His own play was conceived with a double design; for he had long been filled with his theory of the true story of Griselda; used to gird at Father Chaucer for his misconception; and was, perhaps first of all, moved by the desire to do justice to the Marquis of Saluces, and perhaps only in the second place, by the wish to treat a story (as he phrased it) like a sum in arithmetic. I do not think he quite succeeded; but I must own myself no fit judge. Fleeming and I were teacher and taught as to the principles, disputatious rivals in the practice, of dramatic writing.

Acting had always, ever since Rachel and the Marseillaise, a particular power on him. 'If I do not cry at the play,' he used to say, 'I want to have my money back.' Even from a poor play with poor actors, he could draw pleasure. 'Giacometti's ELISABETTA,' I find him writing, 'fetched the house vastly. Poor Queen Elizabeth! And yet it was a little good.' And again, after a night of Salvini: 'I do not suppose any one with feelings could sit out OTHELLO, if Iago and Desdemona were acted.' Salvini was, in his view, the greatest actor he had seen. We were all indeed moved and bettered by the visit of that wonderful man. - 'I declare I feel as if I could pray!' cried one of us, on the return from HAMLET. - 'That is prayer,' said Fleeming. W. B. Hole and I, in a fine enthusiasm of gratitude, determined to draw up an address to Salvini, did so, and carried it to Fleeming; and I shall never forget with what coldness he heard and deleted the eloquence of our draft, nor with what spirit (our vanities once properly mortified) he threw himself into the business of collecting signatures. It was his part, on the ground of his Italian, to see and arrange with the actor; it was mine to write in the ACADEMY a notice of the first performance of MACBETH. Fleeming opened the paper, read so far, and flung it on the floor. 'No,' he cried, 'that won't do. You were thinking of yourself, not of Salvini!' The criticism was shrewd as usual, but it was unfair through ignorance; it was not of myself that I was thinking, but of the difficulties of my trade which I had not well mastered. Another unalloyed dramatic pleasure which Fleeming and I shared the year of the Paris Exposition, was the MARQUIS DE VILLEMER, that blameless play, performed by Madeleine Brohan, Delaunay, Worms, and Broisat - an actress, in such parts at least, to whom I have never seen full justice rendered. He had his fill of weeping on that occasion; and when the piece was at an end, in front of a cafe, in the mild, midnight air, we had our fill of talk about the art of acting.

But what gave the stage so strong a hold on Fleeming was an inheritance from Norwich, from Edward Barron, and from Enfield of the SPEAKER. The theatre was one of Edward Barron's elegant hobbies; he read plays, as became Enfield's son-in-law, with a good discretion; he wrote plays for his family, in which Eliza Barron used to shine in the chief parts; and later in life, after the Norwich home was broken up, his little granddaughter would sit behind him in a great armchair, and be introduced, with his stately elocution, to the world of dramatic literature. From this, in a direct line, we can deduce the charades at Claygate; and after money came, in the Edinburgh days, that private theatre which took up so much of Fleeming's energy and thought. The company - Mr. and Mrs. R. O. Carter of Colwall, W. B. Hole, Captain Charles Douglas, Mr. Kunz, Mr. Burnett, Professor Lewis Campbell, Mr. Charles Baxter, and many more - made a charming society for themselves and gave pleasure to their audience. Mr. Carter in Sir Toby Belch it would be hard to beat. Mr. Hole in broad farce, or as the herald in the TRACHINIAE, showed true stage talent. As for Mrs. Jenkin, it was for her the rest of us existed and were forgiven; her powers were an endless spring of pride and pleasure to her husband; he spent hours hearing and schooling her in private; and when it came to the performance, though there was perhaps no one in the audience more critical, none was more moved than Fleeming.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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