John Lawrence Toole.

Reminiscences of J. L. Toole; (Volume 1) online

. (page 15 of 16)
Online LibraryJohn Lawrence TooleReminiscences of J. L. Toole; (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

education is completed he pays her a visit, taking with him a
formal proposal of marriage from Joe, but is considerably per-
plexed by a remark made by Mrs. Torrington, to the effect
that Mary, being now by education a lady, must not marry a
person of her guardian's rank in society. While he is seated
on the steps of his van meditating on this remark, he is further
perplexed by the appearance of Mr. Chevenix, a gentleman of
wealth and influence, who has fallen in love with Mary at the
house of one of her schoolfellows, and offers to make her his
wife. On the following morning he is to call for Dick's reply,
and in the meanwhile the Cheap Jack falls asleep. A con-
siderable lapse of time apparently takes place, and when we
see Mary in the second act she is the wife of Mr. Chevenix,
living in great splendour, but far from happy, for her husband
is a cold, austere man, evidently modelled upon Mr. Dombey,
and she has imprudently set her affection upon the Hon.
Claude Lorrimer, a roue of the ge}ius exquisite. Uncle Dick,
paying her a visit, is treated with rude hauteur by Mr. Cheve-


a piece which is still popular with my audiences.
I always enjoy playing ' Uncle Dick,' and should
enjoy it still more if I had my original ' Chevenix '
back ; not that Billington does not make a capital
' Chevenix,' but my early associations with Irving

nix, and is afflicted by the discovery that his darUng encourages
the dishonourable advances of Lorrimer. Another apparent
lapse of time brings us to the third act, and we find Joe Len-
nard working, broken-hearted, at his forge, and discoursing
with Dick on old times. From a newspaper the friends learn
that Lorrimer has been lost at sea, and it speaks of him as a
conspicuous personage in the great Chevenix divorce case, and
presently Mary is seen at the window, a wandering outcast.
Dick is not inclined to admit her, but at last yields to the per-
suasions of the more tender-hearted Joe, and she dies in the
presence of her old friends. At this point the scene suddenly
changes. Dick is discovered on the steps of his van, as we
saw him at the end of the first act, and we find that the mar-
riage of Mary and jNIr. Chevenix, with the misfortunes con-
sequent thereon, has been merely a dream. As in the case of
Vidorine, the dream has a practical result. Mary marries, not
Chevenix, but Joe. This is a very pretty and ingeniously
constructed drama, here and there a little too prolix, and some-
what too much imbued with the sentiment that associates
virtue with corduroy rather than with clothing of finer texture.
Three of the characters afford good scope for acting. These
are * Uncle Dick,' one of those half-pathetic, half-comic per-
sonages whom for years Mr. Toole has made his own; the
engaging ' Mary,' very nicely played by Miss Neilson ; and
' Mr. Chevenix,' whose ridiculous formality is most happily
elaborated by Mr. Henry Irving, and who, in the first act,
seems to be made up into a resemblance of a celebrated states-
man. The success of the piece is most decided." — Tiincs^
December 15th, 1869.

S 2



in the part are so pleasant that, somehow, I
always feel there is a kind of blank in the piece.


Of course, this is only a bit of personal senti-
ment, and the audience knows nothing of it ; it


makes no difference to my acting, unless it may
unconsciously add to the sentimental interest of
the part.

** I played a big round of new and old pieces at
the Gaiety, having the valuable assistance of that
c\&VQ.v comddienne, Miss Nellie Farren, who, I fear,
has more or less wasted her great abilities since
then by an exclusive devotion to burlesque. I am
not saying anything against burlesque ; I have done
a good deal in that direction myself ; but I never
allowed it to engross all my time and attention.
I am not quoting myself as an example of genius
which might have been spoiled by burlesque ; nor
am I suggesting that Miss Nellie Farren could not
to-day, if she chose, or had the opportunity, play
pure comedy as well as ever ; but I fear that,
working in the same groove for many years, and
that groove not by any means the most artistic or
desirable — namely, mere burlesque — is not calcu-
lated to improve one's art ; indeed, it is calculated
to lower its tone and purpose."

" But you yourself enjoy farce more than
comedy, and farce is not the highest order of
dramatic art," I suggested, " one blesses the man
who invented laughter ; and one thanks Byron and
Burnand for the hearty, rollicking burlesques you
played at the Gaiety."

"Yes, and I enjoyed tliem ; the work both of


Burnand and Byron in the region of burlesque is,
as a rule, of a far higher order than much of what
is now called farcical comedy. As for what I like
to play, I believe it very much depends upon
what my audiences like. When my audiences are
pleased with a serious piece, I am pleased ; but I
particularly enjoy a comic part ; if I am in good
robust health I revel in it, one has so much more
margin than in serious comedy. I invented the
business of the brush in ' Spriggins,' where I put
it on my knee for protection. I had a touch of
the gout, and a desire for mischief made me put
the blacking brush on my knee where the major
would strike me. His surprise was a first-rate
unrehearsed effect, and I have done it ever since.
Yes, I enjoy a rollicking farce. I laugh with the
audience, and get carried away by the fun of it ;
and I enjoy pathetic scenes, too, but they tire me
more than funny ones. I feel the sorrows of
* Caleb Plummer ' sincerely, and always did ; but of
late years I feel quite grieved for him. I think
the scene between the three, his daughter, him-
self, and ' Dot,' where she confesses her love for
' Tackleton,' and I have to tell her what he is.
and when I know that my deceptions are at last
discovered, are very beautiful ; but the return of
the boy who was thought to be drowned, coming
on the top of the daughter's forgiveness, is alto-
gether a most heart-stirring scene. There has


been some discussion about actors' feelings. No
audience, in my opinion, was ever made to weep
unless the actor had wept, or could weep, at what
touched the audience. At the same time, an
actor must be able to control himself. It is de-
lightful, in such characters as ' Michael Garner,'
' Caleb Plummer,' ' Bob Cratchit,' and so on, to
feel that the audience is in sympathy with the
sentiment of the part you are playing. I some-
times think my Scotch audiences are more deeply
moved by pathos than any other audiences,
though they are quieter except at the ends of acts.
The Midlanders laugh heartily ; so do my London
friends ; but, after all, audiences are very much
alike all the world over. A London audience one
night will be quite different in its acceptance of
fun or pathos from the audience that sits through
the same piece the next night."


" During my first seasons at the Gaiety, we
played Byron's Tottles^ Wait and Hopc^ Paul
Pry, and Our Clerks. Miss Farren's ' Phoebe,'
in PatLl Pry, was as bright and clever as I should
say it is possible to make it ; and she was delightful
in Our Clerks. We played Aladdin the Second
(in which I introduced the catch phrase, * and still
I am not happy ') and Artful Cards, a capital



piece by Burnand ; and when the Spelling Bee
mania was on I did a Spelling Bee, which was an
immense go ; I played the part of * Professor
Muddle.' We did the burlesque of The Forly
Thieves and Don Giovanni, and Burnand's





Babes in the Wood; also Bib and Tttcker ; I
was ' Bib ' and Brough was ' Tucker.' Thcspis, in
two acts, was Gilbert and Sullivan's first effort in
the way of opera-bouffe or comic English opera ;
we produced it at the Gaiety ; also Shilly-Shally,
by Trollop': and Reade, and when I closed my


engagement, Miich Too Cltver, by yourself and
John Oxenford, had just become one of the most
popular of our first pieces.

" During the engagement of Phelps and Charles
Mathews at the Gaiety, I played with these two
great actors — ' Bob Acres,' in T/ie Rivals ; ' Maw-
worm,' in The Hypocrite ; and ' Bulgruddery,' in
John Btill. I then gave farewell performances
prior to my visit to America, taking the Globe for
the purpose, and I produced there for the first time
Albery's Wig and Gozun, and Byron's Fool and
His Money, My season lasted ten weeks, and the
business was first-rate.

" I think my season with Phelps at the Gaiety
was one of the most agreeable in all my expe-
riences. I got to know Phelps very well, and to
like him very much.

"When I was a boy, I used to go and see
Phelps play at Sadler's Wells — watch for him at the
stage-door. I saw him play all his leading parts.
I saw him the first time he played * Sir Pertinax
Macsycophant,' in The Man of the World? It was

■' " The occasion of Mr. Greenwood's benefit last night at
Sadler's Wells Theatre has given the town the opportunity of
seeing Mr. Phelps in a new line of character, and the per-
formance of Macklin's somewhat old-fashioned but admirable
comedy of The Man of the U'or/dhas enabled that able and
versatile actor to add another character to his well-stored

" Sir Pertinax Macsycophant has, with some trifling excep-



for Greenwood's benefit at Sadler's Wells. The
house was packed so full that he had to come down


to the footlights and address the audience. There
had been some murmuring among those who were

tions, when it has been revived to show the capacity of some
actor to enunciate the Scottish dialect, been abandoned since


over-crowded. He told them that any lady or
gentleman who couldn't obtain seats or were uncom-

the powerful and sarcastic Cooke gave the terrible portrait in
its full vitality. The celebrated men who have since occupied
the foremost position of the theatre have not attempted the
delineation, though it embodies the most available and the
most legitimate means of showing the actor's highest art — the
power of impersonation, and the enunciation of a drastic
satire of the highest flavour and the most potent effect. The
character is in itself repulsive ; the author has drawn it with
a rigid regard for truth that seems to have been dictated by a
personal abhorrence. It has not one popular speech — it has
not one graceful phrase— it has not a single redeeming point.
The resources of the theatre have not been called in to aid its
situations or enforce its points. It is a character with which
nothing can be done but by the aid of the purest art — it tests
the actor in every word — it demands in every line the con-
summate performer. It is admirably drawn, and contrives to
rivet the attention for five acts, and to supply the place of
plot, sentiment, and action. To succeed in it is to achieve a
high triumph, and this triumph Mr. Phelps attained by the
purest and severest exercise of his art. From his first inter-
view with his son till his diabolical and final curse, every tone,
every look was emphatic and characteristic. In his devilish
history of the crawling arts by which he attained station and
wealth, he rose to the sublime of comedy, and the bitter satire
thrilled whilst it almost appalled. It unmasked the villain, but
the character was admirably developed, and, safe in a nobler
state of society, we could afford to laugh, or rather to scoff, at
the unmitigated scoundrel. We felt that the whip of satire
was in a powerful hand, and the sordid vices were receiving a
wholesome and severe chastisement. The great merit of the
performance consists in its being given with tremendous power,
and in its yet preserving the rvV coinica. Such a scourging of vice
elevates the theatre into a wholesome purifier, and its pro-


fortable would have their money returned to them
at the box-office. It was rather a nervous sort of
thing for him to have to do upon such an occasion.
It was a great night. He made a tremendous hit
in the part of ' Sir Pertinax,' which continued to be
one of his favourite and most remarkable imper-

*' Mathews was very jolly at the Gaiety. He
used to say in a chaffing way he was afraid it was
a bad thing giving the public so much ; they would
always be expecting to see us three together :

fessors into valuable assistants to moral teachers. The por-
trayal, as a piece of art, is beyond common praise, and must
attract every connoisseur of the drama to witness it. We have
not space to point out the various excellences of the portrait,
but can truly say we never remember — though we remember
the whole of the career of the elder Kean and of Miss O'Neill
— to have seen a more potent piece of acting. The comedy
was tastefully put on the stage, and performed in all respects
well by Mr. Barrett, Mr. F. Robinson, Mrs. Marston, and
Miss Fitzpatrick, the latter being very agreeable and charming
in Lady Rodolpha Lumbercourt. The house was crowded in
every part by a most respectable audience, the esteemed cha-
racter of the acting-manager always drawing a remarkably full
house. And we are sure the lovers of dramatic art will feel
obliged to him for giving them the oj^portunity of seeing
Mr. Phelps to such extraordinary advantage. It will revive
the popularity of a comedy which by no means should become
obsolete ; for though originally perhaps a little too much
directed against a particular nation, it is still universal in its
application." — F. G. Tomlins in the Morning Advertiser^
Nov. 28th, 1851.


' and I cannot afford to carry Phelps about the

" \vi John Bull, Phelps, of course, played ' Job
Thornbury ;' Charles Mathews, ' Shuffleton ;' and I
played the Irishman, who speaks the first lines.
I was a little nervous, having to struggle with the
brogue, and just as I spoke two seats in the gallery
broke down. The commotion upset me a little,
but I got over it when I found that the noise was
not hostile to my brogue.

" Phelps said to me, ' Hollingshead wants us to
play together in a piece specially written for the
three of us.' He asked me what I thought about
it — if I knew any piece that would suit us. I said,
' Yes, I know the very thing. It would, I believe,
be an immense go,' I excited the dear old fellow's
interest tremendously. ' Well,' he said, at last,
' what is it ? ' ' Ici on parle Franrais, with Phelps
as the Major, Mathews as the Frenchman, and
myself as Spriggins ! '

" When Phelps was very much amused, or very
much moved, he closed his eyes, and occasionally,
as you know, thrust his hand into the breast of his
waistcoat. He closed his eyes on this occasion,
and chuckled immensely.

" Irving and Phelps lodged in the same house
at Manchester. Irving was then playing with the
Batemans. Phelps was very regular in his


habits ; went to bed immediately after he got home,
and was up early in the morning. These were
not Irving's habits ; he is fond of the night ; hkes
to take a rest after his work, a cup of tea and a
book in the morning. So they did not meet as
often as they might have done. But Phelps had
a very high opinion of Irving, which he expressed
to me on several occasions."


" One night I was passing through Manchester,
on my way to Glasgow, and knowing that Phelps
was there, staying at a well-known theatrical house
— Mrs. Brown's — I called upon him. He had
gone to some official dinner, but Mrs. Brown said
he would be home at ten o'clock.

'' I told her not to say who I was, as I contem-
plated a little joke, but to inform him that a gentle-
man had called, and would call again.

'' Phelps was at home to the minute. I was in
the passage, and heard him go upstairs.

''When he had got into his room, I sent up
word to say that I wanted him to help me on my
way by playing for my benefit ; I would play
' Macbeth ' to his ' Macduff,' and he ' I ago ' to my

'* Mrs. Brown was a bright sort of woman, and


I got her to deliver this as a message, saying that
my name was Jacob Simpkins.

" I listened, and heard him say, ' Tell him to
come to the theatre to-morrow morning. I will
not be troubled in this way at my rooms and at
this time of night.' He grumbled and marched
about. ' Play for his benefit ! Never heard of
him ! What does he mean ? '

" When she came down, I wrote him a letter in
the hall, badly spelt, in which I informed him that
I had seen him play certain parts at Sadler's Wells
— a more or less ignorant burlesque kind of letter
— and that, if he was not inclined to play for my
benefit, would he spare me a shilling or two, or
a little refreshment ; couldn't he send me a little
refreshment down.

" I modelled my letter on many begging epistles
that I had received myself, and I asked Mrs. Brown
to supplement the letter by saying that if he'd send
me a little drop of something down to drink his
health, it shouldn't be mentioned at Islington.

" He was very angry at this. Said he wouldn't
send me a little drop of something down ' I might
come to the theatre the next day at eleven o'clock,
if he could help me he would ; but he would not
have me there, and if I didn't go he would be very
much inclined to force me. It was a most dis-
graceful thing to worry him in that way.


"Ill the midst of his rage I pushed my way past
Mrs. Brown, getting on the shady side of her, and
said, ' Sir, sir ; a little of something hot ! ' Before
he could express his indignation at this intrusion,
I had allowed him to recognize me. He was very
merry over the incident, and we spent a pleasant
and agreeable evening."


''Some people thought Phelps starchy and stiff ;
but he was naturally shy and bashful, and to those
who knew him, genial, cordial, and of very agree-
able and pleasant manners.

"When we were playing in y(9//;z Bull -dX the
Gaiety we were photographed together for the
Illustrated London News ; the three of us, Phelps,
Mathews, and myself. The photographer was
very much impressed with his work, and very
anxious ; and just as he had posed to his entire
satisfaction, Phelps gave one of his little nervous

" Mathews remarked, ' It's no good trying to
get your tragedy cough into the picture, Phelps ;
it can't be done.'

" And of course it could not. Don't think the
most scientific artist has yet discovered a way to


photograph a tragedy cough — a comedy smile is,
of course, a very different thing.

" We were photographed in character. Phelps
had on one of his heavy tragic wigs, and Mathews
one of his tall comedy hats. Just before the
last pose, the photographer suggested that Mr.



Mathews should take off his hat. ' It will make
your face lighter.'

" Mathews, in his quick, merry way, taking off
his hat, said, ' Don't you think if Mr. Phelps took
off his tragedy wig it would make his face lighter ? '

" It was a very interesting business altogether ;



more particularly for me, studying the special
characteristics and individualities of these two very
remarkable men, Phelps as great and delightful in
his line as Mathews in his. I drew them both out
afterwards about each other. Phelps said of
Mathews : ' An admirable actor ; but, don't you
think, rather flippant?' Mind you, they both
admired each other very much. Mathews said of
Phelps : ' A fine actor ; but, off the stage, rather
heavy, eh ? ' "



" Phelps, at Sadler's Wells, had been induced
by a friend to take that friend's son into the com-
pany. He was a bit of a swell in his way, the
young fellow, very fond of acting, and could not
be got to settle down to regular work. Was
anxious to go upon the stage, and Phelps was
induced to give him a salary and bring him into
the company with a view to his getting on. He
began by playing a small part in Timon of

" One night during the performance the young
man did not turn up. He sent no excuse either
by letter or in any other way, and the next morn-
ing there was no communication from him. So
Phelps gave instructions to the stage-porter that


he was not to be admitted to the theatre again.
The young man came the next night and received
this message, at which he was very angry ; and
he waited about all the evening until he could
speak to Mr. Phelps.

"He caught Phelps leaving the stage-door,
and asked for an explanation.

" Whereupon Phelps said, ' Why, what do you
mean, sir ? You never came to the theatre at all
last night.'

" ' No, I did not.'


" * Such a night as it was, Mr. Phelps ! Rain-
ing in torrents. Why I wouldn't have sent a dog

" The explanation rather staggered Phelps.
One mentions it as an illustration of how little
some people understand about theatres and
theatrical work. Phelps forgave him and took
him back ; but I need hardly say that he did not
' set the Thames on fire.' "


"When Phelps came to Drury Lane with
Macready, he alternated the parts of ' Macbeth '
and ' Macduff.' He made a great hit in ' Mac-
duff.' It was one of his best performances.


The fight was terrific. Ygu know when
Macready was fighting he always, under his
breath, used to bully ' Macduff/ calling him
' Beast I ' 'Wretch!' 'Scoundrel!' &c. It was
suggested to Phelps that he should do the same.
So when Macready called him ' Beast ! " Phelps
retorted, ' Brute ! ' ' Demon ! ' ' Fiend ! ' ' Ruf-
fian ! ' &c. The play over, Phelps expected to
be rebuked, and, as he anticipated, was promptly
sent for to Mr. Macready's room. But it was to
be praised.

" ' Thank you very much, Mr. Phelps ; more
particularly in the fight. I have never found
anybody before to work with me so pleasantly.'

" I asked Phelps if this story was true, and he
said, ' Yes, it is : quite true,' "


If the career of Mr. Phelps was not what is
called an eventful one, it makes, in the hands of
his nephew, Mr. W. May Phelps and Mr. John
Forbes Robertson, a singularly interesting
biography. "The story," remarks my host, "is
capitally told in their introductory chapter," and
on this hint I venture to quote the leading para-
graphs of this admirable prologue to a delightful
book : —


" Samuel Phelps inherited the instincts of a
gentleman, and throughout the whole of his
career he never forgot that he was one. He
was of good family, and, though not what is
called college-bred, of good education. He was
a doting husband and father and a fast friend.
Exceedingly fond of children, he would often take
an infant out of the arms of any nurse he might
meet in his walks and kiss it.

" Attached to his home, he would rather dine
with his family on plain fare than sit down to a
banquet without them. Not that he by any
means despised good things ; for, when they
came in his way, nothing pleased him more than
having a few friends round his table to share them
with him. He had a great liking for gardening
and even agriculture, and, had he been able to
retire early in life, he would have made a good
country gentleman. At Chelsea, where he resided
from 1840 to 1844, he had a large piece of
ground attached to his house, where he grew
some beautiful specimens of choice flowers and
plants, giving them his own personal attention.
He was as pleased with his achievements in this
way as he was with his success on the stage. His
gardener, for the greater part of this period, was
an Irishman, who had held the same position at
William Cobbett's some years before, and was


mightily proud of both his masters, as he told one
of the present writers.

*' The Lion Hotel, Farningham, Kent, was his
principal residence when fishing or shooting. He
spent more time in that county than in any other
part of the kingdom, and he was known to all the
farmers round about. He took great interest in

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

Online LibraryJohn Lawrence TooleReminiscences of J. L. Toole; (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 16)