THE first few years of my experience were memorable for their wealth of interest, for the splendor and variety of their histrionic material, for the significant changes of the lines upon which the American theatre was to develop. Within the half decade between 1870 and 1875, Charles Fechter, Carlotta Leclercq, and Tommaso Salvini first appeared in this country ; Charles James Mathews, in admirable form, revisited our stage after a long absence ; Charlotte Cushman, having reëstablished her primacy over all our native actresses, was playing her most celebrated parts; Nilsson and Lucca and Parepa-Rosa were first seen and heard here in opera; Edwin Booth was approaching the zenith of his fame and power; Jefferson’s Rip Van Winkle was causing itself to be accepted as the highest achievement of American comedy ; Sothern’s unique art, especially in Lord Dundreary, its most original expression, had prevailed over the two great English-speaking nations, but was still as fresh as the dew of morning; Madame Janauschek’s superior ability was beginning to be appreciated ; Adelaide Neilson, the incomparable, entered upon her American career ; W. S. Gilbert’s peculiar gifts as a dramatist were in process of acceptance on this side of the Atlantic; and our country, through Mr. Bronson Howard and his Saratoga, was making a new essay of originality in the creation of a play of contemporaneous “ society.” This was the period, also, of a great revival of dramatic versions of Dickens’s novels, in the best of which, Little Em’ly, there was much good acting in Boston : first at Selwyn’s Theatre, by Mr. Robinson as Peggotty, Mr. Le Moyne as Uriah Heep, Mr. Pearson as Ham Peggotty, Mrs. Barry as Rosa Dartle, and Miss Mary Cary as Emily ; and later, at another house, when John T. Raymond gave his delicious interpretation of Micawber. Also, it may be stated in parenthesis, midway of these years, to wit in 1872, occurred in Boston the Peace Jubilee, with its huge chorus and orchestra, its foreign bands of instrumentalists, and its presentation of Madame PeschkaLeutner; the necessary machinery having been set in motion by Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, most persistent and tireless of conductors and entrepreneurs.
THE BOSTON MUSEUM AND ITS STOCK COMPANIES.
It was at “ about this time ” — the familiar quotation from the Old Farmer’s Almanac is apropos — that that breaking up of stock companies, which had previously begun, took on a precipitate speed. There were still, however, a dozen or so regularly established troupes in the whole land, and of these this city had three of the best, placed at the Boston Theatre, the Globe, and the Boston Museum. The last of these houses was in a distinctive and peculiar sense the theatre of the capital of Massachusetts: partly because of its age and unbroken record as a place of amusement; even more because of the steady merit of its performances and the celebrity of many of its performers. At the outset, as every Bostonian knows, this establishment was conducted on the plan of Barnum’s of New York. The word “ theatre ” was not visible on any of its bills, programmes, or advertisements. It was a museum, and justified its title by an edifying exhibit of stuffed animals, bones, mummies, minerals, wax figures, and other curios ; making, through these “ branches of learning ” and its long-continued obeisance to Puritan tradition — after that tradition had ceased from the Municipal Ordinances — by closing its doors on Saturday nights, an eloquent appeal to the patronage of sober persons, affected with scruples against the godless theatre. The appeal was as successful as it was shrewd. To this day, I doubt not, there are citizens of Boston who patronize no other place of theatrical amusement than its Museum, though the stuffed beasts and the observance of the eve of the Lord’s Day are things of the past.
But, howsoever disguised or preferred by the children of the Puritans, the Museum was a theatre, if ever there was one. Those who can recall its earliest days will find clinging to their memories swarms of names, generally well mixed up as to dates and sequences : Mr. Tom Comer, leader of the orchestra, accomplished musician and genial gentleman ; W. H. Smith, an old-time actor and manager of stately style ; Mrs. Thoman, a charming performer of light comedy ; Mr. Finn, droll son of a much droller father ; the graceful and vivid Mr. Keach ; Mr. J. Davies, who was a very “ heavy ” villain on the stage, but, off it, lightly wielded the barber’s razor; the blazing Mrs. Barrett, whose life went out in darkness; J. A. Smith, who did stage fops, always with the same affected drawl and rising inflection, and, an actor at night, was a tailor by day, except on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, when he was an actor; Miss Kate Reignolds, a very brilliant player, who, as Mrs. Erving Winslow, now enjoys the highest reputation as a reader ; the dryly effective Mr. Hardenbergh; Mr. Charles Barron, a careful and versatile leading man; Miss Annie Clarke, who made herself an accomplished actress, despite the handicaps of a harsh voice and native stiffness of bearing; Mrs. Vincent, the perennial, the great - hearted, who for years was never mentioned except in close connection with the adjectives “ dear ” and “ old ; ” and, finally, William Warren, the comedian.
WILLIAM WARREN AND HIS RECORD.
Boston was fortunate, indeed, to be the home and workshop of William Warren for the better part of half a century. His career as an actor covered exactly fifty years, extending from 1832 to 1882 ; and during the entire period between 1847 and 1882, except for a single break of one year, he was the central sun of the stock company of the Boston Museum. Of the modern mode of histrionic vagabondage he had no experience, — no experience, of course, of the mercenary “ star ” system, which binds the artist to very numerous repetitions of a very few plays. When his seventieth birthday was celebrated, a little while before the close of his professional career, the tale of his work was told : he had given 13,345 performances, and had appeared in 577 characters ! What a record is this, and how amazingly it contrasts with the experience of other noted modern players ! It may be safely presumed, I think, that no other American actor, even in the early part of the nineteenth century, ever matched Mr. Warren’s figures. But compare them with those of his eminent kinsman, Joseph Jefferson, who within the latter half of his life as an actor, say from 1875 to 1900, has probably impersonated not more than a dozen parts in all; limiting himself, at ninety-nine out of every hundred of his performances, to exactly four characters.
Something is gained, something is lost, of course, by the pursuit of either of the professional courses which have been indicated. But as I look back upon Mr. Warren and his playing, the lives of all his rivals seem narrow, monotonous, and unfruitful. His art touched life, as life is presented in the drama, at ten thousand points. His plays were in every mode and mood of the Comic Muse, and ranged in quality from the best of Shakespeare to the worst of Dr. Jones. In old-fashioned farces, with their strong, sometimes vulgar, often noisy, usually vital fun; in tawdry patriotic or emotional melodramas ; in standard old English comedies ; in cheap local pieces, narrow and petty in their appeal; in delicate French comediettas, whose colors are laid on with a brush like Meissonier’s ; in English versions of the best Parisian dramas, subtle, sophisticated, exigent of finesse and adresse in the player, — in each and all of these Mr. Warren was easily chief among many good actors ; to the demands of each and all he was amply adequate. The one fault of his style was a slight excess in the use of stentorian tones, — the result, I suspect, of his early immersion in farce, — and his gift of pathetic suggestion, though generally sure, did not always have the deepest penetrative power. Otherwise, it may be said, with sober scruple for the exact truth, that Mr. Warren was nearly faultless. His acting seemed the fine flower of careful culture, as well as the free outcome of large intelligence and native genius. His enunciation and pronunciation of English were beyond criticism. His Latin was perfect, even in its quantities. His French was exquisite in intonation, and its accent was agreeable to Parisian ears. In all details of costume and “ make-up ” he showed the nicest taste and judgment, and the results of scholarly pains. So Mr. Warren was a School and Conservatory of acting in himself. In him Boston had a Théâtre Français, situated on Tremont Street, as long as be lived and played ; and Boston ought to he ashamed of itself that it did not derive more profit from the inspection and enjoyment of his masterly art than the present time gives any proof of.
A TRIBUTE FROM THE THÉATRE FRANCAIS.
Apropos of the large attribution of the last two sentences, I wish to submit here a piece of Gallic testimony that I cited in the essay on Mr. Warren which was
printed in the Atlantic a few years ago. With Rachel, on her visit to America in 1855-56, came M. Leon Beauvallet, as one of the jeunes premiers of her troupe, and historiographer of the expedition. On his return to Paris he published a thick duodecimo, entitled Rachel and the New World, which is one of the liveliest books ever written by a lively Frenchman. His strictures upon American life and manners were a queer mixture of flippancy, ignorance, and shrewdness. But of acting he was a keen and lucid critic, educated in the best Gallic school, familiar with all the best work of the Parisian stage. On the first Saturday afternoon of the company’s first season in Boston, Rachel played Adrienne Lecouvreur at the Boston Theatre; and M. Beauvallet, being “ out of the bill,” repaired, with much curiosity, to the Museum to see Adrienne the Actress, cast with Miss Eliza Logan as the heroine, and Mr. Keach as Maurice de Saxe. He found the performance, as a whole, anything but to his taste, and expressed his displeasure with unsparing frankness. But of Mr. Warren he said : “ Mr. W. Warren, who played the rôle of Michonnet, has seemed to me exceedingly remarkable. [Italics in the original.] He acted the part of the old stage manager with versatile talent, and I have applauded him with the whole house.” And after a sweeping expression of disgust concerning the various anachronisms in dress, he was careful to add, “ I do not allude to Mr. Warren, who was irreproachably costumed.”
MR. WARREN’S VARIED ABILITY.
My contemporaries will heartily commend my insistence upon the greatness of this artist and the greatness of his product, and the readers of the younger generation must submit to a recital which is, after all, nothing but a bit of the history of the American stage, with a margin of just attribution to a rare actor. Think for a moment upon the marvel of it all, — so trebly wonderful in this day of the sparse - producing player, — remembering that Mr. Warren’s record stands equally for the highest skill and the richest productivity. Imagine the mental speed and acumen, the temperamental sensibility, the extraordinary power of memory both in acquisition and in grip, the complete mastery of all the symbols and tools of the profession, the huge mimetic and plastic gift, the vis comica, all of which are involved in the almost perfection with which the total feat was accomplished. Here was an unrivaled exemplar, also, of the docility and facility which were once supposed to be essential to the equipment of a great comedian. It was apart of the scheme, a condition which he accepted as inseparable from the work of his vocation, that, within recognized limits, he should be like a French falconer, whose agents were trained to fly at any kind of game, from the noblest to the very mean. It is not to be doubted that Mr. Warren’s refined taste was frequently and for long periods of time offended by the stuff of his text. But no contempt which he felt ever tainted his work ; he was always faithful in every particular to play, playwright, and public, making the best of every character by doing his best in and for it. He would work — the reader must permit the use of many metaphors — with a palette knife in distemper, if he could not get a brush and oil paints ; in clay and granite, when marble was not to be had ; with a graver’s finest tool upon an emerald, or a shipwright’s broad axe upon a timber; now play merrily upon the tambourine or bones, and anon draw soul-stirring music from " the gradual violin ” or the many-voiced organ. There seemed to be absolutely no limit to his sympathy, practically none to his adaptability as an actor. Pillicoddy and Touchstone, Jacques Fauvel and Polonius, John Duck and M. Tourbillon, Mr. Ledger and Michonnet, Templeton Jitt and Jesse Rural, Sir Harcourt Courtly and Tony Lumpkin, Triplet and Dogberry, Goldfinch and Sir Peter Teazle, — that is the list of Mr. Warren’s contrasting impersonations, which I took for one of my texts in the Atlantic a dozen years ago. Fifty other pairs would have served about equally well, and the thought of any half a dozen of the coupled impersonations will avail to move my memory to glorious laughter, or to thrill it with the delicious pain of acute sympathy, or to enchant it with the recognition of consummate beauty. It is impossible to estimate how much such an actor has added to the pure pleasure of the community, or how potent a factor he was as an educator of the general heart and mind. To a pupil of the highest sensibility, Mr. Warren’s deep-hearted Sir Peter Teazle, in whom Sheridan’s conception was at once justified, reproduced and developed, might of itself have gone far to furnish a liberal education. Surely, no decently appreciative spectator who sat at the artist’s feet for a score of years could have failed to learn something of the difference between sincerity and affectation, breadth and narrowness, ripeness and crudity, in the practice of the histrionic art.
WARREN AND JEFFERSON COMPARED.
The temptation presents itself, and may properly be yielded to, to compare Mr. Warren and the other most distinguished American comedian, Mr. Warren’s relative and close friend, Mr. Joseph Jefferson. To speak the truth will nothing wrong either of these illustrious players. It is to be conceded at once by a partisan of our local comedian that no single achievement of his career approached, in depth and suggestiveness, in significance as an interpreter of the deeper things of the spirit, in resulting potency over the general heart of man, that Rip Van Winkle which, in the teeth of a thin text and fantastic plot, Mr. Jefferson has caused to be accepted as the supreme achievement in comedy of the latter half of the nineteenth century. .The touch of genius is here to be seen and to be reverenced. It follows, also, as a sure consequence, that Mr. Jefferson will be remembered longer than Mr. Warren. The power of an artist to attain or approach immortality in any art is the power of his one most effectual work. To reach this end, a large number of very good things are as nothing beside one superlatively excellent thing. Who doubts that Joseph Blanco White’s sole achievement, his matchless sonnet, Night and Death, will linger on the lips and in the hearts of men, when the whole mass of Spencer’s beautiful poems in the same kind exist, if they exist at all, as studies in prosody ? But these large concessions do not concede everything. Our Mr. Warren, by his vastly superior wealth, variety, and scope, has earned the higher title to the sacred name of artist, of what treason soever to his fame the ungrateful memories of men shall prove to be capable. Personally, I make little account of that cheerful, chirping libel upon Dickens’s creation which Mr. Jefferson has labeled Caleb Plummer, and no very great account of that effervescent petit maitre, light of step and glib of tongue, into whom he has transformed Sheridan’s clod-born Bob Acres, though I admit the actor’s delicate drollery in both impersonations. Mr. Jefferson can point, it seems to me, to but one work of supreme distinction, the sole and single product of his life, the masterpiece of our stage, — the figure of the immortal Rip. Our Warren, like another Rubens, could conduct you through a vast gallery, crowded with noble canvases, of which at least a hundred glow with the beauty and the truth of life, every one bearing his firm signature.
THE COMEDIAN’S PERSON AND MANNERS.
For many years Mr. Warren was a most interesting figure in Boston, not only upon the stage, but upon the streets over which he took his deliberate and but slightly varied walks. His tall, large, well-formed figure, and his easy, rather peculiar gait, which seemed always about to become, but never quite became, a roll or swagger ; his noble head, with the bright penetrating eyes and the extraordinarily sensitive mouth, made equally to utter mirth or pathos or wisdom, produced the effect of a unique personality. His manners were the finest I ever saw in a man. With actors almost all things seem to be in extremes, to be of the best or the worst. The bad manners of “ the profession ” are the most intolerable manners in the world. On the other hand, an experienced English grande dame spoke once with knowledge when, observing at a public assembly the rare charm of bearing of a beautiful lady whose face was strange to her, she said, “ That person is either a member of the royal family or an actress.” Mr. Warren’s whole “ style ” — if the vulgar word may be permitted — seemed to me faultless. His grace, ease, refinement, perfect modesty, absolute freedom from affectation, coupled with his swift responsiveness in facial expression and in speech, made conversation with him a delight and a privilege. And to the traits which have been mentioned is to be added a peculiar simplicity, which appeared to be the quintessence of the infinite variety of his life. I remember hearing it said, at a time near the close of the Great War, by some men who were native here, and to the best Boston manner born, that Edward Everett, A. B., A. M., LL. D., ex-Governor of Massachusetts, ex-United States Senator from Massachusetts, ex-President of Harvard College, ex-Minister to England, littérateur, orator, statesman, was, in respect of distinction of manners, in a class with but one other of his fellow citizens : that other one appeared in the local directory as “Warren, William, comedian, boards 2 Bulfinch Place.” It is to be added that Mr. Warren was the most reserved and reticent of mortals about everything pertaining to himself, and that he was extremely, perhaps unduly, sensitive to adverse criticism. When he bled, he bled inwardly> and of the wound he permitted no sign to escape him. He was a first favorite with all the actors and actresses of his acquaintance, and was most gentle, helpful, and tolerant to players who came to him for advice or comment.
TRAINING IN AN OLD-FASHIONED STOCK COMPANY.
The career of William Warren as a histrionic artist is of special interest for the light which it throws upon the vexed question of education for the stage. His exceptional record implies, of course, in the man, those exceptional native gifts which have been considered. But it is equally plain that his powers had been industriously developed by training and practice, and that his art had been enriched and refined by intelligent and industrious culture. It is true that he had the right ancestral bent, and was born to the passion of the stage, and that the force of the inherited instinct and aptitude of the actor seems to be more potent than any other that is transmitted through the blood. Mr. Warren was the son of an English player and of an American lady of an acting family, and counted among his near relatives a father, an aunt, four sisters, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins, who attained good positions upon the stage; Joseph Jefferson being one of the cousins in the second degree. His professional training, from sources exterior to himself, was obtained wholly within the only “ Conservatory ” of his youthful period, to wit, the regular oldfashioned stock company. Here he was brought into contact with the best acting of his day; here he had the opportunity to study at close quarters the speech, gesture, bearing, and general method of the dramatic leaders, in a vast variety of characters, changing from night to night; and here, as a beginner, he was subjected to the caustic criticism of the stage managen From an occasional specialist he might take lessons in fencing and dancing, practicing with his companions what he learned from his masters ; through observing other actors, and with the help of some of the humble servants of the stage, he would begin to acquire the arts of “ making up.” That is literally all the schooling that Mr. Warren had. His assiduous industry did the rest. But experience shows that this schooling, limited and imperfect as it was in some respects, was adequate to make of good material a highly finished product. I doubt if Mr. Warren ever took a lesson in what is known as elocution; yet, by practice and imitation of good speakers, he made himself master of an exquisite enunciation of English, which was a source of pure pleasure to sensitive ears.
MODERN EDUCATION FOR THE STAGE.
The resident stock company as a school of histrionic instruction must be said to have passed away. Actors in traveling troupes learn from one another by snatches, of course; private teachers — often retired actors, and sometimes of considerable skill — are fairly numerous in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston ; separated by long intervals, in two or three of our largest cities, are Conservatories or Schools of Expression, of which a very few in terms profess to train for the stage. To the person who wishes to become an actor only the last two means of instruction are accessible, until he has got a foothold in some company. I shall have something to say by and by concerning our great national aptitude for the stage ; but it is plain to any clear eyesight that the condition of chaos in respect of instruction, and the want of fixed standards at almost every point, are interfering seriously with our progress in the art of acting, and make the attainment of distinction in that art in the largest way, for the American stage, practically impossible. It is unfortunate that the actors themselves are barren of helpful suggestions. As a class they have little capacity for generalization, and scarcely one of them appears to be capable of transcending the limits of his own personal experience. Mr. Richard Mansfield, lately, in a talk intended for publication, with elaborately insincere irony disparaging his own “ poor ” acting, scoffed at the Conservatories, which did not succeed in sending out graduates as competent even as himself, who, as everybody knows, picked up his art pretty much at haphazard. There was truth as well as error in his strictures, — the truth being more important than the error. Thus far, our Schools of Acting, though conducted in some instances by men of ability, have failed in training candidates for the stage. One fatal criticism upon the graduates of these schools was made from the first, and continues to be made : their fault in action and in utterance is declared to be a stiffness of style, which is generally hopeless. The explanation is obvious : the students of acting are not brought into touch at the right times, and kept in touch for a sufficiently long time, with the stage itself. The French have solved the problem. The Gallic actor of high ambition acquires the machinery or skeleton of his art in the Conservatory, and, contemporaneously. in the theatre, learns to rid himself of the mechanical stiffness which is almost sure to follow technical drill in enunciation, pose, and gesture. If he did not get the lightening up and limbering out of the stage, with the resulting freedom of movement and utterance, the French say, he would, in nine cases out of ten, continue, as long as he acted, to suggest the operation of a machine, whose works are heard, and sometimes even seen. On the other hand, if he were not disciplined in the Conservatory, his art, in many of its particulars, would be wanting in clarity and precision. The actor of the highest grade must receive, therefore, the twofold training, — the scholastic and the theatrical. They order all these things in France much better than we in America, and their success has demonstrated the justness of their method. Our actors have the root of the matter in them, — are sensitive, facile, intelligent, and richly endowed with the mimetic gift; but they lack the highest finish and certainty of touch, and the moment they pass outside the rapid giveand-take and short speeches of the modern comic or romantic drama they fail at many important points, especially in gesture, in clean enunciation, and in the ability to declaim passages of moderate length, wherein a nice adjustment and proportion of emphasis are essential. A hundred instances might be cited. It will suffice to mention two : Miss Maude Adams, whose impersonation of the Due de Reichstadt in L’Aiglon — an impersonation of much beauty and pathos — is marred by the artist’s powerlessness to enunciate intelligibly when extreme passion and speed are demanded by a “ tirade; ” Mr. Mansfield, who, in the long speeches of Henry V., frequently so misplaces and misproportions his emphasis that the finer shades or larger powers of the Shakespearean text are lost. If our stage were to be wholly given up to trivial and unimportant plays, such a want of the best technical training might not much matter, though still it would matter. But the demand for the best dramas has not wholly disappeared, and there is no knowing what the future may bring forth. Whenever Shakespeare or Goldsmith or Sheridan is “ revived,” and when a Rostand is born to us, we shall need a corps of actors trained with the finer precision and larger style of the Conservatory which is attached to a great theatre.
MR. J. L. TOOLE AND SOME OTHER ENGLISH PLAYERS.
Recalling the work of our great comedian reminds me of his contemporary, Mr. J. L. Toole, the English actor, who long held in London the primacy which was Mr. Warren’s in Boston and New England. Mr. Toole visited America in 1874, being one of many British players whose pinnaces sailed to our golden shores in the years between 1870 and 1880. These visitors presented strong contrasts in professional ability, — the ladies being alike, however, in possessing great personal beauty. The alien artists, weighed in just scales, showed a preponderance of merit. On the side of mediocrity: Mrs. Scott-Siddons ; the brisk Mrs. Rousby, who in Tom Taylor’s ’Twixt Axe and Crown presented the Princess Elizabeth Tudor, afterward Queen of England, in the mode of an amateur, with occasional flashes of brilliancy ; Miss Cavendish, a large, ponderous, unimportant belle, wiio plodded sturdily over the dusty highway of commonplace ; and Mrs. Langtry, the absurdest of actresses, whose professional stock in trade consisted of her social notoriety, her face, her figure, and the garments and jewels wherewith said figure was indued, — the garments being tagged with their “creators’” names, and bearing price marks still intentionally legible. In the scale of merit were Miss Neilson, Mr. Mathews, Mr. Wyndham, Mr. Irving, and Miss Terry. Mr. Toole’s name ought, I suppose, to be added to the list of honor. But his tour in this country was far from fortunate, and he made no deep impression either upon the critics or the public. I remember his acting, and vaguely recall his solid comic power, his humanness, and his variety, with some pleasure, but with no feeling that his art was great or distinguished. The plays which he produced in Boston were, with scarcely an exception, flimsy things, whose vogue had depended upon his success in their leading parts. I fancy that he was not happy in his American environment, and that he by no means did himself justice here. The testimony of my own memory is strong only upon a single point, and that the worst point in his entire method. He persisted in repeating over and over again queer little tricks of voice or action, which were funny for perhaps once hearing or seeing, but would not bear reiteration. His British audiences encouraged him in this habit by their naif acceptance of it, I suspect; his American audiences would not tolerate it. In all my other experience of the theatre, I never saw a company of spectators freeze with such steady rapidity against an actor as on one of Mr. Toole’s nights at the Globe Theatre, when, in Ici On Parle Français, he used a senseless piece of stage “ business,” —which caused a light laugh because of its unexpectedness, — and thrice repeated the absurdity. On the fourth recurrence of the offense, it was not only not rewarded with a single snicker, but provoked many expressions of annoyance.
MR. CHARLES JAMES MATHEWS.
In marked contrast with my faint recollections of Toole are my vivid impressions of Charles James Mathews. Mr. Mathews revisited this country in 1871, when he was sixty-eight years of age, and he seemed to me then, and seems to me now, an unequaled incarnation of the spirit of youth and jollity. The dazzling Wyndham, at less than half the age of the senior actor, was no fresher or gayer than he, and in speed of tongue and wit was only a good second to Mr. Mathews. The elder artist was not to be compared with Mr. Warren in the breadth and reach of his art, though he did some great things, of which I recall his impersonation, at one and the same performance, of Puff and Sir Fretful Plagiary, in The Critic of Sheridan. But as a producer of mirth of the volatile, effervescent variety I have never seen his equal. Nothing happier, wholesomer, or sweeter in this light kind can be imagined, and the receptive spectator of the comedian’s playing often found himself affected with a delicious cerebral intoxication, which passed away with the fall of the curtain, and left naught that was racking behind. The laugh cure is the only mode which is accepted by the physicians of every school, and Mr. Mathews must have been a potent therapeutic and prophylactic agent in the health of Great Britain. He inherited his histrionic talent, and had been finely trained in the old methods. Even in France his style was considered admirable in grace, finesse, and dexterity. Sometimes he played in French. His enunciation was a marvel of incisive and elegant precision, effected with perfect ease, and often with extreme velocity. In his utterance of the lines of Captain Patter, in his father’s comedietta, Patter vs. Clatter, he performed an amazing feat. There were in the play six parts besides his own, the total speeches of the six others being uttered in three hundred words. The drama occupied twenty minutes in representation. Mr. Mathews’s portion of the dialogue was practically an unbroken monologue of between seven thousand and eight thousand words, which were delivered in eleven hundred seconds. His talk went as a whirlwind moves, or as the water used to come down at Lodore when Southey’s encouraging eye was on it; but no ear of ordinary acuteness needed to lose a syllable of his text.
MISS CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN.
Near the time when Mr. Mathews made his last visit to our country Miss Charlotte Cushman was approaching the close of her great professional career, which had been broken by many withdrawals and returns, and marked by more misuses of the word “final” than were ever in the history of the world charged against any other artist. I saw her in her assumptions of Meg Merrilies, Lady Macbeth, and Queen Katharine, and in some of her less important characters. I thought her then, and still think her, the only actress native to our soil to whom the adjective “ great ” can be fitly applied. As I remember her, she was a woman of middle age, gaunt of figure and homely of feature, who spoke with a voice naturally high in pitch and of a peculiar hollow quality, but of great range. The beauties and all the other women of the American stage were mere children beside her. Miss Mary Anderson, perhaps the most celebrated of our other home-born actresses, bore about the same relation to her that a march of Sousa bears to a symphony of Beethoven. Her assumption of Meg Merrilies, in the stage version of Guy Mannering, was the most famous and popular of her efforts, and well merited the general favor. It was one of the few impersonations I have seen which appeared to me to deserve to be called “ creations.” The queer old beldame of Sir Walter’s novel, a figure strongly outlined by his strong pen, furnished Miss Cushman with little more than the germ of her conception. The Meg Merrilies of the actress was sometimes of the order of the Scandinavian Norns or of the Grecian Fates, sometimes a fierce old nurse bereft of her nursling. At moments she was merely a picturesque gypsy hag, with a grim sense of humor; anon, in speech with Harry Bertram, her crooning, brooding tenderness and yearning were more than maternal, and were poignantly pathetic; at the height of her passion she was a terrible being, glaring or glowering with eyes that reflected the past and penetrated the future, a weird presence dominating the dark woods and the cavernous hills, an inspired Prophetess and an avenging Fury. The wonder of wonders was that the performance was absolutely convincing. It was impossible to laugh at it at any point, even in its most fantastic aspects ; impossible to withhold from it either full credit or entire sympathy. In it Miss Cushman, by the magic of her art, compelled the natural and the supernatural to fuse.
Her interpretation of Lady Macbeth was great, the actress attempting nothing novel or eccentric in her conception of the character. The lines in the performance which have fastened themselves with hooks of steel upon my memory are the four of Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy near the opening of the second scene of the third act of the tragedy : —
Where our desire is got without content:
’T is safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.”
I never knew a voice so capable as Miss Cushman’s of saturation with anguish ; and in no other text do I remember her equally to have used her gift in this kind. The words were accompanied by the wringing of her hands ; and through the first couplet, as she gave it, the listener was made to gaze into the depths of a soul, soon to enter the night of madness, already enduring the torments of hell. In the same scene, the affectionate solicitude of her speeches to her husband produced an indescribable effect of the terrible and the piteous in combination. A spectacle it was of a great love, driven by its impulse to minister to the loved object; being itself utterly and fatalistically hopeless and barren of comfort and of the power to comfort.
But, on the whole, Miss Cushman’s impersonation of the Queen Katharine of Henry VIII. must be accounted her crowning achievement, and, therefore, the highest histrionic work of any American actress. I shall merely note, with little detailed comment, the grandeur and simplicity of the character as she presented it in the first three acts of the play. Here, her Katharine was a document in human flesh, to show how a heavenly minded humility may be a wellspring of dignity, how true womanly sensibility may exalt the queenliness of a sovereign. The bearing of Katharine at the trial, in the second act, has been discussed till the theme is trite, and Mrs. Siddons’s interpretation of the scene and of its most famous line has been enforced, I suppose, upon her successors. The great daughter of the house of Kemble may, perhaps, have made the attack upon Wolsey, in
“ Lord Cardinal,
To you I speak,”
more prepotent and tremendous than it was possible for her transatlantic sister in art to make it; but it is not to be believed that any player could have surpassed Miss Cushman in the unstudied eloquence of the appeal of the wife and mother to the hard heart of the Royal Voluptuary, who sat “ under the cloth of state,” his big red face, as Mademoiselle de Bury says, almost “ bursting with blood and pride.”
It was in the second scene of the fourth act that Miss Cushman’s genius and art found their loftiest and most exquisite expression. Katharine — now designated in the text as “dowager,” since Anne Bullen wears the crown — is led in, “ sick,” by her two faithful attendants, Griffith and Patience. The careful reader of the text will mark the transition from the previous scene, filled with the pomp and throng of Anne’s coronation and with sensuous praises of the young queen’s beauty, to the plain room at Kimbolton, whence a homely, discarded wife of middle age is passing into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Nothing of its kind that I have heard surpassed the actress’s use of the “ sick ” tone of voice through all of Katharine’s part of the fine dialogue. “ Querulous ” is the only adjective that will describe that tone, and yet “querulous” is rude and misdescriptive. The note was that which we all recognize as characteristic of sufferers from sickness, after many days of pain, or when an illness has become chronic. In Katharine this tone must not be so pronounced as to imply mental or moral weakness or a loss of fortitude : it was but one of the symptoms of the decay of the muddy corporal vesture in which her glorious soul was closed. Miss Cushman avoided excess with the nicest art, but quietly colored the whole scene with this natural factor of pathos. A finely appealing touch was made on the words in her first speech, —
So; now, methinks, I feel a little ease,” —
which were spoken first with the breaks and halts of an invalid, then with a slight comfortable drop in pitch, succeeded by a little sigh or grunt of relief at the period. All that followed was exceedingly noble, — her pity for Wolsey in his last humiliations, her pious prayer for his soul, her just, intuitive comment upon his grievous faults, her magnanimous acceptance of Griffith’s attributions of merit to her implacable foe. As the shadows deepened about the sick woman, Miss Cushman’s power took on an unearthly beauty and sweetness, which keenly touched the listener’s heart, often below the source of tears. Her cry, out of the depths of her great storm-beaten heart, of infinite longing for the rest of paradise, after her vision of the " blessed troop,” who invited her to a banquet, —
And leave me here in wretchedness behind
will be recalled to-day by thousands of men and women, and at this mere mention the lines will echo and reëcho through the chambers of their memories. Katharine’s one flash of indignation at the rudeness of a messenger — queenly wrath, for an instant clearing her voice and lifting her form — made more effective the rapid lapse in strength which naturally followed. Capucius, the gentle envoy of her “ royal
nephew,” the Emperor Charles V., has entered with messages of “ princely commendations ” and comfort from King Henry. To him she gave her last charges, all for deeds of loving - kindness to those about her, with an eagerness of desire which carried through her broken voice. Her messages of meekness and unfaltering affection to her false husband were, of all her touching words, the most poignant. In her commendation of her daughter Mary to the king, who is besought “ a little to love ” the child, —
Heaven knows how dearly,” —
and in her word of farewell to Henry, —
In all humility unto his highness :
Say his long trouble now is passing
Out of this world: tell him,in death I bless’d him,
For so I will,” —
the supreme point of pathos was reached. The throb and sob of her voice in the italicized lines deserve never to be forgotten.
Throughout the final fifty verses of the scene Miss Cushman caused Katharine’s voice to grow slowly and gradually thicker, as the night of death closed in upon sight and speech. But Katharine’s last command, that she “ be used with honour ” after her death, and, " although unqueen’d,” be interred “ yet like a queen, and daughter to a king,” given slowly and with the clutch of the Destroyer upon her throat, was superb and majestic. The queenly soul had prevailed, and wore its crown despite the treason of king, prelates, and courts. After Miss Cushman, all recent attempts, even by clever actresses, to impersonate Katharine of Aragon seem to me light, petty, and ineffectual.
Henry Austin Clapp.
(To be continued.)