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beg as a favor, that you will have the goodness to return mine to me! In the full assurance that you will kindly grant it, I have the honor to be, Sir, your “ Most obedient servant.
“ S. SIDDONS. “ Sir James Fellowes, Bart., at his house,
near Newbury, Berkshire.”
Adbury House, near Newbury,
May 28th, 1821. “ MADAM, - I beg to acknowledge your letter dated the 23d, and which only reached me to-day.
“Sir John Salusbury and myself were left joint executors, by my incomparable and lamented friend, Mrs. Piozzi. The whole of her valuable papers are consigned to our care, and I hope soon to be able to arrange them. For the present they are sealed up at Bath, but I shall take the earliest opportunity of informing Sir John, when we meet, of your request, and I am persuaded he will be desirous of partaking with me the pleasure of attending to any wish expressed by Mrs. Siddons. I have the honor to be, Madam, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
“ JAMES FELLOWES. 66 To Mrs. Siddons."
One of her letters has been retained, and no one can be hurt by its being printed.
(No date; postmark, Paddington, April 24, 1815.)
“MY DEAR FRIEND, — You were always kind and good to me, and I thank you most sincerely for this last proof of your affection. My affliction is deep indeed, but I do not sorrow as those who have no hope. I doubt not that Almighty wisdom and goodness orders all things for the ultimate happiness of his servants; and my grief for the loss of my dear and ever dutiful and affectionate son is greatly alleviated in the humble hope that his exemplary virtues will find acceptance at the Throne of Mercy, through the mediation of our blessed Saviour. This third stroke has nevertheless sadly shaken me. "I cannot but remember such things were, and were most precious to me.'
“ So strange and unlooked for are all things around us, that the only good thing we can reckon upon with any certainty in this world, is that one is far advanced upon one's journey to a better. I am, my
“ S. SIDDONS. " To Mrs. Piozzi, Bath."
In any endeavor to solve the difficult problem of Mrs. Piozzi's conduct and character, it should be kept in view that the highest testimony to her worth has been volunteered by those with whom she passed the last years of her life in the closest intimacy. She had become completely reconciled to Madame D'Arblay, with whom she was actively corresponding when she died, and her mixed qualities of head and heart are thus summed up in that lady's Diary, May, 1821 :
“I have lost now, just lost, my once most dear, intimate, and admired friend, Mrs. Thrale Piozzi, who preserved her fine faculties, her imagination, her intelligence, her powers of allusion and citation, her extraordinary memory, and her almost unexampled vivacity, to the last of her existence. She was in her eighty-second year, and yet owed not her death to age nor to natural decay, but to the effects of a fall in a journey from Penzance to Clifton. On her eightieth birthday she gave a great ball, concert, and supper, in the public rooms at Bath, to upwards of two hundred persons, and the ball she opened herself. She was, in truth, a most wonderful character for talents and eccentricity, for wit, genius, generosity, spirit, and powers of entertainment.
“She had a great deal both of good and not good, in common with Madame de Staël Holstein. They had the same sort of highly superior intellect, the same depth of learning, the same general acquaintance with science, the same ardent love of literature, the same thirst for universal knowledge, and the same buoyant animal spirits, such as neither sickness, sorrow, nor even terror, could subdue. Their conversation was equally luminous, from the sources of their own fertile minds, and from their splendid acquisitions from the works and acquirements of others.
Both were zealous to serve, liberal to bestow, and graceful to oblige; and both were truly high-minded in prizing and praising whatever was admirable that came in their way. Neither of them was delicate nor polished, though each was flattering and caressing; but both had a fund inexhaustible of good-humor, and of sportive gayety, that made their intercourse with those they wished to please attractive, instructive, and delightful; and though not either of them had the smallest real malevolence in their compositions, neither of them could ever withstand the pleasure of uttering a repartee, let it wound whom it might, even though each would serve the very person they goaded with all the means in their power. Both were kind, charitable, and munificent, and therefore beloved; both were sarcastic, careless, and daring, and therefore feared. The morality of Madame de Staël was by far the most faulty, but so was the society to which she belonged; so were the general manners of those by whom she was encircled.”
There is one real point of similarity between Madame de Staël and Mrs Piozzi, which has been omitted in the parallel. Both were treated much in the same manner by the amiable, sensitive, and unsophisticated Fanny Burney. In Feb. 1793, she wrote to her father, then at Paris, to announce her intimacy with a small “colony” of distinguished emigrants settled at Richmond, the cynosure of which was the far-famed daughter of Necker. He writes to caution her, on the strength of a suspicious liaison with M. de Narbonne. She replies by declaring her belief that the charge is a gross calumny. “Indeed, I think you could not spend a day with them and not see that their commerce is that of pure, but exalted and most elegant friendship. I would, nevertheless, give the world to avoid being a guest under their roof, now that I have heard even the shadow of such a rumor.”
If Mr. Croker was right,* she was then in her forty-second year ; at all events, no tender, timid, delicate maiden, ready to start at a hint or semblance of impropriety ; and she waived her scruples without hesitation when they stood in the way of her
* I have heard that an elder daughter of Dr. Burney, who died before the birth of the authoress, was also christened Frances, and that it was the register of her baptism to which Mr. Croker triumphantly appealed.
intercourse with M. D'Arblay, to whom she was married in July 1793, he being then employed in transcribing Madame de Staël's Essay on the Influence of the Passions.
As to the proposed parallel, with all due deference to Madame D'Arblay's proved sagacity, aided by her personal knowledge of her two gifted friends, it may be suggested that they presented fewer points of resemblance than any two women of at all corresponding celebrity. The superiority in the highest qualities of mind will be awarded without hesitation to the Frenchwoman, although M. Thiers terms her writings the perfection of mediocrity. She grappled successfully with some of the weightiest and subtlest questions of social and political science; in criticism, she displayed powers which Schlegel might have envied while he aided their fullest development in her “Germany;” and her “ Corinne ” ranks amongst the best of those works of fiction which excel in description, reflection, and sentiment, rather than in pathos, fancy, stirring incident, or artfully contrived plot. But her tone of mind was so essentially and notoriously masculine, that when she asked Talleyrand whether he had read her “ Delphine,” he answered, “ Non, Madame, mais on m'a dit que nous y sommes tous les deux déguisés en femmes.”* This was a material drawback on her agreeability; in a moment of excited consciousness, she exclaimed, that she would give all her fame for the power of fascinating ; and there was no lack of bitterness in her celebrated repartee to the man who, seated between her and Madame Recamier, boasted of being between Wit and Beauty, “Oui, et sans posséder ni l'un ni l'autre.” † The view from Richmond Park she called “ calme et animée, ce qu'on doit être, et que je ne suis pas."
In London she was soon voted a bore by the wits and people of fashion. She thought of convincing whilst they thought of dining. Sheridan and Brummell delighted in mystifying her. Byron complained that she was always talking of himself or herself,* and concludes his account of a dinner-party by the remark : “But we got up too soon after the women ; and Mrs. Corinne always lingers so long after dinner, that we wish her in the drawing-room.” In another place he says: “I saw Curran presented to Madame de Staël at Mackintosh's ; it was the grand confluence between the Rhone and the Saône, and they were both so d-d ugly that I could not help wondering how the best intellects of France and England could have taken up respectively such residences." He afterwards qualifies this opinion: “ Her figure was not bad; her legs tolerable; her arms good: altogether I can conceive her having been a desirable woman, allowing a little imagination for her soul, and so forth. She would have made a great man.”
*" To understand the point of this answer,” says Mr. Mackintosh, “it must be known that an old countess is introduced in the novel full of cunning, finessing, and trick, who was intended to represent Talleyrand, and Delphine was intended for herself.” — Life of Sir James Mackintosh, Vol. II. p. 453.
† This mot is given to Talleyrand in Lady Holland's Life of Sidney Smith. But it may be traced to one mentioned by Hannah More in 1787, as then current in Paris. One of the notables fresh from his province was teased by two petits maîtres to tell them who he was. “Eh bien donc, le voici: je suis ni sot ni fat, mais je suis entre les deux.”. Memoirs of Hannah More, Vol. II. p. 57.
This is just what Mrs. Piozzi never would have made. Her mind, despite her masculine acquirements, was thoroughly feminine: she had more tact than genius, more sensibility and quickness of perception than depth, comprehensiveness, or continuity of thought. But her very discursiveness prevented her from becoming wearisome; her varied knowledge supplied an inexhaustible store of topics and illustrations; her lively fancy placed them in attractive lights; and her mind has been well likened to a kaleidoscope which, whenever its glittering and heterogeneous contents are moved or shaken, surprises by some new combination of color or of form. She professed to write as she talked ; but her conversation was doubtless better than her books; her main advantages being a well-stored memory, fertility of images, aptness of allusion, and apropos.
In the course of his famous definition or description of wit, Barrow says:
“Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense or the affinity of their sound.” If this be so, she possessed it in abundance. In a letter dated Bath, 26th
* Johnson told Boswell: “You have only two topics, yourself and myself, and I am heartily sick of both.”