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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



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V" ( I AM E. BURTON.



WILLIAM E. BURTON

AdTOR, Author, and Manager
A SKETCH OF HIS CAREER



Recollections of his Performances



BY



WILLIAM L. KEESE



ILLUSTRATED



NEW YORK * LONDON

G. P. PUTNAM'S sons

®^c Jinichcrbotktr ^rtss
1885



COPYRIGHT BY

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
1885



Press of
G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York )

I



^9X



Ol



TO
THE DAUGHTERS OF WILLIAM E. BURTON

THE author's friends OF MANY YEARS, THIS MEMORIAL OF

THEIR DISTINGUISHED FATHER IS AFFECTIONATELY

INSCRIBED



813976



PREFACE.



The present volume was prompted by the
thought that no adequate account of the late
William E. Burton had been given to the pub-
lic. During his life no man was better known,
and his death called forth a universal expres-
sion of admiration for his genius and regret for
his loss. In the many obituary notices by the
press some brief details of his career were
given ; but the narrative was necessarily con-
fined to the narrow limits of a newspaper
article. An actor so eminent — one of the
greatest in his line the stage has known, —
whose name is identified with certain delinea-
tions of character that died with him ; whose
renown stamped his theatre with a celebrity
distinct and remarkable ; a Shakespearian
scholar, whose devotion to the poet, attested



VI PREFACE.

by the incomparable library he amassed, was
only equalled by his interpretation of the
master's spirit, surely is entitled to a more
pains-taking and a more extended record. An
endeavor is here made to supply such need ;
and in the view taken of Burton as Actor,
Author, and Manager, the relation is from birth
to death.

In the preparation of this volume, the author
owns his indebtedness to Ireland's " Records
of the New York Stage," Wood's "Personal
Recollections," Wemyss's " Theatrical Biog-
raphy," Hutton's " Plays and Players,"
Phelps's " Players of a Century," Clapp's
" Record of the Boston Stage," and Stone's
" Theatrical Reminiscences." The writer also
gratefully acknowledges the assistance given
him by members of Mr. Burton's family, and
their loan to him of old play-bills, engravings,
letters, etc. Mr. Matteson, of New York, may
also be mentioned in acknowledgment of
friendly aid.

The illustrations accompanying the memoir



PREFACE. vn

will be viewed with interest. The frontispiece
is from a daguerreotype, and has been chosen
as a faithful likeness of the comedian. The
Bob Acres is from a painting by T. Sully, Jr. ;
the Dr. Ollapod from a portrait by Henry
Inman ; the Captain Ctitile and Aminadab
Sleek from daguerreotypes ; the TimotJiy
Toodles from a photograph. All the above were
family possessions. The picture of the Cham-
bers Street Theatre is from a water-color
drawing in the collection of Thomas J. McKee,
Esq.

Many shortcomings will doubtless be found
in this book, and readers of it who are old play-
goers may think of many things the author has
missed. But we are told by Ruskin that there
is "no purpose so great but that slight actions
may help it," and by Wordsworth that

"Small service is true service while it lasts."
December, 1884. W. L. K.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.



William E. Burton . . . Frontispiece

Mr. Burton as Bob Acres . . . io

Mr. Burton as Dr. Ollapod ... 24
Palmo's Opera-House, afterwards Bup-

ton's Theatre 34

Mr. Burton as Captain Cuttle . . 56

Mr. Burton as Timothy Toodles . . 94

Mr. Burton as Aminadab Sleek . . '54



IX



CONTENTS.



William E. Burton, 1804-1834 . . 3

William E. Burton, 1834-1848 . . 8

Burton in New York, i 848-1 856 . . 33

Burton in New York, 1856-1860 . . 100
List of Characters . . . . .111

Recollections 121

Mr. Burton in Farce . . . 128
Mr. Burton in Parts He Made Spe-
cially Famous 141

Mr, Burton in Comedy and Shakes-
peare ...... 158

Mr. Burton's Library .... 179

Conclusion 207

Index 213



XI



WILLIAM E. BURTON.
1804-1860.



"■He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great
right to he so." — Shakespkare.



WILLIAM E. BURTON.



1804-1834.

William Evans Burton, the son of William
George Burton, an author of some repute, was
born in London, September 24, 1804, and died
in New York, February 10, i860. His father was
a printer, with a bent of mind toward theology,
and gave expression to his views in a work en-
titled " Biblical Researches," published in the
close of the last century. The son was classi-
cally educated in St. Paul's School in London,
an institution where, before his day, Elliston
and the elder Mathews were instructed ; and
the father's design was to prepare him for the
ministry. The parent's death, however, sum-
moned him from his studies, and, at the age
of eighteen, he assumed the direction of the
printing-ofifice, which he managed for the main-
tenance of his mother. It may be observed

3



4 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

that one of the specialties of the elder Burton's
business was the printing of classical works,
and the son's knowledge had often been of ser-
vice in the matter of proof-reading. From the
printing-office he was led to the experiment of
editing a monthly magazine, thus early reveal-
ing an inclination toward the profession of let-
ters which never wholly deserted him ; fostered
by sundry efforts of authorship in his native
land, and appearing subsequently, in this coun-
try, in his conduct of "The Gentleman's
Magazine " and ^ Literary Souvenir," and in
the compilation known as " Burton's Cyclo-
paedia of Wit and Humor."

The youthful experiment was not a substan-
tial success, and did not long continue ; but his
editorship brought him into connection with
certain members of the dramatic profession,
and he was persuaded (we wonder if persuasion
were really needed !) to make a trial of his
stage ability by playing with a company of
amateurs. His success in this venture fore-
shadowed his destiny, and we find him in 1825



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 5

performing with a provincial company on the
Norwich, Sussex, and Kent circuits.

We cannot help the indulgence, at this mo-
ment, of a playful fancy regarding Burton's
early efforts. Did he, in the exemplification
of tragedy, which he then aspired to, reveal by
a single facial example the dawning of a future
Toodle ? Could imagination discover in the
dasfeer of Macbeth the hook, and in the Thane
himself the features, of Ed'ard Cuttle, Mariner
of England? Did the thoughtful countenance
of Hauilet suggest in any possible way the
lugubriousness of an incipient Sleek ? Did he
make his Majesty George IV. laugh at Wind-
sor, where, as tradition has it, he played before
the king at this stage of his career? We know
not ; but the mask of Melpomene had been
thrown aside when, after another round of the
provinces, with varying success, but gaining
celebrity through an unusually wide range of
parts, he made his first appearance in London
in 1831, as Worniivood, in ''The Lottery
Ticket," a character that became famous in



6 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

his hands. This engagement was at the Pavil-
ion Theatre, and was a highly successful one.
The great Liston, just twice Burton's age, was
then at the Haymarket, and we can imagine
with what emulous admiration the young
comedian regarded the veteran actor. He
little dreamed that many of Liston's renowned
characters would descend to him by right of
ability and comic power ! In the following
year (1832) Liston retired from the Haymarket,
"through a pique," as they say, and Burton
succeeded him ; but the audiences retained too
vivid a recollection of Liston's performances,
and the engagement was only moderately suc-
cessful. Recovering suddenly from his disaf-
fection, Liston returned to the Haymarket,
and Burton in his turn retired, to once more
make the rounds of the provinces. But he
bore with him one remembrance in connection
with the Haymarket that consoled him for
many a disappointment ; and that was the
thought of having played Marall to Edmund
Kean's Sir Giles Overreach. The story runs



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 7

that Mrs. Glover,' a leading actress of the com-
pany, objected for some reason to the Marall,
and declared that she or Burton should be
omitted in the cast. Kean, despite irregu-
larities, still retained a remnant of his old sway,
and he insisted on being supported by Burton.
The result was that Mrs. Glover was compelled
to yield, and in due course Marall appeared
before a full house, containing many celebrities
of the day. It was at this time, too, that a
production of his pen — the play of " Ellen
Wareham," ' — enjoyed the unusual distinction
of being performed at five London theatres on
the same evening. A year and a half went by
in efforts to enhance his reputation, and it may
be said that his career was not free from the
vicissitudes that frequently attend dramatic

1 Dr. Doran, in his " Annals of the Stage," referring to Kean
in various parts, says : " Among these, Sir Giles stands pre-
eminent for its perfectness, from the first words, ' Still cloistered
up,' to the last convulsive breath drawn by him in that famous
one scene of the fifth act. in which, through his terrible intensity,
he once made so experienced an actress as Mrs. Glover faint
ji^yay, — not at all out of flattery, but from emotion."

" First produced. May, 1833.



8 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

itineracy. But through it all he gained ground
and advanced steadily in his profession. He
played almost every thing ; his industry was
indefatigable, his will indomitable. The lamp
of experience never waned ; and that knowl-
edge gained from contact with the world and
human nature, was a preparation for events
and emergencies in another scene and another
land. For now his thoughts were turned
toward the United States, and in 1834 he de-
termined to cross the ocean, and to take the
chance of fortune and of fame.



1834-1848.
Burton landed on our shores unheralded,
to begin the twenty-five years of the artistic
career which holds so conspicuous a place in
the annals of dramatic achievement. He was
not "brought over," and he came at his own
expense. He came, indeed, with the prestige
of having written " Ellen Wareham," and of
having made a comic character' famous by

■ Womnvood, in " The Lottery Ticket."



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 9

fifty consecutive representations; but he was
simply announced as coming " from the Pa-
viHon Theatre, London," and he made his first
appearance in America at the Arch Street
Theatre, Philadelphia, under the management
of Mayvvood & Co., on September 3, 1824,
playing Dr. Ollapod, in Colman's " Poor Gentle-
man," and Wormwood, in "The Lottery Ticket."
Ol/apod aX'Wdiys remained one of Burton's most
effective parts. The portrait, on another page,
of the comedian in that character is from an
engraving by J. Sartain of a picture painted
from life by Henry Inman, in 1840,

There lies before us a bill (elsewhere repro-
duced) of the above theatre, dated Wednesday,
September 10, 1834, being the fourth night of
Burton's first engagement in this country.
The plays on the occasion were Sheridan's
comedy of " The Rivals " and the farce of
" The Lottery Ticket," — which last seems to
have met with great favor, as the bill states it
to be a repetition, owing to " numerous en-
quiries having been made at the box-office " ;



lO WILLIAM E. BURTON.

thus beginning the train of similar " numerous
enquiries " with which, in the years to come,
his own box-office became familiar. Burton
was the Bob Acres of the comedy and Worm-
wood in the farce. Then at the age of thirty,
we can believe that the comedian's unfolding
genius gave full promise of the delightful
humor which clothed his Acres at a later day ;
and that in the Wormwood of the farce he
afforded glimpses of that wealth of comic
power which thereafter, and for so long, he
lavished for the amusement of the public.
Miss Pelham was the Lydia LangiiisJi and Miss
Elphinstone the Julia, English actresses of no
special distinction ; but it is interesting to note
that Miss Elphinstone became the second wife
of Sheridan Knowles, the author of a cele-
brated and far more popular Julia than the
lady of "The Rivals," and who appeared on
the Philadelphia stage of that year.

Something akin to his reception by the
audiences at the Haymarket in London, was
for a time Burton's experience in Philadelphia.



\




Mr. Burton as Bob Acres.



WILLIAM E. BURTON. II

As the recollection of Liston by the London
audience dwarfed the efforts of the youthful
aspirant, so the memory of Joseph Jefferson,
senior, (who played in the city as late as
1830,') diluted the interest felt in the new
actor by the Philadelphia benches." But the
native force and humorous capability of the
comedian were destined to conquer indiffer-
ence; and, although the creative genius which
informed his subsequent delineations was yet
to be made clearly manifest, he soon had a
secure footing; and a belief was strengthening
in the public mind that an actor of rare endow-
ments and promise had come from the land of
Munden, Elliston, and Liston, and one who
might, it was not too much to say, worthily
perpetuate the traditions of Jefferson.

On the fifth night of his engagement (Sep-
tember 12, 1834) he played TimotJiy Qiiamt, in
" The Soldier's Daughter," and Tristavi Sappy,
in the afterpiece of " Deaf as a Post," and so

' He died in 1832.

" So the memory of Burton in New York to-day may still be
a warning of the danger of inviting comparison.



12 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

on through a round of characters in comedy
and farce — Daffodil Twod, among the latter, in
" The Ladies' Man " — written by himself — was
a great favorite. And it may here be said, in
passing, that the farce, which previous to Bur-
ton's advent had sunk into lethargy, revived
under his touch and became a vital point of
attraction. He made a great hit as Guy Good-
luck, in " John Jones," in which part he sang a
comic song — " A Chapter of Accidents " — and
the fact leads us to remark that very few of
those who saw the comedian in his ripe prime
were aware of the musical talent he exhibited
in earlier years, and that he made a specialty
of introducing humorous ballads in his pieces,
and sang them with marked effect, A col-
lection of such songs, entitled " Burton's Comic
Songster," was published in Philadelphia in
1850; and we were surprised, on looking it
over, at the quantity of mirthful verse he had
written and sung. The well-known ditty of
"The Cork Leg," it may be mentioned, was
written expressly for him.



ARCH STREET THEATRE.

Doors open at a ciuarter before 7. Performance to commence at half-
past 7 o'clock.
BOX 75-PIT 37.J-GALLERV 25 Cts.
Checks not Transferable.

FOURTH NIGHT of the Engagement of

Mr. burton,

On which occasion will be presented Sheridan's Comedy of

THE RIVALS.

BOB ACRES, - - - Mr. BURTON

LYDIA LANGUISH, Miss PELHAM.
JULIA, - - - - Miss ELPHINSTONE

Numerous enquiries having been made at the Box Office for a

repetition of

The Lottery Ticket,

It will be performed THIS EVENING.
WORMWOOD. . - - - - MR. BURTON

WiiDNESDAY Evening, September ioth, 1834,
Will be presented the Comedy of

THE RIVALS ;

on,

A TRIP TO BATH.

VN'ritten by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Esq.



BOB ACRES,


-


Mk


BURTON


Sir Anthony Absolute, Mr. Faulkner
Capt. Absolute, . . Mr. Murdoch
Faulkland, . . . Mr. Wood
Sir Lucius O'Trigger, Mr. Hamilton

David Mr. Watson

Servant Mr. Eberle


Fag, .
Coachman,
Cook's Boy,
Mrs. Malaprop .
Lucy,




Mr. Crutar
Mr. liroad
Mr. Kelly
Mrs. [ones
Mrs. Thayer


JULIA. . - . -


Miss


ELPHINSTONE


LVDIA LANGUISH.


Miss


PELHAM.



After which, the Laughable Farce of

THE LOTTERY T I C K E T .

WORMWOOD - - - Mr. BURTON

Performed by him upwards of Fifty successive nights in London.

Capias Mr. Watson I Susan, , . . Mrs. Thayer

Charles Mr. Hamilton | Mrs. Corset, . . Mis s Armstrong

To-Morrow Evening, the Opera of

THE DEVIL'S BRIDGE.

COUNT BELLINO, - - - Mr. HUNT

Being the Third Night of his Engagement.



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 1 3

The engagement of Burton with Maywood
& Co. lasted two years, and was renewed for
two more, during which period the comedian's
powers greatly developed, and displayed re-
markable versatility and dramatic resource.
He widely extended his repertory, and was
seen at the Arch and Chestnut Street theatres
in a variety of comedy roles and in innumerable
farces. Among the many noted parts per-
formed by him at various times we may name :
Ollapod, in " The Poor Gentleman " ; Doctor
Pangloss, in " The Heir at Law " ; Fanner A si i-
field, in " Speed the Plough " ; Goldfinch, in
" The Road to Ruin " ; Billy Lackaday, in
'* Sweethearts and Wives " ; Tony Lumpkin, in
" She Stoops to Conquer " ; Maw-worm, in
" The Hypocrite " ; Sir Peter Teazle and Sir
Oliver Surface, in " The School for Scandal " ;
Mr. Dove and Mr. Coddle, in " Married Life " ;
Dogberry and Verges, in "Much Ado About
Nothing " ; Lanncclot Gobbo, in "The Merchant
of Venice " ; Bob Acres, in " The Rivals " ; —
the last-named character he played on one



14 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

occasion with the conjunction of the elder
Wallack as Capt. Absolute, Tyrone Power as
Sir Lncius O" Trigger, and Mr. Abbot (an actor
celebrated in his day) as Falklajid ; truly a
striking distribution. A few of the farces out
of the many were " The Lottery Ticket,"
" Sketches in India," " The Mummy " (so
famous in Chambers Street), " No Song No
Supper," " John Jones," " Deaf as a Post,"
" The Ladies' Man," and a piece called
" Cupid," which had won renown in England
through the acting of the famous John Reeve.
Burton's growing popularity was substan-
tially shown in the attendance at his regular
benefits. They were always bumpers, and oc-
casions of warm demonstrations of regard. He
was always ready, too, with his sympathy and
support where the claims of a professional
brother were in question. William B. Wood,
in his " Personal Recollections of the Stage,"
to which work we are indebted for much use-
ful information, refers to an occurrence of the
kind as follows : " I must apologize for the



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 1 5

mention here of a circumstance purely per-
sonal, which proved one of the most gratifying
events of my life. During the month of De-
cember, 1835, while acting in Chestnut Street,
Burton called me aside between the acts, and
with an expression of great pleasure, informed
me that a meeting for the purpose of giving
me a grand benefit had just adjourned, after
completing the necessary arrangements. This
was the first hint I ever had of this intention.
The object was at once carried into effect, and
on the nth of January, 1836, I was honored
by the presence of one of the most brilliant
audiences ever assembled. * ''•■ * The fol-
lowing entertainment was offered : ' Three and
Deuce,' two acts of 'Venice Preserved,' ' John
of Paris,' ' Antony's Orations,' and a new song,
and ' How to die for Love.' I was favored in
these pieces with the valuable aid of Mr. Balls,
Mr. J. Wallack, Mr. Abbot, Mrs. and Miss
Watson, Mr. Wemyss, and Mr. Burton."

In the years while the comedian was advan-
cing in his profession, and acquiring that knowl-



1 6 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

edge of the stage which distinguished his
subsequent management, his pen was not idle.
He wrote several farces, and contributed stories
and sketches to the periodicals of the day.
These articles were widely read, and a collec-
tion of them was published by Peterson at a
later date, with the title, " Waggeries and
Vagaries" — a volume that has afforded enter-
tainment to many readers of light literature.
The literary taste referred to at the beginning
of this narrative now sought indulgence, and
in 1837 he started " The Gentleman's Maga-
zine," a monthly publication of original mis-
cellany. Articles of his own appeared in it
from time to time, among others a graceful
and appreciative sketch of his friend, James
Wallack. He continued the editorship until
July, 1839, when he associated Edgar A. Poe
with him in the control.

To those who have paid any attention to the
career of the gifted author of " The Raven,"
as depicted by various pens in recent years, it
need scarcely be said that, though a man of



WILLIAM E. BURTON. ly

genius, he was not without frailties ; and his
warmest defenders will not deny that his life
was marred by many irregularities of conduct.
He was appointed editor of the magazine at a
fixed salary, and the arrangement was such as
to give him leisure to contribute to other peri-
odicals and to produce many of his famous
tales. " Happier now," says one of his biog-
raphers,' " than he had been for years past, for
his prospects seemed assured, his work regular,
interesting, and appreciated, his fame increas-
ing, he writes to one friend that he ' has quite
overcome the dangerous besetment,' and to
another that he is ' a model of temperance and
other virtues.' " For nearly a year he remained
with Burton ; " but," continues the same biog-
rapher, " so liable was he still to sudden re-
lapses that the actor was never with confidence
able to leave the city. Returning on one occa-
sion after the regular day of publication, he
found the number unfinished, and his editor
incapable of duty. He left remonstrances to

* Henry Curwen, " Sorrow and Song." London, 1875.



1 8 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

the morrow, prepared the * copy ' himself, and
issued the magazine, and then to his astonish-
ment received a letter from his assistant, the
tone of which may be inferred from Burton's
answer : ' I am sorry you have thought it nec-
essary to send me such a letter. Your troubles
have given a morbid tone to your feelings
which it is your duty to discourage. I myself
have been as severely handled by the world as
you can possibly have been, but my sufferings
have not tinged my mind with melancholy,
nor jaundiced my views of society. You must
rouse your energies, and if care assail you,
conquer it. I will gladly overlook the past. I
hope you will as easily fulfil your pledges for
the future. We shall agree very well, though
I cannot permit the magazine to be made a
vehicle for that sort of severity which you
think is so " successful with the mob." I am
truly much less anxious about making a month-
ly " sensation " than I am upon the point of
fairness. You must, my dear sir, get rid of
your avowed ill-feelings toward your brother



WILLIAM E. BURTON. 1 9

authors. You see I speak plainly ; I cannot
do otherwise upon such a subject. You say
the people love havoc. I think they love jus-
tice. * * * But I wander from my design. I
accept your proposition to rc-commence your
interrupted avocations upon the Maga. Let
us meet as if we had not exchanged letters.
Use more exercise, write when feelings prompt,
and be assured of my friendship. You will
soon regain a healthy activity of mind, and
laugh at your past vagaries.' " We think
nothing can be clearer than that Burton had
good cause for fault-finding, and that he was
more than considerate and just in his frank ex-
pression of feeling.

We do not intend to pursue the ill-starred
connection further, A more glaring offence
on Poe's part severed the relationship, and not
long thereafter the magazine was sold out to
Graham and merged in his " Casket," the consol-
idation ultimately to become " Graham's Mag-
azine."

"The Literary Souvenir," an annual pub-



20 WILLIAM E. BURTON.

Hshed by Carey & Hart, was edited by Burton in
1838 and 1840, and its pages contained many of
his entertaining sketches. He also contributed
to the " Knickerbocker Magazine " a series of
theatrical papers styled " The Actor's Alloquy."
Occasional starring tours belong to the chron-
icle of these years, and there lies before us a
bill of the American Theatre, Walnut Street,
dated October 14, 1839, announcing " First
night of the re-engagement of Mr. Burton,"
and also that " His Excellency Martin Van
Buren, President of the United States, will
honor the theatre with his presence." The
President must have been greatly amused, for
not only did he see the comedian as Tom Tape
and Peeping Tom, but he also saw him " dance
with Mrs. Hunt the Minuet de la Cour and
Gavotte de Vestris." Burton was fairly well
known now throughout the Union — except in
the town of Napoleon, on the Mississippi
River, where, if wc may believe Mr. Davidge,
he found his Waterloo. The engagement had
not been profitable, and his only hope was by


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