Skip to main content

Kemble, Fanny, 8 [March 1865]; 5 April 1865; 25 October 1885

Identifier: Coll-1989/35

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of three autograph letters signed, sent from Fanny Kemble to Mary Lyell and Katharine Murray Lyell, dated 8 [March 1865], 16 April 1865 and 25 October 1885. There also is a small autograph envelope with wax seal, and a clipping from another autograph envelope.

1. Letter from Fanny Kemble to Lady Mary Horner Lyell, in response to an invitation and concerning the American Civil War (London, Wednesday 8th [probably March 1865, though a pencil note falsely gives the date as "April 1864"]): "I have become a 'country woman' living down in Hampshire and only coming up weekly to patch my purse by reading Shakespeare - my whole small fortune is in America & the war has reduced my income by two thirds and I am bound to pray with all my selfishness for its speedy termination - which begins I think to dawn upon the horizon. - I wonder if Robert Shaw stirred in his 'ditch among his niggers' when the tramp of Sherman's men shook the streets of Charleston. - I shall come up to town to read on Wednesday the 15th & will stay till Friday with great pleasure to avail myself of your kind invitation - I should like to meet Mr and Mrs Adams without feeling as if I should cry in their faces with sorrow for their people & shame for my own [ ... ]" .

2. Letter from Fanny Kemble to Lady Mary Horner Lyell, with an emotional commentary on the end of the American Civil War (Wamford, 16 April 1865): "[...] it is very good of you to remember me in this season of most legitimate rejoicing to all the friends of America. It would be difficult for me to express the feeling of awe with which I have watched what seems to be the most manifest process & proof of God's rule in human affairs [...] To you I am not afraid to say that I knelt down with heart & eyes overflowing with praise when I heard of the success of that cause which is the cause of Right and for which such inestimable lives have not been judged too precious a price. My position however is a sad illustration of the convulsed condition of the country for which I feel so much - my youngest daughter who is with me now is alas! southern in all her sentiments & sympathies - and in the midst of my own unbounded thankfulness I felt a bitter pang for her distress. She came to dinner with eyes red with weeping at that which had made me weep for joy & neither of us have uttered a word to the other upon the one subject that was filling both our hearts & minds, is not that very very sad. - It is rather hard that the holidays of Easter week over which I have rejoiced like any other weary workwoman deprive me of the pleasure of accepting your kind invitation [...]".

A long postscript deploring the death of the British liberal politician and peace campaigner Richard Cobden (1804-65) reads: "What a loss Cobden is to all good causes. He had done his stroke of work in the world & a grand one & I suppose would have done little more - but the world always seems darker for the loss of such an honest light as his mind. - We have had Lord Lyons down here staying with my sister, an immense pleasure to me who have not heard three words of good feeling or common sense about America since [...] I should be very glad to see Miss Ticknor for the love I bear all Boston and its neighbourhood tho' I have not the pleasure of knowing her; please congratulate her from me on the Yankee Victory".

The letter reflects the rift that occured in Kemble's family after her divorce and the loss of her daughters' custody.

3. Letter from Fanny Kemble to Katherine Murray Lyell concerning a book and other subjects (25 October 1885): "My dear Mrs Lyell, will you have the goodness to give me the precise title of the book of which you and your sister spoke as of such good counsel & comfort on the most important of subjects - true life here and to come [...]". The postscript reads: "I hope your daughter is recovering from her accident & will experience no bad consequences from it".

This letter is an insightful testimony to the friendship between Fanny Kemble and the Lyell family.


  • Creation: 8 [March 1865]; 5 April 1865; 25 October 1885


Language of Materials


Physical Description

8vo and small 8vo. 11 pp. altogether. With autograph envelope and clipping from autograph envelope.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Please contact the repository in advance.

Biographical / Historical

In 1834, British actress Fanny Kemble married Pierce Mease Butler (1806-67), an American planter and slave owner. When Butler inherited his father's property, the family briefly relocated to the Georgia plantations in 1838/39. Witnessing the cruel treatment of slaves deeply impacted Kemble, prompting her to document her observations and criticisms. However, her husband prevented the publication, threatening to take custody of their daughters. Kemble eventually left Butler in 1846, and they divorced in 1849. In 1863, amid the American Civil War and after her daughters reached adulthood, Kemble published "Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839," aligning herself with the abolitionist cause.


3 letters

Previous reference

Briefly catalogued under the reference "Coll-1991".

Physical Description

8vo and small 8vo. 11 pp. altogether. With autograph envelope and clipping from autograph envelope.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379