An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXII

March 31, 17--

[p. 147] When Mr. Medlicote was gone, one of the gentlemen present acquainted us, that during his travels, he became enamourwd witha beautiful Italian lady; who, listening to his professions of love, left her family, and became the partner of his flight. Her brother, being informed of the seduction, pursued the fair fugitive and her paramour, and overtaking them, gave the genleman his choice either to marry his siter, or settle the affair in the field of honour. Mr. Medlicote, finding there was no alternative, prudently chose the former, and they were accordingly united in indissoluable bonds.

All the company at Colonel Butler's seemed to agree in opinion, that had my family and fortune equalled his expectations, he would have considered his union with the Italian lady invalid, from its being an act of compulsion on his part, and without the least scruple have made me an offer of his hand, in defiance of honour, humanity, and every tender feeling. Mrs. Butler observed, that nothing could equal her pleasure at this public testimony of the falsity of Medlicote's accusation; for notwithstanding she was convinced of my innocence, and had found it fully confirmed by the propriety of my conduct since I had resided [p. 148] in that kingdom, she could not have permitted her daughter to live in tems of strict intimacy with one whose reputation was not perfectlyunsullied.

The last word unsullied struck me, at the time Mrs. Butler made use of it, with inexpressible force; and as there is no crime, as I have frequently said, that I hold in equal detestation with deceit, I determined, let what would be the consequence, to inform that lady the first opportunity that offered, that I was, unappily an unfit person for an intimate [sic] with her daughter, my character having been sullied, though very undeservedly, by the rude breath of scandal, through the wicked machinations of the noblemen formerly mentioned. For the present, I contented myself with entering into a vindication of those of the profession in which I was engaged.

I told the comopany, that though many young men, through levity, were so inhuman as to blast the character of most of those females who were in the theatrical line, merely because they supposed their reputation was of so little consequence, that they were fit subjects for their sportive fancy; yet there were many, I was persuaded, who trod the stage, and were truly virtuous. I brought as examples a Pritchard and a Clive; to whom I said, I doubted not but many others might be added. I observed, that were actresses [p. 149] as chaste as vestals, such a tongue as Medlicote's may by infamous insinuations blast their fame for ever, notwithstanding there was as little foundation for them, as those with regard to myself had just been discovered to have. I concluded with declaring that I thought a woman who preserved an unblemished reputation on the stage, to be infinitely more praiseworthy, than those who retained a good name, merely because they were secured by rank or fortune from the temptations actresses ware exposed to; or than such as, through their mediocrity in life, do not fall in the way of the gay and dissolute. Here Colonel Butler interrupted my declamation by singing, "And she may be chaste that never was tried." This sally of his, which came in so a-propos, and tended to confirm the propostions I had just been striving to establish, restored cheerfulness; who though she returned so late, was a very welcome visitor.

When I returned home, though it was very late, I could not sleep for the reflections which arose in my mind, and a review of the incidents of the day. "How much," cried I, "are the world mistaken in their ideas of virtue, as well as of happiness! the generality of mankind seem to comprise every virtue in that of chastity. Without doubt, chastity is one of the first and mostfjustly admired virtues that adorns the female mind; yet when we consider, [p. 150] that punishment certainly attends a breach of that virtue; that the great monitor conscience is perpetually preying on the heart of every frail fair one capable of reflection; and that disgrace is their consequent portion; surely the truly virtuous ought rather to pity, and pour balm into the bosom of those who are thus unfortunately condemned to an earthy purgatory, and may have many extenuations to plead, than add to their afflictions by reproaches or contempt." -- Such were my sentiments at that period, young as I was, and such are they at this hour. But though I thus plead the cause of the unfortunate, it is not because I have unhappily a claim to the same lenity myself, or that I wish to extenuate a deviation from the path of rectitude in this point; I have as high a veneration for chastity and her true. votaries, and I as much regret the loss of innocence (my mind still retaining its native purity) as the most unerring of my sex can do. -- But as Hamlet says, "Somewhat too much of this."

In the morning, after a restless night, I found myself in a fever. The different passions with which my mind had ben agitated during the preceding evening, had been more than my body would bear, and a fever ensued. I was not in the least concerned at my [p. 151] indispostion, as it gave me an opportunity of staying at home without offending any one. My friends, however, were greatly alarmed. Mrs. Butler and her beloved daughter did me the honour to pay me a visit, and my absence from the theatre was considered as a general calamity. During my confinement I could not help indulging my reflections on the subject which had lately taken possession of my mind; and I never before viewed the profession I had embraced in so humiliating a light as I now did through Medlicote's aspersions. That everr fool who happened to be possessed of a fortune, should think hiimself licensed to take liberties with me; or even that my own footman, upon any dislike, should be able to go for a shilling into the theatre, and insult me; was what I could not bear to think of. The very idea affected me so much, that I never could regain, from this time, the self-sufficiency I possessed before. My indisiposition increased from these corroding thoughts; and it was several days before I was able to attend at the theatre. When I did so, a disagreeable event happened, which retarded my prefect recovery, and, with some other concurrent circumstanances was the cause of my leaving Ireland.

Mr. Sheridan, in consequence of the insult I had received from Mr. St. Leger, as before related, and on account of the inconveniences arising from the custom, had given a general order at the door of the theatre, and notice [p 152] in all the public papers, that no gentleman was, on any account, to be admitted behind the scenes. It happened one night, just as I was so far recovered as to venture to the house, but not to perform; that an officer, who had more wine in his head, than humanity in his heart, insisted on passing the centry placed at the stage-door. The poor fellow persisting in his refusal of admittance, the officer drew his sword and stabbed him in the thigh, with so much violence, that the weapon broke, and left a piece in the most dangerous part. Hearing a riot on the stage, I ran from the box in which I sat, and flew in my fright to the next centinel for protection. This happened to be the man who had been wounded, I found mself in a moment encompasse by numbers, and was obliged to be a witness ot the broken steel being taken out. The unexpectedness of thisi scene, and the terors I was thrown into by it, as I was not perfectly restored to health,were productive of a relapse. The man, however, happily recovered through the placidness of his disposition; but having lost the use of his leg, the offender, who was a man of quality provided for him for life.

G. A. B.

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