[p. 78] At the approach of my benefit, I received a card from Miss Conway, desiring me to attend at Leicester-house the next day, as their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales intended me the honour of a command upon my night. So flattering a distinction, you may be assured, was highly pleasing to me; and I was happy in obeying the mandate.
Whilst I was there,. I was witness to a mark of the moft diftinguished innate good breeding I ever faw. Her Grace the Duchess of Chandos had been lately introduced at court. This lady was beautiful to a degree; but as the Duke had elevated her from the lowest obscurity to his bed and title, no great expectations were to be formed of her politeness or accomplishments. But natural endowments sometimes atone for the want of these; of which this instance is a proof. The [p. 79] sun happened to shine full upon her Royal Highness, and appeared to be rather troublesome. Upon which, the Duchess, with a grace which would have done honour to a lady born and bred in a court, crossed the drawing-room, with the greatest ease let down the lattice, and returned to her place.The considerateness of the thought, and the elegance of her Grace's manner as she carried it into execution, made an impression at the time on my mind, and eftablished in it a favorable opinion of her deportment ever after.
The play chofe by their Royal Highneffes, was The Siege of Damascus;1 in which Mr. Quin was uncommonly capital in the character of Caled. So much so, indeed, was he, that he feemed actually to enjoy his prophet's paradise whilst on earth. Unfortunately for myself, as well as the public, his Royal Highness was taken ill before the night of my benefit arrived, and in a few days expired. The theatre of course was shut up for some time, and the benefits protracted. This occassioned the house to continue open longer than usual.
Mr. Metham's love of play grew more violent every day; and my being so much at the theatre, gave him the more frequent opportunities to indulge this propensity, as it prevented him from staying at home. At the conclusion of the season, I retired to a small [p. 80] house at Knightsbridge, and he went into Yorkshire, where my mother had continued with my little George. The Honourable Mr. Brudenell, who was an intimate friend of Mr. Metham's, was kind enough to supply me with what money I had occasion for during his absence. This was not a very large sum, as I saw but little company, having no acquaintances in town.
But Mr. Metham having met with more success at play, during his excursion into the country, than he expected, he came to town sooner than he intended, and took a large house in King-street, St. James's. He then set up an equipage, and lived in a stile, that twice his fortune was not adequate to. Our house soon became the resort of all the young people of fashion in town; and as Mrs. Dives's family visited me, the ladies with whom I had been acquainted before my connection with Mr. Metham, made no objection to renew their visits.
At this period, the famous contested election between Lord Trentham and Sir George Vandeput was carried on with the greatest party zeal ever known. And a company of French players having come over to exhibit at the little theatre in the Hay-market, his Lordship's patronizing them raised a popular clamour against him; and it was made a motive for keeping up the opposition longer than it otherwise would have been. I, as [p. 81] well as most of my acquaintance, was as anxious for the success of his Lordship, as if the fate of the nation depended upon it. I sent a servant every half hour to the hustings, to enquire how the poll went on; to which an answer was returned me by Captain Shaftoe, or so of the gentlemen on the same side of the question. I gave public breakfasts on the occasion. And though, to the best of my knowledge, I had never seen his Lordship, yet I was as warmly interested for him, as if I had been honoured with his friendship.
I must here stop a minute or two, as I usually do when any incident excites reflections in my mind, just to make a few remarks on the party zeal: I have been giving an account of.During a contested election, how many are there whose principles are built upon no wiser a foundation than my own; merely upon accident!Biassed by interested friends, influenced by popular clamour, or perhaps excited by less substantial reasons, people rush headlong into the contest; and then farewel to reason and moderation. Prejudices are now entertained; intimacies dissolved; and the dearest friends, if they happen to differ in sentiment, know one another no longer.The colour of a ribbon can give birth to the most uncharitable ideas. The wearer of it, though a perfect stranger, is supposed to possess every bad quality, and [p. 82] deserving of Bridewell, if not of the flames, Drunkenness, riot, noise, confusion, maims, wounds, and murder, are too often the consequences of these party feuds.And.all for what? The choice of a person for a representative, who, perhaps, the moment his election is gained, does not care a straw for you or your whole generation; and who, as soon as he enters the doors of St. Stephen's Chapel, deserts the very cause you had been so zealous to support. Zeal, tempered by moderation, is undoubtedly allowable on these occasions; but when carried to extremes, is deserving of censure. The foregoing observations, I own, do not well become the pen of a woman; but as my own conduct has given rise to them, and truth cannot come amiss from any pen, I will e'en hazard them.
During, the election, the following ludicrous event happened, which I doubt not, will afford you the same entertainment it did me. Mr. St. Leger, the gentleman I mentioned in a former letter, who behaved with such impropriety to me at the theatre, being just returned from his travels, came to pay me a morning visit. With a good understanding, a fine figure, and a handsome face, he had in his manner a good deal, of the coxcomb, which had received no little addition from his having made the grand [p. 83] tour. Indeed he was as highly finished as the fine gentleman in Lethe.
As I never enter into any concern that I interest myself in by halves, but pursue it with my whole attention, my impatience one morning carried me to the window, to see if the Mercury I had dispatched to the hustings, was upon his return; when, who should I see at the extremity of the street, but Mr. St. Leger, accoutred as the complete fine gentleman. He had on a white surtout, with a crimson cape, a French waistcoat, his hair en papillote, a feather in his hat, a couteau de chasse by his side with a small cane hanging to his button and attended by two greynounds.
As he came nearly opposite the house, espying me at the window, he called out to me, "Bonne nouvelle! Bonne nouvelle!" A scavenger's cart being close by, the fellows left their employment to look at this phenomenon. When viewing him with great earnestness one of them cried to the other "Tom! smoke Mr. Red heels." Mr. St. Leger, who possessed as much personal courage, with proportionable strength, as any man in England, no sooner heard this insult, than stepping to the fellow, he caught him up, and and fairly chucked him into his own cart. Having done this, he walked in with sang froid, that was not to be expected in the coolest mind after such an adventure. [p. 84] He then joined my company, who had been highly entertained by the incident, with the same composure.
After enquiries relative to the election, which possessed the first place in our thoughts and of our success in which he brought the joyful tidings, Mr. St. Leger told us among other laughable stories, the following adventure, which had befallen him the night before. Being in the front boxes at Drury-lane theatre, he remarked that Woodward (having seen him in the Park, as he afterwards found) had dressed a character he appeared in, exactly in the same suit he then had on. Just under him, in the pit, sat a lion,2 (as he expressed himself) with a cauliflower wig on; who being amazed at the similitude, with all the honest simplicity of a citizen, looked first at the actor, and then at him, with an expression of astonishment in his countenance, that displeased the travelled gentleman. St. Leger, therefore, without any hesitation, told him, that if he turned his head round once more, he would resent it in a manner that should not be very pleasing to him.
The gaping citizen, however, persisting, St. Leger, with the same nonchalance he had just given us a specimen of in the affair with the dustman, snatched off his pompous wig, [p. 85] and flung it on the stage; saying aloud at the same time, "I give that fellow you fee there," (pointing to Woodward) "leave to take me off; but let me tell you, friend, that no tallow-chandler or soap-boiler shall divert himself at my expence, with impunity." Honest John Bull was much grieved to see his church-going wig treated with so much indignity; and would have resented the affront; but being informed that he had mistaken his man, and that instead of the puppy he had supposed him, from his dress, to be, his antagonist was the fighting St. Leger, he very quietly covered his pate with his pocket handkerchief, to the inexpressible entertainment of those around him; and sitting down, waited very patiently till the conclusion of the piece, for the recovery of his wig, which had thus suffered for its matter's impertinence.As soon as the play was over, Mr. St. Leger went behind the scenes, with the same unconcern, and taking the actor, who had personated him, kindly by the hand, only said, "Ah Woodward! you have been very quick upon me!"
The gaining our election, joined to this gentleman's sallies, which had the appearance of wit, put the whole company into great good humour. To the foregoing story he added a very pleasant relation of his travels, and recounted numberless instances [p. 86] in which he had met with hair-breadth escapes.
From him I learnt that his sister's ill-state of health made it necessary for her to go to the south of France, to which Lord and Lady Doneraile had accompanied her. This was a great mortification to me, as I really loved her, and had been long honoured with her confidence. I recollected with pleasure our little parties in the attic story of Lord Doneraile's house in Soho-square. They were much talked of that time, and very great interest was made by many men of fashion to Miss Conway and myfelf, to get them admitted to those festive parties.
I had prevailed upon Miss St. Leger before she went abroad, to consult Doctor Thompson, who had proved succeessful in restoring me to health, when I was afflicted with the same complaint. But the unfortunate event of Mr. Wilmington's death, prevented it from being practicable. This great man, during his illness, obstinately persisted in not having any other advice than that of his favourite Thompson, lest the regular physicians should refuse to act with him. He at length died; and his death made a very great noise, as from his being a real patriot, his loss was a public concern. The. physicians made no scruple of charging his death to the ignorance of Thompson. This accusation, united with the chagrin occasioned by the decease [p. 87] of his friend, was too much for his sensibility. They turned his brain. And I had the unhappiness to hear that my restorer hid left this envious world to join his patron. An event which gave great joy to the legitimate sons of AEsculapius; who had every reason to fear, from his extensive knowledge and unexampled success, (it scarcely having ever failed but in the melancholy instance juft mentioned) a considerable decrease in their practice