Tag Archive | British Museum

Mary Darby Robinson: The Mistletoe—A Christmas Tale

The Mistletoe—A Christmas Tale

By Laura Maria (Mary Darby Robinson)

A Farmer’s Wife, both young and gay,

And fresh as op’ning morn of May!

Had taken to herself a Spouse,

And taken many solemn vows,

That she, a faithful mate would prove,

In meekness, duty, and in love;

That she, despising joy and wealth,

Would be, in sickness and in health,

His only comfort, and his friend—

But mark the sequel, and attend.

This Farmer, as the story’s told,

Was somewhat cross, and somewhat old;

His was the wintry hour of life,

While Summer smil’d before his Wife;

He was both splenetic and crusty,

She, buxom, blooming, blithe, and lusty;

A contrast, rather form’d to eloy

The zest of matrimonial joy!

‘Twas Christmas time, the Peasant

Assembled gay, with dance and song,

The Farmer’s kitchin long had been

Of annual sports the busy scene;

The wood fire blaz’d, the chimney wide,

Presented seats on either side;

Long rows of wooden trenchers, clean,

Bedeck’d with belly-boughs, were seen;

The shining tankard’s foamy ale

Gave spirits to the goblin tale,

While many a rosy cheek grew pale.

It happen’d that, some sport to shew,

The ceiling held—a Mistletoe:

A magic bough, and well defign’d

To prove the coyest maiden kind:

A magic bough, which Druids old

In sacred mysteries enroll’d;

And which, or gssip Fame’s a liar,

Still warms the soul with vivid fire,

Still promises celestial bliss,—

While bigots snatch their idols kiss.

The Mistletoe was doom’d to be

The talisman of destiny!

Beneath its ample boughs, we’re told,

Full many a timid swain grew bold;

Full many a roguish eye askance,

Beheld it with impatient glance;

And many a ruddy cheek consest

The trimphs of the beating breast;

And many a rustic rover sigh’d,

Who ask’d the kiss—and was denied.

First Marg’ry smil’d, and gave her lover

A kiss—then thank’d her stars, ‘twas over!

Next Kate, with a reluctant pace,

Was led towards the mystic place/

Then Sue, a merry laughing jade,

A dimpled, yielding blush display’d;

While Joan, her chastity to shew,

Wish’d the “bold knaves would serve her so!

She’d teach the rogues such wanton play,”

And well she could, she knew the way!

The Farmer, mute with jealous care,

Sat sullen in his wicker chair;

Hating the noisy gamesome host,

Yet fearful to resign his post;

He envied all their sportive strife,

But most he watch’d his blooming wife;

And trembled, lest her steps should go,

Incautious, near the Mistletoe.

Now Hodge, a youth of rustic grace,

Of form athletic, mainly face,

On Mistress Homespun turn’d his eye,

And breath’d a soul-declaring sigh;

Old Homespun mark’d his list’ning fair,

And nestled in his wicker chair;

Hodge swore she might his heart command,

The pipe was dropp’d from Homespun’s hand!

Hodge prest her slender waist around,

The Farmer check’d his draught, and frown’d;

And now beneath the Mistletoe

‘Twas Mistress Homespun’s turn to go,

Old Surly shook his wicker chair—

And sternly utter’d,—“Let her dare!”

Hodge to the Farmer’s wife declar’d

Such husbands never should be spar’d;

Swore, they deserv’d the werst disgrace,

That lights upon the wedded race,

And vow’d, that night, he would not go,

Unblest, beneath the Mistletoe.

The merry group all recommend

A harmless life, the strife to end:

“Why not?” says Marg’ry, “who would fear

“A dang’rous moment once a year?”

Susan observ’d, that “ancient folks

“Were seldom pleas’d by youthful jokes.”

But Kate, who, till that fatal hour,

Had held o’er Hodge unrivall’d pow’r,

With curving lip, and head aside,

Look’d down, and smil’d in conscious pride,

Then, anxious to conceal her care,

She humm’d—What fools some women are!

Now Mistress Homespun, sorely vex’d,

By pride and jealous rage perplex’d;

And angry, that her peevish spouse

Should doubt her matrimonial vows;

But, most of all, resolv’d tomake,

An envious Rival’s bosom ache,

Commanded Hodge to let her go,

Nor lead her near the Mistletoe,

“Why should you ask it o’er and o’er?”

Cried she, “we’ve been there twice before!”

‘Tis thus to check a Rival’s sway,

That women oft themselves betray!

While, Vanity alone pursuing,

They rashly prove their own undoing!

About Mary Darby Robinson and this Painting

From the Wallace Collection:

Mary Robinson (1758-1800) was one of the best known actresses and writers of the 18th century. She was also one of the most painted and caricatured woman of the period. Having first appeared on stage in 1776, it was a later performance in The Winter’s Tale for which the actress became particularly famous; a part which earned her the nickname ‘Perdita’. It was in this role that Mrs Robinson first caught the attention of the Prince of Wales (later George IV), with whom she went on to have a brief but notorious affair.

This portrait was commissioned in 1781 by the Prince of Wales (later George IV). He had ended a brief affair with Mrs Robinson, who then sought financial compensation from him; after Robinson resorted to blackmail, he eventually agreed to a settlement in August of that year. Mrs Robinson is depicted holding a miniature portrait of the Prince (1735-1789), a gift from him during their liaison.

Gainsborough’s fluid brushwork and loose composition are particularly notable. The sitter appears to melt into the landscape, imparting a poetic dimension to the picture. Although it is recognised today as one of the artist’s masterpieces, he withdrew the portrait from the Royal Academy exhibition in 1782 after it was criticised for not conveying an exact physical likeness of the sitter, and was unfavourably compared to portraits of the same sitter by Reynolds and Romney.

The painting was presented to the 2nd Marquess of Hertford by the Prince Regent in 1818.


Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

The Burning of Montague House

This noble mansion, situated on the north side of Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, was first built about 1674, by Ralph Montague, Esq., afterwards Baron Montague of Boughton, and Duke of Montague, Keeper of the Wardrobe to Charles II., and who was subsequently in high favor with King William and Queen Anne. The house was erected in the manner of a French palace, from the design of Robert Hooke, the celebrated mathematician, and the inventor of spring-clocks and pocket-watches, and much employed in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire; he was also Curator of the Royal Society, in the year 1678.

Within ten years this superb mansion was burned down by accident, or rather, by the carelessness of a servant. John Evelyn records in his Diary:—“Jan. 19. 1686.—This night was burnt to the ground my Lord Montague’s palace in Bloomsbery, than which, for paintings and furniture, there was nothing more glorious in England. This happened by the neglect of a servant airing, as they call it, some goods by the fire, in a moist season; indeed, so wet and mild a season had scarce been seen in man’s memory.”

The house was at this time in the occupation of the Earl of Devonshire, to whom Lord Montague had let it, for the sum of 500 guineas by the year. Of its destruction we find another entry:—

Whitehall, the 21st Jan. 1685-6.

“On Wednesday, at one in the morning, a sad fire happened at Montague House, in Bloomsbury, occasioned by the steward’s airing some hangings, &c., in expectation of my Lord Montague’s return home; and sending afterwards a woman to see that the fire-pans with charcoal were removed, which she told me she had done, though she never came there. The loss that my Lord Montague has sustained by this accident is estimated at 40,000l., besides 6,000l. In plate; and my Lord Devonshire’s loss in pictures, hangings, and other furniture is very considerable.”

The North Prospect of Mountague House by James Simonic, 1715

The North Prospect of Mountague House by James Simonic, 1715

Montague House is rebuilt

Lord Montague’s large income was again placed in requisition for the reconstruction of his palace; and though executed by French artists, the plan (that of the hotels of the nobility at Paris) was the same, the new structure being raised upon the foundations and burnt walls of the old one. The architect now employed was one Peter Poughet, a native of Marseilles, who was assisted in the decoration by Charles de la Fosse, Jaques Rousseau, and Jean Baptist Monoyer…  This exclusive employment of French artists in the new house gave rise to the popular but improbable tale, that Montague House was rebuilt at the expense of Louis XIV., to whose court Lord Montague had twice been sent as ambassador.

The second Montague House was finished about 1687; and the eccentric but munificent owner, who in 1705, was created Marquis of Monthermer and Duke of Montague, resided in it till after his death, which took place March 9, 1709. He was succeeded in his titles and estates by his son John, second Duke of Montague, who quitted the vicinity of St. Giles’s for the more courtly region of Whitehall. While a new mansion was being erected for him there, he, however, continued to reside in one of the wings of Montague House. After his removal to Whitehall, the house in Great Russell Street remained unoccupied, until it was purchased, by Act of Parliament, of Lord Halifax, for 10,250l., in the spring of 1754, for “the British Museum.”

Montagu House drawing by Nicholas Sutton, published in 1754

Montagu House drawing by Nicholas Sutton, published in 1754

The British Museum

The building must have been in a very dilapidated condition, for the repairs cost more than the purchase, and, with furniture, &c., amounted to the large sum of 29,736l. 10s. 10d.

In plan, the old Museum resembled a French hotel of the first class: consisting of a large and lofty pile, with two sides built for offices, and a high front wall, with an arched doorway, and above it an octangular turret, surmounted by a cupola and vane; this was the principal entrance, and was known as “Montague Great Gate;” and at each extremity of the wall was a square turret.

Left to Right: Montagu House, Towny Gallery, and Sir Robert Smirkes' West Wing Under Construction, July 1828

Left to Right: Montagu House, Towny Gallery, and Sir Robert Smirkes’ West Wing Under Construction, July 1828

To the original building additions were made from time to time, as the collection increased, until 1820, when the rebuilding of the Museum was commenced; the plan bordering three sides of the spacious area formerly occupied by the gardens of Montague House, behind the original mansion. By this means, the collection was removed from the old into the new building as the latter progressed, without any inconvenience to the public. In like manner, the principal front took the place of the old Montague House façade, which was removed piecemeal; and strange it was to see the lofty pitched roof, balustraded attic, and large windowed front of “the French manner,” giving way to the Grecian architecture of Sir Robert Smirke’s new design. The octangular and not unpicturesque apartment over the great gateway lingered for some time after, and was the last to disappear of old Montague House. The materials were sold by auction; and curious was it to see such pieces of the painted walls and ceilings as could be removed entire, bringing a few shillings—one of La Fosse’s deities for half-a-crown, or a bunch of Monoyer’s flowers for 1s. 6d.

The Waddesdon Bequest

This has nothing to do with Montague House, but is just something interesting I came across while researching this blog post. Last summer I visited Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, which is where Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild displayed the treasures he acquired from his travels to the Continent and beyond. Baron Rothschild is quite the romantic figure. He fell in love and married his second cousin Evelina, only to lose her in childbirth eighteen months later. He never married again, but spent his life in the acquisition and admiration of beautiful objects. Click here to take a look at my Pinterest board for Waddesdon Manor.

In 1898 he bequeathed the contents of his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor to the British Museum.

This consisted of almost 300 pieces of objets d’art et de vertu which included exquisite examples of jewellery, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and maiolica, among them the Holy Thorn Reliquary, probably created in the 1390s in Paris for John, Duke of Berry. The collection was in the tradition of a schatzkammer or treasure house such as those formed by the Renaissance princes of Europe. Baron Ferdinand’s will was most specific, and failure to observe the terms would make it void, the collection should be

placed in a special room to be called the Waddesdon Bequest Room separate and apart from the other contents of the Museum and thenceforth for ever thereafter, keep the same in such room or in some other room to be substituted for it

The Waddesdon Bequest

The Waddesdon Bequest

As a footnote, the cover of my time travel, A Home for Helena, includes a photograph of Waddesdon Manor taken last September at the time of my visit.

Home for Helena Cover 200x309


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse