Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey

The Little White Lady

Washington Irving

IN THE COURSE of a morning’s ride with Colonel Wildman, about the Abbey lands, we found ourselves in one of the prettiest little wild woods imaginable. The road to it had led us among rocky ravines overhung with thickets, and now wound through birchen dingles and among beautiful groves and clumps of elms and beeches. A limpid rill of sparkling water, winding and doubling in perplexed mazes, crossed our path repeatedly, so as to give the wood the appearance of being watered by numerous rivulets. The solitary and romantic look of this piece of woodland, and the frequent recurrence of its mazy stream, put him in mind, Colonel Wildman said, of the little German fairy tale of Undine, in which is recorded the adventures of a knight who had married a water-nymph. As he rode with his bride through her native woods, every stream claimed her as a relative; one was a brother, another an uncle, another a cousin. We rode on amusing ourselves with applying this fanciful tale to the charming scenery around us, until we came to a lowly gray-stone farmhouse, of ancient date, situated in a solitary glen, on the margin of the brook, and overshadowed by venerable trees. It went by the name, as I was told, of the Weir Mill farmhouse. With this rustic mansion was connected a little tale of real life, some circumstances of which were related to me on the spot, and others I collected in the course of my sojourn at the Abbey.

Not long after Colonel Wildman had purchased the estate of Newstead, he made it a visit for the purpose of planning repairs and alterations. As he was rambling one evening, about dusk, in company with his architect, through this little piece of woodland, he was struck with its peculiar characteristics, and then, for the first time, compared it to the haunted wood of Undine. While he was making the remark, a small female figure in white, flitted by without speaking a word, or indeed appearing to notice them. Her step was scarcely heard as she passed, and her form was indistinct in the twilight.

“What a figure for a fairy or sprite!” exclaimed Colonel Wildman. “How much a poet or a romance writer would make of such an apparition, at such a time and in such a place!”

He began to congratulate himself upon having some elfin inhabitant for his haunted wood, when, on proceeding a few paces, he found a white frill lying in the path, which had evidently fallen from the figure that had just passed.

“Well,” said he, “after all, this is neither sprite nor fairy, but a being of flesh, and blood, and muslin.”

Continuing on, he came to where the road passed by an old mill in front of the Abbey. The people of the mill were at the door. He paused and inquired whether any visitor had been at the Abbey, but was answered in the negative.

“Has nobody passed by here?”

“No one, sir.”

“That’s strange! Surely I met a female in white, who must have passed along this path.”

“Oh, sir, you mean the Little White Lady—oh, yes, she passed by here not long since.”

“The Little White Lady! And pray who is the Little White Lady?”

“Why, sir, that nobody knows; she lives in the Weir Mill farmhouse, down in the skirts of the wood. She comes to the Abbey every morning, keeps about it all day, and goes away at night. She speaks to nobody, and we are rather shy of her, for we don’t know what to make of her.”

Colonel Wildman now concluded that it was some artist or amateur employed in making sketches of the Abbey, and thought no more about the matter. He went to London, and was absent for some time. In the interim, his sister, who was newly married, came with her husband to pass the honeymoon at the Abbey. The Little White Lady still resided in the Weir Mill farmhouse, on the border of the haunted wood, and continued her visits daily to the Abbey. Her dress was always the same, a white gown with a little black spencer or bodice, and a white hat with a short veil that screened the upper part of her countenance. Her habits were shy, lonely, and silent; she spoke to no one, and sought no companionship, excepting with the Newfoundland dog that had belonged to Lord Byron. His friendship she secured by caressing him and occasionally bringing him food, and he became the companion of her solitary walks. She avoided all strangers, and wandered about the retired parts of the garden; sometimes sitting for hours by the tree on which Lord Byron had carved his name, or at the foot of the monument which he had erected among the ruins of the chapel. Sometimes she read, sometimes she wrote with a pencil on a small slate which she carried with her, but much of her time was passed in a kind of reverie.

The people about the place gradually became accustomed to her, and suffered her to wander about unmolested; their distrust of her subsided on discovering that most of her peculiar and lonely habits arose from the misfortune of being deaf and dumb. Still she was regarded with some degree of shyness, for it was the common opinion that she was not exactly in her right mind.

Colonel Wildman’s sister was informed of all these circumstances by the servants of the Abbey, among whom the Little White Lady was a theme of frequent discussion. The Abbey and its monastic environs being haunted ground, it was natural that a mysterious visitant of the kind, and one supposed to be under the influence of mental hallucination, should inspire awe in a person unaccustomed to the place. As Colonel Wildman’s sister was one day walking along abroad terrace of the garden, she suddenly beheld the Little White Lady coming toward her, and, in the surprise and agitation of the moment, turned and ran into the house. Day after day now elapsed, and nothing more was seen of this singular personage. Colonel Wildman at length arrived at the Abbey, and his sister mentioned to him her encounter and fright in the garden. It brought to mind his own adventure with the Little White Lady in the wood of Undine, and he was surprised to find that she still continued her mysterious wanderings about the Abbey. The mystery was soon explained. Immediately after his arrival he received a letter written in the most minute and delicate female hand, and in elegant and even eloquent language. It was from the Little White Lady. She had noticed and been shocked by the abrupt retreat of Colonel Wildman’s sister on seeing her in the garden walk, and expressed her unhappiness at being an object of alarm to any of his family. She explained the motives of her frequent and long visits to the Abbey, which proved to be a singularly enthusiastic idolatry of the genius of Lord Byron, and a solitary and passionate delight in haunting the scenes he had once inhabited. She hinted at the infirmities which cut her off from all social communion with her fellow beings, and at her situation in life as desolate and bereaved; and concluded by hoping that he would not deprive her of her only comfort, the permission of visiting the Abbey occasionally, and lingering about the walks and gardens.

Colonel Wildman now made further inquiries concerning her, and found that she was a great favorite with the people of the farmhouse where she boarded, from the gentleness, quietude, and innocence of her manners. When at home, she passed the greater part of her time in a small sitting-room, reading and writing. Colonel Wildman immediately called on her at the farmhouse. She received him with some agitation and embarrassment, but his frankness and urbanity soon put her at her ease. She was past the bloom of youth, a pale, nervous little being, and apparently deficient in most of her physical organs, for in addition to being deaf and dumb, she saw but imperfectly. They carried on a communication by means of a small slate, which she drew out of her reticule, and on which they wrote their questions and replies. In writing or reading she always approached her eyes close to the written characters.

This defective organization was accompanied by a morbid sensibility almost amounting to disease. She had not been born deaf and dumb; but had lost her hearing in a fit of sickness, and with it the power of distinct articulation. Her life had evidently been checkered and unhappy; she was apparently without family or friend, a lonely, desolate being, cut off from society by her infirmities.

“I am always among strangers,” she said, “as much so in my native country as I could be in the remotest parts of the world. By all I am considered as a stranger and an alien; no one will acknowledge any connection with me. I seem not to belong to the human species.”

Such were the circumstances that Colonel Wildman was able to draw forth in the course of his conversation, and they strongly interested him in favor of this poor enthusiast. He was too devout an admirer of Lord Byron himself, not to sympathize in this extraordinary zeal of one of his votaries, and he entreated her to renew her visits at the Abbey, assuring her that the edifice and its grounds should always be open to her.

The Little White Lady now resumed her daily walks in the Monk’s Garden, and her occasional seat at the foot of the monument; she was shy and diffident, however, and evidently fearful of intruding. If any persons were walking in the garden she would avoid them, and seek the most remote parts; and was seen like a sprite, only by gleams and glimpses, as she glided among the groves and thickets. Many of her feelings and fancies, during these lonely rambles, were embodied in verse, noted down on her tablet, and transferred to paper in the evening on her return to the farmhouse. Some of these verses now lie before me, written with considerable harmony of versification, but chiefly curious as being illustrative of that singular and enthusiastic idolatry with which she almost worshipped the genius of Byron, or rather, the romantic image of him formed by her imagination.

Two or three extracts may not be unacceptable. The following are from a long rhapsody addressed to Lord Byron:

“By what dread charm thou rulest the mind
    It is not given for us to know;
We glow with feelings undefined,
    Nor can explain from whence they flow.

Not that fond love which passion breathes
    And youthful hearts inflame;
The soul a nobler homage gives,
    And bows to thy great name.

Oft have we own’d the muses’ skill,
    And proved the power of song,
But sweeter notes ne’er woke the thrill
    That solely to thy verse belong.

This—but far more, for thee we prove,
    Something that bears a holier name,
Than the pure dream of early love,
    Or friendship’s nobler flame.

Something divine—Oh! what it is
    Thy muse alone can tell,
So sweet, but so profound the bliss
    We dread to break the spell.”

This singular and romantic infatuation, for such it might truly be called, was entirely spiritual and ideal, for, as she herself declares in another of her rhapsodies, she had never beheld Lord Byron; he was, to her, a mere phantom of the brain.

“I ne’er have drunk thy glance—thy form
    My earthly eye has never seen,
Though oft when fancy’s visions warm,
    It greets me in some blissful dream.

Greets me, as greets the sainted seer
    Some radiant visitant from high,
When heaven’s own strains break on his ear,
    And wrap his soul in ecstasy.”

Her poetical wanderings and musings were not confined to the Abbey grounds, but extended to all parts of the neighborhood connected with the memory of Lord Byron, and among the rest to the groves and gardens of Annesley Hall, the seat of his early passion for Miss Chaworth. One of her poetical effusions mentions her having seen from Howet’s Hill in Annesley Park, a “sylph-like form,” in a car drawn by milk-white horses, passing by the foot of the hill, who proved to be the “favorite child,” seen by Lord Byron, in his memorable interview with Miss Chaworth after her marriage. That favorite child was now a blooming girl approaching to womanhood, and seems to have understood something of the character and story of this singular visitant, and to have treated her with gentle sympathy. The Little White Lady expresses, in touching terms, in a note to her verses, her sense of this gentle courtesy. “The benevolent condescension,” says she, “of that amiable and interesting young lady, to the unfortunate writer of these simple lines will remain engraved upon a grateful memory, till the vital spark that now animates a heart that too sensibly feels, and too seldom experiences such kindness, is forever extinct.”

In the mean time, Colonel Wildman, in occasional interviews, had obtained further particulars of the story of the stranger, and found that poverty was added to the other evils of her forlorn and isolated state. Her name was Sophia Hyatt. She was the daughter of a country bookseller, but both her parents had died several years before. At their death, her sole dependence was upon her brother, who allowed her a small annuity on her share of the property left by their father, and which remained in his hands. Her brother, who was a captain of a merchant vessel, removed with his family to America, leaving her almost alone in the world, for she had no other relative in England but a cousin, of whom she knew almost nothing. She received her annuity regularly for a time, but unfortunately her brother died in the West Indies, leaving his affairs in confusion, and his estate overhung by several commercial claims, which threatened to swallow up the whole. Under these disastrous circumstances, her annuity suddenly ceased; she had in vain tried to obtain a renewal of it from the widow, or even an account of the state of her brother’s affairs. Her letters for three years past had remained unanswered, and she would have been exposed to the horrors of the most abject want, but for a pittance quarterly doled out to her by her cousin in England.

Colonel Wildman entered with characteristic benevolence into the story of her troubles. He saw that she was a helpless, unprotected being, unable, from her infirmities and her ignorance of the world, to prosecute her just claims. He obtained from her the address of her relations in America, and of the commercial connection of her brother; promised, through the medium of his own agents in Liverpool, to institute an inquiry into the situation of her brother’s affairs, and to forward any letters she might write, so as to insure their reaching their place of destination.

Inspired with some faint hopes, the Little White Lady continued her wanderings about the Abbey and its neighborhood. The delicacy and timidity of her deportment increased the interest already felt for her by Mrs. Wildman. That lady, with her wonted kindness, sought to make acquaintance with her, and inspire her with confidence. She invited her into the Abbey; treated her with the most delicate attention, and, seeing that she had a great turn for reading, offered her the loan of any books in her possession. She borrowed a few, particularly the works of Sir Walter Scott, but soon returned them; the writings of Lord Byron seemed to form the only study in which she delighted, and when not occupied in reading those, her time was passed in passionate meditations on his genius. Her enthusiasm spread an ideal world around her in which she moved and existed as in a dream, forgetful at times of the real miseries which beset her in her mortal state.

One of her rhapsodies is, however, of a very melancholy cast; anticipating her own death, which her fragile frame and growing infirmities rendered but too probable. It is headed by the following paragraph.

“Written beneath the tree on Crowholt Hill, where it is my wish to be interred (if I should die in Newstead).”

I subjoin a few of the stanzas: they are addressed to Lord Byron:

“Thou, while thou stand’st beneath this tree,
    While by thy foot this earth is press’d,
Think, here the wanderer’s ashes be—
    And wilt thou say, sweet be thy rest!

’Twould add even to a seraph’s bliss,
    Whose sacred charge thou then may be,
To guide—to guard—yes, Byron! yes,
    That glory is reserved for me.

If woes below may plead above
    A frail heart’s errors, mine forgiven,
To that ‘high world’ I soar, where ‘love
    Surviving’ forms the bliss of Heaven.

O wheresoe’er, in realms above,
    Assign’d my spirit’s new abode,
’Twill watch thee with a seraph’s love,
    Till thou too soar’st to meet thy God.

And here, beneath this lonely tree—
    Beneath the earth thy feet have press’d,
My dust shall sleep—once dear to thee
    These scenes—here may the wanderer rest!”

In the midst of her reveries and rhapsodies, tidings reached Newstead of the untimely death of Lord Byron. How they were received by this humble but passionate devotee I could not ascertain; her life was too obscure and lonely to furnish much personal anecdote, but among her poetical effusions are several written in a broken and irregular manner, and evidently under great agitation.

The following sonnet is the most coherent and most descriptive of her peculiar state of mind:

“Well, thou art gone—but what wert thou to me?
    I never saw thee—never heard thy voice,
Yet my soul seemed to claim affiance with thee.
    The Roman bard has sung of fields Elysian,
Where the soul sojourns ere she visits earth;
    Sure it was there my spirit knew thee, Byron!
Thine image haunted me like a past vision;
    It hath enshrined itself in my heart’s core;
’Tis my soul’s soul—it fills the whole creation.
    For I do live but in that world ideal
Which the muse peopled with her bright fancies,
    And of that world thou art a monarch real,
Nor ever earthly sceptre ruled a kingdom,
    With sway so potent as thy lyre, the mind’s dominion.”

Taking all the circumstances here adduced into consideration, it is evident that this strong excitement and exclusive occupation of the mind upon one subject, operating upon a system in a high state of morbid irritability, was in danger of producing that species of mental derangement called monomania. The poor little being was aware, herself, of the dangers of her case, and alluded to it in the following passage of a letter to Colonel Wildman, which presents one of the most lamentable pictures of anticipated evil ever conjured up by the human mind.

“I have long,” writes she, “too sensibly felt the decay of my mental faculties, which I consider as the certain indication of that dreaded calamity which I anticipate with such terror. A strange idea has long haunted my mind, that Swift’s dreadful fate will be mine. It is not ordinary insanity I so much apprehend, but something worse—absolute idiotism!

“O sir! think what I must suffer from such an idea, without an earthly friend to look up to for protection in such a wretched state—exposed to the indecent insults which such spectacles always excite. But I dare not dwell upon the thought: it would facilitate the event I so much dread, and contemplate with horror. Yet I cannot help thinking from people’s behavior to me at times, and from after reflections upon my conduct, that symptoms of the disease are already apparent.”

Five months passed away, but the letters written by her, and forwarded by Colonel Wildman to America relative to her brother’s affairs, remained unanswered; the inquiries instituted by the Colonel had as yet proved equally fruitless. A deeper gloom and despondency now seemed to gather upon her mind. She began to talk of leaving Newstead, and repairing to London, in the vague hope of obtaining relief or redress by instituting some legal process to ascertain and enforce the will of her deceased brother. Weeks elapsed, however, before she could summon up sufficient resolution to tear herself away from the scene of poetical fascination. The following simple stanzas, selected from a number written about the time, express, in humble rhymes, the melancholy that preyed upon her spirits:

“Farewell to thee, Newstead, thy time-riven towers,
    Shall meet the fond gaze of the pilgrim no more;
No more may she roam through thy walks and thy bowers.
    Nor muse in thy cloisters at eve’s pensive hour.

Oh, how shall I leave you, ye hills and ye dales,
    When lost in sad musing, though sad not unblest,
A lone pilgrim I stray—Ah! in these lonely vales,
    I hoped, vainly hoped, that the pilgrim might rest.

Yet rest is far distant—in the dark vale of death,
    Alone I shall find it, an outcast forlorn—
But hence vain complaints, though by fortune bereft
    Of all that could solace in life’s early morn.

Is not man from his birth doomed a pilgrim to roam
    O’er the world’s dreary wilds, whence by fortune’s rude gust.
In his path, if some flowret of joy chanced to bloom,
    It is torn and its foliage laid low in the dust.”

At length she fixed upon a day for her departure. On the day previous, she paid a farewell visit to the Abbey; wandering over every part of the grounds and garden; pausing and lingering at every place particularly associated with the recollection of Lord Byron; and passing a long time seated at the foot of the monument, which she used to call “her altar.” Seeking Mrs. Wildman, she placed in her hands a sealed packet, with an earnest request that she would not open it until after her departure from the neighborhood. This done, she took an affectionate leave of her, and with many bitter tears bade farewell to the Abbey.

On retiring to her room that evening, Mrs. Wildman could not refrain from inspecting the legacy of this singular being. On opening the packet, she found a number of fugitive poems, written in a most delicate and minute hand, and evidently the fruits of her reveries and meditations during her lonely rambles; from these the foregoing extracts have been made. These were accompanied by a voluminous letter, written with the pathos and eloquence of genuine feeling, and depicting her peculiar situation and singular state of mind in dark but painful colors.

“The last time,” says she, “that I had the pleasure of seeing you, in the garden, you asked me why I leave Newstead; when I told you my circumstances obliged me, the expression of concern which I fancied I observed in your look and manner would have encouraged me to have been explicit at the time, but from my inability of expressing myself verbally.”

She then goes on to detail precisely her pecuniary circumstances, by which it appears that her whole dependence for subsistence was on an allowance of thirteen pounds a year from her cousin, who bestowed it through a feeling of pride, lest his relative should come upon the parish. During two years this pittance had been augmented from other sources, to twenty-three pounds, but the last year it had shrunk within its original bounds, and was yielded so grudgingly, that she could not feel sure of its continuance from one quarter to another. More than once it had been withheld on slight pretences, and she was in constant dread lest it should be entirely withdrawn.

“It is with extreme reluctance,” observed she, “that I have so far exposed my unfortunate situation; but I thought you expected to know something more of it, and I feared that Colonel Wildman, deceived by appearances, might think that I am in no immediate want, and that the delay of a few weeks, or months, respecting the inquiry, can be of no material consequence. It is absolutely necessary to the success of the business that Colonel Wildman should know the exact state of my circumstances without reserve, that he may be enabled to make a correct representation of them to any gentleman whom he intends to interest, who, I presume, if they are not of America themselves, have some connections there, through whom my friends may be convinced of the reality of my distress, if they pretend to doubt it, as I suppose they do. But to be more explicit is impossible; it would be too humiliating to particularize the circumstances of the embarrassment in which I am unhappily involved—my utter destitution. To disclose all might, too, be liable to an inference which I hope I am not so void of delicacy, of natural pride, as to endure the thought of. Pardon me, madam, for thus giving trouble, where I have no right to do—compelled to throw myself upon Colonel Wildman’s humanity, to entreat his earnest exertions in my behalf, for it is now my only resource. Yet do not too much despise me for thus submitting to imperious necessity—it is not love of life, believe me it is not, nor anxiety for its preservation. I cannot say, ‘There are things that make the world dear to me,’—for in the world there is not an object to make me wish to linger here another hour, could I find that rest and peace in the grave which I have never found on earth, and I fear will be denied me there.”

Another part of her letter develops more completely the dark despondency hinted at in the conclusion of the foregoing extract—and presents a lamentable instance of a mind diseased, which sought in vain, amidst sorrow and calamity, the sweet consolations of religious faith.

“That my existence has hitherto been prolonged,” says she, “often beyond what I have thought to have been its destined period, is astonishing to myself. Often when my situation has been as desperate, as hopeless, or more so, if possible, than it is at present, some unexpected interposition of Providence has rescued me from a fate that has appeared inevitable. I do not particularly allude to recent circumstances or latter years, for from my earlier years I have been the child of Providence—then why should I distrust its care now? I do not distrust it—neither do I trust it. I feel perfectly unanxious, unconcerned, and indifferent as to the future; but this is not trust in Providence—not that trust which alone claims it protections. I know this is a blamable indifference—it is more—for it reaches to the interminable future. It turns almost with disgust from the bright prospects which religion offers for the consolation and support of the wretched, and to which I was early taught, by an almost adored mother, to look forward with hope and joy; but to me they can afford no consolation. Not that I doubt the sacred truths that religion inculcates. I cannot doubt—though I confess I have sometimes tried to do so, because I no longer wish for that immortality of which it assures us. My only wish now is for rest and peace—endless rest. ‘For rest—but not to feel ’tis rest,’ but I cannot delude myself with the hope that such rest will be my lot. I feel an internal evidence, stronger than any arguments that reason or religion can enforce, that I have that within me which is imperishable; that drew not its origin from the ‘clod of the valley.’ With this conviction, but without a hope to brighten the prospect of that dread future:

“’I dare not look beyond the tomb,
Yet cannot hope for peace before.’

Such an unhappy frame of mind, I am sure, madam, must excite your commiseration. It is perhaps owing, in part at least, to the solitude in which I have lived, I may say, even in the midst of society; when I have mixed in it; as my infirmities entirely exclude me from that sweet intercourse of kindred spirits—that sweet solace of refined conversation; the little intercourse I have at any time with those around me cannot be termed conversation—they are not kindred spirits—and even where circumstances have associated me (but rarely indeed) with superior and cultivated minds, who have not disdained to admit me to their society, they could not by all their generous efforts, even in early youth, lure from my dark soul the thoughts that loved to lie buried there, nor inspire me with the courage to attempt their disclosure; and yet of all the pleasures of polished life which fancy has often pictured to me in such vivid colors, there is not one that I have so ardently coveted as that sweep reciprocation of ideas, the supreme bliss of enlightened minds in the hour of social converse. But this I knew was not decreed for me—

“’Yet this was in my nature—’

but since the loss of my hearing I have always been incapable of verbal conversation. I need not, however, inform you, madam, of this. At the first interview with which you favored me, you quickly discovered my peculiar unhappiness in this respect; you perceived from my manner that any attempt to draw me into conversation would be in vain—had it been otherwise, perhaps you would not have disdained now and then to have soothed the lonely wanderer with yours. I have sometimes fancied when I have seen you in the walk, that you seemed to wish to encourage me to throw myself in your way. Pardon me if my imagination, too apt to beguile me with such dear illusions, has deceived me into too presumptuous an idea here. You must have observed that I generally endeavored to avoid both you and Colonel Wildman. It was to spare your generous hearts the pain of witnessing distress you could not alleviate. Thus cut off, as it were, from all human society, I have been compelled to live in a world of my own, and certainly with the beings with which my world is peopled, I am at no loss to converse. But, though I love solitude and am never in want of subjects to amuse my fancy, yet solitude too much indulged in must necessarily have an unhappy effect upon the mind, which, when left to seek for resources wholly within itself will, unavoidably, in hours of gloom and despondency, brood over corroding thoughts that prey upon the spirits, and sometimes terminate in confirmed misanthropy—especially with those who, from constitution, or early misfortunes, are inclined to melancholy, and to view human nature in its dark shades. And have I not cause for gloomy reflections? The utter loneliness of my lot would alone have rendered existence a curse to one whom nature has formed glowing with all the warmth of social affection, yet without an object on which to place it—without one natural connection, one earthly friend to appeal to, to shield me from the contempt, indignities, and insults, to which my deserted situation continually exposed me.”

I am giving long extracts from this letter, yet I cannot refrain from subjoining another letter, which depicts her feelings with respect to Newstead.

“Permit me, madame, again to request your and Colonel Wildman’s acceptance of these acknowledgments which I cannot too often repeat, for your unexampled goodness to a rude stranger. I know I ought not to have taken advantage of your extreme good nature so frequently as I have. I should have absented myself from your garden during the stay of the company at the Abbey, but, as I knew I must be gone long before they would leave it, I could not deny myself the indulgence, as you so freely gave me your permission to continue my walks, but now they are at an end. I have taken my last farewell of every dear and interesting spot, which I now never hope to see again, unless my disembodied spirit may be permitted to revisit them.—Yet O! if Providence should enable me again to support myself with any degree of respectability, and you should grant me some little humble shed, with what joy shall I return and renew my delightful rambles. But dear as Newstead is to me, I will never again come under the same unhappy circumstances as I have this last time—never without the means of at least securing myself from contempt. How dear, how very dear Newstead is to me, how unconquerable the infatuation that possesses me, I am now going to give a too convincing proof. In offering to your acceptance the worthless trifles that will accompany this, I hope you will believe that I have no view to your amusement. I dare not hope that the consideration of their being the products of your own garden, and most of them written there, in my little tablet, while sitting at the foot of my Altar—I could not, I cannot resist the earnest desire of leaving this memorial of the many happy hours I have there enjoyed. Oh! do not reject them, madam; suffer them to remain with you, and if you should deign to honor them with a perusal, when you read them repress, if you can, the smile that I know will too naturally arise, when you recollect the appearance of the wretched being who has dared to devote her whole soul to the contemplation of such more than human excellence. Yet, ridiculous as such devotion may appear to some, I must take leave to say, that if the sentiments which I have entertained for that exalted being could be duly appreciated, I trust they would be found to be of such a nature as is no dishonor even for him to have inspired.” . . . 

“I am now coming to take a last, last view of scenes too deeply impressed upon my memory ever to be effaced even by madness itself. O madam! may you never know, nor be able to conceive the agony I endure in tearing myself from all that the world contains of dear and sacred to me: the only spot on earth where I can ever hope for peace or comfort. May every blessing the world has to bestow attend you, or rather, may you long, long live in the enjoyment of the delights of your own paradise, in secret seclusion from a world that has no real blessings to bestow. Now I go—but O might I dare to hope that when you are enjoying these blissful scenes, a thought of the unhappy wanderer might sometimes cross your mind, how soothing would such an idea be, if I dared to indulge it—could you see my heart at this moment, how needless would it be to assure you of the respectful gratitude, the affectionate esteem, this heart must ever bear you both.”

The effect of this letter upon the sensitive heart of Mrs. Wildman may be more readily conceived than expressed. Her first impulse was to give a home to this poor homeless being, and to fix her in the midst of those scenes which formed her earthly paradise. She communicated her wishes to Colonel Wildman, and they met with an immediate response in his generous bosom. It was settled on the spot, that an apartment should be fitted up for the Little White Lady in one of the new farmhouses, and every arrangement made for her comfortable and permanent maintenance on the estate. With a woman’s prompt benevolence, Mrs. Wildman, before she laid her head upon her pillow, wrote the following letter to the destitute stranger:

“Newstead Abbey,                                  
“Tuesday night, September 20, 1825.

“On retiring to my bedchamber this evening I have opened your letter, and cannot lose a moment in expressing to you the strong interest which it has excited both in Colonel Wildman and myself, from the details of your peculiar situation, and the delicate, and, let me add, elegant language in which they are conveyed. I am anxious that my note should reach you previous to your departure from this neighborhood, and should be truly happy if, by any arrangement for your accommodation, I could prevent the necessity of your undertaking the journey. Colonel Wildman begs me to assure you that he will use his best exertions in the investigation of those matters which you have confided to him, and should you remain here at present, or return again after a short absence, I trust we shall find means to become better acquainted, and to convince you of the interest I feel, and the real satisfaction it would afford me to contribute in any way to your comfort and happiness. I will only now add my thanks for the little packet which I received with your letter, and I must confess that the letter has so entirely engaged my attention, that I have not as yet had time for the attentive perusal of its companion.

Believe me, dear madam,                                        
with sincere good wishes,                                
Yours truly,                        

Early the next morning a servant was dispatched with the letter to the Weir Mill farm, but returned with the information that the Little White Lady had set off, before his arrival, in company with the farmer’s wife, in a cart for Nottingham, to take her place in the coach for London. Mrs. Wildman ordered him to mount horse instantly, follow with all speed, and deliver the letter into her hand before the departure of the coach.

The bearer of good tidings spared neither whip nor spur, and arrived at Nottingham on a gallop. On entering the town, a crowd obstructed him in the principal street. He checked his horse to make his way through it quietly. As the crowd opened to the right and left, he beheld a human body lying on the pavement.—It was the corpse of the Little White Lady!

It seems that on arriving in town and dismounting from the cart, the farmer’s wife had parted with her to go on an errand, and the White Lady continued on toward the coach-office. In crossing a street a cart came along, driven at a rapid rate. The driver called out to her, but she was too deaf to hear his voice or the rattling of his cart. In an instant she was knocked down by the horse, and the wheels passed over her body, and she died without a groan.


Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey - Contents

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