« AnteriorContinuar »
From Bentley's Miscellany.
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE LATE LADY BLESSINGTON.
BY P. G. PATMORE,
My first sight of Lady Blessington was was either not content to represent them as connected with circumstances sufficiently they really were, or incapable of doing so. characteristic of her extraordinary personal They one and all include a meretricious look, beauty at the period in question about five which is wholly incompatible with the presor six and twenty years ago—to excuse my ence of perfect female beauty, either of referring to it in detail, though it does not form or expression. fall within the immediate scope of these Re- I have seen no other so striking instance collections; for it was not till several years of the inferiority of art to nature, when the afterwards that I became personally ac- latter reaches the ideal standard, as in this quainted with the subject of them. It was celebrated portrait of Lady Blessington. As on the opening day of that Royal Academy the original stood before it on the occasion I exhibition which contained Lawrence's cele- have alluded to, she fairly “ killed” the brated portrait of Lady Blessington-one of copy, and this no less in the individual the very finest he ever painted, and univer- details than in the general effect. Moreover, sally known by the numerous engravings what I had believed to be errors and shortthat have since been made from it. In comings in the picture were wholly absent glancing hastily round the room on first en- in the original. There is about the former a tering, I had duly admired this exquisite consciousness, a “pretension," a leaning forportrait, as approaching very near to the ward, and a looking forth, as if to claim or perfection of the art, though (as I conceived) court notice and admiration, of which there by no means reaching it; for there were was no touch in the latter. points in the picture which struck me as in- So strong was the impression made upon consistent with others that were also present. my mind by this first sight of, perhaps, the Yet, I could not, except as a vague theory, loveliest woman of her day, that, although it lay the apparent discrepancies at the door of is five or six-and-twenty years ago, I could the artist. They might belong to the origi- at this moment place my foot on the spot nal; though I more than doubted this ex- where she stood, and before which her porplanation of them; for there are certain trait hung—a little to the left of the door, qualities and attributes which necessarily as you enter the great room of the old Royal imply the absence of certain others, and Academy. consequently of their corresponding expres- At this time Lady Blessington was about sions.
six-and-twenty years of age; but there was Presently, on returning to this portrait, I about her face, together with that beaming beheld standing before it, as if on purpose intelligence which rarely shows itself upon to confirm my theory, the lovely original. the countenance till that period of life, a She was leaning on the arm of her husband, bloom and freshness which as rarely survive Lord Blessington, while he was gazing in early youth, and a total absence of those fond admiration on the portrait. And then undefinable marks which thought and feeling I saw how impossible it is for an artist to still more rarely leave behind them. Unlike “flatter” a really beautiful woman, and that, all other beautiful faces that I have seen, in attempting to do so, he is certain, how- hers was, at the time of which I speak, ever skillful, to fall into the error of blend- neither a history nor a prophecy-not a book ing incompatible expressions in the same to read and study, a problem to solve, or a face; as in fact, even Lawrence's portraits of mystery to speculate upon; but a star to celebrated “beauties" invariably do. He kneel before and worship--a picture to gaze
upon and admire--a flower the fragrance of political, and social life of London, had she which seemed to reach and penetrate you not possessed that indefinable charm of manfrom a distance, by the mere looking upon ner and personal bearing which was but the it-in short, an end and a consummation in outward expression of a spirit good and itself, not a means to, or a promise of, any beautiful in itself, and therefore intensely thing else.
sympathizing with all that is good and beauLady Blessington had not, at the period I tiful in all things. The talisman possessed have just spoken of, done anything to distin- by Lady Blessington, and which fixed around guish herself in the literary world ; though her all that was bright and rich in intellect the fine taste in art, and the splendid hospi- and in heart, was that “ blest condition” of talities of her husband, and her own personal temperament and of spirit which, for the attractions and intellectual fascinations, had time being, engendered its like in all who already made their residence at St. James's came within the scope of its influence. Her Square the resort of all that was most con- rank and wealth, her beauty and celebrity, spicuous in art, literature, and social and did but attract votaries to the outer precincts political distinction. It would be difficult to of the temple, many of whom only came to name any one among the many remarkable admire and wonder, or to smile and depremen of that day (namely, from 1818, when ciate, as the case might be. But once within her marriage with Lord Blessington took the influence of the spell, all were changed place, to 1822, when they went abroad to into worshippers, because all felt the prereside for several years—indeed, until Lord sence of the deity-all were penetrated by Blessington's death in 1829,) who then en- that atmosphere of mingled goodness and joyed, or have since acquired a European sweetness which beamed forth in her bright reputation, with whom Lady Blessington smiles, became musical in the modulations of was not on terms of social intimacy, which her happy voice, or melted into the heart at amounted in almost every case to a certain her cordial words. mild and subdued phase of personal friend- If there never was a woman more truly ship—the only friendship which the progress fascinating” than Lady Blessington, it was of modern civilization has left
among because there never was one who made less that, namely, which may subsist between effort to be so. Not that she did not desire man and woman.
to please: no woman desired it more. But A tithe only of the names of those who she never tried to do so-never felt that she ranked among Lady Blessington's friends at was doing so—never (so to speak) cared this period, and who remained such during whether she did so or not.
There was an their respective lives, would serve to show abandon about her, partly attributable to that her attractions were not those of mere temperament, partly to her birth and counbeauty, or of mere wealth and station. try, and partly, no doubt, to her consciousQuite as little were they those of intellectual ness of great personal beauty, which, in any supremacy or literary distinction; for at this woman less happily constituted, would have period she had acquired none of the latter, degenerated into something bordering on and at no time did she possess the former. vulgarity. But in her it was so tempered In fact, it was the mediocrity of her talents by sweetness of disposition, and so kept in which secured and maintained for Lady check by an exquisite social tact, as well as Blessington that unique position which she by natural good breeding as contradistinheld in the literary and social world of Lon- guished from artificial—in other words, a don, during the twenty years following her real sympathy, not an affected one, with the husband's death. Not that she could ever feelings of others—that it formed the chief have compassed, much less have maintained, charm and attraction of her character and that position, unassisted by the rank and bearing. wealth which her marriage with Lord Bless- My personal acquaintance with Lady ington gave her, or even in the absence of Blessington did not commence till her return that personal beauty which gave the crown- from abroad, after her husband's death. But ing prestige and the completing charm to as her social career from the period of her her other attractions. But none of these, marriage with Lord Blessington in 1818, up nor all of them united, would have enabled to his death in 1829, was marked by feaher to gain and keep the unparalleled posi- tures of great public interest, (particularly tion she has held for the last twenty years, that almost daily intercourse with Lord as the centre of all that was brilliant in the Byron during the last few months of his intellect, and distinguished in the literary, I strange life, which gave rise to her “Conver
[Oct. sations" with him, and her residence in Paris From Vienne they proceeded to Avignon, during the Revolution of July, 1830,) the at which city they made a stay of several reader
may like to have before him a brief weeks, and were féted by the notabilities of
of French provincial hospitality, were never-
more pleasantly and characteristically, in her In the autumn of 1822 the Blessingtons own conversations at Seamore Place and left England, with a view to a lengthened Gore House, formed an era in her life, and residence abroad. They stayed at Paris for probably contributed as much to the unique a week, and then proceeded rapidly to Swit- position which she afterwards held in Lonzerland, as rapidly, at least, as the princely don society for so many years, as even the style of their travelling arrangements permit- charm of her manner, the elegance of her ted; for nothing could exceed the lavish lux- hospitality, and the social tact in which she ury with which Lord Blessington insisted on was unrivalled. For Byron's death occursurrounding his young and beautiful wife, red so soon after his quitting Genoa for whose simple tastes, and still more her genial Greece, and the last few months of his resisympathies with all classes of her fellow - dence in Italy had been so almost exclusively beings, by no means coveted such splendor, devoted to that friendly intercourse with the though her excitable temperament enabled Blessingtons in which he evidently took unher richly to enjoy its results.
usual pleasure, that Lady Blessington may They reached the Jura in five days; trav- be considered as having been the depository elled in Switzerland for about a month, and of his last thoughts and feelings; and she then returned, through Geneva and Lyons, may indeed be regarded as having had no to Vienne, in Dauphiny, where, by one of small influence on the tone and color of the those unaccountable fancies in which only last and best days of that most strange and they who are satiated with luxury and wayward of men. splendor ever indulge, they took up their Lady Blessington's first interview with abode at a vile inn (the only one the town Byron took place at the gate of the courtafforded,) and submitted for three weeks to yard of his own villa at Albaro. Lord Blesall sorts of privations and inconveniences, in sington, who had long been acquainted with order, ostensibly, to explore the picturesque Byron, had called on him immediately on and antiquarian beauties of the most ancient their arrival at Genoa, leaving Lady Blescity of the Gauls, and its vicinity, but in re- sington in the carriage. In the course of ality, to find in a little bracing and whole conversation Lord Byron requested to be some contrast, a relief from that ennui and presented to Lady Blessington—a request so lassitude which, at that time of day, used to unusual on his part in regard to English induce sybarite lords to drive Brighton sta- travellers, of whatever rank or celebrity, that ges, and sensitive ladies to brave alone the Lord Blessington at once admitted that dangers of Arabian deserts.
Lady B. was in the carriage, with her sister,
Miss Power. On learning this, Lord Byron | acquaintance, “that I never saw the milk immediately hurried out to the gate, without of human kindness' overflow in any nature his hat, and acted the amiable to the two to such a degree as in Lord Blessington's. ladies, in a way that was very unusual with I used, before I knew him well, to think him—so much so that, as Lady Blessington that Shelley was the most amiable person
I used to describe the interview, he evidently ever knew; but now I think that Lord B. felt called upon to apologize for being, in bears off the palm; for he has been assailed her case at least, not quite the savage that by all the temptations that so few can resist the world reported him. At Byron's earn- -those of unvarying prosperity-and has est request they entered the villa, and pass- passed the ordeal victoriously; while poor ed two hours there, during which it is clear Shelley had been tried in the school of adthat the peculiar charm of Lady Blessing- versity only, which is not such a corrupter ton's manner exercised its usual spell—that as that of prosperity. I do assure you that the cold, scorning and world-wearied spirit I have thought better of mankind since I of Byron was, for the time being, “subdued have known Blessington intimately." to the quality" of the genial and happy one It is equally certain that he thought betwith which it held intercourse, and that both ter of womankind after his ten weeks of althe poet and the man became once more most daily intimacy with Lady Blessington what Nature intended them to be.
at this period; and if his previous engageOn the Blessington's departure, Byron ment with the Greek Committee had not in asked leave to visit them the next day at some sort compelled him to go to Greece, their hotel, and from that moment, there where his life was sacrificed to the excitecommenced an intercourse of genial and ments and annoyances of the new situation friendly intimacy between Byron and Lady in which he thus placed himself, it is more Blessington which, untouched as it was by than probable that his whole character and the least taint of flirtation on either side, course of life would have been changed. might, had it endured a little longer, have For what Byron all his life needed in woredeemed the personal character of Byron, men, and never once found except in his and saved him for those high and holy favorite sister, Mrs. Leigh, was a woman not things for which his noble and beautiful ge- to love or be beloved by (he always found, nius seems to have been created, but which or fancied be had found, more than enough the fatal Nemesis of his early life interdicted of both these,) but one whom he could thorhim from accomplishing.
oughly esteem and regard, for the frankness, Lady Blessington seems, in fact, to have sweetness, and goodness of her disposition been the only woman of his own rank and and temper, while he could entirely admire station with whom Byron was ever at his in her those perfect graces and elegances of ease, and with whom, therefore, he was manner, and those exquisite charms of perhimself. With all others he seemed to feel son, in the absence of which his fastidio a constraint which irritated and vexed him taste and exacting imagination could not reinto the assumption of vices, both of manner alize that ideal of woman, which was necesand moral feeling, which did not belong to sary to render his intellectual intercourse him. It is evident, from Lady Blessington's with the sex agreeable, or even tolerable. details of conversations which must be (in Merely clever or even brilliant women-such substance at least) correctly reported, that as Madame de Stael-he hated ; and even Byron had a heart as soft as a woman's or a those who, like his early acquaintance, Lady child's. He used to confess to her that any —, were both clever and beautiful, he was affecting incident or description in a book more than indifferent to, because, being from moved him to tears; and in recalling some their station and personal pretensions, the of the events of his early life, he has been leaders of fashion, they were compelled to frequently so moved in her presence. His adopt a system of life wholly incompatible treatment, also, of Lord Blessington, when with that nalu al one in which alone his own he received the news of the death of his habits of social intercourse enabled him to only son, Lord Mountjoy, just after their sympathize. Those women again who, with arrival at Genoa, was marked by an almost a daring reckless as his own, openly professfeminine softness and gentleness. His per- ed a passion for him (like the unhappy Lady sonal regard for Lord Blessington had its or the scarcely less unfortunate origin in the same gentleness and goodness Countess Guiccioli,) he either despised and of heart. “I must say,” exclaimed Byron shrank from (as in the first of these instanto Lady Blessington, at an early period of their Ices,) or merely pitied and tolerated (as in the second.) But in Lady Blessington, By- thor of the portrait they refer to, who will ron found realized all his notions of what a probably one day become as distinguished woman in his own station of life might and by the productions of his pen as he already ought to be, in the present state and stage is by those of his pencil and chisel. So far of society ; beautiful as a Muse, without the as I am aware, the following is the only efsmallest touch of personal vanity; intellec- fusion of Count d'Orsay's pen which has yet tual enough not merely to admire and appre- appeared in print: ciate his pretensions, but to hold intellectual intercourse with him on a footing of perfect “ Le portrait de Lord Byron, dans le dernier relative equality; full of enthusiasm for eve- numéro du New Monthly Magazine, a attiré sur rything good and beautiful, yet with a strong
lui des attaques sans nombre-et pourquoi ? good sense which preserved her from any idées exagerées de MM. les Romantiques, qui
Parcequ'il ne coïncide pas exactement avec les taint of that “sentimentality" which Byron finiront, je pense, par faire de Thomas Moore un above all things else detested in women; géant, pourvu qu'ils restent quelque temps sans surrounded by the homage of all that was le voir. Il est difficile, je pense, de satisfaire le high in intellect and station, yet natural and public, surtout lorsqu'il est décidé à ne croire un simple as a child ; lapped in an almost fabu- portrait ressemblant qu'autant qu'il rivalise d'exlous luxury, with every wish anticipated and ageration avec l'idée qu'il se forme d'un sujet ; every caprice a law, yet sympathizing with
et si jusqu'à ce jour les portraits publiés de Lord the wants of the poorest; an almost unlimit- Byron sont passés sains et saufs d'attaque, c'est
l'artiste ne s'étoit attaché qu'à faire un beau ed knowledge of the world and of society, tableau, auquel son sujet ne ressembloit qu'un yet fresh in spirit and earnest in impulse as peu. Redresser l'esprit du public sur la réelle a newly emancipated school girl; such was apparance de Lord Byron est sans contredit plus Lady Blessington when first Lord Byron difficile à faire, qu'à prouver que le meilleur combecame acquainted with her, and the inter- pliment que sa mémoire ait reçue, est la conviccourse which ensued seemed to soften, bu- tion intime, que l'on a, qu'il devoit être d'un beau
idéal, pour marcher de front avec ses ouvrages; manize, and make a new creature of him.
ainsi rien moins qu'une perfection n'est capable That I do not say this at random is proved de satisfaire le public littéraire. Il n'en est pas by the fact that, within a very few days of moins vrai que les deux seuls portraits véridiques the commencement of their acquaintance, de Lord Byron présentés jusqu'à ce jour au pubByron wrote a most touching letter to his lic, sont celui en tête de l'ouvrage de Leigh wife (though any reconciliation had at this Hunt, et celui du Mew Monthly; qu'ils satisfastime become impossible,) having for its ob
sent ou non, la présente génération d'enthousi
astes, peu importe, car, trop généralement, elle ject to put her mind at ease relative to any est influencé par des motifs secondaires. On intention on his part to remove their daugh- trouve dans ce moment des parents de Lord Byter from her mother's care—such a fear on
ron qui se gendarment à l'idée, qu'on le decrive Lady Byron's part having been communica- montant à cheval avec une veste de nankin brodé ted to him. This letter (which appears in
et des guêtres ; et qui ne peuvent digérer qu'il Moore's “Life of Byron") he prevailed on
soit représenté très maigre, lorsqu'il est plus que Lady Blessington to cause to be delivered prouvé, que personne n'étoit aussi maigre que lui
en 1823 à Gênes. Le fait est qu'il paroit qu'au personally to Lady Byron by a mutual lieu de regarder les poëtes avec les yeux, il faut friend, who was returning to England from pour le moins des verres grossissants, ou des Genoa.
prismes si particuliers qu'on auroit de la peine à The humanizing influence of which I have se les procurer. C'est pour cette raison qu'il est spoken lasted less than three months, and probable que l'auteur de l'esquisse regrette do shortly after its close Byron went to Greece, s'en être rapporté à ses propres yeux, et d'avoir
satisfait toutes les connoissances présentes de where he died. Before closing my reference to Lady Bles- Lord Byron, qui ont alors si maladroitement in
pour la publication de cette triste et insington's intercourse with Byron at Genoa, I fortunée esquisse, qui rend le Court Journal et may introduce some characteristic remarks tant d'autres inconsolables.” that she gave me in manuscript, relative to the portrait of Byron by Count d'Orsay, On quitting Genoa in the early part of which appears as the frontispiece to her June, 1823, the Blessingtons proceeded to “Conversations,” and had previously ap- Florence, where they remained sight-seeing peared in the New Monthly Magazine, for three weeks, and then proceeded to where the “ Conversations” were first pub- Rome; here they stayed for another week, lished. It will not, I hope, be deemed any and then took up their residence for a breach of confidence if I state that these re- lengthened period at Naples. Having hired marks are written by the accomplished au. I the beautiful (furnished) palazzo of the