14 July 2014

The Physician vs. The Lover: The rift between Dr. Meryon and Michael Bruce

When Lady Hester Stanhope was travelling through Malta in the summer of 1810, she was not expecting that her physician Dr. Meryon, and her much younger lover Michael Bruce, would not get along. Unfortunately, living in such close proximity and competing for the attentions of Lady Hester, the two very different men were bound to end up at loggerheads. Dr. Meryon's papers have left a record of his personal resentment against Bruce.

In July 1810, Meryon wrote home to his parents, apprising them of his awkward relationship with Lady Hester's privileged lover. It was the early days of his acquaintance with Bruce, and Meryon then believed it could be resolved through Lady Hester's intervention:

“Mr. B [Bruce] and myself are now on excellent terms. Lady H[ester]., who saw with great chagrin his distant behaviour to me, took him to task on the subject, and has effected a change in his manner towards me of which I cannot complain. But conceive a young man on his travels with an allowance of £2,000 a year, and bills of unlimited credit besides; the darling too of his parents from his infancy, the intimate friend of Lord Hutchinson, and a match that the mighty & proud Lord Wellesley wishes for his daughter; above all, heir to near 20,000 a year, and you will then suppose that such a youth [as Bruce] is not to be expected to be quite free from pride, or likely to select me as his intimate friend. However, as he will be always with us, we shall find it to our mutual interest to be as agreeable to each other as possible, and time may render us more closely connected.” [1] 

Um, not a chance. By September 1812, the disagreements between Lady Hester's physician and lover had become intolerable. It seems that by that point, Meryon was on the verge of being dismissed in favour of the lover. As he wrote to his parents, at all events, he wanted the matter to remain a secret:

“With respect to whatever relates to my dispute with Mr. Bruce, in God’s name! Keep it an inviolable secret. Tell my friends only, that Lady Stanhope’s health being re-established she stands in no farther need of a physician, and has wished me to return to my studies. I inadvertently disclosed the affair to Wm. [Meryon's brother] in a letter I wrote him, but I have since enjoined him to say nothing of it. It is the wish of Lady Hester, and her wishes are to me as laws.” [2]

The frequent disputes deepened, and by October 12, 1812, Meryon was writing home from Damascus in a despondent mood:

“I had for a long time foreseen it excited no sensation so strong as that of regret lest you should picture to yourself my disgrace as proceeding from some want of prudence on my part more than from ungentlemanly conduct on the part of Mr. B. As it is, it will teach us to consider the smiles of fortune as always treacherous, and will explain to you the reason why I so often urged the necessity of never communicating to any one out of the family the contents of my letter..." [3]

Yet, Meryon did not completely despair, knowing that “she [Lady Hester Stanhope] promised to assist me with her patronage [in other words, to give him monetary assistance].” [4]

For the next year, the quarrels continued with Bruce, and yet Lady Hester couldn't manage to give either of them up. It seems Meryon was temporarily sent away to separate the men. By the end of 1813, Meryon was back with Lady Hester and Michael Bruce:

“...her Ladyship still retains me, keeping Mr. B & me apart as much as possible. For her goodness, extending beyond what I was aware of, formed the plan of separating us for a time, in order that solitude might induce me to reflect on my situation, as reflection would cause him to regret my loss. Her [Hester’s] plan, as her plans always are, was successful…the storm [is] now over, [and] I find myself by her Ladyship’s side, as happy as health, prosperity, and comfort can make me.” [5]

Fortunately for Meryon, he didn't have long to wait for the fickle Bruce to leave them permanently to return to England. Bruce's father was unwell, and Lady Hester had urged him to go home. As the wealthy young man departed, Meryon was writing to Miss Elizabeth Williams at Malta with barely suppressed glee:

"Mr. Bruce has left us for England - for his father’s ill health made him very anxious to see him, and Lady H. insisted on his going.” [6] As these sorts of doomed love usually go, the physician was the more loyal servant than the lover.


1. Charles Lewis Meryon's papers, The Wellcome Library. Add Ms 5687, file 1 of 3, f. 43.
2. Charles Lewis Meryon's papers. The Wellcome Library, Add Ms 5688, file 1 of 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Charles Meryon to Miss Elizabeth Williams, Dec 2, 1813. The Wellcome Library, MS 5688, file 2 of 3, f. 144. 

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