An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XL.

London, Sept 8, 17--.

[p. 87] The expences which Mr. Metham had injudiciously fallen into, involved him not a little, and rendered it necessary for him to revisit York. He had introduced to me an amiable French nobleman, the Marquis of Vernieul; and likewife Madam Brilliant, one of the performers that came over in the French troop, conducted by Monsieur Monnet, which had been treated with so little urbanity by the mobility.

I had now contracted a taste for expence; and without considering that I was not intitled to gratify it equally with the persons [p. 88] of fashion with whom I was intimate, could not think of curbing the propensity.So do habits of this nature creep and creep upon us by degrees, till they become too strong for reason and prudence to master, and nothing but the fatal consequences which naturally result from them, can restore the mind to its wonted tone.When the stroke comes, the world takes the alarm; and censures are bellowed upon us from every quarter; without its being considered, that the infatuation has stolen upon us by imperceivable advances, clouded our perception, hoodwinked our judgement, and brought on a total blindness to the common evils.

Without having regard to the expence, I now took a house at Richmond. One inducement was, that Lord Tyrawley had lately returned to England, and resided at that delightful village. Notwithstanding I well knew his Lordship's inflexibility, as I have already observed, some glimmering hopes would now and then rise in my mind, that the regard he once had for me, would rekindle, and induce him to restore me to his favour. I had the more reason to hope this, as Mr. Metham was now absent; and his permitting his two nephews and his niece to live with me, gave the world assurance, that if I was not already his wife, he meant to make me so.

[p. 89] The French players were so reduced, from the little encouragement they met with, that they had nothing to subsist on. I therefore set on foot a subscription, and raised a considerable sum for them. But by a chain of disagreeable circumftances, the Brilliant was left in the greatest distress. I therefore complimented her with an apartment in my house in town, which she gladly accepted, till she could procure an engagement in some company in her own country.

Soon after my arrival at Richmond, I had the happiness to effect a reconciliation with Lord Tyrawley. And it was fortunate for me that I did so, as his bounty was very needful to me at this time. For notwithstanding my falary, which was a handsome one; the emoluments of my benefit, which were great; and the generosity of Mr. Metham, which was unlimited, I frequently found myself without a guinea.

A circumstance far from pleasing to a disposition like mine, to a heart susceptible of no gratification equal to that of relieving the necessities of others.Of all the pleasures this world can beftow, that of giving is certainly the moft exquisite and satisfactory. More real happiness results from it, than can enter into the imagination of the selfish. Like Mercy, "it is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes." [p. 90] And if the advantage lies on either side, it is on that of the giver.I claim, however, no merit for the little assistance I have been enabled to bestow on others. It was an impulse of nature that could not resist. It was an impulse of nature that I wished not to resist. And though to the present hour I labour under many and great inconveniences from the indulgencies of this liberal disposition; inftead of regretting it, I bless the great Giver, that he has favoured me with so large a portion of his own beneficence.

The Marquis de Vernieul was lively, though one of the Academie Royal. Lord Tyrawley, to whom I introduced him, was much pleased with his company. And my little house in the Vineyard was always crowded. I had with me, besides my own family, the widow of Mr. Delany, and Miss Hilyard, a daughter of Lord Frederick Cavendish, who made such a proficiency in dancing, that she afterwards appeared, with great eclat, upon the stage. And though she was far from handsome, she might have made her fortune, had she been inclined to enter the lifss of gallantry.

It was one day proposed by the Marquis, that we should engage the assembly-room, in order to perform some French plays. This we accordingly set about. The two Miss Merediths, with whom I was still intimate, spoke French like natives; and so did my two [p. 91] visitants. These ladies, with myself, made a tolerable company, without the aid of the Marquis. But he joined us, and I likewise sent for Madam Brilliant, who completed our number; and in a short time we were able to perform Andromache, Zaire, and the Atalia of Racine.1

Our frolick was, however, attended with no little expence. For we not only entertained the nobility and gentry with a mental feast, but to show the liberality of our dispositions, we treated them, likewife, with all the delicacies the season would produce. These we procured from London; and I was as happy in the splendor of the night, as if I had been really possessed of the power of Athalia to support such an expence. The Marquis paid for the room, lights, mufic, wine, and servants. I furnished the wardrobe, fruit, tea, &c. &c. But this was not all; for at the conclusion of the flight, by way of epilogue, I found that I had also a debt of three hundred pounds to discharge. But I was fully repaid for the trifle this affair had cost me, by the promises of Monet; who assured me that if I would take a trip to Paris, the next summer, I should not eclipse the Du Menil and Gosin,2 but even captivate the Grand Monarque himself. Notwithstanding I loved Mr. Metham, with the truest affection, and would have rejected being a second Maintenon3 for his [p. 92] sake, yet the flattering prospect of holding a fovereign in my chains, and at the same time nobly rejecting him, which I was fully determined to do, presented such a train of pleasing Ideas to my mind, that I thought the expence which insured me so much happiness a mere bagatelle.

Mr. Metham having had a bad run at Scarborough, and the year our house in King-street was taken for being elapsed, he wrote me word that he was no longer able to keep it on; and therefore desired I would quit it. He added, that as his father continued inflexible in his resolution of not supporting his extravagance, his coming to town would be uncertain. He further informed me, that he had met Mr. Garrick upon a visit at Lord Burlington's, who expressed a very great opinion of my talents, and wished to have me of his company. From all these circumstances, he advised me to take a temporary lodging, till he and Major Burton, who was with him, could raise money to extricate themfelves, and come to town; from whence the Major intended to follow Miss St. Leger to the South of France.

I now, for the first time, began to think of pecuniary matters. I found myself greatly involved; and though from being under age, I had no apprehensions for my liberty, yet, my spirit was much hurt by being asked for money which I could not immediately [p. 93] pay. Mv hopes of assistance from Lord Tyrawley was now at an end, as his Lordship was preparing to go to his government at Gibraltar, to which it was become necessary he should depart with all expedition, as the fortifications wanted considerable repairs. And indeed, if his Lordship had continued in England, his own love of expence would have put it out of his power to support mine.

About this period the youngest Dives, who had been some time with me was taken ill. And as I loved the children as well as my own, particularly this, he demanded all my care. My much-esteemed Miss Conway had likewife relapsed. The Marquis was gone to Scarborough to join Mr. Metham, and fee that place. He was however, to return soon, when he was to bring me a recruit of cash, together with intelligence of my lover, and my dear boy, who with my mother remained still at York. Every thing thus seemed to conspire to make me thoughtful; and as my disposition seldom retained a proper medium, but was always in the extreme, I was now near falling into a state of dejection; which my intimates were apprehensive would prove of injurious consequences. When Hugh Dives recovered, I came to town, and took what generally called a furnished house in Frith-street, Soho. What is meant by a ready [p. 94]furnished house, is a house with a few old chairs, tables, &c. of trifling value, but which greatly enhances the rent.

The town upon my return to London, being quite deserted, and confequently very dull, I took it into my head to go to Tunbridge to visit the estate of my progenitor Mr. Seal. I accordingly lent to have lodgings taken for me at Mount Sion; a place, which but for my grandmother's imprudent marriage, would have become in time the property of myself.

Having frequently taken notice of a genteel looking lad, although in rags, who waited upon a poor musician that lived opposite to me, I ordered O'Bryen to enquire whether he wanted a place. Being almost starved for want of food, and poisoned with dirt, the youth readily answered that he should be glad to leave his prefent situation. I accordingly hired him. When he came, I found that he was of Bruges in Flanders; which was all the intelligence relative to his hiftory the servants could get out of him. But there was something so distinguished in his manner and behaviour, that notwithstanding I had engaged him to do the drudgery of the house, my own man and he shared it between them as it casually offered. The boy had not been long with me, before he shewed his gratitude for the comfortable exchange I had [p. 95] offered him by the most alert industry, and scrupulous attention to my wishes; and to a height did he carry his zeal to please that he seemed almost to pay me divine honours.

Having formed the resolution of setting out for Tunbrtdge, I thought it would derogate from my consequence were I to travel with less than a set of horses. I therefore sent to Tubbs ordering him to add four bright bays to my own two; and I set off for the Wells, in my coach and six, with my own maid and two footmen. I took with me my favourite Virgil, to amufe mylelf on the road; enjoying by anticipation the exquisite satisfaction I should reap from the conquest I was assuredly to make, the next summer, of so great and powerful a personage as the French King, was as great in my own imagination as the Queen of Carthage.O vanity! vanity! with what pleasing deliriums is the mind of poor weak women too often filled by thy flattering infsirations!But ah! how unreal and delusive are thy fairest promises! And yet, bewitching impostor! though we are sensible that the bliss thou dost bestow is transitory, and the expectations thou dost fashion uncertain, we hug thee to our bofoms, and driving away reason and reflection, blindly encourage thy delusions. I have your licence you know for these flights.

G. A. B.

  1. Andromache may well be Ambrose Philips's translation of Racine's play as The Distrest Mother, Zaire, Aaron Hill's translation of Voltaire's play. I presume the company performed a translation of Racine's Atathie, and it may have been John Duncombe's Athalia, A tragedy translated from the French of Monsieur Racine (1722). The misspelled title provides a clue See Dorothy Canfield Fisher's Corneille and Racine in England (1904: facsimile reprint NY: AMS Press, 1966), 249-246. As Fisher says, since the subject matter of Athalie was Christian fable, it was very popular; Handel did an oratorio, Anne Finch translated a passage from the play and I have some information on my site about other translations from the French but not Athalie.
  2. Bellamy refers to Mlle Marie-Francoise Dumesnil (1713-1803) and Mlle Jeanne-Catherine Gaussin (1711-1767), important actresses on the French state; see "The Theater," A Literary History of France: The Eighteenth Century: 1715-1789 by Robert Niklaus (NY: Barnes and Noble, 1970):285-7, 291. Like Bellamy, Dumesnil was respected as a tragic actress and left a memoir, Memoire de Marie Franoise Dumesnil, en reponse aux memoires d'Hippolyte Clairon. Gaussin was also known for her tragic acting; Voltaire was moved to write an ode to her after seeing her play in his Zaire.
  3. Franoise d'Aubign, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719) was first Scarron and then Louis XIV's mistress and morganatic wife. She also left behind life-writing in the form of 80 volumes of correspondence. See Francoise Chandernagor, The King's Way: Recollectioons of Francoise de Maintenon, Wife to the King of France, translated by Barbara Bray (NY: Helen and Kurt Wolff Book1984). The letters from Maintenon to the king and to her intimate friends are missing. Bellamy could have read about Maintenon in Felicite-Stephanie de Genlis's novel, Madame de Maintenon (1806) or Charlotte Lennox's 5 volume edition of the letters (Memoirs for the History of Madame de Maintenon (Paris, 1757); see Gabriel de Broglie, Madame de Genlis (Paris: Librairie Academique Perrin, 1985) and Violet Wyndham, Madame de Genlis (London: Andre Deutsche, 1958):209, 224, 241; Miriam Rossiter Small, Charlotte Ramsay Lennox: An Eighteenth Century Lady of Letters (1935; rpt. NY: Archon Books, 1969), 21, 29, 213-16, 219-20, 241.

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