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In Whig Society 1775-1818
Chapter II.

Chapter I.
‣ Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
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When we read the history of England in 1801, we might be reading the history of England to-day.

She was then, as now, victorious, but she was paying then, as now, the price of victory. The victory of Alexandria and our successes at Copenhagen and in Egypt were followed by the complete conquest of the latter country in September; but the condition of the country when Parliament opened in February 1801 was very serious. The King’s Speech drew attention to the high prices and the scarcity of provisions, and urged remedial measures.

During the ensuing debate in the House of Lords, expedients the names of which sound to us at this date like old friends, were freely put forward, and we read of such well-known phrases as “increase of production” and the “abandonment of brewing” so that the barley might be used as food, though the ingenuous suggestion of Lord Suffolk is, happily, new to us. He deplored the necessity of keeping large numbers of Dragoons all over the country for the suppression of the
rioting caused by starvation and high prices. He urged that 10,000 Dragoons should be kept in one vast camp in the centre of England. From there they could proceed expeditiously to any centre of disaffection and tumult. But in the intervals between outbreaks of this sort, they could be employed in bringing fish from the coast to augment the food supply of a starving population.
Lord Warwick enunciated the doctrine that it was the duty of the Government to find employment for the workman, and proposed works of public utility. In the House of Commons Sir Francis Burdett attributed the scarcity to underconsumption, because the taxation was so high that, before a man could purchase commodities, he must have his salary raised. Robson remarked in the same place that much had been said concerning the poor, but that “the middling classes were crushed out of existence by heavy taxation, which forced people to borrow from the banks to meet their taxes and their liabilities.” The inflation of currency caused a fictitious prosperity, and enabled those who possessed corn to keep it out of the markets, thus emphasizing the scarcity.

In March Pitt resigned owing to the King’s determined opposition to his measure for Roman Catholic Emancipation. Pitt had wished to include this measure in the Act of Union between England and Ireland, but as George III developed conscientious objections, and on the ground that
the King might go mad if his will was opposed, Pitt submitted and resigned. He was succeeded by the Speaker,
Henry Addington, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Treasury. Lords Granville, Spencer, and Cornwallis followed Pitt, as did Dundas, Windham, and Canning.

Addington’s Ministry, which contained none of the great names, such as Pitt or Fox or Grenville or Grey, was not likely to be considered of much importance by Bonaparte, who now left the power of England entirely out of his calculations. Addington wished to strengthen his Ministry, and as he could not gain the support of Pitt’s followers, began to make overtures to the Whigs. But there were personal divisions among the Whigs also at that moment. The inner circle of the party at that time was composed of Fox, Grenville, Lord Holland, and Francis Duke of Bedford. The outer circle contained Sheridan, Grey, and Erskine, but these were severally detached from the inner circle. Grey and Fox had always regarded Sheridan with suspicion and mistrusted his influence over the Prince of Wales.

Grey, who in his early and more violent years had belonged to a Society called “The Friends of the People,” was present at a banquet of the Whig Club in January 1802, when Sheridan in a speech referred to “those persons who, thrown by accident in the outset of life into situations for which they are not fitted, become Friends of the People for a time, and afterwards, finding
their mistake, desert the cause.” Grey received the attack with serenity, writing afterwards to his brother-in-law
Whitbread that he “thinks Sheridan must have been drunk.” Sheridan, the handsome Irish dramatist and politician, the friend of the Prince Regent, was only too well known for such an accusation to cause astonishment, and a contemporary account, while not denying it categorically, points out that it was rather early in the evening for Sheridan to be drunk, as dinner was only just over. There were others who mistrusted those present at the dinner, chiefly George Tierney, who had persistently opposed Pitt and had attempted to prevent the Whig secession of 1798. He had always tried to separate Grey from the Whig Party, and was one of the “numerous politicians of middle class origin who the aristocratic Whigs used, but never regarded, as one of themselves.”1 Canning in the Needy Knife Grinder writes of Tierney under the satirical name of the “Friend of Humanity.” Tierney’s determination to make mischief was well known, and the Duchess of Devonshire, who was then at Hardwicke, wrote to Lady Melbourne in great anxiety lest Grey should take the attack to himself. Lady Holland, the divorced wife of Sir Godfrey Webster, now married to the 3rd Lord Holland, had, through virtue of her husband’s position as a near relation of Charles James Fox, endeavoured to exert an influence on

1 Holland House Circle, Lloyd Saunders, p. 151.

the Whig Party, but was handicapped by the fact that the great Whig ladies so far refused to visit her. This no doubt added to her enjoyment of any wounds she could inflict on their friends.

From the Duchess of Devonshire to Lady Melbourne
Dearest Love,

I am as anxious as it is possible to be. I am convinc’d that in the first instance, no one considered the attack to affect Mr. Grey, but that it was a manœuvre of L[ad]y H[olland] & Tierney to make mischief & shelter the latter. I have a proof of this because L[ad]y Holland, when she wrote my Sister the acc[oun]t of the Speech, said it was very ill-natur’d to Tierney. Now had not the other been an after thought she would have mention’d it then.

Hare1 as far as he can judge thinks as I do. One good thing is that Mr. G[rey] has no thoughts of going to town & I have wrote him with Hare’s approbation a conciliatory letter—& telling him what I could alone say perhaps to him—that I thought Tierney had a mind to draw him into the scrape by making him suppose that Sheridan had meant him. It could not be—Sheridan could not compare a man, who listen’d to overture to see if an arrangement could be made & a man, who pretending, as Tierney did, to belong to no party, chose not only to be of the Whig Club but to insinuate himself into their secrets & Councils, & in fact brought more abuse on them from his jacobin allures than any other—then leaves them for his own advantage & joins the

1 James Hare, wit and politician and friend of Fox, 1740-1804.

D. of Portland whom he had represented as his Enemy & Oppresser.

That Mr. Grey, pleas’d with peace, beset by Relations & dazzled by the overtures Addington might make of repealing odious Acts, might examine, if there was not a chance of arrangement, I cannot blame or wonder at, especially as he was soon convincd there was not & went into the Country for an intention of staying perhaps the whole year. That Tierney or any one should rank him with a man who has join’d as T. has done & is probable [sic] only waiting for his election for a place is too bad.

The excuse of their writing to Sheridan perhaps was his indiscretion. They had indiscreet friends however, for I knew of the negotiation even in its infancy & this Mr. Grey knows (this however you must tell no-one, for by experience you know how jealous people are of being thought to confide in one). Why are Lauderdale & Loo angry with Sheridan—in short write for pity.

Direct to Hardwick near Mansfield. I have so much pain on my heart I am going to put on a blister.

I cannot read it over, excuse faults.

To the Viscountess Melbourne, Whitehall, London
From the Duchess of Devonshire
My Dear Love,

I have done all I can, but I have found the Speech, & reading it again & with an idea that did not at first strike me—I do own I think it very bad & that a less succeptable person might have suppos’d that Juggles & persons who had alterd their plans jar destructive ones, seem’d more
like addressing the Plural, than an individual such as
Tierney. I am furious at it. If to listen to proposals of arrangement merely to see if on the grounds of peace something might not be done to restore Whig principles—& finding this in vain leaving London, can be calld a juggle what was Sheridan’s plan two years back?—& can this be applied in a more offensive manner than by classing such an independent Character as Mr. G[rey]’s with a self-interested time serving fellow as Tierney. Do not think I am giving way to my usual wrath (?) unconditionally. I allow that Tierney has great talents: that he has perseverance beyond most men—that he resolv’d to let no opportunity slip of shewing these talents to advantage, i.e., selling himself to advantage, & that he has done so. That ten years ago, had anybody said Tierney would have the place which I believe (tho not at liberty to say what it is) is destined to him, he would have been laugh’d at. But he knew his own powers of mind, & not only exerted them, but exerted them hi a masterly manner. But I believe, as to principle, he has just as much now as he had at any period of his life, when he got chose of the Whig Club or in his first adherence or subsequent quarrel with the Duke of Portland. I think him an agreeable man, & I do not suppose him to be an ilnaturd man when self is out of the case—but is this man, when he has made a bargain any body knew he would make, to be compard with my—[sic] never, never, never.

I have done how ever all I can, but I am myself furious with Sheridan.

Stamped “Feb. 12. 1802,” andBakewell

These political preoccupations had for Lady Melbourne a bitter sequel—doubly bitter because, before losing all, she had to witness the waning of her influence. Lady Holland has spoken of Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford as Lady Melbourne’s admirer. He had from his earliest youth looked upon his vast estates and possessions as a great trust, and had spent his time as he grew older in an endeavour to improve the rural economy of his country. Believed by the world to be at the feet of Lady Melbourne, and it being common property that he also had a connexion with a Mrs. Palmer, it was never supposed that such a thought as marriage would enter his head. But Jane Maxwell, the famous Duchess of Gordon, whose matchmaking capacity was unrivalled, crossed his path. Out of five daughters she married the eldest, Charlotte, to the Duke of Richmond, Susan to the Duke of Manchester, and Louisa to the Marquess of Cornwallis, and she now made up her mind that her youngest daughter, Georgiana, should be Duchess of Bedford. Rumour became busy. It was said that the Duke was attracted, and that the marriage was likely to take place.

Had the Duke confided in Lady Melbourne and given her a hint of his intentions, she would have felt able to direct his courtship, for she loved to manage for her friends. But he had been silent, and this made the matter even more distasteful. Lady Melbourne was first and fore-
most a femme politique, and her influence, combined with the
Duchess of Devonshire’s admiration for Charles James Fox, gave the political tone to the Society of Devonshire House. Lady Melbourne and the Duchess did not scruple to use their charms to captivate admirers whose adherence would be a gain to the Whig Party. In marrying a Gordon the Duke would be taken straight into the stronghold of the Tories and lost to the Whig Party for ever. These rumours had evidently distressed Lady Melbourne greatly, and the Duchess of Devonshire was her confidante. “Themire” for once relaxed her rule and allowed another woman to share her inmost thoughts.

I have on an earlier page spoken of the difference between the customs of those days and our own. Not the least noticeable is the fact that women of that day, dear friends and deep in each other’s confidence as they might be, never begin their letters to each other except formally. “Themire” is the only approach to a more familiar mode of address, though their men friends are alluded to with nicknames and in cipher phrases—probably for excellent reasons. The Duchess of Devonshire writes to Lady Melbourne of “Loo,” as they called the Duke of Bedford. Though Charles Grey was now married, she speaks of him and his wife often as “Black and Mrs. Black,” and says that “she is in a scrape about Loo, but not with Black”; and in another
letter says, “Black is now very good-natured to me, but I do not see him often, and I do not believe anybody knows I do see him.” In both these letters “Loo” is mentioned and the rumour about his marriage discussed.

“Make Loo come to me again as he us’d,” says the Duchess. “As for the Gordons I do not believe & pretty as the girl is I cannot conceive that the old objections are not as much in force as ever. Besides I am too much of my Brother’s opinion with regard to the real Destiny that rules him, & in this instance guards him as his guardian Angel indeed.

“Don’t be angry. Whatever you may please to call it surely the firm affection of such a Man as him, and undeniable power over him, is what no one can be very angry at being accused of, et qui rougit de plaire, doit plaire en rougissant.”

And again—“You can have no idea how sorry I am to have vex’d you at the Masquerade, but I wish to aquit myself about Black because the truth was that I was worried to death about something else the whole night. Black was not there, nor was I with my cousine except at supper. If le secret etoit a moi, which it is not, I could prove to you, that I was bother’d about plagues of others, & that I was heartily delighted to get away. I cannot say I saw any symptoms of bore in a certain person—& he has done nothing but complain of your absence since.

“I am very very sorry that Loo has taken anything wrong. I love him so dearly & think him (independent of gratitude) so delightful, that I
cannot bear his taking anything ill. Alas, when he only sees me, as he does now by starts he can make no allowances. All my faults are in full force & I have not the power to do them away. The head ach, which I see is to be plac’d to a scrape quelquequ’onque—was in fact the consequence of forcing myself to Harrow not to disappoint
Hart, when I was knock’d up with the Masquerade. But I can only say & I believe you have done the same often by the boys—I had rather get a head ach or a heart ach, then disappoint them in such a long expected joy, as the Dinner at Speeches is to him.”

Chiswick, Saturday.

I could not see you to-day, d[eare]st Love. I really could not sleep & was more disturb’d than I could have supposed—for tho’ I am bound by ties of affection, gratitude, & regard to Loo—yet I ought not to feel as much as I do. I think I am more hurt at his having seemed to act out of his own good character with regard to you, (tho I have no doubt that it was from the fear of hurting you). It was unlike him—but he has acted strangely towards the girl. I suppose it must be so & indeed we are all undone.

Loo’s first error, when he resolv’d against the connection was allowing himself to be surrounded by the tribe—he expos’d himself at Kimbolton1 to the temptation of all others he was most likely to yield to—& tho’ his good taste will I suppose a little disgust him with the different society he is about to mix with—yet as they will be all prepared to flatter him & as he is sometimes

1 Kimbolton, the country house of the Duke of Manchester, who had married Lady Georgiana Gordon’s sister in 1793.

entertained with observing original character—of which God knows he will have enough [sic]. When I heard him some time ago quote
Johny Fordyce as the best existing farmer, I perceiv’d that they had been very industrious.

Whenever he thinks proper to tell me I shall say very little. I believe he must be very unhappy,—& indeed I cannot conceive his being happy, unless he becomes different from what he is. I think her very pretty, very bewitching, & clever certainly, & I have likd some things I have seen in her. But certainly there have been stories enough to make one tremble.

But as you said, if he has taken a fancy tout est dit. One other thing occurs to me. If he has a mind to recede can he now with honour? Good God how could he? It is so extraordinary & so unlike him to have spoken to her before he knew he was free; that either he pretends this to lessen the surprise to you, or that he was inveigled into more than he likes to own—& what a prospect if that is so—what a futurity for Loo to be surrounded with plotting, shabby Scotts men. The very amabilité that some time arises from the grotesque originality of Scotch people is in a line very different from what one should have thought would be Loo’s election for the Mistress of Wooburn. However if he can like the kind of specimen of broad jokes (covering however artful designs) which he has seen with the Manchesters—one has nothing to say. He will farm all morning, smoak his pipe with Manchester, attend to the domestic differences of Susan1 and her old man, & be amus’d with seeing

1 Lady Susan Gordon, third daughter of Alexander, 4th Duke of Gordon.

the young one (that I think is her name even in preference to
Georgy) jump over the backs of chairs, &c., &c.

All this I have been extremely amused with for an hour, but should have been sorry to have made it the society of my Life, but then I am not in Love.

Pray forgive my writing in this way, but I must vent myself. I cannot bear the idea of what he will be, and I suppose in a few years we shall have him inviting young men to Wooburn to get husbands for May Lenox or the young Fourdyces, with the industry The Duke of M[anchester] & the other Brothers-in-Law follow up the D[uche]ss game whenever she starts it. For God’s sake burn this letter. I would not for worlds appear impertinent to Loo, & indeed I feel very much for him, for you, for all of us.

No possible event could have so thoroughly overthrown the habits of our Society as this. But that is not the thing. If he could be wrong to you he is alter’d already in disposition. Why would he not openly avow his intentions? Why expose one to the denying it? Why lead one on to suppose he knew the D[uche]ss,—& be all the time preparing what must be such pain?

Well, I shall get accustomed to it I suppose, & if he is happy it will be some consolation, but I never can bear his having vexd you, nor understand it, for I know how much he loves you.

Is there not a possibility that to get rid of the woman,1 he thought it necessary to marry, & that

1 Mrs. Palmer, with whom the Duke had a connexion of long standing.

that pointed out the fancy to him. No, it must be as you say.

God bless you d[ea]r[e]st d[ea]r[e]st.

Let me know how you are, & tear this rhapsody—& believe how dearly I love you.

Probably 1802

But the Duke of Bedford’s course was run. In 1802 he was suddenly taken ill. He bore a frightful operation with heroic fortitude. For a day or two he seemed to rally, but the shock had been too great and on March 2, 1802, he died, aged 37. The mystery as to his engagement deepened, but it was reported that he had sent a message to Lady Georgiana from his deathbed and that his brother John, now 6th Duke, would go to Paris to take it to her.

(? Duchess of Devonshire to Lady Melbourne)

I cannot go to bed without writing to you tho my head is very bad. Oh my Love—how anxious & agitated I feel about our dear Loo. I trust the last accounts being so good may give every hope. My dearest Love I cannot express what I feel & suffer for him & how terrible it is to have no means of intelligence. Do not think I am selfish enough to think of my own anxiety only. I do indeed feel yours from my very heart. I dare not rest on the idea of what he has suffered—indeed they have kept the greatest part of the letters from me to-night least it should encrease my head ach. You know how I love him.


Wedy. I was so overcome with the shock that they have never given me the detail’d account. I cannot at all calm myself & I own I see everything in the most gloomy way: may heaven preserve him, but I fear the danger is still very great. We wish’d to have set out tomorrow on my account as the suspence & anxiety of not hearing is so terrible but the things could not be got ready. My dearest Love—How shall we meet? Will it be in misery or reliev’d from this terrible misfortune? Believe me no one can feel for you or love you more tenderly than I do. God bless you d[ea]r d[ea]r Love. I cannot write.

D[uke] of Devonshire] is amazingly good to me & indeed feels himself the greatest anxiety.

The allusions to a “cross-face” and a “scolding” from the Duchess’s letters at this time makes it likely that the trials and vexations of the moment were too much for Lady Melbourne’s usually serene temper. She must have written a very sharp letter to get such an answer as she did from “Bess,” the intimate friend and companion of the Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Elizabeth Hervy, or Bess as she was called, was the second daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bristol, and was married at 17 to John Thomas Foster of Dunlee. She was unhappy in her married life, and early in 1780 Foster seems to have gone to complete ruin and to have deserted her. Left as she was with £300 a year and two children, while her father enjoyed an
income of £20,000 or £30,000 a year, she became the object of universal commiseration.

She was remarkably beautiful—her grandmother was the famous Molly Lepel, maid-of-honour to Queen Caroline—more beautiful even than Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, who, hearing of her distress, engaged her as a governess to “Miss W.,” the daughter of a previous liaison between the Duke of Devonshire and Miss Charlotte Spencer. Lady Elizabeth, astute and attractive, soon became the bosom friend of the Duchess. The post of governess disappeared; Lady Elizabeth remained an inmate of Devonshire House, the inseparable companion of the Duchess, whose position with her husband she speedily usurped.

In her picture by Lawrence, her expression is strange and mischievous. Her whole life was passed with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, but she might have easily found another home, for the Duke of Richmond was her great admirer, though Lady Charlotte Lennox (afterwards Duchess of Richmond) seems to have come between them, and Mr. Fitzpatrick (afterwards General Sir Richard Fitzpatrick, Secretary of State for War) was in love with her. She was in a grumbling state herself, as she writes from Hardwick on February 20, 1802, that she and the Duchess of Devonshire between them had been enjoying the society of James Hare, the wit and delightful companion who was called
“the Hare of Many Friends,” and that the arrival of their near neighbours Hunlokes, the “Huns” as she calls them, had sent him away.

To the Viscountess Melbourne, Melbourne House, White Hall, London
From Lady Elizabeth Foster
Hardwick, Feby. 20th, 1802.

Yesterday when the Post arriv’d, your letter was given to me, & Mr. Robinson said, another letter from Lady Melbourne! well how often she writes to you! Yes, I said, she is the best correspondent possible, & the best natur’d, for if there is anything to tell one she always writes directly, & this will give us an account of C. Fox’s speach. Open it, said Mr. R., & tell me what she says. I open it. Well well, I said, nothing—not a word of Mr. Fox. Nor of any news? said R. No, I said, not a word—two pages & a half of very natural tho’ very groundless anxiety about the D[uche]ss who is as you see very well, & the rest wondering why I don’t make them leave Hardwick. No, no, replied very naturally Mr. R. it can’t be—& nothing else?—Nothing else—said I—& of course I am in a great passion—Now as to your letter Mrs. Lady Them[ire]—where it deserves an answer. The D[uche]ss really scarcely coughs—she eats well (generally) & is in good spirits and tho’ very nervous at times, yet on the whole she is well, & tho’ her cold hung upon her a great while, I think that to all of us who have been used to breast complaints, it is evident her cold was not of that kind,—& her vessels in general appear’d full—for you know when she is well
she is apt to forget all caution & eats & drinks a good deal, & yet don’t take exercise enough—but I really think her well now, or nearly so,—& tho’ Denman is odious, yet the Surgeon Carrington who attended us all so much last year is very clever & has manag’d her well. So much for that subject—now as to the next—our staying in the country. I did not say that whilst
Mr. Hare staid, we must stay too, but that whilst he staid, we, (the D[uche]ss & myself) lik’d being here, & that it was very comfortable, for as to staying, the Duke came here with a determination to stay some time, as there is a Spring he thinks particularly agrees with him, & this being his Plan, we did not like to counteract it, but felt that for him & us, Mr. H[are] being with us was everything—& when D[uke of] Devonshire] went yesterday to invite the Huns to Hardwick & that they fix’d on yesterday D. D. forbid its being said in the House, for fear it sd. make Mr. H. determine on going as he had been naming one day after another for his going. However he did go—the Huns did come, & we are not likely to go soon—nor can I press it, even though I have long been anxious that D. D. should be near Farquhar.1 Voyez malicieuses [sic] Miladi si mes raisons ne sont pas valables. Above all don’t go out of town as soon as we arrive, tho’ I suppose it will have by that time have lost of its merits.

I hope all is settled and right about Mr. Tierney & black—I wish that odious Mr. Tierney had not such influence with black as he has. I think Mr. Fitzpatrick’s answer about T. so good. Mr.

1 Sir Walter Farquhar, born 1738, died 1819. The fashionable physician of the day.

Robison [sic] is still with us and I shall be very sorry when he goes—he was rather indignant at your message about the Play: how very odd the circumstance you tell me of that scene: I won’t tell it but it is an odd thing for a Woman of education & birth to act what even a publick audience is expected to disapprove: As to
D[uke of] Richmond] I am quite certain that he now both feels & I believe laments the line of conduct he adopted. I answered some of his questions fairly & told him where I thought he had acted ill by me, & what alter’d my conduct to him. He said he sd. answer me (which he never has) & that he was a helpless wretched Man. Lady C[harlotte] L[ennox] is an odious being & I sd. like to be certain of never seeing her again. I wish her to believe & know what you say you think she does about you & me. I am glad D. R. can hunt, it is the best thing he can do. Adieu, adieu—is not the Prince pleas’d with Mr. Fox’s speech—& has he not now a good chance of recovering these arrears & being set quite free? God Bless you.