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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-2 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
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.
I am not quite so sure that it was Mrs. Porter; but it was some great actress of that day. The name is indifferent; but the fact of the scalding tears I most distinctly remember.
I was always fond of the society of players, and am not sure that an impediment in my speech (which certainly kept me out of the pulpit), even more than certain personal disqualifications, which are often got over in that profession, did not prevent me at one time of life from adopting it. I have had the honor (I must ever call it) once to have been admitted to the teatable of Miss Kelly. I have played at serious whist with Mr. Liston. I have chatted with ever goodhumored Mrs. Charles Kemble. I have conversed as friend to friend with her accomplished husband. I have been indulged with a classical conference with Macready; and with a sight of the Player-picture gallery, at Mr. Mathews's, when the kind owner, to remunerate me for my love of the old actors (whom he loves so much), went over it with me, supplying to his capital collection, what alone the artist could not give them — voice; and their living motion. Old tones, half-faded, of Dodd, and Parsons, and Baddeley, have lived again for me at his bidding. Only Edwin he could not restore to me. I have supped with -; but I am growing a coxcomb.
As I was about to say at the desk of the then treasurer of the old Bath Theatre — not Diamond's
presented herself the little Barbara S
The parents of Barbara had been in reputable circumstances. The father had practised, I believe, as an apothecary in the town. But his practice, from causes which I feel my own infirmity too sensibly that way to arraign, - or perhaps from that pure infelicity which accompanies some people in their walk through life, and which it is impossible to lay at the door of imprudence, — was now reduced to nothing. They were, in fact, in the very teeth of starvation, when the manager, who knew and respected them in better days, took the little Barbara into his company.
At the period I commenced with, her slender earnings were the sole support of the family, including two younger sisters. I must throw a veil over some mortifying circumstances. Enough to say, that her Saturday's pittance was the only chance of a Sunday's (generally their only) meal of meat.
One thing I will only mention, that in some child's part, where in her theatrical character she was to sup
off a roast fowl (O joy to Barbara!), some comic actor, who was for the night caterer for this dainty
in the misguided humor of his part, threw over the dish such a quantity of salt (O grief and pain of heart to Barbara!) that when he crammed a portion of it into her mouth, she was obliged sputteringly to reject it; and what with shame of her ill-acted part, and pain of real appetite at missing such a dainty, her little heart sobbed almost to breaking, till a flood of tears, which the well-fed spectators were totally unable to comprehend, mercifully relieved her.
This was the little starved, meritorious maid, who stood before old Ravenscroft, the treasurer, for her Saturday's payment.
Ravenscroft was a man, I have heard many old theatrical people besides herself say, of all men least calculated for a treasurer. He had no head for accounts, paid away at random, kept scarce any books, and summing up at the week's end, if he found himself a pound or so deficient, blest himself that it was