Imágenes de páginas

me. Towards the close of the strain the head slowly turned, the "full eyes" moved, and at the last note rested on Leontes.


This movement, together with the expression of the face, transfigured as we may imagine it to have been by years of sorrow and devout meditation, speechless, yet saying things unutterable,always produced a startling, magnetic effect upon all-the audience upon the stage as well as in front of it. After the burst of amazement had hushed down, at a sign from Paulina the solemn sweet strain recommenced. arm and hand were gently lifted from the pedestal; then, rhythmically following the music, the figure descended the steps that led up to the dais, and advancing slowly, paused at a short distance from Leontes. Oh, can I ever forget Mr Macready at this point! At first he stood speechless, as if turned to stone; his face with an awe-struck look upon it. Could this, the very counterpart of his queen, be a wondrous piece of mechanism? Could art so mock the life? He had seen her laid out as dead, the funeral obsequies performed over her, with her dear son beside her. Thus absorbed in wonder, he remained until Paulina said, "Nay, present your hand." Tremblingly he advanced, and touched gently the hand held out to him. Then, what a cry came with, "O, she's warm!" It is impossible to describe Mr Macready at this point. He was Leontes' self! His passionate joy at finding Hermione really alive seemed beyond control. Now he was prostrate at her feet, then enfolding her in his arms. I had a slight veil or covering over my head and neck, supposed to make the statue look older. This fell off in an

[ocr errors]

instant. The hair, which came unbound, and fell on my shoulders, was reverently kissed and caressed. The whole change was so sudden, so overwhelming, that I suppose I cried out hysterically, for he whispered to me, "Don't be frightened, my child! don't be frightened! Control yourself!" All this went on during a tumult of applause that sounded like a storm of hail. Oh, how glad I was to be released, when, as soon as a lull came, Paulina, advancing with Perdita, said, "Turn, good lady, our Perdita is found." A broken trembling voice, I am very sure, was mine, as I said—

"You gods, look down, And from your sacred vials pour your


Upon my daughter's head! Tell me,

mine own, Where hast thou been preserved? Where lived? How found

Thy father's court ?

For thou shalt

hear, that I,

Knowing by Paulina, that the oracle
Gave hope thou wast in being,-have
Myself to see the issue."

It was such a comfort to me, as well as true to natural feeling, that Shakespeare gives Hermione no words to say to Leontes, but leaves her to assure him of her joy and forgiveness by look and manner only, as in his arms she feels the old life, so long suspended, come back to her again.

I was called upon to play Hermione very soon after my début. I was still very young, and by my years and looks most unfit even to appear as the mother of the young Mamillius. Why Mr Macready selected me for the task I could not imagine, and most gladly would I have declined it. But his will was law. Any remonstrance or objection was

met by reasons and arguments so broad and strong,-you were so earnestly reminded of your duty to sacrifice yourself to the general good, and the furtherance of the effort he was making to regenerate the drama,—that there was nothing left but to give way. All you could urge seemed so small, so merely personal. Therefore play Hermione I must, even as I had not long after to play Constance of Bretagne, a still severer trial and much greater strain upon my young shoulders. Hermione was a character that had not then come within the circle of my favourite Shakespearian heroines. It was, therefore, quite new to me. Mrs Warner had been for years the recognised Hermione of the London stage. On this occasion she was cast for Paulina, a character for which nature had eminently fitted her by a stately figure, fine voice, and firm, earnest manner. How admirably she acted Emilia in "Othello" I must ever remember, especially the way she turned on Othello in the last scene, in which Mr Macready was also very grand. On the audience, who could see their looks and gestures, the impression they made must have been very great indeed. I, as the smothered Desdemona, could hear only.

My first appearance as Hermione is indelibly imprinted on my memory by the acting of Mr Macready as I have described it in the statue scene. Mrs Warner had rather jokingly told me, at one of the rehearsals, to be prepared for something extraordinary in his man

ner, when Hermione returned to life. But prepared I was not, and could not be, for such a display of uncontrollable rapture. I have tried to give some idea of it; but no words of mine could do it justice. It was the finest burst of passionate speechless emotion I ever saw, or could have conceived. My feelings being already severely strained, I naturally lost something of my self-command, and as Perdita and Florizel knelt at my feet I looked, as the gifted Sarah Adams 1 afterwards told me, "like Niobe, all tears." Of course, I behaved better on the repetition of the play, as I knew what I had to expect and was somewhat prepared for it; but the intensity of Mr Macready's passion was SO real, that I never could help being moved by it, and feeling much exhausted afterwards.

"The Winter's Tale" makes heavy demands upon the resources of a theatre both in actors and mise en scène. It was therefore only in such cities as Dublin, Glasgow, and Edinburgh that I was able to have it acted. But in all these cities, even with such inadequate resources as they supplied, the play used to produce a profound impression. The sympathies of my audience for the suffering Hermione were reflected back upon me so warmly as to make me feel that they entered into my conception of her beautiful nature, such as I have here endeavoured to present it. There, as in London, the statue scene always produced a remarkable effect. This I could feel in the intense hush, as though

1 This sweet accomplished lady wrote many poems and hymns. Her drama in blank verse, founded on the story of "Vivia Perpetua," one of the first Christian martyrs, was greatly admired in a wide literary circle. Her beautiful hymn "Nearer, my God, to Thee," we all know, and are moved by, when sung in our churches as it often is.

every one present "held his breath" for the time. In Edinburgh, upon one occasion, I have been told by a friend who was present, that as I descended from the pedestal and advanced toward Leontes, the audience simultaneously rose from their seats, as if drawn out of them by surprise and reverential awe at the presence of one who bore more of heaven than of earth about her. I can only account for this by supposing that the soul of Hermione had for the time entered into mine, and "so divinely wrought, that one might almost say, "with the old poet, my "body thought." Of course I did not observe this movement of the audience, for my imagination was too full of what I felt was then in Hermione's heart, to leave me You eyes for any but Leontes. may judge of the pleasure it was to play to audiences of this kind. As "there is a pleasure in poetic



pains, which only poets know," so there is a pleasure in the actor's pains, which only actors know, who have to deal with the "high actions and high passions of which Milton speaks. Unless they know these pains, and feel a joy in knowing them, their vocation can never rise to the level of an art.

[ocr errors]

I fear, my dear Lord Tennyson, I have tried your patience with this long letter. But in this fine play I have had to write of three exquisite types of womanhoodthe mother, the maiden, and the friend. In what other play or story do we find three such women? In lingering over their excellences I may have lost account of time and thus wearied you. If I have, pray forgive me this once, and believe me to be ever, with deepest admiration and gratitude, very sincerely yours,



[blocks in formation]

Ralph D

To make my narrative clearer, I will begin by presenting to the reader the chief character in it. was a young fellow with an odd history. What brought him to Malta none of us ever exactly knew. He was understood to have been in one of "John Company's" regiments, but whether horse or foot I cannot remember. His own account was that he had left the Indian service (for some unexplained reason), and having found his way to Vienna, got himself into a regiment of Austrian cavalry, as not a few ex-British officers managed at that time to do. But, for reasons best known to himself and the authorities, his stay in the Kaiser's service was not of long duration, and when I joined my regiment in the island principality sacred to San Publio, D- was a well-known character among the English residents and garrison. Not that the noto

riety was altogether conducive to his fair fame; but D———— had a singular way of worming himself into the good graces of a particular set, and passed for a gentleman of affable manners, much wit, and especially a certain bold diablerie that stuck at nothing, and gave him a kind of popularity among the more daring spirits in society. How well I can call up his appearance! Dark brilliant eyes and black hair; a tall lithe figure, with a very peculiar but really bewitching smile on occasions when it suited him to please; and a beautifully shaped contour of head and profile. He was known to be of good family, and as he had been in the service, my regiment had made him an honorary member of our mess; and I rather think another corps in garrison had given him the same entrée into theirs. At all events, he was on pretty good terms with some of our fellows, though our colonel and one or two of the older officers certainly did not encourage him much, as his example was not considered beneficial to the juniors.

D- was a wonderful billiardplayer. I never saw any one to beat him at "losing hazards" or the "spot stroke." As to pool, our "lives" were as nothing in his hands; and at all card games in particular, both the skill and the luck of the man were extraordinary. Night after night I have seen him at play, and his winnings must have almost sufficed to maintain him. As to other traits in his character, I am sorry to say I never heard of one single good or generous sentiment that could be traced to him. D's

[ocr errors]

talk at the mess-table or in the anteroom was of the most cynical flavour it was ever my lot to hear; and though "de mortuis nil nisi bonum" is an excellent and decent moral to abide by, truth compels me to add that some very sinister tales of D- -'s influence over the other sex had got about at the time I speak of. What has now come to be dignified with the name of hypnotism was unknown as such in those days, but I believe D― possessed some conspicuous powers in this direction, and I am afraid was not always over-scrupulous in his use of them. Even at this distance of time his portrait stands out clear to my mind's eye, with a kind of Rembrandt-like sheen upon it, by reason of the mysterious shadow in the background which was to loom up and cover it with. the blackness of darkness. I ought perhaps to add, for the better understanding of what is to follow, that for a little while before the dénouement came, some ominous whisperings got afloat among us about Dand the methods whereby so much silver and gold was perpetually being transferred at whist and écarté from other people's pockets to his own. For in my long experience of those holding her gracious Majesty's commission, notwithstanding a black sheep here and there, it is not to be denied that scrupulous honour and fair dealing have ever been in the forefront of their traditions.

I now come to the memorable day of the occurrence of the strange incident, to one phase of which I and others-most of them gone now-were eyewitnesses.

There may be many who scan

these pages who have trod the narrow streets, quaintly built and gaily coloured, of Valetta, and can repicture their arabesqueItalian character, the old-world environment, the massive and rather formal friezes and entablatures of the basilicas and other buildings. The funereal-looking faldetta of the women; the men pouring in to market from the neighbouring casals, clad in blue homespun and long purse-shaped caps; the combined odours of oranges, garlic, oil, and roasting coffee emanating from the shopdoors; the long bastioned lines of fortifications, with wide deep fosses; the red-coated sentries at the port archways; the splendid auberges of the old knights,—what an odd jumble of impressions they all convey !

The season was Holy Week towards the end of April 18—. Music has always been a passion with me; and every afternoon preceding Good Friday in that particular week, when I could get off duty from the dust and glare of the white parade-ground and the monotonous bawling of the drill-sergeant, it was my wont to steal away to the Duomo of San Giovanni. And who that has ever sat in that stately cathedral church, surrounded by its splen dour of inlaid marble and under the magnificent frescoes of Matteo Preti,1 and in the dimly lighted atmosphere, odorous with incense, listened to the entrancing strains of the Office of the "Tenebræ," could ever forget it? Such exquisite pathos in the solos, inexpressibly mournful yet sweet, and then the moaning harmonies of the antiphonal choruses-like no other music I ever heard, or probably

1 Another of the treasures of this church is the celebrated picture by Caravaggio, "The Decapitation of the Baptist."

« AnteriorContinuar »