THE success of the English theatre in Paris was quite satisfactory; and all the most eminent members of the profession, — Kean, Young, Macready, and my father, — went over in turn to exhibit to the Parisian public Shakespeare the Barbarian, illustrated by his barbarian fellow - countrymen. I do not remember hearing of any very eminent actress joining in that worthy enterprise; but a Miss Smithson, a young lady with a figure and face of Hibernian beauty, whose superfluous native accent was no drawback to her merits in the esteem of her French audience, represented to them the heroines of the English tragic drama; the incidents of which, infinitely more startling than any they were used to, invested their fair victim with an amazing power over her foreign critics, and she received from them, in consequence, a rather disproportionate share of admiration, — due, perhaps, more to the astonishing circumstances in which she appeared before them than to the excellence of her acting under them. The bride snatched from her bier and carried in her shroud to the front of the stage by her lover, already staggering under the draught of death in which his despair has pledged her; the wife smothered in her bed and sobbing from beneath its pillows; the strangled cries for mercy, and piteous farewells to life and love, were very different objects of compassion to the stately mesdames of the French tragedies, withdrawing in the midst of the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of their pathos and passion, to stab themselves and die in decent privacy behind the scenes.
One of the most enthusiastic admirers of the English representations said to my father, “ Ah! parlez moi d’Othello! voilà, voilà la passion, la tragédie. Dieu! que j’aime cette pièce! il y a tant de remue-ménage.” And, taking that rather peculiar expression in a literal sense, it is no doubt painfully true of poor Othello’s domestic affairs.
A few rash and superficial criticisms were hardly to be avoided; but in general, my father has often said, in spite of the difficulty of the foreign language, and the strangeness of the foreign form of thought and feeling and combination of incident, his Parisian audience never appeared to him to miss the finer touches or more delicate and refined shades of his acting; and in this respect he thought them superior to his own countrymen. Lamartine and Victor Hugo had already proclaimed the enfranchisement of French poetical thought from the rigid rule of classical authority; and all the enthusiastic believers in the future glories of the “ Muse Romantique ” went to the English theatre to be amazed if not daunted by the breadth of horizon and height of empyrean which her wings might sweep, and into which she might soar, “ puisque Shakespeare l’a bien osé.”
ST. JAMES STREET, BUCKINGHAM. GATE, October 11, 1827. }
MY DEAREST H—: I do not think you would have been surprised at my delay in answering your last, when I told you that on arriving here I found that all my goods and chattels had been (according to my own desire) only removed hither, and that their arrangement and bestowal still remained to be effected by myself; and when I tell you that I have settled all these matters, and moreover finished my play. I think you will excuse my not having answered you sooner. Last Monday, having in the morning achieved the termination of the fourth act, and finding that my father did not act on Tuesday, I resolved, if possible, to get it finished in order to read it to him on Tuesday evening. So on Monday evening at six o’clock I sat down to begin my fifth act, and by half past eleven had completed my task; I am thus minute because I know you will not think these details tiresome, and also because, even if it succeeds and is praised and admired, I shall never feel so happy as when my father greeted my entrance into the drawing-room with “ Is it done, my love? I shall be the happiest man alive if it succeeds! ”
On Tuesday evening I read it to them, and I was so encouraged by the delighted looks my father and mother were continually exchanging that I believe I read it with more effect than they either of them had thought me capable of. When it was done I was most richly rewarded, for they all seemed so pleased with me and so proud of me that the most inordinate author’s vanity would have been satisfied. And my dear mother, oh, how she looked at me! — forgive me, dear, and grant some little indulgence to my exultation. I thought I deserved some praise, but thrice my deserts were showered upon me by those I love above everything in the world.
When commendation and congratulation had a little given way to rellection, my mother and John entreated my father not to let the play be acted, or, if he did, to have it published first; for they said (and their opinion has been sanctioned by several literary men) that the work as a literary production (I repeat what they say, mind) has merit enough to make it desirable that, the public should judge of it as a poetical composition before it is submitted to the mangling necessary for the stage, and the additional unnecessary mangling which poetry not seldom receives there.
Of course, my task being finished, I have nothing more to do with it; nor do I care whether it is published first or after, provided only it may be acted: though I dare say that process may not prove entirely satisfactory to me either; for though Mr. Young and my father would thoroughly embody my conception of the parts intended for them, yet there is a woman’s part which, Considering the materials history has furnished, ought to be a very fine one — Louisa of Savoy; and it must be cut, down to the capacity of a second-rate actress. The character would have been the sort of one for Mrs. Siddons; how I wish she was yet in a situation to afford it the high preferment of her acceptance! And now, dearest H—, let me talk of something else, for you must be sick of my play. My father has obtained a most unequivocal success in Paris, the more flattering as it was rather doubtful, and the excellent Parisians not only received him very well, but forthwith threw themselves into a headlong furore for Shakespeare and Charles Kemble, which, although they might not improbably do the same to - morrow for two dancingdogs, we are quite willing to attribute to the merits of the poet and his interpreter. The French papers have been profuse in their praises of both, and some of our own have quoted their commendations. My mother is, I think, recovering, though slowly, from her long illness. She is less deaf and rather less blind. These two shocking inconveniences she will soon, I trust, be entirely rid of; but for the general state of her health, time, and time alone, will, I am sure, restore it entirely. I have just seen the dress that my father had made abroad for his part in my play: a bright amber - colored velours épinglé, with a border of rich silver embroidery; this, together with a cloak of violet velvet trimmed with imitation sable. The fashion is what you see in all the pictures and prints of Francis I. I wonder if this interests you at all now. My father is very anxious, I think, to act the play; my mother, to have it published before it is acted; and I sit and hear it discussed and praised and criticised, only longing (like a “ siily wench,” as my mother calls me when I confess as much to her) to see my father in his lovely dress and hear the alarums of my fifth act.
I am a little mad, I suppose, and my letter a little tipsy, I dare say, but I am ever vour most affectionate
P. S. I have not seen my uncle John’s monument yet, though we are not five minutes from the abbey; but every report I have heard of it has been unfavorable.
16 ST. JAMES STREET, BUCKINGHAM GATE, WESTMINSTER, October 21, 1827. }
MY DEAR H—: Your letter was short and sweet, but none the sweeter for being short. I should have thought no one could have been worse provided than myself with news or letter chitchat, and yet I think my letters are generally longer than yours; brevity, in you, is a fault; do not be guilty of it again: “ car du reste,” as Madame de Sévigné says, “ votre style est parfait.” John returned to Cambridge on Thursday night. He is a great loss to me, for though I have seen but little of him since our return to town, that little is too much to lose of one we love. He is an excellent fellow in every way, and in the way of abilities be is particularly to my mind. We all miss him very much; however, his absence will be broken now by visits to London, in order to keep his term [about this time my brother was entered at the Inner Temple, I think], so that we shall occasionally enjoy his company for a day or two. I should like to tell you something about my play, but unluckily have nothing to tell; everything about it is as undecided as when last I wrote to you. It is in the hands of the copyist of Covent Garden, but what its ultimate fate is to be I know not. If it is decided that it is to be brought out on the stage before publication, that will not take place at present, because this is a very unfavorable time of year. If I can send it to Ireland, tell me how I can get it conveyed to you, and I will endeavor to do so. I should like you to read it, but oh, how I should like to go and see it acted with you! I am now full of thoughts of writing a comedy, and have drawn out the plan of one — plot, acts, and scenes in due order — already; and I mean to make it Italian and mediæval, for the sake of having one of those bewitching creatures, a jester, in it; I have an historical one in my play, Triboulet, whom I have tried to make an interesting as well as an amusing personage.
My mother, by the aid of a blister and my play, is, I think, recovering, though slowly, from her illness; she is still, though, in a slate of great suffering, which is by no means alleviated by being unable to write, read, work, or occupy herself in any manner.
We have been to the play pretty regularly twice a week for the last three weeks, and shall continue to do so during the whole winter; which is a plan I much approve of. I am very fond of going to the play, and Kean, Young, and my father make one of Shakespeare’s plays something well worth seeing. I saw the Merchant of Venice, the other evening, for the first time, and returned home a violent Keanite. That man is an extraordinary creature! Some of the things he did appeared, on reflection, questionable to my judgment and open to criticism; but while under the influence of his amazing power of passion it is impossible to reason, analyze, or do anything but surrender one’s self to his forcible appeals to one’s emotions. He entirely divested Shylock of all poetry or elevation, but invested it with a concentrated ferocity that made one’s blood curdle. He seemed to me to combine the supernatural malice of a fiend with the base reality of the meanest humanity. His passion is prosaic, but all the more intensely terrible for that very reason. I am to see him to-morrow in Richard III., and, though I never saw the play before, am afraid I shall be disappointed, because Richard III. is a Plantagenet prince, and should be a royal villain, and I am afraid Mr. Kean will not have the innate majesty which I think belongs to the part; however, we shall see, and when next I write I will tell you how it impressed me.
You deserve that I should bestow all my tediousness upon you for loving me as well as you do. Mrs. Harry Siddons and her daughter are here for two or three days, on their return from their tour through Switzerland. Mrs. Harry is all that is excellent, though she does not strike me as particularly clever; and Lizzy is a very pretty, very good, very sweet, very amiable girl. Her brother, my cousin, the midshipman, is here too, having come up from Portsmouth to meet his mother and sister, so that the house is full. Think of that happy girl having traveled all tlirough Switzerland, seen the Jungfrau, — Manfred’s mountain, — been in two violent storms at night on the lakes, and telling me placidly that “ she liked it all very well.” Oh dear, oh dear! how queerly Heaven does distribute privileges! Good-by, dear. Yours ever,
16 ST. JAMES STREET, BUCKINGHAM GATE, December, 1827. }
MY DEAREST H—; My heart is full of joy, and I write that you may rejoice with me; our dear John has distinguished himself greatly, but lest my words should seem sisterly and exaggerated, I will repeat what Mr. Peacock, his tutor, wrote to my father: “ He has covered himself with glory. Such an oration as his has not been heard for many years in Cambridge,’and it was as tastefully and modestly delivered as it was well written.” This has made us all very, very happy, and though the first news of it overcame my poor mother, whose nerves are far from firm, she soon recovered, and we are impatiently expecting his return from college. I dare say, dearest H—, you have been fancying me in all the bustle, importance, and self-absorption of full-blown authorship; but my play is at present only being pruned by my father, and will therefore not occupy my thoughts again till it comes out, which I hope will be at Easter. I did not write sooner because I had nothing to say, but now that this joy about my brother has come to me, je te l'envoie. Since last you heard from me I have seen the great West India Dock and the Thames Tunnel. Oh, H—, “ que c’est une jolie chose que l’homme! ” Annihilated by any one. of the elements if singly opposed to its power, he by his genius yet brings their united forces into bondage, and compels obedience from all their manifold combined strength. We penetrate the earth, we turn the course of rivers, we exaltthe valleys and bow down the mountains; and we die and return to our dust, and they remain and remember us no more. The man whose genius and perseverance have completed in this tunnel one of the most extraordinary of human achievements will, perhaps even before his conception is perfected in its outward execution, be gone from the face of the earth, while his work will remain to be wondered at by future ages who will know nothing of him but his name, if even that. Often enough, indeed, the names of great inventors and projectors have been overshadowed or effaced by mere finishers of their work or adapters of their idea, who have reaped the honor and emolument due to an obscure originator, who passes away from the world, his rightful claim to its admiration and gratitude unknown or unacknowledged. But these obey the law of their being; they cannot but do the work God’s inspiration calls them to.
But I must tell you what this tunnel is like, or at least try to do so. You enter, by flights of stairs, the first door, and find yourself on a circular platform which surrounds the top of a well or shaft, of about two hundred feet in circumference and five hundred in depth. This well is an immense iron frame of cylindrical form, filled in with bricks; it was constructed on level ground, and then, by some wonderful mechanical process, sunk into the earth. In the midstof this is a steam engine, and above, or below, as far as your eye can see, huge arms are working up and down, while the creaking, crashing, whirring noises, and the, swift whirling of innumerable wheels all round you, make you feel for the first few minutes as if you were going distractedI should have liked to look much longer at all these beautiful, wise, working creatures, but was obliged to follow the rest of the party through all the machinery, down little wooden stairs and along tottering planks, to the bottom of the well. On turning round at the foot of the last flight of steps through an immense dark arch, as far as sight could reach stretched a vaulted passage, smooth earth underfoot, the white arches of the roof beyond one another lengthening on and on in prolonged vista, the whole lighted by a line of gas lamps and as bright, almost, as if it were broad day. It was more like one of the long avenues of light that lead to the abodes of the genii, in fairy tales, than anything I had ever beheld. The profound stillness of the place, which was first broken by my father’s voice, to which the vaulted roof gave extraordinary and startling volume of tone, the indescribable feeling of subterranean vastness, the amazement and delight I experienced, quite overcame me, and I was obliged to turn from the friend who was explaining everything to me, to cry and ponder in silence. How I wish you had been with us, dear H—! Our name is always worth something to us: Mr. Brunel, who was superintending some of the works, came to my father and offered to conduct us to where the workmen were employed, — an unusual favor, which of course delighted us all. So we left our broad, smooth path of light, and got into dark passages where we stumbled among coils of ropes and heaps of pipes and piles of planks, and where ground springs were welling up and flowing about in every direction, all which was very strange. As you may have heard, the tunnel caved in once, and let the Thames in through the roof; and in order that, should such an accident occur again, no lives may be lost, an iron frame has been constructed, a sort of cage, divided into many compartments, in each of which a man with his lantern and his tools is placed, — and as they clear the earth away this iron frame is moved onward and advances into new ground. All this was wonderful and curious beyond measure, but the appearance of the workmen themselves, all begrimed, with their brawny arms and legs bare, some standing in black water up to their knees, others laboriously shoveling the black earth in their cages (while they sturdily sung at their task), with the red, murky light of links and lanterns flashing and flickering about them, made up the most striking picture you can conceive. As we returned I remained at the bottom of the stairs last of all to look back at the beautiful road to Hades, wishing I might be left behind, and then we reascended through wheels, pulleys, and engines, to the upper day. After this we rowed down the river to the docks, lunched on board a splendid East Indiaman, and came home again. I think it is better for me, however, to look at the trees, and the sun, moon, and stars, than at tunnels and docks; they make me too humanity proud.
I am reading Vivian Grey. Have you read it? It is very clever. Ever your most affectionate FANNY.
16 ST. JAMES STREET, BUCKINGHAM GATE, January, 1828. }
DEAREST H—: I jumped, in despite of a horrid headache, when I saw your letter. Indeed, if you knew how the sight of your handwriting delights me, you would not talk of lack of matter; for what have I to tell you of more interest for you, than the health and proceedings of those you love must be to me?
Dear John is come home with his trophy, He is really a highly gifted creature; but 1 sometimes fear that the passionate eagerness with which he pursues his pursuit, the sort of frenzy he has about politics, and his constant excitement about political questions, may actually injure his health, and the vehemence with which he speaks and writes in support of his peculiar views will perhaps endanger his future prospects.
He is neither tory nor whig, but a radical, a utilitarian, an adorer of Bentham, a worshiper of Mill, an advocate for vote by ballot, an opponent of hereditary aristocracy, the church establishment, the army and navy, which he deems sources of unnecessary national expense; though who is to take care of our souls and bodies, if the three last-named institutions are done away with, I do not quite see. Morning, noon, and night he is writing whole volumes of arguments against them, full of a good deal of careful study and reading, and in a close, concise, forcible style, which is excellent in itself, and the essays are creditable to his laborious industry; but they will not teach him mathematics, or give him a scholarship or his degree. That he will distinguish himself hereafter I have no doubt; but at present he is engrossed by a passion (for it seems to me nothing less) which occupies his mind and time to the detriment, if not the exclusion, of all other studies.
I feel almost ashamed of saying anything about myself, after the two or three scoldings you have sent me of late. Perhaps while my blue devils found vent in ridiculous verses, they did not much matter; but their having prompted me lately to throw between seven and eight hundred pages (about a year’s work) into the fire seems to me now rather deplorable. You perhaps will say that the fire is no bad place for seven or eight hundred pages of my manuscript; but I had spent time and pains on them, and I think they should not have been thrown away in a foolish fit of despondency. I am at present not very well. I do not mean that I have any specific illness, but head-aches and side-aches, so that I am one moment in a state of feverish excitement and the next nervous and low-spirited; this is not a good account, but a true one.
This is the new year. I should be loath to be out of the fashion of the season, so I wish you many happy years, with all my heart; and before many of them pass away I wish I may see you again. I cannot copy out my play for you, but if you will desire Mr. S—to be kind enough to let me know when he sends to you, I will send you the original copy, which I beg you will approve of, if you can read it. My dislike to the society of my fellow-beings does not, as you observe, prevent my admiring their works. I was always a great admirer of that ingeuious and splendid building, pandemonium, and thought it both wonderful and beautiful, though devised by devils. It seems to me that funds are just now wanting for all sorts of enterprises. Not only is the construction of the Thames Tunnel in danger of being stopped, but I doubt if the new palace which is building two doors off from us will be finished for some time, in consequence of the want of money, which material want will probably, for a considerable time, protect us from being built out of the park which lies before our windows across the street, without any intervening houses.
I have no “ new friends,” dearest H—; perhaps because my dislike to society makes me stupid and disagreeable when I am in it. I have made one acquaintance, which might perhaps grow to a friendship were it not that distance and its attendant inconveniences have hitherto prevented my becoming more intimate with the lady I refer to She is a married woman; her name is Jameson. She is an Irishwoman, and the authoress of the Diary of an Ennuyée. I like her very much; she is extremely clever; I wish I knew her better. I have been to one dance and one or two dinners lately, but to tell you the truth, dear H-, the old people naturally treat me after my years, as a young person, and the young people (perhaps from my self-conceit) seem to me stupid and uninteresting, and so, you see, I do not like society. Cecilia Siddons is out of town at present, and I have not seen her for some time. You may have heard that the theatre has gained a law-suit against Sinclair, the celebrated singer, by a reversal of the former verdict in the case. We were not even aware that such a process was going on, and when my father came home and said, “We have won our cause,” my mother and myself started up, supposing he meant the chancery suit. That, unfortunately, is still pending, pending, like the sword of Damocles, over our heads, banishing all security for the present or hope for the future. The theatre is, I believe, doing very well just now, and we go pretty often to the play, which I like. I have lately been seeing my father play Falstaff several times, and I think it is an excellent piece of acting; he gives all the humor without too much coarseness, or charging, and through the whole, according to the fat knight’s own expression, he is “ Sir John to all the world,” with a certain courtly deportment which prevents him from degenerating into the mere gross buffoon. They are in sad want of a woman at both the theatres. I’ve half a mind to give Covent Garden one. Don’t be surprised. I have something to say to you on this subject, but have not room for it in this letter. My father is just now acting in the north of England. We expect him back in a fortnight. God bless you, dear H-.
Yours ever, FANNY.
The vehement passion of political interest which absorbed my brother at this time was in truth affecting the whole of English society almost as passionately. In a letter written in 1827, the Duke of Wellington, after speaking of the strong partisan sentiment which was agitating the country, added, “ The ladies and all the youth are with us; ” that is, with the tory party, which, under his leadership, was still an active power of obstruction to the imminent changes to which both he and his party were, presently to succumb. His ministry was a period of the stormiest excitement in the political world, and the importance of the questions at issue — Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform—powerfully affected men’s minds in the ranks of life least allied to the governing class. Even in a home so obscure and so devoted to other pursuits and interests as ours, the spirit of the times made its way, and our own peculiar occupations became less interesting to us than the intense national importance of the public questions which were beginning to convulse the country from end to end. About this time I met with a book which produced a great and not altogether favorable effect upon my mind (the blame resting entirely with me, I think, and not with what I read). I had become moody and fantastical for want of solid, wholesome mental occupation, and the excess of imaginative stimulus in my life, and wag possessed with a wild desire for an existence of lonely independence, which seemed to my exaggerated notions the only one fitted to the intellectual development in which alone I conceived happiness to consist. Mrs. Jameson’s Diary of an Ennuyée, which I now read for the first time, added to this desire for isolation and independence such a passionate longing to go to Italy, that my brain was literally filled with chimerical projects of settling in the south of Europe, and there leading a solitary life of literary labor, which, together with the fame I hoped to achieve by it, seemed to me the only worthy purpose of existence. While under the immediate spell of her fascinating book, it was of course very delightful to me to make Mrs. Jameson’s acquaintance, which I did at the house of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Basil Montagu. They were the friends of Coleridge, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Procter (Barry Cornwall, who married Mrs. Montagu’s daughter), and were themselves individually as remarkable, if not as celebrated, as many of their more famous friends. Basil Montagu was the son of the Earl of Sandwich and the beautiful Miss Ray, whose German lover murdered her at the theatre by shooting her in her private box, and then blew his own brains out. Mr. Montagu inherited ability, eccentricity, and personal beauty, from his parents. His only literary productions that I am acquainted with were a notice of Bacon and his works, which he published in a small pamphlet volume, and another volume of extracts from some of the fine prose writers of the seventeenth century. I have a general impression that his personal intercourse gave a far better idea of his intellectual ability than anything that he achieved either in his profession or in letters.
His conversation was extremely vivid and sparkling, and the quaint eccentricity of his manner added to the impression of originality which he produced upon one. Very unlike the common run of people as he was, however, he was far less so than his wife, who certainly was one of the most striking and remarkable persons I have known. Her appearance was extraordinary; she was much above middle height, with a beautiful figure and face, the outline of which was of classical purity and severity, while her whole carriage and appearance was dignified and majestic to the highest degree. I knew her for upwards of thirty years, and never saw her depart from a peculiar style of dress, which she had adopted with the finest instinct of what was personally becoming as well as graceful and beautiful in itself. She was so superior in this point to her sex generally, that, having found that which was undoubtedly her own proper individual costume, she never changed the fashion of it. Her dress deserved to be called (what all dress should be) a lesser fine art, and seemed the proper expression in clothes of her personality, and really a part of herself. It was a long, open robe over an underskirt of the same material and color (always moonlight silver gray, amethyst purple, or black silk or satin of the richest quality), trimmed with broad velvet facings of the same color, the sleeves plain and tight-fitting from shoulder to wrist, and the bosom covered with a fine lace half-body, which came, like the wimple of old mediæval portraits, up round her throat, and seemed to belong in material and fashion to the clear chin-stay which followed the noble contour of her face, and the picturesque cap which covered, without concealing, her auburn hair and the beautiful proportions of her exquisite head.
This lady knew no language but her own, and to that ignorance (which one is tempted in these days occasionally to think desirable) she probably owed the remarkable power and purity with which she used her mother tongue. Her conversation and her letters were perfect models of spoken and written English. Her marriage with Mr. Montagu was attended with some singular circumstances, the knowledge of which I owe to herself. She was a Yorkshire widow lady, of the name of Skepper, and came with her only child (a little girl) to visit some friends in London, with whom Basil Montagu was intimate. Mrs. Skepper had probably occasionally been the subject of conversation between him and her hosts, when they were expecting her; for one evening soon after her arrival, as she was sitting partly concealed by one of the curtains in the drawing-room, Basil Montagu came rapidly into the room, exclaiming (evidently not perceiving her), “Come, where is your wonderful Mrs. Skepper? I want to see her.” During the whole evening he engrossed her attention and talked to her, and the next morning at breakfast she laughingly complained to her hosts that he had not been content with that, but had tormented her in dreams all night. “ For,” said she, “ I dreamt I was going to be married to him, and the day before the wedding he came to me with a couple of boxes, and said solemnly, ‘ My dear Anne, I want to confide these relics to your keeping; in this casket are contained the bones of my dear first wife, and in this those of my dear second wife; do me the favor to take charge of them forme.’” The odd circumstance was that Basil Montagu had been married twice, and that when he made his third matrimonial venture and was accepted by Mrs. Skepper, he appeared before her one day and with much solemnity begged her to take charge of two caskets, in which were respectively treasured, not the bones, but the letters of her two predecessors. It is quite possible that he might have heard of her dream on the first night of their acquaintance, and amused himself with carrying it out when he was about to marry her; but when Mrs. Montagu told me the story I do not think she suggested any such rationalistic solution of the mystery. Her daughter, Anne Skepper (afterwards Mrs. Procter), who has been all my life a kind and excellent friend to me, inherited her remarkable mother’s mental gifts and special mastery over her own language; but she added to these, as part, of her own individuality, a power of sarcasm that made the tongue she spoke in and the tongue she spoke with two of the most formidable weapons any woman was ever armed with. She was an exceedingly kind-hearted person, perpetually occupied in good offices to the poor, the afflicted, her friends, and all whom she could in any way serve; nevertheless, such was her severity of speech, not unfrequently exercised on those she appeared to like best, that Thackeray, Browning, and Kinglake, who were all her friendly intimates, sometimes designated her as “ Our Lady of Bitterness,” and she is alluded to by that title in the opening chapter of Eothen. A daily volume of wit and wisdom might have been gathered from her familiar talk, which was crisp with suggestions of thought in the liveliest and highest form. Somebody asking her how she and a certain acrid critic of her acquaintance got on together, she replied, “ Oh, very well; we sharpen each other like two knives.” Being congratulated on the restoration of cordiality between herself and a friend with whom she had had some difference, “ Oh, yes,” said she, “ the cracked cup is mended, but it will never hold water again.” Both these ladies, mother and daughter, had a most extraordinary habit of crediting their friends with their own wise and witty sayings; thus Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Procter would say, “Ah yes, you know, as you once said,” and then would follow something so sparkling, profound, concise, incisive, and brilliant that you remained, eyes and mouth open, gasping in speechless astonishment at the merit of the saying you never said (and could n’t have said if your life had depended on it), and the magnificence of the gift its author was making you. The princes in the Arabian Nights who only gave you a ring worth thousands of sequins were shabby fellows compared with these ladies who declared that the diamonds and rubies of their own uttering had fallen from your lips. Persons who lay claim to the good things of others are not rare; those who not only disclaim their own but even credit others with them are among the very rarest. In all my intercourse with the inhabitants of two worlds, I have known no similar instance of self-denial; and reflecting upon it, I have finally concluded that it was too superhuman to be a real virtue, and could proceed only from an exorbitant superabundance of natural gift, which made its possessors reckless, extravagant, and even unprincipled In the use of their wealth; they had wit enough for themselves, and to spare for all their friends, and these were many. At an evening party at Mrs. Montagu’s, in Bedford Square, in 1828, I first saw Mrs. Jameson. The Ennuyée, one is given to understand, dies ; and it was a little vexatious to behold her sitting on a sofa, in a very becoming state of blooming plumpitude; but it was some compensation to be introduced to her. And so began a close and friendly intimacy which lasted for many years, between myself and this very accomplished woman. She was the daughter of an Irish miniaturepainter of the name of Murphy, and began life as a governess, in which capacity she educated the daughters of Lord Hatherton, and went to Italy with the family of Mrs. Rose. When I first knew her she had not long been married to Mr. Robert Jameson, a union so illassorted that it restored Mrs. Jameson to the bosom of her own family, to whom her conjugal ill-fortune proved a blessing, for never did daughter and sister discharge with more loving fidelity the duties of those relationships. Her life was devoted to her parents while they lived, and after their death to her sisters and a young niece whom she adopted. Her various and numerous gifts and acquirements were exercised, developed, and constantly increased by a life of the most indefatigable literary study, research, and labor. Her reading was very extensive; her information, without being profound, was general; she was an excellent modern linguist, and perfectly well - versed in the literature of her own country and of France, Germany, and Italy. She had an uncommon taste and talent for art, and, as she added to her knowledge of the theory and history of painting familiar acquaintance with most of the fine public and private galleries in Europe, a keen sensibility to beauty, and considerable critical judgment, her works upon painting, and especially the exceedingly interesting volumes she published on the Sacred and Legendary Art of the Romish Church, are at once delightful and interesting sources of information, and useful and accurate works of reference, to which considerable value is added by her own spirited and graceful etchings.
The literary works of hers in which I have a direct personal interest are a charming book of essays on Shakespeare’s female characters, entitled Characteristics of Women, which she did me the honor to dedicate to me; some pages of letterpress written to accompany a series of sketches John Hayter made of me in the character of Juliet; and a notice of my sister’s principal operatic performances after she came out on the stage. Mrs. Jameson at one time contemplated writing a life of my aunt Siddons, not thinking Boaden’s biography of her satisfactory; in this purpose, however, she was effectually opposed by Campbell, who had undertaken the work, and, though he exhibited neither interest nor zeal in the fulfillment of his task, doggedly (in the manger) refused to relinquish it to her. Certainly, had Mrs. Jameson carried out her intention, Mrs. Siddons would have had a monument dedicated to her memory better calculated to preserve it than those which the above-named gentlemen bestowed on her. It would have been written in a spirit of far higher artistic discrimination, and with infinitely more sympathy both with the woman and with the actress.
Frances Anne Kemble.