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Law's Friends.--Mrs. Hutcheson.
LAW'S FRIENDS IN HIS LATER YEARS,
WHEN Mr. Law retired finally to King's Cliffe, he necessarily saw less of those friends who had been wont to visit him at Putney, and also formed a new circle of acquain
It is now purposed to describe briefly a few of the good people who were brought into contact with Law in his later years.
His fellow-inmates of the Hall Yard claim our first attention.
Of Mrs. Hutcheson, the elder of the two ladies who shared their house with him, little is known. She was twice a widow, and both her husbands were well connected and held a good position in life. The latter had been M.P. for Hastings. From one source or another Mrs. Hutcheson was in possession of a handsome income about 2,000l. a year-and thus she contributed by far the largest share towards the frugal expenses and sumptuous charities of the simple household. But there does not appear to have arisen the slightest difficulty about the disproportionate share of her contribution. As a true disciple of Mr. Law she would of course feel that, whatever her income might be, she was bound to devote the surplus, after the necessaries of life were supplied, to charitable objects; if she possessed more than the other inmates, she would of course devote more, and there was an end of the matter. Her noble foundations of schools and almshouses have been already described. Tradition
Mrs. Hester Gibbon.
states that she was of a very gentle and lovable disposition; and this tradition is borne out by a letter from Mr. Langcake, who knew her well. Writing to Miss Gibbon, upon the death of Mrs. Hutcheson, he speaks of the dear departed saint in whose countenance, when living, childlike simplicity and Divine love sat smiling. She lived to the great age of ninety. In her will she particularly recommended to Miss Gibbon (whom she left as trustee for several benevolent bequests) 'my god-daughter Elizabeth Law, and the rest of that family, out of the respect and regard which I bear to the memory of my late worthy friend the Rev. William Law. It was at the sole expense of Mrs. Hutcheson that the imperfect but costly edition of Behmen's works, of which Law is erroneously said to have been the editor, was published.
The individuality of the other inmate of the Hall Yard, Miss, or, according to the custom of the time, Mrs., Hester Gibbon, is far more distinctly marked. The mere fact of her relationship to the greatest of English historians lends an interest to her which her own personal character would perhaps have scarcely commanded. We have, moreover, two or three graphic touches from the historian's own pen which bring his aunt vividly before us. 'A life,' he says, 'of devotion and celibacy was the choice of my aunt, Mrs. Hester Gibbon, who, at the age of eighty-five, still resides in a hermitage at Cliffe, in Northamptonshire, having long survived her spiritual guide and faithful companion, Mr. William Law, who, at an advanced age, about the year 1761, died in her house.'' Mr. Law died in his own house ; it did not become Miss Gibbon's until after Law's death, when she received it as a bequest, or rather a trust, from him ; but this is of little importance. In 1774 (some twelve years before Gibbon wrote the above)
Memoirs of my Life and Writings, by E. Gibbon, p. 14.
Gibbon's Description of His Aunt.
he met his pious aunt in London, and described the meeting in a letter to his step-mother, in the following terms : 'Guess my surprise when Mrs. Gibbon, of Northamptonshire, suddenly communicated her arrival. I immediately went to Surrey Street, where she lodged ; but, though it was no more than half-an-hour after nine, the Saint had finished her evening devotions, and was already retired to rest. Yesterday morning (by appointment) I breakfasted with her at eight o'clock ; dined with her to-day, at two, in Newman Street, and am just returned from setting her down. She is, in truth, a very great curiosity. Her dress and figure exceed anything we had at the masquerade ; her language and ideas belong to the last century. However, in point of religion she was rational ; that is to say, silent. I do not believe that she asked a single question or said the least thing concerning it. To me she behaved with great cordiality, and, in her way, expressed a great regard.' The sneer at the saint having finished her devotions' is not only irreverent, but rather low; and the whole description is in very questionable taste. But Gibbon's step-mother, who was connected with the Mallets, and had come indirectly or directly, as we shall see presently, into collision with Miss Gibbon, would perhaps relish the allusions. Fourteen years later we find Gibbon writing to his aunt herself in a very different strain-a strain, however, which reminds one rather painfully of certain passages in the 'Decline and Fall. It appears that his aunt had refused to see him, on the ground of his religious opinions, but had expressed some 'kind anxiety at his leaving England.' But I need not remind you,' writes Gibbon, that all countries are under the care of the same Providence. Your good wishes and advice
· Letters to and from Edward Gibbon, Esquire, No. LII. Miscellaneous Works,' vol. i. p. 484.
Miss Gibbon and her Nephew.
will not, I trust, be thrown away on a barren soil ; and, whatever you may have been told of my opinions, I can assure you, with truth, that I consider religion as the best guide of youth and the best support of old age, that I firmly believe there is less real happiness in the business and pleasures of the world than in the life which you have chosen of devotion and retirement.' May we hope that the historian's views had undergone a change since he wrote to his step-mother? May he have been influenced by reading the works of Law himself, for whose character and abilities he expressed a very warm and evidently sincere admiration, and whose 'theological writings,' he tells us, our domestic connection has tempted me to peruse'? Possibly. But one cannot shut one's eyes to the fact that Gibbon had very strong reasons for keeping in the good graces of his wealthy and pious aunt, who was at the time evidently approaching her end. Not only was he her nearest heir, but he had also strong additional claims upon her from the fact that his grandfather had, as he tells us, 'enriched his two daughters, Catherine and Hester, at the expense of Edward his only son [the historian's father], with whose marriage he was not perfectly reconciled.'
One can scarcely be surprised that the ‘Decline and Fall' should not recommend the writer to the favour of a lady who had sat at the feet of Mr. Law; and, accordingly, when that great work was in its mid-course, we find her insinuating a wish to Lord Sheffield that her 'nephew would let publishing alone. To this, Gibbon's faithful friend replied, “He finds his works a very necessary pecuniary resource ; but you may be assured that he will publish nothing in future in the least disrespectful to the Christian religion. The continuation of his history may
Memoirs of my Life and Writings, p. 14.
Law's Friends-Miss Gibbon.
lead him to mention the establishment of the Mahometan religion, which he may do without offence. Whether this assurance was justified by the result need not here be discussed ; any way, one is glad to find that Miss Gibbon did leave the bulk of her property to her nephew.
Gibbon and his friends seem to have been rather alarmed lest his aunt should be led by the great influence which Mr. Law exercised over her to leave her property to some of the Law family instead of to her own kinsman. But they little knew the character of Law when they suspected this. "We seek not yours, but you,' might have been said as truly by Law as by S. Paul.
From the letters of Miss Gibbon which are still extant, and other incidental notices, she appears to have been an imperfectly educated and rather narrow-minded lady, who, with the best intentions, did not, perhaps, recommend in the happiest way her religion to the outer world. One instance may be quoted. A violent rupture took place between Miss Gibbon and the only daughter of her sister Catherine, in consequence of the formation of an intimacy between that young lady and the family of the Mallets, a relation of whom Mr. E. Gibbon, the historian's father, afterwards married for his second wife. However much Miss Gibbon might have disapproved of this connection, she surely ought, under the circumstances, to have expressed her disapproval delicately. This she does not appear to have done ; an explosion took place during a visit in town, and on her return to King's Cliffe she received the following letter from her niece :
• Putney, June 12, 1755. • Madam -As I suffered you to go out of town without wishing you a good journey, I think myself bound to give you some reason for such behaviour.
No respect from me to you should have been wanting, had not you