EVELYN: Aunt Alicia studied French in Paris when she was young. She was remarkably good and taught French in a very good school in Paris. She also took classes in drawing and painting as a hobby, and her “old man” (which you [Mona Benny] have) was one of the models, and from that you can see how talented she was. She also spoke and wrote German fluently, and traveled in France and Germany, taking Amelia and Adelaide Bell with her, to further their education.
When young, she lived at Calton Hill with her father, and she told me that she saw Robert Burns’ ‘Clarinda’, then a very old lady, when she was a little girl. She adored her father and her brother Tom and her sister Mary. She would be about nine when her mother died. I think that on Tom's death they all went out to Australia and Aunt Alicia came back to Paris. She was certainly in Paris in the 1870's, when grandmother was settled in Kelvinside House. Aunt Alicia must have come to live there, probably after grandfather Bell's death. Charlie must have stayed on in Australia and he went sheep farming. He would be twenty when grandmother left Australia.
Aunt Alicia then started her school in Glasgow when living at Kelvinside House. I think she helped a good deal financially, for she was very generous where money was concerned. I think, your father came back and lived at Kelvinside House while learning his pharmacy, and after, when grandmother died, aunt Alicia must have sold the house in Derby Crescent, and I think she took a smaller house in Glasgow. Mother and Alicia lived with her and probably Auntie Adelaide.
I think it must have been at this time that Charlie went back to Australia. I don't quite know when Aunt Alicia went to join him there, but I think it must have been many years later - either just before or after his marriage. I know she was in Australia when Mother fixed her wedding day, for she came home some time before to be with her and see to the marriage - she was Mother's only surviving relation of that generation. After Mother was married she stayed permanently in this country.
I knew her very well for she stayed for long periods in our house, and I was 15 when she died. But when I knew her first she was already an old lady. She was 68 when I was born so that she was about 73 when I remember her at all. She was then an active old lady with rosy cheeks and a brisk manner, always a bit of the school-marm! But she was kind and affectionate, I feel sure. She was very fond of both Robin and Mother. When we were older she taught us French - a mixed blessing! She ultimately embraced spiritualism and attended seances. She died in Aunt Amelia's house at Netherby Road in 1912 at the age of 84.
NAENA: Alicia was the youngest of the Thomas Flint family, born in 1828. She never married, a1though to my certain knowledge, from what I have heard from relations, she had at least three good offers, and at one time became engaged, but her sweetheart died before they could be married. We used to have her engagement ring, & lovely hoop of pearls, but it was stolen when our house was burgled before the first war. His name was Mr Hutchison, and that is why my mother's second name was Hutchison - Mary Hutchison Bell.
She was a very remarkable girl for her period, and, like all our great grandfather's children, received a very good education. She was sent to France to complete her education, and was so clever with the French language that she took all the prizes over the heads of the girls who were at school with her. Very early she decided that school mistressing was her job - like her two brothers, who were school masters. She took some French governessing jobs - with very distinguished families, who always kept in affectionate touch with her, although she must then have been only a very young woman. Then she went to Paris, and took a post as assistant mistress in a very select school for both French girls - who in those days were heavily chaperoned, and only allowed to go to any place entirely comme il faut, but for the daughters of English people of position whose appointments or business found them living in Paris and its neighbourhood.
She was also a very clever artist, as you will know from the sketch we sent you - and perhaps you have inherited your own talent from her and that family who all painted very well. Art however was only a hobby with her, because our great grandfather wasn't a rich man - although he must have had fairly substantial means to give all his children such good educations. She came back to Scotland f or a time to look after her old father when our grandmother got married. But twice went to Paris, and eventually had a very good school of her own there, sometime between the return of the Bell family from Australia and our grandmother's death. She then had a good girls' school in Glasgow for all the years my mother lived with her - that was, between 1878 and 1885, but I don't know what happened then. Then it was, I think, that she went out to Australia to your father, and stayed there until she heard that my parents were going to be married in 1893. She came back for that, because she, I think, thought of my mother as a sort of daughter, as she did your father as a son. She was also devoted to Robin and entirely approved of their marriage.
She was always what seemed to us old when Evelyn and I knew her. She died in 1912 of cancer, at the age of 84. When we first knew her, she must have about my own age now, 67. She was always very active, very full of interests, very independent in character and opinions. She had a terrible mutilating accident to her hand when she was nearly 80, but did not allow it to curb her activities or discourage her. She was an extremely well educated woman, but far too opinionated and prejudiced ever to use her education to its full advantage. She had a keen sense of humour - when it did not affect herself, but was not at all malicious. I knew her very well, because I was rather a favourite of hers as was Evelyn, and she taught me French - real French which stood me in very good stead later on. But we often quarrelled, especially when I was a teenager, and I was sometimes rude to her, and she unnecessarily angry - in the circumstances - with me!
Aunt Alicia was devoted to cats - and that is where it all began, I fear!!! as was our grandmother. Cats were put on Aunt Alicia's doorstep by any person who wanted to get rid of them. She must have had half a dozen at least at a time.
Clarinda, daughter of a Glasgow surgeon called Andrew Craig, was the nom de plume adopted by Mrs Agnes McLehose in 1787/8 when writing to Robert Burns who in turn adopted the guise of Sylvander. They first met at a tea-party in Edinburgh on 4 December 1787. She was twenty-nine, about the same age as Burns, and had separated several years previously from her abusive husband, James McLehose, whom she had married when she was eighteen and borne four children. When she first met Burns James McLehose was in Jamaica and up to no good.
Agnes wrote poetry herself and was keen to meet Burns tête à tête for literary purposes. Burns, the latest talk of the town, was keen for an assignation with the pretty Mrs McLehose for purposes other than the purely artistic. Burns himself had been on the point of leaving Scotland to seek his fortune in Jamaica but the publication of his Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect in 1786 had propelled him to instant fame. Jamaica was cancelled and Burns headed for Auld Reekie because … a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition. The Doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared to hope. His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition, fired me so much, that away I posted for that city, without a single acquaintance, or a single letter of introduction. The second edition was duly published in Edinburgh on 17 April 1787. Fêted and lionised, Burns was received as an equal by the city's men of letters as well as the yet-to-be man of letters Walter Scott, then a 16-year-old on whom Burns made as lasting an impression as he did on Mrs McLehose, although presumably of a different kind.
Thus it was that, after their initial meeting, Mrs McLehose, a.k.a. ‘Clarinda’ but not yet, wrote inviting Burns to tea but before he was able to handle her porcelain he had a misadventure, falling from a coach and dislocating his knee. Some lay the blame on a drunken coachman but Burns was himself no stranger to the bottle. Either way Burns was on, rather than in, crutches for several weeks, with as much hilarity in my gait and countenance as a May frog leaping across the newly harrowed ridge, enjoying the fragrance of the refreshed earth after the long-expected shower. Fortunately for us therefore, Clarinda and Sylvander had to nurture their relationship on paper. Tis really curious - so much fun passing between two persons who saw each other only once! And thus the fun remained - largely on paper. After Burns' death, Agnes was careful to retain control of their letters. In negotiations with Burns' biographers Alexander Cunningham and John Syme she offered to select passages from his letters to her in exchange for the return of her own letters to him, in which she eventually succeeded, and only a few passages from Burns' side of the correspondence were published during her lifetime. But all that lay in the future.
While it would have been unthinkable for Clarinda to visit Burns or deliver
her own missives, it was quite acceptable for them to be delivered to
Burns by her servant Jenny Clow. A bard in the bush being worth two in
the hand Burns, in his own words, seemingly half-transgressed
the laws of Decorum and Jenny Clow was pregnant by February 1788,
although this was not known to Clarinda immediately. It became public
by June, and Jenny bore Burns a son in November. Long before that, on
Monday 18th of February in fact, Burns had had to leave Edinburgh swearing
Clarinda, first of your sex, if ever I am the veriest
wretch on earth to forget you; if ever your lovely image is effaced from
“May I be lost, no eye to weep my end;
And find no earth that's base enough to bury me!” Clarinda never was efaced from his soul and remained something of an obsession, but Burns did have a problem with ‘decorum’. They continued to correspond, and met again briefly and for the last time late in 1791 by which time Burns was calling her ‘Nancy’. In early 1792 Mrs McLehose returned to Jamaica to attempt a reconciliation with her husband, evoking from Burns the best of his ‘Clarinda’ poems, Ae Fond Kiss. [Kinsey 337][Songs of R.B. Linn 8.22]
|Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae chearful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
|I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her, was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.
|Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
|Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
|Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel Alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
There is a suggestion that Clarinda's return to her husband was engineered by her family, in particular Lord Craig, to get her away from Burns. Be that as it may, finding his negro mistress, Ann Chalon Rivère, in possession of the matrimonial bed did not get things off to a good start and before the end of the year Clarinda was back in Edinburgh.
Agnes McLehose was described as short in stature, her form graceful, her hands and feet small and complexion fair, her cheeks ruddy, and a well-formed mouth displayed teeth beautifully white. Sir Walter Scott recorded having seen her at Lord Craig's House, when she was “old, charmless and devout” and was presumably much the same when Alicia met her.
It was Clarinda's grandson, W. C. Maclehose, who in 1843 first legally published both sides of the correspondence [click HERE for a digitized version of the whole book], with the exception of some of her letters, which she had apparently destroyed, and some passages from Burns' letters which, according to the preface, had been destroyed by frequent handling when Agnes McLehose showed them to visitors (including whoever accompanied Alicia Flint maybe?) or cut pieces out for autograph hunters. This may partly explain the belief the Agnes tampered with many of the dates and names on her letters for some obscure reason of her own. One ‘obscure’ reason being that, as suggested by Robert Crawford in ‘The Bard’ (2009), the relationship may have developed from paper to practical application. Even the letters as published in 1843 were certainly ‘steamy’, so much so that an earlier attempt to publish them as “Letters to Clarinda” without permission was blocked by a Court of Session interdict. Among Agnes McLehose immediate family were senior members of the judiciary such as Lord Craig who, apart from being her cousin and loyal supporter, contributed to her upkeep for some sixty years and left a substantial legacy to her son, Andrew McLehose.
Mrs Moodie, a friend of Mrs McLehose, reported that among her last words were, “I go to Jesus” which I suppose is possible. On the other hand, with a grandfather a minister in the church and a devout mother and several others similarly afflicted in her immediate family and being “somewhat pious” herself she must have known the other place beckoned. There is a suggestion, expressed in terms somewhat muted from those than follow, in a letter Agnes appears to have written to Burns on the 18th March 1789 that ‘Sylvander’ may well have fucked her till she rejoiced with joy unspeakable and given her such a thundering scalade that electrified the very marrow of her bones. plus a whole lot more in the same vein, but although Burns wrote the above in 1788 when he ‘loved but Nancy and loved for ever’ the words were written to a male friend of Burns' about the woman he was to marry, Jean Armour, who had just born him twins.
Anges' letter referred to above appears to have been sent to Burns on
18 Match 1789 [?] during their second encounter in Edinburgh. She wrote
Last night I saw you low and Depress'd - my heart
was bent upon soothing and raising your Spirits - the Intention was good
- But it led me perhaps too far. To-day, I am quite sensible of it - even
‘present in the very lap of Love.’ She then goes on
to quote from Thomson's ‘Spring’ which, as pointed
out by Crawford, cautions against sexual indulgence,
warning that after ‘wanton hours’ spent
...in the very lap of Love
Inglorious laid...fierce repentance rears
Her snaky crest.
McLehose implies she and Burns have had sexual contact of some sort; “chect at the idea of impropriety...I must forgive you.” She hopes “almost...that Heaven itself approves our union.” Her letter is alive with erotic excitement: “Come tomorrow evening as soon as you can get off - You'll see no more stars - without at least; within you'll find the Star Venus which always attends the Sun you know.” [Crawford op.cit.]
Agnes McLehose outlived Burns by 45 years. The entry in her journal for 6 December 1831 reads: This day I can never forget. Parted with Burns, in the year 1791, never more to meet in this world. Oh, may we meet in Heaven! In her old age she seems to have made no secret of her ‘relationship’ with Burns, while taking every care to conceal its extent, and delighted in talking of the poems and songs Burns had written in her honour and of her own verses sent to him of which, according to her, he had approved. On the anniversary of any event concerning Burns, she noted in her journal, “Things I never can forget.”
It was in 1810 that Agnes moved from Potter Row to live at 14 Calton Hill, Edinburgh, where, you'll remember, Alicia also lived as a child. She died on 22 October 1841 and is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard in the tomb of her cousin William, Lord Craig. Alicia would have been about twelve or thirteen at the time.