Few lives were more romantic than Lady Blessington's. A dramatist could hope for no better subject; a poet might take it for his theme.
Her father was an Irishman named Power - a good-looking man of high spirits and violent temper, fond of sport and cards, extravagant to an incredible degree, and obstinate and headstrong in all things. Her mother was a colourless lady, descended from the Desmonds, and never able to forget the fact, but she had no influence over her husband.
Political and financial troubles, therefore, soon began to hem him in, and in 1804 his position was perilous. At this time, however, a Captain Farmer asked for the hand of his second daughter. Margaret then was only fourteen years of age and had always been regarded as the ugly duckling of the family; her sisters were very beautiful, and she herself was pale, quiet, dreamy, and almost plain. Her family, therefore, was surprised at the offer. Farmer, however, was eligible in the matter of worldly goods, and Margaret's extreme youth did not deter her father from giving his consent. His daughter implored him not to make her marry a man for whom she had nothing but a strong aversion; but her father, with oaths and physical violence, asserted his authority.
At the age of fourteen and a half, therefore, Margaret Power became the wife of a man whom she speedily discovered to be a drunkard and liable to fits of insanity. This Mr. Power appears to have known all along, and the fact that Margaret had another suitor, whom she liked, made his action the more dreadful.
After two years of unspeakable misery to his child-wife, whom he treated with violent brutality, Captain Farmer received an appointment in India. His wife, however, refused to go with him; she preferred even her father's house to her husband's company. She returned, therefore, to her family, and surprised them.
The ugly duckling had grown into a swan ! Margaret came back beautiful, the marks of sorrow only intensifying the loveliness of her face. All her sisters' suitors immediately succumbed to the charms of the fascinating grass-widow of sixteen. This infuriated her father and caused constant lamentations from her mother. Moreover, soon she heard that Farmer was returning from India.
Miserable, harassed, and seeing no prospect of peace or happiness anywhere, Margaret took what she thought to be her only way of escape, and went away with a gentleman of means, but with the un-romantic name of Jenkins. Jenkins she liked very well, but certainly did not love. However, she Went with him to Hampshire, and there lived quietly for six years.
This was the first peaceful time she had ever known. Her earliest recollections were of anger and violence, a constant struggle with overwhelming debt, and the cold looks given to the moping, pale-faced member of a brilliant and beautiful family. Then had followed the intolerable nightmare of her marriage, and then the wretched time at home.
She had, moreover, had another sorrow; she had come to care deeply for a nobleman of youth and great charm, and would have gone away with him, only that she discovered he was married, and not even for her own happiness would she sacrifice another woman. These quiet years in Hampshire however, were not unhappy, although she felt her position keenly. Jenkins adored her, and her influence over him so reformed his wild and extravagant habits that his family were grateful, and treated her as though she had been his wife.
Then the Earl of Blessington came to the neighbourhood. She had met him previously in Ireland - a gay, extravagant, young Irishman, with an ailing wife and £30,000 a year. Now when she met him again he was still good-looking and young, but his wife was dead, and his extravagance had reduced his income to £24,000 a year.
Margaret soon fell in love with him, and for her Blessington conceived an adoration which never faltered. He made her promise to marry him as soon as she could get a divorce, installed her in London under the care of one of her brothers, and sent Captain Jenkins, in return for the presents and apparel he had given her, a cheque for £10,000, and the captain forfeited all title to the role of the constant and injured lover by accepting it.
Before the divorce could be obtained, Captain Farmer obliged his wife, for the only time in his life, by falling out of a window when intoxicated and killing himself. Four months later, therefore, Margaret Power became Marguerite Blessington.
Her husband spent money like water. Wherever his wife went she moved among splendid surroundings. Her rooms were hung with richest velvet and bullion fringes; she had the jewels of an empress, and her taste for magnificent dress was displayed to the full. Her clothes caused a sensation even in Paris. Her lightest word was her husband's law, she chose her friends among the most distinguished of the land, and her entertainments were constant and lavish.
In this setting Lady Blessington's brilliance shone with its true lustre. Her good qualities developed in prosperity, and her beauty became the talk of England.
After a while the Blessingtons embarked on a lengthy Continental tour. Their progress through the various countries amazed all who witnessed it. They took a full retinue of servants, cooks, cooking utensils, furniture, and enough clothes to last a townful of ordinary folk for a lifetime.
Wherever they went, moreover, Blessing-ton had his wife's apartments specially decorated. With them went her youngest sister and a young Frenchman, whose father had been a friend of Blessington's. This was Alfred, Comte d'orsay, whose friendship with Lady Blessington was to last till death.
Lord Blessington arranged a marriage of convenience between his daughter by his first wife and D'orsay. It was an unhappy marriage, and ended disastrously; but it served to place D'orsay in the position of son-in-law to Lady Blessington. His own mother confided him to Marguerite's care. But when a lovely woman mothers a young man only twelve years her junior, whose wife leaves him; when he lives almost entirely in that lovely woman's house, and when the death of her husband does not break the friendship, there are always spiteful tongues ready to wag.
The sudden death of Lord Blessington in Paris came like a thunderbolt into her sunny and magnificent life.
She mourned him long and truly, but had no time for moping. His affairs were much embarrassed, and from £24,000 a year she came down to £2,000 - absolute poverty to a woman of her tastes. She came to London, therefore, took Gore House, Kensington, and began to work hard at literary labours. Gore House. became the chief literary centre of London, and Lady Blessington the most talked-of woman.
Soon, however, only men came to her parties; the scandal about D'orsay kept the women away. This fine woman, however, would take no notice; she had promised to look after the grown-up child, the iridescent butterfly, called D'orsay, and even scandal and ostracism could not make her go back on her word.
Nevertheless, times grew bad. Rents were unpaid in Ireland, and she did not receive her £2,000 a year at all regularly. She overwrote herself, and could get only tiny sums for her books. One of her publishers died insolvent, owing her £700. The gates of Gore House were kept locked against the bailiffs, and only on Sundays could D'orsay or Lady Blessington venture out.
At last things reached a crisis. Lady Blessington packed D'orsay and his valet off to the Continent, advertised the exquisite furniture and pictures of Gore House for auction, insured her life heavily, and gave the policy to her creditors, and, bidding good-bye to London, departed to Paris.
There she was busy finding an apparie-ment, while in London for twelve days the public poked among the treasures of Gore House, so greedily that Thackeray was moved to tears. ' The dear, kind old drawing-room " was dismantled, and Lady Blessington became only a memory in London.
Gradually she furnished a house, but on the day after she had moved into it she was seized by a heart attack, from which she never rallied. She died in 1849, at the age of sixty.