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I shall be in London in about a week, and hope to find you in your Franciscan eyrie--singing among the red brick boughs, and laying tragedy-eggs for Covent Garden market. So you think this last author will do something extraordinary :'-so do I too; I should not at all wonder, if he was to be plucked for his degree,-which would be quite delightful and new.
This March wind has blown all my sense away, and so farewell.
The following letters have been selected from the recently published Memoirs of the late Mr. C. J. Mathews, by one of his personal friends, as being among the most characteristic of the great comedian. It will be remarked that the genial freshness and humour common to the first two letters is preserved in the third, in spite of the lapse of more than half a century. But then this highly accomplished gentleman was always young and genial and kind.
Charles J. Mathews to his Father.
Crater of Vesuvius!!! January 23, 1824. My dear Father, I flatter myself I have chosen a situation sufficiently piquant to write you a letter. Here I am on that mountain, the talk and wonder of the world, the terror of thousands! Not merely on it, but positively in the crater! in it !! surrounded with smoke and fire! standing on ashes, cinders, brimstone, and sulphur!! How little are the people I look down upon at this moment! They are like the Spanish fleet, they cannot be seen; the King and all the royal family, all the pomp of the world is lost; all its vices, virtues, pleasures, pains, are forgotten. How truly may life be compared to a broomstick! Now is the time, if ever it can arrive, that Seven Dials, and even Islington, is forgotten! Now are the Tottenham, Olympic, and Royalty Theatres despised! What a scene of horror is around me! Fields of desolation, burning torrents, smoke, liquid fire, and every implement of destruction! I can no more; I am overwhelmed with the magnificence of my own imagination, I sink under the terrors invented and embodied by my own poetical mind. Immediately below me is an extinguished crater, into which three years ago a Frenchman precipitated himself. He remained three days at a little hermitage
on the mountain, and wrote some notes to his friends in Naples. His object, he said, was to collect stones and various specimens of lava, for the Royal Museum at Paris. On the third day he went out as usual to collect and examine the volcanic matter on the mountain, and on approaching this crater-then in action-desired the guide to fetch him a particular stone at a little distance off, but on the instant of his turning his back, he threw himself headlong into the burning crater. The guide instantly ran to the spot, but only in time to see him thrown up, and immediately reduced to a cinder. His reason he left among his papers. He said he had long been disgusted with the world and had determined to destroy himself, but that the last blow had been given him by a young lady, to whom he was so much attached, having married in his absence and contrary to her vows of fidelity to himself.
About half-way up the mountain is a hermitage, where we take some refreshment on our journey, which is necessary enough, for the labour is very great to arrive at the summit, walking on cinders, and each step that is taken brings the sufferer a yard lower than he was before. In the hermitage is an album, as usual in all show places, for fools to write nonsense in. I only found two bits worth copying. Les voilà.
'John Hallett of the Port of Poole, England, went to Mount Vesuvius on the 20 of Oct. 1823, and I wood Recomend aney person that go ther to take a bottle of wine there, for it his a dry place and verrey bad rode.'
'1823. I have witnessed the famous mountain of Vesuvius in Italy, and likewise the Wicklow mountains in Ireland which I prefer, they talk of the lava in a Palaver I little understand, and as for the crater, give me a drop of the swait cratur of Dublin in preference.-James O'Connor.'
I write as you may suppose in high spirits, and conclude with saying that though you and your spouse are only my distant relations, that I shall always be entirely yours,
CHARLES JAMES MATHEWS.
Charles J. Mathews to his Mother.
Palazzo Belvedere, Naples: March 11, 1824.
My dear Mother,—In snubbing me for my love of writing on exterior subjects, or rather my not mentioning those of our interior, you are not aware of what you desire. All our occupations nearly are external, our indoor employments are always the same, and therefore uninteresting in the description. But since you are determined to be made acquainted with our domesticities I shall give you one day.
In the morning we generally rise from our beds, couches, floors, or whatever we happen to have been reposing upon the night before, and those who have morning-gowns and slippers put them on as soon as they are up. We then commence the ceremony of washing, which is longer or shorter in its duration, according to the taste of the persons who use it. You will be glad to know that from the moment Lady Blessington awakes she takes exactly one hour and a half to the time she makes her appearance, when we usually breakfast; this prescience is remarkably agreeable, as we can always calculate thus upon the probable time of our breakfasting; there is sometimes a difference of five or six minutes, but seldom more. This meal taking place latish in the day, I always have a premature breakfast in my own room the instant I am up, which prevents my feeling that hunger so natural to the human frame from long fasting. After our collation, if it be fine, we set off to see sights, walks, palaces, monasteries, views, galleries of pictures, antiquities, and all that sort of thing; if rainy, we set to drawing, writing, reading, billiards, fencing, and everything in the world. At dinner we generally contrive to lay in a stock of viands that may last us through the evening and sometimes succeed. After dinner, as well as several times in the course of the day, we go up and pay a visit to poor 'Prim-rose,' who, it is supposed, will be allowed to walk a little in the course of two or three months more. Should we leave before that she must go home by sea, as the motion of a carriage would certainly much injure her.
1 Miss Power, Lady Blessington's sister.
In the evening each person arranges himself (and herself) at his table and follows his own concerns till about 10 o'clock, when we sometimes play whist, sometimes talk, and are always delightful! About half-past eleven we retire with our flat candlesticks in our hands, after wishing each other the compliments of the season and health to wear it out. Thursdays usually, and Sundays, the Italian master comes, though for the present we have dropped him.
At dinner Lady B takes the head of the table, Lord Bleft, Count D'Orsay on her right, and I at the bottom. We have generally for the first service a joint and five entrées; for the second, a rôti and five entrées, including sweet things. The name of our present cook is Raffelle, and a very good one when he likes.
This is the nature of our day in the house. Almost all the interest of Naples, and indeed of all Italy, is among the wonderful curiosities with which every city and its environs is overstocked. I am more and more anxious to know the result of my father's entertainment. With best love to him, believe me, my
Your affectionate Son,
C. J. MATHEWS.
P.S. Lord B-- always cuts his own hair with a pair of scissors !!!
Written the year before his death at the age of 74, on the occasion of a benefit to the late Mr. John Parry, when Mr. Mathews was to play Sir Fretful Plagiary and Puff in the 'Critic.'
Charles J. Mathews to the Manager of the Gaiety Theatre.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I am at not being able to assist at the benefit of my dear old friend John Parry to-morrow. I should have been delighted to put my best leg forward. But alas at this moment I have no one leg that is better than the other. That agreeable complaint, so airily spoken of by those who never had it, as 'a touch of the gout,' has knocked me off my pins
altogether. Your gout is a sad enemy to light comedy (we young light comedians are only men after all) and how could I, in the character of Puff, talk to Sneer and Dangle of my hopping and skipping about the stage with my usual activity,' while hobbling on by the aid of a stick? (I have sometimes been badly supported even by two).
It is the first time I ever disappointed the public on a similar occasion, and only comfort myself with the reflection that I shall not be missed among so many; and that, after all, so that the illustrious John be in good form, the audience will be amply gratified, and pardon my unavoidable absence.
I need not wish Parry success-one who has never known anything else, and can only envy those who are able once more to witness and enjoy it.
I send no doctor's certificate. I wish I was enabled to do so. But if any one doubts, all the harm I wish him is that he should exchange places with me for four-and-twenty hours.
C. J. MATHEWS.
A chatty letter from the pen of the popular novelist, written when he was at the meridian of his literary fame, will probably be interesting.
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton to Lady Blessington.
January 23, 1835.
Verily, my dearest friend, you regale me like Prince Prettyman, in the Fairy Isle. I owe you all manner of thanks for a most delicate consideration, in the matter of twelve larks, which flew hither on the wings of friendship yesterday; and scarcely had I recovered from their apparition, when lo, the rushing pinions of a brace of woodcocks.
Sappho and other learned persons tell us that Venus drove sparrows; at present she appears to have remodelled her equipage upon a much more becoming and attractive feather. I own that I have always thought the Dove himself a fool to the Woodcock, whom, for his intrinsic merits, I would willingly crown King of the tribe. As for your eagle, he is a Carlist of the old régime, a