Friday, 9th.— ... I went with my mother to the theater to hear "Fra Diavolo," with which, and Miss Sheriff's singing in it, we were delighted.
Saturday, 10th.— ... We had a talk about the fashion of southern countries of serenading, which I am very glad is not an English fashion. Music, as long as I am awake, is a pure and perfect delight to me, but to be wakened out of my sleep by music is to wake in a spasm of nervous terror, shaking from head to foot, and sick at my stomach, with indescribable fear and dismay; certainly no less agreeable effect could possibly be contemplated by the gallantry of a serenading admirer, so I am glad our admirers do not serenade us English girls. This picturesque practice prevails all through the United States, where the dry brilliancy of the climate and skies is favorable to the paying and receiving this melodious homage, and where musical bands, sometimes numbering fifty, are marshaled by personal or political admirers, under the balconies of reigning beauties or would-be-reigning public men. My total ignorance of this prevailing practice in the United States led to a very prosaic demonstration of gratitude on my part toward my first serenaders; for I opened my window and rewarded them with a dollar, which one of the recipients informed me he should always keep, to my no small confusion, not knowing the nature of my gratuitous indulgence, and that, like my Lady Greensleeves in the old English ballad, "My music still to play and sing" would be, while I remained in America, a disinterested demonstration of the devotion of my friends.... My poor mother is in the deepest distress about my father. Inflammation of the lungs is dreaded, and he is spitting blood. I felt as if I were turning to stone as I heard it. I came up to my own room and cried most bitterly for a long time. In the afternoon I was allowed to go in and see my father; but I was so overcome that, as I stooped to kiss his hand, I was almost suffocated with suppressed sobs. I did control myself, however, sufficiently to be able to sit by him for a while with tolerable composure. Cecilia and Mrs. Wilkinson called, and were very kind and affectionate to me. They brought news that Harry Siddons had arrived in India and been sent off to Delhi. My brother Henry, poor child, came and lay on the sofa in my room, and we cried together almost through the whole afternoon, in spite of our efforts to comfort each other. My heart dies away when I think of my dear father.... I got a very kind and affectionate letter from Lady Francis; she wants us very much to go again to Oatlands. After all, perhaps it would not be so sad there as I think, though it must appear changed enough in some respects, if not in all. Everything is winter now, within and without me; and when I was last there it was summer, in my heart and over all the earth. My cedar palace is there still, and to that I should bring more change than I should find. Poor Undine! how often I think of that true story. When I went to the theater my heart really sickened at my work; my eyes smarted, and my voice was broken, with my whole day's crying. The house seemed good; I played ill, and felt very ill. Lord M—— was in the stage-box, which annoyed me. I hate to have my society acquaintance close to me while I am acting. The play was "Venice Preserved." After I came home I saw my father, who is a little better; but now Henry is quite unwell, and I am in a high fever—I suppose with all this wretchedness and exertion.
Thursday, 13th.—My father has passed a quieter night, thank God. I went to Fozzard's riding-school with John, and tried a hot little hunter that they want to persuade Lady Chesterfield to ride—a very pretty creature, but quite too eager for the school. While I was riding Lady Grey came in, very much frightened, upon her horse, which was rather fresh. She took Gazelle, which I was riding, and I rode her horse tame for her. It is very odd that, riding as well as she does, she should be so miserably nervous on horseback.... I drove to Mrs. Mayo's, who impressed and affected me very much. Those magnificent eyes of hers are becoming dim; she is growing blind, with eyes like dark suns. I could not help expressing the deep concern I felt for such a calamity. She replied that doubtless it was a trial, but that she saw many others afflicted with dispensations so much heavier than her own, that she was content. To grow blind contentedly is to be very brave and good, and I admired and loved her even more than I did before. When I came home, I went and sat with my father. He has decided that we shall not go to Oatlands, and I am hardly sorry for it.
Friday, 14th.—Went over my part for to-night.... Victoire came with me to the theater instead of Dall, whose whole time is taken up attending on my father. The house was bad, and I thought I acted very ill, though Victoire and John, who was in the front, said I did not. Henry Greville was in the boxes, and to my surprise went from them to the pit, though I ought not to have been surprised, for, for such a fine gentleman, he is a very sensible man. Colonel and Lady C. Cavendish were in the orchestra, and how I did wish them further. I do so wonder, in the middle of my stage despair, what business my drawing-room acquaintances have sitting staring at it. My dress was beautiful. As for the audience, I do not know what ailed them, but they seemed to have agreed together only to applaud at the end of the scenes, so that I got no resting interruptions, and was half dead with fatigue at the end of the play. I read Daru's "Venice" between the scenes, and saw my father for a few minutes after I came home.
Thursday, 15th.—Had a delightful long letter from H——, who is a poet without the jingle.... Another physician is to be called in for my father. Oh, my dear father! Mr. Bartley was with him about this horrible theater business.... My mother went in the evening with John to hear Miss Sheriff in Polly. It is her first night in "The Beggar's Opera," and my father wished to know how it went. I stayed at home with poor Henry, and after tea sat with my father till bedtime.
Friday, 16th.—Went to the theater at eleven, and rehearsed Isabella in the saloon, the stage being occupied with a rehearsal of the pantomime. When my rehearsal was over, the carriage not being come, I went down to see what they were doing. There was poor Farleigh, nose and all (a worthy, amiable man, and excellent comic character, with a huge excrescence of a nose), qui se demenait like one frantic; huge Mr. Stansbury, with a fiddle in his hand, dancing, singing, prompting, and swearing; the whole corps de ballet attitudinizing in muddy shoes and poke-bonnets, and the columbine, in dirty stockings and a mob-cap, ogling the harlequin in a striped shirt and dusty trousers. What a wrong side to the show the audience will see!
My father is better, thank God! After dinner sat with poor Henry till time to go to the theater. Played Isabella. House bad. I played well; I always do to an empty house (this was my invariable experience both in my acting and reading performances, and I came to the conclusion that as my spirits were not affected by a small audience, they, on the contrary, were exhilarated by the effect upon my lungs and voice of a comparatively cool and free atmosphere). I read Daru between my scenes; I find it immensely interesting.... I read Niccolini's "Giovanni di Procida," but did not like it very much; I thought it dull and heavy, and not up to the mark of such a very fine subject.
Saturday, 17th.— ... My father, thank God, appears much better.... I have christened the pretty mare I have bought "Donna Sol," in honor of my part in "Hernani." In the evening I read Daru, and wrote a few lines of "The Star of Seville;" but I hate it, and the whole thing is as dead as ditch-water.
Sunday, 18th.—To church.... After I came home I went and sat with my father. Poor fellow! he is really better; I thank God inexpressibly!
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, December 18. DEAR H——,
I have had time to write neither long nor short letters for the last week; Mr. Young's engagement being at an end, I have been called back to my work, and have had to rehearse, and to act, and to be much too busy to write to you until to-day, when I have caught up all my arrears.
My father, thank God, is once more recovering, but we have twice been alarmed at such sudden relapses that we hardly dare venture to hope he is really convalescent. Inflammation on the lungs has, it seems, been going on for a considerable time, and though they think now that it has entirely subsided, yet, as the least exertion or exposure may bring it on again, we are watching him like the apples of our eyes. He has not yet left his bed, to which he has now been confined more than a month....
The exertion I have been obliged to make when leaving him to go and act, was so full of misery and dread lest I should find him worse, perhaps dead, on my return, that no words can describe what I have suffered at that dreadful theater. Thank God, however, he is now certainly better, out of present danger, and I trust and pray will soon be beyond any danger of a relapse. Anything like Dall's incessant and unwearied care and tenderness you cannot imagine. Night and day she has watched and waited on him, and I think she must have sunk under all the fatigue she has undergone but for the untiring goodness and kindness of heart that has supported her under it all. She is invaluable to us all, and every day adds to her claims upon our love and gratitude....
In the passage you quote from Godwin, he seems to think a friend of more use in reproving what is evil in us than I believe is really the case. Do you think our faults and follies can ever be more effectually sifted, analyzed, and condemned by another than by our own conscience? I do not think if one could put one's heart into one's friends' hand that they could detect one defect or evil quality that had not been marked and acknowledged in the depths of one's own consciousness. Do you suppose people shrink more from the censure of others than from self-condemnation? I find it difficult to think so.... You appear to me always to wish to submit your faith to a process which invariably breaks your apparatus and leaves you very much dissatisfied, with your faith still a simple element in you, in spite of your endeavors to analyze or decompose it. Are not, after all, our convictions our only steadfastly grounded faith? I do not mean conviction wrought out in the loom of logical argument, where one's understanding must have shuttled backward and forward through every thread a thousand times before the woof is completed, but the spiritual convictions, the intuitions of our souls, that lie upon their surface like direct reflections from heaven, distinct and beautiful enough for reverent contemplation, but a curious search into whose nature would, at any rate temporarily, blur and dissipate and destroy....
The sense of power which man cannot control is one thing that makes the sea such a delightful object of contemplation; the huge white main, and deep, tremendous voice of the vast creature over which man's daring and his knowledge give him but such imperfect mastery, suggest images of strength which are full of sublime fascination as one stands on the shore, looking at the vasty deep, and remembers how precarious and uncertain is man's dominion over it, and how God alone rules and governs it. It is impossible not to rejoice in the great sense of its huge power and freedom, even though their manifestations toward men are so often terrible and destructive.... Oh yes, indeed, I, like Wallenstein, have faith in the "strong hours," and hold their influence the more efficacious that we seldom think of resisting it; or, if we do, are seldom successful in the attempt....
The theater is going on very ill, but negotiations are pending between the partners, which it is hoped may eventually terminate in some arrangement with the creditors about the property. I have been acting Bianca again; I certainly am not jealous, and cannot imagine being so, any more of my husband than of my friend. I doubt if I have the power of loving which produces jealousy, in spite of which that part tries me dreadfully. I can conceive no torment comparable to that passion, which, however, I think is foreign to my own nature. I am reading Daru's "History of Venice," and am rather disappointed in the entertainment I expected to derive from it. It is a pretty long undertaking, too.... Remember me to all your people; and since you will have it that I am twin-sister to a fountain, remember me to my cousin, the dear little spring in the dell, which I love the more that it sometimes reflects your face and figure, as well as the fairies who dance round it by night. Do you hear that poor Lord Grey is said to be haunted by a vision of Lord Castlereagh's head? It sounds like a temptation of the devil to scare him into cutting his throat. Lord Brougham and the Duke of Wellington seem to me the only two men likely to keep their heads in these times of infinite political perturbation; but the one is made of steel, and the other of india-rubber.
Yours, dearest, always, F. A. K.
Monday, 19th.—Went to Fozzard's, and had a pleasant, gossiping ride with Lady Grey and Miss Cavendish. While I was still riding, the Duchess of Kent and our little queen that is to be came down into the school; I was presented to them at their desire, and thought Princess Victoria a very unaffected, bright-looking girl. Fozzard made me gallop round; I think he is rather proud of showing me off.... My father is not so well again to-day. How dreadful these alternations are! I read Daru all the afternoon, and then sang in my own room to amuse Henry, till dinner-time. Colonel Bailey sent me the mare's saddle and bridle, and after dinner the boys put them on a chair for me, and gave me an absurd make-believe ride.
Wednesday, 21st—Dear Mr. Harness called, and I received him. He tells me that at the theater they want to do his tragedy ("The Wife of Antwerp," was, I think, the name of the piece) without my father; but this seems to me really sheer madness. The play is a pretty, interesting, well-written piece, and, well propped and sustained, may perhaps succeed for a few nights, but as to throwing the whole weight, or rather weakness of it, upon my shoulders, or any one pair of shoulders, it is folly to think of it. It is not a powerful sort of monologue like "Fazio," where the interest centres in one person and one passion, and therefore if that character is well sustained the rest can shift for itself. It is no such matter; it is a play of incident and not of character, and must be played by people and not one person. What terrible bad management! But, poor people! what can they do, with my father lying disabled there? If it was not for their complete disregard for their own interest, I should be inclined to quarrel with them for the way in which they are ruining mine; and I sincerely hope, for the sake of everybody concerned, that Mr. Harness will resist this senseless proposition.
I went with John in the afternoon to Angerstein's Gallery (M. Angerstein's fine collection of pictures was not then incorporated in the National Gallery, of which it subsequently became so important a portion); there are some new pictures there. Unluckily, we had only an hour to stay, but I brought away a great deal with me for so short a time. Among the additions was a very singular old painting, "The Holy Family," by one of the earliest masters, whose name I forget, not being familiar with it. I looked long at the glorious Titian, the "Bacchus and Ariadne," which always reminds me of—
"Whence come ye, jolly Satyrs, whence come ye? Like to a moving vintage down they came."
One of the most famous pictures here is "Our Saviour disputing with the Doctors," by Leonardo da Vinci. I hardly ever receive pleasure from his pictures; there is a mannerism in all that I have seen that is positively disagreeable to me. How the later artists lost the simple secret of earnest vigor of their predecessors, while gaining in everything that was not that! Grace, finish, refinement, accuracy of drawing, richness of coloring, all that merely tended towards perfection and execution, while the simplicity and single-heartedness of conception died away more and more. All art seems by degrees to outgrow its strength, and certainly in painting the archaic cradle touches one's imagination as neither the graceful youth nor mature manhood do. "Le mieux c'est l'ennemi du bien" in nothing more than the progress of art after a certain period of its development, and when its mere mechanism is best understood, and applied in the most masterly manner. The spirit has tarried behind, and we have to return to seek it among the earlier days, when the genius of man was like a giant, rude, naked, and savage, but vigorous and free—unadorned indeed, but also untrammeled. Only a certain proportion of excellence is allowed to our race, but that is granted; and let us stretch it, expand it, roll and beat it out as we will, it is still but the same square inch made thin to cover a greater surface. For one good we still must yield another; we have no gain that is not loss, no acquisition but surrender, "exchange" which may perhaps be "no robbery," though quantity does seem a poor substitute for quality in matters of beauty. I wish I had lived in the times when the ore lay in the ingot (and had been one of the few who owned a nugget), instead of in these times of universal gold-leaf, glitter without weight, and shining shallowness of mere surface. Vigor is better than refinement, and to create better than to improve, and to conceive better than to combine. I wonder if the world, or rather the human mind, will ever really grow decrepit, and the fountain of beauty in men's souls run dry to the dregs; or will the manifestations only change, and the eternal spirit reveal itself in other ways?...
On our way home I had a long and interesting talk with John about the different forms of religious faith into which the gradual development of the human mind has successively expanded; each, of course, being the result of that very development, acting on the original necessity to believe in and worship and obey something higher and better than itself, implanted in our nature. It seems strange that he has a leaning to Roman Catholicism, which I have not. Our Protestant profession appears to me the purest creed—form—that Christianity has yet arrived at; but, I suppose, a less spiritual one, or perhaps I should say external accompaniments, affecting more palpably the senses and imagination, are wholesome and necessary to the cultivation and preservation of the religious sentiment in some minds. Catholicism was the faith of the chivalrous times, of the poetical times, of times when the creative faculty of man poured forth in since unknown abundance masterpieces of every kind of beauty, as manifestations of the pious and devout enthusiasm. Protestantism is undoubtedly the faith of these times; a denying faith, a rejecting creed, a questioning belief, its evil seems essentially to coincide with the worst tendency of the present age, but its good seems to me positive and unconditional, independent of time or circumstance; the best, in that kind, that the believing necessity in our nature has yet attained. Rightly understood and lived up to, the only service of God which is intellectual freedom, as all His service, lived up to, under what creed soever, is moral freedom. And it is in some sort in spite of myself that I say this, for my fancy delights in all the devout and poetical legendary conceptions which the stern hand of reason has stripped from our altars.
I found a letter at home from Emily Fitzhugh; she writes me word she has been revising my aunt Siddons's letters; thence an endless discussion as to the nature of genius, what it is. I suppose really nothing but the creative power, and so it remains a question if the greatest actor can properly be said to possess it. Again, how far does the masterly filling out of an inferior conception by a superior execution of it, such as really great actors frequently present, fall short of creative power, properly so called? Is it a thing positive, of individual inherent quality, or comparative, and composed of mere respective quantity? Can its manifestation be partial, and restricted to one faculty, or must it be a pervading influence, permeating the whole mind? Certainly Mrs. Siddons was what we call a great dramatic genius, and off the stage gave not the slightest indication of unusual intellectual capacity of any sort. Kean, the only actor whose performances have ever realized to me my idea of the effect tragic acting ought to produce, acted part of his parts rather than ever a whole character, and a work of genius should at least show unity of conception. My father, whose fulfilling of a particular range of characters is as nearly as possible perfect, wants depth and power, and power seems to me the core, the very marrow, so to speak, of genius; and if it is not genius that gave incomparable majesty and terror to my aunt's Lady Macbeth, and to Kean's Othello incomparable pathos and passion, and to my father's Benedict incomparable spirit and grace, what is it? Mere talent carried beyond a certain point? If so, where does the one begin and the other end? Or is genius a precious, inconvertible, intellectual metal, of which some people have a grain and a half, and some only half a grain?... There is dreadful news from Spain, and I fear it is too true. Torrijos has made another attempt. Oh, how thankful we must be that John is returned to us!
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, Monday, December 23. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I owe you many excuses for not having sooner acknowledged your letter, but you may have seen by the papers that we have been bringing out a new piece, and that is always, while it goes on, an engrossing of time and attention paramount to all other claims. It is a play of Lord Francis Leveson's, and I know you will be glad to hear that it has been successful and is likely to prove serviceable to the theater. Another reason, too, for my silence is, that I have been working very hard at "The Star of Seville," which, I am thankful to say, has at length reached its completion. I have sent it to the theater upon approbation, in the usual routine of business; and am waiting very patiently the decision of the management on its fitness or unfitness for their purposes.
I know not whether your party at Teddesley are good thermometers, by which to judge of the state of political feeling here in London, but at this moment the rumor is rife that the Ministry dare not make the new batch of Peers, cannot carry the Bill, and must resign. To whom? is the next question, and it seems a difficult one to answer. One hardly sees, looking round the political ranks, who are to be the men to come forward and take up this tangled skein effectually. I write with rather a sympathetic leaning toward the Tory side of this Reform question, and do not know whether in so doing I am affronting you or not. In any case, I imagine, there can be but one opinion as to the difficulty, and even danger, of the present position of public affairs and public temper with regard to them.
Do you not soon think of returning to Town? or are you so well pleased with your present abode as to prolong your visit? London is particularly full, I think, for the time of year, and people are meeting in smaller numbers and a more sociable and agreeable way than they do later in the season. I was at two parties last week, each time, I am ashamed to say, after acting. I can't say that I find society pleasant; it reminds me a good deal of a "Conversation Cards," the insipid flippancy, of whose questions and answers seems to me to survive in these meetings, miscalled occasionally conversaziones. Dancing appears to me rational, and indeed highly intellectual, in comparison with such talk; and that I am as fond of as ever, but that has not begun yet, and I find these soirees causantes drearily unedifying.
Talking of stupid parties, your beautiful little picture of me and my various costumes helped away two hours of such intolerably dull people here the other night; I assure you we all voted you devout thanks on the occasion.... We are all tolerably well; my father is gradually recovering his strength, and though after such an attack as his has been the progress must of necessity be slow, we are inclined to hope, from that very circumstance, that it will be the more sure.... If you do not return soon, perhaps I shall hear from you again; pray recollect that it will give me great pleasure to do so, and that I am very sincerely yours,
F. A. K.
I dressed my Juliet the last time I acted it, exactly after your little sketch of her....
Thursday.—Worked at "The Star of Seville." In the evening the play was "Isabella;" the house very bad. I played very well. The Rajah Ramahun Roy was in the Duke of Devonshire's box, and went into fits of crying, poor man!
Friday, 23d.—It is all too true; John has had a letter from Spain; they have all been taken and shot. I felt frozen when I heard the terrible news. Poor Torrijos! And yet I suppose it is better so: he would only have lived to bitter disappointment, and the despairing conviction that the spirit he appealed to did not animate one human being in his deplorable and degenerate land. A young Englishman, of the name of Boyd, John's sometime friend and companion, was taken and shot with the rest: it choked me to think of his parents, his brothers and sisters. Surely God has been most merciful to us in sparing us such an anguish, and bringing our wanderer home before this day of doom. How I thought of Richard Trench and his people! John did not seem to me to be violently affected, though his first exclamation was one of sharp and bitter pain: I suppose he must, long ere this, have felt that there could be no other end to this utterly hopeless attempt.... In the afternoon I called on Mrs. Norton, who is always to me astonishingly beautiful. The baby was asleep, and so I could not see it, but Spencer has grown into a very fine child.
Monday, 26th.—Went to see how the pantomime did. I did not think it very amusing, but there was an enchanting little girl (Miss Poole) who did Tom Thumb, and whose attitudes in her armor were most of them copied from the antique, and really beautiful. Poor dear, bright little thing!
My father was in bed when we returned; I went and saw him for a minute, to tell him how the pantomime had succeeded; it ended with some wonderful tight-rope dancing by an exceedingly steady, graceful man; but it turned me perfectly sick, and I hate all those sort of things.
Thursday, 29th.—After dinner worked at "The Star of Seville." I really wonder I have the patience to go on with it, it is such heavy trash. After tea my father begged me to sing to him. I am always horribly frightened at singing before my mother; I cannot bear to distress her accurate ear with my unsteady intonation, and the more I think of it, the colder my hands grow and the hotter my face, the huskier my voice and the flatter my notes; I bungle over accompaniments that I have at my fingers' ends, and forget words I know as well as my alphabet; in short, I feel like a wretch, and I sing like a wretch, and I make wretched all my hearers. My mother's own nervous terror when she had to sing on the stage, as a young woman, was excessive, as she has often told me; and her mother repeatedly but vainly endeavored to bribe her with the promise of a guinea if she would sing as well in public any of the songs that she sang perfectly well at home. I sang for some time, and by degrees got more courage, till at last I managed to sing tolerably in tune. My mother says I have more voice than A——. I am sorry to hear her voice has grown thin—that sweet, melodious voice I did so love to listen to; but perhaps it will recover its tone.
Wednesday, 28th.—My dear, dear father came down to breakfast, looking horribly thin and pale, poor fellow! but, thank God, he was able to come once more among us. I am to act Euphrasia on Monday; how I do hate it! Monday week my father talks of resuming his work again with Mercutio. Dear me! how happy I shall be! once more speaking the love poetry of Juliet after all these "meaner beauties of the night" that I have been executing ever since he has been ill. Juliet did very right to die; she would have become Bianca when once she was Mrs. Romeo Montague.... I wrote to Lady Francis about "Katharine of Cleves," (Lord Francis's translation of "Henri Trois"), who is once more beginning to lift up her head. My father thinks it may be done on Wednesday week.... It is now determined that Henry should go into the army, and my mother wants me to besiege Sir John through Lady Macdonald (the general's general) about a commission for him. In the evening, not having to be anybody tragical or heroical, I indulged in my own character, and had a regular game of romps with the boys; my pensive public would not have believed its eyes if it could have seen me with my hair all disheveled, not because of my woes, but because of riotous fun, jumping over chairs and sofas, and dodging behind curtains and under tables to escape from my pursuers. "Is that Miss Kemble?" as poor Mr. Bacon involuntarily exclaimed the first time he saw me.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, December 29, 1831. MY DEAREST H——,
You shall not entreat in vain, neither shall you have a short answer because you have an immediate one.... I should not have answered you so instantaneously, but that my last account of my dear father was so bad that I cannot delay telling you how much better he is, and how grateful we all are for his restoration to health. He is released from his bed, of which he must be heartily sick, and comes down to breakfast at the usual time: of course he is still weak and low, and wretchedly thin, but we trust a little time will bring back good spirits and good looks, though after such a terrible attack I fear it will be long before his constitution recovers its former strength, if indeed it ever does. He talks of resuming his labors at the theater next Monday week. Oh! my dear H——, what a dreadful season of anxiety this has been! but, thank God, it is past.
I had intended that this letter should go to you to-day, but you will forgive the delay of a day in my finishing it when I tell you that I have some hope of its producing a commission for Henry. Sir John Macdonald, at whose house you dined in the summer with my mother, is now adjutant-general, and I know not what besides; and after my mother and myself had expended all our eloquence in winding up my father's mind to resolve upon the army as Henry's profession, she thought the next best thing I could do would be to attack Lady Macdonald and secure the general's interest. They happened to call this afternoon, and your letter, my dear H——, has been left unfinished till past post-time, while I was soliciting this favor, which I have every hope we shall obtain. Lady Macdonald is extremely kind and good-natured, and I am sure will exert herself to serve us, and if this can be accomplished I shall be haunted by one anxiety the less.
Henry is too young and too handsome to be doing nothing but lounging about the streets of London, and even if he should be ordered to the Indies, it is something to feel that he is no longer aimless and objectless in life—a mere squanderer of time, without interest, stake, or duty, in this existence. I am sure this news will pacify you, and atone for the day's delay in this letter reaching you.
[My youngest brother Henry had a passionate desire to be a sailor, and never exhibited the slightest inclination for any other career. Admiral Lake, who was a very kind friend of my father's and mother's, knowing this to be the lad's bent, offered, on one occasion, to take charge of him, and have him trained for his profession under his own supervision. Such, however, was my mother's horror of the sea, and dread of losing her darling, if she surrendered him to be carried from her to Nova Scotia, whither I think Admiral Lake was bound when he offered to take my brother with him, that she induced my father to decline this most friendly and advantageous offer. Henry never after that exhibited the slightest preference for any other profession, and always said, "They may put me at a plow-tail if they like." He went through Westminster School, after a previous training at Bury St. Edmunds, not otherwise than creditably; but a very modest estimate of his own capacity made him beg not to be sent to Cambridge, where he said he was sure he should only waste money, and do himself and us no credit. (The bitter disappointment of my brother John's failure there had made a deep impression upon him.) Finally it was decided that he should go into the army, and the friendly interest of Sir John Macdonald and the liberal price Mr. Murray gave me for my play of "Francis I." enabled me to get him a commission; it was the time when they were still purchasable. My poor mother, unable to refuse her consent to this second favorable opportunity of starting him in life, acquiesced in his military, though she had thwarted his naval, career, and was well content to see her boy-ensign sent over with his troops to Ireland. But from Ireland his regiment was ordered to the West Indies, and after his departure thither she never again saw him in her life.]
I think it would be a wise thing if I were to go to America and work till I have made 10,000l., then return to England and go the round of the provinces, and act for a few nights' leave-taking in London. Prudence would then, perhaps, find less difficulty in adjusting my plans for the future. That is what I think would be well for me to do, supposing all things remain as they are and God preserves my health and strength. It will not do to verify all Poitier's lugubrious congratulation to his children in the Vaudeville on their marriage:
"Ji! Ji! mariez-vous, Mettez-vous dans la misere! Ji! Ji! mariez-vous, Mettez-vous la corde au cou."
... Jealousy, surely, is a disposition to suspect and take umbrage where there is no cause for suspicion or offense, which, to say the least of it, is very unreasonable; but that a woman should break her heart because her husband does love another woman better than her, seems to me natural enough, and with regard to Bianca, her provocations certainly warranted a very rational amount of misery; and though, had she not been a woman of violent passions and a jealous temperament, she probably would not have taken the means she did of resenting Fazio's treatment of her, it appears to me that nothing but divine assistance and the strongest religious principle could preserve one under such circumstances from despair, madness, suicide, perhaps; hardly, however, the murder of one's husband. But assassinating other people seems a much more common mode of relieving their feelings among Italians than destroying themselves, which is rather a northern way of meeting, I should say of avoiding, difficulties.
I have had a holiday this week, and every now and then have written a word or two of "La Estrella;" it will never be done, and when it is it will be the horridest trash that ever was done; but I will let you have the pleasure of reading it, I promise you. On Monday I play that favorite detestation of mine, Euphrasia; the Monday after that my father hopes to be able for Mercutio, and I return to Juliet. By the by, you say Bianca is my best part, and I think my Juliet is better; I am not sure that there is not some kindred in the characters. We are going to bring out a play of Lord Francis', translated from the French, a sort of melodrama in blank verse, in which I have to act a part that I cannot do the least in the world, but of course that doesn't signify.
["Katharine of Cleves," translated from the French play of "Henri Trois et sa Cour," and made the subject of one of Mr. Barham's inimitably comical poems in the "Ingoldsby Legends." Mdlle. Mars acted the part of the heroine in Paris, and it was one of several semi-tragical characters, in which, at the end of her great theatrical career, she reaped fresh laurels in an entirely new field, and showed the world that she might have been one of the best serious, not to say tragic, actresses of the French stage, as well as its one unrivaled female comedian.]
We have spent a wretched Christmas, as you may suppose; a house with its head sick all but to death, and all its members smitten with the direst anxiety, is not the place for a merry one. God bless you, my dear, and send you years of peace of mind and health of body! this is, I suppose, what we mean when we wish for happiness here, either for ourselves or others. Give my love and kindest good wishes to your people.
Have you seen in the papers that poor Torrijos and his little band, consisting of sixty men, several of whom John knew well, have been lured into the interior of Spain, and there taken prisoners and shot? This news has shocked us all dreadfully, especially poor John. You may imagine how grateful we are that he is now among us, instead of having fallen a victim to his chimerical enthusiasm. I hardly know how to deplore the event for Torrijos himself: death has spared him the bitter disappointment of at last being convinced that the people he would have made free are willing slaves, and that the time when Spain is to lift herself up from the dust has not yet come.
I went the other day with John to the Angerstein Gallery.... The delight I find in a fine painting is one of the greatest and most enduring pleasures I have; my mind retains the impression so long and so very vividly.... Good-by, my dearest H——.
Ever affectionately yours, F. A. K.
Saturday, 31st.—After breakfast went to the theater to rehearse "The Grecian Daughter," and Mr. Ward, for whom the rehearsal was principally given, never came till it was over. Pleasant creature!...
The day seemed beautifully fine, and my father and mother took, a drive, while Henry and I rode, that my father might see the horse I had bought for him; but it was bitterly cold, and I could not make my mare trot, so she cantered and I froze. Mr. Power was there, on that lovely horse of his. I think the Park will become bad company, it is so full of the player folk. Frederick Byng called, and I like him, so I went and sat with him and my father and mother in the library till time to dress for dinner. After dinner wrote "The Star of Seville." I have got into conceit with it again, and so poor, dear, unfortunate Dall coming in while I was working at it, I seized hold of her, like the Ancient Mariner of the miserable "Wedding Guest," and compelled her, in spite of her outcries, to sit down, and then, though she very wisely went fast asleep, I read it to her till tea-time.
My mother wished to sit up and see the New Year in, and so we played quadrille till they sat down to supper, which had been ordered for the vigil, and I went fast asleep. At twelve o'clock kisses and good wishes went round, and we were all very merry, in spite of which I once or twice felt a sudden rush of hot tears into my eyes. All the hours of last year are gone, standing at the bar of Heaven, our witnesses or accusers: the evil done, the good left undone, the opportunities vouchsafed and neglected, the warnings given and unheeded, the talents lent and unworthily or not employed, they are gone from us for ever! forever! and we make merry over the flight of Time! O Time! our dearest friend! how is it that we part so carelessly from you, who never can return to us?... A New Year....
A NEW YEAR, 1832.
January 1st, Sunday.—When I came down my father wished me a happy New Year, and I am sure we were both thinking of the same thing, and neither of us felt happy.
Thursday 5th.— ... Wrote all the afternoon. Mr. Byng dined with us and stayed till one o'clock, having reduced my mother to silence, and my father to sleep, John to snuff, and Henry and I to playing (sotto voce) "What's my thought like?" to keep ourselves from tumbling off the perch.
Monday, 9th.—Rehearsed "Romeo and Juliet" with all my heart. Oh, light, life, truth, and lovely poetry! I sat on the cold stage, that I might hear them even mumble over their parts as they do. My father seemed to me very weak, and not by any means fit for his work to-night. After dinner went over my part again, and went to the theater at half past five. My new dress was very handsome, though rather burly, in spite of which Dall said it made me look taller, so its rather burliness didn't matter. John Mason played Romeo for the first time; he was beautifully dressed, and looked very well; he acted tolerably well, too. He has a good deal of energy and spirit, but wants feeling and refinement; his voice, unfortunately, is very unpleasant, wiry, harsh, and monotonous; of the last defect he may cure by practice. I came to the side scene just as my father was going on, to hear his reception; it was very great, a perfect thunder of applause; it made the tears start into my eyes. Poor father! They received me with infinite demonstrations of kindness too. I thought I acted very well; I am sure I played the balcony scene well. When the blood keeps rushing up into one's cheeks and neck while one is speaking, I wonder if that ought to be called acting. To be sure, Hamlet's player's face turned pale for Hecuba; so Shakespeare thought acting might make one change color.
I cannot get over the sensibleness of Henry Greville, who was in the pit again to-night. Upon my word! he deserves to see good acting. After the play dear William and Mary Harness came home to supper with us, and we all got into a long discussion about Shakespeare's character, John maintaining that his views of life were gloomy and that he must himself have been an unhappy man. I don't believe a bit of it; no one, I suppose, ever thinks this world, and the life we live in it, absolutely pleasant or good, but the poet's ken, which is as an angel's compared with that of other men, must see more good and beauty, as well as more evil and ugliness, than his short-sighted fellows, and the better elements predominating over the worse (as they do, else the world would fall asunder). The man who takes so wide a view as Shakespeare, whatever his judgment of parts, must, upon the whole, pronounce the whole good rather than bad, and rejoice accordingly. I was too tired and sleepy to talk, or even to listen, much.
Wednesday, 11th.— ... Lady Charlotte Greville and General Alaba called. I am always grateful to him for the beautiful copy of Schlegel's "Dramatic Lectures" which he gave me. Lady Charlotte was all curiosity and anxiety about Lord Francis' play. I am afraid the newspapers may not be much inclined to be good-natured about it. I hope he does not care for what may be said of it. In the evening, the boys went to the theater, and I stayed at home, industriously copying "The Star of Seville" till bedtime.
Thursday, 12th.—To the theater to rehearsal, after which I drove to Hayter's (the painter), taking him my bracelets to copy, and permission to apply to the theater wardrobe for any drapery that may suit his purpose. I saw a likeness of Mrs. Norton he is just finishing; very like her indeed, but not her handsomest look. I think it had a slight, curious resemblance to some of the things that have been done of me. I saw a very clever picture of all the Fitzclarences, either by himself or his brother, George Hayter. The women are very prettily grouped, and look picturesque enough; the modern man's dress is an abominable object, of art or nature, and Lord Munster's costume, holding, as he does, the very middle of the canvas, is monstrous (which I don't mean for a rudeness, but a pun). The Right Reverend Father in God (A.F.) is laughably like. They have insisted on having a portrait of their mother introduced in the room in which they are sitting, which seems to me better feeling than taste. Their royal father is absent. I worked at "The Star of Seville" till I went to the theater; as I get nearer the end, I get as eager as a race-horse when in sight of the goal.... The piece was "The School for Scandal;" the house was very full. I did not play well; I spoke too fast, and perceived it, and could not make myself speak slower—an unpleasant sort of nightmare sensation; besides, I was flat, and dull, and pointless—in short, bad was the sum total. How well Ward plays Joseph Surface! The audience were delightful; I never heard such pleasant shouts of laughter.... My father says perhaps they will bring out "The Star of Seville," which notion sometimes brings back my old girlish desire for "fame." Every now and then I feel quite proud at the idea of acting in a play of my own at two and twenty, and then I look again at my "good works," this precious play, and it seems to be no better than "filthy rags." But perhaps I may do better hereafter. Hereafter! Oh dear! how many things are better than doing even the best in this kind! how many things must be better than real fame! but if one has none of those, fame might, perhaps, be pleasant. No actor's fame, or rather celebrity, or rather notoriety, would satisfy me; that is the shadow of a cloud, the echo of a sound, the memory of a dream, nothing come of nothing. The finest actor is but a good translator of another man's work; he does somebody else's thought into action, but he creates nothing, and that seems to me the test of genius, after all.
Friday.—At eleven to the theater to rehearse "Katharine of Cleves." ... We all went to the theater to see "Rob Roy," and I was sorry that I did, for it gave me such a home-sick longing for Edinburgh, and the lovely sea-shore out by Cramond, and the sunny coast of Fife. How all my delightful, girlish, solitary rambles came back to me! Why do such pleasant times ever pass? or why do they ever come? The Scotch airs set me crying with all the recollections they awakened. In spite, moreover, of my knowing every plank and pulley, and scene-shifter and carpenter behind those scenes, here was I crying at this Scotch melodrama, feeling my heart puff out my chest for "Rob Roy," though Mr Ward is, alas! my acquaintance, and I know when he leaves the stage he goes and laughs and takes snuff in the green room. How I did cry at the Coronach and Helen Macgregor, though I know Mrs. Lovell is thinking of her baby, and the chorus-singers of their suppers. How I did long to see Loch Lomond and its broad, deep, calm waters once more, and those lovely green hills, and the fir forests so fragrant in the sun, and that dark mountain well, Loch Long, with its rocky cliffs along whose dizzy edge I used to dream I was running in a whirlwind; the little bays where the sun touched the water as it soaked into cushions of thick, starry moss, and the great tufts of purple heather all vibrating with tawny bees! Beautiful wilderness! how glad I am I have once seen it, and can never forget it; nor the broad, crisping Clyde, with its blossoming bean-fields, its jagged rocks and precipices, its gray cliffs and waving woods, and the mountain streams of clear, bright, fairy water, rushing and rejoicing down between the hills to fling themselves into its bosom; and Dumbarton Castle, with its snowy roses of Stuart memory! How glad I am that I have seen it all, if I should never see it again! And "Rob Roy" brought all this and ever so much more to my mind. If I had been a mountaineer, how I should have loved my land! I wish I had some blood-right to love Scotland as I do. Unfortunately, all these associations did not reconcile me to the cockney-Scotch of our Covent Garden actors, and Mackay's Bailie Nicol Jarvie was not the least tender of my reminiscences. [It was at a public dinner in Edinburgh, at which Walter Scott and Mackay were guests, that, in referring to the admirable impersonation of the Bailie, Scott's habitual caution with regard to the authorship of the Waverley Novels for a moment lost its balance, and in his warm commendation of the great comedian's performances a sentence escaped him which appeared conclusive to many of those present, if they were still in doubt upon the subject, that he was their writer.] Miss Inveraretie was a cruel Diana, but who would not be?...
Saturday, 14th.—I rode at two with my father. Passed Tyrone Power; what a clever, pleasant man he is; Count d'Orsay joined us; he was riding a most beautiful mare; and then James Macdonald, cum multus aliis, and I was quite dead, and almost cross, with cold.... After dinner I came up to my room, and set to work like a little galley slave, and by tea-time I had finished my play. "Oh, joy forever! my task is done!" I came down rather tipsy, and proclaimed my achievement. After tea I began copying the last act, but my father desired me to read it to them; so, at about half-past nine, I began. My mother cried much; what a nice woman she is! My father, Dall, and John agreed that it was beautiful, though I believe the two first excellent judges were fast asleep during the latter part of the reading, which was perhaps why they liked it so much. At the end my mother said to me, "I am proud of you, my dear;" and so I have my reward. After a little congratulatory conversation, I came to bed at two o'clock, and slept before my head touched the pillow. So now that is finished, and I am glad it is finished. Is it as good as a second piece of work ought to be? I cannot tell. I think so differently of it at different times that I cannot trust my own judgment. I will begin something else as soon as possible. I wonder why nowadays we make all our tragedies foreign? Romantic, historical, knightly England had people and manners once picturesque and poetical enough to serve her play-writers' turn, though Shakespeare always took his stories, though not his histories, from abroad; but people live tragedies and comedies everywhere and all time. I think by and by I will write an English tragedy. [I little thought then that I should write a play whose miserable story was of my own day, and call it "An English Tragedy."]
Sunday, 15th.— ... In the afternoon hosts of people called; among others Lady Dacre, who stayed a long time, and wants us to go to her on Thursday. Copied "The Star of Seville" all the evening. At ten dear Mr. Harness came in, and stayed till twelve.
Monday, 16th.—Rehearsed "Katharine of Cleves" at eleven, but as Lord Francis did not come till twelve we had to begin it again, and kept at it until two. The actors seem frightened about it. Mr. Warde quakes about the pinching (an incident in the play taken, I suppose, from Ruthven's proceeding toward Mary Stewart at Lochleven). I am only afraid I cannot do anything with my part; it is a sort of melodramatic, pantomimic part that I have no capacity for. The fact is, that neither in the first nor last scenes are my legs long enough to do justice to this lady. The Douglas woman who barred the door with her arm to save King James's life must have been a strapping lass, as well a heroine in spirit. I am not tall enough for such feats of arms. Copied my play till time to go to the theater. My aunt Victoire came to my dressing-room just as I was going on, and persuaded dear Dall, who has never once seen me act, to go into the front of the house. She came back very soon in a state of great excitement and distress, saying she could not bear it. How odd that seems! Dear old Dall! she cannot bear seeing me make-believe miserable. The house was very good, and I played fairly well.
Tuesday, 17th.—Went to my mother's room before she was down, with Henry. It is her birthday, and I carried her the black velvet dress I have got for her, with which she seemed much pleased. Went to rehearsal at twelve. Lord and Lady Francis were there, and we acted the whole play, of course, to please them, so that I was half dead at the end of the rehearsal. They want us to go to Lady Charlotte's (Greville) to-morrow. My father said we would if we were all well and in spirits (i.e., if the play was not damped).... I wonder how my dear old Newhaven fish-wife does. "Eh! gude gracious, ma'am, it's yer ain sel come back again!" Poor body! I believe I love the very east wind that blows over the streets of Edinburgh.... After dinner Mrs. Jameson's beautiful toy-likeness of me helped off the time delightfully till the gentlemen came up, and then helped it off delightfully till everybody went away. What a misfortune it is to have a broken nose, like poor dear Thackeray! He would have been positively handsome, and is positively ugly in consequence of it. John and his friend Venables broke the bridge of Thackeray's nose when they were schoolboys playing together. What a mishap to befall a young lad just beginning life! [I suppose my friend Thackeray's injury was one that did not admit a surgical remedy, but my father, late in life, fell down while skating, and broke the bridge of his nose, and Liston, the eminent surgeon, urged him extremely to let him raise it—"build it again," as he used to say. My father, however, declined the operation, and not only remained with his handsome nose disfigured, but suffered a much greater inconvenience, which Liston had predicted—very aggravated deafness in old age, from the stopping of the passages in the nose, which helped to transmit sound to the brain.] After all, I suppose, it does not much signify to a man whether he is ugly or not. Wilkes, who was pre-eminently so, but brilliantly agreeable, used always to say that he was only half an hour behindhand with the handsomest man in England.
Wednesday, 18th.—Went to the theater to rehearse "Katharine of Cleves;" we were kept at it till half-past two. Drove home through the park. The day was beautiful, but my poor father could not get released from that hateful theater, and went without his ride.... I had not felt at all nervous about to-night till the carriage came to the door, and then I turned quite faint and sick with fright. At the theater found Madame le Beau (the forewoman of the great fashionable French milliner, Madame Devy, by whom all my dresses were made) waiting for me. All was in darkness in my dressing-room; neither Mrs. Mitchell nor Jane were come (my two servants, or dressers, as they are called at the theater). Presently in scuttled the former, puffing, and whimpering apologies, and presently the room was filled with the pleasant incense of eight candles that she lighted, and blew out and relighted, and wondered that we didn't enjoy the operation. Then Jane bounced breathless in, and made our discomfort perfect. I sat speechless, terrified, and disconsolate. My fright was increasing every instant, and by the time I was dressed I shook like an aspen leaf from head to foot, and was as sick as no heart could desire. My dresses were most beautiful, and fitted me to perfection. The house was very fine. My poor dear father, who was as perfect in his part as possible this morning, did not speak three words without prompting; he was so nervous and anxious about the success of the piece that his own part was driven literally out of his head. I never saw anything so curious. To be sure, his illness has shattered him very much, and all the worry he has had this week has not mended matters. However, the play went admirably, and was entirely successful, to assist which result I thought I should have broken a blood-vessel in the last scene, the exertion was so tremendous. My voice was weak with nervousness and excitement, and at last I could hardly utter a word audibly. I almost broke my arm, too, in good earnest, with those horrible iron stanchions. However, it did be over at last, and "all's well that ends well." I was so tired that I could scarcely stand; my mother came down from her box and seemed much pleased with me. She went to my father's room to see if I might not go home instead of to Lady Charlotte's, but he seemed to think it would please them if we made the effort of going for a few minutes; and so I dressed and set off, and there we found a regular "swarry," instead of something to eat and drink, and a chair to sit upon in peace and quiet. There was a room full of all the fine folks in London; very few chairs, no peace and quiet, and heaps of acquaintance to talk to.... All the London world that is in London. Lord and Lady Francis took their success very composedly. I don't think they would have cared much if the play had failed. Henry Greville seemed to be much more interested for them than they for themselves, and discussed it all for a long time with me. I liked him very much.... At long last I got home, and had some supper, but what with fatigue and nervousness, and it—i.e., the supper—so late, I had a most wretched night, and kept dreaming I was out in my part and jumping up in bed, and all sorts of agonies. What a life! I don't steal my money, I'm sure.
Thursday, 19th.— ... Henry and I rode in the park, and though the day was detestable, it did me good. As we were walking the horses round by Kensington Gardens, Lord John Russell, peering out of voluminous wrappers, joined us. Certainly that small, sharp-visaged gentleman does not give much outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual power he possesses and wields over this realm of England just now. His bodily presence might almost be described as St. Paul's. This turner inside out and upside down of our body, social and political, this hero of reform, one of the ablest men in England—I suppose in Europe—he rode with us for a long time, and I thought how H—— would have envied me this conversation with her idol.... In the evening, at the theater, though I had gone over my part before going there, for the first time in my play-house experience I was out on the stage. I stopped short in the middle of one of my speeches, thinking I had finished it, whereas I had not given Mr. Warde the cue he was to reply to. How disgraceful!... After the play, my mother called for us in the carriage, and we went to Lady Dacre's, and had a pleasant party enough.... C—— G—— was there, with her mother (the clever and accomplished authoress of several so-called fashionable novels, which had great popularity in their day). Miss G——, now Lady E—— T——, used to be called by us "la Dame Blanche," on account of the dazzling fairness of her complexion. She was very brilliant and amusing, and I remember her saying to one of her admirers one evening, when her snowy neck and shoulders were shining in all the unveiled beauty of full dress, "Oh, go away, P——, you tan me." (The gentleman had a shock head of fiery-red hair.)
Friday.— ... I am horribly fagged, and after dinner fell fast asleep in my chair. At the theater, in the evening, the house was remarkably good for a "second night," and the play went off very well.... My voice was much better to-night, though it cracked once most awfully in the last scene, from fatigue.... I think Lord Francis, or the management, or somebody ought to pay me for the bruises and thumps I get in this new play. One arm is black and blue (besides being broken every night) with bolting the door, and the other grazed to the bone with falling in fits upon the floor on my elbows. This sort of tragic acting is a service of some danger, and I object to it much more than to the stabbing and poisoning of the "Legitimate Drama;" in fact, "I do not mind death, but I cannot bear pinching."
Saturday.— ... Rode in the park with my father. Lord John Russell rode with us for some time, and was very pleasant. He made us laugh by telling us that Sir Robert Inglis (most bigoted of Tory anti-reformers) having fallen asleep on the ministerial benches at the time of the division the other night, they counted him on their side. What good fun! I never saw a man look so wretchedly worn and harassed as Lord John does. They say the ministry must go out, that they dare not make these new peers, and that the Bill will stick fast by the way instead of passing. What frightful trouble there will be!...
Sunday, 22d.— ... After church looked over the critiques in the Sunday papers on "Katharine of Cleves." Some of them were too good-natured, some too ill-natured. The Spectator was exceedingly amusing.
By far the best account and criticism of this piece is Mr. Barham's metrical report of it in the "Ingoldsby Legends." Lord Francis himself used to quote with delight, "She didn't mind death, but she couldn't bear pinching." ...
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 22, 1832.
Thank you, my dearest H——, for your last delightful letter, which I should have answered before, but for the production of a new piece at Covent Garden, which has taken up all my time for the last week in rehearsals, and trying on dresses and the innumerable and invariable etceteras of a new play and part. It has been highly successful, and I think is likely to bring money to our treasury, which is the consummation most devoutly to be wished. It is nothing more than an interesting melodrama, with the advantage of being written in gentlemanly (noblemanly?) blank verse instead of turgid prose, and being acted by the principal instead of the secondary members of the company. This will suffice to make you appreciate my satisfaction, when I am complimented upon my acting in it, and you will sympathize with the shout of laughter my father and myself indulged in in the park the other day, when Lord John Russell, who was riding with us, told us that a young lady of his acquaintance had assured him that "Katharine of Cleves" (the name of the piece) was vastly more interesting than any thing Shakespeare had ever written.
The report is that there is to be no new creation of peers, and that the Bill will not pass. Certainly poor Lord John looks worried to death. He and Lord Grey have almost the whole weight and responsibility of this most momentous question upon their shoulders, and it must be no trifle to carry. As for the judicious young lady's judgment about "Katharine of Cleves," it is just this sort of thing that makes me rub the hands of my mind with satisfaction that I have never cared for my profession as my family has done. I think if I had, such folly, or rather stupidity, would have exasperated me too much. Besides, I should have been much less useful to the theater, for I should have lived in an everlasting wrangle with authors, actors, and managers on behalf of the mythological bodies supposed to preside over tragedy and comedy, and I should have killed myself (or perhaps been killed), and that quickly, with ineffectual protests against half the performances before the lamps, which are enough to make the angels weep and laugh—in short, go into hysterics, if they ever come to the play....
Do you know you have almost increased my very sufficient tendency to superstition by your presentiment when you last left us that you should never return to this house. There is some talk now of our leaving it. My mother yearns for her favorite suburban haunts, the scene of her courtship, and the spot where most of her happy youthful associations abide, and has half persuaded my father to let this house and take one in a particular row of "cottages of gentility" called Craven Hill. It only consists of twelve houses, in five of which my mother has, at different periods of her life, resided. This is all vague at present; I will let you know if it assumes a more definite shape. Some time will elapse before it is decided on, and more before it is done; and in any case, somehow or other, you must be once more under this roof with us before we leave it....
I quite agree with you that such books as Mr. Hope's (on the nature and immortality of the soul, the precise title of which I have forgotten) "may be useless," and sometimes, indeed, worse. If a person has nothing better to do than count the sea sands or fill the old bottomless tub of the Danaides, they may be excused for devoting their time and wits to such riddles, perhaps. But when the mind has positive, practical work to perform, and time keeps bringing all the time specific duties, or when, as in your case, a predisposition to vague speculation is the intellectual besetting sin, I think addition to such subjects to be avoided. I suppose all human beings have, in some shape or degree, the desire for that knowledge which is still the growth of the forbidden tree of Paradise, and the lust for which inevitably thrusts us against the bars of the material life in which we are consigned; but to give up one's time to writing and reading elaborate theories of a past and future which we may conceive to exist, but of the existence of which it is impossible we should achieve any proof, much less any detailed knowledge, appears to me an unprofitable and unsatisfactory misuse of time and talent....
You are mistaken in supposing me familiar with the early history of Poland. I am ashamed to say I know nothing about it, and my zeal for the cause of its people is an ignorant sentimentalism—partly, perhaps, mere innate combativeness that longs to strike on the weaker side, and partly, too, resentful indignation at the cold-blooded neutrality observed by all the powers of Europe while that handful of men were making so brave a stand against the Russian giant.
That reminds me that Prince Zartoryski, who is in this country just now, came to the play the other night, and was so struck with my father that he sent round to him to say that he desired the honor of his acquaintance, and begged he would do him the favor of dining with him on some appointed day, which seemed to me a very pretty piece of impulsive enthusiasm. I believe Prince Zartoryski is a royal personage, and so above conventionalities....
My father is pretty well, though very far from having entirely regained his strength, but he is making gradual progress in that direction....
Always affectionately yours, FANNY.
Tuesday, 24th.— ... Read over "The Star of Seville," as Mr. Bartley (our worthy stage manager) has cut it, with a view to its possible performance. He has cut it with a vengeance—what one may call to the quick. However, I suppose they know their own business (though, by the by, I am not always so sure of that). At any rate, I shall make no resistance, but be silent while I am sheared....
I rode in the park with John. My mare was ill, and Mew (the stable-keeper) had sent me one of his horses, a great awkward brute, who, after jolting me well up Oxford Street, no sooner entered the park than he bolted down the drive as fast as legs could carry him, John following afar off. In Rotten Row we were joined by young T——.... When I thought the devil was a little worked out of my horse, I raised him to a canter again, whereupon scamper the second—I like a flash of lightning, they after me as well as they could. John would not force my father's horse, but Mr. T——, whose horse was a thoroughbred hunter, managed to keep up with me, but lamed his horse in so doing. We then walked soberly round the park and saw our friends and acquaintances, and, turning down the drive, I determined once more to try my horse's disposition, whereupon off he went again, like a shot, leaving John far behind. I flitted down Rotten Row like Faust on the demon horse, and as I drew up and turned about I heard, "Well, that woman does ride well," which was all, whoever said it, knew of the matter; whereas, in my mad career, I had passed Fozzard, who shook his head lamentably at John, exclaiming, "Oh, Miss Fanny! Miss Fanny!" After this last satisfactory experiment I made no more, and we cut short our ride on account of my unmanageable steed....
We had a dinner party at home, and in the evening additional guests, among them Thackeray, who is very clever and delightful. We had music and singing and pleasant, bright talk, and they departed and left us in great good humor.
Wednesday, 25th.—Read the "Prometheus Unbound." How gorgeous it is! I do not think Shelley is read or appreciated now as enthusiastically as he was, even in my recollection, some few years ago. I went over my part, and at half-past five to the theater. The play was "Katharine of Cleves," the house very good; and, to please Henry Greville, I resumed the gold wreath I had discarded and restored the lines I had omitted. After the play came home and supped, and at eleven went to Lady F——'s.... A very fine party; "everybody"—that is in town—was there, and Mrs. Norton looking more magnificent than "everybody." Old Lady S—— like nothing in the world but the mummy carried round at the Egyptian feasts, with her parchment neck and shoulders bare, and her throat all drawn into strings and cords, hung with a dozen rows of perfect precious stones glittering in the glare of the lights with the constant shaking of her palsied head. [This lady continued to frequent the gayest assemblies in London when she had become so old and infirm that, though still persisting daily in her favorite exercise on horseback, she used to be tied into her saddle in such a manner as to prevent her falling out of it. She had been one of the finest riders in England, but used often, at the time when I knew her, to go to sleep while walking the horse round the park, her groom who rode near her being obliged to call to her "My lady! My lady!" to make the poor old woman open her eyes and see where she was going. At upward of eighty she died an unnatural death. Writing by candle-light on a winter's evening, it is supposed that her cap must have taken fire, for she was burnt to death, and had for her funeral pile part of the noble historical house of Hatfield, which was destroyed by the same accident.]
Lord Lansdowne desired to be introduced to me, and talked to me a long time. I thought him very good-natured and a charming talker. Mrs. Bradshaw (Maria Tree) was there, looking beautiful. Our hostess's daughter, Miss F——, is very pretty, but just misses being a beauty; in that case a miss is a great deal worse than a mile. Just as the rooms were beginning to thin, and we were going away, Lord O—— sat down to the piano. I had heard a great deal about his singing, and was rather disappointed; he has a sweet voice and a sweet face, but Henry Greville's bright, sparkling countenance and expressive singing are worth a hundred such mere musical sentimentalities. [Mr. Henry Greville was one of the best amateur singers of the London society of his day. He was the intimate personal friend of Mario, whom I remember he brought to our house, when first he arrived in London, as M. de Candia, before the beginning of his public career, and when, in the very first bloom of youth, his exquisite voice and beautiful face produced in society an effect which only briefly forestalled the admiration of all Europe when he determined to adopt the profession which made him famous as the incomparable tenor of the Italian stage for so many years.] Then, too, those lads sing songs, the words of which give one the throat-ache with strangled crying, and when they have done you hear the women all round mincing, "Charming!—how nice!—sweet!—what a dear!—darling creature!"
Thursday, 26th.—Murray was most kind and good-natured and liberal about all the arrangements for publishing "Francis I." and "The Star of Seville." He will take them both, and defer the publication of the first as long as the managers of Covent Garden wish him to do so. [As there was some talk just then of bringing out "The Star of Seville" at the theater, it was thought better not to forestall its effect by the publication of "Francis I."]
At the theater the play was "The School for Scandal." A—— F—— was there, with young Sheridan; I hope the latter approved of my method of speaking the speeches of his witty great-grandfather. I played well, though the audience was dull and didn't help me. Mary and William Harness supped with us....
Friday, 27th.—A long discussion after breakfast about the necessity of one's husband being clever. Ma foi je n'en vois pas la necessite. People don't want to be entertaining each other all day long; very clever men don't grow on every bush, and middling clever men don't amount to anything. I think I should like to have married Sir Humphry Davy. A well-assorted marriage, as the French say, seems to me like a well-arranged duet for four hands; the treble, the woman, has all the brilliant and melodious part, but the whole government of the piece, the harmony, is with the base, which really leads and sustains the whole composition and keeps it steady, and without which the treble for the most part runs to tune merely, and wants depth, dignity, and real musical importance.
In the afternoon went to Lady Dacre's.... She read me the first act of a little piece she has been writing; while listening to her I was struck as I never had been before with the great beauty of her countenance, and its very varied and striking expression.... At home spent my time in reading Shelley. How wonderful and beautiful the "Prometheus" is! The unguessed heavens and earth and sea are so many storehouses from which Shelley brings gorgeous heaps of treasure and piles them up in words like jewels. I read "The Sensitive Plant" and "Rosalind and Helen." As for the latter—powerful enough, certainly—it gives me bodily aches to read such poetry.
What extraordinary proceedings have been going on in the House of Commons! Mr. Percival getting up and quoting the Bible, and Mr. Hunt getting up and answering him by quoting the Bible too. It seems we are to have a general fast—on account of the general national misconduct, I suppose; serve us right.
Sunday, 29th.—Went into my mother's room before going to church. Henry Greville has sent her Victor Hugo's new book, "Notre Dame de Paris," but she appears half undetermined whether she will go on reading it or not, it is so painfully exciting. I took Mrs. Montague up in the carriage on my way to church, and after service drove her home, and went up to see Mrs. Procter, and found baby (Adelaide Procter) at dinner. That child looks like a poet's child, and a poet. It has something "doomed" (what the Germans call "fatal") in its appearance—such a preternaturally thoughtful, mournful expression for a little child, such a marked brow over the heavy blue eyes, such a transparent skin, such pale-golden hair. John says the little creature is an elf-child. I think it is the prophecy of a poet. [And so, indeed, it was, as all who know Adelaide Procter's writings will agree—a poet who died too early for the world, though not before she had achieved a poet's fame, and proved herself her father's worthy daughter.] ... In the afternoon, I found my mother deep in her French novel, from which she read me two very striking passages—the description of Esmeralda, which was like a fine painting, and extremely beautiful, and the sketch of Quasimodo's life, ending with his riding on the great bell of the cathedral. Very powerful and very insane—a sort of mental nightmare, giving one as much the idea of disorder of intellect as such an image occurring to one in a dream would of a disordered stomach. Harmony, order, the beauty of goodness and the justice of God, are alike ignored in such works. How sad it is for the future as well as for the present!
Monday, 30th.—King Charles' martyrdom gives me a holiday to-night. Excellent martyr! Victor Hugo has set my mother raving. She didn't sleep all night, and says the book is bad in its tendency and shocking in its details; nevertheless, she goes on reading it....
Tuesday, January 31st.— ... Went to Turnerelli's. He is making a bust of me, that will perhaps be like—the man in the moon. Dall was kind enough to read to me Mrs. Jameson's "Christina" while I sat. I like it extremely. After I came home, read Shirley's play of "The Two Sisters." I didn't like it much. It is neither very interesting, very witty, nor very poetical, and might almost be a modern work for its general want of power and character. The women appear to me a little exaggerated—the one is mad and the other silly. At the theater in the evening the house was very good indeed—the play, "Katharine of Cleves;" but poor Mr. Warde was so ill he could hardly stand.
Wednesday, February 1st.— ... Drove out with Henry in the new carriage. It is very handsome, but by no means as convenient or capacious as our old rumble. Oh, these vanities! How we sacrifice everything to them!
Thursday, 2d. ... Rode out with my father. The whole world was abroad in the sunshine, like so many flies. My mother was walking with John and Henry, and Henry Greville. I should like to tell him two words of my mind on the subject of lending "Notre Dame de Paris" about to women. At any rate, we vulgar females are not as much accustomed to mental dram-drinking as his fine-lady friends, and don't stand that sort of thing so well.... In the evening we went to the theater to see "The Haunted Tower." Youth and first impressions are wonderful magicians. (I forget whether the music of this piece was by Storace or Michael Kelly.) This was an opera which I had heard my father and mother talk of forever. I went full of expectation accordingly, and was entirely disappointed. The meagerness and triteness of the music and piece astonished me. After the full orchestral accompaniments, the richly harmonized concerted pieces and exquisite melodies lavished on us in our modern operas, these simple airs and their choruses and mean finales produce an effect from their poverty of absolute musical starvation.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 31, 1832. MY DEAREST H—— G——,
You are coming to England, and you will certainly not do so again without coming to us. My father and mother, you know, speak by me when I assure you that a visit from you would give us all the greatest pleasure.... Do not come late in the season to us, because at present we do not know whether June or July may take us out of town.... With my scheme of going to America, I think I can look the future courageously in the face. It is something to hold one's fortune in one's own hands; if the worst comes to the worst it is but another year's drudgery, and the whereabouts really matters little.... We hear that the cholera is in Edinburgh. I cannot help thinking with the deepest anxiety of those I love there, and I imagine with sorrow that beautiful, noble city, those breezy hills, those fresh, sea-weedy shores and coasts breathed upon by that dire pestilence. The city of the winds, where the purifying currents of keen air sweep through every thoroughfare and eddy round every corner—perched up so high upon her rocky throne, she seems to sit in a freer, finer atmosphere than all the world beside! (I appear, in my enthusiastic love for Edinburgh, to have forgotten those Immonderraze, the wynds and closes of the old town.) I hope the report may not prove true, though from a letter I have received from my cousin Sally (Siddons) the plague is certainly within six miles of them. She writes very rationally about it, and I can scarce forbear superstitiously believing that God's mercy will especially protect those who are among His most devoted and dutiful children....
You speak of my love of nature almost as if it were a quality for which I deserve commendation. It is a blessing for which I am most grateful. You who live uninclosed by paved streets and brick walls, who have earth, sea, and sky a discretion spread round you in all their majestic beauty, cannot imagine how vividly my memory recalls and my mind dwells upon mere strips of greensward, with the shadows of trees lying upon them. The colors of a patch of purple heather, broken banks by roadsides through which sunshine streamed—often mere effects of light and shade—return to me again and again like tunes, and to shut my eyes and look at them is a perfect delight to me. I suppose one is in some way the better as well as the happier for one's sympathy with the fair things of this fair world, which are types of things yet fairer, and emanations from the great Source of all goodness, loveliness, and sublimity. Whether in the moral or material universe, images and ideas of beauty must always be in themselves good. Beauty is one manifestation and form of truth, and the transition seems to me almost inevitable from the contemplation of things that are lovely to one's senses to those which are lovable by one's spirits' higher and finer powers of apprehension. The mind is kept sunny and calm, and free from ill vapors, by the influence of beautiful things; and surely God loves beauty, for from the greatest to the smallest it pervades all His works; and poetry, painting, and sculpture are not as beautiful as the things they reproduce, because of the imperfect nature-of their creator—man; though his works are only good in proportion as he puts his soul—i.e., the Spirit of God—inspiration into them.
F. A. K.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, February 17, 1832. MY DEAREST H——,
"Francis I." will come out on the 1st of March, so your starting on the 25th will do quite well for that; but it is right I should tell you what may possibly deter you from coming. A report prevails that the cholera is approaching London, and though I cannot say that I feel nervous upon the subject, perhaps, under these circumstances, you had rather or better not come.
There have been many assertions and contradictions about it, of course, and I know nothing but that such a rumor is prevalent, and if this should cause you or (what is more likely) yours an instant's hesitation, you must give up your visit. I know our disappointment will be mutual and equal, and I am sure you will not inflict it either upon yourself or me without adequate reason, so I will say no more about it.
The reason for bringing out "Francis I." now is that Milman has undertaken to review it in the next Quarterly, and Murray wishes the production of the play at the theater to be simultaneous with the publication of the Review.
My wrath and annoyance upon the subject have subsided, and I have now taken refuge with restored equanimity in my "cannot help it." Certainly I said and did all I could to hinder it.
I do not feel at all nervous about the fate of the play—no English public will damn an attempt of that description, however much it may deserve it; and paradoxical as it may sound, a London audience, composed as it for the most part is of pretty rough, coarse, and hard particles, makes up a most soft-hearted and good-natured whole, and invariably in the instance of a new actor or a new piece—whatever partial private ill will may wish to do—the majority of the spectators is inclined to patience and indulgence. I do not mean that I shall not turn exceedingly sick when I come to set my foot upon the stage that night; but it will only be with a slight increase of the alarm which I undergo with every new part. My poor mother will be the person to be pitied; I wish she would take an opiate and go to bed, instead of to the theater that night....