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around her, she had skill to gather the characteristic trait
, the favourite object of interest, with a fineness of appreciation, to be exceeded only by the retentiveness of her memory.
“ Thus until a long series of family bereavements, and the pressure of uncertain health had somewhat dimmed the gaiety of her spirits, her conversation had a variety of reminiscence
, a felicity of apropos, and a fascination of which her writings offer faint traces. In one respect, moreover, her talk did not resemble the talk of other beaux esprits. With the eagerness of a child she could amuse and persuade herself as entirely as she amused and persuaded others. Among all the brilliant women we have known, she was one of the most earnest-earnest in defence of the absent, in protection of the unpopular, in advocacy of the unknown: and many are those who can tell how generously and actively Lady Blessington availed herself of her widely extended connections throughout the world to further their success, or to promote their pleasures. In her own family she was warmly beloved as an indefatigable friend, and eagerly resorted to as an unwearied counsellor. How largely she was trusted by some of the most distinguished men of the time, her extensive and varied correspondence will show, should it ever be given to the world. Into the causes which limited her gifts and graces within a narrower sphere than they might have otherwise commanded, we have no commission to enter."*
* The Athenæum, June 9th, 1849.
NOTICE OF THE CAREER, LITERARY TASTES, AND TALENTS
OF LADY BLESSINGTON.
With respect to the influence exercised in society over persons of exalted intellect, by fascinating manners, personal attractions, liveliness of fancy, quickness of apprehension, closeness of observation, and smartness of repartee, among the literary ladies of England, of the present or past century, it would be difficult to find one, with whom Lady Blessington can be fitly compared. The power of pleasing, of engaging attention, of winning not only admiration, but regard and friendship, which the latter lady possessed, and long and successfully exerted over men of genius and talents of the highest order, and of every profession and pursuit, has been seldom surpassed in any country.
It would not be difficult to point out ladies of celebrity as bas bleus of far superior abilities as authoresses, of imaginations with richer stores of wit and poetry, of more erudition, and better cultivated talents. But we shall find none, who, for an equal length of time, maintained an influence of fascination in literary and fashionable society, over the highest intellects, and exercised dominion over the feelings, as well as over the faculties of those who frequented her abode.
Grimm, in his “ Mémoires Littéraires et Anecdotaires,” makes mention of a Madame Geoffrin, the friend of D'Alembert, Marmontel, Condorcet, Morellet, and many other illus
trious littéraires, whose character and mental qualities, agréments, esprit, finesse de l'art, bonté de cæur, et habitudes de bienfaisance, would appear, from his account of them, very remarkably en rapport with the qualities of mind and natural dispositions of Lady Blessington. Those of Lady Mary Wortley, Lady Craven, Lady Holland, and Lady Morgan, present no such traits of resemblance, fitly to be compared with the peculiar graces, attractions, and kindly feelings of Lady Blessington.
D'Alembert has consecrated some lines of homage to his friend and benefactress, in a letter published in the “Mémoires Littéraires et Historiques
We learn from it that Madame Geoffrin's salons were open nightly to the artists, literati, ministers of state, grandees, and courtiers. Authors were not assured of the success of their new works, till they had been to Madame Geoffrin's soirées, and a smile and an encouraging expression of the sovereign of the salons set their hearts at ease on the subject of their productions.
Helvetius, when he published his book “De l’Esprit,” felt no confidence in its reception by the public till he had consulted Madame : ce thermomètre de l'opinion.
“ Madame Geoffrin n'avoit guerre des ennemis que parmi les femmes.” She had all the tastes, we are told, of a sensitive gentle creature, of a noble and a loving nature. “La passion de donner qui fut le besoin de sa vie, etoit née avec elle et la tourmenta pour ainsi dire de ses premières annécs.' She had aptly taken for her device, the words “ Donner et pardonner.”
There was nothing brilliant in her talents, but she was an excellent sayer of good things in short sentences. She gave dinners, and there was a great éclat in her entertainments“ Mais il faut autres choses que des diners pour occuper dans le monde la place que cette femme estimable s'y etait faite.”
Monsieur Malesherbes was happily characterised by her
“ l'homme du monde le plus simplement simple.” She said, among the weaknesses of people, their vanity must be endured, and their talk even when there was nothing in it. “I accommodate myself,” she said, “ tolerably well to eternal talkers, provided they are chatterers and that only, who have no idea of any thing but talking, and do not expect to be replied to. My friend, Fontenelle, who bears with them as I do, says they give his lungs repose.
I derive another advantage from them; their insignificant gabble is to me like the tolling of bells, which does not hinder one from thinking, but often rather invites thought.”
When her friends spoke of the enmity to her of some persons, and made some allusion to her many generous acts, she turned to D'Alembert, and said, “ When you find people have feelings of hatred to me, take good care not to say anything to them of the little good you know of me. They will hate me for it all the more. It will be a torment to them, and I have no wish to pain them.” When this amiable and lovely woman died, D'Alembert uttered words very similar to those which D'Orsay addressed to me on the first occasion of my meeting him after the recent loss of that friend, who had so many qualities of a kindred nature to those of Madame Geoffrin. “ Her friendship,” said D'Alembert,
was my consolation in all troubles. The treasure which was so necessary and precious to me has been taken away, and in the midst of people in society, and the filling up of the void of life in its circles, I can speak to none who will understand me. I spent my evenings with the dear friend I have lost, and my mornings also I no longer have that friend, for me there is no longer evening or morning.”*
It has been truly said of Lady Blessington's uniform kindness and generosity, in all circumstances :“ In the midst of her triumphs, the goodness of her heart,
* Méinoires Lit. et Anecdotes, vol. ii. p. 64.
and the fine qualities that had ever distinguished her, remained wholiy unimpaired. Genervus to lavishness, charitable, compassionate, delicately considerate of the feelings of others; sincere, forgiving, devoted to those she loved, and with a warmth of heart rarely equalled, her change of fortune was immediately felt by every member of her family. The parents whose cruel obstinacy had involved her in so much misery, but whose ruined circumstances now placed them in need of her aid, were comfortably supported by her up to the period of their deaths. Her brothers and sisters (the youngest of whom, Marianne, she adopted and educated), and even the more distant of her relatives, all profited by her benefits, assistance, and interest."
A lady of very distinguished literary talents, and highly esteemed by Lady Blessington, well acquainted too with many of her benevolent acts, Mrs. A. M. Hall, thus wrote of her recently, in answer to some inquiries of the Editor.
“Firfield, Addlestone, Surrey, June 7, 1854. “I never had occasion to appeal to Lady Blessington for aid for any kind or charitable purpose, that she did not at once, with a grace peculiarly her own, come forward cheerfully, and help' to the extent of her power.
“I remember one particular instance of a poor man, who desired a particular situation, which I thought Lady Blessington could obtain. All the circumstances I have forgotten, but the chief point was, that he entreated employment, and had some right to it, in one department. Lady Blessington made the request I entreated, and was refused; her Ladyship sent me the refusal to read, and, of course, I gave up all idea of the matter, and only felt sorry that I had troubled her ; but she remembered it, and, in a month, accomplished the poor man's object; her letter was indeed a sun-beam in his poor home, and he in time became prosperous and happy.”
In a subsequent communication of the 3rd of August, Mrs. Hall adds: