We left Perdita at the happiest and most brilliant period of her chequered life, when she was at the height of her success on the stage, admired and courted by all, and the object of impassioned devotion on the part of the young Prince of Wales.
Prince George was somewhat stout and florid at this age, but his manners were gracious and fascinating. He captivated Mary's heart completely, although he was only eighteen, and still under the very careful supervision of his tutors.
George III. insisted - as far as he could-on strict seclusion and plainness of living for his sons. The romance between Prince George and Mary, therefore, was invested with all the sweetness that usually attaches to the enjoyment of forbidden fruit.
"Oh, but, dear sir, Your resolution cannot hold when tis Opposed, as it must be, by the power of the King," quotes Mary from "A Winter's Tale," at the opening of their correspondence. And the Prince returns, in Florizel's own words:
" Or I'll be thine, my fair, Or not my father's."
Shakespeare was soon exhausted, however, for nearly every moment the Prince could snatch from his studies was spent in penning amatory effusions to his shepherdess,
"My divine, my angelic, my adored Perdita," he writes, "still words are vain to convey the idea I entertain upon this occasion. It involves me in confusion, and makes me forget myself. I am still myself -no, I rave, I am yours eternally. I am so blest in contemplating the idea of your charms that I have forgot my imaginary name." This letter is therefore unsigned. .
For some time Perdita tenders a good deal of motherly advice. She beseeches him to forget her; to take care of his State; to behave in a way more pleasing to his Royal father. She even returns his jewels. But this does not last long. The youthfulness of the pair-what were they but boy and girl?-well appears in the following notes:
Writing with Blood
And, at the end of a grateful little acknowledgment, Perdita says: "I am now buckling my shoes; and methinks I see a thousand Florizels sparkle.in every brilliant knob." The Prince signs one letter in his own blood, as a proof of his affection.
There is plenty of variety in this correspondence. It does not all consist of extravagant flattery and passionate love-making. Now the two discuss Mrs. Siddons' acting, now the rival merits of English and foreign cookery; one letter is taken up with an earnest appeal from Florizel to Perdita not to ride too fiery a horse in the Park. She, in her turn, begs him not to over-heat himself by dancing cotillons and allemandes at the Pantheon, but to be content with minuets and country dances. And, of course, the Prince is continually getting jealous, and as often has to be soothed.
Occasionally, Perdita sees nothing of him for a day or two, and she is much troubled. The Prince's excuse invariably is that he has been drinking, not wisely but too well, and he details to her the accidents that befall him at such times, his tumble over the balustrades, for instance, which, although it resulted only in a torn coat, drew from Perdita an alarmed, "Heavens, how your letter, my dear Florizel, has alarmed me ! "
It was not long before Mary changed her house in Covent Garden for a more splendid one in Cork Street, and entered upon an extravagant and, it must be confessed, somewhat ostentatious manner of living. Her coach was of scarlet and silver, with the inside lined with white silk, her livery was green faced with yellow, and her harness was ornamented with stars of richly chased silver. No wonder her equipage was the talk of the town. Such a crowd used to gather around it while its owner was shopping that she had sometimes to wait hours before it was sufficiently dispersed to allow her to get inside the coach once more.
Mary's husband was all this time living "no-body knew how." He acquiesced quite contentedly in Mary's friendship with the Prince, for he had the more leisure for Miss Harriet Wilmot's company, which he preferred to that of his wife.
Perhaps it was fortunate for Mary that she did not love him, else the discovery, not long after their marriage, that she did not hold the first place in his affections would have been a very crushing blow. As things were, she found happiness first in the stage, for she was passionately fond of acting, and then in the devotion of her Royal lover.
But her triumph did not last very long. Soon after he came of age the fickle young Prince transferred his affections to a rival.
He wrote his Perdita a cold note, in which he said they must meet no more. A final meeting did, however, take place, owing to Mary's importunity; but his words and
The beautiful "Perdita' (Mrs. Robinson), beloved by George, Prince of Wales, after' wards King George IV. From the painting by Englehart his manner were as cold as his note had been, and all the letters Mary subsequently wrote him were left unanswered. The fact was that the Prince, on coming of age, had had his first taste of freedom and of power. Mary no longer filled his horizon. Dozens of fair ladies were ready to smile on the gallant young Prince of Wales, and his "adored shepherdess" soon became to him even less than a memory. Poor Mary, who was heavily burdened with debt, was not prepared for this sudden desertion. She found a friend in need, however, in Charles James Fox, who granted her a pension of £500 a year. She did not return to the stage. She felt she could not appear again in public after what had occurred, and for a time she spent a rest-less life. She visited Paris, where she captivated the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and, indeed,the whole Court, by her beauty. The Queen expressed admiration of her openly, and gave a purse knitted by her own hands to "la belle Ang-laise," as she called her. But in 1784 Perdita had a terrible illness, as a result of sleeping in a chaise, while travelling, with the windows open. It left her with paralysis in the lower limbs, and at the age of twenty-four she was a helpless cripple. She did all she could for her malady, but to no purpose. Yet perhaps some of the best and truest of her friends were made during this time. During the two winters she spent at Aix-la-chapelle she became beloved by all with whom she met, and the brave, uncomplaining way in which she bore sufferings, which were sometimes agonising, won her no less admiration than she had received when at the height of her power. Her manners, too, were very charming, her conversation brilliant, and her beauty unimpaired; and, since she was still very young, it is no wonder that she was very queen of her circle at Aix. She found some real friends in the Duke and Duchess of Chatelet and their family, all of whom were truly devoted to her. When, at night, her sufferings would not allow her to rest, often the younger people would spend the whole night beneath her windows with the mandoline, trying to beguile her pain away by singing her favourite melodies.
When she returned to England, in 1787, she had a great anxiety in the illness of her only child, a daughter, who was threatened with consumption. She lavished every care on her, and, indeed, in her love for this girl we have a repetition of the beautiful relations which existed between her and her own mother during the whole of the latter's life.
Almost to the last she retained her beauty. She delighted in receiving her friends around her sofa in her little drawing-room in St. James's Place, hearing all the news-the centre of a circle which included many who had known her in her most brilliant triumphs. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York were often to be found there. She wrote untiringly during these years. Poetry forms the bulk of her work, and it was very much admired in her own day. The " Morning Post," whose poetical department she undertook under the name of Tabitha Bramble, said she was one of the principal embellishments and supports of their journal. Her writing was particularly extolled for grace, elegance, and feeling. Her poetic prose is very pretty, though sometimes a little extravagant, and her novels are written in the style of the day, which is altogether too emotional and sensational to appeal to the modern mind. But much of her poetry is indeed very charming. She wrote several plays, but they did not score a great success. Some of the finest examples of her literary power are to be met with in her memoirs.
She died at Englefield Cottage, Surrey, at the age of forty-two, and was buried in Old Windsor Churchyard. Her love for the Prince never waned, and on her death-bed she requested that a lock of her hair might be sent to him. Throughout her life she seems to have won everybody's affection. She had a pretty woman's very natural appreciation of her own charms, and was always flattered by attention; but the universal regard in which she was held, by women no less than men, shows that her vanity must have been of a very mild and innocent kind. She had a loving, generous heart, ever ready to help others, and her loss was a real one to many people. At her death several charming verses were penned expressive Of no surface sorrow. " Adieu to the daughter of Love," sighs Peter Pindar at the close of his;
Mrs. Robinson's portrait was painted twice by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and she often sat to him for his fancy pictures. Two paintings are included in the Wallace collection.