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THE MOST GORGEOUS LADY BLESSINGTON
over all who approached him, which they found impossible to resist.
It was in 1836 that Lady Blessington became acquainted with John Forster, who was soon to become one of her warmest friends. At this time he was a man of four-and-twenty, whose abilities were already recognised; for from 1832 he had been writing for the Courier and the Athenæum, and in 1833 had been appointed as dramatic and literary critic to the Examiner.
Failing Health-Providing for Others-John
STILL urged to work by demands for money which daily became more pressing, Lady Blessington published a new novel entitled The Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman, early in 1837. The strain which incessant work entailed upon her, injured her health; and she suffered from neuralgia, from weakened nerves, and general prostration. Then her time being so fully occupied she was unable to take much exercise and therefore grew stout, an unbecoming condition which she much deplored.
In a letter written on the 19th of April in this year she tells Landor :
'I have been indeed very unwell of late, but am now thank God considerably better.
The truth is, the numerous family of father, mother, sister, brother and his six children that I have to provide for, compels me to write when my health would demand a total repose from literary exertion, and this throws me back.
'Mais que faire ? A thousand thanks for your most kind offer of literary assistance, and for the charming scene from "Orestes which is full of power. How glad I shall be to see you again at Gore House. Do pray pay me a visit, whenever you can make up your mind to move: for be assured no one can more truly enjoy or value your society than I do. I ordered my publishers to send you one of the first copies of my new novel, which I hope has reached you. The story is only a vehicle to convey a severe censure on the ultra fashionables of London, and the book has been very indulgently received.
'Mrs Fairlie and her family are still with me, and Bella improves daily in intelligence and beauty. We often speak of you and wish you were with us.'
But whatever anxieties troubled her mind, whatever physical ailment attacked her, she strove to conceal them from her friends, whom she invariably received with her characteristic graciousness; her manner leading them to believe it was they, not she, who created the pleasure of the hour.
It was at this time a striking and singular figure might be seen in her drawing-room. This was none other than John Varley one
of the founders of the Society of Painters in Water-colours, an artist, a mystic, an astrologer. A man of great stature, his face was rugged and earnest, his eyes had the sadness of the seers. Lady Blessington was sufficiently broadminded to feel interested in all theories, philosophies, and sciences, and rather than deny the possibility of facts that were outside her own experience, or repudiate statements that seemed incredible and erroneous, she preferred to hear them discussed and explained: deferring her judgment until knowledge had been obtained.
Seated beside her chair of state at the end of the long library where she nightly received her friends, John Varley, the wise man of her court discoursed to the eager circle around, on the ancient science by which man's fate was read by the stars, according to the constellations occupied by the planets, and their position to each other at the moment of his birth. Many instances was he ready to give regarding the marvels of this science, practised by the wisest race the world has known, thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
In particular he would tell how one morning he had seen that before midday something serious would happen to himself or to his property, but to which he could not say because the nature of the afflicting planet, the newly-discovered Herschel was not well known. At all events he had an important engagement for that day, but would not stir out, lest he might be run over or meet with some other
accident. A few minutes before twelve his son found him walking up and down his studio, he being unable to settle at his work, Varley said to his son 'I am feeling all right, I don't think anything is going to happen to me personally; it must be my property which is threatened.' And scarce had he spoken when a cry of fire was heard outside; for fire had broken out in his house which was not insured and by which he lost everything he had in the world.
He would bring witnesses to prove he had foretold many important facts, amongst them the date on which William Collins died. James Ward his friend and brother artist, for whose children Varley had cast their horoscopes, burned these hieroglyphics, because their predictions falling out so truly, he was convinced that Varley held commerce with the devil. Nay he would occasionally single some stranger out of the circle around him, the day and hour of whose birth he would demand, and there and then with a pencil on the fly-leaf of a letter, would draw a horoscope from which he stated facts concerning the individual's past, and make predictions regarding the future.
None listened to him more attentively than Bulwer, to whose mind all things mystic presented a vivid fascination, and it was from Varley, the novelist took lessons in astrology, as did at a later date young Richard Burton whose strange career and Oriental travels were foreshadowed by the artist.