Tag Archive | Wallace Collection

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.


An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens: Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

In our last installment, Susana suffers a panic attack as the crowd stampedes to view Madame Saqui’s performance on the tightrope—which she found quite remarkable for the early nineteenth century—and makes the acquaintance of the son of the Marchioness of Hertford and finds herself in the company of the Prince Regent himself!

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

“Why Isabella, it has been over a year at least… since the Royal Wedding, I believe.”

With His Royal Highness the Prince Regent at Lady Hertford’s side, Lady P could not avoid acknowledging him, nor introducing them both to me, since they were both looking from her to me with puzzlement in their eyes.

“Your Royal Highness, how delightful to find you taking in the delights of the Royal Gardens this evening!”

She performed an elegant bow and then took my hand. “May I present to you my American friend, Miss Ellis? She is here to visit relatives, and was eager to see the famed Vauxhall Gardens.”

My muscles were quivering so much I thought I was going to faint, but one look at the expression in Lady P’s eyes was enough to motivate me to get myself together. I did my best to emulate her regal bow, which was sadly inelegant. Still, I managed to stay on my feet, and as Lady P has often told me, my American status was enough of an excuse for my awkward behavior.

regent_later“Your Highness,” I managed, my hand flying to my chest in an attempt to slow my racing heart. “I’m so—thrilled—to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I never thought to meet an actual king of England.” Lady P squeezed my shoulder, and I scrambled to correct my error. “That is, a future king of England.” Another squeeze. “And, of course, Lady Hertford. You have such a lovely home.”

I stopped myself from saying more, but it was too late. I’d visited the former Hertford residence on Manchester Square more than once on my trips to London, as it has been open to the public—together with the exquisite furniture and art collected by some Hertford family member or another—for a hundred years or so. But that hadn’t happened yet. Oh dear.

I swallowed. “Or so I’ve heard, your ladyship.”

With the entire party giving me looks that could be described as incredulous, surprised, or furious—that last was Lady P—I added quickly, “The word of your exquisite taste in art has reached across the pond.”

Lady Hertford tapped her son’s arm with her ivory fan.

“Gracious me, I cannot accept any credit for the collections. Francis here is the true connoisseur. Why, after his Grand Tour, we had boxes and crates delivered to our door for weeks.”

The Prince Regent cleared his throat, and we all turned our attention back to him.

“Miss Ellis, it is a pleasure,” he said, his scowl belying his words. “Isabella, dear, we are expected at Carlton House.”

Lady Hertford smiled. “Of course, Your Highness.” She gave us an apologetic smile. “We really must be going. It has been good to see you again, Agatha. And to meet you, of course, Miss Ellis. A visit to our home can be easily arranged, if you would like to see it yourself. Apply to the housekeeper for an appointment.”

I believe I managed to convey my thanks as they took their leave of us.

“Well,” I said. “I have met the Prince Regent.”

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Lady P rolled her eyes. “The less said about that, the better. Perhaps we should return to the future now.”

“Oh no! The evening is still young!” I protested. “And I’ve been invited to Manchester Square!”

Her ladyship snorted. “Invited? That was no invitation, my dear Susana.”

I blew out a puff of air. “Well, perhaps not. But I still want to go.”

“That’s not what we agreed and you know it. One evening at Vauxhall Gardens. And then you return to your own time. I won’t be responsible for disrupting the space-time continuum.”

I burst out laughing. “What nonsense! You do that all the time! What about those gifts to your grandchildren…?”

“A lapse in judgment. In any case, Henry has had them all destroyed.” But the flush that crept across her face told me I had made my point.

“Look, I’ve already mortified you in the presence of the Prince Regent. What else could possibly go wrong?”

Famous last words. Tune in next week to see what happens when Susana explores the mysterious and ever-so-scandalous Dark Walks…

Sir Richard Wallace

Sir Richard Wallace

Historical Note: Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford and the son of Prince Regent’s last mistress, was an avid collector of art, as were his son and grandson. It was his grandson who left the house and art collection to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The Wallace Collection was opened to the public in 1900 and is open today, free of charge.

Wallace Collection Website

Susana’s Pinterest Page


Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens, Part I

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part V

Walking Jane Austen’s London: #2 Marylebone and Bond Street


Today I thought I’d try one of the walks created by Louise Allen in her book Walking Jane Austen’s London. I decided to start with #2 Marylebone and Bond Street, perhaps because it’s not far from where I’m staying on Crawford Street, and I’ve already walked a bit in that area.

I took the Tube to Bond Street and first walked to Grosvenor Square, which is not on this tour, but is a place mentioned in my recently-completed time travel, and I wanted to see if I’d got it right. It was more or less what I expected, except that I didn’t realize the American Embassy was located there. I think that needs to be mentioned, since my heroine would definitely have known that.

Rant #1

And I have to say this because it’s been so disappointing to see the construction going on everywhere I go. Okay, it’s a good sign that these properties are being maintained and improved. I get that. But it seems like there’s no place I can go to avoid it, not a single park or historical building (or so it seems). It makes it really difficult to imagine the way things were in Georgian times when there are scaffolds and orange cones everywhere. So many of the buildings have been “swept away”, as Louise Allen puts it, and replaced by modern construction as it is. My selfish, spoiled brat side feels cheated that so much of what remains is covered with tarps!

Tour Beginning: Marble Arch


To continue, I started the tour at Marble Arch, but forgot to look for Tyburn, so I’ll have to go back later. (Note: I think these tours would be easier for two people instead of just one. It’s hard to read the book and at the same time look for streets and house numbers. In many cases, the original buildings are no longer there anyway, so it’s almost impossible to imagine what it was really like.) In Jane’s day, public executions had been moved to Newgate anyway.


I saw the Austens’ house at No. 24 Upper Berkeley Street, which is now a hotel. Jane’s sister Cassandra stayed there, but there is no indication that Jane herself did.


I walked down Berkeley Mews, but it was hard to imagine a mews being there, with horses and carriages and all. Then I walked around Portman Square and took a few photos. Jane dined with her aunt on Orchard Street (which turns into Baker Street) on her first recorded trip to London. I walked down Baker Street (which shows no signs of being “perhaps the handsomest street in London”) and turned into George Street to walk past The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, which I wrote about last week.


Wallace Collection, Manchester Square

Wigmore Street is where Lord and Lady Hamilton set up housekeeping together, quite close to where Captain and Mrs. Horatio Nelson were living on Cavendish Square at the same time. I didn’t stop to find Number 11, where Jane stopped at Christian & Son’s, drapers, to buy fabric. (Too many people, and no, they weren’t doing the Jane Austen tour!)


I saw Harley Street, famous for its doctors, and recalled that the first Harlequin romance I ever read, Dear Doctor Marcus by Barbara Perkins, had a doctor hero on Harley Street. (Nope, actually it was Wimpole Street. Oh well, that was a long time ago, and besides, I walked down nearby Wimpole Street too.) I read that book many, many times!

Not sure how I missed Coutts Bank on Cavendish Square. I recall that Coutts was the banker who kept lending money to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, when she was desperate to find some way to pay her gambling debts. Again, the difficulty of walking and trying to read a book at the same time.


St. George’s, Hanover Square, which was the fashionable place for weddings in the Regency period, was a bit of a disappointment. The doors were closed (alas, it’s closed on Saturday!), and because of its placement on a crowded, busy street, it was hard to get a good photo of it. It also looked a bit dirty and neglected, but the inside—according to photos on the Internet—is another thing entirely! The composer Handel was a member here, and the Earl of Jersey (Sally Jersey’s better half) was a church warden in 1794.


St. George’s, Hanover Square


cartierThen it was on to New Bond Street, which, as then, is where you’ll find all the most exclusive shops. Talk about Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills! Some stores had doormen dressed to the nines standing outside, presumably to only allow the most exclusive people inside. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify, even with my stylish New Orleans hat, and I didn’t want to melt my credit card, so I admired them all from the outside, as did most of the people in the street, interestingly enough. (I wonder who can afford to shop at these places!)

Building used to be the chemists Savory & Moore

Building used to be the chemists Savory & Moore

The shop opposite No. 143, now a Ralph Lauren, is the original building of chemists Savory & Moore, who included in their clientele such influential people as Wellington and Lady Hamilton, the Duke of Sussex (the brother of George IV).

On the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets was the location of Grafton House home of high-class drapers Wilding & Kent, of which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra: “I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too.”


I am sorry to say that at this point I ran into the Burlington Arcade, and got distracted from the tour. Many of the small stores not only had closed doors, but locks, and since the gorgeous jewelry in the windows had no prices on them, I figured it wasn’t worthwhile to attempt to go inside. But I did have a good time admiring the sparklies, and it seemed like most of the other people did too.

Heading Home

At that point, I reached Picadilly Street and the end of the tour. I was too tired to go back to Old Bond Street, so I stopped and had some sparkling water and yogurt at a Café Nero’s. I really needed to hit Marks & Spencers for some groceries, but was too tried to go back to Oxford Street, so I headed for the Tube station, and—oh joy—there was an M & S right there! I love their prepared meals, not frozen and probably not filled with tons of preservatives. I also really like that there are so many organic foods here in England. Makes me feel the English are much more concerned with their health than we Americans. Although I do see plenty of them at McDonald’s and KFC. [Sigh]. I hate thinking that we are contaminating the world with our junk food. But then, there is plenty of English junk food too!


This tour is supposed to be 2.25 miles. Adding in the trip to Grosvenor Square and several wrong turns, I’d guess I walked at least four miles. Not as much as walking to Chatsworth from Beeley last week, but still a respectable length. I was tired, but it didn’t kill me. Good to know!

All in all, it was a great day, and I’m sure I’ll do another tour quite soon. While it is disappointing to see so many Georgian buildings replaced by modern monstrosities, it’s a great way to walk the streets Jane did and frankly, become better acquainted with modern London (which is pretty cool in itself) too.

Rant #2

Crossing streets: Okay, I understand the red and green walking figures, although most Londoners don’t seem to, since they rarely wait for the green signal. But more streets don’t have them than do, so I can’t tell you how many times I’ve barely avoided being struck down by a car.

Have you ever done a walking tour like this? I’d love to hear your experiences!