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OR THE FAIR FAME LEFT TO POSTERITY
OF THAT TRULY NOBLE LADY,
THE LADY VENETIA DIGBY, ETC.
THE DEDICATION OF HER CRADLE.
AIR Fame, who art ordain'd to crown
With ever-green and great renown,
With her, in shade
By the just trade The lady Venetia Digby, ôvс.] This celebrated lady, Venetia Anastatia Stanley, was the daughter of sir Edward Stanley of Tongue Castle, Shropshire. Her story, which is somewhat remarkable, is given at length by Aubrey and Antony Wood, from whom I have taken what follows.
“She was a most beautiful creature; and being matura viro, was placed by her father at Enston-abbey (a seat of her grandfather's :) but as private as that place was, seems her beauty could not lie hid: the young eagles had spied her, and she was sanguine and tractable, and of much suavity,
abuse was great pity.” “In those days, Richard earl of Dorset lived in the greatest
Of goodness still : vouchsafe to take
Thereof to Time ;
splendor of any nobleman of England. Among other pleasures that he enjoyed, Venus was not the least. This pretty creature's fame quickly came to his ears, who made no delay to catch at such an opportunity. I have forgot who first brought her to town :but the earl of Dorset aforesaid was her greatest gallant; he was extremely enamoured of her, and had one, if not more children by her. He settled on her an annuity of £500. per annum. Among other young sparks of that time, sir Kenelm Digby grew acquainted with her, and fell so much in love with her that he married her.
“She had a most lovely sweet-turned face, delicate dark brown hair: she had a perfect healthy constitution, good skin; well-proportioned ; inclining to a bona-roba.* Her face a short oval, dark browne eye-brow, about which much sweetness, as also in the opening of her eye-lids. The colour of her cheeks was just that of the damask rose, which is neither too hot nor too pale. See Ben Jonson's ad volume, where he hath made her live in poetry, in his drawing both of her body and her mind.” Letters, &c. vol. ii. p. 332.
What truth there may be in these aspersions, I know not : that they had some foundation can scarcely be doubted. But whatever was the conduct of this “ beautiful creature" before her marriage with sir Kenelm, it was most exemplary afterwards ; and she died universally beloved and lamented.
The amiable and virtuous Habington has a poem on her death addressed to Castara ;
Weep not, Castara,” &c. This speaks volumes in her praise, for Habington would not have written, nor would his Castara have wept, for an ordinary character. Randolph and Feltham have each an Elegy upon her, as has Rutter, the author of the Shepherds Holiday. In Randolph's poem, I was struck with four lines of peculiar elegance, which I give from recollection :
“Bring all the spices that Arabia yields,
Distil the choicest flowers that paint the fields;
* Poor Aubrey appears to think tona-roba synonymous with embonpoint.
That all posterity, as we,
'Bove rattling rhyme.
Of light expense;
Surprise their sense.
On every stall: Lady Digby was found dead in her bed, with her cheek resting on her hand to this Habington alludes
“ She past away
Laid only down to slumber.” * Some (says Aubrey) suspected that she was poisoned. When her head was opened, there was found
but little brain, which her husband imputed to her drinking of viper-wine; but spiteful women would say 'twas a viper-husband, who was jealous of her.” This fact of the little brain is thus alluded to by Owen Feltham:
“Yet there are those, striving to salve their own
Deep want of skill, have in a fury thrown
This judgment is,” &c. With respect to the insinuation noticed by Aubrey, it is probably a mere calumny. Sir Kenelm was distractedly fond of his lady, and, as he was a great dabbler in chemistry, is said to have attempted to exalt and perpetuate her beauty by various extracts, cosmetics, &c., to some of which, Pennant suggests, she might probably fall a victim : the better opinion, however, was that she died in a fit
. Her death took place in 1633, when she was just turned of 32. She left three sons.
But here's a song of her descent;
Of ordering all :
To chant her 'gree,
For such as she.
THE SONG OF HER DESCENT.
SING the just and uncontrollid descent
Of dame Venetia Digby, styled the fair : 58 For mind and body the most excellent
That ever nature, or the later air,
And Stanley, to the which she was co-heir.
At either stem, and know the veins of good Run from your roots; tell, testify the grand
Meeting of Graces, that so swell’d the flood Of Virtues in her, as, in short, she grew
The wonder of her sex, and of your blood. And tell thou, Alde-legh, none can tell more true
Thy niece's line, than thou that gav'st thy name Into the kindred, whence thy Adam drew
Meschines honour, with the Cestrian fame
The rest of this song is lost.