A Shrewd and Masculine Mind – No. 10 St. James Square (Part Two)

She was an Irish nobody, an outrage to the haute ton.  She had married a man who died during a drunken orgy when he fell out of a window at King’s Bench prison.  She had lived under the “protection” of another who received 10,000 pounds reimbursement for her upkeep.  She had snatched up a titled, rich husband.  Now she had come to make her mark upon society, not even troubling to hide her desire of becoming a posh London hostess.

Entrance Hall – No. 10 St. James Square

Her choice of house to accomplish this ambition was a scandal in and of itself.  No. 10 St. James Square had been the scene of grave deliberations by Prime Ministers.  Its walls had witnessed the re-drawing of Europe’s maps.  Now it was to house an empty-headed beauty and entertain a pack of frippery gentlemen.

When Lady Blessington stepped into its entrance hall, pausing to take in the “carved moulded architrave and rich pulvinated frieze and cornice,” did the house tremble in disgust?

No, indeed.  No. 10 was in alt.

It was Autumn of 1818 when Marguerite Gardiner, nee Power, took up residence in St. James Square.  Her husband, the Earl of Blessington, was seven years older than she, with children from a former marriage who conveniently remained behind in Ireland on their father’s estate, Mountjoy Forest.  Like Lady Holland, Marguerite was shunned by female callers.  But she had known adversity before and this snub in no way depressed one such as she.  Her husband knew all the great men of society and was pleased to introduce her to them.  Soon No. 10 was receiving those frippery gentlemen, the very ones other hostesses would give their eyeteeth to entertain.

It seemed that Holland House and yes, even that grande dame of Regency salons, Lansdowne House, would be destined to look to their laurels.  Fellow Irishman and noted diarist, the abolitionist Dr. Richard Robert Madden, made special note of the salon at No. 10:

Two Royal English dukes condescended not unfrequently to do homage at the new shrine of Irish beauty and intellect….Whig and Tory politicians and lawyers, forgetful of their party feuds and professional rivalries for the nonce, came there as gentle pilgrims.

Dr. Samuel Parr, noted Whig political writer and stern schoolmaster, also came under Lady Blessington’s spell, calling her “most gorgeous.”  He was the first to divine the intelligence behind the beauty, rightly predicting an unlikely development that would occur long after his death:

With her shrewd and masculine mind, she would be even more impressive in middle age than while in the lovely splendor of her youth. 

Lady Blessington would need that shrewd and masculine mind developed in the company of the Regency’s brilliant and distinguished.  It turned out that No. 10 served to be an incubator of developing intellect that would take the place of fading beauty.  After her husband died and No. 10 passed to another, Marguerite had to find a way to sustain herself, turning to writing.  Her works include Conversations with Lord Byron, Idler in Italy and Idler in France.  They were popular works that gave her the income she needed until she died in Paris in 1849, far from No. 10 St. James Square.

Holland House – A Rival to Lansdowne House (part one)

Its turrets and gables lacked the elegance of London’s newer, Palladian town homes.  Its “relics and curios” were dusty books and historic English papers.  Its location was staid Kensington, not fashionable Mayfair.  Its mistress was not even received at court.  But this Regency seat of influence was nontheless a formidable rival to glittering Lansdowne House:

Holland House

Yet great things were done at Holland House–reforms planned and accomplished, literary lions fed with appreciation and encouragement.  All the great names of that period may be found on the lists of the Holland House entertainments.

—  Charles Dickens, “Holland House,” All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal, Vol. 66, 1890

With the Regency barely on the horizon, the house was known as Cope Castle and practically a ruin when it came into the possession of Lord Henry Richard Fox, third Baron Holland.  He was a mere baby and presumably not ready to take on any renovations even though the house had an illustrious history.  Its best days, it seemed, were behind it.

Those days began when Queen Elizabeth I granted a part of Kensington Manor to one Walter Cope–that part that once belonged to the Abbot of Abingdon–and built a multi-turreted Jacobean mansion that others mockingly called Cope’s Castle.  The Renaissance had penetrated English architecture by the time of its construction in 1607 but classical features like columns, arcades, parapets and the like were applied in a more freeform style rather than with any strict order that characterized the later Palladian movement.  Cope Castle, unlike Lansdowne House, was more like a free spirit.

the haunted Gilt Room

Cope’s daughter inherited the house and it became greatly enlarged upon her union with the Rich family, also grown wealthy on confiscated church property when its patriarch had prosecuted Sir Thomas More on Henry VIII’s behalf.  Her husband was Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, from whom the house takes its present name.   He negotiated the marriage of Henrietta Maria to Charles I and built the house’s famous gilt-room in expectation of entertaining the new Queen there.  This did not come to pass, nor was the Earl to survive the coming storm.  His ghost was said to be seen in that very room, richly dressed as he had been on the scaffold, holding his head in his hands.

After the Restoration of Charles II, the house was sold to Henry Fox, whose sire had the distinction of fathering this first of three sons at the age of seventy-three.  Fox eloped with one of the famous Lennox sisters and it was his grandson, also named Henry, third Baron Holland, who made Holland House a rival in Regency gatherings, as we shall soon see.  Today, Holland House is a ruin, destroyed by a fire-bomb in World War II.

Holland House library – World War II

There’s a Tory in Lansdowne House

“Ah, Lord Grenville,” said Lady Portarles, as following a discreet knock, the clever, interesting head of the Secretary of State appeared in the doorway of the box, “you could not arrive more a propos. Here is Madame la Comtesse de Tournay positively dying to hear the latest news from France.”

The distinguished diplomat had come forward and was shaking hands with the ladies.

“Alas!” he said sadly, “it is of the very worst. The massacres continue; Paris literally reeks with blood; and the guillotine claims a hundred victims a day.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy                                           File:1st Baron Grenville.jpg

The year was 1792 and Lord William Wyndham Grenville (1759 – 1834), First Baron Grenville, was Foreign Secretary.  He was a member of the Tory cabinet formed by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and was tasked with managing the blood bath and upheaval that was occurring on the Continent.  To complicate matters, there was conflict among the ministers.  Lord Grenville was positive that greater success against the French in the War of the First Coalition could be had with military action on the continent, as opposed to skirmishes at sea and jousting with the colonies as proxies.

He was up against Pitt’s great friend, Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville and the kingdom’s Secretary of War:  “a man so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance.”  Dundas was a wealthy man, purely by virtue of his first wife.  He divorced her over adultery, and ensured she would never see her children again.  This was a sentence imposed for the rest of her life.  She lived another sixty-nine years.

Pitt could not be persuaded to abandon Dundas, even when the man became instrumental in stopping all efforts to abolish the slave trade.  It is almost certain that at this time Grenville began to rethink his Tory connections.  Then came the King’s refusal to consider the question of Catholic emancipation and the Pitt government resigned.

A quiet interlude followed while Grenville was out of office.  A time for reflection and for preparation of his greatest life’s work that still lay ahead.  He had heard of the ideas being discussed in a Palladian home in Berkeley Square.  He did not have to visit there for long before he found himself surrounded by a circle of Whig supporters.

Grenville’s chance came in 1806 when Pitt died, leaving a vacuum of power.  Enter his lordship with the backing of Lansdowne House and he was elevated to the position of Prime Minister.  It was an extraordinary moment as he became head of a coalition government known as the “Ministry of All Talents.”  And none too soon.  War with France had reached a fever pitch and national unity was vital.  Grenville’s charm united politicians from almost every persuasion.  He even managed to placate His Majesty to accept such persons to whom he had been previously hostile.

It was then one of the most important goals cherished in Lansdowne House was achieved–the abolition of the slave trade.

In 1823 Grenville retired.  He and his wife withdrew, childless, to a country home he had built, Dropmore House, near Windsor Castle.  He established one of the largest stands of conifer trees in Britain at his pineturn there.

Sadly, Dropmore was badly damaged by a fire that took four days to put out in 1990. Another in 1997 left the house uninhabitable.  The property has since been restored by a developer interested in turning the mansion into luxury apartments.  It is a pity the firm in charge of this endeavor has gone into liquidation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y5fybV7vW4 at 52.51 is a lovely clip from the 1934 movie production of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  It is the ballroom scene in which his lordship plays a slight role.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvctyYcUIaE at 6:03 is also a clip from the Dr. Who series showing the exterior of Dropmore before it was destroyed by fire.

An Attorney in Lansdowne House

He was Lord Brougham and Vaux.  Before he gave his name to a special sort of carriage and legions of General Motors vehicles, he came down to London from Scotland to be a member of the House of Commons as a Whig.  This gained him entry to Lansdowne House.  His renown came from his heroic defense of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the erstwhile wife of the Regent.

“He was a man of marked abilities, distinguished as a statesman, as an orator, a historian, a lecturer, an essayist, a political economist.  As a lawyer, he rose to the top of his profession; as a statesman, he rose to the office of Lord High Chancellor, as an orator, his reputation was among the first of his time, as an essayist, he was one of the brilliant band of writers who made the Edinburgh Review the leading literary authority in the world.”

They left out the part of his dalliance with the Regency’s most celebrated courtesan, Harriette Wilson.  Her clients included the Prince of Wales, four Prime Ministers, as well as the Lord High Chancellor.

Hmmm. 

A Reverend in Lansdowne House

Sydney Smith was another visitor to Lansdowne House.  He was a minister, with a lively sense of fun that had everyone rolling in London, as well as in the church aisles.

His quotes from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/sydney_smith.html are amusing, and speak for themselves:  

A comfortable house is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience.
A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort.
Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any one more important than that of not praising where praise is not due.
As the French say, there are three sexes – men, women, and clergymen.
Bishop Berkeley destroyed this world in one volume octavo; and nothing remained, after his time, but mind; which experienced a similar fate from the hand of Mr. Hume in 1737.
Correspondences are like small clothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.
Do not try to push your way through to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards; but do your utmost to find an entry into the world of beauty.
Errors, to be dangerous, must have a great deal of truth mingled with them. It is only from this alliance that they can ever obtain an extensive circulation.
Find fault when you must find fault in private, and if possible sometime after the offense, rather than at the time.
Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time.
Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.
Heaven never helps the men who will not act.
I have, alas, only one illusion left, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I look upon Switzerland as an inferior sort of Scotland.
I never read a book before previewing it; it prejudices a man so.
In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.
It is safest to be moderately base – to be flexible in shame, and to be always ready for what is generous, good, and just, when anything is to be gained by virtue.
It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.
It resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they cannot be separated, often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.

A Bastard in Lansdowne House

Henry Luttrell (1765 – 1851) was the illegitimate son of the earl of Carhampton.  As if that were not bad enough, he had little funds and showed even less promise as an Irish politician.  But in Lansdowne House “he set the table at a roar” and became the “great London wit,” as Sir Walter Scott dubbed him, of the Regency.

Sketch by Count d'Orsay, French amateur artist and dandy

“I know of no more agreeable member of society than Mr. Luttrell.  His conversation, like a limpid stream, flows smoothly and brightly along, revealing the depths beneath the surface, now sparkling over the object it discloses or reflecting those by which it glides.  He never talks for talk’s sake.  The conversation of Mr. Luttrell makes me think, while that of many others only amuses me.”  — Lady Blessington

“Full of well-bred facetiousness and a sparkle of the first water.”  — Tom Moore

“He delighted in society and was the delight of it.”  —  R. R. Madden

“The best sayer of good things, and the most epigrammatic conversationist I ever met.” — Byron

His poetry was equally admired.  His Advice to Julia (1820) was more than just “Letters of a Dandy to a Dolly,” this poem made him a “wit among lords and a lord among wits.”  It also contained some rather good advice to a young lady and how she should treat her lover, couched in a popular discourse on fashionable society during the Regency.   In one amusing anecdote, Luttrell tells of a hopeful applicant to Almack’s.  Evidently the young lady, “a stranger to London” sent her portrait to the Patronesses, along with a letter requesting a subscription.

“But Beauty itself is seldom current in high life without the stamp of Fashion; and the device, though ingenious, was not successful.”

Sadly, no one remembers Luttrell, unless one comes across his name, which one frequently does, in the memoirs of Byron, the diaries of Moore and echoed in the halls of Lansdowne House.

Animal Rights and Lansdowne House

“Mama, I’m as concerned about Diana as you are.  If she truly needs me, I will always be there to help her.”

“Of course.”  She poked her elegant finger among the brooches and earrings in the ornate box.  “You’ve managed everything quite well up to now, have you not?  But beware, my darling.  We have only just arrived in London.  Inevitably, Diana is bound to choose another improper friend.  One that may not be as amenable to your carte blanche as Miss Swynford.”

“Did you say Diana’s gone out riding?  I should go call for my horse.”

The dowager cocked her head.  “Your niece is all the way to Hyde Park by now, most likely.   Quite keen, she was, to try out her new mare.”

“That wretched animal she picked up from the horse knackers?  The dealers at Tattersall’s were glad to be rid of her after she injured one of their grooms.”

“The very one.  She tried to kick one of ours in the head just this morning.”

Diana’s Garnet was never a favorite of her Uncle Russell’s.  She was an ill-tempered mare and he always said Diana rode her just to spite him.   But in his heart he was proud of his niece for saving the animal from the knackers, and for trying to make something of the tall, angular chestnut.  He knew Diana needed Garnet, just as Garnet needed Diana.   The Marquess of Wimberley was only too aware that the victim of abuse, be it man or beast, can sometimes be set upon the road to healing when given a purpose–a destiny.  And his lordship fervently hoped this first step for Diana would lead her toward recovery.  Little did he know it would lead him there as well.

The notion of rescuing animals–saving them from ill-treatment–was a topic of considerable discussion in the Regency period.   Philosophy was motivated in those days by new ideas about the rights of man.  A century before, Locke, and later Kant, had already raised the notion that animal abuse was a bad thing–not for the animals, but for man.  In the mid-eighteenth century Rousseau argued the matter one step further.  The beasts of nature, by virtue of them being sentient, have their own right to the mercies of natural law, even if they cannot reason on their own.

The entire idea of introducing laws to protect animals remained, however, purely philosophical.

It was also something of a comedy.  Wollstonecraft’s In Defense of the Rights of Woman at the close of the eighteenth century was met with another tract published under the satirical title, Vindication of the Rights of Brutes.   In other words, if we give rights to women, we shall dashed well have to give them to the beasts!

Enter Lansdowne House and one of the Marquess’ most illustrious guests–Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832).  He was a philosopher well-known for his radical notions about freedom and equal rights, getting the C out of the E (ie, separating church and state), and abolishing slavery.  When it came to animal rights, he brushed aside natural law as “nonsense upon stilts” and made an argument that was unanswerable:

“…The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

It must be said he did not oppose the use of animals for medical research.  He gave his own body to a medical college for public dissection and ordered that his corpse be put on display in an auto-icon.

When not engaged in philosophical dialogue, Bentham was known for courting women with “clumsy jocularity” (Michael St. John Packe’s The Life of John Stuart Mill).  The women in particular were members of the Marquess of Lansdowne’s family.  It appears from some of Bentham’s correspondence the ladies had refused to receive him when he called at Lansdowne House.  His style of rebuke, a mixture of pleasantries and irony so typical of the Regency, is amusing:

“I am glad to find you have begun to feel something like remorse; it is a virtuous sentiment–do not struggle to suppress it.”