To Mary Berry (1795)

Walpole, Horace
Walpole's nieces at Strawberry Hill, by Joshua Reynolds (1781).


"In our village I suppose I am thought grown very sociable, unless they suspect the true cause, for I call every now and then (at my vacant eight o'clock) on the few I do visit..."

August-September 1795

28th, eleven at night.

Well, I have been at Miss Hotham's in a bright but most chill moonlight. The assemblage was not so ungain as I expected, for tho' there were some of the clan of the Bobtails, there were several I knew, as the Guilfords, Mount Edgcumbes, the Yonges, the Cunninghams, Lady Mary Duncan, Lady Mary Fordyce, and a few more. I played with Lady Cecilia, Lady Guilford, and Mr. Sutton ; and Mrs. Sutton, with a thousand civilities, invited me to Molesey for Tuesday next, and I will certainly go, as they are of yr acquaintance.

This morning I received yr letter, and have great comfort in hearing that the fountain agrees with you; how I shall applaud myself if you find essential benefit! I am glad, too, that you have such an excellent cicerone as Lysons; if you have time when at Gloucester, make him carry you to the Bishop's palace and to George Selwyn's late house at Matson, a beautiful situation, and to Prinhnage [?] on the hill to which, in a cottage, I purchased for five shillings a most venerable and most ancient cradle of wood, exactly like one in the ' Gentleman's Magazine,' that saved Edward II., and then I was ashamed to bring it away, as having no babe to put into it ; I should be more ashamed now that I have two wives and yet no progeny. Adieu !

Str., Sept 1, 1795.

I am resolved to correct my hand, for my writing was grown so small and so close, that I myself could scarce read over my last letter; and tho' your eyes are fifty years younger, I believe you found difficulty to decypher it. At present I have so little to say, that I had better make my alphabet as tall as Jerningham's, tho' I have not his happy facility of making every sentence a double entendre. Mercy on us if he and S. were to correspond! They would have occasion, to use an expression of Lord Bacon's, to speak without fig-leaves. Some say the charming will succeed Tommy Tyrrwhit. I wish with all my heart he may. He will not offend by leaving his old friend Madame de Maintenant, nor displease by his abrupt sophisms, congenial enough to the climate.

After all his vast profusions Lord Moira's expeditions are given over, and he is retired to Donington Castle, carrying with him his first aide-de-camp, the Due d'Angoulême, son of Monsieur, who is gone to tap another attempt on Bretagne. How those two rejetons of the Plantagenets and Bourbons will sympathise on their vanished grandeurs! This is all I know beyond the next milestone.

Lord Clifden is returned from Ireland, and has been three days at his uncle's, but he and the silent woman and the old bittern are gone to Ramsgate for two months. I am sorry, for my lord is very agreeable. The Archbishop of Cashell is arrived too, but the Patriarch of the Agars is so much recovered that I believe he will soon remove to Hampshire. Every absentee makes a gap now in my narrow beat; but at the end of the month I trust I shall miss nobody, nor care who leaves the neighbourhood.

Did not I hear some time ago that Mr. May was gone to Cheltenham? If he is there, I hope he will be as zealous about my wives as he was last winter about me, and address some more irresistible verses to God, beseeching Him to order Jupiter to restore you two to perfect health. Had his Cupid not been blown from the top of his summer-house into the Thames, perhaps he would have been so gallant as to have sent the urchin on the errand in an ode, and directed him to wait on the Virgin Mary and entreat her to lay her commands on her friend Venus for that purpose.

I was last night at Mrs. Sutton's. There was not an inundation of people, as I feared, chiefly Hampton courtiers and its excrescences, Dutch and French. There was a little music, and Miss Broadie sung and played, and so did another, a man, and there was a large supper, at which I left them. The situation seems handsome, the house extremely pretty and in very pure taste; there is a lovely little gallery painted in treillage, rather prettier than a paper of that gender, which I have seen some where or other, I forget where. Mrs. Sutton's own landscapes, as far as I could judge by candlelight, seem very good. I like her herself and her husband too; he is the civilest of men. I recollect the terror I felt last Christmas when you was to return from a ball there at three o'clock in the snow. I had concluded you was to ferry, and had quite forgot the bridge at Hampton Court; you know I sometimes have such inveterate distractions.

Thus far I had written after breakfast, but tho' I then received yr Monday's letter I could not finish mine, for I had promised Mrs. Doyley to show my house to her, Mrs. Sloane, and a dowager, Miss Agar, who is at Pope's; and they being old women who do not live at the brink of fashion, they came in sunny time, and not three hours after it was pitch dark, as fine ladies would have done who hope to be immortal by always being too late for every diversion they may be supposed to like. Before the trio were gone arrived my niece Lady Horatia with her two glorious eldest boys; the second, especially, is a bold miniature of his mother, and consequently beautiful. They staid with me till dinner-time; Lady Lincoln has lent her house at Putney, while she is at Tunbridge, to Horatia, who expects Lord Hugh soon from sea. Now I will answer you.

I am delighted that you have got O'Hara.f How he must feel his felicity in being at liberty to rove about as much as he likes! Still I shall not admire his volatility if he quits you soon. I am sorry he thinks Lady Ailesbury so much changed, yet how amazing it would be if such a loss as she has had made no visible impression a husband who, living and dying, seemed to have thought only of her!

The success of the water on you both charms me, and tho' I am very unked without you, I enjoin you not to think of coming away.

Another command I have to give you, and like most, I hope, of my ordinances, not originating in self; it is, not to write me such long letters. I have always heard that writing is prejudicial in a course of waters. Besides, it takes up an unconscionable portion of your time, which I wish to have constantly diverted. Don't measure your letters by mine; I have no other occupation which I like a quarter so well as conversing with you. I wish to amuse your idle moments, but not to misemploy them; and is it fit that your youth should be confined to the entertainment of your great-grandfather ? Let me babble, but don't reply. Adieu!

Str., Sunday night, Sept C, 1795.

I sent two letters to-day, one for yr father, the other for yr sister, and two to Audley-street, but none from myself, for I had not a morsel of news in the house, and this letter perhaps will wait for a supply; our region is quite dry, unless I were to send to the scandal-pump at Hampton Court, with which you like to deal as little as I. In our village I suppose I am thought grown very sociable, unless they suspect the true cause, for I call every now and then (at my vacant eight o'clock) on the few I do visit; last night a second time at the foot of the bridge, where indeed they are very zealous about the Clivedenites. I am a little tired of the clan at Pope's, of the formality and cribbage, and formality again! T'other night there was an Irish miss, who is thought a prodigy in music ; and indeed she did belabour the harpsichord as if it had no more feeling than a kettledrum.

I sent the Udneys half a buck : they wanted me to partake of it, which luckily I declined ; and well it was I did, for they had invited that surfeiting flatterer, Lady E., and such a hogshead of sweet sauce would have overloaded any stomach that has not a royal digestion. Not that I have escaped, for alas ! she is there still, which I, not knowing, went thither this evening, and fell into her mouth. Oh, how she crammed me with all that the Queen and Princesses had said to her about their breakfast here, and how they every day recollect something new that they admired. I fear I did not offer her to come and see how she would like the house. Mrs. Leneve formerly advised me never to begin with civilities to people I don't like; ' for,' said she, ' you soon let them see that, and then they are more offended than they would have been by coldness at first.' You will bear me witness that I did not sniff up the Countess's incense kindly the first time it was offered to me.


Text taken from Extracts from the Journals and Correspondence of Miss Berry, from the Year 1783 to 1852. Edited by Lady Theresa Lewis. Published: London : Longmans, Green, 1866, p. 474-477. Full book from HATHITRUST.