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Lady Shelley's recollections of Hugo Meynell

Extract from the Diary of Frances Lady Shelley 1787-1817

"Our acquaintance in London was almost entirely confined to the Lancashire and Cheshire families. I thought them very dull, and aspired to enter the charmed circle of the haute volée, of which I caught an occasional glimpse at Lady Derby's, old Lady Harewood's, and Lady Cholmondeley's. But my brother was much too proud, and with too high an idea of his own dignity, to make any advances to strangers; nor would he allow me to go anywhere without his wife and himself. We had an Opera box, and dined out a good deal. At last, the end of the hunting season brought Lord and Lady Sefton to town. These dear people had made up their minds that I was the wife most likely to suit, and to steady their beloved Sir John Shelley. Accordingly, to my great delight (for Lady Sefton was my beau idéal of perfection) we were invited to dine in Arlington Street. Little did I suspect the ordeal which awaited me!

A party had been invited to decide upon my qualifications for admission into their set (as Shelley's prospective wife) -- a set most exclusive and super-fine! Old Meynell, the arbiter of fashion, was there. He as both Master of Hounds and of hearts, supposed to be irresistible with women; though ugly, he was said to require but half an hour to drive from the field the handsomest man in London. This extraordinary man was the reputed father of many of the peers! I did not know him at that time, so I conversed with him sans gêne, with that natural kindness and reverence for age which seem to have pleased him. He at once decided in my favour."

This brief allusion to Mr. Meynell may be supplemented by information from other sources. It appears that Mr. Hugo Meynell was born in 1727. In 1758, he became the first Master of the Quorn Hunt; a position which he held until a few years before his death, in 1808. He was considered to be the foremost fox-hunter of his day; and was the first Master to establish order and discipline in the hunting field. He succeeded more by his good-humoured pleasantry, than by the assumption or exercise of authority over others. It is said that, on one occasion, when two young and dashing riders had headed the hounds, Meynell drily remarked: "The hounds were following the gentlemen, who had very kindly gone forward to see what the fox was doing." Horace Walpole, writing to George Montagu, on June 23, 1759, says: "You will be diverted by what happened to Mr. Meynell lately. He was engaged to dine at a formal old lady's, but stayed so late hunting that he had not time to dress, but went as he was, with forty apologies. The matron, very affected, and meaning to say something very civil, cried, 'Oh, sir! I assure you I can see the gentleman through a pair of buckskin breeches as well as if he was in silk or satin.' "

Mr. Meynell had been acquainted with Dr. Johnson, who used to repeat Meynell's remark, that "the chief advantage of London lies in the fact that a man is always o near his own burrow." After the French émigrés had been some time in England, Meynell remarked: "I am so tired of these visitors, that I wish we were safe at war again." He brought the mansion at Quorndon from Earl Ferrers, and, fifty years later, he sold it to Lord Sefton. He died in his eighty-first year, universally lamented.

   
 Submitted on: 2010-12-15
 Submitted by: Kathryn Paterson
 Artefact ID: 1042

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