« PoprzedniaDalej »
brutalizing pleasures, as the only aim and ultimate object of life.”
There remains for women of cultivated minds, and of elevated notions of a literary kind, women who are the disciples of Rochefoucault, a middle course to pursue, which Monsieur de Sacy has not noticed: and that course is to shine in the society of intellectual people. The pursuit indeed is a soulwearying one, but there is a kind of glory in it that dazzles people, and makes them exceedingly eager for it.
Those to whom amusement becomes a business, the art of pleasing -a drudgery that is daily to be performed, pass
from the excitement of society, its labours and its toils, into the retirement and privacy of domestic life, in exhaustion, languor, irksomeness, and ennui : and from this state they are roused to new efforts in the salons, by a craving appetite for notice and for praise.
“ Their breath is admiration, and their life,
A storm whereon they ride."
Lady Blessington had that fatal gift of pre-eminent attractiveness in society, which has rendered so many clever women distinguished and unhappy. The power of pleasing people indiscriminately, in large circles, is never long exercised by women with advantage to the feminine character of their fascinations.
The facility of making one's self so universally agreeable in literary salons, as to be there “ the observed of all observers," " the admired of all admirers, “ the pink and rose” of the fair state-of literature, à la mode, “ the glass of fashion and the mould of form,” becomes in time fatal to naturalness of character, singleness and sincerity of mind. Friendship, that becomes so diffusive as to admit of as many ties as there are claims of literary talents to notice in society, and to be considered available for all intimacies with remarkable persons and relations with intellectual celebrities-must be kept up by constant administrations of cordial professions of kindness and affection, epistolary, and conversational; and frequent interchange of compliments and encomiums, that tend to invigorate sentiments of regard, that would fade away without such restoratives. “ On ne loue d'ordinaire que pour etre loue.” The praiser and the praised have a nervous apprehension of depreciation ; and those who live before the public, in literature or society, get not unfrequently into the habit of lavishing eulogies, less with reference to the deserts of those who are commended, than with a view to the object to be gained by flattery, namely, the payment in its own coin, and with good interest, of the adulation that has been bestowed on others.
Lady Blessington exercised the double influence of beauty and intellectuality in society, in attracting attention, to win admiration, and to gain dominion over admirers.
In effecting this object, it was the triumph of her heart to render all around, not only pleased with her, but pleased with themselves. She lived, in
She lived, in fact, for distinction on the stage of literary society before the foot-lights, and always en scene. Lady Blessington was very conscious of possessing the hearts of her audience. She had become accustomed to an atmosphere of adulation, and the plaudits of those friends which were never out of her ears, at last became a necessity to ber. Her abode was a temple, and she-the Minerva of the shrine, whom all the votaries of literature and art worshipped.
The swinging of the censer before her fair face never ceased in those salons; the soft accents of homage to her beauty and her talents seldom failed to be whispered in her ear, while she sat enthroned in that well-known fauteuil of hers, holding high court, in queen-like state—“the most gorgeous Lady Blessington.”* The desire for this sort of distinction of a
* Dr. Parr was introduced to Lady Blessington by Mr. Pettigrew, and shortly after that introduction, the Doctor, writing to Mr. Petti. grew, spoke of her Ladyship as "the most gorgeous Lady Blessington."
beautiful woman, bookishly given-in other words, “ the coquetterie d'un dame des salons littéraires,”- in many respects is similar to that common sort of female ambition, of gaining the admiration of many, without any design of forming an attachment for one, which Madame de Genlis characterizes
que les hommes méprisent et qui les attire.” But in one respect, the intellectual species of coquetry is of a higher order than the other; it makes the power of beauty, of fascination, of pleasing manners, auxiliary only to the influence of intellect, and seeks for conquests over the mind, even while it aims at gaining an ascendancy over the feelings of the heart. The chief aim of it, however, is to achieve triumphs over all within its circle, and for this end, the lady ambitious of reigning in literary society, must live to be courted, admired, homaged by its celebrities. The queenregnant in its salons must at length cease to confide in the natural gifts and graces which belong to her—the original simplicity of her character, or sweetness of her disposition. She must become an actress there, she must adapt her manners, fashion her ideas, accommodate her conversation to the taste, tone of thought, and turn of mind, of every individual around her.
She must be perpetually demonstrating her own attractions or attainments, or calling forth any peculiarities in others, calculated to draw momentary attention to them. She must become a slave to the caprices, envious feelings, contentions, rivalries, selfish aims, ignoble artifices, and exigeants pretensions of literati, artists, and all the notabilities of fashionable circles, les amis des hommes des lettres, ou les amants imaginaires des dames d'esprit.
In a word, she must part with all that is calculated to make a woman in this world happy ; peace of mind, the society of true friends, and pursuits which tend to make women loved and cherished; the language of sincerity, the simplicity and
endearing satisfaction of home enjoyments. And what does she gain when she has parted with all these advantages, and has attained the summit of her ambition ?-a name in the world of fashion ; some distinction in literary circles; homage and admiration, so long as prosperity endures, and while means are to be found for keeping up the splendour of a vast establishment and its brilliant circles.
And when the end of all the illusion of this state of splendid misery comes at last, the poor lady who has lived in it so long, awakens from it as from a dream, and the long delirium of it becomes manifest to her. She has thrown away fortune, time, and talents, in obtaining distinction, in surrounding herself with clever people, in patronizing and entertaining artists and literati. She has sacrificed health and spirits in this pursuit. Her establishment is broken up, nothing remains to her of all its treasures—she has to fly to another country, and, after a few weeks, she is suddenly carried off, leaving some persons, who knew her well and long, to lament that one so generous, kindly disposed, naturally amiable and noble minded—so highly gifted, clever, and talented, should have been so unfortunately circumstanced in early life, in more advanced years, as well as at the close of her existence, so little at her ease; that she should have been placed so long in a false position; in a few words, that the whole course of her life should have been infelicitous.
The wear and tear of literary life, leave very unmistakeable evidence of their operation, on the traits, thoughts, and energies of bookish people. Like the eternal rolling of the stone of Sisyphus, the fruitless toiling up the hill, and the conscious failure of each attempt, at coming down, are the ceaseless struggles for eminence, of authors, artists, and those who would be surrounded by them in society as their patrons or admirers, and would obtain their homage for so being.
Like those unceasing and unavailing efforts, are the tiring pursuits of literati, treading on the heels of one another day after day, tugging with unremitting toil at one uniform task -to obtain notoriety, to overcome competition, to supplant others in public favour, and having met with some success, to maintain a position in intellectual society at any cost, with the eminence of which, perhaps, some freak of fortune may have had more to do, than any intrinsic worth, or superior merit of their own. And then at last, they must end the labours which have consumed their health and strength, without deriving from them any solid advantage, in the way of an addition to their happiness, a security to their peace of mind, or a conviction that those labours have tended materially to the real good of mankind, or the promotion of the interests of truth, justice, and humanity.
In no spirit of unkindness towards the memory of Lady Blessington, or forgetfulness of the many estimable qualities and excellent talents which she possessed, let us ask, did her literary career, and position in literary society, secure for her any of those advantages which have been just referred to, or were they attended with any real benefits to those high interests which transcend all others in this world in importance ?
And most assuredly, if the question be asked, was her life happy? the answer to that inquiry must be, it was not happy.
In the height of her success, in the most brilliant period of her London life, in St. James's Square, in Seamore Place, in Gore House, in the midst of the luxuries by which she was surrounded, even at the period of her fewest cares—in Italy and France—the present enjoyments were never unaccompanied with reminiscences of the past that were painful.
But who could imagine that such was the case, who knew her only in crowded salons, so apparently joyous, animated and exhilarated by the smiling looks and soft accents of those