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I remember a touch of conscience in this kind at school. My good old aunt, who never parted from me at the end of a holiday without stuffing a sweetmeat, or some nice thing, into my pocket, had dismissed me one evening with a smoking plum-cake, fresh from the oven. In my way to school (it was over London Bridge) a gray-headed old beggar saluted me (I have no doubt, at this time of day, that he was a counterfeit). I had no pence to console him with, and in the vanity of self-denial, and the very coxcombry of charity, schoolboy-like, I made him a present of — the whole cake! I walked on a little, buoyed up, as one is on such occasions, with a sweet soothing of self-satisfaction; but, before I had got to the end of the bridge, my better feelings returned, and I burst into tears, thinking how ungrateful I had been to my good aunt, to go and give her good gift away to a stranger that I had never seen before, and who might be a bad man for aught I knew; and then I thought of the pleasure my aunt would be taking in thinking that I-I myself, and not another
would eat her nice cake and what should I say to her the next time I saw her how naughty I was to part with her pretty present! — and the odor of that spicy cake came back upon my recollection, and the pleasure and the curiosity I had taken in seeing her make it, and her joy when she sent it to the oven, and how disappointed she would feel that I had never had a bit of it in my mouth at last — and I blamed my impertinent spirit of alms-giving, and out-of-place hypocrisy of goodness; and above all I wished never to see the face again of that insidious, good-fornothing, old gray impostor.
Our ancestors were nice in their method of sacri
ficing these tender victims. We read of pigs whipt to death with something of a shock, as we hear of any other obsolete custom. The age of discipline is gone by, or it would be curious to inquire (in a philosophical light merely) what effect this process might have towards intenerating and dulcifying a substance, naturally so mild and dulcet as the flesh of young pigs. It looks like refining a violet. Yet we should be cautious, while we condemn the inhumanity, how we censure the wisdom of the practice. It might impart a gusto.
I remember an hypothesis, argued upon by the young students, when I was at St. Omer's, and maintained with much learning and pleasantry on both sides, “Whether, supposing that the flavor of a pig who obtained his death by whipping (per flagellationem extremam ) superadded a pleasure upon the palate of a man more intense than any possible suffering we can conceive in the animal, is man justified in using that method of putting the animal to death?” I forget the decision.
His sauce should be considered. Decidedly, a few bread crumbs, done up with his liver and brains, and a dash of mild sage. But banish, dear Mrs. Cook, I beseech you, the whole onion tribe. Barbecue your whole hogs to your palate, steep them in shalots, stuff them out with plantations of the rank and guilty garlic; you cannot poison them, or make them stronger than they are — but consider, he is a weakling — a flower.
1 [That is, by a tremendous thrashing.)
On the noon of the 14th of November, 1743 or 4, I forget which it was, just as the clock had struck one, Barbara S-with her accustomed punctuality, ascended the long rambling staircase, with awkward interposed landing - places, which led to the office, or rather a sort of box with a desk in it, whereat sat the then treasurer of (what few of our readers may remember) the old Bath Theatre. All over the island it was the custom, and remains so I believe to this day, for the players to receive their weekly stipend on the Saturday. It was not much that Barbara had to claim.
The little maid had just entered her eleventh year; but her important station at the theatre, as it seemed
1 The note appended by Lamb to this essay, as to the heroine being named Street, and having three times changed her name by successive marriages, is one of the most elaborate of his fictions. The real heroine of the story, as admitted by Lamb at the time, was the admirable comedian, Fanny Kelly, an attached friend of Charles and Mary Lamb, who has just died (December, 1882) at the advanced age of ninety-two. In the year 1875 Miss Kelly furnished Mr. Charles Kent, who was editing the centenary edition of Lamb's works, with her own interesting version of the anecdote. It was in 1799, when Fanny Kelly was a child of nine, that the incident occurred, not at the old Bath Theatre, but at Drury Lane, where she had been admitted as a “miniature chorister,” at a salary of a pound a week. After his manner, Lamb has changed every detail the heroine, the site of the theatre, the amount of the salary, the name of the treasurer. Even following Charles Lamb, Miss Kelly has told her own story with much graphic power.
Miss Kelly, with the “divine plain face," was a special favorite of Lamb's. See his sonnets, To Miss Kelly, and to a celebrated female performer in “ The Blind Boy."
to her, with the benefits which she felt to accrue from her pious application of her small earnings, had given an air of womanhood to her steps and to her behavior. You would have taken her to have been at least five years older.
Till latterly, she had merely been employed in choruses, or where children were wanted to fill up the
But the manager, observing a diligence and adroitness in her above her age, had for some few months past intrusted to her the performance of whole parts. You may guess the self-consequence of the promoted Barbara. She had already drawn tears in young Arthur; had rallied Richard with infantine petulance in the Duke of York; and in her turn had rebuked that petulance when she was Prince of Wales. She would have done the elder child in Morton's pathetic afterpiece to the life; but as yet the Children in the Wood was not.1
Long after this little girl was grown an aged woman,
I have seen some of these small parts, each making two or three pages at most, copied out in the rudest hand of the then prompter, who doubtless transcribed a little more carefully and fairly for the grown-up tragedy ladies of the establishment. But such as they were, blotted and scrawled, as for a child's use, she kept them all; and in the zenith of her after reputation it was a delightful sight to behold them bound up in costliest morocco, each
1 This is an ingenious way of intimating that Miss Kelly did play the elder child in the Children in the Wood. The drama was first produced in 1793. The incident of the roast fowl and the spilt salt, recorded later on, occurs in the last scene of this play. The famished children, just rescued from the wood, are fed by the faithful Walter with a roast chicken, over which he has just before, in his agitation, upset the salt-box.
single — each small part making a book — with fine clasps, gilt-splashed, etc. She had conscientiously kept them as they had been delivered to her; not a blot had been effaced or tampered with. They were precious to her for their affecting remembrancings. They were her principia, her rudiments; the elementary atoms; the little steps by which she pressed forward to perfection. “What,” she would say, "could India-rubber, or a pumice-stone, have done for these darlings?”
I am in no hurry to begin my story — indeed, I have little or none to tell so I will just mention an observation of hers connected with that interesting time.
Not long before she died I had been discoursing with her on the quantity of real present emotion which a great tragic performer experiences during acting. I ventured to think, that though in the first instance such players must have possessed the feelings which they so powerfully called up in others, yet by frequent repetition those feelings must become deadened in great measure, and the performer trust to the memory of past emotion, rather than express a present one. She indignantly repelled the notion, that with a truly great tragedian the operation, by which such effects were produced upon an audience, could ever degrade itself into what was purely mechanical. With much delicacy, avoiding to instance in her self-experience, she told me, that so long ago as when she used to play the part of the Little Son to Mrs. Porter's Isabella (I think it was), when that impressive actress has been bending over her in some heart-rending colloquy, she has felt real hot tears come trickling from her, which (to use her powerful expression) have perfectly scalded her back.