LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

In Whig Society 1775-1818
Chapter IX.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
‣ Chapter IX.
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In 1814 Peace was proclaimed, but it was as the prophet said “a peace where there was no peace.” The British Army had been established on the French side of the Pyrenees the winter before the Russian, Prussian and Austrian Armies entered Paris. Shortly after Napoleon abdicated and was allowed to retire to Elba. Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France, and in May visited London. The Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia followed, and England gave herself up to rejoicing. Among others less celebrated who came to London was Madame de Stael, and neither Lady Melbourne nor Lady Cowper liked her. Drawing-rooms were held at which the Prince Regent refused to allow his wife to be present. Lady Melbourne was now 62, and probably did not take much part in the receptions and balls, but Lady Cowper went everywhere, and told her mother in her daily visits what had interested her.

Lady Bessborough was travelling abroad, and during the early days of January 1815 Lady Melbourne received from her an account of a
visit paid to Bonaparte at Elba by
Mr. Douglas, son of Lord Glenbervie—which gave little sign of the blow which was coming:

“I have a Letter today from Ly. Bessborough—they are at Marseilles & living with Massena—who when he saw the D. of Wellin at Paris sd. to him, vous m’avez tant fait jeuner milord, que vous voudrez bien, j’en suis sur me donner un bon diner—D. Wellington answered—si je vous ai fait jeuner vous me l’avez bien rendu, en m’empechant de dormir—et je crois que pour avoir le droit de nous dire ces bons Mots nous nous sommes assez tourmentés. Massena expresses great admiration of him & when he is mentioned always says—c’est un grand capitaine—Ly. B[essborough] says if it were possible to forgive his rapacity he might be thought very agreable. Your Friend & Ly. B.’s friend Mr. Douglas has been to visit Buonaparte at Elba—who told him he was afraid he had not had Wine enough at Paris—but he would find plenty at Elba. It is supposed he judged from the appearance of his Face. Mr. Vernon has also been to see him, & was much question’d by him about English Politicks, & on finding tht. he belonged to the Oppo[sitio]n he said that is a party that is now very low. Yes, sd. Mr. Vernon, & that is because we maintained tht. you would conquer Spain; & you were right, he answered, for I ought to have done so, & it is the fault of my Generals that I did not. . . . The P[rince]ss of Wales is playing all sorts of tricks all over Italy—they say of her Mon dieu est-ce la la vertu opprimée dont nous avons tant entendu parler.”

Frederick Lamb, who was now about 33,
had been called from the two Sicilies in 1815 to accompany
Lord Castlereagh to the Congress of Vienna, which sat after Napoleon’s abdication to restore the balance of power in Egypt and to divide the spoil. The Congress was showing signs of violent disagreement, when to the horror and amazement of Europe, Napoleon escaped from Elba, landed at Cannes, the French Army rallying to him regiment by regiment as he marched through France on Paris. He entered Paris on March 20, while the King and his family fled. Those who had gone to Brussels to economize after the war knew that they were in a terrible position when Napoleon, who by then commanded an army of 535,000 men, marched to join it on the Belgian frontier on June 12.

That summer, Lord and Lady Bessborough were coming slowly home when the news reached them on July 8 that Frederick Ponsonby, their son and Lady Caroline’s brother, had been desperately wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Lady Bessborough made a forced journey to Brussels to nurse him, and Lady Caroline Lamb must have joined her there, for she wrote to Lady Melbourne an account of their stay in Brussels. The letter is quieter and more consecutive than any of her previous correspondence, and she could even laugh at herself when she spoke of Lady Frances Webster, who had been Lady Frances Annesley, daughter of the 1st Earl of Mountmorres, and who
had married
James Wedderburn Webster, a friend of Lord Byron. The latter had paid her marked attentions about the time of his rupture with Lady Caroline. In 1815 she was, as we see, the object of the Duke of Wellington’s admiration. Perhaps the horrible suffering which Lady Caroline saw around her sobered her, and for a brief space awoke her to the realities of life, even though the change did not last long.

To the Viscountess Melbourne (from Lady Caroline Lamb)
Brussels, 1815.
Dearest Lady Melbourne,

Your letter is the only one of any sort we have receivd. & very acceptable it was—I cannot describe to you how totally cut off from news of every sort. It is said that Buonaparte & his Brothers having delivered themselves up to the protection of England are gone there & Madame de la Ruilliere (?) to our great regret & hers set out this morning with the Prince de Condé for Cambery by Louis orders. The English name stands so high from Ostend here that it makes one feel proud. The moment they see you every one pulls off their hats & caps,—& if they ask yr. Country & you say “English” they answer “that is passport enough.” . . .

The great amusement at Bruxelles, indeed the only one except visiting the sick, is to make large parties & go to the field of Battle—& pick up a skull or a grape shot or an old shoe or a letter, & bring it home. W[illia]m has been, I shall not go—unless when Fred [Ponsonby] gets better, &
goes with me. There is a great affectation here of making lint & bandages—but where is there not some? & at least it is an innocent amusement. It is rather a love making moment, the half wounded Officers reclining with pretty ladies visiting them—is dangerous. I also observe a great coxcombality in the dress of the sick—which prognosticates a speedy recovery. It is rather heart-breaking to be here, however, & one goes blubbering about—seeing such fine people without their legs & arms, some in agony, & some getting better. The
Prince of Orange enquired much after all his acquaintance; he suffers a great deal, but bears it well. The next door to us has a Coll Millar, very patient, but dreadfully wounded. Lady Conyngham is here—Lady C. GrevilleLady D. Hamilton, Mrs. A. B. c. d. Smith, Lady F. Somerset, Lady F. Webster most affected—& Lady Mountmorress1 who stuck her parasol yesterday into a skull at Waterloo. Perhaps a certain rivalship makes me see her less favourably, but indeed Lady F. Webster is too ridiculous. Mr. Bradshaw, an amiable Dandy close by me, says it makes him ill for 2 hours after he has seen her. I conclude that you have heard that the D[uke] of Wellington fell desperately in love with her & 2 others, which was the cause of his not being at the Battle in time. The D[uche]ss of Richmond’s fatal Ball has been much censured; there never was such a Ball—so fine & so sad—all the young men who appeared there shot dead a few hours after.

After a great war, when the energies of mankind

1Lady Mountmorres, mother of Lady Frances.

have been set on destruction and not on construction, it is obvious that the condition of all the countries concerned must be in a very bad state.

After the long years of war with Napoleon England was no exception to this rule. The reduction of the Army after the Battle of Waterloo had made matters worse by throwing a vast number of men out of work, and even before Napoleon’s escape the Government had begun to try and help the misery of the poor by bringing in a Corn Bill.

Frederick Lamb was now on his way back from Vienna to Paris, and his mother wrote to him a masterly résumé of the probable results of this Bill.

From Lady Melbourne to the Hon. Frederick Lamb
27th Feby. 1815.
Dearest Frederick,

I received yr. Letter fm. Vienna of the 12th, & according to my calculation you will probably be at Paris about the time this Letter reaches it,—I read with pleasure your favorable prognostics respecting finance, & I am sure if my easy sailing could accomplish it, there would be no fear but where all the Crew are not agreed & counteract one another, the sails are often tightened even to breaking but we will talk over these matters & it is a great comfort to have any one to whom one can talk to without reserve—for tho’ you are interested in the subject—you
are not selfish & that makes the great difference—but I won’t bore about it now.

We are in the midst of violence & dissensions respecting this Corn Bill which to me, from the first, has appeared the simplest question that could be agitated—& all their reasons & calculations on both sides seem to puzzle the question. I look upon experience as the surest guide on all such questions, where at the first setting out much must depend on Theory. Now for a number of the most flourishing yrs. we lived under the operation of a Corn Bill & everything respecting importation & exportation went on to the advantage of both growers & consumers—two successive yrs. of bad Harvests all over Europe raised the price to such a sum, tht. the Corn Bill remain’d on the shelf, & could not be brought into action. The War & depreciation of the currency kept up the prices—when the first ceased, & there was also a large produce the prices fell. Does it not seem wise whilst the depreciation of the currency continues to raise the price at which Corn may be imported—so as to bring that trade again under the action of that same Corn Bill, which had succeeded so well—by raising the price according to the circumstances of the times. I have gone more at length into this than I had any idea of doing & it may perhaps bore you but I must mention one circumstance more. The ports are now shut from the average of the Corn having sunk below this original Corn Bill I mention—which some of our great Political Œconomists asserted could never happen, but then this is only for those [or three] mths.—& a very small rise, will, at the expiration of that time, open them again. The cry raised agst. high rents has very
little to do with it, so you need not think that I am influenced.

The fresh fighting which ended in the Battle of Waterloo had forced the Government to an even higher taxation, which pressed most heavily on the landed proprietors, and on February 17 a Member of Parliament wrote to Mr. Creevy1 that

“in regard to our internal—Agriculture, &c., is getting into a state of Despair absolutely and distraction. . . . I assure you the landed people are getting desperate; the universality of ruin among them, or distress bordering on it, is absolutely unparallel’d, and at such a moment the sinking fund is not to be touched for the world, says Horner—no not a shilling of it: and yet—taxes to be taken off, rents to come down, cheap corn, cheap labour—how can a man talk of such impossibilities? Cut the Establishment ever so low, we shall have four times as much to raise as before the war. It is not to be done out of the same rents, &c., &c. It is absolute madness to talk of it. . . . By the bye—there was a moment for the exertion of yr. talents in the job-oversetting way, and fighting every shilling of expenditure. This is the time, never before equalled. They cannot resist on these points, and the carrying them is valuable beyond measure, prospectively as well as immediately. Whenever you blow one jobb fairly out of the water,

1 Creevy Memoirs, vol. i, p. 252.

2 Francis Horner, M.P., economist, born 1778, died 1817.

it presents a hundred others, and this is the moment!”

Frederick had developed into a very remarkable man. He was exceedingly good-looking, and with the charm of his mother and her cool, clear judgment he combined an upright character, hating deception and intrigue. Diplomacy and the Navy alike entail the certainty of long separation from home and a lifetime spent abroad. In a letter he wrote to his sister Emily, about a year before Napoleon’s abdication, he writes:

Hon. Frederick Lamb to Lady Cowper
Jan. 6, 1814.

My dearest Emily it is a great deal too true that for many years I have lived a great deal too little with you, and I know very well that I shall finish by knowing none of you. I do not think of this without regret, nor sometimes I am sorry to say without a little bitterness, when I think for what very small objects these sacrifices have been made, and how very many more remain before any good can result from them. My old amusement and yr. present one of castle building has completely deserted me, but if fate shld. ever bring you on to the Continent while I am here, and unable to come to you, I shall not easily forgive it if don’t succeed in prevailing on you to come to me. I don’t myself think peace so very near but yet not very far off. What will become of me I am just now very uncertain, but in my present situation I shall certainly not stay beyond the middle of March—perhaps I may return to
England for a short time, which in my own opinion is the best thing that is likely to happen to me. You can’t write about any thing that does not interest me, and there is a tone of happiness and content in yr. letter which is very delightful to me.

Frederick kept up a constant correspondence with his mother and, after her death, he continued to write regularly to his sister Emily. He seems, though always at a distance, to have exercised a great influence over his brothers and his sister, and he was evidently devoted to his mother, in whom he placed complete confidence. In 1815 he was sent from Munich to Frankfort to settle some diplomatic business, and from there he wrote to his mother, sympathizing with her in the trials of such daughters-in-law as Lady Caroline the wife of William, whom he calls “the little beast,” and Caroline St. Jules the wife of George, “the other lady,” or “the quiet lady” as she is called later on.

To the Viscountess Melbourne from Hon. F. Lamb
Frankfurt, 1815.
My Drst. Mother,

Yr. long letter gave me great pleasure and I thank you very much for it, but it had quite a different effect from what you intended for it shewed me how extremely and continually you are plagued by the little beast and with how
much reason. I am sure it wears you, and it can not do otherwise. The
other Lady I think less about because she is out of the house and you do not see her so continually, but two such curses were never inflicted upon a family which was so perfectly happy and united before they came into it. I have not business enough here to occupy me at all, and not the least particle of amusement, as there is neither public theatre nor private house to go to of an evening, and the cry for economy reaches me and straightens me too much for me to be able to have any body to my house. I have made a representation upon the subject, which will not be attended to, but which will be a good ground for resigning the mission as soon as the only important part of it is finished, but I wish this to remain a most profound secret between you and me; it’s getting wind in the least would totally derange my plan. God bless you my Dearest Mother, I wish I had a receipt to give you against the torment of the little beast, but I know of none, even my patience wld. be of no avail there, for she makes me furious. A settled firm resolution to have nothing to do with her, and not to care a sixpence what she does, is the best resource, and to recall this resolution and act upon it afresh every time that one feels oneself in danger of being made to break it by her. God bless you once more Dearest Mother, good night to you.

But in October he wrote a letter to his mother, so angry but so full of good sense, that she could not but agree with what he said. He may have felt that Lady Melbourne was trying to pull strings,
an accomplishment in which he knew she excelled, but which he detested for himself.

“The messenger goes only tonight, and as a proof of what I have said, this morning arrives a letter of Broughton of which I send you a cutting. You told me that he had told my father that my pay or rank would date from July last. He writes to me that my Father had told him that such was the case. He has probably lied, to one or other of us, but the system of talking to him upon any such subjects is really a very bad one—the less that pitiful fellow is named in my concerns the better. Any thing he may promise to my Father will never be useful as it never has been—the thing will be done according to the regular rules of the office, and I don’t wish it to be done otherwise. It will be done in the kindest manner by Castlereagh who has the undivided merit and should have the whole thanks, but that it shd. go round to him through Hamilton that an Underling like Broughton had been told that such and such were the Regent’s intentions is unpleasant and beneath our situation. It is nothing to the purpose whether this was really said to him or no, since something was said which gave him the power of fancying or imagining it. He is only an agent about money, and should never be thought of as anything else. I send this privately to you that you may quietly stop it, for I would rather it shld. happen ten times over than have the appearance of having an unkind feeling about it. What I want of you is to burn this letter, and instead of montéing people’s têtes about what I am doing and getting and where I am going—to preach perfect indifference and non-interference
if possible even to forgetfulness. I think you will see the reason and wisdom of this, and if you don’t—take my word for it. I have been right throughout, I was right in coming to Vienna, I was right in not going to Chatillon, and about both these things you wrote me a sort of half cutting letters which I had temper enough never to take the least notice of. The event has proved that I was perfectly right—and what I want of you is for the future not to suppose that you at 2,000 miles off know better than me upon the spot, nor to believe every half-witted, shortsighted ass who may go home and give you the motives which actuate me when in fact he sees no further into me than the outside of my coat. There, now God bless you—I have business, and with my best love to my Father

“am most affectly.
F. L.”

From Munich he wrote to his mother to say:

“With this you will receive a parcel of sable fur which I ordered from Russia in the extreme cold of winter, and which has just arrived. It is too fine for me & I think it may save you many colds for many winters coming out of the opera house, if you do but think it pretty enough to wear. Only don’t be stingy of it but have a good pelisse lined with it as they do here.”

An interesting trait in Frederick’s letters was that he generally recapitulated in them part of the contents of his mother’s letter, and his remarks on one she wrote early in June soon after Bona-
parte’s escape show what the state of England was just before Waterloo:

“A thousand thanks for yr. accounts of the state of the country, which always interest me exceedingly. The interest of the national debt is yr. great evil—the high rate of pay to the Army, when all other wages are falling is another—and these 2 can not be got rid of. The others will cure themselves, but when all prices have come to a low level, I fear there will be much difficulty to the taxpayers, or Payers of taxes, to continue to provide for the interest of the debt. As to the distress among the people, it is nothing, it is not to be spoken or thought of in comparison to what exists over all the rest of Europe. You may judge of this if you read the account of the emigrations down the Rhine &c. and reflect what misery must have existed in the countries these poor wretches have quitted, in order to drive them from thence. Do you wish to know the impression England produces upon a Foreigner?—Take the acc[oun]t of Mon. Berstett, whom I did not introduce to you as you rightly judged because I didn’t wish to bore you—but who is a sensible impartial man, qui a beaucoup vu, but who never saw England before. He says that he never witnessed before such a state of incredible prosperity and activity, that Paris through which he returned, appears perfectly dead in comparison to London, that the alarm of popular commotion is perfectly contemptible, but that liberty is carried to the greatest possible perfection, and that it would be impossible not to adore a country where every man is filled with the confidence and security of possessing it. As to
the prices he says they are much lower than here, and instances that the sack of potatoes which costs 6 shillings in England, costs 9 florins, or eighteen shillings here. I think he must have made some mistake in the measures—but its certain that prices here are enormous, their fall in England is I conceive a source of great hardship to all who live by the rent of land, and who pay taxes—but it comes even to the poor after the first difficulty of the change is got over.”

His love for his mother showed through every line of his letters. When his sister Emily took a journey abroad with her husband in 1816, he believed that from the route they took they would find it impossible to visit him. His heart ached for a sight of his sister’s face, and he wrote angrily to his mother, who scolded him. He replied with tender words:

“I know I was cross at missing that little devil Emily and you do very well to scold me, but still she is a rattle-pate and perhaps I shldn’t. love her so much if she was not so. And now for you Drst. Mother who formalize yrself. because I thank you for doing things for me, but the truth is that I think I take it a great deal too much for granted that all my business be what it may is to be put upon yr. shoulders and am sensible myself that en pareil cas I might feel as kindly but shld. not be half as constantly attentive and active, and though I will thank you no more as you don’t like it, yet I never have thanked you half enough for it. It’s laughable—if I hadn’t corrected myself I was just going to thank you for something else.”


He hoped to return to England for a short time and wrote her, though she was 63:

“Beg my father if he has two or three tolerable hacks to have them in condition about November, and be yourself in riding order that we may have three or four very long conversations.”

When the Princess of Wales paid a visit to Munich in 1815 he wrote:

“Think of my luck. The princess of Wales has fallen like an Avalanche upon Munich—followed by a group of Turcs and Italians habited like Crusaders. The Picqueur is her 1r [premier] Chevalier d’honneur—her Dame d’honneur is his Wife, judge of the rest of her Court. She herself in a Gown without a fold in it sitting close to the shape, with her petticoats above the calf of her legs, is the gaze of the whole town—all doors, all windows are crowded to see her and her motley troop. She has been at a ball and rolled a walse with Beauharnois—if she approaches Francfort I shall evacuate the town, and leave the care of her reception to the Ex-King of Sweden—with whom I am en rapport already.”

The year 1816 was one of trial to Lady Melbourne. Lady Caroline had continued her eccentricities to a pitch which nearly drove her mother-in-law mad. Smarting at Lord Byron’s neglect, she wrote and published in May a novel called Glenarvon, in which she was the heroine called Calanthe. She admits that when the book came out, even her husband, who had stood her friend
till now, solemnly told her that if she really had published this book he would never see her again.

Creevy gives us an account of the book in his Memoirs. Lady Mandeville was Lady Oxford, and Lady Augusta a combination of Lady Jersey and Lady Collier, Buchanan was Sir Godfrey Webster, and Glenarvon and Vivian both represented Lord Byron. Sophia was Lady Granville, and there is a slight sketch of Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster. Lady Melbourne is also made to appear in the book and depicted as bigoted and vulgar; she is probably represented under the name of Mrs. Seymour. Creevy says, “I am sorry to see the Melbourne family so miserable about it. Lady Cowper is really frightened and depressed, far beyond what is necessary.”

The book itself is a strange medley—a true product of the disordered mind which penned it. The frivolous and worldly women whom the authoress satirizes are placed against a background of wild romance, and among scenery as grim and dreadful as that of the Bride of Lammermoor. The whole is painted with a dark and heavy brush, giving a sinister atmosphere. The hero, the heroine and other characters are generally to be found either perched alone on a lofty crag overlooking a frightful precipice, or ascending, through stony paths and drenching rain, some rugged eminence, or they are driving furiously through the night. As day passes day
in this novel, crises succeed each other with fearful rapidity, and in that respect
Glenarvon is a true picture of what Caroline made of life. The publication in the book of the actual letters, notably the one sealed by Lady Oxford, and the picture of the principal women of the day which it contains, constitute its chief interest, though it does contain some pretty writing and melodious songs. When Lord Byron was asked by Mme. de Stael what he thought of his portrait in the book, he answered, “Elle aurait été plus ressemblante si j’avais voulu donner plus de séances.”

William determined to part with his wife. Whether his mother gave way or whether she withdrew her opposition because she knew it was of no use it is not possible to guess. She must have been terribly shocked by such a scandal, which gave to the world secrets which the authoress could only have known as a result of her intimacy with those by whom she had been surrounded since her youth.

The story is well known how, when the instruments of the separation had been brought to Lady Caroline for her signature, she was found seated on her husband’s knee, feeding him with scraps of bread and butter. He may have relented—he may have felt that Caroline’s complaint to her confidante, Lady Morgan, was just and that he had at first looked on her as a toy rather than a wife. The separation did not take place, but Lady Caroline was persuaded to retire to
Brocket, where, when she learned the remark that
Byron had made on her book, she caused a bonfire to be lit which consumed every copy she had.

Her eccentricities grew rapidly. It appears from these letters that an attempt was made to prove her insane with the object of taking her child from her, but nothing came of this. She wrote another novel, Ada Reis, and some poetry, but gradually sank into ill health and suffering. On her deathbed she craved for her husband’s presence, and could not die without seeing him. She said then, “The only noble fellow I ever met with is William Lamb. He is to me what Shore was to Jane Shore.” He came over from Dublin, where he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, to see her, and her brother William Ponsonby, who had never left her, said, “Lamb acted as I always knew he would do.”

To add to the family troubles, in 1816 George and his wife Caroline were having a serious quarrel.

There are few letters from George to his mother. He was a busy lawyer who still kept up his interest in the stage, and Frederick quoted:

“The rage for acting is so strong among the Liverpool attorneys that they all correspond with him about Drury Lane, and that this had got him more briefs at Liverpool than anything else. He has more than cleared his expenses, and is in high force and spirits.”

George’s wife, much to his annoyance, had gone
abroad with her mother,
Elizabeth Duchess of Devonshire, and rumour said that Henry Brougham, later Lord Chancellor of England and the defender of Queen Caroline when her trial took place in 1820, was seen too much and too often with her. There appeared so much reason to believe that this was true that Lady Melbourne with her usual directness wrote to Mrs. George Lamb, who replied from Geneva. She admitted the friendship with Brougham, but said much what Lady Caroline said when taxed in the same way, that she did not think her husband cared for her.

From Mrs. George Lamb to Viscountess Melbourne
My dear Lady Melbourne,

Since you have spoken to me openly, I will do so too. I suppose everybody makes some excuse to themselves for their conduct, and I perhaps have no better one than many others, but I will at least try to explain if not excuse what must seem to you quite inexcusable. I have for many years thought myself slighted and not loved. Some people may make up their minds to this, and turn their thoughts to other things, & make new interests to themselves, but I could not. I am therefore peculiarly alive to any warmth of affection and attachment from others. I detest deceit and concealment, and believed I could be happier living out of the world even with loss of reputation with those who loved me, than in it, struggling to appear happy with those who did not care for me. I have struggled seven years, and my courage at last failed me. I
was told
George appeared unhappy at my absence and wrote to him to ask if he was so, and this was his answer—“Who the deuce says I am unhappy? If I am it is only at some theatrical worry. I do not like your absence certainly—it fidgets me and unsettles me, and I get through less business in consequence.” This was not the language of a person who loved or regretted me, but I suppose he was perfectly unconscious of what was passing in my mind. I have now received one which has made me, (it is no exaggeration to say), miserable—because it shows him to be so—and no plan of life could be tolerable to me, that involved him in misery. I wait therefore for one letter more, and I will do whatever he requires. I will either return to England, or he shall join me here, but if I make the sacrifice I must be satisfied that it is for his happiness I make it, and not to avoid the tittle tattle of the world. One word I must say on Mr. B[rougham]’s account. You fancy he has estranged me from you all—I swear to you most solemnly that he never had such a wish or intention. He felt it awkward to be much with you, and so did I, and what perhaps added to the coldness of my manner just at the time was the difference of our opinions about Lady Byron. Since we have been here I have scarcely seen him; some remarks were made which annoyed Clifford & I prevailed upon him to go away, or at least not to see me. The being detained here has been very uncomfortable to us all, but Mrs. C.1 has been taken ill, and we are very uncertain when we can move. The Duchess is waiting for us at Florence. If George is ill I will set out from hence & return home directly.

1 The Hon. Mrs. Cowper, sister-in-law of Lord Cowper.


She did return to her husband, but not for some time after. It is impossible not to feel that a great deal of blame must have been attached to the Lambs as husbands.

In April 1816 William Lamb was returned for Peterborough, and at the close of the Session Canning joined the Tory Government, and was made President of the Board of Control. Lady Melbourne did not like Canning. Long before she had written to Lord Byron:

Canning is not pleasant in my eyes—his countenance is false & he always looks suspicious, & a sort of imitation of Sheridan’s, but so inferior, that with me it loses all its effect.”

She and Frederick were both displeased with William. He had been one of a secret committee appointed to inquire into the truth of reports on the revolutionary feeling in the country owing to the suffering of the people caused by bad harvests and unemployment. The committee recommended the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and William voted against his party on this occasion.

But a still sorer trial came on Lady Melbourne. In September 1816 Lord and Lady Cowper decided to go abroad, and took their two elder children with them. The journey lasted from the beginning of September 1816 until late in June 1817. Lady Melbourne was ageing, and the anxiety about her health, which was always
present, made her feel the parting deeply. Lady Cowper wrote:

“If you and Papa were but with us I should be quite happy. I am very sorry to see by your letter that you seem melancholy, but I trust this will wear off; a few months are soon passed & you need be under no uneasyness about us, for I assure you I am prudent to a degree you have no idea of about myself as well as the Children. The dangers of travelling are so exagerated it is an optical delusion like that mentioned by some travellers in the deserts which makes things at a distance appear twice the size they really are.”

Their younger children William and Spencer were left at Brocket, and this no doubt was an anxiety, as the head nurse Hawk was left with them. “Hawk is too tiresome with her castor oil and her obstinacy,” wrote Lady Cowper to her mother. They visited Paris, Florence, Rome, Munich and Geneva. The children were always well, and Minny much admired. The letters are seldom interesting, except when Lady Cowper was excited at meeting a lady who said, “Connaissez-vous cette Madame Lamb? Elle a fait un livre horrible”; and later heard that Glenarvon had been burned publicly at Lichfield. To her great pleasure they met Lord and Lady Jersey, who was Sarah Fane, daughter of Lady Westmorland before her marriage:

“We met Ld. & Ly. Jersey at Geneva& they are now in this Hotel with us, which is very comfort-
able as they are so amiable & it is so very useful to have another Woman as it makes one so independant. The only fear you had was that she would lead me into danger but this I promise you she shall not.”

When they got to Florence the Cowpers found that:

Ld. & Ly. Jersey have been detained here in expectation of seeing Ld. Ponsonby. They set off Monday so will be just before us. I assure you she is quite steady & don’t lead me into any kind of danger, on the contrary has contributed very much to my comfort, for it prevents one’s feeling lost in a foreign Country to have one person upon whom one can depend.”

From Rome she wrote:

“The Society here is very agreable. We have had rather a bone of Contention here, in P[rince]ss Pauline Borghese1 whom people chose to be fanciful about because she is Buonaparte’s Sister—the same people who were at her feet a year ago. Her Husband the Prince Borghese is the first family in Rome—but Ly. Westd. chose not to visit her saying it was rude to Blacas2 the French Ambassador who in fact did not care a straw about it, but Ly. Westd. makes a monstrous fuss about everything and manages to make herself very ridiculous & wanted everybody to do just as she chose & because they would not was very angry. The end of this opposition was

1 Born 1780, married Prince Borghese (1775-1832) in 1803, died at Florence June 9, 1825.

2 Le Duc de Blacas (1770-1839), a favourite of Louis XVIII.

that we have all been to see her. She and the
Dss. of Devonshire stay away but Caroline George I think has been to her. The making any rout about visiting her as Pss. Borghese is ridiculous but you may as well not mention this in England as if they hear of it they will probably think us in the wrong for going to see her. She is beautiful and quite charming, gives herself no airs & only makes the agreable which is not the case in general with Italian Ladies who seem for the most part very ignorant & dull & thinking of nothing but gambling which they do almost all night.”

She also visited Frederick at Munich, and he accompanied her to Spa.

Lady Cowper had no love for her sisters-in-law, the wives of William and George. As the peace of the family did not depend on her, as it did on Lady Melbourne, she was not called upon to exercise the same forbearance with them.

In her letters she spoke but little of her eldest son Fordwich, but her daughter Minny was evidently the delight of her life, though, according to Lady Bessborough, she was a tiresome child, who ruled the house to its detriment. It is amusing to contrast these animadversions with Lady Cowper’s glee on returning to Minny, whose natural manners she said she so far preferred to the “pretty behaviour” of Susan Leveson Gower.1 Throughout her life, Minny, afterwards Lady Shaftesbury, was perfection in her mother’s eyes. When Fanny, Lady Cowper’s second

1 Daughter of Lord and Lady Granville.

daughter, who was born a year after
Lady Melbourne’s death, came out in 1836, she learnt that Lord Granville had uttered the heresy that she was more beautiful than her elder sister Minny, and could hardly believe it because Minny had always been supposed to be unique.

But from the moment Lady Cowper married, she took her place in what Hayward1 calls “the brilliant galaxy of beautiful women who formed the chief ornament of the British Court during successive reigns till they were gradually replaced, not outshone, by a younger, not fairer or more fascinating race.” Her life was the ordinary life of the world of that day. A favourite guest of the Prince Regent, she was often at Brighton. She bore five children, and in her frequent letters to her brother Frederick was fond of tracing likenesses in them to members of her own family, when she described the babies soon after their birth. Lady Cowper’s younger daughter Fanny used to talk of her lonely childhood, for Minny always remained her mother’s chief preoccupation. Fanny, like the rest, was confided to the charge of Mrs. Hawk, whom the children called “Hawkey” and who ruled the nursery with a rod of iron. Was a child naughty? “No child is naughty if it is well,” said “Hawkey”: “bring me the Jalap pot,” and plunging her thumb into the nauseous mixture she held it out for the child to suck. More than cherishing was given by the

1Abraham Hayward, essayist, Lady Palmerston.

nurses of those days. They tried to form the characters of those under their care. Hawkey encouraged the sterner virtues. When she was operated on for cataract, she desired that the young Fanny Cowper should be present at the operation—“to teach her courage,” she said. Those who saw the courage with which the child, grown to womanhood, met the overwhelming sorrows of her later life will admit that the stern discipline had its merits.

Fanny often talked of the unkind governess who later made her so unhappy. “I wonder I did not tell Minny,” she said: “Miss Tomkinson was so unkind that I once gave her a catseye ring I had to propitiate her.” Miss Tomkinson was like a governess in a book. When she wished to tell her pupil to shut the piano, she said, “Fanny, close the instrument”; and when she wished her to ring the bell she said, “Fanny, agitate the communicator.”

As Lady Cowper grew older, she seems to have silenced the jealous tongues of other women by her charm and savoir-faire, though certain people, such as Sybella, Lady Lyttleton, always spoke slightingly of her worldliness. It was not strange that she loved the world, for she had lived in it from her youth up, and her talent of discrimination, her instinctive quick judgment of character and her charm and attraction made it a pleasant place to her, while in the kindness of her heart she tried to make it a pleasant place for others.


Charles Greville wrote of a visit to Panshanger in 1832, and described what he called a constant stream of benevolence flowing from Panshanger to the cottagers and almshouses around. Fanny used to tell how the groom of the chambers would come into her mother’s sitting-room in the morning rubbing his hands, and saying, “Seven por women downstairs, my lady, waiting to be relieved.” The charity may not have been discriminating, but it proceeded from her overflowing goodness of heart. As the husband of her granddaughter once said, “Even her faults came from over-kindness. She was too kind to refuse anybody anything.” He also marked, as a strange trait in her character, that she never gave a present. Another of Lady Cowper’s characteristics was that she was always late. She laughed at herself in a letter to her mother when she told her that she had even managed to be late for the Pope, and Greville says that it was difficult to be unpunctual at Panshanger, for no one was ever in time. Lady Cowper and her daughters went to the village church regularly on Sundays. They always arrived in the middle of the service. It would have been of no use putting the service half an hour later, they would have been equally unpunctual. When Queen Victoria visited Panshanger, she was found waiting in the hall for her drive, because Lady Cowper was not ready.

Her daughters were devoted to her, but they suffered a good deal from her matchmaking pro-
pensities. Their mother was so exceedingly kind to any of the men (and they were many) who wished to marry her daughters, that an ardent lover never knew whether he had been refused or not, and continued to hope. This, according to
Lady Granville, was because Lady Cowper, on hearing that the young lady had not been kind, immediately rushed to her writing-table and indited an encouraging letter to the swain, which set matters going again. Minny married Lord Ashley, eldest son of 6th Lord Shaftesbury, in 1830. Sir Frederick Lamb was much averse to the marriage, and told his sister so in no measured terms. Lady Cowper had, after Lady Melbourne’s death, taken up the regular exchange of letters with her brother Frederick, which her mother had kept up. She lived in the centre of affairs, and it was useful to him to have her clear judgment on events, for though her letters were confused in style, her opinions were worth having.1 She also kept watch over her father, who survived his wife eleven years and died in 1829.

No letters from Lady Melbourne can be found after the year 1816. We know from her children’s letters that she wrote to them, but the letters have not been found.

Lady Melbourne had been failing for some years; perhaps the brilliant mind was failing too,

1 These letters and the life of Lady Cowper after her husband’s death in 1837 will form the subject of a separate volume.

and what she wrote was better destroyed for safety. Her family difficulties must have told on her health, and she must have much disliked the way they seemed to get beyond her control.
Lady Cowper was evidently thankful to get back to her mother, and she was with her through the winter of 1817. In March 1818 it was known that Lady Melbourne was lying very ill at Melbourne House, Whitehall. She was not an old woman, for she was only 66, but she had crowded every hour, and lived her life to the full. What may have been her thoughts as she lay dying? She had grasped the world which lay before her with both hands, she had made it her god, and it had in part repaid her worship. She had been courted, flattered, her beauty celebrated. Her wisdom and tact had made her fit to counsel great men, her discretion led them to share their secrets with her. She had not outlived all her friends—that sorrow of old age had been spared her. She and her circle had perhaps seen power falling into other hands than theirs, but her thoughts must have wandered back to the days of her youth, to those who had gone before her, to the brilliant Georgiana and her affection, to the brutal Francis Duke of Bedford, who had adored her but “whose conduct has upset the habits of all our Circle.” She must have thought of her own great drawing-rooms, crowded with all that was best and gayest in Whig Society, now empty and silent as the grave whither she herself was going.


She had been an ambitious mother, careful and anxious for the future of her children, sparing no pains to ensure worldly advantages for them. She had in part succeeded, but much sorrow had come from what she had compassed. Peniston was dead—perhaps earlier attention might have saved him. Harriet might have been alive had the claims of the world not interfered with the journey abroad, which might have helped her. William, for whose advancement she had strained every nerve, had so far not come up to her expectation. He was indolent and uncertain; perhaps his life was spoiled by the marriage she had so ardently desired for him, and though they were separated she knew that he still loved his wife. Their boy was mentally defective. Frederick did not seem likely to marry. He was abroad, lonely and often depressed—he would miss his mother and her constant letters. George and his wife had settled down in a mutual understanding; he would never be a leader of men, but she had not hoped for that. Emily, for whose marriage she had worked from early days, was highly placed, rich, a personage in her own world, looked to by the Whig Party as one of their great hostesses. Her husband was a man much loved by his contemporaries. Emily was the mother of children, yet she, too, would miss her own mother’s guiding hand.

These thoughts may have troubled her, and even in death she was true to her traditions. On
her deathbed she spoke words of warning to each of her children, impressing on them for the last time the precepts and maxims with which she had sought to guide their lives; and in these solemn talks we know that she sought as ever to determine their future.

What of her husband, the handsome spendthrift and libertine to whom she had been given in her youth? Her relations with him may fitly end this record, which began with the letter of her little child. She had not failed him in her own way. His family had risen through her ability, and he could depend at least on her sympathy and understanding.

From Lord Melbourne to Lady Melbourne
Friday, 5 o’clock.

I have received your letter & am glad you have avoided strangers coming as we shall be much better alone the little time we shall have to do all we have to do. I was well all yesterday but at night waked every hour till six o’clock, but not uncomfortable, or ill, & in little perspiration. It is therefore better not to go to Panshanger for one Night, as Giles must be put off till Winter. If I want it will see Farqher tomorrow, & if He orders another Dose will take it Sunday night at Brocket & meet you at dinner that day there. Am glad you have done so well. Tell Emily & Ld. C. how sorry I am to have been detained here, but if I had been away from Farqher should have thought myself very bad & should certainly have had a fever. I have found that no Clear Wine
in the day, only one Tablespoonfull of Wine in much Water is the pleasantest drink, & Pint of Claret, only one Glass of Sheer (? Sherry) Wine at supper.

I should if it suits be glad to see Emily & the Dear Child at B. H. on Monday, but settle this as you think may best suit & order all things at B. H. as they hear nothing from me, & you cannot write tomorrow. Hyne will have the Child’s Spade, Basket & Broom & I will order F. Goods to send it to him. I am going to Ride & my nerves are not bad, to Ride Fordham without a Groom, as I have no other horse.

I have spoke as yet to no Gentleman since Monday but Sr. Walter & C. Wyndham. As I now go out I am not so dull tho’ as your Company would have been a good Comfort, I want you to Lay in a stock of Country Health.

Love to all.
Yrs. Dear Ly. M.
Ever Affectly.

Lady Melbourne died at Melbourne House, Whitehall, on April 6, 1818.

Long years after, when the son she so adored was fading away in a dreary retirement after a life of power and influence such as even her ambitious hopes could hardly have realized, he would sit day after day in front of his mother’s picture in the great drawing-room at Brocket, murmuring to himself his estimate of her character, with the affection of a son and the judgment of a man of the world.