Memoirs of a Ridicule

Miss F. Richardson

As at this period memoirs of all kinds are particularly sought after, and as perhaps to be aware of one’s own insignificance demands a degree of penetration and clear-sightedness beyond what is ever possessed; I may be pardoned for fancying my adventures may not be less worthy notice than those of many writers who have been honored by it. I cannot boast the antiquity of my origin, like the Pocket, which traces its descent from the very commencement of civilization in this country, and pretends to have been well known and honorably employed at court in the earliest times, and to have adorned the sides of the most illustrious princesses and celebrated beauties. With such claims to notice, it is not to be wondered at that its partisans behold it supplanted by me, with indignation; indeed the disputes between the red and white roses scarcely ran higher than those which my aforesaid rivals and myself have given rise to —  It was said by the immortal Addison, in the character of the Spectator, that people never enter with so much interest into any work until informed of the country, parents, education, &c. of the author: In conformity to this opinion, I shall preface my memoirs with an account of my origin, and let it not raise any prejudice in the minds of my fair English readers to learn that I am of French extraction — I do not know that any mention is made of the Ridicule until after the French Revolution, when most of the noblesse took refuge in this country, bringing with them lightened hearts and pockets not much heavier; and soon after some élégantes of the new régime introduced the ridicule into the circles of French fashion.

Were it not from the fear of incurring the reproach of vanity, I might expatiate much on the praises that were bestowed on me at my first introduction into the beau monde. Many who had discarded my rival, the pocket, as old-fashioned (tho’ for no reason that I know of, but that it had been in the service of their grand-mothers) were eloquent in my eulogy. It waas no longer necessary (said they) to entrust a pocket handkerchief to a husband, father, or brother who might happen to be out of the way just at the moment it was wanted. No more need purses be committed to gloves, or shoes. The Ridicule at once useful and ornamental, superceded the necessity for such ingenious contrivances. But I will leave general remarks and procedd to my own particular history. I will begin with my introduction into Mrs Montague’s family, to whose niece Arabella I belonged. Mrs Montagu was a lady of much good sense, but wholly unbiased by fashion — she was a decided enemy to me. “Ah, niece Arabella,” she would say, “take my word for it, you will some time or other have cause to repent having discarded that useful thing, a pocket, which has so much the advantage in point of convenience over your Ridicule. The pocket once remembered in the morning, is no more charge to your memory during the day, by its means you are provided with pincushion, housewife, thimble, scissors, and in short every thin which a notable woman should be provided with, but your Ridicule is ever liable to be mislaid, and you are continually indebted to some old-fashioned being like myself either for a pin, or needle, or something else.”

After such like exhortation Arabella would frequently resolve to discard me, but the powerful influence of fashion prevailed over reason and I was still retained in her service, though I met with several narrow escapes. Once by mistake I was thrown upon the back of the fire, where I was discovered just in time to save me from a flame which was rising to consume me — frequently was I drenched in the rain when accompanying my fair mistress in her walks, and altho’ upon such occasions she took the tenderest care of me in having me dried, I never wholly recovered such disasters. I had also sometimes to endure the displeasure of Arabella. One Sunday morning, I remember, good Mrs Montagu informed her niece there would be a charity sermon and that she should be detained at home by indisposition, she should therefore depute her to be the bearer of her charitable donations to the church — accordingly I was made [???] bearer to the two ladies. Arabella hanging me on the back of her chair, sat down to breakfast with her aunt.

I doubt not were I to record the tea table conversation, it might prove both edifying and entertaining, but were I to do so, I should exceed the limits which I have prescribed myself. This, therefore, like many more agreeable conversations, will be lost to posterity.

Breakfast being ended, up sprang my amiable mistress, and in an instant was driven from the door; leaving me still suspended from the arm of her chair — Oh! how I wished some propitious accident would cause Mrs Montagu to notice me ere it was too late; how I longed for a friendly gust of wind to waft me to her feet. I should even have rejoiced at the entrance of the little dog Fido (till he saw my terror) as he used to amuse himself with biting the elegant tassels with which I was adorned. This would have been sure to excite the attention of Mrs Montagu, who would have checked him with “Down Fido”. But alas! all remained still and quiet till the return of Arabella, who with much grief informed her aunt that owing to her having left me behind her she had been prevented from contributing in any way to the charity. “Ah!” continued she, “if I had worn pockets this would not have happened, but I am resolved to buy a pair tomorrow.” The morrow came, and what altered my mistress’s resolution I know not, but the pockets were not purchased, and I was restored to favor. I shall pass over the details of many of my adventures. I could expose many anecdotes, I could report much unedifying scandal; and on the other hand much wit and learning, for being my mistress’s favorite companion I had admission to the best society, but all this shall be passed over in silence, for scandal flies fast enough without my assistance, and wit and learning will be sure of more able reporters.

I shall mention one more of the adventures that befell me, as it proved fatal to me. One morning Arabella took me with her to visit a friend (she we will call Victorine). This lady informed her she had that morning arrived from her mother’s house in the country, having received a letter informing her that her child, who was left in London, was taken alarmingly ill; but reports according to custom had magnified the danger. “I have just finished a letter to my mother,” said Victorine, “as I promised I would write, unless I found the child in the alarming state I was led to apprehend. As you, dear Arabella, will drive past the post office will you put it in for me?” “Willingly,” was the reply. The friends parted. In the evening whilst Arabella was singing to a little circle of friends a simple melody where in her voice, the effusion of feeling called to mind those lines of Dryden’s

So clear, so high, and yet so sweet a note
It seemed the music melted in her throat

When a servant entered and presenting me informing Arabella, the the coachman had just taken me out of the carriage where I had been left in the morning. It would require the powers of painting a Scott or a Byron, to describe the sudden transition of Arabella’s countenance from guileless happy mirth, to conscience-struck dismay. “The letter, the letter,” she would have said, but the words died away on her lips, and she quitted the room followed by her aunt, to whom she explained the cause of her agitation, which was the alarm that Victorine’s mother would experience, owing to her not receiving the letter which Arabella promised to put in the post but which had been left with me in the carriage. Arabella was not mistaken. The alarm occasioned to the mother of Victorine by her daughter’s silence respecting the sick child, produced a severe illness, and Victorine was called into the country to attend the bedside of her mother. At length her filial cares were rewarded by the recovery of her mother and the two friends met in London. “I quite forgive you,” said Victorine, “but I will never again trust you with any letter of consequence, as long as you wear a Ridicule.” “I will wear it no longer,” exclaimed Arabella, “’tis a sacrifice I make to friendship!”

My reader does not ask if she kept a resolution made under such circumstances — I was in consequence given to her maid Mademoiselle Epingle. Alas! “what a falling off was there!” I was no longer admitted to the splendid drawing-room, no more was made the depository of brilliant verses, or elegant fancy works, as when in the service of the tasteful and intellectual Arabella. Torn, worn, aged, and degraded, I perceived not only my own but the declining celebrity of all my relations: and I was ever-nigh rent with mortification when I reflected that at short period would probably witness the total extinction of the Ridicule. Should my fears be prophetic, gentle reader, ’twill afford me added proof of the fickleness and instability of human nature.

Nature displays herself in trifles, as well as in those of consequence; the same springs of action, the same impulses work in both, whether it be exemplified in changing a monarchy into a democracy, and that again into a despotic empire; or in changing a Pocket for a Ridicule, or that again for a Pocket.