Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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sit on deck and enjoy the sight of the pelicans, the alba-
trosses and other sea birds, flying around our ship,
tracing long white and gray lines below the azure sky.

After coasting the islands of Labos de Tierra, and the
barren chain of mountains of Siila de Prysta, the scene
changed, and we noticed some islands covered with a
variegated vegetation, where the finest tropic fruits grow
as in a great wilderness.

The isthmus of Panama is a real terrestrial paradise.
It is the Eden sung by poets. There, a spreading floral
vegetation allures and dazzles one, and a daphne azure
sky, but more cloudy than that of Italy, extends above it.

At Panama, we left the Oroya and went ashore. In
a few hours ride on a railway train, we were transported
from one ocean to the other, crossing a marvellous coun-
try, which leaves the impression of a fairy scene on the
mind of the traveller. However, the high temperature
and the heavy atmosphere which fill that region with
malaria, were so oppressive that we felt very much
relieved on leaving land and going on board the steamer
Saxonia, a German boat which after a short stop at
Curasao took us to the pretty city of Saint Thomas. On
the 1 6th of December we embarked upon a steamer of the
English Line, bound direct to Mexico. The 25th of the
same month, after having touched Havana, we found
ourselves again on board of the Ehro. We sailed
smoothly upon the brilliant waters of the Mexican Gulf.

Having come on deck early in the morning of the 25th,
each of us felt a sweet and melancholy sensation, while
smiling at his travelling companions, during the usual
handshake. We were no longer strangers to one another.


If there were any dislikes they vanished away; a common
sentiment united us all. We all sighed and longed
for something. No wonder! It was Christmas Day!
We were separated by thousands of miles from
our distant ones at home. Our minds were filled
with thoughts which flew about us like a flight of
swallows and uniting under that radiant blue sky, formed
a cheering breath of sweet remembrance for all our dear
ones who were far away from us! Our floating palace
was gaily decorated with flowers and flags of all nations.
The dining room had changed its usual aspect; the
pictures hanging on the walls were covered with holly
branches, brought over from England; long multi-
coloured silk ribbons hung from the picture frames, hold-
ing white placards which bore in large golden letters
the inscription: "A Merry Christmas!" Wreaths of
flow^ers were suspended from the ceiling. The captain's
table had assumed gigantic proportions. The kind-
hearted commander having abolished on this great day
all social distinctions, the first and second-cabin passengers
mingled, and passed in front of the monumental plum-
pudding, prepared for the occasion, by the chef of the
steamer. At seven in the evening, we were all standing
at our seats at the table; the captain recited a short
prayer and then seating himself greeted us with the words :
" A Merry Christmas to all of you, ladies and gentlemen."

When dinner was over, we all went on deck where there
was to be a display of fireworks. One could not imagine
anything more fantastic than those bunches of skyrockets
breaking in a golden rain through the darkness of that
quiet and beautiful night, under a tropical sky and over
that sea, covered with silvery reflections, in which our
boat left behind a sparkling and glittering trail. The
stentorian voices of the sailors broke forth in loud hurrahs !
mingled with the names of the different countries repre-
sented by the various passengers on board. Such
deafening hurrahs! which w^ere lost in the immense
solitude of the ocean, but which found an echo in our

When the fireworks were over, we improvised a ball
for the crew and the steerage passengers. The captain


began the dance. The orchestra, composed of a con-
certina and a trombone, a new and most original com-
bination, was placed under an enormous branch of mistle-
toe, hanging on a rope over the deck. Lying in our
steamer-chairs, we enjoyed the merriment of those good
people, joining in their laughter every time a couple
passes under the mistletoe, when according to an English
custom, the man is granted the privilege of stealing a kiss
from his lady partner in the dance.

By midnight all was quiet and silence reigned on board
the ship, but we remained for some time longer on deck,
silent and ecstatic in contemplation of the beautiful sky
from which every star seemed to smile and throw a gleam
of kindly light upon us.

I could not make up my mind to return to my cabin.
More than ever before, during that Christmas night, I
felt moved with profound gratitude toward God who had
protected us, in the long trips over the seas, and was now
granting us this moment of rest, of calm, and of hope for
what was left for us to accomplish. The bell on board,
ringing two o'clock, woke me up from my revery. At
that moment a sailor passing by me, I exclaimed: "A
Happy Christmas to you and all your dear ones at home ! "
I could not refrain from repeating to him the greeting
which a sailor boy had given me in the morning as I was
coming out of my cabin.

A very charming reception awaited us at Vera Cruz,
Mexico. We were greeted, so to speak, by the whole
population of the place, headed by the municipal author-
ities, who had secured quarters for us and had them all
decorated with flowers and fitted with every possible

I began my season in the City of Mexico on the 31st
of December, and there I also met with a most appre-
ciative reception.

On my way to the United States, I played at Puebla
and at Vera Cruz. Visiting this latter town for the second
time, I was again struck with its mournful aspect. It
was not by chance that the explorer Cortez, named that
place "The True Cross," in remembrance of his many
companions who there fell victims of the yellow fever,


a plague which even now mows down yearly many
people in that place. I must confess that my fears of
it only ceased when we got on board the French steamer
La Ville de Brest, bound for New York. This was on the
17th of February. Since the evening before, besides the
uneasiness we experienced on account of the heavy north
wind, very much feared on that coast, a storm was rag-
ing, and constantly increasing in force. Indeed, the next
morning the sight of the terribly infuriated sea, fully
justified our apprehensions. Some of the actors of our
company, together with our luggage, were taken on board
early in the morning. The sea was continually growing
heavier and heavier, and when the time came for the rest
of us to go on board, the boatmen pointed to the high
waves which were lashing the shore, and refused to take
us to the Ville de Brest which we could see at a distance
tossing like a nutshell in the middle of the bay. Our
prayers and threats were of no avail, and it was only when
we offered them twenty dollars for each boat that they
found courage to risk rowing us to the steamer. The
half-hour seemed a very long time to us, so great was our
fear of being swallowed by the raging sea and it was with
a sigh of relief that we climbed the little stairway of the
ship, with our clothes soaking wet as if we had been dipped
in the sea. The captain of the Ville de Brest, had had the
courtesy to delay the departure of his vessel for an hour,
an unusual thing for the captain of a steamer carrying
mail to do. A large part of our luggage however, could
not be got on board, owing to the absolute refusal of the
boatmen to venture with a hea\'y boat load on that high
sea. We had to resign ourselves to leaving it behind us
until the next boat, a week after, trusting in our good
stars, to find in New York what was most necessary for
us, so that we should not be obliged to put off the opening
night already announced.

At last we sailed and while moving away, little by little,
from the Mexican coast which was gradually fading away
under a sad gray sky, a hundred and fifty Sisters of Charity
who had been expelled by the Government of Mexico,
knelt on deck in spite of the rolling of the vessel, the
impetuous wind, and the dashing waves, -with a religious


but sorrowful song, and said goodbye to a land where
they could no longer lavish the treasures of their charity
upon the people. That solemn, mournful picture reveal-
ing so many hidden and silent sacrifices, so much abne-
gation for a most pure ideal, moved us all to pity, and I
noticed a sailor near me, with his callous hands wiping a
tear from his eye. The voyage to Havana, where the
Ville de Brest landed, was a most distressing one, and the
sea was not in a much more benignant mood during our
trip on the Crescent City, which took us to New York.
Though this boat, while of rather small dimensions, was
newly built and of solid construction, the heavy blows of
the rolling sea, made it crack every moment, as if knock-
ing against rocks. It was with great satisfaction that we
at last reached terra firma, and found ourselves in New
York, on February 27, 1875.

But as trouble and annoyances never cease, I was for
several days very much worried about the balance of the
scenery and the costumes which had been left behind and
which were needed for the opening night performance.
We were compelled to provide ourselves with others which
were not well suited to the play. We were inconven-
ienced thus for a whole month, and every time I went
on the stage, noticing that my costumes did not bear out
the true historical representation of the roles, it was harder
than usual for me to interpret my part. The cheapness
of my cloak would hamper my movement. Even the
smallest accessories of the costume of my role, were miss-
ing. At last, with the arrival of our luggage, my troubles
came to an end.

We remained in the United States, from the 27th of
February until our departure for Sydney, Australia,
meeting everywhere the usual kindness and the ex-
pressions of keen appreciation of our professional efforts.
My tour in America, came to an end at San Francisco,
from whence we were to sail for Australia. Unfortunately,
however, the last days of our sojourn in that entrancing
place, were saddened by a mournful event.

My brother Caesar who always travelled with me, was
struck with a great sorrow. His wife died, giving birth
to her first child.


It was out of the question to leave the new-born babe,
to tlie care of an American nurse. The distance and
difficulty of communicating from Australia deterred him
from doing so. What should we do? How could we find
a nurse willing to undertake on so short a notice such a
long trip? Somebody suggested an idea, which seemed
a capital one. It was to buy a she-goat and take her
with us. The day of our sailing, the little four-legged
nurse was made the object of our greatest care, but un-
fortunately, the sea was not equally kind to her. But
I am anticipating.

We resolved to sail from San Francisco on the 21st of
January, 1876, and had secured accommodations on the
steamer City of Melbourne. The captain, Mr. Brown,
notified me that the steamer would sail at high noon, while
the agent of the steamship company had repeatedly
assured us that the hour of departure would be 2 p. m.
Since early morning everything had been ready. Boxes,
trunks, baskets, hand baggage all were on board. At
that time there was only one boat a month from San
Francisco to Australia. In order not to run any chances,
I took special care that everything should be ready in
time and had arranged that we should all meet at the
dock at the hour indicated to us by the agent. At noon,
in company with my daughter and my domestics, I
started for the dock, which w^as only twenty minutes
walk from the place where we were staying, and where
we expected to meet my husband and my boy. At the
entrance of the pier, a crowd of people was waiting to
wish me a pleasant voyage, but from the excited signs
they were making to us, I understood that something
had happened. In fact, they were urging us to hurry,
as the boat was about to sail, the hour of departure set by
the captain having passed. Imagine my disappointment !
I inquired for my husband and my son, and learning that
they had not yet appeared, I flatly refused to go on board.
The captain losing his patience, gave the order to lift
anchor. In vain all the members of our company, already
on board, begged him to desist from his purpose. All
will understand the anguish I was in. At last, both my
husband and child came rushing in, having been notified


of what was happening. But the captain perhaps with
the intention of punishing us for our supposed dilatoriness,
had merely given an order to execute a feint of departure.
When we saw the steamer coming back, how our hearts
expanded !

In a great hurry, with the assistance of our friends and
acquaintances, we threw on board all the small pieces of
baggage and bundles we had with us and jumped on after
them, seating ourselves on the first chair that was offered
to us, overcome, as we were, with excitement. That
terrible state of prostration I was in did not prevent me,
however, from casting lowering glances at the captain
who would not listen to our arguments of justification.
As soon as we left the harbour, the sea being very rough,
we were all placed hors de combat, and I had to be carried
to my cabin.

My brother, who was also ill and no longer in a con-
dition to look after his babe, without warning entered
my cabin, where I and my daughter were suffering, laid
the babe on my arms and rushed away on deck. The
poor little thing began to scream. I was so ill myself, that
I could hardly hold him. Fortunately one of the ladies
of the company came to my assistance, and carried the
poor little fellow to the ladies' parlour, where a cradle
had been placed for him.

A few days later, a new trouble arose. The interesting
little goat, which had thus far filled her duties of nurse,
fell sick and gave no more milk. The reader will easily
understand our predicament. Even the sailors were
moved to pity. Some offered condensed milk, others
some improvised farinaceous liquid, assuring us that it
was an excellent food. By listening to them, you
would think that every one of them was an experienced
baby nurse. We trusted in Providence, however, and
did our best to keep the infant from starving to death.
Thank God, some of the food offered was suitable for him,
so that we were able on reaching Sydney, to land the child
there in a fairly good, healthy condition.

Continuing my narrative, I will add that for
several days I was angry with our disobliging
captain, but noticing the strictness of the discipline


he maintained on board the ship, and the interest
he seemed to feel in me and my family, I over-
looked his rough manners and his seeming rudeness
at the beginning of our voyage and we became the
best of friends.





On the 27th of January we reached Honolulu, in the
Sandwich Islands, where we stopped for twenty-four
hours. The Italian Consul, the excellent Mr. Schaefer,
came to meet us on board and took us to a delightful
hotel with a veranda, hidden under the foliage of a
tropical vegetation. We were in raptures over the
panorama stretched before us, and ready to follow our
guide through the charming country surrounding the
city. After making our toilet, we saw Mr. Schaefer
coming to us with a message from King Kalakaua — an
invitation to a luncheon at his palace.

We were happy in the anticipation of seeing the island
king in the midst of a court, which we supposed to be
more or less grotesque. All the women we had met in
the city were dressed alike, in simple multicoloured
tunics, their heads ornamented with wreaths of yellow
flowers, and all galloping on little ponies and laughing
at one another. As to the men, they wore a similar
costume and had similar expressions of merriment
in their faces.

While awaiting for the appointed hour for luncheon
at the palace of the king, we took a long drive down the
valley of Paly, a sort of deep and rugged funnel into which
Kamehameha I, the so-called Napoleon of the Pacific,
threw the conquered soldiers of the princes of the neigh-
bouring islands, and thus succeeded in reigning alone over
all the islands. After eight days of lonesome sailing,



it was a delight for us to run through those green and
fragrant fields, real jewels of nature, where the many-
coloured rose bushes stretched out between one tree and
another, interlacing in beautiful wreaths among the
leafy branches, loaded with bananas, oranges and fruit
of all descriptions. But time was passing and we had
hardly enough of it to get back to the city and attend
our royal reception.

Still escorted by our kind consul, we entered a beauti-
ful garden, where two aides-de-camp of the King were
awaiting us. They were blond, fine-looking young fel-
lows, wearing a uniform like that of European soldiers,
adorned with silver embroidery. They led us through a
very simple vestibule to the house, a one-story structure.
The doors of the reception hall were open, two domestics
clad in blue livery trimmed with silver braid, held back
the drapery, while we entered a large room upon whose
walls hung the portraits of all the monarchs of the world.
King Victor Emanuel, from the height of his frame,
seemed to welcome us. Quickly our expectations of
meeting some "savages" were shattered! When his
Majesty Kalakaua moved forward, graciously holding
out his hand, our ideas of grotesque savages were dispelled.
The King, who was somewhat dark in complexion, was
rather tall, wore a Prince Albert coat, and had side
whiskers like an Englishman. He had a pleasant physi-
ognomy and the simple manners of a perfect gentleman.
He spoke to us in correct English and one of his first
questions was whether we liked the two-step better than
the old-fashioned waltz. The luncheon was serv^ed on
fine Sevres porcelain tableware, and the cutlery was
of the finest silver. In order to excuse the absence of
the Queen, the King himself condescended to tell us that
she was in the woods. That was the only note to remind
us of the local "colour." The table was exquisite and
the conversation most interesting, as besides our consul,
we had with us Judge Allen of the United States, who
had been our companion on the steamer from San Fran-

When lunch was over the King offered me his arm for
a tour in the garden, where all the rest of the guests


followed us. In the garden, there was a pavilion from
which we heard the strains of our national royal hymn.
I was moved by such kind attention. How sweet are
such remembrances of our fatherland, in far away
countries !

We should have liked to remain longer with his
Majesty, if we had not promised to attend a concert
which Madame De Murska, a distinguished opera singer
and our fellow passenger on the steamer, was giving that
night in a public hall of the town. Having dressed for
the occasion, we hastened to go to the concert and were
just taking our seats, when the King, and the Queen
who had "returned from the woods," made their ap-
pearance. The Queen had rather pleasant features, and
dark complexion. She wore a black dress with a long
train, and a wide blue ribbon across her breast. The
King wore tight black trousers and patent leather top
boots. He held a riding-whip in his hand, which he
twirled continually, while seated in his gold-trimmed
armchair. All his officers and the ladies of the Queen
were of the pure Hawaiian type, though dressed like

About midnight, after having enjoyed a good supper
at the hotel, we returned to our boat and retired to our
cabins. I was undressing when somebody knocked at
my door. I opened it to find myself confronted by an
aide-de-camp of the king. He was holding in his hand
a mysterious package wrapped in a red handkerchief which
he unfolded before my eyes. His Majesty remembering
what I said at luncheon, regarding the exquisiteness
of some of the fruit served, had kindly sent me some.
Between two oranges, I found, instead of his card, the
picture of his Majesty Kalakaua II, with his autograph.
Having emptied the handkerchief, the aide-de-camp
folded it up and put it in his pocket, as he took his leave
of me.

We sailed away the following day. For two days in
succession we met a very stormy sea. Near the coasts
of New Zealand it became so dreadful that even the
captain began to feel worried, as our boat was of small
displacement, only 800 tons. After 22 days of a most


distressing voyage, we arrived at Auckland, New Zealand,
where we landed, staying over a whole day. To be
able to walk without rolling, to sit at a table which was
not rocking, and which was covered with a clean table
cloth (such things had been rare in our steamer), to be
able to eat some fresh bread, some appetising food, and
to dine tranquilly without caring whether a dark cloud
should come on the horizon and darken the sun ; all these
things gave us such a delightful sensation, that we forgot
our past inconveniences and all we had suffered on

After a good night's rest, we proceeded on our voyage
to Sydney, leaving it — with much regret — after a month
of continuous performances. I left behind, upon the
hills of Port Jackson, some newly made friends to whom
I am pleased to repeat my assurance of gratitude for all
their kindness.

From Sydney we went to Melbourne, where I played
thirty-four times, with the same satisfactory results as
at Sydney. I returned to that place on the nth of
October to give my farewell performances. The town
of Adelaide happened to be the last station in that
delightful country.

It was with the performance of "Mary Stuart," that
I closed my series of three hundred and twelve per-
formances, on the evening of the 4th of December 1875,
on my first tour around the world. During that most
successful professional tour, I travelled 35,283 miles by
sea and 8,365 by land. I was on the water one hundred
and seventy days, and travelled by rail seventeen days
and eight hours. In a word, I left Rome on the 15th of
April, 1874, and returned there, by way of Brindisi on
the 14th of January, 1876. Hence our trip lasted twenty
months and nineteen days.

I must say, however, that although I brought home a
treasury of most delightful recollections, a wealth of
glorious artistic laurels and unanticipated financial
results, the prospect of a definite rest at home was cheer-
ing to me. The happiness of being back in my own
country, the joy of being again with relatives and dear
friends, the privilege of having absolute liberty and


freedom, to live as I pleased (a pleasure I had long been
deprived of), and the power to make myself useful to
others in performing only for charity; all this was
delightful to me and put together should have been suffi-
cient inducements for my retirement from the active
professional life.

However, that fever which takes possession of the
actor, and against which it is useless to struggle, urged
me once again to renounce the so much longed-for rest.
In fact, in the month of October, 1876, I resolved to take
another trip to Spain and Portugal to fill a professional
engagement of three months' duration, which ended in
Italy. In the month of October, 1879, I went to Den-
mark, and very much encouraged in my reception, I
returned there the following December.

From Copenhagen I betook myself to Sweden. I
enjoyed a most agreeable sojourn at Stockholm, which
is rightly called "the Venice of the North."

I found the population in that place ready to be car-
ried away by enthusiasm. King Oscar possesses a most
lofty mind and is not only a poet but a worshipper of
good music. Among the various foreign languages he
is familiar with, I noticed that he was pleased at being
able to speak Italian correctly with me.

Among the numerous manifestations of his keen ap-

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 9 of 22)