Paulist Fathers.

The Century, Volume 21 online

. (page 39 of 78)
Online LibraryPaulist FathersThe Century, Volume 21 → online text (page 39 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


were recollections of what I had seen her
do. I have often trained actresses on this
admirable model. ... All the scene
of the denunciation in * Patrie ' was pure
Ristorism. For my part, I have never seen
anything on the stage as fine as the acting
of this marvelous woman, and the evenings
of Pia, of Medea, of Judith, and of Man
Stuart remain the finest of my dramatic
life."

This was the actress who came to Amer-
ica in 1866, making her first appearance in
America September 20th, in New York, at
what was then the French Theater, and is
now known as Haverly's, in accordance
with the detestable American habit of labd-
ing a temple of art with the name of the
man who may happen to be its temporary
owner. There she acted fifty times and
more. Then she traveled up and down the



Digitized by



Google



FOREIGN ACTORS ON THE AMERICAN STAGE.



527



length of the country, acting in thirty cities,
and giving a hundred and seventy per-
formances. So great was her success that
she came to us again the next season. A
third visit was made in 1874. On her
first visit, her first and last appearances
were made in Medea, and it was only in
New Orleans that she acted Myrrha, Clas-
sic tragedy — although neither Medea nor
Myrrha can be called cold — was too bar-
ren, too devoid of action and color to please
the mass of American theater-goers, and re-
liance was therefore wisely placed, in the
eailier visits, on " Elizabeth of England,"
and, in the later, on "Marie Antoinette,"
both plays by Signor Giacommetti, some-
what akin in style to the chronicle-histories
of Shakspere's day, and scarcely to be
called dramas at all.

Charlotte Cushman was in Paris in 1855,
when the rivalry was hottest between
Rachel and Ristori for the tragic crown:
and, as might have been expected, she
preferred Ristori. The next year foimd
the American actress keeping house in Lon-
don when the Italian came there to play.
Miss Cushman had met Ristori, and liked
the woman as much as she had admired
the actress. So she gave her an Italian
dinner, — " everything," says her biographer,
^ ItalianissimOy as far as the resources of
LoDdon would permit— cooks, waiters,
dishes, all Italian, the chief cook turning
himself into a waiter for the pleasure of
k)oking at Ristori. The table was deco-
rated with the Italian colors, and the dress
of the hostess also displayed the mystical
tricolor bright :

" Red for the patriot's blood.

Green for the martyr's crown,
White for the dew and the rime

MHien the morning of God comes down,"

—surely a touching tribute to one who
loved her country as Ristori did, and who
labored for it as die agent of Cavour, earn-
ing that great statesman's thanks. Later
on, when Miss Cushman Hved in Rome,
aod had acquired more Italian, she met
Ristori unexpectedly on the Pincian, and,
running to meet her, poured forth a warm
greeting in Italian. '* I don't know what
I said," the American actress explained to a
friend, "but I threw all the Italian I had
at her pell-mell, and she understood me, as
•he always does."

During Ristori's visit to this country in
the season of 1874-5, she and the greatest of



American actresses met again. In a letter
to a friend. Miss Cushman writes :

"I have been to the theater two nights to see
'^%\xyt\\X!iEli%abetta9sAMarU AntoitutU, • ♦ •
She is the greatest female artist I have ever seen.
Such perfect nature, such ease, such grace, such ele-

Snce of manner, such as befits a queen. On Mon-
y night I sat in the director's box, holding a
beautiful bouquet of roses and lilies of the valley for
her. At the end of the second act she was culed,
the curtain was lifted, and she came down with
some of the others. As I lifted the bouquet, she
saw it and came over to the box. She is near-
sighted, so did not recognize me until she came
near ; then she gave a start toward me, saying, < Ah^
cam arnica / * She almost put her arms around me,
and would have kissed me if I had let her. We ex-
changed words to know where each was staying, ^e
audience all this while applauding tremendously.
Friends say it was one of tne prettiest sights they
ever saw, and the audience seemed to mink so.
She came to see me yesterday, and we had a long,
lon^ talk, I floundermg about in Italian, and she
talking like an angel."

After Rachel and Ristori came an actor far
inferior to either, but abiding longer with us,
and exerting an influence on our stage seem-
ingly much stronger. Charles Fechter, after
remaining in America nearly ten years, died
here, and it was with a certam sense of incon-
gruity that, on a hot day two summers ago,
one read in the afternoon paper a dispatch
from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, annoimcing
the death there of the actor who had created
the part of Armand in the " I)ame aux
Cam61ias," and who had been recognized
on his arrival as the best performer we had
in parts compounded of pictorial dash and
melodramatic energy.

The career of Charles Fechter was a
remarkable one, even in these days of cos-
mopolitanism in art. Bom in London fifty-
five years ago, of an Italian mother and a
Franco- German father, he was brought up
in Paris to be a sculptor. Before he was
twenty he had gone on the stage, first
as an amateur and then as a professional
actor. He entered the conservatory to
prepare for the Thedtre-Fran^ais, where he
acted a short time, but where a long engage-
ment was refused him, because of his English
accent. He seems to have overcome this
defect later, for, between 1848 and i860, he
created many important parts in comedy
and drama, — Armand and Raphael in the
plays known in America as " Camille " and
" The Marble Heart," for instance, and the
twins in "The Corsican Brothers." After
having at different times played in Italy and
Germany, he went to London, in i860, to
act in English. His accent, and what was
even worse, his intonation, were foreign to



Digitized by



Google



528



FOREIGN ACTORS ON THE AMERICAN STAGE.



English ears ; but, in spite of this, he played
a series of brilliant engagements. By the
aid of Lady Burdett-Coutts, always an ad-
mirer of the drama and now the moneyed
partner of Mr. Henry Irving in the manage-
ment of the same theater, M. Fechter was
enabled, in 1863, to take the Lyceum
Theater, which he managed for four years,
acting in " Ruy Bias," " Don C6sar de
Bazan," " The Duke's Motto," and in other
plays of the same class, besides attempting
Hamlet and Othello. In all of these his
French intonation was against him, and it
was to give him a part in which this would
not be a disadvantage that his friends,
Charles Dickens and Mr. Wilkie Collins,
wrote the Christmas story of" No Thorough-
fare," and then turned it into a play, in which
Fechter created Obenreizer. To act in the
French version of " No Thoroughfare,"
called " L'Abime," M. Fechter returned to
Paris for a while in 1868.

Ten years after his first success in Eng-
land, Fechter came to the United States,
preceded by an extravagant eulogy sent to
the " Atlantic Monthly " by Dickens —
a eulogy which was^very dangerous and, in
fact, very injurious to the French actor,
for it excited anticipations so high that
David Garrick himself could not have satis-
fied them. Appearing first, January loth,
1870, at Niblo's Garden in this city, he
afterward managed the Globe Theater in
Boston and the Lyceum in New York.
Successful as an actor until of late years,
when he began to be careless and to disap-
point audiences by sudden attacks of indis-
position, — the one thing certain to alienate
the mass of theater-goers, — as a manager he
never succeeded; his arrogant temper and
his lack of judgment resulted in lowering all
interest in him until neither his fellow-
players nor the public could be induced to
work together with him.

Latterly, Fechter's powers of acting were
on the wane, owing pardy to weakening
health, and his death was not felt as a
great loss to the stage, on which he had
ceased to be prominent some time be-
fore. His career presents a most unfort-
imate instance of strong native ability
wasted by want of character and lack of
self-control. About his acting there was
always much discussion, both in this
country and in England. He was essen-
tially an actor of situation — that is to say,
of melodrama, with but little feeling for
character and with no appreciation at all
of the serene calm of true poetry. His



ingenuity was quick and fertile in pictur-
esque contrasts and in stage surprises. He
was fond of innovation for its own sake, and
prided himself on discarding tradition— for-
getful, apparently, that on the stage, tradition,
as the result of the accumulated skill of the
actors of the past, has nine chances in ten
of being right. His peculiar ability, great
but not of the greatest, was seen to the b:^
in his Hamlet^ which was an exceedingly
eflfective picture of a clever young French-
man of the days of the romantic revival of
1830, unfortunately placed in the same
series of situations as Shakspere*s Hamkt.
That he wore a blonde wig may be takoi
as typical. No actor has ever entirdy
failed as Hamlet; the pla^ is so truly dra-
matic, so well suited to the taste of all play-
goers, high and low, that it carries the
player along with it. But on OtheUo
Fechter made shipwreck, as David Gar-
rick, the greatest of all actors, had done
before him ; in that rich tragic part no efibrt
of ingenious picturesqueness could save
him from a dismal and instructive failure,
just as he had failed years before when he
attempted, at the Paris Od6on, the same
innovating and modem redressing of
MoU^re's masterpiece, " Tartuffe," a play
which lent itself even less readily than
" Othello " to this nineteenth-century search
for novelty.

Fechter had a great fancy for the purely
pictorial play, rich in scenic adornment and
lively with well-planned groupings. He
was fond of the externals of the stage, and
under his management the eye, at least, was
certain to be satisfied. Mrs. Kemble justly
said of " The Duke's Motto " that " with
all its resources of scenic efiect " it was " a
striking and interesting theatrical entertain-
ment, with hardly an admixture of that
which is truly dramatic." Not only in his
choice of plays and in his mounting of them
as a manager was Fechter*s way of looking
at things pictorial and plastic rather than
really dramatic, but as an actor he alwap
remembered that he had been a sculptor, and
his first calling undoubtedly suggested to him
some of his happiest effects. Often he
summed up a situation by a striking attitude,
fitting the gesture to the word with unforget-
able effect. Who having ever seen him as
Ruy Bias could not but remember the
supreme moment, in the last act, when he
turns on Dan Sallust with the words, " Once
I was your lackey — but now I am yoor
executioner ! " saying which, he drew his
sword and lifted his foot on the chair before



Digitized by V^OOQlC



Digitized by



Googit



53© FOREIGN ACTORS ON THE AMERICAN STAGE.






ft



To most of us, I fancy, David ^^'^



FBCHTKR AS MONTK CHRISTO.

him, and stood in the attitude of the heads-
man resting his foot on the block. but a name with a string of anecdotes tag

Digitized by V^OOQl€



Digitized by



Googit



KISTORI AS MAKY STUAST.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



FOREIGN ACTORS ON THE AMERICAN STAGE.



533



)Jl/



y<



{ ■</



lais. The actor's share was nearly thirty
thousand dollars, while the manager neither
made nor lost by the engagement.

Last Hall Signor Salvini again arrived in
New York, for another professional trip
through the United States. He began to
act November 29th, in Philadelphia. The
inexorable printer claims my " copy " before
Salvini appears in New York, although
his engagement in this city will fin-
ish before the present number gets into
the hands of its readers ; and, as I was un-
fortunately prevented from seeing the Italian
actor on his former visit, I am debarred
from criticism. One peculiarity of his pres-
ent appearances has called forth much di-
versity of opinion. Seven years ago Salvini
was surrounded by the company of Ital-
ian actors with whom he was in the
habit of actings Now he acts with an



American company, and the whole perform-
ance — save Signor Salvini's own speeches —
is in English. This polyglot attempt is not
as novel as some seem to have supposed. On
the operatic stage, it is not unusual for one
vocalist to sing in a different language firom
the rest; only two or three months ago
Patti and Nicolini sang in Italian in " The
Barber of Seville " at the Berlin opera-
house, while the other singers sang in
German; and there are even operatic
precedents for the combination of three lan-
guages. Although less frequent on the non-
musical stage, a bilingual performance is
no great rarity. In Gautier's ** Russia "
there is, if I remember aright, an account
of the acting of Othello by Ira Aldridge,
"The African Roscius," as he was called,
who spoke English, surrounded by native
actors using their native tongue. At differ-



Digitized by



Googit



534



SOUVENIR OF ITALY.



ent times, Mr. Edwin Booth has acted with
Herr Bandmann and Fraulein Janauschek,
all speaking their own language. And on
one occasion " Othello " was acted in this
city with Bogumil Dawison as Othello^
Booth as lago^ Mr. Newton Gotthold as
Cassia, and Mme. Methua Schiller as D^s-
demona. Dawison and Booth each spoke
his own tongue; Mme. Schiller and Mr.
Gotthold alternated from English to Ger-
man, as they chanced to be actmg with the
American tragedian or the German. Mod-
jeska spoke Polish, with an English com-
pany, when she began her artistic career in
the United States. After all, this mixing of
languages is not a matter of great impor-
tance. Like the use of blank verse or the
mingling of prose and verse, it departs from
the exact facts of life. The spectators ac-
cept it by tacit convention — as they will
accept almost any other incongruity, how-
ever humorous it may seem, if it be neces-
sary to further their enjoyment, and if it be
frankly presented at the start.

Before Salvini, indeed before Fechter had
visited us, Herr Daniel Bandmann came to
this city to play at the Stadt Theater, in
German, and liked the land so well that
he learned English and acted in it, in
1865, at Niblo's Garden. He afterward
went to England and has since again re-
turned to this country. His favorite and,
indeed, his best part is Narcisse, in the version
made by Mr. Tom Taylor of the rather
dull play suggested to Brachvogel by
Diderot's dramatic fragment, " Le Neveu de



Rameau.'* Before Salvini, too, came Maii
Seebach, tender representative of G<)ethc'j
Gretch^n, who, however, did not make a lon^
stay or any very great ripple of excitemenj
while she was here.

Space fails to do full justice here to Frai
lein Fanny Janauschek, who came befon
Salvini and has remained after his goin^
At first she acted in German, and then i
little later in English, a language which siM
mastered by hard labor in less than a yaffj
just as she had before acquired German]
her native tongue being Czech. The rcsoi
lute self-reliance of which this instance is
typical is to be seen in her acting. Sbti
brought to the American stage, where sb^
found a ready welcome, a massive bieadtl^
of style and a stalwart strength which i
had not known for years. Not a i^
other foreign histrionic artists, of more
or less merit, and of greater or less &mq
have from time to time crossed our stage
Madame Modjeska was one: she has al^
ready been sketched with pen and pencil ii^
these pages.* Within the past few yeais wc
have also had Frau von Stamwitz, a Ger-
man actress, speaking in English; and
Signor and Signora Majeroni, — ^the latter 3
niece of Ristori's and both of them mem-
bers of her latest American company ; they
too, have grappled with the ruggedness d
our tongue, and are seeking success on the
English-speaking stage.

* See SCRIBNER for Mardi, 1879, and ** Comminii-
cadons " in Scribner for May, 1879.



SOUVENIR OF ITALY.



TO A. H. B. W.



Were they elms that taught of old
Man the rustic dance to pace —

Elms with hands outstretched to hold
Hands of vine with homely grace ?

Brenta greets her harvest moons
Gorgeously with leaf and grape ;

Was it here the cosmic tunes

Changed to movement and a shape?



Round the squares of golden wheat,
Dotted poppy-red and blue.

Swing the trees with cloddy feet,
Arm in arm, a sober crew.

On the moistened fields aligned,
Brave with fiiiit and wine and bread,

Mellow soil below they find,
Paradise above their head.



Clipt and cropt in human guise,
Gnarly-trunk'd, with wrinkled knees,

Squat firom burdens, weather-wise.
By the Brenta dance the trees.



Digitized by



Google



THACKERAY'S RELATIONS TO ENGLISH SOCIETY.



535



THACKERAY'S RELATIONS TO ENGLISH SOCIETY.



It is apparent to the readers of Thack-
eray that the mind of that great writer was,
in some respects, a turbid and a confused
one. This confusion was due to his sensi-
ttTeness and to his having certain qualities
which I shall refer to further on; but it
was especially due to his having, in a high
degree, two traits which were inconsistent
and d^cult to reconcile. A worldly man
is a simple character. A poet or philoso-
pher is comparatively a simple character.
Each of these may pursue a contented and
simple existence. But confusion and dis-
content begin when the interest is divided
between the world and those things which
poets care for. If irresolution and the
mobility to decide what one wants are
added to this character, the mind is taken
up with a dialogue of thoughts, which, like
the combat of principles in the Manichean
theology, may go on forever. This was
Thackerav's state of mind. He believed in
the world, and bestowed a reluctant but
inevitable worship upon it He was bom
a poet and humorist ; his eyes were fixed
on life so strongly that it would have
been impossible for him to withdraw them
altogether. He could not cease to be a
poet, and he could not forget the world.
Between the two, he was imable to make
up his mind. He discovered daily the
vanity of mundane matters, but the discov-
ery had, nevertheless, to be made the day
alter. He was a proud and ambitious man,
who hated to be ignored, or thought trifling
or unimportant. He had a desire for social
position which he was unable to put aside.
But I doubt if anybody with a mind like
his, and living as he did, could have put
aside the desire for social position. People
do not usually overcome a deep-seated
disposition by an eflfort of the will, but by
putting themselves in circimistai^ces amidst
which they may forget it The thing is
then out of sight, and is, therefore, out of
mind. But Thackeray lived amidst just
tbosc circumstances in which it was most
difficult to avert his mind from social
ambition and pride of position. In Switz-
erland he might have forgotten it; but he
could not forget it in Pall Mall ; and Pall
Mall was his proper place. His character
^as strongly social. Society and human
^gs had educated him, and he lived
^n them. There was nothing for him,



therefore, but to get on as best he could
with the people among whom his lot fell.

The nature of that society is, perhaps,,
the most egotistical in the world. No other
society so compels its constituents to be
egotists, to be thinking continually upon the
subject of their own consequence. Thack-
eray's lot was, therefore, cast in a society
the tendency of which was to educate rather
than to allay egotism, to excite to the highest
degree his social pride. Doubdess, in some
societies the mere fact of having written
great works would give a man a social posi-
tion sufficiently high to satisfy any ambidon.
Such is the case here, and such is said to be
the case in France ; but such is not the case
in England. Thackeray was aware that no
matter what works he wrote he could never
be the equal of many people whom he was
in the habit of seeing. He knew that
though he spoke with the tongue of men
and of angels, though he had the gift of
prophecy and understood all mysteries and
all knowledge, though he could remove
mountains, and though he gave his body
to be burned, he coidd never be as good
as the eldest son of a great peer. He
might have gone apart and lived among
artists and other people of his own sort^
whose society he said, and no doubt truly^
that he preferred to any other. He might
have given himself up to admiring the vir-
tues and graces of people who make no
figure in the world. But then he would
have had to write himself down as one of
the excluded, as one of a second lot, and
this he would not have been able to do. As
he could not obtain social position by writ-
ing great works, the only pursuit left to him
was that career which consists in winning
the respect of general society by obtain-
ing the acquaintance of the leading people.
The pride of a man who enters upon this
pursuit is always in more or less peril. He
IS always asking something for nothing. It
is easy to see that such a man as Thackeray,
in making an object of getting on in society^
would be at a great disadvantage.

See the way in which your entirely and
simply worldly man goes to work. Such
pride as he has he is able to put in his pocket
He never falls in love with any but the right
people. He is betrayed into no sudden
movements of the heart or fancy — ^supposing
him to be capable of such — with obscure or

Digitized by V^OOQlC



Digitized by



Googit



THACKERAY'S RELATIONS TO ENGLISH SOCIETY.



537



doubtful persons. He wastes no words on
people who cannot help him on the way.
" This one thing I do," he says, and, like most
people who have one object, usually reaches
It Thackeray, on the contrary, saw and
could not help caring for the souls of people.
He liked the good, the simple, the honest,
the affectionate. It is evident, therefore,
in this business, Thackeray had too much to
cany. The result was confusion and unrest
Yet he was never able to let it alone. Not
only did he follow it in the common way,
but we find him ready at any time to give
himself up to some office or appointment,
the possession of which will, m his own
notion, make him more respectable. Thus,
he wanted to be Secretary of Legation at
Washington. The pay of the place was
nothing to speak of. The position itself
ousht not to have allured the man who had
written "Esmond" and "Vanity Fair."
He would have been of no use in such a
place. Why did he want it ? Perhaps he
remembered that Addison and Prior were
diplomatists, and was ready to choose a pro-
fesaon with the instincts of a fancier of old
china. But the real reason was this : there
no doubt seemed to him a particular decency
in the occupation of a diplomate which he
wished to transfer to and unite with himself.
Every man, of course, may choose what
objects he shall pursue, and Thackeray had,
perhaps, at thb time done enough to earn
the right to be idle. But then he had what
so few have — a real task to perform. He
had an unmistakable employment cut out
for him by his own genius, and prepared for
him by the age; his head was fiill of great
works which he wished to write ; he wanted
money, and he could make more money by
writing these works than by doing anything
else. At the time of which we are speaking,
be had only ten more years of life, though,
of course, he did not know this. Yet he was
willing to stop his own proper business, his
" Work with a big W," to go to playing with
sealing-wax ; he was anxious to step down
from one of the highest literary thrones of
the day to accept a place where he should
copy the words of masters at liome who were
scarcely conscious of him, and take lessons
of juniors, who despised him as an inter-
loper and a good-for-nothing; and he would
do all this that he might have the con-
sciousness of belonging to a respectable
profession.

It was because Thackeray so desired the
*«pcct of others, was so anxious for the
sooal consideration of the people he was
VouXXL-^a



meeting, that he thought so much about
snobs and snobbishness. Shakspere says
that the courtier has " a melancholy, which
is proud." By this we imderstand that the
courtier's mind is apt to be busy with the
question of the favor in which he is held
by the great personages ^ith whom he lives,
and of the consideration which he enjoys
in that society which constitutes their en-



Online LibraryPaulist FathersThe Century, Volume 21 → online text (page 39 of 78)