Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.
Devonshire Terrace, January 12th, 1847.
My dear Sir Edward,
The Committee of the General Theatrical Fund (who are all actors) are anxious to prefer a petition to you to preside at their next annual dinner at the London Tavern, and having no personal knowledge of you, have requested me, as one of their Trustees, through their Secretary, Mr. Cullenford, to give them some kind of presentation to you.
I will only say that I have felt great interest in their design, which embraces all sorts and conditions of actors from the first, and it has been maintained by themselves with extraordinary perseverance and determination. It has been in existence some years, but it is only two years since they began to dine. At their first festival I presided, at their second, Macready. They very naturally hold that if they could prevail on you to reign over them now they would secure a most powerful and excellent advocate, whose aid would serve and grace their cause immensely. I sympathise with their feeling so cordially, and know so well that it would certainly be mine if I were in their case (as, indeed, it is, being their friend), that I comply with their request for an introduction. And I will not ask you to excuse my troubling you, feeling sure that I may use this liberty with you.
Believe me always, very faithfully yours.
Countess of Blessington.
48, Rue de Courcelles, Paris, January 24th, 1847.
My dear Lady Blessington,
I feel very wicked in beginning this note, and deeply remorseful for not having begun and ended it long ago. But you know how difficult it is to write letters in the midst of a writing life; and as you know too (I hope) how earnestly and affectionately I always think of you, wherever I am, I take heart, on a little consideration, and feel comparatively good again.
Forster has been cramming into the space of a fortnight every description of impossible and inconsistent occupation in the way of sight-seeing. He has been now at Versailles, now in the prisons, now at the opera, now at the hospitals, now at the Conservatoire, and now at the Morgue, with a dreadful insatiability. I begin to doubt whether I had anything to do with a book called “Dombey,” or ever sat over number five (not finished a fortnight yet) day after day, until I half began, like the monk in poor Wilkie’s story, to think it the only reality in life, and to mistake all the realities for short-lived shadows.
Among the multitude of sights, we saw our pleasant little bud of a friend, Rose Chéri, play Clarissa Harlowe the other night. I believe she does it in London just now, and perhaps you may have seen it. A most charming, intelligent, modest, affecting piece of acting it is, with a death superior to anything I ever saw on the stage, except Macready’s Lear. The theatres are admirable just now. We saw “Gentil Bernard” at the Variétés last night, acted in a manner that was absolutely perfect. It was a little picture of Watteau, animated and talking from beginning to end. At the Cirque there is a new show-piece called the “French Revolution,” in which there is a representation of the National Convention, and a series of battles (fought by some five hundred people, who look like five thousand) that are wonderful in their extraordinary vigour and truth. Gun-cotton gives its name to the general annual jocose review at the Palais Royal, which is dull enough, saving for the introduction of Alexandre Dumas, sitting in his study beside a pile of quarto volumes about five feet high, which he says is the first tableau of the first act of the first piece to be played on the first night of his new theatre. The revival of Molière’s “Don Juan,” at the Français, has drawn money. It is excellently played, and it is curious to observe how different their Don Juan and valet are from our English ideas of the master and man. They are playing “Lucretia Borgia” again at the Porte St. Martin, but it is poorly performed and hangs fire drearily, though a very remarkable and striking play. We were at Victor Hugo’s house last Sunday week, a most extraordinary place, looking like an old curiosity shop, or the property-room of some gloomy, vast, old theatre. I was much struck by Hugo himself, who looks like a genius as he is, every inch of him, and is very interesting and satisfactory from head to foot. His wife is a handsome woman, with flashing black eyes. There is also a charming ditto daughter of fifteen or sixteen, with ditto eyes. Sitting among old armour and old tapestry, and old coffers, and grim old chairs and tables, and old canopies of state from old palaces, and old golden lions going to play at skittles with ponderous old golden balls, they made a most romantic show and looked like a chapter out of one of his own books.
* * * * * *
Mr. Edward Chapman.
Chester Place, Monday, 3rd May, 1847.
My dear Sir,
Here is a young lady—Miss Power, Lady Blessington’s niece—has “gone and been” and translated a story by Georges Sand, the French writer, which she has printed, and got four woodcuts engraved ready for. She wants to get it published—something in the form of the Christmas books. I know the story, and it is a very fine one.
Will you do it for her? There is no other risk than putting a few covers on a few copies. Half-profits is what she expects and no loss. She has made appeal to me, and if there is to be a hard-hearted ogre in the business at all, I would rather it should be you than I; so I have told her I would make proposals to your mightiness.
Answer this straightway, for I have no doubt the fair translator thinks I am tearing backwards and forwards in a cab all day to bring the momentous affair to a conclusion.
Mr. James Sheridan Knowles.
148, King’s Road, Brighton, 26th May, 1847.
My dear Knowles,
I have learned, I hope, from the art we both profess (if you will forgive this classification of myself with you) to respect a man of genius in his mistakes, no less than in his triumphs. You have so often read the human heart well that I can readily forgive your reading mine ill, and greatly wronging me by the supposition that any sentiment towards you but honour and respect has ever found a place in it.
You write as few lines which, dying, you would wish to blot, as most men. But if you ever know me better, as I hope you may (the fault shall not be mine if you do not), I know you will be glad to have received the assurance that some part of your letter has been written on the sand and that the wind has already blown over it.
Faithfully yours always.
Regent’s Park, London, Friday, 4th June, 1847.
My dear Sir,
I have rarely, if ever, seen a more remarkable effort of what I may call intellectual memory than the enclosed. It is evidence, I think, of very uncommon power. I have read it with the greatest interest and surprise, and I am truly obliged to you for giving me the opportunity. If you should see no objection to telling the young lady herself this much, pray do so, as it is sincere praise.
Your criticism of Coombe’s pamphlet is as justly felt as it is earnestly and strongly written. I undergo more astonishment and disgust in connection with that question of education almost every day of my life than is awakened in me by any other member of the whole magazine of social monsters that are walking about in these times.
You were in my thoughts when your letter arrived this morning, for we have a half-formed idea of reviving our old amateur theatrical company for a special purpose, and even of bringing it bodily to Manchester and Liverpool, on which your opinion would be very valuable. If we should decide on Monday, when we meet, to pursue our idea in this warm weather, I will explain it to you in detail, and ask counsel of you in regard of a performance at Liverpool. Meantime it is mentioned to no one.
Your interest in “Dombey” gives me unaffected pleasure. I hope you will find no reason to think worse of it as it proceeds. There is a great deal to do—one or two things among the rest that society will not be the worse, I hope, for thinking about a little.
May I beg to be remembered to Mrs. Hodgson? You always remember me yourself, I hope, as one who has a hearty interest in all you do and in all you have so admirably done for the advancement of the best objects.
Always believe me very faithfully yours.
Regent’s Park, London, June 12th, 1847.
My dear Sir,
I write to you in reference to a scheme to which you may, perhaps, already have seen some allusion in the London Athenæum of to-day.
The party of amateurs connected with literature and art, who acted in London two years ago, have resolved to play again at one of the large theatres here for the benefit of Leigh Hunt, and to make a great appeal to all classes of society in behalf of a writer who should have received long ago, but has not yet, some enduring return from his country for all he has undergone and all the good he has done. It is believed that such a demonstration by literature on behalf of literature, and such a mark of sympathy by authors and artists, for one who has written so well, would be of more service, present and prospective, to Hunt than almost any other means of help that could be devised. And we know, from himself, that it would be most gratifying to his own feelings.
The arrangements are, as yet, in an imperfect state; for the date of their being carried out depends on our being able to get one of the large theatres before the close of the present London season. In the event of our succeeding, we purpose acting in London, on Wednesday the 14th of July, and on Monday the 19th. On the first occasion we shall play “Every Man in His Humour,” and a farce; on the second, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and a farce.
But we do not intend to stop here. Believing that Leigh Hunt has done more to instruct the young men of England, and to lend a helping hand to those who educate themselves, than any writer in England, we are resolved to come down, in a body, to Liverpool and Manchester, and to act one night at each place. And the object of my letter is, to ask you, as the representative of the great educational establishment of Liverpool, whether we can count on your active assistance; whether you will form a committee to advance our object; and whether, if we send you our circulars and addresses, you will endeavour to secure us a full theatre, and to enlist the general sympathy and interest in behalf of the cause we have at heart?
I address, by this post, a letter, which is almost the counterpart of the present, to the honorary secretaries of the Manchester Athenæum. If we find in both towns such a response as we confidently expect, I would propose, on behalf of my friends, that the Liverpool and Manchester Institutions should decide for us, at which town we shall first appear, and which play we shall act in each place.
I forbear entering into any more details, however, until I am favoured with your reply.
Always believe me, my dear Sir,
faithfully your Friend.
Mr. Alexander Ireland.
Regent’s Park, London, June 17th, 1847.
In the hope that I may consider myself personally introduced to you by Dr. Hodgson, of Liverpool, I take the liberty of addressing you in this form.
I hear from that friend of ours, that you are greatly interested in all that relates to Mr. Leigh Hunt, and that you will be happy to promote our design in reference to him. Allow me to assure you of the gratification with which I have received this intelligence, and of the importance we shall all attach to your valuable co-operation.
I have received a letter from Mr. Langley, of the Athenæum, informing me that a committee is in course of formation, composed of directors of that institution (acting as private gentlemen) and others. May I hope to find that you are one of this body, and that I may soon hear of its proceedings, and be in communication with it?
Allow me to thank you beforehand for your interest in the cause, and to look forward to the pleasure of doing so in person, when I come to Manchester.
Dear Sir, very faithfully yours.
Athenæum Club, London, Saturday, June 26th, 1847.
My dear Sir,
The news of Mr. Hunt’s pension is quite true. We do not propose to act in London after this change in his affairs, but we do still distinctly propose to act in Manchester and Liverpool. I have set forth the plain state of the case in a letter to Mr. Robinson by this post (a counterpart of which I have addressed to Liverpool), and to which, in the midst of a most laborious correspondence on the subject, I beg to refer you.
It will be a great satisfaction to us to believe that we shall still be successful in Manchester. There is great and urgent need why we should be so, I assure you.
If you can help to bring the matter speedily into a practical and plain shape, you will render Hunt the greatest service.
I fear, in respect to your kind invitation, that neither Jerrold nor I will feel at liberty to accept it. There was a pathetic proposal among us that we should “keep together;” and, as president of the society, I am bound, I fear, to stand by the brotherhood with particular constancy. Nor do I think that we shall have more than one very short evening in Manchester.
I write in great haste. The sooner I can know (at Broadstairs, in Kent) the Manchester and Liverpool nights, and what the managers say, the better (I hope) will be the entertainments.
My dear Sir, very faithfully yours.
P.S.—I enclose a copy of our London circular, issued before the granting of the pension.
Broadstairs, Kent, July 11th, 1847.
My dear Sir,
I am much indebted to you for the present of your notice of Hunt’s books. I cannot praise it better or more appropriately than by saying it is in Hunt’s own spirit, and most charmingly expressed. I had the most sincere and hearty pleasure in reading it.
Your announcement of “The Working Man’s Life” had attracted my attention by reason of the title, which had a great interest for me. I hardly know if there is something wanting to my fancy in a certain genuine simple air I had looked for in the first part. But there is great promise in it, and I shall be earnest to know how it proceeds.
Now, to leave these pleasant matters, and resume my managerial character, which I shall be heartily glad (between ourselves) to lay down again, though I have none but pleasant correspondents, and the most easily governable company of actors on earth.
I have written to Mr. Robinson by this post that I wish these words, from our original London circular, to stand at top of the bills, after “For the Benefit of Mr. Leigh Hunt”:
“It is proposed to devote a portion of the proceeds of this benefit to the assistance of another celebrated writer, whose literary career is at an end, and who has no provision for the decline of his life.”
I have also told him that there is no objection to its being known that this is Mr. Poole, the author of “Paul Pry,” and “Little Pedlington,” and many comic pieces of great merit, and whose farce of “Turning the Tables” we mean to finish with in Manchester. Beyond what he will get from these benefits, he has no resource in this wide world, I know. There are reasons which make it desirable to get this fact abroad, and if you see no objection to paragraphing it at your office (sending the paragraph round, if you should please, to the other Manchester papers), I should be much obliged to you.
You may like to know, as a means of engendering a more complete individual interest in our actors, who they are. Jerrold and myself you have heard of; Mr. George Cruikshank and Mr. Leech (the best caricaturists of any time perhaps) need no introduction. Mr. Frank Stone (a Manchester man) and Mr. Egg are artists of high reputation. Mr. Forster is the critic of The Examiner, the author of “The Lives of the Statesmen of the Commonwealth,” and very distinguished as a writer in The Edinburgh Review. Mr. Lewes is also a man of great attainments in polite literature, and the author of a novel published not long since, called “Ranthorpe.” Mr. Costello is a periodical writer, and a gentleman renowned as a tourist. Mr. Mark Lemon is a dramatic author, and the editor of Punch—a most excellent actor, as you will find. My brothers play small parts, for love, and have no greater note than the Treasury and the City confer on their disciples. Mr. Thompson is a private gentleman. You may know all this, but I thought it possible you might like to hold the key to our full company. Pray use it as you will.
My dear Sir,
Faithfully yours always.