« السابقةمتابعة »
A RETROSPECT. By VICTOR HUGO.
HAVE had for friends and allies, I have seen suc
cessively pass before me, and according to the changes and chances of destiny, I have received in my house, sometimes in intimacy, chancellors, peers, dukes. Pasquier, Pontécoulant, Montalembert, Bellune; and celebrated men, Lamennais, Lamartine, Châteaubriand; presidents of the Republic, Manin; leaders of revolution, Louis Blanc, Montanelli, Arago, Heliade; leaders of the people, Garibaldi, Mazzini, Kossuth, Microslawski; artists, Rossini, David d'Angers, Pradier, Meyerbeer, Eugène Delacroix; marshals, Soult, Mackau; serjeants, Boni, Heurtebise; bishops, the Cardinal of Besançon, M. de Rohan, the Cardinal of Bordeaux, M. Donnet; and comedians, Frederick Lemaître, Mlle. Rachel, Mlle. Mars, Mme. Dorval, Macready; ministers and ambassadors, Moli, Guizot, Thiers, Lord Palmerston, Lord Normanby, M. de Ligne; and of peasants, Charles Durand; princes, imperial and royal highnesses and plain highnesses, such as the Duke of Orleans, Ernest of Saxe-Coburg, the Princess of Canino, Louis Charles Pierre, and Napoleon Bonaparte; and of shoemakers, Guay; of kings and emperors, Jerome of Westphalia, Max of Bavaria, the Emperor of Brazil; and of thorough revolutionists, Bourillon. I have had sometimes in my hands the gloved and white palm of the upper class and the heavy black hand of the lower class, and have recognized that both are but men. After all these have passed before me, I say that Humanity has a synonym-Equality; and that under Heaven there is but one thing we ought to bow to-Genius; and only one thing before which we ought to kneel-Goodness.
London and Elsewhere. Copyright, 1893, by Harper & Brothers. Reprinted with permission. By HENRY JAMES.
RS. KEMBLE often used to say of people who
met her during the later years of her life, “No wonder they were surprised and bewildered, poor things—they supposed I was dead!" Dying January 15, 1893, in her eighty-third year, she had outlived a whole order of things, her "time," as we call it, and in particular so many of her near contemporaries, so many relations and friends, witnesses and admirers, so much, too, of her own robust and ironic interest in life, that the event, as regards attention excited, may well be said to have introduced her to unconscious generations.
Mrs. Kemble all her life was so great a figure for those who were not in ignorance, the distinction and interest of her character were, among them, so fundamental an article of faith, that such persons were startled at finding themselves called to be, not combative in the cause of her innumerable strong features (they were used to that), but insistent in respect to her eminence.
Even if Mrs. Kemble had been a less remarkable person, she would have owed a distinction to the faraway past to which she gave continuity, would have been interesting from the curious contacts she was able, as it were, to transmit. She made us touch her aunt, Mrs. Siddons, and whom does Mrs. Siddons not make us touch? She had sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence for her portrait, and Sir Thomas Lawrence was in love with Sir Joshua's Tragic Muse. She had breakfasted with Sir Walter Scott, she had sung with Tom Moore,
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 horse
back, 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, howl, 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 childhood? 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