Tales of To-day
Lady Ann of Pembroke in 1819
Our Tales to-day were regulated by the pictures chosen from my port-folio; and as the only lady in our little groupe had honoured the young clerk by choosing a chancellor’s portrait, he requited the courtesy by selecting a celebrated female’s for the subject of his Tale.
When Mungo Park prepared to cross an unknown river, he estimated its depth by the length of time the air-bubbles took to ascend after a stone had been thrown into it. If the depth of the human mind was thus determined by the length of time its projects take in rising to light, my friend De Romillé’s must have been considered one of the profoundest. Thirty years elapsed before he executed his favourite scheme of returning to his native land, and when he finally began his voyage homewards, his determination had been chiefly fixed by a splendid folio volume, rich in charts, tables of heraldry, and aquatinta views representing the ancient and modern glories of his beloved Yorkshire. Therein he saw records of those days when a Baron and fifty serving men lodged and boarded in London for seven pence a day: when his marriage feast consumed twenty-four peacocks at 8s. each, thirty-six oxen, and as much gingerbread as would cover the table; and when my lord’s counsel were satisfied with eighteen-penny-worth of sack and sugar each. But above all he was enchanted with the portrait and memoir of Lady Ann De Clifford, Countess of Pembroke and Montgomery, rebuilder of her ancestor’s ancient castle, and so skilled in all gentle and useful arts, that she wrote orders for conserves with the same hand that denounced vengeance against a treacherous seneschal for unleading the roof. He found in the inventory of her wardrobe a memorandum of my ladie’s glass flowers and feathers, and a note of sixpence for powdering her hair through a quill, by which he saw that her toilet had been duly fashioned; and a fac-simile of her order for the admission of one Susan Gill into her almshouse, provided “she said prayers and lived decently,” assured him that she watched, as became a virtuous matron, over the morals of her servants. Lady Ann, in short, was the model and standard of perfection in his mind; and having but one daughter, he had called her Ann, and sent her to a seminary near this noble lady’s estate, that she might be in all things acquainted and impressed with her example. Being three thousand miles distant himself, he selected for her guardian and future trustee, a lineal descendant of Lady Ann’s most approved steward, a farmer of primitive morals and provincial shrewdness, whose great-grandfather’s name appeared in the oldest feefarm-rents. He had received annual communications since his daughter’s settlement in England from this good man; marvellously concise, but always indicating that his Ann advanced in every part of education which the Lady Ann excelled in; and De Romillé was struck with high respect for modern seminaries, when he found that to learn Latin, Greek, geometry, chemistry, elocution, and algebra, were no uncommon matters in the year 1819. De Romillé underwent the fatigues of his long voyage with the delicious heartfullness of a father hastening to the completion of his labours. He had received a Baron’s title—flattering to his fancy, only because it gave to his cherished daughter the name so dear to his imagination; and as that imagination became frolicsome during the leisure of a long voyage, he conceived the dangerous idea of visiting his birth-place and his daughter as a stranger before he appeared “with all his blushing honours thick upon him.”—A letter dated from the Isle of Wight, announcing that he meant to refresh his health in that Montpellier of England before he entered its most northern district, was sent to amuse his steward, and a stage-coach conveyed the new Baron De Romillé into Yorkshire.
During the moonlight night that preceded his last day’s journey, De Romillé’s heart beat with a school-boy’s gladness as he remembered the ancient elms and firs that overtopped his castle and stretched their interwoven arms over the stream that wore a channel at its foot. His adventurous leaps among the steep and shaggy rocks that once formed that channel, his plunder of rooks-nests and wild strawberries to divert an only sister now no more, returned to his memory with the pleasant dimness of evening shadows, softened and improved by distance. His sister bore the name he loved so fondly; and its holy place in his remembrance probably confirmed the hold which Lady Ann De Clifford’s image had kept there since his boyish days. To revive the ancient honours of his family, and see his favourite name preserved by the sanctity of living excellence, was a hope he had already half-fulfilled; and in two hours—in another hour, he might realize the whole! The loaded and uneasy post-coach turned down the black steep of Rumblegap—(an ominous and suitable name!)—but our traveller thought only of the valley below. There lay his native village—yonder was the gleaming of the river where his first trout-basket was filled—and now—certainly now he could see the grassy lane where his truant walks had been so often enjoyed. That green lane!—how often in the torrid heat of his eastern pavilion, he had wished to walk again down its narrow path under the trees that grew among the high hedgerow mounds, and to see, through their knit branches, the white school-house walls and the smoke of the village below!—All these precious objects were almost within reach—he had counted every milestone, yet they did not appear. At length the guard blew his horn, and De Romillé leaped upon the roof to seize the first glimpse. His vehicle turned through a little turnpike into a range of slated huts, which at different times and with different intentions had grown into a street. Some presented a back-wall creviced into windows half-filled with oiled paper or clumps of turf; others thrust a penthouse and an ill-hung sign-post towards the road; while all poured forth groupes of mothers gaudily dressed and ragged children. “Yon’s ould castle and market-cross,” said the sturdy guard, pointing to a troop of yeomen-cavalry, sheltering themselves under the pediment of a rough black building, which, as it could protect only the horses’ heads that met under it, obliged the riders to sit in the attitude which so diverted Frederic of Prussia when Attorney-general Dunning threw his arms round his charger’s neck at a review.
“Take care of your wheels! apply your anti-attrition!” exclaimed a sharp visaged lean man, as the coach rolled down its narrow road—“Thanks to the improvements of this age, it will not be long, I hope, before the ancient manipede, vulgarly called a wheel-barrow, will be adapted to the politest passengers; and the superior animal will then have due precedence, instead of sitting behind one, two, three, or four irrational ones.”
“I don’t see the justice of your conclusion,” said his companion on the roof—“if a man guides the wheel-barrow—but perhaps you mean the inferior sex to wheel us.”
“Which has happened too often,” returned the first speaker—“however, that, like other defects in the old system, may be corrected; and I expect to convince this town, when I have established my academy in it, that the teachers of youth have been in a mistake fourteen centuries. Sir, what do we want with antiquities, histories, and other men’s recollections?—When we have forgotten every thing, then, and not till then, we shall begin afresh, without prejudices and presuppositions.” “Pray, sir,” said the plain man by his side, “of what science have I the honour of seeing a professor?”
“Of none singly, my good sir. I might call myself an omnagogue, or teacher of all things to all men, for such I have been; but am now what is more profitable and fashionable: I come in short to give the last stroke and polish to Lady Ann De Clifford’s education—the art of forgetting gracefully.” “Have you any objection,” resumed the stranger, with a sly glance at his meagre person, “to be styled a Pangogue?—equally dignified in sound as a Greek compound, and liable to raise some pleasant ideas in English.”
“Nothing could be more appropriate!—for, in plain truth, I have brought down the last Almanac des Gourmands as an addition to my pupil’s library; and if, as I judge from your portfolio, you are an ambulating artist, I can command a passport to the pantry of her father’s castle, and, secondly, to his gallery of portraits. I see the organ of physiognomy in your skull; and if you know any thing of Gall and Spurzheim, you will see a most amusing variety of frontispieces.”
“I see one now,” replied his travelling companion, as they alighted at the massy iron gate of huge portcullis flanked by towers of venerable size. “Can this be Castle Romillé?” said the stranger, as, after a few introductory whispers, he followed a laced butler and a damsel in pink slippers over the matted hall into the picture gallery. “Here,” said his guide, “you may form an appendix to Lavater’s folio volume. Look at that head—its original belongs to the present Lord De Romillé, and has, as you see, the organ of constructiveness close to the left ear. He has toiled thirty years under a burning sun to rest at last among the escutcheons of his ancestors, in this castle. What will he find here? his farmhouses changed into villas with virandas, his tapestry into crimson velvet embossed with gold, and his hospitable hall into a concert-room—full of fine sounds, but nothing substantial. Look at the splendid jars, the festooned draperies, the silver tea-equipage beyond that door!—Are those my lady’s?—No—my lady’s maid’s and that portrait, loaded with gold wreaths, is the modern Lady Ann De Clifford, heiress of these domains. Her hair-dresser has only two hundred a year for varying the style of her head-dresses, and that fillet was actually braided from the model of the ancient Lady Ann’s. Observe in her glassy eye and pale yellow hair, how well the capability of forgetfulness is expressed by nature. She has the true emptiness of skull which renders a woman fit for my pupil. She will learn in two days to pass her harp and drop her pencil with an air of ignorance as completely natural as if she had not cost her father six thousand pounds in music and drawing-masters. She will soon forget how to write, and employ an agent to speak for her. This will be the perfection of polite forgetfulness; and I intend to propose an accomplished young person to reside with her as a sort of living opera-glass, a moveable lorguette in human shape, to see for her. On this very day she makes her first experiment in the art of losing the use of her limbs gracefully. She has forgotten how to walk, and an apilentum, a velocimanipede, and a patent asinade of my own invention have been brought here to save her the vulgar and old-fashioned trouble!”
The professor of modish obliviousness saw his companion gaze with stupid astonishment, and conducted him through one of the castle-gates into the smooth-shaven lawn, where a splendid groupe of the neighbours were assembled to see Lady Ann’s first exhibition on an ass composed of joint-wood, and suitably covered with a zebra’s skin, with the power, as the projector said, of perpetual motion. Great indeed would have been the surprise of the illustrious Ann of Pembroke, if she had seen her descendant attired in transparent tissue, with amazonian hat and buskins, mounted on her wooden palfrey; and greater still would have been her horror had she seen the procession of pink, lilac, and white silk parasols which followed in the hands of her honest yeomanry’s great-grand-daughters. De Romillé walked in the rear of this singular squadron in profound silence; but the automaton ass, no less fatal than its wooden predecessor in Troy, suddenly turned down the steep path which led to the castle-grove, and tangling its springs in a branch of its kindred oak, hurled its rider into the chasm below. It was a dismal and unfathomable depth, most unfortunately resembling the celebrated Strid in which young De Romillé lost his life some centuries before. The miserable father leaped in to save his child, and brought only her corpse to land. This terrible catastrophe acting on a brain heated by eager hopes, and on a frame chilled by a sudden plunge into the wharf, was final and fatal to his reason. His steward recognized him, and conveyed his unhappy master to the desolate home that now awaited his return. There his brain-fever seemed to sink into an insanity of a calm and singular kind. He imagined himself the old Lord Clifford of Cumberland, and talked with constant and quiet patience of his daughter’s expected return. His steward, grieved in heart at his unhappy patron’s desolation, went forth one day with a scheme almost as wild as De Romillé’s chimera. He had often seen a ragged rosy girl sitting in the church yard, and looking with eager admiration at the splendid tomb erected for the heiress. This girl’s blue eyes and pale flaxen hair resembled hers sufficiently; and honest Abraham sought an opportunity to execute his project. De Romillé loved to amuse his moody leisure by sitting on that tomb, and scooping with his cane the half-effaced inscriptions on humbler graves. Sadly as he busied himself with this untoward chizzel, he appeared not to remember that his own name would be thus effaced or preserved only by strangers. His steward approached him as he sat in this occupation, and announced the arrival of his daughter.
“It is too late to-day,” said the sick man, sighing—“We can make no sufficient preparation. My daughter ought not to return without twenty yeomen in pinked cloaks and scarlet hose. You may take fifteen pounds for her travelling expenses, Abraham: that, I think, is as much as I paid for the Sheriff of Yorkshire’s wine and eating on his journey, though he brought three chaplains and fifty soldiers. Where, I pray, is the account of my daughter’s charges in London?”
Honest Abraham had not foreseen this demand, but he had many such accounts ready, and replied, “Here is one small charge unpaid for some matters of my lady’s wardrobe and the last month of her board—
|Twelve lessons in Latin||15 0 0|
|Ditto in Attitudes||12 0 0|
|Do. private lessons in colouring||8 0 0|
|Signora Tintoretta’s new-invented carmine for morning-bloom||5 0 0|
|Ditto for the side-box||5 0 0|
|Fugitive pink for occasional effect||10 0 0|
|Instructions for applying the above according to the rules of perspective||20 0 0|
|To Mons. Grandson for tuition in the Swiss, Spanish, and Russian waltzes, and costume for each||100 0 0|
|8 Lessons from Madame Bruit, Artist in vocality||16 0 0|
|Do. from Mademoiselle Sauteuse, Professor of Attitudinizing||16 0 0|
|Instructions in the art of cementing kid-gloves with iron glue, and materials for ditto||10 0 0|
|Materials for mock-china, straw-shoes, and bead-nets||15 0 0|
|6 Lectures in Hydraulics||12 0 0|
|Ditto in Mineralogy||12 0 0|
|Heraldry||10 0 0|
|Instructions in Elocution||12 0 0|
|Pocket-extracts as materials for ditto||10 0 0|
|Circassian Corsetts to reform her Ladyship’s bust||5 0 0|
|Oriental Tooth-paste||1 0 0|
|Renovating Pink Fluid||3 3 0|
|Subscription to Galvanic Lectures—|
“What are you about, Abraham “ quoth the Lord De Romillé, falling with marvellous exactness into the ideas which his ancestor would have had on such an occasion: “By what mishap have you put such an inventory into my daughter’s name?—Here is the memorandum of her board and teaching, signed by her governess, dame Taylor of London: and with coin for her pocket, and furniture for her wardrobe, the sum total is only £3 and a silver threepence—
“To my Lady Ann’s man for litel glasses of sweetmeat iis.
“For my la.’s Indyan clothes vid.
“To a Frenchewoman for dauncing viis.
“Item, geven to Stephens that teacheth my lady to daunce for 1 monthe xxs.
“Item. A verdingal & verdingal wyre vs. iid.
“Musicyons for playing at my la’s chamber-doore vs.
“A maske for my la. iis.
“Item—a pair of Jersey stockings iiiis.
“Item, two pair of shoes of Spanish lether & one of calves’ lether, xiiiid.
“Bt at the sign of the holie lamb at St Martyn’s, a yd and qr of lawne
“Item, for sleave-silk xxxiiis
“Item an ell of holland for my lady’s neckkerchiefs.
“For drawing her la.shipp on canvas—iiis
“Item for foore basket-pendants of goulde and pearle xiis.
“Item a paire of greene worsted stockings for my la. iiiis. iiiid.
“Item. Two pap bookes, one for accompte—the other to write her catachisme in—
“Item—pd for a ringe & jewelle ixs iiid—item 2 dozen of glasse flowers viis.”
“ No doubt,” answered Abraham, “your good lordship has settled all demands for such items. I find no mention here either of neck kerchiefs or catechism-books. Will it please you to have a little patience while I read on?
“For a black velvet gown edged with gold lace, slashed & lined with white sattin
“Ditto, crimson velvet with ermine border
“Morning vest of white silk with cambric skirt——
“Cloak of grey superfine kerseymere with hood &——.”
“ Man,” interrupted De Romillé, snatching the paper from his steward, “that is a leaf out of my own inventory of clothes—Read on—I have the first part of it in my pocket. If it is the fashion of this day for women to wear such clothes, my daughter shall have all my father’s wardrobe—500 pounds for one week’s apparel! it is more than the price of six wedding-dinners and the Prior of Bolton’s whole cellar.”
Abraham took the schedule with due submission, and read as he was commanded—“My Lord’s Apparell—
“Your lordship will be pleased to observe, that here are no less than fifty gowns and forty pair of shoes in this inventory, not to mention twelve ells of ribbon for tippets.”
“A black velvet jacket embrothered with silver, furred with squirrels, & lined thorowly with white lamb something decayed xls.
“One black sattin gowne lyned with buckram & buttons of black silk xxxiiis ivd.
“ Item—One robe of blewe sarsenet without sleeves & four shorte gowns with lace.
“ Item, A tawny hatte
“ Item—A dun hatte
“Item One covered with crimesyn, velvet & gold lace—
“iii Payre of carnation silk stockings & ash-coloured taffeta garters & roses edged with goulde—
“Item. A roll of buckram, 7 yards of right white sattin & iii prs of perfumed gloves.”
“So much the better, Abraham; take the key of my father’s chest, and move it into my daughter’s chamber; and see that the doublets and hose be made fit for present use.”
Abraham obeyed without delay: and when he had surveyed the piles of ancient black jerkins, sleeveless gowns, and silk shoes, he saw ample store of equipment for the damsel he had selected to amuse his patron’s insanity. The new Lady Ann was shewn to Lord De Romillé’s physicians, and the scheme well approved. She was shut, a week before the day intended for her introduction, in the chamber which contained the ancient coffer, and having studied the equipment of modern ladies from the window of her native cottage, she was at no loss to convert the silk jerkins into the scanty tunics of the year 1819, and the furred cloaks into pelisses. Carnation-coloured silk stockings, red velvet caps, and laced hats, were as easily transformed into female decorations; and the taylors of elder days had been so abundant in buttons and fringes, that her dress when she entered Lord De Romillé’s dining-hall, would have been envied by a court-dress maker. De Romillé gazed at her with eyes of wonder and admiration, for he recognized the apparel of his great-great grandfather’s ancestor, and thought he recognized the prudence and sagacity of old Lady Ann De Clifford in her descendant’s ingenious adaptation of her wardrobe. He placed his supposed daughter at the head of the dining-table, which, by his order, had been covered, according to an ancient bill of fare, with a young lamb whole roasted, two baked turbots in one dish, brawn with mustard and malmsey, apples and cheese stewed with sugar and sage, green ginger, and gingerbread. But he seemed displeased that no yeomen sat in his hall to eat frumetty-pottage; for Abraham’s utmost art could not find any of his lord’s tenants willing to appear in buff leather doublets and serge hose at a public dinner, and their wives were still less inclined to return from their pink pelisses, fringed half-boots, and laced parasols, to the homely attire their great grand-dames had worn, even for a day. But the new Lady Ann’s demeanour gratified her supposed father beyond his best friends’ hopes. Accustomed to the labours of the dairy and the kitchen, she arranged her pastry-castles, jars of conserves, and stores of potted lampreys, with the most exact attention to Lady Ann De Clifford’s book of recipes. She needed such a guide, as the race of good old women in the country is wholly extinct. Native shrewdness and a real ambition to please, the first principle both of politeness and genius, made this untutored rustic assiduous in devices to suit the fond fancies of her nominal parent. She accompanied him in his evening walks among the fells and waterfalls near his domain, caused the wild rose-bushes to be fostered, and his favourite oaks woven into a canopy. These were the arts of her private hours; in public she had attractions no less powerful. Cheered and soothed by the semblance of a daughter’s kindness, the visionary man became fond of society, and solicitous to see his daughter loved. It was a subject of strange curiosity and much admiration to the people of a provincial town; and when whispers were circulated that she was going to walk, to ride, or to appear at church, crouds were sure to assemble. On the anniversary of her arrival, Abraham was once more ordered to provide a splendid feast for his tenants and dependents. When they were all assembled in the old dining-hall of the baronial mansion, the Lord of the Manor brought the nominal Lady Ann to her place at his head, and made this unexpected oration to his vassals:
“ Gentlemen, as you well know, I have been thought mad above twelve-months by all my friends, and by some, mad since my birth. Of the first opinion you shall judge presently; of the second you ought to have some doubts, as I have myself. Who among you has not seen the labour and the sums lavished to make my former daughter seem what this uneducated woman is? What did the modern and highly-fashioned Lady Ann acquire which her representative will not display as gracefully—Was it any ornamental art?—None, for the refinement of good taste forbids a woman of rank to be her own artist. Was it an easy and natural neglect of polished decorum and courtly complaisance?—Judge for yourselves whether the ease of ignorance is not more perfect than the assumption of affected apathy. This pupil of nature will be rude with more amiable rashness, and please by greater novelty. Judge too how cheaply I have gained for this young stranger all the glory of that notoriety which fashionable women perish to obtain! The wardrobe of old Lady Ann De Clifford has made her the object of more pleasant and less envious wonder than a belle or heiress of the newest ton. She will shew how nearly the excess of ignorance approaches the perfection of modern education—it excells it, perhaps; for she who knows nothing has nothing to unlearn, while the pupil of false taste acquires sciences she must disdain to shew, and learns morals never meant for use. She needs nothing but the art of forgetting, which I mean to teach her. I present her to you as my adopted and future heiress, certain that no one will then remember her deficiencies or her origin. Let her but seem to have learned more than ever could have been useful, and to make no use of what she has really learned, and she will be all that fashion can make her, and all that Lady Ann De Clifford need be in 1819.”
- Perhaps she spelled herself very much like Lady Ann, and wrote at least as well, if we may judge by that celebrated lady’s autograph. Her father’s secretary had 25 per annum : but those who could read his writing deserved it as much. ↩