Seward Letters, 1801

Letter LXIX.

Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler, and Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 392-397}

Lichfield, Oct. 3, 1801.

Recently returned from Buxton, it is one of the first employments of my pen to thank you, dearest ladies, for the transparency you were so good as to send me by your late delighted and grateful visitors. Afresh are Mr Saville and his pleasing daughter obliged and charmed by kindness, which even surpassed the hopes they entertained of a welcome reception in the Chambrian Eden. It has been our theme each time we have met, since the devoted bowers of the cathedral area again received me.

I said devoted. It is a sore, sore subject; never did my local attachments sustain so deep a would. It will rankle, it will fester incurably. O! what a curse is formed by human folly, obstinacy, and pride, combined with the power to commit outrage.

All the inhabitants of this yet lovely Close have been, for years, suffering daily inconvenience, [393] the result of innovations; while its safety, in case of fire, is put in constant peril. A large stone conduit, ascended by steps, and placed on the highest part of the area, supplied us with plenty of fine soft-water, descending by separate pipes to all our houses and gardens. It was monument of the wisdom and liberality of the former inhabitants, who, at a great expense, and by subscription, caused it to be erected. Nor was it by any means an object of deformity. Our dignitaries thought it would be better away, and down sunk our capacious bed of waters. A miserable pump became its substitute, utterly unable to supply the necessities of the surrounding families.

A similar edict to sink, and to widen the approach to the west front of the cathedral, has endangered the foundation of a whole row of houses, and the safety of all who live in them, and of every foot-passenger. This was last summer’s mischief; and now an order is gone forth, form the same dire source, to destroy the beauty of this celebrated close, by cutting down alternately its noble lime-trees.

“From storms our shelter, and from heat our shade.”

By the bad taste of former times they had been cut into formal arches, and their level top-line, [394] till a passage in André’s letters shamed the annual practice of deformity, and restored their ample branches to freedom, to beauty, and to grace; but this meditated outrage is of far-transcending direnes, without the excuse of custom, and the sanction of fashion to mitigate its sin.

I have addressed the dean and chapter as a body, to deprecate this violence; but my pleadings will be in vain, and only stimulate that pride which delights to commit irreparable injuries in the wantonness of power.

Pardon me that I have thus obtruded upon your attention the bitterness of a grieved spirit. The poignacy of your own local attachment ensures your kind sympathy with mine.

I was interrupted, and so interrupted! —Away ye scenic regrets! — You may return — you will, you must; but you shall not gloom the sunshine of this day!

Just as I had finished the last sentence, Cousin Thomas White shouted in the gallery, “Peace! Peace on earth, and good will toward men!” — and rushed breathless into my dressing-room, to confirm his annunciation.

Equal was my surprise and my joy — so long as those heavenly attributes have been banished from the wishes of our cabinet, and from the [395] hopes of England’s true friends, and genuine patriots!

In less than half an hour the bells in all our churches began to clash their sonorous tongue in exalting imitation of the cannon’s thunder.

Monday, Oct. the 5th.

Joy sits on every face! — even those, who warmly defended the infatuated contest, now, like James and Arabella Harlowe, when Clarissa’s danger was announced to them, “are with the foremost to rejoice in the purposed reconciliation.” Our city illuminates to-morrow.

I congratulate you both upon these blessed tidings; auspicious to the quiet of your hearts in a degree beyond that of an individual portion in this general good; since, while it remains inviolate, it secures the provincial dependence of Ireland on this country. To the nobler claim of sister-amity, a bribed majority in her senate blasted her pretensions, by resigning the right of self-legislation; but as that was the work of a few, against the wishes of the many, a French descent, twenty thousand strong, must probably have struck off Ireland as a branch of the British empire, as completely as the impotent tyranny of exertion struck off America.

Colonel B—–, who shares Lord M—–’s [396] bosom-counsel, and who is, besides, himself a sound and discerning politician, told me at Buxton, that the Dove of Peace was abroad, and would, ere long, return to these shores with the olive-branch. I was sceptical to his augury, infected by the prevailing opinion that Buonaparte would not now make peace with us till he had tried invasion.

“No, Madam,” replied my friend; “those look not coolly on the changing times, who exclaim,

“His throne is tempest, and his state convulsion.”

“Those days are past. The people of France long for peace. Their Chief wishes, not less ardently for peace. Their Chief wishes, not less ardently, to maintain his supremacy. It is true the conquest of Ireland, which would soon be followed by that of England, must have covered him with glory; but the attempt would be setting his power in France upon a desperate cast. —If he fails, he falls. His glory is already great, beyond all need of augmentation; and, presenting his country with her anxious wish, he endears himself to her afresh, and by multiplied ties; and to the triumphant title of her hero, adds that of her wise legislator, her indulgent father.

[397] This dear proclamation has proved Colonel B—–’s sentiments oracular.

Giovanni cautions me to restrain the fulness of my joy till we know, with more certainty, the terms on which the pacific blessings, so long banished, are restored to us. Sincerely do I wish they may prove favourable, even to the utmost wish of national partiality; but if they shall be found below its level, we should reflect that we have deep crimes of incendiarism to expiate. That which many would proudly call an inglorious peace, is far better than the continuance of an inhuman, an unavailing war. I have the honour to remain, &c.


Letter LXXVII.

Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 425-429}

Lichfield, Dec. 20, 1801.

Most kind, dearest ladies, is that attention, of which the precious, though melancholy, proofs lie before me. I cannot persuade myself to delay the united acknowledgments of Mr Saville and myself, even till the sad certainty is ours of the impending fatality at Dinbren. We are both very uneasy about the hopeless state of its hospitable warm-hearted mistress; and Mrs S. is himself in a state of health to which inquietude and sorrow are very formidable.

The distress of poor Mr Roberts’ mind has probably prevented his communication of my last letter, describing the dire alarm which the first of this month brought us for the life of Mr Saville, whose worth you so well know. It has left a sense of alarm and dread upon my mind, which perhaps will never leave it, though the immediate peril passed away; and though, with some drawbacks, he has continued amending; [426] but my fear of a relapse withers my exertion, and I sink, amongst many claims, into almost epistolary bankruptcy.

Then I grieve for dear Mr Whalley’s irreparable loss, not only in a wife, so justly dear to him, but in the means of obtaining a continuance of those expensive elegancies in his style of living, which long habit has rendered necessary to his comforts. I fear his wane of life will severely feel the inconvenience and deprivation resulting from the Quixotic generosity of his youth, when, as I have been informed, lest the world should think and say, and lest his beloved Mrs Sherwood should suspect, that his attachment was mercenary, he would not marry her till she had settled upon her own relations, after her death, all her maiden fortune [footnote: Mrs Walley was heiress to an affluent fortune.], except an annuity of L.200. Her considerable jointure must drop with her.

The worst of it is, that the few people, capable of heroic disdain of the auri sacra fames, are exactly those who can the least dispense with those gratifications, of which gold is the source.

Mr Roberts is of that class, though his expenses, in comparison with those of my friends, Sir Brooke Boothby and Mr Whalley, are as the [427] morn-dew on the myrtle leaf to that stream of expense down which they have sailed.

Ah! poor Mrs Roberts — probably, ere this hours, that ardent and honest and generous heart of her is cold and insensate; that open countenance, over which, when unruffled by vexation, such varying gleams of comic fancy perpetually played, dispensing mirth and heart’s-ease to all around her, is now rigid, stern, immoveable, never, never to smile again! And Mrs Whalley too, in a gentler, quieter way, was arch and amusing, and most genuinely good. Thus do our friends drop around us, till, if we ourselves live long, it is to look through eyes dimmed by tears at a busy bustling world, peopled with strangers.

I am pleased that my poem, The Lake, was acceptable to you, whose scenic taste is so vivid, inventive, and distinguished. I expect to find Southey’s odd lyric epic full of genius, however wild and irregular, since it has been twice perused by the Lady Eleanor and her friend; and since it is destined to the high honour of a place in their library.

They are kind in saying that they hope I shall soon read it there; but my imbecility is so much increased by the accident of last March; my spirits are so alarmed and depressed, as to inspire the apprehension that the pleasures of Langollen [428] vale may not again be mind. I have also internal sensation, which tell me my days will be few, and passed disconsolately; but let not my gloomy prognostics obtrude themselves where I wish to impart nothing but pleasure!

We trust Mr Roberts will not be obliged to leave Dinbren; but, when it is naked of its mistress, a degree of mental desolation will be felt by all who revisit that noble mountain, and have experienced her cordial welcome on its brow.

Mr Saville and his daughter present their grateful compliments. The former assures you, that, if life and tolerable health are granted him, he will execute your commissions, next spring, with glad alacrity.

“And train the vernal scions for their growth.”

Lady Cork was at my house a day and a half this week. She is very friendly to me, and has much sprightliness, energy of character, and genuine wit. A stranger countess was a formidable business to the weak spirits of Mr S., which he had no design to encounter. But she declared she would see and converse with him. She sent her message — that his sole alternative was to come down to dinner, or permit her to dine in his apartment. She prescribed to him with humane [429] attention. We talked of Langollen vale, and its stars. lady Cork expressed her wishes personally to receive their influence. Should she obtain that happiness, I think it would beam upon her in all its benignity, for I persuade myself that her manners and conversation would interest and please.

I have the honour to remain, dear ladies, &c.


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