Imatges de pàgina

met her, when they were both about eight years old, and here that the foundations of their life-long friendship were laid. Lady Catherine's parents were a singularly handsome couple, and she may therefore have drawn her remarkable beauty from a double source. Swift speaks of her mother as 'my Mistress Rochester,' and, half in fun half in earnest, resents the daughter's rivalling the mother in charm. Writing to Gay, the 10th of November, 1730, he says, 'I desire to present my most humble acknowledgments to my lady duchess in return for her civility. I hear an ill thing—that she is matre pulchra filia pulchrior. I never saw her since she was a girl, and should be angry she should excel her mother, who was long my principal goddess.' But her character was even more conspicuous than her appearance. Self-willed, haughty, and headstrong, she soon began to give her family a taste of her quality. Prior has commemorated one of her outbreaks in some verses called The Female Phaethon. The story as told in them is not very clear, but they relate to some concession wrung by Lady Catherine in her childhood from her reluctant mother. The last stanza runs as follows:

Fondness prevail'd, mamma gave way:

Kitty, at heart's desire,
Obtain'd the chariot for a day,

And set the world on fire.

It may be inferred from a remark of Horace Walpole’s that she was
not more than fifteen at the date of this poem; to which, when she
was seventy-one, he added an epigrammatic stanza of his own.
letter to Mann, of the 26th of April, 1771, he says, “The Duchess of

is still figuring in the world not only by
giving frequent balls, but really by her beauty. Reflect that she was
a goddess in Prior’s days! This was fifty-six years ago or more.
her this stanza :

To many a Kitty, Love his car

Will for a day engage,
But Prior's Kitty, ever fair,

Obtained it for an age !

And she is old enough to be pleased with the compliment.

Fifteen is rather a tender age for a society 'goddess.' But Kitty seems to have begun her life young; for, according to Lady Theresa Lewis, she was made Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Anne at the age of eleven. At the age of twenty she married Charles Douglas, the third Duke of Queensberry, on the 10th of March, 1720. Queensberry had been appointed a Privy Councillor and Lord of the Bedchamber by George the First, but the Duchess came of a family with Jacobite leanings, and it is possible therefore that the path of her Court life was not too easy under the régime favoured by the King. Throughout his reign the Government was in the hands of a Whig

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Administration, at first under Lord Townshend and Sir Robert Walpole and latterly under Walpole alone. The Tories were for the time politically prostrate ; but in 1727 the sudden death of George the First put an entirely new complexion upon affairs, and the hopes of the anti-Walpole party rose high. Swift, who was bitterly hostile to Walpole, was about to leave for France, but postponed his journey, chiefly on the urgent advice of Mrs. Howard, the new King's mistress. Pulteney, Bolingbroke, and the rest of the ‘Patriots,' as they called themselves, were busy with a thousand schemes in reference to their return to power, which now seemed so secure. And, indeed, their hopes were justified. George the Second, while Prince of Wales, had naturally, as head of the Opposition, been strongly antagonistic to Walpole, whose downfall seemed inevitable. “It is agreed,' writes Swift to Dr. Sheridan on the 24th of June, 1727, 'that the Ministry will be changed, but the others will have a soft fall; although the King must be excessive generous if he forgives the treatment of some people' (i.e. Walpole).

These expectations, however, were doomed to a dramatic disappointment. The story is well known and need not be retold at length. The new King nominated Sir Spencer Compton as his Minister ; but his manifest incapacity, Walpole’s adroitness, and the sagacity of Queen Caroline brought about a sudden revulsion in Walpole’s favour ; and on the 24th of June, 1727 (the very day of Swift's letter), he was reappointed First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Horace Walpole, in his Reminiscences, gives an amusing account of the way in which this unexpected event was made known to the astonished Court. The King and Queen held a reception in Leicester Fields, in which all the nobility and gentry in town flocked to kiss their hands. Lady Walpole was there among the rest ; but as the time-serving crowd had not heard of Compton's 'evaporation,' she could not make her way to the Queen between the scornful backs and elbows of her late devotees. “But no sooner was she descried by her Majesty, than the Queen said aloud, “ There I am sure I see a friend !” The torrent divided and shrank to either side; "and as I came away,” said my mother, “I might have walked over their heads if I had pleased.”

For a time therefore the intrigues of the Patriots were crushed, and throughout the whole of Walpole's ascendency the Tories were generally discountenanced. This seems to have affected the Duchess's position at Court, and, moreover, disagreements had arisen between the Duke and the Walpole Ministry. Under these circumstances he had determined to resign his appointments, when this step was precipitated by the impetuous conduct of his Duchess.

Her extraordinary beauty, even as a child, had attracted the attention of other poets besides Prior, and Gay, in his Shepherd's Week, published in 1714, had given a line to 'blooming Hyde with eyes so rare.' Shortly after her marriage in 1720 the Duchess seems to have taken him up with some ardour, a process which ended, as Mr. Morley remarks, in is becoming her lap-dog. He still, however, worked in a desultory fashion with his pen, and on the 29th of January, 1728, he produced The Beggar's Opera. This proved a brilliant success, both for Gay and for Rich, the owner of the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. In less than two months Gay had netted between 7001. and 8001. by it, and Rich nearly 4,0001. The wits of the day said that the opera had made Gay rich and Rich gay. Encouraged by this success, he wrote a sequel, entitled Polly; but before it could be produced Rich received an order from the Duke of Grafton, who was then Lord Chamberlain, forbidding its rehearsal. This action was probably instigated by Walpole in retaliation for the satirical treatment of himself and the Administration in The Beggar's Opera. In any case, the move was of a political character, and in this way acquired a notoriety far beyond its intrinsic importance. The Duchess of Queensberry flung herself into the fight and made Gay's quarrel her own. She pestered the King to cancel the order of the Lord Chamberlain, and even offered to read the play to him in his closet, that he might satisfy himself of its inoffensiveness. The King replied that he would be delighted to receive the Duchess in his closet, but would hope to amuse her better than by any literary employment. However, all efforts proved ineffectual, and it was then determined to bring out the play as a book. The Duchess of Queensberry busied herself vigorously in the matter, and even went to the length of openly soliciting subscriptions for the book at a Drawing Room. This was an indiscretion which could not be overlooked, and she was forbidden the Court. Infuriated at this treatment, she returned an answer by the Vice-Chamberlain, which Mrs. Delany has preserved for us.

The Duchess of Queensberry is surprised and well pleased that the King hath given her so agreeable a command as to stay from Court, where she never came for diversion, but to bestow a civility upon the King and Queen ; she hopes by such an unprecedented order as this that the King will see as few as he wishes at his Court, particularly such as dare to think or speak truth. I dare not do otherwise, and ought not nor could have imagined that it would not have been the very highest compliment that I could possibly pay the King to endeavour to support truth and innocence in his house, particularly when the King and Queen both told me that they had not read Mr. Gay's play. I have certainly done right, then, to stand by my own words rather than his Grace of Grafton's, who hath neither made use of truth, judgment, nor honour through this whole affair either for himself or his friends.


The rage which transported the Duchess from the third person to the first in the middle of this undignified effusion makes the whole letter read like the outburst of an angry maid-servant. The Duke

at once threw up his appointment and retired with the Duchess to Scotland.

Gay became for the time a sort of political martyr, but whatever his opportunity was worth he failed to utilise it; and indeed he soon fell into a cosy berth much more congenial to his easy-going habits than the stormy arena of politics. Perpetually boasting of his love of independence, he was content to submit to the most servile conditions of patronage, sometimes accompanied by a neglect which no self-respecting man would have endured. On one occasion Lord Burlington had provided him with lodging at Burlington House, but seems to have given little or no heed to his board. Arbuthnot visited him there professionally, and prescribed a poultice for his swollen face. Coming again, Arbuthnot found that Gay had eaten his poultice for hunger.

But a pliable creature of this kind was an ideal protégé for the Duchess. She loved to manage, and she certainly could manage Gay to her heart's content. After the Polly affair she took him to her own house ; boarded, lodged, and doctored him; nursed him devotedly through an illness, and kept a severe check on his expenditure 'I was a long time,' writes Gay to Swift on the 6th of December, 1730, “ before I could prevail with her to let me allow myself a pair of shoes with two heels; for I had lost one, and the shoes were so decayed that they were not worth mending.' Indeed, according to local tradition, she used even to rescue him from the pot-houses to which he would occasionally contrive to escape. On his death in 1732 she and the Duke attended to the distribution of his small fortune, and placed a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. Gay fell into all her arrangements without any show of reluctance. He was placed on the establishment as the Duke's secretary, and lived the life of a tame cat in the luxury which was so congenial to him. His position in the Queensberry household was, for all intents and

purposes, a charitable provision for his support. Yet he writes with a grand unconsciousness to Swift on the 20th of March, 1730: 'I am very happy in my present independency. I envy no man; but have the due contempt of voluntary slaves of birth and fortune.' From the letters of Pope and others it is clear that Gay now became to a great extent lost to his old circle ; but in his new position he was able to throw a good deal of light on the life and character of his patroness. It was a fashionable whim of those days to write what were called 'Chedder ' letters—that is to say, letters to which more than one writer contributed. The Duchess was very fond of this practice, and wrote many such letters in conjunction with Gay, and sometimes also with her husband, or her brother Lord Cornbury. They are often quite light, and usually amusing. The following extracts from one of the 9th of August, 1729, will serve to give an idea of them. The letter was to Mrs. Howard, and on the top of the paper

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was a blot. The Duchess begins : 'You are resolved not to send the first blot, so you see I do.

Say something for me very obliging to Mrs. Meadows and Mrs. Carteret.' Mr. Gay borrows the rest of the paper for his use.-C. Q.'

Here the Duke interposes with a short paragraph, ending : ‘That blot was of my making, and not on purpose, as witness Queensberry.'

Gay then takes up the tale :

Now you

know everything about the blot, I will go on with my letter. We do not play at cards, and yet the days are too short for us. I know that this will scarce be credited ; yet it is true. We do not want one another's company, nor are we tired of one another. This too sounds incredible ; yet it is true. (Then come some more blots.) The Duchess made these blots and values herself upon it. I desire you would send word whether white currants be proper to make tarts : it is a point that we dispute upon every day, and will never be ended unless you decide it. The Duchess would be extremely glad if you could come here this day se’nnight; but if you cannot, come this day fortnight at farthest, and bring as many unlikely people as you can to keep you company. ... The Duchess hath left off taking snuff ever since you have ; but she takes a little every day. I have not left it off, and yet take none; my resolution not being so strong. . . . General Dormer [a notorious gourmet) refused to eat a wheatear, because they call it here a fern-knacker ; but since he knew it was a wheatear, he is extremely concerned. ... The Duke hath rung the bell for supper, and says, 'How can you write such stuff!'

And so we conclude
As 'tis fitting we should
For the sake of our food;
So don't think me rude,
Would my name were Gertrude
Or Simon and Jude.

P.S.—Thero is a cock pheasant at Child Grove that is certainly a witch ; Mr. White cannot kill it, though he shoots in a Portuguese habit. . . . We liked our mushrooms here very well till General Dormer told us they were tame ones.-J. G.

And here the Duchess interjects a final passage :

It is a pitty-I should spell pity with a double t. It is a pity, I say, that so much plain paper should lie waste. We have a great deal more wit, but no more time. There is a proper care taken that this may not be thought plain paper.-C.Q.

Elsewhere Gay appeals to Mrs. Howard to be a mediator between the Duchess and himself, 'we having at present a quarrel about a fishing rod’; and complains that her Grace' hath absolutely forbid her dog to be fond of me.'

But matters did not always run so smoothly; for her Grace had caprices, which had to be humoured carefully or there was trouble. Gay in one letter declared that she was a professed hater of common civility, but this was hardly a correct description. She was not naturally churlish, and indeed had a warm affection for her friends.

· Maids of Honour.

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