SHADOWS OF THE STAGE
BY WILLIAM WINTER
"The best in this kind are but shadows"
NEW YORK MACMILLAN AND COMPANY AND LONDON 1893
COPYRIGHT, 1892, BY MACMILLAN & CO.
Set up and electrotyped May, 1892. Large Paper Edition printed May. Ordinary Edition reprinted June, August, November, 1892; January, June, October, November, 1893.
Norwood Press: J.S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith. Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
IN MEMORY AND IN HONOUR OF ALL THAT HE HAS DONE TO DIGNIFY AND ADORN THE STAGE AND TO ENNOBLE SOCIETY THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED
"Cui laurus aeternos honores Delmatico peperit triumpho"
The papers contained in this volume, chosen out of hundreds that the author has written on dramatic subjects, are assembled with the hope that they may be accepted, in their present form, as a part of the permanent record of our theatrical times. For at least thirty years it has been a considerable part of the constant occupation of the author to observe and to record the life of the contemporary stage. Since 1860 he has written intermittently in various periodicals, and since the summer of 1865 he has written continuously in the New York Tribune, upon actors and their art; and in that way he has accumulated a great mass of historical commentary upon the drama. In preparing this book he has been permitted to draw from his contributions to the Tribune, and also from his writings in Harper's Magazine and Weekly, in the London Theatre, and in Augustin Daly's Portfolio of Players. The choice of these papers has been determined partly by consideration of space and partly with the design of supplementing the author's earlier dramatic books, namely: Edwin Booth in Twelve Dramatic Characters; The Jeffersons; Henry Irving; The Stage Life of Mary Anderson; Brief Chronicles, containing eighty-six dramatic biographies; In Memory of McCullough; The Life of John Gilbert; The Life and Works of John Brougham; The Press and the Stage; The Actor and Other Speeches; and A Daughter of Comedy, being the life of Ada Rehan. The impulse of all those writings, and of the present volume, is commemorative. Let us save what we can.
"Sed omnes una manet nox, Et calcanda semel via leti."
W.W. APRIL 18, 1892.
I. THE GOOD OLD TIMES 13
II. IRVING IN FAUST 30
III. ADELAIDE NEILSON 47
IV. EDWIN BOOTH 63
V. MARY ANDERSON 90
VI. OLIVIA 119
VII. ON JEFFERSON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY 130
VIII. ON JEFFERSON'S ACTING 151
IX. JEFFERSON AND FLORENCE 159
X. ON THE DEATH OF FLORENCE 169
XI. SHYLOCK AND PORTIA 178
XII. JOHN McCULLOUGH 185
XIII. CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN 206
XIV. LAWRENCE BARRETT 215
XV. IRVING IN RAVENSWOOD 226
XVI. MERRY WIVES AND FALSTAFF 243
XVII. ADA REHAN 258
XVIII. TENNYSON'S FORESTERS 269
XIX. ELLEN TERRY: MERCHANT OF VENICE 286
XX. RICHARD MANSFIELD 301
XXI. GENEVIEVE WARD 315
XXII. EDWARD S. WILLARD 322
XXIII. SALVINI 339
XXIV. IRVING AS EUGENE ARAM 348
XXV. CHARLES FISHER 367
XXVI. MRS. GILBERT 374
XXVII. JAMES LEWIS 379
XXVIII. A LEAF FROM MY JOURNAL 383
"—It so fell out that certain players We o'er-raught on the way: of these we told him; And there did seem in him a kind of joy To hear of it."
"Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting. I would go fifty miles on foot, for I have not a horse worth riding on, to kiss the hand of that man who will give up the reins of his imagination into his author's hands,—be pleased he knows not why and cares not wherefore."
SHADOWS OF THE STAGE.
THE GOOD OLD TIMES.
It is recorded of John Lowin, an actor contemporary with Shakespeare and associated with several of Shakespeare's greater characters (his range was so wide, indeed, that it included Falstaff, Henry the Eighth, and Hamlet), that, having survived the halcyon days of "Eliza and our James" and lingered into the drab and russet period of the Puritans, when all the theatres in the British islands were suppressed, he became poor and presently kept a tavern, at Brentford, called The Three Pigeons. Lowin was born in 1576 and he died in 1654—his grave being in London, in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields—so that, obviously, he was one of the veterans of the stage. He was in his seventy-eighth year when he passed away—wherefore in his last days he must have been "a mine of memories." He could talk of the stirring times of Leicester, Drake, Essex, and Raleigh. He could remember, as an event of his boyhood, the execution of Queen Mary Stuart, and possibly he could describe, as an eye-witness, the splendid funeral procession of Sir Philip Sidney. He could recall the death of Queen Elizabeth; the advent of Scottish James; the ruffling, brilliant, dissolute, audacious Duke of Buckingham; the impeachment and disgrace of Francis Bacon; the production of the great plays of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson; the meetings of the wits and poets at the Apollo and the Mermaid. He might have personally known Robert Herrick—that loveliest of the wild song-birds of that golden age. He might have been present at the burial of Edmund Spenser, in Westminster Abbey—when the poet brothers of the author of The Faerie Queene cast into his grave their manuscript elegies and the pens with which those laments had been written. He had acted Hamlet,—perhaps in the author's presence. He had seen the burning of the old Globe Theatre. He had been, in the early days of Charles the First, the chief and distinguished Falstaff of the time. He had lived under the rule of three successive princes; had deplored the sanguinary fate of the martyr-king (for the actors were almost always royalists); had seen the rise of the Parliament and the downfall of the theatre; and now, under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, he had become the keeper of an humble wayside inn. It is easy to fancy the old actor sitting in his chair of state, the monarch of his tap-room, with a flagon of beer, and a church-warden pipe of tobacco, and holding forth, to a select circle of cronies, upon the vanished glories of the Elizabethan stage—upon the days when there were persons in existence really worthy to be called actors. He could talk of Richard Burbage, the first Romeo; of Armin, famous in Shakespeare's clowns and fools; of Heminge and Condell, who edited the First Folio of Shakespeare, which possibly he himself purchased, fresh from the press; of Joseph Taylor, whom it is said Shakespeare personally instructed how to play Hamlet, and the recollection of whose performance enabled Sir William Davenant to impart to Betterton the example and tradition established by the author—a model that has lasted to the present day; of Kempe, the original Dogberry, and of the exuberant, merry Richard Tarleton, after whom that comic genius had fashioned his artistic method; of Alleyne, who kept the bear-garden, and who founded the College and Home at Dulwich—where they still flourish; of Gabriel Spencer, and his duel with Ben Jonson, wherein he lost his life at the hands of that burly antagonist; of Marlowe "of the mighty line," and his awful and lamentable death—stabbed at Deptford by a drunken drawer in a tavern brawl. Very rich and fine, there can be no doubt, were that veteran actor's remembrances of "the good old times," and most explicit and downright, it may surely be believed, was his opinion, freely communicated to the gossips of The Three Pigeons, that—in the felicitous satirical phrase of Joseph Jefferson—all the good actors are dead.
It was ever thus. Each successive epoch of theatrical history presents the same picturesque image of storied regret—memory incarnated in the veteran, ruefully vaunting the vanished glories of the past. There has always been a time when the stage was finer than it is now. Cibber and Macklin, surviving in the best days of Garrick, Peg Woffington, and Kitty Clive, were always praising the better days of Wilks, Betterton, and Elizabeth Barry. Aged play-goers of the period of Edmund Kean and John Philip Kemble were firmly persuaded that the drama had been buried, never to rise again, with the dust of Garrick and Henderson, beneath the pavement of Westminster Abbey. Less than fifty years ago an American historian of the stage (James Rees, 1845) described it as a wreck, overwhelmed with "gloom and eternal night," above which the genius of the drama was mournfully presiding, in the likeness of an owl. The New York veteran of to-day, although his sad gaze may not penetrate backward quite to the effulgent splendours of the old Park, will sigh for Burton's and the Olympic, and the luminous period of Mrs. Richardson, Mary Taylor, and Tom Hamblin. The Philadelphia veteran gazes back to the golden era of the old Chestnut Street theatre, the epoch of tie-wigs and shoe-buckles, the illustrious times of Wood and Warren, when Fennell, Cooke, Cooper, Wallack, and J.B. Booth were shining names in tragedy, and Jefferson and William Twaits were great comedians, and the beautiful Anne Brunton was the queen of the stage. The Boston veteran speaks proudly of the old Federal and the old Tremont, of Mary Duff, Julia Pelby, Charles Eaton, and Clara Fisher, and is even beginning to gild with reminiscent splendour the first days of the Boston Theatre, when Thomas Barry was manager and Julia Bennett Barrow and Mrs. John Wood contended for the public favour. In a word, the age that has seen Rachel, Seebach, Ristori, Charlotte Cushman, and Adelaide Neilson, the age that sees Ellen Terry, Mary Anderson, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Henry Irving, Salvini, Coquelin, Lawrence Barrett, John Gilbert, John S. Clarke, Ada Rehan, James Lewis, Clara Morris, and Richard Mansfield, is a comparatively sterile period—"Too long shut in strait and few, thinly dieted on dew"—which ought to have felt the spell of Cooper and Mary Buff, and known what acting was when Cooke's long forefinger pointed the way, and Dunlap bore the banner, and pretty Mrs. Marshall bewitched the father of his country, and Dowton raised the laugh, and lovely Mrs. Barrett melted the heart, and the roses were "bright by the calm Bendemeer." The present writer, who began theatre-going in earnest over thirty years ago, finds himself full often musing over a dramatic time that still seems brighter than this—when he could exult in the fairy splendour and comic humour of Aladdin and weep over the sorrows of The Drunkard, when he was thrilled and frightened by J.B. Booth in The Apostate, and could find an ecstasy of pleasure in the loves of Alonzo and Cora and the sublime self-sacrifice of Rolla. Thoughts of such actors as Henry Wallack, George Jordan, John Brougham, John E. Owens, Mary Carr, Mrs. Barrow, and Charlotte Thompson, together in the same theatre, are thoughts of brilliant people and of more than commonly happy displays of talent and beauty. The figures that used to be seen on Wallack's stage, at the house he established upon the wreck of John Brougham's Lyceum, often rise in memory, crowned with a peculiar light. Lester Wallack, in his peerless elegance; Laura Keene, in her spiritual beauty; the quaint, eccentric Walcot; the richly humorous Blake, so noble in his dignity, so firm and fine and easy in his method, so copious in his natural humour; Mary Gannon, sweet, playful, bewitching, irresistible; Mrs. Vernon, as full of character as the tulip is of colour or the hyacinth of grace, and as delicate and refined as an exquisite bit of old china—those actors made a group, the like of which it would be hard to find now. Shall we ever see again such an Othello as Edwin Forrest, or such a Lord Duberly and Cap'n Cuttle as Burton, or such a Dazzle as John Brougham, or such an Affable Hawk as Charles Mathews? Certainly there was a superiority of manner, a tinge of intellectual character, a tone of grace and romance about the old actors, such as is not common in the present; and, making all needful allowance for the illusive glamour that memory casts over the distant and the dim, it yet remains true that the veterans of our day have a certain measure of right upon their side of the question.
In the earlier periods of our theatrical history the strength of the stage was concentrated in a few theatres. The old Park, for example, was called simply The Theatre, and when the New York playgoer spoke of going to the play he meant that he was going there. One theatre, or perhaps two, might flourish, in a considerable town, during a part of the year, but the field was limited, and therefore the actors were brought together in two or three groups. The star system, at least till the time of Cooper, seems to have been innocuous. Garrick's prodigious success in London, more than a hundred years ago, had enabled him to engross the control of the stage in that centre, where he was but little opposed, and practically to exile many players of the first ability, whose lustre he dimmed or whose services he did not require; and those players dispersed themselves to distant places—to York, Dublin, Edinburgh, etc.—or crossed the sea to America. With that beginning the way was opened for the growth of superb stock-companies, in the early days of the American theatre. The English, next to the Italians, were the first among modern peoples to create a dramatic literature and to establish the acted drama, and they have always led in this field—antedating, historically, and surpassing in essential things the French stage which nowadays it is fashionable to extol. English influence, at all times stern and exacting, stamped the character of our early theatre. The tone of society, alike in the mother country, in the colonies, and in the first years of our Republic, was, as to these matters, formal and severe. Success upon the stage was exceedingly difficult to obtain, and it could not be obtained without substantial merit. The youths who sought it were often persons of liberal education. In Philadelphia, New York, and Boston the stock-companies were composed of select and thoroughly trained actors, many of whom were well-grounded classical scholars. Furthermore, the epoch was one of far greater leisure and repose than are possible now—- when the civilised world is at the summit of sixty years of scientific development such as it had not experienced in all its recorded centuries of previous progress. Naturally enough the dramatic art of our ancestors was marked by scholar-like and thorough elaboration, mellow richness of colour, absolute simplicity of character, and great solidity of merit. Such actors as Wignell, Hodgkinson, Jefferson, Francis, and Blissett offered no work that was not perfect of its kind. The tradition had been established and accepted, and it was transmitted and preserved. Everything was concentrated, and the public grew to be entirely familiar with it. Men, accordingly, who obtained their ideas of acting at a time when they were under influences surviving from those ancient days are confused, bewildered, and distressed by much that is offered in the theatres now. I have listened to the talk of an aged American acquaintance (Thurlow Weed), who had seen and known Edmund Kean, and who said that all modern tragedians were insignificant in comparison with him. I have listened to the talk of an aged English acquaintance (Fladgate), who had seen and known John Philip Kemble, and who said that his equal has never since been revealed. The present day knows what the old school was, when it sees William Warren, Joseph Jefferson, Charles Fisher, Mrs. John Drew, John Gilbert, J.H. Stoddart, Mrs. G.H. Gilbert, William Davidge, and Lester Wallack—the results and the remains of it. The old touch survives in them and is under their control, and no one, seeing their ripe and finished art, can feel surprise that the veteran moralist should be wedded to his idols of the past, and should often be heard sadly to declare that all the good actors—except these—are dead. He forgets that scores of theatres now exist where once there were but two or three; that the population of the United States has been increased by about fifty millions within ninety years; that the field has been enormously broadened; that the character of, the audience has become one of illimitable diversity; that the prodigious growth of the star-system, together with all sorts of experimental catch-penny theatrical management, is one of the inevitable necessities of the changed condition of civilisation; that the feverish tone of this great struggling and seething mass of humanity is necessarily reflected in the state of the theatre; and that the forces of the stage have become very widely diffused. Such a moralist would necessarily be shocked by the changes that have come upon our theatre within even the last twenty-five years—by the advent of "the sensation drama," invented and named by Dion Boucicault; by the resuscitation of the spectacle play, with its lavish tinsel and calcium glare and its multitudinous nymphs; by the opera bouffe, with its frequent licentious ribaldry; by the music-hall comedian, with his vulgar realism; and by the idiotic burlesque; with its futile babble and its big-limbed, half-naked girls. Nevertheless there are just as good actors now living as have ever lived, and there is just as fine a sense of dramatic art in the community as ever existed in any of "the palmy days"; only, what was formerly concentrated is now scattered.
The stage is keeping step with the progress of human thought in every direction, and it will continue to advance. Evil influences impressed upon it there certainly are, in liberal abundance—not the least of these being that of the speculative shop-keeper, whose nature it is to seize any means of turning a penny, and who deals in dramatic art precisely as he would deal in groceries: but when we speak of "our stage" we do not mean an aggregation of shows or of the schemes of showmen. The stage is an institution that has grown out of a necessity in human nature. It was as inevitable that man should evolve the theatre as it was that he should evolve the church, the judiciary tribunal, the parliament, or any other essential component of the State. Almost all human beings possess the dramatic perception; a few possess the dramatic faculty. These few are born for the stage, and each and every generation contributes its number to the service of this art. The problem is one of selection and embarkation. Of the true actor it may be said, as Ben Jonson says of the true poet, that he is made as well as born. The finest natural faculties have never yet been known to avail without training and culture. But this is a problem which, in a great measure, takes care of itself and in time works out and submits its own solution. The anomaly, every day presented, of the young person who, knowing nothing, feeling nothing, and having nothing to communicate except the desire of communication, nevertheless rushes upon the stage, is felt to be absurd. Where the faculty as well as the instinct exists, however, impulse soon recognises the curb of common sense, and the aspirant finds his level. In this way the dramatic profession is recruited. In this way the several types of dramatic artist—each type being distinct and each being expressive of a sequence from mental and spiritual ancestry—are maintained. It is not too much to say that a natural law operates silently and surely behind each seemingly capricious chance, in this field of the conduct of life. A thoroughly adequate dramatic stock-company may almost be said to be a thing of natural accretion. It is made up, like every other group, of the old, the middle-aged, and the young; but, unlike every other group, it must contain the capacity to present, in a concrete image, each elemental type of human nature, and to reproduce, with the delicate exaggeration essential to dramatic art, every species of person; in order that all human life—whether of the street, the dwelling, the court, the camp, man in his common joys and sorrows, his vices, crimes, miseries, his loftiest aspirations and most ideal state—may be so copied that the picture will express all its beauty and sweetness, all its happiness and mirth, all its dignity, and all its moral admonition and significance, for the benefit of the world. Such a dramatic stock-company, for example (and this is but one of the commendable products of the modern stage), has grown up and crystallised into a form of refined power and symmetry, for the purpose to which it is devoted, under the management of Augustin Daly. That purpose is the acting of comedy. Mr. Daly began management in 1869, and he has remained in it, almost continually, from that time to this. Many players, first and last, have served under his direction. His company has known vicissitudes. But the organisation has not lost its comprehensive form, its competent force, and its attractive quality of essential grace. No thoughtful observer of its career can have failed to perceive how prompt the manager has been to profit by every lesson of experience; what keen perception he has shown as to the essential constituents of a theatrical troop; with what fine judgment he has used the forces at his disposal; with what intrepid resolution and expeditious energy he has animated their spirit and guided their art; and how naturally those players have glided into their several stations and assimilated in one artistic family. How well balanced, how finely equipped, how distinctively able that company is, and what resources of poetry, thought, taste, character, humour, and general capacity it contains, may not, perhaps, be fully appreciated in the passing hour. "Non, si male nunc, et olim sic erit." Fifty years from now, when perchance some veteran, still bright and cheery "in the chimney-nook of age," shall sit in his armchair and prose about the past, with what complacent exultation will he speak of the beautiful Ada Rehan, so bewitching as Peggy in The Country Girl, so radiant, vehement, and stormily passionate as Katherine; of manly John Drew, with his nonchalant ease, incisive tone, and crisp and graceful method; of noble Charles Fisher, and sprightly and sparkling James Lewis, and genial, piquant, quaint Mrs. Gilbert! I mark the gentle triumph in that aged reminiscent voice, and can respect an old man's kindly and natural sympathy with the glories and delights of his vanished youth. But I think it is not necessary to wait till you are old before you begin to praise anything, and then to praise only the dead. Let us recognise what is good in our own time, and honour and admire it with grateful hearts.
* * * * *
NOTE.—At the Garrick club, London, June 26, 1885, it was my fortune to meet Mr. Fladgate, "father of the Garrick," who was then aged 86. The veteran displayed astonishing resources of memory and talked most instructively about the actors of the Kemble period. He declared John Philip Kemble to have been the greatest of actors, and said that his best impersonations were Penruddock, Zanga, and Coriolanus. Mrs. Siddons, he said, was incomparable, and the elder Mathews a great genius,—the precursor of Dickens. For Edmund Kean he had no enthusiasm. Kean, he said, was at his best in Sir Edward Mortimer, and after that in Shylock. Miss O'Neill he remembered as the perfect Juliet: a beautiful, blue-eyed woman, who could easily weep, and who retained her beauty to the last, dying at 85, as Lady Wrixon Becher.
[Footnote 1: This paper was written in 1888, and now, in 1892, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Stoddart, Mrs. Drew, and Mrs. Gilbert are the only survivors of that noble group.]
HENRY IRVING AND ELLEN TERRY IN FAUST.
It is not surprising that the votaries of Goethe's colossal poem—a work which, although somewhat deformed and degraded with the pettiness of provincialism, is yet a grand and immortal creation of genius—should find themselves dissatisfied with theatrical expositions of it. Although dramatic in form the poem is not continuously, directly, and compactly dramatic in movement. It cannot be converted into a play without being radically changed in structure and in the form of its diction. More disastrous still, in the eyes of those votaries, it cannot be and it never has been converted into a play without a considerable sacrifice of its contents, its comprehensive scope, its poetry, and its ethical significance. In the poem it is the Man who predominates; it is not the Fiend. Mephistopheles, indeed, might, for the purpose of philosophical apprehension, be viewed as an embodied projection of the mind of Faust; for the power of the one is dependent absolutely upon the weakness and surrender of the other. The object of the poem was the portrayal of universal humanity in a typical form at its highest point of development and in its representative spiritual experience. Faust, an aged scholar, the epitome of human faculties and virtues, grand, venerable, beneficent, blameless, is passing miserably into the evening of life. He has done no outward and visible wrong, and yet he is wretched. The utter emptiness of his life—its lack of fulfilment, its lack of sensation—wearies, annoys, disgusts, and torments him. He is divided between an apathy, which heavily weighs him down into the dust, and a passionate, spiritual longing, intense, unsatisfied, insatiable, which almost drives him to frenzy. Once, at sunset, standing on a hillside, and looking down upon a peaceful valley, he utters, in a poetic strain of exquisite tenderness and beauty, the final wish of his forlorn and weary soul. It is no longer now the god-like aspiration and imperious desire of his prime, but it is the sufficient alternative. All he asks now is that he may see the world always as in that sunset vision, in the perfection of happy rest; that he may be permitted, soaring on the wings of the spirit, to follow the sun in its setting ("The day before me and the night behind"), and thus to circle forever round and round this globe, the ecstatic spectator of happiness and peace. He has had enough and more than enough of study, of struggle, of unfulfilled aspiration. Lonely dignity, arid renown, satiety, sorrow, knowledge without hope, and age without comfort,—these are his present portion; and a little way onward, waiting for him, is death. Too old to play with passion, too young not to feel desire, he has endured a long struggle between the two souls in his breast—one longing for heaven and the other for the world; but he is beaten at last, and in the abject surrender of despair he determines to die by his own act. A childlike feeling, responsive in his heart to the divine prompting of sacred music, saves him from self-murder; but in a subsequent bitter revulsion he utters a curse upon everything in the state of man, and most of all upon that celestial attribute of patience whereby man is able to endure and to advance in the eternal process of evolution from darkness into light. And now it is, when the soul of the human being, utterly baffled by the mystery of creation, crushed by its own hopeless sorrow, and enraged by the everlasting command to renounce and refrain, has become one delirium of revolt against God and destiny, that the spirit of perpetual denial, incarnated in Mephistopheles, steps forth to proffer guidance and help. It is as if his rejection and defiance had suddenly become embodied, to aid him in his ruin. More in recklessness than in trust, with no fear, almost with scorn and contempt, he yet agrees to accept this assistance. If happiness be really possible, if the true way, after all, should lie in the life of the senses, and not in knowledge and reason; if, under the ministrations of this fiend, one hour of life, even one moment of it, shall ever (which is an idle and futile supposition) be so sweet that his heart shall desire it to linger, then, indeed, he will surrender himself eternally to this at present preposterous Mephistopheles, whom his mood, his magic, and the revulsion of his moral nature have evoked:—
"Then let the death-bell chime the token! Then art thou from thy service free! The clock may stop, the hand be broken, And time be finished unto me."
Such an hour, it is destined, shall arrive, after many long and miserable years, when, aware of the beneficence of living for others and in the imagined prospect of leading, guiding, and guarding a free people upon a free land, Faust shall be willing to say to the moment: "Stay, thou art so fair"; and Mephistopheles shall harshly cry out: "The clock stands still"; and the graybeard shall sink in the dust; and the holy angels shall fly away with his soul, leaving the Fiend baffled and morose, to gibe at himself over the failure of all his infernal arts. But, meanwhile, it remains true of the man that no pleasure satisfies him and no happiness contents, and "death is desired, and life a thing unblest."
The man who puts out his eyes must become blind. The sin of Faust is a spiritual sin, and the meaning of all his subsequent terrible experience is that spiritual sin must be—and will be—expiated. No human soul can ever be lost. In every human soul the contest between good and evil must continue until the good has conquered and the evil is defeated and eradicated. Then, when the man's spirit is adjusted to its environment in the spiritual world, it will be at peace—and not till then. And if this conflict is not waged and completed now and here, it must be and it will be fought out and finished hereafter and somewhere else. It is the greatest of all delusions to suppose that you can escape from yourself. Judgment and retribution proceed within the soul and not from sources outside of it. That is the philosophic drift of the poet's thought expressed and implied in his poem. It was Man, in his mortal ordeal—the motive, cause, and necessity of which remain a mystery—whom he desired and aimed to portray; it was not merely the triumph of a mocking devil, temporarily victorious through ministration to animal lust and intellectual revolt, over the weakness of the carnal creature and the embittered bewilderment of the baffled mind. Mr. Irving may well say, as he is reported to have said, that he will consider himself to have accomplished a good work if his production of Faust should have the effect of invigorating popular interest in Goethe's immortal poem and bringing closer home to the mind of his public a true sense of its sublime and far-reaching signification.
The full metaphysical drift of thought and meaning in Goethe's poem, however, can be but faintly indicated in a play. It is more distinctly indicated in Mr. Wills's play, which is used by Mr. Irving, than in any other play upon this subject that has been presented. This result, an approximate fidelity to the original, is due in part to the preservation of the witch scenes, in part to Mr. Irving's subtle and significant impersonation of Mephistopheles, and in part to a weird investiture of spiritual mystery with which he has artfully environed the whole production. The substance of the piece is the love story of Faust and Margaret, yet beyond this is a background of infinity, and over and around this is a poetic atmosphere charged with suggestiveness of supernatural agency in the fate of man. If the gaze of the observer be concentrated upon the mere structure of the piece, the love story is what he will find; and that is all he will find. Faust makes his compact with the Fiend. He is rejuvenated and he begins a new life. In "the Witch's Kitchen" his passions are intensified, and then they are ignited, so that he may be made the slave of desire and afterward if possible imbruted by sensuality. He is artfully brought into contact with Margaret, whom he instantly loves, who presently loves him, whom he wins, and upon whom, since she becomes a mother out of wedlock, his inordinate and reckless love imposes the burden of pious contrition and worldly shame. Then, through the puissant wickedness and treachery of Mephistopheles, he is made to predominate over her vengeful brother, Valentine, whom he kills in a street fray. Thus his desire to experience in his own person the most exquisite bliss that humanity can enjoy and equally the most exquisite torture that it can suffer, becomes fulfilled. He is now the agonised victim of love and of remorse. Orestes pursued by the Furies was long ago selected as the typical image of supreme anguish and immitigable suffering; but Orestes is less a lamentable figure than Faust—fortified though he is, and because he is, with the awful but malign, treacherous, and now impotent sovereignty of hell. To deaden his sensibility, destroy his conscience, and harden him in evil the Fiend leads him into a mad revel of boundless profligacy and bestial riot—denoted by the beautiful and terrible scene upon the Brocken—and poor Margaret is abandoned to her shame, her wandering, her despair, her frenzy, her crime, and her punishment. This desertion, though, is procured by a stratagem of the Fiend and does not proceed from the design of her lover. The expedient of Mephistopheles, to lull his prey by dissipations, is a failure. Faust finds them "tasteless," and he must return to Margaret. He finds her in prison, crazed and dying, and he strives in vain to set her free. There is a climax, whereat, while her soul is borne upward by angels he—whose destiny must yet be fulfilled—is summoned by the terrible voice of Satan. This is the substance of what is shown; but if the gaze of the observer pierces beyond this, if he is able to comprehend that terrific but woeful image of the fallen angel, if he perceives what is by no means obscurely intimated, that Margaret, redeemed and beatified, cannot be happy unless her lover also is saved, and that the soul of Faust can only be lost through the impossible contingency of being converted into the likeness of the Fiend, he will understand that a spectacle has been set before him more august, momentous, and sublime than any episode of tragical human love could ever be.
Henry Irving, in his embodiment of Mephistopheles, fulfilled the conception of the poet in one essential respect and transcended it in another. His performance, superb in ideal and perfect in execution, was a great work—and precisely here was the greatness of it. Mephistopheles as delineated by Goethe is magnificently intellectual and sardonic, but nowhere does he convey even a faint suggestion of the god-head of glory from which he has lapsed. His own frank and clear avowal of himself leaves no room for doubt as to the limitation intended to be established for him by the poet. I am, he declares, the spirit that perpetually denies. I am a part of that part which once was all—a part of that darkness out of which came the light. I repudiate all things—because everything that has been made is unworthy to exist and ought to be destroyed, and therefore it is better that nothing should ever have been made. God dwells in splendour, alone and eternal, but his spirits he thrusts into darkness, and man, a poor creature fashioned to poke his nose into filth, he sportively dowers with day and night. My province is evil; my existence is mockery; my pleasure and my purpose are destruction. In a word, this Fiend, towering to the loftiest summit of cold intellect, is the embodiment of cruelty, malice, and scorn, pervaded and interfused with grim humour. That ideal Mr. Irving made actual. The omniscient craft and deadly malignity of his impersonation, swathed in a most specious humour at some moments (as, for example, in Margaret's bedroom, in the garden scene with Martha, and in the duel scene with Valentine) made the blood creep and curdle with horror, even while they impressed the sense of intellectual power and stirred the springs of laughter. But if you rightly saw his face, in the fantastic, symbolical scene of the Witch's Kitchen; in that lurid moment of sunset over the quaint gables and haunted spires of Nuremburg, when the sinister presence of the arch-fiend deepened the red glare of the setting sun and seemed to bathe this world in the ominous splendour of hell; and, above all, if you perceived the soul that shone through his eyes in that supremely awful moment of his predominance over the hellish revel upon the Brocken, when all the hideous malignities of nature and all those baleful "spirits which tend on mortal consequence" are loosed into the aerial abyss, and only this imperial horror can curb and subdue them, you knew that this Mephistopheles was a sufferer not less than a mocker; that his colossal malignity was the delirium of an angelic spirit thwarted, baffled, shattered, yet defiant; never to be vanquished; never through all eternity to be at peace with itself. The infinite sadness of that face, the pathos, beyond words, of that isolated and lonely figure—those are the qualities that irradiated all its diversified attributes of mind, humour, duplicity, sarcasm, force, horror, and infernal beauty, and invested it with the authentic quality of greatness. There is no warrant for this treatment of the part to be derived from Goethe's poem. There is every warrant for it in the apprehension of this tremendous subject by the imagination of a great actor. You cannot mount above the earth, you cannot transcend the ordinary line of the commonplace, as a mere sardonic image of self-satisfied, chuckling obliquity. Mr. Irving embodied Mephistopheles not as a man but as a spirit, with all that the word implies, and in doing that he not only heeded the fine instinct of the true actor but the splendid teaching of the highest poetry—the ray of supernal light that flashes from the old Hebrew Bible; the blaze that streams from the Paradise Lost; the awful glory through which, in the pages of Byron, the typical figure of agonised but unconquerable revolt towers over a realm of ruin:—
"On his brow The thunder-scars are graven; from his eye Glares forth the immortality of hell."
Ellen Terry, in her assumption of Margaret, once more displayed that profound, comprehensive, and particular knowledge of human love—that knowledge of it through the soul and not simply the mind—which is the source of her exceptional and irresistible power. This Margaret was a woman who essentially loves, who exists only for love, who has the courage of her love, who gives all for love—not knowing that it is a sacrifice—and whose love, at last, triumphant over death, is not only her own salvation but that also of her lover. The point of strict conformity to the conception of the poet, in physique and in spiritual state, may be waived. Goethe's Margaret is a handsome, hardy girl, of humble rank, who sometimes uses bad grammar and who reveals no essential mind. She is just a delicious woman, and there is nothing about her either metaphysical or mysterious. The wise Fiend, who knows that with such a man as Faust the love of such a woman must outweigh all the world, wisely tempts him with her, and infernally lures him to the accomplishment of her ruin. But it will be observed that, aside from the infraction of the law of man, the loves of Faust and Margaret are not only innocent but sacred. This sanctity Mephistopheles can neither pollute nor control, and through this he loses his victims. Ellen Terry's Margaret was a delicious woman, and not metaphysical nor mysterious; but it was Margaret imbued with the temperament of Ellen Terry,—who, if ever an exceptional creature lived, is exceptional in every particular. In her embodiment she transfigured the character: she maintained it in an ideal world, and she was the living epitome of all that is fascinating in essential womanhood—glorified by genius. It did not seem like acting but like the revelation of a hallowed personal experience upon which no chill worldly gaze should venture to intrude.
In that suggestive book in which Lady Pollock records her recollections of Macready it is said that once, after his retirement, on reading a London newspaper account of the production of a Shakespearean play, he remarked that "evidently the accessories swallow up the poetry and the action": and he proceeded, in a reminiscent and regretful mood, to speak as follows: "In my endeavour to give to Shakespeare all his attributes, to enrich his poetry with scenes worthy of its interpretation, to give to his tragedies their due magnificence and to his comedies their entire brilliancy, I have set an example which is accompanied with great peril, for the public is willing to have the magnificence without the tragedy, and the poet is swallowed up in display." Mr. Irving is the legitimate successor to Macready and he has encountered that same peril. There are persons—many of them—who think that it is a sign of weakness to praise cordially and to utter admiration with a free heart. They are mistaken, but no doubt they are sincere. Shakespeare, the wisest of monitors, is never so eloquent and splendid as when he makes one of his people express praise of another. Look at those speeches in Coriolanus. Such niggardly persons, in their detraction of Henry Irving, are prompt to declare that he is a capital stage manager but not a great actor. This has an impartial air and a sapient sound, but it is gross folly and injustice. Henry Irving is one of the greatest actors that have ever lived, and he has shown it over and over again. His acting is all the more effective because associated with unmatched ability to insist and insure that every play shall be perfectly well set, in every particular, and that every part in it shall be competently acted. But his genius and his ability are no more discredited than those of Macready were by his attention to technical detail and his insistence upon total excellence of result. It should be observed, however, that he has carried stage garniture to an extreme limit. His investiture of Faust was so magnificent that possibly it may have tended in the minds of many spectators, to obscure and overwhelm the fine intellectual force, the beautiful delicacy, and the consummate art with which he embodied Mephistopheles. It ought not to have produced that effect—because, in fact, the spectacle presented was, actually and truly, that of a supernatural being, predominant by force of inherent strength and charm over the broad expanse of the populous and teeming world; but it might have produced it: and, for the practical good of the art of acting, progress in that direction has gone far enough. The supreme beauty of the production was the poetic atmosphere of it—the irradiation of that strange sensation of being haunted which sometimes will come upon you, even at noon-day, in lonely places, on vacant hillside, beneath the dark boughs of great trees, in the presence of the grim and silent rocks, and by the solitary margin of the sea. The feeling was that of Goethe's own weird and suggestive scene of the Open Field, the black horses, and the raven-stone; or that of the shuddering lines of Coleridge:—
"As one that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And, having once turned round, walks on And turns no more his head, Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread."
ADELAIDE NEILSON AS IMOGEN AND JULIET.
Shakespeare's drama of Cymbeline seems not at any time in the history of the stage to have been a favourite with theatrical audiences. In New York it has had but five revivals in more than a hundred years, and those occurred at long intervals and were of brief continuance. The names of Thomas Barry, Mrs. Shaw-Hamblin (Eliza Marian Trewar), and Julia Bennett Barrow are best remembered in association with it on the American stage. It had slept for more than a generation when, in the autumn of 1876, Adelaide Neilson revived it at Philadelphia; but since then it has been reproduced by several of her imitators. She first offered it on the New York stage in May 1877, and it was then seen that her impersonation of Imogen was one of the best of her works. If it be the justification of the stage as an institution of public benefit and social advancement, that it elevates humanity by presenting noble ideals of human nature and making them exemplars and guides, that justification was practically accomplished by that beautiful performance.
The poetry of Cymbeline is eloquent and lovely. The imagination of its appreciative reader, gliding lightly over its more sinister incidents, finds its story romantic, its accessories—both of the court and the wilderness—picturesque, its historic atmosphere novel and exciting, and the spirit of it tender and noble. Such a reader, likewise, fashions its characters into an ideal form which cannot be despoiled by comparison with a visible standard of reality. It is not, however, an entirely pleasant play to witness. The acting version, indeed, is considerably condensed from the original, by the excision of various scenes explanatory of the conduct of the story, and by the omission of the cumbersome vision of Leonatus; and the gain of brevity thereby made helps to commend the work to a more gracious acceptance than it would be likely to obtain if acted exactly according to Shakespeare. Its movement also is imbued with additional alacrity by a rearrangement of its divisions. It is customarily presented in six acts. Yet, notwithstanding the cutting and editing to which it has been subjected, Cymbeline remains somewhat inharmonious alike with the needs of the stage and the apprehension of the public.
For this there are several causes. One perhaps is its mixed character, its vague, elusive purpose, and its unreality of effect. From the nature of his story—a tale of stern facts and airy inventions, respecting Britain and Rome, two thousand years ago—the poet seems to have been compelled to make a picture of human life too literal to be viewed wholly as an ideal, and too romantic to be viewed wholly as literal. In the unequivocally great plays of Shakespeare the action moves like the mighty flow of some resistless river. In this one it advances with the diffusive and straggling movement of a summer cloud. The drift and meaning of the piece, accordingly, do not stand boldly out. That astute thinker, Ulrici, for instance, after much brooding upon it, ties his mental legs in a hard knot and says that Shakespeare intended, in this piece, to illustrate that man is not the master of his own destiny. There must be liberal scope for conjecture when a philosopher can make such a landing as that.
The persons in Cymbeline, moreover—aside from the exceptional character of Imogen—do not come home to a spectator's realisation, whether of sympathy or repugnance. It is like the flower that thrives best under glass but shivers and wilts in the open air. Its poetry seems marred by the rude touch of the actual. Its delicious mountain scenes lose their woodland fragrance. Its motive, bluntly disclosed in the wager scene, seems coarse, unnatural, and offensive. Its plot, really simple, moves heavily and perplexes attention. It is a piece that lacks pervasive concentration and enthralling point. It might be defined as Othello with a difference—the difference being in favour of Othello. Jealousy is the pivot of both: but in Othello jealousy is treated with profound and searching truth, with terrible intensity of feeling, and with irresistible momentum of action. A spectator will honour and pity Othello, and hate and execrate Iago—with some infusion, perhaps of impatience toward the one and of admiration for the other—but he is likely to view both Leonatus and Iachimo with considerable indifference; he will casually recognise the infrequent Cymbeline as an ill-tempered, sonorous old donkey; he will give a passing smile of scornful disgust to Cloten—that vague hybrid of Roderigo and Oswald; and of the proceedings of the Queen and the fortunes of the royal family—whether as affected by the chemical experiments of Doctor Cornelius or the bellicose attitude of Augustus Caesar, in reaching for his British tribute—he will be practically unconscious. This result comes of commingling stern fact and pastoral fancy in such a way that an auditor of the composition is dubious whether to fix his senses steadfastly on the one or yield up his spirit to poetic reverie on the other.
Coleridge—whose intuitions as to such matters were usually as good as recorded truth—thought that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline in his youthful period. He certainly does not manifest in it the cogent and glittering dramatic force that is felt in Othello and Macbeth. The probability is that he wrought upon the old legend of Holinshed in a mood of intellectual caprice, inclining towards sensuous and fanciful dalliance with a remote and somewhat intangible subject. Those persons who explain the immense fecundity of his creative genius by alleging that he must steadily have kept in view the needs of the contemporary theatre seem to forget that he went much further in his plays than there was any need for him to go, in the satisfaction of such a purpose, and that those plays are, in general, too great for any stage that has existed. Shakespeare, it is certain, could not have been an exception to the law that every author must be conscious of a feeling, apart from intellectual purpose, that carries him onward in his art. The feeling that shines through Cymbeline is a loving delight in the character of Imogen.
The nature of that feeling and the quality of that character, had they been obscure, would have been made clear by Adelaide Neilson's embodiment. The personality that she presented was typical and unusual. It embodied virtue, neither hardened by austerity nor vapid with excess of goodness, and it embodied seductive womanhood, without one touch of wantonness or guile. It presented a woman innately good and radiantly lovely, who amid severest trials spontaneously and unconsciously acted with the ingenuous grace of childhood, the grandest generosity, the most constant spirit. The essence of Imogen's nature is fidelity. Faithful to love, even till death, she is yet more faithful to honour. Her scorn of falsehood is overwhelming; but she resents no injury, harbours no resentment, feels no spite, murmurs at no misfortune. From every blow of evil she recovers with a gentle patience that is infinitely pathetic. Passionate and acutely sensitive, she yet seems never to think of antagonising her affliction or to falter in her unconscious fortitude. She has no reproach—but only a grieved submission—for the husband who has wronged her by his suspicions and has doomed her to death. She thinks only of him, not of herself, when she beholds him, as she supposes, dead at her side; but even then she will submit and endure—she will but "weep and sigh" and say twice o'er "a century of prayers." She is only sorry for the woman who was her deadly enemy and who hated her for her goodness—so often the incitement of mortal hatred. She loses without a pang the heirship to a kingdom. An ideal thus poised in goodness and radiant in beauty might well have sustained—as undoubtedly it did sustain—the inspiration of Shakespeare.
Adelaide Neilson, with her uncommon graces of person, found it easy to make the chamber scene and the cave scenes pictorial and charming. Her ingenuous trepidation and her pretty wiles, as Fidele, in the cave, were finely harmonious with the character and arose from it like odour from a flower. The innocence, the glee, the feminine desire to please, the pensive grace, the fear, the weakness, and the artless simplicity made up a state of gracious fascination. It was, however, in the revolt against Iachimo's perfidy, in the fall before Pisanio's fatal disclosure, and in the frenzy over the supposed death of Leonatus that the actress put forth electrical power and showed how strong emotion, acting through the imagination, can transfigure the being and give to love or sorrow a monumental semblance and an everlasting voice. The power was harmonious with the individuality and did not mar its grace. There was a perfect preservation of sustained identity, and this was expressed with such a sweet elocution and such an airy freedom of movement and naturalness of gesture that the observer almost forgot to notice the method of the mechanism and quite forgot that he was looking upon a fiction and a shadow. That her personation of Imogen, though more exalted in its nature than any of her works, excepting Isabella, would rival in public acceptance her Juliet, Viola, or Rosalind, was not to be expected: it was too much a passive condition—delicate and elusive—and too little an active effort. She woke into life the sleeping spirit of a rather repellant drama, and was "alone the Arabian bird."
Shakespeare's Juliet, the beautiful, ill-fated heroine of his consummate poem of love and sorrow, was the most effective, if not the highest of Adelaide Neilson's tragic assumptions. It carried to every eye and to every heart the convincing and thrilling sense equally of her beauty and her power. The exuberant womanhood, the celestial affection, the steadfast nobility, and the lovely, childlike innocence of Imogen—shown through the constrained medium of a diffusive romance—were not to all minds appreciable on the instant. The gentle sadness of Viola, playing around her gleeful animation and absorbing it as the cup of the white lily swallows the sunshine, might well be, for the more blunt senses of the average auditor, dim, fitful, evanescent, and ineffective. Ideal heroism and dream-like fragrance—the colours of Murillo or the poems of Heine—are truly known but to exceptional natures or in exceptional moods. The reckless, passionate idolatry of Juliet, on the contrary,—with its attendant sacrifice, its climax of disaster, and its sequel of anguish and death,—stands forth as clearly as the white line of the lightning on a black midnight sky, and no observer can possibly miss its meaning. All that Juliet is, all that she acts and all that she suffers, is elemental. It springs directly from the heart and it moves straight onward like a shaft of light. Othello, the perfection of simplicity, is not simpler than Juliet. In him are embodied passion and jealousy, swayed by an awful instinct of rude justice. In her is embodied unmixed and immitigable passion, without law, limit, reason, patience, or restraint. She is love personified and therefore a fatality to herself. Presented in that way—and in that way she was presented by Adelaide Neilson—her nature and her experience come home to the feelings as well as the imagination, and all that we know, as well as all that we dream, of beauty and of anguish are centred in one image. In this we may see all the terrors of the moving hand of fate. In this we may almost hear a warning voice out of heaven, saying that nowhere except in duty shall the human heart find refuge and peace—or, if not peace, submission.
The question whether Shakespeare's Juliet be correctly interpreted is not one of public importance. It might be ever so correctly interpreted without producing the right effect. There have been many Juliets. There has, in our time, been no Juliet so completely fascinating and irresistible as that of Adelaide Neilson. Through the medium of that Shakespearean character the actress poured forth that strange, thrilling, indescribable power which more than anything else in the world vindicates by its existence the spiritual grandeur and destiny of the human soul. Neither the accuracy of her ideals nor the fineness of her execution would have accomplished the result that attended her labours and crowned her fame. There was an influence back of these—a spark of the divine fire—a consecration of the individual life—as eloquent to inform as it was potent to move. Adelaide Neilson was one of those strange, exceptional natures that, often building better than they know, not only interpret "the poet's dream" but give to it an added emphasis and a higher symbolism. Each element of her personality was rich and rare. The eyes—now glittering with a mischievous glee that seemed never to have seen a cloud or felt a sorrow, now steady, frank, and sweet, with innocence and trust,—could, in one moment, flash with the wild fire of defiance or the glittering light of imperious command, or, equally in one moment, could soften with mournful thought and sad remembrance, or darken with the far-off look of one who hears the waving wings of angels and talks with the spirits of the dead. The face, just sufficiently unsymmetrical to be brimful of character, whether piquant or pensive; the carriage of body,—easy yet quaint in its artless grace, like that of a pretty child in the unconscious fascination of infancy; the restless, unceasing play of mood, and the instantaneous and perfect response of expression and gesture,—all these were the denotements of genius; and, above all these, and not to be mistaken in its irradiation of the interior spirit of that extraordinary creature, was a voice of perfect music—rich, sonorous, flexible, vibrant, copious in volume, yet delicate as a silver thread—a voice
"Like the whisper of the woods In prime of even, when the stars are few."
It did not surprise that such a woman should truly act Juliet. Much though there be in a personality that is assumed, there is much more in the personality that assumes it. Golden fire in a porcelain vase would not be more luminous than was the soul of that actress as it shone through her ideal of Juliet. The performance did not stop short at the interpretation of a poetic fancy. It was amply and completely that—but it was more than that, being also a living experience. The subtlety of it was only equalled by its intensity, and neither was surpassed except by its reality. The moment she came upon the scene all eyes followed her, and every imaginative mind was vaguely conscious of something strange and sad—a feeling of perilous suspense—a dark presentiment of impending sorrow. In that was felt at once the presence of a nature to which the experience of Juliet would be possible; and thus the conquest of human sympathy was effected at the outset—by a condition, and without the exercise of a single effort. Fate no less than art participated in the result. Though it was the music of Shakespeare that flowed from the harp, it was the hand of living genius that smote the strings; it was the soul of a great woman that bore its vital testimony to the power of the universal passion.
Never was poet truer to the highest truth of spiritual life than Shakespeare is when he invests with ineffable mournfulness—shadowy as twilight, vague as the remembrance of a dream—those creatures of his fancy who are preordained to suffering and a miserable death. Never was there sounded a truer note of poetry than that which thrills in Othello's, "If it were now to die," or sobs in Juliet's "Too early seen unknown, and known too late." It was the exquisite felicity of Adelaide Neilson's acting of Juliet that she glided into harmony with that tragical undertone, and, with seemingly a perfect unconsciousness of it—whether prattling to the old nurse, or moving, sweetly grave and softly demure, through the stately figures of the minuet—was already marked off from among the living, already overshadowed by a terrible fate, already alone in the bleak loneliness of the broken heart. Striking the keynote thus, the rest followed in easy sequence. The ecstasy of the wooing scene, the agony of the final parting from Romeo, the forlorn tremor and passionate frenzy of the terrible night before the burial, the fearful awakening, the desperation, the paroxysm, the death-blow that then is mercy and kindness,—all these were in unison with the spirit at first denoted, and through these was naturally accomplished its prefigured doom. If clearly to possess a high purpose, to follow it directly, to accomplish it thoroughly, to adorn it with every grace, to conceal every vestige of its art, and to cast over the art that glamour of poetry which ennobles while it charms, and while it dazzles also endears,—if this is greatness in acting, then was Adelaide Neilson's Juliet a great embodiment. It never will be forgotten. Its soft romance of tone, its splendour of passion, its sustained energy, its beauty of speech, and its poetic fragrance are such as fancy must always cherish and memory cannot lose. Placing this embodiment beside Imogen and Viola, it was easy to understand the secret of her extraordinary success. She satisfied for all kinds of persons the sense of the ideal. To youthful fancy she was the radiant vision of love and pleasure; to grave manhood, the image of all that chivalry should honour and strength protect; to woman, the type of noble goodness and constant affection; to the scholar, a relief from thought and care; to the moralist, a spring of tender pity—that loveliness, however exquisite, must fade and vanish. Childhood, mindful of her kindness and her frolic, scattered flowers at her feet; and age, that knows the thorny pathways of the world, whispered its silent prayer and laid its trembling hands in blessing on her head. She sleeps beneath a white marble cross in Brompton cemetery, and all her triumphs and glories have dwindled to a handful of dust.
* * * * *
NOTE ON CYMBELINE.—Genest records productions of Shakespeare's Cymbeline, in London, as follows: Haymarket, November 8, 1744; Covent Garden, April 7, 1746; Drury Lane, November 28, 1761; Covent Garden, December 28, 1767; Drury Lane, December 1, 1770; Haymarket, August 9, 1782; Covent Garden, October 18, 1784; Drury Lane, November 21, 1785, and January 29 and March 20, 1787; Covent Garden, May 13, 1800, January 18, 1806, June 3, 1812, May 29, 1816, and June 2, 1825; and Drury Lane, February 9, 1829; Imogen was represented, successively, by Mrs. Pritchard, Miss Bride, Mrs. Yates, Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Bulkley, Miss Younge, Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Siddons, Mrs. Pope, Miss Smith, Mrs. H. Johnston Miss Stephens, Miss Foote, and Miss Phillips. Later representatives of it were Sally Booth, Helen Faucit, and Laura Addison.
There was a great shower of meteors on the night of November 13, 1833, and on that night, near Baltimore, Maryland, was born the most famous tragic actor of America in this generation, Edwin Booth. No other American actor of this century has had a rise so rapid or a career so early and continuously brilliant as that of Edwin Booth. His father, the renowned Junius Brutus Booth, had hallowed the family name with distinction and romantic interest. If ever there was a genius upon the stage the elder Booth was a genius. His wonderful eyes, his tremendous vitality, his electrical action, his power to thrill the feelings and easily and inevitably to awaken pity and terror,—all these made him a unique being and obtained for him a reputation with old-time audiences distinct from that of all other men. He was followed as a marvel, and even now the mention of his name stirs, among those who remember him, an enthusiasm such as no other theatrical memory can evoke. His sudden death (alone, aboard a Mississippi river steamboat, November 30, 1852) was pathetic, and the public thought concerning him thenceforward commingled tenderness with passionate admiration. When his son Edwin began to rise as an actor the people everywhere rejoiced and gave him an eager welcome. With such a prestige he had no difficulty in making himself heard, and when it was found that he possessed the same strange power with which his father had conquered and fascinated the dramatic world the popular exultation was unbounded.
Edwin Booth went on the stage in 1849 and accompanied his father to California in 1852, and between 1852 and 1856 he gained his first brilliant success. The early part of his California life was marked by hardship and all of it by vicissitude, but his authentic genius speedily flamed out, and long before he returned to the Atlantic seaboard the news of his fine exploits had cleared the way for his conquest of all hearts. He came back in 1856-57, and from that time onward his fame continually increased. He early identified himself with two of the most fascinating characters in the drama—the sublime and pathetic Hamlet and the majestic, romantic, picturesque, tender, and grimly humorous Richelieu. He first acted Hamlet in 1854; he adopted Richelieu in 1856; and such was his success with the latter character that for many years afterward he made it a rule (acting on the sagacious advice of the veteran New Orleans manager, James H. Caldwell), always to introduce himself in that part before any new community. The popular sentiment toward him early took a romantic turn and the growth of that sentiment has been accelerated and strengthened by every important occurrence of his private life. In July 1860 he was married to a lovely and interesting woman, Miss Mary Devlin, of Troy, and in February 1863 she died. In 1867 he lost the Winter Garden theatre, which was burnt down on the night of March 22, that year, after a performance of John Howard Payne's Brutus. He had accomplished beautiful revivals of Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and other plays at the Winter Garden, and had obtained for that theatre an honourable eminence; but when in 1869 he built and opened Booth's Theatre in New York, he proceeded to eclipse all his previous efforts and triumphs. The productions of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Richelieu, Hamlet, A Winter's Tale, and Julius Caesar were marked by ample scholarship and magnificence. When the enterprise failed and the theatre passed out of Edwin Booth's hands (1874) the play-going public endured a calamity. But the failure of the actor's noble endeavour to establish a great theatre in the first city of America, like every other conspicuous event in his career, served but to deepen the public interest in his welfare. He has more than retrieved his losses since then, and has made more than one triumphal march throughout the length and breadth of the Republic, besides acting in London and other cities of Great Britain, and gaining extraordinary success upon the stage of Germany. To think of Edwin Booth is immediately to be reminded of those leading events in his career, while to review them, even in a cursory glance, is to perceive that, notwithstanding calamities and sorrows, notwithstanding a bitter experience of personal bereavement and of the persecution of envy and malice, Edwin Booth has ever been a favourite of fortune.
The bust of Booth as Brutus and that of John Gilbert as Sir Peter, standing side by side in the Players' Club, stir many memories and prompt many reflections. Gilbert was a young man of twenty-three, and had been six years on the stage, before Edwin Booth was born; and when, at the age of sixteen, Booth made his first appearance (September 10, 1849, at the Boston Museum, as Tressil to his father's Richard), Gilbert had become a famous actor. The younger man, however, speedily rose to the higher level of the best dramatic ability as well as the best theatrical culture of his time; and it is significant of the splendid triumph of tragic genius, and of the advantage it possesses over that of comedy in its immediate effect upon mankind, that when the fine and exceptional combination was made (May 21, 1888, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York), for a performance of Hamlet for the benefit of Lester Wallack, Edwin Booth acted Hamlet, with John Gilbert for Polonius, and Joseph Jefferson for the first Grave-digger. Booth has had his artistic growth in a peculiar period in the history of dramatic art in America. Just before his time the tragic sceptre was in the hands of Edwin Forrest, who never succeeded in winning the intellectual part of the public, but was constantly compelled to dominate a multitude that never heard any sound short of thunder and never felt anything till it was hit with a club. The bulk of Forrest's great fortune was gained by him with Metamora, which is rant and fustian. He himself despised it and deeply despised and energetically cursed the public that forced him to act in it. Forrest's best powers, indeed, were never really appreciated by the average mind of his fervent admirers. He lived in a rough period and he had to use a hard method to subdue and please it. Edwin Booth was fortunate in coming later, when the culture of the people had somewhat increased, and when the old sledge-hammer style was going out, so that he gained almost without an effort the refined and fastidious classes. As long ago as 1857, with all his natural grace, refinement, romantic charm, and fine bearing, his impetuosity was such that even the dullest sensibilities were aroused and thrilled and astonished by him,—and so it happened that he also gained the multitude. To think of these things is to realise the steady advance of the stage in the esteem of the best people, and to feel grateful that we do not live in "the palmy days"—those raw times that John Brougham used to call the days of light houses and heavy gas bills.
Mrs. Asia Booth Clarke, wife of the distinguished and excellent comedian John S. Clarke, wrote a life of her father, Junius Brutus Booth, in which she has recounted interesting passages in his career, and chronicled significant and amusing anecdotes of his peculiarities. He was on the stage from 1813 to 1852, in which latter year he died, aged fifty-six. In his youth he served for a while in the British navy, showed some talent for painting, learned the printer's trade, wrote a little, and dabbled in sculpture—all before he turned actor. The powerful hostility of Edmund Kean and his adherents drove him from the London stage, though not till after he had gained honours there, and he came to America in 1821, and bought a farm near Baltimore, where he settled, and where his son Edwin (the seventh of ten children) was born. That farm remained in the family till 1880, when for the first time it changed hands. There is a certain old cherry-tree growing upon it—remarkable among cherry-trees for being large, tall, straight, clean, and handsome—amid the boughs of which the youthful Edwin might often have been found in his juvenile days. It is a coincidence that Edwin L. Davenport and John McCullough, also honoured names in American stage history, were born on the same day in the same month with Edwin Booth, though in different years.
From an early age Edwin Booth was associated with his father in all the wanderings and strange and often sad adventures of that wayward man of genius, and no doubt the many sorrowful experiences of his youth deepened the gloom of his inherited temperament. Those who know him well are aware that he has great tenderness of heart and abundant playful humour; that his mind is one of extraordinary liveliness, and that he sympathises keenly and cordially with the joys and sorrows of others; and yet that he seems saturated with sadness, isolated from companionship, lonely and alone. It is this temperament, combined with a sombre and melancholy aspect of countenance, that has helped to make him so admirable in the character of Hamlet. Of his fitness for that part his father was the first to speak, when on a night many years ago, in Sacramento, they had dressed for Pierre and Jaffier, in Venice Preserved. Edwin, as Jaffier, had put on a close-fitting robe of black velvet. "You look like Hamlet," the father said. The time was destined to come when Edwin Booth would be accepted all over America as the greatest Hamlet of the day. In the season of 1864-65, at the Winter Garden theatre, New York, he acted that part for a hundred nights in succession, accomplishing a feat then unprecedented in theatrical annals. Since then Henry Irving, in London, has acted Hamlet two hundred consecutive times in one season; but this latter achievement, in the present day and in the capital city of the world, was less difficult than Edwin Booth's exploit, performed in turbulent New York in the closing months of the terrible civil war.
The elder Booth was a short, spare, muscular man, with a splendid chest, a symmetrical Greek head, a pale countenance, a voice of wonderful compass and thrilling power, dark hair, and blue eyes. His son's resemblance to him is chiefly obvious in the shape of the head and face, the arch and curve of the heavy eyebrows, the radiant and constantly shifting light of expression that animates the countenance, the natural grace of carriage, and the celerity of movement. Booth's eyes are dark brown, and seem to turn black in moments of excitement, and they are capable of conveying, with electrical effect, the most diverse meanings—the solemnity of lofty thought, the tenderness of affection, the piteousness of forlorn sorrow, the awful sense of spiritual surroundings, the woful weariness of despair, the mocking glee of wicked sarcasm, the vindictive menace of sinister purpose, and the lightning glare of baleful wrath. In range of facial expressiveness his countenance is thus fully equal to that of his father. The present writer saw the elder Booth but once, and then in a comparatively inferior part—Pescara, in Shiel's ferocious tragedy of The Apostate. He was a terrible presence. He was the incarnation of smooth, specious, malignant, hellish rapacity. His exultant malice seemed to buoy him above the ground. He floated rather than walked. His glance was deadly. His clear, high, cutting, measured tone was the exasperating note of hideous cruelty. He was acting a fiend then, and making the monster not only possible but actual. He certainly gave a greater impression of overwhelming power than is given by Edwin Booth, and seemed a more formidable and tremendous man. But his face was not more brilliant than that of his renowned son; and in fact it was, if anything, somewhat less splendid in power of the eye. There is a book about him, called The Tragedian, written by Thomas R. Gould, who also made a noble bust of him in marble; and those who never saw him can obtain a good idea of what sort of an actor he was by reading that book. It conveys the image of a greater actor, but not a more brilliant one, than Edwin Booth. Only one man of our time has equalled Edwin Booth in this singular splendour of countenance—the great New England orator Rufus Choate. Had Choate been an actor upon the stage—as he was before a jury—with those terrible eyes of his, and that passionate Arab face, he must have towered fully to the height of the tradition of George Frederick Cooke.
The lurid flashes of passion and the vehement outbursts in the acting of Edwin Booth are no doubt the points that most persons who have seen him will most clearly remember. Through these a spectator naturally discerns the essential nature of an actor. The image of George Frederick Cooke, pointing with his long, lean forefinger and uttering Sir Giles's imprecation upon Marrall, never fades out of theatrical history. Garrick's awful frenzy in the storm scene of King Lear, Kean's colossal agony in the farewell speech of Othello, Macready's heartrending yell in Werner, Junius Booth's terrific utterance of Richard's "What do they i' the north?" Forrest's hyena snarl when, as Jack Cade, he met Lord Say in the thicket, or his volumed cry of tempestuous fury when, as Lucius Brutus, he turned upon Tarquin under the black midnight sky—those are things never to be forgotten. Edwin Booth has provided many such great moments in acting, and the traditions of the stage will not let them die. To these no doubt we must look for illuminative manifestations of hereditary genius. Garrick, Henderson, Cooke, Edmund Kean, Junius Booth, and Edwin Booth are names that make a natural sequence in one intellectual family. Could we but see them together, we should undoubtedly find them, in many particulars, kindred. Henderson flourished in the school of nature that Garrick had created—to the discomfiture of Quin and all the classics. Cooke had seen Henderson act, and was thought to resemble him. Edmund Kean worshipped the memory of Cooke and repeated many of the elder tragedian's ways. So far, indeed, did he carry his homage that when he was in New York in 1824 he caused Cooke's remains to be taken from the vault beneath St. Paul's church and buried in the church-yard, where a monument, set up by Kean and restored by his son Charles, by Sothern, and by Edwin Booth, still marks their place of sepulture. That was the occasion when, as Dr. Francis records, in his book on old New York, Kean took the index finger of Cooke's right hand, and he, the doctor, took his skull, as relics. "I have got Cooke's style in acting," Kean once said, "but the public will never know it, I am so much smaller." It was not the imitation of a copyist; it was the spontaneous devotion and direction of a kindred soul. The elder Booth saw Kean act, and although injured by a rivalry that Kean did not hesitate to make malicious, admired him with honest fervour. "I will yield Othello to him," he said, "but neither Richard nor Sir Giles." Forrest thought Edmund Kean the greatest actor of the age, and copied him, especially in Othello. Pathos, with all that it implies, seems to have been Kean's special excellence. Terror was the elder Booth's. Edwin Booth may be less than either, but he unites attributes of both.
In the earlier part of his career Edwin Booth was accustomed to act Sir Giles Overreach, Sir Edward Mortimer, Pescara, and a number of other parts of the terrific order, that he has since discarded. He was fine in every one of them. The first sound of his voice when, as Sir Edward Mortimer, he was heard speaking off the scene, was eloquent of deep suffering, concentrated will, and a strange, sombre, formidable character. The sweet, exquisite, icy, infernal joy with which, as Pescara, he told his rival that there should be "music" was almost comical in its effect of terror: it drove the listener across the line of tragical tension and made him hysterical with the grimness of a deadly humour. His swift defiance to Lord Lovell, as Sir Giles, and indeed the whole mighty and terrible action with which he carried that scene—from "What, are you pale?" down to the grisly and horrid viper pretence and reptile spasm of death—were simply tremendous. This was in the days when his acting yet retained the exuberance of a youthful spirit, before "the philosophic mind" had checked the headlong currents of the blood or curbed imagination in its lawless flight. And those parts not only admitted of bold colour and extravagant action but demanded them. Even his Hamlet was touched with that elemental fire. Not alone in the great junctures of the tragedy—the encounters with the ghost, the parting with Ophelia, the climax of the play-scene, the slaughter of poor old Polonius in delirious mistake for the king, and the avouchment to Laertes in the graveyard—was he brilliant and impetuous; but in almost everything that quality of temperament showed itself, and here, of course, it was in excess. He no longer hurls the pipe into the flies when saying "Though you may fret me, you can not play upon me"; but he used to do so then, and the rest of the performance was kindred with that part of it. He needed, in that period of his development, the more terrible passions to express. Pathos and spirituality and the mountain air of great thought were yet to be. His Hamlet was only dazzling—the glorious possibility of what it has since become. But his Sir Giles was a consummate work of genius—as good then as it ever afterward became, and better than any other that has been seen since, not excepting that of E.L. Davenport. And in all kindred characters he showed himself a man of genius. His success was great. The admiration that he inspired partook of zeal that almost amounted to craziness. When he walked in the streets of Boston in 1857 his shining face, his compact figure, and his elastic step drew every eye, and people would pause and turn in groups to look at him.
The actor is born but the artist must be made, and the actor who is not an artist only half fulfils his powers. Edwin Booth had not been long upon the stage before he showed himself to be an actor. During his first season he played Cassio in Othello, Wilford in The Iron Chest, and Titus in The Fall of Tarquin, and he played them all auspiciously well. But his father, not less wise than kind, knew that the youth must be left to himself to acquire experience, if he was ever to become an artist, and so left him in California, "to rough it," and there, and in the Sandwich Islands and Australia, he had four years of the most severe training that hardship, discipline, labour, sorrow, and stern reality can furnish. When he came east again, in the autumn of 1856, he was no longer a novice but an educated, artistic tragedian, still crude in some things, though on the right road, and in the fresh, exultant vigour, if not yet the full maturity, of extraordinary powers. He appeared first at Baltimore, and after that made a tour of the south, and during the ensuing four years he was seen in many cities all over the country. In the summer of 1860 he went to England, and acted in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, but he was back again in New York in 1862, and from September 21, 1863 to March 23, 1867 he managed what was known as the Winter Garden theatre, and incidentally devoted himself to the accomplishment of some of the stateliest revivals of standard plays that have ever been made in America. On February 3, 1869 he opened Booth's Theatre and that he managed for five years. In 1876 he made a tour of the south, which, so great was the enthusiasm his presence aroused, was nothing less than a triumphal progress. In San Francisco, where he filled an engagement of eight weeks, the receipts exceeded $96,000, a result at that time unprecedented on the dramatic stage.
The circumstances of the stage and of the lives of actors have greatly changed since the generation went out to which such men as Junius Booth and Augustus A. Addams belonged. No tragedian would now be so mad as to put himself in pawn for drink, as Cooke is said to have done, nor be found scraping the ham from the sandwiches provided for his luncheon, as Junius Booth was, before going on to play Shylock. Our theatre has no longer a Richardson to light up a pan of red fire, as that old showman once did, to signalise the fall of the screen in The School for Scandal. The eccentrics and the taste for them have passed away. It seems really once to have been thought that the actor who did not often make a maniac of himself with drink could not be possessed of the divine fire. That demonstration of genius is not expected now, nor does the present age exact from its favourite players the performance of all sorts and varieties of parts. Forrest was the first of the prominent actors to break away from the old usage in this latter particular. During the most prosperous years of his life, from 1837 to 1850, he acted only about a dozen parts, and most of them were old. The only new parts that he studied were Claude Melnotte, Richelieu, Jack Cade, and Mordaunt, the latter in the play of The Patrician's Daughter, and he "recovered" Marc Antony, which he particularly liked. Edwin Booth, who had inherited from his father the insanity of intemperance, conquered that utterly, many years ago, and nobly and grandly trod it beneath his feet; and as he matured in his career, through acting every kind of part, from a dandy negro up to Hamlet, he at last made choice of the characters that afford scope for his powers and his aspirations, and so settled upon a definite, restricted repertory. His characters were Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Iago, Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Shylock, Cardinal Wolsey, Benedick, Petruchio, Richelieu, Lucius Brutus, Bertuccio, Ruy Blas, and Don Caesar de Bazan. These he acted in customary usage, and to these he occasionally added Marcus Brutus, Antony, Cassius, Claude Melnotte, and the Stranger. The range thus indicated is extraordinary; but more extraordinary still was the evenness of the actor's average excellence throughout the breadth of that range.