Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, Great-Niece of Lord Mansfield, and Her Cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, c. 1779 (by unknown artist)
A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies...Lord M...calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her...
From The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson,
Dido moves quickly— as from the Latin anime. Breath or soul. Beside her, the generations-free kin, a biscuit figurine in pink. Dido standing in irony— the lowest are taller here— Elizabeth should provide an unkind contrast: pretty, blond, pale in uncovered places— but no. The painter worships the quickened other. Dido, his coquette of deep-dish dimples, his careless, bright love. Forget history. She's a teenager. We know what that means. Cocky, stupid about reality. No thought of babies— feathers in her arms. She might wave them, clearing dead mothers from the air— and surely, she's special— her uncle dressed her with care, hid her from triangles and seas outside this walled garden. Let her be. Please. No Dying Mythical Queen weaving a vivid, troubled skin— but Dido, full of girlhood, and Elizabeth reaching a hand. Behave, cousin, she begs. Don't run away from me.
Dido was the great-niece of William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield; as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, he is responsible for the Somersett ruling (1772), which essentially outlawed slavery in England, though not in the colonies.
Copyright © 2011 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Used with permission of the author.