Town and Country

The Gay Love Letters of John, Lord Hervey to Stephen Fox

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.


"The world," observed Lady Mary Wortley Montague, "consists of men, women, and Herveys." John, Lord Hervey (16961743) was satirized by Alexander Pope as "Sporus", Nero's catamite: "Now high, now low, now Master up, now Miss, / And he himself one vile Antithesis. ... / Fop at the Toilet, Flatt'rer at the Board, / Now trips a Lady, and now struts a Lord." This archetype of "the third sex" painted his face to a fashionable pallor, was high-strung and fainted often, but was vigorous enough to engage in a duel, to marry and to father eight children. In fact his courting of Pope's mistress was what prompted the poet's malicious satire. But not long after marrying, while recovering his health in Bath in 1726, Hervey began courting Stephen Fox, a young country gentleman, and then visited his estate in Somerset. Hervey was thirty-one, Stephen twenty-three. The men spent so much time together that Lady Hervey protested that her estate at Ickworth had become "my hermitage." For fifteen months during 17289 Hervey and Stephen travelled Europe together on their Grand Tour. Exactly how close the two men became on that trip may be indicated by the fact that the first twenty-six pages of Hervey's volume of letters covering that period were torn out and destroyed by his grandson the first Marquess of Bristol. On their return from the Continent, Hervey could not stand the separation: "I must see you soon; I can't live without You" (November 15, 1729). In August 1730 Hervey proposed that they live together: "why should we see one another by Visits, but never have a common home?" He arranged for Lord Bateman to lend his house in Windsor to Stephen so that they could see one another while Hervey was engaged in his courtly duties at Windsor Castle; the Earl of Sunderland (see preceding selection) had arranged for his daughter to marry Bateman, but he was forced to separate from her when his homosexual tastes became too public. In November Hervey signed over the lease of his house on Great Burlington Street to Stephen, so they did achieve a common home even though technically Hervey moved into an apartment in St James's Palace. The letters had reached their peak of intensity in late September 1730, when Hervey tells Stephen that it is impossible "had I time to write volumes, how warmly, how tenderly, how gratefully, how contentedly and unalterably I am Yours" (September 24), and that "Every Body has some Madness in their Composition, & I freely acknowledge you are mine" (September 25). Hervey and Stephen spent the next two months together. The letters now conclude with frank avowals of love: "Adieu, que je vous aime, que je vous adore: & si vous m'aimé de même venez me le dire" (September 25). The Earl of Ilchester, who edited the letters in 1950, cut out the frequent avowals of devotion which he considered to be mawkish and sentimental; obviously sensual passages were also suppressed. Hervey regularly closes with Mon cher, et trés cher, carissime; caro et carissimo, et sempre caro; mea cara et sola voluptas; le plus aimable et le plus aimé qu'il y est au monde. In August 1731, at a large dinner party in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the Lord Chancellor drank to Stephen's health, and Hervey told Stephen that "without the least affectation, I assure you, I colour'd and felt just as I imagine your favorite & fondest Mistress would have done upon the same Occasion." But Hervey was sophisticated and urbane, and Stephen felt himself to be provincial; in November 1733 he told Hervey he was unfit to keep him company and planned to live alone in the country, at which Hervey protested "I should like you rusty better than any other body polish'd," but their correspondence more or less ceased by the end of that year. Hervey was appointed Vice-Chamberlain, i.e. master of court ceremonies, in 1730, and acted as a political propagandist under Walpole's ministry. He was frequently attacked by his enemies as a homosexual, e.g. an anonymous lampoon notes of his attendance at Parliament that he is "Lady of the Lords," and it was rumoured that he was the "pathick" of Frederick Prince of Wales, son of George II. They were undoubtedly close to one another (in later life they shared a mistress), and Stephen was jealous. Hervey arranged for Stephen's marriage to a child-heiress in 1736, and turned his attentions to Francesco Algarotti, the young Italian scholar who had taken London by storm that year. Another series of billets doux ensued between the two men, and Algarotti moved into Hervey's apartment at St James's in 1739. But that is another story, which does not quite match the intensity of Hervey's first love.


LORD HERVEY TO STEPHEN FOX

Ickworth
June 1, 1727

I can't help taking a malicious pleasure to hear the country affords you so few of any kind, and that your joys there are at so low an ebb that a sound horse and a big-bellied pheasant are the only ones you have yet experienced. You will easily believe me, when I tell you these are such as I shall never envy you; but you will not find it quite so easy to make me believe you, when you say you wish yourself in town again. If your wishes were very strong (since your horses are so very sound), what hinders the gratification of them? ... I won't tell you how I feel every time I goe through St James's Street because I don't love writing unintelligibly; & the more faithful the description was, the farther one of your temper & way of thinking would be from comprehending what it meant. I might as well talk to a blind man of Colours, an Atheist of Devotion, or an Eunuch of f[ucking]. That regret for the Loss of any body one loves & likes is a sort of Sensation you have merit enough to teach, tho' I believe you'll never have merit enough to learn it. You have left some such remembrance behind you that I assure you (if 'tis any satisfaction to you to know it) you are not in the least Danger of being forgotten. The favours I have received at Your Honour's Hands are of such a Nature that tho' the impression might wear out of my Mind, yet they are written in such lasting characters upon every Limb, that 'tis impossible for me to look on a Leg or an Arm without having my Memory refresh'd. I have some thoughts of exposing the marks of your pollisonerie [lewdness] to move Compassion, as the Beggers that have been Slaves at Jerusalem doe the burnt Crucifix upon their Arms; they have remain'd so long that I begin to think they are equally indelible. [These sentences are in Hervey's own handwriting, rather than that of his amanuensis.]

Melbury
July 3, 1727

Though I have lived ever since I saw you, in a constant hurry and a perpetual succession of different company, I don't find any change can produce so great a one in me as to make me less regret the loss of you. I have made a visit of a day and a half to some friends at Tunbridge, and set out to-morrow for Suffolk; from whence you may imagine I cant have much time to spare to-night: but as I hope an empressement [impatience] to thank you for your letter will convince you of the pleasure it gave me, there is nothing I had not rather neglect than this opportunity of answering it. I am so used to be pleased with everything you say to me, but more particularly with any assurances of your friendship, that 'tis needless to tell you the satisfaction I tasted in so warm a repetition of them. Preserve the same sentiments towards me ever, and believe 'tis impossible for me to forfeit the only merit I can plead as a title to such a distinction, which is the sense I have of all the agreeable qualities you are master of, and the value I have for all the good ones. I would not say this to you, for fear you should think it proceeded from my civility more than my affection; and that I imagined myself warranted by custom for making professions of what I neither felt or expected should be believed. But what one writes, I hold to be as sacred as what one swears; and I should not have a worse opinion of anybody who gave a lie in evidence in a Court of Justice, than I should of him who gave one under his hand in a letter to his friend. I insist, therefore, on your never doubting what I convey to you that way, that you take it all for gospel, and never send me any thing apocryphal in return. ...
          Adieu.
          Continue to write to me in Burlington Street. Write to me frequently, and wish mightily to see me.

Ickworth
June 27, 1728

The little time other people allow me to write to you in, and the little time you allow me to think of other people, makes me perpetually absent from the thing I am doing, and often constrains me in the thing I would do. They have no good of me, nor I of myself. I am absent from them without being present to you; and very naturally (and consequently very simply) because I can't enjoy what I would I don't enjoy what I might; which is just as reasonable and as prudent a way of acting, as if I should cut off my legs because I have not wings: or should resolve never to eat when the thing I loved best was not in season. Yet so we are made, and so we act: at least the generality of mankind. But among many other peculiar blessings bestowed by Heaven upon you, you enjoy that negative one of this troublesome ingredient being left quite out of your composition. You have a proneness to be pleased, and are not only exempt from the pain of ever wishing for anything you do not possess, but have a capacity given you of extracting a joy out of everything you do, and to put your pleasures in the strongest light, are not capable of giving greater than you take. You are to your company, just what you are to your food: you can sit down to what I am sure you could never hunger after: can swallow what does not please your taste: and digest what one would imagine must have made anybody sick. Don't imagine I am modest enough to think myself such a sort of dish, for 'tis the least of my thoughts; and if I could, would certainly persuade you not only to have me always at your table, but to eat of no other.
       Adieu.

November 18, 1729

... I am grown already quite an English fine Gentlman. I do a hundred different Things of a Day & like none of them; yawn in the Faces of the Women I talk to; eat & drink with Men I have no friendship for; play despising the Court & live in the Drawing-Room; rail at Quid-nuncs & go hawking about for News; throw the faults of my Constitution upon the Climate; flatter awkwardly, rally worse, & in short make none of my Actions conducive to the pleasure or profit either of my-self or anybody else.
      You are in part responsible for this. If I regretted less what I have lost, I should be less indifferent to what I possess: and if I had a worse opinion of you, perhaps I might have a better of other people: consequently, should be better pleased myself, and of course more industrious to please them. But as things now stand, I look upon you as my dwelling: and feel the inconveniences of these other animals as I did those of Italian inns, hate all their filth, and would no more make friends of the one, than I would my home of the other. ...
      Adieu. 'Tis three a clock. I am quite undressed, and expect Mr and Mrs Pulteney every moment to dinner. The Dr is already here, and says, "Oh! you have writ enough." I should be of his mind, if I thought anything I have said had explained to you how affectionately, entirely and unalterably, my dear, dear creature, I am your's.

August 26, 1730

. . . You are my Eau de Barbade, that intoxicates my spirits without vitiating my taste, and are so much superior to common draught in every particular that one need not blush for being drunk with you. At least I dont, and own I languish as much for want of the daily dose of you which I have been so long used to, as Lord Scarsdale can do for his three flasks of claret, and feel as sensible a decay of spirits in a transition to any other company, as he could do upon being reduced to water.

Windsor
September 16, 1730

... I have persuaded Ld Bateman to be at Old Windsor [at his house] when you are here. Not that I will lend you for a moment of the day or night that I can have you; but in order, if I can so contrive, that the hours you are not with me may not lie as heavy upon your hands, as I always find those in which I can not be with you; ... I have made it impossible for me to live without You. I have often thought, if any very idle Body had Curiosity enough to intercept & examine my Letters, they would certainly conclude they came rather from a Mistress than a Friend; but it must be people that were unacquainted with You who made that Conclusion; otherwise, they might know that Reason would make one as fond of your Society as passion could make one of any other Body's. ... Lord Bateman is grown quite a courtier. Adieu, mon bien aimable, mon bien aimé.

Hampton Court
August 23, 1731

The people who are about the Prince (I have not seen him these three days) say he is better, though weak beyond imagination for so short an illness. He has this morning begun the bark, and cut off his hair. I should say many things to you if you were here, which I shall not trust even to a cipher. Solomon you know says, "Speak not in Palaces for the walls have ears; nor of Princes for the birds of the air will reveal it." ... I have been blooded to-day, so cannot use my arm to write any more.
      Adieu. I love you & love you more than I thought I could love any thing. I have received a Letter from you to-day which no body who loved you less could deserve.
      Adio carissimo.

August 31, 1731

[Hervey apologised for having said he wished he could love Frederick, Prince of Wales as much as he loved Stephen, which led to a lover's jealousy and misunderstanding.] The Tears you speak of are at this Distance so infectious that I hardly see the Words I write. ... I am as incapable of wishing to love any Body else so well, as I am of wishing to love You less. God forbid any Mortal should ever have the power over me you have, or that you should ever have less. ...
            Adieu, if I was to fill a thousand Reams of paper it would be only aiming in different phrases & still imperfectly to tell you the same thing, & assure you that since I first knew you I have been without repenting & still am & ever shall be undividedly & indisolubly Yours.


SOURCE: Lord Hervey and His Friends 1726–38, ed. the Earl of ilchester (London: John Murray, 1950) and Robert Halsband, Lord Hervey: Eighteenth-Century courtier (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973).


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