There is a great deal less of Bessy in the memoirs than, say, of Lady Donegal, or of Rogers, or of Lord Lansdowne, but somehow or another she makes herself felt; and though her appearances in them are of Tom’s contrivance, a personality is more surely expressed than in most of his more elaborate portraits. One gets to know her as indeed the “excellent and beautiful person” of Lord John’s measured approval, not so much by what she says or does as by her reactions on Tom himself. A study of her has to be made out of a number of pencil-scratches—one here, one there—put down by the diarist with unpremeditated art; for it is certain that, though Moore intended his diaries to speak for him after his death, what he had to say of his wife was the last thing in them he would have relied upon to do it. I am sure that is so; nevertheless, with the exception of Tom himself, who, of course, holds the centre of the stage, she is more surely and sensibly there than any of his thousand characters, from the Prince Regent to the poet Bowles; more surely and fragrantly there. We are the better for her presence; and so is her Tom’s memory, infinitely the better.
It was a secret marriage and, except in the minds of a few good judges, an improvident.
“I breakfast with Lady Donegal on Monday,” he writes to his mother in May, 1811, “and dine to meet her at Rogers’ on Tuesday; and there is to be a person at both parties whom you little dream of.”
This person was Bessy, to whom he had been married some two months on the day of writing, and of whom, when his family was notified, he found that it had nothing good to say. He complains of disappointment, of a “degree of coldness” in his father’s comments; and neither is perhaps very wonderful. For Miss Bessy not only had nothing a year, but in the reckoning of the day, and in comparison with the young friend of Lord Moira and Lady Donegal, she herself was nothing. She was indeed a professional actress—Miss E. Dyke in the play-bills—whom Tom had first met in 1808 when the Kilkenny Theatre began a meteor-course. He had lent himself as an amateur to the enterprise, was David in The Rivals, Spado (with song) in A Castle of Andalusia. In 1809, for three weeks on end, he had been Peeping Tom of Coventry to the Lady Godiva of Miss E. Dyke. The rest is easy guessing, and so it is that Tom’s parents were dismayed, and that there was a “degree of coldness.” Lady Godiva, indeed!
But Bessy was not long in showing herself as good as gold, or approving herself to some of Tom’s best friends. Lady Donegal and her sharp-tongued sister, Mary Godfrey, both took to her. “Give our love, honest, downright love to Bessy,” they write. Rogers called her Psyche, had the pair to stay with him, stayed with them in his turn, and gave Bessy handsome sums for the charities in which she abounded all her life. Rogers knew simplicity when he saw it, and had no vitriol on hand when she was in the way. I don’t think Tom ever took her to Ireland with him, or that, consequently, she ever met his parents in the flesh; but no doubt that they accepted her, and esteemed her.