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Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness
Frances Kemble to William Harness, 5 May 1833

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
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“Boston, Sunday, May 5th, 1833.

“Do not imagine that I have any intention of letting you forget me, my dear Mr. Harness, or that I mean to delegate to newspapers, and such like unsatisfactory channels of information, the task of keeping my recollection alive with you. I certainly have suffered a tolerably long interval to escape since the writing of my first epistle; but that it did not follow from thence that I never meant to write to you again, this is proof. If I were to ask you all the questions I should like answered with regard to things in general, and particularly in my poor dear little country, I might fill my letter with one huge note of interrogation, and leave you to answer all that is ‘being, doing and suffering’ in England; but I rather think some
account of ourselves might be more satisfactory to you; and so, according to your noble and poetical
friend, ‘Here goes!’ (By-the-by, his Life by Moore is a terrible pity; why couldn’t his works be left to speak for him? They are his best record after all.)

“We are all in excellent health, except that my father is lame and cross, D—— sleepy and cross, and I purely cross, and nothing else. With regard to my father’s lameness, he caught it—or, rather, it caught him—by the calf of the leg, in the act of springing off the stage after me, in Benedick. ‘Tis an accident of no great importance—a sprain or fracture of one or two of the smaller fibres in the leg, which makes him go a little haltingly just now, but is not likely to inconvenience him long. As for all the other ailments, that is the crossness, ‘tis owing to a bitter bleak east wind, which is the only air that blows in Boston, and keeps us all in a state of misanthropy and universal dissatisfaction. Perhaps, under these circumstances, I had better have deferred writing to you; but, had I waited till the wind changed its quarter, I must have waited till we returned to New York; for Boston is the abiding place of the east wind.

“Our houses, wherever we go, are very fine; our business most successful. The people and places vie with each other in kindness and civility to us; and as for me, I am so praised, so admired, so
courted, and so flattered, that I am thrown into the depths of humility, sometimes, when I come to consider my own unworthiness; and only fear that at last I shall acquire such an idea of my own excellence, importance, and admirableness that I shall come to the conviction that ‘the world is mine oyster.’ Seriously, I am sometimes perplexed at the universal kindness and almost affection that is expressed towards me, when I cannot help feeling that Indeed I have done nothing really to deserve it. However, thank God for it! And as for the desert, why perhaps it is with me as with the man who said he did not know whether he could play on the fiddle or not, for he’d never tried.

“Boston is a Yankee town, which I daresay is as much as you know about it; but, Sir, ‘tis moreover the wealthiest town in the Union; ‘tis, Sir, the most belles-letterish and blue town in the Union; ‘tis, Sir, the most aristocratic town in the Union, and decidedly bears the greatest resemblance to an English town of any I have seen. The country round it, too, is more like a bit of the old land than anything I have yet seen; and, though some of the wild romantic scenery round Philadelphia enchanted me very much, the white clean cottages, the blossoming apple-trees and flowering garden-plots of the villages round this place have recalled England more vividly, and given me more pleasure
than anything I have yet seen. The society is a little stiff; they have, unfortunately, a reputation in this good town for superior intellect, and are proportionately starched and stupid. However, to have known
Webster, and even Audubon, is in itself something; and though Channing has been obliged by ill-health to leave Boston for the South, I trust yet to have the privilege of knowing him—who, I think, reflects more honour on his native city than all its other superiorities put together.

“We act every night here but Saturday. I grumble dreadfully at this hard work—not because it tires me, but because I am idle and like two holidays in a week. However, when I consider that every night lost is a large sum of money lost (for our profits are very great) I am willing to give up my laziness, so long as the work is not too much either for my father or myself. I take an amazing quantity of exercise on horseback; ‘tis meat and drink and sleep to me, and affords me, moreover, the best opportunity of seeing the country, which one never does well in a carriage; and ‘tis quite entertaining to see how, before I have been a fortnight in a place, all the women are getting into riding-skirts and up upon horses. I have received ever so many thanks for the improved health of the ladies here who, since my arrival, are all horseback-
mad; and I truly think a good shaking does a woman good in every way.

“I have acted several new parts since I have been in this new world; Katherine, the Shrew, which I do pretty well, Bizarre, which I also do pretty well, but particularly the dancing—Violante in ‘The Wonder,’ which I do worse than anything that can be seen, and Mary Copp in ‘Charles the Second,’ which I do very fairly well, leaving out the singing. Bianca seems to be my favourite part with the public, in tragedy, and Julia in the ‘Hunchback,’ in comedy. I hear Knowles has written another play with a magnificent woman’s part. Of course we shall have it out here before long; I am curious to see it.

“I have seen Washington Irving several times since I have been in this country. He is idolized here, and talks of settling himself in some little sunny nook on the Hudson—that broadest, brightest river in the world. He is very delightful, a most happy, cheerful, benevolent, simple person. His absence of seventeen years from this country has produced changes in it which seem to fill him with amazement and admiration. And, indeed, ‘tis a most marvellous country! It stands unparalleled under every aspect in which it can be considered, and presents one of the most interesting and extraordinary subjects of contemplation that the eye of
a politician, or the more extensive gaze of a philosopher, can scan. A land peopled, as this has been, by the overflowings of all other lands; to the south colonized by the adventurous but thrifty younger branches of noble families of England, and in great measure also by men whose vices and crimes, as well as their utter poverty, drove them to find shelter away from the society whose laws they had outraged; to the north, again, this new world owing its first civilized inhabitants to the purest and loftiest spirit of Freedom—the holiest and most steadfast spirit of Religion (emanating from England, too); and all having received their first dawn of civilization from bodies of men differing from each other in object, in religious faith, in country and lineage: a whole continent thus strangely reclaimed from utter savageness, and in the process of a century and a half becoming, from a desolate and utter wilderness, a great political existence, taking a firm and honourable station among the powers of the world. A land abounding in cultivation, civilization, populous towns, full of wealth, of business, of trade, of importance; vast ports receiving the flags of every nation under Heaven; to see huge ocean steamboats carrying hundreds of people to and fro every hour along the Hudson, the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, whose waters, a hundred years ago, were never visited but by the Indian
canoe; to see forests felled, and towns arising, railways and canals traversing and connecting what were wild tracts of interminable wood and waste; to see life, and all its wonderful arts and sciences, reclaiming these vast solitudes to the uses of man and the purposes of civilized existence: this mighty operation which is at this instant going on under our very eyes makes this country one of great interest, of admiration, of anxious observation to all the world. ‘Tis a marvellous country indeed!

“Bless my soul, I didn’t mean to be cross* to you, because that’s an infliction! Don’t you wish that you and I wrote better hands? Pray, dear Mr. Harness, if you have time to spare, write to me again; it pleases me to hear from England, and it pleases me to hear from you.

“For I am very truly, and with great regard,
Fanny Kemble.”