An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XVII

Feb. 22, 17--.

[p. 99] To the great satisfaction of the farmer's honest family, who now viewed both my mother and me with suspicious eyes, she in a few days set off for London, whither I was soon to follow her. Upon her getting to town, she was to procure me a lodging somewhere in the environs, and then to wait on Mr. Rich, to know whether he chose to engage me again. As she was going towards Covent-Garden for this purpose, she accidentally met Mr. Sheridan; who having commenced manager of a theatre in Dublin, was come to England to raise recruits. That gentleman immediately enquired for me, expressing at the same time a desrie to engage me. My mother replied that she did not think it prudent to listen to any proposal, [p. 100] till she had first obtained the consent of Mr. Rich, to whom her daughter lay under the greatest obligations. Mr. Sheridan acquiescing in this, my mother promised to acquaint him with the result of her interview with Mr. Rich.

My mother had no sooner mentioned her accidental meeting with Mr. Sheridan, and his wish to engage me, than Mr. Rich gave her, without the least hesitation, at once a proof of his regard, and his disinterestedness. He advised her by all means to accept the proposal; as I should not only receive the instructions of so great a master, but have an opportunity of appearing in every principal character, an advantage I could not be indulged with on a London stage; the possession of parts at that time (except when permitted novices for a trial of their theatrical skill) being considered as much the property of performers, as their weekly salary.

Upon my arrival in town, a letter was delivered me at the inn from my mother, wherein she informed me that she had taken a lodging for me at Chelsea; to which I drove. I found Mr. Sheridan there, and my engagement with him was soon concluded. Having but a short time allowed me to make the necessary preparations, and being as much ashamed to appear before any person I knew, as if the scandal propagated against me had been well founded, I left [p.101] London without taking leave of any one. My heart indeed upbraided me with want of politeness, and with the highest degree of ingratitude, in not paying my respects, before I went, to Mr. Rich and to Mr. Quin, gentlemen to whom I lay under such great and numerous obligations; but I could not so far overcome my bashful timidity, as to do it.

In my agreement with Mr. Sheridan I only stipulated for one character, which I was apprehensive my youth might be an objection to, and which it is here necessary to mention as it was afterwards productive of disagreeable consequences. It was the part of Constance in King John. A character which (although it might be objected to my playing it, that I was not only incapacitated from my want of experience on the stage, but from my figure, which would have been more properly adapted to the lady's son, Prince Arthur) I had set my heart upon1.

Besides myself and my mother, who had conditioned to attend me, there were several other persons whom the Irish manager had engaged and agreed to frank, as well as us, to Dublin. We set off with that gentleman from his lodgings, and nothing worth relating happened till we arrived at Parkgate. When we got there, the wind being contrary, Mr. Sheridan took his leave of us, and committing the management of the [p. 102] troop to my mother, set off directly for Holyhead.

I have often thought there was a great similarity between the little troop we mustered here, and the company of itinerant players described with such infinite humour by Scarron2. It consisted of Mrs. Elmy; a young adventurer, named Lacy; an humble admirer of that lady, a Mr. Morgan, in the last stage of a consumption; my mother; myself; and (before he left us) the manager. After the latter had quitted us, my mother and Mrs. Elmy, who was a humourist and possessed of great good sense, but by her want of powers, was prevented from making a conspicuous figure upon the stage, were ever disputing about something or other. The contrast between the deportment and disposition of the two was equal to the extremes of light and shade. To an indifferent observer, the formality and reserve of my honoured parent, compared with the levity and assumed low humour of Mrs. Elmy (both assumed sometimes through contradiction) afforded a truly laughable scene.

Of this I must give you the following instance. During our journey, we had passed through a place in Staffordshire, named Evisee-Bank, with the name of which Mrs Elmy was so enchanted, that to gratify her whim, she was immediately nominated Countess [p. 103] of Evisee by your humble servant. The creation of this new dignity was the means of frequently putting my mother out of humour. For in all the inns we put up at, the newly created countess had the best apartment, and more respect and attendance were shown her than the rest of the company. Upon observing this constantly repeated, my mother told me, that if I did not immediately undignify her ladyship, she would leave her companions, and pursue the journey with only my divinityship. I was therefore obliged, when we arrived at Parkgate, to take the lady's title from her, and reduce her once more to plain Mrs. Elmy.

Having waited several days at Parkgate,without a probability of sailing, and the place being rendered more disagreeable than it is, by the houses being crowded with passengers; Mrs. Elmy prevailed upon me to endeavour ot persuade my mother to go to he head. I was to urge as a reason, that our stay at Parkgate would in all probability prove much more expensive than the journey. A wish to oblige Mrs. Elmy, together with curiosity to see this part of Wales, induced me to exert all my power over my mother upon the occasion. I at length, though not without great difficulty, succeeded; and we sent to hire horses and a guide, to set off the next morning.

Shall I conclude this letter here, before we set off, Madame, or shall I entertain you [p. 104] first with the diverting history of our excursion over the Welch mountains? As I have an hour to spare from any necessary avocation, as my head is tolerably clear, and as my fingers are untired, I will proceed; as methinks I hear you bid me.

Know then, that the next morning our little company set out soon their intended journey for Holyhead, as I informed you it was agreed to do. As I never had been on horseback before, I was not sensible of the task I had undertaken. But the horses in this part of the world are so gentle, and so accustomed to the road, that there is little danger of any inconvenience arising, but that of fatigue.

After travelling that day without any accident, the next morning, at breakfast, we were joined by a party of Irish gentlemen, with whom we had dined when we were at Chester, and who were pursuing the same route as ourselves. We were very happy in the encounter, as their party greatly enlivened ours. One of these gentlemen, whose name was Crump, and of whom I shall have occasion to make frequent mention in the course of my narrative, paid so much assiduous attention to my mother, that we all concluded she had made a conquest of him. It will be necessary to remark that my mother being perfectly recovered from that dejection which her anxiety for me had occasioned, and possessing still some remains of that beauty which had once capitvated one of the most conspicuous characters in this kingdom, [p. 105] the supposition was not an improbable one. Her Hibernian admirer was about fifty years of age, hard favoured, but very lively, obliging, and intelligent. He was by profession a linen-merchant, and was upon his return from Chester fair, which he constantly attended twice a year.

We had exceeding fine weather till we came to Penmanmawr; when, just as we were ascending that stupendous rock, the horizon became of a sudden overcast; the big clouds, clad in their deepest sable, rolled over us, and spouted forth such cataracts of rain, as seemed to forebode a second deluge; the moon, which was not as yet hid, just served to give us a view by its glimmering light of the dreadful abyss that lay below; the peals of thunder, which were almost without intermission threatened to burst the heavens; whilest the forky flashes of lightning seemed to denounce our immediate dissolution, and reminded me of good old Lear's exclamation:

" ------------ Tremble thou wretch,
That has within thee undivulged crimes
Unwhipt of justice."3
In this awful and tremendous situation, Mrs. Elmy fell from her horse; and as the road was at this time too narrow to admit two horses abreast, her fall impeded the progess of the whole company, except that [p .106] of my mother, who with the guide led the van. Some of the gentlemen instantly dismounted, in order to place the disastrous heroine upon her palfrey; when, to their great surprise, as well as ours, she would not suffer herself to be moved from the ground, till she had repeated the following lines from Jane Shore:*4
"Fall thenm, ye mountains, on my guilty head;
Hide me, ye rocks, within your secret caverns;
Cast your black veil upon my shame, O night;
And shield me with your sable wings for ever."
This piece of presumptuous humour failed of its desired effect; not one of the company seeming to be pleased with it but herself. Indeed it was very ill-timed. So much so was it, that one of the gentlemen who had joined us, and who professed himself a Free-thinker, but was really, as his own words evince, an Atheist, declared, with a great oath, that the lady was much to blame to spout tragedy, when the spouts of heaven were let loose upon us. To which he added, that such an awful scene as now presented itself, almost persuaded him there was a Deity. The horror Mrs. Elmy's ludicrous behaviour in such [p. 107] an alarming situation had excited in my mind, was not lessened by this declaration of our fellow-traveller. They both united, seemed more dreadful than the tempest in which we were involved; as I was apprehensive, that Divine vengeance would await us for being in such company. As soon as I was seated, that gentleman put spurs to his horse, which was a hunter, and away we flew till we arrived at Bangor-Ferry. Here a figure presented itself, so exactly answering the description of Charon, that I imagined my self on the banks of the Styx5. As the torrents which had fallen from the [p. 108] rocks, during the tempest, had swollen the river to an uncommon height, this had given the water a black tinge; and that being a quality, as we are told, of the river which leads to Tartarus and Elysium6, it added to the imaginary deception.

Having crossed the ferry, Mr. Crump and myself arrived at Bangor some time before the rest of the company; where the mistress of the inn accommodated me with even a shift and stockings. In all the countries through which I ever travelled, I never met with such civil people as at the Welch inns. There is a cordiality in their manners, which must give a susceptible mind the greatest pleasure. Uncontaminated with the self-interested attention of those who belong to the more frequented inns, where every civility must be purchased, they cheerfully supply you with every accommodation in their power, and are happy in obliging.

As soon as I was apparelled in my linsey-woolsey, which I assure you I found very comfortable, I joined my fellow-traveller, Mr. Crump, to return him thanks for the care and civility he had shewn me. He had prepared a good fire in the parlour against my return, which was evidently done to have an opportunity of getting me alone. His anxiety to do this must have been apparent to every one but myself. Had I observed it, I should have thought him guilty of [p. 109] an unpardonable presumption. For a man of his years, and without one personal attraction, to presume to look up to my divinityship, was a supposition that I could form no idea of. I could not, however, help remarking, that my companoin, who had hitherto been very loquacious, was now altogether as silent. As I was much fatigued, and not very well able to keep up a conversation, I was not displeased at his taciturnity.

After prancing about the room for some time, he approached me, and with a deep-fetched sigh, which would have blown the boat, we had lately entered, over the river, without the assistance of the ferry-man, took hold of my hand. I perceived that he was much agitated, a circumstance which, athough it might have been agreeable in a favoured lover, was very unbecoming in a person with whom I had been so newly acquainted. At length he summoned up resolution enough thus to addrss me: "My dear Miss Bellamy," said he, "answer me one question: Were you ever in love?" My surprise at having such an interrogation put to me, and that in so abrupt an manner, prevented me from making an immediate reply; but recollecting myself, I answered, "Oh! yes, violenty." "Are you really attached?" said he. "For ever," returned I. "It would perhaps be deemed impertinent," continued the gentleman, "were I to presume to ask with [p. 110] whom?" I told him, I did not think it could be of any consequence to him; but if it was, I would gratfiy his curiosity, by informing him it was -- with myself. That I was a female Narcissus7, and should always continue so. He had just time to exclaim "Then I am satisfied," when our company appeared.

Such objects were they all as supassed description. My mother had prudently provided herself with a good surtout; and the guide having some linen and other necessaries of hers safely stowed in a saque de nuit, which I had bought with me from France, she was soon equipt. But as for poor Mrs. Elmy, she came badly off; as I had already secured every unemployed article belonging to the good hostess's wardrobe. And what was more unfortunate for her than this, was there there was no bed for her in the whole house, but one which could only be termed a crib, and that was placed in the closet of tte room where we were to repose our weary limbs; and it was with great reluctance, that my mother consented to her being stowed even in that confined space. The genltemen were obliged to sit up. At five o'clock, when the post-boy arrived, we were called, and pursued our journey.

We arrived at Holyhead just in time to save our passage; for the packet sailed in less than half an hour after we got in. For my own part, I was so much fatigued with the journey that as soon as I got on board, I retired [p. 111] to my cabin, where Morpheus was so kind as to touch me with his leaden wand, which cause me to sleep, till I heard the cry of "The Hill of Howth!"

My arrival in another kingdom will surely claim a separate letter; I shall therefore here put an end to this.

G. A. B.

  1. Shakespeare's King John; Constance, the mother of the two murdered princes, is a strongly pathetic part which includes a number of strongly declamatory and moving speeches, e.g. II:1:182ff., III:1:1ff., III:1:45ff., III:1:87ff., III:4:26ff., III:4:75ff., III:4:98ff
  2. Bellamy refers to Paul Scarron (1610-1660), a French writer then known for his strongly burlesque and comic works, especially Virgile travesti and the picaresque novel, Roman comique.
  3. Shakespeare's King Lear, 3:2:47-49.
  4. Bellamy's note: Act V, Scene last. Nicholas Rowe's (1674-1718), she-, or pathetic tragedy (1714), The Tragedy of Jane Shore; a recent article connects it to contemporay Jacobite politics, Brett Wilson, "Jane Shore and the Jacobites: Nicholas Rowe, the Pretender, and the National She-tragedy," ELH, 72:4 (2005):823-843.
  5. A river in classical hell over which the boatman, Charon, ferries the dead.
  6. Tartarus, a deep and gloomy place for suffering below the classical hell; Elysium, a mysterious beautiful place in Hades.
  7. Narcissus, in Greek mythology a man in love with himself, absorbed by his own image.

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