It is no wonder that the hard-worked, lonely, misunderstood man, suddenly received into intimacy with such enchanting creatures as the Hornecks, soon found his whole heart bound up in the exquisite Mary. Although she was only eighteen, she had already shown her capability of understanding and sympathising with him, of being a staunch friend. She could play jokes with his dress, and tease him; but at a pinch she stood by him and proved her mettle. She has put it on record that when he came to visit her newly married sister at Barton, in Norfolk (he had to borrow the money to do so), he was always the leader in recreations, devised new games, was gay, the life and soul of the party. At loo he played wildly, betted absurdly, lost amazingly; and everything he did was the means of keeping people merry and happy. "Come now, let us play the fool a little," he would say. It is a strange picture, the ungainly man of lowly birth among these gracious, high-bred women.
"She Stoops to Conquer"
"She Stoops to Conquer " was about to be produced by Coleman, in the face of bitter sneers and actual enmity from critics and rivals. It was produced at a week's notice, so rehearsals were scanty; but at every one of them the Jessamy Bride was present with her people. They cheered him and supported him under untold difficulties. One can imagine Mary Horneck burning with loyal indignation when Coleman abused her friend. For by this time he was recognised as her faithful slave and adorer. She seems to have felt the liveliest friendship for him, tinged perhaps with that motherliness that even the youngest girl feels for the man she loves as a friend, but who loves her in a different way. So far as we know, Gold-smith never told her of his feelings, fearing to disturb his friendship with her; but. of course, she knew.
So she stepped into her place as a mixture of goddess and friend to him; and Coleman, who wanted to withdraw the piece, and said it would ruin them all, had perforce to go on with it. Even a theatrical manager would hardly be brave enough to risk displeasing two famous beauties, the celebrated caricaturist who had married one of them, their mother (known as "the Plymouth Beauty" in her time), their brother, a captain in the Guards with a strong arm, and through them all the wits and beaux and great men of the day. So Coleman grudgingly produced "She Stoops to Conquer." The next morning it was a classic.
A Lock of Hair
This was the brightest time for Goldsmith. From then on he declined in health, and the Jessamy Bride saw her friend getting ever more haggard and worn and melancholy. He always roused himself in her presence, and fooled and laughed, but he was obviously ill. His financial difficulties increased. He worked hard, but he was deeply in debt, and he felt old and tired out.
He died in 1774, when he had known the Hornecks for a little over five years. Mary was then twenty-two - quite an advanced age for so famous a beauty to be unmarried. Perhaps, although she could not love Goldsmith, he filled a place in her heart which kept lovers out till after his death.
He died in his dark little rooms in the Temple. After his coffin had been nailed down, there was a stir on the staircase, and two heavily veiled ladies made their way up through the weeping men and women who crowded it. Homeless, destitute, friendless women were on that stairway, weeping for the only soul who had been kind to them; outcast men mourned their only friend, and then there came the Jessamy Bride and her sister from that other world where he had been loved.
The coffin was opened and the Jessamy Bride cut a lock of hair and went weeping away; and there properly ends the story of "The Jessamy Bride." No one called her by that name again.
But she had a very brilliant life. Some years later she married a very handsome man, Colonel Gwyn, an Equerry to the King. She idolised him, and they seem to have been very happy. She was Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen, and became so much beloved by the Princesses that when she died she was buried in the Royal vault. We get glimpses of her from contemporary memoirs, especially from Madame d'arblay's "Journal." There she is frequently mentioned, and her amazing beauty, which she kept to the end of her long life, is always mentioned too.
Her years were passed in the most brilliant society. Everyone loved her. She had no children, but adopted a relative of her husband's as a daughter. In her old age she lived at Kew, and thence used to make excursions to see her friends. One of these was Northcote, the sculptor - the last remaining link with the friends of her youth. She used to spend hours in his studio, talking of Johnson and Reynolds and Garrick and the rest. Hazlitt met her there, and immediately fell captive to her beauty and charm. He said she ' had gone through all the stages of mankind, and lent a grace to each." But what he liked best about her was the way she spoke of Goldsmith, the man who had been dead fifty years, but lived in her memory as freshly as ever. She talked of him with love and respect and enthusiasm, and her indignation was hot against those who had misrepresented him.
She died in 1844, at the great age of ninety-two. She was buried by the side of the Princess who had valued her friendship so much; but perhaps in her long life the thing she valued most was the brief friendship of her girlhood with that rare and lovable man. Among her jewels, which she bequeathed to her adopted daughter, is one which is reverently cherished to this day. It consists of a lock of hair in a glass locket, and on the golden rim is inscribed : " Oliver Goldsmith."