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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

§ 6. Lord Hervey and Lady Mary

Precursor in chief of Horace Walpole as court gossip, scandalmonger and memoir-writer was John Lord Hervey, “remorseless Hervey of the coffin face and painted cheeks,” a miniature St. Simon at the early Hanoverian court, though, it must be admitted, a St. Simon rather lacking in the artistic precision and measured science of his prototype. Lord Hervey’s father and grandfather (Sir Thomas Hervey, son-in-law of Sir Humphrey May, who drew a touching portrait of Charles I’s last hours) were both great letter-writers; and their letters from 1651 to 1731 have now been published, in three volumes. The MS. diary of John, first earl of Bristol, ranging from 1688 to 1742, is largely a ledger of payments and expenses; but the letters furnish an intimate and attractive portrait of a noble family at the close of the seventeenth, and beginning of the eighteenth, century. John had a half-brother, Carr Hervey, whose mother was the earl’s first wife; but he was himself the eldest son of the second countess, a merry lady, who was a correspondent of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and lady of the bedchamber to queen Caroline. Educated at Westminster under Freind, and at Clare hall, Cambridge, he inherited from both parents, but especially from his mother, a gift for repartee and a fondness for riming. After his return from Hanover, in a fine flush of Hanoverian zeal, he declined hard labour and gravitated between Ickworth, where he browsed on poetry, and the court at Richmond. Early in 1720, when a handsome youth of twenty-four, he secretly married the beauty of the younger court, Mary Lepell, “Youth’s youngest daughter, sweet Lepell,” who had charmed all the wits, including Pope. The reciprocal devotion between the Herveys and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu offended both Pope and Horace Walpole, who suspected the ladies of scandal about his paternity. Pope was jealous, with the result that, in the first of his imitations of Horace, addressed to Fortescue, “Lord Fanny” and “Sappho” were generally identified with Hervey and Lady Mary. Hervey had already been attacked in The Dunciad and Bathos, and he now retaliated. There is no doubt that he had a share (possibly the sole share) in Verses to the Imitator of Horace (1732). In Letters from a nobleman at Hampton Court to a Doctor of Divinity (1733), he scoffed at Pope’s deformity and humble birth. Pope’s reply was A Letter to a noble Lord, dated November, 1733, and the scathing portrait of Sporus in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735). Hervey also quarrelled fiercely with Pulteney over a libel and was very nearly a victim to his adversary’s rapier. He also fell out with Frederick, prince of Wales, in the matter of an amour with one of the queen’s maids of honour, Anne Vane, who became the prince’s mistress. He was thus much exposed on every side to the malice and detraction of declared enemies; and this fact helps to account for the cynicism and venom which overflow in his Memoirs. Meanwhile, in 1723, by the death of his brother, he became heir to the earldom of Bristol and assumed the title by which he is remembered. In the new reign, his advancement was assured, inasmuch as, with a strong feeling for self-preservation, he had made sure of all the approaches, and all the backstair exits, of the innermost court.