Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trench, Melesina

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For works with similar titles, see Melesina Trench.

TRENCH, MELESINA (1768–1827), authoress, was the daughter of Philip Chenevix, by his wife Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Archdeacon Gervais, and granddaughter of Richard Chenevix [q. v.], bishop of Waterford, who owed his see to the cordial liking of the famous Lord Chesterfield, lord-lieutenant of Ireland from 1745 to 1746. Born in Dublin on 22 March 1768, Melesina was brought up after the death of her parents by her grandfather, Bishop Chevenix, and her kinswoman, Lady Lifford, and after the death of the bishop in 1779 she went to live with her maternal grandfather, Archdeacon Gervais, through whose library she rambled at large, and, with precocious taste and intelligence, selected as her favourites Shakespeare, Molière, and Sterne. She developed great personal beauty, and on 31 Oct. 1786 she married Colonel Richard St. George of Carrick-on-Shannon and Hatley Manor, co. Leitrim, whose deathbed she attended in Portugal only two years after the marriage. For ten years she lived in great seclusion with her child, and it is not until 1798 that her deeply interesting journal commences. During 1799 and 1800 she travelled in Germany, mixing in the very best society, and noting many items of historical interest. From Berlin and Dresden she proceeded to Vienna, of the society of which place she relates some curious anecdotes. At Dresden, on her return journey, she met Nelson and Lady Hamilton, of whose lack of refinement some unpleasant instances are afforded. ‘One is sorry for the account of Nelson, but one cannot doubt it’ (Fitzgerald, Letters; cf. Mahan, Life of Nelson, i. 380, ii. 43–5). She also met while in Germany Rivarol, Lucien Bonaparte, and John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States (an account of this ‘Tour’ was privately issued by her son Richard in 1861; it was then incorporated in the ‘Remains’ of 1862). In July 1802, after a short stay in England, Mrs. St. George landed from Dover at Calais, on what proved a five years' sojourn in France. On 3 March 1803 she married at Paris Richard (1774–1860), the sixth son of Frederick Trench (1724–1797) of Moate, co. Galway. Her husband's eldest brother, Frederic, was created Lord Ashtown in 1800. From his ancestor, Frederick Trench (d. 1669) of Garbally, co. Galway, Richard Le Poer Trench, second earl of Clancarty [q. v.], also descended. Both Chenevixes and Trenches were of Huguenot origin.

Henceforth in the record of her life the place of the journal is supplied by the charming letters to her husband and to her old friends in England and Ireland. After the rupture of the peace of Amiens her husband was detained in France by Napoleon, and was confined to the Loire district. She made repeated visits to Paris to urge his release, and in August 1805 she delivered in person a petition to Napoleon for a passport for her husband; but it was not until 1807 that the requisite document was obtained and the Trenches were enabled to make their way to Rotterdam, whence, after a stormy voyage, they reached England. At Dublin, in November, she met her old friend and correspondent, Mrs. Leadbeater, whom she had employed as almoner among her husband's tenants in Ireland. Her beauty and simplicity won the hearts of the people. During a summer visit to the Leadbeaters it is related how she was discovered in the scullery surrounded by a small class of peasant children. The same charm made her much sought after in society, but the frivolities of a ‘modish’ life became more and more repugnant to her; and her letters represent more and more exclusively ‘la vie intérieure.’ The absence of external facts and detail certainly detracts to some extent from the interest of her correspondence. There are some interesting touches respecting Wellington, Jekyll, Mrs. Piozzi, Mrs. Fry, and Lord John Russell, but the references to the political society with which she mixed at Paris under the first empire are tantalisingly brief. No mean judge, Edward Fitzgerald, to whom her son Richard submitted her letters and papers in manuscript, classes her letters with those of Walpole and Southey, praising them especially for their ‘natural taste and good breeding’ (letter dated 3 July 1861). Mrs. Trench died at Malvern on 27 May 1827. Her husband survived her many years, dying at Botley Hill, Hampshire, aged 86, on 16 April 1860 (Gent. Mag. 1860, i. 640). At that date three of their children were surviving: Francis Chenevix Trench [q. v.]; Richard Chenevix Trench [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Dublin; and Philip Charles (1810–1888) of Botley.

Apart from the ‘Remains,’ including the journal and correspondence, of which two editions appeared in 1862 under the editorship of Richard Chenevix Trench, then dean of Westminster, Mrs. Trench's writings comprise: ‘Mary Queen of Scots, an historical Ballad, and other Poems’ (n.d. privately issued); ‘Campaspe, an historical Tale, and other Poems,’ Southampton, 1815, inscribed to her daughter; ‘Laura's Dream, or the Moonlanders,’ London, 1816, 8vo. All these were issued anonymously, and show the influence of Thomson, whose ‘Seasons’ she greatly admired, and, among contemporary poets, of Byron and Rogers. Posthumously appeared her ‘Thoughts of a Parent on Education, by the late Mrs. Richard Trench,’ London, 1837, 12mo.

A portrait engraved by Francis Holl from an oil painting by Romney, and showing a very sweet and delicate countenance, was prefixed to the ‘Remains’ (1862). An oil portrait of her, called ‘The Evening Star,’ was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. A miniature was executed by Jean-Baptiste Isabey at Paris in 1805. Another miniature by Hamilton was engraved by Francis Engleheart [q. v.]

[Remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench, 1862; The Leadbeater Correspondence, i. 287, 309, ii. 141–332; Hayward's Autobiogr. of Mrs. Piozzi, 1861, ii. 107; Gerard's Some Fair Hibernians, 1897, pp. 112–40; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Burke's Peerage, s.v. ‘Ashtown;’ Edinburgh Review, July 1862; Athenæum, 1862, i. 628; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.