Henry J. (Henry John) Van-Lennep.

The American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading online

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Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry John) Van-LennepThe American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading → online text (page 11 of 18)
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but delightful ,* and it is remarkable, that when
Dr. Tennison, named to be archbishop of Can-
terbury, went to comfort the king, his majesty
answered, " That he could not but grieve, since
he had lost a wife, who, in seventeen years, had
never been guilty of an indiscretion."

" The openness of her behaviour was subject to
universal' observation, but under that regularity
of conduct, that those, who knew her best, or saw
her ofcenest, could never discover her thoughts
further than as she herself had a mind to reveal
them ; and this she managed so, that no distrust
was shewn in it nor distaste given by it.

" She maintained sincerity so entirely, that she
never once needed explanations to ju^itify either
her words or actions. As she would neither de-
ceive others, so she avoided the saying of any
thing that might give them occasion to deceive
themselves. And when she did not intend to
promise, she took care to explain her meaning so
critically, that fruitless hopes might not be conceiv-
ed from general words of favour.

" Her age and her rank had denied her oppor-
tunities for much study, yet she had read the best
books in English, French and Dutch, the three
languages that were almost equally familiar to
her. She gave the most of her retired hours to
the reading of the Scriptures, and of books relat-
ing to them. Next to the best subjects, she bes-
towed most of her time on books of history, cspe-


cially of the latter ages, and particularly of her
own kingdoms, as being the most proper to give
her useful instructions. She had a great relish,
as well as a great love for poetr}', but loved it best
when it was conversant about divine and moral
subjects ; and she v/ould often express her concern
for the defilement of the English stage.

" She had no relish for those indolent diversions
which are too common consumers of most people's
time, and which make as great wastes on their
minds, as they do on their fortunes. If she used
them sometimes, it was only in compliance with
forms, because she was unwilling to seem to cen-
sure othtrs with too harsh a severity. She gave
her minutes of leisure with the greatest delight
to architecture and gardening. She had no other
inclination, besides this, to any diversions that
were expensive ; and since this employed many
hands, she was pleased to say, " That she hoped
it would be forgiven her." When her eyes were
endangered by reading too much, and in all those
hours that were not given to better employments,
she wrought with her own hands, and that some-
times with so constant a diligence, as if she had
been to get her living by it. It was a new sight,
(and such an one as was made by some the sub-
ject of raillery) to see a queen work so marjy
hours in a day. But ^he used to say, *' That she .
looked upon idleness as the greatest corrupter of ..
human nature. That if the mind had no employ-
ment given it, it would create some of the worst
sort to itself." Her example soon wrought -on -
not only those who belonged to her, but the whole
kingdom to follow it ; so that it was become as ;,
much the fasliion among the ladies of quality to '
work, as it had been formerly to be idle.




" She thought it a barbarous diversion, which
resulted from the misfortunes, imperfections, or
follies of others ; and she scarce expressed a
more entire satisfaction in a sermon, than in that
of archbishop Tillotson, against evil speaking :
when she thought some were guilty of it, she
would ask them, " if they had read that sermon ?"
which was understood to be a reprimand, though
in the softest manner. She had indeed one of
the blessings of virtue, that does not always ac-
company it, for she was as free from censures, as
she was front deserving them.

" She received the intimations of approaching
death with an entire resignation to the will of
God ; and when in the closest struggle with the
king of terrors, she preserved a perfect tranquil-
lity. The melancholy sighs of all who came near
her, could not discompose her. She then declar-
ed, " That she felt the joys of a good conscience,
and the power of religion, giving her supports,
which even the last agonies could not shake."
She received the sacrament with a devotion that
inflamed, as well as melted all who saw it ; and
then quietly concluded a life that had been led
through a variety of accidents with a constant
equality of temper. To sum up all, she was a
tender wife, a kind friend, a gentle mistress, a
good Christian, and one of the best of women.*'


THE unfortunate Marie Antoinette, consort
of the equally unfortunate Louis XVI. king of
France, was sister to the late eniperor of Germa-
ny. They were married while Louis was dau-


phin ; and, on their accession to the throne, were
idolized by the people for that mild condescension
of manners, which induced them to forego much
of the etiquette of royalty, and mingle familiarly
with their subjects. The queen, in particular, a
beautiful young woman, the pride of the house of
Austria, launched too precipitately into the vortex
of pleasure ; consulting less the dignity of her
exalted situation than the vain gratification of a
perpetual thirst after gaiety, and those frivolous
amusements, which, in time, enervate the noblest
hearts, and sap the foundation of the sternest
virtue. A momentous lesson, this, to the sove-
reigns of Europe ! who might expect similar ef-
fects to result from similar causes ; and a no less
salutary caution to the subordinate ranks of so-
ciety, who are not likely to escape unhurt, by the
inordinate desire of seeking a meretricious feli-
city in those flowery paths of pleasure, where
lurk the concealed serpents, whose deadly fangs
have so unpityingly lacerated royalty. .

How far this ill-fated queen was led to trans-
gress the bounds of decorum, we have no mate-
rials on which we can rely, that enable us to judge.
The fabrication of the many gross calumnies,
published against her character, by the most de-
praved of the human species, bear internal evi-
dence of the vileness and atrocity of their au-
thors, whose detestable minds are capable of the
most diabolical suggestions, and who are, there-
fore, not entitled to the smallest degree of cre-
dibility. In the relaxed morals of the court of
France, and the feminine degeneracy and dissi-
pation of the whole nation, we have, probably,
the true causes of all the miser}^ with which that
devoted countrv has been overwhelmed.


The queen certainly degraded herself, by emu-
lating opera performers ; and by suffering those
to become her companions who were of reproach-
able characters. It is sufficient for virtue if she
pities, but she ought never to countenance vice.
It is probable, however, that a mere excess of
good nature impelled the queen to associate with
those whom she found it necessary to consult res-
pecting her favorite fetes, and other.trivial amuse-
ments. She sought to secure happiness for her-
self; she sought to diffuse it among the people ; but
unhappily, she souglit it not solely in that tranquil
and retired path of domestic virtue, where all that
is to be met v/ith on earth, can alone be found ; in
the pure affection of a beloved husband, and in
the chaste endearments of a lovely and innocent
offspring, training up to piety and virtue. This
seems to have been the grand error of her life.
She loved her husband, and she loved her chil-
dren ; but sought not, in their society alone, her
chief happiness.

There are various, well authenticated anecdotes,
of the queen's feeling and humanity ; of the ma-
ny gross and indelicate charges against her, there
seems no one positive proof. On her true character,
the page of the future historian must decii
when prejudices shall have been mowed do\^]
the scythe of time ; and when friendly pity for
her sufferings, which must long fill every virtuous
bosom, and render humid every eye, at the shock-
ing recital, shall suiliciently subside, to yield truth
the powers of giving the sad tale faithfully to pos-
terity. In the mean time, we make no scruple to
assert, that the charges under which both herself
and her august consort were condemned to the ig-
nominious death they so shamefully suffered,
constituted the vilest mockery of justice that ever


was exhii)Ited among the people pretending to the
smallest degree of civilization. And that no-
thing against her morals was exhibited on her
trial, except the incredible story respecting her
infant son, a child scarcely eight years of age,
and which no human being ever believed, is a
most powerful argument in favour of the queen's
actual virtue.

After suffering a long and cruel imprisonment ;
having seen a beloved husband led to the scaffold ;
been deprived of the sole remaining consolation,
by a brutal separation from her children, and in-
sulted by the solemn mockery of a public trial ;
she was beheaded at Paris, on AVednesday, the
16th of October, 1793, being in her thirty- eighth
year. The corpse of the ill-fated queen was im-
mediately buried in a grave filled with qinck-hme^
in the church-yard, called De La Madelaine^
where her unfortunate consort, Louis XVI. had
been before deposited, and consumed in the same

Mr, Biirke^s animated description of the late ^^eefi
of France,
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw
the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at
Verseilles ; and surely never lighted on this orb,
which she seemed hardly to touch, a more de-
lightful vision. I saw her, just above the horizon,
decorating and cheering the elevated sphere, she
just began to move in, glittering, like the morning
star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh,
what a revolution ! and what a heart must I have
to contemplate, without emotion, that elevation,
and that fall ! Little did I dream, that when she
added titles of veneration to those of enthusias-
tic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever


be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against dis-
grace, concealed in that bosom ; little did I dream
that I should live to see such disasters fallen
upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation
of men of honour, and cavaliers. I thought ten
thousand swords must have leaped from their
scabbards, to avenge even a look, threatening her
w^th insult. But the age of chivalry is gone ;
that of sophisters, economists and calculators
has succeeded ; and the glory of Europe is ex-
tinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we.
behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex ;
that proud submission, that dignified obedience,
that subordination of the heart, which kept alive,
even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted
freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap
defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentimeiit
and heroic enterprize, is gone ! It is gone — that
sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour,
which felt a stain like a wound ; which inspired
courage, while it mitigated ferocity ; which enno-
bled whatever it touched, and under which, vice
itself lost half its evil, by loosing all its gross-

o 2



L HE " Fragments in Prose and Verse," of
•this extraordinarily ingenious and most excellent
young lad)', have been lately published, with some
account oi" her life and character ; and from them
we extract the leading particulars illustrative of
the life and mind of Miss Smith.

She was born at liurnhall, in the county of
Durham, in December, 1776»

At a very early age she discovered that love
of reading, and that close application to whatever
she engaged in, which marked her character
through life. She was accustomed, when onl\'
three years old, to leave an elder brother and young-
er sister to play and amuse themselves, while she
eagerly seized on such books as a mnsery library
commonh' aflbrds, and made herself mistress of
their contents. At four years of age she read
extremely well. What in others is usually
the effect of education and habit, seemed born
with her. From a very babe the utmost regula-
rity was observable in tUl her actions. Whatever
she did was rvcll donc^ and with an apparent re-
flection far beyond her years.

" In the beginning of 1782," says Mrs. Smith,
" we removed into a distant country, at the earnest
entreaty of a blind relation, and in the following
year my attendance on him becoming so necessary
as daily to engage several hours, at his request I


Mas inniicncccl to tiikc a young lady, \vhoni he
wished to serve in consequence of hei- lamily lia\^-
ing experienced some severe misfortunes. 'I'his
hidy was then scaicely sixteen ; and 1 ex])ected
iuerely to have found a companion lor my chil-
dren during my absence ; but her abilities ex-
ceeded her years, and she became their governess
during- our stay in Suflolk, which was about (eigh-
teen months. On the death of my relation, in
1784, we returned to Jiurnhall, and remained
there till June, in the follow ing year, when we
removed to Piercefield. In the course of the
preceding winter Klizabelli had made an uncom-
mon progress in music. From the time of our
quitting Suffolk, till the sj)ring of 1780, my chil-
dren had no instruction exi ept from myself; but
their former governess then returned to me, and
continued in tlu; family three years longer. By
her the children were instructed in French, and
in the little Italian which she herself then under-
stood. I mention these j)articulars to |)rove how
very litde instruction in languages my daughter
received, and that the knowledge she aluirward.s
acquired of them was the effect of her own, un-
assisted study.

" It frequently hapi)ens that circumstances ap-
l)arently trifling determine our character, and,
sometimes, even our fate in, life. I always thought
that Elizabeth was first induced to api)ly herself
to the study of the learned languages, by acci-
dentally hearing that the late Mrs. Bowdler ac-
quired some knowledge of Hebrew and (ireek,
purposely to read the holy scriptures in the origi-
nal languages. In the summer of 1789, this mi^st
excellent woman, wiUi her youngest daughter,
spent a mondi at Piercefield, and 1 have reason
lo hail it as one of the happiest monUis of my


life. From the above mentioned visit I date the
turn of study which Elizabeth ever after pursued,
and which, I firmly believe, the amiable conduct
of our guests first led her to delight in.

" At the age of thirteen, Elizabeth became a
sort of governess to her younger sisters ; for I
then parted with the only one I ever had, and
from that time the progress she made in acquiring
languages, both ancient and modern, was most
rapid. This degree of information, so unusual
in a woman, occasioned no confusion in her well-
regulated mind. She was a living library ; but
locked up, except to a chosen few. Her talents
were ' like bales unopened to the sun ;' and, from
a want of communication, were not as beneficial
to others as they might have been ; for her dread
of being called a learned lady, caused such an
excess of modest reserve as, perhaps, formed the
greatest defect in her character.

" When a reverse of fortune drove us from
Piercefield, my daughter had just entered her se-
venteenth year, an age at which she might have
been supposed to have lamented deeply many
consequent privations. Of the firmness of her
mind on that occasion, no one can judge better
than yourself ; for you had an opportunity to ob-
serve it, when immediately after the blow was
struck, you ofi'ered, from motives of generous
friendship, to undertake a charge which no pecu-
niary considerations could induce you to accept a
few months before. I do not recollect a single
instance of a murmur having escaped her, or the
least expression of regret at what she had lost.
On the contrary, she always appeared contented ;
and particularly after our fixing at Coniston, it
seemed as if the place and mode of life were


such as she preferred, and in which she was most

^' 1 pass over in silence a time in which we had
no home of our own, and when, from the derang-
ed state of our affairs, we were indebted for one
to the kindness and generosity of a friend ; nor
do 1 speak of the time spent in Ireland, when
following the regiment with my husband, because
the want of a settled abode interrupted those stu-
dies in which my daughter most delighted. —
Books are not light of carriage, and the blow
wliich deprived us of Piercefield, deprived us of
a library also. But though this period of her
life afforded little opportunity for improvement in
science, the qualities of her heart never appeared
in a more amiable light. Through ail the incon-
veniences which attended our situation while liv-
ing in barracks, the firmness and cheerful resig-
nation of her mind at the age of nineteen, made
me blush for the tear which too frequently trem-
bled in my eye, at the recollection of all the com-
forts we had lost.

" In October, 1800, we left Ireland, and deter-
mined on seeking out some retired situation in
England ; in the hope, that by strict economy,
and with the blessing of cheerful, contented minds,
we might yet find something like comfort ; which
the frequent change of quarters with four chil-
dren, and the then insecure state of Ireland, made
it impossible to feel, notwithstanding the kind and
generous attention we invariably received from
the hospitable inhabitants of that country. We
passed the winter in a cottage on the banks of the
lake of Ulswater, and continued there till the
May following, when we removed to our present
residence at Coniston. This country had many
charms for Elizabeth. She drew correctly frora


nature, and her enthusiastic admiration of the
sublime and beautiful often carried her beyond
the bounds of prudent precaution, with regard to
her health. Frequently in the summer she was
out during twelve or fourteen hours, and in that
time walked many miles. When she returned at
night she was always more cheerful than usual ;
never said she was fatigued, and seldom appeared
so. It is astonishing how she found time for all
she acquired and all she accomplished. Nothing
was neglected. There v/as a scrupulous attention
to all the minutiae of her sex ; for her well regulated
mind, far from despising them., considered them
as a part of that system of perfection at which
she aimed ; an aim which was not the result of
vanit}', nor to attract the applause of the world.
No human being ever sought it less, or was more
entirely free from conceit of every kind. The
approbation of God and of her own conscience,
were the only rewards she ever sought.

" Her translation from the book of Job was
finished in 1803. During^ the two last years of
her life she was engaged in translating from the
German some letters and papers, written by Mr.
and Mrs. Klopstock.

" In the summer of the year 1805, Elizabeth
was seized with a cold, which terminated in her
death : and I wish the cause v/as more generally
known, as a caution to those, whose studious turn
of mind may lead them into the same error. I
will give the account as she herself related it, a
very short time before she died, to a faithful and
affectionate servant, who first came into the fa-
mily when my daughter was only six weeks old.

" One very hot evening in July, I took -a book,
and walked about two mil-s from home, where I
seated myself on a stone beside the lake. Being


much engaged by a poem I was reading, I did not
perceive that the sun was gone down, and was
succeeded by a very heavy dew ; till in a moment
I. felt struck on the chest as if with a sharp knife.
1 returned home, but said nothing of the pain.
The next day being also very hot, and every one
busy in the hay-fieid, I thougnt I would take a
rake and work very hard, to produce perspiration,
in the hope that it might remove the pain ; but
it did not."

" From that time a bad cough, with occasional
loss of voice, gave me great apprehension of what
might be the consequence if the cause were not
removed ; but no entreaties could prevail on her
to take the proper remedies, or to refrain from
her usual walks. This she persisted in, being
sometimes better and then a little worse, till the
beginning of October."

About this time Miss Smith accompanied her
mother on a visit to Bath, and thence to Sunbury ;
but finding no amendment in her health, they re-
turned to Coniston, where Miss Smith expired
on the 7th of August, 1806, aged twenty-nine,
and was interred at Hawkshead.

The character of Miss Smith is thus briefly
summed up by Mrs. Bowdler, in "a letter to Dr.
Mumssen :

"■ Her character was so extraordinary, and she
was so very dear to me, that I hope you will for-
give my dwelling a little longer on my irreparable
loss. Her person and manners were extremely
pleasing, with a pensive softness of countenance
that indicated deep reflection ; but her extreme
timidity concealed the most extraordinary talents
that ever fell utider my observation. With
scarcely any assistance, she taught herself the
French, Italian, Spanish, German, Latin, Greek


and Hebrew languages. She had no inconside-
rable knowledge of Arabic and Persic. She was
well acquainted with geometry, algebra and other
branches of the mathematics. She was a very
fine musician. She drew landscapes from nature
extremely well, and was a mistress of perspec-
tive. She showed an early taste for poetry, of
which some specimens remain ; but, I believe,
she destroyed most of the effusions of her youth-
ful muse, when an acquaintance with your great
poet, and still more when the sublime composi-
tions of the Hebrew bards gave a different turn
to her thoughts. With all these acquirements
she was perfectly feminine in her disposition ;
elegant, modest, gentle and affectionate. Nothing
was neglected which a woman ought to know ; no
duty was omitted which her situation in life re-
quired her to perform. But the part of her cha-
racter on which I dwell with the greatest satisfac-
tion, is that exalted piety which seemed always to
raise her above this world, and learn her, at six-
teen years of age, to resign its riches and its plea-
sures almost without regret ; and to support with
dignity a very unexpected change of situation.
For some years before her death the Holy Scrip-
ture was her principal study, and she translated
from the Hebrew the whole book of Job, &c. &c.
How far she succeeded in this attempt I am not
qualified to judge ; but the benefit which she her-
self derived from these studies, must be evident
to those who witnessed the patience and resigna-
tion with which she supported a long and painful
illness ,* the sweet attention which she always
showed to the feelings of her parents and friends,
and the heavenly composure with which she look-
ed forward to the awful change which has now
removed her to a world, ' where (as one of her


friends observes) her gentle, pure and enlightened
spj -ic will find itself more at home than in this
land of shadows, &c. &c."

To this Dr. M. replies in a letter, from which
we select the following paragraph :

" The account you gave me of the extraordi-
nary chiiracter of your late angelic friend, has
filled my breast with admiration and awe. I have
read your letter with tears. So many accomplish-
ments, natural and moral ; so much of science,
erudition and eminence of rare talents, combined
w^ith grace, with gentleness, and all the virtues
that adorn a female mind! It is wonderful, and
cannot be enough admired. Great, indeed, must
have been your happiness in the possession of
this treasure ! Alas ! the gentle spirit that moved
her tender limbs is soon divested of its mortal
garment, and gone to join its kindred angels !

" Vattene in pace, Alma beata e bella !"

But I think her happy in this our period ; for
what can be more fortunate on earth than to fall
into the hands of the virtuous, and, free from
contact of a corrupted race, to make her passage
over our unlucky planet, pure and immaculate,
and, with the robe of innocence, appear before
her Creator ? To taste all the sweets of science
and art, and, halving satisfied all honest desires,
remove from the feast of life with gratitude—

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Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry John) Van-LennepThe American lady's preceptor : a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading → online text (page 11 of 18)