Lady Mary was an attractive child, and her father was very proud of her, especially when she was in what may be called the kitten stage. The story is told that, when she was about eight years old, he named her as a “toast” at the Kit-Cat Club, and as she was not known to the majority of the members he sent for her, where, on her arrival, she was received with acclamation by the Whig wits there assembled.
Sometimes Lady Mary in her girlhood stayed at Thoresby, and occasionally came up to her father’s London house, which was in Arlington Street, which visits, accepting the story told by her granddaughter, Lady Louisa Stuart, cannot have been an unmixed delight. “Some particulars, in themselves too insignificant to be worth recording, may yet interest the curious, by setting before them the manners of our ancestors,” Lady Louisa says. “Lord Dorchester, having no wife to do the honours of his table at Thoresby, imposed that task upon his eldest daughter, as soon as she had bodily strength for the office: which in those days required no small share. For this mistress of a country mansion was not only to invite—that is urge and tease—her company to eat more than human throats could conveniently swallow, but to carve every dish, when chosen, with her own hands. The greater the lady, the more indispensable the duty. Each joint was carried up in its turn, to be operated upon by her, and her alone; since the peers and knights on either hand were so far from being bound to offer their assistance, that the very master of the house, posted opposite her, might not act as her croupier, his department was to push the bottle after dinner. As for the crowd of guests, the most inconsiderable among them—the curate, or subaltern, or squire’s younger brother—if suffered through her neglect to help himself to a slice of the mutton placed before him, would have chewed it in bitterness and gone home an affronted man, half inclined to give a wrong vote at the next election. There were then professed carving-masters, who taught young ladies the art scientifically; from one of whom Lady Mary said she took lessons three times a week that she might be perfect on her father’s public days, when, in order to perform her functions without interruption, she was forced to eat her own dinner alone an hour or two beforehand.”
Lady Mary makes the acquaintance of Edward Wortley Montagu—Montagu attracted by her looks and her literary gifts—Assists her in her studies—Montagu a friend of the leading men of letters of the day—Addison, Steele, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and others—The second volume of the Tatler dedicated to him by Steele—Montagu a staunch Whig—His paternal interest for Lady Mary does not endure—He becomes a suitor for her hand—Lady Mary’s devotion and respect for him—Her flirtations—She and Montagu correspond through the medium of his sister, Anne—Lady Mary’s mordant humour—Her delight in retailing society scandal—The death of Anne Wortley—Lady Mary and Montagu henceforth communicate direct—Her first letter to him.