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she had listened to Edmund Kean and to Mademoiselle Mars.
She had figured in the old London world, which lived again in her talk, and, to a great degree, in her habits and standards and tone. This background, embroidered with her theatrical past, so unassimilated, but so vivid in her handsome hereditary head and the unflagging drama of her manner, was helped by her agitated, unsettled life to make her what I have called historic If her last twenty years were years of rest, it was impossible for an observer of them not to feel from how many things she was resting—from how long a journey and how untempered a fate, what an expenditure of that rich personality which always moved all together and with all its violent force.
One of the earliest things that I remember with any vividness is a drive in the country, near New York, in the course of which the carriage passed a lady on horseback who had stopped to address herself with some vivacity to certain men at work by the road. Just as we had got further one of my elders exclaimed to the other, “Why, it's Fanny Kemble!”' and on my inquiry who was the bearer of this name, which fell upon my ear for the first time, I was informed that she was a celebrated actress. It was added, I think, that she was a brilliant reader of Shakespeare, though I am not certain that the incident occurred after she had begun her career of reading. The American cities, at any rate, were promptly filled with the glory of this career, , so that there was a chance for me to be vaguely perplexed as to the bearing on the performance, which I heard constantly alluded to, of her equestrian element, so large a part of her youth. Did she read on horseback, or was her acting one of the attractions of the circus? There had been something in the circumstances (perhaps the first sight of a living amazon-an apparition comparatively rare then in American suburbs) to keep me from forgetting the lady, about whom gathered still other legends than the glamour of the theatre At all events, she was planted from that moment so firmly in my mind that when, as a more developed youngster, after an interval of several years, I was taken for education's sake to hear her, the occasion was primarily a relief to long suspense.
It became, however, and there was another that followed it, a joy by itself and an impression ineffaceable.
This was in London, and I remember even from such a distance of time every detail of the picture and every tone of her voice. The two readings—one was of “King Lear," the other of "A Midsummer Night's Dream”—took place in certain Assembly Rooms in St. John's Wood.
The reader dressed in black velvet for Lear and in white satin for the comedy, and presented herself to my young vision as a being of formidable splendor. I must have measured in some degree the power and beauty of her performance, for I perfectly recall the sense of irreparable privation with which a little later I heard my parents describe the emotion produced by her Othello, given at the old Hanover Square Rooms, and to which I had not been conducted. I have seen both the tragedy and the "Dream" acted several times since then, but I have always found myself waiting vainly for any approach to the splendid volume of Mrs. Kemble's "Howl, howi, howl!” in the one, or to the animation and variety that she contributed to the other. I am confi. dent that the most exquisite of fairy-tales never was such a “spectacle" as when she read, I was going to say mounted, it. Is this reminiscence of the human thunder-roll that she produced in Lear in some degree one of the indulgences with which we treat our child. hood? I think not, in the light of innumerable subsequent impressions. These showed that the force and the imagination were still there; why then should they not, in the prime of their magnificent energy, have borne their fruit?..
It is always a torment to the later friends of the possessor of a great talent to have to content themselves with the supposition and the hearsay; but in Mrs. Kemble's society there were precious though casual consolations for the treacheries of time. She was so saturated with Shakespeare that she had made him, as it were, the air she lived in, an air that stirred with his words whenever she herself was moved, whenever she was agitated or impressed, reminded or challenged. He was indeed her utterance, the language she spoke when she spoke most from herself.
“Henry V." was the last play I heard her read in public, and I remember a declaration of hers that it was the play she loved best to read, better even than those that yielded poetry more various. It was gallant and martial and intensely English, and she was certainly on such evenings the “Anglaise des Anglaises" she professed to be. Her splendid tones and her face, lighted like that of a war-goddess, seemed to fill the performance with the hurry of armies and the sound of battle; as in her rendering of "A MidsummerNight's Dream," so the illusion was that of a multitude and a pageant. I recall the tremendous ring of her voice, somewhat diminished as it then was, in the culminating "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!" a voice the immense effect of which, in her finest years the occasion, for instance, of her brief return to the stage in 1847-an old friend just illustrates to me by a reminiscence. She was acting at that period at the Princess's Theatre, with Macready, in whom my informant, then a very young man and an unfledged journalist, remembers himself to have been, for some reason, "surprisingly disappointed." It all seems very ancient history. On one of the evenings of "Macbeth," he was making his way, by invitation, to Douglas Jerrold's box- Douglas Jerrold had a newspaper-when, in the passage, he was arrested by the sense that Mrs. Kemble was already on the stage, reading the letter with which Lady Macbeth makes her entrance. The manner in which she read it, the tone that reached his ears, held him motionless and spellbound till she had finished. To nothing more beautiful had he ever listened, nothing more beautiful was he ever to hear again. This was the sort of impression commemorated in Longfellow's so sincere sonnet, “Ah, precious evenings, all too swiftly sped!"
It befell, on some occasion of her being in one of her frequent and admirable narrative moods, that a friend was sufficiently addicted to the perpetual puzzle of art to ask her what preparation, in a series of readings, what degree of rehearsal, as it were, she found necessary for performances so arduous and so complex. “Rehearsal?”—she was, with all the good faith in the world, almost scandalized at the idea. “I may have read over the play, and I think I kept myself quiet." "But was nothing determined, established in advance?" This was an inquiry which Mrs. Kemble could treat with all the gayety of her irony, and in the light of which her talent exhibited just that disconcerting wilfulness I have already spoken of. She would have been a capture for the disputants who pretend that the actor's emotion must be real, if she had not been indeed, with her hatred both of enrolment and of tea. party æsthetics, too dangerous a recruit for any camp. Priggishness and pedantry excited her ire; woe therefore to those who collectively might have presumed she was on their “side.”
She was artistically, I think, a very fine anomaly, and, in relation to the efficacity of what may be called the natural method, the operation of pure sincerity, a witness no less interesting than unconscious. An equally active and fruitful love of beauty was probably never accompanied with so little technical curiosity. Her endowment was so rich, her spirit so proud, her temper so high, that, as she was an immense success, they made her indifference and her eccentricity magnificent. From what she would have been as a failure the imagination averts its face; and if her only receipt for "rendering" Shakespeare was to live with him and try to be worthy of him, there are many aspirants it would not have taken far on the way. Nor would one have expected it to be the precursor of performances masterly in their finish. Such simplicities were easy to a person who had Mrs. Kemble's organ, her presence, and her rare perceptions.
Her talk reflected a thousand vanished and present things; but there were those of her friends for whom its value was, as I have hinted, almost before any