Billeder på siden

accustomed to see my mother keep her servants at a distance the most awful, I judged that it must be wrong, and I mentioned it to nobody. Afterwards, however, when the Oxford affair came on, I recollected the incident, and all became plain. Yet, when that also had passed over, and was forgotten, the lady published a book containing her views upon government; which, from many quarters, I heard of as no common performance. But, at that early period, in 1794, her talents, her beauty of face and figure, her fine execution on the organ, her scenical skill in sustaining through a short scene some grand dramatic character, like that of Lady Macbeth, her powers of disputation, and, finally, her application of them to so unfeminine a purpose as that of undisguised assaults upon Christianity, combined to leave an impression, as of some great enchantress or Medea, upon all who had been admitted to witness her displays.

Perhaps I may as well, at this point, anticipate the sequel of her history. In 1804, at the Lent Assizes for the county of Oxford, she appeared as principal witness against two brothers, L-ck-t G-d-n, and L-d-n G-d-n, on a capital charge of having forcibly carried her off from her own house in London, and afterwards of having, at some place in Oxfordshire, by collusion with each other and by terror, enabled one of the brothers to offer the last violence to her person. The accounts published at the time by the newspapers of the whole transaction, were of a nature to conciliate the public sympathy altogether to the prisoners; and the general belief accorded with what was, no doubt, the truth-that the lady had been driven into a false accusation by the urgent remonstrances of her friends, joined, in this instance, by her husband, although legally separated from her, all of whom were willing to believe that advantage had been taken of her little ac

quaintance with English manners. I was present at the trial; it began at eight o'clock in the morning, and went on, for some hours, occupied with preparatory evidence. At length Mrs. L. herself was summoned, and, with no little anxiety, I awaited the entrance of my early friend. Her beauty was yet visible, though affected greatly by the humiliating circumstances of her situation, and (as one would willingly hope) by the conflicts of her own conscience. However, she was not long exposed to the searching gaze of the court, and the trying embarrassments of her situation. A single question brought the whole investigation to an abrupt close. Mrs. L. had been sworn, of course. After a few questions, she was suddenly asked whether she believed in the Christian religion? Her answer was brief and peremptory, without distinction or circumlocution - No. Or, perhaps, not in God? Again she replied, sans phrase, No. Upon this the Judge interfered, and declared that he could not permit the trial to proceed. The jury had heard what the witness said; she only could give evidence upon the capital part of the charge; and she had openly incapacitated herself before the whole court. The jury instantly acquitted the prisoners. I left my name at Mrs. L.'s lodgings in the course of the day, but her servant assured me that she was too much agitated to see anybody till the evening. At the hour assigned I called again. It was dusk, and the mob had assembled. At the moment I came up to the door, a lady was issuing, muffled up, and in some measure disguised. It was Mrs. L. At the corner of an adjacent street a postchaise was drawn up. Towards this, under the protection of the attorney who had managed her case, she made her way as eagerly as possible. Before she could reach it, however, she was detected; a savage howl was raised, and a rush made to seize her. Fortunately a body of gowns

men delivered her, put her rapidly into the carriage, and then joining the mob in their hootings, sent off the horses at a gallop. Such was the mode of her exit from Oxford. The accused gentlemen, one of whom has since published interesting memoirs, had been students in Oxford, and had many friends in that place.

Four years after my father's death, it began to be perceived that there was no purpose to be answered in any longer keeping up an expensive establishment. A headgardener, besides laborers equal perhaps to two more, were required for the grounds and gardens. And no motive existed any longer for being near a great trading town, so long after the commercial connection with it had ceased. Bath seemed, on all accounts, the natural station

for a person in my mother's situation; and, thither, accordingly, she went. I, who from the year 1793 had been placed under the tuition of one of my guardians, remained some months longer under his care. I was then transferred to Bath. During this interval, however, the sale of the house and grounds took place. It may illustrate the subject of guardianship, and the ordinary execution of its duties, to mention the result. The year 1796 was in itself a year of great depression, and every way unfavorable to such a transaction. However, the sale was settled. The night, for which it was fixed, turned out remarkably wet; no attempt was made to postpone the sale, and it proceeded. Originally the house and grounds had cost nearly £6000. I have heard that only one offer was made, viz: of £2500. Be that as it may, for the sum of £2500 it was sold; and I have been often assured that by waiting a few years, four times that sum might have been obtained with ease. Meantime my guardians were all men of honor and integrity; but their hands were filled with their own affairs. One (my tutor) was a clergyman, rector of

a church, and having his parish, his large family, and three pupils to attend. He was besides a very sedentary and indolent man, loving books hating business. Another was a merchant. A third was a country magistrate, overladen with official business: him I never so much as saw. Finally, the fourth was a banker in a distant county; having more knowledge of the world than all the rest united, but too remote to interfere effectually.

Reflecting upon the evils which befel me, and the gross mismanagement, under my guardians, of my small fortune, and that of my brothers and sisters, it has often occurred to me that so important an office, which, from the time of Demosthenes, has been ruinously administered, ought to be put upon a new footing, plainly guarded by a few obvious provisions. As under the Roman laws, for a long period, the guardian should be made responsible in law, and should give security from the first for the due performance of his duties. But, to give him a motive for doing this, of course he must be paid. With the new obligations and liabilities will commence commensurate emoluments. This is merely the outline: to fill up the whole scheme of the office and its functions would be a matter of time and skill. But some great change is imperatively called for: no duty in the whole compass of human life being so scandalously neglected as this.

At Bath, I, and one of my younger brothers, were placed at the grammar school, at the head of which was an Etonian. The most interesting occurrence during my stay at this school was the sudden escape of Sir Sidney Smith from the prison of the Temple in Paris. The mode of his escape was as striking as its time was critical and providential. Having accidentally thrown a ball over the wall in playing at tennis, or some such game, Sir Sidney was surprised to observe that the ball thrown back

was not the same. His presence of mind fortunately suggested the true interpretation. He retired, examined the ball, found it stuffed with letters; and, in the same way, he subsequently conducted a long correspondence, and arranged the whole circumstances of his escape; which, remarkably enough, was accomplished just eight days before the sailing of Napoleon with the Egyptian expedition ; so that Sir Sidney was just in time to confront, and utterly to defeat Napoleon in the breach of Acre. But for Sir Sidney, it is certain that Bonaparte would have overrun Syria. What would have followed from that event, it is difficult to say.

Sir Sidney Smith, I must explain to readers of this generation, and Sir Edward Pellew, (afterwards Lord Exmouth,) were the two* Paladins of the first war with revolutionary France. These two names were never mentioned but in connection with some splendid and unequal contest. Hence the whole nation was saddened by the account of Sir Sidney's capture; and this must be understood to make the joy of his sudden return perfectly intelligible. Not even a rumor of Sir Sidney's escape had or could have run before him; for, his mother being at Bath, he had set off at the moment of reaching the coast of England with post horses to Bath. It was about dusk when he arrived: the postilions were directed to the square in which his mother lived in a few minutes he was in his mother's arms, and in twenty minutes more the news had flown to the remotest suburb of the city. The agitation of Bath on this occasion was indescribable. All the troops of the line then quartered in that city, and a

* Sir Horatio Nelson being already an Admiral, was no longer looked to for insulated exploits of brilliant adventure: his name was now connected with larger and combined attacks, less dashing and adventurous, because including heavier responsibilities.

« ForrigeFortsæt »