Fanny Kemble

Kemble, Fanny

British actress (1809-1893). 3 autograph letters signed. London and Warnford (Hampshire). 8vo and small 8vo. 11 pp. altogether. With autogr. envelope and clipping from autogr. envelope.
$ 2,909 / 2.500 € (77441/BN49877)

To Lady Mary Horner Lyell (1808-73), in response to an invitation and concerning the American Civil War: "I have become a 'country woman' living down in Hampshire and only coming up weekly to patch my purse by reading Shakespeare - my whole small fortune is in America & the war has reduced my income by two thirds and I am bound to pray with all my selfishness for its speedy termination - which begins I think to dawn upon the horizon. - I wonder if Robert Shaw stirred in his 'ditch among his niggers' when the tramp of Sherman's men shook the streets of Charleston.

- I shall come up to town to read on Wednesday the 15th & will stay till Friday with great pleasure to avail myself of your kind invitation - I should like to meet Mr and Mrs Adams without feeling as if I should cry in their faces with sorrow for their people & shame for my own [...]" (London, Wednesday 8th [probably March 1865], though a pencil note falsely gives the date as "April 1864"). - Slight traces of former mounting. In 1834 Fanny Kemble had married the American planter and slave owner Pierce Mease Butler (1806-67). When Butler inherited his father's property, the family temporarily moved to the Georgia plantations in the winter of 1838/39. Kemble was deeply affected by the inhumane treatment of the slaves and brought her observations and criticism to paper. A publication was prevented by her husband, who threatened Kemble with taking custody of their daughters. Kemble left Butler in 1846 and the marriage was divorced in 1849. Only in 1863, after the start of the American Civil War and when her daughters had reached their majority, did Fanny Kemble publish her "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839", which aligned her with the abolutionist cause. Charleston was handed over from the Confederates to General Sherman on 18 Feb. 1865. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw had died during the Second Battle at Fort Wagner in July 1863, commanding the first all-black regiment. In spite of military customs the Confederates did not return Shaw's body and buried him among his soldiers. What was intended as an insult came to be seen as an honour in the North and contributed to Shaw's fame. - II: To Lady Elizabeth Horner Lyell, with an emotional commentary on the end of the American Civil War: "[...] it is very good of you to remember me in this season of most legitimate rejoicing to all the friends of America. It would be difficult for me to express the feeling of awe with which I have watched what seems to be the most manifest process & proof of God's rule in human affairs [...] To you I am not afraid to say that I knelt down with heart & eyes overflowing with praise when I heard of the success of that cause which is the cause of Right and for which such inestimable lives have not been judged too precious a price. My position however is a sad illustration of the convulsed condition of the country for which I feel so much - my youngest daughter who is with me now is alas! southern in all her sentiments & sympathies - and in the midst of my own unbounded thankfulness I felt a bitter pang for her distress. She came to dinner with eyes red with weeping at that which had made me weep for joy & neither of us have uttered a word to the other upon the one subject that was filling both our hearts & minds, is not that very very sad. - It is rather hard that the holidays of Easter week over which I have rejoiced like any other weary workwoman deprive me of the pleasure of accepting your kind invitation [...]" (Warnford, 16 April 1865). A long postscript deploring the death of the British liberal politician and peace campaigner Richard Cobden (1804-65) reads: "What a loss Cobden is to all good causes. He had done his stroke of work in the world & a grand one & I suppose would have done little more - but the world always seems darker for the loss of such an honest light as his mind. - We have had Lord Lyons down here staying with my sister, an immense pleasure to me who have not heard three words of good feeling or common sense about America since [...] I should be very glad to see Miss Ticknor for the love I bear all Boston and its neighbourhood tho' I have not the pleasure of knowing her; please congratulate her from me on the Yankee Victory". - After Fanny Kemble had divorced her husband in 1849, he took custody of their two daughters. The ensuing rift through the family that was not least caused by Kemble's criticism of the treatment of the slaves on her husband's plantations and adoption of abolitionist positions is reflected in the letter. As news reached Europe with a delay of a week, Kemble could not know that President Lincoln had been assassinated two days before she wrote to Lyell. The famous geologist Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), Lady Mary Lyell's husband, had briefly visited Pierce Mease Butler's plantations in 1845. He gave an uncritical account of the slaves' conditions, which might indicate some improvements since the two letters give testimony to the friendship between Fanny Kemble and the Lyells and hint at shared views on the American Civil War. - Includes autograph envelope with unbroken red wax seal. Some traces of former mounting. - III: To the botanist and biographer Katherine Murray Lyell (1815-1917) concerning a book and other subjects: "My dear Mrs Lyell, will you have the goodness to give me the precise title of the book of which you and your sister spoke as of such good counsel & comfort on the most important of subjects - true life here and to come [...]" (25 Oct. 1885). The postscript reads: "I hope your daughter is recovering from her accident & will experience no bad consequences from it". - Insightful testimony to the friendship between Fanny Kemble and the Lyell family. Katherine Murray Lyell was Lady Mary Horner Lyell's sister and the biographer of Sir Charles Lyell. - Includes the clipped front of the autograph envelope..

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