Oh, how thankful we should be to live when we do. Imagine this being your résumé: ‘She has birth, wit and beauty, she has no fortune and she’d readily accept you; and she has such a spirit that she’d animate you, I warrant you!’ This was Hester Thrale, friend of Dr Johnson and thrusting literary hostess of the mid-18th century, recommending the young Lady Anne Lindsay as a wife for her hypochondriac friend William Seward.
Anne did indeed possess spirit, wit and beauty, as well as a connection to one of the oldest and grandest (despite their relative poverty) of Scottish families. In Georgian high society, these gifts, when allied to a rich man of a similarly aristocratic background, should have ensured her a life as a society hostess and patron of the arts, like her celebrated contemporary Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Instead Anne followed her heart, in the process earning a reputation, as Stephen Taylor writes, as a ‘dangerously unconventional’ woman. She would be conveniently forgotten by subsequent generations uneasy with her independence.
Taylor’s wonderful biography is not the first book about Anne. Several volumes of her diaries, drawings and letters from when she lived in Cape Town at the very end of the 18th century have been published. But it is the first to use the archive preserved at Balcarres, her childhood