« PreviousContinue »
ART. VIII.—The Remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench;
being Selections from her Journals, Letters, and other Papers. Edited by her Son, the Dean of Westminster. London: 1862. IN N the year 1772, and for some seven years afterwards, the
Episcopal Palace of Waterford, in Ireland, contained two remarkable inmates. The one was a learned and pious prelate, who had had the singular fortune of engaging and retaining the friendship of the man of the world whose name is the symbol of the worldliest, without in the slightest degree impairing the dignity of his professional offices, or soiling the simplicity of his Christian character. The other was a little girl of remarkable beauty and intelligence, on whose fair orphan head the old man poured out the last love of a life which had been cheered and adorned by the exertions of public benevolence and the intercourse of domestic affections. Her father, the Rev. Philip Chenevix, only son of the bishop, had married Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Archdeacon Gervais, and both had passed away within a twelvemonth, leaving their child under the devoted, but inappropriate, guardianship of the aged ecclesiastic. His selection of attendants and instructors for her was so unfortunate as to have transmitted to later life the painful recollection of her early sufferings, consoled by the consciousness that the strange self-control, which is not unfrequent in superior children, had withheld those complaints and remonstrances, which would have harassed the failing senses and declining energies of her grandfather. Although he probably took little part in the practical business of her education, yet the influence of his large, charitable, and gentle nature seems to have fallen with an enduring force on the lonely girlhood which was deprived of its natural sympathies and resources. In her own words :
His love for literature tinctured perhaps too strongly the system he formed for my education. He condemned ornamental accomplishments, lest they should seduce me from severer studies ; and insensibly books became my business and my only pleasure. At seven years old, after reading Rollin as a task, I turned to Shakspeare and Molière as an amusement; and though debarred from most of the enjoyments of my age, was happy while in my grandfather's presence. When absent from him, I longed for young companions, unrestrained exercise, childish sports, and fresh air ; for I was deprived of all these from an excess of care and apprehension for my
health. My grandfather's having survived all his children and grandchildren, rendered him so timid with regard to my preservation, that his good understanding in this single instance had not fair play; and I was
brought up with so much delicacy that nothing but naturally a strong constitution and uncommon high spirits could have saved my life. I was thus bred up in ignorance of all modern accomplishments - no music, no drawing, no needlework, except occasionally for the poor ; no dancing, except the “sweet austere composure of the minuet, which was admitted as favourable to grace and deportment.
My grandfather, called to his rest and his reward while I was yet a child, left an impression of love and reverence never to be erased from the hearts of those who witnessed the daily beauty of his life ; least of all from mine ; and perhaps I owe to the strength of this first attachment a tenderness for declining age, a power of understanding its language, and a pleasure in anticipating its wants and wishes, which have accompanied me through life.' (P. 12.)
The relation to which we have already alluded between Lord Chesterfield and the Bishop of Waterford may deserve a moment's notice. It was at the recommendation of Lord Scarborough that Dr. Chenevix was appointed Chaplain to the Embassy Extraordinary to the States General in 1728; a post which of itself meant little, but which brought him into daily contact with the great politician. It may be that neither had as yet met with a man so different to himself in whom he found so much to honour and to esteem. In the affectionate disposition that underlaid a cynical view of life, in the unvarying good sense that checked all excess of opinion or sentiment, in the maintenance of high aims and just perceptions through the experiments of pleasure and a systematised frivolity, the clergyman may have understood the philosopher where he only expected to find the voluptuary. On the other hand, where Lord Chesterfield at the most looked for an plished and pliant ecclesiastic, it may have been to him an agreeable surprise to have discovered a mind that could appreciate his own talents and graces, and enter freely into his political and religious speculations without in any degree relinquishing the stricter standard of Christian doctrine and practice that was all-sufficient for its own spiritual and moral life. However this may be, the friendship which then began endured till death.
Dr. Chenevix's elevation to the Irish Bench was the first demand made by Lord Chesterfield on his acceptance of the Lord-Lieutenancy; and when the King, who had been prejudiced against him by Sir Robert Walpole as a client of Lord Scarborough’s, objected to the nomination, Lord Chesterfield made it clear in a word that his friend's appointment and his own must go together. Dr. Chenevix died in the see of Waterford, having refused to be translated to the Archbishopric of Dublin, on the plea that he could not leave his spiritual children.
Lord Chesterfield's letters to him form a considerable portion of the last volume of his correspondence. They indicate a sincere and respectful friendship, but at the same time wear an air of philosophic patronage that is very characteristic. He is not the least displeased at some religious counsel which the Bishop proffered; indeed, I expected it both from your affec• tion and your character: those reflections are never improper,
though too often unwelcome, and consequently useless in youth; 'but I am now come to a time of life both to make and receive them with satisfaction, and therefore I hope with utility.' And he proceeds to congratulate his friend on being the only man he has ever known who, without compliment,' is not the worse for having been made a bishop. There is throughout a sort of determination to keep up his intellectual dignity while totter‘ing on the brink of this world and with his thoughts employed
about the other;' although in a later letter he speaks of himself as hobbling on to my journey's end, which I think I am not “afraid of, but will not answer for myself when the object draws ‘very near and is very sure. That moment is at least a very • respectable one, let people who boast of not fearing it say • what they please.' The last letter published, and probably the last written, is one of condolence to the Bishop on the death of his only son. He writes:- When your son was with me here just before he embarked for France, I plainly saw that his
consumption was too far gone to leave the least hopes of a cure ; and if he had dragged on this wretched life some few years longer, that life could have been but trouble and sorrow to you both. This consideration alone should mitigate your grief, and the care of your grandson will be a proper avocation from it? There was no grandson — it was the little granddaughter, whom we now present to our readers.
The remaining portion of the girlhood of Melusina Chenevix was spent under the care of several relations, leaving no very agreeable reminiscence except one year of residence with Lady Lifford, where she experienced for the first time those delights of companionship which revealed to her the intensity of her social temperament. How delightful was it to me to find
* ' myself caressed, applauded !' There is the future woman in this ingenuous confession. She was accustomed in after-life to speak of her education as having been much neglected; but this must have been in reference to an unusually high ideal, for she had some acquaintance with Latin, and became a mistress of the French language, such as in those days of upfrequent intercourse with the Continent must have been rare. also laid the foundation of her choice and ready diction in
a real familiarity with the best English writers. At the age of eighteen she was married to Colonel St. George, an Irishman of fashion and great personal attractions, and she entered with full zest into a society, which, if frivolous, was thoroughly festive, and where the levity was at any rate palliated by the natural hilarity of the Irish nature, and by that genuine taste for social pleasures which elevates them into an exercise of wit and sympathy. Young as she was, her opinions must have already attained some notoriety, for she alludes to a conspiracy on the part of certain gay ladies, who, thinking they had earned her criticism, opened a sealed letter of hers, and being unable to keep the secret of their treacherous curiosity became the subject even of public reproof - an incident not unworthy of those excellent representations of national manners, the early novels of Lady Morgan.
Whether the continuance of such an existence would have produced the deterioriating effects that our fair journalist presupposes, it is useless to inquire, for the pleasant dream was soon dissipated by the declining health of her husband, and some embarrassments in family affairs. He twice tried in vain the resource of a foreign climate, and died at Lisbon, leaving his young widow with an only child to trace her own path through the world.
After expressing with an imaginative pathos the misery of her bereavement, she proceeds :
* The day which completed my two-and-twentieth year found my mind in this disordered state, and saw the remains of my
husband placed on shipboard to be deposited at Athlone in the tomb of his ancestors. I soon followed those precious relics. The scene of my misfortune was hateful to me. The spring was advancing with charms of which a more northern climate had given me no idea ; but I saw with displeasure beauties he could not enjoy, and longed to remove, as if I hoped to fly from grief. In vain did the Warres intreat me to pass the summer with them, and promise they would themselves conduct me to Ireland in the beginning of the autumn. Without motive or object, without even a home to return to, I felt a vague desire of wandering, and I sailed for Dublin about a month after my misfortune. As I crossed the bar, which half a year before I had passed with the gayest and most lively hopes, the large waves rolled solemnly towards the vessel, and I often wished it were possible that one of them miglit receive me into its dark bosom and all my inquietudes.
Contrary winds forced our vessel to take shelter in Cork harbour. There I landed, and was taken to an inn, and was put to bed more dead than alive. Next morning I arose to pursue my journey to
as rest was bateful to me. I longed to be with Mr. St. George's nearest relations and dearest friends. A magazine lay on
VOL. CXVI. NO. CCXXXV.
the table; I took it up, and mechanically turned towards the Deaths. There my grandfather's name was the first I saw. At any time nature must have spoken to the heart of a child thus shocked with the intelligence of a parent's loss; but in my position the incident was doubly affecting.' (P. 19.)
Youth, sympathy, and a cheerful temperament in due time had their natural effects, and within two years we find Mrs. St. George established in England in good society, and evidently producing a very agreeable impression. There is a little entry in her Journal of 1798, the truth of which many persons will still recognise :
Sept. 16th.—Dined at Lord Palmerston's. Broadlands is very beautiful, both from Nature and from Art; to the latter it is most indebted. The river winds just before the house, and the trees are luxuriant and well grouped, but its distinguishing feature is a species of rich unsullied verdure which I have never seen before.'
Again, when she returns to town:
• Dec. 3.-Went with Lord and Lady Yarmouth to a private box, to see Mrs. Siddons in Isabella and Blue Beard. I think Mrs. Siddons is less various than formerly, and is so perpetually in paroxysms of agony that she wears out their effect. She does not reserve her great guns, as Melantiusc alls them, for critical situations, but fires them off as minute guns, without any discrimination.' (P. 27.) * Dec. 4.-Dined at the Duke of Queensberry's. He is
ill—has a violent cough, but will eat an immense dinner, and then complains of a digestion pénible. Sheridan's translation of the “Death of Rolla," under the name of “ Pizarro,” has brought him 50001. (?) per week for five weeks. The sentiments of loyalty uttered by Rolla are supposed to have had so good an effect, that on the Duke of Queensberry's asking why the stocks had fallen, a stockjobber replied, “ Because at Drury Lane they have left off acting · Pizarro.' (P. 28.)
She soon, however, seems to have felt what Madame de Stäel expresses as 'la monotonie qui fatigue l'esprit dans le grand 'monde.
Dec. 17.-I have been, and still am, confused by a violent feverish cold. The solitude of my apartment is not disagreeable to me, but tranquillity and reflection strengthen my desire of living in the country, because I think I could there adopt a consistent plan of doing good, and see its effects. In town one may be of use in a desultory way, but not to the same extent, or with the same pleasure. One is divided from the objects one serves. Those times are past when everything I saw, every person I met, every employment I engaged in, amused, improved, or interested me. I no longer study character and seek’ friends; an indifference is creeping over me. I was made for a better life. (Pp. 28, 29.)
We have been favoured with the sight of some letters of about