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"to tell in print that Mr. Pope had occasioned a lady's death, and to name a person he never heard of"-and, using the poetic licence as to time, Pope hurled at his assailant the memorable couplet,
"Full ten years slander'd did he once reply?
Three thousand suns went down on Welsted's lie." 24
The ancient and honourable name of St. Leger was widely spread both in England and Ireland, but it would be assigning too much importance to Welsted's rant to seek in any of the pedigrees for the "Unfortunate Lady." Ayre professed to know the mysterious story. The lady, he said, had formed an attachment to a young gentleman of inferior rank, and refused a match proposed to her by her uncle; that her uncle then forced her abroad, where she languished for some time in strict seclusion; and that, at last, wearied out and despairing, she put an end to her own life, having bribed a woman servant to procure her a sword. Ayre's narrative of the event is evidently no more than an imaginary history formed out of the poem, though deviating from it in some particulars; and one of his contemporaries charged him with manufacturing the story. "With what pleasure," says this anonymous writer, "should we have read after his (Pope's) death, what it was impossible for us to know in his lifetime, the real history, with all its melancholy circumstances, of that unfortunate lady, whose death furnished occasion for perhaps the most finished poem he has left behind him. The little I learned of that story from the hints I have heard accidentally dropped in the few hours of conversation I have been so happy as to have with Mr. Pope, makes me speak with more certainty of the satisfaction it would have been to
Yet fair, though fallen! a star with feebler fire,
The spell of nonsense, guiltless injur'd dame,
While Pope damns Sheffield with his bellman's rhymes."
Of Dulness and Scandal, 1732.
24 Epistle to Arbuthnot. The "lie" might be Welsted's attack on Pope in 1717, in his Palamon and Cælia, which would make the "three thousand suns" a closer approximation to fact.
WARBURTON'S NOTE ON THE LADY.
the world to have been made fully acquainted with it. And I can speak with certainty of at least one person to whom Mr. Pope had trusted it with all its affecting circumstances."25 Six years afterwards (1751), in Warburton's edition of Pope's Works, the following note, purporting to be written by Pope himself, was appended to the Elegy: "See the Duke of Buckingham's Verses to a Lady designing to retire into a Monastery, compared with Mr. Pope's Letters to Several Ladies,' page 206. She seems to be the same person whose unfortunate death is the subject of the poem.-P." If this note was written by Pope (of which we have strong doubts), it must have been written purely for mystification and deception. Turning to the "Letters to Several Ladies," page 206 in Warburton's edition (vol. vii.), we find one of Pope's Letters to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. "We never meet," writes the poet, "but we lament over you; we pay a kind of weekly rites to your memory, where we strow flowers of rhetoric and offer such libations to your name as it would be profane to call toasting. The Duke of Bm is sometimes the high priest of your praises." Warburton did not know that this letter was addressed to Lady Mary, for Pope had suppressed the name. He saw that it was addressed to some lady whose absence was lamented, and the reference to the "Duke of B-m" misled him into the supposition (which, however, he has doubtfully expressed) that the same lady, celebrated for her charms and her misfortunes, had inspired both Buckingham and Pope. The Duke's verses were first published in Tonson's Miscellany for 1709, when he was in his sixtieth year and married to his third wife! They were, most likely, a much earlier production, and this renders it in the highest degree improbable that the same lady should also have been commemorated by Pope, who was thirty-seven years younger than his friend. If such had been the case, we might well give a literal and prosaic interpretation to the apostrophe, "Oh, ever beauteous, ever friendly!" The difficulties and contradictions involved in the common story, added to Pope's significant silence, led
25 Remarks on Squire Ayre's Memoirs: London, M. Cooper, 1745. So little reliance is to be placed on the pamphleteers of that day, that the statements of this writer are perhaps as purely an invention as Ayre's narrative.
the late Mr. Rogers to believe that the Elegy was a mere fancy-piece, written by Pope to embody poetical conceptions, and to show how much better he could write than the Duke of Buckingham.
The mistaken or deceptive note by Warburton led the editors and biographers astray. Johnson followed the story of Ayre, which had been continued in Ruffhead's Life, but sought the lady's name and adventures with fruitless inquiry. Warton also made "many and wide inquiries," and was informed that the lady's name was Wainsbury; that she was as ill-shaped and deformed as Pope himself, and that her death was not by a sword, but—what would less bear to be told poetically-she hanged herself. Hawkins gives a similar account on the authority of a "lady of quality," but says the name was Withinbury, corruptly pronounced Winbury. Mr. Bowles revived the romance of the tale by stating, on the authority of Voltaire, communicated to Condorcet, that the lady's attachment was to a young French prince, Emanuel, Duke of Berry, whom, in her early youth, she had met at the Court of France. Mr. Roscoe followed the track pointed out by the reference to the printed letters, but added nothing to the previous information. Those letters, described by Pope in the table of contents as relating to an "Unfortunate Lady," introduce us to a Mrs. W., niece to a Lady A.; and they tell us that in 1712 the lady went on a visit to her aunt, after enduring a series of hardships and misfortunes, of the nature of which we are not informed. We learn also that Mrs. W. had a brother who exerted himself on her behalf. Thus, if the initial letters were held to be genuine, the search was restricted to certain Roman Catholic families of that day having a "Mrs. W." who had encountered misfortune, who had a brother, and also an aunt, the last answering to "Lady A." After the lapse of more than a century, the veil has been withdrawn from the mysterious niece and aunt, and the history of at least one "Unfortunate Lady" has been traced with clearness and certainty. We may not yet have got the heroine of the Elegy, but we have obtained an explanation of the allusions in the correspondence, and the knowledge of an interesting passage in Pope's life. The original letters addressed by the poet to his friend Mr. Caryll falling into the hands of
an acute and critical inquirer, the following particulars (all supported by proofs) have been elicited:
"The Mrs. W. of Pope's letters was Mrs. Weston. She was Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Joseph Gage (son of Sir Thomas, of Firle), who inherited Sherborne Castle in right of his mother, and ultimately the large property of the Penruddocks in right of his wife. She was sister to Thomas, who succeeded as eighth Baronet and was first Viscount, and to Joseph, mentioned by Pope in the Epistle to Bathurst:
"The crown of Poland, venal twice an age,
To just three millions stinted modest Gage'
an allusion to his enormous gains, subsequently lost by speculations in the Mississippi scheme; when, as reported, he offered to buy the crown of Poland and the island of Sardínia, and to attach the latter to the former as a kitchen-garden-a man whose whole life was a romance, and who ended his career as a grandee of Spain of the first class! Her father died in 1700, and left Sir W. Goring, of Burton in Sussex, executor and guardian of his children. Her aunt, Catharine Gage, became the second wife of Walter Lord Aston. Mrs. Elizabeth, the lady in question, married John Weston, of Sutton in the county of Surrey. They lived unhappily, were soon separated, had only one child (or only one who survived), a daughter, Melior, who died unmarried in June, 1782, aged seventy-nine." 26
The case of Mrs. Weston was taken up warmly by the poet. At his request, Mr. Caryll interceded on her behalf with her guardian, Sir William Goring, and also wrote to her husband and aunt. When Mr. Weston, "the tyrant," determined to remove his daughter from her mother, Pope wrote to Caryll: "I wish to God it could be put off by Sir W. G.'s mediation, for I am heartily afraid 'twill prove of very ill consequence to her." Of this Sir William Goring he had a very unfavourable opinion. "God grant," he exclaims, "he may never be my friend, and guard all my friends from such a guardian!" This is in the spirit of the Elegy:
"But thou false guardian of a charge too good."
The quarrel was adjusted, and the lady again returned to her husband. Pope's exertions on her behalf, instead of being applauded, were then, as is not unusual in such cases, made
26 Athenæum, July 15, 1854.
the ground of censure and scandal. His own relations, the Racketts, were opposed to him; the Englefields, of Whiteknights, Mrs. Nelson, and others, looked coldly upon him; and even Mrs. Weston was led to join in the prejudice against the too zealous poet. With affected philosophical indifference, he wrote to Caryll-into whose friendly ear all his petty griefs and chagrins seem to have been poured-"I shall fairly let them fall, and suffer them to be deceived for their credulity. When flattery and lying are joined and carried as far as they will go, I drop my arms of defence, which are of another kind, and of no force against such unlawful weapons. A plain man encounters them at a great disadvantage, as the poor naked Indians do our fire-arms. Virtute med me involvo, as Horace expresses it. I wrap myself up in the conscience of my integrity, and sleep upon it as soundly as I can." 27 This was in 1712. The lady survived till 1724 (she must then have been still young), and died not by the "visionary sword," or in a foreign land, but at her husband's residence of Sutton-place. The husband Pope always regarded with aversion, and shunned his society 28
27 Athenæum, July 15, 1854.
28 An indication of this is afforded in a letter addressed to Teresa and Martha Blount; and we extract part as serving also to illustrate the manner in which Pope altered and prepared his letters for publication. The name of Mr. Weston had been crossed over, but may still be read. In the printed correspondence we read:
"I was heartily tired, and posted to Park: there we had an excellent discourse of quackery; Dr. S *** was mentioned with honour. Lady *** walked a whole hour abroad without dying after it, at least in the time I stayed, though she seemed to be fainting, and had convulsive motions several times in her head. I arrived in the forest by Tuesday noon, having fled from the face (I wish I could say the horned face) of Moses B—, who dined in the midway thither. I passed the rest of the day in those woods where I have so often enjoyed a book and a friend; I made a hymn as I passed through, which ended with a sigh, that I will not tell you the meaning of."
In the original (dated September 13, 1717) the passage runs thus: "I was heartily tired, and glad to be gone by eight o'clock next morning; hired two d-d horses; galloped to Staines; kept Miss Griffin from church all the Sunday, and lay at my brother's, near Bagshot, that night. Colonel Butler (who is as well known by the name of Fair Butler as ever Fair Helen was) came to complain of me to my Lady Arran. That gentleman chanced to keep his word in calling at Hampton Court, but I was