[Boston—Thursday, 16 January 1868]

January 16th Fanny Kemble read The Merchant of Venice in Boston last night. The old way of losing her breath when she appeared as if totally overcome by the audience. We could not doubt that she felt her return deeply & sincerely but--however the feeling was undoubtedly real if short-lived and we will give her credit for it. Her voice is sadly faded since the brilliant readings of ten years ago, she has had much sorrow since then and shows the marks of it. It is interesting to compare her work with Mr. Dickens’s, he is so much the greater artist! You can never mistake one of his characters for another, nor lose a syllable of his perfectly enunciated words. She speaks much more slowly usually and there is a grand intonation as the verses sway from her lips, but one cannot be sure always if Jessica or Nerissa be speaking, Antonio or Bassanio. Her face is marvellous in tender passages, a serenity falls upon it born of immortal youth. It is beautiful enough for tears. She enjoys the wit too herself thoroughly and brought out Launcelot Gobbo with great unction. An enormous and enthousiastic audience gave her hearty welcome. Longfellow could not come. His wife, in the old days, enjoyed this play too well when they used to go together for him to trust himself to hear it again.

This afternoon went to the Harvard Musical Concert & carried Bessie Andrew. Coming home met dear Longfellow just going out to dine. He turned round & walked back with us to a “cold corner” where a lamp showed him the time & that he ought to go no further. He is deeply interested about the election for chief Justice of the State—he had been with J. today to see an impartial councilman to try to turn the choice against that of the Governor who has nominated a copper head by the name of Thomas. Judge Hoar, Emerson’s friend, is the man for the place and if he is not chosen and the other man is he will withdraw from the bench altogether therefore making a double loss to the state since he could not retain his place by the side of his opponent & that a copperhead who had been placed over him.

We had just finished dinner when Professor Holmes came in with his poem, one of the annual he contributes to the Class-supper of the “Boys of 29.” He read it through to us with feeling, his voice growing tremulous and husky at times. It was pleasant to see how he enjoyed our pleasure in it. The talk turned naturally after a little upon the question of Chief Justice when he took occasion to run over in his mind the character & qualifications of some of our chief barristers. “As for Bigelow (who has just gone out of office & it is his successor over whom they are struggling) as for Bigelow, it is astonishing to see how every bit of that man’s talent has been brought into use; all he has is made the most of—why, he’s like some cooks, “give ’em a horse and they will use every part of him except the shoes.”

Of Judge Clifford he said, “he’s not a man of much weight,—we’ve very few men of much weight among us—we know his outline perfectly, know just what he can do—could turn out another, in a turning-lathe, just like him.”


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