An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter I.

Mrs. Bellamy to the Hon. Miss -------

London, Sept. 20, 17--.

[p. 1] Madam,

In compliance with the solicitations of yourself and many other friends; and at the same time to rescue my character from the numerous falshoods which have been industriusly propagated against it; I sit down to begin an Apology for my life. Censurable I know my conduct has been, in many respects; I cannot, however, suppress the wish (for a wish naturally will arise in the mind, even of the most faulty) to exculpate myself from those censures whch have no foundation in truth.

A review of many of the scenes I have gone through, and of the imprudencies I [p. 2] have committed, cannot fail of giving me pain; but as you have frequently expressed a desire to be informed of the minutest circumstances of my life, I will endeavour to recall to my memory every transaction worth recording, and lay them before you in a Series of Letters, continued as time and opportunity shall serve. By your means, the extenuations which occur, may be diffused through the circle whose good opinion I am anxious to regain; and having thus collected them for your inspection, I at some future period intend to lay them before the public. Happy shall I be, if the recapitulation of my errors and misfortunes should prove a beacon to warn the young and thoughtless of my own sex from the Syren shore of vanity, dissipation, and illicit pleasures, of which remorse and misery, as I too sensibly feel, are the sure attendants.

I will hope from your friendship that the prolixity unavoidable in the relation of such a number of events will not prove tiresome and disgusting to you. At the same time I must entreat that you will not examine this production of my pen with too critical an eye. The lenient hand of time has not yet been able to restore to my bosom that sweet tranquillity, whch the unfortunate events of my life, and the corroding relfections resulting from my misconduct, have banished form it. Trursting, however, [p. 3] to your goodness, I will now enter on my history.

Though I shall not, as a celebrated author has done, write volumes before I bring myself into being1, yet as I have reason to believe the calamities of my life originated from events which happened long before I was born, it will be necessary to recapitulate many circumstances relative to my family, which had their existence prior to that period. The writer of a wretched production, published in the year 1761, having, among innumerable falshoods concerning myself, presumed to mention my mother in terms of disrespect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to endeavour to rescue her memory from imputations she by no means deserves. This, consequently, renders it likewise needful to commence my narrative from the aera of her birth.

My mother was the daughter of an eminent farmer at Maidstone, in Kent, whose name was Seal. He was one of the peopple called Quakers; and from the produce of his hop-grounds, which were very extensive, arrived at length to such a degree of opulence, as to be enabled to purchase an estate near Tunbridge-Wells, called Mount Sion. For some years he enjoyed in comfort the furits of his industry; but happening, one evening during the autumn, to continue too late in his grounds, he caught a cold, which [p. 4] bringing on a fever, in a few days put a period to his existence.

Though my grandfather, during his life, was remarkably active, and mindful of every concern necessary to the welfare of himself and family; yet, either from a mistaken notion, too commmon among persons of property, or from an unaccountable negligence upon this occasion, he could not be prevailed upon to make a will; so that the whole of his effects fell into the hands of his wife, without any provision being regularly made for my mother, who was now about four years old.

My grandmother, who was both young and beautiful, finding herself thus left a widow with only one child, and possessed of an independent fortune, thought there was no occasion for her to carry on the extensive concerns of her late husband, which would be attended with great care and fatigue. She therefore disposed of all the property at Maidstone, and removed to Tunbridge-Wells; and having furnished her houses there in an elegant manner, let them, during the seaons, to persons of the first distinction.

She was no sooner settled in her new place of residence, than her beauty and fortune attracted the attention of all the unmarried young men in the neighbourhood, particularly of those who professed the same [p. 5] religious principles. She, howeever, withstood all their attacks for upwards of two years. But at length, unfortunately for herself and her daughter, she gave her hand to a person of the name of Busby. Mr Busby was a builder of some eminence, and cosidered by the world as man in affluent cucumstances; and so high an opinion had my grandmother formed of his honor and integrity, during his courtship that she imprudently married him, without reserving to herself, or child, by any written agreement, the least part of her fortune. She received from him, indeed, the most solemn assurance that they should both be librerally provided for; but she too soon had reason to repent of her want of prudence.

Among the persons of quality who occupied occasionally my granmother's houses, was the honourable Mrs. Godfrey, Mistress of the Jewel-office, and sister of the great Duke of Marlborough. With his lady, a daugher of Mr. Busby's, by a former marriage, lived as her own attendant; and so great an esteem had she contracted, during her residence at Tunbridge, for my grandmother, and fondness for my mother, that she offered to bring up the latter, and to have her educated in every respect the same as her own daughter, Miss Godfrey. My grandmother, however, having at this time no reason to doubt but that her child was amply [p. 6] provided for, politely declined the offer, but agreed, that upon Mrs. Godfrey's return to town for the winter, she should accompany, and spend three or four months with her.

The season being now come, Mrs. Godfrey set out for London; and, upon her arrival heard, that her noble brother was given over by his physicians. But having been for some time at variance with the Dutchess, on account of her exposing, through reduced to a state of second childhood, the man who had rendered himself so famous; an imprudence which deservedly gave offence to Mrs. Godfrey; she had not the satisfaction of seeing him before he died. Here I must add, that the Dutchess of Marlborough, much to her discredit, used to take the Duke with her in the coach, whenever she went abroad, even upon the most trivial occasions; exhibiting as a public specatcle, the hero who had lately kept nations in awe, and whose talents in the cabinet were equal ot his valour and military knowledge in the field. -- God heavens! such a ruin, must surely have excited the most poignant grief in the most unfeeling breast.

Mrs. Godfery was prevented by this disagreement from paying a visit herself at Marlborough-House, to condole with her sister-in-law on the loss their family and the [p. 7] nation had sustained. Having, however, an inclination to know how things were conducted there, she sent her woman, Mr Busby's daughter, to make what enquiries she could: and the latter overcome by the importunities of her little step-sister, who had attended Mrs. Godfrey to town, as proposed, was accompanied by her to see the remains of the Duke lie in state.

When they arrived at the gate of Marlborough-House they found it open, but, to their infinite surprise, met not a living creature during their passage to the room in which the body was deposited. So totally was this incomparable man neglected in the last stage of his mortal exhibition, that not a single attendant, or one glimmering taper, remained about him as tokens of respectful attention. My mother and her companion were obliged to the day-light alone for the faint view they obtained of the funeral decorations.

The melancholy and disrespectful scene she had just been witness to, was no sooner described to Mrs. Godfrey by her woman, than it had such an effect upon her as to occasion a long and severe illness; which at length reduced her to such a state, that had she experienced the same neglectful treatment her brother had done, she must have been buried alive. For one Sunday, fancying herself better than she had been for some time, and able to go to chapel; as she was dressing for [p. 8] that purpose, she suddenly fell down to all appearance dead.

The screams of her woman and my mother brought Colonel Godfrey into the room; who, having probably seen instances of persons remaining in a state of insensibility for a considerable time, and afterwards recovering, directed that his lady should be immediately put into bed, and that two persons should constantly continue with her, till indubitable symptoms appeared of her decease. The consequences proved, with how much judgment the Colonel had acted. Notwithstanding the opinion of the physicians, who all declared that the breath of life was irrecoverably departed; and in opposition to the solicitations of his friends to have the body interred, he continued resolute in his determination till the Sunday following; when, exactly at the same hour on which the change had happened signs appeared of returning sensibility. So punctual was nature in her operations upon this singular occasion, that Mrs. Godfrey awoke from her trance just as the chapel-bell was once more ringing; which so perfectly eradicated form her memory every trace of her insensibility, that she blamed her attendants for not waking her in time to go to church, as she had proposed to do. Colonel Godfrey, whose tenderness to his lady was unremitted, taking advantage of this incident, prudently gave orders that she should by no [p. 9] means be made acquainted with what had happened, lest it should make a melancholy impressoin on her mind. And I believe to the day of her death she remained ignorant of it. Had I not heard the foregoing story frequently repeated by my mother, I own I should have had some doubt of the credibility of it, as it is of so extraordinary a nature; but as I could depend upon her veracity, I can take upon me to assure you of the truth of it. Wha a dreadful situation must the poor lady have been in, for but her husband's resolution! I shudder at the very thought of it; as I doubt not but you also do, whlst you are reading the account. I shall therefore take the opportunity of concluding my letter; and am, with assurance of the most perfect gratitude and respect,

Madam, Your obliged and obedient servant,
G. A. B

  1. She refers to Laurence Stern's novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (published in 9 volumes, the first appearing in 1759, and 7 more following over the next 10 years).

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