Edited by GEORGE ILES
A good play gives us in miniature a cross-section of life, heightened by
plot and characterisation, by witty and compact dialogue. Of course we
should honour first the playwright, who has given form to each well knit
act and telling scene. But that worthy man, perhaps at this moment
sipping his coffee at the Authors' Club, gave his drama its form only; its
substance is created by the men and women who, with sympathy,
intelligence and grace, embody with convincing power the hero and
heroine, assassin and accomplice, lover and jilt. For the success of many
a play their writers would be quick to acknowledge a further and initial
debt, both in suggestion and criticism, to the artists who know from
experience on the boards that deeds should he done, not talked about, that
action is cardinal, with no other words than naturally spring from action.
Players, too, not seldom remind authors that every incident should not
only be interesting in itself, but take the play a stride forward through the
entanglement and unravelling of its plot. It is altogether probable that the
heights to which Shakespeare rose as a dramatist were due in a measure to
his knowledge of how a comedy, or a tragedy, appears behind as well as in
front of the footlights, all in an atmosphere quite other than that
surrounding a poet at his desk.
This little volume begins with part of the life story of Joseph Jefferson,
chief of American comedians. Then we are privileged to read a few
personal letters from Edwin Booth, the acknowledged king of the tragic
stage. He is followed by the queen in the same dramatic realm, Charlotte
Cushman. Next are two chapters by the first emotional actress of her day
in America, Clara Morris. When she bows her adieu, Sir Henry Irving
comes upon the platform instead of the stage, and in the course of his
thoughtful discourse makes it plain how he won renown both as an actor
and a manager. He is followed by his son, Mr. Henry Brodribb Irving,
clearly an heir to his father's talents in art and in observation. Miss Ellen
Terry, long Sir Henry Irving's leading lady, now tells us how she came to
join his company, and what she thinks of Sir Henry Irving in his principal
HOW I CAME TO PLAY RIP VAN WINKLE
The hope of entering the race for dramatic fame as an individual and
single attraction never came into my head until, in 1858, I acted Asa
Trenchard in "Our American Cousin"; but as the curtain descended the
first night on that remarkably successful play, visions of large type, foreign
countries, and increased remuneration floated before me, and I resolved to
be a star if I could. A resolution to this effect is easily made; its
accomplishment is quite another matter.
Art has always been my sweetheart, and I have loved her for herself
alone. I had fancied that our affection was mutual, so that when I failed
as a star, which I certainly did, I thought she had jilted me. Not so. I
wronged her. She only reminded me that I had taken too great a liberty,
and that if I expected to win her I must press my suit with more patience.
Checked, but undaunted in the resolve, my mind dwelt upon my vision,
and I still indulged in day-dreams of the future.
During these delightful reveries it came up before me that in acting
Asa Trenchard I had, for the first time in my life on the stage, spoken a
pathetic speech; and though I did not look at the audience during the time I
was acting--for that is dreadful--I felt that they both laughed and cried. I
had before this often made my audience smile, but never until now had I
moved them to tears. This to me novel accomplishment was delightful,
and in casting about for a new character my mind was ever dwelling on
reproducing an effect where humour would be so closely allied to pathos
that smiles and tears should mingle with each other. Where could I get
one? There had been many written, and as I looked back into the
dramatic history of the past a long line of lovely ghosts loomed up before
me, passing as in a procession: Job Thornberry, Bob Tyke, Frank Ostland,
Zekiel Homespun, and a host of departed heroes "with martial stalk went
by my watch." Charming fellows all, but not for me, I felt I could not do
them justice. Besides, they were too human. I was looking for a myth-
During the summer of 1859 I arranged to board with my family at a
queer old Dutch farmhouse in Paradise Valley, at the foot of Pocono
Mountain, in Pennsylvania. A ridge of hills covered with tall hemlocks
surrounds the vale, and numerous trout-streams wind through the
meadows and tumble over the rocks. Stray farms are scattered through
the valley, and the few old Dutchmen and their families who till the soil
were born upon it; there and only there they have ever lived. The valley
harmonised with me and our resources. The scene was wild, the air was
fresh, and the board was cheap. What could the light heart and purse of a
poor actor ask for more than this?
On one of those long rainy days that always render the country so dull
I had climbed to the loft of the barn, and lying upon the hay was reading
that delightful book "The Life and Letters of Washington Irving." I had
gotten well into the volume, and was much interested in it, when to my
surprise I came upon a passage which said that he had seen me at Laura
Keene's theater as Goldfinch in Holcroft's comedy of "The Road to Ruin,"
and that I reminded him of my father "in look, gesture, size, and make."
Till then I was not aware that he had ever seen me. I was comparatively
obscure, and to find myself remembered and written of by such a man
gave me a thrill of pleasure I can never forget. I put down the book, and
lay there thinking how proud I was, and ought to be, at the revelation of
this compliment. What an incentive to a youngster like me to go on.
And so I thought to myself, "Washington Irving, the author of 'The
Sketch-Book,' in which is the quaint story of Rip Van Winkle." Rip Van
Winkle! There was to me magic in the sound of the name as I repeated it.
Why, was not this the very character I wanted? An Ameri can story by an
American author was surely just the theme suited to an American actor.
In ten minutes I had gone to the house and returned to the barn with
"The Sketch-Book." I had not read the story since I was a boy. I was
disappointed with it; not as a story, of course, but the tale was purely a
narrative. The theme was interesting, but not dramatic. The silver
Hudson stretches out before you as you read, the quaint red roofs and
Three or four bad dramatisations of the story had already been acted,
but without marked success, Yates of London had given one in which the
hero dies, one had been acted by my father, one by Hackett, and another
by Burke. Some of these versions I had remembered when I was a boy,
and I should say that Burke's play and performance were the best, but
nothing that I remembered gave me the slightest encouragement that I
could get a good play out of any of the existing materials. Still I was so
bent upon acting the part that I started for the city, and in less than a week,
by industriously ransacking the theatrical wardrobe establishments for old
leather and mildewed cloth and by personally superintending the making
of the wigs, each article of my costume was completed; and all this, too,
before I had written a line of the play or studied a word of the part.
This is working in an opposite direction from all the conventional
methods in the study and elaboration of a dramatic character, and certainly
not following the course I would advise any one to pursue. I merely
mention the out-of-the-way, upside-down manner of going to work as an
illustration of the impatience and enthusiasm with which I entered upon
the task, I can only account for my getting the dress ready before I studied
the part to the vain desire I had of witnessing myself in the glass, decked
out and equipped as the hero of the Catskills.
I got together the three old printed versions of the drama and the story
itself. The plays were all in two acts. I thought it would be an
improvement in the drama to arrange it in three, making the scene with the
spectre crew an act by itself. This would separate the poetical from the
domestic side of the story. But by far the most important alteration was
in the interview with the spirits. In the old versions they spoke and sang.
I remembered that the effect of this ghostly dialogue was dreadfully
human, so I arranged that no voice but Rip's should be heard. This is the
only act on the stage in which but one person speaks while all the others
merely gesticulate, and I was quite sure that the silence of the crew would
In the seclusion of the barn I studied and rehearsed the part, and by the
end of summer I was prepared to transplant it from the rustic realms of an
old farmhouse to a cosmopolitan audience in the city of Washington,
where I opened at Carusi's Hall under the management of John T.
Raymond. I had gone over the play so thoroughly that each situation was
fairly engraved on my mind. The rehearsals were therefore not tedious to
the actors; no one was delayed that I might consider how he or she should
be disposed in the scene. I had by repeated experiments so saturated
myself with the action of the play that a few days seemed to perfect the
rehearsals. I acted on these occasions with all the point and feeling that I
could muster. This answered the double purpose of giving me freedom
and of observing the effect of what I was doing on the actors. They
seemed to be watching me closely, and I could tell by little nods of
approval where and when the points hit.
I became each day more and more interested in the work; there was in
the subject and the part much scope for novel and fanciful treatment. If the
sleep of twenty years was merely incongruous, there would be room for
argument pro and con; but as it is an impossibility, I felt that the audience
would accept it at once, not because it was an impossibility, but from a
desire to know in what condition a man's mind would be if such an event
could happen. Would he be thus changed? His identity being denied
both by strangers, friends, and family, would he at last almost accept the
verdict and exclaim, "Then I am dead, and that is a fact?" This was the
strange and original attitude of the character that attracted me.
In acting such a part what to do was simple enough, but what not to do
To be brief, the play was acted with a result that was to me both
satisfactory and disappointing. I was quite sure that the character was
what I had been seeking, and I was equally satisfied that the play was not.
The action had neither the body nor the strength to carry the hero; the
spiritual quality was there, but the human interest was wanting. The final
alterations and additions were made five years later by Dion Boucicault.
"Rip Van Winkle" was not a sudden success. It did not burst upon the
public like a torrent. Its flow was gradual, and its source sprang from the
Hartz Mountains, an old German legend, called "Carl the Shepherd,"
being the name of the original story. The genius of Washington Irving
transplanted the tale to our own Catskills. The grace with which he
paints the scene, and, still more, the quaintness of the story, placed it far
above the original. Yates, Hackett, and Burke had separate dramas
written upon this scene and acted the hero, leaving their traditions one to
the other. I now came forth, and saying, "Give me leave," set to work,
using some of the before-mentioned tradition, mark you. Added to this,
Dion Boucicault brought his dramatic skill to bear, and by important
additions made a better play and a more interesting character of the hero
than had as yet been reached. This adaptation, in my turn, I interpreted
and enlarged upon. It is thus evident that while I may have done much to
render the character and the play popular, it has not been the work of one
mind, but both as its to narrative and its dramatic form has been often
moulded, and by many skilful hands. So it would seem that those
dramatic successes that "come like shadows, so depart," and those that are
lasting, have ability for their foundation and industry for their
THE ART OF ACTING
Acting has been so much a part of my life that my autobiography
could scarcely be written without jotting down my reflections upon it, and
I merely make this little preparatory explanation to apologise for any
dogmatic tone that they may possess, and to say that I present them merely
as a seeker after truth in the domain of art.
In admitting the analogy that undoubtedly exists between the arts of
painting, poetry, music, and acting, it should be remembered that the first
three are opposed to the last, in at least the one quality of permanence.
The picture, oratorio, or book must bear the test of calculating criticism,
whereas the work of an actor is fleeting: it not only dies with him, but,
through his different moods, may vary from night to night. If the
performance be indifferent it is no consolation for the audience to hear that
the player acted well last night, or to be told that he will act better tomorrow
night; it is this night that the public has to deal with, and the
impression the actor has made, good or bad, remains as such upon the
mind of that particular audience.
The author, painter, or musician, if he be dissatisfied with his work,
may alter and perfect it before giving it publicity, but an actor cannot rub
out; he ought, therefore, in justice to his audience, to be sure of what he is
going to place before it. Should a picture in an art gallery be carelessly
painted we can pass on to another, or if a book fails to please us we can
put it down. An escape from this kind of dulness is easily made, but in a
theatre the auditor is imprisoned. If the acting be indifferent, he must
endure it, at least for a time. He cannot withdraw without making himself
conspicuous; so he remains, hoping that there may be some improvement
PREPARATION AND INSPIRATION
I have seen impulsive actors who were so confident of their power that
they left all to chance. This is a dangerous course, especially when
acting a new character. I will admit that there are many instances where
great effects have been produced that were entirely spontaneous, and were
as much a surprise to the actors who made them as they were to the
audience who witnessed them; but just as individuals who have exuberant
spirits are at times dreadfully depressed, so when an impulsive actor fails
to receive his inspiration he is dull indeed, and is the more disappointing
because of his former brilliant achievements.
In the stage management of a play, or in the acting of a part, nothing
should be left to chance, and for the reason that spontaneity, inspiration, or
whatever the strange and delightful quality may be called, is not to be
commanded, or we should give it some other name. It is, therefore, better
that a clear and unmistakable outline of a character should be drawn
before an actor undertakes a new part. If he has a well-ordered and an
artistic mind it is likely that he will give at least a symmetrical and
effective performance; but should he make no definite arrangement, and
depend upon our ghostly friends Spontaneity and Inspiration to pay him a
visit, and should they decline to call, the actor will be in a maze and his
audience in a muddle.
Besides, why not prepare to receive our mysterious friends whether
they come or not? If they fail on such an invitation, we can at least
entertain our other guests without them, and if they do appear, our
preconceived arrangements will give them a better welcome and put them
more at ease.
Acting under these purely artificial conditions will necessarily be cold,
but the care with which the part is given will at least render it inoffensive;
they are, therefore, primary considerations, and not to be despised. The
exhibition, however, of artistic care does not alone constitute great acting.
The inspired warmth of passion in tragedy and the sudden glow of humour
SHOULD AN ACTOR "FEEL" HIS PART
Much has been written upon the question as to whether an actor ought
to feel the character he acts, or be dead to any sensations in this direction.
Excellent artists differ in their opinions on this important point. In
discussing it I must refer to some words I wrote in one of my early
"The methods by which actors arrive at great effects vary according to
their own natures; this renders the teaching of the art by any strictly
defined lines a difficult matter."
There has lately been a discussion on the subject, in which many have
taken part, and one quite notable debate between two distinguished actors,
one of the English and the other of the French stage [Henry Irving and
Mons. Coquelin]. These gentlemen, though they differ entirely in their
ideas, are, nevertheless, equally right. The method of one, I have no
doubt, is the best he could possibly devise for himself; and the same may
be said of the rules of the other as applied to himself. But they must
For myself, I know that I act best when the heart is warm and the head
is cool. In observing the works of great painters I find that they have no
conventionalities except their own; hence they are masters, and each is at
the head of his own school. They are original, and could not imitate even
if they would.
So with acting, no master-hand can prescribe rules for the head of
another school. If, then, I appear bold in putting forth my suggestions, I
desire it to be clearly understood that I do not present them to original or
experienced artists who have formed their school, but to the student who
may have a temperament akin to my own, and who could, therefore, blend
my methods with his preconceived ideas.
Many instructors in the dramatic art fall into the error of teaching too
much. The pupil should first be allowed to exhibit his quality, and so
teach the teacher what to teach. This course would answer the double
purpose of first revealing how much the pupil is capable of learning, and,
what is still more important, of permitting him to display his powers
untrammeled. Whereas, if the master begins by pounding his dogmas
into the student, the latter becomes environed by a foreign influence which,
if repugnant to his nature, may smother his ability.
It is necessary to be cautious in studying elocution and gesticulation,
lest they become our masters instead of our servants. These necessary but
dangerous ingredients must be administered and taken in homeopathic
doses, or the patient may die by being over-stimulated. But, even at the
risk of being artificial, it is better to have studied these arbitrary rules than
to enter a profession with no knowledge whatever of its mechanism.
Dramatic instinct is so implanted in humanity that it sometimes misleads
us, fostering the idea that because we have the natural talent within we are
equally endowed with the power of bringing it out. This is the common
error, the rock on which the histrionic aspirant is oftenest wrecked. Very
Many of the shining lights who now occupy the highest positions on
the stage, and whom the public voice delights to praise, have often
appeared in the dreaded character of omnes, marched in processions, sung
out of tune in choruses, and shouted themselves hoarse for Brutus and
If necessity is the mother of invention, she is the foster-mother of art,
for the greatest actors that ever lived have drawn their early nourishment
from her breast. We learn our profession by the mortifications we are
compelled to go through in order to get a living.
The sons and daughters of wealthy parents who have money at their
command, and can settle their weekly expenses without the assistance of
the box office, indignantly refuse to lower themselves by assuming some
subordinate character for which they are cast, and march home because
their fathers and mothers will take care of them. Well, they had better
But whether you are rich or poor, if you would be an actor begin at the
beginning. This is the old conventional advice, and is as good now in its
old age as it was in its youth. All actors will agree in this, and as Puff
says, in the _Critic_, "When they do agree on the stage the unanimity is
wonderful." Enroll yourself as a "super" in some first-class theatre,
where there is a stock Company and likely to be a periodical change of
programme, so that even in your low degree the practice will be varied.
After having posed a month as an innocent English rustic, you may, in the
next play, have an opportunity of being a noble Roman. Do the little you
have to do as well as you can; if you are in earnest the stage-manager will
soon notice it and your advancement will begin at once. You have now
made the plunge, the ice is broken; there is no more degradation for you;
every step you take is forward.
A great American statesman said, "There is always plenty of room at
the top." So there is, Mr. Webster, after you get there. But we must
climb, and climb slowly too, so that we can look back without any
JOSEPH JEFFERSON IN MONTREAL
PLAYWRIGHTS AND ACTORS
In May, 1886, Mr. Jefferson paid a visit to Montreal, and greatly
enjoyed a drive through Mount Royal Park and to _Sault au Recollet_.
That week he appeared in "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Cricket on the
Hearth." Speaking of Boucicault, who dramatised Rip, he said to the
editor of this volume: "Yes, he is a consummate retoucher of other men's
work. His experience on the stage tells him just what points to expand
and emphasise with most effect. No author seated at his desk all his life,
without theatrical training, could ever have rewritten Rip with such
success. Among modern plays I consider 'The Scrap of Paper' by
Victorien Sardou to be the most ingenious of all. If Sardou only had
heart he would be one of the greatest dramatists that ever lived. Had he
written 'The Cricket on the Hearth,' Caleb Plummer instead of being
patient, resigned and lovable would have been filled with the vengeful ire
of a revolutionist."
With regard to Shakespeare Mr. Jefferson said:
"'Macbeth' is his greatest play, the deepest in meaning, the best knit
from the first scene to the last. While 'Othello' centres on jealousy, 'Lear'
on madness, 'Romeo and Juliet' on love, 'Macbeth' turns on fate, on the
supernal influences which compel a man with good in him to a murderous
course. The weird witches who surround the bubbling caldron are
Recalling his early days on the boards he remarked: "Then a young
actor had to play a varied round of parts in a single season. To-night it
THE JEFFERSON FACE
One of Mr. Jefferson's company that season was his son, Mr. Thomas
Jefferson. When I spoke of his remarkable resemblance to the portraits
of President Jefferson, I was told:
"If physiognomy counts for anything, all the Jeffersons have sprung
from one stock; we look alike wherever you find us. The next time you
are in Richmond, Virginia, I wish you to notice the statue of Thomas
Jefferson, one of the group surrounding George Washington beside the
Capitol. That statue might serve as a likeness of my father. When his
father was once playing in Washington, President Jefferson, who warmly
admired his talents, sent for him and received him most hospitably.
When they compared genealogies they could come no nearer than that
both families had come from the same county in England."
Montreal has several highly meritorious art collections: these, of
Course, were open to Mr. Jefferson. He was particularly pleased with the
canvases of Corot in the mansion of Sir George Drummond. That
afternoon another collector showed him his gallery and pointed to a
portrait of his son, for the three years past a student of art in Paris. Mr.
Jefferson asked: "How can you bear to be parted from him so long?"
He could be witty as well as kind in his remarks. A kinswoman in his
company grumbled that the Montreal _Herald_ had called her nose a
"No, my dear," was his comment, "it's not a poem, but a stanza,
On Dominion Square I showed him the site occupied by the Ice Palace
during the recent Winter Carnival; on the right stood a Methodist Church,
on the left the Roman Catholic Cathedral. He remarked simply: "So
there's a coolness between them!"
TO HIS DAUGHTER
BOOTH'S THEATER, NEW YORK, November 15, 1871.
MY OWN DEAR DAUGHTER:
I arrived here last night, and found your pretty gift awaiting me. Your
letter pleased me very, very much in every respect, and your little souvenir
gave me far more delight than if it were of real gold. When you are older
you will understand how precious little things, seemingly of no value in
themselves, can be loved and prized above all price when they convey the
love and thoughtfulness of a good heart. This little token of your desire to
please me, my darling, is therefore very dear to me, and I will cherish it as
long as I live. If God grants me so many years, I will show it you when
you are a woman, and then you will appreciate my preference for so little
a thing, made by you, to anything money might have bought. God bless
you, my darling! ...
God bless you again and again! Your loving father.
TO HIS DAUGHTER
CHICAGO, March 2, 1873.
MY DEAR BIG DAUGHTER:
Your last letter was very jolly, and made me almost happy. Pip (the
dog) is yelping to write to you, and so is your little brother, St. Valentine,
the bird; but I greatly fear they will have to wait another week, for, you
know, I have to hold the pen for them, and I have written so many letters,
and to-day my hand is tired.
Don't you think it jollier to receive silly letters sometimes than to get a
repetition of sermons on good behaviour? It is because I desire to
encourage in you a vein of pleasantry, which is most desirable in one's
correspondence, as well as in conversation, that I put aside the stern old
father, and play papa now and then.
When I was learning to act tragedy, I had frequently to perform comic
parts, in order to acquire a certain ease of manner that my serious parts
might not appear too stilted; so you must endeavour in your letters, in your
Love and kisses from your grim old father.
TO HIS DAUGHTER
April 23, 1876.
MY DARLING DAUGHTER,
... When I was at Eton (I don't refer now to the dinner-table) my
Greek and Latin were of such a superior quality that had it not been for an
unforeseen accident I would have carried off all the honours. The accident
lay in this: I never went to school there except in dreams. How often,
ah! how often have I imagined the delights of a collegiate education!
What a world of never-ending interest lies open to the master of
The best translations cannot convey to us the strength and exquisite
delicacy of thought in its native garb, and he to whom such books are shut
flounders about in outer darkness. I have suffered so much from the lack
of that which my father could easily have given me in youth, and which he
himself possessed, that I am all the more anxious you shall escape my
punishment in that respect; that you may not, like me, dream of those
advantages which others enjoy through any lack of opportunity or neglect
of mine. Therefore, learn to love your Latin, your French, and your
English grammar; standing firmly and securely on them, you have a solid
foothold in the field of literature....
God bless my darling!
TO HIS DAUGHTER
CHICAGO, October 9, 1886
... I am glad to know that baby has begun to crawl; don't put her on
her feet too soon; consider her legs a _la bow_.... I closed my first week
here with two enormous houses. A hard week's work has greatly tired
me.... Jefferson called and left with me the manuscript of his
reminiscences, which he has been writing. So far as he has written it, it
is intensely interesting and amusing, and well written in a free and chatty
style; it will be the best autobiography of any actor yet published if he
continues it in its present form. I sent you some book notices from
Lawrence Hutton's clippings for me.... In the article I send to-day you
will see that I am gently touched up on the point of the "old school"; my
reference was not to the old style of acting, but the old stock theatre as a
school--where a beginner had the advantage of a great variety of
experience in farces, as well as tragedies and comedies, and a frequent
change of programme. There is no "school" now; there is a more natural
style of acting, perhaps, but the novice can learn nothing from long runs of
a single play ...
TO HIS DAUGHTER
NEW YORK, January 5, 1888,
... As for God's reward for what I have done, I can hardly appreciate
it; it is more like punishment for misdeeds (of which I've done many) than
grace for good ones (if I've done any). Homelessness is the actor's fate;
To-morrow, a meeting of actors, managers, and artists at breakfast, to
discuss and organise, if possible, a theatrical club like the Garrick of
TO HIS DAUGHTER
DETROIT, April 04, 1890.
... Yes; it is indeed most gratifying to feel that age has not rendered
my work stale and tiresome, as is usually the case with actors (especially
tragedians) at my time. Your dear mother's fear was that I would
culminate too early, as I seemed then to be advancing so rapidly.
Somehow I can't rid myself of the belief that both she and my father
helped me. But as for the compensation? Nothing of fame or fortune
can compensate for the spiritual suffering that one possessing such
qualities has to endure. To pass life in a sort of dream, where "nothing is
but what is not"--a loneliness in the very midst of a constant crowd, as it
were--is not a desirable condition of existence, especially when the body
also has to share the "penalty of greatness," as it is termed. Bosh! I'd
sooner be an obscure farmer, a hayseed from Wayback, or a cabinetmaker,
I continue well, and act with a vigour which sometimes surprises
myself, and all the company notice it, and comment upon it. I'm glad the
babes had a jolly birthday. Bless 'em! Love for all.
TO HIS DAUGHTER
THE PLAYERS, NEW YORK, March 22, 1891.
I'm in no mood for letter-writing to-day. The shock (of Mr. Lawrence
Barrett's death) so sudden and so distressing, and the gloomy, depressing
weather, entirely unfit me for the least exertion--even to think. Hosts of
friends, all eager to assist poor Mrs. Barrett, seem helpless in confusion,
and all the details of the sad business seem to be huddled on her ...
General Sherman's son, "Father Tom," as he is affectionately called by
all the family and the friends of the dear old General, will attend. He was
summoned from Europe recently to his father's deathbed, and he happens
to be in time to perform services for his father's friend, poor Lawrence.
After the services to-morrow, the remains and a few friends will go direct
to Cohasset for the burial--Tuesday--where Barrett had only two weeks
ago placed his mother, removed from her New York grave to a family lot
which he had recently purchased at Cohasset. He had also enlarged his
house there, where he intended to pass his old age in privacy. Doctor
Smith was correct in his assertion that the glandular disease was incurable,
and the surgical operation would prolong life only a year or so; the severe
cold produced pneumonia; which Barrett's physicians say might have been
overcome but for the glandular disease still in the blood. Mrs. Barrett
knew from the first operation that he had at most a year or so to live, and
yet by the doctor's advice kept it secret, and did everything to cheer and
humour him. She's a remarkable woman. She has been expecting to be
suddenly called to him for more than a year past, yet the blow came with
My room is like an office of some state official; letters, telegrams, and
callers come every moment, some on business, many in sympathy. Three
hours have elapsed since I finished the last sentence, and I expect a call
from Bromley before I retire. A world of business matters have been
disturbed by this sudden break of contracts with actors and managers, and
everything pertaining to next season, as well as much concerning the
balance of the present one, must be rearranged or cancelled. I, of course,
am free; but for the sake of the company I shall fulfil my time, to pay their
salaries, this week here; and next week in Brooklyn, as they were engaged
by Barrett for my engagement. After which they will be out of
employment for the balance of the season...
TO MISS EMMA F. CARY SAINT
VALENTINE'S DAY, 1864.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
A little lull in the whirl of excitement in which my brain has nearly
lost its balance affords me an opportunity to write to you. It would be
difficult to explain the many little annoyances I have been subjected to in
the production of "Richelieu," but when I tell you that it far surpasses
"Hamlet," and exceeds all my expectations, you may suppose that I have
not been very idle all this while. I wish you could see it.
Professor Peirce has been here, and he will tell you of it. It really
seems that the dreams of my past life--so far as my profession is
concerned--are being realised. What Mary and I used to plan for my
Ever your friend,
TO MISS EMMA F. CARY
[Three weeks after the assassination by his brother, John Wilkes Booth,
of President Lincoln.] Saturday, May 6, 1865.
MY DEAR FRIEND:
I've just received your letter. I have been in one sense unable to write,
but you know, of course, what my condition is, and need no excuses.
I have been, by the advice of my friends, "cooped up" since I arrived
here, going out only occasionally in the evening. My health is good, but
I suffer from the want of fresh air and exercise.
Poor mother is in Philadelphia, about crushed by her sorrows, and my
sister, Mrs. Clarke, is ill, and without the least knowledge of her husband,
who was taken from her several days ago, with Junius.
My position is such a delicate one that I am obliged to use the utmost
caution. Hosts of friends are staunch and true to me. Here and in
Boston I feel safe. What I am in Philadelphia and elsewhere I know not.
All I do [know] of the above named city is that there is one great heart
firm and faster bound to me than ever.
When Junius and Mr. Clarke are at liberty, mother will come here and
bring Edwina [his daughter] to me. I wish I could see with others' eyes;
all my friends assure me that my name shall be free, and that in a little
while I may be where I was and what I was; but, alas! it looks dark to me.
God bless you all for your great assistance in my behalf; even dear
Dick aided me in my extremity, did he not?
Give my love to all and kisses to George.
... I do not think the feeling is so strong in my favour in Philadelphia
as it is here and in Boston. I am not known there. Ever yours.
TO MR. NAHUM CAPEN
[In response to an inquiry regarding his brother, John Wilkes Booth.]
WINDSOR HOTEL, NEW YORK, July 28, 1881.
I can give you very little information regarding my brother John. I
seldom saw him since his early boyhood in Baltimore. He was a rattlepated
fellow, filled with quixotic notions.
While at the farm in Maryland he would charge on horseback through
the woods, "spouting" heroic speeches with a lance in his hand--a relic of
the Mexican war--given to father by some soldier who had served under
Taylor. We regarded him as a good-hearted, harmless, though wild-
brained, boy, and used to laugh at his patriotic froth whenever secession
was discussed. That he was insane on that one point no one who knew
him well can doubt. When I told him that I had voted for Lincoln's
reelection he expressed deep regret, and declared his belief that Lincoln
would be made king of America; and this I believe, drove him beyond the
limits of reason. I asked him once why he did not join the Confederate
army. To which he replied, "I promised mother I would keep out of the
quarrel, if possible, and I am sorry that I said so." Knowing my sentiments,
I do not believe any of the wild, romantic stories published in the
papers concerning him; but of course he may have been engaged in
political matters of which I know nothing. All his theatrical friends
speak of him as a poor crazy boy, and such his family think of him. I am
sorry I can afford you no further light on the subject. Very truly yours,
ADVICE TO A YOUNG ACTOR
[TO WALTER THOMAS] NEW YORK, August 28, 1889.
MY DEAR MR. THOMAS:
I was surprised to learn that your engagement with Mr. Barrett is
terminated, and am sorry for the cause, although I believe the result will
be to your advantage. Your chances for promotion will be better in a
company that is not confined to so limited a repertoire as mine, in which
so few opportunities occur for the proper exercise of youthful talent. A
frequent change of role, and of the lighter sort--especially such as one
does not like forcing one's self to use the very utmost of his ability in the
performance of--is the training requisite for a mastery of the actor's art.
I had seven years' apprenticeship at it, during which most of my labour
was in the field of comedy--"walking gentleman," burlesque, and low
comedy parts--the while my soul was yearning for high tragedy. I did my
best with all that I was cast for, however, and the unpleasant experience
did me a world of good. Had I followed my own bent, I would have been,
long ago, a "crushed tragedian."
I will, as you request, give you a line to Mr. Palmer, and I hope you
AS A CHILD A MIMIC AND SINGER
On one occasion [wrote Miss Cushman] when Henry Ware, pastor of
the old Boston Meeting House, was taking tea with my mother, he sat at
table talking, with his chin resting in his two hands, and his elbows on the
table. I was suddenly startled by my mother exclaiming, "Charlotte, take
your elbows off the table and your chin out of your hands; it is not a pretty
position for a young lady!" I was sitting in exact imitation of the parson,
even assuming the expression of his face.
Besides singing everything, I exercised my imitative powers in all
directions, and often found myself instinctively mimicking the tones,
movement, and expression of those about me. I'm afraid I was what the
French call _un enfant terrible_--in the vernacular, an awful child! full of
irresistible life and impulsive will; living fully in the present, looking
neither before nor after; as ready to execute as to conceive; full of
imagination--a faculty too often thwarted and warped by the fears of
parents and friends that it means insincerity and falsehood, when it is in
reality but the spontaneous exercise of faculties as yet unknown even to
the possessor, and misunderstood by those so-called trainers of infancy.
This imitative faculty in especial I inherited from my grandmother
Babbit, born Mary Saunders, of Gloucester, Cape Ann. Her faculty of
imitation was very remarkable. I remember sitting at her feet on a little
stool and hearing her sing a song of the period, in which she delighted me
by the most perfect imitation of every creature belonging to the farmyard.
FIRST VISITS TO THE THEATRE
My uncle, Augustus Babbit, who led a seafaring life and was lost at
sea, took great interest in me; he offered me prizes for proficiency in my
studies, especially music and writing. He first took me to the theatre on
one of his return voyages, which was always a holiday time for me. My
first play was "Coriolanus," with Macready, and my second "The
My uncle had great taste and love for the dramatic profession, and
became acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. William Pelby, for whom the
original Tremont Theatre was built. My uncle being one of the
stockholders, through him my mother became acquainted with these
people, and thus we had many opportunities of seeing and knowing
something of the fraternity.
About this time I became noted in school as a reader, where before I
had only been remarkable for my arithmetic, the medal for which could
never be taken from me. I remember on one occasion reading a scene
from Howard Payne's tragedy of "Brutus," in which Brutus speaks, and the
immediate result was my elevation to the head of the class to the evident
disgust of my competitors, who grumbled out, "No wonder she can read,
she goes to the theatre!" I had been before this very shy and reserved,
not to say stupid, about reading in school, afraid of the sound of my own
voice, and very unwilling to trust it; but the greater familiarity with the
theatre seemed suddenly to unloose my tongue, and give birth as it were to
a faculty which has been the ruling passion ever since.
PLAYS LADY MACBETH, HER FIRST PART
With the Maeders I went [in 1836, when twenty years of age] to New
Orleans, and sang until, owing perhaps to my youth, to change of climate,
or to a too great strain upon the upper register of my voice, which, as his
wife's voice was a contralto, it was more to Mr. Maeder's interest to use,
than the lower one, I found my voice suddenly failing me. In my
unhappiness I went to ask counsel and advice of Mr. Caldwell, the
manager of the chief New Orleans theatre, He at once said to me, "You
ought to be an actress, and not a singer." He advised me to study some
parts, and presented me to Mr. Barton, the tragedian of the theatre, whom
he asked to hear me, and to take an interest in me.
TO A YOUNG ACTRESS [PART OF A LETTER]
... I should advise you to get to work; all ideal study of acting,
without the trial or opportunity of trying our efforts and conceivings upon
others, is, in my mind, lost time. Study while you act. Your conception
of character can be formed while you read your part, and only practice can
tell you whether you are right. You would, after a year of study in your
own room, come out unbenefited, save in as far as self-communion ever
must make us better and stronger; but this is not what you want just now.
All your country work will be wretched; you will faint by the way; but
you must rouse your great strength and struggle on, bearing patiently your
cross on the way to your crown! God bless you and prosper your
undertakings. I know the country theatres well enough to know how
utterly alone you will be in such companies; but keep up a good heart; we
have only to do well what is given us to do, to find heaven.
I think if you have to wait for a while it will do you no harm. You
seem to me quite frantic for immediate work; but teach yourself quiet and
repose in the time you are waiting. With half your strength I could bear
to wait and labour with myself to conquer fretting. The greatest power in
the world is shown in conquest over self. More life will be worked out of
you by fretting than all the stage-playing in the world. God bless you,
my poor child. You have indeed troubles enough; but you have a strong
and earnest spirit, and you have the true religion of labour in your heart.
Therefore I have no fears for you, let what will come. Let me hear from
you at your leisure, and be sure you have no warmer friend than I am and
wish to be,...
I was exceedingly pleased to hear such an account of your first
appearance. You were quite right in all that was done, and I am rejoiced
at your success. Go on; persevere. You will be sure to do what is right,
for your heart is in the right place, your head is sound, your reading has
been good. Your mind is so much better and stronger than any other
person's whom I have known enter the profession, that your career is plain
But I will advise you to remain in your own native town for a season,
or at least the winter. You say you are afraid of remaining among people
who know you. Don't have this feeling at all. You will have to be more
Only go on and work hard, and you will be sure to make a good
position. With regard to your faults, what shall I say? Why, that you
will try hard to overcome them. I don't think they would be perceived
save by those who perhaps imagine that your attachment for me has
induced you to join the profession. I have no mannerisms, I hope;
therefore any imitation of me can only be in the earnest desire to do what
you can do, as well as you can. Write to me often; ask of me what you
will; my counsel is worth little, but you shall command it if you need it.
TO A YOUNG MOTHER
[FROM A LETTER]
... All that you say about your finding your own best expression in
and through the little life which is confided to you is good and true, and I
am so happy to see how you feel on the subject. I think a mother who
devotes herself to her child, in watching its culture and keeping it from
baleful influences, is educating and cultivating herself at the same time.
No artist work is so high, so noble, so grand, so enduring, so important for
all time, as the making of character in a child, You have your own work to
do, the largest possible expression. No statue, no painting, no acting, can
reach it, and it embodies each and all the arts, Clay of God's fashioning is
given into your hands to mould to perfectness. Is this not something
grand to think of? No matter about yourself--only make yourself worthy
of God's sacred trust, and you will be doing His work--and that is all that
human beings ought to care to live for. Am I right?
[FROM A LETTER TO A FRIEND]
There was a time, in my life of girlhood, when I thought I had been
called upon to bear the very hardest thing that can come to a Woman. A
very short time served to show me, in the harder battle of life Which was
before me, that this had been but a spring storm, which was simply to help
me to a clearer, better, richer, and more productive summer. If I had been
spared this early trial, I should never have been so earnest and faithful in
my art; I should have still been casting about for the "counterpart," and not
given my entire self to my work, wherein and alone I have reached any
excellence I have ever attained, and through which alone I have received
my reward. God helped me in my art isolation, and rewarded me for
recognising him and helping myself. This passed on; and this happened
at a period in my life when most women (or children, rather) are looking
to but one end in life--an end no doubt wisest and best for the largest
number, but which would not have been wisest and best for my work, and
so for God's work, for I know he does not fail to set me his work to do,
and helps me to do it, and helps others to help me. (Do you see this
tracing back, and then forward, to an eternity of good, and do you see how
better and better one can become in recognising one's self as a minister of
the Almighty to faithfully carry out our part of His great plan according to
our strength and ability?) 0 believe we cannot live one moment for
ourselves, one moment of selfish repining, and not be failing him at that
moment, hiding the God-spark in us, letting the flesh conquer the spirit,
the evil dominate the good.
Then after this first spring storm and hurricane of young
disappointment came a lull--during which I actively pursued what became
a passion,--my art. Then I lost my younger brother, upon whom I had
begun to build most hopefully, as I had reason. He was by far the
cleverest of my mother's children. He had been born into greater poverty
than the others; he received his young impressions through a different
atmosphere; he was keener, more artistic, more impulsive, more generous,
more full of genius. I lost him by a cruel accident, and again the world
seem to liquefy beneath my feet, and the waters went over my soul. It
FAREWELL TO NEW YORK
[In 1874 Miss Cushman bade farewell to New York at Booth's Theatre,
after a performance as Lady Macbeth. William Cullen Bryant presented
an ode in her honour. In the course of her response Miss Cushman said:]
Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks, but I thank you.
Gentlemen, the heart has no speech; its only language is a tear or a
pressure of the hand, and words very feebly convey or interpret its
emotions. Yet I would beg you to believe that in the three little words I
now speak, 'I thank you,' there are heart depths which I should fail to
express better, though I should use a thousand other words. I thank you,
SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH
In glancing back over two crowded and busy seasons, one figure
stands out with clearness and beauty. In his case only (so far as my
personal knowledge goes), there was nothing derogatory to dignity or to
manhood in being called beautiful, for he was that bud of splendid
promise blasted to the core, before its full triumphant blooming--known to
the world as a madman and an assassin, but to the profession as "that
unhappy boy"--John Wilkes Booth.
He was so young, so bright, so gay--so kind. I could not have known
him well; of course, too--there are two or three different people in every
man's skin; yet when we remember that stars are not generally in the habit
of showing their brightest, their best side to the company at rehearsal, we
cannot help feeling both respect and liking for the one who does.
There are not many men who can receive a gash over the eye in a
scene at night, without at least a momentary outburst of temper; but when
the combat between Richard and Richmond was being rehearsed, Mr.
Booth had again and again urged Mr. McCollom (that six-foot tall and
handsome leading-man, who entrusted me with the care of his watch
during such encounters) to come on hard! to come on hot! hot, old fellow!
harder-faster! He'd take the chance of a blow--if only they could make
a hot fight of it!
And Mr. McCollom, who was a cold man, at night became nervous in
his effort to act like a fiery one--he forgot he had struck the full number of
head blows, and when Booth was pantingly expecting a thrust,
McCollom, wielding his sword with both hands, brought it down with
awful force fair across Booth's forehead; a cry of horror rose, for in one
moment his face was masked in blood, one eyebrow was cleanly cut
through--there came simultaneously one deep groan from Richard and the
exclamation: "Oh, good God! good God!" from Richmond, who stood
shaking like a leaf and staring at his work. Then Booth, flinging the
Which be resumed at once, and though he was perceptibly weakened,
it required the sharp order of Mr. Ellsler, to "ring the first curtain bell," to
force him to bring the fight to a close a single blow shorter than usual.
Then there was a running to and fro, with ice and vinegar-paper and raw
steak and raw oysters. When the doctor had placed a few stitches where
they were most required, he laughingly declared there was provision
enough in the room to start a restaurant. Mr. McCollom came to try to
apologise--to explain, but Booth would have none of it; be held out his
hand, crying: "Why, old fellow, you look as if you had lost the blood.
Don't worry--now if my eye had gone, that would have been bad!" And
so with light words he tried to set the unfortunate man at ease, and though
he must have suffered much mortification as well as pain from the eye-that
in spite of all endeavours would blacken--he never made a sign.
He was, like his great elder brother, rather lacking in height, but his
head and throat, and the manner of their rising from his shoulders, were
truly beautiful, His colouring was unusual--the ivory pallor of his skin, the
inky blackness of his densely thick hair, the heavy lids of his glowing eyes
were all Oriental, and they gave a touch of mystery to his face when it fell
into gravity--but there was generally a flash of white teeth behind his silky
moustache, and a laugh in his eyes.
I played the Player-Queen to my great joy, and in the "Marble Heart" I
was one of the group of three statues in the first act. We were supposed
to represent Lais, Aspasia, and Phryne, and when we read the cast I
glanced at the other girls (we were not strikingly handsome) and remarked,
gravely: "Well, it's a comfort to know that we look so like the three
A laugh at our backs brought us around suddenly to face Mr. Booth,
who said to me:
"You satirical little wretch, how do you come to know these Grecian
ladies? Perhaps you have the advantage of them in being all beautiful
We had been told to descend to the stage at night with our white robes
hanging free and straight, that Mr. Booth himself might drape them as we
stood upon the pedestal. It really is a charming picture--that of the
statues in the first act. Against a backing of black velvet the three white
figures, carefully posed, strongly lighted, stand out so marble-like that
when they slowly turn their faces and point to their chosen master, the
effect is uncanny enough to chill the looker-on.
Well, with white wigs, white tights, and white robes, and half strangled
with the powder we had inhaled in our efforts to make our lips stay white,
we cautiously descended the stairs we dared not talk, we dared not blink
our eyes, for fear of disturbing the coat of powder-we were lifted to the
pedestal and took our places as we expected to stand. Then Mr. Booth
came--such a picture in his Greek garments as made even the men exclaim
at him--and began to pose us. It happened one of us had very good limbs,
one medium good, and the third had, apparently, walked on broom-sticks.
When Mr. Booth slightly raised the drapery of No. 3 his features gave a
twist as though he had suddenly tasted lemon-juice, but quick as a flash he
"I believe I'11 advance you to the centre for the stately and wise
Aspasia"--the central figure wore her draperies hanging straight to her feet,
hence the "advance" and consequent concealment of the unlovely limbs.
It was quickly and kindly done, for the girl was not only spared
mortification, but in the word "advance" she saw a compliment and was
happy accordingly. Then my turn came. My arms were placed about
Aspasia, my head bent and turned and twisted--my upon my breast so that
the forefinger touched my chin--I felt I was a personified simper; but I was
silent and patient, until the arrangement of my draperies began--then I
"Take care--take care!" he cautioned. "You will sway the others if
you move!" But in spite of the risk of my marble makeup I faintly
Regardless of the pins in the corner of his mouth he burst into laughter,
and, taking a photograph from the bosom of his Greek shirt, he said: "I
expected a protest from you, Miss, so I came prepared--don't move your
head, but just look at this."
He held the picture of a group of statuary up to me. "This is you on
the right. It's not so dreadful; now, is it?" And I cautiously murmured:
"That if I wasn't any worse than that I wouldn't mind."
And so we were all satisfied, and our statue scene was very successful.
Next morning I saw Mr. Booth come running out of the theatre on his way
to the telegraph office at the corner, and right in the middle of the walk,
staring about him, stood a child--a small roamer of the stony streets, who
had evidently got far enough beyond his native ward to arouse misgivings
as to his personal safety, and at the very moment he stopped to consider
matters Mr. Booth dashed out of the stage-door and added to his
bewilderment by capsizing him completely.
"Oh, good lord! Baby, are you hurt?" exclaimed Mr. Booth, pausing
instantly to pick up the dirty, tousled small heap and stand it on its bandy
"Don't cry, little chap!" And the aforesaid little chap not only ceased
to cry, but gave him a damp and grimy smile, at which the actor bent
towards him quickly, but paused, took out his handkerchief, and first
carefully wiping the dirty little nose and mouth, stooped and kissed him
heartily, put some change in each freckled paw, and continued his run to
the telegraph office.
He knew of no witness to the act. To kiss a pretty, clean child under
the approving eyes of mamma might mean nothing but politeness, but
surely it required the prompting of a warm and tender heart to make a
young and thoughtless man feel for and caress such a dirty, forlorn bit of
babyhood as that.
Of his work I suppose I was too young and too ignorant to judge
correctly, but I remember well hearing the older members of the company
express their opinions. Mr. Ellsler, who had been on terms of friendship
with the elder Booth, was delighted with the promise of his work. He
'No; I didn't rehearse it, it just came to me in the scene and I couldn't
help doing it, but it went all right didn't it?' Full of impulse just now, like
a colt, his heels are in the air nearly as often as his head, but wait a year or
two till he gets used to the harness and quiets down a bit, and you will see
as great an actor as America can produce!"
One morning, going on the stage where a group were talking with John
Wilkes, I beard him say: "No; oh, no: There's but one Hamlet to my
mind--that's my brother Edwin. You see, between ourselves, he is
Hamlet--melancholy and all!"
THE MURDER OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN
That was an awful time, when the dread news came to us. We were
in Columbus, Ohio. We had been horrified by the great crime at
Washington. My room-mate and I had, from our small earnings, bought
some black cotton at a tripled price, as all the black material in the city
was not sufficient to meet the demand; and as we tacked it about our one
window, a man passing told us the assassin had been discovered, and that
he was the actor Booth. Hattie laughed, so she nearly swallowed the tack
that, girl-like, she held between her lips, and I after a laugh, told him it
was a poor subject for a jest, and we went in. There was no store in
Columbus then where play-books were sold, and as Mr. Ellsler had a very
large and complete stage library, he frequently lent his books to us, and we
would hurriedly copy out our lines and return the book for his own use.
On that occasion he was going to study his part first and then leave the
play with us as he passed, going home. We heard his knock. I was busy
pressing a bit of stage finery. Hattie opened the door, and then I heard
her exclaiming: "Why--why--what!" I turned quickly. Mr. Ellsler was
coming slowly into the room. He is a very dark man, but be was
perfectly livid then--his lips even were blanched to the whiteness of his
He sank down--he wiped his brow--he looked almost stupidly at me;
then, very faintly, he said: "You--haven't--heard--anything?"
Like a flash Hattie's eyes and mine met. We thought of the supposed
ill-timed jest of the stranger. My lips moved wordlessly. Hattie
stammered: "A man--he--lied though--said that Wilkes Booth--but he did
lie--didn't he?" and in the same faint voice Mr. Ellsler answered slowly:
"No--no! he did not lie--it's true!"
Down fell our heads, and the waves of shame and sorrow seemed
fairly to overwhelm us; and while our sobs filled the little room, Mr.
Ellsler rose and laid two playbooks on the table. Then, while standing
there, staring into space, I heard his far, faint voice saying: "So great--so
good a man destroyed, and by the hand of that unhappy boy! my God! my
God!" He wiped his brow again and slowly left the house, apparently
unconscious of our presence.
When we resumed our work--the theatre had closed because of the
national calamity--many a painted cheek showed runnels made by bitter
tears, and one old actress, with quivering lips, exclaimed: "One woe doth
tread upon another's heels, so fast they follow!" but with no thought of
quoting, and God knows, the words expressed the situation perfectly.
Mrs. Ellsler, whom I never saw shed a tear for any sickness, sorrow, or
trouble of her own, shed tears for the mad boy, who had suddenly become
the assassin of God's anointed--the great, the blameless Lincoln.
We crept about, quietly. Every one winced at the sound of the
overture. It was as if one dead lay within the walls--one who belonged to
When the rumours about Booth being the murderer proved to be
authentic, the police feared a possible outbreak of mob feeling, and a
demonstration against the theatre building, or against the actors
individually; but we had been a decent, law-abiding, well-behaved people
Three speakers, however, in their addresses had confined themselves
to eulogising the great dead. In life Mr. Lincoln had been abused by
many--in death he was worshipped by all; and these speakers found their
words of love and sorrow eagerly listened to, and made no harsh allusions
to the profession from which the assassin sprang. And then an unknown
man clambered up from the crowd to the portico platform and began to
speak, without asking any one's permission. He had a far-reaching voice-
he had fire and go.
"Here's the fellow to look out for!" said the policemen; and, sure
enough, suddenly the dread word "theatre" was tossed into the air, and
every one was still in a moment, waiting for--what? I don't know what
they hoped for--I do know what many feared; but this is what he said:
"Yes, look over at our theatre and think of the little body of men and
women there, who are to-day sore-hearted and cast down; who feel that
they are looked at askant, because one of their number has committed that
hideous crime! Think of what they have to bear of shame and horror, and
spare them, too, a little pity!"
He paused. It had been a bold thing to do--to appeal for
consideration for actors at such a time. The crowd swayed for a moment
to and fro, a curious growling came from it, and then all heads turned
toward the theatre. A faint cheer was given, and afterward there was not
the slightest allusion made to us--and verily we were grateful.
That the homely, tender-hearted "Father Abraham"--rare combination
Who shall draw a line and say: here genius ends and madness begins?
There was that touch of--strangeness. In Edwin it was a profound
melancholy; in John it was an exaggeration of spirit--almost a wildness.
There was the natural vanity of the actor, too, who craves a dramatic
situation in real life. There was his passionate love and sympathy for the
South--why, he was "easier to be played on than a pipe."
Undoubtedly he conspired to kidnap the President--that would appeal
to him; but after that I truly believe he was a tool--certainly he was no
leader. Those who led him knew his courage, his belief in Fate, his
loyalty to his friends; and, because they knew these things, he drew the lot,
as it was meant he should from the first. Then, half mad, he accepted the
part Fate cast him for--committed the monstrous crime, and paid the awful
price. And since
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,
we venture to pray for His mercy upon the guilty soul who may have
repented and confessed his manifold sins and offences during those awful
hours of suffering before the end came.
And "God shutteth not up His mercies forever in displeasure!" We
can only shiver and turn our thoughts away from the bright light that went
out in such utter darkness. Poor, guilty, unhappy John Wilkes Booth!
WHEN IN MY HUNT FOR A LEADING MAN FOR MR. DALY I
FIRST SAW COGHLAN AND IRVING
[From "Life of a Star" copyright by the S. S. McClure Company, New
When the late Mr. Augustin Daly bestowed even a modicum of his
confidence, his friendship, upon man or woman, the person so honoured
found the circulation of his blood well maintained by the frequent and
generally unexpected demands for his presence, his unwavering attention,
and sympathetic comprehension. As with the royal invitation that is a
command, only death positive or threatening could excuse non-attendance;
The season had closed on Saturday. Monday I was to sail for
England, and early that morning the housemaid watched for the carriage.
My landlady was growing quivery about the chin, because I had to cross
alone to join Mr. and Mrs. James Lewis, who had gone ahead, My mother
was gay with a sort of crippled hilarity that deceived no one, as she
prepared to go with me to say good bye at the dock, while little Ned, the
son of the house, proudly gathered together rug, umbrella, hand-bag,
books, etc., ready to go down with us and escort my mother back home-when
a cab whirled to the door and stopped.
"Good heaven!" I cried, "what a blunder! I ordered a carriage; we
can't all crowd into that thing!"
Then a boy was before me, holding out one of those familiar
summoning half-sheets, with a line or two of the jetty-black, impishly-tiny,
Daly scrawls--and I read: "Must see you one minute at office. Cabby
will race you down. Have your carriage follow and pick you up here.
Don't fail! A. DALY."
Ah, well! A. Daly--he who must be obeyed--had me in good training.
I flung one hand to the mistress, the other to the maid in farewell, pitched
headlong into the cab, and went whirling down Sixth Avenue and across to
the theatre stage-door, then upstairs to the morsel of space called by
courtesy the private office.
Mr. Daly nonchalantly held out his band, looked me over, and said:
"That's a very pretty dress--becoming too--but is it not too easily soiled?
Salt water you know is--"
"Oh," I broke in, "it's for general street wear--my travelling will be
done in nightdress, I fancy."
"Ah, bad sailor, eh?" he asked, as I stood trembling with impatience.
"The worst! But you did not send for me to talk dress or about my
"My dear," he said suavely, "your temper is positively rabid." Then
"But I can't!" I interrupted, "I have not money enough for that and my
name is not known over there!"
He frowned and waved his hand impatiently. "Use my name, then, or
ask courtesy from E. A. Sothern. He crosses with you and you know him.
But mind, go to every reputable theatre, and," impressively, "report to me
at once if you see any leading man with exceptional ability of any kind."
I gasped. It seemed to me I heard the leaden fall of my heart. "But
Mr. Daly, what a responsibility! How on earth could I judge an actor for
He held up an imperative band. "You think more after my own
manner than any other person I know of. You are sensitive, responsive,
quick to acknowledge another's ability, and so are fitted to study London's
leading men for me!"
I was aghast, frightened to the point of approaching tears! Suddenly I
"I'11 tell Mr. Lewis. He is there already you know, and let him judge
"Lewis? Good Lord! He has no independence! He'd see in an
actor just what he thought I wanted him to see! I tell you, I want you to
sort over London's leading men, and, if you see anything exceptional,
secure name and theatre and report to me. Heavens knows, two long
years have not only taught me that you have opinions, but the courage of
Racing steps came up the stairs, and little Ned's voice called: "Miss
Clara. Miss Clara, We are here!"
I turned to Mr. Daly and said mournfully:
"You have ruined the pleasure of my trip."
"Miss Morris, that's the first untruth you ever told me. Here, please"
and he handed me a packet of new books.
"Thanks!" I cried and then flew down the stairs. Glancing up, I saw
him looking earnestly after me. "Did you speak?" I asked hurriedly.
And half-laughing, half-vexed, but wholly frightened at the charge laid
upon me, I sprang into the carriage, to hold hands with mother all the way
down to the crowded dock.
One day I received in London this note from Mr. Augustin Daly:
"MY DEAR MISS MORRIS: I find no letter here. Impatiently, A.
And straightway I answered:
"MY DEAR MR. DALY: I find no actor here. Afflictedly, C. M."
And lo, on my very last night in London, after our return from Paris, I
found the exceptional leading man.
Ten days later, on a hot September morning, I was hurling myself upon
my mother in all the joy of home-coming when I saw leaning against the
clock on the mantel the unmistakable envelope, bearing the impious black
scriggle that generally meant a summons. I opened it and read: "Cleaners
in full possession here--look our for soap and pails, and report directly at
box-office--don't fail! A. DALY."
I confess I was angry, for I was so tired and the motion of the steamer
was still with me, and besides my own small affairs were of more interest
to me just then than the greater ones of the manager. However, my two
years of training held good. In an hour I was picking my way across wet
floors, among mops and pails toward the sanity and dry comfort of Mr.
Daly's office. He held my hands closely for a moment, then broke out
complainingly: "You've behaved nicely, haven't you? Not a single
line sent to tell what you were seeing, doing, thinking?"
"I beg your pardon--I distinctly remember sending you a line." He
scowled blackly. I went on: "I thought your note to me was meant as a
model, so I copied it carefully."
Formerly this sort of thing had kept us at daggers drawn, but now he
only laughed, and shaking his hand impatiently to and fro, said: "Stop it!
ah, stop it! So you could not find even one leading man worth while,
"Then why on earth didn't you write me?"
Mr. Daly's face was alight in a moment. He caught up a scrap of
paper and a pencil, and, after the manner of the inexperienced interviewer,
began: "What's he like?"
"Tall, flat-backed, square-shouldered, free-moving, and wears a long
dress-coat--that shibboleth of a gentleman--as if that had been his custom
since ever he left his mother's knee."
Mr. Daly ejaculated "good!" at each clause, and scribbled his impish
small scribble on the bit of paper which rested on his palm.
"What did he do?" he asked eagerly.
"He didn't do," I answered lucidly.
"What do you mean, Miss Morris?"
"What I say, Mr. Daly."
"But if the man doesn't do anything, what is there remarkable about
"Why, just that. It was what he didn't do that produced the effect."
"A-a-ah," said Mr. Daly, with long-drawn satisfaction, scribbling
rapidly. "I understand, and you thought, miss, that you could not judge
an actor for me! What was the play?"
"Bulwer's 'Money,' and Marie Wilton was superb as--"
"Never mind Marie Wilton," he interrupted impatiently, writing, "but
Alfred Evelyn is such an awful prig."
"Isn't he?" I acquiesced, "but this actor made him human. You see,
Mr. Daly, most Evelyns are like a bottle of gas-charged water: forcibly
restrained for a time, then there's a pop and a bang, and in wild freedom
the water is foaming thinly over everything in sight. This man didn't
kowtow in the early acts, but was curt, cold, showing signs of rebellion
more than once, and in the big scene, well--!"
"Yes?" asked Mr. Daly eagerly.
"Well, that was where he didn't do. He didn't bang nor rave nor work
himself up to a wild burst of tears!" ("Thank God!" murmured Mr. Daly
and scribbled fast.) "He told the story of his past sometimes rapidly,
sometimes making a short, absolute pause. When he reached the part
referring to his dead mother, his voice fell two tones, his words grew
Mr. Daly's gray, dark-lashed eyes were almost black with pleased
excitement as he asked: "What's his name?"
"Why, he's Irish?"
"So are you--Irish-American," I answered defensively, pretending to
"Well, you ought to be Irish yourself!" he said sternly.
"I did my best," I answered modestly. "I was born on St. Patrick's
"In the mornin'?" he asked.
"The very top of it, sor!"
"More power to you then!" at which we both laughed, and I rose to go.
As I picked up my sunshade, I remarked casually: "Ah, but I was
glad to have seen, for once at least, England's great actor."
"Good gracious, no!"
"What, there is another, and you have not mentioned him--after my
asking you to report any exceptional actor you saw?"
"I beg your pardon, sir. You asked me to report every exceptional
leading man. This actor's leading man's days are past. He is a star by
the grace of God's great gifts to him, and his own hard work."
"Well!" snapped Mr. Daly. "Even a star will play where money
enough is offered him, will he not?"
"There's a legend to that effect, I believe.'
"Certainly. He is billed as Mr. Henry Irving."
Mr. Daly looked up from his scribbling. "Irving? Irving? Is not
he the actor that old man Bateman secured as support for his daughters?"
"Yes, that was the old gentleman's mistaken belief; but the public
thought differently, and laboured with Papa Bateman till it convinced him
that his daughters were by way of supporting Mr. Irving."
A grim smile came upon the managerial lips as be asked. "What does
he look like?"
"Well, as a general thing, I think he will look wonderfully like the
character he is playing. Oh, don't frown so! He--well, he is not
beautiful, neither can I imagine him a pantaloon actor, but his face will
adapt itself splendidly to any strong character make-up, whether noble or
villainous." Mr. Daly was looking pleased again. I went on: "He
aspires, I hear, to Shakespeare, but there is one thing of which I am sure.
He is the mightiest man in melodrama to-day!"
"How long did it take to convince you of that, Miss Morris? One act-
two--the whole five acts?"
"His first five minutes on the stage, sir. His business wins applause
without the aid of words, and you know what that means."
Again that elongated "A-a-ah!" Then, "Tell me of that five minutes,"
and he thrust a chair toward me.
"Oh," I cried, despairingly, "that will take so long, and will only bore
"Understand, please, nothing under heaven that is connected with the
stage can ever bore me." Which statement was unalloyed truth.
"But, indeed," I feebly insisted, only to be brought up short with the
words, "Kindly allow me to judge for myself."
To which I beamingly made answer: "Did I not beg you to do that
months ago?" But he was growing vexed, and curtly commanded:
"I want those first five minutes--what he did, and how he did it, and
what the effect was, and then"--speaking dreamily--"I shall know--I shall
Now at Mr. Daly's last long-drawn-out "A-a-ah," anent Mr. Irving's
"You see, Mr. Daly, I knew absolutely nothing of the story of the play
that night. 'The Bells' were, I supposed, church-bells. In the first act
the people were rustic--the season winter--snow flying in every time the
door opened. The absent husband and father was spoken of by mother
and daughter, lover and neighbour. Then there were sleigh-bells heard,
whose jingle stopped suddenly. The door opened--Mathias entered, and
for the first time winter was made truly manifest to us, and one drew
himself together instinctively, for the tall, gaunt man at the door was cold-
chilled, just to the very marrow of his bones. Then, after general
greetings had been exchanged, he seated himself in a chair directly in the
centre of the stage, a mere trifle in advance of others in the scene, and
proceeded to remove his long leggings. He drew a great coloured
handkerchief and brushed away some clinging snow; then leaning forward,
with slightly tremulous fingers, he began to unfasten a top buckle.
Suddenly the trembling ceased, the fingers clenched hard upon the buckle,
the whole body became still, then rigid--it seemed not to breathe! The
one sign of life in the man was the agonisingly strained sense of hearing!
His tortured eyes saw nothing. Utterly without speech, without feeling,
he listened--breathlessly listened! A cold chill crept stealthily about the
roots of my hair, I clenched my hands hard and whispered to myself: 'Will
it come, good God, will it come, the thing he listens for?' When with a
wild bound, as if every nerve and muscle had been rent by an electric
shock, he was upon his feet; and I was answered even before that
suffocating cry of terror--'The bells! the bells!'--and under cover of the
applause that followed I said: 'Haunted! Innocent or guilty, this man is
haunted!' And Mr. Daly, I bowed my head to a great actor, for though
fine things followed, you know the old saying, that 'no chain is stronger
than its weakest link.' Well I always feel that no actor is greater than his
carefulest bit of detail."
"I think an actor like that could win any public, don't you?"
"I don't know," I lightly answered. "He is generally regarded as an
"What do you mean?" came the sharp return.
"Why, you must have heard that Mr. Irving's eccentricities are not to
be counted upon the fingers of both hands?"
Mr. Daly lifted his brows and smiled a contented smile: "Indeed?
And pray, what are these peculiarities?"
"Oh, some are of the figure, some of movement, and some of delivery.
A lady told me over there that he could walk like each and every animal of
a Noah's ark; and people lay wagers as to whether London will force him
to abandon his elocutionary freaks, or he will force London to accept them.
I am inclined to back Mr. Irving, myself."
"What! What's that you say? That this fine actor you have
described has a marked peculiarity of delivery--of speech?"
"Marked peculiarities? Why, they are murderous! His strange
inflections, his many mannerisms are very trying at first, but be conquers
A cry stopped me--a cry of utter disappointment and anger! Mr. Daly
stood staring at his notes a moment, then he exclaimed violently: "D--n! d-
n! oh, d--n!!!" and savagely tore his scribbled-on paper into bits and flung
them on the floor.
Startled at his vexation, convulsed with suppressed laughter at the
infantile quality of his profanity, I ventured, in a shaking voice, "I think I'd
"I think you had!" be agreed curtly; but as I reached the door he said in
his most managerial tone: "Miss Morris, it would be better for you to
begin with people's faults next time--"
But with the door already open I made bold to reply: "Excuse me,
Mr. Daly, but there isn't going to be any next time for me!"
And I turned and fled, wondering all the way home, as I have often
THE STAGE AS AN INSTRUCTOR
To boast of being able to appreciate Shakespeare more in reading him
than in seeing him acted used to be a common method of affecting special
intellectuality. I hope this delusion--a gross and pitiful one to most of us-
has almost absolutely died out. It certainly conferred a very cheap
badge of superiority on those who entertained it. It seemed to each of
them an inexpensive opportunity of worshipping himself on a pedestal.
But what did it amount to? It was little more than a conceited and
feather-headed assumption that an unprepared reader, whose mind is
usually full of far other things, will see on the instant all that has been
developed in hundreds of years by the members of a studious and
enthusiastic profession. My own conviction is that there are few
characters or passages of our great dramatists which will not repay
original study. But at least we must recognise the vast advantages with
which a practised actor, impregnated by the associations of his life, and by
study--with all the practical and critical skill of his profession up to the
date at which he appears, whether he adopts or rejects tradition--addresses
himself to the interpretation of any great character, even if he have no
originality whatever. There is something still more than this, however, in
acting. Every one who has the smallest histrionic gift has a natural
dramatic fertility; so that as soon as he knows the author's text, and obtains
self-possession, and feels at home in a part without being too familiar with
it, the mere automatic action of rehearsing and playing it at once begins to
place the author in new lights, and to give the personage being played an
individuality partly independent of, and yet consistent with, and rendering
more powerfully visible, the dramatist's conception. It is the vast power
a good actor has in this way which has led the French to speak of creating
a part when they mean its first being played, and French authors are as
conscious of the extent and value of this cooperation of actors with them,
that they have never objected to the phrase, but, on the contrary, are
INSPIRATION IN ACTING
It is often supposed that great actors trust to the inspiration of the
moment. Nothing can be more erroneous. There will, of course, be
such moments, when an actor at a white heat illumines some passage with
a flash of imagination (and this mental condition, by the way, is
impossible to the student sitting in his armchair); but the great actor's
surprises are generally well weighed, studied, and balanced. We know that
Edmund Kean constantly practised before a mirror effects which startled
his audience by their apparent spontaneity. It is the accumulation of such
effects which enables an actor, after many years, to present many great
characters with remarkable completeness.
I do not want to overstate the case, or to appeal to anything that is not
within common experience, so I can confidently ask you whether a scene
in a great play has not been at some time vividly impressed on your minds
by the delivery of a single line, or even of one forcible word. Has not
this made the passage far more real and human to you than all the thought
you have devoted to it? An accomplished critic has said that Shakespeare
himself might have been surprised had he heard the "Fool, fool, fool!" of
Edmund Kean. And though all actors are not Keans, they have in
varying degree this power of making a dramatic character step out of the
page, and come nearer to our hearts and our understandings.
After all, the best and most convincing exposition of the whole art of
acting is given by Shakespeare himself: "To hold, as 'twere, the mirror
up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the
very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Thus the poet
recognised the actor's art as a most potent ally in the representations of
human life. He believed that to hold the mirror up to nature was one of
the worthiest functions in the sphere of labour, and actors are content to
point to his definition of their work as the charter of their privileges.
ACTING AS AN ART. HOW IRVING BEGAN
FEELING AS A REALITY OR A SEMBLANCE
It is necessary to warn you against the theory expounded with brilliant
ingenuity by Diderot that the actor never feels. When Macready played
Virginius, after burying his beloved daughter, he confessed that his real
GESTURE. LISTENING AS AN ART. TEAM-PLAY ON THE
With regard to gesture, Shakespeare's advice is all-embracing. "Suit
the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance
that you overstep not the modesty of nature." And here comes the
consideration of a very material part of the actor's business--by-play.
This is of the very essence of true art. It is more than anything else
significant of the extent to which the actor has identified himself with the
character he represents. Recall the scenes between Iago and Othello, and
consider how the whole interest of the situation depends on the skill with
which the gradual effect of the poisonous suspicion instilled into the
Moor's mind is depicted in look and tone, slight of themselves, but all
contributing to the intensity of the situation. One of the greatest tests of
an actor is his capacity for listening. By-play must be unobtrusive; the
student should remember that the most minute expression attracts attention,
that nothing is lost, that by-play is as mischievous when it is injudicious as
THE CALLING OF AN ACTOR
I received, not very long ago, in a provincial town, a letter from a
young lady, who wished to adopt the stage as a profession but was
troubled in her mind by certain anxieties and uncertainties. These she
desired me to relieve. The questions asked by my correspondent are
rather typical questions-questions that are generally asked by those who,
approaching the stage from the outside, in the light of prejudice and
misrepresentation, believe the calling of the actor to be one morally
dangerous and intellectually contemptible; one in which it is equally easy
to succeed as an artist and degenerate as an individual. She begins by
telling me that she has a "fancy for the stage," and has "heard a great many
things about it." Now, for any man or woman to become an actor or
actress because they have a "fancy for the stage" is in itself the height of
folly. There is no calling, I would venture to say, which demands on the
part of the aspirant greater searching of heart, thought, deliberation, real
assurance of fitness, reasonable prospect of success before deciding to
follow it, than that of the actor. And not the least advantage of a dramatic
school lies in the fact that some of its pupils may learn to reconsider their
determination to go on the stage, become convinced of their own unfitness,
recognise in time that they will be wise to abandon a career which must
always be hazardous and difficult even to those who are successful, and
cruel to those who fail. Let it be something far sterner and stronger than
mere fancy that decides you to try your fortunes in the theatre.
My correspondent says she has "heard a great many things about the
stage." If I might presume to offer a piece of advice, it would be this:
Never believe anything you hear about actors and actresses from those
who are not actually familiar with them. The amount of nonsense,
untruth, sometimes mischievous, often silly, talked by otherwise rational
people about the theatre, is inconceivable were it not for one's own
personal experience. It is one of the penalties of the glamour, the illusion
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE STAGE
Now, the first question my correspondent asks me is this: "Does a
young woman going on the stage need a good education and also to know
languages?" To answer the first part of the question is not, I think, very
difficult. The supremely great actor or actress of natural genius need
have no education or knowledge of languages; it will be immaterial
whether he or she has enjoyed all the advantages of birth and education or
has been picked up in the streets; genius, the highest talent, will assert
itself irrespective of antecedents. But I should say that any sort of
education was of the greatest value to an actor or actress of average ability,
and that the fact that the ranks of the stage are recruited to-day to a certain
extent from our great schools and universities, from among classes of
people who fifty years ago would never have dreamed of entering our
calling, is one on which we may congratulate ourselves. Though the
production of great actors and actresses will not be affected either one way
or the other by these circumstances, at the same time our calling must
benefit in the general level of its excellence, in its fitness to represent all
grades of society on the stage, if those who follow it are picked from all
classes, if the stage has ceased to be regarded as a calling unfit for a man
or woman of breeding or education,
The second question this lady asks me is this:
"Does she need to have her voice trained, and about what age do
people generally commence to go on the stage?" The first part of this
question as to voice training touches on the value of an Academy of
Acting. Of the value--the practical value--of such an institution rightly
TEMPTATIONS ON THE STAGE
My correspondent also asks me a question which I shall answer very
briefly, but which it is as well should be answered; She writes, "Are there
many temptations for a girl on the stage, and need she necessarily fall into
them?" Of course there are such temptations on the stage, as there must
be in any calling in which men and women are brought into contact on a
footing of equality; perhaps these temptations are somewhat intensified in
the theatre. At the same time, I would venture to say from my own
experience of that branch of theatrical business with which I have been
connected--and in such matters one can only speak from personal
experience--that any woman yielding to these temptations has only herself
to blame, that any well-brought-up, sensible girl will, and can, avoid them
altogether, and that I should not make these temptations a ground for
dissuading any young woman in whom I might be interested from joining
our calling. To say, as a writer once said, that it was impossible for a girl
To all who intend to become actors and actresses, my first word of
advice would be--Respect this calling you have chosen to pursue. You
will often in your experience hear it, see it in print, slighted and
contemned. There are many reasons for this. Religious prejudice,
fostered by the traditions of a by no means obsolete Puritanism, is one; the
envy of those who, forgetting the disadvantages, the difficulties, the
uncertainty of the actor's life, see only the glare of popular adulation, the
glitter of the comparatively large salaries paid to a few of us--such
unreasoning envy as this is another; and the want of sympathy of some
writers with the art itself, who, unable to pray with Goethe and Voltaire,
remain to scoff with Jeremy Collier, is a third. There are causes from
without that will always keep alive a certain measure of hostility towards
the player. As long as the public, in Hazlitt's words, feel more respect for
John Kemble in a plain coat than the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack, so
long will this public regard for the actor provoke the resentment of those
whose achievements in art appeal less immediately, less strikingly, to their
audience. But if they would only pause to consider, surely they might lay
to their souls the unction that the immediate reward of the actor in his
lifetime is merely nature's compensation to him for the comparative
oblivion of his achievements when he has ceased to be. Imagine for one
moment Shakespeare and Garrick contemplating at the present moment
from the heights the spectacle of their fame. Who would grudge the
actor the few years of fervid admiration he was privileged to enjoy, some
one hundred and fifty years ago, as compared with the centuries of living
glory that have fallen to the great poet?
Sometimes you may hear your calling sneered at by those who pursue
it. There are few professions that are not similarly girded at by some of
their own members, either from disappointment or some ingrained
discontent. When you hear such detraction, fix your thoughts not on the
paltry accidents of your art, such as the use of cosmetics and other little
infirmities of its practice, things that are obvious marks for the cheap sneer,
ACTING IS A GREAT ART
You will read and hear, no doubt, in your experience, that acting is in
reality no art at all, that it is mere sedulous copying of nature, demanding
neither thought nor originality. I will only cite in reply a passage from a
letter of the poet Coleridge to the elder Charles Mathews, which, I venture
to think, goes some way to settle the question. "A great actor," he writes,
"comic or tragic, is not to be a mere copy, a fac-simile, but an imitation of
nature; now an imitation differs from a copy in this, that it of necessity
implies and demands a difference, whereas a copy aims at identity and
what a marble peach on the mantelpiece, that you take up deluded and put
down with a pettish disgust, is compared with a fruit-piece of Vanhuysen's,
even such is a mere copy of nature, with a true histrionic imitation. A good
actor is Pygmalion's statue, a work of exquisite art, animated and gifted
with motion; but still art, still a species of poetry." So writes Coleridge.
Raphael, speaking of painting, expresses the same thought, equally
applicable to the art of acting. "To paint a fair one," he says, "it is
necessary for me to see many fair ones; but because there is so great a
scarcity of lovely women, I am constrained to make use of one certain
ideal, which I have formed to myself in my own fancy." So the actor
who has to portray Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth--any great dramatic
character--has to form an ideal of such a character in his own fancy, in fact,
to employ an exercise of imagination similar to that of the painter who
seeks to depict an ideal man or woman; the actor certainly will not meet
his types of Hamlet and Othello in the street.
But, whilst in your hearts you should cherish a firm respect for the
calling, the art you pursue, let that respect be a silent and modest regard; it
will be all the stronger for that. I have known actors and actresses who
were always talking about their art with a big A, their "art-life," their "lifework,"
their careers and futures, and so on. Keep these things to
RELATIONS TO "SOCIETY"
To the successful actor society, if he desire it, offers a warm and
cordial welcome. Its members do not, it is true, suggest that he should
marry with their daughters, but why should they? An actor has a very
unattractive kind of life to offer to any woman who is not herself
following his profession. What I mean is that the fact of a man being an
actor does not debar him from such gratification as he may find in the
pleasures of society. And I believe that the effect of such raising of the
actor's status as has been witnessed in the last fifty years has been to
elevate the general tone of our calling and bring into it men and women of
education and refinement.
At the same time, remember that social enjoyments should always be a
secondary consideration to the actor, something of a luxury to be sparingly
indulged in. An actor should never let himself be beguiled into the belief
that society, generally speaking, is seriously interested in what he does, or
that popularity in drawing-rooms connotes success in the theatre. It does
THE FINAL SCHOOL IS THE AUDIENCE
It is to a public far larger, far more real and genuine than this, that you
will one day have to appeal. It is in their presence that you will finish
your education. The final school for the actor is his audience; they are
the necessary complement to the exercise of his art, and it is by the
impression he produces on them that he will ultimately stand or fall; on
their verdict, and on their verdict alone, will his success or failure as an
artist depend. But, if you have followed carefully, assiduously, the
course of instruction now open to you, when the time has arrived for you
to face an audience you will start with a very considerable handicap in
your favour. If you have learnt to move well and to speak well, to be
clear in your enunciation and graceful in your bearing, you are bound to
arrest at once the attention of any audience, no matter where it may be,
before whom you appear. Obvious and necessary as are these two
acquirements of graceful bearing and correct diction, they are not so
generally diffused as to cease to be remarkable. Consequently, however
modest your beginning on the stage, however short the part you may be
called upon to play, you should find immediately the benefit of your
training. You may have to unlearn a certain amount, or rather to mould
and shape what you have learnt to your new conditions, but if you have
been well grounded in the essential elements of an actor's education, you
will stand with an enormous advantage over such of your competitors as
have waited till they go into a theatre to learn what can be acquired just as
well, better, more thoroughly, outside it.
It has been my object to deal generally with the actor's calling, a
calling, difficult and hazardous in character, demanding much patience,
self-reliance, determination, and good temper. This last is not one of its
least important demands on your character. Remember that the actor is
not in one sense of the word an independent artist; it is his misfortune that
Learn to bear failure and criticism patiently. They are part of the
actor's lot in life. Critics are rarely animated by any personal hostility in
what they may write about you, though I confess that when one reads an
unfavourable criticism, one is inclined to set it down to anything but one's
own deserving. I heard a great actor once say that we should never read
criticisms of ourselves till a week after they were written--admirable
counsel--but I confess I have not yet reached that pitch of self-restraint
that would enable me to overcome my curiosity for seven days. It is,
however, a state of equanimity to look forward to. In the meantime,
content yourself with the recollection that ridicule and damning criticism
have been the lot at some time in their lives of the most famous actors and
actresses, that the unfavourable verdict of to-day may be reversed tomorrow.
It is no good resenting failure; turn it to account rather; try to
understand it, and learn something from it. The uses of theatrical
adversity may not be sweet, but rightly understood they may be very
Do not let failure make you despond. Ours is a calling of ups and
downs; it is an advantage of its uncertainty that you never know what may
happen next; the darkest hour may he very near the dawn. This is where
Bohemianism, in the best sense of the term, will serve the actor. I do not
mean by Bohemianism chronic intemperance and insolvency. I mean the
gay spirit of daring and enterprise that greets failure as graciously as
FAILURE AND SUCCESS
Do not despond in failure, neither be over-exalted by success.
Remember one success is as nothing in the history of an actor's career; he
has to make many before he can lay claim to any measure of fame; and
over-confidence, an inability to estimate rightly the value of a passing
triumph, has before now harmed incalculably many an actor or actress.
You will only cease to learn your business when you quit it; look on
success as but another lesson learnt to be turned to account in learning the
next. The art of the actor is no less difficult, no less long in comparison
with life, than any other art. In the intoxicating hour of success let this
chastening thought have some place in your recollection.
When you begin work as actors or actresses, play whenever you can
and whatever you can. Remember that the great thing for the actor is to
be seen as often as possible, to be before the public as much as he can, no
matter how modest the part, how insignificant the production. It is only
when an actor has reached a position very secure in the public esteem that
he can afford, or that it may be his duty, to be careful as to what he
undertakes. But before such a time is reached his one supreme object
must be to get himself known to the public, to let them see his work under
all conditions, until they find something to identify as peculiarly his own;
he should think nothing too small or unimportant to do, too tiresome or
laborious to undergo. Work well and conscientiously done must attract
attention; there is a great deal of lolling and idleness among the many
The stage will always attract a certain number of worthless recruits
because it is so easy to get into the theatre somehow or other; there is no
examination to be passed, no qualification to be proved before a person is
entitled to call himself an actor. And then the life of an actor is
unfortunately, in these days of long runs, one that lends itself to a good
deal of idleness and waste of time, unless a man or woman be very
determined to employ their spare time profitably. For this reason, I
should advise any actor, or actress, to cultivate some rational hobby or
interest by the side of their work; for until the time comes for an actor to
assume the cares and labours of management, he must have a great deal of
time on his hands that can be better employed than in hanging about clubs
or lolling in drawing-rooms. At any rate, the actor or actress who thinks
no work too small to do, and to do to the utmost of his or her ability, who
neglects no opportunity that may be turned to account--and every line he
or she speaks is an opportunity--must outstrip those young persons who,
though they may be pleased to call themselves actors and actresses, never
learn to regard the theatre as anything but a kind of enlarged backdrawing-
room, in which they are invited to amuse themselves at an
altogether inadequate salary.
In regard to salary, when you start in your profession, do not make
salary your first consideration; do not suffer a few shillings or a pound or
two to stand between you and work. This is a consideration you may
keep well in mind, even when you have achieved some measure of success.
Apart from the natural tendency of the individual to place a higher value
on his services than that attached to them by others, it is often well to take
something less than you ask, if the work offered you is useful.
Remember that the public judge you by your work, they know nothing and
care little about what is being paid you for doing it. To some people their
own affairs are of such supreme importance that they cannot believe that
their personal concerns are unknown to, and unregarded by, the outside
world. The intensely personal, individual character of the actor's work is
bound to induce a certain temptation to an exaggerated egotism. We are
I would not for one moment advise an actor never to talk "shop"; it is a
great mistake to think that men and women should never talk in public or
private about the thing to which they devote their lives; people, as a rule,
are most interesting on the subject of their own particular business in life.
Talk about the affairs of the theatre within reason, and with due regard to
the amenities of polite conversation, but do not confuse the affairs of the
theatre, broadly speaking, with your own. The one is lasting, general; the
other particular and fleeting. "_Il n'y a pas de l'homme necessaire_" [No
man is indispensable]. Many persons would be strangely surprised if
they could see how rapidly their place is filled after they are gone, no
matter how considerable their achievement. It may not be filled in the
same way, as well, as fittingly, but it will be filled, and humanity will
content itself very fairly well with the substitute. This is especially true of
the work of the actor. He can but live as a memory, and memory is
HAMLET--IRVING'S GREATEST PART
When I went with Coghlan to see Henry Irving's Philip I was no
stranger to his acting. I had been present with Tom Taylor, then dramatic
critic of the _Times_, at the famous first night at the Lyceum, in 1874,
when Henry put his fortune--counted, not in gold, but in years of scorned
delights and laborious days, years of constant study and reflection, of
Spartan self-denial and deep melancholy--when he put it all to the touch
"to win or lose it all." This is no exaggeration. Hamlet was by far the
greatest part that he had ever played or ever was to play. If he had failed-
but why pursue it? He could not fail.
Yet, the success on the first night at the Lyceum, in 1874, was not of
that electrical, almost hysterical splendour which has greeted the
momentous achievements of some actors. The first two acts were
received with indifference. The people could not see how packed they
were with superb acting--perhaps because the new Hamlet was so simple,
so quiet, so free from the exhibition of actors' artifices which used to bring
down the house in "Louis XI" and in "Richelieu," but which were really
the easy things in acting, and in "Richelieu" (in my opinion) not especially
well done. In "Hamlet" Henry Irving did not go to the audience; he made
them come to him. Slowly, but surely, attention gave place to admiration,
admiration to enthusiasm, enthusiasm to triumphant acclaim.
I have seen many Hamlets,--Fechter, Charles Kean, Rossi, Friedrich
Haase, Forbes-Robertson, and my own son, Gordon Craig, among them,-but
they were not in the same hemisphere! I refuse to go and see
Hamlets now. I want to keep Henry Irving's fresh and clear in my
memory until I die.
THE BIRMINGHAM NIGHT
When he engaged me to play Ophelia in 1878, he asked me to go
down to Birmingham to see the play, and that night I saw what I shall
The Birmingham night he knew I was there. He played--I say it
without vanity--for me. We players are not above that weakness, if it be
a weakness. If ever anything inspires us to do our best, it is the presence
in the audience of some fellow-artist who must, in the nature of things,
know more completely than any one what we intend, what we do, what we
feel. The response from such a member of the audience flies across the
footlights to us like a flame. I felt it once when I played Olivia before
Eleonora Duse. I felt that she felt it once when she played Marguerite
Gautier for me.
When I read "Hamlet" now, everything that Henry did in it seems to
me more absolutely right even than I thought at the time. I would give
much to be able to record it all in detail, but--it may be my fault--writing is
not the medium in which this can be done. Sometimes I have thought of
giving readings of "Hamlet," for I can remember every tone of Henry's
voice, every emphasis, every shade of meaning that he saw in the lines and
made manifest to the discerning. Yes, I think I could give some pale idea
of what his Hamlet was if I read the play!
"Words, words, words!" What is it to say, for instance, that the
cardinal qualities of his Prince of Denmark were strength, delicacy,
distinction? There was never a touch of commonness. Whatever he did
or said, blood and breeding pervaded it.
THE ENTRANCE SCENE IN "HAMLET"
His "make-up" was very pale, and this made his face beautiful when
one was close to him, but at a distance it gave him a haggard look. Some
said he looked twice his age.
He kept three things going at the same time--the antic madness, the
sanity, the sense of the theatre. The last was to all that he imagined and
thought what, in the New Testament, charity is said to be to all other
He neglected no _coup de theatre_ [theatrical artifice] to assist him,
but who notices the servants when the host is present?
For instance, his first entrance as Hamlet was what we call, in
theatrical parlance, very much "worked up." He was always a
tremendous believer in processions, and rightly. It is through such means
that royalty keeps its hold on the feeling of the public and makes its mark
as a figure and a symbol. Henry Irving understood this. Therefore, to
music so apt that it was not remarkable in itself, but a contribution to the
general excited anticipation, the court of Denmark came on to the stage.
I understood later on, at the Lyceum, what days of patient work had gone
to the making of that procession.
At its tail, when the excitement was at fever-heat, came the solitary
figure of Hamlet, looking extraordinarily tall and thin, The lights were
turned down--another stage trick--to help the effect that the figure was
spirit rather than man.
He was weary; his cloak trailed on the ground. He did not wear the
miniature of his father obtrusively round his neck! His attitude was one
which I have seen in a common little illustration to the "Reciter," compiled
by Dr. Pinch, Henry Irving's old schoolmaster. Yet, how right to have
taken it, to have been indifferent to its humble origin! Nothing could
have been better when translated into life by Irving's genius.
The hair looked blue-black, like the plumage of a crow; the eyes
burning--two fires veiled, as yet, by melancholy. But the appearance of
the man was not single, straight, or obvious, as it is when I describe it, any
more than his passions throughout the play were. I only remember one
moment when his intensity concentrated itself in a straightforward
unmistakable emotion, without side-current or back water. It was when
The play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King
and, as the curtain came down, was seen to be writing madly on his
"0 God, that I were a writer!" I paraphrase Beatrice with all my heart.
Surely a writer could not string words together about Henry Irving's
Hamlet and say nothing, nothing.
"We must start this play a living thing," he used to say at rehearsals,
and he worked until the skin grew tight over his face, until he became livid
with fatigue, yet still beautiful, to get the opening lines said with
individuality, suggestiveness, speed, and power:
_Bernardo_: Who's there? _Francisco_: Nay, answer me:
stand, and unfold yourself. _Bernardo_: Long live the king!
_Francisco_: Bernardo? _Bernardo_: He. _Francisco_: You
come most carefully upon your hour. _Bernardo_: 'Tis now struck
twelve: get thee to bed, Francisco. _Francisco_: For this relief much
thanks: 't is bitter cold.
And all that he tried to make others do with these lines he himself did
with every line of his own part. Every word lived.
Some said: "Oh, Irving only makes 'Hamlet' a love poem!" They said
that, I suppose, because in the nunnery scene with Ophelia he was the
lover above the prince and the poet. With what passionate longing his
hands hovered over Ophelia at her words, "Rich gifts wax poor when
givers prove unkind!"
THE SCENE WITH THE PLAYERS
His advice to the players was not advice. He did not speak it as an
actor. Nearly all Hamlets in that scene give away the fact that they are
actors and not dilettanti of royal blood. Henry defined the way he would
have the players speak as an order, an instruction of the merit of which he
was regally sure. There was no patronising flavour in his acting here, not
a touch of "I'11 teach you how to do it." He was swift, swift and simple-pausing
for the right word now and again, as in the phrase "to hold as 't
were the mirror up to nature." His slight pause and eloquent gesture, as
the all embracing word "nature" came in answer to his call, were exactly
repeated unconsciously, years later, by the Queen of Roumania (Carmen
Sylva). She was telling us the story of a play that she had written. The
IRVING ENGAGES ME ON TRUST
The first letter that I ever received from Henry Irving was written on
the 20th of July, 1878, from 15A Grafton Street, the house in which he
lived during the entire period of his Lyceum management.
DEAR MISS TERRY: I look forward to the pleasure of calling upon
you on Tuesday next at two o'clock,
With every good wish, believe me, Yours sincerely,
The call was in reference to my engagement as Ophelia. Strangely
characteristic I see it now to have been of Henry that he was content to
take my powers as an actress more or less on trust. A mutual friend,
Lady Pollock, had told him that I was the very person for him; that "All
London" (a vile but convenient phrase) was talking of my Olivia; that I
had acted well in Shakespeare with the Bancrofts; that I should bring to
the Lyceum Theatre what players call "a personal following." Henry
chose his friends as carefully as he chose his company and his staff. He
believed in Lady Pollock implicitly, and he did not--it is possible that he
could not--come and see my Olivia for himself.
I was living in Longridge Road when Henry Irving came to see me.
Not a word of our conversation about the engagement can I remember. I
did notice, however, the great change that had taken place in the man since
I had last met him in 1867. Then he was really very ordinary-looking-with
a moustache, an unwrinkled face, and a sloping forehead. The only
wonderful thing about him was his melancholy. When I was playing the
piano, once, in the green room at the Queen's Theatre, he came in and
listened. I remember being made aware of his presence by his sigh--the
deepest, profoundest, sincerest sigh I ever heard from any human being.
He asked me if I would not play the piece again. The incident impressed
itself on my mind, inseparably associated with a picture of him as he
And here, perhaps, is the place to say that I, of all people, can perhaps
appreciate Henry Irving least justly, although I was his associate on the
stage for a quarter of a century, and was on terms of the closest friendship
with him for almost as long a time. He had precisely the qualities that I
never find likable.
He was an egotist, an egotist of the great type, never "a mean egotist,"
as he was once slanderously described; and all his faults sprang from
egotism, which is, after all, only another name for greatness. So much
absorbed was he in his own achievement that he was unable or unwilling
to appreciate the achievements of others. I never heard him speak in high
terms of the great foreign actors and actresses who from time to time
visited England. It would be easy to attribute this to jealousy, but the
easy explanation is not the true one. He simply would not give himself
up to appreciation. Perhaps appreciation is a wasting though a generous
quality of the mind and heart, and best left to lookers-on who have plenty
of time to develop it.
I was with him when he saw Sarah Bernhardt act for the first time. The
As the years went on he grew very much attached to Sarah Bernhardt,
and admired her as a colleague whose managerial work in the theatre was
as dignified as his own; but of her superb powers as an actress I don't
believe he ever had a glimmering notion!
Perhaps it is not true, but, as I believe it to be true, I may as well state
it: It was never any pleasure to him to see the acting of other actors and
actresses. Salvini's Othello I know he thought magnificent, but he would
not speak of it.
IRVING'S SIMPLICITY OF CHARACTER
How dangerous it is to write things that may not be understood!
What I have written I have written merely to indicate the qualities in
Henry Irving's nature which were unintelligible to me, perhaps because I
have always been more woman than artist. He always put the theatre
first. He lived in it, he died in it. He had none of my bourgeois
qualities--the love of being in love, the love of a home, the dislike of
solitude. I have always thought it hard to find my inferiors. He was
sure of his high place. In some ways he was far simpler than I. He would
talk, for instance, in such an ignorant way to painters and musicians that I
blushed for him. But was not my blush far more unworthy than his
freedom from all pretentiousness in matters of art?
He never pretended. One of his biographers had said that he posed as
being a French scholar. Such a thing, and all things like it, were
impossible to his nature. If it were necessary, in one of his plays, to say a
few French words, he took infinite pains to learn them, and said them
"What do you want with fat, podgy, prize-fighter legs!" I expostulated.
I brought help, too, in pictorial matters. Henry Irving had had little
training in such matters; I had had a great deal. Judgment about colours,
clothes, and lighting must be trained. I had learned from Mr. Watts, from
Mr. Goodwin, and from other artists, until a sense of decorative effect had
become second nature to me.
Praise to some people at certain stages of their career is more
developing than blame. I admired the very things in Henry for which
other people criticised him. I hope this helped him a little.
MAN AND THE ACTOR
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, A stage where every
man must play a part.
Shakespeare does not say "may" play a part, or "can" play a part, but
he says _must_ play a part; and he has expressed the conviction of every
intelligent student of humanity then and thereafter, now and hereafter.
The stage cannot be held in contempt by mankind; because all mankind is
acting, and every human being is playing a part. The better a man plays
his part, the better he succeeds. The more a man knows of the art of
acting, the greater the man; for, from the king on his throne to the beggar
in the street, every man is acting. There is no greater comedian or
tragedian in the world than a great king. The knowledge of the art of
acting is indispensable to a knowledge of mankind, and when you are able
to pierce the disguise in which every man arrays himself, or to read the
character which every man assumes, you achieve an intimate knowledge
of your fellow men, and you are able to cope with the man, either as he is,
or as he pretends to be. It was necessary for Shakespeare to be an actor
in order to know men. Without his knowledge of the stage, Shakespeare
could never have been the reader of men that he was. And yet we are
asked, "Is the stage worth while?"
NAPOLEON AS ACTOR
Napoleon and Alexander were both great actors--Napoleon perhaps the
greatest actor the world has ever seen. Whether on the bridge of Lodi, or
in his camp at Tilsit; whether addressing his soldiers in the plains of Egypt;
whether throwing open his old gray coat and saying, "Children, will you
fire on your general?" whether bidding farewell to them at Fontainebleau;
whether standing on the deck of the _Bellerophon_, or on the rocks of St.
Helena--he was always an actor. Napoleon had studied the art of acting,
and he knew its value. If the power of the eye, the power of the voice,
I stretch my eyes over the wide world, and the people in it, and I can
see no one who is not playing a part; therefore respect the art of which you
are all devotees, and, if you must act, learn to play your parts well. Study
the acting of others, so that you may discover what part is being played by
THE GIFT FOR ACTING IS RARE
It is, therefore, not amazing that everybody is interested in the art of
acting, and it is not amazing that every one thinks he can act. You have
only to suggest private theatricals, when a house party is assembled at
some country house, to verify the truth of the statement. Immediately
commences a lively rivalry as to who shall play this part or that. Each
one considers herself or himself best suited, and I have known private
theatricals to lead to lifelong enmities.
It is surprising to discover how very differently people who have
played parts all their lives deport themselves before the footlights. I was
acquainted with a lady in London who had been the wife of a peer of the
realm, who had been ambassadress at foreign courts, who at one time had
been a reigning beauty, and who came to me, longing for a new experience,
and implored me to give her an opportunity to appear upon the stage. In
a weak moment I consented, and as I was producing a play, I cast her for a
part which I thought she would admirably suit-that of a society woman.
What that woman did and did not do on the stage passes all belief. She
became entangled in her train, she could neither sit down nor stand up, she
respect his. And who can tell whether he is right or you are right?
He has created them with much loving care; therefore don't sneer at them-don't
jeer at them--it hurts! If you have reared a rosebush in your garden,
and seen it bud and bloom, are you pleased to have some ruthless vandal
tear the flowers from their stem and trample them in the mud? And it is
not always our most beautiful children we love the best. The parent's
heart will surely warm toward its feeblest child.
THE CREATION OF A CHARACTER
It is very evident that any man, be he an actor or no actor, can, with
money and with good taste, make what is technically termed a production.
There is, as an absolute matter of fact, no particular credit to be attached to
the making of a production. The real work of the stage, of the actor, does
not lie there. It is easy for us to busy ourselves, to pass pleasantly our
time, designing lovely scenes, charming costumes, and all the
paraphernalia and pomp of mimic grandeur, whether of landscape or of
architecture, the panoply of war, or the luxury of royal courts. That is
fun--pleasure and amusement. No; the real work of the stage lies in the
creation of a character. A great character will live forever, when paint
and canvas and silks and satins and gold foil and tinsel shall have gone the
way of all rags.
But the long, lone hours with our heads in our hands, the toil, the
patient study, the rough carving of the outlines, the dainty, delicate
finishing touches, the growing into the soul of the being we delineate, the
picture of his outward semblance, his voice, his gait, his speech, all
amount to a labour of such stress and strain, of such loving anxiety and
care, that they can be compared in my mind only to a mother's pains.
And when the child is born it must grow in a few hours to completion, and
be exhibited and coldly criticised. How often, how often, have those
The student may well ask, "What are we to copy, and whom are we to
copy?" Don't copy any one; don't copy any individual actor, or his
methods. The methods of one actor--the means by which he arrives-cannot
always be successfully employed by another. The methods and
personality of one actor are no more becoming or suitable or adapted to
another than certain gowns worn by women of fashion simply because
these gowns are the fashion. In the art of acting, like the art of painting,
we must study life--copy life! You will have before you the work of
great masters, and you will learn very much from them--quite as much
what to avoid as what to follow. No painting is perfect, and no acting is
perfect. No actor ever played a part to absolute perfection. It is just as
impossible for an actor to simulate nature completely upon the stage as it
is impossible for the painter to portray on canvas the waves of the ocean,
the raging storm clouds, or the horrors of conflagration.
The nearer the artist gets to nature, the greater he is. We may admire
Rubens and Rembrandt and Vandyke and Gainsborough and Turner, but
who will dare to say that any one of their pictures is faultless? We shall
learn much from them all, but quite as much what to avoid as what to
emulate. But when you discover their faults, do not forget their virtues.
Look, and realise what it means to be able to do so much, And the actor's
The most severe critic can never tell me more, or scold me more than I
scold myself. I have never left the stage satisfied with myself. And I
am convinced that every artist feels as I do about his work. It is the
undoubted duty of the critic to criticise, and that means to blame as well as
to praise; and it must be confessed that, taking all things into consideration,
the critics of this country are actuated by honesty of purpose and
kindliness of spirit, and very often their work is, in addition, of marked
literary value. Occasionally we will still meet the man who is anxious to
impress his fellow citizens with the fact that he has been abroad, and
tinctures all his views of plays and actors with references to Herr
Dinkelspiegel or Frau Mitterwoorzer; or who, having spent a few hours in
Paris, is forced to drag in by the hair Monsieur Popin or Mademoiselle
Fifine. But as a matter of fact, is not the interpretation of tragedy and
comedy by the American stage superior to the German and French?--for
the whole endeavour in this country has been toward a closer adherence to
nature. In France and in Germany the ancient method of declamation
still prevails, and the great speeches of Goethe and Schiller and Racine
and Corneille are to all intents and purposes intoned. No doubt this
sounds very fine in German and French, but how would you like it now in
The old-time actor had peculiar and primitive views as to elocution
and its uses. I remember a certain old friend of mine, who, when he
recited the opening speech in "Richard III.," and arrived at the line "In the
deep bosom of the ocean buried," suggested the deep bosom of the ocean
by sending his voice down into his boots. Yet these were fine actors, to
whom certain young gentlemen, who never saw them, constantly refer.
The methods of the stage have completely changed, and with them the
Yet, whilst we have discarded these somewhat crude methods, we have
perhaps allowed ourselves to wander too far in the other direction, and the
critics are quite justified in demanding in many cases greater virility and
force. The simulation of suppressed power is very useful and very
advisable, but when the fire-bell rings the horses have got to come out,
and rattle and race down the street, and rouse the town!
Whilst we are on the subject of these creations of the poets and the
actors, do you understand how important is discipline on the stage? How
can an actor be away from this earth, moving before you in the spirit he
has conjured up, only to be dragged back to himself and his actual
surroundings of canvas and paint and tinsel and limelights by some
disturbing influence in the audience or on the stage? If you want the best,
if you love the art, foster it. It is worthy of your gentlest care and your
kindest, tenderest thought. Your silence is often more indicative of
appreciation than your applause. The actor does not need your applause
in order to know when you are in sympathy with him.
He feels very quickly whether you are antagonistic or friendly. He
cares very little for the money, but a great deal for your affection and
esteem. Discipline on the stage has almost entirely disappeared, and year
after year the exercise of our art becomes more difficult. I am sorry to
say some newspapers are, unwittingly perhaps, largely responsible for this.
When an editor discharges a member of his force for any good and
sufficient reason--and surely a man must be permitted to manage and
The stage is not likely to die of neglect anywhere. But at this
moment it cannot be denied that the ship of the stage is drifting somewhat
hither and thither, Every breath of air and every current of public opinion
impels it first in one direction and then in another, At one moment we may
be said to be in the doldrums of the English society drama, or we are
sluggishly rolling along in a heavy ground swell, propelled by a passing
cat's paw of revivals of old melodramas. Again we catch a very faint
A NATIONAL THEATRE
What could not be done for the people of this land, were we to have a
great and recognised theatre! Consider our speech, and our manner of
speech! Consider our voices, and the production of our voices! Consider
the pronunciation of words, and the curious use of vowels! Let us say we
have an established theatre, to which you come not only for your pleasure,
but for your education. Of what immense advantage this would be if
behind its presiding officer there stood a board of literary directors,
composed of such men as William Winter, Howells, Edward Everett Hale,
and Aldrich, and others equally fine, and the presidents of the great
universities. These men might well decide how the American language
should be spoken in the great American theatre, and we should then have
an authority in this country at last for the pronunciation of certain words.
It would finally be decided whether to say fancy or fahncy--dance or
dahnce--advertisement or advertysement, and so with many other words;
whether to call the object of our admiration "real elegant"--whether we
should say "I admire" to do this or that, and whether we should say "I
guess" instead of "I think." And the voice! The education of the
American speaking voice is, I am sure all will agree, of immense
importance. It is difficult to love, or to continue to endure, a woman who
shrieks at you; a high-pitched, nasal, stringy voice is not calculated to
These men of whom I have spoken could meet once a year in the great
green-room of this theatre of my imagination, and decide upon the works
to be produced--the great classics, the tragedies and comedies; and living
authors should be invited and encouraged. Here, again, we should have
at last what we so badly need, an encouragement for men and women to
write poetry for the stage. Nothing by way of the beautiful seems to be
written for us to-day, but perhaps the acknowledgment and the hall-mark
of a great theatre might prove an incentive.
TRAINING THE ACTOR
The training of the actor! To-day there is practically none. Actors
and actresses are not to be taught by patting them on the shoulders and
saying, "Fine! Splendid!" It is a hard, hard school, on the contrary, of
unmerciful criticism. And he is a poor master who seeks cheap
popularity amongst his associates by glossing over and praising what he
knows to be condemnable. No good result is to be obtained by this
method, but it is this method which has caused a great many actors to be
beloved, and the public to be very much distressed.
As for the practical side of an established theatre, I am absolutely
convinced that the national theatre could be established in this country on
a practical and paying basis; and not only on a paying basis, but upon a
profitable basis. It would, however, necessitate the investment of a large
amount of capital. In short, the prime cost would be large, but if the
public generally is interested, there is no reason why an able financier
could not float a company for this purpose. But under no circumstances
must or can a national theatre, in the proper use of the term, be made an
object of personal or commercial profit. Nor can it be a scheme devised
by a few individuals for the exploitation of a social or literary fad. The
national theatre must be given by the people to the people, and be
governed by the people. The members of the national theatre should be
It is not necessary to bother with further details; I only mention this to
impress the reader with the fact that the national theatre is a practical
possibility. From my personal experience I am convinced that serious
effort upon the American stage meets with a hearty endorsement.
The Bon and Berlaffa Company, in which my father was engaged,
alternated in its repertory between the comedies of Goldoni and the
tragedies of Alfieri.
One evening the "Donne Curiose" by Goldoni was to be given, but the
actor who was to take the harlequin's part, represented in that piece by a
stupid slave called Pasquino, fell sick a few hours before the curtain was
to rise. The company had been together for a few days only, and it was
out of the question to substitute another play. It had been decided to
close the theatre for that night, when Berlaffa asked:
"Why couldn't your Tom take the part?" My father said that there
was no reason why he shouldn't, but that Tom had never appeared in
public, and he didn't know whether he had the courage.
The proposition was made to me, and I accepted on the spot,
influenced to no little extent by a desire to please the managers, who in my
eyes were people of great importance. Within three hours, with my iron
memory, I had easily mastered my little part of Pasquino, and, putting on
the costume of the actor who had fallen ill, I found myself a full-fledged if
a new performer. I was to speak in the Venetian dialect; that was
inconvenient for me rather than difficult, but at Forte, where we were, any
slip of pronunciation would hardly be observed.
It was the first time that I was to go on the stage behind the dazzling
footlights, the first time that I was to speak in an unaccustomed dialect,
dressed up in ridiculous clothes which were not my own; and I confess
that I was so much frightened that I was tempted to run back to my
dressing-room, to take off my costume, and to have nothing more to do
with the play. But my father, who was aware of my submissive
disposition toward him, with a few words kept me at my post.
"For shame!" said he; "a man has no right to be afraid." A man!
was scarce fourteen, yet I aspired to that title.
I must have had considerable aptitude for such comic parts as those of
stupid servants, for everywhere that we went I became the public's
Benjamin. I made the people laugh, and they asked for nothing better.
All were surprised that, young and inexperienced as I was, I should have
so much cleverness of manner and such sureness of delivery. My father
was more surprised than anybody, for he had expected far less of my
immaturity and total lack of practice. It is certain that from that time I
began to feel that I was somebody. I had become useful, or at least I
thought I had, and, as a consequence, in my manner and bearing I began to
affect the young man more than was fitting in a mere boy. I sought to
figure in the conversation of grown people, and many a time I had the pain
of seeing my elders smile at my remarks. It was my great ambition to be
allowed to walk alone in the city streets; my father was very loath to grant
this boon, but he let me go sometimes, perhaps to get a sample of my
conduct. I don't remember ever doing anything at these times which
could have displeased him; I was particularly careful about it, since I saw
him sad, pensive, and afflicted owing to the misfortune which had befallen
him, and soon be began to accord me his confidence, which I was most
anxious to gain.
A FATHER'S ADVICE
Often he spoke to me of the principles of dramatic art, and of the
mission of the artist. He told me that to have the right to call one's self
an artist one must add honest work to talent, and he put before me the
example of certain actors who had risen to fame, but who were repulsed
by society on account of the triviality of their conduct; of others who were
HOW SALVINI STUDIED HIS ART
The parts in which I won the most sympathy from the Italian public
were those of Oreste in the tragedy of that name, Egisto in "Merope,"
Romeo in "Giulietta e Romeo," Paolo in "Francesca da Rimini," Rinaldo
in "Pia di Tolommei," Lord Bonfield in "Pamela," Domingo in the
"Suonatrice d 'Arpa," and Gian Galeazzo in "Lodovico il Moro." In all
these my success was more pronounced than in other parts, and I received
flattering marks of approval. I did not reflect, at that time, of how great
assistance to me it was to be constantly surrounded by first-rate artists; but
I soon came to feel that an atmosphere untainted by poisonous microbes
promotes unoppressed respiration, and that in such an atmosphere soul and
body maintain themselves healthy and vigorous. I observed frequently in
the "scratch" companies, which played in the theatres of second rank
young men and women who showed very notable artistic aptitude, but
who, for lack of cultivation and guidance, ran to extravagance,
overemphasis, and exaggeration. Up to that time, while I had a clear
FAULTS IN ACTING
In my assiduous reading of the classics, the chief places were held
among the Greeks by the masculine and noble figures of Hector, Achilles,
Theseus, Oedipus; among the Scots by Trenmor, Fingal, Cuchullin; and
among the Romans by Caesar, Brutus, Titus, and Cato. These characters
influenced me to incline toward a somewhat bombastic system of
gesticulation and a turgid delivery. My anxiety to enter to the utmost into
the conceptions of my authors, and to interpret them clearly, disposed me
to exaggerate the modulations of my voice like some mechanism which
responds to every touch, not reflecting that the abuse of this effort would
bring me too near to song. Precipitation in delivery, too, which when
carried too far destroys all distinctness and incisiveness, was due to my
very high impressionability, and to the straining after technical scenic
effects. Thus, extreme vehemence in anger would excite me to the point
of forgetting the fiction, and cause me to commit involuntarily lamentable
outbursts. Hence I applied myself to overcome the tendency to singsong
in my voice, the exuberance of my rendering of passion, the exclamatory
quality of my phrasing, the precipitation of my pronunciation, and the
swagger of my motions.
I shall be asked how the public could abide me, with all these defects;
and I answer that the defects, though numerous, were so little prominent
that they passed unobserved by the mass of the public, which always
views broadly and could be detected only by the acute and searching eye
of the intelligent critic. I make no pretence that I was able to correct
myself all at once. Sometimes my impetuosity would carry me away,
and not until I had come to mature age was I able to free myself to any
extent from this failing. Then I confirmed myself in my opinion that the
applause of the public is not all refined gold, and I became able to separate
the gold from the dross in the crucible of intelligence. How many on the
stage are content with the dross!
My desire to improve in my art had its origin in my instinctive impulse
to rise above mediocrity--an instinct that must have been born in me, since,
when still a little boy, I used to put forth all my energies to eclipse what I
saw accomplished by my companions of like age. When I was sixteen,
and at Naples, there were in the boarding-house, at two francs and a half a
day, two young men who were studying music and singing, and to surpass
them in their own field I practised the scales until I could take B natural.
Later on, when the tone of my voice; had lowered to the barytone,
impelled always by my desire to accomplish something, I took lessons in
music from the Maestro Terziani, and appeared at a benefit with the
famous tenor Boucarde, and Signora Monti, the soprano, and sang in a
duet from "Belisaria," the aria from "Maria di Rohan,"and "La Settimana
d'Amore," by Niccolai; and I venture to say that I was not third best in that
triad. But I recognised that singing and declamation were incompatible
pursuits, since the method of producing the voice is totally different, and
they must therefore be mutually harmful. Financially, I was not in a
condition to be free to choose between the two careers, and I persevered of
necessity in the dramatic profession. Whether my choice was for the best I
do not know; it is certain that if my success had been in proportion to my
love of music, and I have reason to believe that it might have been, I
should not have remained in obscurity.
A MODEL FOR OTHELLO
[In 1871, Salvini organised a company for a tour in South America, On
his way thither he paused at Gibraltar, and gainfully.]
At Gibraltar I spent my time studying the Moors. I was much struck
by one very fine figure, majestic in walk, and Roman in face, except for a
slight projection of the lower lip. The man's colour was between copper
and coffee, not very dark, and he had a slender moustache, and scanty
curled hair on his chin. Up to that time I had always made up Othello
simply with my moustache, but after seeing that superb Moor I added the
hair on the chin, and sought to copy his gestures, movements, and carriage.
FIRST TRIP TO THE UNITED STATES
After a few months of rest [after the South American tour], I resolved
to get together a new company, selecting those actors and actresses who
were best suited to my repertory. The excellent Isolina Piamonti was my
leading lady; and my brother Alessandro, an experienced, conscientious,
and versatile artist, supported me. An Italian theatrical speculator
proposed to me a tour in North America, to include the chief cities of the
United States, and although I hesitated not a little on account of the
ignorance of the Italian language prevailing in that country, I accepted,
influenced somewhat by my desire to visit a region which was wholly
unknown to me. Previous to crossing the ocean I had several months
before me, and these served me to get my company in training.
My first impressions of New York were most favourable. Whether it
was the benefit of a more vivifying atmosphere, or the comfort of the
national life, or whether it was admiration for that busy, industrious, work-
loving people, or the thousands of beautiful women whom I saw in the
streets, free and proud in carriage, and healthy and lively in aspect, or
whether it was the thought that these citizens were the great-grandchildren
of those high-souled men who had known how to win with their blood the
independence of their country, I felt as if I had been born again to a new
existence. My lungs swelled more freely as I breathed the air
impregnated with so much vigour and movement, and so much liberty, and
I could fancy that I had come back to my life of a youth of twenty, and
was treading the streets of republican Rome. With a long breath of
satisfaction I said to myself: "Ah, here is life!" Within a few days my
energy was redoubled. A lively desire of movement, not a usual thing
with me, had taken possession of me in spite of myself. Without asking
My first appearance was in "Othello." The public received a strong
impression, without discussing whether or not the means which I used to
cause it were acceptable, and without forming a clear conception of my
interpretation of that character, or pronouncing openly upon its form.
The same people who had heard it the first night returned on the second,
on the third, and even on the fourth, to make up their minds whether the
emotions they experienced resulted from the novelty of my interpretation,
or whether in fact it was the true sentiment of Othello's passions which
was transmitted to them--in short, whether it was a mystification or a
revelation. By degrees the public became convinced that those excesses
of jealousy and fury were appropriate to the son of the desert, and that one
of Southern blood must be much better qualified to interpret them than a
Northerner. The judgment was discussed, criticised, disputed; but in the
end the verdict was overwhelmingly in my favour. When the American
has once said "Yes," he never weakens; he will always preserve for you
the same esteem, sympathy, and affection. After New York I travelled
through a number of American cities--Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburg,
Washington, and Boston, which is rightly styled the Athens of America,
for there artistic taste is most refined. In Boston I had the good fortune to
become intimately acquainted with the illustrious poet, Longfellow, who
talked to me in the pure Tuscan. I saw, too, other smaller cities, and then
From New Orleans we sailed to Havana, but found in Cuba civil war,
and a people that had but small appetite for serious things, and was
moreover alarmed by a light outbreak of yellow fever. One of my
company was taken down with the disease, but I had the pleasure of seeing
him recover, Luckily he had himself treated by Havanese physicians, who
are accustomed to combat that malady, which they know only too well.
Perhaps my comrade would have lost his life under the ministrations of an
Italian doctor. In the city of sugar and tobacco, too, it was "Othello"
which carried off the palm. Those good manufacturers of cigars
presented me on my benefit with boxes of their wares, which were made
expressly for me, and which I dispatched to Italy for the enjoyment of my
friends. In spite of the many civilities which were tendered to me, in
spite of considerable money profit, and of the ovations of its kind-hearted
people, I did not find Cuba to my taste. Sloth and luxury reign there
APPEARANCE IN LONDON
In Paris I found a letter from the Impresario Mapleson, who proposed
that I should go to London with an Italian company, and play at Drury
Lane on the off-nights of the opera. I was in doubt for a considerable
time whether to challenge the verdict of the British public; but in two
weeks after reaching Italy, by dint of telegrams I had got together the force
of artists necessary, and I presented myself with arms and baggage in
London, in the spring of 1875.
Hardly had I arrived, when I noticed the posting, on the bill-boards of
the city, of the announcement of the seventy-second night of "Hamlet" at
IMPRESSIONS OF IRVING'S "HAMLET"
I was very anxious to see the illustrious English artist in that part, and I
secured a box and went to the Lyceum. I was recognised by nobody, and
remaining as it were concealed in my box, I had a good opportunity to
satisfy my curiosity. I arrived at the theatre a little too late, so that I
missed the scene of Hamlet in presence of the ghost of his father, the scene
which in my judgment contains the clue to that strange character, and from
which all the synthetic ideas of Hamlet are developed. I was in time to
hear only the last words of the oath of secrecy. I was struck by the
perfection of the stage-setting. There was a perfect imitation of the effect
of moonlight, which at the proper times flooded the stage with its rays or
left it in darkness. Every detail was excellently and exactly reproduced.
The scene was shifted, and Hamlet began his allusions, his sallies of
sarcasm, his sententious sayings, his points of satire with the courtiers,
who sought to study and to penetrate the sentiments of the young prince.
In this scene Irving was simply sublime. His mobile face mirrored his
thoughts. The subtle penetration of his phrases, so perfect in shading and
incisiveness, showed him to be a master of art. I do not believe there is
an actor who can stand beside him in this respect, and I was so much
impressed by it, that at the end of the second act I said to myself, "I will
not play Hamlet! Mapleson can say what he likes, but I will not play it";
and I said it with the fullest resolution. In the monologue, "To be or not
to be," Irving was admirable; in the scene with Ophelia he was deserving
of the highest praise; in that of the Players he was moving, and in all this
part of the play he appeared to my eyes to be the most perfect interpreter
of that eccentric character. But further on it was not so, and for the sake
of art I regretted it. From the time when the passion assumes a deeper
hue, and reasoning moderates impulses which are forcibly curbed, Irving
THE DECLINE OF TRAGEDY
The traditions of the English drama are imposing and glorious!
Shakespeare alone has gained the highest pinnacle of fame in dramatic art.
He has had to interpret him such great artists as Garrick, Kemble, Kean,
Macready, Siddons, and Irving; and the literary and dramatic critics of the
whole world have studied and analysed both author and actor. At present,
however, tragedy is abandoned on almost all the stages of Europe.
Actors who devote themselves to tragedy, whether classical romantic, or
historical, no longer exist. Society-comedy has overflowed the stage, and
the inundation causes the seed to rot which more conscientious and
prudent planters had sown in the fields of art. It is desirable that the
feeling and taste for the works of the great dramatists should be revived in
Europe, and that England, which is for special reasons, and with justice,
proud of enjoying the primacy in dramatic composition, should have also
worthy and famous actors. I do not understand why the renown and
prestige of the great name of Garrick do not attract modern actors to
follow in his footsteps. Do not tell me that the works of Shakespeare are
TRAGEDY IN TWO LANGUAGES
In 1880 the agent of an impresario and theatre-owner of Boston came
to Florence to make me the proposal that I should go to North America for
the second time, to play in Italian supported by an American company. I
thought the man had lost his senses. But after a time I became convinced
that he was in his right mind, and that no one would undertake a long and
costly journey simply to play a joke, and I took his extraordinary
proposition into serious consideration and asked him for explanations.
"The idea is this," the agent made answer; "it is very simple. You
found favour the last time with the American public with your Italian
company, when not a word that was said was understood, and the
proprietor of the Globe Theatre of Boston thinks that if he puts with you
English-speaking actors, you will yourself be better understood, since all
the dialogues of your supporters will be plain. The audience will concern
itself only with following you with the aid of the play-books in both
languages, and will not have to pay attention to the others, whose words it
"But how shall I take my cue, since I do not understand English?
And how will your American actors know when to speak, since they do
not know Italian?"
"Have no anxiety about that," said the agent. "Our American actors
are mathematicians, and can memorise perfectly the last words of your
speeches, and they will work with the precision of machines."
"I am ready to admit that," said I, "although I do not think it will be so
The persevering agent, however, closed my mouth with the words,
"You do not sign yourself 'Salvini' for nothing!" He had an answer for
everything, he was prepared to convince me at all points, to persuade me
about everything, and to smooth over every difficulty, and he won a
consent which, though almost involuntary on my part, was legalised by a
contract in due form, by which I undertook to be at New York not later
than November 05, 1880, and to be ready to open at Philadelphia with
"Othello" on the 29th of the same month.
I was still dominated by my bereavement, and the thought was
pleasant to me of going away from places which constantly brought it
back to my mind. Another sky, other customs, another language, grave
responsibilities, a novel and difficult undertaking of uncertain outcome--I
was willing to risk all simply to distract my attention and to forget. I
have never in my life been a gambler, but that time I staked my artistic
reputation upon a single card. Failure would have been a new emotion,
severe and grievous, it is true, but still different from that which filled my
mind. I played, and I won! The friends whom I had made in the United
States in 1873, and with whom I had kept up my acquaintance, when they
learned of the confusion of tongues, wrote me discouraging letters. In
Italy the thing was not believed, so eccentric did it seem. I arrived in
New York nervous and feverish, but not discouraged or depressed.
When the day of the first rehearsal came, all the theatres were
occupied, and I had to make the best of a rather large concert-hall to try to
get into touch with the actors who were to support me. An Italian who
was employed in a newspaper office served me as interpreter in
cooperation with the agent of my Boston impresario. The American artists
began the rehearsal without a prompter, and with a sureness to be envied
especially by our Italian actors, who usually must have every word
suggested to them. My turn came, and the few words which Othello
pronounces in the first scene came in smoothly and without difficulty.
When the scene with the Council of Ten came, of a sudden I could not
During the remainder of the rehearsal one might have thought that I
understood English, and that the American actors understood Italian, No
further mistake was made by either side; there was not even the smallest
hesitation, and when I finished the final scene of the third act between
Othello and Iago, the actors applauded, filled with joy and pleasure. The
exactitude with which the subsequent rehearsals of "Othello," and those of
"Hamlet," proceeded was due to the memory, the application, and the
scrupulous attention to their work of the American actors, as well as to my
own force of will and practical acquaintance with all the parts of the play,
and to the natural intuition which helped me to know without
understanding what was addressed to me, divining it from a motion, a look,
or a light inflection of the voice. Gradually a few words, a few short
phrases, remained in my ear, and in course of time I came to understand
perfectly every word of all the characters; I became so sure of myself that
if an actor substituted one word for another I perceived it. I understood
the words of Shakespeare, but not those of the spoken language.
In a few days we went to Philadelphia to begin our representations.
My old acquaintances were in despair. To those who had sought to
discourage me by their letters others on the spot joined their influence, and
tried everything to overthrow my courage. I must admit that the nearer
came the hour of the great experiment, the more my anxiety grew and
inclined me to deplore the moment when I had put myself in that dilemma.
I owe it in a great degree to my cool head that my discouraging
The first scene before the palace of Brabantio was received with
sepulchral silence. When that of the Council of Ten came, and the
narration of the vicissitudes of Othello was ended, the public broke forth
in prolonged applause. Then I said to myself, "A good beginning is half
the work." At the close of the first act, my adversaries, who were such
solely on account of their love of art, and their belief that the two
languages could not be amalgamated, came on the stage to embrace and
congratulate me, surprised, enchanted, enthusiastic, happy, that they had
been mistaken, and throughout the play I was the object of constant
demonstrations of sympathy.
AMERICAN CRITICAL TASTE
From Philadelphia we went to New York where our success was
confirmed. It remained for me to win the suffrages of Boston, and I
secured them, first having made stops in Brooklyn, New Haven, and
Hartford. When in the American Athens I became convinced that that
city possesses the most refined artistic taste. Its theatrical audiences are
serious, attentive to details, analytical--I might almost say scientific--and
one might fancy that such careful critics had never in their lives done
anything but occupy themselves with scenic art. With reference to a
presentation of Shakespeare, they are profound, acute, subtle, and they
know so well how to clothe some traditional principle in close logic, that if
faith in the opposite is not quite unshakable in an artist, he must feel
himself tempted to renounce his own tenets. It is surprising that in a land
where industry and commerce seem to absorb all the intelligence of the
people, there should be in every city and district, indeed in every village,
IMPRESSIONS OF EDWIN BOOTH
The celebrated actor Edwin Booth was at this time in Baltimore, a city
distant two hours from the capital. I had heard so much about this
superior artist that I was anxious to see him, and on one of my off nights I
went to Baltimore with my impresario's agent. A box had been reserved
for me without my knowledge, and was draped with the Italian colours.
regretted to be made so conspicuous, but I could not fail to appreciate the
courteous and complimentary desire to do me honour shown by the
American artist. It was only natural that I should be most kindly
influenced toward him, but without the courtesy which predisposed me in
his favour he would equally have won my sympathy by his attractive and
I should say, from what I heard in America, that Edwin Forrest was the
Modena of America. The memory of that actor still lives, for no one has
possessed equally the power to give expression to the passions, and to
fruitful and burning imagery, in addition to which he possessed
astonishing power of voice. Almost contemporaneously a number of
most estimable actors have laid claim to his mantle; but above them all
Edwin Booth soared as an eagle.
After a very satisfactory experience in Baltimore, I returned for the
third time to New York, and gave "Othello," "Macbeth," and "The
Gladiator," each play twice, and made the last two appearances of my
season in Philadelphia. After playing ninety-five times in the new
fashion, I felt myself worn out, but fully satisfied with the result of my
venturesome undertaking. When I embarked on the steamer which was
to take me to Europe, I was escorted by all the artists of the company
WHEN twelve years old, I was booked with the famous actor and
manager, Giuseppe Moncalvo, for the roles of a child. Soon after, owing
to my slender figure, they made me up as a little woman, giving me small
parts as maid. But they soon made up their minds that I was not fitted for
such parts. Having reached the age of thirteen and developed in my
figure, I was assigned several parts as second lady. In those days they
could not be too particular in small companies. At the age of fourteen, I
had to recite the first part among the young girls and that of the leading
lady alternately, like an experienced actress. It was about this time, in the
city of Novara (Piedmont) that I recited for the first time the "Francesca da
Rimini" of Silvio Pellico. Though I was only fifteen my success was
such that soon afterward they offered me the parts of leading lady with
encouragement of advancement.
My good father, who was gifted with a great deal of sense, did not
allow his head to be turned by such offers. Reflecting that my health
might suffer from being thrown so early into the difficulties of stage life
he refused these offers and accepted a more modest place, as _ingenue_, in
the Royal Company, under the auspices of the King of Sardinia and
stationed during several months of the year at Turin. It was managed by
the leading man, the most intelligent and capable among the stage
managers of the time. The advice of this cultured, though severe man,
rendered his management noteworthy and sought after as essential to the
making of a good actor.
Among the members of the company shone the foremost beacon-lights
of Italian art, such as Vestri, Madame Marchionni, Romagnoli, Righetti,
and many others who were quoted as examples of dramatic art, as well as
Pasta, Malibran, Rubini, and Tamburini in the lyric art,
My engagement for the part of _ingenue_ was to have lasted three
years, but, after the year, I was promoted to the parts of the first lady, and
To such unhoped-for and flattering results I was able to attain, by
ascending step by step through the encouragement and admonition of my
excellent teacher, Madame Carlotta Marchionni, a distinguished actress,
and the interest of Gaetano Bazzi who also had great affection for me. It
was really then that my artistic education began. It was then that I
acquired the knowledge and the rules which placed me in a position to
discern the characteristics of a true artist. I learned to distinguish and to
delineate the comic and the dramatic passions. My temperament caused
me to incline greatly toward the tender and the gentle.
However, in the tragic parts, my vigour increased. I learned to
portray transitions for the sake of fusing the different contrasts; a capital
but difficult study of detail, tedious at times, but of the greatest importance.
The lamentations in a part where two extreme and opposing passions are
at play, are like those which in painting are called "chiaro-oscuro," a
blending of the tones, which thus portrays truth devoid of artifice. In
order to succeed in this intent, it is necessary to take as model the great
culture of art, and also to be gifted with a well-tempered and artistic nature.
And these are not to be confined to sterile imitation, but are for the
purpose of accumulating the rich material of dramatic erudition, so that
one may present oneself before the audiences as an original and artistic
Some people think that distinction of birth and a perfect education will
render them capable of appearing upon the stage with the same facility and
nonchalance with which one enters a ball-room, and they are not at all
timid about walking upon the boards, presuming that they can do it as well
as an actor who has been raised upon them. A great error!
One of the greatest difficulties that they meet is in not knowing how to
walk upon a stage, which, owing to the slight inclination in con struction,
easily causes the feet to totter, particularly if one is a beginner, and
especially at the entrances and exits. I myself encountered this difficulty.
Though I had dedicated myself to the art from my infancy and had been
instructed with the greatest care every day of my life by my grandmother,
at the age of fifteen my movements had not yet acquired all the ease and
When I began my artistic apprenticeship, the use of diction was given
great importance, as a means of judging an actor. At that time the
audience was critical and severe.
In our days, the same audience has become less exacting, less critical,
and does not aim to improve the artist, by counting his defects.
According to my opinion, the old system was best, as it is not in excessive
indulgence and solely by considering the good qualities, without
correcting the bad ones, that real artists are made.
It is also my conviction that a person who wishes to dedicate himself
to the stage should not begin his career with parts of great importance,
either comic, dramatic, or tragic. The interpretation becomes too difficult
for a beginner and may harm his future career: first, the discouragement
over the difficulties that he meets; secondly, an excessive vanity caused by
the appreciation with which the public apparently honours him. Both
these sentiments will lead the actor, in a short time, to neglect his study.
On the other hand, by taking several parts, he becomes familiar with the
means of rendering his part natural, thus convincing himself that by
representing correctly characters of little importance, he will be given
more important ones later on. Thus it will come about that his study will
be more careful.
SALVINI AND ROSSI
One of the greatest of the living examples of the school of realism is
my illustrious fellow artist, Signor Tommaso Salvini, with whom, for a
number of years, I had the fortune to share the fatigues and the honours of
the profession which I also shared with Ernesto Rossi. The former was
and is still admired. His rare dramatic merits have nothing of the
conventional, but owe their power to that spontaneity which is the most
convincing revelation of art. The wealth of plasticity which Salvini
possesses, is in him, a natural gift. Salvini is the true exponent of the
Italian dramatic art
In the month of June, 1857, we began to rerehearse "Macbeth," at
Covent Garden, London, It had been arranged for our company by Mr.
Clarke, and translated into most beautiful Italian verse by Giulio Carcano.
The renowned Mr. Harris put it on the stage according to English
traditions. The representation of the part of Lady Macbeth, which
afterward became one of my favourite roles, preoccupied me greatly, as I
knew only too well what kind of comparisons would be made. The
remembrance of the marvellous creation of that character as given by the
famous Mrs. Siddons and the traditional criticisms of the press, might
have rendered the public very severe and difficult to please.
I used all my ability of interpretation to reveal and transmit the most
minute intentions of the author. To the English audience it seemed that I
had really incarnated that perfidious but great character of Lady Macbeth,
in a way that surpassed all expectations.
We had to repeat the drama for several evenings, always producing a
most profound impression upon the minds of the audience, particularly in
the grand sleep-walking scene. So thoroughly had I entered into the
nature of Lady Macbeth, that during the entire scene my pupils were
motionless in their orbit, causing me to shed tears. To this enforced
immobility of the eye I owe the weakening of my eyesight. From the
analytical study which I shall give of this diabolical character [at the close
of her Memoirs] the reader can form for himself an idea of how much its
interpretation cost me (particularly in the final culminating scene), in my
endeavour to get the right intonation of the voice and the true expression
of the physiognomy.
My exceptionally good health never abandoned me through my long
and tiresome journeys, though unfortunately I never was able to accustom
myself to voyaging by sea. All through those rapid changes I acquired a
marvellous store of endurance. That sort of life infused in me sufficient
energy to lead me through every kind of hardship with the resolution and
authority of a commanding general. All obeyed me. None questioned my
The artistic management of the plays was left to me in all its details.
Every order and every disposition came from me directly. I looked after
all matters large and small, the things that every actor understands
contribute to making the success of a play.
Concerning my own personal interests, they were in charge of a
I am proud to say that my husband was the soul of all my undertakings.
As I speak of him, my heart impels me to say that he ever exercised upon
me and my professional career the kindest and most benevolent influence.
It was he who upheld my courage, whenever I hesitated before some
difficulty; it was he who foretold the glory I should acquire, he who
pointed out to me the goal, and anticipated everything in order that I
should secure it. Without his assistance I never should have been able to
put into effect the daring attempt of carrying the flag of Italian dramatic art
all over the globe.
FIRST VISIT TO AMERICA
During the month of September, 1866, for the first time in my life, I
crossed the ocean on my way to the United States, where I remained until
May 17th of the following year. It was in the elegant Lyceum Theatre of
New York that I made my debut, on the 20th of September, with "Medea."
I could not anticipate a more enthusiastic reception than the one I was
honoured with. I felt anxious to make myself known in that new part of
the world, and let the Americans hear me recite for the first time, in the
soft and melodic Italian language. I knew that in spite of the prevailing
characteristics of the inhabitants of the free country of George Washington,
always busy as they are in their feverish pursuit of wealth, that the love for
the beautiful and admiration for dramatic art were not neglected. During
BEGINS TO PLAY IN ENGLISH
I made my fourth trip to London in 1873. Not having any new drama
to present and being tired of repeating the same productions, I felt the
necessity of reanimating my mind with some strong emotion, of
discovering something, in a word, the execution of which had never been
attempted by others.
At last I believed I had found something to satisfy my desire. The
admiration I had for the Shakespearean dramas, and particularly for the
character of Lady Macbeth, inspired me with the idea of playing in
English the sleeping scene from "Macbeth," which I think is the greatest
conception of the Titanic poet. I was also induced to make this bold
attempt, partly as a tribute of gratitude to the English audiences of the
great metropolis, who had shown me so much deference. But how was I
going to succeed? ... I took advice from a good friend of mine, Mrs.
Ward, the mother of the renowned actress Genevieve Ward. She not only
encouraged my idea, but offered her services in helping me to learn how to
recite that scene in English.
I still had some remembrance of my study of English when I was a girl,
and there is no language more difficult to pronounce and enunciate
correctly, for an Italian. I was frightened only to think of that, still I drew
sufficient courage even from its difficulties to grapple with my task.
After a fortnight of constant study, I found myself ready to make an
attempt at my recitation. However, not wishing to compromise my
reputation by risking a failure, I acted very cautiously.
I invited to my house the most competent among the dramatic critics
of the London papers, without forewarning them of the object and asked
them kindly to hear me and express frankly their opinion, assuring them
that if it should not be a favourable one, I would not feel badly over it.
I aimed at no less a project than the impersonation of the entire role of
Lady Macbeth in English, but such an arduous undertaking seemed so
bold to me that I finally gave up the idea and drove away from my mind
forever the temptation to try it.
THE ACTOR VALEDICTORY STANZAS TO J. P. KEMBLE,
JUNE, 1817, BY THOMAS CAMPBELL.
His was the spell o'er hearts Which only Acting lends-- The youngest
of the sister arts, Which all their beauty blends: For ill can Poetry express
Full many a tone of thought sublime, And Painting, mute and motionless,
Steals but a glance of time, But by the mighty actor brought, Illusion's
perfect triumphs come-- Verse ceases to be airy thought, And Sculpture to
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