Charles E Pearce.

Madame Vestris and her times online

. (page 15 of 24)
Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 15 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

eye being the result. The words that passed pre-
vious to the " scuffle " are not recorded. Apparently
Duncombe's grievance was a personal one, but in
reality he was acting as champion for Vestris, for
whom there is every reason to believe he had a sincere

The encounter was purely accidental. Mr. Dun-
combe, with Lord William Lennox, Captain Gronow,
and other friends, had come from the Garrick Club,
where probably champagne had been flowing, and
when Captain Polhill, the Drury Lane lessee, sought
to quell the disturbance, it is highly probable some
intemperate language was used on both sides. The


Satirist says that Duncombe and his party retired,
the Age had it that he was " expelled." The result
was that Lord William Lennox waited upon Polhill,
the inference being that he bore a challenge from Mr.
Duncombe. Anyhow, Westmacott chose to assume
as much, and at once rushed off to Bow Street, not
to apply for a summons against Duncombe for assault-
ing him oh dear, no ! but to lay information that
a duel between Mr. Duncombe and Captain Polhill
was contemplated ! The alleged belligerents were
accordingly summoned before the Bow Street magis-
trate, Sir R. Birnie, who investigated the matter in
a private room, but on receiving their assurance that
nothing hostile was intended, did not think it necessary
to hold them to bail.

Westmacott exhibited all his low cunning. He was
invited to attend the police court to prefer any charge
he might have to make against Mr. Duncombe, but
he declined to do so on the ground that he " did not
wish to be misrepresented by the reporters and that
he intended to proceed against Mr. Duncombe in
another court." Westmacott, however, always had
more discretion than valour, and nothing further was
heard of the matter. He did not even adopt his usual
method of retaliation. He was very cautious and
mildly commendatory in his brief notices of the
Olympic performances, and maybe that, having suffered
so little from the threats of Phillipson and Duncombe,
he feared he might not be so fortunate on a third

In view of Vestris's doings in the autumn it is
pretty clear that he was not letting her alone. In
the Age of April 7th came the following cryptic
intimation : " Madame Vestris, having passed the
Passion week with young Rapid in Chesham Place,
appeared in the Invincible s at Co vent Garden."
Chesham Place was where she was living at this

Mr. T. H. Duncombe, in his biography of his father,


Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, throws a lurid light
on the mystery. To begin with, Vestris was embar-
rassed pecuniarily, notwithstanding the large sums
of money which had poured into the Olympic coffers.
Mr. C. Harris, who for years had acted as her confi-
dential agent, financial and otherwise, was still the
one to whom she turned when in difficulties. Mr.
Duncombe gives the following memorandum of
sums received by her from Mr. Harris during the
two years 1833 and 1834. In 1833 she had from him :
July I yth 3,000 ; November 29th 989 iSs. 6d. ; in
1834, March I3th 4,140; March I5th, 900;
April 23rd, 200; September I5th, 1,050 in all,
10,279 i8/. 6d.

Where Harris obtained this money whether from
loans or that it was due to Vestris from engagements
outside the Olympic Mr. Duncombe does not ex-
plain. It is one of the mysteries surrounding the
whole business. It may be assumed, however, that
in the early summer Vestris and her new alliance
were spending money merrily, and that the 3,000
she received in July did not go very far in discharge
of their debts and in defraying current expenses.
Most probably, after the fashion of the day, their debts
were left unpaid. We do not know whether Mr. T. S.
Duncombe acted the part of a generous friend. It
was like him to do so. At any rate, it is certain the
young gentleman owed him a considerable sum. Tom
Duncombe was an easy man, but the other creditors
were just the reverse. Vestris was as hard j^p as
his lordship, and to avoid arrest they left "London
secretly and hid themselves in an obscure I^pBnshire
village. ^

At this time Madame must have been i^ire distress.
She was saddled with the inevitable 'eSJfienses which
would fall upon her when the Olympic opened in
October for the winter season, and not to open would
be her ruin. She had deprived herself of the sub-
stantial sum which would have been hers had she


gone into the provinces or played at the Haymarket,
and maybe she had tired out her many friends who
in former days readily opened their purses to gratify
her slightest whim. It is quite within the bounds
of possibility that some of these had found the attrac-
tions of Crockford's gambling saloon, then in the
height of its palatial folly, too costly an amusement.
Moreover, it is obvious that to pay a lady's own debts
is one thing, but it is quite a different matter when to
these debts are tacked on those of somebody else
and that somebody else a man.

Vestris, it was clear, was helpless, and her companion
set his wits to work to raise money. He accordingly
wrote to the Duke of Buccleuch asking for a loan of
^3)5j an d apparently he unbosomed himself suffi-
ciently to let his Grace know that the money was not
for himself but for a friend. The Duke sent the
3,500 and advised his correspondent to have " the
proper receipt given for the money before you part
with it to your friend's creditor." The " friend "
presumably was Madame Vestris, and had her com-
panion in misfortune acted honourably she would have
been saved much worry, but that is what he refrained
from doing. He converted the money to his own use !
Practically the Duke was deceived, as a letter from
Mr. T. S. Duncombe clearly shows .

We are indebted to Mr. T. H. Duncombe's book
for some letters of Madame Vestris to Harris, from
which we take the liberty of quoting. Here is an
appealing one dated September 9th and written from
London, the couple having apparently returned from
their hiding-place in Devonshire :

" LONDON, September gth.


" is writing to you at this moment. He

is staying here a close prisoner. I believe he returns

to Lady at Hastings on Sunday next. He is

quite unchanged and perfectly happy where he is,


but he still talks about cutting Richmond Terrace. I
say all I can to induce him to have patience, but he
will hardly listen to me on that subject.

" You ask me why I at first said I should want 600
or 700 and then mentioned 1,000. The fact is,
I mentioned the first sum without looking at my book,
which I did before I wrote again. The following is
a list of all I owe . . . [the debts are given in detail].
The amount of all, you will see, is 1,313, therefore
nothing under 1,000 would be of service to me. . . .
I give you my honour that I have at this moment
only between 30 and 40 in the world. Therefore
my friend must go before Saturday next. . . . What
do you think of the Age ? I intend to see Westmacott
to-morrow or next day, but money is no use to him
unless a very large sum, which I have not got to give.
I do not grumble at not playing at the Hay market,
but I think it a pity under existing circumstances to
lose so much money. . . . All is going on well at

the Olympic. W accepts the terms of 6 per

week, but altogether I am not pleased with him. I
wish you were here, but it is of no use wishing. If
I could leave town I would go down to you ; I would
give anything to have a good long chat with you ;
it would do me good. . . .Write ! write ! write !
" Yours sincerely,

" E. V."

Despite her embarrassments Vestris, it appears to
us, writes with vigour and determination. She cer-
tainly was a good fighter. The reference to Westma-
cott and the large sum of money which alone would
satisfy him is very significant. It seems to suggest
that a repetition of his fulsome, hypocritical compli-
ments throughout 1832 would have to be purchased,
or something very different might appear. Here was
a private scandal to which his victim had no defence.
He was able to dictate his own terms, and dictate
them doubtless he did. Surely a more despicable


fellow than Molloy Westmacott never handled a

The following letter is undated, but the context
shows that it was written at the end of September :


" In the name of all that is mysterious what is
become of you ? It is now nearly three weeks since
you wrote to me to say that you intended paying me
a visit in the course of a week or a fortnight. I think
you might have written a few lines to say when we
were to see you. Although you say that you do not
receive any letters now, I will run the risk of this
reaching you somehow or other. If I do not hear
from you shortly, God only knows what I am to do
or what will become of me. My cash is getting very
low ; I have only between 20 and ,30 in the world.
My mother's quarter (50) was due the first of this
month, my rent in Chesham Place was due the 25th
of last month, ^500 for the Olympic must be paid
on the first of next month. You clearly and distinctly
told me before I left town that I was to have the
money to pay all these. If you had not done so,
nothing under heaven would have induced me to come
into the country. I could have made money enough
to meet all these demands (and more too) in the country
theatres during the summer. I cannot even stir
from this place, which you know I must do before the
end of next month, until I receive some money. Have
you sent him any since he met you at Collumpton, or
do you know if he has any ? If he has, for God's sake
send him a cover and tell him to let me have some. . . .
I fear I shall require very nearly .1,000 before I can
open the Olympic, that is if I mean to keep out of
debt, and I hope to God I shall never get into diffi-
culties again. . . . Under any circumstances I must
have some conversation with you and that soon.

" Sincerely yours,

" E. V."


Keep out of debt ! As if such a happy state of
things could possibly happen to one so extravagant
and so generous. She seems to have had a real affec-
tion for the worthless gentleman, and with a woman
of her nature in love with a man younger than herself
this would mean a sacrifice which possibly was accepted
with indifference. Upon a woman of Vestris's tem-
perament a sense of ingratitude would be certain to
inflict much bitterness.



Madame Vestris as a letter- writer. The inner history of the Mon-
tagu Gore affair. Madame's dependence on Charles Harris. Her
amusing notes to him. A sidelight on her last amatory escapade.
Card debts and plain speaking. A curious epistolary list.

MADAME when in the mood was a sprightly corre-
spondent. She did not waste words, and expressed
her thoughts without restraint. She seemed always
in a hurry, and dashed off her notes heedless of her
writing and indifferent to the quality and size of
the paper. Any quill pen that chanced to be handy
sufficed, and at times the result was a shocking scrawl.
Those belonging to the Montagu Gore affair were
stilted and artificial and evidently written for a purpose.
Many were corrected and a fair copy made (apparently
by Charles Harris or someone employed by him)
and the language was invariably guarded. The true
Vestris is carefully concealed.

In dealing previously with this matter (see Chapters
VII and VIII) the statement in the auction catalogue
that the letters were written for her by Harris was
accepted, but subsequently a mass of correspondence
came into the possession of the present writer which
indicates that the former statements must be modi-
fied. A few undoubtedly were written by Harris
at the lady's request, but the majority were her own
composition. There is no sign in any one letter of
the slightest tinge of real emotion. Montagu Gore,
on the other hand, plunged into passion, or what he
took to be passion. His language is excessively flowery



and reads as if taken from a sentimental novel of the
period before Sir Walter Scott revolutionised taste
in fiction. Here is one written in the very early
stages of his amatory advances :

" Tribute of respect to Madame Vestris. In the
person of Madame Vestris are united all those attrac-
tions which have often flitted as phantoms in the
brains of poets and artists, but were never before
embodied in the full reality of Nature. Lives there
the man with breast so cold as to view unmoved her
countenance, which is tinged with the fairest and most
delicate hues of Beauty's pencil, her glossy locks parted
in graceful ringlets over her unruffled forehead, her
ebon eyes that shed around the loveliness of their
brilliancy, or the pure marble of her breast ? Breathes
there the wretch of so degraded a taste as not to gaze
with respectful rapture on the symmetry of her
person and the graces of her mien ? " and so on,
and so on.

Montagu probably followed the " tribute " with
material proof of his adoration. Madame's letters
are undated and it is impossible to establish their
sequence. They are all in the same strain. " How
to thank you I know not," she writes. " Your kindness
distresses me, not because I believe myself incapable
of feeling your goodness, but I know no terms to express
my gratitude, and write what I will I feel dissatisfied.
Were I to thank you again and again my pen would
never do justice to my heart, but pray accept them and
give me credit for the rest."

In another letter is more gratitude. " You over-
whelm me with kindness, which I feel I can never
repay ; still, while I am tortured with feelings of grati-
tude I can neither shew nor express, I have one pleasing
reflection left, that you have a heart that will give me
credit for more than I deserve. My cold is better."
All very prim and proper, but one is inclined to
echo Goldsmith's Mr. Burchell and ejaculate
" Fudge ! "


The following is an acceptable bit of spontaneity-
addressed to the faithful Harris : " With the enclosure
I received a Beautiful Diamond comb. Pray write
an answer as quick as possible and I will send it. I
go to the rehearsal at twelve. Adieu. Ever yours,
E. V." Apparently Harris asked to see the comb or,
what is more likely, Madame wanted his opinion as
to its value. Anyhow we have her writing : "I
have sent you the comb and would have sent it before
but I have been so engaged with the oratorio. I am
unexpectedly going to play this evening at the opera."
Another letter (both this and the foregoing are written
in a hurried scrawl indicative of excitement) says
to Harris : "I have just received the enclosed with
a beautiful pair of bracelets. Pray write an answer
and send it to me. Do you think we ought to see
Chippendale to-day ? I shall go to Theatre to-night.
Ever yours truly, E. V."

The reference to the " oratorio " in the first letter
seems to fix the date some time in March. Rossini's
so-called oratorio Cyrus in Babylon was publicly
rehearsed on March 28th, 1823, and Vestris took part
in it. But in December 1822 a serious rupture
occurred between her and Gore and for a while their
relations were somewhat strained. The inference is
that the quarrel was made up and that the comb and
bracelets were peace-offerings. It is the fact, however,
that while Madame was " carrying on " with Gore
there was another Richmond in the field (for whom she
did not care, or said she did not) who had settled
money upon her, but it is hardly likely the presents
were his. Madame, it was clear, was very anxious
that no one should know anything of her liaison with
Gore. She never signed her name nor did he his.
Moreover, she repeatedly asks for the return of her

As to the estrangement alluded to above, it would
seem, from one or two passages in Gore's letters,
that he was to blame. So far as can be gathered

Composer of Sweethearts and Wives.



from the fugitive dates, matters had gone on amiably
until the beginning of December 1822, by which
time Gore had engaged to settle upon her 300 per
annum. Then something happened which caused
him to write thus : " Mr. Montagu Gore presents
his compliments to Madame Vestris and regrets that
(since the date of his last note) circumstances have
occurred which preclude the possibility of any further
connexion between Madame Vestris and himself."

This stiff epistle is dated December 2nd, 1822, and
is addressed from 5 St. James's Place. It was written
in the morning, and by the evening the gentleman
had changed his mind and he then wrote : " Mr.
Montagu Gore presents his compliments to Madame
Vestris and is sorry his servant should have taken a
letter before he was up this Morning which is founded
on circumstances that Mr. Gore now believes may
be obviated ; and which he will explain if she still
deigns to meet him this day, in Half Moon St.
where he will be at 3 o'clock."

Madame was not one to receive a letter of this
kind tamely. Her first impulse was to scribble the
following : "I cannot explain to you more than that
from some unfortunate circumstances our meeting
is suspended so things must remain as they are until
you hear again from me to-morrow. This is the
last I must beg of you to return." Like the gentle-
man, however, the lady altered her mind. She did
not send this letter, but, her anger rising, she wrote
a second, dated Tuesday, December 3rd, 1822. It
ran : " Your first note this morning has excited a
feeling in me which nothing but a full explanation
of those circumstances can remove. I cannot fulfil
my engagement to-day. This is the last I must beg
of you to return."

What Gore's reply to this was does not appear.
Presumably it was of an apologetic character, but
Madame was not to be pacified easily. She wrote
in a fury : " Madame Vestris presents her compli-



ments to Mr. Montagu Gore and feels sorry (that
subsequent to her note which was written yesterday
Evening and which she now finds was not delivered
until this Evening) that Mr. Montagu Gore has by
his two last notes since received assumed a totally
different character and which compels Madame
Vestris to decline a correspondence which proves
uncongenial to her feelings, which Mr. M. G. must be
perfectly aware is utterly impossible Madame Vestris
can continue. Sunday Evening Curzon Street. "
The sprawling calligraphy and the equally sprawling
syntax show Madame' s towering passion. No doubt,
however, the invaluable Harris put something like
order into the wording.

This emphatic dismissal probably drew further
apologies and maybe an entreaty for forgiveness, and
the lady changed her tone and wrote not without a
suspicion of irony : " Madame Vestris presents her
Compliments to Mr. Montagu Gore and though
M. V. is of opinion that Mr. Montagu Gore's note of
yesterday renders a reply unnecessary still M. Vestris
would regret to lose this last opportunity of showing
her gratitude for the manner and the sincerity with
which Mr. Montagu Gore has conveyed to Madame
Vestris his esteem for her humble talents and so
Madame Vestris impelled by that gratitude begs
leave once more to present to Mr. M. Gore her sincere
thanks for his esteem and that honourable feeling
which Mr. Montagu has expressed in his note of
yesterday." Nothing could be more polite. The
letter might have been written by Sir Charles Grandi-

Bereavement occurring in his family, Gore took
advantage of it to appeal to Madame's sympathies.
Vestris was always generous-hearted and never bore
malice. She wrote : " Although you have forbid
me to write unless something immediately connected
with myself should render it necessary still I cannot
refrain from offering my condolence on the present


occasion. Let me shew that I am not unmindful of
those moments when you have studied with so much
care the feelings of her who now seeks to appease your
own and if it can afford the slightest consolation to
know that I am alive to your misfortunes be assured
that I am. Yes, I am bound by every tie and though
last, not least the gratitude I owe." This letter,
submitted as usual to Harris, was evidently an ungrate-
ful task and caused Vestris some trouble to compose.
It abounds in erasures and rewritings.

Before the year was out the breach seems to have
been healed, though matters were not quite on the
same footing as before, and Gore returns to his pro-
position of a settlement. Madame, meanwhile, had
one of her frequent illnesses probably due to nerves
and Gore wrote to " enquire of your health " and
regretting that " I cannot in person offer you that
consolation which it would be my heart's warmest
wish to give but I beg of you, to remove my anxiety
by writing to me to-morrow to inform me how you
are." Gore had ever a stock of sentimentality at his
command and he declares : " There is not a pang you
can command which does not affect me and I have no
doubt whatever that everything will be settled in a
day or two and depend upon me that you shall
never know what sorrow is." After this rhapsody he
descends to bathos by telling her, " I have hurried
the Jeweller about the Ear Rings and hope to have
them on Monday."

In her reply to Gore's effusion Madame is at great
pains to make it clear that she had no feelings for
him other than what she called "gratitude." At
the end of the letter she drops without scruple into
the business woman.

" Perhaps," she writes, " I shall not deceive myself
by thinking you will be better pleased if first I com-
mence my note by speaking of myself and tell you
that though I am not well I am much better. I can
easily imagine that it must frequently have occurred to


you that there has been a coldness in my notes when
compared to those you have written but it would ill
have become me to have expressed more than esteem
and gratitude which your extreme kindness has not
made difficult to feel but if it had been possible to
have excited a passion of a more exalted kind " the
words first written and crossed out were " the exalted
passion of love " " in one to whom the other was
almost a stranger your goodness would have made
it perfect and secure" first version, "would have
secured to you all that you have desired " " but to
have written in other terms would have been the
height of hypocrrisy, to have felt less would have
been the blackest ingratitude. I hope you clearly
understand that I have left everything to my solicitor
with reference to the settlement and pardon me if I
say I cannot consent to any pecuniary assistance
whatever from you until all is complete when I may
renounce the settlement I hold and him that gave it.
Monday morning." In a postscript she adds : " In
the meanwhile rest assured though I can do no more
than express my sincere thanks for every sacrifice
you have made for me I am not the less grateful nor
unmindful of their worth."

The reference to the " settlement I hold " is
explained in a letter which, like all the rest, is undated.
It runs : " Your conduct is so truly honourable that
I feel I can communicate with safety and will be
brief. The fact is I have already a settlement of
500 but to be compelled to live in the same house
with a person whose ideas and pursuits are so totally
different to my own leads me (though not to decide)
to listen to the offer of another. I will see you this
week. I must return the enclosed. Pray send my
letter back."

What Gore thought of his rival is not made clear,
but it probably influenced him in drawing up his
own deed of settlement. Some condition he laid
down was not acceptable to Madame and she wrote


to him on the matter. The letter is not in existence,
but from Gore's reply its purport can be imagined.
Gore writes : " I return your Note and am unable to
understand it. If you wish the words of the settle-
ment altered in the words ( as long as she is faithful '
I will annex an explanation that I renounce all power
of keeping you under restraint of any kind but that
I shall consider any positive proof of your giving the
preference to another as rendering the bond nugatory.
Or if you will send me a written pledge that you will
be faithful I will send you a paper that shall give you
command of the money for ever instead of its being

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryCharles E PearceMadame Vestris and her times → online text (page 15 of 24)