1830s

Our Recent Actors

“George Almar as Carnaby Cutpurse in ‘The Cedar Chest'” (1834), attributed to Robert William Buss, University of Bristol Theatre Collection via Art UK

Source: Westland Marston, Our Recent Actors: being recollections critical, and, in many instances, personal, of late distinguished performers of both sexes (Boston: Roberts brothers, 1888), pp. 2-8

Production: Possibly George Almar, The Cedar Chest; or, The Lord Mayor’s Daughter, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, July 1834

Text: To speak in the first person, which, spite of its necessary egotism, is the most convenient form of narrative, I came from the Lincolnshire seaport and market-town of Great Grimsby to London in the year 1834, having at that time attained my fifteenth year. It had been arranged that I should be articled to my uncle, a solicitor, who, with his partner, had offices near Gray’s Inn. The partner’s house was my first abode, and here I found—or perhaps I should say, took—more liberty of action during my evenings than was quite suitable in the case of so mere a boy.

Two years previously, on my first visit to London, I had been arrested by the playbills of the great patent theatres and by the magical name—then still a sound of lingering greatness—of Edmund Kean. “Drury Lane!” “Covent Garden!” “Mr. Kean!” Strange how these words of romance had some way penetrated to me through the seclusion of a “serious” home in the country, where my excellent parents never mentioned the stage, except to warn me, or others, of its dangers and seductions. Now that at a too early age I was, in many respects, my own master, and could indulge, if I chose, my longing to visit a theatre, I began to ask myself what there was in dramatic performances that should make them necessarily objectionable. I recalled my own annual displays when, as a lad of eleven or twelve, I had appeared with my schoolmates at the Theatre Royal, Great Grimsby, in various dramatic characters, at one time sustaining on “breaking-up day” the part of Juba in “Cato,” and another that of Electra in the tragedy of “Sophocles,” and afterwards that of Miriam (the Christian convert) in Milman’s “Jerusalem Delivered.” I remembered, too, how much my father, a zealous lover of Sophocles, though a foe to the stage, had praised my rendering of Electra. Was it possible, I argued, that a mode of composition allowable and, indeed, admirable in Greek, should be censurable in English, or that dialogue which was innocent when read should become injurious when spoken in public, with dresses and scenery to assist the impression? If the theatre might have its bad side, so also had literature, art, and even trade. If no judicious parent would put “Tom Jones” into a boy’s hands, was that a reason for withholding the novels of Scott? Must “Don Quixote” be forbidden because the word “fiction” applied also to “Gil Bias”? With this kind of logic I extorted a reluctant permission from my conscience for an act which, if allowable in itself, was still one of grave disobedience towards affectionate parents. I can still recall the boyish sophistry which prompted me to choose Sadler’s Wells Theatre for my first visit. It was a small theatre, and it was situated in a suburb—facts which, as they were likely to diminish my pleasure, seemed in the same degree to make my transgression a slight one. I might have gone to Covent Garden, I reasoned, and, at that renowned theatre, have revelled in the best acting of the day, whereas I self-denyingly contented myself with Sadler’s Wells. On the night when I entered that (to me) enchanted palace, I found there a new opiate for my restless conscience. The title of the piece represented I quite forget, but its main situation is as fresh as ever in my memory. A girl, deeply attached to her betrothed, learns his life is at the mercy of a villain (of course, an aristocrat), whom she has inspired with a lawless passion. She implores his pity for her lover, only to find that the sacrifice of her honour is the price of his ransom. I remember how my heart came into my throat and the tears into my eyes when the noble-minded girl, striking an attitude of overwhelming dignity, before which the wretch naturally abased himself, spurned his offer, and committed her cause to that Providence which, in the good, honest melodrama of that day, never delayed to vindicate the trust reposed in it. What most comforted me during the evening was the conviction that my father, could he have seen the piece, would heartily have applauded it and recanted at once his unqualified enmity to the theatre. I fancied how cordially, had he been behind the scenes, he would have shaken hands with Miss Macarthy (afterwards Mrs. R Honner), who had no inconsiderable skill in painting the struggles of virtuous heroines. I might certainly, however, have trembled for the consequences had he encountered a certain Mr. G. Almar, who, if my memory serves me, personated the miscreant of the drama.

I was curious enough, even on the first night of attending a theatre, to ask myself why Mr. Almar made such incessant use of his arms. Now they were antithetically extended, the one skyward, the other earthward, like the sails of a windmill; now they were folded sternly across his bosom; now raised in denunciation; now clasped in entreaty, and considerately maintained in their positions long enough to impress the entire audience at leisure with the effect intended. I was critical enough to ask myself whether the more heroic attitudes of this gentleman would not have been heightened by the contrast of occasional repose, and whether there were, in his opinion, any fatal incompatibility between easy and natural gestures and effective acting. On quitting the theatre, my inquiring mind received some light upon these points, for in the window of a confectioner, who was also a theatrical printseller, my attention was arrested by coloured portraits of local, or other stage favourites, in their principal characters. Here figured “Mr. Cobham, as Richard the Third,” with a frown to spread panic through the ranks of “Shallow Richmond.” Here was Mr. T. P. Cooke, as William in “Black-eyed Susan,” in that renowned hornpipe which illustrates William’s happier days, ere Susan and he had dreams of a court-martial. And here figured my friend of “The Wells,” Mr. G. Almar, in various characters, in all of which the use of his arms was so remarkable, that it might easily be inferred he acted less for the sake of his general audience than for that of the artist who depicted him, and who probably would have thought little of an actor who did not supply him with attitudes. I was glad, moreover, to find from one of the prints that Mr. Almar’s arms were not always employed to illustrate sinister characters, but that on occasions they could be virtuously engaged. In this particular instance they represented the action of the noble Bella in “Pizarro,” as he bears Cora’s rescued child triumphantly over the cataract.

Comments: John Westland Marston (1819-1890) was a British dramatist and critic, the son of a dissenting minister. Our Recent Actors in an autobiographical account of the stage performances he had witnessed. Sadler’s Wells Theatre was at a low point in its fortunes in the 1830s, located on the rural fringes of London and struggling to compete with the three patent theatres (Covent Garden Drury Lane, Haymarket). The manager at this time was the actor George Almar. A later manager was Robert Honner, who married the actress Maria Macarthy (1812-1870). The melodrama Marston saw was possibly The Cedar Chest; or, The Lord Mayor’s Daughter, written by Almar, which featured him in the lead male role alongside Maria Macarthy.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Queen Victoria’s Journals

‘Van Amburgh in the Wild Cat Cage’, London Art Journal (1879), via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 24 January 1839

Text: At 10 I went with Lady Breadalbane (who came after dinner) and Miss Murray (in my carriage), Lehzen, Lord Conyngham, Lord Lilford, Lord Alfred, and Sir Robert Otway (in the others) to Drury Lane. We came in about 20 minutes before the Lions come on. Van Amburgh surpassed even himself, and was miraculous; he stayed a much longer time than usual in the 1st cage, and all the animals, were much more lively than usual, in the 2nd cage, as usual, the little lamb was brought in, while he was reclining on the lion’s body and head, and put before the Lion’s nose, which he, as usual, bore with indifference; when one of the Leopards, the smallest of all the animals, and a sneaking little thing, came, seized the lamb, and ran off with it; all the others, except the lion, and all those in the other cage making a rush to help in the slaughter, it was an awful moment, and we thought all was over, when Van Amburgh rushed to the Leopard, tore the lamb, unhurt, from the Leopard, which he beat severely,- took the lamb in his arms,- only looked at all the others, and not one moved, though in the act of devouring the lamb. It was beautiful and wonderful; and he was immensely applauded; he held the lamb for a few minutes in his arms; and then sent it out of the cage, but remained himself some little time in the cage, making these animals obey just as usual. After the Pantomime was over, we waited in a little ante-room till everybody was gone, and the house quite cleared, and then we all went down on the Stage, which was walled in by Scenery; and the cages with the animals again brought on; there they were, and most beautiful beasts they are, so sleek, so well-conditioned – and so wild – that really Van Amburgh’s power seems little short of a miracle. They had not been fed since early the preceding day, and consequently were wilder than usual; Van Amburgh, who was in plain clothes, is a tall, but not very powerful looking man; young, very modest, quiet and unassuming; with a mild expression, a receding forehead, and very peculiar eyes, which don’t exactly squint, but have a cast in them. I asked him if that had ever happened before with the lamb; he replied: “Sometimes it does; it did the first time I took one in”; but the lamb was unhurt; they then fed them, and they roared, and fought with one another terrifically; but it was very fine. I didn’t allow Van Amburgh to go into the cages, but he went up to them, and stroked them and they obeyed him wonderfully; he told Lord Conyngham that they were all full grown, but two, when he first had them; the large lion in the furthest cage is the fiercest, he says; and the weight of the leopard, which he carries on his head and shoulders, and makes perform every sort of beautiful trick, is 14 stone. He scarcely ever uses an iron bar to them, but only a stick made of Rhinoceros hide, which he showed us. We came home at ½ p.12 …

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. She was particularly fond of the animal shows of the American trainer Isaac A. Van Amburgh (1811-1865), who was renowned for acts such as putting his head inside a lion’s jaws, but also notorious for the mistreatment of the animals in his menagerie. This occasion was the third occasions on which she had seen Van Amburgh’s act, which a regular part of the Drury Lane programme at this time.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Queen Victoria’s Journals

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 30 December 1833

Productions: Daniel Auber, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Charles Farley, Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 30 December 1833

Text: At a ¼ past 8 we went with Lehzen, Lady Conroy, and Sir John to the play to Convent Garden. We came in for the last scene of Gustavus, the Masqued Ball, and stayed the whole of the pantomine, which is called “Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery”. The scenery was very pretty and the principal characters were; Venus, Miss Lee; Cupid, Miss Poole, who appeared in three other dresses: as a peasant boy, as a drummer, and as Mother Hubbard, and she looked very pretty and acted very well indeed. Old Mother Hubbard, Mr. Wieland; Schock (her dog), Master W. Mitchinson. The Duchess Griffinwinkle Blowsabella (afterwards Pantaloon), Mr. Barnes. King Rundytundy O, (afterwards Dandy Lover), Mr. W.H. Payne. The Princes Graciosa (afterwards Columbine), a very pretty person, Miss Foster. Prince Percineth (afterwards Harlequin), Mr. Ellar. Head Cook (afterwards Clown), Mr. T. Matthews. The panorama at the end was also pretty. We came home at a ¼ past 12. I was very much amused.

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. On this visit to Covent Garden she saw the last scene of Daniel Auber‘s recently written grand opera Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog, a pantomime composed and engineered by Charles Farley.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Queen Victoria’s Journals

muchado1836

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 23 December 1836

Production: William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Covent Garden, London, 23 December 1836

Text: At ½ p.6 we went with my beloved Lehzen, Lady and the Miss Conroys, &c., to Covent Garden to the play. It was Shakespeare’s 5 act Comedy of “Much ado about nothing”, for Charles Kemble’s farewell benefit. The House was crammed. We came in just after Kemble had appeared. He never played better. He sustained the character of Benedick, and acted with so much playfulness, grace and lightness,that it made one still more sorry to think that he was never more to tread those boards and delight his audience. The principal other characters were Beatrice – Miss H. Faucit, who is neither a good nor a bad actress. Don Pedro – Mr. Bennett, as affected as ever. Claudio – Mr. Pritchard, a dreadful man. Leonato – Mr.Thompson. Hero – Miss Vincent. Dogberry – Mr. W. Farren, who was delightful; he is a most excellent comic actor. When the play was over, the curtain rose and discovered the whole acting company on the stage. Kemble came on and made a short and pretty speech which was much interrupted by the tremendous and well deserved applause he received from the audience, handkerchiefs and hats waving, and by his own feelings. Poor Kemble, he was quite overcome, his eyes filled with tears and his voice trembling and faltering. I subjoin an account from the newspapers (today’s Morning Chronicle) which will serve to describe the whole better than I can. Poor Kemble, the last of the Kembles, it is a sad thing to think we shall behold him no more who was one of the stage’s brightest ornaments. The name of Kemble will ever be remembered with feelings of delight and admiration. A Farewell of this kind is very touching. I saw Young take his leave about 4 years and a half ago. What an actor he was! oh, beautiful! Mrs. Butler, better known as Fanny Kemble, and who is lately arrived from America, was in a box with her sister Miss Adelaide Kemble; she seemed much affected when she beheld him say his last “Farewell”. What a loss she is to the stage; she was a charming actress. We came home at ½ p.10.

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. This entry on seeing William Shakespeare‘s Much Ado about Nothing at the Covent Garden Theatre was made six months before she was crowned. Charles Kemble retired from the stage with this performance, but later gave Shakespeare readings, including readings at Buckingham Palace for the Queen. The other actors named here were George Bennett, William Farren, Helen Faucit, John Pritchard, Thompson, Vincent. Young was Charles Mayne Young, who retired from the stage in 1832.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

The Diary of Philip Hone

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 1, pp. 265-266

Production: Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Rivals, National Theatre, New York, 4 September 1837

Text: September 4. — Wallack opened the National Theatre (late the Italian Opera House) this evening, with the comedy of “The Rivals.” He has brought with him from England a very strong company, several of whom appeared this evening. I never saw a play go off with more spirit. Wallack, in the dashing part of Captain Absolute, with a handsome scarlet uniform coat, and his one beautiful leg (the other being a little crooked ever since he broke it by being upset in the stage at Brunswick), made a most captivating entrée, was received with great applause, and made, at the falling of the curtain, one of the best, most graceful, and eloquent speeches I ever heard on such an occasion. But I fear he will not succeed. The National is the prettiest theatre in the United States; but it is not in Broadway, and the New Yorkers are the strangest people in the world in their predilection for fashionable locations. In Paris the theatres are scattered over the whole city, and the fashionable milliners, jewellers, tailors, and all those who depend for their support upon the gay, the rich, and the fashionable, are to be found in by-streets, or in the mazes of narrow, dark alleys; but our people must have their amusements thrust under their noses, and a shopkeeper, if he hopes to succeed in business, must pay a rent of $4,000 or $5,000 in Broadway, when he might be equally well accommodated for $600 or $800 ten doors from it. But there is a greater obstacle to the success of the new establishment in the great number of theatres at present open in the city, each one of whom has some “bright particular star” shining to attract and dazzle the eyes of the multitude.

It is almost incredible that in these times of distress, when the study of economy is so great an object, there should be nine of these money drains in operation: The Park; the old Drury, of New York, which has done well during the whole of the hard times; the Bowery, with Jim Crow, who is made to repeat nightly, almost ad infinitum, his balderdash song, which has now acquired the stamp of London approbation to increase its éclat; the Franklin, in Chatham square; Miss Monier’s Theatre, in Broadway, opposite St. Paul’s, — little and weakly, and likely to die; the Euterpean Hall, Broadway, below Canal street, — short-lived, also, I suspect; the Broadway Theatre, next to Tattersall’s, which has been handsomely fitted up, and is to be opened next week; Mrs. Hamblin’s Theatre, formerly Richmond Hill, where the Italian opera first placed its unstable foot in New York; the Circus, in Vauxhall Garden, nearly in the rear of my house; and Niblo’s Vaudevilles, — the best concern of the whole at present, with a strong company playing little pieces à la française. Concerts, and rope-dancing, and other performances of the Ravel family, consisting of eight or ten of the most astonishing performers in their line who have ever appeared in this city. If Wallack can stand all this, he is immortal.

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. The National Theatre originally opened as the Italian Opera House in 1836. The actor-manager James William Wallack took over management in 1837, putting on a repertory of classic dramas. Wallack played Sir Anthony Absolute in this production of Sheridan‘s The Rivals. The theatre burned down in 1839, was rebuilt only to burn down again in 1841.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Philip Hone

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 1, p. 238

Production: William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Park Theatre, New York, 9 December 1836

Text: Miss Ellen Tree made, this evening, her first appearance in America, at the Park Theatre, in the character of Rosalind in “As You Like It,” and Pauline in a sort of melodrama called “The Ransom.” Her Rosalind was a most fascinating performance, full of grace and refinement and the part well adapted to her style of acting. The play, admirable as it is, and abounding in Shakespeare’s finest passages and most touching sentiments, is usually tiresome in the performance, and can be best appreciated in the closet; but on this occasion sweet Rosalind was so ably supported by all the other characters that it went off delightfully. The charming debutante was well received by a prodigiously crowded house, and was saluted by cheers and waving of hats and handkerchiefs. I was struck again, as in London, by the great resemblance of Ellen Tree to my daughter Mary. Her profile is much like hers, and her smile so like that it almost overpowered my feelings; they are both pretty well off for nose, neither being of the kind called “snub” by any means; “quite to the contrary, I assure you,” as Temple Bowdoin says; but Mary’s eyes are finer and more expressive than Miss Tree’s. Fanny Kemble was right in this matter.

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. He saw Shakespeare‘s As You Like It at the Park Theatre, New York, 9 December 1836. The British actress Ellen Tree (1805-1880) was known professionally as Mrs Charles Kean after her marriage in 1842.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Philip Hone

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 1, p. 62

Production: William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Park Theatre, New York, 17 September 1832

Text: Monday, Sept. 17. — Charles Kemble made his first appearance this evening at the Park Theatre, in the character of Hamlet, to a great house. He was well received, and listened to with great attention. There were not many ladies in the house, but the audience appeared to be critical and discriminating. It was precisely such acting as my recollection of Kemble and my opinion of his powers had led me to expect. The part was deeply studied and well understood; his reading is critically correct, his elocution distinct, and his manner dignified; but he is too formal, even for Hamlet. His pauses are too long and too frequent, so much so as to make the representation fatiguing; and for myself, I confess that, although my judgment is perfectly satisfied, his Hamlet falls far short of the power to interest me and give me pleasure of Kean’s or even Wallack’s, and he labours, moreover, under one great disadvantage, of which he has, unfortunately, no chance of amendment, — he is too old by thirty years for this part, and the expression of his face will do better for Lord Townly, Sir Edward Mortimer, King John, and other such parts. He is, on the whole, a fine actor, a good study for the younger men, and his visit to this country ought to improve the American stage. Fanny Kemble is to appear to-morrow evening in “Fazio.”

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. He saw Hamlet at the Park Theatre, New York, 17 September 1832. The British actor Charles Kemble visited America in 1832 and 1834, accompanied by his actress daughter Fanny Kemble.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Journal of Sir Walter Scott

Source: Walter Scott, The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 1825-1832 (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1910 [orig. pub. 1890]), vol. 2, p. 335

Production: David Garrick/Thomas Southerne, Isabella, or The Fatal Marriage, Covent Garden, London, 16 June 1830

Text: June 17. – Went last night to theatre, and saw Miss Fanny Kemble’s Isabella, which was a most creditable performance. It has much of the genius of Mrs. Siddons, her aunt. She wants her beautiful countenance, her fine form, and her matchless dignity of step and manner. On the other hand, Miss Fanny Kemble has very expressive, though not regular, features, and what is worth it all, great energy mingled with and chastened by correct taste. I suffered by the heat, lights, and exertion, and will not go back to-night, for it has purchased me a sore headache this theatrical excursion. Besides, the play is Mrs. Beverley, and I hate to be made miserable about domestic distress, so I keep my gracious presence at home to-night, though Ive and respect Miss Kemble for giving her active support to her father in his need, and preventing Covent Garden from coming down about their ears.

Comments: Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a Scottish novelist and poet, whose historical novels such as Ivanhoe, Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian were immensely popular and influential. The Fatal Marriage was a 1694 play by Thomas Southerne, which David Garrick adapted in 1757 as Isabella; or the Fatal Marriage. Fanny Kemble played Isabella in a production at Covent Garden. ‘Mrs. Beverley’ is a character in Edward Moore‘s popular 1753 play The Gamester.

Links: Copy at Project Gutenberg