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—the perfection of grace and symmetry, her head being beautifully set upon her shoulders. Her hands and feet were very small, many sculptors having asked to model the former. She had a pure sweet voice. She sang delightfully, and herself composed many of the tunes to which both her published and unpublished songs were set. Her ear for music was so good that if she went to an opera over night, you would be sure to hear her singing the principal airs in it the next morning. Though she never studied drawing, she had a natural talent both for figures and landscape. I have albums full of her water-colour sketches, and the illustrations to “The Honourable Impulsia Gushington,” which she did with a common quill pen, evince her intuitive aptitude for figure-drawing. She had mastered French before she was sixteen, as well as acquired some Latin. In afteryears she wrote in French as readily as in English, and she also learned German, Her talent for versifying showed itself very early.’
Helen Sheridan, afterwards Lady Dufferin, was the eldest of the three sisters. She was married almost out of the schoolroom. During her first season she met Commander Blackwood, to whom, when she was scarcely seventeen, she was married in July 1825. Her only child, the present Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, was born in June 1826.
Captain Blackwood's frequent absences abroad while engaged in his professional duties made his wife and child to an unusual degree dependent upon each other. They spent their youth together. The mother was young enough to be the companion of a son who could remember her twenty-first birthday, and whose earliest recollection was of “her loving, radiant face, which was my childhood's Heaven, as indeed it never ceased to be, bent over my cradle.” The early death of the husband and father drew closer a relation which was already exceptionally intimate. In 1841 Lord Dufferin died—two years after he had succeeded to the titles and estates of his father. From that time forward Lady Dufferin devoted herself with single-hearted love, and with the discretion, tact, and firmness which she had inherited from her mother, first to the care and education of her son, and, after he had come to man's estate, to making for him so delightful a home as young men have rarely enjoyed. When in 1862 she ceased to be the sole object and pre-occupation of his life, she triumphed over all less noble and unselfish feelings, and welcomed his wife as her daughter.
Lady Dufferin died in 1867. The circumstances of her marriage with Lord Gifford, her lingering illness, and her death in 1867 are described by Lord Dufferin with a warmth of feeling, which carries his readers with him and creates in others something of that same sense of personal loss which i
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his own inspiration. It was her desire that Mrs. Norton's monody on Lord Gifford should be inscribed on a tablet in Friern Barnet Church, where he and she were both buried. It was impossible to carry out her wish, and therefore Lord Dufferin appropriately gives the poem a place in this collection of his mother's writings. Severe suffering only brought out the nobility and unselfishness of Lady Dufferin's nature. Her thoughts were always for others, never for herself. Ever anxious to spare pain to those she loved, she maintained to the end her cheerful gaiety, and watched without fear or repining the gradual approach of death. The last entry in her Diary is in these words:—
“Last night I could hardly refrain from praying that this time of trial may not be greatly prolonged. But what am I that I presume to choose times and seasons for God's judgments or mercies? Only may I bear patiently what is appointed.’
She died on the 13th of June, 1867.
“Thus there went out of the world,’ to quote the concluding words of Lord Dufferin's account of his mother's death, ‘one of the sweetest, most beautiful, most accomplished, wittiest, most loving, and lovable human beings that ever walked upon the earth. There was no quality wanting to her perfection; and I say this, not prompted by the partiality of a son, but as one well acquainted with the world, and with both men and women. There have been many ladies who have been beautiful, charming, witty, and good, but I doubt whether there have been any who have combined with so high a spirit, and with so natural a gaiety and bright an imagination as my mother's, such strong unerring good sense, tact, and womanly discretion; for these last characteristics, coupled with the intensity of her affections, were the real essence and deep foundations of my mother's nature. Her wit, or rather her humour, her gaiety, her good taste, she may have owed to her Sheridan forefathers; but her firm character and abiding sense of duty she derived from her mother, and her charm, grace, amiability, and lovableness, from her angelic ancestress, Miss Linley.’
Lady Dufferin's pieces of prose and verse make their first appeal to the public, as we have already said, because they are the work of the mother of a distinguished son. No one, however, can read the Memoir with which they are introduced without feeling that they deserve to be studied for the sake of the charming personality of their author which they help to reveal. It needs only a glance at their contents to show that, on their own intrinsic merits, the writings collected in this
volume deserve a cordial welcome. The bulk of the collection consists of Lady Dufferin's po an
and dramatic writings. But the ‘Thoughts on Keys,’ and the two letters to Miss Berry which are quoted in the Memoir, are so brightly written that we hope no long time will elapse before Lord Dufferin redeems his promise by publishing other specimens of his mother's letters. Full of playful gaiety, revealing a keen sense of the ludicrous, rich in clever descriptive touches, and showing an immense capacity for enjoyment, they are, like everything else that came from her pen, simple, unaffected, and natural.
It may be of interest to quote a few extracts from some of Lady Dufferin's letters which lie before us as we write. They chiefly belong to the years 1860–61, when her son was acting as Royal Commissioner in Syria for the settlement of the case of the Druses and Maronites. Her letters written to friends from Dufferin Lodge are filled with little details of every-day life, commonplace in themselves, but presented in a bright and amusing fashion peculiarly her own. She talks of her lonely rides on ‘Sir Lancelot, which are pleasant enough if only ‘I had some one to whom I could say, “How pleasant is solitude.” Such is Rousseau's sentiment, and I acquiesce in its justness.’ She narrates her experiences as a farmer, with her ‘Breton cow as big as a pig' and her ‘Breton sheep the size of rabbits.” ‘The profits, she adds, of this farm-produce will be (I believe) of the same microscopic proportions.' The people whom she met at dinner-parties are described and their sayings recorded. On one occasion, for instance, she sate next to the Bishop of Oxford (Wilberforce), and the conversation turned on Lord Dufferin's recent visit to Iceland.
‘The Bishop laughed when I told him the apothecary's wife had asked you to tea—I believe in Latin “Ha! has indeed! female doctor's Latin, I suppose?” “My Lord, did you say female dog i. ” said I again to the cunning Ulysses, which made the Preate roar.’
Sometimes she describes the visitors who came to Dufferin Lodge. One of them was the Prince of Prussia, afterwards the Emperor William I. She walked him, she says, ‘all over the premises, down into the field, into the farmyard, &c., and he insisted on going over all the rooms, bedrooms and all. Such was his royal inquisitiveness that he disturbed my sitting canary by suddenly appearing in a stately attitude at the edge of her nest. The eggs have proved addled in consequence.”
She gives an account of a visit which was paid her on board a yacht by two young ladies, ‘both four feet nothing, and dressed in balloons (for crinolines is too mild a term). We had them brought into the cabin in instalments, one petticoat at a time, and, when seated there, they looked like reels in a bottle.' She describes the scene in the ‘Colleen Bawn' where Eiley O'Connor is supposed to be murdered by Danny Maun, the hunchback. ‘Of course Eiley is not dead, but appears in a grey gown and black trimmings (for people who are murdered always go into decent half mourning, to express their disapproval of the transaction in the course of the third act). Those who have had similar experiences will sympathise with the conflict of mind through which she passed as an amateur horse-dealer, and fill up the details in this otherwise incomplete picture:—
‘I have decided, she says, “to take the offer of 100l. for the chestnut, as Evans strongly recommends me to do so. Two persons here have offered that price, and Evans seems to think that he is not likely to fetch more. Selling a horse is a hateful business, nearly as bad as buying one. All the worst passions of our nature are brought into play in the transaction. It is in vain to say to one's conscience that caveat emptor is the rule, and that the buyer is aware of it. That other rule, “Do unto thy neighbour,” &c., seems to ring in one's ear, and I long to say to my two purchasers, “Yes, he is very pretty, but we had rather not have him, and perhaps you had better not buy him.” Nevertheless, I have restrained my candid tongue, and have left the business to Evans. He certainly is a charming horse to ride, and he never makes a false step now, so I hope he is either stronger on his legs, or has “taken a thought.””
As the year 1860 was drawing towards a close, Lady Dufferin became anxious about her son's health, and determined to join him at Beirut. She started on board the Peninsular and Oriental steamer ‘Euxine, for Alexandria. “I shall give you,' she says, “funny accounts of the curious people I am hand-andglove with on board this boat.' Her affectionate nature was never content with kindly feelings towards others. She always sought opportunities to show her sympathies by words and deeds and looks, and every evidence that can help to cheer and bind together the poor units of humanity. Before she parted from her fellow-passengers, she had endeared herself to all on board. ‘It is,' she writes to her sister, the Duchess of Somerset, after landing at Alexandria,
“a curious and interesting life on board these vessels. I came on board utterly alone, and found a strange set of every nation, my own countrymen perhaps the strangest. I have just parted from them, never in all human probability to see any of them again, as they are to be scattered to the four quarters of the globe; yet we parted as if
we were friends of many years, and two actually shed tears in o: han
hands for the last time with me. One, a poor old blind man o nearly blind), to whom I had shown some trifling kindness, and who had suffered dreadfully from sickness, was led on shore at Malta for the refreshment of a walk on terra firma, and he spent his few hours of holiday in buying a collar of Maltese lace to present to me on his return. I am haunted by his poor withered suffering face saying to me when I took leave of him—“May the Lord bless you and give you your heart's desires.””
Her Christmas Day in 1860 was spent at Beirut. In another letter to her sister she describes the festivities on board H.M.S. ‘Doris.’
‘On Christmas Day I attended the service on board the “Doris.” (which lies in St. George's Bay, about 3 miles off Beyrout, such a beautiful situation, with the range of Lebanon towering up close to the sea, the highest peaks covered with snow, green patches of mulberry plantations or olive groves creeping up all the creeks and ravines, and a strip of warm gold-coloured sand serving as frame to the picture). After the service I was taken down to the lower deck to see the Christmas feast. It was one of the prettiest sights I ever beheld. Her crew consists of about 500 men; they are divided into “messes” of eight; each “mess” had made itself a green bower of leaves and flowers, ornamented with devices and transparencies of the strangest sort, and lighted up with Chinese paper lamps suspended by garlands of evergreens. The tables “groaned” under every delicacy calculated to tempt the marine mind—plum puddings stuck with mistletoe, hams ornamented with frills of rose-coloured paper, pies wreathed with myrtle, &c. &c. It is a rule that as you walk down this avenue of “comestibles” you must eat a piece of pudding at every mess table. You may imagine what it is to eat plum pudding all down a street, both sides of the way! However, I did my duty like a man, and gained so much popularity thereby that a grave proposition was sent up to the Captain through the First Lieutenant to be allowed to chair me round the quarter-deck. This idea was broached after dinner (when several other things had been broached, I believe), and it was thought advisable for me to beat a retreat soon after, as it is a day given up to the Empire of Misrule,
and every irregular proceeding is de rigueur. ‘The next night we dined on board, and saw a play acted by the sailors, and really wonderfully well done. It was the farce of “The Boots at the Swan,” and afterwards followed an original pantomime called the “Barber who Shaved Moses,” with a capital clown and a harlequin who danced with a vigour that quite alarmed one. They painted the scenes themselves, they danced, sang, -in short, the versatility of their talents was enough to take your breath away, especially in the “row” scene which occurs in every pantomime that pretends to be a pantomime, when everybody thumps and slaps everybody, and everything movable is thrown at everybody's head. On this occasion I received an orange in my lap, and the poor French Commodore,