Page images
PDF
EPUB

• My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are inbuite.'

Here the enthusiasm of the sentiment raised her voice to the higher tones, and I no longer had any apprehension of its deficiency in volume and effect. It is in truth one of the richest and most musical of voices, capable of all those transitions and variations so essential in giving point to fluctuations of passion. It is remarkable for its power and solidity, and possesses an audible quality in its lowest tones, which is a great advantage. In its exercise Mrs. Mowatt does not sufficiently spare herself sometimes. She gives it free rein when it should be kept in check. An old actress would make a quarter part of the vocal expenditure she frequently layishes answer the same effect. But to return to Juliet. I trembled for Mrs. Mowatt as she approached the great scene where the impassioned girl hesitates about taking the sleeping potion which Friar Lawrence has placed in her hands. Here the highest tragic genius is tasked to steer safely between the 'over-done' and the * come tardy off ;' here, if any where in the whole range of the drama, mediocrity must peep forth, or genuine talent make itself felt; and here Mrs. Mowatt's triumph was most unequivocal and complete :

• What if this mixture do not work at all?
Shall I of force be married to the Count
What if it be a poison), which the friar
Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonored ?
How, if when I am laid into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem ine? There's a fearful point!
Shall I not then be stifled in the vault,
To whose ful mouth to healtasome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere iny Romeo comes ?'

The imaginative power and intensity of passionate conception which she displayed in the delivery of this passage amazed me. The word strangled was uttered in just such a tone as you might imagine a person to give forth in the agony of strangulation :

Or if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Eovironed with all these hideous fears,
Aud madly play with my forefathers' joints ?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud ?
And in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?'

Here Mrs. Mowatt, striking her fist against her head, as if the phantasm had become a fact, fell prostrate, apparently overcome by the crowd of appalling images. The audience broke forth into one loud, prolonged peal of applause. And well did she deserve such a tribute to the excellence of the personation. It showed genius ; genius of the highest order; spontaneous, original, irrepressible; not the result of imitation; of seeing what other great actresses did in the same scene; of a long experience in stage effects; but an outburst of feeling ; a genuine exaltation of the imaginative faculty ; sparks from that fame which glowed in the heart of Shakspeare while he wrote.

Juliet's dying scene was portrayed with the vividness and intensity which had characterized all the other tragic passages of the play; and the curtain fell amid expressions of applause as hearty as any it had ever been my lot to hear elicited at a theatre. The young actress (for to look at her you would not suppose she was more than eighteen, although I believe she is on the windy side of twenty-five,) was called before the curtain with the utmost enthusiasm, and greeted with unanimous cries of • Bravo!' and a general waving of handkerchiefs.

Opportunities of confirming the favorable impression I had formed from Mrs. Mowatt's Juliet' have not been wanting." I have seen her in the heroines of • The Hunchback,' • Fazio,' - The Lady of Lyons,' • The Stranger,' and · Much Ado About Nothing;' a range of female characters challenging, more than any others in the whole English drama, the exercise of the highest histrionic genius for their adequate embodiment. Her Julia, Mrs. Haller, Pauline and Bianca are all great performances ; full of deep feeling, and in the passionate scenes justifying the warmest panegyrics. Indeed the Americans, if they did but know it, have never seen her superior in these parts, and I doubt if they have ever seen her equal. Her Beatrice was a daring and beautiful, but an imperfect performance. In those merely conventional points which every stage-manager could have instructed her in, she sometimes failed; but she struck out points of her own which more than compensated for the deficiency. She made Beatrice a quick-tongued, vivacious girl, concealing her love for Benedict under the disguise of taunts and railleries; and not a shrew of a certain age, whose bitterness was as much of the heart as of the head. The result was, that some of the critics, missing the old stage Beatrice to which they had been accustomed, fell out with Mrs. Mowatt for her personation ; while others appreciated her new conception of the part, and acknowledged the merit of the execution. Her Beatrice was a being to love for her warm affections, as well as to fear for her quick wit; and her exclamation of I could eat his heart in the market-place!' came forth rather as the basty, unmeant rant of an indignant schoolgirl than the deliberate, spiteful, vindictive malice of a full-grown woman. In the one spirit it is comic, and not inconsistent with our idea of feminine attributes ; but in the other spirit it calls up an emotion of dislike. Mrs. Mowatt was here, we think, a true interpreter of Shakspeare.

Nothing could be more opposite than the styles of Mrs. Mowatt and Mrs. Kean. The one has seen no models of consequence, except the French Rachel; bas been less than two years upon the stage, and is guided in her personations solely by her own impulsive genius and unerring good taste. The newspaper accounts say that from a child, though entirely aloof from theatrical influences and connections, she seemed to have an inborn passion for dramatic representations and recitations. If ever a person was impelled by spontaneous predilections and natural qualifications to a vocation, it was she. With regard to Mrs. Kean, it is a matter of dramatic biography, that as Miss Ellen Tree, she made her debut upon the London boards in 1823, being then in her eighteenth year, under the auspices of her sister Maria, who was very distinguished in her profession. Ellen, though she has never attained an equal rank, has always been regarded as a pleasing and interesting actress; and the production of Ion, that beautiful poem, but most indifferent play, lifted her to the top-wave of success, on which she was borne to this country, where her theatrical career was a very prosperous one. But, a grcat actress she never was and never will be. She lacks the vivida vis of genius. She is an instance, like Charles Kemble, of the effects of thorough drilling and long-continued practice in the absence of superior abilities. Charles used to be hissed at one time; and Ellen, after her third night at Drury-Lane, played to empty benches. But by dint of study and attention, added to frequent opportunities of seeing the best models of acting, male and female, and a long apprenticeship, Mrs. Kean has attained that pitch of art, where the effects of genius are often produced, even if genius itself does not produce them. She trusts rather to recollection than to impulse for guidance in portraying an emotion or indicating a passion. She borrows this grace from one performer, and that from another; remembers how this actress sobbed and wept, and how that produced an effect by a pause or a look.

When combinations of this kind are skilfully brought together, the result is often the same as where genius itself presides over the performance. We have known a dull man to recite a passage in imitation of Kean as well as Kean could do it himself. But in scenes of intense passion, we must have something more than mechanical tricks and mere mimicry. The actor must himself feel if he would make his audience feel. Any jury of critics would, I think, have conceded that the Mrs. Haller of Mrs. Mowatt last week was far superior to that of Mrs. Kean the night after. In the last scene of the play of the Stranger, it will be remembered that the domestic distress rises to a most painful pitch. A wife, who in a moment of delusion, misapprehension and weakness, has deserted her husband for a villain, accidentally encounters, after years of solitary penitence and suffering, the man she has injured. The anguish on both sides is poignant and natural. But how is it typified by Mrs. Kean? By perpetual sobs and applications of her handkerchief to her eyes. She is evidently striving by mechanical signs and sounds to convey to her audience an expression of the passion of grief. Far different and more impressive is Mrs. Mowatt's acting in this scene. Her sorrow is all the mightier because you see that it is suppressed. Her penitence has that dignity, that she has no wish to work upon her husband's feelings by hysterical displays of sentimental sorrow. But the outburst of genuine grief comes at last, all the more irresistible because it has been pent up; and when she flings herself at his feet, with the prayer that he will let her see her children, she reaches the climax of a representation, which, in beauty, chastity and tragic effect, I have never seen equalled. There are

VOL. XXIX,

occasional crudities in the performances of Mrs. Mowatt. If a passage does not suit her taste she is apt to slur it, while Mrs. Kean would have given it an importance which it might not intrinsically possess. Herein Mrs. M. shows a lack of training, if not of discretion. A performer had better cut a passage at once, rather than do it injustice in the delivery. But in scenes of high passion and tragic intensity, Mrs. Mowatt shows a reach of genius which her more experienced rival does not possess. The latter used to play · Jane Shore,' but her success in it was very indifferent. It is said to be Mrs. Mowatt's greatest personation, after Juliet; and the character is one requiring in an eminent degree those quick sympathies and that imaginative power for which she deservedly has credit. In *Ion' I do not believe that Mrs. Mowatt could ever attain the excellence of Mrs. Kean. There is little genuine passion in the character. It is cold and statue-like, not combustible like Juliet. It requires the well-drilled artist to deal with such a part; for all the effects of which it is capable are of the head rather than the heart.

The personal qualifications of these actresses may, perhaps, be balanced against each other. Mrs. Mowatt has the stronger and sweeter voice, but her figure conveys the idea of fragility ; an objection which cannot be urged against that of Mrs. Kean. Both are exceedingly lady-like and easy upon the stage ; but with Mrs. Kean every movement seems to be studied and preärranged; with Mrs. Mowatt it is as natural as the stooping of a bird. The self-possession of the latter is indeed very remarkable. She always seems on the most amicable terms with her audience; as if she had that perfect love,' which the Scriptures describe as ó casting out fear.' She does not appear to dream that there are such beings in the world as carping critics and malicious spectators. All her hearers are, in her estimation, her indulgent friends; and she takes liberties with them with a grace that is irresistible. It is creditable to the American public, that while they have showered their dollars upon the Keans, they have at the same time shown so thorough an appreciation of their own charming and gifted actress. May we see her soon in England! Of her success there can be no doubt. In London an ounce of genius will outweigh a ton of talent.

It may seem a matter of surprise that Mrs. Mowatt should have attained the rank she holds after so limited a practice of her art, But the mystery is solved when we are told, that from an early age she has been devoted to private theatricals' and social recitations. Undoubtedly a large portion of the confidence she exhibits springs from this cause. Her consummate grace and ease upon the stage she brings from the society at home, and in Europe, to which she has been accustomed. She had nothing to learn to qualify her to play the lady. Above all, she loves her profession, and pursues it with an ardor and an enthusiasm that surmounts all its obstacles and blunts all its thorns. She has acted down, by her indomitable perseverance, all prognostications of failure. Her improvement

has been rapid and constant; and if her physical strength continues, her friends may justly expect from her the greatest triumphs of which the histrionic art is capable.

AN ENGLISEMAN.

TO AN AMERICAN CHILD IN ITALY.

BY J. BAYARD TAYLOR

The warm Italian sun has shone,

Sweet child! upon thy curls of gold,
Till they have caught a softer tone

From this bright land of memories old :
The blue of northern skies has met

The southern twilight, in thine eye,
And that fair brow bears on it yet

The brightness of a stranger sky.
Yet not on Freedom's distant strand

Thine infant eyes first saw the light;
They gazed on sunny southern land,

By sun and memory doubly bright !
Thy childhood sports in laurel bowers,

In arbors rich with bending vines;
Thou look'st on Florence' domes and towers,

And on the far blue Appenines;
Thou see'st the olivo's moonlight groves

That gleam and wave in Arno's vale,
Where, drunk with sweets, the zephyr roves

And bears to colder climes his tale!

11.

These wake no thought in thy young mind

Of lands beyond the heaving sea,
With suns less soft and colder wind,

But with a people proud and free!
Its mighty streams thou ne'er hast seen,

Ne'er looked upon its rocky strand;
Its giant hills and forests green,

That clothe the broad and glorious land;
But keep the blissful hope, sweet child !

That thou wilt see them all ere long,
And in their beauty, fresh and wild,

Forget the sunny land of song.
Let not these purple hills and skies

Grow warm and home-like 'round thy heart,
Till yearnings for their forms arise,

When thou hast wandered far apart;
But dream of forests, old and grand,

Of mountains swept by purer air,
And when thou treadest Freedom's land,

Thy heart will plant its homestead thero!

Florence, 1845.

« PreviousContinue »