In modern times there has been scarcely any figure so remarkable in the government of a country as that of Lola Montez. She was, indeed, the last great political beauty, and outshone the Royal favourites of France as much in beauty as she did in mental grasp. Her story should have been written by Meredith. He alone could do justice to its extraordinary contrasts and its undoubted fascination. Lola Montez cannot be dismissed merely as a pretty dancer, nor can her power be put down entirely to the effect of her beauty upon the kings, princes and nobles who loved her. She had every charm, allied to marvellous brain-power and decision of character. In addition she had personal loveliness so great that even after only looking at her portrait one is haunted by it.
She was born in Limerick in 1818, and her real name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert. Her father was an ensign in the British Army, who died of cholera in India when she was seven. Her mother was a Miss Oliver, of Spanish extraction, very handsome and fascinating. She married again very soon after her first husband's death, and in the following year the little stepdaughter was packed off to Scotland to be educated by her father's relations. Her training was completed in Paris, and thence she came to Bath to live with her mother. She was a wayward, affectionate, generous, impulsive girl, full of a multitude of ill-controlled emotions, very ambitious, and possessed of high abilities of a most adaptable nature. She had great mental and physical energy, and life in Bath did not offer her any scope for her powers. She was a reigning belle, and received unlimited attentions, but none that she cared to accept.
The last of the great political beauties. By her loveliness and powerful intellect she swayed the councils of kings and influenced the destinies of nations
Her face was a perfect oval, not the more or less oval contour which usually passes as such. The outline of her features was regular and pure. She had an exquisite mouth and beautifully pencilled eyebrows. Her hair, parted in the middle and drawn down at each side in the mode of her time, was slightly wavy, and this glorious beauty was made alive and vivid by a pair of very large and liquid blue eyes, which, in the midst of the still serenity of her face, expressed in magnificent vivacity the animation of her nature. This glorious creature was destined by her mother and her stepfather to be married to an old gentleman who possessed much worldly wealth and the ugliest face in the West of England.
The next chapter in the story, not unnaturally, is an elopement with a man for whom she had little affection, in order to avoid an old gentleman for whom she had none. She was married to Captain Thomas James at Meath, in the year of Queen Victoria's accession, at the age of nineteen. For five years she lived in Ireland, and we know very little of her life there, save what we can gather from the fact that in 1842 she came to London and her husband divorced her. Her craving for the adequate mental and physical expression of her tremendous vitality now led her to train for the stage, and in doing so she discovered that she was born to be a dancer. She went to Spain to perfect herself in this art, and that is the last that we hear of Marie Gilbert. Shortly afterwards there appeared at the Royal Theatre in London the lovely Lola Montez, whose beauty was considered superior to her dancing. Indeed, her debut in this art caused less sensation than the letter she wrote to the "Era" denying that she had been born in the British Isles, and stating that she was a Spaniard from Seville.
But the meagre appreciation which she received in England could little have prepared her for the splendours which awaited her on the Continent. At Dresden and Warsaw she was acclaimed by enthusiastic crowds, and she achieved further distinction by being expelled from Warsaw for knowing too many of the Polish party. Undaunted by this, she went to St. Petersburg, where the Emperor Nicholas gave her a truly royal welcome, and lavished costly presents on her. When tired of this, she proceeded to Paris, and gained triumphs of another nature by the subjugation of Liszt, Dugarier, the hero of a famous duel, and Alexandre Dumas.
As the Ruler of Bavaria
At the age of twenty-seven, her beauty being then in its fullest lustre, she appeared at Munich as a dancer, and it was from this point that her greatness began. She asked one of King Ludwig's aides-de-camp, with whom she was very friendly, to present her to the king, then a man of sixty. His Majesty met the request with a petulant
Am I to see every strolling dancer? " The aide-de-camp returned, " Your pardon, sire, but this one is well worth seeing " The king hesitated, and at that moment calm, audacious, and exquisitely lovely' Lola appeared before him. He stood motionless, gazing upon so much beauty and feeling, as he said afterwards, truly bewitched. The speed at which things moved may be gathered from the fact that five days afterwards the king presented her to the astounded Court with the words, "Gentlemen, I present to you my best friend."
From that time forward Ludwig worshipped this "strolling dancer" as a goddess. Even the queen indicated her willingness to have Lola Montez formally presented at Court. In a short time the lady had acquired more political power than had been possessed by any other woman since mediaeval times. By her visits to different capitals, and her interest in various parties, she had acquired much information which could never have been gathered by male officials, and she had, too, at her finger-tips, by nature and by experience, all the stratagems, ruses, and tricks by which the politician wins for himself the precarious crown of fame. The king and she consulted one another every day on affairs of State, and, what is more remarkable still, his Ministers consulted her in their difficulties. She was a match for the wiliest diplomat, and before long she was known as the ruler of Bavaria. She took herself seriously, and devoted her time to politics as did the State Ministers. In 1847, at the age of twenty-eight, she was made Baronne de Rosenthal and Comtesse de Lansfeldt. The king gave her a pension of twenty thousand florins, afterwards increased to seventy thousand.
At first she was popular, and might have remained so had she been content to dabble in things; but this amazing woman had convictions and opinions as firm and unshakable as those of a most famous statesman, and was not at all inclined to buy popularity for herself at the expense of her political views. Indeed, had she been a man, or even a woman of conventional morality, she would have been praised up hill and down dale for her disinterested statecraft. Through her influence a Ministry which had been in power for ten years was dismissed, and a Liberal one was formed. She favoured the Liberal party in the University, thereby laying the train which was to undermine her power, for most of the students were Conservative. A riot occurred, and Lola's life was in danger. The king promptly closed the University. An insurrection broke out, and on March 18, 1848, Lola was forced to flee. Thereupon the king abdicated.
This was the most outstanding chapter in her career. The rest was on a different plane. She came to London and married a young officer in the 2nd Life Guards, but, owing to some irregularity in her previous divorce, this marriage was made null and void. The two of them fled to Spain, where Mr. Heald, her husband, died in 1853. Two years before this Lola went to New York, where she appeared in an autobiographical drama, entitled "Lola Montez in Bavaria," in which she represented herself as a danseuse, a politician, a countess, and a fugitive. As soon as she heard of Mr. Heald's death she went to California and married for the third time, but left her husband almost immediately afterwards, and came back to Europe, after which she toured Australia. Any monotony attending this tour she obviated by such incidents as her vigorous horsewhipping of a man who wrote against her character, an encounter in which he did not hesitate to exert his strength.
Such a life as hers, without rest, full of strain, mental and physical, and subsisting largely on excitement, with the addition of several years of work as a dancer, work in which her brilliant mental qualities had but little scope, could not pass tranquilly to old age. By the time that she was forty-one Lola had lost her popularity, her beauty, and her money; only her eyes were undimmed, for through them looked the large and wonderful mentality of this strange woman. She could look back on splendour such as falls to few queens, power which many a king might envy, wealth unlimited, social and professional triumphs of every description, beauty beyond the measure of beautiful women, and her whole life kept sane by her outward interests. She did not live for herself, as do so many beautiful women. Had Bavaria been less fixed in its Con-servative views, the ability of Lola Montez might have been recognised as even greater than her beauty. It is very difficult for a lovely woman to gain any credit for intellectual power. The world is only too ready to put down a woman's triumphs to the infatuation of weak men.
In 1859 she met an old school friend in New York, who was broad-minded enough to be kind to this tired, worn-out woman. Under the influence of this friend, Lola's thoughts were turned to serious things. She devoted herself to charity, and turned the strength of her nature to the consolations of religion. The last two years <5f her life were spent in visiting the outcast of her own sex at the Magdalen Asylum near New York, so that a life which from its first page reads like the plan of a great novelist for a great book, ends, with a poetic contrast, in an austerity and even a beauty which prove to us that fiction is, after all, derived from life.