EARLY LIFE OF LORD JOHN BENTINCK, AFTERWARDS FIFTH DUKE OF PORTLAND.—THE ADELAIDE KEMBLE ROMANCE
The 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879).
Lord John Bentinck was born in September 1800, the second son of the fourth Duke. His name in its extended form was William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, and for many years, till the death of his brother Henry, he had no prospect of succeeding to the Dukedom. At nineteen he was a lieutenant in the army, and in 1824 was returned as Member of Parliament for King’s Lynn; but the duties of a legislator do not seem to have been much to his taste and he resigned in 1826, his brother, Lord George Bentinck, being elected to take his place.
The fourth Duke kept a large stud of racehorses and Lord John was brought up in the atmosphere of the turf. When a young man he was a horseman, fearless and even reckless in his equestrian exploits. There used to be a gate six feet high at Serlby Hall, the seat of Viscount Galway, which it was said he had jumped one day when hunting.
The three brothers, Henry, John and George, formed a racing partnership under the name of “Mr. Bowes” and were for a time successful in their enterprise, their transactions bringing in considerable sums of money.
The death of the eldest, Henry, in 1824 transformed Lord John into Marquis of Titchfield, heir to the Dukedom and enormous estates of the House of Portland.
With all his splendid advantages of birth and fortune he does not appear to have sought for a wife among the aristocratic families of the land, and it is said that he only made one offer of marriage in his life; at least that was known to his friends. This was to Miss Adelaide Kemble, the celebrated actress.
The tempting proposal was probably made some time between June and October, 1834, when the lady was twenty-five years of age and the Marquis thirty-four.
Judge of his astonishment when she had to confess to him that it was impossible for her to accept his offer as she was already secretly married.
She was at the height of her popularity on the stage, having achieved a splendid triumph in redeeming the fallen fortunes of her family, and though married to another, she cherished kindly remembrances of the noble suitor who made her the proud offer of a ducal coronet.
In reading the “Records” of Fanny Kemble (Adelaide's sister), it is impossible not to be struck with her high ideals and lofty sentiments. Now and then there is an allusion to the Marquis, which shows him in a welcome light and how delicate were his attentions.
On December 1st, 1842, writing to “My dearest Harriet,” she says:—Lord Titchfield, who was here yesterday, begged me to ascertain from you whether it is only my bust that you desire, or whether you would like to have casts from my father's and from the two of Adelaide. Write me word, dear, that the magnificent Marquis may fulfil your wishes, which he is only waiting to know in order to send the one or the four heads to you in Ireland.”
Then in a note she explains:—“The Marquis of Titchfield was employing the French sculptor, Dantan, to make busts of my father, my sister, and myself, for him, and most kindly gave me casts of them all, and sent my friend, Miss St. Leger, a cast of mine.”
On January 5th, 1843, there is another letter to “Dearest Hal,” containing the following allusion:—
"I have sent your wishes to Lord Titchfield, and I am sure they will be quickly complied with. I have no idea that he means otherwise than to give you my bust; any other species of transaction being apparently quite out of his line, and giving his especial gift. I have, nevertheless, taken pains to make clear to him your intentions in the matter; I have desired him to have the bust forwarded to the care of Mr. Green, because I thought you would easily find means of transporting it thence to Ardgillan. Was this right? "
"Blessings on Lord Titchfield" invokes Fanny Kemble, in a letter dated from Liverpool, May 4th, 1843:—" I wrote to you last thing last night, dearest Hal, and now farewell! I have received a better account of my father. Dear love to Dorothy, and my last dear love to you. I shall write and send no more loves to anyone. Lord Titchfield—blessings on him I—has sent me a miniature of my father and four different ones of Adelaide, God bless you, dear. Good-bye."
This was not the character of an ogre, and though their marriage could not be, Fanny Kemble evidently thought well of the man, who years afterwards, it was alleged, was leading a double life at this time.