Portrait of the Regency: “To Any Body, Any Where”

Returning to Miss Croft’s remarkable collection of anecdotes recorded of Sir Thomas Lawrence; the following story, while not precisely contemporaneous to the Regency, is nevertheless illuminating of the times.

It concerns the painter’s younger days when he enjoyed the patronage of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It was she who had engaged him at a young age to draw the portrait of her first child, later known as Lady Carlisle. He was frequently among the Devonshire set as he grew older. Miss Croft surmised that it was this period of his life by which he achieved his air of amusing urbanity.

Regrettably, among her many foibles, the Duchess was quite unable to turn down any application made to her for aid. She made promises she could not keep. She committed largesse she did not have.

One of the Duchess’ good friends was a Mr. Hare (surmised to be Francis Hare-Naylor, grandson of the Bishop of Chichester) a man who apparently knew Georgiana quite well, and was forever heartsick at the scrapes she found herself in. Many of these were of her own making, but few could admonish her like Mr. Hare:

“He had a peculiar talent for reproving a fault without giving offense to the party committing it.”

–Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Letter -bag, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Elizabeth Croft

Her Grace's portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence--when she was about 25 years of age

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Sir Thomas Lawrence when she was about 25 years of age

Sir Thomas had the opportunity to witness Mr. Hare’s skill in this regard one evening, when he was invited to Her Grace’s salon at Devonshire House. There, the painter joined by several great Whigs of the day, including Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan. Mr. Hare was there, too, and of course the Duchess was presiding. However, she jumped up to leave, having remembered she needed to write a letter.

Protestations were heard all round.  Mr. Hare declared he must write the letter in her stead, for her company was too dear to spare.

“.she laughingly inquired how that was possible, as he knew not her correspondent or her business.”

He proceeded to write a letter in full view of the company, full of voluminous expressions of admiration and a longing to serve, followed by a catalogue of many competing commitments to other friends similarly situated and the limitations on her ability to serve same, closing with “new professions of services at some future time.”

Her Grace admitted that the letter would serve her purpose very well, to everyone’s amusement. Even more amused were they as Mr. Hare signed the letter in the Duchess’ name.

But when she dared Mr. Hare to address it properly, the amusement ended.

“He very gravely folded and sealed it, and then wrote, to:

“Any Body, Any Where.”

Georgiana’s eyes filled with tears. It was some time before she could regain her composure, however, Mr. Hare remained in her good graces. Apparently she could not admonish one who knew her so well.

All that's left of Devonshire House--the gilt leopards on the gates

All that’s left of Devonshire House

Advertisements

“The Hostess from Hell” – Holland House Part Two

Elizabeth Fox, Baroness Holland, was the daughter of a Jamaican planter.  Married off to Lord Webster, a man twenty years her senior, she gave birth to three children before falling in love with another man, bearing him a child out-of-wedlock.  Not two days divorced, she married her lover Lord Holland.

Lady Holland with her son – Louis Gauffier

The ton could not forget her scandalous past and so declined to receive her.  No matter, Lord and Lady Holland did their own receiving, hosting the most influential men of the day at Holland House.  The few women who came were fellow Whigs, the Duchess of Devonshire and that fashionable marchioness from Berkeley Square, Lady Lansdowne.

Baroness Holland was the complete opposite of her husband.  She was gruff where he was affable, imperious when he would give way.  Long, boring discourse was not tolerated at her table–her ladyship was known to dispatch her footman to admonish the offending guest.

Thomas Moore, which this blog christened Regency Poet of Wine and Love, once said, “poets inclined to a plethora of vanity would find a dose of Lady Holland now and then very good for their complaint.”

“I’m sorry you are going to publish a poem,” she said to Lord Portchester.  “Can’t you suppress it?”

And to the great English poet, Samuel Rogers, she advised, “You’re poetry is bad enough, so pray be sparing about your prose.”

Lady Holland reminds me of the Gosford Park character Constance, Countess of Trentham.  There is something sinfully joyous about her acidic observations.  This one she offers to the American film and radio star Ivor Novello:

LadyTrentham: It must be hard to know when it’s time to throw in the towel… What a pity about that last one of yours… what was it called? “The Dodger”? Novello:   The Lodger. LadyTrentham:   The Lodger. It must be so disappointing when something just flops like that.

Lady Holland lived to the age of seventy-four.  When tentatively shown Byron’s memoirs, which were none too complimentary of his hostess at Holland House, she shrugged.

“Such things give me no uneasiness; I know perfectly my station in the world, and I know all that can be said of me.  As long as the few friends I am really sure of speak kindly of me, all that the rest of the world can say is a matter of complete indifference to me.”