Blackburne: Illustrious Irishwomen

 

E. Owens BLACKBURNE, Illustrious Irishwomen, being Memoirs of some
of the Most Noted Irishwomen from the Earliest Ages to the Present Century,

2 vols. (London: Tinsley Bros.) 1877.

 

  THE LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN.

 LADY ELEANOR CHARLOTTE BUTLER.
Born 1739. Died 1829.

 MISS SARAH PONSONBY.
Born 1755. Died 1831.

 

ANY have been the conjectures as to why these two eccentric ladies should have left family and friends, and have lived for so many years together in perfect friendship. The world made free with their names, but they lived down all scandal, and the highest in the land were proud to call them friends. Their original idea had been to retire from the world—

The world forgetting, by the world forgot;

 and to find a solace for all worldly ills in mutual friendship. But the world would not permit them to do this. The fame of their romantic friendship spread far and wide, and the cottage at Llangollen became the scene of a succession of coteries as brilliant as those of Mrs. Garrick, and as learned as those of Mrs. Montagu.  For in the Llangollen cottage the events and scandals of the great [292] world were as well known as in the salons of London and Paris.

            The following letters and details of the lives of these two ladies — which have never before been published — have been supplied by their relative and executor, C.W. Hamilton, Esq., of Hamwood, County Meath.  These details include extracts from the Diary of a Mrs. Goddard, a manuscript remarkable not alone for the light which it throws upon this curious friendship, but also as being an excellent picture of the social life of the age wherein it was written.

            Lady Eleanor Butler, who was born about the year 1739, was the daughter of Walter, sixteenth Earl of Ormond.  She had been educated in France, and it is conjectured that she there acquired habits of taste and refinement which rendered the society of Kilkenny, where she resided with her mother and sisters, very distasteful to her.  She is also supposed to have had some love affair when in France, and to have been disappointed, for the recollections of France seem to have been strongly rooted in her mind, and amongst the pleasantest of her associations.  When she was on her deathbed, she insisted upon Miss Ponsonby, who was then seventy-four years old, sitting on her bed and quavering forth Malbrook s’en va’t en guerre.

           [293] Her home was not a happy one, for her mother was of a violent and eccentric temper. When this old lady died, there was some confusion at her funeral, and the people of Kilkenny said they expected her to rise in her coffin and abuse them!  Thus, disappointed in love and with an uncongenial home, Lady Eleanor Butler conceived the idea of forming this romantic friendship with Miss Ponsonby, of retiring from the world, and of their living for each other in some secluded spot.

            The idea first took possession of her mind in 1778, when she was thirty-nine years old. Miss Ponsonby was but twenty-three, and sixteen years her junior.

            Miss Sarah Ponsonby was the daughter of Chambre Ponsonby, and niece of Lady Betty Fownes.  The latter was the daughter of the first Lord Bessborough.  Miss Ponsonby was adopted by Sir William and Lady Betty Fownes, and lived with them at Woodstock, in the County Kilkenny, and also at No. 40, Dominick Street, Dublin, during the Parliamentary session. Sir William and Lady Betty always treated her as their daughter, and gave her every advantage. She was very highly educated, was a good linguist, and sketched well from Nature. Apparently she had every comfort and blessing that wealth and affection could bestow upon her, so that it was [294] with no slight degree of consternation her adopted mother and friends heard of her determination to share the fortunes of Lady Eleanor Butler.

            Their friends were in despair at their strange decision, and did all in their power to dissuade them from it.  But all to no purpose; they had made up their minds to go away, and nothing could turn them from it.  They were questioned as to their motives, but preserved silence, giving no satisfaction beyond saying that they wished to spend the remainder of their lives in the society of each other.  Finding their relatives and friends obdurate, they determined to run away.

            The first attempt was a failure, in consequence of Miss Ponsonby breaking her leg in trying to get over the park wall, at an early hour of the morning.  Lady Eleanor (then Miss) Butler had made an appointment to meet her at a ruined abbey near Thomastown, and there they were obliged to spend the night.

            The fugitives were brought back in disgrace, but made a second attempt at the end of March, 1778.  This time they got as far as the quay at Waterford, when they were again captured, and Miss Ponsonby brought back by Lady Betty Fownes, whilst Miss Butler was sent to her sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Kavanagh, of Borris.

            [295] The following letter is from Mrs. Tighe, Lady Betty Fownes’s only daughter. It is addressed to Mrs. Goddard, the valued friend of the family, before referred to, extracts from whose Diary must form the staple of this memoir.

            My Dear Mrs. Goddard,—The runaways are caught, and we shall soon see our amiable Friend again, whose conduct, though it has an appearance of imprudence, is, I am sure, void of any serious impropriety. There were no gentle­men concerned; nor does it appear to be anything more than a scheme of romantic friendship.  My mother is gone to Waterford for Miss Butler and her, and we expect to see them to-night. I am happy at having this opportunity of giving my dear Mrs. Goddard pleasure, and of assuring her I am her affectionate friend and servant,

                                                                                    “S. Tighe.

“Woodstock, 2 April, 1778.”

            That these two eccentric ladies had each a secret reason for wishing to fly from the world, and were equally determined not to disclose that secret, is quite clear.  The following letter from Lady Betty Fownes shows plainly that even their most intimate friends had no idea of the real causes which actuated their movements.

            [296] “My Dr G.,—Sally [footnote: Miss Ponsonby was always called “Sally” in the family.] is much better, but very weak, low, and dejected.  She made me watch the windows all day yesterday, she was so sure you would have come, and told me to-day she would write you a line.  Sure you will lose no time.  She was most anxious to see your letter to me.  I did not read it all, as anything against Miss B. is death to her.  Be very cautious till we meet.  Stories, to be sure, there must be in plenty.  I can’t help giving credit to S.P.’s, which is that they were to live together.  A convent, I used to think, but she now says that is what she flew from, and that we were all much mistaken, and that if we knew Miss B. we would love her as well as she did.  Altogether, it is a most extraordinary affair.  I sometimes can hardly think the cause is known by any but themselves. God knows how it is, or how it will end.  I know she is very ill.  I am sure nothing could be of so much use to her as seeing you, and hearing you talk to her.  I think you will soon come now, my dear.  She has taken my little senses away.  I sometimes sit for hours and can’t speak to her.  Sally Tighe has been of infinite use to her; if she had not been here I must have died, I really think.  She is so clever at preaching to her.  I fear they must very [297] soon leave me, and then indeed, if you don’t come, I shall give myself up at once.  God bless you. Ever yours.

            “Write, if it be but a line every day.  Enclose to Sir Wm.”

            The following letter is also from Lady Betty Fownes, and shows conclusively both her affection for Miss Ponsonby and her distress at her unaccountable conduct. It was written the Sunday after the preceding one.’

                                                                                                “ Sunday.

            “A very bad night; her throat much inflamed; her fever not so great.  If she forgets herself for a little, she starts and seems in such a way that I dread her sleeping.  I think her in very great danger.  I seldom leave her.  God’s will be done.  Miss B. has wrote her a letter every day, which distressed her to read.  I am astonished she will do it. This day I write to Mrs. Kavanagh, of Boris, to beg Miss B. might not write volumes to her till she was better, and this day a letter to me from Mrs. K., but none from her.  Dr. Baker is here, does all he can, and she seems to like him.  It is a most extraordinary affair.  Nobody could behave with more good sense or prudence than Mrs. Hamerton, who was sent for her, and never quit her till she brought her back to Ballyhail.  She is now at Borris, and, by all we can [298] learn, very well–dines with the family, and seems hearty; but I can scarcely believe it.  This poor creature, I am sure, could not.  Shall we see you?  God grant it!  She has raved of you; and yesterday I told her I had written to press you.  She seemed quite delighted, and said that would be the thing.  We hear the Butlers are never to forgive their daughter, and that she is to be sent to France to a convent.  I wish she had been safe in one long ago; she would have made us all happy.  Many an unhappy hour she has cost me, and, I am convinced, years to Sally.  It is happy for you you were not here at the time.  Now is the time to show friendship to her, which I think you will, and to your very affectionate friend,

                                                                                                “E. Fownes.”

            Yet one letter more upon this subject.  It is from Miss Ponsonby, and shows how fully she had made up her mind to accompany Miss Butler.

            “I thank you, my dear friend, for the good opinion of me expresed in your letter received this day by Lady Betty.  I am not yet recovered, although I made a visit to Borris the day before yesterday.  A constant head and heart ache.  I have much to tell you; but as it is not, I hope, many days ere I shall have an opportunity of [299] speaking, I defer writing, being particularly weak to-day. They propose great terms to Miss B. if she will reside in a convent some years, and give me up for ever. I am not heroic enough to wish she should accept them, nor is she, I believe, to listen to them.  Worn out by misfortunes, I have still the comfort of self-approbation. Were it to do again, I would act as I have done.  If it is any satisfaction to you to know that you possess a third place, at least, in an almost broken heart, be assured of it. God bless you.

            “Lady Betty, just returned from Kilkenny [footnote: Not from the Castle], desires you will excuse her writing.  Her head very bad.  Thanks you for your letter.”

            Mrs. Goddard, the lady from whose Diary the following extracts are taken, seems to have been a  trusted mutual friend.  The entries commence with June 15th, 1774, before which date Mrs. Goddard had become a widow. She appears to have played no unimportant part in the brilliant Dublin society of the time, and was constantly paying visits in the country.  The accounts of these visits; of the company she met with at the various country houses, and the modes of locomotion, are as graphic and interesting as they are [300] amusing.  Even the expenses of her journeys are recorded — documents now valuable as showing the way in which a gentlewoman travelled a hundred years ago.  Mrs. Goddard was an indefatigable letter-writer, and her correspondence was most voluminous.  Evidently the confidante of many, she heard everything and said nothing.  She understood the motives of actions which the world wondered at, and in no case more clearly than in that of the romantic friendship between the ladies of Llangollen.

            Mrs. Goddard, as we gather from her journal, was in constant correspondence with Sir William and Lady Betty Fownes, and also with Miss Ponsonby, their adopted daughter.  Their names are frequently mentioned in the Diary; and we find she also visited them occasionally, both in Dominick Street, Dublin, and at Woodstock.  An entry respecting one of her visits to Lady Betty is rather amusing:—

            “Friday, 4th.–Play’d cribbage with Mr. Z. He asked me was I well; feared I was not, as I hardly eat anything.  I sd I was very well, and eat as much as I cou’d.

            “Sunday, 6th.–The rest of the family went to Kilkenny; Mr. Z. and I to Woodstock, where I spent a most agreeable fortnight.  Lady Betty sometimes made me nervous by her violent attacks [301] on Mr. Z. to marry me, and her continually urging me to do the same, though neither of us had the least thought of each other. She went so far as to say I ought, and it wou’d be a praiseworthy thing of me to offer myself to him, for that she was sure the proposal would be accepted with transport.  He would live at least ten years the longer for it, and both of us much happier than we are.”

            Mrs. Goddard did not take Lady Betty’s advice. She remained a widow, going about amongst her friends and enjoying life. It would seem that to her alone Miss Ponsonby revealed her true reason for wishing to go off with Miss Butler. That reason was none less than that the old Sir William Fownes had made love to his adopted daughter.  Miss Ponsonby could no longer remain under his roof; and she evidently shrank from wounding the feelings of her kind adopted mother by revealing the true cause of her wishing to leave Woodstock. Unfortunately, it was whispered abroad, although nothing definite was known, and there is very little doubt but that the fear of exposure hastened Sir William Fownes’s death.

            So for more than half a century Miss Ponsonby kept her secret, and the busy world employed itself in conjectures respecting this romantic friendship — conjectures all of them wide of the [302] truth.  The following extracts from Mrs. Goddard’s Diary tell the whole story:—

1778.

 

            “April.  Thursday, 2nd.–Got a letter from L.B.F. [footnote: Lady Betty Fownes.] and Mrs. Medows to tell me that Miss Butler and Miss Pons. had run away the Monday before.  Wrote to both that day, and with a fretting heart.  Went with B.B. [footnote: Either Barbara or Betty Bennett.], Nancy, Kitty, and Anne to masquerade it at Fall’s.

            “Friday, 3rd.–Having no account of their being found, staid at home to think of them.  Wrote to Mrs. Medows.

            “Saturday, 4th.–Got a letter from Mrs. Tighe [footnote: Already given.]; another from Sr William to tell me they were catched and in safety.  Wrote to my two intelligencers, and went with Mrs. Rochfort to the Italian Opera, where we were well frightened with the riot between the army and mob, and did not come home until past one.

            “Sunday, 5th.–At the Magdalen [footnote: The Church attached to the Magdalen Asylum, Lower Leeson Street, Dublin.]; drank stupid tea with the Newcomens.

            “Monday, 6th.–Got letters from Lord S.Z. [footnote: Lord Shuldham Izod.], with the news of Miss P’s flight, and L.B.F. [footnote: Letter already given.], [303] telling me she (Miss P.) was very ill.  Went with Beck and Mrs. Rochfort to ‘School for Scandal;’ saw Ld (Shuldham Izod) there, who wished to talk with me on the runaways, but we were too much surrounded.”

Later on the subject is resumed.

            “Wednesday, 22nd.–Got a letter from L.B.F. to tell me Miss Butler had again absconded from Borris [footnote: The residence of her sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Kavanagh.] on Sunday night.  Wrote to L.B.F., Miss Pons., and Z.

            “Thursday, 23rd.–F.H. came.  Got another letter to tell me Miss Butler was and had been at Woodstock, conceal’d by Miss P. from Sunday till Monday night without their privity.  Wrote to L.B.F.  At Mrs. Radcliffe’s in the evening to speak to the Bishop of Elphin.

            “Friday, 24th.–Set out with Jane.  Dined at Mrs. Eustace’s, Naas, upon excellent mutton-chops.  Slept at O’Brien’s, Timolin.

            “Saturday, 25th.–Stop’d at Carlow; saw Mrs. Best, the little Warrens.  Dined at the Royal Oak, and got to Woodstock at nine; a most terrible long jaunt it was.  Found them all in distraction.  Saw my poor Miss Pons., but Miss B. did not appear.

            “Sunday, 26th.–Saw Miss Pons. again, who [304] came down to dinner; but Miss B. not till evening, when she came in to tea, but did not speak to me.

            “Monday, 27th.–Spoke to them both.  Gave them my best advice, which they seemed to take well, and I hoped from their manner wou’d have been followed.  They both dined with us.

            “Tuesday, 28th.–L.B.F. made me go with her to talk to them.  They seem’d to have grown hardened in their resolution of going together.  Mr. Park came with Mr. Butler’s permission that they should go together, and talk’d in vain to dissuade them from it.  They wd not show themselves below to-day.

            “Wednesday, 29th.–Sr William wrote to Sr W. Barker and Coll. Lyons, to acquaint them of their resolution, and to Mr. Butler, entreating he wd come for his Daughter.  F.H. staid with me until this day.

            “Thursday, 30th.–The Ladies did not come down to dinner, for fear Mr. Park should be questioned about Miss P.

            “Friday, May the 1st.–L.B. and I set out with Mr. Park, who was going to Kilkenny, at eight in the morning.  We parted him on the road, and then breakfasted with Mr. Z., to whom, by Miss Pons’ desire, I told the secret transaction between her and Sr William.  Returned to dinner, [305] when the ladies joined us, and Miss P. play’d cards in the evening.

            “Saturday, the 2nd.– I talk’d again to Miss Pons., and to dissuade her from her purpose, but to discharge my conscience of the duty I owed her as a friend by letting her know my opinion of Miss Butler, and the certainty I had they would never agree living together.  I spoke of her with harshness and freedom; said she had a debauch’d mind; no ingredients for friendship, that ought to be founded on Virtue, whereas hers every day more and more showed me was acting in direct opposition to it, as well as to the interest, happiness, and reputation of the one she professed to love. Sr W. joined us, kneel’d, implored, swore twice on the Bible how much he lov’d her, would never more offend, was sorry for his past folly, that was not meant as she understood it, offered to double her allowance of 30l. a year, or add what more she pleas’d to it, even tho’ she did go. She thank’d him for his past kindness, but nothing c’d hurt her more, or wd she ever be under other obligation to him, said if the whole world was kneeling at her feet it should not make her forsake her purpose–she wd live and die with Miss B.; was her own mistress, and if any force was used to detain her she knew her own temper so well it wd provoke her to an act that wd give [306] her friends more trouble than anything she had yet done.  She, however, haughtily, and, as it were, to get rid him, made Sr W. happy by telling him if ever she was in distress for money he should be the first she would apply to.  They dined with us, and I never saw anything so confident as their behaviour.  Wrote to Burton and Mrs. Medows.

            “Sunday, 3rd.–Sr W. read prayers at home; Miss P. one of the congregation.  The fact of their carriage being come was known to all but L.B.  We played ‘The Game of the Goose,’ Mr. Bowers looking on.  All dull but the girls.  At night, Miss P. going to bed gave me an embrace.

            “Monday, 4th.–She call’d at my door.  I wd not open it.  (Wrote to Z. Beck and Lord Shuldham of these matters.)  At six in the morning they set out, merry as possible.  Mem.  It was at Miss P.’s desire I went to and told Mr. Z. of what had pass’d between her and Sr W.

            “Tuesday, 5th.–Wrote to Beck.

            “Wednesday, 6th.–Wrote to Burton and Z.  Park came.

            “Friday, 8th.–Nothing.

            “Saturday, 9th.–Mr. Park went, but left Miss Blunt, that he brought with him, behind.

            [307] “Sunday, 10th.–Went to Church. Mr. Hickson pray’d and preach’d for the first time.

            “Monday, 11th.–We all drank tea with Long.

            “Tuesday, 12th.

            “Wednesday, 13th.

            “Thursday, 14th.–Nothing.

            Friday, 15th.–All went to Kilkenny.  The family at Woodstock dined at Mr. Park’s; I at Mr. Ham’s, where I heard Sr William’s gallantry to Miss P. was beginning to be whispered.  I paid a visit to the castle, and not a word was said to me of Miss B.”

            The Diary contains nothing very particular for the next few days, until Friday, the 22nd, when the chronicler records,­

            “L.B. very rude to me at breakfast.”

            On that day week she went with Miss Blunt to see “the barn the ladies had taken shelter in for a day and near two nights.”  She also says that Mrs. Tighe and her family had come to stay at Woodstock.

            “Sunday, 31st.–At 3 in the morning was waked by Sr William’s roars, who said, and the whole house thought, was dying of a strangallion or gout in the stomach.  He was bled, bathed in warm water.  I took an opportunity to tell him the cause was in his mind, fell asleep at 5, and waked pretty well at 11, when he saw Tom [308] Butler, who had been here two hours, come down stairs.

            “Monday, June the 1st.– Sr W. not so well as he was; came down.

            “Tuesday, 2nd.–The same, but did not come down; wrote to Burton.  Boyde came; blister’d, glister’d, and physick’d Sr Wm in the space of half an hour.

            “Wednesday, 3rd.–T. Butler came; put on fresh blisters; his pulse grew better.

            “Thursday, 4th.–The same.

            “Friday, 5th.–The same.

            “Saturday, 6th.–T.B. came for him; better; went away with Boyde.  Sr W. told me before Mrs. Tighe, his illness was his own fault that he was punished for, and at eleven at night we all went to bed, leaving him with every symptom of returning health.

            “Sunday, 7th.–At two in the morning he was seized with a paralytic stroke, lost the use of his right side, and his speech, and cd not swallow.  Expresses sent for T.B., that with Boyde came at ten.  They cupp’d, blistered, and glister’d him.  Toward evening he cd swallow.

            “Monday, 8th.–The same.

            “Tuesday, 9th.–A blister on his head made the fourteenth he had on him.  This night he grew better.

            “Wednesday, 10th.–Dr. Young and Mr. Bowers [309] gave out he was so much better that I walk’d to Inistiogue to communicate the good news there.  On my return found T. Butler here, who thought differently, and contrary to his intention when he came, not meaning to go till evening, left us at one o’clock.  Soon after Sr W. grew worse, and continued to do so till Thursday, the 11th, at eight o’clock, when he died, after an agony of twelve hours.

            “Friday, 12th.–Everything dismal.

            “Saturday, 13th, at near eight in the morning, he was carried on men’s shoulders to Inistiogue,  and there interred.”

            So upper earth has done with the chief agent in causing the expatriation of Miss Ponsonby.

            Their friends and relatives, seeing Miss Ponsonby and Miss Butler were so decided in their determination to leave Ireland and to live together, at length gave an unwilling consent. They set out from Waterford, and arrived at Milford Haven on the 16th of May, 1778,* accompanied by their faithful maid, Betty Carroll. A suitable allowance was settled upon them, and as they had not yet decided upon a residence in any place in particular, they went for a tour throughout the Principality.

            Eventually they settled down in a small farmhouse, close to the village of Llangollen, which, under their care, became a celebrated cottage ornée.  [310] Every spot of the small grounds surrounding it was made the subject of some special interest in gardening or rustic ornamentation.  The kitchen and two sitting-rooms joined the basement story, and were kept in beautiful order.  The walls were adorned with prints and small pictures, and the library was full of the works of the best authors, English and foreign.

            Such was the retreat where these two eccentric women lived for more than half a century.  At different times, literature, wit, and gossip filled these little sitting rooms; for one of the most curious features of this friendship was that the world would have so persistently refused to allow the ladies of Llangollen to enjoy the seclusion which they apparently sought.

            Their friends kept up a constant correspondence with them, keeping them well informed of the events of the world which they had left.  During the disastrous period of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, they received frequent accounts from their friend Mrs. Tighe, of Rosanna, the mother-in-law of “Psyche.”  Mrs. Tighe’s son, Mr. Henry Tighe, took an active part during the disturbances, as the following letters, written by his mother to Miss Ponsonby, will show.

                                                                                    [311] “20 June (1798).

            “My Dear Friend, — As you never heard an account of our dear Harry’s escape, I must mention it to you.  After the officers were supposed to be killed belonging to the Antrim Militia, after Walpole, through vile generalship, had led the troops into the midst of the foe, Harry took the lead of fifteen volunteers and the rest, and had to cut his way through half a mile of the Pikemen and back again, which he effected with only the loss of a few men. He distinguished himself very much, got great applause, and has been pointed out as a person of great bravery.  He is safe at Rathdrum, and ‘greatly beloved by his corps.’  I hasten to tell you of a diabolical plot just discovered at Cork to destroy all the Protestants. The town was divided into 136 sections, a company to each, who were to effect the destruction of all the Protestants in each section. This was afterwards, on a small scale, subdivided so that twelve men had each a part allotted them. One of the expelled collegians, shocked at the brutality of the measure, turned informer.  At Waterford, the same plan was formed. The King’s troops have had a victory in County Meath, another on the borders of County Wicklow, when 900 of the Rebels were killed, and not one Royalist.”

            There are many letters upon the same subject; [312] one more we give, as a graphic picture of the state of the country.  It is also from Mrs. Tighe, and addressed to Miss Ponsonby.  The beginning, which refers to private affairs, is omitted.

                                                                                    “2nd July (1798)

“My Dearest Friend, —

                        *                     *                    *                     *

                        *                     *                    *                     *

            “In letters which have arrived from the County Wicklow to-day, I heard from one who had met a man the day before, who, along with his brother, had been forced from their own home by the Rebels.  They had been tried for their lives on account of being Protestants, and had made their escape when just going to be put to a miserable death; he heard them declare it to be their determined intention not to suffer one Protestant to live in this Land of Liberty.  This was the universal view of the Sovereign People, &c. &c.  Another, whose advice I asked about returning to Rosanna, writes: –‘I cannot bid you come; nor do I know when this country will be quiet.’  Some think Lord Cornwallis will not do much good by kindness.  The Rebels say they will not come in, and submit to slavery.  They will not submit without a proper peace.  Mrs. Eccles, like-[313]wise, advises me to wait for fourteen days the result of the Proclamation before I think of moving.  Harry heard a report of a rising in Dublin. He hastened to town, stayed a day, and made us happy, as his return on Thursday made us the reverse; for he went back alone.  Since that he has been out with all the troops to engage 2000 Rebels within 5 miles of Rathdrum. The first cannon our troops fired passed over their heads, which encouraged them in such a degree to place faith in the assurances of their Priests that our guns could not hurt them. They made the hills resound with their huzzas, flourishing their hats on the tops of their pikes. However, another shot, better directed, made such a lane through the heart of them that they fled in all directions.

                        *                    *                    *                    *

            “Unite your prayers with mine, my dear friend, that there may soon be an end to civil war.  A son killed a father, a brother a brother, near Kilkenny.  In the County Kilkenny they are pretty quiet.  A few nights ago I went to rest with the firm persuasion that Rosanna was burned, for I was assured that an express had arrived to a gentleman, in which it was said Glynmouth (within a mile of it) had been burned.

                        *                    *                    *                    *

            “Poor Mr. R. Tighe, not only the friend of the [314] poor, but the defender of Popery, his house has been already destroyed.  They have made foes of many, he among the rest, who upon Liberal Principles defended them, and wished to convince others their religion was not so sanguinary as formerly.  Sixty families have quitted their communion; others declare they would do so were they not afraid.  One man told a friend of mine that if he turned he should be murdered.  The Cavan Militia have turned, and gave the body of Murphy, a Priest, to the dogs.  They begin to discover the delusion that their Priests have kept them under so long.  I hope they may not fly to the other extreme.

                        *                    *                    *                    *

            “I can get no list of the Protestants killed at Enniscorthy, though on Mary’s account I have tried to do so; perhaps before I write next I may.  The Lord Mayor has a list both of the massacred at Enniscorthy and Wexford, has had another, having been taken and put into a house at Enniscorthy to be burned, but escaped out of the window.  She is, they hope, in England, never to come back.  Tell me your opinion of this business, and what you think will be the end.

                                                “Ever your affectionate friend.”

            [315] Mrs. Tighe’s letters are most voluminous and accurate, and would, if properly edited, form an excellent social history of the state of Ireland in 1798.

            “The Ladies,” as they were now commonly called, were objects of interest and curiosity to the social world at large.  Statesmen, poets, authors, artists, and celebrities of all kinds and classes corresponded with them, and sought the honour of their acquaintance.  Amongst the vast mass of correspondence which they left are letters from Lady Mornington, the mother of the Duke of Wellington, and refer to the Duke’s first appointment :—

            “There are so many little matters to settle for Arthur,” says Lady Mornington, “who has just got into the army, and appointed Aide-de-Camp to Lord Buckingham, and must be set out a little for that; in short, I must do everything for him; and when you see him you will think him worthy of it, as he really is a very charming young man.  Never did I see such a change for the better in anybody.  He is wonderfully lucky: in six months he has got two steps in the Army, and appointed Aide-de-Camp to Lord Buckingham, which is ten shillings a day.”

            The Duke of Wellington was their staunch friend during life, giving good proof of his friend[316]ship when, in 1829, he procured for them a pension of 200l. a year.  This was a piece of gross jobbery, as they had done nothing whatever to entitle them to it.  Their means certainly were limited, and from various sources we gather they applied occasionally to their friends for money.  Miss Ponsonby’s application to her cousin, the Earl of Bessborough, was received with much coldness.  He blamed her for leaving her friends, sent her fifty pounds, and requested her not to send him any presents.  A letter from Edmund Burke is interesting, as showing “the Ladies” were the subjects of scandalous reports in the newspapers.

            My Dear Ladies,— I am very much flattered by being honoured with your commands.  You do no more than justice to me and to this family when you suppose us ready to do everything in our power to show our respect to your character, and our grateful remembrance of the polite and hospitable reception you gave us in your elegant retirement at Llangollen.  It is, however, a most sensible mortification to us all that our correspondence should begin upon an occasion so disagreeable.  They must be the most wicked, probably — certainly the most unthinking — of all wretches, who could make that retirement unpleasant to [317] you.  I have not seen the base publications to which you allude.  I have spoken to a friend who has seen them, and who speaks of them with the indignation felt by every worthy mind; but who doubts whether that redress can be had by an appeal to the law to which the whole community, as well as you, are entitled.  There are offences of this nature, deserving of the severest punishment, but on which it is very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the offenders to justice. My brother is absent on the Circuit, but my son is here; and if on the perusal of those infamous papers it should appear that there is any hope of obtaining a legal sentence on their author or publisher, you may be assured that no pains shall be wanting for that purpose, without trouble or expense to you. I am afraid indeed that this object cannot be compassed. Your consolation must be that you suffer only by the baseness of the age you live in; that you suffer from the violence of calumny for the virtues that entitle you to the esteem of all who know how to esteem honour, friendship, principle, and dignity of thinking; and that you suffer along with everything that is excellent in the world.  I do not wonder that minds tenderly sensible to reputation should feel for a moment from this shocking licence; but I should be sorry and ashamed for the independence of virtue if the [318] profligacy of others should shorten, or even embitter in any degree, such valuable lives as yours.  I trust that the piety, good sense, and fortitude that hitherto has distinguished you, and made you the mark of envy, even in your retreat, will enable you, on recollection, perfectly to despise the scandals of those whom, if you knew them, you would despise on every other account, and which, I faithfully assure you, make no impressions, except those of contempt, on any person living.  The newspapers have overdone their part, and have brought things to such a point by their indiscriminate abuse, that they really contribute nothing to raise or lower any character; so that if you contrive to keep yourselves, in your own persons, where you naturally are, infinitely above the feeling of their malice, the rest of the world will not be in the smallest degree influenced by it, any further than as you, being objects of low, unmerited persecution, will increase their interest in characters in every point so formed to engage it.  I do not know one of the persons who are engaged in the conduct of the papers, and have great reluctance in acknowledging their importance so far as to make an application to them; but since you desire it, I will make an inquiry into their connexions, and will take care to have notice given to them to attend to their behaviour in future, rather in the [319] style of menace than as asking any favour from them.  Mrs. Burke desires her most respectful and affectionate compliments; and I shall think myself highly honoured if you continue to believe me, with the most perfect sentiments of respect and regard,

            “ Ladies,

                        “Your most faithful

                                    “& most obedt & obligd

                                                “humble servant,

                                                            “Edm. Burke.

            “Beconfield, July 30th, 1790.”

            There are also letters from Viscount Castlereagh, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Lord Bolingbroke, the Duke de Montpensier, Lady Davy (the wife of Sir Humphry Davy), some lively letters from Miss Harriett Bowdler (a celebrated Bath blue-stocking), from Lady Charlotte Bury, soliciting contributions for her “Journal of the Heart,” from Southey the poet, Thomas Moore, and William Wilberforce. The letter of the latter is so interesting, as giving the author’s reasons for the publication of his work on “Practical Christianity,” that we make no apology for inserting it.

                                                                        “Barmouth, Sept. 9th, 1823.

            “My Dear Madam,— I should have lived in the world as long as I have done to very little [320] purpose, as far as ye chapter of Manners is in question, if I had not larned that if I were to wish a Lady of Rank to do me the honour of accepting any trifling mark of my Respectful Attention, I ought not to dispatch it like a collar of Brawn or a Norfolk Turkey at Xmas, to be brought in by the Porter of the Stage Coach, without other explanation than that of his way-bill.  I have just now learned, greatly to my discomposure, that thus unceremoniously has a volume been transmitted to your Ladyship, which I had ordered to be delivered by my amanunsis; who, having been suddenly called to London by ye death of a Brother, was to pass through Llangollen, on his way to this place.  Let me beg your Ladyship to allow yr imagination to perform the easy, because the kind and candid task of supposing that such was the manner in which my book had the honour of being conveyed to yr Ladyship’s residence.  But yr imagination has the farther office imposed on it, of supposing (for such was my intention) that its introduction was attended with an explanatory letter.  This desideratum let me know beg leave to supply.

            “It pleased God, soon after my becoming Member for Yorkshire, by a careful perusal of the Holy Scriptures, to convince me that the religious system of professed Christians, in the generality of the Higher and Middle Classes of this country, [321] was essentially erroneous and defective; and, therefore, that I could not render a more important service to my countrymen in general, in the higher ranks of life, and more especially to a very numerous body of very kind friends, with whom the goodness of Providence had blessed me, than endeavour to rectify, what appeared to me, the errors in this most serious of all concerns, and at the same time to account for a considerable change which they had witnessed in my conduct.  So few, however, were my seasons of leisure, that it was not till 1797 that I was able to finish and lay before the world the result of my reflections.  And then, and ever since, I have taken the liberty of presenting my volume to the friendly circle that was around me.

            “Permit me to request a place for it in your Ladyship’s library, and I would take the liberty of pointing out the table of contents at the Beginning of the volume, which affords the opportunity of selecting the parts which anyone may think most likely to claim his perusal.  I would hint that for those who are at all instructed, the introduction had been first penned.  The 4th & 7th chapters have been, I believe, most generally acceptable.

            “I will only indulge the hope, that if yr Ladyship will excuse the very unseemly mode by which [322] the volume was transmitted, and accept it as a testimony of Respect and Regard.

            “Mrs. W. — for all our young people are absent from us on a tour — desires me, with my own, to present her best respects to your Ladyship and Miss Ponsonby, & I have the honour to remain, always yr Ladyship’s obliged & faithful servant,

                                    “W. WILBERFORCE.”

“The Lady Eleanor Butler, &c. &c.”

            The cottage at Llangollen became, in time, quite a Museum, for the many curiosities contributed by obliged and admiring friends.  It was one of the sights of Wales; and, as years bore on, it eccentric occupants no less so.

            In September, 1823, when fulfilling a theatrical engagement at Oswestry, the elder Charles Mathews thus writes of them:—

            “The dear, inseparable inimitables, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, were in the boxes here on Friday.  They came twelve miles from Llangollen, and returned, as they never sleep from home.  Oh! such curiosities!  I was nearly convulsed!  I could scarcely get on for the first ten minutes my eye caught them!  Though I had never seen them, I instantly knew them.  As they are seated, there is not one point to distinguish them from men; the dressing and powdering of [323] the hair; their well-starched neckcloths; the upper part of their habits, which they always wear, even at a dinner-party, made precisely like men’s coats; and regular black beaver men’s hats. They looked exactly like two respectable, superannuated old clergymen, one the picture of Borwlaski. I was highly flattered, as they never were in the theatre before.  I have to-day received an invita­tion to call, if I have time as I pass, at Llangollen, to receive in due form from the dear old gentlemen, called Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, their thanks for the entertainment I afforded them at the theatre.”

Mr. Mathews could not accept the invitation, but, more than a month later, he paid his respects to “the Ladies” at Porkington. The following is his humorous and graphic account of the interview :—

            “Well, I have seen them, heard them, touched them! The pets — ‘The Ladies,’ as they are called — dined here yesterday: Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, the curiosities of Llangollen. . . . I mentioned to you in a former letter the effect they produced upon me in public, but never shall I forget the first burst yesterday upon entering the drawing-room, to find the dear, antediluvian darlings, attired for dinner in the same mummified dress, with the Croix de St. [324] Louis, and other orders, and myriads of large brooches, with stones large enough for snuff-boxes, stuck in their starched neckcloths.  I have not room to describe their most fascinating persons.  I have an invitation from them which I much fear I cannot accept.  They returned home last night — fourteen miles, after twelve o’clock!  They have not slept one night from home for above forty years.  I longed to put Lady Eleanor under a bellglass, and bring her to Highgate, for you to look at.”

            When “the Ladies” first went to live at Llangollen, they assumed a style of dress which they never afterwards departed from.  Their head-covering was a sort of beaver hat, and they always wore long cloth coats, somewhat like ladies’ riding habits, but with the upper part cut like a man’s coat.

            In 1824 they were visited by William Wordsworth and some members of his family.  The following is from the pen of the poet:—

 

SONNET

To Lady Eleanor Butler and the Hon. Miss Ponsonby,

composed in the grounds pf Plâs Newydd, Llangollen.

 

“A stream to mingle with your favourite Dee

Along the Vale of Meditation* flows;    [footnote: Glyn Myvyr.]

So styled by those fierce Britons, pleased to see

On Nature’s face the expression of repose;

Or, haply there some pious Hermit chose

To live and die–the peace of Heaven his aim,

To whom the wild sequestered region owes

At this late day its sanctifying name.

Glyn cyfaillgàrwch, in the Cambrian tongue,

In ours the Vale of Friendship, let this spot

Be named, where faithful to a low-roof’d cot

On Deva’s banks, ye have abode so long:

Sister in Love — a love allowed to climb

Even on this earth, above the reach of Time.”

            The foregoing poem was enclosed in the following note:—

            “Mr. W. has more than fulfilled his promise, he fears at the risk of tiring those whom he wished to gratify.  This sonnet is a faint expression of his feelings on that interesting spot.  Mrs. and Miss W. join him in respectful regards and sincere wishes, in which Mr. Jones unites.

                                                            “Plas-yr-Llan, near Reekin,

                                                                        “4th Sept.

“The Lady Eleanor Butler, and

The Honble. Miss Ponsonby,

            Plâs Newydd,

                        Llangollen”

            Amongst these MSS. is also a long poem by Thomas Campbell, author of “The Pleasures of Hope,” upon the subject of “The Origin of Painting.”

            One more letter, and we have done.  It if from [326] the statesman Canning, and is a good example of that popular orator’s polished style:—

            “Mr. Canning has the honour to apprise the Ladies at Llangollen that his daughter looks forward to the pleasure of being presented to them next week, when Lord Clanricarde carries her to her new country.

            “Mr. Canning wishes that he were to be of the party, instead of resuming, as he must do, about the same time, the toils of the House of Commons.

            “He has, however, a selfish reason for recalling himself at this moment to the Ladies’ recollection.  They insisted with him that he should find some occasion for profiting by their kind offer of a specimen of Llangollen mutton.  Now, he knows no more worthy occasion likely to occur in the whole year than that of the celebration of the King’s Birthday, which takes place on Saturday, the 23rd, on which day Mr. Canning entertains the Foreign Ministers.

            “He intended therefore to have provided his obedience to the Ladies’ commands by a message through Clanricarde, but as, upon calculation, he doubts whether such a message would reach Llangollen in time, he has resolved upon this mode of executing his purpose.

            [327] “His address is Foreign Office, for mutton as well as for letters.

            “Ludbrook, Apr. 13, 1825”

            Thus, of the world — but not in it — despite the romantic dreams of youth, these two friends went down the hill of life together.  In the winter of 1828, Lady Eleanor Butler caught a severe cold, from which she does not seem ever to have completely rallied.  She fought with death throughout the winter and spring, but as the summer advanced her health became worse.  She died on the 2nd of June, 1829, at the advanced age of ninety years.  The following inscription was placed upon her tomb in the churchyard of Llangollen:—

Sacred to the Memory of

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

LADY ELEANOR CHARLOTTE BUTLER,

Late of Plâs Newydd, in this Parish.

Deceased 2nd June, 1829.

Aged 90 Years.

Daughter of the Sixteenth, sister of the Seventeenth

Earls of Ormonds and Ossory;

Aunt to the late and to the present

Marquess of Ormonde.

 

Endeared to her friends by an almost unequalled excellence of heart, and by manners worthy of her illustrious birth, the admiration and delight of a very numerous acquaintance, from a brilliant vivacity of mind, undiminished to the latest period of a prolonged [328] existence.  Her amiable condescension and benevolence secured the grateful attachment of those by whom they had been so long and so extensively experienced.  Her various perfections, crowned by the most pious and cheerful submission to the Devine Will, can only be appreciated where it is humbly believed they are now enjoying their Eternal Reward, and by her of whom for more than fifty years they constitute that happiness, which through our Blessed Redeemer she trusts will be renewed then this Tomb shall have closed over its Latest Tenant.

“Sorrow not as others, who have no hope.”

                                                                                                            1 Thess. chap. iv. v. 13

            In a little more than two years that tomb had “closed over its latest tenant:” Miss Ponsonby died on the 9th of December, 1831, at the age of seventy-six.  It is thus recorded on the tombstone:—

SARAH PONSONBY

departed this life

On the 9th of December, 1831, aged 76.

 

She did not long survive her beloved companion, Lady Eleanor Butler, with whom she had lived in this valley for more than half a century of uninterrupted friendship.

            “But they shall no more return to their house, neither shall their place know them any more.” –Job, chap. vii. v. 10.

            Reader, pause for a moment, and reflect, not on the uncertainty of human life, but upon the certainty of its termination, and take comfort from the assurance that, “As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him  shall He appear the second time, without sin unto salvation.”

                                                            Heb. chap. ix. v. 27, 28.

            On the same tombstone is also the following inscription to the memory of their faithful servant, who had accompanied “the Ladies” from Ireland:— [329]

In Memory of

MRS. MARY CARRYL,

Deceased 22nd November, 1809.

This monument is erected by Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby,

of Plâs Newydd, in this Parish.

_____

Released from earth, and all its transient woes,

She whose remains beneath this stone repose,

Steadfast in faith, resigned her parting breath,

Looked up with Christian joy, and smiled in death.

Patient, Industrious, Faithful, Generous, Kind,

Her conduct left the proudest far behind;

Her virtues dignified her humble birth,

And raised her mind above the sordid earth.

Attachment (sacred bond of grateful breasts)

Extinguished but with life, this Tomb attest.

Reared by Two Friends, who will her loss bemoan,

Till, with her ashes, Here shall rest their own.

            After the death of Miss Ponsonby, the contents of the cottage were sold by auction.  The sale attracted much attention, form the miscellaneous character of the articles.  The cottage, wainscoted with carved oak, still remains, and is worthy of a visit from any pilgrim to the Vale of Llangollen.

* Blackburne’s narrative is shaky here — or perhaps these are typos?  Sarah and Eleanor arrived in Waterford on May 4th, were delayed four days, and left Ireland on May 9th.  They came ashore at Milford Haven on May 10th.  Sarah records their first thoughts on Llangollen on the 25th.  Mary Carryll, not Carroll, is the maid who accompanied them (not joined them, as later narratives would have it).

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Albertina Draughn
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 18:06:59

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    Reply

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