Wednesday, 8 April 2020
11 April 1770 and 1820
"On the Eleventh of April you were Born," wrote Mary Ann to George, "the delight, the blessing of my fond Heart — and the mingled source of pride and agony to your Fathers."
Of all the events of Mary Ann's life the birth, 250 years ago, of this favourite child was the most momentous -- or so she would have us believe. For her, the bond that Nature forged between mother and child was sacred. In 1803, when she felt George was repudiating Nature's bond, she protested at the unnaturalness of his behaviour: "Oh my George! When at this period of the year 1770 you hung at my fond Bosom – drew the Supply of your precious life from mine and clasp’d in my supporting Arms – look’d in my delighted face conscious of the sweet gratification which as Natures delegate I administered to you – who coud have foreseen that at this day I shoud fear to meet you!"
Even before he became a national celebrity George put her eleven other children in the shade, and her relationship with him was to dominate her long life, but my book will try to show that Mary Ann was more than the mother of George Canning.
George himself was not keen on anniversaries. "The reflections which they bring are rather melancholy than exhilarating," he wrote to Mary Ann in 1820, as his fiftieth birthday approached. He spent the day with her, explaining to his wife that by doing so he could give his mother more pleasure than by a longer visit at another time, and so would be free of his obligation for the rest of the year. In any case, he said, it was a day he hated to spend anywhere.
It turned out to be a large family party, with Mary Ann's daughters, Mary and Maria, and various grandchildren present. George was fond of his half-sister Mary, and was shocked at the deterioration in her health. He gave Mary Ann money to buy medicine and wine for her, and also a wheel-chair.
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