Wilson, Harriette (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WILSON, HARRIETTE (1789–1846), woman of fashion, born about 1789, was the daughter of John James Dubouchet or De Bouchet, of Swiss origin, who kept a small shop in Mayfair. She inherited good manners and looks from her mother, a lady to whose charms she tells us that few men (her father unhappily among them) were insensible, and she seems to have been brought up to speak English and French, both indifferently. The course of her early career would appear to be indicated in the title of a small chapbook thrown out towards the close of her ‘public life’ as a sample of her ‘Memoirs;’ it was called ‘The Amorous Adventures of Harriette Wilson: her first introduction into private life as the kept mistress of Lord Craven, her intrigues with the Hon. Frederick Lamb, and how she became kept mistress of the Duke of Argyle’ [1825]. ‘I think I supped once in her society,’ wrote Scott in 1825, ‘at Mat. Lewis's in Argyle Street, where the company chanced to be fairer than honest. … She was far from beautiful, but a smart, saucy girl, with good eyes and dark hair, and the manners of a wild schoolboy’ (Lockhart, Life, 1893, p. 585). After about 1820 she resided to a large extent in Paris, whence by the kindness of Sir Charles Stuart she was enabled to despatch her correspondence through the medium of the foreign office bag. She was occupied for over a year in an intrigue with the Marquis of Worcester, of which some highly ridiculous details are afforded; but the ill-timed parsimony of the Duke of Beaufort, who thought to compound a promised annuity of 500l. by a single payment of 1,200l., excited in Harriette, whose temper was impatient, a lasting sense of ill-treatment. Taking Teresia Constantia Phillips [q. v.] as her model, she announced her intention of publishing her memoirs, and she found a sympathetic publisher in John Joseph Stockdale of the Opera Colonnade, Haymarket [see under Stockdale, John]. The book was avowedly written to extort money. ‘The Hon. Fred. Lamb,’ wrote Harriette, ‘has called on Stockdale to threaten us with prosecution; had he opened his purse to give me but a few hundreds, there would have been no book, to the infinite loss of all persons of good taste and genuine morality.’

The book duly appeared in four small volumes in 1825 as ‘Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, written by Herself,’ and created such a sensation that Stockdale's door was thronged ten deep on the mornings announced for the publication of a new volume, and a special barrier had to be erected to direct the passage of the applicants. Over thirty editions were stated to have been issued within the year. A French version, in six volumes, was published ‘chez L'Huillier, Rue Poupée, Paris,’ in 1825. The translation is stated to have been ‘corrigée par l'auteur,’ though the title ‘Mémoires d'Henriette Wilson’ is somewhat misleading. A set of coloured plates were executed to accompany the text, and copies with these illustrations are now scarce (one was sold in 1896 for six guineas; an uncoloured copy sold for 3l. 5s. in 1899). The work was denounced as a most ‘disgusting and gross prostitution of the press’ (see a pamphlet called A Commentary on the Licentious Liberty of the Press, London, 1825), but as a matter of fact the book is on the whole remarkably free from lubricity, while in point of coarseness it does not approach the ‘Memoirs of a Lady of Quality’ interpolated in ‘Peregrine Pickle.’ The dialogue is often amusing, but the loose and slipshod style does no credit to the editor, ‘Thomas Little’ (?Stockdale). The pseudonym would seem to have been daringly borrowed from Tom Moore, and was also employed for the ‘Confessions of an Oxonian,’ 1826, and for some pseudo-medical works issued from the Opera Colonnade. ‘The gay world,’ wrote Sir Walter Scott on 9 Dec. 1825, ‘has been kept in hot water lately by this impudent publication … the wit is poor, but the style of the interlocutors exactly imitated. … She beats Con Philips and Anne Bellamy and all former demireps out and out.’ Among the well-known names that figure prominently in the narrative are those of the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Hertford, Marquis Wellesley, the Earl of Fife, Prince Esterhazy, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, Lord Ebrington, Beau Brummell, Henry Luttrell and ‘his inseparable fat Nugent,’ Viscount Ponsonby, Richard Meyler, Lord Frederick Bentinck, Lord Byron, and Henry Brougham (who instigated the writer, as she informs us, to undertake her campaign against the ‘paltry conduct of his grace of Beaufort’). Actions were brought by Mr. Blore, a stonemason of Piccadilly, who was awarded 300l. damages, and by Hugh Evans Fisher, who received heavier damages in the court of common pleas on 21 May 1826 (Times, 22 May). Further instalments of the ‘Memoirs’ were threatened, but their appearance was averted. Harriette's former aristocratic admirers appear to have made her up a purse, upon the strength of which she buried her past and married a M. Rochefort or Rochfort. It is doubtful whether she had any share in ‘Paris Lions and London Tigers’ (London, 1825, 8vo, with coloured plates, several editions), a farcical narrative, describing the visit of an English family to Paris. ‘This modern Aspasia,’ as Sheil calls her, is believed to have returned to England a pious widow, and to have died in 1846. Among the sisters who emulated her triumphs, and are frequently alluded to by name in the ‘Memoirs,’ may be mentioned Fanny, who lived for many years as Mrs. Parker, but whose last hours (described by Harriette with an appearance of feeling) were soothed by the kindness of Lord Hertford (Thackeray's ‘Marquis of Steyne’); Amy, who having relinquished the protection of Count Palmella and 200l. a month, ‘paid in advance,’ ‘married’ the disreputable musician, Robert Nicolas Charles Bochsa; and Sophia, who married as a minor, on 8 Feb. 1812, at St. Marylebone, Thomas Noel Hill, second baron Berwick, and died at Leamington, aged 81, on 29 Aug. 1875 (Illustr. London News, 11 Sept. 1875). An engraving of Harriette is in the British Museum print-room (no name or date).

[Memoirs of Harriette Wilson in British Mus. Library; this is the so-called second edition, complete in four volumes, with an appendix. Other sets were issued by Stockdale in eight volumes, considerably expanded by the nominal editor, ‘Thomas Little,’ and in 1831, as by the same editor, was issued an ‘Index, Analytical, Referential, and Explanatory, of Persons and Matter,’ which is very scarce. It is doubtful whether any sets were issued by Stockdale subsequent to the ‘thirty-third’ edition of 1825, for the protection of copyright was not extended to the volumes, which were pirated by T. Douglas and probably by others. Some of the sets were issued with plates, both plain and coloured, and some have as frontispieces portraits of the four sisters, ‘Harriette,’ ‘Fanny,’ ‘Amy,’ and ‘Sophy,’ with autographs. Stockdale sought to continue the blackmailing campaign in a weekly periodical called Stockdale's Budget, December 1826–June 1827, which contains several letters attributed to Harriette Rochfort. See also Biographie des Contemporains, Paris, 1834, vol. v. (Suppl.) p. 904; Amorous Adventures and Intrigues of Tom Johnson, 1870, vol. ii. chap. i.; Catena Librorum Tacendorum, 1885; A Commentary on the Licentious Liberty of the Press, London, 1825, 8vo; Times, 2 July 1825, 22 May 1826; British Lion, 3 April 1825; Blackwood's Mag. November 1829, p. 739; Sheil's Irish Bar, 1854, i. 348; [Gay's] Bibliographie des Ouvrages relatifs à l'amour, Nice, 1872, v. 51.]

T. S.