[New York City—Sunday, 12 April 1868]

Sunday April 12th In the afternoon Mr. Dickens came in to our room to tell us as he said a piece of dreadful news!!! Lo! “Mrs Bigg” was to arrive shortly. Could anything be more wretched. Mrs Marrett the housekeeper had just been in to tell him, “And whatever you do, Mr Dickens, said Mrs. M. don’t you invite her to dine with you again!” C.D. could not resist a convulsion of laughter over this. He assured her he should do nothing of the kind but he asked her to come in and tell the news when Mr. Dolby arrived. Mr. Dolby coming in shortly she trips after him saying, “We’ve had an arrival Mr Dolby.” Dolby being very full of the hourly expected confinement of Mrs Palmer wife of the proprietor, said—“Is it a girl or a boy”? “A very old girl” rejoined Mrs M. and then broke the terrible news. Mr Dolby tells me pathetically that I alone can save them! Surely there is one thing to be said we got a good deal of fun out of our misery. We were not done [at] breakfast this morning when she sent to know if we would receive her. We had planned to go out so I sent word to that effect.

Last night we went to the Circus together C.D., D., J. & I. It is a pretty building. I was astonished at the knowledge C.D. showed of everything before him. He knew how the horses were stenciled, how tight the wire bridles were etc. The Monkey was however the chief attraction. He was rather drunk or tired last night and did not show to good advantage but he knew how to do all the things quite as well as the men.

When the young rope dancer slipped (he was but an apprentice at the business without wages C.D. thought) he tried over and over again to accomplish a certain somerset [sic, for somersault] until he achieved it, “That’s the law of the Circus said C.D.; they are never allowed to give up and it’s a capital rule for everything in life. Doubtless this idea has been handed down from the Greeks or Romans and these people know nothing about where it came from. But it’s well for all of us.”

I could not help responding in my heart, “how well” yet I could not say how deeply I felt this martyr spirit to be the only rule for life and the highest, the one by which Christ died, making our work whatever it may be however slight or contemptible in the world’s eye, more to us than our life.

At six o’clock Mr. Dickens & Mr. Dolby came in to dinner. He seemed much revived both in health and spirits, in spite of the weather which had been chilly, snowy, execrable, all day, making J. and I feel dismal enough. Jamie walked four miles with me and six with Dickens in the course of the day getting very wet and uncomfortable at the last. Dickens talked of Frederick LeMaitre; he is upwards of sixty years old now; but he has always lived a wretched life, a low poor fellow; yet he will surprise the actors continually by the new points he will make. He will come in at rehearsal, go about the stage in an abject, wretched, manner, with clothes torn and soiled as he has just emerged from his vulgar vicious haunts, and without giving sign or glimmer of his power. Presently he says to the prompter who always has a tallow candle burning on his box, “give me your candle” then he will blow it out and with the snuff makes a cross upon his book. “What are you going to do Frederick” the actors say. “I don’t know yet, you’ll see by & by” he says, and day after day perhaps will pass until one night when he will suddenly flash upon them some wonderful point. They, the actors, watching him, try to hold themselves prepared and if he gives them the least hint will mould their parts to fit his. Sometimes he will ask for a chair “What will you do with it Frederick?” He does not reply, but night after night the chair is placed there until he makes his point. He often comes hungry to the theatre and the manager must give him a dinner and pay for it before he will go on. Fechter from whom these particulars come tells Dickens that there can be nothing more wonderful than his acting in the old scene of the miserable father who kills his own son at the inn. The son coming in rich and handsome & seeing this old sot about to be driven from the porch by the servant, tells the man to give him meat & wine. While he eats and drinks the wretch sees how freely the rich man handles his gold and resolves to kill him. Fechter’s description with his own knowledge of LeMaitre had so inspired Dickens that he was able to reproduce him again for us.

Speaking of our fish compared with the fish they have in England he finds it usually tasteless. I am persuaded it is for lack of care both in preparation and preserving, he was inclined to think otherwise. But when I remember that he has occasionally praised our fish very much I can’t help feeling this is the case. I don’t see why it should not be equally good.

To my horror Bigg came bursting in in the evening bringing her unhappy spouse. All the while I am attempting to set down scraps of talk. I feel how futile such efforts are to reproduce in the smallest degree the feeling of his presence or the value of contact with him. Something far, far, beyond the worth of words comes to me from his presence, the flashing eye which loses nothing, the kind strong hand, the face so worn by all the fires of the spirit act powerfully upon me. He had been reading Governor Andrew’s speech today upon the Prohibition Act. It moved him much,—“I could not put it down until I had finished it” he said—“that man would be sure to have been a judge, I should think.” We spoke of Mrs Yelverton who had come to us in Boston to ask if she could succeed as a reader there. He then said how much wrong on both sides there had been in that case as in many & most others—speaking somehow with a consciousness of his own position underlying the words yet with a firm & even eager manner. Though he was addressing me I could not look at him and when I raised my eyes at last as he ceased speaking I saw a look of suffering about his face which showed as neither his voice nor words had done how painful the subject was upon which he had found himself launched.

Began the Memoirs of Madame Roland.


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