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1809, as Douglas in Young Norval. In this play occurs the speech that countless American boys have declaimed, “On the Grampian Hills my father feeds his flocks.” Of Payne's rendition a critic says, “He had all the skill of a finished artist combined with the freshness and simplicity of youth. Great praise, but there are few actors who can claim any competition with him.” Six weeks later he was playing Hamlet there, and his elocution is spoken of as remarkable for its purity, his action as suited to the passion he represented, and his performance as an exquisite one that delighted his brilliant audience.
“Upon the stage, a glowing boy appeared
Another, writing about this time, says, “Young Payne was a perfect Cupid in his beauty, and his sweet voice, self-possessed yet modest manners, wit, vivacity and premature wisdom, made him a most engaging prodigy.”.
And again, “A more engaging youth could not be imagined; he won all hearts by the beauty of his person and his captivating address, the premature richness of his mind and his chaste and flowing utterance.”
His great successes here led him to go to England, where his popularity was not nearly so great, and where the critics pounced upon him unmercifully, hurting his feelings beyond repair. Still he succeeded moderately both in England and on the Continent, until he turned his attention to writing rather than to acting. Brutus, a tragedy, is the only one of the sixty works which he wrote, translated or adapted, that ever is played nowadays. In Clari, the Maid of Milan, one of his operas, however, appeared a little song that has made the name of John Howard Payne eternally famous throughout the world.
Home, Sweet Home had originally four stanzas, but by common consent the third and fourth have been dropped because of their inferiority. The two remaining ones are sung everywhere with heartfelt appreciation, and the air, whatever its origin, has now association only with the words of the old home song. Miss Ellen Tree, who sang it in the opera, charmed her audience instantly, and in the end won her husband through its melody.
In 1823, 100,000 copies were sold, and the publishers made 2,000 guineas from it in two years. In fact, it enriched everybody who had anything to do with it, except Payne, who sold it originally for £30.
Perhaps the most noteworthy incident connected with the public rendition of Home, Sweet Home occurred in Washington at one of the theaters where Jenny Lind was singing before an audience composed of the first people of our land. In one of the boxes sat the author, then on a visit to this country, and a favorite everywhere. The prima donna sang her greatest classical music and moved her audience to the wildest applause. Then in response to the renewed calls she stepped to the front of the stage, turned her face to the box where the poet sat, and in a voice of marvelous pathos and power sang:
“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home!