Thursday, July 27, 2006

From the orders of Charles II for the Household

(Transcribed from the Stowe MSS.)

Chapel.—When wee are present, no man shall presume to putt on his hatt at Sermon, but those in the stalls on the left hand, which are noblemen or counsellors, or the Deane of the Chapell, when wee are absent. As our expresse pleasure is that our Chappell be all the yeare through kept both morning and evening with solemne musick like a Collegiate Church, unlesse it be at such times in the summer, or other times when
we are pleased to spare it, so wee will have all decent honour and order kept, and therefore when any of the Lords of the Councill be below, our pleasure is so much respect be given to our Councill (being our representative body) as that no man presume to be covered untill they shall require them, and then only the sonnes of noblemen or such as serve us, or our dearest consort the Queene in eminent places.

In all those places, both noblemen and others shall observe great distance and respect to our person, and also civility one towards another. And those that are younge shall not offer to fill up the seates from those which are either elder or
more infirme or counsellors, though perhaps below them in rank.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Macready's Coriolanus

April 20th.—I went last night to see Macready in Coriolanus, feeling that I should not like him: that in this one part, and in no other, the greatness of Kemble was unapproachable. I am quite sure I was extremely interested to feel that I had gained a new view of the character, but cannot quite decide whether I like it better than the old one. I should say that Kemble was more Roman, more dignified, and Macready more true to universal nature.

The first seemed to be impelled by a feeling of withering contempt, bordering on misanthropy, to scorn the tribunes and the people as creatures of an inferior nature; Macready seemed a man of quick, irritable feelings, whose pride was rather galled than wounded, and I suspect this is the Coriolanus of Shakespeare and of nature.

It hardly seemed in nature that Kemble's Coriolanus, so proud, so unbending, should have been led astray, should yield to the solicitations of his mother, though that mother was Mrs. Siddons.* In Macready it seemed impossible he should resist, though Volumuia was odiously vulgar, and gave me more the idea of a poissarde than of a Roman matron. Nothing could be finer than his acting in this scene; never did I feel so strongly the tenderness and beauty of his affection for Virgilia. She has so little to say or do, that, being rather handsome and very well dressed, the actress (whose name I forgot) could not offend.

I never saw a play so beautifully, so correctly got up. It was not only the costume, the scenery, the numberless accessories that were carefully attended to, but the far more difficult task of regulating the byplay of the inferior actors was also accomplished. The effect given by the number of the mob, by the variety of action which seemed to give Shakespearian individuality to every member of it, is indescribable.

The cowed, degraded appearance of the Volscians in the Triumph was very striking; Coriolanus sitting at the hearth of Aufidius as fine a picture as can be imagined.

Still I was too near the stage to judge of the full effect, or even to see the whole of the fine scenes.

Editor's note
* The late Sir Q. C. Lewis (in his Credibility of the Early Roman History) treats the alleged compliance of Coriolanus with his mother's intercession as an incredible absurdity. How could he with Tullus Aufidius by his side, have led back the Volscians?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chantrey's Studio

This morning I have been to Chantrey's to see the equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munro, which is to be packed up for Madras in a few days. I am much pleased with it, but cannot agree with those (my uncle is one) who calls it the finest equestrian statue in the world. Without going so far as Rome to the unrivalled horse which Michael Angelo bade go on, I am not sure that, in my private opinion, a better may not be found at Charing Cross.

I was at first struck with the thickness of the jowl and set on of the head; this I was told was modelled from a beautiful Arab which had been sent as a present to George IV. The man added that other parts had been copied from other horses, and then I found out what it was that was not pleasing to my eye. These separate beauties do not accord to form a beautiful whole ; the legs seem to me those of a powerful English hunter, quite out of keeping with the small Arab head and tail. Probably this effect is increased by the nearness of the legs to the eye of the spectator, and may, to a certain degree, be removed when the statue gets on its proper pedestal, which is to be very much higher than that on which it is pro tempore fixed.

I was much interested in hearing from an intelligent workman some of the details of the foundry, and in seeing the wonderful effects produced by English machinery. After having seen at Munich every part of comparatively small statues cast separately, so that I suppose they are in about fifty pieces which are afterwards to be riveted together, it did seem very extraordinary that this immense mass was cast in four pieces only. I wanted to see more of the furnace, but there were so many people about that one could not question the workman, comfortably; but he told me that he frequently went into it to see that all was right when the thermometer is at 370°. This seems almost incredible when one considers that this is much more than half as hot again as boiling water; and into this they go without any of the previous preparation of increasing temperature, which in the Eastern baths enables a person to endure heat very far inferior to this, but which would not otherwise be endurable.

Here the workman goes from the atmosphere of a cold room into this, or rather first into a sort of chamber; and there, as he told us, is the great suffering, the first shutting the outward door. In this furnace the metal remains many months, and I fancy always at the same temperature.

Chantrey's Horse was, it seems, originally modeled for a statue of George IV., and he is to ride it. Flatter him as highly as possible, still the difference between his pasty-pudding features and the fine bold line of those of Sir Thomas Munro will be severely felt.

Quiet seems to be the characteristic of Chantrey's sculpture, exactly the reverse of Canova, who always offends by a sort of nutter. I am not sure whether Chantrey is not in the contrary extreme: in looking down his gallery a want of action struck me; perhaps the eternal monumental sculpture does in some degree lead to this, and I should have thought that he would have been glad to gallop away from it. Instead of that his horse stands still. I understand he piques himself upon having executed the first equestrian statue with a horse in repose, and his admirers tell you, ' You see he is just going to move.'

I am perfectly aware of the absurdities that have been committed in the attempt to give motion and action to sculpture, but I own it seems to me that Chantrey has cut the Gordian knot which he was perhaps capable of untying.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Macready's Lear

Feb. 10th, 1838.— I saw last night Macready in King Lear, and little expected, in the present degraded state of the stage, to see any performance that would give me such pleasure. First of all, it is Shakespeare's Lear: not a word is added to the text; the painfully fine catastrophe is acted; and the play, in the regular theatre phrase, well got up, excepting in the female parts, which were almost as ill dressed as they were acted. I cannot conceive a better model for a painter of Lear than Macready exhibited in face, figure, dress, and apparent age.

The latter seems to me the leading point of his representation of the character, in which he substitutes the imbecility of age for insanity, which I have hitherto considered as the leading feature of Lear. The more I think, the more I am inclined to believe that this was the intention of the poet; at the same time, I must own that it has, as far as dramatic effect is concerned, some objections. The curse, the appeal to the elements, which one has been used to dislike as a rant, appeared tame and ineffective, partly, I believe, because so early in the play I had not entered folly into the conception of the actor; but I still think upon retrospect, that both, especially the curse, might have been made to tell with singular effect if repeated in a tremulous and very solemn manner. I hope to judge of this ere long upon a second view.

I felt almost as if I had never read, certainly never seen, that finest of all scenes, that on the Heath, so much was I delighted with the effect produced by the Fool (now reinstated for the first time for many years). The artless affection, shrewdness, archness displayed by Miss Horton, the sweetness of the snatches of song, seemed like the drop of comfort infused into the bitter cup of the poor old King. They made me feel that the commentators who assert that, when in the last sad scene he says, ' And my poor fool is hanged” he cannot mean to allude to the boy, had never seen it so acted.

Much as I admire the strict adherence to the text, I must say that one omission quite new to me pleased me very much. When poor blind Gloster, fancying himself on the edge of the cliff, says, ' Now, fellow, fare thee well,’ instead of falling down, he is interrupted by the arrival of Lear, and you are spared the absurdity of persuading a man whom you have seen falling from his own height, that he tumbled down over a precipice.

In battle there was one novelty which I think from a greater distance than the box in which we were, might have a great effect. The scene was a distant view of a battle, or rather of heaps of slain; when the challenge is given, a champ clos is immediately formed by a palisade of spear and battle-axes. The last scene is almost too painful; I felt it would have been quite, if Cordelia had not been such a detestable snub-nosed creature. I suppose it would be high treason against Shakespeare to alter the catastrophe, and to give to it what might be called a melodramatic German character; but I could not help wishing the representation to conclude when Lear says-
“She lives! If it be so,
It is a chance that does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Death of William IV - Accession of Queen Victoria

June, 1837.—The reign is not yet quite a week old, and yet how many strange occurrences and stranger feelings one wishes to recall, that all have passed before the eyes or in the mind in this short space. First, how strange it is that, in thinking of a departed sovereign, one can from the bottom of the heart pray, “May my
latter end be like his.'' Who that can look back some years—say to the period when we saw the Duke of Clarence at Stowe, where he was certainly endured only as an appendage of the Prince of Wales—who would have thought that he would have died more loved, more lamented, than either of his predecessors on the throne? Least of all, who could have thought he would have died the death of a good Christian, deriving comfort and hope from religion, and every alleviation which the most devoted conjugal affection could shed over him ?

Even his sins seem to have poured from their foul source pure streams of comfort in the attentions and affection of his children. The Queen is said to have complained that in the last days, after he well knew his situation, she never was left alone with him. The public, edified by every detail which comes to light, can feel but one regret, which is, that the Princess Victoria was not summoned to receive his blessing.

It is very interesting to compare the appearance of the town now, with that which it wore after the death of George IV.; then few, very few, thought it necessary to assume the mask of grief; now one feeling seems to actuate the nation ; party is forgotten, and all mourn, if not so deeply, quite as unanimously, as they did for Princess Charlotte. After a few days of short unsatisfactory bulletins, a prayer for the King was ordered, and sent with pitiful economy by the two-penny post, so that, though the prayer appeared in every newspaper of Saturday evening, it was received by hardly any of the London clergy in time for morning service on Sunday. In our chapel, prayers were desired for Our Sovereign Lord the King, lying dangerously ill; and these introduced in the Litany just as they would have been for the poorest of his subjects!

To me this simple ancient form was far more impressive than the fancy prayer, though it was a good one of its sort.

On Monday we were listening all day for the tolling of the bells, watching whether the guests were going to the Waterloo dinner at Apsley House. On Tuesday, at 2 a.m., the scene closed, and in a very short time the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham, the Chamberlain, set out to announce the event to their young sovereign. They reached Kensington palace at about five: they knocked, they rang, they thumped for a considerable time before they could rouse the porter at the gates; they were again kept waiting in the courtyard, then turned into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed forgotten by everybody.

They rang the bell, desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform H.R.H. that they requested an audience on business of importance; after another delay, and another ringing to enquire the cause, the attendant was summoned, who stated that the Princess 'was in such a sweet sleep she could not venture to disturb her. Then they said, ' We are come to the Queen on business of state, and even her sleep must give way to that.'

It did; and to prove that she did not keep them waiting, in a few minutes she came into the room in a loose white night-gown and shawl, her night-cap thrown off, and her hair falling upon her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified.

The first act of the reign was of course the summoning the Council, and most of the summonses were not received till after the early hour fixed for its meeting. The Queen was, upon the opening of the doors, found sitting at the head of the table. She received first the homage of the Duke of Cumberland, who, I suppose, was not King of Hanover when he knelt to her*; the Duke of Sussex rose to perform the same ceremony, but the Queen, with admirable grace, stood up, and preventing him from kneeling, kissed him on the forehead.

The crowd was so great, the arrangements were so ill made, that my brothers told me the scene of swearing allegiance to their young sovereign was more like that of the bidding at an auction than anything else.

* He became King of Hanover by the same event which made her Queen of England.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Was the Duke surprised at Waterloo?

Lord Braybrooke's stories do not abound in names or dates; the following was quite without, but seems little to want, that recommendation. The Duke finding himself near some garrison town in England, received a visit from the commanding officer, who made a speech from the regiment on the subject of their anxiety to show him any possible respect, ending with their regret that their mess dinner could not produce anything worthy of being offered to him, and that it would, be ridiculous to invite him to it.

'Why?' said he. The day was fixed by him ; some of his old friends and 'companions were got to meet him. He came in high spirits and good-humour, and began talking over his campaigns and old stories with his comrades. Growing pleased with the deep attention with which the younger officers listened to him, he became more communicative, and at last said that, as nothing gratified him so much as a spirit of enquiry in young soldiers as to every subject connected with their profession, he begged that any one present would question him as to any point of his military history on which they wished for information, promising that, unless he felt it inconsistent with his duty, he would answer fully and fairly.

Upon this, an officer present ventured to ask whether it was true that Napoleon had surprised him at Waterloo ? He said he was as far surprised as a man can be who knows he is to expect attack; he knew that Napoleon would march towards Brussels; that Blucher was coming to his relief; he had a frontier of many hundred miles to defend ; he could not possibly foresee on what point the attack would be first made; and certainly the speed of the advance of Napoleon exceeded what he could have expected or believed possible.*

Editor's note
* The question of the young officer has been frequently repeated; and perhaps as good an answer, or rather retort, as any was that of the late Professor Wilson on some one asking -whether the French did not surprise Wellington at Waterloo. 'Yea; and didn't he astonish them ? '