1797-1798

1797, August

(7th) Wrote a note to Ladies at the cottage.

“Mr P of Cl H Camb [Mr Plumptre of Clare College, Cambridge] (on a pedestn tour) presents respectful compts. to the Ladies of Llangollen Cottage and requests the favour of seeing the cottage this Eveng. or tomorrow morning, whichever will be least inconvenient.”

[Reply]

“Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby present their complements to Mr Plumptre, and request the pleasure of his Company to Breakfast at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”

8.8.1797

At 10 o’clock went to breakfast with the Ladies. … The library – books in Gothic arches, Gothic painted windows, Aeolian harps, ornamented with pictures and portraits.

Parlour (as well as library) plain blue paper, ornamented with view about Llangollen.

Garden. Chiefly shrubbery and lawn, all planted by Ladies, 19 years growth.

Kitchen Garden: at end a garden house, and place for frames.

The farm and shrubbery. Bees. Hayrick. Field, barley. New planted trees, new garden. Cistern of water. Dairy.

A Hedge of roses and lilies growing under beech trees, hedge of lavender.

Walked to cottage in Valle Crucis, Mr and Mrs R. Smith, to hear Mr [blank] [Mr Randal, blind since birth according to Miss Seward] organist of Wrexham play upon the harp.

Mr Butler and Mr Eyres of Trinity College, Cambridge breakfasted at cottage [presumably Plas Newydd] and accompanied us to Mrs Smith’s. They went away at dinner time.

Dined at inn.

Drank tea at cottage. Shewn the rooms above stairs. Miss Bowdlers transparencies. The glass of the gothic door in the library was illuminated.

Walked to Mrs Smith’s and returned at 9 o’clock with the Ladies of Llangollen.

Rev. James Plumptre (1771-1832)
Cambridge University Library, Add.5811
Ousby, James Plumptre’s Britain, The Journals of a Tourist in the 1790s
(London, 1992), 80-81

[Possibly the note written by them is still with the original manuscript in Cambridge]

1797, August

(24th) On our return to the Hand inn, we took a passing view of the simple, elegant, and picturesque residence of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, who had the courage to retire, when in the meridian of youth and beauty, from the flowery but fatal paths of fashionable dissipation, and to dwell with virtue, innocence, and peace, in the retired shades of Llangollen vale.

Rev. Richard Warner (1763-1857)
A Walk through Wales in Aug, 1797, Letter 11

1797, August / September

Llangollen

Hither about fourteen years since, two of the most accomplished females of a sister kingdom (Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby), retired while in the full possession of youth, Beauty and Fortune; at a period when the female heart, usually pants for pleasing and Admiration.

A step so unprecedented in fashionable annals, necessarily occasioned much speculation at the moment, and various were the causes to which it was attributed. By some it was ascribed to tender disappointment, by some to the operation of minds naturally reflective and disgusted with folly and dissipation; and by some to a sensibility, too tremblingly alive, to the vicissitudes of active Life; while others were contented to consider it, as originating in Whim and Caprice, and boldly ventured to predict, that they would soon grow weary of the place, and each other, and would return to the circle they had so absurdly quitted.

Whether any of those conjectures were well founded, is not for me to determine, the last, has certainly not been verified; as time seems to have produced no abatement, in their mutual attachment, no inclination to quit a state of seclusion which seems congenial to their disposition.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; Along the cool sequester’d vale of life They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

[from Gray’s Elergy written in a Country Churchyard]

Though these ladies have abandoned the frivolity of more polished circles, they have carried with them into retirement, the mild virtues of humanity and politeness. The town’s people who call them “the Ladies” speak of them in terms of respect and affection, and the Traveller, is cheerfully permitted, by sending his name, to visit their elegant retreat, which is called Plas Newydd or New Hall.

The House, which is in the cottage style, and is very small, is situate near the entrance of the town, but is so completely sheltered, as not to be visible from the road; the dining parlour and library are the only rooms shown to strangers, the former displays a fashionable sideboard, and every necessary convenience; a small gothic doorway, leads to the library, which is very small, but is furnished with a well-chosen collection of valuable books not such as usually form a Ladies Library; a superb edition of Milton, a present from Alderman Boydell has been lately added; a pair of handsome globes, are placed in the corner, and over the chimney is a portrait of Lady Bradford, and some elegant drawings by Miss Ponsonby; a large gothic window of stained glass diffuses a gloom over the apartment and disposes the mind to meditation; this window opens into the pleasure ground, which, like the house, is on a very small scale, but is most tastefully disposed, and extremely well planted, with trees and shrubs ; immediately above which, the mountain towering to an awful height, with the ruins of Dinas Bran on its summit, forms a most prominent and picturesque feature of the scene. A maid servant and a gardener form the whole establishment of these singular females for whom, judging from appearance, it should seem

“… the fates, ordain

A cool suspense from pleasure and from pain;

Thy life a long dead calm of fix’d repose;

No pulse that riots, and no blood that glows.

Still as the sea, ere winds were taught to blow,

Or moving spirit bade the waters flow;

Soft as the slumbers of a saint forgiven,

And mild as opening gleams of promised heaven.”

[From Pope’s Eolisa to Abelard]

Evelyn Shirley
Tour through Wales, Cursory Remarks made in a Tour through different parts
of England and Wales in the months of August and September, 1797
NLW, mss. 16133 C, pp. 89-93

1797, September

Ah! dearest Ladies, with what mixed sensations did I leave the Abyssinian valley!  It was regret, gilded by a thousand charming recollections, the reflex of those three recorded days I passed, last month, beneath your roof; — of talents glowing on my understanding, of kindness engraven on my heart.

Letters of Anna Seward written between the years 1784 and 1807 (1811)
Letter 76, vol 4, p. 384 (2.10.1797)

1797, September

Llangollen (Hand Inn)
30.9.1797        Saturday

We took advantage of a fair moment to walk up to the cottage of the far-famed ladies, Lady E Butler and Miss Ponsonby. For some reason or other, best known to themselves, these ladies about twenty years ago took up their abode in this        sequestered vale, and forsook the world, and all its wicked pomps and vanities. Of late years, however, that have seen a great deal of company, and such friends as occasionally visit them. We did not notice anything particularly beautiful about their cottage, although we were told that the inside of the house is neatly fitted up. … The town itself is a wretched place

{Touring Wales accompanied by Lord Arthur Somerset (1780-1816) and a couple clerics, John Henry Manners was 19-years-old; they made no attempt to visit the ladies.}

John Henry Manners (Fifth Duke of Rutland, 1778-1857)
Journal of a tour through north and south Wales, the Isle of Man,
[and a small part of Scotland] &c. &c. (1805), p. 325

*

1798, February

(27th) Two days were delightfully disposed of with the recluses at Llangollen cottage, where you would, I think, leave your heart a willing prisoner. They conquer and keep in their enchanted Castle all travellers passing that particular road

– at least all those for whom they spread their nets. Harriet Lee escaped by some poetical chance, but they like her book.

Letter from Hester Lynch Piozzi to Lady Pennington
Knapp (ed), The intimate Letters of Piozzi and Pennington, (1914), (2005 edition), p. 153

1798, Summer

About a quarter of a mile south of Llangollen is Plas Newydd, the charming retreat of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. It is situated on the south side of the Vale of Llangollen and commands a fine mountain prospect.

Rev. W. Bingley (1774-1823)
A tour round North Wales, performed during the summer of 1798
London, 1800, p. 117-118

1798, September

In the neighbourhood is the charming villa of Lady Eleanor Butler, and the Honourable Miss Ponsonby; who, in the bloom of years have chosen this residence of peace for the enjoyment of friendship and books, and the extension of benevolent offices. The many amiable characteristics of these ladies adorn retirement. They have displayed a happy discrimination in separating from the frivolity of courtly parade, where sentiment, characters and even virtue are made to bend to the institutes of fashion and false refinement.

Anon, Sketch of a pedestrian Tour thro’ parts of North and South Wales etc.
Begun September 3rd, 1798 by GN, DJJ, RP.
NLW 4419B, f. 8

1798, September

In a letter dated “Plas Hently, Sept. 19, 1798”

“This is a very ugly place, and a sad change from Conway, where we were very happy. We are but eight miles from Llangollen, where Mrs. H. Bowdler now is, as well as the amiable Ladies of the Vale, but we might as well be an hundred miles off, for we never see them.”

[NB: Miss Smith visited the ladies in 1796]

H.M. Bowdler (ed), Fragments, in Prose and Verse
by Miss Elizabeth Smith, lately deceased
1808 (1811 new 2-vol edition)

1798, November

11.11.1798, Brynbella

I shall … set out for the famous cottage of Llangollen, where dwell the fair and noble recluses of whom you have heard so much. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby … Well! We spend two days with them and then away to Shrewsbury.

Letter from Hester Lynch Piozzi to Lady Pennington
Knapp (ed.), The intimate Letters of Piozzi and Pennington, (1914), (2005 edition), p. 169

1798

At a small distance, overlooking the town, is a very neat building in the cottage style, fitted up with great taste by the present occupiers, the Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby. … An extent of about two acres includes everything graceful as a confined pleasure ground. It is an elegant villa in miniature and justly entitled to Miss Seward’s appellation “The fairy Palace of the Vale”. These Ladies, united by sisterly affection congenial talents and endued with virtues and accomplishments calculated to adorn more public scenes, retired early from the gay world and chose this recluse spot for their constant residence. Avoiding every appearance of dissipation, they lead a life as retired as the situation. While we lament that such examples of female virtue should be lost to society in an age of levity and vice like the present, we cannot help admiring the spirit of self-denial and command, which could inspire such contempt of the world in the youthful period of life surrounded with blandishments of pleasure and the allurements of ambition.

Rev. John Evans (1768-1812)
A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at other times:
principally undertaken with a view to botanical researches in that Alpine country:
interspersed with observations on its scenery, agriculture, manufactures,
customs, history, and antiquities.
J. White: London, 1800, between p. 310-348

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