With regard to what you say about A——, I do not know that I expected her to love, though I was sure she would admire, nature; she is very young yet, and her quick, observant mind and tendency to wit and sarcasm make human beings more amusing, if not more interesting, to her than inanimate objects. It is not the beauty of nature alone, as it appeals merely to our senses, that produces that passionate love for it which induces us to prefer communion with it to the intercourse of our fellows. The elevated trains of thought, and the profound and sublime aspirations which the external beauty of the world suggests, draw and rivet our mind and soul to its contemplation, and produce a sort of awful sense of companionship with the Unseen, which cannot, I think, be an experience of early youth. For then the volatile, vivid, and various spirit, with its sympathizing and communicative tendency, has a strong propensity to spend itself on that which can return its value in like commodity; and exchange of thought and feeling is a preponderating desire and necessity, and human fellowship and intercourse is naturally attractive to unworn and unwearied human nature. I suppose the consolatory element in the beautiful unhuman world in which we live is not often fully appreciated by the young, they want comparatively so little of it; youth is itself so thoroughly its own consoler. Some years hence, I dare say A—— will love both the sea and sky better than she does now. To a certain degree, too, the love of solitude, which generally accompanies a deep love for nature, is a kind of selfishness that does not often exist in early life.
I am desired to close this letter immediately; I have therefore only time to add that I act Calista to-night here, Mrs. Haller to-morrow at Brighton, and Saturday, also there, Lady Townley. On Monday I act Juliet here, and on Wednesday Bianca in "Fazio"—when pray for me! Now you know where to think of me. I will write to you a real letter on Sunday.
Kiss A—— for me, and do not be unhappy, my dear, for you will soon see me again; and in the meantime I advise you, as you think my picture so much more agreeable than myself, to console yourself with that. Good-by.
Your affectionate FANNY.
The fascination of sitting by a brook and watching the lapsing water, or, on the sands, the oncoming, uprising, breaking, and melting away of the white wave-crests, is, I suppose, matter of universal experience. I do not know whether watching fire has the same irresistible attraction for everybody. It has almost a stronger charm for me; and the hours I have spent sitting on the rug in front of my grate, and watching the wonderful creature sparkling and glowing there, have been almost more than I dare remember. I was obliged at last, in order not to waste half my day in the contemplation of this bewitching element, to renounce a practice I long indulged in of lighting my own fire; but to this moment I envy the servant who does that office, or should envy her but that she never remains on her knees worshiping the beautiful, subtle spirit she has evoked, as I could still find it in my heart to do.
I think I remember that Shelley had this passion for fire-gazing; it's a comfort to think that whatever he could say, he could never see more enchanting things in his grate than I have in mine; but indeed, even for Shelley, the motions and the colors of flames are unspeakable.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 9, 1831. DEAR H——,
I promised you a letter to-day, and if I can do so now, at least I will begin to keep my promise, though I think it possible my courage may fail me after the first side of my sheet of paper. We arrived in town from Brighton on this afternoon at four o'clock, and though it is not yet ten I am so weary, and have so much to do to-morrow (rehearsing "Fazio" and acting Juliet), that I think I shall not sit up much longer to-night, even to write to you.
We found my mother tolerably well, and Henry, who had been out skating all day, in great beauty and high spirits. I must now tell you what I had not room for when I wrote you those few lines in A——'s letter.
Mr. Barton, a friend of John's who traveled with him in Germany, and whose sister has lately married John Sterling (of whom you have often heard us speak), called here the other day, and during the course of a long visit told us a great deal of the very beginning of this Spanish expedition, and of the share Mr. Sterling and Richard Trench [the present venerable archbishop of Dublin] had in its launching.
It seems (though he would not say whence they derived them) that they were plentifully supplied with funds, with which they purchased and manned a vessel destined to carry arms and ammunition to Spain for the purposes of the revolutionists. This ship they put under command of an experienced smuggler, and it was actually leaving the mouth of the Thames with Sterling and Mr. Trench on board it, bound for Spain, when by order of Lord Aberdeen it was stopped. Our two young gentlemen jumped into a boat and made their escape, but Mr. Sterling, hearing that government threatened to proceed against the captain of the captured vessel, came forward and owned it as his property, and exonerated the man, as far as he could, from any share of the blame attaching to an undertaking in which he was an irresponsible instrument. Matters were in this state, with a prosecution pending over John Sterling, when the ministry was changed, and nothing further has been done or said by government on the subject since.
My brother had gone off to Gibraltar previously to all this, to take measures for facilitating their landing; he is now quietly and I hope comfortably wintering there. Torrijos, it seems, is not at all disheartened, but is waiting for the propitious moment, which, however, from the appearance of things, I should not consider likely to be at hand just yet. Mr. Sterling has, I understand, been so seriously ill since his marriage that at one time his life was despaired of, and even now that he is a little recovered he is ordered to Madeira as soon as he can be moved. This is very sad for his poor bride.
Of our home circle I have nothing to tell you. My father, Dall, and I had a very delightful day on Saturday at Brighton. After a lovely day's journey, we arrived there on Friday. Our companion in the coach luckily happened to be a son of Dr. Burney's, who was an old and intimate friend of my father's, and they discoursed together the whole way along, of all sorts of events and people: of my uncle John and my aunt Siddons, in their prime; of Mrs. Jordan and the late king; of the present one, Harlow, Lawrence, and innumerable other folk of note and notoriety. Among other things they had a long discussion on the subject of Hamlet's feigned or—as my father maintains and I believe—real madness; all this formed a very amusing accompaniment to the history of Sir Launcelot du Lac, which I was reading with much delight when I was not listening to their conversation.
I like all that concerns the love adventures of these valorous knights of yore; but their deadly blows and desperate thrusts, their slashing, gashing, mashing, mangling, and hewing bore me to death. The fate of Guinevere interested me deeply, but Sir Launcelot's warlike exploits I got dreadfully weary of; I prefer him greatly in hall and bower rather than in tournament and battle-field.
We got into Brighton at half-past four, and had just time to dine, dress, and go to the theater, where we were to act "The Stranger." The house was very full indeed, but my reception was not quite what I had expected; for whether they were disappointed in my dress (Mrs. Haller being traditionally clothed in droopacious white muslin, and I dressing her in gray silk, which is both stiff and dull looking, as I think it should be), or whether, which I think still more likely, they were disappointed in my "personal appearance," which, as you know, is neither tragical nor heroic, I know not, but I thought their welcome rather, cold; but the truth is, I believe my London audience spoils me for every other. However, the play went off admirably, and I believe everybody was satisfied, not excepting the manager, who assured me so full and enthusiastic a house had not been seen in Brighton for many years.
Our rooms at the inn [the old Ship was then the famous Brighton hotel] looked out upon the sea, but it was so foggy when we entered Brighton that although I perceived the motion of the waves through the mist that hung over them, their color and every object along the shore was quite indistinct. The next morning was beautiful. Dall and I ran down to the beach before breakfast; there are no sands, unluckily, but we stood ankle-deep in the shingles, watching the ebbing tide and sniffing the sweet salt air for a long time with great satisfaction. After breakfast we rehearsed "The Provoked Husband," and from the theater proceeded to take a walk.
All this was very fine, but still it was streets and houses; and there were crowds of gay people parading up and down, looking as busy about nothing and as full of themselves as if the great awful sea had not been close beside them. In fact, I was displeased with the levity of their deportment, and the contrast of all that fashionable frivolity with the grandest of all natural objects seemed to me incongruous and discordant; and I was so annoyed at finding myself by the sea-side and yet still surrounded with all the glare and gayety of London, that I think I wished myself at the bottom of the cliff and Brighton at the bottom of the sea. However, we walked on and on, beyond the Parade, beyond the town, till we had nothing but the broad open downs to contrast with the broad open sea, and then I was completely happy. I gave my muff to my father and my fur tippet to Dall, for the sun shone powerfully on the heights, and I walked and ran along the edge of the cliffs, gazing and pondering, and enjoying the solemn sound and the brilliant sight, and the nervous excitement of a slight sense of fear as I peeped over at the depth below me. From this diversion, however, my father called me away, and, to console me for not allowing me to run the risk of being dashed to pieces, offered to run a race up a small hill with me, and beat me hollow.
We had walked about four miles when we halted at one of the Preventive Service stations to look about us. The tide had not yet come in, but its usual height when up was indicated, first by a delicate, waving fringe of sea-weed, like very bright green moss, and then, nearer in shore, by an incrustation of chalk washed from the cliffs, which formed a deep embossed silver embroidery along the coast as far as eye could see. The sunshine was dazzling, and its light on the detached masses of milky chalk which lay far beneath us made them appear semi-transparent, like fragments of alabaster or carnelian. I was wishing that I could but get down the cliff, when a worthy sailor appeared toiling up it, and I discovered his winding stair case cut in the great chalk wall, down which I proceeded without further ado. I was a little frightened, for the steps were none of the most regular or convenient, and I felt as if I were hanging (and at an uncomfortable distance from either) between heaven and earth. I got down safe, however, and ran to the water's edge, danced a galop on one smooth little sand island, waited till the tide, which was coming up, just touched my toes, gave it a kick of cowardly defiance, and then showed it a fair pair of heels and scrambled up the cliff again, very much enchanted with my expedition.
I think a fight with smugglers up that steep staircase at night, with a heavy sea rolling and roaring close under it, would be glorious! When I reached the top my father said it was time to go home, so we returned. The Parade was crowded like Hyde Park in the height of the season [Thackeray called Brighton London-super-Mare], and when once I was out of the crowd and could look down upon it from our windows as it promenaded up and down, I never saw anything gayer: carriages of every description—most of them open—cavalcades of ladies and gentlemen riding to and fro, throngs of smart bonnets and fine dresses; and beyond all this the high tide, with one broad crimson path across it, thrown by the sun, looking as if it led into some enchanted world beyond the waters.
I thought of dear A——; for though she is seeing the sea—and I think the sea at Ardgillan, with its lovely mountains on one side and Skerries on the other, far more beautiful than this—I am sure she would have been enchanted with the life, the bustle, and brilliancy of the Parade combined with its fine sea view, for I, who am apt rather selfishly to wish myself alone in the enjoyment of nature, looked at the bright, moving throng with pleasure when once I was out of it.
Our house at the theater at night was very fine; and now, as you are perhaps tired of Brighton, you will not be sorry to get home with me; but pray communicate the end of our "land sorrow" to A——. We were to start for London Sunday morning at ten [a journey of six hours by coach, now of less than two by rail], and my father had taken three inside places in a coach, which was to call for us at our inn. I ran down to the beach and had a few moments alone there. It was a beautiful morning, and the fishing boats were one by one putting out into the calmest sleepy sea. I longed to ask to be taken on board one of them; but I was summoned away to the coach, and found on reaching it that, the fourth place being occupied by a sickly looking woman with a sickly looking child nearly as big as herself in her lap, my father, notwithstanding the coldness of the morning, had put himself on the outside. I went to sleep; from which blessed refuge of the wretched I was recalled by a powerful and indescribable smell, which, seizing me by the nose, naturally induced me to open my eyes. Mother and daughter were each devouring a lump of black, strong, greasy plum cake; as a specific, I presume, against (or for?) sickness in a stage-coach.
The late Duke of Beaufort, when Marquis of Worcester, used frequently to amuse himself by driving the famous fast Brighton coach, the Highflyer. One day, as my father was hastily depositing his shilling gratuity in his driver's outstretched hand, a shout of laughter, and a "Thank ye, Charles Kemble," made him aware of the gentleman Jehu under whose care he had performed the journey.
WEDNESDAY, January 12, 1831. DEAREST H——,
I received your letter dated the 7th the night before last, and purposed ending this long epistle yesterday evening with an answer to it, but was prevented by having to go with my mother to dine with Mrs. L——, that witty woman and more than middle-aged beauty you have heard me speak of. I was repaid for the exertion I had not made very willingly, for I had a pleasant dinner. This lady has a large family and very large fortune, which at her death goes to her eldest son, who is a young man of enthusiastically religious views and feelings; he has no profession or occupation, but devotes himself to building chapels and schools, which he himself superintends with unwearied assiduity; and though he has never taken orders, he preaches at some place in the city, to which crowds of people flock to hear him; none of which is at all agreeable to his mother, whose chief anxiety, however, is lest some one of the fair Methodists who attend his exhortations should admire his earthly expectations as much as his heavenly prospects, and induce this young apostle to marry her for her soul's sake; all which his mother told mine, with many lamentations over the godly zeal of her "serious" son, certainly not often made with regard to young men who are likely to inherit fine fortunes and estates. One of this young gentleman's sisters is strongly imbued with the same religious feeling, and I think her impressions deepened by her very delicate state of health. I am much attracted by her gentle manner, and the sweet, serious expression of her face, and the earnest tone of her conversation; I like her very much.
My mother is reading Moore's "Life of Byron," and has fallen in love with the latter and in hate with his wife. She declares that he was originally good, generous, humble, religious—indeed, everything that a man can be, short of absolute perfection. She thinks me narrow-minded and prejudiced because I do not care to read his life, and because, in spite of all Moore's assertions, I maintain that with Byron's own works in one's hand his character cannot possibly be a riddle to anybody. I dare say the devil may sometimes be painted blacker than he is; but Byron has a fancy for the character of Lucifer, and seems to me, on the contrary, tres pauvre diable. I have no idea that Byron was half fiend, half man (at least, no more so than all of us are); I dare say he was not at all really an atheist, as he has been reputed; indeed, I do not think Lord Byron, in spite of all the fuss that has been made about him, was by any means an uncommon character. His genius was indeed rare, but his pride, vanity, and selfishness were only so in degree. You know, H——, nobody was ever a more fanatical worshiper of his poetry than I was: time was that I devoured his verses (poison as they were to me) like "raspberry tarts;" I still know, and remember with delight, their exquisite beauty and noble vigor, but they don't agree with me. And, without knowing anything of his religious doubts or moral delinquencies, I cannot at all agree with Mr. Moore that upon the showing of his own works Byron was a "good man." If he was, no one has done him such injustice as himself; and if he was good, then what was Milton? and what genial and gentle Shakespeare?
Good-by, dear H——; write me along "thank you" for this longest of mortal letters, and believe that I am your ever affectionate
F. A. K.
I began living upon my allowance on New Year's Day, and am keeping a most rigorous account of every farthing I spend. I have a tolerable "acquisitiveness" among my other organs, but think I would rather get than keep money, and to earn would always be pleasanter to me than to save. I act in "Fazio" to-night, Friday, and Monday next, so you will know where to find me on those evenings.
MONDAY, 27th. DEAR H——,
Horace Twiss has been out of town, and I have been obliged to delay this for a frank. You will be glad, I know, to hear that "Fazio" has made a great hit. Milman is coming to see me in it to-night; I wish I could induce him to write me such another part.
We are over head and ears in the mire of chancery again. The question of the validity of our—the great theater—patents is now before Lord Brougham; I am afraid they are not worth a farthing. I am to hear from Mr. Murray some day this week; considering the features of my handwriting, it is no wonder it has taken him some time to become acquainted with the MSS.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 29, 1831. MY DEAR H——,
All our occupations have been of a desultory and exciting kind, and all our doings and sayings have been made matter of surprise and admiring comment; of course, therefore, we are disinclined for anything like serious or solid study, and naturally conclude that sayings and doings so much admired and wondered at are admirable and astonishing. A—— is possessed of strong powers of ridicule, and the union of this sarcastic vein with a vivid imagination seems to me unusual; their prey is so different that they seldom hunt in company, I think. When I heard that she was reading "Mathilde" (Madame Cottin), I was almost afraid of its effect upon her. I remember at school, when I was her age, crying three whole days and half nights over it; but I sadly overrated her sensibility. Her letter to me contained a summary, abusive criticism of "Mathilde" as a book, and ended by presenting to me one of those ludicrous images which I abhor, because, while they destroy every serious or elevated impression, they are so absurd that one cannot defend one's self from the "idiot laughter" they excite, and leave one no associations but grinning ones with one's romantic ideals. Her letters are very clever and make me laugh exceedingly, but I am sorry she has such a detestation of Mrs. Marcet and natural philosophy. As for her letters being shown about, I am not sorry that my indiscretion has relieved A—— from a restraint which, if it had only been disagreeable to her, would not have mattered so much, but which is calculated to destroy all possibility of free and natural correspondence, and inevitably renders letters mere compositions and their young authors vain and pretentious. I have always thought the system a bad one, for under it, if a girl's letters are thought dull, she feels as if she had made a failure, and if they are laughed at and passed from hand to hand with her knowledge, the result is much worse; and in either case, what she writes is no longer the simple expression of her thoughts and feelings, but samples of wit, ridicule, and comic fancy which are to be thought amusing and clever by others than those to whom they are addressed.
You say my mother in her note to you speaks well of my acting in Bianca. It has succeeded very well, and I think I act some of it very well; but my chief pleasure in its success was certainly her approbation. She is a very severe critic, and, as she censures sharply, I am only too thankful when I escape her condemnation. I think you will be pleased with Bianca. I was surprised when I came to act it at finding how terribly it affected me, for I am not naturally at all jealous, and in this play, while feigning to be so, it seemed to me that it must be really the most horrible suffering conceivable; I am almost sorry that I can imagine it well enough to represent it well.
You say that we love intellect, but I do not agree with you; I do not think intellect excites love. I do not even think that it increases our love for those we do love, though it adds admiration to our affection. I certainly do admire intellect immensely; mental power, which allied to moral power, goodness, is a force to uphold the universe.
I have forsworn all discussions about Byron; my mother and I differ so entirely on the subject that, as I cannot adopt her view of his character, I find it easier to be silent about my own. Perhaps her extreme admiration of him may have thrown me into a deeper disapprobation than I should otherwise have expressed. He has many excuses, doubtless: the total want of early restraint, the miserable influence of the injudicious mother who alternately idolized and victimized him, the bitter castigation of his first plunge into literature, and then the flattering, fawning, fulsome adoration of his habitual associates, of course were all against him; but, after all, one cannot respect the man who strikes colors to the enemy as one does the one who comes conqueror out of the conflict. I now believe that there is a great deal of unreality in those sentiments to which the charm of his verses lent an appearance of truth and depth; in fact, his poetical feelings will sometimes stand the test of sober reflection quite as little as his grammar will that of a severe application of the rules of syntax. He has written immensely for mere effect, but all young people read him, and young people are not apt to analyze closely what they feel strongly, and, judging by my own experience, I should think Byron had done more mischief than one would like to be answerable for. When I said this the other day to my mother, she replied by referring to his "Don Juan," supposing that I alluded to his profligacy; but it is not "Don Juan" only or chiefly that I think so mischievous, but "Manfred," "Cain," "Lucifer," "Childe Harold," and through them all Byron's own spirit—the despondent, defiant, questioning, murmuring, bitter, proud spirit, that acts powerfully and dangerously on young brains and throws poison into their natural fermentation.
Since you say that my perpetual quotation of that stupid song, "Old Wilson is Dead," worries you, I will renounce my delight in teasing you with it. The love of teasing is, of course, only a base form of the love of power. Mr. Harness and I had a long discussion the other night about the Cenci; he maintains your opinion, that the wicked old nobleman was absolutely mad; but I argued the point stoutly for his sanity, and very nearly fell into the fire with dismay when I was obliged to confess that if he was not mad, then his actuating motive was simply the love of power. Do you know that that play was sent over by Shelley to England with a view to Miss O'Neill acting Beatrice Cenci? If it were ever possible that the piece could be acted, I should think an audience might be half killed with the horror of that entrance of Beatrice when she describes the marble pavement sliding from beneath her feet.
Did my mother tell you in her note that Milman was at the play the other night, and said I had made Bianca exactly what he intended? I wish he would write another tragedy. I think perhaps he will, from something Murray said the other day. That eminent publisher still has my MSS. in his possession, but you know I can take things easily, and I don't feel anxious about his decision. I act in "Fazio" Monday and Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday Mrs. Beverley and Belvidera at Brighton.
I was inexpressibly relieved by receiving a letter from my brother, and the intelligence that if I answered him he would be able to receive my reply, which I made immediate speed to send him.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
My brother John is alive, safe and well, in Gibraltar. You deserve to know this, but it is all I can say to you. My mother has suffered so much that she hardly feels her joy; it has broken her down, and I, who have borne up well till now, feel prostrated by this reprieve. God be thanked for all his mercies! I can say no more.
F. A. K.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, February 7, 1831. MY DEAR H——,
I found your lecture waiting for me on my return from Brighton; I call it thus because if your two last were less than letters your yesterday's one is more; but I shall not attempt at present to follow you to the misty heights whither our nature tends, or dive with you into the muddy depths whence it springs. I have heard from my brother John, and now expect almost hourly to see him. The Spanish revolution, as he now sees and as many foresaw, is a mere vision. The people are unready, unripe, unfit, and therefore unwilling; had it not been so they would have done their work themselves; it is as impossible to urge on the completion of such a change before the time as to oppose it when the time is come. John now writes that, all hope of rousing the Spaniards being over, and their party consequently dispersing, he is thinking of bending his steps homeward, and talks of once more turning his attention to the study of the law. I know not what to say or think. My cousin, Horace Twiss, was put into Parliament by Lord Clarendon, but the days of such parliamentary patronage are numbered, and I do not much deplore it, though I sometimes fancy that the House of Commons, could it by any means have been opened to him, might perhaps have been the best sphere for John. His natural abilities are brilliant, and his eloquence, energy, and activity of mind might perhaps have been made more and more quickly available for good purposes in that than in any other career.
I am not familiar with all that Burns has written; I have read his letters, and know most of his songs by heart. His passions were so violent that he seems to me in that respect to have been rather a subject for poetry than a poet; for though a poet should perhaps have a strongly passionate nature, he should also have power enough over it to be able to observe, describe, and, if I may so say, experimentalize with it, as he would with the passions of others. I think it would better qualify a man to be a poet to be able to perceive rather than liable to feel violent passion or emotion. May not such things be known of without absolute experience? What is the use of the poetical imagination, that lower inspiration, which, like the higher one of faith, is the "evidence of things not seen"? Troubled and billowy waters reflect nothing distinctly on their surface; it is the still, deep, placid element that gives back the images by which it is surrounded or that pass over its surface. I do not of course believe that a good man is necessarily a poet, but I think a devout man is almost always a man with a poetical imagination; he is familiar with ideas which are essentially sublime, and in the act of adoration he springs to the source of all beauty through the channel by which our spirits escape most effectually from their chain, the flesh, and their prison-house, the world, and rise into communion with that supreme excellence from which they originally emanated and into whose bosom they will return. I cannot now go into all I think about this, for I have so many other things to talk about. Since I began this letter I have heard a report that John is a prisoner, that he has been arrested and sent to Madrid. Luckily I do not believe a word of this; if he has rendered himself obnoxious to the British authorities in Gibraltar they may have locked him up for a week or two there, and I see no great harm in that; but that he should have been delivered to the Spaniards and sent to Madrid I do not believe, because I know that the whole revolutionary party is going to pieces, and that they have neither the power nor the means to render themselves liable to such a disagreeable distinction. We expect him home every day. Only conceive, dear H——, the ill-fortune that attends us: my father, or rather the theater, is involved in six lawsuits I He and my mother are neither of them quite well; anxiety naturally has much share in their indisposition.
I learned Beatrice this morning and the whole of it, in an hour, which I tell you because I consider it a feat. I am delighted at the thoughts of acting it; it will be the second part which I shall have acted with real pleasure; Portia is the other, but Beatrice is not nearly so nice. I am to act it next Thursday, when pray think of me.
I do not know whether you have seen anything in the papers about a third theater; we have had much anxiety, vexation, and expense about it, but I have no doubt that Mr. Arnold will carry the question. The great people want a plaything for this season, and have set their hearts upon that. I acted Belvidera to my father's Jaffier at Brighton; you cannot imagine how great a difference it produced in my acting. Mrs. Siddons and Miss O'Neill had a great advantage over me in their tragic partners. Have you heard that Mr. Hope, the author of "Anastasius," is just dead? That was a wonderfully clever book, of rather questionable moral effects, I think; the same sort of cynical gloom and discontent which pervade Byron's writings prevail in that; and I thought it a pity, because in other respects it seems a genuine book, true to life and human nature. A few days before I heard of his death, Mr. Harness was discussing with me a theory of Hope's respecting the destiny of the human soul hereafter. His notion is that all spirit is after death to form but one whole spiritual existence, a sort of lumping which I object to. I should like always to be able to know myself from somebody else.
I do read the papers sometimes, dear H——, and, whenever I do, I wonder at you and all sensible people who make a daily practice of it; the proceedings of Parliament would make one angry if they did not make one so sad, and some of the debates would seem to me laughable but that I know they are lamentable.
I have just finished Channing's essay on Milton, which is admirable.
My cousin Harry sails for India on Thursday; his mother is making a brave fight of it, poor soul! I met them all at my aunt Siddons's last night; she was remarkably well, and "charming," as she styles herself when that is the case. Good-by. Always affectionately yours,
I suppose it is one of the peculiarities of the real poetical temperament to receive, as it were, a double impression of its own phenomena—one through the senses, affections, and passions, and one through the imagination—and to have a perpetual tendency to make intellectual capital of the experiences of its own sensuous, sentimental, and passionate nature. In the above letter, written so many years ago, I have used the term experimentalizing with his own nature as the process of a poet's mind; but though self-consciousness and self-observation are almost inseparable from the poetical organization, Goethe is the only instance I know of what could, with any propriety, be termed self-experimentalizing—he who wrung the heart and turned the head of the whole reading Europe of his day by his own love passages with Madame Kestner transcribed into "The Sorrows of Werther."
Self-illustration is perhaps a better term for the result of that passionate egotism which is so strong an element in the nature of most poets, and the secret of so much of their power. Ils s'interessent tellement a ce qui les regarde, that they interest us profoundly in it too, and by the law of our common nature, and the sympathy that pervades it, their great difference from their kind serves but to enforce their greater likeness to it.
Goethe's nature, however, was not at all a predominantly passionate one; so much the contrary, indeed, that one hardly escapes the impression all through his own record of his life that he felt through his overmastering intellect rather than his heart; and that he analyzed too well the processes of his own feelings ever to have been carried by them beyond the permission of his will, or out of sight of that aesthetic self-culture, that development, which really seems to have been his prevailing passion. A strong histrionic vein mixes, too, with his more imaginative mental qualities, and perpetually reveals itself in his assumption of fictitious characters, in his desire for producing "situations" in his daily life, and in his conscious "effects" upon those whom he sought to impress.
His genius sometimes reminds me of Ariel—the subtle spirit who, observing from aloof, as it were (that is, from the infinite distance of his own unmoral, demoniacal nature), the follies and sins and sorrows of humanity, understands them all and sympathizes with none of them; and describes, with equal indifference, the drunken, brutish delight in his music expressed by the coarse Neapolitan buffoons and the savage gorilla, Caliban, and the abject self-reproach and bitter, poignant remorse exhibited by Antonio and his fellow conspirators; telling Prospero that if he saw them he would pity them, and adding, in his passionless perception of their anguish, "I should, sir, were I human."
There is a species of remote partiality in Goethe's mode of delineating the sins and sorrows of his fellows, that seems hardly human and still less divine; "Das ist daemonisch," to use his own expression about Shakespeare, who, however, had nothing whatever in common with that quality of moral neutrality of the great German genius.
Perhaps nothing indicates what I should call Goethe's intellectual unhumanity so much as his absolute want of sympathy with the progress of the race. He was but mortal man, however, though he had the head of Jove, and Pallas Athena might have sprung all armed from it. Once, and once only, if I remember rightly, in his conversations with Eckermann, the cause of mankind elicits an expression of faith and hope from him, in some reference to the future of America. I recollect, on reading the second part of "Faust" with my friend Abeken (assuredly the most competent of all expounders of that extraordinary composition), when I asked him what was the signification of that final cultivation of the barren sea sand, in Faust's blind old age, and cried, "Is it possible that he wishes to indicate the hopelessness of all attempt at progress?" his replying, "I am afraid he was no believer in it." And so it comes that his letters to Madame von Stein leave one only amazed with the more sorrowful admiration that the unrivaled genius of the civilized world in its most civilized age found perfect satisfaction in the inane routine of the life of a court dignitary in a petty German principality.
It is worthy of note how, in the two instances of his great masterpieces, "Faust" and "Wilhelm Meister," Goethe has worked up in a sequel all the superabundant material he had gathered for his subject; and in each case how the life-blood of the poet pulses through the first part, while the second is, as it were, a mere storehouse of splendid intellectual supply which he has wrought into elaborate phantasmagoria, dazzling in their brilliancy and wonderful in their variety, but all alike difficult to comprehend and sympathize with—the rare mental fragments, precious like diamond dust, left after the cutting of those two perfect gems.
Free-trade had hardly uttered a whisper yet upon any subject of national importance when the monopoly of theatrical property was attacked by Mr. Arnold, of the English Opera House, who assailed the patents of the two great theaters, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, and demanded that the right to act the legitimate drama (till then their especial privilege) should be extended to all British subjects desirous to open play-houses and perform plays. A lawsuit ensued, and the proprietors of the great houses—"his Majesty's servants," by his Majesty's royal patent since the days of the merry monarch—defended their monopoly to the best of their ability. My father, questioned before a committee of the House of Commons upon the subject, showed forth the evils likely, in his opinion, to result to the dramatic art and the public taste by throwing open to unlimited speculation the right to establish theaters and give theatrical representations. The great companies of good sterling actors would be broken up and dispersed, and there would no longer exist establishments sufficiently important to maintain any large body of them; the best plays would no longer find adequate representatives in any but a few of the principal parts, the characters of theatrical pieces produced would be lowered, the school of fine and careful acting would be lost, no play of Shakespeare's could be decorously put on the stage, and the profession and the public would alike fare the worse for the change. But he was one of the patented proprietors, one of the monopolists, a party most deeply interested in the issue, and therefore, perhaps, an incompetent judge in the matter. The cause went against us, and every item of his prophecy concerning the stage has undoubtedly come to pass. The fine companies of the great theaters were dissolved, and each member of the body that together formed so bright a constellation went off to be the solitary star or planet of some minor sphere. The best plays no longer found decent representatives for any but one or two of their first parts; the pieces of more serious character and higher pretension as dramatic works were supplanted by burlesques and parodies of themselves; the school of acting of the Kembles, Young, the Keans, Macready, and their contemporaries, gave place to no school at all of very clever ladies and gentlemen, who certainly had no pretension to act tragedy or declaim blank verse, but who played low comedy better than high, and lowest farce best of all, and who for the most part wore the clothes of the sex to which they did not belong. Shakespeare's plays all became historical, and the profession was decidedly the worse for the change; I am not aware, however, that the public has suffered much by it.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 5, 1831. MY DEAREST H——,
I am extremely obliged to you for your long account of Mrs. John Kemble, and all the details respecting her with which, as you knew how intensely interesting they were likely to be to me, you have so kindly filled your letter. Another time, if you can afford to give a page or two to her interesting dog, Pincher, I shall be still more grateful; you know it is but omitting the superfluous word or two you squeeze in about yourself.
As for the journal I keep, it is—as what is not?—a matter of mingled good and bad influences and results. I am so much alone that I find this pouring out of my thoughts and feelings a certain satisfaction; but unfortunately one's book is only a recipient, and not a commentary, and I miss the sifting, examining, scrutinizing, discussing intercourse that compels one to the analysis of one's own ideas and sentiments, and makes the society of any one with whom one communicates unreservedly so much more profitable, as well as pleasurable, than this everlasting self-communion. I miss my wholesome bitters, my daily dose of contradiction; and you need not be jealous of my book, for it is a miserable pis aller for our interminable talks.
I had a visit from J—— F—— the other day, and she stayed an hour, talking very pleasantly, and a little after your fashion; for she propounded the influence of matter over mind and the impossibility of preserving a sound and vigorous spirit in a weak and suffering body. I am blessed with such robust health that my moral shortcomings, however anxious I may be to refer them to side-ache, toothache, or any other ache, I am afraid deserve small mercy on the score of physical infirmity; but she, poor thing, I am sorry to say, suffers much and often from ill health, and complained, with evident experience, of the difficulty of preserving a cheerful spirit and an even temper in the dreary atmosphere of a sick-room.
When she was gone I set to work with "Francis I.," and corrected all the errors in the meter which Mr. Milman had had the kindness to point out to me. I then went over Beatrice with my mother, who takes infinite pains with me and seems to think I profit. She went to the play with Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mrs. Edward Romilly, who is a daughter of Mrs. Marcet, and, owing to A——'s detestation of that learned lady's elementary book on natural philosophy, I was very desirous they should not meet one another, though certainly, if any of Mrs. Marcet's works are dry and dull, it is not this charming daughter of hers.
But A—— was rabid against "Nat. Phil.," as she ignominiously nick-named Mrs. Marcet's work on natural philosophy, and so I brought her to the theater with me; and she stayed in my dressing-room when I was there, and in my aunt Siddons's little box when I was acting, as you used to do; but she sang all the while she was with me, and though I made no sign, it gave me the nervous fidgets to such a degree that I almost forgot my part. In spite of which I acted better, for my mother said so; and there is some hope that by the time the play is withdrawn I shall not play Beatrice "like the chief mourner at a funeral," which is what she benignly compares my performance of the part to.
The alteration in my gowns met with her entire approbation—I mean the taking away of the plaits from round the waist—and my aunt Dall pronounced it an immense improvement and wished you could see it.
Lady Dacre and her daughter, Mrs. Sullivan, and Mr. James Wortley were in the orchestra, and came after the play to supper with us, as did Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, Mrs. Edward Romilly, and Mr. Harness: a very pleasant party, for the ladies are all clever and charming, and got on admirably together.
It is right, as you are a shareholder in that valuable property of ours, Covent Garden, you should know that there was a very fine house, though I cannot exactly tell you the amount of the receipts.
I miss you dreadfully, my dear H——, and I do wish you could come back to us when Dorothy has left you; but I know that cannot be, and so I look forward to the summer time, the sunny time, the rosy time, when I shall be with you again at Ardgillan.
Yesterday, I read for the first time Joanna Baillie's "Count Basil." I am not sure that the love she describes does not affect me more even than Shakespeare's delineation of the passion in "Romeo and Juliet." There is a nerveless despondency about it that seems to me more intolerable than all the vivid palpitating anguish of the tragedy of Verona; it is like dying of slow poison, or malarial fever, compared with being shot or stabbed or even bleeding to death, which is life pouring out from one, instead of drying up in one's brains. I think the lines beginning—
"I have seen the last look of her heavenly eyes,"
some of the most poignantly pathetic I know. I afterward read over again Mr. Procter's play; it is extremely well written, but I am afraid it would not act as well as it reads. I believe I told you that "Inez de Castro" was finally given up.
Sally and Lizzy Siddons came and sat with me for some time; they seem well and cheerful. Their mother, they said, was not very well; how should she be! though, indeed, regret would be selfish. Her son is gone to fulfill his own wishes in pursuing the career for which he was most fit; he will find in his uncle George Siddons's house in Calcutta almost a second home. Sally, whom you know I respect almost as much as love, said it was surprising how soon they had learned to accept and become reconciled to their brother's departure. Besides all our self-invoked aids of reason and religion, nature's own provision for the need of our sorrows is more bountiful and beneficent than we always perceive or acknowledge. No one can go on living upon agony; we cannot grieve for ever if we would, and our most strenuous efforts of self-control derive help from the inevitable law of change, against which we sometimes murmur and struggle as if it wronged our consistency in sorrow and constancy in love. The tendency to heal is as universal as the liability to smart. You always speak of change with a sort of vague horror that surprises me. Though all things round us are for ever shifting and altering, and though we ourselves vary and change, there is a supreme spirit of steadfastness in the midst of this huge unrest, and an abiding, unshaken, immovable principle of good guiding this vanishing world of fluctuating atoms, in whose eternal permanence of nature we largely participate, and our tendency toward and aspiration for whose perfect stability is one of the very causes of the progress, and therefore mutability, of our existence. Perhaps the most painful of all the forms in which change confronts us is in the increased infirmities and diminished graces which after long absence we observe in those we love; the failure of power and vitality in the outward frame, the lessened vividness of the intellect we have admired, strike us with a sharp surprise of distress, and it is startling to have revealed suddenly to us, in the condition of others, how rapidly, powerfully, and unobservedly time has been dealing with ourselves. But those who believe in eternity should be able to accept time, and the ruin of the altar from which the flame leaps up to heaven signifies little.
My father and I went to visit Macdonald's collection of sculpture to-day. I was very much pleased with some of the things; there are some good colossal figures, and an exquisite statue of a kneeling girl, that charmed me greatly; there are some excellent busts, too. How wonderfully that irrevocable substance assumes the soft, round forms of life! The color in its passionless purity (absence of color, I suppose I should say) is really harder than the substance itself of marble. I could not fall in love with a statue, as the poor girl in Procter's poem did with the Apollo Belvidere, though I think I could with a fine portrait: how could one fall in love with what had no eyes! Was it not Thorwaldsen who said that the three materials in which sculptors worked—clay, plaster, and marble—were like life, death, and immortality? I thought my own bust (the one Macdonald executed in Edinburgh, you know) very good; the marble is beautiful, and I really think my friend did wonders with his impracticable subject; the shape of the head and shoulders is very pretty. I wonder what Sappho was like! An ugly woman, it is said; I do not know upon what authority, unless her own; but I wonder what kind of ugliness she enjoyed! Among other heads, we saw one of Brougham's mother, a venerable and striking countenance, very becoming the mother of the Chancellor of England. There was a bust, too, of poor Mr. Huskisson, taken after death. I heard a curious thing of him to-day: it seems that on the night before the opening of the railroad, as he was sitting with some friends, he said, "I cannot tell what ails me; I have a strange weight on my spirits; I am sure something dreadful will happen to-morrow; I wish it were over;" and that, when they recapitulated all the precautions, and all the means that had been taken for security, comfort, and pleasure, all he replied was, "I wish to God it were over!" There is something awful in these stories of presentiments that always impresses me deeply—this warning shadow, projected by no perceptible object, falling darkly and chilly over one; this indistinct whisper of destiny, of which one hears the sound, without distinguishing the sense; this muffled tread of Fate approaching us!
Did you read Horace Twiss's speech on the Reform Bill? Every one seems to think it was excellent, whether they agree with his opinions and sentiments or not. I saw by the paper, to-day, that an earthquake had been felt along the coast near Dover. A—— says the world is coming to an end. We certainly live in strange times, but for that matter so has everybody that ever lived.
[In the admirable letter of Lord Macaulay to Mr. Ellis, describing the division of the house on the second reading of the Reform Bill, given in Mr. Trevelyan's life of his uncle, the great historian says Horace Twiss's countenance at the liberal victory looked like that of a "damned soul." If, instead of a lost soul, he had said poor Horace looked like a lost seat, he would have been more accurate, if not as picturesque. Mr. Twiss sat for one of Lord Clarendon's boroughs, and the passage of the Reform Bill was sure to dismiss him from Parliament; a serious thing in his future career, fortunes, and position.]
I must now tell you what I do next week, that you may know where to find me. Monday, the king goes to hear "Cinderella," and I have a holiday and go with my mother to a party at Dr. Granville's. Tuesday, I act Belvidera, and afterward go to Lady Dacre's; I do this because, as I fixed the day myself for her party, not expecting to act that night, I cannot decently get off. Lady Macdonald's dinner party is put off; so until Saturday, when I play Beatrice, I shall spend my time in practicing, reading, writing (not arithmetic), walking, working cross-stitch, and similar young-ladyisms.
Good-by, my dear H——. Give my love to Dorothy, if she will take it; if not, put it to your own share. I think this letter deserves a long answer. Mrs. Norton, Chantrey, and Barry Cornwall have come in while I have been finishing this letter; does not that sound pretty and pleasant? and don't you envy us some of our privileges? My mother has been seeing P——'s picture of my father in Macbeth this morning, and you never heard anything funnier than her rage at it: "A fat, red, round, staring, pudsy thing! the eyes no more like his than mine are!" (certainly, no human eyes could be more dissimilar); "and then, his jaw!—bless my soul, how could he miss it! the Kemble jawbone! Why, it was as notorious as Samson's!" Good-by. Your affectionate
Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, the famous friends of Llangollen, kept during the whole life they spent together under such peculiar circumstances a daily diary, so minute as to include the mention not only of every one they saw (and it must be remembered that their hermitage was a place of fashionable pilgrimage, as well as a hospitable refuge), but also what they had for dinner every day—so I have been told.
The little box on the stage I have alluded to in this letter as Mrs. Siddons's was a small recess opposite the prompter's box, and of much the same proportions, that my father had fitted up for the especial convenience of my aunt Siddons whenever she chose to honor my performances with her presence. She came to it several times, but the draughts in crossing the stage were bad, and the exertion and excitement too much for her, and her life was not prolonged much after my coming upon the stage.
Lord and Lady Dacre were among my kindest friends. With Lady Dacre I corresponded from the beginning of our acquaintance until her death, which took place at a very advanced age. She was strikingly handsome, with a magnificent figure and great vivacity and charm of manner and conversation. Her accomplishments were various, and all of so masterly an excellence that her performances would have borne comparison with the best works of professional artists. She drew admirably, especially animals, of which she was extremely fond. I have seen drawings of groups of cattle by her that, without the advantage of color, recall the life and spirit of Rosa Bonheur's pictures. She was a perfect Italian scholar, having studied enthusiastically that divine tongue with the enthusiast Ugo Foscolo, whose patriotic exile and misfortunes were cheered and soothed by the admiring friendship and cordial kindness of Lord and Lady Dacre. Among all the specimens of translation with which I am acquainted, her English version of Petrarch's sonnets is one of the most remarkable for fidelity, beauty, and the grace and sweetness with which she has achieved the difficult feat of following in English the precise form of the complicated and peculiar Italian prosody. These translations seem to me as nearly perfect as that species of literature can be. But the most striking demonstrations of her genius were the groups of horses which Lady Dacre modeled from nature, and which, copied and multiplied in plaster casts, have been long familiar to the public, without many of those who know and admire them being aware who was their author. It is hardly possible to see anything more graceful and spirited, truer at once to nature and the finest art, than these compositions, faithful in the minutest details of execution, and highly poetical in their entire conception. Lady Dacre was the finest female rider and driver in England; that is saying, in the world. Had she lived in Italy in the sixteenth century her name would be among the noted names of that great artistic era; but as she was an Englishwoman of the nineteenth, in spite of her intellectual culture and accomplishments she was only an exceedingly clever, amiable, kind lady of fashionable London society.
Of Lord Dacre it is not easy to speak with all the praise which he deserved. He inherited his title from his mother, who had married Mr. Brand of the Hoo, Hertfordshire, and at the moment of his becoming heir to that estate was on the point of leaving England with Colonel Talbot, son of Lord Talbot de Malahide, to found with him a colony in British Canada, where Arcadia was to revive again, at a distance from all the depraved and degraded social systems of Europe, under the auspices of these two enthusiastic young reformers. Mr. Brand had completed his studies in Germany, and acquired, by assiduous reading and intimate personal acquaintance with the most enlightened and profound thinkers of the philosophical school of which Kant was the apostle, a mental cultivation very unlike, in its depth and direction, the usual intellectual culture of young Englishmen of his class.
He was an enthusiast of the most generous description, in love with liberty and ardent for progress; the political as well as the social and intellectual systems of Europe appeared to him, in his youthful zeal for the improvement of his fellow-beings, belated if not benighted on the road to it, and he had embraced with the most ardent hopes and purposes the scheme of emigration of Colonel Talbot, for forming in the New World a colony where all the errors of the Old were to be avoided. But his mother died, and the young emigrant withdrew his foot from the deck of the Canadian ship to take his place in the British peerage, to bear an ancient English title and become master of an old English estate, to marry a brilliant woman of English fashionable society, and be thenceforth the ideal of an English country gentleman, that most enviable of mortals, as far as outward circumstance and position can make a man so.
His serious early German studies had elevated and enlarged his mind far beyond the usual level and scope of the English country gentleman's brain, and freed him from the peculiarly narrow class prejudices which it harbors. He was an enlightened liberal, not only in politics but in every domain of human thought; he was a great reader, with a wide range of foreign as well as English literary knowledge. He had exquisite taste, was a fine connoisseur and critic in matters of art, and was the kindliest natured and mannered man alive.
At his house in Hertfordshire, the Hoo, I used to meet Earl Grey; his son, the present earl (then Lord Howick); Lord Melbourne; the Duke of Bedford; Earl Russell (then Lord John), and Sidney and Bobus Smith—all of them distinguished men, but few of them, I think, Lord Dacre's superiors in mental power. Altogether the society that he and Lady Dacre gathered round them was as delightful as it was intellectually remarkable; it was composed of persons eminent for ability, and influential members of a great world in which extraordinary capacity was never an excuse for want of urbanity or the absence of the desire to please; their intercourse was charming as well as profoundly interesting to me.
During a conversation I once had with Lady Dacre about her husband, she gave me the following extract from the writings of Madame Huber, the celebrated Therese Heyne, whose first husband, Johann Georg Forster, was one of the delegates which sympathizing Mentz sent to Paris in 1793, to solicit from the revolutionary government the favor of annexation to the French republic.
"In the year 1790 Forster had attached to himself and introduced in his establishment a young Englishman, who came to Germany with the view of studying the German philosophy [Kant's system] in its original language. He was nearly connected with some of the leaders of the then opposition. He was so noble, so simple, that each virtue seemed in him an instinct, and so stoical in his views that he considered every noble action as the victory of self-control, and never felt himself good enough. The friends [Huber and Forster] who loved him with parental tenderness sometimes repeated with reference to him the words of Shakespeare—
'So wise, so young, they say, do ne'er live long.'
But, thanks to fate, he has falsified that prophecy; the youth is grown into manhood; he lives, unclaimed by any mere political party, with the more valuable portion of his people, and satisfies himself with being a good man so long as circumstances prevent him from acting in his sense as a good citizen. Our daily intercourse with this youth enabled us to combine a knowledge of English events with our participation in the proceedings on the Continent. His patriotism moderated many of our extreme views with regard to his country; his estimate of many individuals, of whom from his position he possessed accurate knowledge, decided many a disputed point amongst us; and the tenderness which we all felt for this beloved and valued friend tended to produce justice and moderation in all our conflicts of opinion."[A]
[A] Sketch of Lord Dacre's character by Madame Huber.
Lady Dacre had had by her first marriage, to Mr. Wilmot, an only child, the Mrs. Sullivan I have mentioned in this letter, wife of the Reverend Frederick Sullivan, Vicar of Kimpton. She was an excellent and most agreeable person, who inherited her mother's literary and artistic genius in a remarkable degree, though her different position and less leisurely circumstances as wife of a country clergyman and mother of a large family, devoted to the important duties of both callings, probably prevented the full development and manifestation of her fine intellectual gifts. She was a singularly modest and diffident person, and this as well as her more serious avocations may have stood in the way of her doing justice to her uncommon abilities, of which, however, there is abundant evidence in her drawings and groups of modeled figures, and in the five volumes of charming stories called "Tales of a Chaperon," and "Tales of the Peerage and the Peasantry," which were not published with her name but simply as edited by Lady Dacre, to whom their authorship was, I think, generally attributed. The mental gifts of Lady Dacre appear to be heirlooms, for they have been inherited for three generations, and in each case by her female descendants.
The gentleman who accompanied her to her house, on the evening I referred to in my letter, was the Honorable James Stuart Wortley, youngest son of the Earl of Wharncliffe, who was prevented by failure of health alone from reaching the very highest honors of the legal profession, in which he had already attained the rank of solicitor-general, when his career was prematurely closed by disastrous illness. At the time of my first acquaintance with him he was a very clever and attractive young man, and though intended for a future Lord Chancellor he condescended to sing sentimental songs very charmingly.
Of my excellent and amiable friend, the Reverend William Harness, a biography has been published which tells all there is to be told of his uneventful life and career. Endowed with a handsome face and sweet countenance and very fine voice, he was at one time a fashionable London preacher, a vocation not incompatible, when he exercised it, with a great admiration for the drama. He was an enthusiastic frequenter of the theater, published a valuable edition of Shakespeare, and wrote two plays in blank verse which had considerable merit; but his pre-eminent gift was goodness, in which I have known few people who surpassed him. Objecting from conscientious motives to hold more than one living, he received from his friend, Lord Lansdowne, an appointment in the Home Office, the duties of which did not interfere with those of his clerical profession. He was of a delightfully sunny, cheerful temper, and very fond of society, mixing in the best that London afforded, and frequently receiving with cordial hospitality some of its most distinguished members in his small, modest residence. He was a devoted friend of my family, had an ardent admiration for my aunt Siddons, and honored me with a kind and constant regard.
Miss Joanna Baillie was a great friend of Mrs. Siddons's, and wrote expressly for her the part of Jane de Montfort, in her play of "De Montfort." My father and mother had the honor of her acquaintance, and I went more than once to pay my respects to her at the cottage in Hampstead where she passed the last years of her life.
The peculiar plan upon which she wrote her fine plays, making each of them illustrate a single passion, was in great measure the cause of their unfitness for the stage. "De Montfort," which has always been considered the most dramatic of them, had only a very partial success, in spite of its very great poetical merit and considerable power of passion, and the favorable circumstance that the two principal characters in it were represented by the eminent actors for whom the authoress originally designed them. In fact, though Joanna Baillie selected and preferred the dramatic form for her poetical compositions, they are wanting in the real dramatic element, resemblance to life and human nature, and are infinitely finer as poems than plays.
But the desire and ambition of her life had been to write for the stage, and the reputation she achieved as a poet did not reconcile her to her failure as a dramatist. I remember old Mr. Sotheby, the poet (I add this title to his name, though his title to it was by some esteemed but slender), telling me of a visit he had once paid her, when, calling him into her little kitchen (she was not rich, kept few servants, and did not disdain sometimes to make her own pies and puddings), she bade him, as she was up to the elbows in flour and paste, draw from her pocket a paper; it was a play-bill, sent to her by some friend in the country, setting forth that some obscure provincial company was about to perform Miss Joanna Baillie's celebrated tragedy of "De Montfort." "There," exclaimed the culinary Melpomene, "there, Sotheby, I am so happy! You see my plays can be acted somewhere!" Well, too, do I remember the tone of half-regretful congratulation in which she said to me, "Oh, you lucky girl—you lucky girl; you are going to have your play acted!" This was "Francis I.," the production of which on the stage was a bitter annoyance to me, to prevent which I would have given anything I possessed, but which made me (vexed and unhappy though I was at the circumstance on which I was being congratulated) an object of positive envy to the distinguished authoress and kind old lady.
In order to steer clear of the passion of revenge, which is in fact hatred proceeding from a sense of injury, Miss Joanna Baillie in her fine tragedy of "De Montfort" has inevitably made the subject of it an antipathy—that is, an instinctive, unreasoning, partly physical antagonism, producing abhorrence and detestation the most intense, without any adequate motive; and the secret of the failure of her noble play on the stage is precisely that this is not (fortunately) a natural passion common to the majority of human beings (which hatred that has a motive undoubtedly is, in a greater or less degree), but an abnormal element in exceptionally morbid natures, and therefore a sentiment (or sensation) with which no great number of people or large proportion of a public audience can sympathize or even understand. Intense and causeless hatred is one of the commonest indications of insanity, and, alas! one that too often exhibits itself toward those who have been objects of the tenderest love; but De Montfort is not insane, and his loathing is unaccountable to healthy minds upon any other plea, and can find no comprehension in audiences quite prepared to understand, if not to sympathize with, the vindictive malignity of Shylock and the savage ferocity of Zanga. Goethe, in his grand play of "Tasso," gives the poet this morbid detestation of the accomplished courtier and man of the world, Antonio; but then, Tasso is represented as on the very verge of that madness into the dark abyss of which he subsequently sinks.
Shakespeare's treatment of the passion of hatred, in "The Merchant of Venice," is worthy of all admiration for the profound insight with which he has discriminated between that form of it which all men comprehend, and can sympathize with, and that which, being really nothing but diseased idiosyncrasy, appears to the majority of healthy minds a mere form of madness.
In his first introduction to us the Jew accounts for his detestation of Antonio upon three very comprehensible grounds: national race hatred, in feeling and exciting which the Jews have been quite a "peculiar people" from the earliest records of history; personal injury in the defeat of his usurious prospects of gain; and personal insult in the unmanly treatment to which Antonio had subjected him. However excessive in degree, his hatred is undoubtedly shown to have a perfectly comprehensible, if not adequate cause and nature, and is a reasonable hatred, except from such a moral point of view as allows of none.
An audience can therefore tolerate him with mitigated disgust through the opening portions of the play. When, however, in the grand climax of the trial scene Shakespeare intends that he shall be no longer tolerated or tolerable, but condemned alike by his Venetian judges and his English audience, he carefully avoids putting into his mouth any one of the reasons with which in the opening of the play he explains and justifies his hatred. He does not make him quote the centuries-old Hebrew scorn of and aversion to the Gentiles, nor the merchant's interference with his commercial speculations, nor the man's unprovoked spitting at, spurning, and abuse of him; but he will and can give no reason for his abhorrence of Antonio, whom he says he loathes with the inexplicable revulsion of nature that certain men feel toward certain animals; and the mastery of the poet shows itself in thus making Shylock's cruelty monstrous, and accounting for it as an abnormal monstrosity.
Hatred that has a reasonable cause may cease with its removal. Supposing Antonio to have become a converted Jew, or to have withdrawn all opposition to Shylock's usury and compensated him largely for the losses he had caused him by it, and to have expressed publicly, with the utmost humility, contrition for his former insults and sincere promises of future honor, respect, and reverence, it is possible to imagine Shylock relenting in a hatred of which the reasons he assigned for it no longer existed. But from the moment he says he has no reason for his hatred other than the insuperable disgust and innate enmity of an antagonistic nature—the deadly, sickening, physical loathing that in rare instances affects certain human beings toward others of their species, and toward certain animals—then there are no calculable bounds to the ferocity of such a blind instinct, no possibility of mitigating, by considerations of reflection or feeling, an inherent, integral element of a morbid organization. And Shakespeare, in giving this aspect to the last exhibition of Shylock's vindictiveness, cancels the original appeal to possible sympathy for his previous wrongs, and presents him as a dangerous maniac or wild beast, from whose fury no one is safe, and whom it is every one's interest to strike down; so that at the miserable Jew's final defeat the whole audience gasps with a sense of unspeakable relief. Perhaps, too, the master meant to show—at any rate he has shown—that the deadly sin of hatred, indulged even with a cause, ends in the dire disease of causeless hate and the rabid frenzy of a maniac.
It has sometimes been objected to this wonderful scene that Portia's reticence and delay in relieving Antonio and her husband from their suspense is unnatural. But Portia is a very superior woman, able to control not only her own palpitating sympathy with their anguish, but her impatient yearning to put an end to it, till she has made ever effort to redeem the wretch whose hardness of heart fills her with incredulous amazement—a heavenly instinct akin to the divine love that desires not that a sinner should perish, which enables her to postpone her own relief and that of those precious to her till she has exhausted endeavor to soften Shylock; and Shakespeare thus not only justifies the stern severity of her ultimate sentence on him, but shows her endowed with the highest powers of self-command, and patient, long-suffering with evil; her teasing her husband half to death afterward restores the balance of her humanity, which was sinking heavily toward perfection.
Bryan Waller Procter, dear Barry Cornwall—beloved by all who knew him, even his fellow-poets, for his sweet, gentle disposition—had married (as I have said elsewhere) Anne Skepper, the daughter of our friend, Mrs. Basil Montague. They were among our most intimate and friendly acquaintance. Their house was the resort of all the choice spirits of the London society of their day, her pungent epigrams and brilliant sallies making the most delightful contrast imaginable to the cordial kindness of his conversation and the affectionate tenderness of his manner; she was like a fresh lemon—golden, fragrant, firm, and wholesome—and he was like the honey of Hymettus; they were an incomparable compound.
The play which I spoke of as his, in my last letter, was Ford's "White Devil," of which the notorious Vittoria Corrombona, Duchess of Bracciano, is the heroine. The powerful but coarse treatment of the Italian story by the Elizabethan playwright has been chastened into something more adapted to modern taste by Barry Cornwall; but, even with his kindred power and skillful handling, the work of the early master retained too rough a flavor for the public palate of our day, and very reluctantly the project of bringing it out was abandoned.
The tragical story of Vittoria Corrombona, eminently tragical in that age of dramatic lives and deaths, has furnished not only the subject of this fine play of Ford's, but that of a magnificent historical novel, by the great German writer, Tieck, in which it is difficult to say which predominates, the intense interest of the heroine's individual career, or that created by the splendid delineation of the whole state of Italy at that period—the days of the grand old Sixtus the Fifth in Rome, and of the contemporary Medici in Florence; it is altogether a masterpiece by a great master. Superior in tragic horror, because unrelieved by the general picture of contemporaneous events, but quite inferior as a work of imagination, is the comparatively short sketch of Vittoria Corrombona's life and death contained in a collection of Italian stories called "Crimes Celebres," by Stendal, where it keeps company with other tragedies of private life, which during the same century occupied with their atrocious details the tribunals of justice in Rome. Among the collection is the story from which Mr. Fechter's melodrama of "Bel Demonio" was taken, the story of the Cenci, and the story of a certain Duchess of Pagliano, all of them inconceivably horrible and revolting.
About the same time that this play of Barry Cornwall's was given up, a long negotiation between Miss Mitford and the management of Covent Garden came to a conclusion by her withdrawal of her play of "Inez de Castro," a tragedy founded upon one of the most romantic and picturesque incidents in the Spanish chronicle. After much uncertainty and many difficulties, the project of bringing it out was abandoned. I remember thinking I could do nothing with the part of the heroine, whose corpse is produced in the last act, seated on the throne and receiving the homage of the subjects of her husband, Pedro the Cruel—a very ghastly incident in the story, which I think would in itself have endangered the success of the play. My despondency about the part of Inez had nothing to do with the possible effect of this situation, however, but was my invariable impression with regard to every new part that was assigned to me on first reading it. But I am sure Miss Mitford had no cause to regret that I had not undertaken this; the success of her play in my hands ran a risk such as her fine play of "Rienzi," in those of Mr. Young or Mr. Macready, could never have incurred; and it was well for her that to their delineation of her Roman tribune, and not mine of her Aragonese lady, her reputation with the public as a dramatic writer was confided.
I have mentioned in this last letter a morning visit from Chantrey, the eminent sculptor, who was among our frequenter. His appearance and manners were simple and almost rustic, and he was shy and silent in society, all which may have been results of his obscure birth and early want of education. It was to Sir Francis Chantrey that my father's friends applied for the design of the beautiful silver vase which they presented to him at the end of his professional career. The sculptor's idea seemed to me a very happy and appropriate one, and the design was admirably executed; it consisted of a simple and elegant figure of Hamlet on the cover of the vase, and round it, in fine relief, the "Seven Ages of Man," from Jacques's speech in "As You Like It;" the whole work was very beautiful, and has a double interest for me, as that not only of an eminent artist, but a kind friend of my father's.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 7, 1831. MY DEAREST H——,
With regard to change as we contemplate it when parting from those we love, I confess I should shrink from the idea of years intervening before you and I met again; not that I apprehend any diminution of our affection, but it would be painful to be no longer young, or to have grown suddenly old to each other. But I hope this will not be so; I hope we may go on meeting often enough for that change which is inevitable to be long imperceptible; I hope we may be allowed to go on wondering together, till we meet where you will certainly be happy, if wonder is for once joined to knowledge. I remember my aunt Whitelock saying that when she went to America she left my father a toddling thing that she used to dandle and carry about; and the first time she saw him after her return, he had a baby of his own in his arms. That sort of thing makes one's heart jump into one's mouth with dismay; it seems as if all the time one had been living away, unconsciously, was thrown in a lump at one's head.
J—— F—— told me on Thursday that her sister, whose wedding-day seemed to be about yesterday, was the mother of four children; she has lost no time, it is true, but my "yesterday" must be five years old. After dinner, yesterday, I wrote a new last scene to "Francis I." I mean to send it to Murray.
A—— says you seem younger to her than I do; which, considering your fourteen years' seniority over me, is curious; but the truth is, though she does not know it, I am still too young; I have not lived, experienced, and suffered enough to have acquired the self-forgetfulness and gentle forbearance that make us good and pleasant companions to our youngers.
Henry and I are going together to the Zoological Gardens one of these days; that lovely tigress hangs about my heart, and I must go and see her again. Ever your affectionate
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 9, 1831. MY DEAR H——,
Why are you not here to kiss and congratulate me? I am so proud and happy! Mr. Murray has given me four hundred and fifty pounds for my play alone! the other things he does not wish to publish with it. Only think of it—was there ever such publishing munificence! My father has the face to say it is not enough! but looks so proud and pleased that his face alone shows it is too much by a great deal; my mother is enchanted, and I am so happy, so thankful for this prosperous result of my work, so delighted at earning so much, so surprised and charmed to think that what gave me nothing but pleasure in the doing has brought me such an after-harvest of profit; it is too good almost to be true, and yet it is true.
But I am happy and have been much excited from another reason to-day. Richard Trench, John's dear friend and companion, is just returned from Spain, and came here this morning to see us. I sat with him a long while. John is well and in good spirits. Mr. Trench before leaving Gibraltar had used every persuasion to induce my brother to return with him, and had even got him on board the vessel in which they were to sail, but John's heart failed him at the thought of forsaking Torrijos, and he went back. The account Mr. Trench gives of their proceedings is much as I imagined them to have been. They hired a house which they denominated Constitution Hall, where they passed their time smoking and drinking ale, John holding forth upon German metaphysics, which grew dense in proportion as the tobacco fumes grew thick and his glass grew empty. You know we had an alarm about their being taken prisoners, which story originated thus: they had agreed with the constitutionalists in Algeciras that on a certain day the latter were to get rid of their officers (murder them civilly, I suppose), and then light beacons on the heights, at which signal Torrijos and his companions, among them our party who were lying armed on board a schooner in the bay, were to make good their landing. The English authorities at Gibraltar, however, had note of this, and while they lay watching for the signal they were boarded by one of the Government ships and taken prisoners. The number of English soldiers in whose custody they found themselves being, however, inferior to their own, they agreed that if the beacons made their appearance they would turn upon their guards and either imprison or kill them. But the beacons were never lighted; their Spanish fellow-revolutionists broke faith with them, and they remained ingloriously on board until next day, when they were ignominiously suffered to go quietly on shore again.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 8, 1831.
I am going to be very busy signing my name; my benefit is fixed for the 21st; I do not yet know what the play is to be. Our young, unsuccessful playwright, Mr. Wade, whom I like very much (he took his damnation as bravely as Capaneo), and Macdonald, the sculptor, dined with us on Sunday. On Monday I went to the library of the British Museum to consult Du Bellay's history for my new version of the last scene of "Francis I." I looked at some delightful books, and among others, a very old and fine MS. of the "Roman de la Rose," beautifully illuminated; also all the armorial bearings, shields, banners, etc., of the barons of King John's time, the barons of Runnymede and the Charter, most exquisitely and minutely copied from monuments, stained glass, brass effigies, etc.; it was a fine work, beautifully executed for the late king, George IV. I wish it had been executed for me. I did get A—— to walk in the square with me once, but she likes it even less than I do; my intellectual conversation is no equivalent for the shop-windows of Regent Street and the counters of the bazaar, and she has gone out with my aunt every day since, "leaving the square to solitude and me;" so I take my book with me (I can read walking at my quickest pace), and like to do so.
Tuesday evening I played Belvidera. I was quite nervous at acting it again after so long a period. After the play my father and I went to Lady Dacre's and had a pleasant party enough. Mrs. Norton was there, more entertaining and blinding beautiful than ever. Henry desired me to give her his "desperate love," to which she replied by sending the poor youth her "deadly scorn." Lord Melbourne desired to be introduced to me, and I think if he likes, he shall be the decrepit old nobleman you are so afraid of me marrying. I was charmed with his face, voice, and manner; we dine with him next Wednesday week, and I will write you word if the impression deepens.
My dear H——, only imagine my dismay; my father told me that after Easter I should have to play Lady Macbeth! It is no use thinking about it, for that only frightens me more; but, looking at it as calmly and reasonably as possible, surely it is too great an undertaking for so young a person as myself. Perhaps I may play it better than most girls of my age would; what will that amount to? That towering, tremendous woman, what a trial of courage and composure for me! If you were a good friend, now, you would come up to town "for that occasion only," and sustain me with your presence.
The beautiful Miss Bayley is at length married to William Ashley [the present Earl of Shaftesbury], and everybody is rejoicing with them or for them; it is pleasant to catch glimpses of fresh shade and flowers as one goes along the dusty highroad of life.
I must now tell you what I am going to do, that you may know where to find me: to-morrow, I go to a private morning concert with my mother; in the evening, I act Beatrice, and after the play all sorts of people are coming here to supper. On Monday, I act Fazio; Wednesday, we dine at Lady Macdonald's; Thursday, I act Mrs. Haller; and Saturday, Beatrice again. I have not an idea what will be done for my benefit; we are all devising and proposing. I myself want them to bring out Massinger's "Maid of Honor;" I think it beautiful.
Now, dear H——, I must leave off, and sign my tickets. We all send our loves to you: my mother tells me not to let you forget her; she says she is afraid you class her with Mrs. John Kemble. If ever there were two dissimilar human beings, it is those two. Ever your affectionate
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 13, 1831. DEAR H——,
I received your letter yesterday, and must exult in my self-command, for Mrs. Jameson was with me, and I did not touch it till she was gone. Thank you first of all for Spenser; that is poetry! I was much benefited as well as delighted by it. Considering the power of poetry to raise one's mind and soul into the noblest moods, I do not think it is held in sufficient reverence nowadays; the bards of old were greater people in their society than our modern ones are; to be sure, modern poetry is not all of a purely elevating character, and poets are paid, besides being asked out to dinner, which the bards always were. I think the tone of a good deal of Campbell's "Pleasures of Hope" very noble, and some of Mrs. Hemans's things are very beautiful in sentiment as well as expression. But then, all that order of writing is so feeble compared with the poetry of our old masters, who do not so much appeal to our feelings as to our reason and imagination combined. I do not believe that to be sublime is in the power of a woman, any more than to be logical; and Mrs. Hemans, who is neither, writes charmingly, and one loves her as a Christian woman even more than one admires her as a writer.