Among the other things that contributed to make those Florence days very pleasant ones, we did a good deal in the way of private theatricals. Our impresario at least in the earlier part of the time, was Arthur Vansittart. He engaged the Cocomero Theatre for our performances, and to the best of my remembrance defrayed the whole of the expense out of his own pocket. Vansittart was an exceptionally tall man, a thread-paper of a man, and a very bad actor. He was exceedingly noisy, and pushed vivacity to its extreme limits. I remember well his appearance in some play—I fancy it was in The Road to Ruin, in which I represented some character, I entirely forget what—where he comes on with a four-in-hand whip in his hand; and I remember, too, that for the other performers in that piece, their appearance on the stage was a service of danger, from which the occupants of the stage boxes were not entirely free. But he was inexhaustibly good-natured and good-humoured, and gave us excellent suppers after the performance.
Then there was Edward Hobhouse, with—more or less with—his exceedingly pretty and clever wife, and her sister, the not at all pretty but still more clever and very witty Miss Graves. Hobhouse was a man abounding in talent of all sorts, extremely witty, brim full of humour, a thorough good fellow and very popular. He and his wife, though very good friends did not entirely pull together; and it used to be told of him, that replying to a man, who asked him “How’s your wife?” he answered with much humorous semblance of indignation, “Well! if you come to that, how’s yours?” Hobhouse was far and away the cleverest and best educated man of the little set (these dramatic reminiscences refer to the early years of my Florence life), and in truth was somewhat regrettably wasted in the midst of such a frivolous and idle community. But I take it that he was much of an invalid.
Of course we got up The Rivals. I was at first Bob Acres, with an Irishman of the name of Torrens for my Sir Lucius, which he acted, when we could succeed in keeping him sober, to the life. My Bob Acres was not much of a success. And I subsequently took Sir Anthony, which remained my stock part for years, and which I was considered to do well.
Sir Francis Vincent, a resident in Florence for many years, with whom I was for several of them very intimate, played the ungrateful part of Falkland. He was a heavy actor with fairly good elocution and delivery, and not unfitted for a part which it might have been difficult to fill without him. He was to a great degree a reading man, and had a considerable knowledge of the byeways of Florentine history.
My mother “brought the house down” nightly as Mrs. Malaprop; and a very exceptionally beautiful Madame de Parcieu (an Englishwoman married to a Frenchman) was in appearance, maniere d’etre, and deportment the veritable beau ideal of Lydia Languish, and might have made a furore on any stage, if it had been possible to induce her to raise her voice sufficiently. She was most good-naturedly amenable. But when she was thus driven against her nature and habits to speak out, all the excellence of her acting was gone. The meaning of the words was taken out of them.