[London—Monday, 4 October 1869]
Monday October 4th London. I have left this poor little book too long and now can hardly remember to put down what I should most like—the best and highest are always most difficult to grasp if not to hold.
We came last Tuesday through from Paris. Bad channel time very—all full of wretchedness and yet the day was a miracle of beauty. The weather here is damp as usual and it rains often and yet yesterday as we came out of Westminster Abbey where we had been hearing Dean Stanley deliver a most poverty-stricken discourse, a bad ending to a beautiful choral service, we found a warm sunshine (of course it was not clear) and a most lovely light over everything. We tried to retrace the walk we took with Mr. Dickens one lovely evening last spring therefore went down to the Thames embankment. We could not however continue it through the Temple wh. we wished very much to do.
Mrs Linn Lynton came to lunch—a sad growth of the English soil—a woman of undoubted ability but of a perverted mind, partly perverted poor woman as I can see by her life as a literary woman, being obliged to study sensational events on every hand and thus becoming morbid. Her own life & story are sad enough, poor woman; without her feeling obliged to study those of others one would think. She says her temper is so bad that she could not live with her husband and that she has no friends! This is terrible enough but I know that her literary life augments in spite of her self her sensitive irritability. Irritabile Vatis! The ancients said. To this day the burden must be endured with finely tuned minds.
Took tea with Charles Reade—2 Albert Terrace Knightsbridge—a quaint little house looking directly upon Hyde Park in its liveliest part, what is called “The Ladies’ Mile.”
I think no one could help being impressed by the high-breeding of Charles Reade, his delicate courtesy. Surely all women must appreciate it deeply.
His house is a museum. Fine pictures, mostly with a strong dramatic flavour in them, quaint lamp glasses in the shape of flowers to illuminate his dining room, a bright fire, doors open into a garden, the fine Caoutchouc plant & other green things about; steps leading here and there, drapery falling and half shading the mirrors which are so placed as to make every room about twice its size, all these things give an “attractive grace” to his house entirely peculiar. There were sweet odors too of rose and lavender in the little room near the door, where he sat and sang Mercy Vints song to us, as well as an old English ditty I had never heard before. There is something plaintive in his voice and so tender in his manner that whatever he says gains a new grace from his way of rendering it. After all is not that what we need in singing, some fine essence of the singer’s self. I only know whatever the voice may be, only that is music for me.
We had what he called a midshipman’s tea—a substantial, informal meal and I had the honor of pouring the tea. The conversation turned much to Shakspeare. He said it was not wonderful his plays were not printed during his life, nor did it show any disregard for them on the part of the author. Looking up some law cases of that age Mr. Reade finds that printing a play in those days prevented an author from receiving the same amount from its representation on the boards, therefore as there were few readers comparatively in those days a play was seldom printed until it had ceased to draw at the theatre. Hamlet and one or two others were printed in Shakspeare’s life the rest only after his death. Mr. Reade blamed Hawthorne for giving countenance to anything so puerile as Miss Bacon’s argument. Anyone who had ever made a study either of mind or style must see at once how clearly impossible it is that the works of Bacon and Shakspeare could be evolved from one brain—as well hold an eagle under water 20 minutes and expect him to come up the better for it. Look at the seven ages as Horace [h]as treated the subject after his own philosophical manner, how fine and yet how unlike Shakspeare who chose to borrow the subject and make a new thing of it. It is wonderful to see how a genius can borrow. Take the scene in Macbeth which he gets from Holinshed between Malcolm and Macduff—a piece of wretched nonsense bit turned from prose into verse by the simplest transposition of words and the addition of the only decent thing in it “Fit to Govern, no! not to live.” The Witches Scene which also comes from Holinshed is equally wonderful as a piece of versification leaving the prose almost untouched or touched so finely as to transform not change it. It would be well worth your while to go to any library and compare the two. It is most curious and beautiful work; only such a genius can do.
Most people think there was nothing to be learned at Stratford in those days. He must have come to London for all things. But I find in looking up any cases in law that he probably had a better chance for studying the courts of law in Stratford than he could ever have had in London. In Romeo & Juliet too, where she describes the horrors of the Charnel house in case anything should go wrong with their plans people have speculated much as to how and where he could have seen such things. But in those days there was a large Charnel house on the street in Stratford and I can believe that young Will looked through those iron bars often enough to be perfectly familiar with its dreadful contents.
Clearly his only object in life was after he had done his work to make money enough to buy a house & lands in Stratford. It is indeed strange there should be no manuscript left but at the time of the Ireland forgeries or just before it was said that an enormous mass of mss. had been destroyed in that same house.
He talked of modern domestic service which is no longer the stable thing that it was in the old days. I indulge them too much he said. If I kept them at home except half a day once a fortnight as other housekeepers do I should get along better but it is such slavery & then I can’t endure it. They always come home the worse off when I let them go out. The cap is a badge of slavery too which goes hardly with them. Anything better than a cap or if it must be borne we see them fastening it with one pin some where in a slovenly manner, letting it half fall off as if they felt the bondage less in that way.
It is very hard to deal with the menial nature. It cannot understand yours! Sympathy never goes up, it must always go down the scale from you to them.
Mr. Reade asked when we left if we would come to dinner & meet some celebrities. We told him no he was celebrity enough for us and perhaps he would come and dine with us quietly some day, a proposition he received with pleasure.