Thomas Ford.

The actor, or, A peep behind the curtain. Being passages in the lives of Booth and some of his contemporaries online

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many, they received a shock from which they would never re-
cover. But they misjudged; the craving that people have for
recreation is too fully satisfied by the stage to allow its extinction
or permanent decline, while the light of education is spread
abroad. As a legal gentleman once expressed it : " Theatricals
have their foundation in the nature of things."

While the theatre was comparatively deserted, several species
of amusement were offered in their place ; among which were
concerts and lectures, the friends of the latter confidently asserting
that the day for the mimic scene was past.

The Park Theatre, itself, was used by Doctor Lardner as a
Lecture-room, where he illustrated the Starring system with
great satisfaction to himself and the public. But, however useful
lectures may be, they will not answer as a substitute for the in-
struction and enjoyment derived from visiting a well regulated

Within a year or two past, the taste for the drama has revived,
giving evidence of our recovery from the financial shock to which
we have adverted, and proving that the public appreciate an art
which unites amusement with instruction ; we hope it will not
be in our day, that prejudice or fanaticism will destroy one of
the most ancient and intellectual institutions.

Tt is worthy of remark, that amidst all the warfare waged
against the stage, its opponents attack their collateral abuses,
totally irrelevant, and " from the purpose of playing ;" they can


render no firm reason why moral instruction cannot be conveyed
from the stage, as well as from the sacred desk ; why a living
and breathing personation of a great vice, or a great virtue, may
not affect us as deeply and sensibly as the cold and studied decla-
mation, delivered between waking and sleeping in a lecture-room.
It was the remark of a celebrated clergyman, that in witnessing
the representation of Macbeth, he was more fully taught the terri-
ble retribution attending the violation of the commandment " Thou
shalt do no murder," than he could hope to convey by a dozen
sermons. Let the opposition to the abuses connected with the
stage be continued, until they are reformed ; let it no longer be
subject to a stigma not rightfully belonging to it, and it will rise
to an eminence too lofty for detraction, too pure for reproach.

The following eloquent extract from the " Defence of the
Stage" is too just to be omitted in this place.

" From all I can collect upon the subject, by reading, discus-
sion, observation, and experience, I feel myself authorised to
affirm, that a well regulated stage would be ever serviceable to
mankind, an able assistant of religion, a strong stimulus to mo-
rality, a rigid inculcator to virtue, a soother and corrector of the
vindictive passions, a moderator and promoter of the gentler ones,
and a powerful agent in the hands of a wise legislator for forming
a nation to everything great and good."



Desultory reflections Mr. Booth's career on the stage His abilities as an
actor considered His eccentricities Thoughts on Genius Concluding

IN bringing this work to a conclusion, we are conscious that there
is much in the history of Mr. Booth's life that remains to be
written, and more in those of his contemporaries, to which we
have not even alluded.

The career of almost any actor of eminence would supply ma-
terial for a more elaborate production than the imperfect one
which we submit to the public ; the hindrances to youthful am-
bition, the lonely hours of intense study, the difficulties attending
the early efforts of the player, the jealousies and rivalries engen-
dered, with their long train of concomitant evils, are subjects with
which almost every performer is acquainted.

When we reflect how few, among the multitudinous number of
individuals who have sought, reputation or profit in the histrionic
art, have risen to eminence, the conviction is irresistible, that
without the most superior qualifications of mental and physical
ability, success is unattainable. One, among the few, is Mr.


At his debut he was assailed with all the virulence and abuse
that the most rancorous enmity and hostility could suggest. The
extraordinary favor with which the Kembles were regarded, the
high position which they occupied in public favor, and the hold


they had acquired upon the minds of the patrons of the drama in
favor of their peculiar style of acting, were anything but favora-
ble to the advent of a new star in the theatrical firmament, which,
instead of shedding one long and continuous ray of light, revealed,
in quick succession, an interminable number of flashes that irra-
diated the whole horizon ; or to drop the metaphor, an actor
that startled and electrified his audience by sudden and unex-
pected flashes of intellectual brightness, by bold and rapid mani-
festations of mental power, and by a confident reliance on nature
for a guide, rather than on studied and formal attitudes, and
mechanical gesticulation.

Mr. Booth, however, commanded admiration, and without re-
sorting to the usual methods of securing approbation and applause
by the aid of splendid dresses and stage tricks, won an imperish-
able fame. Like the wand of Midas, that converted everything
it touched to gold, so in the crucible of Booth's genius, every
character that he attempted, came forth redolent of excellence.

His beautifully modulated voice, clear, distinct, and sonorous,
his expressive eye, that revealed more than any words could con-
vey, and his appropriate and graceful gesticulation, rendered all
his impersonations interesting and admirable.

In tender passages, the mournful and touching cadences of his
voice appealed directly to the heart, and in the representation of
sterner passages, his acting approximated to the sublime.

In depicting violent rage, or unrelenting hate in the portrayal
of bold and romantic villainy, in exhibiting the satisfaction of
triumphant revenge, or the terrific workings of despair, he never
had a superior, and even now, at his mature age, though but a
faint semblance of what he was, he is the only living representa-
tive of Richard, Sir Giles Overreach, and lago.

Mr. Booth's career off the stage has rendered him liable to the


charge of eccentricity. It were in vain, however, to attempt to
account for the idiosyncrasies of genius. The " one step from


the sublime to the ridiculous" is not shorter than the distance
from the highest and most sublimated degree of intellectuality, to
madness itself.

There is a point of human knowledge, says Dr. Johnson, " at
which reason and madness begin to mingle." The mind that
broods over its own thoughts ; that lives in a world of its own cre-
ation ; that pictures in its own imagination the ideal forms of the
poet ; that, in the dreamy languor of poetical reverie, fritters away
the hours, unconscious of the living and breathing beings around
it ; that fashions its own world all couleur de rose, and peoples it
with the misty creations of a rapt and excited fancy, can hardly
be expected to regard the dull and prosaic common-places of life
with the same feelings as your cold and calculating philosopher,
who sees things, not as he would have them, but as they are.

It is the peculiar characteristic of genius to find no sympathy,
for it seeks none, with a cold and uncongenial world. Enveloped
in the solitude of its own high thoughts rapt in its own bright
visions, its glorious aspirations for some undefined and unattained
object, it goes forward on its mission, to encounter but disappoint-
ment and defeat Sensitive to the last degree, it meets with rude
rebuffs ; with the most enlarged and liberal sympathies, it finds no
congenial association around it. Its object is aimless, but it longs
for something unattained. It looks forward, full of hope, but it
knows not wherefore ; it would rend the impenetrable veil of the
future to discover some response to its undefined but measureless
aspirations ; it is the great and insatiable craving of the soul
which this world cannot satisfy.

In the mazy labyrinth of its bewildering thoughts, it sometimes
" o'erleaps itself and falls on the other side" of reason, where,
with madness mixed, like lago's invention, " it plucks out brains
and all."

The dull machinery of life, with all its petty annoyances, falls
like a leaden weight upon its spirit a thousand imaginary terrors


possess It, until, lost and bewildered in the strange and discordant
dream which its own excited fancy has engendered, it seeks for
refuge and forgetfulness in the depths of the intoxicating bowl,
and often in death itself.

Let not the cold and rigid moralist condemn with unsparing
censure the infirmities of noble minds. Who shall say what
" floods of memoried bitterness " they have passed through ; what
stiflings of the " mighty hunger of the heart " they have endured ;
what warm and glowing feelings have been chilled ; what tender
sensibilities have been deadened by the rude jostle of an unfeeling
world ?

There are more motives to action in the breast of man than
philosophy has yet discovered. Could we look into the hearts of
men, we are confident there would be found no dark and " damned
spot " in that of JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH.


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Online LibraryThomas FordThe actor, or, A peep behind the curtain. Being passages in the lives of Booth and some of his contemporaries → online text (page 14 of 14)