Obrázky stránek

Since the first edition of this Preface appeared,* I have been favoured with some information respecting the original of Sir Roger de Coverley's perverse widow, which ought not to be withheld, although it might have been placed with perhaps more propriety among the annotations. This information was lately communicated by the Rev. Duke Yonge, of Plympton, to my excellent and learned friend Mr. Archdeacon Nares, to whom I am immediately indebted for a copy.

[ocr errors]

My attention," says Mr. Yonge, "was first drawn to this subject by a very vague tradition in the family of Sir Thomas Crawley Boevey, of Flaxley Abbey, in Gloucestershire, that Mrs. Catherine Boevey, widow of William Boevey, Esq., and who died January 21, 1726, was the original from whence the picture was drawn. She was left a widow at the early age of 22, and by her portrait (now at Flaxley Abbey, and drawn at a more advanced period of her life) appears to have been a woman of a handsome, dignified figure, as she is described to have been in the 113th number of the Spectator. She was a personage well known and much distinguished in her day, and is described very respectably in the New Atalantis, under the name of Portia.

"From these facts I was induced to examine whether any internal evidence could be traced in the Spectator to justify the tradition. The result of this inquiry is as follows:

"The papers in the Spectator which give the

* British Essayists, vol. vi. edit. 1803.

description of the Widow were certainly written by Steele; and that Mrs. Boevey was well known to Steele, and held by him in high estimation, is equally certain. He dedicates the three volumes of the "Lady's Library" to three different ladies, Lady Burlington, Mrs. Boevey, and Mrs. Steele ; he describes each of them in terms of the highest commendation, but each of them is distinguished by very discriminating characteristics. However exalted the characters of Lady Burlington or Mrs. Steele, there is not one word in the dedication to either which corresponds to the character of the Widow, but the characters of Mrs. Boevey and the Widow are drawn with marks of very striking coincidence. No. 113 of the Spectator, as far as it relates to the Widow, is almost a parody on the character of Mrs. Boevey, as drawn in the dedication. Sir Roger tells his friend that she is a reading lady, and that her discourse was as learned as the best philosopher could possibly make. She reads upon the nature of plants, and understands every thing. In the dedication Steele says, "instead of Assemblies and Conversations, Books and Solitude have been your choice; you have charms of your own sex, and knowledge not inferior to the most learned of ours." In No. 118 "her superior merit is such," says Sir Roger, "that I cannot approach her without awe, my heart is checked by too much esteem." Dedication. "Your person and fortune equally raise the admiration and awe of our whole sex."

"She is described as having a Confident, as the

Knight calls her, to whom he expresses a peculiar aversion, No. 118 being chiefly on that subject. "Of all persons under the sun," says the good old Knight, "be sure to set a mark upon confidents." I know not whether the lady was deserving of the Knight's reprobation, but Mrs. Boevey certainly had a female friend of this description, of the name of Pope, who lived with her more than forty years, whom she left executrix, and who, it is believed in the family, did not execute her office in the most liberal manner.

"The character of Mrs. Boevey was deserving of all the applause which Steele bestows upon her; and though these coinciding marks do not prove that Mrs. Boevey and the Widow were the same, yet the presumption appears reasonable that he who drew the two portraits so much alike painted from the same original, and one he tells us himself was Mrs. Boevey.

"Two objections may be started against this presumptive evidence: that the Knight first saw the Widow at the assizes at Worcester, where she appeared, according to his account, to contest a law-suit.

"That this law-suit was in consequence of a dispute with the heir-at-law of her husband.

"There is no tradition of any such dispute having arisen; and if there had, as Mrs. Boevey's residence and the property she occupied was in Gloucestershire, Gloucester would have been the place where the issue must have been tried.

[ocr errors]



"I do not consider the objections as carrying much weight. Steele in delineating the character might reasonably be unwilling to describe her too closely; her residence at Flaxley Abbey was not far from the borders of Worcestershire, and the Knight, in making his first visit, speaks of his going across the country for that purpose.

"Mrs. Boevey was buried in the family vault at Flaxley, with an inscription on the walls of the chapel to her memory. There is also a monument in Westminster Abbey."

On this ingenious paper I have only to remark, that it carries as much probability as deductions from such facts can be expected to carry at this distance of time. It cannot, however, be improper to suggest to the reader, who may wish to examine the evidence more closely, that Mrs. Boevey was left a widow at the age of twenty-two, in the year 1691, and consequently, at the dates of the Spectators in which she is described, had arrived at the age of forty-two. Sir Roger is described as in his fifty-sixth year, a disproportion which seems not unsuitable to the character in which he is drawn, or to the unfortunate issue of his addresses.






I SHOULD not act the part of an impartial Spectator, if I dedicated the following papers to one who is not of the most consummate and most acknowledged merit.

None but a person of a finished character can be the proper patron of a work which endeavours to cultivate and polish human life, by promoting virtue and knowledge, and by recommending whatsoever may be either useful or ornamental to society.

I know that the homage I now pay you, is offering a kind of violence to one who is as solicitous to shun applause, as he is assiduous to deserve it. But, my lord, this is perhaps the only particular in which your prudence will be always disappointed.

This dedication includes Nos. 1-80.

• This distinguished lawyer was born at Worcester in 1652. He was first taken notice of at the trial of the seven bishops, for whom he was one of the counsel. See page 75.

« PředchozíPokračovat »