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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Colebrooke Connection to Jane Austen: Part One

Earlier today, Nancy Mayer posed the following question in Janeites:

"The Colebrookes were connected to Emma Smith who married JEAL . Does any one have any more information about them?"

Here is the first of my three answers on what turned out to be a very interesting subject:,_2nd_Baronet

It's an unusual surname, and for the reasons set forth below, I am certain that the same family described in the above Wikipedia article is the one which included the Colebrookes who were connected to Emma Smith.

First, the patriarch sounds like a man who would have been intimate for a long period of time with Warren Hastings.

Then I found another interesting link:

The above link shows that the well known writer Joanna Baillie (also the sister of the Doctor Baillie who tended to both Henry Austen and the Prince Regent) was a correspondent of Miss Belinda Colebrooke, who, it is indicated therein, was connected to Emma Smith.

And you already know that Emma Smith, in addition to being the eventual wife of JEAL, was also the daughter of the brother of Eliza Smith Chute, who in turn was the friend of JA whom JA playfully mentioned in Letter 23 in a mock political slogan.

But here's the most interesting bit of all---a scandal that I suspect JA would have heard about!

The following is an excerpt from an Irish judicial decision handed down in 1855, which for reasons I did not try to ascertain, depended in crucial part on the question of the validity of a marriage entered into with Mrs. Belinda Colebrooke, the widow of George Colebrooke, who was the second son of Sir George Colebrooke, 2nd Baronet, per the Wikipedia article. And my guess is that the above mentioned Miss Belinda Colebrooke is one of the two daughters of the widow Mrs. Belinda Colebrooke who is referred to as an "infant" (legalese for a child under the age of majority, not for a baby as you might have thought--and by the way, if you were also wondering, the decision was NOT written by Tom Lefroy!):

"In April, 1809, a Colonel George Colebrooke, who had been married, some seven or eight years previously, to Miss Belinda Edwards, a lady of singular beauty and accomplishments, died, leaving his wife and two daughters him surviving. Mrs. Colebrooke was entitled to a considerable jointure, and also to a large allowance for the support of her two infant daughters. After her husband's death she left Scotland, where she had resided with him, and spent her time in various places in England, and in l hat year, while at Brighton, Henry Butler made the acquaintance of this lady.Her appearance and manners were fascinating in the highest degree; and such were her charms that at the recent trial, notwithstanding the lapse of 40 years, a gentleman, who had been intimate with her spoke of her, in the language of an enraptured lover, as being one of the most beautiful creatures that ever existed. She had an income of between £2,000 and £3,000 a-year; she lived in good style, and was received in the most respectable society. There could be no doubt that Henry Butler had the knack of ingratiating himself with the fair sex, he had already carried off the wife of an Irish gentleman, and at Brighton a very close intimacy sprung up between him and Mrs. Colebrooke. Her family then consisted of her two daughters, their governess, and a young woman named Sarah Stride, who entered her service when very young in 1802. She had been taken by Mrs. Colebrooke from motives of kindness, being young and destitute. She remained with her
forty years, to the last hour of her life, and, in consequence of the kind treatment she always received, she was strongly devoted to her mistress. This Sarah Stride was still living, and was one of the principal witnesses in the case. There was no positive evidence as to the fact, but it was inferred that Henry Butler and Mrs. Colebrooke cohabited at Brighton. She proceeded from thence to London, where she took a house in Sloane Street, whither Henry Butler followed her, and there was positive proof that he there cohabited with her in a secret manner, being admitted into the house at night, and leaving early in the morning before any one was up—always timing his visits in order to save appearances. From Sloane Street she removed to Cadogan-place, and while there she gave birth to a child, which, there could be no doubt, was the
offspring of the intercourse with Mr. Butler. She resided there during nine or ten months, and, in September, 1810, returned with her family to Edinburgh, being accompanied as far as Newcastle by Butler. Perhaps she did not wish to enter the city, in which she was known, with a fashionable looking man, whose company would not serve the reputation of a young and beautiful widow. On arriving in Edinburgh, she took a house in Northumberland-street, and supported it in a style suitable to her position and means. She soon after miscarried, and that was also the fruit of her connection with Butler. He followed her to Edinburgh, and there was evidence more or less distinct in reference to the number of times he went to Edinburgh, and as to the extent of the public intercourse which took place between them. They sometimes met at a place called Elven-fout or Hipgar-park, in Lanarkshire, where her children's
estates were situate. In the latter part of 1810 another young Irishman named Taaffe, of a highly respectable family in the-county of Louth, went to Edinburgh to complete his education, and make the acquaintance of the distinguished literary men of that city—Jeffrey, Scott, Stewart, and others. He was about 21 years of age. and his father was possessed of a Iarge fortune. He there met a young Englishman named Stanley, a member of an ancient family and a Roman Catholic,who, like himself, had gone for improvement to Edinburgh, and the two young men lived together. Mrs. Colebrooke's connection with Butler had been kept strictly secret; she moved in the best circles, and in society Taaffe met her. He was at once smitten with her charms, sought her acquaintance, and was ultimately received as a visitor at her house ; and the great point upon which the defendant rested his case, and which fell to the ground if he failed in proving it, was that Taaffe was married to Mrs. Colebrooke by an irregular Scotch marriage on the 1st of January, 1811. There was no direct evidence that any marriage took place between her and Butler up
to that time, but there was evidence going to show, if the case were not
otherwise embarrassed, that something did take place between them which would have been quite sufficient to establish the fact of an irregular Scotch marriage having occurred, previously, between her and Butler. Taaffe, who was a living man, was examined in Italy under a commission, and the best course would be to read his evidence. He had lived almost ever since—scarcely ever visiting Ireland — in Italy, where he had married an Italian princess. He would read his evidence from, and act all through upon, the copy of the judge's notes, rather than upon a printed report put forward by the other side, but which the judge who tried the case, and who exhibited an ability in the discharge of his duty which had never been surpassed, bad repudiated as incorrect. This case comes before the court in a manner different from any other we know of. It is generally the rule that the counsel objecting should
furnish a certificate of what had occurred at the trial. This has been, in the present instance, done in a novel manner; for the certificate refers to the pages of a printed book— alleged to contain a short-hand writer's notes— which was sent to his Lordship, and from some portions of which the judge absolutely and unequivocally dissents. Taaffe, being examined as to matter up to 1812, stated in his deposition that he went to Edinburgh in the autumn of 1810, and denied that he promised Mrs. Colebrooke to marry her. He said that she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen; that after some time he and she became united in body as well as in heart, and that he did not obtain possession of her person under any promise of marriage; that marriage was never intended by either of them, and that she told him she preferred being his mistress (for they had cohabited) than his wife, and that she would not admit of any tie that did not leave each of them as free as air. This might possibly be accounted for by the fact that under Mr. Colebrooke's will she would lose some property and the care of her children if she married a second time. He was asked "whether he was aware that any personal intimacy subsisted between her and Henry Butler?" and he replied, " he was not, but that he saw her receive letters from him." The defendant's case turned upon this.....[goes on for many more pages] "

What I find most interesting is the resonance between this real-life
matrimonial fracas, and the one depicted by JA in Mansfield Park, written 3-4 years after the real life events described above. We need only substitute Maria Bertram for Mrs. Colebrooke, Henry Crawford for Henry Butler, and Mr. Rushworth for Mr. Taaffe. And the most noteworthy point is the birth of an illegitimate child to Mrs. Colebrooke.

In a moment I will post Part Two.....

Cheers, ARNIE

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