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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

IX. Memoir-Writers, 1715–60

§ 5. Lady Cowper’s Diary; Correspondence of Lady Suffolk

One of the most intimate pictures we possess of the court at the beginning of the Brunswick dynasty is the work of another diarist and letter-writer, Mary Clavering, of the Durham family, who married, in 1706, William Cowper, lord and afterwards first earl Cowper. She corresponded with the electoral princess of Hanover, afterwards queen Caroline, whose household she entered in October, 1714, when she began to keep a diary. This extended, originally, to 1720; the last four years of it were, however, all but completely destroyed by the writer in 1722, when her husband was under suspicion of complicity in the Jacobite plot.

Lady Cowper tells some amusing stories of her mistress, such as that of the snub administered to Robinson, bishop of London:

  • This day (Dec. 23, 1714) the Bishop of London waited on my mistress and desired Mrs. Howard to go into the Princess and say he thought it his duty to wait upon her, as he was Dean of the Chapel, to satisfy her in any Doubts or Scruples she might have in regard to our Religion and to explain anything to her which she did not comprehend. She was a little nettled when Mrs. Howard delivered this message to her, and said, “Send him away civilly; though he is very impertinent to suppose that I who refused to be Empress for the sake of the Protestant Religion, don’t understand it fully.”
  • The amount of bargaining and backstair dealing revealed in this diary is astonishing; but the notes are too summary to aspire to literary art, and there is little picturing, hardly any descriptive energy. Lady Cowper naturally saw a good deal of the domestic quarrels of the Hanoverian court; but she lets us hear little about them. Very probably, this was the portion destroyed. The mutilated diary was handed down with the other Cowper manuscripts and edited by Spencer Compton in 1864. The Mrs. Howard to whom it refers, Henrietta Hobart, afterwards Mrs. Howard and countess of Suffolk, was, as is well known, adored by the earl of Peterborough and became the mistress of George II. Her husband anticipated coming events by paying his court with her at Herrenhausen in 1712; and, after she had been appointed bedchamber woman to the princess of Wales, her rooms in St. James’s palace became the place of reunion for the little court of the heir apparent. She cultivated the society of men of letters, such as Gay and Arbuthnot, and was the subject of Peterborough’s lines “I said to my heart, between sleeping and waking” and of Pope’s complimentary verses,
  • I knew a thing that’s most uncommon
  • (Envy be silent and attend!)
  • I knew a reasonable woman,
  • Handsome and witty, yet a friend.
  • Lady Hervey, Miss Bellenden, Pulteney, Pelham, Pitt, Horace Walpole, Lord Chesterfield, Swift and Young were among her correspondents, and most of them celebrate her wit and reasonableness. She wrote an often quoted Gulliverian letter to Swift, which he professed to be unable to understand. George II built her a house at Marble hill, Twickenham, where her literary friends professed to act as chamberlains. Though she lacked sufficient skill for prevailing against queen Caroline, her conciliatory temper, not less than her position at court, made her the recipient of many confidences from the intrigants about St. James’s. A judicious selection from her correspondence entitled Letters to and from Henrietta, countess of Suffolk, and her second husband, the Hon. George Berkeley from 1712 to 1767 was edited anonymously by the editor of Lord Hervey’s Memoirs (John Wilson Croker), in 1824.