MRS. DUNCAN STEWART
“No spring or summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face."
No.101 is one of the smallest houses in Sloane Street, looking upon the gardens. It was occupied within the last few years by a delicate, beautiful old lady, who retained to the last the graceful figure of her youth, with a sweetness of manner which beguiled, and a wonderful mingling of wit, wisdom, and pathos which subjugated, all who came in contact with her. It was no wonder that many of the smartest footmen in London had often daily to wait for hours round the unpretending door; it was not strange that the most charming and interesting elements of London society met constantly in the little rooms, or that they were always found and always felt at their best there. Talking of self-respect, Mrs. Duncan Stewart would often quote to her friends the maxim of Madame George Sand -
"Vérité envers le monde,
Humilité envers Dieu,
Dignité envers soi-même,”
and would playfully add, "But who should one be well with if not with oneself with whom one has to live so very much?" and the unselfish singleness of purpose which had steered her unscathed through the vicissitudes of a very varied life lent a tender charm to her declining years, whilst her marvellous memory enabled her to bring forth for the instruction or amusement of her younger friends a ceaseless treasure out of the rich storehouse of her wealthy past. Her society was a constant contradiction to the theory of De Tocqueville, that "the charming art of conversation - to touch and set in motion a thousand thoughts, without dwelling tiresomely on any one - is amongst the lost arts, and can only be sought for in History Hut." Sometimes, in rare moments of depression, she would speak of the pain of old age, of the distress of feeling that she could do so little for others, of the being "just a creature crawling between heaven and earth." Yet, with small means and feeble powers, those who knew her best remember that there was never a day in which she did not make some one happy, in which she had not formed some fresh plan for the pleasure and welfare of others.
Harriet Everilda was the only daughter of Major Antony Gore, younger brother of Sir Ralph Gore, of Manor Gore, in the county of Donegal, who succeeded his uncle Ralph, Earl of Ross, as seventh baronet, the earldom being limited to direct heirs male. Her mother, who was the daughter of a clergyman in Devonshire, died at her birth, and her father soon after. Though of a Protestant family, she was placed for her early education in a convent - Les Dames Anglaises - at Rouen, and there acquired that perfect familiarity with the French language which she always retained. She often thought in French, and entered into the feelings of her French acquaintance as few Englishwomen could do. It was from an association with the surroundings of her childhood that she always said in her old age that it was more natural to her to pray in French than in English.
Upon leaving her convent, Miss Gore went to reside with her guardian, Mr. Gordon, who filled the post of British Consul at Havre de Grâce, and in his house the great charm of her mental powers already made itself felt. Washington Irving and his brother Peter were especially devoted to her. Her passionate interest in everything connected with the stage was first due to their influence. For eleven nights consecutively Washington Irving took her to see Talma act, and in late years she would often describe the marvellous powers of Madame Rachel, whom she also saw with him, especially in the "Cinna" of Corneille - how, as Emilie, she would sit quietly in her chair when all the people were raging around her, and then of the thrilling electric force with which she would hiss out in the fury of her vengeance against Augustus -
“Je recevrois de lui la place de Livie
Comme un moyen plus sûr d'attenter à sa vie."
It is remembered how, at this time, visitors at Mr. Gordon's house would ask him where Harriet Gore was, and he would answer, "Oh, she is at the end of the terrace making Washington Irving believe he is God Almighty, and he is busy believing it."
In her twenty-fourth year Harriet Gore was married at Paris to Duncan Stewart, a prosperous Baltic merchant, whose mercantile pursuits had taken him to Havre. He was a younger son of an ancient Scotch family, whose clan, the Stewarts of Appin, had occupied and dominated a large tract of country on the west coast of Argyleshire from a remote period. Staunch supporters of the crown since the twelfth century, the family had been loyal to the Jacobite cause, and had joined with enthusiasm in the wars of Montrose and the risings of 1715 and 1745. Duncan Stewart's grandfather was with Prince Charlie at Culloden, his grandmother and her two children had followed her husband and the army to the neighbourhood of Inverness in a carriage, and his father - one of those children - remembered all his life the carriage being stopped by English soldiers after the battle, and a little ring being roughly pulled from his finger. The grandfather fled to the Continent with the Prince; the father afterwards settled in Dumfriesshire, where he bought a small property and became a deputy-lieutenant for the county. By his wife, Margaret Graham of Shaw, he had a large family. The two eldest sons, James and Charles Stewart, succeeded to divisions of their father's land, and became active country gentlemen. Charles, who survived till 1874, was widely known throughout Scotland as one of the first authorities on the management of land, the breeding of stock, and county business; like his two sisters, he never married, and lived with them and their aged mother at Hillside in Dryfesdale for many long years. Their home was a notable instance of "plain living and high thinking," and widely and deeply were they beloved and respected.
The younger brother, Duncan, who, after the fashion of cadets of Scottish families, indeed like Francis Osbaldiston in "Rob Roy," had turned to mercantile pursuits, and in those pursuits had acquired comparative wealth, ever came back with delight to his old home. To that old-fashioned home, immediately after his marriage, he brought his beautiful and brilliant young wife, whose French wardrobe and ready wit were a revelation to the homely Scottish ladies who inhabited it. Though of a thoroughly noble, unselfish character, the venerable mother was almost aghast on first meeting with an element so discordant to the quiet monotone of her long experience, and perhaps went on a wrong as well as a hopeless tack in exaggerating her own homeliness as an example, while the sisters were perplexed by one who, engrossed in the charms of modern literature, unconcernedly abandoned all housewifely duties to take care of themselves. Time, and the wide sympathies of either side, eventually led to a mutual respect and admiration, but never to the union of intimate affection. Through life, Mrs. Duncan Stewart honoured her sisters-in-law as noble and Christian women, but their tastes and pursuits were always too dissimilar for close intercourse.
Through many years after his marriage, the business in which Mr. Duncan Stewart was engaged compelled him to reside in Liverpool or at a country-house in the neighbourhood. Here the family lived luxuriously and entertained constantly. Economy, at this period of her life, was certainly not studied by Mrs. Stewart; but her husband adored her, and always liked her to do just as she pleased. The Scottish relations grieved in silence, for was she not "just Duncan's wife."
Eight children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan Stewart during their residence in Liverpool. During this time, also, the eldest girl, Minnie, died, after having been nursed by her mother with inexhaustible devotion through a long illness. It was very characteristic of the impassioned character of Mrs. Stewart, that when she saw that the precious life of Minnie had passed away, she prayed aloud - prayed most earnestly that her child Chrissy might die too, because otherwise Minnie would be so lonely, as she would have no one to play with. She chose Chrissy because she was the child Minnie loved best, and she wished to give up the best to Minnie. When her husband urged her not to tempt God to take Chrissy really away from them, she answered that she had been so rent by Minnie's death that nothing could ever rend her more. Mrs. Stewart, long afterwards, often talked to the writer of her sufferings at this time. She would speak of the difticulty of a living faith, of keeping it alive equally when prayer was not answered; she would tell how, when her child was dying, - she knew it must die - the clergyman came and knelt by the table, and prayed that resignation might be given to the mother to bear the parting, and resignation to the child to die, and she would describe how she listened and prayed too, and yet at the end she could not feel it, she did not, and - though she knew it was impossible - she could not but break in with "Yet, O Lord, yet restore her!"
"Do you know," said Mrs. Stewart, "that till I was thirty I had never seen death, never seen it even in a poor person; then I saw it in my own child, and I may truly say that then death entered into the world for me as fully as it did for Eve, and it never left me afterwards, never. If one of my children had an ache afterwards, I thought it was going to die; if I awoke in the night and looked at my husband in his sleep, I thought, 'He will look like that when he is dead.'"
Liverpool was never quite congenial to Mrs. Stewart. She had many good friends there, but the associates she liked best were Mr. Bald, her husband's partner, and his wife, and a young Mr. Power, afterwards Sir William Tyrone Power, to whose family she was much attached. Men adored her, cultivated her, sat at her feet; but with women, as a rule, she was, in her young days, not so popular. She sought her intimacies mainly in London, to which she never failed to pay a long annual visit, sometimes with her husband, and sometimes when he was away shooting and fishing in Scotland. At that time the centre of a certain literary society of which Mrs. Stewart became an intimate was Lady Morgan, a little old woman of such pungent wit, that Mr. Fonblanque, then the editor of the Examiner, used to say of her, "She is just a spark of hell-fire, and is soon going back to her native element." Another person with whom Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were intimate was Madame Jerome Bonaparte, born Paterson, daughter of a father upon whom she looked down, though she delighted to write to him of her succès de société. "But he could always avenge himself," said Mrs. Stewart; "he could always write to her - 'My dear Betsy':" it was a terrible revenge. Mr. and Mrs. Macready and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean were also amongst the friends of the Duncan Stewarts, and they were well acquainted with the Sobieski Stuarts, whose gallant appearance when young Mrs. Stewart would recall many years after, deploring its change into the "mildew of age." The Stewarts also saw much - perhaps more than many considered desirable - of Lady Blessington, the recollection of whose "perfect beauty" always remained with Mrs. Stewart as a possession. The little circle at Gore House, which was like the court of Lady Blessington, frequently included at this time Prince Louis Napoleon, who was then in exile in England. Another habitué was Landseer, whom, with characteristic gallantry, Count d'Orsay introduced with - "Here, Mrs. Stewart, is Landseer, who can do everything better than he can paint." The Stewarts also frequently visited Captain Marryat at his seat of Laugham, in Norfolk. Mrs. Stewart always spoke of this society of her youth as "real society," because then people were never in a hurry. One of its most marked features was old Lady Cork, who, after eighty, always dressed in white, with a little white pulled bonnet.
The years spent in Liverpool were enlivened by her intimacy with Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli, who afterwards became her closest friends. Of her first meeting with them she said: -
"One day, when I was sitting alone in my house at Liverpool, and my husband, who loved hunting and fishing, was away after the grouse, as every Scotchman is, a note of introduction was brought in for me from Mrs. Milner Gibson, whom I had known in London, and the cards of Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli. He was a young man then, all curly and smart, and his wife, though much older than himself, was a very handsome, imperial-looking woman. I told them that I should be delighted to show them everything in Liverpool, as Mrs. Milner Gibson had asked me.
"When I went to see them next day at the hotel, I asked Mrs. Disraeli how she had slept, and she said, 'Not at all, for the noise was so great!' Then I said, 'Why not move to my house, for my house is very quiet, and I am alone and there is plenty of room?' And they came, and a most delightful ten days I had. We shut out Liverpool and its people, and we talked, and we became great friends, and when we parted, it was with very affectionate regard on both sides. Afterwards they wrote to me every week, and when I went to London my place was always laid every day at their table, and if I did not appear at their dinner, they always asked me why I had not come to them.
"After Lady Beaconsfield died, we drifted apart, he and I, and though I saw him sometimes, it was never in the old intimate way. The last time we met - it was at Lady Stanhope's - I had a good talk with him though. It was not until we were parting that I said, 'I hope you are quite well?' and I shall never forget the hollow voice in which he answered, 'Nobody is quite well.' After that I never saw him again, but I had a message from him through William Spottiswoode. 'Tell Mrs. Stewart always to come to talk to me when she can; it always does me good to see her.'"
It was probably on the occasion of the second visit to the Duncan Stewarts at Liverpool, that Disraeli, then comparatively an unknown man, was taken by Mr. Stewart to the Royal Exchange when the place was thronged with merchants at high noon. The scene is a striking one, and it impressed Disraeli much. He said to Mr. Stewart, "My idea of greatness would be that a man should receive the applause of such an assemblage as this - that he should be cheered as he came into this room. At that time Disraeli visited the place unnoticed; but a day came several years later, when the Disraelis were again on a visit to the Duncan Stewarts at Liverpool, and when he had attained to a prominent position in politics, and he again visited the same place in company with Mr. Stewart. On this occasion his entrance was noticed, and a cheer was raised, which soon spread into a roar, and. ended in a perfect ovation. Disraeli was deeply moved. He recalled to Mr. Stewart the remark he had made years before, and admitted, with pride and pleasure, that his ideal test of greatness had been realised.
After many years' residence in Liverpool, a sudden reverse of fortune came upon the Stewarts. The parents went to London, sending their children to the care of an uncle, Mr. David Stewart of Dumfries. This uncle, who soon became as much beloved as he was respected by the young Stewarts, devoted himself entirely to their welfare, though he kept so strictly within their mother's injunction, that, till six o'clock in the evening, he never uttered a word of anything but French, a rule peculiarly abhorrent to his Scotch nature.
After an interval of eighteen months, their father's affairs being again prosperous, the children rejoined their parents in London. They found them established in Wilton Crescent, whence they afterwards moved to a larger house in Seymour Street. Whilst living here, many old friends collected round Mrs. Stewart, and she also at this time became increasingly intimate with Mrs. Delane and Mrs. Milner Gibson. It was probably during this period also that she saw much of Leigh Hunt, of whom she was wont to say that she believed him to be the only person who, if he saw something yellow in the distance, and was told it was a buttercup, would be disappointed if he found it was only a guinea. Yet these were Leigh Hunt's days of greatest privation. Mr. Carlyle was very poor too at this time, yet a friend who knew him very well, and went often to see him, told Mrs. Stewart that one day going to Carlyle and seeing two gold sovereigns lying exposed in a little vase on the chimney-piece, he asked what they were for. Carlyle looked - for him - embarrassed, and gave no definite answer. "Well, now, my dear fellow," said the visitor, "neither you nor I are quite in a position to play ducks and drakes with sovereigns; what are they for?" "Well," said Carlyle, "the fact is that Leigh Hunt likes better to find them there than that I should give them to him."
Whilst the Stewarts were living in Seymour Street, another of the children, Florence, died. Mr. Stewart had again suffered losses in business, and the family moved to Smart's Hill, in Kent, where the mother, with inborn facility, soon accommodated herself to her change of fortune. After a time they moved again to a villa, The Limes, at Croydon.
Meantime a cousin of the Stewarts, Countess Bremer, who had been lady in waiting to the Princesses of Hanover, had married, and a lady was temporarily required to fill her place. The eldest daughter, Harty (Pauline Harriet), went for a time, and was shortly afterwards appointed to a fixed post with the Princesses, resigning her place in the home life. It must have been soon after this that her mother wrote to her: -
"My own dear child, I cannot help saying to you that if you ever pine for home, you must come - even away from those dear people: it is only for just as long as you are quite contented and happy, that we can be at all contented and happy to know you - bear you to be away. You are well assured of this, I am sure? My own dear child, our hearts are with you, as yours with us, and all in Christ in God, I hope and trust. But remember, whenever your heart tells you to come home, then we want you, and must have you, please God."
But Harty never came back. In 1865 she married a Hanoverian, the Baron Otto von Klenck, aide-de-camp to King Ernest of Hanover and the Duke of Cumberland, though the bond of intimate affection between her and her mother was never weakened by separation. In 1852, her younger sister, Chrissy (Christina Adelaide Ethel), had been married to Mr. James Alexander Rogerson, of Wamphray, a near neighbour of the beloved uncles and aunts of Hillside.
It was in 1869, whilst he was staying with his brother Charles at Hillside, that Mr. Duncan Stewart became dangerously ill. Mrs. Stewart joined him, and nursed him with the devotion which she always showed in sickness. In November 1869 he died. Mrs. Duncan Stewart was left with an income reduced to the narrowest limits by her husband's heavy financial losses - an income which the devotion of her sons delighted to render sufficient for the maintenance of her little home in Sloane Street. Meantime the affection with which her eldest daughter was regarded at the court of Hanover had led to her receiving constant marks of consideration and favour from the King and Queen, and she was their guest for a considerable time. The blind King delighted in her conversation; and for many years she would save up every interesting story she heard for him. It is remembered that one day she was telling him a story as they were out driving together. Suddenly the horses started, and the carriage seemed about to upset. "Why do you not go on with your story?" said the King. Because, sir, the carriage is just going to upset.'' “That is the coachman's affair,” said the King; "do you go on with your story."
Of the sad and eventful weeks which saw the close of the Hanoverian dynasty Mrs. Stewart had ever much of interest to tell: - "I was for many weeks with my daughter in the palace at Herrenhausen after the King left for Langensaiza, where, like a knight, he desired to be placed in front of his army, so that all his soldiers might see him, and where he was not satisfied till he felt the bullets whizzing round him. The people in Hanover said he had run away. When the Queen heard that, she and the Princesses went down to the 'place' and walked about there, and, as the people pressed around her, said, 'The King is gone with his army to fight for his people, but I am here to stay with you till he comes back.' But, alas! she did not know!
"We used to go out and walk at night, in those great gardens of Herrenhausen, in which the Electress Sophia died. The Queen talked then, God bless her, of all her sorrows. We often did not come in till the morning, for the Queen could not sleep. But even in our great sorrow and misery, Nature would assert herself, and when we came in, we ate up everything that there was. Generally I had something in my room, and the Queen had generally something in hers, though that was only bread and strawberries, and it was not enough for us, for we were so very hungry. One night the Queen made an aide-de-camp take the key and we went to the Mausoleum in the grounds. I shall never forget that solemn walk, Harty carrying a single lanthorn before us, or the stillness when we reached the Mausoleum, or the white light shining upon it, and the clanging of the door as it opened. And we all went in, and we knelt and prayed by each of the coffins in turn. The Queen and Princesses knelt in front, and my daughter and I knelt behind, and we prayed - oh! so earnestly, out of the deep anguish of our sorrow-stricken hearts. And then we went to the upper floor where the statues are, and there lay the beautiful Queen, the Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in her still loveliness, and there lay the old King, the Duke of Cumberland, with the moonlight shining on him, wrapped in his military cloak. And when the Queen saw him, she, who had been so calm before sobbed violently, and hid herself against me, for she knew that I also had suffered, and after that we walked or lingered in the gardens till the daylight broke.
"The Queen was always longing to go away to her own house at Marienburg, and at last she went. She never came back, for as soon as she was gone, the Prussians, who had left her alone while she was there, stepped in and took possession of everything.
"The Queen is a noble, loving woman, but she can also be queenly. When Count von W., the Prussian commandant, arrived, he desired an interview with her Majesty. He behaved very properly, but, as he was going away - it was partly from gaucherie, I suppose - he said, 'I shall take care that your Majesty is not interfered with in any way!' Then our Queen rose, and in all queenly simplicity she said, 'I never expected it.' He looked so abashed, but she never flinched; only, when he was gone out of the room, she fainted dead away upon the floor."
Some one who knew her well said most truly of Mrs. Stewart that her life was not a long uninterrupted course, but, as it were, a chain of separate circles. That part of it which belonged to her residence in Sloane Street was what the Scotch call the "uptake," the making of many friendships so infinitely easy to her, one leading to another, until every day was filled by affectionate interests. Yet in the new connections she formed, old friends of former days were never forgotten. Two of those she had long known, on finding her surrounded by a brilliant circle, were once led to say, "Now you have so many friends, you will not care for us; you must find us so stupid and uninteresting." And long will they remember her cordial answer, "No, no, my dear, you are my rocks." One secret of the great charm of her conversation was that she was not merely careful to evade ever repeating an ill-natured story of any one, but, where there was positively nothing of good to be said, had always some apt line of old poetry or some proverb to bring forward urging mercy - "Mercy, oh, so much grander than justice." The writer vividly remembers how, after once listening with polite self-restraint to a scandalous story about a well-known member of society, she said, with characteristic sweetness, "Yes, he was very fallible, yet how capable of becoming that greatest of all things, a good man."
In her old age, Mrs. Stewart's strong interest in the stage was never diminished, and those connected with it were always amongst her most cherished visitors, especially Lady Martin, whom, as Helen Faucit, she regarded as "the last representative of the studied phase of acting;" Mrs. Crowe and her sister Miss Isabel Bateman; Mr. Irving Mr. and Mrs. Kendal and, amongst amateurs, the not less gifted Mrs. Greville.
Amongst others whose visits Mrs. Stewart most valued were Mr. William Spottiswoode, Mrs. Grote, Lady Eastlake, Lady Gordon, Mrs. Oliphant, Lady Wynford, Lady Hope, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hill, Mr. Henry James the American novelist, and her old friend, Mr. Pigott, whom she would describe as being "a finished critic, but with all the innocence of a child picking daisies." There was no end to the variety of different persons and characters who met in Mrs. Stewart's little rooms, and the remarkable point was that no one cared in the least whom they met - they all went for her. Her constant letters to her daughter Harty show how much she enjoyed this period of her life, and how much interest she found in it. Here are some gleanings from letters of 1880-1883, but they are all undated: -
"Oh, my darling, here are two more days without any writing. I can only rest when people are not here. On Monday Chrissy had a very pleasant luncheon party. At a charming party in the evening at the Felix Moscheles', I fell into a deep admiration of the Berlin actor, Herr Barney, who is come over to give added strength to the Saxe-Meiningen company. He has the finest possible figure and head, crisp, short, curling hair, and a noble face. He acts Marc Antony in the 'Julius Caesar' and seems made for it by nature. Yesterday I went at four to Madame Modjeska's reception, full, and of interesting people; home for visitors, dined at Lord Eustace Cecil's, and at eleven o'clock was at Leonie Blumenthal's, where was a magnificent party, fine company, &c."
"My own dearest child, I think that it was this day last week that I despatched my last letter to you, telling of the good success of my last luncheon. Since then, life has been too fast for me. I have had scarcely a minute but for rest during the intervals. At this season one thing leads on to another, which one cannot avoid. It is a chain of links; if one says A, one must say B, and so on, and so on. On Thursday a pleasant dinner at Lady Hampson's led on to a party this afternoon to see the drill of the Fire Brigade - a most interesting sight. Captain Shaw invited me and to bring what friends I chose, and I took three carriages full. Friday, I was all afternoon at Lady Hooker's at Kew. Lovely weather. Dear Lord and Lady Ducie took me down, and it was delightful. Lady Martin, who is as good as every one is to unworthy me, takes me to the Meiningen company on Saturday to see 'The Winter's Tale,' so I am well off.
"Dear William Spottiswoode took me down to dinner last night, so it was very pleasant. He told me that Lord Beaconsfield (who meets him every week at a scientific place) had spoken to him of his re-meeting with me, and expressed himself very wishful to see me again. William said I might depend on the pleasure he had had and the wish to see me more. I know how careful and reticent William is - so this pleased me."
"Sunday. - I am dining out this evening with about thirty persons, all of name and note, at the Boughtons' - not grand fashionable people, but artists, authors, &c. I will write you of it to-morrow."
"Monday. - The dinner yesterday was very amusing - guests all more or less distinguished, from Browning down to Edmund Yates and his beautiful wife."
"1880. - Capital company at dinner yesterday. I sat between Lowell and Sir James Stephen, and had a very good time. Among many, Lowell said one bit worthy of the Biglow Papers. Opposite us was Huxley, whom Lowell saw for the first time - 'So,' says he to me, 'that's the great Huxley?' 'Yes,' says I. 'Well,' says he, 'in a match between him and God, I'd bet on God.'"
"Did I tell you a thing Froude said the other day to me - à propos of not understanding, comprehending Tennyson's last poem, the 'De Profundis,' in the last Nineteenth Century? - 'Wad I presume, blessed sir?' - the reply of an old Scotswoman to her minister as to a very metaphysical sermon."
"1881. - Tell Mrs. M. how glad I shall be to make her acquaintance. Tell her how very fortunate I have been in having had so many pleasant American friends, beginning fifty-five years ago with Washington Irving, and arriving now at Henry James and Mr. Lowell, both of whom lunch with me this very day to meet the great American botanist, Dr. Gray - indeed, Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth told me I must say the botanist of the world. I have also Lady Airlie, Lady Gordon, &c."
"Coombe Bank, March 27. - I am here since Friday with a house full of Arbuthnots and Spottiswoodes, I the only interloper, and they are all as good as gold to me; to-night a large ball, house and grounds lighted with electric light!!
“After describing his wife's terrible illness, Mr. Lowell said - 'My dear Mrs. Stewart, I'd have given Job ten and won.'"
"101 Sloane Street, 8th April. - I had a very good time (for, with my infirmities, though much is taken, much remains, I thank God) at Coombe Bank. I drove and walked every day. Kind William Spottiswoode, when he took leave of me - full of thanks and real gratitude, said, 'You bring sunshine into this house!' This was not true, but, as Sterne wrote a long time ago, so kind and good 'that the recording angel dropt a tear,' and obliterated the falsehood."
"I came home last Thursday to a clean house, full of flowers, and dear Chrissy's unceasing care, and troops of friends, unlike poor Macbeth. I had not been twenty-four hours back till came my dear Caroline Bromley, Lady Eastlake (so very dear and affectionate), Lady Stanhope, Lady Airlie, Lady Strangford, dearest Mrs. Hill, &c. God knows, my child, my lines have been cast in pleasant places."
"November 15. - My own darling child, my letters are so stupid they are not worth sending, yet I send them. I see very few people. I have very quiet and delicious evenings reading by my fireside. 'Tis an interval of rest.
"Chrissy is gone down to friends at Brighton. She is very dear and good and helpful and loving and comfortable to me invariably, and I am very grateful and love her dearly, and am very thankful to have her, and lost when she is away."
"1882. - We had a most brilliant day at the Camp. Personally to me it was most charming. I took down Mrs. F. Hill; Lady Brownlow was as good as gold to me, and we saw everybody and everything most comfortably. It was a wonderful English sight. The Duchess of Albany gave away the prizes, and I was close to her and Prince Leopold - saw both for the first time in my life. She is pretty enough for anything, and very sweet and simple. She gave away the prizes charmingly, and smiled more sweetly and simply on the privates than on the generals. This, her first public appearance, charmed everybody. Have you ever seen a Wimbledon camp? 'Tis a beautiful sight! So gorgeous and yet so English!
"I do trust you, my child, for giving proper grateful messages for me from the Queen downwards. God knows how I feel them, and so do you, I think. You cannot exceed my feelings.
"My darling, when I look round on my dear children and my dear friends, and feel how many hearts and homes are open to me at all times, I truly believe I cannot be grateful enough."
The great charm and infinite variety of Mrs. Stewart's conversation were even more felt in country-houses than in London. The writer will always remember one day at Sarsden (Lady Ducie's), being told that an old lady was coming that evening, an old lady who would have travelled straight through from Scotland, and would probably arrive perfectly exhausted. The dinner-hour arrived, and with it there glided in amongst the company a graceful, refined old lady, with features the colour of white alabaster, in a black velvet dress, a chain and cross round her waist, and a lace head-dress which was neither veil nor hood, but so infinitely becoming to the wearer, that from the first moment of seeing her in it, it was impossible to imagine her in anything else. And soon, in conversation, the animation, the inspiration of her eyes, spoke even more powerfully than her lips, and - the next day the whole party were at her feet. Her conversation grew hourly more enchanting. She sat for her portrait in her picturesque lace head-dress to one of her fellow-guests; she was pleased at being asked to sit - "Il faut vieillir pour être heureuse," she said. Whilst she was sitting, she described her visit to Ober-Ammergau. Her anxiety to go was intense, but, though she was in Germany with the Queen of Hanover, all the means seemed to fail. The Princess Mary of Hanover and the Archduchess Elizabeth walked. But, to be in waiting upon them, went Baron von Klenck, her Hanoverian son-in-law, and he came back greatly impressed, and said to his wife when he came in, "If thy mother still wishes to go, in God's name let her set forth;" and she went. She described the life at the village - the simplicity, the cheapness; then, in the play, the awful agony of the twenty minutes of the Crucifixion, the sublimity of the Ascension. "I have seen hundreds of 'ascensions' on the stage and elsewhere, but I have never seen anything like that simple re-presentation."
The following day, at luncheon, Mrs. Stewart described a sitting with Mrs. Guppy, the spiritualist. Her daughter, Count Bathyany, and others were present.
"We were asked what sort of a manifestation we would have: we declared we would be satisfied with nothing less than a ghost. There was a round hole in the table, with a lid upon it. Presently the lid began to quiver; gradually it was thrown on one side, and a hand came up, violently agitating itself. Mrs. Guppy said, 'Dear spirits' (we are always very affectionate, you know), 'would you like the glass?' and a great tall fern-glass was put over the place; otherwise I should have touched that hand. Then, inside the glass (but we could not touch it, you know), came up something wrapped in muslin. Mrs. Guppy said it was a head. Afterwards we were asked to go down to supper: there was quite a handsome collation. A young American, who was with us, was so disgusted with what he had seen that he would touch nothing, would take neither bread nor salt in that house. I was weak. I did not quite like to refuse, and I ate a few strawberries. Of course, as far as the moral protest went I might have eaten a whole plateful. Bathyany took a rose away with him for his Countess, for at the end of our séance quantities of flowers appeared, we knew not whence, quite fresh, beautiful flowers: they appeared on the table close to Count Bathyany.
"The spirits are very indulgent. They think we are in better humour if our strength is kept up. After I have been sitting there for some time, they generally say, 'Harriet is exhausted: let her have a glass of wine.' Then sometimes they give us nicknames - beautiful nicknames - my daughter they called 'Mutability,' and me they named 'Distrust.'"
In nothing was Mrs. Stewart more remarkable than in her wonderful memory for poetry, which she would repeat for hours together.
She often spoke with surprise of the general want of appreciation for Byron in England, and would dwell on his wonderful satire, as evinced by his lines in the "Age of Bronze," on Marie Louise and Wellington; on his philosophy, for which she would cite the lines on Don Quixote; on his marvellous powers of condensation and combination, for which she would repeat those on the burning of Moscow. But, in all she said, Mrs. Stewart's individuality lent such a power and sweetness to her sayings and doings that any reproduction of them either seems to lose all point, or to be so crude as to give a false picture of her.
Mrs. Stewart afterwards paid repeated visits to Lord and Lady Ducie, and they were amongst the greatest pleasures of her later years. To her daughter she wrote in the great frost: -
“Tortworth, Jan. 1880. - I can't tell you all the goodness and kindness I have had, from my Lord and Lady downwards - it passes words."
"11th. - Tortworth. - I am so persistently weak and défaite, I don't know what to make of it. The doctor says it is not real weakness, but nervous exhaustion. To myself it seems like quite comfortable dying away - no pain, but also no will, no power; and this is the first time in my life that I have felt myself totally without the former."
"January 17. - They shut the gates on me. The cold is so exceptionally severe, severer than for sixty years past, and I am not to be suffered to leave this large house whilst it lasts. It is in vain to rebel, so I put up with my luxuries with patience. I have not been outside the doors since I came, but the house is very large to take exercise in, the company cheerful, and, as you know, I love the dear Ducies. They say they will keep me 'till June and the roses,' if the cold does not abate. . . . I breakfast in my room, go down about 10.30, find everybody brisk and cordial, all the papers, and plenty of the best new books - remain till luncheon at two, come back to my room, rest and books till dinner-time at eight, a cheerful evening - acting, talking, music, and to bed at eleven. I wish you were here, and so does Lady Ducie heartily, and then I should have little left to wish for."
A portion of the summer was frequently spent by Mrs. Stewart with her daughter Christina in Scotland, "enjoying entire rest and peace, dallying from day to day, eating lotus (and a good deal besides) with such satisfaction as not to be able to make any plan for moving on." On one of these occasions of long-ago, whilst staying at the place of her son-in-law, Mr. Rogerson, near Inverness, she had made the acquaintance of Brother Ignatius.
"One day while out walking, my daughter met with a young man, of wonderful beauty, dressed as a monk, with bare feet and sandals. He asked her whether he was near any inn, and said, 'The fact is I have with me two sisters [Sister Gertrude and another], and a brother - Brother Augustine. And the brother is very ill, probably ill to death, and we cannot go any farther.' So my daughter made them come to her house, and showed them infinite kindness, giving them water for their feet and all Scripture hospitality. Brother Augustine was very ill, very ill indeed, and they all remained in or near my daughter's house three weeks, during which I became very intimate with them, especially with Brother Ignatius and Sister Gertrude. We used to go out for the day together, and then, in some desolate strath, Brother Ignatius would sing, sing hymns like an archangel, and then he would kneel on the grass and pray.
“Many years afterwards I heard that Brother Ignatius was going to preach in London - some very bad part of London - and I went. The room was packed and crowded, but I was in the first row. He preached - a beautiful young monk, leaning against a pillar. There were at least a hundred of his attitudes worth painting, but there was nothing in his words. At last a little girl thought he looked faint, and brought him a smelling-bottle, which she presented to him kneeling. He smelled at it, and seeing me, an old woman near him, he sent it on to me, and I smelled at it too. Afterwards I stayed to see him, and we talked together in a small room, talked till midnight. Then he gave me his blessing, gave it to me very solemnly, and afterwards I said, 'And God bless you too, my dear young man.'”
In other summers, Mrs. Stewart was frequently at Hopetoun House, and paid other Scottish visits with great enjoyment.
"What a climate it is! - just heavenly, no more. Balmy, fragrant, almost fresh, but not bracing. In 'trim gardens' in the midst of wildness, it seems like Eden, with wasps instead of snakes."
It was at Lord Ducie's that Mrs. Stewart first made acquaintance with his cousins, Lord and Lady Denbigh, which led to other pleasant visits.
"Newnham Paddox. - I wish you were with me in this heavenly place, with these dear people. You like magnificence. So do I, when it is not spoiled by lower things. A. and Crissy do not. We will not quarrel with them, but I still think that we are right. This is a really grand place, le grand air in everything, the finest family chapel in the kingdom, I suppose. Lord Denbigh sold an estate which accrued to him in Shropshire to build it, and he has done it worthily. I go in to low mass at 8.30 every morning in my long fur coat and a black veil - to be sure the chapel is only at the end of the long corridor. Kindness of every sort and cordiality is here for me. It is a wonderful sight, and touching in its way, to see the younger son of the house, Basil, a lovely boy of eight years, serve the mass every morning. We are a very small party here as yet - most cultivated people they are - excellent music, excellent reading aloud, everybody occupied, everybody receptive and communicative, every soul here as yet Roman Catholic, but you know I don't like them the less for that. I intended to go home on Monday, but am kept per force. I compromise for Thursday, but I doubt if I get the gates open then, so cordial, so dear, so hospitable are my hosts - their care and tenderness to me is nearly filial."
"Newnham Paddox. - I wish I could make you see my visit. Such affectionate kindness, such honour and respect is shown me, that I cannot comprehend it, only receive it humbly and with gratitude.
'They say this world's a world of woe,
And I pity the fools that find it so.'
Here are lines I have found at stately Newnham, and they strike me as so funny and incongruous that I copy them."
From 1877 onwards Mrs. Stewart had been frequently very ill and suffering, and was often confined for weeks to bed or the sofa in her little room in Sloane Street, which was constantly brightened by presents of flowers and fruit, and cheered by the presence of ministering friends. When she was able, she would talk for hours on all events of the day with wonderful shrewdness and sagacity, amid which such gleams of fun would break forth as were indescribable. Well does the writer remember some one in her room remarking that an election failure which had just befallen Sir William Harcourt would be as good as a dose of physic to him, and the sparkling humour with which she replied, "No; it would be a dose of castor-oil administered to a marble statue."
Of her own pains and aches Mrs. Stewart would seldom speak. "Take care," she would say, if one had a tendency thus to complain, "or you will become that most dreadful of all things, a self-observant valetudinarian. I was once in a house with a lady who, after talking of nothing else for an hour, said, 'I won't speak of my own health, for when I was young, a dear, old, wise, judicious woman said to me, 'When anybody asks how you are, always say you are quite well, for nobody cares.'”
From one of her most severe illnesses Mrs. Stewart declared that she rallied from the time Mr. Alfred Denison paid her a visit. She had said to him that she had a presentiment she - should not recover, and he had answered her that he had never been ill without that presentiment, but that it had never come true.
Speaking of the cases in which the highest and lowest motives combine, and "Oh, in life there are so many of these cases," led Mrs. Stewart one day to speak of the occasions on which a lie is justifiable.
"There was once a case in which I thought I ought to tell a lie, but I was not sure. I went to Dr. and Mrs. Bickersteth, and I asked them. They would only answer, 'We cannot advise you to tell a lie' - they would not advise it, but they did not forbid it. So, when a husband came to question me about his wife, I equivocated. I said, 'She certainly did not do what you imagine.' He said to me very sternly and fiercely - 'That is no answer: is my wife innocent?' And I said, 'She is.' I said it hesitatingly, for I knew it was false, and be knew it was false; he knew that I had lied to him; he did not believe me in his heart, but he was glad to believe me outwardly, and he was grateful to me, and that husband and wife lived together till their death. I believe that was one of the rare cases in which it is right to tell a lie. You will say that it might lead one to tell many others, but I do not think it has. Was it not Mr. Stopford Brooke who once said that 'merciless truth' was the most selfish thing he knew?"
Another day, Mrs. Stewart spoke again of how far a lie might be justified by circumstances, such as giving a wrong direction to a man who was in pursuit of another to kill him, &c.; and when some one objected, she dwelt upon its being far greater to be noble for others than holy for oneself. Some one observed that in this case we should all follow the inner voice, which would tell truly what duty was. “Yes" said Mrs. Stewart, "having formed your character by the Master without, you may then act in crises by the voice within, which will never be false to your life's teachings. Perhaps," she added, "I should say, like Dr. Johnson, I have been speaking in crass ignorance, according to the failings of my fallible human nature; and yet, may we not all, whilst acting like fallible human beings as we are, trust respectfully in God's mercy - though speaking of no glorious future as reserved for us, lest He should say, 'What hast thou done to deserve that?'"
Long in the hearts of those present will echo the sweet and thrilling tones in which, after this conversation, Mrs. Stewart repeated the lovely lines on Mary Magdalen in Moore's "Rhymes of the Road:” -
"No wonder, Mary, that thy story
Touches all hearts - for there we see
The soul's corruption and its glory,
Its death and life combined in thee.
No wonder, Mary, that thy face,
In all its touching light of tears,
Should meet us in each holy place
Where man before his God appears,
Hopeless - were he not taught to see
All hope in Him who pardon'd thee.
Often, very often, in these hours of feebleness, would Mrs. Stewart speak and wonder on the mysteries of a future state.
"Do not think I murmur, but life is very trying when one knows so little of the beyond. The clergy man's wife has just been here, and she said, 'But you must believe, you must believe Scnpture literally, you must believe all it says to the letter.' But I cannot believe literally; one can only use the faith one has. I have not the faith which moves mountains. I have prayed that the mountains might move, with all the faith that was in me - all. But the mountains did not move. No, I cannot pray with the faith which is not granted me.
"I think that I believe all the promises of Scripture; yet, when I think of Death, I hesitate to wish to leave the certainty here for what is - yes, must be - the uncertainty beyond. Yet lately, when I was so ill, when I continued to go down and down into the very depths, I felt I had got so far, so very far, it would be difficult to travel all that way again. 'Oh, let me go through the gates now,' I said, and then the comforting thought came that perhaps after all it might not be the will of God that I should travel the same way again, and that when He leads me up to the gates for the last time, it may be His will to lead me by some other, by quite a different way."
The kindness of Mrs. Stewart's nature was so great, and she was so appreciative of the good qualities of all who came near her, that no one could help feeling better and a little nearer their ideal when with her, or when they had been long under her influence. To look at the best side of people, and to shut her eyes to their faults, was not with her, as with many, simply a duty; it was the very essence of her nature.
No one had a more sensitive and grateful appreciation of the smallest present or kindness shown to her by others. Even if the gift was worth nothing and cost nothing to the sender, she would out of the fulness of her heart speak so warmly of the kindness - and with her it was not words, but real feeling - that the giver was often ashamed of how little had been done. It was often almost distressing, however, that she was as open-handed as she was large-hearted. If a person who enjoyed so many pleasures can be said to have had a special one, her special pleasure was to give away. However much a thing pleased her, she would always rather give it away than keep it for herself. Baskets of fruit or flowers, game or new-laid eggs, that were carefully sent by loving friends for her special use, were often looked at and enjoyed for half-an-hour, and then passed on to some friend who would enjoy them equally, and perhaps need them more. It would amuse her children to find that some little object which they had selected for her own use, or some dainty which they had sent to tempt her appetite, had been given away within an hour to a sick friend, or perhaps even to the first person who happened to call. It was not that she failed to appreciate or enjoy the gift, but that with her the impulse to give away was irresistible. Some one said to Mrs. Stewart that one of her nearest belongings would probably end her life in the Queen's Bench from her over-charity and generosity. "Thank God if it is for that!" Mrs. Stewart characteristically replied.
MRS. DUNCAN STEWART
Mrs. Stewart retained the happy quality of eagerness about everything to a degree very unusual for her age. To the last she was most eager to promote and participate in any human enjoyment, and her eagerness to help others who needed it was measured only by her ability. She did not ask herself, "Should I do this?" but, "How much can I do?" and cold prudence had only a small voice in her counsels. Her kindness, her appreciativeness, her impulsive and sustained generosity, and her eager intelligent interest in everything created for herself great happiness even in her later personal sufferings; and to one who asked her, when a book appeared with that title, "Is Life Worth Living?" she replied, “Ay, to the very dregs.”
Mrs. Stewart could not endure any language which seemed to her the least exaggerated. Mrs. Kendal one day spoke to her of her being in "the honoured place of age," having reached "the table-land," whilst she and others were only like ants trying to climb up to it. Mrs. Stewart turned sharply round upon her, with - "My dear, you are a fool; you know perfectly well that no one is old, and that there is no table-land."
A visit which Mrs. Stewart greatly enjoyed in her last years was that to those who were then Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Tennyson.
"Aldworth (1880 or 1881). - I will write on my first night at this precious house, because I think, I know, it must interest you. Sabine Greville brought me this afternoon by the loveliest of all lovely English drives, really a country fit for a poet to live in. We found here two young Roman Catholics, brother and sister, dear Mrs. Tennyson in all her delicate beauty, and the dear old man. The house is wonderfully beautiful, on a very high hill, commanding the whole Country. I am installed luxuriously in three rooms en suite. We dined at 6.30. When Tennyson had finished his dinner, he went off. At first I thought he was ill, but everybody seemed to take it as a matter of course. We sate on and finished our dinners. Then we moved into another room, where dessert was laid and the master was sitting with his wine and fruit. Then, after an hour of very good talk, he went away to sleep and smoke, she went to rest till 9.30, and we young ones went into the music-room. Hallam tucked me up reverently and lovingly on a sofa, and the music began - real good music, Beethoven and such like. At 9.30 to the drawing-room again, Mrs. Tennyson went to bed at ten, and he read to us, and it has been a great enjoyment! Everybody breakfasts in their own room."
"August 31. - Here at Aldworth - a happy day, a day to note, if I could do it worthily. A deal of good talk with the master, in and out. A walk by myself out of the gates. A very good talk with Hallam, whom I like more and more, and with dear beautiful Mrs. Tennyson. Hallam sung a German hymn to me, in his manly true voice, without music, just sitting by me, in the drawing-room; it was very fine.
"They drove me to a great house, but the drive to and fro was the thing. Much good talk. I wish I could remember all, not to record it, for it was very personal, but to enjoy it. After dinner, the master was very genial, very confiding, full of interesting talk. I think I know his character now. He read in the evening, and now at eleven o'clock I am come to bed, grateful that I am here, and saying to the time 'Stay, for thou art fair!'"
“Thursday night (at Milford - Mrs. Greville's again). - This morning was fine. On going down at eleven o'clock, I found Mr. Tennyson and Hallam waiting to walk with me; they took me about the grounds, showed me the dogs and horses, and then went off for their own long walk. Dear Mrs. Tennyson was in the drawing-room, and I talked with her till one - very very interestmg. Luncheon at 1.30, alone with them, and much good and loving talk. I was very thankful, for I felt that they loved me and trusted me. Sabine most kindly drove over to fetch me, nine miles of lovely country, and I felt all love and reverence, and was invited to come back with affectionate urgency. They said, 'This is the thin edge of the wedge; we hope that you will come again whenever you can and will.' All this was and is very pleasant and dear to one's heart, and I thank God again and again."
The buoyant nature of Mrs. Stewart enabled her soon to rally even after the severest illnesses, but in 1883 her increased feebleness of body, though never of mind, struck all who loved her. Here are a few notes of this time: -
"8th July 1883. - This last has been a terrible week - William Spottiswoode's funeral at the Abbey. I had not intended to go, but they sent for me, and I could not and would not shrink. It was a grand and terrible experience. I was so near the grave that I could touch everything and everybody with my hand, and I got so bewildered, that my only resource on leaving the Abbey was to drive smart out into the breezy country to blow off the atmosphere. The day after I went down to Kew (imperative and very good for me), where I could not but clutch fast hold of dear Joseph Hooker, Lady Eastlake, and even Browning, to make sure they were still here."
“Walton Heath, October 9th. - I came here on Saturday to my dear Caroline Bromley - a charming place, full of books and kindness, and care and consideration. We are in the middle of a large airy heath - a most healthy place, and have the loveliest garden and orchard that you did ever see, full of sweet-smellmg things."
"November 4. - I have set up a fine large black cat, callcd Joe - a travelled cat. He was in Cairo with the poor Elliots when they died in one week. Joe is very fond of me, and will hardly leave my lap. I find him very heavy, and would often be glad to get rid of him, but don't like to disturb him: he does not so much mind disturbing me."
"November 2. - I am getting quite fairly better. Henry James came and sate by my bedside a long while to-day, and I had a good time. Lady Gordon was here yesterday, and everybody is very very good to me. Mrs. Bald sends me beautifully chosen game, Mrs. Houldsworth grapes and figs - such grapes - and the goodness - and the goodness! My maidens, East and Polly, are as you know them. I hope their mother is coming up to spend Christmas, and I intend and plan that they should have a happy time, please God."
In the autumn of 1883, after a visit to her much-valued friend Mrs. Hamilton, of Brent Lodge, Mrs. Stewart had insisted, in spite of her infirmities, upon going to Scotland. Hitherto she had always travelled third-class, saying it was the one economy she could indulge in without hurting any one else. But this time her loving daughter Christina and Miss Hamilton insisted upon going beforehand to engage a Pullman car and have everything ready. When she arrived, she was as much enchanted as a girl of sixteen, shook hands with the caretaker, and completely captivated him; washed her hands at once to try the tap; was enraptured with the furniture, saying her only trouble was whether to lie on the sofa or sit in the arm-chair; and then suddenly she burst into tears, and flung her arms round her daughter Chrissy, saying, "My dear, you should not make me wish so much to live; surely the angels in Heaven can never take the care of me you do!"
In January 1884, the death of her kind son-in-law, James Rogerson of Wamphray, was a great shock to Mrs. Stewart in her enfeebled state. Soon her weakness increased so much, that her Hanoverian daughter was summoned from Gmunden, and came at once with her husband and children. The mother was able to have pleasure in this last reunion, and the daughter had the unspeakable comfort of having had the power of sharing with her sister in loving ministrations to the last weeks of their mother's life here. Before this, Mrs. Stewart had always seemed to avoid all thought of death, but now, when she saw and accepted that death must be the termination of her illness, she set herself, so to speak, to examine the process. She evidently had no fear, and repeatedly spoke of the entire trust and confidence with which she left herself in God's hands. She also said in a musing kind of way, more than once, "It is curious, this thing which you call dying - this curious thing called dying." She retained the use of all her powers of observation till a few hours before the end, and the whole of the last week was strongly characteristic of her - her intellect, her sweetness, her sense of humour, being all seen as it were under an electric light. A few days before the end, a dear Roman Catholic friend, who had always hoped that in her last hours she might be received into the Roman Church, came to her, and urged it vehemently - "There was no time to be lost; it was not necessary to understand or receive all the articles of the [Roman] faith; all that was really necessary was to resign one's own will entirely, to say in humble trust, 'Whatever God wills, I will, that would be enough.'' “Oh, dear friend,” answered Mrs. Stewart in the sweetest and most touching manner, "could it be possible that I, a poor weak woman, could will anything but what God wills? I love you and I love much in your religion, and I love God; but how can I accept technically what I cannot believe absolutely?" and to this she remained firm against all entreaties, oft-repeated the last three days of her life, though, when the same friend offered to pray with her, she accepted it gladly with - "Yes, surely we may pray together, to our common Father."
On the 16th of February 1884, Mrs. Stewart passed peacefully and painlessly into the other life. Her sons and daughters were with her, and her two faithful servants. Her last words were "Higher, Higher," and we may believe that she has reached that higher existence where her thirst for life, not repose, meets its first fruition. Her mortal remains were laid in a grave of flowers at Kensal Green, many faithful hearts mourning, many sad eyes weeping, beside her coffin. East, her maid, to whom she had ever been caressing in thoughts and acts and words, only echoed the unspoken feeling of many as to the common round of outer events when she said simply, "It is so terrible that the omnibuses should still be running and Mrs. Stewart be gone." But a couplet written by a brother of Mrs. Barbauld might be applied to her, who -
"From the banquet of Life rose a satisfied guest,
Thank'd the Lord of the feast, and in hope went to rest."