There are, on an average, half a dozen fires in various parts of the town every night—I mean houses on fire. The sons of all the gentlemen here are volunteer engineers and firemen, and great is the delight they take in tearing up and down the streets, accompanied by red lights, speaking trumpets, and a rushing, roaring escort of running amateur extinguishers, who make night hideous with their bawling and bellowing. This evening as I was observing that we had had no fire to-day, Dall said the weather was so hot, she thought they must have left off fires for the season.
Speaking of carriages and the devices on the panels of them here, which appear to be rather fancy pieces than heraldic bearings, my father said, "I wonder what they do for arms." "Use legs," said Dall immediately, not at all bethinking herself how ancient a device on the shield of the Island of Man the three legs were, or knowing how much more ancient on the coins of Crotona, I think, or some other of the Magna Grecian colonies.
The hours which prevail here are those of our shop-keeping population; they rise and go to business very early, dine at three, which indeed is considered late, take tea at five, and supper at nine, which seems to us very primitive.... The women here are, generally speaking, very pretty little creatures, with a great deal of freshness and brilliancy; they dress in the extreme of the French fashion, and, I suppose from some unfavorable influence of the climate, they lose their beauty prematurely—they become full-blown very early, and their bloom is extremely evanescent; they fade almost suddenly.... There seems to be a great deal of consumption here. The climate is as capricious as ours, with this additional disadvantage, that the extremes of heat and cold are much more intense, and the transitions much more violent, the temperature varying occasionally as much as thirty degrees in the twenty-four hours. I have just left off writing for five minutes to watch the lightning, which is dancing in a fiery ring all round the horizon—summer lightning, no thunder, although the flashes are strong and vivid....
We have had such a tremendous storm—really gorgeous, grand, and awful; lightning that stretched from side to side of the sky, making a blaze like daylight for several seconds at a time. The mere reflection of it on the ground was more than the eye could endure; great forked ribbons of fire darting into the very bosom of the city and its crowded dwellings, or zigzagging through the air to an accompaniment of short, sharp, crackling thunder, succeeded by endless, deep, full-toned rolls that made the whole air shake and vibrate with the heavy concussion; pelting and pouring rain, a perfect tornado of wind. Heaven and earth are all, while I write, one livid, violet-colored flame, and the thunder resounds through the wild frenzy of the elements like the voice of "the Ruler of the spirits." My eyes ache with the incessant glare, and I must close my letter, for it is past eleven o'clock, and I have to rehearse to-morrow morning.... I have seen Mr. Wallack since our arrival, whom I never saw in England, either on or off the stage. I went the other night to see him in one of his favorite pieces, "The Rent-Day," which made me cry dreadfully, but chiefly, I believe, because, when they are ruined, he asks his wife if she will go with him to America. You see I am taking to play-going in my old age. The theater is very pretty, of the best possible dimensions for me, and tolerably good for the voice. We leave this place for Philadelphia on the 10th of October, and remain there a fortnight, and then go on to Boston....
Last Thursday we crossed the Hudson in one of the steamers constantly plying between the opposite shores and New York, and took a delightful walk along the New Jersey shore to a place called Hoboken, famous once as a dueling-ground, now the favorite resort of a pacific society of bon vivants, who meet once a week to eat turtle, or, as it is expressed on their cards of invitation, for "spoon exercise." The distance from our landing-point to the place where these meetings are held is about five miles, a charming walk through a strip of forest-ground, which crowns the banks of the river, gradually rising to a considerable height above it. We were delighted with the vivid, various, and strange foliage of the trees, the magnificent river, broad and blue as a lake, with its high and richly wooded shore, and the sparkling, glittering town opposite. We looked down to the Narrows, the defile through which the waters of this noble estuary reach the Atlantic, and between whose rocky walls two or three ships stood out against the brilliant sky. The ebbing tide plashed on the rocks far below us, and the warm grass through which we walked was alive with grasshoppers, whose scarlet wings, suddenly unfolded when they flew, made me take them for some strange species of butterfly. It was all indescribably bright and joyous-looking, and the air of a transparent clearness that was one of the most striking characteristics of the whole scene, and one of the most delightful.... [In discussing the relative merits of England and America, Dr. Channing once said to me, "The earth is yours, but the heavens are ours;" and I quite agree with him. I have never seen a sky comparable, for splendor of color or translucent purity, to that of the Northern States.]
I have been reading your favorite book, "Salmonia." ... I am rather surprised at your liking it so very much, because, though the descriptions are beautiful, and the natural history interesting, and the philosophical and moral reflections scattered through it delightful, yet there is so much that is purely technical about fishing and its processes, and addressed only to the hook-and-line fraternity, that I should not have thought it calculated to charm you so greatly. However, you may have some associations connected with it; liking is a very complex and many-motived thing....
We went through the fish and fruit markets the other day; unfortunately it was rather late in the morning, and of course the glory of the market was over, but yet there remained enough to enchant us, with their abundant plenteousness of good things. The fruit-market was beautiful; fruit-baskets half as high as I am, placed in rows of a dozen, filled with peaches, and painted of a bright vermilion color, which throws a ruddy becoming tint over the downy fruit. It looked like something in the "Arabian Nights;" heaps, literally heaps of melons, apples, pears, and wild grapes, in the greatest profusion. I was enchanted with the beautiful forms, bright colors, and fragrant smell, but I saw no flowers, and I have seen hardly any since I have been here, which is rather a grief to me....
Americans are the most extravagant people in the world, and flowers are among them objects of the most lavish expenditure. The prices paid for nosegays, wreaths, baskets, and devices of every sort of hot-house plants, are incredible to any reasonable mind. At parties and balls ladies are laden with costly nosegays which will not even survive the evening's fatigue of carrying them. Dinner and luncheon parties are adorned, not only with masses of exquisite bloom as table ornaments, but by every lady's plate a magnificent nosegay of hot-house flowers is placed; and I knew a lady who, wishing to adorn her ballroom with rather more than usual floral magnificence, had it hung round with garlands of white camellias and myosotis.
At the theater enormously expensive nosegays and huge baskets of forced flowers are handed to the favorite performers from the front of the house, till the ceremony becomes embarrassing, and almost ridiculous for the object of the demonstration. The churches at certain festivals are hung with draperies of costly hot-house flowers; the communion-tables heaped with them. Weddings, of course, are natural occasions for that species of ornament, but in America funerals are as flowery as marriage-feasts; and I have seen there in mid-winter, with the thermometer at fifteen degrees below zero, large crosses, and hearts, and wreaths, made entirely of rosebuds and lilies of the valley, as part of the solemnities of a burial service; and a young girl who died in the flowerless season was not only shrouded in blossoms, but as her coffin was carried to the bosom of the wintry earth, a white pall of the finest material was thrown over it, with a great cross of double forced violets, almost the length of the coffin, laid on it. I have had as many as a dozen huge baskets of camellias, violets, orange-flower, and tuberose, at one time, in my room; perishable tokens of anonymous public and private favor, the cost of which used to fill me with dismay: and on one occasion a table of magnificent hot-house flowers was sent to me, of such dimensions that both sides of the street door had to be opened to admit it. When I have deplored the inordinate amount of money lavished upon that which could only impart pleasure for so brief a time, I have been answered, but not converted from my feeling of disapprobation and regret, that the gardeners profited by this wild extravagance. In New York I have known a guinea paid for a gentleman's button-hole rosebud, and three guineas for half a dozen sprays of lily of the valley.
Good-by, my dearest H——. I pray for you morning and night. Is not that thinking of you, and loving you as best I can?
Your affectionate F. A. K.
... We are all pretty well, but all but devoured by multitudinous and multivarious beasts of prey—birds, I suppose they are: mosquitoes, ants, and flies, by day; and flies, fleas, and worse, by night. The plagues of Egypt were a joke to it. We spend our lives in murdering hecatombs of creeping and jumping things, and vehemently slapping our own faces with intent to kill the flying ones that incessantly buzz about one. It is rather a deplorable existence, and reminds me of one of the most unpleasant circles in Dante's "Hell," which I don't think could have been much worse. My father began his work on Monday last with Hamlet. Dall and I went into a private box to see him; he acted admirably, and looked wonderfully young and handsome. The house was crammed, and the audience, we were assured, was enthusiastic beyond all precedent.
On Tuesday I came out in Bianca; I was rather glad they had appointed that part for my first, because it is one of my best; but had not the genius of theatrical management made such a mere monologue of the play as it has, I verily believe I should have been "swamped" by my helpmate. My Fazio was an unhappy man who played Romeo once with me in London, and failed utterly: moreover, he had studied this part in a hurry, it seems, and did not know three words of it, and was, besides, too frightened to profit by my prompting. The only thing that seemed to occur to him was to go down on his knees, which he did every five minutes. Once when I was on mine, he dropped down suddenly exactly opposite to me, and there we were, looking for all the world like one of those pious conjugal vis-a-vis that adorn antique tombs in our cathedrals. It really was exceedingly absurd. But I looked and acted well, and the play was very successful.... I was not nervous for my first night, till my unhappy partner made me so. My dislike to the stage would really render me indifferent to my own success, but that I am working for my livelihood; my bread depends upon success, and that is a realistic, if not an artistic, view of the case, of which I acknowledge the importance....
Absolute and uncompromising vulgarity is really not very objectionable; it is rather refreshing, indeed, for it is simple, and, in that respect, rare. Vulgarity allied to pretension and the affectation of fine manners is the only real vulgarity, and is an intolerable thing. The plain rusticity, or even coarseness, of what are called the lower classes, is infinitely preferable to the assumption of gentility of those a little above them in the social scale. The artisan, or day-laborer, or common workman, is apt to be a gentleman, compared with a certain well-to-do small shopkeeper....
On Thursday, when I went to rehearse "Romeo and Juliet," I found that the unfortunate Mr. Keppel was, by general desire, taken out of Romeo, which my father was therefore called upon, for the first time, to act with me. I was vexed at this every way. I was sorry for the poor player, whose part, of course, was money to him; and sorry for my father, who has the greatest objection to playing Romeo, for which his age, of course, disqualifies him, however much his excellent acting may tend to make one forget it; and I was sorry for the public, who lost his admirable Mercutio, which I do not think they were compensated for by his taking the other part....
The steward of our ship, a black—a very intelligent, obliging, respectable servant—came here the other morning to ask my father for an order, at the same time adding that it must be for the gallery, as people of color were not allowed to go into any other part of the theater. Qu'en dis-tu? The prejudice against these unfortunate people is, of course, incomprehensible to us. On board ship, after giving that same man some trouble, Dall poured him out a glass of wine, when we were having our dinner, whereupon the captain looked at her with utter amazement, and I thought some little contempt, and said, "Ah! one can tell by that that you are not an American;" which sort of thing makes one feel rather glad that one is not.
[This was in 1832, when slavery literally governed the United States. In 1874, when the Civil War had washed out slavery with the blood of free men, the prejudice engendered by it governed them still to the following degree. Going to the theater in Philadelphia one night, I desired my servant, a perfectly respectable and decorous colored man, to go into the house and see the performance. This, however, he did not succeed in doing, being informed at all the entrance doors that persons of color were not admitted to any part of the theater. At this same time, more than half the State legislature of South Carolina were blacks. Moreover, at this same time, colored children were not received into the public schools of Philadelphia, though colored citizens were eligible, and in some cases acted as members of the board of management of these very schools. I talked of this outrageous inconsistent prejudice with some of my friends; among others, the editor of a popular paper. They were all loud in their condemnation of the state of things, but strongly of opinion that to move at all in the matter would be highly inopportune and injudicious. Time, they said, would settle all these questions; and, without doubt, it will. Charles Sumner, who thought Time could afford to have his elbow jogged about them, had just gone to his grave, leaving, unfortunately, incomplete his bill of rights in behalf of the colored citizens of the United States.
My servant was a citizen of the United States, having a vote, when he was turned from the theater door as a person of color; and negroes had been elected as Members of Congress at that very time. Strangely enough, Philadelphia, once the seat of enthusiastic and self-devoted Quaker abolitionism, the home of that noble and admirable woman, Lucretia Mott, who stood heroically in its vanguard, is now one of the strongholds of the most illiberal prejudice against the blacks.]
On Friday we acted "The School for Scandal." Our houses have been very fine indeed, in spite of the intolerable heat of the weather.... My ill-starred Fazio of Thursday night is making a terrible stir in the papers, appealing to the public, and writing long letters about his having merely studied the part to accommodate me. "Hard case—unjust partiality—superior influence," etc., etc.—in short, an attempt at a little cabal, the effect of which is that he has obtained leave to appear again to-morrow night in Jaffier to my Belvidera. The poor man is under a strong mental delusion, he cannot act in the least; however, we shall see what he will do with "Venice Preserved." ...
Yesterday evening we dined with some English people who are staying in this hotel, and met Dr. Wainwright, rector of the most "fashionable" church in New York; a very agreeable, good, and clever man, who expressed great delight at having an opportunity of meeting us in private, as his congregation are so strait-laced that he can neither call upon us nor invite us to his house, much less set his foot in the theater. The probable consequence of any of these enormities, it seems, would be deserted pews next Sunday, and perhaps eventually the forced resignation of his cure of souls. This is rather narrow minded, I think, for this free and enlightened country. Think of my mother's dear old friend, Dr. Hughes, and Milman, and Harness, and Dyce, and all our excellent reverend friends and intimate acquaintance....
To-morrow we act "Venice Preserved," on Tuesday "Much Ado about Nothing," Wednesday is a holiday, on Thursday, for my benefit, "The Stranger," and on Friday "The Hunchback." On the 10th of next month we act in Philadelphia, where we shall remain for a fortnight, and then return here for a fortnight, after which we go on to Boston. God bless you, dear! It is past twelve at night, and I have a ten-o'clock rehearsal to-morrow morning.
Ever your affectionate F. A. K.
PART OF LETTER TO MRS. JAMESON.
NEW YORK, September 30, 1832.
I am not sure that, upon the whole, our acting is not rather too quiet—tame, I suppose they would call it—for our present public. Ranting and raving in tragedy, and shrieks of unmeaning laughter in comedy, are not, you know, precisely our style, and I am afraid our audiences here may think us flat. I was informed by a friend of mine who heard the remark, that one gentleman observed to another, after seeing my father in "Venice Preserved," "Lord bless you! it's nothing to Cooper's acting—nothing! Why, I've seen the perspiration roll down his face like water when he played Pierre! You didn't see Mr. Kemble put himself to half such pains!" Which reminds me of the Frenchwoman's commendation to her neighbor of a performance of Dupre, the great Paris tenor of his day: "Ah! ce pauvre cher M. Dupre! ce brave homme! quel mal il se donne pour chanter cela! Regardez donc, madame, il est tout en sueur!" But this order of criticism, of course, may be met with anywhere; and the stamp-and-stare-and-start-and-scream-school has had its admirers all the world over since the days of Hamlet the Dane.
I have not seen much of either places or people yet.... This city is picturesque and foreign-looking; trees are much intermixed with the houses, among them a great many fine willows, and these, together with the various colors of the houses, and the irregularity of the streets and buildings, form constantly "little bits" that would gladden the eye of a painter. The sky here is beautiful; I find in it what you have seen in Italy, and I only in Angerstein's Gallery, the orange sunsets of Claude Lorraine.
We leave New York for Philadelphia after next week, and shall remain there three weeks.
I have read and noted much of your pretty book. There are one or two points which shall "serve for sweet discourses" in our time to come. I find great satisfaction in our discussions, for though I may not often confess to being convinced by your arguments in our differences (does any one ever do so?), I derive so much information from them, that they are as profitable as pleasant to me. Are you going to be busy with your pen soon again? Write me how the world is going on yonder, and believe me ever truly yours,
F. A. K.
NEW YORK, September 30, 1832.
... Perhaps, as you say, it is morbid to dwell as I do upon the unreality of acting, because its tangible reality makes its appearance duly every morning with the "returns" of the preceding night; but I am not sure that it is morbid to consider wants exaggerated and necessities unreal which render insufficient earnings that would be ample for any one's real need. A livelihood, of course, we could make in England.... You speak of all the various strange things I am to see, and the amount of knowledge I shall involuntarily acquire, by this residence in America; but you know I am what Dr. Johnson would have considered disgracefully "incurious," and the lazy intellectual indifference which induced me to live in London by the very spring of the fountain of knowledge without so much as stooping my lips to it, prevails with me here.
[Our house in Great Russell Street, which was the last at the corner of Montague Place, adjoined the British Museum, and has since been taken into, or removed for (I don't know which), the new buildings of that institution. Our friend Panizzi, the learned librarian, lived in the house that stood where ours, formerly my uncle's, did. While we were still living there, however, I was allowed a privileged entrance at all times to the library, and am ashamed to think how seldom I availed myself of so great a favor.]
Then, too, my profession occupies nearly the whole of my time; I have rehearsals every day, and act four times a week; my journalizing takes up a good deal of my leisure. Walking in the heat we still have here fatigues me and hurts my feet very much, especially when I have to stand at the theater all the evening. Although I have been here a month, I have seen but little either of places or people; the latter, you know, I nowhere affect, and my distaste for the society of strangers must, of course, interfere with my deriving information from them. Still, as you say, I must inevitably see and learn much that is new to me, and I take pleasure in the hope that when I return to you I shall be less distressingly ignorant than you must often have found me....
I am very sorry my brother Henry and his men are going to be sent upon so odious an errand as tithe-collecting must be in Ireland. I trust in God he may meet with no mischief while fulfilling his duty; I should be both to think of that comely-looking young thing bruised or broken, maimed or murdered. I hardly think your savage Irishers would have the heart to hurt him, he looks so like, what indeed he is, a mere boy; but then, to be sure, his errand is not one to recommend him to their mercy.
I have read Bryant's poetry, and like it very much. The general spirit of it is admirable; it is all wholesome poetry, and some of it is very beautiful.
I am going to get Graham's "History of the United States," and Smith's "History of Virginia," to beguile my journey to Philadelphia with. I can't fancy a savage woman marrying a civilized man.... I suppose love might bring harmony out of the discords of natures so dissimilar, but I think if I had been a wild she-American, I should not have been tamed by one of the invading race, my hunters. Pocahontas thought differently....
Are you acquainted with any of Daniel Webster's speeches? They are very fine, eloquent, and powerful; and one that he delivered upon the commemoration of the landing of the English exiles at Plymouth, in many parts, magnificent. I was profoundly affected by it when my father read it to us on board ship....
Bad as your mice, of which you complain so bitterly, may be, they are civilized Christian creatures compared with the heathen swarms with which we wage war incessantly here. Every evening, as soon as the sun sets, clouds of mosquitoes begin their war-dance round us; their sting is most venomous, and as my patience is not even skin-deep, I tear myself like a maniac, and then, instead of oil, pour aromatic vinegar into my wounds, and a very pretty species of torture is produced by that means, I assure you. Besides these winged devils, we have swarms of flies, which also bite and sting, with a venomous rancor of which I should have thought their frivolity incapable. Besides these, every cupboard and drawer in our rooms is full of moths. Besides these, we have an army of cantankerous fleas quartered upon us. Besides these, we have one particular closet where we keep—our bugs, and where for the most part, I am truly thankful to say, they keep themselves. Besides these, we have two or three ants' nests in our bedroom, and everything we look upon seems but a moving mass of these red, long-legged, but always exemplary insects. These fellow-creatures make one's life not worth much having, and I do nothing all day long but sing the famous entomological chorus in "Faust;" and if this goes on much longer, I feel as if I should take to buzzing. Do you know that it is hard upon three o'clock in the morning? I must leave off and go to bed, for I rehearse Constance to-morrow at eleven, and act her to-morrow night. On Friday I act Bizarre in "The Inconstant," and think I shall find it great fun.... God bless you, dearest H——.
Ever your affectionate F. A. K.
MANSION HOUSE, PHILADELPHIA, October 10, 1832. DEAREST H——,
Do not let the date of this make any alteration in your way of addressing your letters, which must still be "Park Theater, New York;" for before this reaches you we shall probably have returned thither; but I date particularly that you may follow us with your mind's legs, and know where to find us. My dearest H——, in spite of an often heavy heart, and my distaste for my present surroundings, I have reason to be most grateful, and I trust I am so, for the benefits which we have already derived from a visit to this far world beyond the sea. The first and greatest of these is the wonderful improvement in my dear father's health. He looks full ten years younger than when last you saw him, and besides enjoying better spirits from the absence of the many cares and anxieties and vexations that weighed upon him daily in England, he says that he is conscious since he came away of a great increase of absolute muscular strength and vigor; and when he said this, I felt that my share of the unpleasant duty of coming hither was already amply repaid.... We have finished our first engagement at New York, which was for twelve nights, and have every reason to be satisfied with our financial, as well as professional, success. Living here is not as cheap as we had been led to expect, but our earnings are very considerable, and as we labor for these, it is matter of rejoicing that we labor so satisfactorily.
Dall is very well, except the nuisance of a bad cold. I am very well, without exception. The only unpleasant effect I feel from this climate is a constant tendency to slight relaxation of the throat, but this is nothing more than a trifling inconvenience, very endurable, and which probably a little more seasoning will remove.... I tell you of our health first, for at our distance from each other that is the matter of greatest moment and anxiety....
I must tell you of our future arrangements; and, to begin like an Irishwoman, we arrived here on Monday. My father acts to-night for the first time, Hamlet; and I make my first appearance to-morrow in "Fazio." We shall act here for three weeks, and then return to New York for a month; after which we shall proceed to Boston, whence look to receive volumes from me about Webster, and Channing, and our friends and fellow-passengers, the H——s, who reside there.
I like this place better than New York; it has an air of greater age. It has altogether a rather dull, sober, mellow hue, which is more agreeable than the glaring newness of New York. There are one or two fine public buildings, and the quantity of clean, cool-looking white marble which they use both for their public edifices and for the doorsteps of the private houses has a simple and sumptuous appearance, which is pleasant. It is electioneering time, and all last night the streets resounded with cheers and shouts, and shone with bonfires. The present President, Jackson, appears to be far from popular here, and though his own partisans are determined, of course, to re-elect him if possible, a violent struggle is likely to take place; and here already his opponent, Henry Clay, who is the leader of the aristocratic party in the United States, is said to have obtained the superiority over him.
I have got Graham's and Smith's "Histories," and though my time for reading is anything but abundant, yet every night and morning I do contrive, while brushing the outside of my head, to cram something into the inside of it.
I cannot bear to give up any advantage which I once possessed, and therefore struggle to keep up, in some degree, my music and Italian. These, together with rehearsing every morning, and acting four times a week, besides my journal, which I very seldom neglect, make up a good deal of daily occupation. Then, one must sacrifice a certain amount of time to the conventional waste of society, receiving and returning visits, etc.... I like what I have read of Graham very much; the matter is very interesting, and the spirit in which it is treated; and I am deeply in love with Captain John Smith, and wonder greatly at Pocahontas marrying anybody else. I suppose, however, the savage was not without excuse; for Mary Stuart, who knew something of these matters, says, with a rather satirical glance at her cousin of England, "En ces sortes de choses, la plus sage de nous toutes n'est qu'un peu moins sotte que les autres."
I have been to my first rehearsal here to-day; the theater is small, but pretty enough. The public has high pretensions to considerable critical judgment and literary and dramatic taste, and scouts the idea of being led by the opinion of New York.... It is rather tiresome that fools are cut upon the same pattern all the world over. What is the profit of traveling? Oh dear! I think my Fazio has got St. Vitus's dance!...
Yesterday I tried some horses, which were rather terrible quadrupeds. They were not ill-bred cattle to look at, and I should think of a race that, with care and attention, might be brought to considerable perfection; but they are never properly broken for the saddle. The Americans who have spoken to me about riding say that they do not like a horse to have what we consider proper paces, but prefer a shambling sort of half-trot, half-canter, which they judiciously call a rack, and which is the ugliest pace to behold, and the most difficult to endure, possible. They never use a curb, but ride their horses upon the snaffle entirely, dragging it as tight as they can, and having the appearance of holding on for dear life by it; so that the horse, in addition to the awkward gait I have described, throws his head up, and pokes his nose out, and with open jaws "devours the road" before him....
I acted here last night for the first time. Dall and my father say that I received my reception very ungraciously. I am sure I am very sorry, I did not mean to do so, but I really had not the heart or the face to smile and look as pleased and pleasant as I can at a parcel of strangers.... I was not well, or in spirits, and laboring under a severe cold, which I acquired on board the steamboat that brought down the Delaware.... Neither the Raritan nor the Delaware struck me in any way except by their great width. These vast streams naturally suggest the mighty resources which a country so watered presents to the commercial enterprise of its inhabitants. The breadth of these great rivers dwarfs their shores and makes their banks appear flat and uninteresting, though the large lake-like basins into which they occasionally expand are grand from the mere extent and volume of the sweeping mass of waters.
The colors of the autumnal foliage are rich and beautiful beyond imagination—crimson and gold, like a regal mantle, instead of the sad russet cloak of our fading woods. I think, beautiful as this is, that its gorgeousness takes away from the sweet solemnity that makes the fall of the year pre-eminently the season of thoughtful contemplation. Our autumn at home is mellow and harmonious, though sometimes melancholy; but the brilliancy of this decay strikes one sometimes with a sudden sadness, as if the whole world were dying of consumption, with these glittering gleams and hectic flushes, a mere deception of disease and death.... Good-by, my dearest H——
PHILADELPHIA, October 14, 1832. DEAREST H——,
"Boston is a Yankee town, and so is Philadelphy;" considering which, I assure you I find the latter quite a civilized place. The above quotation is from "Yankee-doodle," the National Anthem of the Americans, which I will sing to you some day when I am within hearing.
We have just returned from church. Dall and I being too late this morning for the service, which begins at half-past ten, sallied forth in search of salvation this afternoon, and after wandering about a little, entered a fine-looking church, which we found was a Presbyterian place of worship.... The preaching to-day was extemporaneous, and extremely feeble and commonplace, occasionally reminding me of your eloquent friend at Skerries.... I shall try, on my return to New York, to settle to some work in earnest, as I hope there that we shall repeat the plays we have already acted, and so need no rehearsals.... To-morrow I act Juliet to my father's Romeo; he does it still most beautifully.... In spite of his acting it with his own child (which puts a manifest absurdity on the very face of it), the perfection of his art makes it more youthful, graceful, ardent, and lover-like—a better Romeo, in short, than the youngest pretender to it nowadays. It is certainly simple truth when he says, "I am the youngest of that name, for lack of a better," when the nurse asks for young Romeo.
Wednesday we act "The School for Scandal," and Friday "Venice Preserved." So there's your play-bill....
At this moment a great political excitement pervades the country; it is the time of the Presidential Election, and the most vehement efforts are being made by the Democratic party to maintain the present President, General Jackson, in his post. The majority, I believe, is in his favor, though we are told that the "better classes" (whatever that may mean where no distinctions of class exist) embrace the cause of his opponent, Henry Clay.
It seems curious, if it is true, as we have been assured, that in this one State of Pennsylvania, eight thousand persons out of fifty who have the right of voting were all who in this last election exercised it; so that the much-vaunted privilege of universal suffrage does not seem to be highly prized where it is possessed.
From all the opinions that I hear expressed upon the subject, it does not seem as though the system of election prevalent here works much better, or is much freer from abuses, than the well-vilified one which England has just been reforming. Bribery and corruption are familiar here as elsewhere, to those who have, and those who wish to have, power; and I have not yet heard a single American speak of our Radical reformers without uplifted hands at what they consider their folly in not "letting well alone," or, as they say, in substituting one set of abuses for another, as they declare we shall do if we adopt their vote by ballot system.
I have now written you a philosophical, moral, and political letter, and beg you will score up my attempt to write rationally against the loads of gibberish I have from time to time discoursed to you. Good bless you, dearest H——! Three thousand miles away, I am still
Always your affectionate F. A. K.
PHILADELPHIA, October 22, 1832. DEAR H——,
My first news is deplorable, and I beg you will lament over it accordingly. I eat little, drink less, rehearse six mornings and act five nights a week; in spite of all which, and riding a heavy-going, jolting, shambling, hard-pulling horse, I have grown so fat that I really cannot perceive that there is any shape in particular about me. Grotesque things sometimes are melancholy too, and it is so with me, for I am both....
My father and Dall are very well; at this moment he is busy saying, and she hearing him say, the part of Fazio, which he is to act with me to-morrow night. I dread it dreadfully; acting anything painful with him always tries my nerves extremely.
Bianca is a part of terrible excitement in itself, without the addition of having to act it to his Fazio. I cannot get rid of his being he, and it agonizes me really to see his sham agony; however, "'tis my vocation, Hal." It is very well that our audiences should look at us as mere puppets, for could they sometimes see the real feelings of those for whose false miseries their sympathies are excited, I believe sufficiently in their humanity to think they would kindly give us leave to leave off and go home. Ours is a very strange trade, and I am sorry to say that every day increases my distaste for it.... I do not think that during my father's life I shall ever leave the stage; it is very selfish to feel regret at this, I know, but it sometimes seems to me rather dreary to look along my future years, and think that they will be devoted to labor that I dislike and despise.... For many years—ever since I entered upon my first girlhood, indeed—a quiet, lonely life upon a small independence has been the aim of my desires and my notion of happiness. Italy and the south of France formerly constantly solicited my imagination, as offering pleasant places wherein to build a solitary nest.... And now a cottage near Edinburgh, with an income of two hundred a year, seems to me the most desirable of earthly possessions; but, though this is certainly not a very wild vision of wealth or magnificence, I fear it is quite as little within my reach as southern palaces, or villas on the Mediterranean.
My father has hitherto been able to lay by nothing, and my assistance is absolutely necessary to him, ... and as long as I can in any way serve my father's interests by remaining in my profession I shall do so, and must naturally look forward to a prolonged period of my present exertions. It is useless pondering upon this, but I have been led to do so lately from a letter which my father received from Mr. Bartley, the stage manager of Covent Garden, the other day, which contained the plan of a new theatrical speculation, in which he is most anxious to engage us. I know not how my father feels upon this subject.... I, however, am well determined that neither Mr. L——'s opinion, nor that of the whole world besides, should induce me to own the value of a truss of straw in any theater. My father's whole life has been given over to trouble and anxiety in consequence of his proprietorship and involvement in that ruinous concern, Covent Garden; and now, when his remaining health and strength will no more than serve to lay up the means of subsistence when health and strength are gone, the idea of his loading himself with such a burden of bitterness as the proprietorship of a new theater makes me perfectly miserable. For my own part, I am determined to own neither part nor lot in any such venture: I will lend or give anything that I may earn to it, and I will act, at half the price I might get elsewhere, for it, if my father wishes me to do so; but not a demonstrable cent per cent profit should induce me to run such a risk of cursing the day that I was born, as to become owner of a theater. I write you all this (and I have written more than enough about it) because it has been lately a subject of much anxious meditation to me. The matter is at present without settled form or plan, but the proposal of such a scheme has caused me deep regret and anxiety.... I am going to act to-morrow in "The Hunchback;" Thursday, Mrs. Beverley; Friday, Lady Townley; Saturday, Juliet; Monday, Julia again; and Tuesday, Bizarre in "The Inconstant;" which ends our engagement here. This is pretty hard work, is it not? besides always one, and sometimes two rehearsals of a morning.
We begin our second engagement in New York on the 7th of November. Don't forget that the 27th of that month is my birthday, and that if you neglect to drink my health, I shall probably die, for want of your good wishes to keep me alive.
We act in Boston on the 3d of December; "further than that the deponent sayeth not."
I told you in my last letter that Philadelphia was the cleanest place in the world. The country along the banks of the Schuylkill (one of the rivers on which it stands; the other is the Delaware) is wild and beautiful, and the glory of the autumn woods what an eye that hath not seen can by no manner of means conceive. I have for the last week had my room full of the most delicious flowers that could only be seen with us at midsummer, and here, in these last days of autumn, they are as abundant and fragrant, and the sun is as intensely hot and brilliant, as it should be, but never is, with us, in the month of July....
Dall went into a Quaker's shop here the other day, when, after waiting upon her with the utmost attention and kindness, the master of the shop said, "And how doth Fanny? I was in hopes she might have wanted something; we should have great pleasure in attending upon her." Was not that nice? So to-day I went thither, and bought myself a lovely sober-colored gown. This place, as you know, is the headquarters of Quakerdom, and all the enchanting nosegays come from "a Philadelphia friend," the latter word dashed under, as if to indicate a member of the religious fraternity always called by that kindly title here....
I think my father has some idea of bringing out "The Star of Seville" here, and if he does I shall break my heart that it was not brought out first in England. Emily always reproaches me with want of patriotism. I have more than helps to make me cheerful here, and leaving England—not home, and not you, but England, England—for two years, seems to me now ridiculous, and fabulous, and preposterous, and disastrous.
I have finished my first volume of Graham, and I have finished this letter. God bless you!
Ever your affectionate F. A. K.
PHILADELPHIA, November 2, 1832. DEAREST H——,
I received your fifth letter to-day, and one from Dorothy, and one from Emily Fitzhugh.... My last letter to you was a sad one, and sad in a fashion that does not often occur to me. I was troubled and anxious about my professional labor and its results, and that may be called a small sadness compared with some other with which I have lately become familiar. Of course none of these anxieties have been removed, for some time must elapse before I can know on what plan my father determines with regard to Mr. Bartley's proposal about this new theater. It does not affect me personally, because I am thoroughly determined to take no part in any speculation of the kind; but the possibility of my father entering into any such scheme is care enough to "kill a cat," and make a kitten miserable besides.... In all matters, but especially in matters of business, I hold frankness, straightforwardness, and decision as conducive to success, as consonant with right feeling; but I think men are much more cowardly than women, and believe a great deal more in policy, temporizing, and expediency than we do. "Managing" is supposed to be a feminine tendency; it has no place in my composition; perhaps I might be the better for a little of it—but only perhaps, and only a little.... This letter, as you will perceive by its date, was begun on the banks of the Delaware; here we are, however, once more in New York. It is Monday evening, the 5th of November, and you are firing squibs and burning manikins en action de graces that the Houses of Parliament were not blown up by the Roman Catholics, instead of living to be reformed by the Whigs, and (peradventure) blowing up the nation.
The Presidential Election is going on here, and creates immense excitement. General Jackson, they say, will certainly be re-elected.
Our last fortnight in Philadelphia has been one of incessant and very hard work, rehearsing every morning and acting every night. I rejoiced heartily when our engagement drew to a close, for I was fairly worn out, and money bought with health is bought too dear, I think.... I have taken some very pleasant rides during our stay in Philadelphia; the horses are none of them properly broken for riding, which makes it a pleasure of no small fatigue to ride them for three or four hours. Luckily, I do not object to severe exercise, and the weather and the country were both charming....
I am glad you have been re-reading the "Tempest." ... What exquisite pleasure that fine creation has given me! I like it better than any of the other plays; it is less "of the earth, earthy" than any of the others; for though the "Midsummer Night's Dream" is in some sort, as it were, its companion, the mortal element in the latter poem is far less noble and lovely than in the "Tempest." Prospero and Miranda, the dwellers on the enchanted island, are statelier and fairer than any of the human wanderers in the mazes of the Athenian wood. There is a deep and indescribable melancholy to me in the "Tempest" that mingles throughout with its beauty, and lends a special charm to it. I so often contemplate in fancy that island, lost in the unknown seas, just in the hour of its renewed solitude, after the departure of its "human mortal" dwellers and visitors, when Prospero and his companions had bade farewell to it, when Caliban was grunting and grubbing and groveling in his favorite cave again, when Ariel was hovering like a humming-bird over the flower draperies of the woods, where the footprints of men were still stamped on the wet sand of the shining shore, but their voices silent and their forms vanished, and utter solitude, and a strange dream of the past, filling the haunts where human life, its sin and sorrow, and joy and hope, and love and hate, had breathed and palpitated, and were now forever gone. The notion of that desert once, but now deserted, paradise, whose flowers had looked up at Miranda, whose skies had shed wisdom on Prospero, always seems to me full of melancholy. The girl's sweet voice singing no more in the sunny, still noon, the grave, tender converse of the father and child charming no more the solemn eventide, the forsaken island dwells in my imagination as at once desecrated and hallowed by its mortal sojourners; no longer savage quite, and never to be civilized; the supernatural element disturbed, the human element withdrawn; a sad, beautiful place, stranger than any other in the world. Perhaps the sea went over it; it has never been found since Shakespeare landed on it. I love that poem beyond words....
I shall ruin you in postage; if there is any chance of that, keep Mrs. Norton's five guineas to pay for my American epistles.
Ever your affectionate F. A. K.
I have received your letter, acknowledging my first to you.... As for letters, they are like everything else we experience here, sources of to the full as much suffering as satisfaction. Who has not felt their whole blood run backward at sight of one of these folded fate-bearers? I declare, breaking an envelope always has something of the character of pulling a shower-bath string over one's own head; I wonder anybody ever has the courage to do it....
Your dread of our finding New York quite a desert would have been literally fulfilled had we reached it a fortnight sooner; but the dreadful malady, the cholera, had taken its departure, and though private bereavements and general stagnation of business rendered the season a very unfavorable one for our experiment, yet, upon the whole, we have every reason to be well satisfied with the result of it, and think we did well not to postpone the beginning of our campaign.... The first serious experiences of our youth seem to me like the breaking asunder of some curious, beautiful, and mystical pattern or device.... All our lives long we are more or less intent on replacing the bright scattered fragments in their original shape: most of us die with the bits still scattered round us—that is to say, such of the bits as have not been ground into powder, or soiled and defaced beyond recognition, in the life-process. The few very wise find and place them in a coherent form at last, but it is quite another curious, beautiful, and mystical device or pattern from the original one.
The deaths of the young Napoleon, the Duke of Reichstadt, and Walter Scott have excited universal interest here, naturally of a very dissimilar kind. One's heart burns to think of that young eagle falling like a weakly winter flower, or a faded, sickly girl, into his untimely grave.... There was nothing for him but death. If he had been anything, it could only have been a wild spark of the mad meteor from which he sprang; and as Heaven in its wisdom forbade that, I think it much of its mercy that it extinguished him early and utterly, and did not leave him to flare and flicker and burn himself out with foul gunpowder smoke, and smell of dead men slain in battle, in the middle of the smoldering ashes of his father's European empire.
My admiration and respect for Walter Scott are unbounded, and were I the noblest, richest, and charmingest man in the world, I would lay myself at Anne Scott's feet out of sheer love and veneration for her father....
You ask me if I wrote anything on board ship? Nothing but odds and ends of doggerel. Since I have been here I have written some verses on the beautiful American autumn, which have been published with commendation. I am thinking of writing a prose story, if ever again I can get two minutes and a half of leisure.... Your entreaties for minute details of our life make me sad, for how little of what we do, be, or suffer can be conveyed to you in this miserable scrap of paper!... Our dinner-hour is three when we are actors, five when we are ladies and gentlemen. The food we get here in New York is very indifferent. It was excellent in quality in Philadelphia, but wherever we have been there is a want of niceness and refinement in the cooking and serving everything that is very disagreeable....
Thursday, Nov. 27th. This is my birthday—in England always one of the gloomiest days of this gloomy month; here my windows are all open, and the warm sun streaming in as it might on the finest of early September days with us. I am to-day three-and-twenty. Where is my life gone to? As the child said, "Where does the light go when the candle is out?" ... Since last I wrote to you I have been forty miles up the Hudson, and seen such noble waters and beautiful hills, such glory of color and magnificent breadth in the grand river and its autumn woods, as I cannot describe.
This is our last night but one of acting here. We play "The Hunchback" on Saturday, and on Monday go back to Philadelphia for three weeks; thence to Baltimore and Washington, and then return here. I must go now and rehearse Katharine and Petruchio.
I have just finished Graham's "History," and am beginning John Smith. By the by, a gentleman here is writing a play, in which I am to act Pocahontas and my father Captain Smith. Come out and see it, won't you? Good-by, dear. Think always of your affectionate
F. A. K.
December 9, 1832. MY DEAREST H——,
I received yours of October 16th yesterday.... You are not healthily natured enough to be inconstant. Yours is one of those morbid organizations for whom the present never does its wholesome, proper office of superseding the past, and your thoughts and feelings, your whole inner life, in short, is always out of perspective, because your background is forever your foreground, and with you, half the time, nothing is but what is not; not in consequence of looking forward, like Macbeth, but the reverse.... I am delighted that you are going to Scotland to know my dear Mrs. Harry Siddons.
Before this letter reaches you, however, you will have returned to your castle, and your visit to Edinburgh will be over.... Mercy on me! what disputations you and Mr. Combe will have had—on matters physiological, psychological, phrenological, and philosophical! My brains ache to imagine them.... Spurzheim, you know, is dead lately in Boston. It is a matter of regret to me not to have seen him, and his death will be a grief to the Combes, who venerate him highly.... Making trial of people is running a foolish risk, and they who get disappointment by it reap the most probable result from such experiments. I am quite willing to trust my friends; God forbid I should ever try them!...
We have not yet been to Boston, and therefore I myself know nothing of Channing, and cannot answer your questions about him. All that I hear inclines me to like as well as respect him. His gentleness and kindness, his weak health, brought on by over-study, his perfect simplicity and unaffectedness—these are the usual details that follow any mention of him, and accord with the impression his writings produced upon me; but of his theological treatises I know nothing.
I am glad anything so universal as the blessed sunshine reminds you of me, because my remembrance must be present with you almost daily. The lights of heaven shine more glowingly here than through the misty veils that curtain our islands. The moon and stars are wonderfully bright, and there is an intensity, an earnestness, and a translucent purity in the sky here that delights me.... Four months are already gone out of the two years we are to pass out of England. Dear England! My heart dwells with affectionate pride upon the beauty and greatness and goodness of my own country—that wonderful little land, that mere morsel of earth as it seems on the map—so full of power, of wealth, of intellectual vigor and moral worth!...
I found Graham a little too much of a Republican for me, though his "History" seemed to me upon the whole good and very impartial. I am now half way through Smith's "Virginia," which pleases me by its quaint old-world style. I am myself much inclined to be in love with Captain Smith. A man who fights three Turks and carries their heads on his shield is to me an admirable man....
I answer the propositions in your letters in regular rotation as they come; and so, with regard to the peaches, those that I have tasted on this side of the Atlantic I should say were not comparable to fine hothouse peaches in England and fine French espalier peaches; but then the peach trees here are standard trees, and there are whole orchards of them. Their chief merit, therefore, is their abundance, and some of that abundance is certainly fit for nothing but to feed pigs withal. [It is by no means a luxury to be despised, however, to have, in the American fashion, on a hot summer's day, a deep plate presented to you full of peaches, cut up like apples for a pie, that have been standing in ice, and are then snowed over with sugar and frozen cream.]
We are now in Philadelphia, whence we go to Baltimore, Washington, and Charleston. The Southern States are at this moment in a state of violent excitement, which seems almost to threaten a dissolution of the Union. The tariff question is the point of disagreement; and as the interests of the North and South are in direct opposition on this subject, there is no foretelling the end.
Our success is very great, and we have every reason to be satisfied with and grateful for it. Our houses are full, and eke our pockets, and we have hitherto managed to live in tolerable privacy and very tolerable discomfort. But I believe the western part of the country has yet to teach us the extent of inconvenience to which travelers in America are sometimes liable. God bless you, dearest H——.
I am, ever yours affectionately, F. A. K.
My father and I took a moonlight walk the other night, from ten o'clock till half-past twelve, during which we neither of us uttered six words.
BALTIMORE, January 2, 1833. MY DEAREST H——,
You are the first to whom I date this new year.... I told you in one of my letters to keep the five guineas Mrs. Norton has paid you for my scribblements to pay the postage of my letters—do so....
We arrived in this place on Monday, at half-past four, having left Philadelphia at six in the morning. We have just terminated a second engagement there very successfully. If the roads and carriages are bad, and the land-traveling altogether detestable, the speed, facility, and convenience of the steamboats, by which one may really be conveyed from one end to another of this world of vast waters, are very admirable. Vast waters indeed they are! We came down the Delaware on Monday, and (open your Irish eyes!) sometimes it was six, sometimes thirteen miles wide, and never narrower than three or four miles at any part of it that we saw. So wide an expanse of fresh running water is in itself a fine object. We crossed the narrow neck of land between the Delaware and the Chesapeake on a railroad with one of Stephenson's engines....
The railroad was full of knots and dots, and jolting and jumping and bumping and thumping places. The carriages we were in held twelve people very uncomfortably. Baltimore itself, as far as I have seen it, strikes me as a large, rambling, red-brick village on the outskirts of one of our manufacturing towns, Birmingham or Manchester. It covers an immense extent of ground, but there are great gaps and vacancies in the middle of the streets, patches of gravely ground, parcels of meadow land, and large vacant spaces—which will all, no doubt, be covered with buildings in good time, for it is growing daily and hourly—but which at present give it an untidy, unfinished, straggling appearance.
While my father and I were exploring about together yesterday, we came to a print-shop, whose window exhibited an engraving of Reynolds's Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, and Lawrence's picture of my uncle John in Hamlet. We stopped before them, and my father looked with a good deal of emotion at these beautiful representations of his beautiful kindred, and it was a sort of sad surprise to meet them in this other world where we are wandering, aliens and strangers.
This is the newest-looking place we have yet visited, the youngest in appearance in this young world; and I have experienced to-day a disagreeable instance of its immature civilization, or at any rate its small proficiency in the elegancies of life. I wanted to ride, but although a horse was to be found, no such thing as a side-saddle could be procured at any livery-stable or saddler's in the town, so I have been obliged to give up my projected exercise.
I have been to my first rehearsal here this morning, and wretched enough all things were. I act for the first time to-morrow night Bianca, which they have everywhere chosen for my opening part; and it is a good one for that purpose, as I generally act and look well in it, and it is the sort of play that all sorts of people can comprehend. There is a foreign—I mean continental—custom here, which is pleasant. They have a table d'hote dinner at two o'clock, and while it is going on a very tolerable band plays all manner of Italian airs and German waltzes, and as there is a fine long corridor into which my room-door opens, with a window at each end, I have a very agreeable promenade, and take my exercise to this musical accompaniment....
I have at this moment on my table a lovely nosegay—roses, geraniums, rare heaths, and perfect white camellias. Our windows are all wide open; the heat is intense, and the air that comes in at them like a sirocco. It is unusual weather for the season even here, and very unwholesome.
In a week's time we are going on to Washington, where we shall find dear Washington Irving, whom I think I shall embrace, for England's sake as well as his own. We have letters to the President, to whom we are to be presented, and to his rival, Henry Clay, and to Daniel Webster, whom I care more to know than either of the others.
After a short stay in Washington we return here, and then back to Philadelphia and New York, till the 20th of February, after which we sail for Charleston. There has been, and still exists at present, a very considerable degree of political alarm and excitement in this country, owing to the threat of the South Carolinians to secede from the Union if the tariff is not annulled, and the country is in hourly expectation of being involved in a civil war. However, the prevailing opinion among the wise seems to be that the Northern States will be obliged to give up the tariff, as the only means of preserving the Union; and if matters come to a peaceable settlement, we shall proceed in February to Charleston; if not, South Carolina will have other things to think of besides plays and play-actors. The summer we shall probably spend in Canada; the winter perhaps in Jamaica, to which place we have received a most pressing invitation from Lord Mulgrave. The end of the ensuing spring will, I trust in God, see us embarked once more for England....
We are earning money very fast, and though I think we work too incessantly and too hard, yet, as every night we do not act is a certain loss of so much out of my father's pocket, I do not like to make many objections to it, although I think it is really not unlikely to be detrimental to his own health and strength....
I spent yesterday evening with some very pleasant people here, who are like old-fashioned English folk, the Catons, Lady Wellesley's father and mother. They are just now in deep mourning for Mrs. Caton's father, the venerable Mr. Carroll, who was upward of ninety-five years old when he died, and was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. I saw a lovely picture by Lawrence of the eldest of the three beautiful sisters, the daughters of Mrs. Caton, who have all married Englishmen of rank. [The Marchioness of Wellesley, the Duchess of Leeds, and Lady Stafford. The fashion of marrying in England seems to be traditional in this family. Miss McTavish, niece of these ladies, married Mr. Charles Howard, son of the Earl of Carlisle.]
The Baltimore women are celebrated for their beauty, and I think they are the prettiest creatures I have ever seen as far as their faces go; but they are short and thin, and have no figures at all, either in height or breadth, and pinch their waists and feet most cruelly, which certainly, considering how small they are by nature, is a work of supererogation, and does not tend to produce in them a state of grace.... We act every night this week, and as we are obliged to rehearse every morning, of course I have no time for any occupations but my strictly professional ones. I do not approve of this quantity of hard work for either my father or myself, but I do not like to make any further protest upon the subject....
Good-by, dearest H——. I am ever your affectionate F. A. K.
TO MRS. JAMESON.
BALTIMORE, January 11, 1833.
Thank you across the sea, dear Mrs. Jameson, for your letter of the 1st of November. I had been wondering, but the day before it reached me, whether you had ever received one I wrote to you on my first arrival in New York, or whether you were accusing me of neglect, ingratitude, forgetfulness, and all the turpitudes that the delay of a letter sometimes causes folk to give other folk credit for. My occupations are incessant, or rather, I should say, my occupation, for to my sorrow I have but one. 'Tis not with me now as in the fortunate days when, after six rehearsals, a piece ran, as the saying is, twenty nights, leaving me all the mornings and three evenings in the week at my own disposal. Here we rush from place to place, at each place have to drill a new set of actors, and every night to act a different play; so that my days are passed in dawdling about cold, dark stages, with blundering actors who have not even had the conscience to study the words of their parts, all the morning. All the afternoon I pin up ribbons and feathers and flowers, and sort out theatrical adornments, and all the evening I enchant audiences, prompt my fellow-mimes, and wish it had pleased Heaven to make me a cabbage in a corner of a Christian kitchen-garden in—well, say Hertfordshire, or any other county of England; I am not particular as to the precise spot.... Whenever I can I get on horseback; it is the only pleasure I have in this world; for my dancing days are drawing to a close. But I mean to ride as long as I have a hand to hold a rein, or a leg to put over a pommel. By the by, I ought to beg your pardon for the last sentence; I ought to have said a foot to put into a stirrup; for if you are not ashamed of having legs you ought to be—at least, we are in this country, and never mention, or give the slightest token of having such things, except by wearing very short petticoats, which we don't consider objectionable.... I am glad you have furbished up and completed your little room, because it is a sign you mean to stay where you are, and I like to know where to find you in my imagination.... I have just seen dear Washington Irving, and it required all my sense of decent decorum to prevent my throwing my arms round his neck, he looked so like a bit of home, England.
You will be glad to hear that we are thriving, in body and estate. We are all well, and our work is very successful. The people flock to see us, and nothing can exceed the kindness which we meet with everywhere and from everybody.... I read nothing whatever since I am in this blessed land. The only books I have accomplished getting through have been Graham's "History of North America," Knickerbocker's "History of New York," which nearly killed me with laughing; "Contarini Fleming," which is very affected and very clever; sundry cantos of Dante, sundry plays of Shakespeare, sundry American poems [which are very good], and old Captain John Smith's quaint "History of Virginia." As fast as I gather my wits together for any steady occupation, I am whisked off to some new place, and do not recover from one journey before I have to take another. The roads here shake one's body, soul, thoughts, opinions, and principles all to pieces; I assure you they are wicked roads.
Our theater, Covent Garden, is, we understand, going to the dogs. I cannot help it any more, that is certain, and feel about that as about all things that have had their day—it must go. Taglioni is like a dream, and you must not abuse Mademoiselle Mars to me. I never saw her but twice—in "L'Ecole des Vieillards" and "Valerie"—and I thought her perfection in both.... If I do not leave off, you will be blind for the next fortnight with reading this crossed letter. I wish you success most heartily in all you undertake, and am truly and faithfully yours,
[Washington Irving was intimately acquainted with my father and mother, and a most kind and condescending friend to me. He often told me that when first he went to England, long before authorship or celebrity had dawned upon him, he was a member of a New York commercial house, on whose affairs he was sent to Europe. It was when he was a mere obscure young man of business in London that he had been introduced to my mother, whose cordial kindness to him in his foreign isolation seemed to have made a profound impression on him; for when I knew him, in the days of his great literary celebrity and social success, he often referred to it with the warmest expressions of gratitude. I think, of all the distinguished persons I have known, he was one of the least affected by the adulation and admiration of society. He remained quite unchanged by his extreme social popularity. Simple, unaffected, unconstrained, genial, kindly, and good, he seemed so entirely to forget his own celebrity, that one almost forgot it too in talking to him. I remember his coming, the day after my first appearance at Covent Garden, to see us, and congratulated my parents on the success of that terrible experiment. I, who was always delighted to see him, ran to fetch the pretty new watch I had received from my father the night before, and displayed its beauties with an eager desire for his admiration of them. He took it and slowly turned it about, commending its fine workmanship and pretty enamel and jewelry; then putting it to his ear, with a most mischievous look of affected surprise, he exclaimed, as one does to a child's watch, "Why, it goes, I declare!"
To my great regret and loss, I saw Mademoiselle Mars only in two parts, when, in the autumn of her beauty and powers, she played a short engagement in London. The grace, the charm, the loveliness, which she retained far into middle age, were, even in their decline, enough to justify all that her admirers said of her early incomparable fascination. Her figure had grown large and her face become round, and lost their fine outline and proportion; but the exquisite taste of her dress and graceful dignity of her deportment, and sweet radiance of her expressive countenance, were still indescribably charming; and the voice, unrivaled in its fresh melodious brilliancy, and the pure and perfect enunciation, were unimpaired, and sounded like the clear liquid utterance of a young girl of sixteen. Her Celimene and her Elmire I never had the good fortune to see, but can imagine, from her performance of the heroine in Casimir de la Vigne's capital play of "L'Ecole des Vieillards," how well she must have deserved her unrivaled reputation in those parts.
It is remarkable that one of the most striking points in Madame d'Orval was suggested by herself to the author. De la Vigne, according to the frequent usage of French authors, was reading his piece to the great actress, upon whom its success was mainly to depend, and when he came to the scene where the offended but unjustly suspicious husband recounts to his wife the details of his duel with the young duke whose attentions to her had excited his jealousy, and that when, full of the tenderest anxiety for his safety, she flies to meet him, and is repulsed by the bitter irony of his speech, beginning, "Rassurez-vous, madame, le duc n'est point blesse," Mademoiselle Mars, having listened in silence till the end of D'Orval's speech, exclaimed, "Mais, quoi! je ne dis rien, elle ne dit rien!" De la Vigne, who had made the young woman listen in speechless anguish to the bitter and unjust reproach conveyed by her husband's first words and his subsequent account of the duel, said, in some surprise at Mademoiselle Mars' suggestion, "Mais quoi encore—que peut-elle dire? que voudriez-vous qu'elle dise?" "Ah, quelquechose!" cried Mademoiselle Mars, clasping her hands in the imagined distress of the situation; "rien—deuxmots seulement. 'Ah, monsieur!' quand il dit, 'Rassurez-vous, madame, le duc n'est point blesse.'" "Eh bien! dites, dites comme cela," cried De la Vigne, amazed at all the expression the exquisite voice and face had given to the two words. And so the scene was altered, and the long recital of D'Orval was broken by the reproachful "Ah, monsieur!" of his wife, and seldom has the utterance of such an insignificant exclamation affected those who heard it so keenly. For myself, I never can forget the sudden, burning blush that spread tingling to my shoulders at all the shame and mortification and anguish conveyed in the pathetic protest of that "Ah, monsieur!" of Mademoiselle Mars.
Dr. Gueneau de Mussy, who knew her well, and used to see her very frequently in her later years of retirement from the stage, told me that he had often heard her read, among other things, the whole play of "Le Tartuffe," and that the coarse flippancy of the honest-hearted Dorinne, and the stupid stolidity of the dupe Orgon, and the vulgar, gross, sensual hypocrisy of the Tartuffe, were all rendered by her with the same incomparable truth and effect as her own famous part of the heroine of the piece, Elmire. On one of the very last occasions of her appearing before her own Parisian audience, when she had passed the limit at which it was possible for a woman of her advanced age to assume the appearance of youth, the part she was playing requiring that she should exclaim "Je suis jeune! je suis jolie!" a loud, solitary hiss protested against the assertion with bitter significance. After an instant's consternation, which held both the actors and audience silent, she added, with the exquisite grace and dignity which survived the youth and beauty to which she could no longer even pretend, "Je suis Mademoiselle Mars!" and the whole house broke out in acclamations, and rang with the applause due to what the incomparable artiste still was and the memory of all that she had been.]
NEW YORK, February 21, 1833.
It is a long time since I have written to you, my dearest H——.... My work is incessant, ... and there is no end to the breathless hurry of occupation we pass our days in. Here is already a break since I began this letter, for we are now in Philadelphia, on our way to Washington, and it is Thursday, the 3d of March.... It has been matter of serious regret to me that I have not, from the very first day of my becoming a worker for wages, looked more into the details of my earnings and spendings. I have felt this particularly lately from circumstances relative to V——'s position, which is a very sad one, from which I have been very anxious to relieve her.... All I know at present is, that since we have been here in America our earnings have already been sufficient to enable us to live in tolerably decent comfort on the Continent.... Do you know, dearest H——, that it is not impossible that I may never return to England to reside there. See it again, I will, please God to grant me life and eyes, but the state of my father's property in Covent Garden is such that it seems more than likely that he may never be able to return to England without risking the little which these last toilsome years will have enabled him to earn for the support of his own and my mother's old age. He will be compelled, in all likelihood, to settle and die abroad, as my uncle John did, by the liabilities of that ruinous possession of theirs, the first theater of London. When first my father communicated this chance to me, and expressed his determination, should the affairs of the theater remain in their present situation, to buy a small farm in Normandy, and go and live there, my heart sank terribly. This was very different from my girlish dream of a life of lonely independence among the Alps, or by the Mediterranean; and the idea of living entirely out of England seems to me now very sad for all of us.... However, there are earth and skies out of England. What does Imogen say?—
"I prithee think, there's livers out of Britain;"
and if God vouchsafe me my faculties, and I can bid farewell to this life of distasteful toil, I have visions of studies and pursuits which I think might make existence very happy in a farm in Normandy, though such might not have been my own choice.... What special inquiries did you wish me to make about General Washington? I was, when at Washington, within fifteen miles of Mount Vernon, his home and burying-place, but could not make time to go thither. I have one of his autograph letters, and if there be any indication of character in handwriting—which I hope to goodness there is not—it certainly exists in his, for a firmer, clearer, and fairer hand I never saw—an excellent, honest handwriting. His likeness confronts one at every corner here; not only at every street corner, where he lends his countenance to the frequenters of drinking-houses, but over every chimney-piece in every sitting-room. He is like the frogs of the old Egyptian plague, except that they were in the king's chamber, where he was too good a Republican ever to have been.
I am amused at your summing up your account of the restless and perturbed state of poor Ireland by saying, "After all, I believe America is the land of peace and quiet." It seems to me, who am here, that everything at this moment threatens change and disintegration in this country. It is impossible to imagine more menacing elements of discord and disunion than those which exist in the opposite and antagonistic interests of its southern and northern provinces, and the anomalous mixture of aristocratic feeling and democratic institutions.... God bless you, my dear H——. I will write to you soon again; if possible, before the breathing-time this snow-storm is giving us is over.
Ever affectionately yours, F. A. K.
NEW YORK, April 3, 1833. MY DEAREST H——,
... I am working very hard, what with rehearsing, acting, studying new parts, devising new dresses, and attending—which, of course, I am obliged also to do—to the claims of the society in which we are living, and my time is so full that I barely contrive to fulfill all my duties and answer all the claims made upon me.... The spring is in the sky, and in the air her soft smile and sweet breath are gladdening the world; but the process of vegetation is much later in beginning, and much more rapid in its operations when they do begin here, than with us. Though the last three days have been as hot as our midsummer weather, the trees are yet leafless and budless—as dry and unpromising-looking as they were in mid-winter; and, indeed, the transition from winter to summer is almost instantaneous here. The spring does not stand coaxing and beckoning the shy summer to the woods and fields as in our country, but while winter yet seems lord of the ascendant, and his white robes are still covering land and water, suddenly the summer looks down upon the earth from the cloudless sky, and, as by magic, the ice melts, the snow evaporates, the trees are clothed with green, the woods are full of flowers, and the whole world breaks out into a hallelujah of warmth, beauty, and blossoming like mid-July in our deliberate climate. This again lasts, as it were, but a day; the sun presently becomes so powerful that the world withers away under the intense heat, the flowers and shrubs fade, and instead of screening and refreshing the earth, are themselves scorched and parched with the glaring fierceness of the sky; the ground cracks, the watercourses dry up, the rivers shrink in their beds, and every human creature that can flies from the lowlands and the cities to go up into the north or to the mountains to find breath, shelter, and refreshment from the sultry curse. Then comes the autumn, and that is most glorious; not soft and sad as ours, but to the very threshold of winter bright, warm, lovely, and gorgeous. Two seasons remain to our earthly year, remembrances, I think, of Paradise; the spring in Italy, and autumn in America....
You ask me how I "fit in" to my American audiences? Why, very kindly indeed. At first they seemed to me rather cold, and I felt this more with regard to my father than myself, but I think they have grown to like us; I certainly have grown to like them, and their applause satisfies me amply.... I heard yesterday of one of Sir Thomas Lawrence's prints of me which was carried by a peddler beyond the Alleghany Mountains [the Alleghany Mountains then were further than the Rocky Mountains are now from the Atlantic seaboard], and bought at an egregious price by a young engineer, who with fifteen others went out there upon some railroad construction business, were bidding for it at auction in that wilderness, where they themselves were gazed at, as prodigies of strange civilization, by the half-savage inhabitants of the region. That touched and pleased me very much.... We are going to act here till the 12th of this month, when we go to Boston, where we shall remain for a month; after which we return here for a week, and then proceed to Philadelphia by the 1st of June, where we intend closing our professional labors for the summer. Thence we shall probably go to Niagara and the Canadas. My father has talked of spending a little quiet time in Rhode Island, where the weather is cool and we might recruit a little; but there does not seem much certainty about our plans at present. In the autumn we shall begin our progress toward New Orleans, where we shall probably winter, and act our way back here by the spring, when I hope and trust we shall return to England.... The book of Harriet Martineau's which you bade me read is delightful. I have not quite finished it yet, for I have scarcely any time at all for reading; for want of the habit of thinking and reading on such subjects I find the political economy a little stiff now and then, though the clearness and simplicity with which it is treated in this story are admirable. I did not know that I was supposed to be the original of Letitia.... God bless you, my dearest H——.
I am ever your most affectionate, F. A. K.
"For Each and for All" was, I think, the name of the volume taken from Miss Martineau's admirable series of political economy tales, which my friend, Miss S——, sent me. The heroine of the story is a young actress, and Miss Martineau once told me that she had derived some slight suggestion of the character from me.
NEW YORK, Friday, April 10, 1833. MY DEAREST H——,
... On Monday last I acted Lady Macbeth; on Tuesday, Lady Townley; on Wednesday, Belvidera; and last night, Portia, and Mary Copp in "Charles II." This is pretty hard work. To-morrow we start for Boston, which we shall reach on Sunday, and Monday our work begins there.... I think four nights a week as much as either my father or myself ought to work, and as much as we really can work profitably, the rest being money taken from our capital—i.e., our health. But in Boston we shall act for three weeks or a month every night but the Saturdays. [The days when four or five performances a week were considered a sufficient exertion for popular actors or singers are far enough in the past, and now there seems to be no limit to the capacity of such artists for earning money by the exercise of their talents. Five and six performances a week are the normal number now expected from great European stars, or rather those which great European stars expect to give and to be paid for. Their health is one invariable sacrifice to this over-work, and their artistic excellence a still more grievous one. It has been asked why artists invariably return to Europe comparatively coarse and vulgar in the style of their performances, and the result is attributed to the want of refined taste and critical judgment of the American audiences—in my opinion very unjustly, for if want of knowledge and nice perception in the public induces carelessness and indifference in performers, the grasping greed of gain and incessant over-exertion, mental and physical, for the sake of satisfying it, is a far more certain cause of artistic deterioration. During Madame Ristori's last visit to America, I went to see a morning performance of "Elizabeta d'Inglterra" by her. Arriving at the theater half an hour before the time announced for the performance, I found notices affixed to the entrances, stating that the beginning was unavoidably delayed by Madame Ristori's non-arrival. The crowd of expectant spectators occupied their seats and bore this prolonged postponement with American—i.e., unrivaled—patience, good-temper, and civility. We were encouraged by two or three pieces of information from some official personage, who from the stage assured us that the moment Madame Ristori arrived (she was coming by railroad from Baltimore) the play should begin. Then came a telegram, she was coming; then an announcement, she was come; and driving from the terminus straight to the theater, tired and harassed herself with the delay, she dressed herself and appeared before her audience, went through a part of extraordinary length and difficulty and exertion—almost, indeed, a monologue—including the intolerable fatigue and hurry of four or five entire changes of costume, and as the curtain dropped rushed off to disrobe and catch a train to New York, where she was to act the next morning, if not the evening, of that same day. I had seen Madame Ristori in this part in England, and was shocked at the great difference in the merit of her performance. Every particle of careful elaboration and fine detail of workmanship was gone; the business of the piece was hurried through, with reference, of course, only to the time in which it could be achieved; and of Madame Ristori's once fine delineation of the character, which, when I first saw it, atoned for the little merit of the piece itself, nothing remained but the broad claptrap points in the several principal situations, made coarse, and not nearly even as striking, by the absence of due preparation and working up to them, the careless rendering of everything else, and the slurring over of the finer minutiae and more delicate indications of the whole character. It was a very sad spectacle to me.]
Besides your letter, the poor old Pacific (the ship that brought us to America) brought me something else to-day. While Washington Irving was sitting with me, a message came from the mate of the Pacific with a large box of mould for me. I had it brought in, and asking Irving if he knew what it was, "A bit of the old soil," said he; and that it was.... Washington Irving was sure to have guessed right as to my treasure, and I was not ashamed to greet it with tears before him.... He is so sensible, sound, and straightforward in his way of seeing everything, and at the same time so full of hopefulness, so simple, unaffected, true, and good, that it is a privilege to converse with him, for which one is the wiser, the happier and the better....
Here is Monday, April 15th, Boston, my dear H——. We arrived here yesterday evening, and in the course of this morning I have already received fourteen visitors, all of whom I shall have to go and waste my time with in return for their kind waste of theirs upon me.... To-morrow I begin my work with "Fazio" and go to a party afterward....
... This morning I have been to rehearsal, and out shopping, and received crowds of strangers who come and call upon us.... To-night I make my first appearance here in "Fazio," and we hear the theater will be crammed, and I am going to a party after that dreadful play; not by way of delight, but of duty, and a severe one it will be. To-morrow I act Mrs. Haller, Thursday Lady Teazle, and Friday Bianca again; Saturday is a blessed holiday.... I have finished Smith's "Virginia," which I found rather tiresome toward the end. I have finished Harriet Martineau's political-economy story, which I liked exceedingly. I am reading a small volume of Brewster's on "Natural Magic," which entertains me very much; but I am dreadfully cramped for time, and my poor mind goes like a half-tended garden, which every now and then makes me feel sad.
You would have been pleased, dear H——, if you had heard Washington Irving's answer to me the other day when, in talking with him of my profession and my distaste for it, I complained of the little leisure it left me for study and improving myself, for reading, writing, and the occupations that were congenial to me. "Well," he said, "you are living, you are seeing men and things, you are seeing the world, you are acquiring materials and heaping together observations and experience and wisdom, and by and by, when with fame you have acquired independence and retire from these labors, you will begin another and a brighter course with matured powers. I know of no one whose life has such a promise in it as yours." Oh! H——, I almost felt hopeful while he spoke so to me....