The first time that I visited Lausanne I went to his grave, and found it in the old burial-ground above the town, where I wonder the dead have patience to lie still, for the glorious beauty of the view their resting-place commands. It was one among a row of graves with broad, flat tombstones bearing English names, and surrounded with iron railings, and flowers more or less running wild.
My father received the property my uncle transferred to him with cheerful courage, and not without sanguine hopes of retrieving its fortunes: instead of which, it destroyed his and those of his family; who, had he and they been untrammelled by the fatal obligation of working for a hopelessly ruined concern, might have turned their labors to far better personal account. Of the eighty thousand pounds which my uncle sank in building Covent Garden, and all the years of toil my father and myself and my sister sank in endeavoring to sustain it, nothing remained to us at my father's death; not even the ownership of the only thing I ever valued the property for,—the private box which belonged to us, the yearly rent of which was valued at three hundred pounds, and the possession of which procured us for several years many evenings of much enjoyment.
The only other recollection I have connected with Gerard Street is that of certain passages from "Paradise Lost," read to me by my father, the sonorous melody of which so enchanted me, that for many years of my life Milton was to me incomparably the first of English poets; though at this time of my earliest acquaintance with him, Walter Scott had precedence over him, and was undoubtedly in my opinion greatest of mortal and immortal bards. His "Marmion" and "Lay of the Last Minstrel" were already familiar to me. Of Shakespeare at this time, and for many subsequent years, I knew not a single line.
While our lodging in town was principally inhabited by my father and resorted to by my mother as a convenience, my aunt Dall, and we children, had our home at my mother's rus in urbe, Craven Hill, where we remained until I went again to school in France.
Our next door neighbors were, on one side, a handsome, dashing Mrs. Blackshaw, sister of George the Fourth's favorite, Beau Brummel, whose daughters were good friends of ours; and on the other Belzoni, the Egyptian traveller, and his wife, with whom we were well acquainted. The wall that separated our gardens was upwards of six feet high,—it reached above my father's head, who was full six feet tall,—but our colossal friend, the Italian, looked down upon us over it quite easily, his large handsome face showing well above it, down to his magnificent auburn beard, which in those less hirsute days than these he seldom exhibited, except in the privacy of his own back garden, where he used occasionally to display it, to our immense delight and astonishment. Great, too, was our satisfaction in visiting Madame Belzoni, who used to receive us in rooms full of strange spoils, brought back by herself and her husband from the East; she sometimes smoked a long Turkish pipe, and generally wore a dark blue sort of caftan, with a white turban on her head. Another of our neighbors here was Latour, the musical composer, to whom, though he was personally good-natured and kind to me, I owe a grudge, for the sake of his "Music for Young Persons," and only regret that he was not our next-door neighbor, when he would have execrated his own "O Dolce Concerto," and "Sul Margine d'un Rio," and all his innumerable progeny of variations for two hands and four hands, as heartily as I did. I do not know whether it was instigated by his advice or not that my mother at this time made me take lessons of a certain Mr. Laugier, who received pupils at his own house, near Russell Square, and taught them thorough-bass and counterpoint, and the science of musical composition. I attended his classes for some time, and still possess books full of the grammar of music, as profound and difficult a study, almost, as the grammar of language. But I think I was too young to derive much benefit from so severe a science, and in spite of my books full of musical "parsing," so to speak, declensions of chords, and conjugations of scales, I do not think I learned much from Mr. Laugier, and, never having followed up this beginning of the real study of music, my knowledge of it has been only of that empirical and contemptible sort which goes no further than the end of boarding-school young ladies' fingers, and sometimes, at any rate, amounts to tolerably skilful and accurate execution; a result I never attained, in spite of Mr. Laugier's thorough-bass and a wicked invention called a chiroplast, for which, I think, he took out a patent, and for which I suppose all luckless girls compelled to practice with it thought he ought to have taken out a halter. It was a brass rod made to screw across the keys, on which were strung, like beads, two brass frames for the hands, with separate little cells for the fingers, these being secured to the brass rod precisely at the part of the instrument on which certain exercises were to be executed. Another brass rod was made to pass under the wrist in order to maintain it also in its proper position, and thus incarcerated, the miserable little hands performed their daily, dreary monotony of musical exercise, with, I imagine, really no benefit at all from the irksome constraint of this horrid machine, that could not have been imparted quite as well, if not better, by a careful teacher. I had, however, no teacher at this time but my aunt Dall, and I suppose the chiroplast may have saved her some trouble, by insuring that my practising, which she could not always superintend, should not be merely a process of acquiring innumerable bad habits for the exercise of the patience of future teachers.
My aunt at this time directed all my lessons, as well as the small beginnings of my sister's education. My brother John was at Clapham with Mr. Richardson, who was then compiling his excellent dictionary, in which labor he employed the assistance of such of his pupils as showed themselves intelligent enough for the occupation; and I have no doubt that to this beginning of philological study my brother owed his subsequent predilection for and addiction to the science of language. My youngest brother, Henry, went to a day-school in the neighborhood.
All children's amusements are more or less dramatic, and a theatre is a favorite resource in most playrooms, and, naturally enough, held an important place in ours. The printed sheets of small figures, representing all the characters of certain popular pieces, which we colored, and pasted on card-board and cut out, and then, by dint of long slips of wood with a slit at one end, into which their feet were inserted, moved on and off our small stage; the coloring of the scenery; and all the arrangement and conduct of the pieces we represented, gave us endless employment and amusement. My brother John was always manager and spokesman in these performances, and when we had fitted up our theatre with a real blue silk curtain that would roll up, and a real set of foot-lights that would burn, and when he contrived, with some resin and brimstone and salt put in a cup and set on fire, to produce a diabolical sputter and flare and bad smell, significant of the blowing up of the mill in "The Miller and his Men," great was our exultation. This piece and "Blue Beard" were our "battle horses," to which we afterwards added a lugubrious melodrama called "The Gypsy's Curse" (it had nothing whatever to do with "Guy Mannering"), of which I remember nothing but some awful doggerel, beginning with—
"May thy path be still in sorrow, May thy dark night know no morrow,"
which used to make my blood curdle with fright.
About this time I was taken for the first time to a real play, and it was to that paradise of juvenile spectators, Astley's, where we saw a Highland horror called "Meg Murdoch, or the Mountain Hag," and a mythological after-piece called "Hyppolita, Queen of the Amazons," in which young ladies in very short and shining tunics, with burnished breastplates, helmets, spears, and shields, performed sundry warlike evolutions round her Majesty Hyppolita, who was mounted on a snow-white live charger: in the heat of action some of these fair warriors went so far as to die, which martial heroism left an impression on my imagination so deep and delightful as to have proved hitherto indelible.
At length we determined ourselves to enact something worthy of notice and approbation, and "Amoroso, King of Little Britain," was selected by my brother John, our guide and leader in all matters of taste, for the purpose. "Chrononhotonthologos" had been spoken of, but our youngest performer, my sister, was barely seven years old, and I doubt if any of us (but our manager) could have mastered the mere names of that famous burlesque. Moreover, I think, in the piece we chose there were only four principal characters, and we contrived to speak the words, and even sing the songs, so much to our own satisfaction, that we thought we might aspire to the honor of a hearing from our elders and betters. So we produced our play before my father and mother and some of their friends, who had good right (whatever their inclination might have been) to be critical, for among them were Mr. and Mrs. Liston (the Amoroso and Coquetinda of the real stage), Mr. and Mrs. Mathews, and Charles Young, all intimate friends of my parents, whose children were our playmates, and coadjutors in our performance.
For Charles Matthews I have always retained a kindly regard for auld lang syne's sake, though I hardly ever met him after he went on the stage. He was well educated, and extremely clever and accomplished, and I could not help regretting that his various acquirements and many advantages for the career of an architect, for which his father destined him, should be thrown away; though it was quite evident that he followed not only the strong bent of his inclination, but the instinct of the dramatic genius which he inherited from his eccentric and most original father, when he adopted the profession of the stage, where, in his own day, he has been unrivaled in the sparkling vivacity of his performance of a whole range of parts in which nobody has approached the finish, refinement, and spirit of his acting. Moreover, his whole demeanor, carriage, and manner were so essentially those of a gentleman, that the broadest farce never betrayed him into either coarseness or vulgarity; and the comedy he acted, though often the lightest of the light, was never anything in its graceful propriety but high comedy. No member of the French theatre was ever at once a more finished and a more delightfully amusing and natural actor.
Liston's son went into the army when he grew up, and I lost sight of him.
With the Rev. Julian Young, son of my dear old friend Charles Young, I always remained upon the most friendly terms, meeting him with cordial pleasure whenever my repeated returns to England brought us together, and allowed us to renew the amicable relations that always subsisted between us.
I remember another family friend of ours at this time, a worthy old merchant of the name of Mitchell, who was my brother John's godfather, and to whose sombre, handsome city house I was taken once or twice to dinner. He was at one time very rich, but lost all his fortune in some untoward speculation, and he used to come and pay us long, sad, silent visits, the friendly taciturnity of which I always compassionately attributed to that circumstance, and wished that he had not lost the use of his tongue as well as his money.
While we were living at Craven Hill, my father's sister, Mrs. Whitelock, came to live with us for some time. She was a very worthy but exceedingly ridiculous woman, in whom the strong peculiarities of her family were so exaggerated, that she really seemed like a living parody or caricature of all the Kembles.
She was a larger and taller woman than Mrs. Siddons, and had a fine, commanding figure at the time I am speaking of, when she was quite an elderly person. She was like her brother Stephen in face, with handsome features, too large and strongly marked for a woman, light gray eyes, and a light auburn wig, which, I presume, represented the color of her previous hair, and which, together with the tall cap that surmounted it, was always more or less on one side. She had the deep, sonorous voice and extremely distinct utterance of her family, and an extraordinary vehemence of gesture and expression quite unlike their quiet dignity and reserve of manner, and which made her conversation like that of people in old plays and novels; for she would slap her thigh in emphatic enforcement of her statements (which were apt to be upon an incredibly large scale), not unfrequently prefacing them with the exclamation, "I declare to God!" or "I wish I may die!" all which seemed to us very extraordinary, and combined with her large size and loud voice used occasionally to cause us some dismay. My father used to call her Queen Bess (her name was Elizabeth), declaring that her manners were like those of that royal un-gentlewoman. But she was a simple-hearted, sweet-tempered woman, whose harmless peculiarities did not prevent us all being fond of her.
She had a great taste and some talent for drawing, which she cultivated with a devotion and industry unusual in so old a person. I still possess a miniature copy she made of Clarke's life-size picture of my father as Cromwell, which is not without merit.
She was extremely fond of cards, and taught us to play the (even then) old-fashioned game of quadrille, which my mother, who also liked cards, and was a very good whist player, said had more variety in it than any modern game.
Mrs. Whitelock had been for a number of years in the United States, of which (then comparatively little known) part of the world she used to tell us stories that, from her characteristic exaggeration, we always received with extreme incredulity; but my own experience, subsequent by many years to hers, has corroborated her marvelous histories of flights of birds that almost darkened the sun (i.e. threw a passing shadow as of a cloud upon the ground), and roads with ruts and mud-holes into which one's carriage sank up to the axle-tree.
She used to tell us anecdotes of General Washington, to whom she had been presented and had often seen (his favorite bespeak was always "The School for Scandal"); and of Talleyrand, whom she also had often met, and invariably called Prince Tallierande. She was once terrified by being followed at evening, in the streets of Philadelphia, by a red Indian savage, an adventure which has many times recurred to my mind while traversing at all hours and in all directions the streets of that most peaceful Quaker city, distant now by more than a thousand miles from the nearest red Indian savage. Congress was sitting in Philadelphia at that time; it was virtually the capital of the newly made United States, and Mrs. Whitelock held an agreeable and respectable position both in private and in public. I have been assured by persons as well qualified to be critics as Judge Story, Chief-Justice Kent, and Judge Hopkinson (Moore's friend), that she was an actress of considerable ability. Perhaps she was; her Kemble name, face, figure, and voice no doubt helped her to produce a certain effect on the stage; but she must have been a very imperfectly educated woman. Nothing could be droller than to see her with Mrs. Siddons, of whom she looked like a clumsy, badly finished, fair imitation. Her vehement gestures and violent objurgations contrasted comically with her sister's majestic stillness of manner; and when occasionally Mrs. Siddons would interrupt her with, "Elizabeth, your wig is on one side," and the other replied, "Oh, is it?" and giving the offending head-gear a shove put it quite as crooked in the other direction, and proceeded with her discourse, Melpomene herself used to have recourse to her snuff-box to hide the dawning smile on her face.
I imagine that my education must have been making but little progress during the last year of my residence at Craven Hill. I had no masters, and my aunt Dall could ill supply the want of other teachers; moreover, I was extremely troublesome and unmanageable, and had become a tragically desperate young person, as my determination to poison my sister, in revenge for some punishment which I conceived had been unjustly inflicted upon me, will sufficiently prove. I had been warned not to eat privet berries, as they were poisonous, and under the above provocation it occurred to me that if I strewed some on the ground my sister might find and eat them, which would insure her going straight to heaven, and no doubt seriously annoy my father and mother. How much of all this was a lingering desire for the distinction of a public execution of guillotine (the awful glory of which still survived in my memory), how much dregs of "Gypsy Curses" and "Mountain Hags," and how much the passionate love of exciting a sensation and producing an effect, common to children, servants, and most uneducated people, I know not. I never did poison my sister, and satisfied my desire of vengeance by myself informing my aunt of my contemplated crime, the fulfillment of which was not, I suppose, much apprehended by my family, as no measures were taken to remove myself, my sister, or the privet bush from each other's neighborhood.
A quite unpremeditated inspiration which occurred to me upon being again offended—to run away—probably alarmed my parents more than my sororicidal projects, and I think determined them upon carrying out a plan which had been talked of for some time, of my being sent again to school; which plan ran a narrow risk of being defeated by my own attempted escape from home. One day, when my father and mother were both in London, I had started for a walk with my aunt and sister; when only a few yards from home, I made an impertinent reply to some reproof I received, and my aunt bade me turn back and go home, declining my company for the rest of the walk. She proceeded at a brisk pace on her way with my sister, nothing doubting that, when left alone, I would retrace my steps to our house; but I stood still and watched her out of sight, and then revolved in my own mind the proper course to pursue.
At first it appeared to me that it would be judicious, under such smarting injuries as mine, to throw myself into a certain pond which was in the meadow where I stood (my remedies had always rather an extreme tendency); but it was thickly coated with green slime studded with frogs' heads, and looked uninviting. After contemplating it for a moment, I changed my opinion as to the expediency of getting under that surface, and walked resolutely off towards London; not with any idea of seeking my father and mother, but simply with that goal in view, as the end of my walk.
Half-way thither, however, I became tired, and hot, and hungry, and perhaps a little daunted by my own undertaking. I have said that between Craven Hill and Tyburn turnpike there then was only a stretch of open fields, with a few cottages scattered over them. In one of these lived a poor woman who was sometimes employed to do needlework for us, and who, I was sure, would give me a bit of bread and butter, and let me rest; so I applied to her for this assistance. Great was the worthy woman's amazement when I told her that I was alone, on my way to London; greater still, probably, when I informed her that my intention was to apply for an engagement at one of the theatres, assuring her that nobody with talent need ever want for bread. She very wisely refrained from discussing my projects, but, seeing that I was tired, persuaded me to lie down in her little bedroom and rest before pursuing my way to town. The weather was oppressively hot, and having lain down on her bed, I fell fast asleep. I know not for how long, but I was awakened by the sudden raising of the latch of the house door, and the voice of my aunt Dall inquiring of my friendly hostess if she had seen or heard anything of me.
I sat up breathless on the bed, listening, and looking round the room perceived another door than the one by which I had entered it, which would probably have given me egress to the open fields again, and secured my escape; but before I could slip down from the bed and resume my shoes, and take advantage of this exit, my aunt and poor Mrs. Taylor entered the room, and I was ignominiously captured and taken home; I expiated my offence by a week of bread and water, and daily solitary confinement in a sort of tool-house in the garden, where my only occupation was meditation, the "clear-obscure" that reigned in my prison admitting of no other.
This was not cheerful, but I endeavored to make it appear as little the reverse as possible, by invariably singing at the top of my voice whenever I heard footsteps on the gravel walk near my place of confinement.
Finally I was released, and was guilty of no further outrage before my departure for Paris, whither I went with my mother and Mrs. Charles Matthews at the end of the summer.
We travelled in the malle poste, and I remember but one incident connected with our journey. Some great nobleman in Paris was about to give a grand banquet, and the conducteur of our vehicle had been prevailed upon to bring up the fish for the occasion in large hampers on our carriage, which was then the most rapid public conveyance on the road between the coast and the capital. The heat was intense, and the smell of our "luggage" intolerable. My mother complained and remonstrated in vain; the name of the important personage who was to entertain his guests with this delectable fish was considered an all-sufficient reply. At length the contents of the baskets began literally to ooze out of them and stream down the sides of the carriage; my mother threatening an appeal to the authorities at the bureau de poste, and finally we got rid of our pestiferous load.
I was now placed in a school in the Rue d'Angouleme, Champs Elysees; a handsome house, formerly somebody's private hotel, with porte cochere, cour d'honneur, a small garden beyond, and large, lofty ground-floor apartments opening with glass doors upon them. The name of the lady at the head of this establishment was Rowden; she had kept a school for several years in Hans Place, London, and among her former pupils had had the charge of Miss Mary Russell Mitford, and that clever but most eccentric personage, Lady Caroline Lamb. The former I knew slightly, years after, when she came to London and was often in friendly communication with my father, then manager of Covent Garden, upon the subject of the introduction on the stage of her tragedy of the "Foscari."
The play of "Rienzi," in which Miss Mitford achieved the manly triumph of a really successful historical tragedy, is, of course, her principal and most important claim to fame, though the pretty collection of rural sketches, redolent of country freshness and fragrance, called "Our Village," precursor, in some sort, of Mrs. Gaskell's incomparable "Cranford," is, I think, the most popular of Miss Mitford's works.
She herself has always a peculiar honor in my mind, from the exemplary devotion of her whole life to her father, for whom her dutiful and tender affection always seemed to me to fulfil the almost religious idea conveyed by the old-fashioned, half-heathen phrase of "filial piety."
Lady Caroline Lamb I never saw, but from friends of mine who were well acquainted with her I have heard manifold instances of her extraordinary character and conduct. I remember my friend Mr. Harness telling me that, dancing with him one night at a great ball, she had suddenly amazed him by the challenge: "Gueth how many pairth of thtockingth I have on." (Her ladyship lisped, and her particular graciousness to Mr. Harness was the result of Lord Byron's school intimacy with and regard for him.) Finding her partner quite unequal to the piece of divination proposed to him, she put forth a very pretty little foot, from which she lifted the petticoat ankle high, lisping out, "Thixth."
I remember my mother telling me of my father and herself meeting Mr. and Lady Caroline Lamb at a dinner at Lord Holland's, in Paris, when accidentally the expected arrival of Lord Byron was mentioned. Mr. Lamb had just named the next day as the one fixed for their departure; but Lady Caroline immediately announced her intention of prolonging her stay, which created what would be called in the French chambers "sensation."
When the party broke up, my father and mother, who occupied apartments in the same hotel as the Lambs,—Meurice's,—were driven into the court-yard just as Lady Caroline's carriage had drawn up before the staircase leading to her rooms, which were immediately opposite those of my father and mother. A ruisseau or gutter ran round the court-yard, and intervened between the carriage step and the door of the vestibule, and Mr. Lamb, taking Lady Caroline, as she alighted, in his arms (she had a very pretty, slight, graceful figure), gallantly lifted her over the wet stones; which act of conjugal courtesy elicited admiring approval from my mother, and from my father a growl to the effect, "If you were my wife I'd put your ladyship in the gutter," justified perhaps by their observation of what followed. My mother's sitting-room faced that of Lady Caroline, and before lights were brought into it she and my father had the full benefit of a curious scene in the room of their opposite neighbors, who seemed quite unmindful that their apartment being lighted and the curtains not drawn, they were, as regarded the opposite wing of the building, a spectacle for gods and men.
Mr. Lamb on entering the room sat down on the sofa, and his wife perched herself on the elbow of it with her arm round his neck, which engaging attitude she presently exchanged for a still more persuasive one, by kneeling at his feet; but upon his getting up, the lively lady did so also, and in a moment began flying round the room, seizing and flinging on the floor cups, saucers, plates,—the whole cabaret,—vases, candlesticks, her poor husband pursuing and attempting to restrain his mad moiety, in the midst of which extraordinary scene the curtains were abruptly closed, and the domestic drama finished behind them, leaving no doubt, however, in my father's and mother's minds that the question of Lady Caroline's prolonged stay till Lord Byron's arrival in Paris had caused the disturbance they had witnessed.
I never read "Glenarvon," in which, I believe, Lady Caroline is supposed to have intended to represent her idol, Lord Byron, and the only composition of hers with which I am acquainted is the pretty song of "Waters of Elle," of which I think she also wrote the air. She was undoubtedly very clever, in spite of her silliness, and possessed that sort of attraction, often as powerful as unaccountable, which belongs sometimes to women so little distinguished by great personal beauty, that they have suggested the French observation that "ce sont les femmes laides qui font les grandes passions." The European women fascinating par excellence are the Poles; and a celebrated enchantress of that charming and fantastic race of sirens, the Countess Delphine Potocka, always reminded me of Lady Caroline Lamb, in the descriptions given of her by her adorers.
With Mr. Lamb I never was acquainted till long after Lady Caroline's death—after I came out on the stage, when he was Lord Melbourne, and Prime Minister of England. I was a very young person, and though I often met him in society, and he took amiable and kindly notice of me, our intercourse was, of course, a mere occasional condescension on his part.
He was exceedingly handsome, with a fine person, verging towards the portly, and a sweet countenance, more expressive of refined, easy, careless good-humor, than almost any face I ever saw. His beauty was of too well born and well bred a type to be unpleasantly sensual; but his whole face, person, expression, and manner conveyed the idea of a pleasure-loving nature, habitually self-indulgent, and indulgent to others. He was my beau ideal of an Epicurean philosopher (supposing it possible that an Epicurean philosopher could have consented to be Prime Minister of England), and I confess to having read with unbounded astonishment the statement in the "Greville Memoirs," that this apparent prince of poco curanti had taken the pains to make himself a profound Hebrew scholar.
I retain one very vivid impression of that most charming of debonair noblemen, Lord Melbourne. I had the honor of dining at his house once, with the beautiful, highly gifted, and unfortunate woman with whom his relations afterwards became subject of such cruel public scandal; and after dinner I sat for some time opposite a large, crimson-covered ottoman, on which Lord Melbourne reclined, surrounded by those three enchanting Sheridan sisters, Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Blackwood (afterwards Lady Dufferin), and Lady St. Maur (afterwards Duchess of Somerset, and always Queen of Beauty). A more remarkable collection of comely creatures, I think, could hardly be seen, and taking into consideration the high rank, eminent position, and intellectual distinction of the four persons who formed that beautiful group, it certainly was a picture to remain impressed upon one's memory.
To return to my school-mistress, Mrs. Rowden; she was herself an authoress, and had published a poem dedicated to Lady Bessborough (Lady Caroline Lamb's mother), the title of which was "The pleasures of friendship" (hope, memory, and imagination were all bespoken), of which I remember only the two opening lines—
"Visions of early youth, ere yet ye fade, Let my light pen arrest your fleeting shade."
Mrs. Rowden, during the period of her school-keeping in London, was an ardent admirer of the stage in general and of my uncle John in particular, of whom the mezzotint engraving as Coriolanus, from Lawrence's picture, adorned her drawing-room in the Rue d'Angouleme, where, however, the nature and objects of her enthusiasm had undergone a considerable change: for when I was placed under her charge, theatres and things theatrical had given place in her esteem to churches and things clerical; her excitements and entertainments were Bible-meetings, prayer-meetings, and private preachings and teachings of religion. She was what was then termed Methodistical, what would now be designated as very Low Church. We were taken every Sunday either to the chapel of the embassy or to the Eglise de l'Oratoire (French Protestant worship), to two and sometimes to three services; and certainly Sunday was no day of rest to us, as we were required to write down from memory the sermons we had heard in the course of the day, and read them aloud at our evening devotional gathering. Some of us had a robust power of attention and retention, and managed these reproductions with tolerable fidelity. Others contrived to bring forth such a version of what they had heard as closely resembled the last edition of the subject-matter of a prolonged game of Russian scandal. Sometimes, upon an appeal to mercy and a solemn protest that we had paid the utmost attention and couldn't remember a single sentence of the Christian exhortation we had heard, we were allowed to choose a text and compose an original sermon of our own; and I think a good-sized volume might have been made of homilies of my composition, indited under these circumstances for myself and my companions. I have always had rather an inclination for preaching, of which these exercises were perhaps the origin, and it is but a few years ago that I received at Saint Leonard's a visit from a tottering, feeble old lady of near seventy, whose name, unheard since, carried me back to my Paris school-days, and who, among other memories evoked to recall herself to my recollection, said, "Oh, don't you remember how good-natured you were in writing such nice sermons for me when I never could write down what I had heard at church?" Her particular share in these intellectual benefits conferred by me I did not remember, but I remembered well and gratefully the sweet, silver-toned voice of her sister, refreshing the arid atmosphere of our dreary Sunday evenings with Handel's holy music. "I know that my Redeemer liveth," and "He shall feed his Flock," which I heard for the first time from that gentle schoolmate of mine, recall her meek, tranquil face and, liquid thread of delicate soprano voice, even through the glorious associations of Jenny Lind's inspired utterance of those divine songs. These ladies were daughters of a high dignitary of the English Church, which made my sermon-writing for their succor rather comical. Besides these Sunday exercises, we were frequently taken to week-day services at the Oratoire to hear some special preacher of celebrity, on which occasions of devout dissipation Mrs. Rowden always appeared in the highest state of elation, and generally received distinguished notice from the clerical hero of the evening.
I remember accompanying her to hear Mr. Lewis Wade, a celebrated missionary preacher, who had been to Syria and the Holy Land, and brought thence observations on subjects sacred and profane that made his discourses peculiarly interesting and edifying.
I was also taken to hear a much more impressive preacher, Mr. Cesar Malan, of Geneva, who addressed a small and select audience of very distinguished persons, in a magnificent salon in some great private house, where every body sat on satin and gilded fauteuils to receive his admonitions, all which produced a great effect on my mind—not, however, I think, altogether religious; but the sermon I heard, and the striking aspect of the eloquent person who delivered it, left a strong and long impression on my memory. It was the first fine preaching I ever heard, and though I was undoubtedly too young to appreciate it duly, I was, nevertheless, deeply affected by it, and it gave me my earliest experience of that dangerous thing, emotional religion, or, to speak more properly, religious excitement.
The Unitarians of the United States have in my time possessed a number of preachers of most remarkable excellence; Dr. Channing, Dr. Dewey, Dr. Bellows, my own venerable and dear pastor, Dr. Furness, Dr. Follen, William and Henry Ware, being all men of extraordinary powers of eloquence. At home I have heard Frederick Maurice and Dean Stanley, but the most impressive preaching I ever heard in England was still from a Unitarian pulpit; James Martineau, I think, surpassed all the very remarkable men I have named in the wonderful beauty and power, spirituality and solemnity, of his sacred teaching. Frederick Robertson, to my infinite loss and sorrow, I never heard, having been deterred from going to hear him by his reputation of a "fashionable preacher;" he, better than any one, would have understood my repugnance to that species of religious instructor.
Better, in my judgment, than these occasional appeals to our feelings and imaginations under Mrs. Rowden's influence, was the constant use of the Bible among us. I cannot call the reading and committing to memory of the Scriptures, as we performed those duties, by the serious name of study. But the Bible was learnt by heart in certain portions and recited before breakfast every morning, and read aloud before bedtime every evening by us; and though the practice may be open to some objections, I think they hardly outweigh the benefit bestowed upon young minds by early familiar acquaintance with the highest themes, the holiest thoughts, and the noblest words the world possesses or ever will possess. To me my intimate knowledge of the Bible has always seemed the greatest benefit I derived from my school training.
Of the secular portion of the education we received, the French lady who was Mrs. Rowden's partner directed the principal part. Our lessons of geography, grammar, history, arithmetic, and mythology (of which latter subject I suspect we had a much more thorough knowledge than is at all usual with young English girls) were conducted by her.
These studies were all pursued in French, already familiar to me as the vehicle of my elementary acquirements at Boulogne; and this soon became the language in which I habitually wrote, spoke, and thought, to the almost entire neglect of my native tongue, of which I never thoroughly studied the grammar till I was between fifteen and sixteen, when, on my presenting, in a glow of vanity, some verses of mine to my father, he said, with his blandest smile, after reading them, "Very well, very pretty indeed! My dear, don't you think, before you write poetry, you had better learn grammar?" a suggestion which sent me crestfallen to a diligent study of Lindley Murray. But grammar is perfectly uncongenial matter to me, which my mind absolutely refuses to assimilate. I have learned Latin, English, French, Italian, and German grammar, and do not know a single rule of the construction of any language whatever. More over, to the present day, my early familiar use of French produces uncertainty in my mind as to the spelling of all words that take a double consonant in French and only one in English, as apartment, enemy, etc.
The men of my family—that is, my uncle John, my father, and my eldest brother—were all philologists, and extremely fond of the study of language. Grammar was favorite light reading, and the philosophy which lies at the root of human speech a frequent subject of discussion and research with them; but they none of them spoke foreign languages with ease or fluency. My uncle was a good Latin scholar, and read French, Italian, and Spanish, but spoke none of them; not even the first, in spite of his long residence in French Switzerland. The same was the case with my father, whose delight in the dry bones of language was such that at near seventy he took the greatest pleasure in assiduously studying the Greek grammar. My brother John, who was a learned linguist, and familiar with the modern European languages, spoke none of them well, not even German, though he resided for many years at Hanover, where he was curator of the royal museum and had married a German wife, and had among his most intimate friends and correspondents both the Grimms, Gervinus, and many of the principal literary men of Germany. My sister and myself, on the contrary, had remarkable facility in speaking foreign languages with the accent and tune (if I may use the expression) peculiar to each; a faculty which seems to me less the result of early training and habit, than of some particular construction of ear and throat favorable for receiving and repeating mere sounds; a musical organization and mimetic faculty; a sort of mocking-bird specialty, which I have known possessed in great perfection by persons with whom it was in no way connected with the study, but only with the use of the languages they spoke with such idiomatic ease and grace. Moreover, in my own case, both in Italian and German, though I understand for the most part what I read and what is said in these languages, I have had but little exercise in speaking them, and have been amused to find myself, while travelling, taken for an Italian as well as for a German, simply by dint of the facility with which I imitated the accent of the people I was among, while intrepidly confounding my moods, tenses, genders, and cases in the determination to speak and make myself understood in the language of whatever country I was passing through.
Mademoiselle Descuilles, Mrs. Rowden's partner, was a handsome woman of about thirty, with a full, graceful figure, a pleasant countenance, a great deal of playful vivacity of manner, and very determined and strict notions of discipline. Active, energetic, intelligent, and good-tempered, she was of a capital composition for a governess, the sort of person to manage successfully all her pupils, and become an object of enthusiastic devotion to the elder ones whom she admitted to her companionship.
She almost always accompanied us when we walked, invariably presided in the schoolroom, and very generally her eager figure and pleasant, bright eyes were to be discovered in some corner of the playground, where, from a semi-retirement, seated in her fauteuil with book or needlework in hand, she exercised a quiet but effectual surveillance over her young subjects.
She was the active and efficient partner in the concern, Mrs. Rowden the dignified and representative one. The whole of our course of study and mode of life, with the exception of our religious training, of which I have spoken before, was followed under her direction, and according to the routine of most French schools.
The monastic rule of loud-reading during meals was observed, and l'Abbe Millot's "Universal History," of blessed boring memory, was the dry daily sauce to our diet. On Saturday we always had a half-holiday in the afternoon, and the morning occupations were feminine rather than academic.
Every girl brought into the schoolroom whatever useful needlework, mending or making, her clothes required; and while one read aloud, the others repaired or replenished their wardrobes.
Great was our satisfaction if we could prevail upon Mademoiselle Descuilles herself to take the book in hand and become the "lectrice" of the morning; greater still when we could persuade her, while intent upon her own stitching, to sing to us, which she sometimes did, old-fashioned French songs and ballads, of which I learnt from her and still remember some that I have never since heard, that must have long ago died out of the musical world and left no echo but in my memory. Of two of these I think the words pretty enough to be worth preserving, the one for its naive simplicity, and the other for the covert irony of its reflection upon female constancy, to which Mademoiselle Descuilles' delivery, with her final melancholy shrug of the shoulders, gave great effect.
Un gentil Troubadour Qui chante et fait la guerre, Revenait chez son pere, Revant a son amour.
Gages de sa valeur, Suspendus a son echarpe, Son epee, et sa harpe, Se croisaient sur son coeur.
Il rencontre en chemin Pelerine jolie, Qui voyage, et qui prie, Un rosaire a la main.
Colerette, a long plis, Cachait sa fine taille, Un grand chapeau de paille, Ombrait son teint de lys.
"O gentil Troubadour, Si tu reviens fidele, Chante un couplet pour celle Qui benit ton retour."
"Pardonne a mon refus Pelerine jolie! Sans avoir vu ma mie, Je ne chanterai plus."
"Et ne la vois-tu pas? O Troubadour fidele! Regarde moi—c'est elle! Ouvre lui donc tes bras!
"Craignant pour notre amour, J'allais en pelerine, A la Vierge divine Prier pour ton retour!"
Pres des tendres amans S'eleve une chapelle, L'Ermite qu'on appelle, Benit leurs doux sermens
Venez en ce saint lieu, Amans du voisinage, Faire un pelerinage A la Mere de Dieu!
The other ballad, though equally an illustration of the days of chivalry, was written in a spirit of caustic contempt for the fair sex, which suggests the bitterness of the bard's personal experience:—
LE CHEVALIER ERRANT.
Dans un vieux chateau de l'Andalousie, Au temps ou l'amour se montrait constant, Ou Beaute, Valeur, et Galanterie Guidait aux combats un fidele amant, Un beau chevalier un soir se presente, Visiere baissee, et la lance en main; Il vient demander si sa douce amante N'est pas (par hasard) chez le chatelain.
"Noble chevalier! quelle est votre amie?" Demande a son tour le vieux chatelain. "Ah! de fleurs d'amour c'est la plus jolie Elle a teint de rose, et peau de satin, Elle a de beaux yeux, dont le doux langage Porte en votre coeur vif enchantment, Elle a tout enfin—elle est belle,—et sage!" "Pauvre chevalier! chercherez longtemps!
"Guidez de mes pas l'ardeur incertain, Ou dois-je chercher ce que j'ai perdu?" "Mon fils, votre soit, helas! s'en fait peine, Ce que vous cherchez ne se trouve plus." "Poursuivez, pourtant, votre long voyage, Et si vouz trouvez un pareil tresor— Ne le perdez plus! Adieu, bon voyage!" L'amant repartit—mais, il cherche encore.
The air of the first of these songs was a very simple and charming little melody, which my sister, having learnt it from me, adapted to some English words. The other was an extremely favorite vaudeville air, repeated constantly in the half-singing dialogue of some of those popular pieces.
Our Saturday sewing class was a capital institution, which made most of us expert needle-women, developed in some the peculiarly lady-like accomplishment of working exquisitely, and gave to all the useful knowledge of how to make and mend our own clothes. When I left school I could make my own dresses, and was a proficient in marking and darning.
My school-fellows were almost all English, and, I suppose, with one exception, were young girls of average character and capacity. Elizabeth P——, a young person from the west of England, was the only remarkable one among them. She was strikingly handsome, both in face and figure, and endowed with very uncommon abilities. She was several years older than myself, and an object of my unbounded school-girl heroine worship. A daughter of Kiallmark, the musical composer, was also eminent among us for her great beauty, and always seemed to my girlish fancy what Mary Queen of Scots must have looked like in her youth.
Besides pupils, Mrs. Rowden received a small number of parlor boarders, who joined only in some of the lessons; indeed, some of them appeared to fulfil no purpose of education whatever by their residence with her. There were a Madame and Mademoiselle de ——, the latter of whom was supposed, I believe, to imbibe English in our atmosphere. She bore a well-known noble French name, and was once visited, to the immense excitement of all "ces demoiselles," by a brother, in the uniform of the Royal Gardes du Corps, whose looks were reported (I think rather mythologically) to be as superb as his attire. In which case he must have been strikingly unlike his sister, who was one of the ugliest women I ever saw; with a disproportionately large and ill-shaped nose and mouth, and a terrible eruption all over her face. She had, however, an extremely beautiful figure, exquisite hands and feet, skin as white as snow, and magnificent hair and eyes; in spite of which numerous advantages, she was almost repulsively plain: it really seemed as if she had been the victim of a spell, to have so beautiful a body, and so all but hideous a face. Besides these French ladies, there was a Miss McC——, a very delicate, elegant-looking Irishwoman, and a Miss ——, who, in spite of her noble name, was a coarse and inelegant, but very handsome Englishwoman. In general, these ladies had nothing to do with us; they had privileged places at table, formed Mrs. Rowden's evening circle in the drawing-room, and led (except at meals) a life of dignified separation from the scholars.
I remember but two French girls in our whole company: the one was a Mademoiselle Adele de ——, whose father, a fanatical Anglomane, wrote a ridiculous book about England.
The other French pupil I ought not to have called a companion, or said that I remembered, for in truth I remember nothing but her funeral. She died soon after I joined the school, and was buried in the cemetery of Pere la Chaise, near the tomb of Abelard and Eloise, with rather a theatrical sort of ceremony. She was followed to her grave by the whole school, dressed in white, and wearing long white veils fastened round our heads with white fillets. On each side of the bier walked three young girls, pall-bearers, in the same maiden mourning, holding in one hand long streamers of broad white ribbon attached to the bier, and in the other several white narcissus blossoms.
The ghostly train and the picturesque mediaeval monument, close to which we paused and clustered to deposit the dead girl in her early resting-place, formed a striking picture that haunted me for a long time, and which the smell and sight of the chalk-white narcissus blossom invariably recalls to me.
Meantime, the poetical studies, or rather indulgencies of home, had ceased. No sonorous sounds of Milton's mighty music ever delighted my ears, and for my almost daily bread of Scott's romantic epics I hungered and thirsted in vain, with such intense desire, that I at length undertook to write out "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" and "Marmion" from memory, so as not absolutely to lose my possession of them. This task I achieved to a very considerable extent, and found the stirring, chivalrous stories, and spirited, picturesque verse, a treasure of refreshment, when all my poetical diet consisted of "L'Anthologie francaise a l'Usage des Demoiselles," and Voltaire's "Henriade," which I was compelled to learn by heart, and with the opening lines of which I more than once startled the whole dormitory at midnight, sitting suddenly up in my bed, and from the midst of perpetual slumbers loudly proclaiming—
"Je chante ce heros qui regna sur la France, Et par droit de conquete, et par droit de naissance."
More exciting reading was Madame Cottin's "Mathilde," of which I now got hold for the first time, and devoured with delight, finishing it one evening just before we were called to prayers, so that I wept bitterly during my devotions, partly for the Norman princess and her Saracen lover, and partly from remorse at my own sinfulness in not being able to banish them from my thoughts while on my knees and saying my prayers.
But, to be sure, that baptism in the desert, with the only drop of water they had to drink, seemed to me the very acme of religious fervor and sacred self-sacrifice. I wonder what I should think of the book were I to read it now, which Heaven forefend! The really powerful impression made upon my imagination and feelings at this period, however, was by my first reading of Lord Byron's poetry. The day on which I received that revelation of the power of thought and language remained memorable to me for many a day after.
I had occasionally received invitations from Mrs. Rowden to take tea in the drawing-room with the lady parlor boarders, when my week's report for "bonne conduite" had been tolerably satisfactory. One evening when I had received this honorable distinction, and was sitting in sleepy solemnity on the sofa, opposite my uncle John's black figure in "Coriolanus," which seemed to grow alternately smaller and larger as my eyelids slowly drew themselves together and suddenly opened wide, with a startled consciousness of unworthy drowsiness, Miss H——, who was sitting beside me, reading, leaned back and put her book before my face, pointing with her finger to the lines—
"It is the hour when from the boughs The nightingale's high note is heard."
It would be impossible to describe the emotion I experienced. I was instantly wide awake, and, quivering with excitement, fastened a grip like steel upon the book, imploring to be allowed to read on. The fear, probably, of some altercation loud enough to excite attention to the subject of her studies (which I rather think would not have been approved of, even for a "parlor boarder") prevented Miss H—— from making the resistance she should have made to my entreaties, and I was allowed to leave the room, carrying with me the dangerous prize, which, however, I did not profit by.
It was bedtime, and the dormitory light burned but while we performed our night toilet, under supervision. The under teacher and the lamp departed together, and I confided to the companion whose bed was next to mine that I had a volume of Lord Byron under my pillow. The emphatic whispered warnings of terror and dismay with which she received this information, her horror at the wickedness of the book (of which of course she knew nothing), her dread of the result of detection for me, and her entreaties, enforced with tears, that I would not keep the terrible volume where it was, at length, combined with my own nervous excitement about it, affected me with such a sympathy of fear that I jumped out of bed and thrust the fatal poems into the bowels of a straw paillasse on an empty bed, and returned to my own to remain awake nearly all night. My study of Byron went no further then: the next morning I found it impossible to rescue the book unobserved from its hiding-place, and Miss H——, to whom I confided the secret of it, I suppose took her own time for withdrawing it, and so I then read no more of that wonderful poetry, which, in my after days of familiar acquaintance with it, always affected me like an evil potion taken into my blood. The small, sweet draught which I sipped in that sleepy school-salon atmosphere remained indelibly impressed upon my memory, insomuch that when, during the last year of my stay in Paris, the news of my uncle John's death at Lausanne, and that of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, was communicated to me, my passionate regret was for the great poet, of whose writings I knew but twenty lines, and not for my own celebrated relation, of whom, indeed, I knew but little.
It was undoubtedly well that this dangerous source of excitement should be sealed to me as long as possible; but I do not think that the works of imagination to which I was allowed free access were of a specially wholesome or even harmless tendency. The false morality and attitudinizing sentiment of such books as "Les Contes a ma Fille," and Madame de Genlis' "Veillees du Chateau," and "Adele et Theodore," were rubbish, if not poison. The novels of Florian were genuine and simple romances, less mischievous, I incline to think, upon the whole, than the educational Countess's mock moral sentimentality; but Chateaubriand's "Atala et Chactas," with its picturesque pathos, and his powerful classical novel of "Les Martyrs," were certainly unfit reading for young girls of excitable feelings and wild imaginations, in spite of the religious element which I supposed was considered their recommendation.
One great intellectual good fortune befell me at this time, and that was reading "Guy Mannering;" the first of Walter Scott's novels that I ever read—the dearest, therefore. I use the word advisedly, for I know no other than one of affection to apply to those enchanting and admirable works, that deserve nothing less than love in return for the healthful delight they have bestowed. To all who ever read them, the first must surely be the best; the beginning of what a series of pure enjoyments, what a prolonged, various, exquisite succession of intellectual surprises and pleasures, amounting for the time almost to happiness.
Scott, like Shakespeare, has given us, for intimate acquaintance, companions, and friends, men and women of such peculiar individual nobleness, grace, wit, wisdom, and humor, that they people our minds and recur to our thoughts with a vividness which makes them seem rather to belong to the past realities of the memory, than to the shadowy visions of the imagination.
It was not long before all this imaginative stimulus bore its legitimate fruit in a premature harvest of crude compositions which I dignified with the name of poetry. Rhymes I wrote without stint or stopping—a perfect deluge of doggerel; what became of it all I know not, but I have an idea that a manuscript volume was sent to my poor parents, as a sample of the poetical promise supposed to be contained in these unripe productions.
Besides the studies pursued by the whole school under the tuition of Mademoiselle Descuilles, we had special masters from whom we took lessons in special branches of knowledge. Of these, by far the most interesting to me, both in himself and in the subject of his teachings, was my Italian master, Biagioli.
He was a political exile, of about the same date as his remarkable contemporary, Ugo Foscolo; his high forehead, from which his hair fell back in a long grizzled curtain, his wild, melancholy eyes, and the severe and sad expression of his face, impressed me with some awe and much pity. He was at that time one of the latest of the long tribe of commentators on Dante's "Divina Commedia." I do not believe his commentary ranks high among the innumerable similar works on the great Italian poem; but in violence of abuse, and scornful contempt of all but his own glosses, he yields to none of his fellow-laborers in that vast and tangled poetical, historical, biographical, philosophical, theological, and metaphysical jungle.
Dante was his spiritual consolation, his intellectual delight, and indeed his daily bread; for out of that tremendous horn-book he taught me to stammer the divine Italian language, and illustrated every lesson, from the simplest rule of its syntax to its exceedingly complex and artificially constructed prosody, out of the pages of that sublime, grotesque, and altogether wonderful poem. My mother has told me that she attributed her incapacity for relishing Milton to the fact of "Paradise Lost" having been used as a lesson-book out of which she was made to learn English—a circumstance which had made it for ever "Paradise Lost" to her. I do not know why or how I escaped a similar misfortune in my school-girl study of Dante, but luckily I did so, probably being carried over the steep and stony way with comparative ease by the help of my teacher's vivid enthusiasm. I have forgotten my Italian grammar, rules of syntax and rules of prosody alike, but I read and re-read the "Divina Commedia" with ever-increasing amazement and admiration. Setting aside all its weightier claims to the high place it holds among the finest achievements of human genius, I know of no poem in any language in which so many single lines and detached passages can be found of equally descriptive force, picturesque beauty, and delightful melody of sound; the latter virtue may lie, perhaps, as much in the instrument itself as in the master hand that touched it—the Italian tongue, the resonance and vibrating power of which is quite as peculiar as its liquid softness.
While the stern face and forlorn figure of poor Biagioli seemed an appropriate accompaniment to my Dantesque studies, nothing could exceed the contrast he presented to another Italian who visited us on alternate days and gave us singing lessons. Blangini, whose extreme popularity as a composer and teacher led him to the dignity of maestro di capella to some royal personage, survives only in the recollection of certain elderly drawing-room nightingales who warbled fifty summers ago, and who will still hum bits of his pretty Canzoni and Notturni, "Care pupille," "Per valli per boschi," etc.
Blangini was a petit maitre as well as a singing master; always attired in the height of the fashion, and in manner and appearance much more of a Frenchman than an Italian. He was mercilessly satirical on the failures of his pupils, to whom (having reduced them, by the most ridiculous imitation of their unfortunate vocal attempts, to an almost inaudible utterance of pianissimo pipings) he would exclaim, "Ma per carita! aprite la bocca! che cantate come uccelli che dormano!"
My music master, as distinguished from my singing master, was a worthy old Englishman of the name of Shaw, who played on the violin, and had been at one time leader of the orchestra at Covent Garden Theatre. Indeed, it was to him that John Kemble addressed the joke (famous, because in his mouth unique) upon the subject of a song in the piece of "Richard Coeur de Lion"—I presume an English version of Gietry's popular romance, "O Richard, O mon Roi!" This Mr. Shaw was painfully endeavoring to teach my uncle, who was entirely without musical ear, and whose all but insuperable difficulty consisted in repeating a few bars of the melody supposed to be sung under his prison window by his faithful minstrel, Blondel. "Mr. Kemble, Mr. Kemble, you are murdering the time, sir!" cried the exasperated musician; to which my uncle replied, "Very well, sir, and you are forever beating it!" I do not know whether Mrs. Rowden knew this anecdote, and engaged Mr. Shaw because he had elicited this solitary sally from her quondam idol, John Kemble. The choice, whatever its motive, was not a happy one. The old leader of the theatrical orchestra was himself no piano-forte player, could no longer see very well nor hear very well, and his principal attention was directed to his own share of the double performance, which he led much after the careless, slap-bang style in which overtures that nobody listened to were performed in his day. It is a very great mistake to let learners play with violin accompaniment until they have thoroughly mastered the piano-forte without it. Fingering, the first of fundamental acquirements, is almost sure to be overlooked by the master, whose attention is not on the hands of his pupil but on his own bow; and the pupil, anxious to keep up with the violin, slurs over rapid passages, scrambles through difficult ones, and acquires a general habit of merely following the violin in time and tune, to the utter disregard of steady, accurate execution. As for me, I derived but one benefit from my old violin accompanier, that of becoming a good timist; in every other respect I received nothing but injury from our joint performances, getting into incorrigible habits of bad fingering, and of making up my bass with unscrupulous simplifications of the harmony, quite content if I came in with my final chords well thumped in time and tune with the emphatic scrape of the violin that ended our lesson. The music my master gave me, too, was more in accordance with his previous practice as leader of a theatrical orchestra, than calculated to make me a steady and scrupulous executant.
We had another master for French and Latin—a clever, ugly, impudent, snuffy, dirty little man, who wrote vaudevilles for the minor theaters, and made love to his pupils. Both these gentlemen were superseded in their offices by other professors before I left school: poor old Pshaw Pshaw, as we used to call him, by the French composer, Adam, unluckily too near the time of my departure for me to profit by his strict and excellent method of instruction; and our vaudevillist was replaced by a gentleman of irreproachable manners, and I should think morals, who always came to our lessons en toilette—black frock-coat and immaculate white waistcoat, unexceptionable boots and gloves—by dint of all which he ended by marrying our dear Mademoiselle Descuilles (who, poor thing, was but a woman after all, liable to charming by such methods), and turning her into Madame Champy, under which name she continued to preside over the school after I left it; and Mrs. Rowden relinquished her share in the concern—herself marrying, and becoming Mrs. St. Quintin.
I have spoken of my learning Latin: Elizabeth P——, the object in all things of my emulous admiration, studied it, and I forthwith begged permission to do so likewise; and while this dead-language ambition possessed me, I went so far as to acquire the Greek alphabet; which, however, I used only as a cipher for "my secrets," and abandoned my Latin lore, just as I had exchanged my Phaedrus for Cornelius Nepos, not even attaining to the "Arma virumque cano."
Nobody but Miss P—— and myself dabbled in these classical depths, but nearly the whole school took dancing lessons, which were given us by two masters, an old and young Mr. Guillet, father and son: the former, a little dapper, dried-up, wizen-faced, beak-nosed old man, with a brown wig that fitted his head and face like a Welsh night-cap; who played the violin and stamped in time, and scolded and made faces at us when we were clumsy and awkward; the latter, a highly colored, beak-nosed young gentleman who squinted fearfully with magnificent black eyes, and had one shining, oily wave of blue-black hair, which, departing from above one ear, traversed his forehead in a smooth sweep, and ended in a frizzly breaker above the other. This gentleman showed us our steps, and gave us the examples of graceful ability of which his father was no longer capable. I remember a very comical scene at one of our dancing lessons, occasioned by the first appearance of a certain Miss ——, who entered the room, to the general amazement, in full evening costume—a practice common, I believe, in some English schools where "dressing for dancing" prevails. We only put on light prunella slippers instead of our heavier morning shoes or boots, and a pair of gloves, as adequate preparation. Moreover, the French fashion for full dress, of that day, did not sanction the uncovering of the person usual in English evening attire.
Great was the general surprise of the dancing class when this large, tall, handsome English girl, of about eighteen, entered the room in a rose-colored silk dress, with very low neck and very short sleeves, white satin shoes, and white kid gloves; her long auburn ringlets and ivory shoulders glancing in the ten o'clock morning sunlight with a sort of incongruous splendor, and her whole demeanor that of the most innocent and modest tranquillity.
Mademoiselle Descuilles shut her book to with a snap, and sat bolt upright and immovable, with eyes and mouth wide open. Young Mr. Guillet blushed purple, and old Mr. Guillet scraped a few interjections on his fiddle, and then, putting it down, took a resonant pinch of snuff, by way of restoring his scattered senses.
No observation was made, however, and the lesson proceeded, young Mr. Guillet turning scarlet each time either of his divergent orbs of vision encountered his serenely unconscious, full-dressed pupil; which certainly, considering that he was a member of the Grand Opera corps de ballet, was a curious instance of the purely conventional ideas of decency which custom makes one accept.
Whatever want of assiduity I may have betrayed in my other studies, there was no lack of zeal for my dancing lessons. I had a perfect passion for dancing, which long survived my school-days, and I am persuaded that my natural vocation was that of an opera dancer. Far into middle life I never saw beautiful dancing without a rapture of enthusiasm, and used to repeat from memory whole dances after seeing Duvernay or Ellsler, as persons with a good musical ear can repeat the airs of the opera first heard the night before. And I remember, during Ellsler's visit to America, when I had long left off dancing in society, being so transported with her execution of a Spanish dance called "El Jaleo de Xerxes," that I was detected by my cook, who came suddenly upon me in my store-room, in the midst of sugar, rice, tea, coffee, flour, etc., standing on the tips of my toes, with my arms above my head, in one of the attitudes I had most admired in that striking and picturesque performance. The woman withdrew in speechless amazement, and I alighted on my heels, feeling wonderfully foolish. How I thought I never should be able to leave off dancing! And so I thought of riding! and so I thought of singing! and could not imagine what life would be like when I could no more do these things. I was not wrong, perhaps, in thinking it would be difficult to leave them off: I had no conception how easily they would leave me off.
Varying our processions in the Champs Elysees were less formal excursions in the Jardin de Luxembourg; and as the picture-gallery in the palace was opened gratuitously on certain days of the week, we were allowed to wander through it, and form our taste for art among the samples of the modern French school of painting there collected: the pictures of David, Gerard, Girodet, etc., the Dido and AEneas, the Romulus and Tatius with the Sabine women interposing between them, Hippolytus before Theseus and Phaedra, Atala being laid in her grave by her lover—compositions with which innumerable engravings have made England familiar—the theatrical conception and hard coloring and execution of which (compensated by masterly grouping and incomparable drawing) did not prevent their striking our uncritical eyes with delighted admiration, and making this expedition to the Luxembourg one of my favorite afternoon recreations. These pictures are now all in the gallery of the Louvre, illustrating the school of art of the consulate and early empire of Bonaparte.
Another favorite promenade of ours, and the one that I preferred even to the hero-worship of the Luxembourg, was the Parc Monceaux. This estate, the private property of the Orleans family, confiscated by Louis Napoleon, and converted into a whole new quartier of his new Paris, with splendid streets and houses, and an exquisite public flower-garden in the midst of them, was then a solitary and rather neglected Jardin Anglais (so called) or park, surrounded by high walls and entered by a small wicket, the porter of which required a permit of admission before allowing ingress to the domain. I never remember seeing a single creature but ourselves in the complete seclusion of this deserted pleasaunce. It had grass and fine trees and winding walks, and little brooks fed by springs that glimmered in cradles of moss-grown, antiquated rock-work; no flowers or semblance of cultivation, but a general air of solitude and wildness that recommended it especially to me, and recalled as little as possible the great, gay city which surrounded it.
My real holidays, however (for I did not go home during the three years I spent in Paris), were the rare and short visits my father paid me while I was at school. At all other seasons Paris might have been Patagonia for any thing I saw or heard or knew of its brilliant gayety and splendid variety. But during those holidays of his and mine, my enjoyment and his were equal, I verily believe, though probably not (as I then imagined) perfect. Pleasant days of joyous camaraderie and flanerie!—in which every thing, from being new to me, was almost as good as new to my indulgent companion: the Rue de Rivoli, the Tuileries, the Boulevard, the Palais Royal, the dejeuner a la fourchette at the Cafe Riche, the dinner in the small cabinet at the Trois Freres, or the Cadran Bleu, and the evening climax of the theater on the Boulevard, where Philippe, or Leontine Fay, or Poitier and Brunet, made a school of dramatic art of the small stages of the Porte St. Martin, the Varietes, and the Vaudeville.
My father's days in Paris, in which he escaped from the hard labor and heavy anxiety of his theatrical life of actor, manager, and proprietor, and I from the dull routine of school-room studies and school-ground recreations, were pleasant days to him, and golden ones in my girlish calendar. I remember seeing, with him, a piece called "Les deux Sergens," a sort of modern Damon and Pythias, in which the heroic friends are two French soldiers, and in which a celebrated actor of the name of Philippe performed the principal part. He was the predecessor and model of Frederic Lemaitre, who (himself infinitely superior to his pupil and copyist, Mr. Fechter, who, by a very feeble imitation of Lemaitre's most remarkable parts, has achieved so much reputation) was not to be compared with Philippe in the sort of sentimental melodrama of which "Les deux Sergens" was a specimen.
This M. Philippe was a remarkable man, not only immensely popular for his great professional merit, but so much respected for an order of merit not apt to be enthusiastically admired by Parisians—that of a moral character and decent life—that at his funeral a very serious riot occurred, in consequence of the Archbishop of Paris, according to the received opinion and custom of the day, refusing to allow him to be buried in consecrated ground; the profane player's calling, in the year of grace 1823, or thereabouts, being still one which disqualified its followers for receiving the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore, of course, for claiming Christian burial. The general feeling of the Parisian public, however, was in this case too strong for the ancient anathema of the Church. The Archbishop of Paris was obliged to give way, and the dead body of the worthy actor was laid in the sacred soil of Pere la Chaise. I believe that since that time the question has never again been debated, nor am I aware that there is any one more peculiarly theatrical cemetery than another in Paris.
In a letter of Talma's to Charles Young upon my uncle John's death, he begs to be numbered among the subscribers to the monument about to be erected to Mr. Kemble in Westminster Abbey; adding the touching remark: "Pour moi, je serai heureux si les pretres me laissent enterrer dans un coin de mon jardin."
The excellent moral effect of this species of class prejudice is admirably illustrated by an anecdote I have heard my mother tell. One evening, when she had gone to the Grand Opera with M. Jouy, the wise and witty Hermite de la Chaussee d'Antin, talking with him of the career and circumstances of the young ballet women (she had herself, when very young, been a dancer on the English stage), she wound up her various questions with this: "Et y en a-t-il qui sont filles de bonne conduite? qui sont sages?" "Ma foi!" replied the Hermite, shrugging his shoulders, "elles auraient grand tort; personne n'y croirait."
A charming vaudeville called "Michel et Christine," with that charming actress, Madame Alan Dorval, for its heroine, was another extremely popular piece at that time, which I went to see with my father. The time of year at which he was able to come to Paris was unluckily the season at which all the large theaters were closed. Nevertheless, by some happy chance, I saw one performance at the Grand Opera of that great dancer and actress, Bigottini, in the ballet of the "Folle par Amour;" and I shall never forget the wonderful pathos of her acting and the grace and dignity of her dancing. Several years after, I saw Madame Pasta in Paesiello's pretty opera of the "Nina Pazza," on the same subject, and hardly know to which of the two great artists to assign the palm in their different expression of the love-crazed girl's despair.
I also saw several times, at this period of his celebrity, the inimitable comic actor, Poitier, in a farce called "Les Danaides" that was making a furor—a burlesque upon a magnificent mythological ballet, produced with extraordinary splendor of decoration, at the Academie Royale de Musique, and of which this travesty drew all Paris in crowds; and certainly any thing more ludicrous than Poitier, as the wicked old King Danaus, with his fifty daughters, it is impossible to imagine.
The piece was the broadest and most grotesque quiz of the "grand genre classique et heroique," and was almost the first of an order of entertainments which have gone on increasing in favor up to the present day of universally triumphant parody and burlesque, by no means as laughable and by no means as unobjectionable. Indeed, farcical to the broadest point as was that mythological travesty of "The Danaides," it was the essence of decency and propriety compared with "La grande Duchesse," "La belle Helene," "Orphee aux Enfers," "La Biche au Bois," "Le petit Faust," and all the vile succession of indecencies and immoralities that the female good society of England in these latter years has delighted in witnessing, without the help of the mask which enabled their great-grandmothers to sit out the plays of Wycherley, Congreve, and Farquhar, chaste and decorous in their crude coarseness compared with the French operatic burlesques of the present day.
But by far the most amusing piece in which I recollect seeing Poitier, was one in which he acted with the equally celebrated Brunet, and in which they both represented English women—"Les Anglaises pour Rire."
The Continent was then just beginning to make acquaintance with the traveling English, to whom the downfall of Bonaparte had opened the gates of Europe, and who then began, as they have since continued, in ever-increasing numbers, to carry amazement and amusement from the shores of the Channel to those of the Mediterranean, by their wealth, insolence, ignorance, and cleanliness.
"Les Anglaises pour Rire" was a caricature (if such a thing were possible) of the English female traveler of that period. Coal-scuttle poke bonnets, short and scanty skirts, huge splay feet arrayed in indescribable shoes and boots, short-waisted tight-fitting spencers, colors which not only swore at each other, but caused all beholders to swear at them—these were the outward and visible signs of the British fair of that day. To these were added, in this representation of them by these French appreciators of their attractions, a mode of speech in which the most ludicrous French, in the most barbarous accent, was uttered in alternate bursts of loud abruptness and languishing drawl. Sudden, grotesque playfulness was succeeded by equally sudden and grotesque bashfulness; now an eager intrepidity of wild enthusiasm, defying all decorum, and then a sour, severe reserve, full of angry and terrified suspicion of imaginary improprieties. Tittering shyness, all giggle-goggle and blush; stony and stolid stupidity, impenetrable to a ray of perception; awkward, angular postures and gestures, and jerking saltatory motions; Brobdingnag strides and straddles, and kittenish frolics and friskings; sharp, shrill little whinnying squeals and squeaks, followed by lengthened, sepulchral "O-h's"—all formed together such an irresistibly ludicrous picture as made "Les Anglaises pour Rire" of Poitier and Brunet one of the most comical pieces of acting I have seen in all my life.
Mrs. Rowden's establishment in Hans Place had been famous for occasional dramatic representations by the pupils; and though she had become in her Paris days what in the religious jargon of that day was called serious, or even methodistical, she winked at, if she did not absolutely encourage, sundry attempts of a similar sort which her Paris pupils got up.
Once it was a vaudeville composed expressly in honor of her birthday by the French master, in which I had to sing, with reference to her, the following touching tribute, to a well-known vaudeville tune:
"C'est une mere! Qui a les premiers droits sur nos coeurs? Qui partage, d'une ardeur sincere, Et nos plaisirs et nos douleurs? C'est une mere!"
I suppose this trumpery was stamped upon my brain by the infinite difficulty I had in delivering it gracefully, with all the point and all the pathos the author assured me it contained, at Mrs. Rowden, surrounded by her friends and guests, and not suggesting to me the remotest idea of my mother or any body else's mother.
After this we got up Madame de Genlis' little piece of "L' Isle Heureuse," in which I acted the accomplished and conceited princess who is so judiciously rejected by the wise and ancient men of the island, in spite of the several foreign tongues she speaks fluently, in favor of the tender-hearted young lady who, in defiance of all sound systems of political and social economy, always walks about attended by the poor of the island in a body, to whom she distributes food and clothes in a perpetual stream of charity, and whose prayers and blessings lift her very properly to the throne, while the other young woman is left talking to all the ambassadors in all their different languages at once.
Our next dramatic attempt came to a disastrous and premature end. I do not know who suggested to us the witty and clever little play of "Roxelane;" the versification of the piece is extremely easy and graceful, and the preponderance of female characters and convenient Turkish costume, of turbans and caftans, and loose voluminous trousers, had appeared to us to combine various advantages for our purpose. Mademoiselle Descuilles had consented to fill the part of Solyman, the magnificent and charming Sultan, and I was to be the saucy French heroine, "dont le nez en l'air semble narguer l'amour," the semillante Roxelane. We had already made good progress in the only difficulty our simple appreciation of matters dramatic presented to our imagination, the committing the words of our parts to memory, when Mrs. Rowden, from whom all our preparations on such occasions were kept sacredly secret, lighted upon the copy of the play, with all the MS. marks and directions for our better guidance in the performance; and great were our consternation, dismay, and disappointment when, with the offending pamphlet in her hand, she appeared in our midst and indignantly forbade the representation of any such piece, after the following ejaculatory fashion, and with an accent difficult to express by written signs: "May, commang! maydemosels, je suis atonnay! May! commang! Maydemosel Descuilles, je suis surprise! Kesse ke say! vous permattay maydemosels etre lay filles d'ung seraglio! je ne vou pau! je vous defang! je suis biang atonnay!" And so she departed, with our prompter's copy, leaving us rather surprised, ourselves, at the unsuspected horror we had been about to perpetrate, and Mademoiselle Descuilles shrugging her shoulders and smiling, and not probably quite convinced of the criminality of a piece of which the heroine, a pretty Frenchwoman, revolutionizes the Ottoman Empire by inducing her Mohammedan lover to dismiss his harem and confine his affections to her, whom he is supposed to marry after the most orthodox fashion possible in those parts.
Our dramatic ardor was considerably damped by this event, and when next it revived our choice could not be accused of levity. Our aim was infinitely more ambitious, and our task more arduous. Racine's "Andromaque" was selected for our next essay in acting, and was, I suppose, pronounced unobjectionable by the higher authorities. Here, however, our mainstay and support, Mademoiselle Descuilles, interposed a very peculiar difficulty. She had very good-naturedly learned the part of Solyman, in the other piece, for us, and whether she resented the useless trouble she had had on that occasion, or disliked that of committing several hundred of Racine's majestic verses to memory, I know not; but she declared that she would only act the part of Pyrrhus, which we wished her to fill, if we would read it aloud to her till she knew it, while she worked at her needle. Of course we had to accept any condition she chose to impose upon us, and so we all took it by turns, whenever we saw her industrious fingers flying through their never-ending task, to seize up Racine and begin pouring her part into her ears. She actually learned it so, and our principal difficulty after so teaching her was to avoid mixing up the part of Pyrrhus, which we had acquired by the same process, with every other part in the play.
The dressing of this classical play was even more convenient than our contemplated Turkish costume could have been. A long white skirt drawn round the waist, a shorter one, with slits in it for armholes, drawn round the neck by way of tunic, with dark blue or scarlet Greek pattern border, and ribbon of the same color for girdle, and sandals, formed a costume that might have made Rachel or Ristori smile, but which satisfied all our conceptions of antique simplicity and grace; and so we played our play.
Mademoiselle Descuilles was Pyrrhus; a tall blonde, with an insipid face and good figure, Andromaque; Elizabeth P——, my admired and emulated superior in all things, Oreste (not superior, however, in acting; she had not the questionable advantage of dramatic blood in her veins); and myself, Hermione (in the performance of which I very presently gave token of mine). We had an imposing audience, and were all duly terrified, became hoarse with nervousness, swallowed raw eggs to clear our throats, and only made ourselves sick with them as well as with fright. But at length it was all over; the tragedy was ended, and I had electrified the audience, my companions, and, still more, myself; and so, to avert any ill effects from this general electrification, Mrs. Rowden thought it wise and well to say to me, as she bade me good-night, "Ah, my dear, I don't think your parents need ever anticipate your going on the stage; you would make but a poor actress." And she was right enough. I did make but a poor actress, certainly, though that was not for want of natural talent for the purpose, but for want of cultivating it with due care and industry. At the time she made that comment upon my acting I felt very well convinced, and have since had good reason to know, that my school-mistress thought my performance a threat, or promise (I know not which to call it) of decided dramatic power, as I believe it was.
With this performance of "Andromaque," however, all such taste, if it ever existed, evaporated, and though a few years afterward the stage became my profession, it was the very reverse of my inclination. I adopted the career of an actress with as strong a dislike to it as was compatible with my exercising it at all.
I now became acquainted with all Racine's and Corneille's plays, from which we were made to commit to memory the most remarkable passages; and I have always congratulated myself upon having become familiar with all these fine compositions before I had any knowledge whatever of Shakespeare. Acquaintance with his works might, and I suppose certainly would, have impaired my relish for the great French dramatists, whose tragedies, noble and pathetic in spite of the stiff formality of their construction, the bald rigidity of their adherence to the classic unities, and the artificial monotony of the French heroic rhymed verse, would have failed to receive their due appreciation from a taste and imagination already familiar with the glorious freedom of Shakespeare's genius. As it was, I learned to delight extremely in the dignified pathos and stately tragic power of Racine and Corneille, in the tenderness, refinement, and majestic vigorous simplicity of their fine creations, and possessed a treasure of intellectual enjoyment in their plays before opening the first page of that wonderful volume which contains at once the history of human nature and human existence.
After I had been about a year and a half at school, Mrs. Rowden left her house in the Rue d'Angouleme, and moved to a much finer one, at the very top of the Champs Elysees, a large, substantial stone mansion, within lofty iron gates and high walls of inclosure. It was the last house on the left-hand side within the Barriere de l'Etoile, and stood on a slight eminence and back from the Avenue des Champs Elysees by some hundred yards. For many years after I had left school, on my repeated visits to Paris, the old stone house bore on its gray front the large "Institution de jeunes Demoiselles," which betokened the unchanged tenor of its existence. But the rising tide of improvement has at length swept it away, and modern Paris has rolled over it, and its place remembers it no more. It was a fine old house, roomy, airy, bright, sunny, cheerful, with large apartments and a capital play-ground, formed by that old-fashioned device, a quincunx of linden trees, under whose shade we carried on very Amazonian exercises, fighting having become one of our favorite recreations.