, was in 1776 removed to make way for a new structure ‘in Mr. Vesey's correct Grecian state’ (Mrs. Carter to Mrs. Montagu, iii. 39–40). Sir William Chambers refers to Vesey's ‘new method of slating’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. app. x. 319, 332). The grounds surrounding the house were much praised by Arthur Young (Tour in Ireland, 1892 edit. i. 30). Vesey died without issue early in June 1785, and by his will made ‘very inadequate provision for his widow; but the nephew and heir acted with great kindness and liberality.’

Mrs. Vesey sought ‘to see everything and everybody;’ and she was popular with every one (even with Horace Walpole, who called her parties ‘Babels’). So early as 1755 Mrs. Montagu made her acquaintance at Tunbridge Wells, and found in her an easy politeness ‘that gains one in a moment,’ while ‘in reserve she has good sense and an improved mind’ (Mrs. Montagu, Letters, 1813, iii. 306, 310). Her London parties attained their chief fame between 1770 and 1784. Her house in London was at first in Bolton Row, and Mrs. Carter wrote with enthusiasm, both in January 1768 and in October 1779, of its ‘dear blue room;’ but in 1780 Mrs. Vesey purchased and removed to ‘Mrs. Digby's house in Clarges Street.’ Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Handcock, lived with her and managed the house. She was called ‘body’ and Mrs. Vesey ‘mind.’ From her ‘spirit, wit, and vivacity’ she was known to Mrs. Carter and many friends as ‘The Sylph.’ The ‘Blue Stocking’ parties of Mrs. Vesey were given every other Tuesday, the day when the members of ‘The Club’ dined together and came to her afterwards. Details of these parties are given by Bennet Langton (Boswell, Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 426), Wraxall (Hist. Memoirs, ed. Wheatley, i. 103–4, 115), Madame d'Arblay (Diary, ii. 286–93), and Montagu Pennington (Memoirs of Mrs. Carter, i. 466–70). Pennington praises her magic art of putting people at their ease; but her hatred of formalities occasionally led her into extremes (D'Arblay, Diary, i. 184). She wished to introduce the Abbé Raynal to Johnson (Mrs. Chapone, Posthumous Works, 1807, i. 172), and Hannah More in 1781 writes of her party as collected ‘from the Baltic to the Po, a Russian nobleman, an Italian virtuoso, and General Paoli.’ Wraxall claims that her gatherings were ‘more select and more delicate’ than those of Mrs. Montagu (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. app. x. 279). By 1786 Mrs. Vesey was much depressed and her memory impaired; but she received her friends down to January 1788. Mrs. Handcock died in February 1789, and Mrs. Vesey was then ‘bereft of her faculties,’ a fate which she always dreaded. She lingered in this state until 1791. Pennington possessed a portrait of her in crayons.

Hannah More sent to Sir W. W. Pepys on 24 July 1783 ‘a parcel of idle verses,’ with which she hoped to divert Mrs. Vesey, whose sight was then very bad, and who was ‘banished from London.’ This was the poem of ‘Bas Bleu, or Conversation,’ which, after circulation in manuscript and much alteration, was published in 1786 and ‘addressed to Mrs. Vesey.’ It began with the words

    Vesey, of verse the judge and friend,

dwelt on the qualities of many of the guests at her parties, and gave to her, with Mrs. Boscawen and Mrs. Montagu, the ‘triple crown’ for dispelling cards by conversation.

Mrs. Vesey urged Mrs. Montagu to publish her letters, and a letter from that lady to her is in the ‘Letters of Mrs. Montagu’ (1813), iv. 337–8. The letters of Mrs. Carter to Miss Catherine Talbot [q. v.] and Mrs. Vesey were published by Montagu Pennington in four volumes in 1809, and other letters to her from Mrs. Carter are in Pennington's ‘Memoirs’ of that lady (i. 358–63, 408–10, 458–60). A poem ‘to Mrs. Vesey, 1766,’ is in the same work (ii. 108–11). The ‘Ode to Humanity’ appended to vol. ii. in the first edition of Mrs. Carter's ‘Letters’ as by Mrs. Vesey was written by John Langhorne [q. v.] and it was omitted in the edition of 1809 (Gent. Mag. 1808, ii. 1144). A lively letter from her is in Roberts's ‘Memoirs of Hannah More’ (i. 336–8).

[Letters of Mrs. Carter to Mrs. Montagu (1817); Roberts's Hannah More; Walpole's Letters, vii. 497, 510, viii. 525, ix. 115; Mrs. Delany's Life, ii. 415, 503, 557, vi. 219, 267; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill, i. 479, ii. 318, iv. 28, v. 108; Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, ed. 1835, p. 112; Johnson's Letters, ed. Hill, ii. 88; Johnsonian Misc. ed. Hill, i. 229, ii. 58–60; Madame d'Arblay's Diary, i. 244–5, ii. 270–71; Sherlock's Letters (1781), ii. 165–6; Mrs. Carter's Letters (1809), preface and iii. 244, 287; Gent. Mag. (1808), ii. 581.]

W. P. C.