Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Delany, Mary

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DELANY, MARY (1700–1788), wife of Patrick Delany [q. v.], was born 14 May 1700, at Coulston, Wiltshire. She was daughter of Bernard Granville, younger brother of George Granville, lord Lansdowne [q. v.], by the daughter of Sir Martin Westcomb. Her father's sister Ann was maid of honour to Queen Mary, and afterwards married Sir John Stanley, who from 1708 to 1744 was one of the commissioners of customs. Mary Granville was sent to live with her aunt, in expectation of a place in Queen Anne's household. Upon the death of Queen Anne, the Granvilles fell with the tories. Bernard Granville was arrested, and retired upon his release, to Buckland, near Campden, Gloucestershire. Here Mary was admired by an amiable young man named Twyford. Her uncle, Lord Lansdowne, after eighteen months in the Tower, settled at Longleat, then in possession of his wife's family. His niece was sent to stay with him, and there met Alexander Pendarves of Roscrow, near Falmouth, Cornwall, who was near sixty, fat, snuffy, sulky, and engaged in a desperate quarrel with a nephew. He wished to marry Miss Granville, probably to spite the nephew. Lord Lansdowne approved of the match, Pendarves having a fine estate, and told his niece that he would have her lover Twyford dragged through a horsepond should he venture to appear. The niece yielded to these arguments, and was married to Pendarves 17 Feb. 1717–18. Though disagreeable, he was not cruel or ‘snappish’ in public, and even kept himself tolerably sober for two years after his marriage. The pair lived for that period at Roscrow, when Pendarves went to London, his wife following him a year later to a house which he had taken in Rose Street, Hog Lane, Soho. Her father died in 1723, and her husband on 8 March 1725 of a fit. She unluckily dissuaded him on the day before his death from signing his will, and was left with nothing but her jointure, though unaffectedly glad of her release from her husband. She had already repelled more than one lover who had ventured to approach the old man's young wife. She now listened with some favour to Lord Baltimore. After five years of courtship he made an offer which she hesitated to accept, when he transferred himself to the daughter of Sir Theodore Janssen. This affair and the death of her aunt, Lady Stanley, with whom she lived a good deal, affected her, and she made a visit to Ireland with a friend, Mrs. Donnellan. She stayed there from September 1731 to April 1733. She made the acquaintance of the literary ladies, Mrs. Grierson and others, who worshipped Swift. She saw much of Delany (whose first marriage took place during her visit), and met Swift himself, with whom she corresponded occasionally during his remaining years of intelligence. After returning to London, she saw much of the society of the day. She was often with her uncle, Sir John Stanley, at Somerset House, where his office gave him apartments. The Granvilles were connected with many aristocratic families. Her especial friend was the Duchess of Portland, and she was frequently at Bulstrode, the duke's country house. In 1743 Delany came to England expressly to ask her to be his wife. Her noble friends and her brother were indignant at the misalliance; but she resolved this time to have her own way, and was married 9 June 1743, or a few days later. Until Delany's death in 1768 they lived happily, though the decline of his health and the lawsuit in which they were engaged caused her much anxiety [see Delany, Patrick]. Upon his death she took a house in Thatched House Court, and afterwards in St. James's Place; but she spent a great part of her time with the Duchess of Portland. We are earnestly assured by her biographers that she was never a dependent or ‘companion’ to the duchess, having a house and means of her own. She passed the summers at Bulstrode, and the winters in her own house in London. She had the supreme honour of being introduced to the royal family, and George III called her his ‘dearest Mrs. Delany.’ To the queen, with the ‘utmost fearfulness of being too presumptuous,’ she offered, as a ‘lowly tribute of her humble duty and earnest gratitude,’ a specimen of the flower work for which she became famous. This consisted of a ‘paper mosaic,’ bits of coloured paper cut out by the eye, and pasted upon paper. It was praised by Darwin in his ‘Loves of the Plants’ (canto ii. 155), who added a note by Miss Seward's advice to correct the inaccuracy of his description. Between 1774, when she began it, and 1784, when her eyesight had failed, she had finished nearly one thousand specimens (Madame d'Arblay's Diary, ii. 170, 209; Delany, Autobiography, &c. 2nd ser. ii. 215, iii. 96, 97). Miss Burney was introduced to her in January 1783 by Mrs. Chapone, and by Mrs. Delany's persuasion the Duchess of Portland overcame her natural horror for ‘female novel writers’ sufficiently to permit an introduction. The duchess died 17 July 1785, when the king gave Mrs. Delany a house in Windsor, and added a pension of 300l. a year. Mrs. Delany was such a favourite that the royal family often visited her more than once a day. She introduced Miss Burney to the king and queen, and obtained for her a place in the household. Mrs. Delany was now declining in health, and died 15 April 1788. She is now probably best known from her connection with Miss Burney. The editor of the autobiography charges Miss Burney with gross misrepresentation, especially in the memoirs of Dr. Burney. A ‘waiting-woman’ of Mrs. Delany, who was a clergyman's daughter, points out that Miss Burney was the daughter of a music-master, and as an ‘authoress’ was necessarily untrustworthy. Miss Burney, it is true, speaks with boundless enthusiasm of Mrs. Delany, but appears to insinuate (or so it is suggested) that the condescension was not all upon Mrs. Delany's side, exaggerated their familiarity, and moreover has misrepresented the relations between Mrs. Delany and the Duchess of Portland.

Six volumes of autobiography and letters show Mrs. Delany to have been an amiable and virtuous woman, universally respectable, and in her later years capable of telling many interesting anecdotes of Swift, Pope, and others to a later generation. Burke, says Madame d'Arblay, called her ‘the fairest model of female excellence of the days that were passed.’ She was fairly educated, and her flower mosaic was astonishing for a lady of over seventy. But the letters are chiefly interesting as specimens of the commonplace gossip of good society in the eighteenth century. A little literature then went a long way in a woman, and Mrs. Delany was treated as an intellectual equal by Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Chapone, Mrs. Carter, and the other respectable females of literary tastes. Even Horace Walpole speaks of her with respect. Her portrait was twice painted by Opie, for George III and for Lady Bute. The former picture was placed at Hampton Court.

[Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, ed. by Lady Llanover, 1st series, 3 vols. 1861, 2nd series, 3 vols. 1862; Gent. Mag. for 1788, pp. 371, 462; Nichols's Anecd. iv. 715; Biog. Brit. (information from George Keats and Mrs. Delany's nephew, Court Dewes); Letters of Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Frances Hamilton, from 1779 to 1788, 1820; Mme. d'Arblay's Diary; Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 300–14, iii. 45–62, 103–5; Walpole's Letters; Swift's Works.]

L. S.