A romantic interlude.

involving Lady Charlotte Bedingfield (nee Jerningham)
and her friend Miss Maltilda Betham.

    In  the autumn of 1794 Charlotte Jerningham formed an unlikely friendship with Matilda Betham who visited her at Cossey Hall, shortly before Charlotte's marriage
to Sir Richard Bedingfield of Oxburgh Hall. Matilda was 18 and Charlotte a few years older. The friendship was unlikely as the two young ladies " for they were of opposite creeds and unequal in social rank"  Matlida daughter of a Suffolk parson was an accomplished poet .
     In Matilda's diary she noted while at Cossey;
    "Miss J. showed me a piece of Poetry which was written by somebody in the wood, and wished me to write an answer that we might find out who it was written by.The verses now given were the verses that, after being transcibed by a maid of some fidelity, Betty Beck, so that the handwriting should confess nothing, were affixed by the unknown swain signing himself "Benedict" They are preserved in a note-book , under heading,

          "      AN ANSWER TO SOME LINES IN COSSEY PARK,
                                          1. NOV. 1794

            " Fly Benedict ! and in this dangerous way,
            No more, allur'd by thy ill genius stray.
            Some aerial sprite that haunts the peaceful vale
            O pitying fairy sent the gentle gale
            To warn thee ; and deceit thou need'st not fear,
            For know no evil spirit harbours here !
            Yet, lest too curious thou shouldst fondly pry
            And search thyself to know what danger's nigh,
            A friend who trembles for thy soul's repose,
            The punishment awaiting will disclose,
            Then hear in silence what must be thy fate,
            And save thyself from madness ere to late,
            No more expect to taste the bliss of ease !
            No more expect to meet with aught to please !
            No more to feel the glow of pure delight !
            No more to sink in quiet sleep at night !
            No more to walk erect with thoughtless mien,
            Or with the lovely bloom of health be seen-
            But slow and silent, with dejected air,
            Thy breast a prey to anguish and despair,
            With folded arms, sunk head, and fruitless sighs,
            All lustre faded from thy languid eyes
            To seek , devoid of hope the midnight gloom
            And ruminate upon thy wretched doom !
            Boast, though rejected, of a lover's name,
            And fondly cherish the destroying flame,
            Say, will this pay thee for thy vows forsworn,
            For letting Sylvia in secret mourn ?
            Ah no ! Then fly with speed this fatal place,
            And to thy injured Sylvia kneel for grace !
            For thy once erring pardon then implore,
            And ramble in these magic walks no more ! "
 

[The following letter was penned four days before it s writer's marriage to Sir Richard Bedingfield, of Oxburgh in Norfolk; the surname so soon to be excanged is humorously emphasized. ]
                              from Miss Jerningham

        " I congratulate with you my dear Girl on the Safe arrival of Your new little  relative and am happy to hear that Mrs. Betham is so well,  pray make her my Compts
on the Ocassion.
        "the papers are to be Signed on Monday next,And on Tuesday I go to Church for the first time, and then set forth for Norfolk.------I feel very very-----------I don't know how! pray think of me. I have not forgot the lock of Raved hair You were so good to ask for. You shall have it.
    My travelling gown is just brought home, it is fine Muslin trimmed with lace, made quite a la greque and tied around the Waist with a thick white Cotton rope, with large tassels like Mr Chamberlayne's Surplice. Farewell. Most Sincerely and faithfully Yours

                                                    CHARLOTTE JERNINGHAM
    "FRIDAY AFTERNOON.

        "In a great hurry of spirits------half mad "

    ["I have not forgotten the lock of Raven hair you asked for"-----Matilda Betham was fair: she had "blue penetrating eyes and a mobile mouth"]
 
 

From Lady Bedingfield.

"OXBURGH Aug. 12th 1795
    " DEAREST MISS BETHAM,---- I have really begun several Letters to you, but something has always come across to prevent me finishing them. I am just trturned to Cossey where I spent a month inhabiting the Great and little red room...................................."Sir R desires his best Compliments. I like him tolerably well.  Betty arrives this day with another Speed,a strange dog Exactly like the other in mind and feature........................

Postscript.
    It is obvious that the residents and visitors to Cossey Hall would make excursions into the woodlands in the Park. A number of follies in the form of ruins had been built there to provide picnic sites for their and shelter for shooting parties..
    It seems that Charlotte Jerningham,although betrothed to Sir Richard Bedingfield, had a secret admirer who wrote her poetry and left it in such a spot in the woods, where Charlotte would visit. I would think that Charlotte and her friend Matilda had a good idea who the person was as it must have been someone who had access to the Park.
    Charlotte was a sophiticated youg lady who had moved in "high -society" and probably had engaged in flirtations . The exchange of poems was probably another such dalliance.  Her marriage to Sir Richard Bedingfield was most likely a pre-arranged one between the two prominent Norfolk Catholic families.
 
T.G.B.
7th January 2003
 
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