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CHATS ON WRITERS AND BOOKS.
THERE are many famous houses in England well known to the readers of history and to the lovers of literature. There are Marlborough House, Devonshire House, Chesterfield House, Lansdowne House, Strawberry Hill and Cambridge House, whose history and associations go back at least to the times of Elizabeth and of James, but none of them calls up so many striking scenes, incidents and brilliant notabilities as Holland House, and none of them is so deeply impressed upon our literature.
Celebrated as it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was in the first half of the nineteenth century that it reached its greatest fame and became known the world over.
In its earlier period it had witnessed the con
ferences of Cromwell and Ireton; in its library Addison had studied and written, and in one of its stately chambers he died serenely in his Christian faith. In 1749 it passed into the possession of Henry Fox, who became the first Baron Holland, and here the infancy and youth of Charles James Fox were passed, and later it descended to Henry Richard, the third Baron Holland, who took possession of it in 1796. The next year he married the divorced wife of Sir Godfrey Webster, he himself being the co-respondent in the case. It is to them that Holland House owes its greatest fame. Lady Holland was the daughter and heiress of a rich West Indian planter named Richard Vassall, and was born in Jamaica in 1770. It has been said there was a trace of African blood in her veins. She was a woman of rare beauty, and Macaulay, who did not know her until she was past sixty, wrote to his sister that she was “a large, bold-looking woman, with the remains of a fine person and the air of Queen Elizabeth.” In another place he says “she must have been a most beautiful woman.” Like Lady Blessington, she was not received in English society, although a few high dames, such as the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady
Lansdowne, occasionally visited her, but at her table and in her drawing-rooms were to be seen the most eminent men of Great Britain, as well as the most distinguished visitors to London from other parts of the world. For more than forty years the most princely ! hospitality was dispensed by Lord and Lady Holland, and the memoirs, correspondence and recollections of the period preserve the record of it with a fulness and completeness that is unparalleled. It seems as if every person who was ever entertained at Holland House felt it his bounden duty to tell about it, and the result is that we have the most charming story of private life that was ever written. Lord Holland was a perfect host, being possessed of an imperturbable temper, unflagging vivacity and spirit, extensive information, sprightly wit, an inexhaustible fund of anecdote and universal toleration and urbanity. Educated in politics and statesmanship by his uncle, Charles James Fox, he achieved distinction in the House of Lords, but was not an orator, though a most excellent debater. For many years he was the bulwark of the Whig party in the House of Lords, that party being for a long time in a hopeless minority. He died in 1840, and the following lines in his handwriting were found
Nephew of Fox and friend of Gray,
If those who deigned to observe me say
Lady Holland was of a far different character in many respects, imperious in her manners and eccentric in her actions. But Moore says of her in his journal: “She is a warm and active friend, and I should think her capable of high-mindedness on occasions.” Indeed, nobody could be more kind-hearted or sympathetic to friends in trouble or those who were suffering from affliction and wrong. In another place Moore relates that he gave her Byron’s “Memoirs” to read in the manuscript, and said that he feared that Byron had mentioned her in an unfair manner somewhere, to which she replied: “Such things give me no uneasiness; I know perfectly my station in the world, and I know all that can be said of me. As long as the few friends that I really am sure of speak kindly of me, all that the rest of the world can say is a matter of complete indifference to me.”
Lady Holland was indeed a most remarkable woman, and the anecdotes told of her are innumerable. Imperious as her temper was, she possessed in the most eminent degree the faculty of drawing out her guests and making them display themselves to the best advantage. She was often abrupt and offensive in her tone to the habitues of her house, and sometimes even to those who were less familiar with her manner. George Ticknor when abroad was frequently at Holland House, and on one occasion he proved more than a match for my lady. Speaking of New England to him, she said that she had understood that the colony had in the beginning been a convict settlement. He replied that he was not aware of the fact, but that in the King's Chapel, Boston, there was a monument to one of the Vassalls, some of whom had been among the early settlers of Massachusetts. This answer discomfited her not a little, but she afterward asked him to send her a drawing of the monument, which he did upon his return home. Macaulay relates how one morning Lady Holland came to breakfast at Rogers’ “in so bad a humor that we were all forced to rally and make common cause against her. There was not a person at table to whom she was not rude, and none of us were inclined to submit. Rogers sneered; Sydney made merciless sport of her; Tom Moore looked excessively impertinent; Bobus put her down