Of such are Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick, immortalised by Reynolds as "Collina," and the "lovely Miss Croker." Lawrence painted her, many memoir writers raved of her beauty, but beyond a few dates and the names of her husband and children, the only thing we know of her real self is that as a child she was a great favourite with George IV., and was always asked to children's parties at the Palace. He always called her "Nony." It is a nice little story, but it does not tell us much about her.
Then we have another type of beauty - the woman who is so gentle and kind and accomplished that people speak of her beauty as though it were just the last of the lovely surprises afforded by her. A noble example of this type was Harriet, wife of the second Duke of Sutherland.
She was the daughter of an Earl of Carlisle, and her mother's mother was the famous Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. So it was natural that the child was pretty, and, since Lady Carlisle was one of the most charming women of her day, it was no wonder that Harriet, like most of her brothers and sisters, inherited the power of making people love her. When she was born, in 1806, her father was still Lord Morpeth, and her grandfather, the fifth earl, made a special friend of the little girl.
She spent her childhood at Castle Howard, a lovely spot in Yorkshire, and the ancestral seat of the family. Here, in the great galleries, the courtly old earl would walk hand in hand with the pretty child, and talk to her of great days gone, and great ladies and noble gentlemen who had died on the scaffold. For Lord Carlisle had known Marie Antoinette, and had for her the chivalrous and reverent memory which all true men felt.
He told Harriet of the brilliant days in old France, of the light-hearted revels at the Trianon; of the good-natured, dignified, undecided King, the beautiful, gay Queen, the rather stiff and solemn little girl, and the sensitive Dauphin, unclouded by any prescience of his fate. He told her also about the English children who were allowed to play with the Royal children, such as the Duke of Sutherland's little boy. Harriet listened to this and much more talk on many subjects, and she seems to have acquired a most quaint and old-fashioned view of life.
Thus, at the age of fourteen, we find her writing to her mother with an adorable mixture of preciseness and decision: "He (grandfather) means to establish celibacy among his granddaughters; at least, such is his advice. He could not make me agree." The last sentence is inimitable. Or we have some little half-priggish, all-lovable remark: "I think Lady Lansdowne such a stimulating person." But we get to the crux of the matter in the next sentence: "I should like to live with a clever young man in the country, a little handsomer than Lord Lansdowne."
All the influences of her childhood were noble; in surroundings, both natural and human, she breathed a love of beauty and a scorn of what was base. Lady Carlisle was a convinced anti-slave worker. The struggle in America was waxing furious, and already in England people were taking sides, almost as though it were a matter affecting them personally.
When she was seventeen she was very lovely. Lawrence painted her, and anyone can see from the picture that the sitter was a beauty. But one of her sons has written: "Not even Lawrence could do real justice to that imperial face, or give the sweetness and beauty of that sunny smile."
At this age she became engaged to that very Earl Gower, son of the Duke of Sutherland, who had been the playmate of the Dauphin. He was now a handsome, rather grave, kindly man, conscious of his great responsibilities as the owner of huge estates, and ruler of about twelve thousand people. As a boy he had conceived a romantic adoration for the beautiful and gentle Louise of Prussia. He was only twenty when she died, and she had made so great an impression on his heart that for a long time he was very dangerously ill. For seventeen years he had remained unmarried, faithful to his memory of Prussia's idolised Louise. He had no need to marry, for his younger brother was already married, and with every hope of an heir. But perhaps in Harriet the duke found something of the gentle and lovely spirit which had departed from the world in the V2ry year when she was born. At any rate, they were married in May, 1823, and a happier couple were never united before the altar.
The girl who was thus at seventeen made one of the greatest chatelaines in the United Kingdom was indeed one in a million. Her loveliness of face and form only reflected the loveliness of her nature. She was always thinking of others. Bright and gay, loving laughter and merriment, she had a heart deep to hold sympathy for the sorrows of others; her every action sprang from considerate kindness. She had an adoration for everything beautiful. She said, for instance, that without flowers she felt like a bird without sunshine. Poets and artists were sure of her sympathy and practical help, and they were also sure that they would not, as it were, be loftily patted on the head, as they have been, and are still, by some make-believe great ladies, who invite them to their houses, and then treat them as though they were eccentric animals best kept apart.