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DEPARTURE OF THE BLESSINGTONS FROM LONDON ON A
CONTINENTAL TOUR, SEPTEMBER, 1822.
The love of change and excitement, the necessity for distraction, novelty, and new effects not only in scenery, but in society—seem to have occasioned Lord Blessington's determination to visit the continent, and to abandon his magnificent abode in St. James's Square, at a time when nothing appeared wanting that wealth, beauty, and brilliant society could supply, to render that abode everything that could be desired by those who think such necessaries all that can be desirable to make homes happy.
But Lord Blessington, although yet a young man, had drained his cup of pleasure and enjoyments of every kind to the dregs; and the taste of the draught that remained on his palate required new cordials, and stimulants of increasing strength continually, to keep down the loathing he already felt for all the allurements of fashion, the follies of the day, the foil and tinsel glories of the green room, and the life behind the scenes of the drama, and of that other theatre of society, with its tableaux vivants, and its varied performances by the real actors on the stage of aristocratic life. Lord Blessington was palled and satiated with pleasure, and no kind of éclat or of distinction in English society had now any charm for him. And yet this young nobleman, thus early blazé and exhausted, prematurely impaired in mental energies, was fitted for better things, and was naturally amiable, and possessed many excellent qualities which might have rendered him, under other circumstances of education and position, a most estimable and a very useful man to his country and to society.
The 22d of August, 1822, the Blessingtons, accompanied by Miss Mary Ann Power, the youngest sister of Lady Blessington, set out on a continental tour, and made their arrangements for an intended sojourn of some years in the south of Europe.
Miss Mary Ann Power was then about one-and-twenty, bearing no resemblance to her sister in face or form ; but, nevertheless, far from unattractive. She was remarkably slight, rather of low stature, of small, regular features, good complexion, light-brown hair, always tastefully arranged, --an extremely pretty and girlish-looking young lady, with blueish laughing eyes, and altogether a piquant expression of countenance, une petite mignon, pleasingly original and naïve in her modes of thinking and acting, always courted and complimented in society, and coquetted with by gentlemen of a certain age, by humourists, in a state of single blessedness, like Gell, and by old married bachelors like Landor and the Duke Laval de Montmorency.
Charles James Mathews, the son of the eminent comedian, it had been arranged should join the Blessingtons in Italy. Young Mathews could hardly then have been twenty years of
age. He had been intended for the profession of an architect, and was articled to a person of eminence in London, in that profession. Lord Blessington had kindly offered his father to take charge of the young man, and to afford him every facility of pursuing his professional studies in Italy. That offer was accepted, and for upwards of two years, young Mathews remained with the Blessingtons on the continent, and was no slight acquisition to their party. A merrier man, within the limits of becoming mirth, it would be difficult to find. He was an admirable mimic, had a marvellous facility in catching peculiarities of manners, picking up the different dialects of the several parts of Italy he passed through. But with all his comic talents, love of fun and frolic, ludicrous fancies, and overflowing gaiety of heart, he never ceased to be a gentleman, and to act and feel like one.
The writer's reminiscences of Charles Mathews are of an old date--upwards of thirty years ; but they are of too pleasurable a kind to be easily effaced.
In her continental journals, Lady Blessington makes frequent allusions to her “happy home” in St. James's Square, and at the moment of departure, of “the almost wish ” she was not going from it; and some dismal forebodings take the form of exclamations" What changes ! what dangers may come, before I again sleep beneath its roof!” Many changes, indeed, came before she returned from the continent. She never beheld her husband beneath that roof again!
Lord Blessington's preparations in Paris, for the approaching touring campaign in Italy, were of a very formidable description. The commissariat department (including the culinary) was amply provided for ; it could boast of a batterie de cuisine on a most extensive scale, which had served an entire club, and a cook who had stood fire in the kitchen of an emperor. No Irish nobleman, probably, and certainly no Irish king, ever set out on his travels with such a retinue of servants, with so many vehicles and appliances of all kinds, to ease, comfort, and luxurious enjoyment in travel.
Byron's travelling equipage, according to Medwin, when he arrived in Florence, accompanied by Rogers, consisted of seven servants, five carriages, five horses, a monkey, bulldog, and a mastiff, nine live cats, three pea-fowls, and some hens; his luggage, or what Cæsar would call his " impedimenta,” consisted of “a very large library of modern books, a vast quantity of furniture,” with trunks and portmanteaus of apparel—of course to correspond to the other parts of the equipage.
Lord Blessington set out with an abundance of “ impedimenta ;" but in his live stock, he had no bull-dogs, mastiffs, monkeys, cats, pea-fowls, or hens.
On her arrival in Paris, Lady Blessington mentions in her diary, receiving a visit from her old friend, the Baron Denon, and finding “all her French acquaintances charmed to see her." Mention is made of two previous visits of hers to Paris. Her former sojourn there must have been of some duration, and previously to her second marriage; in her letters of this period we find a familiarity with French idiom, and the conversational terms of French society, which could only have been acquired by a good deal of intercourse with French people in their own country.
In her Italian journal, of the 31st of August, 1822, she speaks of her “old friend, the baron;" "a most amusing man;" a "compound of savant and petit maitre; one moment descanting on Egyptian antiquities, and the next passing eulogiums on the joli chapeau, or robe of his female visitors, who seems equally at home in detailing the perfections of a mummy, or in describing' le mignon pied d'une charmante femme ;' and not unfrequently turns from exhibiting some. morceau d'antiquitè bien remarquable, to display a cast of the exquisite head of Pauline Borghese.”*
September 1st, the diary opens with the words “my birthday.” Her Ladyship feels disposed to be melancholy, but is obliged to smile and seem joyful, at receiving the congratulations of her friends, that she had added another year to her age—and at a period of woman's life too—when one had passed thirty.
* The Idler in Italy, Par. ed. 1839, p. 8.
During the short sojourn of the Blessingtons in Paris, Tom Moore was frequently with them at a restaurateur's: Lady Blessington descended “ La Montagne Russe;" but then Tom Moore often visited the spot, and greatly enjoyed her descent; and it was pleasant to observe with what a true zest he entered into every scheme of amusement, though the buoyancy of his spirits and resources of his mind rendered him so independent of such means of passing time.* Lady Blessington descants on the agreeable excitement of the extreme velocity of this locomotive amusement; but we need not marvel at Tom Moore's true zest in entering into it, accompanied by her Ladyship, when we find Dr. Johnson dwelling on the enjoyment of travelling fast in a post-chaise, with a pretty woman, amongst the great pleasures of life.
Perhaps it was in one of those rapid journeys on the Montagne Russe,” that Moore's conversation reminded her Ladyship “of the evolutions of some bird of gorgeous plumage, each varied hue of which becomes visible as he carelessly sports in the air.”
In her observations on art, literature, and society, there are ample evidences of originality of mind, of true feeling, of refined taste and an intimate acquaintance with the light literature of France and Italy. Many of her passing remarks have the merit of those short and memorable sayings, which get the name of maxims and apothegms. Speaking of the Louvre, which she had visited “at least thirty times," and that was her third visit to Paris, she found, " like fine music, fine sculptures, and fine pictures, gain by long acquaintance."
“ There is something that stirs the soul, and elevates the feelings, in gazing on those glorious productions of masterminds, where genius has left its ineffaceable impress to bear witness to posterity of its achievements.” The excellence of art, like every thing that is exquisite in
* The Idler in Italy, vol. i. p. 28.