J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, January 13, 2023

John Wilkes’s Gossip about “Kitty Macaulay”

Catharine Macaulay was a celebrity in Britain, so her return from France at the start of 1778 attracted notice.

John Wilkes was in Bath when Macaulay arrived home. He wrote to his 28-year-old daughter Mary (called Polly, and shown here with dad) on 4 January:
Mrs. Macaulay returned to Dr. [Thomas] Wilson on Friday. I saw her yesterday very ill indeed, and raving against France and everything in that country. She even says their soups are detestable, as bad as Lacedemonian black broth, and their game insipid, all their meat bad, and their poultry execrable. Yet she says, that she dined at some of the best tables and was infinitely caressed.

She saw Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, but refused his invitation to dinner, for fear of being confined on her return in consequence of the Habeas Corpus Act.

“Lord J——s C——t, Mr. Wilkes, you know, I am very fond of partridges. I saw them often served up, but could not eat them, I found them so hard and ill-flavoured.[”]

I stayed with her nearly an hour, in which time, I believe, she exclaimed twenty times, [“]Lord J——s C——t.” She was painted up to the eyes, and looks quite ghastly and ghostly. She has sent away her English woman, and has only a French valet-de-chambre and friseur, at which the reverend Doctor is indignant, and with whom the English servants already quarrel.
Three days later Wilkes told his daughter that his health had improved and he was thinking about returning to London. He added:
The rage of politics is, I think, more violent at Bath than even at London, and nothing is talked of but America, except Kitty Macaulay, who grows worse daily. The doctor [Wilson] looks stupid and sulky.
And the day after that Wilkes suggested Macaulay was having an affair:
It is not only my opinion, but that of the generality of Mrs. Macaulay’s friends, that her head is affected, and some indiscretions with Dr. G—— are the common topic of conversation.
Dr. James Graham had treated Macaulay’s headaches and other neurological symptoms, using her endorsement to build his career. Wilkes evidently thought their relationship went beyond doctor and patient. And of course he would know.

TOMORROW: Wilkes gives unabashed gossip a bad name.

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