Infomotions, Inc.The Drama / Irving, Henry Brodribb, 1870-1919



Author: Irving, Henry Brodribb, 1870-1919
Title: The Drama
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): actor; garrick; kean; edmund kean; stage; actors; theatre; shakespeare; drama; dramatic; art
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Title: The Drama

Author: Henry Irving

Release Date: September 17, 2004  [eBook #13483]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


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THE DRAMA

Addresses by

HENRY IRVING

With a Frontispiece By Whistler







[Illustration]



CONTENTS


      I. The Stage as it is

     II. The Art of Acting

    III. Four Great Actors

     IV. The Art of Acting




LECTURE

SESSIONAL OPENING

PHILOSOPHICAL INSTITUTION

EDINBURGH

8 NOVEMBER 1881




THE STAGE AS IT IS.


LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

You will not be surprised that, on this interesting occasion, I have
selected as the subject of the few remarks I propose to offer you,
"The Stage as it is." The stage--because to my profession I owe it
that I am here, and every dictate of taste and of fidelity impels me
to honor it; the stage as it is--because it is very cheap and empty
honor that is paid to the drama in the abstract, and withheld from the
theatre as a working institution in our midst. Fortunately there is
less of this than there used to be. It arose partly from intellectual
superciliousness, partly from timidity as to moral contamination. 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 as 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 recognize
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 being first played; and French authors are so conscious of
the extent and value of this co-operation of actors with them, that
they have never objected to the phrase, but, on the contrary, are
uniformly lavish in their homage to the artists who have created on
the boards the parts which they themselves have created on paper.

I must add, as an additional reason for valuing the theatre, that
while there is only one Shakespeare, and while there are comparatively
few dramatists who are sufficiently classic to be read with close
attention, there is a great deal of average dramatic work excellently
suited for representation. From this the public derive pleasure. From
this they receive--as from fiction in literature--a great deal of
instruction and mental stimulus. Some may be worldly, some social,
some cynical, some merely humorous and witty, but a great deal of it,
though its literary merit is secondary, is well qualified to bring
out all that is most fruitful of good in common sympathies. Now, it
is plain that if, because Shakespeare is good reading, people were to
give the cold shoulder to the theatre, the world would lose all the
vast advantage which comes to it through the dramatic faculty in forms
not rising to essentially literary excellence. As respects the other
feeling which used to stand more than it does now in the way of the
theatre--the fear of moral contamination--it is due to the theatre of
our day, on the one hand, and to the prejudices of our grandfathers on
the other, to confess that the theatre of fifty years ago or less did
need reforming in the audience part of the house. All who have read
the old controversy as to the morality of going to the theatre are
familiar with the objection to which I refer. But the theatre of fifty
years ago or less was reformed. If there are any, therefore, as I fear
there are a few, who still talk on this point in the old vein, let
them rub their eyes a bit, and do us the justice to consider not what
used to be, but what is. But may there be moral contamination from
what is performed on the stage? Well, there may be. But so there is
from books. So there may be at lawn tennis clubs. So there may be at
dances. So there may be in connection with everything in civilized
life and society. But do we therefore bury ourselves? The anchorites
secluded themselves in hermitages. The Puritans isolated themselves in
consistent abstinence from everything that anybody else did. And there
are people now who think that they can keep their children, and that
those children will keep themselves in after life, in cotton wool, so
as to avoid all temptation of body and mind, and be saved nine-tenths
of the responsibility of self-control. All this is mere phantasy. You
must be in the world, though you need not be of it; and the best way
to make the world a better community to be in, and not so bad a place
to be of, is not to shun, but to bring public opinion to bear upon
its pursuits and its relaxations. Depend upon two things--that the
theatre, as a whole, is never below the average moral sense of the
time; and that the inevitable demand for an admixture, at least, of
wholesome sentiment in every sort of dramatic production brings the
ruling tone of the theatre, whatever drawback may exist, up to the
highest level at which the general morality of the time can truly be
registered. We may be encouraged by the reflection that this is truer
than ever it was before, owing to the greater spread of education, the
increased community of taste between classes, and the almost absolute
divorce of the stage from mere wealth and aristocracy. Wealth and
aristocracy come around the stage in abundance, and are welcome, as in
the time of Elizabeth; but the stage is no longer a mere appendage of
court-life, no longer a mere mirror of patrician vice hanging at the
girdle of fashionable profligacy as it was in the days of Congreve and
Wycherley. It is now the property of the educated people. It has
to satisfy them or pine in neglect And the better their demands the
better will be the supply with which the drama will respond.
This being not only so, but seen to be so, the stage is no longer
proscribed. It is no longer under a ban. Its members are no longer
pariahs in society. They live and bear their social part like
others--as decorously observant of all that makes the sweet sanctities
of life--as gracefully cognizant of its amenities--as readily
recognized and welcomed as the members of any other profession. Am
I not here your grateful guest, opening the session of this
philosophical and historic institution? I who am simply an actor,
an interpreter, with such gifts as I have, and such thought as I
can bestow, of stage plays. And am I not received here with perfect
cordiality on an equality, not hungrily bowing and smirking for
patronage, but interchanging ideas which I am glad to express, and
which you listen to as thoughtfully and as kindly as you would to
those of any other student, any other man who had won his way
into such prominence as to come under the ken of a distinguished
institution such as that which I have the honor to address? I do not
mince the matter as to my personal position here, because I feel it
is a representative one, and marks an epoch in the estimation in
which the art I love is held by the British world. You have had many
distinguished men here, and their themes have often been noble, but
with which of those themes has not my art immemorial and perpetual
associations? Is it not for ever identified with the noblest instincts
and occupations of the human mind? If I think of poetry, must I not
remember how to the measure of its lofty music the theatre has in
almost all ages set the grandest of dramatic conceptions? If I think
of literature, must I not recall that of all the amusements by which
men in various states of society have solaced their leisure and
refreshed their energies, the acting of plays is the one that has
never yet, even for a day, been divorced from literary taste and
skill? If I meditate on patriotism, can I but reflect how grandly the
boards have been trod by personifications of heroic love of country?
There is no subject of human thought that by common consent is deemed
ennobling that has not ere now, and from period to period, been
illustrated in the bright vesture, and received expression from the
glowing language of theatrical representation. And surely it is
fit that, remembering what the stage has been and must be, I should
acknowledge eagerly and gladly that, with few exceptions, the public
no longer debar themselves from the profitable pleasures of the
theatre, and no longer brand with any social stigma the professors of
the histrionic art. Talking to an eminent bishop one day, I said to
him, "Now, my Lord, why is it, with your love and knowledge of the
drama, with your deep interest in the stage and all its belongings,
and your wide sympathy with all that ennobles and refines our
natures--why is it that you never go to the theatre?" "Well," said
he, "I'll tell you. I'm afraid of the _Rock_ and the _Record_." I
hope soon we shall relieve even the most timid bishop--and my right
reverend friend is not the most timid--of all fears and tremors
whatever that can prevent even ministers of religion from recognizing
the wisdom of the change of view which has come over even the most
fastidious public opinion on this question. Remember, if you please,
that the hostile public opinion which has lately begun so decisively
to disappear, has been of comparatively modern growth, or at least
revival. The pious and learned of other times gave their countenance
and approbation to the stage of their days, as the pious and learned
of our time give their countenance and approbation to certain
performances in this day. Welcome be the return of good sense, good
taste, and charity, or rather justice. No apology for the stage. None
is needed. It has but to be named to be honored. Too long the world
talked with bated breath and whispering humbleness of "the poor
player." There are now few poor players. Whatever variety of fortune
and merit there may be among them, they have the same degrees of
prosperity and respect as come to members of other avocations. There
never was so large a number of theatres or of actors. And their
type is vastly improved by public recognition. The old days when
good-for-nothings passed into the profession are at an end; and the
old Bohemian habits, so far as they were evil and disreputable, have
also disappeared. The ranks of the art are being continually recruited
by deeply interested and earnest young men of good education and
belongings. Nor let us, while dissipating the remaining prejudices
of outsiders, give quarter to those which linger among players
themselves. There are some who acknowledge the value of improved
status to themselves and their art, but who lament that there are now
no schools for actors. This is a very idle lamentation. Every actor
in full employment gets plenty of schooling, for the best schooling
is practice, and there is no school so good as a well-conducted
playhouse. The truth is, that the cardinal secret of success in acting
are found within, while practice is the surest way of fertilizing
these germs. To efficiency in the art of acting there should come a
congregation of fine qualities. There should be considerable,
though not necessarily systematic, culture. There should be delicate
instincts of taste cultivated, consciously, or unconsciously, to a
degree of extreme and subtle nicety. There should be a power, at once
refined and strong, of both perceiving and expressing to others
the significance of language, so that neither shades nor masses of
meaning, so to speak, may be either lost or exaggerated. Above all,
there should be a sincere and abounding sympathy with all that is good
and great and inspiring. That sympathy, most certainly, must be under
the control and manipulation of art, but it must be none the lest real
and generous, and the artist who is a mere artist will stop short of
the highest moral effects of his craft. Little of this can be got in a
mere training school, but all of it will come forth more or less fully
armed from the actor's brain in the process of learning his art by
practice. For the way to learn to do a thing is to do it; and in
learning to act by acting, though there is plenty of incidental hard
drill and hard work, there is nothing commonplace or unfruitful.

What is true of the art is true also of the social life of the artist.
No sensational change has been found necessary to alter his status
though great changes have come. The stage has literally lived down
the rebuke and reproach under which it formerly cowered, while its
professors have been simultaneously living down the prejudices which
excluded them from society. The stage is now seen to be an elevating
instead of a lowering influence on national morality, and actors and
actresses receive in society, as do the members of other professions,
exactly the treatment which is earned by their personal conduct.
And so I would say of what we sometimes hear so much about--dramatic
reform. It is not needed; or, if it is, all the reform that is wanted
will be best effected by the operation of public opinion upon the
administration of a good theatre. That is the true reforming agency,
with this great advantage, that reforms which come by public opinion
are sure, while those which come without public opinion cannot be
relied upon. The dramatic reformers are very well-meaning people. They
show great enthusiasm. They are new converts to the theatre, most of
them, and they have the zeal of converts. But it is scarcely according
to knowledge. These ladies and gentlemen have scarcely studied the
conditions of theatrical enterprise, which must be carried on as a
business or it will fail as an art. It is an unwelcome, if not an
unwarrantable intrusion to come among our people with elaborate
advice, and endeavor to make them live after different fashions from
those which are suitable to them, and it will be quite hopeless to
attempt to induce the general body of a purely artistic class to make
louder and more fussy professions of virtue and religion than other
people. In fact, it is a downright insult to the dramatic profession
to exact or to expect any such thing. Equally objectionable, and
equally impracticable, are the attempts of Quixotic "dramatic
reformers" to exercise a sort of goody-goody censorship over the
selection and the text of the plays to be acted. The stage has been
serving the world for hundreds, yes, and thousands of years, during
which it has contributed in pure dramaturgy to the literature of
the world its very greatest master-pieces in nearly all languages,
meanwhile affording to the million an infinity of pleasure, all more
or less innocent. Where less innocent, rather than more, the cause has
lain, not in the stage, but in the state of society of which it was
the mirror. For though the stage is not always occupied with its own
period, the new plays produced always reflect in many particulars
the spirit of the age in which they are played. There is a story of
a traveller who put up for the night at a certain inn, on the door of
which was the inscription--"Good entertainment for man and beast." His
horse was taken to the stable and well cared for, and he sat down
to dine. When the covers were removed he remarked, on seeing his own
sorry fare, "Yes, this is very well; but where's the entertainment for
the man?" If everything were banished from the stage except that
which suits a certain taste, what dismal places our theatres would be!
However fond the play-goer may be of tragedy, if you offer him nothing
but horrors, he may well ask--"Where's the entertainment for the man
who wants an evening's amusement?" The humor of a farce may not seem
over-refined to a particular class of intelligence; but there are
thousands of people who take an honest pleasure in it. And who, after
seeing my old friend J.L. Toole in some of his famous parts, and
having laughed till their sides ached, have not left the theatre more
buoyant and light-hearted than they came? Well, if the stage has
been thus useful and successful all these centuries, and still is
productive; if the noble fascination of the theatre draws to it, as we
know that it does, an immortal poet such as our Tennyson, whom, I can
testify from my own experience, nothing delights more than the success
of one of the plays which, in the mellow autumn of his genius, he has
contributed to the acting theatre; if a great artist like Tadema is
proud to design scenes for stage plays; if in all departments of stage
production we see great talent, and in nearly every instance great
good taste and sincere sympathy with the best popular ideals of
goodness; then, I say, the stage is entitled to be let alone--that
is, it is entitled to make its own bargain with the public without the
censorious intervention of well-intentioned busybodies. These do not
know what to ban or to bless. If they had their way, as of course
they cannot, they would license, with many flourishes and much
self-laudation, a number of pieces which would be hopelessly
condemned on the first hearing, and they would lay an embargo for very
insufficient reasons on many plays well entitled to success. It is not
in this direction that we must look for any improvement that is needed
in the purveying of material for the stage. Believe me, the right
direction is public criticism and public discrimination. I say so
because, beyond question, the public will have what they want. So far,
that managers in their discretion, or at their pleasure, can force on
the public either very good or very bad dramatic material is an utter
delusion. They have no such power. If they had the will they could
only force any particular sort of entertainment just as long as they
had capital to expend without any return. But they really have not the
will. They follow the public taste with the greatest keenness. If the
people want Shakespeare--as I am happy to say they do, at least at one
theatre in London, and at all the great theatres out of London, to
an extent unprecedented in the history of the stage--then they get
Shakespeare. If they want our modern dramatists--Albery, Boucicault,
Byron, Burnand, Gilbert, or Wills--these they have. If they want
Robertson, Robertson is there for them. If they desire opera-bouffe,
depend upon it they will have it, and have it they do. What then do
I infer? Simply this: that those who prefer the higher drama--in the
representation of which my heart's best interests are centred--instead
of querulously animadverting on managers who give them something
different, should, as Lord Beaconsfield said, "make themselves into a
majority." If they do so, the higher drama will be produced. But if we
really understand the value of the drama, we shall not be too rigid in
our exactions. The drama is the art of human nature in picturesque
or characteristic action. Let us be liberal in our enjoyment of it.
Tragedy, comedy, historical-pastoral, pastoral-comical--remember
the large-minded list of the greatest-minded poet--all are good, if
wholesome--and will be wholesome if the public continue to take the
healthy interest in theatres which they are now taking. The worst
times for the stage have been those when play-going was left pretty
much to a loose society, such as is sketched in the Restoration
dramatists. If the good people continue to come to the theatre in
increasing crowds, the stage, without losing any of its brightness,
will soon be good enough, if it is not as yet, to satisfy the best of
them. This is what I believe all sensible people in these times see.
And if, on the one hand, you are ready to laugh at the old prejudices
which have been so happily dissipated; on the other hand, how
earnestly must you welcome the great aid to taste and thought and
culture which comes to you thus in the guise of amusement. Let me put
this to you rather seriously; let me insist on the intellectual and
moral use, alike to the most and least cultivated of us, of this
art "most beautiful, most difficult, most rare," which I stand here
to-day, not to apologize for, but to establish in the high place
to which it is entitled among the arts and among the ameliorating
influences of life. Grant that any of us understand a dramatist better
for seeing him acted, and it follows, first, that all of us will be
most indebted to the stage at the point where the higher and more
ethereal faculties are liable in reading to failure and exhaustion,
that is, stage-playing will be of most use to us where the mind
requires help and inspiration to grasp and revel in lofty moral or
imaginative conceptions, or where it needs aid and sharpening to
appreciate and follow the niceties of repartee, or the delicacies
of comic fancy. Secondly, it follows that if this is so with the
intellectual few, it must be infinitely more so with the unimaginative
many of all ranks. They are not inaccessible to passion and poetry and
refinement, but their minds do not go forth, as it were, to seek these
joys; and even if they read works of poetic and dramatic fancy, which
they rarely do, they would miss them on the printed page. To them,
therefore, with the exception of a few startling incidents of real
life, the theatre is the only channel through which are ever brought
the great sympathies of the world of thought beyond their immediate
ken. And thirdly, it follows from all this that the stage is,
intellectually and morally, to all who have recourse to it, the
source of some of the finest and best influences of which they are
respectively susceptible. To the thoughtful and reading man it brings
the life, the fire, the color, the vivid instinct, which are beyond
the reach of study. To the common indifferent man, immersed, as a
rule, in the business and socialities of daily life, it brings visions
of glory and adventure, of emotion and of broad human interest. It
gives glimpses of the heights and depths of character and experience,
setting him thinking and wondering even in the midst of amusement. To
the most torpid and unobservant it exhibits the humorous in life and
the sparkle and finesse of language, which in dull ordinary existence
is stupidly shut out of knowledge or omitted from particular notice.
To all it uncurtains a world, not that in which they live and yet
not other than it--a world in which interest is heightened whilst the
conditions of truth are observed, in which the capabilities of men and
women are seen developed without losing their consistency to nature,
and developed with a curious and wholesome fidelity to simple and
universal instincts of clear right and wrong. Be it observed--and I
put it most uncompromisingly--I am not speaking or thinking of any
unrealizable ideal, not of any lofty imagination of what might be, but
of what is, wherever there are pit and gallery and foot-lights. More
or less, and taking one evening with another, you may find support
for an enthusiastic theory of stage morality and the high tone of
audiences in most theatres in the country; and if you fancy that it
is least so in the theatres frequented by the poor you make a great
mistake, for in none is the appreciation of good moral fare more
marked than in these.

In reference to the poorer classes, we all lament the wide prevalence
of intemperate drinking. Well, is it not an obvious reflection that
the worst performance seen on any of our stages cannot be so bad as
drinking for a corresponding time in a gin-palace? I have pointed this
contrast before, and I point it again. The drinking we deplore takes
place in company--bad company; it is enlivened by talk--bad talk. It
is relished by obscenity. Where drink and low people come together
these things must be. The worst that can come of stage pandering to
the corrupt tastes of its basest patrons cannot be anything like this,
and, as a rule, the stage holds out long against the invitation to
pander; and such invitations, from the publicity and decorum that
attend the whole matter, are neither frequent nor eager. A sort of
decency sets in upon the coarsest person in entering even the roughest
theatre. I have sometimes thought that, considering the liability to
descend and the facility of descent, a special Providence watches
over the morals and tone of our English stage. I do not desire to
overcharge the eulogy. There never was a time when the stage had not
conspicuous faults. There never was a time when these were not freely
admitted by those most concerned for the maintenance of the stage
at its best. In Shakespeare, whenever the subject of the theatre is
approached, we perceive signs that that great spirit, though it had
a practical and business-like vein, and essayed no impossible
enterprises, groaned under the necessities, or the demands of a
public which desired frivolities and deformities which jarred upon the
poet-manager's feelings. As we descend the course of time we find that
each generation looked back to a supposed previous period when taste
ranged higher, and when the inferior and offensive peculiarities of
the existing stage were unknown. Yet from most of these generations
we inherit works as well as traditions and biographical recollections
which the world will never let die. The truth is that the immortal
part of the stage is its nobler part. Ignoble accidents and interludes
come and go, but this lasts on forever. It lives, like the human soul,
in the body of humanity--associated with much that is inferior, and
hampered by many hindrances--but it never sinks into nothingness, and
never fails to find new and noble work in creations of permanent and
memorable excellence. Heaven forbid that I should seem to cover, even
with a counterpane of courtesy, exhibitions of deliberate immorality.
Happily this sort of thing is not common, and although it has hardly
been practised by any one who, without a strain of meaning can be
associated with the profession of acting, yet public censure, not
active enough to repress the evil, is ever ready to pass a sweeping
condemnation on the stage which harbors it. Our cause is a good one.
We go forth, armed with the luminous panoply which genius has forged
for us, to do battle with dulness, with coarseness, with apathy,
with every form of vice and evil. In every human heart there gleams
a bright reflection of this shining armor. The stage has no lights or
shadows that are not lights of life and shadows of the heart. To each
human consciousness it appeals in alternating mirth and sadness, and
will not be denied. Err it must, for it is human; but, being human, it
must endure. The love of acting is inherent in our nature. Watch your
children play, and you will see that almost their first conscious
effort is to act and to imitate. It is an instinct, and you can no
more repress it than you can extinguish thought. When this instinct
of all is developed by cultivation in the few, it becomes a wonderful
art, priceless to civilization in the solace it yields, the thought it
generates, the refinement it inspires. Some of its latest achievements
are not unworthy of their grandest predecessors. Some of its youngest
devotees are at least as proud of its glories and as anxious to
preserve them as any who have gone before. Theirs is a glorious
heritage! You honor it. They have a noble but a difficult, and
sometimes a disheartening, task. You encourage it. And no word of
kindly interest or criticism dropped in the public ear from friendly
lips goes unregarded or is unfertile of good. The universal study of
Shakespeare in our public schools is a splendid sign of the departure
of prejudice, and all criticism is welcome; but it is acting chiefly
that can open to others, with any spark of Shakespeare's mind, the
means of illuminating the world. Only the theatre can realize to us
in a life-like way what Shakespeare was to his own time. And it is,
indeed, a noble destiny for the theatre to vindicate in these later
days the greatness which sometimes it has seemed to vulgarize. It has
been too much the custom to talk of Shakespeare as nature's child--as
the lad who held horses for people who came to the play--as a sort of
chance phenomenon who wrote these plays by accident and unrecognized.
How supremely ridiculous! How utterly irreconcilable with the grand
dimensions of the man! How absurdly dishonoring to the great age of
which he was, and was known to be, the glory! The noblest literary
man of all time--the finest and yet most prolific writer--the greatest
student of man, and the greatest master of man's highest gift of
language--surely it is treason to humanity to speak of such an one as
in any sense a commonplace being! Imagine him rather, as he must
have been, the most notable courtier of the Court--the most perfect
gentleman who stood in the Elizabethan throng--the man in whose
presence divines would falter and hesitate lest their knowledge of
the Book should seem poor by the side of his, and at whom even queenly
royalty would look askance, with an oppressive sense that here was
one to whose omnipotent and true imagination the hearts of kings and
queens and peoples had always been an open page! The thought of such a
man is an incomparable inheritance for any nation, and such a man was
the actor--Shakespeare. Such is our birthright and yours. Such the
succession in which it is ours to labor and yours to enjoy. For
Shakespeare belongs to the stage for ever, and his glories must
always inalienably belong to it. If you uphold the theatre honestly,
liberally, frankly, and with wise discrimination, the stage will
uphold in future, as it has in the past, the literature, the manners,
the morals, the fame, and the genius of our country. There must have
been something wrong, as there was something poignant and lacerating,
in prejudices which so long partly divorced the conscience of Britain
from its noblest pride, and stamped with reproach, or at least
depreciation, some of the brightest and world-famous incidents of her
history. For myself, it kindles my heart with proud delight to
think that I have stood to-day before this audience--known for its
discrimination throughout all English-speaking lands--a welcome and
honored guest, because I stand here for justice to the art to which I
am devoted--because I stand here in thankfulness for the justice which
has begun to be so abundantly rendered to it. If it is metaphorically
the destiny of humanity, it is literally the experience of an actor,
that one man in his time plays many parts. A player of any standing
must at various times have sounded the gamut of human sensibility
from the lowest note to the top of its compass. He must have banqueted
often on curious food for thought as he meditated on the subtle
relations created between himself and his audiences, as they have
watched in his impersonations the shifting tariff--the ever gliding,
delicately graduated sliding-scale of dramatic right and wrong. He may
have gloated, if he be a cynic, over the depths of ghastly horror, or
the vagaries of moral puddle through which it may have been his
duty to plash. But if he be an honest man, he will acknowledge that
scarcely ever has either dramatist or management wilfully biassed the
effect of stage representation in favor of evil, and of his audiences
he will boast that never has their mind been doubtful--never has their
true perception of the generous and just been known to fail, or even
to be slow. How noble the privilege to work upon these finer--these
finest--feelings of universal humanity! How engrossing the fascination
of those thousands of steady eyes, and sound sympathies, and beating
hearts which an actor confronts, with the confidence of friendship
and co-operation, as he steps upon the stage to work out in action
his long-pent comprehension of a noble master-piece! How rapturous the
satisfaction of abandoning himself, in such a presence and with such
sympathizers, to his author's grandest flights of thought and noblest
bursts of emotional inspiration! And how perpetually sustaining
the knowledge that whatever may be the vicissitudes and even the
degradations of the stage, it must and will depend for its constant
hold on the affection and attention of mankind upon its loftier work;
upon its more penetrating passion; upon its themes which most deeply
search out the strong affections and high hopes of men and women;
upon its fit and kindling illustration of great and vivid lives
which either have been lived in noble fact or have deserved to endure
immortally in the popular belief and admiration which they have
secured.

    "For our eyes to see!
    Sons of wisdom, song, and power,
    Giving earth her richest dower,
    And making nations free--
    A glorious company!

    "Call them from the dead
    For our eyes to see!
    Forms of beauty, love, and grace,
    'Sunshine in the shady place,'
    That made it life to be--
    A blessed company!"




ADDRESS

TO THE STUDENTS

OF THE UNIVERSITY OF HARVARD

30TH MARCH 1885




THE ART OF ACTING

I.

THE OCCASION.


I am deeply sensible of the compliment that has been paid, not so much
to me personally as to the calling I represent, by the invitation to
deliver an address to the students of this University. As an actor,
and especially as an English actor, it is a great pleasure to speak
for my art in one of the chief centres of American culture; for in
inviting me here to-day you intended, I believe, to recognize the
drama as an educational influence, to show a genuine interest in the
stage as a factor in life which must be accepted and not ignored by
intelligent people. I have thought that the best use I can make of the
privilege you have conferred upon me is to offer you, as well as I
am able, something like a practical exposition of my art; for it
may chance--who knows?--that some of you may at some future time be
disposed to adopt it as a vocation. Not that I wish to be regarded
as a tempter who has come among you to seduce you from your present
studies by artful pictures of the fascinations of the footlights. But
I naturally supposed that you would like me to choose, as the theme of
my address, the subject in which I am most interested, and to which
my life has been devoted; and that if any students here should ever
determine to become actors, they could not be much the worse for
the information and counsel I could gather for them from a tolerably
extensive experience. This subject will, I trust, be welcome to all of
you who are interested in the stage as an institution which appeals
to the sober-minded and intelligent; for I take it that you have no
lingering prejudice against the theatre, or else I should not be
here. Nor are you disposed, like certain good people, to object to the
theatre simply as a name. These sticklers for principle would never
enter a playhouse for worlds; and I have heard that in a famous city
of Massachusetts, not a hundred miles from here, there are persons to
whom the theatre is unknown, but who have no objection to see a play
in a building which is called a museum, especially if the vestibule
leading to the theatre should be decorated with sound moral principles
in the shape of statues, pictures, and stuffed objects in glass cases.

When I began to think about my subject for the purpose of this
address, I was rather staggered by its vastness. It is really a matter
for a course of lectures; but as President Eliot has not proposed that
I should occupy a chair of dramatic literature in this University,
and as time and opportunity are limited, I can only undertake to put
before you, in the simplest way, a few leading ideas about dramatic
art which may be worthy of reflection. And in doing this I have the
great satisfaction of appearing in a model theatre, before a model
audience, and of being the only actor in my own play. Moreover, I am
stimulated by the atmosphere of the Greek drama, for I know that on
this stage you have enacted a Greek play with remarkable success. So,
after all, it is not a body of mere tyros that I am addressing, but
actors who have worn the sock and buskin, and declaimed the speeches
which delighted audiences two thousand years ago.

Now, this address, like discourses in a more solemn place, falls
naturally into divisions. I propose to speak first of the Art of
Acting; secondly, of its Requirements and Practice; and lastly of its
Rewards. And, at the outset, let me say that I want you to judge the
stage at its best. I do not intend to suggest that only the plays
of Shakespeare are tolerable in the theatre to people of taste
and intelligence. The drama has many forms--tragedy, comedy,
historical-pastoral, pastoral-comical--and all are good when their aim
is honestly artistic.




II.

THE ART OF ACTING.


Now, what is the art of acting? I speak of it in its highest sense, as
the art to which Roscius, Betterton, and Garrick owed their fame. It
is the art of embodying the poet's creations, of giving them flesh and
blood, of making the figures which appeal to your mind's eye in the
printed drama live before you on the stage. "To fathom the depths of
character, to trace its latent motives, to feel its finest quiverings
of emotion, to comprehend the thoughts that are hidden under words,
and thus possess one's-self of the actual mind of the individual
man"--such was Macready's definition of the player's art; and to this
we may add the testimony of Talma. He describes tragic acting as "the
union of grandeur without pomp and nature without triviality." It
demands, he says, the endowment of high sensibility and intelligence.

"The actor who possesses this double gift adopts a course of study
peculiar to himself. In the first place, by repeated exercises, he
enters deeply into the emotions, and his speech acquires the accent
proper to the situation of the personage he has to represent. This
done, he goes to the theatre not only to give theatrical effect to his
studies, but also to yield himself to the spontaneous flashes of his
sensibility and all the emotions which it involuntarily produces in
him. What does he then do? In order that his inspirations may not be
lost, his memory, in the silence of repose, recalls the accent of
his voice, the expression of his features, his action--in a word, the
spontaneous workings of his mind, which he had suffered to have
free course, and, in effect, everything which in the moments of
his exaltation contributed to the effects he had produced. His
intelligence then passes all these means in review, connecting
them and fixing them in his memory to re-employ them at pleasure in
succeeding representations. These impressions are often so evanescent
that on retiring behind the scenes he must repeat to himself what
he had been playing rather than what he had to play. By this kind of
labor the intelligence accumulates and preserves all the creations of
sensibility. It is by this means that at the end of twenty years (it
requires at least this length of time) a person destined to display
fine talent may at length present to the public a series of characters
acted almost to perfection."

You will readily understand from this that to the actor the well-worn
maxim that art is long and life is short has a constant significance.
The older we grow the more acutely alive we are to the difficulties of
our craft. I cannot give you a better illustration of this fact than a
story which is told of Macready. A friend of mine, once a dear friend
of his, was with him when he played Hamlet for the last time. The
curtain had fallen, and the great actor was sadly thinking that the
part he loved so much would never be his again. And as he took off his
velvet mantle and laid it aside, he muttered almost unconsciously
the words of Horatio, "Good-night, sweet Prince;" then turning to his
friend, "Ah," said he, "I am just beginning to realize the sweetness,
the tenderness, the gentleness of this dear Hamlet!" Believe me, the
true artist never lingers fondly upon what he has done. He is ever
thinking of what remains undone: ever striving toward an ideal it may
never be his fortune to attain.

We are sometimes told that to read the best dramatic poetry is more
educating than to see it acted. I do not think this theory is very
widely held, for it is in conflict with the dramatic instinct, which
everybody possesses in a greater or less degree. You never met a
playwright who could conceive himself willing--even if endowed with
the highest literary gifts--to prefer a reading to a playgoing
public. He thinks his work deserving of all the rewards of print and
publisher, but he will be much more elated if it should appeal to the
world in the theatre as a skilful representation of human passions.
In one of her letters George Eliot says: "In opposition to most people
who love to _read_ Shakespeare, I like to see his plays acted better
than any others; his great tragedies thrill me, let them be acted
how they may." All this is so simple and intelligible, that it seems
scarcely worth while to argue that in proportion to the readiness with
which the reader of Shakespeare imagines the attributes of the various
characters, and is interested in their personality, he will, as a
rule, be eager to see their tragedy or comedy in action. He will then
find that very much which he could not imagine with any definiteness
presents new images every moment--the eloquence of look and gesture,
the by-play, the inexhaustible significance of the human voice. There
are people who fancy they have more music in their souls than was ever
translated into harmony by Beethoven or Mozart. There are others who
think they could paint pictures, write poetry--in short, do anything,
if they only made the effort. To them what is accomplished by the
practised actor seems easy and simple. But as it needs the skill of
the musician to draw the full volume of eloquence from the written
score, so it needs the skill of the dramatic artist to develop the
subtle harmonies of the poetic play. In fact, to _do_ and not to
_dream_, is the mainspring of success in life. The actor's art is to
act, and the true acting of any character is one of the most difficult
accomplishments. I challenge the acute student to ponder over Hamlet's
renunciation of Ophelia--one of the most complex scenes in all the
drama--and say that he has learned more from his meditations than he
could be taught by players whose intelligence is equal to his own. To
present the man thinking aloud is the most difficult achievement of
our art. Here the actor who has no real grip of the character, but
simply recites the speeches with a certain grace and intelligence,
will be untrue. The more intent he is upon the words, and the less
on the ideas that dictated them, the more likely he is to lay himself
open to the charge of mechanical interpretation. It is perfectly
possible to express to an audience all the involutions of thought,
the speculation, doubt, wavering, which reveal the meditative but
irresolute mind. As the varying shades of fancy pass and repass the
mirror of the face, they may yield more material to the studious
playgoer than he is likely to get by a diligent poring over the
text. In short, as we understand the people around us much better by
personal intercourse than by all the revelations of written words--for
words, as Tennyson says, "half reveal and half conceal the soul
within," so the drama has, on the whole, infinitely more suggestions
when it is well acted than when it is interpreted by the unaided
judgment of the student. It has been said that acting is an unworthy
occupation because it represents feigned emotions, but this censure
would apply with equal force to poet or novelist. Do not imagine that
I am claiming for the actor sole and undivided authority. He should
himself be a student, and it is his business to put into practice
the best ideas he can gather from the general current of thought with
regard to the highest dramatic literature. But it is he who gives body
to those ideas--fire, force, and sensibility, without which they would
remain for most people mere airy abstractions.

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 arm-chair); 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 recognized the actor's art as a most potent ally in the
representation of human life. He believed that to hold the mirror up
to nature was one of the worthiest functions in the sphere of labor,
and actors are content to point to his definition of their work as the
charter of their privileges.




III.

PRACTICE OF THE ART.


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 of
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.

There has always been a controversy as to the province of naturalism
in dramatic art. In England it has been too much the custom, I
believe, while demanding naturalism in comedy, to expect a false
inflation in tragedy. But there is no reason why an actor should
be less natural in tragic than in lighter moods. Passions vary in
expression according to moulds of character and manners, but their
reality should not be lost even when they are expressed in the heroic
forms of the drama. A very simple test is a reference to the records
of old actors. What was it in their performances that chiefly
impressed their contemporaries? Very rarely the measured recitation of
this or that speech, but very often a simple exclamation that deeply
moved their auditors, because it was a gleam of nature in the midst
of declamation. The "Prithee, undo this button!" of Garrick, was
remembered when many stately utterances were forgotten. In our day the
contrast between artificial declamation and the accents of nature is
less marked, because its delivery is more uniformly simple, and an
actor who lapses from a natural into a false tone is sure to find
that his hold upon his audience is proportionately weakened. But the
revolution which Garrick accomplished may be imagined from the story
told by Boswell. Dr. Johnson was discussing plays and players with
Mrs. Siddons, and he said: "Garrick, madam, was no declaimer; there
was not one of his own scene-shifters who could not have spoken 'To be
or not to be' better than he did; yet he was the only actor I ever saw
whom I could call a master, both in tragedy and comedy, though I
liked him best in comedy. A true conception of character and natural
expression of it were his distinguished excellences."

To be natural on the stage is most difficult, and yet a grain of
nature is worth a bushel of artifice. But you may say--what is nature?
I quoted just now Shakespeare's definition of the actor's art. After
the exhortation to hold the mirror up to nature, he adds the pregnant
warning: "This overdone or come tardy off, though it make the
unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve, the censure of
which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others."
Nature may be overdone by triviality in conditions that demand
exaltation; for instance, Hamlet's first address to the Ghost lifts
his disposition to an altitude far beyond the ordinary reaches of our
souls, and his manner of speech should be adapted to this sentiment.
But such exaltation of utterance is wholly out of place in the purely
colloquial scene with the Gravedigger. When Macbeth says, "Go, bid thy
mistress, when my drink is ready, she strike upon the bell," he would
not use the tone of

    "Pity, like a naked new-born babe,
    Striding the blast, or Heaven's cherubim, horsed
    Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
    Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
    That tears shall drown the wind."

Like the practised orator, the actor rises and descends with his
sentiment, and cannot always be in a fine phrenzy. This variety
is especially necessary in Shakespeare, whose work is essentially
different from the classic drama, because it presents every mood of
mind and form of speech, commonplace or exalted, as character and
situation dictate: whereas in such a play as Addison's _Cato_,
everybody is consistently eloquent about everything.

There are many causes for the growth of naturalism in dramatic art,
and amongst them we should remember the improvement in the mechanism
of the stage. For instance, there has been a remarkable development in
stage-lighting. In old pictures you will observe the actors constantly
standing in a line, because the oil-lamps of those days gave such an
indifferent illumination that everybody tried to get into what was
called the focus--the "blaze of publicity" furnished by the "float" or
footlights. The importance of this is illustrated by an amusing story
of Edmund Kean, who one night played _Othello_ with more than his
usual intensity. An admirer who met him in the street next day was
loud in his congratulations: "I really thought you would have choked
Iago, Mr. Kean--you seemed so tremendously in earnest." "In earnest!"
said the tragedian, "I should think so! Hang the fellow, he was trying
to keep me out of the focus."

I do not recommend actors to allow their feelings to carry them
away like this; but 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.

Now, in the practice of acting, a most important point is the study
of elocution; and in elocution one great difficulty is the use of
sufficient force to be generally heard without being unnaturally loud,
and without acquiring a stilted delivery. The advice of the old actors
was that you should always pitch your voice so as to be heard by the
back row of the gallery--no easy task to accomplish without offending
the ears of the front of the orchestra. And I should tell you that
this exaggeration applies to everything on the stage. To appear to be
natural, you must in reality be much broader than nature. To act on
the stage as one really would in a room, would be ineffective and
colorless. I never knew an actor who brought the art of elocution to
greater perfection than the late Charles Mathews, whose utterance on
the stage appeared so natural that one was surprised to find when near
him that he was really speaking in a very loud key. There is a great
actor in your own country to whose elocution one always listens with
the utmost enjoyment--I mean Edwin Booth. He has inherited this gift,
I believe, from his famous father, of whom I have heard it said, that
he always insisted on a thorough use of the "instruments"--by which he
meant the teeth--in the formation of words.

An imperfect elocution is apt to degenerate into a monotonous
uniformity of tone. Some wholesome advice on this point we find in the
_Life of Betterton_.

"This stiff uniformity of voice is not only displeasing to the ear,
but disappoints the effect of the discourse on the hearers; first, by
an equal way of speaking, when the pronunciation has everywhere, in
every word and every syllable, the same sound, it must inevitably
render all parts of speech equal, and so put them on a very unjust
level. So that the power of the reasoning part, the lustre and
ornament of the figures, the heart, warmth, and vigor of the
passionate part being expressed all in the same tone, is flat and
insipid, and lost in a supine, or at least unmusical pronunciation. So
that, in short, that which ought to strike and stir up the affections,
because it is spoken all alike, without any distinction or variety,
moves them not at all."

Now, on the question of pronunciation there is something to be said,
which, I think, in ordinary teaching is not sufficiently considered.
Pronunciation on the stage should be simple and unaffected, but not
always fashioned rigidly according to a dictionary standard. No less
an authority than Cicero points out that pronunciation must vary
widely according to the emotions to be expressed; that it may be
broken or cut, with a varying or direct sound, and that it serves for
the actor the purpose of color to the painter, from which to draw his
variations. Take the simplest illustration, the formal pronunciation
of "A-h" is "Ah," of "O-h" "Oh;" but you cannot stereotype the
expression of emotion like this. These exclamations are words of one
syllable, but the speaker who is sounding the gamut of human feeling
will not be restricted in his pronunciation by the dictionary rule.
It is said of Edmund Kean that he never spoke such ejaculations,
but always sighed or groaned them. Fancy an actor saying thus, "My
Desdemona! Oh, [)o]h, [)o]h!" Words are intended to express feelings
and ideas, not to bind them in rigid fetters. The accents of pleasure
are different from the accents of pain, and if a feeling is more
accurately expressed, as in nature, by a variation of sound not
provided for by the laws of pronunciation, then such imperfect laws
must be disregarded and nature vindicated. The word should be the echo
of the sense.

The force of an actor depends, of course, upon his physique; and it is
necessary, therefore, that a good deal of attention should be given to
bodily training. Everything that develops suppleness, elasticity, and
grace--that most subtle charm--should be carefully cultivated, and
in this regard your admirable gymnasium is worth volumes of advice.
Sometimes there is a tendency to train the body at the expense of
the mind, and the young actor with striking physical advantages
must beware of regarding this fortunate endowment as his entire
stock-in-trade. That way folly lies, and the result may be too dearly
purchased by the fame of a photographer's window. It is clear that
the physique of actors must vary; there can be no military standard
of proportions on the stage. Some great actors have had to struggle
against physical disabilities of a serious nature. Betterton had an
unprepossessing face; so had Le Kain. John Kemble was troubled with
a weak, asthmatic voice, and yet by his dignity, and the force of
his personality, he was able to achieve the greatest effects. In some
cases a super-abundant physique has incapacitated actors from playing
many parts. The combination in one frame of all the gifts of mind and
all the advantages in person is very rare on the stage; but talent
will conquer many natural defects when it is sustained by energy and
perseverance.

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 over-step 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 coin of the
realm, in the shape of broken crockery, which was generally used in
financial transactions on the stage, because when the virtuous maiden
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 towards 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 disjointed and incoherent piece of work, instead
of being a harmonious whole like the fine performance of an orchestral
symphony. The root of the matter is that the actor must before all
things form a definite conception of what he wishes to convey. It is
better to be wrong and be consistent, than to be right, yet hesitating
and uncertain. This is why great actors are sometimes very bad or very
good. They will do the wrong thing with a courage and thoroughness
which makes the error all the more striking; although when they are
right they may often be superb. It is necessary that the actor should
learn to think before he speaks; a practice which, I believe, is very
useful off the stage. Let him remember, first, that every sentence
expresses a new thought and, therefore, frequently demands a change
of intonation; secondly, that the thought precedes the word. Of course
there are passages in which thought and language are borne along by
the streams of emotion and completely intermingled. But more often
it will be found that the most natural, the most seemingly accidental
effects are obtained when the working of the mind is seen before the
tongue gives it words.

You will see that the limits of an actor's studies are very wide. To
master the technicalities of his craft, to familiarize his mind
with the structure, rhythm, and the soul of poetry, to be constantly
cultivating his perceptions of life around him and of all the
arts--painting, music, sculpture--for the actor who is devoted to
his profession is susceptible to every harmony of color, sound, and
form--to do this is to labor in a large field of industry. But all
your training, bodily and mental, is subservient to the two great
principles in tragedy and comedy--passion and geniality. Geniality
in comedy is one of the rarest gifts. Think of the rich unction of
Falstaff, the mercurial fancy of Mercutio, the witty vivacity and
manly humor of Benedick--think of the qualities, natural and acquired,
that are needed for the complete portrayal of such characters, and you
will understand how difficult it is for a comedian to rise to such
a sphere. In tragedy, passion or intensity sweeps all before it, and
when I say passion, I mean the passion of pathos as well as wrath
or revenge. These are the supreme elements of the actor's art,
which cannot be taught by any system, however just, and to which all
education is but tributary.

Now all that can be said of the necessity of a close regard for nature
in acting applies with equal or greater force to the presentation of
plays. You want, above all things, to have a truthful picture which
shall appeal to the eye without distracting the imagination from the
purpose of the drama. It is a mistake to suppose that this enterprise
is comparatively new to the stage. Since Shakespeare's time there has
been a steady progress in this direction. Even in the poet's day every
conceivable property was forced into requisition, and his own sense
of shortcomings in this respect is shown in _Henry V._ when he
exclaims:--

    "Where--O for pity!--we shall much disgrace
    With four or five most vile and ragged foils
    The name of Agincourt."

There have always been critics who regarded care and elaboration in
the mounting of plays as destructive of the real spirit of the actor's
art. Betterton had to meet this reproach when he introduced scenery in
lieu of linsey-woolsey curtains; but he replied, sensibly enough, that
his scenery was better than the tapestry with hideous figures worked
upon it which had so long distracted the senses of play-goers. He
might have asked his critics whether they wished to see Ophelia played
by a boy of sixteen, as in the time of Shakespeare, instead of a
beautiful and gifted woman. Garrick did his utmost to improve the
mechanical arts of the stage--so much so, indeed, that he paid his
scene-painter, Loutherbourg, L500 a year, a pretty considerable sum
in those days--though in Garrick's time the importance of realism in
costume was not sufficiently appreciated to prevent him from playing
Macbeth in a bagwig. To-day we are employing all our resources to
heighten the picturesque effects of the drama, and we are still told
that this is a gross error. It may be admitted that nothing is more
objectionable than certain kinds of realism, which are simply vulgar;
but harmony of color and grace of outline have a legitimate sphere in
the theatre, and the method which uses them as adjuncts may claim to
be "as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine."
For the abuse of scenic decoration, the overloading of the stage with
ornament, the subordination of the play to a pageant, I have nothing
to say. That is all foreign to the artistic purpose which should
dominate dramatic work. Nor do I think that servility to archaeology on
the stage is an unmixed good. Correctness of costume is admirable
and necessary up to a certain point, but when it ceases to be "as
wholesome as sweet," it should, I think, be sacrificed. You perceive
that the nicest discretion is needed in the use of the materials
which are nowadays at the disposal of the manager. Music, painting,
architecture, the endless variations of costume, have all to be
employed with a strict regard to the production of an artistic
whole, in which no element shall be unduly obtrusive. We are open to
microscopic criticism at every point. When _Much Ado about Nothing_
was produced at the Lyceum, I received a letter complaining of the
gross violation of accuracy in a scene which was called a cedar-walk.
"Cedars!" said my correspondent,--"why, cedars were not introduced
into Messina for fifty years after the date of Shakespeare's story!"
Well, this was a tremendous indictment, but unfortunately the
cedar-walk had been painted. Absolute realism on the stage is not
always desirable, any more than the photographic reproduction of
Nature can claim to rank with the highest art.




IV.

THE REWARDS OF THE ART.


To what position in the world of intelligence does the actor's art
entitle him, and what is his contribution to the general sum of
instruction? We are often told that the art is ephemeral; that it
creates nothing; that when the actor's personality is withdrawn from
the public eye he leaves no trace behind. Granted that his art creates
nothing; but does it not often restore? It is true that he leaves
nothing like the canvas of the painter and the marble of the sculptor,
but has he done nought to increase the general stock of ideas? The
astronomer and naturalist create nothing, but they contribute much to
the enlightenment of the world. I am taking the highest standard of
my art, for I maintain that in judging any calling you should consider
its noblest and not its most ignoble products. All the work that is
done on the stage cannot stand upon the same level, any more than all
the work that is done in literature. You do not demand that your poets
and novelists shall all be of the same calibre. An immense amount of
good writing does no more than increase the gayety of mankind; but
when Johnson said that the gayety of nations was eclipsed by the death
of Garrick, he did not mean that a mere barren amusement had lost one
of its professors. When Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Mrs. Siddons as
the Tragic Muse, and said he had achieved immortality by putting his
name on the hem of her garment, he meant something more than a pretty
compliment, for her name can never die. To give genuine and wholesome
entertainment is a very large function of the stage, and without that
entertainment very many lives would lose a stimulus of the highest
value. If recreation of every legitimate kind is invaluable to the
worker, especially so is the recreation of the drama, which brightens
his faculties, enlarges his vision of the picturesque, and by taking
him for a time out of this work-a-day world, braces his sensibilities
for the labors of life. The art which does this may surely claim to
exercise more than a fleeting influence upon the world's intelligence.
But in its highest developments it does more; it acts as a constant
medium for the diffusion of great ideas, and by throwing new lights
upon the best dramatic literature, it largely helps the growth
of education. It is not too much to say that the interpreters of
Shakespeare on the stage have had much to do with the widespread
appreciation of his works. Some of the most thoughtful students of
the poet have recognized their indebtedness to actors, while for
multitudes the stage has performed the office of discovery. Thousands
who flock to-day to see a representation of Shakespeare, which is the
product of much reverent study of the poet, are not content to regard
it as a mere scenic exhibition. Without it Shakespeare might have been
for many of them a sealed book; but many more have been impelled
by the vivid realism of the stage to renew studies which other
occupations or lack of leisure have arrested. Am I presumptuous, then,
in asserting that the stage is not only an instrument of amusement,
but a very active agent in the spread of knowledge and taste? Some
forms of stage work, you may say, are not particularly elevating.
True; and there are countless fictions coming daily from the hands
of printer and publisher which nobody is the better for reading. You
cannot have a fixed standard of value in my art; and though there
are masses of people who will prefer an unintelligent exhibition to
a really artistic production, that is no reason for decrying the
theatre, in which all the arts blend with the knowledge of history,
manners, and customs of all people, and scenes of all climes, to
afford a varied entertainment to the most exacting intellect. I have
no sympathy with people who are constantly anxious to define the
actor's position, for, as a rule, they are not animated by a desire to
promote his interests. "'Tis in ourselves that we are thus and thus;"
and whatever actors deserve, socially or artistically, they are sure
to receive as their right. I found the other day in a well-circulated
little volume a suggestion that the actor was a degraded being because
he has a closely-shaven face. This is, indeed, humiliating, and I
wonder how it strikes the Roman Catholic clergy. However, there are
actors who do not shave closely, and though, alas! I am not one of
them, I wish them joy of the spiritual grace which I cannot claim.

It is admittedly unfortunate for the stage that it has a certain
equivocal element, which, in the eyes of some judges, is sufficient
for its condemnation. The art is open to all, and it has to bear the
sins of many. You may open your newspaper, and see a paragraph headed
"Assault by an Actress." Some poor creature is dignified by that title
who has not the slightest claim to it. You look into a shop-window and
see photographs of certain people who are indiscriminately described
as actors and actresses though their business has no pretence to be
art of any kind.

I was told in Baltimore of a man in that city who was so diverted by
the performance of Tyrone Powar, the popular Irish comedian, that he
laughed uproariously till the audience was convulsed with merriment at
the spectacle. As soon as he could speak, he called out, "Do be quiet,
Mr. Showman; do'ee hold your tongue, or I shall die of laughter!" This
idea that the actor is a showman still lingers; but no one with any
real appreciation of the best elements of the drama applies this
vulgar standard to a great body of artists. The fierce light of
publicity that beats upon us makes us liable, from time to time, to
dissertations upon our public and private lives, our manners, our
morals, and our money. Our whims and caprices are discanted on with
apparent earnestness of truth, and seeming sincerity of conviction.
There is always some lively controversy concerning the influence of
the stage. The battle between old methods and new in art is waged
everywhere. If an actor were to take to heart everything that is
written and said about him, his life would be an intolerable burden.
And one piece of advice I should give to young actors is this: Do not
be too sensitive; receive praise or censure with modesty and patience.
Good honest criticism is, of course, most advantageous to an actor;
but he should save himself from the indiscriminate reading of a
multitude of comments, which may only confuse instead of stimulating.
And here let me say to young actors in all earnestness: Beware of the
loungers of our calling, the camp followers who hang on the skirts of
the army, and who inveigle the young into habits that degrade their
character, and paralyze their ambition. Let your ambition be ever
precious to you, and, next to your good name, the jewel of your souls.
I care nothing for the actor who is not always anxious to rise to
the highest position in his particular walk; but this ideal cannot be
cherished by the young man who is induced to fritter away his time and
his mind in thoughtless company.

But in the midst of all this turmoil about the stage, one fact stands
out clearly: the dramatic art is steadily growing in credit with the
educated classes. It is drawing more recruits from those classes. The
enthusiasm for our calling has never reached a higher pitch. There is
quite an extraordinary number of ladies who want to become actresses,
and the cardinal difficulty in the way is not the social deterioration
which some people think they would incur, but simply their inability
to act. Men of education who become actors do not find that their
education is useless. If they have the necessary aptitude--the inborn
instinct for the stage--all their mental training will be of great
value to them. It is true that there must always be grades in the
theatre, that an educated man who is an indifferent actor can never
expect to reach the front rank. If he do no more than figure in the
army at Bosworth Field, or look imposing in a doorway; if he never
play any but the smallest parts; if in these respects he be no
better than men who could not pass an examination in any branch of
knowledge--he has no more reason to complain than the highly-educated
man who longs to write poetry, and possesses every qualification--save
the poetic faculty. There are people who seem to think that only
irresistible genius justifies any one in adopting the stage as a
vocation. They make it an argument against the profession that many
enter it from a low sphere of life, without any particular fitness for
acting, but simply to earn a livelihood by doing the subordinate and
mechanical work which is necessary in every theatre. And so men and
women of refinement--especially women--are warned that they must do
themselves injury by passing through the rank and file during their
term of probation in the actors' craft. Now, I need not remind you
that on the stage everybody cannot be great, any more than students
of music can all become great musicians; but very many will do sound
artistic work which is of great value. As for any question of conduct,
Heaven forbid that I should be dogmatic; but it does not seem to me
logical that while genius is its own law in the pursuit of a noble
art, all inferior merit or ambition is to be deterred from the same
path by appalling pictures of its temptations.

If our art is worth anything at all, it is worth the honest,
conscientious self-devotion of men and women who, while they may not
achieve fame, may have the satisfaction of being workers in a calling
which does credit to many degrees of talent. We do not claim to be
any better than our fellows in other walks of life. We do not ask
the jester in journalism whether his quips and epigrams are always
dictated by the loftiest morality; nor do we insist on knowing that
the odor of sanctity surrounds the private lives of lawyers and
military men before we send our sons into law and the army. It
is impossible to point out any vocation which is not attended by
temptations that prove fatal to many; but you have simply to consider
whether a profession has in itself any title to honor, and then--if
you are confident of your capacity--to enter it with a resolve to do
all that energy and perseverance can accomplish. The immortal part of
the stage is its nobler part. Ignoble accidents and interludes come
and go, but this lasts on forever. It lives, like the human soul,
in the body of humanity--associated with much that is inferior, and
hampered by many hindrances; but it never sinks into nothingness, and
never fails to find new and noble work in creations of permanent and
memorable excellence. And I would say, as a last word, to the young
men in this assembly who may at any time resolve to enter the dramatic
profession, that they ought always to fix their minds upon the highest
examples; that in studying acting they should beware of prejudiced
comparisons between this method and that, but learn as much as
possible from all; that they should remember that art is as varied as
nature, and as little suited to the shackles of a school; and, above
all, that they should never forget that excellence in any art is
attained only by arduous labor, unswerving purpose, and unfailing
discipline. This discipline is, perhaps, the most difficult of all
tests, for it involves the subordination of the actor's personality in
every work which is designed to be a complete and harmonious picture.
Dramatic art nowadays is more coherent, systematic, and comprehensive
than it has sometimes been. And to the student who proposes to fill
the place in this system to which his individuality and experience
entitle him, and to do his duty faithfully and well, ever striving
after greater excellence, and never yielding to the indolence that is
often born of popularity--to him I say, with every confidence, that
he will choose a career in which, if it does not lead him to fame,
he will be sustained by the honorable exercise of some of the best
faculties of the human mind.

And now I can only thank you for the patience with which you have
listened while, in a slight and imperfect way, I have dwelt with some
of the most important of the actor's responsibilities, I have been an
actor for nearly thirty years, and what I have told you is the fruit
of my experience, and of an earnest and conscientious belief that the
calling to which I am proud to belong is worthy of the sympathy and
support of all intelligent people.




ADDRESS

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

26 JUNE 1886




ADDRESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.


When I was honored by the request of your distinguished
Vice-Chancellor to deliver an address before the members of this
great University, I told him I could only say something about my own
calling, for that I knew little or nothing about anything else.
I trust, however, that this confession of the limitations of
my knowledge will not prejudice me in your eyes, members as you
are--privileged members I may say--of this seat of learning. In an age
when so many persons think they know everything, it may afford a not
unpleasing variety to meet with some who know that they know nothing.

I cannot discourse to you, even if you wished me to do so, of the
respective merits of AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; for if I
did, I should not be able to tell you anything that you do not know
already. I have not had the advantage--one that very few of the
members of my profession in past, or even in present times have
enjoyed--of an University education. The only _Alma Mater_ I ever knew
was the hard stage of a country theatre.

In the course of my training, long before I had taken, what I may
call, my degree in London, I came to act in your city. I have a very
pleasant recollection of the time I passed here, though I am sorry
to say that, owing to the regulation which forbade theatrical
performances during term time, I saw Oxford only in vacation, which
is rather like--to use the old illustration--seeing _Hamlet_ with the
part of Hamlet left out. There was then no other building available
for dramatic representations than the Town Hall. I may, perhaps, be
allowed to congratulate you on the excellent theatre which you now
possess--I do not mean the Sheldonian--and at the same time to express
a hope that, as a more liberal, and might I say a wiser, _regime_
allows the members of the University to go to the play, they will not
receive any greater moral injury, or be distracted any more from their
studies, than when they were only allowed the occasional relaxation of
hearing comic songs. Macready once said that "a theatre ought to be
a place of recreation for the sober-minded and intelligent." I trust
that, under whatsoever management the theatre in Oxford may be, it
will always deserve this character.

You must not expect any learned disquisition from me; nor even in the
modified sense in which the word is used among you will I venture to
style what I am going to say to you a lecture. You may, by the way,
have seen a report that I was cast for _four_ lectures; but I assure
you there was no ground for such an alarming rumor; a rumor quite as
alarming to me as it could have been to you. What I do propose is, to
say to you something about four of our greatest actors in the past,
each of whom may be termed the representative of an important period
in the Annals of our National Drama. In turning over the leaves of
a history of the life of Edmund Kean, I came across the following
sentence (the writer is speaking of Edmund Kean as having restored
Nature to the stage): "There seems always to have been this
alternation between the Schools of Nature and Art (if we may so term
them) in the annals of the English Theatre." Now if for _Art_ I may be
allowed to substitute _Artificiality_, which is what the author really
meant, I think that his sentence is an epitome of the history of our
stage; and it struck me at once that I could not select anything more
appropriate--I will not say as a text, for that sounds as if I were
going to deliver a sermon--but as the _motif_, or theme of the remarks
I am about to address to you. The four actors of whom I shall attempt
to tell, you something--Burbage, Betterton, Garrick, and Kean--were
the _four_ greatest champions, in their respective times, on the stage
of Nature in contradistinction to Artificiality.

When we consider the original of the Drama, or perhaps I should say
of the higher class of Drama, we see that the style of acting must
necessarily have been artificial rather than natural. Take the Greek
Tragedy, for instance: the actors, as you know, wore masks, and had to
speak, or rather intone, in a theatre more than half open to the air,
and therefore it was impossible they could employ facial expression,
or much variety of intonation. We have not time now to trace at length
the many vicissitudes in the career of the Drama, but I may say that
Shakespeare was the first dramatist who dared to rob Tragedy of her
stilts; and who successfully introduced an element of comedy which
was not dragged in by the neck and heels, but which naturally evolved
itself from the treatment of the tragic story, and did not violate the
consistency of any character.

It was not only with regard to the _writing_ of his plays
that Shakespeare sought to fight the battle of Nature against
Artificiality. However naturally he might write, the affected or
monotonous _delivery_ of his verse by the actors would neutralize all
his efforts. The old rhyming ten-syllable lines could not but lead to
a monotonous style of elocution, nor was the early blank verse much
improvement in this respect; but Shakespeare fitted his blank verse to
the natural expression of his ideas, and not his ideas to the trammels
of blank verse.

In order to carry out these reforms, in order to dethrone Artifice and
Affectation, he needed the help of actors in whom he could trust,
and especially of a leading actor who could interpret his greatest
dramatic creations; such a one he found in Richard Burbage.

Shakespeare came to London first in 1585. Whether on this, his first
visit, he became connected with the theatres is uncertain. At any
rate it is most probable that he saw Burbage in some of his favorite
characters, and perhaps made his acquaintance; being first employed
as a kind of servant in the theatre, and afterwards as a player of
inferior parts. It was not until about 1591-1592, that Shakespeare
began to turn his attention seriously to dramatic authorship. For five
years of his life we are absolutely without any evidence as to what
were his pursuits. But there can be little doubt that during this
interval he was virtually undergoing a special form of education,
consisting rather of the study of human nature than that of books,
and was acquiring the art of dramatic construction--learnt better in
a theatre than anywhere else. Unfortunately, we have no record of the
intercourse between Shakespeare and Burbage; but there can be little
doubt that between the dramatist, who was himself an actor, and the
actor, who gave life to the greatest creations of his imagination, and
who, probably, amazed no less than delighted the great master by the
vividness and power of his impersonations, there must have existed a
close friendship. Shakespeare, unlike most men of genius, was no bad
man of business; and, indeed, a friend of mine, who prides himself
upon being a practical man, once suggested that he selected the part
of the Ghost in _Hamlet_ because it enabled him to go in front of the
house between the acts and count the money. Burbage was universally
acknowledged as the greatest tragic actor of his time. In Bartholomew
Fair, Ben Jonson uses Burbage's name as a synonym for "the best
actor"; and Bishop Corbet, in his _Iter Boreale_, tells us that his
host at Leicester--

      "when he would have said King Richard died,
    And call'd, 'A horse! A horse!' he, Burbage, cried,"

In a scene, in which Burbage and the comedian Kemp (the J.L. Toole
of the Shakespearean period) are introduced in _The Return from
Parnassus_--a satirical play, as you may know, written by some of
the Members of St. John's College, Cambridge, for performance
by themselves on New Year's Day, 1602--we have proof of the high
estimation in which the great tragic actor was held. Kemp says to the
scholars who are anxious to try their fortunes on the stage: "But be
merry, my lads, you have happened upon the most excellent vocation
in the world for money; they come north and south to bring it to our
playhouse; and for honors, who of more report than _Dick Burbage_
and _Will Kempe_; he is not counted a gentleman that knows not _Dick
Burbage_ and _Will Kempe_; there's not a country wench that can
dance 'Sellenger's Round,' but can talke of _Dick Burbage_ and _Will
Kempe_."

That Burbage's fame as an actor outlived his life may be seen from the
description given by Flecknoe:--

"He was a delightful Proteus, so wholly transforming himself into his
part, and putting off himself with his clothes, as he never (not so
much as in the 'tiring house) assumed himself again until the play was
done.... He had all the parts of an excellent orator, animating his
words with speaking, and speech with acting, his auditors being never
more delighted than when he spake, nor more sorry than when he held
his peace. Yet even then he was an excellent actor still, never
failing in his part when he had done speaking, but with his looks and
gestures maintaining it still to the height."

It is not my intention, even if time permitted, to go much into the
private life of the four actors of whom I propose to speak. Very
little is known of Burbage's private life, except that he was married;
perhaps Shakespeare and he may have been drawn nearer together by the
tie of a common sorrow; for, as the poet lost his beloved son Hamlet
when quite a child, so did Burbage lose his eldest son Richard.
Burbage died on March 13th, 1617, being then about 50 years of age:
Camden, in his _Annals of James I._, records his death, and calls him
a second Roscius. He was sincerely mourned by all those who loved
the dramatic art; and he numbered among his friends Shakespeare, Ben
Jonson, Beaumont, and Fletcher, and other "common players," whose
names were destined to become the most honored in the annals of
English literature. Burbage was the first great actor that England
ever saw, the original representative of many of Shakespeare's noblest
creations, among others, of Shylock, Richard, Romeo, Hamlet, Lear,
Othello, and Macbeth. We may fairly conclude Burbage's acting to have
had all the best characteristics of Natural, as opposed to Artificial
acting. The principles of the former are so clearly laid down by
Shakespeare, in Hamlet's advice to the players, that, perhaps, I
cannot do better than to repeat them:--

    Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you,
    trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your
    players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor
    do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all
    gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may
    say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a
    temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to
    the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a
    passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the
    groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but
    inexplicable dumb-show and noise: I would have such a fellow
    whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod; pray
    you, avoid it. Be not too tame neither, but let your own
    discretion be your tutor; suit the action to the word, the
    word to the action; with this special observance, that you
    o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone
    is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first
    and now, was and is, 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.
    Now this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the
    unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
    censure of the which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a
    whole theatre of others. O, there be players that I have seen
    play, and heard others praise, and that highly, not to speak
    it profanely, that, neither having the accent of Christians
    nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so strutted
    and bellowed that I have thought some of Nature's journeymen
    had made men and not made them well, they imitated humanity so
    abominably.

When we try to picture what the theatre in Shakespeare's time was
like, it strikes us that it must have been difficult to carry out
those principles. One would think it must have been almost impossible
for the actors to keep up the illusion of the play, surrounded as they
were by such distracting elements. Figure to yourselves a crowd of
fops, chattering like a flock of daws, carrying their stools in their
hands, and settling around, and sometimes upon the stage itself, with
as much noise as possible. To vindicate their importance in their own
eyes they kept up a constant jangling of petty, carping criticism on
the actors and the play. In the intervals of repose which they allowed
their tongues, they ogled the ladies in the boxes, and made a point
of vindicating the dignity of their intellects by being always most
inattentive during the most pathetic portions of the play. In front
of the house matters were little better: the orange girls going to and
fro among the audience, interchanging jokes--not of the most delicate
character--with the young sparks and apprentices, the latter cracking
nuts or howling down some unfortunate actor who had offended their
worships; sometimes pipes of tobacco were being smoked. Picture all
this confusion, and add the fact that the female characters of the
play were represented by shrill-voiced lads or half-shaven men.
Imagine an actor having to invest such representatives with all the
girlish passion of a Juliet, the womanly tenderness of a Desdemona,
or the pitiable anguish of a distraught Ophelia, and you cannot but
realize how difficult under such circumstances _great_ acting
must have been. In fact, while we are awe-struck by the wonderful
intellectuality of the best dramas of the Elizabethan period, we
cannot help feeling that certain subtleties of acting, elaborate
by-play, for instance, and the finer lights and shades of intonation,
must have been impossible. Recitation rather than impersonation would
be generally aimed at by the actors.

Thomas Betterton was the son of one of the cooks of King Charles I.
He was born in Tothill Street, Westminster, about 1635, eighteen
years after the death of Burbage. He seems to have received a fair
education; indeed, but for the disturbing effect of the Civil War, he
would probably have been brought up to one of the liberal professions.
He was, however, apprenticed to a bookseller, who, fortunately
for Betterton, took to theatrical management. Betterton was about
twenty-four years old when he began his dramatic career. For upwards
of fifty years he seems to have held his position as the foremost
actor of the day. It was fortunate, indeed, for the interests of the
Drama that so great an actor arose at the very time when dramatic art
had, as it were, to be resuscitated. Directly the Puritans (who hated
the stage and every one connected with it as heartily as they
hated their Cavalier neighbors) came into power, they abolished the
theatres, as they did every other form of intellectual amusement;
and for many years the Drama only existed in the form of a few vulgar
"Drolls." It must have been, indeed, a dismal time for the people of
England; with all the horrors of civil war fresh in their memory, the
more than paternal government allowed its subjects no other amusement
than that of consigning their neighbors to eternal damnation, and of
selecting for themselves--by anticipation--all the best reserved seats
in heaven. When the Restoration took place, the inevitable reaction
followed: society, having been condemned to a lengthened period of an
involuntary piety--which sat anything but easily on it--rushed into
the other extreme; all who wanted to be in the fashion professed but
little morality, and it is to be feared that, for once in a way, their
practice did not come short of their profession. Now was the time
when, instead of "poor players," "fine gentlemen" condescended to
write for the stage; and it may be remarked that as long as the
literary interests of the theatre were in their keeping, the tone of
the plays represented was more corrupt than it ever was at any other
period of the history of the Drama. It is something to be thankful
for, that at such a time, when the highly-flavored comedies of
Wycherley and Congreve were all the vogue, and when the monotonous
profligacy of nearly all the characters introduced into those plays
was calculated to encourage the most artificial style of acting--it
was something, I say, to be thankful for, that at such a time,
Betterton, and one or two other actors, could infuse life into
the noblest creations of Shakespeare. Owing, more especially, to
Betterton's great powers, the tragedy of _Hamlet_ held its own in
popularity, even against such witty productions as _Love for Love_. It
was also fortunate that the same actor who could draw tears as Hamlet,
was equally at home in the feigned madness of that amusing rake
Valentine, or in the somewhat coarse humor of Sir John Brute. By
charming the public in what were the popular novelties of the day, he
was able to command their support when he sought it for a nobler
form of Drama. He married an actress, Mrs. Saunderson, who was only
inferior in her art to her husband. Their married life seems to
have been one of perfect happiness. When one hears so much of the
profligacy of actors and actresses, and that they are all such a
very wicked lot, it is pleasant to think of this couple, in an age
proverbial for its immorality, in a city where the highest in rank set
an example of shameless licence, living their quiet, pure, artistic
life, respected and beloved by all that knew them.

Betterton had few physical advantages. If we are to believe Antony
Aston, one of his contemporaries, he had "a short, thick neck, stooped
in the shoulders, and had fat, short arms, which he rarely lifted
higher than his stomach. His left hand frequently lodged in his
breast, between his coat and waistcoat, while with his right hand he
prepared his speech." Yet the same critic is obliged to confess that,
at seventy years of age, a younger man might have _personated_ but
could not have _acted_, Hamlet better. He calls his voice "low and
grumbling," but confesses that he had such power over it that he could
enforce attention even from fops and orange-girls. I dare say you
all know how Steele and Addison admired his acting, and how
enthusiastically they spoke of it in _The Tatler_. The latter writes
eloquently of the wonderful agony of jealousy and the tenderness
of love which he showed in _Othello_, and of the immense effect he
produced in _Hamlet_.

Betterton, like all really great men, was a hard worker. Pepys says
of him, "Betterton is a very sober, serious man, and studious, and
humble, following of his studies; and is rich already with what he
gets and saves." Alas! the fortune so hardly earned was lost in an
unlucky moment: he entrusted it to a friend to invest in a commercial
venture in the East Indies which failed most signally. Betterton never
reproached his friend, he never murmured at his ill-luck. The friend's
daughter was left unprovided for; but Betterton adopted the child,
educated her for the stage, and she became an actress of merit, and
married Bowman, the player, afterwards known as "The Father of the
Stage."

In Betterton's day there were no long runs of pieces; but, had his
lot been cast in these times, he might have been compelled to perform,
say, _Hamlet_ for three hundred or four hundred nights: for the rights
of the majority are entitled to respect in other affairs besides
politics, and if the theatre-going public demand a play (and our
largest theatres only hold a limited number) the manager dare not
cause annoyance and disappointment by withdrawing it.

Like Edmund Kean, Betterton may be said to have died upon the stage;
for in April, 1710, when he took his last benefit, as Melantius, in
Beaumont and Fletcher's _Maid's Tragedy_ (an adaption of which, by the
way, was played by Macready under the title of _The Bridal_,) he was
suffering tortures from gout, and had almost to be carried to his
dressing-room; and though he acted the part with all his old fire,
speaking these very appropriate words:--

                              "My heart
    And limbs are still the same, my will as great,
    To do you service,"

within forty-eight hours he was dead. He was buried in the Cloisters
of Westminster Abbey with every mark of respect and honor.

I may here add that the censure said to have been directed against
Betterton for the introduction of scenery is the prototype of that
cry, which we hear so often nowadays, against over-elaboration in
the arrangements of the stage. If it be a crime against good taste
to endeavor to enlist every art in the service of the stage, and to
heighten the effect of noble poetry by surrounding it with the most
beautiful and appropriate accessories, I myself must plead guilty to
that charge; but I should like to point out that every dramatist who
has ever lived, from Shakespeare downwards, has always endeavored to
get his plays put upon the stage with as good effect and as handsome
appointments as possible.

Indeed, the Globe Theatre was burned down during the first performance
of _King Henry VIII._, through the firing off of a cannon which
announced the arrival of King Henry. Perhaps, indeed, some might
regard this as a judgment against the manager for such an attempt at
realism.

It was seriously suggested to me by an enthusiast the other day, that
costumes of his own time should be used for all Shakespeare's plays. I
reflected a little on the suggestion, and then I put it to him whether
the characters in _Julius Caesar_ or in _Antony and Cleopatra_ dressed
in doublet and hose would not look rather out of place. He answered,
"He had never thought of that." In fact, difficulties almost
innumerable must invariably crop up if we attempt to represent plays
without appropriate costume and scenery, the aim of which is to
realize the _locale_ of the action. Some people may hold that paying
attention to such matters necessitates inattention to the acting; but
the majority think it does not, and I believe that they are right.
What would Alma-Tadema say, for instance, if it were proposed to him
that in a picture of the Roman Amphitheatre the figures should be
painted in the costume of Spain? I do not think he would see the point
of such a noble disregard of detail; and why should he, unless what is
false in art is held to be higher than what is true?

Little more than thirty years were to elapse between the death of
the honored Betterton and the appearance of David Garrick, who was
to restore Nature once more to the stage. In this comparatively
short interval progress in dramatic affairs had been all backward.
Shakespeare's advice to the actors had been neglected; earnest
passion, affecting pathos, ever-varying gestures, telling intonation
of voice, and, above all, that complete identification of themselves
in the part they represented--all these qualities, which had
distinguished the acting of Betterton, had given way to noisy
rant, formal and affected attitudes, and a heavy stilted style of
declamation. Betterton died in 1710, and six years after, in 1716,
Garrick was born. About twenty years after, in 1737, Samuel Johnson
and his friend and pupil, David Garrick, set out from Lichfield on
their way to London. In spite of the differences in their ages, and
their relationship of master and pupil, a hearty friendship had sprung
up between them, and one destined, in spite of Johnson's occasional
resentment at the actor's success in life, to last till it was ended
by the grave. Much of Johnson's occasional harshness and almost
contemptuous attitude towards Garrick was, I fear, the result of the
consciousness that his old pupil had thoroughly succeeded in life,
and had reached the highest goal possible in the career which he had
chosen; while he himself, though looked up to as the greatest scholar
of his time, was conscious, as he shows us in his own diary, of how
much more he might have done but for his constitutional indolence.

Garrick's family was of French origin, his father having come over to
England during the persecution of the Huguenots in 1687, and on his
mother's side he had Irish blood in his veins; so that by descent he
was a combination of French, English, and Irish, a combination by no
means unpromising for one who was going to be an actor.

On reaching London, Garrick enrolled his name in Lincoln's Inn, and
was looking about him to see what would turn up, when the news of his
father's death reached him. There is no doubt that, if Garrick had
consulted his own wishes only, he would at once have gone upon the
stage. But fortunately, perhaps, for his future career, he could not
bear to grieve his mother's heart by adopting at once, and at such
a time when she was crushed with some sorrow for her great loss, a
calling which he knew she detested so heartily.

Within a year Mrs. Garrick followed to the grave the husband whom she
never ceased to mourn, and David had nothing more to face than the
prejudice of his brother, Peter, and of his sisters, if he should
resolve ultimately to adopt the profession on which his heart was
fixed.

It was not, however, till nearly three years after, in 1741, that
Garrick, determined to take the decisive step, first feeling his way
by playing Chamont in _The Orphan_, and Sir Harry Wildair, at Ipswich,
where he appeared under the name of Mr. Lydall; and under this same
name, in the same year, he made his first appearance at Goodman's
Fields Theatre, in the part of Richard III. His success was
marvellous. Considering the small experience he had had, no actor ever
made such a successful _debut_. No doubt by waiting and exercising his
powers of observation, and by studying many parts in private, he had
to a certain extent, matured his powers. But making allowance for
all his great natural gifts, there is no denying that Garrick, in one
leap, gained a position which, in the case of most other actors, has
only been reached through years of toil. He seems to have charmed all
classes: the learned and the ignorant, the cultured and the vulgar;
great statesmen, poets, and even the fribbles of fashion were all
nearly unanimous in his praise. The dissentient voices were so few
that they were drowned in the clamor of applause. Quinn might snarl
and growl; and Horace Walpole, who seems to have grown alarmed at
so much of the incense of praise finding its way to the nostrils of
another, might give vent to a few feeble sneers; such as when he said,
"I do not mention the things written in his praise because he writes
most of them himself." But the battle was won. Nature in the place
of Artificiality, Originality in the place of Conventionality, had
triumphed on the stage once more.

Consternation reigned in the home at Lichfield when the news arrived
that brother David had become a play-actor; but ultimately the family
were reconciled to such degradation by the substantial results of the
experiment. Such reconcilements are not uncommon. Some young man of
good birth and position has taken to the stage; his family, who could
not afford to keep him, have been shocked, and in pious horror have
cast him out of their respectable circle; but at last success has
come, and they have managed to overcome their scruples and prejudices
and to profit by the harvest which the actor has reaped.

Garrick seems to have continued playing under the name of Lydall for
two months, though the secret must have been an open one. It was not
till December the second, the night of his benefit, that he was at
last announced under his own name; and henceforward his career was
one long triumph, checkered, indeed, by disagreements, quarrels and
heart-burnings (for Garrick was extremely sensitive), caused, for the
most part, by the envy and jealousy which invariably dog the heels of
success.

Second-rate actors, like Theophilus Gibber, or gnats such as Murphy,
and others, easily stung him. He was lampooned as "The Sick Monkey"
on his return to the stage after having taken a much needed rest.
But discretion and audacity seemed to go hand-in-hand, and the
self-satisfied satirizer generally over-shoots the mark. Garrick was
ever ready with a reply to his assailants; when Dr. Hill attacked his
pronunciation, saying that he pronounced his "i's" as if they were
"u's," Garrick answered--

    "If 'tis true, as you say, that I've injured a letter,
    I'll change my note soon, and I hope for the better.
    May the just right of letters as well as of men,
    Hereafter be fixed by the tongue and the pen.
    Most devoutly I wish that they both have their due,
    And that _I_ may be never mistaken for _U_."

Comparing Garrick with Betterton, it must be remembered that he was
more exposed to the attacks of envy from the very universality of
his success. Never, perhaps, was there a man in any profession
who combined so many various qualities. A fair poet, a most fluent
correspondent, an admirable conversationalist, possessing a person
of singular grace, a voice of marvellous expressiveness, and a
disposition so mercurial and vivacious as is rarely found in any
Englishman, he was destined to be a great social as well as a great
artistic success. He loved the society of men of birth and fashion; he
seems to have had a more passionate desire to please in private even
than in public, and almost to have justified the often quoted couplet
in Goldsmith's "Retaliation."

    "On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting, 'Twas only
    that when he was off he was acting."

Some men, envious of the substantial fortune which he realized by
almost incessant hard work, by thorough good principle with regard
to money, and by a noble, not a paltry, economy, might call him mean;
though many of them knew well, from their own experience, that his
nature was truly generous--his purse, as well as his heart, ever open
to a friend, however little he might deserve it. Yet they sneered
at his want of reckless extravagance, and called him a miser. The
greatest offender in this respect was Samuel Foote, a man of great
accomplishments, witty, but always ill-natured. It is difficult to
speak of Foote's conduct to Garrick in any moderate language. Mr.
Forster may assert that behind Foote's brutal jests there always
lurked a kindly feeling; but what can we think of the man who,
constantly receiving favors from Garrick's hand, could never speak of
him before others without a sneer; who the moment he had received the
loan of money or other favor for which he had cringed, snarled--I will
not say like a dog, for no dog is so ungrateful--and snapped at the
hand which had administered to him of its bounty. When this man,
who had never spared a friend, whose whole life had been passed in
maligning others, at last was himself a victim of a vile and cruel
slander, Garrick forgot the gibes and sneers of which Foote had made
him so often the victim, and stood by him with a noble devotion as
honorable to himself as it was ill-deserved by its object. Time would
not suffice, had I as many hours as I have minutes before me, to tell
you of all the acts of generosity that this mean man, this niggardly
actor, performed in his lifetime. One characteristic anecdote will
suffice. When Whitfield was building his Tabernacle in Tottenham Court
Road, he employed one of the carpenters who worked for Garrick at
Drury Lane. Subscriptions for the Tabernacle do not seem to have
come in as fast as they were required to pay the workmen, so that the
carpenter had to go to Garrick to ask for an advance. When pressed for
his reason he confessed that he had not received any wages from Mr.
Whitfield. Garrick made the advance asked for, and soon after quietly
set out to pay a visit to Mr. Whitfield, when, with many apologies for
the liberty he was taking, he offered him a five hundred pound bank
note as his subscription towards the Tabernacle. Considering that
Garrick had no particular sympathy with Nonconformists, this action
speaks as much for his charity as a Christian as it does for his
liberality as a man.

Perhaps Richard III. remained Garrick's best Shakesperean character.
Of course he played Cibber's version and not Shakespeare's. In fact,
many of the Shakesperean parts were not played from the poet's own
text, but Garrick might have doubted whether even his popularity
would have reconciled his audiences to the unadulterated poetry of our
greatest dramatist.

Next to Richard, Lear would seem to have been his best Shakesperean
performance. In Hamlet and Othello he did not equal Betterton; and
in the latter, certainly from all one can discover, he was infinitely
surpassed by Edmund Kean. In fact Othello was not one of his great
parts. But in the wide range of characters which he undertook, Garrick
was probably never equalled. A poor actor named Everard, who was first
brought out as a boy by Garrick, says: "Such or such an actor in their
respective _fortes_ have been allowed to play such or such a part
equally well as him; but could they perform Archer and Scrub like
him? and Abel Drugger, Ranger, and Bayes, and Benedick; speak his own
prologue to _Barbarossa_, in the character of a country-boy, and in a
few minutes transform himself in the same play to _Selim_? Nay, in the
same night he has played _Sir John Brute_ and the _Guardian, Romeo_
and _Lord Chalkstone, Hamlet_ and _Sharp, King Lear_ and _Fribble,
King Richard_ and the _Schoolboy_! Could anyone but himself attempt
such a wonderful variety, such an amazing contrast of character, and
be equally great in all? No, no, no! Garrick, take the chair."

Garrick was, without doubt, a very intense actor; he threw himself
most thoroughly into any part that he was playing. Certainly we know
that he was not wanting in reverence for Shakespeare; in spite of the
liberties which he ventured to take with the poet's text, he loved
and worshipped him. To Powell, who threatened to be at one time a
formidable rival, his advice was, "Never let your Shakespeare be out
of your hands; keep him about you as a charm; the more you read him,
the more you will like him, and the better you will act." As to his
yielding to the popular taste for pantomime and spectacle, he may
plead a justification in the words which his friend Johnson put into
his mouth in the Prologue that he wrote for the inauguration of his
management at Drury Lane:--

    "The Drama's laws the Drama's patrons give,
    And we, who live to please, must please to live."

We must remember how much he did for the stage. Though his alterations
of Shakespeare shock us, they are nothing to those outrages committed
by others, who deformed the poet beyond recognition. Garrick made
Shakespeare's plays once more popular. He purged the actors, for a
time at least, of faults that were fatal to any high class of drama,
and, above all, he gradually got rid of those abominable nuisances
(to which we have already alluded), the people who came and took their
seats at the wings, on the stage itself, while the performance was
going on, hampering the efforts of the actors and actresses. The stage
would have had much to thank Garrick for if he had done nothing more
than this--if only that he was the first manager who kept the audience
where they ought to be, on the other side of the footlights.

In his private life Garrick was most happy. He was fortunate enough
to find for his wife a simple-minded, loyal woman, in a quarter which
some people would deem very unpromising. Mrs. Garrick was, as is
well-known, a celebrated _danseuse_, known as Mademoiselle Violette,
whose real name was Eva Maria Weigel, a Viennese. A more affectionate
couple were never seen; they were not blessed with children, but they
lived together in the most uninterrupted happiness, and their house
was the scene of many social gatherings of a delightful kind. Mrs.
Garrick survived her celebrated husband, and lived to the ripe age of
ninety-eight, retaining to the very last much of that grace and charm
of expression which had won the actor's heart.

Time will not allow me to dwell on the many points of interest
in Garrick's career; all of which are to be found in Mr. Percy
Fitzgerald's _Life of Garrick_. On returning to London after a visit
to the Spensers at Althorp in January, 1779, he was struck down by
a fatal attack of his old malady, the gout, and died at the age of
sixty-three.

He was buried in Westminster Abbey with ceremonies as imposing as ever
graced the funeral of a great man. The pall-bearers were headed by the
Duke of Devonshire and the Earl Spenser, while round the grave there
were gathered such men as Burke and Fox, and last, not least, his old
friend and tutor, Samuel Johnson, his rugged countenance streaming
with tears, his noble heart filled with the sincerest grief. The words
so often quoted, artificial though they may seem, came from that heart
when, speaking of his dear Davy's death, he said that it "had eclipsed
the gayety of nations."

Garrick's remarkable success in society, which achieved for him a
position only inferior to that he achieved on the stage, is the best
answer to what is often talked about the degrading nature of the
actor's profession. Since the days of Roscius no contempt for actors
in general, or for their art, has prevented a great actor from
attaining that position which is accorded to all distinguished in what
are held to be the higher arts.

Nearly nine years after the death of Garrick, on November 4th, 1787, a
young woman, who had run away from home when little more than a child
to join a company of strolling players, and who, when that occupation
failed, earned a scanty living as a hawker in the streets of London,
gave birth, in a wretched room near Gray's Inn, to an illegitimate
child. This woman was Nancy Carey, the grand-daughter of Henry Carey,
the author of the "National Anthem." She was the great-grand-daughter
of George Saville, Marquis of Halifax, whose natural son Henry Carey
was. A compassionate actress, Miss Tidswell, who knew the father of
the child, Aaron Kean, gave her what assistance she could. Poor Nance
was removed to her father's lodgings, near Gray's Inn, and there, on
the day before mentioned, Edmund Kean was born.

Three months after his birth his mother deserted him, leaving him,
without a word of apology or regret, to the care of the woman who had
befriended her in her trouble. When he was but three years old he was
brought, amongst a number of other children, to Michael Kelly who
was then bringing out the opera of _Cymon_ at the Opera House in the
Haymarket, and, thanks to his personal beauty, he was selected for
the part of Cupid. Shortly afterwards he found his way to Drury Lane,
where the handsome baby--for he was little more--figured among the
imps in the pantomime. Taught here the tricks of the acrobat, he had
at four years old acquired such powers of contortion that he was fit
to rank as an infant phenomenon. But the usual result followed: the
little limbs became deformed, and had to be put in irons, by means
of which they regained that symmetry with which nature had at first
endowed them. Three years afterwards, in March, 1794, John Kemble was
acting Macbeth at Drury Lane; and, in the "cauldron scene," he engaged
some children to personate the supernatural beings summoned by the
witches from that weird vessel. Little Edmund with his irons was the
cause of a ridiculous accident, and the attempt to embody the ghostly
forms was abruptly abandoned. But the child seems to have been
pardoned for his blunder, and for a short time was permitted by the
manager to appear in one or two children's parts. Little did the
dignified manager imagine that the child--who was one of his
cauldron of imps in _Macbeth_--was to become, twenty years later, his
formidable rival--formidable enough to oust almost the representative
of the Classical school from the supremacy he had hitherto enjoyed on
the Tragic stage. In Orange Court, Leicester Square, where Holcroft,
the author of _The Road to Ruin_, was born, Edmund Kean received
his first education. Scanty enough it was, for it had scarcely begun
before his wretched mother stepped in and claimed him; and, after her
re-appearance, his education seems to have been of a most spasmodic
character. Hitherto, the child's experience of life had been hard
enough. When only eight years of age he ran away to Portsmouth, and
shipped himself on board a ship bound to Madeira. But he found his
new life harder than that from which he had escaped, and, by dint of
feigning deafness and lameness, he succeeded in procuring his removal
to an hospital at Madeira, whence, the doctors finding his case
yielded to no remedies, the authorities kindly shipped him again to
England. He insisted on being deaf and lame: indeed, so deaf that in
a violent thunder-storm he remained perfectly unmoved, explaining his
composure by declaring that he could not hear any noise at all. From
Portsmouth he made his way on foot to London. On presenting himself
at the wretched lodgings where his mother lived, he found that she had
gone away with Richardson's troupe. Penniless and half-starving, he
suddenly thought of his uncle, Moses Kean, who lived in Lisle Street,
Leicester Square, a queer character, who gained a precarious living by
giving entertainments as a mimic and ventriloquist. The uncle received
his nephew warmly enough, and seems to have cultivated, to the best of
his ability, the talent for acting which he recognized at once in
the boy. Edmund again enjoyed a kind of desultory education, partly
carried on at school and partly at his uncle's home, where he enjoyed
the advantage of the kind instructions of his old friend, Miss
Tidswell, of D'Egville, the dancing master, of Angelo, the fencing
master, and of no less a person than Incledon, the celebrated singer,
who seems to have taken the greatest interest in him. But the vagrant,
half-gypsy disposition, which he inherited from his mother, could
never be subdued, and he was constantly disappearing from his uncle's
house for weeks together, which he would pass in going about from one
roadside inn to another, amusing the guests with his acrobatic tricks,
and his monkey-like imitations. In vain was he locked up in rooms, the
height of which from the ground was such as seemed to render escape
impossible. He contrived to get out somehow or other, even at the risk
of his neck, and to make his escape to some fair, where he would earn
a few pence by the exhibition of his varied accomplishments. During
these periods of vagabondism he would live on a mere nothing, sleeping
in barns, or in the open air, and would faithfully bring back his
gains to Uncle Moses. But even this astounding generosity, appealing,
as it must have done, to the uncle's sentiments, could not appease
him. His uncle went so far, apparently with the concurrence of Miss
Tidswell, as to place round the boy's neck a brass collar with the
inscription, "This boy belongs to No. 9 Lisle Street; please bring him
home." His wandering propensities being for a time subdued, we find
the little Edmund again engaged at Drury Lane, and delighting the
actors in the green-room by giving recitations from _Richard III._,
probably in imitation of Cooke; and, on one occasion, among his
audience was Mrs. Charles Kemble. During this engagement he played
Arthur to Kemble's King John and Mrs. Siddon's Constance, and appears
to have made a great success. Soon after this, his uncle Moses
died suddenly, and young Kean was left to the severe but kindly
guardianship of Miss Tidswell. We cannot follow him through all the
vicissitudes of his early career. The sketch I have given of his early
life--ample details of which may be found in Mrs. Hawkins's _Life of
Edmund Kean_--will give you a sufficient idea of what he must have
endured and suffered. When, years afterwards, the passionate love of
Shakespeare, which, without exaggeration, we may say he showed almost
from his cradle, had reaped its own reward in the wonderful success
which he achieved, if we find him then averse to respectable
conventionality, erratic, and even dissipated in his habits, let us
mercifully remember the bitter and degrading suffering which he passed
through in his childhood, and not judge too harshly the great actor.
Unlike those whose lives we have hitherto considered, he knew none of
the softening influences of a home; to him the very name of mother,
instead of recalling every tender and affectionate feeling, was but
the symbol of a vague horror, the fountain of that degradation and
depravation of his nature, from which no subsequent prosperity could
ever redeem it.

For many years after his boyhood his life was one of continual
hardship. With that unsubdued conviction of his own powers, which
often is the sole consolation of genius, he toiled on and bravely
struggled through the sordid miseries of a strolling player's life.
The road to success lies through many a thorny course, across many a
dreary stretch of desert land, over many an obstacle, from which the
fainting heart is often tempted to turn back. But hope, and the sense
of power within, which no discouragements can subdue, inspire the
struggling artist still to continue the conflict, till at last courage
and perseverance meet with their just reward, and success comes. The
only feeling then to which the triumphant artist may be tempted is one
of good-natured contempt for those who are so ready to applaud those
merits which, in the past, they were too blind to recognize. Edmund
Kean was twenty-seven years old before his day of triumph came.

Without any preliminary puffs, without any flourish of trumpets, on
the evening of the 26th January, 1814, soaked through with the rain,
Edmund Kean slunk more than walked in at the stage-door of Drury Lane
Theatre, uncheered by one word of encouragement, and quite unnoticed.
He found his way to the wretched dressing-room he shared in common
with three or four other actors; as quick as possible he exchanged his
dripping clothes for the dress of Shylock; and, to the horror of
his companions, took from his bundle a _black_ wig--the proof of his
daring rebellion against the great law of conventionality, which
had always condemned Shylock to red hair. Cheered by the kindness of
Bannister and Oxberry, the latter of whom offered him a welcome glass
of brandy and water, he descended to the stage dressed, and peeped
through the curtain to see a more than half-empty house. Dr. Drury
was waiting at the wings to give him a hearty welcome. The boxes were
empty, and there were about five hundred people in the pit, and a few
others "thinly scattered to make up a show." Shylock was the part he
was playing, and he no sooner stepped upon the stage than the interest
of the audience was excited. Nothing he did or spoke in the part was
done or spoken in a conventional manner. The simple words, "I will be
assured I may," were given with such effect that the audience burst
into applause. When the act-drop fell, after the speech of Shylock
to Antonio, his success was assured, and his fellow-actors, who had
avoided him, now seemed disposed to congratulate him; but he shrank
from their approaches. The great scene with Tubal was a revelation of
such originality and of such terrible force as had not probably been
seen upon those boards before. "How the devil so few of them could
kick up such a row was something marvellous!" naively remarked
Oxberry. At the end of the third act every one was ready to pay court
to him; but again he held aloof. All his thoughts were concentrated on
the great "trial" scene, which was coming. In that scene the
wonderful variety of his acting completed his triumph. Trembling with
excitement, he resumed his half-dried clothes, and, glad to escape,
rushed home. He was in too great a state of ecstasy at first to speak,
but his face told his wife that he had realized his dream--that he
had appeared on the stage of Drury Lane, and that his great powers
had been instantly acknowledged. With not a shadow of doubt as to his
future, he exclaimed, "Mary, you shall ride in your carriage;" and
taking his baby boy from the cradle and kissing him, said, "and
Charley, my boy, you shall go to Eton,"--and he did.

The time when Edmund Kean made his first appearance in London was
certainly favorable for an actor of genius. For a long while the
national theatre had been in a bad way; and nothing but failure had
hitherto met the efforts of the Committee of Management, a committee
which numbered among its members Lord Byron. When the other members
of the committee, with a strange blindness to their own interests,
proposed that for the present, Kean's name should be removed from
the bills, Byron interested himself on his behalf: "You have a great
genius among you," he said, "and you do not know it." On Kean's second
appearance the house was nearly doubled. Hazlitt's criticism had
roused the whole body of critics, and they were all there to sit in
judgment upon the newcomer. His utter indifference to the audience won
him their respect, and before the piece was half over the sentence
of the formidable tribunal was in his favor. From that moment Kean
exercised over his audiences a fascination which was probably never
exercised by any other actor. Garrick was no doubt his superior in
parts of high comedy; he was more polished, more vivacious--his manner
more distinguished, and his versatility more striking. In such parts
as Coriolanus or Rolla, John Kemble excelled him: but in Shylock,
in Richard, in Iago, and, above all, in Othello, it may be doubted
whether Edmund Kean ever had an equal. As far as one can judge--not
having seen Kean one's-self--from the many criticisms extant, written
by the most intellectual men, and from the accounts of those who
saw him in his prime, he was, to my mind--be it said without any
disparagement to other great actors--the greatest genius that our
stage has ever seen. Unequal he may have been, perhaps often so, but
there were moments in his acting which were, without exaggeration,
moments of inspiration. Coleridge is reported to have said that to see
Kean act was "like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning." This
often-quoted sentence embodies perhaps the main feature of Edmund
Kean's greatness as an actor; for, when he was impersonating the
heroes of our poet, he revealed their natures by an instant flash of
light so searching that every minute feature, which by the ordinary
light of day was hardly visible, stood bright and clear before you.
The effect of such acting was indeed that of lightning--it appalled;
the timid hid their eyes, and fashionable society shrank from such
heart-piercing revelations of human passion. Persons who had schooled
themselves to control their emotion till they had scarcely any
emotion left to control, were repelled rather than attracted by Kean's
relentless anatomy of all the strongest feeling of our nature. In Sir
Giles Overreach, a character almost devoid of poetry, Kean's acting
displayed with such powerful and relentless truth the depths of a
cruel, avaricious man, baffled in all his vilest schemes, that the
effect he produced was absolutely awful. As no bird but the eagle can
look without blinking on the sun, so none but those who in the
sacred privacy of their imaginations had stood face to face with the
mightiest storms of human passion could understand such a performance.
Byron, who had been almost forced into a quarrel with Kean by the
actor's disregard of the ordinary courtesies of society, could not
restrain himself, but rushed behind the scenes and grasped the hand of
the man to whom he felt that he owed a wonderful revelation.

I might discant for hours with an enthusiasm which, perhaps, only an
actor could feel on the marvellous details of Kean's impersonations.
He was not a scholar in the ordinary sense of the word, though Heaven
knows he had been schooled by adversity, but I doubt if there ever was
an actor who so thought out his part, who so closely studied with the
inward eye of the artist the waves of emotion that might have agitated
the minds of the beings whom he represented. One hears of him during
those early years of struggle and privation, pacing silently along
the road, foot-sore and half-starved, but unconscious of his own
sufferings, because he was immersed in the study of those great
creations of Shakespeare's genius which he was destined to endow with
life upon the stage. When you read of Edmund Kean as, alas! he was
later on in life, with mental and physical powers impaired, think of
the description those gave of him who knew him best in his earlier
years; how amidst all the wildness and half-savage Bohemianism, which
the miseries of his life had ensured, he displayed, time after time,
the most large-hearted generosity, the tenderest kindness of which
human nature is capable. Think of him working with a concentrated
energy for the one object which he sought, namely, to reach the
highest distinction in his calling. Think of him as sparing no mental
or physical labor to attain this end, an end which seemed ever fading
further and further from his grasp. Think of the disappointments, the
cruel mockeries of hope which, day after day, he had to encounter;
and then be harsh if you can to those moral failings for which his
misfortunes rather than his faults were responsible. If you are
inclined to be severe, you may console yourselves with the reflection
that this genius, who had given the highest intellectual pleasure to
hundreds and thousands of human beings, was hounded by hypocritical
sanctimoniousness out of his native land; and though, two years
afterwards, one is glad to say, for the honor of one's country, a
complete reaction took place, and his reappearance was greeted with
every mark of hearty welcome, the blow had been struck from which
neither his mind or his body ever recovered. He lingered upon
the stage, and died at the age of forty-six, after five years of
suffering--almost a beggar--with only a solitary ten-pound note
remaining of the large fortune his genius had realized.

It is said that Kean swept away the Kembles and their Classical school
of acting. He did not do that. The memory of Sarah Siddons, tragic
queen of the British stage, was never to be effaced, and I would
remind you that when Kean was a country actor (assured of his own
powers, however unappreciated), resenting with passionate pride the
idea of playing second to "the Infant Roscius," who was for a time
the craze and idol of the hour, "Never," said he, "never; I will play
second to no one but John Kemble!" I am certain that when his
better nature had the ascendency no one would have more generously
acknowledged the merits of Kemble than Edmund Kean. It is idle to say
that because his style was solemn and slow, Kemble was not one of the
greatest actors that our stage has produced. It is only those whose
natures make them incapable of approbation or condemnation in artistic
matters without being partisans, who, because they admire Edmund Kean,
would admit no merit in John Kemble. The world of art, thank Heaven,
is wide enough for both, and the hearts of those who truly love art
are large enough to cherish the memory of both as of men who did noble
work in the profession which they adorned. Kean blended the Realistic
with the Ideal in acting, and founded a school of which William
Charles Macready was, afterwards, in England, the foremost disciple.

Thus have we glanced, briefly enough, at four of our greatest actors
whose names are landmarks in the history of the Drama in England, the
greatest Drama of the world. We have seen how they all carried out, by
different methods perhaps, but in the same spirit, the principle that
in acting Nature must dominate Art. But it is Art that must interpret
Nature; and to interpret the thoughts and emotions of her mistress
should be her first object. But those thoughts, those emotions, must
be interpreted with grace, with dignity and with temperance; and
these, let us remember, Art alone can teach.




ADDRESS

SESSIONAL OPENING

PHILOSOPHICAL INSTITUTION

EDINBURGH

9 NOVEMBER 1891




THE ART OF ACTING


I have chosen as the subject of the address with which I have the
honor to inaugurate for the second time the Session of the Edinburgh
Philosophical Institution, "The Art of Acting." I have done so, in the
first instance, because I take it for granted that when you bestow on
any man the honor of asking him to deliver the inaugural address, it
is your wish to hear him speak of the subject with which he is best
acquainted; and the Art of Acting is the subject to which my life has
been devoted. I have another reason also which, though it may, so far
as you are concerned, be personal to those of my calling, I think it
well to put before you. It is that there may be, from the point of
view of an actor distinguished by your favor, some sort of official
utterance on the subject. There are some irresponsible writers who
have of late tried to excite controversy by assertions, generally
false and always misleading, as to the stage and those devoted to the
arts connected with it. Some of these writers go so far as to assert
that Acting is not an Art at all; and though we must not take such
wild assertions quite seriously, I think it well to place on record at
least a polite denial of their accuracy. It would not, of course,
be seemly to merely take so grave an occasion as the present as an
opportunity for such a controversy, but as I am dealing with the
subject before you, I think it better to place you in full knowledge
of the circumstances. It does not do, of course, to pay too much
attention to ephemeral writings, any more than to creatures of the
mist and the swamp and the night. But even the buzzing of the midge,
though the insect may be harmless compared with its more poison-laden
fellows, can divert the mind from more important things. To disregard
entirely the world of ephemera, and their several actions and effects
were to deny the entirety of the scheme of creation.

I take it for granted that in addressing you on the subject of the Art
of Acting I am not, _prima facie_, encountering set prejudices; for
had you despised the Art which I represent I should not have had the
honor of appearing before you to-day. You will, I trust, on your part,
bear this in mind, and I shall, on my part, never forget that you are
members of a Philosophical Institution, the very root and basis of
whose work is to inquire into the heart of things with the purpose of
discovering why such as come under your notice are thus or thus.

The subject of my address is a very vast one, and is, I assure you,
worthy of a careful study. Writers such as Voltaire, Schlegel, Goethe,
Lessing, Charles Lamb, Hazlitt, and Schiller, have not disdained to
treat it with that seriousness which Art specially demands--which
anything in life requires whose purpose is not immediate and
imperative. For my own part I can only bring you the experience
of more than thirty years of hard and earnest work. Out of wide
experience let me point out that there are many degrees of merit, both
of aim, of endeavor, and of execution in acting, as in all things. I
want you to think of acting at its best--as it may be, as it can be,
as it has been, and is--and as it shall be, whilst it be followed by
men and women of strong and earnest purpose. I do not for a moment
wish you to believe that only Shakespeare and the great writers are
worthy of being played, and that all those efforts that in centuries
have gathered themselves round great names are worthy of your praise.
In the House of Art are many mansions where men may strive worthily
and live cleanly lives. All Art is worthy, and can be seriously
considered, so long as the intention be good and the efforts to
achieve success be conducted with seemliness. And let me here say,
that of all the arts none requires greater intention than the art
of acting. Throughout it is necessary to _do_ something, and
that something cannot fittingly be left to chance, or the unknown
inspiration of a moment. I say "unknown," for if known, then the
intention is to reproduce, and the success of the effort can be
in nowise due to chance. It may be, of course, that in moments of
passionate excitement the mind grasps some new idea, or the nervous
tension suggests to the mechanical parts of the body some new form of
expression; but such are accidents which belong to the great scheme of
life, and not to this art, or any art, alone. You all know the story
of the painter who, in despair at not being able to carry out the
intention of his imagination, dashed his brush at the imperfect
canvas, and with the scattering paint produced by chance the very
effect which his brush guided by his skill alone, had failed to
achieve. The actor's business is primarily to reproduce the ideas of
the author's brain, to give them form, and substance, and color, and
life, so that those who behold the action of a play may, so far as
can be effected, be lured into the fleeting belief that they behold
reality. Macready, who was an earnest student, defined the art of the
actor "to fathom the depths of character, to trace its latent motives,
to feel its finest quivering of emotion, is to comprehend the thoughts
that are hidden under words, and thus possess one's-self of the actual
mind of the individual man"; and Talma spoke of it as "the union
of grandeur without pomp, and nature without triviality"; whilst
Shakespeare wrote, "the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, 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."

This effort to reproduce man in his moods is no mere trick of fancy
carried into execution. It is a part of the character of a strong
nation, and has a wider bearing on national life than perhaps
unthinking people are aware. Mr. Froude, in his survey of early
England, gives it a special place; and I venture to quote his words,
for they carry with them, not only their own lesson, but the authority
of a great name in historical research.

"No genius can dispense with experience; the aberrations of power,
unguided or ill-guided, are ever in proportion to its intensity, and
life is not long enough to recover from inevitable mistakes. Noble
conceptions already existing, and a noble school of execution which
will launch mind and hand at once upon their true courses, are
indispensable to transcendent excellence; and Shakespeare's plays were
as much the offspring of the long generations who had pioneered his
road for him, as the discoveries of Newton were the offspring of those
of Copernicus.

"No great general ever arose out of a nation of cowards; no great
statesman or philosopher out of a nation of fools; no great artist out
of a nation of materialists; no great drama, except when the drama was
the possession of the people. Acting was the especial amusement of the
English, from the palace to the village green. It was the result and
expression of their strong, tranquil possession of their lives, of
their thorough power over themselves, and power over circumstances.
They were troubled with no subjective speculations; no social problems
vexed them with which they were unable to deal; and in the exuberance
of vigor and spirit, they were able, in the strict and literal sense
of the word, to play with the materials of life." So says Mr. Froude.

In the face of this statement of fact set forth gravely in its place
in the history of our land, what becomes of such bold assertions as
are sometimes made regarding the place of the drama being but a poor
one, since the efforts of the actor are but mimetic and ephemeral,
that they pass away as a tale that is told? All art is mimetic; and
even life itself, the highest and last gift of God to His people, is
fleeting. Marble crumbles, and the very names of great cities become
buried in the dust of ages. Who then would dare to arrogate to any art
an unchanging place in the scheme of the world's development, or would
condemn it because its efforts fade and pass? Nay, more; has even the
tale that is told no significance in after years? Can such not stir,
when it is worth the telling, the hearts of men, to whom it comes as
an echo from the past? Have not those tales remained most vital and
most widely known which are told and told again and again, face to
face and heart to heart, when the teller and the listener are adding,
down the ages, strength to the current of a mighty thought or a mighty
deed and its record?

Surely the record that lives in the minds of men is still a record,
though it be not graven on brass or wrought in marble. And it were
a poor conception of the value of any art, if, in considering it, we
were to keep our eyes fixed on some dark spot, some imperfection, and
shut our eyes to its aim, its power, its beauty. It were a poor age
indeed where such a state of things is possible; as poor as that of
which Mrs. Browning's unhappy poet spoke in the bitterness of his
soul:

                           "The age culls simples,
    With a broad clown's back turned broadly to the
          glory of the stars."

Let us lift our faces when we wish to judge truly of any earnest work
of the hand or mind of man, and see it placed in the widest horizon
that is given to us. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, architecture,
all have a bearing on their time, and beyond it; and the actor, though
his knowledge may be, and must be, limited by the knowledge of his
age, so long as he sound the notes of human passion, has something
which is common to all the ages. If he can smite water from the rock
of one hardened human heart--if he can bring light to the eye or
wholesome color to the faded cheek--if he can bring or restore in ever
so slight degree the sunshine of hope, of pleasure, of gayety, surely
he cannot have worked in vain. It would need but a small effort
of imagination to believe that that great wave theory, which the
scientists have proved as ruling the manifestations of light and
sound, applies also to the efforts of human emotion. And who shall
tell us the ultimate bounds of these waves of light and sound? If
these discernible waves can be traced till they fade into impalpable
nothingness, may we not think that this other, impalpable at the
beginning as they are at the end, can alone stretch into the
dimness of memory? Sir Joshua's gallant compliment, that he achieved
immortality by writing his name on the hem of Mrs. Siddons's garment,
when he painted her as the Tragic Muse, had a deeper significance than
its pretty fancy would at first imply.

Not for a moment is the position to be accepted that the theatre
is merely a place of amusement. That it is primarily a place of
amusement, and is regarded as such by its _habitues_, is of course
apparent; but this is not its limitation. For authors, managers, and
actors it is a serious employment, to be undertaken gravely, and of
necessity to be adhered to rigidly. Thus far it may be considered from
these different stand-points; but there is a larger view--that of the
State. Here we have to consider a custom of natural growth specially
suitable to the genius of the nation. It has advanced with the
progress of each age, and multiplied with its material prosperity.
It is a living power, to be used for good, or possibly for evil; and
far-seeing men recognize in it, based though it be on the relaxation
and pleasures of the people, an educational medium of no mean order.
Its progress in the past century has been the means of teaching to
millions of people a great number of facts which had perhaps otherwise
been lost to them. How many are there who have had brought home to
them in an understandable manner by stage-plays the costumes, habits,
manners, and customs of countries and ages other than their own;
what insight have they thus obtained into facts and vicissitudes of
life--of passions and sorrows and ambitions outside the narrow scope
of their own lives, and which yet may and do mould the destinies of
men. All this is education--education in its widest sense, for it
broadens the sympathies and enlarges the intellectual grasp.
And beyond this again--for these are advantages on the material
side--there is that higher education of the heart, which raises in the
scale of creation all who are subject to its sweetening influences. To
hold his place therefore amongst these progressing forces, the actor
must at the start be well endowed with some special powers, and by
training, reading, and culture of many kinds, be equipped for the work
before him. No amount of training can give to a dense understanding
and a clumsy personality certain powers of quickness and spontaneity;
and, on the other hand, no genius can find its fullest expression
without some understanding of the principles and method of a craft. It
is the actor's part to represent or interpret the ideas and emotions
which the poet has created, and to do this he must at the first have
a full knowledge and understanding of them. This is in itself no easy
task. It requires much study and much labor of many kinds. Having then
acquired an idea, his intention to work it out into reality must be
put in force; and here new difficulties crop up at every further step
taken in advance. Now and again it suffices the poet to think and
write in abstractions; but the actor's work is absolutely concrete.
He is brought in every phase of his work into direct comparison with
existing things, and must be judged by the most exacting standards of
criticism. Not only must his dress be suitable to the part which he
assumes, but his bearing must not be in any way antagonistic to the
spirit of the time in which the play is fixed. The free bearing of
the sixteenth century is distinct from the artificial one of the
seventeenth, the mannered one of the eighteenth, and the careless
one of the nineteenth. And all this quite exclusive of the minute
qualities and individualities of the character represented. The voice
must be modulated to the vogue of the time. The habitual action of a
rapier-bearing age is different to that of a mail-clad one--nay, the
armor of a period ruled in real life the poise and bearing of the
body; and all this must be reproduced on the stage, unless the
intelligence of the audience, be they ever so little skilled in
history, is to count as naught.

It cannot therefore be seriously put forward in the face of such
manifold requirements that no Art is required for the representation
of suitable action. Are we to imagine that inspiration or emotion of
any kind is to supply the place of direct knowledge of facts--of skill
in the very grammar of craftsmanship? Where a great result is arrived
at much effort is required, whether the same be immediate or has been
spread over a time of previous preparation. In this nineteenth century
the spirit of education stalks abroad and influences men directly
and indirectly, by private generosity and national foresight, to
accumulate as religiously as in former ages ecclesiastics and devotees
gathered sacred relics, all that helps to give the people a full
understanding of lives and times and countries other than their own.
Can it be that in such an age all that can help to aid the inspiration
and to increase direct knowledge is of no account whatever, because,
forsooth, it has a medium or method of its own? There are those who
say that Shakespeare is better in the closet than on the stage; that
dramatic beauty is more convincing when read in private than when
spoken on the stage to the accompaniment of suitable action. And yet,
if this be so, it is a strange thing that, with all the activity of
the new-born printing-press, Shakespeare's works were not known to the
reading public till the fame of the writer had been made on the stage.
And it is a stranger thing still, if the drama be a mere poetic form
of words, that the writer who began with _Venus and Adonis_, when he
found the true method of expression to suit his genius, ended with
_Hamlet_ and _The Tempest_.

How is it, I ask, if these responsible makers of statements be
correct, that every great writer down from the days of Elizabeth, when
the drama took practical shape from the wish of the poets to render
human life in all its phases, have been desirous of seeing their
works, when written in dramatic form, represented on the stage--and
not only represented, but represented under the most favorable
conditions obtainable, both as to the fitness of setting and the
choice of the most skilled and excellent players? Are we to take it
that the poet, with his eye in a fine phrenzy rolling, sees all the
minute details of form, color, light, sound, and action which have
to be rendered complete on the stage? Is there nothing in what the
individual actor, who is gifted with fine sense and emotional power,
can add to mere words, however grand and rolling in themselves, and
whatsoever mighty image they may convey? Can it be possible that there
is any sane person who holds that there is no such thing as expression
in music so long as the written notes are correctly rendered--that the
musical expression of a Paganini or a Liszt, or that the voice of a
Malibran or a Grisi, has no special charm--nay more, that there is not
some special excellence in the instruments of Amati or Stradivarius?
If there be, we can leave to him, whilst the rest of mankind marvel
at his self-sufficient obtuseness, to hold that it was nothing but his
own imagination which so much influenced Hazlitt when he was touched
to the heart by Edmund Kean's rendering of the words of the remorseful
Moor, "Fool, fool, fool!" Why, the action of a player who knows how to
convey to the audience that he is listening to another speaking, can
not only help in the illusion of the general effect, but he himself
can suggest a running commentary on what is spoken. In every moment
in which he is on the stage, an actor accomplished in his craft can
convey ideas to the mind.

It is in the representation of passion that the intention of the actor
appears in its greatest force. He wishes to do a particular thing, and
so far the wish is father to the thought that the brain begins to work
in the required direction, and the emotional faculties and the whole
nervous and muscular systems follow suit. A skilled actor can count on
this development of power, if it be given to him to rise at all to the
height of a passion; and the inspiration of such moments may, now and
again, reveal to him some new force or beauty in the character which
he represents. Thus he will gather in time a certain habitual strength
in a particular representation of passion. Diderot laid down a theory
that an actor never feels the part he is acting. It is of course true
that the pain he suffers is not real pain, but I leave it to any one
who has ever felt his own heart touched by the woes of another to say
if he can even imagine a case where the man who follows in minutest
detail the history of an emotion, from its inception onward, is the
only one who cannot be stirred by it--more especially when his own
individuality must perforce be merged in that of the archetypal
sufferer. Talma knew that it was possible for an actor to feel to the
full a simulated passion, and yet whilst being swept by it to retain
his consciousness of his surroundings and his purpose. In his own
words--"The intelligence accumulates and preserves all the creations
of sensibility." And this is what Shakespeare means when he makes
Hamlet tell the players--"for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I
may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must beget a temperance that
may give it smoothness."

How can any one be temperate in the midst of his passion, lest it be
that his consciousness and his purpose remain to him? Let me say that
it is this very discretion which marks the ultimate boundary of an
Art, which stands within the line of demarcation between Art and
Nature. In Nature there is no such discretion. Passion rules supreme
and alone; discretion ceases, and certain consequences cease to be any
deterrent or to convey any warning. It must never be forgotten that
all Art has the aim or object of seeming and not of being; and that to
understate is as bad as to overstate the modesty or the efflorescence
of Nature. It is not possible to show within the scope of any Art the
entire complexity and the myriad combining influences of Nature.
The artist has to accept the conventional standard--the accepted
significance--of many things, and confine himself to the exposition of
that which is his immediate purpose. To produce the effect of reality
it is necessary, therefore, that the efforts of an artist should be
slightly different from the actions of real life. The perspective
of the stage is not that of real life, and the result of seeming
is achieved by means which, judged by themselves, would seem to be
indirect. It is only the raw recruit who tries to hit the bull's-eye
by point-blank firing, and who does not allow for elevation and
windage. Are we to take it for a moment, that in the Art of Acting,
of which elocution is an important part, nothing is to be left to the
individual idea of the actor? That he is simply to declaim the words
set down for him, without reference to the expression of his face,
his bearing, or his action? It is in the union of all the powers--the
harmony of gait and utterance and emotion--that conviction lies.
Garrick, who was the most natural actor of his time, could not declaim
so well as many of his own manifest inferiors in his art--nay, it
was by this that he set aside the old false method, and soared to the
heights in which, as an artist, he reigned supreme. Garrick personated
and Kean personated. The one had all the grace and mastery of the
powers of man for the conveyance of ideas, the other had a mighty
spirit which could leap out in flame to awe and sweep the souls of
those who saw and heard him. And the secret of both was that they best
understood the poet--best impersonated the characters which he drew,
and the passions which he set forth.

In order to promote and preserve the idea of reality in the minds of
the public, it is necessary that the action of the play be set in what
the painters call the proper _milieu_, or atmosphere. To this belongs
costume, scenery, and all that tends to set forth time and place other
than our own. If this idea be not kept in view there must be, or at
all events there may be, some disturbing cause to the mind of the
onlooker. This is all--literally all--that dramatic Art imperatively
demands from the paint room, the wardrobe, and the property shop;
and it is because the public taste and knowledge in such matters have
grown that the actor has to play his part with the surroundings and
accessories which are sometimes pronounced to be a weight or drag
on action. Suitability is demanded in all things; and it must, for
instance, be apparent to all that the things suitable to a palace are
different to those usual in a hovel. There is nothing unsuitable in
Lear in kingly raiment in the hovel in the storm, because such is here
demanded by the exigencies of the play: but if Lear were to be first
shown in such guise in such a place with no explanation given of the
cause, either the character or the stage-manager would be simply taken
for a madman. This idea of suitability should always be borne in mind,
for it is in itself a sufficient answer to any thoughtless allegation
as to overloading a play with scenery.

Finally, in the consideration of the Art of Acting, it must never be
forgotten that its ultimate aim is beauty. Truth itself is only an
element of beauty, and to merely reproduce things vile and squalid and
mean is a debasement of Art. There is apt to be such a tendency in
an age of peace, and men should carefully watch its manifestations. A
morose and hopeless dissatisfaction is not a part of a true national
life. This is hopeful and earnest, and, if need be, militant. It is a
bad sign for any nation to yearn for, or even to tolerate, pessimism
in its enjoyment; and how can pessimism be other than antagonistic
to beauty? Life, with all its pains and sorrows, is a beautiful and
a precious gift; and the actor's Art is to reproduce this beautiful
thing, giving due emphasis to those royal virtues and those stormy
passions which sway the destinies of men. Thus the lesson given by
long experience--by the certain punishment of ill-doing--and by the
rewards that follow on bravery, forbearance, and self-sacrifice, are
on the mimic stage conveyed to men. And thus every actor who is more
than a mere machine, and who has an ideal of any kind, has a duty
which lies beyond the scope of his personal ambition. His art must
be something to hold in reverence if he wishes others to hold it in
esteem. There is nothing of chance about this work. All, actors and
audience alike, must bear in mind that the whole scheme of the higher
Drama is not to be regarded as a game in life which can be played with
varying success. Its present intention may be to interest and amuse,
but its deeper purpose is earnest, intense, sincere.



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