Old Woman's Gossip


A FEW years ago I received from the friend to whom they had been addressed a collection of my own letters, written during a period of forty years and amounting to thousands — a history of my life.

It has occurred to me that when I am dead some ingenious person may undertake to publish some record of me, similar to those with which the more celebrated members of my family have been honored. Sketches and notices (more or less mendacious and veracious)

I have already been favored with, and so I think my “post mortem examination ” a not impossible event.

My letters constitute a ready written autobiography; and though it would not be easy to find a less important or valuable subject for literary illustration than myself, they contain reminiscences of people and events that may have interest for some of my contemporaries, and furnish entertainment to those who come after me.

The passion for universal history (i. e. any and every body’s story) nowadays seems to render anything in the shape of personal recollections good enough to be printed and read; and as the public appetite for gossip appears to be insatiable, and is not unlikely some time or other to be gratified at my expense, I have thought that my own gossip about myself may be as acceptable to it as gossip about me written by another.

I have come to the garrulous time of life — to the remembering days, which only by a little precede the forgetting ones; I have much leisure, and feel sure that it will amuse me to write my own reminiscences; perhaps reading them may amuse others who have no more to do than I have. To the idle, then, I offer these lightest of leaves gathered in the idle end of autumn days, which have succeeded years of labor often severe and sad enough, though its ostensible purpose was only that of affording recreation to the public.

There are two lives of my aunt Siddons, one by Boaden and one by the poet Campbell. In these biographies due mention is made of my paternal grandfather and grandmother. To the latter, Mrs. Roger Kemble, I am proud to see, by Lawrence’s portrait of her, I bear a personal resemblance; and I please myself with imagining that the likeness is more than “ skin deep.” She was an energetic, brave woman, who, in the humblest sphere of life and most difficult circumstances, together with her husband fought manfully a hard battle with poverty, in maintaining and as well as they could training a family of twelve children, of whom four died in childhood. But I am persuaded that whatever qualities of mind or character I inherit from my father’s family, I am more strongly stamped with those which I derive from my mother, a woman who, possessing no specific gift in such perfection as the dramatic talent of the Kembles, had in a higher degree than any of them the peculiar organization of genius. To the fine senses of a savage rather than a civilized nature, she joined an acute instinct of correct criticism in all matters of art, and a general quickness and accuracy of perception, and brilliant vividness of expression, that made her conversation delightful. Had she possessed half the advantages of education which she and my father labored to bestow upon us, she would, I think, have been one of the most remarkable persons of her time.

My mother was the daughter of Captain Decamp, an officer in one of the armies that revolutionary France sent to invade Switzerland. He married the daughter of a farmer from the neighborhood of Berne. From my grandmother’s home you could see the great Yungfrau range of the Alps, and I sometimes wonder whether it is her blood in my veins that so loves and longs for those supremely beautiful mountains.

Not long after his marriage my grandfather went to Vienna, where, on the anniversary of the birth of the great Empress-King, my mother was born, and named, after her, Maria Theresa. In Vienna, Captain Decamp made the acquaintance of a young English nobleman, Lord Monson (afterwards the Earl of Essex), who, with an enthusiasm more friendly than wise, eagerly urged the accomplished Frenchman to come and settle in London, where his talents as a draughtsman and musician, which were much above those of a mere amateur, combined with the protection of such friends as he could not fail to find, would easily enable him to maintain himself and his young wife and child.

In evil hour my grandfather adopted this advice, and came to England. It was the time when the emigration of the French nobility had filled London with objects of sympathy, and society with sympathizers with their misfortunes. Among the means resorted to for assisting the many interesting victims of the Revolution were representations, given under the direction of Le Texier, of Berquin’s and Madame De Genlis’s juvenile dramas, by young French children. These performances, combined with his own extraordinary readings, became one of the fashionable fancies of the day. I quote from Walter Scott’s review of Boaden’s life of my uncle the following notice of Le Texier: “ On one of these incidental topics we must pause for a moment, with delighted recollection. We mean the readings of the celebrated Le Texier, who, seated at a desk and dressed in plain clothes, read French plays with such modulation of voice and such exquisite point of dialogue as to form a pleasure different from that of the theatre, but almost as great as we experience in listening to a first-rate actor. We have only to add to a very good account given by Mr. Boaden of this extraordinary entertainment, that when it commenced, Mr. Le Texier read over the dramatis personœ, with the little analysis of character usually attached to each name, using the voice and manner with which he afterwards read the part; and so accurate was the key-note given that he had no need to name afterwards the person who spoke; the stupidest of the audience could not fail to recognize them.”

Among the little actors of Le Texier’s troupe, my mother attracted the greatest share of public attention by her beauty and grace, and the truth and spirit of her performances.

The little French fairy was eagerly seized upon by admiring fine ladies and gentlemen, and snatched up into their society, where she was fondled and fooled and petted and played with; passing whole days in Mrs. Fitzherbert’s drawing-room, and many a half-hour on the knees of her royal and disloyal husband, the prince regent, one of whose favorite jokes was to place my mother under a huge glass bell, made to cover some large group of precious Dresden china, where her tiny figure and flashing face produced even a more beautiful effect than the costly work of art whose crystal covering was made her momentary cage. I have often heard my mother refer to this season of her childhood’s favoritism with the fine folk of that day, one of her most vivid impressions of which was the extraordinary beauty of person and royal charm of manner and deportment of the Prince of Wales, and—his enormous appetite: enormous perhaps, after all, only by comparison with her own, which he compassionately used to pity, saying frequently, when she declined the delicacies that he pressed upon her, “ Why, you poor child! Heaven has not blessed you with an appetite.” Of the precocious feeling and imagination of the poor little girl, thus taken out of her own sphere of life into one so different and so dangerous, I remember a very curious instance, told me by herself. One of the houses where she was a most frequent visitor, and treated almost like a child of the family, was that of Lady Rivers, whose brother, Mr. Rigby, while in the ministry, fought a duel with some political opponent. Mr. Rigby had taken great notice of the little French child treated with such affectionate familiarity by his sister, and she had attached herself so strongly to him that on hearing the circumstance of his duel suddenly mentioned for the first time, she fainted away: a story that always reminded me of the little Spanish girl Florian mentions in his Mémoires d’un jeune Espagnol, who at six years of age, having asked a young man of upwards of fiveand-twenty if he loved her, so resented his repeating her question to her elder sister, that she never could be induced to speak to him again.

Meantime, while the homes of the great and gay were her constant resort, the child’s home was becoming sadder, and her existence and that of her parents more precarious and penurious day by day. From my grandfather’s first arrival in London, his chest had suffered from the climate; the instrument he taught was the flute, and it was not long before decided disease of the lungs rendered that industry impossible. He endeavored to supply its place by giving French and drawing lessons (I have several small sketches of his, taken in the Netherlands, the firm, free delicacy of which attest a good artist’s handling), and so struggled on, under the dark London sky and in the damp, foggy, smoky atmosphere, while the poor foreign wife bore and nursed four children.

It is impossible to imagine anything sadder than the condition of such a family, with its dark fortune closing round and over it, and its one little human jewel, sent forth from its dingy case to sparkle and glitter and become of hard necessity the single source of light in the growing gloom of its daily existence. And the contrast must have been cruel enough between the scenes into which the child’s genius spasmodically lifted her, both in the assumed parts she performed and in the great London world where her success in their performance carried her, and the poor home where sickness and sorrow were becoming abiding inmates, and poverty and privation the customary conditions of life: poverty and privation doubtless often increased by the very outlay necessary to fit her for her public appearances, and not seldom by the fear of offending or the hope of conciliating the fastidious taste of the wealthy and refined patrons, whose favor towards the poor little childactress might prove infinitely helpful to her and to those who owned her.

The lives of artists of every description in England are not unapt to have such opening chapters as this; but the calling of a player alone has the grotesque element of fiction, with all the fantastic accompaniments of sham splendor thrust into close companionship with the sordid details of poverty; for the actor alone the livery of labor is a harlequin’s jerkin lined with tatters, and the jester’s cap and bells tied to the beggar’s wallet. I have said artist life in England is apt to have such chapters; artist life everywhere, probably. But it is only in England, I think, that the full bitterness of such experience is felt; for what knows the foreign artist of the inexorable element of Respectability ? In England alone is the pervading atmosphere of respectability that which artists breathe in common with all other men — respectability, that English moral climate, with its neutral tint and temperate tone, so often sneered at in these days by its new German title of Philistinism, so often deserving of the bitterest scorn in some of its inexpressibly mean manifestations — respectability, the preëminently unattractive characteristic of British existence, but which, all deductions made for its vulgar alloys, is, in truth, only the general result of the individual self-respect of individual Englishmen: a wholesome, purifying, and preserving element in the homes and lives of many, where without it the recklessness bred of insecure means and obscure position would run miserable riot: a tremendous power of omnipotent compression, repression, and oppression, no doubt, quite consistent with the stern liberty whose severe beauty the people of those islands love, but absolutely incompatible with license, or even lightness of life, controlling a thousand disorders rampant in societies where it does not exist; a power which, tyrannical as it is, and ludicrously tragical as are the sacrifices sometimes exacted by it, saves especially the artist class of England from those worst forms of irregularity which characterize the Bohemianism of foreign literary, artistic, and dramatic life.

Of course, the pleasure-and-beautyloving, artistic temperament, which is the one most likely to be exposed to such an ordeal as that of my mother’s childhood, is also the one liable to be most injured by it, and to communicate through its influence peculiar mischief to the moral nature. It is the price of peril paid for all that brilliant order of gifts that have for their scope the exercise of the imagination through the senses, no less than for that crown of gifts, the poet’s passionate inspiration, speaking to the senses through the imagination.

How far my mother was hurt by the combination of circumstances that influenced her childhood, I know not. As I remember her, she was a frank, fearless, generous, and unworldly woman, and had probably found in the subsequent independent exercise of her abilities the shield for these virtues. How much the passionate, vehement, susceptible, and most suffering nature was banefully fostered at the same time, I can better judge from the sad vantageground of my own experience.

After six years spent in a bitter struggle with disease and difficulties of every kind, my grandfather, still a young man, died of consumption, leaving a widow and five little children, of whom the eldest, my mother, not yet in her teens, became from that time the bread-winner and sole support.

Nor was it many years before she established her claim to the approbation of the general public, fulfilling the promise of her childish years by performances of such singular originality as to deserve the name of genuine artistic creations, and which have hardly ever been successfully attempted since her time: such as The Blind Boy, and Deaf and Dumb; the latter, particularly in its speechless power and pathos of expression, resembling the celebrated exhibitions of Parisot and Bigottini, in the great tragic ballets in which dancing was a subordinate element to the highest dramatic effects of passion and emotion expressed by pantomime. After her marriage, my mother remained but a few years on the stage, to which she bequeathed, as specimens of her ability as a dramatic writer, the charming English version of La jeune Femme colère, called The Day after the Wedding; the little burlesque of Personation, of which her own exquisitely humorous performance, aided by her admirably pure French accent, has never been equaled; and a play in five acts called Smiles and Tears, taken from Mrs. Opie’s tale of Father and Daughter.

She had a fine and powerful voice, and a rarely accurate musical ear; she moved so gracefully that I have known persons who went to certain provincial promenades frequented by her, only to see her walk; she was a capital horsewoman; her figure was beautiful, and her face very handsome and strikingly expressive; and she talked better, with more originality and vivacity, than any Englishwoman I have ever known: to all which good gifts she added that of being a first-rate cook. And oh, how often and how bitterly, in my transatlantic household tribulations, have I deplored that her apron had not fallen on my shoulders, or round my waist ! Whether she derived this taste and talent from her French blood, I know not, but it amounted to genius, and might have made her a preëminent cordon bleu, if she had not been the wife, and chef-fe, of a poor professional gentleman, whose moderate means were so skillfully turned to account in her provision for his modest table that he was accused by ill-natured people of indulging in the expensive luxury of a French cook. Well do I remember the endless supplies of potted gravies, sauces, meat jellies, game jellies, fish jellies, the white ranges of which filled the shelves of her store-room, — which she laughingly called her boudoir, —almost to the exclusion of the usual currant jellies and raspberry jams of such receptacles: for she had the real bon vivant’s preference of the savory to the sweet, and left all the latter branch of the art to her subordinates, confining the exercise of her own talents, or immediate superintendence, to the production of the above-named “ elegant extracts.” She never, I am sorry to say, encouraged either my sister or myself in the same useful occupation, alleging that we had what she called better ones; but I would joyfully, many a time in America, have exchanged all my boarding-school smatterings for her knowledge how to produce a wholesome and palatable dinner. As it was, all I learned of her, to my sorrow, was a detestation of bad cookery and a firm conviction that that which was exquisite was both wholesomer and more economical than any other. Dr. Kitchener, the clever and amiable author of that amusing book The Cook’s Oracle (his name was a bona fide appellation, and not a drolly devised appropriate nom de plume, and he was a doctor of music and not physic), was a great friend and admirer of hers; and she is the “ accomplished lady ” by whom several pages of that entertaining kitchen companion were furnished to him.

The mode of opening one of her chapters, “I always bone my meat” (bone being the slang word of the day for steal), occasioned much merriment among her friends, and such a look of ludicrous surprise and reprobation from Liston, when he read it, as I still remember.

My mother, moreover, devised a most admirable kind of jujube, made of clarified gum-arabic, honey, and lemon, with which she kept my father supplied during all the time of his remaining on the stage; he never acted without having recourse to it, and found it more efficacious in sustaining the voice and relieving the throat under constant exertion than any other preparation that he ever tried: this she always made for him herself.

The great actors of my family have received their due of recorded admiration; my mother has always seemed to me to have been overshadowed by their celebrity: my sister and myself, whose fate it has been to bear in public the name they have made distinguished, owe in great measure to her, I think, whatever ability has enabled us to do so not unworthily.

I was born on the 27th of November, 1809, in Newman Street, Oxford Road, the third child of my parents, whose eldest, Philip, named after my uncle, died in infancy. The second, John Mitchell, lived to distinguish himself as a scholar, devoting his life to the study of his own language and the history of his country in their earliest period, and to the kindred subject of Northern Archæology.

Of Newman Street I have nothing to say, but regret to have heard that before we left our residence there my father was convicted, during an absence of my mother’s from town, of having planted in my baby bosom the seeds of personal vanity, while indulging his own, by having an especially pretty and becoming lace cap at hand in the drawing-room, to be immediately substituted for some more homely daily adornment when I was exhibited to his visitors. In consequence (probably) of which, I am a disgracefully dress-loving old woman of near seventy, one of whose minor miseries is that she can no longer find any lace cap whatever that is either pretty or becoming to her gray head. If my father had not been so foolish then, I should not be so foolish now, — perhaps.

The famous French actress Mlle. Clairon, recalled, for the pleasure of some foreign royal personage passing through Paris, for one night to the stage, which she had left many years before, was extremely anxious to recover the pattern of a certain cap which she had worn in her young days, in La Coquette corrigée, the part she was about to repeat. The cap, as she wore it, had been a Parisian rage; she declared that half her success in the part had been the cap. The milliner who had made it, and whose fortune it had made, had retired from business, grown old; luckily, however, was not dead: she was hunted up and adjured to reproduce, if possible, this marvel of her art, and came to her former patroness, bringing with her the identical head-gear. Clairon seized upon it: “ Ah oui, c’est bien cela! e’est bien là le bonnet! ” It was on her head in an instant, and she before the glass, in vain trying to reproduce with it the wellremembered effect. She pished and pshawed, frowned and shrugged, pulled the pretty chiffon this way and that on her forehead; and while so doing, coming nearer and nearer to the terrible looking - glass, suddenly stopped, looked at herself for a moment in silence, and then, covering her aged and faded face with her hands, exclaimed, “ Ah, c’est bien le bonnet! mais ce n’est plus la figure!

Our next home, after Newman Street, was at a place called Westbourne Green, now absorbed into endless avenues of “ palatial ” residences, which scoff with regular-featured, lofty scorn at the rural simplicity implied by such a name. The site of our dwelling was not far from the Paddington Canal, and was then so far out of town that our nearest neighbors, people of the name of Cockrell, were the owners of a charming residence in the middle of park-like grounds, of which I still have a faint, pleasurable remembrance. The young ladies, daughters of Mr. Cockrell, really made the first distinct mark I can detect on the tabula rasa of my memory, by giving me a charming pasteboard figure of a little girl, to whose serene and sweetly smiling countenance, and pretty person, a whole book full of painted pasteboard petticoats, cloaks, and bonnets could be adapted; it was a lovely being, and stood artlessly by a stile, an image of rustic beauty and simplicity. I still bless the Miss Cockrells, if they are alive, but if not, their memory, for it!

Of the curious effect of dress in producing the sentiment of a countenance, no better illustration can be had than a series of caps, curls, wreaths, ribbons, etc., painted so as to be adaptable to one face; the totally different character imparted by a helmet or a garland of roses, to the same set of features, is a “ caution ” to irregular beauties who console themselves with the fascinating variety of their expression.

At this period of my life, I have been informed, I began, after the manner of most clever children, to be exceedingly troublesome and unmanageable, my principal crime being a general audacious contempt for all authority, which, coupled with a sweet-tempered, cheerful indifference to all punishment, made it extremely difficult to know how to obtain of me the minimum quantity of obedience indispensable in the relations of a tailless monkey of four years and its elders.

I never cried, I never sulked, I never resented, lamented, or repented either my ill-doings or their ill-consequences, but accepted them alike with a philosophical buoyancy of spirit which was the despair of my poor, bewildered trainers.

Being hideously decorated once with a fool’s cap of vast dimensions, and advised to hide, not my “ diminished head,” but my horrible disgrace, from all beholders, I took the earliest opportunity of dancing down the carriage-drive to meet the postman, a great friend of mine, and attract his observation and admiration to my “helmet,” which I called aloud upon all wayfarers also to contemplate, until removed from an elevated bank I had selected for this public exhibition of myself and my penal costume, which was beginning to attract a small group of passers-by.

My next malefactions were met with an infliction of bread and water, which I joyfully accepted, observing, “ Now I am like those poor dear French prisoners, that everybody pities so.” Mrs. Siddons at that time lived next door to us; she came in one day when I had committed some of my daily offenses against manners or morals, and I was led, nothing daunted, into her awful presence, to be admonished by her.

Melpomene took me upon her lap, and, bending upon me her “ controlling frown,” discoursed to me of my evil ways in those accents which curdled the blood of the poor shopman, of whom she demanded if the printed calico she purchased of him “ would wash.” The tragic tones pausing, in the midst of the impressed and impressive silence of the assembled family I tinkled forth, “What beautiful eyes you have!” all my small faculties having been absorbed in the steadfast upward gaze I fixed upon those magnificent orbs. Mrs. Siddons set me down with a smothered laugh, and I trotted off, apparently uninjured by my great aunt’s solemn moral suasion.

A dangerous appeal of a higher order being made to me by my aunt’s most intimate friend, Mrs. F——, a not very judicious person, to the effect: “ Fanny, why don’t you pray to God to make you better? ” immediately received the conclusive reply, “ So I do, and he makes me worse and worse.” Parents and guardians should be chary of handling the deep chords upon whose truth and strength the highest harmonies of the fully developed soul are to depend.

In short, I was as hopelessly philosophical a subject as Madame Roland, when at six years old receiving her penal bread and water with the comment, “Bon pour la digestion!” and the retributive stripes which this drew upon her with the further observation, “ Bon pour la circulation!” In spite of my “wickedness,” as Topsy would say, I appear to have been not a little spoiled by my parents, and an especial pet and favorite of all their friends, among whom, though I do not remember him at this early period of our acquaintance, I know was Charles Young, that most kindly good man and pleasant gentleman, one of whose many amiable qualities was a genuine love for little children. He was an intimate friend of Mrs. Siddons and her brothers, and came frequently to our house; if the elders were not at home, he invariably made his way to the nursery, where, according to the amusing description he has often since given me of our early intercourse, one of his great diversions was to make me fold my little fat arms, —not an easy performance for small muscles,— and with a portentous frown which puckered up my mouth even more than my eyebrows, receive from him certain awfully unintelligible passages from Macbeth; replying to them, with a lisp that must have greatly heightened the tragic effect of this terrible dialogue, “ My handth are of oo tolor ” (My hands are of your color). Years, how many! after this first lesson in declamation, dear Charles Young was acting Macbeth for the last time in London, and I was his “wicked wife;” and while I stood at the side scenes, painting my hands and arms with the vile red stuff that confirmed the bloody-minded woman’s words, he said to me with a smile, “ Ah ha! My handth are of oo tolor. ”

Not long after this we moved to another residence, still in the same neighborhood, but near the church-yard of Paddington church, which was a thoroughfare of gravel walks, cutting in various directions the green turf, where the flat tombstones formed frequent “ play tables” for us; upon these our nursery maid, apparently not given to melancholy meditations among the tombs, used to allow us to manufacture whole delightful dinner sets of clay plates and dishes (I think I could make such now), out of which we used to have feasts, as we called them, of morsels of cake and fruit. Who knows what ancient funeral feasts we were unconsciously mimicking, or what imperial Cæsar, dead and turned to clay, went to make up our soup tureens and salad bowls? I remember a story of my brother John at this time, which was curiously characteristic of the small schoolboy’s precocious pedantry, The little male ragamuffins of the neighborhood had come to the knowledge that his weekly allowance of shirts assumed fictitious proportions by the “ genteel ” artifice of a fresh collar, undoubtedly of more frequent occurrence than the whole garment of which it was an outward and visible sign; and they made the boy’s life troublesome with the clamorous outcry raised whenever he appeared, “ Here comes the chap with the collar! ” My father, crossing the churchyard one afternoon, came upon a juvenile mob surrounding our favorite tombstone, on which stood his son John, who delivered in his hearing, with good emphasis and discretion, the following pithy oration: “ Sirs! whether I wear one or two shirts a week, or whether I wear one or two collars a week, is, I presume, no concern of yours.” And then, descending from the rostrum with much dignity, the eight-years old Cicero made his way through the small “ sirs,” by dint of fists and elbows, successfully to his own door.

At this time I was about five years old, and it was determined that I should be sent to the care of my father’s sister, Mrs. Twiss, who kept a school at Bath, and who was my godmother. On the occasion of my setting forth on my travels, my brother John presented me with a whole collection of children’s books, which he had read and carefully preserved, and now commended to my use. There were at least a round dozen, and, having finished reading them, it occurred to me that to make a bonfire of them would be an additional pleasure to be derived from them; and so I added to the intellectual recreation they afforded me the more sensational excitement of what I called “a blaze;” a proceeding of which the dangerous sinfulness was severely demonstrated to me by my new care-takers.

Cambden Place, Bath, was one of the lofty terraces built on the charming slopes that surround the site of the Aquæ Solis of the Romans, and here my aunt Twiss kept a girls’ school, which participated in the favor which everything belonging to, or even remotely associated with, Mrs. Siddons received from the public. It was a decidedly “ fashionable establishment for the education of young ladies,” managed by my aunt, her husband, and her three daughters. Mrs. Twiss was, like every member of my father’s family, at one time on the stage, but left it very soon to marry the grim-visaged, gaunt-figured, kind-hearted gentleman and profound scholar whose name she at this time bore, and who, I have heard it said, once nourished a hopeless passion for Mrs. Siddons. Mrs. Twiss bore a soft and mitigated likeness to her celebrated sister; she had great sweetness of voice and countenance, and a graceful, refined, feminine manner, that gave her great advantages in her intercourse with, and influence over, the young women whose training she undertook. Mr. Twiss was a very learned man, whose literary labors were, I believe, various, but whose Concordance of Shakespeare is the only one with which I am acquainted. He devoted himself, with extreme assiduity, to the education of his daughters, giving them the unusual advantage of a thorough classic training, and making of two of them learned women in the more restricted, as well as the more general, sense of the term. These ladies were what so few of their sex ever are, really well informed; they knew much, and they knew it all thoroughly; they were excellent Latin scholars and mathematicians, had read immensely and at the same time systematically, had prodigious memories stored with various and well classed knowledge, and above all were mistresses of the English language, and spoke and wrote it with perfect purity — an accomplishment out of fashion now, it appears to me, but of the advantage of which I retain a delightful impression in my memory of subsequent intercourse with these excellent and capitally educated women. My relations with them, all but totally interrupted for upwards of thirty years, were renewed late in the middle of my life and towards the end of theirs, when I visited them repeatedly at their pretty rural dwelling near Hereford, where they enjoyed in tranquil repose the easy independence they had earned by honorable toil. There the lovely garden, every flower of which looked fit to take the first prize at a horticultural show, the incomparable white strawberries, famous throughout the neighborhood, and a magnificent Angola cat, were the delights of my out-of-door life; and perfect kindness and various conversation, fed by an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, an immense knowledge of books, and a long and interesting acquaintance with society, made the in-door hours passed with these quiet old lady governesses some of the most delightful I have ever known. The two younger sisters died first; the eldest, surviving them, felt the sad solitude of their once pleasant home at “ The Laurels ” intolerable, and removed her residence to Brighton, where, till the period of her death, I used to go and stay with her, and found her to the last one of the most agreeable companions I have ever known.

At the time of my first acquaintance with my cousins, however, neither their own studies nor those of their pupils so far engrossed them as to seclude them from society. Bath was then at certain seasons the gayest place of fashionable resort in England; and, little consonant as Such a thing would appear at the present day with the prevailing ideas of the life of a teacher, balls, routs, plays, assemblies, the Pump Room, and all the fashionable dissipations of the place, were habitually resorted to by these very “ stylish ” school-mistresses, whose position at one time, oddly enough, was that of leaders of “the ton” in the pretty provincial capital of Somersetshire. It was, moreover, understood as part of the system of the establishment, that such of the pupils as were of an age to be introduced into society could enjoy the advantage of the chaperonage of these ladies, and several did avail themselves of it.

What profit I made under these kind and affectionate kinsfolk, I know not; little, I rather think, ostensibly; perhaps some beneath the surface, not very manifest either to them or myself at the time; but painstaking love sows more harvests than it wots of, wherever or whenever (or if never) it reaps them.

I did not become versed in any of my cousins’ learned lore, or accomplished in the lighter labors of their leisure hours, to wit: the shoemaking, breadseal manufacturing, and black and white Japan, table, and screen painting, which produced such an indescribable medley of materials in their rooms, and were fashionable female idle industries of that day.

Of all the pursuits and processes of this sort, from the silk and satin shoemaking of fine ladies then, to the marvels of modern point-lace achieved by them now, a certain invention of my mother’s has always seemed to me one of the most beautiful “ lady’s works ” I have ever seen. It was an idea of her own, and was never, to my knowledge, practiced by anybody but herself. She had certain single figures and groups of figures carved on blocks of wood, precisely as they would have been for woodcut engravings; with these, and the ink usually employed for wood-cuts, she stamped impressions upon cotton velvet of the most brilliant colors, and then with a solution of chemical acid (oxalic, I suppose) removed the whole color from the figure, leaving a pure white image, with all the lines of the wood-cut strongly defining the design, on the velvet surface, and producing the effect of a drawing on ivory, set in a ground of crimson, dark green, or dark blue. I have even known her execute figures of some of Raphael’s cupids on the palest rose and straw color; a Greek or Italian scroll border executed in the same manner gave a finish to these tasteful articles, which were mounted as large screens, or made into cushion covers, and the smaller and more delicate ones into hand-bags, or hand-screens. I remember a beautiful figure of Mars, and one of Venus, taken from the Planets of Raphael in the Chigi chapel of the Santa Maria del Popolo, at Rome, that she so painted; and a group of exquisitely graceful figures from a sacrificial procession, also a composition of Raphael’s, which was made into an antique - shaped stool. There was one reason why this process should not have become generally popular as a mere lady’s amusement: it was expensive, as far as the necessary materials and implements were concerned, and of very uncertain success, for there was an extreme difficulty in confining the action of the acid within the exact lines of the design, and of course the least running of the white beyond the figure spoiled the whole. My mother often said that if she knew how to avoid that accident, she would take out a patent for her pretty device.

Remote from the theatre and all details of theatrical life as my existence in my aunt’s school was, there still were occasional infiltrations of that element which found their way into my small sphere. My cousin John Twiss, who died not very long ago, an elderly general in her Majesty’s service, was at this time a young giant, studying to become an engineer officer, whose visits to his home were seasons of great delight to the family in general, not unmixed on my part with dread; for a favorite diversion of his was enacting my uncle John’s famous rescue of Cora’s child, in Pizarro, with me clutched in one hand and exalted to perilous proximity with the chandelier, while he rushed across the drawing - rooms to my exquisite terror and triumph.

I remember, too, his sisters, all three remarkably tall women (the eldest nearly six feet high, a portentous petticoat stature), amusing themselves with putting on, and sweeping about the rooms in, certain regal mantles and Grecian draperies of my aunt Mrs. Whitelock’s, an actress, like the rest of the Kembles, who sought and found across the Atlantic a fortune and celebrity which it would have been difficult for her to have achieved under the disadvantage of proximity to, and comparison with, her sister, Mrs. Siddons. But I suppose the dramatic impression which then affected me with the greatest and most vivid pleasure was an experience which I have often remembered, when reading Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit, and the opening chapters of Wilhelm Meister. Within a pleasant summer afternoon’s walk from Bath, through green meadows and by the river’s side, lay a place called Claverton Park, the residence of a family of the name of A——. Who, I wonder, survives of those kind and clever people, with whom for many subsequent years my family kept up the friendliest relations! I remember nothing of the house but the stately and spacious hall, in the middle of which stood a portable theatre, or puppetshow, such as Punch inhabits, where the small figures, animated with voice and movement by George A——, the eldest son of the family, were tragic instead of grotesque, and where, instead of the squeaking Don Giovanni of the London pavement, Macbeth and similar solemnities appeared before my enchanted eyes. The troupe might have been the very identical puppet performance of Harry Rowe, the famous Yorkshire trumpeter. These, I suppose, were the first plays I ever saw; they were Shakespearian, and doubtless directed my infant mind towards the genuine glories of that legitimate drama of which, in after years, I was destined to hear my whole family spoken of as among the foremost legitimate defenders. Those were pleasant walks to Claverton, and pleasant days at Claverton Hall! I wish Hans Breitmann and his Avay in die Ewigkeit did not come in, like a ludicrous, lugubrious burden, to all one’s reminiscences of places and people one knew upwards of fifty years ago.

I have been accused of having acquired a bad habit of punning from Shakespeare! — a delightful idea, that made me laugh till I cried, the first time it was suggested to me. If so, I certainly began early to exhibit a result of which the cause was in some mysterious way long subsequent to the effect; unless the Puppet Plays of Claverton inspired my wit. However that may be, I developed at this period a decided facility for punning, and that is an unusual thing at that age. Children have considerable enjoyment of humor, as many of their favorite fairy and other stories attest; they are often themselves extremely droll and humorous in their assumed play characters and the stories they invent to divert their companions; but punning is a not very noble species of wit; it partakes of mental dexterity, requires neither fancy, humor, nor imagination, and deals in words with double meanings, a subtlety very little congenial to the simple and earnest intelligence of childhood. I have known one clever child of four years make a pun that would not have disgraced Hood, but I think generally very few children so exercise their brains. A far more common childish tendency was that with which I about this time (as I have been told) vexed the souls of my elders and betters, by a series of Socratic inquiries upon every family event that attracted my attention; as on the occasion of their putting themselves in mourning for a little child: “ Why have you all put on black frocks?”—“ Because Mary W—— is dead, and we are very sorry.” — “ What is dead? ” — “ Gone out of this world.” — “ Where? ” — “ To heaven.” — “ Has Mary W——gone to heaven ? ” — “ Certainly.” — “Is heaven a nice place? ” — “ The nicest of all places.” — “Is Mary glad to be there?” — “ Very glad.” — “ Then why do you put on black frocks, and be sorry that she is dead? ” This and the like impertinent essays of thought may be met successfully enough, if elders and betters believe in truth; but woe betide the elder and better who has not that sustaining faith in dealing with the demonish spirit of an imp such as I then was. A certain very handsome, dashing, “ stylish ” (in the phrase of that day) Miss B——, who worshiped my uncle John, adored my aunt Siddons, doated on my cousins, and enveloped even me in her allembracing Kemble mania, met me one day walking with Amelia Twiss, and, after various judicious observations with regard to me, wound up with the lines from Byron’s Giaour (just then first intoxicating the young lady mind of Great Britain), declaimed with more emphasis than discretion at my mischievous black eyes, —

“ Her eye’s dark hue’t were vain to tell,
But gaze on that of the gazelle,
And you shall know its lustre well;”

with which profitable remark the fair enthusiast left us. My cousin, mindful of the probable moral effect of this foolery on my small brain, but not careful enough as to the species of antidote she offered me against the pleasing poison of this poetical flattery, said with a grave face, “ It was very good-natured of Miss B——to say those verses to you; she did it because she thought it would please me.” “ Oh,” said I with a face as grave as her own, “did she? I thought she said them to please me, and because my eyes are pretty.”

Les enfans terribles say such things daily, and make their grandmothers’ caps stand on end with their precocious astuteness; but the clever sayings of most clever children, repeated and reported by admiring friends and relations, are for the most part simply the result of unused faculties exercising themselves in, to them, an unused world; only therefore surprising to worn-out faculties, which have almost ceased to exercise themselves in, to them, an almost wornout world.

We have all heard abundance of curious and striking things said by quite unremarkable children, but the only really extraordinary observation I ever heard made by a child was one that indicated a power of reflection and perception of the nature of mental phenomena certainly uncommon in a very young mind.

A little girl not eight years old, who had been reading the story of Hamlet, in Charles Lamb’s Shakespeare Tales, asked if it was true; the reply was, “ Partly true, perhaps; there may have been a King of Denmark of that name, some time or other, but the story you have been reading is a ghost story, and not likely to be true.” “ I know that,” said the child, “but might not Hamlet have imagined that he saw his father’s ghost? To be sure,” she added after a pause, “I suppose Horatio and Marcellus would not have imagined it.” This was really a remarkable observation for so young a child; the lady grew up, much addicted to metaphysics.

To the Miss B—— I have just mentioned I was indebted for the first doll I remember possessing; a gorgeous wax personage, in white muslin and cherrycolored ribbons, who by desire of the donor was to be called Philippa, in honor of my uncle. I never loved or liked dolls, though I remember taking some pride in the splendor of this, my first-born. They always affected me with a grim sense of being a mockery of the humanity they were supposed to represent; there was something uncanny, not to say ghastly, in the doll existence and its mimicry of babyhood, to me, and I had a nervous dislike, not unmixed with fear, of the smiling simulacra that girls are all supposed to love with a species of prophetic maternal instinct. I think dolls, when not indifferent, were rather hateful to me, and that whenever I looked attentively at one, I had a sort of feeling of “ what is it ?” which would have tempted me to hunt for its soul in its sawdust, for “a satisfaction to my thoughts; ” not like Madame Sand’s wonderful little Venetian patrician, with hers, to see “ se avevano il sangue blu.”

The only member of my aunt Twiss’s family of whom I remember at this time little or nothing was the eldest son, Horace, who in subsequent years was one of the most intimate and familiar friends of my father and mother, and who became well known as a clever and successful public man, and a brilliant and agreeable member of the London society of his day.

My stay of a little more than a year at Bath had but one memorable event, in its course, to me. I was looking one evening, at bedtime, over the banisters, from the upper story into the hall below, with tip-toe eagerness that caused me to overbalance myself and turn over the rail, to which I clung on the wrong side, suspended, like Victor Hugo’s miserable priest to the gutter of Notre Dame, and then fell four stories down on the stone pavement of the hall. I was not killed or apparently injured, but whether I was not really irreparably damaged no human being can possibly tell; and I adjure all Christian people inclined to “ do me justice,” to remember that from that time forward my brain may have been hopelessly cracked or concussed, a circumstance the moral and mental effect of which is quite beyond computation.

My next memories refer to a residence which my parents were occupying when I returned to London, called Covent Garden Chambers; now, I believe, celebrated as “ Evans’s,” and where, I am told, it is confidently affirmed that I was born, which I was not; and where, I am told, a picture is shown that is confidently affirmed to be mine, which it is not. My sister Adelaide was born in Covent Garden Chambers, and the picture in question is an oil sketch, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, of my cousin Maria Siddons: quite near the truth enough for history, private or public. It was while we were living here that Mrs. Siddons returned to the stage for one night, and acted Lady Randolph for my father’s benefit. Of course I heard much discourse about this, to us, important and exciting event, and used all my small powers of persuasion to be taken to see her.

My father, who loved me very much, and spoiled me not a little, carried me early in the afternoon into the market place, and showed me the dense mass of people which filled the whole Piazza, in patient expectation of admission to the still unopened doors. This was by way of proving to me how impossible it was to grant my request. However that might then appear, it was granted, for I was in the theatre at the beginning of the performance; but I can now remember nothing of it but the appearance of a solemn female figure in black, and the tremendous roar of public greeting which welcomed her, and must, I suppose, have terrified my childish senses, by the impression I still retain of it; and this is the only occasion on which I saw my aunt in public.

Another circumstance connected in my mind with Covent Garden Chambers was a terrible anguish about my youngest brother, Henry, who was for some hours lost. He was a most beautiful child of little more than three years old, and had been allowed to go out on the door-steps by an exceedingly foolish little nursery maid, to look at the traffic of the great market place. Returning without him, she declared that he had refused to come in with her, and had run to the corner of Henrietta Street, as she averred, where she had left him, to come and fetch authoritative assistance.

The child did not come home, and all search for him proved vain throughout the crowded market and the adjoining thoroughfares, thronged with people and choked with carts and wagons, and swarming with the blocked - up traffic which had to make its way to and from the great mart through avenues far narrower and more difficult of access than they are now. There were not then, either, those invaluable beings, policemen (for whom be ever blessed the memory of Peel), standing at every corner to enforce order and assist the helpless: bluecoated heroes of the area railings, beloved of nurse - maids, kitchen - maids, house - maids, and maids of all work; peacefullest yet most efficient of gensdarmes and sbirri; certainly combining the minimum of aggressive with the maximum of passive authority over the huge populace which they control, for the most part, so well, without unnecessarily provoking its dangerous ill - will. These there were not; and no inquiry brought back any tidings of the poor little lost boy. My mother was ill, and I do not think she was told of the child’s disappearance, but my father went to and fro with the face and voice of a distracted man; and I well remember the look with which he climbed a narrow outside stair, leading only to a rain-water cistern, with the miserable apprehension that his child might have clambered up and fallen into it. The neighborhood was stirred with sympathy for the agony of the poor father, and pitying gossip spreading the news through the thronged market place, where my father’s name and appearance was familiar enough to give a strong personal feeling to the compassion expressed, a baker’s boy, lounging about, caught up the story of the lost child, and described having seen a “pretty little chap with curly hair, in a brown Holland pinafore,” in St. James Square. Thither the searchers flew, and the child was found, tired out with his self-directed wandering, but apparently quite contented, fast asleep on the door-step of one of the lordly houses of that aristocratic square. He was so remarkably beautiful that he must have attracted attention before long, and might perhaps have been restored to his home; but God knows what an age of horror and anguish was lived through by my father and my poor aunt Dall in that short, miserable space of time till he was found.

My aunt Dall, of whom I now speak for the first time, was my mother’s sister, and had lived with us, I believe, ever since I was born. Her name was Adelaide, but the little fellow whose adventure I have just related, stumbling over this fine Norman appellation, turned it into Idallidy, and then conveniently shortened it of its two extremities and made it Dall, by which title she was called by us, and known to all our friends, and beloved by all who ever spoke or heard it. Her story was as sad a one as could well be; yet to my thinking she was one of the happiest persons I have ever known, as well as one of the best. She was my mother’s second sister, and as her picture, taken when she was twenty, shows (and it was corroborated by her appearance till upwards of fifty) she was extremely pretty. Obliged, as all the rest of her family were, to earn her own bread, and naturally adopting the means of doing so that they did, she went upon the stage; but I cannot conceive that her nature can ever have had any affinity with her occupation. She had a robust and rather prosaic common-sense, opposed to anything exaggerated or sentimental, which gave her an excellent judgment of character and conduct, a strong genial vein of humor which very often made her repartees witty as well as wise, and a sunny sweetness of temper and soundness of moral nature that made her as good as she was easy and delightful to live with. Whenever everything went wrong and she was “vexed past her patience,” she used to sing; it was the only indication by which we ever knew that she was what is termed “out of sorts.” She had found employment in her profession under the kindly protection of Mr. Stephen Kemble, my father’s brother, who lived for many years at Durham and was the manager of the theatre there, and according to the fashion of that time traveled with his company, at stated seasons, to Newcastle, Sunderland, and other places, which formed a sort of theatrical circuit in the northern counties, throughout which he was well known and generally respected.

In his company my aunt Dall found employment, and in his daughter, Fanny Kemble, since well known as Mrs. Robert Arkwright, an inseparable friend and companion. My aunt lived with Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Kemble, who were excellent, worthy people, doing their duty in the very laborious and not very exalted vocation of country actors. They took good care of the two young girls under their charge, this linsey-woolsey Rosalind and Celia, — their own beautiful and most rarely endowed daughter and her light-hearted, lively companion; and I suppose that a merrier life than that of these lasses, in the midst of their quaint theatrical tasks and homely household duties, was seldom led by two girls in any sphere of life. They learned and acted their parts, devised and executed with small means and great industry their dresses; made pies and puddings, and patched and darned, in the morning, and by dint of paste and rouge became heroines in the evening; and withal were well-conducted, good young things, full of the irrepressible spirits of their age, and turning alike their hard home work and light stage labor into fun. My aunt has often told me how, walking with her in the cathedral close, more than one inhabitant of which was then a grave and benign patron of the drama and a kind friend of the manager, it was her delight suddenly to tell his daughter that she would make believe that she (Fanny Kemble) was tipsy, and that she was being conducted home by her sober and considerate companion. The joke never failed of its effect, and no sooner was the mischievous intention announced and poor Fanny Kemble’s arm taken by my aunt with affectionately severe admonitions “ to take care how she walked and not expose herself,” than the most uncontrollable laughter would seize upon the helpless victim, who inherited her father’s unwieldy and ungainly figure; — she had also inherited the beauty of his family, which in her most lovely countenance had a character of childlike simplicity and serene sweetness that made it almost angelic.

Far on in middle age she retained this singularly tender beauty, which added immensely to the exquisite effect of her pathetic voice in her incomparable rendering of the ballads she composed (the poetry as well as the music being often her own), and to which her singing of them gave so great a fashion at one time, in the great London world. It was in vain that far better musicians, with far finer voices, attempted to copy her inimitable musical recitation; nobody ever sang like her, and still less did anybody ever look like her while she sang. But on the occasions of which I was speaking, when she was being “ carefully taken home ” by my aunt, the poor girl’s heavy figure, shaken with paroxysms of laughter, heaved and rolled about almost beyond the guidance of her perfidious companion, and her suffocating expostulations and entreaties, and streaming eyes and tottering, unsteady steps, would certainly have confirmed to any one who had met them the impression conveyed by my aunt’s words, that she was guiding home her helplessly inebriated friend. Practical jokes of very doubtful taste were the fashion of that day, and remembering what wonderfully coarse and silly proceedings were then thought highly diverting by “ vastly genteel ” people, it is not, perhaps, much to be wondered at that so poor a piece of wit as this should have furnished diversion to a couple of light - hearted girls, with no special pretentions to elegance or education. Another time they were driving together in a post-chaise on the road to Newcastle, and my aunt, having at hand in a box part of a military equipment intended for some farce, accoutred her upper woman in a soldier’s cap, stock, and jacket, and, with heavily corked mustaches, persisted in embracing her companion, whose frantic resistance, screams of laughter, and besmirched checks elicited comments of boundless amazement, in broad northcountry dialect, from the market folk they passed on the road, to whom they must have appeared the most violent runaway couple that ever traveled.

Liston, the famous comedian, was at this time a member of the Durham company, and though he began his career there by reciting Collins’s Ode to the Passions, attired in a pea-green coat, buckskins, top boots, and powder, with a scroll in his hand; and followed this essay of his powers with the tragic actor’s battle-horse, the part of Hamlet; he soon found his peculiar gift to lie in the diametrically opposite direction of broad farce. Of this he was perpetually interpolating original specimens in the gravest performances of his fellow-actors; on one occasion, suddenly presenting to Mrs. Stephen Kemble, as she stood disheveled at the side scene, ready to go on the stage as Ophelia in her madness, a basket with carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, and pot-herbs, instead of the conventional flowers and straws of the stage maniac, which sent the representative of the fair Ophelia on in a broad grin, with ill-suppressed fury and laughter, which must have given quite an original character of verisimilitude to the insanity she counterfeited.

On another occasion he sent all the little chorister boys on, in the lugubrious funeral procession in Romeo and Juliet, with pieces of brown paper in their hands to wipe their tears with.

The suppression of that very dreadful piece of stage pageantry has at last, I believe, been conceded to the better taste of modern audiences; but even in my time it was still performed, and an exact representation of a funeral procession, such as one meets every day in Rome, with torch-bearing priests, and bier covered with its black velvet pall embroidered with skull and cross-bones, with a corpse-like figure stretched upon it, marched round the stage, chanting some portion of the fine Roman Catholic requiem music. I have twice been in the theatre when persons have been seized with epilepsy during that ghastly exhibition, and think the good judgment that has discarded such a mimicry of a solemn religious ceremony highly commendable.

Another evening, Liston, having painted Fanny Kemble’s face like a clown’s, posted her at one of the stage side doors to confront her mother, poor Mrs. Stephen Kemble, entering at the opposite one to perform some dismally serious scene of dramatic pathos, who, on suddenly beholding this grotesque apparition of her daughter, fell into convulsions of laughter and coughing, and half audible exclamations of “ Go away, Fanny ! I’ll tell your father, miss! ” which must have had the effect of a sudden seizure of madness to the audience, accustomed to the rigid decorum of the worthy woman in the discharge of her theatrical duties.

Long after these provincial exploits, and when he had become the comedian par excellence of the English stage, for which eminence nature and art had alike qualified him by the imperturbable gravity of his extraordinarily ugly face, which was such an irresistibly comical element in his broadest and most grotesque performances, Mr. Liston used to exert his ludicrous powers of tormenting his fellow-actors in the most cruel manner upon that sweet singer, Miss Stephens (afterwards Countess of Essex). She had a curious nervous trick of twitching her dress before she began to sing; this peculiarity was well known to all her friends, and Liston, who certainly was one of them, used to agonize the poor woman by standing at the side scene, while the symphony of her pathetic ballads was being played, and indicating by his eyes and gestures that something was amiss with the trimming or bottom of her dress: when, as invariably as he chose to play the trick, poor Miss Stephens used to begin to twitch and catch at her petticoat, and half hysterical, between laughing and crying, would enchant and entrance her listeners with her exquisite voice and pathetic rendering of Savourneen Deelish, or the Banks of Allan Water.

But among the merry Durham player folk the laughing had an end, and saddest tragedy of reality came crashing down into the midst of these poor foolish people’s mirth.

Frances Anne Kemble.