Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXVI
"SHAKESPEARE'S JULIET" AS A WIFE (1849)

ON the morning of Saturday, 21.7.49, after looking round Kanturk and making enquiries, they settled that Duffy was to drive to Mallow Railway Station, and on the way drop Carlyle at the gate of Sir William Becher's house and go on alone. They were to meet in Limerick at the chief hotel. Carlyle had a letter to Sir William Becher from Lord Monteagle, and one to Lady Becher from Major Sterling. So Lady Becher welcomed him 'handsomely.' She had rare jewels round her as they sat down to lunch, two of her three handsome sons and two fair daughters, 'fine-featured people all.'1 Yet tho her politeness was perfect, her talk was 'stinted-practical,' and the visitor felt uncomfortably that she did not like him, 'peering at me through her cold blue eyes, half-shut with anxious scrutiny. I could not contrive to like her,' he confessed to Duffy, meaning especially at first.

He could not help contrasting her with her picture. Conspicuous in the drawing-room hung 'the big picture' of her as Juliet, engravings of which Carlyle remembered from his boyhood. That would be when she was the actress Miss O'Neill,--"a great actress," said Macready, resembling Rachel, with "a narrow range of character, yet each perfect in her own sphere."2 He thought her "Shakespeare's Juliet" indeed,--a beautiful embodiment of genius, grace, and virtue. She was luckier far than Juliet in the play. In 1819 she was married to Becher and was likened by Macready to a star, which had excited the wonder of the world by its shining, and then gone out of sight for ever suddenly,3--a rare phenomenon in astronomy, tho familiar in theatrical constellations. Her husband bought the

____________________
1
Conversations with Carlyle, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, pp. 98-9, and Reminiscences of My Irish Journey, by T. Carlyle, pp. 154-64.
2
Macready as I Knew Him, by Lady Pollock, p. 29, and pp. 33-4.
3
Macready's Reminiscences, &c., edited by Sir F. Pollock I, pp. 97-8, 180-1.

-154-

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