Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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I must attend later. Imagine then if I am not able to
write long letters how can I dedicate myself to write such
an article as you ask from me for the Atlantic Monthly.
Your news grieves me. I wish very much it were better.
With your talents you surely deserve a better fate. Do
not believe, however, that by coming back to our beauti-
ful country at this difficult time through which we are
passing, with no appearance of an early change, better
things would fall to your lot. We have so many vipers
devouring the flesh of our beautiful Italy! How will it
end? God knows, but man cannot prophesy. The truth
is that we are all in agitation, thanks to the clique of
money-makers and of anarchists, real traitors to their
country, who leave no stone unturned to destroy order
and to ferment the weak-minded to lead us on to anarchy.
I assure you that honest people suffer as from an illness.
But let us leave so much sadness and speak of things
which will bring a smile to your lips; I mean your wife
and child. The first has a good and gentle physiognomy
and her expression pleases me very much — bravo! you
have waited long, but you seem to have chosen well;
many salutations to Madame. To the little one, who
indeed seems, as we say in Roman parlance, a fine little
fat pig, give many kisses; her puffy cheeks do not seem
to fear becoming flaccid easily. Well, for your first pro-
duction you have succeeded well. My children are always
models of filial love, and much sought after in society. I
wish Giorgio would marry. Let us hope. Bianca does
not show any inclination for it, though (and it is not
maternal pride) I assure you when she enters a room she
is admired by men and women as a star.

"George, besides taking care of the business . . .
(who has not need to nowadays) goes on painting and
abhors idleness. The same can be said of Bianca. Both


bestow on me a great deal of care and attention. It is
pathetic. God has wished to compensate me for the
cruel loss of my husband, although the wound will never

" Let us gossip for distraction. Is it true that
Tommaso Salvini went to New York, invited by
many gentlemen to honour the memory of poor Booth,
and that he delivered a eulogy on all his virtues, such as
the generosity of the dead actor, and that he received ex-
traordinary ovations? Let us not speak of the humbug
written to-day in Florentine and Neapolitan papers.
The epithet ' famous ' is scorned by the one who knows
what a struggle he had to go through to deserve it. Your
striking toilettes, the face of a cunning little soubrette,
the friendship of the most noisy newspaper men, a way of
reciting by jumps and convulsions, and a great deal of
hysterics, christen you as a model and leader in dra-
matic art. Understand, I don't say this of Duse who
really has a great deal of talent, but she is not guiltless
of those defects which I have pointed out to her and which
in my opinion do not give to her the right to celebrity!
The generation of to-day regards as mythological the
events of thirty years ago so much descanted upon ! What
is to be done? To change the world is now impossible. I
still recognise all the faults of the French nation, yet I
cannot minimise the honour due to her in matters of art.
If in Italy there is advertised the production of a tragedy,
everybody cries out that we are going back to our grand-
fathers' times: while if you go to Paris to see 'CEdipus
Rex,' or 'Antigone,' the theatre is filled like an egg.
At home if even Salvini or Rossi would try to revive
tragedies nobody would go.

" I saw in Paris Mounet Sully and Mile. Bartet in
'Antigone,' and although Mounet has all the academic
French diction, you find always in him the conscientious,
intelligent, delicate artist who worships his art. With
him was a true jewel. Mile. Bartet; moderate in her
gestures, emotional but not effusive, an ideal. What a
divine evening I spent at the Fran5ais! Mounet Sully
opens this evening in Milan at the Teatro Filo-Dramatico.
I am very sorry, because I am sure that, having selected


a very bad moment for coming to Italy, he will not have
the success which he deserves. Moreover, he who was a
very handsome man with magnificent eyes, having had
the misfortune to lose in two days two dear sons, cried so
much that his eyes were affected to such an extent that
one of them had to be taken out of the socket to be treated
and then replaced. The consequence is that he has be-
come cross-eyed ; which makes for him a great difference
on the stage.

" Tender, sweet, and natural feelings are called senti-
mentalism rose-watered ! 'Tis not true.

" I finish, and you ought to be satisfied. But remember
not to accustom yourself to these long letters.

" I hold the hands of all three of you, wishing to you all
the good which I hope you wish me.

"Adelaide Ristori del Grillo."

On the loth of December, 1885, she wrote :

" My book is a great occupation to me. I am compelled
to write a kind of biographical preface and to insert
many letters of illustrious men, while giving some touches,
very light, on art. This is a very difficult thing for me to
do as I do not wish to annoy my reader with theories and
it is not easy to speak of oneself without appearing vain.
Vanity is a sin which I have never had, and I don't want
it to peep out now."

It was natural with Ristori to be on the stage. Bom
of strolling players, she fulfilled her mission with sim-
plicity, although with uncommon gifts. She belonged to
the clan of actors like Modena, Salvini, Talma, Booth,
who thought that vice was not to be portrayed, but since
tragedy was unavoidable it belonged to the stage as a
reflection of life.

Consequently she had no tricks in her art, no artifici-
ality. Presence, facial expression, voice, ideals, virtues,
keen intmtion, exuberance of feeling, high-level wisdom,
inspiration from whatever was spontaneous and human
in nature; behold the gifts which enabled her to
portray types which are accepted as classic and not
perishable !

In Ristori 's art the same quality exists as in the liter-


ature of Homer, Ossian, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes,
Molière, Hugo — truth eternal in life, hence on the stage.

To the last moment she frequented the theatre and
never lost interest, or hope in its final triumph; but she
was very slow to pass judgment or even criticism on
modem actors, unless carried away by enthusiasm and
admiration. She said of Ermete Novelli :

" Yes, he is a great artist but he must not believe that
he can ever reach to the proportions and to the celebrity
of Tommaso Salvini."

In a letter dated October i, 1893, she says:
"Art was my second life after my family love, and I
am still happy when I can discourse on that subject with
some intelligent being. But the art I speak of is that
of my own time — as it was understood by us, the mission-
ary one, not this art of modem tendencies, based on
neurosis and verily a tout prix. I have the same opinion
you have on Sarah Bernhardt, but we must agree that
she has great talent and great artistic perspicacity. Now
she has deteriorated in the exposition of her qualities
. . . but at the climax she has a wonderful suprem-
acy of idea, not to be equalled by anyone. Duse has
talent, and is unique after Bernhardt in fin de siede
methods. She is more human, however. Her facial
mobility and absence of artificiality are gifts, yet art like
hers will die. Beware! I am extremely fond of her and
know her well, which has not prevented me from telling
her what I am telling you. If she is reluctant at being
interviewed in America it is due, in my belief, to the
horror she has of misconstruction, for she cannot speak
English at all. Duse is no himibug!"

Eleanora Duse has said and written of her:
"Adelaide Ristori, perfection in art, perfection in life."
In this competition for generosity and gentleness it may
be opportune to quote the address to Ristori by Ermete
Novelli who with Zacconi and Gustavo Salvini form the
triad of unsurpassed dramatic stars now at their zenith
of the Italian stage:

"Christopher Columbus discovered America: what a
beautiful accident! But who was it who discovered real
art to the Americans, at a time when to cross the ocean



meant to make one's will? Ristori. Hurrah then! Let us
call her the Columbus of Italian Dramatic Art."

While I was in Boston delivering my annual course of
Italian readings to a class named the "Adelaide Ristori,"
which used to meet at the home of Mrs. Jack Gardner
in Beacon Street, Ristori always attended during her
engagements, and stayed to luncheon. Like Sarah
Bernhardt for French, Ristori gave a great impulse to
the study of Italian in the United States.

In a conversation with Adelaide Ristori I asked why
she used glasses for reading. " I like the compliment of
that question," she answered. "My sight became feeble
after several continuous performances of 'Macbeth.' In
the sleep-walking scene for twenty minutes I had to keep
my eyes wide-open rivetted on one point, with the glare
of the footlights before me. After the performance tears
would constantly flow from my poor eyes and this brought
on their present condition."

When Dumas Ms died Ristori, who knew that I had
been honoured with the great French dramatist's friend-
ship, wrote January 8, 1896:

"What a loss the death of our Dumas! Only bastards
in letters, so called innovators, fin de siede, as I call them,
could have proclaimed Dimias's death as a gain to art!
Stupid, ridiculous! Had he written but 'L'Ami des
Femmes,' it would have been enough glory. The new
French apostles are killing all ideals : they lack resources
but in excess of immorality: and yet there are scintil-
lations. . . . Wonder of wonders to me Bornier's
'Fils de I'Aretin.' My whole heart and life have been
lifted for two hours. There would be no happiness in
life if not intervalled by shadows."

I wish I could reproduce here fragments of Ristori 's
letters concerning Zola's grandeur and Captain Picquart's *
heroism during the celebrated Dreyfus case. These
letters were lost in the San Francisco fire, helas!

After Ristori left the stage, at an opportune moment
let it be said in parenthesis, she lived the comfortable
and unostentatious life of a gentlewoman of refinement.
She dwelt in modest and serene tranquillity in the Palazzo

* Now a General and Secretary of War of the French Cabinet.


Capranica del Grillo, 76 Via Monterone, in Rome, sur-
rounded by a devoted family, consisting of her son, her
daughter, and the charming children of the former.

Her son Giorgio, Marquis Capranica del Grillo, a painter
of distinction, was a chamberlain at the court of the
Dowager Queen Margherita where her daughter Donna
Bianca was a lady in waiting. All Rome worshipped
Ristori, and the foreigner as well as the Roman pointed
at her window or gazed at her when she was seen at the
theatre, as the greatest artist of Italy and of the world,
as the best of women, an embodiment of dignity, rare
among people who tread the boards. While her house
was always open to artists and diplomats of all countries,
she spent many pleasant hours in the company of the
beloved widow of King Humbert I. It was after the
flattering accounts she gave to Queen Margherita of
America and Americans, that the Queen manifested her
desire to make a visit to this country. Ristori says in a
letter: "Her Majesty tells me she will never be con-
tented or call herself acquainted with the world until
she has had a glimpse of America and those good Ameri-
cans, your friends of whom you are so justly fond."

Ristori wrote me April 2, 190 1 : " We are happy when
Giorgio is in service upon the Queen. This happens
three times a year. The Queen has for us an especial
deference because she knows well our devotion to her
and her late husband. Please tell and talk to your daugh-
ter of these things, so that she may understand what
generous souls mean. . . . "

"This is not the best moment for Italy and her politics,
as the daily papers witness. Fortunately our beloved,
angelic Queen Margherita is adored. It would require
volumes to tell of the noble deeds of this poor martyr.
As soon as her son, King Victor Emanuel, reached Monza
with his Queen Elena, Margherita took second place,
even against the remonstrance of her son. There is no
end to what I could tell you of the kind, courageous
qualities of this noble soul. All worship her. When
the people pass the palace they stop, hoping to catch a
glimpse of her, and if she goes to take a walk in the country
the peasants nm after her, surround her, kneel before her.


You ought to have been in Rome when she came. I was
ill and could not go out, but Bianca was there and told me
the people went wild in acclaiming her. When she
appeared on the balcony escorted by the King, all veiled
in black, there was no applause, but clamours, howling,
and tears, tears! I am weeping too just now."

In a letter dated the 3rd of August, 1900, she writes
concerning King Humbert's assassination: "And now
that a monster has slain the kindest King, the best-hearted
man, we are plunged in the greatest sorrow; we live to
weep — and they wish to abolish capital punishment ! For
certain crimes, mediaeval punishment ought tobe restored. ' '

On the date of August 10, 1903, she writes :

" Thank the Lord, in spite of my advanced age I trot
around the house quick and straight. I eat and sleep
well, and when I get angry nobody is around to applaud
my tragic climaxes. One would give me twenty years,
and when art is on the carpet, I talk, I talk! You are
right in deploring the decadence of real art. Tommaso
Salvini is still the luminous star of true art. When Salvini
comes to Rome to give a performance for the actors' fund,
and play 'Othello,' I dress myself up and I listen to music
from Heaven. There is no artificiality, but all the beauty
of nature. His son Gustavo is happily his follower in
ideals and methods. Wherever he goes he arouses
fanaticism. He gave here two performances with his
father. Gustavo played David to Tommaso's Saul.
Tommaso in a blond wig, with his superb presence and
that golden voice, gave the illusion of a man of thirty-five.
In 'CEdipus Rex' the son is wonderful ; and this is acknowl-
edged by the father who says that he himself could not
play the part so well.

" Let us not speak of 'Gioconda,' a wound to good sense.
I do not deny DAnnunzio's talent, but he must stop
writing for the theatre. Duse has a great talent, but she
is ill, neurotic, like our century. Everything is nerves
now. Novelli plays magnificently certain parts, but
when he tries Salvini 's repertoire there is an abyss under
his feet."

On the occasion of Adelaide Ristori 's eightieth birthday,
the 29th of January, 1902, Gaspare De Martino, editor


of the Proscenio of Naples, Giuseppe Cauda, editor
of the Gazetta of Turin, and Eduard Boutet, author
of a book on Ristori, conceived the plan of giving her a
public testimonial.

Their idea was taken up like a flash ; all the papers
spoke of it, and a committee was formed to devise the
fittest way to honour Adelaide Ristori. An invitation
was sent to all Italian dramatic companies to give a
performance on that evening of January in memory of
Ristori. The proposition was accepted. A himdred
theatres — the only example in the world — gave on the
same date honour to one who had been the greatest artist
of her day. Special newspaper numbers were published,
medals coined, especially one designed by Professor
Attilio Formilli; and one in gold by Bistolfi, ordered by
the Secretary of Public Instruction. That medal was
stamped with a wreath of laurel, and encircled by these
words: "For Adelaide Ristori, the Glory of Italian Dra-
matic Art and of the Italian name, on her 8oth birthday,
the Minister of Public Instruction offers this memorial,
2nd January, 1902."

The testimonial in Rome was given at the Teatro
Valle, brilliantly illuminated. Virginia Marini and Ermete
Novelli played " Esmeralda," and Tommaso Salvini made
an address in the name of Italian Art. He was surrounded
by artists of the "House of Goldoni," an institution of
Novelli parallel with the "House of MoHère." All the
artists were dressed in the costumes of the time of Goldoni,
with masks. Then was played Ferrari's "Goldoni e Le
Sue Sedici Commedie." Salvini recited " The Last Hours
of Cristoforo Colombo, " by Gazzotelli, and Novelli gave
a monologue " II Guitto " ("The Barnstormer").

Paris and Cairo responded to the suggestion. It was
a never-to-be-forgotten evening, which baffles description.
Not less than 3,000 telegrams were delivered to the noble
woman, headed by almost all the sovereigns of Europe.
The Government took part and the Queen and King went
to the theatre, while the King personally visited her in
the morning at her residence.

An album was presented to Ristori composed of original
articles by authors, artists, literary men, and friends.


The Municipal Council of Rome decreed that in all
the schools of Rome the teachers should deliver a lecture
in honour of Adelaide Ristori to impress upon the youth
of her country the virtues and the talent of this great
living figure for whom her country and her art were the
only aims in life. This thought of Ristori condenses her
ideal :

" Our art is the mirror, the emanation of life ; the great
inexhaustible rest of the soul."

In her memoirs she tells the secret of her brilliant
career, and shows the spirit of her lofty aspirations.
Eduard Boutet has written of her an accurate biography,
and from the Ricordo Nazionale, published on the occasion
of her eightieth birthday, we can gather anecdotes of her
career as well as souvenirs of the homage bestowed on
this extraordinary woman, as friend and a philan-

Having received a communication that a testimonial
was to be given her at that time, Ristori wrote the
following letter to Tommaso Salvini :

''Dear Salvini:

" In writing to you as President of the Society of Dra-
matic Artists I intend to address the best part of them
with the expression of my desires.

" I have heard that on the 29th of January — my birth-
day-^many companies kindly wish to celebrate it by
dedicating to my profit and honour the proceeds of their
performances. If so, nothing would please me more
than to see the collected amount applied to the benefit
of the old actors who were my fellow-artists in better days.
Please make public this wish of mine, and with thanks
believe me affectionately yours always,

Adelaide Ristori,
Marchesa Capranica del Grillo."

After her death, I offered my condolences to this friend,
the greatest and last in the galaxy of contemporary
artists. Salvini answered thus :

"Certainly she was not a young woman, but she was
so suddenly taken away that we can hardly realise that


she had to go. She is the last ray of the sun of dramatic
art which has gone. It sounds my call! First Rossi,
then Ristori: and next will be my turn. And as for
Ristori, for me also, it will be the commotion and talk
of a day ; then all will be forgotten ! "

No — ^when an artist like Ristori dies everything is not
gone and forgotten. When men like Booth, Modena
and Talma die, the reflection of their private lives and the
ideals which illuminated their careers, shine beyond the
limited orbit of the stage and remain as lighthouses,
testifying to sincerity and good work done.

On the occasion of the testimonial tendered to Ristori
in 1902, Tommaso Salvini wrote this thought in the album
presented to her: "It is useless to write and speak of
Adelaide Ristori! This name is a beautiful and glorious
page in the history of dramatic art. As a woman she
commands respect; as an artist she elicits admiration;
as a fellow-artist, deep affection! "

On the date of December 25, 1906, Tommaso Salvini
says in a letter to me : "I am going to deliver an address to
commemorate Adelaide Ristori at the Philological Club.
I hope that emotion will not overcome me and stop my
speech. I shall go to Rome too for this sad errand ; but
nowhere else; for this terrible loss has become an ob-
session; it reminds me of a long life spent in admiration
of our art, and tells me that I am already dead."

Though nearing her eighty-fifth year Madame Ristori
rose every day at nine o'clock, and would remain in her
room reading the papers until eleven when she had a light
breakfast. At one o'clock she used to go to the dining
room with her daughter Donna Bianca to lunch and a
couple of times a month, with her son Giorgio. Although
retired from the stage she had a real devotion to it, kept
herself well posted on all theatrical events and took great
interest in new productions and in artists of merit. For
two years before her death she had not "received," but
to this rule she made exceptions in favour of some artists.
Almost every day, late in the afternoon, she would go
driving. At eight she dined with her daughter, and then
retired to her room, where she talked with Donna Bianca
until ten o'clock.


In winter time she went to the Teatro Valle. It was
the only pastime she cared for. Besides helping dramatic
artists, she liked to aid people of the nobility who were
in poor circumstances, and impoverished ladies of Rome.
She had a great affection for her little nephews, whom
she wished to have always near her.

In Rome, at dawn on the 9th of October, 1906, serenely
Adelaide Ristori passed away. For twenty days she had
suffered from bronchitis, but there was no alarm felt till
she grew feeble all at once. A little before dying she
made her confession, though she gave no hint at the knowl-
edge of her condition. At the last moment there were
present only her daughter Marchioness Bianca, her
nephew Marquis Alexander, and Doctor Cuja. Her face
did not betray the least suffering. Her eyes were closed
as in sleep. Her head reclining on the pillow was covered
with the characteristic little cap of white lace edged with
black silk which she always wore at home, and during
her illness they never took it off. Her hands held a cross ;
many flowers were strewn over the bed.

The body was placed in a walnut coffin, between two
torches resting on the velvet carpet. Two nuns prayed at
the side.

On the mantelpiece, between two small Japanese lamps,
stood a little statue of clay representing Adelaide Ristori
as Mary Stuart. From the Capranica Palace in Via
Monterone the body was carried to the Church of La
Minerva, where the last rites were performed. All the
Princes, the King, the Queen, Queen Margherita, the
Emperor of Germany, the Press Association, T. Salvini ;
all the artists of Rome sent telegrams and condolences.
Senators, ministers, besides her son Marquis Giorgio and
her daughter Donna Bianca, attended the funeral. After
the speech of the Hon. Ciuffelli, representing the Minister
of Public Instruction, the body was carried to the
Cemetery of Campo Verano, where it was buried tempor-
arily. The Hon. Ciuffelli concluded his speech by saying :
"The death of Ristori is the mourning of Rome and of the
whole nation."

L. D. Ventura.



Acropolis, 67, 68

Adelaide, town in Australia, 86

Aden, 86

Albert, Prince, 132

Alexander, 158

Alexander IL, Emperor, 62

Alexandria, City of, in Egypt, 66,

67, 86
Alfieri, Vittorio, Italian dramatic

poet, 16, 26, 40, 194
Alfonso XII., King of Spain (18^7

-1885), 50
Allan, Madame, French actress, 38
Amazon River, 89
America, 37, 72, 95
Amsterdam, 56
Andes, 89

Anne, Theodore, 24
Archaeological Institute, 132
Argentina, 81, 229
Aricia, 223
Arzaele, 41
Atalia, 61
Atlantic, 74
Auckland, 102
August, 227
Australia, 95, 96
Austria, 70
Austrian Lloyd, 66

Babington, Anthony (1520-
1598), 121, 137, 152, 157

Babylon, 22

Bacchus, 67, 68

Bacon, Baron Verulam, Francis
(1561 - 1626), 143. 144, 154

Balkans, 82

Ballanti, 22

Banquo, 169

Barrère, French ambassador, 231

Bavaria, 106

Bazzi, Gaetano, 7

Beatrice, 237

Beatrix, 62, 63, 64, 6g, 70

Belgium, 39, 59, 70, 83, 143

Bell, ProL G. J., 162, 164

Bellini, Vincenzo, Great Italian
composer (1812-46), 18

Bellotti-Bon, Italian actor, 19, 229

Berlin, 65, 83

Bernhardt, Sarah, vii, 229, 246

Berry, Duchess de, 19

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 21 of 22)