Mary Robinson.

Beaux and Belles of England Mrs. Mary Robinson, Written by Herself, With the lives of the Duchesses of Gordon and Devonshire online

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The Attempted Abduction
Original painting by B. Wesley Rand]

Beaux & Belles of England

Mrs. Mary Robinson

Written by Herself

With the Lives of the Duchesses of Gordon
and Devonshire by Grace and Philip Wharton




The following brief memoirs of a beautiful, engaging, and, in many
respects, highly gifted woman require little in the way of introduction.
While we may trace same little negative disingenuousness in the writer,
in regard to a due admission of her own failings, sufficient of
uncoloured matter of fact remains to show the exposed situation of an
unprotected beauty - or, what is worse, of a female of great personal and
natural attraction, exposed to the gaze of libertine rank and fashion,
under the mere nominal guardianship of a neglectful and profligate
husband. Autobiography of this class is sometimes dangerous; not so that
of Mrs. Robinson, who conceals not the thorns inherent in the paths
along which vice externally scatters roses; For the rest, the
arrangement of princely establishments in the way of amour is pleasantly
portrayed in this brief volume, which in many respects is not without
its moral. One at least is sufficiently obvious, and it will be found in
the cold-hearted neglect which a woman of the most fascinating mental
and personal attractions may encounter from those whose homage is merely
sensual, and whose admiration is but a snare.


The author of these memoirs, Mary Robinson, was one of the most
prominent and eminently beautiful women of her day. From the description
she furnishes of her personal appearance, we gather that her complexion
was dark, her eyes large, her features expressive of melancholy; and
this verbal sketch corresponds with her portrait, which presents a face
at once grave, refined, and charming. Her beauty, indeed, was such as to
attract, amongst others, the attentions of Lords Lyttelton and
Northington, Fighting Fitzgerald, Captain Ayscough, and finally the
Prince of Wales; whilst her talents and conversation secured her the
friendship and interest of David Garrick, Richard Brinsley Sheridan,
Charles James Fox, Joshua Reynolds, Arthur Murphy, the dramatist, and
various other men of distinguished talent.

Though her memoirs are briefly sketched, they are sufficiently vivid to
present us with various pictures of the social life of the period of
which she was the centre. Now we find her at the Pantheon, with its
coloured lamps and brilliant music, moving amidst a fashionable crowd,
where large hoops and high feathers abounded, she herself dressed in a
habit of pale pink satin trimmed with sable, attracting the attention of
men of fashion. Again she is surrounded by friends at Vauxhall Gardens,
and barely escapes from a cunning plot to abduct her, - a plot in which
loaded pistols and a waiting coach prominently figure; whilst on another
occasion she is at Ranelagh, where, in the course of the evening, half a
dozen gallants "evinced their attentions;" and ultimately she makes her
first appearance as an actress on the stage of Drury Lane, before a
brilliant house, David Garrick, now retired, watching her from the
orchestra, whilst she played Juliet in pink satin richly spangled with
silver, her head ornamented with white feathers.

The fact of her becoming an actress brought about the turning-point in
her life; it being whilst she played Perdita in "The Winter's Tale"
before royalty that she attracted the Prince of Wales, afterward George
IV., who was then in his eighteenth year. The incidents which follow are
so briefly treated in the memoirs that explanations are necessary to
those who would follow the story of her life.

The performance of the play in which the prince saw her, probably for
the first time, took place on the 3d of December, 1779. It was not until
some months later, during which the prince and Perdita corresponded,
that she consented to meet him at Kew, where his education was being
continued and strict guard kept upon his conduct. During 1780 he urged
his father to give him a commission in the army, but, dreading the
liberty which would result from such a step, the king refused the
request. It was, however, considered advisable to provide the prince
with a small separate establishment in a wing of Buckingham House; this
arrangement taking place On the 1st of January, 1781.

Being now his own master, the prince became a man about town, attended
routs, masquerades, horse-races, identified himself with politicians
detested by the king, set up an establishment for Mrs. Robinson,
gambled, drank, and in a single year spent ten thousand pounds on
clothes. He now openly appeared in the company of Perdita at places of
public resort and amusement; she, magnificently dressed, driving a
splendid equipage which had cost him nine hundred guineas, and
surrounded by his friends. We read that: "To-day she was a _paysanne,_
with her straw hat tied at the back of her head. Yesterday she perhaps
had been the dressed belle of Hyde Park, trimmed, powdered, patched,
painted to the utmost power of rouge and white lead; to-morrow she would
be the cravated Amazon of the riding-house; but, be she what she might,
the hats of the fashionable promenaders swept the ground as she passed."

This life lasted about two years, when, just as the prince, on his
coming of age, was about to take possession of Carlton House, to receive
£30,000 from the nation toward paying his debts, and an annuity of
£63,000, he absented himself from Perdita, leaving her in ignorance of
the cause of his change, which was none other than an interest in Mrs.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott.

In the early fervour of his fancy, he had assured Mrs. Robinson his love
would remain unchangeable till death, and that he would prove
unalterable to his Perdita through life. Moreover, his generosity being
heated by passion, he gave her a bond promising to pay her £20,000 on
his coming of age.

On the prince separating from her, Perdita found herself some £7,000 in
debt to tradespeople, who became clamorous for their money, whereon she
wrote to her royal lover, who paid her no heed; but presently she was
visited by his friend, Charles James Fox, when she agreed to give up her
bond in consideration of receiving an annuity of £500 a year.

She would now gladly have gone back to the stage, but that she feared
the hostility of public opinion. Shortly after, she went to Paris, and
on her return to England devoted herself to literature. It was about
this time she entered into relations with Colonel - afterward Sir
Banastre - Tarleton, who was born in the same year as herself, and had
served in the American army from 1776 until the surrender of Yorktown,
on which he returned to England. For many years he sat in Parliament as
the representative of Liverpool, his native town; and in 1817 he gained
the grade of lieutenant-general, and was created a baronet. His
friendship with Mrs. Robinson lasted some sixteen years.

It was whilst undertaking a journey on his behalf, at a time when he was
in pecuniary difficulties, that she contracted the illness that resulted
in her losing the active use of her lower limbs. This did not prevent
her from working, and she poured out novels, poems, essays on the
condition of women, and plays. A communication written by her to John
Taylor, the proprietor of the _Sun_ newspaper and author of various
epilogues, prologues, songs, etc., gives a view of her life. This
letter, now published for the first time, is contained in the famous
Morrison collection of autograph letters, and is dated the 5th of
October, 1794.

"I was really happy to receive your letter. Your silence gave me no
small degree of uneasiness, and I began to think some demon had broken
the links of that chain which I trust has united us in friendship for
ever. Life is such a scene of trouble and disappointment that the
sensible mind can ill endure the loss of any consolation that renders it
supportable. How, then, can it be possible that we should resign,
without a severe pang, the first of all human blessings, the friend we
love? Never give me reason again, I conjure you, to suppose you have
wholly forgot me.

"Now I will impart to you a secret, which must not be revealed. I think
that before the 10th of December next I shall quit England for ever. My
dear and valuable brother, who is now in Lancashire, wishes to persuade
me, and the unkindness of the world tends not a little to forward his
hopes. I have no relations in England except my darling girl, and, I
fear, few friends. Yet, my dear Juan, I shall feel a very severe
struggle in quitting those paths of fancy I have been childish enough to
admire, - false prospects. They have led me into the vain expectation
that fame would attend my labours, and my country be my pride. How have
I been treated? I need only refer you to the critiques of last month,
and you will acquit me of unreasonable instability. When I leave
England, - adieu to the muse for ever, - I will never publish another line
while I exist, and even those manuscripts now finished I will destroy.

"Perhaps this will be no loss to the world, yet I may regret the many
fruitless hours I have employed to furnish occasions for malevolence and

"In every walk of life I have been equally unfortunate, but here shall
end my complaints.

"I shall return to St. James's Place for a few days this month to meet
my brother, who then goes to York for a very short time, and after his
return (the end of November), I depart. This must be secret, for to my
other misfortunes pecuniary derangement is not the least. Let common
sense judge how I can subsist upon £500 a year, when my carriage (a
necessary expense) alone costs me £200. My mental labours have failed
through the dishonest conduct of my publishers. My works have sold
handsomely, but the profits have been theirs.

"Have I not reason to be disgusted when I see him to whom I ought to
look for better fortune lavishing favours on unworthy objects,
gratifying the avarice of ignorance and dulness, while I, who sacrificed
reputation, an advantageous profession, friends, patronage, the
brilliant hours of youth, and the conscious delight of correct conduct,
am condemned to the scanty pittance bestowed on every indifferent page
who holds up his ermined train of ceremony?

"You will say, 'Why trouble me with all this?' I answer, 'Because when I
am at peace, you may be in possession of my real sentiments and defend
my cause when I shall not have the power of doing it.'

"My comedy has been long in the hands of a manager, but whether it will
ever be brought forward time must decide. You know, my dear friend, what
sort of authors have lately been patronised by managers; their pieces
ushered to public view, with all the advantages of splendour; yet I am
obliged to wait two long years without a single hope that a trial would
be granted. Oh, I am tired of the world and all its mortifications. I
promise you this shall close my chapters of complaints. Keep them, and
remember how ill I have been treated."

Eight days later she wrote to the same friend:

"In wretched spirits I wrote you last week a most melancholy letter.
Your kind answer consoled me. The balsam of pure and disinterested
friendship never fails to cure the mind's sickness, particularly when it
proceeds from disgust at the ingratitude of the world."

The play to which she referred was probably that mentioned in the sequel
to her memoirs, which was unhappily a failure. It is notable that the
principal character in the farce was played by Mrs. Jordan, who was
later to become the victim of a royal prince, who left her to die in
poverty and exile.

The letter of another great actress, Sarah Siddons, written to John
Taylor, shows kindness and compassion toward Perdita.

"I am very much obliged to Mrs. Robinson," says Mrs. Siddons, "for her
polite attention in sending me her poems. Pray tell her so with my
compliments. I hope the poor, charming woman has quite recovered from
her fall. If she is half as amiable as her writings, I shall long for
the possibility of being acquainted with her. I say the possibility,
because one's whole life is one continual sacrifice of inclinations,
which to indulge, however laudable or innocent, would draw down the
malice and reproach of those prudent people who never do ill, 'but feed
and sleep and do observances to the stale ritual of quaint ceremony.'
The charming and beautiful Mrs. Robinson: I pity her from the bottom
of my soul."

Almost to the last she retained her beauty, and delighted in receiving
her friends and learning from them news of the world in which she could
no longer move. Reclining on her sofa in the little drawing-room of her
house in St. James's Place, she was the centre of a circle which
comprised many of those who had surrounded her in the days of her
brilliancy, amongst them being the Prince of Wales and his brother the
Duke of York.

Possibly, for the former, memory lent her a charm which years had not
utterly failed to dispel.

J. Fitzgerald Molloy.


The Attempted Abduction

Lady Lyttleton

William Brereton in The Character Of Douglas

The First Meeting of Mrs. Robinson and the Prince of Wales

Mrs. Robinson

The Prince of Wales

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire


At the period when the ancient city of Bristol was besieged by Fairfax's
army, the troops being stationed on a rising ground in the vicinity of
the suburbs, a great part of the venerable minster was destroyed by the
cannonading before Prince Rupert surrendered to the enemy; and the
beautiful Gothic structure, which at this moment fills the contemplative
mind with melancholy awe, was reduced to but little more than one-half
of the original fabric. Adjoining to the consecrated hill, whose antique
tower resists the ravages of time, once stood a monastery of monks of
the order of St. Augustine. This building formed a part of the spacious
boundaries which fell before the attacks of the enemy, and became a part
of the ruin, which never was repaired or re-raised to its former Gothic

On this spot was built a private house, partly of simple, and partly of
modern architecture. The front faced a small garden, the gates of which
opened to the Minster Green (now called the College Green); the west
side was bounded by the cathedral, and the back was supported by the
ancient cloisters of St. Augustine's monastery. A spot more calculated
to inspire the soul with mournful meditation can scarcely be found
amidst the monuments of antiquity.

In this venerable mansion there was one chamber whose dismal and
singular constructure left no doubt of its having been a part of the
original monastery. It was supported by the mouldering arches of the
cloisters, dark, Gothic, and opening on the minster sanctuary, not only
by casement windows that shed a dim midday gloom, but by a narrow
winding staircase, at the foot of which an iron-spiked door led to the
long gloomy path of cloistered solitude. This place remained in the
situation in which I describe it in the year 1776, and probably may, in
a more ruined state, continue so to this hour.

In this awe-inspiring habitation, which I shall henceforth denominate
the Minster House, during a tempestuous night, on the 27th of November,
1758, I first opened my eyes to this world of duplicity and sorrow. I
have often heard my mother say that a mare stormy hour she never
remembered. The wind whistled round the dark pinnacles of the minster
tower, and the rain beat in torrents against the casements of her
chamber. Through life the tempest has followed my footsteps, and I have
in vain looked for a short interval of repose from the perseverance
of sorrow.

In the male line I am descended from a respectable family in Ireland,
the original name of which was MacDermott. From an Irish estate, my
great-grandfather changed it to that of Darby. My father, who was born
in America, was a man of strong mind, high spirit, and great personal
intrepidity. Many anecdotes, well authenticated, and which, being
irrefragable, are recorded as just tributes to his fame and memory,
shall, in the course of these memoirs, confirm this assertion.

My mother was the grandchild of Catherine Seys, one of the daughters and
co-heiresses of Richard Sey's, Esq., of Boverton Castle, in
Glamorganshire. The sister of my great-grandmother, named Anne, married
Peter, Lord King, who was nephew, in the female line, to the learned and
truly illustrious John Locke - a name that has acquired celebrity which
admits of no augmented panegyric.

Catherine Seys was a woman of great piety and virtue - a character which
she transferred to her daughter, and which has also been acknowledged as
justly due to her sister, Lady King.[1] She quitted this life when my
grandmother was yet a child, leaving an only daughter, whose father also
died while she was in her infancy. By this privation of paternal care my
grandmother became the _élève_ of her mother's father, and passed the
early part of her life at the family castle in Glamorganshire. From this
period till the marriage of my mother, I can give but a brief account.
All I know is, that my grandmother, though wedded unhappily, to the
latest period of her existence was a woman of amiable and simple
manners, unaffected piety, and exemplary virtue. I remember her well;
and I speak not only from report, but from my own knowledge. She died in
the year 1780.

My grandmother Elizabeth, whom I may, without the vanity of
consanguinity, term a truly good woman, in the early part of her life
devoted much of her time to botanic study. She frequently passed many
successive months with Lady Tynt, of Haswell, in Somersetshire, who was
her godmother, and who was the Lady Bountiful of the surrounding
villages. Animated by so distinguished an example, the young Elizabeth,
who was remarkably handsome,[2] took particular delight in visiting the
old, the indigent, and the infirm, resident within many miles of
Haswell, and in preparing such medicines as were useful to the maladies
of the peasantry. She was the village doctress, and, with her worthy
godmother, seldom passed a day without exemplifying the benevolence of
her nature.

My mother was born at Bridgwater, in Somersetshire, in the house near
the bridge, which is now occupied by Jonathan Chub, Esq., a relation of
my beloved and lamented parent, and a gentleman who, to acknowledged
worth and a powerful understanding, adds a superior claim to attention
by all the acquirements of a scholar and a philosopher.

My mother, who never was what may be called a handsome woman, had
nevertheless, in her youth, a peculiarly neat figure, and a vivacity of
manner which obtained her many suitors. Among others, a young gentleman
of good family, of the name of Storr, paid his addresses. My father was
the object of my mother's choice, though her relations rather wished her
to form a matrimonial alliance with Mr. S. The conflict between
affection and duty was at length decided in favour of my father, and the
rejected lover set out in despair for Bristol. From thence, in a few
days after his arrival, he took his passage in a merchantman for a
distant part of the globe; and from that hour no intelligence ever
arrived of his fate or fortune. I have often heard my mother speak of
this gentleman with regret and sorrow.

My mother was between twenty and thirty years of age at the period of
her marriage. The ceremony was performed at Dunyatt, in the county of
Somerset. My father was shortly after settled at Bristol, and during the
second year after their union a son was born to bless and
honour them.[3]

Three years after my mother gave birth to a daughter, named Elizabeth,
who died of the smallpox at the age of two years and ten months. In the
second winter following this event, which deeply afflicted the most
affectionate of parents, I was born. She had afterward two sons:
William, who died at the age of six years; and George, who is now a
respectable merchant at Leghorn, in Tuscany.

All the offspring of my parents were, in their infancy, uncommonly
handsome, excepting myself. The boys were fair and lusty, with auburn
hair, light blue eyes, and countenances peculiarly animated and lovely,
I was swarthy; my eyes were singularly large in proportion to my face,
which was small and round, exhibiting features peculiarly marked with
the most pensive and melancholy cast.

The great difference betwixt my brothers and myself, in point of
personal beauty, tended much to endear me to my parents, particularly to
my father, whom I strongly resembled. The early propensities of my life
were tinctured with romantic and singular characteristics; some of which
I shall here mention, as proofs that the mind is never to be diverted
from its original bent, and that every event of my life has more or less
been marked by the progressive evils of a too acute sensibility.

The nursery in which I passed my hours of infancy was so near the great
aisle of the minster that the organ, which reechoed its deep tones,
accompanied by the chanting of the choristers, was distinctly heard both
at morning and evening service. I remember with what pleasure I used to
listen, and how much I was delighted whenever I was permitted to sit on
the winding steps which led from the aisle to the cloisters. I can at
this moment recall to memory the sensations I then experienced - the
tones that seemed to thrill through my heart, the longing which I felt
to unite my feeble voice to the full anthem, and the awful though
sublime impression which the church service never failed to make upon my
feelings. While my brothers were playing on the green before the
minster, the servant who attended us has often, by my earnest
entreaties, suffered me to remain beneath the great eagle which stood in
the centre of the aisle, to support the book from which the clergyman
read the lessons of the day; and nothing could keep me away, even in the
coldest seasons, but the stern looks of an old man, whom I named Black
John from the colour of his beard and complexion, and whose occupations
within the sacred precincts were those of a bell-ringer and sexton.

As soon as I had learned to read, my great delight was that of learning
epitaphs and monumental inscriptions. A story of melancholy import never
failed to excite my attention; and before I was seven years old I could
correctly repeat Pope's "Lines to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady;"
Mason's "Elegy on the Death of the Beautiful Countess of Coventry," and
many smaller poems on similar subjects. I had then been attended two
years by various masters. Mr. Edmund Broadrip taught me music, my father
having presented me with one of Kirkman's finest harpsichords, as an
incitement to emulation. Even there my natural bent of mind evinced
itself. The only melody which pleased me was that of the mournful and
touching kind. Two of my earliest favourites were the celebrated ballad
by Gay, beginning, "'Twas when the sea was roaring," and the simple
pathetic stanzas of "The Heavy Hours," by the poet Lord Lyttelton.
These, though nature had given me but little voice, I could at seven
years of age sing so pathetically that my mother, to the latest hour of
her life,' never could bear to hear the latter of them repeated. They
reminded her of sorrows in which I have since painfully learned to

The early hours of boarding-school study I passed under the tuition of
the Misses More, sisters to the lady of that name whose talents have
been so often celebrated.[4] The education of their young pupils was
undertaken by the five sisters. "In my mind's eye," I see them now
before me; while every circumstance of those early days is minutely and
indelibly impressed upon my memory.

I remember the first time I ever was present at a dramatic
representation: it was the benefit of that great actor[5] who was
proceeding rapidly toward the highest paths of fame, when death, dropped
the oblivious curtain, and closed the scene for ever. The part which he
performed was King Lear; his wife, afterward Mrs. Fisher, played
Cordelia, but not with sufficient _éclat_ to render the profession an
object for her future exertions. The whole school attended, Mr. Powel's
two daughters being then pupils of the Misses More. Mrs. John Kemble,
then Miss P. Hopkins, was also one of my schoolfellows, as was the

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