Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson
I SHALL now commence with the most memorable epoch of my unfortunate life, bidding adieu to Bob and Bobbadil, and all such paltry bagatelles. After I had elegantly fitted out my house in Pitt-street, which I had furnished in the most superb and luxuriant style, with lustres, gerandoles, branches, elastic beds, lascivious prints and paintings, and every matter that genius or fancy could suggest to the most heated and eccentric imagination, I, on or about the beginning of the year 1784, set up an elegant equipage, with a couple of smart footmen in embroidered liveries, an aldermanic ruby faced coachman, and not only a complete suite of servants, but a fresh importation of delicious Filles-de-Joys, chosen by myself from the purlieus of Covent Garden and Drury-Lane: being thus prepared for a smart winter's campaign, who dare vie with honest Peg? Now at the very zenith of my glory, the reigning vice queen of the Paphian Goddess, I could not have chosen a finer season for the Loves and Graces to sport in than the winter of 1784; 'twas the beginning of the administration of the gay, the witty, the gallant, the convivial Rutland, whose court outrivaled that of Comus himself. Shortly after I was completely and elegantly settled in Pitt-street, as Mrs. M'Clean, Miss Love, Mrs. Stevenson alias Brooks, Mary Read, Kitty Netterville and I, were soberly drinking our tea, we were surprised with the trampling of horses at the door, and a monstrous tantarara, when behold to our amazement who should be announced but his Grace himself, attended by two of his Aide-de-Camps and a troop of horse, the latter of whom remained on horse-back armed cap-a-pie, with swords in hands, from one o'clock in the morning 'till five in the afternoon of the next day, sixteen hours!! to the no small surprise and amusement of the whole neighbourhood, and indeed of the entire city, who all flocked to behold the state, the exalted Peg was worshipped in by the Vice King of the realm. The Aid-de-Camps soon decamped with an impure each, but as for honest Charley, he and I, tête-a-tête, drank and spilled three or four flasks of sparkling Champagne , after which we retired together, for his Grace would take no partner but myself, and in the morning he paid me a profusion of compliments on the happiness he enjoyed in my company; swearing he would give ten thousand pounds his beautiful, his divine Duchess, was as much mistress of the art of pleasing, as I had the good fortune to be, and as a proof of the sincerity of his declaration, he had me immediately placed on the Pension List under a borrowed name, for three hundred pounds a year, assuring me, I deserved it much better than S——, though he had done much more for her.
"Oh! how pleasing 'tis to please."
His Grace paid me afterwards frequent visits, but not in the same state, and indeed I must do his memory that justice, that 'twas never his intention, the troop should have followed him to Pitt-street; when he set out he was in a state of intoxication, nor did he ever know he was so powerfully attended 'till he was on his return to the Castle, when with great vexation he espied his valiant life guards all drawn up about my door; however I took care of the poor fellows, and had them properly plied all night, with the pure native and a large portion of Maddocks' Irish porter, than which, not Whitbread's boasted beverage ever excelled, though the produce of the nasty Thames. This adventure produced a number of pasquinades, and every news-paper teemed with anecdotes of Peg and Charley; and at the play house a few nights afterwards, when the reigning gods of the upper regions were sporting their witty talents, all upon poor me, they roared out—"Peg who lay you with last?" on which I with the greatest nonchalance, replied, "MANNERS you black-guards;" this repartee was received with universal plaudits, as the bon mot was astonishingly great, the Duke himself being in the royal box with his divine Duchess, who was observed to laugh immoderately at the whimsical occurrence, for 'tis a known fact, that this most beautiful of woman kind that ever I beheld, never troubled herself about her husband's intrigues; she was the very reverse of poor Lady W——, who absolutely languished 'till she died, in consequence of the criminal intercourse between the Hon. Mrs. S. and her noble stripling. About a week after this affair, which made no small racket, I found two of the ladies of the S——d family had taken possession of the front of my box, Lady F——H——t and Lady G—— Q——, however, I took no sort of notice of them, and contrary to my usual custom, I suffered them to remain in quiet possession of their places, seating my good ladies in the row over them, and placing myself between the honourable pair; who not seeming to like their company, became extremely uneasy, and at last arose to begone; when I told them with a very audible voice, so as to be heard by the whole house, "Ladies don't be ashamed to be seen in my company, no doubt half the house know I am a wh——e, and the other half are as well convinced that you are arrant t——s, and pray tell me now, who are so fit to go together as wh——s and th——s? Though you must confess the wh—— is a much safer acquaintance than the th——f." This you may be assured was received by my good friends the Gods, with their usual applause; for I must confess they have always been very partial to any of my bon mots, and though I can't help acknowledging, they sometimes gave me, to use a slang phrase, "Great goose," yet upon the whole, they received me with much kindness, and they had no right to do otherwise, as I was always humane and charitable to all who were distressed, and was besides a remarkable good pay.
In my account of the Duke's first visit to me, I made mention of a Mrs. Brooks, then Mrs. Stevenson, who had just come up from the North, with the pretty Jenny Neilson, Miss Polly Dalzell, and two or three other blooming northern lasses. This abbess, who was driven from Belfast, by the majesty of the mob, who would have taken away her life, on account of the cruel murder of a Mrs. Donnelly, whose husband was the favoured Cicisbeo of this lady, who 'twas thought instigated him to the perpetration of the diabolical cruel deed, had it not been for the interference of the well known and unfortunate Mr. A——s G——th, who on account of his being the principal person who set the prosecution on foot against D——y, was the only one the populace would listen to, and merely on his account they spared her life; I say this lady, when in Belfast, moved in the humble style of an apple and orange woman, sometimes sharing her favours (and an ill favoured wench she was, though elegantly made and possessed of a good address) with any porter who could afford to give her a shilling; however she now moves in a much higher sphere, keeping an excellent house for the reception of her north country friends, the Rev. G—— P——, the veteran Waddell C——, honest W——ls——y, &c. &c. in Darby-square, nor could any lady of the town cut a genteeler figure than Mrs. Brooks, or show a finer covey of birds; though a few years before I was told, she picked up a gentleman in the town of Belfast, who being intoxicated invited her home with him (his lady being in this city) and absolutely took her into his bed in, the dark, but as soon as the day appeared the gentleman became tolerably sober (the very same who afterwards saved her from the fury of an incensed mob,) he was astonished at his own depraved taste, and giving her some trifle turned her out of, not only the bed, but the house, hardly giving her sufficient time to huddle on her rags; and notwithstanding all, this lady, now Mrs. Brooks, has retired from business, after having made a very handsome fortune, and at present enjoys otium cum dignitate, with all the sang-froid of the most virtuous lady in the metropolis, keeping her gig and ponies, and her town and country house, why not? "win gold and wear it." For
Gold makes a Patrician of a slave
A dwarf an Atlas, a Thersites brave;
It guides the fancy and directs the mind,
No bankrupt ever found a fair one kind.
Poor Brooks however notwithstanding all her good fortune, encountered many losses; Surgeon A——r particularly, who was her paramour, her constant bedfellow, her every thing, for he could enjoy no female with pleasure but Brooks, ran in her debt, and for wine, beds,——, &c. near an hundred pounds, which he never paid her, and at another time her house in Trinity-street was set in flames by the wanton gambols of a Mr. T——s and a Miss Mary Russel, of Limerick, a dashing little girl, who in the height of their love feats, performed in the true Humphreys and Mendoza style—buff to buff, forgetful of the candle, which was placed behind the arras, and regardless of the consequence, nearly perished like another Semele in love's flames; the bed, their wearing apparel, and all the furniture of the room, having been consumed to ashes, and they themselves, turned out of the house, like our first unhappy parents with not even a fig leaf to cover them, and who could attempt to censure poor Brooks when her entire property was at stake, through the lascivious whims of those capricious votaries of the Cyprian Queen, who must needs ape the Celestials, by making love bare breeched—not in clouds, but on beds of down.
"The first created male long wandered up and down,
Forlorn and silent as his vassal beast,
But when a heaven born maid like her appeared,
Strange fancies fired his breast, untyed his tongue,
And his first talk was love."
So by T——s and pretty Russel, they wished to enjoy their fill of love, as 'twas once practised in the Garden of Eden, but the angry Jove took umbrage at their presumption, and set fire to their elastic couch.
In the beginning of the year 1785, that memorable year, when tyranny and oppression first commenced their career in Ireland, when two of the first officers and best men in the kingdom, William Sharman and Amyas Griffith, Esqrs. were dismissed from their employments, for their virtuous and independent principles, and struggles in the cause of liberty (but these were not the acts of my poor Charley, they were B——d's. Peace be ever to the manes of Rutland. A masquerade was publickly announced to be held at the Rotunda, for the benefit of my worthy friend Hughes of the gambling club house in College-green; immediately on this gratifying information (for the masquerade was to be patronized, matronized and sanctioned by the viceregal pair) I employed all my industry, to engage four of the prettiest impures I could select in all Dublin, whom I introduced as VENUS and the GRACES. Fanny Beresford appeared in the character of the Modern Venus, and Mary Read, Miss Love, the northern Mary Neilson, as the three Graces—as for myself I thought the character of the Goddess of Chastity, Diana huntress of the woods, would best suit me, as we were all in masquerade, for had I appeared in the character of Cleopatra, Messalina, the Ephesian matron or any such, it surely could not be deemed masquerade; as to be in masquerade is undoubtedly to be in an assumed character; thus I sported that of the goddess of Chastity, and kept it up as well as the famed Lady Arabella D—— of charitable memory, would have done amidst her own Magdalen. Beau Myrtle, that unfortunate wight, appeared that night in the character of Beelzebub, not a bad one for a young divine, and being inflamed by beauty and heated with Champagne and Burgundy, of which he tippled too freely, he took most indecent liberties with the beautiful Vice Queen, by thrusting his nasty black hands into her fair bosom, and attempting to do more; however he experienced the same fate of his prototype Lucifer of old, he was hustled out of Paradise, admidst the execrations of all the company, but more particularly of myself and fair group, who seemed to be outrageous at the varlet's temerity; the drunken beau was afterwards degraded, totally ruined and turned out of the university, in consequence of which he eked out a scanty subsistence by writing for the Man of Ireland, poor Jack Magee! and delineating the characters of the senators of this nation, with some perspicuity and justice, for the Dublin Evening Post.
At this masquerade I met with an officious young fellow in the character of Lamb, a hair dresser, who stuck close to us, and paid us so great attention, that I was prevailed upon by the late Moll Hall of Johnson's-court (who appeared in the character of the Rosy God, and a most incomparable one she made) to invite him home with us to breakfast, for we all agreed to adjourn to my house, "the blissful seat of fun and revelry;" accordingly young Mr. C—— (for that was my spark's name, and proud enough he was at the invitation) accompanied us, and ever afterwards 'till I was obliged to take very coercive measures to get rid of him, paid such amazing attention to me and my girls, that he was scarce ever from our parties; he attended us regularly at the play-house, as one of my suite, kept seats for us, ran of our errands, picked up culls and would have turned bully for us, had he spirit enough, and in fact would do anything to oblige and please us; indeed poor C—— had a very taking way with him, which he soon convinced me of to my cost, for he took the liberty of sending several suits of my Dresden as well as a number of valuable lockets, rings, bracelets, pendants, watches, pictures, and other trinkets, to Charles Aylmer Kelly's for sundry sums of money; which on my discovering, and his refusing to restore me the duplicates, that I might release my effects; together with his boasting of favours from me, which he never obtained, for I always held such creatures in such thorough contempt, I applied to my dear worthy friend —— O'M——, who immediately introduced me to an attorney of his acquaintance, who marked a writ against my nimble fingered Mercury at my suit, and sent him for his improvement to Ormsby's Seminary in Thomas-street, where he remained swindling on his brother prisoners, till he got out in about two years afterwards, on an insolvent act; I might have capitally prosecuted Mr. C——, had I thought proper, however I concluded that the safest way of proceeding, especially as I had every assurance from Billy Jenkins my apothecary, that his father the w—— drawer, would pay his debts, and liberate him; however I was in that respect deceived, his papa and mama allowed their spem gregis half-a-guinea a week and paid for his lodging, which with the young gentleman's adroitness at Legerdemain, in which art he was a great proficient, he lived very comfortably, and frequently had the honours of visits from several of my nuns, which was a great gratification to him, for the name of an amour was all this genius aimed at. How applicable are Rowe's lines, to these sort of butterflies, mere maggots of the day.
"Away, no woman cou'd descend so low,
A skipping, dancing, worthless tribe you are,
Fit only for yourselves,—ye herd together,
And when the brisk glass warms your vain hearts,
Ye talk of beauties that you never saw,
And fancy raptures that ye never knew;
Legends of saints, if saints had ever being,
Are not so false, as the fond tales
That ye relate of love."
Some time after my adventure with C——, I was visited by a most beautiful creature from Skibbereen in the county of Cork, she was indeed elegance itself.
"Just so among the trees superior shine,
The hallowed cedar, and the stately pine."
This charming woman, wishing to become one of my boarders, told me she was the wife of a Mr. A——, an estated gentleman of the county of Cork, who made so infamous a husband, that she had several years before obliged him to allow her a separate maintenance; that she afterwards formed a connection with a gentleman, under government, the cidevant Inspector General of the province of M——, who was married to a most amiable worthy woman, notwithstanding which, she had the pleasure of his company very frequently, as he continually contrived to spend as much of his time as possible in the town she chose for her residence, by which means he avoided giving any uneasiness to his lady, whom he passionately loved; that during this intercourse, she had three children by her friend, and "never was a friend more dear;" that about eleven years ago, this gentleman in his opposition to government at a general election was ruined, by not only the loss of all his lucrative employments but of his effects, and finally his liberty; that lately hearing he was released from prison, but that his wife and only son were dead, and he himself in very embarrassed circumstances; she had come up to town on purpose to see him, and to render him any service in her power; that he received her affectionately, visited her after, and sometimes spent whole days and nights with her, but absolutely refused to live with her, at her expense, declaring that had he the means of supporting her in the style he could wish, there was not a lady breathing (now he had lost his ever to be regretted Fanny) he'd rather spend the remainder of his life with, than with her; but as that was not the case, he must beg leave to decline her generous offer, as he was determined never to go into keeping, but at the same time, her happiness was his, and he'd esteem it as the highest blessing on earth to be permitted to visit her as often as possible, but that he never would be under any pecuniary obligations to her, and absolutely refused accepting of any part of her property, though she had made him an offer of her purse, which contained upwards of seven hundred guineas. This woman appeared so disinterested, and at the same time so lovely, and so accomplished, that I was fascinated with her, and made her an offer of my services, &c. as long as she thought proper to accept of them; she had a charming taste for poetry and the Belles Lettres in general, sung like a Syren, played inimitably well on the piano forte, and was in every respect one of the most accomplished and withal beautiful woman I was ever acquainted with. She told me her seducer had ensnared her with his rhymes, and repeated a number of beautiful poems and songs he had from time to time addressed to her, with many of her answers; during the time she remained with me, she admitted no male visitors but himself, and at last when she found she had not power to prevail with him to live with her, on her own terms, she took her farewell of me, and returned to the county of Cork, where shortly afterwards she married a Mr. S——, a gentleman who had been long attached to her, who had buried his wife at the time A——e died, and who was in actual possession of near five hundred pounds estate a year exclusive of a lucrative and honourable appointment under government, which he acquired in a very ungentlemanlike manner. I have had several letters from her, expressive of her splendid way of living, but at the same time declaring, she would have been better pleased to have begged with her friend, than live in a palace with the little whiffler she had espoused: generous disinterested creature!! how few of the old sanctified puritannic tabbies of the present day can be compared to you, whose chief blemishes were virtues. She gave me the following account, which had been addressed to her by her friend, when in the hey day of his love.
Charming as angels in the realms above,
Heaven in her looks which prompt to instant love;
Resplendent graces, in her air appear,
In all her actions worthy and sincere;
Sweet as the violet or the vermile rose,
That in Elysium for love's goddess grows.
Innocence and truth, her actions ever grace,
Attractive smiles dwell always on her face,
Nor time her dear idea can erase.
Assist me every power to gain her heart,
To reign for ever there, in every part;
To spend my life in serving my sweet fair,
Eager to prove for her my every care;
Regardless of the world, for her I'll live,
In every act, her ever faithful slave;
Dearer to me than men to doting hags,
Gain to a miser, when he's crammed his bags,
Eager to hoard, though hungry and in rags.