James William Wallack

Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

T.P. Cooke as the Creature, from a painting by Thomas Wageman, at New York Public Library Digital Collections

T.P. Cooke as the Creature, from a painting by Thomas Wageman, at New York Public Library Digital Collections

Source: Mary Shelley to Leigh Hunt, 9 September 1823, in Betty T. Bennett (ed.), Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), letter 1,378

Production: Richard Brinsley Peake, Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, English Opera House, London, 28 July 1823

Text: But lo and behold! I found myself famous. F[rankenstein] had prodigious success as a drama & was about to be repeated for the 23rd night at the English opera house. The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list of dramatis personæ came, ——— [i.e., the Creature] by Mr. T. Cooke: this nameless mode of naming the un[n]ameable is rather good.

On Friday Aug. 29th Jane[,] My father[,] William & I went to the theatre to see it. Wallack looked very well as F[rankenstein]—he is at the beginning full of hope & expectation—at the end of the 1st Act. the stage represents a room with a staircase leading to F[rankenstein]’s workshop—he goes to it and you see his light at a small window, through which a frightened servant peeps, who runs off in terror when F[rankenstein] exclaims “It lives!”—Presently F[rankenstein] himself rushes in horror & trepidation from the room and while still expressing his agony & terror ——— throws down the door of the laboratory, leaps the staircase & presents his unearthly & monstrous person on the stage. The story is not well managed—but Cooke played ———’s part extremely well—his seeking as it were for support—his trying to grasp at the sounds he heard—all indeed he does was well imagined & executed. I was much amused, & it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience. It was a third piece, a scanty pit filled at half-price, and all stayed till it was over. They continue to play it even now.

Comments: Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was an English novelist, essayist and travel writer, and wife of the poet Percy Shelley. Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, by Richard Brinsley Peake, was the first dramatisation of her novel Frankenstein. It opened at the English Opera House (later the Lyceum Theatre) in London on 28 July 1823, and Shelley saw it with her father William Godwin on 29 August 1823. Victor Frankenstein was played by James William Wallack, and the Creature by Thomas Potter Cooke. Because only the patent theatres at Drury Lane and Covent Garden could perform ‘legitimate’ drama at this time, other theatres were obliged to put on spectacles, musical entertainments, pantomimes and the like, which affected the nature of the production of Presumption, which featured songs, dumbshow sequences and an avalanche for the finale.

Links: Copy at Romantic Circles (site on Romantic-period literature and culture)

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