Page images
PDF
EPUB

ADELAIDE KEMBLE:

AND THE LYRICAL DRAMA IN 1841.

Writin to accompany a series of full-length Drawings executed by Mr. John Hayter, for the Marquess of Titchfield, represent Ing Miss Kemble in all the characters in which she had appeare, and the most striking passages of each.

AUGUST, 1848. How often we have had cause to regret that the histrionic art, of all the fine arts the most intense in its immediate effect, should be, of all others, the most transient in its result and the only memorials it can leave behind, at best, so imperfect and so unsatisfactory ! When those who have attained distinguished celebrity in this department of art retire from the stage, it is the most mournful of all departures for those who disappear, and for those who are left behind; for there is no other bond between the public and its idol than this unlimited sympathy of mutual presence.

ADELAIDE KEMBLE exists to us no more. She has retired within the sacred precincts of domestic life, whither those who made her the subject of public homage, or public criticism, will not presume to follow her, except with silent blessing, heartfelt good-wishes, and grateful thoughts for remembered pleasure, mingled, perhaps, with some

migrets, to waken up whenever her name is heard, -as heard it will be. Her short career as a dramatic artist, has become a part of the history of our country's Drama ;-as such, it must be recorded ;-as such, it will be the subject hereafter of comparison-of reference. Those who imagine that when the distinguished artist, whose life and destinies have in a manner mingled with our own, is withdrawn from our sight, sympathy and memory are extinguished, commit a great mistake. Without entering here into the question of its expediency or inexpediency, public or private, since it is a necessity, -since the record must and will live,—it had better live in a form that is dignified by its instructiveness and its truth, than in a form degraded by levity and untruth; and therefore it is that this sketch, which was at first intended to be strictly private, is here allowed a place : that a name and a fame, familiar to the many, might be rescued from vulgar and ephemeral criticism, and take-as far as this inadequate tribute may avail—the place they deserve to hold in our memory.

When Johnson said of Garrick, that “ his death had eclipsed the gayety of nations," he expressed a simple fact, which yet was only a part of the whole truth. Not gayety only, not merely the amusement of an idle hour, have we owed to the great artist, —more especially the great vocal and lyrical artist,—but that blessed relief from the pressure of this working-day world; that genial warming up of the spirit, under the sympathetic intluences of beauty, passion, power, poetry, melody, which fuses together a multitude of minds in the one delicious and kindred feeling; and surely this is much to be thankful for! Those who have felt and acknowledged the influence of this fascination have too generally, and under the excitement of the moinent, exhibited their gratitude by impulses as short-lived, by tributes as empty, by rewards as glittering, as the mere stage triumph; shouts and bravoes,--some tears perhaps, forgotten as soon as shed, -jewels, flowers, flattery, lip-homage,-all that is readiest and easiest to pay. But never, certainly, did chivalrous admiration tender a more elegant and appropriate homage than in the series of Drawings which this memoir was written to illustrate. It was surely a beautiful thought, that of summoning a kindred art to give permanence to what seemed in its nature so transient—the charm of the momentary action, the varied turns of ex. pression, the grace of which words could only preserve the record, not the image. And as the idea was in itself beautiful, so it has been beautifully carried out: Mr. Hayter has avoided those mistakes into which one with less feeling, -one who had less sympathy with the object, and less enthusiasm for the subject of his work, would inevitably have been betrayed. These Drawings are a good example of what such representations ought to be; they were to be as faithful as could be required to the moment, to the action, to the expression: they were to be scenic, dramatic, but, at the same time, they were to be poetical, and as far as possible removed from the theatrical ;-and herein lay the difficulty,-conquered, I must say, with singular felicity. While the figure and action of the principal person are given with portrait-like fidelity, down to the very minutiæ of her dress, the accompaniments are generalized, and all that could recall the conventional stage arrangements, and stage effects, has been carefully avoided. Thus they have all the value of truth, and all the charm of fancy. They appeal to the imagination and to the memory without recalling, for one moment, any associations but those of graceful movement and delicious song; and if the record I am about to trace should add to such associations some others, from a higher and a deeper source of interest, it will at least be not unworthy of its aim, and the motive which gave it birth.

Any one who had undertaken to write of Adelaide Kemble without knowing her personally, could never have done justice to her artistic excellence. For one to whom she has long been personally known, to write of her merely as an artist, is

difficult. It has been said, and with a plausible appearance of candor, that, in estimating the distinguished artist in any department of art, the moral qualities of the individual, apart from the manifestations of the genius, concern us not; that our

very

business is with the processes mental, moral, or accidental (if anything be accidental), through which it is produced and perfected; that in bringing these considerations to bear on the principal subject, we hazard injustice, if we do not offer indignity, to the object of our adı on. Yet to set such considerations wholly aside, what is it but. to confound the artist with the artisan ? It is a matter of indifference to me who made this table at which I write. It is no matter of indifference to me who wrote this book I read; from what mind emanated these words over which I have shed burning tears; whose hand fixed on the canvas these forms which are to me as a revelation from heaven. It is, on the contrary, of the highest import to me that I should know that which I must needs love, and be able to approve where I am called on to admire. The eager curiosity, the insatiate interest with which we seek to penetrate the characters, to disclose the existence of those on whom the public gaze has been fixed in delight and wonder, is among the strongest forms of human sympathy. We have been forced to feel their power through every pulse of our being ;-in return we “would pluck out the heart of their mystery.” This form of sympathy may be very inconvenient to its object, and sometimes very suspicious in its motive, and oftentimes very indiscreet in its application; but to say that it is wrong, that it either can be, or ought to be, otherwise, is both false and absurd. It is so; and as long as

« EelmineJätka »