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[Transcriber's note: The spellings in this book are inconsistent in
the original, and have not been corrected except in the index as
explicitly noted below.]

[Illustration: Fanny Kemble]




RECORDS OF A GIRLHOOD

BY

FRANCES ANN KEMBLE

_SECOND EDITION._

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
1880.




COPYRIGHT, 1879,
BY
HENRY HOLT & CO.


JOHN A. GRAY, Agent,
TYPE-SETTING MACHINERY,
16 & 18 JACOB STREET,
NEW YORK.




PREFATORY NOTE.


Considerable portions of this work originally appeared in the _Atlantic
Monthly_, but there is added to these a large amount of new matter not
hitherto published, and the whole work has been thoroughly revised.




RECORDS OF A GIRLHOOD.

CHAPTER I.


A few years ago I received from a friend to whom they had been addressed
a collection of my own letters, written during a period of forty years,
and amounting to thousands--a history of my life.

The passion for universal history (_i.e._ any and every body's story)
nowadays seems to render any thing in the shape of personal
recollections good enough to be printed and read; and as the public
appetite for gossip appears to be insatiable, and is not unlikely some
time or other to be gratified at my expense, I have thought that my own
gossip about myself may be as acceptable to it as gossip about me
written by another.

I have come to the garrulous time of life--to the remembering days,
which only by a little precede the forgetting ones. I have much leisure,
and feel sure that it will amuse me to write my own reminiscences;
perhaps reading them may amuse others who have no more to do than I
have. To the idle, then, I offer these lightest of leaves gathered in
the idle end of autumn days, which have succeeded years of labor often
severe and sad enough, though its ostensible purpose was only that of
affording recreation to the public.

* * * * *

There are two lives of my aunt Siddons: one by Boaden, and one by the
poet Campbell. In these biographies due mention is made of my paternal
grandfather and grandmother. To the latter, Mrs. Roger Kemble, I am
proud to see, by Lawrence's portrait of her, I bear a personal
resemblance; and I please myself with imagining that the likeness is
more than "skin deep." She was an energetic, brave woman, who, in the
humblest sphere of life and most difficult circumstances, together with
her husband fought manfully a hard battle with poverty, in maintaining
and, as well as they could, training a family of twelve children, of
whom four died in childhood. But I am persuaded that whatever qualities
of mind or character I inherit from my father's family, I am more
strongly stamped with those which I derive from my mother, a woman who,
possessing no specific gift in such perfection as the dramatic talent of
the Kembles, had in a higher degree than any of them the peculiar
organization of genius. To the fine senses of a savage rather than a
civilized nature, she joined an acute instinct of correct criticism in
all matters of art, and a general quickness and accuracy of perception,
and brilliant vividness of expression, that made her conversation
delightful. Had she possessed half the advantages of education which she
and my father labored to bestow upon us, she would, I think, have been
one of the most remarkable persons of her time.

My mother was the daughter of Captain Decamp, an officer in one of the
armies that revolutionary France sent to invade republican Switzerland.
He married the daughter of a farmer from the neighborhood of Berne. From
my grandmother's home you could see the great Jungfrau range of the
Alps, and I sometimes wonder whether it is her blood in my veins that so
loves and longs for those supremely beautiful mountains.

Not long after his marriage my grandfather went to Vienna, where, on the
anniversary of the birth of the great Empress-King, my mother was born,
and named, after her, Maria Theresa. In Vienna, Captain Decamp made the
acquaintance of a young English nobleman, Lord Monson (afterwards the
Earl of Essex), who, with an enthusiasm more friendly than wise, eagerly
urged the accomplished Frenchman to come and settle in London, where his
talents as a draughtsman and musician, which were much above those of a
mere amateur, combined with the protection of such friends as he could
not fail to find, would easily enable him to maintain himself and his
young wife and child.

In an evil hour my grandfather adopted this advice, and came to England.
It was the time when the emigration of the French nobility had filled
London with objects of sympathy, and society with sympathizers with
their misfortunes. Among the means resorted to for assisting the many
interesting victims of the Revolution, were representations, given under
the direction of Le Texier, of Berquin's and Madame de Genlis's juvenile
dramas, by young French children. These performances, combined with his
own extraordinary readings, became one of the fashionable frenzies of
the day. I quote from Walter Scott's review of Boaden's life of my uncle
the following notice of Le Texier: "On one of these incidental topics we
must pause for a moment, with delighted recollection. We mean the
readings of the celebrated Le Texier, who, seated at a desk, and dressed
in plain clothes, read French plays with such modulation of voice, and
such exquisite point of dialogue, as to form a pleasure different from
that of the theatre, but almost as great as we experience in listening
to a first-rate actor. We have only to add to a very good account given
by Mr. Boaden of this extraordinary entertainment, that when it
commenced Mr. Le Texier read over the _dramatis personć_, with the
little analysis of character usually attached to each name, using the
voice and manner with which he afterward read the part; and so accurate
was the key-note given that he had no need to name afterward the person
who spoke; the stupidest of the audience could not fail to recognize
them."

Among the little actors of Le Texier's troupe, my mother attracted the
greatest share of public attention by her beauty and grace, and the
truth and spirit of her performances.

The little French fairy was eagerly seized upon by admiring fine ladies
and gentlemen, and snatched up into their society, where she was fondled
and petted and played with; passing whole days in Mrs. Fitzherbert's
drawing-room, and many a half hour on the knees of her royal and
disloyal husband, the Prince Regent, one of whose favorite jokes was to
place my mother under a huge glass bell, made to cover some large group
of precious Dresden china, where her tiny figure and flashing face
produced even a more beautiful effect than the costly work of art whose
crystal covering was made her momentary cage. I have often heard my
mother refer to this season of her childhood's favoritism with the fine
folk of that day, one of her most vivid impressions of which was the
extraordinary beauty of person and royal charm of manner and deportment
of the Prince of Wales, and his enormous appetite: enormous perhaps,
after all, only by comparison with her own, which he compassionately
used to pity, saying frequently, when she declined the delicacies that
he pressed upon her, "Why, you poor child! Heaven has not blessed you
with an appetite." Of the precocious feeling and imagination of the poor
little girl, thus taken out of her own sphere of life into one so
different and so dangerous, I remember a very curious instance, told me
by herself. One of the houses where she was a most frequent visitor, and
treated almost like a child of the family, was that of Lady Rivers,
whose brother, Mr. Rigby, while in the ministry, fought a duel with some
political opponent. Mr. Rigby had taken great notice of the little
French child treated with such affectionate familiarity by his sister,
and she had attached herself so strongly to him that, on hearing the
circumstance of his duel suddenly mentioned for the first time, she
fainted away: a story that always reminded me of the little Spanish girl
Florian mentions in his "Mémoires d'un jeune Espagnol," who, at six
years of age, having asked a young man of upward of five and twenty if
he loved her, so resented his repeating her question to her elder sister
that she never could be induced to speak to him again.

Meantime, while the homes of the great and gay were her constant resort,
the child's home was becoming sadder, and her existence and that of her
parents more precarious and penurious day by day. From my grandfather's
first arrival in London, his chest had suffered from the climate; the
instrument he taught was the flute, and it was not long before decided
disease of the lungs rendered that industry impossible. He endeavored to
supply its place by giving French and drawing lessons (I have several
small sketches of his, taken in the Netherlands, the firm, free delicacy
of which attest a good artist's handling); and so struggled on, under
the dark London sky, and in the damp, foggy, smoky atmosphere, while the
poor foreign wife bore and nursed four children.

It is impossible to imagine any thing sadder than the condition of such
a family, with its dark fortune closing round and over it, and its one
little human jewel, sent forth from its dingy case to sparkle and
glitter, and become of hard necessity the single source of light in the
growing gloom of its daily existence. And the contrast must have been
cruel enough between the scenes into which the child's genius
spasmodically lifted her, both in the assumed parts she performed and in
the great London world where her success in their performance carried
her, and the poor home, where sickness and sorrow were becoming abiding
inmates, and poverty and privation the customary conditions of
life--poverty and privation doubtless often increased by the very outlay
necessary to fit her for her public appearances, and not seldom by the
fear of offending, or the hope of conciliating, the fastidious taste of
the wealthy and refined patrons whose favor toward the poor little
child-actress might prove infinitely helpful to her and to those who
owned her.

The lives of artists of every description in England are not unapt to
have such opening chapters as this; but the calling of a player alone
has the grotesque element of fiction, with all the fantastic
accompaniments of sham splendor thrust into close companionship with the
sordid details of poverty; for the actor alone the livery of labor is a
harlequin's jerkin lined with tatters, and the jester's cap and bells
tied to the beggar's wallet.



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