Old Woman's Gossip
IT is very curious that their experience tells so little among theatrical people in their calculation of the probable success of a new piece; perhaps it may be said that they cannot positively foresee the effect each actor or actress may produce with certain parts; but given the best possible representation of the piece, the precise temper of the particular audience who decides its fate on the first night of representation is always an unknown quantity in the calculation, and no technical experience ever seems to arrive at anything like even approximate certainty with regard to that.I felt perfectly sure of the” success of The Hunchback, but I think that was precisely because of my want of theatrical experience, which left me rather in the position of one of the public than one of the players, and there was much grave head-shaking over it, especially on the part of one excellent stage manager, Mr. Bartley, who was exceedingly faint-hearted about the experiment.
My father, with great professional disinterestedness, took the insignificant part of the insignificant lover, and Knowles himself filled that of the hero of the piece, the hunchback; a circumstance which gave the part a peculiar interest and compensated in some measure for the loss of the great genius of Kean, for whom it had been written.
The same species of uncertainty which I have said characterizes the judgments of actors with regard to the success of new pieces sometimes affects the appreciation authors themselves form of the relative merits of their own works, inducing them to value more highly some which thev esteem their best, and to which that preëminence is denied by popular verdict. Knowles while writing The Hunchback was so absorbed with the idea of what Kean’s impersonation of it would probably be, that he was entirely unconscious of what the great actor himself probably perceived, that on the stage the part of Julia would overweigh and eclipse that of Master Walter. Knowles felt sure he had written a fine man’s part, and was really not aware that the woman’s part was still finer. What is yet more singular is that while he was writing The Wife, which he did immediately afterwards, with a view to my acting the principal female character, he constantly said to me, “ I am writing such a part for you! ” and had no notion that the only part capable of any effect at all in the piece was that of Julian St. Pierre, the good-for-nothing brother of the duchess.
The play of The Wife was singularly wanting in interest, and except in the character of St. Pierre was ineffective and flat from beginning to end, in that respect a perfect contrast to The Hunchback, in which the interest is vivid and strong and never flags from the first scene to the last. I was quite unable to make anything at all of the part of Marianna, nor have I ever heard of its becoming prominent or striking in the hands of any one else.
The Hunchback, according to my confident expectation, succeeded. Knowles played his own hero with great force and spirit, though he was in such a state of wild excitement that I expected to see him fly on the stage whenever he should have been off it, and vice versa, and followed him about behind the scenes endeavoring to keep him in his right mind with regard to his exits and his entrances, and receiving from him explosive Irish benedictions in return for my warnings and promptings. Throughout the whole first representation I was really as nervous for and about him as I was about the play itself and my own particular part in it. My father did the impossible with Sir Thomas Clifford, in making him both dignified and interesting; and Miss Taylor was capital in the saucy Helen. My part played itself and was greatly liked by the audience; the piece was one of the most popular original plays of my time, and has continued a favorite alike with the public and the players. The part of the heroine is one, indeed, in which it would be almost impossible to fail; and every Julia may reckon upon the sympathy of her audience, the character is so preëminently effective and dramatic.
Of the play as a composition not much is to be said; it has little poetical or literary merit, and even the plot is so confused and obscure that nobody to my knowledge (not even the author himself, of whom I once asked an explanation of it) was ever able to make it out or give a plausible account of it. The characters are inconsistent, and wanting in verisimilitude to a degree that ought to prove fatal to them with any tolerably reasonable spectators; in spite of all which the play is interesting, exciting, affecting, and humorous. The powerfully dramatic effect of the situations, and the two characters of Master Walter and Julia, the great scope for good acting in all the scenes in which they appear, the natural fire, passion, and pathos of the dialogue, in short, the great merits of the piece as an acting play cover all its defects; even the heroine’s vulgar, flighty folly and the hero’s absurd eccentricity interfering wonderfully little with the sympathy of the audience for their troubles and their final triumph over them. The Hunchback is a very satisfactory play to see, but let nobody who has seen it well acted attempt to read it in cold blood!
It had an immense run, and afforded me an opportunity of testing the difference between an infinite repetition of the text of Shakespeare and that of any other writer. I played Juliet upwards of a hundred nights without any change of part and did not weary of it; Julia, in The Hunchback, after half the repetition became so tiresome to me that I would have given anything to have changed parts with my sprightly Helen, if only fora night, to refresh myself and recover a little from the extreme weariness I felt in constantly repeating Julia. The audience certainly would have suffered by the exchange, for Miss Taylor would not have played my part so much better than I, as I should have played hers worse than she did. Indeed, her performance of the character of Helen saved it from the reproach of coarseness, which very few actresses would have been able to avoid while giving it all the point and lively humor which she threw into it. I had great pleasure in acting the piece with her, she did her business so thoroughly well and was so amiable and agreeable a fellow worker.
In my last letter to Miss S—— I have spoken of a party at the Countess of Cork’s, to which I went. She was one of the most curious figures in the London society of my girlish days. Very aged, yet retaining much of a vivacity of spirit, and sprightly wit for which she had been famous as Mary Monckton, she continued till between ninety and a hundred years old to entertain her friends and the gay world, who frequently during the season assembled at her house.
I have still a note begging me to come to one of her evening parties, written under her dictation by a young person who used to live with her, and whom she called her “Memory;” the few concluding lines scrawled by herself are signed “ M. Cork, œt. 92.” She was rather apt to appeal to her friends to come to her on the score of her age; and I remember Rogers showing me an invitation he had received from her for one of the ancient concert evenings (these were musical entertainments of the highest order, which Mr. Rogers never failed to attend), couched in these terms: “ Dear Rogers, leave the ancient music and come to ancient Cork, 93.” Lady Cork’s drawing-rooms were rather peculiar in their arrangement: they did not contain that very usual piece of furniture, a piano-forte, so that if ever she especially desired to have music she hired an instrument for the evening; the rest of the furniture consisting only of very large and handsome arm-chairs placed round the apartments against the walls, to which they were made fast by some mysterious process, so that it was quite impossible to form a small circle or coterie of one’s own at one of her assemblies. I remember when first I made this discovery expressing my surprise to the beautiful Lady Harriet d’Orsay, who laughingly suggested that poor old Lady Cork’s infirmity with regard to the property of others (a well-known incapacity for discriminating between meum and tuum) might probably be the cause of this peculiar precaution with regard to her own arm-chairs, which it would not, however, have been a very easy matter to have stolen even had they not been chained to the walls. In the course of the conversation which followed, Lady E——, apparently not at all familiar with Chesterfield’s Letters, said that it was Lady Cork who had originated the idea that after all heaven would probably turn out very dull to her when she got there; sitting on damp clouds and singing God save the King being her idea of the principal amusements there. This rather dreary image of the joys of the blessed was combated, however, by Lady E——, who put forth her own theory on the subject as far more genial, saying, “ Oh dear, no; she thought it would be all splendid fêtes and delightful dinner parties, and charming, clever people; just like the London season, only a great deal pleasanter because there would be no bores.” With reference to Lady Cork’s theory, Lady Harriet said, “ I suppose it would he rather tiresome for her, poor thing! for you know she hates music, and there would be nothing to steal but one another’s wings.”
Lady Cork’s great age did not appear to interfere with her enjoyment of society, in which she lived habitually. I remember a very comical conversation with her in which she was endeavoring to appoint some day for my dining with her, our various engagements appearing to clash, she took up the pocket-book where hers were inscribed, and began reading them out with the following running commentary: “ Wednesday — no, Wednesday won’t do; Lady Holland dines with me — naughty lady! — won’t do, my dear. Thursday ? ” “ Very sorry, Lady Cork, we are engaged.“ “ Ah yes, so am I; let’s see — Friday; no, Friday I have the Duchess of C——, another naughty lady; must n’t come then, my dear. Saturday?” “No, Lady Cork, I am very sorry — Saturday we are engaged to Lady D——.” “ Oh dear, oil dear! improper lady, too! but a long time ago, everybody’s forgotten all about it, — very proper now! quite proper now!”
Lady Cork’s memory seemed to me to stretch beyond the limits of what everybody had forgotten. She was quite a young woman at the time of the youth of George III., and spoke of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to whose wife she, then ihe Honorable Mary Monckton, was maid of honor. It is a most tantalizing circumstance to me, now, to remember a fragment of a conversation between herself and my mother, on the occasion of the first visit I was ever taken to pay her. I was a very young girl; it was just after my return from school at Paris, and the topics discussed by my mother and her old lady friend interested me so little that I was looking out of the window, and wondering when we should go away, when my attention was arrested by these words spoken with much emphasis by Lady Cork: “ Yes, my dear, I was alone in the room, and the picture turned in its frame, and Lord Bute came out from behind it; ” here, perceiving my eyes riveted upon her, she lowered her voice, and I distinctly felt that I was expected to look out of the window again, without having any idea, however, that the question was probably one of the character of a “ naughty lady ” of higher rank than those so designated to me some years later by old Lady Cork, who, if I may judge by this fragment of gossip, might have cleared up some disputed points, as to the relations between the Princess of Wales and the Prime Minister.
I do not know that Lady Cork’s reputation for beauty ever equaled that she had for wit, but when I knew her, at upwards of ninety, she was really a very comely old woman. Her complexion was still enviably fine and fair, and there was great vivacity in her eyes and countenance, as well as wonderful liveliness in her manner. Her figure was very slight and diminutive, and at the parties at her own house she always was dressed entirely in white, — in some rich white silk, with a white bonnet covered with a rich blonde or lace veil on her head; she looked like a little old witch bride. I recollect a curious scene my mother described to me, which she witnessed one day when calling on Lady Cork, whom .she had known for many years. She was shown into her dressing-room, where the old lady was just finishing her toilet. She was about to put on her gown, and remaining a moment without it showed my mother her arms and neck, which were even then still white and round and by no means unlovely, and said, pointing to her maid, “Is n’t it a shame! she won’t let me wear my gowns low, or my sleeves short any more.” To which the maid responded by throwing the gown over her mistress’s shoulders, exclaiming at the same time, “ Oh, fie, my lady! you ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk so at your age! ” — a rebuke which the nonagenarian beauty accepted with becoming humility.
The unfortunate propensity of poor Lady Cork to appropriate all sorts of things belonging to other people, valueless quite as often as valuable, was matter of public notoriety, so that the fashionable London tradesmen, to whom her infirmity in this respect was well known, never allowed their goods to be taken to her carriage for inspection, but always exacted that she should come into their shops, where an individual was immediately appointed to follow her about and watch her during the whole time she was making her purchases.
Whenever she visited her friends in the country, her maid on her return home used to gather together whatever she did not recognize as belonging to her mistress, and her butler transmitted it back to the house where they had been staying. I heard once a most ludicrous story of her carrying off, finite de mieux, a hedgehog from a place where the creature was a pet of the porters, and was running tame about the hall as Lady Cork crossed it to get into her carriage. She made her poor “ Memory ” seize up the prickly beast, but after driving a few miles with this unpleasant spiked foot-warmer, she found means to dispose of it at a small town, where she stopped to change horses, to a baker, to whom she gave it in payment for a sponge cake, assuring him that a hedgehog would be invaluable in his establishment for the destruction of black beetles, with which she knew, from good authority, that the premises of bakers were always infested.
The following note was addressed to Lady If acre on the subject of a pretty piece called Isaure, which she had written and very kindly wished to have acted at Covent Garden for my benefit. It was, however, judged of too slight and delicate a texture for that large frame, and the purpose was relinquished. I rather think it was acted in private at Hatfield House, Lady Salisbury filling the part of the heroine, which I was to have taken had the piece been brought out at Covent Garden: —
MY PEAR LADY DAORK, — Will you be kind enough to send Isaure to my father? “We will take the greatest possible care of her, and return her to you in all safety. I am only sorry that he cannot have the pleasure of hearing you read it; for though it can take its own part very well, you know even Shakespeare is not the worse for the interpretation of a sweet voice, musical accent, and correct emphasis. With regard to the production of the piece on the stage, 1 do not like to venture an opinion, because my short experience has been long enough already to show me how easily I might be mistaken in such matters.
There is no rule by which tlie humors of an audience can be predicted. On a benefit night, indeed, I feel sure that the piece would succeed, and answer your kind intention of adding to the attractions of the bill, be they what they might; but our judges are not the same, you know, two consecutive evenings, and therefore it is impossible to foretell the sentence of a second representation, for no “benefit” but that of tlie public itself. Isaure is a refined patrician beauty, and I am sometimes inclined to think that tlie Memphian head alone is of fit, proportions for uttering oracles in the huge space of our modern stage. My father, however, is, from long experience, the best guesser of these riddles, and be will tell you honestly his opinion as to your heroine’s public capacity. I am sure he will find his own reward in making her acquaintance. I am, my dear Lady Dacre, faithfully yours, FANNY KEMBLE.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
DEAR MRS. JAMESON,—Thank you for the book you were so good as to send me. I have read that which concerns the Cenci in It, and think Leigh Hunt’s reflections on the story and tragedy very good. I am glad you were at the play last night, because I thought I acted well,—at least, I tried to do so. I stayed the first act of the new afterpiece, and was rather amused by it. I do not know how the ladies’ “ inexpressibles ” might affect the fortunes of the second act, but I liked all their gay petticoats in the first, extremely. The weather is not very propitious for us; we start to morrow at nine. I send you the only copy of Sophocles I can lay my hand on this morning. Yours evertruly,
F. A. KEMBLE.
A little piece called The Invincibles, in which a smart corps of voung Amazons in uniform were officered by Madame Vestris in the prettiest regimentals ever well worn by woman, was the novelty I alluded to. The effect of the female troop was very pretty, and the piece was very successful.
I had only lately read Shelley’s great tragedy, and Mrs. Jameson had been so good as to lend me various notices and criticisms upon it. The hideous subject itself is its weak point, and his selection of it one cause for doubting Shelley’s power as a dramatic writer. Everything else in the terrible play suggests the probable loss his death may have been to the dramatic literature of England. At the same time, the tenor of all his poems denotes a mind too unfamiliar with human life and human nature in their ordinary normal aspects and conditions for a good writer of plays. His metaphysical was almost too much for his poetical imagination, and perhaps nothing between the morbid horror of that Cenci story and the ideal grandeur of the Greek Prometheus would have excited him to the dramatic handling of any subject.
His translation from Calderon’s El Magico Prodigioso and his bit of the Brocken scene from Faust are fine samples of his power of dramatic style; he alone could worthily have translated the whole of Faust; but I suppose be really was too deficient in the vigorous fleshand-blood vitality of tlie highest and healthiest poetical genius to have been a dramatist. He could not deal with common folk or handle common things; humor, that great tragic element, was not in him; the heavens and all their clouds and colors were his, and he floated and hovered and soared in the ethereal element like one native to it. Upon the firm earth his foot wants firmness, and men and women as they are, are at once too coarse and complex, too robust and too infinitely various for his delicate, fine, but in some sense feeble handling.
Browning is the very reverse of Shelley in this respect; both have written one fine play and several fine dramatic compositions; but throughout Shelley’s poetry the dramatic spirit is deficient, while in Browning’s it reveals itself so powerfully that one wonders how he has escaped writing many good plays besides the Blot on the Scutcheon and that fine fragmentary succession of scenes, Pippa Passes.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
DEAR MRS. JAMESON, — I fear I am going to disappoint you, and ’tis with real regret that I do so, but I have been acting every night almost for the last month, and when to-day I mentioned my project of spending this, my holiday evening with you, both my aunt and my father seemed to think that in discharging my debt to you I was defrauding nearer and older creditors; and suggested that my brother, who really sees but little of me now, might think my going out to-night unkind. I cannot, therefore, carry out my plan of visiting you, and beg that you will forgive my not keeping my promise this evening. I am moreover so far from well that my company would hardly give you much pleasure, nor could I stay long if I came, for early as it is my head is aching for its pillow already.
As soon as a week occurs in which I have two holidays I will try to give you one of them. I send you back Crabbe, which I have kept forever; for a great poet, which he is, he is curiously unpoetical, I think. Yours ever truly,
F. A. KEMBLE.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
DEAR MRS. JAMESON,—My mother bids me say that you certainly will suppose she is mad, or else Mother Hubbard’s dog; for when you called she was literally ill in bed, and this evening she cannot have the pleasure of receiving you, because she is engaged out, here in our own neighborhood, to a very quiet tea. She bids me thank you very much for the kindness of your proposed visit and express her regret at not being able to avail herself of it. If you can come on Thursday, between one and two o’clock, I shall be most happy to see yon. Thank you very much for Lamb’s Dramatic Specimens; I read the scene you had copied from Philaster directly; how fine it is! how I should like to act it! Mr. Harness has sent me the first volume of the family edition of the Old Plays. I think sweeping those fine dramas clean is a good work that cannot be enough commended. What treasures we possess and make no use of, while we go on acting Gamesters and Grecian Daughters, and such poor stuff! But I have no time for ecstasies or exclamations. Yours ever most truly, F. A. KEMBLE.
I have said that hardly any new part was ever assigned to me that I did not receive with a rueful sense of inability to what I called “do anything with it.” Julia in The Hunchback, and Camiola in The Maid of Honor were among the few exceptions to this preparatory attack of despondency; but those I in some sort chose myself, and all my other characters were appointed me by the management, in obedience to whose dictates and with the hope of serving the interests of the theatre I suppose I should have acted Harlequin if I had been ordered to do so.
Lady Teazle and Mrs. Oakley were certainly no exceptions to this experience of a cold fit of absolute incapacity with which I received every new part appointed me, and my studying of them might have been called lugubrious, whatever my subsequent performance of them may have been. My mother was of invaluable assistance to me in the process, and I owe to her whatever effect I produced in either part. She had great comic as well as pathetic power, and the incisive point of her delivery gave every shade of meaning of the dialogue with admirable truth and pungency; her own performance of Mrs. Oakley had been excellent; I acted it, even with the advantage of her teaching, very tamely. Jealousy, in any shape, was not a passion that I sympathized with; the tragic misery of Bianca’s passion was, however, a thing I could imagine sufficiently well to represent it; but not so Mrs. Oakley’s fantastical frenzies. But the truth is that it was not until many years later and in my readings of Shakespeare that I developed any real comic faculty at all; and I have been amused in the later part of my public career to find comedy often considered my especial gift, rather than the tragic and pathetic one I was supposed at the beginning of it to possess.
The fact is that except in broad farce, where the principal ingredient being humor, animal spirits and a grotesque imagination, which are of no particular age, come strongly into play, comedy appears to me decidedly a more mature and complete result of dramatic training than tragedy. The effect of the latter may, as I myself exemplified, be tolerably achieved by force of natural gifts, aided but little by study; but a fine comedian must be a fine artist; his work is intellectual, and not emotional, and his effects address themselves to the critical judgment and not the passionate sympathy of an audience. Tact, discretion, fine taste, are quite impossible elements of his performance; he must be really a more complete actor than a great tragedian need be. The expression of passion and emotion appears to be an interpretation of nature, and may be forcibly rendered sometimes with but little beyond the excitement of its imaginary experience on the actor’s own sensibility; while a highly educated perfection is requisite for the actor who, in a brilliant and polished representation, of the follies of society, produces by fine and delicate and powerful delineations the picture of the vices and ridicules of a highly artificial civilization.
Good company itself is not unapt to he very good acting of high comedy, while tragedy, which underlies all life, if by chance it rises to the smooth surface of polite, social intercourse, agitates and disturbs it and produces even in that uncongenial sphere the rarely heard discord of a natural condition and natural expression of natural feeling.
Of my performance of Mrs. Oakley I have but one recollection, which is that of having once, while acting it with my father, disconcerted him to such a degree as to compel him to turn up the stage in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I remember the same thing happening once when I was playing Beatrice to his Benedict. I have not the least notion what I did that struck my father with such irrepressible merriment, but I suppose there must have been something in itself irresistibly ludicrous to him, towards whom my manner was habitually respectfully deferential (for our intercourse with our parents, though affectionate, was not familiar, and we seldom addressed them otherwise than as “ sir ” and “ ma’am”), to be pelted by me with the saucy sallies of Beatrice’s mischievous wit, or pummeled with the grotesque outbursts of poor Mrs. Oakley’s jealous fury.
Our personal relation, which thus rendered our performance of comedy together especially comical to my father, added infinitely to my distress in all tragedies in which we acted together; the sense of his displeasure or the sight of his anguish invariably bringing him, my father, and not the part he was acting, before me; and, as in the play of The Stranger and the pathetic little piece of The Deserter, affecting me with almost uncontrollable emotion.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET,
April 10, 1831.
MY DEAREST H——: I owe you something like an explanatory note after that ejaculatory one I sent you the other day; you must have thought me crazy; but indeed since all these late alarming reports from Spain, until the news came of John’s safety, I did not know how much fear and anxiety lay under the hope and courage I had endeavored to maintain about him.
From day to day I had read the reports and tried to reason with regard to their probability, and to persuade my mother that we had every cause for hoping the best; and it was really not until that hope was realized that it seemed as if all my mental nerves and muscles, braced to the resistance of calamity, had suddenly relaxed and given way under the relief from all further apprehension of it. I have kept much of my forebodings to myself, but they have been constant and wretched enough, and my gratitude for this termination of them is unspeakable.
I heard last night a report which I have not mentioned to my mother for fear it should prove groundless. Horace Twiss showed me a note in which a gentleman assured him. that John had positively taken his passage in a government vessel, and was now on his way home; even if this is true, I am afraid to tell my mother, because if the vessel should be delayed a day or two by weather or any other cause, her anxiety will have another set of apprehensions to feed upon, and to prey upon her with. She desires her best love to you; she likes your pamphlet ou The Education of the People very much, at the same time that it has not convinced her that instruction is wholesome for the lower orders; she thinks the dependence of helplessness and ignorance a better security (for them, or for those above them, I wonder?) than the power of reasoning rightly and a sense of duty, in which opinion, as you will believe, I do not agree.
Thank you for your account of your visit to Wroxton Abbey [the seat of the Earl of Guilford]; it interested me very much; trees are not to me, as they seem to be to you, the most striking and beautiful of all natural objects, though I remember feeling a good deal of pain at the cutting down of a particular tree that I was very fond of.
At the entrance of Weybridge was a deserted estate and dilapidated mansion, Portmore Park, once a royal domain, through which the river ran and where we used to go constantly to fish. There was a remarkably beautiful cedar-tree whose black boughs spread far over the river, and whose powerful roots, knotted in every variety of twist, formed a cradle from which the water had gradually washed away the earth. Here I used to sit, or rather lie, reading, or writing sometimes, while the others pursued their sport, and enjoying the sound and sight of the sparkling water which ran undermining my bed and singing treacherous lullabies to me the while. For two years this tree was my favorite haunt; the third, on our return to Weybridge from London, on my running to the accustomed spot, I found the hitherto intercepted sun staring down upon the water and the bank, and a broad, smooth, white tabula rasa level with the mossy turf, which was all that remained of my cedar canopy; and though it afforded an infinitely more commodious seat than the twisted roots, I never returned there again.
I have had no opportunity of strengthening my love of nature by association; but there is no mood whatever in which I do not find sympathy and fellowship in its aspect; and I feel an upspringing glow of affection towards tlie blue summer sky that I never felt towards any creature of my own species.
To-morrow we dine with the F——s, and there is to be a dance in the evening; on Wednesday I act Constance; Thursday there is a charade party at the M——s’; Friday I play Mrs. Beverley; and Monday and Wednesday next, Camiola. I hope by and by to act Camiola very well, but I am afraid the play itself can never become popular; the size of the theatre and the public taste of the present day are both against such pieces; still, the attempt seemed to me worth making, and if it should prove successful we might revive one or two more of Massinger’s plays; they are such sterling stuff compared with the Isabellas, the Jane Shores, the everything but Shakespeare. You saw in my journal what I think about Camiola. I endeavor as much as I can to soften her, and if I can manage to do so I shall like her better than any part I have played except my dear Portia, who does not need softening.
I am too busy just now to read Destiny [Miss Ferrier’s admirable novel]; my new part and dresses and rehearsals will occupy me next week completely. I have taken a new start about The Star of Seville [the play I was writing], and am working away hard at it. I begin to see my way through it. I wish I could make anything like an acting play of it; we want one or two new ones so very much.
My riding goes on famously, and Torrard thinks so well of my progress that the other day he put me upon a man’s horse,— an Arab, — which frightened me half to death with his high spirits and capers; but I sat him, and what is more rode him. Tuesday we go to a very gay ball a little way out of town; Saturday we go to a party at old Lady Cork’s, who calls you Harriet and professes to have known you well and to remember you perfectly.
Now, H——, as to what you say of fishing, if you are bloody-minded enough to desire to kill creatures for sport, in Heaven’s name why don’t you do it? The sin lies in the inclination (by the bye, I think that’s half a mistake). Never mind, your inclination to fish and my desire to be the tigress at the Zoölogical Gardens have nothing whatever in common. I admire and envy the wild beast’s swiftness and strength, but if I had them I don’t think I would tear human beings to bits unless I were she, which was not what I wished to be, only as strong and agile as she; do you see ? I am in a great hurry, dear, and have written you an inordinately stupid letter; never mind, the next shall be inconceivably amusing. Just now my head is stuffed full of ambercolored cashmere and white satin. My mother begs to be kindly remembered to Mrs. Kemble. Always affectionately yours, F. A. K.
My determination to soften the character of Camiola is another indication of my imperfect comprehension of my business as an actress, which was not to reform but to represent certain personages. Massinger’s Maid of Honor is a stern woman, not without a very positive grain of coarse hardness in her nature. My attempt to soften her was an impertinent endeavor to alter his fine conception to something more in harmony with my own ideal of womanly perfection. I was a very indifferent actress and had not begun to understand my work, nor was Mr. Maeready far wrong when, many years after, he spoke of me as “not knowing the rudiments of my profession.”
Thursday, April 21st. Walked in the square, and studied Lady Teazle. The trees are thickly clothed with leaves, and the new-mown grass, even ill the midst of London, smelt fresh and sweet; I was quite alone in the square and enjoyed something like a country sensation. I went to Pickersgill, and Mrs. Jameson came while I was sitting to him ; that Medora of his is a fine picture, full of poetry. We dined with the Harnesses; Milman and Croly were among the guests (it was a sort of Quarterly Review in the flesh). I like Mr. Milman; not so the other critic.
Friday, 22d. Visiting with my mother; called on Lady Dacre, who gave me her pretty little piece of Wednesday Morning, with a view to our doing it for my father’s benefit. It is really very pretty, but I fear will look in our large theatre as a lady’s water-color sketch of a landscape would by way of a scene. I walked in the square in the afternoon, and studied Lady Teazle, which 1 do not like a bit and shall act abominably. At the theatre to-night the house was not very full, and the audience were unpleasantly inclined to be political; they took one of the speeches, “ The king, God bless him,” and applied it with vehement applause to his worthy majesty, William IV.
Saturday, 23d. After my riding lesson, went and sat in the library to hear Sheridan Knowles’s play of The Hunchback. Mr. Bartley and my father and mother were his only audience, and he read it himself to us. A real play, with real characters, individuals, human beings, it is a good deal after the fashion of our old playwrights and does not disgrace its models. I was delighted with it; it is full of life and originality; a little long, but that’s a trifle. There is a want of clearness and coherence in the plot, and the comic part has really no necessary connection with the rest of the piece; but none of that will signify much, or, I think, prevent it from succeeding. I like the woman’s part exceedingly, but am afraid I shall find it very difficult to act.
After dinner there was a universal discussion as to the possibility and probability of Adorni’s self-sacrifice in The Maid of Honor, and as the female voices were unanimous in their verdict of its truth and likelihood, I hold it. to be likely and true, for Dante says we have the “intellect of love,” and Chcrubino (a very different kind of authority) says the same thing; and I suppose we are better judges of such questions than men. The love of Adorni seems to me, indeed, more like a woman’s than a man’s, but that does not tell against its verisimilitude. Our love is characterized generally by self-devotion and self-denial, but the qualities which naturally belong to our affection were given to Adorni by his social and conventional position. He was by birth and fortune dependent on and inferior to Camiola, as women are by nature dependent on and inferior to men; and so I think his love for her has something of a feminine quality.
In the evening went with my mother to a party at old Lady Cork’s. We started for our assembly within a few minutes of Sunday morning. Such rooms — such ovens! such boxes full of fine folks and foul air! in which we stood and sat, and looked and listened, and talked nonsense and heard it talked, and perspired and smothered and suffocated. On our arrival, as I was going upstairs, I was nearly squeezed flat against the wall by her potent grace, the Duchess of St. Albans. We remained half an hour in the steaming atmosphere of the drawing-rooms, and another half hour in the freezing hall before the carriage could be brought up; caught a dreadful cold and came home; did not get to bed till two o’clock, with an intolerable face-ache and toothache, the well-earned reward of a well-spent evening.
[The career of the Duchess of St. Albans was, as far as worldly circumstances went, a curious one. As Miss Mellon she was one of my mother’s stage contemporaries; a kind-hearted, goodhumored, buxom, rather coarse actress, with good looks, and good spirits of a somewhat unrefined sort, which were not without their admirers; among these the old banker, Mr. Coutts, married her, and dying left her the sole possessor and disposer of his enormous wealth. My mother, who had always remained on friendly though not intimate terms with her old stage-mate, went to see her in the early days of her widowhood, when Mrs. Coutts gave her this moderate estimate of her “ money matters: ” “ Ah, I assure you, dear Mrs. Charles, the reports of what poor, dear Mr. Coutts has left me are very much exaggerated, not I really believe more than a few hundred thousand pounds; to be sure” (after a dejected pause), “there’s the bank, they say about fifty thousand a year.”
This small fortune and inconsiderable income proved sufficient to the moderate desires of the young Duke of St. Albans, who married this destitute widow, who thenceforth took her place (and a large one) in the British aristocracy, and chaperoned the young Ladies Beauclerc, her husband’s sisters, in society. She was a good-natured woman, and more than once endeavored to get my father and mother to bring me to her balls and magnificent parties. This, however, they steadily declined, and she, without resenting it, sent her invitations to my youngest brother alone, to whom she took a great fancy, and to whose accepting her civilities no objection was made. At her death she left her great wealth to Mr. Coutts’s granddaughter, Miss Burdett Coutts, the lady whose excellent use of her riches has made her known all over the world as one of the most munificently charitable of Fortune’s stewards.
The Duchess of St. Albans was not without shrewd sense and some humor, though entirely without education, and her sallies were not always in the best possible taste. Her box at Covent Garden could he approached more conveniently by crossing the stage than by the entrance from the front of the house, and she sometimes availed herself of this easier exit to reach her carriage with less delay. One night when my father had been acting Charles II., the Duchess of St. Albans crossing her old work-ground, the stage, with her two companions the pretty Ladies Beauclerc, stopped to shake hands with him he was still in his stage costume, having remained behind the scenes to give some orders), and presenting him to her young ladies said, “ There, my dears; there’s your ancestor.” I suppose in her earlier day she might not have been a bad representative of their “ ancestress.”]
Monday, April 25th. Finished studying Lady Teazle. In the evening at the theatre the house was good, but the audience was dull and I was in wretched spirits and played very ill.
Dall was saying that she thought in two years of hard work we might, that is, my father and myself, earn enough to enable us to live in the south of France. This monstrous theatre and its monstrous liabilities will banish us all as it did my uncle Kemble. But that I should be sorry to live so far out of the reach of H——, I think the south of France would be a pleasant abode: a delicious climate, a quiet existence, a less artificial state of society and mode of life, a picturesque nature round me, and my own dear ones and my scribbling with me,—I think with all these conditions I could he happy enough in the south of France or anywhere.
The audience were very politically inclined, applied all the loyal speeches with fervor, and called for God save the King after the play. The town is illuminated too, and one hopes and prays that the Old Heart of Oak will weather these evil days, but sometimes the straining of the tackle and the creaking of the timbers are suggestive of foundering even to the most hopeful. The lords have been vindicating their claim to a share in common humanity by squabbling like fishwives and all but coming to blows; the bishops must have been scared and scandalized, lords spiritual not being fighting men nowadays.
After the play Mr. Stewart Newton, the painter, supped with us, — a clever, entertaining man and charming artist; a little bit of a dandy, but probably he finds it politie to be so. He told us some comical anecdotes about the Roval Academy and the hanging of the pictures.
The poor, dear king [William IV.], who it seems knows as much about painting as una vacca spagnuola lets himself, his family, and family animals be painted by whoever begs to be allowed that honor. So when the pictures were all hung the other day, somebody discovered in a wretched daub close to the ceiling a portrait of Lady Falkland [the king’s daughter], and another of his majesty’s favorite cat, which were immediately lowered to a more honorable position, to accomplish which desirable end, Sir William Beechey [then president of the academy] removed some of his own paintings. On a similar occasion during the late King George IV. ’s life, a wretched portrait of him having been placed in one of the most conspicuous situations in the room, the Duke of Wellington and sundry other distinguished cognoscenti complimented Sir Thomas Lawrence on it as his; this was rather a bitter pill and must have been almost too much for Lawrence’s courtierly equanimity.
Wednesday, April 27th. To the riding-school, where Miss Cavendish and I discoursed on the stay-at-home sensation, and agreed that it is bad to encourage it too far, as one may narrow one’s social circle till at last it resolves itself into one’s self.
Wrote to thank Dr. Thackeray [provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and father of my life-long friend Mr. A—— T——] for the Shakespeare he has sent me, and Lady Dacre for her piece of Wednesday Morning. In the evening they all drove out in the open carriage to see the illuminations; I stayed at home, for the carriage was full and I had no curiosity about the sight. The town is one blaze of rejoicing for the Reform Bill triumph; the streets are thronged with people and choked up with carriages, and the air is flashing and crashing with rockets and sqidbs and crackers, to the great discomfort of the horses. So many R’s everywhere that they may stand for reform, revolution, ruin, just as those who run may choose to read, or according to the interpretation of every individual’s politics; the most general acceptation in which they will be taken by the popular understanding will assuredly be row.
Friday, 29th. Went off to rehearsal without any breakfast, which was horrible! but not so horrible as my performance of Lady Teazle promises to be. If Ido the part according to my notion, it will be mere insipidity, and yet all the traditional pokes and pats with the face and business of the part, as it is called, is so perfectly unnatural to me that I fear I shall execute it with a doleful bad grace. It seems odd that Sir Peter always wears the dress of the last century, while the costume of the rest of the dramatis per-sonae is quite modern. Indeed, mine is a ball dress of the present day, all white satin and puffs and clouds of white tulle, and garlands and wreaths of white roses and jasmine; it is very anomalous, and makes Lady Teazle of no date, as it were, for her manners are those of a rustic belle of seventeen hundred and something, and her costume that of a fine lady of the present day in the height of the present fashion, which is absurd.
Mrs. Jameson paid me a long visit; she threatens to write a play; perhaps she might; she is very clever, has a vast fund of information, a good deal of experience, and knowledge and observation of the world and society. She wanted me to have spent the evening with her on the 23d, Shakespeare’s birth and death day, an anniversary all English people ought to celebrate. Lady Dacre called, in some tribulation, to say that she had committed herself about her little piece of Wednesday Morning, and that Lady Salisbury, who wants it for Hatfield, does not like its being brought out on the stage.
Lady Dacre says Lady Salisbury is “ afraid of comparisons ” (between herself and me, in the part). I think Lady Salisbury would not like “our play” to be made “ common and unclean ” by vulgar publicity. In the evening I went to the theatre to see a new comedy by a Spaniard. The house was literally empty, which was encouraging to all parties. The piece is slightly constructed in point of plot, but the dialogue is admirably written, and as the work of a foreigner, perfectly surprising. I was introduced to Don Telesforo de Trueba, the author, an ugly little young man, all hair and glare, whiskers and spectacles; he must be very clever and well worth knowing. Mr. Harness took tea with us after the play.
[The comedy, in five acts, of The Exquisites was a satirical piece showing up the ridiculous assumption of affected indifference of the young dandies of the day. The special airs of impertinence by which certain officers of a “crack” regiment distinguished themselves had suggested several of the most telling points of tlie play, which was in every respect a most remarkable performance for a foreigner.]
Saturday, April 30th. Received a letter from John; he has determined not to leave Spain at present; and were he to return, what is there for him to do here? In the evening to Mrs. Céé’s ball; it was very gay, but I am afraid I am turning “exquisite,” for I didn’t like the music, and my partners bored me, and the dancing tired me, and my journal is getting like Kéé’s head — full of naked facts, unclothed with a single thought.
Sunday, May 1st. As sulky a day as ever glouted in an English sky. The “young morn ” came picking her way from the east, leading with her a dripping, draggled May, instead of Milton’s glorious vision.
After church, sundry callers: Mr. C—— bringing prints of the dresses for Hernani, and the W——s, who seem in a dreadful fright about the present state of the country. I do not suppose they would like to see Heaton demolished.
In the evening we went to the Cartwrights’. It is only in the morning that one goes there to be tortured; in the evening it is to eat delicious dinners and hear delightful music.
Hummel, Moscheles, Neukomm, Horsley, and Sir George Smart, and how they did play! à l’envi l’un de l’auire. They sang, too, that lovely glee. By Celia’s Arbor. The thrilling shudder which sweet music Sends through one’s whole frame is a species of acute pleasure, very nearly akin to pain. I wonder if by any chance there is a point at which the two are one and the same thing!
Tuesday, May 3d. I wrote the fourth scene of the fifth act of my play [The Star of Seville], and acted Lady Teazle for the first time; the house was very good, and my performance, as I expected, very bad; I was as flat as a lady amateur. I stayed after the play to hear Braham sing Tom Tug, which was a refreshment to my spirit after my own acting; after I came home, finished the fifth act of The Star of Seville. “Joy, joy forever, my task is done!” I have not the least idea, though, that “ heaven is won.”
Wednesday, May 4th. A delightful dinner at the B——s’, but in the evening a regular crush; however, if one is to be squeezed to death (though ’t is an abolished form of torture), it may as well be in good company. All the fine world, and lots of pleasant people besides: Milman, Sotheby, Lockhart, Sir Augustus Cabott, Harness, Lady Dacre, Joanna Baillie, Lady Cabott, etc.
Thursday, May nth. A rather stupid dinner at the G——s’. I don’t like Mr. D—— he’s a general sneerer, a species of intellectual libertine that I hate. I danced one quadrille and a waltz, and then went to Mrs. W——’s, who had what is emphatically called a “ good party.” Charming music; Mrs. Norton looking radiantly splendid; had a long, pleasant talk with Lord Melbourne, who is delightful.
Friday, May 6th. Real March weather: cold, piercing, damp, wretched, in spite of which I carried Shakespeare to walk with me in the square, and read all over again for the fiftieth time all the conjectures of everybody about him and his life. How little we know about him, how intimately we seem to know him! I had the square all to myself, and it was delicious: lilac, syringa, hawthorn, lime blossoms, and new-mown grass in the midst of London, — and Shakespeare to think about. How grateful I felt for so much enjoyment! When I got home, corrected the proof-sheets of Francis I., and thought it looked quite pretty in print.
Out so late dancing, Wednesday and Thursday nights, or rather mornings, that I had no time for journal-writing. What a life I do lead!
Friday, May 15th. At twelve o’clock to Bridgewater House for our first rehearsal of Hernani. Lady Francis wants us to go down to them at Oatlands. I should like of all things to see Weybridge once more; there’s many a nook and path in those woods that I know better than their owners. The rehearsal lasted till three, and was a tolerably tidy specimen of amateur acting. Mr. Craven is really very good, and I shall like to act with him very much, and Mr. St. Aubin is very fair. Was introduced to Mrs. Bradshaw, whose looks rather disappointed me, because she “ did contrive to make herself look so beautiful” on the stage, in Clari and Mary Copp and everything she ever did; I suppose her exquisite acting got into her face, somehow. Henry Greville is delightful, and I like him very much. When we left Bridgewater House we drove to my aunt Siddons’s. Every time I see that magnificent ruin some fresh decay makes itself apparent in it, and one cannot but feel that it must soon totter to its fall.
What a price she has paid for her great celebrity! — weariness, vacuity, and utter deadness of spirit. The cup has been so highly flavored that life is absolutely without savor or sweetness to her now, nothing but tasteless insipidity. She has stood on a pinnacle till all things have come to look flat and dreary; mere shapeless, colorless, level monotony to her. Poor woman! what a fate to be condemned to, and yet. how she has been envied, as well as admired!
After dinner had only just time to go over my part and drive to the theatre. My dear, delightful Portia! The house was good, but the audience dull, and I acted dully to suit them; but I hope my last dress, which was beautiful, consoled them. What with sham business and real business, I have had a busy day.
Saturday, May 14th. Received a note from Theodosia [Lady Monson], and a whole cargo of delicious flowers from Cassiobury. She writes me that poor old Forster [an old cottager who lived in Lord Essex’s park, and whom my friend and I used to visit] is dying. The last I saw of that “ Old Mortality ” was sitting with him one bright sunset under his cottage porch, singing to him and dressing his hat with flowers, poor old man! yet after walking this earth upwards of ninety-seven years the spirit as well as the flesh must be weary. His cottage will lose half its picturesquesness without his figure at the door; I wonder who will take care now of the roses he was so fond of, and the pretty little garden I used to forage in for lilies of the valley and strawberries! I shall never see him again, which makes me sad; I was often deeply struck by the quaint wisdom of that old human relic, and his image is associated in my thoughts with evening walks and summer sunsets and lovely flowers and lordly trees, and he will haunt Cassiobury always to me. I went with my mother to buy my dresses for Hernani which will cost me a fortune and a half.
Horace Twiss and Annie dined with us; he croaks awfully about the times, but then he has lost his place. Mr, Norton came in the evening, and told us Lord Melbourne’s dinner, to which we were going, is obliged to be put off as he is quite ill. I wonder every one who has anything to do with public affairs is not quite ill; quite sick of them they certainly must be. Mrs. Norton and Horace had a well-bred set-to about politics; he had all the acrid bitterness of out and she all the impertinent insolence of in place party spirit; it was a very pretty quarrel.
Sunday, May 15th. Walked home from church with Mrs. Montague and Emily and Mrs. Proctor, discussing among various things the necessity for “ preparation ” before taking the sacrament. I suppose the publican in the parable had not prepared his prayer, and I suppose be would have been a worthy communicant.
Frances Anne Kemble.