Lola Montez! The name suggests dark eyes and abundant hair, lithe limbs and a sinuous body, with twining hands and great eyes that gleam with a sort of ebon splendor. One thinks of Spanish beauty as one hears the name; and in truth Lola Montez justified the mental picture.
She was not altogether Spanish, yet the other elements that entered into her mercurial nature heightened and vivified her Castilian traits. Her mother was a Spaniard—partly Moorish, however. Her father was an Irishman. There you have it—the dreamy romance of Spain, the exotic touch of the Orient, and the daring, unreasoning vivacity of the Celt.
This woman during the forty-three years of her life had adventures innumerable, was widely known in Europe and America, and actually lost one king his throne. Her maiden name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert. Her father was a British officer, the son of an Irish knight, Sir Edward Gilbert. Her mother had been a danseuse named Lola Oliver. "Lola" is a diminutive of Dolores, and as "Lola" she became known to the world.
She lived at one time or another in nearly all the countries of Europe, and likewise in India, America, and Australia. It would be impossible to set down here all the sensations that she achieved. Let us select the climax of her career and show how she overturned a kingdom, passing but lightly over her early and her later years.
She was born in Limerick in 1818, but her father's parents cast off their son and his young wife, the Spanish dancer. They went to India, and in 1825 the father died, leaving his young widow without a rupee; but she was quickly married again, this time to an officer of importance.
The former danseuse became a very conventional person, a fit match for her highly conventional husband; but the small daughter did not take kindly to the proprieties of life. The Hindu servants taught her more things than she should have known; and at one time her stepfather found her performing the danse du ventre. It was the Moorish strain inherited from her mother.
She was sent back to Europe, however, and had a sort of education in Scotland and England, and finally in Paris, where she was detected in an incipient flirtation with her music-master. There were other persons hanging about her from her fifteenth year, at which time her stepfather, in India, had arranged a marriage between her and a rich but uninteresting old judge. One of her numerous admirers told her this.
"What on earth am I to do?" asked little Lola, most naively.
"Why, marry me," said the artful adviser, who was Captain Thomas James; and so the very next day they fled to Dublin and were speedily married at Meath.
Lola's husband was violently in love with her, but, unfortunately, others were no less susceptible to her charms. She was presented at the vice-regal court, and everybody there became her victim. Even the viceroy, Lord Normanby, was greatly taken with her. This nobleman's position was such that Captain James could not object to his attentions, though they made the husband angry to a degree. The viceroy would draw her into alcoves and engage her in flattering conversation, while poor James could only gnaw his nails and let green-eyed jealousy prey upon his heart. His only recourse was to take her into the country, where she speedily became bored; and boredom is the death of love.
Later she went with Captain James to India. She endured a campaign in Afghanistan, in which she thoroughly enjoyed herself because of the attentions of the officers. On her return to London in 1842, one Captain Lennox was a fellow passenger; and their association resulted in an action for divorce, by which she was freed from her husband, and yet by a technicality was not able to marry Lennox, whose family in any case would probably have prevented the wedding.
Mrs. Mayne says, in writing on this point:
Even Lola never quite succeeded in being allowed to commit bigamy unmolested, though in later years she did commit it and took refuge in Spain to escape punishment.
The same writer has given a vivid picture of what happened soon after the divorce. Lola tried to forget her past and to create a new and brighter future. Here is the narrative:
Her Majesty's Theater was crowded on the night of June 10,1843. A new Spanish dancer was announced—"Dona Lola Montez." It was her debut, and Lumley, the manager, had been puffing her beforehand, as he alone knew how. To Lord Ranelagh, the leader of the dilettante group of fashionable young men, he had whispered, mysteriously:
"I have a surprise in store. You shall see."
So Ranelagh and a party of his friends filled the omnibus boxes, those tribunes at the side of the stage whence success or failure was pronounced. Things had been done with Lumley's consummate art; the packed house was murmurous with excitement. She was a raving beauty, said report—and then, those intoxicating Spanish dances! Taglioni, Cerito, Fanny Elssler, all were to be eclipsed.
Ranelagh's glasses were steadily leveled on the stage from the moment her entrance was imminent. She came on. There was a murmur of admiration—but Ranelagh made no sign. And then she began to dance. A sense of disappointment, perhaps? But she was very lovely, very graceful, "like a flower swept by the wind, she floated round the stage"—not a dancer, but, by George, a beauty! And still Ranelagh made no sign.
Yet, no. What low, sibilant sound is that? And then what confused, angry words from the tribunal? He turns to his friends, his eyes ablaze with anger, opera-glass in hand. And now again the terrible "Hiss-s-s!" taken up by the other box, and the words repeated loudly and more angrily even than before—the historic words which sealed Lola's doom at Her Majesty's Theater: "WHY, IT'S BETTY JAMES!"
She was, indeed, Betty James, and London would not accept her as Lola Montez. She left England and appeared upon the Continent as a beautiful virago, making a sensation—as the French would say, a succes de scandale—by boxing the ears of people who offended her, and even on one occasion horsewhipping a policeman who was in attendance on the King of Prussia. In Paris she tried once more to be a dancer, but Paris would not have her. She betook herself to Dresden and Warsaw, where she sought to attract attention by her eccentricities, making mouths at the spectators, flinging her garters in their faces, and one time removing her skirts and still more necessary garments, whereupon her manager broke off his engagement with her.
An English writer who heard a great deal of her and who saw her often about this time writes that there was nothing wonderful about her except "her beauty and her impudence." She had no talent nor any of the graces which make women attractive; yet many men of talent raved about her. The clever young journalist, Dujarrier, who assisted Emile Girardin, was her lover in Paris. He was killed in a duel and left Lola twenty thousand francs and some securities, so that she no longer had to sing in the streets as she did in Warsaw.
She now betook herself to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. That country was then governed by Ludwig I., a king as eccentric as Lola herself. He was a curious compound of kindliness, ideality, and peculiar ways. For instance, he would never use a carriage even on state occasions. He prowled around the streets, knocking off the hats of those whom he chanced to meet. Like his unfortunate descendant, Ludwig II., he wrote poetry, and he had a picture-gallery devoted to portraits of the beautiful women whom he had met.
He dressed like an English fox-hunter, with a most extraordinary hat, and what was odd and peculiar in others pleased him because he was odd and peculiar himself. Therefore when Lola made her first appearance at the Court Theater he was enchanted with her. He summoned her at once to the palace, and within five days he presented her to the court, saying as he did so:
"Meine Herren, I present you to my best friend."
In less than a month this curious monarch had given Lola the title of Countess of Landsfeld. A handsome house was built for her, and a pension of twenty thousand florins was granted her. This was in 1847. With the people of Munich she was unpopular. They did not mind the eccentricities of the king, since these amused them and did the country no perceptible harm; but they were enraged by this beautiful woman, who had no softness such as a woman ought to have. Her swearing, her readiness to box the ears of every one whom she disliked, the huge bulldog which accompanied her everywhere—all these things were beyond endurance.
She was discourteous to the queen, besides meddling with the politics of the kingdom. Either of these things would have been sufficient to make her hated. Together, they were more than the city of Munich could endure. Finally the countess tried to establish a new corps in the university. This was the last touch of all. A student who ventured to wear her colors was beaten and arrested. Lola came to his aid with all her wonted boldness; but the city was in commotion.
Daggers were drawn; Lola was hustled and insulted. The foolish king rushed out to protect her; and on his arm she was led in safety to the palace. As she entered the gates she turned and fired a pistol into the mob. No one was hurt, but a great rage took possession of the people. The king issued a decree closing the university for a year. By this time, however, Munich was in possession of a mob, and the Bavarians demanded that she should leave the country.
Ludwig faced the chamber of peers, where the demand of the populace was placed before him.
"I would rather lose my crown!" he replied.
The lords of Bavaria regarded him with grim silence; and in their eyes he read the determination of his people. On the following day a royal decree revoked Lola's rights as a subject of Bavaria, and still another decree ordered her to be expelled. The mob yelled with joy and burned her house. Poor Ludwig watched the tumult by the light of the leaping flames.
He was still in love with her and tried to keep her in the kingdom; but the result was that Ludwig himself was forced to abdicate. He had given his throne for the light love of this beautiful but half-crazy woman. She would have no more to do with him; and as for him, he had to give place to his son Maximilian. Ludwig had lost a kingdom merely because this strange, outrageous creature had piqued him and made him think that she was unique among women.
The rest of her career was adventurous. In England she contracted a bigamous marriage with a youthful officer, and within two weeks they fled to Spain for safety from the law. Her husband was drowned, and she made still another marriage. She visited Australia, and at Melbourne she had a fight with a strapping woman, who clawed her face until Lola fell fainting to the ground. It is a squalid record of horse-whippings, face-scratchings—in short, a rowdy life.
Her end was like that of Becky Sharp. In America she delivered lectures which were written for her by a clergyman and which dealt with the art of beauty. She had a temporary success; but soon she became quite poor, and took to piety, professing to be a sort of piteous, penitent Magdalen. In this role she made effective use of her beautiful dark hair, her pallor, and her wonderful eyes. But the violence of her disposition had wrecked her physically; and she died of paralysis in Astoria, on Long Island, in 1861. Upon her grave in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, there is a tablet to her memory, bearing the inscription: "Mrs. Eliza Gilbert, born 1818, died 1861."
What can one say of a woman such as this? She had no morals, and her manners were outrageous. The love she felt was the love of a she-wolf. Fourteen biographies of her have been written, besides her own autobiography, which was called The Story of a Penitent, and which tells less about her than any of the other books. Her beauty was undeniable. Her courage was the blended courage of the Celt, the Spaniard, and the Moor. Yet all that one can say of her was said by the elder Dumas when he declared that she was born to be the evil genius of every one who cared for her. Her greatest fame comes from the fact that in less than three years she overturned a kingdom and lost a king his throne.