Marguerite Blessington

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Blessington, Marguerite, Countess, second daughter of Edmund Power, a country gentleman of decayed fortune, was born at Knockbrit, County of Tipperary, 1st September 1789. Through her mother she was descended from the Sheehys — a family that had suffered much from the Penal Laws in the previous generation. Her beauty was remarkable, and she exhibited great precocity of intellect and feeling. When she was six years of age, the family removed to Clonmel; and at fifteen she was induced, against her inclinations, to marry Captain Farmer, of the 47th Regiment. His violent temper and cruelty forced her to leave him in about three months. After living for a time with her parents, she settled in London with one of her brothers, in 1816. The following year her husband was killed in a drunken frolic in the Fleet Prison (where he was confined for debt), and in 1818 she married the Earl of Blessington. For several years they travelled on the Continent, where she appears to have studied and cultivated her tastes for art and literature. The results of her observations were afterwards given to the world in two books — The Idler in Italy and The Idler in France. In 1829 her husband died; she returned to London next year, and established herself in Leamore-place, May Fair. Here, and afterwards at Kensington, she gave the most costly entertainments, and her house became the centre of a brilliant coterie of the witty and learned, attracted by her charming and fascinating manners.

In 1832 appeared her Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron — one of the most popular books of the day. In the course of the ensuing eight years she wrote some twelve novels. Count d'Orsay, the sculptor, the husband of her step-daughter, from whom he was separated, came to live with her, and contributed not a little to the expenses of her establishment. She could not reduce her style of living, and finally, in 1849, was obliged secretly to remove to Paris with the Count. Upon her jointure of £2,000 a-year she set about furnishing a house in the Champs-Elysees, where she hoped again to gather round her a literary circle; but she died of apoplexy a few days after entering it, on 4th June 1849, aged 59. She was buried in a mausoleum designed by Count d'Orsay, near the village of Chamboury; there the remains of the Count were placed three years afterwards. Two inscriptions, one by Barry Cornwall, and another in Latin, by W. S. Landor, are on her tomb.

The Countess is thus described by N. P. Willis: "Her features are regular, and her mouth, the most expressive of them, has a ripe freshness and freedom of play peculiar to the Irish physiognomy, and expressive of the most unsuspicious good humour: add to all this a voice merry and sad by turns, but always musical, and manners of the most unpretending elegance, yet even more remarkable for their winning kindness, and you have the most prominent traits of one of the most lovely and fascinating women I have ever met." Besides the books she published, she contributed to the Daily News and other papers. Knight says that "the majority of her novels and tales are of little literary worth, and none, perhaps, are likely to have a very long vitality;" and Leigh Hunt's London Journal says that "the charm of her title, her indisputable taste in the fine arts, and above all, her beauty . . have contributed to raise her present position of polite letters beyond the general merit of her works."

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

40. Biographical Division of English Cyclopaedia, with Supplement: Charles Knight, 7 vols. London, 1856-'72.

44. Blessington, Countess of, Life and Correspondence: Richard R. Madden, M.D. 3 vols. London, 1855.

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