Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson
Where shall the fallen meet with Pity?
Where find the kindly hand to raise them up?
Not among sisters. They will cast ye off.
And, lest the fame of their good families
Be tainted by your failing, foolishly
Will force ye to embrace that train of life
Which taints it more, to gain the very food
Which they deny ye—And thus drive you on
Far in the path of Vice, through show of Virtue.
My weakness and indiscretions had thus brought me, at almost the outset of life, to what was literally a state of solitary misery. I had no support but what I derived from the sale of my clothes, which went article by article to satisfy the cravings of nature, till I was reduced nearly to nakedness and starving. I had now sufficient leisure to contemplate my folly, and descant on my misdeeds. I had humbled myself even to the Dust. I again went to my sister Smith, who had a large family of children, and implored her with tears to take me once more into her house, when I would make hers and her childrens' clothes, and never offend or disoblige her in any respect. Alas! she was obdurate, and refused me in the most peremptory manner. I applied in the same manner to my sister Brady, with equal ill success. She was unlimited in her upbraidings, violent in her abuse, and she declared if a morsel of bread would save me from death and destruction, she would refuse it to me. Harsh and hard dealing sisters! it is you, who by rejecting a penitent offender, and shutting the door against a return to virtue, drove me on the rocks, which for a long time wrecked my peace of mind. I returned to my little lonely habitation, with a soul embittered with the treatment I had received, and a body almost worn down with anguish and poverty. I remained there till I had nothing but what covered me, not one second article wherewith to change what I wore, and for eight days had lived only on one pound of hung beef and a few potatoes; using the water in which they were boiled, as the only diluter of my wretched scanty meals.
Thus having arrived to the verge of perishing through real want, feeling anxiety of mind, and the keen pangs of hunger, and destitute of every asylum in Dublin, it occurred to my thoughts, that as, whilst I lived at my father's house, I had been frequently serviceable to the tenants and their wives; I had no doubt, if I could get down amongst them, their gratitude and hospitality, would afford me shelter in one or other of their cabins, and give me at least potatoes and butter-milk; which I should then esteem as most comfortable food. Full of this idea, I resolved to set out that very night. My landlady kindly lent me her cloak, to cover the wretched remains of my wardrobe, which were clean and tight, though mean and much worn. Proceeding up Strand-street, towards Smith-field, two gentlemen (named Strange and Droope) met me, and looking on me as an innocent, ignorant country girl, took me by the hand and invited me to come in with them, to drink tea and go to the play. I was frighted at this address, ran from them, and took shelter in the shop of Mr. Moore, a jeweller, on the Inn's-quay. I had been formerly intimate with this family when I was in prosperity, and before my unhappy lapse from virtue. Luckily that lapse had not come to their knowledge, any more than my present situation. I was cordially received by Mrs. Moore, and pressed to stay to tea, which I did; and prompted by hunger, eat till I was really ashamed to eat any more. After tea I took my leave and proceeded to Smith-field, but to my great vexation found all the places in the stage, both within and without were engaged.
Disappointed in my design of going to the country, I had no alternative but to return to my lodging. I walked very slow, pensive, and revolving in my mind how I could procure another meal, for what I had eaten at Mrs. Moore's seemed rather to have excited than satisfied my appetite. The enemy of mankind is said to be ever ready to instil temptations to vice, and to seize the most favourable opportunity for his insinuations. So alas! I found it in the present moment. I, who had resisted every incitement to evil, whilst any the most homely and penurious means of life remained, became desperate when every resource seemed to be cut off. I reflected on my conduct, respecting the two gentlemen who met me in Strand-street. I could not help condemning myself for my shyness.—They appeared to be gentlemen, I said to myself; and surely would not have done me any harm. I wish I had not refused their kind invitation. At least I should have gotten a comfortable meal, which was what I much wanted, and to which I had been long an entire stranger. None of my relations will give me one, why then should I reject it from another.—It is not probable that I shall meet them again, but if I should, I will not be the fool I was.
Thus I argued with myself, and was fully occupied with these thoughts as I walked, when passing by the door at which I first saw them, I beheld the very identical persons alighting from a coach. They seemed pleased at meeting with me again, and pressed me to go into the house, which, after some slight hesitation I did. When we entered I saw a little gentleman writing at a table in a corner of the room; he joined us and tea was ordered. Though I had already drank tea on the Inn's-quay, I was not sorry to partake of it again; but here, as before I was ashamed to eat my fill. The little gentleman (Thomas Caulfield, Esq; a near relation of Lord Charlemont,) took more particular notice of me than the others. I was asked a multitude of questions, to which (as I had already suffered by falsehoods) I answered with ingenious truth. When tea was over, Mr. Caulfield asked my name and where I lodged. I told him, and he begged permission to see me home, probably with a design to know if what I had said was truth, I consented, and we took leave of the other gentlemen.
As we walked together, he slipped two guineas into my bosom, and told me if I would give up the idea of going to the country, where, from what I had said, I must be certain I had no chance of being well received; and if it should appear that I told him nothing but truth, he would settle me comfortably and conveniently, would be my protector, and I should never want. There are many virtues, which when carried beyond their due bounds degenerate into vices, one of these is Gratitude. This operated powerfully in my breast. This gentleman had relieved my wants when they were become extreme. I was in possession of more money of my own than I had seen for many months; my hunger was not yet appeased, but through him I had the means of satisfying it, which I was impatient to do. The miseries I had undergone were present to my mind, and he had promised he would screen me from their future approach. All these thoughts rushed at once into my mind, awakened my sincerest acknowledgments, and I esteemed it but a grateful return to promise all he requested. He saw me to the door of my lodging, and being thereby assured of the truth of what I had told him, and where he might find me, he very respectfully took his leave and wished me good night.
I entered my room in a very different disposition from that with which I had quitted it a few hours before. Then, all was distress, doubt and uncertainty. Now, my mind was tranquil and I looked forward with hope. I had nothing to expect from my relations and former friends but desertion, reproach and want. From Mr. Caulfield, my days to come presented protection, endearments and plenty. The contrast was great, and I must embrace the one or the other. I was blind to the sacrifice I was about to make, I did not consider that I was taking a second and similar step to that which had caused all my distress: and that I was about to plunge deeper in vice, which would render my return still more difficult, even if it could be accomplished—which alas! it never was.
As soon as I was seated I sent my landlady to purchase eatables for supper; and never in my life did I eat one so welcome and so sweet, nor perhaps ever in such a quantity: and having fully satisfied the cravings of hunger, I slept with the greatest tranquillity.
The next evening, Mr. Caulfield came to see me; but his appearance in laced clothes, and the sudden change in my way of living gave my landlady some alarm: she said her house was not suited for the reception of a fine gentleman, and therefore desired I would get another lodging. As money was not wanting, this was no difficult task. Mr. Caulfield soon procured one, where I lived in a genteel style, unnoticed and unsuspected; where he visited me whenever he thought proper, and we became daily more pleased with each other.
Here let me anticipate the exclamations of many of my female readers. They will doubtless say, "we pitied your first transgression; you might plead youth, inexperience, and affection, but here you had no excuse. You weakly yielded to the temptation of a stranger, a casual acquaintance. You say you were on the point of starving, and rejected by all your friends and relations, but you should have sought to restore your connection with them, by the prudence and chastity of your future life, and thereby proved the sincerity of your repentance. You should have gone to service, you should have really died for want, rather than have procured sustenance at such a price as you have paid for it. Nay, when you had got the two guineas from the gentleman, and he had left you at your door, you should have pursued your intended plan of going down to the tenantry about your father's house, and have lived on potatoes and butter-milk, begged from them; and have piously taken all your sufferings as just punishment for your offences—but, fie upon you! you listened to the first temptation, you did not strive either to resist it, or to fly from it, and therefore deserve no pity."
All this is easily said, all this may be true. But pray permit me to ask in my turn—were you ever on the point of starving? Did you ever experience real want, and part with every article of any value to procure a scanty meal? Did you ever live for many days on a single pound of salt meat, and have only the water in which a few potatoes were boiled for your beverage? For not till I had endured all this misery, and felt the severe pangs of hunger, did I err again: Perhaps you utter your censures in a decent, comfortable room, after a plentiful meal, and surrounded by your relations and friends. Therefore, we may well say,
He jests at scars who never felt a wound.
And perhaps you are not quite sure you would have really died for want! ere you had fallen like me. How could I have gone to service? Bred up as I had been, for what service was I fit? Who would have taken a servant without a character? and who had I to give me one? Neither had I clothes fit to make even a tolerable decent appearance. My harsh sisters indeed, might have saved me from ruin, but that their outrageous virtue disdained. Had they pitied and forgiven my first fault, in all human probability I had not committed a second; but instead of holding out a hand to raise me up and support me; instead of alluring me back to the paths of Virtue, by gentleness and compassion, they plunged me into sorrow and distress; and by rendering me wretched and desperate, hurled me down the descent of Vice. Hence they, not me must be chiefly condemned. Nay I will affirm, from the evidences of observation and experience, that the real cause of the multitude of unhappy women, is the harshness of their own sex; who, thinking to elevate their own real, or pretended virtue, by condemning the failures of others, shut the door against repentance and amendment; and thereby compel thousands to continue in error, because their characters being blasted, they have no means of support from any industry they may be willing to try for bread. For, the maxim is true that none stand so firm as those who have once slipped, and are enabled to regain their footing, by the Christian Humanity of such of their own sex as possess, and exercise it.—But, to return to my narrative.
Mr. Caulfield's attention to me daily increased. He frequently invited and entertained me at his house in Abbey-street, where he extensively carried on the business of a wine merchant, and I passed my time smoothly, intoxicated with pleasures that banished all reflection, till I was brought to bed of a son, which seemed to augment my lover's satisfaction. He had often told me he never intended to marry, as he feared he should never have a child. But soon after my lying-in, as if thereby his fears on that head seemed to be dissipated, he listened to the advice of his relations (amongst whom he counted the Earl of Charlemont) and his friends, and paid his addresses to a Miss Hawkesworth, to whom he was shortly after married.
This event for a while gave me most poignant sorrow, and as my temper was become somewhat violent, I was greatly provoked at his abandoning me.—Silly are those women, and highly infatuated, who can imagine that connections, which are sanctioned neither by the laws of God or man, can be permanent, longer than it suits the convenience of the thus connected parties. No, they must, necessarily must, have a period: And the certainty of this is the cause why most women in that line strive to realize as much as they can, whilst the connection subsists, not knowing how shortly it may terminate.
However, Mr. Caulfield behaved honourably in regard to me, he assured me my boy should never want, nor I neither, whilst I conducted myself with propriety; and accordingly gave us both an adequate annuity.