Графични страници
PDF файл

husband once more after seven years of estrangement, and the most perfect reconciliation followed. She went to him again repeatedly, and the best understanding prevailed between them. All this was the work of their son.

Edmund Kean died deeply involved in his pecuniary affairs. The career of this remarkable man; his powerfully original genius, long contending with adverse circumstances, but finally forcing its way in spite of every obstacle; his endless weaknesses and wasted opportunities-all suggest many subjects for painful meditation, but this is not the place to indulge in them. He was buried in the churchyard at Richmond. His funeral was most respectably conducted ; nearly all the leading members of the different London theatres were present, and his son, as soon as he was able, erected a tablet to his memory. His theatrical wardrobe and properties, furniture, plate, and other moveables, whether at Richmond or the cottage in Bute, were seized and sold for the benefit of creditors. Included amongst these articles were some of peculiar interest. A snuff-box and two swords, gifts of Lord Byron, with the splendid silver cup (made after the celebrated Warwick vase), which cost three hundred guineas, presented to Ed. mund Kean in 1816, by the Committee and Company of Drury-lane. It was sold to a silversmith for the weight of the silver. `In July, 1334, it was standing in the window of a carvers' and gilders' shop in Duncannon-street, Strand. Charles Kean, accidentally passing, saw it, and walked in. He had a conver. sation with the shopman (the master being out), told him who he was, and begged him to say, that if not parted with for a reasonable time, the first money he earned should be applied to the purchase. On the following evening it was stolen from the window, as the handbills stated, offering £20 reward. In all probability it was melted down forthwith, and is no longer in existence. Far better would it have been if the play-going public, admirers of the late possessor, or even a few personal friends, had thought of securing the relic by subscription, to present to his son and widow. A timely suggestion might easily have accomplished this.

The sale of Edmund Kean's valuables took place on the 17th June, 1834. The world wondered, and it was said loudly, by more than one, that Charles Kean ought to have bought in the effects of his father, and prevented a public auction. A hasty opinion, uttered by those who either knew not, or what is more likely, chose to forget that the young man was still struggling for his own subsistence, and had no superfluous means at his disposal. Could he have commanded funds sufficient, a comparatively trifling sun might have re. deemed the Bute estate, an unprofitable purchase, comprising twenty-four acres of bog and rock, on which his father had expended above £4,000 in building and improvements.

Shortly after the representation of Othello, Knowles's play of The Wife was produced, and was received with success almost equal to that of the Hunchback. Charles Kean was the original Leonardo Gonzaga; Miss Ellen Tree, Mariana ; Knowles himself playing Julian St. Pierre. This piece ran for the remain. der of the season, and was continued with undiminished attraction long after the Covent-Garden company removed to the Olympic Theatre. But Charles Kean saw that he had as yet made little or no impression. Causes were in operation which time and absence might remove. Knowing that without difficulty he could obtain profitable engagements elsewhere, he resolved to " bide his time,” and act no more in London until he could place himself at the top of the tree.” He had encountered rebuffs and disappointment; as often as he made a step in advance, some opposing influence dragged him back again; still the conviction of ultimate success was strong within him, and he felt satisfied that sooner or later he should attain it. One day he met accidentally Mr. Dann, the treasurer of Drury-lane Theatre, who on the part of Mr. Bunn, at that time the lessee, proposed a benefit for his mother, as the widow of Edmund Kean. The offer was a kind one, but Charles declined it, feeling that he was now able to support his surviving parent by his own exertions, and unwilling to let her be considered an object of public charity. Mr. Dunn then suggested, that in all probability he could readily obtain an engagement at Drury-lane at £15

"Life of Edmund Kcau." London. 1835.

a week. "No," replied he, “I will never again set my foot on a London stage until I can command my own terms of £50 a night." " Then, Charles Kean," rejoined Mr. Dunn, with a smile, “I fear you may bid a long farewell to Lon. don, for the days of such salaries are gone for ever.” Time rolled on, and at the expiration of five years only, during which he had received £20,000 by acting in the country, he drove to the stage-door of Drury-lane in his own carriage, with a signed engagement at £50 a night in his pocket

, and which engagement, for upwards of forty nights, was paid to him by the very man who had predicted its impossibility,

It would be difficult to cite a more striking instance of a strong internal conviction leading to the anticipated end, or of industry and perseverance so amply crowned by a corresponding result. There was talent of no ordinary quality, beyond doubt, with some assisting circumstances, in this individual case; but a valuable lesson, and a powerful moral of general application are here combined. In struggling through the race of life, some are doomed to toil perpetually on å rugged path, while others glide with railroad regularity on a smooth one. But the goal is open to all; what one has accomplished, another may hope to achieve also, and no one should despair, while retaining health and unclouded faculties to second an honourable resolution.

In 1833, after leaving London, Charles Kean accepted an engagement to perform with a well-selected English company, in Hamburgh, under the direction of Mr. Barham Livius. The experiment promised successfully, but in a few weeks was brought to a premature close by the interference of the local authorities ; it being represented to them that the attraction of the • foreigners" interfered with and injured the regular establishments. Some governments are less tenacious of the interests of their fellow-countrymen. The heroine of this company was Miss Ellen Tree, a young lady equally distinguished by her amiable character, personal attractions, and high professional ability. A friend, well acquainted with both, predicted to Charles Kean (when one day dining with his family) that he would infallibly lose his heart, exposed to such combined temptation, and has lived to see his prediction most happily accomplished in the marriage of the parties. The visit to Hamburgh led to an intimacy, increasing a mutual attachment previously commenced in London, and they became engaged to each other. But the projected union was broken off, and for some years appeared anything but a likely event, the mothers on both sides deeming it equally ineligible. At this time all the advantages were clearly on the side of the lady. Charles bad yet the world before him, with his fortune to make; while the object of his choice was in the full tide of her fame, with beauty and accomplishments which might have graced a coronet.

During his probationary lustrum in the provinces, the two metropolitan cities of Dublin and Edinburgh took the lead in encouragement and remuneration. In both he played repeated engagements, and always with increasing attraction and applause, receiving large sums, and materially improving the treasury of the managers.

In Publin, from a very early period, his efforts had been uniformly hailed with characteristic warmth. Not from national partiality, because he was an Irishman—the fact was either unknown or disregarded. But naturally quick, they saw the rising merit and acknowledged it. Here, the public and the press were equally uninfluenced by preconceived opinions or fostered prejudices. In Edinburgh (in the year 1837), he cleared, in a single engagement, nearly £1000. All the leading members of the bench and bar, including many names of firstrate literary celebrity, were to be seen amongst his constant auditors. Liver. pool proveď another stronghold. Manchester, Bath, Exeter, Plymouth, with many of the larger towns, followed the example. In the summer of 1836, he visited his native city of Waterford, and was greeted with the compliment of a public dinner. A silver claret-jug, valued at £100, was afterwards presented to him in London, by a deputation of gentlemen from Waterford, inscribed as follows:

As a token of esteem for his private character; and admiration of his talents,

In his native city of Waterford,

Junc 28th, 1838."

He was making rapid strides towards fame and fortune, establishing himself in the best society, with hosts of influential friends in every place he appeared in. One of his early and warmest patronesses was the late Duchess of St. Al. bans, from whose kindness he obtained many valuable introductions. The theatres were crowded wherever he acted. He presented the extraordinary and unique instance of an actor without London popularity, proving himself the safest speculation, and the most attractive "star” a manager could venture to engage.

Charles Kean had now arrived at the culminating point of his theatrical life the apex, as it might be called, of his career. He had, it is true, achieved great marvels in the country, his hold on all the leading theatres was well secured, and, to a certain extent, he was perfectly independent of the metropolis. But still, London success was the key-stone of his ambition—the crowning glory to which he aspired. The time had come when the question was to be decided, whether he had formerly been held down by prejudice, or really had not the abilities so pertinaciously denied to him. He was twenty-seven years of age, and had served an arduous apprenticeship of nearly eleven years. He was now to take his degree permanently amongst the magnates of his craft, or sink for ever into the ranks of mediocrity. His enemies (for who has not enemies ?) loudly predicted his failure. According to them, he was nothing but “a lucky humbug," trading on his name and resemblance to his father. “ Let him only face a London audience,” said they, “and he will be found out at once." were right, all the audiences in the leading cities throughout the kingdom, ali the provincial press, were in a conspiracy to be wrong. His numerous friends, on the other hand, were equally confident of his triumph.

Mr. Macready, when he entered on the management of Covent Garden, in 1837, had invited Charles Kean to join his company, and the following interesting correspondence took place between them :

If they


“8, Kent Terrace, Regent's Park, London,

* July 22nd, 1937. “Dear Sir,—The newspapers may, perhaps, have informed you that I have taken Covent Garden Theatre. I have embarked in this hazardous enterprise, congenial neither to my habits nor disposition, in the hope of retrieving, in some measure, the character of our declining art, or at least of giving to its professors the continuance of one of our national theatres as a place for its exercise, which most persons despaired of. The performers have met the sacrifice I am prepared to make with a spirit highly laudable to their feelings, and I trust the event will prove not discreditable to their judgment. Every one has consented to a reduction of his or her claims, and I believe the names of all our principal artists are entered on my list. Your celebrity has, of course, reached me: in the most frank and cordial spirit I invite you to a participation in the struggle I am about to make. I understand that your expectations are high; let me know your terms, and if it be possible I will most gladly meet them, and do all in my power to secure your assistance, and give the complete scope to the full development of your talents.

" I will not further allude to the cause for which I am making this effort, than to express my belief and confidence that your own disposition will so far suggest to you its professional importance, as to insure us against any apprehension of your becoming an antagonist, should you decline (as I sincerely trust you will not) enrolling yourself as a co-operator. " I remain, dear sir, very faithfully yours,


“ Cork, July 27th, 1837. “DEAR SIR,—I have had the honour to receive your very courteous letter; and permit me, before I answer that portion of it which relates to myself

, to congratulate you on the assumption of the Covent Garden management.

" I assure you, with great sincerity, I think it a most fortunate circumstance for the drama and the public, that you have placed yourself at the head of this theatre, and that you occupy a position where your energies will sustain, your taste improve, and your influence elevate the stage. No one could be more fitly chosen to preside where you do now, I say this without hesitation, and distinctly because, from your well-understood predilection for our classical plays, and your own range of parts, you will give those plays every possible preference ; and thus (to use your own words)" retrieve in soine measure the character of our declining art.” Connected as you now are with Covent Garden, controlling its business, and set over its destinies, allow me to wish you, for your own sake and that of the profession, a long term of prosperous management. For your offer to me of an engagement, and your assurances of giving "ample scope to the full development of my talents," I thank you very much. Your invitation, and the kind and handsome manner in which you offer it, are most flattering to me; and though neither my inclination nor my interests point to London just now, still I set due value upon your encouraging proposal. But let me tell you frankly, that were I to go to London, there have occurred some circumstances between Mr. Bunn and me, whereby he might hold me bound (were it only partially so) to him; and even in a case where a contract was perhaps but implied, if Mr. Bunn made it a question of honour with me, I should, of course, be governed by the absolute and arbitrary dictate of such a monitor. I repeat, however, I do not contemplate a movement towards London for the present.

“Another point in your letter demands a few words. You express your confidence that my own disposition will so far suggest to me the professional importance of your present enterprise, as to assure you against my becoming an antagonist elsewhere, should I decline your offer to co-operate with yourself. You may indeed believe that I could not, neither would I, oppose myself to the interests of any establishment, or any individual. But surely you could never suppose that my acceptance of an engagement at any time, with any manager of the other great theatre, would involve hostility to you. The interests of both the national theatres are alike important to the public. I should naturally consider my own advantage in connecting myself with either, consistently with my rank in the drama, and its welfare generally; and were I to assent to your view of the case, I should necessarily shut myself out of a large sphere of action. I might deprive myself of those professional associations I most valued. I should, in fact, compromise my professional freedom and independence; and it does not belong to the proud eminence you have yourself attained, to narrow my efforts in working out my individual fame. I labour hard in my profession, and in doing this, if I can in any way, or at any season, contribute to your success, while honourably zealous for my own, it will gratify my feelings and my heart. “I remain, dear sir, truly yours,



"Theatre Royal, Covent Garden,

" August 2, 1837. “ DEAR SIR, I beg my observations may not be considered in the light of a desire to limit you in any way. I intended to convey to you my intention to concede as liberal terms as I could suppose either you could demand, or any manager, with the means or purpose of paying you, could grant. Any expectation founded on such an intention, was not meant to make a part of the business of my letter. In inviting you to London, I fulfil a duty that devolves on me with my office, and I do so in the most frank and liberal spirit.

“I shall regret your absence, should you think it right to reject my overtures; and, with my very cordial thanks for the kind expressions of your letter, "I remain, dear sir, yours truly,


Charles Kean judged that, according to the plan laid down by Mr. Macready, it could scarcely come within his views to place him in the exclusive position at which he now aimed. He therefore paused to deliberate before he hazarded the London venture, and finally closed with the offer of Mr. Bunn to act twenty nights at Drury-lane, with a salary of £50 a night. That he decided wisely in preferring an arena entirely unoccupied, is evidenced by the result. Had he fallen into the ranks at Covent Garden, he might have proved a valuable recruit, but would never have risen to a baton of command.

On the 8th of January, 1838, he appeared as Hamlet_a memorable evening in his own history, with a triumphant issue, never surpassed in the history of the stage. He was received with enthusiasm. From his entrance to the close of the performance the applause was incessant. The celebrated point “Is it the King ?" in the third act, produced an electrical effect—to use a favourite expression of his father's, the pit rose at him !"

At the conclusion he was called for, and hailed with reiterated acclamations. “ Caps, hats, and hands applauded him to the clouds." The success was solid, substantial. There were no hired claqueurs, no packing in the pit, no undue influence to forestall unbiassed judgment. It was an honest verdict; and on

“The closet scene with his mother was acted with great power. His attitude and look when, having slain Polonius, he rushes in, exclaiming, "Is it the king? fully deserved the immense applause which followed one of the most striking scenic exhibitions which we have witoessed for a long time."— Times, January 9th, 1838.

the following morning the leading journals corroborated the opinion of the public. The articles were elaborately written, with critical acumen, and with candour, kindness, and ability. It was stated that “he fully deserved the frequent applause bestowed by a house crowded from the pit to the gallery,” and that" he had given a very elegant and finished portrait of Hamlet; "* that, "in the most palmy days of Old Drury, a greater success, or a more decided hit had never been achieved;" and that “his engagement would prove of the utmost advantage to the theatre't-that “his acting was excellent throughout, his triumpli most complete, and his fortune secured." We have selected these short extracts at random, and could multiply them readily from many other papers, but space precludes, and enough are given to shew that the impression of this first performance was most flattering to the actor, and fully vindicated the judgment of his friends.

There was now no longer any doubt as to the position he was henceforward to hold. His place in the foremost rank of the profession was established. His performances were continued for forty-three nights, and would have been protracted to a much longer period, without intermission, but that a previous engagement in Edinburgh interfered, and compelled his temporary absence from London. He felt the full disadvantage of this break, but determined not to disappoint his northern friends, to whom he was under many obligations.

Attentions were now lavished on him from every side; his society was courted by persons of the highest rank; his table literally groaned beneath the weight of cards, invitations, and congratulatory letters. But “surgit amari aliquid," even in life's most honied intervals. He was beset from morning till night by innumerable petitions for relief from unemployed actors, decayed artists, and semi-genteel mendicants. Claims from some he had known and often assisted before, with demands from others whose names he had never heard mentioned. Between the 8th of January and the close of March he received £2,100, and was asked to lend or bestow at least £6,000! These worthy applicants undoubtedly considered him as public property, and that having made a fortune in less than three months, he had nothing to do but give it away again.

On the 30th of March, he received the high compliment of a public dinner, in the saloon of Drury-lane Theatre, on which occasion he was also presented with a magnificent silver vase, value £200, bearing the following inscription :

By the admirers of his distinguished talents,

At a public dinner,
Given to him in the Saloon of the Theatre-Royal, Drury-Lane,

At this dinner Lord Morpeth, now Earl of Carlisle, who had long been a zealous patron and warm admirer of Charles Kean, was to have presided, but he was detained unexpectedly in the House of Commons, and the chair was taken and most ably filled by the Vice-President, the Marquis of Clanricardle. Above one hundred and fifty persons were present, including many names eminent by their talent and literary reputation. The speeches, as may be supposed, were eloquent and characteristic. That of Charles Kean, in particular, was remarkable for the modest and unassuming tone in which he spoke of himself and his pretensions.

During this, his first engagement in London, he appeared in only three characters_Hamlet, Richard III., and Sir Giles Overreach. IIamlet he acted twentr-one nights (twelve without intermission), Richard III. seventeen, and Sir Giles five. The gross receipts amounted to £13,289, making a nightly average of £309. In 1814, when Erlmund Kean, the father, made his debût, le played to an average of £484 for a corresponding number of nights, but the prices were then considerably higher, and there are other qualifying circumstances. Weighing all these together, the number of persons present was nearly the same, and there was little actual difference in the comparative attraction. It has been often said that the enormous salaries paid to individual performers

Morning Post.


| Globe.

« ПредишнаНапред »