Great Men and Famous Women, Vol. 8 (of 8)
Author: Various
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Thus early wedded to the stage, Jefferson followed the fortunes of his family, and led with them a wandering life for many years, growing, by slow degrees and constant, varied practice, to the perfection of his prime. In 1838 his father led the flock to Chicago, just then grown from an Indian village to a thriving place of two thousand inhabitants, where he was to join his brother in the management of a new theatre, then building. Jefferson's account of the journey is a striking picture, at once amusing and pathetic, of the changes that have been wrought by fifty years. The real privations and hardships of the trip are veiled in the actor's story by his quiet humor and his disposition to see everything in a cheerful light. Always quizzing his own youthful follies, he cannot conceal from us by any mischievous anecdotes his essential goodness of nature, his merry helpfulness, his unselfish devotion to the welfare of the others, or the pluck with which he met the accidents of this itinerant life. From Chicago, where their success was not brilliant, the family went by stage to Springfield, where, by a singular chance, they were rescued from the danger that threatened them in the closing of the theatre by a municipal law trumped up in the interest of religious revivalists, by the adroitness of a young lawyer, who proved to be none other than Abraham Lincoln. In Memphis, when bad business had closed the theatre, young Jefferson's pluck and ready wit saved the family purse from absolute collapse. A city ordinance had been passed, requiring that all carts, drays, and public vehicles should be numbered; and the boy, hearing of this, called at the mayor's office, and, explaining the situation that had obliged his father to exchange acting for sign-painting, applied in his name for the contract for painting the numbers—and obtained it! The new industry furnished father and son with a month's work, and some jobs at sign-painting helped still further to make life easier.

From Memphis the family went to Mobile, where they hoped to rest after their long wanderings, and where it was also hoped the children, Joseph and his sister, might be put to school. But the yellow fever was raging in Mobile, and they had been in the city only a fortnight when Mr. Jefferson was attacked by the disease and died. In Mobile, too, the good Mary died, and Mrs. Jefferson was left alone to care for herself and her children as she could. She had no longer a heart for acting, and she decided to open a boarding-house for actors, while Joseph and his sister earned a small stipend by variety work in the theatre.

More years of hardship followed—the trio of mother and children wandering over the country, south and west: in Mississippi and Mexico, seeing life in all its phases of ill luck and disappointment, with faint gleams of success here and there, but meeting all with a spirit of such cheerful bravery as makes the darkest experience yield a pleasure in the telling. Surely, it might soften the heart of the sourest enemy of the stage to read the spirit in which this family met the long-continued crosses of their professional life.

Joseph Jefferson tells the story of his career so modestly, that it is hard to discover just when it was that success first began to turn a smiling face upon his efforts. Yet it would seem as if, for himself, the day broke when he created the part of Asa Trenchard in "Our American Cousin." He says that up to 1858, when he acted that part, he had been always more or less a "legitimate" actor, that is, one who has his place with others in a stock company, and never thinks of himself as an individual and single attraction—a star, as it is called. While engaged with this part, it suddenly occurred to him that in acting Asa Trenchard he had, for the first time in his life on the stage, spoken a pathetic speech; up to that time all with him had been pure comedy. Now he had found a part in which he could move his audience to tears as well as smiles. This was to him a delightful discovery, and he looked about for a new part in which he could repeat the experiment. One day in summer, as he lay in the loft of a barn reading in a book he well calls delightful, Pierre Irving's "Life and Letters of Washington Irving," he learned that the great writer had seen him act the part of Goldfinch, in Holcroft's "Road to Ruin," and that he reminded him of his grandfather, Joseph Jefferson, "in look, gesture, size, and make." Naturally pleased to find himself remembered and written of by such a man, he lay musing on the compliment, when the "Sketch Book" and the story of Rip van Winkle came suddenly into his mind. "There was to me," he writes, "magic in the sound of the name as I repeated it. Why was not this the very character I wanted? An American story by an American author was surely just the thing suited to an American actor."

There had been three or four plays founded on this story, but Jefferson says that none of them were good. His father and his half-brother had acted the part before him, but nothing that he remembered gave him any hope that he could make a good play out of existing material. He therefore went to work to construct a play for himself, and his story of how he did it, told in two pages of his book, and with the most unconscious air in the world, reveals the whole secret of Jefferson's acting: its humor and pathos subtly mingled, its deep humanity, its pure poetry—the assemblage of qualities, in fine, that make it the most perfect as well as the most original product of the American stage.

Yet the play, even in the form he gave it, did not satisfy him, nor did it make the impression in America that he desired. It was not until five years later that Dion Boucicault, in London, remade it for Jefferson; and it was in that city it first saw the light in its new form, September 5, 1865. It was at once successful, and had a run of one hundred and seventy-five nights.

With his Asa Trenchard and his Rip van Winkle will ever be associated in the loving memory of play-goers his Bob Acres in Sheridan's "Rivals," thought by many to be his capital part—a personification where all the foibles of the would-be man-of-the-world: his self-conceit, his brag, his cowardice, are transformed into virtues and captivate our hearts, dissolved in the brimming humor which yet never overflows the just measure, so degenerating into farce.

Between the two productions of Rip van Winkle in New York and in London, Jefferson had had many strange experiences. His wife died in 1861, and he broke up his household in New York, and leaving three of his children at school in that city, he left home with his eldest son and went to California. After acting in San Francisco, he sailed for Australia, where he was warmly received; thence went to the other British colonies in that region, touched on his return at Lima and Callao and Panama, at which place he took a sailing-packet for London, and after his great success in that city returned to America in 1866. In 1867 he married, in Chicago, Miss Sarah Warren, and since that time his life has flowed on in an even stream, happy in all its relations, private and public, crowned with honors, not of a gaudy or brilliant kind, but solid and enduring. His art is henceforth part and parcel of the rich treasure of the American stage.

[Signature of the author.]



(BORN 1843)

A consensus of opinion places this distinguished artiste at the head of all her compeers, for it may be truly said that she is the brightest star which has dazzled the musical firmament during the past half century, and, is still in the very zenith of her noonday splendor.

Regardful of the transcendent beauty of her voice, enhanced as this is by her other natural and attractive attributes, one might almost believe that nightingales have surrounded the cradle presided over by Euterpe, for never has bird sung so sweetly as the gifted subject of my memoir, and while the Fates smiled on the birth of their favorite, destined to become the unrivalled Queen of Song throughout the civilized world, fanciful natures might conceive a poetical vision, and behold Melpomene with her sad, grave eyes breathing into her the spirit of tragedy, and Thalia, with her laughing smile, welcoming a gifted disciple by whose genius her fire was to be rekindled in the far future.

In the year 1861 there arrived in England a young singer who, accompanied by her brother-in-law, took apartments in Norfolk Street, Strand. The young lady, then only seventeen, sought Mr. Frederick Gye, who was the lessee of the Royal Italian Opera, for his permission to sing at his theatre, volunteering to do so for nothing. The offer was at first absolutely declined, but subsequently the young artiste succeeded, and made her first appearance on May 14, 1861, as Amina in Bellini's opera of "La Sonnambula." Unheralded by any previous notice, she was then totally unknown to the English public. Not a syllable had reached that country of her antecedents or fame. I remember being present on the occasion when this youthful cantatrice tripped lightly on to the centre of the stage. Not a single hand was raised to greet her, nor a sound of welcome extended to encourage the young artiste. The audience of Covent Garden, usually reserved, except to old-established favorites, seemed wrapped in more than their conventional coldness on that particular evening. Ere long, however, indeed before she had finished the opening aria, a change manifested itself in the feelings of all present. The habitues looked round in astonishment, and people near me almost held their breath in amazement. The second act followed, and to surprise quickly succeeded delight, for when in the third act she threw all her vocal and dramatic power into the melodious wailing of "Ah non credea," with its brilliant sequel, "Ah non giunge," the enthusiasm of the audience forgot all restriction, and burst into a spontaneous shout of applause, the pent-up fervor of the assembly exploding in a ringing cheer of acclamation rarely heard within the walls of the Royal Italian Opera House. The heroine of the evening was Adelina Patti, who thenceforward became the idol of the musical world. When I left the theatre that evening, I became conscious that a course of fascination had commenced of a most unwonted nature; one that neither time nor change has modified, but which three decades have served only to enhance and intensify.

At the conclusion of the performance, Mr. Gye went on to the stage full of the excitement which prevailed in the theatre, and he immediately concluded an engagement with Mlle. Patti on the terms which had been previously agreed between them; these being that Mlle. Patti was to receive at the rate of L150 a month for three years, appearing twice each week during the season, or at the rate of about L17 for each performance. Mr. Gye also offered her the sum of L200 if she would consent to sing exclusively at Covent Garden.

Patti repeated her performance of Amina eight times during the season, and subsequently confirmed her success by her assumption of Lucia, Violetta, Zerlina, Martha, and Rosina.

Having met with such unprecedented success throughout the London season, Mlle. Patti was offered an engagement to sing at the Italian Opera in Paris, where unusual curiosity was awakened concerning her. Everyone is aware that the Parisians do not admit an artist to be a celebrity until they have themselves acknowledged it. At Paris, after the first act, the sensation was indescribable, musicians, ministers, poets, and fashionable beauties all concurring in the general chorus of acclamation; while the genial Auber, the composer of so many delightful operas, and one of the greatest authorities, by his experience and judgment, on all musical matters, was so enchanted that he declared she had made him young again, and for several days he could scarcely talk on any other subject but Adelina Patti and opera. The conquest she had achieved with the English public was thus triumphantly ratified by the exacting and critical members of musical society in Paris.

Adele Juan Maria Patti, according to her own statement, which she related to the Queen Isabella of Spain, was born at Madrid, on February 19, 1843, and is the youngest daughter of two famous Italian singers, Signor Salvatore Patti and Signora Patti-Barili. The signor having placed her two sisters—Amalia, who subsequently married Maurice Strakosch, the well-known impresario, and Carlotta, also a vocalist of remarkable powers—in a boarding-school at Milan, went to New York with his wife and daughter, where they remained until Adelina reached sixteen.

Adelina Patti had barely reached the age of three years when she was heard humming and singing the airs her mother sang.

The child's voice was naturally so flexible that executive difficulties were always easy to her, and, before she had attained her ninth year she could execute a prolonged shake with fluency. Her father not being prosperous at the time, it became a necessity for him to look for support to his little Adelina, who had shown such remarkable promise; and, accordingly, she began to take singing lessons—not, as is stated in Grove's "Dictionary of Musicians," from Maurice Strakosch, but from a French lady, subsequently studying with her step-brother, Ettore Barili, who was a famous baritone singer; but nature had been so prodigal of her gifts to the child that she never undertook a serious course of study, but, as she herself says, her real master was "le bon Dieu." At a very early age she would sing and play the part of Norma, and knew the whole of the words and music of Rosina, the heroine of Rossini's immortal "Il Barbiere di Seviglia." She sang at various concerts in different cities, until she reached the age of twelve and a half, when her career was temporarily interrupted, for Maurice Strakosch, observing the ruinous effect the continuous strain upon her delicate voice was working, insisted upon her discontinuing singing altogether, which advice she happily followed. After this interval of two years' silence, and having emerged from the wonder-child to the young artiste, she recommenced her studies under M. Strakosch, and very soon afterward was engaged to sing on a regular stage. Strakosch travelled with her and Gottschalk, the pianist, through the United States, during the tour giving a number of concerts with varying financial results; ultimately returning to New York in 1859, where she appeared at a concert of which The New York Herald of November 28th gives the following notice: "One of the most remarkable events in the operatic history of the metropolis, or even of the world, has taken place during the last week at the Academy of Music. Mlle. Patti sang the mad scene from Lucia in such a superb manner as to stir up the audience to the heartiest demonstrations of delight. The success of this artiste, educated and reared among us, has made everybody talk of her." In the following year, Strakosch considered the time had arrived for her to appear in Europe. He accordingly brought his young protegee to England, with the result I have already attempted to describe.

After singing in London and Paris, Patti was engaged to appear at Berlin, Brussels, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, at which latter city enthusiasm reached its climax, when on one occasion she was called before the curtain no fewer than forty times. One who was with her there during her last visit, writes: "Having been witness of Adelina's many triumphs and of outbursts of enthusiasm bordering upon madness, I did not think that greater demonstrations were possible. I was profoundly mistaken, however, for the St. Petersburg public far surpassed anything I have seen before. On Adelina's nights extraordinary profits were made. Places for the gallery were sold for ten roubles each, while stalls were quickly disposed of for a hundred roubles each. The emperor and empress, with the whole court, took part in the brilliant reception accorded to Patti, and flowers to the amount of six thousand roubles were thrown at her."

That she has been literally worshipped from infancy upward is only a natural consequence of her unsurpassable gifts, and nowhere has this feeling manifested itself to such an extent as in Paris, and by none more so than by the four famous composers, Auber, Meyerbeer, Rossini, and Gounod. Auber, after hearing her sing Norina, in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," offered her a bouquet of roses from Normandy, and in answer to her questions about her diamonds, said, "The diamonds you wear are beautiful indeed, but those you place in our ears are a thousand times better." Patti was the pet of the gifted composer of "Guillaume Tell," and no one was ever more welcome at Rossini's beautiful villa at Passy, well known as the centre of a great musical and artistic circle. The genial Italian died in November, 1868, and Patti paid her last tribute of respect to his memory by taking part in the performance of his immortal "Stabat Mater," which was given on the occasion of Rossini's burial service.

Gounod, always enthusiastic in his remarks upon her, said, "that until he heard Patti, all the Marguerites were Northern maidens, but Patti was the only Southern Gretchen, and that from her all future singers could learn what to do and avoid."

Although it is not the custom to bestow titles or honorific distinctions upon artists of the fair sex, yet, in lieu of these, to such an extent have presents been showered upon Adelina Patti, that the jewels which she has been presented with from time to time are said to be of the enormous value of L100,000. In the year 1885, when she appeared in New York as Violetta, the diamonds she wore on that occasion were estimated to be worth L60,000. One of the handsomest lockets in her possession is a present from Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, and a splendid solitaire ring which she is in the habit of wearing was given to her by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Of no less than twenty-three valuable bracelets, one of the most costly is that presented by the committee of the Birmingham festival. A magnificent comb, set with twenty-three large diamonds, is the gift of the Empress Eugenie. The emperors of Germany, Austria, and Russia have vied with each other in sending her jewels of the rarest value.

When singing in Italy, King Victor Emmanuel each night visited the opera for the purpose of hearing her; and at Florence, where the enthusiastic Italians applauded to the very echo, Mario, prince of Italian tenors, leaned from his box to crown her with a laurel wreath. A similar honor was bestowed upon her by the Duke of Alba at Madrid, who presented her with a laurel crown. At the opera house in that city numbers of bouquets and poems were to be seen whirling through the air attached to the necks of birds. Queen Isabella of Spain, gave a large amethyst brooch surrounded by forty enormous pearls, and the Jockey Club of Paris presented her with twelve laurel crowns. The citizens of San Francisco, upon the occasion of her last visit, presented her with a five-pointed star formed of thirty large brilliants, and from the Queen of Portugal she received a massive locket containing Her Majesty's portrait, enriched by an enormous oriental pearl encrusted in brilliants; and even at the present time scarcely a day passes without the "Diva" receiving some acknowledgment in recognition of her transcendent powers.

Adelina Patti's first husband was Henri, Marquis de Caux, an equerry to the Empress Eugenie, from whom she was separated and subsequently divorced; and, on June 10, 1886, she married Ernesto Nicolini, the famous tenor singer.

In appearance, Patti is still youthful, and really seems destined to rival the celebrated French beauty, Ninon de l'Enclos, who was so beautiful at sixty that the grandsons of the men who loved her in her youth adored her with equal ardor. Patti's figure is still slim and rounded, and not a wrinkle as yet is to be seen on her cheeks, or a line about her eyes, which are as clear and bright as ever, and which, when she speaks to you, look you straight in the face with her old winning smile.

During her career Patti has earned upward of half a million sterling, and the enormous sums paid to her at the present time more than double the amounts which Jenny Lind received, and which in that day were regarded as fabulous.

On a natural plateau, surrounded by picturesque vales, and situated in the heart of the very wildest and most romantic part of South Wales, between Brecon and Swansea, and at the base of the Rock of the Night, stands the Castle of Craig-y-nos. This is the nightingale's nest. The princely fortune which Patti has accumulated has enabled her so to beautify and enlarge her home, that it now contains all the luxuries which Science and Art have enabled Fortune's favorites to enjoy; and so crowded is it with curios and valuables that it may best be described as "the home of all Art yields or Nature can decree."

Here, in picturesque seclusion, surrounded by a unique splendor created by her own exertions, lives this gifted and beautiful songstress. She is the "Lady Bountiful" of the entire district, extending many miles around the castle, over which she presides with such hospitable grace. The number of grateful hearts she has won in the Welsh country by her active benevolence is almost as great as is the legion of enthusiastic admirers she has enlisted by the wonderful beauty of her voice and the series of artistic triumphs, which have been absolutely without parallel during the present century.



(BORN 1844)

A little girl, as Sarcey relates, once presented herself at the Paris Conservatoire in order to pass the examination for admission. All she knew was the fable of the "Two Pigeons," but she had no sooner recited the lines—

"Deux pigeons s'aimaient d'amour tendre, L'un d'eux, s'ennuyant au logis"—

than Auber stopped her with a gesture. "Enough," he said. "Come here, my child." The little girl, who was pale and thin, but whose eyes gleamed with intelligence, approached him with an air of assurance. "Your name is Sarah?" he said.

"Yes, sir." was the reply.

"You are a Jewess?"

"Yes, sir, by birth; but I have been baptized."

"She has been baptized," said Auber, turning to his colleagues. "It would have been a pity if such a pretty child had not. She said her fable of the 'Two Pigeons' very well. She must be admitted."

Thus Sarah Bernhardt, for it was she, entered the Conservatoire. She was a Jewess of French and Dutch parentage, and was born at Paris in 1844. Her father, after having her baptized, had placed her in a convent; but she had already secretly determined to become an actress. In her course of study at the Conservatoire she so distinguished herself that she received a prize which entitled her to a debut at the Theatre Francais. She selected the part of Iphigenie, in which she appeared on August 11, 1862; and at least one newspaper drew special attention to her performance, describing her as "pretty and elegant," and particularly praising her perfect enunciation. She afterward played other parts at the Theatre Francais, but soon transferred herself from that house to the Gymnase, though not until she had made herself notorious by having, as was alleged, slapped the face of a sister-actress in a fit of temper.

The director of the Gymnase did not take too serious a view of his new actress, who turned up late at rehearsals, and sometimes did not turn up at all. Nor did her acting make any great impression at the Gymnase, where, it is true, she was only permitted to appear on Sundays. At this theatre she lost no time in exhibiting that independence and caprice to which, as much as to her talent, she owes her celebrity. The day after the first representation of a piece by Labiche, "Un Mari qui Lance sa Femme," in which she had undertaken an important part, she stealthily quitted Paris, addressing to the author a letter in which she begged him to forgive her.

After a tour in Spain, Sarah returned to Paris, and appeared at the Odeon. Here she created a certain number of characters, in such plays as "Les Arrets," "Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix," and "Le Batard," but chiefly distinguished herself in "Ruy Blas," and in a translation of "King Lear." Already she had riveted the attention of the public and the press, who saw that a brilliant future lay before her.

At the end of 1872 she appeared at the Comedie Francaise, and with such distinction that she was retained, first as a pensionnaire, at a salary of six thousand francs, and afterward as a societaire. Her successes were rapid and dazzling, and whether she appeared in modern comedy, in classic tragedy, or as the creator of characters in entirely new plays, the theatre was always crowded. Her melodious voice and pure enunciation, her singularly varied accents, her pathos, her ardent bursts of passion, were such that her audience, as they hung upon her lips, forgot the caprices and eccentricities by which she was already characterized in private life. It seemed, however, that Sarah's ambition was to gain personal notoriety even more than theatrical fame; and by her performances of one kind or another outside the theatre make herself the talk of society. She affected to paint, to chisel, and to write; sent pictures to the Salon, published eccentric books, and exhibited busts. She would receive her friends palette in hand, and in the dress of a male artist. She had a luxurious coffin made for her, covered with velvet, in which she loved to recline; and she more than once went up in a balloon.

Her caprice, whether in private or public, was altogether unrestrained. In 1880 Emile Augier's admirable comedy, "L'Aventuriere," was revived at the Comedie Francaise, and the author confided the part of Clorinde to Sarah Bernhardt. After the first representation, however, she was so enraged by an uncomplimentary newspaper criticism that she sent in her resignation to M. Emile Perrin, director of the theatre, quitted Paris, and went to England, where she gave a series of representations, and, appearing there for the first time, caused a veritable sensation in London society. Meanwhile, M. Perrin instituted against her, in the name of the Comedie Francaise, a lawsuit for breach of contract, with damages laid at three hundred thousand francs. It was at this juncture that Sarah accepted the offers of an enterprising manager for a tour in America, where she achieved no less phenomenal successes than in Europe.

A sensational account of this American tour was afterward published by one of her associates, Mlle. Marie Colombier, under the title of "Sarah Bernhardt en Amerique." This was followed by a second volume from the same pen, entitled "Sarah Barnum." The latter book, as its title suggests, was not intended as a compliment; and Sarah Bernhardt brought an action against the writer, by which she was compelled to expunge from her scandalous volume all that was offensive.

The rest of Sarah's career is too recent to be traced in detail. Nor can the life of an actress of our own time be dealt with so freely as that of a Sophie Arnould or an Adrienne Lecouvreur.

From America Sarah returned to Paris, where she revived all her old successes, and where, in 1888, at the Odeon, she produced a one-act comedy from her own pen, entitled "L'Aveu," which met with a somewhat frigid reception. She has appeared in several of Shakespeare's plays with great success, but her most ambitious and perhaps most admirable productions of late years have been her Cleopatra, first produced in Paris in 1890, and her Joan of Arc.

Among her numerous eccentricities, Mlle. Bernhardt once got married; London, by reason of the facilities it affords for this species of recreation, being chosen as the scene of the espousals. The hero of the matrimonial comedy, which was soon followed by a separation, to which, after many adventures on the part of both husband and wife, a reconciliation succeeded, was M. Damala, a Greek gentleman, possessed of considerable histrionic talent, who died in 1880.



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