Abbildungen der Seite

“I come, kind gentlemen, strange news to tell ye ;

I am the ghost of poor departed Nelly.
Sweet ladies, be not frightened : I'll be civil,
I'm what I was, a little harmless devil,
For, after death, we sprites have just such natures
We had, for all the world, when human creatures:
And, therefore, I, that was an actress here,
Play all my tricks in hell, a goblin there.
Gallants, look to 't, you say there are no sprites ;
But I'll come down about your beds at night.
And faith you'll be in a sweet kind of taking,
When I surprise you between sleep and waking.
To tell you true, I walk, because I die,
Out of my calling in a tragedy.
O poet, d-d dull poet, who could prove
So senseless, to make Nelly die for love !
Nay, what's yet worse, to kill me in the prime
Of Easter-term, in tart and cheese-cake time!
I'll fit the fop, for I'll not one word say
To excuse his godly out-of-fashion play ;
A play which if you dare but twice sit out,
You'll all be slandered, and be thought devout.
But, farewell, gentlemen, make haste to me,
I'm sure we long to have your company.
As for my epitaph when I am gone,
I'll tend no poet, but will write my own :-
Here Nelly lies, who, though she lived a slattern,
Yet died a Princess, acting in St. Catrine."

Thenceforward the stage saw Nell Gwynn no more. She had stipulated that £500 a year should be settled on her. This Charles refused; but the influence she obtained over him was so great that, within four years, she had received £60,000. Subsequently, she was placed on the Excise as a pensioner for £6,000 a year, and for £3,000 more for the expenses of each of her two sons :-Charles Beauclerc, born in her house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, in May, 1670, and James, born in the following year, at her house in Pall Mall. The latter died in 1680. The elder, who had Otway for his tutor, was created Earl of Burford

in 1676, and Duke of St. Albans in 1684.* The present ducal family of St. Albans is descended from him.

The fetters of Court etiquette-never very heavy in the reign of the second Charles-sat lightly enough upon the wayward and audacious Nelly. She rattled out her small oaths; she exchanged brisk repartees with whomsoever was bold enough to encounter her sharp and ready wit; and when her royal master sank into one of his graver moods,

“...'. would still be jocund,
And chuck the royal chin of Charles the Second.”

[ocr errors]

On one occasion, Bowman, the actor, then a young man, famous for his fine voice, had been engaged to take part in a concert at her house, and the King, with the Duke of York and two or three courtiers, were present. At the close of the performance Charles expressed himself highly pleased. “Then, sir,” said Nell Gwynn, “to show you don't speak like a courtier, I hope you will make the performers a handsome present." The King said he had no money about him, and asked the Duke if he had any. “I believe, sir," said the Duke, “ not above a guinea or two.” Then, with her delightful laugh, Nell turned to the people about her, and boldly adopting the King's favourite oath, “Od's fish!” she cried, “What company have I got into !”

The grave Evelyn relates that, accompanying the King during one of his daily constitutional walks in the Park, in 1671, he could not but overhear “a very familiar discourse” between his Majesty and the “impudent comedian.” She was looking out of her garden, on a terrace at the top of a wall, while the King stood on the green walk beneath. No wonder Evelyn was scandalized at what he saw and heard. This house stood on the south side of Pall Mall; it was given by the King to Nell Gwynn on a long lease. The story runs, that on her discovering it to be only a lease under the Crown she returned him the lease and conveyance, saying she had always “ conveyed free” under the Crown, and always would ; and would not accept it till it was conveyed free to her by an Act of Parliament, made on and for that purpose. It was afterwards in the possession of the famous physician Heberden; and, until recently, was occupied by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. It is now numbered 79. She had previously lived on the other side of Pall Mall, in a house on the left-hand of St. James's Square, the site of which is occupied by the present Army and Navy Club. She had also a house by the river-side, two miles out of town, built, it is said, by the architect of Chelsea Hospital, and later known as Sandford Manor House. The tradition is that the King's Road received its name from the King's frequent visits to this spot. At Windsor she resided in Burford House, in which she was succeeded by the Princess Anne. Her name is also associated with Lauderdale House, Highgate (now a convalescent branch of St. Bartholomew's Hospital) ; where, according to a popular myth, she received Charles's recognition of her infant, aferwards Duke of St. Alban's, by holding it out of a window, and threatening to let it fall unless he gave it a title.

* Madam Ellen, as she was called after her instalment as the King's mistress, secured her son's advancement to a title by a characteristic device. One day, when the King was in her apartments, the boy was amusing himself in some childish game. “Come here,” she cried, " you little bastard ! " The King reproving her for using an epithet which, if justifiable, was cer. tainly offensive, “Indeed," she replied, “I am very sorry, but I have no other name to give him, poor boy !" Charles took the hint, and gave him a name and a title.


When Charles II. visited Winchester in the spring of 1681, to superintend the erection of a stately palace which he had projected, he was accompanied by Nell Gwynn, and desiring to lodge her close to his own apartments at the Deanery, he demanded her admittance to the adjoining prebendal residence of the illustrious Ken. With all the courage of a truly virtuous mind the future Bishop refused the royal request. “Not for his kingdom !” was the uncompromising answer; and Charles had the good sense to admire his chaplain's conscientiousness.

Nor did Nell Gwynn take offence. To do her justice, she made no hypocritical pretence of virtue, but candidly acknowledged her dishonourable position. In February, 1680, when she visited the Duke's Theatre, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a person in the pit loudly applied to her the coarse name which the language of the streets bestows upon lewd women. She heard it with a laugh ; but with mistaken chivalry it was resented by Thomas Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke,—perhaps because he had married the younger sister of another of the King's favourites, Louise de la Querouaille. A commotion ensued. Some of the audience sided with Nelly's champion, others with her assailant. Swords were drawn, and a few scratches exchanged, before the unseemly quarrel could be subdued. She was one day driving through the streets of Oxford, when the populace, mistaking her for the French harlot, the Duchess of Portsmouth, who was, of course, a Roman Catholic, began to hurl at her the foulest epithets in their vocabulary. Nell put her head out of the coach window. “ Good people,"


she said, with that charming laugh of hers, which nobody could resist, “you are mistaken; I am the Protestant w-e!”

The rivalry between Nell and the infamous Duchess of Portsmouth was open and avowed, and a curious picture of it is drawn in one of her letters by Madame de Sevigné. “ The Duchess of Portsmouth,” she writes, “has not failed in anything she proposed to herself. She desired to be mistress to the King, and so she is; he lodges with her almost every night, in the face of the Court; she has had a son, who has been acknowledged, and presented with a couple of duchies. She accumulates wealth, and makes herself feared and respected by as many as she can. But she did not anticipate that she should find in her way a young actress, on whom the King dotes; and from whom she finds it impossible to withdraw him. He divides his time, his care, and his health between the two. The actress is not less haughty than the Duchess ; she insults her, she makes grimaces at her, she attacks her: she frequently steals the King from her, and boasts whenever he gives her the preference. She is young, indiscreet, confident, wild, and of an agreeable humour. She sings, she dances, and she acts with a good grace. She has a son by the King, and hopes to have him acknowledged. For she reasons thus: This Duchess pretends to be a person of quality; she affirms that she is related to the best families in France, and whenever any person of distinction dies, she puts herself in mourning. * If she

* It was the custom of Mademoiselle de la Querouaille to put on mourning at the death of any member of the French aristocracy, on the pretence that she was related to all the great families of France. A French prince dying about the same time as the Cham of Tartary, Mademoiselle put on mourning, and so did Nelly, who, when asked for whom she wore sable, laughingly replied, “ Oh, for the Cham of Tartary, who was quite as nearly related to me as the Prince de was to Mademoiselle de Querouaille."

« ZurückWeiter »