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Lady Blessington And Count D'orsay






Often there has arisen some man who, either by his natural gifts
or by his impudence or by the combination of both, has made
himself a recognized leader in the English fashionable world. One
of the first of these men was Richard Nash, usually known as "Beau
Nash," who flourished in the eighteenth century. Nash was a man of
doubtful origin; nor was he attractive in his looks, for he was a
huge, clumsy creature with features that were both irregular and
harsh. Nevertheless, for nearly fifty years Beau Nash was an
arbiter of fashion. Goldsmith, who wrote his life, declared that
his supremacy was due to his pleasing manners, "his assiduity,
flattery, fine clothes, and as much wit as the ladies had whom he
addressed." He converted the town of Bath from a rude little
hamlet into an English Newport, of which he was the social
autocrat. He actually drew up a set of written rules which some of
the best-born and best-bred people follow slavishly.

Even better known to us is George Bryan Brummel, commonly called
"Beau Brummel," who by his friendship with George IV.--then Prince
Regent--was an oracle at court on everything that related to dress
and etiquette and the proper mode of living. His memory has been
kept alive most of all by Richard Mansfield's famous impersonation
of him. The play is based upon the actual facts; for after Brummel
had lost the royal favor he died an insane pauper in the French
town of Caen. He, too, had a distinguished biographer, since
Bulwer-Lytton's novel Pelham is really the narrative of Brummel's
curious career.

Long after Brummel, Lord Banelagh led the gilded youth of London,
and it was at this time that the notorious Lola Montez made her
first appearance in the British capital.

These three men--Nash, Brummel, and Ranelagh--had the advantage of
being Englishmen, and, therefore, of not incurring the old-time
English suspicion of foreigners. A much higher type of social
arbiter was a Frenchman who for twenty years during the early part
of Queen Victoria's reign gave law to the great world of fashion,
besides exercising a definite influence upon English art and
literature.

This was Count Albert Guillaume d'Orsay, the son of one of
Napoleon's generals, and descended by a morganatic marriage from
the King of Wurttemburg. The old general, his father, was a man of
high courage, impressive appearance, and keen intellect, all of
which qualities he transmitted to his son. The young Count
d'Orsay, when he came of age, found the Napoleonic era ended and
France governed by Louis XVIII. The king gave Count d'Orsay a
commission in the army in a regiment stationed at Valence in the
southeastern part of France. He had already visited England and
learned the English language, and he had made some distinguished
friends there, among whom were Lord Byron and Thomas Moore.

On his return to France he began his garrison life at Valence,
where he showed some of the finer qualities of his character. It
is not merely that he was handsome and accomplished and that he
had the gift of winning the affections of those about him. Unlike
Nash and Brummel, he was a gentleman in every sense, and his
courtesy was of the highest kind. At the balls given by his
regiment, although he was more courted than any other officer, he
always sought out the plainest girls and showed them the most
flattering attentions. No "wallflowers" were left neglected when
D'Orsay was present.

It is strange how completely human beings are in the hands of
fate. Here was a young French officer quartered in a provincial
town in the valley of the Rhone. Who would have supposed that he
was destined to become not only a Londoner, but a favorite at the
British court, a model of fashion, a dictator of etiquette, widely
known for his accomplishments, the patron of literary men and of
distinguished artists? But all these things were to come to pass
by a mere accident of fortune.

During his firsts visit to London, which has already been
mentioned, Count d'Orsay was invited once or twice to receptions
given by the Earl and Countess of Blessington, where he was well
received, though this was only an incident of his English sojourn.
Before the story proceeds any further it is necessary to give an
account of the Earl and of Lady Blessington, since both of their
careers had been, to say the least, unusual.

Lord Blessington was an Irish peer for whom an ancient title had
been revived. He was remotely descended from the Stuarts of
Scotland, and therefore had royal blood to boast of. He had been
well educated, and in many ways was a man of pleasing manner. On
the other hand, he had early inherited a very large property which
yielded him an income of about thirty thousand pounds a year. He
had estates in Ireland, and he owned nearly the whole of a
fashionable street in London, with the buildings erected on it.

This fortune and the absence of any one who could control him had
made him wilful and extravagant and had wrought in him a curious
love of personal display. Even as a child he would clamor to be
dressed in the most gorgeous uniforms; and when he got possession
of his property his love of display became almost a monomania. He
built a theater as an adjunct to his country house in Ireland and
imported players from London and elsewhere to act in it. He loved
to mingle with the mummers, to try on their various costumes, and
to parade up and down, now as an oriental prince and now as a
Roman emperor.

In London he hung about the green-rooms, and was a well-known
figure wherever actors or actresses were collected. Such was his
love of the stage that he sought to marry into the profession and
set his heart on a girl named Mary Campbell Browne, who was very
beautiful to look at, but who was not conspicuous either for her
mind or for her morals. When Lord Blessington proposed marriage to
her she was obliged to tell him that she already had one husband
still alive, but she was perfectly willing to live with him and
dispense with the marriage ceremony. So for several years she did
live with him and bore him two children.

It speaks well for the earl that when the inconvenient husband
died a marriage at once took place and Mrs. Browne became a
countess. Then, after other children had been born, the lady died,
leaving the earl a widower at about the age of forty. The only
legitimate son born of this marriage followed his mother to the
grave; and so for the third time the earldom of Blessington seemed
likely to become extinct. The death of his wife, however, gave the
earl a special opportunity to display his extravagant tastes. He
spent more than four thousand pounds on the funeral ceremonies,
importing from France a huge black velvet catafalque which had
shortly before been used at the public funeral of Napoleon's
marshal, Duroc, while the house blazed with enormous wax tapers
and glittered with cloth of gold.

Lord Blessington soon plunged again into the busy life of London.
Having now no heir, there was no restraint on his expenditures,
and he borrowed large sums of money in order to buy additional
estates and houses and to experience the exquisite joy of spending
lavishly. At this time he had his lands in Ireland, a town house
in St. James's Square, another in Seymour Place, and still another
which was afterward to become famous as Gore House, in Kensington.

Some years before he had met in Ireland a lady called Mrs. Maurice
Farmer; and it happened that she now came to London. The earlier
story of her still young life must here be told, because her name
afterward became famous, and because the tale illustrates
wonderfully well the raw, crude, lawless period of the Regency,
when England was fighting her long war with Napoleon, when the
Prince Regent was imitating all the vices of the old French kings,
when prize-fighting, deep drinking, dueling, and dicing were
practised without restraint in all the large cities and towns of
the United Kingdom. It was, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has said,
"an age of folly and of heroism"; for, while it produced some of
the greatest black-guards known to history, it produced also such
men as Wellington and Nelson, the two Pitts, Sheridan, Byron,
Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott.

Mrs. Maurice Farmer was the daughter of a small Irish landowner
named Robert Power--himself the incarnation of all the vices of
the time. There was little law in Ireland, not even that which
comes from public opinion; and Robert Power rode hard to hounds,
gambled recklessly, and assembled in his house all sorts of
reprobates, with whom he held frightful orgies that lasted from
sunset until dawn. His wife and his young daughters viewed him
with terror, and the life they led was a perpetual nightmare
because of the bestial carousings in which their father engaged,
wasting his money and mortgaging his estates until the end of his
wild career was in plain sight.

There happened to be stationed at Clonmel a regiment of infantry
in which there served a captain named Maurice St. Leger Farmer. He
was a man of some means, but eccentric to a degree. His temper was
so utterly uncontrolled that even his fellow officers could
scarcely live with him, and he was given to strange caprices. It
happened that at a ball in Clonmel he met the young daughter of
Robert Power, then a mere child of fourteen years. Captain Farmer
was seized with an infatuation for the girl, and he went almost at
once to her father, asking for her hand in marriage and proposing
to settle a sum of money upon her if she married him.

The hard-riding squireen jumped at the offer. His own estate was
being stripped bare. Here was a chance to provide for one of his
daughters, or, rather, to get rid of her, and he agreed that she
should be married out of hand. Going home, he roughly informed the
girl that she was to be the wife of Captain Farmer. He so bullied
his wife that she was compelled to join him in this command.

What was poor little Margaret Power to do? She was only a child.
She knew nothing of the world. She was accustomed to obey her
father as she would have obeyed some evil genius who had her in
his power. There were tears and lamentations. She was frightened
half to death; yet for her there was no help. Therefore, while not
yet fifteen her marriage took place, and she was the unhappy slave
of a half-crazy tyrant. She had then no beauty whatsoever. She was
wholly undeveloped--thin and pale, and with rough hair that fell
over her frightened eyes; yet Farmer wanted her, and he settled
his money on her, just as he would have spent the same amount to
gratify any other sudden whim.

The life she led with him for a few months showed him to be more
of a devil than a man. He took a peculiar delight in terrifying
her, in subjecting her to every sort of outrage; nor did he
refrain even from beating her with his fists. The girl could stand
a great deal, but this was too much. She returned to her father's
house, where she was received with the bitterest reproaches, but
where, at least, she was safe from harm, since her possession of a
dowry made her a person of some small importance.

Not long afterward Captain Farmer fell into a dispute with his
colonel, Lord Caledon, and in the course of it he drew his sword
on his commanding officer. The court-martial which was convened to
try him would probably have had him shot were it not for the very
general belief that he was insane. So he was simply cashiered and
obliged to leave the service and betake himself elsewhere. Thus
the girl whom, he had married was quite free--free to leave her
wretched home and even to leave Ireland.

She did leave Ireland and establish herself in London, where she
had some acquaintances, among them the Earl of Blessington. As
already said, he had met her in Ireland while she was living with
her husband; and now from time to time he saw her in a friendly
way. After the death of his wife he became infatuated with
Margaret Farmer. She was a good deal alone, and his attentions
gave her entertainment. Her past experience led her to have no
real belief in love. She had become, however, in a small way
interested in literature and art, with an eager ambition to be
known as a writer. As it happened, Captain Farmer, whose name she
bore, had died some months before Lord Blessington had decided to
make a new marriage. The earl proposed to Margaret Farmer, and the
two were married by special license.

The Countess of Blessington--to give the lady her new title--was
now twenty-eight years of age and had developed into a woman of
great beauty. She was noted for the peculiarly vivacious and
radiant expression which was always on her face. She had a kind of
vivid loveliness accompanied by grace, simplicity, and a form of
exquisite proportions. The ugly duckling had become a swan, for
now there was no trace of her former plainness to be seen.

Not yet in her life had love come to her. Her first husband had
been thrust upon her and had treated her outrageously. Her second
husband was much older than she; and, though she was not without a
certain kindly feeling for one who had been kind to her, she
married him, first of all, for his title and position.

Having been reared in poverty, she had no conception of the value
of money; and, though the earl was remarkably extravagant, the new
countess was even more so. One after another their London houses
were opened and decorated with the utmost lavishness. They gave
innumerable entertainments, not only to the nobility and to men of
rank, but--because this was Lady Blessington's peculiar fad--to
artists and actors and writers of all degrees. The American, N. P.
Willis, in his Pencilings by the Way, has given an interesting
sketch of the countess and her surroundings, while the younger
Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield) has depicted D'Orsay as Count Mirabel
in Henrietta Temple. Willis says:

In a long library, lined alternately with splendidly bound books
and mirrors, and with a deep window of the breadth of the room
opening upon Hyde Park, I found Lady Blessington alone. The
picture, to my eye, as the door opened, was a very lovely one--a
woman of remarkable beauty, half buried in a fauteuil of yellow
satin, reading by a magnificent lamp suspended from the center of
the arched ceiling. Sofas, couches, ottomans, and busts, arranged
in rather a crowded sumptuousness through the room; enameled
tables, covered with expensive and elegant trifles in every
corner, and a delicate white hand in relief on the back of a book,
to which the eye was attracted by the blaze of diamond rings.

All this "crowded sumptuousness" was due to the taste of Lady
Blessington. Amid it she received royal dukes, statesmen such as
Palmerston, Canning, Castlereagh, Russell, and Brougham, actors
such as Kemble and Matthews, artists such as Lawrence and Wilkie,
and men of letters such as Moore, Bulwer-Lytton, and the two
Disraelis. To maintain this sort of life Lord Blessington raised
large amounts of money, totaling about half a million pounds
sterling, by mortgaging his different estates and giving his
promissory notes to money-lenders. Of course, he did not spend
this vast sum immediately. He might have lived in comparative
luxury upon his income; but he was a restless, eager, improvident
nobleman, and his extravagances were prompted by the urgings of
his wife.

In all this display, which Lady Blessington both stimulated and
shared, there is to be found a psychological basis. She was now
verging upon the thirties--a time which is a very critical period
in a woman's emotional life, if she has not already given herself
over to love and been loved in return. During Lady Blessington's
earlier years she had suffered in many ways, and it is probable
that no thought of love had entered her mind. She was only too
glad if she could escape from the harshness of her father and the
cruelty of her first husband. Then came her development into a
beautiful woman, content for the time to be languorously stagnant
and to enjoy the rest and peace which had come to her.

When she married Lord Blessington her love life had not yet
commenced; and, in fact, there could be no love life in such a
marriage--a marriage with a man much older than herself, scatter-
brained, showy, and having no intellectual gifts. So for a time
she sought satisfaction in social triumphs, in capturing political
and literary lions in order to exhibit them in her salon, and in
spending money right and left with a lavish hand. But, after all,
in a woman of her temperament none of these things could satisfy
her inner longings. Beautiful, full of Celtic vivacity,
imaginative and eager, such a nature as hers would in the end be
starved unless her heart should be deeply touched and unless all
her pent-up emotion could give itself up entirely in the great
surrender.

After a few years of London she grew restless and dissatisfied.
Her surroundings wearied her. There was a call within her for
something more than she had yet experienced. The earl, her
husband, was by nature no less restless; and so, without knowing
the reason--which, indeed, she herself did not understand--he
readily assented to a journey on the Continent.

As they traveled southward they reached at length the town of
Valence, where Count d'Orsay was still quartered with his
regiment. A vague, indefinable feeling of attraction swept over
this woman, who was now a woman of the world and yet quite
inexperienced in affairs relating to the heart. The mere sound of
the French officer's voice, the mere sight of his face, the mere
knowledge of his presence, stirred her as nothing had ever stirred
her until that time. Yet neither he nor she appears to have been
conscious at once of the secret of their liking. It was enough
that they were soothed and satisfied with each other's company.

Oddly enough, the Earl of Blessington became as devoted to D'Orsay
as did his wife. The two urged the count to secure a leave of
absence and to accompany them to Italy. This he was easily
persuaded to do; and the three passed weeks and months of a
languorous and alluring intercourse among the lakes and the
seductive influence of romantic Italy. Just what passed between
Count d'Orsay and Margaret Blessington at this time cannot be
known, for the secret of it has perished with them; but it is
certain that before very long they came to know that each was
indispensable to the other.

The situation was complicated by the Earl of Blessington, who,
entirely unsuspicious, proposed that the Count should marry Lady
Harriet Gardiner, his eldest legitimate daughter by his first
wife. He pressed the match upon the embarrassed D'Orsay, and
offered to settle the sum of forty thousand pounds upon the bride.
The girl was less than fifteen years of age. She had no gifts
either of beauty or of intelligence; and, in addition, D'Orsay was
now deeply in love with her stepmother.

On the other hand, his position with the Blessingtons was daily
growing more difficult. People had begun to talk of the almost
open relations between Count d'Orsay and Lady Blessington. Lord
Byron, in a letter written to the countess, spoke to her openly
and in a playful way of "YOUR D'Orsay." The manners and morals of
the time were decidedly irregular; yet sooner or later the earl
was sure to gain some hint of what every one was saying.
Therefore, much against his real desire, yet in order to shelter
his relations with Lady Blessington, D'Orsay agreed to the
marriage with Lady Harriet, who was only fifteen years of age.

This made the intimacy between D'Orsay and the Blessingtons appear
to be not unusual; but, as a matter of fact, the marriage was no
marriage. The unattractive girl who had become a bride merely to
hide the indiscretions of her stepmother was left entirely to
herself; while the whole family, returning to London, made their
home together in Seymour Place.

Could D'Orsay have foreseen the future he would never have done
what must always seem an act so utterly unworthy of him. For
within two years Lord Blessington fell ill and died. Had not
D'Orsay been married he would now have been free to marry Lady
Blessington. As it was, he was bound fast to her stepdaughter; and
since at that time there was no divorce court in England, and
since he had no reason for seeking a divorce, he was obliged to
live on through many years in a most ambiguous situation. He did,
however, separate himself from his childish bride; and, having
done so, he openly took up his residence with Lady Blessington at
Gore House. By this time, however, the companionship of the two
had received a sort of general sanction, and in that easy-going
age most people took it as a matter of course.

The two were now quite free to live precisely as they would. Lady
Blessington became extravagantly happy, and Count d'Orsay was
accepted in London as an oracle of fashion. Every one was eager to
visit Gore House, and there they received all the notable men of
the time. The improvidence of Lady Blessington, however, was in no
respect diminished. She lived upon her jointure, recklessly
spending capital as well as interest, and gathering under her roof
a rare museum of artistic works, from jewels and curios up to
magnificent pictures and beautiful statuary.

D'Orsay had sufficient self-respect not to live upon the money
that had come to Lady Blessington from her husband. He was a
skilful painter, and he practised his art in a professional way.
His portrait of the Duke of Wellington was preferred by that
famous soldier to any other that had been made of him. The Iron
Duke was, in fact, a frequent visitor at Gore House, and he had a
very high opinion of Count d'Orsay. Lady Blessington herself
engaged in writing novels of "high life," some of which were very
popular in their day. But of all that she wrote there remains only
one book which is of permanent value--her Conversations with Lord
Byron, a very valuable contribution to our knowledge of the
brilliant poet.

But a nemesis was destined to overtake the pair. Money flowed
through Lady Blessington's hands like water, and she could never
be brought to understand that what she had might not last for
ever. Finally, it was all gone, yet her extravagance continued.
Debts were heaped up mountain-high. She signed notes of hand
without even reading them. She incurred obligations of every sort
without a moment's hesitation.

For a long time her creditors held aloof, not believing that her
resources were in reality exhausted; but in the end there came a
crash as sudden as it was ruinous. As if moved by a single
impulse, those to whom she owed money took out judgments against
her and descended upon Gore House in a swarm. This was in the
spring of 1849, when Lady Blessington was in her sixtieth year and
D'Orsay fifty-one.

It is a curious coincidence that her earliest novel had portrayed
the wreck of a great establishment such as her own. Of the scene
in Gore House Mr. Madden, Lady Blessington's literary biographer,
has written:

Numerous creditors, bill-discounters, money-lenders, jewelers,
lace-venders, tax-collectors, gas-company agents, all persons
having claims to urge pressed them at this period simultaneously.
An execution for a debt of four thousand pounds was at length put
in by a house largely engaged in the silk, lace, India-shawl, and
fancy-jewelry business.

This sum of four thousand pounds was only a nominal claim, but it
opened the flood-gates for all of Lady Blessington's creditors.
Mr. Madden writes still further:

On the 10th of May, 1849, I visited Gore House for the last time.
The auction was going on. There was a large assemblage of people
of fashion. Every room was thronged; the well-known library-salon,
in which the conversaziones took place, was crowded, but not with
guests. The arm-chair in which the lady of the mansion was wont to
sit was occupied by a stout, coarse gentleman of the Jewish
persuasion, busily engaged in examining a marble hand extended on
a book, the fingers of which were modeled from a cast of those of
the absent mistress of the establishment. People, as they passed
through the room, poked the furniture, pulled about the precious
objects of art and ornaments of various kinds that lay on the
table; and some made jests and ribald jokes on the scene they
witnessed.

At this compulsory sale things went for less than half their
value. Pictures by Lawrence and Landseer, a library consisting of
thousands of volumes, vases of exquisite workmanship, chandeliers
of ormolu, and precious porcelains--all were knocked down
relentlessly at farcical prices. Lady Blessington reserved nothing
for herself. She knew that the hour had struck, and very soon she
was on her way to Paris, whither Count d'Orsay had already gone,
having been threatened with arrest by a boot-maker to whom he owed
five hundred pounds.

D'Orsay very naturally went to Paris, for, like his father, he had
always been an ardent Bonapartist, and now Prince Louis Bonaparte
had been chosen president of the Second French Republic. During
the prince's long period of exile he had been the guest of Count
d'Orsay, who had helped him both with money and with influence.
D'Orsay now expected some return for his former generosity. It
came, but it came too late. In 1852, shortly after Prince Louis
assumed the title of emperor, the count was appointed director of
fine arts; but when the news was brought to him he was already
dying. Lady Blessington died soon after coming to Paris, before
the end of the year 1849.

Comment upon this tangled story is scarcely needed. Yet one may
quote some sayings from a sort of diary which Lady Blessington
called her "Night Book." They seem to show that her supreme
happiness lasted only for a little while, and that deep down in
her heart she had condemned herself.

A woman's head is always influenced by her heart; but a man's
heart is always influenced by his head.

The separation of friends by death is less terrible than the
divorce of two hearts that have loved, but have ceased to
sympathize, while memory still recalls what they once were to each
other.

People are seldom tired of the world until the world is tired of
them.

A woman should not paint sentiment until she has ceased to inspire
it.

It is less difficult for a woman to obtain celebrity by her genius
than to be pardoned for it.

Memory seldom fails when its office is to show us the tombs of our
buried hopes.









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