Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson
ONE EVENING I had the favour of a visit from two remarkable gentlemen, a Mr. B—— and a Mr. T——lb——t; however, being in no very good humour, and having read an account in some of the public prints, of their having refused to pay an unfortunate gentleman (who had through necessity set up a paper) for their Election Advertisements, amounting to upwards of sixty pounds, I absolutely refused entertaining such unprincipled fellows, telling them freely my mind, and giving them as good a lecture on the heinousness of such gross dishonesty, as either Wesley or Whitfield could have done, nay, I doubt if the divine Kirwan's admonitions (whom I perfectly adore) would have struck so great a panic into the hearts of my depraved beaux, as my ex-tempore rhapsody did; indeed to use a vulgar expression, I sent them off with a flea in their ear; and in fact I preached so much to these gentlemen, that I absolutely wound myself into a fit of enthusiasm; I took a horrible retrospective view of the course I had run, and all of my past life; and falling on my knees, addressed myself most devoutly to the God of nature,—"Omniscient Father of all," cried I, "does Peg Leeson (or rather Peg Plunket, for I could have no legal claim to Leeson, having never been really married but to Y——,) set up for a reformer of Men and Manners?—The depraved, the wretched, the prostituted, the polluted Peg; does she, I say, presume to preach up morality to would-be senators and highborn men? the wretch who has reduced herself below the dignity of almost any of the animals of thy numerous and wonderful creation; for there's not creatures of the four-footed tribe, would go indiscriminately from male to male, and suffer perhaps a score in four and twenty hours to enjoy their favours; and yet this, wretched abandoned Peg, thou hast done, oh! horrid! horrid!—what a sink of infamy, thou hast been all thy life in,—in vain you may solace yourself with the idea of your being charitable, humane, compassionate, tender hearted; of what avail are all those virtues to a blasphemous prostitute? Who shared her charms indiscriminately with every ruffian who could afford a price."—These reflections made a deep impression on my mind and spirits; I offered up my Orisons to an offended Deity, I contemplated in my mind the blessings I had let slip: Heavens, said I, what happiness had been my lot, had I observed my honoured parents! had I been married young to some worthy man, I might now have been blessed with a smiling happy progeny, whereas I shall leave nothing behind me but the traces of my infamy, to hand down my abandoned name to posterity; in all my life I have not secured a real friend; the prostitutes my associates, and the libertines whose caresses I submitted to, all despise me; to add to my distress, I felt an oppression, a load upon my spirits, that I could not shake off, and in a fit of delirium I drank four ounces of thebaic tincture, and thought I had at once made my own quietus; but how was I mistaken, the deceitful opium worked no such effect, I found myself extremely weak; grew sick in my stomach and threw up a deal of stuff, after which I lay in a state of stupefaction, without taking the least nourishment for upwards of eight and forty hours, when in a languid state I arose, utterly detesting my own existence, and regreting that the opium did not take the desired effect, and bring me to my eternal rest. M'Clean and Miss Sands, one of her lively virgins, called upon me almost as soon as I was dressed, not hearing of my indisposition, with an intent that I should take them to Laughlinstown camp, but I excused myself, and instead of trifling with them as usual, gave them a severe lecture on their past lives; which made them imagine I had lost my senses; but I persisting in my exhortations, they both burst into immoderate laughter, and ran out of the house, almost in convulsions.—As soon as they had left me, I locked myself up, and rather devoutely praying for very near a hour, wrote the following ex-tempore verses addressed to the Deity:
Where e'er, O God, I turn my eyes,
Thy wisdom is display'd;
E'en I myself—myself surprise,
So fearfully I'm made.
If to the deep I bend my sight,
The long extended main
Bids me to tremble at his might,
Who can its force restrain.
The nurse and grave, old mighty earth,
His power immense declare;
Who with a Fiat, gave thee birth,
And flung thee in the air.
Who made your mountains and your rocks,
'Tis he who daily fills,
With horn'd herds, and fleecy flocks,
Your islands and your hills.
But what are herds and flocks to those,
His bounty doth supply,
The creatures of ten thousand globes,
Beyond the mortal eye.
And the creation over past,
Where night and silence reign;
The great interminable vast,
Is all his wide domain.
In various wonders I am lost,
And yet the subjects fire;
For to applaud you—oh! thou know'st,
Is all my soul's desire.
Till at thy nod, with great amaze,
We'll see this nether world,
Burst all at once into a blaze,
Again to Chaos hurled.
Lord fit us all for that dread day,
Oh! may we then appear;
(When all your glory you display,)
Fit objects of your care.
Immortal placed in realms above,
We'll view all nature run,
Within due bounds,—nor Venus move,
Too near the evening Sun.
All sects, all kinds must own thy sway,
And each alike you'll bless;
Who at thy grand tribunal day,
Thy talent did increase.
The dreadful thunders when they roll,
Thro' clouds and air disturbed;
And storms of hail from pole to pole,
Intended for our good.
The cattle bound about the land,
E'en four-foot creatures dread;
The thunder falling from the hand,
Of him, who all had made.
To fright the tyrant on his throne,
To show a power above;
And wake the peasant when alone,
To praise his God with love."
Had lady Arabella Denny lived, a lady who has left but one like herself behind, Mrs. Latouche; that paragon of charity, piety and humanity, I would have given all I possessed to the Magdalen asylum, and retired into it myself. In fact I did not know how to act, I was determined as I said before, to shake off my profligate acquaintance, both male and female, and gracious heaven! where was there to be found a reputable one, who would associate with the abandoned Peg Plunket? Oh! piteous case, that no penitence, no contrition for past levities can atone for a lapse from virtue—the wretched Magdalen, has no Saviour now to take her to his bosom; if she is poor she must continue so, for our ladies of virtue are too delicate, too sentimental, too refined, to succour or give bread, or encouragement to a honest W—— who was in the possession of more good and amiable qualities, than ever fell to the lot of such made up Automatons of the day,—"Sans face, sans teeth, sans shape, sans hair, sans principles, sans everything."—Being deserted now by all the world, I was resolved to take refuge in the sanctuary of religion; and being bred a Catholic, I immediately sent for the Rev. Doctor Leonard, who administered every divine consolation to me in his power, and indeed I found all comfort in his spiritual advice; at the same time I must premise to my readers, that I was no bigot to sect or religion; I believed the honest Indian, or the wild African, who worshipped his God his own way, was as sure of salvation, provided he improved the talent God had endowed him with, in worthiness and charity, as his holiness the Pope of Rome.—In fact all religions were alike to me, but as I had been brought up in the Catholic persuasion, and had never known a preacher of the word of that religion, to frequent my house—whereas it always swarmed with abandoned Abbies of the established church. I thought it safer to confide in them, than in men, most of whom had connections, if not with myself, with poor creatures in my house.—As for my creed, I honestly declare I do not believe in anyone I ever read or heard of. "I religiously and devoutly believe in one true and only God, and no other; and I farther believe, that in deeds of charity, humanity, and benevolence, I go the readiest way to please and honour that all-seeing Being, who must delight in beholding the animals of his creation, made happy by the exertions of each other. In fact, I would wish to do unto all mankind as I would wish to be done by; I would also worship the God of nature, in spirit and in truth, no matter whether in a Mosque, a Meeting-house, Chapel, Church, Synagogue, bed or field; and THAT creed, in my opinion, will carry any poor sinner to the realms of bliss;—I hold good works, in great veneration, and can't agree with your Swaddling pretended devotees who exclaim: "Only believe and yours is heaven."—At that rate, a person may rob and murder, and commit the greatest atrocities, no matter what, so they have Faith; but I say, "Charity covers a multitude of sins,"—and faith, without good works, is like a garden without seed, which produces nothing but weeds and rubbish. I now kept entirely at home, and could have wished for the society of some amiable reduced gentlewoman, whom I might support in decency, and leave what I might die possessed of to. But what creature on earth, would become an intimate of mine? Oh! heavenly Virtue, how precious art thou, how much should you be valued, for when thou art gone, every place becomes a hell; conscience like a foul fiend, haunts the wretch who's deprived of thee, and hurries her from one extreme of wickedness to the other, till at last she's brought, like poor Vangable, of equestrian memory, to the very zenith of human misery!!!
VANGABLE, after leading a life of the greatest dissipation and debauchery, and after figuring away at Astley's Amphitheatre in Peter-street, and exhibiting her wonderful powers of horsemanship, to crowded and admiring audiences; she, I say, contracted every infamous disorder, and died not only rotten with venereal complaints, but to add to her misery, she was also afflicted with the Herodian distemper; and on the cold bed of death, requested I would give orders to have her put into a slit deal coffin, bor'd all over with holes, and have her taken about a league out to sea, and thrown into the ocean; such was her dying request, which I minutely complied with.
"Alas poor Vangable."
"Absent or dead, still let a friend be dear,
A sigh for absent claims, the dead a tear."
I wrote to my two friends, Mrs. S—— and Mrs. Falvey, informing them of my reformation, and received very satisfactory letters from each, in which they extolled my resolution, and expatiated largely on their own domestic felicity; advising me to go off to England or Scotland, and that they had no doubt, from my agreeable manners and sweetness of temper, I would soon meet with a companion, who would render the remainder of my days happy: but alas! the idea of mankind became detestable to me;
"I'd that within, which baffled human art,
A burning fever,—and a broken heart."
No, no, I was resolved never to venture on the shoals and quick-sands of matrimony; besides, in my opinion it would be baseness in the extreme, to go to a strange country, and palm myself upon any honest gentleman, as a woman of honour; who wretch like me, had trod in the paths of prostitution for upwards of thirty years,—Gracious Heaven!
"The blackest ink of fate, was sure my lot,
And when she wrote my name, she made a blot.!
In my answer to Mrs. Falvey, I requested she'd prevail on a Miss Elizabeth Edmonds, a poor young lady, whom I had got acquainted with at Killarney, and who wished (thinking me a virtuous married lady) to be hired as my waiting woman; however I then would not hear of it, as Pitt-street house, at that time, would be a bad asylum for my sweet black-eyed sentimental girl; I now however thought she'd prove a great acquisition in my retirement; and entreated my dear Betsy Falvey to send her to me without delay,—and accordingly in about a month afterwards, I was made happy in the agreeable society of my poor dear Betsy, who had, herself wrestled with adversity for several years, "a woe worn daughter of affliction."—Miss Edmonds was the illegitimate daughter of the famous Billy the Beau, so celebrated in the annals of gallantry; her mother's name was V——y, whom the Earl, her father, debauched at the age of fifteen. Miss V——y was at that time, one of the most beautiful creatures under Heaven, with all the loves and graces sporting in her train; but notwithstanding all her charms and a most excellent education (for her connections were as good as her seducer's), she fell a prey to the "insidious wiles of faithless man." Billy the Beau, triumphed over her virtue, in consequence of which my poor Betsy Edmonds, this child of sorrow from her infancy, made her melancholy debut in this world; her mother died in consequence of her birth: the blame entirely resting upon little L——hy an unskilful country Accoucheur, than whom, nature herself had proved a better. The death of Miss V——y was a source of affliction to the noble Earl of G——, my Betsy's father, who took all imaginable care of the little darling; and when she arrived at a proper age, put her to one of the best schools in the city of Cork, where he sent her for her education; and where in the commencement of her teens, she unfortunately became acquainted with one Edmonds, the natural son of a gentleman of an immense fortune of that name,—who thinking his fortune would be made by a connection with so rare and choice a sprig of nobility, found means to carry her off, vi et armis, to the county of Clare, where they were married by a Couple Beggar; as Edmonds was really a pretty gentleman, poor Betsy in a very short time became perfectly satisfied with her lot, and having often solicited her husband for a legal marriage, as no licence could be obtained, the banns were called publicly in church, three different times, when they were indissolubly tied, with all the forms of the established church, before a crowded congregation, in the parish church of Ennis in the county of Clare. In vain did poor Betsy sue to her noble father for forgiveness; and as fruitless were Edmond's applications to the author of his being: The miserable though beautiful pair, were left to shift for themselves, and drag out a wretched existence, in penury and want. Poor Mrs. Edmonds had three children who died almost as soon as born; and her husband at length, though dotingly fond of her, yet as he could not support her equal to his wishes, he joined a marching regiment just going off to America, to fight those sons of Freedom, who by their exertion in the glorious cause, obtained emancipation from the mother country, and was killed at Bunkers Hill: where many a gallant youth, as well as Edmonds, and the unfortunate Jonas Griffith (whose head was shot off fighting at Edmonds's side) paid the great debt of nature most prematurely.—Poor Edmonds and Griffiths went off volunteers together, obtained Ensigncies the same day; and lost their lives the day after, fighting side by side; some of the fatal effects of that truly unfortunate war, by which our country has irretrievably lost some of its most brave and faithful inhabitants.
Some time after the death of Edmonds, his disconsolate relict, hired as own woman to the late beautiful divine and elegant Mrs. M——w, and went with her to France:—where that stain to human nature, the parricidal Orleans, whose will was absolute at that time, unfortunately grew enamoured with her incomparable mistress: which as soon as she became acquainted with, in order to avoid his detested overtures and addresses, left France, she and poor Betsy, in a cartel ship that was bound for England;—and on the passage, oh! horrid to relate, the whole crew and prisoners, amounting to upwards of sixty ruffians, mutinied against the captain and officers of the vessel, whom they bound; and afterwards brutally ravished the heavenly mistress, and her charming companion; every man of them alternately satisfying his infamous lust: in consequence of which, poor Mrs. M—w languished in a melancholy situation for a few days, and died; leaving her fellow sufferer who survived her, her clothes, watch, a few trinkets, and a trifle of money; with which she retired to a farm-house near Killarney; where I luckily became acquainted with her, and from herself learned the mournful story, which was most dreadful, as several of the miscreants who had committed the foul crime, laboured under a certain disorder; in consequence of which Mrs. Edmonds was obliged to have recourse to medical assistance:—as would be the case with her angel mistress, had not the great disposer of all things, in pity, taken her to himself
"Sweet suffering faint, dear innocent, adieu,
Angels were painted fair to look like you."
Soon after Mrs. Edmonds's arrival, I found my affairs much embarrassed:—I certainly had in bonds, promissory notes, and I O's, upwards of two thousand pounds due to me; but what value could be set upon the obligations of unprincipled men of fashion, and a parcel of abandoned prostitutes;—in fact my affairs were so very much deranged, I was under the disagreeable necessity of disposing of my house and furniture in Pitt-street, and removing with my friend to my new house on the Blackrock road; which the produce of my Pitt-street house, &c.—enabled me to fit up in a comfortable manner; and where we lived in a pleasing retirement, with only a little girl to attend us; as I would by no means suffer Mrs. Edmonds (though she offered her services,) to undergo any more slavery than myself.—In this place the thought first struck me, of publishing my chequered Memoirs, as my ready cash was fast diminishing imperceptably away; and all my bonds, and securities for money, could not procure me a shilling, many of which I placed in the hands of rascally vile attorneys; in return for which, I was furnished with bills of costs, and insolent threatening letters. Thus circumstanced, my only source for profit and revenge was the publication of my unfortunate life; resolving to publish the names of several persons to whom I was indebted for my ruin, in the last volume: and so I certainly will, as 'tis rather cruel that my substance should be lavished among a parcel of people, whose ideas do not extend farther than the brute creation. H—— B—— after living upon me for years (he and his hussies), only sneers at me when I present his bond to him for payment; and such is the case with T—— H——, W—— T—— G——, W—— B——, Rich—— W——, M—— O'C——, Jack B—— of Wexford, a simple gentleman, a surveyor of Excise at Tralee; the late self dubbed Knight, and the old B——, who returned the late worthy C—— M—— for a seat in his borough, for a certain valuable consideration, in favour of his spem gregis, Mr. O'B——, another limb of the law; who thought it damn'd hard to be obliged to pay at my house, a guinea and a half for a bowl of Turtle soup and a flask of sparkling Champagne , which the unpolished boor called eel broth and perry;—no bad substitute by the bye for these luxuries. Two wooden headed Aldermen who were scarcely ever out of my house. Squire B——, a sheriff's peer, and Mr. B—— an heel rubbing Catiff, who, under pretence of recovering debts for me, cheated me of upwards of fifty pounds; another celebrated gentleman, famous in story, who was disrobed in all the Courts, equal to an exhibition in the pillory, and thrown for life into Newgate. Mr. K——, that precious pander, who not only robbed me of my profession by setting up in my line, but run a bill with me to a considerable amount, without the smallest notion of paying; and C——, who plundered me under cover of an Insolvent act; and one Coleman, who acted as my waiter for very near two years, carried off effects to a considerable amount;—with a number of others, who owe me among them very near three thousand pounds, for all which I have specialties to produce.–Relative to my Memoirs, when I had the two first volumes ready I sent them about to my particular friends in trade, whom I had dealt with; and they all behaved extremely liberal on the occasion: and for which I shall ever retain the most grateful acknowledgements; in fact all the gentlemen in business were everything I could wish. I merely sent the two volumes to them sealed up and directed without any card or letter, and I never got a smaller return from any one of them than a guinea; so that by the publication, after paying all expenses, I found I had cleared upwards of six hundred guineas, but what signified that sum to a woman who knew not how to turn it to any sort of use; one of an extravagant turn, who never knew what economy was; and who always as she got money very lightly (light come light go), threw it away as it came, like the amiable Desdemona, when in confinement in the Four-courts Marshalsea, who having received a benefaction of one guinea from the late worthy Robert Shaw, send the entire out for a brace of woodcocks and a flask of Champagne, though 'twas well known, neither she or her poor husband had tasted a morsel for two days before. Oh! the depravity of human nature; would it not have been much better for the pretty Desdemona, to have sent out for a leg of mutton, a loaf of bread, a quart of the pure native, or a pot or two of porter, and a little tea and sugar:—but there is no accounting for these things. As I said before, my resources for getting money were all dried up, in a very short time. I began for the first time in my life to feel acute distress; while my money lasted poor Edmonds and I lived luxuriously, though quite within ourselves; for except a few mendicants whom I always relieved, we scarcely admitted any others:—the virtuous and the good I could not expect, and the vicious I was determined to shun. By degrees all my finery, went to the Pawnbrokers; above a dozen miniature pictures, beautifully set, for which I scarce got the value of the gold; my repeater set round with brilliants, with a number of diamond rings of very great value, all went the same road merely to eke out a loathed existence. At length one morning when all was gone, and even the duplicates sold for what they would bring; Edmonds and I was sitting very melancholy over the dying embers of a wretched fire; when a woman I had often dealt with for East India goods, teas, lawns, china, &c. a Mrs. Deborah O'Dowd, formerly Debby Casey, a very pretty little ginger, who had been seduced when very young by a Mr. Y—— of the county Kerry, by whom she had one son, now an eminent physician of great repute: and after marrying one Dowd a tobacco twister, a very uncouth brute of a fellow, poor Debby was in the habit of granting favours to such gentlemen, as she really had an esteem for, and who were her customers.—I say this girl having found out where I lodged, and being also well acquainted with Mrs. Edmonds, called to know if I wished for anything in her way? And on my answering with tears glistening in my eyes, that I had not wherewithal to buy our breakfast, much less to purchase fineries of any kind: the good-natured creature insisted on her lending me half her stock of cash, amounting to ten guineas, and besides made me a present of a pound of Gunpowder-tea, and two beautiful India shawls, one to each of us; and though sorely distressed, we were sometime before we could be prevailed upon to receive such compliments from our pretty petty chapwoman;—however, at last like Romeo's apothecary, "our necessities but not our wills complied." Very shortly after that supply was nearly exhausted, a young fellow, a quondam footman of mine, brought me (prefacing his present with, "I hear you are writing books Madam,") a quire of gilt paper, a bottle of ink, a pen-knife, a bundle of pens, and his whole quarter's wages, amounting to two guineas, at the same time blubbering like a child, after ejaculating,—"Good Heaven did I ever think it would have come to this. You my ever honoured mistress, who were good and charitable to every creature who appeared distressed." 'Twas in vain I urged the impossibility of my bringing myself capable of accepting the wages of the poor honest fellow's labour; all would not do; he declared he had no use for the money, and would take it much to heart if I refused his little mite; hinting that surely it would never lessen my consequence, in accepting a trifle from a poor creature, who had formerly owed so much to my bounty and humanity; for the poor lad took a bad fever when with me in Pitt-street, and I need not tell my readers I had every possible care taken of him; and he deserved nothing else from me, having been always a honest, faithful good servant.—At last I accepted of his affectionate offering, which affected not only me, but Mrs. Edmonds so much, that we both shed tears of gratitude; and I poured forth my acknowledgements to my parti-coloured friend with the greatest candour and sincerity; and little as his present was, it enabled us to dine and spend the day comfortably; which would not have been the case had not divine providence thrown him in my way; and I must confess, that the all-seeing Power was ever good to me, and that I never was in imminent distress, that some channel or another did not open for my relief; however I now found myself in the very abyss of misery, for having occasion to go to Fleet-street in order to settle for a debt I owed Mr. O'B—— a wine merchant: I was arrested for £15, at the suit of a Grocer in Grafton-street, by Matthews my quondam friend, who had once figured away at one of the masquerade balls, in the character of Sergeant Kite, he carried me to his Sponging-house, without a shilling in my pocket, or any means left for subsistence; and my very bed in the hospitable purlieus of a Spunging-house, would be two shillings a night, with perhaps a bedfellow or two if there was a necessity, forced upon me in the bargain.