Devonshire Terrace, Sunday Night,
January 5th, 1851.
My dear Bulwer,
I am so sorry to have missed you! I had gone down to Forster, comedy in hand.
I think it most admirable. Full of character, strong in interest, rich in capital situations, and certain to go nobly. You know how highly I thought of “Money,” but I sincerely think these three acts finer. I did not think of the slight suggestions you make, but I said, en passant, that perhaps the drunken scene might do better on the stage a little concentrated. I don’t believe it would require even that, with the leading-up which you propose. I cannot say too much of the comedy to express what I think and feel concerning it; and I look at it, too, remember, with the yellow eye of an actor! I should have taken to it (need I say so!) con amore in any case, but I should have been jealous of your reputation, exactly as I appreciate your generosity. If I had a misgiving of ten lines I should have scrupulously mentioned it.
Stone will take the Duke capitally; and I will answer for his being got into doing it very well. Looking down the perspective of a few winter evenings here, I am confident about him. Forster will be thoroughly sound and real. Lemon is so surprisingly sensible and trustworthy on the stage, that I don’t think any actor could touch his part as he will; and I hope you will have opportunities of testing the accuracy of this prediction. Egg ought to do the Author to absolute perfection. As to Jerrold—there he stands in the play! I would propose Leech (well made up) for Easy. He is a good name, and I see nothing else for him.
This brings me to my own part. If we had anyone, or could get anyone, for Wilmot, I could do (I think) something so near your meaning in Sir Gilbert, that I let him go with a pang. Assumption has charms for me—I hardly know for how many wild reasons—so delightful, that I feel a loss of, oh! I can’t say what exquisite foolery, when I lose a chance of being someone in voice, etc., not at all like myself. But—I speak quite freely, knowing you will not mistake me—I know from experience that we could find nobody to hold the play together in Wilmot if I didn’t do it. I think I could touch the gallant, generous, careless pretence, with the real man at the bottom of it, so as to take the audience with him from the first scene. I am quite sure I understand your meaning; and I am absolutely certain that as Jerrold, Forster, and Stone came in, I could, as a mere little bit of mechanics, present them better by doing that part, and paying as much attention to their points as my own, than another amateur actor could. Therefore I throw up my cap for Wilmot, and hereby devote myself to him, heart and head!
I ought to tell you that in a play we once rehearsed and never played (but rehearsed several times, and very carefully), I saw Lemon do a piece of reality with a rugged pathos in it, which I felt, as I stood on the stage with him to be extraordinarily good. In the serious part of Sir Gilbert he will surprise you. And he has an intuitive discrimination in such things which will just keep the suspicious part from being too droll at the outset—which will just show a glimpse of something in the depths of it.
The moment I come back to town (within a fortnight, please God!) I will ascertain from Forster where you are. Then I will propose to you that we call our company together, agree upon one general plan of action, and that you and I immediately begin to see and book our Vice-Presidents, etc. Further, I think we ought to see about the Queen. I would suggest our playing first about three weeks before the opening of the Exhibition, in order that it may be the town talk before the country people and foreigners come. Macready thinks with me that a very large sum of money may be got in London.
I propose (for cheapness and many other considerations) to make a theatre expressly for the purpose, which we can put up and take down—say in the Hanover Square Rooms—and move into the country. As Watson wanted something of a theatre made for his forthcoming Little Go, I have made it a sort of model of what I mean, and shall be able to test its working powers before I see you. Many things that, for portability, were to be avoided in Mr. Hewitt’s theatre, I have replaced with less expensive and weighty contrivances.
Now, my dear Bulwer, I have come to the small hours, and am writing alone here, as if I were writing something to do what your comedy will. At such a time the temptation is strong upon me to say a great deal more, but I will only say this—in mercy to you—that I do devoutly believe that this plan carried, will entirely change the status of the literary man in England, and make a revolution in his position, which no Government, no power on earth but his own, could ever effect. I have implicit confidence in the scheme—so splendidly begun—if we carry it out with a steadfast energy. I have a strong conviction that we hold in our hands the peace and honour of men of letters for centuries to come, and that you are destined to be their best and most enduring benefactor.
Oh! what a procession of New Years might walk out of all this, after we are very dusty!
Ever yours faithfully.
P.S.—I have forgotten something. I suggest this title: “Knowing the World; or, Not So Bad As We Seem.”
Devonshire Terrace, Tuesday Night, March 4th, 1851.
My dear Bulwer,
I know you will be glad to hear what I have to tell you.
I wrote to the Duke of Devonshire this morning, enclosing him the rough proof of the scheme, and plainly telling him what we wanted, i.e., to play for the first time at his house, to the Queen and Court. Within a couple of hours he wrote me as follows:
“I have read with very great interest the prospectus of the new endowment which you have confided to my perusal.
“Your manner of doing so is a proof that I am honoured by your goodwill and approbation.
“I’m truly happy to offer you my earnest and sincere co-operation. My services, my house, and my subscription will be at your orders. And I beg you to let me see you before long, not merely to converse upon this subject, but because I have long had the greatest wish to improve our acquaintance, which has, as yet, been only one of crowded rooms.”
This is quite princely, I think, and will push us along as brilliantly as heart could desire. Don’t you think so too?
Yesterday Lemon and I saw the Secretary of the National Provident Institution (the best Office for the purpose, I am inclined to think) and stated all our requirements. We appointed to meet the chairman and directors next Tuesday; so on the day of our reading and dining I hope we shall have that matter in good time.
The theatre is also under consultation; and directly after the reading we shall go briskly to work in all departments.
I hear nothing but praises of your Macready speech—of its eloquence, delicacy, and perfect taste, all of which it is good to hear, though I know it all beforehand as well as most men can tell it me.
Devonshire Terrace, Tuesday Morning, 25th March, 1851.
My dear Bulwer,
Coming home at midnight last night after our first rehearsal, I find your letter. I write to entreat you, if you make any change in the first three acts, to let it be only of the slightest kind. Because we are now fairly under way, everybody is already drilled into his place, and in two or three rehearsals those acts will be in a tolerably presentable state.
It is of vital importance that we should get the last two acts soon. The Queen and Prince are coming—Phipps wrote me yesterday the most earnest letter possible—the time is fearfully short, and we must have the comedy in such a state as that it will go like a machine. Whatever you do, for heaven’s sake don’t be persuaded to endanger that!
Even at the risk of your falling into the pit with despair at beholding anything of the comedy in its present state, if you can by any possibility come down to Covent Garden Theatre to-night, do. I hope you will see in Lemon the germ of a very fine presentation of Sir Geoffrey. I think Topham, too, will do Easy admirably.
We really did wonders last night in the way of arrangement. I see the ground-plan of the first three acts distinctly. The dressing and furnishing and so forth, will be a perfect picture, and I will answer for the men in three weeks’ time.
In great haste, my dear Bulwer,
Ever faithfully yours.
Mrs. Cowden Clarke.
Great Malvern, 29th March, 1851.
My dear Mrs. Cowden Clarke,
Ah, those were days indeed, when we were so fatigued at dinner that we couldn’t speak, and so revived at supper that we couldn’t go to bed; when wild in inns the noble savage ran; and all the world was a stage, gas-lighted in a double sense—by the Young Gas and the old one! When Emmeline Montague (now Compton, and the mother of two children) came to rehearse in our new comedy the other night, I nearly fainted. The gush of recollection was so overpowering that I couldn’t bear it.
I use the portfolio for managerial papers still. That’s something.
But all this does not thank you for your book. I have not got it yet (being here with Mrs. Dickens, who has been very unwell), but I shall be in town early in the week, and shall bring it down to read quietly on these hills, where the wind blows as freshly as if there were no Popes and no Cardinals whatsoever—nothing the matter anywhere. I thank you a thousand times, beforehand, for the pleasure you are going to give me. I am full of faith. Your sister Emma, she is doing work of some sort on the P.S. side of the boxes, in some dark theatre, I know, but where, I wonder? W. has not proposed to her yet, has he? I understood he was going to offer his hand and heart, and lay his leg at her feet.
Ever faithfully yours.
Devonshire Terrace, 19th April, 1851.
My Dear Mitton,
I have been in trouble, or I should have written to you sooner. My wife has been, and is, far from well. My poor father’s death caused me much distress. I came to London last Monday to preside at a public dinner—played with little Dora, my youngest child, before I went—and was told when I left the chair that she had died in a moment. I am quite happy again, but I have undergone a good deal.
I am not going back to Malvern, but have let this house until September, and taken the “Fort,” at Broadstairs.
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.
Devonshire Terrace, Monday, 28th April, 1851.
My dear Bulwer,
I see you are so anxious, that I shall endeavour to send you this letter by a special messenger. I think I can relieve your mind completely.
The Duke has read the play. He asked for it a week ago, and had it. He has been at Brighton since. He called here before eleven on Saturday morning, but I was out on the play business, so I went to him at Devonshire House yesterday. He almost knows the play by heart. He is supremely delighted with it, and critically understands it. In proof of the latter part of this sentence I may mention that he had made two or three memoranda of trivial doubtful points, every one of which had attracted our attention in rehearsal, as I found when he showed them to me. He thoroughly understands and appreciates the comedy of the Duke—threw himself back in his chair and laughed, as I say of Walpole, “till I thought he’d have choked,” about his first Duchess, who was a Percy. He suggested that he shouldn’t say: “You know how to speak to the heart of a Noble,” because it was not likely that he would call himself a Noble. He thought we might close up the Porter and Softhead a little more (already done) and was so charmed and delighted to recall the comedy that he was more pleased than any boy you ever saw when I repeated two or three of the speeches in my part for him. He is coming to the rehearsal to-day (we rehearse now at Devonshire House, three days a-week, all day long), and, since he read the play, has conceived a most magnificent and noble improvement in the Devonshire House plan, by which, I daresay, we shall get another thousand or fifteen hundred pounds. There is not a grain of distrust or doubt in him. I am perfectly certain that he would confide to me, and does confide to me, his whole mind on the subject.
More than this, the Duke comes out the best man in the play. I am happy to report to you that Stone does the honourable manly side of that pride inexpressibly better than I should have supposed possible in him. The scene where he makes that reparation to the slandered woman is certain to be an effect. He is not a jest upon the order of Dukes, but a great tribute to them. I have sat looking at the play (as you may suppose) pretty often, and carefully weighing every syllable of it. I see, in the Duke, the most estimable character in the piece. I am as sure that I represent the audience in this as I am that I hear the words when they are spoken before me. The first time that scene with Hardman was seriously done, it made an effect on the company that quite surprised and delighted me; and whenever and wherever is done (but most of all at Devonshire House) the result will be the same.
Everyone is greatly improved. I wrote an earnest note to Forster a few days ago on the subject of his being too loud and violent. He has since subdued himself with the most admirable pains, and improved the part a thousand per cent. All the points are gradually being worked and smoothed out with the utmost neatness all through the play. They are all most heartily anxious and earnest, and, upon the least hitch, will do the same thing twenty times over. The scenery, furniture, etc., are rapidly advancing towards completion, and will be beautiful. The dresses are a perfect blaze of colour, and there is not a pocket-flap or a scrap of lace that has not been made according to Egg’s drawings to the quarter of an inch. Every wig has been made from an old print or picture. From the Duke’s snuff-box to Will’s Coffee-house, you will find everything in perfect truth and keeping. I have resolved that whenever we come to a weak place in the acting, it must, somehow or other, be made a strong one. The places that I used to be most afraid of are among the best points now.
Will you come to the dress rehearsal on the Tuesday evening before the Queen’s night? There will be no one present but the Duke.
I write in the greatest haste, for the rehearsal time is close at hand, and I have the master carpenter and gasman to see before we begin.
Miss Coutts is one of the most sensible of women, and if I had not seen the Duke yesterday, I would have shown her the play directly. But there can’t be any room for anxiety on the head that has troubled you so much. You may clear it from your mind as completely as Gunpowder Plot.
In great haste, ever cordially.
The Hon. Miss Eden.
Broadstairs, Sunday, 28th September, 1851.
My dear Miss Eden,
Many thanks for the grapes; which must have come from the identical vine a man ought to sit under. They were a prodigy of excellence.
I have been concerned to hear of your indisposition, but thought the best thing I could do, was to make no formal calls when you were really ill. I have been suffering myself from another kind of malady—a severe, spasmodic, house-buying-and-repairing attack—which has left me extremely weak and all but exhausted. The seat of the disorder has been the pocket.
I had the kindest of notes from the kindest of men this morning, and am going to see him on Wednesday. Of course I mean the Duke of Devonshire. Can I take anything to Chatsworth for you?
Very faithfully yours.
Mr. Frank Stone.
EXTRACT FROM LETTER TO MR. STONE.
8th September, 1851.
You never saw such a sight as the sands between this and Margate presented yesterday. This day fortnight a steamer laden with cattle going from Rotterdam to the London market, was wrecked on the Goodwin—on which occasion, by-the-bye, the coming in at night of our Salvage Luggers laden with dead cattle, which where hoisted up upon the pier where they lay in heaps, was a most picturesque and striking sight. The sea since Wednesday has been very rough, blowing in straight upon the land. Yesterday, the shore was strewn with hundreds of oxen, sheep, and pigs (and with bushels upon bushels of apples), in every state and stage of decay—burst open, rent asunder, lying with their stiff hoofs in the air, or with their great ribs yawning like the wrecks of ships—tumbled and beaten out of shape, and yet with a horrible sort of humanity about them. Hovering among these carcases was every kind of water-side plunderer, pulling the horns out, getting the hides off, chopping the hoofs with poleaxes, etc. etc., attended by no end of donkey carts, and spectral horses with scraggy necks, galloping wildly up and down as if there were something maddening in the stench. I never beheld such a demoniacal business!
Very faithfully yours.
Mr. Henry Austin.
Broadstairs, Monday, 8th September, 1851.
My dear Henry,
Your letter, received this morning, has considerably allayed the anguish of my soul. Our letters crossed, of course, as letters under such circumstances always do.
I am perpetually wandering (in fancy) up and down the house and tumbling over the workmen; when I feel that they are gone to dinner I become low, when I look forward to their total abstinence on Sunday, I am wretched. The gravy at dinner has a taste of glue in it. I smell paint in the sea. Phantom lime attends me all the day long. I dream that I am a carpenter and can’t partition off the hall. I frequently dance (with a distinguished company) in the drawing-room, and fall into the kitchen for want of a pillar.
A great to-do here. A steamer lost on the Goodwins yesterday, and our men bringing in no end of dead cattle and sheep. I stood a supper for them last night, to the unbounded gratification of Broadstairs. They came in from the wreck very wet and tired, and very much disconcerted by the nature of their prize—which, I suppose, after all, will have to be recommitted to the sea, when the hides and tallow are secured. One lean-faced boatman murmured, when they were all ruminative over the bodies as they lay on the pier: “Couldn’t sassages be made on it?” but retired in confusion shortly afterwards, overwhelmed by the execrations of the bystanders.
P.S.—Sometimes I think ——’s bill will be too long to be added up until Babbage’s calculating machine shall be improved and finished. Sometimes that there is not paper enough ready made, to carry it over and bring it forward upon.
I dream, also, of the workmen every night. They make faces at me, and won’t do anything.
Mr. Austen Henry Layard.
Tavistock House, Tavistock Square, 16th December, 1851.
My dear Layard,
I want to renew your recollection of “the last time we parted”—not at Wapping Old Stairs, but at Miss Coutts’s—when we vowed to be more intimate after all nations should have departed from Hyde Park, and I should be able to emerge from my cave on the sea-shore.
Can you, and will you, be in town on Wednesday, the last day of the present old year? If yes, will you dine with us at a quarter after six, and see the New Year in with such extemporaneous follies of an exploded sort (in genteel society) as may occur to us? Both Mrs. Dickens and I would be really delighted if this should find you free to give us the pleasure of your society.
Believe me always, very faithfully yours.