Adelaide Ristori.

Studies and memoirs ; an autobiography online

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tered with the Queen " returned from the woods "
on his arm. Love of truth obliges me to state that
the august consort recalled more vividly than her
husband Captain Cook's descriptions j and her ladies
of honor did not disgrace the picture. The tone
was decidedly accentuated. The Queen wore a low-
necked gown and train of black silk, with the sky-
blue scarf of some order. The king, dressed in a
black suit, with polished boots, sat in his gilt arm-
chair playing continually with his cane. Decidedly
there are no more savages at Honolulu.

At last, at midnight, after a comfortable supper at
the hotel, we had gone again on board and retired to
our cabins, when several knocks at my door caused


me to open it and find myself in the presence of one
of the blue aides-de-camp who had received us in the
morning in the royal garden. He held in his hands
a mysterious parcel wrapped in a vast red handker-
chief, the ends of which he placed in my hands. It
was a present from His Majesty, who had recollected
the good opinion I had expressed about the fruit
served at lunch. Between two ceremoya I found, as
visiting-card, the portrait of Kalakaua II., with his
autograph signature.

We left next day, and all the way to New Zealand
had to contend against very bad weather. The small
size of our vessel (only 800 tons) made this extreme-
ly trying, and for two days the sea was so rough as
to make our captain rather anxious.

After a trying voyage of twenty-one days we reach-
ed Auckland, where we landed and spent a whole
day. To walk without staggering, to sit at a table
covered with a white cloth (a tint totally unknown on
that ship-board), to have fresh and appetizing food,
to dine peaceably without fidgeting oneself as to
whether there was a cloud on the horizon or the
wind was increasing, was such a satisfaction that it
made us forget the discomfort and troubles endured.

The following morning we continued our voyage
to Sydney, and entered that magnificent bay four
days after.

On the evening of the 2ist of July I made my
first appearance at Sydney, which I left with great
regret after a month of continual ovations. On the
delicious hills of Port Jackson I have friends to
whom I here renew the expression of my lively grati-


From Sydney I went to Melbourne, where I acted
for thirty-four nights, with the same success as at
Sydney, whither I returned on the nth of October
to take my farewell. Adelaide was to be our last
halting place in this charming country. I closed my
series of 212 performances on the i4th of December
with the tragedy of Mary Stuart. During this artis-
tic tour I traversed 35,283 miles of sea and 8.365 of
land. (I kept the figures out of curiosity.) I spent
170 days upon the water, and seventeen days eight
hours in railway trains. In a word, I left Rome on
the 1 5th of April 1874, and returned there by way
of India and Brindisi on the i4th of January 1876,
after an absence of twenty months and nineteen

After all, I must confess that although I brought
back the pleasantest memories with jne, yet I was
delighted with the prospect of repose repose which
I fondly imagined would be permanent, but which
was, in fact, interrupted again and again ! To taste
.the joy of returning to one's country, to revisit one's
home to find oneself again among relations and
friends to enjoy absolute freedom, a pleasure of
which one had been long deprived, to be able to
render aid to those less fortunate than oneself by
appearing at performances or concerts were, as it
seemed to me, excellent reasons to confirm me in my
determination to retire from the stage.

But that art fever, against which there is no striv-
ing, led me Jo give up once again that tranquillity so
much longed for.

In short, on the 2d of October 1878, I started once
more for a tour through Spain and Portugal.


I visited Denmark on the 4th of October of the
same year, where I was so well satisfied with my
reception that I returned again in the following No-
vember. From Copenhagen I travelled to Sweden,
and opened on the i4th October with Medea, at that
picturesque city of Stockholm, which has been aptly
called "The Venice of the North."

Of what heights of enthusiasm did I not find the
Swedes capable ! With what a noble and lofty intel-
lect King Oscar is endowed! Among the many
foreign languages with which he is familiar I soon
found that it pleased him best to converse with me in
my own. I received many proofs of his sympathy,
chief among them being the following. For my last
performance I gave Elizabeth, Queen of England.
His Majesty and the Court were present. When the
play was over, the King, accompanied by his sons,
came to my dressing-room, and, after having ex-
pressed his great satisfaction in the most courteous
and flattering manner, he presented to me, with his
own hand, a golden decoration, bearing on one side
the device, Literis et Artibus, and on the reverse His
Majesty's effigy, surmounted by a royal crown in

An accident, which might have been fatal, hap-
pened during my brief sojourn in Sweden and Nor-
way. The students of Upsala addressed me urgent
entreaties to give them a performance in that great
University. After repeated refusals I ended by yield-
ing to the temptation of playing before that young
and ardent public, and, at the risk of undertaking
fatigues beyond my strength, I gave up the sole day


of rest left me between two performances ; being en-
gaged to play at Stockholm the 24th and 26th.

It was indispensable to travel at night and take a
special train. The country through which we had to
pass is intersected by broad and deep canals accessi-
ble to large vessels. Revolving bridges, the working
of which is entrusted to a pointsman, alternately give
passage to trains and ships. Hurrying away from
Stockholm after the performance, stunned by the
acclamations of the crowd who followed me to the
station, I got into the train with my husband and my
nephew, Giovanni Tessero. I had gone asleep im-
mediately in my excellent sleeping-carriage, when
towards one o'clock in the morning, I was awakened
by a violent shock and repeated alarm signals. The
train had stopped suddenly. We were told we had
just escaped, as it were miraculously, from a great
danger ! The telegram which was to give warning
of the passage of our train, containing only the
cypher 12 1-2, was understood by the pointsman for
half-past twelve noon ; consequently we were not
expected, and the abyss was yawning at only a few
yards' distance in front of us, and in a few seconds
we should have been precipitated into it, had not the
engine-driver, whether from precaution or presenti-
ment, slackened speed and stopped the train.

My nephew, Tessero, who had gathered these
details, repeated them to us, shuddering at the peril
so narrowly escaped. Meantime the pointsman was
sleeping placidly, and not thinking of making the
passage possible for us, so that we remained motion-
less for some time. But a comrade of his, upon


whom Morpheus had not so liberally strewn his pop-
pies, hearing the signals, closed the bridge and the
train could continue the journey.

The following day the innumerable telegrams of
congratulation I received were a new proof of the
affection entertained by that people for me. I heard
from our kind minister, Comte de la Tour, that the
morning after we left the report spread in Stockholm
that the train had fallen into the river.

But in contrast with this dismal recollection I
chronicle another very cheerful one.

Those delicious Swedish airs are still sounding in
my ears, which the youths of Upsala sang below the
balcony where the Governor courteously placed me
as we came from the supper he had given in my
honor. It was a real art festival. The following
morning at six, at the moment of leaving Upsala to
return to Stockholm, we found those wonderful stu-
dent choristers in the waiting-room expecting me.

They received us singing a lively song, which was
followed by several others, growing gradually more
melancholy. When we got into our carriage those
fine young fellows ranged themselves on the platform
opposite us ; and scarcely did the engine begin to
whistle than they intoned the national ditty called the
Neckers Polka, which Ambrose Thomas has so ably
interwoven with the many jewels comprised in the
death-scene of Ophelia in Hamlet. The snow was
falling in thick flakes the train began to move slowly
we could not leave the open windows until those
sad harmonies had gradually died away upon the


I returned to these beautiful countries in October
and November 1880. Coming southwards the same
year, for the first time during my long career I acted
at Munich in Bavaria, giving four performances,
which I have pleasure in remembering, because I had
from the German actors more than elsewhere fraternal

At the end of 1880 I resolved to undertake no
further engagements, but I speedily discovered, how-
ever, that such inaction suited ill with the energy of
my temperament. For an actress may be compared
to the soldier; the one desires the excitement and
conflict of the stage, the other cannot resign himself
to the monotony of peace !

And so, one day, the vague idea, which for seven
years I had been cherishing in secret, came upper-
most in my mind once more. Quietly and silently I
resumed the occupation, so agreeable to me, of study-
ing English.

I gave myself to it with ardor. In proportion as
my lessons progressed to the satisfaction of my excel-
lent mistress, Miss Clayton, so grew up within me
the determination to succeed at every cost. Unfort-
unately the necessities of summer travelling, and of
many other things, interrupted my beloved studies
for six months of the year. Rendered impatient by
these delays, I resolved to aim at nothing less than
acquiring that facility and clearness of pronunciation
which the stage requires, without troubling to perfect
myself in the phrases used in conversation.

And, thanks to my tenacity of purpose, I suc-
ceeded. But what did not this minute and persever-


ing study cost me. Was Demosthenes, with his
pebbles in his mouth, on the sea-shore, more energetic
than I in my study? In order to vanquish the
greatest of my difficulties, that of pronunciation of
the language, I invented a method which I think I
may call somewhat ingenious. By the aid of ascend-
ing and descending lines, I was enabled to tell on
which syllable of a word the voice should be raised,
or lowered, or dropped. Thanks to other lines, which
were either concave or convex, I learnt whether any
syllable should be pronounced in a deep or sonorous
tone. Assisted by certain French diphthongs, I suc-
ceeded in obtaining one of the special and most
distinct English sounds, very foreign to a Latin throat;
sometimes I added to the French diphthong another
vowel sound, the value of which in our language
corresponds to that of the French diphthongs eu, aou,
and thus I gradually succeeded in obtaining the
desired result, and acquiring that euphony so neces-
sary to every language.

Such were the devices to which my pertinacious
determination to succeed brought me !

Encouraged and animated by the opinion of com-
petent judges, I was at last enabled to present
myself upon the stage of Drury Lane on the 3d of
July 1882, to play the entire part of Lady Macbeth.

I need not say what agitation and anxiety I went
through that evening. The happy result alone could
banish my trepidation. My friends came from all
sides in my dressing-room to congratulate me on my
success; they had the frankness to tell me what I
knew very well, that I had not been able to get rid


entirely of the Italian intonation, but they kindly
added that the melody of our language gave a pretty
originality to my reproduction.

After several repetitions of Macbeth, I undertook
the part of Elizabeth, Queen of England.

At my first appearance, although the public were
extremely courteous to me, I was by no means equally
well satisfied with myself ! I had been accustomed
for many years to the same Italian actors, who under-
stood exactly the interpretation I gave to every scene,
and every point in my by-play. It was a very differ-
ent thing to find myself surrounded by persons igno-
rant of my mode of acting, and having little in
common with me. For a moment I felt my courage
evaporate. But the obligation of duty undertaken
reanimated and encouraged me. I endeavored nei-
ther to see nor hear, and succeeded in bringing the
play to a conclusion more satisfactorily than I could
have dared to hope for. In subsequent performances
everything went better.

I made a tour through several of the English
counties with these two dramas in September, October
and November, with the best results.

During the winter of 1883, which I spent quietly
in Rome, I had the pleasure of assisting at several
performances undertaken in the cause of chanty.

In the second half of the same year I revisited
England, adding Mary Stuart and Marie Antoinette
to my former repertoire. During my long stay there
I had signed a contract for a long tour in North
America, in order to reproduce before the Anglo-
Saxon public across the ocean what I had just


accomplished in the United Kingdom. I was en pas-
sant at Paris, waiting the hour of embarking on the
St. Germain, which was to leave Havre the i8th
October, when I was asked to take part in a perform-
ance to be given in the Theatre des Nations, for the
benefit of the cholera victims, by the Comedie Fran-
faise and some distinguished singers who were also
at the moment in Paris. My luggage was packed up
or gone ; I had no Italian actor with me capable of
supporting me ; but I accepted readily, because the
purpose was for the relief at the same time of both
French and Italian distress. My brother, Caesar,
who had come to Paris to see me off, agreed to sup-
port me along with a lady amateur, who was very will-
ing to become an actress for a charity evening.

I was thus enabled in a few hours to put on
the stage the sleep-walking scene of Lady Macbeth,
which requires three characters. I added to my con-
tribution the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno.

For many years I had not felt French hearts thrill-
ing before me, and before leaving Europe I felt a
real happiness in finding myself once again in com-
munion with that good and dear public, who had
given me my first joys out of Italy. A few hours
afterwards I was on board the St. Germain, carrying
with me, to cheer me during the long passage, the
friendly articles of the whole French press, which
thanked me for my last greeting to France.

For the fourth time I arrived in the United States
under the happiest auspices, and began from Phila-
delphia a tour of seven months, which ended on the
4th day of May 1885. But before returning to my


own country, I had the pleasure of acting Macbeth
with Edwin Booth, the Talma of the United States.
I was only able to give one performance in New
York, on the evening of the 7th of May, at the
Academy of Music, and one at Philadelphia ; but
they were truly grand artistic festivals, and the public
flocked to them in crowds. These satisfactory results
incited the manager of the permanent company at
the Thalia Theatre, New York, to beg me to act
in Schiller's Mary Stuart, on the i2th, with his
"troupe," I speaking English and they German.

At first it seemed to me too extraordinary an idea.
I did not know a word of their language, yet at the
same time I must confess this strange proposal had a
certain fascination for me. I reflected that by pay-
ing the closest attention to the expression of my
companions' faces, with a by-play in accordance with
the situation when I was not speaking, I might be
able to come creditably out of the ordeal. So, after
some slight hesitation, I accepted the offer.

During the solitary rehearsal I was able to have
with them, I was careful to have the words immedi-
ately preceding my parts repeated very distinctly,
accustoming my ears gradually to their sound. By
this means everything went on correctly. The per-
formance was a success ; best of all, the greater part
of the audience were persuaded that I was acquaint-
ed with the German language, and complimented
me upon it.

The 23d of March 1885, we disembarked at South-
ampton from the German Lloyd's splendid steamer
Fulda, happy after all to see our old Europe once


more, and come to the end of the seven months'
journey, during which space we had visited sixty-two
cities of the New World.

We should never have been able to traverse such
immense distances in so short a time if the industrial
genius which presides in America over all the loco-
motive enterprises had not come to our assistance.
There is a company in the United States (which that
of the wagon lits begins to imitate with us), which
has for its object to let car apartments ^by the week
or the month, which can be attached successively to
trains for all destinations. (They are often used for
pleasure excursions.) The necessity for lodging at
inferior hotels at small towns is thus avoided ; one is
not obliged to open trunks at every stopping place ;
one can live as if at home, or as conveniently as if on
board a yacht. This habit of locomotion is so much
a part of American life that everything is organized
at the stations for the provisioning every morning and
at any occasional pause in the journey.

It was on leaving Philadelphia we took possession
of our ambulating house. In the space of only 66
feet (English) we had anteroom, salon, two bed-
rooms, with respective dressing-rooms, two rooms for
servants, kitchen, pantry ; and, besides all this, there
were a kind of iron cellars under the carriage, where
the provisions were kept. Our sitting-room was
particularly comfortable ; the hangings were furnished
with Mezzari of Genoa. We had a piano, bookcase,
ttaglres filled with all sorts of things, photographs,
maps, and even hot-house plants, which accompanied
us into the coldest regions.


We had hired our yacht on wheels for five months.
We were often in motion for fifteen days in succes-
sion without being aware of the distance traversed ;
and when in the large cities we left it for the hotels.,
it was carefully kept in a shed in charge of two
negroes appointed specially for that purpose by the

Not without regret we left behind us in America
that pretty habitation, thanks to which we had made,
without fatigue, so long a journey.

Such are the principal events of my artistic life
which my heart, guided by my memory, has dictated ;
and if in evoking my recollections I have been oblig-
ed to reawaken the praises bestowed upon me, it is
because they are identified with each other, and above
all because I experience a legitimate pride in record-
ing them, attributing them in great measure to the
homage paid so splendidly by the public, beyond the
Alps and beyond the sea, to Italian art.

My readers will perceive that I have put on one
side all pride of authorship, every pretension to style,
and left on these memoirs the impression of that
spontaneity which has all my life characterized my
actions and my thoughts.

I do not pretend to posthumous fame with this
book, which, from the depth of my retreat, I send
forth to the judgment of the public ; but as I cherish
the hope that the vicissitudes of a life commenced so
modestly, and the course I have accomplished, may
serve for emulation and example to the young, who,
having a serious vocation for the theatrical art, desire .
to face its difficulties and hardships.


One duty alone remains to me, that of reaching
out a friendly hand to my faithful companions in
arms ; to those who followed me across both worlds,
and to those who have helped and contributed to our



As the object of this work is a purely artistic one,
and as, therefore, it does not come within its scope to
discuss the various and most contradictory opinions
which have been held by so many celebrated authors
during the last three centuries about the guilt or inno-
cence of the unfortunate Mary Stuart, I will only
say that, for my own part, I was so convinced she
had been the victim of undeserved cruelty and perse-
cution, that I had no difficulty in forming my idea
of her character. All the facts which a close study
of her history brought to my knowledge confirmed
me in the conviction I had always felt, that Mary
Stuart was the victim of her own extraordinary beau-
ty, her own personal fascination, and her fervent
Roman Catholicism. That she was guilty of some
indiscretions, which would probably have passed
unnoticed in another woman, I do not attempt to
deny ; but they were certainly made the most of by
those whose interest it was to ruin the unfortunate
queen. Her enemies failed to take into account
either her youth or the circumstances of the times in
which she lived, and her juvenile frivolities have
served as a foundation for many serious charges
which have been brought against her. Her girlish
imprudences have been painted in the darkest colors.


It is my firm belief that the gravest of these charges
such, for example, as her connivance at the murder
of her husband were embellished and distorted and
magnified by her enemies to suit their own purposes
and compass her destruction.

Every one knows how, in order that Mary might
have no chance of defeating their machinations, she
was kept a close prisoner for nineteen years, during
which time she endeavored repeatedly, by means of
letters, appeals and petitions, to obtain an opportunity
of justifying herself before Elizabeth and the English
Parliament, and disproving the accusations made
against her. But all her efforts were useless; and,
surely, in their failure may be found a proof that her
persecutors feared to grant her request, lest she
should succeed in convincing every one of her in-

And what chance had she of exposing the conspir-
acy against her, when her voice was silenced in a
prison, when all assistance was denied her, when
every effort she made only involved her more deeply
in a maze of intrigue ; when nineteen out of her
forty-four years of life were passed in humiliating and
miserable confinement.

The testimony of many historians proves that the
conduct of this unhappy princess, from her infancy
up to the death of Darnley, was without reproach. I
fail to see, therefore, how such a woman as Mary
Stuart, gentle, cultivated, fascinating and endowed
with the most estimable qualities, could, in a moment,
leave the paths of virtue for those of vice, could so
completely forget herself as to commit crimes worthy


only of the most depraved nature. Yet this is what
her inhuman persecutors would have us believe.

The real reason of all her sufferings was that, from
infancy upwards, she had been guilty of three great
and unpardonable sins. She was the legitimate
queen, she was a devoted Roman Catholic, and she
was the most beautiful woman of her century.

These considerations, however, only sufficed to
increase my sympathy with the unfortunate Queen,
and I devoted all my abilities to a close study of her
character, seeking to bring out in strong relief the
nobility of her disposition, the dignity of the outraged
sovereign, the sufferings of the oppressed victim, and
the .resignation of the martyr.

I was helped in this attempt by the care with which
I had studied the historical period during which she
lived, and by the investigations I had already made
while preparing the part of Elizabeth. And it is my
profound conviction that no generous, impartial and
sympathetic mind can fail to be touched by the sad
story of poor Mary Stuart, who was an ornament to
her sex, and who was driven to the scaffold by the
mad jealousy of her rival, and by a long-continued
course of cruel persecution.

* * # # *

Before entering upon any analysis of my acting in
the character of Mary Stuart, I think it may interest
the reader to give a short account of the circumstances
which first led me to undertake this most important

Few persons would believe that the representation

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 9 of 21)