Monday, 28 February 2011

Origin of the World, an extended footnote, part two (with a footnote of its own)

Again, it's more complicated than that. Whoever Sir Richard Wallace was, that's not what it said on his birth certificate. He was born Richard Jackson, in London, in 1818 - and, in later life, often said he didn't know who his father was. We do know, though, that he arrived in Paris in 1925 and was moved into the house of the Countess of Yarmouth, the wife of the third Lord Hertford - ie the putative father of Sir Richard. This Lord Hertford, by the way, as well as being a libertine, was the son of the mistress of the Prince of Wales - the future George IV, that is. (There's a picture of Lord Hertford's mother in the National Portrait Gallery collection. Her full name was Isabella Ingram-Shepheard. She has very big hair.)

Known as Mie-Mie, the Countess of Yarmouth/Marchioness of Hertford - the wife of the third Lord Hertford, that is - was herself the illegitimate daughter of a former dancer (or perhaps an Italian marchesa) and, it is said, the Duke of Queensbury. Known as 'Old Q', for the giant letter on the side of his coach, the Duke's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography describes him as a 'sybarite and politician'. A cartoon of him in the NPG captures him at his two favourite pastimes. Titled 'Quiz-zing a filly', its caption describes him as 'rake and patron of the turf'. Another NPG cartoon calls him 'the old goat of Piccadilly'. He was supposed to have a 'harem' in his Piccadilly house - see orientalism peek over the bannister.

Or perhaps Mie-Mie's father was the Satanic Hellfire Club member George Selwyn. Both Queensbury and Selwyn certainly thought they were her father and both left her big money in their wills. Or perhaps her father was Selwyn's butler - who didn't leave her big money.*

Mie-Mie was a contraction of her given names, Maria Emily. Estranged from her husband, Mie-Mie had lived in Paris since 1802 - eventually in the Rue Taitbout apartments that Khalil Bey would later take. French Wikipedia: 'In the nineteenth century, the Taitbout street is where the rich financial lodge their courtesans.' (A Google translation, not mine.) A one bedroom apartment there will currently set you back €1800 or so a month.

In his madness, George III said he'd like to take Mie-Mie as his mistress - she was, of course, the daughter-in-law of his son's mistress. While in Paris, she had another child. As Lord Hertford was back in London, it is unlikely he was the father. That was probably Casimir de Montrond, a French diplomat who is said to have first coined the aphorism 'Mistrust first impulses; they are nearly always good.'

It's beginning to make sense, isn't it, why all these titled English chose to hang out in the relative anonymity of Paris.

* While the Wallace Collection may once have been, well, discrete about its origins, it now trumpets them. In October 2010, it hosted a lecture entitled 'The Scholar and the Star: The Wit, The Rake and the Italian Dancer's Daughter'. Selwyn was the wit, Queensbury the rake and Mie-Mie the daughter.

Next up Wallace, man of art — and drinking water


Lo Jardinier said...

I think I got lost in the genealogy there - but I guess that's the point: it was damned hard to keep track of who was whose child (or father). Signor Berlusconi is misunderstood in his lonely quest to keep these old traditions alive.
Freudian connections? Rampant aristocratic id to which the bourgeois ideology acted as a superego?
And re madness of G III Rex: wasn't that a toxic reaction to kidney disease - and there have been suggestions that the high apparent rate of hysteria diagnosed by the first psychoanalysts included such poorly understood organic diseases.
An interesting post - I like the way you can navigate back from the footnote of the diversion within the allusion. I'm sure you would have known who was whose in 19th C Paris.

Peter Silverton said...

it's interesting, too, that while psychoanalysts did give the wrong explanation of organic diseases, they did nonetheless draw attention to the sexual component of some of the presentations - i think it's similar to swearing - the form the symptom takes is not accidental or incidental . . .