[19th Century Actor] Autobiographies

Part 2 out of 3

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?"

"Coghlan--Charles Coghlan."

"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

"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."

"This Coghlan?"

"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?


[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.)


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


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.


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.


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.


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


[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


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


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.


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

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


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.


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.


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

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.


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

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.)


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.


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

"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.


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

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

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

_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!"


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.


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

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

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.


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

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.]


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 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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


[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:

... "What an immense impression--simply as an impression--the actor
makes on the spectator who sees him for the first time as the turbaned
and deep-voiced Moor! He gives us his measure as a man: he acquaints
us with that luxury of perfect confidence in the physical resources of
the actor which is not the most frequent satisfaction of the modern
play-goer. His powerful, active, manly frame, his noble, serious,
vividly expressive face, his splendid smile, his Italian eye, his
superb, voluminous voice, his carriage, his ease, the assurance he
instantly gives that he holds the whole part in his hands and can make
of it exactly what he chooses,--all this descends upon the spectator's
mind with a richness which immediately converts attention into faith,
and expectation into sympathy. He is a magnificent creature, and you
are already on his ride. His generous temperament is contagious; you
find yourself looking at him, not so much as an actor, but as a
hero.... The admirable thing in this nature of Salvini's is that his
intelligence is equal to his material powers, so that if the
exhibition is, as it were, personal, it is not simply physical. He
has a great imagination: there is a noble intention in all he does.

The pages which now follow, taken from Salvini's Autobiography, are
presented with the permission of his publishers, the Century Company,
New York.--ED.]


The Bon and Berlaffa Company, in which my father was engaged,
alternated in its repertory between the comedies of Goldoni and the
tragedies of Alfieri.

One evening the "Donne Curiose" by Goldoni was to be given, but the
actor who was to take the harlequin's part, represented in that piece
by a stupid slave called Pasquino, fell sick a few hours before the
curtain was to rise. The company had been together for a few days
only, and it was out of the question to substitute another play. It
had been decided to close the theatre for that night, when Berlaffa

"Why couldn't your Tom take the part?" My father said that there was
no reason why he shouldn't, but that Tom had never appeared in public,
and he didn't know whether he had the courage.

The proposition was made to me, and I accepted on the spot, influenced
to no little extent by a desire to please the managers, who in my eyes
were people of great importance. Within three hours, with my iron
memory, I had easily mastered my little part of Pasquino, and, putting
on the costume of the actor who had fallen ill, I found myself a
full-fledged if a new performer. I was to speak in the Venetian
dialect; that was inconvenient for me rather than difficult, but at
Forte, where we were, any slip of pronunciation would hardly be

It was the first time that I was to go on the stage behind the
dazzling footlights, the first time that I was to speak in an
unaccustomed dialect, dressed up in ridiculous clothes which were not
my own; and I confess that I was so much frightened that I was tempted
to run back to my dressing-room, to take off my costume, and to have
nothing more to do with the play. But my father, who was aware of my
submissive disposition toward him, with a few words kept me at my

"For shame!" said he; "a man has no right to be afraid." A man! I
was scarce fourteen, yet I aspired to that title.

The conscript who is for the first time under fire feels a sense of
fear. Nevertheless, if he has the pride of his sex, and the dignity
of one who appreciates his duty, he stands firm, though it be against
big will. So it was with me when I began my part. When I perceived
that some of Pasquino's lines were amusing the audience, I took
courage, and, like a little bird making its first flight, I arrived at
the goal, and was eager to try again. As it turned out, my actor's
malady grew worse, so that he was forced to leave the company, and I
was chosen to take his place.

I must have had considerable aptitude for such comic parts as those of
stupid servants, for everywhere that we went I became the public's
Benjamin. I made the people laugh, and they asked for nothing better.
All were surprised that, young and inexperienced as I was, I should
have so much cleverness of manner and such sureness of delivery. My
father was more surprised than anybody, for he had expected far less
of my immaturity and total lack of practice. It is certain that from
that time I began to feel that I was somebody. I had become useful,
or at least I thought I had, and, as a consequence, in my manner and
bearing I began to affect the young man more than was fitting in a
mere boy. I sought to figure in the conversation of grown people, and
many a time I had the pain of seeing my elders smile at my remarks.
It was my great ambition to be allowed to walk alone in the city
streets; my father was very loath to grant this boon, but he let me go
sometimes, perhaps to get a sample of my conduct. I don't remember
ever doing anything at these times which could have displeased him; I
was particularly careful about it, since I saw him sad, pensive, and
afflicted owing to the misfortune which had befallen him, and soon be
began to accord me his confidence, which I was most anxious to gain.


Often he spoke to me of the principles of dramatic art, and of the
mission of the artist. He told me that to have the right to call
one's self an artist one must add honest work to talent, and he put
before me the example of certain actors who had risen to fame, but who
were repulsed by society on account of the triviality of their
conduct; of others who were brought by dissipation to die in a
hospital, blamed by all; and of still others who had fallen so low as
to hold out their hands for alms, or to sponge on their comrades and
to cozen them out of their money for unmerited subscriptions--all of
which things moved me to horror and deep repugnance. It was with good
reason that my father was called "Honest Beppo" by his fellows on the
stage. The incorruptibility and firmness of principle which he
cultivated in me from the time that I grew old enough to understand
have been my spur and guide throughout my career, and it is through no
merit of my own that I can count myself among those who have won the
esteem of society; I attribute all the merit to my father. He was con
scientious and honest to a scruple; so much so that of his own free
will he sacrificed the natural pride of the dramatic artist, and
denounced the well-earned honour of first place in his own company to
take second place with Gustavo Modena, whose artistic merit he
recognised as superior to his own, in order that I might profit by the
instruction of that admirable actor and sterling citizen. My father
preferred his son's advantage to his own personal profit.


The parts in which I won the most sympathy from the Italian public
were those of Oreste in the tragedy of that name, Egisto in "Merope,"
Romeo in "Giulietta e Romeo," Paolo in "Francesca da Rimini," Rinaldo
in "Pia di Tolommei," Lord Bonfield in "Pamela," Domingo in the
"Suonatrice d 'Arpa," and Gian Galeazzo in "Lodovico il Moro." In all
these my success was more pronounced than in other parts, and I
received flattering marks of approval. I did not reflect, at that
time, of how great assistance to me it was to be constantly surrounded
by first-rate artists; but I soon came to feel that an atmosphere
untainted by poisonous microbes promotes unoppressed respiration, and
that in such an atmosphere soul and body maintain themselves healthy
and vigorous. I observed frequently in the "scratch" companies, which
played in the theatres of second rank young men and women who showed
very notable artistic aptitude, but who, for lack of cultivation and
guidance, ran to extravagance, overemphasis, and exaggeration. Up to
that time, while I had a clear appreciation of the reasons for
recognising defects in others, I did not know how to correct my own;
on the other hand, I recognised that the applause accorded me was
intended as an encouragement more than as a tribute which I had
earned. From a youth of pleasing qualities (for the moment I quell my
modesty), with good features, full of fire and enthusiasm, with a
harmonious and powerful voice, and with good intellectual faculties,
the public deemed that an artist should develop who would distinguish
himself, and perhaps attain eminence in the records of Italian art;
and for this reason it sought to encourage me, and to apply the spur
to my pride by manifesting its feeling of sympathy. By good fortune
I had enough conscience and good sense to receive this homage at its
just value. I felt the need of studying, not books alone, but men and
things, vice and virtue, love and hate, humility and haughtiness,
gentleness and cruelty, folly and wisdom, poverty and opulence,
avarice and lavishness, long-suffering and vengeance--in short, all
the passions for good and evil which have root in human nature. I
needed to study out the manner of rendering these passions in
accordance with the race of the men in whom they were exhibited, in
accordance with their special customs, principles, and education; I
needed to form a conception of the movement, the manner, the
expressions of face and voice characteristic of all these cases; I
must learn by intuition to grasp the characters of fiction, and by
study to reproduce those of history with semblance of truth, seeking
to give to every one a personality distinct from every other. In
fine, I must become capable of identifying myself with one or another
personage to such an extent as to lead the audience into the illusion
that the real personage, and not a copy, is before them. It would
then remain to learn the mechanism of my art; that is, to choose the
salient points and to bring them out, to calculate the effects and
keep them in proportion with the unfolding of the plot, to avoid
monotony in intonation and repetition in accentuation, to insure
precision and distinctness in pronunciation, the proper distribution
of respiration, and incisiveness of delivery. I must study; study
again; study always. It was not an easy thing to put these precepts
into practice. Very often I forgot them, carried away by excitement,
or by the superabundance of my vocal powers; indeed, until I had
reached an age of calmer reflection I was never able to get my
artistic chronometer perfectly regulated; it would always gain a few
minutes every twenty-four hours.


In my assiduous reading of the classics, the chief places were held
among the Greeks by the masculine and noble figures of Hector,
Achilles, Theseus, Oedipus; among the Scots by Trenmor, Fingal,
Cuchullin; and among the Romans by Caesar, Brutus, Titus, and Cato.
These characters influenced me to incline toward a somewhat bombastic
system of gesticulation and a turgid delivery. My anxiety to enter to
the utmost into the conceptions of my authors, and to interpret them
clearly, disposed me to exaggerate the modulations of my voice like
some mechanism which responds to every touch, not reflecting that the
abuse of this effort would bring me too near to song. Precipitation
in delivery, too, which when carried too far destroys all distinctness
and incisiveness, was due to my very high impressionability, and to
the straining after technical scenic effects. Thus, extreme vehemence
in anger would excite me to the point of forgetting the fiction, and
cause me to commit involuntarily lamentable outbursts. Hence I
applied myself to overcome the tendency to singsong in my voice, the
exuberance of my rendering of passion, the exclamatory quality of my
phrasing, the precipitation of my pronunciation, and the swagger of my

I shall be asked how the public could abide me, with all these
defects; and I answer that the defects, though numerous, were so
little prominent that they passed unobserved by the mass of the
public, which always views broadly and could be detected only by the
acute and searching eye of the intelligent critic. I make no pretence
that I was able to correct myself all at once. Sometimes my
impetuosity would carry me away, and not until I had come to mature
age was I able to free myself to any extent from this failing. Then I
confirmed myself in my opinion that the applause of the public is not
all refined gold, and I became able to separate the gold from the
dross in the crucible of intelligence. How many on the stage are
content with the dross!


My desire to improve in my art had its origin in my instinctive
impulse to rise above mediocrity--an instinct that must have been born
in me, since, when still a little boy, I used to put forth all my
energies to eclipse what I saw accomplished by my companions of like
age. When I was sixteen, and at Naples, there were in the
boarding-house, at two francs and a half a day, two young men who were
studying music and singing, and to surpass them in their own field I
practised the scales until I could take B natural. Later on, when the
tone of my voice; had lowered to the barytone, impelled always by my
desire to accomplish something, I took lessons in music from the
Maestro Terziani, and appeared at a benefit with the famous tenor
Boucarde, and Signora Monti, the soprano, and sang in a duet from
"Belisaria," the aria from "Maria di Rohan,"and "La Settimana
d'Amore," by Niccolai; and I venture to say that I was not third best
in that triad. But I recognised that singing and declamation were
incompatible pursuits, since the method of producing the voice is
totally different, and they must therefore be mutually harmful.
Financially, I was not in a condition to be free to choose between the
two careers, and I persevered of necessity in the dramatic profession.
Whether my choice was for the best I do not know; it is certain that
if my success had been in proportion to my love of music, and I have
reason to believe that it might have been, I should not have remained
in obscurity.


[In 1871, Salvini organised a company for a tour in South America, On
his way thither he paused at Gibraltar, and gainfully.]

At Gibraltar I spent my time studying the Moors. I was much struck by
one very fine figure, majestic in walk, and Roman in face, except for
a slight projection of the lower lip. The man's colour was between
copper and coffee, not very dark, and he had a slender moustache, and
scanty curled hair on his chin. Up to that time I had always made up
Othello simply with my moustache, but after seeing that superb Moor I
added the hair on the chin, and sought to copy his gestures,
movements, and carriage. Had I been able I should have imitated his
voice also, so closely did that splendid Moor represent to me the true
type of the Shakespearian hero. Othello must have been a son of
Mauritania, if we can argue from Iago's words to Roderigo: "He goes
into Mauritania"; for what else could the author have intended to
imply but that the Moor was returning to his native land?


After a few months of rest [after the South American tour], I resolved
to get together a new company, selecting those actors and actresses
who were best suited to my repertory. The excellent Isolina Piamonti
was my leading lady; and my brother Alessandro, an experienced,
conscientious, and versatile artist, supported me. An Italian
theatrical speculator proposed to me a tour in North America, to
include the chief cities of the United States, and although I
hesitated not a little on account of the ignorance of the Italian
language prevailing in that country, I accepted, influenced somewhat
by my desire to visit a region which was wholly unknown to me.
Previous to crossing the ocean I had several months before me, and
these served me to get my company in training.

My first impressions of New York were most favourable. Whether it was
the benefit of a more vivifying atmosphere, or the comfort of the
national life, or whether it was admiration for that busy,
industrious, work-loving people, or the thousands of beautiful women
whom I saw in the streets, free and proud in carriage, and healthy and
lively in aspect, or whether it was the thought that these citizens
were the great-grandchildren of those high-souled men who had known
how to win with their blood the independence of their country, I felt
as if I had been born again to a new existence. My lungs swelled more
freely as I breathed the air impregnated with so much vigour and
movement, and so much liberty, and I could fancy that I had come back
to my life of a youth of twenty, and was treading the streets of
republican Rome. With a long breath of satisfaction I said to myself:
"Ah, here is life!" Within a few days my energy was redoubled. A
lively desire of movement, not a usual thing with me, had taken
possession of me in spite of myself. Without asking myself why, I
kept going here and there, up and down, to see everything, to gain
information; and when I returned to my rooms in the evening, I could
have set out again to walk still more. This taught me why Americans
are so unwearied and full of business. Unfortunately I have never
mastered English sufficiently to converse in that tongue; had I
possessed that privilege, perhaps my stay in North America would not
have been so short, and perhaps I might have figured on the English
stage. What an enjoyment it would have been to me to play Shakespeare
in English! But I have never had the privilege of the gift of
tongues, and I had to content myself with my own Italian, which is
understood by but few in America. This, however, mattered little;
they understood me all the same, or, to put it better, they caught by
intuition my ideas and my sentiments.

My first appearance was in "Othello." The public received a strong
impression, without discussing whether or not the means which I used
to cause it were acceptable, and without forming a clear conception of
my interpretation of that character, or pronouncing openly upon its
form. The same people who had heard it the first night returned on
the second, on the third, and even on the fourth, to make up their
minds whether the emotions they experienced resulted from the novelty
of my interpretation, or whether in fact it was the true sentiment of
Othello's passions which was transmitted to them--in short, whether it
was a mystification or a revelation. By degrees the public became
convinced that those excesses of jealousy and fury were appropriate to


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