Lady Louisa Stuart


lady louisa stewartLady Louisa Stuart’s wicked tongue skewers many a person… It is unclear whether Miss Clinton, to whom she replies, visited Plas Newydd or merely referred in her letter(s) to company who did.

On reflection, it is particularly noteworthy that, while Lady Stuart denigrates the Ladies for ‘contriving to learn’ everyone’s history, Miss Clinton obviously had asked after their history — and Lady Stuart was more than happy to comply, at least as far as airing out her own thoughts.

Her letter for the year 1821:

James A. Home, ed., Letters of Lady Louisa Stuart to Miss Louisa Clinton
(Edinburgh: David Douglas) 1901

Danesfield, Monday, 8th Oct. [1821]

My dear Lou — To do things in order let me thank you for two letters duly received, one dated Chester, Sept. 28th, the other from Alderley which came yesterday morning. The former discomposed me, trenching upon all the old forbidden ground. Even Madame de Sévigné’s reiterated encomiums on her daughter, and extreme professions of fondness, have in some degree this effect. And you may depend upon it, dear Lou, that exaggerated praise of any person, nay, of anything, is sure to leave on the mind of every hearer an impression rather unfavourable to that person or thing. One’s own reason tells one there is something to be deducted, and not knowing precisely what, one is tempted to deduct rather too much than too little. The moment Pope had said —

‘He dedicates in high heroic prose,’

the next line ‘And ridicules beyond a hundred foes’ made itself: the consequence was as certain as ‘I fell’ after ‘he knocked me down.’ This is a scold, I grant, and so intended. Pray let it work a reformation, but now I have done.

I never saw the Ladies of Llangollen, but for these forty years past have heard so much of them and seen so many of their letters, that I think I can give a peremptory answer to your gentle, hesitating question, and be quite confident that had Bishop Pelham and his lady visited them the day after Lady Maria, it would have been “the dear king” at every word — “well, after all, I fancy there is nobody so charming” — “for my part I was always in love with him” — “one does feel glad he has got rid of that horrid woman,” etc., etc., etc. They are the very grossest flatterers and palaverers upon earth, and keeping, as poor Edward Hamilton [footnote: Mrs. Preston’s brother — connections of Lord Boyne.] used to say, a ‘gossip shop’ between England and Ireland, have contrived to learn the characters and private history, the foibles and predilections, of almost every individual above a cobbler in both, therefore know exactly in what key they should play to every fresh visitor. In the year of our Lord 1782, when I first heard of them, I was disposed to be captivated with anything so romantic. I came to my senses on being assured in course of time that there was nothing the least romantic about them, and that nobody knew the world so well, or was so desirous to keep up a close connection with it. By the bye, take this for a maxim ever while you live. No character becomes so thoroughly worldly as one that sets out with being romantic, and can entirely overcome the propensity; all the enthusiasm having (pretty surely) belonged to the head, which clears, grows wiser, and ends as cool and calculating as head can be. In men this process often makes the most hardened kind of libertine. In women, only those who can coax, and wind, and manage other people most cleverly, and play their own cards to the best advantage: for having once had something like fine feelings, they are able to work themselves up to them again on proper occasions with amazing effect, and talk sentiment to admiration, where sentiment is the current coin.

Wednesday. — You may think me severe on these poor ladies, but if I were to count up to you the persons of my acquaintance who have at several times visited them, and been each the very individual they had all their lives particularly longed to see, and for whose favourite relation, or friend, or patron, or chef de parti, they had ever had the most peculiar partiality, or admiration, or veneration (as the world chanced to suit), you would not wonder. Poor I myself have been in three or four instances the object of their distant passion. In one I was comically coupled with a brother of their visitor, who assured me that the two people on earth they had most set their hearts on seeing were myself and his said brother — only remarkable for having been once the greatest coxcomb, and always the greatest profligate in England, but esteemed by everybody (even his own family), as shallow as he was worthless and impertinent. I am afraid you would have found me less complaisant than Aunt S., for all the beauties of the valley would not pay me for being forced to spend a day with them. I was yesterday complimented as very tolerant; but I cannot be so to the Genus Montebankum, and they clearly belong to it. Poor Mrs. P. [Preston] used to cry Faugh! when they were named.

I shall not scold you for your sensations on the Capelcurig road. I know full well that there are people who act as an extinguisher to those of your temper and mine in such given cases.” [pp. 186-9]


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Helena Whitbread
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 04:45:47

    Lady Stuart’s letter above is a very interesting and shrewd critique of the “romantic” Ladies of Llangollen. Another, perhaps less worldly, denigration, of the Ladies’ lifestyle came from a friend of Anne Lister’s. After listening to Anne’s account of her visit to the Ladies, Anne’s friend, Emma Saltmarshe burst forth with the following disparaging remarks: [Plas Newydd was] ‘a little baby house & baby grounds. Bits of painted glass stuck in all the windows. Beautifully morocco-bound books laid about in all the arbours, etc., evidently for shew [sic], perhaps stiff if you touched them & never opened. Tasso., etc., etc. Everything evidently done for effect. She thought they must be 2 romantic girls &, as I walked to see her off, she said she had thought it was a pity they were not married; it would do them a great deal of good. Mr Saltmarshe [Emma’s husband] was less displeased with the place than she was – but when [they] got back to the inn, he agreed it was not worth going to see. Little bits of antiques set up here & there. They themselves were genuine antiques – 80 or 90! She hoped I would not despise her taste. I merely replied most civilly, “No!” I was delighted to hear her account by way of contrast to what I had thought myself.’ [Saturday 10th August 1822. pp.230-231 The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.]
    Anne Lister came to know ‘old’ Lady Louisa Stuart from about 1829 onwards writing to her regularly and often visiting her in London.


    • Janeite Kelly
      Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:48:01

      Dear Helena — How fascinating that Anne Lister later met up with Lady Louisa! I must say, it does seem that in the end people somehow connect up with so many others. The six-degrees-of-separation…

      Thanks for sharing the Saltmarshe thoughts on Plas Newydd. I have to wonder if they were invited inside, or merely roamed around the grounds?



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