The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

PREFACE.

THE ESMONDS OF VIRGINIA.

The estate of Castlewood, in Virginia, which was given to our ancestors by King Charles the First, as some return for the sacrifices made in his Majesty’s cause by the Esmond family, lies in Westmoreland county, between the rivers Potomac and Rappahannock, and was once as great as an English Principality, though in the early times its revenues were but small. Indeed, for near eighty years after our forefathers possessed them, our plantations were in the hands of factors, who enriched themselves one after another, though a few scores of hogsheads of tobacco were all the produce that, for long after the Restoration, our family received from their Virginian estates.

My dear and honored father, Colonel Henry Esmond, whose history, written by himself, is contained in the accompanying volume, came to Virginia in the year 1718, built his house of Castlewood, and here permanently settled. After a long stormy life in England, he passed the remainder of his many years in peace and honor in this country; how beloved and respected by all his fellow-citizens, how inexpressibly dear to his family, I need not say. His whole life was a benefit to all who were connected with him. He gave the best example, the best advice, the most bounteous hospitality to his friends; the tenderest care to his dependants; and bestowed on those of his immediate family such a blessing of fatherly love and protection as can never be thought of, by us, at least, without veneration and thankfulness; and my sons’ children, whether established here in our Republic, or at home in the always beloved mother country, from which our late quarrel hath separated us, may surely be proud to be descended from one who in all ways was so truly noble.

My dear mother died in 1736, soon after our return from England, whither my parents took me for my education; and where I made the acquaintance of Mr. Warrington, whom my children never saw. When it pleased heaven, in the bloom of his youth, and after but a few months of a most happy union, to remove him from me, I owed my recovery from the grief which that calamity caused me, mainly to my dearest father’s tenderness, and then to the blessing vouchsafed to me in the birth of my two beloved boys. I know the fatal differences which separated them in politics never disunited their hearts; and as I can love them both, whether wearing the King’s colors or the Republic’s, I am sure that they love me and one another, and him above all, my father and theirs, the dearest friend of their childhood, the noble gentleman who bred them from their infancy in the practice and knowledge of Truth, and Love and Honor.

My children will never forget the appearance and figure of their revered grandfather; and I wish I possessed the art of drawing (which my papa had in perfection), so that I could leave to our descendants a portrait of one who was so good and so respected. My father was of a dark complexion, with a very great forehead and dark hazel eyes, overhung by eyebrows which remained black long after his hair was white. His nose was aquiline, his smile extraordinary sweet. How well I remember it, and how little any description I can write can recall his image! He was of rather low stature, not being above five feet seven inches in height; he used to laugh at my sons, whom he called his crutches, and say they were grown too tall for him to lean upon. But small as he was, he had a perfect grace and majesty of deportment, such as I have never seen in this country, except perhaps in our friend Mr. Washington, and commanded respect wherever he appeared.

In all bodily exercises he excelled, and showed an extraordinary quickness and agility. Of fencing he was especially fond, and made my two boys proficient in that art; so much so, that when the French came to this country with Monsieur Rochambeau, not one of his officers was superior to my Henry, and he was not the equal of my poor George, who had taken the King’s side in our lamentable but glorious war of independence.

Neither my father nor my mother ever wore powder in their hair; both their heads were as white as silver, as I can remember them. My dear mother possessed to the last an extraordinary brightness and freshness of complexion; nor would people believe that she did not wear rouge. At sixty years of age she still looked young, and was quite agile. It was not until after that dreadful siege of our house by the Indians, which left me a widow ere I was a mother, that my dear mother’s health broke. She never recovered her terror and anxiety of those days which ended so fatally for me, then a bride scarce six months married, and died in my father’s arms ere my own year of widowhood was over.

From that day, until the last of his dear and honored life, it was my delight and consolation to remain with him as his comforter and companion; and from those little notes which my mother hath made here and there in the volume in which my father describes his adventures in Europe, I can well understand the extreme devotion with which she regarded him — a devotion so passionate and exclusive as to prevent her, I think, from loving any other person except with an inferior regard; her whole thoughts being centred on this one object of affection and worship. I know that, before her, my dear father did not show the love which he had for his daughter; and in her last and most sacred moments, this dear and tender parent owned to me her repentance that she had not loved me enough: her jealousy even that my father should give his affection to any but herself: and in the most fond and beautiful words of affection and admonition, she bade me never to leave him, and to supply the place which she was quitting. With a clear conscience, and a heart inexpressibly thankful, I think I can say that I fulfilled those dying commands, and that until his last hour my dearest father never had to complain that his daughter’s love and fidelity failed him.

And it is since I knew him entirely — for during my mother’s life he never quite opened himself to me — since I knew the value and splendor of that affection which he bestowed upon me, that I have come to understand and pardon what, I own, used to anger me in my mother’s lifetime, her jealousy respecting her husband’s love. ’Twas a gift so precious, that no wonder she who had it was for keeping it all, and could part with none of it, even to her daughter.

Though I never heard my father use a rough word, ’twas extraordinary with how much awe his people regarded him; and the servants on our plantation, both those assigned from England and the purchased negroes, obeyed him with an eagerness such as the most severe taskmasters round about us could never get from their people. He was never familiar, though perfectly simple and natural; he was the same with the meanest man as with the greatest, and as courteous to a black slave-girl as to the Governor’s wife. No one ever thought of taking a liberty with him (except once a tipsy gentleman from York, and I am bound to own that my papa never forgave him): he set the humblest people at once on their ease with him, and brought down the most arrogant by a grave satiric way, which made persons exceedingly afraid of him. His courtesy was not put on like a Sunday suit, and laid by when the company went away; it was always the same; as he was always dressed the same, whether for a dinner by ourselves or for a great entertainment. They say he liked to be the first in his company; but what company was there in which he would not be first? When I went to Europe for my education, and we passed a winter at London with my half-brother, my Lord Castlewood and his second lady, I saw at her Majesty’s Court some of the most famous gentlemen of those days; and I thought to myself none of these are better than my papa; and the famous Lord Bolingbroke, who came to us from Dawley, said as much, and that the men of that time were not like those of his youth:—“Were your father, Madam,” he said, “to go into the woods, the Indians would elect him Sachem;” and his lordship was pleased to call me Pocahontas.

I did not see our other relative, Bishop Tusher’s lady, of whom so much is said in my papa’s memoirs — although my mamma went to visit her in the country. I have no pride (as I showed by complying with my mother’s request, and marrying a gentleman who was but the younger son of a Suffolk Baronet), yet I own to A DECENT RESPECT for my name, and wonder how one who ever bore it, should change it for that of Mrs. THOMAS TUSHER. I pass over as odious and unworthy of credit those reports (which I heard in Europe and was then too young to understand), how this person, having LEFT HER FAMILY and fled to Paris, out of jealousy of the Pretender betrayed his secrets to my Lord Stair, King George’s Ambassador, and nearly caused the Prince’s death there; how she came to England and married this Mr. Tusher, and became a great favorite of King George the Second, by whom Mr. Tusher was made a Dean, and then a Bishop. I did not see the lady, who chose to remain AT HER PALACE all the time we were in London; but after visiting her, my poor mamma said she had lost all her good looks, and warned me not to set too much store by any such gifts which nature had bestowed upon me. She grew exceedingly stout; and I remember my brother’s wife, Lady Castlewood, saying —“No wonder she became a favorite, for the King likes them old and ugly, as his father did before him.” On which papa said —“All women were alike; that there was never one so beautiful as that one; and that we could forgive her everything but her beauty.” And hereupon my mamma looked vexed, and my Lord Castlewood began to laugh; and I, of course, being a young creature, could not understand what was the subject of their conversation.

After the circumstances narrated in the third book of these Memoirs, my father and mother both went abroad, being advised by their friends to leave the country in consequence of the transactions which are recounted at the close of the volume of the Memoirs. But my brother, hearing how the FUTURE BISHOP’S LADY had quitted Castlewood and joined the Pretender at Paris, pursued him, and would have killed him, Prince as he was, had not the Prince managed to make his escape. On his expedition to Scotland directly after, Castlewood was so enraged against him that he asked leave to serve as a volunteer, and join the Duke of Argyle’s army in Scotland, which the Pretender never had the courage to face; and thenceforth my Lord was quite reconciled to the present reigning family, from whom he hath even received promotion.

Mrs. Tusher was by this time as angry against the Pretender as any of her relations could be, and used to boast, as I have heard, that she not only brought back my Lord to the Church of England, but procured the English peerage for him, which the JUNIOR BRANCH of our family at present enjoys. She was a great friend of Sir Robert Walpole, and would not rest until her husband slept at Lambeth, my papa used laughing to say. However, the Bishop died of apoplexy suddenly, and his wife erected a great monument over him; and the pair sleep under that stone, with a canopy of marble clouds and angels above them — the first Mrs. Tusher lying sixty miles off at Castlewood.

But my papa’s genius and education are both greater than any a woman can be expected to have, and his adventures in Europe far more exciting than his life in this country, which was passed in the tranquil offices of love and duty; and I shall say no more by way of introduction to his Memoirs, nor keep my children from the perusal of a story which is much more interesting than that of their affectionate old mother,

RACHEL ESMOND WARRINGTON.

Castlewood, VIRGINIA,

November 3, 1778.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/esmond/preface.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07