Old Woman's Gossip
MY friend left us after a visit of a few weeks, taking my sister to Ireland with her on a visit to Ardgillan.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, December 21.
MY DEAREST H-: My aunt Dall brought me home word that you wished me to send a letter which should meet you on your arrival at Ardgillan ; and I would have done so, but that I had previously promised myself that I would do nothing this day till I had copied out the fourth act of The Star of Seville, and you know unless I am steady at my work this week, I shall break my word a second time, which is impossible, as it ought to have been at first.
[A tragedy in five acts, called The Star of Seville, at which I was working, is here referred to. My father had directed my attention to the subject by putting in my hands a sketch of the life and works of Lope de Vega, by Lord Holland. The story of La Estrella de Seviglia appeared to my father eminently dramatic, and he excited me to choose it for the subject of a drama. I did so, and Messrs. Saunders and Ottley were good enough to publish it ; it had no merit whatever, either dramatic or poetical (although I think the subject gave ample scope for both), and I do not remember a line of it.)
However, it is nine o’clock ; I have not ceased writing except to dine, and my act is copied ; and now I can give you an hour before bed-time. How are you ? and how is dear A-? give her several good kisses for me; she is by this time admirable friends with all your circle, I doubt not, and slightly, superficially acquainted with the sea. Tell her she is a careless little puss though, for she forgot the plate with my effigy on it for Hercules [Miss S-’s nephew] which she was to have given my aunt to pack up. I am quite sorry about it ; tell him, however, he shall not lose by it, for I will send him both a plate with the Belvidera and a mug with my own natural head on it, the next time you return home.
I stood in the dining-room listening to your carriage wheels until I believe they were only rolling in my imagination ; you cannot fancy how doleful our breakfast was. Henry was perfectly enraged at finding that Awas gone in earnest, and my father began to wonder how it had ever come to pass that he had consented to let her go. After breakfast, Dall and I walked to Mr. Cartwright’s (the dentist), who fortunately did not torture me much ; for if he had, my spirits were so exceedingly low that I am sure I should have disgraced myself and cried like a coward. As soon as we came home I set to work, and have never stopped copying till I began this letter, when, having done my day’s work, I thought I might tell you how much I miss you and dear A-.
My father is gone to the theatre upon business to-night ; my mother is very unwell, and Dall and Henry, as well as myself, are stupid and dreary.
My dear H-, tell me how you bore the journey and the cold, and how dear Afared on the road ; how you found all your people, and how the dell and the sea are looking. Write to me very soon and very long. You have let several stitches fall in one of the muffetees you knit for me, and it is all running to ruin ; I must see and pick them up at the theatre on Thursday night. You have left all manner of things behind you ; among others, Channing’s two essays. I will keep all your property honestly for you, and shall soon have time to read those essays, which I very much wish to do.
A large supply of Christmas fare arrived from Stafford to-day from my godmother, and among other things, a huge nosegay for me. I was very grateful for the flowers; they are always a pleasure, and to-day I thought they tried to be a consolation to me.
Now I must break off. Do you remember Madame de Sévigné’s “ Adieu ; ce n’est pas jusqu’à domain — jusqu’à samedi — jusqu’ aujourd’hui on huit ; c’est adieu pour un an ”? and yet I certainly have no right to grumble, for our meeting as we have done latterly is a pleasure as little to have been anticipated as the events which have enabled us to do so, and for which I have so many reasons to be thankful. God bless you, dear H—; kiss dear little A— for me, and remember me affectionately to all your people. I am yours ever truly,
Dall sends her best love to both, and all ; and Henry bids me tell Athat. the name of the Drury Lane pantomime is Harlequin and Davy Jones, or Mother Carey’s Chickens ; ours is yet a secret; he will write her all about it.
Mr. Cartwright, the eminent dentist, was a great friend of my father’s ; he was a cultivated gentleman of refined taste, and an enlightened judge and liberal patron of the arts. If anything could have alleviated the half-hour’s suspense before one obtained admission to his beautiful library, which was on some occasions (of, I suppose, slight importance) his “operating-room,” it would have been the choice specimens of lovely landscape painting by the first English masters, which adorned his dining-room. I have sat by Sir Thomas Lawrence at the hospitable dinner-table, where Mr. Cartwright gave his friends the most agreeable opportunity of using the teeth which he preserved for them, and heard in his house the best classical English vocal music, capitally executed by the first professors of that school, and brilliant amicable rivalry of first-rate pianoforte performances by Cramer, Neukomm, Hummel, and Moscheles, who were all personal friends of their host.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, } January 3, 1831.
MY DEAR H— : I promised you, in the interesting P. S. I annexed to my aunt Dali’s letter, to write to you to-day, and I sit down this evening to fulfill my promise. My father is gone out to dinner, my mother is asleep on the sofa, Dall reclines dozing in that blissful armchair you wot of, and Henry, happier than either, is extended snoring before the fire on the softest, thickest, splendidest colored rug (a piece of my mother’s workmanship) that the most poetical canine imagination could conceive; I should think an earthly type of those heavenly rugs which virtuous dogs, according to your creed, are destined to enjoy.
[My friend Miss Sheld (without having so eloquently advocated) the theory of her and my friend Miss Cobbe, of the possible future existence of animals ; such animals at any rate as had formed literally a precious part of the earthly existence of their owners, and in whom a certain sense, so nearly resembling conscience, is developed, by their obedience and attachment to the superior race, that it is difficult to consider them unmoral creatures. Perhaps, however, if the choice were given our four-footed friends to share our future prospects and present responsibility, they might decline the offer, “ Thankfu’ they werena’ men, but dogs.”]
Dear H—, the pleasant excitement of your society assisted the natural contentedness or indifference of my disposition to throw aside many reflections upon myself and others, the life I lead and its various annoyances, which have been unpleasantly forced upon me since your departure ; and when I say that I do not feel happy, you will not count it merely the blue-devil-ish fancy of a German brain or an English (that is bilious) stomach.
I think the season of the year, the closing and opening of one of the measured periods of time into which we divide our lives, the recurrence of which generally brings wanderers back, at least for a season, to their homes, and forms a rallying point for kindred scattered by circumstances, has made me melancholy. The new year has begun, and finds us separated from two of our dear ones, and ignorant even of the abode or fate of one of them. I have a feeling, not of dissatisfaction or discontent so much as of sadness and weariness, though I struggle always and sometimes pretty successfully to rouse myself from it.
You say you wish to know what we did on Christmas Day. I ’ll tell you. In the morning I went to church, after which I came home and copied The Star of Seville till dinner-time. After dinner my mother, who had proposed spending the evening at our worthy pastor’s, Mr. Sterky’s, finding my father disinclined for that exertion, remained at home and went to sleep ; my father likewise. Dall likewise, Henry likewise ; and I copied on at my play till bed-time : voilà. On Monday, contrary to my expectation, I had to play Euphrasia before the pantomime. Give my love to dear A—. Henry has, I know, told her all about that festive performance, or I would have done so ; in the mean time tell her she respects me more than I deserve and much more than I desire, if she will not write me a “ stupid letter ; ” she ought to know, better than that, how much pleased I should be to hear from her in any style. You know we were to spend Christmas Eve at my aunt Siddons’s ; we had a delightful evening and I was very happy. My aunt came down from the drawing-room (for we danced in the dining-room on the ground floor) and sat among us, and you cannot think how nice and pretty it was to see her surrounded by her clan, more than three dozen strong ; some of them so handsome, and many with a striking likeness to herself, either in feature or expression. Mrs. Harry and Cecy danced with us, and we enjoyed ourselves very much ; I wished for dear A— exceedingly. Wednesday we dined at Mrs. Mayow’s.
[My mother’s dear friend, Mrs. Mayow, was the wife of a gentleman in a high position in one of our government offices. She was a West Indian creole, and a singularly beautiful person. Her complexion was of the clear olive-brown of a perfectly Moorish skin, with the color of a damask rose in her cheeks, and lips as red as coral. Her features were classically symmetrical, as was the soft, oval contour of her face; her eyes and hair were as black as night, and the former had a halo of fine lashes of the most magnificent length. She never wore any head-dress but a white muslin turban, the effect of which on her superb dark face was strikingly handsome, and not only its singularity but its noble and becoming simplicity distinguished her in every assembly, amid the various fantastic head-gear of each successive Parisian “ fashion of the day.” As a girl she had been remarkably slender, but she grew to an enormous size, without the increased bulk of her person disfiguring or rendering coarse her beautiful face.]
Thursday I acted Lady Townley and acted it abominably ill, and was much mortified to find that Cecilia had got my cousin Harry to chaperon her two boys to the play that night ; because, as he never before went to see me act, it is rather provoking that the only time he did so I should have sent him to sleep, which he gallantly assured me I did. I do not find cousins so much more polite than brothers (one’s natural born plagues) as to warrant Praed’s assertion in the song,—
Does she happen to sing ?
Sisters, we ’ve all by the dozen, Tom,
But a cousin ’s a different thing.”
Harry’s compliment to my acting had quite a brotherly tenderness, I think. Friday, New Year’s Eve, we went to a ball at Mrs. G—’s, which I did not much enjoy ; and yesterday, New Year’s Day, Henry and I spent the evening at Mrs. Harry’s. There was no one there but Cecy and her two boys, and we danced, almost without stopping, from eight till twelve.
[The lads my cousin Cecilia called her boys were the two younger sons of her brother George Siddons, Mrs. Siddons’s eldest son, then and for many years after collector of the port at Calcutta. These lads and their sisters were being educated in England, and were spending their Christmas holidays with their grandmother, Mrs. Siddons. The youngest of these three schoolboys, Henry, was the father of the beautiful Mrs, Scott - Siddons of the present day. It was in the house of my cousin George Siddons, then one of the very pleasantest and gayest in Calcutta, that his young nephew, Harry, son of his sister-in-law, my dear Mrs. Harry Siddons, was to find a home on his arrival in India, and subsequently a wife in Harriet, the second daughter of the house.]
I like Cecilia much better than I did formerly. She used to seem to me to want humanizing ; but I have taken to her much more cordially ever since she said she liked to see us young things dancing ; that is a benevolent emotion, akin to pure philanthropy, for which I should not have given her credit ; moreover, she last night gave me two spontaneous kisses, by which I was the more flattered and pleased because her disposition and manner have always appeared to me the reverse of caressing ; in short, if I can but “ keep my eye upon her,” I think I shall get very fond of her, but if I once lose sight of her, I am afraid the next time we meet we shall have all our work to do over again. Mrs. Harry is not very well, though I think she tries to keep herself from dwelling upon Harry’s departure as much as she can; but the dark cloud of approaching separation is already throwing its shadow over them all ; and the other night at Mrs. G—’s ball, Sally [his sister] said to me, as she watched Harry dancing, with the tears in her eyes, " It is what he has wished and what he has chosen, therefore we are content. He leaves us under every advantage, with the finest appointment, and goes to uncle George’s house, which will be at once his home; therefore we ought to be thankful, but parting for ten years is a sore trial.” I cannot think what his mother will do ; though I cannot think why I say that, for I know she will bear her trial with patient courage and uncomplaining, unselfish resignation. Willy [her second son] returns to Switzerland to his school at Hofwyl, under Dr. de Fellenberg, on Tuesday.
I am to act Juliet to-morrow, and Calista on Thursday ; Friday and Saturday I am to act Mrs. Haller and Lady Townley at Brighton. I shall see the sea, that’s one comfort, and it will he something to live upon for some time to come. Next Wednesday week I am to come out in Bianca, in Milman’s Fazio. Do you know the play ? It is very powerful, and my part is a very powerful one indeed. I have hopes it may succeed greatly. Mr. Warde is to he my Fazio, for, I hear, people object to my having my father’s constant support, and wish to see me act alone ; what geese, to be sure! I wonder whether they think my father has hold of strings by the means of which he moves my arms and legs ! I am very glad something likely to strike the public is to be given before Inez de Castro (a tragedy of Miss Mitford’s), for it will need all the previous success of a fine play and part to carry us safely through that.
I have not seen Mr. Murray again ; I conclude he is out of town just now. And now that I have told you all the news of the past, and some of the future, I will answer what you say about Ain your letter. As to her veneration for me, that I should be tempted to regret, for I most certainly do not deserve it ; though, at the same time that I feel quite unfit to he her model, the fear of having a bad influence upon any one must always act as a strong cheek upon me ; but it is to very little purpose that one cultivates good principles if every breath of circumstance is to make one swerve from them. Oh, my dear H —, for all my conceit, I assure you I am, for the most part, anything but well pleased with myself. I will leave off this letter, and go to bed and sleep, which is pleasanter and wholesomer than self-contemplation. I long for you both back very much ; we all of us miss dear A—, and I especially want you. I am glad that though she is altogether more amiable than I am, you do not like her better, — as well, I should not mind, — but not better ; however, I had better not say this, for you will yet have time to do so, and if you do, why, I ’ll manage to make up my mind to it.
We have made all inquiries about poor, dear A—’s trunk, and of course as soon as we hear of it, it will be sent to her ; I am very sorry for her, poor, dear litlle child, but I advise her, when she does get them, to put on each of her new dresses for an hour by turns, and sit opposite the glass in them. Good-by, dear H-. Your affectionate
My father will, I am sure, make such arrangements for me in Dublin as will enable me to come to Ardgillan for a day or two. My mother bids me tell you to say all manner of “ thanks and obligations ” to Mrs. T-, “ to whom,” she says, with a most conscious look, “ I suppose I ought to have written.” So mind, dear H-, you get her off well with your sister.
GREAT RUSSELE STREET, 6th January, 1831. }
DEAREST H-: I have only time to say two words to you, for I am in the midst of preparations for our flight to Brighton, to-morrow. Thank you for your last letter ; I liked it very much and will answer it at length when we come back to town.
Mr. Murray has got my MSS., but I have yet heard nothing about it from him. My fire is not in that economical invention, the “ miserable basket ” [an iron frame fitting inside our commonsized grate to limit the extravagant consumption of coal], but well spread out in the large comfortable grate ; yet I am sitting with my door and windows all wide open ; it is a lovely, bright, mild spring day. I do not lose my time any more of a morning watching the fire kindling, for the housemaid lights it before I get out of bed, so my poetry and philosophy are robbed of a most interesting subject of meditation.
With regard to what you say about A—, I do not know that I expected her to love, though I was sure she would admire nature ; she is very young yet, and her quick, observant mind and tendency to wit and sarcasm make human beings more amusing, if not more interesting, to her than inanimate objects. It is not the beauty of nature alone, as it appeals merely to our senses, that produces that passionate love for it which induces us to prefer communion with it to the intercourse of our fellows. The elevated trains of thought, and the profound and sublime aspirations which the external beauty of the world suggests, draw and rivet our minds and souls to its contemplation, and produce a sort of awful sense of companionship with the Unseen, which cannot, I think, be an experience of early youth. For then the volatile, vivid, and various spirit, with its sympathizing and communicative tendency, has a strong propensity to spend itself on that which can return its value in like commodity ; and exchange of thought and feeling is a preponderating desire and necessity, and hitman fellowship and intercourse is naturally attractive to unworn and unwearied human nature. I suppose the consolatory element in the beautiful unhuman world in which we live is not often fully appreciated by the young, they want comparatively so little of it ; youth is itself so thoroughly its own consoler. Some years hence, I dare say A— will love both the sea and sky better than she does now. To a certain degree too, the love of solitude, which generally accompanies a deep love for nature, is a kind of selfishness that does not often exist in early life.
I am desired to close this letter immediately ; I have therefore only time to add that I act Calista to-night here, Mrs. Haller to-morrow at Brighton, and Saturday, also there, Lady Townley. On Monday I act Juliet here, and on Wednesday Bianca in Fazio, — when pray for me ! Now you know where to think of me. I will write to you a real letter on Sunday.
You ask me if we all thought your blunder about A—’s trunk very stupid. Yes, indeed we did, and I abused you for it, like a true friend (to stop everybody else’s mouth), more than any one else did, or dared.
Kiss A — for me, and do not be unhappy, my dear, for you will soon see me again ; and in the mean time I advise you, as you think my picture so much more agreeable than myself, to console yourself with that.
Dall has got such a nice name for me, — " Spit-fire ! ” and only because I told her I should like to make her ribs a gridiron to broil her heart upon, which oh I wish I had invented myself ! but’t is a pleasant conception of Lord Byron’s, which I have merely adopted and quoted, thinking it enchanting. Good-by. Your affectionate FANNY.
The fascination of sitting by a brook and watching the lapsing water, or on the sands the oncoming, uprising, breaking, and melting away of the white wavecrests, is, I suppose, matter of universal experience. I do not know whether watching fire has the same irresistible attraction for everybody. It has almost a stronger charm for me ; and the hours I have spent sitting on the rug in front of my grate and watching the wonderful creature sparkling and glowing there have been almost more than I dare remember. I was obliged at last, in order not to waste half my day in the contemplation of this bewitching element, to renounce a practice I long indulged in of lighting my own fire ; but to this moment I envy the servant who does that office, or should envy her but that she never remains on her knees worshiping the beautiful, subtle spirit she has evoked, as I could still find it in my heart to do.
I think I remember that Shelley had this passion for fire-gazing ; it’s a comfort to think that whatever he could say, he could never see more enchanting things in his grate than I have in mine ; but indeed, even for Shelley, the motions and the colors of flames are unspeakable.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 9, 1831. }
DEAR H—: I promised you a letter to-day, and if I can do so now, at least I will begin to keep my promise, though I think it possible my courage may fail me after the first side of my sheet of paper. We arrived in town from Brighton this afternoon at four o’clock, and though it is not yet ten I am so weary, and have so much to do to-morrow (rehearsing Fazio and acting Juliet), that I think I shall not sit up much longer to-night, even to write to you.
We found my mother tolerably well, and Henry, who had been out skating all day, in great beauty and high spirits. I must now tell you what I had not room for when I wrote you those few lines in A—s letter.
Mr. Barton, a friend of John’s who traveled with him in Germany, and whose sister has lately married John Sterling (of whom you have often heard us speak), called here the other day, and during the course of a long visit told us a great deal of the very beginning of this Spanish expedition, and of the share Mr. Sterling and Richard Trench [the present venerable archbishop of Dublin] had in its launching.
It seems (though he would not say whence they derived them) that they were plentifully supplied with funds, with which they purchased and manned a vessel destined to carry arms and ammunition to Spain for the purposes of the revolutionists. This ship they put under command of an experienced smuggler, and it was actually leaving the month of the Thames with Sterling and Mr. Trench on board it, bound for Spain, when by order of Lord Aberdeen it was stopped. Our two young gentlemen jumped into a boat and made their escape, but Mr. Sterling, hearing that government threatened to proceed against the captain of the captured vessel, came forward and owned it as his property, and exonerated the man, as far as he could, from any share of the blame attaching to an undertaking in which he was an irresponsible instrument. Matters were in this state, with a prosecution pending over John Sterling, when the ministry was changed, and nothing further has been done or said by government upon the subject since.
My brother had gone off to Gibraltar previously to all this, to take measures for facilitating their landing ; he is now quietly and I hope comfortably wintering there. Torrijos, it seems, is not at all disheartened, but is waiting for the propitious moment, which, however, from the appearance of things I should not consider likely to be at hand just yet. Mr. Sterling has, I understand, been so seriously ill since his marriage that at one time his life was despaired of, and even now that he is a little recovered he is ordered to Madeira as soon as he can be moved. This is very sad for his poor bride.
Of our home circle I have nothing to tell you. My father, Dall, and I had a very delightful day on Saturday at Brighton. After a lovely day’s journey, we arrived there on Friday. Our companion in the coach luckily happened to be a son of Dr. Burney’s, who was an old and intimate friend of my father’s, and they discoursed together the whole way along, of all sorts of events and people : of my uncle John and my aunt Siddons, in their prime ; of Mrs. Jordan and the late king ; of the present one, Harlowe, Lawrence, and innumerable other folk of note and notoriety. Among other things they had a long discussion on the subject of Hamlet’s feigned or — as my father maintains and I believe — real madness ; all this formed a very amusing accompaniment to the history of Sir Launcelot du Lac, which I was reading with much delight when I was not listening to their conversation.
I like all that concerns the love adventures of these valorous knights of yore ; but their deadly blows and desperate thrusts, their slashing, gashing, mashing, mangling, and hewing bores me to death. The fate of Guinevere interested me deeply, but Sir Launcelot’s warlike exploits I got dreadfully weary of ; I prefer him greatly in hall and bower rather than in tournament and battle-field.
We got into Brighton at half - past four and had just time to dine, dress, and go to the theatre, where we were to act The Stranger. The house was very full indeed, but my reception was not quite what I had expected ; for whether they were disappointed in my dress (Mrs. Haller being traditionally clothed in droopacious white muslin, and I dressing her in gray silk, which is both stiff and dull looking, as I think it should be) or whether, which I think still more likely, they were disappointed in my “ personal appearance,” which, as you know, is neither tragical nor heroic, I know not, but I thought their welcome rather cold ; but the truth is, I believe my London audience spoils me for every other. However, the play went off admirably, and I believe everybody was satisfied, not excepting the manager, who assured me so full and enthusiastic a house had not been seen in Brighton for many years.
Our rooms at the inn [the old Ship was then the famous Brighton hotel] looked out upon the sea, but it was so foggy when we entered Brighton that although I perceived the motion of the waves through the mist that hung over them, their color and every object along the shore was quite indistinct. The next morning was beautiful. Dall and I ran down to the beach before breakfast ; there are no sands, unluckily, but we stood ankle - deep in the shingles, watching the ebbing tide and sniffing the sweet salt air for a long time with great satisfaction. After breakfast we rehearsed The Provoked Husband, and from the theatre proceeded to take a walk. I do not know whether you were ever at Brighton; but if you were not I am afraid my description will hardly show it to you. The cliffs rise all along the coast from Brighton to Hastings, and so on to Dover, where they attain a great height. There are, as I told you, no sands, but when the tide is up it nearly washes the foot of the cliffs. For about two miles we walked along a fine esplanade crowning the heights, with the sea stretched out below us to the horizon, on one hand, and on the other every variety of style of building that the not very chaste taste of our modern architects could suggest, — squares, crescents, terraces, all magnificent stucco edifices, without, perhaps, much individual beauty or elegance ; but, seen from the sea, or en masse at an appropriate distance, I dare say the whole would have the appearance of some of Martin’s incredible ranges of architecture, and look imposing — that is, imposturing — enough.
All this was very fine, but still it was streets and houses ; and there were crowds of gay people parading up and down, looking as busy about nothing and as full of themselves as if the great awful sea had not been close beside them. In fact, I was displeased with the levity of their deportment, and the contrast of all that fashionable frivolity with the grandest of all natural objects seemed to me incongruous and discordant ; and I was so annoyed at finding myself by the sea - side and yet still surrounded with all the glare and gayety of London, that I think I wished myself at the bottom of the cliff and Brighton at the bottom of the sea. However, we walked on and on, beyond the Parade, beyond the town, till we had nothing but the broad open downs to contrast with the broad open sea, and then I was completely happy. I gave my muff to my father and my fur tippet to Dall, for the sun shone powerfully on the heights, and I walked and ran along the edge of the cliffs, gazing and pondering, and enjoying the solemn sound and the brilliant sight, and the nervous excitement of a slight sense of fear as I peeped over at the depth below me. From this diversion, however, my father called me away, and, to console me for not allowing me to run the risk of being dashed to pieces, offered to run a race up a small hill with me, and beat me hollow.
We had walked about four miles when wc halted at one of the Preventive Service stations to look about us. The tide had not yet come in, but its usual height when up was indicated, first by a delicate, waving fringe of sea-weed, like very bright given moss, and then, nearer in shore, by an incrustation of chalk washed from the cliffs, which formed a deep embossed silver embroidery along the coast as far as eye could see. The sunshine was dazzling, and its light on the detached masses of milky chalk which lay far beneath us made them appear semi-transparent, like fragments of alabaster or earnelian. I was wishing that I could but get down the cliff, when a worthy sailor appeared toiling up it, and I discovered his winding staircase cut in the great chalk wall, down which I proceeded without further ado. I was a little frightened, for the steps were none of the most regular or convenient, and I felt as if I were hanging (and at an uncomfortable distance from either) between heaven and earth. I got down safe, however, and ran to the water’s edge, danced a galop on one smooth little sand island, waited till the tide, which was coming up, just touched my toes, gave it a kick of cowardly defiance, and then showed it a fair pair of heels and scrambled up the cliff again, very much enchanted with my expedition.
I think a fight with smugglers up that steep staircase at night, with a heavy sea rolling and roaring close under it, would be glorious ! When I reached the top ray father said it was time to go home, so we returned. The Parade was crowded like Hyde Park in the height of the season [Thackeray called Brighton London - superMare], and when once I was out of the crowd and could look down upon it from our windows as it promenaded up and down, I never saw anything gayer : carriages of every description — most of them open — cavalcades of ladies and gentlemen riding to and fro, throngs of smart bonnets and fine dresses ; and beyond all this the high tide, with one broad, crimson path across it thrown by the sun, looking as if it led into some enchanted world beyond the waters.
I thought of dear A — ; for though she is seeing the sea, — and I think the sea at Ardgillan, with its lovely mountains on one side and Skerries on the other, far more beautiful than this, — I am sure she would have been enchanted with the life, the bustle, and brilliancy of the Parade combined with its fine sea view, for I, who am apt rather selfishly to wish myself alone in the enjoyment of nature, looked at the bright, moving throng with pleasure when once I was out of it.
Our house at the theatre at night was very fine ; and now, as you are perhaps tired of Brighton, you will not be sorry to get home with me ; but pray communicate the end of our “ land sorrow ” to A—. We were to start for London Sunday morning at ten [a journey of six hours by coach, now of less than two by rail], and my father had taken three inside places in a coach, which was to call for us at our inn. I ran down to the beach and had a few moments alone there. It was a beautiful morning, and the fishing boats Were one by one putting out into the calmest sleepy sea. I longed to ask to be taken on board one of them; but I was summoned away to the coach, and found on reaching it that, the fourth place being occupied by a sickly looking woman with a sickly looking child nearly as big as herself in her lap, my father, notwithstanding the coldness of the morning, had put himself on the outside. Dall, who does not mind being inconvenienced herself to any amount, but cannot bear that my father should be so, was much annoyed, and muttered all sorts of imprecations on the insatiable greed of gain of coach office agents who, for the sake of the price of half a place, stuff an undue number of sufferers in their “ leathern conveniences,” or oblige those who will not submit to this imposition to pay “inside” and travel “out.” But the indomitable sweetness of her natural disposition very soon getting the better of her indignation, she presently suggested to the forlorn female that, as my father was not coming, she had better relieve herself by putting the child in his place. This was declined for some time, until I again remonstrated on her continuing to burden herself while there was a vacant seat; whereupon, not without some reluctance on its own part, the burden was transferred from its mother’s knees to a place by my aunt. It had not been there long before its tender parent, looking anxiously in its ominously yellow face, observed, “ You see, mem, last time she sat that way, with her back to the osses, she were so awful sick ! ” With the utmost trepidation I proposed an instant change of seats with me, which was rapidly effected, and to shut the universe (which was beginning to heave) from my sight, — such is the power of imagination and sympathy, — I went to sleep ; from which blessed refuge of the wretched I was recalled by a powerful and indescribable smell, which, seizing me by the nose, naturally induced me to open my eyes. Mother and daughter were each devouring a lump of black, strong, greasy plum cake ; as a specific, I presume, against (or for ?) sickness in a stage-coach.
The late Duke of Beaufort, when Marquis of Worcester, used frequently to amuse himself by driving the famous fast Brighton coach, the Highflyer. One day, as my father was hastily depositing his shilling gratuity in his driver’s outstretched hand, a shout of laughter and a “ Thank ye, Charles Kemble,” made him aware of the gentleman Jehu under whose care he had performed the journey.
Wednesday, January 12, 1831.
DEAREST H— : I received your letter dated the 7th the night before last, and purposed ending this long epistle yesterday evening with an answer to it, but was prevented by having to go with my mother to dine with Mrs. L—, that witty woman and more than middleaged beauty you have heard me speak of. I was repaid for the exertion I had not made very willingly, for I had a pleasant dinner. This lady has a large family and very large fortune, which at her death goes to her eldest son, who is a young man of enthusiastically religious views and feelings ; he has no profession or occupation, but devotes himself to building chapels and schools, which he himself superintends with unwearied assiduity; and though he has never taken orders, he preaches at some place in the city, to which crowds of people flock to hear him; none of which is at all agreeable to his mother, whose chief anxiety, however, is lest some one of the fair Methodists who attend his exhortations should admire his earthly expectations as much as his heavenly prospects, and induce this young apostle to marry her for her soul’s sake ; all which his mother told mine, with many lamentations over the godly zeal of her “ serious ” son, certainly not often made with regard to young men who are likely to inherit fine fortunes and estates. One of this young gentleman’s sisters is strongly imbued with the same religions feeling, and I think her impressions deepened by her very delicate state of health. I am much attracted by her gentle manner, and the sweet, serious expression of her face, and the earnest tone of her conversation ; I like her very much.
Indeed, external influences and circumstances do affect me much more than they ought, dear H-, and it is a dose of humility poured down one’s throat when one contrasts one’s own weakness with the strength of all that surrounds one, and the prevailing power of events against feeling, reason, and even principle.
My mother is reading Moore’s Life of Byron, and has fallen in love with the latter and in hate with his wife. She declares that he was originally good, generous, humble, religious, — indeed, everything that a man can be short of absolute perfection. She thinks me narrow-minded and prejudiced because I do not care to read his life, and because, in spite of all Moore’s assertions, I maintain that with Byron’s own works in one’s hand his character cannot possibly be a riddle to anybody. I dare say the devil may sometimes be painted blacker than he is ; but Byron has a fancy for the character of Lucifer, and seems to me, on the contrary, très pauvre diable. I have no idea that Byron was half fiend, half man (at least no more so than all of us are) ; I dare say he was not at all really an atheist, as he has been reputed ; indeed, I do not think Lord Byron, in spite of all the fuss that has been made about him, was by any means an uncommon character. His genius was indeed rare, but his pride, vanity, and selfishness were only so in degree. You know, H—, nobody was ever a more fanatical worshiper of his poetry than I was : time was that I devoured his verses (poison as they were to me) like “ raspberry tarts ;” I still know, and remember with delight, their exquisite beauty and noble vigor, but they don’t agree with me. And, without knowing anything of his religious doubts or moral delinquencies, I cannot at all agree with Mr. Moore that upon the showing of his own works Byron was a “good man.” If he was, no one has done him such injustice as himself ; and if he was good, then what was Milton ? and what genial and gentle Shakespeare?
What an inhuman long letter I have written you, dear H — ! I hope it has not been a dreadful infliction; it is such a pleasure, and just now a great relief to me, to go on gossiping with you, for it prevents me from thinking of what makes me very nervous — that to-night is my first time of acting in Fazio. I am to stand alone too, without my father. Mr. Warde has been put into the part of Fazio, and the play thus really rests upon my shoulders. I turn very sick as I think of my first words.
I must tell you that Henry is preparing himself to fall headlong into love with Mrs. Norton. He has latterly expressed the most ardent desire to meet her, which my mother has informed him shall not be accomplished through her agency; but the beautiful “ Caroline” is just now sitting to Mr. Hayter, with whom Henry is very intimate. He has seen her picture at Hayter’s studio, and though he has scrupulously kept away, hitherto, on the days he knows she is there, I am in hourly expectation of hearing that he has met her at the door or passed her on the stairs, and has become cinders and ashes for her sake ; while my mother is in an incessant blaze of apprehension for his, — which fiery comparisons remind me of far other things.
Our newspapers have become most melancholy literature of late, full of the results of these special commissions and of the executions of these unhappy incendiaries. You must keep Dublin quiet or we shall not come there this summer, and that would be a terrible disappointment !
Should you like to he M. de Polignac ? [lately removed from the head of the French ministry, at the time of the breaking up of the government of Charles X.] What a number of poems and plays he will have time to write now, if he wishes and can. If I were Sir Launcelot du Lac, I would start for Poland, and to-day rather than to-morrow. Poor Poland ! I have great faith in that cause, which is a noble one, though, as Cleopatra says, “ Some innocents ’scape not the thunder-bolt,” and as Beatrice says, “ I wish I were a man ” to venture my life in such a quarrel.
Good-by, dear H — ; write me a long “thank you” for this longest of mortal letters, and believe that I am your ever affectionate F. A. K.
I began living upon my allowance on New Year’s Day, and am keeping a most rigorous account of every farthing I spend. I have a tolerable “ acquisitiveness ” among my other organs, but think I would rather get than keep money, and to earn would always be pleasanter to me than to save. I act in Fazio tonight, Friday, and Monday next, so you will know where to find me on those evenings.
DEAR H — : Horace Twiss has been out of town, and I have been obliged to delay this for a frank. You will be glad, I know, to hear that Fazio has made a great hit. Milman is coming to see me in it to-night ; I wish I could induce him to write me such another part.
We are over head and ears in the mire of chancery again. The question of the validity of our — the great theatre — patents is now before Lord Brougham ; I am afraid they are not worth a farthing. I am to hear from Mr. Murray some day this week : considering the features of my handwriting, it is no wonder it has taken him some time to become acquainted with the MSS.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET, January 29, 1831. }
MY DEAR H— : have here by me three things, calling themselves letters, from you ; the last, indeed, is something deserving the name, but the first two are mere complaints about my silence sprawled at the utmost possible extension over half sheets of paper, “ Have I forgotten you,” etc., and such like unworthy absurdities ; but if conviction in the shape of my last letter does not overwhelm you, I do not intend that reproaches in this should annihilate you. In speaking as you do about want of perseverance and love of admiration in young people, I think you can hardly know how well calculated to produce those results our education has been ; the harvest is what might have been expected from the seed that was sown. All our occupations have been of a desultory and exciting kind, and all our doings and sayings have been made matter of surprise and admiring comment ; of course, therefore, we are disinclined for anything like serious or solid study, and naturally conclude that sayings and doings so much admired and wondered at are admirable and astonishing. A — is possessed of strong powers of ridicule, and the union of this sarcastic vein with a vivid imagination seems to me unusual ; their prey is so different that they seldom hunt in company, I think. When I heard that she was reading Mathilde (Madame Cottin), I was almost afraid of its effect upon her. I remember at school, when I was her age, crying three whole days and half nights over it ; but I certainly overrated her sensibility. Her letter to me contained a summary, abusive criticism of Mathilde as a book, and ended by presenting to me one of those ludicrous images which I abhor, because, While they destroy every serious or elevated impression, they are so absurd that one cannot defend one’s self from the “ idiot laughter ” they excite, and leave one no associations but grinning ones with one’s romantic ideals. Mathilde bald ! — which after all is nonsense, because though nuns cut off their hair they don’t shave their heads ; still, Mathilde even with a stiff little curly crop is what I should call an image decidedly destructive of the weeping, aching passion of woe with which I closed the book. Her letters are very clever and make me laugh exceedingly, but I am sorry she has such a detestation of Mrs. Marcet and natural philosophy. As for her letters being shown about, I am not, sorry that my indiscretion has relieved A — from a restraint which, if it had only been disagreeable to her, would not have mattered so much, but which is calculated to destroy all possibility of free and natural correspondence, and inevitably renders letters mere compositions and their young authors vain and pretentious. I have always thought the system a bad one, for under it, if a girl’s letters are thought dull, she feds as if she had made a failure, and if they are laughed at and passed from hand to hand with her knowledge, the result is much worse ; and in either case what she writes is no longer the simple expression of her thoughts and feelings, but samples of wit, ridicule, and comic fancy which are to be thought amusing and clever by others than those to whom they are addressed.
You say my mother in her note to you speaks well of my acting in Bianca. It has succeeded very well, and I think I act some of it very well ; but my chief pleasure in its success was certainly her approbation. She is a very severe critic, and, as she censures sharply, I am only too thankful when I escape her condemnation. I think you will be pleased with Bianca. I was surprised when I came to act it at finding how terribly it affected me, for I am not naturally at all jealous, and in this play, while feigning to be so, it seemed to me that it must be really the most horrible suffering conceivable ; I am almost sorry that I can imagine it well enough to represent it well.
You say that we love intellect, but I do not agree with you ; I do not think intellect excites love. I do not even think that it increases our love for those we do love, though it adds admiration to our affection. I certainly do admire intellect immensely ; mental power, which allied to moral power, goodness, is a force to uphold the universe.
I have forsworn all discussions about Byron ; my mother and I differ so entirely on the subject that, as I cannot adopt her view of his character, I find it easier to be silent about my own. Perhaps her extreme admiration of him may have thrown me into a deeper disapprobation than I should otherwise have expressed. He has many excuses, doubtless : the total want of early restraint, the miserable influence of the injudicious mother who alternately idolized and victimized him, the bitter castigation of his first plunge into literature and then the flattering, fawning, fulsome adoration of his habitual associates, of course were all against him ; but after all one cannot respect the man who strikes colors to the enemy as one does the one who comes conqueror out of the conflict. I now believe that there is a great deal of unreality in those sentiments to which the charm of his verses lent an appearance of truth and depth; in fact, his poetical feelings will sometimes stand the test of sober reflection quite as little as his grammar will that of a severe application of the rules of syntax. He has written immensely for mere effect, but all young people read him, and young people are not apt to analyze closely what they feel strongly, and, judging by my own experience, I should think Byron had done more mischief than one would like to he answerable for. When I said this the other day to my mother, she replied by referring to his Don Juan, supposing that I alluded to his profligacy ; but it is not Don Juan only or chiefly that I think so mischievous, but Manfred, Cain, Lucifer, Childe Harold, and through them all Byron’s own spirit, — the desponding, defiant, questioning, murmuring, bitter, proud spirit, that acts powerfully and dangerously on young brains and throws poison into their natural fermentation.
Since you say that my perpetual quotation of that stupid song, Old Wilson is Dead, worries you, I will renounce my delight in teasing you with it. The love of teasing is, of course, only a base form of the love of power. Mr. Harness and I had a long discussion, the other night, about the Cenci ; he maintains your opinion, that the wicked old nobleman was absolutely mad ; but I argued the point stoutly for his sanity, and very nearly fell into the fire with dismay when I was obliged to confess that if he was not mad, then his actuating motive was simply the love of power. Do you know that that play was sent over by Shelley to England with a view to Miss O’Neill acting Beatrice Cenci ? If it were ever possible that the piece could be acted, I should think an audience might be half killed with the horror of that entrance of Beatrice when she describes the marble pavement sliding from beneath her feet.
Did my mother tell you in her note that Milman was at the play the other night and said I had made Bianca exactly what he intended ? I wish he would write another tragedy. I think perhaps he will, from something Murray said the other day. That eminent publisher still has my MSS. in his possession, but you know I can take things easily, and I don’t feel anxious about his decision. I act in Fazio Monday and Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday Mrs. Beverley and Belvidera at Brighton.
You speak of the compatibility of vanity and selfishness with genius, in Byron ; one cannot help thinking the highest genius scorns partnership with such rubbish ; Milton was not vain or selfish, neither was gentle Shakespeare ; Goethe, however, was both. Simplicity seems to me always a characteristic of greatness, and Byron was absolutely deficient in that ; but pooh ! we have his poetry, and as for his life — why cannot people let dead bodies be ?
I was inexpressibly relieved by receiving a letter from my brother, and the intelligence that if I answered him he would be able to receive my reply, which I made immediate speed to send him.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
MY DEAR BROTHER, — I cannot tell you how very grateful I feel for once more being permitted to hold communion with you ; how happy I am in the hope of seeing you once more and hearing your voice in the home from which you have been too long absent, and which you left under such unexpected circumstances. But at the same time that I joyfully hail your return among us, I must make use of this only opportunity I may have of telling you what we have felt on the subject of your absence. When you are with us again I trust we shall all have forgotten it, and I may then find no fitting occasion to lay before you what we have thought of the step you have taken ; and yet I think you ought to know it, and may perhaps best do so through me. I received the first intelligence of your being in Spain at Liverpool, on my way home from Ireland, and should, according to your desire, have kept the contents of your letter concealed, at least for a time, but that the postmark was on it, and it came inclosed in a note from Victoire [my aunt, who was then staying in London with my mother], full of questions and conjectures as to your whereabouts ; this Dall read aloud before my father, who of course asked whence your letter was dated ; thus both Dall and my father knew of your plans as soon as I did.
It is useless to say anything about the shock and surprise which we all experienced ; we determined, however, to keep it a secret from my mother until our return to town, and soon after we reached home her miserable anxiety about you induced my father to break the news to her. My dear brother, could you have known the pain you have inflicted, I think you would have felt there was a nearer sphere of duty which you overstepped in seeking a wider one beyond it. However, of course, these keener emotions passed away — nobody can live upon anguish — and we became accustomed, though not reconciled, to the idea of your being exposed to danger at a distance from us, and engaged in a sphere of action so different from what we all had wished and you had proposed to yourself. You wrote that you believed yourself called upon by duty to act as you have done, and we could only feel that you were strangely mistaken, and regret that so much precious time and such fine natural powers, to whose increase every pains and advantage had been afforded, were yet awhile to remain unprofitable talents in your keeping ; but I always remembered — and it enabled me to hear tolerably well the first news of your departure, and has comforted me since whenever I thought of you — that God was your keeper, and that he could mercifully protect you under your error, and in his own good time make it apparent to you. Circumstances, which are his agents, are now once more bringing you to your home and family, but I fear there is much of uncertainty and anxiety resulting from your absence itself to cloud your return. You speak of propping the cause of law and order with your abilities, but I know of no way in which you can achieve this but by the practice of some profession demanding a long course of tedious preparation and generally unprofitable labor. The wretched state of the country and the present aspect of parliamentary polities render any hope of government employment, even in a subordinate position, very vague and uncertain. But only come hack, and when you are once more with us we shall better understand, perhaps, what your present wishes are ; and I am sure my dear father will spare no effort to assist you in any career which you steadfastly resolve to follow.
England is rocking with the earthquake which has shaken Europe, and is certainly in need of all the support which her best and wisest men can give her ; but it is neither fiery eloquence, nor brilliant intellect alone which will now avail her. Every Englishman who hopes to help in upholding the safety of the country and to rescue it from the convulsions with which it is threatened, must be steadfast in adhering with determined perseverance to the course which his judgment points out, and clear-sightedness is full as necessary as conviction. Certainly order is not preserved by each man quitting his own appointed sphere to regulate that of others, but by adhering bravely to the post which has been assigned him and fulfilling conscientiously its duties, and thus, by the influence of his example and the exercise of his faculties, enlightening, instructing, and guiding others. England wants such men at this crisis undoubtedly.
My dear brother, our own private affairs are hardly less perplexing than the public ones : my father is overwhelmed with anxieties and vexations ; I believe no less than six lawsuits are pending over that unlucky theatre, and his situation is becoming daily more difficult and more painful. Had you been here, perhaps you might have been of use to him ; I am sure you could have helped, at all events, to cheer and support him under his load of labor and trial. I have reason to be grateful for the mental and bodily health which luckily preserve me from depression ; they leave me little disposition, and my constant work little leisure, for low spirits. Dall sends you her affectionate love; so does Henry. A — is at this moment in Ireland, with my friend Miss S—. We saw Mr. Donne a short time after his marriage, and he and his wife were to have dined with us, but she was unfortunately very ill and did not come. I regretted this extremely, you had spoken so highly of her to me ; besides, the woman that delightful person married must have been a delightful person. Poor Mr. Sterling is, I fear, dying ; not, as you imagine, of disappointment and grief at the miscarriage of the Spanish insurrection, but of very decided and serious disease of the lungs. Mr. Barton called upon us to excuse Mrs. Sterling’s not having done so ; but ever since their marriage she has been in close attendance as nurse upon her husband. Her brother says John Sterling is ordered to a milder climate. If he recovers at all, I shall envy them : two people just united and much attached to each other going together away from everybody to live alone under the blessed sky of the south ! Perhaps, however, his activity and energy of mind may render this enforced suspense of all intellectual exertion irksome to him.
Good-by ; God bless you. Come back to us all and you will be welcome to all, and to none more than your affectionate sister, FANNY.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
DEAR MRS. JAMESON,— My brother John is alive, safe and well, in Gibraltar. You deserve to know this, but it is all I can say to you. My mother has suffered so much that she hardly feels her joy ; it has broken her down, and I, who have borne up well till now, feel prostrated by this reprieve. God be thanked for all his mercies ! I can say no more. F. A. K.
Frances Anne Kemble.