Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson
There's not a weed so noxious on the Earth,
But holds some virtue clos'd within its rind;
And few there are, howe'er far gone ill,
From whom some quality of use to man
May not be drawn. Heav'n only sees the Heart,
Then let us not condemn from outward show,
But let the good be shelter for the bad,
Plead in its favour and incline our thoughts
To comely Charity, towards our neighbour.
WHILST we were at London, a Manchester gentleman paid his addresses to me. As I was then with Bob, I would not listen to him; but as Bob was on the eve of going abroad, the gentleman told me, if I would take Manchester in my way home to Dublin, he would make me a present of a handsome gig, and four very delicate ponies. I promised that I would, as I thought the gig and ponies would be very stylish. However, such was my distress on parting with Bob, that though I actually came through Manchester, I could not bear to keep my promise. Though, to confess the truth, I had a terrible conflict between my love for Bob, and my desire for the gig and ponies; and I did not value myself a little on this capital piece of self-denial.
When I arrived in Dublin, I found all well, but Sally Hayes, who was almost inconsolable for the loss of a favourite Captain, who had been obliged to join his regiment. We being sisters in affliction, lived like widows for a while; till, like other widows, we strove to drive away the thoughts of the past, by the enjoyments of the present; and we followed the advice of Shakespeare,
Take you some new infection to your heart
And the rank poison of the old will die.
A Captain H——, paid his addresses to Sally; she loved him for near two years, with as much fervour as she did any of her former favourites: nay, more, for when he was ordered abroad, she took it so much to heart, that it brought on a bilious complaint, which in the end, carried her to her grave: but here I anticipate.
As for myself, a very handsome young fellow of the name of Cunynghame, became very assiduous to please me. He visited me many times, before I thought proper to admit him to my favour, as he was too great and too general an admirer of the fair sex. He was expecting a commission in the sixty-seventh regiment. However, as I was totally disengaged, I thought he would make me a very agreeable dangler and attendant, as I was so much in public: for indeed, he was fit for nothing else; and therefore, I enlisted him in my train;—but I shall leave mentioning him for a time, to give place to some intermediate matter.
Hitherto, for many pages I have candidly shown myself in my worst light; I now beg leave to mention some anecdotes, which I hope will place me in a more advantageous point of view; and that, however vindictive I may have appeared, when ill-used, Pity and Humanity, were no strangers to my breast. These short narratives will not be quoted exactly in the order of time; but arc thrown together, that they may be seen at one glance.
When the Regiment of Black Horse, was in garrison in Dublin, one evening three troopers of that regiment came to my house, and demanded some money to drink my health. I met them in the hall, and asked if I owed them any money? They said no. Then, I think (said I,) it is very well that I can pay my debts, and not give money to strangers to drink. It is what I never did nor ever will. If any person in real distress applied to me, I would relieve them as far as in my power. On my refusal, the soldiers rushed by me, and ran upstairs, saying, they would search for a deserter. I told them there was no such person there, but they might search as far as they pleased; which they did. This was merely a pretence of the soldiers, thinking thereby to extort money from me; but when they found I would give them none they went away, after making a great bustle.
I had at that time, a lady with me in my house. I requested she would take a chair and go to the Barracks, to some of the officers of that regiment, and acquaint them with the behaviour of three of their men. This she did, and the officers directly ordered the gates to be shut, and a search made. Eleven of their men were missing out of their rooms. A guard was sent in quest of them, and they were all taken, brought hand-cuffed to the Barracks, and put into confinement.
The next morning, an officer wrote to me, that Colonel Crampton requested I would come to the Barracks at eleven o'clock; and that I would drive to the back of the Barracks, on Arbour-hill, and he would order the men round there, as it would be more private. They were indeed, ranged there before my carriage came. The Colonel then asked me if any of the men who had behaved ill at my house, were among those eleven. I immediately pointed out the three, telling him that one of them was the man who wanted to extort money from me, and had been very impudent and insolent: the other two came indeed with him, but had behaved remarkable civil. The Colonel ordered the offender back to his confinement, till a Court-martial should be held on him. In a few days, the man was tried and sentenced to receive some hundred lashes, at which I was much pleased; for, if such behaviour were to be passed over, there would be no end to it. Every day in the interval, between the sentence and the day it was to be put in execution, I had three or four letters brought me from the prisoner, interceding in his behalf At last, the man's wife came crying to my door, and would not quit it till she saw me. I then pitied the woman, and wrote by her to the Colonel, to request he would pardon the man, as for my own part, I sincerely forgave him. The Colonel complied, and the man was released without any other punishment than the confinement he had suffered;—after this, sundry of the man's comrades came to my house to thank me; and declared if any of the regiment were to meet me on the mountains of Connaught, or the farthest part of Ireland, they would carry me on their backs to any, the most distant place to where I would choose to go. And whenever I met any of the officers of that corps, they never failed to thank me for my forgiveness of, and pleading for the man.
A young gay fellow, of the name of Gibbons, was particularly fond of Sally Hayes. He gave her several valuable presents, and some bank notes; which profusion shortly ran him a-ground, and he was without money. This not suiting him, he resolved to have money let it come from whence it would, and in what manner soever. He began by forging a note on his uncle, for a thousand pounds; but it did not succeed, as the sum was too large to be negotiated. He then forged a note on Mr. Maquay, sugar-baker, in Thomas-street, for eighty pounds. With this he came to me, and begged I would direct him where he could get cash for it, for it was as good as the bank, and he would give five guineas for the discount. I not knowing but all was right, gave him a letter to an eminent citizen, saying, it would much oblige me if he would give cash for the note, to the gentleman who brought it, as it was a very good one, a proper discount would be given; and if he had not all the cash in the house, that he would favour him with what he had, and the gentleman would wait on him next morning for the remainder. I knew the citizen would have let me have as much, without either note or bond. However, he had but thirty guineas to spare, which he gave Mr. Gibbons, and told him he should have the rest on the morrow.
In the meantime, Sally Hayes and I were engaged to dine with two gentlemen at a tavern in Cope-street, and were gone there. When Gibbons returned, my servants inadvertently told him where we were, and he came to us, though rather unwelcome, as we did not want his company, but had omitted to give proper directions to my servants.
The citizen, although he had given thirty guineas, in consequence of my letter, was still so cautious as to go to Mr. Maquay, before he gave the remainder. He showed Mr. Maquay no part of the note but the signature, and asked him if that was his hand? he declared immediately it was not. This alarmed the citizen, who, fearful he should be charged with uttering a forgery, crumpled up the note in his hand, and sat off directly; running as if a mad bull were after him, and never stopped till he found a gate-way, behind the door of which, he hid for some minutes, till peeping out and perceiving he was not pursued, he took courage to go to a magistrate and lodge examinations against young Gibbons. Then armed with a warrant, he got an officer and came to my house; being told where I was he followed me, and going into another room, sent the waiter to desire to speak to me. I went to him directly, when he asked me where the gentleman was that I had sent to him for money that morning, for he wished to see him. I told him that he might do it if he would only walk into the next room, and asked him and his friend to follow me. As soon as he entered he bawled out aloud, and bid the officer seize that man and take him off to Newgate. Off they dragged him directly without his hat; and then the citizen and his friend, went to their own room. My heart ached for the poor young fellow, thus devoted to a certain death. I followed the citizen, threw myself on my knees before him, twined my arms round him; and with a flood of tears begged mercy, and that he would not take the unfortunate young man's life. At length, I softened him, and he agreed Gibbons should be brought back, and released, if I should give him the thirty guineas he had disbursed, and pay all the charges, this I did immediately, though the young man was nothing to me, and the poor fellow was returned to us. Thus I saved an unhappy fellow creature's life; and gave him into the hands of his father and brother, who had come on my sending for them. They did not arrive till the business was affected; and if they had come sooner, it would have been to no avail, as they had neither the money to give the citizen, nor that influence over him which I had. But, Oh! Ingratitude! what was my reward? Gibbons and his father went to law with me for the money I had paid to save his neck, and some other sums I had previously lent him. But I recovered my debt, and let him fall into other hands.
I had been one day to dinner at Rathfarnham, when returning in the evening, I found a hackney coach at my door, and was informed by my servant, that the person who came in it, and was waiting for my coming home, was a young woman who she believed, had escaped from some mad-house. I was very angry that such a person was let in, but went into the parlour to see who it was. When I entered, I beheld a most beautiful young person, who appeared to be about fifteen years old, to have been elegantly bred, and to be some girl of family, though ten shillings would purchase all the clothes on her back. When she saw me she threw herself on her knees, and wept bitterly, saying she had been so cruelly used by her parents, that she could no longer bear it. I asked who they were? when she replied, that if she were to tell me, she knew my character too well not to be certain, that I would send for and give her up to them. I answered, "My good girl, if I thought you were a virtuous girl, most probably I should; but you appear to me, rather as one just come out of a mad-house, or a hospital, and I fear you are not good. But tell me the truth, and then I shall know how I am to act by you."—Oh! No, said she, I am no such person, and did you know my parentage, you would not speak to me thus harshly. And I know your family, and the story of your life, as well as you do yourself.
This it may be well supposed, made me the more eager to know who she was; and supposing that her intent was to go upon the town, I resolved to use every effort to prevent it; as I have ever done when in my power; for I never in my life was accessory or instrumental to the corruption of any girl; nor ever received in my house anyone who had not already been deluded. I strongly remonstrated with this young woman, on the infamy of the way of life into which she seemed desirous of entering. That many a fine woman, who had kept their carriages, and lived in the most extravagant, luxurious, and superb style for a few years, had fallen when the town was tired of them, into the most abject, and unpitied poverty; and died miserable, and in the want of the most common necessaries of life. This is positively a fact. I have been a witness to the distress of many such, and have always relieved them as much as I could, though some of them have been so high and proud, as to think it not worth their while to speak to me, till I got into high life. Yet, I returned good for evil; and however, I have frequently met with ungrateful returns, yet I do not regret what I have done for them—but to return.
When I had finished my harangue, to which she had listened with the profoundest attention, the poor girl replied,—It was not her desire or intention to embrace that shameful way of life, the consequences of which I had so pointedly as well as humanely depicted; what she sought, was to live with me, wash my small linen, and attend me when at home as companion, or humble friend; for her heart was almost broken with the usage which she had met. She had been locked up in a two-pair of stairs room, her food cut off and sent to her on a plate, not being admitted to table; and compelled to work till her fingers were almost eaten away. All these hardships were inflicted by an old maiden aunt, to whose care she had been committed for a few weeks. In lieu of her own clothes, which had been taken away whilst she was in bed, and were locked up; an old white dress was given her, which had been bestowed on the maid some time before, and had a hundred darns in it. In that condition she took the first opportunity of the door being open, and ran out without any cloak, or anything on her head; took the first coach she met and came to my house.
Here let me again animadvert on the ill-conduct of many parents, who by harsh usage often drive their children, sons as well as daughters, to desperation. Bad indeed, must be that disposition which cannot be moved by kindness; and extraordinarily good must be that temper, which is not perverted by cruelty. Besides, if harshness is even used as a method of amendment of any errors in youth, and not merely (as it too often is,) from a tyrannic inclination, it generally fails of its end. Here, in the instance before us, a young girl was driven from her home by ill-treatment; and in my own self, I have bitterly experienced the fatal consequences of my inhuman brother's cruelty, that first exposed me to miseries, that led to the way of life I had embraced. But for him I should not have erred. Nay, had I had only a friend, who would have given me the advice that I cordially gave this unhappy girl, I might have been as virtuous a woman as she is now.
It was in vain that I pressed her to let me know who her relations were. I told her it was near eleven o'clock, and as I could not keep her any longer in my house, I must place her with one of my neighbours, and in the morning I would advertise to know her parents, and where I should take her, for she should not stay with me for any consideration on earth. Still she persisted, saying, that if her parents got her home again, they would tie her with cords, and use her still worse than before. I told her, no, I would take care of that, I would go to them, and give them such a lecture that would harrow up their souls, and induce them to use her like a queen; and if they did not, then I would receive her, and never let her go to them again.
Finding all my efforts in vain, I then altered my tune, and threatened to turn her out into the streets at that late hour, for the first ruffian she met, to drag her as he pleased. This menace had its effect, she then told me who her parents were and where they lived. This determined me how to act with her.
All the time I had been talking with her, two gentlemen had been waiting in my front parlour, who had been watching to get a second glimpse of her, as they had seen her when they first came in with me. I therefore, sent for a coach, put one of my cloaks upon her, and went into the coach with her, directing the coachman to drive to a different place to where I intended to go, in order to deceive the two gentlemen. And to make them still more sure, I locked them in the parlour, and gave the key to my servant, telling her when she thought the coach might have got some streets off, she might let the curious, disappointed gentlemen out.
When we were at some distance, I gave the proper directions to the coachman, and we drove to the house the poor girl had left: she kissing my hand, and wetting it with her tears all the way we went; and praying she might yet have it in her power, to nurse me, wash my feet, and be a comfort to me in my old age.
When we arrived at the door where she was to enter, I left her in the coach, and went in myself. I found her father, and said sufficient to him, to make him promise she should be used well, and that he would not let her crabbed aunt or anyone else, say an uncivil thing to her. I said also, I would come once a week, and know from her own mouth how she was treated; and if ever she ran away again, I would let her stay with me and advertise the whole transaction, with names and places of abode. But I never heard one word of complaint again.
My two bucks that I had locked up in the parlour, having just seen this girl, and being much struck with her beauty, had told the transaction to some of their companions; and as they were always on the look out to ensnare young birds, were very urgent with me to get her to my house; and would give me anything I should ask if I would send for her. This I constantly refused. They then requested that I would let them know who she was, and where she lived. This also I denied to do, as I never was or would be in the most distant way, instrumental in deluding any young female.
Another anecdote of this kind, and I have done for the present with this subject.
Some short time after the above adventure, a very fine dressed lady, very young, and very ugly, came to my house, and said she wanted lodgings. I told her I had none; nor indeed, did I ever choose to let anyone lodge in my house, who did not go with me into public company. For above half a year she was coming to me, and teasing me to let her live with me. She was always well dressed; and every time she came she wore a different dress. I at last asked where she lived, she said in New-street. Sure, said I, there cannot be a house in that street, fit for a woman of your appearance to live in. She replied, there was, and she had a friend who supported her there. I advised her to stick to that friend. In about a fortnight after, she came to me again, in a new garb, neat and elegant. As from her coming so often to see me, we had contracted a kind of acquaintance, I asked her to stay for tea; she complied, asking me, if in case she should be locked out, I would give her a night's lodging. I answered, ten, if she wanted them. In the evening she went away, but returned in about an hour, and said she could not get in. That night she slept with me. The next day I was engaged to dine out of town, and to take Kelly, the dulcimer player with me. I asked my guest to go with me, to which, after some hesitation she consented. We went and passed a very agreeable day. When we came home, I told the maid to see the strange lady to bed, then to lock the door and bring me the key.
The next morning early, Kelly, the dulcimer player, came to me, and to my great surprise, told me the lady who I had taken out of town with me the day before, was a boarder in the Nunnery, where he had seen her four or five times when he had been to play there. I could scarcely believe him, but he assured me he was quite certain of the truth of what he said.
I had the lady called down to breakfast, and when that was over I took her into my own room, where she confessed the truth. I then reasoned with her, and sometimes scolded her. I wanted to know what could be her motive, to want to embrace such a way of life, as she seemed desirous of following. That she must be both very vicious, and equally villainous, to leave such a comfortable, elegant place as the Nunnery, to throw herself into a line, in which she certainly must starve, and die in a cellar without a morsel to eat, or a bed to lie upon. For indeed, you mistake the trade, which you are not framed to follow with any the most distant prospect of success. I sent her away, crying bitterly, and bid her bless God, that she had a decent support, in a virtuous place where she could want for nothing, and exhorted her to keep it as long as she could. She went away, and I saw her no more.