My father's benefit took place last Wednesday, when I acted Isabella; the house was crowded, and the play very successful; I think I played it well, and I take credit to myself for so doing, for I dislike both play and part extremely. The worst thing I do in it is the soliloquy when I am about to stab Biron, and the best, my death. My dresses were very beautiful, and I am exceedingly glad the whole thing is over. I suppose it will be my last new part this season. I am reading with great pleasure a purified edition, just published, of the old English dramatists; the work, as far as my ignorance of the original plays will enable me to judge, seems very well executed, and I owe the editor many thanks for some happy hours spent with his book. I have just heard something which annoys me not a little: I am to prepare to act Mrs. Haller. I know very well that nobody was ever at liberty in this world to do what they liked and that only; but when I know with what task-like feeling I set about most of my work, I am both amused and provoked when people ask me if I do not delight in acting. I have not an idea what to do with that part; however, I must apply myself to it, and try; such mawkish sentiment, and such prosaic, commonplace language seem to me alike difficult to feel and to deliver.
My dear H——, I shall be in Ireland the whole month of July. I am coming first to Dublin, and shall afterward go to Cork. You really must not be away when I come, for if you are, I won't come, which is good Irish, isn't it? I do not feel as you do, at all, about the sea. Instead of depressing my spirits, it always raises them; it seems to me as if the vast power of the great element communicated itself to me. I feel strong, as I run by the side of the big waves, with something of their strength, and the same species of wild excitement which thunder and lightning produce in me always affects me by the sea-shore. I never saw the sea but once violently agitated, and then I was so well pleased with its appearance that I took a boat and went out into the bustle, singing with all my might, which was the only vent I could find for my high spirits; it is true that I returned in much humiliation, very seasick, after a short "triumph of Galatea" indeed.
You ask me in one of your last why I do not send you verses any more, as I used to do, and whether I still write any. So here I send you some which I improvised the other day in your honor, and which, written hurriedly as they were, will not, I think, stand the test of any very severe criticism:—
Whene'er I recollect the happy time When you and I held converse sweet together, There come a thousand thoughts of sunny weather, Of early blossoms, and the young year's prime. Your memory lives for ever in my mind, With all the fragrant freshness of the spring, With odorous lime and silver hawthorn twined, And mossy rest and woodland wandering. There's not a thought of you but brings along Some sunny glimpse of river, field, and sky; Your voice sets words to the sweet blackbird's song, And many a snatch of wild old melody; And as I date it still our love arose 'Twixt the last violet and the earliest rose.
I never go anywhere without a book wherein I may scratch my valuable ideas, and therefore when we meet I will show you my present receptacle. I take great delight in writing, and write less incorrectly than I used to do. I have not time now to go on with this letter, and as I am anxious you should know when to expect us, I shall not defer it in the hope of making it more amusing, though I fear it is rather dull. But you will not mind that, and will believe me ever your affectionate
The arrangement of Massinger for the family library by my friend the Reverend Alexander Dyce, the learned Shakespearean editor and commentator, was my first introduction to that mine of dramatic wealth which enriched the literature of England in the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, and culminated in the genius of Shakespeare. It is by comparison with them, his contemporaries, that we arrive at a just estimate of his supremacy. I was so enchanted with these plays of Massinger's, but more especially with the one called "The Maid of Honor," that I never rested till I had obtained from the management its revival on the stage. The part of Camiola is the only one that I ever selected for myself. "The Maid of Honor" succeeded on its first representation, but failed to attract audiences. Though less defective than most of the contemporaneous dramatic compositions, the play was still too deficient in interest to retain the favor of the public. The character of Camiola is extremely noble and striking, but that of her lover so unworthy of her that the interest she excites personally fails to inspire one with sympathy for her passion for him. The piece in this respect has a sort of moral incoherency, which appears to me, indeed, not an infrequent defect in the compositions of these great dramatic pre-Shakespearites. There is a want of psychical verisimilitude, a disjointed abruptness, in their conceptions, which, in spite of their grand treatment of separate characters and the striking force of particular passages, renders almost every one of their plays inharmonious as a whole, however fine and powerful in detached parts. Their selection of abnormal and detestable subjects is a distinct indication of intellectual weakness instead of vigor; supreme genius alone perceives the beauty and dignity of human nature and human life in their common conditions, and can bring to the surface of vulgar, every-day existence the hidden glory that lies beneath it.
The strictures contained in these girlish letters on the various plays in which I was called to perform the heroines, of course partake of the uncompromising nature of all youthful verdicts. Hard, sharp, and shallow, they never went lower than the obvious surface of things, and dealt easily, after the undoubting youthful fashion, with a main result, without any misgiving as to conflicting causes or painful anxiety about contradictory component parts. At the beginning of life, the ignorant moral and intellectual standard alike have definite form and decided color; time, as it goes on, dissolves the outline into vague indistinctness, and reveals lights and shades so various and innumerable, that toward the end of life criticism grows diffident, opinion difficult, and positive judgment almost impossible.
My first London season was now drawing to an end, and preparations were begun for a summer tour in the provinces. There had been some talk of my beginning with Brighton, but for some reason or other this fell through.
BATH, May 31, 1830. MY DEAR H——,
I have owed you an answer, and a most grateful one, for some time past, for your kindness in writing me so long a letter as your last; but when I assure you that, what with leave-taking, trying on dresses, making purchases, etc., etc., and all the preparations for our summer tour, this is the first moment in which I have been able to draw a long breath for the last month, I am sure you will forgive me, and believe, notwithstanding my long silence, that I was made very happy indeed by your letter. I bade Covent Garden and my dear London audience farewell on Friday last, when I acted Lady Townley for the first time. The house was crammed, and as the proprietors had fixed that night for a second benefit which they gave me, I was very glad that it was so. I was very nicely dressed, and to my own fancy acted well, though I dare say my performance was a little flat occasionally. But considering my own physical powers, and the immense size of the theatre, I do not think I should have done better on the whole by acting more broadly; though I suppose it would have been more effective, I should have had to sacrifice something of repose and refinement to make it so. I was very sorry to leave my London audience: they welcomed my first appearance; they knew the history of our shipwrecked fortunes, and though perhaps not one individual amongst them would go a mile out of his way to serve us, there exists in them, taken collectively, a kind feeling and respect for my father, and an indulgent good-will toward me, which I do not hope to find elsewhere. I like Bath very much; I have not been here since I was six years old, when I spent a year here in hopes of being bettered by my aunt, Mrs. Twiss. A most forlorn hope it was. I suppose in human annals there never existed a more troublesome little brat than I was for the few years after my first appearance on this earthly stage.
This town reminds me a little of Edinburgh. How glad I shall be to see Edinburgh once more! I expect much pleasure, too, from the pleasure of my aunt Dall, who some years ago spent some very happy time in Edinburgh, and who loves it from association. And then, dear H——, I am looking forward to seeing you once more; I shall be with you somewhere in the beginning of June. I have had my first rehearsal here this morning, "Romeo and Juliet;" the theatre is much smaller than Covent Garden, which rather inconveniences me, as a novelty, but the audience will certainly benefit by it. My fellow-laborers amuse me a good deal; their versions of Shakespeare are very droll. I wonder what your Irish ones will be. I am fortunate in my Romeo, inasmuch as he is one of my cousins; he has the family voice and manner very strongly, and at any rate does not murder the text of Shakespeare. I have no more time to spare now, for I must get my tea and go to the theater. I must tell you, though, of an instance of provincial prudery (delicacy, I suppose I ought to call it) which edified us not a little at rehearsal this morning: the Mercutio, on seeing the nurse and Peter, called out, "A sail, a sail!" and terminated the speech in a significant whisper, which, being literally inaudible, my mother, who was with me on the stage, very innocently asked, "Oh, does the gentleman leave out the shirt and the smock?" upon which we were informed that "body linen" was not so much as to be hinted at before a truly refined Bath audience. How particular we are growing—in word! I am much afraid my father will shock them with the speech of that scamp Mercutio in all its pristine purity and precision. Good-by, dear H——. Ever your affectionate
F. A. K.
P.S.—My mother desires to be particularly remembered to you. I want to revive Massinger's "Maid of Honor;" I want to act Camiola.
The necessity for carrying with us into the provinces a sufficient number of various parts, and especially of plays in which my father and myself could fill the principal characters, and so be tolerably independent of incompetent coadjutors, was the reason of my coming out in the play of "The Provoked Husband," before leaving London. The passage in this letter about Lady Townley sufficiently shows how bad my performance of it must have been, and how absolutely in the dark I was with regard to the real style in which the part should be played. The fine lady of my day, with the unruffled insipidity of her low spirits (high spirits never came near her) and the imperturbable composure of her smooth insolence, was as unlike the rantipole, racketing high-bred woman of fashion of Sir John Vanbrugh's play as the flimsy elegance of my silver-embroidered, rose-colored tulle dress was unlike the elaborate splendor of her hooped and feathered and high-heeled, patched-and-powdered magnificence, with its falling laces and standing brocades. The part of Lady Townley was not only beyond my powers, but has never been seen on the English stage since the days of Mrs. Abington and Miss Farren, the latter elegant and spirited actress being held by those who had seen both less like the original great lady than her predecessor; while even the Theatre Francais, where consummate study and reverend tradition of elder art still prevail, has lost more and more the secret of la grande maniere in a gradual descent from the grande dame of Mademoiselle Contat to the pretty, graceful femme comme il faut of Mademoiselle Plessis; for even the exquisite Celimene of Mademoiselle Mars was but a "pale reflex" of Moliere's brilliant coquette, as played by her great instructress, Contat. The truth is, that society no longer possesses or produces that creature, and a good deal of reading, not of a usual or agreeable kind, would alone make one familiar enough with Lady Townley and her like to enable an actress of the present day to represent her with any verisimilitude. The absurd practice, too, of dressing all the serious characters of the piece in modern costume, and all the comic ones in that of the time at which it was written, renders the whole ridiculously incoherent and manifestly impossible, and destroys it as a picture of the manners of any time; for even stripped of her hoop and powder, and her more flagrant coarseness of speech, Lady Townley is still as unlike, in manners, language, and deportment, any modern lady, as she is unlike the woman of fashion of Hogarth's time, whose costume she has discarded.
The event fully justified my expectation of far less friendly audiences out of London than those I had hitherto made my appeals to. None of the personal interest that was felt for me there existed elsewhere, and I had to encounter the usual opposition, always prepared to cavil, in the provinces, at the metropolitan verdict of merit, as a mere exhibition of independent judgment; and to make good to the expectations of the country critics the highly laudatory reports of the London press, by which the provincial judges scorned to have a decision imposed upon them. Not unnaturally, therefore, I found a much less fervid enthusiasm in my audiences—who were, I dare say, quite justified in their disappointment—and a far less eulogistic tone in the provincial press with regard to my performances. Our houses, however, were always very crowded, which was the essential point, and for my own part I was quite satisfied with the notices and applause which were bestowed on me. My cousin, John Mason, was the Romeo to whom I have referred in this letter. He was my father's sister's son, and, like so many members of our family, he and one of his brothers and his sister had made the stage their profession. He had some favorable physical qualifications for it: a rather striking face, handsome figure, good voice, and plenty of fire and energy; he was tolerably clever and well-informed, but without either imagination or refinement. My father, who thought there was the making of a good actor in him, was extremely kind to him.
GLASGOW, MONDAY, June 28, 1830. MY DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I believe that you will have felt too well convinced that I had not had a moment to spare, to be surprised at my not having sooner acknowledged your very kind letter; nothing but the incessant occupation of my time would so long have prevented me from doing so, but I embrace the opportunity which the king's death affords me of telling you how much obliged to you I was for writing to me, and writing as you did. I have little news to return you but what concerns myself, but I shall make no coquettish excuses about that, for I really believe 'tis the subject that will interest you most of any I could find. First, then, I am very well, rather tired, and sitting at an inn window, in a dull, dark, handsome square in Glasgow. My fortnight in Edinburgh is over, and a short fortnight it has been, what with rehearsals, riding, sitting for my bust, and acting. The few hurried glimpses I have caught of my friends have been like dreams, and now that I have parted from them, no more to meet them there certainly, the whole seems to me like mere bewilderment, and I repeat to myself in my thoughts, hardly believing it, that the next time that I visit Edinburgh I shall not find the dear companionship of my cousins nor the fond affection of Mrs. Henry Siddons. This will be a severe loss to me; Edinburgh will, I fear, be without its greatest charm, and it will remain to be proved whether these lovely scenes that I have so admired and delighted in owed all their incomparable fascination to their intrinsic beauty, or to that most pleasurable frame of mind I enjoyed at the same time, the consciousness of the kind regard of the excellent human beings among whom I lived.
You will naturally expect me to say something of my theatrical experiences in the modern Athens. Our houses have been very fine, our audiences (as is their national nature) very cold; but upon the whole I believe they were well pleased with us, notwithstanding the damping influence of the newspapers, which have one and all been unfavorable to me. The deathlike stillness of the audience, as it afforded me neither rest nor stimulus, distressed me a good deal; which, I think I need not tell you, the newspaper criticisms did not. I was surprised, in reading them, to find how very generally their strictures were confined to my external disadvantages,—my diminutive stature and defective features; and that these far-famed northern critics discussed these rather than what I should have expected them to bestow their consideration upon, the dramatic artist's conception of character, and his (or her) execution of that conception. But had their verdicts been still more severe, I have a sufficient consolation in two notes of Sir Walter Scott's, written to the editor of one of the papers, Ballantyne, his own particular friend, which the latter sent me, and where he bears such testimony to my exertions as I do not care to transcribe, for fear my cheeks should reflect a lasting blush on my paper, but which I keep as a treasure and shall certainly show you with pride and pleasure when we meet.
Among the delightful occurrences of last week, I must record our breakfasting with Walter Scott. I was wonderfully happy. To whom, since Shakespeare, does the reading world owe so many hours of perfect, peaceful pleasure, of blessed forgetfulness of all things miserable and mean in its daily life? The party was a small but interesting one: Sir Walter and his daughter Anne, his old friend Sir Adam Ferguson and Lady Ferguson, and Miss Ferrier, the authoress of "Marriage" and "Inheritance," with both which capital books I hope, for your own sake, you are acquainted. Sir Walter was most delightful, and I even forgot all awful sense of his celebrity in his kind, cordial, and almost affectionate manner toward me. He is exceedingly like all the engravings, pictures, and busts of him with which one is familiar, and it seems strange that so varied and noble an intellect should be expressed in the features of a shrewd, kindly, but not otherwise striking countenance. He told me several things that interested me very much; among others, his being present at the time when, after much searching, the regalia of Scotland was found locked up in a room in Edinburgh Castle, where, as he said, the dust of centuries had accumulated upon it, and where the ashes of fires lit more than two hundred years before were still lying in the grate. He told me a story that made me cry, of a poor old lady upward of eighty years of age, who belonged to one of the great Jacobite families,—she was a Maxwell,—sending to him at the time the Scottish crown was found, to implore permission to see it but for one instant; which (although in every other case the same petition had been refused) was granted to her in consideration of her great age and the vital importance she seemed to attach to it. I never shall forget his describing her when first she saw it, appearing for a moment petrified at sight of it, and then tottering forward and falling down on her knees, and weeping and wailing over these poor remains of the royalty of her country as if it had been the dead body of her child.
Sir Adam Ferguson is a delightful person, whose quick, bustling manner forms a striking contrast to Walter Scott's quiet tone of voice and deliberate enunciation I have also made acquaintance with Jeffrey, who came and called upon us the other morning, and, I hear, like some of his fellow-townsmen, complains piteously that I am not prettier. Indeed, I am very sorry for it, and I heartily wish I were; but I did not think him handsome either, and I wonder why he is not handsomer? though I don't care so much about his want of beauty as he seems to do about mine. But I am running on at a tremendous rate, and quite forget that I have traveled upward of forty miles to-day, and that I promised my mother, whenever I could, to go to bed early. Good-by, my dear Mrs. Jameson. I hope you will be able to make out this scrawl, and to decipher that I am yours affectionately,
F. A. KEMBLE.
Of the proverbial frigidity of the Edinburgh public I had been forewarned, and of its probably disheartening effect upon myself. Mrs. Harry Siddons had often told me of the intolerable sense of depression with which it affected Mrs. Siddons, who, she said, after some of her grandest outbursts of passion, to which not a single expression of applause or sympathy had responded, exhausted and breathless with the effort she had made, would pant out in despair, under her breath, "Stupid people, stupid people!" Stupid, however, they undoubtedly were not, though, as undoubtedly, their want of excitability and demonstrativeness diminished their own pleasure by communicating itself to the great actress and partially paralyzing her powers. That this habitual reserve sometimes gave way to very violent exhibitions of enthusiasm, the more fervent from its general repression, there is no doubt; and I think it was in Edinburgh that my friend, Mr. Harness, told me the whole of the sleep-walking scene in "Macbeth" had once been so vehemently encored that my aunt was literally obliged to go over it a second time, before the piece was allowed to proceed.
Scott's opinion of my acting, which would, of course, have been very valuable to me, let it have been what it would, was written to his friend and editor (eheu!), Ballantyne, who was also the editor of one of the principal Edinburgh papers, in which unfavorable criticisms of my performances had appeared, and in opposition to which Sir Walter Scott told him he was too hard upon me, and that for his part he had seen nothing so good since Mrs. Siddons. This encouraging verdict was courteously forwarded to me by Mr. Ballantyne himself, who said he was sure I would like to possess it. The first time I ever saw Walter Scott, my father and myself were riding slowly down Princes Street, up which Scott was walking; he stopped my father's horse, which was near the pavement, and desired to be introduced to me. Then followed a string of cordial invitations which previous engagements and our work at the theater forbade our accepting, all but the pressing one with which he wound up, that we would at least come and breakfast with him. The first words he addressed to me as I entered the room were, "You appear to be a very good horsewoman, which is a great merit in the eyes of an old Border-man." Every r in which sentence was rolled into a combination of double u and double r by his Border burr, which made it memorable to me by this peculiarity of his pleasant speech. My previous acquaintance with Miss Ferrier's admirable novels would have made me very glad of the opportunity of meeting her, and I should have thought Sir Adam Ferguson delightfully entertaining, but that I could not bear to lose, while listening to any one else, a single word spoken by Walter Scott.
I never can forget, however, the description Sir Adam Ferguson gave me of a morning he had passed with Scott at Abbotsford, which at that time was still unfinished, and, swarming with carpenters, painters, masons, and bricklayers, was surrounded with all the dirt and disorderly discomfort inseparable from the process of house-building. The room they sat in was in the roughest condition which admitted of their occupying it, at all; the raw, new chimney smoked intolerably. Out-of-doors the whole place was one chaos of bricks, mortar, scaffolding, tiles, and slates. A heavy mist shrouded the whole landscape of lovely Tweed side, and distilled in a cold, persistent, and dumb drizzle. Maida, the well-beloved staghound, kept fidgeting in and out of the room, Walter Scott every five minutes exclaiming, "Eh, Adam! the puir brute's just wearying to get out;" or, "Eh, Adam! the puir creature's just crying to come in;" when Sir Adam would open the door to the raw, chilly air for the wet, muddy hound's exit or entrance, while Scott, with his face swollen with a grievous toothache, and one hand pressed hard to his cheek, with the other was writing the inimitably humorous opening chapters of "The Antiquary," which he passed across the table, sheet by sheet, to his friend, saying, "Now, Adam, d'ye think that'll do?" Such a picture of mental triumph over outward circumstances has surely seldom been surpassed: house-builders, smoky chimney, damp draughts, restless, dripping dog, and toothache form what our friend, Miss Masson, called a "concatenation of exteriorities" little favorable to literary composition of any sort; but considered as accompaniments or inspiration of that delightfully comical beginning of "The Antiquary," they are all but incredible.
To my theatrical avocation I have been indebted for many social pleasures and privileges; among others, for Sir Walter Scott's notice and acquaintance; but among the things it has deprived me of was the opportunity of enjoying more of his honorable and delightful intercourse. A visit to Abbotsford, urged upon us most kindly, is one of the lost opportunities of my life that I think of always with bitter regret. Sir Walter wanted us to go down and spend a week with him in the country, and our professional engagements rendered it impossible for us to do so; and there are few things in my whole life that I count greater loss than the seven days I might have passed with that admirable genius and excellent, kind man, and had to forego. I never saw Abbotsford until after its master had departed from all earthly dwelling-places. I was staying in the neighborhood, at the house of my friend, Mrs. M——, of Carolside, and went thither with her and my youngest daughter. The house was inhabited only by servants; and the housekeeper, whose charge it was to show it, waited till a sufficient number of tourists and sight-seers had collected, and then drove us all together from room to room of the house in a body, calling back those who outstripped her, and the laggers who would fain have fallen a few paces out of the sound of the dreary parrotry of her inventory of the contents of each apartment. There was his writing-table and chair, his dreadnaught suit and thick walking shoes and staff there in the drawing-room; the table, fitted like a jeweler's counter, with a glass cover, protecting and exhibiting all the royal and precious tokens of honor and admiration, in the shape of orders, boxes, miniatures, etc, bestowed on him by the most exalted worshipers of his genius, hardly to be distinguished under the thick coat of dust with which the glass was darkened. Poor Anne Scott's portrait looked dolefully down on the strangers staring up at her, and, a glass door being open to the garden, Mrs. M—— and myself stepped out for a moment to recover from the miserable impression of sadness and desecration the whole thing produced on us; but the inexorable voice of the housekeeper peremptorily ordered us to return, as it would be, she said (and very truly), quite impossible for her to do her duty in describing the "curiosities" of the house, if visitors took upon themselves to stray about in every direction instead of keeping together and listening to what she was saying. How glad we were to escape from the sort of nightmare of the affair!
I returned there on another occasion, one of a large and merry party who had obtained permission to picnic in the grounds, but who, deterred by the threatening aspect of the skies from gypsying (as had originally been proposed) by the side of the Tweed, were allowed, by Sir Adam Ferguson's interest with the housekeeper, to assemble round the table in the dining-room of Abbotsford. Here, again, the past was so present with me as to destroy all enjoyment, and, thinking how I might have had the great good fortune to sit there with the man who had made the whole place illustrious, I felt ashamed and grieved at being there then, though my companions were all kind, merry, good-hearted people, bent upon their own and each other's enjoyment. Sir Adam Ferguson had grown very old, and told no more the vivid anecdotes of former days; and to complete my mental discomfort, on the wall immediately opposite to me hung a strange picture of Mary Stuart's head, severed from the trunk and lying on a white cloth on a table, as one sees the head of John the Baptist in the charger, in pictures of Herodias's daughter. It was a ghastly presentation of the guillotined head of a pretty but rather common-looking French woman—a fancy picture which it certainly would not have been my fancy to have presiding over my dinner-table.
Only once after this dreary party of pleasure did I return, many years later, to Abbotsford. I was alone, and the tourist season was over, and the sad autumnal afternoon offering little prospect of my being joined by other sight-seers, I prevailed with the housekeeper, who admitted me, to let me wander about the place, without entering the house; and I spent a most melancholy hour in the garden and in pacing up and down the terrace overlooking the Tweed side. The place was no longer inhabited at all; my ringing at the gate had brought, after much delay, a servant from Mr. Hope's new residence, built at some distance from Scott's house, and from her I learned that the proprietor of Abbotsford had withdrawn to the house he had erected for himself, leaving the poet's dwelling exclusively as a place of pilgrimage for travelers and strangers, with not even a servant residing under its roof. The house abandoned to curious wayfarers; the sons and daughters, the grandson and granddaughter, every member of the founder's family dead; Mr. Hope remarried to a lady of the house of Arundel, and living in a semi-monastic seclusion in a house walled off from the tourist-haunted shrine of the great man whose memory alone was left to inhabit it,—all these circumstances filled me with indescribable sadness as I paced up and down in the gloaming, and thought of the strange passion for founding here a family of the old Border type which had obfuscated the keen, clear brain of Walter Scott, made his wonderful gifts subservient to the most futile object of ambition, driven him to the verge of disgrace and bankruptcy, embittered the evening of his laborious and glorious career, and finally ended in this,—the utter extinction of the name he had illustrated and the family he had hoped to found. And while his noble works remain to make his memory ever loved and honored, this Brummagem mediaeval mansion, this mock feudal castle with its imitation baronial hall (upon a diminutive scale) hung round with suits of armor, testifies to the utter perversity of good sense and good taste resulting from this one mental infirmity, this craving to be a Border chieftain of the sixteenth century instead of an Edinburgh lawyer of the nineteenth, and his preference for the distinction of a petty landholder to that of the foremost genius of his age. Mr. Combe, in speaking of this feudal insanity of Scott and the piteous havoc it made of his life, told me that at one time he and Ballantyne, with whom he had entered into partnership, were staving off imminent ruin by indorsing and accepting each other's bills, and carried on that process to the extremest verge compatible with honesty. What a history of astounding success and utter failure!
GLASGOW, July 3, 1830.
You will, ere this, my dear Mrs. Jameson, have received my very tardy reply to your first kind letter. I got your second last night at the theater, just after I had given away my jewels to Mr. Beverley. I was much gratified by your profession of affection for me, for though I am not over-desirous of public admiration and approbation, I am anxious to secure the good-will of individuals whose intellect I admire, and on whose character I can with confidence rely. Your letter, however, made me uncomfortable in some respects; you seem unhappy and perplexed. I am sure you will believe me when I say that, without the remotest thought of intruding on the sacredness of private annoyances and distresses, I most sincerely sympathize in your uneasiness, whatever may be its cause, and earnestly pray that the cloud, which the two or three last times we met in London hung so heavily on your spirits, may pass away. It is not for me to say to you, "Patience," my dear Mrs. Jameson; you have suffered too much to have neglected that only remedy of our afflictions, but I trust Heaven will make it an efficacious one to you, and erelong send you less need of it. I am glad you see my mother often, and very glad that to assist your recollection of me you find interest and amusement in discussing the fitting up of my room with her. Pray do not forget that the drawing you made of the rooms in James Street is mine, and that when you visit me in my new abode it will be pleasant to have that remembrance before us of a place where we have spent some hours very happily together.
What you say of Mrs. N—— only echoes my own thoughts of her. She is a splendid creature, nobly endowed every way; too nobly to become through mere frivolity and foolish vanity the mark of the malice and envy of such things as she is surrounded by, and who will all eagerly embrace the opportunity of slandering one so immeasurably their superior in every respect. I do not know much of her, but I feel deeply interested in her; not precisely with the interest inspired by loving or even liking, but with that feeling of admiring solicitude with which one must regard a person so gifted, so tempted, and in such a position as hers. I am glad that lovely sister of hers is married, though matrimony in that world is not always the securest haven for a woman's virtue or happiness; it is sometimes in that society the reverse of an "honorable estate."
The poor king's death gave me a holiday on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and we eagerly embraced the opportunity its respite afforded us of visiting Loch Lomond and the entrance to Loch Long. As almost my first thought when we reached the lake was, "How can people attempt to describe such places?" I shall not terminate my letter with "smooth expanses of sapphire-tinted waves," or "purple screens of heath-clad hills rising one above another into the cloudless sky." A volume might be written on the mere color of the water, and give no idea of it, though you are the very person whose imagination, aided by all that you've seen, would best realize such a scene from description. It was heavenly, and we had such a perfect day! I prefer, however, the glimpse we had of Loch Long to what we saw of Loch Lomond. I brought away an appropriate nosegay from my trip, a white rose from Dumbarton, in memory of Mary Stuart, an oak branch from Loch Lomond, and a handful of heather, for which I fought with the bees on the rocky shore of Loch Long.
I like my Glasgow audience better than my Edinburgh one; they are not so cold. I look for a pleasant audience in your country, for which we set out to-morrow, I believe. My aunt desires to be remembered to you, and so does my father, and bids me add, in answer to your modest doubt, that you are a person to be always remembered with pleasure and esteem. I am glad you did not like my Bath miniature; indeed, it was not likely that you would.
Believe me always yours affectionately, F. A. K.
During our summer tour my mother, who had remained in London, superintended the preparation of a new house, to which we removed on our return to town. My brother Henry's schooling at Westminster was over, which had been the reason for our taking the house at Buckingham Gate, and, though it had proved a satisfactory residence in many respects, we were glad to exchange it for the one to which we now went, which had many associations that made it agreeable to my father, having been my uncle John's home for many years, and connected with him in the memory of my parents. It was the corner house of Great Russell Street and Montague Place, and, since we left it, has been included in the new court-yard of the British Museum (which was next door to it) and become the librarian's quarters, our friend Panizzi being its first occupant afterward. It was a good, comfortable, substantial house, the two pleasantest rooms of which, to me, were the small apartment on the ground floor, lined with books from floor to ceiling, and my own peculiar lodging in the upper regions, which, thanks to my mother's kindness and taste, was as pretty a bower of elegant comfort as any young spinster need have desired. There I chiefly spent my time, pursuing my favorite occupations, or in the society of my own especial friends: my dear H—— S——, when she was in London; Mrs. Jameson, who often climbed thither for an hour's pleasant discussion of her book on Shakespeare; and a lady with whom I now formed a very close intimacy, which lasted till her death, my dear E—— F——.
I had the misfortune to lose the water-color sketches which Mrs. Jameson had made of our two drawing-rooms in James Street, Buckingham Gate. They were very pretty and skillful specimens of a difficult kind of subject, and valuable as her work, no less than as tokens of her regard for me. The beautiful G—— S——, to whose marriage I have referred, had she not been a sister of her sisters, would have been considered a wit; and, in spite of this, was the greatest beauty of her day. She always reminded me of what an American once said in speaking of a countrywoman of his, that she was so lovely that when she came into the room she took his breath away. While I was in Bath I was asked by a young artist to sit for my miniature. His portrait had considerable merit as a piece of delicate, highly finished workmanship; it was taken in the part of Portia, and engraved; but I think no one, without the label underneath, would have imagined in it even the intention of my portrait. Whether or not the cause lay in my own dissimilar expressions and dissimilar aspects at different times, I do not know; but if a collection was made of the likenesses that have been taken of me, to the number of nearly thirty, nobody would ever imagine that they were intended to represent the same person. Certainly, my Bath miniature produced a version of my face perfectly unfamiliar to myself and most of my friends who saw it.
DUBLIN, ——. DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
I received your third kind letter yesterday morning, and have no more time to-day than will serve to inclose my answer to your second, which reached me and was replied to at Glasgow; owing to your not having given me your address, I had kept it thus long in my desk. You surely said nothing in that letter of yours that the kindest good feeling could take exception to, and therefore need hardly, I think, have been so anxious about its possible miscarriage. However, "Misery makes one acquainted with strange bed-fellows," and I am afraid distrust is one of them. You will be glad, I know, to hear that I have been successful here, and perhaps amused to know that when your letter reached me yesterday, I was going, en lionne, to a great dinner-party at Lady Morgan's. You ask me for advice about your Shakespeare work, but advice is what I have no diploma for bestowing; and such suggestions as I might venture, were I sitting by your side with Shakespeare in my hand, and which might furnish pleasant matter of converse and discussion, are hardly solid enough for transmission by post.
I have been reading the "Tempest" all this afternoon, with eyes constantly dim with those delightful tears which are called up alike by the sublimity and harmony of nature, and the noblest creations of genius. I cannot imagine how you should ever feel discouraged in your work; it seems to me it must be its own perpetual stimulus and reward. Is not Miranda's exclamation, "O brave new world, that has such people in it!" on the first sight of the company of villainous men who ruined her and her father, with the royal old magician's comment, "'Tis new to thee!" exquisitely pathetic? I must go to my work; 'tis "The Gamester" to-night; I wish it were over. Good-by, my dear Mrs. Jameson. Thank you for your kind letters; I value them very much, and am your affectionate
P.S.—I am very happy here, in the society of an admirable person who is as good as she is highly gifted,—a rare union,—and who, moreover, loves me well, which adds much, in my opinion, to her other merits. I mean my friend Miss S——.
My only reminiscence connected with this dinner at Lady Morgan's is of her kind and comical zeal to show me an Irish jig, performed secundum artem, when she found that I had never seen her national dance. She jumped up, declaring nobody danced it as well as herself, and that I should see it immediately; and began running through the rooms, with a gauze scarf that had fallen from her shoulders fluttering and trailing after her, calling loudly for a certain young member of the viceregal staff, who was among the guests invited to a large evening party after the dinner, to be her partner. But the gentleman had already departed (for it was late), and I might have gone to my grave unenlightened upon the subject of jigs if I had not seen one performed, to great perfection, by some gay young members of a family party, while I was staying at Worsley with my friends Lord and Lady Ellesmere, whose children and guests got up an impromptu ball on the occasion of Lady Octavia Grosvenor's birthday, in the course of which the Irish national dance was performed with great spirit, especially by Lord Mark Kerr and Lady Blanche Egerton. It resembles a good deal the saltarello of the Italian peasants in rhythm and character; and a young Irishman, servant of some friends of mine, covered himself with glory by the manner in which he joined a party of Neapolitan tarantella dancers, merely by dint of his proficiency in his own native jig. A great many years after my first acquaintance with Lady Morgan in Dublin, she renewed our intercourse by calling on me in London, where she was spending the season, and where I was then living with my father, who had become almost entirely deaf and was suffering from a most painful complication of maladies. My relations with the lively and amusing Irish authoress consisted merely in an exchange of morning visits, during one of which, after talking to me with voluble enthusiasm of Cardinal Gonsalvi and Lord Byron, whose portraits hung in her room, and who, she assured me, were her two pre-eminent heroes, she plied me with a breathless series of pressing invitations to breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, evening parties, to meet everybody in London that I did and did not know, and upon my declining all these offers of hospitable entertainment (for I had at that time withdrawn myself entirely from society, and went nowhere), she exclaimed, "But what in the world do you do with yourself in the evening?" "Sit with my father, or remain alone," said I. "Ah!" cried the society-loving little lady, with an exasperated Irish accent, "come out of that sphare of solitary self-sufficiency ye live in, do! Come to me!" Which objurgation certainly presented in a most ludicrous light my life of very sad seclusion, and sent us both into fits of laughter.
I have alluded to a friendship which I formed soon after my appearance on the stage with Miss E—— F——. She was the daughter of Mr. F——, for many years member for Tiverton. Miss F—— and I perpetuated a close attachment already traditional between our families, her mother having been Mrs. Siddons's dearest friend. Indeed, for many years of her life, Mrs. F—— seems to me to have postponed the claims even of her husband and children upon her time and attention, to her absolute devotion to her celebrated idol. Mr. F—— was a dutiful member of the House of Commons, and I suppose his boy was at school and his girl too young to demand her mother's constant care and superintendence, at the time when she literally gave up the whole of her existence to Mrs. Siddons during the London season, passing her days in her society and her evenings in her dressing-room at the theater, whenever Mrs. Siddons acted. Miss F—— and myself could not dedicate ourselves with any such absolute exclusiveness to each other. Neither of our mothers would have consented to any such absorbing arrangement, for which a certain independence of family ties would have been indispensable; but within the limits which our circumstances allowed we were as devoted to each other as my aunt Siddons and Mrs. F—— had been, and our intercourse was as full and frequent as possible. E—— F—— was not pretty, but her face was expressive of both intelligence and sensibility; her figure wanted height, but was slender and graceful; her head was too small for powerful though not far keen and sagacious intellect, or for beauty. The general impression she produced was that of well-born and well-bred refinement, and she was as eager, light, and rapid in her movements as a greyhound, of which elegant animal the whole character of her appearance constantly reminded me.
Mr. F—— had a summer residence close to the picturesque town of Southampton, called Bannisters, the name of which charming place calls up the image of my friend swinging in her hammock under the fine trees of her lawn, or dexterously managing her boat on its tiny lake, and brings back delightful hours and days spent in happy intercourse with her. Mr. F—— had himself planned the house, which was as peculiar as it was comfortable and elegant. A small vestibule, full of fine casts from the antique (among others a rare original one of the glorious Neapolitan Psyche, given to his brother-in-law, Mr. William Hamilton, by the King of Naples), formed the entrance. The oval drawing-room, painted in fresco by Mr. F——, recalled by its Italian scenes their wanderings in the south of Europe. In the adjoining room were some choice pictures, among others a fine copy of one of Titian's Venuses, and in the dining-room an equally good one of his Venus and Adonis. The place of honor, however, in this room was reserved for a life-size, full-length portrait of Mrs. Siddons, which Lawrence painted for Mrs. F—— and which is now in the National Gallery,—a production so little to my taste both as picture and portrait that I used to wonder how Mrs. F—— could tolerate such a representation of her admirable friend. The principal charm of Bannisters, however, was the garden and grounds, which, though of inconsiderable extent, were so skillfully and tastefully laid out, that their bounds were always invisible. The lawn and shrubberies were picturesquely irregular, and still retained some kindred, in their fine oaks and patches of heather, to the beautiful wild common which lay immediately beyond their precincts. A pretty piece of ornamental water was set in flowering bushes and well-contrived rockery, and in a more remote part of the grounds a little dark pond reflected wild-wood banks and fine overspreading elms and beeches. The small park had some charming clumps and single trees, and there was a twilight walk of gigantic overarching laurels, of a growth that dated back to a time of considerable antiquity, when the place had been part of an ancient monastery. Above all, I delighted in my friend E——'s favorite flower-garden, where her fine eye for color reveled in grouping the softest, gayest, and richest masses of bloom, and where in a bay of mossy turf, screened round with evergreens, the ancient vision of love and immortality, the antique Cupid and Psyche, watched over the fragrant, flowery domain.
Sweet Bannisters! to me for ever a refuge of consolation and sympathy in seasons of trial and sorrow, of unfailing kindly welcome and devoted constant affection; haven of pleasant rest and calm repose whenever I resorted to it! How sad was my last visit to that once lovely and beloved place, now passed into the hands of strangers, deserted, divided, desecrated, where it was painful even to call up the image of her whose home it once was! The last time I saw Bannisters the grounds were parceled out and let for grazing inclosures to various Southampton townspeople. The house was turned into a boys' boarding-school, and, as I hurried away, the shouts and acclamations of a roaring game of cricket came to me from the inclosure that had been E—— F——'s flower-garden; but though I was crying bitter tears the lads seemed very happy; the fashion of this world passeth away.
Before leaving Dublin for Liverpool, I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Miss S—— in her home, where I returned several times, and was always welcomed with cordial kindness. My last visit there took place during the Crimean war. My friend Mrs. T—— had become a widow, and her second son, now General T——, was with his regiment in the very front of the danger, and also surrounded by the first deadly outbreak of the cholera, which swooped with such fatal fury upon our troops at the opening of the campaign. I can never forget the pathetic earnestness and solemnity of the prayers read aloud by that poor mother for the safety of our army, nor the accent with which she implored God's protection upon those exposed to such imminent peril in the noble discharge of their duty. That son was preserved to that mother, having manfully done his part in the face of the twofold death that threatened him.
There was a slight circumstance attending Mrs. T——'s household devotions that charmed me greatly, and that I have never seen repeated anywhere else where I have assisted at family prayers. The servants, as they left the hall, bowed and courtesied to their mistress, who returned their salutation with a fine, old-fashioned courtesy, full of a sweet, kindly grace, that was delightful. This act of civility to her dependents was to me a perfect expression of Mrs. T——'s real antique toryism, as well as of her warm-hearted, motherly kindness of nature.
Ardgillan Castle (I think by courtesy, for it was eminently, peaceful in character, in spite of the turret inhabited by my dear "moping owl," H——) was finely situated on an eminence from which the sea, with the picturesque fishing village of Skerries stretching into it on one side, and the Morne Mountains fading in purple distance beyond its blue waters on the other, formed a beautiful prospect. A pine wood on one side of the grounds led down to the foot of the grassy hill upon which the house stood, and to a charming wilderness called the Dell: a sylvan recess behind the rocky margin of the sea, from which it was completely sheltered, whose hollow depth, carpeted with grass and curtained with various growth of trees, was the especial domain of my dear H——. A crystal spring of water rose in this "bosky dell," and answered with its tiny tinkle the muffled voice of the ocean breaking on the shore beyond. The place was perfectly lovely, and here we sat together and devised, as the old word was, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things above heaven, and things below earth, and things quite beyond ourselves, till we were well-nigh beside ourselves; and it was not the fault of my metaphysical friend, but of my utter inability to keep pace with her mental processes, if our argument did not include every point of that which Milton has assigned to the forlorn disputants of his infernal regions. My departure from Dublin ended these happy hours of companionship, and I exchanged that academe and my beloved Plato in petticoats for my play-house work at Liverpool. The following letter was in answer to one Mrs. Jameson wrote me upon the subject of a lady whom she had recommended to my mother as a governess for my sister, who was now in her sixteenth year.
LIVERPOOL, August 16, 1830. MY DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
Were it not that I have a great opinion both of your kindness and reasonableness, I should feel rather uncomfortable at the period which has elapsed since I ought to have written to you; but I am very sorry not to have been able sooner to reply to your last kind letter. I shall begin by answering that which interested me most in it, which you will easily believe was what regarded my dear A—— and the person into whose hands she is about to be committed. In proportion to the value of the gem is the dread one feels of the flaws and injuries it may receive in the process of cutting and polishing; and this, of course, not in this case alone, but that of every child who still is parent to the man (or woman). My mother said in one of her letters, "I have engaged a lady to be A——'s governess." Of course the have must make the expression of regret or anxiety undesirable, since both are unavailing. I hope it is the lady you spoke of in your letter to me, for I like very much the description you give of her, and in answer to the doubt you express as to whether I could be pleased with a person wanting in superficial brilliancy and refinement of intellect, I can reply unequivocally yes. I could be well pleased with such a person for my own companion, if the absence of such qualities were atoned for by sound judgment and sterling principle; and I am certain that such a person is best calculated to undertake the task which she is to perform in our house with good effect. The defect of our home education is that from the mental tendencies of all of us, no less than from our whole mode of life, the more imaginative and refined intellectual qualities are fostered in us in preference to our reasoning powers. We have all excitable natures, and, whether in head or heart, that is a disadvantage. The unrestrained indulgence of feeling is as injurious to moral strength as the undue excess of fancy is to mental vigor. I think young people would always be the better for the influence of persons of strong sense, rather than strong sensibility, who, by fortifying their reason, correct any tendency to that morbid excitability which is so dangerous to happiness or usefulness.
I do not, of course, mean that one can eradicate any element of the original character—that I believe to be impossible; nor is direct opposition to natural tendencies of much use, for that is really cultivating qualities by resistance; but by encouraging other faculties, and by putting aside all that has a tendency to weaken and enervate, the mind will assume a robust and healthy tone, and the real feelings will acquire strength by being under reasonable control and by the suppression of factitious ones. A——'s education in point of accomplishments and general cultivation of taste and intellect is already fairly advanced; and the lady who is, I hope, now to be her companion and directress will be none the worse for wanting the merely ornamental branches of culture, provided she holds them at their due value, and neither under nor over estimates them because she is without them. I hope she is gentle and attractive in her manners, for it is essential that one should like as well as respect one's teachers; and should these qualities be added to the character you give of her, I am sure I should like her for a governess very much myself. You see by the room this subject has occupied in my letter how much it fills in my mind; human souls, minds, and bodies are precious and wonderful things, and to fit the whole creature for its proper aim here and hereafter, a solemn and arduous work.
Now to other matters. You reproach me very justly for my stupid oversight; I forgot to tell you which name appeared to me best for your book; the fact is, I flew off into ecstasies about the work itself, and gave you, I believe, a tirade about the "Tempest" instead of the opinion you asked. I agree with you that there is much in the name of a work; it is almost as desirable that a book should be well called as that it should be well written; a promising title-page is like an agreeable face, an inducement to further acquaintance, and an earnest of future pleasure. For myself, I prefer "Characters of Shakespeare's Women;" it is shorter, and I think will look better than the other in print.
I have been spending a few happy days, previous to my departure from Ireland, in a charming place and in the companionship of a person I love dearly. All my powers of enjoyment have been constantly occupied, and I have had a breathing-time of rest and real pleasure before I recommence my work. Such seasons are like angel's visits, but I suppose one ought to rejoice that they are allowed us at all, rather than complain of their brevity and infrequency. I am getting weary of wandering, and long to be once more settled at home.
What say you to this French revolution? Have not they made good use of their time, that in so few years from their last bloody national convulsion men's minds should so have advanced and expanded in France as to enable the people to overturn the government and change the whole course of public affairs with such comparative moderation and small loss of, life? I was still in Dublin when the news of the recent events in France reached us, and I never witnessed anything so like tipsiness as Lady Morgan's delight at it. I believe she wished herself a Frenchwoman with all her heart, and she declared she would go over as soon as her next work, which is in the hands of the publisher, was out. Were I a man, I should have been well pleased to have been in France some weeks ago; the rising of the nation against oppression and abuse, and the creating of a new and better state of things without any outbreak of popular excess, must have been a fine thing to see. But as a woman, incapable of mixing personally in such scenes, I would rather have the report of them at a distance than witness them as a mere inactive spectator; for though the loss of life has been comparatively small, considering the great end that has been achieved, it must be horrible to see bloodshed, even that of a single individual. I believe I am a great coward. I shall not close this to-night, but wait till to-morrow, to tell you how my first appearance here goes off.
TUESDAY, August 17th.
We had a very fine house indeed last night, and everything went off remarkably well. I had every reason to be satisfied with the audience, who, though proverbially a cold one, were exceedingly enthusiastic in their applause, which, I suppose, is the best indication that they were satisfied with me. Good-by, my dear Mrs. Jameson; believe me yours ever truly,
F. A. K.
The intention of engaging a governess for my sister was not carried out, and she was taken to Paris and placed under the charge of Mrs. Foster, wife of the chaplain of the British embassy, under whose care she pursued her general education, while with the tuition of the celebrated Bordogni, the first singing-master of the day, she cultivated her fine voice and developed her musical genius.
The French Revolution of 1830, which placed Louis Philippe of Orleans on the throne, and sent Charles X. to end his days in an obscure corner of Germany, was the first of four revolutions which I have lived to witness; and since then I have often thought of a lady who, during the next political catastrophe, by which Louis Philippe was shaken out of his seat, showing Mrs. Grote the conveniences of a charming apartment in a central part of Paris, said, "Voici mon salon, voici ma salle a manger, et voyez comme c'est commode! De cette fenetre je vois mes revolutions." The younger Bourbon of the Orleans branch had learned part of the lesson of government (of which even the most intelligent of that race seem destined never to learn the whole) in democratic America and democratic Switzerland. Perhaps it was in these two essentially bourgeois countries that he learned the only virtues that distinguished him as the Roi Bourgeois, par excellence.
HEATON PARK, September 18, 1830. MY DEAR MRS. JAMESON,
Were it not that I should be ashamed to look you in the face when we meet, which I hope will now be soon, I should be much tempted to defer thanking you for your last kind letter until that period, for I am at this moment in the bustle of three departures. My mother arrived in Manchester this morning, whence my aunt Dall starts to-night for Buckinghamshire, and my father to-morrow morning at seven o'clock for London, and at eight my mother and myself start for Liverpool. I am most anxious to be there for the opening of the railroad, which takes place on Wednesday. I act in Manchester on Friday, and after that we shall spend some days with Lord and Lady W——, at their seat near there; and then I return to London to begin my winter campaign, when I hope to see you less oppressed with anxiety and vexation than you were when we parted there. And now, what shall I say to you? My life for the last three weeks has been so hurried and busy that, while I have matter for many long letters, I have hardly time for condensation; you know what Madame de Sevigne says, "Si j'avais eu plus de temps, je t'aurais ecrit moins longuement." I have been sight-seeing and acting for the last month, and the first occupation is really the more exhausting of the two. I will give you a carte, and when we meet you shall call upon me for a detail of any or all of its contents.
I have seen the fine, picturesque old town of Chester; I have seen Liverpool, its docks, its cemetery, its railway, on which I was flown away with by a steam-engine, at the rate of five and thirty miles an hour; I have seen Manchester, power-looms, spinning-jennies, cotton factories, etc.; I have stayed at the pleasant modern mansion of Heaton; I have visited Hopwood Hall, built in the reign of Edward the First, and still retaining its carved old oaken chimneys and paneled chambers and latticed windows, and intricate ups and downs of internal architecture, to present use apparently as purposeless and inconvenient as if one was living in a cat's-cradle. I have seen a rush-bearing with its classical morris dance, executed in honor of some antique observance by the country folk of Lancashire, with whom this commemoration, but no knowledge of its original significance, remains. I have seen Birmingham, its button-making, pin-making, plating, stamping, etc.; I have seen Aston Hall, an old house two miles from the town, and two hundred from everything in it, where Charles the First slept after the battle of Edge Hill, and whose fine old staircase still retains the marks of Cromwell's cannon,—which house, moreover, possesses an oaken gallery one hundred and odd feet long, hung with old portraits, one of the most delightful apartments imaginable. How I did sin in envy, and long for that nice room to walk up and down and dream and poetize in; but as I know of no earthly way of compassing this desirable acquisition but offering myself in exchange for it to its present possessor (who might not think well of the bargain), il n'y faut plus penser. Moreover, as the grapes are sour, I conclude that upon the whole it might not be an advantageous one for me. I am at this moment writing in a drawing-room full of people, at Heaton (Lord W——'s place), taking up my pen to talk to you and laying it down to talk to others. I must now, however, close my double and divided conversation, because I have not brains enough to play at two games at once. I am ever yours, very sincerely,
F. A. K.
While we were acting at Liverpool an experimental trip was proposed upon the line of railway which was being constructed between Liverpool and Manchester, the first mesh of that amazing iron net which now covers the whole surface of England and all the civilized portions of the earth. The Liverpool merchants, whose far-sighted self-interest prompted them to wise liberality, had accepted the risk of George Stephenson's magnificent experiment, which the committee of inquiry of the House of Commons had rejected for the government. These men, of less intellectual culture than the Parliament members, had the adventurous imagination proper to great speculators, which is the poetry of the counting-house and wharf, and were better able to receive the enthusiastic infection of the great projector's sanguine hope that the Westminster committee. They were exultant and triumphant at the near completion of the work, though, of course, not without some misgivings as to the eventual success of the stupendous enterprise. My father knew several of the gentlemen most deeply interested in the undertaking, and Stephenson having proposed a trial trip as far as the fifteen-mile viaduct, they, with infinite kindness, invited him and permitted me to accompany them; allowing me, moreover, the place which I felt to be one of supreme honor, by the side of Stephenson. All that wonderful history, as much more interesting than a romance as truth is stranger than fiction, which Mr. Smiles's biography of the projector has given in so attractive a form to the world, I then heard from his own lips. He was a rather stern-featured man, with a dark and deeply marked countenance; his speech was strongly inflected with his native Northumbrian accent, but the fascination of that story told by himself, while his tame dragon flew panting along his iron pathway with us, passed the first reading of the "Arabian Nights," the incidents of which it almost seemed to recall. He was wonderfully condescending and kind in answering all the questions of my eager ignorance, and I listened to him with eyes brimful of warm tears of sympathy and enthusiasm, as he told me of all his alternations of hope and fear, of his many trials and disappointments, related with fine scorn how the "Parliament men" had badgered and baffled him with their book-knowledge, and how, when at last they thought they had smothered the irrepressible prophecy of his genius in the quaking depths of Chatmoss, he had exclaimed, "Did ye ever see a boat float on water? I will make my road float upon Chatmoss!" The well-read Parliament men (some of whom, perhaps, wished for no railways near their parks and pleasure-grounds) could not believe the miracle, but the shrewd Liverpool merchants, helped to their faith by a great vision of immense gain, did; and so the railroad was made, and I took this memorable ride by the side of its maker, and would not have exchanged the honor and pleasure of it for one of the shares in the speculation.
LIVERPOOL, August 26th. MY DEAR H——,
A common sheet of paper is enough for love, but a foolscap extra can alone contain a railroad and my ecstasies. There was once a man, who was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who was a common coal-digger; this man had an immense constructiveness, which displayed itself in pulling his watch to pieces and putting it together again; in making a pair of shoes when he happened to be some days without occupation; finally—here there is a great gap in my story—it brought him in the capacity of an engineer before a committee of the House of Commons, with his head full of plans for constructing a railroad from Liverpool to Manchester. It so happened that to the quickest and most powerful perceptions and conceptions, to the most indefatigable industry and perseverance, and the most accurate knowledge of the phenomena of nature as they affect his peculiar labors, this man joined an utter want of the "gift of the gab;" he could no more explain to others what he meant to do and how he meant to do it, than he could fly; and therefore the members of the House of Commons, after saying, "There is rock to be excavated to a depth of more than sixty feet, there are embankments to be made nearly to the same height, there is a swamp of five miles in length to be traversed, in which if you drop an iron rod it sinks and disappears: how will you do all this?" and receiving no answer but a broad Northumbrian "I can't tell you how I'll do it, but I can tell you I will do it," dismissed Stephenson as a visionary. Having prevailed upon a company of Liverpool gentlemen to be less incredulous, and having raised funds for his great undertaking, in December of 1826 the first spade was struck into the ground. And now I will give you an account of my yesterday's excursion. A party of sixteen persons was ushered, into a large court-yard, where, under cover, stood several carriages of a peculiar construction, one of which was prepared for our reception. It was a long-bodied vehicle with seats placed across it, back to back; the one we were in had six of these benches, and was a sort of uncovered char a banc. The wheels were placed upon two iron bands, which formed the road, and to which they are fitted, being so constructed as to slide along without any danger of hitching or becoming displaced, on the same principle as a thing sliding on a concave groove. The carriage was set in motion by a mere push, and, having received, this impetus, rolled with us down an inclined plane into a tunnel, which forms the entrance to the railroad. This tunnel is four hundred yards long (I believe), and will be lighted by gas. At the end of it we emerged from darkness, and, the ground becoming level, we stopped. There is another tunnel parallel with this, only much wider and longer, for it extends from the place which we had now reached, and where the steam-carriages start, and which is quite out of Liverpool, the whole way under the town, to the docks. This tunnel is for wagons and other heavy carriages; and as the engines which are to draw the trains along the railroad do not enter these tunnels, there is a large building at this entrance which is to be inhabited by steam-engines of a stationary turn of mind, and different constitution from the traveling ones, which are to propel the trains through the tunnels to the terminus in the town, without going out of their houses themselves. The length of the tunnel parallel to the one we passed through is (I believe) two thousand two hundred yards. I wonder if you are understanding one word I am saying all this while! We were introduced to the little engine which was to drag us along the rails. She (for they make these curious little fire-horses all mares) consisted of a boiler, a stove, a small platform, a bench, and behind the bench a barrel containing enough water to prevent her being thirsty for fifteen miles,—the whole machine not bigger than a common fire-engine. She goes upon two wheels, which are her feet, and are moved by bright steel legs called pistons; these are propelled by steam, and in proportion as more steam is applied to the upper extremities (the hip-joints, I suppose) of these pistons, the faster they move the wheels; and when it is desirable to diminish the speed, the steam, which unless suffered to escape would burst the boiler, evaporates through a safety-valve into the air. The reins, bit, and bridle of this wonderful beast is a small steel handle, which applies or withdraws the steam from its legs or pistons, so that a child might manage it. The coals, which are its oats, were under the bench, and there was a small glass tube affixed to the boiler, with water in it, which indicates by its fullness or emptiness when the creature wants water, which is immediately conveyed to it from its reservoirs. There is a chimney to the stove, but as they burn coke there is none of the dreadful black smoke which accompanies the progress of a steam vessel. This snorting little animal, which I felt rather inclined to pat, was then harnessed to our carriage, and, Mr. Stephenson having taken me on the bench of the engine with him, we started at about ten miles an hour. The steam-horse being ill adapted for going up and down hill, the road was kept at a certain level, and appeared sometimes to sink below the surface of the earth, and sometimes to rise above it. Almost at starting it was cut through the solid rock, which formed a wall on either side of it, about sixty feet high. You can't imagine how strange it seemed to be journeying on thus, without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace, between these rocky walls, which are already clothed with moss and ferns and grasses; and when I reflected that these great masses of stone had been cut asunder to allow our passage thus far below the surface of the earth, I felt as if no fairy tale was ever half so wonderful as what I saw. Bridges were thrown from side to side across the top of these cliffs, and the people looking down upon us from them seemed like pigmies standing in the sky. I must be more concise, though, or I shall want room. We were to go only fifteen miles, that distance being sufficient to show the speed of the engine, and to take us on to the most beautiful and wonderful object on the road. After proceeding through this rocky defile, we presently found ourselves raised upon embankments ten or twelve feet high; we then came to a moss, or swamp, of considerable extent, on which no human foot could tread without sinking, and yet it bore the road which bore us. This had been the great stumbling-block in the minds of the committee of the House of Commons; but Mr. Stephenson has succeeded in overcoming it. A foundation of hurdles, or, as he called it, basket-work, was thrown over the morass, and the interstices were filled with moss and other elastic matter. Upon this the clay and soil were laid down, and the road does float, for we passed over it at the rate of five and twenty miles an hour, and saw the stagnant swamp water trembling on the surface of the soil on either side of us. I hope you understand me. The embankment had gradually been rising higher and higher, and in one place, where the soil was not settled enough to form banks, Stephenson had constructed artificial ones of wood-work, over which the mounds of earth were heaped, for he said that though the wood-work would rot, before it did so the banks of earth which covered it would have been sufficiently consolidated to support the road.
We had now come fifteen miles, and stopped where the road traversed a wide and deep valley. Stephenson made me alight and led me down to the bottom of this ravine, over which, in order to keep his road level, he has thrown a magnificent viaduct of nine arches, the middle one of which is seventy feet high, through which we saw the whole of this beautiful little valley. It was lovely and wonderful beyond all words. He here told me many curious things respecting this ravine: how he believed the Mersey had once rolled through it; how the soil had proved so unfavorable for the foundation of his bridge that it was built upon piles, which had been driven into the earth to an enormous depth; how, while digging for a foundation, he had come to a tree bedded in the earth fourteen feet below the surface of the ground; how tides are caused, and how another flood might be caused; all of which I have remembered and noted down at much greater length than I can enter upon it here. He explained to me the whole construction of the steam-engine, and said he could soon make a famous engineer of me, which, considering the wonderful things he has achieved, I dare not say is impossible. His way of explaining himself is peculiar, but very striking, and I understood, without difficulty, all that he said to me. We then rejoined the rest of the party, and the engine having received its supply of water, the carriage was placed behind it, for it cannot turn, and was set off at its utmost speed, thirty-five miles an hour, swifter than a bird flies (for they tried the experiment with a snipe). You cannot conceive what that sensation of cutting the air was; the motion is as smooth as possible, too. I could either have read or written; and as it was, I stood up, and with my bonnet off "drank the air before me." The wind, which was strong, or perhaps the force of our own thrusting against it, absolutely weighed my eyelids down. [I remember a similar experience to this, the first time I attempted to go behind the sheet of the cataract of Niagara; the wind coming from beneath the waterfall met me with such direct force that it literally bore down my eyelids, and I had to put off the attempt of penetrating behind the curtain of foam till another day, when that peculiar accident; was less directly hostile to me in its conditions.] When I closed my eyes this sensation of flying was quite delightful, and strange beyond description; yet, strange as it was, I had a perfect sense of security, and not the slightest fear. At one time, to exhibit the power of the engine, having met another steam-carriage which was unsupplied with water, Mr. Stephenson caused it to be fastened in front of ours; moreover, a wagon laden with timber was also chained to us, and thus propelling the idle steam-engine, and dragging the loaded wagon which was beside it, and our own carriage full of people behind, this brave little she-dragon of ours flew on. Farther on she met three carts, which, being fastened in front of her, she pushed on before her without the slightest delay or difficulty; when I add that this pretty little creature can run with equal facility either backward or forward, I believe I have given you an account of all her capacities.
Now for a word or two about the master of all these marvels, with whom I am most horribly in love. He is a man of from fifty to fifty-five years of age; his face is fine, though careworn, and bears an expression of deep thoughtfulness; his mode of explaining his ideas is peculiar and very original, striking, and forcible; and although his accent indicates strongly his north-country birth, his language has not the slightest touch of vulgarity or coarseness. He has certainly turned my head.
Four years have sufficed to bring this great undertaking to an end. The railroad will be opened upon the 15th of next month. The Duke of Wellington is coming down to be present on the occasion, and, I suppose, what with the thousands of spectators and the novelty of the spectacle, there will never have been a scene of more striking interest. The whole cost of the work (including the engines and carriages) will have been eight hundred and thirty thousand pounds; and it is already worth double that sum. The directors have kindly offered us three places for the opening, which is a great favor, for people are bidding almost anything for a place, I understand; but I fear we shall be obliged to decline them, as my father is most anxious to take Henry over to Heidelberg before our season of work in London begins, which will take place on the first of October. I think there is every probability of our having a very prosperous season. London will be particularly gay this winter, and the king and queen, it is said, are fond of dramatic entertainments, so that I hope we shall get on well. You will be glad to hear that our houses here have been very fine, and that to-night, Friday, which was my benefit, the theater was crowded in every corner. We do not play here any more, but on Monday we open at Manchester. You will, I know, be happy to hear that, by way of answer to the letter I told you I had written my mother, I received a very delightful one from my dear little sister, the first I have had from her since I left London. She is a little jewel, and it will be a sin if she is marred in the cutting and polishing, or if she is set in tawdry French pinchbeck, instead of fine, strong, sterling gold. I am sorry to say that the lady Mrs. Jameson recommended as her governess has not been thought sufficiently accomplished to undertake the charge. I regret this the more, as in a letter I have just received from Mrs. Jameson she speaks with more detail of this lady's qualifications, which seem to me peculiarly adapted to have a good effect upon such a mind and character as A——'s.
I wish I had been with your girls at their ball, and come back from it and found you holding communion with the skies. My dearest H——, sublime and sweet and holy as are the feelings with which I look up to the star-paved heavens, or to the glorious summer sun, or listen to the music of the great waves, I do not for an instant mistake the adoration of the almighty power manifested in these works of God, for religion. You tell me to beware of mixing up emotional or imaginative excitement with my devotion. And I think I can truly answer that I do not do so. I told you that the cathedral service was not prayer to me; nor do I ever confound a mere emotional or imaginative enthusiasm, even when excited by the highest of all objects of contemplation, with the daily and hourly endeavor after righteousness—the humble trust, resignation, obedience, and thankfulness, which I believe constitute the vital part of religious faith. I humbly hope I keep the sacred ground of my religion clear from whatever does not belong to the spirit of its practice. As long as I can remember, I have endeavored to guard against mistaking emotion for religion, and have even sometimes been apprehensive lest the admiration I felt for certain passages in the Psalms and the Hebrew prophets should make me forget the more solemn and sacred purposes of the book of life, and the glad tidings of our salvation. And though, when I look up as you did at the worlds with which our midnight sky is studded, I feel inclined to break out, "The heavens declare the glory of God," or, when I stand upon the shore, can hardly refrain from crying aloud, "The sea is His, and He made it," I do not in these moments of sublime emotion forget that He is the God to whom all hearts be open; who, from the moment I rise until I lie down to rest, witnesses my every thought and feeling; to whom I look for support against the evil of my own nature and the temptations which He allots me, who bestows every blessing and inspires every good impulse, who will strengthen me for every duty and trial: my Father, in whom I live and move and have my being. I do not fear that my imagination will become over-excited with thoughts such as these, but I often regret most bitterly that my heart is not more deeply touched by them. Your definition of the love of God seemed almost like a reproach to my conscience. How miserably our practice halts behind our knowledge of good, even when tried at the bar of our own lenient judgment, and by our imperfect standard of right! how poorly does our life answer to our profession! I should speak in the singular, for I am only uttering my own self-condemnation. But as the excellence we adore surpasses our comprehension, so does the mercy, and in that lies our only trust and confidence.
I fear Miss W—— either has not received my letter or does not mean to answer it, for I have received no reply, and I dare not try again. Up to a certain point I am impudent enough, but not beyond that. Why do you threaten me with dancing to me? Have I lately given you cause to think I deserve to have such a punishment hung in terrorem over me? Besides, threatening me is injudicious, for it rouses a spirit of resistance in me not easy to break down. I assure you o [in allusion to my mispronunciation of that vowel] is really greatly improved. I take much pains with it, as also with my deportment; they will, I hope, no longer annoy you when next we meet. You must not call Mrs. J—— my friend, for I do not. I like her much, and I see a great deal to esteem and admire in her, but I do not yet call her my friend. You are my friend, and Mrs. Harry Siddons is my friend, and you are the only persons I call by that name. I have read "Paul Clifford," according to your desire, and like it very much; it is written with a good purpose, and very powerfully. You asked me if I believed such selfishness as Brandon's to be natural, and I said yes, not having read the book, but merely from your report of him; and, having read the book, I say so still.
DUBLIN, August, 1830. MY DEAR H——,
I should have answered your letter sooner had I before been able to give you any certain intelligence of our theatrical proceedings next week, but I was so afraid of some change taking place in the list of the plays that I resolved not to write until alteration was impossible. The plays for next week are, on Monday, "Venice Preserved;" on Wednesday, "The Grecian Daughter;" Thursday, "The Merchant of Venice." I wish your people may be able to come up, the latter end of the week; I think "Romeo and Juliet," and "The Merchant of Venice," are nice plays for them to see. But you have, I know, an invitation from Mrs. J—— to come into town on Monday. I do not know whether my wishes have at all influenced her in this, but she has my very best thanks for it, and I know that they will have some weight with you in inclining you to accept it; do, my dearest H——, come if you can. I shall certainly not be able to return to Ardgillan, and so my only chance of seeing you depends upon your coming into Dublin. I wish I had been with you when you sat in the sun and listened to the wind singing over the sea. I have a great admiration for the wind, not so much for its purifying influences only, as for its invisible power, strength, the quality above all others without which there is neither moral nor mental greatness possible. Natural objects endowed with this invisible power please me best, as human beings who possess it attract me most; and my preference for it over other elements of character is because I think it communicates itself, and that while in contact with it one feels as if it were catching; and whether by the shore, when the tide is coming up fast and irresistible, or in the books or intercourse of other minds, it seems to rouse corresponding activity and energy in one's self, persuading one, for the time being, that one is strong. I am sure I have felt taller by three inches, as well as three times more vigorous in body and mind, than I really am, when running by the sea. It seemed as if that great mass of waters, as it rushed and roared by my side, was communicating power directly to my mind as well as my bodily frame, by its companionship. I wish I was on the shore now with you. It is surprising (talking of E——) how instantaneously, and by what subtle, indescribable means, certain qualities of individual natures make themselves felt—refinement, imagination, poetical sensibility. People's voices, looks, and gestures betray these so unconsciously; and I think more by the manner, a great deal, than the matter of their speech. Refinement, particularly, is a wonderfully subtle, penetrating element; nothing is so positive in its effect, and nothing so completely escapes analysis and defies description.