Richard Robert Madden.

The literary life and correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (Volume 1) online

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Ex Libris






R: RfM a d d e n, m.r.i.a.



" L'homme marche vers le tombeau, trainant apies lui, la chaine de ses esperances








I DEDICATE, my dear Quin, this work to you — one of the
most intimate friends of that gifted Lady who is the subject
of it, and whose entire confidence was possessed by you.
I inscribe it to you in remembrance of old and happy
days, of kind friends, and of many intimate acquaint-
ances of our early days in Italy — of people we have met
in joyous scenes and memorable places ; some highly gifted,
subsequently greatly distinguished, most of whom have
passed away since you and I first became acquainted with
the late Countess of Blessington, in Naples, upwards of
thirty years ago.

Perhaps these pages may recall passages in our young
days, which, in the turmoil of the cares and struggles of ad-
vanced years, it may be a sort of recreation to our wearied
minds and jaded energies, to have presented to us again in a
life-like form.


In treading on this old Italian ground once more, and that
portion of it especially best known to us — a fragment of some
bright star dropt from heaven : —

" That like a precious gem — Parthenope
Smiles as of yore — the syren of the sea :"*

we may have many graves to pass, and memoi-ies, not
only of dear friends, but of early hopes, to make us

But I trust we shall have also some pleasing recollections
renewed by these Memoirs, and our old feelings of affectionate
regard revived by them.

I am, my dear Quin,

Faithfully yours,

R. R. Madden.

London, Nov. 1, 1854.

*• The Heliotrope, or the Pilgrim in Italy, a Poem, by Dr.W.Beattie.



Early origin — Pedigree of the Sheehy family — Notice of maternal
grandfather — Career of Edmund Power — Marriage of Marguerite
Power — Captain Farmer's death — Coroner's inquest, and ver-
dict of the Jury . . , . . .1


Notice of the Earl of Blessington — His origin, early career — First
and second marriage, &c. . . . . .44


Departure of the Blessingtons from London, on a Continental tour,
September, 1822 . . . . . .73

Byron and the Blessingtons at Genoa . . . .81


The City and Bay of Naples — The Blessingtons, and their society
in Naples, June, 1823, to February, 1826 . . .93


Departure from Naples — Sojourn in Rome, Florence, Milan,
Venice, and Genoa — Return to Paris — February, 1826, to June,
1829 . . . . . . . .115




Return to Paris, in June, 1828 — Residence there — Death of Lord
Blessington — Departure of Lady Blessington for England, in
November, 1830 . . . . . .135


Conversational powers of distinguished persons — Seamore Place
and Gore House — Literary circles — Rival salons of Holland
House, and Reunions at the Countess of Charleville's — Residence
of Lady Blessington at Seamore Place, from 1832 to 1836 ; and
at Gore House, Kensington Gore, from 1836 to April, 1849 . 153

The Break-up at Gore House . . . . .193

Arrival of Lady Blessington in Paris, the middle of April, 1849 —
Her last illness and death, on the 4th of June following — No-
tice of her decease . . . . . .213


Notice of the career, literary tastes, and talents of Lady Blessington. 227


Notice of the writings of Lady Blessington — Connection with the
Annuals — Results of her literary pursuits . . .251


Poetical effusions addressed to Lady Blessington by various persons. 295


Notice of Count Alfred D'Orsay — His origin, some account of his
early life — The close of his career, and observations on his
talents, and the application of them . . , .318



No. I.


Notice of Lord and Lady Canterbury, and of Mrs. Fairlie . 373

No. IL
The fate of the Sheehys in 1765 and 1766 . . .389

No. III.

The case of Bernard Wright, Editor of Edmund Power's paper,
the Clonmel Gazette . . , . . .429

No. IV.
Certificate of Marriage of Captain Farmer to Miss Marguerite Power. 436

No. V.
Notice of Captain Farmer's Letter in Dublin Evening Packet . 436

No. VI.

Proceedings on Inquest on the Body of Joseph Lonnergan, shot
by Edmund Power, and bill of indictment and information
against Power ...... 439

No. VII.
Prosecution of Edmund Power for libel on Colonel Bagwell . 449


Certificate of Burial of members of the Blessington family in St.
Thomas's Church, Dublin ..... 454

No. IX.
Account of the Incumbrances on the Blessington Estates . 455

No. X.
Rental of Blesssington Estates, &c. .... 460

No. XI.
Gore House ....... 461


No. XII.


Count D'Orsay and the Prince Louis Napoleon . . . 463

Theatrical tastes of Lord Blessington's father . . . 475

No. XIV.
Duel between Michael Power, Esq. and Captain Kettlewell . 475

No. XV.

Precis of Trial — MacCarthy versus Solomon Watson, Banker, of
Clonmel . . . . . . .476





The task of Biography is not comprised only in an attempt
to make a word — picture, and likeness of a person that can be
identified by its resemblance to the original ; to narrate a
series of striking passages in the life of an individual, whose
career it is intended to illustrate ; to record dates of remark-
able events, and particulars of important occurrences ; to give
a faithful account even of signal failures and successes ; to
delineate the features of the individual described, and to make
deportment and demeanour, manner of thought, and mode of
expression, clearly perceptible to those for whom we write or
paint in words. These are essential things to be done, but
they are not all that are essential in human life-history,
which should be descriptive not only of external appearances,
and accidental circumstances, but of the interior being, dis-
positions, and actual peace of mind of those of whom it treats.
The great aim to be accomplished is to make the truthful



portraiture of the person we describe, and present to the
pubHc, stand out in a distinct shape and form, distinguish-
able from all other surrounding objects, an instructive, directive,
suggestive, encouraging, or admonitory representation of a
character and career, as the case may be. The legitimate aim
and end, of that representation of a life will be gained, if the
biographer, in accomplishing his task, makes the portraiture
of the individual described advantageous to the public, re-
news old recollections agreeably, as well as usefully ; looks to
the future in all his dealings with the past ; draws away at-
tention from the predominant materialism of the present time ;
violates no duty to the dead, of whom he treats ; no obligation
to the living, for whose benefit he is supposed to write ; if,
without prejudice to truth or morals, he indulges his own feel-
ings of kindness, and tenderness of regard for the memory
of those who may have been his friends, and who have become
the subjects of his enquiries and researches ; if he turn his
theme to the account of society at large, of literature also
and of its living votaries ; if he places worth and genius in
their true position, and, when the occasion calls for it, if he
manfully puts forward his strength to pull down unworthy
and ignoble pretensions, to unmask selfishness, to give all due
honour to noble deeds and generous aims and efforts ; if he
sympathises sincerely with struggling merit, and seeks earnest-
ly for truth, and speaks it boldly. And if he has to deal
with the career of one who has played an important part in
public life, or in fashionable circles, and would attain the ob-
ject I have referred to, he will have to speak freely and fear-
lessly of the miseries and vexations of a false position, how-
ever splendid that position may be; miseries which may not
.be escaped from by any efforts to keep them out of sight or
hearing, either in the turmoil of a fashionable life, in the tumult
of its pleasures, or in the solitude of the dressing-room, the
stillness of which is often more intolerable than the desert


gloom, the desolation of Mar Saba, or the silence of La

All this can be done without composing homilies on the
chequered life of man, or pouring forth lamentations on its
vicissitudes, and pronouncing anathemas on the failings of
individuals, on whose conduct we may perhaps be wholly
incompetent or unqualified to sit in judgment. There is often
matter for deep reflection, though requiring no comment from
the biographer, to be found in a single fact seasonably noticed,
in a passage of a letter, a sentence in conversation, nay, even
at times in a gesture, indicative of weariness of mind in the
midst of pomp and pleasure, of sickness of spirit at the real
aspect of society, wreathed though it may be with smiles
and blandishments, at the hollowness of its friendships, and
the futility of one's efforts to secure their happiness by them.
I am much mistaken if this work can be perused with-
out exciting feehngs of strong conviction, that no advanta-
geousness of external circumstances, no amount of luxury,
no entourage of wit, and learning, no distinction in fashion-
able or literary life, no absorbing pursuits of authorship, or
ephemeral enjoyments in exclusive circles of haul ton, consti-
tute happiness, or afford a substitute for it, on which any
reliance can be placed, for the peace and quiet of one's life.

An intimate acquaintance and uninterrupted friendship
with the late Countess of Blessington during a period of
twenty-seven years, and the advantage of possessing the
entire confidence of that lady, are the circumstances which
induced the friends of Lady Blessington to commit to me the
task of editing an account of her Literary Life and Correspond-
ence. To many other persons familiarly acquainted with
her Ladyship, eminent in different walks of literature and art,
distinguished for abilities and acquirements, and well known
in the world of letters, this task might have been confided
with far more service to the execution of it in every

B 2


literary point of view. But, in other respects, it was considered
I might hring some advantages to this undertaking, one of
no ordinary difficulty, and requiring no ordinary care and
circumspection to surmount. The facilities I refer to, are
those arising from peculiar opportunities enjoyed of knowing
Lady Blessington at an early period of that literary career
which it is intended to illustrate, and the antecedents of that
position in literature, and the society of intellectual celebrities,
which she occupied in London.

The correspondence and other papers of Lady Blessington
that have been made use of in these volumes, are connected
by a slender thread of biographical illustration, which may
serve to give some idea of the characters and position, and
prominent traits or peculiarities of those who are addressed,
or referred to in this correspondence, or by whom letters were
written which are noticed in it.

In doing this, I trust it will be found I am not unmindful
of the obligations I am under to truth and charity, as w^ell as
to friendship, obligations to the living as well as to the dead ;
but, on the contrary, that I am very sensible, that literature is
never more profaned, than when such claims being forgotten or
unfelt, statements or sentiments expressed in confidence to pri-
vate persons that are calculated to hurt the feelings, to injure the
character, or prejudice the interests of individuals, in any rank
of life, are wantonly, malevolently, or inconsiderately disclosed.

Such sentiments seem to have been acted on by a late emi-
nent statesman, and were well expressed, in a codicil to his will,
wherein he bequeathed to Lord Mahon and E. Cardwell,
Esq., M.P,, " all the unpublished papers and documents of
a public or a private nature, whether in print or in manuscript,
of which he should, at the time of his decease, be possessed,
&c." " Considering that the collection of letters and
papers, referred to in this codicil, included the whole of his
confidential correspondence for a period extending from the


vear 1817 to the time of his decease, that durina: a con-
siderable portion of that period he was employed in the
service of the crown, and that when not so employed, he had
taken an active part in parliamentary business, it was highly
probable that much of that correspondence would be interest-
ing, and calculated to throw light upon the conduct and cha-
racter of public men, and upon the political events of the times."
This was done in the full assurance that his trustees would
so exercise the discretion given to them, that no honourable
confidence should be betrayed, no private feelings be un-
necessarily wounded, and no public interests injuriously

I think it is Sir Egerton Brydges who observes — " It is
not possible to love literature and to be uncharitable or un-
kind to those who follow its pursuits." Nothing would cer-
tainly be more uncharitable and unkind to literary people than
to publish what they may occasionally say in private of one
another in the way of raillery, banter, or persiflage, a ridicule-
aiming turn, as if such badinage on paper, and escapades of
drollery, with a dash of sarcasm, in conversation, were deliberate
expressions of opinion ; and not the smartness of the sayings,
but the sharpness of the sting in them, was to be taken into
account in judging of the motives of those who gave utter-
ance to things spoken in levity and not in malice.

There is no necessity, indeed, with such materials as I have
in my hands, to encumber my pages with any trivialities of
this kind, or the mere worthless tittle-tattle of epistolary con-

There is an abundance of thought-treasure in letters of
people of exalted intellect, in this collection ; ample beauties in
their accounts of scenery and passing events, and in their
references to current literature — the works of art of the day,
the chances and changes of political life, the caprices of fashion
of the time, and the vicissitudes in the fortune of the celebrities


of all grades in a great city — to furnish matter well worthy of
selection and preservation ; matter that would perish, if no*
thus collected, and published in some such form as the pre-

I have no sympathies with the tastes and pursuits of the
hangers-on of men of genius in literary society, who crawl
into the confidence of people of exalted intellect, to turn
their acquaintance with it to a profitable account ; to drag
into notice failings that may have hitherto escaped attention,
or were only suspected to exist, and to immortalize the errors
of gifted individuals, whose credulity has been taken advan.
tage of, with a dehberate purpose of speculating on those fail-
ings that have been diligently observed and drawn out.

Censure, it is said, is the tax which eminence of every kind
pays for distinction. The tendency of our times especially,
is to pander to a morbid taste, that craves contmually for
signal spectacles of failings and imperfections of persons in
exalted stations, for exhibitions of eminent people depreciated
or defamed. The readiness of men to minister to the pre-
vaihng appetite for literary gossip, by violating the sanctity
of private life, and often even the sacred ties of friend-
ship, is not only to be lamented, but the crime is to be
denounced. I have given expression to such opinions on
those subjects at the onset of my career in literature, and
they have undergone no change since the publication of
them, upwards of twenty years ago.*

We naturally desire to know every thing that concerns the
character, or the general conduct of those, whose productions
have entertained or instructed us ; and we gratify a laudable
curiosity, when, for purposes of good, we inquire into their
history, and seek to illustrate their writings, by the general
tenor of their lives and actions. But when biography is
made the vehicle of private scandal, the means of promoting
* The Infirmities of Genius, Sec, in 2 vols. 8vo., London, 1833.


sordid interests, and looks into every infirmity of human na-
ture through a magnifying medium, which makes small im-
perfections seem to be large, and exaggerates large ones ; —
it ceases to be a legitimate inquiry into private character or
conduct, and no infamy is greater than the baseness of re-
vealing faults that possibly had never been discovered, had no
friendship been violated, no confidence abused, by exaggerated
representations of failings and defects, which take away from
the reputation of the living, or dim the bright fame of the
illustrious dead.

" Consider," says a learned German, " under how many
aspects greatness is scrutinized ; in how many categories
curiosity may be traced, from the highest grade of inquisi-
tiveness down to the most impertinent, concerning great
men ! How the world never wearies striving to represent to
itself their whole structure, conformation outward and inward.
Blame not the world for such curiosity about its great ones :
this comes of the world's old-established necessity to worship.
Blame it not, pity it rather with a certain loving respect.
Nevertheless, the last stage of human perversion, it has been
said, is, when sympathy corrupts itself into envy, and the in-
destructible interest we take in men's doings has become a
joy over their faults and misfortunes ; this is the last and
lowest stage — lower than this we cannot go,"

" Lower than this we cannot go !" says the German mo-
ralist. But suppose we do more than exult in these failings
and misfortunes; that we sit in judgment on them, and judge
not justly, but in an unchristian manner, that is to say, with
false weights and measures of justice, having one scale and
standard of judicial opinion for the strong and the unsciTipu-
lous, in evil doing, and another for the weak and ill-directed
and unfortunately circumstanced ; lower then I say men can go
in the downward path of hypocrisy, when those most deserv-
ing of pity have more to fear from pretenders to virtue, than


from religion itself. At the tribunal of public opinion, there
are some failings for which there must be an acquittal on every
count of the indictment, or a condemnation on all.

With respect to them, it is not for the world to make any in-
quiries into the antecedents of error ; whether they included
the results of the tyranny, the profusion, the profligacy, and the
embarrassments of an unworthy father, the constant spectacle
of the griefs and wrongs of an injured mother, mournful scenes
of domestic strife, of violence and outrage even at the
domestic hearth, and riotous displays of ill-assorted revelry
and carousing in the same abode, every-day morning gloom
and wrangling, temporary shifts to meet inordinate expenses,
tending to eventual ruin, meannesses to be witnessed to
postpone an inevitable catastrophe, and provide for the
carousing of another night, the feasting of military friends, of
condescending lords and squireen gentlemen of high rank and
influence, justices of the peace of fiery zeal in provincial poli-
tics, men of mark in a country town, ever ready to partake of
hcspitality, and to enjoy society, set off with such advantages as
beauty, and mirth, and gaiety unrestricted can lend to it.

It is not for the world to inquire into the circumstance that
may have led to an unhappy union, or its unfortunate result ;'
whether the home was happy, the society that frequented the
parental abode was safe and suitable for its young inmates ;
the father's example was edifying in his family — the care of
his children sufficient for their security — his love and tender-
ness the crown of their felicity ; whether he watched over his
daughters, as an anxious father should do, and treated them
M^th kindness and affection, bearing himself quietly and
amiably towards their mother and themselves ; whether their
youth and innocence were surrounded with religious influences,
and the moral atmosphere in which they lived from childhood
and grew up to womanhood, was pure and wholesome !

It matters not, in the consideration of such results, wlie-


ther their peace and happiness were made things of sale and
barter by a worthless father ! Whether in forcing them to
give their hands where they could not give their hearts, they
had been sold for a price, and purchased for a consideration
in which they had no share or interest !

The interests of religion, of truth and morality, do not
require that we should throw aside all considerations of this
sort, and come to a conclusion on a single fact, without any re-
ference to the influences of surrounding circumstances.

The grave has never long closed over those who have been
much admired and highly extolled, in their day ; who have
been in society formidable competitors for distinction, or in
common opinion very fortunate in life and sucessful in society,
or some particular pursuit, before the ashes of those dead
celebrities are raked for error. Those tombs, indeed, are sel-
dom ransacked unsuccessfully ; but those who sit in judgment
on the failings of their fellow -creatures, are never more likely
to be erroneous in their opinions, than v^^hen they are most
harsh and uncharitable in their judgments. Those persons
who stand highest in the opinion of their fellow-men, may
rank very low in the estimation of the Supreme Judge of all ;
and those for whose errors there is here no mercy, may have
fewer advantages of instruction and example, of position, and
of favourable circumstances that have been thrown away to
account for, than the most spiritually proud of the com-
placent self-satisfied, self-constituted judges and arraigners of
their fellow-creatures.

It has been said, that '' a great deal has been told of Gold-
smith (in the early and incidental notices of his career), which
a friendly biographer would have concealed, or at least silently
passed over ; he would have felt bound in duty to respect the
character which he took on himself to delineate ; and while
he withheld nothing that could have enabled the public to form
a right estimate of the subject, he would not have drawn aside


the curtain that concealed the privacy of domestic intercourse,
and exposed to view the weakness and inconsistency of the
thoughtless and confidential hours of a chequered and too
fortuitous life. The skilful painter can preserve the fidelity
of the resemblance, while he knows how to develop all be-
coming embellishments. In heightening what is naturally
beautiful, in throwing a shade over the less attractive parts,
he^presents us with a work that is at once pleasing and instruc-
tive. The biographer must form his narrative by selection.
All things belonging to a subject are not worth the telling ;
when the circle of information is once completed, it is often
the wisest part to rest satisfied with the effect produced.
Such, evidently, was the rule which guided Mason in the very
elegant and judicious account which he gave of his illustrious
friend Gray ; and though later inquirers have explored and un-
locked some channels which he did not wish to open, they
have left the original sketch very little altered, and hardly at
all improved. In this he followed, though with a more liberal
allowance to rational curiosity than had before been granted,
the general practice of all biographers ; but Boswell's Life of
Johnson opened at once the floodgates of pubhc desire on
this subject, and set up an example, too faithfully imitated, of
an indiscriminate development of facts, gratifying a not very
honourable or healthy curiosity, with the minutest details of

Online LibraryRichard Robert MaddenThe literary life and correspondence of the Countess of Blessington (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 38)