Monday, January 24, 2011

Estella The Heiress - A Glimpse Into The Condition of Wealthy Women In History


Adapted From A Story By Nora Ryeman
Her Christian name Estella Marie, her starry eyes and pale, earnest face, and her tall, lissom figure were the only beautiful things about Estella Keed. Everything else, dress, home, appointments, were exceeding plain. For her grandfather in whose house she lived was, though reputedly wealthy, a miserly man.
He lived in a large and antique house, with hooded windows, in Mercer's Lane, and was a dealer in antiques and curios. And his popular sobriquet was Simon the Saver (Anglicè, miser).
Stella was the only child of his only son, a clever musician, who had allied himself with a troupe of wandering minstrels, and married a Spaniard attached to the company, and who, when he followed his wife into the silent land, bequeathed his little girl to his father, beseeching him to overlook the estrangement of years, and befriend the orphan child. She inherited her name Estella from her Spanish mother, but they called her Molly in her new home--it was part of her discipline.
Simon Keed had accepted, and fulfilled the trust in his own peculiar way. That is to say, he had sheltered, fed, and clothed Estella, and after some years' primary instruction in a elementary school, had sent her to Miss Melford's to complete her studies.
Farther than this he had not gone, for she was totally without a proper outfit. In summer her patched and faded print frocks presented a pathetic contrast to the pink and blue cambrics, and floral muslins, of the other girls; and in winter, when velvets and furs were in evidence, the contrast made by her coarse plain serge, and untrimmed cape of Irish frieze, was quite as strong; indeed, her plainness was more than Quakerish, it was Spartan, she was totally destitute of the knicknacks so dear to the girlish heart, and though she had grown used to looking at grapes like Reynard in the fable, I am sure she often felt the sting of her grandfather's needless, almost cruel, economy. This was evidenced by what was ever after spoken of by us girls as the garden-party episode.
Near the old city was a quaint and pretty village, one famed in local history as having in "teacup," Georgian, times been honoured by a visit by Mrs. Hannah More, who described it as Arcadian.
It had a fine, well-timbered park, full of green hollows in which grew the "'rath primrose," and which harboured a large, Jacobean mansion, occupied, at the period of this story, by Dr. Tempest as a Boys' Preparatory School, and as Mrs. Tempest was an old friend of Miss Melford's, the senior pupils (both boarders and day scholars) were always invited to their annual garden- or breaking-up party, which was held in the lovely park.
Stella, as one of the senior girls, was duly invited; but no one deemed that she would accept the invitation, because her grandfather had been heard to say that education was one thing, and frivolity another.
"I suppose you won't go to the party," said impulsive Ivy Davis, and Estella had answered with a darkened face:
"I cannot say. When I'm not here I have to stay in that gloomy old house, like a mouse in its hole. But if I can go anyhow, Ivy, I shall, you may depend upon that."
Then we heard no more about the matter until the eventful day, when, to our surprise, Estella presented herself with the other day scholars, in readiness to go.
"Look, Gloria, look," said Ivy, in a loud whisper, as we filed through the hall, "Stella's actually managed to come, and to make herself presentable. However did she do it?"
"Hush," I whispered back, but, all the same, I also marveled at the girl's appearance.
Her heliotrope and white muslin skirt was somewhat faded, it was true, but still, it was good material, and was pretty. The same could be said of her cream blouse. The marvel and the mystery lay in hat, necklace, and shoes.
The hat was of burnt straw, broad brimmed, low crowned, and of the previous summer's fashion. It was simply trimmed with a garland or band of dull black silk, and large choux of the same, all of which might have been fresher; but in front was an antique brooch, or buckle, of pale pink coral and gold, which was at once beautiful and curiously inconsistent with the rest of the costume. Round Estella's throat was a lovely gold and coral necklace, and her small, worn shoes boasted coral and gold buckles. She had got a coral set from somewhere, where and how we all wondered.
Even Miss Melford was astonished and impressed by Estella's unwonted splendor, for touching the necklace, I overheard her say:
"Very pretty, my dear! Your grandfather, I presume, gave you the set? Very kind of him!"
Stella, with a flushed face, replied:
"He did not give it, ma'am," and the matter dropped.
Miss Melford and I presumed that Mr. Keed had simply lent his grand-daughter the articles--which likely enough belonged to his stock of antiquities--for the day.
It was a delightful fête--one of those bright and happy days which are shining milestones along the road of life. The peacocks strutted about on the terrace and made us laugh when they spread out their tails. We ate strawberries and cream under the elms, played all kinds of outdoor games on the greensward, and when we were tired rested in the cool, potpourri scented parlours.
I am of opinion that Estella enjoyed herself as much as any of us, though she became strangely quiet and downcast on our way home. But, as Ivy truly remarked, it was not to be wondered at; the fairy palace was left behind, and the rôle of Cinderella awaited her on the morrow.
Upon the day succeeding the party, we broke up. I went home to spend the vacation with my uncle and aunt, and when I returned to school I found as usual, on reassembling, that there were a few vacant places, amongst them that of Estella Keed. I wondered how this was, though I did not presume to question Miss Melford on the subject; but one autumn morning, when passing through Mercer's Lane, I came across Estella. She looked shabby and disconsolate, in her faded gown and worn headgear, and I asked her if she had been unwell.
"Oh dear no," was the response, "only very dull. I never go anywhere, or see any one--how can I help being so? I am only Molly now. No one calls me by my beautiful mother's name, Estella. I want to learn to be a typewriter, or something, and go and live in a big city, but grandpa says I must wait, and then he'll see about it! I detest this horrid lane!" she added passionately.
I looked down the long, mediæval street, with its gabled houses, and then at the old church tower (round which the birds were circling in the distance), and replied with truth that it was picturesque, and carried one back into the storied past.
"I am tired of the past--it's all past at ours--the jewels have been worn by dead women, the old china, and bric-à-brac, has stood in empty houses! It's all of the dead and gone. So is the house, all the rooms are old. I should like to live in a new house."
"Perhaps you want a change?" I said. "Why don't you come back to school?"
She shook her head, and glanced away from me—up at the old Gothic church tower, and then said hurriedly:
"I must hurry on now—I am wanted at home."
One December evening not long after, during Miss Melford's hour with us, at recreation, she said:
"Young ladies, you will be pleased to hear that your old schoolmate, Estella Keed, returns to us tomorrow."
On the morrow Estella came, but how different was she from the old and the former Estella!
She wore a suitable and becoming costume of royal blue, and was a beautiful and pleasant looking girl! Her own natural graces had their own proper setting. It seemed indeed as if all things had become new to her, as if she lived and breathed in a fresher and fairer world than of yore!
Perhaps because I had been sympathetic in the hour of trouble, she attached herself to me, and one day, during recess, she told me why she had been temporarily withdrawn from school.
"Gloria," she said, "grandfather never gave me his permission to go to the garden party—indeed, I never asked for it, for I was quite sure that he would not give it.
"But I meant to go all the same, and persuaded Mrs. Mansfield, the housekeeper, to help me. She it was who altered and did up an old gown of mother's for me to wear. But without the coral set I should not have been able to go; for, as you know, I had no adornments. I'd often seen them when on sale and wished for them; but I knew that they would neither be given nor lent for the party.
"Then Fate, as it seemed, befriended me; my grandfather had to go to London about some curios on the date fixed for the party, and I determined to borrow the set and make myself look presentable. All I had to do was to go to the window and take them out of their satin-lined case.
"I hoped to replace them before my grandfather returned from town, but when I got home from the fête I found that he had returned by an earlier and quicker train than he himself had expected to. He looked at me from head to foot, then touched the necklace and the clasp, and demanded of me sternly where I had been.
"I was tongue-tied for a few moments, and then I blurted out the truth:
"'Grandfather,' I said, 'I've been to Dr. Tempest's garden party as one of Miss Melford's senior girls, and as I didn't want to be different from the other girls I borrowed the coral set for the day. They are not hurt in the least.'
"The room seemed going round with me as I spoke, even the dutch cheese on the supper table seemed to be bobbing up and down.
"At last my grandfather spoke:
"'Take the set off and give them to me,' he said shortly.
"I yielded up the treasures with trembling hands, and when I had done so he told me I should not return to school, and then added:
"'Go to your room and don't let me hear of this affair again. I fear you are as fond of finery as your mother was.'
"You know the rest. I did not return to Miss Melford's, and I should not have been here now but for Dr. Saunders. Soon after the garden party my grandfather was taken ill, and the doctor had to be called in. I think he must have taken pity on me, and must have spoken to my grandfather about me. Anyhow, my grandfather called me to his bedside one day, and told me that he knew that he could not live many years longer, and that all he wanted was to leave me able—after he was gone—to live a good and useful life without want, and that if he had been too saving in the past, it was all that my future should be provided for. There was a strange tenderness in his voice. Strange at least it seemed to me, for I had never heard it there before, and I put my face down upon the pillow beside him and cried. He took my hand in his, and the silence was more full of hope and promise than any words of either could have been. I waited upon him after that, and he seemed to like to have me about him, and when he got better he told me that he wished me to return to school and to make the best use of my opportunities while I had them. He told me that he had decided to make me an allowance for dress, and that he hoped that I should so use it as to give him proof before he died that I could be trusted to deal wisely with all that he might have to leave."
Estella remained at school until I left, and the last time I saw her there she was wearing the red coral set which had estranged her from her grandfather as a token of reconciliation; and she told me that the old man's hands trembled in giving them to her, even more than hers did in giving them up, as he said to her with tears in his eyes and voice:--
"All that I have is thine."


Thirty-five years ago, inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer, and little more than fresh out of high school, I wrote a Regency Romance novel entitled, A Very Merry Chase, which I finally published last year.  Then and now history in all it’s forms was my first love–especially women’s history. These days I have two degrees in history; however a graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. Thus, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of A Very Merry Chase
Founder of The LadyWeb Family Of Informational & Educational Websites
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Women of History - SARAH, DUCHESS OF MARLBOROUGH - The Worldly Woman

* * * * *
A.D. 1660-1744.

In the career of Madame de Maintenon we have seen in a woman an inordinate ambition to rise in the world and control public affairs. In the history of the Duchess of Marlborough, we see the same ambition, the same love of power, the same unscrupulous adaptation of means to an end. Yet the aim and ends of these two remarkable political women were different. The Frenchwoman had in view the reform of a wicked court, the interests of education, the extirpation of heresy, the elevation of men of genius, the social and religious improvement of a great nation, as she viewed it, through a man who bore absolute sway. The Englishwoman connived at political corruptions, was indifferent to learning and genius, and exerted her great influence, not for the good of her country, but to advance the fortunes of her family. Madame de Maintenon, if narrow and intolerant, was unselfish, charitable, religious, and patriotic; the Duchess of Marlborough was selfish, grasping, avaricious, and worldly in all her aspirations. Both were ambitious,--the one to benefit the country which she virtually ruled, and the other to accumulate honors and riches by cabals and intrigues in the court of a weak woman whom she served and despised. Madame de Maintenon, in a greater position, as the wife of the most powerful monarch in Christendom, was gentle, amiable, condescending, and kind-hearted; the Duchess of Marlborough was haughty, insolent, and acrimonious. Both were beautiful, bright, witty, and intellectual; but the Frenchwoman was immeasurably more cultivated, and was impressible by grand sentiments.
And yet the Duchess of Marlborough was a great woman. She was the most prominent figure in the Court of Queen Anne, and had a vast influence on the politics of her day. Her name is associated with great statesmen and generals. She occupied the highest social position of any woman in England after that of the royal family. She had the ear and the confidence of the Queen. The greatest offices were virtually at her disposal. Around her we may cluster the leading characters and events of the age of Queen Anne.
Sarah Jennings, the future Duchess of Marlborough, was born in 1660. She belonged to a good though not a noble family, which for many generations possessed a good estate in Hertfordshire. Her grandfather, Sir John Jennings, was a zealous adherent to the royal cause before the Revolution, and received the Order of the Bath, in company with his patron, Charles I., then Prince of Wales. When Sarah was twelve years of age, she found a kind friend in the Duchess of York, Mary Beatrice Eleanora, Princess of Modena (an adopted daughter of Louis XIV.), who married James, brother of Charles II. The young girl was thus introduced to the dangerous circle which surrounded the Duke of York, and she passed her time, not in profitable studies, but in amusements and revels. She lived in the ducal household as a playmate of the Princess Anne, and was a beautiful, bright, and witty young lady, though not well educated. In the year 1673 she became acquainted with John Churchill, a colonel of the army and a gentleman of the bedchamber to the Duke of York,--the latter a post of honor, but of small emolument. He was at that time twenty-three years of age, a fine-looking and gallant soldier, who had already distinguished himself at the siege of Tangier. He had also fought under the banners of Marshal Turenne in the Low Countries, by whom he was called the "handsome Englishman." At the siege of Maestricht he further advanced his fortunes, succeeding the famous Earl of Peterborough in the command of the English troops, then in alliance with Louis XIV. He was not a man of intellectual culture, nor was he deeply read. It is said that even his spelling was bad; but his letters were clear and forcible. He made up his deficiency in education by irresistibly pleasing manners, remarkable energy, and a coolness of judgment that was seldom known to err.
His acquaintance with the beautiful Sarah Jennings soon ripened into love; but he was too poor to marry. Nor had she a fortune. They however became engaged to each other, and the betrothal continued three years. It was not till 1678 that the marriage took place. The colonel was domestic in his tastes and amiable in his temper, and his home was happy. He was always fond of his wife, although her temper was quick and her habits exacting. She was proud, irascible, and overbearing, while he was meek and gentle. In other respects they were equally matched, since both were greedy, ambitious, and worldly. A great stain, too, rested on his character; for he had been scandalously intimate with Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II., who gave him £5000, with which he bought an annuity of £500 a year,--thus enabling him to marry Miss Jennings.
In 1685 Charles II. died, and was succeeded by his brother the Duke of York, as James II. The new King rewarded his favorite, Colonel Churchill, with a Scotch peerage and the command of a regiment of guards, James's two daughters, the princesses Mary and Anne, now became great personages. But from mutual jealousy they did not live together very harmoniously. Mary, the elder daughter, was much the superior of her sister, and her marriage with William of Orange was particularly happy.
The Princess Anne was weak and far from being interesting. But she was inordinately attached to Lady Churchill, who held a high post of honor and emolument in her household. It does not appear that the attachment was mutual between these two ladies, but the forms of it were kept up by Lady Churchill, who had ambitious ends to gain. She gradually acquired an absolute ascendency over the mind of the Princess, who could not live happily without her companionship and services. Lady Churchill was at this time remarkably striking in her appearance, with a clear complexion, regular features, majestic figure, and beautiful hair, which was dressed without powder. She also had great power of conversation, was frank, outspoken, and amusing, but without much tact. The Princess wrote to her sometimes four times a day, always in the strain of humility, and seemed utterly dependent upon her. Anne was averse to reading, spending her time at cards and frivolous pleasures. She was fond of etiquette, and exacting in trifles. She was praised for her piety, which would appear however to have been formal and technical. She was placid, phlegmatic, and had no conversational gifts. She played tolerably on the guitar, loved the chase, and rode with the hounds until disabled by the gout, which was brought about by the pleasures of the table. In 1683 she married Prince George of Denmark, and by him had thirteen children, not one of whom survived her; most of them died in infancy. As the daughter of James II., she was of course a Tory in her political opinions.
Lady Churchill was also at that time a moderate Tory, and fanned the prejudices of her mistress. But in order to secure a still greater intimacy and freedom than was consistent with their difference in rank, the two ladies assumed the names of Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman. In the correspondence between them the character of the Princess appears to the greater advantage, since she was at least sincere in her admiration and friendship. She assumes no superiority in any respect; in her intellectual dependence she is even humble.
Anne was seemingly disinterested in her friendship with Lady Churchill, having nothing to gain but services, for which she liberally compensated her. But the society of a weak woman could not have had much fascination for so independent and self-sustained a person as was the proud peeress. It eventually became irksome to her. But there was no outward flaw in the friendship until Anne ascended the throne in 1702,--not even for several years after.
The accession of William and Mary in 1689 changed the position of Anne, to whom the nation now looked as a probable future queen. She was at that time severely censured for her desertion of her father James, and her conduct seemed both heartless and frivolous. But she was virtually in the hands of an unscrupulous woman and the great ministers of State. On the flight of the King, James II., the Princess Anne retired to Chatsworth,--the magnificent seat of the Earl of Devonshire,--accompanied by Lady Churchill, her inseparable companion.
Two days before the coronation of William and Mary, Lord Churchill was created Earl of Marlborough, and was sworn a member of the Privy Council and a lord of the bedchamber. This elevation was owing to his military talents, which no one appreciated better than the King, who however never personally liked Marlborough, and still less his ambitious wife. He was no stranger to their boundless cupidity, though he pretended not to see it. He was politic, not being in a position to dispense with the services of the ablest military general of his realm.
William III. was a remarkably wise and clearheaded prince, and saw the dangers which menaced him,--the hostility of Louis XIV., the rebels in Ireland, and the disaffection among the Jacobite nobility in England, who secretly favored the exiled monarch. So he rewarded and elevated a man whom he both admired and despised. William had many sterling virtues; he was sincere and patriotic and public-spirited; he was a stanch Protestant of the Calvinistic school, and very attentive to his religious duties. But with all his virtues and services to the English nation, he was not a favorite. His reserve, coldness, and cynicism were in striking contrast with the affability of the Stuarts. He had no imagination and no graces; he disgusted the English nobles by drinking Holland gin, and by his brusque manners. But nothing escaped his eagle eye. On the field of battle he was as ardent and fiery as he was dull and phlegmatic at Hampton Court, his favorite residence. He was capable of warm friendships, uninteresting as he seemed to the English nobles; but he was intimate only with his Dutch favorites, like Bentinck and Keppel, whom he elevated to English peerages. He spent only a few months in England each year of the thirteen of his reign, being absorbed in war most of the time with Louis XIV. and the Irish rebels.
William found that his English throne was anything but a bed of roses. The Tories, in the tumults and dangers attending the flight of James II., had promoted his elevation; but they were secretly hostile, and when dangers had passed, broke out in factious opposition. The high-church clergy disliked a Calvinistic king in sympathy with Dissenters. The Irish gave great trouble under Tyrconnel and old Marshal Schomberg, the latter of whom was killed at the battle of the Boyne. A large party was always in opposition to the unceasing war with Louis XIV., whom William hated with implacable animosity.
The Earl of Marlborough, on the accession of William, was a moderate Tory, and was soon suspected of not being true to his sovereign. His treason might have resulted in the return of the Stuarts but for the energy and sagacity of Queen Mary, in whose hands the supreme executive power was placed by William when absent from the kingdom. She summoned at once the Parliament, prevented the defection of the navy, and ferreted out the hostile intrigues, in which the lord-treasurer Godolphin was also implicated. But for the fortunate naval victory of La Hogue over the French fleet, which established the naval supremacy of England, the throne of William and the Protestant succession would have been seriously endangered; for William was unfortunate in his Flemish campaigns.
When the King was apprised of the treasonable intrigues which endangered his throne, he magnanimously pardoned Godolphin and the Duke of Shrewsbury, but sent Marlborough to the Tower, although he soon after released him, when it was found that several of the letters which compromised him had been forged. For some time Marlborough lived in comparative retirement, while his wife devoted herself to politics and her duties about the person of the Princess Anne, who was treated very coldly by her sister the Queen, and was even deprived of her guards. But the bickerings and quarrels of the royal sisters were suddenly ended by the death of Mary from the small-pox, which then fearfully raged in London. The grief of the King was sincere and excessive, as well as that of the nation, and his affliction softened his character and mitigated his asperity against Marlborough, Shortly after the death of his queen, William made Marlborough governor of the Duke of Gloucester, then (1698) a very promising prince, in the tenth year of his age. This prince, only surviving son of Anne, had a feeble body, and was unwisely crammed by Bishop Burnet, his preceptor, and overworked by Marlborough, who taught him military tactics. Neither his body nor his mind could stand the strain made upon him, and he was carried off at the age of eleven by a fever.
The untimely death of the Prince was a great disappointment to the nation, and cast a gloom over the remaining years of the reign of William, who from this time declined in health and spirits. One of his last acts was to appoint the Earl of Marlborough general of the troops in Flanders, knowing that he was the only man who could successfully oppose the marshals of France. Only five days before his death the King sent a recommendation to Parliament for the union of Scotland and England, and the last act of Parliament to which he gave his consent was that which fixed the succession in the House of Hanover. At the age of fifty-one, while planning the campaign which was to make Marlborough immortal, William received his death-stroke, which was accidental. He was riding in the park of Hampton Court, when his horse stumbled and he was thrown, dislocating his collar-bone. The bone was set, and might have united but for the imprudence of the King, who insisted on going to Kensington on important business. Fever set in, and in a few days this noble and heroic king died (March 8, 1702),--the greatest of the English kings since the Wars of the Roses, to whom the English nation owed the peaceful settlement of the kingdom in times of treason and rebellion.
The Princess Anne, at the age of thirty-seven, quietly ascended the throne, and all eyes were at once turned to Marlborough, on whom the weight of public affairs rested. He was now fifty-three, active, wise, well poised, experienced, and generally popular in spite of his ambition and treason. He had, as we have already remarked, been a moderate Tory, but as he was the advocate of war measures, he now became one of the leaders of the Whig party. Indeed, he was at this time the foremost man in England, on account of his great talents as a statesman and diplomatist as well as general, and for the ascendency of his wife over the mind of the Queen.
Next to him in power was the lord-treasurer Godolphin, to whom he was bound by ties of friendship, family alliance, and political principles. Like Marlborough, Godolphin had in early life been attached to the service of the House of Stuart. He had been page to Charles II., and lord chamberlain to Mary of Modena. The Princess Anne, when a young lady, became attached to this amiable and witty man, and would have married him if reasons of State had not prevented. After the Revolution of 1688 his merits were so conspicuous that he was retained in the service of William and Mary, and raised to the peerage. In sound judgment, extraordinary sagacity, untiring industry, and unimpeached integrity, he resembled Lord Burleigh in the reign of Elizabeth, and, like him, rendered great public services. Grave, economical, cautious, upright, courteous in manners, he was just the man for the stormy times in which he lived. He had his faults, being fond of play (the passion of that age) and of women. Says Swift, who libelled him, as he did every prominent man of the Whig party, "He could scratch out a song in praise of his mistress with a pencil on a card, or overflow with tears like a woman when he had an object to gain."
But the real ruler of the land, on the accession of Anne, was the favored wife of Marlborough. If ever a subject stood on the very pinnacle of greatness, it was she. All the foreign ambassadors flattered her and paid court to her. The greatest nobles solicited or bought of her the lucrative offices in the gift of the Crown. She was the dispenser of court favors, as Mesdames de Maintenon and Pompadour were in France. She was the admiration of gifted circles, in which she reigned as a queen of society. Poets sang her praises and extolled her beauty; statesmen craved her influence. Nothing took place at court to which she was not privy. She was the mainspring of all political cabals and intrigues; even the Queen treated her with deference, as well as loaded her with gifts, and Godolphin consulted her on affairs of State. The military fame of her husband gave her unbounded _éclat_. No Englishwoman ever had such an exalted social position; she reigned in _salons_ as well as in the closet of the Queen. And she succeeded in marrying her daughters to the proudest peers. Her eldest daughter, Henrietta, was the wife of an earl and prime minister. Her second daughter, Anne, married Lord Charles Spencer, the only son of the Earl of Sunderland, one of the leaders of the Whig party and secretary of state. Her third daughter became the wife of the Earl, afterwards Duke, of Bridgewater; and the fourth and youngest daughter had for her husband the celebrated Duke of Montague, grand-master of the Order of the Bath.
Thus did Sarah Jennings rise. Her daughters were married to great nobles and statesmen, her husband was the most famous general of his age, and she herself was the favorite and confidential friend and adviser of the Queen. Upon her were showered riches and honor. She had both influence and power,--influence from her talents, and power from her position. And when she became duchess,--after the great victory of Blenheim,--and a princess of the German Empire, she had nothing more to aspire to in the way of fortune or favor or rank. She was the first woman of the land, next to the Queen, whom she ruled while nominally serving her.
There are very few people in this world, whether men or women, who remain unchanged under the influence of boundless prosperity. So rare are the exceptions, that the rule is established. Wealth, honor, and power will produce luxury, pride, and selfishness. How few can hope to be superior to Solomon, Mohammed, Constantine, Theodosius, Louis XIV., Madame de Maintenon, Queen Elizabeth, Maria Theresa, or Napoleon, in that sublime self-control which looks down on the temptations of earth with the placid indifference of a Marcus Aurelius! Even prosperous people in comparatively humble life generally become arrogant and opinionated, and like to have things in their own way.
Now, Lady Marlborough was both proud by nature and the force of circumstances. She became an incarnation of arrogance, which she could not conceal, and which she never sought to control. When she became the central figure in the Court and in the State, flattered and sought after wherever she went, before whom the greatest nobles burned their incense, and whom the people almost worshipped in a country which has ever idolized rank and power, she assumed airs and gave vent to expressions that wounded her friend the Queen. Anne bore her friend's intolerable pride, blended with disdain, for a long time after her accession. But her own character also began to change. Sovereigns do not like dictation from subjects, however powerful. And when securely seated on her throne, Anne began to avow opinions which she had once found it politic to conceal. She soon became as jealous of her prerogative as her uncle Charles and her father James had been of theirs. She was at heart a Tory,--as was natural,--and attached to the interests of her banished relatives. She looked upon the Whigs as hostile to what she held dear. She began to dislike ministers who had been in high favor with the late King, especially Lord Chancellor Somers and Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax,--since these powerful nobles, allied with Godolphin and Marlborough, ruled England. Thus the political opinions of the Queen came gradually to be at variance with those advanced by her favorite, whose daughters were married to great Whig nobles, and whose husband was bent on continuing the war against Louis XIV. and the exiled Stuarts. But, as we have said, Anne for a long time suppressed her feelings of incipient alienation, produced by the politics and haughty demeanor of her favorite, and still wrote to her as her beloved Mrs. Freeman, and signed her letters, as usual, as her humble Morley. Her treatment of the Countess continued the same as ever, full of affection and confidence. She could not break with a friend who had so long been indispensable to her; nor had she strength of character to reveal her true feelings.
Meanwhile a renewed war was declared against Louis XIV. on account of his determination to place his grandson on the throne of Spain. The Tories were bitterly opposed to this war of the Spanish succession, as unnecessary, expensive, and ruinous to the development of national industry. They were also jealous of Marlborough, whose power they feared would be augmented by the war, as the commander-in-chief of the united Dutch and English forces. And the result was indeed what they feared. His military successes were so great in this war that on his return to England he was created a duke, and soon after received unusual grants from Parliament, controlled by the Whigs, which made him the richest man in England as well as the most powerful politically. Yet even up to this time the relations between his wife and the Queen were apparently most friendly. But soon after this the haughty favorite became imprudent in the expressions she used before her royal mistress; she began to weary of the drudgeries of her office as mistress of the robes, and turned over her duties partially to a waiting-woman, who was destined ultimately to supplant her in the royal favor. The Queen was wounded to the quick by some things that the Duchess said and did, which she was supposed not to hear or see; for the Duchess was now occasionally careless as well as insolent. The Queen was forced to perceive that the Duchess disdained her feeble intellect and some of her personal habits, and was, moreover, hostile to her political opinions; and she began to long for an independence she had never truly enjoyed. But the Duchess, intoxicated with power and success, did not see the ground on which she stood; yet if she continued to rule her mistress, it was by fear rather than love.
About this period (1706) the struggles and hostilities of the Whigs and Tories were at their height. We have in these times but a feeble conception of the bitterness of the strife of these two great parties in the beginning of the eighteenth century. It divided families, and filled the land with slanders and intrigues. The leaders of both parties were equally aristocratic and equally opposed to reform; both held the people in sovereign contempt. The struggle between them was simply a struggle for place and emolument. The only real difference in their principles was that one party was secretly in favor of the exiled family and was opposed to the French war, and the other was more jealously Protestant, and was in favor of the continuance of the war. The Tories accused Marlborough of needlessly prolonging the war in order to advance his personal interests,--from which charge it would be difficult to acquit him.
One of the most prominent leaders of the Tories was Harley, afterwards Earl of Oxford, who belonged to a Puritan family in Hertfordshire, and was originally a Whig. He entered Parliament in the early part of the reign of William. Macaulay, who could see no good in the Tories, in his violent political prejudices maintained that Harley was not a man of great breadth of intellect, and exerted an influence in Parliament disproportionate to his abilities. But he was a most insidious and effective enemy. He was sagacious enough to perceive the growing influence of men of letters, and became their patron and friend. He advanced the fortunes of Pope, Arbuthnot, and Prior. He purchased the services of Swift, the greatest master of satire blended with bitter invective that England had known. Harley was not eloquent in speech; but he was industrious, learned, exact, and was always listened to with respect. Nor had he any scandalous vices. He could not be corrupted by money, and his private life was decorous. He abhorred both gambling and drunkenness,--the fashionable vices of that age. He was a refined, social, and cultivated man.
This statesman perceived that it was imperatively necessary for the success of his party to undermine the overpowering influence of the Duchess of Marlborough with the Queen. He detested her arrogance, disdain, and grasping ambition. Moreover, he had the firm conviction that England should engage only in maritime war. He hated the Dutch and moneyed men, and Dissenters of every sect, although originally one of them. And when he had obtained the leadership of his party in the House of Commons, he brought to bear the whole force of his intellect against both the Duke and Duchess. It was by his intrigues that the intimate relations between the Duchess and the Queen were broken up, and that the Duke became unpopular.
The great instrument by which he effected the disgrace of the imperious Duchess was a woman who was equally his cousin and the cousin of the Duchess, and for whom the all-powerful favorite had procured the office of chamber-woman and dresser,--in other words, a position which in an inferior rank is called that of lady's-maid; for the Duchess was wearied of constant attendance on the Queen, and to this woman some of her old duties were delegated. The name of this woman was Abigail Hill. She had been in very modest circumstances, but was a person of extraordinary tact, prudence, and discretion, though very humble in her address,--qualities the reverse of those which marked her great relative. Nor did the proud Duchess comprehend Miss Hill's character and designs any more than the all-powerful Madame de Montespan comprehended those of the widow Scarron when she made her the governess of her children. But Harley understood her, and their principles and aims were in harmony. Abigail Hill was a bigoted Tory, and her supreme desire was to ingratiate herself in the favor of her royal mistress, especially when she was tired of the neglect or annoyed by the railleries of her exacting favorite. By degrees the humble lady's-maid obtained the same ascendency over the Queen that had been exercised by the mistress of the robes,--in the one case secured by humility, assiduous attention, and constant flatteries; in the other, obtained by talent and brilliant fascinations. Abigail was ruled by Harley; Sarah was ruled by no one but her husband, who understood her caprices and resentments, and seldom directly opposed her. Moreover, she was a strong-minded woman, who could listen to reason after her fits of passion had passed away.
The first thing of note which occurred, showing to the Duchess that her influence was undermined, was the refusal of the Queen to allow Lord Cowper, the lord chancellor, to fill up the various livings belonging to the Crown, in spite of the urgent solicitations of the Duchess. This naturally produced a coolness between Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Morley. Harley was now the confidential adviser of the Queen, and counselled her "to go alone,"--that is, to throw off the shackles which she had too long ignominiously worn; and Anne at once appointed high-church divines--Tories of course--to the two vacant bishoprics. The under-stream of faction was flowing unseen, but deep and strong, which the infatuated Duchess did not suspect.
The great victory of Ramillies (1706) gave so much _éclat_ to Marlborough that the outbreak between his wife and the Queen was delayed for a time. That victory gave a new lease of power to the Whigs. Harley and St. John, the secret enemies of the Duke, welcomed him with their usual smiles and flatteries, and even voted for the erection of Blenheim, one of the most expensive palaces ever built in England.
Meanwhile Harley pursued his intrigues to effect the downfall of the Duchess. Miss Hill, unknown to her great relative and patroness, married Mr. Masham, equerry to Prince George, who was shortly after made a brigadier-general and peer. Nothing could surpass the indignation of the Duchess when she heard of this secret marriage. That it should be concealed from her while it was known to the Queen, showed conclusively that her power over Anne was gone. And, still further, she perceived that she was supplanted by a relative whom she had raised from obscurity. She now comprehended the great influence of Harley at court, and also the declining favor of her husband. It was a bitter reflection to the proud Duchess that the alienation of the Queen was the result of her own folly and pride rather than of royal capriciousness. She now paid no inconsiderable penalty for the neglect of her mistress and the gratification of her pride. Pride has ever been the chief cause of the downfall of royal favorites. It ruined Louvois, Wolsey, and Thomas Cromwell; it broke the chain which bound Louis XIV. to the imperious Montespan. It ever goes before destruction. The Duchess of Marlborough forgot that her friend Mrs. Morley was also her sovereign the Queen. She might have retained the Queen's favor to the end, in spite of political opinions; but she presumed too far on the ascendency which she had enjoyed for nearly thirty years. There is no height from which one may not fall; and it takes more ability to retain a proud position than to gain it. There are very few persons who are beyond the reach of envy and detraction; and the loftier the position one occupies, the more subtle, numerous, and desperate are one's secret enemies.
The Duchess was not, however, immediately "disgraced,"--as the expression is in reference to great people who lose favor at court. She still retained her offices and her apartments in the royal palace; she still had access to the Queen; she was still addressed as "my dear Mrs. Freeman." But Mrs. Masham had supplanted her; and Harley, through the influence of the new favorite, ruled at court. The disaffection which had long existed between the secretary of state and the lord treasurer deepened into absolute aversion. It became the aim of both ministers to ruin each other. The Queen now secretly sided with the Tories, although she had not the courage to quarrel openly with her powerful ministers, or with her former favorite. Nor was "the great breach" made public.
But the angry and disappointed Duchess gave vent to her wrath and vengeance in letters to her husband and in speech to Godolphin. She entreated them to avenge her quarrel. She employed spies about the Queen. She brought to bear her whole influence on the leaders of the Whigs. She prepared herself for an open conflict with her sovereign; for she saw clearly that the old relations of friendship and confidence between them would never return. A broken friendship is a broken jar; it may be mended, but never restored,--its glory has departed. And this is one of the bitterest experiences of life, on whomsoever the fault may be laid. The fault in this instance was on the side of the Duchess, and not on that of her patron. The arrogance and dictation of the favorite had become intolerable; it was as hard to bear as the insolence of a petted servant.
The Duke of Marlborough and Lord Godolphin took up the quarrel with zeal. They were both at the summit of power, and both were leaders of their party. The victories of the former had made him the most famous man in Europe and the greatest subject in England. They declined to serve their sovereign any longer, unless Harley were dismissed from office; and the able secretary of state was obliged to resign.
But Anne could not forget that she was forced to part with her confidential minister, and continued to be ruled by his counsels. She had secret nocturnal meetings in the palace with both Harley and Mrs. Masham, to the chagrin of the ministers. The court became the scene of intrigues and cabals. Not only was Harley dismissed, but also Henry St. John, afterwards the famous Lord Bolingbroke, the intimate friend and patron of Pope. He was secretary of war, and was a man of great ability, of more genius even than Harley. He was an infidel in his religious opinions, and profligate in his private life. Like Harley, he was born of Puritan parents, and, like him, repudiated his early principles. He was the most eloquent orator in the House of Commons, which he entered in 1700 as a Whig. At that time he was much admired by Marlborough, who used his influence to secure his entrance into the cabinet. His most remarkable qualities were political sagacity, and penetration into the motives and dispositions of men. He gradually went over to the Tories, and his alliance with Harley was strengthened by personal friendship as well as political sympathies. He was the most interesting man of his age in society,--witty, bright, and courtly. In conversational powers he was surpassed only by Swift.
Meanwhile the breach between the Queen and the Duchess gradually widened. And as the former grew cold in her treatment of her old friend, she at the same time annoyed her ministers by the appointment of Tory bishops to the vacant sees. She went so far as to encroach on the prerogatives of the general of her armies, by making military appointments without his consent. This interference Marlborough properly resented. But his influence was now on the wane, as the nation wearied of a war which, as it seemed to the Tories, he needlessly prolonged. Moreover, the Duke of Somerset, piqued by the refusal of the general to give a regiment to his son, withdrew his support from the Government. The Duke of Shrewsbury and other discontented noblemen left the Whig party. The unwise prosecution of Dr. Sacheverell for a seditious libel united the whole Tory party in a fierce opposition to the Government, which was becoming every day more unpopular. Harley was indefatigable in intrigues. "He fasted with religious zealots and feasted with convivial friends." He promised everything to everybody, but kept his own counsels.
In such a state of affairs, with the growing alienation of the Queen, it became necessary for the proud Duchess to resign her offices; but before doing this she made one final effort to regain what she had lost. She besought the Queen for a private interview, which was refused. Again importuned, her Majesty sullenly granted the interview, but refused to explain anything, and even abruptly left the room, and was so rude that the Duchess burst into a flood of tears which she could not restrain,--not tears of grief, but tears of wrath and shame.
Thus was finally ended the memorable friendship between Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman, which had continued for twenty-seven years. The Queen and Duchess never met again. Soon after, in 1710, followed the dismissal of Lord Godolphin, as lord treasurer, who was succeeded by Harley, created Earl of Oxford. Sunderland, too, was dismissed, and his post of secretary of state was given to St. John, created Viscount Bolingbroke. Lord Cowper resigned the seals, and Sir Simon Harcourt, an avowed adherent of the Pretender, became lord chancellor. The Earl of Rochester, the bitterest of all the Tories, was appointed president of the council. The Duke of Marlborough, however, was not dismissed from his high command until 1711. One reason for his dismissal was that he was suspected of aiming to make himself supreme. On his return from the battle of Malplaquet, he had coolly demanded to be made captain-general for life. Such a haughty demand would have been regarded as dangerous in a great crisis; it was absurd when public dangers had passed away. Even Lord Cowper. his friend the chancellor, shrunk from it with amazement. Such a demand would have been deemed arrogant in Wallenstein, amid the successes of Gustavus Adolphus.
No insignificant cause of the triumph of the Tory party at this time was the patronage which the Tory leaders extended to men of letters, and the bitter political tracts which these literary men wrote and for which they were paid. In that age the speeches of members of Parliament were not reported or published, and hence had but little influence on public opinion. Even ministers resorted to political tracts to sustain their power, or to undermine that of their opponents; and these were more efficient than speeches in the House of Commons. Bolingbroke was the most eloquent orator of his day; but no orators arose in Anne's reign equal to Pitt and Fox in the reign of George III. Hence the political leaders availed themselves of the writings of men of letters, with whom they freely associated. And this intercourse was deemed a great condescension on the part of nobles and cabinet ministers. In that age great men were not those who were famous for genius, but those who were exalted in social position. Still, genius was held in high honor by those who controlled public affairs, whenever it could be made subservient to their interests.
Foremost among the men of genius who lent their pen to the service of nobles and statesmen was Jonathan Swift,--clergyman, poet, and satirist. But he was more famous for his satire than for his sermons or his poetry. Everybody winced under his terrible assaults. He was both feared and hated, especially by the "great;" hence they flattered him and courted his society. He became the intimate friend and companion of Oxford and Bolingbroke. He dined with the prime minister every Sunday, and in fact as often as he pleased. He rarely dined at home, and almost lived in the houses of the highest nobles, who welcomed him not only for the aid he gave them by his writings, but for his wit and agreeable discourse. At one time he was the most influential man in England, although poor and without office or preferment. He possessed two or three livings in Ireland, which together brought him about £500, on which he lived,--generally in London, at least when his friends were in power. They could not spare him, and he was intrusted with the most important secrets of state. His insolence was superb. He affected equality with dukes and earls; he "condescended" to accept their banquets. The first time that Bolingbroke invited him to dine, his reply was that "if the Queen gave his lordship a dukedom and the Garter and the Treasury also, he would regard them no more than he would a groat." This assumed independence was the habit of his life. He indignantly returned £100 to Harley, which the minister had sent him as a gift: he did not work for money, but for influence and a promised bishopric. But the Queen--a pious woman of the conventional school--would never hear of his elevation to the bench of bishops, in consequence of the "Tale of a Tub," in which he had ridiculed everything sacred and profane. He was the bitterest satirist that England has produced. The most his powerful friends could do for him was to give him the deanery of St. Patrick's in Dublin, worth about £800 a year.
Swift was first brought to notice by Sir William Temple, in the reign of William and Mary, he being Sir William's secretary. At first he was a Whig, and a friend of Addison; but, neglected by Marlborough and Godolphin,--who cared but little for literary genius,--he became a Tory. In 1710 he became associated with Harley, St. John, Atterbury, and Prior, in the defence of the Tory party; but he never relinquished his friendship with Addison, for whom he had profound respect and admiration. Swift's life was worldly, but moral. He was remarkably temperate in eating and drinking, and parsimonious in his habits. One of his most bitter complaints in his letters to Stella--to whom he wrote every day--was of the expense of coach-hire in his visits to nobles and statesmen. It would seem that he creditably discharged his clerical duties. He attended the daily service in the cathedral, and preached when his turn came. He was charitable to the poor, and was a friend to Ireland, to whose people he rendered great services from his influence with the Government. He was beloved greatly by the Irish nation, in spite of his asperity, parsimony, and bad temper. He is generally regarded by critics as a selfish and heartless man; and his treatment of the two women whose affections he had gained was certainly inexplicable and detestable. His old age was miserable and sad. He died insane, having survived his friends and his influence. But his writings have lived. His "Gulliver's Travels" is still one of the most famous and popular books in our language, in spite of its revolting and vulgar details. Swift, like Addison, was a great master of style,--clear, forcible, and natural; and in vigor he surpassed any writer of his age.
It was the misfortune of the Duchess of Marlborough to have this witty and malignant satirist for an enemy. He exposed her peculiarities, and laid bare her character with fearless effrontery. It was thus that he attacked the most powerful woman in England: "A lady of my acquaintance appropriated £26 a year out of her allowance for certain uses which the lady received, or was to pay to the lady or her order when called for. But after eight years it appeared upon the strictest calculation that the woman had paid but £4, and sunk £22 for her own pocket. It is but supposing £26 instead of £26,000, and by that you may judge what the pretensions of modern merit are when it happens to be its own paymaster." Who could stand before such insinuations? The Duchess afterwards attempted to defend herself against the charge of peculation as the keeper of the privy purse; but no one believed her. She was notoriously avaricious and unscrupulous. Swift spared no personage in the party of the Whigs, when by so doing he could please the leaders of the Tories. And he wrote in an age when libels were scandalous and savage,--libels which would now subject their authors to punishment. The acrimony of party strife at that time has never since been equalled. Even poets attacked each other with savage recklessness. There was no criticism after the style of Sainte-Beuve. Writers sought either to annihilate or to extravagantly praise. The jealousy which poets displayed in reference to each other's productions was as unreasonable and bitter as the envy and strife between country doctors, or musicians at the opera.
There was one great writer in the age of Queen Anne who was an exception to this nearly universal envy and bitterness; and this was Addison, who was as serene and calm as other critics were furious and unjust. Even Swift spared this amiable and accomplished writer, although he belonged to the Whig party. Joseph Addison, born in 1672, was the most fortunate man of letters in his age,--perhaps in any succeeding age in English history. He was early distinguished as a writer of Latin poems; and in 1699, at the age of twenty-seven, the young scholar was sent by Montague, at the recommendation of Somers, to the Continent, on a pension of £300 a year, to study languages with a view to the diplomatic service. On the accession of Anne, Addison was obliged to return to literature for his support. Solicited by Godolphin, under the advice of Halifax, to write a poem on the victories of Marlborough, he wrote one so popular that he rapidly rose in favor with the Whig ministry. In 1708 he was made secretary for Ireland, under Lord Wharton, and entered Parliament. He afterwards was made secretary of state, married a peeress, and spent his last days at Holland House.
But Addison was no politician; nor did he distinguish himself in Parliament or as a political writer. He could not make a speech, not having been trained to debate. He was too timid, and his taste was too severe, for the arena of politicians. He is immortal for his essays, in which his humor is transcendent, and his style easy and graceful, As a writer, he is a great artist. No one has ever been able to equal him in the charming simplicity of his style. Macaulay, a great artist himself in the use of language, places Addison on the summit of literary excellence and fame as an essayist. One is at loss to comprehend why so quiet and unobtrusive a scholar should have been selected for important political positions, but can easily understand why he was the admiration of the highest social circles for his wit and the elegance of his conversation. He was the personification of urbanity and every gentlemanly quality, as well as one of the best scholars of his age; but it was only in an aristocratic age, when a few great nobles controlled public affairs, that such a man could have been so recognized, rewarded, and honored. He died beloved and universally lamented, and his writings are still classics, and likely to remain so. He was not an oracle in general society, like Mackintosh and Macaulay; but among congenial and trusted friends he gave full play to his humor, and was as charming as Washington Irving is said to have been in his chosen circle of admirers. Although he was a Whig, we do not read of any particular intimacy with such men as Marlborough and Godolphin. Marlborough, though an accomplished and amiable man, was not fond of the society of wits, as were Halifax, Montague, Harley, and St. John. As for the Duchess, she was too proud and grand for such a retired scholar as Addison to feel at ease in her worldly coteries. She cared no more for poetry or severe intellectual culture than politicians generally do. She shone only in a galaxy of ladies of rank and fashion. I do not read that she ever took a literary man into her service, and she had no more taste for letters than the sovereign she served. She was doubtless intellectual, shrewd, and discriminating; but her intellect was directed to current political movements, and she was coarse in her language. She would swear, like Queen Elizabeth, when excited to anger, and her wrath was terrible.
On the dismissal of the great Duke from all his offices, and the "disgrace" of his wife at court, they led a comparatively quiet life abroad. The Duchess had parted with her offices with great reluctance. Even when the Queen sent for the golden keys, which were the badge of her office, she refused to surrender them. No one could do anything with the infuriated termagant, and all were afraid of her. She threatened to print the private correspondence of the Queen as Mrs. Morley. The ministers dared not go into her presence, so fierce was her character when offended. To take from her the badge of office was like trying to separate a fierce lioness from her whelps. The only person who could manage her was her husband; and when at last he compelled her to give up the keys, she threw them in a storm of passion at his head, and raved like a maniac. It is amazing how the Queen could have borne so long with the Duchess's ungovernable temper, and still more so how her husband could. But he was always mild and meek in the retirement of his home,--a truly domestic man, to whom pomp was a weariness. Moreover, he was a singularly fortunate man. His ambition and pride and avarice were gratified beyond precedent in English history. He had become the foremost man in his country, and perhaps of his age. And his wife was still looked to as a great personage, not only because of her position and rank, but for her abilities, which were doubtless great. She was still a power in the land, and was surrounded by children and grandchildren who occupied some of the highest social positions in England.
But she was not happy. What can satisfy a restless and ambitious woman whose happiness is in external pleasures? There is a limit to the favors which fortune showers; and when the limits of success are reached, there must be disappointment. The Duchess was discontented, and became morose, quarrelsome, and hard to please. Her children did not love her, and some were in bitter opposition to her. She was perpetually embroiled in family quarrels. Nothing could soften the asperity of her temper, or restrain her unreasonable exactions. At last England became hateful to her, and she and her husband quitted it, and resided abroad for several years. In the retirement of voluntary exile she answered the numerous accusations against her; for she was maligned on every side, and generally disliked, since her arrogance had become insupportable, even to her daughters.
Meanwhile the last days of Queen Anne's weary existence were drawing to a close. She was assailed with innumerable annoyances. Her body was racked with the gout, and her feeble mind was distracted by the contradictory counsels of her advisers. Any allusion to her successor was a knell of agony to her disturbed soul. She became suspicious, and was even alienated from Harley, whom she dismissed from office only a few days before her death, which took place Aug. 1, 1714. She died without signing her will, by which omission Mrs. Masham was deprived of her legacy. She died childless, and the Elector George of Hanover ascended her throne.
On the death of the Queen, Marlborough returned to England; and it was one of the first acts of the new king to restore to him the post of captain-general of the land forces, while his son-in-law Sunderland was made lord-lieutenant of Ireland. A Whig cabinet was formed, but the Duke never regained his old political influence, and he gradually retired to private life, residing with the Duchess almost wholly at Holywell. His peaceful retirement, for which he had longed, came at last. He employed his time in surveying the progress of the building of Blenheim,--in which palace he was never destined to live,--and in simple pleasures, for which he never lost a taste. His wife occupied herself in matrimonial projects for her grandchildren, seeking alliances of ambition and interest.
In 1716 the Duke of Marlborough was attacked with a paralytic fit, from the effects of which he only partially recovered. To restore his health, he went to Bath,--then the fashionable and favorite watering-place, whose waters were deemed beneficial to invalids; and here it was one of the scandals of the day that the rich nobleman would hobble from the public room to his lodgings, in a cold, dark night, to save sixpence in coach-hire. His enjoyments were now few and transient. His nervous system was completely shattered, after so many labors and exposures in his numerous campaigns. He lingered till 1722, when he died leaving a fortune of a million and a half pounds sterling, besides his vast estates. No subject at that time had so large an income. He left a military fame never surpassed in England,--except by Wellington,--and a name unstained by cruelty. So distinguished a man of course received at his death unparalleled funeral honors. He was followed to his temporary resting-place in the vaults of Westminster by the most imposing procession that England had ever seen.
The Duchess of Marlborough was now the richest woman in England. Whatever influence proceeds from rank and riches she still possessed, though the titles and honors of the dukedom descended by act of Parliament, in 1706, to the Countess of Godolphin, with whom she was at war. The Duchess was now sixty-two, with unbroken health and inextinguishable ambition. She resided chiefly at Windsor Lodge, for she held for life the office of ranger of the forest. It was then that she was so severely castigated by Pope in his satirical lines on "Atossa," that she is said to have sent £1000 to the poet, to suppress the libel,--her avarice and wrath giving way to her policy and pride. For twenty years after the death of her husband she continued an intriguing politician, but on ill-terms with Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister, whom she cordially hated, more because of money transactions than political disagreement. She was a very disagreeable old woman, yet not without influence, if she was without friends. She had at least the merit of frankness, for she concealed none of her opinions of the King, nor of his ministers, nor of distinguished nobles. She was querulous, and full of complaints and exactions. One of her bitterest complaints was that she was compelled to pay taxes on her house in Windsor Park. She would even utter her complaints before servants. Litigation was not disagreeable to her if she had reason on her side, whether she had law or not.
It was not the good fortune of this strong-minded but unhappy woman to assemble around her in her declining years children and grandchildren who were attached to her. She had alienated even them. She had no intimate friends. "A woman not beloved by her own children can have but little claim to the affections of others." As we have already said, the Duchess was at open variance with her oldest daughter Henrietta, the Countess of Godolphin, to whom she was never reconciled. Her quarrels with her granddaughter Lady Anne Egerton, afterwards Duchess of Bedford, were violent and incessant. She lived in perpetual altercation with her youngest daughter, the Duchess of Montague. She never was beloved by any of her children at any time, since they were in childhood and youth intrusted to the care of servants and teachers, while the mother was absorbed in political cabals at court. She consulted their interest merely in making for them grand alliances, to gratify her family pride. Her whole life was absorbed in pride and ambition. Nor did the mortification of a dishonored old age improve her temper. She sought neither the consolation of religion nor the intellectual stimulus of history and philosophy. To the last she was as worldly as she was morose. To the last she was a dissatisfied politician. She reviled the Whig administration of Walpole as fiercely as she did the Tory administration of Oxford. She haughtily refused the Order of the Bath for her grandson the Duke of Marlborough, which Walpole offered, contented with nothing less than the Garter. "Madam," replied Walpole, "they who take the Bath will sooner have the Garter." In her old age her ruling passion was hatred of Walpole. "I think," she wrote, "'tis thought wrong to wish anybody dead, but I hope 'tis none to wish he may be hanged." Her wishes were partly gratified, for she lived long enough to see this great statesman--so long supreme--driven to the very threshold of the Tower. For his son Horace she had equal dislike, and he returned her hatred with malignant satire. "Old Marlborough is dying," said the wit; "but who can tell? Last year she had lain a great while ill, without speaking, and her physician told her that she must be blistered, or she would die. She cried out, 'I won't be blistered, and I won't die,'"
She did indeed last some time longer; but with increasing infirmities, her amusements and pleasures became yearly more circumscribed. In former years she had sometimes occupied her mind with the purchase of land; for she was shrewd, and rarely made a bad bargain. Even at the age of eighty she went to the city to bid in person for the estate of Lord Yarmouth. But as her darkened day approached its melancholy close, she amused herself by dictating in bed her "Vindication," After spending thus six hours daily with her secretary, she had recourse to her chamber organ, the eight tunes of which she thought much better to hear than going to the Italian opera. Even society, in which she once shone,--for her intellect was bright and her person beautiful,--at last wearied her and gave her no pleasure. Like many lonely, discontented women, she became attached to animals; she petted three dogs, in which she saw virtues that neither men nor women possessed. In her disquiet she often changed her residence. She went from Marlborough House to Windsor Lodge, and from Windsor Lodge to Wimbledon, only to discover that each place was damp and unhealthy. Wrapt up in flannels, and wheeled up and down her room in a chair, she discovered that wealth can only mitigate the evils of humanity, and realized how wretched is any person with a soul filled with discontent and bitterness, when animal spirits are destroyed by the infirmities of old age. All the views of this spoiled favorite of fortune were bounded by the scenes immediately before her. While she was not sceptical, she was far from being religious; and hence she was deprived of the highest consolations given to people in disappointment and sorrow and neglect. The older she grew, the more tenaciously did she cling to temporal possessions, and the more keenly did she feel occasional losses. Her intellect remained unclouded, but her feelings became callous. While she had no reverence for the dead, she felt increasing contempt for the living,--forgetting that no one, however exalted, can live at peace in an atmosphere of disdain.
At last she died, in 1744, unlamented and unloved, in the eighty-fourth year of her age, and was interred by the side of her husband, in the tomb in the chapel of Blenheim. She left £30,000 a year to her grandson, Lord John Spencer, provided he would never accept any civil or military office from the Government. She left also £20,000 to Lord Chesterfield, together with her most valuable diamond; but only small sums to most of her relatives or to charities. The residue of her property she left to that other grandson who inherited the title and estates of her husband. £60,000 a year, her estimated income, besides a costly collection of jewels,--one of the most valuable in Europe,--were a great property, when few noblemen at that time had over £30,000 a year.
The life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, is a sad one to contemplate, with all her riches and honors. Let those who envy wealth or rank learn from her history how little worldly prosperity can secure happiness or esteem, without the solid virtues of the heart. The richest and most prosperous woman of her times was the object of blended derision, contempt, and hatred throughout the land which she might have adorned. Why, then, it may be asked, should I single out such a woman for a lecture,--a woman who added neither to human happiness, national prosperity, nor the civilization of her age? Why have I chosen her as one of the Beacon Lights of history? Because I know of no woman who has filled so exalted a position in society, and is so prominent a figure in history, whose career is a more impressive warning of the dangers to be shunned by those who embark on the perilous and troubled seas of mere worldly ambition. God gave her that to which she aspired, and which so many envy; but "He sent leanness into her soul."
Private Correspondence of the Duchess of Marlborough; Mrs. Thompson's Life of the Duchess of Marlborough; "Conduct," by the Duchess of Marlborough, Life of Dr. Tillotson, by Dr. Birch; Coxe's Life of the Duke of Marlborough; Evelyn's Diary; Lord Mahon's History of England; Macaulay's History of England; Lewis Jenkin's Memoirs of the Duke of Gloucester; Burnet's History of his own Times; Lamberty's Memoirs; Swift's Journal to Stella; Liddiard's Life of the Duke of Marlborough; Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne; Swift's Memoir of the Queen's Ministry; Cunningham's History of Great Britain; Walpole's Correspondence, edited by Coxe; Sir Walter Scott's Life of Swift; Agnes Strickland's Queens of England; Marlborough and the Times of Queen Anne; Westminster Review, lvi. 26; Dublin University Review, lxxiv. 469; Temple Bar Magazine, lii. 333; Burton's Reign of Queen Anne; Stanhope's Queen Anne.
Lectures by John Lord
Thirty-five years ago, inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer, and little more than fresh out of high school, I wrote a Regency Romance novel entitled, A Very Merry Chase, which I finally published last year.  Then and now history in all it’s forms was my first love–especially women’s history. These days I have two degrees in history; however a graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. Thus, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
 Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of the Regency Romance novel, A Very Merry Chase
Founder of The LadyWeb Family Of Informational & Educational Websites
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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A. D. 1515-1582.

I have already painted in Cleopatra, to the best of my ability, the Pagan woman of antiquity, revelling in the pleasures of vanity and sensuality, with a feeble moral sense, and without any distinct recognition of God or of immortality. The genius of Paganism was simply the deification of the Venus Polyhymnia,--the adornment and pleasure of what is perishable in man. It directed all the energies of human nature to the pampering and decorating of this mortal body, not believing that the mind and soul which animate it, and which are the sources of all its glory, would ever live beyond the grave. A few sages believed differently,--men who rose above the spirit of Paganism, but not such men as Alexander, or Caesar, or Antony, the foremost men of all the world in grand ambitions and successes. Taking it for granted that this world is the only theatre for enjoyment, or action, or thought, men naturally said, "Let us eat and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die." And hence no higher life was essayed than that which furnished sensual enjoyments, or incited an ambition to be strong and powerful. Of course, riches were sought above everything, since these furnished the means of gratifying those pleasures which were most valued, or stimulating that vanity whose essence is self-idolatry.
With this universal rush of humanity after pleasures which centred in the body, the soul was left dishonored and uncared for, except by a few philosophers. I do not now speak of the mind, for there were intellectual pleasures derived from conversation, books, and works of art. And some called the mind divine, in distinction from matter; some speculated on the nature of each, and made mind and matter in perpetual antagonism, as the good and evil forces of the universe. But the prevailing opinion was that the whole man perished, or became absorbed in the elemental forces of nature, or reappeared again in new forms upon the earth, to expiate those sins of which human nature is conscious. To some men were given longings after immortality, not absolute convictions,--men like Plato, Socrates, and Cicero. But I do not speak of these illustrious exceptions; I mean the great mass of the people, especially the rich and powerful and pleasure-seeking,--those whose supreme delight was in banquets, palaces, or intoxicating excitements, like chariot-racings and gladiatorial shows; yea, triumphal processions to raise the importance of the individual self, and stimulate vanity and pride.
Hence Paganism put a small value, comparatively, on even intellectual enjoyments. It cultivated those arts which appealed to the senses more than to the mind; it paid dearly for any sort of intellectual training which could be utilized,--oratory, for instance, to enable a lawyer to gain a case, or a statesman to control a mob; it rewarded those poets who could sing blended praises to Bacchus and Venus, or who could excite the passions at the theatre. But it paid still higher prices to athletes and dancers, and almost no price at all to those who sought to stimulate a love of knowledge for its own sake,--men like Socrates, for example, who walked barefooted, and lived on fifty dollars a year, and who at last was killed out of pure hatred for the truths he told and the manner in which he told them,--this martyrdom occurring in the most intellectual city of the world. In both Greece and Rome there was an intellectual training for men bent on utilitarian ends; even as we endow schools of science and technology to enable us to conquer nature, and to become strong and rich and comfortable; but there were no schools for women, whose intellects were disdained, and who were valued only as servants or animals,--either to drudge, or to please the senses.
But even if there were some women in Paganism of high mental education,--if women sometimes rose above their servile condition by pure intellect, and amused men by their wit and humor,--still their souls were little thought of. Now, it is the soul of woman--not her mind, and still less her body--which elevates her, and makes her, in some important respects, the superior of man himself. He has dominion over her by force of will, intellect, and physical power. When she has dominion over him, it is by those qualities which come from her soul,--her superior nature, greater than both mind and body. Paganism never recognized the superior nature, especially in woman,--that which must be fed, even in this world, or there will be constant unrest and discontent. And inasmuch as Paganism did not feed it, women were unhappy, especially those who had great capacities. They may have been comfortable, but they were not contented.
Hence, women made no great advance either in happiness or in power, until Christianity revealed the greatness of the soul, its perpetual longings, its infinite capacities, and its future satisfactions. The spiritual exercises of the soul then became the greatest source of comfort amid those evils which once ended in despair. With every true believer, the salvation of so precious a thing necessarily became the end of life, for Christianity taught that the soul might be lost. In view of the soul's transcendent value, therefore, the pleasures of the body became of but little account in comparison. Riches are good, power is desirable; eating and drinking are very pleasant; praise, flattery, admiration,--all these things delight us, and under Paganism were sought and prized. But Christianity said, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Christianity, then, set about in earnest to rescue this soul which Paganism had disregarded. In consequence of this, women began to rise, and shine in a new light. They gained a new charm, even moral beauty,--yea, a new power, so that they could laugh at ancient foes, and say triumphantly, when those foes sought to crush them, "O Grave, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?" There is no beauty among women like this moral beauty, whose seat is in the soul. It is not only a radiance, but it is a defence: it protects women from the wrath and passion of men. With glory irradiating every feature, it says to the boldest, Thus far shalt thou come and no farther. It is a benediction to the poor and a welcome to the rich. It shines with such unspeakable loveliness, so rich in blessing and so refined in ecstasy, that men gaze with more than admiration, even with sentiments bordering on that adoration which the Middle Ages felt for the mother of our Lord, and which they also bestowed upon departed saints. In the immortal paintings of Raphael and Murillo we get some idea of this moral beauty, which is so hard to copy.
So woman passed gradually from contempt and degradation to the veneration of men, when her soul was elevated by the power which Paganism never knew. But Christianity in the hands of degenerate Romans and Gothic barbarians made many mistakes in its efforts to save so priceless a thing as a human soul. Among other things, it instituted monasteries and convents, both for men and women, in which they sought to escape the contaminating influences which had degraded them. If Paganism glorified the body, monasticism despised it. In the fierce protests against the peculiar sins which had marked Pagan life,--gluttony, wine-drinking, unchastity, ostentatious vanities, and turbulent mirth,--monasticism decreed abstinence, perpetual virginity, the humblest dress, the entire disuse of ornaments, silence, and meditation. These were supposed to disarm the demons who led into foul temptation. Moreover, monasticism encouraged whatever it thought would make the soul triumphant over the body, almost independent of it. Whatever would feed the soul, it said, should be sought, and whatever would pamper the body should be avoided.
As a natural consequence of all this, piety gradually came to seek its most congenial home in monastic retreats, and to take on a dreamy, visionary, and introspective mood. The "saints" saw visions of both angels and devils, and a superstitious age believed in their revelations. The angels appeared to comfort and sustain the soul in temptations and trials, and the devils came to pervert and torment it. Good judgment and severe criticism were lost to the Church; and, moreover, the gloomy theology of the Middle Ages, all based on the fears of endless physical torments,--for the wretched body was the source of all evil, and therefore must be punished,--gave sometimes a repulsive form to piety itself. Intellectually, that piety now excites our contempt, because it was so much mixed up with dreams and ecstasies and visions and hallucinations. It produces a moral aversion also, because it was austere, inhuman, and sometimes cruel. Both monks and nuns, when they conformed to the rules of their order, were sad, solitary, dreary-looking people, although their faces shone occasionally in the light of ecstatic visions of heaven and the angels.
But whatever mistakes monasticism made, however repulsive the religious life of the Middle Ages,--in fact, all its social life,--still it must be admitted that the aim of the time was high. Men and women were enslaved by superstitions, but they were not Pagan. Our own age is, in some respects, more Pagan than were the darkest times of mediaeval violence and priestly despotism, since we are reviving the very things against which Christianity protested as dangerous and false,--the pomps, the banquets, the ornaments, the arts of the old Pagan world.
Now, all this is preliminary to what I have to say of Saint Theresa. We cannot do justice to this remarkable woman without considering the sentiments of her day, and those circumstances that controlled her. We cannot properly estimate her piety--that for which she was made a saint in the Roman calendar--without being reminded of the different estimate which Paganism and Christianity placed upon the soul, and consequently the superior condition of women in our modern times. Nor must we treat lightly or sneeringly that institution which was certainly one of the steps by which women rose in the scale both of religious and social progress. For several ages nuns were the only charitable women, except queens and princesses, of whom we have record. But they were drawn to their calm retreats, not merely to serve God more effectually, nor merely to perform deeds of charity, but to study. As we have elsewhere said, the convents in those days were schools no less than asylums and hospitals, and were especially valued for female education. However, in these retreats religion especially became a passion. There was a fervor in it which in our times is unknown. It was not a matter of opinion, but of faith. In these times there may be more wisdom, but in the Middle Ages there was more zeal and more unselfishness and more intensity,--all which is illustrated by the sainted woman I propose to speak of.
Saint Theresa was born at Avila, in Castile, in the year 1515, at the close of the Middle Ages; but she really belonged to the Middle Ages, since all the habits, customs, and opinions of Spain at that time were mediaeval. The Reformation never gained a foothold in Spain. None of its doctrines penetrated that country, still less modified or changed its religious customs, institutions, or opinions. And hence Saint Theresa virtually belonged to the age of Bernard, and Anselm, and Elizabeth of Hungary. She was of a good family as much distinguished for virtues as for birth. Both her father and mother were very religious and studious, reading good books, and practising the virtues which Catholicism ever enjoined,--alms-giving to the poor, and kindness to the sick and infirm,--truthful, chaste, temperate, and God-fearing. They had twelve children, all good, though Theresa seems to have been the favorite, from her natural sprightliness and enthusiasm. Among the favorite books of the Middle Ages were the lives of saints and martyrs; and the history of these martyrs made so great an impression on the mind of the youthful Theresa that she and one of her brothers meditated a flight into Africa that they might be put to death by the Moors, and thus earn the crown of martyrdom, as well as the eternal rewards in heaven which martyrdom was supposed to secure. This scheme being defeated by their parents, they sought to be hermits in the garden which belonged to their house, playing the part of monks and nuns.
At eleven, Theresa lost her mother, and took to reading romances, which, it seems, were books of knight-errantry, at the close of the chivalric period. These romances were innumerable, and very extravagant and absurd, and were ridiculed by Cervantes, half-a-century afterwards, in his immortal "Don Quixote." Although Spain was mediaeval in its piety in the sixteenth century, this was the period of its highest intellectual culture, especially in the drama. De Vega and Cervantes were enough of themselves to redeem Spain from any charges of intellectual stupidity. But for the Inquisition, and the Dominican monks, and the Jesuits, and the demoralization which followed the conquests of Cortés and Pizarro, Spain might have rivalled Germany, France, and England in the greatness of her literature. At this time there must have been considerable cultivation among the class to which Theresa belonged.
Although she never was sullied by what are called mortal sins, it would appear that as a girl of fourteen Theresa was, like most other girls, fond of dress and perfumes and ornaments, elaborate hair-dressing, and of anything which would make the person attractive. Her companions also were gay young ladies of rank, as fond of finery as she was, whose conversation was not particularly edifying, but whose morals were above reproach. Theresa was sent to a convent in her native town by her father, that she might be removed from the influence of gay companions, especially her male cousins, who could not be denied the house. At first she was quite unhappy, finding the convent dull, _triste_, and strict. I cannot conceive of a convent being a very pleasant place for a worldly young lady, in any country or in any age of the world. Its monotony and routine and mechanical duties must ever have been irksome. The pleasing manners and bright conversation of Theresa caused the nuns to take an unusual interest in her; and one of them in particular exercised a great influence upon her, so that she was inclined at times to become a nun herself, though not of a very strict order, since she was still fond of the pleasures of the world.
At sixteen, Theresa's poor health made it necessary for her to return to her father's house. When she recovered she spent some time with her uncle, afterwards a monk, who made her read good books, and impressed upon her the vanity of the world. In a few months she resolved to become a nun,--out of servile fear rather than love, as she avers. The whole religious life of the Middle Ages was based on fear,--the fear of being tortured forever by devils and hell. So universal and powerful was this fear that it became the leading idea of the age, from which very few were ever emancipated. On this idea were based the excommunications, the interdicts, and all the spiritual weapons by which the clergy ruled the minds of the people. On this their ascendency rested; they would have had but little power without it. It was therefore their interest to perpetuate it. And as they ruled by exciting fears, so they themselves were objects of fear rather than of love.
All this tended to make the Middle Ages gloomy, funereal, repulsive, austere. There was a time when I felt a sort of poetic interest in these dark times, and called them ages of faith; but the older I grow, and the more I read and reflect, the more dreary do those ages seem to me. Think of a state of society when everything suggested wrath and vengeance, even in the character of God, and when this world was supposed to be under the dominion of devils! Think of an education which impressed on the minds of interesting young girls that the trifling sins which they committed every day, and which proceeded from the exuberance of animal spirits, justly doomed them to everlasting burnings, without expiations,--a creed so cruel as to undermine the health, and make life itself a misery! Think of a spiritual despotism so complete that confessors and spiritual fathers could impose or remove these expiations, and thus open the door to heaven or hell!
And yet this despotism was the logical result of a generally accepted idea, instead of the idea being an outgrowth of the despotism, since the clergy, who controlled society by working on its fears, were themselves as complete victims and slaves as the people whom they led. This idea was that the soul would be lost unless sins were expiated, and expiated by self-inflicted torments on the body. Paul taught a more cheerful doctrine of forgiveness, based on divine and infinite love,--on faith and repentance. The Middle Ages also believed in repentance, but taught that repentance and penance were synonymous. The asceticism of the Church in its conflict with Paganism led to this perversion of apostolic theology. The very idea that Christianity was sent to subvert,--that is, the old Oriental idea of self-expiation, seen among the fakirs and sofis and Brahmins alike, and in a less repulsive form among the Pharisees,--became once again the ruling idea of theologians. The theologians of the Middle Ages taught this doctrine of penance and self-expiation with peculiar zeal and sincerity; and fear rather than love ruled the Christian world. Hence the austerity of convent life. Its piety centred in the perpetual crucifixion of the body, in the suppression of desires and pleasures which are perfectly innocent. The highest ideal of Christian life, according to convent rules, was a living and protracted martyrdom, and in some cases even the degradation of our common humanity. Christianity nowhere enjoins the eradication of passions and appetites, but the control of them. It would not mutilate and disfigure the body, for it is a sacred temple, to be made beautiful and attractive. On the other hand the Middle Ages strove to make the body appear repulsive, and the most loathsome forms of misery and disease to be hailed as favorite modes of penance. And as Christ suffered agonies on the cross, so the imitation of Christ was supposed to be a cheerful and ready acceptance of voluntary humiliation and bodily torments,--the more dreadful to bear, the more acceptable to Deity as a propitiation for sin. Is this statement denied? Read the biographies of the saints of the Middle Ages. See how penance, and voluntary suffering, and unnecessary exposure of the health, and eager attention to the sick in loathsome and contagious diseases, and the severest and most protracted fastings and vigils, enter into their piety; and how these extorted popular admiration, and received the applause and rewards of the rulers of the Church. I never read a book which left on my mind such repulsive impressions of mediaeval piety as the Life of Catherine of Sienna, by her confessor,--himself one of the great ecclesiastical dignitaries of the age. I never read anything so debasing and degrading to our humanity. One turns with disgust from the narration of her lauded penances.
So we see in the Church of the Middle Ages--the Church of Saint Theresa--two great ideas struggling for the mastery, yet both obscured and perverted: faith in a crucified Redeemer, which gave consolation and hope; and penance, rather than repentance, which sought to impose the fetters of the ancient spiritual despotisms. In the early Church, faith and repentance went hand in hand together to conquer the world, and to introduce joy and peace and hope among believers. In the Middle Ages, faith was divorced from repentance, and took penance instead as a companion,--an old enemy; so that there was discord in the Christian camp, and fears returned, and joys were clouded. Sometimes faith prevailed over penance, as in the monastery of Bec, where Anselm taught a cheerful philosophy,--or in the monastery of Clairvaux, where Bernard lived in seraphic ecstasies, his soul going out in love and joy; and then again penance prevailed, as in those grim retreats where hard inquisitors inflicted their cruel torments. But penance, on the whole, was the ruling power, and cast over society its funereal veil of dreariness and fear. Yet penance, enslaving as it was, still clung to the infinite value of the soul, the grandest fact in all revelations, and hence society did not relax into Paganism. Penance would save the soul, though surrounding it with gloom, maceration, heavy labors, bitter tears, terrible anxieties. The wearied pilgrim, the isolated monk, the weeping nun, the groaning peasant, the penitent baron, were not thrown into absolute despair, since there was a possibility of appeasing divine wrath, and since they all knew that Christ had died in order to save some,--yea, all who conformed to the direction of those spiritual guides which the Church and the age imposed.
Such was Catholic theology when Theresa--an enthusiastic, amiable, and virtuous girl of sixteen, but at one time giddy and worldly--wished to enter a convent for the salvation of her soul. She says she was influenced _by servile fear_, and not by love. It is now my purpose to show how this servile fear was gradually subdued by divine grace, and how she became radiant with _love_,--in short, an emancipated woman, in all the glorious liberty of the gospel of Christ; although it was not until she had passed through a most melancholy experience of bondage to the leading ideas of her Church and age. It is this emancipation which made her one of the great women of history, not complete and entire, but still remarkable, especially for a Spanish woman. It was love casting out fear.
After a mental struggle of three months, Theresa resolved to become a nun. But her father objected, partly out of his great love for her, and partly on account of her delicate and fragile body. Her health had always been poor: she was subject to fainting fits and burning fevers. Whether her father, at last, consented to her final retirement from the world I do not discover from her biography; but, with his consent or without it, she entered the convent and assumed the religious habit,--not without bitter pangs on leaving her home, for she did violence to her feelings, having no strong desire for monastic seclusion, and being warmly attached to her father. Neither love to God nor a yearning after monastic life impelled the sacrifice, as she admits, but a perverted conscience. She felt herself in danger of damnation for her sins, and wished to save her soul, and knew no other way than to enter upon the austerities of the convent, which she endured with remarkable patience and submission, suffering not merely from severities to which she was unaccustomed, but great illness in consequence of them. A year was passed in protracted miseries, amounting to martyrdom, from fainting fits, heart palpitations, and other infirmities of the body. The doctors could do nothing for her, and her father was obliged to order her removal to a more healthful monastery, where no vows of enclosure were taken.
And there she remained a year, with no relief to her sufferings for three months. Her only recreation was books, which fortified her courage. She sought instruction, but found no one who could instruct her so as to give repose to her struggling soul. She endeavored to draw her thoughts from herself by reading. She could not even pray without a book. She was afraid to be left alone with herself. Her situation was made still worse by the fact that her superiors did not understand her. When they noticed that she sought solitude, and shed tears for her sins, they fancied she had a discontented disposition, and added to her unhappiness by telling her so. But she conformed to all the rules, irksome or not, and endured every mortification, and even performed acts of devotion which were not required. She envied the patience of a poor woman who died of the most painful ulcers, and thought it would be a blessing if she could be afflicted in the same way, in order, as she said, to purchase eternal good. And this strange desire was fulfilled, for a severe and painful malady afflicted her for three years.
Again was she removed to some place for cure, for her case was desperate. And here her patience was supernal. Yet patience under bodily torments did not give the sought-for peace. It happened that a learned ecclesiastic of noble family lived in this place, and she sought relief in confessions to him. With a rare judgment and sense, and perhaps pride and delicacy, she disliked to confess to ignorant priests. She said that the half-learned did her more harm than good. The learned were probably more lenient to her, and more in sympathy with her, and assured her that those sins were only venial which she had supposed were mortal. But she soon was obliged to give up this confessor, since he began to confess to her, and to confess sins in comparison with which the sins she confessed were venial indeed. He not only told her of his slavery to a bad woman, but confessed a love for Theresa herself, which she of course repelled, though not with the aversion she ought to have felt. It seems that her pious talk was instrumental in effecting his deliverance from a base bondage. He soon after died, and piously, she declared; so that she considered it certain that his soul was saved.
Theresa remained three months in this place, in most grievous sufferings, for the remedy was worse than the disease. Again her father took her home, since all despaired of her recovery, her nervous system being utterly shattered, and her pains incessant by day and by night; the least touch was a torment. At last she sank into a state of insensibility from sheer exhaustion, so that she was supposed to be dying, even to be dead; and her grave was dug, and the sacrament of extreme unction was administered. She rallied from this prostration, however, and returned to the convent, though in a state of extreme weakness, and so remained for eight months. For three years she was a cripple, and could move about only on all-fours; but she was resigned to the will of God.
It was then, amid the maladies of her body, that she found relief to her over-burdened soul in prayer. She no longer prayed with a book, mechanically and by rote, but mentally, with earnestness, and with the understanding. And she prayed directly to God Almighty, and thereby came, she says, to love Him. And with prayer came new virtues. She now ceases to speak ill of people, and persuades others to cease from all detractions, so that absent people are safe. She speaks of God as her heavenly physician, who alone could cure her. She now desires, not sickness to show her patience, but health in order to serve God better. She begins to abominate those forms and ceremonies to which so many were slavishly devoted, and which she regards as superstitious. But she has drawbacks and relapses, and is pulled back by temptations and vanities, so that she is ashamed to approach God with that familiarity which frequent prayer requires. Then she fears hell, which she thinks she deserves. She has not yet reached the placidity of a pardoned soul. Perfection is very slow to be reached, and that is what the Middle Ages required in order to exorcise the fears of divine wrath. Not, however, until these fears are exorcised can there be the liberty of the gospel or the full triumph of love.
Thus for several years Theresa passed a miserable life, since the more she prayed the more she realized her faults; and these she could not correct, because her soul was not a master, but a slave. She was drawn two ways, in opposite directions. She made good resolutions, but failed to keep them; and then there was a deluge of tears,--the feeling that she was the weakest and wickedest of all creatures. For nearly twenty years she passed through this tempestuous sea, between failings and risings, enjoying neither the sweetness of God nor the pleasures of the world. But she did not lose the courage of applying herself to mental prayer. This fortified her; this was her stronghold; this united her to God. She was persuaded if she persevered in this, whatever sin she might commit, or whatever temptation might be presented, that, in the end, her Lord would bring her safe to the port of salvation. So she prayed without ceasing. She especially insisted on the importance of mental prayer (which is, I suppose, what is called holy meditation) as a sort of treaty of friendship with her Lord. At last she feels that the Lord assists her, in His great love, and she begins to trust in Him. She declares that prayer is the gate through which the Lord bestows upon her His favors; and it is only through this that any comfort comes. Then she begins to enjoy sermons, which once tormented her, whether good or bad, so long as God is spoken of, for she now loves Him; and she cannot hear too much of Him she loves. She delights to see her Lord's picture, since it aids her to see Him inwardly, and to feel that He is always near her, which is her constant desire.
About this time the "Confessions of Saint Augustine" were put into Theresa's hands,--one of the few immortal books which are endeared to the heart of Christians. This book was a comfort and enlightenment to her, she thinking that the Lord would forgive her, as He did those saints who had been great sinners, because He loved them. When she meditated on the conversion of Saint Augustine,--how he heard the voice in the garden,--it seemed to her that the Lord equally spoke to her, and thus she was filled with gratitude and joy. After this, her history is the enumeration of the favors which God gave her, and of the joys of prayer, which seemed to her to be the very joys of heaven. She longs more and more for her divine Spouse, to whom she is spiritually wedded. She pants for Him as the hart pants for the water-brook. She cannot be separated from Him; neither death nor hell can separate her from His love. He is infinitely precious to her,--He is chief among ten thousand. She blesses His holy name. In her exceeding joy she cries, "O Lord of my soul, O my eternal Good!" In her ecstasy she sings,--
"Absent from Thee, my Saviour dear! I call not life this living here. Ah, Lord I my light and living breath, Take me, oh, take me from this death And burst the bars that sever me From my true life above! Think how I die Thy face to see, And cannot live away from Thee, O my Eternal Love!"
Thus she composes canticles and dries her tears, feeling that the love of God does not consist in these, but in serving Him with fidelity and devotion. She is filled with the graces of humility, and praises God that she is permitted to speak of things relating to Him. She is filled also with strength, since it is He who strengthens her. She is perpetually refreshed, since she drinks from a divine fountain. She is in a sort of trance of delight from the enjoyment of divine blessings. Her soul is elevated to rapture. She feels that her salvation, through grace, is assured. She no longer has fear of devils or of hell, since with an everlasting love she is beloved; and her lover is Christ. She has broken the bondage of the Middle Ages, and she has broken it by prayer. She is an emancipated woman, and can now afford to devote herself to practical duties. She visits the sick, she dispenses charities, she gives wise counsels; for with all her visionary piety she has good sense in the things of the world, and is as practical as she is spiritual and transcendental.
And all this in the midst of visions. I will not dwell on these visions, the weak point in her religious life, though they are visions of beauty, not of devils, of celestial spirits who came to comfort her, and who filled her soul with joy and peace.
"A little bird I am, Shut from the fields of air, And in my cage I sit and sing To Him who placed me there; Well pleased a prisoner to be, Because, my God, it pleases Thee."
She is bathed in the glory of her Lord, and her face shines with the radiance of heaven, with the moral beauty which the greatest of Spanish painters represents on his canvas. And she is beloved by everybody, is universally venerated for her virtues as well as for her spiritual elevation. The greatest ecclesiastical dignitaries come to see her, and encourage her, and hold converse with her, for her intellectual gifts were as remarkable as her piety. Her conversation, it appears, was charming. Her influence over the highest people was immense. She pleased, she softened, and she elevated all who knew her. She reigned in her convent as Madame de Staël reigned in her _salon_. She was supposed to have reached perfection; and yet she never claimed perfection, but sadly felt her imperfections, and confessed them. She was very fond of the society of learned men, from first to last, but formed no friendships except with those whom she believed to be faithful servants of God.
At this period Theresa meditated the foundation of a new convent of the Carmelite order, to be called St. Joseph, after the name of her patron saint. But here she found great difficulty, as her plans were not generally approved by her superiors or the learned men whom she consulted. They were deemed impracticable, for she insisted that the convent should not be endowed, nor be allowed to possess property. In all the monasteries of the Middle Ages, the monks, if individually poor, might be collectively rich; and all the famous monasteries came gradually to be as well endowed as Oxford and Cambridge universities were. This proved, in the end, an evil, since the monks became lazy and luxurious and proud. They could afford to be idle; and with idleness and luxury came corruption. The austere lives of the founders of these monasteries gave them a reputation for sanctity and learning, and this brought them wealth. Rich people who had no near relatives were almost certain to leave them something in their wills. And the richer the monasteries became, the greedier their rulers were.
Theresa determined to set a new example. She did not institute any stricter rules; she was emancipated from austerities; but she resolved to make her nuns dependent on the Lord rather than on rich people. Nor was she ambitious of founding a large convent. She thought that thirteen women together were enough. Gradually she brought the provincial of the order over to her views, and also the celebrated friar, Peter of Alcantara, the most eminent ecclesiastic in Spain. But the townspeople of Avila were full of opposition. They said it was better for Theresa to remain where she was; that there was no necessity for another convent, and that it was a very foolish thing. So great was the outcry, that the provincial finally withdrew his consent; he also deemed the revenue to be too uncertain. Then the advice of a celebrated Dominican was sought, who took eight days to consider the matter, and was at first inclined to recommend the abandonment of the project, but on further reflection he could see no harm in it, and encouraged it. So a small house was bought, for the nuns must have some shelter over their heads. The provincial changed his opinion again, and now favored the enterprise. It was a small affair, but a great thing to Theresa. Her friend the Dominican wrote letters to Rome, and the provincial offered no further objection. Moreover, she had bright visions of celestial comforters.
But the superior of her convent, not wishing the enterprise to succeed, and desiring to get her out of the way, sent Theresa to Toledo, to visit and comfort a sick lady of rank, with whom she remained six months. Here she met many eminent men, chiefly ecclesiastics of the Dominican and Jesuit orders; and here she inspired other ladies to follow her example, among others a noble nun of her own order, who sold all she had and walked to Rome barefooted, in order to obtain leave to establish a religious house like that proposed by Theresa. At last there came letters and a brief from Rome for the establishment of the convent, and Theresa was elected prioress, in the year 1562.
But the opposition still continued, and the most learned and influential were resolved on disestablishing the house. The matter at last reached the ears of the King and council, and an order came requiring a statement as to how the monastery was to be founded. Everything was discouraging. Theresa, as usual, took refuge in prayer, and went to the Lord and said, "This house is not mine; it is established for Thee; and since there is no one to conduct the case, do Thou undertake it." From that time she considered the matter settled. Nevertheless the opposition continued, much to the astonishment of Theresa, who could not see how a prioress and twelve nuns could be injurious to the city. Finally, opposition so far ceased that it was agreed that the house should be unmolested, provided it were endowed. On this point, however, Theresa was firm, feeling that if she once began to admit revenue, the people would not afterwards allow her to refuse it. So amid great opposition she at last took up her abode in the convent she had founded, and wanted for nothing, since alms, all unsolicited, poured in sufficient for all necessities; and the attention of the nuns was given to their duties without anxieties or obstruction, in all the dignity of voluntary poverty.
I look upon this reformation of the Carmelite order as very remarkable. The nuns did not go around among rich people supplicating their aid as was generally customary, for no convent or monastery was ever rich enough, in its own opinion. Still less did they say to rich people, "Ye are the lords and masters of mankind. We recognize your greatness and your power. Deign to give us from your abundance, not that we may live comfortably when serving the Lord, but live in luxury like you, and compete with you in the sumptuousness of our banquets and in the costliness of our furniture and our works of art, and be your companions and equals in social distinctions, and be enrolled with you as leaders of society." On the contrary they said, "We ask nothing from you. We do not wish to be rich. We prefer poverty. We would not be encumbered with useless impediments--too much camp equipage--while marching to do battle with the forces of the Devil. Christ is our Captain. He can take care of his own troops. He will not let us starve. And if we do suffer, what of that? He suffered for our sake, shall we not suffer for his cause?"
The Convent of St. Joseph was founded in 1562, after Theresa had passed twenty-nine years in the Convent of the Incarnation. She died, 1582, at the age of sixty-seven, after twenty years of successful labors in the convent she had founded; revered by everybody; the friend of some of the most eminent men in Spain, including the celebrated Borgia, ex-Duke of Candia, and General of the Jesuits, who took the same interest in Theresa that Fénelon did in Madame Guyon. She lived to see established sixteen convents of nuns, all obeying her reformed rule, and most of them founded by her amid great difficulties and opposition. When she founded the Carmelite Convent of Toledo she had only four ducats to begin with. Some one objected to the smallness of the sum, when she replied, "Theresa and this money are indeed nothing; but God and Theresa and four ducats can accomplish anything." It was amid the fatigues incident to the founding a convent in Burgos that she sickened and died.
It was not, however, merely from her labors as a reformer and nun that Saint Theresa won her fame, but also for her writings, which blaze with genius, although chiefly confined to her own religious experience. These consist of an account of her own life, and various letters and mystic treatises, some description of her spiritual conflicts and ecstasies, others giving accounts of her religious labors in the founding of reformed orders and convents; while the most famous is a rapt portrayal of the progress of the soul to the highest heaven. Her own Memoirs remind one of the "Confessions of Saint Augustine," and of the "Imitation of Christ," by Thomas à Kempis. People do not read such books in these times to any extent, at least in this country, but they have ever been highly valued on the continent of Europe. The biographers of Saint Theresa have been numerous, some of them very distinguished, like Ribera, Yepez, and Sainte Marie. Bossuet, while he condemned Madame Guyon for the same mystical piety which marked Saint Theresa, still bowed down to the authority of the writings of the saint, while Fleury quotes them with the decrees of the Council of Trent.
But Saint Theresa ever was submissive to the authority of the Pope and of her spiritual directors. She would not have been canonized by Gregory XV. had she not been. So long as priests and nuns have been submissive to the authority of the Church, the Church has been lenient to their opinions. Until the Reformation, there was great practical freedom of opinion in the Catholic Church. Nor was the Church of the sixteenth century able to see the logical tendency of the mysticism of Saint Theresa, since it was not coupled with rebellion against spiritual despotism. It was not until the logical and dogmatic intellect of Bossuet discerned the spiritual independence of the Jansenists and Quietists, that persecution began against them. Had Saint Theresa lived a century later, she would probably have shared the fate of Madame Guyon, whom she resembled more closely than any other woman that I have read of,--in her social position, in her practical intellect, despite the visions of a dreamy piety, in her passionate love of the Saviour, in her method of prayer, in her spiritual conflicts, in the benevolence which marked all her relations with the world, in the divine charity which breathed through all her words, and in the triumph of love over all the fears inspired by a gloomy theology and a superstitious priesthood. Both of these eminent women were poets of no ordinary merit; both enjoyed the friendship of the most eminent men of their age; both craved the society of the learned; both were of high birth and beautiful in their youth, and fitted to adorn society by their brilliant talk as well as graceful manners; both were amiable and sought to please, and loved distinction and appreciation; both were Catholics, yet permeated with the spirit of Protestantism, so far as religion is made a matter between God and the individual soul, and marked by internal communion with the Deity rather than by outward acts of prescribed forms; both had confessors, and yet both maintained the freedom of their minds and souls, and knew of no binding authority but that divine voice which appealed to their conscience and heart, and that divine word which is written in the Scriptures. After the love of God had subdued their hearts, we read but little of penances, or self-expiations, or forms of worship, or church ceremonies, or priestly rigors, or any of the slaveries and formalities which bound ordinary people. Their piety was mystical, sometimes visionary, and not always intelligible, but deep, sincere, and lofty. Of the two women, I think Saint Theresa was the more remarkable, and had the most originality. Madame Guyon seems to have borrowed much from her, especially in her methods of prayer.
The influence of Saint Theresa's life and writings has been eminent and marked, not only in the Catholic but in the Protestant Church. If not direct, it has been indirect. She had that active, ardent nature which sets at defiance a formal piety, and became an example to noble women in a more enlightened, if less poetic, age. She was the precursor of a Madame de Chantal, of a Francis de Sales, of a Mère Angelique. The learned and saintly Port Royalists, in many respects, were her disciples. We even see a resemblance to her spiritual exercises in the "Thoughts" of Pascal. We see her mystical love of the Saviour in the poetry of Cowper and Watts and Wesley. The same sentiments she uttered appear even in the devotional works of Jeremy Taylor and Jonathan Edwards. The Protestant theology of the last century was in harmony with hers in its essential features. In the "Pilgrim's Progress" of Bunyan we have no more graphic pictures of the sense of sin, the justice of its punishment, and the power by which it is broken, than are to be found in the writings of this saintly woman. In no Protestant hymnals do we find a warmer desire for a spiritual union with the Author of our salvation; in none do we see the aspiring soul seeking to climb to the regions of eternal love more than in her exultant melodies.
"For uncreated charms I burn, Oppressed by slavish fears no more; For _One_ in whom I may discern, E'en when He frowns, a sweetness I adore."
That remarkable work of Fénelon in which he defends Madame Guyon, called "Maxims of the Saints," would equally apply to Saint Theresa, in fact to all those who have been distinguished for an inward life, from Saint Augustine to Richard Baxter,--for unselfish love, resignation to the divine will, self-renunciation, meditation too deep for words, and union with Christ, as represented by the figure of the bride and bridegroom. This is Christianity, as it has appeared in all ages, both among Catholic and Protestant saints. It may seem to some visionary, to others unreasonable, and to others again repulsive. But this has been the life and joy of those whom the Church has honored and commended. It has raised them above the despair of Paganism and the superstitions of the Middle Ages. It is the love which casteth out fear, producing in the harassed soul repose and rest amid the doubts and disappointments of life. It is not inspired by duty; it does not rest on philanthropy; it is not the religion of humanity. It is a gift bestowed by the Father of Lights, and will be, to remotest ages, the most precious boon which He bestows on those who seek His guidance.
Vie de Sainte Thérèse, écrite par elle-même; Lettres de Sainte Thérèse; Les Ouvrages de Sainte Thérèse; Biographie Universelle; Fraser's Magazine, lxv. 59; Butler's Lives of the Saints; Digby's Ages of Faith; the Catholic Histories of the Church, especially Fleury's "Maxims of the Saints." Lives of Saint Theresa by Ribera, Yepez, and Sainte Marie.
Lectures by John Lord
Thirty-five years ago, inspired by the writings of Georgette Heyer, and little more than fresh out of high school, I wrote a Regency Romance novel entitled, A Very Merry Chase, which I finally published last year.  Then and now history in all it’s forms was my first love–especially women’s history. These days I have two degrees in history; however a graduate degree in women’s studies was not an option at the university where I received my MA so I had to make do with a more generalized degree. Thus, in every class I made up for the lack by researching the condition of women in each age that I studied. I have always been fascinated by women’s history, so I thought I would start sharing some of the lost treasures that I uncover. I believe that most people have curious minds and like glimpses of how the world was, and how things were perceived in the past. I firmly believe in the idea that we must remember history in order to learn from it, grow and hopefully cut down on the number of stupid mistakes that random impulse and intellectual curiosity and greed and a thousand other human motivators lead us to make.
 Smiles and Good Fortune,
Teresa Thomas Bohannon
Author of the Regency Romance novel, A Very Merry Chase
Founder of The LadyWeb Family Of Informational & Educational Websites
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent.
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915