Peg Plunkett's Memoirs - CHAP. VIII.

Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson



I commit many faults, but NONE to THEE.
Indifference would never suit my fate.
My passions are unruly; and, sometimes
Break loose on my best friend: But then you should
Consider them as the
effects of Love.
As the
effects!—nay, they are love itself.
For love itself is all the passions,
At least to me: whether it be desire,
Or hope, or fear, or anger, or revenge,
In all its diff'rent motions—still is
SOUTHERN'S Fate of Capua.

            HITHERTO we had lived in happiness, because we had lived with confidence in each other. Mr. Lawless's late conduct, had shown that the seeds of Doubt were still in his breast, and my heat of temper, perhaps took the wrong way to eradicate them. I should have considered that his desire of preventing any relapse into promiscuous amours, sprang from his affection. I should have behaved with double reserve; and not have met his solicitude with haughtiness and wranglings, which tended more to confirm than dispel—even unjust suspicions.

            About the beginning of the fourth year, Mr. Lawless began to dine out, and to go to public amusements without me. This more and more soured my temper, rendered me still more irritable, and though still fond and faithful, yet, at intervals, I admitted that fiend Jealousy, to take possession of my mind. Priding myself on my strict fidelity to him, I thought every moment of his absence was occasioned by his attachment to other females and a fresh insult to me. Hence I redoubled my invectives, and my passions often rose even to termagancy. I did not reflect that I was proceeding in the same path, that I had condemned him for treading; and that whilst I knew my jealousy sprang from Love, I ought to have been assured, that his doubts and suspicions arose from the same motive.

            Mr. Lawless then began to keep very late hours. This irritated me so much, that dressing myself very plain that I might not be noticed, I have frequently sallied into the street, attended by my maid-servant, and a watchman, and trudging on foot through rain, mud and dirt (for I would not put him to the expense of coach or chair hire) would visit every tavern, gaming-house, and place of pleasurable reception in search of my wandering Strephon. I often stood listening through key-holes, and under parlour windows, to try if I could hear his voice, till I have been covered with mire, drenched with the rain, or almost petrified with cold. Yet, all that, I endured with pleasure if I could but find him, which sometimes I did, but more often failed in my attempt. At those times, after a fruitless search I have returned home, with a mind tortured with what I thought a proof of his infidelity; or with apprehensions lest any mischief had befallen him. Yet, the sight and caresses of my children would give me some consolation, till I retired to my bed, when my disquietudes returned with double force, and I passed without sleep till six in the morning; which became his usual hour of returning home. Then our animosities were renewed, and became more frequent; and in the place of former delicacy and endearments, nothing was heard but mutual revilings, and upbraidings, which drove tranquillity from the house.


            O jealousy! wild and insatiate fiend! let every female guard against its first approaches, for she knows not to what horrid lengths it may carry her. Well did the poet, Dryden, say of it.


False in thy glass all objects are,
Some sit too nigh, and some too far.
Thou art a fire of endless night,
A Fire that burns, yet gives no light.
The torments of the damn'd we find
Alone in thee
O Jealousy!
Thou Tyrant, Tyrant Jealousy!
Thou Tyrant of the mind.

            Happy are those breasts which never entertain it; or whose prudence, mildness and equanimity can avert the cause, if cause there is, and not by passion, strife, and outrage, provoke a repetition of injury, and a continuance in the practice of it. I am the more urged to give this cordial, this salutary advice, since I experienced to what horrid extravagancies jealousy in a turbulent mind, may hurry the wretched victim: and even at this distance of time, I shudder at the recollection of what I shall now relate.

            Sometimes when I have found it impossible to drown my grief in sleep, I have risen from my bed, and throwing up the sash, would hang out of the window till his return. There are never wanting a set of officious women, who, out of pretended friendship, will plant thorns in the mind of a suspicious and jealous woman, by bringing her tales of her husband's or lover's infidelity. One of this kind had been with me, and seeming to pity me, had related her certain assurance that Mr. Lawless passed some of his nights with other females. This intelligence made me more eager to continue my nocturnal searches, in hopes of detecting him, and that night I hunted everywhere, but in vain. I returned in a rage, distracted with what I had heard, and the idea that perhaps at that very instant, he might be revelling in the arms of one of his favourites. I took a firm resolution of murdering him at his return, and then putting an end to myself. I kept a keen razor in my hand, and watched at the window for his coming. The hours I waited there steeled my heart, gave edge to my resentment, and fixed my determination. At length, I beheld him coming up the street, and frantic with rage, I ran to meet him on the stairs and execute my bloody purpose. Here let me adore the mercy of the Almighty, which saved his life and prevented me from the crime. In my hurry, I left the razor in the window, and was weaponless when I met him; and as a farther prevention, he returned in a better humour than usual, took me in his arms, apologised for his late return, and told me the house in which he had stayed so long. My rage cooled instantly, my ardent love resumed its place, and I became calm. When in bed, where I could not sleep, I easily conceived, that, if he had really been where he told me, I had no cause for alarm or complaint; but still my jealousy, that had not been conquered, but only lulled for the moment, suggested, that he deceived me: then my resolution of revenge returned, and I resolved still to execute my design, if I found that he had told me false. I feared that if I sent to enquire if he had been at the house he said, the master of it might probably be in the plot, and send word that he had. Alas! my own contrivances in respect to Mr. Leeson, had taught me to suspect perfidy in him. I therefore acted with more cunning; and when I arose I sent my servant in Mr. Lawless's name, to desire they would look for a shirt breast-pin, which he had dropt there last night. They replied they had not seen it, but kept the servant whilst a strict and careful search was made in the rooms in which he had been. I was then satisfied that he had told me nothing but truth; for had he not been there they would not have sought for the pin. Then I rejoiced that I had not perpetrated what I had so iniquitously resolved, and for some time, as I became more placid, we lived with more tranquillity.

            About this time Captain Mathews returned from America. Before I had known either Mr. Jackson, Mr. Lawless, or Mr. Leeson, I had been acquainted with this gentleman: he had shown great attention to me, and visited me very often. He was young and agreeable, and had a pretty fortune. As he was in the army, his regiment was ordered to America, and at that time I really regretted his departure. He had been some years abroad, and when he returned to Dublin, was desirous of renewing the connection. He had made enquiries after me, but the private and retired way of life I led having made me little known, his search was fruitless for some time. At length, as he was sitting in the window at Daly's Coffee-house, he saw me pass by in a coach. He directly recognised me, and immediately followed the carriage, till he saw me alight from it, at my own little habitation, in Wood-street, which small as it was I prefered to the castle of Dublin, as it had been the scene of many happy hours.

            When Captain Mathews had been informed of my retired mode of life, that calumny could not fasten its cankered tooth on my character, nor malice taint my fidelity to Mr. Lawless, he thought it highly improper to come to me openly: but he found means to get a letter delivered to me, in which he requested me to give him a meeting, as he had a very handsome present for me. This I refused. He then sent a diamond ring—which I returned. This diamond ring was brought back to me, accompanied with another of equal brilliancy; both were rejected. Another effort was made. As, perhaps, he suspected I had looked upon his presents as too trivial for my acceptance, he now sent the rings again with a packet of bank notes: all these were refused. For at that time, his whole estate would have appeared insufficient to induce me to infidelity, to the man I so sincerely loved. At length, the Captain proposed marriage, but even that I refused. I preferred the society of Mr. Lawless to any other connection, although it might be sanctioned by law; and the company of my little children, for whom, if compelled by necessity, I would have sought to gain a support by my labour, rather than have married the first peer of the realm—and with this last refusal ended the fruitless proposals of Captain Mathews, and he desisted from any farther attempt.

            Still the altercations between me and Mr. Lawless, continued, and my jealousy and reproaching temper, embittered both our lives for about a year longer. Our time during that space was chiefly occupied, with doubts and satisfactions, quarrels and reconciliations. At length, as Mr. Lawless's fortune was solely personal, and as he was never a man of economy, a capital derangement, or rather dissipation of his finances ensued; especially as his father, supposing he was married to me (which indeed, he never was) very much disapproved of his conduct. This added to his peevishness and petulance; and whenever I thought calmly, I attributed the greatest part of his disagreeable behaviour and irregularities, to his unsettled state of mind, on the melancholy prospect his affairs presented continually to him. Yet to the last, he showed his strong affection for me, though very often in a manner that the most virtuous of wives could not have relished. His jealousy and diffidence increased daily. If when going out on family business, any man saluted or even spoke to me, he was alarmed at it, and would on our return not only scold, but frequently proceeded to blows; and would put me to my oath, that I had no connection with the person who had paid me any mark of common civility; nor any kind of knowledge, that exceeded the strictest bounds of civility. But why need I complain of his conduct, when, as if we acted by sympathy, my doubts, suspicions, and jealousies of him went on in an even pace with those of his concerning me. If at any time we entertained a few friends, and he out of good manners would call on any female at table to take a glass of wine with him, it so far irritated me, that I could not eat a morsel more, and it rendered me disagreeable to the company for the whole evening after.

            One particular anecdote of my turbulence and ill behaviour, I cannot avoid relating, as it may be a lesson to some of my female readers to avoid a similar conduct, by showing its absurdity, and that it constantly fails of obtaining the end it proposes.

            A gentleman had made a dinner party for Mr. Lawless and me: There was a lady in company, to whom I thought he paid too particular an attention, at which I was so much galled, that it was with the utmost difficulty I could prevail upon myself to behave with tolerable decorum, for the remainder of the day. At length, the company broke up, and I was glad I had an opportunity to give vent to my spleen and discontent. As soon as we had got into a coach to return home, I began to scold and upbraid Mr. Lawless. I seized his gloves, and threw them out of the carriage window—which were soon followed by my muff, his hat, and whatever I could lay my hands on. When we got home, where we might make as much noise as we pleased, we became vociferous in our contention, till we were both nearly tired. I refused to go to bed, he insisted I should, which I still refused. He then cut the strings of my clothes, and threw me into bed. I twisted from him and got under it; he, greatly enraged at my obstinacy, pulled me out, and in the struggle hurt me so much, that he was obliged to send for Surgeon Cleghorn, who found me so bad that he was forced to fetch in Dr. Cullum. By their united care, I at length recovered, with the loss of my child, of which I was above four months gone.—Fatal effects of jealousy, rage and contention! I lost the things I had thrown out of the coach; had raised my spirits into a temporary madness; had, by my obstinacy drawn on myself ill-usage; subjected myself to a long and dangerous illness, had incurred the expenses of medical advice, and all the consequent charges of a sick bed; and to crown all, had been the death of the child I carried—and what was the mighty cause of all this train of calamities—because Mr. Lawless behaved with politeness to a lady in company, in another gentleman's house. Reflect on this, ye Females of turbulent tempers. See what ye gain by being, what is too frequently your boast, women of spirit; and though your cases may not be exactly similar with what I have related; yet, from as trifling causes do your passions rise. Think that mildness is the true distinguishing characteristic of woman; and that a rage, and what is called spirit—which is the child of Pride and Folly—degrades the sex below its real dignity, nay, it defeats its own purpose; for reproaches and revilings tend more to disgust a man, than to establish or recal his love.

            We now lived an unhappy life, yet, in the midst of all I continued true and faithful to him. His money was all gone, and for some months we subsisted on the sale of our watches, rings, clothes, and ornaments. After them followed most of our household furniture. To complete our misery, our children died one by one, a little time after each other, excepting one only, who itself a few months after sickened. This darling boy was then at his nurse's, at the upper end of Bride-street. He was attended regularly by Dr. Cleghorn, and I saw him twice a day; till at length, the Dr. called on me, and recommended me to prepare for the worst, for he had no hopes of his life. I ran like a distracted woman to take a last farewell of my only surviving, yet, dying darling; but on my entrance into the nurse's house, found he had just departed. I snatched up the infant's scarce cold body in my arms, and wrapping the tail of my gown around it, ran screaming through the street, to my own house, and presented the child to Mr. Lawless. He was much shocked at the sight, and was greatly affected at seeing the last of our five children snatched from us. I was indeed, carrying another, but the birth of that was uncertain, and at best but a distant comfort. Alas! I did not then behold the hand of Providence, which foreknowing the calamities that were soon to follow, wisely and mercifully took my children from me, ere they lighted upon us. Besides, these illegitimate children gave me pleasure, and were taken from me to punish me; and it seemed like the sentence that Nathan pronounced against King David, "How be it, because by this deed (the unlawful begetting them) thou has given great occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die."

            Before I relate the unfortunate conclusion of my connection with Mr. Lawless, I beg leave to mention a very singular adventure that happened, some time before the death of my children, and whilst our prosperity was yet present.

            Mr. Lawless, thinking to give me a pleasurable jaunt, proposed that we should go to the Curragh races; a celebrated lady, then known by the appellation of Kitty Cut-a-dash, was to go also; she then lived with a Mr. James Cavendish, who was particularly fond of the turf. We two went in the coach of a gentleman, who was drawn by four excellent bay geldings, that had been given to him by a certain Lord, for some services he had done for his Lordship. The gentlemen were to ride their horses. We all got to the course, and having feasted our eyes with all that was to be seen, went to Burchell's, at the Nineteen-mile House, for some refreshments; but we found the house so full, that there was not even a room to dine in, much less beds for us. Burchell and his wife, who knew and was very fond of me, offered to lay a cloth for us in their bed-room, and to procure a pallet in the same room, for the accommodation of us two females. To this I readily agreed, but Miss Kitty objected, as she had her Jemmy with her, whilst my swain was absent. In this dilemma, Mr. Cavendish met with two gentlemen of his acquaintance, who had one of the parlours. We agreed to dine there, and proceed to Kildare to sleep. We dined, were very merry, drank our Champagne , and time slipped away insensibly, till ten o'clock, when Mr. Cavendish, Lord Boyne, and a Mr. Trotter, came in the coach with us, and their servants rode their horses. The night was very dark, and one of the grooms, who boasted that he knew every foot of the road, offered to be our guide, and went before us on a grey horse, that he might be better seen by our coachman. We had proceeded about two miles on the sod, when our guide mistaking the way, led us against a ditch. Our horses being mettlesome and high fed, made no stop, but leaped and brought the coach clear over undamaged. We screeched and begged to be let out, but in vain, for the coachman, as self-conceited as our guide, said he would soon gain the road, and wheeled about, but in turning, ran the pole against the bank of the ditch, when it snapped in two. The gentlemen wanted us to stay in the coach till day-light, saying we could sleep very comfortably therein. To this I firmly objected, and then it was agreed we should ride to Kildare on the horses. There were but three, so Kitty rode, on the bare rump behind Mr. Cavendish, I sat before Lord Boyne, and guided the horse, whilst he kept himself fast by holding me round the waist; and Mr. Trotter led the van on the grey horse. The servants were all left to take care of the coach.

            We then set out again for Kildare. We travelled in this manner, backwards and forwards for above three hours; and never did I suffer more than I did that night, being almost perished with cold, and almost ready to drop from the horse. Kitty indeed, was not in the same situation, she got warmed by the frequent falls she had; and I believe nothing kept me alive but my laughing at her, for she clung so fast to her Jemmy, that whenever she slipped off, she dragged him down with her.

            At last she spied a light, that seemed to proceed from a cabin, about two miles distance. We made towards it, Mr. Trotter on his grey, leading the way; when on a sudden, we lost sight of our guide, he having got into a sand-pit, where he and his pony, kept dancing amongst the stones at the bottom, to which they had fallen, for a full quarter of a hour before they could get out. He shouting out to us to keep where we were. Had I not seen him fall, I should have been directly on top of him, and Lord Boyne, and our horse on me; and then in all probability, my memoirs would have finished here, as there must have been an end of Margaret.

            Mr. Trotter now, with constant efforts had succeeded in getting himself and his horse out of the sand-pit. He still persisted in making for the light, and at length, we reached it without any more accidents, than two or three more falls of Kitty; who did not seem to mind them much, as she had Mr. Cavendish with her, of whom at that time she was very fond. I had not a like consolation, for as soon as Mr. Lawless had packed me off, he went somewhere else, and did not come to join us as he had promised.

            When we got to the cabin we roused the people, and by a handsome reward, procured a man to conduct us to Kildare, which he very properly did, and we reached the town at about three in the morning. As it was so late, nobody was up in the town but some bucks, some gentlemen gamblers, who were fleecing each other.—Not a bed to be got, all the taverns full, and every private house engaged. What was then to be done? we could not sleep on horse-back in the streets all night. The reader has had many proofs, that my temper was not of the most placid kind; and I began to vent my discontent on Kitty. A strong altercation began, I reproached her with preventing us from staying at Burchell's, where we might have avoided all the inconveniencies we had undergone: and she in her turn, upbraided me that I would not remain in the carriage, where we might have been warm and comfortable, and might have enjoyed some sleep. I urged, that I was deterred from staying in the coach, that I might not be exposed to attempts which one of the gentlemen had hinted as we drove along; for this was in my virtuous days, as I called them; and though I strongly believed, that Mr. Lawless staying behind was owing to some pre-concerted infidelity, yet, at that time, nothing could have tempted me to have returned the compliment.

            Whilst we were thus jarring, our gentlemen had been searching the town over for beds, but not one could be got. However, Farrell the piper, who they found playing in one of the taverns, had given them the key of his lodging, which he offered for our acceptance. We hastened to it; but of all the wretched habitations I had ever seen, this was by far the worst. The curtains were of ten different colours, and the bed most miserable. However, necessity urged, and we lay down in our clothes for about three hours, and then got our breakfasts from the tavern.

            By the time our hairs were dressed, the coach was got mended and brought to Kildare. We returned to the Curragh; but I was so distracted with jealousy, at the disappointment of not seeing Mr. Lawless, that after staying one heat, nothing could induce me to wait for a second. I would go to town in spite of all the entreaties of Kitty, who was forced to come and leave her Jemmy behind, sore against her will.

            I had contracted an acquaintance with a Mrs. Johnston, who lived in Fownes's-street, and was kept by a relation of my first love, Mr. Dardis; when the carriage came into Dame-street, I got out, took my leave of Kitty, and walked down to Mrs. Johnston's house. I gave a single rap at the door, and as soon as it was opened, I pushed in without saying a word, and opened the parlour door, without giving the least notice. There I found Mr. Lawless sitting tête-a-tête, and drinking Champagne with Mrs. Johnston. We all three stood as petrified. My jealousy was wound up to so high a pitch, that I screamed, trembled, and was quite beside myself I snatched up the decanter, and was about to dash it in her face, when Mr. Lawless seized and held my hands, and prevented me from murder; which had I thrown the double-flint glass decanter in her face, must have ensued. She was so astonished at the sight of me, that she sat motionless in her chair, and never offered to defend herself, to stir, or even to utter a single word. Lawless took me home, and in time appeased me. But I had my revenge of Mrs. Johnston, for I immediately sent for the gentleman who maintained her, related the circumstance, and also many other proofs of her infidelity, which had come to my knowledge, and which she could not deny. And he immediately forsook her, and would never see or support her more.

            But to return to my narrative from whence I have digressed.

            The finances of Mr. Lawless being not only exhausted, but also whatever could be raised from our superfluities, and even some of our necessaries, he began seriously to revolve in his mind what means could be found for future support. His friends advised him to quit the kingdom, as his father was resolved, not to give him any farther subsistence in Ireland, which he refused in the most peremptory manner, but at last consented to give him a draft on Messrs Smith and Ramage, merchants in New-York, to be paid to him only, on his arrival there; the old gentleman being persuaded if he gave him any money here, it would be shared with me, as it most certainly would have been.

            This determination was like a clap of thunder, it struck me almost senseless; although there was no prospect of subsistence, I was distracted at the thoughts of his going to America. He argued with me, justly, that his continuing here would, only serve to plunge us both into greater distress, without even a probability of extricating ourselves from it. On the other hand, I exerted every art of persuasion to induce him to stay with me, and endeavour to find out some means of support, but his pride would not suffer him to listen to me. He now became the most kind and tender man he could possibly be, which still more endeared him to me, and rendered me still more reluctant to agree to our separation. Oft would he cry, whilst the tears trickled down his cheeks—Oh! my dear Margaret! If I am obliged to go abroad, will you still bear me in your remembrance? will you cherish and love, for my sake, the babe you carry, if it comes to maturity, as it is the sole one that will be left of our all. I have replied properly, and asked why he would think of leaving me?

            I long thought he would never accede to his father's proposal; but alas! he had determined, though he would not acquaint me of his resolution: As he well knew he could not bear the pangs of a formal parting (and so he told his friends) he secretly engaged a passage in an American vessel, and got his clothes and baggage privately on board. The night before he departed, he came to me and said he was to go the next morning a few miles from town; he again asked, if I would remember him, and love the expected infant. He would not go to bed, but at one in the morning, said he must sleep that night at his lodgings, where his uncle was to call upon him early, to go out of town together, and give him some money: this satisfied me, I had no doubts, and suffered him to go. He came twice or thrice back to my room before he quitted the house, pressed me affectionately to his bosom, and blessed me with uncommon earnestness. At that time, I took no notice of these particulars, though they frequently occurred afterwards to my mind.

            The next morning arrived; a morning that will be ever remembered with anxiety, whilst recollection lasts or sensibility remains. The most particular friend of Mr. Lawless came to visit me, and presented me with a letter from him. As soon as I had the letter in my hand, I was seized with an unusual fluttering of my heart. With a trembling hand I broke the seal, and with a moistened eye, read the words,


My darling Peggy
I sail this morning to America—

            I could read no more.—The paper fell from my hands, my sight grew dizzy, I fell lifeless from my chair, and continued in fits for several hours. At length, a flood of tears came to my relief, but came to affix the seal of certainty on my misfortune. I then strove to read the remainder of this fatal letter, and the retracing of his dear lines, seemed my only, though melancholy comfort. It continued in these words.


—I could not bring myself to tell you, my love! I was going to leave you. Do not be angry then with your dear Lawless, when real affection, and a disposition not to give you pain, was the cause that made him thus abruptly break from those bonds, by which he would joyfully for ever be united to you. Yet, rest in peace and be certain of hearing from me by every opportunity; and, as you love me, my dear Peggy! take care of our baby, child—Adieu! and may every blessing of Heaven guard you tilt we once more meet.

            From a state of fainting and almost insensibility, these lines roused me to fury Words cannot express the tortures of mind. I tore my hair, I beat my breasts, rent my clothes, and became outrageously and raving mad—until nature, nearly exhausted by these violent passions, sunk spiritless and stupid, and the whole frame of my nerves were palsied. In this state I continued near a week, incapable to answer any question with propriety. My friends, alarmed at my condition, brought in two physicians (Doctors Cullum and Cleghorn,) who ordered me instantly to quit Wood-street, to breathe a purer air than that close part of the town afforded. I was then moved to Ranelagh-road, almost powerless, being obliged to be carried in arms to the coach, and out of it up stairs to my new lodgings. I was every day carried into the garden, where I remained for two hours a-day, propped up by pillows; as my debility was too great to sit unsupported. Here, labouring under extreme weakness of body and distress of mind, I remained till by the change of air, and the consolatory conversation of my friends, I grew something better; and gradually, but slowly, recovered strength and spirits enough to be delivered of a fine girl, who was dearer to me than all the children I had borne, as it was the last pledge of my dear Lawless, and his image was minutely traced on the countenance of the new-born innocent.


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