Page images

Prison, died there June 13, 1734. The circumstances connected with this man's history are curious. Stranger, it appears, when travelling in the north, met with a gentleman in an inn at York, who informed him that he had considerable wealth, but no near relation to leave it to. The other professed to be in the same situation, and at length the parties agreed to make each his will in favour of the other, so that the longest liver might enjoy the whole. In this way, Stranger in a few years came into possession of a large fortune. The heir-at-law of the deceased attempted to set aside the will, but failed. The fraud, however, was distinctly proved. In an early number of Chambers's Journal, it is stated that Stranger at one time migrated into Eskdale, and, possessing some smattering of scientific knowledge, was enabled to impose upon the Duke of Buccleuch (son of the Duke of Monmouth) in so far as to induce his Grace to enter into some expensive operations, for the purpose of digging and smelting iron. These operations were conducted at a place not far from the old tower of Gilnockie-the famous Johnny Armstrong's fastness-and there is still a hamlet near the spot, termed, from Stranger's operations, the Forge. Whether Crook or Stranger were the real name of the adventurer, the latter was that by which he went in Eskdale, and which was transmitted to an illegitimate daughter-Nelly Stranger-whom he left in that country, and who lived to a considerable age. Mr. Robert Chambers has obligingly informed us that he obtained this information from an old gentleman of eighty, Mr. Grieve, of Branxholm, a man full of anecdote, and of such accuracy as to give value to his relations of past events. Mr. Chambers conjectures that Stranger was the prototype of Dousterswivel, in Scott's "Antiquary." This is probable enough, from Sir Walter's acquaintance with all the projects and undertakings of the Buccleuch family, and from the strong impression that such a story as that of Stranger and his Forge must have made upon his mind.


Ver. 96. Die and endow a college or a cat.] The "Duchess of R." alluded to by Pope, was the celebrated Court beauty, Frances Stewart, granddaughter of Lord Blantyre, and wife of Charles Stewart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox. Miss Stewart inspired Charles II. with the purest and strongest passion he seemed capable of entertaining. He would have divorced his queen to marry her, and was half distracted when, by her clandestine marriage with Richmond, she eluded his grasp. The personal charms of La Belle Stewart have been commemorated by Grammont, Pepys, and others. The secretary, indeed, was enraptured with her appearance-her "cocked hat and a red plume," her "sweet eye," and "little Roman nose." Miss Stewart had been so annoyed by the attentions of Charles, and the manners of his profligate Court, that she resolved to marry any gentleman of £1500 a-year, when, fortunately, the Duke of Richmond solicited her hand. Her consent was, according to Pepys, "as great an act of honour as ever was done by woman!" In a few years the Duchess became a widow, and continued

The endowment satirized by
She left annuities to certain

so for thirty years, dying October 15, 1702. Pope has been favourably explained by Warton. female friends, with the burden of maintaining some of her cats: a delicate way of providing for poor, and probably proud, gentlewomen, without making them feel that they owed their livelihood to her mere liberality. It would have been easy, however, to have effected the same object in a way not liable to ridicule. The "effigy" of the Duchess still exists, along with others, in Westminster Abbey, but is no longer exhibited to the public. She left money by her will, desiring that her effigies, as well done in wax as could be, and dressed in coronation robes and coronet, should be placed in a case, with clear crown glass before it, and should be set up in Westminster Abbey. A more lasting and popular "effigy" is the figure of Britannia, on our copper coins, which was originally modelled from a medal struck by Charles the Second, in honour of the fair Stewart. A similar figure, however, may be found on one of the coins of Antoninus Pius.


Ver. 101. The grave Sir Gilbert holds it for a rule,
That every man in want is knave or fool.

The allusion here is to Sir Gilbert Heathcote, who was reckoned worth £700.000. He was one of the Aldermen of London, a Director of the Bank of England, and Member of Parliament for St. Germains. He died January 25, 1733, aged 82. This wealthy commoner made a provision in his will which ought to be recorded to his honour; he ordered that his tenants should not have their rents raised, whatever improvements they made.


Ver. 119. Ask you why Phryne the whole auction buys?
Phryne foresees a general Excise.


Why she and Sappho raise that monstrous sum?

[ocr errors]

Maria Skerrett was for upwards of ten years the mistress of Sir Robert Walpole, and in 1738, on the death of his first wife, Sir Robert married her, to the great mortification of his son Horace, who never mentions the second marriage. Coxe, in his Memoirs of Walpole, is also silent as to the mes Lord Hervey says that Miss Skerrett was a very pretty young woman, daughter to a merchant," and for whom Walpole was said to have given (besides an annual allowance) £5000 as entrance money. She had a daughter by Walpole, for whom he obtained the rank and title of an earl's daughter an honour previously confined to the illegitimate offspring of princes. months.

Maria Skerrett enjoyed her married dignity only about three Before her connexion with Walpole, she appears to have been a person of some distinction, and familiar with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who corresponded with her so early as 1716. She is said to have had a fortune

of £80,000, which is scarcely consistent with Lord Hervey's statement. That Pope aimed at Miss Skerrett and Lady Mary, under the names of Phryne and Sappho, has never been doubted. Warburton admitted it to Spence. Lady Mary's gambling and speculating propensities are well known, and her "dear Molly Skerrett " may have occasionally joined her. They were, like the poet himself, engaged in the South Sea scheme. The " conceit" of a general Excise, which Pope, in his note, insinuates Miss Skerrett might have had some intimation of from Walpole, was a very general delusion. Lord Hervey describes the panic in lively colours :

"This project, which, in reality, was nothing more than a mutation of two taxes from Customs to Excise, with an addition of only 126 officers in all England for the collection of it, was so represented to the whole country, and so understood by the multitude, that there was hardly a town in England, great or small, where nine parts in ten of the inhabitants did not believe that this project was to establish a general excise! and that everything they eat or wore was to be taxed; that a colony of excise officers was to be settled in every village in the kingdom, and that they were to have a power to enter all houses at all hours; that every place and person was to be liable to their search; and that such immense sums of money were to be raised by this project, that the crown would no longer be under the necessity of calling parlia ments for annual grants to support the government, but be able to provide for itself, for the most part; and whenever it wanted any extraordinary supplies, that the excise officers, by their power, would be able at any time to choose just such a parliament as the crown should nominate and direct.

"The effect these suggestions, inculcated and believed, must have on the minds of a people jealous of their liberties, susceptible of impressions, and prone to clamour, is easy to conceive. Every alarm sounded from the faction in London came reverberated by a thousand echoes from every part of the country: the whole nation was in a flame, and fresh fuel was constantly supplied by those who first kindled it, to keep it blazing.

"Sir Robert Walpole delayed as long as he could bringing the proposal into parliament, in hopes the clamour might subside, and the members consequently be less intimidated by the remonstrances of their constituents. Pamphlets were written, too, during this delay, on the side of Government, and sent all over England by the Administration, to show the people they had been imposed upon, blown up by false insinuations, and that the project was nothing more than a scheme to correct frauds committed in these two branches of the revenue, tobacco and wine, by which means it was proposed to raise the revenue enough to continue the reduction of the land-tax at one shilling in the pound, without imposing any new tax on the subject, and without increasing any tax already laid; but merely by this alteration in the method of collecting two duties already granted, which the consumer and fair trader now paid, and of which the public was defrauded by the evaders of the laws and the illicit dealers in these commodities. But all the reasoning was to no purpose; the people would neither hear arguments, examine facts, nor believe demonstration; and the universal cry of the kingdom was, No slavery, no excise, no wooden shoes!"

Walpole had to bow to the storm. The Excise bill was withdrawn, and the Minister was mobbed and burnt in effigy in the city, along with the effigy of a "fat woman," meant for the Queen.


Ver. 123. Wise Peter sees the world's respect for gold.] Peter Walter, of Stalbridge, Dorsetshire, was doubly honoured-first as the object of Pope's satire, and secondly as the original of that inimitable pompous personage, Peter Pounce, in "Joseph Andrews." The poet had picked up Peter's history in the course of his visits to Lord Digby, at Sherborne, and Fielding at one time resided within a few miles of Stalbridge. "Wise Peter" was agent for the Duke of Newcastle and others, and was a noted money scrivener. He was reputed to be worth £300,000, most of which he left at his death (January 19, 1746) to his grandson, of the same name, Member of Parliament for Shaftesbury. Walter himself had at one time sat in the House of Commons as representative for Bridport. He was Clerk of the Peace for Middlesex. Mr. Bowles relates some particulars of this managing and money-making scrivener. "He had been assisted in making a purchase by a dependent, who consequently expected a compensation. Mr. W. refused making any at his own expense, but promised to reward him at the expense of some other person. He accordingly prevailed on a neighbouring baronet to lease him a part of his demesne lands, on terms so unusually advantageous, that they could not escape observation; the taxes and parochial imposts being charged on the occupier of the adjoining farm. The estate is still (1806) possessed by a daughter of the lessee, with all the advantages attached to it. A characteristic scene was described by a son of his bailiff, who, when a boy, attended his father in an evening on business at the Manor-house. They found its possessor sitting without light in a small room communicating with the kitchen. On their approach he applied a raspberry stick to his fire, and lighted a small candle which stood on the table before him; but finding, on inquiry, that the present business required no light, he extinguished the candle and continued the conversation in the dark. Notwithstanding his rigid parsimony, he exacted the respect paid to opulence, for observing that the youth had continued his hat on, supposing no extraordinary deference due to the great man's appearance, he rated him violently for his rusticity and inattention. The story of the miser and candle is not uncommon, but I have this account from undoubted authority. The other anecdote shows the propriety of Pope's epithet,' Wise Peter.""


Ver. 127. The crown of Poland, venal twice an age,
To just three millions stinted modest Gage;

But nobler scenes Maria's dreams unfold.

In addition to Pope's note on this passage, we have some interesting particulars communicated to Warton from MS. notes of Mr. Bowyer:

"The names of these two persons were Mr. Gage and Lady Mary Herbert, daughter of William, Marquis of Powis, who dying October, 1745, left in the hands of his executors and trustees an annuity of £200 a-year to be paid to the use of this daughter, not for the payment of her many debts which she had contracted, but to keep her from wanting necessaries. William, Marquis of Powis, son of the former, litigated the said will, but died while the suit was pending in the Ecclesiastical Court, leaving the residue of the lands and profits of his estates, after his debts should be paid, in the hands of trustees for the use of the Right Hon. Henry Arthur, then Lord Herbert, afterwards Earl of Powis, with whom he had no relation, friendship, or acquaintance; which Arthur afterwards married Barbara Herbert, niece and heir-at-law of the latter Earl Powis. This man, by fair promises and threats, got the trustees of the first earl to agree in obtaining administration with the will and codicil of the marquis the father, annexed in May, 1749, and then repented paying the annuity of £200 to Mary Herbert, daughter of the said marquis. As she now resided in France, she had obtained a promise of being made Dame of Honour to the Queen of France, which Lord Herbert hearing of, went out of England to dissuade her from accepting it, as being a disgrace to her and her family, and promised he would pay her all the arrears of the annuity of £200 due by her father's will, and would give her, over and above, £200 more. This he never performed till after several suits of law: the cause was brought to the House of Lords, who decreed both her annuities to be paid, with all arrears due in the year 1766. Throughout a long life, so little difference has this lady found between dreams and realities." Wakefield has pointed out that the phrase "hereditary realms," in the dreams of Mary Herbert, must have been an allusion by Pope to the circumstance that her mother was a natural daughter of James II.


Ver. 177. Old Cotta shamed his birth.] Spence says, " Cotta and his heir were supposed by some to have been the late and present Duke of Newcastle, 'foe to the Dryads of his father's groves.' Mr. Pope did not confirm it outright when I mentioned it to him, but spoke of their characters in a manner that seemed not at all to disown it."

The old Duke of Newcastle, John Holles, was reputed one of the richest nobles in England. He died in consequence of a fall from his horse, 13th July, 1711. He was succeeded by his nephew, Thomas Pelham Holles,

« PreviousContinue »