On November 15, 1815, at Minto in Roxburghshire, the home of the Elliots, a second daughter was born to the Earl and Countess of Minto.
Frances Anna Maria Elliot, who afterwards became the first Countess Russell, was destined to a long, eventful life. As a girl she lived among those directing the changes of those times; as the wife of a Prime Minister of England unusually reticent in superficial relations but open in intimacy, in whom the qualities of administrator and politician overlay the detachment of sensitive reflection, she came to judge men and events by principles drawn from deep feelings and wide surveys; and in the long years of her widowhood, possessing still great natural vitality and vivacity of feeling, she continued open to the influences of an altered time, delighting and astonishing many who might have expected to find between her and them the ghostly barrier of a generation.
She died in January, 1898. The span of her life covers, then, many important political events, and we shall catch glimpses of these as they affect her. Though the intention of the following pages is biographical, the story of Lady Russell’s life, after marriage, coincides so closely with her husband’s public career that the thread connecting her letters together must be the political events in which he took part. Some of her letters, by throwing light on the sentiments and considerations which weighed with him at doubtful junctures, are not without value to the historian. It is not, however, the historian who has been chiefly considered in putting them together, but rather the general reader, who may find his notions of past politics vivified and refreshed by following history in the contemporary comments of one so passionately and so personally interested at every turn of events.
Another motive has also had a part in determining the possessors of Lady Russell’s letters to publish them. Memory is the most sacred, but also the most perishable of shrines; hence it sometimes seems well worth while to break through reticence to give greater permanence to precious recollections. With this end also the following pages have been put together, and many small details included to help the subject of this memoir to live again in the imagination of the reader. For from brief and even superficial contact with the living we may gain much; but the dead, if they are to be known at all, must be known more intimately.
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Minto House, where Lady Fanny was born, is beautifully situated above a steep and wooded glen, and is only a short distance from the river Teviot. The hills around are not like the wild rugged mountains of the Highlands, but have a soft and tender beauty of their own. Her childhood was far more secluded than the life that would have fallen to her lot had she been born in the next generation, for her home in