FOR some time after the publication of my novel The Jessamy Bride my time was fully occupied by replying to correspondents—strangers to me—who were good enough to take an interest in Mary Horneck, the younger of the two charming sisters with whom Goldsmith associated for several years of his life on terms of the warmest affection. The majority of these communications were of a very interesting character. Only one correspondent told me I should not have allowed Oliver Goldsmith to die so young, though two expressed the opinion that I should have made Goldsmith marry Mary Horneck; nearly all the remaining communications which were addressed to me contained inquiries as to the origin of the sobriquet applied to Mary Horneck in Goldsmith's epistle. To each and to all such inquiries I have, alas! been compelled to return the humiliating reply that I have not yet succeeded in finding out what was the origin of the family joke which made Goldsmith's allusions to “The Jessamy Bride” and “Little Comedy” intelligible to the “Devonshire Crew” of Hornecks and Reynoldses. I have searched volume after volume in the hope of having even the smallest ray of light thrown upon this matter, but I have met with no success. I began to feel, as every post brought me a sympathetic inquiry as to the origin of the pet name, that I should take the bold step of confessing my ignorance to the one gentleman who, I was confident, could enlighten it. “If Dr. Brewer does not know why Mary Horneck was called 'The Jessamy Bride,' no one alive can know it,” was what I said to myself. Before I could write to Dr. Brewer the melancholy new's came of his death; and very shortly afterwards I got a letter from his daughter, Mrs. Brewer Hayman, in which she mentioned that her lamented father had been greatly interested in my story, and asked if I could tell her what was the meaning of the phrase.

It does certainly seem extraordinary that no biographer of Goldsmith, of Reynolds, or of Burke, should have thought it worth while writing a letter to the “Jessamy Bride” herself to ask her why she was so called by Goldsmith. The biographers of Goldsmith and the editors of Boswell seem to have had no hesitation in stating that Mary Horneck was the “Jessamy Bride,” and that her elder sister was “Little Comedy”; but they do not appear to have taken a wider view of their duties than was comprised in this bare statement. The gossipy Northcote was surely in the secret, and he might have revealed the truth without detracting from the interest of the many inaccuracies in his volume. Northcote had an opportunity of seeing daily the portrait of Mary which Sir Joshua painted, and which hung in his studio until the day of his death, when it passed into the possession of the original, who had become Mrs. Gwyn, having married Colonel, afterwards General, Gwyn.

But although up to the present I have not obtained even as much evidence as would be termed a clue by the sanguine officers of Scotland Yard, as to the origin of the sobriquet, I am not without hope that some day one of my sympathetic correspondents will be able to clear up the matter for me. I am strengthened in this hope by the fact that among those who were kind enough to write to me, was a lady who can claim relationship to Mary Horneck, and who did not hesitate to send to me a bundle of letters, written in the early part of the century by the “Jessamy Bride” herself, with permission to copy and print any portion of the correspondence that I might consider of interest. Of this privilege I gladly avail myself, feeling sure that the interest which undoubtedly attaches to many portions of the letters will exculpate me for the intrusion of a personal note into these papers.

The grandfather of my correspondent (Mrs. Cor-ballis, of Ratrath, co. Meath, Ireland) was first cousin to the Hornecks. He was the Rev. George Mangles, chaplain to George III when Mrs. Gwyn (Mary Horneck) was Woman of the Bedchamber to the Queen. As General Gwyn was Equerry to the King it can easily be understood that the two families should be on terms of the most intimate friendship. My correspondent mentions that her mother, who only died thirteen years ago, was almost every year a visitor at the house of Mrs. Gwyn, at Kew, and said that she retained her beauty up to the very last. Confirmation of this statement is to be found in a passage in the “Jerningham Letters.” Lady Bedingfeld's Journal contains the following entry opposite the date “September 19th, 1833”:

“When the Queen returned to the drawing-room we found several ladies there. I observed a very old lady with striking remains of beauty, and whose features seemed very familiar to me. I felt to know her features by heart, and at last I heard her name, Mrs. Gwyn, the widow of a General, and near ninety! I had never seen her before, but when I was a girl my uncle the Poet, gave me a portrait of her, copied from Sir Jos. Reynolds, small size in a Turkish costume and attitude. This picture is still at Cossey, and of course must be very like her since it led me to find her out.”


The picture referred to must certainly have been “very like” the original, for it was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1772, sixty-one years before. The engraving of it cannot but make one feel how exquisite must have been the charm of Goldsmith's young friend, who survived him by sixty-six years; for Mrs. Gywn did not die until 1840.

Very pathetic indeed it is to look at the sweet girlish face, which appears in this portrait and also in that of the two sisters done in chalk by the same master-hand, and then to read some of the passages in the letters in which the writer refers to her old age and feebleness. Happily, with Lady Bedingfeld's diary before us, our imagination is not largely drawn on for a picture of the “Jessamy Bride” broken down by age and infirmity. The woman who can be easily recognised by a stranger at seventy-nine by her likeness to a portrait painted at the age of eighteen, would make Ninon de l'Enclos envious.

The letters are written to Mrs. Mangles, the widow of the Chaplain to George III, and the majority touch upon private matters with sprightliness, and occasionally a delicate humour, such as Goldsmith would certainly have appreciated. We seem to hear, while reading these passages, faint echoes of the girlish laughter which must have rung through that room in the inn at Calais, when Goldsmith paced up and down in a mock fury because two officers passing the window looked more eagerly at the girls than at him.

It is obvious, however, that the Queen's Woman of the Bedchamber would write occasionally to her friend on some topic of public interest; consequently we find, in the course of the correspondence, many passages which throw a flood of light upon the incidents of the day. In a letter dated April 10th, 1818,

Mrs. Gwyn describes with great sprightliness the wedding of the Princess Elizabeth, the third daughter of George III, with Prince Hesse-Hombourgh, which took place three days before:

“I delayed to write till after the marriage to tell you about it, as you seemed to wish it. We were all appointed at seven o'clock in the evening, when I went as smart as I could make myself. I wore the lavender sattin robe, the same you saw me wear at Court, as the shape was the same, and it saved buying, trimmed with silver, a new white sattin petticoat, with a white net and silver over it, no hoop, but a Court head dress, and lappets down. The Company consisting of the great officers of state, and ambassadors and their wives, and the different households were the Company.

“At 8 all were assembled when the Royal family in procession according to their rank, went into the great drawing-room in the Queen's house. The Duke of York led the Queen, the Prince Regent not being quite recovered of his gout, and it is said the remembrance of his poor daughter's marriage was too painful to him to undertake it. Before the state canopy was set a fine communion table, red velvet and gold, all the gold plate belonging to that service arranged behind it, and 3 Bishops and other clergymen standing behind the table, it looked very magnificent. Then came the Hero, the Prince Hesse Hombourgh, he went up to the table and stood there, I believe 10 minutes alone, he looked well a manly unembarassed figure, then walked in the Bride glittering with silver and diamonds, and really looked very handsome, and her behaviour and manner was as well as possible, grace and quiet, when she knelt she wept, and then he approached nearer her in case her emotion would require his care, which happily was not the case. The Duke of York gave her away, and behaved very bad. The Prince Hombourgh thought when he had said I will very loud and distinct, all was done, but the Arch Bishop desired him to repeat after him, which he was therefore obliged to do. He cannot speak English and made such works of it, it was then the Duke of York laughed so, he was obliged to stuff his handkerchief in his mouth to conceal it. He promised to love her. When all was over he saluted his bride on each side the face, and then her hand, with a good-natured frank manner, then led her to the Queen, whose hand only he kissed, the rest of the Royal family he embraced after his own fashion, and he led her off with a very good air, and did not seem to trouble his head about his English performance.” The Princess Elizabeth—the shy young bride who was so overcome with emotion—had scarcely more than passed her forty-ninth year when she was borne to the altar, and the hero of the hour was, we learn from other sources than Mrs. Gwyn's letters, most unheroically sick when driving away in a close carriage with his bride.

The Prince Regent's daughter, the Princess Charlotte, had died the previous year, hence the marrying panic which seized all the other members of the Royal Family, lest the dynasty should become extinct. It is pleasing to reflect that such gloomy apprehensions have since been amply averted.

Regarding the death of the Princess Charlotte Mrs. Gwyn writes:

“... While I was at Oatlands the Prince Leopold came to see the Duchess and staid there 3 hours, no one but the Duchess saw him—she told me he is more composed in his manners now when seen by people in general but with her alone his grief seems the same and he is gratified by being allowed to vent it to one who feels for him and knows how to soothe his mind. I can not doubt the Princess's life and his child's were thrown away, by mismanagement—she was so bled and starved she had no strength left—her own fortitude and energy supported her till nature could no more. I could tell you much on the subject but it would take up too much in a letter and besides it is over. Dr. Crofts thought he was doing for the best no doubt—It comes to what I always say of them—they can't do much and are very often wrong in their opinions as you can vouch....”

In another letter Mrs. Gywn's adopted daughter was her amanuensis. It contains many paragraphs of interest, especially to present-day readers. The girl writes:

“Mamma was of course summoned to attend the Duke of Cambridge's Wedding, but she was not in the room when the Ceremony was performed as before, on account of the Queen having been ill. Mamma admires the Duchess of Cambridge very much: though she is not exactly handsome, she is very pleasing, and a pretty figure, but I understand she must have a new stay maker to set her up etc. The Duke of Kent and his bride are now expected. The Duke of Clarence it is expected will be married shortly afterwards. We hear the Duchess of Kent is a little woman with a handsome face, and the Duchess of Clarence uncommonly ugly. We went to Windsor about a month ago to see Princess Sophia as the Queen was not there, and Princess Sophia has a small party every night. We were there three days, and Mamma went to the party every evening, and indeed it was very very dull for her as they play one pool of Commerce, and then they go to a game called Snip, Snap, Snorum, and which Mamma could not play at well without a great deal of trouble to herself, therefore she was obliged to look on for perhaps an hour and half which you may imagine was terrible for her not hearing a word. I was much pleased in one respect while I was there by seeing Dear Prince Leopold whom I had never seen before, and who must be to every body an object of so much interest. He looked to me the picture of grief and melancholy, but those who have seen him repeatedly since his misfortune say he improves every time they see him. Mrs. C.... went one day to see Claremont and was very much pleased. All remains as Princess Charlotte left it, but nobody sees her room in which she died but himself, even her combs and brushes are untouched, and her hat and cloak are where she laid them the day before she died. There are models of her hand and arm one in particular as it is his hand clasped in hers. I suppose you have often heard she had a very beautiful hand and arm, but I will not go on, on so melancholy a subject; yet I am sure it must interest you.”

The Princess Sophia, who instituted the fascinating game referred to in this letter, was, of course, the fifth daughter of George III.

In another letter reference is made to a certain scandal, which Mrs. Gwyn contradicts most vehemently. Even nowadays this particular bit of gossip is remembered by some persons; but at the risk of depriving these pages of the piquancy which attaches to a Court scandal, I will not quote it, but conclude this Personal Note with what seems to me a most pathetic account of the dying king:

“We continue in a state of great anxiety about our dear King, whose state is distressing. Certainly no hope of recovery, and the chances of his continuance very doubtful. His death may be any day, any hour, or he may continue some little time longer, it depends on nature holding out against sore disease, which afflicts him universally, and occasions great suffering, this is heartbreaking to hear! and his patience and courage and sweet and kind behaviour to all about him is most touching, so affectionate to his friends and attendants, and thankful for their attention and feeling for him. He will hold the hand of the Duchess of Gloster or S. H. Halford for an hour at a time out of tenderness, till excessive suffering ends it. He wishes to die in peace and charity with all the world, and has reconciled himself to the Duke of Sussex. He hopes his people have found him a merciful King. He says he never hurt anyone, and that, he may truly say as his first wish to all was good and benevolent, and ever ready to forgive.”

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