The Magic Mirror of Lady Eleanor: c. 1704

stumpwork mirror frame

17th c. stumpwork mirror frame. https://collections.mfa.org/objects/72274

THE MAGIC MIRROR.

Lady Eleanor Campbell, widow of the great marshal and diplomatist, John, Earl of Stair, in her girlhood had the misfortune to be united to James, Viscount Primrose, of Chesterfield, who died in 1706, a man of dissipated habits and intolerable temper, who treated her so barbarously that there were times when she had every reason to feel that her life was in peril.

One morning she was dressing herself before her mirror, near an open window, when she saw the viscount suddenly appear in the room behind her with a drawn rapier in his hand. He had softly opened the door, and in the mirror she could see that his face, set white and savage, indicated that he had nothing less than murder in his mind. She threw herself out of the window into the street, and half-dressed as she was, fled to Lord Primrose’s mother, who had been Mary Scott, of Thirlstane, and received protection; but no attempt was made to bring about a reconciliation, and, though they had four children, she never lived with him again, and soon after he went abroad.

During his absence there came to Edinburgh a certain foreign conjuror, who, among other occult powers, professed to be able to inform those present of the movements of the absent, however far they might be apart; and the young viscountess was prompted by curiosity to go with a lady friend to the abode of the wise man, in the Canongate, wearing over their heads, by way of disguise, the tartan plaid then worn by women of the humbler classes.

After describing the individual in whose movements she was interested, and expressing a desire to know what he was then about, the conjuror led her before a large mirror, in which a number of colours and forms rapidly assumed the appearance of a church, with a marriage party before the altar, and in the shadowy bridegroom she instantly recognised her absent husband! She gazed upon the delineations as if turned to stone, while the ceremonial of the marriage seemed to proceed, and the clergyman to be on the point of bidding the bride and bridegroom join hands, when suddenly a gentleman, in whose face she recognized a brother of her own, came forward and paused. His face assumed an expression of wrath ; drawing his sword, he rushed upon the bridegroom, who also drew to defend himself; the whole phantasmagoria then became tumultuous and indistinct, and faded completely away.

When the viscountess reached home she wrote a minute narrative of the event, noting the day and hour. This narrative she sealed up in presence of several witnesses, and deposited it in a cabinet. Soon after this her brother, Colonel John Campbell, returned from his travels abroad. She asked him if he heard aught of the viscount in his wanderings.

He answered: “I wish I may never again hear the name of that detestable personage mentioned.” On being questioned, he confessed to having met his lordship under very strange circumstances.

While spending some time at Rotterdam he made the acquaintance of a wealthy merchant who had a very beautiful daughter, and only child, who, he informed him, was on the eve of her marriage with a Scottish gentleman, and he was invited to the wedding, as a countryman of the bridegroom. He went accordingly, and though a little too late for the commencement of the ceremony, was yet in time to save an innocent girl from becoming the victim of his own brother-in-law, Viscount Primrose.

Though the deserted wife had proved her willingness to believe in the magic mirror, by having committed to writing what she had seen, yet she was so astonished at her brother’s tidings that she nearly fainted. She asked her brother on what day the circumstance took place, and having been informed, she gave him her key, and desired him to bring to her the sealed paper. On its being opened, it was then found that at the very moment when she had seen the roughly interrupted nuptial ceremony it had actually been in progress.

The above story appeared in “Old and New Edinburgh,” and although it seems incredible enough, it is so well attested by many celebrated historical personages, that it would be difficult to discredit its accuracy.

The Two Worlds 13 January 1888: p. 135

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The mirror that saved Lady Eleanor from her murderous husband was a magic mirror, indeed!  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that the vile Viscount was the inspiration for the expression “the primrose path,” although the phrase was said to be coined by Mr William Shakespeare.

Lady Eleanor was, as one might expect, somewhat soured on the state of matrimony, although she had many suitors after Viscount Primrose died–at the hands of an enraged husband, one imagines. While she felt sentiments warmer than those of ordinary friendship for John, Earl of Stair, she would not consent to their marriage. The Earl, displaying his diplomatic talents to their fullest, bribed one of Lady Eleanor’s servants to let him into her bed-chamber, where he stationed himself in “deshabille”–Mrs Daffodil hopes that the word implies an informal wrapping gown or banyan, rather than complete nudity–at the window overlooking the busy street.  To salvage her reputation, which shortly would have been in tatters, Lady Eleanor married the Earl and they lived reasonably happily (i.e. no drawn rapiers) until his death in 1747.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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