Thursday, October 06, 2005

Prefatory Notice

The manuscript volumes (ten in number) from which this book has been compiled, differ materially from any of the same extent which have fallen under my observation. Although called diaries, they are none of them what is commonly understood or described by that name. They do not profess to be a record of the writer's daily life: they contain no details of a private or purely personal nature: no flights of egotism, no self-communings, nothing that can be called scandal. At the end of half a century the lives of princes and statesmen belong to history, and the only unfavourable impressions noted down by her relate exclusively to them. Her very gossip is redeemed by the speakers and the subjects; and her sole object throughout appears to have been to submit her understanding to an improving exercise, and to store up for future reference the conversations and compositions which attracted her attention in the course of her daily intercourse with the most cultivated people and her assiduous study of curious books and manuscripts.

How many of us have regretted that we did not make a note at the time of what we heard fall from persons who had been prominent actors on the political or literary stage, or who had even been behind the scenes when a memorable performance was arranged or in progress! How unlucky, have we thought, that we did not copy the striking passage in the now forgotten book, or in the curious letter which we might easily have borrowed for the purpose; or that we did not cut out and keep the clever newspaper article or quaint paragraph which so much struck everybody! Then why, on finding that this has been judiciously done by another, should we not profit by his or her sagacity, industry, and taste? Such were the questions that suggested themselves to me when I had gone over these diaries with the view of deciding whether a book, calculated to reflect credit on the diarist, could be compiled from them.

Gray went a little too far when (as quoted by Horace Walpole) he laid down that 'if any man were to form a book of what he had seen and heard himself, it must, in whatever hands, prove a useful and entertaining one.' But when a woman of thought and feeling, of cultivation and discernment, has enjoyed such opportunities of seeing and hearing as this lady of quality, a book so formed by her could hardly fall short of the degree of value and attraction anticipated by Gray.

Miss Frances Williams Wynn, the lady in question, was the daughter of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (the fourth baronet) and Charlotte, daughter of George Grenville (First Lord of the Treasury, 1763-1765). The uncles to whom she frequently alludes, were the first Marquis of Buckingham, Lord Grenville, and the Right Honourable Thomas Grenville:* the brothers, the Right Honourable Charles Williams Wynn, and the Eight Honourable Sir Henry Williams Wynn (long English minister at Copenhagen). One of her sisters was married to the late Lord Delamere, and the other to Colonel Shipley, M.P., son of the celebrated Dean of St. Asaph, and grandson of Johnson's friend, the Bishop. Lord Braybrooke and Lord Nugent were her near relatives. She died in 1857, in her 77th or 78th year; when her papers came into the possession of her niece, the Honourable Mrs. Rowley,* under whose sanction these selections from them are published.

I was intimately acquainted with Miss Wynn during the last sixteen or seventeen years of her life, and I spoke from personal knowledge when, on a former occasion, I mentioned her as distinguished by her literary taste and acquirements, as well as highly esteemed for the uprightness of her character, the excellence of her understanding, and the kindness of her heart.

Simple and easy of execution as my editorial duties may appear, they have really involved no inconsiderable amount of embarrassing responsibility. In the case of each individual entry or transcript, I was obliged to decide on the novelty or originality, as well as on the inherent value or interest, of the narrative, description, or reflections comprised in it. Thackeray used to say that, when Punch was first established, there was a member of its staff who knew every joke that had been made since the beginning of all things.

It would require an editor equally well versed in Ana, or anecdote literature, to declare where and when (if ever) each of the stories or traits of character preserved by Miss Wynn had been in print. All I could do was to refer to the likeliest repositories, and having done so, boldly to take for granted that what was still new to me would prove new to the majority of readers.

As she professedly copied the details, or wrote them down from memory, and did not invent, it stands to reason that they were once as well known to others as to her; but it doea not follow that a striking incident should be kept back from the existing generation because it may have been familiar to the last. It is also obvious that a fresh and well authenticated version of a received anecdote may prove highly valuable to the biographer or historian.

Besides endeavouring to supply as succinctly as possible the information required to explain the allusions or show the bearings of the statements, I have done my best to remedy the frequent deficiency of dates.
A. H.
8 St. James Street:
April 25, l864.

* Mr. T. Grenville is so frequently cited as an authority in the
Diaries, that I am induced to quote a portion of a gracefully written notice by Earl Stanhope, -who was intimately acquainted with him:’ The Duke of Wellington has told me that a speech which he heard Mr. Thomas Grenville deliver in 1807, as First Lord of the Admiralty during a few months, and in moving the Navy Estimates, was among the best and clearest statements he remembered. Thus, for hig'h political eminence he wanted only larger opportunities and a more stirring spirit of ambition. His books—now the pride of the Museum, through his own munificent bequest—were his refuge and delight, yet not so as ever to abstract him from his friends. Born in 1755, and surviving in the fullest possession of his faculties till 1846, he formed as it were a link between the present and a long past age.' (History of England from the Peace of Utrecht, vol. vii. p. 114.) A story was current of his having joined the rioters along with some other young men of rank in 1780, and Lord Macaulay used to say that the first time Mr. T. Grenville entered the Admiralty was at the head of a mob and the second time as First Lord.
* Daughter of the late Colonel and Mrs. Shipley, and wife of
Colonel the Honourable R. T. Rowley, M.P.
+ Autobiography &c, of Mrs. Piozzi, vol. i. p. 251, note (second edition).

(pp. vii-xii)

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