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   Chapter 15 EDMUND KEAN.

Their Majesties' Servants (Volume 3 of 3) By John Doran Characters: 55324

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

"It is, perhaps, not generally known," says Macaulay, when closing his narrative of the death of the great Lord Halifax, in 1695, "that some adventurers who, without advantages of fortune or position, made themselves conspicuous by the mere force of ability, inherited the blood of Halifax. He left a natural son, Henry Carey, whose dramas once drew crowded audiences to the theatres, and some of whose gay and spirited verses still live in the memory of hundreds of thousands. From Henry Carey descended that Edmund Kean who, in our own time, transformed himself so marvellously into Shylock, Iago, and Othello."

This reminds me of an anecdote of Louis Philippe, when Duke of Orleans, who happened one day to speak of Louis XIV. as "my august ancestor." The remark was made to a young clerk in his household,-a future novelist and dramatist, Alexandre Dumas. This gentleman opened his eyes in amazement, knowing that the duke was legitimately descended from the brother of the "Grand Monarque." The duke, however, was thinking of the inter-marriages between members of his family and the illegitimate descendants of Louis XIV.; but he noticed the surprise of Dumas, and then calmly added:-"Yes, Dumas; my august ancestor, Louis XIV.! to descend from him, only through his bastards, is, in my eyes at least, an honour sufficiently great to be worth boasting of!"

In like manner Edmund Kean might have boasted of his descent from George Saville, Marquis of Halifax; but I think he was prouder of what he had achieved for himself through his genius, than of any oblique splendour derived to him from the author of the Maxims and the great chief of the Trimmers,-if, indeed, he knew anything about him.

A posthumous son of Henry Carey, well known as George Saville Carey, inherited much of his father's talents. After declining to learn the mystery of printing, he tried that of playing; produced little effect, but by singing, reciting, and above all by his imitations, lived a vagabond life, and managed to keep his head above water, with now and then a fearful dip into the mud below, for forty years; when paralysis depriving him of the means to earn his bread, he contrived to escape further misery here by strangling himself.[101] He was a man of great genius not unmixed with a tendency to insanity.

He was cursed in one fair and worthless daughter, "Nance Carey," whose intimacy with Aaron Kean,-a tailor,-or as some say, Edmund Kean, a builder, but at all events brother to Moses Kean, a tailor, and as admirable a mimic as George Carey himself,[102]-resulted in her becoming the mother of a boy, her pitiless neglect of whom seems to have begun even before his birth.

Whether that event took place in an otherwise unoccupied chamber in Gray's Inn, which had been lent to her vagabond father, or in a poor room in Castle Street, Leicester Square, or in a miserable garret in Ewer Street, Southwark,-for all of which there are respective claimants, Miss Carey's son had a narrow escape from being born in the street. But for Miss Tidswell, the actress, and another womanly gossip or two, this would have happened. It seemed all one to "Nance Carey," who having performed her part in this portion of the play, deserted her child, and left him to the cruelty, caprice, or humanity of strangers.

Little Edmund Kean, born in 1787, or in the following year,[103] for the date is uncertain, had a hard life of it from the first. In a loving arm he never was held,-a loving eye never looked down upon him. Had he not been a beautiful child, perhaps the charity of Miss Tidswell and of whomsoever else extended it to him, would have failed. It is certain that they took the earliest opportunity of deriving profit from him; and before he was three years old, Edmund Kean figured as a Cupid in one of Noverre's ballets at the Opera House. He owed his election to this dignity to his rare personal beauty, an endowment which went for nothing in his subsequent appointment, when four or five years of age, to act as one of the imps attendant on the witches in "Macbeth." John Kemble was then supreme at Drury Lane, and, of course, little conscious that among the noisy and untractable young imps, the wildest by far would prove to be, what Mrs. Siddons would have called, one of those new idols which the public delight to set up, in order to mortify their old favourites!

One night the goblins fell over one another in the cavern-scene, Edmund going down first, out of weakness, or of mischief. This led to the dismissal of the whole troop; and some good Samaritan then sent young Kean to school. In Orange Court, Leicester Square, was the fountain whence he drew his first and almost only draught of learning. In that dirty locality may be found the shrine of three geniuses. There, Holcroft was born, Opie was housed, and Edmund Kean instructed.

Thereafter comes Chaos; and it is only by glimpses that the whereabout of the naturally-gifted but most unhappy lad can be detected. A little outcast, with his weak legs in "irons," day and night, he sleeps between a poor married couple whose sides are hurt by his fetters. Miss Tidswell takes him, ties him to a bedpost, to secure his attention, teaches him elocution, and corrects him a little too harshly, though out of love. He dances and tumbles at fairs and in taverns, performs wonderful feats, is kicked and starved, thrives nevertheless,-and conceives that there is something within him which should set him above his fellows in hard work and lean fare. And then, when he is becoming a bread-winner, he is claimed by his evil genius, Nance Carey.

His mother has been a stroller; she is a vagabond still; tramps the country with pomatums, and perfumes, and falballas, and her son is her pack-horse;-and the bird, to boot, that shall lay golden eggs for her. He is savage at having to plod through mud and dust, but he has a world of his own beyond it all; and he not only learns soliloquies from plays, but recites them in gentlemen's houses. To the audiences there, he goes confident but sensitive; proud and defiant, even when wounded by many a humiliation. By reciting, selling the wares in which Nance Carey dealt, and exhibiting in every possible and impossible play and posture, at fairs, he earned and received some small but well-merited wage. "She took it all from me!" cried the boy, in his anguish and indignation.[104]

A London Arab leads an easier life. It was a dark and hard life to Edmund,-Miss Tidswell occasionally appeared to do him a kindness, to give him bread, and more instruction for the stage. Of his father, we hear nothing save his rascal gallantry with Miss Carey; of his mother, nothing but her rapacity; of his uncle, Moses Kean, only that Miss Tidswell turned his wooden leg to account. When her young pupil, studying Hamlet, had to pronounce the words, "Alas, poor Yorick!" she first made him say, "Alas, poor uncle!" that the memory of the calamity the latter had suffered might dispose Edmund's face to seriousness!

And then he is abroad again; not easily to be followed. His sensitive pride renders him hasty to take offence, and then he rushes from some friendly roof, and disappears, sinks down some horrible gulf, issues not purified, nor softened, nor inclined to give account of himself. A more sober flight took him to Madeira as a cabin-boy, whence he returned, disgusted with Thalatta. Finally, he runs the round of fairs again, and starves and has flashes of wild jollity, as such runners have; and pauses in his running at Windsor. He was just then the property of crafty old Richardson, and at Windsor Fair made such a local reputation by his elocution, that King George sent for him, and so enjoyed a taste of his quality that the young player carried away with him the bright guerdon of two guineas,-either to his manager or his mother, I forget which.

I think, however, this speaking in presence of royalty was the getting the foot on the first round of the slippery ladder which he was so desirous to ascend. He spoke a speech or two at some London theatres, when benefit nights admitted of extraordinary performances; and he now went the round of country theatres, and not of country fairs. It was not a less weary life; he starved as miserably as before, and he began to find a means of reinvigoration in "drink." Had his labour been paid according to its worth, the devil could not have flung this temptation in his way. "A better time will come by and by," said the poor stroller, who was always promising to himself, or to others, a happy period in which all would be right.

In the course of his wanderings he played at Belfast. Mrs. Siddons passed that way too, and acted Zara and Lady Randolph. Edmund Kean, not then, I believe, nineteen, played Osmyn and Young Norval. In the first part I think he was imperfect, and the Siddons shook her majestic head at the apparent cause. Nevertheless, her judgment was, that he played "well, very well; but there was too little of him wherewith to make a great actor!"

If painstaking could do it, he was resolved to be one. No amount of labour to this end daunted him. However poor the task entrusted to him, he did his utmost for it. When playing some worthless fifth-rate character at the Haymarket, a generous colleague remarked:-"Look at the little man, he is trying to make a part of it."

I find by the bills of the Haymarket Theatre, which Mr. Buckstone kindly placed at my disposal, that Dubbs, in the "Review" to Fawcett's Caleb Quotem, was about the best character he played. Considering that he was at this time under twenty, his position was not a very bad one; but it seemed to him to promise no amendment-and he again passed to the country, to play first business, and to be hungry three or four days out of the seven.

He could not earn enough to enable him to travel from one place of engagement to another. He journeyed on foot, and when he came to a river, swam it (particularly when a press-gang was near), as readily as an Indian would have done. In some towns his Hamlet was not relished, but his Harlequin filled the house. The Guernsey critics censured his acting, on the ground that he would rudely turn his back on the audience, and make no more account of them than if they were the fourth side of a room in which he was meditating! When the Guernsey pit hissed him in Richard III., his cry, pointedly addressed to them:-"Unmannered dogs! Stand ye, when I command!" rendered them silent. He tried the same trick, and not without effect, when the pit of Drury Lane was hissing him, not for being a bad actor, but an immoral man.

"Who is that shabby little man?" said Mary Chambers, a young Waterford girl, who had been a governess, and who was going through her probationary time as an actress in Gloucester. "Who the devil is she?" asked Kean, after being soundly rated by her, for spoiling her performance through his unsettled memory. She was what Kean never thoroughly knew her to be-his good genius-worth more than all the kinsfolk he had ever possessed, including Miss Tidswell, who once gave him a home and the stick. The imprudent young couple, however, fell in love; they married; and the manager paid his congratulations to them, by turning them out of his company.[105]

They loved, slaved, and starved. The misery of their lives is unparelleled, except by the heroic uncomplainingness with which it was endured by Mrs. Kean. His industry was really intense; his study of every character he had to play careful, earnest, conscientious; and after acting with as much anxiety as if he had been performing before a jury of critics, he would return to his miserable home, saddened, furious, and unsober. "I played the part finely; and yet they did not applaud me!"

Gleams of good fortune occasionally lit up their path. An engagement at Birmingham, at a guinea a week to each, was comparative wealth to them; and there Kean found the applause for which he sighed. His Octavian was preferred to Elliston's; and Stephen Kemble told him that his Hotspur and Henry IV. were superior to those of his brother, John Kemble. Kean thought of London. "If I could only get there, and succeed! If I succeed, I shall go mad!"

There was much to be suffered by Kean and his wife before that triumph came. For lack of means, they have to walk from Birmingham to Swansea. Two hundred miles, and that poor lady may be a mother before she accomplishes half of them! They wend painfully on, pale, hungry, and silent; twelve miles a day; not asking alms, but not above receiving that hospitality of the poor which is true, because self-denying, charity. Needing many things, and obtaining none of those she most needed, Mrs. Kean reached Bristol more dead than alive. A cast in a boat, more weary suffering, a son born, and an audience at Swansea who preferred Bengough, an elephantine simpleton, with large unmeaning eyes, to Edmund-tells the outline of his tale before they crossed from Wales to Waterford.

Soon in this troop, under Cherry, at Waterford, there were two men, destined to be at the very head of their respective vocations, as player and dramatic poet-Edmund Kean and Sheridan Knowles. At present they are only strolling players. The training of the two men had been totally different. Kean was "Nobody's Son," and had passed through the misery, degradation, and blackguardism attendant on such a parentage-his genius not slumbering, but ready to flash, like the diamond, when light and opportunity should present themselves.

Knowles, on the other hand, was the son of a scholar and a trainer of scholars. He came of a literary race. His sire compiled a dictionary; Sheridan, the lexicographer, was his uncle; Richard Brinsley, his cousin. At an early age he was removed from his native city, Cork, to London, where the boy wrote boyish plays, and the youth grew up in friendship with Hazlitt, Coleridge, and Lamb. Then he went into the world, to fight his fight, and at four and twenty, that is, in 1808, I find him a tolerable actor, on the old Dublin stage in Crow Street, and a very acceptable guest at firesides where merit, wit, and a harmonious voice were appreciated. Subsequently he joined the troop of vivacious Cherry, in Waterford. There he met with the little, bright-eyed, swarthy young man, who was Richard in the play, and Harlequin in the pantomime, on the same evening; who, in short, could do anything and did everything well. For him, Edmund Kean, Knowles wrote his first serious play, a melo-dramatic tragedy, "Leo, the Gipsey;" and in that piece Kean achieved so notable a triumph, that he would have chosen it for his first appearance in London, but that, luckily for him, he had lost the copy.

Edmund seems to have worked steadily in the ancient Irish city. Of the general business I can say nothing, except that Mrs. Kean played a Virgin of the Sun, at a time when the character least suited her; but for a reminiscence of a benefit night, I take half a page from Mr. Grattan.

"The last thing I recollect of Kean in Waterford, was the performance for his benefit. The play was Hannah More's tragedy of "Percy," in which he of course played the hero. Edwina was played by Mrs. Kean, who was applauded to her heart's content. Kean was so popular, both as an actor, and from the excellent character he bore, that the audience thought less of the actor's demerits than of the husband's feelings; and besides this, the débutante had many personal friends in her native city, and among the gentry of the neighbourhood, for she had been governess to the children of a lady of good fortune, who used all her influence at this benefit. After the tragedy, Kean gave a specimen of tight-rope dancing, and another of sparring with a professional pugilist. He then played the leading part in a musical interlude, and finished with Chimpanzee, the monkey, in the melo-dramatic pantomime of La Pérouse, and in this character he showed agility scarcely since surpassed by Mazurier or Gouffe, and touches of deep tragedy in the monkey's death scene, which made the audience shed tears."

What cause broke the connection of the Keans with Cherry, I do not know; but the former were one day without an engagement, and among the separations that ensued was that of Kean and Knowles. They were both to find what they thirsted for in London; but for the former many were the trials, and terrific the ascent, before he was to reach that pinnacle which he occupied so gloriously and so briefly.

From Waterford, Edmund and his wife took with them no more than they had brought, except an additional son, the day of whose birth was a happy day in the mother's calendar of sorrows. They suffered, and the children with them, all that humanity could suffer and yet live. I find them at Dumfries, depending for food and shelter upon the receipts at an "entertainment," given by Kean, in a room at a tavern. There was one auditor, and he paid sixpence! There were even worse disappointments than these; and, under their accumulation, I do not wonder that Kean broke into curses at his perverse destiny; or that Mrs. Kean, looking at her children, prayed to God that He would remove them and her!

And so from town to town they pursued their hapless pilgrimage. He sometimes driven to fury and to drink; she only asking for death to her and the two younger sufferers. Now and then a divine charity enabled them to rest and refresh; and once, a divine by profession, in a country town, forbade them the use of a school-room, because they were actors! The reverend gentleman himself, probably, thought it very good amusement to listen to his own boys enacting the "Eunuchus" of Terence.

Famine, rage, drink, and tears, mark the way of the wanderers. Brief engagements enabled them to exist, just to keep themselves out of the grave; and then came vacation and want to let them slip back again to the very brink of that grave. Amid it all, Kean did succeed in making a reputation. Passing through London he saw John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons, in Wolsey and Constance-and he registered a vow that he would be there a great actor, too! And so again to the country, to work hard, gain little, and wait; but also to enjoy some antepast of metropolitan triumph at Exeter, where his success was great, but not remunerative; where, with a greatcoat flung over his stage-dress, he might too often be seen at the bar of the tavern near the theatre, and where he enlarged his means by teaching dancing and fencing, elocution and boxing-or "a word and a blow," as some wag styled the latter two accomplishments. Exeter foretold that he would not have to wait long, but all the prophetic patronage of Exeter did not furnish him with means to get to Dorchester by any other process than on foot, and with his son Charles on his back. The poor sick little Howard, the elder son, had to be conveyed thither by his mother. Howard had shown some promise of histrionic talent already, and he helped to win a little bread for the family before he died. For this, perhaps, the father loved him; and toiled on till the tide came in his affairs which promised to raise him at its flood to highest fortune. That tide began to flow, after Dr. Drury had seen him act, and reported well to the Drury Lane Committee of his acting; it was running fast in the same direction when Kean saw a gentleman, in the boxes at Dorchester, so attentive to his playing, that Edmund acted to him alone, as Booth had done in his day, but under other influences, to Mr. Stanyan, the judicious gentleman from Oxford. Kean's gentleman was Arnold, stage-manager from Drury Lane, and he commenced negotiations with Kean for an engagement, before they parted for the night. The poor player rushed home, hysterical with agitation and delight, and all his good impulses uppermost. He announced the glad intelligence to his wife, with the touching comment-"If Howard only get well, we shall be all happy yet!"

Howard died, and Kean played, danced, sorrowed, and hoped-for the time at which he was to go up to London was at hand; and thither they went at the close of the year 1813. When that season of 1813-14 opened, Drury was in a condition from which it could be relieved only by a genius;-and there he stood, in that cold hall, a little, pale, restless, dark-eyed man, in a coat with two or three capes, and nobody noticed him. In Cecil Street, his family was living on little more than air; and he was daily growing sick, as he stood, waiting in that hall, for an audience with the manager; and subject to the sneers of passing actors. Even Rae, handsome and a fool, affected not to know him, though they had played together, when Rae's mother was matron at St. George's Hospital, and they had acted together at the Haymarket, in 1806, when Rae led the business, and Kean was but a supernumerary. Arnold treated him superciliously, with a "young man!"-as he condescended to speak, and put him off. Other new actors obtained trial parts, but there was none for that chafed, hungry, restless little man in the capes. Even drunken Tokely, like himself, from Exeter, could obtain a "first appearance," but Kean was put off. Stephen Kemble played Shylock, and failed! why not try a new actor? The Committee did so, and Mr. Huddart, from Dublin, went on as Shylock, and was never heard of more. And the poor stroller looked through the darkness of that miserable passage the while, and murmured, "Let me but get my foot before the floats, and I'll show them-!"

The permission came. Would he,-no, he must play Richard. "Shylock, or nothing!" was his bold reply. He was afraid of the littleness of his figure,-which he had heard scoffed at, being exposed in the "trunks" of Glo'ster. He hoped to hide it under the gown of Shylock. The Jew, or nothing! The young fellow, he was not yet six and twenty, was allowed to have his way.

At the one morning rehearsal he fluttered his fellow-actors, and scared the manager, by his independence and originality. "Sir, this will never do!" cried Raymond, the acting manager. "It is quite an innovation; it cannot be permitted." "Sir," said the poor, proud man, "I wish it to be so;" and the players smiled, and Kean went home, that is, to his lodgings, in Cecil Street, on that snowy, foggy, 26th of February 1814,[106] calm, hopeful, and hungry. "To-day," said he, "I must dine."

Having accomplished that rare feat, he went forth alone, and on foot. "I wish," he remarked, "I was going to be shot!" He had with him a few properties which he was bound to procure for himself, tied up in a poor handkerchief, under his arm. His wife remained, with their child, at home. Kean tramped on beneath the falling snow, and over that which thickly encumbered the ground,-solid here; there in slush; and, by and by, pale, quiet, but fearless, he dressed in a room shared by two or three others, and went down to the wing by which he was to enter. Hitherto no one had spoken to him, save Jack Bannister, who said a cheering word; and Oxberry, who had tended to him a glass, and wished him good fortune. "By Jove!" exclaimed a first-rater, looking at him, "Shylock in a black wig! Well!!"

The house could hold, as it is called, £600; there was not more than a sixth of that sum in front. Winter without, his comrades within;-all was against him. At length, he went on, with Rae, as Bassanio, in ill-humour; and groups of actors at the wings, to witness the first scene of a new candidate. All that Edmund Kean ever did, was gracefully done; and the bow which he made, in return to the usual welcoming applause, was eminently graceful. Dr. Drury, the head-master of Harrow, who took great interest in him, looked fixedly at him as he came forward. Shylock leant over his crutched stick, with both hands; and, looking askance at Bassanio, said: "Three thousand ducats?" paused, bethought himself, and then added: "Well?" He is safe, said Dr. Drury.

The groups of actors soon after dispersed to the green-room. As they reached it, there reached there, too, an echo of the loud applause given to Shylock's reply to Bassanio's assurance that he may take the bond. "I will be assured I may!"-later came the sounds of the increased approbation bestowed on the delivery of the passage ending with, "and for these courtesies, I'll lend you thus much moneys." The act came to an end gloriously; and the players in the green-room looked for the coming among them of the new Shylock. He proudly kept aloof; knew he was friendless, but felt that he was, in himself, sufficient.

He wandered about the back of the stage, thinking, perhaps, of the mother and child at home; and sure, now, of having at least made a step towards triumph. He wanted no congratulations; and he walked cheerfully down to the wing when the scene was about to take place between him and his daughter, Jessica, in his very calling to whom:-"Why, Jessica! I say"-there was, as some of us may remember, from an after night's experience, a charm, as of music. The whole scene was played with rare merit; but the absolute triumph was not won till the scene (which was marvellous in his hands) in the third act, between Shylock, Solanio, and Salarino,-ending with the dialogue between the first and Tubal. Shylock's anguish at his daughter's flight; his wrath at the two Christians who make sport of his anguish; his hatred of all Christians, generally, and of Antonio in particular; and then his alternations of rage, grief, and ecstasy, as Tubal relates the losses incurred in the search of that naughty Jessica, her extravagances, and then the ill luck that had fallen upon Antonio;-in all this, there was such originality, such terrible force, such assurance of a new and mighty master,-that the house burst forth into a very whirlwind of approbation. "What now?" was the cry in the green-room. The answer was, that the presence and the power of the genius were acknowledged with an enthusiasm which shook the very roof. How so select an audience contrived to raise such a roar of exultation, was a permanent perplexity to Billy Oxberry.

They who had seen Stephen Kemble's Shylock, and that of Huddart, this season, must have by this time confessed that the new actor had superseded both. He must himself have felt, that if he had not yet surpassed Cooke, and Henderson, and Macklin, he was tending that way; and was already their equal. Whatever he felt, he remained reserved and solitary; but he was now sought after. Raymond, the acting manager, who had haughtily told him his innovations "would not do," came to offer him oranges. Arnold, the stage manager, who had young-manned him, came to present him, "sir!" with some negus. Kean cared for nothing more now, than for his fourth and last act; and in that his triumph culminated. His calm demeanour at first; his confident appeal to justice; his deafness, when appeal is made to him for mercy; his steady joyousness, when the young lawyer recognises the validity of the bond; his burst of exultation, when his right is confessed; his fiendish eagerness, when whetting the knife:-and then, the sudden collapse of disappointment and terror, with the words,-"Is that-the Law?"-in all was made manifest, that a noble successor to the noblest of the actors of old had arisen. Then, his trembling anxiety to recover what he had before refused; his sordid abjectness, as he finds himself foiled, at every turn; his subdued fury; and, at the last (and it was always the crowning glory of his acting in this play), the withering sneer, hardly concealing the crushed heart, with which he replied to the jibes of Gratia

no, as he left the court,-all raised a new sensation in an audience, who acknowledged it in a perfect tumult of acclamation. As he passed to his dressing-room, Raymond saluted him with the confession, that he had made a hit; Pope, more generous, avowed that he had saved the house from ruin.

And then, while Bannister was dashing through Dick, in the "Apprentice," I seem to see the hero of the night staggering home through the snow, drunk with delicious ecstasy, all his brightest dreams realised, and all his good impulses surging within him. He may be in a sort of frenzy, as he tells of his proud achievement; but, at its very wildest, he exclaims: "Mary, you shall ride in your carriage yet!" and, taking his son Charles from the cradle, swears he "shall go to Eton;" but therewith something overshadows his joy, and he murmurs, "If Howard had but lived to see it!"

That poor wife and mother must have enjoyed, on that eventful night, the very brightest of the few gleams of sunshine that fell upon her early, hapless life. Thenceforth, there was never to be misery or sorrow in that household again! Poor lady! She did not, perhaps, remember that Edmund had said, "If I succeed,-it will drive me mad!"

But not yet: all was triumph for awhile; and worthily it was won. His audiences rose, from one of a £100 to audiences of £600; and £20 a week rewarded efforts, for far less than which he subsequently received £50 a night. He was advanced to the dignity of having a dressing-room to himself. Legislators, poets, nobles, thronged his tiring-room, where Arnold took as much care of him, as if on his life hung more than the well-being of the theatre. Friends flocked to him, as they are wont to do, where there is an opportunity of basking in pleasant sunshine, imparted by genius. And old Nance Carey turned up, to exact £50 a year from her not too delighted son, and to introduce a Henry Darnley, who would call Edmund, "dear brother!"

Some years later, in 1829, Moore was talking with Mrs. Kean of this critical period in Edmund's career. The poet suggested, that some memorial of his first appearance should be preserved. "Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Kean; "will you write his life? You shall have half the profits;" adding, as she probably remembered the dark time which had come upon her since the sunshine,-"if you will only give me a little."

But success was not to be considered as achieved, by playing one character supremely well. Kean had, in the general memory, shaken Macklin from his supremacy in Shylock. He was now summoned to show himself worthy of being the successor of Garrick,-by acting Richard III. A few nights before he played that part, it was performed at Covent Garden, by John Kemble; and a short time after Kean had triumphed, it was personated by Young; but Kemble could not prevent, nor Young impede, the triumph of the new actor, who now made Richard his own, as he had previously done with Shylock.

His Richard settled his position with the critics; and the criticism to which he was subjected was, for the most part, admirably and impartially written. He is sometimes spoken of as "this young man;" at others, "this young gentleman." "Even Cooke's performance," says one, "was left at an immeasurable distance." A second adds, "it was the most perfect performance of any that has been witnessed since the days of Garrick." Of the grand effects followed by a storm of applause, a third writes that "electricity itself was never more instantaneous in its operation." They are, however, occasionally hypercritical. The able critic of the Morning Chronicle objected that in the young man's Richard "too great reliance was placed on the expression of the countenance, which is a language intelligible only to a part of the house;" and a contemporary thought that when the young gentleman, as Richard, crossed his hands behind his back, during his familiar colloquy with Buckingham, the action was altogether too natural! Others point to attitudes which Titian might have painted. Such use of eye, and lip, and muscle, had never had anything comparable to it since the best days of Garrick. Even Sylvanus Urban aroused himself, and declared, that Mr. Kean's success had given new interest to the biography of Richard III.

Indeed, this second glory was greater than the first, for the difficulties were greater, and they were all surmounted. Joyous and sarcastic in the opening soliloquy; devilish, as he passed his bright sword through the still breathing body of Lancaster; audaciously hypocritical, and almost too exulting, in the wooing of Lady Anne; cruelly kind to the young Princes, his eye smiling while his foot seemed restless to crush the two spiders that so vexed his heart;-in representing all this there was an originality and a nature which were entirely new to the delighted audience. Then they seemed to behold altogether a new man revealed to them, in the first words uttered by him from the throne.-"Stand all apart!" from which period to the last struggle with Richmond, there was an uninterrupted succession of beauties; even in the bye-play he found means to extort applause, and a graceful attitude, an almost silent chuckle, a significant glance,-even so commonplace a phrase as "Good night, my lords," uttered before the battle of the morrow, were responded to by acclamations such as are awarded to none but the great masters of the art.

The triumph was accumulative, and it was crowned by the tent-scene, the battle, and the death. Probably no actor ever even approached Kean in the last two incidents. He fenced with consummate grace and skill; and fought with an energy that seemed a fierce reality.

Rae had sneered at the "little man," but Rae now felt bound to be civil to the great tragedian, and referring to the passage of arms in "Richard III.," he, having to play Richmond, asked, "Where shall I hit you, sir, to-night?" "Where you can, sir," answered Kean; and he kept Richmond off, in that famous struggle, till Rae's sword-arm was weary with making passes.

His attempt to "collar" Richmond when his own sword had fallen from him was so doubtful in taste that he subsequently abandoned it;[107] but in the faint, yet deadly-meant passes, which he made with his swordless arm, after he had received his death-blow, there was the conception of a great artist; and there died with him a malignity which mortal man had never before so terribly pourtrayed. Young, in his dying scene of Richard used to fling his sword at Richmond, a trick which the critics very properly denounced.

They who said that Mr. Kean's figure and voice were against him, unconsciously exalted the genius which had triumphed over the difficulties of Shakspeare and Cibber's Richard. They who accepted rather than rejoiced in his triumph, called him "The Fortunate Actor!" They did not know that under slavery, starvation, and every disadvantage but despair, Kean had silently and solitarily studied these characters, and had come to conclusions which he hoped would enable him to achieve a success which, if accomplished, he was, after all, afraid would drive him mad.

At this time, 1814, Moore speaks of "poor Mr. Kean," as being "in the honeymoon of criticism;" and then the bard speaks disrespectfully of the critics. "Next to the pleasure," he says, "of crying a man down, your critics enjoy the vanity of writing him up; but when once up, and fixed there, he is a mark for their arrows ever after."

His other characters this season were Hamlet, when to John Bannister was assigned the first of the two Grave-diggers, whom he had restored to the stage from which they had been abolished by Garrick; Othello, to the Iago of Pope; and Iago, to the Othello of Sowerby, Pope, Rae, and Elliston; Miss Smith, who refused to play the Queen, in "Richard," being his Desdemona. He also acted Luke, in "Riches" ("City Madam"), to the Lacy of Wallack; and the Lady Traffic of Mrs. Edwin. Of these, he was always inclined to think Hamlet his best character. He had, perhaps, studied it more deeply than the others, and Mrs. Garrick took such especial interest in his representation of it, that on comparing it with her husband's, she saw only one great defect,-in the closet scene. Garrick was severer with the Queen of Denmark than Kean, and Mrs. Garrick persuaded him, though unconvinced by her, to throw more sternness into this celebrated scene. The good old lady merited some, yet not such concession; but then she invited Kean to Adelphi Terrace, and sent him fruit from Hampton, and made him a present of Garrick's stage-jewels. The young man was in a fair way of being spoiled, as Pope said of Garrick, when thinking of the laborious, but splendid time of his friend and favourite, Betterton.

Tenderness to Ophelia, affection for his mother, reverential awe of his father, and a fixed resolution to fulfil the mission confided to him by that father, were the distinct "motives," so to speak, of his Hamlet.

The critics especially dwell on the tender vibration of his voice when uttering the word "father" to the Ghost; they approve of his sinking on one knee before the solemn spirit, and they are lost in admiration of his original action when, instead of keeping the Ghost off with his sword, when he bids it, "go on," he pointed it back at his friends to deter them from preventing his following the visionary figure. This, and another original point, have become stage-property. I allude to the scene in which he seems to deal so harshly with Ophelia. At the close of it, Kean used to return from the very extremity of the stage, take Ophelia's hand, kiss it with a tender rapture, look mournfully loving upon her, with eyes full of beautiful significance, and then rush off. The effect never failed, and the approbation was tumultuous.

Gracefully and earnestly as his Hamlet[108] was played, it yielded in attractiveness to his Othello, which despite some little exaggeration of action, when told to beware of jealousy, was, perhaps, the greatest of his achievements. In the tender scenes, and love for Desdemona was above all other passion, even when for love he jealously slew her, he had as much power over his "bad voice," as his adversaries called it, as John Kemble over his asthmatic cough, and attuned it to the tenderness to which he had to give expression. In the fiercer scenes he was unsurpassable, and in the great third act none who remember him will, I think, be prepared to allow that he ever had, or is ever likely to have, an equal.

John Kemble himself said of Kean's Othello:-"If the justness of its conception had been but equal to the brilliancy of execution it would have been perfect; but," added the older actor, with some sense, perhaps, of being disturbed by the younger player, "the whole thing is a mistake; the fact being that Othello was a slow man,"-to be moved, he was; but being moved, swift and terrible in moving to consequent purpose.

Iago, curiously enough, was not so welcome a part to Kean as Othello. Its characteristic was the concealment of his hypocrisy, and in the delineation of such a part Kean was usually unrivalled. Some of his admirers considered his Iago as fine as his Richard, but he never played the two with equal care and equal success. On the other hand, he was pleased with the strong oppositions in the character of Luke, but his audiences were not satisfied in the same degree, and it fell out of his repertory. He of course thought them in the wrong; lamented on the few competent judges of acting, and limited these to lawyers, doctors, artists, critics, and literary men. He was then the (often unwilling) guest of noblemen who, I doubt not, were excellent judges too; but Kean thought otherwise: "They talk a great deal," he said, "of what I don't understand,"-politics, and equally abstruse matters; "but when it comes to plays, they talk such nonsense!"

I am not about to follow this actor through his score of seasons, but as a sample of his value to the treasury of Drury Lane, at this time, and therefore to the stage, I may just make record of the fact that in this first season, he played Shylock fifteen times, Richard twenty-five, Hamlet eight, Othello ten, Iago eight, and Luke four; and that in those seventy nights, the delighted treasurer of Drury Lane struck a balance of profit to the theatre, amounting in round numbers to £170,000.[109] Previous to the appearance granted to him so tardily, there had been one hundred and thirty-nine nights of continual loss. Mr. Whitbread, a proprietor, might well say of him that "he was one of those prodigies that occur only once or twice in a century."

In this same season, Kemble stood his ground against Kean in the one character played by both-Hamlet; but two new actors-tall, earnest, handsome, but ungainly Conway, from Dublin, and Terry, from Edinburgh-only took a respectable position. The Othello of the first, and the Shylock of the second, were never heard of after Kean had played and made them his own.

In Kean's second season, he added to his other characters, Macbeth, which had some magnificent points, but in which Kemble had personal advantages over him: Romeo, which continues the traditional glory of Barry; Reuben Glenroy and Penruddock, in neither of which he equalled Kemble; Zanga, played in a style which made the fame of Mossop pale, and shook Young and Kemble from an old possession; Richard II., in an adaptation by Merivale,[110] acted with a new grace to the expression of melancholy; Abel Drugger, concerning which he answered the legendary-"I know it," to the "you can't play it," of Mrs. Garrick; Leon, performed with moderate success, and Octavian, with rare sweetness, but not with such rare ability as to make John Kemble uneasy.

Kean also acted his first original character, Egbert, in the tragedy of that name,[111] by Mrs. Wilmot. His prestige suffered a little in consequence, for Egbert was condemned on the first night. He had compensation enough in Zanga. As one who stood among the crowd in the pit passage heard a shout and clamour of approbation within, he asked if Zanga had not just previously said, "Then lose her!" for that phrase, in the country, when uttered by Kean, used to make the walls shake; and he was answered that it was so. I remember having read that some one was with Southey, when the "Revenge" was played, and that when Zanga consummated his vengeance in the words, "Know then 'twas I"-lifting up his arms, as he spoke, over the fainting Alonzo, and seeming to fill the theatre-the same image was simultaneously presented to the minds of the two friends. "He looks like Michael Angelo's rebellious Archangel!" thought one. "He looks like the Arch-Fiend himself," said the other.[112]

Covent Garden struggled nobly, with its old and strong company, against the single power of Kean at the other house; but found its best ally in a new actress. On the 13th of October 1814,[113] Miss O'Neill made her first appearance in Belvidera. It is not my intention to do more than record the names of the players who made their début after the coming of Edmund Kean, but there is something so singular in the lucky chance which led to Miss O'Neill's well-merited fortune, that I venture to tell it in the words of Michael Kelly.[114]

Let me first remark that, no doubt, some of us are old enough to have seen, as many of us have heard, of Miss Walstein, that "sort of Crow Street Bonaparte," who struggled so bravely, though so briefly, at Drury Lane against Miss O'Neill, when the latter carried the town by her superior charms and talents. Miss O'Neill was furnished by her undoubtedly great rival with the means of supplanting her. Had not Walstein been arrogant, the famous Juliet of our infantine days might never have sighed on the Covent Garden balcony. Her first step, however, was made on the stage at Crow Street, and Miss Walstein unwittingly helped her to obtain a secure footing. The story is thus told by garrulous Mike Kelly:-"Miss Walstein, who was the heroine of the Dublin stage, and a great and deserved favourite, was to open the theatre in the character of Juliet. Mr. Jones received an intimation from Miss Walstein that without a certain increase of salary, and other privileges, she would not come to the house. Mr. Jones had arrived at the determination to shut up his theatre sooner than submit to what he thought an unwarrantable demand, when Mac Nally, the box-keeper, who had been the bearer of Miss Walstein's message, told Mr. Jones that it would be a pity to shut up the house; that there was a remedy if Mr. Jones chose to avail himself of it. 'The girl, sir,' said he, 'who has been so often recommended to you as a promising actress, is now at an hotel in Dublin with her father and brother, where they have just arrived, and is proceeding to Drogheda, to act at her father's theatre there. I have heard it said by persons who have seen her, that she plays Juliet extremely well, and is very young and very pretty. I am sure that she would be delighted to have the opportunity of appearing before a Dublin audience, and if you please I will make her the proposal.' The proposal was made, and accepted; and on the following Saturday, 'the girl,' who was Miss O'Neill, made her début on the Dublin stage as Juliet.[115] The audience was delighted; she acted the part several nights, and Mr. Jones offered her father and brother engagements on very liberal terms, which were thankfully accepted. In Dublin," adds Kelly, "she was not only a great favourite in tragedy, but also in many parts of genteel comedy. I have there seen her play Letitia Hardy; she danced very gracefully, and introduced my song, 'In the rough Blast heave the Billows,' originally sung by Mrs. Jordan, at Drury Lane, which she sang so well as to produce a general call for its repetition from the audience. She was in private life highly esteemed for her many good qualities. Her engagement in Dublin wafted Miss Walstein from Dublin, where she had been for many years the heroine of Crow Street, to Drury Lane, where she made her appearance as Calista, in 'The Fair Penitent,' on the 15th November 1814, but only remained one season."

It would seem as if Drury Lane were weary by this time of its success, for early in 1815-16 that excellent actor, Dowton, who disliked seeing Kean's name in large type, tried to extinguish him by playing Shylock! The Kentish baker's son could play Sheva and Cantwell, and many other parts admirably; but Shylock!-No, let us pass to more equal adversaries; in a contest between whom, Kean did fairly extinguish his antagonist. In this season Kean acted all his old and many new parts, among the latter, Shakspeare's Richard II.,[116] Bajazet, Duke Aranza (in which Elliston had the better of him), Goswin ("Beggars' Bush"), Sir Giles Overreach, and Sforza. Among these, Sir Giles stands pre-eminent for its perfectness, from the first words, "Still cloistered up," to the last convulsive breath drawn by him in that famous one scene of the fifth act, in which, through his terrible intensity, he once made so experienced an actress as Mrs. Glover faint away,-not at all out of flattery, but from emotion.

Now, Sir Giles had been one of Kemble's weaknesses; and he affected it as he might have done Coriolanus. He had played it since Mr. Kean had come to London, but as no comparison could be drawn, his performance was accepted, as even an indifferent but honest effort by a great artist deserves to be. But after Edmund Kean had added another rose to his chaplet, by his marvellous impersonation of Sir Giles, Kemble played it again, as if to challenge comparison. I am sorry to say it, but John Kemble was hissed! No! It was his Sir Giles that was hissed. Two nights later he acted Coriolanus, the merits of which were acknowledged with enthusiasm by his audience. But he never ventured on Sir Giles again! In this last character, all the qualities of Kean's voice came out to wonderful purpose, especially in the scene where Lovel asks him,

"Are you not moved with the sad imprecations

And curses of whole families, made wretched

By your sinister practices?"

to which Sir Giles replies:-

"Yes, as rocks are

When foamy billows split themselves against

Their flinty ribs; or as the moon is moved

When wolves with hunger pined, howl at her brightness."

I seem still to hear the words and the voice as I pen this passage; now composed, now grand as the foamy billows; so flute-like on the word "moon," creating a scene with the sound; and anon sharp, harsh, fierce in the last line, with a look upward from those matchless eyes, that rendered the troop visible, and their howl perceptible to the ear;-the whole serenity of the man, and the solidity of his temper, being illustrated less by the assurance in the succeeding words than by the exquisite music in the tone with which he uttered the word "brightness."

It was on the night he played Sir Giles for the first time in London, that Mrs. Kean, who seems to have been too nervous to witness his new essays, asked him what that hanger-on at the theatres, Lord Essex, had thought of it. You know the jubilant reply:-"D-- Lord Essex, Mary! The pit rose at me!"

But to Sir Giles were not confined Kean's triumphs of this year. He created the part of Bertram, in Maturin's tragedy of that name; and he alone stands associated with the part. It suited him admirably,-for it is full of passion, pathos, wild love, and tenderness. One great point made by the actor (whose Imogine was Miss Somerville, afterwards Mrs. Bunn) was in the exquisite delivery of the words, "God bless the child!" They have made many a tear to flow, and he acquired the necessary pathos and power by first repeating them at home, while he looked on his sleeping boy; and I do not know a prettier incident in the life of this impulsive actor. Would there were more of them!

In the season of 1816-17 John Kemble withdrew, full of honours, though his laurels had been a little shaken. As opponents to the now well-established actor at Drury Lane, two gentlemen were brought forward, Mr. Macready, from Dublin, and Mr. Junius Booth, from Worthing. The former is the son of the respectable actor and dramatic author, whose abandonment of upholstery, in Dublin, did something towards giving to the stage the son who long refined and adorned it. Mr. Macready made all the more progress by not coming in contrast, or comparison with Kean. He was of the Kemble school, but with ideas of his own, and he made his way to fame, independently. But Booth was so perfectly of the Kean school that his Richard appeared to be as good as his master's. Indeed, some thought it better. Whereupon, Kean counselled the Drury Lane management to bring him over to that theatre. It was done. They played in Othello,-the Moor, by Kean; Iago, by Booth. The contact was fatal to the latter. He fell ingloriously, even as a Mr. Cobham had done before him in an audacious attempt on Richard; but both gentlemen became heroes to transpontine audiences.

Kean's other achievements this season were his fine interpretation of Timon, after Shakspeare's text, "with no other omissions than such as the refinement of manners has rendered necessary;" his creation of Maturin's "Manuel," and his last triumph over Kemble, in doing what the latter had failed to do, stirring the souls, raising the terror, and winning the sympathy of his audience by one of the most finished of his impersonations,-Sir Edward Mortimer. Oroonoko, Selim, and Paul were the other characters newly essayed by him during this season. The last two were for his benefit,[117] and therewith he closed a season,-the last very fruitful in great triumphs, but not the first in the chronicle of his decline.

He was now the oft-invited guest of people with whom he did not particularly care to associate. Moore chronicles his name as one of the guests with Lord Petersham, Lord Nugent, the Hon. William Spencer, Colonel Berkeley, and Moore, at an "odd dinner," given by Horace Twiss, in Chancery Lane, in 1819, in "a borrowed room, with champagne, pewter spoons, and old Lady Cork." Lord Byron was reluctant to believe in him, but after seeing him in Richard, he presented the actor with a sword, and a box adorned by a richly-chased boar-hunt; when Lord Byron had seen his Sir Giles, he sent to the player a valuable Damascus blade. His compliments, at Kean's benefit, took the shape of a fifty-pound note; and he once invited him to dinner, which Kean left early, that he might take the chair at some pugilistic supper!

Mr. Weston as Dr. Last.


[101] Henry Carey hanged himself. I am not aware that his son committed suicide.

[102] "I was born in the year 1787, and if anybody asks you who was my mother, say Miss Tidswell, the actress; my father was the late Duke of Norfolk, whom they called Jockey. I am not the son of Moses Kean, the mimic, nor of his brother, as some people are pleased to assert, though I bear the same name. I had the honour of being brought up at Arundel Castle till I was seven years old, and there they sometimes, I do not know why, called me Duncan! After I quitted Arundel Castle, I was soon put upon the stage by my mother. The very first part in which I appeared was the Robber's Boy in the 'Iron Chest,' when it was originally brought out at Drury Lane in 1796.... I was at Arundel Castle a few years ago, and, as I showed to the people who had charge of it, I knew every room, passage, winding and turning in it. In one of the large apartments hung a portrait of the old Duke of Norfolk, and the man who was with me said, 'You are very like the old Duke, sir.' And well he might. I am his son!"

The above is said to have been taken down from Kean's words by a gentleman who showed it to Payne Collier. Kean named his first boy Howard, in support of the Norfolk legend.-Doran MS.

[103] Miss Tidswell gives the date as 17th March 1789; but there can be little doubt that 1787 is the correct year.

[104] In Notes and Queries, 4th series, iii. 535; Kean's real name is said to have been Carter.-Doran MS.

[105] At Stroud, in Gloucestershire, July 17, 1808. The bride and her sister Susan, witness, wrote their names Chambres.-Doran MS.

[106] 26th of January (second edition).

[107] Dyce called him "a pot-house Richard."-Doran MS.

[108] When Rae played Hamlet in 1806, at the Haymarket, Kean was his Rosencrantz.-Doran MS.

[109] There is a cipher too many here. In the 2d edition the sum is given as £17,000. Barry Cornwall says, "Upwards of £20,000."

[110] The adaptation was by Wroughton.

[111] The name of the tragedy was "Ina."

[112] Barry Cornwall relates a precisely similar circumstance, to which Dr. Doran probably refers.

[113] Miss O'Neill played Juliet on the 6th October (corrected in 2d edition).

[114] Miss O'Neill (Lady Becher) died 29th October 1872, aged 80.

[115] After Miss O'Neill married Becher and left the stage, she affected not even to know at what time the play began, and once, when some one quoted a line from one of her popular parts, she pretended not to know from whence it came. So says Payne Collier, but I know she went to see Kate Terry's Juliet, and that she sent to her the praise of "one who had played Juliet."-Doran MS.

[116] I see no reason to suppose that it was not Wroughton's alteration that was performed this season also.

[117] He played Achmet and Paul for his benefit. He played Eustace de St. Pierre ("Surrender of Calais") for the first time during this season.

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