The actor’s account of his sighting of Sarah and Eleanor sitting in the audience at a performance in Oswestry is well reproduced (quoted in Hamilton; quoted in Blackburne). The comments were originally published in Memoirs of Charles Mathews, Comedian, edited by Mrs. Mathews (1839), vol. III.
It is interesting to read the subtle changes made by authors quoting from Mathews; see especially Blackburne using the word mummified (concerning the dress of the Ladies) versus Mathew’s original manified.
And speaking of dress — see comments regarding Harriet St. Leger. Note the thoughts of Frances Cobbe, c1894, on the reception of people who were thought unconventional. (see below)
In letters to Mrs. Mathews:
“Oswestry, Sept. 4th, 1820.
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 them, I instantaneously 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 Boruwlaski. 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.
C. Mathews.” [pp. 150-1]
“Porkington, Oct. 24th
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 mentioned by Miss Seward in her letters, about the year 1760. 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 manified dress, with the Croix de St. Louis, and other orders, and myriads of large brooches, with stones large enough for snuff-boxes, stuck into 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 bell-glass, and bring her to Highgate, for you to look at. To-morrow night I give a night here to Stanton, a poor manager. On Thursday, Litchfield; Saturday, Cheltenham; and then for home; dear home, dear Nancy and Charles! [….]
C. Mathews.” [pp. 157-8]
* * *
Frances Power COBBE, Life of Frances Power Cobbe
(London: Richard Bentley & Son) 1894.
Mrs. [Fanny] Kemble’s friend “H.S.” — Harriet St. Leger — lived at Ardgillan Castle, eight Irish miles from Newbridge. Her sister, the wife of Hon. and Rev. Edward Taylor and mother of the late Tory Whip, was my mother’s best-liked neighbour, and at an early age I was taught to look with respect on the somewhat singular figure of Miss St. Leger. In those days any departure from the conventional dress of the time was talked of as if it were altogether the most important fact connected with a woman, no matter what might be the greatness of her character or abilities. Like her contemporaries and fellow countrywomen, the Ladies of Llangollen, (also Irish), Harriet St. Leger early adopted a costume consisting of a riding habit (in her case with a skirt of sensible length) and a black beaver hat. All the empty-headed men and women in the country prated incessantly about these inoffensive garments, insomuch that I arrived early at the conviction that, rational and convenient as such dress would be, the game was not worth the candle. Things are altered so far now that, could dear Harriet reappear, I believe the universal comment on her dress would rather be: “how sensible and befitting”! rather then the silly, “How odd”! [p. 197]