[19th Century Actor] Autobiographies

Part 3 out of 3

the son of the desert, and that one of Southern blood must be much
better qualified to interpret them than a Northerner. The judgment
was discussed, criticised, disputed; but in the end the verdict was
overwhelmingly in my favour. When the American has once said "Yes,"
he never weakens; he will always preserve for you the same esteem,
sympathy, and affection. After New York I travelled through a number
of American cities--Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Washington,
and Boston, which is rightly styled the Athens of America, for there
artistic taste is most refined. In Boston I had the good fortune to
become intimately acquainted with the illustrious poet, Longfellow,
who talked to me in the pure Tuscan. I saw, too, other smaller
cities, and then I appeared again in New York, where the favour of the
public was confirmed, not only for me, but also for the artists of my
company, and especially for Isolina Piamonti, who received no
uncertain marks of esteem and consideration. We then proceeded to
Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Toledo, and that pleasant
city, Detroit, continuing to Chicago, and finally to New Orleans.


From New Orleans we sailed to Havana, but found in Cuba civil war, and
a people that had but small appetite for serious things, and was
moreover alarmed by a light outbreak of yellow fever. One of my
company was taken down with the disease, but I had the pleasure of
seeing him recover, Luckily he had himself treated by Havanese
physicians, who are accustomed to combat that malady, which they know
only too well. Perhaps my comrade would have lost his life under the
ministrations of an Italian doctor. In the city of sugar and tobacco,
too, it was "Othello" which carried off the palm. Those good
manufacturers of cigars presented me on my benefit with boxes of their
wares, which were made expressly for me, and which I dispatched to
Italy for the enjoyment of my friends. In spite of the many
civilities which were tendered to me, in spite of considerable money
profit, and of the ovations of its kind-hearted people, I did not find
Cuba to my taste. Sloth and luxury reign there supreme.


In Paris I found a letter from the Impresario Mapleson, who proposed
that I should go to London with an Italian company, and play at Drury
Lane on the off-nights of the opera. I was in doubt for a
considerable time whether to challenge the verdict of the British
public; but in two weeks after reaching Italy, by dint of telegrams I
had got together the force of artists necessary, and I presented
myself with arms and baggage in London, in the spring of 1875.

Hardly had I arrived, when I noticed the posting, on the bill-boards
of the city, of the announcement of the seventy-second night of
"Hamlet" at the Lyceum Theatre, with Henry Irving in the title-role.
I had contracted with Mapleson to give only three plays in my season,
"Othello," "The Gladiator," and "Hamlet," the last having been
insisted upon by Mapleson himself, who, as a speculator, well knew
that curiosity as to a Comparison would draw the public to Drury Lane.


I was very anxious to see the illustrious English artist in that part,
and I secured a box and went to the Lyceum. I was recognised by
nobody, and remaining as it were concealed in my box, I had a good
opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. I arrived at the theatre a
little too late, so that I missed the scene of Hamlet in presence of
the ghost of his father, the scene which in my judgment contains the
clue to that strange character, and from which all the synthetic ideas
of Hamlet are developed. I was in time to hear only the last words of
the oath of secrecy. I was struck by the perfection of the
stage-setting. There was a perfect imitation of the effect of
moonlight, which at the proper times flooded the stage with its rays
or left it in darkness. Every detail was excellently and exactly
reproduced. The scene was shifted, and Hamlet began his allusions,
his sallies of sarcasm, his sententious sayings, his points of satire
with the courtiers, who sought to study and to penetrate the
sentiments of the young prince. In this scene Irving was simply
sublime. His mobile face mirrored his thoughts. The subtle
penetration of his phrases, so perfect in shading and incisiveness,
showed him to be a master of art. I do not believe there is an actor
who can stand beside him in this respect, and I was so much impressed
by it, that at the end of the second act I said to myself, "I will not
play Hamlet! Mapleson can say what he likes, but I will not play it";
and I said it with the fullest resolution. In the monologue, "To be
or not to be," Irving was admirable; in the scene with Ophelia he was
deserving of the highest praise; in that of the Players he was moving,
and in all this part of the play he appeared to my eyes to be the most
perfect interpreter of that eccentric character. But further on it
was not so, and for the sake of art I regretted it. From the time
when the passion assumes a deeper hue, and reasoning moderates
impulses which are forcibly curbed, Irving seemed to me to show
mannerism, and to be lacking in power, and strained, and it is not in
him alone that I find this fault, but in nearly all foreign actors.
There seems to be a limit of passion within which they remain true in
their rendering of nature; but beyond that limit they become
transformed, and take on conventionality in their intonations,
exaggeration in their gestures, and mannerism in their bearing. I
left my box saying to myself: "I too can do Hamlet, and I will try
it!" In some characters Irving is exceptionally fine. I am convinced
that it would be difficult to interpret Shylock or Mephistopheles
better than he. He is most skilful in putting his productions on the
stage; and in addition to his intelligence he does not lack the power
to communicate his counsels or his teachings. Withal he is an
accomplished gentleman in society, and is loved and respected by his
fellow-citizens, who justly look upon him as a glory to their country.
He should, however, for his own sake, avoid playing such pants as
Romeo and Macbeth, which are not adapted to his somewhat scanty
physical and vocal power.


The traditions of the English drama are imposing and glorious!
Shakespeare alone has gained the highest pinnacle of fame in dramatic
art. He has had to interpret him such great artists as Garrick,
Kemble, Kean, Macready, Siddons, and Irving; and the literary and
dramatic critics of the whole world have studied and analysed both
author and actor. At present, however, tragedy is abandoned on almost
all the stages of Europe. Actors who devote themselves to tragedy,
whether classical romantic, or historical, no longer exist.
Society-comedy has overflowed the stage, and the inundation causes the
seed to rot which more conscientious and prudent planters had sown in
the fields of art. It is desirable that the feeling and taste for the
works of the great dramatists should be revived in Europe, and that
England, which is for special reasons, and with justice, proud of
enjoying the primacy in dramatic composition, should have also worthy
and famous actors. I do not understand why the renown and prestige of
the great name of Garrick do not attract modern actors to follow in
his footsteps. Do not tell me that the works of Shakespeare are out
of fashion, and that the public no longer wants them. Shakespeare is
always new--so new that not even yet is he understood by everybody,
and if, as they say, the public is no longer attracted by his plays,
it is because they are superficially presented. To win the approval
of the audience, a dazzling and conspicuous _mise-en-scene_ does not
suffice, as some seem to imagine, to make up deficiency in
interpretation; a more profound study of the characters represented is
indispensable. If in art you can join the beautiful and the good, so
much the better for you; but if you give the public the alternative,
it will always prefer the good to the beautiful.


In 1880 the agent of an impresario and theatre-owner of Boston came to
Florence to make me the proposal that I should go to North America for
the second time, to play in Italian supported by an American company.
I thought the man had lost his senses. But after a time I became
convinced that he was in his right mind, and that no one would
undertake a long and costly journey simply to play a joke, and I took
his extraordinary proposition into serious consideration and asked him
for explanations.

"The idea is this," the agent made answer; "it is very simple. You
found favour the last time with the American public with your Italian
company, when not a word that was said was understood, and the
proprietor of the Globe Theatre of Boston thinks that if he puts with
you English-speaking actors, you will yourself be better understood,
since all the dialogues of your supporters will be plain. The
audience will concern itself only with following you with the aid of
the play-books in both languages, and will not have to pay attention
to the others, whose words it will understand."

"But how shall I take my cue, since I do not understand English? And
how will your American actors know when to speak, since they do not
know Italian?"

"Have no anxiety about that," said the agent. "Our American actors
are mathematicians, and can memorise perfectly the last words of your
speeches, and they will work with the precision of machines."

"I am ready to admit that," said I, "although I do not think it will
be so easy; but it will in any case be much easier for them, who will
have to deal with me alone, and will divide the difficulty among
twenty or twenty-four, than for me, who must take care of all."

The persevering agent, however, closed my mouth with the words, "You
do not sign yourself 'Salvini' for nothing!" He had an answer for
everything, he was prepared to convince me at all points, to persuade
me about everything, and to smooth over every difficulty, and he won a
consent which, though almost involuntary on my part, was legalised by
a contract in due form, by which I undertook to be at New York not
later than November 05, 1880, and to be ready to open at Philadelphia
with "Othello" on the 29th of the same month.

I was still dominated by my bereavement, and the thought was pleasant
to me of going away from places which constantly brought it back to my
mind. Another sky, other customs, another language, grave
responsibilities, a novel and difficult undertaking of uncertain
outcome--I was willing to risk all simply to distract my attention and
to forget. I have never in my life been a gambler, but that time I
staked my artistic reputation upon a single card. Failure would have
been a new emotion, severe and grievous, it is true, but still
different from that which filled my mind. I played, and I won! The
friends whom I had made in the United States in 1873, and with whom I
had kept up my acquaintance, when they learned of the confusion of
tongues, wrote me discouraging letters. In Italy the thing was not
believed, so eccentric did it seem. I arrived in New York nervous and
feverish, but not discouraged or depressed.

When the day of the first rehearsal came, all the theatres were
occupied, and I had to make the best of a rather large concert-hall to
try to get into touch with the actors who were to support me. An
Italian who was employed in a newspaper office served me as
interpreter in cooperation with the agent of my Boston impresario.
The American artists began the rehearsal without a prompter, and with
a sureness to be envied especially by our Italian actors, who usually
must have every word suggested to them. My turn came, and the few
words which Othello pronounces in the first scene came in smoothly and
without difficulty. When the scene with the Council of Ten came, of a
sudden I could not recall the first line of a paragraph, and I
hesitated; I began a line, but it was not that; I tried another with
no better success; a third, but the interpreter told me that I had
gone wrong. We began again, but the English was of no assistance to
me in recognising which of my speeches corresponded to that addressed
to me, which I did not understand. I was all at sea, and I told the
interpreter to beg the actors to overlook my momentary confusion, and
to say to them that I should be all right in five minutes. I went off
to a corner of the hall and bowed my head between my hands, saying to
myself, "I have come for this, and I must carry it through." I set
out to number mentally all the paragraphs of my part, and in a short
time I said. "Let us begin again."

During the remainder of the rehearsal one might have thought that I
understood English, and that the American actors understood Italian,
No further mistake was made by either side; there was not even the
smallest hesitation, and when I finished the final scene of the third
act between Othello and Iago, the actors applauded, filled with joy
and pleasure. The exactitude with which the subsequent rehearsals of
"Othello," and those of "Hamlet," proceeded was due to the memory, the
application, and the scrupulous attention to their work of the
American actors, as well as to my own force of will and practical
acquaintance with all the parts of the play, and to the natural
intuition which helped me to know without understanding what was
addressed to me, divining it from a motion, a look, or a light
inflection of the voice. Gradually a few words, a few short phrases,
remained in my ear, and in course of time I came to understand
perfectly every word of all the characters; I became so sure of myself
that if an actor substituted one word for another I perceived it. I
understood the words of Shakespeare, but not those of the spoken

In a few days we went to Philadelphia to begin our representations.
My old acquaintances were in despair. To those who had sought to
discourage me by their letters others on the spot joined their
influence, and tried everything to overthrow my courage. I must admit
that the nearer came the hour of the great experiment, the more my
anxiety grew and inclined me to deplore the moment when I had put
myself in that dilemma. I owe it in a great degree to my cool head
that my discouraging forebodings did not unman me so much as to make
me abandon myself wholly to despair. Just as I was going on the
stage, I said to myself: "After all, what can happen to me? They
will not murder me. I shall have tried, and I shall have failed; that
is all there will be to it, I will pack up my baggage and go back to
Italy, convinced that oil and wine will not mix. A certain contempt
of danger, a firm resolution to succeed, and, I am bound to add,
considerable confidence in myself, enabled me to go before the public
calm, bold, and secure.

The first scene before the palace of Brabantio was received with
sepulchral silence. When that of the Council of Ten came, and the
narration of the vicissitudes of Othello was ended, the public broke
forth in prolonged applause. Then I said to myself, "A good beginning
is half the work." At the close of the first act, my adversaries, who
were such solely on account of their love of art, and their belief
that the two languages could not be amalgamated, came on the stage to
embrace and congratulate me, surprised, enchanted, enthusiastic,
happy, that they had been mistaken, and throughout the play I was the
object of constant demonstrations of sympathy.


From Philadelphia we went to New York where our success was confirmed.
It remained for me to win the suffrages of Boston, and I secured them,
first having made stops in Brooklyn, New Haven, and Hartford. When in
the American Athens I became convinced that that city possesses the
most refined artistic taste. Its theatrical audiences are serious,
attentive to details, analytical--I might almost say scientific--and
one might fancy that such careful critics had never in their lives
done anything but occupy themselves with scenic art. With reference
to a presentation of Shakespeare, they are profound, acute, subtle,
and they know so well how to clothe some traditional principle in
close logic, that if faith in the opposite is not quite unshakable in
an artist, he must feel himself tempted to renounce his own tenets.
It is surprising that in a land where industry and commerce seem to
absorb all the intelligence of the people, there should be in every
city and district, indeed in every village, people who are competent
to discuss the arts with such high authority. The American nation
counts only a century of freedom, yet it has produced a remarkable
number of men of high competence in dramatic art. Those who think of
tempting fortune by displaying their untried artistic gifts on the
American stage, counting on the ignorance or inexperience of their
audience, make a very unsafe calculation. The taste and critical
faculty of that public are in their fulness of vigour. Old Europe is
more bound by traditions, more weary, more blase, in her judgment, not
always sincere or disinterested. In America the national pride is
warmly felt, and the national artists enjoy high honour. The
Americans know how to offer an exquisite hospitality, but woe to the
man who seeks to impose on them! They profess a cult, a veneration,
for those who practise our art, whether of their own nation or
foreign, and their behaviour in the theatre is dignified. I recall
one night when upon invitation I went to see a new play in which
appeared an actor of reputation. The play was not liked, and from act
to act I noticed that the house grew more and more scanty, like a
faded rose which loses its petals one by one, until at the last scene
my box was the only one which remained occupied. I was more impressed
by this silent demonstration of hostility than I should have been if
the audience had made a tumultuous expression of its disapproval. The
actors were humiliated and confounded, and as the curtain fell an
instinctive sentiment of compassion induced me to applaud.


The celebrated actor Edwin Booth was at this time in Baltimore, a city
distant two hours from the capital. I had heard so much about this
superior artist that I was anxious to see him, and on one of my off
nights I went to Baltimore with my impresario's agent. A box had been
reserved for me without my knowledge, and was draped with the Italian
colours. I regretted to be made so conspicuous, but I could not fail
to appreciate the courteous and complimentary desire to do me honour
shown by the American artist. It was only natural that I should be
most kindly influenced toward him, but without the courtesy which
predisposed me in his favour he would equally have won my sympathy by
his attractive and artistic lineaments, and his graceful and
well-proportioned figure. The play was "Hamlet." This part brought
him great fame, and justly; for in addition to the high artistic worth
with which he adorned it, his elegant personality was admirably
adapted to it, His long and wavy hair, his large and expressive eye,
his youthful and flexible movements, accorded perfectly with the ideal
of the young prince of Denmark which now obtains everywhere. His
splendid delivery, and the penetrating philosophy with which he
informed his phrases, were his most remarkable qualities. I was so
fortunate as to see him also as Richelieu and Iago, and in all three
of these parts, so diverse in their character I found him absolutely
admirable. I cannot say so much for his Macbeth, which I saw one
night when passing through Philadelphia. The part seemed to me not
adapted to his nature. Macbeth was an ambitious man, and Booth was
not. Macbeth had barbarous and ferocious instincts, and Booth was
agreeable, urbane, and courteous. Macbeth destroyed his enemies
traitorously--did this even to gain possession of their goods--while
Booth was noble, lofty-minded, and generous of his wealth. It is thus
plain that however much art he might expend, his nature rebelled
against his portrayal of that personage, and he could never hope to
transform himself into the ambitious, venal, and sanguinary Scottish

I should say, from what I heard in America, that Edwin Forrest was the
Modena of America. The memory of that actor still lives, for no one
has possessed equally the power to give expression to the passions,
and to fruitful and burning imagery, in addition to which he possessed
astonishing power of voice. Almost contemporaneously a number of most
estimable actors have laid claim to his mantle; but above them all
Edwin Booth soared as an eagle.

After a very satisfactory experience in Baltimore, I returned for the
third time to New York, and gave "Othello," "Macbeth," and "The
Gladiator," each play twice, and made the last two appearances of my
season in Philadelphia. After playing ninety-five times in the new
fashion, I felt myself worn out, but fully satisfied with the result
of my venturesome undertaking. When I embarked on the steamer which
was to take me to Europe, I was escorted by all the artists of the
company which had cooperated in my happy success, by my friends, and
by courteous admirers, and I felt that if I were not an Italian I
should wish to be an American.


[George Henry Lewes, in his book on "Actors and the Art of Acting,"
published by Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1878, says:

"I must repeat the expression of my admiration for Ristori as a
distinguished actress; if not of the highest rank, she is very high,
in virtue of her personal gifts, and the trained skill with which
these gifts are applied. The question naturally arises, why is her
success so great in certain plays and so dubious in others? It is of
little use to say that Lady Macbeth and Adrienne Lecouvreur are beyond
her powers; that is only restating the fact. Can we not trace both
success and failure to one source? In what is called the ideal
drama, constructed after the Greek type, she would be generally
successful, because the simplicity of its motives and the
artificiality of its structure, removing it from beyond the region of
ordinary experience, demand from the actor a corresponding
artificiality. Attitudes, draperies, gestures, tones, and elocution
which would be incongruous in a drama approaching more closely to the
evolutions of ordinary experience, become, in the ideal drama,
artistic modes of expression; and it is in these that Ristori displays
a fine selective instinct, and a rare felicity of organisation."

"Memoirs and Artistic Studies of Adelaide Ristori," rendered into
English by G. Mantellini, with a biographical appendix by L. D.
Ventura, was published and copyrighted by Doubleday, Page & Co., New
York, 1907. The chapters of that volume afford the pages which
follow. The Artistic Studies comprise detailed histrionic
interpretations of the chief roles of Ristori: Mary Stuart, Queen
Elizabeth, Lady Macbeth, Medea, Myrrha and Phedra.--ED.]


WHEN twelve years old, I was booked with the famous actor and manager,
Giuseppe Moncalvo, for the roles of a child. Soon after, owing to my
slender figure, they made me up as a little woman, giving me small
parts as maid. But they soon made up their minds that I was not
fitted for such parts. Having reached the age of thirteen and
developed in my figure, I was assigned several parts as second lady.
In those days they could not be too particular in small companies. At
the age of fourteen, I had to recite the first part among the young
girls and that of the leading lady alternately, like an experienced
actress. It was about this time, in the city of Novara (Piedmont)
that I recited for the first time the "Francesca da Rimini" of Silvio
Pellico. Though I was only fifteen my success was such that soon
afterward they offered me the parts of leading lady with encouragement
of advancement.

My good father, who was gifted with a great deal of sense, did not
allow his head to be turned by such offers. Reflecting that my health
might suffer from being thrown so early into the difficulties of stage
life he refused these offers and accepted a more modest place, as
_ingenue_, in the Royal Company, under the auspices of the King of
Sardinia and stationed during several months of the year at Turin. It
was managed by the leading man, the most intelligent and capable among
the stage managers of the time. The advice of this cultured, though
severe man, rendered his management noteworthy and sought after as
essential to the making of a good actor.

Among the members of the company shone the foremost beacon-lights of
Italian art, such as Vestri, Madame Marchionni, Romagnoli, Righetti,
and many others who were quoted as examples of dramatic art, as well
as Pasta, Malibran, Rubini, and Tamburini in the lyric art,

My engagement for the part of _ingenue_ was to have lasted three
years, but, after the year, I was promoted to the parts of the first
lady, and in the third year, to the absolute leading lady.

To such unhoped-for and flattering results I was able to attain, by
ascending step by step through the encouragement and admonition of my
excellent teacher, Madame Carlotta Marchionni, a distinguished
actress, and the interest of Gaetano Bazzi who also had great
affection for me. It was really then that my artistic education
began. It was then that I acquired the knowledge and the rules which
placed me in a position to discern the characteristics of a true
artist. I learned to distinguish and to delineate the comic and the
dramatic passions. My temperament caused me to incline greatly toward
the tender and the gentle.

However, in the tragic parts, my vigour increased. I learned to
portray transitions for the sake of fusing the different contrasts; a
capital but difficult study of detail, tedious at times, but of the
greatest importance. The lamentations in a part where two extreme and
opposing passions are at play, are like those which in painting are
called "chiaro-oscuro," a blending of the tones, which thus portrays
truth devoid of artifice.

In order to succeed in this intent, it is necessary to take as model
the great culture of art, and also to be gifted with a well-tempered
and artistic nature. And these are not to be confined to sterile
imitation, but are for the purpose of accumulating the rich material
of dramatic erudition, so that one may present oneself before the
audiences as an original and artistic individuality.

Some people think that distinction of birth and a perfect education
will render them capable of appearing upon the stage with the same
facility and nonchalance with which one enters a ball-room, and they
are not at all timid about walking upon the boards, presuming that
they can do it as well as an actor who has been raised upon them. A
great error!

One of the greatest difficulties that they meet is in not knowing how
to walk upon a stage, which, owing to the slight inclination in con
struction, easily causes the feet to totter, particularly if one is a
beginner, and especially at the entrances and exits. I myself
encountered this difficulty. Though I had dedicated myself to the art
from my infancy and had been instructed with the greatest care every
day of my life by my grandmother, at the age of fifteen my movements
had not yet acquired all the ease and naturalness necessary to make me
feel at home upon the stage, and certain sudden turns always
frightened me.

When I began my artistic apprenticeship, the use of diction was given
great importance, as a means of judging an actor. At that time the
audience was critical and severe.

In our days, the same audience has become less exacting, less
critical, and does not aim to improve the artist, by counting his
defects. According to my opinion, the old system was best, as it is
not in excessive indulgence and solely by considering the good
qualities, without correcting the bad ones, that real artists are

It is also my conviction that a person who wishes to dedicate himself
to the stage should not begin his career with parts of great
importance, either comic, dramatic, or tragic. The interpretation
becomes too difficult for a beginner and may harm his future career:
first, the discouragement over the difficulties that he meets;
secondly, an excessive vanity caused by the appreciation with which
the public apparently honours him. Both these sentiments will lead
the actor, in a short time, to neglect his study. On the other hand,
by taking several parts, he becomes familiar with the means of
rendering his part natural, thus convincing himself that by
representing correctly characters of little importance, he will be
given more important ones later on. Thus it will come about that his
study will be more careful.


One of the greatest of the living examples of the school of realism is
my illustrious fellow artist, Signor Tommaso Salvini, with whom, for a
number of years, I had the fortune to share the fatigues and the
honours of the profession which I also shared with Ernesto Rossi. The
former was and is still admired. His rare dramatic merits have
nothing of the conventional, but owe their power to that spontaneity
which is the most convincing revelation of art. The wealth of
plasticity which Salvini possesses, is in him, a natural gift.
Salvini is the true exponent of the Italian dramatic art


In the month of June, 1857, we began to rerehearse "Macbeth," at
Covent Garden, London, It had been arranged for our company by Mr.
Clarke, and translated into most beautiful Italian verse by Giulio
Carcano. The renowned Mr. Harris put it on the stage according to
English traditions. The representation of the part of Lady Macbeth,
which afterward became one of my favourite roles, preoccupied me
greatly, as I knew only too well what kind of comparisons would be
made. The remembrance of the marvellous creation of that character as
given by the famous Mrs. Siddons and the traditional criticisms of the
press, might have rendered the public very severe and difficult to

I used all my ability of interpretation to reveal and transmit the
most minute intentions of the author. To the English audience it
seemed that I had really incarnated that perfidious but great
character of Lady Macbeth, in a way that surpassed all expectations.

We had to repeat the drama for several evenings, always producing a
most profound impression upon the minds of the audience, particularly
in the grand sleep-walking scene. So thoroughly had I entered into
the nature of Lady Macbeth, that during the entire scene my pupils
were motionless in their orbit, causing me to shed tears. To this
enforced immobility of the eye I owe the weakening of my eyesight.
From the analytical study which I shall give of this diabolical
character [at the close of her Memoirs] the reader can form for
himself an idea of how much its interpretation cost me (particularly
in the final culminating scene), in my endeavour to get the right
intonation of the voice and the true expression of the physiognomy.


My exceptionally good health never abandoned me through my long and
tiresome journeys, though unfortunately I never was able to accustom
myself to voyaging by sea. All through those rapid changes I acquired
a marvellous store of endurance. That sort of life infused in me
sufficient energy to lead me through every kind of hardship with the
resolution and authority of a commanding general. All obeyed me.
None questioned my authority owing to my absolute impartiality, being
always ready, as I was, either to blame or correct him who did not
fulfil his obligations, also to praise without any distinction of
class those who deserved it. I almost always met with courtesy among
the actors under my direction, and if any one of them dared to trouble
our harmony, he was instantly put to his proper place by the firmness
of my discipline.

The artistic management of the plays was left to me in all its
details. Every order and every disposition came from me directly. I
looked after all matters large and small, the things that every actor
understands contribute to making the success of a play.

Concerning my own personal interests, they were in charge of a private

I am proud to say that my husband was the soul of all my undertakings.
As I speak of him, my heart impels me to say that he ever exercised
upon me and my professional career the kindest and most benevolent
influence. It was he who upheld my courage, whenever I hesitated
before some difficulty; it was he who foretold the glory I should
acquire, he who pointed out to me the goal, and anticipated everything
in order that I should secure it. Without his assistance I never
should have been able to put into effect the daring attempt of
carrying the flag of Italian dramatic art all over the globe.


During the month of September, 1866, for the first time in my life, I
crossed the ocean on my way to the United States, where I remained
until May 17th of the following year. It was in the elegant Lyceum
Theatre of New York that I made my debut, on the 20th of September,
with "Medea." I could not anticipate a more enthusiastic reception
than the one I was honoured with. I felt anxious to make myself known
in that new part of the world, and let the Americans hear me recite
for the first time, in the soft and melodic Italian language. I knew
that in spite of the prevailing characteristics of the inhabitants of
the free country of George Washington, always busy as they are in
their feverish pursuit of wealth, that the love for the beautiful and
admiration for dramatic art were not neglected. During my first
season in New York I met with an increasing success, and formed such
friendly relations with many distinguished and cultured people that
time and distance have never caused me to forget them. While writing
these lines I send an affectionate salutation to all those who in
America still honour me with their remembrance.


I made my fourth trip to London in 1873. Not having any new drama to
present and being tired of repeating the same productions, I felt the
necessity of reanimating my mind with some strong emotion, of
discovering something, in a word, the execution of which had never
been attempted by others.

At last I believed I had found something to satisfy my desire. The
admiration I had for the Shakespearean dramas, and particularly for
the character of Lady Macbeth, inspired me with the idea of playing in
English the sleeping scene from "Macbeth," which I think is the
greatest conception of the Titanic poet. I was also induced to make
this bold attempt, partly as a tribute of gratitude to the English
audiences of the great metropolis, who had shown me so much deference.
But how was I going to succeed? ... I took advice from a good friend
of mine, Mrs. Ward, the mother of the renowned actress Genevieve Ward.
She not only encouraged my idea, but offered her services in helping
me to learn how to recite that scene in English.

I still had some remembrance of my study of English when I was a girl,
and there is no language more difficult to pronounce and enunciate
correctly, for an Italian. I was frightened only to think of that,
still I drew sufficient courage even from its difficulties to grapple
with my task. After a fortnight of constant study, I found myself
ready to make an attempt at my recitation. However, not wishing to
compromise my reputation by risking a failure, I acted very

I invited to my house the most competent among the dramatic critics of
the London papers, without forewarning them of the object and asked
them kindly to hear me and express frankly their opinion, assuring
them that if it should not be a favourable one, I would not feel badly
over it.

I then recited the scene in English, and my judges seemed to be very
much pleased. They corrected my pronunciation of two words only, and
encouraged me to announce publicly my bold project. The evening of
the performance, at the approach of that important scene, I was
trembling! ... The enthusiastic reception granted me by the audience
awakened in me all vigour, and the happy success of my effort
compensated me a thousandfold for all the anxieties I had gone
through. This success still increased my ambitious aspirations, and I
wished to try myself in even a greater task.

I aimed at no less a project than the impersonation of the entire role
of Lady Macbeth in English, but such an arduous undertaking seemed so
bold to me that I finally gave up the idea and drove away from my mind
forever the temptation to try it.


His was the spell o'er hearts
Which only Acting lends--
The youngest of the sister arts,
Which all their beauty blends:
For ill can Poetry express
Full many a tone of thought sublime,
And Painting, mute and motionless,
Steals but a glance of time,
But by the mighty actor brought,
Illusion's perfect triumphs come--
Verse ceases to be airy thought,
And Sculpture to be dumb.

[1] This took the form as "The Players"; its home, 16 Grammercy Park,
New York, was a gift from Mr. Booth. It had long been his residence,
and there he passed away.
[2] The late Professor Peirce, professor of mathematics in Harvard
University, father of Professor James Mills Peirce.


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