Slike stranica
PDF
ePub

may no doubt be adduced against them, on rare occasions, of prejudice or pique; but these cannot outweigh the value of the testimony borne by the body of the press, conducted as it is for the most part by men of character, education, and talent. I had no cause to be dissatisfied with its record of the verdict in my case, which, with differences and exceptions on items, was laudatory and cheering as to the general issue. The selection of the play was very generally condemned. The Times, in its first judgment on me, "allowing a certain amount of ability, did not conceive it was sufficient to shake Young, or much to intimidate Charles Kemble. Mr. Macready's last scene was executed with great vigour. He is not handsome in face or person, but we think him a man of clear conception, of much energy, and some skill." The Globe remarked, "Mr. Macready is above the middle size, and his countenance is pleasing; but we think tragedy requires features of a more prominent and strongly-marked description than those which he possesses. His eyes however are good, and full of fire; and when in the paroxysm of passion we mark their wild transitions, our attention is entirely withdrawn from the flatness of the features they irradiate. His voice, generally speaking, is full and musical. From our observation of his performance Mr. Macready is a man of mind. In this play the actor must do everything, for the author has done nothing. Mr. Macready laboured hard to supply the deficiency, and the sparks of his genius frequently kindled to a blaze the chaff of Mr. Phillips." Hazlitt, in the Examiner, at that time an authority almost supreme on subjects of theatrical taste, joins in the general objection to the play of 'The Distressed Mother,' in which" though," he observes, "a bad one for the display of his powers, Mr. Macready succeeded in making a decidedly favourable impression on the audience." "We have not the slightest hesitation," he continues, “in saying that Mr. Macready is by far the best tragic actor that has come out in our remembrance, with the exception of Mr. Kean."

Many compliments were paid me on the quality and compass of my voice; but if personal vanity-from which not even deformity and ugliness are exempt-had been among my flaws of character, I should have writhed under the report so widely promulgated "del mio brutto volto." Intimations were given in criticisms the most favourable that my face was not well

1816. REMARKS ON PERSONAL APPEARANCE.

129

"calculated for the stage." The theatrical article in the News (a journal which, after Leigh Hunt's secession, still retained a reputation for its critical notices) began its review in these words: "Mr. Macready is the plainest and most awkwardly-made man that ever trod the stage, but he is an actor whom in some respects we prefer to Mr. Kean." An amusing proof of the persuasion so widely entertained of my personal disqualifications was afforded me at the theatre one evening soon after my debut. A man and woman were seated before me in the second tier of boxes. In the course of their conversation the lady inquired of her companion whether he had "seen the new actor." "What, Macready?" he replied; "No, I've not seen him yet; I am told he is a capital actor, but a devilish ugly fellow: they say he is an ugly likeness of Liston!" My equability was not at all disturbed by the frankness of these comments, and I dare say I probably did not think myself quite so bad as I was represented. John Kemble, who, in addition to the talent he possessed, owed so much of his success to the external gifts of nature, may be expected to have attached vast importance to them, and certainly he seems to have sided with the informants of my friend of the second tier. When his brother Charles one day stated his conviction that I should attain the foremost rank in the profession, John Kemble, who had never seen me act, took a pinch of snuff, and with a significant smile rejoined, "Oh Charles! con quel viso!" My vanity however was not assailable on this point, for I had been, I am glad to say, early bullied into thinking humbly of myself in regard to personal appearance. I remembered, moreover, that Le Kain, Henderson, and Talma, in attaining the highest celebrity in their art, had found the plainness of their features no obstruction to the full display of those emotions which the deep study of their author awakened, and I fortified myself by their example with the hope of being able to develop my conceptions with vigour and distinctness, and, by the truth and earnestness of my own feelings, to ensure the sympathy of my auditors.

[ocr errors]

The Italian Lover,' as conflicting with no popular prepossession, was fixed upon for my second play, though with scarce a hope of its attraction, from its unbroken gloom and the inefficiency of its cast, which was even feebler than that of 'The Distressed Mother.' This dull tragedy, produced Monday,

VOL. I.

K

September 30th, though it did not benefit the receipts of the theatre, rendered good service to me individually, raising me still higher in the estimation of those who had judged favourably of my first appearance, and winning over the suffrages of many who had been disposed to dispute my claims to notice.*

The last scene of Mentevole was often quoted by old playgoers in after-years, particularly by my friend Talfourd, as one in which the feelings of the audience were wound up to the highest pitch of intensity. But the applauses lavished on an unproductive play, however serviceable to my reputation, failed of course to satisfy the demands of the treasury, and in an impatient mood Mr. Harris announced me to appear in Othello and Iago alternately with Young. This was a desperate move, an injudicious one, and to me very distressing, as I had never acted or studied Iago, and had scarcely reasonable time allowed to master even the words of the part. Alas for the interests of art, when its difficulties and requirements are so little understood! Of my Shakespearean characters Othello was one I had least frequently performed; but remonstrance was useless: I had to buckle myself to my task, and in the noble Moor I gained some credit. The papers were more favourable than I had anticipated.†

For Iago, "ce maître achevé dans l'art de la dissimulation," he who is indeed "all things to all men," whose perfect accomplishment in craft might "send the learned Machiavel to school"-for that consummate deceiver (that in after-years I

*The Times, alluding to “the catastrophe in the fifth act, which produces an effect so terrible and so moving," speaks of me "as a various and skilful painter of the human passions. The last act, the most impassioned in the play, was the happiest test of Mr. Macready's talents. Subtlety, terror, rage, despair, and triumph were successively displayed by him with truth and energy, and he retired amidst loud acclamations."

†The Times on Othello.-"It must have effaced every trace of doubt from those who witnessed his performance with regard to the general measure of his capacity in the higher walks of the profession. The best proof of this actor's judgment, independently of his other powers, may be perceived in his contempt of all those gratuitous decorations, whether of tone or manner, which some of the most eminent cannot consent entirely to relinquish. It may be found also in his practice of employing all his force in those passages of noiseless but intense feeling, and exhibiting it in all its sublime depths, if not by a sudden look or startling gesture, yet by a condensation of vigorous utterance and masculine expression, from which few will be disposed to appeal.”

1816.

HAZLITT'S CRITICISM.

131

made one of my most finished personations) I was altogether unprepared, and must have given a very bald and commonplace repetition of the text; there was, in fact, no character at all in the performance, which must have been a disappointment to the audience, as it was very embarrassing to me. Hazlitt's criticism upon the play was that "Young in Othello was like a great humming-top, and Macready in Iago like a mischievous boy whipping him"-a comparison quite as complimentary, I have no doubt, as my imperfect essay deserved.* After the long lapse of years, witnessing in their course so many changes, I can now look back and collectedly review the peculiarities of my position.

With the month of October Miss O'Neill had returned, her attraction undiminished; John Kemble was announced for his last season; whilst Kean at Drury Lane was performing his round of plays to well-filled houses, Young at Covent Garden was the welcomed representative of the leading tragic parts, the youthful and chivalrous ones having been for several years in the possession of Charles Kemble. Where then was a place for me? I should have better weighed all this before! It now became apparent I had made my venture too soon. My powers not yet sufficiently matured to challenge precedence, nothing was left for me but eagerly to watch for, and to the utmost improve, every opportunity that might present itself. The possession of talent was not denied to me, though critics were always not in agreement on its amount. I was in the first rank, though not yet the first. The step had however been taken, and was irrevocable, which placed me on a field of competition under unquestionably signal disadvantages, to which I must either succumb, and, by yielding to despondency, dwindle into "respectability" (as in theatrical language mediocrity is usually designated), or look to time to win for me, by dint of strenuous and unremitting efforts, the public acknowledgment of the power I felt within me. My motto henceforward must be from Seneca "Inveniet viam, aut faciet." †

* The Times on Iago.—“ Mr. Macready executed the part of Iago with limited, and but limited, success. It had passages of great and superlative merit; but, viewed as an entire piece of acting, it was faulty, unimpressive, and, as we have hinted, erroneously conceived in one or two of its capital features."

"Find a way, or make one."-ED.

CHAPTER IX.

1816-1817.-Gambia-Miss Stephens-Her voice and acting-John Kemble in Cato-Kean's Sir Edward Mortimer in 'The Iron Chest' and OroonokoBooth's appearance as Richard III. at Covent Garden—Attempted rivalry with Kean-Kean's policy with him-Appears as Iago to Kean's Othello at Drury Lane-His complete discomfiture-Macready acting with Booth as Valentio in The Conquest of Taranto '-Booth's retreat.

AN operatic drama, called 'The Slave,' written by Morton, which embraced the talents of Terry, Emery, Liston, Jones, Sinclair, Duruset, Mrs. Davenport, and the charming Miss Stephens, was read in the green-room; and the slave, the hero of the piece, Gambia, one of the "faultless monsters, that the world ne'er saw," was confided to me. Placed in situations of strong interest, with high-flown sentiments and occasional bursts of passion, its effect was unequivocal, answering the fullest expectations of the management. This play, supported by first-rate comic acting, Bishop's music, and the all-powerful charm of Miss Stephen's voice, conduced much to my advantage by keeping me in a favourable point of view before the public during a prosperous run of more than thirty nights. It was in one of the rehearsals of this part I met with an accident that might have been attended with much graver consequences. To secure the retreat of Zelinda and Clifton, who were escaping from their pursuers, I had to cut away a wooden bridge, over which they had just passed; in its fall a rough spar, as I turned round, caught in my coat-pocket, and dragged me down backwards with it from the platform on which I was standing, a distance

[ocr errors]

* The Times on The Slave.'-"Mr. Macready was extremely well received. The black slave was no bad specimen of his peculiar talent, which seems to lie in the broad and boisterous ostentation of tempestuous passion, for which he has only one language, nervous certainly, but rather monotonous; though we must do him the justice to say that he uttered many passages in the play with extreme tenderness, pathos, and delicacy."

« PrethodnaNastavi »