A Player Under Three Reigns

by Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Company. 1925. 8vo. xiv + 320 pp. Illustrated. $5.00.
This handsome volume, with its beautiful and readable type-page and interesting illustrations, is a delight to any lover of well-made books. But it is more than that. It is the record of a distinguished career, told with simplicity, modesty, and directness. The life described is peculiar, both in accomplishment and in the richness and variety of its contacts.
We see an accomplished actor against a background of unusual intellectual opportunity and follow him through a life singularly fortunate in friendships and professional successes. He enjoyed a happy and stimulating boyhood, an ardent and colorful youth, and maturer years blessed with success in his chosen career, from which came retirement when at the zenith of his powers.
The volume is full of anecdote and interest and is never dull. It is written with fine discretion and betrays the sensitiveness of the artist and the good breeding of the gentleman. The author was much more than an actor. He was as well a portrait-painter and a man of letters. He knew the famous men of his time in and out of his profession, and the book is enlivened with many intimate glimpses of such men as Whistler, Wilde, M’Carthy, Keene, Irving, and others. There is much generous praise of the acting of others, and perhaps a bit too little about his own professional methods.
The reader of middle age will find many references to half-forgotten plays, and will be cheered to find this distinguished authority saying a good word for plays and players loved by former generations of playgoers but now ignored or ridiculed by the modern critic.
But it has one fault, in common with all other books of dramatic reminiscence. When the reader lays it down, he knows nothing more of the stage and its lure or of the life and emotions of the actor than he did before he read it. These delightful books are delightful mainly because they are about interesting people, but, as a revelation of the emotional and intellectual life of a sensitive man or woman following one of the oldest and certainly one of the most picturesque of the arts, they could for all intents and purposes be written by a distinguished lawyer or a successful shipbuilder.
Perhaps it is too much to ask that anyone so close to the profession should give the outsider a glimpse of the thrill and glamour that he fondly fancies belong to the stage and its people. The disturbing thought comes that perhaps there is no such thrill, no such glamour. Perhaps, after all, the life and emot ions of an actor do not differ from those of a reviewer of books.
But this can hardly be so, for the art of the actor is so much a matter of personality and his art so definitely interpretive that the exercise of his powers must develop a personal technique. How he does this, how he accounts for success or for failure, how he reacts to the mood of his audience, how he carries on in the face of illness or fatigue — these and a thousand other things the layman wishes to be told.
Even in this charming book we miss this and we are sorry. We wish the author had not been quite so modest and self-effacing.
With this ungracious reservation, the volume is a welcome addition to the short list of really distinguished dramatic reminiscences, and will be read by all who care to know the life of an artist and a gentlemam of high mind and generous achievement.