Text: Edward V. Sparhawk (???) (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Journal of F. A. Butler,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 19-31


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[page 19, continued:]

JOURNAL — BY FRANCES ANNE BUTLER. PHILADELPHIA: CAREY, LEA & BLANCHARD. (PRESENTED TO THE EDITOR OF THE MESSENGER, by MR. C. HALL.)

[Southern Literary Messenger, May, 1835.]

PERHAPS no book has, for many years[[,]] been looked for, long previous to its publication, [[with such intense curiosity,]] as this record of Miss Fanny Kemble’s observations and opinions of men and women, manners and customs, in the United [page 20:] States. We say Miss Fanny Kemble’s opinions — for while bearing that name, most of those opinions were formed. Under that name she was hailed in this country, as the inheritress of the genius of Mrs. Siddons, whose fame is connected in the minds of Americans with all that is noble, and majestic, and powerful in the dramatic art. Under that name she received the admiration of thousands, was made a sharer of the hospitality of many of the most distinguished citizens of the country — and received a homage to which nothing but the highest genius, and the purest moral worth could have entitled her. It is not therefore as Mrs. Frances Anne Butler, the wife of an American citizen, that we look upon her in her character of authoress — but as the favorite actress, applauded to the echo, surfeited with flattery, and loaded with pecuniary rewards.[[(1)]] It is impossible to consider this book in any other than a personal point of view. Its very form forbids our separating the author from the work — the opinions and sentiments, from the individual who utters them. The idea of both exists in an indivisible amalgamation. Nor we fear, will it be possible for nine-tenths of her readers to weigh a single expression of Fanny Kemble the authoress, unmingled with the idea of Fanny Kemble the actress, the star — the “observed of all observers.” Hence this Journal will have an effect probably far beyond the anticipations of its writer. It will not only be looked upon as the test of Mrs. Butler’s ability as an author; but it will, whether justly or not, convey to the thousands who have already perused, and the tens of thousands who will hereafter peruse it, a picture of her character and dispositions. The picture may, and doubtless will be an exaggerated one — few pictures are otherwise; but [page 21:] still it will be received as true, because the outlines have been traced by the original herself. We are sorry to say that the “counterfeit resemblance” of the fair authoress, presented by her book, displays many harsh and ill-favored lineaments, and the traces of passions which we could wish did not disfigure its many noble and magnanimous features. Mrs. Butler cannot claim for herself the immunity which she awards with great justice to poetical writers, of a distinction between their real and their written sentiments.[[(1)]] If this book contains as we suppose, the faithful transcripts of her daily observations and opinions, revised long after they were penned, and thus exhibiting her true, unexaggerated impressions, by them must she be judged — and in passing judgment upon her work, a candid critic will find much, very much, to admire and approve, and much also to censure and condemn.

We have read Mrs. Butler’s work with untiring interest — indeed the vivacity of its style, the frequent occurrence of beautiful descriptions, of just and forcible observations, and many sound views of the condition of society in this country — the numerous characteristic anecdotes, and some most discriminating criticisms of actors and acting, must stamp her work as one of no ordinary merit. And these attractions in a great measure neutralize, although they cannot redeem, her innumerable faults of language, her sturdy prejudices, her hasty opinions, and her ungenerous sarcasms — These abound in the Journal, and yet it is more than probable that her censorious spirit has to a great extent been suppressed, as almost every page is studded with asterisks, indicating, we may presume, that her sins of hasty censure have been greatly diminished to the public eye, by the saving grace of omission. [page 22:]

The defects of the work are not confined to the exhibition of prejudices and the expression of unjust opinions: the style and language is often coarse, we might say vulgar; and her more impassioned exclamations are often characterized by a vehemence which is very like profanity, an offence that would not be tolerated in a writer of the other sex. We cite a few from among the many passages which we have noted, as specimens of undignified, unfeminine and unscholarlike phraseology: The word “dawdled” seems a great favorite with Mrs. Butler — as, for instance: “Rose at eight, dawdled about,” &c. vol. i. p. 18. “Rose at half past eight, dawdled about as usual,” p.21. “Came up and dawdled upon deck,” p. 47. “Came home, dawdled [[daudled]] about my room,” p. 97. — And in numberless other instances this word is used, apparently, to signify loitering, or dallying, spelled indiscriminately dawdled, or daudled. Indeed so much does our fair authoress seem to have been addicted to the habit which the word implies — be it what it may — that in the second volume she speaks of having “dressed for once without dawdling,” as an uncommon occurrence. She is also fond of the word “gulp,” and uses it in strange combinations, as — “My dear father, who was a little elated, made me sing to him, which I greatly gulped at,” p. 61. “I gulped, sat down, and was measured,” (for a pair of shoes,) p. 103 — “on the edge of a precipice, several hundred feet down into the valley: it made me gulp to look at it,” &c.

At page 97 she tells us, that “when the gentlemen joined us they were all more or less ‘how come’d you so indeed?’ ” and shortly after, “they all went away in good time, and we came to bed: [page 23:]

To bed — to sleep —

To sleep! — perchance to be bitten! aye — there’s the scratch:

And in that sleep of ours what bugs may come,

Must give us pause.”

She thus describes the motions of persons on ship-board, in rough weather:

“Rushing hither and thither in all directions but the one they purpose going, and making as many angles, fetches, and ridiculous deviations from the point they aim at, as if the devil had tied a string to their legs, and jerked it every now and then in spite.” p. 18.

At page 99: “Supped, lay down on the floor in absolute meltiness away, and then came to bed.” “When I went on, I was all but tumbling down at the sight of my Jaffier, who looked like the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, with the addition of some devilish red slashes along his thighs and arms,” p. 107. “Away walloped the four horses,” &c. p. 131. “How they did wallop and shamble about,” &c. p. 149. “Now I‘ll go to bed; my cough’s enough to kill a horse,” p. 153. “Heaven bless the world, for a conglomerated amalgamation of fools,” p. 190. “He talked an amazing quantity of thickish philosophy, and moral and sentimental potter.” In truth, “potter” and “pottering,” seem to be favorites equally with daudling, and she as frequently makes use of them. For instance, “He sat down, and pottered a little,” p. 58. They “took snuff, eat cakes, and pottered a deal,” p. 182. “After dinner pottered about clothes,” &c. p. 220. “Sat stitching and pottering an infinity,” p. 230 — and many other varieties of the same word. But of the infinite number of literary novelties of this sort, it would be impossible, [page 24:] within the limits we have prescribed to ourselves, to give more than a few specimens. We will take two or three more at random: “My feet got so perished with the cold, that I did n’t know what to do,” p. 230. “He was most exceedingly odd and dauldrumish. I think he was a little ‘how come’d you so indeed.’ ” p. 195; “yesterday began like May, with flowers and sun-shine, it ended like December, with the sulks, and a fit of crying. The former were furnished me by my friends and Heaven, the latter by myself and the d—l.” p. 198. “At six o’clock, D—— roused me; and grumpily enough I arose.” Ib. “At one o’clock, came home, having danced myself fairly off my legs,” p. 227.

Such blemishes as these, apparently uniting the slang of the boarding school and the green room, deform the work of Mrs. Butler, and are much to be lamented, because they may have the effect of blinding the hasty, prejudiced or fastidious reader, to the many beauties which are to be found in its pages. Indeed the work has already encountered the severest criticisms from the newspaper press, imbittered by the many censorious remarks of Mrs. B. upon the manners and institutions of the country; her severe, and in many instances just strictures upon the state of society in the cities in which she sojourned; and the supercilious sneers which she has uttered against the editorial fraternity, “the press gang,” as she uncourteously denominates that numerous and powerful body. The censures of her book, are doubtless, in the main, well deserved; but in their excess, the merits which the “Journal” unquestionably possesses in great abundance and of a high order, have in many cases been passed by unheeded by her indignant critics. And here we [page 25:] cannot refrain from the utterance of a remark which has frequently occurred to us, and which is brought forcibly to mind by the reception which Mrs. Butler’s criticisms upon America have met with: we think that too much sensitiveness is felt by our countrymen, at the unfavorable opinions expressed by foreigners, in regard to our social, political, and moral condition — and that the press, as the organ of public sentiment, is prone to work itself into a superfluous frenzy of indignation, at what are generally considered “foreign libels” upon us. To be indignant at gross misrepresentations of our country, is an exhibition of patriotism in one of its most laudable forms. But the sentiment may be carried too far, and may blind us to evils and deficiencies in our condition, when pointed out by a foreigner, which it would be well for us rather to consider with a view to their amendment. It may so far blunt our sense of the justice of the maxim “fas est, ab hoste doceri,” as to induce us to entertain jealousy and aversion for the most judicious suggestions, if offered by others than our own countrymen. Entertaining these views, we have read Mrs. Butler’s work, with a disposition to judge of it impartially; and while we have perceived many instances of captious complaints in regard to matters of trifling importance in themselves; and frequently a disposition to build up general censures upon partial, individual causes of disgust, displeasure or disappointment — we feel bound to say, that, taking the work as a whole, we do not think a deliberate disposition to misrepresent, or a desire to depreciate us, can be discovered in it. The strictures upon our modes of living, our social relations, &c., are often unworthy the writer. She complains for instance, that “the things (at the hotel in New York,) were [page 26:] put on the table in a slovenly, outlandish fashion; fish, soup, and meat, at once, and puddings, and tarts, and cheese, at another once; no finger glasses, and a patched tablecloth [[table cloth]] — in short, a want of that style and neatness which is found in every hotel in England. The waiters too, remind us of the half-savage highland lads, that used to torment us under that denomination in Glasgow — only that they were wild Irish instead of Scotch.” vol. i. p. 49.

Frequently too, she complains of the audiences before whom she performed, with occasional reproofs of their ungracious conduct in not sufficiently applauding her father or herself: She says, of the first appearance of the former at the Park Theatre:

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[[quotation]]

At the Philadelphia audiences, she grumbles as follows:

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[[quotation]]

Of the ladies of this country, she seems to have formed a low estimate in many respects, and to look upon them generally with no little contempt. Of those in New York, she says: “The women dress very much, and very much like French women gone mad; they all of them seem to me to walk horribly ill, as if they wore tight shoes.” And again: “The women here, like those in most warm climates, ripen very early, and decay proportionably soon. They are, generally speaking, pretty, with good complexions, and an air of freshness and brilliancy, but this I am told is very evanescent; and whereas, in England, a woman is in the full bloom of health and beauty, from twenty to five and thirty; here, they scarce reach the first period without being faded, and looking old. They marry very young, and this is another reason why age [page 27:] comes upon them prematurely [[prematurely upon them]]. There was a fair young thing at dinner to-day, who did not look above seventeen, and she was a wife. As for their figures, like those of the French women, they are too well dressed for one to judge exactly what they are really like: they are, for the most part, short and slight, with remarkably pretty feet and ancles; but there’s too much pelerine and petticoat, and “de quoi” of every sort to guess any thing more,” — p. 88.

This is a delicate subject, and one on which we should be averse to enter the lists with Mrs. Butler, prejudiced as she most probably is. But some of her observations on the mode of nurturing females, strike us as exhibiting good sense: In the following note to the above, we apprehend there is much truth:

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[[quotation]]

We are sorry to be forced to say, that there is also much sound sense and unwelcome truth in her remarks upon the situation of married females in our fashionable circles generally, (although the picture is over wrought and is more peculiarly applicable to northern females,) which we quote from Vol. i. p. 160.

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[[quotation]]

This view of manners is drawn from the society of the cities of New York and Philadelphia; — appended to the above extract, is a note, entering more into the details of her impressions regarding their fashionable circles, which we give entire:

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[[quotation]]

As few matters, worldly or spiritual, escaped the observation of our authoress, it is not wonderful that her pen was occasionally dipped in the political cauldron. But as her ideas are in most instances tinged with her own national prejudices, we shall not dwell upon them [page 28:] longer than to say that she sees already a decided aristocratic tendency among us, and to quote the following summary of her opinion as to the permanence of our institutions and government: — “I believe in my heart that a republic is the noblest, highest, and purest form of government; but I believe that according to the present disposition of human creatures, ’t is a mere beau ideal, totally incapable of realization. What the world may be fit for six hundred years hence, I cannot exactly perceive — but in the meantime, ’t is my conviction that America will be a monarchy before I am a skeleton.” p.56. If argument with a lady on such a subject could be reconciled to the precepts of gallantry, it would certainly be unprofitable where the causes of her belief are so vaguely stated. And we think she has furnished the best argument against herself in her frequent comparisons of the condition of the mass of the people of this country to that of the laboring class in England, in which she constantly decides in favor of America. It will scarcely be argued that a people enjoying such blessings as she ascribes to the condition of the mass of American citizens, could easily be induced to change their government, and yield up a certain good for a doubtful improvement — far less that they would willingly submit to a form of government which they look upon as particularly odious. The following passage shows what are her views of the condition of the laboring classes among us:

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[[quotation]]

We had intended to make several additional extracts from what we think the better portions of the Journal, such as would exhibit the authoress in her most favorable light. But we have “daudled” so long on the way, that those extracts must be brief, and will probably fail to [page 29:] do the justice we proposed to the fair writer. As however, we have not selected the worst [[worst]] of the passages from those which we deemed it our duty to censure, we may be forgiven, if we should fail to quote the best [[best]] of those which exhibit her good sense and ability as a writer.

Of the fate of the aborigines of this country, she says:

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[[quotation]]

There is eloquence and good feeling in the following:

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[[quotation]]

From her description of a voyage up the Hudson river, which is one of the most beautiful portions of the work, we can give but two brief passages:

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[[quotation]]

Our friends, Oliver Oldschool [[Oliver Oldschoolt]] and Anthony Absolute [[Anthony Absolute]], will be pleased to observe that Mrs. Butler abjures the Waltz [[Waltz]], and agrees with them in objecting to its tendency:

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[[quotation]]

Mrs. Butler seems to have no great love of the dramatic art — that is, the art of stage performance. Several pages in the second volume are devoted to this subject, (pp. 59, 60 and 61) in which she argues with great force in support of the position, that acting is “the very lowest of the arts.” Like all her criticisms of subjects connected with the stage, it is an admirable passage; but it is too long for quotation. A shorter one conveys the same idea, in eloquent language:

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[[quotation]]

In another and sadder strain, there are many beautiful portions, from which we can only select the following — and with this our extracts must end:

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[[quotation]]

[page 30:]

We have thus endeavored to give our readers an idea of this very remarkable book — a task of no little difficulty from its variable features, its mixture of sense and silliness, of prejudice and liberality — almost every page bearing a distinct and peculiar character. There are many things which have elicited censure, on which we have not laid any stress, and among these are the frequent exhibitions of attachment to her native country, and preference of its people, its customs, its laws, &c. to those of America. We cannot find fault with her for so noble and so natural a sentiment, even though it should lead her to depreciate and underrate us. Besides, she acknowledges the blindness of her partiality to England, and speaks of it with great candor, as a national characteristic:

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[[quotation]]

The chief fault of the work will be found in the dictatorial manner of the writer. A female, and a young one too, cannot speak with the self-confidence which marks this book, without jarring somewhat upon American notions of the retiring delicacy of the female character. But the early induction of Mrs. B. upon the stage, has evidently given her a precocious self-dependence and a habit of forming her own opinions. There is perhaps no situation in which human vanity is so powerfully excited, as that of the favorite actor. The directness of the applause which greets his successful efforts is most intoxicating, and mingles so much admiration of the performer with delight at the performance, that he or she, whose vanity should resist its fascinations, must be a stoic indeed.[[(1)]] The effects of this personal homage, added to the advantages of her birth, and her really masculine intellect, are apparent in Mrs. B’s Journal. But she also displays some fine [page 31:] feminine traits, which the flatteries of delighted audiences, the admiration of ambitious fashionables, and the consciousness of being the chief Lion of the day, could not destroy. Her sympathy for a sick lady, lodging in the same house in Philadelphia, is frequently and delicately expressed; and various other incidents shew that kindness and generosity are among her prominent qualities. Many pages are devoted to the subject of religion, and as appears from them, she was attentive to the performance of her devotions: Yet we cannot but think her religion as displayed in this book, more a sentiment than a principle; rather the embodying of a poetical fancy, than that pervading feeling of the heart which enters into and characterizes the actions of those who feel its influence. — In conclusion, we will repeat what we have said before, that there is much to admire and much to condemn in this work — enough of the former to render it one of the most attractive (as it is one of the most original) that has recently issued from the press; and in censuring its faults it will be but justice to bear in mind a sentiment of Mrs. B.; “After all, if people generally did but know the difficulty of doing well, they would be less damnatory upon those who do ill.” p. 114, vol. i.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote should appears at the bottom of page 20:]

1.  We are far from wishing to convey the idea that a popular actor of real merit is in any way placed under obligation, (especially such an obligation as would render it improper or ungrateful for him to speak with freedom of the communities of which his audiences formed parts,) by the pecuniary benefits received from the public for the exhibition of his talents. Mrs. Butler has, we think, settled that question in her book; and it will be better for both the audiences and the actors, whenever differences arise between them, to consider each other on the footing of equality, which she points out as the equitable and common — sense relation of the two parties. Nothing can be more rational than the following:

“It may not be amiss here to say one word with regard to the gratitude which audiences in some parts of the world claim from actors, and about which I have lately heard a most alarming out-cry. Do actors generally exercise their profession to please themselves and gratify their own especial delight in self-exhibition? Is that profession in its highest walks one of small physical exertion and fatigue, (I say nothing of mental exertion) and in its lower paths is it one of much gain, glory, or ease? Do audiences, on the other hand, use to come in crowds to play — houses to see indifferent performers? and when there do they out of pure charity and good — will, bestow their applause as well as their money upon tiresome performers? — I will answer these points as far as regards myself, and therein express the gratitude which I feel towards the frequenters of theatres. I individually disliked my profession, and had neither pride nor pleasure in the exercise of it. I exercised it as a matter of necessity, to earn my bread, — and verily it was in the sweat of my brow. The parts which fell to my lot were of a most laborious nature, and occasioned sometimes violent mental excitement, always immense physical exertion, and sometimes both. In those humbler walks of my profession, from whose wearisomeness I was exempted by my sudden favor with the public, I have seen, though not known, the most painful drudgery, — the most constant fatigue, the most sad contrast between real cares and feigned merriments, — the most anxious penurious and laborious existence imaginable. For the part of my question which regarded the audiences, I have only to say, that I never knew, saw, heard or read of any set of people who went to a play — house to see what they did not like; this being the case it never occurred to me that our houses were full but as a necessary consequence of our own attraction, or that we were applauded, but as the result of our own exertions. I was glad the houses were full, because I was earning my livelihood, and wanted the money; and I was glad the people applauded us, because it is pleasant to please, and human vanity will find some sweetness in praise, even when reason weighs its worth most justly.” Vol. ii. pp. 109-110.

[The following footnote should appear at the bottom of page 21:]

1.  “Moore talks about Byron’s writing with the same pen full of ink,’ Adieu, adieu, my native land,’ and ‘Hurra, Hodgson, we are going.’ It proves nothing, except what I firmly believe, that we must not look for the real feelings of writers in their works — or rather that what they give us, and what we take for heart feeling, is head weaving — a species of emotion engendered somewhere betwixt the bosom and the brain, and bearing the same proportion of resemblance to reality that a picture does — that is — like feeling, but not feeling — like sadness, but not sadness — like what it appears, but not indeed that very thing: and the greater a man’s power of thus producing sham realities, the greater his qualification for being a poet.” Journal, vol. i. pp. 21-22.

[The following footnote should appear at the bottom of page 30:]

1.  This position has been beautifully illustrated by some modern English writer, but by whom we have forgotten. Mrs. Butler is fully aware of the intoxicating nature of the applause bestowed on actors, and speaks most sensibly on the subject, although she is probably unconscious of its full effects upon her own feelings, and manner of thinking and writing.

“Excitement,” says she, “is reciprocal between the performer and the audience; he creates it in them, and receives it back again from them: and in that last scene in Fazio, half the effect that I produce is derived from the applause which I receive, the very noise and tumult of which tends to heighten the nervous energy which the scene itself begets.”

The idea is farther carried out in the following striking passage:

“The evanescent nature of his triumph, however an actor may deplore it, is in fact but an instance of the broad moral justice by which all things are so evenly balanced. If he can hope for no fame beyond mere mention, when once his own generation passes away, at least his power, and his glory, and his reign is in his own person, and during his own life. There is scarcely to be conceived a popularity for the moment more intoxicating than that of a great actor in his day, so much of it becomes mixed up with the individual himself. The poet, the painter, and the sculptor, enchant us through their works; and with very, very few exceptions, their works, and not their very persons are the objects of admiration and applause; it is to their minds we are beholden; and though a certain degree of curiosity and popularity necessarily wait even upon their bodily presence, it is faint compared with that which is bestowed upon the actor; and for good reasons — he is himself his work. His voice, his eyes, his gestures, are his art, and admiration of it cannot be separated from admiration for him. This renders the ‘ephemeral glory which he earns so vivid, and in some measure maybe supposed to compensate for its short duration. The great of the earth, whose fame has arisen like the shining of the sun, have often toiled through their whole lives in comparative obscurity, through the narrow and dark paths of existence. Their reward was never given to their hands here, — it is but just their glory should be lasting. Vol. ii pp. 61-62.


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Notes:

In addition to omitting all of the quotations, Harrison drops the three long footnotes, which have been restored in the present text for the sake of the reader. Page references for these footnotes are given based on the appearance of the text which pointed to them, although it should be admitted that printing these footnotes would have altered the pagination of Harrison’s text.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Journal of F. A. Butler)