Extracts from a Lawyer’s Portfolio
Whoever has visited the central inn at Carlisle in a wet day, must remember how vainly the traveller looks from the windows for amusement, unless he understands horses sufficiently well to admire the various kinds which bring two or three dozen west-country graziers and as many shrewd northern drovers into the stable-yard from a Whit-on-tryste. It was more amusement to me to remark the gradations between the well-filled grey coat and oil-skin cap which distinguish the plump Englishman, and the weather-beaten plaid of his competitors. One of the latter, a lean, sinewy, russet-faced man, whose attire promised more acquaintance with cattle than books, began one with me by lamenting that the rain would not allow him to walk on the castle walls or the race ground, as the inn did not afford a single volume, not even Burns or the “Tales of my Landlord.”—Such an evidence of good taste induced me to cast my eyes on his portmanteau, whereon I saw the name of Ben Johnson inscribed, with a sentiment of respect which a second glance at his honest face confirmed. Even an Annandale-farmer must retain, I supposed, something of the literary inspiration attached to that name, and we began a long discourse on the merits of the Ayrshire ploughman and Ettrick shepherd, which ended in my new friend Benjamin’s renewed regrets that we had neither Guy Mannering nor Rob Roy.—“Sir,” continued he, “I know very well who he means by Dandie Dinmont, though some people say it is I—and I know Rob Roy too, for I lived many a year with his second cousin’s aunt’s grandsons, and he was the only one of the family that deserved to be hanged. Lord! how true it is what he says there of Skipton in Craven! But the worst is, though I know all those stories by heart, and could tell them just as he tells ’em, I always want to be reading them again, and feel just as if I did not know how they would end.”
“You have supplied the reason,” was my answer: “your historian paints from truth, and truth has the same advantage over fable which your strong plaid has over my black silk gown. But since truth delights us in the dress of romance, as an honest man looks well in your many-coloured tartan, here is the fragment of an old memoir sufficiently mysterious and true, and therefore both respectable and touching.”—My auditor filled his glass, laid his mull aside, and lighted his indispensable pipe, while I opened the first sheet of the old pamphlet I had found behind the shining grate of the best inn-parlour, dated 1710.
“The beginning of the Princess’s kindness for me had an early date:—we used to play together when she was a child, and she even then expressed a particular fondess for me. On her marriage with Prince——, at her own earnest request, I was added to her household, possibly because the first lady of the bedchamber was a person whose discourse and manner (though the Princess thought they agreed very well together) could not recommend her to so young a mistress. For she looked like a madwoman and talked like a scholar. Favour with a princess engaged me to her by a sentiment which I chuse to call honour rather than gratitude or duty; because, while it implies all the justice and affection of both, it seems to express a more disinterested principle of action than either.
“Every body knows that the coldness between the Princess and Queen arose from the former desiring an independent settlement, which, as she was told, ought to have been taken in any way her superiors pleased. But she answered, ”that she could not think herself wrong in desiring a security for what was to support her.”—The Queen replied, with an imperious air—‘What friends have you but the King and me?’ and the next day the Princess received this letter.
“‘Having something to say to you, which I know will not be pleasing, I chuse rather to write it first, being unwilling to surprize you, though I think what I am going to tell you should not, if you give yourself time to think that never any body was suffered to live at court in my Lord M——’s circumstances.—I hope you do me the justice to believe, it is much against my will that I now tell you, it is very unfit Lady M——should stay with you, since that gives her husband so just a pretence of being where he ought not to be.
“‘I think I might have expected you should have spoken to me of it. But now I must tell you, it was very unkind in a relative, would have been uncivil in an equal, and I need not say I have more to claim. Which, though my kindness would make me never exact, yet when I see the use you would make of it, I must tell you, Lady M——must not continue with you. At some other time we shall reason the business calmly; which I shall willingly do, or any thing else which may shew it shall never be my fault if we do not live kindly together. Nor will I ever be my choice but your truly loving and affectionate,
“When my mistress received this singular letter, she did not forget that it related to the faithful person whom she had once been advised to rely on and keep as her ‘most kind and true friend;’ that it was written by one whose want of sensibility had been proved by her cold and careless entrance into the bed-chamber where the late King (still living, though displaced) had always slept, and where she amused herself with viewing the counterpane and trimming, as idle travellers examine an innkeeper’s. The Princess might have removed all this cause of dissension between her and the highest person in the realm, had she accepted my frank offer to depart, but it was refused with tears and trembling. And she rather chose to encounter the insolence of the Queen’s messengers, who, when they brought and inquiry respecting the Prince, actually passed her, while sitting in the same room, to address themselves to him. Yet the Princess strove to conciliate the Queen; and when her condition compelled her to confine herself on the sofa, and a dangerous period was approaching, she sent a dutiful message, alleging them as excuses for not waiting on her Majesty. Once, and only once, the Queen visited her in her forlorn indisposition. The salutation, without expressing the least concern respecting her health, or even touching her hand, was this—‘I have made the first step by coming to you, and I now expect you should make the next by removing Lady M——.’ The Princess only answered faltering, and as the Queen herself remarked, looking paler than death. ‘I have never in all my life disobeyed your Majesty, except in this one particular, which will some time or other appear as unreasonable to the requester as to me.’ Upon which the Queen rose up, and went away, repeating to the Prince, as he led her to the coach, the same thing she said to the Princess. They never met more, and company was forbidden to wait upon my mistress, to whom, wishing to save her from indignities seldom offered to the heir of a crown, I again proposed my voluntary retirement, and received this letter, which I transcribe, not because it was the most fervent and affectionate, but because it was the briefest of very many which remain in my possession.
“‘In obedience to my dear——, I have told the Prince all she desired me; and he is so far from being of another opinion, if there had been occasion he would have strengthened me in my resolutions, and we both beg of you never to mention so cruel a thing more. Can you think either of us so wretched, that, for the sake of £20,000, and to be tormented from morning to night by flattering knaves and fools, we should forsake those to whom we have such obligations, and whose misfortunes we have caused? Besides, can you believe we will stoop to——,* who from the first moment has used me at this rate? How would——laugh at me, and please himself with having got the better? And, which is much more, how would my conscience reproach me for having sacrificed it, my honour, reputation, and all the substantial comforts of life, for transitory interest, which even to those who make it their idol never affords any real satisfaction, much less to a virtuous mind. No, my dear——, never believe your faithful—— will ever submit. She can wait with patience for a sunshine day; and if she does not live to see it, yet she hopes England will flourish again. Once more give me leave to beg you would be so kind as never to speak of parting more; for let what will happen, it is the only thing that can make me miserable.’
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These blanks are in the originals. Copies of them and of this narrative were published under the Duchess of M.’s authority, by Geo. Hawkins, at Milton’s Head, between the two Temple Gates.
“The sunshine day came, however; my patroness prevailed over all her enemies, and her levees were thronged with visitors, amongst whom my Lord Carnarvon merrily said, ‘I hope, madam, you will remember that I came to wait upon you, when none of this company did!’ She consulted me on all occasions, and would have loaded me with favours; but I only begged her to advance one of my aunt’s poor daughters from the station of rocker to that of bed-chamber-woman, and her brother (a ragged tall boy, whom the bottle-men afterwards called honest John Hill) was made my lord’s aide-de-camp, though he thought him good-for-nothing. Not long after this, I went to pay my respects to my mistress in the Christmas-holidays, and plainly perceived she was uneasy. She stood all the while I was with her; and when I stooped to kiss her hand, raised me with a very cold embrace, and, without speaking one word, let me go. Now I remembered, that having gone privately, on a day before, by a secret passage, from my lodgings to the bed-chamber, on a sudden my cousin, not knowing I was there, came in with the boldest and gayest air possible; but seeing me, stopped, and changing her manner into a most solemn courtesy, enquired if my mistress rung, and went out again. It was plain there existed some secret between them; but, as honest Howell wisely saith, ‘A secret is too much for one, enough for two, but too little for three.’—And much more wisely he also saith, ‘From them whom I trust may God defend me, but from those I do not trust I will defend myself.’—After much thought on the woman I had raised from the dust, and on her I had served so long with promises of unalterable affection, I wrote to the latter, on the 27th of December, these few words:—
“‘If——will be so just as to reflect and examine her last reception—how very different from what it has been! you cannot wonder at my reproaches,——. My temper is plain and sincere, and——did like it for many years. And if——has any remains of the tenderness she once professed for her faithful friend, I would beg she might be treated one of these two ways: Either with the openness and confidence of a friend, as she has been for twenty years; or else in the manner necessary for the post she is in. And if she pleases to chuse one of these ways, or any others, I promise to follow if possible, and on all occasions to shew that——never had a more faithful servant.’
“My patronness hardly noticed this appeal; and my husband, then in the height of a glory he might have made perpetual, was treated as if his successes in her cause were injuries to her self-love. He wrote to me as usual in cypher from the camp, professing his zeal for 83 and his distrust of 91, by which he meant our lady and her new advisers. Her change was more distinctly complained of in another letter, which I sent to her enclosed in one from myself—
“‘I cannot help sending this to shew how exactly my lord agrees in my opinion, that he has now no interest with you.—Yet I think he will be surprised to hear, that when I had taken so much pains to put your jewels in a way I thought you would like, my cousin made you refuse to wear them in so unkind a manner. I will make no reflections, only that you chose a very wrong day to mortify me, when you were just going to return thanks for a victory obtained by my husband!’
“On the sixth of April I entreated an audience, and the page who announced me staid longer than usual: long enough, it is to be supposed, to deliberate whether the favour of admission should be granted, and to settle the measures of behaviour. When I entered, and began to speak, she interrupted me, by repeating, ‘Whatever you have to say may be put in writing.’ Though her face was turned away, I continued to speak, begging to know the offence laid to my charge, but not the names of the authors or relators. She replied, ‘You desired no answer, and shall have none.’ These words she repeated constantly, as was her custom when she had been provided with a phrase to shield her against all argument. When she came to the door, streams of tears flowed against my will, and the most disrespectful words I ever uttered escaped me—‘I have despised interest to serve faithfully and rightly—I have done enough to move compassion, even where all love was absent—but this inhumanity will not be unpunished.’—She replied, ‘that will be to myself:’—and thus ended our last conversation, after a friendship of twenty-seven years. After much high power and envied distinctions, my lord and myself sunk into retirement, happy enough that, like the great and good Lord Bacon, we were not obliged to beg a cup of wine from courtiers, and to carry a wallet after bearing the sword of state.”
Here ended this singular memoir; and my honest auditor, sending a long column of smoke from his pipe, added, “Truly, if it had not begun about a prince and princess, I should have thought it had been a tale of Lady Julias and Lady Rosas, such as my daughter reads at school—but I dozed a little, I doubt, at t’other end.”
“No wonder, my good friend,” I replied, “for this memoir gives us truth, not wit or good sense. Yet, as I said before, it is respectable, because it relates to the most distinguished persons of a past age; and touching, as it proves how little the noblest stations are exempt from the petty passions of human nature, and how deeply those passions influence the great events of an empire. These letters, with frivolous and sentimental mystery enough in them to decorate a novel, are written by the invincible Duke of Marlborough’s wife, and her heroines are Queen Mary and Queen Anne!”
My lowland Ben Johnson took a large pinch from his horn mull, and replied, “There’s no great difference in the folly, mayhap; yet I’d as lief be a King-fool as a common one. An’ ye’re a gownsman, sire, ye may chance to have a liking to thae kind of cattle, and I can tell ye as strange a tale of the Clanroy M’Greggors, and this very inn, as a justice-clerk need put on paper. It’s like ye may have heard a jeer in Carlisle about a West-riding man who took too many good-will cups with a highland knave, and woke in a sack next morn:—but I’ll no believe it, for what says the old song?
“It’s a wearifu’ task to swim by night
Safe over Tweed or Tyne,
But a harder to deal wi’ a Yorkshire wight,
And gi’ him his fill of wine.”
Then nodding with a shrewd smile of confirmation he began his own story.