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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Cat Thickens

In my very recent post….

Apropos Mr. Stanhope, who was mentioned in the following passage in Tysoe Hancock’s 1775 letter to “daughter” Eliza Hancock...

“The Governor, your godfather, desired me to send a very fine Persian cat of mine to you as a present from him, which I would have done with pleasure, but your cousin Stanhope having quarrelled with a gentleman who lived at an house next to mine & the cat having straied into his house, the gentleman, or some of his people shot her-I suppose to be revenged on Mr. Stanhope. If I should be so fortunate as to procure another I will sent it next year.”

....I wrote the following about him:

“…this young Mr. Stanhope just happens to be the adoptive heir of the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, the author of those very famous letters to his _illegitimate_son, who had died in 1768!”

And I also wrote that I strongly suspected this same Mr. Stanhope of also being the “young gentleman from a good family” whom Samuel Johnson (or Boswell, if Diane’s interpretation is correct) chose not to name, who was associated with cat shootings!
When you think about it, it’s strange that Le Faye never noticed any of this, and it’s also strange that Warren Hastings is such a “godfather” (in the Brandoesque sense) that a gift of his associate’s cat is considered a gift from Hastings himself!

In any event...what I hadn’t recollected when I wrote that post was that I had found out a fair amount about Mr. Stanhope way back in January, at the time I was writing a series of posts about the Black Hole of Calcutta (which JA mentioned in one of her letters), beginning with this post:

Turns out the young Mr. Stanhope not only became the 5th Earl of Chesterfield upon his adoptive father’s death, he received a world-class international education from the 4th Earl before then, and then had the good fortune to become a favorite of King George III—talk about a guy born with no silver spoon in his mouth, but acquiring _two_ of them before he was 25!

He served as British Ambassador to Spain from 1784-86 (even though he never actually made it to Madrid during his brief tenure!), then as Master of the Mint, then Postmaster General, and then Master of the Horse (sounds like a quintessential DC Beltway career political hack of today!). So he is remembered for much more today than his unfortunate involvement in the shooting of his cousin’s cat.

But then I wondered, how did _Eliza_ feel about Mr. Stanhope? After all, the young teenaged Eliza might well have held a grudge for a long while against the cousin who had, per Tysoe Hancock’s letter to her, played a crucial, if inadvertent, role in preventing her from receiving a gift of her putative father’s Persian cat. I decided it was a good time to browse in my copy of Le Faye’s edition of Eliza’s letters, just in case there was something in there that in some way pertained to The Mystery of the Persian Cat.

And imagine my astonishment and delight when I turned to P. 68, containing the text of Eliza’s letter to cousin Phylly dated 1/17/86 (when Eliza was 25) written from Chateau de Jourdan in France, and read the following:

“I flatter myself You will partake my Satisfaction in being able to inform You that the purpose of the abovementioned Journey has been entirely answered, & your _outlandish_ Cousin’s Health & good Looks perfectly restored…..The Amusements the place itself affords resemble those to be met with at Bath, Tunbridge Wells, &cc, a Theatre open every Day & frequent Balls are the principal publick Diversions…”

So _that_ was where Le Faye got the title of her edition of Eliza’s letters-and for the first time, I understood the pun on “outlandish”---Eliza herself was obviously a talented punster, as she recognized that she was outlandish in the eyes of her cousin Phylly in two ways---outlandish in the idiomatic sense we would use the word today, i.e. as “exceeding proper or reasonable limits or standards”, but also outlandish _literally_ because of having been born outside of England and also having lived and traveled outside of England a great deal by the time she was 25 and writing this letter.

But, here’s the best part of her letter, vis a vis our Cat Mystery:

“...but what the most contributed to my spending my time in a very agreeable manner was my meeting with a most charming Society, chiefly English, amongst others Lord & Lady Chesterfield now on an Embassy to the Court of Madrid, who kept open House & whose aimiable [sic] manners contributed not a little to the agrements of Bagneres, the marks of Friendship I received from this Family and from the Ambassadress in particular, are such as I can never forget, this latter is indeed one of the most charming Women I have ever met with; in short My Dear Cousin, here am I once more restored to rural quiet & tranquility…”

That’s our same Mr. Stanhope, who by 1784 was simply “Lord Chesterfield”! What Eliza never mentions, however, but which I cannot imagine she does not realize, is that Lord Chesterfield is her maternal _cousin_ , and, what’s more, was briefly actually living chez Hancock in India in 1775 when she received the sad new about the shooting of the Persian cat!

Eliza has to know all of this, don’t you think? And yet, why would she not mention any of this to Phylly, particularly because Mr. Stanhope would also have been kin to Phylly as well?

But the other intriguing question, from the point of view of our Cat Mystery, is whether Eliza, at 25, would have remembered that Tysoe had laid the root of the death of his Persian Cat at the feet of Mr. Stanhope a bit more than a decade earlier? Or, from another perspective, whether Lord Chesterfield had any idea of the blame cast on him in 1775 to this very same charming Englishwoman married to a French count, Eliza de Feuillide!

Food for thought all around!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Tomalin, in her JA bio, takes note of Eliza meeting Lord & Lady Chesterfield at Bagneres, but she has absolutely no idea about the India connection, let alone the cat-aclysm that occurred there in 1775! ;)

P.P.S.: And in case anyone did not realize it by now, if Mr. Stanhope was a cousin of Phila Austen, that means he was also just as much a cousin of Revd. George Austen, and therefore also a cousin of _Jane_ Austen! So it means that a cousin of JA was the 5th Earl of Chesterfield during all but the final two years of Jane Austen’s life! Funny we don’t hear about that in Le Faye either!

P.P.P.S: I withheld the best detail about Mr. Stanhope for last. Can you guess the name of the English village where he was born?: _Mansfield_ _Woodhouse_! I had stumbled across that name years ago in my research, but never found anything remotely resembling an actual Austen connection to the place, till today.

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