William Wetmore Story.

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any great ambition in him to be in this kind volu-
minously read." Whether Shakespeare shared
with him the last feeling or not, he evidently pur-
sued the same course in not printing his plays. At
all events, whether he had this feeling or not, an
all-sufficient reason for his not publishing them is
to be found in the fact stated by Heywood, that
the actors were jealous of having them printed as
detracting from their profit ; and we are not sure
that there may not have been many other plays by
Shakespeare of which we have no record. Thank
Heaven that we have preserved so many !

B. There seems to have been gross carelessness,
to say the least, in the preservation of plays at this
period. Chettle alone, if I remember right, wrote
thirty -eight plays, and of these only four are
known ; and the entire plays of almost no one of
the dramatists of the period are preserved.

M. Is it not enough to make one tear one's
hair to think that any of Shakespeare's plays
should be lost?

B. It is indeed. But to go back to Bacon. Let


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US compare for a moment his verses with Shake-
speare's. We have acknowledged verses by him ;
and since he acknowledged these, why be ashamed
of those which he printed under the pseudonym of
Shakespeare? Listen: Bacon thus writes verse
which he avows as his own : —

** Domestic cares afflict the husband^s bed

Or pains his head.
Those that live single take it for a corse,

Or do things worse.
Some would have children, those that have them moan

Or wish them gone.
What is it then to have or have no wife
But single thraldom or a double strife ? "

Imagine the man who thought this was poetry to
have "written the songs, sonnets, and plays of
Shakespeare ! One cannot help laughing.

Jf. My own view is that Shakespeare must
have written these lines, if Bacon wrote his. It
was change and change about, — what one wrote
the other gave his name to. Can anything be
more machine-made than they are ? Yet they are
good enough for a poor player, and we know that
domestic cares did afflict Shakespeare's bed, and
probably pains his head, — he had such a large
one. So it seems very clear that he must have
written this poem.

B, What sort of an actor do you suppose
Shakespeare was ? He is said to have taken only
the second parts, such as that of the king in
'-' Hamlet," and even to have played old Adam in
** As You Like It."


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M. Oh, he took that part out of pure good-na-
ture. I have little doubt that he was an excellent
actor, but too quiet, simple, and natural in his act-
ing to please the public taste, which demanded
loudness, bombastic action, declamation, and exag-
geration. The same characteristics still exist on
the English stage, and I suppose they have always
existed. Partridge's opinion of Garrick and his
acting represents the popular feeling of to-day.
He was too natural — too " simple, natural, affect-
ing ; " anybody might act Hamlet like him. Give
me the king for my money, says Partridge, or he
who could strut and declaim and tear a passion to
rags. Hamlet's advice to the players shows what
Shakespeare's notion of good acting was. It was
to hold the mirror up to nature, — not to rant and
strut and scream like the town-crier, to split the
ears of the groundlings. But the public taste was
different. They liked what they did not see in
life, just as the chambermaids and middle classes
of to-day like novels of high life, and ghastly ad-
ventures, and sensational incidents, and murders.
I am sorry to say that even among educated per-
sons there is a preference in England for exagger-
ated action in tragedy and in comedy. Comedy
on our stage is but too often turned into farce and
grimace; tragedy into rant, and what is called
elocution, God save the mark ! which means arti-
ficial intonation and pronunciation, such as no
human being in his senses would use in daily life.
There are exceptions, I know, to this; but it is


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characteristic of English acting. I am sometimes
afraid that the tragic actor will burst a blood-ves-
sel in his violence, and I am pretty sure the comic
actor will descend to grimace and caricature to get
a laugh from the pit and to split the ears of the
groundlings. It is a satisfaction, by way of excep-
tion, to hear such quiet acting as that of Mr. Jef-
ferson in " Rip Van Winkle ; " and I am glad to
see in some of the theatres, and among some of
the actors, a better and simpler taste growing up,
and at least an effort to render nature.

B, " Oh, it offends me to the very soul to hear
a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to
tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the ground-
lings ; who, for the most part, are capable of noth-
ing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I
would have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing

M. " I warrant your honor." One can say
nothing more to the purpose than Shakespeare in
this advice to the actors. His words are as true
to-day, as to English actors, as they were in his
own time.

B. I am struck with one vicious peculiarity of
English actors which has lately made its appear-
ance, that of pronouncing English with a French
accent and inflection. Why pos-si-ble? why ag-
6-ny ? why a-mus-ing ? and so on. Has this been
caught from Mr. Fechter? This is especially to
be observed in the actresses. The actors have less
of it. It is not only the accent, but the inflection


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of voice, which is false, and imitated apparently
from the French. Talk with these women off the
stage, and they speak like anybody else ; hear them
on the stage, and one would suppose they were

M, We are not natural actors, as the Italians
are, nor hiave we the accomplishment and restraint
of the French on the stage. The reason of this
is plain. The Italians use great gesticulation and
action in daily life. They talk with their hands,
their shoulders, their bodies, and when they are on
the stage they only do what they are accustomed
to do in common conversation off the stage. So,
too, the French gesticulate freely in expressing
themselves. But we ordinarily use no gesticula-
tion at all ; we sit or stand very still, without using
our hands and arms, and the consequence is that
when we are on the stage, and are forced to em-
ploy gesture and action, we are doing something
which we are not accustomed to, and we do it awk-
wardly and unnaturally. Besides, the Anglo-Saxon
is always self-conscious, and this necessarily begets
awkwardness and affectation. No person can be
natural unless he forgets himself. Generally speak-
ing, we are encumbered with our hands and arms,
and know not what to do with them. The Italians
stand and move with far greater naturalness, and
therefore far greater grace.

B, Did it ever strike you how characteristic of
each nation is its form of salutation ? The Italians
say, " Come sta?" and "Come va?" — How do


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you stand ? and How do you go ? — because natu-
rally, when an Italian is well, lie stands easily and
he moves easily. The French say, *' Comment
vous portez-vous ? " — How do you carry yourself ?

— for a Frenchman always wishes to make an ap-
pearance and an impression through his deport-
ment. The English, who are essentially an active
and doing people, engaged in business and always
at work, say, " How do you do ? " while the Ger-
man, who is generally wandering in a maze, and
whose intellectual tendencies are vague and meta-
physical, asks, " Wie befinden sie sich ? " — How
do you find yourself ?

M. Very characteristic, and particularly the
last. The wonder is how the speculative German
ever does find himself.

B, There is another common form of speech
which has struck me as characteristic and distinc-
tive of the Latin and Catholic nations from the
northern and Protestant nations. The Latins and
Catholics always say " Credo," — I believe, — while
the northern nations say, " I think ; " for the sim-
ple reason that the former take everything on trust
and as a matter of belief, while the latter refer it
to their reason and accept it as a matter of opin-
ion. No Italian or Spaniard ever says, " Penso,"

— I think ; he believes so, — he does not think so.
He has been accustomed so long to having his
thinking done for him by others, that he only ac-
cepts and believes. No Englishman ever believes
anything until he has thought it over.


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M. It is a curious fact, which never occurred
to me, but it seems to indicate the distinction you
have stated. It is also singular how little either
the Greeks or Romans seem to have used the
simple form of assent, as we do our Yes, even if
they had it, which I confess seems to me doubtful.
Nae, in Latin, which most nearly approximates to
it, is but an adoption of the Greek Nai, and has
rather the character of an oath or absolute affir-
mation than our simple assent, and, besides, was
rarely used in their writings. Their usual form of
assent seems to have been by reaffirming the same
proposition or statement. They certainly, if we
may judge from their writings, had no word in
common use corresponding to our Yes, Neither
of them could have said of his nation, as the Ital-
ians do of theirs, *' II bel paese dove si suona il
si ; " nor could it ever have been a joke with for-
eigners to say to them, " Nae " or " Nai," as it is
to many a one now who makes the crowd laugh
when an Englishman passes, by " Yas, yas ! "
Their " Ita est " is almost as bad as the vulgar
American " That 's so," which is a literal transla-
tion of it.

B. I do not believe they had any Yes corre-
sponding to ours. They certainly had no No, and
I cannot understand how they got on in conversa-
tion without it. Think of a people who could n't
say " No " and stumbled over " Yes " !

M. Their conversation could never have been,
" Yea, yea, and Nay, nay " ! But then they were
pagans. You could not expect it.


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B, I wish we liad some real specimens of their
conversation. I hope for all their sakes they were
not always on stQts, and talking as they do in their
books. The jokes they have recorded, and par-
ticularly Cicero's, are very flat to us, but they seem
to have been extremely amused with them, which
gives me a notion that they had very little esprit
or humor in their talk.

M. I will never believe Antony did not know
how to talk. Ah ! he was a man after my heart ;
he is the one of the old Bomans I should have
liked to know. I donH at all wonder that Cleo-
patra fell madly in love with him, nor, for the mat-
ter of that, that he feU madly in love with her.
What a pair ! What nights of revel, what days
of splendor, they must have known !

B, Suppose we could call up out of the past
any of them we wished to gather round our board,
and make a night of it, whom would you invite ?
We will invite in turn ; only let the company be
small. Counting ourselves as nothing, nine will
be enough, — the number of the Muses. You shall
begin. First the men.

M. My first man, then, shall be Antony, with
his buU-neck, his rich, curling hair, his robust fig-
ure, his deep-set, sparkling eyes, and his brave,
open look.

B. And mine Shakespeare. I need not describe
him. The handsomest man at the table, whoever
comes ; flowing and free in spirit and power, — the
divine WiUiams.


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M. I should have said Shakespeare first, but I
was thinking of the ancients. Next, I shall say.
Alcibiades, and he shall bring his dog, if he
chooses. We shaU get some fun out of him, I

B. Yes — and no ; he might cut up rough, as
he did sometimes. However, let him stand ; and
now we have Grreece and Bome represented, let
us have some one from Italy. Who shall it be ?
Shall it be Boccaccio, Leonardo, Giorgione, Caesar
Borgia, Alexander VI., or who ? On the whole,
as we are to have supper, and be jolly, I fix on

M, I think you have chosen right. In my mind
it lay between him and Giorgione. Giorgione was
a fine feUow, but we will invite him some other
day. As for Caesar Borgia and Alexander, I like
to be sure of my liquors, and that they have not
been tampered with. No aqua Tofana, if you
please. Well, now, we must have some one from
France. What do you say ? I propose Rabelais
or Montaigne.

B. Oh, Montaigne, of course. Babelais would
not do. Montaigne will be perfect for supper;
and I know he will like to meet Antony. Now, it
is my turn. I ought to choose a German now;
but who is there among them one wotdd like to
see on such an occasion — Goethe ?

M. Gott bewahr 1 He would play the great
man, and preach and prose.

B. Let me see, — Lessing, Schiller, Beethoven,


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Mozart, Handel, UHand ; no, — none of them will
do. If we could only have Beethoven or Mozart
by themselves, and listen — yes ; but to supper —
no ! They would all be too heavy and dull. There
is nobody I can think of but Jean Paul, or Heine.

M. H'm — h'm — Jean Paul. WeU, if Ger-
many must come in, let it be Jean Paul. He had
a rich sense of humor in him, and I think he will
do. I wonder what Alcibiades will think of him !

B. Are we to come down to this century ?

M. No, by the way, that won't do. Jean Paul
can't come. Otherwise we shall be obliged to en-
large our table ; recollect, too, we have not any
women as yet. Germany and America are too
near us. We must forego both countries, or we
shall have too many. No; we must not come
nearer than Montaigne.

B. Well, I will name one more, then — Sir
Philip Sidney.

M, I take off my cap to him — only I hope he
won't read his " Arcadia " to us.

B. No fear of that ; he is a gentleman, every
inch of him.

M. Now for the women. Cleopatra, of course,
first and foremost. Dear serpent of old Nile!
Shall she sit with Antony, or Shakespeare ?

B. Shakespeare. She belongs to him ; and he

'1 quote himself to her, and tell her that

** Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety."

t, we will have Aspasia. She will tell us all


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about Phidias, and Alcamenes, and Pericles
(though I don't care so much about him), and
Agoracritos, and Sophocles, and Euripides, and
all the rest of them, — and tell us how to pro-
nounce Greek.

M. I shall now name Poppsea — the most beau-
tiful woman in Kome — for I want to know all
about Nero, and I know she is full of esprit and
gayety. We are full now.

M. No, one more; no matter for the Muses.
We must have four women, at least. And she shall
be Semiramis, the splendid. I insist upon her.

B. So be it. That will do. And we will have
a royal banquet.

B. No, not a royal banquet ; something very
unlike that, I hope.

M, We will shut and bar all the windows, and
make our night a week long.

B. Can't we have Phryne ? — that is next to
having Venus.

M. Yes, we must have Phryne — if only to
look at her.

B. I don't know how it affects you, but I am a
little intoxicated at merely thinking of these guests
of ours. I shall beg Phryne to stay and pose for
you afterwards ; and I shall come in and see her,
and be put into the insane hospital the next day.
But you are not working.

M. Good heavens ! do you suppose I can work
when I am thinking of such a banquet as this ?

B. One would think they were but old friends
of yours.


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M, Ay, so they are; and many a delightful
hour I have passed with them. Jane, and Charles,
and Tom, and Nannie are not half so real to me.
They are as real as pictures, which are far more
real than half the people who walk about the earth.

B. I wonder what they will think of our wines
— whether they will like champagne, and Johan-
nisberg, and the softest of our old claret

M. I should think so, unless they seem too
light after what they were accustomed to drink in
Greece and Rome. From the descriptions of their
processes in making wine, it would evidently not
have suited our taste. And I fancy they pre-,
ferred very rich and heavy wines, some of which
were honey-sweet, and some thick and almost black
— • black wine is Homer's epithet. Then their j^as-
%um or raisin-wine, made from grapes dried in the
sun and then plunged into boiling oil, does not
sound very palatable ; nor should we fancy wine
confectioned and flavored by the intermixture of
sea-water, turpentine, resin, gums, spices, and es-
sential oils.

B, That sounds disgusting ; but there is no ac-
counting for tastes. However, "All nature's differ-
ence keeps all nature's peace." I suppose their
best wine was the Falemian: the name at least
sounds as if it must have been good ; you seem to
taste the word.

M. What do you suppose it was like ?

B. I have not an idea. I only suppose it must
have been good because — because — it sounds so,


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and because all the poets speak of it and praise it.
That's about my only reason. I feel as the old
lady did about the word Mesopotamia — it is a
very comforting word.

M. I suppose it was something like the rough
wines of southern Italy — the vino asciuto of
Velletri, for instance — only thicker and heavier ;
or perhaps something like rough port. At all
events, it was austere (austerum is their epithet)
or very dry, and, I dare say, not very bad in its
pure state. But when they made what they caU
a "mulsimi," it must have been enough to ruin
any stomach.

B. What was the mulsum, and how was it

M. In making one kind, they took Massic, or
Falemian, or some such wine, as the basis of the
beverage ; and to four parts of wine they added
one of honey and various spices, such as nard,
cassia, myrrh, and pepper. But there was still a
different kind, which was made of must evapo-
rated by heat to half its original bulk ; and to this
honey was added, so as to make a thick syrup.

B. WeU I At any rate, they would not drink
much of such a mixture at a time ?

M. No ; they would drink it immediately be-
fore eating — on an empty stomach, to give a
whet to their appetites.

B. It would have ruined mine, I am sure. No
matter — if they Uked it, we must concoct some
mulsum for them, and make it thick and slab;


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and, since their tastes evidently lay in that direc-
tion, we must get some old crusiy port or malaga
and boil it down with honey, and spice it well;
only, I shall take care not to drink any of it my-

M. We must also have couches for them to re-
cline upon — chairs will never do; and we must
look into Petronius, and have everything right
from the egg to the apple. I don't see precisely
what we shall do about the slaves, but I dare say
we can get some from Egypt, or paint some Ital-
ians in imitation of the real thing. As for the
music which will be necessary, what shall we do ?
We have none of their instruments, and if we had,
we know not how to play on them — and, still
worse, we do not even know what their music was ;
as for the gladiators, we must give them up.

B. Your mind I see is running more on your
Greek and Roman and Assyrian guests than on
the others. What would Shakespeare do with
mulsimi or with gladiators and couches ?

M. Do precisely as the Greeks and Romans
did. They would not know he was not one of
them. Antony and Cleopatra would own him at
once as an old friend, their best chronicler and
painter, to whom they are deeply indebted — and
Alcibiades, Poppaea, and Aspasia would clasp
hands with him and swear eternal friendship.
Never doubt that he would not act and talk with
the best, and show himself as thoroughly to the
manner born as any ancient Greek or Roman of


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them all. As for Montaigne, he too has a good
deal of antique Eoman blood in him. Sir Philip
may be a little out of place, but Antony and Alei-
biades would own him and fraternize with him as
a gentleman and a soldier, capable of heroic deeds
of valor and self-denial, ready to sing the praises
of beauty as well as the best, and a thorough Ar-

B. What will our Greek and Roman friends
say to our trousers and dress-coats and white chok-

M. Say ? They will enjoy them as the great-
est joke that ever was known. We shall have in-
extinguishable laughter to begin with and set us
going, and if it flags I shall shoot out my crush-
hat at them.

B. Ah ! that will not amuse them as much as
our Latin pronunciation. If that does not set the
table in a roar, there is no more virtue in man.

M. Shakespeare shall sing us two songs : the
first, —

** Come, thou monarch of the vine,
Plumpy Bacchus, -with pink eyne ;
In thy vats onr cares be drowned,
With thy grapes onr heads be crowned.
Cnp ns till the world go round,
Cup us till the world go round ; "

and Antony shall remember it, and think of Lep-
idus, and Caesar, and Pompey, and Enobarbus,
to whom it was sung. And then afterwards, for
Phryne's special benefit, his favorite air of "Light
of Love."


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B. Or —

*' Take, oH take those lips away,
That so sweetly were f orswom ;
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the mom."


" But my kisses bring again.
Bring again;
Seals of love, but sealed in vain.
Sealed in vain."

Ah ! they shall know that we can smg still. But
will not this evoke the ghost of Praxiteles out of
the very grave ? WiU not the fine dust of aU that
once was that great artist thrill in its urn, and
quiver at the vibrations of that song, sung to her
whose smile was his heaven, — whose eyes were
truly "the break of day that did mislead the

B. Ay, let him come and gaze at her again, and
know that love can never die. We will give him
a place at the table, and, when our banquet is over,
surrender her again to him, to float away into the
Past, or wander with him through Elysian fields ; ,
and he shall take the song back as a gift, for noth-
ing more exquisite can we give him.

M. Is there any air to this song?

B. Ay ; the air of love and passion, longing
and despair.

M. I mean, has it been set to music ?

B. Not that I know ; but it sings itself to every
ear that has ever vibrated to the touch of feeling.
Will you set it to music ?


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M, With all my heart and soul; and that is
the only way fitly to set it.

B, Some one is knocking at your door —
Phryne, perhaps, come to pose as a model. I save
myself, as the French say.

M. Come again when you have made all the
arrangements for the banquet — a rivederd. Oh,
by the way, don't forget to engage a photographer
for the occasion; we will have some real spirit


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Mallett Come in,

Belton, Eccomi qua ! — Here I am again ! as
the clown says when he leaps into the arena.

M. And all smile and cry bravo, and are de-
lighted to see him, being sure that something
pleasant is coming.

B. Servo umilissimo di vostra signoria ! Mi
fa troppo onore.

M, Yes ; it is a satisfaction to have some one
to talk with who can sympathize with what one is
interested in. For the most part, talk is so bald
and shallow that it seems like a feeble stream run-
ning over pebbles, making a constant noise and
babble, as it were, out of fear of silence. With
ordinary persons one runs into two dangers ; first,
of not being understood, and second, of being mis-
understood; and the latter is the worse predica-

B. For the most part, people do not think at
all. They have little phrases and formulas which
stand in their minds for thoughts and opinions,
and they repeat them parrot-Uke. Most of their
notions and ideas and prejudices are mere extra-
neous accretions, barnacled on to them by men
and books in their passage through Ufe, as shells


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are on a vessel, but not growing out of them, or
really belonging to them.

M. Or, if you will allow me another simile, they
are facts and opinions which they have swallowed
but not digested. All real knowledge and thought

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Online LibraryWilliam Wetmore StoryConversations in a studio → online text (page 12 of 19)