Yes, it is very charming that the dove, the favorite type of gentleness and tenderness and "harmlessness," should have such a swift and vigorous power of flight; suaviter—fortiter, a good combination.
We are having the most tempestuous weather; A—— is horribly frightened, and I am rather awed. I got the encyclopaedia to-night to study the cause of the equinoctial gales, which I thought we should both be the better for knowing, but could find nothing about them; can you tell me of any book or treatise upon this subject?
My dear H——, shut your eyes while you read this, because if you don't, they'll never shut again. Constance is what I am to play for my benefit. I am horribly frightened; it is a cruel weight to lay upon my shoulders: however, there is nothing for it but doing my best, and leaving the rest to fate. I almost think now I could do Lady Macbeth better. I am like poor little Arthur, who begged to have his tongue cut off rather than have his eyes put out; that last scene of Constance—think what an actress one should be to do it justice! Pray for me.
And so the Poles are crushed! what a piteous horror! Will there never come a day of retribution for this!
Mrs. Jameson came and sat with me some time yesterday evening, and read me a good deal of her work on Shakespeare's female characters; they are very pleasing sketches—outlines—but her criticism and analysis are rather graceful than profound or powerful. Tuesday next my mother and I spend the evening with her; Wednesday, we dine at Sir John Macdonald's; Thursday, I act Mrs. Haller; Friday, we have an evening party at home; Saturday, I play Beatrice; Monday, Constance (come up for it!); Tuesday, we dine with Lord Melbourne; and this is as much of the book of fate as is unrolled to me at present.
Mrs. Harry came here to-day; it is the first time I have seen her this month; she is looking wretchedly, and talks of returning to Edinburgh. My first feeling at hearing this was joy that I shall not go there and find the face and voice for ever associated with Edinburgh in my heart away from it. But I am not really glad, for it is the failure of some plan of hers which obliges her to do this. I have the loves of all to give you, and they are all very troublesome, crying, "Give mine separately," "Don't lump mine;" so please take them each separately and singly. I have been sobbing my heart out over Constance this morning, and act Fazio to-night, which is hard work.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, Saturday, March 19th. DEAR H——,
You ask if Mr. Trench's account of their Spanish escapade is likely to soften my father's view of the folly of the expedition. I think not, by any means—as how should it? But the yesterday papers reported a successful attack upon Cadiz and the proclamation of Torrijos general-in-chief by the Constitutionalists, who were rising all over the country. This has been again contradicted to-day, and may have been a mere stock-jobbing story, after all. If it be true, however, the results may be of serious importance to my brother. Should the Constitutionalists get the upper hand, his adherence to Torrijos may place him in a prominent position, I am afraid; perhaps, however, though success may not alter my father's opinion of the original folly of John's undertaking, it may in some measure reconcile him to it. I suppose it is not impossible now that John should become an officer in the Spanish army, and that after so many various and contradictory plans his career may finally be that of a soldier. How strange and sad it all seems to me, to be sure!
You say it's a horrid thing one can't "try on one's body" and choose such a one as would suit one; but do you consider your body accidental, as it were, or do you really think we could do better for ourselves than has been done for us in this matter? After all, our souls get used to our bodies, and in some fashion alter and shape them to fit; then you know if we had different bodies we should be different people and not our same selves at all; if I had been tall, as I confess I in my heart of hearts wish I were, what another moral creature should I have been.
You urge me to work, dear H——, and study my profession, and were I to say I hate it, you would retort, "You do it, therefore take pains to do it well." And so I do, as well as I can; I have been studying Constance with my father, and rubbed off some of the rough edges of it a little.
I am sorry to say I shall not have a good benefit; unluckily, the second reading of the Reform Bill comes on to-morrow (to-night, by the bye, for it is Monday), and there will be as many people in the House of Commons as in my house, and many more in Parliament Street than in either; it is unfortunate for me, but cannot be helped. I was going to say, pray for me, but I forgot that you will not get this till "it is bedtime, Hal, and all is well." The publication of my play is not to take place till after this Reform fever has a little abated.
Dear H——, this is Wednesday, the 23rd; Monday and King John and my Constance are all over; but I am at this moment still so deaf with nervousness as not to hear the ticking of my watch when held to one of my ears; the other side of my head is not deaf any longer now; but on Monday night I hardly heard one word I uttered through the whole play. It is rather hard that having endeavored (and succeeded wonderfully, too) in possessing my soul in peace during that trial of my courage, my nervous system should give way in this fashion. I had a knife of pain sticking in my side all through the play and all day long, Monday; as I did not hear myself speak, I cannot tell you anything of my performance. My dress was of the finest pale-blue merino, all folds and drapery like my Grecian Daughter costume, with an immense crimson mantle hung on my shoulders which I could hardly carry. My head-dress was exactly copied from one of my aunt's, and you cannot imagine how curiously like her I looked. My mother says, "You have done it better than I believe any other girl of your age would do it." But of course that is not a representation of Constance to satisfy her, or any one else, indeed. You know, dear H——, what my own feeling has been about this, and how utterly incapable I knew myself for such an undertaking; but you did not, nor could any one, know how dreadfully I suffered from the apprehension of failure which my reason told me was well founded. I assure you that when I came on the stage I felt like some hunted creature driven to bay; I was really half wild with terror. The play went off admirably, but I lay, when my part was over, for an hour on my dressing-room floor, with only strength enough left to cry. Your letter to A—— revived me, and just brought me enough to life again to eat my supper, which I had not felt able to touch, in spite of my exhaustion and great need of it; when, however, I once began, my appetite justified the French proverb and took the turn of voracity, and I devoured like a Homeric hero. I promised to tell you something of our late dinner at Lord Melbourne's, but have left myself neither space nor time. It was very pleasant, and I fell out of my love for our host (who, moreover, is absorbed by Mrs. Norton) and into another love with Lord O——, Lord T——'s son, who is one of the most beautiful creatures of the male sex I ever saw; unluckily, he does not fulfill the necessary conditions of your theory, and is neither as old nor as decrepit as you have settled the nobleman I am to marry is to be; so he won't do.
We are going to a party at Devonshire House to-night. Here I am called away to receive some visitors. Pray write soon to your affectionate
To-morrow I act Constance, and Saturday Isabella, which is all I know for the present of the future. I have just bought A—— a beautiful guitar; I promised her one as soon as my play was out. My room is delicious with violets, and my new blue velvet gown heavenly in color and all other respects except the—well, unheavenly price Devy makes me pay for it.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, April 2, 1831. DEAR H——,
I am truly sorry for M——'s illness, just at the height of all her gay season gayeties, too; it is too provoking to have one's tackle out of order and lie on the beach with such a summer sea sparkling before one. I congratulate L—— on her father's relenting and canceling his edict against waltzing and galloping. And yet, I am always rather sorry when a determination of that sort, firmly expressed, is departed from. Of course our views and opinions, not being infallible, are liable to change, and may not unreasonably be altered or weakened by circumstances and the more enlightened convictions of improved powers and enlarged experience, but it is as well, therefore, for our own sakes, not to promulgate them as if they were Persian decrees. One can step gracefully down from a lesser height, where one would fall from a greater. But with young people generally, I think, to retreat from a position you have assumed is to run the risk of losing some of their consideration and respect; for they have neither consciousness of their own frailty, nor charity for the frailty of others, nor the wisdom to perceive that a resolution may be better broken than kept; and though perhaps themselves gaining some desired end by the yielding of their elders, I believe any indulgence so granted (that is, after being emphatically denied) never fails to leave on the youthful mind an impression of want of judgment or determination in those they have to do with.
We dine with the Fitzhughs on Tuesday week; I like Emily much, though she will talk of human souls as "vile;" I gave her Channing to read, and she liked it very much, but said that his view of man's nature was not that of a Christian; I think her contempt for it still less such. As we are immortal in spite of death, so I think we are wonderful in spite of our weakness, and admirable in spite of our imperfection, and capable of all good in spite of all our evil.
A——'s guitar is a beauty, and wears a broad blue scarf and has a sweet, low, soft voice. Mr. Pickersgill is going to paint my portrait; it is a present Major Dawkins makes my father and mother, but I do wish they would leave off trying to take my picture. My face is too bad for anything but nature, and never was intended for still life. The intention, however, is very kind, and the offer one that can scarcely be refused. I wish you would come and keep me awake through my sittings.
Our engagements—social and professional—are a dinner party at the Mayows to-morrow; an evening party on Monday; Tuesday, the opera; Wednesday I act Isabella; Thursday, a dinner at Mr. Harness's; Friday I act Bianca; Saturday we have a dinner party at home; the Monday following I act Constance; Tuesday there is a dance at the Fitzhughs'; and sundry dissipations looming in the horizon.
Good-by, and God bless you, my dear H——. I look forward to our meeting at Ardgillan, three months hence, with delight, and am affectionately yours,
F. A. K.
A—— and I begin our riding lessons on Wednesday next. We have got pretty dark-brown habits and red velvet waistcoats, and shall look like two nice little robin-redbreasts on horseback; all I dread is that she may be frightened to death, which might militate against her enjoyment, perhaps.
What you say about my brother John is very true; and though my first care is for his life, my next is for his happiness, which I believe more likely to be secured by his remaining in the midst of action and excitement abroad, than in any steady pursuit at home. My benefit was not as good as it ought to have been; it was not sufficiently advertised, and it took place on the night of the reading of the Reform Bill, which circumstance was exceedingly injurious to it.
To-day is John's birthday. I was in hopes it might not occur to my mother, but she alluded to it yesterday. I was looking at that little sketch of him in her room this morning, with a heavy heart. His lot seems now cast indeed, and most strangely. I would give anything to see him and hear his voice again, but I fear to wish him back again among us. I am afraid that he would neither be happy himself, nor make others so.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, 1831.
It is a long time, dear H——, since I have written to you, and I feel it so with self-reproach. To-day, except paying a round of visits with my mother and acting this evening, I have nothing to prevent my talking with you in tolerable peace and quiet—so here I am. You have no idea what a quantity of "things to be done" has been crowded into the last fortnight: studying Camiola, rehearsing for two hours and a half every other day, riding for two hours at a time, and sitting for my picture nearly as long, running from place to place about my dresses, and now having Lady Teazle and Mrs. Oakley to get up, immediately,—all this, with my nightly work or nightly gayeties, makes an amount of occupation of one sort and another that hardly leaves me time for thought.
You will be glad to hear that "The Maid of Honor" was entirely successful; that it will have a "great run," or bring much money to the theater, I doubt. It is a cold play, according to the present taste of audiences, and there are undoubted defects in its construction which in the fastidious judgment of our critics weigh down its sterling beauties.
It has done me great service, and to you I may say that I think it the best thing I have acted. Indeed, I like my own performance of it so well (which you know does not often happen to me), that I beg you will make A—— tell you something about it. I was beautifully dressed and looked very nice.
We have heard nothing of John for some time now, and my mother has ceased to express, if not to feel, anxiety about him, and seems tranquil at present; but after all she has suffered on his account, it is not, perhaps, surprising that she should subside into the calm of mere exhaustion from that cruel over-excitement.
Our appeal before the Lords, after having been put off once this week, will, in consequence of the threatened dissolution of Parliament, be deferred sine die, as the phrase is. Oh, what weary work this is for those who are tremblingly waiting for a result of vital importance to their whole fate and fortune! Thank Heaven, I am liberally endowed with youth's peculiar power and privilege of disregarding future sorrow, and unless under the immediate pressure of calamity can keep the anticipation of it at bay. My journal has become a mere catalogue of the names of people I meet and places I go to. I have had no time latterly for anything but the briefest possible registry of my daily doings. Mrs. Harry Siddons has taken a lodging in this street, nearly opposite to us, so that I have the happiness of seeing her rather oftener than I have been able to do hitherto; the girls come over, too; and as we have lately taken to acting charades and proverbs, we spend our evenings very pleasantly together.
We are going to get up a piece called "Napoleon." I do not mean my cousins and ourselves, but that prosperous establishment, Covent Garden Theatre. Think of Bonaparte being acted! It makes one grin and shudder.
I have been three or four times to Mr. Pickersgill, and generally sit two hours at a time to him. I dare say he will make a nice picture of me, but his anxiety that it should in no respect resemble Sir Thomas Lawrence's drawing amuses me. I was in hopes that when I had done with him I should not have to sit to anybody for anything again. But I find I am to undergo that boredom for a bust by Mr. Turnerelli. I wish I could impress upon all my artist friends that my face is an inimitable original which nature never intended should be copied. Pazienza! I must say, though, that I grudge the time thus spent. I want to get on with my play, but I'm afraid for the next three weeks that will be hopeless.
To add to my occupations past, present, and to come, not having enough of acting with my professional duties in that line, I am going to take part in some private theatricals. Lord Francis Leveson wants to get up his version of Victor Hugo's "Hernani," at Bridgewater House, and has begged me, as a favor, to act the heroine; all the rest are to be amateurs. I have consented to this, not knowing well how to refuse, yet for one or two reasons I almost think I had better not have done so. I expect to be excessively amused by it, but it will take up a terrible deal of my time, for I am sure they will need rehearsals without end. I do not know at all what our summer plans are; but I believe we shall be acting in the provinces till September, when if all things are quiet in Paris my father proposes going over with me and one or two members of the Covent Garden company, and playing there for a month or so. I think I should like that. I fancy I should like acting to a French audience; they are people of great intellectual refinement and discrimination, and that is a pleasant quality in an audience. I think my father seems inclined to take A—— with us and leave her there. A musical education can nowhere better be obtained, and under the care of Mrs. Foster, about whom I believe I wrote to you once a long letter, there could be no anxiety about her welfare.
I showed that part of your last letter which concerned my aunt Dall to herself, because I knew it would please her, and so it did; and she bids me tell you that she values your good-will and esteem extremely, and should do still more if you did not misbestow so much of them on me.
Emily Fitzhugh sent me this morning a Seal with a pretty device, in consequence of my saying that I thought it was pleasanter to lean upon one's friends, morally, than to be leant upon by them—an oak with ivy clinging to it and "Chiedo sostegno" for the motto. I do not think I shall use it to many people, though.
To-morrow Sheridan Knowles dines with us, to read a new play he has written, in which I am to act. In the evening we go to Lady Cork's, Sunday we have a dinner-party here, Monday I act Camiola, Tuesday we go to Mrs. Harry's, Wednesday I act Camiola, and further I know not. Good-by, dear; ever yours,
F. A. K.
The piece which I have referred to in this letter, calling itself "Bonaparte," was a sensational melodrama upon the fate and fortunes of the great emperor, beginning with his first exploits as a young artillery officer, himself pointing and firing the cannon at Toulon, to the last dreary agony of the heart-broken exile of St. Helena. It was well put upon the stage, and presented a series of historical pictures of considerable interest and effect, not a little of which was due to the great resemblance of Mr. Warde, who filled the principal part, to the portraits of Napoleon. He had himself, I believe, been in the army, and left it under the influence of a passion for the stage, which his dramatic ability hardly justified; for though he was a very respectable actor, he had no genius whatever, and never rose above irreproachable mediocrity. But his military training and his peculiar likeness to Bonaparte helped him to make his part in this piece very striking and effective, though it was not in itself the merest peg to hang "situations" on.
I was at this time sitting for my picture to Mr. Pickersgill, with whose portrait of my father in the part of Macbeth I have mentioned my mother's comically expressed dissatisfaction. Our kind friend, Major Dawkins, wished to give my father and mother a good portrait of me, and suggested Mr. Pickersgill, a very eminent portrait-painter, as the artist who would be likely to execute it most satisfactorily. Mr. Pickersgill, himself, seemed very desirous to undertake it, and greatly as my sittings interfered with my leisure, of which I had but little, it was impossible under the circumstances that I should refuse, especially as he represented that if he succeeded, as he hoped to do, his painting me would be an advantage to him; portraits of public exhibitors being of course recognizable by the public, and, if good, serving the purpose of advertisements. Unluckily, Mrs. Jameson proposed accompanying me, in order to lighten by her very agreeable conversation the tedium of the process. Her intimate acquaintance with my face, with which Mr. Pickersgill was not familiar, and her own very considerable artistic knowledge and taste made her, however, less discreet in her comments and suggestions with regard to his operations than was altogether pleasant to him; and after exhibiting various symptoms of impatience, on one occasion he came so very near desiring her to mind her own business, that we broke off the sitting abruptly; and the offended painter adding, to my dismay, that it was quite evident he was not considered equal to the task he had undertaken, our own attitude toward each other became so constrained, not to say disagreeable, that on taking my leave I declined returning any more, and what became of Mr. Pickersgill's beginning of me I do not know. Perhaps he finished it by memory, and it is one of the various portraits of me, qui courent le monde, for some of which I never sat, which were taken either from the stage or were mere efforts of memory of the artists; one of which, a head of Beatrice, painted by my friend Mr. Sully, of Philadelphia, was engraved as a frontispiece to a small volume of poems I published there, and was one of the best likenesses ever taken of me.
The success of "The Maid of Honor" gave me great pleasure. The sterling merits of the play do not perhaps outweigh the one insuperable defect of the despicable character of the hero; one can hardly sympathize with Camiola's devotion to such an idol, and his unworthiness not only lessens the interest of the piece, but detracts from the effect of her otherwise very noble character. The performance of the part always gave me great pleasure, and there was at once a resemblance to and difference from my favorite character, Portia, that made it a study of much interest to me. Both the women, young, beautiful, and of unusual intellectual and moral excellence, are left heiresses to enormous wealth, and are in exceptional positions of power and freedom in the disposal of it. Portia, however, is debarred by the peculiar nature of her father's will from bestowing her person and fortune upon any one of her own choice; chance serves her to her wish (she was not born to be unhappy), and gives her to the man she loves, a handsome, extravagant young gentleman, who would certainly have been pronounced by all of us quite unworthy of her, until she proved him worthy by the very fact of her preference for him; while Camiola's lover is separated from her by the double obstacle of his royal birth and religious vow.
The golden daughter of the splendid republic receives and dismisses princes and kings as her suitors, indifferent to any but their personal merits; we feel she is their equal in the lowest as their superior in the highest of their "qualities;" with Camiola it is impossible not to suspect that her lover's rank must have had some share in the glamor he throws over her. In some Italian version of the story that I have read, Camiola is called the "merchant's daughter;" and contrasting her bearing and demeanor with the easy courtesy and sweet, genial graciousness of Portia, we feel that she must have been of lower birth and breeding than the magnificent and charming Venetian. Portia is almost always in an attitude of (unconscious) condescension in her relations with all around her; Camiola, in one of self-assertion or self-defense. There is an element of harshness, bordering upon coarseness, in the texture of her character, which in spite of her fine qualities makes itself unpleasantly felt, especially contrasted with that of Portia, to whom the idea of encountering insolence or insult must have been as impossible as to the French duchess, who, warned that if she went into the streets alone at night she would probably be insulted, replied with ineffable security and simplicity, "Qui? moi!" One can imagine the merchant's daughter growing up to the possession of her great wealth, through the narrowing and hardening influences of sordid circumstances and habits of careful calculation and rigid economy, thrifty, prudent, just, and eminently conscientious; of Portia one can only think as of a creature born in the very lap of luxury and nursed in the midst of sunny magnificence, whose very element was elegant opulence and refined splendor, and by whose cradle Fortune herself stood godmother. She seems like a perfect rose, blooming in a precious vase of gold and gems and exquisite workmanship. Camiola's contemptuous rebuff of her insolent courtier lover; her merciless ridicule of her fantastical, half-witted suitor; her bitter and harsh rebuke of Adorni when he draws his sword upon the man who had insulted her; above all, her hard and cold insensibility to his unbounded devotion, and the cruelty of making him the agent for the ransom of her lover from captivity (the selfishness of her passion inducing her to employ him because she knows how absolutely she may depend upon the unselfishness of his); and her final stern and peremptory claim of Bertrand's promise, are all things that Portia could never have done. Portia is the Lady of Belmont, and Camiola is the merchant's daughter, a very noble and magnanimous woman. In the munificent bestowal of their wealth, the one to ransom her husband's friend from death, the other to redeem her own lover from captivity, the manner of the gift is strikingly characteristic of the two natures. When Portia, radiant with the joy of relieving Bassanio's anguish, speaks of Antonio's heavy ransom as the "petty debt," we feel sure that if it had been half her fortune it would have seemed to her an insignificant price to pay for her husband's peace of mind. Camiola reads the price set upon her lover's head, and with grave deliberation says, "Half my estate, Adorni," before she bids him begone and purchase at that cost the prince's release from captivity. Moreover, in claiming her right of purchase over him, at the very moment of his union with another woman, she gives a character of barter or sale to the whole transaction, and appeals for justice as a defrauded creditor, insisting upon her "money's worth," like Shylock himself, as if the love with which her heart is breaking had been a mere question of traffic between the heir of Sicily and the merchant's daughter. In spite of all which she is a very fine creature, immeasurably superior to the despicable man who accepts her favors and betrays her love. It is worthy of note that Bassanio, who is clearly nothing else remarkable, is every inch a gentleman, and in that respect no unfit mate for Portia; while the Sicilian prince is a blackguard utterly, beneath Camiola in every particular but that of his birth.
I remember two things connected with my performance of Camiola which amused me a good deal at the time. In the last scene, when she proclaims her intention of taking the vail, Camiola makes tardy acknowledgment to Adorni for his life-long constancy and love by leaving him a third of her estate, with the simple words, "To thee, Adorni, for thy true and faithful service" (a characteristic proceeding on the part of the merchant's daughter. Portia would have given him the ring from her finger, or the flower from her bosom, besides the fortune). I used to pause upon the last words, endeavoring to convey, if one look and tone might do it, all the regretful gratitude which ought to have filled her heart, while uttering with her farewell that first, last, and only recognition of his infinite devotion to her. One evening, when the audience were perfectly silent and one might have "heard a pin drop," as the saying is, as I spoke these words, a loud and enthusiastic exclamation of, "Beautiful!" uttered by a single voice resounded through the theater, and was followed by such a burst of applause that I was startled and almost for a moment frightened by the sudden explosion of feeling, for which I was quite unprepared, and which I have never forgotten.
Another night, as I was leaving the stage, after the play, I met behind the scenes my dear friend Mr. Harness, with old Mr. Sotheby; both were very kind in their commendation of my performance, but the latter kept repeating with much emphasis, "But how do you contrive to make yourself look so beautiful?" a rather equivocal compliment, which had a peculiar significance; my beauty, or rather my lack of it, being a sore subject between us, as I had made it the reason for refusing to act Mary Stuart in his play of "Darnley," assuring him I was too ugly to look the part properly; so upon this accusation of making myself "look beautiful," I could only reply, with much laughing, "Good-looking enough for Camiola, but not for Queen Mary."
I received with great pleasure a congratulatory letter from Mrs. Jameson, which, in spite of my feeling her praise excessive, confirmed me in my opinion of the effect the piece ought to produce upon intelligent spectators. She had seen all the great dramatic performers of the Continental theaters, and had had many opportunities, both at home and abroad, of cultivating her taste and forming her judgment, and her opinion was, therefore, more valuable to me than much of the criticism and praise that I received.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March, 1831. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
My mother is confined to her bed with a bad cold, or she would have answered your note herself; but, being disabled, she has commissioned me to do so, and desires me to say that both my father and herself object to my going anywhere without some member of my family as chaperon; and as this is a general rule, the infringement of it in a particular instance, however much I might wish it, would be better avoided, for fear of giving offense where I should be glad to plead the prohibition. She bids me add that she fears she cannot go out to-morrow, but that some day soon, at an early hour, she hopes to be able to accompany us both to the British Gallery. Will you come to us on Sunday evening? You see what is hanging over me for Thursday next; shall you go to see me?
Yours affectionately, F. A. K.
I did not, and do not, at all question the good judgment of my parents in not allowing me to go into society unaccompanied by one or the other of themselves. The only occasion on which I remember feeling very rebellious with regard to this rule was that of the coronation of King William and Queen Adelaide, for which imposing ceremony a couple of peers' tickets had been very kindly sent us, but of which I was unable to avail myself, my father being prevented by business from escorting me, my mother being out of town, and my brother's countenance and protection not being, in their opinion, adequate for the occasion. So John went alone to the abbey, and say the fine show, and my peer's ticket remained unused on my mantelpiece, a constant suggestion of the great disappointment I had experienced when, after some discussion, it was finally determined that he was too young to be considered a proper chaperon for me. Dear me! how vexed I was! and how little charmed with my notoriety, which was urged as the special reason for my being hedged round with the utmost conventional decorum!
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March, 1831. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I have but two minutes to say two words to you, in answer to your very kind note. Both my mother and myself went out of town, not to recover from absolute indisposition, but to recruit strength. I am sorry to say she is far from well now, however; but as I think her present suffering springs from cold, I hope a few warm days will remove it. I am myself very well, except a bad cough which I have had for some time, and a very bad side-ache, which has just come on, and which, if I had time in addition to the inclination which I have, would prevent me from writing much more at present. I envy you your time spent in the country; the first days of spring and last of autumn should never be spent between brick houses and stone pavements. I am truly sorry for the anxieties you have undergone; your father is, I trust, quite recovered; and as to your dear baby (Mrs. Jameson's niece), remember it is but beginning to make you anxious, and will continue to do so as long as it lives, which is a perfect Job's comforter, is it not? The story of your old man interested me very much; I suppose a parent can love all through a whole lifetime of absence: but do you think there can be a very strong and enduring affection in a child's bosom for a parent hardly known except by hearsay? I should doubt it. I must leave off now, and remain,
Always yours most truly, F.A. KEMBLE.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 29, 1831. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
Will you be kind enough to forward my very best acknowledgments to Sir Gerard Noeel, both for his good wishes and the more tangible proof of interest he sent me (a considerable payment for a box on my benefit night)? I am sorry you were alarmed on Monday. You alarmed us all; you looked so exceedingly ill that I feared something very serious had occurred to distress and vex you. Thank you for your critique upon my Constance; both my mother and myself were much delighted with it; it was every way acceptable to me, for the censure I knew to be deserved, and the praise I hoped was so, and they were blended in the very nicest proportions. We dine at six to-morrow. Lady Cork insisted upon five, but that was really too primitive, because, as the dandy said, "we cannot eat meat in the morning."
Ever yours most truly, F. A. K.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March 30, 1831. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
Thank you for your money; it is necessary to be arithmetical if one means to be economical, and I receive your tribute with more pleasure than that of a duchess. I sometimes hear people lament that they have anything to do with money. I do not at all share that feeling; money, after all, only represents other things. If one has much, it is always well to look to one's expenditure, or the much will become much less; and if one has little, and works hard for it, I cannot understand being above receiving the price of one's labor. In all kinds "the laborer is worthy of his hire," and I think it very foolish to talk as if we set no value upon that which we value enough to toil for. With regard to the tickets you wish me to send you, I must refer you to the theater; for, finding that my wits and temper were both likely to be lost in the box-book, I sent the whole away to Mr. Notter, the box-book keeper, to whom you had better apply.
Yours ever truly, F. A. K.
This and the preceding note refer to my benefit, of which, according to a not infrequent custom with the more popular members of the profession, I had undertaken to manage the business details, but found myself, as I have here stated, quite incompetent to encounter the worry of applications for boxes, and seats, and special places, etc., etc., and have never since, in the course of my whole public career, had anything to do with the management of my own affairs.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, March, 1831. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I was not at home yesterday afternoon when you sent to our house, and all the evening was so busy studying that I had not time to answer your dispatch. Thank you for your last year's letter; it is curious to look back, even to so short a time, and see how the past affected one when it was the present. I remember I was very happy and comfortable at Bath, the critics notwithstanding. Thank you, too, for your more recent epistle. I am grateful for, and gratified by, your minute observation of my acting. I am always thankful for your criticisms, even when I do not quite agree with them; for I know that you are always kindly anxious that I should not destroy my own effects, which I believe I not unfrequently do. With regard to my action, unless in passages which necessarily require a specific gesture, such as, "You'll find them at the Marchesa Aldabella's," I never determine any one particular movement; and, of course, this must render my action different almost every time; and so it depends upon my own state of excitement and inspiration, so to speak, whether the gesture be forcible or not. My father desires me to send you Retsch's "Hamlet;" it is his, and I request you not to judge it too hastily: I have generally heard it abused, but I think in many parts it has very great merit. I am told that Retsch says he has no fancy for illustrating "Romeo and Juliet," which seems strange. One would have thought he would have delighted in portraying those lovely human beings, whom one always imagines endowed with an outward and visible form as youthful, beautiful, and full of grace, as their passion itself was. Surely the balcony, the garden, and grave-yard scenes, would have furnished admirable subjects for his delicate and powerful hand. Is it possible that he thinks the thing beyond him? I must go to work. Good-by.
Ever yours truly, F. A. K.
You marked so many things in my manuscript book that I really felt ashamed to copy them all, for I should have filled more than half yours with my rhymes. I have just added to those I did transcribe a sonnet I wrote on Monday night after the play.
It may have been that the execution of "Faust," his masterpiece, disinclined Retsch for the treatment of another love story. He did subsequently illustrate "Romeo and Juliet" with much grace and beauty; but it is, as a whole, undoubtedly inferior to his illustrations of Goethe's tragical love story. Retsch's genius was too absolutely German to allow of his treating anything from any but a German point of view. Shakespeare, Englishman as he is, has written an Italian "Romeo and Juliet;" but Retsch's lovers are Teutonic in spite of their costume, and nowhere, as in the wonderful play, is the Southern passion made manifest through the Northern thought.
The private theatricals at Bridgewater House were fruitful of serious consequences to me, and bestowed on me a lasting friendship and an ephemeral love: the one a source of much pleasure, the other of some pain. They entailed much intimate intercourse with Lord and Lady Francis Leveson Gower, afterward Egerton, and finally Earl and Countess of Ellesmere, who became kind and constant friends of mine. Victor Hugo's play of "Hernani," full of fine and striking things, as well as of exaggerations verging on the ludicrous, had been most admirably rendered into rhymed verse by Lord Ellesmere. His translations from the German and his English version of "Faust," which was one of the first attempts to give a poetical rendering in our language of Goethe's masterpiece, had won him some literary reputation, and his rhymed translation of "Hernani" was a performance calculated to add to it considerably. He was a very accomplished and charming person; good and amiable, clever, cultivated, and full of fine literary and artistic taste. He was singularly modest and shy, with a gentle diffidence of manner and sweet, melancholy expression in his handsome face that did no justice to a keen perception of humor and relish of fun, which nobody who did not know him intimately would have suspected him of.
Of Lady Ellesmere I have already said that she was a sort of idol of mine in my girlhood, when first I knew her, and to the end of her life continued to be an object of my affectionate admiration. She was excellently conscientious, true, and upright; of a direct and simple integrity of mind and character which her intercourse with the great world to which she belonged never impaired, and which made her singular and unpopular in the artificial society of English high life. Her appearance always seemed to me strikingly indicative of her mind and character. The nobly delicate and classical outline of her face, her pure, transparent complexion, and her clear, fearless eyes were all outward and visible expressions of her peculiar qualities. Her beautifully shaped head and fine profile always reminded me of the Pallas Athene on some antique gem, and the riding cap with the visor, which she first made fashionable, increased the classical resemblance. She was curiously wanting in imagination, and I never heard anything more comically literal than her description of her own utter destitution of poetical taste. After challenging in vain her admiration for the great poets of our language, I quoted to her, not without misgiving, some charmingly graceful and tender lines, addressed to herself by her husband, and asked her if she did not like those: "Oh yes," replied she, "I think they are very nice, but you know I think they would be just as nice if they were not verses; and whenever I hear any poetry that I like at all, I always think how much better I should like it if it was prose;" an explanation of her taste that irresistibly reminded me of the delightful Frenchman's sentiment about spinach: "Je n'aime pas les epinards, et je suis si content que je ne les aime pas! parce que si je les aimais, j'en mangerais beaucoup, et je ne peux pas les souffrir."
My intercourse with Lady Ellesmere, which had been a good deal interrupted during the years I passed out of England, was renewed the year before her death, when I visited her at Hatchford, where she was residing in her widowhood, and where I promised her when I left her I would return and stay with her again, but was never fortunate enough to do so, her death occurring not long afterward.
During one of my last visits to Worsley Hall, Lord Ellesmere's seat in Lancashire, Lady Ellesmere had taken me all over the beautiful church they were building near their house, which was to be his and her final resting-place. After her death I made a pilgrimage to it for her sake, and when the service was over and the young members of the family had left their place of worship near the grave of their parents, I went into their chapel, where a fine monument with his life-sized effigy in marble had been dedicated to him by her love, and where close beside it and below it lay the marble slab on which her name was inscribed.
Our performance at Bridgewater House was highly successful and created a great sensation, and we repeated it three times for the edification of the great gay world of London, sundry royal personages included. Two of our company, Mr. Craven and Mr. St. Aubin, were really good actors; the rest were of a tolerably decent inoffensiveness. Mrs. Bradshaw, the charming Maria Tree of earlier days, accepted the few lines that had to be spoken by Donna Sol's duenna, and delivered the epilogue, which, besides being very graceful and playful, contains some lines for which I felt grateful to Lord Ellesmere's kindness, though he had certainly taken a poet's full license of embellishing his subject in his laudatory reference to his Donna Sol.
The whole thing amused me very much, and mixed up, as it soon came to be for me, with an element of real and serious interest, kept up the atmosphere of nervous excitement in which I was plunged from morning till night.
The play which Sheridan Knowles came to read to us was "The Hunchback." He had already produced several successful dramas, of which the most striking was Virginius, in which Mr. Macready performed the Roman father so finely. The play Knowles now read to us had been originally taken by him to Drury Lane in the hope and expectation that Kean would accept the principal man's part of Master Walter. Various difficulties and disagreements arising, however, about the piece, the author brought it to my father; and great was my emotion and delight in hearing him read it. From the first moment I felt sure that it would succeed greatly, and that I should be able to do justice to the part of the heroine, and I was anxious with my father for its production. The verdict of the Green Room was not, however, nearly as favorable as I had expected; and I was surprised to find that when the piece was read to the assembled company it was received with considerable misgiving as to its chance of success.
It is very curious that their experience tells so little among theatrical people in their calculation of the probable success of a new piece; perhaps it may be said that they cannot positively foresee the effect each actor or actress may produce with certain parts; but given the best possible representation of the piece, the precise temper of the particular audience who decides its fate on the first night of representation is always an unknown quantity in the calculation, and no technical experience ever seems to arrive at anything like even approximate certainty with regard to that. I felt perfectly sure of the success of "The Hunchback," but I think that was precisely because of my want of theatrical experience, which left me rather in the position of one of the public than one of the players, and there was much grave head-shaking over it, especially on the part of our excellent stage-manager, Mr. Bartley, who was exceedingly faint-hearted about the experiment.
My father, with great professional disinterestedness, took the insignificant part of the insignificant lover, and Knowles himself filled that of the hero of the piece, the hunchback; a circumstance which gave the part a peculiar interest, and compensated in some measure for the loss of the great genius of Kean, for whom it had been written.
The same species of uncertainty which I have said characterizes the judgments of actors with regard to the success of new pieces sometimes affects the appreciation authors themselves form of the relative merits of their own works, inducing them to value more highly some which they esteem their best, and to which that pre-eminence is denied by popular verdict. Knowles, while writing "The Hunchback," was so absorbed with the idea of what Kean's impersonation of it would probably be, that he was entirely unconscious of what the great actor himself probably perceived, that on the stage the part of Julia would overweigh and eclipse that of Master Walter. Knowles felt sure he had written a fine man's part, and was really not aware that the woman's part was still finer. What is yet more singular is that while he was writing "The Wife," which he did immediately afterward, with a view to my acting the principal female character, he constantly said to me, "I am writing such a part for you!" and had no notion that the only part capable of any effect at all in the piece was that of Julian St. Pierre, the good-for-nothing brother of the duchess.
The play of "The Wife" was singularly wanting in interest, and except in the character of St. Pierre was ineffective and flat from beginning to end, in that respect a perfect contrast to "The Hunchback," in which the interest is vivid and strong, and never flags from the first scene to the last. I was quite unable to make anything at all of the part of Marianna, nor have I ever heard of its becoming prominent or striking in the hands of any one else.
"The Hunchback," according to my confident expectation, succeeded. Knowles played his own hero with great force and spirit, though he was in such a state of wild excitement that I expected to see him fly on the stage whenever he should have been off it, and vice versa, and followed him about behind the scenes endeavoring to keep him in his right mind with regard to his exits and his entrances, and receiving from him explosive Irish benedictions in return for my warnings and promptings. Throughout the whole first representation I was really as nervous for and about him as I was about the play itself and my own particular part in it. My father did the impossible with Sir Thomas Clifford, in making him both dignified and interesting; and Miss Taylor was capital in the saucy Helen. My part played itself and was greatly liked by the audience; the piece was one of the most popular original plays of my time, and has continued a favorite alike with the public and the players. The part of the heroine is one, indeed, in which it would be almost impossible to fail; and every Julia may reckon upon the sympathy of her audience, the character is so pre-eminently effective and dramatic.
Of the play as a composition not much is to be said; it has little poetical or literary merit, and even the plot is so confused and obscure that nobody to my knowledge (not even the author himself, of whom I once asked an explanation of it) was ever able to make it out or give a plausible account of it. The characters are inconsistent and wanting in verisimilitude to a degree that ought to prove fatal to them with any tolerably reasonable spectators; in spite of all which the play is interesting, exciting, affecting, and humorous. The powerfully dramatic effect of the situations, and the two characters of Master Walter and Julia, the great scope for good acting in all the scenes in which they appear, the natural fire, passion, and pathos of the dialogue, in short the great merits of the piece as an acting play cover all its defects; even the heroine's vulgar, flighty folly and the hero's absurd eccentricity interfering wonderfully little with the sympathy of the audience for their troubles and their final triumph over them. "The Hunchback" is a very satisfactory play to see, but let nobody who has seen it well acted attempt to read it in cold blood!
It had an immense run, and afforded me an opportunity of testing the difference between an infinite repetition of the text of Shakespeare and that of any other writer. I played Juliet upward of a hundred nights without any change of part and did not weary of it; Julia, in "The Hunchback," after half the repetition became so tiresome to me that I would have given anything to have changed parts with my sprightly Helen, if only for a night, to refresh myself and recover a little from the extreme weariness I felt in constantly repeating Julia. The audience certainly would have suffered by the exchange, for Miss Taylor would not have played my part so much better than I, as I should have played hers worse than she did. Indeed, her performance of the character of Helen saved it from the reproach of coarseness, which very few actresses would have been able to avoid while giving it all the point and lively humor which she threw into it. I had great pleasure in acting the piece with her, she did her business so thoroughly well and was so amiable and agreeable a fellow-worker.
In my last letter to Miss S—— I have spoken of a party at the Countess of Cork's, to which I went. She was one of the most curious figures in the London society of my girlish days. Very aged, yet retaining much of a vivacity of spirit and sprightly wit for which she had been famous as Mary Monckton, she continued till between ninety and a hundred years old to entertain her friends and the gay world, who frequently during the season assembled at her house.
I have still a note begging me to come to one of her evening parties, written under her dictation by a young person who used to live with her, and whom she called her "Memory;" the few concluding lines scrawled by herself are signed "M. Cork, aet. 92." She was rather apt to appeal to her friends to come to her on the score of her age; and I remember Rogers showing me an invitation he had received from her for one of the ancient concert evenings (these were musical entertainments of the highest order, which Mr. Rogers never failed to attend), couched in these terms: "Dear Rogers, leave the ancient music and come to ancient Cork, 93." Lady Cork's drawing-rooms were rather peculiar in their arrangement: they did not contain that very usual piece of furniture, a pianoforte, so that if ever she especially desired to have music she hired an instrument for the evening; the rest of the furniture consisted only of very large and handsome armchairs placed round the apartments against the walls, to which they were made fast by some mysterious process, so that it was quite impossible to form a small circle or coterie of one's own at one of her assemblies. I remember when first I made this discovery expressing my surprise to the beautiful Lady Harriet d'Orsay, who laughingly suggested that poor old Lady Cork's infirmity with regard to the property of others (a well-known incapacity for discriminating between meum and tuum) might probably be the cause of this peculiar precaution with regard to her own armchairs, which it would not, however, have been a very easy matter to have stolen even had they not been chained to the walls. In the course of the conversation which followed, Lady E——, apparently not at all familiar with Chesterfield's Letters, said that it was Lady Cork who had originated the idea that after all heaven would probably turn out very dull to her when she got there; sitting on damp clouds and singing "God save the King" being her idea of the principal amusements there. This rather dreary image of the joys of the blessed was combated, however, by Lady E——, who put forth her own theory on the subject as far more genial, saying, "Oh dear, no; she thought it would be all splendid fetes and delightful dinner parties, and charming, clever people; just like the London season, only a great deal pleasanter because there would be no bores." With reference to Lady Cork's theory, Lady Harriet said, "I suppose it would be rather tiresome for her, poor thing! for you know she hates music, and there would be nothing to steal but one another's wings."
Lady Cork's great age did not appear to interfere with her enjoyment of society, in which she lived habitually. I remember a very comical conversation with her in which she was endeavoring to appoint some day for my dining with her, our various engagements appearing to clash. She took up the pocket-book where hers were inscribed, and began reading them out with the following running commentary: "Wednesday—no, Wednesday won't do; Lady Holland dines with me—naughty lady!—won't do, my dear. Thursday?" "Very sorry, Lady Cork, we are engaged." "Ah yes, so am I; let's see—Friday; no, Friday I have the Duchess of C——, another naughty lady; mustn't come then, my dear. Saturday?" "No, Lady Cork, I am very sorry—Saturday, we are engaged to Lady D——." "Oh dear, oh dear! improper lady, too! but a long time ago, everybody's forgotten all about it—very proper now! quite proper now!"
Lady Cork's memory seemed to me to stretch beyond the limits of what everybody had forgotten. She was quite a young woman at the time of the youth of George III., and spoke of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to whose wife she, then the Honorable Mary Monckton, was maid of honor. It is a most tantalizing circumstance to me now, to remember a fragment of a conversation between herself and my mother, on the occasion of the first visit I was ever taken to pay her. I was a very young girl; it was just after my return from school at Paris, and the topics discussed by my mother and her old lady friend interested me so little that I was looking out of the window, and wondering when we should go away, when my attention was arrested by these words spoken with much emphasis by Lady Cork: "Yes, my dear, I was alone in the room, and the picture turned in its frame, and Lord Bute came out from behind it;" here, perceiving my eyes riveted upon her, she lowered her voice, and I distinctly felt that I was expected to look out of the window again, without having any idea, however, that the question was probably one of the character of a "naughty lady" of higher rank than those so designated to me some years later by old Lady Cork, who, if I may judge by this fragment of gossip, might have cleared up some disputed points as to the relations between the Princess of Wales and the Prime Minister.
I do not know that Lady Cork's reputation for beauty ever equaled that she had for wit, but when I knew her, at upward of ninety, she was really a very comely old woman. Her complexion was still curiously fine and fair, and there was great vivacity in her eyes and countenance, as well as wonderful liveliness in her manner. Her figure was very slight and diminutive, and at the parties at her own house she always was dressed entirely in white—in some rich white silk, with a white bonnet covered with a rich blonde or lace vail on her head; she looked like a little old witch bride. I recollect a curious scene my mother described to me, which she witnessed one day when calling on Lady Cork, whom she had known for many years. She was shown into her dressing-room, where the old lady was just finishing her toilet. She was about to put on her gown, and remaining a moment without it showed my mother her arms and neck, which were even then still white and round and by no means unlovely, and said, pointing to her maid, "Isn't it a shame! she won't let me wear my gowns low or my sleeves short any more." To which the maid responded by throwing the gown over her mistress's shoulders, exclaiming at the same time, "Oh, fie, my lady! you ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk so at your age!"—a rebuke which the nonagenarian beauty accepted with becoming humility.
The unfortunate propensity of poor Lady Cork to appropriate all sorts of things belonging to other people, valueless quite as often as valuable, was matter of public notoriety, so that the fashionable London tradesmen, to whom her infirmity in this respect was well known, never allowed their goods to be taken to her carriage for inspection, but always exacted that she should come into their shops, where an individual was immediately appointed to follow her about and watch her during the whole time she was making her purchases.
Whenever she visited her friends in the country, her maid on her return home used to gather together whatever she did not recognize as belonging to her mistress, and her butler transmitted it back to the house where they had been staying. I heard once a most ludicrous story of her carrying off, faute de mieux, a hedgehog from a place where the creature was a pet of the porters, and was running tame about the hall as Lady Cork crossed it to get into her carriage. She made her poor "Memory" seize up the prickly beast, but after driving a few miles with this unpleasant spiked foot-warmer, she found means to dispose of it at a small town, where she stopped to change horses, to a baker, to whom she gave it in payment for a sponge cake, assuring him that a hedgehog would be invaluable in his establishment for the destruction of black beetles, with which she knew, from good authority, that the premises of bakers were always infested.
The following note was addressed to Lady Dacre on the subject of a pretty piece called "Isaure," which she had written and very kindly wished to have acted at Covent Garden for my benefit. It was, however, judged of too slight and delicate a texture for that large frame, and the purpose was relinquished. I rather think it was acted in private at Hatfield House, Lady Salisbury filling the part of the heroine, which I was to have taken had the piece been brought out at Covent Garden.
MY DEAR LADY DACRE,
Will you be kind enough to send "Isaure" to my father? We will take the greatest possible care of her, and return her to you in all safety. I am only sorry that he cannot have the pleasure of hearing you read it; for though it can take its own part very well, you know even Shakespeare is not the worse for the interpretation of a sweet voice, musical accent, and correct emphasis. With regard to the production of the piece on the stage, I do not like to venture an opinion, because my short experience has been long enough already to show me how easily I might be mistaken in such matters.
There is no rule by which the humors of an audience can be predicted. On a benefit night, indeed, I feel sure that the piece would succeed, and answer your kind intention of adding to the attractions of the bill, be they what they might; but our judges are not the same, you know, two consecutive evenings, and therefore it is impossible to foretell the sentence of a second representation, for no "benefit" but that of the public itself. Isaure is a refined patrician beauty, and I am sometimes inclined to think that the Memphian head alone is of fit proportions for uttering oracles in the huge space of our modern stage. My father, however, is, from long experience, the best guesser of these riddles, and he will tell you honestly his opinion as to your heroine's public capacity. I am sure he will find his own reward in making her acquaintance. I am, my dear Lady Dacre, faithfully yours,
GREAT RUSSELL STREET. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
Thank you for the book you were so good as to send me. I have read that which concerns the Cenci in it, and think Leigh Hunt's reflections on the story and tragedy very good. I am glad you were at the play last night, because I thought I acted well—at least, I tried to do so. I stayed the first act of the new after-piece, and was rather amused by it. I do not know how the ladies' "inexpressibles" might affect the fortunes of the second act, but I liked all their gay petticoats in the first, extremely. The weather is not very propitious for us; we start to-morrow at nine. I send you the only copy of Sophocles I can lay my hand on this morning. Yours ever truly,
F. A. KEMBLE.
A little piece called "The Invincibles," in which a smart corps of young Amazons in uniform were officered by Madame Vestris in the prettiest regimentals ever well worn by woman, was the novelty I alluded to. The effect of the female troop was very pretty, and the piece was very successful.
I had only lately read Shelley's great tragedy, and Mrs. Jameson had been so good as to lend me various notices and criticisms upon it. The hideous subject itself is its weak point, and his selection of it one cause for doubting Shelley's power as a dramatic writer. Everything else in the terrible play suggests the probable loss his death may have been to the dramatic literature of England. At the same time, the tenor of all his poems denotes a mind too unfamiliar with human life and human nature in their ordinary normal aspects and conditions for a good writer of plays. His metaphysical was almost too much for his poetical imagination, and perhaps nothing between the morbid horror of that Cenci story and the ideal grandeur of the Greek Prometheus would have excited him to the dramatic handling of any subject.
His translation from Calderon's "El Magico Prodigioso," and his bit of the Brocken scene from "Faust," are fine samples of his power of dramatic style; he alone could worthily have translated the whole of "Faust;" but I suppose he really was too deficient in the vigorous flesh-and-blood vitality of the highest and healthiest poetical genius to have been a dramatist. He could not deal with common folk nor handle common things; humor, that great tragic element, was not in him; the heavens and all their clouds and colors were his, and he floated and hovered and soared in the ethereal element like one native to it. Upon the firm earth his foot wants firmness, and men and women as they are, are at once too coarse and complex, too robust and too infinitely various for his delicate, fine, but in some sense feeble handling.
Browning is the very reverse of Shelley in this respect; both have written one fine play and several fine dramatic compositions; but throughout Shelley's poetry the dramatic spirit is deficient, while in Browning's it reveals itself so powerfully that one wonders how he has escaped writing many good plays besides the "Blot on the Scutcheon" and that fine fragmentary succession of scenes, "Pippa Passes."
GREAT RUSSELL STREET. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I fear I am going to disappoint you, and 'tis with real regret that I do so, but I have been acting every night almost for the last month, and when to-day I mentioned my project of spending this my holiday evening with you, both my aunt and my father seemed to think that in discharging my debt to you I was defrauding nearer and older creditors; and suggested that my mother, who really sees but little of me now, might think my going out to-night unkind. I cannot, therefore, carry out my plan of visiting you, and beg that you will forgive my not keeping my promise this evening. I am moreover so far from well that my company would hardly give you much pleasure, nor could I stay long if I came, for early as it is my head is aching for its pillow already.
As soon as a week occurs in which I have two holidays I will try to give you one of them. I send you back Crabbe, which I have kept for ever; for a great poet, which he is, he is curiously unpoetical, I think. Yours ever truly,
GREAT RUSSELL STREET. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
My mother bids me say that you certainly will suppose she is mad, or else Mother Hubbard's dog; for when you called she was literally ill in bed, and this evening she cannot have the pleasure of receiving you, because she is engaged out, here in our own neighborhood, to a very quiet tea. She bids me thank you very much for the kindness of your proposed visit, and express her regret at not being able to avail herself of it. If you can come on Thursday, between one and two o'clock, I shall be most happy to see you. Thank you very much for Lamb's "Dramatic Specimens;" I read the scene you had copied from "Philaster" directly; how fine it is! how I should like to act it! Mr. Harness has sent me the first volume of the family edition of the "Old Plays." I think sweeping those fine dramas clean is a good work that cannot be enough commended. What treasures we possess and make no use of, while we go on acting "Gamesters" and "Grecian Daughters," and such poor stuff! But I have no time for ecstasies or exclamations. Yours ever most truly,
I have said that hardly any new part was ever assigned to me that I did not receive with a rueful sense of inability to what I called "do anything with it." Julia in "The Hunchback," and Camiola in "The Maid of Honor," were among the few exceptions to this preparatory attack of despondency; but those I in some sort choose myself, and all my other characters were appointed me by the management, in obedience to whose dictates, and with the hope of serving the interests of the theater, I suppose I should have acted Harlequin if I had been ordered to do so.
Lady Teazle and Mrs. Oakley were certainly no exceptions to this experience of a cold fit of absolute incapacity with which I received every new part appointed me, and my studying of them might have been called lugubrious, whatever my subsequent performance of them may have been. My mother was of invaluable assistance to me in the process, and I owe to her whatever effect I produced in either part. She had great comic as well as pathetic power, and the incisive point of her delivery gave every shade of meaning of the dialogue with admirable truth and pungency; her own performance of Mrs. Oakley had been excellent; I acted it, even with the advantage of her teaching, very tamely. Jealousy, in any shape, was not a passion that I sympathized with; the tragic misery of Bianca's passion was, however, a thing I could imagine sufficiently well to represent it; but not so Mrs. Oakley's fantastical frenzies. But the truth is that it was not until many years later and in my readings of Shakespeare that I developed any real comic faculty at all; and I have been amused in the later part of my public career to find comedy often considered my especial gift, rather than the tragic and pathetic one I was supposed at the beginning of it to possess.
The fact is that except in broad farce, where the principal ingredient being humor, animal spirits and a grotesque imagination, which are of no particular age, come strongly into play, comedy appears to me decidedly a more mature and complete result of dramatic training than tragedy. The effect of the latter may, as I myself exemplified, be tolerably achieved by force of natural gifts, aided but little by study; but a fine comedian must be a fine artist; his work is intellectual, and not emotional, and his effects address themselves to the critical judgment and not the passionate sympathy of an audience. Tact, discretion, fine taste, are quite indispensable elements of his performance; he must be really a more complete actor than a great tragedian need be. The expression of passion and emotion appears to be an interpretation of nature, and may be forcibly rendered sometimes with but little beyond the excitement of its imaginary experience on the actor's own sensibility; while a highly educated perfection is requisite for the actor who, in a brilliant and polished representation of the follies of society, produces by fine and delicate and powerful delineations the picture of the vices and ridicules of a highly artificial civilization.
Good company itself is not unapt to be very good acting of high comedy, while tragedy, which underlies all life, if by chance it rises to the smooth surface of polite, social intercourse, agitates and disturbs it and produces even in that uncongenial sphere the rarely heard discord of a natural condition and natural expression of natural feeling.
Of my performance of Mrs. Oakley I have but one recollection, which is that of having once, while acting it with my father, disconcerted him to such a degree as to compel him to turn up the stage in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I remember the same thing happening once when I was playing Beatrice to his Benedict. I have not the least notion what I did that struck my father with such irrepressible merriment, but I suppose there must have been something in itself irresistibly ludicrous to him, toward whom my manner was habitually respectfully deferential (for our intercourse with our parents, though affectionate, was not familiar, and we seldom addressed them otherwise than as "sir" and "ma'am"), to be pelted by me with the saucy sallies of Beatrice's mischievous wit, or pummeled with the grotesque outbursts of poor Mrs. Oakley's jealous fury.
Our personal relation, which thus rendered our performance of comedy together especially comical to my father, added infinitely to my distress in all tragedies in which we acted together; the sense of his displeasure or the sight of his anguish invariably bringing him, my father, and not the part he was acting, before me; and, as in the play of "The Stranger" and the pathetic little piece of "The Deserter," affecting me with almost uncontrollable emotion.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, April 10, 1831. MY DEAREST H——,
I owe you something like an explanatory note after that ejaculatory one I sent you the other day. You must have thought me crazy; but indeed, since all these late alarming reports from Spain, until the news came of John's safety, I did not know how much fear and anxiety lay under the hope and courage I had endeavored to maintain about him.
From day to day I had read the reports and tried to reason with regard to their probability, and to persuade my mother that we had every cause for hoping the best; and it was really not until that hope was realized that it seemed as if all my mental nerves and muscles, braced to the resistance of calamity, had suddenly relaxed and given way under the relief from all further apprehension of it. I have kept much of my forebodings to myself, but they have been constant and wretched enough, and my gratitude for this termination of them is unspeakable.
I heard last night a report which I have not mentioned to my mother for fear it should prove groundless. Horace Twiss showed me a note in which a gentleman assured him that John had positively taken his passage in a Government vessel, and was now on his way home; even if this is true, I am afraid to tell my mother, because if the vessel should be delayed a day or two by weather or any other cause, her anxiety will have another set of apprehensions to feed upon, and to prey upon her with. She desires her best love to you; she likes your pamphlet on "The Education of the People" very much, at the same time that it has not convinced her that instruction is wholesome for the lower orders; she thinks the dependence of helplessness and ignorance a better security (for them, or for those above them, I wonder?) than the power of reasoning rightly and a sense of duty, in which opinion, as you will believe, I do not agree.
Thank you for your account of your visit to Wroxton Abbey [the seat of the Earl of Guilford]; it interested me very much; trees are not to me, as they seem to be to you, the most striking and beautiful of all natural objects, though I remember feeling a good deal of pain at the cutting down of a particular tree that I was very fond of.
At the entrance of Weybridge was a deserted estate and dilapidated mansion, Portmore Park, once a royal domain, through which the river ran and where we used to go constantly to fish. There was a remarkably beautiful cedar tree whose black boughs spread far over the river, and whose powerful roots, knotted in every variety of twist, formed a cradle from which the water had gradually washed away the earth. Here I used to sit, or rather lie, reading, or writing sometimes, while the others pursued their sport, and enjoying the sound and sight of the sparkling water which ran undermining my bed and singing treacherous lullabies to me the while. For two years this tree was my favorite haunt; the third, on our return to Weybridge from London, on my running to the accustomed spot, I found the hitherto intercepted sun staring down upon the water and the bank, and a broad, smooth, white tabula rasa level with the mossy turf, which was all that remained of my cedar canopy; and though it afforded an infinitely more commodious seat than the twisted roots, I never returned there again.
To-morrow we dine with the F——s, and there is to be a dance in the evening; on Wednesday I act Constance; Thursday there is a charade party at the M——s'; Friday I play Mrs. Beverley; and Monday and Wednesday next, Camiola. I hope by and by to act Camiola very well, but I am afraid the play itself can never become popular; the size of the theater and the public taste of the present day are both against such pieces; still, the attempt seemed to me worth making, and if it should prove successful we might revive one or two more of Massinger's plays; they are such sterling stuff compared with the Isabellas, the Jane Shores, the everything but Shakespeare. You saw in my journal what I think about Camiola. I endeavor as much as I can to soften her, and if I can manage to do so I shall like her better than any part I have played, except my dear Portia, who does not need softening.
I am too busy just now to read "Destiny" [Miss Ferrier's admirable novel]; my new part and dresses and rehearsals will occupy me next week completely. I have taken a new start about "The Star of Seville" [the play I was writing], and am working away hard at it. I begin to see my way through it. I wish I could make anything like an acting play of it; we want one or two new ones so very much.
My riding goes on famously, and Fozzard thinks so well of my progress that the other day he put me upon a man's horse—an Arab—which frightened me half to death with his high spirits and capers; but I sat him, and what is more, rode him. Tuesday we go to a very gay ball a little way out of town; Saturday we go to a party at old Lady Cork's, who calls you Harriet and professes to have known you well and to remember you perfectly.
Now, H——, as to what you say of fishing, if you are bloody-minded enough to desire to kill creatures for sport, in Heaven's name why don't you do it? The sin lies in the inclination (by the bye, I think that's half a mistake). Never mind, your inclination to fish and my desire to be the tigress at the Zoological Gardens have nothing whatever in common. I admire and envy the wild beast's swiftness and strength, but if I had them I don't think I would tear human beings to bits unless I were she, which was not what I wished to be, only as strong and agile as she; do you see? I am in a great hurry, dear, and have written you an inordinately stupid letter; never mind, the next shall be inconceivably amusing. Just now my head is stuffed full of amber-colored cashmere and white satin. My mother begs to be kindly remembered to Mrs. Kemble. Always affectionately yours,
F. A. K.
My determination to soften the character of Camiola is another indication of my imperfect comprehension of my business as an actress, which was not to reform but to represent certain personages. Massinger's "Maid of Honor" is a stern woman, not without a very positive grain of coarse hardness in her nature. My attempt to soften her was an impertinent endeavor to alter his fine conception to something more in harmony with my own ideal of womanly perfection. I was a very indifferent actress and had not begun to understand my work, nor was Mr. Macready far wrong when, many years after, he spoke to me as "not knowing the rudiments of my profession."
Thursday, April 21st.—Walked in the square, and studied Lady Teazle. The trees are thickly clothed with leaves, and the new-mown grass, even in the midst of London, smelt fresh and sweet; I was quite alone in the square, and enjoyed something like a country sensation. I went to Pickersgill, and Mrs. Jameson came while I was sitting to him; that Medora of his is a fine picture, full of poetry. We dined with the Harnesses; Milman and Croly were among the guests (it was a sort of Quarterly Review in the flesh). I like Mr. Milman; not so the other critic.
Friday, 22d.—Visiting with my mother; called on Lady Dacre, who gave me her pretty little piece of "Wednesday Morning," with a view to our doing it for my father's benefit. It is really very pretty, but I fear will look in our large theater as a lady's water-color sketch of a landscape would by way of a scene. I walked in the square in the afternoon, and studied Lady Teazle, which I do not like a bit, and shall act abominably. At the theatre to-night the house was not very full, and the audience were unpleasantly inclined to be political; they took one of the speeches, "The king, God bless him," and applied it with vehement applause to his worthy Majesty, William IV.
Saturday, 23d.—After my riding lesson, went and sat in the library to hear Sheridan Knowles's play of "The Hunchback." Mr. Bartley and my father and mother were his only audience, and he read it himself to us. A real play, with real characters, individuals, human beings, it is a good deal after the fashion of our old playwrights, and does not disgrace its models. I was delighted with it; it is full of life and originality; a little long, but that's a trifle. There is a want of clearness and coherence in the plot, and the comic part has really no necessary connection with the rest of the piece; but none of that will signify much, or, I think, prevent it from succeeding. I like the woman's part exceedingly, but am afraid I shall find it very difficult to act.
After dinner there was a universal discussion as to the possibility and probability of Adorni's self-sacrifice in "The Maid of Honor," and as the female voices were unanimous in their verdict of its truth and likelihood, I hold it to be likely and true, for Dante says we have the "intellect of love," and Cherubino (a very different kind of authority) says the same thing; and I suppose we are better judges of such questions than men. The love of Adorni seems to me, indeed, more like a woman's than a man's, but that does not tell against its verisimilitude. Our love is characterized generally by self-devotion and self-denial, but the qualities which naturally belong to our affection were given to Adorni by his social and conventional position. He was by birth and fortune dependent on and inferior to Camiola, as women are by nature dependent on and inferior to men; and so I think his love for her has something of a feminine quality.
In the evening went with my mother to a party at old Lady Cork's. We started for our assembly within a few minutes of Sunday morning. Such rooms—such ovens! such boxes full of fine folks and foul air! in which we stood and sat, and looked and listened, and talked nonsense and heard it talked, and perspired and smothered and suffocated. On our arrival, as I was going upstairs, I was nearly squeezed flat against the wall by her potent grace, the Duchess of St. Albans. We remained half an hour in the steaming atmosphere of the drawing-rooms, and another half-hour in the freezing hall before the carriage could be brought up; caught a dreadful cold and came home; did not get to bed till two o'clock, with an intolerable face-ache and tooth-ache, the well-earned reward of a well-spent evening.
[The career of the Duchess of St. Albans was, as far as worldly circumstances went, a curious one. As Miss Mellon she was one of my mother's stage contemporaries; a kind-hearted, good-humored, buxom, rather coarse actress, with good looks, and good spirits of a somewhat unrefined sort, which were not without their admirers; among these the old banker, Mr. Coutts, married her, and dying, left her the sole possessor and disposer of his enormous wealth. My mother, who had always remained on friendly though not intimate terms with her old stage-mate, went to see her in the early days of her widowhood, when Mrs. Coutts gave her this moderate estimate of her "money matters:" "Ah, I assure you, dear Mrs. Charles, the reports of what poor, dear Mr. Coutts has left me are very much exaggerated—not, I really believe, more than a few hundred thousand pounds. To be sure" (after a dejected pause), "there's the bank—they say about fifty thousand a year."
This small fortune and inconsiderable income proved sufficient to the moderate desires of the young Duke of St. Albans, who married this destitute widow, who thenceforth took her place (and a large one) in the British aristocracy, and chaperoned the young Ladies Beauclerc, her husband's sisters, in society. She was a good-natured woman, and more than once endeavored to get my father and mother to bring me to her balls and magnificent parties. This, however, they steadily declined, and she, without resenting it, sent her invitations to my youngest brother alone, to whom she took a great fancy, and to whose accepting her civilities no objection was made. At her death she left her great wealth to Mr. Coutts's granddaughter, Miss Burdett Coutts, the lady whose excellent use of her riches has made her known all over the world as one of the most munificently charitable of Fortune's stewards.
The Duchess of St. Albans was not without shrewd sense and some humor, though entirely without education, and her sallies were not always in the best possible taste. Her box at Covent Garden could be approached more conveniently by crossing the stage than by the entrance from the front of the house, and she sometimes availed herself of this easier exit to reach her carriage with less delay. One night when my father had been acting Charles II., the Duchess of St. Albans crossing her old work-ground, the stage, with her two companions, the pretty Ladies Beauclerc, stopped to shake hands with him (he was still in his stage costume, having remained behind the scenes to give some orders), and presenting him to her young ladies, said, "There, my dears; there's your ancestor." I suppose in her earlier day she might not have been a bad representative of their "ancestress."]
Monday, April 25th.—Finished studying Lady Teazle. In the evening at the theater the house was good, but the audience was dull and I was in wretched spirits and played very ill.
Dall was saying that she thought in two years of hard work we might—that is, my father and myself—earn enough to enable us to live in the south of France. This monstrous theater and its monstrous liabilities will banish us all as it did my uncle Kemble. But that I should be sorry to live so far out of the reach of H——, I think the south of France would be a pleasant abode: a delicious climate, a quiet existence, a less artificial state of society and mode of life, a picturesque nature round me, and my own dear ones and my scribbling with me—I think with all these conditions I could be happy enough in the south of France or anywhere.
The audience were very politically inclined, applied all the loyal speeches with fervor, and called for "God save the King" after the play. The town is illuminated, too, and one hopes and prays that the "Old Heart of Oak" will weather these evil days, but sometimes the straining of the tackle and the creaking of the timbers are suggestive of foundering even to the most hopeful. The lords have been vindicating their claim to a share in common humanity by squabbling like fishwives and all but coming to blows; the bishops must have been scared and scandalized, lords spiritual not being fighting men nowadays.
After the play Mr. Stewart Newton, the painter, supped with us—a clever, entertaining man and charming artist; a little bit of a dandy, but probably he finds it politic to be so. He told us some comical anecdotes about the Royal Academy and the hanging of the pictures.
The poor, dear king [William IV.], who it seems knows as much about painting as una vacca spagnuola, lets himself, his family, and family animals be painted by whoever begs to be allowed that honor. So when the pictures were all hung the other day, somebody discovered in a wretched daub close to the ceiling a portrait of Lady Falkland [the king's daughter], and another of his Majesty's favorite cat, which were immediately lowered to a more honorable position, to accomplish which desirable end, Sir William Beechey [then president of the academy] removed some of his own paintings. On a similar occasion during the late King George IV.'s life, a wretched portrait of him having been placed in one of the most conspicuous situations in the room, the Duke of Wellington and sundry other distinguished cognoscenti complimented Sir Thomas Lawrence on it as his; this was rather a bitter pill, and must have been almost too much for Lawrence's courtierly equanimity.
Wednesday, April 27th.—To the riding school, where Miss Cavendish and I discoursed on the stay-at-home sensation, and agreed that it is bad to encourage it too far, as one may narrow one's social circle till at last it resolves itself into one's self.
Wrote to thank Dr. Thackeray [provost of King's College, Cambridge, and father of my life-long friend A—— T——] for the Shakespeare he has sent me, and Lady Dacre for her piece of "Wednesday Morning." In the evening they all drove out in the open carriage to see the illuminations; I stayed at home, for the carriage was full and I had no curiosity about the sight. The town is one blaze of rejoicing for the Reform Bill triumph; the streets are thronged with people and choked up with carriages, and the air is flashing and crashing with rockets and squibs and crackers, to the great discomfort of the horses. So many R's everywhere that they may stand for reform, revolution, ruin, just as those who run may choose to read, or according to the interpretation of every individual's politics; the most general acceptation in which they will be taken by the popular understanding will assuredly be row.
Friday, 29th.—Went off to rehearsal without any breakfast, which was horrible! but not so horrible as my performance of Lady Teazle promises to be. If I do the part according to my notion, it will be mere insipidity, and yet all the traditional pokes and pats with the fan and business of the part, as it is called, is so perfectly unnatural to me that I fear I shall execute it with a doleful bad grace. It seems odd that Sir Peter always wears the dress of the last century, while the costume of the rest of the dramatis personae is quite modern. Indeed, mine is a ball dress of the present day, all white satin and puffs and clouds of white tulle, and garlands and wreaths of white roses and jasmine; it is very anomalous, and makes Lady Teazle of no date, as it were, for her mariners are those of a rustic belle of seventeen hundred and something, and her costume that of a fine lady of the present day in the height of the present fashion, which is absurd.
Mrs. Jameson paid me a long visit; she threatens to write a play; perhaps she might; she is very clever, has a vast fund of information, a good deal of experience, and knowledge and observation of the world and society. She wanted me to have spent the evening with her on the 23d, Shakespeare's birth and death day, an anniversary all English people ought to celebrate. Lady Dacre called, in some tribulation, to say that she had committed herself about her little piece of "Wednesday Morning," and that Lady Salisbury, who wants it for Hatfield, does not like its being brought out on the stage.
Lady Dacre says Lady Salisbury is "afraid of comparisons" (between herself and me, in the part), I think Lady Salisbury, would not like "our play" to be made "common and unclean" by vulgar publicity. In the evening I went to the theater to see a new comedy by a Spaniard. The house was literally empty, which was encouraging to all parties. The piece is slightly constructed in point of plot, but the dialogue is admirably written, and, as the work of a foreigner, perfectly surprising. I was introduced to Don Telesforo de Trueba, the author, an ugly little young man, all hair and glare, whiskers and spectacles; he must be very clever and well worth knowing, Mr. Harness took tea with us after the play.
[The comedy, in five acts, of "The Exquisites" was a satirical piece showing up the ridiculous assumption of affected indifference of the young dandies of the day. The special airs of impertinence by which certain officers of a "crack" regiment distinguished themselves had suggested several of the most telling points of the play, which was in every respect a most remarkable performance for a foreigner.]
Saturday, April 30th.—Received a letter from John; he has determined not to leave Spain at present; and were he to return, what is there for him to do here? In the evening to Mrs. C——'s ball; it was very gay, but I am afraid I am turning "exquisite," for I didn't like the music, and my partners bored me, and the dancing tired me, and my journal is getting like K——'s head—full of naked facts, unclothed with a single thought.
Sunday, May 1st.—As sulky a day as ever glouted in an English sky. The "young morn" came picking her way from the east, leading with her a dripping, draggled May, instead of Milton's glorious vision.
After church, sundry callers: Mr. C—— bringing prints of the dresses for "Hernani," and the W——s, who seem in a dreadful fright about the present state of the country. I do not suppose they would like to see Heaton demolished.
In the evening we went to the Cartwrights'. It is only in the morning that one goes there to be tortured; in the evening it is to eat delicious dinners and hear delightful music.
Hummel, Moscheles, Neukomm, Horsley, and Sir George Smart, and how they did play! a l'envi l'un de l'autre. They sang, too, that lovely glee, "By Celia's Arbor." The thrilling shudder which sweet music sends through one's whole frame is a species of acute pleasure, very nearly akin to pain. I wonder if by any chance there is a point at which the two are one and the same thing!
Tuesday, May 3d.—I wrote the fourth scene of the fifth act of my play ["The Star of Seville"], and acted Lady Teazle for the first time; the house was very good, and my performance, as I expected, very bad; I was as flat as a lady amateur. I stayed after the play to hear Braham sing "Tom Tug," which was a refreshment to my spirit after my own acting; after I came home, finished the fifth act of "The Star of Seville." "Joy, joy for ever, my task is done!" I have not the least idea, though, that "heaven is won."
Wednesday, May 4th.—A delightful dinner at the B——s', but in the evening a regular crush; however, if one is to be squeezed to death (though 'tis an abolished form of torture), it may as well be in good company, among the fine world, and lots of pleasant people besides: Milman, Sotheby, Lockhart, Sir Augustus Calcott, Harness, Lady Dacre, Joanna Baillie, Lady Calcott, etc.
Friday, May 6th.—Real March weather: cold, piercing, damp, wretched, in spite of which I carried Shakespeare to walk with me in the square, and read all over again for the fiftieth time all the conjectures of everybody about him and his life. How little we know about him, how intimately we seem to know him! I had the square all to myself, and it was delicious: lilac, syringa, hawthorn, lime blossoms, and new-mown grass in the midst of London—and Shakespeare to think about. How grateful I felt for so much enjoyment! When I got home, corrected the proof-sheets of "Francis I.," and thought it looked quite pretty in print.