Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Tuesday. 23rd. CFA Tuesday. 23rd. CFA
Tuesday. 23rd.

Weather cloudy with a few drops of rain. I went to the Office and passed my time in reading far more usefully than I have been able to do hitherto. I finished all of the third volume of the History of England which remains of the composition of Sir James Mackintosh, and I think it is deeply to be regretted that he died precisely when he was treating of the most important point in the whole history. The continuator is more positive and less philosophical. I think I see an immediate difference. Perhaps my acuteness may be somewhat aided by my consciousness of the fact.

Walk. I had Gorham Brooks and Mr. Tenny to see me this morning.1 The first about the Theatre. His Wife wishes to go from Medford. I volunteered to ride out for her. Letter sent in by my father to copy. Did it, and rode to Medford and back before six o’clock, brought Mrs. Brooks in with me.

Evening, Theatre. Much Ado about Nothing. Benedick, Mr. Kemble, Beatrice, Miss Kemble. His performance was very good. I cannot speak in so unqualified a manner of her’s. She had a restlessness and excess of motion especially with her head which was tire-74some, and a mannerism which after a person has seen her several times is rather satiating. Her conception of the part was tolerable and yet not exactly mine. Beatrice is a Wit and a humourist, she has not much of the girl about her. Her speeches are those of a matured woman. Quick, and independent, haughty and reflecting. Such a character requires considerable dignity. And here was the failing. I think the Masquerade Scene was the best thing on her part.

We left the Theatre to go to a party at Mrs. T. W. Ward’s given to Miss Kemble. She has attracted much attention here in private circles. And much mutual misunderstanding has taken place. I thought her an ugly, bright looking girl.2 We returned home at eleven.

1.

William Tenney, tenant of the house at the rear of 23 Court Street since 1830 (vol. 3:128).

2.

Mrs. Thomas W. Ward (vol. 3:288) was but one of many Boston matrons entertaining for Miss Kemble, a situation not usual for persons in the theater. But she was no ordinary figure: “Miss Fanny Kemble is the Lion at Boston now; and it is as dangerous not to worship her there, as it is to doubt the infallibility of the Italian Opera at New York.... Miss Fanny Kemble is for an actress just about what her father is for an actor—quite passable.... The Ladies of fashion at Boston visit her—but she goes to Church and it is understood does not receive visits on Sundays.” (JQA to LCA, 20 April, Adams Papers.) For a later social event for her, attended by JQA, see below, entry for 11 May.

Wednesday. 24th. CFA Wednesday. 24th. CFA
Wednesday. 24th.

Clear day. I went to the Office after reading an hour of Horace. My time taken up much as usual. Made some progress in the continuation of Mackintosh although I could not say that I felt the spirit in reading that I have done heretofore. The writer has not the same philosophical mind, he leans more upon authority, and he has not the sharpness of discrimination.

Walk as usual, and I called in at the Athenaeum. Afternoon quietly at home. Read Botta and made some progress in reading over German but I am very slow.

My Wife and I went to the Theatre again tonight, the Play of Venice Preserved. Jaffier, Mr. Smith. Pierre, Mr. Kemble. Belvidera, his daughter. The first man ruined his part, an essential one to the effect of the piece. Kemble’s conception of the character of Pierre was good, but it seems to me that it wanted the full force of the character. He is a jealous, vindictive, haughty character, concealing his private griefs under the mantle of public spirit, and at the same time high spirited, full of sentiments of honor according to the world’s definition of the term. She was rather cold at first. I did not wonder at it. For to lavish the prodigality of married love upon Mr. Smith, is not easy for 75a young single woman of any delicacy.1 Afterpiece, Blue Devils, poor enough. We got home early.

1.

To find even such minor faults in the performances of the Kembles was currently judged churlish in Boston: “They are of that captious race, who labor under the impression that it argues the quintescence of taste and judgment to find fault. Such morbid beings would imagine blemishes in perfection itself, and the best efforts are lost upon them. It would be well for such persons to reflect a moment, whether the imperfections which haunt their imaginations, are not rather the spectres of their own diseased faculties, than the defects of these accomplished performers.” (Columbian Centinel, 24 April, p. 2, col. 4.)

For most of the audience in the theater, apparently, the impact of the performance was so great that the critical faculties were overwhelmed. One in that audience, sixty years later recalled that “When [Miss Kemble] as Belvidera, shrieking, stares at her husband’s ghost, I was sitting in front, in her line of vision, and I cowered and shrank from her terrible gaze.” (Henry Lee, Atlantic Monthly, May 1893, p. 664.)