LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of Writers
Chapter VI.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
‣ Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX
John Keats
Charles Lamb
Mary Lamb
Leigh Hunt
Douglas Jerrold
Charles Dickens
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Fanny Kemble—Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kemble—Dowton—Perlet—Macready—Potier—Lablache—Paganini—Donzelli—Madame Albert—Mdlle. Mars—Mdlle. Jenny Vertpre—Cartigny—Lemaitre—Rachel—“Junius Redivivus”—Sarah Flower Adams—Eliza Flower—Mrs. Leman Grimstone—Leigh Hunt—Isabella Jane Towers—Thomas James Serle—Douglas Jerrold—Richard Peake—The elder Mathews—Egerton Webb—Talfourd—Charles Lamb—Edward Holmes—John Oxenford.

The occurrence of Fanny Kemble’s name reminds us to narrate the interest created by her first appearance on the stage, to retrieve the fortunes of the theatre of which her father was then lessee. It was one of those nights not to be forgotten in theatrical annals. The young girl herself—under twenty—coming out as the girl-heroine of tragedy, Shakespeare’s Juliet; her mother, Mrs. Charles Kemble, after a retirement from the stage of some years playing (for this especial night of her daughter’s début and her husband’s effort to re-establish the attraction of Covent Garden Theatre) the part of Lady Capulet; her father, Charles Kemble, a man much past fifty years of age, enacting with wonderful spirit and vigour the mercurial character of Mercutio; combined to excite into enthusiasm the assembled audience. The plaudits that overwhelmed Mrs. Charles Kemble, causing her to stand trembling with emotion and melted into real tears that
drenched the rouge from her cheeks, plaudits that assured her of genuine welcome given by a public accustomed to a long esteem for the name of Kemble, and now actuated by a private as well as professional sympathy for her—these plaudits had scarcely died away into the silence of expectancy, when Juliet had to make her entrance on the scene. We were in the stage-box, and could see her standing at the wing, by the motion of her lips evidently endeavouring to bring moisture into her parched mouth, and trying to summon courage for advancing; when
Mrs. Davenport, who played in her own inimitable style the part of the Nurse, after calling repeatedly “Juliet! what, Juliet!” went towards her, took her by the hand, and pulled her forward on to the stage—a proceeding that had good natural as well as dramatic effect, and brought forth the immediately recognizant acclamations of the house. Fanny Kemble’s acting was marked by much originality of thought and grace of execution. Some of the positions she assumed were strikingly new and appropriate, suggestive as they were of the state of feeling and peculiar situation in which the character she was playing happened to be. For instance, in the scene of the second act, where Juliet is impatiently awaiting the return of her nurse with tidings from Romeo, Fanny Kemble was discovered in a picturesque attitude standing leaning on the back of a chair, earnestly looking out of a tall window opening on to a garden, as if eager to catch the first approach of the expected messenger; and again, in “The Provoked Husband,” where the scene of Lady Townley’s dressing-room opens in the fifth act, Fanny Kemble was found lying upon her face, stretched upon a sofa, her head buried in the pillow-cushions, as if she had flung herself there in a fit of sleepless misery and shame, thinking of
her desperate losses at the gaming-table overnight. She proved herself hardly less calculated to shine as a dramatic writer than as a dramatic performer; for in about a year or two after she came out upon the stage, her tragedy of “
Francis the First” was produced at the theatre and appeared in print—a really marvellous production for a girl of her age. She showed herself to be a worthy member of a family as richly endowed by nature as the one whose name she bore. One of us could remember John Kemble and Sarah Kemble Siddons; the other could just remember seeing Stephen Kemble play Falstaff (without stuffing, as it was announced), and frequently witnessed Charles Kemble’s delightful impersonation of Falconbridge, Benedick, Archer, Ranger, Captain Absolute, Young Marlowe, Young Mirabel, and a host of other brilliant youngsters, long after he had reached middle age, with unabated spirit and grace and good looks; and who both lived to see yet another Kemble bring added laurels to the name in the person of Adelaide Kemble.

Dowton’s Cantwell was one of those fine embodiments of class character that would alone suffice to make the lasting fame of an actor. Had Dowton never played any other part that? this, he would have survived to posterity as a perfect performer; his sleek condition, his spotless black clothes, his placidly-folded hands, his smooth, serene voice, his apparently cloudless countenance, with nevertheless a furtive, watchful look in the eye, a calmly-compressed mouth, with nevertheless a betraying devil of sensuality lurking beneath the carefully-maintained compression—these sub-expressions of the eye and lip uncontrollably breaking forth in momentary flash and sudden, involuntary quiver,—during the scenes with Lady
Lambert,—were all finely present, and formed a highly-finished study of a sanctimonious, self-seeking, calculating hypocrite. We have seen Perlet, the French comedian, play the original counterpart of
Cibber and Bickerstaff’s Doctor Cantwell,—Moliere’s Tartuffe; and Perlet went so far as to paint additional vermilion round his mouth, so as to give the effect of the sensual, scarlet lip; but Dowton’s alternated contraction and revealment of his naturally full lip gave even more vital effect to the characteristically suggestive play of feature. The tone, too, in which Dowton first calls to his secretary, uttering his Christian name, “Charles!” in silky, palavering voice, when he bids him “Bring me that writing I gave you to lay up this morning,” as contrasted with his subsequent imperious utterance of the surname, “Seyward!” when he summons his secretary to abet him in his assertion of supreme mastery in Sir John Lambert’s house, formed two admirably telling points in this, his perhaps most renowned performance. At the same time, be it stated, that his tempest of fury, in Sir Anthony Absolute and characters of that class, with his delightfully tolerant good-humour and pleasant cordiality in the part of Old Hardcastle in Goldsmith’s charming comedy, “She Stoops to Conquer,” were quite as perfect each in their several ways.

Of Macready’s playing Virginius, Rob Roy,—and subsequently King John [one of his very best-conceived impersonations, for our detailed description of which see pages 340-1-2 of “Shakespeare-Characters”], Henry V., Prospero, Benedick, Richelieu, Walsingham, and a score of other admirably characteristic personifications, we will not allow ourselves to speak at length; owing many private kindnesses and courtesies to the gentleman,
while we enjoyed so frequently his varied excellences as an actor, and approved so heartily his judicious arrangements as a manager.

Of Potier’s acting we had frequent opportunities of judging; since he, with several of his best brother comedians, at the time we are referring to, came to London in the successive French companies that then first, and subsequently, repaired thither to act French pieces. It was a novelty that took: for the majority of fashionable play-goers were sufficiently versed in the language to appreciate and enjoy the finished acting and entertaining pieces then produced. In the year 1830 Leigh Hunt started his Tatler, generally writing the Theatre, Opera, and Concert notices in it himself, under the heading of “The Play-goer;” but occasionally he asked me (C. C. C.) to supply his place; and accordingly, several of the articles—such as those recording Lablache’s initiative appearances in London, Paganini’s, Donzelli’s, charming Madame Albert’s, Laporte’s, and on the Philharmonic Society, bear witness to our enjoyment of some of the best performances going on during the few years that Leigh Hunt’s Tatler existed. Afterwards, we witnessed in brilliant succession Mademoiselle Mars,—whose Celimene in Moliere’sMisanthrope” was unrivalled, and whose playing of Valerie, a blind girl of sixteen, who recovers her lost sight, when Mars was nearly sixty years of age, was a marvel of dramatic success—Mdlle. Plessy, a consummate embodiment of French lady-like elegance; Jenny Vertpré, whose portrayal of feline nature and bearing beneath feminine person and carriage, as the cat metamorphosed into a woman, was unique in clever peculiarity of achievement; Cartigny, great in Moliere’s “Dépit Amoureux” as Gros Rene; Perlet, exquisite in Moliere’s 
Tartuffe,” “Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” and “Malade Imaginaire;” Lemaitre, pre-eminent in “Robert Macaire,” “Trente Ans de la Vie d’un Joueur,” “Don Cesar de Bazan,” and “Le Docteur Noir;” and, finally, glorious Rachel, peerless among all tragic actresses ever beheld by M. C. C., who never saw Mrs. Siddons. But we will not permit ourselves to be lured away into the pleasant paths of acting reminiscences: return we to our more strictly requested recollections of literary people. In Leigh Hunt’s Tatler appeared a clever series of papers signed “Junius Redivivus,” which were written by a gentleman who had married Sarah Flower Adams, authoress of the noble dramatic poem “Vivia Perpetua,” and sister to Eliza Flower, composer of “Musical Illustrations of the Waverley Novels,” and other productions that manifested unusual womanly amount of scientific attainment in music. The two sisters were singularly gifted: graceful-minded, accomplished, exceptionally skilled in their respective favourite pursuits. One evening before her marriage we were invited to the house of a friend of hers, where Sarah Flower gave a series of dramatic performances, enacted in a drawing-room, with folding-doors opened and closed between the select audience and herself during the successive presentment of Ophelia’s and other of Shakespeare’s heroines’ chief scenes, dressed in character, and played with much zest of impassioned delivery.

Another contributor to Leigh Hunt’s Tatler was Mrs. Leman Grimstone, whose papers appeared with the signature “M. L. G.” She was one of the very first of those who modestly yet firmly advocated women’s rights: a subject now almost worn threadbare and hackneyed by zealous partisans, but then put forth diffidently, sedately,
with all due deference of appeal to manly justice, reason, and consideration. In the number of the Tatler for 22nd March, 1832, Leigh Hunt printed these lines, preceded by a few words from himself within brackets:—

The Poor Woman’s Appeal to her Husband.

[We affix a note to the following verses, not from any doubt that their beautiful tenderness can escape the observation of our readers, but because we owe to the fair author an acknowledgment for the heartfelt gratification which this and other previous communications from her pen have afforded to ourselves.]

You took me, Colin, when a girl, unto your home and heart,
To bear in all your after fate a fond and faithful part;
And tell me, have I ever tried that duty to forego—
Or pined there was not joy for me, when you were sunk in woe?
No—I would rather share your tear than any other’s glee,
For though you’re nothing to the world, you’re all the world to me;
You make a palace of my shed—this rough-hewn bench a throne—
There’s sunlight for me in your smile, and music in your tone.
I look upon you when you sleep, my eyes with tears grow dim,
I cry, “O Parent of the poor, look down from Heaven on him—
Behold him toil from day to day, exhausting strength and soul—
Oh look with mercy on him, Lord, for Thou canst make him whole!”
And when at last relieving sleep has on my eyelids smiled,
How oft are they forbade to close in slumber, by my child;
I take the little murmurer that spoils my span of rest,
And feel it is a part of thee I lull upon my breast.
There’s only one return I crave—I may not need it long,
And it may soothe thee when I’m where—the wretched feel no wrong!
I ask not for a kinder tone—for thou wert ever kind;
I ask not for less frugal fare—my fare I do not mind;
I ask not for attire more gay—if such as I have got
Suffice to make me fair to thee, for more I murmur not.
But I would ask some share of hours that you at clubs bestow—
Of knowledge thai you prize so much, might I not something know?
Subtract from meetings among men, each eve, an hour for me—
Make me companion of your soul, as I may surely be!
If you will read, I’ll sit and work: then think, when you’re away,
Less tedious I shall find, the time, dear Colin, of your stay.
A meet companion soon I’ll be for e’en your studious hours—
And teacher of those little ones you call your cottage flowers;
And if we be not rich and great, we may be wise and kind;
And as my heart can warm your heart, so may my mind your mind.
M. L. G.

Leigh Hunt’s Tatler was followed early in 1834 by his London Journal, to which my (C. C. C.’s) lamented sister, Isabella Jane Towers, contributed some verses, entitled “To Gathered Roses,” in imitation of Herrick, as previously, in the Literary Examiner, which he published in 1823, he had inserted her “Stanzas to a Fly that had survived the Winter of 1822.” She was the author of three graceful books of juvenile tales, “The Children’s Fireside,” “The Young Wanderer’s Cave,” and “The Wanderings of Tom Starboard.”

In the spring of 1835 was brought out at the English Opera House a drama entitled “The Shadow on the Wall,” and when it made its appearance in printed form it was accompanied by the following dedication:—

The truest gratification felt by an Author, in laying his work before the Public, is the hope to render it a memento of private affection. The Writer of

“The Shadow on the Wall”
can experience no higher pleasure of this kind
than in inscribing it to
C. N.
Kensington, 1st May, 1835.

The writer of “The Shadow on the Wall” was Thomas James Serle, and the initials represented Cecilia Novello, who was his affianced future wife. He had already been known to the theatrical world by his play of “The Merchant of London,” his tragedy of “The House of Colberg,” his drama of “The Yeoman’s Daughter,” and his play of “The Gamester of Milan.” After his marriage with my (M. C. C.’s) sister Cecilia in 1836, we watched with enhanced interest the successive production of his dramas and plays, “A Ghost Story,” “The Parole of Honour,” “Joan of Arc,” “Master Clarke,” “The Widow Queen,” and “Tender Precautions:” when he combined with the career of dramatist that of lecturer, and, subsequently, that of political writer, continuing for many years editor of one of our London newspapers. Ultimately he has returned to his first love of literary production, having of late years written several carefully-composed plays and dramas with the utmost maturity of thought and consideration. It was at his house, immediately after his marriage, that we met an entirely new and delightful circle of literary men, his valued friends and associates. It was there we first met Douglas Jerrold, learning that he had written his “Black-eyed Susan” when only eighteen, that it was rapidly followed by his “Devil’s Ducat,” “Sally in Our Alley,” “Mutiny at the Nore,” “Bride of Ludgate,” “Rent Day,” “Golden Calf,” “Ambrose Gwinett,” and “John Overy;” while he himself, soon after our introduction to him
gave us a highly-prized presentation volume, containing his “
Nell Gwynne,” “Housekeeper,” “Wedding Gown,” “Beau Nash,” and “Hazard of the Die.” It was our happy fortune to be subsequently present on most of the first nights of representation of his numerous dramas, including “The Painter of Ghent,” in which he himself acted the principal character when it was originally brought out at the Standard Theatre, under the management of his brother-in-law, Mr. Hammond. As the piece proceeded, and came to the point where Ichabod the Jew, speaking of his lost son, has to say, “He was a healing jewel to mine eye—a staff of cedar in my hand—a fountain at my foot,” the actor who was playing the character made a mistake in the words, and substituted something of his own, saying “a well-spring” instead of “a fountain.” A pause ensued; neither he nor Jerrold going on for some minutes. Afterwards, talking over the event of the night with him, he told us that when his interlocutor altered the words of the dialogue, he had turned towards him and whispered fiercely, “It’s neither a well-spring nor a pump; and till you give me the right cue, I shan’t go on.” A more significant proof that the author in Jerrold was far stronger than the actor could hardly be adduced. And yet we have seen him act finely, too. When Ben Jonson’sEvery Man in his Humour” was first performed by the amateur company of Charles Dickens and his friends, Douglas Jerrold then playing the part of Master Stephen, he acted with excellent effect; and, could he but have quenched the intellect in his eyes, he would have looked the part to perfection, so well was he “got up” for the fopling fool. Jerrold had a delightful way of making a disagreeable incident into a delight by the brilliant, cheery way in which he would utter
a jest in the midst of a dilemma. It was while walking home together from Serle’s house, one bleak night of English spring, that, in crossing Westminster Bridge, with an east wind blowing keenly through every fold of clothing we wore, Jerrold said to us, “I blame nobody; but they call this May!”

Of him and his super-exquisite wit more will be found in his letters to us, and our comments thereon, which we shall subsequently give in another portion of these Recollections.

It was at Serle’s hospitable board that we met that right “merry fellow,” Richard Peake, author of the droll farce “Master’s Rival,” and who used to write the “Entertainments” and “At Homes” for the elder Mathews. Peake was the most humorous storyteller and narrator himself; so much so that could he but have conquered his overwhelming native bashfulness he would have made as good an actor, or even monologuist, as the best. We remember hearing him tell a history of some visit he paid in the country, where he accompanied his entertainers to their village church, in which was a preacher afflicted with so utterly inarticulate an enunciation, made doubly indistinct by the vaulty resonance of the edifice, that though a cavernous monotone pervaded the air yet not a syllable was audible to the congregation. This wabbling, stentorian, portentously solemn, yet ludicrously inefficient voice resounding through the aisles of the village temple, seems even yet to ring in our ears; as well as a certain discordant yell that he affirmed proceeded from the bill of a bereaved goose, pent up with some ducks in the area of a house near to one where he was staying, and which perpetually proclaimed its griefs of captivity and desolation in the single screech of
execration—“Jeemes!”—while the ducks offered vain consolation in the shape of a clutter of dull, gurgling quack-quack-quacks that seemed to imply, “What a fool you must be! Why don’t you take it coolly and philosophically as we do?”

It was Peake’s manner and tone that gave peculiar comicality to such things as these when he told them.

He wrote a whimsical set of tales for a magazine, giving them the ridiculous punning name of “Dogs’ Tales;” in which there was a man startled by a noise in a lone house that made him exclaim, “Ha! is that a rat?” and then added, “No! it’s only a rat-tat,” on discovering that it was somebody knocking at the door. Peake was odd, excessively odd, in his fun. He told us that when he married, his wife continuing much affected by the circle of weeping friends from whom she had just parted, he suddenly snatched her hand in his, gave it a smart tap, and said peremptorily, “Come, come, come, come! we must have no more of this crying; we are now in another parish, you belong to me, and I insist upon it, you leave off!”

Once, when we were spending an evening at Serle’s, he, Douglas Jerrold, and Egerton Webbe—who was an exceptionally clever young man in many ways, but who, alas! died early—happened to be in earnest conversation about Talfourd’s account of Charles Lamb, seeming to think that Talfourd overrated Lamb’s generosity of character in money-matters. We had listened silently to the discussion for a time, but when the majority of opinion seemed to be settling down into a confirmed belief that there was nothing, after all, so remarkably generous in the traits that Lamb’s biographer had recorded, we stated, what we knew to be the truth, that
Charles Lamb, out of his small income (barely sufficient for his own and his sister’s comfortable maintenance), dedicated a yearly sum of thirty pounds as a stipend to help support his old schoolmistress, an act of generosity which, as compared with his means, we considered to be a really munificent gift. Douglas Jerrold, in his hearty manner, instantly exclaimed, “You’re right,
Mrs. Cowden Clarke! you’ve made out your case completely for Lamb!” And then he went on to quote, with a tone of warmth that showed he did not utter the words lightly:—
After my death I wish no other herald,
No other speaker of my living actions,
To keep mine honour from corruption,
But such an honest chronicler as Griffith.
Dear Douglas Jerrold! By a strange chance, years after his death, the “honest chronicler” he had wished for actually had an opportunity of vindicating his fame upon a point in which she heard it impugned, in the light, casual way that people will repeat defamatory reports of those who have enjoyed public favour and renown. At an English dinner-table in Italy Douglas Jerrold was spoken of in our presence as one who indulged too freely in wine, and we were able to vindicate his memory from the unfounded charge by asserting positively our knowledge to the contrary. Like many men of social vivacity and brilliant imagination, Douglas Jerrold would join in conviviality with great gusto and with animatedly expressed consciousness of the festive exhilaration imparted by wine to friendly meetings; but to say that he habitually suffered himself to be overtaken by wine is utterly false.


Having mentioned Egerton Webbe, reminds us to relate that a sister of his was married to our early admirable friend Edward Holmes, who, after enjoying scarcely more than two years of happy wedded life with her,—of which he sent us a charming account in his letters to us when we had quitted England,—passed from earth for ever towards the close of the year 1859.

To our brother-in-law Mr. Serle we owe the pleasure of having known yet another accomplished writer,—Mr. John Oxenford, whom we used frequently to see in the boxes at the theatres after his highly poetical and romantic melodrama, entitled “The Dice of Death,” had interested us in it and him by its first performances. In wonderful contrast to the sombre Faustian grandeur of this piece came the out-and-out fun and frolic of his two farces, “A Day Well Spent” and “My Fellow Clerk,” proving him to be a master of versatility in dramatic art.