« AnteriorContinuar »
larity, such an arrangement would be hailed with pleasure by the public, and that the performers also felt that he (Kean) was the most eligible person to manage the establishment, he concluded by saying
“ If this offer be accepted, Mr. Kean authorizes me to say, that on granting him a ten years' lease, he will narrow the stage, bring forward the boxes, and generally reduce the interior of the house, which, is now admitted to be too large for sound or sight.”
[In Kean's evidence before the dramatic committee a few months before his death, he declared he could hear and see from the back of the oneshilling gallery. I cannot account for this assertion; but I have correctly quoted the words of his offer as to Drury, in 1819, and I believe his boast of far-sightedness was generally deemed an idle one.]
The season ending June, 1819, when this offer took place, had been unprosperous. Mr. George Robins, in urging the committee and shareholders to come forward, said he had received a letter from John Kemble (then in Switzerland), expressing a hope that the public would not suffer one out of our two national theatres to be shut up, for that competition was as much required in the histrionic as in any art.
At that meeting, when Mr. Calcraft was chairman, after these offers and remarks, subscriptions poured in; ten of the committee gave 1001. each ; Soane (the architect) the like sum ; after two meetings, 21501. had been obtained; the general feeling was, that Kean would be the lessee, Stephen Kemble stage-manager. The committee closed the theatre on the 8th of June*. The actors took the Old Haymarket for a few nights, and Kean played Richard there gratuitously for them on the 18th; on the 21st, Elliston gave his services as Rover, and a few days afterwards it was announced, that having outbid Kean, he would become the lessee of Drury.
“ Stephen Kemble, said Kean, “ has a soul under that load of fat, which (the soul) will ooze out; but John's is barred up by his ribsma prisoner to his prudence."
Miss O`Neill,—like Mrs. Siddons,—was cradled to the craft while a poor child amid“ the finest pisantry in the world." In the town of Drogheda and villages thereanent, her father had a small sharing scheme, as it is termed, fitting up barns for the purposes of theatres, and dividing the receipts amid the performers, he having no capital to incur the risk of offering salaries. Amid all this, and despite all this, he did, as many others have done, support his family in honest and virtuous indigence, and they repaid their father's care by working their way to comfort, and one of them to fame and fortune. Talbot (the Irish Elliston) was the manager that first noticed the talents of the child, who was then enacting the Duke of York in “ Richard the Third;" at an early age, she was the heroine of his (Talbot's) company in the Irish provinces. Gamble, in his “ Views of Manners and Society in the North of Ireland," says:
“ Miss O'Neill, if she is not a native, passed her early life in this town (Dundalk). Her father was the manager of a little party which played in a brewhouse or barn there, and a hundred times the inhabitants have seen her, when a little girl, running about bare-footed and bare-legged. As she grew up, she became the heroine of this humble theatre, and played with great applause in tragedy, comedy, and farce. That a young woman brought up as Miss O'Neill had been should be a little intoxicated by a change, sudden as the wildest shifting of the scene on which she moves, is not to be wondered at; but to her praise be it told, she remembers her evil days, and those who befriended her in them. A shopkeeper, to whom she and her father were indebted for various acts of kindness, lately fell into indigence; she sent for him to London, and having supported him some time in her own house, gave him money again to commence business."
* John Reeve made his first appearance in public, as Sylvester Daggerwood, that evening; Yates played the same character at Covent-garden, the same night, for Young's benefit.
When Cherry was in Ireland, he heard of Miss O'Neill, and applied to her to join him at Clonmell, but she was otherwise engaged, or obtained better terms at Belfast; had she accepted the offer, she would have played the heroines to Kean, who was then Cherry's tragedian. However, it so happened that Kean not only never saw, but never heard of Miss O'Neill, until she was announced to appear in London. Talbot*, who took great merit to himself for the instructions he had bestowed on the
young actress, was then waxing old, and yet persisted in playing all the young lovers in comedies; taught Miss 0. all the traditional business of the old stockplays (much of which she wisely eschewed on coming to London). He had always the highest opinion of her genius and talent, and fought her battles manfully with those who contended that Miss Walstein was her superior. Mathews spoke of her to the Covent-garden proprietors, she being then in treaty with the committee of Drury-lane, and to Mathews the former theatre was indebted for the immense profits her engagement secured. She was engaged at Covent-garden for three years, at 15, 16, and 18l. per week-terms which, for untried talent, appear high; but Mrs. Glover (then Miss Betterton) had higher in the year 1797.
It is customary to say that those who have produced immense effect in London have generally been unnoticed in the provinces, and to talk of the wearisome years passed in privation and poverty; but what are the facts ? John Kemble came to London aged 26; Charles at 18; and Stephen at about 23; Mrs. Siddons first at 21, and when she made her great hit she was only 28 ; Kean was not seven-and-twenty when he appeared as Shylock; Miss O'Neill was under three-and-twenty when she appeared as Juliet at Covent-garden Theatre. Nor had Miss O'Neill's life been one of sorrow, or of penury to any extent; her childhood indeed knew no luxury, nor her girlhood idle ease, but at the age of seventeen she was known as an actress of promise and as a beautiful and amiable girl. A considerable time before she appeared in London, Shiel dedicated his tragedy of “ Adelaide” to her; and in his preface has addressed this “unknown" actress, as dramatic biographers delighted to call her, in terms of eulogy that in the olden times a parasitical poet might have offered to a Princess, viz., after saying “ Adelaide" was written for her, he adds —
I endeavoured to combine beauty, innocence, and feeling, as I knew that your representation of such a character would not be an effort of art, but the spontaneous effusion of nature.”
* Talbot was an admirable young Mirabel and the like ; he was so learned in the art of the toilet, that he not only painted with a camel's hair brush his moustache and whiskers upon his lip and cheek, but also painted in sepia and Indian ink curls on his forehead ; and this so admirably that the deception could not be detected even in the orchestra. He came out in Young Norval, in London, upwards of forty years ago, and died in Dublin a short time since.
INCIDENTS ON THE HUDSON.
M. CHABERT, the fire-eater, would have found New York uncomfortable. I would mention the height of the thermometer but for an aversion I have to figures. Broadway, at noon, had been known to fry soles.
I had fixed upon the first of August for my annual trip to Saratoga, and with a steam hut, a portmanteau, and a black boy, was huddled into the “ rather-faster-than-lightning” steamer, “ North America,” with about seven hundred other people, like myself, just in time. Some hundred and fifty gentlemen and ladies, thirty seconds too late, stood “larding” the pine chips upon the pier, gazing after the vanishing boat through showers of perspiration. Away we “streaked” at the rate of twelve miles in the hour against the current, and by the time I had penetrated to the baggage-closet, and seated William Wilberforce upon my portmanteau, with orders not to stir for eleven hours and seven minutes, we were far up the Hudson, opening into its hills and rocks, like a witches' party steaming through the Harz in a cauldron.
A North River steam-boat, as a Vermont boy would phrase it, is another guess sort o' thing from a Britisher. A coal-barge and an eight-oars on the Thames are scarce more dissimilar. Built for smooth water only, our river boats are long, shallow and graceful, of the exquisite proportions of a pleasure yacht, and painted as brilliantly and fantastically as an Indian shell. With her bow just leaning up from the surface of the stream, her cut-water throwing off a curved and transparent sheet from either side, her white'awnings, her magical speed, and the gay spectacle of a thousand well-dressed people on her open decks, I know nothing prettier than the vision that shoots by your door as you sit smoking in your leaf-darkened portico on the bold shore of the Hudson.
The American edition of Mrs. Trollope (several copies of which are to be found in every boat, serving the same purpose to the feelings of the passengers as the escape-valve to the engine) lay on a sofa beside me, and taking it up, as to say “ I will be let alone,” I commenced dividing my attention in my usual quiet way between the varied panorama of rock and valley flying backwards in our progress, and the as varied multitude about me.
For the mass of the women, as far as satin slippers, hats, dresses, and gloves could go, a Frenchman might have fancied himself in the midst of a transplantation from the Boulevards. In London, French fashions are in a manner Anglified: but an American woman looks on the productions of Airbeau, Boivin, and Maneuri as a translator of the Talmud on the inspired text. The slight figure and small feet of the race rather favour the resemblance, and a French milliner, who would probably come to America expecting to see bears and buffaloes prowling about the landing-place, would rub her eyes in New York, and imagine she was still in France, and had crossed perhaps only the broad part of the Seine.
The men were a more original study. Near me sat a Kentuckian on three chairs. He had been to the metropolis, evidently for the first time, and had “ looked round sharp.” In a fist like the end of the club of Hercules, was crushed a pair of French kid gloves, which, if they fulfilled to him a glove's destiny, would flatter “ the rich man " that “ the camel "might yet give him the required precedent. His hair had still the traces of having been astonished with curling, tongs, and across his Atlantean breast was looped, in a complicated zig-zag, a chain that must have cost him a wilderness of racoon-skins. His coat was evidently the production of a Mississippi tailor, though of the finest English material ; his shirt-bosom was ruffled like a swan with her feathers full spread, and a black silk cravat, tied in a kind of a curse-me-if-I-care-sortof-a-knot, flung out its ends like the arms of an Italian improvisvatore. With all this he was a man to look upon with respect. His under jaw was set up to its fellow with an habitual determination that would throw a hickory-tree into a shiver, but frank good-nature, and the most absolute freedom from suspicion, lay at large on his Ajacean features, mixed with an earnestness that commended itself at once to your liking.
In a retired corner, near the wheel, stood a group of Indians, as motionless by the hour together as figures carved in rosso antico. They had been on their melancholy annual visit to the now-cultivated shore of Connecticut, the burial-place, but unforgotten and once wild home of their fathers. With the money given them by the romantic persons whose sympathies are yearly moved by these stern and poetical pilgrims, they had taken a passage in the “ fire-canoe,” which would set them two hundred miles on their weary journey back to the prairies. Their Apollo-like forms loosely dressed in blankets, their gaudy wampum-belts and feathers, the muscular arm and close clutch upon the rifle, the total absence of surprise at the unaccustomed wonders about them, and the lowering and settled scorn and dislike expressed in their copper faces, would have powerfully impressed a European. The only person on whom they deigned to cast a glance was the Kentuckian, and at him they occasionally stole a look, as if, through all his metropolitan finery, they recognized metal with whose ring they were familiar.
There were three foreigners on board, two of them companions, and one apparently alone. With their coats too small for them, their thick soled boots and sturdy figures, collarless cravats, and assumed unconsciousness of the presence of another living soul, they were recognizable at once as Englishmen. To most of the people on board they probably appeared equally well-dressed, and of equal pretensions to the character of gentlemen; but any one who had made observations between Temple Bar and the steps of Crockford's, would easily resolve them into two Birmingham bagmen" sinking the shop," and a quiet gentleman on a tour of information.
The only other persons I particularly noted were a Southerner, probably the son of a planter from Alabama, and a beautiful girl, dressed in singularly bad taste, who seemed his sister. I knew the specimen” well. The indolent attitude, the thin but powerfully-jointed frame, the prompt politeness, the air of superiority acquired from constant command over slaves, the mouth habitually flexible and looking eloquent even in silence, and the eye in which slept a volcano of violent passions, were the marks that showed him 'of a race that I had studied much, and preferred to all the many and distinct classes of my countrymen. His sister was of the slightest and most fragile figure, graceful as a fawn, but with no trace of the dancing master's precepts in her motions, vivid in her attention to everything about her, and amused with all she saw; a copy of Lalla Rookh sticking from the pocket of her French apron, a number of gold chains hung outside her travelling habit and looped to her belt, and a glorious profusion of dark curls broken loose from her combs and floating unheeded over her shoulders.
Toward noon we rounded West Point, and shot suddenly into the over-shadowed gorge of the mountains, as if we were dashing into the vein of a silver mine, laid open and molten into a flowing river by a flash of lightning. (The figure should be Satan Montgomery's; but I can in no other way give an idea of the sudden darkening of the Hudson, and the under-ground effect of the sharp over-hanging mountains as you sweep first into the Highlands.)
The solitary Englishman, who had been watching the southern beauty with the greatest apparent interest, had lounged over to her side of the boat, and, with the instinctive knowledge that women have of character, she had shrunk from the more obtrusive attempts of the Brummagems to engage her in conversation, and had addressed some remark to him, which seemed to have advanced them at once to acquaintances of a year. They were admiring the stupendous scenery together a momeat before the boat stopped for a passenger, off a small town above the point. As the wheels were checked, there was a sudden splash in the water, and a cry of “ A lady overboard !” I looked for the fair creature who had been standing before me, and she was gone. The boat was sweeping on, and as I darted to the railing I saw the gurgling eddy where something had just gone down; and in the next minute the Kentuckian and the youngest of the Indians rushed together to the stern, and clearing the taffrail with tremendous leaps, dived side by side into the very centre of the foaming circle. The Englishman had coolly seized a rope, and, by the time they re-appeared, stood on the railing with a coil in his hand, and flung it with accurate calculation directly over them. With immoveably grave faces, and eyes blinded with water, the two divers rose, holding high between them-a large pine faggot! Shouts of laughter peeled from the boat, and the Kentuckian, discovering his error, gave the log an indignant fling behind, and, taking hold of the rope, lay quietly to be drawn in; while the Indian, disdaining assistance, darted through the wake of the boat with arrowy swiftness, and sprang up the side with the agility of a tiger-cat. The lady re-appeared from the cabin as they jumped dripping upon the deck; the Kentuckian shook himself, and sat down in the sun to dry; and the graceful and stern Indian, too proud even to put the wet hair away from his forehead, resumed his place and folded his arms, as indifferent and calm, save the suppressed heaving of his chest, as if he had never stirred from his stone-like posture.
An hour or two more brought us to the foot of the Catskills, and here the boat lay alongside the pier to discharge those of her passengers who were bound to the house on the mountain. A hundred or more moved to the gangway at the summons to get ready, and among them the Southerners and the Kentuckian. I had begun to feel an interest in our fair fellow-passenger, and I suddenly determined to join their party a resolution which the Englishman seemed to come to at the same moment, and probably for the same reason,
We slept at the pretty village on the bank of the river, and the next day made the twelve hours' ascent through glen and forest, our way