I am glad dear little H—— thought I "grew pretty;" there is a world of discrimination in that sentence of his. To your charge that I should cultivate my judgment in preference to my imagination, I can only answer, "I am ready and willing to do so;" but it is nevertheless not altogether easy for me to do it. My life in London leaves me neither time nor opportunity for any self-culture, and it seems to me as if my best faculties were lying fallow, while a comparatively unimportant talent, and my physical powers, were being taxed to the uttermost. The profession I have embraced is supposed to stimulate powerfully the imagination. I do not find it so; it appeals to mine in a slight degree compared with other pursuits; it is too definite in its object and too confined in its scope to excite my imagination strongly; and, moreover, it carries with it the antidote of its own excitement in the necessary conditions under which it is exercised. Were it possible to act with one's mind alone, the case might be different; but the body is so indispensable, unluckily, to the execution of one's most poetical conceptions on the stage, that the imaginative powers are under very severe though imperceptible restraint. Acting seems to me rather like dancing hornpipes in fetters. And, by no means the least difficult part of the business is to preserve one's own feelings warm, and one's imagination excited, while one is aiming entirely at producing effects upon others; surrounded, moreover, as one is, by objects which, while they heighten the illusion to the distant spectator, all but destroy it to us of the dramatis personae. None of this, however, lessens the value and importance of your advice, or my own conviction that "mental bracing" is good for me. My reception on Monday was quite overpowering, and I was escorted back to the hotel, after the play, by a body-guard of about two hundred men, shouting and hurrahing like mad; strange to say, they were people of perfectly respectable appearance. My father was not with us, and they opened the carriage door and let down the steps, when we got home, and helped us out, clapping, and showering the most fervent expressions of good-will upon me and aunt Dall, whom they took for my mother. One young man exclaimed pathetically, "Oh, I hope ye're not too much fatigued, Miss Kemble, by your exertions!" They formed a line on each side of me, and several of them dropped on their knees to look under my bonnet, as I ran laughing, with my head down, from the carriage to the house. I was greatly confused and a little frightened, as well as amused and gratified, by their cordial demonstration.
The humors of a Dublin audience, much as I had heard of them before going to Ireland, surprised and diverted me very much. The second night of our acting there, as we were leaving the theater by the private entrance, we found the carriage surrounded by a crowd eagerly waiting for our coming out. As soon as my father appeared, there was a shout of "Three cheers for Misther Char-les!" then came Dall, and "Three cheers for Misthriss Char-les!" then I, and "Three cheers for Miss Fanny!" "Bedad, she looks well by gas-light!" exclaimed one of my admirers. "Och, and bedad, she looks well by daylight too!" retorted another, though what his opportunity for forming that flattering opinion of the genuineness of my good looks had been, I cannot imagine. What further remarks passed upon us I do not know, as we drove off laughing, and left our friends still vociferously cheering. My father told us one day of his being followed up Sackville Street by two beggar-women, between whom the following dialogue passed, evidently with a view to his edification: "Och, but he's an iligant man, is Misther Char-les Kemble!" "An' 'deed, so was his brudher Misther John, thin—a moighty foine man! and to see his demanour, puttin' his hand in his pocket and givin' me sixpence, bate all the worrld!" When I was acting Lady Townley, in the scene where her husband complains of her late hours and she insolently retorts, "I won't come home till four, to-morrow morning," and receives the startling reply with which Lord Townley leaves her, "Then, madam, you shall never come home again," I was apt to stand for a moment aghast at this threat; and one night during this pause of breathless dismay, one of my gallery auditors, thinking, I suppose, that I was wanting in proper spirit not to make some rejoinder, exclaimed, "Now thin, Fanny!" which very nearly upset the gravity produced by my father's impressive exit, both in me and in the audience.
DUBLIN, Friday, August 6, 1830. MY DEAREST H——,
I fear I caused you a disappointment by not writing to you yesterday afternoon, but as it was not until between five and six o'clock that I learned we were not going to Cork, when I thought of writing you to that effect I found I was too late for the post. I hope still that Dall and I may be able to come to Ardgillan again, but we cannot leave my father alone here, and his departure for Liverpool is at present quite uncertain. I have been trying to reason myself into patience, notwithstanding a very childish inclination to cry about it, which I think I will indulge because I shall be able to be so much more reasonable without this stupid lump in my throat.
I hope I may see you again, dear H——. You are wrong when you say you cannot be of service to me; I can judge better of the value of your intercourse to me than you can, and I wish I could have the advantage of more of it before I plunge back into "toil and trouble." I have two very opposite feelings about my present avocation: utter dislike to it and everything, connected with it, and an upbraiding sense of ingratitude when I reflect how prosperous and smooth my entrance upon my career has been. I hope, ere long, to be able to remember habitually what only occasionally occurs to me now, as a comfort and support, that since it was right for me to embrace this profession, it is incumbent upon me to banish all selfish regrets about the surrender of my personal tastes and feelings, which must be sacrificed to real and useful results for myself and others. You see, I write as I talk, still about myself; and I am sometimes afraid that my very desire to improve keeps me occupied too much about myself and will make a little moral egotist of me. I am going to bid good-by to Miss W—— this morning; I should like her to like me; I believe I should value her friendship as I ought. Good friends are like the shrubs and trees that grow on a steep ascent: while we toil up, and our eyes are fixed on the summit, we unconsciously grasp and lean upon them for support and assistance on our way. God bless you, dear H——. I hope to be with you soon, but cannot say at present how soon that may be.
F. A. K.
A very delightful short visit to my friend at Ardgillan preceded my resuming my theatrical work at Liverpool, whence I wrote her the following letter:
LIVERPOOL August 19, 1830. DEAR H——,
I received your letter about an hour ago, at rehearsal, and though I read it with rather dim eyes, I managed to swallow my tears, and go on with Mrs. Beverley.
The depth and solemnity of your feelings, my dear H——, on those important subjects of which we have so often spoken together, almost make me fear, sometimes, that I am not so much impressed as I ought to be with their awfulness. I humbly hope I fear as I ought, but it is so much easier for me to love than to fear, that my nature instinctively fastens on those aspects of religion which inspire confidence and impart support, rather than those which impress with dread. I was thinking the other day how constantly in all our prayers the loftiest titles of might are added to that Name of names, "Our Father," and yet His power is always less present to my mind than His mercy and love. You tell me I do not know you, and that may very well be, for one really knows no one; and when I reflect upon and attempt to analyze the various processes of my own rather shallow mind, and find them incomprehensible, I am only surprised that there should be so much mutual affection in a world where mutual knowledge and understanding are really impossible.
My side-ache was much better yesterday. I believe it was caused by the pain of leaving you and Ardgillan: any strong emotion causes it, and I remember when I last left Edinburgh having an attack of it that brought on erysipelas. You say you wish to know how Juliet does. Why, very well, poor thing. She had a very fine first house indeed, and her success has been as great as you could wish it; out of our ten nights' engagement, "Romeo and Juliet" is to be given four times; it has already been acted three successive nights to very great houses. To-night it is "The Gamester," to-morrow "Venice Preserved," and on Saturday we act at Manchester, and on Monday here again. You will hardly imagine how irksome it was to me to be once more in my stage-trappings, and in the glare of the theater instead of the blessed sunshine in the country, and to hear the murmur of congregated human beings instead of that sound of many waters, that wonderful sea-song, that is to me like the voice of a dear friend. I made a great effort to conquer this feeling of repugnance to my work, and thought of my dear Mrs. Harry, whom I have seen, with a heart and mind torn with anxiety, leave poor Lizzy on what seemed almost a death-bed, to go and do her duty at the theater. That was something like a trial. There was a poor old lady, of more than seventy years of age, who acted as my nurse, who helped also to rouse me from my selfish morbidness—age and infirmity laboring in the same path with rather more cause for weariness and disgust than I have. She may have been working, too, only for herself, while I am the means of helping my own dear people, and many others; she toils on, unnoticed and neglected, while my exertions are stimulated and rewarded by success and the approval of every one about me. And yet my task is sadly distasteful to me; it seems such useless work that but for its very useful pecuniary results I think I would rather make shoes. You tell me of the comfort you derive, under moral depression, from picking stones and weeds out of your garden. I am afraid that antidote would prove insufficient for me; the weeds would very soon lie in heaps in my lap, and the stones accumulate in little mountains all round me, while my mind was sinking into contemplations of the nature of slow quicksands. Violent bodily exercise, riding, or climbing up steep and rugged pathways are my best remedies for the blue devils.
My father has received a pressing invitation from Lord and Lady W—— to go to their place, Heaton, which is but five miles from Manchester.
You say to me in your last letter that you could not live at the rate I do; but my life is very different now from what it was while with you. I am silent and quiet and oppressed with irksome duties, and altogether a different creature from your late companion by the sea-shore. It is true that that was my natural condition, but if you were here with me now, in the midst of all these unnatural sights and sounds, I do not think I should weary you with my overflowing life and spirits, as I fear I did at Ardgillan. I was as happy there as the birds that fly in the clear sky above the sea, and much happier, for I had your companionship in addition to the delight which mere existence is in such scenes. I am glad Lily made and wore the wreath of lilac blossoms; I was sure it would become her. Give her my love and thanks for having done as I asked her. Oh, do not wish Ardgillan fifteen miles from London! Even for the sake of seeing you, I would not bring you near the smoke and dirt and comparative confinement of such a situation; I would not take you from your sea and sky and trees, even to have you within reach of me.
Certainly it is the natural evil of the human mind, and not the supernatural agency in the story of its development, that makes Macbeth so terrible; it is the hideousness of a wicked soul, into which enter more foul ingredients than are held in the witches' caldron of abominations, that makes the play so tremendous. I wish we had read that great work together. How it contrasts with what we did read, the "Tempest," that brightest creation of a wholesome genius in its hour of happiest inspiration!
I believe some people think it presumptuous to pray for any one but themselves; but it seems to me strange to share every, feeling with those we love and not associate them with our best and holiest aspirations; to remember them everywhere but there where it is of the utmost importance to us all to be remembered; to desire all happiness for them, and not to implore in their behalf the Giver of all good. I think I pray even more fervently for those I love than for myself. Pray for me, my dear H——, and God bless you and give you strength and peace. Your affectionate
F. A. K.
I have not seen the railroad yet; if you do not write soon to me, we shall be gone to Manchester.
My objection to the dramatic profession on the score of its uselessness, in this letter, reminds me of what my mother used to tell me of Miss Brunton, who afterward became Lady Craven; a very eccentric as well as attractive and charming woman, who contrived, too, to be a very charming actress, in spite of a prosaical dislike to her business, which used to take the peculiar and rather alarming turn of suddenly, in the midst of a scene, saying aside to her fellow-actors, "What nonsense all this is! Suppose we don't go on with it." This singular expostulation my mother said she always expected to see followed up by the sadden exit of her lively companion, in the middle of her part. Miss Brunton, however, had self-command enough to go on acting till she became Countess of Craven, and left off the nonsense of the stage for the earnestness of high life.
A very serious cause for depression had added itself to the weariness of spirit with which my distaste for my profession often affected me. While at Liverpool, I received a letter from my brother John which filled me with surprise and vexation. After his return from Germany he had expressed his determination to go into the Church; and we all supposed him to be in the country, zealously engaged in the necessary preparatory studies. Infinite, therefore, was my astonishment to receive from him a letter dated from Algeciras, in Spain, telling me that he and several of his college companions, Sterling, Barton, Trench, and Boyd among others, had determined to lend the aid of their enthusiastic sympathy to the cause of liberty in Spain. The "cause of liberty in Spain" was then represented by the rash and ill-fated rising of General Torrijos against the Spanish Government, that protean nightmare which, in one form or another of bigotry and oppression, has ridden that unfortunate country up to a very recent time, when civil war has again interfered with apparently little prospect of any better result. My distress at receiving such unexpected news from my brother was aggravated by his forbidding me to write to him or speak of his plans and proceedings to any one. This concealment, which would have been both difficult and repugnant to me, was rendered impossible by the circumstances under which his letter reached me, and we all bore together, as well as we could, this severe disappointment and the cruel anxiety of receiving no further intelligence from John for a considerable time. I was bitterly grieved by this letter, which clearly indicated that the sacred profession for which my brother had begun to prepare himself, and in which we had hoped to see him ere long honorably and usefully laboring, was as little likely to be steadily pursued by him as the legal career which he had renounced for it. Richard Trench brought home a knowledge of the Spanish tongue which has given to his own some beautiful translations of Calderon's masterpieces; and his early crusade for the enfranchisement of Spain has not militated against the well-deserved distinction he has achieved in the high calling to which he devoted himself. With my brother, however, the case was different. This romantic expedition canceled all his purposes and prospects of entering the Church, and Alfred Tennyson's fine sonnet, addressed to him when he first determined to dedicate himself to the service of the temple, is all that bears witness to that short-lived consecration: it was poetry, but not prophecy.
MANCHESTER, September 3, 1830. MY DEAREST H——,
I received you letter and the pretty Balbriggan stockings, for which I thank you very much, quite safely. I have not been able to put pen to paper till now, and even now do not know whether I can do more than just tell you that we have heard nothing further whatever from my brother. In his letter to me he said that he would write home whenever he could do so safely, but that no letter of ours would reach him; and, indeed, I do not now know where he may be. From the first moment of hearing this intelligence, which has amazed us all so much, I have felt less miserable than I could have thought possible under the circumstances; my mind, I think, has hardly taken hold of the truth of what has come so unexpectedly upon me. The very impossibility of relieving one's suspense, I suppose, compels one not to give way to its worst suggestions, which may, after all, be unfounded. I cannot communicate with him, and must wait patiently till he can write again; he is in God's hand, and I hope and pray that he may be guided and protected. My great anxiety is to keep all knowledge of his having even gone abroad, if possible, from my mother. She is not in a state to bear such a shock, and I fear that the impossibility of ascertaining anything about him at present, which helps me to remain tolerably collected, would almost drive her distracted.
The news of the revolt in the Netherlands, together with the fact that one of our dear ones is away from us in scenes of peril and disturbance, has, I think, shaken my father's purpose of sending Henry to Heidelberg. It is a bad thing to leave a boy of eighteen so far from home control and influences; and he is of a sweet, affectionate, gentle disposition, that makes him liable to be easily led and persuaded by the examples and counsels of others. Moreover, he is at the age when boys are always in some love-scrape or other, and if he is left alone at Heidelberg, in his own unassisted weakness, at such a distance from us all, I should not be surprised to hear that he had constituted himself the lord and master of some blue-eyed fraeulein with whom he could not exchange a dozen words in her own vernacular, and had become a dis-respectable pater familias at nineteen. In the midst of all the worry and anxiety which these considerations occasion, we are living here a most unsettled, flurried life of divided work and pleasure. We have gone out to Heaton every morning after rehearsal, and come in with the W——s in the evening, to act. I think to-night we shall sleep there after the play, and come in with the W——s after dinner to-morrow. They had expected us to spend some days with them, and perhaps, after our Birmingham engagement, we may be able to do so. Heaton is a charming specimen of a fine country-house, and Lady W—— a charming specimen of a fine lady; she is handsome, stately, and gentle. I like Lord W——; he is clever, or rather accomplished, and refined. They are both of them very kind to me, and most pressing in their entreaties that we should return and stay as long as we can with them. To-morrow is my last night here; on Monday we act at Birmingham, and my father thinks we shall be able to avail ourselves of the invitation of our Liverpool friends, and witness the opening of the railroad. This would be a memorable pleasure, the opportunity of which should certainly not be neglected. I have been gratified and interested this morning and yesterday by going over one of the largest manufactories of this place, where I have seen a number of astonishing processes, from the fusing of iron in its roughest state to the construction of the most complicated machinery and the work that it performs. I have been examining and watching and admiring power-looms, and spinning-jennies, and every species of work accomplished by machinery. But what pleased me most of all was the process of casting iron. Did you know that the solid masses of iron-work which we see in powerful engines were many of them cast in moulds of sand?—inconstant, shifting, restless sand! The strongest iron of all, though, gets its strength beaten into it.
BIRMINGHAM, September 7, 1830.
You see, my dearest H——, how my conversations are liable to be cut short in the midst; just at the point where I broke off, Lord and Lady W—— came to fetch us to Heaton, and until this moment, when I am quietly seated in Birmingham, I have not been able to resume the thread of my discourse. I once was told of a man who had been weather-bound at some port, whence he was starting for the West Indies; he was standing on the wharf, telling a long story to a friend, when a fair wind sprang up and he had to hurry on board. Two years after, returning thence, the first person he met on landing was his friend, whom he accosted with, "Oh, well, and so, as I was telling you," etc. But I cannot do that, for my mind has dwelt on new objects of interest since I began this letter, and my visit to Heaton has swept sand and iron and engines all back into the great warehouse at Manchester for a time, whence I may draw them at some future day for your edification.
Lady W—— possesses, to a great degree, beauty, that "tangible good" which you admire so much; she has a bright, serene countenance, and very sweet and noble eyes and forehead. Her manner is peculiarly winning and simple, and to me it was cordially kind, and even affectionate.
During the two days which were all we could spare for Heaton, I walked and rode and sang and talked, and was so well amused and pleased that I hope, after our week's work is over here, we may return there for a short-time. I must tell you of a curious little bit of ancientry which I saw at Heaton, which greatly delighted me—a "rush-bearing." At a certain period of the year, generally the beginning of autumn, it was formerly the wont in some parts of Lancashire to go round with sundry rustic mummeries to all the churches and strew them with rushes. The religious intention of the custom has passed away, but a pretty rural procession, which I witnessed, still keeps up the memory of it hereabouts. I was sitting at my window, looking out over the lawn, which slopes charmingly on every side down to the house, when the still summer air was suddenly filled with the sound of distant shouts and music, and presently the quaint pageant drew in sight. First came an immense wagon piled with rushes in a stack-like form, on the top of which sat two men holding two huge nosegays. This was drawn by a team of Lord W——'s finest farm-horses, all covered with scarlet cloths, and decked with ribbons and bells and flowers. After this came twelve country lads and lasses, dancing the real old morris-dance, with their handkerchiefs flying, and in all the rustic elegance of apparel which they could command for the occasion. After them followed a very good village band, and then a species of flowery canopy, under which walked a man and woman covered with finery, who, Lord W—— told me, represented Adam and Eve. The procession closed with a fool fantastically dressed out, and carrying the classical bladder at the end of his stick. They drew up before the house and danced their morris-dance for us. The scraps of old poetry which came into my head, the contrast between this pretty picture of a bygone time and the modern but by no means unpicturesque group assembled under the portico, filled my mind with the pleasantest ideas, and I was quite sorry when the rural pageant wound up the woody heights again, and the last shout and peal of music came back across the sunny lawn. I am very glad I saw it. I have visited, too, Hopwood Hall, an enchanting old house in the neighborhood of Heaton, some parts of which are as old as the reign of Edward the First. The gloomy but comfortable oak rooms, the beautiful and curious carving of which might afford one days of entertaining study, the low, latticed windows, and intricate, winding, up-and-down passages, contrasted and combined with all the elegant adornments of modern luxury, and the pretty country in which the house is situated, all delighted me. I must leave off writing to you now; I have to dress, and dine at three, which I am sorry for. Thank you for Mrs. Hemans's beautiful lines, which made me cry very heartily. I have not been altogether well for the last few days, and am feeling tired and out of spirits; if I can get a few days' quiet enjoyment of the country at Heaton, I shall feel fitter for my winter work than I do now.
MANCHESTER, September 20, 1830. MY DEAREST H——,
I did not answer your letter which I received at Heaton, because the latter part of my stay there was much engrossed by walking, riding, playing battledore and shuttlecock, singing, and being exceedingly busy all day long about nothing. I have just left it for this place, where we stop to-night on our way to Stafford; Heaton was looking lovely in all the beauty of its autumnal foliage, lighted by bright autumnal skies, and I am rather glad I did not answer you before, as it is a consolatory occupation to do so now.
I am going with my mother to stay a day at Stafford with my godmother, an old and attached friend of hers, after which we proceed into Buckinghamshire to join my aunt Dall and Henry and my sister, who are staying there; and we shall all return to London together for the opening of the theater, which I think will take place on the first of next month. I could have wished to be going immediately to my work; I should have preferred screwing my courage to my professional tasks at once, instead of loitering by way of pleasure on the road. Besides that, in my visit to Buckinghamshire I come in contact with persons whose society is not very agreeable to me. My mother, however, made a great sacrifice in giving up her fishing, which she was enjoying very much, to come and chaperon me at Heaton, where there is no fishing so good as at Aston Clinton, so that I am bound to submit cheerfully to her wishes in the present instance.
You probably have by this time heard and read accounts of the opening of the railroad, and the fearful accident which occurred at it, for the papers are full of nothing else. The accident you mention did occur, but though the unfortunate man who was killed bore Mr. Stephenson's name, he was not related to him. I will tell you something of the events on the 15th, as, though you may be acquainted with the circumstances of poor Mr. Huskisson's death, none but an eyewitness of the whole scene can form a conception of it. I told you that we had had places given to us, and it was the main purpose of our returning from Birmingham to Manchester to be present at what promised to be one of the most striking events in the scientific annals of our country. We started on Wednesday last, to the number of about eight hundred people, in carriages constructed as I before described to you. The most intense curiosity and excitement prevailed, and, though the weather was uncertain, enormous masses of densely packed people lined the road, shouting and waving hats and handkerchiefs as we flew by them. What with the sight and sound of these cheering multitudes and the tremendous velocity with which we were borne past them, my spirits rose to the true champagne height, and I never enjoyed anything so much as the first hour of our progress. I had been unluckily separated from my mother in the first distribution of places, but by an exchange of seats which she was enabled to make she rejoined me when I was at the height of my ecstasy, which was considerably damped by finding that she was frightened to death, and intent upon nothing but devising means of escaping from a situation which appeared to her to threaten with instant annihilation herself and all her traveling companions. While I was chewing the cud of this disappointment, which was rather bitter, as I had expected her to be as delighted as myself with our excursion, a man flew by us, calling out through a speaking-trumpet to stop the engine, for that somebody in the directors' carriage had sustained an injury. We were all stopped accordingly, and presently a hundred voices were heard exclaiming that Mr. Huskisson was killed; the confusion that ensued is indescribable: the calling out from carriage to carriage to ascertain the truth, the contrary reports which were sent back to us, the hundred questions eagerly uttered at once, and the repeated and urgent demands for surgical assistance, created a sudden turmoil that was quite sickening. At last we distinctly ascertained that the unfortunate man's thigh was broken. From Lady W——, who was in the duke's carriage, and within three yards of the spot where the accident happened, I had the following details, the horror of witnessing which we were spared through our situation behind the great carriage. The engine had stopped to take in a supply of water, and several of the gentlemen in the directors' carriage had jumped out to look about them. Lord W——, Count Batthyany, Count Matuscenitz, and Mr. Huskisson among the rest were standing talking in the middle of the road, when an engine on the other line, which was parading up and down merely to show its speed, was seen coming down upon them like lightning. The most active of those in peril sprang back into their seats: Lord W—— saved his life only by rushing behind the duke's carriage, and Count Matuscenitz had but just leaped into it, with the engine all but touching his heels as he did so; while poor Mr. Huskisson, less active from the effects of age and ill health, bewildered, too, by the frantic cries of "Stop the engine! Clear the track!" that resounded on all sides, completely lost his head, looked helplessly to the right and left, and was instantaneously prostrated by the fatal machine, which dashed down like a thunderbolt upon him, and passed over his leg, smashing and mangling it in the most horrible way. (Lady W—— said she distinctly heard the crushing of the bone.) So terrible was the effect of the appalling accident that, except that ghastly "crushing" and poor Mrs. Huskisson's piercing shriek, not a sound was heard or a word uttered among the immediate spectators of the catastrophe. Lord W—— was the first to raise the poor sufferer, and calling to aid his surgical skill, which is considerable, he tied up the severed artery, and for a time, at least, prevented death by loss of blood. Mr. Huskisson was then placed in a carriage with his wife and Lord W——, and the engine, having been detached from the director's carriage, conveyed them to Manchester. So great was the shock produced upon the whole party by this event, that the Duke of Wellington declared his intention not to proceed, but to return immediately to Liverpool. However, upon its being represented to him that the whole population of Manchester had turned out to witness the procession, and that a disappointment might give rise to riots and disturbances, he consented to go on, and gloomily enough the rest of the journey was accomplished. We had intended returning to Liverpool by the railroad, but Lady W——, who seized upon me in the midst of the crowd, persuaded us to accompany her home, which we gladly did. Lord W—— did not return till past ten o'clock, at which hour he brought the intelligence of Mr. Huskisson's death. I need not tell you of the sort of whispering awe which this event threw over our whole circle, and yet, great as was the horror excited by it, I could not help feeling how evanescent the effect of it was after all. The shuddering terror of seeing our fellow-creature thus struck down by our side, and the breathless thankfulness for our own preservation, rendered the first evening of our party at Heaton almost solemn; but the next day the occurrence became a subject of earnest, it is true, but free discussion; and after that, was alluded to with almost as little apparent feeling as if it had not passed under our eyes, and within the space of a few hours.
I have heard nothing of my brother; my mother distresses me by talking of him, ignorant as she is of what would give her so much more anxiety about him. I feel, while I listen to her, almost guilty of deceit; and yet I am sure we were right in doing for her what she cannot do for herself, keeping her mind as long as possible in comparative tranquillity about him.
Our Sunday at Heaton terminated with much solemn propriety by Lord W—— reading aloud the evening prayers to the whole family, visitors, and servants assembled; a ceremony which, combined and contrasted with so much of the pomps and vanities of the world, gave me a pleasant feeling toward these people, who live in the midst of them without forgetting better things. I mean to make studying German and drawing (and endeavoring to abate my self-esteem) my principal occupations this winter. I have met at Heaton Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the translator of "Faust." I like him very much; he is a young man of a great deal of talent, with a charming, gentle manner, and a very handsome, sweet face. Good-by, dear H——. Write to me soon, and direct to No. 79 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. I should like to find a letter from you there, waiting for me.
Our arrangement for driving in to the theater from Heaton compelled me once or twice to sit down to dinner in my theatrical costume, a device for saving time in dressing at the theater which might have taxed my self-possession unpleasantly; but the persons I was surrounded by were all singularly kind and amiable to me, and my appearing among them in these picturesque fancy dresses was rather a source of amusement to us all. Many years after, a lady who was not staying in the house, but was invited from the neighborhood to dine at Heaton one evening, told me how amazed she had been on the sudden wide opening of the drawing-room doors to see me enter, in full mediaeval costume of black satin and velvet, cut Titian fashion, and with a long, sweeping train, for which apparition she had not been previously prepared. Of Lord W—— I have already spoken, and have only to add that, in spite of his character of a mere dissipated man of fashion, he had an unusual taste for and knowledge of music, and had composed some that is not destitute of merit; he played well on the organ, and delighted in that noble instrument, a fine specimen of which adorned one of the drawing-rooms at Heaton. Moreover, he possessed an accomplishment of a very different order, a remarkable proficiency in anatomy, which he had studied very thoroughly. He had made himself enough of a practical surgeon to be able, on the occasion of the fatal accident which befell Mr. Huskisson on the day of the opening of the railroad, to save the unfortunate gentleman from bleeding to death on the spot, by tying up the femoral artery, which had been severed. His fine riding in the hunting-field and on the race-course was a less peculiar talent among his special associates. Lady W—— was strikingly handsome in person, and extremely attractive in her manners. She was tall and graceful, the upper part of her face, eyes, brow, and forehead were radiant and sweet, and, though the rest of her features were not regularly beautiful, her countenance was noble and her smile had a peculiar charm of expression at once winning and mischievous. My father said she was very like her fascinating mother, the celebrated Miss Farren. She was extremely kind to me, petting me almost like a spoiled child, dressing me in her own exquisite riding-habit and mounting me on her own favorite horse, which was all very delightful to me. My father and mother probably thought the acquaintance of these distinguished members of the highest English society advantageous to me. I have no doubt they felt both pride and pleasure in the notice bestowed upon me by persons so much my superiors in rank, and had a natural sympathy in my enjoyment of all the gay grandeur and kindly indulgence by which I was surrounded at Heaton. I now take the freedom to doubt how far they were judicious in allowing me to be so taken out of my own proper social sphere. It encouraged my taste for the luxurious refinement and elegant magnificence of a mode of life never likely to be mine, and undoubtedly increased my distaste for the coarse and common details of my professional duties behind the scenes, and the sham splendors of the stage. The guests at Heaton of whom I have a distinct remembrance were Mr. and Lady Harriet Baring, afterward Lord and Lady Ashburton. I knew them both in after-life, and liked them very much; Mr. Baring was highly cultivated and extremely amiable; his wife was much cleverer than he, and in many respects a remarkable woman. The beautiful sisters, Anne and Isabella Forrester, with their brother Cecil, were at Heaton at this time. They were celebrated beauties: the elder, afterward Countess of Chesterfield, was a brunette; the younger, who married Colonel Anson, the most renowned lady-killer of his day, was a blonde; and they were both of them exquisitely pretty, and used to remind me of the French quatrain—
"Vous etes belle, et votre soeur est belle; Entre vous deux, tout choix serait bien doux. L'Amour etait blond, comme vous, Mais il aimait une brune, comme elle."
They had beautiful figures as well as faces, and dressed peculiarly and so as to display them to the greatest advantage. Long and very full skirts gathered or plaited all round a pointed waist were then the fashion; these lovely ladies, with a righteous scorn of all disfigurement of their beauty, wore extremely short skirts, which showed their thorough-bred feet and ankles, and were perfectly plain round their waists and over their hips, with bodies so low on the shoulders and bosom that there was certainly as little as possible of their beautiful persons concealed. I remember wishing it were consistent with her comfort and the general decorum of modern manners that Isabella Forrester's gown could only slip entirely off her exquisite bust. I suppose I felt as poor Gibson, the sculptor, who, looking at his friend and pupil's (Miss Hosmer's) statue of Beatrice Cenci, the back of which was copied from that of Lady A—— T——, exclaimed in his slow, measured, deliberate manner, "And to think that the cursed prejudices of society prevent my seeing that beautiful back!" Count and Countess Batthyany (she the former widow of the celebrated Austrian general, Bubna, a most distinguished and charming woman) were visitors at Heaton at this time, as was also Henry Greville, with whom I then first became acquainted, and who from that time until his death was my kind and constant friend. He was for several years attached to the embassy in Paris, and afterward had some small nominal post in the household of the Duchess of Cambridge, and was Gentleman Gold-Stick in waiting at court. He was not in any way intellectually remarkable; he had a passion for music, and was one of the best society singers of his day, being (that, to me, incomprehensible thing) a melomane for one kind of music only. Passionately fond of Italian operatic music, he did not understand, and therefore cordially detested, German music. He had a passion for the stage; but though he delighted in acting he did not particularly excel in it. He had a taste for everything elegant and refined, and his small house in May-Fair was a perfect casket full of gems. He was a natural exquisite, and perfectly simple and unaffected, a great authority in all matters of fashion both in Paris and in London, and a universal favorite, especially with the women, in the highest society of both capitals. His social position, friendly intimacy with several of the most celebrated musical and dramatic artists of his day, passion for political and private gossip, easy and pleasant style of letter-writing, and general rather supercilious fastidiousness, used sometimes to remind me of Horace Walpole. He had a singularly kind heart and amiable nature, for a life of mere frivolous pleasure had not impaired the one or the other. His serviceableness to his friends was unwearied, and his generous liberality toward all whom he could help either with his interest, his trouble, or his purse was unfailing.
The whole gay party assembled at Heaton, my mother and myself included, went to Liverpool for the opening of the railroad. The throng of strangers gathered there for the same purpose made it almost impossible to obtain a night's lodging for love or money; and glad and thankful were we to put up with and be put up in a tiny garret by our old friend, Mr. Radley, of the Adelphi, which many would have given twice what we paid to obtain. The day opened gloriously, and never was seen an innumerable concourse of sight-seers in better humor than the surging, swaying crowd that lined the railroad with living faces. How dreadfully that brilliant opening was overcast I have described in the letter given above. After this disastrous event the day became overcast, and as we neared Manchester the sky grew cloudy and dark, and it began to rain. The vast concourse of people who had assembled to witness the triumphant arrival of the successful travelers was of the lowest order of mechanics and artisans, among whom great distress and a dangerous spirit of discontent with the Government at that time prevailed. Groans and hisses greeted the carriage, full of influential personages, in which the Duke of Wellington sat. High above the grim and grimy crowd of scowling faces a loom had been erected, at which sat a tattered, starved-looking weaver, evidently set there as a representative man, to protest against this triumph of machinery, and the gain and glory which the wealthy Liverpool and Manchester men were likely to derive from it. The contrast between our departure from Liverpool and our arrival at Manchester was one of the most striking things I ever witnessed. The news of Mr. Huskisson's fatal accident spread immediately, and his death, which did not occur till the evening, was anticipated by rumor. A terrible cloud covered this great national achievement, and its success, which in every respect was complete, was atoned for to the Nemesis of good fortune by the sacrifice of the first financial statesman of the country.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, Friday, October 1, 1830. DEAREST H——,
I have risen very early, for what with excitement, and the wakefulness always attendant with me upon a new bed, I have slept but little, and I snatch this first hour of the day, the only one I may be able to command, to tell you that I have heard from my brother, and that he is safe and well, for which, thank God! Further I know nothing. He talks vaguely of being with us toward the end of the winter, but in the meantime, unless he finds some means of conveying some tidings of his welfare to me, I must remain in utter ignorance of his circumstances and situation. Your letter, which was to welcome me to my new home, arrived there two days before I did, and was forwarded to me into Buckinghamshire. A few days there—taking what interest I could in the sporting and fishing, the country quiet of the place, and above all the privilege of taking the sacrament, which, had I remained at Heaton, I should have had no opportunity of doing—gave me a breathing-time and a sense of mental repose before entering again upon that busy life whose demands are already besieging me in the inexorable form of half a dozen new stage dresses to be devised, ordered, and executed in the shortest imaginable time.
You see how truly I prophesied at the beginning of this letter, when I said that the hour before breakfast was perhaps the only one I should be able to command that day. I might have said that week, for this is the first instant I have been able to call my own since then. I rehearsed Juliet yesterday, and shall do so again to-morrow morning; the theater opens with it to-morrow night. I have a new nurse, and I am rehearsing for her, poor woman! She is dreadfully alarmed at taking Mrs. Davenport's place, who certainly was a very great favorite. I am half crazy with the number of new dresses to be got; for though, thanks to the kindness and activity of my mother, none of the trouble of devising them ever falls on me, yet the bare catalogue of silks and satins and velvets, hats and feathers and ruffs, fills me with amazement and trepidation. I fancy I shall go through all the old parts, and then come out in a new tragedy. I shall be most horribly frightened, but I hope I shall do well, for the sake of the poor author, who is a young man of great abilities, and to whom I wish every success. The subject of his play is taken from a Spanish one, called "The Jew of Aragon," and the whole piece is of a new and unhackneyed order. My father and I play a Jewish father and daughter; this and the novelty of the story itself will perhaps be favorable to the play; I hope so with all my heart.
Mrs. Henry Siddons has taken a house in London for six months; I have not seen her yet, but am most anxious to do so. Anxiety and annoyance, I fear, have just caused her a severe indisposition, but she is a little better now. Mrs. Siddons is much better. She is staying at Leamington at present.
Dearest H——, returning from Buckinghamshire the other day, I passed Cassiobury, the grove, the little lane leading down to Heath Farm, and Miss M——'s cottage, and the first days of our acquaintance came back to my memory. I suppose I should have liked and loved you wherever I had met you, but you come in for a share of my love and liking of Cassiobury, and the spring, the beautiful season in which we met first. I send you the long-promised lock of my hair; you will be surprised at the lightness of the shade—at least, I was. It was cut from my forehead, and I think it is a nice bit; tell me that you get it safe.
Henry is staying in Buckinghamshire in all the ecstasy of a young cockney's first sporting days. When he was quite a child and was asked what profession he intended to embrace, he replied that he would be "a gentleman and wear leather breeches," and I think it is the very destiny he is fitted to fill. He is the perfect picture of happiness when in his shooting-jacket and gaiters, with his gun on his shoulder and a bright day before him; and although we were obliged to return to town, my mother was unwilling to curtail his pleasure, and left him to murder pheasants and hares, and amuse himself in a manly fashion.
I did not like the place at which they were staying as much as they did, for though the country was very pretty, I had during the summer tour seen so much that surpassed it that I saw it at a disadvantage. Then, I have no fancy for gypsying, and the greatest taste for all the formal proprieties of life, and what I should call "silver fork existence" in general; and the inconveniences of a small country inn, without really affecting my comfort, disturb my decided preference for luxury. The principal diversion my ingenious mind discovered to while away my time with was a fiddle (an elderly one), which I routed out of a lumber closet, and from which, after due invocations to St. Cecilia, I drew such diabolical sounds as I flatter myself were never excelled by Tartini or his master, the devil himself. I must now close this, for it is tea-time.
The play of "The Jew of Aragon," the first dramatic composition of a young gentleman of the name of Wade, of whose talent my father had a very high opinion, which he trusted the success of his piece would confirm, I am sorry to say failed entirely. It was the first time and the last that I had the distress of assisting in damning a piece, and what with my usual intense nervousness in acting a new part, my anxiety for the interests of both the author and the theatre, and the sort of indignant terror with which, instead of the applause I was accustomed to, I heard the hisses which testified the distaste and disapprobation of the public and the failure of the play, I was perfectly miserable when the curtain fell, and the poor young author, as pale as a ghost, came forward to meet my father at the side scene, and bravely holding out his hand to him said, "Never mind for me, Mr. Kemble; I'll do better another time." And so indeed he did; for he wrote a charming play on the old pathetic story of "Griselda," in which that graceful actress Miss Jarman played his heroine, and my father the hero, and which had an entire and well-deserved success. I am obliged to confess that I retain no recollection whatever of the ill-fated play of "The Jew of Aragon," or my own part in it, save the last scene alone; this, I recollect, was a magnificent Jewish place of worship, in which my father, who was the high priest, appeared in vestments such as I believe the Jewish priests still wear in their solemn ceremonies, and which were so closely copied from the description of Aaron's sacred pontifical robes that I felt a sense of impropriety in such a representation (purely historical, as it was probably considered, and in no way differing from the costume accepted on the French stage in Racine's Jewish plays). And I think it extremely likely that the failure of the piece, which had been imminent all through, found its climax in the unfavorable impression made upon the audience by this very scene, in spite of my father's noble and picturesque appearance.
I never heard hisses on the stage before or since; and though I was very well aware that on this occasion they were addressed neither to me nor to my performance, I think if they had been the whistling of bullets (which I have also heard nearer than was pleasant) I could not have felt more frightened and furious.
Young Wade's self-control and composure during the catastrophe of this play reminds me, by contrast, of a most ludicrous story my father used to tell of some unfortunate authoress, who, in an evil hour for herself and some friendly provincial manager, persuaded him to bring out an original drama of hers.
The audience (not a very discriminating or numerous one) were sufficiently appreciative to object extremely to the play, and large enough to make their objections noisily apparent.
The manager, in his own distress not unmindful of his poor friend, the authoress, sought her out to console her, and found her seated at the side scene with a glass of stiff brandy and water that some commiserating friend had administered to her for her support, rocking herself piteously to and fro, and, with the tears streaming down her cheeks, uttering between sobs and sips, in utter self-abasement, her peccavi in the form of oaths and imprecations of the finest Billingsgate vernacular (all, however, addressed to herself), that would have made a dragoon shake in his shoes. The original form of which mea culpa seized the worthy manager with such an irresistibly ludicrous effect that he left the poor, guilty authoress without being able to address a syllable to her, lest he should explode in peals of laughter instead of decent words of condolence.
To accompany an author or authoress (I should think especially the latter) on the first night of the representation of their piece is by no means a pleasant act of duty or friendship. I remember my mother, whose own nervous temperament certainly was extremely ill adapted for such an undertaking, describing the intolerable distress she had experienced on the occasion of the first representation of a piece called, I think, "Father and Son," taken from a collection of interesting stories entitled "The Canterbury Tales," and adapted to the stage by one of the Misses Lee, the sister authoresses of the Tales. The piece was very fairly successful, but my mother said that though, according to her very considerable experience, the actors were by no means more imperfect in their parts than usual on a first night, her nervous anxiety was kept almost at fever height by poor Miss Lee's incessant running commentary of "Ah! very pretty, no doubt—very fine, I dare say—only I never wrote a word of it!"
Lord Byron took the same story for the subject of his powerful play of "Werner," in which Mr. Macready acted so finely, and with such great success.
I cannot imagine what possessed me in an unguarded hour to consent, as I did, to go with my friends, Messrs. Tom Taylor and Charles Reade, to see the first representation of a play of theirs called, I think, "The King's Wager," in which Charles the Second, Nell Gwynn, and the Plague were prominent characters. Accidental circumstances prevented one of the gentlemen from coming with me, and I have often since wondered at my temerity in having placed myself in such a trying situation.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, October 24, 1830. DEAR H——,
I have been too busy to answer your last sooner, but this hour before bedtime, the first quiet one for some time, shall be yours. I have heard nothing more of my brother, and am ignorant where he is or how engaged at present. You judged rightly with respect to the impossibility of longer keeping my mother in ignorance of his absence from England. The result was pretty much what I had apprehended; but her feelings have now become somewhat calmer on the subject. We are careful, however, as much as possible, to avoid all mention of or reference to my brother in her presence, for she is in a very cruel state of anxiety about him.
I am endeavoring as much as possible to follow my studies with some regularity. I have forsworn paying and receiving morning visits; so that, when no rehearsal interferes, I get my practicing, my singing, and my reading in tolerable peace.
I have had a key of Russell Square offered me, which privilege I shall most thankfully accept. Walking regularly is, of course, essential, and though I rather dread the idea of solitarily turning round and round that dreary emblem of eternity, a circular gravel-walk, over-gloomed with soot-blackened privet bushes, I am sure I ought, and I mean to do it every day for an hour. We do not dine till six, when I do not act, and when I do, I do not go to the theater till that hour; so that from ten in the morning, when breakfast is over, I get a tolerably long day. I have obtained my father's leave to learn drawing and German, and as soon as our house is a little more comfortably settled, I shall begin both. I do not know whether I have the least talent for drawing, but I have so strong a desire to possess that accomplishment that I think, by the help of a good master and patience and hard work, I must succeed to some decent degree. I wish to provide myself with every possible resource against the engrossing excitement of my profession while I remain in it, and to fill its place whenever I leave it, or it leaves me; all my occupations are with that view and to that end.
My father has promised me to speak to Mr. Murray about publishing my play and my verses. I am anxious for this for several reasons, some of which I believe I mentioned to you; and to these I have since added a great wish to have some good prints I possess framed, for my little room, and I should not scruple to apply part of the money so earned to that purpose. You asked me which is my room. You remember the bathroom, next to what was my uncle John's bedroom, on the third floor; the room above that my mother has fitted up beautifully for me, and I inhabit it all day long with great complacency and a sort of comfortable, Alexander-Selkirk feeling. And this suggests a question which has seldom been out of my mind, and which I wish to recall to yours. When do you intend to come and see me? I can offer you a nest on the fourth story, which is excellent for your health, as free a circulation of air as a London lodging can well afford, and as fine a combination of chimney-pots as even your love of the picturesque could desire.
Dear H——, will you not come and pass a month with us? Now stop a bit, and I will point out to you one by one the inducements to and advantages of such a step. In the first place, my father and mother both request and wish it, and you know how truly happy it would make me. Your own people can well spare you for a month, and I am sure will be the more inclined to do so from the consideration that change of air and scene will be good for you, and that, though your stock of original ideas is certainly extraordinary, yet you cannot be expected to go on for ever, like a spider, existing mentally in the midst of your own weavings, without every now and then recruiting your strength and taking in a new supply of material.
You shall come to London, that huge mass of matter for thought and observation, and to me, in whom you find so interesting an epitome of all the moods, tenses, and conjugations of every regular and irregular form of "to do, to be, and to suffer;" and when you have been sufficiently smoked, fogged, astonished, and edified, you shall return home with one infallible result of your stay with us—increased value for a peaceful life, quiet companions, a wide sea-view, and potatoes roasted in their skins; not but what you shall have the last-mentioned luxury here, if you will but come.
Now, dear H——, I wish this very much, but promise to bear your answer reasonably well; I depend upon your indulging me if you can, and shall try not to behave ill if you don't; so do me justice, and do not give way to your shyness and habits of retirement. I want you to come here before the 20th of November, and then I will let you go in time to be at home for Christmas. So now my cause is in your hands—avisez-vous.
I wonder whether you have heard that my father has been thrashing the editor of the Age newspaper, who, it seems, took offence at my father's not appearing on sufficiently familiar terms with him somewhere or other when they met, in revenge for which "coldness" (as he styles it) he has not ceased for the last six months abusing us, every week, in his paper. From what I hear I was the especial mark of his malice; of course I need not tell you that, knowing the character of this publication, I should never have looked at it, and the circumstance of my name appearing in its columns would hardly have been an inducement to me to do so. I knew nothing, therefore, of my own injuries, but heard general expressions of indignation against Mr. Westmacott, and saw that my father was extremely exasperated upon the subject. The other night they were all going to the play, and pressed me very much to go too, but I had something I wished to write, and remained at home. On their return my father appeared to me much excited, and I was informed that having unluckily come across Mr. Westmacott, his wrath had got the better of his self-command, and he had bestowed a severe beating upon that individual. I could not help looking very grave at this; for though I should have been very well satisfied if it could have rained a good thrashing upon Mr. Westmacott from the sky, yet as I do not approve of returning injuries by injuries, I could not rejoice that my father had done so. I suppose he saw that I had no great satisfaction in the event, for he said, "The law affords no redress against such attacks as this paper makes on people, and I thought it time to take justice in my own hands when my daughter is insulted." He then repeated some of the language made use of with reference to me in the Age, and I could not help blushing with indignation to my fingers' ends.
Perhaps, under the circumstances, it is not surprising that my father has done what he has, but I think I should have admired him more if he had not. Mr. Westmacott means to bring an action against him, and I am afraid he will have to pay dearly for his momentary indulgence of temper.
I must have done writing, though I had a good deal more to say. God bless you, dear. If you answer this letter directly, I will write you a better next time.
Ever yours, F. A. K.
The majority of parents—mothers, I believe I ought to say—err in one or other excess with regard to their children. Love either blinds them absolutely to their defects, or makes them so terribly alive to them as to exaggerate every imperfection. It is hard to say which of the errors is most injurious in its effects. I suppose according as the temperament is desponding and diffident, or sanguine and self-sufficient, the one system or the other is likely to do most harm.
My mother's intensely nervous organization, acute perceptions, and exacting taste made her in everything most keenly alive to our faults and deficiencies. The unsparing severity of the sole reply or comment she ever vouchsafed to our stupidity, want of sense, or want of observation—"I hate a fool"—has remained almost like a cut with a lash across my memory. Her wincing sensitiveness of ear made it all but impossible for me to practice either the piano or singing within hearing of her exclamations of impatient anguish at my false chords and flat intonations; and I suppose nothing but my sister's unquenchable musical genius would have sustained her naturally timid, sensitive disposition under such discipline.
Two of our family, my eldest brother and myself, were endowed with such robust self-esteem and elastic conceit as not only defied repression, but, unfortunately for us, could never be effectually snubbed; with my sister and my younger brother the case was entirely different, and encouragement was rather what they required. How well it is for the best and wisest, as well as the least good and least wise, of trainers of youth, that God is above all. I do not myself understand the love that blinds one to the defects of those dear to one; their faults are part of themselves, without which they could not be themselves, no more to be denied or dissembled, it seems to me, than the color of their eyes or hair. I do not feel the scruple which I observe in others, in alluding to the failings of those they love. The mingled good and evil qualities in my friends make up their individual identity, and neither from myself, nor from them, nor from others does it ever occur to me that half that identity should or could be concealed. I could as soon imagine them without their arms or their legs as without their peculiar moral characteristics, and could no more think of them without their faults than without their virtues.
Many were the pleasant hours, in spite of my misgivings, that I passed with a book in my hand, mechanically pacing the gravel walks of Russell Square. Certain readings of Shakespeare's plays, "Othello" and "Macbeth" especially, in lonely absorption of spirit, I associate for ever with that place. I remember, too, reading at my father's request, during those peripatetic exercises, two plays written by Sheil for his amiable countrywoman, Miss O'Neill, in which she won deserved laurels: "Evadne, or the Statue," and "The Apostate." I never had the pleasure of seeing Miss O'Neill act; but the impression left on my mind by those plays was that her abilities must have been very great to have given them the effect and success they had. As for me, as usual, of course my reply to my father was a disconsolate "I am sure I can do nothing with them."
My friend H—— S——, in coming to us in Russell Street, came to a house that had been almost a home to her and her brother when they were children, in the life of my uncle and Mrs. John Kemble, by whom they were regarded with great affection, and whom they visited and stayed with as if they had been young relations of their own.
My hope of learning German and drawing was frustrated by the engrossing calls of my theatrical occupations. The first study was reserved for a long-subsequent season, when I had recourse to it as a temporary distraction in perplexity and sorrow, from which I endeavored to find relief in some sustained intellectual effort; and I mastered it sufficiently to translate without difficulty Schiller's "Mary Stuart" and some of his minor poems.
As for drawing, that I have once or twice tried to accomplish, but the circumstances of my unsettled and restless life have been unfavorable for any steady effort to follow it up, and I have got no further yet than a passionate desire to know how to draw. If (as I sometimes imagine) in a future existence undeveloped capacities and persistent yearnings for all kinds of good may find expansion and exercise, and not only our moral but also our intellectual being put forth new powers and achieve progress in new directions, then in some of the successive heavens to which, perhaps, I may be allowed to climb (if to any) I shall be a painter of pictures; a mere idea that suggests a heavenly state of long-desired capacity, to possess which, here on earth, I would give at once the finger of either hand least indispensable to an artist. Of the two pursuits, a painter's or a musician's, considered not as arts but as accomplishments merely, the former appears to me infinitely more desirable, for a woman, than the latter far more frequently cultivated one. The one is a sedative, the other an acute stimulant to the nervous system. The one is a perfectly independent and always to be commanded occupation; the other imperatively demands an instrument, utters an audible challenge to attention, and must either command solitude or disturb any society not inclined to become an audience. The one cultivates habits of careful, accurate observation of nature, and requires patient and precise labor in reproducing her models; the other appeals powerfully to the imagination and emotions, and charms almost in proportion as it excites its votaries. With regard to natural aptitude, the most musical of nations—the German—shows by the impartial training of its common schools how universal it considers a certain degree of musical capacity.
Our musical literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the glees, madrigals, rounds, and catches, requiring considerable skill, and familiarly performed formerly in the country houses and home circles of our gentry, and the noble church music of our cathedral choirs, bear witness to a high musical inspiration, and thorough musical training in their composers and executants.
We seem to have lost this vein of original national music; the Lancashire weavers and spinners are still good choristers, but among the German half of our common Teutonic race, the real feeling for and knowledge of music continues to flourish, while with the Anglo-Saxons of Britain and America it has dwindled and decayed.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, November 8, 1830. DEAREST H——,
I received your note, for I cannot honor the contents of your last with the name of a letter (whatever title the shape and quantity of the paper it was written on may claim).
I have made up my mind to let you make up yours, without urging you further upon the subject; but I must reply to one thing. You say to me, could you bring with you a strip of sea-shore, a corner of blue sky, or half a dozen waves, you would not hesitate. Allow my to say that whereas by the sea-side or under a bright sky your society enhances the pleasure derived from them, I now desire it (not having these) as delightful in itself, increasing my enjoyment in the beauties of nature, and compensating for their absence. But I have done; only if Mrs. K—— has held out a false hope to me, she is ferocious and atrocious, and that is all, and so pray tell her.
I had left myself so little room to tell you about this disagreeable business of the Age newspaper, in my last, that I thought what I said of it would be almost unintelligible to you. I do not really deserve the sympathy you express for my feelings in the matter, for partly from being totally ignorant of the nature and extent of my injuries—having never, of course, read a line of that scurrilous newspaper—and partly from my indifference to everything that is said about me, I really have felt no annoyance or distress on the subject, beyond, as I told you, one moment's feminine indignation at a coarse expression which was repeated to me, but which in strict truth did not and could not apply to me; and considerable regret that my father should have touched Mr. Westmacott even with a stick, or a "pair of tongs." That individual intends bringing a suit for damages, which makes me very anxious to have my play and rhymes published, if I can get anything for them, as I think the profits derived from my "scribbles" (as good Queen. Anne called her letters) would be better bestowed in paying for that little ebullition of my father's temper than in decorating my tiny sanctum. What does my poor, dear father expect, but that I shall be bespattered if I am to live on the highway?
Mr. Murray has been kind enough to say he will publish my very original compositions, and I am preparing them for him. I am sorry to say I have heard nothing from my brother; of him I have heard, for his whereabout is known and talked of—so much so, indeed, that my father says further concealment is at once useless and ridiculous. I may therefore now tell you that he is at this moment in Spain, trying to levy troops for the cause of the constitutionalists. I need not tell you, dearest H——, how much I regret this, because you will know how deeply I must disapprove of it. I might have thought any young man Quixotic who thus mistook a restless, turbulent spirit, eager to embrace a quarrel not his own, for patriotism and self-devotion to a sacred cause; but in my brother, who had professed aims and purposes so opposed to tumult and war and bloodshed, it seems to me a subject of much more serious regret. Heaven only knows what plans he has formed for the future! His present situation affords anxiety enough to warrant our not looking further in anticipation of vexation, but even if the present be regarded with the best hope of success in his undertaking, the natural consideration must be, as far as he is concerned, "What follows?" It is rather a melancholy consideration that such abilities should be wasted and misapplied. Our own country is in a perilous state of excitement, and these troubled times make politicians of us all. Of course the papers will have informed you of the risings in Kent and Sussex; London itself is in an unquiet state that suggests the heaving of a volcano before an eruption. It is said that the Duke of Wellington must resign; I am ignorant, but it appears to me that whenever he does it will be a bad day's work for England. The alarm and anxiety of the aristocracy is extreme, and exhibits itself, even as I have had opportunity of observing in society, in the half-angry, half-frightened tone of their comments on public events. If one did not sympathize with their apprehensions, their mode of expressing them would sometimes be amusing.
The aspect of public affairs is injurious to the theater, and these graver interests thin our houses while they crowd the houses of Parliament. However, when we played "The Provoked Husband" before the king and queen the other night, the theater was crammed from floor to ceiling, and presented a most beautiful coup d'oeil. I have just come out in Mrs. Haller. It seems to have pleased the people very much. I need not tell you how much I dislike the play; it is the quintessence of trashy sentimentalism; but our audiences cry and sob at it till we can hardly hear ourselves speak on the stage, and the public in general rejoices in what the servant-maids call "something deep." My father acts the Stranger with me, which makes it very trying to my nerves, as I mix up all my own personal feelings for him with my acting, and the sight of his anguish and sense of his displeasure is really very dreadful to me, though it is only all about "stuff and nonsense" after all.
I must leave off writing; I am excruciated with the toothache, which has tormented me without respite all day. I will inclose a line to Mrs. K——, which I will beg you to convey to her.
With kindest love to all your circle, believe me ever yours,
F. A. K.
Thank you for your delicious French comic song; you should come to London to hear how admirably I sing it.
Mrs. K—— was a Miss Dawson, sister of the Right Honorable George Dawson, and the wife of an eminent member of the Irish bar. She was a woman of great mental cultivation and unusual information upon subjects which are generally little interesting to women. She was a passionate partisan of Owen the philanthropist and Combe the phrenologist, and entertained the most sanguine hopes of the regeneration of the whole civilized world through the means of the theories of these benevolent reformers. Except Queen Elizabeth, of glorious memory, I do not think a woman can have existed who combined the love of things futile and serious to the same degree as Mrs. K——. Her feminine taste for fashionable society and the frivolities of dress, together with her sober and solid studies of the gravest sort and her devotion to the speculations of her friends Owen and Combe, constituted a rare union of contrasts. She was a remarkable instance of the combination exemplified by more than one eminent person of her sex, of a capacity for serious study, solid acquirements, and enlightened and liberal views upon the most important subjects, with a decided inclination for those more trifling pursuits supposed to be the paramount interests of the female mind. She was the dear friend of my dear friend Miss S——, and corresponded with her upon the great subject of social progress with a perfect enthusiasm of theoretical reform.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, November 14th DEAREST H——,
Thank you a thousand times for your kindness in consenting to come to us. We are all very happy in the hope of having you, nor need you be for a moment nervous or uncomfortable from the idea that we shall receive or treat you otherwise than as one of ourselves. I have left my mother and my aunt in the room which is to be yours, devising and arranging matters for you. It is a very small roost, dear H——, but it is the only spare room in our house, and although it is three stories up, it is next to mine, and I hope good neighborhood will atone for some deficiencies. With regard to interfering with the routine or occupations of the family, they are of a nature which, fortunately for your scruples, renders that impossible. There is but one thing in your letter which rather distressed me: you allude to the inconveniences of a woman traveling in mail coaches in December, and I almost felt, when I read the sentence, what my aunt Dall told me after I had requested you to come to us now, that it was a want of consideration in me to have invited you at so ungenial a season for traveling. I had one reason for doing so which I hope will excuse the apparent selfishness of the arrangement. Toward the end of the spring I shall be leaving town, I hope to come nearer your land, and the beginning of our spring is seldom much more mild and inviting or propitious for traveling than the winter itself. Then, too, the early spring is the time when our engagements are unavoidably very numerous; to decline going into society is not in my power, and to drag you to my balls (which I love dearly) would, I think, scarce be a pleasure to you (whom I love more), and to go to them when I might be with you would be to run the risk of destroying my taste for the only form of intercourse with my fellow-creatures which is not at present irksome to me. Think, dear H——, if ceasing to dance I should cease to care for universal humanity—indeed, take to hating it, and become an absolute misanthropist! What a risk!
I have heard nothing more of or from John, but the newspaper reports of the proceedings are rather more favorable than they have been, though I fear one cannot place much reliance on them. I do not know how the papers you see speak of the aspect of affairs in England at this moment; the general feeling seems to be one of relief, and that, whatever apprehensions may have been entertained for the tranquillity of the country, the storm has blown over for the present. Everything is quiet again in London and promises to remain so, and there seems to be a sort of "drawing of a long breath" sensation in the state of the public mind, though I cannot myself help thinking not only that we have been, but that we still are, on the eve of some great crisis.
Mrs. Haller is going on very well; it is well spoken of, I am told, and upon the whole it seems to have done me credit, though I am surprised it has, for there is nothing in the part that gives me the least satisfaction. My next character, I hear, is to be of a very different order of frailty—Calista, in "The Fair Penitent." However odious both play and part are, there are powerful situations in it, and many opportunities for fine acting, but I am afraid I am quite unequal to such a turpissime termagant, with whom my aunt did such tremendous things.
My performance of "The Fair Penitent" was entirely ineffective, and did neither me nor the theater any service; the play itself is a feeble adaptation of Massinger's powerful drama of "The Fatal Dowry," and, as generally happens with such attempts to fit our old plays to our modern stage, the fundamentally objectionable nature of the story could not be reformed without much of the vigorous and terrible effect of the original treatment evaporating in the refining process. Mr. Macready revived Massinger's fine play with considerable success, but both the matter and the manner of our dramatic ancestors is too robust for the audiences of our day, who nevertheless will go and see "Diane de Lys," by a French company of actors, without wincing. Of Mrs. Siddons's Mrs. Haller, one of her admirers once told me that her majestic and imposing person, and the commanding character of her beauty, militated against her effect in the part. "No man, alive or dead," said he, "would have dared to take a liberty with her; wicked she might be, but weak she could not be, and when she told the story of her ill-conduct in the play, nobody believed her." While another of her devotees, speaking of "The Fair Penitent," said that it was worth sitting out the piece for her scene with Romont alone, and to see "such a splendid animal in such a magnificent rage."
My friend left us after a visit of a few weeks, taking my sister to Ireland with her on a visit to Ardgillan.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, December 21st. MY DEAREST H——,
My aunt Dall brought me home word that you wished me to send a letter which should meet you on your arrival at Ardgillan; and I would have done so, but that I had previously promised myself that I would do nothing this day till I had copied out the fourth act of "The Star of Seville," and you know unless I am steady at my work this week, I shall break my word a second time, which is impossible, as it ought to have been at first.
[A tragedy in five acts, called "The Star of Seville," at which I was working, is here referred to. My father had directed my attention to the subject by putting in my hands a sketch of the life and works of Lope de Vega, by Lord Holland. The story of La Estrella de Seviglia appeared to my father eminently dramatic, and he excited me to choose it for the subject of a drama. I did so, and Messrs. Saunders and Ottley were good enough to publish it; it had no merit whatever, either dramatic or poetical (although I think the subject gave ample scope for both), and I do not remember a line of it.]
However, it is nine o'clock; I have not ceased writing except to dine, and my act is copied; and now I can give you an hour before bedtime. How are you? and how is dear A——? Give her several good kisses for me; she is by this time admirable friends with all your circle, I doubt not, and slightly, superficially acquainted with the sea. Tell her she is a careless little puss, though, for she forgot the plate with my effigy on it for Hercules [Miss S——'s nephew] which she was to have given my aunt to pack up. I am quite sorry about it; tell him, however, he shall not lose by it, for I will send him both a plate with the Belvidera and a mug with my own natural head on it, the next time you return home.
I stood in the dining-room listening to your carriage wheels until I believe they were only rolling in my imagination; you cannot fancy how doleful our breakfast was. Henry was perfectly enraged at finding that A—— was gone in earnest, and my father began to wonder how it had ever come to pass that he had consented to let her go. After breakfast, Dall and I walked to Mr. Cartwright's (the dentist), who fortunately did not torture me much; for if he had, my spirits were so exceedingly low that I am sure I should have disgraced myself and cried like a coward. As soon as we came home I set to work, and have never stopped copying till I began this letter, when, having done my day's work, I thought I might tell you how much I miss you and dear A——.
My father is gone to the theater upon business to-night; my mother is very unwell, and Dall and Henry, as well as myself, are stupid and dreary.
My dear H——, tell me how you bore the journey and the cold, and how dear A—— fared on the road; how you found all your people, and how the dell and the sea are looking. Write to me very soon and very long. You have let several stitches fall in one of the muffetees you knit for me, and it is all running to ruin; I must see and pick them up at the theater on Thursday night. You have left all manner of things behind you; among others, Channing's two essays; I will keep all your property honestly for you, and shall soon have time to read those essays, which I very much wish to do.
A large supply of Christmas fare arrived from Stafford to-day from my godmother, and among other things, a huge nosegay for me. I was very grateful for the flowers; they are always a pleasure, and to-day I thought they tried to be a consolation to me.
Now I must break off. Do you remember Madame de Sevigne's "Adieu; ce n'est pas jusqu'a demain—jusqu'a samedi—jusqu' aujourd'hui en huit; c'est adieu pour un an"? and yet I certainly have no right to grumble, for our meeting as we have done latterly is a pleasure as little to have been anticipated as the events which have enabled us to do so, and for which I have so many reasons to be thankful. God bless you, dear H——; kiss dear little A—— for me, and remember me affectionately to all your people.
I am yours ever truly, FANNY.
Dall sends her best love to both, and all; and Henry bids me tell A—— that the name of the Drury Lane pantomime is "Harlequin and Davy Jones, or Mother Carey's Chickens." Ours is yet a secret; he will write her all about it.
Mr. Cartwright, the eminent dentist, was a great friend of my father's; he was a cultivated gentleman of refined taste, and an enlightened judge and liberal patron of the arts. If anything could have alleviated the half-hour's suspense before one obtained admission to his beautiful library, which was on some occasions (of, I suppose, slight importance) his "operating-room," it would have been the choice specimens of lovely landscape painting, by the first English masters, which adorned his dining-room. I have sat by Sir Thomas Lawrence at the hospitable dinner-table, where Mr. Cartwright gave his friends the most agreeable opportunity of using the teeth which he, preserved for them, and heard in his house the best classical English vocal music, capitally executed by the first professors of that school, and brilliant amicable rivalry of first-rate piano-forte performances by Cramer, Neukomm, Hummel, and Moscheles, who were all personal friends of their host.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 3, 1831. MY DEAR H——,
I promised you, in the interesting P.S. I annexed to my aunt Dall's letter, to write to you to-day, and I sit down this evening to fulfill my promise. My father is gone out to dinner, my mother is asleep on the sofa, Dall reclines dozing in that blissful armchair you wot of, and Henry, happier than either, is extended snoring before the fire on the softest, thickest, splendidest colored rug (a piece of my mother's workmanship) that the most poetical canine imagination could conceive; I should think an earthly type of those heavenly rugs which virtuous dogs, according to your creed, are destined to enjoy.
[My friend Miss S—— held (without having so eloquently advocated) the theory of her and my friend Miss Cobbe, of the possible future existence of animals; such animals at any rate as had formed literally a precious part of the earthly existence of their owners, and in whom a certain sense, so nearly resembling conscience, is developed, by their obedience and attachment to the superior race, that it is difficult to consider them unmoral creatures. Perhaps, however, if the choice were given our four-footed friends to share our future prospects and present responsibility, they might decline the offer, "Thankfu' they werena' men, but dogs."]
Dear H——, the pleasant excitement of your society assisted the natural contentedness or indifference of my disposition to throw aside many reflections upon myself and others, the life I lead and its various annoyances, which have been unpleasantly forced upon me since your departure; and when I say that I do not feel happy, you will not count it merely the blue-devilish fancy of a German brain or an English (that is bilious) stomach.
I have a feeling, not of dissatisfaction or discontent so much as of sadness and weariness, though I struggle always and sometimes pretty successfully to rouse myself from it.
You say you wish to know what we did on Christmas Day. I'll tell you. In the morning I went to church, after which I came home and copied "The Star of Seville" till dinner-time. After dinner my mother, who had proposed spending the evening at our worthy pastor's, Mr. Sterky's, finding my father disinclined for that exertion, remained at home and went to sleep; my father likewise, Dall likewise, Henry likewise; and I copied on at my play till bedtime: voila. On Monday, contrary to my expectation, I had to play Euphrasia before the pantomime. You know we were to spend Christmas Eve at my aunt Siddons's; we had a delightful evening and I was very happy. My aunt came down from the drawing-room (for we danced in the dining-room on the ground floor) and sat among us, and you cannot think how nice and pretty it was to see her surrounded by her clan, more than three dozen strong; some of them so handsome, and many with a striking likeness to herself, either in feature or expression. Mrs. Harry and Cecy danced with us, and we enjoyed ourselves very much; I wished for dear A—— exceedingly. Wednesday we dined at Mrs. Mayow's.
[My mother's dear friend, Mrs. Mayow, was the wife of a gentleman in a high position in one of our Government offices. She was a West Indian creole, and a singularly beautiful person. Her complexion was of the clear olive-brown of a perfectly Moorish skin, with the color of a damask rose in her cheeks, and lips as red as coral. Her features were classically symmetrical, as was the soft, oval contour of her face; her eyes and hair were as black as night, and the former had a halo of fine lashes of the most magnificent length. She never wore any head-dress but a white muslin turban, the effect of which on her superb dark face was strikingly handsome, and not only its singularity but its noble and becoming simplicity distinguished her in every assembly, amid the various fantastic head-gear of each successive Parisian "fashion of the day." As a girl she had been remarkably slender, but she grew to an enormous size, without the increased bulk of her person disfiguring or rendering coarse her beautiful face.]
Thursday I acted Lady Townley, and acted it abominably ill, and was much mortified to find that Cecilia had got my cousin Harry to chaperon her two boys to the play that night; because, as he never before went to see me act, it is rather provoking that the only time he did so I should have sent him to sleep, which he gallantly assured me I did. I do not find cousins so much more polite than brothers (one's natural born plagues). Harry's compliment to my acting had quite a brotherly tenderness, I think. Friday, New Year's Eve, we went to a ball at Mrs. G——'s, which I did not much enjoy; and yesterday, New Year's Day, Henry and I spent the evening at Mrs. Harry's. There was no one there but Cecy and her two boys, and we danced, almost without stopping, from eight till twelve.
[The lads my cousin Cecilia called her boys were the two younger sons of her brother George Siddons, Mrs. Siddons's eldest son, then and for many years after collector of the port at Calcutta. These lads and their sisters were being educated in England, and were spending their Christmas holidays with their grandmother, Mrs. Siddons. The youngest of these three schoolboys, Henry, was the father of the beautiful Mrs. Scott-Siddons of the present day. It was in the house of my cousin George Siddons, then one of the very pleasantest and gayest in Calcutta, that his young nephew Harry, son of his sister-in-law, my dear Mrs. Harry Siddons, was to find a home on his arrival in India, and subsequently a wife in Harriet, the second daughter of the house.]
I am to act Juliet to-morrow, and Calista on Thursday; Friday and Saturday I am to act Mrs. Haller and Lady Townley at Brighton. I shall see the sea, that's one comfort, and it will be something to live upon for some time to come. Next Wednesday week I am to come out in Bianca, in Milman's "Fazio." Do you know the play? It is very powerful, and my part is a very powerful one indeed. I have hopes it may succeed greatly. Mr. Warde is to be my Fazio, for, I hear, people object to my having my father's constant support, and wish to see me act alone; what geese, to be sure! I wonder whether they think my father has hold of strings by the means of which he moves my arms and legs! I am very glad something likely to strike the public is to be given before "Inez de Castro" (a tragedy of Miss Mitford's), for it will need all the previous success of a fine play and part to carry us safely through that.
I have not seen Mr. Murray again; I conclude he is out of town just now.
We have made all inquiries about poor dear A——'s trunk, and of course, as soon as we hear of it, it will be sent to her; I am very sorry for her, poor dear little child, but I advise her, when she does get them, to put on each of her new dresses for an hour by turns, and sit opposite the glass in them. Good-by, dear H——. Your affectionate
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, 6th January, 1831. DEAREST H——,
I have only time to say two words to you, for I am in the midst of preparations for our flight to Brighton, to-morrow. Thank you for your last letter; I liked it very much, and will answer it at length when we come back to town.
Mr. Murray has got my MSS., but I have yet heard nothing about it from him. My fire is not in that economical invention, the "miserable basket" [an iron frame fitting inside our common-sized grate to limit the extravagant consumption of coal], but well spread out in the large comfortable grate; yet I am sitting with my door and windows all wide open; it is a lovely, bright, mild spring day. I do not lose my time any more of a morning watching the fire kindling, for the housemaid lights it before I get out of bed, so my poetry and philosophy are robbed of a most interesting subject of meditation.