Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson
No care, no stop! so thoughtless of expense,
As neither to know how to maintain it,
Nor cease the flow of riot. Takes no account
How things go forward, nor has any care
Of what is to continue,—will not hear,
Till strong necessity shall make to feel.
SHAKESPEARE'S Timon of Athens
BEFORE I left Dublin I had paid all my debts, and besides the money and effects I brought with me to London, I had left a few hundreds in bank. This was very lucky for me, or perhaps I might have starved in a strange country, where I knew no one who would assist me, and where the English gentlemen are more cautious and less liberal and generous than those of Ireland. However, resolving to make as great a figure in one metropolis as I had done in the other, I drew all my money from Ireland, kept an elegant house, No. 4, Cleveland-row, and hired for a companion an Irish woman, who had been wife to a respectable merchant in Dublin; but having caught her in bed with his clerk, he had turned her adrift, and she had retired to London.
I now entered into a fresh round of pleasures, different indeed, from those I enjoyed in Dublin. There, not only the expense of them came from sundry pockets, but I could always lay by something handsome, but in London, I myself was forced to bear the bulk of the charges. However, as I had money I was resolved not to balk myself of any desire or amusement, whilst it lasted; totally careless of what supply I might get when it was all spent. I visited every public diversion, the theatres in winter; and in the summer I was frequently at Ranelagh, till twelve or one o'clock, and then to sup at Vauxhall, till six or seven in the morning, dancing and drinking burnt Champagne , and sometimes even rioting. All the fine ladies and demi-reps, wondered where I got so many diamonds, and such variety of fine clothes, especially as they thought many of themselves were much handsomer than I was. Some of my countrymen, to vex them the more, told them I was admired by some people of the first fashion in Ireland; and that I had realised ten thousand pounds, which I had left in a bank in Dublin. This report made me the object of envy, and well accounted for my expensive mode of living. It also made me more proud and haughty than before, and to maintain an air of superiority, highly flattering to my pride and vanity, of which the following is an evident proof, bordering even on insolence.
One morning walking down the Strand, I saw a fine dashing person, attended by another, go into a shop near Temple-bar. My curiosity to know who it was led me to follow him in; where I soon found it was the Prince of Wales, and fixed my eyes full upon him till he had finished giving his orders, which were for some stripes for waistcoats. I then addressed the shop-keeper, and desired he would cut off enough to make two waistcoats of the same stripe, and pack it up very well, as I wanted to send it as a present to my shoe-maker, in Dublin. The Prince turned, and looked steadfastly at me, and then walked out of the shop.
Some few days later, I was riding to dine at Richmond, in company with one lady, and three English gentlemen. I heard a great noise of clear the way, clear the way: I looked behind and saw the Prince come, driving furiously in a very high phaeton, with the same gentleman with him, and a train of servants. The gentlemen who were with me said, Ride on one side, and make room for his Royal Highness. Not I indeed, answered I. There is room sufficient, there is one-half the road for him; and I have as much right to the other half, as he or anyone else; ye are three cowards, and I shall laugh at you as long as I live for your mean servility. By this time the Prince was come a-breast of us, and as he passed he stared at me, and looked as sour as if he would have bitten my nose off But that did not intimidate me, I galloped off, and kept up with him till he came to a gate, which opened to that part of the park wherein he lived; into which he turned, after he had given me half a dozen as crabbed looks, as ever I saw on any gentleman's countenance.
I then stopped and waited till my company came up, when they questioned me why I would not quit the middle of the road. I replied, I did not choose it. They then asked me if I did not think it very wrong in me, to ride on by the Prince's phaeton. I said no; as I think part of the road was for my use, as well as for that of the King; and if you English are servile and timid, we Irish are not, so I beg you would drop the subject, as I assure you if the same circumstance was to occur to-morrow, I should act in the same manner; or indeed, as I thought proper.
At length, we got to Richmond, a most delightful spot indeed, where we dined, and drank as good Champagne , as ever I tasted in Ireland, everything exquisitely good, and served in so superb a manner, that I am sorry to say, I never saw such a tavern, in any part of my own country.
After dinner we set off for London, about nine in the evening, and as I had been somewhat tired with riding, I took a seat in the phaeton with one of the gentlemen, but the wind blew so strongly on me, that when I came home, I found myself attacked with a pungent pain in my side. Yet, I disregarded it so much that I went directly to a ball, thinking to dance it off. However, I paid dear for my indiscretion, being seized by a pleuritic fever, under which I lay above a month, and totally senseless the greatest part of the time. This was a harvest time for the woman I had taken as my companion. She had been wife to a respectable merchant, as I mentioned, and being my country-woman, I took a great liking to her and paid her particular attention.—Which she returned so as to prove that those of our own country, are the worst companions you possibly have when out of it: as they are the first to deceive you. Mrs. Green, to verify this maxim, and thinking I should not live to demand them, stole seven diamond pins, a gold watch, three trunks of clothes, and many trinkets, and articles of value. When I recovered, and missed my things, I applied to a justice and had two of my servants sent to Tothill-fields Bridewell, on suspicion. I should have provided similar lodgings for my kind country-woman, but she had taken flight on my first rising out of my bed; and as I shortly after set out for Dublin, I never found her, and would not carry on any prosecution against the servants; who, if guilty, were far less so than Mrs. Green, as I had placed no confidence in them.
On my recovery from this dreadful illness, I found my money nearly exhausted, and that the extent of the robbery had deprived me of the means of appearing with equal elegance, as when I dazzled the eyes of all beholders. This, and my increasing disgust to London, made me determine to return to my own country, and accordingly I sold off my house and furniture, packed up the few valuables I had left; laid by twelve guineas to bear my charges over, and putting the rest of my money in my pocket, sallied out a shopping to purchase something handsome, as presents to my friends in Ireland, male and female, and bought away to a considerable extent. I then packed up my purchases, and bidding adieu to London, travelled to Holyhead, embarked on board the packet, and safely landed on George's-quay, rejoicing that I had again my feet on my dear native soil.