From old Sheridan (the father of Richard Brinsley) Lord Braybrooke heard some curious anecdotes of her early life.
Mrs. Gunning (her mother) consulted Sheridan as to what she should do with her two beautiful but penniless daughters. He recommended that they should be presented at the Castle. Here a great difficulty occurred: by what possible means where they to procure court dresses?
This Sheridan obviated: he was at that time manager of the Dublin Theatre, and offered them a loan of the stage dresses of Lady Macbeth and Juliet. In these they appeared most lovely; and Sheridan, after having attended the toilet, claimed a salute from each as his reward.
Very soon after this, a most diabolical scheme was formed by some unprincipled young men; they invited Mrs. Gunning and her two daughters to dinner, and infused strong narcotics in the wine, intending to take advantage of the intoxication which must ensue to carry off the two young women.
Fortunately, Sheridan discovered their base designs, and arrived just in time to rescue the ladies. He lived to see one of these girls Duchess of Argyle, and the other Countess of Coventry; and, it is melancholy to add, lived to see his application for admission to their parties rejected.
Lady Coventry enjoyed one very singular triumph. Having one day casually mentioned to the king, that she could not walk in the Mall because the crowd who came to gaze at her pressed round her in a way that was quite alarming, his Majesty gallantly exclaimed that the finest woman in England should not be prevented from gracing the Mall. He desired that whenever she wished to walk she would send notice to the
captain upon guard, and at the same time ordered that she should be attended by a sergeant's guard.
She walked several times with this train: of course, the crowd increased; but they were prevented from pressing upon her, and her vanity, which was excessive, must have received the highest gratification in this singular distinction.*
** * These stories of the Gunnings might be amply confirmed from contemporary accounts of them. Walpole states that they borrowed court dresses to attend a drawing-room at the Castle, Dublin, from Peg Woffington, and writes thus of them in 1751:
'There are two Irish girls of no fortune, who are declared the handsomest women alive. I think their being two so handsome, and both such perfect figures, is their chief excellence, for, singly, I have seen much handsomer figures than either: however, they can't walk in the park, or go to Vauxhall, but such mobs follow them that they are therefore driven away.'
Lady Coventry died in September 1760, in her twenty-seventh year, of a consumption. Till within a few days of her death, she lay on a couch with a looking-glass in her hand. When she found her beauty, which she idolized, was quite gone, she took to her bed and would be seen by nobody—not even by her nurse, suffering only the light of a lamp in her room. She then took leave of her husband, who had forgiven her errore, and died with the utmost resignation.'— (Walpole).