Jane Gray Perkins.

The life of the Honourable Mrs. Norton. online

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THE LIFE OF THE
HONOURABLE MRS. NORTON



BY



JANE GRAY PERKINS



WITH PORTRAITS



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NEW YORK

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
1909



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NOTE

For the materials which make the foundation of this
biography my thanks are due first to members of Mrs.
Norton's own family — her grandson, Lord Grantley,
whose permission made it possible for me to use
her letters, both those already published and those
which appear for the first time in these pages ;
her granddaughter, the Hon. Carlotta Norton ; her
niece, Lady Guendolen Ramsden ; and Mrs. Sheridan
of Frampton Court; whose personal recollections of
Mrs. Norton and kind hospitality in letting me see
certain scrap-books and MSS. and family pictures
have greatly aided me in my work.

I must also thank the directors of the Library in the
British Museum for their courtesy in allowing me the
privileges of this invaluable collection, at a time when
the condition of the building, while undergoing repairs,
might have furnished adequate excuse for denying
those privileges to the passing stranger certainly, if
not to the regular reader.

I wish also to express my obligations to Mr. Murray,
who kindly allowed me to use several hitherto unpub-
lished letters from Mrs. Norton to his grandfather
written between the years 1834-8.

For the great mass of my material, however, I find
it difficult to make any adequate acknowledgment,
so rich and so varied is the treasure which English



194223



vi NOTE

writers of biography and letters have expended upon
the period and personages especially included in this
biography.

But I can at least thank those publishers who have
been most zealous to provide the supply from which I
have obtained the greater number of the letters and an
even greater part of the facts on which this book
depends. I wish especially to mention in this connec-
tion my own publisher (Mr. John Murray of Albemarle
Street), Messrs. Longman, Green & Co., Messrs. Mac-
millan, Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co., and Sir Isaac
Pitman.

J. G. P.

August, 1909.



CONTENTS



PAGE

NOTE v



INTRODUCTION xiii

CHAPTER I

BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS — GEORGE NORTON . . I

CHAPTER II

MARRIAGE II

CHAPTER III

"THE SORROWS OF ROSALIE" — "THE UNDYING ONE "

— " SOCIAL SUCCESSES " 21

CHAPTER IV
LITERATURE AND POLITICS 37



CHAPTER V

GEORGE NORTON — FAMILY LETTERS .... 48
vii b



CONTENTS



CHAPTER VI

PAGE

TRIP ABROAD— BRINSLEY'S MARRIAGE . . -58



CHAPTER VII

THE WIFE — MRS. NORTON LEAVES HER HUSBAND . JO



CHAPTER VIII

THE MELBOURNE TRIAL — HER STRUGGLE FOR THE
POSSESSION OF HER CHILDREN .



CHAPTER IX

EFFORTS TO MAKE HER OWN LIVING — A VOICE FROM

THE FACTORIES IO4



CHAPTER X
THE ENGLISH LAW — ACCESSION OF QUEEN VICTORIA I 19

CHAPTER XI
THE INFANT CUSTODY BILL 130

CHAPTER XII

INFANT CUSTODY BILL — HER LETTER TO THE LORD

CHANCELLOR — VISIT TO ITALY . . . . 1 48

CHAPTER XIII

PETITION TO THE LORD CHANCELLOR — DEATH OF

WILLIAM 159



CONTENTS



CHAPTER XIV



THE DREAM — THE CHILD OF THE ISLANDS — FISHERS

DRAWING-ROOM SCRAP BOOK . . . .174



CHAPTER XV

NEW FRIENDS — KINGLAKE — THE DUFF GORDONS —
SIDNEY HERBERT — THE REPEAL OF THE CORN
LAWS — RELATIONS WITH HER CHILDREN . . 19]



CHAPTER XVI

NEW QUARREL WITH HER HUSBAND — FLETCHER'S

ILLNESS — DEATH OF LORD MELBOURNE . . 2o6



CHAPTER XVII

STIRLING OF KEIR — " STUART OF DUNLEATH " . 21 5

CHAPTER XVIII

LIFE ABROAD— LAST QUARREL WITH HER HUSBAND 225

CHAPTER XIX

PAMPHLET ON " ENGLISH LAWS FOR WOMEN " AND

" LETTER TO THE QUEEN " .... 238

CHAPTER XX
BRINSLEY'S MARRIAGE — A LONDON SEASON . .252

CHAPTER XXI

DEATH OF FLETCHER—" THE LADY OF LA GARAYE "

— " LOST AND SAVED " 264



x CONTENTS

CHAPTER XXII

PAGE

LAST YEARS — DEATH OF GEORGE NORTON— SECOND

MARRIAGE — DEATH 283

LIST OF MRS. NORTON'S WRITINGS . . 299
LIST OF MRS. NORTON'S SONGS . . .300
INDEX 303



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

MRS. Norton Frontispiece

After the painting by John Hayter (photogravure).

FACING PAGE

MRS. NORTON 2 °

From a lithograph at Chatsworth.

MRS. NORTON 4^

After the portrait by John Hayter.

MRS. NORTON 7^

From a pen-and-ink sketch.

MRS. NORTON 174

From an engraving by F. C. Lewis, after the drawing by Sir Edwin Landseer, R. A.

MRS. SHERIDAN 214

From the drawing by John Hayter (photogravure).



MRS. NORTON ....
From a drawing by Mrs. Munro-Ferguson.



MRS. NORTON
From a bust.



258
296



INTRODUCTION

Mrs. Norton is a personage whose reputation as
a poetess and a writer stood much higher among
our grandmothers than it does to-day. To-day, in-
deed, the greater part of her writing is so much
out of fashion as to be nearly out of print, and she
herself is considered less as an author than as a
beautiful, unfortunate woman, the target of a great
deal of cruel scandal, ill remembered, but never quite
forgotten.

Her poetry, perhaps, deserves its fate ; it is, indeed,
too intimate a part of herself, too dependent on
the passing glamour of her beauty, to be expected
to survive her. But her novels deserve another
chance ; and on this score more consideration is
due to her than has been accorded by her own
generation. And the lyric touch, too often wanting
in her verses, is never lacking in her life ; her own
story, told in her own dramatic words, is her real
contribution to the literature of her century. This
story, though often told in part, and too often
obscured or exaggerated by half-truths or whole
scandals, has never yet been fairly or adequately
narrated.

And yet it would seem that no survey of English
social and literary conditions during the first fifty
years of the nineteenth century could be complete



xiv INTRODUCTION

without it. The generous, woman's influence has left
too deep a mark, not only on the men and manners,
but upon the very laws of her time, to let her be
entirely forgotten. She can never be forgotten, if
only because the mere tradition of her is so deeply
embedded in the literary remains of the nineteenth
century.

It is only fair, then, that she should be adequately
remembered, not only for her misfortunes, but for
the real service she rendered to her own kind, the
gallant fight she waged against most cruel con-
ditions — conditions which her own extraordinary
experience, her passionate energy of resistance, did
much to make impossible, almost inconceivable to-day.

The following pages are an effort to render justice
to her ; to give her something like her real value
among people to whom her name and the poorest
part of her fame are already vaguely familiar.



LIFE OF MRS. NORTON

CHAPTER I

BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS — GEORGE NORTON

The subject of this biography was the third child
of Tom Sheridan ; and therefore a granddaughter of
the great Sheridan by his first wife, the beautiful Miss
Linley, whose almost impossible loveliness has been
preserved for us to this day by some of the most
beautiful paintings of Reynolds and Gainsborough.

Tom Sheridan's wife was a Scotswoman ; her
parents were James Callander of Craigforth, after-
wards Campbell of Ardkinglass, Argyllshire, and his
third wife, the Lady Elizabeth Macdonnell, sister of
the Earl of Antrim, an Irish peer.

She had probably met her young husband first in
Edinburgh, where he was stationed for some years on
the staff of the Earl of Moira, but on their marriage,
in November 1805, they came to live in London
(Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square), where their elder
children were born. The great Sheridan was then at
the height of his fortune, having passionately mourned
but quickly recovered from the loss of his beautiful
first wife, and married again, in 1795, a woman much
younger than himself, Miss Esther Ogle, daughter of
the Dean of Winchester, by whom he had a second
son, Charles, born January 14, 1796. This second
connection, however, did not interfere with his

1



2 BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS [chap, i

interest in his " grandchicks," as he called Tom's
children.

The eldest of these was a boy, named Richard
Brinsley, after him. Next came Helen, born 1807,
followed by Caroline, the second daughter, born
March 22, 1808. This date, at least, seems to me
most likely to be the correct one, though there are
two others given by family authority: 1809, according
to Lord Dufferin in his Life of his mother, Helen
Sheridan, and 18 10, found in records left by Mrs.
Norton's second husband, Sir William Stirling-
Maxwell.

The family tradition has it that Mrs. Norton was
a queer, dark-looking, little baby, with quantities of
black hair. There is a story of her, at three years
old, brought in and set up on a table to be shown off
to her grandfather, the great Sheridan ; sitting there
frightened out of her wits, staring at him with enor-
mous black eyes, with her hair half concealing her
face, till at last he gave utterance upon her : " Well,
that is not a child I would care to meet in a dark
wood ! "

By that time, however, her family's fortune was
somewhat in eclipse. On February 24, 1809, the old
Drury Lane Theatre was destroyed by fire, and with
it the greater part of her father's income and her
grandfather's possessions. And very soon after she
was born, Tom Sheridan began to show signs of the
fatal disease inherited from his beautiful mother. All
the later years of his life were spent in a vain search
for health, a winter in Ireland, a year in Malta, till at
last, in the autumn of 1813, he was appointed, through
the influence of his father's old friend, the Duke of
York, to a colonial secretaryship at the Cape of Good
Hope, which he accepted in a vain belief that the
climate would save, or at least prolong, his life. His
wife and eldest daughter, afterwards Lady Dufferin,
accompanied him on this mission. The other children,
all very little, were left behind in Scotland, at Ard-



1817J DEATH OF TOM SHERIDAN 3

kinglass, their mother's old home, in the care of their
mother's two unmarried sisters, Georgiana and Fanny,
afterwards the wife of Sir James Graham.

It happens, therefore, that many of Mrs. Norton's
earliest memories and associations were connected
with' Scotland, a land which she knew and loved
better than either England or Ireland, in spite of the
sentimental traditions which bound her, by name at
least, to the latter country, and a long life lived largely
in the former.

Her first instructor was a Scotsman x of the name
of Wilson ; her first lessons were shared with the
young son of Lord Kinnaird, an old friend of both her
father and mother, whose place at Glenrossie, all
through her little childhood, was like another home.

There is a letter of Mrs. Sheridan's, written to
her sisters in Ardkinglass from Madeira, on her way
to the Cape with her husband, describing all this
little brood of children from whom she was parting so
reluctantly and so fruitlessly as it turned out, for the
appointment at the Cape had come too late to save
Tom Sheridan's life. He rallied at first, indeed, and
for a time his friends had hopes for his recovery, but
only for a time. He died on September 12, 1816,
leaving his wife a widow with seven little children,
of whom the youngest, Charles, and probably Frank
were born at the Cape.

A letter of Charles Sheridan, senior, always a
devoted friend to his half-brother's wife and young
family, tells of their return to England in the transport
Albion in the autumn of 18 17. Already he speaks
of his sister-in-law in terms of affectionate admira-
tion : " Her life has been a course of unparalleled
devotion and attachment to my poor brother."

The young widow set herself at once to the difficult

task of gathering her little children together and

making a home for herself and them out of the

remnant of her husband's fortune. Her father-in-law

1 Article in Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, 1831.



4 BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS [chap, i

had died the preceding summer, deeply in debt ;
according to some accounts, in actual want. But his
death had done more than his later life, perhaps, to
revive the glory of his name. His old friend Frederick
Duke of York lost no time in presenting his son's
widow with a home in Hampton Court.

The whole west wing of the Court was given up to
these private apartments, whose favoured occupants,
not necessarily known to one another, were almost
always in some sort of relation to the Royal family.
The half-public, wholly decorous form of life necessary
for people whose home is in a royal palace, subject to
royal visits, the luxury of space, the beautiful grounds
and gardens, perfectly ordered by a service with
which the occupants had nothing to do, were as far
removed as anything we can imagine from the genteel
poverty which might so easily have been the fate of
the young Sheridans. Here for several years the
family lived together, and laid the foundations for
that close and affectionate companionship so remark-
able in their later years. They must have been an
unusual group of children, extraordinarily good-
looking, with dark hair and glowing colour and
splendid eyes, real Irish blue as in the case of Brinsley,
the eldest, and Georgie, the youngest daughter, after-
wards the beautiful Duchess of Somerset ; or dark as
night, like Caroline's. They were all clever, gay-
tempered, endowed even in childhood with those social
gifts which distinguished them in later years.

To quote again from the article I have already
cited : x

" They were even in the nursery especially fond of
private theatricals, and almost every Saturday and
half-holiday was spent in preparing extemporary
plays ; tragedies were preferred, Turkish, so that they
might wear a turband [sic]. Five minutes were
allowed to an improvised speech to each actor, and

1 Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, 1831.



1817] PRIVATE THEATRICALS 5

ten minutes for Caroline to prepare her own essays
at dramatic eloquence."

They all sang, they all drew, they were all pre-
cocious scribblers — in this last amusement, even in
those days, Helen and Caroline usually taking the
lead. When only eleven years old the latter received
as a present from Lady Westmorland a child's
illustrated book — one of a series called the Dandy
books, full of the grotesque adventures of the beings
so named, to caricature the real London dandies
of that time. Instantly the two older girls fell upon
it and plagiarised it with sketches and rhymes of their
own. The result was " The Dandies' Rout," so pre-
cociously effective that a certain bookseller named
Marshall was willing to publish it at the moderate
reward of fifty gift copies for the authors. Years
afterwards, looking over children's picture-books for
her own little boy, Mrs. Norton was enchanted to find
one left over from this her first literary venture, long
out of print. We may be sure the story never lost by
her telling of it.

Henrietta Callander, the mother of all these spirited,
gifted children, was herself a woman of more than
usual beauty and intelligence : the first, generally
acknowledged; the second, not so instantly appreciated
under the veil of an excessive, shy reserve, a gentle,
almost timid manner, an extreme consideration for
every one about her, which last quality however did
not interfere with a habit of discriminating observa-
tion of the people with whom she came in daily
contact, their weaknesses, their inconsistencies, their
absurdities ; and she had the rarer power of turning
it all from mere raw material into what one may call
literary impressions, which must have been part of
the family inheritance for a long time before either
she or her more famous daughter thought of turning
it into gain.

She published three or four short stories of fashion-



6 BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS [chap, i

able life (all now out of print), all rather stiff with the
style of the late eighteenth century, but none without
a certain charm and wit which make them fairly read-
able to-day. " Carwell," her most ambitious effort, is
in quite another vein, and shows real imagination in
peopling the dark courts and side-alleys of the author's
own familiar Westminster with secret lives and
hazards ; and a real knowledge and sympathy with
the sufferings and conditions of the poor.

Her daughter Caroline thus perpetuates the childish
impression she retained of this mother :

" In thy black weeds, and coif of widow's woe ;
Thy dark expressive eyes all dim and clouded
By that deep wretchedness the lonely know ;
Stifling thy grief, to hear some weary task
Conned by unwilling lips, with listless air,
Hoarding thy means, lest future need might ask
More than the widow's pittance then could spare.
Hidden, forgotten by the great and gay,
Enduring sorrow, not by fits and starts,
But the long self-denial, day by day,
Alone amidst thy brood of careless hearts !
Striving to guide, to teach, or to restrain
The young rebellious spirits crowding round,
Who saw not, knew not, felt not for thy pain,
And could not comfort— yet had power to wound 1 " *

There is a delightful picture of her in the possession
of one of her descendants, in coloured crayons, with
bunches of soft dark hair, slightly covered by the
most graceful of lace caps tied under her chin, the
head charmingly tilted, so that the dark eyes look
down from the wall at one a little sideways ; full, firm
lips slightly smiling, a face not less sweet because so
full of delicate intelligence.

But indeed she had need of this and all the other

qualities Heaven had given her to carry out the task

with which she found herself burdened while still a

very young woman, at her husband's death ; the task

1 The Dream, published in 1840.



1825] SEPARATIONS 7

of bringing up and educating seven little children,
four boys and three girls, on very small resources, of
finding professions for her sons and marrying her
daughters. One son she lost, while he was still a
midshipman in the Royal Navy ; but the other three
grew up, and places were found for all of them
in the public service, through the Sheridan or quite
as often through her own family influence. Her
three daughters she brought out one after another
into the best London society and married, portionless
as they were, to men of family and title, the youngest
brilliantly.

Caroline was the only one of these daughters who
was sent away from home for part of her education, to
a little school between Shalford and Wonersh, in
Surrey.

" One thing I remember that mamma said to Caro-
line when she went to school," writes Georgiana
Sheridan, some years later to her elder brother in India,
" ' Ah, when once the branches of a family are divided,
they seldom are all united again.' And it was quite
true; we never did see a Christmas all together again.
Caroline went to school, you to Harford ; you never
all of you had holidays at the same time. And then
poor little Tommy went to sea, and so, though I
sincerely hope to see you again, my dear Brinny, yet
I never can forget at Christmas or at any other time
when we used to be so merry together, that saying of
mamma's, and that we never can all meet together
again, and I hate the look of the nursery where there
used to be so many merry faces and cheerful voices."

It was, perhaps, not so much for education, as for
a certain need of discipline, that Caroline was sent
away from the little circle at home. For it is evident
that the flame of the Sheridan genius had begun to
burn hotly in her very early, exciting her to wild
rebellion, passionate reactions of feeling, which her
grave Scottish mother could understand as little as she
could manage them. Yet she was already a person of



8 BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS [chap, i

more than schoolgirl attainments; she wrote songs
with admirable facility, and sang them to her own
music in a young untrained voice, already a soft con-
tralto ; she drew very well, and besides her own and her
sister's venture of "The Dandies' Rout," she had also
tried her wings in more extended flights, a long love
poem in Spenserian stanza, " Amoui'vada and Sebas-
tian," begun and never finished, whose scene is laid in
America, an early instance of that constant interest
and liking for persons and things beyond the Atlantic
which we find in her to the end of her life.

She was even then burning to become some day
very famous by her writings ; as a little girl this desire
had been awakened in her by the sight of her uncle,
Mr. Charles Sheridan, at work in his study over a
collection of Romaic songs, which he was translating
from the original, and which were afterwards published
by Longmans. " I invariably left his study," says she,
in a letter to an intimate friend, " with an enthusiastic
determination to write a long poem of my own."

It was of this, her first long poem, that she was
already dreaming when she went to school at Wonersh.
It was the Surrey landscape and the little cottages
round Guildford that were to make its local colour,
as far as it can be said to have any of that very modern
quality ; and the turnpike gate on the road from Guild-
ford to Shalford was the scene of its inspiration. But
there were other things beside poetry to distract
her mind from school books during her stay in
Wonersh.

The most important estate in this particular part of
Surrey, at that time, was Wonersh Park, the property
of Fletcher, third Lord Grantley, a peerage no older
than the middle of the preceding century, when it
had been bestowed on a certain Fletcher Norton for
his services as Speaker of the House of Commons
(1769-82). But the family — of Yorkshire originally,
and still holding in Yorkshire its principal estates —
boasted an antiquity far superior to the title extending



1825] WONERSH PARK 9

back beyond the Wars of the Roses ; Wordsworth's
poem, "The Last of the Nortons," being claimed by
them as a tradition of their own race.

Fletcher, the holder of the title when Caroline
Sheridan first came to Wonersh, had been for^^me
time married to the beautiful daughter of the paintgrT^
Sir William Beechey, but there were no childrenpSR|3£"~
though Lord and Lady Grantley were both still youi§i
there was little likelihood of there ever being any, so
estranged were the relations of husband and wife.
There was no open breach between them, however ;
when she was not amusing herself at Brighton she
was at Wonersh, surrounded by various members of
her husband's family — his Scottish mother, his un-
married sisters, his brother George, who was by this
time very generally looked upon as his heir.

It was a pleasant old place, not very large, but
stately and dignified, the main part an old Elizabethan
manor house, the two wings added by the first and
third Lords Grantley respectively. The great brick
wall which still encloses the place on its side next the
village was also the work of Fletcher, the third lord,
and in those days just completed, in all the bare ugli-
ness of crude masonry. Its great double Gothic gates,
kept always closed during the life of its builder, gave
directly upon the small gravelled court in which the
old house stood. The real facade of the building,
however, looked the other way, towards green lawns
studded with beautiful trees, a great cedar, an old
sun-dial in the midst of garden-beds full of flowers,
and a pretty stream, a branch of the Wey, winding off
into the distance.

Mrs. Norton thus describes her first meetings
with the man who was afterwards to become her
husband.

" He was the brother of Lord Grantley, and the
governess to whose care I was confided happening to
be the sister to Lord Grantley's agent, the female
members of the Norton family, from courtesy to this

2



io BIRTH AND SCHOOLDAYS [chap, i

lady, invited her and such of her pupils as she chose
to accompany her, to Lord Grantley's house. A sister
of Mr. Norton's, an eccentric person who affected
masculine habits and played a little on the violin,
amused herself with my early verses and my love of
music, and took more notice of me than of my com-
panions. The occasions on which I saw this lady
were not frequent ; and still more rare were those on
which I had also seen her brother ; it was therefore
with a feeling of mere astonishment, that I received
from my governess the intelligence that she thought it
right to refuse me the indulgence of accompanying her
again to Lord Grantley's till she had heard from my
mother ; as Mr. Norton had professed his intention of



Online LibraryJane Gray PerkinsThe life of the Honourable Mrs. Norton. → online text (page 1 of 25)