Lady Mary was daughter to the Earl of Brumpton by his second wife, who survived the birth of her child but a few hours. The earl died when his daughter was about ten years old, and having before his second marriage mortgaged to its full value all of his estate which was not settled on a son born of his first lady, his daughter was left entirely destitute of provision But as she was too young to be much affected with this circumstance, so she had little reason to regret it, when an increase of years might have awakened a sensibility to that particular. Immediately on her father’s death she was taken by her aunt, Lady Sheerness, who declared she should look upon her as her own child, and indeed her indulgence verified the truth of her declaration.
Lady Sheerness was a widow; her jointure considerable; and her lord at his decease left her some thousand pounds in ready money. When he died she was about twenty-five years old, with a good person and infinite vivacity. An unbridled imagination, ungovernable spirits, with a lively arch countenance and a certain quaintness of expression gained her the reputation of being possessed of a great deal of wit. Her lord, in the decline of life, had been captivated by her youthful charms, when she was but sixteen years old. His extreme fondness for her led him to indulge her vivacity in all its follies; and frequently while he was laid up at home in the gout her ladyship was the finest and gayest woman at every place of public resort. Often, when the acuteness of his pains obliged him to seek relief from the soporific influence of opium, she collected half the town, and though his rest was disturbed every moment by a succession of impetuous raps at the door, he was never offended; on the contrary, he thought himself obliged to her for staying at home, which she had assured him was because she could not bear to go abroad when he was so ill. This, as the greatest mark of her tenderness he ever received, he failed not to acknowledge with gratitude. She scarcely took more pleasure in having a train of admirers than his lordship felt from it; his vanity was flattered in seeing his wife the object of admiration and he fancied himself much envied for so valuable a possession. Her coquetry charmed him, as the follies of that vivacity of which he was so fond. He had no tincture of jealousy in his whole composition; and acknowledged as favours conferred on himself the attentions paid to his wife.
Though Lord Sheerness’s conduct may appear rather uncommon, yet it seemed the result of some discernment, or at least his lady’s disposition was such as justifies this opinion; she had received a genteel education; no external accomplishments had been neglected; but her understanding and principles were left to the imperfection of nature corrupted by custom. Religion was thought too serious a thing for so young a person. The opinion of the world was always represented to her as the true criterion by which to judge of everything, and fashion supplied the place of every more material consideration. With a mind thus formed, she entered the world at sixteen, surrounded with pomp and splendour, with every gratification at her command that an affluent fortune and an indulgent husband could bestow: by nature inclined to no vice, free from all dangerous passions, the charm of innocence accompanied her vivacity; undesigning and artless, her follies were originally the consequences of her situation, not constitutional, though habit engrafted them so strongly that at length they appeared natural to her. Surrounded with every snare that can entrap a youthful mind, she became a victim to dissipation and the love of fashionable pleasures; destitute of any stable principles, she was carried full sail down the stream of folly. In the love of coquetry and gaming few equalled her; no one could exceed her in the pursuit of every trifling amusement; she had neither leisure nor inclination to think, her life passed in an uninterrupted succession of engagements, without reflection on the past or consideration on the future consequences.
The lightness of her conduct exposed her to the addresses of many gay men during the life of her lord; but an attachment was too serious a thing for her; and while her giddiness and perpetual dissipation exposed her to suspicion, they preserved her from the vice of which she was suspected: she daily passed through the ordeal trial; every step she took was dangerous, but she came off unhurt. Her reputation was indeed doubtful, but her rank and fortune, and the continual amusements which her house yielded to her acquaintance, rendered her generally caressed.
Her lord’s death made no alteration in her way of life; and as her mind was never fixed an hour on any subject, she thought not long enough of marriage to prepare for that state and therefore continued a widow. She was upwards of forty years old, unchanged in anything but her person, when she took Lady Mary Jones, I will not say into her care, for that word never entered into her vocabulary, but into her house. Lady Mary had naturally a very good understanding, and much vivacity; the latter met with everything that could assist in its increase in the company of Lady Sheerness, the other was never thought of: she was initiated into every diversion at an age when other girls are confined to their nursery. Her aunt was fond of her and therefore inclined to indulgence, besides she thought the knowledge of the world, which in her opinion was the most essential qualification for a woman of fashion, was no way to be learnt but by an early acquaintance with it.
Lady Mary’s age and vivacity rendered this doctrine extremely agreeable, she was pretty and very lively and entertaining in her conversation, therefore at fifteen years of age she became the most caressed person in every company. She entered into all the fashionable tastes, was coquettish and extravagant; for Lady Sheerness very liberally furnished her with money and felt a sort of pride in having a niece distinguished by the fineness of her dress and her profusion in every expense, as it was well known to have no other source but in her ladyship’s generosity. Though Lady Mary received much adulation, and was the object of general courtship, yet she had no serious love made to her till she was between sixteen and seventeen, when she accompanied her aunt to Scarborough: she was there very assiduously followed by a gentleman reputed of a large fortune in Wales. He was gay and well-bred, his person moderately agreeable, his understanding specious and his manner insinuating. There was nothing very engaging in the man, except the appearance of a very tender attachment. She had before found great pleasure in being admired; but her vanity was still more flattered in being loved: she knew herself capable of amusing; but till now had never been able to give either pleasure or pain, according to her sovereign decree. She grew partial to Mr Lenman (that was the name of her lover) because he raised her consequence in her own eyes: she played off a thousand airs of coquetry which she had never yet had an opportunity to exercise for want of a real lover. Sometimes she would elate him by encouragement; at others, freeze him into despair by her affected coldness: she was never two hours the same, because she delighted in seeing the variety of passions she could excite.
Mr Lenman was certainly sufficiently tormented; but so great a proficiency in coquetry at so early an age was no discouragement to his hopes. There are no people so often the dupe of their own arts as coquettes; especially when they become so very early in life; therefore, instead of being damped in his pursuit, he adapted his behaviour to her foible, vanity, and by assuming an air of indifference, could, when he pleased, put an end to her affected reserve; though he was not so impolite a lover as quite to deny her the gratification she expected from her little arts. He found means, however, to command her attention by the very serious proposal of matrimony. She had no great inclination for the state, but the novelty pleased her. The pleasure she received from his addresses she mistook for love, and imagined herself deeply enamoured, when she was in reality only extremely flattered; the common error of her age. In the company she had kept matrimony appeared in no very formidable light; she did not see that it abridged a woman of any of the liberties she already enjoyed; it only afforded her an opportunity of choosing her own diversions; whereas her taste in those points sometimes differed from her aunt’s, to whom, however, she was obliged to submit. Thus prepossessed, both in favour of her lover and his proposal, she listened to him with more attention than she chose he should perceive; but he was too well acquainted with the pretty arts of coquetry not to see through them. He therefore took courage to insinuate his desire of a private marriage, and ventured to persuade her to take a trip with him to the northern side of Berwick upon Tweed.
Lady Mary could not see, as Mr Lenman’s fortune was considerable and hers entirely precarious, why he was so apprehensive of not being accepted by her aunt, but there was something spirited in those northern journeys that had always been the objects of her envy. An adventure was the supreme pleasure of life and these pretty flights gave marriage all the charms of romance. To be forced to fly into another kingdom to be married gave her an air of consequence; vulgar people might tie the knot at every parish church, but people of distinction should do everything with an eclat. She imagined it very probable that her aunt would consent to her union with Mr Lenman; for though he was not equal to her in birth, yet he was her superior in fortune; but yet she looked upon his fears of a refusal as meritorious, since he assured her they arose from his extreme affection, which filled him with terrors on the least prospect of losing her. Should Lady Sheerness, he urged, reject his proposal, she might then be extremely offended with their marrying, after they knew her disapprobation; but if they did it without her knowledge, she would not have room to complain of downright disobedience, and if it was displeasing to her, yet being done, and past remedy, she would be inclined to make the best of what was unavoidable, and forgive what she could not prevent.
These arguments were sufficiently solid for a girl of sixteen who never thought before and could scarcely be said to do so then. Lady Mary complied with his plan, and the day was fixed when they were to take this lively step; their several stages settled, and many more arts and contrivances to avoid discovery concerted, than they were likely to have any occasion for; but in that variety of little schemes and romantic expedients her chief pleasure in this intended marriage consisted.
The day before that on which Lady Mary and her lover were to set out for Scotland, she was airing with Lady Sheerness when one of the horses taking fright, they were overturned down a very steep declivity. Lady Sheerness was but very little hurt, but Lady Mary was extremely bruised; one side of her face received a blow which swelled it so violently that her eye was quite closed, and her body was all over contusions. She was taken up senseless, entirely stunned by the shock. As soon as she was carried home, she was put to bed; a fever ensued, and she lay a fortnight in a deplorable condition, though her life was not thought to be in danger. Her pain, for the greatest part of that time, was too acute to suffer her to reflect much on the different manner in which she had intended to employ that period; and when her mind became more at liberty, her disappointment did not sit too heavy on her spirits; for as her heart was not really touched, she considered the delay which this ill-timed accident had occasioned without any great concern, and rather pleased herself with thinking that she should give an uncommon proof of spirit, in undertaking a long journey, so soon after she was recovered from a very evident proof that travelling is not free from danger. As she had during this confinement more time to think than all her life had yet afforded her, a doubt would sometimes occur, whether she did right in entering into such an engagement without the consent of her aunt, to whom she was much obliged. But these scruples soon vanished, and she wondered how such odd notions came into her head, never having heard the word duty used, but to ridicule somebody who made it the rule of their conduct. By all she had been able to observe, pleasure was the only aim of persons of genius, whose thoughts never wandered but from one amusement to another, and, ‘why should not she be guided by inclination as well as other people?’ That one question decided the point, and all doubts were banished.
Before the blackness which succeeded the swelling was worn off her face, and consequently before she could appear abroad, a young lady of her acquaintance, who, out of charity, relinquished the diversions of the place to sit an afternoon with Lady Mary, told her as a whimsical piece of news she had just heard (and to tell which was the real motive for her kind visit, having long felt a secret envy of Lady Mary) that, her lover, Mr Lenman, had been married some years, to a young lady of small fortune, whom he treated on that account with so little ceremony that for a considerable time he did not own his marriage, and since he acknowledged it had kept her constantly at his house in Wales.
This was indeed news of consequence to Lady Mary, but she was little inclined to believe it and enquired what proof there was of this fact. The young lady replied that she had it from a relation of hers lately arrived at Scarborough who having been often in Mr Lenman’s neighbourhood, was well acquainted both with him and his wife, and had in a pretty large company where she was present asked him after Mrs Lenman’s health, to which he made as short an answer as he could, but such as shewed there was such a person, and his confusion on this question made her relation enquire what could be the meaning of it, which all the company could easily explain.
Lady Mary was prodigiously disconcerted with this intelligence; her informer imagined the visible agitation of her spirits proceeded from her attachment to Mr Lenman, but in reality it was the effect of terror. She was frighted to think how near she was becoming the object of general ridicule and disgrace, wedded to a married man and duped by his cunning; for she immediately perceived why her aunt was not to be let into the secret. How contemptible a figure must she afterwards have made in the world! There was something in this action of Mr Lenman’s very uncommon, fashionable vices and follies had in her opinion received a sanction from custom, but this was of a different and a deeper dye; and little as she had been used to reflect on good and evil in any other light than as pleasant and unpleasant, she conceived a horror at this action.
After her visitor departed, she began to reflect on the luckiness of the overturn which had obstructed her rash design, and admiring her good fortune, would certainly have offered rich sacrifices on the shrine of Chance had there been a temple there erected to that deity.
While her mind was filled with these impressions, the nurse, who had attended her in her sickness, and was not yet dismissed, entered the room crying with joy and told her, that she had just received the news of the ship’s being lost wherein her son was to have embarked, had he not been seized with a fit of sickness two days before it set sail, which made it impossible for him to go on board. The poor woman was profuse in her acknowledgements for God’s great mercy, who had by this means prevented the destruction of her dear child. ‘To be sure,’ added she, ‘I shall never again repine at any thing that happens to me. How vexed I was at this disappointment, and thought myself the most unfortunate creature in the world because my son missed of such a good post as he was to have had in this ship; I was continually fretting about it and fancied that so bad a setting out was a sign the poor boy would be unlucky all his life. How different things turn out from what we expect! Had not this misfortune, as I thought it, happened, he would now have been at the bottom of the sea, and my poor heart would have been broken. Well, to be sure God is very kind! I hope my boy will always be thankful for this providence and love the Lord who has thus preserved him.’
This poor woman spoke a new language to Lady Mary. She knew, indeed, that God had made the world, and had sent her into it, but she had never thought of his taking any further care about her. She had heard that he had forbidden murder and stealing and adultery and that, after death, he would judge people for those crimes, and this she supposed was the utmost extent of his attention. But the joy she felt for her own deliverance from a misfortune into which she was so near involving herself, and the resemblance there was in the means of her preservation to that for which her nurse was so thankful, communicated to her some of the same sensations, and she felt a gratitude to him who, she imagined, might possibly be more careful over his creatures than she had ever yet supposed.
These impressions, though pretty strong at the time, wore off after she got abroad. A renewal of the same dissipation scattered them with every other serious thought; and she again entered into the hurry of every trifling amusement. Mr Lenman, as soon as he found that his marriage was become public, despairing of the success of his scheme, left the place before Lady Mary was out of her confinement, afraid of meeting the reproachful glances of a woman whom he designed to injure; and whose innocence, notwithstanding her levity, gave her dignity in the eyes of a man who had really conceived an ardent passion for her.
Lady Sheerness and her niece stayed but a short time at Scarborough after the latter was perfectly recovered, the season being over. They returned to London and all the gaiety it affords; and though the town was at that time not full, yet they had so general an acquaintance, and Lady Sheerness rendered her house so agreeable, that she never wanted company. Every season has its different amusements, and these ladies had an equal taste for everything that bore the name of diversion. It is true, they were not always entertained; but they always expected to be so, and promised themselves amends the following day for the disappointment of the present. If they failed of pleasure, they had dissipation, and were in too continual a hurry to have time to ask themselves whether they were amused; if they saw others were so, they imagined themselves must be equally entertained; or if the dullness of the place was too great to be overlooked, they charged it on their own want of spirits, and complained of a languor which rendered them incapable of receiving pleasure.
Lady Mary fortunately had had no confidante in her design of running away with Mr Lenman, and the part he had acted was so dishonourable he could not wish to publish it; her imprudence was therefore known only to herself; and the fear of disobliging her aunt by letting her intended disobedience reach her ears induced her to conceal it; otherwise, most probably, in some unguarded hour, she would have amused her acquaintance with the relation, embellished with whatever circumstances would have rendered it amusing; for the love of being entertaining, and the vanity of being listened to with eagerness, will lead people of ungoverned vivacity to expose their greatest failings.
Lady Mary’s levity encouraged her admirers to conceive hopes which her real innocence should have repressed. Among this number was Lord Robert St George. He was both in person and manner extremely pleasing; but what was a stronger charm to a young woman of Lady Mary’s turn of mind, he was a very fashionable man, much caressed by the ladies, and supposed to have been successful in his addresses to many. This is always a great recommendation to the gay and giddy; and a circumstance which should make a man shunned by every woman of virtue, secures him a favourable reception from the most fashionable part of our sex.
Lady Mary would have accused herself of want of taste had she not liked a man whom so many others had loved. She saw his attachment to her in the light of a triumph over several of her acquaintance; and when a man raises a woman in her own esteem, it is seldom long before he gains a considerable share of it for himself. Vanity represented Lord Robert as a conquest of importance, and his qualifications rendered him a very pleasing dangler. Lady Mary liked him as well as her little leisure to attend to one person would permit. She felt that pleasure on his approach, that pain at his departure, that solicitude for his presence, and that jealousy at the civilities he paid any other woman, which girls look upon as the symptoms of a violent passion, whereas if they were to examine their hearts very nicely they would find that only a small part of it proceeded from love.
Lord Robert was too well skilled in these matters to remain ignorant of the impression he had made; and if he had been less quick-sighted, the frequent intelligence he received of it would not have suffered him long to remain in ignorance. Lady Mary, vain of her conquest and proud of being in love, as is usual at her age, let every intimate into her confidence, and by mutual communication they talked a moderate liking into a passion. Each of these young ladies were as ready to tell their friend’s secrets as their own, till the circle of that confidence included all their acquaintance. From many of these Lord Robert heard of Lady Mary’s great attachment to him, which served not a little to flatter his hopes. He imagined he should meet with an easy conquest of a giddy, thoughtless girl, entirely void of all fixed principles and violently in love with him; for his vanity exaggerated her passion. In this persuasion he supposed nothing was wanting to his success but opportunity, for which he took care not to wait long.
He was intimately acquainted with an old lady, whom he often met at Lady Sheerness’s, whose disposition he knew well suited to his purpose, she had before proved convenient to him and others; not indeed by unrewarded assistance, for as her fortune was too small to supply the expenses of the genteel way of life she aimed at, she was glad to have that deficiency made up by presents which she was therefore very assiduous to deserve. This lady, as she was a woman of fashion and lived in figure, was politely received in all gay companies who were not disposed to take the trouble of examining scrupulously into her character. She had one material recommendation; she played high at cards, and omitted nothing to make her house agreeable; and few were more crowded.
This lady had often been visited by Lady Sheerness and her niece, though generally at the same time with the multitude; but one day, when she knew the former was confined at home by indisposition, she invited Lady Mary, whose aunt’s complaisance would not suffer her to refuse the invitation on her account.
Lord Robert was there, and as it was only a private party, there were no card-tables but in the outward room. The mistress of the house drew Lady Mary into the inner, on pretence of having something particular to say to her, Lord Robert soon followed. The conversation grew lively between him and Lady Mary; and when the convenient gentlewoman saw them thoroughly engaged and animated in discourse, she quietly withdrew, returning to the company, whose attention was too much fixed on the cards to perceive that any one was missing; and to keep their thoughts more entirely engrossed, she betted with great spirit at every table.
Lady Mary did not perceive she was left alone with Lord Robert, till the growing freedom of his address made her observe it; but as prudence was not one of her virtues, she was not at all disconcerted with this tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte; nor did it lessen her vivacity. Lord Robert, encouraged by her easiness on the occasion, declared himself so plainly that she was no longer able to blind herself to his views and with surprise found seduction was his aim, if that word maybe used for a man’s designs against the honour of a woman who seems so careless of it. Her heart was entirely innocent of vice, and she could not imagine how his lordship could conceive it possible to succeed with her in intentions of that sort. She had always thought such imprudence in a woman a very great folly, for in a graver light she had never beheld it, and shewed herself offended at his supposing her capable of such a weakness; but without that honest indignation which a woman would have felt who had acted on better principles.
Lord Robert was not much discouraged; a woman is under great disadvantage when her lover knows himself to be so much beloved that she dare not let her anger continue long, for fear of losing him for ever. He was well convinced that mere worldly prudence could not make a lasting resistance against a strong passion, and such he flattered himself hers was. He therefore ventured to resume the subject; but his perseverance increased Lady Mary’s surprise and she began to think herself affronted. Her partiality pleaded in his favour some time; but at length she thought it necessary to retire, notwithstanding his utmost endeavours to detain her. As she left him, she desired him to learn to believe better of her understanding: she perceived it no otherwise an insult; her education had deprived her of that delicacy which should have made her feel a severe mortification at the little share she had of the good opinion of a man she loved; on the contrary, she esteemed the affront she had received a proof of his affection. She had often indeed heard the name of virtue, but by the use she had known made of the word, it appeared to her to have no other signification than prudence. She was not at all shocked with Lord Robert’s conduct; but resolved not to concur in his views, because she had no inclination to do so, that overbalanced her very moderate degree of prudence. On this account she determined to avoid being again alone with him.
Lady Mary’s natural sense gave rise to some doubts, whether the very open professions of gallantry which Lord Robert had made to her were common; she had been frequently addressed with freedom, but his behaviour seemed more than commonly presuming. In order to find what others would think of it, she often turned the conversation to those sort of subjects, and was a good deal startled one day by a lively, but amiable and modest young lady who said she believed no man that was not an absolute fool, or at the time intoxicated, ever insulted a woman with improper behaviour or discourse, if he had not from some impropriety in her conduct seen reason to imagine it would not be ill received; and I am sure, added she, ‘if such a thing was ever to befall me, it would convert me into a starched prude, for fear that hereafter innocent vivacity might be mistaken for vicious levity: I should take myself very severely to task, convinced the offence was grounded on my conduct; for I am well persuaded there is something so respectable in virtue that no man will dare to insult it, except when a great disparity in circumstances encourages an abandoned wretch to take advantage of the necessity of the indigent.’
Lady Mary was greatly affected by this sentiment she began to reflect on her own behaviour, and could not but see that Lord Robert might, without any great danger of offending, hazard the behaviour he had been guilty of; since in effect she had not conceived much anger against him, and though she had hitherto avoided being again alone with him, yet she had not shewn any very great marks of displeasure. She now watched with attention the conduct of other young ladies; many of them seemed to act on the same principles as herself; but she observed that she who had by her declaration first raised in her suspicions about her own behaviour, had a very different manner from hers. She was indeed gay and lively; but her vivacity seemed under the direction of modesty. In her greatest flow of spirits, she hazarded no improper expression, nor suffered others to do so without a manifest disgust she saw that the gentlemen who conversed with her preserved an air of respect and deference, which they laid aside when they addressed women whose vivacity degenerated into levity. She now began to perceive some impropriety in her own behaviour, and endeavoured to correct it; but nothing is more difficult than to recover a dignity once lost. When she attempted to restrain her gaiety within proper bounds, she was laughed at for her affectation: if, when the conversation was improper, she assumed an air of gravity, she was accused of the vapours or received hints that she was out of humour.
These were great discouragements in her endeavours to correct the errors of her conduct, but gave her less pain than the difficulties she was under about Lord Robert St George. He still continued to address her with a freedom of manners which she now perceived was insulting; she wanted to discourage his insolence but feared giving a total offence to a man who had too great a share of her affections; she was apprehensive that if she quite deprived him of his hopes, she should entirely lose him and he would attach himself to some other woman. This situation was dangerous and Lord Robert knew the power he had over her. The dilemma she was in really abated the vivacity she wished to restrain, but it was immediately attributed to the anxiety of a love-sick mind, and she was exposed to continual raillery on that subject. Her lover secretly triumphed, flattering himself that her passion was now combating on his side.
In this situation she was unable to determine what part to act, and all her intimates were too much like herself to be capable of advising her. Thus distressed, she resolved to cultivate the acquaintance of the young lady who had opened her eyes to her own conduct, and try what relief she could obtain from her advice. This was easily effected; Lady Mary was too amiable not to have any advances she made answered with pleasure. An intimacy soon ensued.
Lady Mary communicated to her new friend all the difficulties of her situation and confessed to her the true state of her heart. That young lady was not void of compassion for her uneasiness; but told her that while she was encouraging Lord Robert’s passion, she was losing his esteem, which alone was worth preserving. ‘I allow,’ said she, ‘that by depriving him of his hopes, you may put an end to his addresses; but consider, my dear Lady Mary, what satisfaction they can afford you if they are only the result of a fondness for your person which would lose all its charms for him as soon as it became familiarized by possession. You would then at once find yourself both neglected and despised by the man for whose sake you had rendered yourself truly despicable. I know you are incapable of an action that would at the same time rid you of his esteem and of the more valuable consciousness of knowing yourself to be truly estimable. I am not of the opinion of those who think chastity the only virtue of consequence to our sex; but it is certainly so very essential to us that she who violates it seldom preserves any other. And how should she? For if there are others as great, greater there cannot be, there is none so necessary. But herein I know you are of my opinion; I only therefore intreat you to shew Lord Robert that you are so; do not let him mistake your real sentiments; nor in order to preserve his love, if custom will oblige me to call his passion by that name, leave him reason to flatter himself that you will fall a victim to his arts and your own weakness.
‘Consider with yourself,’ continued she, ‘which is most desirable, his esteem or his courtship? If you really love him, you can make no comparison between them, for surely there cannot be a greater suffering than to stand low in the opinion of any person who has a great share of our affections. If he neglects you on finding that his criminal designs cannot succeed, he certainly does not deserve your love, and the consciousness of having raised yourself in his opinion and forced him to esteem you, together with the pleasure of reflecting that you have acted as you ought, will afford you consolation.’
These arguments had due weight with Lady Mary, she determined to follow her friend’s advice and submit to the consequences. Lady Sheerness had company that evening and among the rest Lord Robert. He was, as usual, assiduous in his addresses to Lady Mary who, withdrawing to a little distance from the company, told him, that she had too long suffered his lordship to continue a courtship, which he had plainly acknowledged was made with such views as gave her great reason to blame herself for ever having listened to it. She acknowledged that the levity of her conduct had been such as lessened her right to reproach him. Encouraged by her errors, and presuming perhaps on a supposition that he was not unpleasing to her, he had ventured to insult her in a flagrant manner, but without complaining of what was past, she thought herself obliged to tell him his pursuit was in vain; that the errors in her conduct were the fault of education; nor might she so soon have been convinced of them if his behaviour had not awakened her to a sense of some impropriety in her own conduct, which, conscious of the innocence of her intentions, she had never suspected: she then told him that if he did not entirely desist from all addresses to her she should be obliged to acquaint her aunt with his behaviour, who could not suffer such an insult on her niece to pass unresented.
As soon as she had thus explained herself to Lord Robert, she mingled with the crowd, though with a mind little inclined to join in their conversation; but her young friend was there and endeavoured to support her spirits, which were overcome by the effort she had made. This young lady soon after went into the country and returned no more to London.
Lord Robert was so disconcerted that he left the room as soon as Lady Mary had thus given him his dismissal. As their acquaintance lay much in the same set, they frequently saw each other. Lord Robert endeavoured to conquer Lady Mary’s resolution by sometimes exciting her jealousy and at others making her the object of his addresses; but she continued steady in her conduct, though with many secret pangs. He began at last to converse with her with greater ease to himself as his passion abated when no longer nourished by hope; and notwithstanding a remainder of pique, he could not forbear treating her with a respect which her conduct deserved; for he plainly saw she had acted in contradiction to her own heart. This alteration in his behaviour afforded her great satisfaction; and though her love was not extinguished, it ceased to be very painful when she was persuaded she had obtained some share of his esteem.
When Lady Mary was in her twentieth year, Lady Sheerness was seized with a lingering, but incurable disorder. It made little alteration in her mind. In this melancholy situation she applied to cards and company to keep up her spirits as assiduously as she had done during her better health. She was incapable indeed of going so much abroad, but her acquaintance, who still found her house agreeable, applauded their charity in attending her at home. Cards even employed the morning, for fear any intermission of visitors should leave her a moment’s time for reflection. In this manner she passed the short remainder of her life, without one thought of that which was to come. Her acquaintance, for I cannot call them as they did themselves, friends, were particularly careful to avoid every subject that might remind her of death. At night she procured sleep by laudanum; and from the time she rose, she took care not to have leisure to think; even at meals she constantly engaged company, lest her niece’s conversation should not prove sufficient to dissipate her thoughts. Every quack who proposed curing what was incurable was applied to, and she was buoyed up with successive hopes of approaching relief.
She grew at last so weak that, unable even to perform her part at the card-table, Lady Mary was obliged to deal, hold her cards and sort them for her, while she could just take them out one by one and drop them on the table. Whist and quadrille became too laborious to her weakened intellects, but loo supplied their places and continued her amusement to the last, as reason or memory were not necessary qualifications to play at it.
Her acquaintances she found at length began to absent themselves, but she re-animated their charity by making frequent entertainments for them, and was reduced to order genteel suppers to enliven the evening, when she herself was obliged to retire to her bed. Though it was for a considerable time doubtful whether she should live till morning, it was no damp to the spirits of any of the company from which she had withdrawn, except to Lady Mary, who, with an aching heart, was obliged to preside every evening at the table, and to share their unfeeling mirth, till two or three o’clock in the morning.
She was greatly afflicted with the thought of her aunt’s approaching death, whose indulgence to her, however blameable, had made a deep impression on her heart; as this gave a more serious turn to her mind, she could not see Lady Sheerness’s great insensibility to what must happen after death without much concern. The great care that was taken to rob her of leisure to reflect on matters of such high importance shocked her extremely; and she was disgusted with the behaviour of those she called her friends, who she plainly perceived would have fallen into total neglect of her had she not found means to render her house more amusing to them than any into which they could enter. She now saw that friendship existed not without esteem; and that pleasurable connections would break at the time they were most wanted.
This course of life continued, till one evening Lady Sheerness was seized with a fainting fit at the card-table, and being carried to her bed, in half an hour departed to a world of which she had never thought and for which she was totally unprepared.
As Lady Mary was not able to return to the company, they in decency, not in affliction, retired.
Having long expected this event, her grief was greater than her surprise. She sent for the gentleman who she knew was her aunt’s executor, that her will might be opened and necessary directions given for the funeral. Lady Mary had no doubt of succeeding to an easy fortune, and when the will was read it confirmed her in that supposition by appointing her sole heiress. But the executor told her he feared she would find no inheritance. The will was made on her first coming to Lady Sheerness, when there was some remains of the money her lord had left her, but he was well convinced it had since been not only entirety expended, but considerable debts incurred.
This account was soon proved true by the demands of numerous creditors. Lady Mary gave up all her aunt’s effects, which fell short of the debts, and remained herself in the same destitute condition from which Lady Sheerness had rescued her. This was a very severe shock; she had seen sufficient proof of the little real friendship to be found in such fashionable connections as she had been engaged in, to know that she had nothing to hope from any of her acquaintance. Her father had been at variance with most of his relations, and Lady Sheerness had kept up the quarrel. She had therefore little expectation of assistance from them in the only wish she could form, which was to obtain a pension from the government, whereto her rank seemed to entitle her. She saw no resource but in the pride of some insolent woman who would like to have a person of her quality dependent on her; a prospect far worse than death. Or possibly, good-nature might procure her a reception among some of her acquaintance; but as she had nothing even to answer her personal expenses, how soon would they grow weary of so chargeable a visitor?
While she was oppressed with these reflections, and had nothing before her eyes but the gloomy prospect of extreme distress, she received a message from Lady Brumpton, who waited in her equipage at the door, desiring to be admitted to see her, for Lady Mary had given a general order to be denied, being unfit to see company, and unwilling to be exposed to the insulting condolence of many whose envy at the splendour in which she had lived and the more than common regard that had usually been shewn her, would have come merely to enjoy the triumph they felt on her present humiliation.
Lady Brumpton was widow to Lady Mary’s half-brother. She had been a private gentlewoman of good family but small fortune, by marrying whom her lord had given such offence to his father that he would never after admit him to his presence. Lady Sheerness had shewn the same resentment and there no longer subsisted any communication between the families. Lord Brumpton had been dead about three years and left no children.
His widow was still a fine woman. She was by nature generous and humane, her temper perfectly good, her understanding admirable. She had been educated with great care, was very accomplished, had read a great deal and with excellent taste; she had great quickness of parts and a very uncommon share of wit. Her beauty first gained her much admiration; but when she was better known, the charms of her understanding seemed to eclipse those of her person. Her conversation was generally courted, her wit and learning were the perpetual subjects of panegyric in verse and prose, which unhappily served to increase her only failing, vanity. She sought to be admired for various merits. To recommend her person she studied dress and went to considerable expense in ornaments. To shew her taste, she distinguished herself by the elegance of her house, furniture and equipage. To prove her fondness for literature, she collected a considerable library; and to shew that all her esteem was not engrossed by the learned dead, she caressed all living geniuses; all were welcome to her house, from the ragged philosopher to the rhyming peer; but while she only exchanged adulation with the latter, she generously relieved the necessities of the former. She aimed at making her house a little academy; all the arts and sciences were there discussed, and none dared to enter who did not think themselves qualified to shine and partake of the lustre which was diffused round this assembly.
Though encircled by science and flattery, Lady Mary’s distress reached Lady Brumpton’s ears and brought her to that young lady’s door, who was surprised at the unexpected visit, but could not refuse her admittance. Lady Brumpton began by apologizing for her intrusion but excused herself on the great desire she had of being acquainted with so near a relation of her lord’s, who, as she was too young to have any share in the unhappy divisions in the family, she was persuaded was free from those ill-grounded resentments which the malice and impertinence of tale-bearers are always watchful to improve; and when she considered herself as the first occasion of the quarrel, she thought it her duty, in regard to her deceased lord’s memory, to offer that protection his sister might justly demand from her, and which her youth rendered necessary.
Lady Mary was charmed with the politeness of Lady Brumpton’s address, but still more with the generosity of her behaviour in seeking her out, at a time when so many were diligent to avoid her. The acknowledgements she made for the favour done her spoke as much in her recommendation as her person. Lady Brumpton after some conversation told her she had a request to make to which she could not well suffer a denial; this was no other than that she would leave that melancholy house and make hers the place of her fixed abode; for as, by Lord Brumpton’s will, he had bequeathed her his whole fortune, she should not enjoy it with peace of mind if his sister did not share in the possession.
This very agreeable invitation filled Lady Mary with joy and surprise. She made a proper return to Lady Brumpton for her generosity and they agreed that Lady Mary should remove to her house the next day.
When Lady Mary was left alone to reflect on this unexpected piece of good fortune, and considered the distress she had been in but two hours before, and from which she was now so happily delivered; when she reflected on the many calamities wherewith from her childhood she had been threatened and by what various means she had been saved so often from ruin, she could not forbear thinking that she was indeed the care of that Being who had hitherto employed so little of her thoughts. Such frequent mercies as she had received, sometimes in being preserved from the fatal consequences of her own follies, at others from the unavoidable distresses to which she had been exposed, awakened in her mind a lively gratitude to the supreme Disposer of all human events. The poor consolations to which her aunt had been reduced in the melancholy conclusion of her life shewed her that happiness did not consist in dissipation, nor in tumultuous pleasures, and could alone be found in something which every age and every condition might enjoy. Reason seemed this source of perpetual content and she fancied that alone would afford a satisfaction suitable to every state of mind and body. Some degree of religion she imagined necessary, and that to perform the duties it required was requisite to our peace. But the extent of true religion she had never considered, though her great good fortune told her that she ought to be thankful for the blessings conferred and not distrust the care of providence, of which she had received such signal proofs.
She had often heard Lady Brumpton ridiculed under the appellation of a genius and a learned lady; but when she recollected who those persons were, no other than the open professors of folly, it did not prejudice that lady in her opinion, but rather raised her expectation of being introduced into a superior race of beings for whose conversation she knew herself unqualified, but from whom she hoped for some improvement to her understanding, too long neglected.
In this disposition of mind Lady Brumpton found her at the hour that she had appointed to fetch her. They went directly into Lady Brumpton’s dressing room, who presented Lady Mary with a settlement she had prepared of a hundred pounds a year which she begged her to accept for her clothes and desired that whenever she found it insufficient she would draw on her for more: she at the same time made her the first payment.
Lady Mary, now entered into a new set of company, frequently found herself entirely at a loss; for she was so totally unacquainted with the subjects of their discourse that she understood them almost as little as if they had talked another language; she told Lady Brumpton how much she was concerned at her own ignorance and begged she would give her some directions what she should read. That lady, whose chief aim was to shine, recommended to her the things most likely to fall into conversation, that she might be qualified to bear her part in it. Lady Mary took her advice and read some moral essays, just published; then a new play; after that the history of one short period; and ended with a volume of sermons then much in fashion. When she began to examine what she had acquired by her studies, she found such a confusion in her memory, where a historical anecdote was crowded by a moral sentiment and a scrap of a play interwoven into a sermon, that she determined to discontinue that miscellaneous reading and begin a regular and improving course, leaving to others the privilege of sitting in judgement on every new production.
In this situation Lady Mary continued some years, without any mortification, except what she felt from seeing the consequences of Lady Brumpton’s too great vanity. It led her into expenses, which though they did not considerably impair her fortune, yet so far straitened it that she frequently had not power to indulge the generosity of her mind where it would have done her honour and have yielded her solid satisfaction. The adulation which she received with too much visible complacency inspired her with such an opinion of herself as led her to despise those of less shining qualities, and not to treat any with proper civility whom she had not some particular desire to please, which often gave severe pangs to bashful merit, and called her real superiority in question; for those who observed so great a weakness were tempted to believe her understanding rather glittering than solid. The desire of attracting to her house every person who had gained a reputation for genius occasioned many to be admitted whose acquaintance were a disgrace to her, and who artfully taking advantage of her weakness by excess of flattery found means of imposing on her to any degree they pleased.
The turn of conversation at her house was ridiculed in every other company by people who appeared most desirous of being in her parties. And indeed it was capable of being so; the extreme endeavour to shine took off from that ease in conversation which is its greatest charm. Every person was like a bent bow, ready to shoot forth an arrow which had no sooner darted to the other side of the room, than it fell to the ground and the next person picked it up and made a new shot with it. Like the brisk lightning in the Rehearsal, they gave flash for flash; and they were continually striving whose wit should go off with the greatest report. Lady Mary, who had naturally a great deal of vivacity and a sufficient share of wit, made no bad figure in the brilliant assembly; for though she perceived an absurdity in these mock skirmishes of genius, yet she thought proper to conform to her company; but saw plainly that a sprightly look and lively elocution made the chief merit of the best bons mots that were uttered among them.
After she had spent about five years with Lady Brumpton, this lady was seized with a nervous fever which all the art of her physicians could not entirely conquer. Her spirits were extremely affected and her friends decreased in their attentions as her vivacity decayed. She had indeed always been superior to her company in every requisite to please and entertain, therefore when she could not bear her part the conversations flagged; they dwindled from something like wit into oddity and then sunk into dullness. She was no longer equally qualified to please or to be pleased; her mind was not at unison with shallow jesters and therefore they could make no harmony.
Her disorder wore her extremely and turned to an atrophy. In that gradual decay she often told Lady Mary she was awakened from a dream of vanity; she saw how much a desire to gain the applause of a few people had made her forget the more necessary aim of obtaining the approbation of her Creator. She had indeed no criminal actions to lay to her charge; but how should she? Vanity preserved her from doing anything which she imagined would expose her to censure. She had done some things commendable, but she feared the desire of being commended was part of her motive. The humility and calmness of a true Christian disposition had appeared to her meanness of spirit or affectation, and a religious life as the extremest dullness; but now too late she saw her error, and was sensible she had never been in the path of happiness. She had not erred from want of knowledge, but from the strong impulse of vanity which led her to neglect it; but sickness, by lowering her spirits, had taken away the false glare which dazzled her eyes, and restored her to her sight.
Lady Brumpton was sensible of her approaching death some weeks before she expired, and was perfectly resigned. Lady Mary had a second time the melancholy office of closing the eyes of a benefactress and relation whom she sincerely loved. Lady Brumpton, to remove from her any anxiety on her own account, acquainted her, as soon as her disease became desperate, that she had bequeathed her ten thousand pounds, and all her plate and jewels.
Lady Mary found this information true, and received the sum. She was tenderly concerned for the loss of so good a friend; and by the various circumstances of her life and the many blessings bestowed on her, had a heart so touched with the greatness of divine mercy that her mind took a more serious turn than common; and tired of the multitude in which she had so long lived, she was seeking for a retirement when she met Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel at Tunbridge; and as I have already told you, came hither with them.
Mrs Maynard was not a little wearied with so long a narrative, and therefore did not continue much longer with us; but Lamont and I remained in the park till dinner.
In the afternoon the ladies proposed we should go upon the water, a scheme very agreeable to us all; some of the inhabitants of the other community were of the party. We got into a very neat boat, of a size sufficient to contain a large company, and which was rowed by the servants of the family. We went about three miles up the river, with great pleasure, and landed just by a neat house where we understood we were to drink tea. The mistress of it received us with great joy and told the ladies she had longed to see them, their young folks having quite finished her house, which she begged leave to shew us. Its extreme neatness rendered it an object worthy of observation; and I was particularly attentive as, its size suiting my plan of life, I determined to copy it.
The rooms were neither large nor numerous, but most of them hung with paper and prettily adorned. There were several very good drawings framed with shells, elegantly put together; and a couple of cabinets designed for use, but they became ornamental by being painted and seaweeds stuck thereon, which by their variety and the happy disposition of them rendered the doors and each of the drawers a distinct landscape. Many other little pieces of furniture were by the same art made very pretty and curious. I learnt in a whisper from Mrs Maynard that this gentlewoman was widow to the late minister of the parish and was left at his death with five small children in very bad circumstances. The ladies of Millenium Hall immediately raised her drooping spirits, settled an income upon her, took this house, furnished it and lent her some of their girls to assist in making up the furniture, and decorating it, according to the good woman’s taste. She carried us into her little garden that was neat to an excess and filled with flowers, which we found some of her children tying up and putting in order while the younger were playing about, all dressed with the same exact neatness as herself.
When we had performed this little progress we found tea ready, and spent the afternoon with greater pleasure, for observing the high gratification which this visit seemed to afford the mistress of the house. In the room where we sat was a bookcase well stocked; my curiosity was great to see what it contained, and one of the ladies to whom I mentioned it indulged me by opening it herself and looking at some of the books. I found they consisted of some excellent treatises of divinity, several little things published for the use of children and calculated to instil piety and knowledge into their infant minds, with a collection of our best periodical papers for the amusement of lighter hours. Most of these books, I found, were Miss Mancel’s presents.
The fineness of the evening made our return very delightful, and we had time for a little concert before supper.
The next morning I called up Lamont very early and reminded the housekeeper of her promise of shewing us the schools; which she readily performing, conducted us first to a very large cottage or rather five or six cottages laid together. Here we found about fifty girls, clad in a very neat uniform and perfectly clean, already seated at their respective businesses. Some writing, others casting accounts, some learning lessons by heart, several employed in various sorts of needlework, a few spinning and others knitting, with two schoolmistresses to inspect them. The schoolroom was very large and perfectly clean, the forms and chairs they sat on were of wood as white as possible; on shelves were wooden bowls and trenchers equally white, and shining pewter and brass seemed the ornaments of one side of the room; while pieces of the children’s work of various kinds decorated the other; little samples of their performances being thus exhibited as encouragement to their ingenuity.
I asked many questions as to their education and learnt that they are bred up in the strictest piety; the ladies by various schemes and many little compositions of their own endeavour to inculcate the purest principles in their tender minds. They all by turns exercise themselves in the several employments which we saw going forward, that they may have various means of gaining their subsistence in case any accident should deprive them of the power of pursuing any particular part of their business. The ladies watch their geniuses with great care; and breed them up to those things which seem most suitable to the turn of their minds. When any are designed for service, they are taught the business of the place they are best fitted for by coming down to the hall and performing the necessary offices under the direction of the excellent servants there.
A very large kitchen garden belongs to the house, which is divided into as many parts as there are scholars; to weed and keep this in order is made their principal recreation; and by the notice taken of it they are taught to vie with each other which shall best acquit themselves, so that perhaps never was a garden so neat. They likewise have no small share in keeping those at the hall in order; and the grotto and seats are chiefly their workmanship.
I gave them due praise upon their performances at the clergyman’s widow’s, and delighted two of them very much by my admiration of a little arbour which they had there planted with woodbines and other sweet shrubs. In their own garden they are allowed the indulgence of any little whim which takes not up too much room; and it is pretty to see their little seats, their arbours and beds of flowers, according to their several tastes. As soon as school breaks up, they run with as much eagerness and joy to their garden, as other children do to their childish sports; and their highest pleasure is the approbation their patronesses give their performances. They likewise take it by turns to do the business of the house and emulation excites them to a cleanliness which could not by any other means be preserved.
From this school we went to one instituted for boys, which consisted of about half the number, and most of them small, as they are dismissed to labour as soon as they are able to perform any work, except incapacitated by ill health. This is instituted on much the same principles as the other, and every boy of five years old has his little spade and rake which he is taught to exercise.
We returned from our little tour in time enough for prayers, with minds well prepared for them, by the view of such noble fruits of real piety. Indeed the steward who reads them does it with such extreme propriety and such humble and sincere devotion as is alone sufficient to fix the attention and warm the hearts of his hearers.
After breakfast was over, we got Mrs Maynard to accompany us into the garden, she in complaisance to us abstaining while we were at the hall from her share in the daily visits the ladies pay to their several institutions, and to the poor and sick in their village. Their employments are great, but their days are proportionable; for they are always up by five o’clock, and by their example the people in the village rise equally early; at that hour one sees them all engaged in their several businesses with an assiduity which in other places is not awakened till much later.
I called on Mrs Maynard to continue her task, which without any previous ceremony she did as follows.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00