Monday, November 1, 2010

Lady Eglington

On Novermber 1, 1773, the Johnson/Boswell Western Isles tour visits Susanna Kennedy, the Countess Eglington.  Eglington was described by King George II as "the most beautiful woman in my dominions" (wikipedia).  But Ms. Eglington is known equally well for her talents and her patronage of poets.  The entry below, from Boswell's journal of his tour with Johnson is repeated in full in Sir Walter Scott's "Chronicles of the Canongate".

Monday, 1st November

'Though Dr Johnson was lazy, and averse to move, I insisted that he should go with me, and pay a visit to the Countess of Eglintoune, mother of the late and present earl. I assured him, he would find himself amply recompensed for the trouble; and he yielded to my solicitations, though with some unwillingness. We were well mounted, and had not many miles to ride...

Lady Eglintoune, though she was now in her eighty-fifth year, and had lived in the retirement of the country for almost half a century, was still a very agreeable woman. She was of the noble house of Kennedy, and had all the elevation which the consciousness of such birth inspires. Her figure was majestick, her manners high-bred, her reading extensive, and her conversation elegant. She had been the admiration of the gay circles of life, and the patroness of poets. Dr Johnson was delighted with his reception here. Her principles in Church and state were congenial with his. She knew all his merit, and had heard much of him from her son, Earl Alexander, who loved to cultivate the acquaintance of men of talents, in every department.

All who knew his lordship, will allow that his understanding and accomplishments were of no ordinary rate. From the gay habits which he had early acquired, he spent too much of his time with men, and in pursuits far beneath such a mind as his. He afterwards became sensible of it, and turned his thoughts to objects of importance; but was cut off in the prime of his life. I cannot speak, but with emotions of the most affectionate regret, of one, in whose company many of my early days were passed, and to whose kindness I was much indebted...

In the course of our conversation this day, it came out, that Lady Eglintoune was married the year before Dr Johnson was born; upon which she graciously said to him, that she might have been his mother; and that she now adopted him; and when we were going away, she embraced him, saying, 'My dear son, farewell!' My friend was much pleased with this day's entertainment, and owned that I had done well to force him out.'

Ms. Eglinton appears in Scott's work in the following passage, where the Boswell/Johnson is also noted :
'In the course of her becoming habituated with foreign manners, Mrs. Bethune Baliol had, perhaps, acquired some slight tincture of them herself. Yet I was always persuaded, that the peculiar vivacity of look and manner—the pointed and appropriate action—with which she accompanied what she said—the use of the gold and gemmed tabatiere, or rather I should say bonbonniere, (for she took no snuff, and the little box contained only a few pieces of candied angelica, or some such lady-like sweetmeat,) were of real old-fashioned Scottish growth, and such as might have graced the tea-table of Susannah, Countess of Eglinton,* the patroness of Allan Ramsay, or of the Hon. Mrs. Colonel Ogilvy, who was another mirror by whom the maidens of Auld Reekie were required to dress themselves. Although well acquainted with the customs of other countries, her manners had been chiefly formed in her own, at a time when great folk lived within little space, and when the distinguished name of the highest society gave to Edinburgh the eclat, which we now endeavour to derive from the unbounded expense and extended circle of our pleasures.
* Susannah Kennedy, daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy of Cullean, Bart., by Elizabeth Lesly, daughter of David Lord Newark, third wife of Alexander 9th Earl of Eglinton, and mother of the 10th and llth Earls. She survived her husband, who died 1729, no less than fifty-seven years, and died March, 1780, in her 91st year. Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, published 1726, is dedicated to her, in verse, by Hamilton of Bangour.'

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