I gasped. It seemed to me I heard the leaden fall of my heart. "But Mr. Daly, what a responsibility! How on earth could I judge an actor for you?"
He held up an imperative band. "You think more after my own manner than any other person I know of. You are sensitive, responsive, quick to acknowledge another's ability, and so are fitted to study London's leading men for me!"
I was aghast, frightened to the point of approaching tears! Suddenly I bethought me.
"I'11 tell Mr. Lewis. He is there already you know, and let him judge for you."
"Lewis? Good Lord! He has no independence! He'd see in an actor just what he thought I wanted him to see! I tell you, I want you to sort over London's leading men, and, if you see anything exceptional, secure name and theatre and report to me. Heavens knows, two long years have not only taught me that you have opinions, but the courage of them!"
Racing steps came up the stairs, and little Ned's voice called: "Miss Clara. Miss Clara, We are here!"
I turned to Mr. Daly and said mournfully:
"You have ruined the pleasure of my trip."
"Miss Morris, that's the first untruth you ever told me. Here, please" and he handed me a packet of new books.
"Thanks!" I cried and then flew down the stairs. Glancing up, I saw him looking earnestly after me. "Did you speak?" I asked hurriedly.
"That gown fits well—don't spoil it with sea-water!"
And half-laughing, half-vexed, but wholly frightened at the charge laid upon me, I sprang into the carriage, to hold hands with mother all the way down to the crowded dock.
One day I received in London this note from Mr. Augustin Daly:
"MY DEAR MISS MORRIS: I find no letter here. Impatiently, A. D."
And straightway I answered:
"MY DEAR MR. DALY: I find no actor here. Afflictedly, C. M."
And lo, on my very last night in London, after our return from Paris, I found the exceptional leading man.
Ten days later, on a hot September morning, I was hurling myself upon my mother in all the joy of home-coming when I saw leaning against the clock on the mantel the unmistakable envelope, bearing the impious black scriggle that generally meant a summons. I opened it and read: "Cleaners in full possession here—look our for soap and pails, and report directly at box-office—don't fail! A. DALY."
I confess I was angry, for I was so tired and the motion of the steamer was still with me, and besides my own small affairs were of more interest to me just then than the greater ones of the manager. However, my two years of training held good. In an hour I was picking my way across wet floors, among mops and pails toward the sanity and dry comfort of Mr. Daly's office. He held my hands closely for a moment, then broke out complainingly: "You've behaved nicely, haven't you? Not a single line sent to tell what you were seeing, doing, thinking?"
"I beg your pardon—I distinctly remember sending you a line." He scowled blackly. I went on: "I thought your note to me was meant as a model, so I copied it carefully."
Formerly this sort of thing had kept us at daggers drawn, but now he only laughed, and shaking his hand impatiently to and fro, said: "Stop it! ah, stop it! So you could not find even one leading man worth while, eh?"
"Then why on earth didn't you write me?"
"Couldn't—I only found him on our last night in London."
Mr. Daly's face was alight in a moment. He caught up a scrap of paper and a pencil, and, after the manner of the inexperienced interviewer, began: "What's he like?"
"Tall, flat-backed, square-shouldered, free-moving, and wears a long dress-coat—that shibboleth of a gentleman—as if that had been his custom since ever he left his mother's knee."
Mr. Daly ejaculated "good!" at each clause, and scribbled his impish small scribble on the bit of paper which rested on his palm.
"What did he do?" he asked eagerly.
"He didn't do," I answered lucidly.
"What do you mean, Miss Morris?"
"What I say, Mr. Daly."
"But if the man doesn't do anything, what is there remarkable about him?"
"Why, just that. It was what he didn't do that produced the effect."
"A-a-ah," said Mr. Daly, with long-drawn satisfaction, scribbling rapidly. "I understand, and you thought, miss, that you could not judge an actor for me! What was the play?"
"Bulwer's 'Money,' and Marie Wilton was superb as—"
"Never mind Marie Wilton," he interrupted impatiently, writing, "but Alfred Evelyn is such an awful prig."
"Isn't he?" I acquiesced, "but this actor made him human. You see, Mr. Daly, most Evelyns are like a bottle of gas-charged water: forcibly restrained for a time, then there's a pop and a bang, and in wild freedom the water is foaming thinly over everything in sight. This man didn't kowtow in the early acts, but was curt, cold, showing signs of rebellion more than once, and in the big scene, well—!"
"Yes?" asked Mr. Daly eagerly.
"Well, that was where he didn't do. He didn't bang nor rave nor work himself up to a wild burst of tears!" ("Thank God!" murmured Mr. Daly and scribbled fast.) "He told the story of his past sometimes rapidly, sometimes making a short, absolute pause. When he reached the part referring to his dead mother, his voice fell two tones, his words grew slower, more difficult, and finally stopped. He left some of his lines out entirely—actually forcing the people to do his work in picturing for themselves his sorrow and his loss—while he sat staring helplessly at the floor, his closed fingers slowly tightening, trying vainly to moisten his dry lips. And when the unconsciously sniffling audience broke suddenly into applause, he swiftly turned his head aside, and with the knuckle of his forefinger brushed away two tears. Ah, but that knuckle was clever! His fingertips would have been girly-girly or actory, but the knuckle was the movement of a man, who still retained something of his boyhood about him."
Mr. Daly's gray, dark-lashed eyes were almost black with pleased excitement as he asked: "What's his name?"
"Why, he's Irish?"
"So are you—Irish-American," I answered defensively, pretending to misunderstand him.
"Well, you ought to be Irish yourself!" he said sternly.
"I did my best," I answered modestly. "I was born on St. Patrick's Day!"
"In the mornin'?" he asked.
"The very top of it, sor!"
"More power to you then!" at which we both laughed, and I rose to go.
As I picked up my sunshade, I remarked casually: "Ah, but I was glad to have seen, for once at least, England's great actor."
"Good gracious, no!"
"What, there is another, and you have not mentioned him—after my asking you to report any exceptional actor you saw?"
"I beg your pardon, sir. You asked me to report every exceptional leading man. This actor's leading man's days are past. He is a star by the grace of God's great gifts to him, and his own hard work."
"Well!" snapped Mr. Daly. "Even a star will play where money enough is offered him, will he not?"
"There's a legend to that effect, I believe.'
"Will you favour me, Miss Morris, with this actor's name?"
"Certainly. He is billed as Mr. Henry Irving."
Mr. Daly looked up from his scribbling. "Irving? Irving? Is not he the actor that old man Bateman secured as support for his daughters?"
"Yes, that was the old gentleman's mistaken belief; but the public thought differently, and laboured with Papa Bateman till it convinced him that his daughters were by way of supporting Mr. Irving."
A grim smile came upon the managerial lips as be asked. "What does he look like?"
"Well, as a general thing, I think he will look wonderfully like the character he is playing. Oh, don't frown so! He—well, he is not beautiful, neither can I imagine him a pantaloon actor, but his face will adapt itself splendidly to any strong character make-up, whether noble or villainous." Mr. Daly was looking pleased again. I went on: "He aspires, I hear, to Shakespeare, but there is one thing of which I am sure. He is the mightiest man in melodrama to-day!"
"How long did it take to convince you of that, Miss Morris? One act—two—the whole five acts?"
"His first five minutes on the stage, sir. His business wins applause without the aid of words, and you know what that means."
Again that elongated "A-a-ah!" Then, "Tell me of that five minutes," and he thrust a chair toward me.
"Oh," I cried, despairingly, "that will take so long, and will only bore you.
"Understand, please, nothing under heaven that is connected with the stage can ever bore me." Which statement was unalloyed truth.
"But, indeed," I feebly insisted, only to be brought up short with the words, "Kindly allow me to judge for myself."
To which I beamingly made answer: "Did I not beg you to do that months ago?" But he was growing vexed, and curtly commanded:
"I want those first five minutes—what he did, and how he did it, and what the effect was, and then"—speaking dreamily—"I shall know—I shall know."
Now at Mr. Daly's last long-drawn-out "A-a-ah," anent Mr. Irving's winning applause without words, I believed an idea, new and novel, had sprung into his mind, while his present rapt manner would tell anyone familiar with his ways that the idea was rapidly becoming a plan. I was wondering what it could be, when a sharp "Well?" startled me into swift and beautiful obedience,
"You see, Mr. Daly, I knew absolutely nothing of the story of the play that night. 'The Bells' were, I supposed, church-bells. In the first act the people were rustic—the season winter—snow flying in every time the door opened. The absent husband and father was spoken of by mother and daughter, lover and neighbour. Then there were sleigh-bells heard, whose jingle stopped suddenly. The door opened—Mathias entered, and for the first time winter was made truly manifest to us, and one drew himself together instinctively, for the tall, gaunt man at the door was cold-chilled, just to the very marrow of his bones. Then, after general greetings had been exchanged, he seated himself in a chair directly in the centre of the stage, a mere trifle in advance of others in the scene, and proceeded to remove his long leggings. He drew a great coloured handkerchief and brushed away some clinging snow; then leaning forward, with slightly tremulous fingers, he began to unfasten a top buckle. Suddenly the trembling ceased, the fingers clenched hard upon the buckle, the whole body became still, then rigid—it seemed not to breathe! The one sign of life in the man was the agonisingly strained sense of hearing! His tortured eyes saw nothing. Utterly without speech, without feeling, he listened—breathlessly listened! A cold chill crept stealthily about the roots of my hair, I clenched my hands hard and whispered to myself: 'Will it come, good God, will it come, the thing he listens for?' When with a wild bound, as if every nerve and muscle had been rent by an electric shock, he was upon his feet; and I was answered even before that suffocating cry of terror—'The bells! the bells!'—and under cover of the applause that followed I said: 'Haunted! Innocent or guilty, this man is haunted!' And Mr. Daly, I bowed my head to a great actor, for though fine things followed, you know the old saying, that 'no chain is stronger than its weakest link.' Well I always feel that no actor is greater than his carefulest bit of detail."
Mr. Daly's pale face had acquired a faint flush of colour, "Thank you!" he said, with real cordiality, and I was delighted to have pleased him, and also to see the end of my troubles, and once more took up the sun-shade.
"I think an actor like that could win any public, don't you?"
"I don't know," I lightly answered. "He is generally regarded as an acquired taste."
"What do you mean?" came the sharp return.
"Why, you must have heard that Mr. Irving's eccentricities are not to be counted upon the fingers of both hands?"
Mr. Daly lifted his brows and smiled a contented smile: "Indeed? And pray, what are these peculiarities?"
"Oh, some are of the figure, some of movement, and some of delivery. A lady told me over there that he could walk like each and every animal of a Noah's ark; and people lay wagers as to whether London will force him to abandon his elocutionary freaks, or he will force London to accept them. I am inclined to back Mr. Irving, myself."
"What! What's that you say? That this fine actor you have described has a marked peculiarity of delivery—of speech?"
"Marked peculiarities? Why, they are murderous! His strange inflections, his many mannerisms are very trying at first, but be conquers before—"
A cry stopped me—a cry of utter disappointment and anger! Mr. Daly stood staring at his notes a moment, then he exclaimed violently: "D—n! d—n! oh, d—n!!!" and savagely tore his scribbled-on paper into bits and flung them on the floor.
Startled at his vexation, convulsed with suppressed laughter at the infantile quality of his profanity, I ventured, in a shaking voice, "I think I'd better go?"
"I think you had!" be agreed curtly; but as I reached the door he said in his most managerial tone: "Miss Morris, it would be better for you to begin with people's faults next time—"
But with the door already open I made bold to reply: "Excuse me, Mr. Daly, but there isn't going to be any next time for me!"
And I turned and fled, wondering all the way home, as I have often wondered since, what was the plan that went so utterly agley that day? Mr. Coghlan he engaged after failing in his first effort, but that other, greater plan; what was it?
SIR HENRY IRVING
[On November 24, 1883, Henry Irving closed his first engagement in New York. William Winter's review appeared next morning in the Tribune, It is reprinted in his book, "Henry Irving," published by G. J. Coombes, New York, 1889. Mr. Winter said: "Mr. Irving has impersonated here nine different men, each one distinct from all the others. Yet in so doing he has never ceased to exert one and the same personal charm, the charm of genialised intellect. The soul that is within the man has suffused his art and made it victorious. The same forms of expression, lacking this spirit, would have lacked the triumph. All of them, indeed, are not equally fine. Mr. Irving's 'Mathias' and 'Louis XI,' are higher performances than his 'Shylock' and 'Dorincourt,' higher in imaginative tone and in adequacy of feeling and treatment. But, throughout all these forms, the drift of his spirit, setting boldly away from conventions and formalities, has been manifested with delightful results. He has always seemed to be alive with the specific vitality of the person represented. He has never seemed a wooden puppet of the stage, bound in by formality and straining after a vague scholastic ideal of technical correctness."
Mr. Irving's addresses, "The Drama," copyright by the United States Book Company, New York, were published in 1892. They furnish the pages now presented,—abounding on self-revelation,—ED.)
THE STAGE AS AN INSTRUCTOR
To boast of being able to appreciate Shakespeare more in reading him than in seeing him acted used to be a common method of affecting special intellectuality. I hope this delusion—a gross and pitiful one to most of us—has almost absolutely died out. It certainly conferred a very cheap badge of superiority on those who entertained it. It seemed to each of them an inexpensive opportunity of worshipping himself on a pedestal. But what did it amount to? It was little more than a conceited and feather-headed assumption that an unprepared reader, whose mind is usually full of far other things, will see on the instant all that has been developed in hundreds of years by the members of a studious and enthusiastic profession. My own conviction is that there are few characters or passages of our great dramatists which will not repay original study. But at least we must recognise the vast advantages with which a practised actor, impregnated by the associations of his life, and by study—with all the practical and critical skill of his profession up to the date at which he appears, whether he adopts or rejects tradition—addresses himself to the interpretation of any great character, even if he have no originality whatever. There is something still more than this, however, in acting. Every one who has the smallest histrionic gift has a natural dramatic fertility; so that as soon as he knows the author's text, and obtains self-possession, and feels at home in a part without being too familiar with it, the mere automatic action of rehearsing and playing it at once begins to place the author in new lights, and to give the personage being played an individuality partly independent of, and yet consistent with, and rendering more powerfully visible, the dramatist's conception. It is the vast power a good actor has in this way which has led the French to speak of creating a part when they mean its first being played, and French authors are as conscious of the extent and value of this cooperation of actors with them, that they have never objected to the phrase, but, on the contrary, are uniformly lavish in their homage to the artists who have created on the boards the parts which they themselves have created on paper.
INSPIRATION IN ACTING
It is often supposed that great actors trust to the inspiration of the moment. Nothing can be more erroneous. There will, of course, be such moments, when an actor at a white heat illumines some passage with a flash of imagination (and this mental condition, by the way, is impossible to the student sitting in his armchair); but the great actor's surprises are generally well weighed, studied, and balanced. We know that Edmund Kean constantly practised before a mirror effects which startled his audience by their apparent spontaneity. It is the accumulation of such effects which enables an actor, after many years, to present many great characters with remarkable completeness.
I do not want to overstate the case, or to appeal to anything that is not within common experience, so I can confidently ask you whether a scene in a great play has not been at some time vividly impressed on your minds by the delivery of a single line, or even of one forcible word. Has not this made the passage far more real and human to you than all the thought you have devoted to it? An accomplished critic has said that Shakespeare himself might have been surprised had he heard the "Fool, fool, fool!" of Edmund Kean. And though all actors are not Keans, they have in varying degree this power of making a dramatic character step out of the page, and come nearer to our hearts and our understandings.
After all, the best and most convincing exposition of the whole art of acting is given by Shakespeare himself: "To hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Thus the poet recognised the actor's art as a most potent ally in the representations of human life. He believed that to hold the mirror up to nature was one of the worthiest functions in the sphere of labour, and actors are content to point to his definition of their work as the charter of their privileges.
ACTING AS AN ART. HOW IRVING BEGAN
The practice of the art of acting is a subject difficult to treat with the necessary brevity. Beginners are naturally anxious to know what course they should pursue. In common with other actors, I receive letters from young people many of whom are very earnest in their ambition to adopt the dramatic calling, but not sufficiently alive to the fact that success does not depend on a few lessons in declamation. When I was a boy I had a habit which I think would be useful to all young students. Before going to see a play of Shakespeare's I used to form—in a very juvenile way—a theory as to the working out of the whole drama, so as to correct my conceptions by those of the actors; and though I was, as a rule, absurdly wrong, there can be no doubt that any method of independent study is of enormous importance, not only to youngsters, but also to students of a larger growth. Without it the mind is apt to take its stamp from the first forcible impression it receives, and to fall into a servile dependence upon traditions, which, robbed of the spirit that created them, are apt to be purely mischievous. What was natural to the creator is often unnatural and lifeless in the imitator. No two people form the same conceptions of character, and therefore it is always advantageous to see an independent and courageous exposition of an original ideal. There can be no objection to the kind of training that imparts a knowledge of manners and customs, and the teaching which pertains to simple deportment on the stage is necessary and most useful; but you cannot possibly be taught any tradition of character, for that has no permanence. Nothing is more fleeting than any traditional method or impersonation. You may learn where a particular personage used to stand on the stage, or down which trap the ghost of Hamlet's father vanished; but the soul of interpretation is lost, and it is this soul which the actor has to re-create for himself. It is not mere attitude or tone that has to be studied; you must be moved by the impulse of being; you must impersonate and not recite.
FEELING AS A REALITY OR A SEMBLANCE
It is necessary to warn you against the theory expounded with brilliant ingenuity by Diderot that the actor never feels. When Macready played Virginius, after burying his beloved daughter, he confessed that his real experience gave a new force to his acting in the most pathetic situations of the play. Are we to suppose that this was a delusion, or that the sensibility of the man was a genuine aid to the actor? Bannister said of John Kemble that he was never pathetic because he had no children. Talma says that when deeply moved he found himself making a rapid and fugitive observation on the alternation of his voice, and on a certain spasmodic vibration which it contracted in tears. Has not the actor who can thus make his feelings a part of his art an advantage over the actor who never feels, but who makes his observations solely from the feelings of others? It is necessary to this art that the mind should have, as it were, a double consciousness, in which all the emotions proper to the occasion may have full swing, while the actor is all the time on the alert for every detail of his method. It may be that his playing will be more spirited one night than another. But the actor who combines the electric force of a strong personality with a mastery of the resources of his art must have a greater power over his audiences than the passionless actor who gives a most artistic simulation of the emotions he never experiences.
GESTURE. LISTENING AS AN ART. TEAM-PLAY ON THE STAGE
With regard to gesture, Shakespeare's advice is all-embracing. "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you overstep not the modesty of nature." And here comes the consideration of a very material part of the actor's business—by-play. This is of the very essence of true art. It is more than anything else significant of the extent to which the actor has identified himself with the character he represents. Recall the scenes between Iago and Othello, and consider how the whole interest of the situation depends on the skill with which the gradual effect of the poisonous suspicion instilled into the Moor's mind is depicted in look and tone, slight of themselves, but all contributing to the intensity of the situation. One of the greatest tests of an actor is his capacity for listening. By-play must be unobtrusive; the student should remember that the most minute expression attracts attention, that nothing is lost, that by-play is as mischievous when it is injudicious as it is effective when rightly conceived, and that while trifles make perfection, perfection is no trifle. This lesson was enjoined on me when I was a very young man by that remarkable actress, Charlotte Cushman. I remember that when she played Meg Merrilies I was cast for Henry Bertram, on the principle, seemingly, that an actor with no singing voice is admirably fitted for a singing part. It was my duty to give Meg Merrilies a piece of money, and I did it after the traditional fashion by handing her a large purse full of the coin of the realm, in the shape of broken crockery, which was generally used in financial transactions on the stage, because when the virtuous maid rejected with scorn the advances of the lordly libertine, and threw his pernicious bribe upon the ground, the clatter of the broken crockery suggested fabulous wealth. But after the play Miss Cushman, in the course of some kindly advice, said to me: "Instead of giving me that purse, don't you think it would have been much more natural if you had taken a number of coins from your pocket, and given me the smallest? That is the way one gives alms to a beggar, and it would have added to the realism of the scene." I have never forgotten that lesson, for simple as it was, it contained many elements of dramatic truth. It is most important that an actor should learn that he is a figure in a picture, and that the least exaggeration destroys the harmony of the composition. All the members of the company should work toward a common end, with the nicest subordination of their individuality to the general purpose. Without this method a play when acted is at best a disjoined and incoherent piece of work, instead of being a harmonious whole like the fine performance of an orchestral symphony.
HENRY BRODRIBB IRVING
[Henry Brodribb Irving, son of the late Sir Henry Irving, was born in London in 1870. His first appearance on the stage was at the Garrick Theatre, London, in "School," when twenty-one. In 1906 he toured with success throughout the United States, appearing in plays made memorable by his father, "The Lyons Mail," "Charles I.," and "The Bells." Mr. Irving distinctly inherits Sir Henry Irving's ability both as an actor and as a thoughtful student of acting as an art. In 1905 he gave a lecture, largely autobiographical, to the Academy of Dramatic Art in London. It appeared in the Fortnightly Review, May, 1905, and is republished by Small, Maynard & Co., Boston, in "Occasional Papers. Dramatic and Historical" by Mr. Irving. By his kindness, and that of his publishers, its pages are here drawn upon.—ED.]
THE CALLING OF AN ACTOR
I received, not very long ago, in a provincial town, a letter from a young lady, who wished to adopt the stage as a profession but was troubled in her mind by certain anxieties and uncertainties. These she desired me to relieve. The questions asked by my correspondent are rather typical questions-questions that are generally asked by those who, approaching the stage from the outside, in the light of prejudice and misrepresentation, believe the calling of the actor to be one morally dangerous and intellectually contemptible; one in which it is equally easy to succeed as an artist and degenerate as an individual. She begins by telling me that she has a "fancy for the stage," and has "heard a great many things about it." Now, for any man or woman to become an actor or actress because they have a "fancy for the stage" is in itself the height of folly. There is no calling, I would venture to say, which demands on the part of the aspirant greater searching of heart, thought, deliberation, real assurance of fitness, reasonable prospect of success before deciding to follow it, than that of the actor. And not the least advantage of a dramatic school lies in the fact that some of its pupils may learn to reconsider their determination to go on the stage, become convinced of their own unfitness, recognise in time that they will be wise to abandon a career which must always be hazardous and difficult even to those who are successful, and cruel to those who fail. Let it be something far sterner and stronger than mere fancy that decides you to try your fortunes in the theatre.
My correspondent says she has "heard a great many things about the stage." If I might presume to offer a piece of advice, it would be this: Never believe anything you hear about actors and actresses from those who are not actually familiar with them. The amount of nonsense, untruth, sometimes mischievous, often silly, talked by otherwise rational people about the theatre, is inconceivable were it not for one's own personal experience. It is one of the penalties of the glamour, the illusion of the actor's art, that the public who see men and women in fictitious but highly exciting and moving situations on the stage, cannot believe that when they quit the theatre, they leave behind them the emotions, the actions they have portrayed there. And as there is no class of public servants in whom the public they serve take so keen an interest as actors and actresses, the wildest inventions about their private lives and domestic behaviour pass as current, and are eagerly retailed at afternoon teas in suburban drawing-rooms.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE STAGE
Now, the first question my correspondent asks me is this: "Does a young woman going on the stage need a good education and also to know languages?" To answer the first part of the question is not, I think, very difficult. The supremely great actor or actress of natural genius need have no education or knowledge of languages; it will be immaterial whether he or she has enjoyed all the advantages of birth and education or has been picked up in the streets; genius, the highest talent, will assert itself irrespective of antecedents. But I should say that any sort of education was of the greatest value to an actor or actress of average ability, and that the fact that the ranks of the stage are recruited to-day to a certain extent from our great schools and universities, from among classes of people who fifty years ago would never have dreamed of entering our calling, is one on which we may congratulate ourselves. Though the production of great actors and actresses will not be affected either one way or the other by these circumstances, at the same time our calling must benefit in the general level of its excellence, in its fitness to represent all grades of society on the stage, if those who follow it are picked from all classes, if the stage has ceased to be regarded as a calling unfit for a man or woman of breeding or education,
The second question this lady asks me is this:
"Does she need to have her voice trained, and about what age do people generally commence to go on the stage?" The first part of this question as to voice training touches on the value of an Academy of Acting. Of the value—the practical value—of such an institution rightly conducted there can be no doubt. That acting cannot be taught is a well-worn maxim and perhaps a true one; but acting can be disciplined; the ebullient, sometimes eccentric and disordered manifestations of budding talent may be modified by the art of the teacher; those rudiments, which many so often acquire painfully in the course of rehearsal, the pupils who leave an academy should be masters of and so save much time and trouble to those whose business it is to produce plays. The want of any means of training the beginner, of coping at all with the floods of men and women, fit and unfit, who are ever clamouring at the doors of the theatre, has been a long-crying and much-felt grievance. The establishment of this academy should go far to remove what has been by no means an unjust reproach to our theatrical system. As to the age at which a person should begin a theatrical career, I do not think there is any actor or actress who would not say that it is impossible to begin too early—at least, as early as a police magistrate will allow. That art is long and life short applies quite as truthfully to the actor's as to any other art, and as the years go on there must be many who regret that they did not sooner decide to follow a calling which seems to carry one all too quickly through the flight of time.
TEMPTATIONS ON THE STAGE
My correspondent also asks me a question which I shall answer very briefly, but which it is as well should be answered; She writes, "Are there many temptations for a girl on the stage, and need she necessarily fall into them?" Of course there are such temptations on the stage, as there must be in any calling in which men and women are brought into contact on a footing of equality; perhaps these temptations are somewhat intensified in the theatre. At the same time, I would venture to say from my own experience of that branch of theatrical business with which I have been connected—and in such matters one can only speak from personal experience—that any woman yielding to these temptations has only herself to blame, that any well-brought-up, sensible girl will, and can, avoid them altogether, and that I should not make these temptations a ground for dissuading any young woman in whom I might be interested from joining our calling. To say, as a writer once said, that it was impossible for a girl to succeed on the stage without impaired morals, is a statement as untrue as to say that no man can succeed as a lawyer unless he be a rogue, a doctor unless he be a quack, a parson unless be be a hypocrite.
To all who intend to become actors and actresses, my first word of advice would be—Respect this calling you have chosen to pursue. You will often in your experience hear it, see it in print, slighted and contemned. There are many reasons for this. Religious prejudice, fostered by the traditions of a by no means obsolete Puritanism, is one; the envy of those who, forgetting the disadvantages, the difficulties, the uncertainty of the actor's life, see only the glare of popular adulation, the glitter of the comparatively large salaries paid to a few of us—such unreasoning envy as this is another; and the want of sympathy of some writers with the art itself, who, unable to pray with Goethe and Voltaire, remain to scoff with Jeremy Collier, is a third. There are causes from without that will always keep alive a certain measure of hostility towards the player. As long as the public, in Hazlitt's words, feel more respect for John Kemble in a plain coat than the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack, so long will this public regard for the actor provoke the resentment of those whose achievements in art appeal less immediately, less strikingly, to their audience. But if they would only pause to consider, surely they might lay to their souls the unction that the immediate reward of the actor in his lifetime is merely nature's compensation to him for the comparative oblivion of his achievements when he has ceased to be. Imagine for one moment Shakespeare and Garrick contemplating at the present moment from the heights the spectacle of their fame. Who would grudge the actor the few years of fervid admiration he was privileged to enjoy, some one hundred and fifty years ago, as compared with the centuries of living glory that have fallen to the great poet?
Sometimes you may hear your calling sneered at by those who pursue it. There are few professions that are not similarly girded at by some of their own members, either from disappointment or some ingrained discontent. When you hear such detraction, fix your thoughts not on the paltry accidents of your art, such as the use of cosmetics and other little infirmities of its practice, things that are obvious marks for the cheap sneer, but look rather to what that art is capable of in its highest forms, to what is the essence of the actor's achievement, what he can do and has done to win the genuine admiration and respect of those whose admiration and respect have been worth the having.
ACTING IS A GREAT ART
You will read and hear, no doubt, in your experience, that acting is in reality no art at all, that it is mere sedulous copying of nature, demanding neither thought nor originality. I will only cite in reply a passage from a letter of the poet Coleridge to the elder Charles Mathews, which, I venture to think, goes some way to settle the question. "A great actor," he writes, "comic or tragic, is not to be a mere copy, a fac-simile, but an imitation of nature; now an imitation differs from a copy in this, that it of necessity implies and demands a difference, whereas a copy aims at identity and what a marble peach on the mantelpiece, that you take up deluded and put down with a pettish disgust, is compared with a fruit-piece of Vanhuysen's, even such is a mere copy of nature, with a true histrionic imitation. A good actor is Pygmalion's statue, a work of exquisite art, animated and gifted with motion; but still art, still a species of poetry." So writes Coleridge. Raphael, speaking of painting, expresses the same thought, equally applicable to the art of acting. "To paint a fair one," he says, "it is necessary for me to see many fair ones; but because there is so great a scarcity of lovely women, I am constrained to make use of one certain ideal, which I have formed to myself in my own fancy." So the actor who has to portray Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth—any great dramatic character—has to form an ideal of such a character in his own fancy, in fact, to employ an exercise of imagination similar to that of the painter who seeks to depict an ideal man or woman; the actor certainly will not meet his types of Hamlet and Othello in the street.
But, whilst in your hearts you should cherish a firm respect for the calling, the art you pursue, let that respect be a silent and modest regard; it will be all the stronger for that. I have known actors and actresses who were always talking about their art with a big A, their "art-life," their "life-work," their careers and futures, and so on. Keep these things to yourselves, for I have observed that eloquence and hyper-earnestness of this kind not infrequently go with rather disappointing achievement. Think, act, but don't talk about it. And, above all, because you are actors and actresses, for that very reason be sincere and unaffected; avoid rather than court publicity, for you will have quite enough of it if you get on in your profession; the successful actor is being constantly tempted to indiscretion. Do not yield too readily to the blandishments of the photographer, or the enterprising editor who asks you what are the love scenes you have most enjoyed playing on the stage, and whether an actor or actress can be happy though married. Be natural on the stage, and be just as natural off it; regard the thing you have to do as work that has to be done to the best of your power; if it be well done, it will bring its own reward. It may not be an immediate reward, but have faith, keep your purpose serious, so serious as to be almost a secret; bear in mind that ordinary people expect you, just because you are actors and actresses, to be extraordinary, unnatural, peculiar; do your utmost at all times and seasons to disappoint such expectations.
RELATIONS TO "SOCIETY"
To the successful actor society, if he desire it, offers a warm and cordial welcome. Its members do not, it is true, suggest that he should marry with their daughters, but why should they? An actor has a very unattractive kind of life to offer to any woman who is not herself following his profession. What I mean is that the fact of a man being an actor does not debar him from such gratification as he may find in the pleasures of society. And I believe that the effect of such raising of the actor's status as has been witnessed in the last fifty years has been to elevate the general tone of our calling and bring into it men and women of education and refinement.
At the same time, remember that social enjoyments should always be a secondary consideration to the actor, something of a luxury to be sparingly indulged in. An actor should never let himself be beguiled into the belief that society, generally speaking, is seriously interested in what he does, or that popularity in drawing-rooms connotes success in the theatre. It does nothing of the kind. Always remember that you can hope to have but few, very few friends or admirers of any class who will pay to see you in a failure; you will be lucky if a certain number do not ask you for free admission to see you in a success.
THE FINAL SCHOOL IS THE AUDIENCE
It is to a public far larger, far more real and genuine than this, that you will one day have to appeal. It is in their presence that you will finish your education. The final school for the actor is his audience; they are the necessary complement to the exercise of his art, and it is by the impression he produces on them that he will ultimately stand or fall; on their verdict, and on their verdict alone, will his success or failure as an artist depend. But, if you have followed carefully, assiduously, the course of instruction now open to you, when the time has arrived for you to face an audience you will start with a very considerable handicap in your favour. If you have learnt to move well and to speak well, to be clear in your enunciation and graceful in your bearing, you are bound to arrest at once the attention of any audience, no matter where it may be, before whom you appear. Obvious and necessary as are these two acquirements of graceful bearing and correct diction, they are not so generally diffused as to cease to be remarkable. Consequently, however modest your beginning on the stage, however short the part you may be called upon to play, you should find immediately the benefit of your training. You may have to unlearn a certain amount, or rather to mould and shape what you have learnt to your new conditions, but if you have been well grounded in the essential elements of an actor's education, you will stand with an enormous advantage over such of your competitors as have waited till they go into a theatre to learn what can be acquired just as well, better, more thoroughly, outside it.
It has been my object to deal generally with the actor's calling, a calling, difficult and hazardous in character, demanding much patience, self-reliance, determination, and good temper. This last is not one of its least important demands on your character. Remember that the actor is not in one sense of the word an independent artist; it is his misfortune that the practice of his art is absolutely dependent on the fulfilment of elaborate external conditions. The painter, the musician, so long as they can find paint and canvas, ink and paper, can work at their art, alone, independent of external circumstances. Not so the actor. Before he can act, the theatre, the play, scenery, company, these requisites, not by any means too easy to find, must be provided. And then it is in the company of others, his colleagues, that his work has to be done. Consequently patience, good temper, fairness, unselfishness are qualities be will do well to cultivate, and he will lose nothing, rather gain, by the exercise of them. The selfish actor is not a popular person, and, in my experience, not as a rule a successful one. "Give and take," in this little world of the theatre, and you will be no losers by it.
Learn to bear failure and criticism patiently. They are part of the actor's lot in life. Critics are rarely animated by any personal hostility in what they may write about you, though I confess that when one reads an unfavourable criticism, one is inclined to set it down to anything but one's own deserving. I heard a great actor once say that we should never read criticisms of ourselves till a week after they were written—admirable counsel—but I confess I have not yet reached that pitch of self-restraint that would enable me to overcome my curiosity for seven days. It is, however, a state of equanimity to look forward to. In the meantime, content yourself with the recollection that ridicule and damning criticism have been the lot at some time in their lives of the most famous actors and actresses, that the unfavourable verdict of to-day may be reversed to-morrow. It is no good resenting failure; turn it to account rather; try to understand it, and learn something from it. The uses of theatrical adversity may not be sweet, but rightly understood they may be very salutary.
Do not let failure make you despond. Ours is a calling of ups and downs; it is an advantage of its uncertainty that you never know what may happen next; the darkest hour may he very near the dawn. This is where Bohemianism, in the best sense of the term, will serve the actor. I do not mean by Bohemianism chronic intemperance and insolvency. I mean the gay spirit of daring and enterprise that greets failure as graciously as success; the love of your own calling and your comrades in that calling, a love that, no matter what your measure of success, will ever remain constant and enduring; the recognition of the fact that as an actor you but consult your own dignity in placing your own calling as a thing apart, in leading such a life as the necessities of that calling may demand; and choosing your friends among those who regard you for yourself, not those to whom an actor is a social puppet, to be taken up and dropped as he happens for the moment to be more or less prominent in the public eye. If this kind of Bohemianism has some root in your character, you will find the changes and chances of your calling the easier to endure.
FAILURE AND SUCCESS
Do not despond in failure, neither be over-exalted by success. Remember one success is as nothing in the history of an actor's career; he has to make many before he can lay claim to any measure of fame; and over-confidence, an inability to estimate rightly the value of a passing triumph, has before now harmed incalculably many an actor or actress. You will only cease to learn your business when you quit it; look on success as but another lesson learnt to be turned to account in learning the next. The art of the actor is no less difficult, no less long in comparison with life, than any other art. In the intoxicating hour of success let this chastening thought have some place in your recollection.
When you begin work as actors or actresses, play whenever you can and whatever you can. Remember that the great thing for the actor is to be seen as often as possible, to be before the public as much as he can, no matter how modest the part, how insignificant the production. It is only when an actor has reached a position very secure in the public esteem that he can afford, or that it may be his duty, to be careful as to what he undertakes. But before such a time is reached his one supreme object must be to get himself known to the public, to let them see his work under all conditions, until they find something to identify as peculiarly his own; he should think nothing too small or unimportant to do, too tiresome or laborious to undergo. Work well and conscientiously done must attract attention; there is a great deal of lolling and idleness among the many thoughtless and indifferent persons who drift on to the stage as the last refuge of the negligent or incompetent.
The stage will always attract a certain number of worthless recruits because it is so easy to get into the theatre somehow or other; there is no examination to be passed, no qualification to be proved before a person is entitled to call himself an actor. And then the life of an actor is unfortunately, in these days of long runs, one that lends itself to a good deal of idleness and waste of time, unless a man or woman be very determined to employ their spare time profitably. For this reason, I should advise any actor, or actress, to cultivate some rational hobby or interest by the side of their work; for until the time comes for an actor to assume the cares and labours of management, he must have a great deal of time on his hands that can be better employed than in hanging about clubs or lolling in drawing-rooms. At any rate, the actor or actress who thinks no work too small to do, and to do to the utmost of his or her ability, who neglects no opportunity that may be turned to account—and every line he or she speaks is an opportunity—must outstrip those young persons who, though they may be pleased to call themselves actors and actresses, never learn to regard the theatre as anything but a kind of enlarged back-drawing-room, in which they are invited to amuse themselves at an altogether inadequate salary.
In regard to salary, when you start in your profession, do not make salary your first consideration; do not suffer a few shillings or a pound or two to stand between you and work. This is a consideration you may keep well in mind, even when you have achieved some measure of success. Apart from the natural tendency of the individual to place a higher value on his services than that attached to them by others, it is often well to take something less than you ask, if the work offered you is useful. Remember that the public judge you by your work, they know nothing and care little about what is being paid you for doing it. To some people their own affairs are of such supreme importance that they cannot believe that their personal concerns are unknown to, and unregarded by, the outside world. The intensely personal, individual character of the actor's work is bound to induce a certain temptation to an exaggerated egotism. We are all egotists, and it is right that we should be, up to a point. But I would urge the young actor or actress to be always on the watch against developing, especially in success, an extreme egotism which induces a selfishness of outlook, an egregious vanity that in the long run weakens the character, induces disappointment and discontent, and bores to extinction other persons.
I would not for one moment advise an actor never to talk "shop"; it is a great mistake to think that men and women should never talk in public or private about the thing to which they devote their lives; people, as a rule, are most interesting on the subject of their own particular business in life. Talk about the affairs of the theatre within reason, and with due regard to the amenities of polite conversation, but do not confuse the affairs of the theatre, broadly speaking, with your own. The one is lasting, general; the other particular and fleeting. "Il n'y a pas de l'homme necessaire" [No man is indispensable]. Many persons would be strangely surprised if they could see how rapidly their place is filled after they are gone, no matter how considerable their achievement. It may not be filled in the same way, as well, as fittingly, but it will be filled, and humanity will content itself very fairly well with the substitute. This is especially true of the work of the actor. He can but live as a memory, and memory is proverbially short.
[In the autumn of 1883, during Henry Irving's fist engagement in New York, Ellen Terry played a round of characters as his leading lady. In the Tribune, Mr. William Winter said: "Miss Ellen Terry's Portia is delicious. Her voice is perfect music. Her clear, bell-like elocution is more than a refreshment, it is a luxury. Her simple manner, always large and adequate, is a great beauty of the art which it so deftly conceals. Her embodiment of a woman's loveliness, such as, in Portia, should he at once stately and fascinating and inspire at once respect and passion, was felicitous beyond the reach of descriptive phrases." Then, on her appearance in "Much Ado About Nothing:" "She permeates the raillery of Beatrice with an indescribable charm of mischievous sweetness. The silver arrows of her pungent wit have no barb, for evidently she does not mean that they shall really wound. Her appearance and carriage are beautiful, and her tones melt into music. There is no hint of the virago here, and even the tone of sarcasm is superficial. It is archness playing over kindness that is presented here." On her Ophelia, Mr. Winter remarks: "Ophelia is an image, or personification of innocent, delirious, feminine youth and beauty, and she passes before us in the two stages of sanity and delirium. The embodiment is fully within Miss Terry's reach, and is one of the few unmistakably perfect creations with which dramatic art has illumined literature and adorned the stage."
By permission the following pages have been taken from "Ellen Terry's Memoirs," copyright by the S. S. McClure Company, 1908. All rights reserved. ED.)
HAMLET—IRVING'S GREATEST PART
When I went with Coghlan to see Henry Irving's Philip I was no stranger to his acting. I had been present with Tom Taylor, then dramatic critic of the Times, at the famous first night at the Lyceum, in 1874, when Henry put his fortune—counted, not in gold, but in years of scorned delights and laborious days, years of constant study and reflection, of Spartan self-denial and deep melancholy—when he put it all to the touch "to win or lose it all." This is no exaggeration. Hamlet was by far the greatest part that he had ever played or ever was to play. If he had failed—but why pursue it? He could not fail.
Yet, the success on the first night at the Lyceum, in 1874, was not of that electrical, almost hysterical splendour which has greeted the momentous achievements of some actors. The first two acts were received with indifference. The people could not see how packed they were with superb acting—perhaps because the new Hamlet was so simple, so quiet, so free from the exhibition of actors' artifices which used to bring down the house in "Louis XI" and in "Richelieu," but which were really the easy things in acting, and in "Richelieu" (in my opinion) not especially well done. In "Hamlet" Henry Irving did not go to the audience; he made them come to him. Slowly, but surely, attention gave place to admiration, admiration to enthusiasm, enthusiasm to triumphant acclaim.
I have seen many Hamlets,—Fechter, Charles Kean, Rossi, Friedrich Haase, Forbes-Robertson, and my own son, Gordon Craig, among them,—but they were not in the same hemisphere! I refuse to go and see Hamlets now. I want to keep Henry Irving's fresh and clear in my memory until I die.
THE BIRMINGHAM NIGHT
When he engaged me to play Ophelia in 1878, he asked me to go down to Birmingham to see the play, and that night I saw what I shall always consider the perfection of acting. It had been wonderful in 1874; in 1878 it was far more wonderful. It has been said that when he had the "advantage" of my Ophelia his Hamlet "improved." I don't think so; he was always quite independent of the people with whom he acted.
The Birmingham night he knew I was there. He played—I say it without vanity—for me. We players are not above that weakness, if it be a weakness. If ever anything inspires us to do our best, it is the presence in the audience of some fellow-artist who must, in the nature of things, know more completely than any one what we intend, what we do, what we feel. The response from such a member of the audience flies across the footlights to us like a flame. I felt it once when I played Olivia before Eleonora Duse. I felt that she felt it once when she played Marguerite Gautier for me.
When I read "Hamlet" now, everything that Henry did in it seems to me more absolutely right even than I thought at the time. I would give much to be able to record it all in detail, but—it may be my fault—writing is not the medium in which this can be done. Sometimes I have thought of giving readings of "Hamlet," for I can remember every tone of Henry's voice, every emphasis, every shade of meaning that he saw in the lines and made manifest to the discerning. Yes, I think I could give some pale idea of what his Hamlet was if I read the play!
"Words, words, words!" What is it to say, for instance, that the cardinal qualities of his Prince of Denmark were strength, delicacy, distinction? There was never a touch of commonness. Whatever he did or said, blood and breeding pervaded it.
THE ENTRANCE SCENE IN "HAMLET"
His "make-up" was very pale, and this made his face beautiful when one was close to him, but at a distance it gave him a haggard look. Some said he looked twice his age.
He kept three things going at the same time—the antic madness, the sanity, the sense of the theatre. The last was to all that he imagined and thought what, in the New Testament, charity is said to be to all other virtues.
He was never cross or moody—only melancholy. His melancholy was as simple as it was profound. It was touching, too, rather than defiant. You never thought that he was wantonly sad and enjoying his own misery.
He neglected no coup de theatre [theatrical artifice] to assist him, but who notices the servants when the host is present?
For instance, his first entrance as Hamlet was what we call, in theatrical parlance, very much "worked up." He was always a tremendous believer in processions, and rightly. It is through such means that royalty keeps its hold on the feeling of the public and makes its mark as a figure and a symbol. Henry Irving understood this. Therefore, to music so apt that it was not remarkable in itself, but a contribution to the general excited anticipation, the court of Denmark came on to the stage. I understood later on, at the Lyceum, what days of patient work had gone to the making of that procession.
At its tail, when the excitement was at fever-heat, came the solitary figure of Hamlet, looking extraordinarily tall and thin, The lights were turned down—another stage trick—to help the effect that the figure was spirit rather than man.
He was weary; his cloak trailed on the ground. He did not wear the miniature of his father obtrusively round his neck! His attitude was one which I have seen in a common little illustration to the "Reciter," compiled by Dr. Pinch, Henry Irving's old schoolmaster. Yet, how right to have taken it, to have been indifferent to its humble origin! Nothing could have been better when translated into life by Irving's genius.
The hair looked blue-black, like the plumage of a crow; the eyes burning—two fires veiled, as yet, by melancholy. But the appearance of the man was not single, straight, or obvious, as it is when I describe it, any more than his passions throughout the play were. I only remember one moment when his intensity concentrated itself in a straightforward unmistakable emotion, without side-current or back water. It was when he said:
The play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King
and, as the curtain came down, was seen to be writing madly on his tablets against one of the pillars.
"0 God, that I were a writer!" I paraphrase Beatrice with all my heart. Surely a writer could not string words together about Henry Irving's Hamlet and say nothing, nothing.
"We must start this play a living thing," he used to say at rehearsals, and he worked until the skin grew tight over his face, until he became livid with fatigue, yet still beautiful, to get the opening lines said with individuality, suggestiveness, speed, and power:
Bernardo: Who's there? Francisco: Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself. Bernardo: Long live the king! Francisco: Bernardo? Bernardo: He. Francisco: You come most carefully upon your hour. Bernardo: 'Tis now struck twelve: get thee to bed, Francisco. Francisco: For this relief much thanks: 't is bitter cold.
And all that he tried to make others do with these lines he himself did with every line of his own part. Every word lived.
Some said: "Oh, Irving only makes 'Hamlet' a love poem!" They said that, I suppose, because in the nunnery scene with Ophelia he was the lover above the prince and the poet. With what passionate longing his hands hovered over Ophelia at her words, "Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind!"
THE SCENE WITH THE PLAYERS
His advice to the players was not advice. He did not speak it as an actor. Nearly all Hamlets in that scene give away the fact that they are actors and not dilettanti of royal blood. Henry defined the way he would have the players speak as an order, an instruction of the merit of which he was regally sure. There was no patronising flavour in his acting here, not a touch of "I'11 teach you how to do it." He was swift, swift and simple—pausing for the right word now and again, as in the phrase "to hold as 't were the mirror up to nature." His slight pause and eloquent gesture, as the all embracing word "nature" came in answer to his call, were exactly repeated unconsciously, years later, by the Queen of Roumania (Carmen Sylva). She was telling us the story of a play that she had written. The words rushed out swiftly, but occasionally she would wait for the one that expressed her meaning most comprehensively and exactly, and, as she got it, up went her hand in triumph over her head—"Like yours in Hamlet," I told Henry at the time.
IRVING ENGAGES ME ON TRUST
The first letter that I ever received from Henry Irving was written on the 20th of July, 1878, from 15A Grafton Street, the house in which he lived during the entire period of his Lyceum management.
DEAR MISS TERRY: I look forward to the pleasure of calling upon you on Tuesday next at two o'clock,
With every good wish, believe me, Yours sincerely,
The call was in reference to my engagement as Ophelia. Strangely characteristic I see it now to have been of Henry that he was content to take my powers as an actress more or less on trust. A mutual friend, Lady Pollock, had told him that I was the very person for him; that "All London" (a vile but convenient phrase) was talking of my Olivia; that I had acted well in Shakespeare with the Bancrofts; that I should bring to the Lyceum Theatre what players call "a personal following." Henry chose his friends as carefully as he chose his company and his staff. He believed in Lady Pollock implicitly, and he did not—it is possible that he could not—come and see my Olivia for himself.
I was living in Longridge Road when Henry Irving came to see me. Not a word of our conversation about the engagement can I remember. I did notice, however, the great change that had taken place in the man since I had last met him in 1867. Then he was really very ordinary-looking—with a moustache, an unwrinkled face, and a sloping forehead. The only wonderful thing about him was his melancholy. When I was playing the piano, once, in the green room at the Queen's Theatre, he came in and listened. I remember being made aware of his presence by his sigh—the deepest, profoundest, sincerest sigh I ever heard from any human being. He asked me if I would not play the piece again. The incident impressed itself on my mind, inseparably associated with a picture of him as he looked at thirty—a picture by no means pleasing. He looked conceited, and almost savagely proud of the isolation in which he lived. There was a touch of exaggeration in his appearance, a dash of Werther, with a few flourishes of Jingle! Nervously sensitive to ridicule, self-conscious, suffering deeply from his inability to express himself through his art, Henry Irving in 1867 was a very different person from the Henry Irving who called on me at Longridge Road in 1878. In ten years he had found himself, and so lost himself—lost, I mean, much of that stiff, ugly self-consciousness which had encased him as the shell encases the lobster. His forehead had become more massive, and the very outline of his features had altered. He was a man of the world, whose strenuous fighting now was to be done as a general—not, as hitherto, in the ranks. His manner was very quiet and gentle. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength," says the psalmist. That was always like Henry Irving.
And here, perhaps, is the place to say that I, of all people, can perhaps appreciate Henry Irving least justly, although I was his associate on the stage for a quarter of a century, and was on terms of the closest friendship with him for almost as long a time. He had precisely the qualities that I never find likable.
He was an egotist, an egotist of the great type, never "a mean egotist," as he was once slanderously described; and all his faults sprang from egotism, which is, after all, only another name for greatness. So much absorbed was he in his own achievement that he was unable or unwilling to appreciate the achievements of others. I never heard him speak in high terms of the great foreign actors and actresses who from time to time visited England. It would be easy to attribute this to jealousy, but the easy explanation is not the true one. He simply would not give himself up to appreciation. Perhaps appreciation is a wasting though a generous quality of the mind and heart, and best left to lookers-on who have plenty of time to develop it.
I was with him when he saw Sarah Bernhardt act for the first time. The play was "Ruy Blas," and it was one of Sarah's bad days. She was walking through the part listlessly, and I was angry that there should be any ground for Henry's indifference. The same thing happened years later when I took him to see Eleonora Duse. The play was "Locandiera," to which she was eminently unsuited, I think. He was surprised at my enthusiasm. There was an element of justice in his attitude toward the performance which infuriated me, but I doubt if he would have shown more enthusiasm if he had seen her at her best.
As the years went on he grew very much attached to Sarah Bernhardt, and admired her as a colleague whose managerial work in the theatre was as dignified as his own; but of her superb powers as an actress I don't believe he ever had a glimmering notion!
Perhaps it is not true, but, as I believe it to be true, I may as well state it: It was never any pleasure to him to see the acting of other actors and actresses. Salvini's Othello I know he thought magnificent, but he would not speak of it.
IRVING'S SIMPLICITY OF CHARACTER
How dangerous it is to write things that may not be understood! What I have written I have written merely to indicate the qualities in Henry Irving's nature which were unintelligible to me, perhaps because I have always been more woman than artist. He always put the theatre first. He lived in it, he died in it. He had none of my bourgeois qualities—the love of being in love, the love of a home, the dislike of solitude. I have always thought it hard to find my inferiors. He was sure of his high place. In some ways he was far simpler than I. He would talk, for instance, in such an ignorant way to painters and musicians that I blushed for him. But was not my blush far more unworthy than his freedom from all pretentiousness in matters of art?
He never pretended. One of his biographers had said that he posed as being a French scholar. Such a thing, and all things like it, were impossible to his nature. If it were necessary, in one of his plays, to say a few French words, he took infinite pains to learn them, and said them beautifully.
Henry once told me that in the early part of his career, before I knew him, he had been hooted because of his thin legs. The first service I did him was to tell him that they were beautiful, and to make him give up padding them.
"What do you want with fat, podgy, prize-fighter legs!" I expostulated.
I brought help, too, in pictorial matters. Henry Irving had had little training in such matters; I had had a great deal. Judgment about colours, clothes, and lighting must be trained. I had learned from Mr. Watts, from Mr. Goodwin, and from other artists, until a sense of decorative effect had become second nature to me.
Praise to some people at certain stages of their career is more developing than blame. I admired the very things in Henry for which other people criticised him. I hope this helped him a little.
[Richard Mansfield, one of the great actors of his time, was born in Heligoland, then a British Possession, in 1857. He prepared himself for the East Indian civil service, then studied art, and opened a studio in Boston. He was soon attracted to the stage, and began playing minor parts in comic opera, displaying marked ability from the first. His versatility took him all the way from the role of Koko in the "Mikado," to Beau Brummel and Richard III. His success soon enabled him to assemble a company of his own; as its manager he produced with memorable effect "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Henry V.," and "Julius Caesar." He died in 1907, a few weeks after a striking creation of "Peer Gynt." A biography of Mr. Mansfield by Mr. Paul Wilstach is published by C. Scribner's Sons, New York.
Mr. Mansfield's article on "Man and the Actor," which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, May, 1906, copyright by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, is here given almost in full by the kind permission of the publishers and of Mrs. Richard Mansfield. It is in effect an autobiographical revelation of the artist and the man.—ED.]
MAN AND THE ACTOR
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, A stage where every man must play a part.
Shakespeare does not say "may" play a part, or "can" play a part, but he says must play a part; and he has expressed the conviction of every intelligent student of humanity then and thereafter, now and hereafter. The stage cannot be held in contempt by mankind; because all mankind is acting, and every human being is playing a part. The better a man plays his part, the better he succeeds. The more a man knows of the art of acting, the greater the man; for, from the king on his throne to the beggar in the street, every man is acting. There is no greater comedian or tragedian in the world than a great king. The knowledge of the art of acting is indispensable to a knowledge of mankind, and when you are able to pierce the disguise in which every man arrays himself, or to read the character which every man assumes, you achieve an intimate knowledge of your fellow men, and you are able to cope with the man, either as he is, or as he pretends to be. It was necessary for Shakespeare to be an actor in order to know men. Without his knowledge of the stage, Shakespeare could never have been the reader of men that he was. And yet we are asked, "Is the stage worth while?"
NAPOLEON AS ACTOR
Napoleon and Alexander were both great actors—Napoleon perhaps the greatest actor the world has ever seen. Whether on the bridge of Lodi, or in his camp at Tilsit; whether addressing his soldiers in the plains of Egypt; whether throwing open his old gray coat and saying, "Children, will you fire on your general?" whether bidding farewell to them at Fontainebleau; whether standing on the deck of the Bellerophon, or on the rocks of St. Helena—he was always an actor. Napoleon had studied the art of acting, and he knew its value. If the power of the eye, the power of the voice, the power of that all-commanding gesture of the hand, failed him when he faced the regiment of veterans on his return from Elba, he was lost. But he had proved and compelled his audience too often for his art to fail him then. The leveled guns fell. The audience was his. Another crown had fallen! By what? A trick of the stage! Was he willing to die then? to be shot by his old guard? Not he! Did he doubt for one moment his ability as an actor. Not he! If he had, he would have been lost. And that power to control, that power to command, once it is possessed by a man, means that that man can play his part anywhere, and under all circumstances and conditions. Unconsciously or consciously, every great man, every man who has played a great part, has been an actor. Each man, every man, who has made his mark has chosen his character, the character best adapted to himself, and has played it, and clung to it, and made his impress with it. I have but to conjure up the figure of Daniel Webster, who never lost an opportunity to act; or General Grant, who chose for his model William of Orange, surnamed the Silent. You will find every one of your most admired heroes choosing early in life some admired hero of his own to copy. Who can doubt that Napoleon had selected Julius Caesar? For, once he had founded an empire, everything about him was modelled after the Caesarean regime. Look at his coronation robes, the women's gowns—the very furniture! Actors, painters, musicians, politicians, society men and women, and kings and queens, all play their parts, and all build themselves after some favourite model. In this woman of society you trace the influence of the Princess Metternich. In another we see her admiration (and a very proper one) for Her Britannic Majesty. In another we behold George Eliot, or Queen Louise of Prussia, or the influence of some modern society leader. But no matter who it is, from the lowest to the highest, the actor is dominant in the human being, and this trait exhibits itself early in the youngest child. Everywhere you see stage-craft in one form or another. If men loved not costumes and scenery, would the king be escorted by the lifeguards, arrayed in shining helmets and breastplates, which we know are perfectly useless in these days when a bullet will go through fifty of them with ease? The first thing a man thinks of when he has to face any ordeal, be it a coronation or an execution, is, how am I going to look? how am I to behave? what manner shall I assume? shall I appear calm and dignified, or happy and pleased? shall I wear a portentous frown or a beaming smile? how shall I walk? shall I take short steps or long ones? shall I stoop as if bowed with care, or walk erect with courage and pride? shall I gaze fearlessly on all about me, or shall I drop my eyes modestly to the ground? If man were not always acting, he would not think of these things at all, he would not bother his head about them, but would walk to his coronation or his execution according to his nature. In the last event this would have to be, in some cases, on all fours.
I stretch my eyes over the wide world, and the people in it, and I can see no one who is not playing a part; therefore respect the art of which you are all devotees, and, if you must act, learn to play your parts well. Study the acting of others, so that you may discover what part is being played by others.
THE GIFT FOR ACTING IS RARE
It is, therefore, not amazing that everybody is interested in the art of acting, and it is not amazing that every one thinks he can act. You have only to suggest private theatricals, when a house party is assembled at some country house, to verify the truth of the statement. Immediately commences a lively rivalry as to who shall play this part or that. Each one considers herself or himself best suited, and I have known private theatricals to lead to lifelong enmities.
It is surprising to discover how very differently people who have played parts all their lives deport themselves before the footlights. I was acquainted with a lady in London who had been the wife of a peer of the realm, who had been ambassadress at foreign courts, who at one time had been a reigning beauty, and who came to me, longing for a new experience, and implored me to give her an opportunity to appear upon the stage. In a weak moment I consented, and as I was producing a play, I cast her for a part which I thought she would admirably suit-that of a society woman. What that woman did and did not do on the stage passes all belief. She became entangled in her train, she could neither sit down nor stand up, she shouted, she could not be persuaded to remain at a respectful distance, but insisted upon shrieking into the actor's ears, and she committed all the gaucheries you would expect from an untrained country wench. But because everybody is acting in private life, every one thinks he can act upon the stage, and there is no profession that has so many critics. Every individual in the audience is a critic, and knows all about the art of acting. But acting is a gift. It cannot be taught. You can teach people how to act acting—but you can't teach them to act. Acting is as much an inspiration as the making of great poetry and great pictures. What is commonly called acting is acting acting. This is what is generally accepted as acting. A man speaks lines, moves his arms, wags his head, and does various other things; he may even shout and rant; some pull down their cuffs and inspect their finger nails; they work hard and perspire, and their skin acts. This is all easily comprehended by the masses, and passes for acting, and is applauded, but the man who is actually the embodiment of the character he is creating will often be misunderstood, be disliked, and fail to attract. Mediocrity rouses no opposition, but strong individualities and forcible opinions make enemies. It is here that danger lies. Many an actor has set out with an ideal, but, failing to gain general favour, has abandoned it for the easier method of winning popular acclaim. Inspiration only comes to those who permit themselves to be inspired. It is a form of hypnotism. Allow yourself to be convinced by the character you are portraying that you are the character. If you are to play Napoleon, and you are sincere and determined to be Napoleon, Napoleon will not permit you to be any one but Napoleon, or Richard III. Richard III., or Nero Nero, and so on. He would be a poor, miserable pretence of an actor who in the representation of any historical personage were otherwise than firmly convinced, after getting into the man's skin (which means the exhaustive study of all that was ever known about him), that he is living that very man for a few brief hours. And so it is, in another form, with the creation or realisation of the author's, the poet's, fancy. In this latter case the actor, the poet actor, sees and creates in the air before him the being he delineates; he makes him, he builds him during the day, in the long hours of the night; the character gradually takes being; he is the actor's genius; the slave of the ring, who comes when he calls him, stands beside him, and envelops him in his ghostly arms; the actor's personality disappears; he is the character. You, you, and you, and all of you, have the right to object to the actor's creation; you may say this is not your conception of Hamlet or Macbeth or Iago or Richard or Nero or Shylock—but respect his. And who can tell whether he is right or you are right? He has created them with much loving care; therefore don't sneer at them—don't jeer at them—it hurts! If you have reared a rosebush in your garden, and seen it bud and bloom, are you pleased to have some ruthless vandal tear the flowers from their stem and trample them in the mud? And it is not always our most beautiful children we love the best. The parent's heart will surely warm toward its feeblest child.
THE CREATION OF A CHARACTER
It is very evident that any man, be he an actor or no actor, can, with money and with good taste, make what is technically termed a production. There is, as an absolute matter of fact, no particular credit to be attached to the making of a production. The real work of the stage, of the actor, does not lie there. It is easy for us to busy ourselves, to pass pleasantly our time, designing lovely scenes, charming costumes, and all the paraphernalia and pomp of mimic grandeur, whether of landscape or of architecture, the panoply of war, or the luxury of royal courts. That is fun—pleasure and amusement. No; the real work of the stage lies in the creation of a character. A great character will live forever, when paint and canvas and silks and satins and gold foil and tinsel shall have gone the way of all rags.
But the long, lone hours with our heads in our hands, the toil, the patient study, the rough carving of the outlines, the dainty, delicate finishing touches, the growing into the soul of the being we delineate, the picture of his outward semblance, his voice, his gait, his speech, all amount to a labour of such stress and strain, of such loving anxiety and care, that they can be compared in my mind only to a mother's pains. And when the child is born it must grow in a few hours to completion, and be exhibited and coldly criticised. How often, how often, have those long months of infinite toil been in vain! How often has the actor led the child of his imagination to the footlights, only to realise that he has brought into the world a weakling or a deformity which may not live! And how often he has sat through the long night brooding over the corpse of this dear figment of his fancy! It has lately become customary with many actor-managers to avoid these pangs of childbirth. They have determinedly declined the responsibility they owe to the poet and the public, and have instead dazzled the eye with a succession of such splendid pictures that the beholder forgets in a surfeit of the sight the feast that should feed the soul. This is what I am pleased to term talk versus acting. The representative actors in London are much inclined in this direction.
The student may well ask, "What are we to copy, and whom are we to copy?" Don't copy any one; don't copy any individual actor, or his methods. The methods of one actor—the means by which he arrives—cannot always be successfully employed by another. The methods and personality of one actor are no more becoming or suitable or adapted to another than certain gowns worn by women of fashion simply because these gowns are the fashion. In the art of acting, like the art of painting, we must study life—copy life! You will have before you the work of great masters, and you will learn very much from them—quite as much what to avoid as what to follow. No painting is perfect, and no acting is perfect. No actor ever played a part to absolute perfection. It is just as impossible for an actor to simulate nature completely upon the stage as it is impossible for the painter to portray on canvas the waves of the ocean, the raging storm clouds, or the horrors of conflagration.
The nearer the artist gets to nature, the greater he is. We may admire Rubens and Rembrandt and Vandyke and Gainsborough and Turner, but who will dare to say that any one of their pictures is faultless? We shall learn much from them all, but quite as much what to avoid as what to emulate. But when you discover their faults, do not forget their virtues. Look, and realise what it means to be able to do so much, And the actor's art is even more difficult! For its execution must be immediate and spontaneous. The word is delivered, the action is done, and the picture is painted! Can I pause and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, that is not the way I wanted to do this, or to say that; if you will allow me to try again, I think I can improve upon it?"
The most severe critic can never tell me more, or scold me more than I scold myself. I have never left the stage satisfied with myself. And I am convinced that every artist feels as I do about his work. It is the undoubted duty of the critic to criticise, and that means to blame as well as to praise; and it must be confessed that, taking all things into consideration, the critics of this country are actuated by honesty of purpose and kindliness of spirit, and very often their work is, in addition, of marked literary value. Occasionally we will still meet the man who is anxious to impress his fellow citizens with the fact that he has been abroad, and tinctures all his views of plays and actors with references to Herr Dinkelspiegel or Frau Mitterwoorzer; or who, having spent a few hours in Paris, is forced to drag in by the hair Monsieur Popin or Mademoiselle Fifine. But as a matter of fact, is not the interpretation of tragedy and comedy by the American stage superior to the German and French?—for the whole endeavour in this country has been toward a closer adherence to nature. In France and in Germany the ancient method of declamation still prevails, and the great speeches of Goethe and Schiller and Racine and Corneille are to all intents and purposes intoned. No doubt this sounds very fine in German and French, but how would you like it now in English?
The old-time actor had peculiar and primitive views as to elocution and its uses. I remember a certain old friend of mine, who, when he recited the opening speech in "Richard III.," and arrived at the line "In the deep bosom of the ocean buried," suggested the deep bosom of the ocean by sending his voice down into his boots. Yet these were fine actors, to whom certain young gentlemen, who never saw them, constantly refer. The methods of the stage have completely changed, and with them the tastes of the people. The probability is that some of the old actors of only a few years ago would excite much merriment in their delineation of tragedy. A very great tragedian of a past generation was wont, in the tent scene in "Richard III.," to hold a piece of soap in his mouth, so that, after the appearance of the ghosts, the lather and froth might dribble down his chin! and he employed, moreover, a trick sword, which rattled hideously; and, what with his foam-flecked face, his rolling eyes, his inarticulate groans, and his rattling blade, the small boy in the gallery was scared into a frenzy of vociferous delight!
Yet, whilst we have discarded these somewhat crude methods, we have perhaps allowed ourselves to wander too far in the other direction, and the critics are quite justified in demanding in many cases greater virility and force. The simulation of suppressed power is very useful and very advisable, but when the fire-bell rings the horses have got to come out, and rattle and race down the street, and rouse the town!
Whilst we are on the subject of these creations of the poets and the actors, do you understand how important is discipline on the stage? How can an actor be away from this earth, moving before you in the spirit he has conjured up, only to be dragged back to himself and his actual surroundings of canvas and paint and tinsel and limelights by some disturbing influence in the audience or on the stage? If you want the best, if you love the art, foster it. It is worthy of your gentlest care and your kindest, tenderest thought. Your silence is often more indicative of appreciation than your applause. The actor does not need your applause in order to know when you are in sympathy with him.
He feels very quickly whether you are antagonistic or friendly. He cares very little for the money, but a great deal for your affection and esteem. Discipline on the stage has almost entirely disappeared, and year after year the exercise of our art becomes more difficult. I am sorry to say some newspapers are, unwittingly perhaps, largely responsible for this. When an editor discharges a member of his force for any good and sufficient reason—and surely a man must be permitted to manage and control his own business—no paper will publish a two-column article, with appropriate cuts, detailing the wrongs of the discharged journalist, and the hideous crime of the editor! Even an editor—and an editor is supposed to be able to stand almost anything—would become weary after a while; discipline would cease, and your newspapers would be ill-served. Booth, Jefferson, and other actors soon made up their minds that the easiest road was the best for them. Mr. Booth left the stage management entirely to Mr. Lawrence Barrett and others, and Mr. Jefferson praised everybody and every thing. But this is not good for the stage. My career on the stage is nearly over, and until, shortly, I bid it farewell, I shall continue to do my best; but we are all doing it under ever-growing difficulties. Actors on the stage are scarce, actors off the stage, as I have demonstrated, I hope, are plentiful. Life insurance presidents—worthy presidents, directors, and trustees—have been so busy acting their several parts in the past, and are in the present so busy trying to unact them, men are so occupied from their childhood with the mighty dollar, the race for wealth is so strenuous and all-entrancing, that imagination is dying out; and imagination is necessary to make a poet or an actor; the art of acting is the crystallisation of all arts. It is a diamond in the facets of which is mirrored every art. It is, therefore, the most difficult of all arts. The education of a king is barely sufficient for the education of the comprehending and comprehensive actor. If he is to satisfy every one, he should possess the commanding power of a Caesar, the wisdom of Solomon, the eloquence of Demosthenes, the patience of Job, the face and form of Antinous, and the strength and endurance of Hercules.
The stage is not likely to die of neglect anywhere. But at this moment it cannot be denied that the ship of the stage is drifting somewhat hither and thither, Every breath of air and every current of public opinion impels it first in one direction and then in another, At one moment we may be said to be in the doldrums of the English society drama, or we are sluggishly rolling along in a heavy ground swell, propelled by a passing cat's paw of revivals of old melodramas. Again we catch a very faint northerly breeze from Ibsen, or a southeaster from Maeterlinck and Hauptmann. Sometimes we set our sails to woo that ever-clearing breeze of Shakespeare, only to be forced out of our course by a sputter of rain, an Irish mist, and half a squall from George Bernard Shaw; but the greater part of the time the ship of the stage is careering wildly under bare poles, with a man lashed to the helm (and let us hope that, like Ulysses, he has cotton wool in his ears), before a hurricane of comic opera. We need a recognised stage and a recognised school. America has become too great, and its influence abroad too large, for us to afford to have recourse to that ancient and easy method of criticism which decries the American and extols the foreign. That is one of those last remnants of colonialism and provincialism which must depart forever.
A NATIONAL THEATRE
What could not be done for the people of this land, were we to have a great and recognised theatre! Consider our speech, and our manner of speech! Consider our voices, and the production of our voices! Consider the pronunciation of words, and the curious use of vowels! Let us say we have an established theatre, to which you come not only for your pleasure, but for your education. Of what immense advantage this would be if behind its presiding officer there stood a board of literary directors, composed of such men as William Winter, Howells, Edward Everett Hale, and Aldrich, and others equally fine, and the presidents of the great universities. These men might well decide how the American language should be spoken in the great American theatre, and we should then have an authority in this country at last for the pronunciation of certain words. It would finally be decided whether to say fancy or fahncy—dance or dahnce—advertisement or advertysement, and so with many other words; whether to call the object of our admiration "real elegant"—whether we should say "I admire" to do this or that, and whether we should say "I guess" instead of "I think." And the voice! The education of the American speaking voice is, I am sure all will agree, of immense importance. It is difficult to love, or to continue to endure, a woman who shrieks at you; a high-pitched, nasal, stringy voice is not calculated to charm. This established theatre of which we dream should teach men and women how to talk; and how splendid it would be for future generations if it should become characteristic of American men and women to speak in soft and beautifully modulated tones!
These men of whom I have spoken could meet once a year in the great green-room of this theatre of my imagination, and decide upon the works to be produced—the great classics, the tragedies and comedies; and living authors should be invited and encouraged. Here, again, we should have at last what we so badly need, an encouragement for men and women to write poetry for the stage. Nothing by way of the beautiful seems to be written for us to-day, but perhaps the acknowledgment and the hall-mark of a great theatre might prove an incentive.
TRAINING THE ACTOR
The training of the actor! To-day there is practically none. Actors and actresses are not to be taught by patting them on the shoulders and saying, "Fine! Splendid!" It is a hard, hard school, on the contrary, of unmerciful criticism. And he is a poor master who seeks cheap popularity amongst his associates by glossing over and praising what he knows to be condemnable. No good result is to be obtained by this method, but it is this method which has caused a great many actors to be beloved, and the public to be very much distressed.
As for the practical side of an established theatre, I am absolutely convinced that the national theatre could be established in this country on a practical and paying basis; and not only on a paying basis, but upon a profitable basis. It would, however, necessitate the investment of a large amount of capital. In short, the prime cost would be large, but if the public generally is interested, there is no reason why an able financier could not float a company for this purpose. But under no circumstances must or can a national theatre, in the proper use of the term, be made an object of personal or commercial profit. Nor can it be a scheme devised by a few individuals for the exploitation of a social or literary fad. The national theatre must be given by the people to the people, and be governed by the people. The members of the national theatre should be elected by the board of directors, and should be chosen from the American and British stage alike, or from any country where English is the language of the people. Every inducement should be offered to secure the services of the best actors; by actors, I mean actors of both sexes; and those who have served for a certain number of years should be entitled to a pension upon retirement.
It is not necessary to bother with further details; I only mention this to impress the reader with the fact that the national theatre is a practical possibility. From my personal experience I am convinced that serious effort upon the American stage meets with a hearty endorsement.
[During his American tour of 1882-1883, Salvini played in Boston. One of his auditors, Henry James, the distinguished novelist, in the Atlantic Monthly for March, 1883, gave a detailed criticism of the performances. Of Salvini's Othello he said: