1790-1794

1790

Lady Ossory (Anne Liddell FitzRoy FitzPatrick) visits the Ladies

Reply to her letter about them by Walpole
Walpole Correspondence, vol. 34; pp. 92-95

1790, July

Newspaper reports appear about the Ladies: ‘Extraordinary Female affection’ in St James Chronicle, 17-20.7.1790; a shortened version in the London Chronicle, 20-22.7.1790; and ‘Extraordinary Affection’ in the General Evening Post 24.7.1790

Mavor, A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen, p. 135
Mavor, Ladies of Llangollen, pp. 73-74
Hamwood Papers, pp. 256-259

1791

During my residence in England nothing struck me so much as the delicious cottage of Llangollen, in North Wales. It is not a little extraordinary, that a circumstance so singular and remarkable as that connected with this retreat, should hitherto have escaped the notice of all modern travellers.  The manner in which I became acquainted with it was this:—During our long-stay at Bury, a small company of five or six persons, including ourselves, met every evening from seven till half-past ten o’clock.  We diverted ourselves with music and conversation, so that the time past very agreeably.  One night friendship happened to be the subject of conversation, and I declared that I would with pleasure undertake a long journey to see two persons who had long been united by the bonds of genuine friendship.  ‘Well, Madam,’ replied Mr. Stuart (now Lord Castlereagh), go to Llangollen; you will there see a model of perfect friendship, which will afford you the more delight, as it is exhibited by two females who are yet young and charming in every respect.  Would you like to hear the history of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby?’—‘It would give me the greatest pleasure.’—‘I will relate it to you.’  At these words the company drew nearer to Mr Stuart, we formed a little circle round him, and after recollecting himself a few moments, he thus began his narrative:—

“Lady Eleanor Butler, was born in Dublin.  She was left an orphan while in her cradle; and possessing an ample fortune, together with an amiable disposition and a beautiful person, her hand was solicited by persons belonging to the first families in Ireland.  At an early age she manifested great repugnance to the idea of giving herself a master.  This love of independence, which she never dissembled, did no injury to her reputation; her conduct has always been irreproachable, and no female is more highly distinguished for sweetness of temper, modesty, and all the virtues which adorn her sex.  In tender infancy a mutual attachment took place between her and Miss Ponsonby, by an accident which made a deep impression on their imagination.  They had no difficulty to persuade themselves that heaven had formed them for each other; that is, that it had designed each of them to devote her existence to the other, so that they might glide together down the stream of life, in the bosom of peace, the most intimate friendship, and delicious independence.  This idea their sensibility was destined to realize.  Their friendship gradually grew stronger with their years, so that at seventeen they mutually engaged never to sacrifice their liberty, or to part from each other.  From that moment they formed the design of withdrawing from the world, and of settling for good in some sequestered retreat.  Having heard of the charming scenery of Wales, they secretly absconded from their friends for the purpose of fixing upon their future residence.  They visited Llangollen, and there, on the summit of a mountain, they found a little detached cottage, with the situation of which they were delighted.  Here they resolved to form their establishment.  Meanwhile the guardians of the young fugitives sent people after them, and they were conveyed back to Dublin.  They declared that they would return to their mountain as soon as they were of age.  Accordingly, at twenty-one, in spite of the entreaties and remonstrances of their relatives and friends, they quitted Ireland for ever, and flew to Llangollen.  Miss Ponsonby is not rich, but Lady Eleanor possesses a considerable fortune.  She purchased the little hut and the property of the mountain, where she built a cottage, very simple in external appearance, but the interior of which displays the greatest elegance.  On the top of the mountain she has formed about the house a court and flower-garden; a hedge of rosebushes is the only enclosure that surrounds this rural habitation.  A convenient carriage-road, the steepness of which has been diminished by art, was carried along the mountain.  On the side of the latter some ancient pines of prodigious height were preserved; fruit trees were planted, and a great quantity of cherry trees in particular, which produce the best and finest cherries in England.  The two friends likewise possess a farm for their cattle, with a pretty farm-house and a kitchen-garden at the foot of the mountain.  In this sequestered abode these two extraordinary persons, with minds equally cultivated, and accomplishments equally pleasing, have now resided ten years, without ever having been absent from it a single night.  Nevertheless they are not unsociable, they sometimes pay visits to the neighbouring gentry, and receive with the greatest politeness travellers on their way to or from Ireland, who [44] are recommended to them by any of their old friends.

This account strongly excited my curiosity, and produced the same effect on Mademoiselle d’Orleans and my two young companions.  We determined the same night to set out immediately for Llangollen, by the circuitous route of Brighton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight.  It was the latter end of July when we arrived at Llangollen.  This place has not the rich appearance of the English villages in general, but nothing can equal the cleanliness of the houses, and among the lower classes of any country this is an infallible proof of abundance.  Llangollen, surrounded with woods and meadows, clothed with the freshest verdure, is situated at the foot of the mountain belonging to the two friends, which there forms a majestic pyramid covered with trees and flowers.  We arrived at the cottage, the only object of our journey, an hour before sunset.

The two friends had received in the morning by a messenger the letter which Mr Stuart had given me for them.  We were received with a grace, a cordiality, and kindness, of which it would be impossible for me to give any idea.  I could not turn my eyes from those two ladies, rendered so interesting by their friendship and so extraordinary on account of their way of life.  I perceived in them none of that vanity which takes delight in the surprize of others.  Their mutual attachment, and their whole conduct evince such simplicity, that astonishment soon gives way to softer emotions; all they do and say breathes the utmost frankness and sincerity.  One circumstance which I cannot help remarking is, that after living so many years in this sequestered retreat, they speak French with equal fluency and purity.  I was likewise much struck with the little resemblance there is between them.  Lady Eleanor has a charming face, embellished with the glow of health; her whole appearance and manner announce vivacity and the most unaffected gaiety.  Miss Ponsonby has a fine countenance, but pale and melancholy.  One seems to have been born in this solitude, so perfectly is she at her ease in it; for her easy carriage shews that she has not retained the slightest recollection of the world and its vain pleasures.  The other, silent and pensive, has too much candour and innocence for you to suppose that repentance has conducted her into solitude, but you would suppose that she still cherishes some painful regrets.  Both have the most engaging politeness, and highly-cultivated minds.  An excellent library, composed of the best English, French, and Italian authors, affords them an inexhaustible source of diversified amusement and solid occupation; for reading is not truly profitable except when a person has time to read again.

The interior of the house is delightful on account of the just proportion and distribution of the apartments, the elegance of the ornaments and furniture, and the admirable view which you enjoy from all the windows; the drawing-room is adorned with charming landscapes, drawn and coloured from nature, by Miss Ponsonby.  Lady Eleanor is a great proficient in music; and their solitary habitation is filled with embroidery by them both, of wonderful execution.  Miss Ponsonby, who writes the finest hand I ever saw, has copied a number of select pieces in verse and prose, which she has ornamented with vignettes and arabesques, in the best taste, and which form a most valuable collection.  Thus the arts are cultivated there with equal modesty and success, and their productions are admired with a feeling that is not experienced elsewhere; the spectator observes with delight that so much merit is secure in this peaceful retreat from the shafts of satire and envy, and that talents unaccompanied with ostentation and pride, have there never coveted any suffrages but those of friendship.

This evening was a scene of enchantment for me; not one painful reflection disturbed its felicity.  I retired to rest, but my imagination was so fully occupied with what I had seen and heard, that my thoughts kept me for a long time awake.  At length, I was just falling asleep, when I was roused by the most melodious sounds.  I listened in great astonishment; it was not music, but an indistinct and celestial harmony which penetrated my very soul.  I discovered that it was produced by a violent wind which had just then arisen; my ear distinguished the distant noise and the whistling usually heard on such occasions, but the winds changing their nature as they approached this asylum of peace and friendship, formed only the most enchanting harmony as they met its trees and its walls.  I was strongly disposed to believe in prodigies; but nevertheless I was determined to investigate the nature of this, but I durst not rise for fear of waking Mademoiselle d’Orleans, who was extremely fatigued with her journey, and slept in a bed close by mine.  The tempest suddenly ceased, and the harmonious sounds appeared to be carried to a distance by the retiring winds.  I raised my head towards the heavens to catch the last tones of this celestial concert, which seemed to be lost in the clouds.  I listened with transport like St. Cecilia; if I had had my harp in my hands I should certainly have dropped it; at that moment all terrestrial music appeared totally spiritless and insipid.

Next morning the whole mystery was explained.  On opening my window I found in the balcony an Eolian harp, an instrument with which I was then unacquainted, and which, when the wind blows upon it, produces such enchanting sounds.

I walked out the whole forenoon with the two friends; nothing can equal the charms of the surrounding scenery, and of the prospects which the mountain whose summit they occupy commands; at this elevation they appear the queens of all the beautiful country at their feet.  Towards the north they have a view of the village and of a wood; to the south a long river washes the foot of the mountain, and fertilizes meadows of prodigious extent, beyond which is discovered an amphitheatre of hills, covered with intermingled trees and rocks.  In the midst of this wild scenery rises a majestic tower, which might be taken for the Pharos of this coast, but is only the ruins of a magnificent castle, once the residence of the prince of the country.  This solitary region was doubtless at that time flourishing and populous, now it is abandoned to nature alone; nothing is now to be seen in it but herds of goats, and a few scattered herdsmen sitting upon the rocks and playing upon the Irish harp.  Facing this rustic and melancholy scene the two friends have raised a verdant seat, shaded by two poplars, and thither they told me they often repair in summer to read together the poems of Ossian.

Madame de Genlis, ‘Souvenirs de Felicie L— , [date unknown]
published in Hinklin, ‘The Ladies of Llangollen, as sketched by many hands;
with notices of other objects of interest in that sweetest of vales’,
(Chester, 1847), pp. 40-48

1791, September

(5th) We also stopt at Llangollen to see the home and gardens of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, of whom you must have heard frequent mention. …

Lord Boringdon, Letters to the Hon Frederick Robinson (the writer’s uncle)
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office 1259/1/189

1792, July

(31st) Tuesday  We visited the retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby – a small cottage but very neat.

Collected correspondence of J. M. W. Turner:
with an early diary and a memoir by George Jones
Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, MA 485
John Gage (ed.),  (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980), p. 13

1792, August

(14th) Walked this morning to Plas Newydd the beautiful cottage belonging to Lady Elinor Butler & Miss Ponsonby. It is almost contiguous to Llangollen. Being not fully apprised that it was a necessary ceremony to send a written message we sent a verbal one, a very civil answer was returned informing us we should be very welcome to see it if we would send a written message, which being done a note was returned written in a very fine hand. It is small but very neat & elegant. Only two rooms are shewn, a small dining parlour, ornamented with drawings, some by artists & some by friends. One demands particular attention, it is hung over the chimney piece & represents an inside view of Tintern abbey, drawn in crayons, beautifully tinted, by Miss Harriet Bowdler. Thro’ this parlour is the study, a beautiful small gothic room, a study table in the middle, a compass window with a great deal of painted glass, three gothic bookcases let into the wall, brass wire doors, a gothic chimney piece over which are several pleasing miniature portraits of some of their friends, several good prints framed & glazed. View from the window a small lawn surrounded by trees & shrubs, a view of hills above them among which Castell Dinas Bran is conspicuous & forms a fine feature. The pleasure ground is entered thro’ a prettily contrived gothic door with a bell in the ornamented top. It consists of little more than a gravel walk, kept in nice order, being swept with a hair broom, through shrubs surrounding the lawn. There are some seals with inscriptions, chiefly in French. I suppose there are few places that travellers make a point of seeing so small & it perhaps owes much of its celebrity to the romantic history of its inhabitants. Two young ladies leaving all their friends in Ireland, landing I think in South Wales & wandering till they fixed on this spot, making a vow never to sleep out of it, which was for many years kept. It has, I am told, lately been dispensed with. It is said they had very unpleasant homes, but as their fathers were living their income, having left them privately, was very confined. They are now reconciled to their friends. Lady Elinor’s father is dead, & she is, I understand, in very good circumstances.

Katherine Plymley
Shropshire Records and Archive Centre, 567/5/5/1/1, pp. 6-9
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1792, late August

When the weather permitted we made a visit to the cottage of Lady Elinor [sic] Butler and Miss Ponsonby.

Frances Coape Smith (1758-1840) of Parndon
Progress by Persuasion: the Life of William Smith, 1756-1835 (2007)

 1792

Walked up to the Habitation of the female Hermits … and were highly delighted with the situation and simple elegance of the house and grounds. Lady Elinour [sic] was seated under a tree in the garden reading.

[Includes sketch of the cottage, reproduced in the published version.]

Rev. James Plumptre (1771-1832)
Cambridge University Library, add. MSS, 5804 or 5802
Ousby, James Plumptre’s Britain, The Journals
of a Tourist in the 1790s (1992), 50-51

1793

We walked to a small house near to Llangollen rendered famous by its inhabitants who are two young ladies that seem to be linked to each other by the strongest chain of friendship. They have the same views; the same wishes; and their minds appear exactly formed alike in every respect. Their names are Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. I could not learn their reason for settling in this retired spot. If society was disagreeable to them, they have well avoided it. If the grand and romantic country be the charm, I know not where their wishes could have been crowned with better success. It is not more remarkable than true, that these two ladies, although they frequently dine out, and sometimes at a considerable distance, have made a vow never to sleep from home. Whence this strange resolution? Is virtue domesticated? Is it confined to the narrow compass of one’s own house? Or will not another’s down afford the same refreshing  draught of sweet repose?

Plowden Slaney, “A journal of a tour through the counties of Denbigh,
Merioneth, Cardigan, and Caernarvon, and the island of Anglesey in 1793″
National Library of Wales, MS 9854, pp. 8-9

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Bath History Journal | Two Teens in the Time of Austen
  2. Sue Dickson
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 13:45:13

    I love your blog – brilliant details. I am busy researching the Ladies for my MA in Creative Writing and looking forward to visiting Plas Newydd soon. Are you collecting for a new biography?

    Reply

    • Janeite Kelly
      Apr 06, 2016 @ 18:03:42

      Hi, Sue – thanks for you kind thoughts. So much more I should have (long ago) added to the blog.

      How thrilling that you’re working on the Ladies as a project. If you’ve never visited Plas Newydd, I think you will be pleasantly surprised and pleased (by the house & grounds, as well as Llangollen).

      As to writing; no – the impetus was originally posting comments &c about them made during their lifetime. Frankly, I hoped to read something MORE than the ideas of how they dressed or where they slept (or didn’t). Although it’s been a long time, I remember quite liking Mavor’s biography; though wish someone would collect their letters & journals and publish those!

      Good luck with your thesis – would love to hear more.

      k

      Reply

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