The House of Laughter

La GaietS est pres de la bonte


IT was rather a famous house, and Sir James Mackintosh once proposed to write its history, but lost his zeal when he found how much there was to tell. It stood sedately in Kensington; and in 1873 Macmillan published two quarto volumes presenting its glories to the world through the medium of steel engravings, woodcuts, and heliogravures. General Fairfax lived in it, and Addison died in it. Van Dyck and William Penn were among its tenants. Charles James Fox should have been born in it, but was n’t, because Lady Caroline found the neighborhood too noisy, and preferred less august and more restful quarters for her confinement.

To this historic mansion, renovated and adorned with architectural furbelows, Henry Richard Fox, third Lord Holland, brought in 1796 the lady who was first his mistress and afterwards his honored and obeyed wife. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Vassall, and she had been married at sixteen to Sir Godfrey Webster of Battle Abbey, Sussex. She possessed some beauty, large estates in Jamaica, an imperious temper and a quick tongue. Lord Holland, who had reached the mature age of twenty-one, met her in Florence (she was four years his senior), and carried her back with him to England. Sir Godfrey, who gave no indication of a broken heart, divorced her in the leisurely English fashion; and, after the birth of a son, she was married to her lover in the parish church of Rickmansworth. Forty-three years of domestic harmony followed this seemingly ill-advised union.

No house could have been too big or too showy for Lady Holland. She revealed from the first a taste and a talent for entertaining which fitted her hospitable instincts, but were at variance with her incorrigible self-assertiveness. It was the good fortune of Englishmen in the beginning of the nineteenth century to find themselves free to dine, and glad to dine, with a hostess whose youthful indiscretion gave them a solid British excuse for leaving their wives at home. In the course of years the London world forgot all about this indiscretion (‘Lady Holland sinned early in life with Methuselah and Enoch,’ wrote Sydney Smith to Lord Denman); but in the beginning she was forced to content herself with the companionship of brilliant and agreeable men who were presumed to remain untarnished by her proximity.

Of Lord Holland nothing but good was spoken. During the long years of Tory ascendancy, when there was ‘no more chance of a Whig Administration than of a thaw in Nova Zembla,’ he held the party together, and made of it a disturbing minority. His opinions were crystallized into a textbook of Whig domestic policy. Oppression sanctioned by law was his peculiar horror, and it was his fate in life to make little headway against it. Imprisonment for debt at the will and pleasure of the creditor seemed to him as detestable as slavery in the West Indies. The Corn Laws were cruel, but so was capital punishment for minor offenses. He supported Catholic Emancipation, an unpopular measure in the House of Lords, and he protested vehemently, but vainly, against St. Helena as a place of detention for Napoleon.

Now how could a man who spent his life tilting against the cherished abuses of power maintain an unbroken cheerfulness of demeanor, and an even flow of spirits? ‘In my whole experience of our race,’ said Lord Brougham, ‘I never saw such a temper, nor anything that at all resembled it.’ ‘Holland,’ said Lord John Russell, ‘won without seeming to court, instructed without seeming to teach, and amused without laboring to be witty.’ ‘There is no human being,’ wrote Lord Byron to Rogers, ‘on whose regard and esteem I set a higher value than on Lord Holland’s.’ He, at least, had proved the sincerity of his words.

Why the Edinburgh Review should have deemed it worth while to write long disparaging pages about Byron’s Hours of Idleness can be explained only on the supposition that the harmless nothings of a peer were thought to deserve more notice, and consequently more condemnation, than the harmless nothings of a commoner. Why Byron should have imagined that Lord Holland had inspired the article can be explained only on a similar assumption — that one peer fancied himself of importance to another. As it chanced, Holland had never seen the verses, and had never heard of the poet, being under the impression that the title was extinct. Naturally it was a shock to him, when English Bards and Scotch Reviewers took London by storm, to find himself, his wife, and most of his friends held up to ridicule in its pages. He, indeed, escaped lightly as the host who fed Grub Street; but there was an ugly jab at Lady Holland, to whom were ascribed the unlikely duties of a moral censor. Her business was to save the Review from masculine coarseness. She

Breathes o’er the page her purity of soul,
Reforms each error, and refines the whole.

Never was there so rough a pathway to a lifelong friendship. When Byron was well assured that Lord and Lady Holland had been unaware of his very existence, and when he had recovered his characteristic reasonableness which the petulance of youth had obscured, he asked Lord Holland what he had better do to make amends. Holland, who did not hold with half measures, advised him strongly to withdraw the satire from circulation. Byron, who was then hard at work revising a fifth edition, acceded promptly to this demand, He wrote to his publishers, and bade them destroy all the copies on their shelves. A few escaped, which inevitably happens. Dallas retained two. One passed into Murray’s hands, and furnished the text for the edition of 1831. Another reposes serenely on the shelves of the British Museum.

It is easier to start a blaze than to extinguish it. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was more like a bonfire than a conflagration, but it would not be put out. In 1813 Byron wrote in his journal: ‘I wish I had not been in such a hurry with that confounded satire, of which I would suppress even the memory. But people, now that they can’t get it, make a fuss, I verily believe out of contrariety.’ Four years later he wrote to Murray, authorizing him to republish any of his poems in a large edition, with the solitary exception of English Bards. To revive ‘that foolish lampoon’ would be, he considered, idiocy. ‘Not for any consideration would I do so. It is not good for much, even in the way of verse; and you are to recollect that I gave up its republication on account of the Hollands. I do not think that time or circumstances can neutralize this suppression.’


Holland House was not in Byron’s day the preëminent social centre it afterwards became; but it was shaping itself in that direction, and had already assumed, for good or bad, its distinguishing characteristics. Lady Holland cared nothing for the comfort or convenience of her guests. She crowded them at table — sixteen when there was barely space for nine — and urged them to ‘make room.’ ‘It will certainly have to be made,’ said Luttrell, ‘for it does not exist.’ She froze them because she was insensitive to cold. This was Byron’s especial grievance, and he confided it to the pages of his journal in November 1813: ‘Why does Lady H. always have that damned screen between the whole room and the fire? I, who bear cold no better than an antelope, was absolutely petrified, and could not even shiver. All the rest looked as if they were just unpacked, like salmon from an ice-basket, and set down to table for that day only. When she retired, I watched their looks as I dismissed the screen, and every cheek thawed, and every nose reddened with the anticipated glow.’

If Byron had kicked over the screen before his hostess had left the dining room, she would probably have forgiven him, for he was the enfant gâté of the establishment. Always an agreeable companion (‘cheerful, frank and witty,’ said Shelley), there was in him a rush of inborn vitality like an Alpine torrent. Scott, who like the Hollands had something to forgive, forgave with all his heart. He had, as it chanced, no great fancy for wits, but delighted in companionship that was both grave and gay. ‘Byron,’ he wrote, ‘occasionally said what are called good things, but he never strove for them. They came naturally and easily, and mixed with the comic or the serious as it happened.’

That there was real affection between the spoiled hostess and her spoiled guest does not admit of a doubt. Byron dedicated to her The Bride of Abydos, by way of atonement for his early errors, and commented more than once in his journal upon her kindness and her charm. Shortly after the episode of the screen he wrote: ‘Dined last night with Lord Holland. Lady Holland in perfect good humour, and consequently perfect. No one more agreeable, or perhaps so much so, when she will.’

As for the lady’s sentiments, they were expressed with feeling and simplicity after the wasted death at Missolonghi. Moore asked her if she thought Lady Byron had ever really loved her husband. ‘She must have done so,’ was the impetuous reply. ‘He was so lovable.’

These friends saw each other at his and her best because the period of their friendship coincided with the most sane and reasonable years of their lives. ‘Byron,’ said George Meredith, ‘had splendid powers of humour, and the most poetic satire of which we have any example, fusing at times to hard irony. He had no strong comic sense, or he would not have taken an antisocial position.’ But he did not take an antisocial position until after his unfortunate marriage, and he displayed a broad-blown comic sense in all that appertained to the most amusing episode of his life — his connection with Drury Lane. He was a diligent member of the Subcommittee of Management, which sounds humble (all subs do), but which gave him plenty of experience. The theatre had been burned down and rebuilt. When Samuel Whitbread, brewer, politician, and manager, died by his own hand, it was said that the anxieties and disputes attendant to the rebuilding and reorganization had driven him to suicide — ‘a consolatory encouragement to the new Committee,’ observed Byron.

Whitbread lived long enough, however, to deliver the address when Drury Lane was reopened in 1812. Byron wrote a poem for the occasion, and with perfect good humor consented to have it corrected and curtailed by the management. On one point only he was resolute. He would not — though it seemed inevitable — compare the theatre risen from its ashes to the phœnix. ‘How am I to avoid it?’ he said to Holland. ‘We must not for the world have a feather of that damned bird which is become as commonplace as the turtle-dove.’ He was offered, and declined, a quiet hiding place whence he could hear his poem declaimed. ‘Not for the universe,’ he said, ‘would I be — if I could help it — within fifty miles of the spot that night.’ ‘It was well he was not there,’ commented Holland. ‘ Mr. Elliston recited the lines in a manner that would drive any poet mad.’

To confess the truth, no grace of delivery could have made Byron’s address anything but insipid. The comments of the press were cold and critical, and it was saved from utter damnation only by the fact that Whitbread’s address managed to be worse. He, at least, reveled in the phœnix, and described it minutely for the benefit of those who might not have been familiar with its system of survivals. ‘Byron at least wrote like a poet,’ said Holland, ‘and Whitbread like a schoolboy.’ ‘Not like a schoolboy,’ corrected Sheridan; ‘like a poulterer.’

Apparently the only glint of gayety which enlivened the audience that night was afforded by Miss Farren, who in the interval between Macbeth and a farce, The Virgin Unmasked, explained in fluent rhyme the safety secured by an iron curtain which in the event of another fire could be rapidly lowered, cutting off the stage — where conflagrations started — from the house: —

Now we assure our generous benefactors
’T will only burn the scenery and the actors.


Byron loved the stage. He confessed that he never could resist a first night, not even when he should have stayed at home because his wife’s uncle was dead; and not even when he feared, with reason, that the play would be damned. Those were the days when the pit, if it was displeased or badly bored, rose and roared the actors down, making their voices inaudible. Byron, who had no more liking for the tyranny of the mob than for the tyranny of politicians or of Turks, hated these crude manifestations of displeasure. He sat cowering in the back of his box when Mrs. Wilmot’s tragedy, Ina, failed unequivocally. The first three acts ‘oozed patiently but heavily on.’ Even Kean could do nothing to vitalize them. Throughout the fourth the house showed ominous signs of impatience. Byron shrank more deeply into the shadows. Midway in the fifth act, when the hero was saying his prayers, the pit, ‘the damnable pit,’ rose on its legs and howled defiance. The poet slipped out of the theatre more than ever convinced that women could not write tragedies. ‘They have not seen enough, or felt enough, of life,’ he reflected; and then bethought himself of Semiramis and Catherine the Second. ‘Rare plays they might have written,’ he said.

Byron’s kindness to actors and dancers was as whimsical as Mr. Gilbert’s. It was long remembered in New York that Gilbert, seeing one of the chorus girls in tears, asked her what was wrong. The girl replied that the dresser had told her she was ‘no better than she ought to be.’ ‘But you are better than you ought to be, are n’t you?’ said the dramatist with sympathetic and serious conviction. Byron’s efforts to keep the peace between a ballet master who wished the pas seul to come in the middle of the dance, and the première danseuse who wished it to come at the close, were unsuccessful. After patient listening and reflection he decided in favor of the dancer, for the not very logical reason that she resembled Lady Jane Harley. ‘Likenesses go a great way with me,’ he admitted. The ballet master, unmoved by, because ignorant of, this consideration, refused to accept defeat. The lady would not yield, and it was ‘a devil of a row on and off the stage.’

On the whole, however, the cast was easier to manage than were the playwrights. Andrew Lang said that an editor was engaged ‘in a kind of intellectual egg-dance among a score of sensitive interests.’ But running a magazine is pastime compared to running a theatre, which is more like a sword dance than a harmless diversion with eggs. When Byron became a submanager, he found over five hundred plays waiting to be read. Some of them, he thought, must be good. All of them, he found, were bad. Then scores of new plays were hurled at his head. Sir James Bland Burges sent him offhand four tragedies and a farce. A ‘Miss Emma Somebody’ brought him a drama entitled The Bandit of Bohemia, ‘of which she thought well.’ An unknown genius signing himself ‘Hibernicus’ sent him a tragedy called Turgesius, which he described in lively fashion to Moore: ‘In the last act, Turgesius, a Dane and a usurper, is chained by the leg to a pillar. King Malachi, Irishman and hero, makes him a speech, not unlike Lord Casllereagh’s, about the balance of power and the lawfulness of legitimacy, which puts Turgesius into a frenzy — as Castlereagh would if his audience were chained by the leg. He draws a dagger and rushes at the orator; but finding himself at the end of his tether, sticks it into his own body and dies, saying he has fulfilled a prophecy.’

Byron dealt gently with the author of this play, ‘a wild man of a salvage appearance,’ who came in person to the theatre, and filled him with justifiable apprehension. But in truth he was always as gentle as circumstances permitted. ‘I am really a civil and polite person,’ he said of himself, ‘and do hate giving pain if it can be avoided.’ When Mr. Betterton, a dancing master of sixty, and the father of Julia Betterton the actress, took it into his head that he could play Archer in Farquhar’s comedy, The Beaux’ Stratagem, and called upon Byron, ‘dressed in silk stockings on a frosty morning to show his legs, which were certainly good, and Irish for his age, and had been still better,’ the submanager soothed the old gentleman with compliments in place of compliance. His ‘angel of reasonableness’ stood him in good stead. He relished the absurdities of the stage, he reverenced its traditions, and he had a discriminating taste. He noted in his journal, after seeing Kean as Richard III: ‘Kemble’s Hamlet is perfect, but Hamlet is not nature. Richard is a man, and Kean is Richard.’

In 1804 ‘Young Roscius,’otherwise William Betty, a boy of thirteen, was playing to crowded houses at Covent Garden and Drury Lane. So dense and so determined was the mob that the military was called out to preserve order. The critics were as mad as the mob. Even John Bull paused in its frenzied political diatribes to sing frenzied praises of the prodigy. In the midst of this turmoil, Byron, then in his seventeenth year, wrote calmly to his mother that the young actor was ‘tolerable in some characters, but by no means deserving of the ridiculous praises showered upon him.

What wonder that this brilliant and impulsive guest, who said good things without striving for them, should have been welcome to Lady Holland s table and dear to Lady Holland s heart. If he sometimes breathed an irritated word to her or about her, she forgave, knowing that, like a red Indian, he never forgot a kindness. His lifelong loyalty to Madame de Staël, who had few admirers in England, was an instance of this uncivilized trait. Moreover, she relished his observations, laughed at his picture of Mr. Edgeworth, ‘bouncing about, talking loud and long, active, brisk and endless’; and probably understood when he refused to dine with Mat Lewis (whom he liked) because his would-be host had ‘looking-glass panels in his book-cases’ — a sound excuse for any man of taste to stay away.

In 1816 Byron left England, and seven years later he wrote to Moore that Henry Fox, Lord Holland’s second legitimate son, had paid him a visit in Genoa. He was strangely moved by the meeting. Old memories crowded his mind, old friendships tugged at his heart.

‘The boy,’ he wrote, ‘has the softest and most amiable expression I ever saw, and his manners correspond. I speak from a transient glimpse; but I love still to yield to such impressions; for I have ever found that those I liked longest and best I took to at first sight. I always fancied that lad — perhaps from some resemblance in the less fortunate part of our destinies — I mean his lameness. But there is this difference, that he appears a halting angel who has tripped against a star, while I am Le Diable Boiteux.’


If Byron shone for a time in the outermost rim of the Holland House Circle, its centre was composed — so say its historians — of a triad, Rogers, Luttrell, and Sydney Smith. All three were good Whigs, but Sydney alone was of any service to the party. All three were good talkers, and they were cherished for the sake of their conversation.

This was as it should have been, for Lord Holland’s dwelling place was first and foremost a house of laughter — the lost laughter of the Middle Ages, which it pursued and sometimes captured by means of a comic sense. It would never have served as a rallying point in the long twilight of Whiggism if its atmosphere had been choleric, or depressing, or dull. Its master hated political diatribes as stoutly as he hated political abuses. Its mistress, although her religious convictions were intangible, suffered nothing that savored of profanity. The one honest perplexity of her mind was the quarrelsomeness of creeds. ‘This confounded division of the country into Protestant and Catholic,’ she wrote to Lord John Russell, ‘makes the King [George IV] as powerful as was Henry VIII. He is at present as anti-Catholic as was his father, and has assured the Archbishop that they may depend upon him as a Defender of the Faith.’

Lord Holland had a neat wit of his own and a gift of lively narrative. Nothing could be better than his account of going to Carlton House to hear a paper which the Prince of Wales had written on some Parliamentary question. Sheridan accompanied him, and told him that the Prince had drawn up the rough draft of this letter so badly that it could not be used; and that he, Sheridan, had recast the manuscript, leaving just enough of the original to enable the sensitive author to think it was still his own. After they had been admitted to the royal presence, the Prince complacently produced the paper and said: ‘Sheridan drew up a damned bad letter; but I just took his general outline, and changed it when needful.’ He then proceeded to read impressively, turning every few minutes to Sheridan and saying: ‘You know how that stood in your draft, but I altered it’; or: ‘You will allow that is better than your rendering’ — to all of which the renowned but submissive subject nodded assent.

Holland left the room uncertain as to the authorship of the document, but quite sure that in either case it was valueless.

The outer circle of Holland House was a wide one, changing inevitably with the ebb and flow of London’s social and political life. But in its centre Rogers, Luttrell, and Sydney Smith lived long unchallenged. Rogers supplied the poetic element. He was the darling of the reviewers, their one accepted versifier, their buttress against the strange encroachments of men like Wordsworth and Coleridge, who were not without followers. He possessed also an acidulous wit, more feared than admired, and seemingly at variance with his boundless kindness and generosity. He it was who said it mattered little whom a man married, for he was sure to find the next morning that he had married somebody else. He did not in this instance speak from experience, but from a fear of experience, which is a great deterrent.

If Sydney Smith were the best beloved of the triad, Luttrell was by all odds the gayest, boldest, and most invincible. His wit flowed so readily that he outshone Sydney, who was apt to talk in character. He was known as a gourmet, a superbly independent Lucullus, who had learned to dine himself better than friends could dine him. Even his flights of fancy were gluttonous. Lord Holland was a portly gentleman, addicted to white waistcoats of breadth and volume. When he rose to answer a toast, Luttrell said he looked like a turbot standing on its tail. Sydney could laugh at Lady Holland, and, if there were need, could quarrel with her; but Luttrell routed her completely, He refused to enter her doors until she had suppressed a handsome and aggressive cat that had attacked Brougham and bitten Rogers. The lady loved best those pets that needed most defense; but in this case she surrendered with that sudden and flattering warmth of appeal which always won for her forgiveness.

For she was a woman who had to be forgiven a great deal. She did not hold with Heine that God has given us tongues in order that we may say pleasant things to our neighbors. She said unpleasant things by preference. Her rudest remarks were occasionally justified by truth, as when she told Moore that she feared his life of Sheridan would be a dull book; but it was certainly unreasonable in her to object to Lalla Rookh because it was Oriental. What else could it have been! ‘Poets inclined to a plethora of vanity would find an occasional dose of Lady Holland very good for their complaint,’ observed Moore, who had once trembled in her presence, but who had grown too popular and too sure of himself to care what any fine lady said about a poem which had brought him three thousand guineas and the applause of Europe. He even forgave Lord Melbourne the inconsiderate remark: ‘I see there is a new edition of Crabbe coming out. It is a good thing when these authors die, for then one gets their works and is done with it.’

Like most unreasonable people, Lady Holland was easily quelled. It was her husband’s habit of yielding to her whims which established her as a household tyrant. When she bade him do a thing, he did it to save trouble. But when she bade Lord Melbourne change his seat at dinner, that gentleman left the dining room and the house without the formality of saying good-bye. When she bade Sydney Smith ring the bell, he asked lazily if he should sweep the floor. She met her match in one American, Mr. George Ticknor, whom she asked if the New England colonies had not been penal settlements. ‘Your ladyship should know,’ was the suave reply, ‘for there were several Vassalls among the early inhabitants of Massachusetts, and there is a tablet to one of them in King’s Chapel, Boston.’

Another foreigner, M. Van de Weyer, minister from Belgium, was equally quick-witted and equally urbane. At the dinner table Lady Holland asked him suddenly: ‘How is Leopold?‘ M. Van de Weyer, somewhat taken back by the wording of the inquiry, said, ‘Does your ladyship mean the King of the Belgians?’ ‘Belgians?’ echoed his hostess scornfully. ‘I have heard of Flemings, Hainaulters, and Brabanters; but Belgians are new to me.’ ‘Madame,’ observed the diplomat gently, ‘is it possible that in the course of your wide reading you have not come across a book written by a lad named Julius Cæsar? He was an able soldier who in his Commentaries gave to all our population the name of Belgians, which we have kept to this day.’


Perhaps political exile afforded a more auspicious atmosphere for Holland House than political ascendancy could have done. It was not in the power of any party triumph to disturb Lord Holland’s mental equilibrium; but who could have said as much for his wife? ‘What shall we do with Lady Holland in the Cabinet?’ was Canning’s way of putting it when there was talk of a change of ministry. The agitation over reform gave to the Whigs a spell of power in 1831. Lord Holland was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a post which he held until he died in 1840. Lady Holland was by no means satisfied with this moderate reward for services. She remarked to Lord John Russell that she saw no reason why her husband should not be Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a post he was eminently qualified to fill. Russell, the kind of man who would have walked to the cannon’s mouth, replied succinctly: ‘’T is said your ladyship opens your husband’s mail.‘

Lord Holland’s speeches were remarkable for sense and sincerity. He had a well-stocked political memory, and a patient distaste for oratory. He said that the American War had let loose a flood of British eloquence which nothing had since been able to stem. He was stoical under pain, serene under annoyance, and tolerant of everything save injustice. He could forgive Southey his opposition to Catholic Emancipation, having a higher opinion of the poet’s heart than of his head. He could derive pleasure from Dr. Samuel Parr’s scholarship, though he admitted that there were obstacles to his enjoyment: ‘When Parr speaks, nobody can understand what he says, and when he writes nobody can read his writing.’ He could converse smoothly with the historian, Hallam, the most fractious and contradictory mortal known to fame. Sydney Smith said that Hallam would leap out of bed for the pleasure of contradicting the night watchman whose duty it was to call the hours.

The company at Holland House was varied; but no one came empty-witted to the board. Palmerston, with his rough-and-ready humor; Brougham, with his impish effrontery and his rasping tongue; Melbourne, who spoke rarely and to the point; and Lord Dudley, famed for his repartees, made up a part of that distinguished group. It was long remembered that when a Viennese lady said to Lord Dudley that Londoners spoke French badly, he was kind enough to supply an explanation: ‘You see, Madame,’ he said, ‘we have not enjoyed the advantage of having the French twice in our capital.’

Gifford used to say he wished he could organize a Tory Holland House, to counteract the great Whig stronghold. He knew the value of a nonofficial council chamber where the few matured plans, and the many cemented friendships; where party measures were intelligently discussed, and party hopes saved from extinction. He knew also that such considerations alone would never have brought together eminent Whigs who had a natural human distaste for being bored. They came because the dinners were excellent, and the talk was good and gay. Of Sydney Smith it was said that London was his spiritual home, and Holland House was its sanctuary. Lord Holland loved a jest, and being a man to whom any form of excess was profoundly distasteful, he became in time a past master of understatement. When he said of George the Third that ‘his virtues were not of an engaging, nor his endowments of a dazzling character,’ it was felt that Wellington could have done no better.

Lady Holland’s profoundly sentimental admiration for Napoleon bordered on the ludicrous. Her husband, who felt a noble sympathy for the fall of a great man, and who resented the petty tyrannies to which he was subjected at St. Helena, had hoped that an asylum might be offered him in England; but he ruefully admitted that if there were many Englishwomen who shared his wife’s sensibilities this asylum might be turned into a shrine.

St. Helena being peacefully remote, Lady Holland contented herself with sending books for the exile to read, and delicacies for his table, which, like every other department of his household, was badly supplied. We know that in his last illness, and shortly before his death, Napoleon asked for ‘les pruneaux de Madame Holland’; but what many do not know is that the lady’s kindness in sending her gifts was equaled by the astuteness with which she made sure of his receiving them. She had, in common with all her friends, a detestation of Sir Hudson Lowe; but she wrote him civil letters, giving him the bits of news that an Englishman remote from London would be glad to hear, and keeping ever in mind that it was through him she might have access to his prisoner. She had known Napoleon at Malmaison in 1802, and she had written to him at Elba. The gold snuffbox, ornamented with a cameo, which he bequeathed to her, and which had been the gift of Pope Pius the Sixth, created undue excitement in London. Lord Carlisle wrote a poem, eight stanzas long, begging that the legacy might be refused: —

Lady, reject the gift! Beneath its lid
Discord, and Slaughter, and relentless War,
With every plague to wretched Man lie hid —
Let not these loose to range the world afar.

This was Pandora’s box with a vengeance. Lord Carlisle’s verses were published in the Annual Register, to which they were well suited; and Byron besought his friend to pay no attention to their warning: —

Lady, accept the box a hero wore,
In spite of all this elegiac stuff;
Let not seven stanzas written by a bore
Prevent your Ladyship from taking snuff.

Lady Holland did not take snuff, and Napoleon did not ‘wear’ his snuffbox. Otherwise Ryron scored.

As the years sped by, the sin which Lady Holland had committed ‘early in life with Methuselah and Enoch’ was forgotten. We have Lady Granville’s word for it that by 1825 ‘the most strict, undivorced and unimpeachable duchesses’ frequented her entertainments.

She was firmly entrenched, she knew her own strength, and she could afford to laugh at the ill-natured absurdities with which Lady Caroline Lamb sought to hold her up to ridicule in Glenarvon. What had she to fear from that bright, broken creature who had not even known how to make an ally of her influential and profoundly patient husband! Lady Holland had never lacked allies. She made clear her point of view to Moore when that poet brought her Byron’s Memoranda to read. ‘What people say of me,’ she observed, ‘gives me no uneasiness. I know perfectly well my position in the world, and I know what can be said. As long as the few friends that I am sure of speak kindly of me (and I would not believe the contrary if I saw it in black and white), all that the rest of the world thinks and says is a matter of indifference.’

So spoke the woman who loved her friends, and who died in part with their deaths. She had the memory of brave days and of gay nights to sustain her spirit. Her loyalty to her husband’s party was unfaltering. Four toasts were drunk at the Fox Club to the memory of four great Whigs: Charles James Fox, Earl Grey, Lord Holland, and Lord John Russell.

Men are not measured by their wisdom, for none are wholly wise; but by their love of justice which is common to all.