‘Sir,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘it is the most extraordinary thing that has happened in my day.’
The most extraordinary thing that had happened in Dr. Johnson’s day was the ‘warning’ to the noble peer generally spoken of as ‘the wicked Lord Lyttelton.’ The Doctor went on thus: ‘I heard it with my own ears from his uncle, Lord Westcote. I am so glad to have every evidence of the spiritual world that I am willing to believe it.’ Dr. Adams replied, ‘You have evidence enough — good evidence, which needs no support.’ Dr. Johnson growled out, ‘I like to have more!’
Thus the Doctor was willing to believe what it suited him to believe, even though he had the tale at third or fourth hand; for Lord Westcote was not with the wicked Lord Lyttelton at the time of his death, on November 27, 1779. Dr. Johnson’s observations were made on June 12, 1784.
To Lord Westcote’s narrative we shall return.
As a study in Russian scandal, and the growth and development of stories, this anecdote of Lord Lyttelton deserves attention. So first we must glance at the previous history of the hero. Thomas Lord Lyttelton was born, says Mr. Coulton (in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ No. 179, p. 111), on January 30, 1744.145 He was educated at Eton, where Dr. Barnard thought his boyish promise even superior to that of Charles James Fox. His sketches of scenery in Scotland reminded Mrs. Montagu of the vigour of Salvator Rosa, combined with the grace of Claude Lorraine! At the age of nineteen, already affianced to Miss Warburton, he went on the Grand Tour, and excelled the ordinary model of young debauchery abroad. Mr. James Boswell found a Circe at Siena, Lyttelton found Circes everywhere. He returned to England in 1765; and that learned lady, Mrs. Carter, the translator of Epictetus, ‘admired his talents and elegant manners, as much as she detested his vices.’ In 1768 he entered the House of Commons, and, in his maiden speech, implored the Assembly to believe that America was more important than Mr. Wilkes (and Liberty). Unseated for bribery in January 1769, he vanished from the public view, more or less, for a season; at least he is rarely mentioned in memoirs, and Coulton thinks that young Lyttelton was now engaged — in what does the reader suppose? In writing ‘The Letters of Junius’!146
145 The writer was not Croker, but Mr. Coulton, ‘a Kentish gentleman,’ says Lockhart, February 7, 1851, to his daughter Charlotte.
146 If Lyttelton went to Italy on being ejected from Parliament, as Mr. Rigg says he did in the ‘Dictionary of National Biography,’ Coulton’s theory will be hard to justify.
He was clever enough; his rank was like that assumed as his own by Junius; his eloquence (as he proved later in the House of Lords) was vituperative enough; he shared some of Junius’s hatreds, while he proclaimed, like Junius, that the country was going to the dogs. Just as Junius was ending his Letters, the prodigal, Thomas Lyttelton, returned to his father’s house; and Chatham wrote to congratulate the parent (February 15, 1772). On May 12, 1772, Junius published his last letter in ‘The Public Advertiser;’ and on June 26 Mr. Lyttelton married a widow, a Mrs. Peach. He soon left his wife, and was abroad (with a barmaid) when his father died in 1773. In January 1774 he took his seat in the Lords. Though Fox thought him a bad man, his first speech was in favour of securing to authors a perpetual copyright in their own works. He repeated his arguments some months later; so authors, at least, have reason for judging him charitably.
Mr. Carlyle would have admired Lyttelton. His politics (at one juncture) were ‘The Dictatorship for Lord Chatham’! How does this agree with the sentiments of Junius? In 1767–69 Junius had exhausted on Chatham his considerable treasury of insult. He is ‘a lunatic brandishing a crutch,’ ‘so black a villain,’ ‘an abandoned profligate,’ and he exhibits ‘THE UPSTART INSOLENCE OF A DICTATOR!’ This goes not well with Lyttelton’s sentiments in 1774. True, but by that date (iii. 305) Junius himself had discovered ‘that if this country can be saved, it must be saved by Lord Chatham’s spirit, by Lord Chatham’s abilities.’ Lyttelton and Junius are assuredly both of them ruffianly, scandal-loving, inconsistent, and patrician in the manner of Catiline. So far, the likeness is close.
About America Lyttelton wavered. On the whole, he recognised the need of fighting; and his main idea was that, as fight we must, we should organise our forces well, and fight with our heads as well as with our hands. He disdained the policy of the ostrich. The Americans were in active rebellion; it could not be blinked. He praised Chatham while he opposed him. He was ‘fighting for his own hand.’ Ministers felt the advantage of his aid; they knew his unscrupulous versatility, and in November 1775 bought Lyttelton with a lucrative sinecure — the post of Chief Justice of Eyre beyond the Trent. Coulton calls the place ‘honourable;’ we take another view. Lyttelton was bought and sold, but no one deemed Lyttelton a person of scrupulous conscience.
The public prospects darkened, folly was heaped on folly, blunder on blunder, defeat on defeat. On April 24, 1779, Horace Walpole says that Lord Lyttelton ‘has again turned against the Court on obtaining the Seals’147 November 25, 1779, saw Lyttelton go boldly into Opposition. He reviewed the whole state of the empire. He poured out a torrent of invective. As to his sinecure, he said, ‘Perhaps he might not keep it long.’ ‘The noble Lords smile at what I say!’
147 Is this a slip, or misprint, for ‘on NOT obtaining the Seals’?
They need not have smiled. He spoke on Thursday, November 25; on Saturday, November 27, the place in Eyre was vacant, and Lord Lyttelton was a dead man.
The reader will keep in mind these dates. On Thursday, November 25, 1779, the first day of the session, Lyttelton overflows in a volcanic speech against the Court. He announces that his place may soon be vacant. At midnight on November 27 he is dead.
On all this, and on the story of the ghostly ‘warning’ to Lord Lyttelton, delivered in the night of Wednesday, November 24, Coulton builds a political romance. In his view, Lyttelton, expelled from Parliament, lavished his genius and exuded his spleen in the ‘Letters of Junius.’ Taking his seat in the Lords, he fights for his own hand, is bought and muzzled, wrenches off his muzzle, blazes into a fierce attack on the wrongs which he is weary of witnessing, the hypocrisy which he is tired of sharing, makes his will, sets his house in order, plays one last practical joke by inventing the story of the ghostly warning, surrounds himself with dissolute company, and at midnight on November 27 deliberately fulfils his own prediction, and dies by his own hand. It is a tale creditable to Coulton’s fancy. A patrician of genius, a wit, a profligate, in fatigue and despair, closes his career with a fierce harangue, a sacrilegious jest, a debauch, and a draught of poison, leaving to Dr. Johnson a proof of ‘the spiritual world,’ and to mankind the double mystery of Junius and of the Ghost.
As to the identity of Junius, remembering the warning of Lord Beaconsfield, ‘If you wish to be a bore, take up the “Letters of Junius,”’ we shall drop that enigma; but as to the alleged suicide of Lord Lyttelton, we think we can make that seem extremely improbable. Let us return to the course of events, as stated by Coulton and by contemporaries.
The warning of death in three days, says Coulton, occurred (place not given) on the night of November 24, 1779. He observes: ‘It is certain that, on the morning after that very day’ (November 25), ‘Lord Lyttelton had related, not to one person alone, but to several, and all of them people of credit, the particulars of a strange vision which he said had appeared to him the preceding night.’ On Thursday, the 25th, as we saw, he spoke in the Lords. On Friday, the 26th, he went down to his house at Epsom, Pitt Place, where his party, says Coulton, consisted of Mr. (later Lord) Fortescue, Captain (later Admiral) Wolsley, Mrs. Flood, and the Misses Amphlett. Now, the town had no kind of doubt concerning the nature of Lord Lyttelton’s relations with two, if not three, of the Misses Amphlett. His character was nearly as bad, where women were concerned, as that of Colonel Charteris. But Walpole, writing to Mann on November 28 (the day after Lord Lyttelton’s death), says: ‘Lord Lyttelton is dead suddenly. SUDDENLY, in this country, is always at first construed to mean BY A PISTOL . . . The story given out is, that he looked ill, AND HAD SAID HE SHOULD NOT LIVE THREE DAYS; that, however, he had gone to his house at Epsom . . . with a caravan of nymphs; and on Saturday night had retired before supper to take rhubarb, returned, supped heartily, went into the next room again, and died in an instant.’
Nothing here of a dream or ghost. We only hear of a prophecy, by Lyttelton, of his death.
Writing to Mason on Monday, November 29, Walpole avers that Lord Lyttelton was ‘attended only by four virgins, whom he had picked up in the Strand.’ Here Horace, though writing from Berkeley Square, within two days of the fatal 27th, is wrong. Lord Lyttelton had the Misses Amphlett, Captain Wolsley, Mr. Fortescue, and Mrs. Flood with him. According to Walpole, he felt unwell on Saturday night (the 27th), ‘went to bed, rung his bell in ten minutes, and in one minute after the arrival of his servant expired!’ ‘He had said on Thursday that he should die in three days, HAD DREAMT SO, and felt that it would be so. On Saturday he said, “If I outlive today, I shall go on;” but enough of him.’
Walpole speaks of a DREAM, but he soon has other, if not better, information. Writing to Mason on December 11, he says that ghost stories from the north will now be welcome. ‘Lord Lyttelton’s vision has revived the taste; though it seems a little odd that an APPARITION should despair of getting access to his Lordship’s bed, in the shape of a young woman, without being forced to use the disguise of a robin-redbreast.’ What was an apprehension or prophecy has become a dream, and the dream has become an apparition of a robin-redbreast and a young woman.
If this excite suspicion, let us hasten to add that we have undesigned evidence to Lord Lyttelton’s belief that he had beheld an APPARITION— evidence a day earlier than the day of his death. Mrs. Piozzi (then Mrs. Thrale), in her diary of Sunday, November 28, writes: ‘Yesterday a lady from Wales dropped in and said that she had been at Drury Lane on Friday night. “How,” I asked, “were you entertained?” “Very strangely indeed! Not with the play, though, but the discourse of a Captain Ascough, who averred that a friend of his, Lord Lyttelton, has SEEN A SPIRIT, who has warned him that he will die in three days. I have thought of nothing else since.”’
Next day, November 29, Mrs. Piozzi heard of Lord Lyttelton’s death.148
148 Notes and Queries. Series V., vol. ii. p. 508. December 26,1874.
Here is proof absolute that the story, with apparition, if not with robin, was current THE DAY BEFORE LORD LYTTELTON’S DECEASE.
Of what did Lord Lyttelton die?
‘According to one of the papers,’ says Coulton, vaguely, ‘the cause of death was disease of the heart.’ A brief ‘convulsion’ is distinctly mentioned, whence Coulton concludes that the disease was NOT cardiac. On December 7, Mason writes to Walpole from York: ‘Suppose Lord Lyttelton had recovered the breaking of his blood-vessel!’
Was a broken blood-vessel the cause of death? or have we here, as is probable, a mere inference of Mason’s?
Coulton’s account is meant to lead up to his theory of suicide. Lord Lyttelton mentioned his apprehension of death ‘somewhat ostentatiously, we think.’ According to Coulton, at 10 P.M. on Saturday, Lord Lyttelton, looking at his watch, said: ‘Should I live two hours longer, I shall jockey the ghost.’ Coulton thinks that it would have been ‘more natural’ for him to await the fatal hour of midnight ‘in gay company’ than to go to bed before twelve. He finishes the tale thus: Lord Lyttelton was taking rhubarb in his bedroom; he sent his valet for a spoon, and the man, returning, found him ‘on the point of dissolution.’
‘His family maintained a guarded and perhaps judicious silence on the subject,’ yet Lord Westcote spoke of it to Dr. Johnson, and wrote an account of it, and so did Lord Lyttelton’s widow; while Wraxall, as we shall see, says that the Dowager Lady Lyttelton painted a picture of the ‘warning’ in 1780.
Harping on suicide, Coulton quotes Scott’s statement in ‘Letters on Demonology:’ ‘Of late it has been said, and PUBLISHED, that the unfortunate nobleman had determined to take poison.’ Sir Walter gives no authority, and Coulton admits that he knows of none. Gloomy but commonplace reflections in the so-called ‘Letters’ of Lyttelton do not even raise a presumption in favour of suicide, which, in these very Letters, Lyttelton says that he cannot defend by argument.149 That Lyttelton made his will ‘a few weeks before his death,’ providing for his fair victims, may be accounted for, as we shall see, by the threatening state of his health, without any notion of self-destruction. Walpole, in his three letters, only speaks of ‘a pistol’ as the common construction of ‘sudden death;’ and that remark occurs before he has heard any details. He rises from a mere statement of Lord Lyttelton’s, that he is ‘to die in three days,’ to a ‘dream’ containing that assurance, and thence to apparitions of a young woman and a robin-redbreast. The appearance of that bird, by the way, is, in the folk-lore of Surrey, an omen of death. Walpole was in a position to know all current gossip, and so was Mrs. Piozzi.
149 Coulton’s argument requires him to postulate the authenticity of many, at least, of these Letters, which were given to the world by the author of ‘Doctor Syntax.’
We now turn to a narrative nearly contemporary, that written out by Lord Westcote on February 13, 1780. Lord Westcote examined the eldest Miss Amphlett, Captain (later Admiral) Charles Wolsley, Mrs. Flood, Lord Lyttelton’s valet, Faulkner, and Stuckey, the servant in whose arms, so to speak, Lord Lyttelton died. Stuckey was questioned (note this) in the presence of Captain Wolsley and of MR. FORTESCUE. The late Lord Lyttelton permitted the Westcote narrative to be published in ‘Notes and Queries’ (November 21, 1874). The story, which so much pleased Dr. Johnson, runs thus:—
On Thursday, November 25, Mrs. Flood and the three Misses Amphlett were residing at Lord Lyttelton’s house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square. Who IS this Mrs. Flood? Frederick Flood (1741–1824) married LADY Julia Annesley in 1782. The wife of the more famous Flood suits the case no better: his wife was LADY F. M. Flood; she was a Beresford. (The ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ is responsible for these facts.) At all events, on November 25, at breakfast, in Hill Street, Lord Lyttelton told the young ladies and their chaperon that he had had an extraordinary DREAM.
He seemed to be in a room which a bird flew into; the bird changed into a woman in white, who told him he should die in three days.
He ‘did not much regard it, because he could in some measure account for it; for that a few days before he had been with Mrs. Dawson, when a robin-redbreast flew into her room.’ On the morning of Saturday he told the same ladies that he was very well, and believed he should ‘BILK THE GHOST.’ The dream has become an apparition! On that day — Saturday — he, with the ladies, Fortescue, and Wolsley, went to Pitt Place; he went to bed after eleven, ordered rolls for breakfast, and, in bed, ‘died without a groan,’ as his servant was disengaging him from his waistcoat. During dinner he had ‘a rising in his throat’ (a slight sickness), ‘a thing which had often happened to him before.’ His physician, Dr. Fothergill, vaguely attributed his death to the rupture of some vessel in his side, where he had felt a pain in summer.
From this version we may glean that Lord Lyttelton was not himself very certain whether his vision occurred when he was awake or asleep. He is made to speak of a ‘dream,’ and even to account for it in a probable way; but later he talks of ‘bilking the GHOST.’ The editor of ‘Notes and Queries’ now tries to annihilate this contemporary document by third-hand evidence, seventy years after date. In 1851 or 1852 the late Dowager Lady Lyttelton, Sarah, daughter of the second Earl Spencer, discussed the story with Mr. Fortescue, a son of the Mr. Fortescue who was at Pitt Place, and succeeded to the family title six years later, in 1785. The elder Mr. Fortescue, in brief, is said to have averred that he had heard nothing of the dream or prediction till ‘some days after;’ he, therefore, was inclined to disbelieve in it. We have demonstrated, however, that if Mr. Fortescue had heard nothing, yet the tale was all over the town before Lord Lyttelton died. Nay, more, we have contemporary proof that Mr. Fortescue HAD heard of the affair! Lyttelton died at midnight on the Saturday, November 27. In her diary for the following Tuesday (November 30), Lady Mary Coke says that she has just heard the story of the ‘dream’ from Lady Bute, who had it from Mr. Ross, WHO HAD IT FROM MR. FORTESCUE!150 Mr. Fortescue, then, must have told the tale as early as the Monday after the fatal Saturday night. Yet in old age he seems to have persuaded himself that the tale came later to his knowledge. Some irrelevant, late, and fourth-hand versions will be found in ‘Notes and Queries,’ but they merely illustrate the badness of such testimony.
150 See The Letters and Journals of Lady Mary Coke, iii. 85. Note — She speaks of ‘a dream.’
One trifle of contemporary evidence may be added: Mrs. Delany, on December 9, 1779, wrote an account of the affair to her niece — here a bird turns into a woman.
In pursuit of evidence, it is a long way from 1780 to 1816. In November of that year, T. J. wrote from Pitt Place, Epsom, in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine;’ but his letter is dated ‘January 6.’ T. J. has bought Pitt Place, and gives ‘a copy of a document in writing, left in the house’ (where Lyttelton died) ‘as an heirloom which may be depended on.’ This document begins, ‘Lord Lyttelton’s Dream and Death (see Admiral Wolsley’s account).’
But where IS Admiral Wolsley’s account? Is it in the archives of Sir Charles Wolseley of Wolseley? Or is THIS (the Pitt Place document) Admiral Wolsley’s account? The anonymous author says that he was one of the party at Pitt Place on November 27,1779, with ‘Lord Fortescue,’ ‘Lady Flood,’ and the two Misses Amphlett. Consequently this account is written after 1785, when Mr. Fortescue succeeded to his title. Lord Lyttelton, not long returned from Ireland, had been suffering from ‘suffocating fits’ in the last month. And THIS, not the purpose of suicide, was probably his reason for executing his will. ‘While in his house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square, he DREAMT three days before his death he saw a bird fluttering, and afterwards a woman appeared in white apparel, and said, “Prepare to meet your death in three days.” He was alarmed and called his servant. On the third day, while at breakfast with the above-named persons, he said, “I have jockeyed the ghost, as this is the third day.”’ Coulton places this incident at 10 P.M. on Saturday, and makes his lordship say, ‘In two hours I shall jockey the ghost.’ ‘The whole party set out for Pitt Place,’ which contradicts Coulton’s statement that they set out on Friday, but agrees with Lord Westcote’s. ‘They had not long arrived when he was seized with a usual fit. Soon recovered. Dined at five. To bed at eleven.’ Then we hear how he rebuked his servant for stirring his rhubarb ‘with a tooth-pick’ (a plausible touch), sent him for a spoon, and was ‘in a fit’ on the man’s return. ‘The pillow being high, his chin bore hard on his neck. Instead of relieving him, the man ran for help: on his return found him dead.’
This undated and unsigned document, by a person who professes to have been present, is not, perhaps, very accurate in dates. The phrase ‘dreamt’ is to be taken as the common-sense way of stating that Lord Lyttelton had a vision of some sort. His lordship, who spoke of ‘jockeying the GHOST,’ may have believed that he was awake at the time, not dreaming; but no person of self-respect, in these unpsychical days, could admit more than a dream. Perhaps this remark also applies to Walpole’s ‘he dreamed.’ The species of the bird is left in the vague.
Moving further from the event, to 1828, we find a book styled ‘Past Feelings Renovated,’ a reply to Dr. Hibbert’s ‘Philosophy of Apparitions.’ The anonymous author is ‘struck with the total inadequacy of Dr. Hibbert’s theory.’ Among his stories he quotes Wraxall’s ‘Memoirs.’ In 1783, Wraxall dined at Pitt Place, and visited ‘the bedroom where the casement window at which Lord Lyttelton asserted the DOVE appeared to flutter151 was pointed out to me.’ Now the Pitt Place document puts the vision ‘in Hill Street, Berkeley Square.’ So does Lord Westcote. Even a bird cannot be in two places at once, and the ‘Pitt Place Anonymous’ does seem to know what he is talking about. Of course Lord Lyttelton MAY have been at Pitt Place on November 24, and had his dream there. He MAY have run up to Hill Street on the 25th and delivered his speech, and MAY have returned to Pitt Place on the Friday or Saturday.152 But we have no evidence for this view; and the Pitt Place document places the vision in Hill Street. Wraxall adds that he has frequently seen a painting of bird, ghost, and Lord Lyttelton, which was executed by that nobleman’s stepmother in 1780. It was done ‘after the description given to her by the valet de chambre who attended him, to whom his master related all the circumstances.’
151 It was a ROBIN in 1779.
152 Coulton says Friday; the Anonymous says Saturday, with Lord Westcote.
Our author of 1828 next produces the narrative by Lord Lyttelton’s widow, Mrs. Peach, who was so soon deserted. In 1828 she is ‘now alive, and resident in the south-west part of Warwickshire.’ According to Lady Lyttelton (who, of course, was not present), Lord Lyttelton had gone to bed, whether in Hill Street or Pitt Place we are not told. His candle was extinguished, when he heard ‘a noise resembling the fluttering of a bird at his chamber window. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw the figure of an unhappy female, whom he had seduced and deserted, and who, when deserted, had put a violent end to her own existence, standing in the aperture of the window from which the fluttering sound had proceeded. The form approached the foot of the bed: the room was preternaturally light; the objects in the chamber were distinctly visible. The figure pointed to a clock, and announced that Lord Lyttelton would expire AT THAT VERY HOUR (twelve o’clock) in the third day after the visitation.’
We greatly prefer, as a good old-fashioned ghost story, this version of Lady Lyttelton’s. There is no real bird, only a fluttering sound, as in the case of the Cock Lane Ghost, and many other examples. The room is ‘preternaturally light,’ as in Greek and Norse belief it should have been, and as it is in the best modern ghost stories. Moreover, we have the raison d’etre of the ghost: she had been a victim of the Chief Justice in Eyre. The touch about the clock is in good taste. We did not know all that before.
But, alas! our author of 1828, after quoting the Pitt Place Anonymous, proceeds to tell, citing no named authority, that the ghost was that of Mrs. Amphlett, mother of the two Misses Amphlett, and of a third sister, in no way less distinguished than these by his lordship. Now a ghost cannot be the ghost of two different people. Moreover, Mrs. Amphlett lived (it is said) for years after. However, Mrs. Amphlett has the preference if she ‘died of grief at the precise time when the female vision appeared to his lordship,’ which makes it odd that her daughters should then have been revelling at Pitt Place under the chaperonage of Mrs. Flood. We are also informed (on no authority) that Lord Lyttelton ‘acknowledged’ the ghost to have been that of the injured mother of the three Misses Amphlett.
Let not the weary reader imagine that the catena of evidence ends here! His lordship’s own ghost did a separate stroke of business, though only in the commonplace character of a deathbed wraith, or ‘veridical hallucination.’
Lord Lyttelton had a friend, we learn from ‘Past Feelings Renovated’ (1828), a friend named Miles Peter Andrews. ‘One night after Mr. Andrews had left Pitt Place and gone to Dartford,’ where he owned powder-mills, his bed-curtains were pulled open and Lord Lyttelton appeared before him in his robe de chambre and nightcap. Mr. Andrews reproached him for coming to Dartford Mills in such a guise, at such a time of night, and, ‘turning to the other side of the bed, rang the bell, when Lord Lyttelton had disappeared.’ The house and garden were searched in vain; and about four in the afternoon a friend arrived at Dartford with tidings of his lordship’s death.
Here the reader with true common sense remarks that this second ghost, Lord Lyttelton’s own, does not appear in evidence till 1828, fifty years after date, and then in an anonymous book, on no authority. We have permitted to the reader this opportunity of exercising his acuteness, while laying a little trap for him. It is not in 1828 that Mr. Andrews’s story first appears. We first find it in December 1779 — that is, in the month following the alleged event. Mr. Andrews’s experience, and the vision of Lord Lyttelton, are both printed in ‘The Scots Magazine,’ December 1779, p. 650. The account is headed ‘A Dream,’ and yet the author avers that Lord Lyttelton was wide awake! This illustrates beautifully the fact on which we insist, that ‘dream’ is eighteenth-century English for ghost, vision, hallucination, or what you will.
‘Lord Lyttelton,’ says the contemporary ‘Scots Magazine,’ ‘started up from a midnight sleep on perceiving a bird fluttering near the bed-curtains, which vanished suddenly when a female spirit in white raiment presented herself’ and prophesied Lord Lyttelton’s death in three days. His death is attributed to convulsions while undressing.
The ‘dream’ of Mr. Andrews (according to ‘The Scots Magazine’ of December 1779)153 occurred at Dartford in Kent, on the night of November 27. It represented Lord Lyttelton drawing his bed-curtains, and saying, ‘It is all over,’ or some such words.
153 The magazine appeared at the end of December.
This Mr. Andrews had been a drysalter. He made a large fortune, owned the powder-mills at Dartford, sat in Parliament, wrote plays which had some success, and was thought a good fellow in raffish society. Indeed, the society was not always raffish. In ‘Notes and Queries’ (December 26, 1874) H. S. says that his mother, daughter of Sir George Prescott, often met Mr. Andrews at their house, Theobalds Park, Herts. He was extremely agreeable, and, if pressed, would tell his little anecdote of November 27, 1779.
This proof that the Andrews tale is contemporary has led us away from the description of the final scene, given in ‘Past Feelings Renovated,’ by the person who brought the news to Mr. Andrews. His version includes a trick played with the watches and clocks. All were set on half an hour; the valet secretly made the change in Lord Lyttelton’s own timepiece. His lordship thus went to bed, as he thought, at 11.30, really at eleven o’clock, as in the Pitt Place document. At about twelve o’clock, midnight, the valet rushed in among the guests, who were discussing the odd circumstances, and said that his master was at the point of death. Lord Lyttelton had kept looking at his watch, and at a quarter past twelve (by his chronometer and his valet’s) he remarked, ‘This mysterious lady is not a true prophetess, I find.’ The real hour was then a quarter to twelve. At about half-past twelve, by HIS watch, twelve by the real time, he asked for his physic. The valet went into the dressing-room to prepare it (to fetch a spoon by other versions), when he heard his master ‘breathing very hard.’ ‘I ran to him, and found him in the agonies of death.’
There is something rather plausible in this narrative, corresponding, as it does, with the Pitt Place document, in which the valet, finding his master in a fit, leaves him and seeks assistance, instead of lowering his head that he might breathe more easily. Like the other, this tale makes suicide a most improbable explanation of Lord Lyttelton’s death. The affair of the watches is dramatic, but not improbable in itself. A correspondent of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ (in 1815) only cites ‘a London paper’ as his authority. The writer of ‘Past Feelings Renovated’ (1828) adds that Mr. Andrews could never again be induced to sleep at Pitt Place, but, when visiting there, always lay at the Spread Eagle, in Epsom.
Let us now tabulate our results.
At Pitt Place, Epsom, or Hill Street, Berkeley Square, On November 24, Lord Lyttelton Dreamed of, or saw, A young woman and a robin. A bird which became a woman. A dove and a woman. Mrs. Amphlett (without a dove or robin). Some one else unknown.
In one variant, a clock and a preternatural light are thrown in, with a sermon which it were superfluous to quote. In another we have the derangement of clocks and watches. Lord Lyttelton’s stepmother believed in the dove. Lady Lyttelton did without a dove, but admitted a fluttering sound.
For causes of death we have — heart disease (a newspaper), breaking of a blood-vessel (Mason), suicide (Coulton), and ‘a suffocating fit’ (Pitt Place document). The balance is in favour of a suffocating fit, and is against suicide. On the whole, if we follow the Pitt Place Anonymous (writing some time after the event, for he calls Mr. Fortescue ‘Lord Fortescue’), we may conclude that Lord Lyttelton had been ill for some time. The making of his will suggests a natural apprehension on his part, rather than a purpose of suicide. There was a lively impression of coming death on his mind, but how it was made — whether by a dream, an hallucination, or what not — there is no good evidence to show.
There is every reason to believe, on the Pitt Place evidence, combined with the making of his will, that Lord Lyttelton had really, for some time, suffered from alarming attacks of breathlessness, due to what cause physicians may conjecture. Any one of these fits, probably, might cause death, if the obvious precaution of freeing the head and throat from encumbrances were neglected; and the Pitt Place document asserts that the frightened valet DID neglect it. Again, that persons under the strong conviction of approaching death will actually die is proved by many examples. Even Dr. Hibbert says that ‘no reasonable doubt can be placed on the authenticity of the narrative’ of Miss Lee’s death, ‘as it was drawn up by the Bishop of Gloucester’ (Dr. William Nicholson) ‘from the recital of the young lady’s father,’ Sir Charles Lee. Every one knows the tale. In a preternatural light, in a midnight chamber, Miss Lee saw a woman, who proclaimed herself Miss Lee’s dead mother, ‘and that by twelve o’clock of the day she should be with her.’ So Miss Lee died in her chair next day, on the stroke of noon, and Dr. Hibbert rather heartlessly calls this ‘a fortunate circumstance.’
The Rev. Mr. Fison, in ‘Kamilaroi and Kurnai,’ gives, from his own experience, similar tales of death following alleged ghostly warnings, among Fijians and Australian blacks. Lord Lyttelton’s uneasiness and apprehension are conspicuous in all versions; his dreams had long been troubled, his health had caused him anxiety, the ‘warning’ (whatever it may have been) clinched the matter, and he died a perfectly natural death.
Mr. Coulton, omitting Walpole’s statement that he ‘looked ill,’ and never alluding to the Pitt Place description of his very alarming symptoms, but clinging fondly to his theory of Junius, perorates thus: ‘Not Dante, or Milton, or Shakespeare himself, could have struck forth a finer conception than Junius, in the pride of rank, wealth, and dignities, raised to the Council table of the sovereign he had so foully slandered — yet sick at heart and deeply stained with every profligacy — terminating his career by deliberate self-murder, with every accompaniment of audacious charlatanry that could conceal the crime.’
It is magnificent, it is worthy of Dante, or Shakespeare himself — but the conception is Mr. Coulton’s.
We do not think that we have provided what Dr. Johnson ‘liked,’ ‘evidence for the spiritual world.’ Nor have we any evidence explanatory of the precise nature of Lord Lyttelton’s hallucination. The problem of the authorship of the ‘Junius Letters’ is a malstrom into which we decline to be drawn.
But it is fair to observe that all the discrepancies in the story of the ‘warning’ are not more numerous, nor more at variance with each other, than remote hearsay reports of any ordinary occurrence are apt to be. And we think it is plain that, if Lord Lyttelton WAS Junius, Mr. Coulton had no right to allege that Junius went and hanged himself, or, in any other way, was guilty of self-murder.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52