WELLINGTONIANA.* IN dealing with Lady Shelley's sprightly and discursive com- ments upon the current events of her day, we have to transport ourselves back into a society which, though not very remote in point of time, has now so completely passed away that it is difficult fully to realize its feelings, opinions, and aspirations. It was a time when a learned divine, writing in the Church and State Gazette, had proved entirely to his own satisfaction, and apparently also to that of Lady Shelley, that a "remark. able fulfilment of that hitherto incomprehensible prophecy in the Revelations " had taken place, inasmuch as Napoleon Bonaparte was most assuredly "the seventh head of the Beast." It was a time when Londoners rode in the Green Park instead of Rotten Row, and when, in spite of the admiration expressed for the talents of that rising young politician, Mr. Robert Peel, it was impossible to deny that " his birth ran strongly against him "—a consideration which elicited from Lady Shelley the profound remark that it is "'strange to search into the recesses of the human mind."
Lady Shelley herself seems to have been rather a femme incomprise. She had lived much on the Continent, and appreciated the greater deference paid to a charming and accomplished woman in Viennese and Parisian society, com- pared with the boorishness of Englishmen who would not " waste their time " in paying pretty compliments to ladies which "could be repaid by a smile." She records her impres- sions in French, a language in which she was thoroughly proficient. " Je sais," she says, " qu'en Angleterre it ne faut pas s'attendre a cultiver son esprit ; qu'il faut, pour etre confer& h Londres, se resoudre a se plaire avec In mediocrite; a entendre tons lee jours repeter lee mettles banalites et Is s'alxiisser antant qu'on is peut an niveau des femmelettes avec lesquelles l'on vit, et qui, pour plaire, affectent plus de frivolite qu'ellean'ont reellement. Le plaisir• de causer nous eat defendu." Nevertheless, however much she may have mentally appreciated the solitude of a crowd, she determined to adapt herself to her social surroundings. " C'est un sacrifice," •she says, " que je fais Is mon Dieu et Is mon devoir comma Anglaise." Impelled, therefore, alike by piety and patriotism, she cast aside all ideas of leading an eremitic life, plunged into the vortex of the social world, and mixed with all the great men and women of the day. Of these the most notable was the Duke of Wellington.
Lady Shelley certainly possessed one quality which eminently fitted her to play the part of Boswell to the Duke. The worship of her hero was without -the least mixture of alloy. She had a pheaaant, •which the Duke had killed, stuffed, and "-added to other souvenirs which ornamented her dressing- room" ; and she records, with manifest pride, that "amongst her other treasures" was a chair en which he sat upon the first occasion of his dining with her husband and herself in 1814. It was well to have that pheasant stuffed, for apparently the Phu Diary of Frances, Lady Sheitey (1818-1873). London : John Murray. Duke, like his great antagonist, did not shoot many pheasants. He was not only " a very wild shot," but also a very bad shot. Napoleon, Mr. Oman tells us,* on one occasion "lodged some pellets in Massena's left eye while letting fly at a pheasant;" and then without the least- hesitation accused "the faithful Bertlaier " of having fired the shot, an accusation which was at once confirmed by the mendacious but courtier- like victim of the accident. Wellington also, Lady Shelley records, " after wounding a retriever early in the day and later on peppering the keeper's gaiters, inadvertently sprinkled the bare arms of an old woman who chanced to be washing clothes at her cottage window." Lady Shelley, who " was attracted by her screams," promptly told the widow that "it ought to be the proudest moment of her life. She had had the distinction of being shot by the great Duke of Wellington," but the eminently practical instinct of the great Duke at once whispered to him that something more than the moral satis- faction to be derived from this reflection was required, so he very wisely "slipped a golden coin into her trembling hand."
For many years Lady Shelley lived on very friendly and intimate terms with the Duke, who appears to have confided to her many things about which he would perhaps have acted more wisely -if he had held his tongue. When he went on an important diplomatic mission to Paris in 1522, she requested. him to buy her a blouse—a commission which he faithfully executed. All went• well until 1848. Then a terrific explosion occurred. It is no longer " My dearest Lady ! Mind you bring the blouse ! Ever yours most affectionately, Wellington," but " My dear Lady Shelley," who is addressed by "Her Lady- ship's most obedient humble servant., Wellington," and•eoundly rated for her conduct. The reason for this abrupt and. volcanic change was that owing to an indiscretion on the part of Lady Shelley a very important letter about the defenceless• state of the•, country, which the Duke had addressed to Sir John Burgoyne, then the head of the Engineer Department at the Horse Guards, got into the newspapers. The Duke's wrath boiled over, and was expressed in terms which, albeit the- reproaches were just, showed but little chivalrous considera- tion towards a peccant but very contrite woman. He told. her that he "had much to do besides defending himself from the consequences of the meddling gossip of the ladies of modern times," and be asked indignantly, "What do Sir John Burgoyne and his family and your Ladyship and others —talking of old friendship—say to the share which each of you have had in this transaction, which, in my opinion, is disgraceful to the times in which we live?" What. Sir John Burgoyne and his family might very reason- ably have said in answer to this formidable interrogatory is that, although no one can defend the conduct of Delilah, it• was certainly most unwise of Samson to trust her with his secret. It is consolatory to know that, under the influence of Sir John Shelley's tact and-good-humour; a treaty of peace was eventually concluded. Sir John happened to meet the Duke at a party. " Good evening, Duke,'• said Sir John, in his most winning manner. Do you know, it has been said, by someone who must have been present, that the cackling of• geese once saved Rome. I have been thinking that perhaps the cackling of my old Goose may yet save England!' This wholly unexpected sally proved too much for the Duke, who burst out into a hearty laugh. ' By G—d, Shelley !' said he, You are right : give me your honest hand." The Duke then returned to Apsley House and "penned a playful letter to Lady Shelley."
It is not to be expected that much of real historical interest can be extracted from a Diary of this scat. It may, however, be noted that when the `Bellerophon' reached the English coast " it was only by coercion that the Ministers prevented George IV. from receiving Bonaparte. The King wanted to hold him as a captive." Moreover, Brougham, who was in a position to know, said, "There can be little doubt that if Bonaparte had got to London, the Whig Opposition were ready to use him as their trump card to overturn the Govern- ment."
The main interest in the book, however, lies in the light which it throws on the Duke's inner life and in the charac- teristic atter dicta which he occasionally let fall. Of these, none is more characteristic than the remark he made on meeting his former love, Miss Catherine Pakenham, after an absence of eight years in India. He wrote to her, making a
• History of the.PaninestaP War, vol.-iii., p. Ses.
proposal of marriage, but Miss Pakenham told him " that before any engagement was made he must see her again; as she had grown old, had lost all her good looks, and was a very different person to the girl he had loved in former years." The story, which has been frequently repeated, that Miss Pakenham was marked with the smallpox, is untrue,• but, without doubt, during the Duke's absence, she had a good deal changed. The Duke himself certainly thought so, for, on first meeting her again, be whispered to his brother, "She has grown d—d ugly, by Jove ! " Nevertheless he married her, being moved to do so, not apparently from any very deep feelings of affection, but because his leading passion was a profound regard for truth and loyalty which led him to admire and appreciate the straightforwardness of Miss Pakenham's conduct. Lady Shelley exultingly exclaims, " Well might she be proud and happy, and glory in such a husband." That the Duchess was proud of her husband is certain. Whether she was altogether happy is more doubtful.
One of the stock anecdotes about the Duke of Wellington is that when on one occasion someone asked him whether he was surprised at Waterloo, he replied, " No. I was not surprised then, but I am now." We are indebted to Lady Shelley for letting us know what the Duke really thought on this much-debated question. In a letter written to her on March 22nd, 1820, he stated, with his usual downright
common sense, all that there is to be said on this subject. "Supposing I was surprised; I won the battle; and what could you bare bad more, even if I had not been surprised."
It is known on the authority of his niece, Lady Burghersh, that the Duke "never read poetry," but his "real love of music," to which Lady Shelley alludes, will perhaps come as a surprise to many. Mr. Fortescue, however,t has told us that iu his youth the Duke learnt to play the violin, and that
he only abandoned it, when he was about thirty years old, " because be judged it unseemly or perhaps ill-sounding for a General to be a fiddler." The Duke is not the only great -soldier who has been a musical performer. Marshal St. Cyr used to play the violin "in the quiet moments of a campaign," and Sir Hope Grant was a very fair performer on the
It was characteristic of the Duke to keep the fact of his
being about to fight a duel with Lord Winchelsea carefully concealed from all his friends. When it was over, he walked into Lady Shelley's room while she was at breakfast and said,
-" Well, what do you think of a gentleman who has been fighting a duel ?"
It appears that during the last years of his life the Duke's great companion-in-arms, Blucher, was subject to some strange hallucinations. The following affords a fitting counterpart to those "fears of the brave" which Pope attributed to the dying Marlborough. On March 17th, 1819, Lady Shelley made the following entry in her diary :-
" We laughed at poor Bliicher's strange hallucination, which, though ludicrous, is very sad. He fancies himself with child by a Frenchman ; and deplores that such an event should have happened to him in his old age ! He does not so much mind being with child, but cannot reconcile himself to the thought that he—of all people in the world—should be destined to give birth to a Frenchman! On every other subject Blucher is said to be quite rational. This peculiar form of madness shows the bent of his mind ; so that while we laugh our hearts reproach us. The Duke of Wellington assures me that he knows this to be a fact."
Finally, attention may be drawn to a singular and interest- ing letter from Sir Walter Scott to Shelley, giving some advice which it may be presumed the young poet did not take to heart. He was "cautioned against enthusiasm, which, while it argued an excellent disposition and a feeling heart, requires to be watched and restrained, though not repressed."