An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter VI.

London, October 18, 17--.

[p. 36] Lord Tyrawley having prohibited my reading Cassandra1, the only romance in his library, and on which a girl of my age and lively disposition would naturally have first laid her hands, preferring poetry to history, I endeavoured to learn Pope's Homer by rote. In this I made such proficiency, that in a short time I could repeat the first three books. When I thought myself sufficiently perfect, I languished to be introduced to the incomparable author of them; not doubting but he would be as much charmed with my manner of repeating "The wrath of Peleus' son,"2 as I myself was.

It was not till after I had frequently solicited Lord Tyrawley upon this head, that he would listen to my request. At length, however, he consented, and we set off together for Twickenham. As I rode along, the suggestions of vanity overpowered every apprehension; and I was not a little elated when I reflected on the conspicuous figure I was about to make. The carriage stopped at the door. We were introduced to this little great man. But before I had time to collect myself, or examine him, Mr. Pope rang the bell for his housekeeper, and directed her to take Miss, and shew her the [p. 37] gardens, and give her as much fruit as she chose to eat.

How shall I find words to express the mortification I felt upon this occasion! It is not in the power of language to describe the true situation of my mind, on finding my vanity thus humbled. It is to be supposed I was not very complaisant to the old lady. But she did not long attend me; for we had scarcely got into the gardens before she pretended business, and left me to admire them, and eat fruit by myself.

I was not in the least displeased at the housekeeper's abrupt departure, as it gave me leisure to meditate, and contrive some method of ressenting so gross an affront offered ot the infant Dacier3. For no less a personage in the world of literature did I fancy that I should be, when my amazing powers had acquired perfection. At last I concluded to carry into execution the following plan of revenge: I determined never to read the cynic's translation of the Iliad again, but wholly to attach myself to Dryden's Virgil4. My heart exulted in the thought; and I experienced those sweet sensations, which arise from the hopes of being amply revenged for insult. But whilst I was indulging muyself in this pleasing reverie, I was informed that the carriage waited.

I hastened to it; and when I joined Lord Tyrawley, found that he had prevailed on [p. 38] Earl of Chesterfield, who had hapened to come in just after my supposed disgrace, to accompany us to Bushy. That nobleman soon made me amends for the treatment I had just received, and removed the chagrin it had occasioned. The elegrant praises of a Chesterfield transported my little heart, and atoned for the causal contempt of a pope. They filled my bosom with inconceivable pleasure, and impresst upon my memory such a partiality for the bestower of them, as was never after eradicated. Indeed, the favourable opinion he honoured me with in my professsion, was not a little flattering and claimed my warmest gratitude.

In a short time after this, Lord Tyrawley was nominated ambassador to the court of Russia. Upon which occasion one of the ladies of quality before-mentioned, desired Mrs. Jones, at whose shop I had first been honoured with her notice, to inform his lordship, that she should be happy if he would permit me to reside with her during his absence. This was too great a favour to be declined. My lord accordingly waited upon her ladyship, to return her thanks for her condescending offer, and at the same time to mention to her, his prohibition against my seeing my mother.

That unhappy woman had lately married an officer, a son of Sir George Walter, quite a dissipated boy, young enough to be her [p. 39] own child. As this unnatural union had been dictated by passion, satiety andd disgust soon followed; and her new husband left her to join his regiment, which was stationed at Gibraltar. But before he went off, he stript her of every thing valuable she was possessed of, even to her apparel. This he took an opportunity of doing whilst my mother was at the theatre; and he decorated with her clothes a woman that accompanied him abroad. Such generally are the consequences of an union founded solely on passion; espeically where there is so great a dispaarity of years. By such an imprudent connection, the erring female draws on herself the contempt and ridicule of her own sex, and exposes herself to the licentious attacks of the other.

Whether the distressed situation my mother found herself in, from the depredations committed on her property by her faithless husband, induced her to wish to see me, that I might be that means of affording her some relief; or whether her maternal feelngs received additional vigour from her present distresses, I will not pretend to determine; but she applied to the very servant who had formerly met with so rude a reception for her and whom she accused of bringing to her a suppositious child, to entreat that I would come and reside with her. In doing this, she doubless had a view to the hundred pounds whic Lord Tyrawley annually allowed me for clothes [p. 40] and other incidental expences, and for paying my maid servant.

As humanity has ever been my ruling passion, I could not bear to think that my parent, although she had been unkind to me, was reduced to a state of poverty; afflicted with illness; and abandoned by the person who ought to have been her support and protector; without feeling an inclination to afford her all the assistance in my power. Listening, therefore, only to the duteous impulse, I took with me that small sum of money I happened to have by me, together with my watch, which was of considerable value, and a few other trinkets, and hastened to my mother's house, without even taking leave of the lady who had kindly protected me. I blush at the recollection; as her ladyship certainly deserved a more grateful return. But tenderness for an afflicted parent suppressed, at that time, every other consideration.

My mother seemed to strive to make atonement for the slight she had formerly shewn me, by every proof of indulgent fondness. This affectionate attention made me ample amends for the loss of that splendour and elegance I had just left; and I esteemed myself quite happy. The little money I had brought with me, was, however, but a temporary relief. When that was expended, my mother borrowed as much as she could upon my watch and trinkets, in hopes that would supply our [p. 41] necessities till my quarter's salary was due. But when that wished-for hour arrived, to our great mortification, we found that it would no longer be paid up, on account of my removal. My mother now discovered, that instead of alleviating her own distresses, by enticing me to be with her, she had added two persons to her family, who were obliged to look up to her for support.

An opportunity presenting itself here, by my being about to enter on a new scene of life, for breaking off; lest I should tire you, as I have done myself, I shall lay down my pen, as soon as I have assured you that I am,

Madam, &c&c.
G. A. B

  1. A very long later 17th century French romance by Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprende (1609-33). Bellamy probably read Cassandra in an English translation by Charles Cotterell (1612-1702), first published in 1667.
  2. The poem in question was then The Iliad (not the The Odyssey). Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was the greatest poet of the first half of the eighteenth century.
  3. That Bellamy modelled herself on a learned French woman and poet suggests she originally had high aspirations. Anne Lefevre Dacier (1651-1720) not only translated Homer into French prose (and was one of Pope's sources), she translated Sappho, Anacreon, Plautus, Terence. She also participated in the seventeenth-century dispute over whether the ancient classics were superior to modern great writers or were superceded by them.
  4. Bellamy probably refers to The Aeneid; Dryden also translated Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics. John Dryden (1631-1700) was not only the greatest poet of the second half of the 17th century, but a important prolific playwright and great critic.

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 28 February 2007