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British Literary Salons of the Late Eighteenth and Early by Susanne Schmid (auth.)

By Susanne Schmid (auth.)

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The selection of letters rarely serves to exhibit sentiments; on the contrary, Berry and her female friends appear as women of reason, far less gossipy than Walpole, and embedded into intellectual and sociable networks. Occasionally, events are described from several angles, for example, when Berry, Damer, and Walpole (JCB 1: 217–219, 348, 297) each mention the French National Assembly. The space given to individual years varies greatly. The first 20 years of Berry’s life are summarized; most of the years after 1823 are sketched on a few pages each, while the 41 years between 1783 and 1823, approximately half of her life, fill most pages.

Joanna Baillie’s comedy The Tryal (1798) also deals with one such private performance and the upheavals it causes. Mary Berry’s own play Fashionable Friends owed much to two close friends: the playwright Joanna Baillie and the sculptor Anne Damer. Berry has been considered as one of Baillie’s closer friends, as Slagle’s edition of the Baillie letters shows. Unfortunately, hardly any letters of Baillie predating the year 1804 have survived so that any written communication concerning Fashionable Friends remains in the dark.

They are of pleasing figures; Mary, the eldest, sweet, with fine dark eyes, that are very lively when she speaks, with a symmetry of face that is the more interesting from being pale; Agnes, the younger, has an agreeable sensible countenance, hardly to be called handsome, but almost . . I must even tell you, Madam, that they dress within the bounds of fashion, though fashionably; but without the excrescences and balconies with which modern hoydens overwhelm and barricade their persons—in short, good sense, information, simplicity, and ease characterise the Berrys.

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