Lucas: A Swan & Her Friends


E.V. LUCAS, A Swan and Her Friends
(London: Menthuen), 1907

Chapter XIII


             Another real live lord — The fascination of the Ladies — Llangollen to-day — More blue blood — The two fugitives — Mary Carryl — Lord Castlereagh’s story — Female friends — A typical Plas Newydd day — Three months’ reading — Miss Seward’s chief description — The Æolian harp — The Gothic library — The Ladies — Other visitors — Madame de Genlis describes the Ladies — A German prince — Charles Mathews and the “Old Clergymen” — Wordsworth’s failure — Arthur Penrhyn Stanley’s fright — The household at Plas Newydd — A local poet — The Ladies’ finances — The Ladies’ accounts — Turkeys for the Swan — “Langollen Vale,” with footnotes — Correspondence with Miss Seward — Later visits and descriptions — Mr. Whalley is baffled — The Ladies’ high way — Old age and death — A singular occurrence — The mysterious dog — Plas Newydd to-day — A paradise of old oak — Many curiosities — A romantic house. 

In the summer of 1795 Miss Seward paid a visit to her friends Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, of Dinbren, in Wales.  We may consider their choice of country a fortunate one, since the house at Dinbren commanded a view of Llangollen Vale, and in this Vale was the home of two fastidious female eremites, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, of whom too little still is known, but of whom far less would be known were it not for this visit; for to bring together the Swan of Lichfield and the Ladies of Llangollen Vale was naturally the first duty of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts.

            According to her custom Miss Seward, as soon after her arrival at Dinbren as might be, sat down to fit the scenery with epithets, the first result being despatched on [261] 14th August to Miss Wingfield, in whose family at Shrewsbury she had just spent a few days.  But before I borrow her pen to bring Llangollen Vale before the reader, there is an episode of the Shrewsbury visit to relate.  Another nobleman gilds our history — Lord Warwick.  To the Rev. Henry White of Lichfield is the news sent: “One circumstance, however, I must not omit, in grateful devotion to the remembrance of that period when Lichfield to me was Eden.  In the year 1770, Lord Warwick, then Lord Greville, at our races, saw and admired my transcendent Honora Sneyd.  When their bustle was over, he passed a quiet day and evening at my father’s.  It was to us, and it seemed to him, an interesting day; loitering on the terrace with myself and the Armida of its bowers, we conversed as the hours of our new-born amity had been years.  He was very amiable, and seemed to quit us, the next morning, with a regret that breathed something more tender than the name he gave it — friendship.  She, however, never beheld him afterwards — nor I, till, walking in the Quarry with Mrs. and Miss Wingfield, the tenth evening of this month, we met his Lordship with Lady Warwick, their son and daughter.  I knew him instantly.  Time has passed over Lord Warwick with almost printless feet.  They were acquainted with my friends, and joined us; but it is the rule of my life never to force myself on the attention of the great, so I made the stranger-courtesy, scarce perceptible.

            “Lord W. looked at me earnestly, and whispered Mrs. Wingfield.  On her answer, he sprung forward to meet me with the warmth and cordiality of a long-absent friend, and introduced me to his lady, who said the most polite and obliging things.  Then he spoke of Honora, declared that he had always inquired after her with interest, and often lamented her early death; — did glowing justice to all her [262] graces and enchanted my spirit with the pensive luxury of sympathetic retrospection.”

            At the time that Miss Seward first called upon Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby they were aged respectively fifty-six and forty, and had been living together at Llangollen for about twenty years, in a fantastic Gothic cottage that had already become a shrine which all intellectual travellers in or through North Wales felt it a duty to visit.

            What there was about these two ladies that was so fascinating has never been clearly established; but that they had some magnetic quality is undoubted.  Perhaps it was the mere suggestion of mystery and romance that attached to their curious home, or the strangeness of their “Davidean friendship” (as Miss Seward naturally called it), or their self-sufficiency, unusual in a dependent sex.  Whatever it was, they dominated their neighbourhood, as indeed their memory dominates it still.  For every visitor to Llangollen to-day — and, since it has become a recognised place of resort for excursionists, these are myriad — feels it a duty to return home with some souvenir on which the broad-brimmed tall hats and ample riding-skirts of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby have a place, although, so far as my own experience goes, there is not a shopkeeper in Llangollen, whether a dealer in picture post-cards, or silver ware, or china ornaments, who can give any kind of accurate information as to whom and what these celebrated ladies were.

            “Those — those are the Ladies of Langollen.”

            “But who were they?”

            “Two ladies who lived together.”

            “Are they alive still?”

            “Oh no, they are dead now, their grave’s in the church-yard.  Just down the road there — I’ll show you how to go.”

            “But what did they do; why were they so famous?”

            [263] “They lived together for a very long time.  You see — they — they — well one thing about them is, that they never slept away from home.  You can see the home still; it’s quite close.  I’ll show you how to go.”

            That is a typical conversation, and I have no doubt that its conclusion is unvarying, for in the season the stream of inquisitive visitors who would see Plas Newydd just because the Ladies lived there is almost continuous.

            But it is time to lay before the reader an account of the Ladies of Llangollen.

            Eleanor Butler, the elder, was the daughter of Walter Butler, only lineal descendant of James Butler, second Duke of Ormonde, who had been attainted in 1715, and Ellen Morres, of Tipperary.  Four years before Miss Seward’s visit to the Vale, Eleanor Butler’s brother, John, had been acknowledged seventh Earl of Ormonde, and the rank of an earl’s daughter was bestowed upon his sister: hence a prefix to her name which cannot have left all her visitors cold.  In Sarah Ponsonby’s veins was also to be detected a not unwelcome tinge of blue, for she was the daughter of Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, a cousin, let it not be whispered, of the Earl of Bessborough.

            Historians differ as to the precise year, but it was about 1772 that Eleanor Butler, then aged about thirty-three, a high-spirited rather masculine and very independent young woman, living with her aunt, lady Kavanagh, in County Carlow, discovered not only that she could not bear the idea of marriage, as her relations wished her to, but also that she could not bear the restraint and dulness of her present life any longer, or indeed of any life apart from her friend and neighbour, Sarah Ponsonby, a girl of about seventeen.  They therefore eloped together.  But they were brought back, and fresh plans for finding husbands for them were devised by their kin.  The next time, however, they laid their own plans [264] better.  Eleanor Butler, after depositing some clothes by the side of her aunt’s pond, to suggest suicide, fled to Dublin alone, and there she was joined later by Sarah Ponsonby, and the two together, Eleanor Butler travelling as a lady, and Sarah Ponsonby, in boy’s clothes, as her footman, found their way to Denbigh, where (so far as I can ascertain, but these early adventures are wrapt in mystery) they were joined by Mary Carryl, an Irish retainer, known locally, at Inistioge, as Molly the Bruiser; and after a while they all moved on to Llangollen and became the tenants of Plas Newydd, where they were destined to remain more than fifty years [footnote: That is one version of the story.  Lord Castlereagh’s narrative, however, as reported by Madam de Genlis in her Souvenirs de Felicie L—–, is slightly different and less lawless.  He says that the two ladies, having dedicated their lives to each other, after one fruitless elopement, which took them direct to Llangollen, waited patiently till Miss Ponsonby was twenty-one and her own mistress.]

            How soon they were discovered by their relations, and how long it was before these relations decided that the struggle was useless, is unknown to me; but that they were forgiven in time one must suppose from the circumstance that they always had enough to live on, although their finances remain, like much else about them, very obscure.

            The spectacle of two cultured women living long lives in perfect amity together, unregretting male society, is not a new one.  Most towns in England know such couples; but rarely can two female friends have been so independent of the world and so satisfied with each other’s society as these Irish inseparables.  They lived apparently in unbroken concord to the end, every year becoming more and more famous and more and more secure in their position as the principal sight of Llangollen Vale.

            To call them recluses is to force the word a little, for they welcomed the attentions of visitors.  They made it, [265] however, a fixed rule never to sleep away from home, and thus their own excursions were naturally limited t short distances.  But they maintained a correspondence with many friends, and were conversant with all that was happening in the political and intellectual life, not only of England and Ireland, but the Continent.  Their reclusion consisted chiefly in making their cottage their castle, or, more properly perhaps, their convent: for their life was rather that of a pair of liberal lady abbesses than of hermits or anti-social humorists.  To the peculiarity of dwelling in perfect amity and never travelling they added a form of attire which, if not completely masculine, was very nearly so, but they were not otherwise unsexed, and their capacity for those refinements of sentiment which at that time were demanded of accomplished females cannot have been less than Miss Seward’s own — as indeed her description of the two ladies indicates clearly enough.

            Here, for example, is an extract from the Plas Newydd diary for 1788, under the date 1st January, seven years before Miss Seward’s visit.  It is written by Miss Ponsonby:—

            Rose at eight.  Soft damp air, soaking rain.  Two fine white corded dimity petticoats, Mary’s New Year’s gift.  Nine, breakfast; soaking rain.  Half-past nine till three, soaking rain, gloomy, heavy day.  Arranged our books and papers; locked up last year’s accounts.  Writing, drawing.  Poor Mary Green sent us a present of twelve eggs, her New Year’s gift.  Little John Jones, of Chirk, came to see how things went on in the garden.  Rain over; still, soft, damp day.  Writing, drawing.  Three, dinner, roast beef, plum pudding.  Half-past three till nine, still, soft, bright; reading, making an account book; then reading Sterne to my beloved while she worked at her purse.  Nine till twelve, in the dressing-room, reading, writing to Mrs. Goddard, Bath.

            A day of sweet and silent retirement.

            The same diary shows to what extent the ladies pass their time in reading; for between 1st January and 1st April of the year 1788, the perusal of the following books [266] is recorded: Histoire de Francois I.; Histoire de la Guerre Civile des Provincials; Histoire Politique des Troubles en France; Portraits des Rois de France; Memoirs of the Duc de Sully, Cardinal de Retz, Anne of Austria, Mlle. Montpensier and Mdm. Maintenon; Orlando Innamorato; Petrarch; Metastasio; Tasso; The Tatler; The Life of Swift and the Letter of Sherlock.

            Although many of their visitors described them with care and spirit, Miss Seward’s letter of 7th September, 1795, to the Rev. Henry White of Lichfield, takes first place among the literature which they inspired; not that it is intrinsically best but that it is most fitting.  There was a pensive artifice about the hermitage and its occupants to which only the Swan of Lichfield could do justice.  It might almost be said that all her life she had been preparing to eulogise this home and its occupants.  They needed a historian in love with rank and affectation, to whom an Æolian harp was meat and drink, and in Miss Seward they found one.

            Here is her letter: “I resume my pen, to speak to you of that enchanting unique, in conduct and situation, of which you have heard so much, though, as yet, without distinct description.  You will guess that I mean the celebrated ladies of Llangollen Vale, their mansion, and their bowers.

            “By their own invitation, I drank tea with them thrice during the nine days of my visit to Dinbren; and, by their kind introduction, partook of a rural dinner, given by their friend, Mrs. Ormsby, amid the ruins of Valle-Crucis, an ancient abbey, distant a mile and a half from their villa.  Our party was large enough to fill three chaises and two phaetons.

            “We find the scenery of Valle-Crucis grand, silent, impressive, awful.  The deep repose, resulting from the high umbrageous mountains which rise immediately around these ruins, solemnly harmonizes with their ivied arches and [267] broken columns.  Our drive to it from the lovely villa leads through one of the most picturesque parts of the peerless vale, and along the banks of the classic river.

            “After dinner, our whole party returned to drink tea and coffee in that retreat, which breathes all the witchery of genius, taste, and sentiment.  You remember Mr. Hayley’s poetic compliment to the sweet miniature painter, Miers:

His magic pencil, in its narrow space,
Pours the full portion of uninjur’d grace.

So may it be said of the talents and exertion which converted a cottage, in two acres and a half of turnip ground, to a fairy-palace, amid the bowers of Calypso.

            “It consists of four small apartment; the exquisite cleanliness of the kitchen, its utensils, and its auxiliary offices, vieing with the finished elegance of the gay, the lightsome little dining-room, as that contrasts the gloomy, yet superior grace of the library, into which it opens.

            “This room is fitted up in the Gothic style, the door and large sash windows of that form, and the latter of painted glass, ‘shedding the dim religious light.’  Candles are seldom admitted into this apartment. — The ingenious friends have invented a kind of prismatic lantern, which occupies the whole elliptic arch of the Gothic door.  This lantern is of cut glass, variously coloured, enclosing two lamps with their reflectors.  The light it imparts resembles that of a volcano, sanguine and solemn.  It is assisted by two glow-worm lamps, that, in little marble reservoirs, stand on the opposite chimney-piece, and these supply the place of the here always chastized daylight, when the dusk of evening sables, or when night wholly involves the thrice-lovely solitude.”

            This volcanic lantern, I may say, is still exactly as it was.  But in the course of succeeding tenancies the disposition of the rooms has been changed, one or two sometimes being merged in one, and so forth.  Miss Seward under-[268]estimates the extent of the grounds; which cover thirteen acres, although of course they may have added to it later.

            “A large Eolian harp is fixed in one of the windows, and, when the weather permits them to be opened, it breaths its deep tones to the gale, swelling and softening as that rises and falls.

Ah me! what hand can touch the strings to fine,

            Who up the lofty diapason roll

Such sweet, such sad, such solemn airs divine,

            And let them down again into the soul!”

            I interrupt the letter again to say that this harp was the means of giving Madame de Genlis, when she stayed with the Ladies, a very interesting night.  She wrote afterwards: “This evening was a scene of enchantment for me.  My thoughts kept me awake, but just as I was falling asleep I was aroused by the most melodious harmony which penetrated my soul.  I discovered that it was produced by a violent wind which had arisen, but the winds changed their nature as they approached this asylum of peace and friendship.  I was determined to investigate the nature of this, but durst not rise for fear of waking Mme. D’Orleans, who slept in a bed close to mine.

            “I listened with transport.

            “Next morning the mystery was explained: I found in the balcony an Eolian Harp.”

            Miss Seward was so much impressed by the Llangollen harp that she had one made like it.  “You heard me speak of my purpose to have an Eolian harp, made upon the construction of Miss Ponsonby’s, mentioned in my poem, Llangollen Vale.  She was so good to give me an exact drawing of her; which, being three times the size they are usually made, and with twenty-two strings, instead of the usual number, six, far transcends, both in the quantity [269] and quality of the tone, the general order of these airy instruments.  Mine is at length finished and strung; but, being made to fit my only eastern sash-windows, no gale has yet blown from that point, strong enough to wake the sullen slumber of its many chords.  This line, from Il Penseroso, is to be its motto:

Most musical, most melancholy.

Doubtless the airy hand of Eurus will soon awaken those rich harmonies, which so divinely stole upon my ear amid the Vale of Llangollen.”

            Miss Seward’s letter continues: “This saloon of the Minervas contains the finest editions, superbly bound, of the best authors, in prose and verse, which the English, Italian, and French languages boast, contained in neat wire cases: over them the portraits, in miniature, and some in larger ovals, of the favoured friends of these celebrated votaries to that sentiment which exalted the characters of Theseus and Perithous, of David and Jonathan.

            “Between the picture of Lady Bradford and the chimney-piece hangs a beautiful entablature, presented to the ladies of Llangollen Vale by Madam Sillery, late Madam Genlis.  It has convex miniatures of herself and of her pupil, Pamela [footnote: Madame de Genlis used to call Pamela her pupil.  But there is now little if any doubt that Pamela was her daughter by the Duc d’Orleans.]; between them, pyramidally placed, a garland of flowers, copied from a nosegay, gathered by Lady Eleanor in her bowers, and presented to Madam Sillery.

            “The kitchen-garden is neatness itself.  Neither there, nor in the whole precincts, can a single weed be discovered.  The fruit-trees are of the rarest and finest sort, and luxuriant in their produce; the garden-house, and its implements, arranged in the exactest order.

           “Nor is the dairy-house, for one cow, the least curiously elegant object of this magic domain.  A short steep declivity, [270] shadowed over with tall shrubs, conducts us to the cool and clean repository.  The white and shining utensils that contain the milk, and cream, and butter, are pure ‘as snows thrice bolted in the northern blast.’  In the midst, a little machine, answering the purpose of a churn, enables the ladies to manufacture half a pound of butter for their own breakfast, with an apparatus which finished the whole process without manual operation.

            “The wavy and shaded gravel-walk which encircles this Elysium, is enriched with curious shrubs and flowers.  It is nothing in extent, and every thing in grace and beauty, and in variety of foliage; its gravel smooth as marble.  In one part of it we turn upon a small knoll, which overhangs a deep hollow glen.  In its tangled bottom, a frothing brook leaps and clamours over the rough stones in its channel.  A large spreading beech canopies the knoll, and a semilunar seat, beneath its boughs, admits four people.  A board, nailed to the elm, has this inscription,

O cara Selva! e Fiumicello amato!

             “It has a fine effect to enter the little Gothic library, as I first entered it, at the dusk hour.  The prismatic lantern diffused a light gloomily glaring.  It was assisted by the paler flames of the petit lamps on the chimney-piece, while, through the opened windows, we had a darkling view of the lawn on which they look, the concave shrubbery of tall cypress, yews, laurels, and lilacs; of the woody amphitheatre on the opposite hill, that seems to rise immediately behind the shrubbery; and of the grey barren mountain which, then just visible, forms the background.  The evening-star had risen above the mountain; the airy harp loudly rung to the breeze, and completed the magic of the scene.

            “You will expect that I say something of the enchantresses themselves, beneath whose plastic wand these [271] peculiar graces arose.  Lady Eleanor is of middle height, and somewhat beyond the embonpoint as to plumpness; her face round and fair, with the glow of luxuriant health.  She has not fine features, but they are agreeable; –enthusiasm in her eye, hilarity and benevolence in her smile.  Exhaustless is her fund of historic and traditionary knowledge, and of every thing passing in the present eventful period.  She has uncommon strength and fidelity of memory; and her taste for works of imagination, particularly for poetry, is very awakened, and she expresses all she feels with an ingenuous ardour, at which the cold-spirited beings stare.  I am informed that both these ladies read and speak most of the modern languages.  Of the Italian poets, especially of Dante, they are warm admirers.

            “Miss Ponsonby, somewhat taller than her friend, is neither slender nor otherwise, but very graceful.  Easy, elegant, yet pensive, is her address and manner:

Her voice, like lovers watch’d, is kind and low. 

A face rather long than round, a complexion clear, but without bloom, and with a countenance which, from its soft melancholy, has peculiar interest.  If her features are not beautiful, they are very sweet and feminine.  Though the pensive spirit within permits not her lovely dimples to give mirth to her smile, they increase its sweetness, and, consequently, her power of engaging the affections.  We see, through their veil of shading reserve, that all the talents and accomplishments which enrich the mind of Lady Eleanor, exist, with equal powers, in this her charming friend.

            “Such are these extraordinary women, who, in the bosom of their deep retirement, are sought by the first characters of the age, both as to rank and talents.  To preserve that retirement from too frequent invasion, they are obliged to be somewhat coy as to accessibility.

            [272] “When we consider their intellectual resources, their energy and industry, we are not surprised to hear them asserting, that, though they have not once forsaken their vale, for thirty hours successively, since they entered it seventeen years ago; yet neither the long summer’s day, nor winter’s night, nor weeks of imprisoning snows, every inspired one weary sensation, one wish of returning to that world, first abandoned in the bloom of youth, and which they are yet so perfectly qualified to adorn.”

            General Yorke, who bought Plas Newydd in 1876, wrote a pamphlet about his predecessors, in which he says: “People of rank and all ages felt awe in their presence.  They were royalty, as it were, in Llangollen, and their word was law.  yet they were kind to all, if not provoked.  A formal letter had to be written to them, prior to the reception of any visitor.  The letter had, likewise, to be addressed from the hotel which was in favour with them at the time.  This ceremony gave time for perfuming the rooms at Plas Newydd, and pastilles in bronze censers were plentifully used for this purpose.  The Duke of Wellington visited the ladies in 1814, a few weeks after being created a Duke; he lunched with them in what is now called the Wellington Garden, and they have recorded this gracious visit by placing their initials ‘E.B. and S.P., 1814.’ over the fireplace in the Oak Room.”  Some years earlier, I might add, the Ladies gave Wellington a Spanish prayer-book, from which, with a grammar, he learnt the language while waiting for favourable winds to land on his first voyage to Spain — and victory.

            Among others who visited them were the Duke of York, who brought an oak desk, and the Duchess of St. Albans, once Harriett Mellon, who also did not come empty handed.  The curved cups over Lady Eleanor Butler’s mantelpiece were Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s offering.

           Among the visitors who left descriptions of their hostesses [273] the most entertaining is certainly Madame de Genlis, whose account of the Æolian harp we have already read.  I quote farther from her Souvenirs: “The interior of the house is delightful on account of the just proportions and distribution of the apartments, the elegance of the ornaments and furniture, and the admirable view which you enjoy form 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 arabesque, 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.”

            Another foreign visitor, Prince Pückler-Muskau, wandered to the Vale some years later, and paid his respects to the ladies, who were still hale although full of years.  He printed an account of his visit in his Briefe eines Verstorbenen, and I reproduce portions of it which were in a translation made for Notes and Queries by Mr. Hermann Kindt in 1869: “I have to tell you many things, and to describe an interesting day.  Well then, at the right moment, before leaving Llangollen, I remembered the two celebrated virgins (certainly the most celebrated in Europe) who now for more than half a century are at home among these mountains, of whom I heard speak when a child, and again much when I was in London. . . .

            “Nobody (who is presentable, of course) travels in Wales [274] without asking for a letter or for an introduction; and it is asserted that ‘scandal’ has just as much interest for them as formerly when they were still living in ‘the world,’ and that their curiosity to hear of all that is going on in it is said to be just as fresh too.

            “I had, it is true, kind remembrances for them from several ladies, but no letter, for which I had forgotten to ask, and on that account only sent in my card, resolved, in case they should refuse my call, to take the cottage by storm, as I was made to understand it might be refused.  Rank, however, here opened easily the door and I received immediately a graceful invitation for luncheon.  In a quarter of an hour, I arrived amidst the most charming neighbourhood, driving through a very nice pleasure-ground, at a small, tasteful Gothic house, just opposite Castle Dinas Brun, to view which apertures had been cut through the foliage of lofty trees.  I got out of the carriage and was received by the two ladies at the foot of the stairs.

            “Fortunately I was quite prepared as regards their singularities, otherwise, I might scarcely have kept countenance.  Imagine, then, two ladies, of whom the elder, lady Eleanor, a small brisk girl, now somewhat begins to feel her age, having just entered upon her eighty-third year; the other, a tall and imposing figure, things herself quite youthful still, as the dear child is only seventy-four.  Both word the hair, which is quite full yet, combed down straight and powdered, a gentleman’s round hat, a gentleman’s cravat and waistcoat; instead of the ‘inexpressibles,’ however, a short jupes, and gentleman’s boots.  The whole was covered by an overdress of blue cloth of a quite peculiar cut, keeping the middle between a gentlemen’s overcoat and a lady’s riding habit.”

            “I cannot help thinking,” here interjects Mr. Kindt, “of Mr. Kinghlee’s lively description of the dress of his friend [275] John Keate, whom the Cairo magician was going to let appear before the genial author of Eöthis:  ‘He wore a fancy dress, partly resembling the costume of Napoleon and partly that of a widow-woman.’

            “Over all this ‘toggery’ Lady Eleanor wore, 1, the grand cordon of the order of the collar of Saint Louis round her waist; 2, the same order round her neck; 3, the small cross of the same order in the button-hole; et pour comble de gloire, a silver lily of almost natural size as a star on her breast — all these being, as she told me, presents of the Bourbon family.

            “So far, the whole was indeed ridiculous; but now imagine these two ladies full of the most plaisante aisance, and the tone of great people of the ancien régime; obliging and entertaining without any affectation, speaking French at least as well as any noble Englishman of my acquaintance, and at the same time of those essentially polite sans gêne, and I might say naïf and cheerful manners of the good society of that time, which it will almost appear have been carried to the grave in our earnest and industrial century of business-life, and which really touched me in these good-natured old ladies.  I could not help but remarking at the same time, the uninterrupted and nevertheless apparently so natural and tender consideration with which the younger of the two was treating her somewhat infirm older friend, and how she anticipated every one of her little wants.  Such things reveal themselves more in the way they are done, in little insignificant traits, perhaps, but do not escape the sympathetic mind.

            “I made my début by saying that I felt happy to be the bearer of compliments which my grandfather, who had had the honour of waiting on them fifty years ago, had charged me with for the fair recluses.  The latter had since that time lost their beauty, but not their good memory; they [276] remembered, therefore, B—– C—– very well, showed me even an old souvenir of him, and only wondered that such a young man should already be dead!  Not only the venerable spinsters, but their cottage was full of interest; nay, the latter often contains real treasures.  Scarcely any remarkable person of the last half century who has not sent them a portrait, some curiosity or antiquity, as a souvenir.  This collection, a well-furnished library, a charming neighbourhood, an even-tempered life without material cares, a most intimate friendship and community amongst themselves — these are treasures; but, to judge by their vigorous age and their cheerful mind, they must have chosen not quite badly.”

            And here let me quote the livelier description of Charles Mathews, the actor, to his wife, in 1820 — the Ladies of Llangollen having been for once tempted so far away from home as to the Oswestry Theatre to see this wonderful comedian: “The dear, inseparable inimitables, Lady 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 after my eye caught them  Though I had never seen the, I instantly knew them.  As they are seated, there is not one point to distinguish them from men: the dressing and powdering of 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 Borulawski. 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 [277] the dear old gentlemen, called Lady Butler and Miss Ponsonby, their thanks for the entertainment I afforded them at the theatre.”

            Happily Mathews did have time, and this is his account of the visit: “Well, I have seen them, heard them, touched them. The pets, the Ladies as they are called, dined here yesterday, Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby.  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 S. Louis and other orders, with myriads of large brooches with stones large enough for snuff-boxes, stuck in their starched neckcloths.  They returned home fourteen miles after twelve o’clock.  They have not slept one night form home for more than forty years.”

            De Quincey, Scott and Wordsworth were also among the Ladies’ visitors — Wordsworth in 1824, by their special invitation.  They asked him further to write a poem upon their home; which he did, but with unfortunate result.  The poem ran thus:—

Composed in the Grounds of Plass Newydd, near Llangollen, 1824.

A stream, to mingle with your favorite Dee,
Along the Vale of Meditation* flows;
So styled by those fierce Britons, pleased to see
In 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 Cafaillgaroch, in the Cambrian tongue,
In ours, the Vale of Friendship, let this spot
Be named; where faithful to a low-roofed cot,
On Deva’s banks, ye have abode so long;
Sisters in love, a love allowed to climb,
Even on this earth, above the reach of time!

                                                            [* Glyn Myrvr]

            [278] That is not a bad sonnet, but it displeased the Ladies intensely, one of its offenses being the phrase a “low-roofed cot,” and the other the suggestion, as they took it (in the last line), that they were too old.  Their criticism was that they could write better poetry themselves.

            Another visitor at about the same time whose intercourse with the Ladies was not successful, although from different reasons, was a small boy of twelve who in 1827 was taken to Plas Newydd.  Visiting Llangollen in 1879 he recalled his early experience of it, and said that nothing in his life had so frightened him.  This was Dean Stanley.

            In a little pamphlet on the Ladies by the Rev. J. Prichard, D.D., published locally in the eighteen-seventies, I find some interesting particulars of their life in their later years, at a time when he was acquainted with them.  They kept, he says, a carpenter, a cowman, and man of all work outdoors, and indoors two ladies’ maids and three female servants.  Dr. Prichard quotes a rhymed account of the Ladies, which if not so eloquent as Miss Seward’s poem is at least as informative:—

Once two young girls of rank and beauty rare,
Of features more than ordinary fair,
Who in the heyday of their youthful charms
Refused the proffer of all suitors’ arms,
Lived in a cottage here rich carved in oak,
Though now long passed from life by death’s grim stroke.
Plas Newydd’s gardens then displayed much taste,
And nought about them e’er allowed to waste.
The umbrageous foliage of surrounding trees
Gave them a shelter from the stormy breeze,
Whilst in a snug retreat about south-west,
Was bird-cote placed as shelter for redbreast,
For sparrow, chaffinch, blackbird, or for thrush,
These ladies did not wish the cold to touch.
Then did all species of ferns abound
In every rock and corner of their ground,
Then none were known to come unto their door
That were not welcomed with kind words, or more.
[279]    These ladies to each other kind and true,
Around Llangollen’s vale like them were few.
E’en now I see them in yon chair,
In well starched neckcloths, and with powdered hair,
Their upper habits just like man’s they were,
With tall black beaver hats outside their door;
To crown it all my muse would whisper low,
With hair cropped short, rough, bushy, white as snow.
They at death’s summons God’s commands obeyed,
And were in fair Llangollen’s churchyard laid,
As they through life together did abide,
E’en now in death they both lie side by side;
Of them remains nought save dank mould and sod,
Who loved their neighbours second to their God;
Sweet peace be theirs — by death to dust allied,
Through him who near a century was their Guide;
Beloved, respected by the world were they,
By all regretted when they passed away.

            The Ladies’ account book for the years 1791 and 1800 lies before me, kept in Miss Ponsonby’s neat hand, and from it one learns more of their life than from any of the descriptions.  Their annual expenditure averaged between £500 and £600 a year, their income being derived from the interest of their respective fortunes, both very small; loans from members of both their families — Lord Bessborough, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Chambre and Lord Ormonde — which I image often automatically became gifts; and gifts absolute from the same gentlemen and others, including at one time a great stress £200 attributed to a “miraculous intervention of Providence.”  The Ladies were not above receiving presents of this kind, and it was generally understood by visitors that in some way their footing was to be paid, although the only toll that was actually exacted was old oak.  When Mary Carryl died she made the Ladies her heirs of some £500, amassed, it is most probable, in tips from visitors, and after Lady Eleanor Butler’s death Miss Ponsonby was placed on the Civil List for a pension of £200, but under what heading her claims came I have not ascertained.

            But if the Ladies were the recipients of the charities of [280] the rich, they were equally the dispensers of their own charity to the poor.  It is on record by one who know them that they gave away sixpences every Sunday on their way to church; but if so, the habit was contracted after the account book which I have seen, for it is not mentioned there.  The pages, however, are filled with small generosities, and it seems that they could never resist the appeal of any poor Irishwoman, with a natural result that poor Irish women infested their door.

            The following extracts are interesting:—

  £    s    D.
A travelling boy for the kindness with which he gave us some pinks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    1    0
Market, including our haymaking supper to fourteen persons . . . 0   19    3
Post bag for cards and lemons for Mary’s guests this evening. . . 0    4    0
Lodowick’s unfortunate daughter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    1    0
Poor woman 4d.; Irish woman 1S. 6d.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    1   10
John Rogers, for bad work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    2    6
Tinker, for spoiling tea-kettle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    1    3
Ale from “Hand,” not fit to be drank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    0    6
David the taylor, for doing nothing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    2    6
Our precious and never-to-be-forgotten little Scips* last expenses. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    4    6
Weaver, for weaving table-linen and towels. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1   16    0
Powdered Hair Tax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3    3    0
Harp woman, for Lord and Lady Mansfield. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    3    0
Four little boys at chimney fire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    0    6
Little Molly, encouragement for going well-dressed to church. . . . 0    1    0
Thomas Jones, for Mary’s neck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    2    6
Earnest to Molly, re-hired for Mary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    1    0
Sandford the Shrewsbury bookseller, in full for ever . . . . . . . . . 1    2    2
Lottery ticket . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1    1    0
Halston gardener, with horrid melon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    2    6
Mr.  Salmon, for cleaning our teeth. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1    1    0
Contribution of flannel for the troops. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1    1    0
Muffins for kitchen quality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    0    6
Old, dirty, ungrateful Lloyd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    0    6
Carline’s man with cart full of disappointment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    2    6
Spinning wheel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1    1    0
Brandy for our landlord’s cough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0    0    3

* Favourite dog.

            [281] Mary Carryl’s wages I do not find, but Anne Jones, the kitchenmaid, received £2 10s. a year, and Moses Jones, the handyman, 10s. a week.  That the Ladies had soft hearts is otherwise clear from the three entries that follow:—

Feb. 21, 1791.  Moses Jones discharged. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .April 9, 1791.  Moses Jones, 4 days wages again. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .April 26, 1791.  Moses Jones, week’s wages. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  s   D. 5   0 7   010   0

Moses (whose fault was, I gather, alcohol) thereafter went on steadily for some years, to be succeeded by Simon at a shilling a week less.  For the rent of the cottage and its own ground the Ladies paid £4 10s. a year; for adjoining ground, £5.  They subsequently acquired the cottage.

            Among other extracts are these: “Eels and trout for Mrs. Piozzi,” and ‘Pair of Turkies, expectation of Miss Seward”.

            Returning to Miss Seward’s letter in 1795, she remarks at the close: “I must not conclude my letter without observing, that, on my second visit to the fairy palace, a lovely Being cast around its apartments the soft lunar rays of her congenial beauty. — Mrs. Tighe, the wife of one of my friend’s nephews, an elegant and intelligent young gentleman, whom I should have observed more had his wife’s beauty been less.  I used the word lunar as characteristic of that beauty, for it is not resplendent and sunny, like Mrs. Plummer’s, but, as it were, shaded, though exquisite.  She is scarcely two-and-twenty.  It is not too much that Aonian inspiration should be added to the cestus of Venus?  She left an elegant and accurate sonnet, addressed to Lady E. Butler and her friend, on leaving their enchanting bowers.”

            Even without this example it is hardly in reason that a poet so warm-hearted and appreciative as Miss Seward, and withal so rich in the emotion of gratitude, would herself omit to address the Ladies of Llangollen in the medium of the higher compliment, and she must have set to work almost at once upon the poem “Llangollen Vale”.

            [282] Her first expression of her feelings was, however, in prose in a letter to “the Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler” on 27th September: “The distance between Llangollen and Emeral is longer than I supposed.  I had a degree of pain during the journey, that sunk my spirits extremely, inspiring a fear that it might be the last I should find strength or cheerfulness to undertake.  Alas! dearest ladies, much did that despondence deepen the regret, that my ear no longer drank the sweet sounds of condescending kindness and confidential friendship, with which I had been honoured beneath the Arcadian bowers!”

            The poem, “Llangollen Vale,” which was written and despatched in the autumn of 1795, is too long to quote in full, nor is it, in its descriptive and historical stanzas, too entertaining.  But with the entry of the Ladies it acquires interest:—

Now with a vestal lustre glows the vale,
    Thine, sacred friendship, permanent as pure;
In vain the stern authorities assail,
    In vain persuasion spreads her silken lure,
High-born, and high-endow’d, the peerless twain*
Pant for coy nature’s charms ‘mid silent dale, and plain.

*Peerless twain. — Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, now seventeen years resident in Llangollen Vale, and whose guest the author had the honour to be during several delightful days of summer. — (Miss Seward’s footnote.)

Thro’ Eleanora , and her Zara’s mind,
    Early tho’ genius, taste, and fancy flow’d,
Tho’ all the graceful arts their powers combin’d,
    And her last polish brilliant life bestow’d,
The lavish promiser, in youth’s soft morn,
Pride, pomp, and love, her friends, the sweet enthusiasts scorn.

Then rose the fairy palace of the vale,
    Then bloom’d around it the Arcadian bowers;
Screen’d from the storms of winter, cold and pale,
    Screen’d from the fervours of the sultry hours,
Circling the lawny crescent, soon they rose,
To letter’d ease devote, and friendship’s blest repose.

[283]    Smiling they rose beneath the plastic hand
    Of energy, and taste;– nor only they,
Obedient science hears the mild command,
    Brings every gift that speeds the tardy day,
Whate’er the pencil sheds in vivid hues,
Th’ historic tome reveals, or sings the raptur’d Muse.

How sweet to enter, at the twilight grey,
    The dear, minute Lyceum* of the dome,
When, thro’ the colour’d crystal, glares the ray,
    Sanguine and solemn ‘mid the gathering gloom,
While glow-worm lamps diffuse a pale, green light,
Such as in mossy lanes illume the starless night.

* Minute Lyceum. — The library, fitted up in the Gothic taste, the painted windows of that form.  In the elliptic arch of the door, there is a prismatic lantern of variously-tinted glass, containing two large lamps with their reflectors. The light they shed resembles that of a Volcano, gloomily glaring. Opposite, on the chimney-piece, a couple of small lamps, in marble reservoirs, assist the prismatic lantern to supply the place of candles, by a light more consonant to the style of the apartment, the pictures it contains of absent Friends, and to its aerial music. — (Miss Seward’s footnote.)

Then the coy scene, by deep’ning veils o’erdrawn,
    In shadowy elegance seems lovelier still;
Tall shrubs, that skirt the semi-lunar lawn,
    Dark woods, that curtain the opposing hill;
While o’er their brows the bare cliff faintly gleams,
And, from its paly edge, the evening-diamond* streams.

* “Evening-diamond,” evening star. — (Miss Seward’s footnote.)

What strains Æolian thrill the dusk expanse,
    As rising gales with gentle murmurs play,
Wake the loud chords, or every sense intrance,
    While in subsiding winds they sink away!
Like distant choirs, “when pealing organs blow,”
And melting voices blend, majestically slow.

            There is more, but this is all that I quote here.  The Ladies were naturally pleased with the compliment, and said so.  Miss Seward, in replying in December, remarks: “I rejoice that my poem, on Llangollen Vale, meets a reception of such partial warmth from the bright spirits it celebrates, and whose praise I more desire for it than fame; yet am I believe its poetic stamina are not weaker than those of the [284] best of my writings; my utmost hope, as to its essential merit, ‘has that extent — no more:’ — but indeed, indeed, none of my compositions have an pretence to vie with the Darwinian muse, in the splendours of imagination.”

            “Llangollen Vale,” although Miss Seward’s most ambitious poem to the Ladies, was not alone.  I find in her poetical works a “sonnet laid in the drawer of the thatched shed by the brook at Plas Newydd,” and also among the poems “Each written on a card inclosed in a letter-case netted by the Author and presented to her Friends,” one addressed to both.  Finally, under the date September, 1802, is a blank verse poem entitled “A Farewell to the Seat of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby,” but this also I do not quote.

            There is every indication to believe that Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby cultivated an epistolary style similar to Miss Seward’s.  Her replies at least lead to this conviction.  Miss Ponsonby on one occasion copied for her the whole of the article on the Sonnet from the Encyclopœdia, a dangerous thing to do to a correspondent with so much time on her hands and so many “sonnetical” theories as Miss Seward.  On another occasion they discuss Southey’s Joan of Arc, on which the Ladies had requested the Swan’s “sentiments in full”.  They agree as to politics, Miss Seward, by some vague line of reasoning, seeming to attribute England’s martial success to the Llangollen Ladies’ own efforts.  At least she writes thus, on 23rd January, 1797: At least she writes thus, on 23rd January, 1797: “Suffer me to congratulate your ladyship and Miss Ponsonby, on the dispersion of the hostile fleet, whose invading design is, for the present — would to God it might be for ever — baffled by the elements;” and again, “I congratulate you upon the victory our fleet has obtained over the ‘slow-ey’d sons of the marshy clime’ — the glum and treacherous Dutch”.

            [285]  In February, Mary Carryl was ill.  Miss Seward heard the news from Mr. Roberts of Dinbren: “His account of the health and cheerfulness of my charming friends, apparent in an interview with which they recently honoured him, charmed me.  I was, however, concerned to hear him say you had lately been distressed by the illness, and alarmed for the life of your good Euryclea.  That she is recovering I rejoice.  The loss of a domestic, faithful and affectionate as Orlando’s Adam, must have cast more than a transient gloom over the Cambrian Arden.  The Rosalind and Celia of real life give Langollen valley a right to that title.”  Miss Seward was here stealing Hayley’s thunder, for it was he who first hit upon this Shakespearian analogy.

            In 1797 Miss Seward visited Llangollen again: “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.”

            Writing to another friend — for these triumphs were never kept under a bushel — she says: “The ladies of the Vale, the, in all but the voluptuous sense, Armidas of its bowers, received me with every energy of regard and affection.  So rich was the scenic and intellectual banquet of their mansion, as to make me half-inclined to regret as intrusive, the several visitors who paid homage at that Arcadian court while I was resident there; though all were distinguished either by elevation of talent, or by elevation of rank, and several by both.”

            In return perhaps for many Aonian gifts, the Ladies, in 1799, sent Miss Seward a token of their amity.  She replied: “I have to thank you, dearest ladies, for a very beautiful but too costly present.  This ring and seal in one, this [286] Apollo’s hand and lyre, makes an admirable impression.  It is a fine gem, and rich and elegant is the circlet for the finger.  As your gift, it possesses value,

——– Gold says, ‘is not in me,’

And, ‘not in me,’ the diamond.

Mr. S[aville] desires me to make his grateful acknowledgement for the elegant testimony he has received of Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby’s regard, who increase the happiness of all on whom they smile, and confer distinction wherever they esteem.”

            In the same letter Miss Seward refers to Sir Walter Scott: “Yourself and Lady Eleanor are no strangers to the new poetic star of the Caledonian sphere; but, nourishing, as I do, the pleasing hope of being enabled to pass a few days beneath your roof, in the autumn of this yet wintry year, I almost hope his last and yet unpublished poems, Glenfinlas and the Eve of St. John, may not previously meet your eye; that I may have the delight of reading them to you, and observing the lively interest they will excite, and the glowing praise with which they will be honoured.  It is my great happiness to be exempt from the frequent torment of authors, literary envy, though perhaps there is little virtue in exemption so constitutional; but it renders my poetic pleasures wholly unembittered from that source.”

            The promised visit was paid.  A letter to Mr. Whalley in October, 1799, carries the original description of the ladies a little further: “I am recently returned from my summer’s tour.  Its Cambrian interests were very lively, as they were wont to be, during my week’s residence on Mr. Roberts’ sublime mountain, and my four days visit to the ladies falsely called the Recluses of Langollen Vale.

            “What a little court is the mansion of these ladies in that wondrous vale!  Lords and ladies, gentlemen and ladies, poets, historians, painters, and musicians, introduced [287] by the letters of their established friends, received, entertained, and retiring, to make way for other sets of company.  They passed before my eyes like figures in a magic-lantern.

            “This, with little interruption, is the habit of the whole year, from Langollen being the high road between Holyhead and London, and its vale the first classic and scenic ground of Wales.  The evenings were the only time in which, from these eternal demands upon their attention, I could enjoy that confidential conversation with them that is most delightful, from an higher degree of congeniality in our sentiments and tastes, than I almost ever met.  Numbers have considered themselves as affronted from being refused admittance.  I have witnessed how distressingly their time is engrossed by the immense and daily accumulating influx of their acquaintance, and by the endless requests to see their curious and beautiful place, and not seldom for admittance into their company.  Beneath indiscriminate admission, they never could have a day-light hour for the society of their select friends.  They have made an established rule not to admit visits to themselves from any persons, however high their rank, who do not bring letters of introduction from some of their own intimate friends.

            “I have several times seen them reject the offered visits of such who either did not know this their rule, or, knowing, had neglected to observe it: and I always perceived such attempts at self-introduction pique that pride of birth and consequence, of which they have and acknowledge a great deal, eminently gracious as their manners are to those whom they do receive.  When the sight of the house and gardens only is requested, they do not refuse, if they are alone, and can either walk abroad or retire up stairs; or, even if they have company, provided they can walk out with that company, and are not at meals; but it is certain those impediments to general curiosity often occur — nor has any person [288] a right to think their existence, and the disappointment it occasions, as incivility.”

            Mr. Whalley, however, does not seem to have been quite fortunate in his own efforts to see the Ladies.  Or so I gather from this letter from Miss Seward to him in 1800:  “My dear Friend,—Oh, no! no!  It was indeed not the answer which Lady E. Butler and her friend ought to have sent.  I am sorry.  I am ashamed for them.  In a much greater degree I am surprised.  I am sure, however, that neither Miss Ponsonby’s will nor heart were in that message; but Lady E., who, when pleased, is one of the most gracious of God’s creatures, under a contrary impression is extremely haughty and imperious.  Her sweet amiable friend, who, when she had time, can bend or soften that impetuous temper, knows she cannot, and therefore does not attempt to, assuage its extempore sallies.

            “On occasions, in some degree similar, I have seen Miss Ponsonby sigh, shrug her shoulders and acquiesce.  On those occasions Lady E. always involves her by the words of we and us.  Accustomed to incessant homage and compliance, a broken promise, and not even apologised for, would, I know, be a sin in the eyes of both, which scarcely any acknowledged repentance could atone.  That sin was your brother’s; but I think Miss Ponsonby would not have sought to avenge it by unjust rudeness to you.

            “They were, you know, unconscious of the family misfortune and mental gloom which now produced his breach of promise and apparent cold neglect of them.  Lady Eleanor regrets, as she often does on other occasions, her rude injustice to you, and unites with Miss Ponsonby in unavailing hopes for an opportunity of repairing it.  Could they obtain that opportunity, I  know their reparation would be as ample as it might be in their power to make it; and I am sure, should you ever again travel through their dale, [289] and receive an invitation from them, which I am sure they would send you, you are the man of all others to say, “Repentance which is enough for heaven, is enough for me’.  Adieu!”

            And here I may quote from General Yorke again, who says, “Nothing provoked the Ladies more than the ostentatious manner of visitors, which some put on with the view of passing themselves off as very learned, though they were actually in leading strings, when conversing with Miss Ponsonby.  the ladies generally brought such interviews to a speedy termination.  Lady Eleanor was relating a case of this kind to an intimate friend; but, as her memory was failing at the time, she appealed to Miss Ponsonby, ‘Did we like him, Sarah Ponsonby?’  ‘We hated him, Eleanor,’ was the reply; and she continued her tale by repeating ‘We hated him’.”

            Miss Seward’s last visit to Llangollen Vale was paid in 1802.  She thus refers to it: “My return home took….benevolence, stream.”

            The Ladies not only lived to a great age but lived robustly.  Lady Eleanor, says General Yorke, was “couched for imperfect vision in her 85th year, by Alexander, the celebrated oculist of that day, and she bore the operation with the utmost fortitude, and, instead of retiring to bed on the occasion, she sat in the library dressed with her hat and orders on, and scorned a blue shade which had been provided [290] by Mr. T.T. Griffith, of Wrexham, the late eminent surgeon and benefactor of that town and neighbourhood.  Deafness the Ladies warded off by a simple remedy, which they recommended to all their friends; vis., to place wads of London brown paper lightly in the orifice of the ear, instead of cotton wool, the slight amount of pitch contained in brown paper (of the best quality) being the secret of this remedy.”

            Miss Seward’s poem “Llangollen Vale” ends with this stanza:—

May one kind ice-bolt, from the mortal stores,
    Arrest each vital current as it flows,
That no sad course of desolated hours
    Here vainly nurse the unsubsiding woes!
While all who honor Virtue, gently mourn
Llangollen’s vanish’d Pair, and wreath their sacred urn.

Heaven, however, ordered otherwise.  Lady Eleanor Butler died on 2nd June, 1829, Miss Ponsonby on 8th December, 1831.  Mary Carryl had preceded them by some years, and her friends and mistresses had had the present avenue planted to keep her memory green.  All three now rest together in Llangollen churchyard beneath a tomb which is assiduously visited.

            General Yorke tells us that “a singular circumstance occurred at the funeral of Lady Eleanor Butler.  Miss Ponsonby attended, and, as her prayer through life had been to outlive Lady Eleanor, she was able to bear up on this most trying occasion.  She was seventeen years younger, and feared if she were taken first Lady Eleanor would have been more than desolate without her.  A shepherd’s dog followed her from the grave, and took up a position in front of a window at Plas Newydd; and, as he was not inclined to leave, she asked him in and called him Chance.  This dog was faithful to her during the remainder of her life, but disappeared at her funeral.

            [291] “This circumstance gave rise to much superstition at the time; but it may be thus accounted for.  A considerable number of people attended Lady Eleanor’s funeral, and, no doubt, many came from the mountains and distant parts for curiosity.  The dog may have lost his master in the crowd, and found him again (probably) at Miss Ponsonby’s funeral when there was a similar gathering.

            “This dog followed Miss Ponsonby at every turn, and on one occasion howled in the Bower when she gave a book to a friend which had belonged to Lady Eleanor.  This event caused Miss Ponsonby to write to her firend for the return of the book, stating she had not been happy since parting with it, as it was Lady Eleanor’s book, and that she wished to replace it with some other present.  The dog, being a stranger to her friend, might have expected a stone to be thrown into the brook, or mistaken the movement for a shepherd’s signal, and howled, which affected Miss Ponsonby deeply.  The bookcase still remains in Eleanor’s Bower, over which is painted in red letters, ‘Where the dog Chance howled’.”

            Apart altogether from its connection with Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, Plas Newydd is a very interesting and curious and beautiful abode.  Pious hands having carried on what the Ladies began, the house has lost none of its original spirit even although it has been enlarged in all directions, while in addition to still possessing many of the same books and pictures and pieces of furniture, such as have been added are all in the tradition, so to speak: there is nothing to-day that the Ladies, could they return to their old home, would be likely to evict, at any rate with any passion.  Mary Carryl might, it is true, be some time in accustoming her ear to the telephones that now unite every room: but that should be almost her only difficulty.  Everything else would seem proper enough.

            [292] The principal preserver of the old relics and the collector of new was General Yorke, who falling off his pony close to the house, when a boy, and being restored by the old Ladies with oranges, held ever afterwards a tender feeling for them and was glad to be able to buy Plas Newydd and cherish its spirit.

            The present owner, who acquired the house and all within it, has added portraits of the Ladies and such personal relics as from time to time have come his way: but there are still many elsewhere, including most of their very interesting correspondence, their diaries and so forth, which now, I believe, are in the possession of the Ormonde family, and Lady Eleanor Butler’s walking stick.  This, by the way, went to America, from which land a visitor recently brought it, to use it again on its native floors.

            The house is something more than a house: it is a museum, without, however, losing homeliness.  This is a great triumph for a museum, which usually looks less livable in even than a workhouse or a model sitting-room in a furniture shop window.  Plas Newydd is also a kind of paradise of old oak.  It is as though the best carved panels in the world, after long careers of good works, had found eternal rest and happiness on this Welsh hillside.  Much of its belonged to the ladies, who had a fine aristocratic flair for such treasures, and much was added by General Yorke.  It is the blackest oak I ever saw and it confronts you at every turn.

            From a catalogue of the treasures preserved at Plas Newydd, which General Yorke added to his little account of the Ladies, I quote an entry here and there:—


            The Window Recess is panelled with the Oak Fittings from the Pew in Llangollen Church in which the Ladies sat for 50 years.



            An Oil Painting from the Vienna Exhibition, “Feminine Affection” (suggestive of the Ladies, and much admired).

            Glass case containing Coins dating from 550 before the Christian Era, and many relics including Lady Eleanor’s Cairngorm Brooch.


(Called in the Ladies’ time “The Saloon of the Minervas”.)

            Tinted Print of an “Archery Club held at Gwersyllt in 1790,” Warden Newcome, of Ruthin, scoring for the Ladies, who are shooting for the Royal Prize of 25 Guineas, given by George IV., when Prince of Wales.

            Collar of Miss Ponsonby’s dog “Chance”.


            Two Angels holding the Armorial Bearings of the Ladies of Llangollen, carved and presented by Mr. John Ellis, of Llangollen.

            This little pamphlet, by the way, contains some very pleasant errata:—

            Page 22.–For large Oil Painting, on Copper, “The Death of the Caledonian Boar,” read Calydonian Boar.

            Page 38.–For Acorn-pattern Gilt Spurs, worn at the Ascension, read worn at the Accession.

            The Plas Newydd house architecturally is lawless.  It has been built as bees build honey-comb — cell on cell.  It is difficult to believe that the present hospitable owner has yet found his way into every room, for he has been there only twenty years or so.  For addition to the rooms that lead naturally out of each other, there are others the existence of which one never suspects.  You can trust nothing at Plas Newydd.  In any ordinary house a china cupboard full of Delft or Nankin ware is a china cupboard: at Plas Newydd it may be a door leading to another suite of rooms.  There are hiding-places in the walls too; and in the room which I occupied is a clothes cupboard in the wainscot that has a false back which opens upon an inner cupboard, used in the mysterious past for I know not what secret purpose, but containing to-day only the famous hats and riding habits of the [294] two friends, against, I suppose, such time as Llangollen also holds its Pageant and requires their presence.  As to what need of hiding-laces the Ladies had, I know nothing; but it is common history that among their visitors was Lord Edward Fitzgerald (husband of Pamela, the daughter of their friend Madame de Genlis), and that once, after his rebellion, he left the house in such a hurry that he took one of the windows with him.


Chapter XIV

The Last Great Word-Painter

 WHEN the time came, in 1832, for the sale of the home of the Ladies of the Vale it was only fitting that to George Robins should fall the melancholy yet congenial task.  Why fitting? the perplexed reader may inquire.  Fitting, because so far as my researches go, George Robins was Miss Seward’s aptest pupil.  His style, like hers, was curled and oiled: adjective waited upon his like slaves: he too word-painted.  In short, he practised Sewardese.

            It is customary to think of George Robins only as an auctioneer — a wielder of the hammer.  But before he mounts the rostrum an auctioneer has had weeks of hard work: the actual sale is the crown of his labours, not the labour itself.  For one thing, he must prepare his catalogue and his advertisements.  This task most auctioneers may delegate; but George attended to it personally.  He was great in the rostrum; but I am not sure he was not great in his office, descriptive pen in hand.


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