[Transcriber's note: The spellings in this book are inconsistent in the original, and have not been corrected except in the index as explicitly noted below.]
RECORDS OF A GIRLHOOD
FRANCES ANN KEMBLE
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1880.
COPYRIGHT, 1879, BY HENRY HOLT & CO.
JOHN A. GRAY, Agent, TYPE-SETTING MACHINERY, 16 & 18 JACOB STREET, NEW YORK.
Considerable portions of this work originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, but there is added to these a large amount of new matter not hitherto published, and the whole work has been thoroughly revised.
RECORDS OF A GIRLHOOD.
A few years ago I received from a friend to whom they had been addressed a collection of my own letters, written during a period of forty years, and amounting to thousands—a history of my life.
The passion for universal history (i.e. any and every body's story) nowadays seems to render any thing in the shape of personal recollections good enough to be printed and read; and as the public appetite for gossip appears to be insatiable, and is not unlikely some time or other to be gratified at my expense, I have thought that my own gossip about myself may be as acceptable to it as gossip about me written by another.
I have come to the garrulous time of life—to the remembering days, which only by a little precede the forgetting ones. I have much leisure, and feel sure that it will amuse me to write my own reminiscences; perhaps reading them may amuse others who have no more to do than I have. To the idle, then, I offer these lightest of leaves gathered in the idle end of autumn days, which have succeeded years of labor often severe and sad enough, though its ostensible purpose was only that of affording recreation to the public.
* * * * *
There are two lives of my aunt Siddons: one by Boaden, and one by the poet Campbell. In these biographies due mention is made of my paternal grandfather and grandmother. To the latter, Mrs. Roger Kemble, I am proud to see, by Lawrence's portrait of her, I bear a personal resemblance; and I please myself with imagining that the likeness is more than "skin deep." She was an energetic, brave woman, who, in the humblest sphere of life and most difficult circumstances, together with her husband fought manfully a hard battle with poverty, in maintaining and, as well as they could, training a family of twelve children, of whom four died in childhood. But I am persuaded that whatever qualities of mind or character I inherit from my father's family, I am more strongly stamped with those which I derive from my mother, a woman who, possessing no specific gift in such perfection as the dramatic talent of the Kembles, had in a higher degree than any of them the peculiar organization of genius. To the fine senses of a savage rather than a civilized nature, she joined an acute instinct of correct criticism in all matters of art, and a general quickness and accuracy of perception, and brilliant vividness of expression, that made her conversation delightful. Had she possessed half the advantages of education which she and my father labored to bestow upon us, she would, I think, have been one of the most remarkable persons of her time.
My mother was the daughter of Captain Decamp, an officer in one of the armies that revolutionary France sent to invade republican Switzerland. He married the daughter of a farmer from the neighborhood of Berne. From my grandmother's home you could see the great Jungfrau range of the Alps, and I sometimes wonder whether it is her blood in my veins that so loves and longs for those supremely beautiful mountains.
Not long after his marriage my grandfather went to Vienna, where, on the anniversary of the birth of the great Empress-King, my mother was born, and named, after her, Maria Theresa. In Vienna, Captain Decamp made the acquaintance of a young English nobleman, Lord Monson (afterwards the Earl of Essex), who, with an enthusiasm more friendly than wise, eagerly urged the accomplished Frenchman to come and settle in London, where his talents as a draughtsman and musician, which were much above those of a mere amateur, combined with the protection of such friends as he could not fail to find, would easily enable him to maintain himself and his young wife and child.
In an evil hour my grandfather adopted this advice, and came to England. It was the time when the emigration of the French nobility had filled London with objects of sympathy, and society with sympathizers with their misfortunes. Among the means resorted to for assisting the many interesting victims of the Revolution, were representations, given under the direction of Le Texier, of Berquin's and Madame de Genlis's juvenile dramas, by young French children. These performances, combined with his own extraordinary readings, became one of the fashionable frenzies of the day. I quote from Walter Scott's review of Boaden's life of my uncle the following notice of Le Texier: "On one of these incidental topics we must pause for a moment, with delighted recollection. We mean the readings of the celebrated Le Texier, who, seated at a desk, and dressed in plain clothes, read French plays with such modulation of voice, and such exquisite point of dialogue, as to form a pleasure different from that of the theatre, but almost as great as we experience in listening to a first-rate actor. We have only to add to a very good account given by Mr. Boaden of this extraordinary entertainment, that when it commenced Mr. Le Texier read over the dramatis personae, with the little analysis of character usually attached to each name, using the voice and manner with which he afterward read the part; and so accurate was the key-note given that he had no need to name afterward the person who spoke; the stupidest of the audience could not fail to recognize them."
Among the little actors of Le Texier's troupe, my mother attracted the greatest share of public attention by her beauty and grace, and the truth and spirit of her performances.
The little French fairy was eagerly seized upon by admiring fine ladies and gentlemen, and snatched up into their society, where she was fondled and petted and played with; passing whole days in Mrs. Fitzherbert's drawing-room, and many a half hour on the knees of her royal and disloyal husband, the Prince Regent, one of whose favorite jokes was to place my mother under a huge glass bell, made to cover some large group of precious Dresden china, where her tiny figure and flashing face produced even a more beautiful effect than the costly work of art whose crystal covering was made her momentary cage. I have often heard my mother refer to this season of her childhood's favoritism with the fine folk of that day, one of her most vivid impressions of which was the extraordinary beauty of person and royal charm of manner and deportment of the Prince of Wales, and his enormous appetite: enormous perhaps, after all, only by comparison with her own, which he compassionately used to pity, saying frequently, when she declined the delicacies that he pressed upon her, "Why, you poor child! Heaven has not blessed you with an appetite." Of the precocious feeling and imagination of the poor little girl, thus taken out of her own sphere of life into one so different and so dangerous, I remember a very curious instance, told me by herself. One of the houses where she was a most frequent visitor, and treated almost like a child of the family, was that of Lady Rivers, whose brother, Mr. Rigby, while in the ministry, fought a duel with some political opponent. Mr. Rigby had taken great notice of the little French child treated with such affectionate familiarity by his sister, and she had attached herself so strongly to him that, on hearing the circumstance of his duel suddenly mentioned for the first time, she fainted away: a story that always reminded me of the little Spanish girl Florian mentions in his "Memoires d'un jeune Espagnol," who, at six years of age, having asked a young man of upward of five and twenty if he loved her, so resented his repeating her question to her elder sister that she never could be induced to speak to him again.
Meantime, while the homes of the great and gay were her constant resort, the child's home was becoming sadder, and her existence and that of her parents more precarious and penurious day by day. From my grandfather's first arrival in London, his chest had suffered from the climate; the instrument he taught was the flute, and it was not long before decided disease of the lungs rendered that industry impossible. He endeavored to supply its place by giving French and drawing lessons (I have several small sketches of his, taken in the Netherlands, the firm, free delicacy of which attest a good artist's handling); and so struggled on, under the dark London sky, and in the damp, foggy, smoky atmosphere, while the poor foreign wife bore and nursed four children.
It is impossible to imagine any thing sadder than the condition of such a family, with its dark fortune closing round and over it, and its one little human jewel, sent forth from its dingy case to sparkle and glitter, and become of hard necessity the single source of light in the growing gloom of its daily existence. And the contrast must have been cruel enough between the scenes into which the child's genius spasmodically lifted her, both in the assumed parts she performed and in the great London world where her success in their performance carried her, and the poor home, where sickness and sorrow were becoming abiding inmates, and poverty and privation the customary conditions of life—poverty and privation doubtless often increased by the very outlay necessary to fit her for her public appearances, and not seldom by the fear of offending, or the hope of conciliating, the fastidious taste of the wealthy and refined patrons whose favor toward the poor little child-actress might prove infinitely helpful to her and to those who owned her.
The lives of artists of every description in England are not unapt to have such opening chapters as this; but the calling of a player alone has the grotesque element of fiction, with all the fantastic accompaniments of sham splendor thrust into close companionship with the sordid details of poverty; for the actor alone the livery of labor is a harlequin's jerkin lined with tatters, and the jester's cap and bells tied to the beggar's wallet. I have said artist life in England is apt to have such chapters; artist life everywhere, probably. But it is only in England, I think, that the full bitterness of such experience is felt; for what knows the foreign artist of the inexorable element of Respectability? In England alone is the pervading atmosphere of respectability that which artists breathe in common with all other men—respectability, that English moral climate, with its neutral tint and temperate tone, so often sneered at in these days by its new German title of Philistinism, so often deserving of the bitterest scorn in some of its inexpressibly mean manifestations—respectability, the pre-eminently unattractive characteristic of British existence, but which, all deductions made for its vulgar alloys, is, in truth, only the general result of the individual self-respect of individual Englishmen; a wholesome, purifying, and preserving element in the homes and lives of many, where, without it, the recklessness bred of insecure means and obscure position would run miserable riot; a tremendous power of omnipotent compression, repression, and oppression, no doubt, quite consistent with the stern liberty whose severe beauty the people of these islands love, but absolutely incompatible with license, or even lightness of life, controlling a thousand disorders rampant in societies where it does not exist; a power which, tyrannical as it is, and ludicrously tragical as are the sacrifices sometimes exacted by it, saves especially the artist class of England from those worst forms of irregularity which characterize the Bohemianism of foreign literary, artistic, and dramatic life.
Of course the pleasure-and-beauty-loving, artistic temperament, which is the one most likely to be exposed to such an ordeal as that of my mother's childhood, is also the one liable to be most injured by it, and to communicate through its influence peculiar mischief to the moral nature. It is the price of peril, paid for all that brilliant order of gifts that have for their scope the exercise of the imagination through the senses, no less than for that crown of gifts, the poet's passionate inspiration, speaking to the senses through the imagination.
How far my mother was hurt by the combination of circumstances that influenced her childhood I know not. As I remember her, she was a frank, fearless, generous, and unworldly woman, and had probably found in the subsequent independent exercise of her abilities the shield for these virtues. How much the passionate, vehement, susceptible, and most suffering nature was banefully fostered at the same time, I can better judge from the sad vantage-ground of my own experience.
After six years spent in a bitter struggle with disease and difficulties of every kind, my grandfather, still a young man, died of consumption, leaving a widow and five little children, of whom the eldest, my mother, not yet in her teens, became from that time the bread-winner and sole support.
Nor was it many years before she established her claim to the approbation of the general public, fulfilling the promise of her childhood by performances of such singular originality as to deserve the name of genuine artistic creations, and which have hardly ever been successfully attempted since her time: such as "The Blind Boy" and "Deaf and Dumb;" the latter, particularly, in its speechless power and pathos of expression, resembling the celebrated exhibitions of Parisot and Bigottini, in the great tragic ballets in which dancing was a subordinate element to the highest dramatic effects of passion and emotion expressed by pantomime. After her marriage, my mother remained but a few years on the stage, to which she bequeathed, as specimens of her ability as a dramatic writer, the charming English version of "La jeune Femme colere," called "The Day after the Wedding;" the little burlesque of "Personation," of which her own exquisitely humorous performance, aided by her admirably pure French accent, has never been equaled; and a play in five acts called "Smiles and Tears," taken from Mrs. Opie's tale of "Father and Daughter."
She had a fine and powerful voice and a rarely accurate musical ear; she moved so gracefully that I have known persons who went to certain provincial promenades frequented by her, only to see her walk; she was a capital horsewoman; her figure was beautiful, and her face very handsome and strikingly expressive; and she talked better, with more originality and vivacity, than any English woman I have ever known: to all which good gifts she added that of being a first-rate cook. And oh, how often and how bitterly, in my transatlantic household tribulations, have I deplored that her apron had not fallen on my shoulders or round my waist! Whether she derived this taste and talent from her French blood, I know not, but it amounted to genius, and might have made her a pre-eminent cordon bleu, if she had not been the wife, and cheffe, of a poor professional gentleman, whose moderate means were so skillfully turned to account, in her provision for his modest table, that he was accused by ill-natured people of indulging in the expensive luxury of a French cook. Well do I remember the endless supplies of potted gravies, sauces, meat jellies, game jellies, fish jellies, the white ranges of which filled the shelves of her store-room—which she laughingly called her boudoir—almost to the exclusion of the usual currant jellies and raspberry jams of such receptacles: for she had the real bon vivant's preference of the savory to the sweet, and left all the latter branch of the art to her subordinates, confining the exercise of her own talents, or immediate superintendence, to the production of the above-named "elegant extracts." She never, I am sorry to say, encouraged either my sister or myself in the same useful occupation, alleging that we had what she called better ones; but I would joyfully, many a time in America, have exchanged all my boarding-school smatterings for her knowledge how to produce a wholesome and palatable dinner. As it was, all I learned of her, to my sorrow, was a detestation of bad cookery, and a firm conviction that that which was exquisite was both wholesomer and more economical than any other. Dr. Kitchener, the clever and amiable author of that amusing book, "The Cook's Oracle" (his name was a bona fide appellation, and not a drolly devised appropriate nom de plume, and he was a doctor of physic), was a great friend and admirer of hers; and she is the "accomplished lady" by whom several pages of that entertaining kitchen companion were furnished to him.
The mode of opening one of her chapters, "I always bone my meat" (bone being the slang word of the day for steal), occasioned much merriment among her friends, and such a look of ludicrous surprise and reprobation from Liston, when he read it, as I still remember.
My mother, moreover, devised a most admirable kind of jujube, made of clarified gum-arabic, honey, and lemon, with which she kept my father supplied during all the time of his remaining on the stage; he never acted without having recourse to it, and found it more efficacious in sustaining the voice and relieving the throat under constant exertion than any other preparation that he ever tried; this she always made for him herself.
The great actors of my family have received their due of recorded admiration; my mother has always seemed to me to have been overshadowed by their celebrity; my sister and myself, whose fate it has been to bear in public the name they have made distinguished, owe in great measure to her, I think, whatever ability has enabled us to do so not unworthily.
I was born on the 27th of November, 1809, in Newman Street, Oxford Road, the third child of my parents, whose eldest, Philip, named after my uncle, died in infancy. The second, John Mitchell, lived to distinguish himself as a scholar, devoting his life to the study of his own language and the history of his country in their earliest period, and to the kindred subject of Northern Archaeology.
Of Newman Street I have nothing to say, but regret to have heard that before we left our residence there my father was convicted, during an absence of my mother's from town, of having planted in my baby bosom the seeds of personal vanity, while indulging his own, by having an especially pretty and becoming lace cap at hand in the drawing-room, to be immediately substituted for some more homely daily adornment, when I was exhibited to his visitors. In consequence, perhaps, of which, I am a disgracefully dress-loving old woman of near seventy, one of whose minor miseries is that she can no longer find any lace cap whatever that is either pretty or becoming to her gray head. If my father had not been so foolish then, I should not be so foolish now—perhaps.
The famous French actress, Mlle. Clairon, recalled, for the pleasure of some foreign royal personage passing through Paris, for one night to the stage, which she had left many years before, was extremely anxious to recover the pattern of a certain cap which she had worn in her young days in "La Coquette corrigee," the part she was about to repeat. The cap, as she wore it, had been a Parisian rage; she declared that half her success in the part had been the cap. The milliner who had made it, and whose fortune it had made, had retired from business, grown old; luckily, however, she was not dead: she was hunted up and adjured to reproduce, if possible, this marvel of her art, and came to her former patroness, bringing with her the identical head-gear. Clairon seized upon it: "Ah oui, c'est bien cela! c'est bien la le bonnet!" It was on her head in an instant, and she before the glass, in vain trying to reproduce with it the well-remembered effect. She pished and pshawed, frowned and shrugged, pulled the pretty chiffon this way and that on her forehead; and while so doing, coming nearer and nearer to the terrible looking-glass, suddenly stopped, looked at herself for a moment in silence, and then, covering her aged and faded face with her hands, exclaimed, "Ah, c'est bien le bonnet! mais ce n'est plus la figure!"
Our next home, after Newman Street, was at a place called Westbourne Green, now absorbed into endless avenues of "palatial" residences, which scoff with regular-featured, lofty scorn at the rural simplicity implied by such a name. The site of our dwelling was not far from the Paddington Canal, and was then so far out of town that our nearest neighbors, people of the name of Cockrell, were the owners of a charming residence, in the middle of park-like grounds, of which I still have a faint, pleasurable remembrance. The young ladies, daughters of Mr. Cockrell, really made the first distinct mark I can detect on the tabula rasa of my memory, by giving me a charming pasteboard figure of a little girl, to whose serene and sweetly smiling countenance, and pretty person, a whole bookful of painted pasteboard petticoats, cloaks, and bonnets could be adapted; it was a lovely being, and stood artlessly by a stile, an image of rustic beauty and simplicity. I still bless the Miss Cockrells, if they are alive, but if not, their memory for it!
Of the curious effect of dressing in producing the sentiment of a countenance, no better illustration can be had than a series of caps, curls, wreaths, ribbons, etc., painted so as to be adaptable to one face; the totally different character imparted by a helmet, or a garland of roses, to the same set of features, is a "caution" to irregular beauties who console themselves with the fascinating variety of their expression.
At this period of my life, I have been informed, I began, after the manner of most clever children, to be exceedingly troublesome and unmanageable, my principal crime being a general audacious contempt for all authority, which, coupled with a sweet-tempered, cheerful indifference to all punishment, made it extremely difficult to know how to obtain of me the minimum quantity of obedience indispensable in the relations of a tailless monkey of four years and its elders. I never cried, I never sulked, I never resented, lamented, or repented either my ill-doings or their consequences, but accepted them alike with a philosophical buoyancy of spirit which was the despair of my poor bewildered trainers.
Being hideously decorated once with a fool's cap of vast dimensions, and advised to hide, not my "diminished head," but my horrible disgrace, from all beholders, I took the earliest opportunity of dancing down the carriage-drive to meet the postman, a great friend of mine, and attract his observation and admiration to my "helmet," which I called aloud upon all wayfarers also to contemplate, until removed from an elevated bank I had selected for this public exhibition of myself and my penal costume, which was beginning to attract a small group of passers-by.
My next malefactions were met with an infliction of bread and water, which I joyfully accepted, observing, "Now I am like those poor dear French prisoners that everybody pities so." Mrs. Siddons at that time lived next door to us; she came in one day when I had committed some of my daily offenses against manners or morals, and I was led, nothing daunted, into her awful presence, to be admonished by her.
Melpomene took me upon her lap, and, bending upon me her "controlling frown," discoursed to me of my evil ways in those accents which curdled the blood of the poor shopman, of whom she demanded if the printed calico she purchased of him "would wash." The tragic tones pausing, in the midst of the impressed and impressive silence of the assembled family, I tinkled forth, "What beautiful eyes you have!" all my small faculties having been absorbed in the steadfast upward gaze I fixed upon those magnificent orbs. Mrs. Siddons set me down with a smothered laugh, and I trotted off, apparently uninjured by my great-aunt's solemn moral suasion.
A dangerous appeal, of a higher order, being made to me by my aunt's most intimate friend, Mrs. F——, a not very judicious person, to the effect, "Fanny, why don't you pray to God to make you better?" immediately received the conclusive reply, "So I do, and he makes me worse and worse." Parents and guardians should be chary of handling the deep chords upon whose truth and strength the highest harmonies of the fully developed soul are to depend.
In short, I was as hopelessly philosophical a subject as Madame Roland, when, at six years old, receiving her penal bread and water with the comment, "Bon pour la digestion!" and the retributive stripes which this drew upon her, with the further observation, "Bon pour la circulation!" In spite of my "wickedness," as Topsy would say, I appear to have been not a little spoiled by my parents, and an especial pet and favorite of all their friends, among whom, though I do not remember him at this early period of our acquaintance, I know was Charles Young, that most kindly good man and pleasant gentleman, one of whose many amiable qualities was a genuine love for little children. He was an intimate friend of Mrs. Siddons and her brothers, and came frequently to our house; if the elders were not at home, he invariably made his way to the nursery, where, according to the amusing description he has often since given me of our early intercourse, one of his great diversions was to make me fold my little fat arms—not an easy performance for small muscles—and with a portentous frown, which puckered up my mouth even more than my eyebrows, receive from him certain awfully unintelligible passages from "Macbeth;" replying to them, with a lisp that must have greatly heightened the tragic effect of this terrible dialogue, "My handth are of oo tolor" (My hands are of your color). Years—how many!—after this first lesson in declamation, dear Charles Young was acting Macbeth for the last time in London, and I was his "wicked wife;" and while I stood at the side scenes, painting my hands and arms with the vile red stuff that confirmed the bloody-minded woman's words, he said to me with a smile, "Ah ha! My handth are of oo tolor."
Mr. Young's own theatrical career was a sort of curious contradiction between his physical and mental endowments. His very handsome and regular features of the Roman cast, and deep, melodious voice, were undoubtedly fine natural requisites for a tragic actor, and he succeeded my uncle in all his principal parts, if not with any thing like equal genius, with a dignity and decorum that were always highly acceptable. He had, however, no tragic mental element whatever with these very decided external qualifications for tragedy; but a perception of and passion for humor, which he indulged in private constantly, in the most entertaining and surprising manner. Ludicrous stories; personal mimicry; the most admirable imitation of national accent—Scotch, Irish, and French (he spoke the latter language to perfection, and Italian very well); a power of grimace that equaled Grimaldi, and the most irresistibly comical way of resuming, in the midst of the broadest buffoonery, the stately dignity of his own natural countenance, voice, and manner.
He was a cultivated musician, and sang French and Italian with taste and expression, and English ballads with a pathos and feeling only inferior to that of Moore and Mrs. Arkwright, with both which great masters of musical declamation he was on terms of friendly intimacy. Mr. Young was a universal favorite in the best London society, and an eagerly sought guest in pleasant country-houses, where his zeal for country sports, his knowledge of and fondness for horses, his capital equestrianism, and inexhaustible fund of humor, made him as popular with the men as his sweet, genial temper, good breeding, musical accomplishments, and infinite drollery did with the women.
Mr. Young once told Lord Dacre that he made about four thousand pounds sterling per annum by his profession; and as he was prudent and moderate in his mode of life, and, though elegant, not extravagant in his tastes, he had realized a handsome fortune when he left the stage.
Mr. Young passed the last years of his life at Brighton, and I never visited that place without going to see him, confined as he latterly was to his sofa with a complication of painful diseases and the weight of more than seventy years. The last time I saw him in his drawing-room he made me sit on a little stool by his sofa—it was not long after my father, his life-long friend and contemporary's death—and he kept stroking my hair, and saying to me, "You look so like a child—a good child." I saw him but once more after this; he was then confined to his bed. It was on Sunday; he lay propped with pillows in an ample flannel dressing-gown, with a dark-blue velvet skull-cap on his head, and I thought I had never seen his face look more strikingly noble and handsome; he was reading the church service and his Bible, and kept me by him for some time. I never saw him again.
As a proof of the little poetical imagination which Mr. Young brought to some of his tragic performances, I remember his saying of his dress in Cardinal Wolsey, "Well, I never could associate any ideas of grandeur with this old woman's red petticoat." It would be difficult to say what his best performances were, for he had never either fire, passion, or tenderness; but never wanted propriety, dignity, and a certain stately grace. Sir Pertinax McSycophant and Iago were the best things I ever saw him act, probably because the sardonic element in both of them gave partial scope to his humorous vein.
Not long after this we moved to another residence, still in the same neighborhood, but near the churchyard of Paddington church, which was a thoroughfare of gravel walks, cutting in various directions the green turf, where the flat tombstones formed frequent "play-tables" for us; upon these our nursery-maid, apparently not given to melancholy meditations among the tombs, used to allow us to manufacture whole delightful dinner sets of clay plates and dishes (I think I could make such now), out of which we used to have feasts, as we called them, of morsels of cake and fruit.
At this time I was about five years old, and it was determined that I should be sent to the care of my father's sister, Mrs. Twiss, who kept a school at Bath, and who was my godmother. On the occasion of my setting forth on my travels, my brother John presented me with a whole collection of children's books, which he had read and carefully preserved, and now commended to my use. There were at least a round dozen, and, having finished reading them, it occurred to me that to make a bonfire of them would be an additional pleasure to be derived from them; and so I added to the intellectual recreation they afforded me the more sensational excitement of what I called "a blaze;" a proceeding of which the dangerous sinfulness was severely demonstrated to me by my new care-takers.
Camden Place, Bath, was one of the lofty terraces built on the charming slopes that surround the site of the Aquae Solis of the Romans, and here my aunt Twiss kept a girls' school, which participated in the favor which every thing belonging to, or even remotely associated with, Mrs. Siddons received from the public. It was a decidedly "fashionable establishment for the education of young ladies," managed by my aunt, her husband, and her three daughters. Mrs. Twiss was, like every member of my father's family, at one time on the stage, but left it very soon, to marry the grim-visaged, gaunt-figured, kind-hearted gentleman and profound scholar whose name she at this time bore, and who, I have heard it said, once nourished a hopeless passion for Mrs. Siddons. Mrs. Twiss bore a soft and mitigated likeness to her celebrated sister; she had great sweetness of voice and countenance, and a graceful, refined, feminine manner, that gave her great advantages in her intercourse with and influence over the young women whose training she undertook. Mr. Twiss was a very learned man, whose literary labors were, I believe, various, but whose "Concordance of Shakespeare" is the only one with which I am acquainted. He devoted himself, with extreme assiduity, to the education of his daughters, giving them the unusual advantage of a thorough classic training, and making of two of them learned women in the more restricted, as well as the more general, sense of the term. These ladies were what so few of their sex ever are, really well informed; they knew much, and they knew it all thoroughly; they were excellent Latin scholars and mathematicians, had read immensely and at the same time systematically, had prodigious memories stored with various and well-classed knowledge, and, above all, were mistresses of the English language, and spoke and wrote it with perfect purity—an accomplishment out of fashion now, it appears to me, but of the advantage of which I retain a delightful impression in my memory of subsequent intercourse with those excellent and capitally educated women. My relations with them, all but totally interrupted for upward of thirty years, were renewed late in the middle of my life and toward the end of theirs, when I visited them repeatedly at their pretty rural dwelling near Hereford, where they enjoyed in tranquil repose the easy independence they had earned by honorable toil. There, the lovely garden, every flower of which looked fit to take the first prize at a horticultural show, the incomparable white strawberries, famous throughout the neighborhood, and a magnificent Angola cat, were the delights of my out-of-door life; and perfect kindness and various conversation, fed by an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, an immense knowledge of books, and a long and interesting acquaintance with society, made the indoor hours passed with these quiet old lady governesses some of the most delightful I have ever known. The two younger sisters died first; the eldest, surviving them, felt the sad solitude of their once pleasant home at "The Laurels" intolerable, and removed her residence to Brighton, where, till the period of her death, I used to go and stay with her, and found her to the last one of the most agreeable companions I have ever known.
At the time of my first acquaintance with my cousins, however, neither their own studies nor those of their pupils so far engrossed them as to seclude them from society. Bath was then, at certain seasons, the gayest place of fashionable resort in England; and, little consonant as such a thing would appear at the present day with the prevailing ideas of the life of a teacher, balls, routs, plays, assemblies, the Pump Room, and all the fashionable dissipations of the place, were habitually resorted to by these very "stylish" school-mistresses, whose position at one time, oddly enough, was that of leaders of "the ton" in the pretty provincial capital of Somersetshire. It was, moreover, understood, as part of the system of the establishment, that such of the pupils as were of an age to be introduced into society could enjoy the advantage of the chaperonage of these ladies, and several did avail themselves of it.
What profit I made under these kind and affectionate kinsfolk I know not; little, I rather think, ostensibly; perhaps some beneath the surface, not very manifest either to them or myself at the time; but painstaking love sows more harvests than it wots of, wherever or whenever (or if never) it reaps them.
I did not become versed in any of my cousins' learned lore, or accomplished in the lighter labors of their leisure hours—to wit, the shoemaking, bread-seal manufacturing, and black and white Japan, table and screen painting, which produced such an indescribable medley of materials in their rooms, and were fashionable female idle industries of that day.
Remote from the theatre, and all details of theatrical life, as my existence in my aunt's school was, there still were occasional infiltrations of that element which found their way into my small sphere. My cousin John Twiss, who died not very long ago, an elderly general in her Majesty's service, was at this time a young giant, studying to become an engineer officer, whose visits to his home were seasons of great delight to the family in general, not unmixed on my part with dread; for a favorite diversion of his was enacting my uncle John's famous rescue of Cora's child, in "Pizarro," with me clutched in one hand, and exalted to perilous proximity with the chandelier, while he rushed across the drawing-rooms, to my exquisite terror and triumph.
I remember, too, his sisters, all three remarkably tall women (the eldest nearly six feet high, a portentous petticoat stature), amusing themselves with putting on, and sweeping about the rooms in, certain regal mantles and Grecian draperies of my aunt Mrs. Whitelock's, an actress, like the rest of the Kembles, who sought and found across the Atlantic a fortune and celebrity which it would have been difficult for her to have achieved under the disadvantage of proximity to, and comparison with, her sister, Mrs. Siddons. But I suppose the dramatic impression which then affected me with the greatest and most vivid pleasure was an experience which I have often remembered, when reading Goethe's "Dichtung und Wahrheit," and the opening chapters of "Wilhelm Meister." Within a pleasant summer afternoon's walk from Bath, through green meadows and by the river's side, lay a place called Claverton Park, the residence of a family of the name of A——. I remember nothing of the house but the stately and spacious hall, in the middle of which stood a portable theatre, or puppet-show, such as Punch inhabits, where the small figures, animated with voice and movement by George A——, the eldest son of the family, were tragic instead of grotesque, and where, instead of the squeaking "Don Giovanni" of the London pavement, "Macbeth" and similar solemnities appeared before my enchanted eyes. The troupe might have been the very identical puppet performers of Harry Rowe, the famous Yorkshire trumpeter. These, I suppose, were the first plays I ever saw. Those were pleasant walks to Claverton, and pleasant days at Claverton Hall! I wish Hans Breitmann and his "Avay in die Ewigkeit" did not come in, like a ludicrous, lugubrious burden, to all one's reminiscences of places and people one knew upward of fifty years ago.
I have been accused of having acquired a bad habit of punning from Shakespeare!—a delightful idea, that made me laugh till I cried the first time it was suggested to me. If so, I certainly began early to exhibit a result, of which the cause was, in some mysterious way, long subsequent to the effect; unless the Puppet Plays of Claverton inspired my wit. However that may be, I developed at this period a decided faculty for punning, and that is an unusual thing at that age. Children have considerable enjoyment of humor, as many of their favorite fairy and other stories attest; they are often themselves extremely droll and humorous in their assumed play characters and the stories they invent to divert their companions; but punning is a not very noble species of wit; it partakes of mental dexterity, requires neither fancy, humor, nor imagination, and deals in words with double meanings, a subtlety very little congenial to the simple and earnest intelligence of childhood.
Les enfans terribles say such things daily, and make their grandmothers' caps stand on end with their precocious astuteness; but the clever sayings of most clever children, repeated and reported by admiring friends and relations, are, for the most part, simply the result of unused faculties, exercising themselves in, to them, an unused world; only therefore surprising to worn-out faculties, which have almost ceased to exercise themselves in, to them, an almost worn-out world.
To Miss B—— I was indebted for the first doll I remember possessing—a gorgeous wax personage, in white muslin and cherry-colored ribbons, who, by desire of the donor, was to be called Philippa, in honor of my uncle. I never loved or liked dolls, though I remember taking some pride in the splendor of this, my first-born. They always affected me with a grim sense of being a mockery of the humanity they were supposed to represent; there was something uncanny, not to say ghastly, in the doll existence and its mimicry of babyhood to me, and I had a nervous dislike, not unmixed with fear, of the smiling simulacra that girls are all supposed to love with a species of prophetic maternal instinct.
The only member of my aunt Twiss's family of whom I remember at this time little or nothing was the eldest son, Horace, who in subsequent years was one of the most intimate and familiar friends of my father and mother, and who became well known as a clever and successful public man, and a brilliant and agreeable member of the London society of his day.
My stay of a little more than a year at Bath had but one memorable event, in its course, to me. I was looking one evening, at bedtime, over the banisters, from the upper story into the hall below, with tiptoe eagerness that caused me to overbalance myself and turn over the rail, to which I clung on the wrong side, suspended, like Victor Hugo's miserable priest to the gutter of Notre Dame, and then fell four stories down on the stone pavement of the hall. I was not killed, or apparently injured, but whether I was not really irreparably damaged no human being can possibly tell.
My next memories refer to a residence which my parents were occupying when I returned to London, called Covent Garden Chambers, now, I believe, celebrated as "Evans's," and where, I am told, it is confidently affirmed that I was born, which I was not; and where, I am told, a picture is shown that is confidently affirmed to be mine, which it is not. My sister Adelaide was born in Covent Garden Chambers, and the picture in question is an oil sketch, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, of my cousin Maria Siddons; quite near the truth enough for history, private or public. It was while we were living here that Mrs. Siddons returned to the stage for one night, and acted Lady Randolph for my father's benefit. Of course I heard much discourse about this, to us, important and exciting event, and used all my small powers of persuasion to be taken to see her.
My father, who loved me very much, and spoiled me not a little, carried me early in the afternoon into the market-place, and showed me the dense mass of people which filled the whole Piazza, in patient expectation of admission to the still unopened doors. This was by way of proving to me how impossible it was to grant my request. However that might then appear, it was granted, for I was in the theatre at the beginning of the performance; but I can now remember nothing of it but the appearance of a solemn female figure in black, and the tremendous roar of public greeting which welcomed her, and must, I suppose, have terrified my childish senses, by the impression I still retain of it; and this is the only occasion on which I saw my aunt in public.
Another circumstance, connected in my mind with Covent Garden Chambers, was a terrible anguish about my youngest brother, Henry, who was for some hours lost. He was a most beautiful child, of little more than three years old, and had been allowed to go out on the door-steps, by an exceedingly foolish little nursery-maid, to look at the traffic of the great market-place. Returning without him, she declared that he had refused to come in with her, and had run to the corner of Henrietta Street, as she averred, where she had left him, to come and fetch authoritative assistance.
The child did not come home, and all search for him proved vain throughout the crowded market and the adjoining thoroughfares, thronged with people and choked with carts and wagons, and swarming with the blocked-up traffic, which had to make its way to and from the great mart through avenues far narrower and more difficult of access than they are now. There were not then, either, those invaluable beings, policemen, standing at every corner to enforce order and assist the helpless. These then were not; and no inquiry brought back any tidings of the poor little lost boy. My mother was ill, and I do not think she was told of the child's disappearance, but my father went to and fro with the face and voice of a distracted man; and I well remember the look with which he climbed a narrow outside stair leading only to a rain-water cistern, with the miserable apprehension that his child might have clambered up and fallen into it. The neighborhood was stirred with sympathy for the agony of the poor father, and pitying gossip spreading the news through the thronged market-place, where my father's name and appearance were familiar enough to give a strong personal feeling to the compassion expressed. A baker's boy, lounging about, caught up the story of the lost child, and described having seen a "pretty little chap with curly hair, in a brown holland pinafore," in St. James's Square. Thither the searchers flew, and the child was found, tired out with his self-directed wandering, but apparently quite contented, fast asleep on the door-step of one of the lordly houses of that aristocratic square. He was so remarkably beautiful that he must have attracted attention before long, and might perhaps have been restored to his home; but God knows what an age of horror and anguish was lived through by my father and my poor aunt Dall in that short, miserable space of time till he was found.
My aunt Dall, of whom I now speak for the first time, was my mother's sister, and had lived with us, I believe, ever since I was born. Her name was Adelaide, but the little fellow whose adventure I have just related, stumbling over this fine Norman appellation, turned it into Idallidy, and then conveniently shortened it of its two extremities and made it Dall, by which title she was called by us, and known to all our friends, and beloved by all who ever spoke or heard it. Her story was as sad a one as could well be; yet to my thinking she was one of the happiest persons I have ever known, as well as one of the best. She was my mother's second sister, and as her picture, taken when she was twenty, shows (and it was corroborated by her appearance till upward of fifty), she was extremely pretty. Obliged, as all the rest of her family were, to earn her own bread, and naturally adopting the means of doing so that they did, she went upon the stage; but I can not conceive that her nature can ever have had any affinity with her occupation. She had a robust and rather prosaic common-sense, opposed to any thing exaggerated or sentimental, which gave her an excellent judgment of character and conduct, a strong genial vein of humor which very often made her repartees witty as well as wise, and a sunny sweetness of temper and soundness of moral nature that made her as good as she was easy and delightful to live with. Whenever any thing went wrong, and she was "vexed past her patience," she used to sing; it was the only indication by which we ever knew that she was what is termed "out of sorts." She had found employment in her profession under the kindly protection of Mr. Stephen Kemble, my father's brother, who lived for many years at Durham, and was the manager of the theatre there, and, according to the fashion of that time, traveled with his company, at stated seasons, to Newcastle, Sunderland, and other places, which formed a sort of theatrical circuit in the northern counties, throughout which he was well known and generally respected.
In his company my aunt Dall found employment, and in his daughter, Fanny Kemble, since well known as Mrs. Robert Arkwright, an inseparable friend and companion. My aunt lived with Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Kemble, who were excellent, worthy people. They took good care of the two young girls under their charge, this linsey-woolsey Rosalind and Celia—their own beautiful and most rarely endowed daughter, and her light-hearted, lively companion; and I suppose that a merrier life than that of these lasses, in the midst of their quaint theatrical tasks and homely household duties, was seldom led by two girls in any sphere of life. They learned and acted their parts, devised and executed, with small means and great industry, their dresses; made pies and puddings, and patched and darned, in the morning, and by dint of paste and rouge became heroines in the evening; and withal were well-conducted, good young things, full of the irrepressible spirits of their age, and turning alike their hard home work and light stage labor into fun. Fanny had inherited the beauty of her father's family, which in her most lovely countenance had a character of childlike simplicity and serene sweetness that made it almost angelic.
Far on in middle age she retained this singularly tender beauty, which added immensely to the exquisite effect of her pathetic voice in her incomparable rendering of the ballads she composed (the poetry as well as the music being often her own), and to which her singing of them gave so great a fashion at one time in the great London world. It was in vain that far better musicians, with far finer voices, attempted to copy her inimitable musical recitation; nobody ever sang like her, and still less did anybody ever look like her while she sang. Practical jokes of very doubtful taste were the fashion of that day, and remembering what wonderfully coarse and silly proceedings were then thought highly diverting by "vastly genteel" people, it is not, perhaps, much to be wondered at that so poor a piece of wit as this should have furnished diversion to a couple of light-hearted girls, with no special pretensions to elegance or education. Once they were driving together in a post-chaise on the road to Newcastle, and my aunt, having at hand in a box part of a military equipment intended for some farce, accoutred her upper woman in a soldier's cap, stock, and jacket, and, with heavily corked mustaches, persisted in embracing her companion, whose frantic resistance, screams of laughter, and besmirched cheeks, elicited comments of boundless amazement, in broad north-country dialect, from the market folk they passed on the road, to whom they must have appeared the most violent runaway couple that ever traveled.
Liston, the famous comedian, was at this time a member of the Durham company, and though he began his career there by reciting Collins's "Ode to the Passions," attired in a pea-green coat, buckskins, top-boots, and powder, with a scroll in his hand, and followed up this essay of his powers with the tragic actor's battle-horse, the part of Hamlet, he soon found his peculiar gift to lie in the diametrically opposite direction of broad farce. Of this he was perpetually interpolating original specimens in the gravest performances of his fellow-actors; on one occasion suddenly presenting to Mrs. Stephen Kemble, as she stood disheveled at the side scene, ready to go on the stage as Ophelia in her madness, a basket with carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, and pot-herbs, instead of the conventional flowers and straws of the stage maniac, which sent the representative of the fair Ophelia on in a broad grin, with ill-suppressed fury and laughter, which must have given quite an original character of verisimilitude to the insanity she counterfeited.
On another occasion he sent all the little chorister boys on, in the lugubrious funeral procession in "Romeo and Juliet," with pieces of brown paper in their hands to wipe their tears with.
The suppression of that very dreadful piece of stage pageantry has at last, I believe, been conceded to the better taste of modern audiences; but even in my time it was still performed, and an exact representation of a funeral procession, such as one meets every day in Rome, with torch-bearing priests, and bier covered with its black-velvet pall, embroidered with skull and cross-bones, with a corpse-like figure stretched upon it, marched round the stage, chanting some portion of the fine Roman Catholic requiem music. I have twice been in the theatre when persons have been seized with epilepsy during that ghastly exhibition, and think the good judgment that has discarded such a mimicry of a solemn religious ceremony highly commendable.
Another evening, Liston, having painted Fanny Kemble's face like a clown's, posted her at one of the stage side doors to confront her mother, poor Mrs. Stephen Kemble, entering at the opposite one to perform some dismally serious scene of dramatic pathos, who, on suddenly beholding this grotesque apparition of her daughter, fell into convulsions of laughter and coughing, and half audible exclamations of "Go away, Fanny! I'll tell your father, miss!" which must have had the effect of a sudden seizure of madness to the audience, accustomed to the rigid decorum of the worthy woman in the discharge of her theatrical duties.
Long after these provincial exploits, and when he had become the comedian par excellence of the English stage, for which eminence nature and art had alike qualified him by the imperturbable gravity of his extraordinarily ugly face, which was such an irresistibly comical element in his broadest and most grotesque performances, Mr. Liston used to exert his ludicrous powers of tormenting his fellow-actors in the most cruel manner upon that sweet singer, Miss Stephens (afterward Countess of Essex). She had a curious nervous trick of twitching her dress before she began to sing; this peculiarity was well known to all her friends, and Liston, who certainly was one of them, used to agonize the poor woman by standing at the side scene, while the symphony of her pathetic ballads was being played, and indicating by his eyes and gestures that something was amiss with the trimming or bottom of her dress; when, as invariably as he chose to play the trick, poor Miss Stephens used to begin to twitch and catch at her petticoat, and half hysterical, between laughing and crying, would enchant and entrance her listeners with her exquisite voice and pathetic rendering of "Savourneen Deelish" or "The Banks of Allan Water."
Two young men, officers of a militia regiment, became admirers of the two young country actresses: how long an acquaintance existed before the fact became evident that they were seriously paying their addresses to the girls, I do not know; nor how long the struggle lasted between pride and conventional respectability on the part of the young men's families and the pertinacity of their attachment.
Fanny Kemble's suitor, Robert Arkwright, had certainly no pretensions to dignity of descent, and the old Derbyshire barber, Sir Richard, or his son could hardly have stood out long upon that ground, though the immense wealth realized by their ingenuity and industry was abundant worldly reason for objections to such a match, no doubt.
However that may be, the opposition was eventually overcome by the determination of the lovers, and they were married; while to the others a far different fate was allotted. The young man who addressed my aunt, whose name I do not know, was sent for by his father, a wealthy Yorkshire squire, who, upon his refusing to give up his mistress, instantly assembled all the servants and tenants, and declared before them all that the young gentleman, his son (and supposed heir), was illegitimate, and thenceforth disinherited and disowned. He enlisted and went to India, and never saw my aunt again. Mrs. Arkwright went home to Stoke, to the lovely house and gardens in the Peak of Derbyshire, to prosperity and wealth, to ease and luxury, and to the love of husband and children. Later in life she enjoyed, in her fine mansion of Sutton, the cordial intimacy of the two great county magnates, her neighbors, the Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire, the latter of whom was her admiring and devoted friend till her death. In the society of the high-born and gay and gifted with whom she now mixed, and among whom her singular gifts made her remarkable, the enthusiasm she excited never impaired the transparent and childlike simplicity and sincerity of her nature. There was something very peculiar about the single-minded, simple-hearted genuineness of Mrs. Arkwright which gave an unusual charm of unconventionality and fervid earnestness to her manner and conversation. I remember her telling me, with the most absolute conviction, that she thought wives were bound implicitly to obey their husbands, for she believed that at the day of judgment husbands would be answerable for their wives' souls.
It was in the midst of a life full of all the most coveted elements of worldly enjoyment, and when she was still beautiful and charming, though no longer young, that I first knew her. Her face and voice were heavenly sweet, and very sad; I do not know why she made so profoundly melancholy an impression upon me, but she was so unlike all that surrounded her, that she constantly suggested to me the one live drop of water in the middle of a globe of ice. The loss of her favorite son affected her with irrecoverable sorrow, and she passed a great portion of the last years of her life at a place called Cullercoats, a little fishing village on the north coast, to which when a young girl she used to accompany her father and mother for rest and refreshment, when the hard life from which her marriage released her allowed them a few days' respite by the rocks and sands and breakers of the Northumberland shore. The Duke of Devonshire, whose infirmity of deafness did not interfere with his enjoyment of music, was an enthusiastic admirer of Mrs. Arkwright, and her constant and affectionate friend. Their proximity of residence in Derbyshire made their opportunities of meeting very frequent, and when the Arkwrights visited London, Devonshire House was, if they chose it, their hotel. His attachment to her induced him, towards the end of his life, to take a residence in the poor little village of Cullercoats, whither she loved to resort, and where she died. I possess a copy of a beautiful drawing of a head of Mrs. Arkwright, given to me by the duke, for whom the original was executed. It is only a head, with the eyes raised to heaven, and the lips parted, as in the act of singing; and the angelic sweetness of the countenance may perhaps suggest, to those who never heard her, the voice that seemed like that face turned to sound.
So Fanny Kemble married, and Adelaide Decamp came and lived with us, and was the good angel of our home. All intercourse between the two (till then inseparable companions) ceased for many years, and my aunt began her new life with a bitter bankruptcy of love and friendship, happiness and hope, that would have dried the sap of every sweet affection, and made even goodness barren, in many a woman's heart for ever.
Without any home but my father's house, without means of subsistence but the small pittance which he was able to give her, in most grateful acknowledgment of her unremitting care of us, without any joys or hopes but those of others, without pleasure in the present or expectation in the future, apparently without memory of the past, she spent her whole life in the service of my parents and their children, and lived and moved and had her being in a serene, unclouded, unvarying atmosphere of cheerful, self-forgetful content that was heroic in its absolute unconsciousness. She is the only person I can think of who appeared to me to have fulfilled Wordsworth's conception of
"Those blessed ones who do God's will and know it not."
I have never seen either man or woman like her, in her humble excellence, and I am thankful that, knowing what the circumstances of her whole life were, she yet seems to me the happiest human being I have known. She died, as she had lived, in the service of others. When I went with my father to America, my mother remained in England, and my aunt came with us, to take care of me. She died in consequence of the overturning of a carriage (in which we were travelling), from which she received a concussion of the spine; and her last words to me, after a night of angelic endurance of restless fever and suffering, were, "Open the window; let in the blessed light"—almost the same as Goethe's, with a characteristic difference. It was with the hope of giving her the proceeds of its publication, as a token of my affectionate gratitude, that I printed my American journal; that hope being defeated by her death, I gave them, for her sake, to her younger sister, my aunt Victoire Decamp. This sister of my mother's was, when we were living in Covent Garden Chambers, a governess in a school at Lea, near Blackheath.
The school was kept by ladies of the name of Guinani, sisters to the wife of Charles Young—the Julia so early lost, so long loved and lamented by him. I was a frequent and much-petted visitor to their house, which never fulfilled the austere purpose implied in its name to me, for all my days there were holidays; and I remember hours of special delight passed in a large drawing-room where two fine cedars of Lebanon threw grateful gloom into the windows, and great tall china jars of pot-pourri filled the air with a mixed fragrance of roses and (as it seemed to me) plum-pudding, and where hung a picture, the contemplation of which more than once moved me to tears, after I had been given to understand that the princely personage and fair-headed baby in a boat in the midst of a hideous black sea, overhung by a hideous black sky, were Prospero, the good Duke of Milan, and his poor little princess daughter, Miranda, cast forth by wicked relations to be drowned.
It was while we were still living in Covent Garden Chambers that Talma, the great French actor, came to London. He knew both my uncle and my father, and was highly esteemed and greatly admired by both of them. He called one day upon my father, when nobody was at home, and the servant who opened the door holding me by the hand, the famous French actor, who spoke very good English, though not without the "pure Parisian accent," took some kind of notice of me, desiring me to be sure and remember his name, and tell my father that Mr. Talma, the great French tragedian, had called. I replied that I would do so, and then added, with noble emulation, that my father was also a great tragedian, and my uncle was also a great tragedian, and that we had a baby in the nursery who I thought must be a great tragedian too, for she did nothing but cry, and what was that if not tragedy?—which edifying discourse found its way back to my mother, to whom Talma laughingly repeated it. I have heard my father say that on the occasion of this visit of Talma's to London, he consulted my uncle on the subject of acting in English. Hamlet was one of his great parts, and he made as fine a thing of Ducis' cold, and stiff, and formal adaptation of Shakespeare's noble work as his meagre material allowed; but, as I have said before, he spoke English well, and thought it not impossible to undertake the part in the original language. My uncle, however, strongly dissuaded him from it, thinking the decided French accent an insuperable obstacle to his success, and being very unwilling that he should risk by a failure in the attempt his deservedly high reputation. A friend of mine, at a dinner party, being asked if she had seen Mr. Fechter in Hamlet, replied in the negative, adding that she did not think she should relish Shakespeare declaimed with a foreign accent. The gentleman who had questioned her said, "Ah, very true indeed—perhaps not;" then, looking attentively at his plate, from which I suppose he drew the inspiration of what followed, he added, "And yet—after all, you know, Hamlet was a foreigner." This view of the case had probably not suggested itself to John Kemble, and so he dissuaded Talma from the experiment. While referring to Mr. Fechter's personification of Hamlet, and the great success which it obtained in the fashionable world, I wish to preserve a charming instance of naive ignorance in a young guardsman, seduced by the enthusiasm of the gay society of London into going, for once, to see a play of Shakespeare's. After sitting dutifully through some scenes in silence, he turned to a fellow-guardsman, who was painfully looking and listening by his side, with the grave remark, "I say, George, dooced odd play this; its all full of quotations." The young military gentleman had occasionally, it seems, heard Shakespeare quoted, and remembered it.
To return to my story. About this time it was determined that I should be sent to school in France. My father was extremely anxious to give me every advantage that he could, and Boulogne, which was not then the British Alsatia it afterwards became, and where there was a girl's school of some reputation, was chosen as not too far from home to send a mite seven years old, to acquire the French language and begin her education. And so to Boulogne I went, to a school in the oddly named "Rue tant perd tant paie," in the old town, kept by a rather sallow and grim, but still vivacious old Madame Faudier, with the assistance of her daughter, Mademoiselle Flore, a bouncing, blooming beauty of a discreet age, whose florid complexion, prominent black eyes, plaited and profusely pomatumed black hair, and full, commanding figure, attired for fete days, in salmon-colored merino, have remained vividly impressed upon my memory. What I learned here except French (which I could not help learning), I know not. I was taught music, dancing, and Italian, the latter by a Signor Mazzochetti, an object of special detestation to me, whose union with Mademoiselle Flore caused a temporary fit of rejoicing in the school. The small seven-year-old beginnings of such particular humanities I mastered with tolerable success, but if I may judge from the frequency of my penitences, humanity in general was not instilled into me without considerable trouble. I was a sore torment, no doubt, to poor Madame Faudier, who, on being once informed by some alarmed passers in the street that one of her "demoiselles" was perambulating the house roof, is reported to have exclaimed, in a paroxysm of rage and terror, "Ah, ce ne peut etre que cette diable de Kemble!" and sure enough it was I. Having committed I know not what crime, I had been thrust for chastisement into a lonely garret, where, having nothing earthly to do but look about me, I discovered (like a prince in the Arabian Nights) a ladder leading to a trap-door, and presently was out on a sort of stone coping, which ran round the steep roof of the high, old-fashioned house, surveying with serene satisfaction the extensive prospect landward and seaward, unconscious that I was at the same time an object of terror to the beholders in the street below. Snatched from the perilous delight of this bad eminence, I was (again, I think, rather like the Arabian prince) forthwith plunged into the cellar; where I curled myself up on the upper step, close to the heavy door that had been locked upon me, partly for the comfort of the crack of light that squeezed itself through it, and partly, I suppose, from some vague idea that there was no bottom to the steps, derived from my own terror rather than from any precise historical knowledge of oubliettes and donjons, with the execrable treachery of stairs suddenly ending in mid-darkness over an abyss. I suppose I suffered a martyrdom of fear, for I remember upwards of thirty years afterwards having this very cellar, and my misery in it, brought before my mind suddenly, with intense vividness, while reading, in Victor Hugo's Notre Dame, poor Esmeralda's piteous entreaties for deliverance from her underground prison: "Oh laissez moi sortir! j'ai froid! j'ai peur! et des betes me montent le long du corps." The latter hideous detail certainly completes the exquisite misery of the picture. Less justifiable than banishment to lonely garrets, whence egress was to be found only by the roof, or dark incarceration in cellars whence was no egress at all, was another device, adopted to impress me with the evil of my ways, and one which seems to me so foolish in its cruelty, that the only amazement is, how anybody entrusted with the care of children could dream of any good result from such a method of impressing a little girl not eight years old. There was to be an execution in the town of some wretched malefactor, who was condemned to be guillotined, and I was told that I should be taken to see this supreme act of legal retribution, in order that I might know to what end evil courses conducted people. We all remember the impressive fable of "Don't Care," who came to be hanged, but I much doubt if any of the thousands of young Britons whose bosoms have been made to thrill with salutary terror at his untimely end were ever taken by their parents and guardians to see a hanging, by way of enforcing the lesson. Whether it was ever intended that I should witness the ghastly spectacle of this execution, or whether it was expressly contrived that I should come too late, I know not; it is to be hoped that my doing so was not accidental, but mercifully intentional. Certain it is, that when I was taken to the Grande Place the slaughter was over; but I saw the guillotine, and certain gutters running red with what I was told (whether truly or not) was blood, and a sad-looking man, busied about the terrible machine, who, it was said, was the executioner's son; all which lugubrious objects, no doubt, had their due effect upon my poor childish imagination and nervous system, with a benefit to my moral nature which I should think highly problematical.
The experiments tried upon the minds and souls of children by those who undertake to train them, are certainly among the most mysterious of Heaven-permitted evils. The coarse and cruel handling of these wonderfully complex and delicate machines by ignorant servants, ignorant teachers, and ignorant parents, fills one with pity and with amazement that the results of such processes should not be even more disastrous than they are.
In the nature of many children exists a capacity of terror equalled in its intensity only by the reticence which conceals it. The fear of ridicule is strong in these sensitive small souls, but even that is inadequate to account for the silent agony with which they hug the secret of their fear. Nursery and schoolroom authorities, fonder of power than of principle, find their account in both these tendencies, and it is marvellous to what a point tyranny may be exercised by means of their double influence over children, the sufferers never having recourse to the higher parental authority by which they would be delivered from the nightmare of silent terror imposed upon them.
The objects that excite the fears of children are often as curious and unaccountable as their secret intensity. A child four years of age, who was accustomed to be put to bed in a dressing-room opening into her mother's room, and near her nursery, and was left to go to sleep alone, from a desire that she should not be watched and lighted to sleep (or in fact kept awake, after a very common nursery practice), endured this discipline without remonstrance, and only years afterwards informed her mother that she never was so left in her little bed, alone in the darkness, without a full conviction that a large black dog was lying under it, which terrible imagination she never so much as hinted at, or besought for light or companionship to dispel. Miss Martineau told me once, that a special object of horror to her, when she was a child, were the colors of the prism, a thing in itself so beautiful, that it is difficult to conceive how any imagination could be painfully impressed by it; but her terror of these magical colors was such, that she used to rush past the room, even when the door was closed, where she had seen them reflected from the chandelier, by the sunlight, on the wall.
The most singular instance I ever knew, however, of unaccountable terror produced in a child's mind by the pure action of its imagination, was that of a little boy who overheard a conversation between his mother and a friend upon the subject of the purchase of some stuff, which she had not bought, "because," said she, "it was ell wide." The words "ell wide," perfectly incomprehensible to the child, seized upon his fancy, and produced some image of terror by which for a long time his poor little mind was haunted. Certainly this is a powerful instance, among innumerable and striking ones, of the fact that the fears of children are by no means the result of the objects of alarm suggested to them by the ghost-stories, bogeys, etc., of foolish servants and companions; they quite as often select or create their terrors for themselves, from sources so inconceivably strange, that all precaution proves ineffectual to protect them from this innate tendency of the imaginative faculty. This "ell wide" horror is like something in a German story. The strange aversion, coupled with a sort of mysterious terror, for beautiful and agreeable or even quite commonplace objects, is one of the secrets of the profound impression which the German writers of fiction produce. It belongs peculiarly to their national genius, some of whose most striking and thrilling conceptions are pervaded with this peculiar form of the sentiment of fear. Hoffman and Tieck are especially powerful in their use of it, and contrive to give a character of vague mystery to simple details of prosaic events and objects, to be found in no other works of fiction. The terrible conception of the Doppelgaenger, which exists in a modified form as the wraith of Scottish legendary superstition, is rendered infinitely more appalling by being taken out of its misty highland half-light of visionary indefiniteness, and produced in frock-coat and trousers, in all the shocking distinctness of commonplace, everyday, contemporary life. The Germans are the only people whose imaginative faculty can cope with the homeliest forms of reality, and infuse into them vagueness, that element of terror most alien from familiar things. That they may be tragic enough we know, but that they have in them a mysterious element of terror of quite indefinite depth, German writers alone know how to make us feel.
I do not think that in my own instance the natural cowardice with which I was femininely endowed was unusually or unduly cultivated in childhood; but with a highly susceptible and excitable nervous temperament and ill-regulated imagination, I have suffered from every conceivable form of terror; and though, for some inexplicable reason, I have always had the reputation of being fearless, have really, all my life, been extremely deficient in courage.
Very impetuous, and liable to be carried away by any strong emotion, my entire want of self-control and prudence, I suppose, conveyed the impression that I was equally without fear; but the truth is that, as a wise friend once said to me, I have always been "as rash and as cowardly as a child;" and none of my sex ever had a better right to apply to herself Shakespeare's line—
"A woman, naturally born to fears."
The only agreeable impression I retain of my school-days at Boulogne is that of the long half-holiday walks we were allowed to indulge in. Not the two-and-two, dull, dreary, daily procession round the ramparts, but the disbanded freedom of the sunny afternoon, spent in gathering wild-flowers along the pretty, secluded valley of the Liane, through which no iron road then bore its thundering freight. Or, better still, clambering, straying, playing hide-and-seek, or sitting telling and hearing fairy tales among the great carved blocks of stone, which lay, in ignominious purposelessness, around the site on the high, grassy cliff where Napoleon the First—the Only—had decreed that his triumphal pillar should point its finger of scorn at our conquered, "pale-faced shores." Best of all, however, was the distant wandering, far out along the sandy dunes, to what used to be called "La Garenne;" I suppose because of the wild rabbits that haunted it, who—hunted and rummaged from their burrows in the hillocks of coarse grass by a pitiless pack of school-girls—must surely have wondered after our departure, when they came together stealthily, with twitching noses, ears, and tails, what manner of fiendish visitation had suddenly come and gone, scaring their peaceful settlement on the silent, solitary sea-shore.
Before I left Boulogne, the yearly solemnity of the distribution of prizes took place. This was, at Madame Faudier's, as at all French schools of that day, a most exciting event. Special examinations preceded it, for which the pupils prepared themselves with diligent emulation. The prefect, the sub-prefect, the mayor, the bishop, all the principal civil and religious authorities of the place, were invited to honor the ceremony with their presence. The courtyard of the house was partly inclosed, and covered over with scaffoldings, awnings, and draperies, under which a stage was erected, and this, together with the steps that led to it, was carpeted with crimson, and adorned with a profusion of flowers. One of the dignified personages, seated around a table on which the books designed for prizes were exhibited, pronounced a discourse commendatory of past efforts and hortatory to future ones, and the pupils, all en grande toilette, and seated on benches facing the stage, were summoned through the rows of admiring parents, friends, acquaintances, and other invited guests, to receive the prizes awarded for excellence in the various branches of our small curriculum. I was the youngest girl in the school, but I was a quick, clever child, and a lady, a friend of my family, who was present, told me many years after, how well she remembered the frequent summons to the dais received by a small, black-eyed damsel, the cadette of the establishment. I have considerable doubt that any good purpose could be answered by this public appeal to the emulation of a parcel of school-girls; but I have no doubt at all that abundant seeds of vanity, self-love, and love of display, were sown by it, which bore their bad harvest many a long year after.
I left Boulogne when I was almost nine years old, and returned home, where I remained upwards of two years before being again sent to school. During this time we lived chiefly at a place called Craven Hill, Bayswater, where we occupied at different periods three different houses.
My mother always had a detestation of London, which I have cordially inherited. The dense, heavy atmosphere, compounded of smoke and fog, painfully affected her breathing and oppressed her spirits; and the deafening clangor of its ceaseless uproar irritated her nerves and distressed her in a manner which I invariably experience whenever I am compelled to pass any time in that huge Hubbub. She perpetually yearned for the fresh air and the quiet of the country. Occupied as my father was, however, this was an impossible luxury; and my poor mother escaped as far as her circumstances would allow from London, and towards the country, by fixing her home at the place I have mentioned. In those days Tyburnia did not exist; nor all the vast region of Paddingtonian London. Tyburn turnpike, of nefarious memory, still stood at the junction of Oxford Road and the Edgeware Road, and between the latter and Bayswater open fields traversed by the canal, with here and there an isolated cottage dotted about them, stretched on one side of the high-road; and on the other, the untidy, shaggy, ravelled-looking selvage of Hyde Park; not trimmed with shady walks and flower borders and smooth grass and bright iron railing as now, but as forbidding in its neglected aspect as the desolate stretch of uninclosed waste on the opposite side.
About a mile from Tyburn Gate a lane turned off on the right, following which one came to a meadow, with a path across its gentle rise which led to the row of houses called Craven Hill. I do not think there were twenty in all, and some of them, such as Lord Ferrar's and the Harley House, were dwellings of some pretension. Even the most modest of them had pretty gardens in front and behind, and verandas and balconies with flowering creepers and shrubberies, and a general air of semi-rurality that cheated my poor mother with a make-believe effect of being, if not in the country, at any rate out of town. And infinite were the devices of her love of elegance and comfort produced from the most unpromising materials, but making these dwellings of ours pretty and pleasant beyond what could have been thought possible. She had a peculiar taste and talent for furnishing and fitting up; and her means being always very limited, her zeal was great for frequenting sales, where she picked up at reasonable prices quaint pieces of old furniture, which she brought with great triumph to the assistance of the commonplace upholstery of our ready-furnished dwellings. Nobody ever had such an eye for the disposal of every article in a room, at once for greatest convenience and best appearance; and I never yet saw the apartment into which by her excellent arrangement she did not introduce an element of comfort and elegance—a liveable look, which the rooms of people unendowed with that special faculty never acquire, and never retain, however handsome or finely fitted up they may be. I am sorry to be obliged to add, however, that she had a rage for moving her furniture from one place to another, which never allowed her to let well alone; and not unfrequently her mere desire for change destroyed the very best results of her own good taste. We never knew when we might find the rooms a perfect chaos of disorder, with every chair, table, and sofa "dancing the hayes" in horrid confusion; while my mother, crimson and dishevelled with pulling and pushing them hither and thither, was breathlessly organizing new combinations. Nor could anything be more ludicrous than my father's piteous aspect, on arriving in the midst of this remue-menage, or the poor woman's profound mortification when, finding everything moved from its last position (for the twentieth time), he would look around, and, instead of all the commendation she expected, exclaim in dismay, "Why, bless my soul! what has happened to the room, again!" Our furniture played an everlasting game of puss in the corner; and I am thankful that I have inherited some of my mother's faculty of arranging, without any of her curious passion for changing the aspect of her rooms.
A pretty, clever, and rather silly and affected woman, Mrs. Charles M——, who had a great passion for dress, was saying one day to my mother, with a lackadaisical drawl she habitually made use of, "What do you do when you have a headache, or are bilious, or cross, or nervous, or out of spirits? I always change my dress; it does me so much good!" "Oh," said my mother, briskly, "I change the furniture." I think she must have regarded it as a panacea for all the ills of life. Mrs. Charles M—— was the half-sister of that amiable woman and admirable actress, Miss Kelly.
To return to Craven Hill. A row of very fine elm trees was separated only by the carriage-road from the houses, whose front windows looked through their branches upon a large, quiet, green meadow, and beyond that to an extensive nursery garden of enchanting memory, where our weekly allowances were expended in pots of violets and flower-seeds and roots of future fragrance, for our small gardens: this pleasant foreground divided us from the Bayswater Road and Kensington Gardens. At the back of the houses and their grounds stretched a complete open of meadow land, with hedgerows and elm trees, and hardly any building in sight in any direction. Certainly this was better than the smoke and din of London. To my father, however, the distance was a heavy increase of his almost nightly labor at the theatre. Omnibuses were no part of London existence then; a hackney coach (there were no cabs, either four-wheelers or hansoms) was a luxury to be thought of only occasionally, and for part of the way; and so he generally wound up his hard evening's work with a five miles' walk from Covent Garden to Craven Hill.
It was perhaps the inconvenience of this process that led to our taking, in addition to our "rural" residence, a lodging in Gerard Street, Soho. The house immediately fronts Anne Street, and is now a large establishment for the sale of lamps. It was a handsome old house, and at one time belonged to the "wicked" Lord Lyttleton. At the time I speak of, we occupied only a part of it, the rest remaining in the possession of the proprietor, who was a picture-dealer, and his collection of dusky chefs-d'oeuvre covered the walls of the passages and staircases with dark canvas, over whose varnished surface ill-defined figures and ill-discerned faces seemed to flit, as with some trepidation I ran past them. The house must have been a curious as well as a very large one; but I never saw more of it than our own apartments, which had some peculiarities that I remember. Our dining-room was a very large, lofty, ground-floor room, fitted up partially as a library with my father's books, and having at the farther end, opposite the windows, two heavy, fluted pillars, which gave it rather a dignified appearance. My mother's drawing-room, which was on the first floor and at the back of the house, was oval in shape and lighted only by a skylight; and one entrance to it was through a small anteroom or boudoir, with looking-glass doors and ceiling all incrusted with scrolls and foliage and rococo Louis Quinze style of ornamentation, either in plaster or carved in wood and painted white. There were back staircases and back doors without number, leading in all directions to unknown regions; and the whole house, with its remains of magnificence and curious lumber of objects of art and vertu, was a very appropriate frame for the traditional ill-repute of its former noble owner.
A ludicrous circumstance enough, I remember, occurred, which produced no little uproar and amusement in one of its dreariest chambers. My brother John was at this time eagerly pursuing the study of chemistry for his own amusement, and had had an out-of-the-way sort of spare bedroom abandoned to him for his various ill savored materials and scientific processes, from which my mother suffered a chronic terror of sudden death by blowing up. There was a monkey in the house, belonging to our landlord, and generally kept confined in his part of it, whence the knowledge of his existence only reached us through anecdotes brought by the servants. One day, however, an alarm was spread that the monkey had escaped from his own legitimate quarters and was running wild over the house. Chase was given, and every hole and corner searched in vain for the mischievous ape, who was at length discovered in what my brother dignified by the title of his laboratory, where, in a frenzy of gleeful activity, he was examining first one bottle and then another; finally he betook himself, with indescribably grotesque grinnings and chatterings, to uncorking and sniffing at them, and then pouring their contents deliberately out on the (luckily carpetless) floor,—a joke which might have had serious results for himself, as well as the house, if he had not in the midst of it suffered ignoble capture and been led away to his own quarters; my mother that time, certainly, escaping imminent "blowing up."
While we were living in Gerard Street, my uncle Kemble came for a short time to London from Lausanne, where he had fixed his residence—compelled to live abroad, under penalty of seeing the private fortune he had realized by a long life of hard professional labor swept into the ruin which had fallen upon Covent Garden Theatre, of which he was part proprietor. And I always associate this my only recollection of his venerable white hair and beautiful face, full of an expression of most benign dignity, with the earliest mention I remember of that luckless property, which weighed like an incubus upon my father all his life, and the ruinous burden of which both I and my sister successively endeavored in vain to prop.
My mother at this time gave lessons in acting to a few young women who were preparing themselves for the stage; and I recollect very well the admiration my uncle expressed for the beauty of one of them, an extremely handsome Miss Dance, who, I think, came out successfully, but soon married, and relinquished her profession.
This young lady was the daughter of a violinist and musical composer, whose name has a place in my memory from seeing it on a pretty musical setting for the voice of some remarkably beautiful verses, the author of which I have never been able to discover. I heard they had been taken out of that old-fashioned receptacle for stray poetical gems, the poet's corner of a country newspaper. I write them here as accurately as I can from memory; it is more than fifty years since I learnt them, and I have never met with any copy of them but that contained in the old music sheet of Mr. Dance's duet.
SONG OF THE SPIRIT OF MORN.
Now on their couch of rest Mortals are sleeping, While in dark, dewy vest, Flowerets are weeping. Ere the last star of night Fades in the fountain, My finger of rosy light Touches the mountain.
Far on his filmy wing Twilight is wending, Shadows encompassing, Terrors attending: While my foot's fiery print, Up my path showing, Gleams with celestial tint. Brilliantly glowing,
Now from my pinions fair Freshness is streaming, And from my yellow hair Glories are gleaming. Nature with pure delight Hails my returning, And Sol, from his chamber bright, Crowns the young morning.
My uncle John returned to Switzerland, and I never saw him again; he had made over his share of Covent Garden to my father, and went back to live and die in peace at his Beau Site on the Lake of Geneva.