1805-1809

1805, September

Lady Eleanor has had a cold and neither had left their apartment, when I called at nine o’clock; I was shown into the library where I waited for more than half and hour; I peeped at everything, prints, bronzes, ornaments, books, drawings etc., without reserve and positively there is no such library of its size in the World; you have no notion how I was welcomed; Shaking hands. Press’d and importuned to stay there all day. I staid two hours and more, till Magan in impatience sent for me: I did not think it ten minutes: they gave me all the news of Dublin, London, Cheltenham, Paris and everywhere in a moment; everything that they said (shou’d have said she, for Miss Ponsonby is but an accompanist), was pointed, naïve, polish’d and interesting – sometimes satirical always witty.

Judge Bushe (Ireland’s Sergeant at law)
Letter to his wife transcribed in Llangollen Blue Guide Sheets,
Plas Newydd and the Ladies, 15th edition, p. 3

* * *

1806, September

25.7.1806

Castle Dinas Bran

We rose early to steel a peep at the cottage of the celebrated recluses Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby and were certainly disappointed in its general appearance.

[Blank page with title for sketch or painting of the exterior of the cottage]

The form of the small mansion of these romantic ladies is exceedingly common place and instead of being turned towards the river, woods and mountains, it faces the high road from London to Holyhead, within 300 yards of which it stands.

[Note at bottom of page] NB Much altered but hardly improved since the above period – the whole front which has nothing Gothic in its construction being covered with grotesque specimens of carved wood.

[It is not clear when this note was added. This note is in both copies of the journal, but there is no evidence that Douglas visited Wales again after 1806. The carved woodwork is thought to have been added c1816]

On returning to breakfast we learned at the inn that no one was admitted within the virgin precincts, but with previously sending their names and getting a precise hour fixed for viewing the premises.

O-y is well acquainted with their friend Miss Bowdler of Bath and had all other resources failed, we meant to have used her name, as a passport – meantime we sent a respectful note, apologising for our morning intrusion and requesting permission to take a more deliberate survey of the beautiful retreat when most convenient. To this an answer was almost immediately returned, couched in the most polite terms possible. Twelve o’clock was the hour appointed for our admission and we accordingly presented ourselves at that hour. We were received by a stately old housekeeper with a rich silk gown, high heels, stiffly plastered upright hair like a pyramid form, and long ruffles at the elbows, such a costume may sometimes be still seen upon the stage but nowhere else, I presume, except here, in the 19th century. She informed us that her ladies had long ceased to admit strangers who brought no letters of introduction to their grounds, but had at the same time been inclined in the present instance to depart from the rule in consequence of the elegant and polite nature of our application. We found the dining parlour a neat small apartment decorated with many drawings of scenes in the neighbourhood, chiefly by Miss Bowdler. They certainly exhibited correct portraits of the places meant to be presented but appeared badly executed, and what, I am afraid, Horace Walpole, would have denominated (had he seen them), ‘Missdoings’.

The study is a charming little room, of an oblong form, having a bow at one end, the window of which commands a pretty wooded opening in the grounds. It is otherwise lighted by gothic cottage windows, partly filled with stained glass – at intervals on the walls are gothic niches, for books, surrounded by carved oak frames or borders, and a farther accommodation for literary productions, is ingeniously provided in the sides of octagonal pedestals on which globes are placed. The idea was to me new and ingenious where space is limited and I subjoin a sketch of this useful article, contrived, a double debt to pay [sic].

In a large oblong frame over the mantelpiece, several sweet miniatures, and many beautiful cameo? reliefs are exhibited, and the whole style, of the apartments is highly classical.

It no doubt savours a little old maidenism when the heterogeneous baubles which cover the tables, mantelpieces etc. are taken into consideration. A Catalogue raisonné of the above articles would be indeed difficult but an endless variety of smelling bottles constitutes the staple commodity.

[space for picture entitled] ‘Sketch of Lady Eleanor Butler’s Library’ [no picture]

After sufficiently investigating the interior of this interesting cottage we sallied forth to view the grounds and found them both pleasingly diversified and correctly laid out.

The garden is enchanting and has two pretty little summer houses places vis a vis to each other alongside a sweetly murmuring brook. A communication is formed betwixt them by a sort of covered rustic arcade and the trellis which forms its sides glows with every possible species of aromatic and parasitical plants.

The windows of the arbours look towards the little stream and one partly of stained glass. There are besides here also accommodations provided for literary pursuits as the walls contain small recesses for books. We felt some curiosity to ascertain the favourite author of the fair recluses, and found among others of the same description, one volume des Poemes Gallantes a good deal worse for wear.

The grounds are so beautifully varied and the views so pretty as to render the work of art comparatively easy but still much praise is due to the designers of this sequestered spot – climate too seems friendly to its decoration for the acacia and other delicate shrubs seem to thrive perfectly well. Reluctantly withdrawing ourselves from this sweet retreat, we proceeded to inspect the celebrated new aqueduct called Pontcysyllte.

George L. A. Douglas
‘Observations made during a tour in Wales and different parts of England’
NLS Ms 10349 pp. 75-81 and Ms 10350

There are two manuscript copies of this journal, one with corrections and additions, and the other neat (and much more legible). Neither contain the illustrations for which blank pages were left. O…y was his unidentified travelling companion. The note on page 76 implies that he wrote-up the tour sometime later, possibly as late as 1816? after the carvings were added to the front of the house.

1806

As I was to stay so long at Llangollen, I felt a little wish to see the Irish ladies’ place, and after walking round it on the outside, begged leave to come in, and they received me themselves. I went to church with them, and afterwards walked all over it. The house is a very pretty and comfortable cottage, with beautiful views from the place, but I think it laid out in very bad taste. The prettiest thing I saw was a walk by the brook (for the river is not the Dee), with a long birch avenue, something like that at Bothwell in miniature, and a view of two mills at the same time. From the Ladies, or rather Lady Eleanor – for Miss Ponsonby only seems to assent to what she says and speaks little herself – I had many messages to you, and they positively expect a visit sometime or other. Lady Douglas has told them that part of your heart was in Wales and that you had a passion for the Spanish Language. They have a charming library and I was to tell you a good part of it was Spanish. I think Lady Eleanor very clever, very odd, and the greatest flatterer I ever met with, for she not only flatters in her own name, but repeats so many flattering things said of one by others that she quite astonished me. … [ellipsis in the original transcription] On the whole she was very entertaining, and appeared to have read a great deal. The church was very edifying, the people in Wales are so devout, the prayers in Welsh and sermon – a very good one – in English that Sunday. I forgot that Lady Eleanor desired to me to tell your Welsh had a resemblance to Spanish.

Letter from Lady Lonsdale to Lady Louisa Stuart, describing her visit to the Ladies
Mrs Godfrey Clark (ed), Gleanings from an old portfolio … (1898), vol 3, p. 158-159
Elizabeth Mavor, A Year with the Ladies of Llangollen, p. 160

* * *

1807

Letter to Miss [blank]

Trinity College Cambridge, July 5th 1807

I rejoice to hear you are interested in my protégé: he has been my almost constant associate since October, 1805, when I entered Trinity College. His voice first attracted my attention, his countenance fixed it, and his manners attached me to him for ever. He departs for a mercantile house in town in October, and we shall probably not meet till the expiration of my minority, when I shall leave to his decision either entering as a partner through my interest, or residing with me altogether. Of course he would in his present frame of mind prefer the latter, but he may alter his opinion previous to that period; —however, he shall have his choice. I certainly love him more than any human being, and neither time or distance have had the least effect on my (in general) changeable disposition. In short, we shall put Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby to the blush, Pyladrs and Orestes out of countenance, and want nothing but a catastrophe like Nisus and Euryalus, to give Jonathan and David the ‘go by.’ He certainly is perhaps more attached to me than even I am in return. During the whole of my residence at Cambridge we met every day, summer and winter, without passing one tiresome moment, and separated each time with increasing reluctance. I hope you will one day see us together; he is the only being I esteem, though I like many.

Baron George Gordon Byron Byron (ed),
Letters and journals of Lord Byron: with notices of his life, Letter XIV, pp. 39-40

* * *

1808

Report that Lady Eleanor Butler, Sister to the Earl of Ormond, was married to Lord Lismore

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday, August 20, 1808

* * *

1809, March

6.3.1809

While breakfast was getting ready, we walked to see Lady Eleanor Butler which much disappointed me. We did not go into the house as it was so early that the old ladies were not up, but the outside is I think in a very bad taste and not near so pretty as half the cottages which are built about Cheltenham.

Mrs Ann Lewis, of Church Stretton
NLW, Harpton Court 2364
[Transcribed by Liz Pitman]

1809

[The Vale of Llangollen is] beautiful from [the bridge] but still more so from a meadow near Miss Butler’s and Miss Ponsonby’s cottage.

Jonathan Gray,
‘Tour … through part of north Wales’,
North Yorkshire Record Office, ZGY T/5, p. 6

1809, September

1.9.1809 Friday

I went with Mrs, Miss and Rev. Charles Lloyd thro’ Chirk to Llangollen on a visit to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby.

Note in the published version of the journal: “Just 24 years ago he had visited the two ladies of Llangollen, and ever since he has uninterruptedly followed his course of life, perpetual motion, and they have uninterruptedly followed theirs, perpetual seclusion.” [see also entry for 1786]

William Hervey, Journals, Suffolk Record Office,
Bury St Edmunds Branch, 941/53/5-9

S.A.H. Hervey, Journals of the Hon William Hervey (1906)
pp. 368, 370, 482

 1809, December

[Death] At Plas Newydd, Llangollen Vale, Mrs Mary Carroll, for above 31 years the truly respectable housekeeper of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday, December 23, 1809

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