( Originally Published 1913 )
THE golden age of American acting was not so very long ago. Most white-haired men remember it, and love to talk of the days of Booth and Forrest and Charlotte Cushman. Joseph Jefferson, the last survivor of the old régime, died just the other day, and to the very end showed the present generation the charm and humor of Bob Acres and Rip Van Winkle.
No doubt that golden age is made to appear more golden than it really was by the mists of time; but undoubtedly the old actors possessed a mellowness, a solidity, a sort of high tradition now almost unknown. These qualities were due in part, perhaps, to the long and arduous stock company training, where, in the old days, every actor must serve his apprenticeship, and in part to the study of the classic drama which had so large a place in stock company repertoire.
Success was infinitely harder to win than it is to-day.. There were fewer theatres, so that the great actors were forced to play together, to their mutual advantage and improvement. The multiplication of theatres at the present time, and the vast increase of the theatre-going public, has led to the " star " system—to the placing of an actor at the head of a company, as soon as he has won a certain reputation. And, since care is taken that the " star " shall out-shine all his associates, it follows that he has no one to measure himself with, he is no longer on his metal, and his growth usually stops then and there.
But let us be frank about it. The attitude of the public toward the theatre has changed. Today we would not tolerate the heavy melodramas which enchained our parents and grandparents. The age of rant and fustian has passed away, and Edwin Forrest could never gain a second fortune from such a combination of these qualities as "Metamora." We are more sophisticated; we refuse to be thrilled by Ingomar, no matter how loudly he bellows. What we ask for principally is to be amused, and consequently the great effort of the theatre is to amuse us, for the theatre must cater to its public. So, if the stage to-day is not what it was fifty years ago, the fault lies principally in front of the footlights and not behind them.
To the student of American acting, one name stands out before all the rest, the name of Booth. No other actors in this country have ever equalled the achievements of Junius Brutus Booth and of his son, Edwin Booth. They possessed the genius of tragedy, if any men ever did, and no one who saw them in their great moments can forget the impression of absolute reality which they conveyed.
Junius Brutus Booth was the son of an eccentric silversmith of London, and was born there in 1796. Let us pause here to remark that, just as the greatest Frenchman who ever lived was an Italian, and the greatest Russian woman a German, so most of the early American actors were either English or Irish. This sounds rather Irish itself; but it is true. Certainly, in the end Napoleon Bonaparte became as French as any Frenchman and the Empress Catherine II Russian to the core; and the English and Irish actors who came to these shores in search of fame and fortune, and who found them and spent the remainder of their lives here, have every right to be considered in any account of the American stage which they did so much to adorn.
Junius Brutus Booth, then, was born in London in 1796. Twenty years before, his father had been so carried away by Republican principles that he had sailed for America to join the ranks of the army of independence, but he was captured and sent back to England. So it will be seen that he was something more than a mere silversmith; but he was very successful at his trade, and was able to give his son a careful classical education, to fit him for the bar. Imagine his chagrin when the boy, after a short experience in amateur theatricals, announced his intention of becoming an actor.
He secured some small parts, made a tour of the provinces, and finally, in London, engaged in a remarkable war with the great tragedian, Edmund Kean, which divided the town into two factions. But Booth tired of the struggle, in which the odds were all against him, and in 1821 sailed for America. He won an instant success, and was a great popular favorite until the day of his death. He was a short, spare, muscular man, with a pale countenance, set off by dark hair and lighted by a pair of piercing blue eyes, and he possessed a voice of wonderful compass and thrilling power. Upon the stage he was formidable and tremendous, giving an impression of overwhelming power, in which his son, perhaps, never quite equalled him.
Shortly after his arrival in America, Booth bought a farm near Baltimore, and there, on November 13, 1833, Edwin Booth was born. There was a great shower of meteors that night, which, if they portended nothing else, may be taken as symbolical of the career of America's greatest tragedian. He was the seventh of ten children, all of whom inherited, in some degree, their father's genius. It was not without a trace of madness, and reached a fearful culmination in John Wilkes Booth, when he shot down Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington.
From the first, Edwin Booth felt himself destined for the stage. His father did not encourage him, but finally, in 1849, consented to his appearance with him in the unimportant part of Tressel, in " King Richard the Third." From that time on, he accompanied his father in all his wanderings, and partook of the strange and sad adventures of that wayward man of genius. In 1852, he went with his father to California, and was left there by the elder Booth, who no doubt thought it the best school for the boy's budding talent. There, in the Sandwich Islands, and in Australia, among the rough crowds of the mining camps, he had four years of the most severe training that hardship, discipline, and stern reality can furnish. Amid it all his genius grew and deepened, and when he returned again to the east in 1856 he was no longer a novice, but an accomplished actor.
His last years in California had been shadowed by a great sorrow—the sudden and pitiful death of his father. The elder Booth had for years been subject to attacks of insanity, brought on, or at least intensified, by extreme intemperance. On one occasion he had attempted to commit suicide. On another, he had had his nose broken, an accident which so interfered with his voice that he did not regain complete control of it for nearly two years. On his return from California, where he had left his son, he stopped at New Orleans., and remained there a week, per-forming to crowded houses. He then started north by way of the Mississippi, and was found dying in his stateroom a few days later. He had been caught in a severe rain as he left New Orleans, a cold developed, complications followed, and for forty-eight hours he lay unattended in his stateroom, without that medical attention which he was unable or unwilling to summon. He died November 30, 1852, and his body was interred at Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, in a grave afterwards marked by a monument erected by his son Edwin.
This was only one of many tragedies which darkened the life of Edwin Booth, for, to use the words of William Winter, he was " tried by some of the most terrible afflictions that ever tested the fortitude of a human soul. Over his youth, plainly visible, impended the lowering cloud of insanity. While he was yet a boy, and while literally struggling for life in the semi-barbarous wilds of old California, he lost his beloved father, under circumstances of singular misery. In early manhood he laid in her grave the woman of his first love, the wife who had died in absence from him, herself scarcely past the threshold of youth, lovely as an angel and to all who knew her precious beyond expression. A little later his heart was well nigh broken and his life was well nigh blasted by the crime of a lunatic brother that for a moment seemed to darken the hope of the world. Recovering from that blow, he threw all his resources and powers into the establishment of the grandest theatre in the metropolis of America, and he saw his fortune of more than a million dollars, together with the toil of some of the best years of his life frittered away. Tinder all trials he bore bravely up, and kept the even, steadfast tenor of his course; strong, patient, gentle, neither elated by public homage nor embittered by private grief."
It has been said that Booth returned from California a finished actor. He had, besides, the prestige of a great name, and he was welcomed with open arms. He had not yet reached the summit of his skill, but he showed an extraordinary grace and " a spirit ardent with the fire of genius." From that time forward., his career was one of lofty endeavor and of high achievement. In the great characters of Shakespeare, especially in those of Hamlet, Richard the Third, and lago, he had no rivals, and no one who witnessed him in any of these parts ever outlived the deep impression the performance made. During the last two or three years of his life his health failed gradually, and he was finally compelled to leave the stage. On April 19, 1893, he suffered a stroke of paralysis from which he never rallied, lingering in a. semi-conscious state until June 7th, when he rapidly and died.
Of his art no words can give an adequate idea. It was essentially poetic, full of a strange and compel-ling charm. His great moments laid upon his audience the spell of his genius, and rank with the highest achievements of any actor who ever lived, His countenance---
"That face which no man ever saw
as Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote of Sargent's portrait, which heads this chapter—was a strange and moving one, and in range of expression unsurpassed. His eyes were especially wonderful, dark brown, but seeming to turn black in moments of passion, and conveying, with electrical effect, the actor's thought. He was unique. He stood apart. The American stage has never produced another like him.
Second only to Edwin Booth in sheer glory of achievement stands Edwin Forrest. He fell far be-low Booth in grace, in charm, and in poetic insight, but he surpassed him in physical equipment for the great parts of tragedy, particularly in his voice, magnificent, vibrating, with an extraordinary depth and purity of tone.
Unlike Booth, Forrest came from no family of actors, nor inherited a name famous in the annals of the stage. He was born in Philadelphia in 1806, his father being a Scotchman, employed in Stephen Girard's bank, and making just enough money to keep his family of six children from actual want. He died when Edwin was thirteen years old, and his widow, by opening a little store, managed to support the children. She was a serious and devout woman and decided that Edwin should enter the ministry. But meantime, he must earn a living, so he was apprenticed to a cooper.
How long he stayed with the cooper nobody knows; but it could not have been long, for already he was fired with an ambition to be an actor, and after some experience as an amateur, astonished and grieved his mother by announcing that he was going on the stage. He made his first appearance on the 27th of November, 1820, as Young Norval, in Home's tragedy of " Douglas," and was an immediate success. His youth—remember, he was but fourteen—his hand-some face and manly bearing, and, above all, that wonderful and resonant voice, won the audience at once, and his career was begun.
But many hardships awaited him. The theatres of New York and Philadelphia had their companies of well-known and well-trained actors. There was no hope for him in either of those cities; but at last he secured an engagement to play juvenile parts at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, and other towns of the middle west, at a salary of eight dollars a week. This, of course, was scarcely enough to keep body and soul together, but all Forrest wanted was a chance, and he did not murmur at the suffering and hardship which followed.
For business was poor, and Forrest did not always receive even that eight dollars. The end came at Dayton, Ohio, where the company went to pieces. Forrest, without money and almost without clothes, walked the forty miles to Cincinnati, where, after a time, he found another position. Such was the be-ginning of his career, and this hard novitiate lasted for four years, until, in 1826, at the age of twenty, he was able to return to New York and secure an engagement at the old Bowery Theatre. He was an instant success, and from year to year his wonderful powers seemed to increase, until he became easily the most famous actor of the day.
But his fame was soon to be dulled by unfortunate personalities. Conceiving a jealousy of Macready, the famous English actor, he hissed him at a performance in Edinburgh, and when Macready came to America in 1849, Forrest's followers broke in upon a performance at the Astor Place opera house, and a riot followed in which twenty-two men were killed. A quarrel with his wife led to the divorce court, and the suit was decided against him.
The end was pathetic. He had been troubled with gout for a long time, and in 1865, it took a malignant turn, paralyzing the sciatic nerve, so that he lost the use of one hand, and could not walk steadily. His power had left him, and in the five years that followed, he played to empty houses and an indifferent public, not content to retire, but hoping against hope that he might in some way regain his lost prestige. A stroke of paralysis finally ended the hopeless struggle.
Forrest's art was of a cruder and more robust sort than Edwin Booth's who, by the way, was named after him. He was greatest in characters demanding a great physique, a commanding presence and—yes, let us say it!--a loud voice. Coriolanus, Spartacus, Virginius—those were his roles, and no mane ever looked more imposing in a Roman toga.
Forrest, during his English engagement of 1845, and on other occasions, shared the honors with a remarkable actress, Charlotte Cushman. And perhaps none ever had a more astonishing career. Born in Boston in 1816, her youth was one of poverty, for her father died while she was very young, leaving no property. The girl was remarkably bright, and soon developed a contralto voice of unusual richness and compass. She sang in a choir and assisted to support the family from the age of twelve, securing such musical instruction as she could. In 1834, she made her first appearance in opera and scored a tremendons success. A splendid career seemed opening be-fore her, when suddenly, a few months later, her voice, strained by the soprano parts which had been. assigned her, failed completely.
Her friends advised her to become an actress, and she' went diligently to work, not allowing herself to-despond over that first great disappointment. For the next seven years, she worked faithfully learning the new profession from the very bottom. " I became-aware," she said, "that one could never sail a ship by entering at the cabin windows; he must serve and learn his trade before the mast." In that way she learned hers, playing minor parts, doing cheerfully the drudgery of her profession, refusing all offers for-more important work until she felt herself thoroughly capable of undertaking it. One would wish that her example might be taken to heart by her sisters of the present day.
At last her chance came. In 184e, William C. Macready, the great English tragedian, visited the-United States, and in Charlotte Cushman he found a splendid support. Indeed, she divided the honors with him. A year later, she went to London and won immense applause. " Since the first appearance of Edmund Keane, in 1814," said a London journal, in speaking of her first night as "Bianca," " never has-there been such a debut on the stage of ari English theatre." For eighty-four nights she appeared with Edwin Forrest. " All my successes put together," she wrote to her mother, " would not come near my-success in London."
In the winter of 1845 she tried one of the most daring experiments ever made by an actress, appearing as Romeo to her sister, Susan Cushman's, Juliet. It was a notable success. Her deep contralto voice made it possible for her to give a complete illusion of the young and handsome lover. She played other male characters in after years, notably Hamlet, and created a deep impression in them. Her sister was a lovely girl, and an accomplished actress, and their " Romeo and Juliet " ran for two hundred nights. Susan Cushman would no doubt also have won high fame as an actress, but she soon retired from the stage, marrying the distinguished chemist and author, James Sheridan Muspratt, of Liverpool.
Charlotte Cushman returned to America in the fall of 1849, and was received with acclamation. There was never any question, after that, of her position as the greatest English-speaking actress, and that position she easily maintained until her death. She gathered wealth as well as fame, built a villa at Newport, and in 1863 earned nearly nine thousand dollars for the United States Sanitary Commission by benefit performances. Energetic, resolute, faithful, impatient of any achievement but the highest, she seemed the very embodiment of many of Shakespeare's greatest creations. She possessed a strange. and weird genius, akin, in some respects, to that of Edwin Booth, and her delineation of the sublime, the beautiful, the terrible has never been surpassed. A noble interpreter of noble minds, Charlotte Cushman stands for the supreme achievement of the actress.
What Booth and Forrest were to tragedy, William J. Florence was to comedy. Indeed, he may be said to have gone farther than either Booth or Forrest, for he founded a school and gave to the stage the chivalrous, light-hearted and lucky Irishman, who has since become so familiar to the drama, however rare he may be outside the theatre.
Florence was born in Albany, New York, in 1831. His family name was Conlin, from which it will be seen that he came naturally by his insight into Irish character; but he changed this name when he went upon the stage to the more romantic and euphonious one of Florence. He gave evidence of possessing unusual dramatic talent while still a boy, and made his début on the regular stage at the age of eighteen. He had the usual hardships of the young actor, playing in various stock companies without attracting especial attention, and finally, in 1853, marrying Malvina Pray, herself an actress of considerable ability.
It was at this time that Florence began to find his field in the delineation of Irish and Yankee characters, his wife appearing with him, and together they won a wide popularity. Florence wrote some plays and a number of sprightly songs, which his wife sang inimitably. He himself improved steadily in his acting, and, especially in the gentle humor and melting pathos with which he clothed his characters, stood quite alone. A tour through England added to his fame, and his songs were soon being sung and whistled in the streets pretty generally wherever the English tongue was spoken. One song in particular, called " Bobbing Around," had immense popularity.
But Florence was more than a mere song-writer Irish comedian. In his later years he proved himself to be an actor of high attainments and no one who ever witnessed a performance of " The Rivals," with Jefferson as Bob Acres, and Florence as Sir Lucius O'Trigger, will ever forget his finished and glowing impersonation.
When Edwin Forrest, heart-broken and discredited, died in 1872, he left his manuscript plays to another great tragedian, whom he regarded as his legitimate successor, John McCullough. In some respects McCullough was a greater actor than For-rest, for he possessed that quality of poetic insight and high imagination which Forrest lacked, while in physical equipment for the great characters of tragedy he was in no whit his inferior.
John McCullough was born in Coleraine, Ireland, in 1837, his parents, who were small farmers, bringing him to this country at the age of sixteen. They settled at Philadelphia and the boy was apprenticed to a chair-maker, but he soon broke away from that hum-drum employment, and in 1855, appeared in a minor part in " The Belle's Strategem." His story, after that, was the usual one of long years of training in various stock companies. He gradually worked his way into prominence, and finally in 1866, became associated with Edwin Forrest, taking the second parts in the latter's plays; and, after Forrest's death, taking his place as the first impersonator of robust tragedy in America.
For ten years his success was tremendous—then came the sad ending. McCullough had always been supremely great in characters requiring the delineation of madness—Virginius, King Lear, Othello. Whether this had anything to do with the final tragedy cannot be said, but in 1884, while playing at Chicago, he broke down in the midst of a performance, and had to be led from the stage. His mind was gone; he never rallied, and ended his days in an asylum for the insane.
One of the most successful engagements McCullough ever had was in 1869 and for some years there-after, when, with Lawrence Barrett, he appeared at the Bush Street theatre in San Francisco. Barrett's name is also closely associated with that of Edwin Booth, for he played opposite Booth through many seasons—Othello to Booth's lago, Cassius to Booth's Brutus, and so on; and the two formed a combination which for sheer genius has never been surpassed. But Barrett never commanded the adoration of the public as Booth did, because he lacked that power of enchantment which Booth possessed in a supreme degree. His mind was austere, he could win respect but not affection, and, as a result, criticism was more captious, honors came grudgingly or not at all, and the fight for recognition was up-hill all the way.
Lawrence Barrett was born in 1838, and he began his theatrical career at the age of fifteen. After the usual hard stock-company experience, he secured a New York engagement, where, for nearly two years, he supported such actors as Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth. From New York he went to Boston for a similar engagement, but at the outbreak of the Civil War he left the stage, accepted a captaincy in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry, and served through the war with distinction. Then he returned to the theatre, gaining an ever-increasing reputation until his death.
Clara Morris called him " The Man with the Hungry Eyes," and they were hungry, for life was always a battle to him. From an obscure and humble position, without fortune, friends, or favoring circumstances he had fought his way upward in the face of indifference, disparagement and cold dislike.
Clara Morris has told the story of her own life better than anyone else could tell it, and has shown in doing it the very qualities which made most for her success—a wide sympathy, an impetuous heart, and an invincible optimism. She, too, had a hard struggle at the first-entering the ballet at the age of fifteen to help her mother after her father's death, and working her way up until' she secured a New York engagement with Augustin Daly's famous stock company, where she soon was sharing the honors with Ada Rehan. Ill health shortened her acting career, and compelled her retirement from the stage when at the very height of her powers.
Just the other day there died in California another woman who won a great public a generation ago by a genius and charm seldom equalled. Helena Modjeska's story was an unusual one. Born in Cracow, Poland, in 1844, the daughter of a great musician, her early years were passed in an inspiring atmosphere, and almost from the first she felt an impulse toward the stage. But her family refused to permit her to become an actress, and it was not until after her marriage that her chance came. Her husband consented to a few trial appearances, and her success was so great that she was soon engaged as leading lady for the theatre at Cracow.
But her husband incurred the ill-will of the authorities by his political writings, and she herself got into trouble with them by resisting the Russian censorship of the Polish theatre. It was evident that arrest and banishment for either or both of them might come at any moment, and under this incessant and increasing worry, her health began to fail. So she renounced the theatre, as she thought, forever, came to America, purchased a ranch in California, and settled down to spend the remainder of her life in quiet. But Edwin Booth, John McCullough, and others, encouraged her to study English and appear upon the American stage. She did so, and four months later appeared at San Francisco as Adrienne Lecouvreur. She had an instant success, and for more than thirty years maintained her position as one of the greatest actresses of the day.
Her personal fascination was of an exceedingly rare kind, her figure tall and graceful, her face wonder-fully attractive in its intellectual charm and eloquent mobility. Shakespeare was her chief delight, and as Juliet, Rosalind and Ophelia she enchanted thousands.
On the evening of Thursday, November 25, 1875, an audience assembled at one of the theatres of Louisville, Kentucky, to witness " the first appearance upon any stage" of " a young lady of Louisville." The young lady in question had chosen as her vehicle Shakespeare's Juliet, which was certainly beginning at the top; she was only sixteen years of age and had never received any practical stage training; her experience of life was narrow and provincial—and yet, when the curtain rang down for the last time, the discerning ones in that audience knew that, despite the crudity of the performance, a new star had arisen and a great career begun. For that " young lady of Louisville" was Mary Anderson. Her story is unique in the history of the American stage.
Born in California in 1859, but taken to Louisville a year later; her father, Charles Joseph Anderson, dying in 1863, an officer in the Confederate army, Mary Anderson was reared by her mother in the Roman Catholic faith and received her education in a parochial school at Louisville. She left school before she was fourteen, and two years later, as we have seen, was upon the stage. Her first appearance won her an engagement at Louisville, and for thirteen years thereafter she was an actress, never in a stock company, but always a star. Then, at the very meridian of her career, she married and retired for-ever from the stage.
Mary Anderson's charm was not that of a great actress, for a great actress she never became. She had not the training necessary to finished and rounded work. Her charm was rather that of a sweet and gracious personality, of a beautiful nature and a high sincerity. Sumptuously beautiful, and possessed of a clear and resonant voice, such statuesque characters as Galatea and Hermione attracted her irresistibly, and in these she achieved her greatest triumphs.
Scarcely second to her was Ada Behan, born a year later, appearing on the stage two years earlier, in other words, at the age of thirteen. Ada Rehan, appropriately enough, was born at Limerick, Ireland, and the roguish and perverse Irish spirit was ever uppermost in her acting. She was brought to America when she was five years old, and lived and went to school in Brooklyn. Two of her elder sisters were upon the stage, but she does not seem to have indicated any especial desire to imitate them, and her first appearance was by accident. An actress playing a small. part in " Across the Continent " was taken suddenly ill, and the child, who happened to be at the theatre, was hastily dressed for it and taught her few lines; but she displayed so much readiness and natural talent that, at a family council which followed the performance, it was decided that she should proceed with a stage career, and she was soon regularly embarked.
This meant a long and severe course of training in the stock companies maintained at the various theatres throughout the country to support such wandering stars as Booth and McCullough, and Barrett, and Adelaide Neilson, and she emerged from this training well grounded in all the business of the actress. In 1879, she attracted Augustin Daly's attention, and from that time forward until Daly's death, she was the leading woman at his famous New York house, becoming one of the most admired figures upon the stage. Her art, luminous and sparkling, especially fitted her for high comedy, and it was there that she achieved her greatest distinction.
Ada Rehan's name was closely associated for many years with that of John Drew, also a member of the Daly company, and a son of the famous " Mr. and Mrs. John Drew," two of the most versatile, charming and popular members of the old school. The elder John Drew was born in Ireland in 1825, but came to America at the age of twenty and spent the remainder of his life here, except for a few absences on tour. He was considered the best Irish comedian on the American stage. His wife, born in London in 1820 of a theatrical family, appeared in child's parts at the age of eight, came to this country at the age of twenty, and made a great success here in high comedy parts. Their son can scarcely be said to have fulfilled the promise of his early years, but seems to be content with an achievement which shows him to be an accomplished and finished, but by no means inspired or imaginative, actor.
Another family as celebrated in American theatrical annals as that of John Drew was E. L. Davenport's. Davenport himself had received his training in the old stock companies, and notably as Junius Brutus Booth's support in a number of plays. He was equally at home in tragedy and comedy. Associated with him after their marriage in 1849 was his wife, Fanny Elizabeth Vining, an actress of considerable ability.
No less than six of their children followed the stage as a career. The most famous of them was Fanny Davenport, whose stage career began when she was a mere baby. Her young girlhood was occupied with soubrette parts, but she soon developed unusual emotional powers, and attracted Augustin. Daly's notice. He added her to his stock company in 1869, and she soon won a notable success in such parts as Lady Gay Spanker, Lady Teazle and Rosalind.
Perhaps no American actor ever had a more remarkable career than William Warren. Born in 1812, the son of a player of considerable reputation, his first appearance was at the age of twenty. For twelve years his history was that of most other struggling actors, but in 1846 he became connected with the Howard Atheneum at Boston, where he remained for thirty-five years, retiring permanently from the stage in 1882.
During his career, he had given 13,345 performances and had appeared in 577 characters, a record which has probably never been approached. He was especially notable in his representations of the " fine old English gentleman," and he became to Boston a sort of Conservatory of Acting in himself. That he was appreciated both as man and artist his long residence in Boston proves.
He was a cousin of one of the best loved actors who ever trod the American stage—Joseph Jefferson; but their careers were very different, for Jefferson, in the last quarter century of his life confined him-self to a few parts—practically to four, Bob Acres, Rip Van Winkle, Dr. Pangloss and Cabe]. Plummer. In these he was inimitable. Something is gained and lost, of course, by either of these methods ; one is inclined to think the wiser plan, that making for the greatest achievement, is a wide diversity of parts, and constant creation of new ones. And yet, when one looks back upon Jefferson's delicate and cameo-clear impersonations, one would not have him different.
Joseph Jefferson was the third of his name to challenge American theatre-goers. His grandfather, born in England, in 1774, came to America twenty-three years later and spent the remainder of his life here, gaining some reputation as a comedian. His father is said to have had little ability, and to have been careless and improvident. The third of the name was born in Philadelphia in 1829, and began his stage career at the age of three, appearing as the child in " Pizarro," which must have frightened him nearly to death.
His father died when he was only fourteen, and the lad joined a company of strolling players, who made their way through Texas, and during the war with Mexico, followed the American army into Mexican territory. American drama was in no great demand, so at Matamoras Jefferson opened a stall for the sale of coffee and other refreshments, making-enough money to get back to the United States.
For the next ten years he appeared in stock companies in the larger eastern cities, meeting such players as Edwin Forrest, James E. Murdoch, and Edwin Adams; but the one who influenced him most was his own half-brother, Charles Burke, an unusually accomplished serio-comic. William Warren also. ranked high in his affections.
The turning point of his career came in 1857 when. he became associated with Laura Keene at her theatre in New York. Here his first part was one with which he was afterwards so closely identified, that of Dr. Pangloss, and then came " Our American:. Cousin," in which he gained a notable success as Asa Trenchard, and in which Edward A. Sothern laid the foundation of the fantastic character of Lord Dundreary, which was to make him famous. A year later, he created another of his great characters, Caleb. Plummer, in " The Cricket on the Hearth," and soon afterwards, the most famous of all, Rip Van Winkle which remained to the end his supreme impersonation.
After that time, his career was a golden and happy one. He won the affection of the American public as perhaps no recent player has ever done. His art had a peculiarly wide appeal because it was fine and. sweet; he won sympathy and inspired affection; and.
seemed the very embodiment of the tender, artless and lovable characters it was his joy to represent.
Jefferson's death marked the passing of the last of the " old school "—that mellow, fluent, and accomplished circle of players who seem so different to their successors. But public taste is different too. We care no longer for the rantings and heroics of Virginias and Spartacus and all the rest of those toga-clothed gentlemen who differed from each other only in their names. We demand something more subtle, more—yes, let us say it!—intellectual. The modern who came nearest to answering this demand, to showing us the complex thing which we know human nature to be, was Richard Mansfield. A great artist, whom no difficulty appalled, he gave the American public, season after season, the most significant procession of worthy dramas that one man ever produced.
Mansfield was born in Heligoland in 1857, and studied for the East Indian civil service, but came to Boston and opened a studio, studied art, and then suddenly abandoned it for the stage. Curiously enough, he began with small parts in comic opera, and a few years later, made one of the funniest Kokos who ever appeared in " The Mikado" But he soon changed to straight drama, and the first great success of his career was as Baron Chevrial in " A Parisian Romance," a part which was given him after other actors had refused to take it, and in which he created a real sensation. His reputation was secure after that, and grew steadily until the swift and complete collapse from over-work, which ended his life at the age of fifty-one.
Are there any great players alive in America today? E. H. Sothern, perhaps, comes nearest to greatness, and has at least won respectful attention by a sincerity and earnestness which have accomplished much. He is the son of Edward Askew Sothern, whose career was a most peculiar one. Intended for the ministry, he chose the stage instead, apparently with no talent for it, and for six or seven years, only the most unimportant of minor parts were entrusted to him.
One of these was that of Lord Dundreary in " Our American Cousin." It consisted of only a few lines and Sothern accepted it under protest, but he made such a hit in it that it was amplified and became the principal part of the play. In fact, the play became, in the end, a series of monologues for Dundreary. It had some remarkable runs, one, for instance, in London, for four hundred and ninety-six consecutive nights. Sothern continued playing the part until his death. His son is undoubtedly a far greater actor, and may achieve a high and lasting fame.
Associated with him in many of his later and more ambitious productions has been Julia Marlowe, undoubtedly the most finished and accomplished actress in America. She had a thorough training, having been on the stage since her twelfth year, and devoting herself closely to the study of her art. Her sincerity, too, promises much for the future. After Sothern, Otis Skinner is perhaps the most note-worthy, and after him, well, anyone of a dozen, -whom it is needless to name here.
It was Joseph Jefferson who remarked that " all the good actors are dead." He meant, of course, that the present seems always of little worth when compared with the past; and this is the case not only with the theatre, but in some degree with all the arts. It is especially true of the theatre, however, because the player lives only in the memories of those who saw him, and memory sees things, as it were, through a golden glow.
BOOTH, JUNIUS BRUTUS. Born at London, May 1, 17H; first appearance, 1813; came to America, 1821; died on a Mississippi steamboat, November 30, 1852.
BOOTH, EDWIN. Born at Bel Air, Maryland, November 13, 1833; first appearance, 1819; first appearance as "star," as Sir Giles Overreach, 1857; played -under management of Lawrence Barrett, 1886—91, in "Hamlet"; founded " The Players' Club," 1888; died at its club-house, in New York City, June 7, 1893.
FORREST, EDWIN. Born at Philadelphia, March 9, 1806; fist appearance, 1820; first notable success as Othello, 1826; last appearance in March, 1871; died at Philadelphia, December 12, 1872.
CUSHMAN, CHARLOTTE. Born at Boston, July 23, 1816; first appearance, 1835; played with Macready, 1842—44; in London, 1844—48; died at Boston, February 8, 1876.
FLORENCE, WILLIAM JAMES. Born at Albany, New York, July 26, 1831; first appearance, 1849; died at Philadelphia, November 19, 1891.
MCCULLOUGH, JOHN. Born at Coleraine, Ireland November 2, 1837; came to America, 1853; first appearance, 1855; broke down mentally and physically,. 1884; died in insane asylum at Philadelphia, November 8, 1885.
BARRETT, LAWRENCE. Born at Paterson, New Jersey, April 4, 1838; first appearance, 1853; enlisted in 28th Massachusetts Volunteers, 1861; from 1887 until his death closely associated with Edwin Booth; died at New York City, March 21, 1891.
MORRIS, CLARA. Born at Toronto, Canada, 1849;. first appearance, 1861; leading lady, 1869; joined Daly's company, 1870; married Frederick C. Harriot, 1874.
MODJESKA, HELENA. Born at Cracow, Poland, October 12, 1844; first appearance, 1861; first appearance in English at San Francisco, 1877; died in California,, April 8, 1909.
ANDERSON, MARY. Born at Sacramento, California,. July 28, 1859; first appearance, 1875; married Antonio de Navarro, 1889, and retired from the stage.
REHAN, ADA. Born at Limerick, Ireland, April 22,, 1860; came to America in childhood; first appearance, 1874; joined Daly's company, 1879; leading lady there until his death in 1899.
DREW, JOHN. Born at Philadelphia, in 1853; first appearance, 1873; leading man in Daly's company, 1879–99.
DREW, JOHN, SR. Born at Dublin, Ireland, September 3, 1825; first appearance in New York, 1845; died at Philadelphia, May 21, 1862.
DREW, MRS. JOHN, SR. (LOUISA LANE). Born at London, January 10, 1820; first appearance when mere child ; came to America, 1828; married John Drew, 1850; died at Larchmont, New York, August 31, 1897.
DAVENPORT, EDWARD LOOMIS. Born at Boston, Massachusetts, November 15, 1814; first appearance, 1836; played in England, 1847–54; died at Canton, Pennsylvania, September 1, 1877.
DAVENPORT, FANNY ELIZABETH VINING. Born at London, July 6, 1829; began playing baby parts at age of three; made first appearance, 1847, as Juliet; married E. L. Davenport, January 8, 1849; first appearance in New York, 1854.
DAVENPORT, FANNY LILY GIPSY. Born in London, April 10, 1850; first American appearance, 1862; died at Danbury, Massachusetts, September 26, 1898.
WARREN, WILLIAM. Born at Philadelphia, November 17, 1812; first appearance, 1832; died at Boston, September 21, 1888.
JEFFERSON, JOSEPH. Born at Philadelphia, February 20, 1829; first appearance on stage as child; first became prominent as Asa Trenchard, in " Our American Cousin," 1858; died at West Palm Beach, Florida, April 23, 1905.
SOTHERN, EDWARD ASKEW. Born at Liverpool, England, April 1, 1826 ; first appearance, 1849 ; first American appearance, 1852; made his mark as Lord Dun-dreary, 1858; died at London, January 2.0, 1881.
SOTHERN, EDWARD H. Born in London; appeared as child; first took leading part, 1887.