Mrs. (Jane) West.

The refusal (Volume 1) online

. (page 3 of 20)
Online LibraryMrs. (Jane) WestThe refusal (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

some discernment. But I assure you,. Ladies, I was
not one of the respectable acquaintance who deplored
the loss of Sir Mushroom."

In this satirical style did Stanza run over several
columns, proving, to our extreme astonishment, that
although you practise every vice, and inherit every
meanness, wealth, and an affectation of liberality, will
procure you a passable reputation while living, and
on your demise give you honourable mention among
the records of Britain's true worthies. He then des-
canted on the folly of parsimony, and the misfortune
of indigence, the one in neglecting, and the other in
not being able to secure, that rich though ideal posses-
sion, fame, when his unmerciful prosing was interrupt-
ed by the following simple paragraph,

" On the 27th died, at the house of her nephew,
the earl of Avondel, the right honourable lady Selina

" And is nothing said of her ladyship?" inquired
the doctor. " At least," said S:anza, " this abstinence
of censure obliges us to confess, that the age is as cha-
ritable as it is liberal., O tempora, o mores, that such a
woman should be allowed to steal thus silently to the
grave !"

" I presume," said I, " Lady Selina was a very ex-
traordinary character ; I wonder I never heard of

The sententious doctor turned up his eyes, and ad-
mitted it was very wonderful.

" My dear Mrs. Prudeutia," observed Stanza, who,

with all his flippancv and self-conceit, really is well

bred, " I am sure your walls are never contaminated

'by the recital of gross misdemeanours, unaccountable



perjuries, breaches of all divine and human laws, of-
fences that burst the very bond of society. Should
any one of your visitants attempt to entertain you with
an account of such outrages, I am confident your doors
would be thenceforth barred against him, whom ,you
Would consider as a foul defamer of your species, en-
deavouring to contract your charity and impugn your

" Unquestionably," said I, " the deeds of such mis-
creats as you allude to are better concealed from the
world, and I exceedingly condemn those who first pro-
mulgate them. But though I abhor defamation, when
a story is public there is no harm in hearing it. Did
you know Lady Selina, Sir?"

" No, thank my happier stars," replied Stanza
shrugging his shoulders and rising to take leave.

" Bless me," resumed I, '• is her story then so very
bad ? you might just give one an outline, as there are
no young ladies present?"

" It would only divert a Sir Mushroom," answered
Stanza, " or such people as love to see the world de-
graded to their own gross level. You, madam, need
no foil to set off your virtues. Celibacy in you shews
like the icicle on Dian's temple, and the history of an
unhappy spinster who — "

At this critical moment the door opened, fresh com-
pany entered, and Stanza retired dumb and mysterious
as an ancient oracle. I defy the most illiberal of my
acquaintance to charge me with an exhuberant share of
curiosity, yet, I own, Stanza's complimentary inuendo
made me a little uneasy, I mean for the honour of my

Nor was the doctor more communicative. That
worthy gentleman had acquired a reputation for pro-
found learning and wisdom, and he maintained it by
reserving these hoards carefully for his private use.
He was particularly cautious not to involve himself in
any difficulty by hasty communications, and he has been
known to lock the door before he imparted intelligence
which was printed in that day's gazette. He would not


tell you that the duke of Monmouth was the illegitimate
son of Charles the 2d. without the saving clause of " So
it was reported ;" and I therefore considered it as an
extraordinary mark of confidence, that, after several
interviews, and much winding and sifting, (at which I
claim some share of adroitness) I induced him to com-
mit himself so far as to say, that " Poor Lady Selina
had been much talked of, and might be said to have
two very opposite characters."

I shall not acquaint the world from what source I
have since derived such copious and correct informa-
tion as will enable me to fill three volumes (allowing
for proper margins and amplifications) with the cir-
cumstances connected with this extraordinary lady. I
am thankful that I am not in the predicament of the
historians so severely treated by Stanza. The world
has no doubt of my veracity, and they know that when
I am barren of materials I dare not invent. Nor will
I usher in my story with the pomp of supplicatory in-
troduction. My faults and my perfections are equally
known. All I shall premise is, that having been pri-
vately informed that Stanza is at work upon the same
narrative, I have been forced to hurry the publication.
For though I am aware that his will no more resemble
mine than the lives of the same person by different
hands usually do each other, there is a vast advantage
in being first at market ; and besides, the Horatian rule
respecting the time that manuscripts should lie upon
the shelf, will not apply to what is annihilated by
keeping ; for after Lady Selina has been dead six
months no one will care about her or her history.
Moreover, Stanza threatens me with printing from
short hand, but I trust the public will be predisposed
to prefer an old friend now sinking in the vale of years,
who has almost blinded herself in their service. The
work itself certainly must excite attention on account
of its originality ; for besides that my readers may ex-
pect to meet with some of their own acquaintance
among the characters it contains, the history of an old



maid, with all the scandal she either circulated or ex-
cited during a period of seventy years, must be allowed
to be unique. And though I own it is undertaken
with a determination of establishing the honour of our
sisterhood, I do not despair of occupying a high place
among impartial historians.

[ 33 ]


His virtues walk'd their narrow round,
Obscurely wise and coarsely kind.


Emily Mandeville was nineteen years of age
when, in the spring of 1778, she exchanged the
gloomv solitude of Lime Grove for the magnificent
abode of her ancestors, situated in a romantic part of
Devonshire. It was at this time the residence of her
uncle, Sir Walter Mandeville, the last male heir of an
ancient family, in whose person the entail expired.
Sir Walter had entered the army in early life, this
being one of the common destinations of a younger
brother, and had soon become so attached to his pro-
fession as to form no wish for such a permanent con-
nection with the fair sex as would detach his thoughts
from the duties of a soldier* Possibly the scanty pro-
vision of a younger brother, and the circumstance that
Sir James was married, and had a family, might tend
to preserve him from those violent attacks of wealth and
beauty which are so generally irresistible. Certain tt is,
Colonel Mandeville was suffered to acquire a sort of a
misanthropic opinion of the ladies, till, on the death of
his nephew, a promising youth of sixteen, he became
Sir Walter.' He now, for the first time in his life, re-
gretted that his days had been spent in celibacy, since
it consigned the name of Mandeville to oblivion, and
left himself and a young female orphan the sole inhe-
ritors of the blood of that illustrious family. He re-
collected that his brother, Sir James, on his deathbed,
had appointed him guardian to both his children; but
whilst young Sir George lived, Emily was too insignifi-
cant to attract so much of his attention as to induce
him to remove her from the care of her maternal aunt.


Lady Selina Delamore, though he believed that lady
to be a most odious character, and was convinced she
would quite pervert her niece's disposition.

Sir Walter Mandeville was turned of sixty, when
the demise of the young baronet first introduced him
to the possession of uncontrolled power, and superflu-
ous wealth, for the disposal of which no human tribunal
could call him to account. He had lived neglected
and dependent till the heyday of life was passed. The
treatment he had endured gave him a dislike for his
species, and it was not removed by observing that,
though the poor soldier had been overlooked and de-
spised, the wealthy baronet was courted and flattered.
He could not believe himself suddenly transformed
from something below mediocrity in talent to a gen-
tleman of most respectable understanding ; and though
the stories which he had told when ensign, without
discomposing one countenance, now excited thunders
of applause, he had the discernment to perceive, and
the humility to acknowledge, that this tribute was paid
to his rank, not to himself; and that he certainly was
a worse jester now than he had been forty years be-
fore. Fortune, therefore; had a very different effect
upon his sincere, blunt character, to what she usually
exerts, by making him more out of humour with the
world, and dissatisfied with himself; and but for his
strong attachment to that best part of his species, the
lire of Mandeville, his contempt of sycophants^ and
his pity of stupid old fellows who are placed in situa-
tions where they do nothing but expose themselves,
would have induced him to surrender his patrimony
to his sovereign, with a request that it might be placed
in better hands.

Actuated by family pride, without one iota of what
was personal, Sir Walter felt it his duty to keep up the
Mandeville dignity. He had public days, and presided
at his table, sullen through pique, and awkward from
a consciousness of inferiority. He distributed charity
with a sort of snarling benevolence, and joined in
those rural sports for which he had an aversion, and


found inconvenient to his personal infirmities, because
the Mandevilles were all very bountiful, and kept fox-
hounds. With a strong, and sometimes acknowledg-
ed, regret for those happy days, when, as an old half-
pay officer, he could stroll about master of his own
actions, or sun himself upon a bench in martial conver-
sation with some other veterans, as Homer describes
his Trojan counsellors, he consented to be steward of
the assemblies ; and with a persuasion that women
were a greater plague than any Pandora carried in her
box, he sought out partners for the tittering misses,
who suppressed their ridicule of the old beau in his
presence only from the hope that he would make them
an offer. Indeed, Sir Walter's attachment to his fa-
mily soon made all the prudent matrons in the neigh-
bourhood point him out as a marrying man; and he
often pondered in secret on the eligibility of resigning
the comforts of singleness for the chance of giving a
legal heir to an ancient and expiring race of worthies.
Whoever considers, that though Sir Walter's temper
was in a continual state of irritation, he comprized
every earthly blessing in the term bachelor, will truly
estimate the nobleness of mind which could induce
one of the most inveterate of the Benedict order to
meditate such a sacrifice. Certainly, his person did
not announce a very eligible votary of Hymen. H's
features, naturally hard, were bronzed by many a cam-
paign in tropical regions ; he had lost one eye at the
taking of the Havannah ; and a musket ball had lodged
in his shoulder, which brought on infirmities that com-
pelled him to quit the service, ^e had too much of
the veteran in his character to ascribe to himself ima-
ginary graces, and he never contemplated his figure
without lamenting the fallen state of his family.

I have hinted, that his opinion of the fair sex did

i not tend to expedite the design of devoting his future

days to their society. In common with men who have

been more accustomed to coarse and depraved, than to

! refined and amiable women, he viewed them as har-

^pies, who spoiled every social comfort, rather than

D 2


Halcyones brooding over the nest of domestic felicity ;
and he more especially dressed marriage in those hues
v.'hen uxorious infirmity was unequally yoked to reluc-
tant levity. He shuddered at the idea of being what
he called dandled about by some disguised shrew, or
cozening demirep, who submitted to his ill humours
for the sake of spending his fortune, of being called
Lady Mandeville, and of the reversionary hope of a
large jointure. Some few, indeed, of his old compa-
nions had bound their grey and scattered locks with
Hymen's roses, and were become in their own opinions
happy husbands ; but then Sir Walter thought very
meanly of their understandings, and cordially sub-
scribed to the opinion of those who traced every evil
under the sun to female origin. So rigidly did he ad-
here to this school of metaphysics, that, exclusively of
the glorious scars of honour which he deemed orna-
mental, there was not a defect in his frame, or a mis-
fortune in his life, that he did not derive from women.
He traced his asthmatic attacks to his great-grandmo-
ther who died of that disease ; his mother's family be-
queathed him the gout ; an aunt humoured him in his
indolence till he became'an invincible blockhead ; his
sister-in-law made a mere Jerry of her husband, in-
jured his fortune, and spoiled Mandeville castle by
putting in new furniture, and making what she called
improvements ; and lastly, his nephew lost his life by
overheating himself with dancing at Exeter races, with
a girl who wanted to entrap the poor boy for her hus-
band. These reflections were concluded with a lamen-
tation, that though women were jilts the world could
not go on without them.

Whilst balancing the miseries of his intended mar-
riage against the supposed duty of contracting such an
engagement, he suddenly recollected, that he might
sacrifice his peace of mind and freedom without se-
curing the perpetuity of his family : he might have no
children, or only daughters. In the latter case, how-
ever, it would be possible, as he had great parliamen-
tary influence, to have the name and title restored in

Tlttl REFUSAL. 37

the son of one of these unborn heiresses. Sir Walter
was not accustomed to make any very bright discove-
ries, but while pursuing this train of thought, he found
it to be somewhat improbable that he should live to see
his grandsons, and a little while after it struck him,
that since the estate was now entirely at his own dis-
posal he might as well give it to his brother's daugh-
ter as to his own; and as Emily was now marriageable
he had a chance of seeing half Mandevilles spring
from net stock. Every time he pondered on this
scheme it appeared more eligible, and he began to
wish to get acquainted with one who was even now his
presumptive heiress. If he invited her to come to see
him, he could send her away when he found her
troublesome, an advantage a wife would not bring with
her. Besides, he should not be bound to her for life,
for the heiress of the Delamores and Mandevilles would
be sure to find a husband enterprising enough to re-
lieve him from the arduous task of trying to keep a
great fortune out of mischief.

But Sir Walter was doomed by fate to be involved in
difficulties, especially in his dealings with ladies.
Common civility required that he should extend his
invitation to the maiden aunt with whom she had re-
sided since the death of both her parents. The senti-
ments which resolute bachelors entertain toward our
sisterhood, resemble the amity of cats and dogs, and
I am afraid that the aversion is quite as reciprocal,
though every one must allow the provocation is on our
side. Sir Walter felt more than the common animosity
of a belligerent to Lady Selina. All his little world
spoke ill of her. He knew that she had behaved very
badly in early life, and she was sister to Lady Hono-
ria Mandeville, for whom he had a violent antipathy,
though he had never seen her but once. His reasons
for this hatred were, that she governed her husband,
shewed some contempt for the family heir-looms, in-
jured the estate, and produced but one son. How was
he to endure, even for a few months, the torment of be-
ing circumscribed in his own castle by an old maid, who


according to the nature of things, must be whimsical
and contradictious. He loved early hours, he detest-
ed books, except the Memoirs of Marshal Saxe, and
the Campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough ; his in-
firmities required hot rooms, and his chief delight was
backgammon. Now, he was pre-assm*ed, Lady Seli-
na would not touch her dinner till he wanted to go to
bed, that she required as constant a supply of air as a
windmill, walked about with a Greek Lexicon in her
hand, and fell into hysterics at the sound of the dice
box. There would be one way of escaping her ; he
could let the castle, take lodgings at Bath, put up a
tent bed in a closet for Emily, (if he found the aunt
had not spoiled her) and then apologize to Lady Seli-
na for want of room and ill health, which prevented
him from any longer enjoying her company. After
various determinations, he at last dispatched the follow-
ing letter to Lime Grove.

" Dear niece,

I condole with you very heartily on poor George's
death. He was a fine young man, and would have
been a credit to the family, which is very poorly re-
presented now. Had he lived, I should not have been
so much concerned about you, for managing this estate
is quite affliction enough for me, and more than I can
well bear, never having been used to business. Be-
sides, I am old and infirm, .and that makes me peevish.
But if you think a visit to me will be any treat to you,
I shall be glad of your company for a few months,
though I have never seen you since you were christen-
ed, when I stood god-father. I had promised to do
so, expecting you would have been a boy, so I could
not well get off.

Give my best respects to Lady Selina Delamore, and
thank her for all the trouble she has had with you ; I dare
say it has been a great deal. I hope she has not per-
mitted you to get any odd ways, or taught you to be
disagreeable. I should have been glad to see her la-
dyship with you, but my old castle is so much out of re-


pair, I have but one comfortable room to live in, and
we have no card assemblies in the neighbourhood. Be-
sides, it always disagreed with vour mother, who said
she caught her death here. Had poor George lived,
most likely he would have rebuilt it, but it will do well
enough tor me, as I am the last of the Mandevilles.
So we shall all go to ruin together. I suppose you will
soon pick up a husband, as your fortune is too large
for any woman, even if I don't leave you mine ; the
more is the pitv. However, it is our duty to submit,
and make the best defence we can, when the campaign
goes against us.

I remain

Your affectionate uncle,

Walter Mandeville."

Among the few comforts which Lady Selina enjoy-
ed, the society of young Emily held a distinguished
pre-eminence. It reconciled her to life, at a time
when the world appeared a disgusting void, and the
task of informing her niece's mind and modelling her
manners, greatly tended to dissipate a melancholy,
which, as no one could clearly explain its cause, was
charitably ascribed to a splenetic disposition. But
though an old maid, and confessedly an unhappy one,
Lady Selina was not so entirely self-devoted as to re-
strain Emily from accepting her guardian's invitation.
On the contrary, she rejoiced that he seemed at length
inclined to execute the duties of his office ; and though
from having once lived in the World, she well knew
that happiness does not always ride about in a vis-a-vis
with affluence, she was not displeased to find Sir Wal-
ter least thought it possible that Emily might eventual-
ly prove the heiress of the Mandeville, as she already
was of the Delamore family. She had long foreseen
her separation from her amiable charge. Lime Grove,
although well adapted for the purposes of a nursery
and a school, was an improper residence for a young-
lady of high expectations; and she was endeavouring
to subdue her own reluctance to appear again in the


world, which the sudden death of Sir George Mande-
ville opened such vast views to her niece, that she felt
bewildered in what manner to act, or how to secure
her from those disadvantages which might result from
an introduction under her own immediate auspices.
While she was thus perplexed as to the mode of pro-
ceeding she should adopt, Emily's age convincing her
that no more time must be lost, they received Sir Wal-
ter's letter. The propriety of restoring the young la-
dy to her father's family, was indisputable. 'Tis true,
he only invited her for a short time, and she had heard
too much of his singularities, to suppose that the un-
cle and niece would become so much attached as to
deprive her forever of the society of her adopted
daughter; but there were great advantages annexed
to this transitory emigration from Lime Grove, as it
would be the means of introducing her to society, to
which in every form she was yet a stranger. As to
herself, the summer was approaching, the severe in-
firmities from which she had so long suffered, general-
ly relaxed their fury at that season, when, though she
could not be said to enjoy health, pain yielded to the
softer term indisposition. Her garden afforded her
great amusement, and a few charitable institutions
which she had formed in the village, satisfactorily
employed her time and thoughts. She fancied she
could live without Emily, at least she knew it to be a
duty to endeavour to do so : and after giving her let-
ters of introduction to the few ladies whom she knew
in the vicinity of Mandeville Castle, the fair Emily
was dismissed with many a blessing, and a few ill-
concealed tears, on what proved an eventful expedi-

Certainly there appeared nothing very reprehensible
in this part of Lady Selina's conduct ; but as morose
ill-principled people will occasionally act in a credita-
ble manner, and as one part of the moral which I
mean to enforce is, the folly and danger of drawing-
hasty conclusions, I still intreat my readers to suspend
.their opinions of this mysterious recluse. I have ac-


knowleclged that melancholy threw a pensive shade
over her character, and does not this circumstance
alone, of her being unhappy, intimate that she had
been criminal ? I leave this question to be discussed
by those writers, who, in describing the lot of inno-
cence, seem to consider calamity as no longer one of
, the trials that virtue is doomed to undergo in this pro-
bationary state. Among the oblations which we daily
offer to the god Prosperity, we now sacrifice the repu-
tations of the miserable, and we not only say with

" Look into those we call unfortunate,

And closer view'd, we find they were unwise,"

— but with Pope's dealer in judgments, we often so
far misapply the doctrine of a particular Providence,
as to believe " the nodding temple is suspended, to
crush the head of Chartres."

When youth is uncontaminated by affectation or
duplicity, its feelings are always acute. Emily thought,
as the carriage drove from Lime Grove, that she and
happiness had bidden adieu till they should be again
restored to each other in the society of her dear aunt,
in the little cedar parlour. At this moment, she for-
got that she had ever felt the sameness of their unva-
ried days ; that she had wished to see a little more of
life than their neighbouring market-town afforded, or
was supplied by the rector and apothecary, and two
Dr three quiet country neighbours, to modernize her
vunt's antiquated description of her own times. Like
Dther girls of her age, she next wished, that as she was
separated from her dear and only friend, the horses
lad taken the road to London ; but her sorrow in leav-
ng Lady Selina, was at last absorbed by painful con-
ectures respecting the manner in which she should
■pend her time among strangers, and in a sumptuous
tyle of living to which she was quite unaccustomed.
She had gained a few particulars of her guardian's
paracter from her brother ; his own letter confirmed


the impression of singularity ; and Lady Selina's part-
ing precepts, conjuring her to be assiduously attentive,
seemed to intimate that the task was difficult. She had
hitherto pleased every body, but it was without any
studied effort, and she greatly feared that her powers
of fascination were not so inherent as to exempt her

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryMrs. (Jane) WestThe refusal (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 20)