THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB.
THERE is a remarkable passage in Fanny Kemble’s delightful Journal of her first visit to America, in which she writes gravely of the short-lived fame of actors. The poet, the painter, the musician, she says, enchant us through their works ; a great actor “ is himself his work.”“ There is scarcely to be conceived a popularity for the moment more intoxicating than that of a great actor in his day. So much of it becomes mixed up with the individual. The poems, the sculptures, of the old Grecian time witness to these latter ages the enduring life of truth and beauty ; the poets of Rome, surviving the trophies of her thousand victories, are yet familiar in our mouths as household words. Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare are yet shedding divinest influences.” All this, written by the eloquent young actress doubtless in the reaction from one of her own triumphs, contrasts sadly with the climax a page beyond, where she recalls the pageants that, night after night, “ riveted the gaze of thousands, and drew forth their acclamations. Gone like rosy sunset clouds, fair painted vapors, lovely to the sight, but vanishing as dreams. Where are the labors of Garrick, of Macklin, of Cooke, of Kemble, of Mrs. Siddons ? ” she says. “ Chronicled in the dim memories of some few of their surviving spectators, who speak of them with an enthusiasm which we, who never saw them, fancy the offspring of that feeling which makes the old look back to the time of their youth as the only days when the sun knew how to shine.”
I lingered just now over these passages, touching enough when one remembers that they were written by a beautiful young creature in the very morning brightness of her fame ; most touching as an evidence of human desire for an immortality that can be comprehended by this world’s vision, and also of that gifted nature which, consecrating all its powers to a certain art, sees that the best success is but temporary, and soon to exist only in vague tradition and by the help of its sister art of letters. We do know Garrick yet, and Mrs. Siddons ; to many Fanny Kemble is often playing still in the theatre of memory ; but what a long procession of painstaking, delightful men and women the world has forgotten, — those whose fame was only of their own time, or for an occasional student of stagecraft or lover of old books, a student who is lucky enough to bring them again to life in his eager and sympathetic imagination.
I have been wishing that somebody would write about one actress who left us not long ago, regretted by everybody who was familiar with the stage of the Boston Museum. Those of us who never could keep our hands still when Mrs. Vincent’s kindly face and short, comfortable figure appeared at the wing in familiar guise of big London cap and Lady Blessington brocade ; those of us who had seen her in her little parlor, and listened with delight as she called her lawless old green parrot an impudent baggage in fine stage tones ; who knew her self-denial, her generosity, her capital acting, which, good as it was, must after all come last as we try to praise her, — we cannot bear to think that our Mrs. Vincent may be forgotten. There are certain parts in the old English comedies, in the charming Irish plays of Boucicault, where it will always go hard with us to applaud any one else, with the vision of her delicious impersonations in our minds. Perhaps, after all, I must bring with an apology this copy of verses from a seldom-visited portfolio, where they were left unthought of until Fanny Kemble’s Journal called them back to me. Mrs. Vincent died in summer, when many of her friends were out of town, and one, at least, ignorantly thought that there might be few within reach who could pay a last tribute of respect to the dear old woman. But going into the hot town from the seashore, and imagining, though much before the hour, that St. Paul’s Church would be a cool and empty place in which to wait for the beginning of the funeral services, it was found crowded with people already ; a sorrowing crowd indeed, not curious and idly come together for the hour, but reverent and regretful. It was only after watching the great number of actors, the tiredness and patient alertness of even the least expressive faces; after gratefully remembering how much we owe to those who give their lives for other people’s pleasure, who play strange parts until they feel astray in every-day life, that I understood the blessing of such a life as Mrs. Vincent’s in the tempted and halfappreciated shifting and bedazzled world of the theatre.
AT MRS. VINCENT’S FUNERAL.
A sombre burden now she goes,
Who made the saddest of us smile,
And tired hearts forget their woes.
You who in all your player years
Have made us laugh so many times ;
We only greet you now with tears.
Who thin with giving made your purse ;
And some of us, God knows how weak !
But for your Christian words were worse.
Of hopes and joys that cannot stay,
That faces wreathed in smiles by night
Are often sad and pale by day !
Of honest praise your rightful share ;
Sincere upon the mimic stage,
Unsullied in the footlight’s glare !
What silent plaudits can we send
By cords that reach from heart to heart
To you who ever played the friend !