Extract from Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s London Travel Diary

On Wednesday we went accompanied by Mr Ashburner, to the Oriental Club. He conducted us through all that part of the building open to strangers and explained to me the system of Club Life—a thing very perfect in it’s way. Whether this way is as good in it’s results as it is certainly well adapted to secure them, I do not pretend to say. A member of one of these well-arranged Clubs is so much better off without a home of his own than he can be with one, that domestic life, (which implies a certain amount of self-sacrifice and the endurance of a great many petty inconveniences,) must suffer immeasurably by comparison.

The rooms which I saw in the Oriental Club were.

1. A large, comfortable, well furnished drawing room—

2. A dining room where each member has his separate small table well provided with damask napkins, bright glass & neat china,—he orders what he pleases & every thing is furnished at the most reasonable prices.

3. A second dining room where small parties may dine together.

4. A Library—

5. A Map room, the walls hung with maps and the shelves covered with books of reference.

6. A Business room, furnished with writing apparatus, where persons having business with members of the Club can come & transact it without disturbing the rest of the company.

Such were the rooms which I saw, and Mr Ashburner pointed out to me dressing rooms where the gentlemen of the Club might make their toilettes previous to before going out to dine.

The kitchen is below having two staircases interlocking each other one for ascending, the other for descending, so as to prevent all confusion & collision among the waiters.

In an adjoining street a building was going up which was to consist of bedchambers & dressing rooms for the use of members of the Club, so that a man at a moderate expence, may find himself in possession of all the conveniences and even the luxuries of life, without the embarassment of domestic ties, without the plague of wife, mother, sister or home of his own. At his Club he has quiet, comfort, leisure, good eating, good drinking & if he loves literature, books, maps & silence. Truly this must be a paradise for cold hearts & good stomachs; all that, according to the frenchman’s idea, is wanting to make a man happy.

From the Club we proceeded to Chauntrey’s Studio, and, in the absence of the Sculptor, were admitted and conducted through all the rooms by a person who seemed a better sort of servant. Here we found, busts, statues, monuments, in clay, plaster, marble, finished, unfinished, just begun, in all the confusion which seemed to give us an insight into the Art itself, shewing the various works in their progress, from the first sketch to the completion. As far as I could trace this progress first came a drawing in broad outlines, then a small model, next a model of larger size, afterwards full size in clay, by which workmen, in the employ of the Artist, shape out the marble which afterwards receives it’s finish from the master’s own hand.

Chauntrey keeps plaster casts of all his own works, so that his studio, to a certain extent, gives you the opportunity of studying and comparing them. I had neither time nor critical ability for such an operation. I was sorry to find, however, that my general impression was disappointment, and a feeling that Chauntrey was not so great an artist as I had imagined him to be—Otherwise even my unlearned eyes & untaught feelings would have felt the power of his genius. But genius seemed to be just what was wanting. There is an absence of inspiration, of poetry, and, of course, the power to awaken in others those emotions which the Artist could hardly himself have known.

I do not like his attitudes, they often want grace & almost always repose. There is sometimes a straining after effect & then again the opposite extreme of a too natural stiffness and awkwardness. The busts I thought generally good & they are much the most pleasing of Chauntrey’s works. The two statues of Watt and Grattan, although the latter especially be somewhat forced in the expression, are strongly marked and effective.

The monument, for two children in the Litchfield Cathedral which I had seen in an engraving and saw here in plaster, has something inexpressibly touching & a beautiful repose which in general is altogether wanting in Chauntrey’s works even the monumental ones. In these there is sometimes in the countenances of the figures an unsettled expression which gives the idea of painful death. Of the equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munroe I saw only a small model of the whole, and the legs and half the body of the horse in plaster, full size. These seemed to me clumsy & heavy as if belonging to a well-fed cart-horse. The smaller model interested me as shewing one of the ways in which an artist works. The figure of the man being naked, moulded thus to ensure anatomical precision, a wet cloth had then been thrown over it from which the drapery might be modelled with better effect.—Among the busts which I particularly examined was one of the Duke of Wellington, another of Southey, and one, at which I looked with great interest, of Mrs Somerville. This truly remarkable woman has her eyes as near together as a monkey’s. I am told by Mr Ashburner that the time she gives to study is from four o’clock in the morning until eight—four hours of a day at all seasons, of severe application to severe studies. From eight o’clock till bedtime she employs herself as other rational women do, in domestic affairs, the society of her friends, general reading and recreation. Her husband I was very sorry to hear, is little better than good for nothing. There is a group representing Mrs Jordan, the mother of the Fitz Clarences, with two children. The attitude is one of maternal tenderness so pleasing in the expression that you are not disposed to quarrel with the execution. Mrs Jordan it seems was never married to any man. The real name of this celebrated person being Delia Bland.

Chauntrey’s monumental statues want both “the life and the death” which should characterize works of this sort, and for this I was prepared to a certain degree by what I had seen of his in the Cathedral of St. Paul’s.

Thursday evening, 26. July, I went for the first time to the Opera and heard for the first time Italian music. The piece was the Somnambula, followed by one act of Romeo & Juliet. The performers Grisi Persiani Tamburini & Rubini in the first, Grisi & Persiani (Romeo & Juliet) in the second. I had heard the Somnambula, done into English; Wood, Mrs Wood, Brough & Mme Otto being the singers—I had listened with great pleasure, the voices being fine & the music Bellini’s. Mrs Wood especially has natural powers of no common order. But Rubini, Tamburini, Grisi, Persiani! The world of song has opened upon me & I now know what music is! I went to the Opera feeling very feeble & unwell, expecting to hear Grisi & Lablache in a new Opera. I was much disappointed when I found that Lablache had a bad cold & could not sing, and that Grisi had “postponed her night,” whilst the Somnambula, of which, sooth to say, I had become a little tired from hearing it, in it’s English dress, repeatedly in Boston, was substituted for the promised novelty. I was near turning away from the door when this bad news was announced by hand bills, but we were there & Mr Coolidge advised me to go in. I was compelled to acknowledge that the body of the building was somewhat larger than the Tremont Theatre, but, en revanche, it was badly lighted and dark. The curtain rose upon my inward grumblings & again I could not deny that Her Majesty’s Theatre had the advantage in scenery, dress & decoration over our own, but being disposed for fault-finding, I sulked on through two or three scenes, insisting that Persiani was not equal to Mrs Wood, and that Rubini’s ugliness was unpardonable in spite of his voice. I cannot say how I became first conciliated, then interested, then wholly wrapped in forgetfulness of self, but I sat more than four hours unconscious of weakness or indisposition. At last however the pirouettes of the two Eslers & the gambados of Signor Guerra reminded me that I was becoming exhausted, and convinced me that astonishment and admiration both of which I certainly felt at their marvellous performances, are not as effectual stimulants to a weary body as the full sense of beauty which had supported me through the Opera—the first Italian music sung by Italians, (& such Italians,) that I had ever heard. And in what, independent of particular & individual voices, does the superiority of the Italians in the execution of their own music consist?—In taste, in expression, in the ease which made music seem a natural language, uttered as instinctively & with as little effort as words could have been. In Mrs Wood’s acting there was a good deal of tragic power, so much that you sometimes forgot the music in the dramatic effect. With Grisi, Persiani, Rubini, Tamburini, all was music. They were inhabitants of another world where song was speech, and you seemed to be transported to that other world with them—so that for the moment you ceased to remember that the same passions could have found another utterance. The character of the Italian language no doubt contributes to this effect. The words melt into the music and the mingled stream of sense & sound flows on, and in the effect produced upon yourself, you cannot tell where thought ceases and sensation begins, for the mind and the senses are one. When Mrs Wood weeping over the faded flowers, says & sings “withered, past, just like his love” I understood her meaning, admired her fine voice & her pathetic representation of a very touching character—But when Persiani sings,

Passasti al par d’amore
Che un giorno sol durò
—and again
Ma ravvivar l’amore
Il pianto mio non può.—

I cannot attempt to describe what I thought or what I felt.—Wood’s “False one I love thee still” had created a great sensation in Boston, was, at the theatre, rapturously encored again & again, and it seemed to me that I could not hear it too often. But Rubini’s

Ah perche non posso odiarti
Infidel—

Not twenty four hours have passed since I heard it and I am in a state of bewilderment as I think of it.

Grisi took no part, of course, in the Somnambula. I only heard her deep, rich voice & saw the workings of her fine tragic countenance in the character of Romeo, & only one act of the piece was given. In the interval between this & the Somnambula I saw Fanny Elsler dance the Cachucha. She is a wonderful creature, light as a snow-flake, pliant as a flower stalk, sparkling and playful as moonbeams on the water. What must Taglioni be!!

MS (MHi: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Diary, Ms N-1027); in Coolidge’s hand. Published in Thomas Jefferson’s Granddaughter in Queen Victoria’s England: The Travel Diary of Ellen Wayles Coolidge, 1838–1839, Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla, eds. (2011), 40–6.

The new opera was Falstaff, based on William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and composed by Michael Williams Balfe, but the illness of Luigi Lablache prompted a last-minute change in the program (London, The Times, 26 July 1838). en revanche: in contrast.