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OURTS are strange, mysterious places :—those who pretend most to despise them seek to gain admittance within their precincts; those who
once obtain an entrance there generally lament their fate, and yet, somehow or other, cannot break their chains. I believe, also, that it makes little difference whether those circles of society, which stand apart from the rest of the world, exist under one form of government, or under another; whether under Emperors, Kings, Protectors or Consuls. They may vary as to modes and designations ; but courts are courts still, and have been so from the earliest times. Intrigues, jealousies, heartburnings, lies, dissimulation, thrive in them as mushrooms in a hot-bed. Nevertheless, they are necessary evils, and they afford a great school both for the heart and head. It is utterly impossible, so long as the world exists, that similar societies should not exist also ; and one may as well declaim against every other defect attendant upon human institutions, and endeavour to extirpate crime from the world, as pretend to put down courts and their concomitant evils.
December, 1810.—Lady M[ary] C[oke] called upon me by appointment; and we went together to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of B[runswic]k.* She thought more of me than she had ever done before, because I was on the road to royal favour ; she herself being in her own estimation an engrafted sprig of royalty.† We rumbled in her old tub all the way to New Street, Spring Gardens, much to the discomfiture of my bones ; for, if the vehicle ever had springs, time has stiffened their joints as completely as it has done those of its soi-disant royal mistress. Lady M[ary] C[oke] was grandly gracious, and gave me dissertations on etiquette, such as it existed in her young days, till we reached our destination. We were ushered into the dirtiest room I ever beheld, empty, and devoid of comfort. A few filthy lamps stood on a sideboard ; common chairs were placed around very dingy walls ; and, in the middle of this empty space, sat the old Duchess, a melancholy specimen of decayed royalty. There is much goodness in her countenance, and a candour and sincerity in her manner, and even in her abrupt and rough conversation, which are invaluable in a person of her rank, whose life must necessarily have been passed in the society of those whose very essence is deceit. Her former friendship for friends very dear to me, of whom she spoke in terms of respect and love, gave an interest to the visit which it could not otherwise have had. I sat, therefore, patiently listening to Lady M[ary] C[oke) and Her Royal
Augusta, widow of Carl II., Duke of Brunswick. She was Princess Royal of England, daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, sister of George III., and mother of Caroline, Princess of Wales. She arrived in England July 7, 1807, and died March 23, 1813.
† If Lady M- C means Lady Mary Coke, it is well known she supposed herself to be the widow of the antecedent Duke of York; for when her mother one day found the Duke in her apartment, and rated her for the impropriety of her conduct, she drew herself up with ineffable dignity, and replied, “ Madam, do you know whom you are talking to ? You are talking to the Duchess of York.” [Original note.] Lady Mary Coke (1726-1811) was the youngest daughter of John Campbell, Duke of Argyll
. She had been unhappily married.
Highness, who talked of lords and ladies of the last century, and wondered at those of the present, and passed trippingly over the peccadillos of their own contemporaries, to vent all their moral indignation upon those of mine.
Old Mr. Livingstone * was announced : poor man, what did he get by his attendance on royalty ? the illwill of all parties. He knows many things which, if told, would set London on fire. Soon after his entrance, Lady M[ary] C[oke] arose, and, kicking her train behind her, backed out of the room in capital style. How the heart dilatęs or closes in the presence of different persons ! It must surely be very unwholesome to be with those in whose society the latter is the case.
Went to Kensington-a great ball—everybody of the highest fashion-Dukes of Portland and Beaufort, Earl Harrowby,f &c., &c. As I always wished the royal hostess well I was glad to observe that the company then frequenting the palace were of the best. I sat down by some old friends, and felt that to be near them was a comfort, surrounded as I was by persons for whom I cared not, and who cared not for me ; but the Princess beckoned to me, and taking my arm, leant upon it, parading me around the apartments. The inner room was set out with refreshments, and a profusion of gold plate ; which, by the way, in after times I never saw. Was it taken away, or was it otherwise disposed of ? Sofas were placed around the tables, and the whole thing was well managed.
Her Royal Highness wished the company to come into * Mr. Livingstone, the tutor of some of the Princes, a good dull man. [Original note.)
† These noblemen and their wives continued to visit Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales till the King was declared too ill to reign, and the Prince became in fact Regent; then those ladies disappeared that moment from Kensington, and were never seen there more. It was the besom of expediency, which swept them all away. [Original note.]
this banquetting room ; but, either out of respect, and not knowing whether they ought to do so or not, or because they preferred the outer room, no one would come in, except Lady O[xfor]d, Lord H. Fitzgerald, and Lord G[owe)r, who was forcibly seized upon by Lady O[xfor]d.* Altogether, in my quality of looker-on, I could not but think that lady was no honour to society ; and it was only surprising to remark in her instance, as well as in that of many others, how well impudence succeeds, even with the mild and the noble, who are often subdued by its arrogant assumption of command.
The Princess complained of the weight of some jewels she wore in her head, and said they gave her the headache; then, turning to a person who was evidently a favourite, asked, “May I not take them off now that the first parade is over ?” He replied in his own doucereux voice, “ Your Royal Highness is the best judge ; but, now that you have shown off the magnificence of the ornament, I think it would be cruel that you should condemn yourself to suffer by wearing it longer. In my opinion, you will be just as handsome without it."
I was convinced, from the manner in which these words were spoken, that that man loved her. Poor soul ! of all those on whom she conferred benefits, I think he was the only man or woman who could be said to have loved her,-and he ought not to have done so.
I dined again at Kensington. There were assembled a company of the very first persons of the realm. I was glad to see that what had been told me of low company was not true.
* The beautiful Lady Oxford, whose portrait by Hoppner is in the National Gallery, London. She was Jane Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. James Scott, Vicar of Itchin, Hants, and had married, in 1794, Edward Harley, 5th Earl of Oxford. Her gallantries with Lord Byron and others were well known, and her children were known as “the Harleian miscellany." She died November 20, 1824.
Wednesday, 9th, 1810.—This day, I found Her Royal Highness sitting for her picture. She received me with her usual graciousness of manner, and desired me to
come and sit,” her phrase for feeling comfortable and at one's ease. She informed me that Mr. S[-], the painter engaged upon the picture, was only altering the costume of a portrait taken many years back; which, she said, was by no means doing his talent justice. Certainly the picture was frightful, and I have often regretted that I never saw a tolerable likeness painted of her. Although during the last years of her life she was bloated and disfigured by sorrow, and by the life she led, the Princess was in her early youth a pretty woman; fine light hair-very delicately formed features, and a fine complexion-quick, glancing, penetrating eyes, long cut and rather sunk in the head, which gave them much expression-and a remarkably delicately formed mouth. But her head was always too large for her body, and her neck too short ; and, latterly, her whole figure was like a ball, and her countenance became hardened, and an expression of defiance and boldness took possession of it, that was very unpleasant. Nevertheless, when she chose to assume it, she had a very noble air, and I have seen her on more than one occasion put on a dignified carriage, which became her much more than the affectation of girlishness which she generally preferred.
To-day, I received the following letter from my friend “ Matt Lewis ” :
(Dated) HOLLAND HOUSE,
December 9th, 1810. The only news which is likely to be very interesting to you is, that I have got a violent cold ; and that, too, can scarcely be called news, for I have now had it about a week. Perhaps you may think this a subject of much interest to myself, but of very little to you ; but I can assure you that you are likely to feel the bad effects of it, for it makes me so cross and so stupid that you must not expect to find in this letter