Read CHAPTER III of Mary Wollstonecraft , free online book, by Elizabeth Robins Pennell, on ReadCentral.com.

LIFE AS GOVERNESS.

1786-1788.

There was little pleasure for Mary in her home-coming. The school, whose difficulties had begun before her departure, had prospered still less under Mrs. Bishop’s care. Many of the pupils had been taken away. Eliza, her quick temper and excitability aggravated at that time by her late misfortunes, was not a fitting person to have the control of children. She had thoughtlessly quarrelled with their most profitable boarder, the mother of the three boys, who had in consequence given up her rooms. As yet no one else had been found to occupy them. The rent of the house was so high that these losses left the sisters without the means to pay it. They were therefore in debt, and that deeply, for people with no immediate, or even remote, prospects of an addition to their income. Then the Bloods during Mary’s absence had fallen further into the Slough of Despond, out of which, now their daughter was dead, there was no one to help them. George could not aid them, because, though they did not know it, he was just then without employment. Unable to live amicably with his brother-in-law after Fanny’s death, he had resigned his position in Lisbon and gone to Ireland, where for a long while he could find nothing to do. Mr. Skeys simply refused to satisfy the never-ceasing wants of his wife’s parents. He cannot be severely censured when their shiftlessness is borne in mind. He probably had already received many appeals from them. But Mary could not accept their troubles so passively.

To add to her distress, she was weakened by the painful task she had just completed. She was low-spirited and broken-hearted, and really ill. Her eyes gave out; and no greater inconvenience could have just then befallen her. Her mental activity was temporarily paralyzed, and yet she knew that prompt measures were necessary to avert the evils crowding upon her. She had truly been anointed to wrestle and not to reign.

There was no chance of relief from her own family. Her father had married again, but his second marriage had not improved him. He had descended to the lowest stage of drunkenness and insignificance. His home was in Laugharne, Wales, where he barely managed to exist. James, the second son, had gone to sea in search of better fortune. Charles, the youngest, was not old enough to seek his, and hence had to endure as best he could the wretchedness of the Wollstonecraft household. Instead of Mary’s receiving help from this quarter, she was called upon to give it. Kinder to her father than he had ever been to her, she never ignored his difficulties. When she had money, she shared it with him. When she had none, she did all she could to force Edward, the one prosperous member of the family, to send his father the pecuniary assistance which, it seems, he had promised.

In whatever direction she looked, she saw misery and unhappiness. The present was unendurable, the future hopeless. For a brief interval she was almost crushed by her circumstances. To George Blood, now even dearer to her than he had been before, she laid bare the weariness of her heart. Shortly after her return she wrote him this letter, pathetic in its despair:

NEWINGTON GREEN, Fe, 1786.

I write to you, my dear George, lest my silence should make you uneasy; yet what have I to say that will not have the same effect? Things do not go well with me, and my spirits seem forever flown. I was a month on my passage, and the weather was so tempestuous we were several times in imminent danger. I did not expect ever to have reached land. If it had pleased Heaven to have called me hence, what a world of care I should have missed! I have lost all relish for pleasure, and life seems a burden almost too heavy to be endured. My head is stupid, and my heart sick and exhausted. But why should I worry you? and yet, if I do not tell you my vexations, what can I write about?

Your father and mother are tolerably well, and inquire most affectionately concerning you. They do not suspect that you have left Lisbon, and I do not intend informing them of it till you are provided for. I am very unhappy on their account, for though I am determined they shall share my last shilling, yet I have every reason to apprehend extreme distress, and of course they must be involved in it. The school dwindles to nothing, and we shall soon lose our last boarder, Mrs. Disney. She and the girls quarrelled while I was away, which contributed to make the house very disagreeable. Her sons are to be whole boarders at Mrs. Cockburn’s. Let me turn my eyes on which side I will, I can only anticipate misery. Are such prospects as these likely to heal an almost broken heart? The loss of Fanny was sufficient of itself to have thrown a cloud over my brightest days; what effect, then, must it have when I am bereft of every other comfort? I have, too, many debts. I cannot think of remaining any longer in this house, the rent is so enormous; and where to go, without money or friends, who can point out? My eyes are very bad and my memory gone. I am not fit for any situation; and as for Eliza, I don’t know what will become of her. My constitution is impaired. I hope I shan’t live long, yet I may be a tedious time dying.

Well, I am too impatient. The will of heaven be done! I will labor to be resigned. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I scarce know what I write, yet my writing at all when my mind is so disturbed is a proof to you that I can never be lost so entirely in misery as to forget those I love. I long to hear that you are settled. It is the only quarter from which I can reasonably expect pleasure. I have received a very short, unsatisfactory letter from Lisbon. It was written to apologize for not sending the money to your father which he promised. It would have been particularly acceptable to them at this time; but he is prudent, and will not run any hazard to serve a friend. Indeed, delicacy made me conceal from him my dismal situation, but he must know how much I am embarrassed....

I am very low-spirited, and of course my letter is very dull. I
will not lengthen it out in the same strain, but conclude with what
alone will be acceptable, an assurance of love and regard.

Believe me to be ever your sincere and affectionate friend,

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

“There is but one true cure for suffering, and that is action,” Dr. Maudsley says. The first thing Mary did in her misery was to undertake new work, this time a literary venture, not for herself, but for the benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Blood. Their son-in-law having refused to contribute from his plenty, their daughter’s friend came forward and gave from her nothing.

At the instigation of Mr. Hewlet, one of her friends already mentioned, she wrote a small pamphlet called “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters.” This gentleman rated her powers so high that he felt sure of her success as a writer. As he was well acquainted with Mr. Johnson, a prominent bookseller in Fleet Street, he could promise that her manuscript would be dealt with fairly. Her choice of subject was, in one way, fortunate. Being a teacher she could speak on educational matters with authority. But this first work is not striking or remarkable. Indeed, it is chiefly worth notice because it was the means of introducing her to Mr. Johnson, who was a true friend to her through her darkest, as well as through her brightest, days, and whose influence was strong in shaping her career. He paid her ten guineas for her pamphlet, and these she at once gave to Mr. and Mrs. Blood, who were thereby enabled to leave England and go to Dublin. There, they thought, because they and their disgrace were not yet known, the chances of their starting in life afresh were greater.

It was now time for Mary to turn her attention to her own affairs. It was absolutely necessary to give up the school. Her presence could not recall the pupils who had left it, and her debts were pressing. The success of the sisters had been too slight to tempt them to establish a similar institution in another town. They determined to separate, and each to earn her livelihood alone. Mary was not loath to do this. Because of her superior administrative ability, too large a share of the work in the school had devolved upon her, while her sisters’ society was a hindrance rather than a comfort. She was ready to sacrifice herself for others, but she had enough common sense to realize that too great unselfishness in details would in the end destroy her power of aiding in larger matters. She could do more for Eliza and Everina away from them, than if she continued to live with them.

What she desired most earnestly was to devote all her time to literary work. Mr. Hewlet had represented to her that she would be certain to make an ample support by writing. Mr. Johnson had received her pamphlet favorably, and had asked for further contributions. But her present want was urgent, and she could not wait on a probability. She had absolutely no money to live upon while she made a second experiment. She had learned thoroughly the lesson of patience and of self-restraint, and she resolved for the present to continue to teach. By doing this, she could still find a few spare hours for literary purposes, while she could gradually save enough money to warrant her beginning the life for which she longed. One plan, abandoned, however, before she attempted to put it into execution, she describes in the following letter to George Blood. The tone in which she writes is much less hopeless than that of the letter last quoted. Already the remedy of activity was beginning to have its effect:

NEWINGTON GREEN, May 22, 1787.

By this time, my dear George, I hope your father and mother have reached Dublin. I long to hear of their safe arrival. A few days after they set sail, I received a letter from Skeys. He laments his inability to assist them, and dwells on his own embarrassments. How glad I am they are gone! My affairs are hastening to a crisis.... Some of my creditors cannot afford to wait for their money; as to leaving England in debt, I am determined not to do it.... Everina and Eliza are both endeavoring to go out into the world, the one as a companion, and the other as a teacher, and I believe I shall continue some time on the Green. I intend taking a little cheap lodging, and living without a servant; and the few scholars I have will maintain me. I have done with all worldly pursuits and wishes; I only desire to submit without being dependent on the caprice of our fellow-creatures. I shall have many solitary hours, but I have not much to hope for in life, and so it would be absurd to give way to fear. Besides, I try to look on the best side, and not to despond. While I am trying to do my duty in that station in which Providence has placed me, I shall enjoy some tranquil moments, and the pleasures I have the greatest relish for are not entirely out of my reach.... I have been trying to muster up my fortitude, and laboring for patience to bear my many trials. Surely, when I could determine to survive Fanny, I can endure poverty and all the lesser ills of life. I dreaded, oh! how I dreaded this time, and now it is arrived I am calmer than I expected to be. I have been very unwell; my constitution is much impaired; the prison walls are decaying, and the prisoner will ere long get free.... Remember that I am your truly affectionate friend and sister,

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

Perhaps the uncertainty of keeping her pupils, or the double work necessitated by this project, discouraged her. At all events, it was relinquished when other and seemingly better proposals were made to her. Some of her friends at Newington Green recommended her to the notice of Mr. Prior, then Assistant Master at Eton, and his wife. Through them she was offered the situation of governess to the children of Lord Kingsborough, an Irish nobleman. If she accepted it, she would be spared the anxiety which a school of her own had heretofore brought her. The salary would be forty pounds a year, out of which she calculated she could pay her debts and then assist Mrs. Bishop. But she would lose her independence, and would expose herself to the indifference or contempt then the portion of governesses. “I should be shut out from society,” she explained to George Blood, “and be debarred the pleasures of imperfect friendship, as I should on every side be surrounded by unequals. To live only on terms of civility and common benevolence, without any interchange of little acts of kindness and tenderness, would be to me extremely irksome.” The prospect, it must be admitted, was not pleasant. But still the advantages outweighed the drawbacks, and Mary agreed to Lady Kingsborough’s terms.

Mr. and Mrs. Prior intended taking a trip to Ireland, and they suggested that she should accompany them. Travelling was not easy in those days, and she decided to wait and go with them. But, for some reason, they did not start as soon as they had expected. She had already joined them in their home at Eton, in which place their delay detained her for some time. This gave her the opportunity to study the school and the principles upon which it was conducted. The entire system met with her disapprobation, and afterwards, in her “Rights of Women,” she freely and strongly expressed her unfavorable opinion. Judging from what she there saw, she concluded that schools regulated according to the same rules were hot-beds of vice. Nothing disgusted her so much in this institution as the false basis upon which religion was established. The slavery to forms, demanded of the boys, seemed to her to at once undermine their moral uprightness. What, indeed, could be expected of a boy who would take the sacrament for no other reason than to avoid the fine of half a guinea imposed upon those who would not conform to this ceremony? Her visit did much towards developing and formulating her ideas on the subject of education.

Mrs. Prior seems to have given her every chance to become acquainted not only with the school, but with the social life at Eton. But her interest in the gay world, as there represented, was lukewarm. Its shallowness provoked her. She, looking upon life as real and earnest, and not as a mere playground, could not sympathize with women who gave themselves up to dress, nor with men who expended their energies in efforts to raise a laugh. Wit of rather an affected kind was the fashion of the day. At its best it was odious, but when manufactured by the weaklings of society, it was beyond endurance. Heine says that there is no man so crazy that he may not find a crazier comrade who will understand him. And it may be said as truly, that there is no man so foolish that he will not meet still greater fools ready to admire his folly. To Mary Wollstonecraft it was doubtful which was most to be despised, the affectation itself or the applause which nourished it. The governess elect, whose heart was heavy laden, saw in the flippant gayeties of Eton naught but vanity and vexation of spirit.

She wrote to Everina on the 9th of October,

The time I spend here appears lost. While I remained in England I would fain have been near those I love.... I could not live the life they lead at Eton; nothing but dress and ridicule going forward, and I really believe their fondness for ridicule tends to make them affected, the women in their manners and the men in their conversation; for witlings abound, and puns fly about like crackers, though you would scarcely guess they had any meaning in them, if you did not hear the noise they create. So much company without any sociability would be to me an insupportable fatigue. I am, ’tis true, quite alone in a crowd, yet cannot help reflecting on the scene around me, and my thoughts harass me. Vanity in one shape or other reigns triumphant.... My thoughts and wishes tend to that land where the God of love will wipe away all tears from our eyes, where sincerity and truth will flourish, and the imagination will not dwell on pleasing illusions which vanish like dreams when experience forces us to see things as they really are. With what delight do I anticipate the time when neither death nor accidents of any kind will interpose to separate me from those I love.... Adieu; believe me to be your affectionate friend and sister,

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

Finally the time came for her departure. In October, 1787, she set out with Mr. and Mrs. Prior for Ireland, and towards the end of the month arrived at the castle of Lord Kingsborough in Mitchelstown. Her first impressions were gloomy. But, indeed, her depression and weakness were so great, that she looked at all things, as if through a glass, darkly. Her sorrows were still too fresh to be forgotten in idle curiosity about the inhabitants and customs of her new home. Even if she had been in the best of spirits, her arrival at the castle would have been a trying moment. It is never easy for one woman to face alone several of her sex, who, she knows, are waiting to criticise her. There were then staying with Lady Kingsborough her step-mother and her three unmarried step-sisters and several guests. Governesses in this household had fared much as companions in Mrs. Dawsons. They had come and gone in rapid succession. Therefore Mary was examined by these ladies much as a new horse is inspected by a racer, or a new dog by a sportsman. She passed through the ordeal successfully, but it left her courage at low ebb. Her first report to her sister is not cheerful:

THE CASTLE, MITCHELSTOWN, Oc, 1787.

Well, my dear girl, I am at length arrived at my journey’s end. I sigh when I say so, but it matters not, I must labor for content, and try to reconcile myself to a state which is contrary to every feeling of my soul. I can scarcely persuade myself that I am awake; my whole life appears like a frightful vision, and equally disjointed. I have been so very low-spirited for some days past, I could not write. All the moments I could spend in solitude were lost in sorrow and unavailing tears. There was such a solemn kind of stupidity about this place as froze my very blood. I entered the great gates with the same kind of feeling as I should have if I was going into the Bastille. You can make allowance for the feelings which the General would term ridiculous or artificial. I found I was to encounter a host of females, My Lady, her step-mother and three sisters, and Mrses. and Misses without number, who, of course, would examine me with the most minute attention. I cannot attempt to give you a description of the family, I am so low; I will only mention some of the things which particularly worry me. I am sure much more is expected from me than I am equal to. With respect to French, I am certain Mr. P. has misled them, and I expect in consequence of it to be very much mortified. Lady K. is a shrewd, clever woman, a great talker. I have not seen much of her, as she is confined to her room by a sore throat; but I have seen half a dozen of her companions. I mean not her children, but her dogs. To see a woman without any softness in her manners caressing animals, and using infantine expressions, is, you may conceive, very absurd and ludicrous, but a fine lady is a new species to me of animal. I am, however, treated like a gentlewoman by every part of the family, but the forms and parade of high life suit not my mind.... I hear a fiddle below, the servants are dancing, and the rest of the family are diverting themselves. I only am melancholy and alone. To tell the truth, I hope part of my misery arises from disordered nerves, for I would fain believe my mind is not so very weak. The children are, literally speaking, wild Irish, unformed and not very pleasing; but you shall have a full and true account, my dear girl, in a few days....

I am your affectionate sister and sincere friend,

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT.

It was at least fortunate that she escaped, with Lady Kingsborough, the indignities which she had feared she, as governess, would receive. Instead of being placed on a level with the servants, as was often the fate of gentlewomen in her position, she was treated as one of the family, but she had little else to be thankful for. There was absolutely no congeniality between herself and her employers. She had no tastes or views in common with them. Lady Kingsborough was a thorough woman of the world. She was clever but cold, and her natural coldness had been increased by the restraints and exactions of her social rank. If she rouged to preserve her good looks, and talked to exhibit her cleverness, she was fulfilling all the requirements of her station in life. Her character and conduct were in every way opposed to Marys ideals. The latter, who was instinctively honest, and who never stooped to curry favor with any one, must have found it difficult to treat Lady Kingsborough with a deference she did not feel, but which her subordinate position obliged her to show. The struggle between impulse and duty thus caused was doubtless one of the chief factors in making her experiences in Ireland so painful. How great this struggle was can be best estimated when it is known what she thought of the mother of her pupils. She was never thrown into such intimate relations with any other woman of fashion, and therefore it is not illogical to believe that many passages in the Rights of Women, relating to women of this class, are descriptions of Lady Kingsborough. The allusion to pet dogs in the following seems to establish the identity beyond dispute:

“... She who takes her dogs to bed, and nurses them with a parade of sensibility when sick, will suffer her babes to grow up crooked in a nursery. This illustration of my argument is drawn from a matter of fact. The woman whom I allude to was handsome, reckoned very handsome by those who do not miss the mind when the face is plump and fair; but her understanding had not been led from female duties by literature, nor her innocence debauched by knowledge. No, she was quite feminine according to the masculine acceptation of the word; and so far from loving these spoiled brutes that filled the place which her children ought to have occupied, she only lisped out a pretty mixture of French and English nonsense, to please the men who flocked round her. The wife, mother, and human creature were all swallowed up by the factitious character which an improper education and the selfish vanity of beauty had produced.

“I do not like to make a distinction without a difference, and I own that I have been as much disgusted by the fine lady who took her lap-dog to her bosom, instead of her child, as by the ferocity of a man, who beating his horse, declared that he knew as well when he did wrong as a Christian.”

If Lady Kingsborough was a representative lady of fashion, her husband was quite as much the typical country lord. Tom Jones was still the ideal hero of fiction, and Squire Westerns had not disappeared from real life. Lord Kingsborough was good-natured and kind, but, like the rest of the species, coarse. “His countenance does not promise more than good humor and a little fun, not refined,” Mary told Mrs. Bishop. The three step-sisters were too preoccupied with matrimonial calculations to manifest their character, if indeed they had any. Clearly, in such a household Mary Wollstonecraft was as a child of Israel among the Philistines.

The society of the children, though they were “wild Irish,” was more to her taste than that of the grown-up members of the family. Three were given into her charge. At first she thought them not very pleasing, but after a better acquaintance she grew fond of them. The eldest, Margaret, afterwards Lady Mountcashel, was then fourteen years of age. She was very talented, and a “sweet girl,” as Mary called her in a letter to Mrs. Bishop. She became deeply attached to her new governess, not with the passing fancy of a child, but with a lasting devotion. The other children also learned to love her, but being younger there was less friendship in their affection. They were afraid of their mother, who lavished her caresses upon her dogs, until she had none left for them. Therefore, when Mary treated them affectionately and sympathized with their interests and pleasures, they naturally turned to her and gave her the love which no one else seemed to want. That this was the case was entirely Lady Kingsborough’s fault, but she resented it bitterly, and it was later a cause of serious complaint against the too competent governess. The affection of her pupils, which was her principal pleasure during her residence in Ireland, thus became in the end a misfortune.

A more prolific source of trouble to her was, strangely enough, her interest in them. Lady Kingsborough had very positive ideas upon the subject of her children’s education, and by insisting upon adherence to them she made Mary’s task doubly hard. Had she not been interfered with, her position would not have been so unpleasant. She could put her whole soul into her work, whatever it might be, and find in its success one of her chief joys. She wished to do her utmost for Margaret and her sisters, but this was impossible, since she knew the system Lady Kingsborough exacted to be vicious. The latter cared more for a show of knowledge than for knowledge itself, and laid the greatest stress upon the acquirement of accomplishments. This was not in accord with Mary’s theories, who prized reality and not appearances. A less conscientious woman might have contented herself with the thought that she was carrying out the wishes of her employer. But Mary could not quiet her scruples in this way. She was tormented by the sense of duty but half fulfilled. She realized, by her own sad experience, how much depends upon the training received in childhood, and yet she was powerless to bring up her pupils in the way she knew to be best. She had, besides, constantly before her in Lady Kingsborough and her sisters a, to her, melancholy example of the result of the methods she was asked to adopt. They had been carefully taught many different languages and much history, but had been as carefully instilled with the idea that their studies were but means to social success and to a brilliant marriage. The consequence was that their education, despite its thoroughness, had made them puppets, self-interest being the wire which moved them. She did not want this to be the fate of her pupils, but she could see no escape for them.

In addition to her honest anxiety for their future, she must have been worried by the certainty that, if she remained with them, she would be held responsible for their character and conduct in after-life. Though she had charge of them only for a year, this eventually proved to be the case. Margaret’s reputation as Lady Mountcashel was not wholly unsullied, and when it was remembered that she had, at one time, been under the influence of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the “Rights of Women,” the fault was attributed to the immoral and irreligious teaching of the latter. Never was any woman so unjustly condemned. In the first place, Mary was not her governess long enough to actually change her nature, or to influence her for life; and, in the second place, she was not allowed to have her own way with her pupils. Had she been free she would have been more apt to encourage a spirit of piety, and inculcate a fine moral sense. For she was at that period in a deeply religious frame of mind, while she did all she could to counteract what she considered the deteriorating tendencies of the children’s home training. As Kegan Paul says, “Her whole endeavor was to train them for higher pursuits and to instil into them a desire for a wider culture than fell to the lot of most girls in those days. Her sorrow was deep that her pupils’ lives were such as to render sustained study and religious habits of mind alike difficult.”

This caused her much unhappiness. Her worriment developed into positive illness. After she had been with them some months, the strain seemed more than she could bear, as she confessed to Mr. Johnson, to whom she wrote from Dublin on the 14th of April,

I am still an invalid, and begin to believe that I ought never to expect to enjoy health. My mind preys on my body, and, when I endeavor to be useful, I grow too much interested for my own peace. Confined almost entirely to the society of children, I am anxiously solicitous for their future welfare, and mortified beyond measure when counteracted in my endeavors to improve them. I feel all a mother’s fears for the swarm of little ones which surround me, and observe disorders, without having power to apply the proper remedies. How can I be reconciled to life, when it is always a painful warfare, and when I am deprived of all the pleasures I relish? I allude to rational conversations and domestic affections. Here, alone, a poor solitary individual in a strange land, tied to one spot, and subject to the caprice of another, can I be contented? I am desirous to convince you that I have some cause for sorrow, and am not without reason detached from life. I shall hope to hear that you are well, and am yours sincerely,

WOLLSTONECRAFT.

The family troubles followed Mary to Ireland. The news which reached her from home was discouraging. Edward Wollstonecraft at this period declared he would do nothing more for his father. Prudent, and with none of his sister’s unselfishness, he grew tired of the drain upon his purse. There was also difficulty about some money which Mary and her sisters considered theirs by right, but which the eldest brother, with shameless selfishness, refused to give up. What the exact circumstances were is not certain; but it could have been no light tax upon Mary to contribute the necessary amount for her father’s support, and no small disappointment to be deprived of money which she thought to be legally hers. Money cares were to her what the Old Man of the Sea was to Sinbad. They were a burden from which she was never free. When from forty pounds a year she had to take half to pay her debts, and then give from the remainder to her father, her share of her earnings was not large. And yet she counted upon her savings to purchase her future release from a life of dependence.

Though she wrote to Mr. Johnson that she was almost entirely confined to the society of children, she really did see much of the family, often taking part in their amusements. Judging from the attractions and conversational powers which made her a favorite in London society, it is but natural to conclude that she was an addition to the household. She seems at times to have exerted herself to be agreeable. Godwin records the extreme discomfiture of a fine lady of quality, when, on one occasion, after having singled her out and treated her with marked friendliness, she discovered that she had been entertaining the children’s governess! Mary cared nothing for these people, but as they were civil to her, she returned their politeness by showing them she was well worth being polite to. Low-spirited as she was, she mustered up sufficient courage to discuss the husband-hunts of the young ladies and even to notice the dogs. This was, indeed, a concession. To Everina she sent a bulletin not untouched with humor of her wonderful and praiseworthy progress with the inmates of the castle:

MITCHELSTOWN, No, 1787.

... Confined to the society of a set of silly females, I have no social converse, and their boisterous spirits and unmeaning laughter exhaust me, not forgetting hourly domestic bickerings. The topics of matrimony and dress take their turn, not in a very sentimental style, alas! poor sentiment, it has no residence here. I almost wish the girls were novel-readers and romantic. I declare false refinement is better than none at all; but these girls understand several languages, and have read cartloads of history, for their mother was a prudent woman. Lady K.’s passion for animals fills up the hours which are not spent in dressing. All her children have been ill, very disagreeable fevers. Her ladyship visited them in a formal way, though their situation called forth my tenderness, and I endeavored to amuse them, while she lavished awkward fondness on her dogs. I think now I hear her infantine lisp. She rouges, and, in short, is a fine lady, without fancy or sensibility. I am almost tormented to death by dogs. But you will perceive I am not under the influence of my darling passion pity; it is not always so. I make allowance and adapt myself, talk of getting husbands for the ladies and the dogs, and am wonderfully entertaining; and then I retire to my room, form figures in the fire, listen to the wind, or view the Gotties, a fine range of mountains near us, and so does time waste away in apathy or misery.... I am drinking asses’ milk, but do not find it of any service. I am very ill, and so low-spirited my tears flow in torrents almost insensibly. I struggle with myself, but I hope my Heavenly Father will not be extreme to mark my weakness, and that He will have compassion upon a poor bruised reed, and pity a miserable wretch, whose sorrows He only knows.... I almost wish my warfare was over.

The religious tone of this letter calls for special notice, since it was written at the very time she was supposed to be imparting irreligious principles to her pupils.

Mary had none of the false sentiment of a Sterne, and could not waste sympathy over brutes, when she felt that there were human beings who needed it. Her ladyship’s dogs worried her because of the contrast between the attention they received and the indifference which fell to the lot of the children. Besides, the then distressing condition of the laboring population in Ireland made the luxuries and silly affectations of the rich doubly noticeable. Mary saw for herself the poverty of the peasantry. Margaret was allowed to visit the poor, and she accompanied her on her charitable rounds. The almost bestial squalor in which these people lived was another cruel contrast to the pampered existence led by the dogs at the castle. She had none of Strap’s veneration for the epithet of gentleman. Eliza owned to a “sneaking kindness for people of quality.” But Mary cared only for a man’s intrinsic merit. His rank could not cover his faults. Therefore, with the misery and destitution of so many men and women staring her in the face, the amusements and occupations of the few within Lady Kingsborough’s household continually grated upon her finer instincts.

In the winter of 1788 the family went to Dublin, and Mary accompanied them. She liked the society of the capital no better than she had that of the country. She, however, occasionally shared in its frivolities, her relations to Lady Kingsborough obliging her to do this. She was still young enough to possess the capacity for enjoyment, though her many hardships and sorrows had made her think this impossible, and she was sometimes carried away by the gayety around her. But, as thorough a hater of shams as Carlyle, she was disgusted with herself once the passing excitement was over. From Dublin she wrote to Everina giving her a description of a mask to which she had gone, and of which she had evidently been a conspicuous feature:

DUBLIN, March 14, 1788.

... I am very weak to-day, but I can account for it. The day before yesterday there was a masquerade; in the course of conversation some time before, I happened to wish to go to it. Lady K. offered me two tickets for myself and Miss Delane to accompany me. I refused them on account of the expense of dressing properly. She then, to obviate that objection, lent me a black domino. I was out of spirits, and thought of another excuse; but she proposed to take me and Betty Delane to the houses of several people of fashion who saw masks. We went to a great number, and were a tolerable, nay, a much-admired, group. Lady K. went in a domino with a smart cockade; Miss Moore dressed in the habit of one of the females of the new discovered islands; Betty D. as a forsaken shepherdess; and your sister Mary in a black domino. As it was taken for granted the stranger who had just arrived could not speak the language, I was to be her interpreter, which afforded me an ample field for satire. I happened to be very melancholy in the morning, as I am almost every morning, but at night my fever gives me false spirits; this night the lights, the novelty of the scene, and all things together contributed to make me more than half mad. I gave full scope to a satirical vein, and suppose ...

Unfortunately, the rest of the letter is lost.

In the midst of her duties and dissipations she managed to find some little time for more solid pleasures and more congenial work. In her letters she speaks of nothing with so much enthusiasm as of Rousseau, whose Emile she read while she was in Dublin. She wrote to Everina, on the 24th of March,

I believe I told you before that as a nation I do not admire the Irish; and as to the great world and its frivolous ceremonies, I cannot away with them; they fatigue me. I thank Heaven I was not so unfortunate as to be born a lady of quality. I am now reading Rousseau’s “Emile,” and love his paradoxes. He chooses a common capacity to educate, and gives as a reason that a genius will educate itself. However, he rambles into that chimerical world in which I have too often wandered, and draws the usual conclusion that all is vanity and vexation of spirit. He was a strange, inconsistent, unhappy, clever creature, yet he possessed an uncommon portion of sensibility and penetration....

Adieu, yours sincerely,
MARY.

It was also during this period that she wrote a novel called “Mary.” It is a narrative of her acquaintance and friendship with Fanny Blood, her In Memoriam of the friend she so dearly loved. In writing it she sought relief for the bitter sorrow with which her loss had filled her heart.

The Irish gayeties lasted through the winter. In the spring the family crossed over to England and went to Bristol, Hotwells, and Bath. In all these places Mary saw more of the gay world, but it was only to deepen the disgust with which it inspired her. Those were the days when men drank at dinner until they fell under the table; when young women thought of nothing but beaux, and were exhibited by their fond mothers as so much live-stock to be delivered to the highest bidder; and when dowagers, whose flirting season was over, spent all their time at the card-table. Nowhere were the absurdities and emptiness of polite society so fully exposed as at these three fashionable resorts. Even the frivolity of Dublin paled in comparison. Mary’s health improved in England. The Irish climate seems to have specially disagreed with her. But notwithstanding the much-needed improvement in her physical condition, and despite her occasional concessions to her circumstances, her life became more unbearable every day, while her sympathies and tastes grew farther apart from those of her employers.

But while even the little respect she felt for Lord and Lady Kingsborough lessened, her love for the children increased. This they returned with interest. Once, when one of them had to go into the country with her mother and without her governess, she cried so bitterly that she made herself ill. The strength of Margarets affection can be partly measured by the following passage from a letter written by Mary shortly after their separation:

“I had, the other day, the satisfaction of again receiving a letter from my poor dear Margaret. With all the mother’s fondness, I could transcribe a part of it. She says, every day her affection to me, and dependence on heaven, increase, etc. I miss her innocent caresses, and sometimes indulge a pleasing hope, that she may be allowed to cheer my childless age if I am to live to be old. At any rate, I may hear of the virtues I may not contemplate.”

Lady Kingsborough made no effort to win her children’s affection, but she was unwilling that they should bestow it upon a stranger. She could not forgive the governess who had taken her place in their hearts. She and her eldest daughter had on this account frequent quarrels. Mary’s position was therefore untenable. Her surroundings were uncongenial, her duties distasteful, and she was disapproved of by her employer. Nothing was needed but a decent pretext for the latter to dismiss her. This she before long found when, Mary being temporarily separated from her pupils, Margaret showed more regret than her mother thought the occasion warranted. Lady Kingsborough seized the opportunity to give the governess her dismissal. This was in the autumn of 1788, and the family were in London. Mary had for some weeks known that this end was inevitable, but still her departure, when the time came, was sudden. It was a trial to her to leave the children, but escape from the household was a joyful emancipation. Again she was obliged to face the world, and again she emerged triumphant from her struggles. With each new change she advanced a step in her intellectual progress. After she left Lady Kingsborough she began the literary life which was to make her famous.