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[We find by Letter xix. to Dr. Atterbury (p. 109 of this volume), that the Dutchess of Buckinghamshire would have engaged Mr. Pope to draw her husband's character. But though he refused this office, yet in his Epistle, on the Character of Women, these lines,
To heirs unknown descends th' unguarded store,
Or wanders, heav'n-directed, to the poor', are supposed to mark her out in such a manner as not to be mistaken for another; and having said of himself that he held a lie in prose and verse to be the same: all this together gave a handle to his enemies, since his death, to publish the following paper (entitled, The Character of Katharine, etc.) as written by him. On which account in vindication of the deceased poet) we have subjoined to it a letter to a friend, that will let the reader fully into the history of the writing and publication of this extraordinary CHARACTER.] W.
· These two lines are in the character of Atossa, who was the Dutchess of Marlborough, and not Buckingham.
THE CHARACTER OF
DUTCHESS OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE AND
BY THE LATE MR. POPE.
She was the daughter of James the Second, and of the Countess of Dorchester, who inherited the integrity and virtue of her father with happier fortune. She was married first to James earl of Anglesey; and secondly, to John Sheffield duke of Buckinghamshire and Normanby; with the former she exercised the virtues of patience and suffering, as long as there was any hopes of doing good by either ; with the latter all other conjugal virtues. The man of finest sense and sharpest discernment, she had the happiness to please; and, in that found her only pleasure. When he died, it seemed as if his spirit was only breathed into her, to fulfil what he had begun, to perform what he had concerted, and to preserve and watch over what he had left, his only son ; in the care of whose health, the forming of whose mind, and the improvement of whose fortune, she acted with the conduct and sense of the father, softened, but not overcome, with the tenderness of the mother. Her
understanding was such as must have made a figure had it been in a man; but the modesty of her sex threw a veil over its lustre, which nevertheless suppressed only the expression, not the exertion of it; for her sense was not superior to her resolution, which, when once she was in the right, preserved her from making it only a transition to the wrong, the frequent weakness even of the best women. She often followed wise counsel, but sometimes went before it, always with success. She was possessed of a spirit, which assisted her to get the better of those accidents which admitted of any redress, and enabled her to support outwardly, with decency and dignity, those which admitted of none; yet melted inwardly, through almost her whole life, at a succession of melancholy and affecting objects, the loss of all her children, the misfortunes of relations and friends, public and private, and the death of those who were dearest to her. Her heart was as compassionate as it was great : her affections warm even to solicitude ; her friendship not violent or jealous, but rational and persevering : her gratitude equal and constant to the living ; to the dead boundless and heroical. What person soever she found worthy of her esteem, she would not give up for any power on earth; and the greatest on earth whom she could not esteem, obtained from her no farther tribute than decency. Her good will was wholly directed by merit, not by accident; not measured by the regard they professed for her own desert, but by her idea of theirs : and as there was no merit which she was not able to imitate, there was none which she could envy : therefore her conversation was as free from detraction as her opinions from prejudice or prepossession. As her thoughts were her own, so were her words; and she was as sincere in uttering her judgment, as impartial in forming it. She was a safe companion; many were served, none ever suffered, by her acquaintance: inoffensive, when unprovoked ; when provoked, not stupid : but the moment her enemy ceased to be hurtful, she could cease to act as an enemy. She was therefore not a bitter but consistent enemy : (though indeed, when forced to be so, the more a finished one for having been long a making.) And her proceeding with ill people was more in a calm and steady course, like justice, than in quick and passionate onsets, like revenge. As for those of whom she only thought ill, she considered them not so much as once to wish them ill; of such, her contempt was great enough to put a stop to all other passions that could hurt them. Her love and aversion, her gratitude and resentment, her esteem and neglect, were equally open and strong, and alterable only from the alteration of the persons who created them. Her mind was too noble to be insincere, and her heart too honest to stand in need of it; so that she never found cause to repent her conduct either to a friend or an enemy. There remains only to speak of her person, which was most amiably majestic ; the nicest eye could find no fault in the outward lineaments of her face or proportion of her body: it was such, as pleased wherever she had a desire it should ; yet she never envied that of any other, which might better please in general : in the same manner as being content that her merits were esteemed where she desired they should, she never depreciated those of any other that were esteemed or preferred elsewhere. For she aimed not at a general love or a general esteem, where she was not known; it was enough to be possessed of both wherever she was. Having lived to the
age of sixty-two years ; not courting regard, but receiving it from all who knew her; not loving business, but discharging it fully wheresoever duty or friendship engaged her in it; not following greatness, but not declining to pay respect, as far as was due, from independency and disinterest; having honourably absolved all the parts of life, she forsook this world, where she had left no act of duty or virtue undone, for that where alone such acts are rewarded, on the 13th day of March 1742-3'.
1 • The above character was written by Mr. Pope some years before her Grace's death.” So the printed edition.