1854 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Frances Arabella Rowden

Mary Russell Mitford, in Introduction to Mitford, Dramatic Works (1854) 1:x-xi.



It was during the five years from ten years old to fifteen, which I passed at a London school, that my passion for the acted drama received its full development. At this school (well known afterwards as the residence of poor Miss Landon), there chanced to be an old pupil of the establishment who, having lived, as the phrase goes, in several families of distinction, was at that time disengaged, and in search of a situation as governess. This lady was not only herself a poetess (I have two volumes of verse of her writing,) but she had a knack of making poetesses of her pupils. She had already educated Lady Caroline Ponsonby (the Lady Caroline Lamb, of Glenalvon celebrity), and was afterwards destined to give her first instruction to poor L. E. L., and her last to Mrs. Fanny Kemble. She was, however, a clever woman, and my father eagerly engaged her to act by me as a sort of private tutor — a governess out of school-hours.

At the time when I was placed under her care, her whole heart was in the drama, especially as personified by John Kemble; and I am persuaded that she thought she could in no way so well perform her duty, as in taking me to Drury Lane whenever his name was in the bills.

It was a time of great actors. Jack Bannister and Jack Johnstone (they would not have known their own names if called John), Fawcctt and Emery, Lewis and Munden, Mrs. Davenport, Miss Pope, and Mrs. Jordan, most exquisite of all, made comedy a bright and living art, an art as full as life itself of laughter and of tears; whilst the glorious family of Kemble satisfied alike the eye and the intellect, the fancy and the heart.

John Kemble was, however, certainly Miss Rowden's chief attraction to Drury Lane Theatre. She believed him — and of coarse her pupil shared in her faith — the greatest actor that ever had been, or that ever could be; greater than Garrick, greater than Kean. I am more catholic now; but I still hold all my admiration, except its exclusiveness.