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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 teaparty 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
other documentary. The generations move so fast and change so much that Mrs. Kemble testified even more than she affected to do, which was much, to antique manners and a closed chapter of history. Her conversation swarmed with people and with criticism of people, with the ghosts of a dead society. She had, in two hemispheres, seen every one and known every one, had assisted at the social comedy of her age. Her own habits and traditions were in themselves a survival of an era less democratic and more mannered.
I have no room for enumerations, which moreover would be invidious; but the old London of her talk—the direction I liked it best to take-was in particular a gallery of portraits. She made Count d'Orsay familiar, she made Charles Greville present; I thought it wonderful that she could be anecdotic about Miss Edgeworth. She reanimated the old drawing-rooms, relighted the old lamps, retuned the old pianos. The finest comedy of all, perhaps, was that of her own generous whimsicalities. She was superbly willing to amuse, and on any terms, and her temper could do it as well as her wit. If either of these had failed, her eccentricities were always there. She had, indeed, so much finer a sense of comedy than any one else that she herself knew best, as well as recked least, how she might exhilarate. I remember that at the play she often said, “Yes, they're funny; but they don't begin to know how funny they might be!". Mrs. Kemble always knew, and her good-humor effectually forearmed her. She had more “habits” than most people have room in life for, and a theory that to a person of her disposition they were as necessary as the close meshes of a strait waistcoat. If she had not lived
by rule (on her showing), she would have lived
English Poets." By ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
THOSE days of Elizabeth! We call them the
days of Elizabeth, but the glory fell over the ridge, in illustration of the half-century beyond: those days of Elizabeth! Full were they of poets as the summer days are of birds:
No branch on which a fine bird did not sit,
We hear of the dramatists; but the lyric singers were yet more numerous,--there were singers in every class. Never since the first nightingale brake voice in Eden, arose such a jubilee-concert: never before nor since has such a crowd of true poets uttered true poetic speech in one day. Not in England evermore! Not in Greece, that we know. Not in Rome, by what we know. Talk of their Augustan era—we will not talk of it, lest we desecrate our own of Elizabeth.
The latter was rightly prefigured by our figure of the chorus of swans. It was besides the milky way of poetry: it was the miracle-age of poetical history. We may fancy that the master-souls of Shakespeare and Spenser, breathing, stirring in divine emotion, shot vibratory life through other souls in electric association: we may hear, in fancy, one wind moving every leaf in a forest-one voice responded to by a thousand rock-echoes. Why, a common man walking through the earth in those days, grew a poet by position-even as a child's shadow cast upon a mountain slope is dilated to the aspect of a giant's.