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HOME > Biographical > Life of Edwin Forrest > CHAPTER III. BOYHOOD AND YOUTH.
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 When Edwin was born, his father, encumbered and oppressed by the debts which his failure some years before had entailed on him, was serving in a bank, at a small salary. The family, consisting then of the parents and five children, were forced to live in a very humble style, and to practise a stern economy. For many years they endured the trials and hardships of poverty almost in its extremities. Yet, by dint of industry, character, and tidiness, they managed to maintain respectable appearances and a fair position. Both the father and mother were exemplary members of the Episcopal Church, under the pastoral charge of the Rev. Doctor Pilmore, on whose Sunday services they, with their children, were regular attendants.
What they most lamented was their inability to give their boys and girls the education and accomplishments whose absence in themselves their strong judgment and refined sensibility caused them deeply to regret. But they sought to make such compensation as they could by example, by precept, by directing in the formation of their habits and the choice of their associates, and by keeping them at the public schools as long as possible.
Lorman, the eldest son, when of the proper age to earn his living, was apprenticed to a tanner and currier. William, at a later period, was set at work in a printing-office. Henrietta, the eldest daughter,—as could not be avoided,—was early taken from under the rule of the school-mistress to the side of her mother, to help in the increasing labors of the household. Edwin went constantly to the public school nearest his home, from the age of five to thirteen, together with his eldest sister, Caroline, and also, for the last six years, with his youngest sister, Eleanora.
During this period the life of the family presents little besides that plain and humble story of toil, domestic fidelity, social strug
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gle, self-denial, and patience familiar in our country to a multitude of families in the middle and lower walks. In the mean while, duties were done, simple pleasures were enjoyed, plans were formed, hopes were disappointed, the seasons came round, the years moved on, changes occurred, experiences accumulated, as will happen to all, whether rich or poor.
The youngest son gave more striking signs of talent than any of the rest, and naturally the fonder anticipations of his parents centred in him. They meant, at any cost, if it were a possible thing, to give him such an education and training as would fit him for the Christian ministry. They were led to this determination by the counsel of their pastor, by their own pronounced religious feelings, and by the most distinctive gift of the boy himself. That gift was the marked power and taste of his elocution. It is interesting, and seems strange, as we look back now, to think of the destiny of Forrest had the original intention of his parents been carried out. Perhaps he would have become a bishop, and a judicious and influential one. It is certainly not impossible; so much do circumstances, companions, aims, duties, the daily routine of life, contribute to make us what we are. The essential germ or monad of the personality is unextinguishable, but its development may be amazingly fostered and guided or twisted and stunted. The coin of manhood remains what it is in itself, but its image and superscription are determined by the mould and die with which it is struck.
Edwin had a sweet, expressive, vigorous voice, with natural accent and inflection, free from the common mechanical mannerisms. His superiority in this respect over all his comrades was signal. With that unsparing tendency to let down every superiority, to level all distinctions, which is so characteristic of the rude democracy of the school-yard and the play-ground, his fellows nicknamed him the Spouter!
From his very first attendance at church, when a mere child in petticoats, he was much impressed by the imposing appearance and preaching of Dr. Joseph Pilmore. Father Pilmore was a large man, with a deep, rich voice, a manner of emphatic earnestness, his long powdered hair falling down his shoulders after the fashion of an Addisonian wig. The boy would not leave the pew until the old pastor came along, patted him on the head, and gave
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 him a blessing. He would then go home, make a pulpit of a stuffed semicircular chair with a pillow placed on the top of its back for a cushion, mount into it, and preach over from memory parts of the sermon he had just heard,—with his sisters, and such other persons as might be at hand, for an audience. At such times, before he would consent to declaim, he used to insist on having his costume, namely, a pair of spectacles across his nose, and a long pair of tongs over his neck, their legs coming down his breast to represent the bands of the preacher.
To the end of his life he retained a most grateful remembrance of his first pastor. The picture of him as he used to appear in the pulpit always remained in his imagination, a venerable image, unfaded, unblurred. One favorite gesture of the reverend orator, a forcible smiting of his breast, took such hold of the young observer that it haunted him for years after he had gone upon the stage; and he found himself often involuntarily copying it, even in situations where it was not strictly appropriate.
Such were the grace, propriety, and vigor displayed by the infantile declaimer, that when he went, as he often did, to see his brother Lorman in the tannery where he was employed, the workmen would lift him upon a stone table designed for dressing leather, listen to his recitations, and reward him with their applause.
Among the most valued friends of the Forrest family at this time was an elderly Scotchman, of great cultivation of mind, gentle heart, and charming manners, who had seen much of the world, was an intense lover of nature, possessed of fine literary taste and a rare natural piety of soul. He delighted in talking over with his friend their common memories of dear old Scotland, often quoting from Ferguson, Burns, and other Caledonian celebrities. This was no less a person than the famous ornithologist, Alexander Wilson; a man of sweet character, whose pictures of birds, descriptions of nature, and effusions of sentiment can never fail to give both pleasure and edification to those who linger over his limpid and sinless pages. The little boy, fascinated by the gentle personality, as well as by the picturesque conversation, so different from that of the business or working men he usually heard, was wont, on occasions of these visits, to draw near and attend to what was said. One day his father exclaimed,
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 "Come, Edwin, let us hear you recite the speech of the Shepherd Boy of the Grampian Hills." Wilson at once recognized the remarkable promise of the lad, and from that time took a deep interest in him. He often heard him read and declaim, corrected his faults, gave him good models of delivery, and called his attention to excellent pieces for committing to memory. He taught him several of the best poems of Robert Burns. Among these were the Dirge beginning
"When chill November's surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,"
and the exquisite verses "To Mary in Heaven,"—
"Thou lingering star with lessening ray,
That lov'st to greet the early morn."
When the eager learner had mastered a new piece, he was all alive until he could recite it to Wilson, who used to encourage and reward him with gifts of the plates of his great work on American Ornithology, which was then passing through the press. The service thus rendered was of inestimable value. The picture is beautiful: the wise and loving old man leaning in spontaneous benignity and joy over the aspiring and grateful child,—forming his taste, moulding his mind and heart. In a case like this, nothing can be more charming than the relation of teacher and pupil. It is that proper and artistic relation of experienced age and docile youth immortalized by antique sculpture in the exquisite myth of Cheiron and Achilles. Forrest never forgot his indebtedness to his early benefactor, but in his last days was fond of citing, with admiring pathos, the dying words of his old friend: "Bury me where the sun may shine on my grave and the birds sing over it."
Things were going on with the Forrest household in this modest and hopeful way, when the heaviest calamity it had ever known befell it. The death of its head, and the consequent cessation of his salary, left the family destitute of the means of support. The good and judicious mother showed herself equal to the emergency. Drying her tears and holding her heart firm, she undertook to fulfil the offices of both parents. With such
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 help as she could get, she bought a little stock or goods and opened a millinery-shop. In the mean time the two older sons were earning a little at their trades, and the two older daughters assisted their mother. They made bonnets, and various articles of needle-work, while she worked, in her spare hours, at binding shoes. In the later years of the proud fame and wealth of Forrest, as these scenes floated back into his memory, his heart visibly swelled under his breast, and tears filled his eyes.
The youngest daughter, then eleven, was kept at school. But it was found necessary to abandon the plan of educating Edwin for the clerical profession. Reluctantly his mother took him from school, and put him at service, first, for a short time, in the printing-office of the "Aurora," under Colonel Duane, where he was known as "Little Edwin," then in a cooper-shop on the wharf, and finally in a ship-chandlery store on Race Street. This was in 1819, when he was thirteen years old.
Several years previously his taste for dramatic expression had directed his attention to the stage. He had developed a keen love for theatrical entertainments, and he let no opportunity of attending the theatre go by unimproved. He found frequent means of gratifying this desire, although his parents strongly disapproved of it. He also, in company with his brother William, joined a Thespian club, composed of boys and young men possessed with the same passion for theatricals as himself, and gave much of his leisure time to their meetings and performances. Many a time he and his fellows performed plays in a wood-shed, fitted up for the purpose, to an eager audience of boys, the price of admittance being sometimes five pins, sometimes an apple or a handful of raisins.
The place he most delighted to visit was the old South Street Theatre, long since passed away, with its great pit surmounted by a double row of boxes. The most prominent object, midway in the first tier, was what was called the Washington Box. This was adorned with the insignia of the United States, and had often been occupied by Washington and his family in the days when Philadelphia was the capital of the nation. The boy used to regard this box with intense reverence. It was in this theatre, then under the management of Charles Porter, that Forrest, a lad of eleven, made his first public appearance on any stage. The
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 circumstances were amusing. He was in the street, playing marbles on the pavement with some other urchins, when Porter came along, and said to him, "Can you perform the part of a girl in a play?" "Why?" asked Edwin, looking up in surprise. "Because," replied the manager, "the girl who was to perform the character is sick." "Do you want me to take the part?" "Yes. Will you?" "When is it to be played?" "To-morrow night." "I will do it," answered the inconsiderate youth, triumphantly. Porter gave him a play-book, pointed out the part he was to study, and left him.
Edwin began forthwith, and was soon quite up in the part. But how to provide himself with a suitable costume for the night! This was a great difficulty. At length, bethinking him of a female acquaintance of his, whose name was Eliza Berryman, he went to her and borrowed what was needful in general, but not in particular.
Night came on, and the boy, as a substitute for a girl, was to take the part of Rosalia de Borgia, in the romantic melodrama of Rudolph, or the Robbers of Calabria. He went to the theatre and donned the dress. Finding himself in want of a bosom, he tore off some portions of scenery and stuffed them about his breast under the gown, and was ready for the curtain to rise. He had been provided by the kind Eliza with a sort of turban for the head, and for ringlets he had placed horse-hair done into a bunch of curls. The first scene displayed Rosalia de Borgia at the back of the stage, behind a barred and grated door, peering out of a prison. As she stood there, she was seen by the audience, and applauded. They could not then well discern her rugged and somewhat incongruous appearance. Pretty soon Rosalia came in front, before the foot-lights. Then at once rose a universal guffaw from the assembly. She looked about, a little disconcerted, for the cause of this merriment. To her intense sorrow and disgust, she found that her gown and petticoat were quite too short, and revealed to the audience a most remarkably unfeminine pair of feet, ankles, and legs.
He stood it for a time, until a boy in the pit, one of his mates, whom he had told that he was going to play, and who was there to see him, yelled out, "The heels and the big shoes! Hi yi! hi yi! Look at the legs and the feet!" Forrest, placing his
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 hand over his mouth, turned to the boy, and huskily whispered, "Look here, chap, you wait till the play is done, and I'll lick you like hell!" Then the boy in the pit bawled out, "Oh, she swears! she swears!" The audience were convulsed with laughter, the curtain came down, and poor Rosalia de Borgia, all perspiration, was hustled off the stage in disgrace.
This ludicrous failure was his first, and, with one exception, his last, appearance in a female part.
But he was not of a strain to give up in discomfiture. He determined to appear again, and in something which he knew he could do well. Accordingly, having prepared himself thoroughly in the famous epilogue written by Goldsmith for Lee Lewis in the character of Harlequin, he asked the manager to allow him another chance on the stage of the South Street Theatre. Porter replied, rather roughly, "Oh, you be damned! you have disgraced us enough already!" Deeply aggrieved by this rebuff, young Forrest yet resolved to speak his piece at any rate. So, one night, dressed in tight pantaloons and a close round jacket, he went behind the scenes, got some paint of the scene-painter, and painted his clothes, as well as he could, with stripes and diamonds, in resemblance of a harlequin. Then, watching an opportunity, in the absence of the manager from the stage, at the ringing down of the curtain he suddenly sprang before the foot-lights, and, to the astonishment of the audience, began,—
"Hold, prompter, hold! a word before your nonsense;
I'd speak a word or two to ease my conscience.
My pride forbids it ever should be said
My heels eclipsed the honors of my head."
At the word "heels" the audience took the joke, and, recognizing the boy, loudly applauded him. Encouraged thus, he went on, and spoke the whole epilogue in a most creditable manner, with thunders of applause from the audience, and from manager Porter too, who had now come in. Concluding with the last line,—
"And at one bound he saves himself—like me,"—
Forrest turned a hand-spring and a flip-flap, and made his exit, to the complete amazement of everybody in the theatre. He was
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 vociferously encored, again made his appearance, turned his flip-flap, and spoke his piece even better than before. Encored still again, he did not come back, but betook himself to his home as soon as possible, rejoicing in the belief that the glory of his present triumph would offset the shame of his previous fiasco.
Somewhat later he was duly announced in the bills, and repeated the performance between the play and the after-piece, with as good success as on the first occasion.
He kept his word with the boy in the pit, whose pointed remarks and loud laughter had so much annoyed and provoked him. He inflicted the promised thrashing, though—as he said, in relating the incident more than fifty years later—it was one of the toughest jobs he ever undertook. As soon as the combatants were satisfied, the victor and the victim made up, shook hands, and remained ever afterwards firm friends.
A little domestic scene which occurred about this time may fitly be introduced here, as illustrating the character and influence of the mother, and also, as will appear in a subsequent chapter, the assimilating docility of the child. It was a Sunday afternoon, in the summer. The tired and careful mother sat at the open window, the sunshine streaming across the floor, gazing at the passers in the street, and musing, perhaps, on times long gone by. Edwin was turning the leaves of a large pictorial copy of the Bible. A sudden explosion of laughter was heard from him. "What are you laughing at, my boy? It seems unbecoming, with that book in your hands." "Why, mother, I cannot help it; it is so absurd. Here is a picture of the grapes of Eshcol; and the bunches of them are so big and heavy that it takes two men, with a pole across their shoulders, to carry them along! Is it not funny?" "Edwin, come to me," replied the mother, with calm seriousness. Taking his hand in hers, and looking steadily in his eyes, she said, "Do you not think it very presumptuous and conceited in you, so young, so ignorant, knowing only the climate and fruits of Pennsylvania, to set yourself up to pronounce judgment in this way on the artist who most likely had at his service the experience of travellers in all countries? It is more than probable that in those tropical climes where the Bible was written the vines might grow almost into trees, and bear clusters of grapes ten times larger than any you ever saw. Modesty is one
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 of the best traits in a young person. I want you to remember never again to laugh at the fancied ignorance and absurdity of another, when perhaps the ignorance and absurdity are all your own." However often he may have failed to practise the lesson, yet when, fifty-five years afterwards, the old actor related the incident, the beating of his heart, the tenderness of his voice, and the moisture in his eyes, turned reverently towards the portrait of his mother on the wall, showed how profoundly the influence of that hour had sunk into his soul.
When Master Forrest was in the first part of his fourteenth year, he chanced one evening to be in the audience of a lecturer, in the old Tivoli Garden Theatre, on Market Street, who was discoursing on the properties of nitrous oxide, or, as it is more commonly called, laughing-gas. The lecturer invited any of his auditors who desired to come forward and inhale the exhilarating aura. The chance was one just suited to the disposition of our hero. He stepped up and applied his mouth and nostrils to the bag. In a moment, as the air began to work, his ruling passion broke forth. Striking out right and left, to the no slight consternation of those nearest him, he advanced to the front of the stage, and declaimed a famous passage from the stage-copy of Shakspeare,—
"What ho! young Richmond, ho! 'tis Richard calls:
I hate thee for thy blood of Lancaster,"—
with extraordinary energy and effect. John Swift, an eminent lawyer of that day, and a very cultivated and generous man, was so struck by the dramatic talent and force of the lad that he took the pains to seek him out and make his acquaintance, befriending him in the noblest manner, and often thereafter giving him kind counsel and assistance.
Despite his constantly-growing zeal and devotion to dramatic matters, Edwin kept his situation in the ship-chandlery store, and was tolerably faithful to its duties. But his heart was not in the business. The counter and the ledger had no charms for him. All his young enthusiasm was for the play-book and the stage. His employer often found him in a corner conning Shakspeare, or in the back office practising declamation. He said to him one day, with a shake of his wiseacre head, "Ah, boy, this theatrical
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 infatuation will be your ruin! The way to thrive is to be attentive to trade. Did you ever know a play-actor to get rich?" But all this prudential advice, this chill preaching of the shop, was utterly ineffectual on the strong imaginative bent and passionate ambition it encountered.
While carrying parcels home to the customers of the firm, he sometimes met with such adventures as a boy of his high and pugnacious spirit would be likely to meet with in those times, when wrestling and fighting were much more common, especially among boys, than they are now. On a certain occasion, jostled and jeered by an older and bigger boy than himself, he said, "You wait till I can deliver this bundle and get back here, and I will fight you to your heart's content." The fellow agreed to it. Away hied Edwin, and deposited his goods. He then ran home and put on an old suit of clothes, to be in better fighting trim. His mother asked him what he was going to do; and when he explained, she begged him not to go, and used such arguments as she could command to impress him with the wickedness and vulgarity of such brutal encounters. But all in vain. "Mother," he said, "I have pledged my word; I must do it. It would be mean not to." And he tore away, repaired to the rendezvous, and, after a tough bout, gave his insulter a terrible thrashing, and went quietly back to the ship-chandlery. It must be confessed that, though inwardly tender and generous, he was rough, easy to quarrel with, and not slow to go to the extremes of fists and heels.
But one of the severest traits in him, all his life, one of the deepest characteristics of his individuality, was the barbaric intensity of his wrath against those who wronged him, the Indian-like bitterness and tenacity of the spirit of revenge in his breast when aroused by what he thought any wanton injury. He never laid claim to the spirit of saintliness, but rather trod it under foot, as affectation, pitiful weakness, or hypocrisy. This marked a gross limit of his moral sensibility in his own personal relations, though he could keenly appreciate the finest touches of abnegation and magnanimity in others. To justice, as he saw it, he was always loyal. But, when his selfhood was wounded, the pain of the bruise not rarely, perhaps, made him a little blind or perverse. Two anecdotes of his boyhood throw light on this
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 point. In the one example he was, as it would seem, morally without excuse; in the other, pardonable, but scarcely to be approved.
He was eating an apple in the street, when he came to a horse attached to a baker's cart, standing beside the curb-stone. He amused himself by holding the apple under the horse's nose, and, as often as the animal tried to bite it, suddenly snatching it away, and fetching him a blow on the mouth. At that mischievous moment the driver of the cart came up, and, crying out, "What are you doing there, you damned little scoundrel?" gave him a piercing cut across the leg with his whip. The little fellow limped off in excruciating pain, but carefully marked his enemy. The passion for revenge burned in him. He kept a sharp lookout. Within a week he spied the driver a short distance ahead. He picked up a stone, took good aim, and, striking him on the back of the head, knocked him from his cart into the street. He then dismissed the subject from his mind, satisfied that he had squared accounts. Many would hold that, instead of squaring accounts, he had only made a bad matter worse. But such was his way of regarding it; and the business of a biographer is to tell the truth.
The other instance is impressive in its teaching. On a cold winter morning he was trundling along the sidewalk a wheelbarrow loaded with articles from the store. A Quaker, very tall and portly, dressed in the richest primness of the costume of his sect, meeting him, ordered him, in a very authoritative tone, to move off into the street. He apologized, expostulating that he was weary, the load was hard for him to carry, the sidewalk was much easier for him, and was amply wide enough for the few people then out. Without another word the sanctimonious old tyrant seized hold of the wheelbarrow, tipped it over into the street, and, pushing the boy aside, walked on. The blood of young Forrest boiled with indignation so that his brain seemed ready to burst. The ground was covered slightly with snow. He sank on his knees on it and tried in vain to pull up a paving-stone, to hurl at his tormentor. Weeping bitterly with baffled rage, he gathered his scattered load together and started on, cursing the cruel injustice to which he had been forced to submit. For years and years after, he said, the association of this outrage
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 was so envenomed in his memory that whenever he saw a Quaker he had to make an effort not instinctively to hate him. Such wrongs as this, inflicted on a sensitive child, often leave scars which rankle through life, permanently embittering and deforming the character. No generous nature but will take the warning, and considerately try to be ever just and kind to the young. In the bearing and effect of early experiences on subsequent character, it is profoundly and even wonderfully true that as the twig is bent the tree is inclined.
The kind friend and patron young Forrest had won by his exhibition at the Tivoli Garden did not forget him, but continued to give him good advice and encouragement. About a year afterwards he introduced him to the managers of the Walnut Street Theatre, Messrs. Wood and Warren. In consequence of this friendly intercession, and of his own promise, he was enabled to make his formal début, on the stage of the Walnut Street Theatre, on the evening of November 27th, 1820, in the character of Norval. His success was decisive. The leading Philadelphia newspaper said, "Of the part of Norval, we must say that it was as uncommon in the performance as it was extraordinary in just conception and exemption from the idea of artifice. We mean that the sentiment of the character obtained such full possession of the youth as to take away in appearance every consideration of an audience or a drama, and to give, as it were, the natural speaking of the shepherd boy suddenly revealed by instinct to be the son of Douglas. We were much surprised at the excellence of his elocution, his self-possession in speech and gesture, and a voice that, without straining, was of such volume and fine tenor as to carry every tone and articulation to the remotest corner of the theatre. We trust that this young gentleman will find the patronage to which his extraordinary ripeness of faculty and his modest deportment entitle him."
It is certainly interesting to find in this, the first criticism of the first regular appearance of Forrest, in the fifteenth year of his age, a distinct indication of his most prominent characteristics throughout his whole histrionic career, namely, his earnest realism, his noble voice, his accurate elocution, and his steady poise. The notice was from the pen of William Duane, of the "Aurora," then one of the ablest and most experienced editors in the
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 country, and afterwards Secretary of the Treasury under General Jackson.
The play was repeated December 2d. December 29th he sustained the part of Frederick, in Lovers' Vows; and January 6th, 1821, he assumed the rôle of Octavian, in The Mountaineers. On the last occasion, which was his benefit, the following notice was published in one of the morning papers: "The very promising youth, Master Forrest, who has appeared twice as Young Norval, and once as Frederick, is to perform Octavian this evening, and the profits of the house are for his benefit. We trust that this modest and promising youth will obtain the notice to which he is certainly well entitled from the lovers of the drama and of native genius."
Though the receipts from these his first four performances were not unusually large, the popular applause and the critical verdict were flattering. The results of the experiment confirmed his bent and fixed his resolution for life.
During this year, that is, before he was fifteen years old, he made another appearance on the stage, under circumstances which show the native boldness and resolution of his character. Without advice or assistance of any kind, he went alone to the proprietors of the Prune Street Theatre and asked them to let it to him on his own account for a single night. The proposition surprised them, but they admired the pluck of the boy so much that they granted his request. He engaged the company to support him, got his brother William to print the bills announcing him in the character of Richard the Third, drew a good house, and came off with a liberal quantity of applause and a small pecuniary gain.
It was at this date, when Forrest was in his fifteenth year, that he, who was destined to inspire so many poems, drew from the prophetic muse of an admirer the first verses ever composed on him. They were written by the Hon. Joseph R. Chandler, one of the most distinguished citizens of Philadelphia, and then editor of the "United States Gazette."
"Turn we from State to view the mimic Stage,
Which gives the form and pressure of the age.
Each season brings its wonders, and each year
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Some unfledged buskins on our boards appear;
And Covent Garden sends us stage-sick trash
To gather laurels or to pocket cash.
A Phillipps comes to sing us Braham's airs,
And Wallack, Finn, and Maywood strut with theirs.
These sickly meteors dim our hemisphere,
While rare as comets Cookes and Keans appear:
These fopling twinklers, with their borrowed glare,
Will meet our censure when we cease to stare.
But the bright sun that gives our stage its rays
Still lights and warms us by its innate blaze.
We have a power to gild our drama's age,—
Cooper's our Sun, his orbit is our stage.
Long may he shine, by sense and taste approved,
By fancy reverenced, and by genius loved!
And when retiring, mourned by every grace,
May Forrest rise to fill his envied place!
Dear child of genius! round thy youthful brow
Taste, wit, and beauty bind thy laurel now.
No foreign praise thy native worth need claim;
No aid extrinsic heralds forth thy name;
No titled patron's power thy merit decked:—
The blood of Douglas will itself protect!"
The insight and the foresight indicated in the application of the last line to the yet undeveloped boy are remarkable, and will thrill every one who is familiar with the bearing and poise of the mature actor and man. For in him the massive majesty of pose, the slow weight of gesture, the fixedness of look, the ponderous gutturality and sweetness of articulative energy, all revealed an intensity and equilibrium of selfhood, a deep and vast power of personality, not often equalled. He was nothing if not independent and competent to his own protection.
The eminent English tragedian Cooper was at that time living in Philadelphia, in the intervals between his starring engagements. He was an actor of pronounced and signal merits, and of great professional authority, from his varied and long experience. Edwin had seen him in several of his chief parts, with docile quickness had caught important impressions from his performances, and was full of admiration for him. When, after his early successes, he had determined to become an actor himself, he longed for the sympathy and counsel of the illustrious veteran. Accordingly, armed with an introduction, he went to see the old king in his private state. He was received kindly, but with some loftiness. Cooper told him he must not trust to his raw triumphs
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 as an amateur, but must be willing to serve a regular apprenticeship to the art, and climb the ladder round by round, not trying to mount by great skips. The best men in every profession, he said, were those who had gone through all its experiences. The greatest lawyers he had known in England, he declared, had begun their career by sweeping out the law-office. Edwin, thinking his adviser meant him to stoop to the position of a supernumerary or call-boy, rather petulantly, but tellingly, answered, "When one knows how to read, he needs not to learn his letters." The old man was nettled by the pert reply, and the interview closed with coolness, though not, as has been reported, with anger or alienation. They were ever afterwards good friends, frequently meeting, and the veteran not only gave him much useful instruction, but also used his influence to secure for the novice an engagement in Boston. That there was no quarrel, no ingratitude, but, on the contrary, both a thankful appreciation and a generous return from the boyish aspirant and pupil, we shall, on a future page, cite the testimony of the old actor himself, amidst the decay and want of his last days.
The advice of Cooper was based on his own experience, and was sound. He himself, at fourteen, had engaged under Stephen Kemble. Kemble kept him a whole season without a single appearance. When he did appear, it was as a substitute for another, in the character of Malcolm, in Macbeth. He forgot his part, and was actually hissed off the stage. But he persevered, and slowly worked his way to the very summit of the profession. His advice to Edwin did not contemplate so low a descent as the boy inferred, but only that he should be modest and studious, begin in relatively humble parts, and grow by degrees. Forrest of his own accord, or perhaps in consequence of Cooper's words, really followed exactly this course a little later.
Although retaining his place in the store, his heart was given to the theatre, and the dearest exercises of his soul were devoted to the cultivation of the powers which, he hoped, would enable him at some future time to shine as he had seen others shine. Not only had Cooper presented a model to his admiring fancy, Edmund Kean also had electrified his senses and indelibly stamped his imagination. It was only two nights after his own benefit as Octavian that Kean began an engagement of twelve
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 nights in the same theatre. And of all in the crowds who waited on this peerless meteor of the stage, melted at the pathos of his genius, or trembled before the irresistible bursts of his power, in not one did the exhibition kindle such imperishable wonder and such idolatrous admiration as in the fond proud boy who was himself aspiring to become a great actor, and who drew from what he then saw a large share of the inspiration which afterwards urged him so high.
The nature of Edwin Forrest in his fifteenth year was remarkably developed and mature, especially when we consider the small advantages he had enjoyed. He was distinguished from most youths of his age by the intensity and tenacity of his passion and purpose, and by the vividness with which the objects of his thought were pictured in his mind. A consequence of these attributes was a strong personal magnetism, a power of attracting and deeply interesting susceptible natures with whom he came in contact.
He was not without touches of a poetic and sentimental vein, leading him sometimes to indulge in melancholy reveries. The following lines were composed by him at this time,—that is, in 1820. They were found among his posthumous papers, inscribed in his own hand, "Verses, or Doggerel, written in my Boyhood":
"Scenes of my childhood, hail!
All hail, beloved years
When Hope first spread life's sail,
Ere sorrow came, or tears.
Hail to the blissful hours
Of life's resplendent morn,
When all around was flowers,
And flowers without a thorn!
"Hail, guardians of my youth!
Hail their instructions given,
Showing the path of Truth,
The flowery way to heaven!
All hail the reverend place
Where first I lisped His name,
Where first my infant lips
God's praises did proclaim!
Inestimable precious scenes,
Now faded and all past,
Can you not fling one ray serene
To cheer me on at last?
[Pg 71]
Ah, no! Life's winter has set in,
And storms and tempests rise;
A chaos infinite of sin
Sweeps full before my eyes.
"This frail habiliment of soul
Must shortly cease to be,—
Some planet then my goal,—
Home for eternity.
Another document from his pen at about the same time will certainly interest readers who recall the circumstances of his situation then, and the facts of his subsequent career. It is the earliest application he ever made—and it was in vain—to the manager of a theatre for an engagement.
"Philada., Dec. 6, 1820.
"To Mr. James H. Caldwell, New Orleans.
"Sir,—Having understood you intend to open your theatre in the city of New Orleans some time during this month, I, by the advice of a number of friends, have taken the liberty of addressing you relative to an engagement. I am desirous of performing in your company for six or eight nights, in such parts as I shall name at the foot of this letter.
"I acted last season in Messrs. Warren and Wood's theatre for a few nights, and drew respectable and profitable houses, which is a difficult matter to do at this season in Philadelphia. For my capacity I refer you to the managers above named, or to Col. John Swift, of this city. Should you think it troublesome to write to these gentlemen on the subject, I will procure the necessary papers and forward them to you. If you conclude to receive me, I should like to hear on what terms, and so forth. Address care of John R. Baker and Son, 61 Race St., Philada.
"Yours truly,
"Edwin Forrest.
[Pg 72]
Among the first letters ever written by Edwin were three addressed to his brother William, who had given up working as a printer and become an actor, and was then absent on a professional engagement at Harrisburg, Reading, and York. When we remember that these letters were by a boy of sixteen, we shall not think them discreditable to him. They throw light on his character at that time, and show what he was doing. They also draw aside the veil of privacy a little, and give us some glimpses of the domestic drama of his home, the bereaved family industriously struggling to maintain itself, watched over perhaps from the other side by the still-conscious spirit of its departed head.
"Philadelphia, 4th Feb'y, 1822.
"Mr. Wm. Forrest, Harrisburg.
"Dear Brother,—On Saturday evening last I performed Zaphna, in Mahomet, at Walnut Street Theatre, to a pretty good house, which would have been better had not Phillipps, the celebrated vocalist, been announced to appear on the Monday following. I played on the above evening better than ever I did before. After the murder of my father, repeated bravos rose from all quarters. Last scene, bravos again,—curtain fell amidst bravos kept up till the farce began and was forced to be suspended. Mr. Wood called me to his apartment, and told me to go on, they were calling for me. I informed him that I had never appeared before an audience in that manner, and begged him to go on for me. He did so, and asked the audience what was their pleasure. Engagement! engagement! from every side. Mr. Wood said he had heard nothing to the contrary; he was happy that Master Forrest had pleased the audience, and if they wished it he should appear again. The people testified their approbation, and the farce was suffered to proceed in peace.
"I expect to appear with Mr. Phillipps this or next week. I anticipate that they will hiss him when he appears to-night. More of this by-and-by. Please write as early as possible, and let me know how you make out. We are well, with the exception of myself. I have a severe cold. I remain
"Your affectionate brother,
"Edwin Forrest.
"P.S.—Heavy snow falling."
[Pg 73]
"Philadelphia, 15th April, 1822.
"Mr. William Forrest, Reading.
"Dear Brother,—I received your esteemed favor of the 13th instant, and carefully noticed its contents. My brother, you complain of my not writing to you since your arrival in Reading. The reason is this. A gentleman called at the house and informed me that you would return to the city on Saturday last. Lorman and I were on the point of coming up to you, but affairs interfered.
"Lorman called on Johnson, according to your request. He informs him that you can get work at the printing business without any difficulty, the printers being very busy at present in this city. Therefore I would advise you to quit the unfair Williams as early as possible. If you fail in getting a situation at your trade, Stanislas will engage you on your arrival to act in a good line of business. Therefore you have a double advantage. The Walnut Street Theatre closes for the season on Friday next with the new comedy of the Spy, written by a young gentleman of New York. To-morrow evening I perform Richard Third for my own benefit. Joel Barr called here a week or ten days after he had been in town, to tell us you were well. Leave that pander of a manager directly; do not stay another moment with him, is the advice of your affectionate brother,
"P.S.—Henrietta says she is sorry you have two and a half shirts, but that is better than she expected.
"Billy McCorkle says $12 ought to have been an object to you. Ah, he says, it was a bad day's work when you left him!
"We expect you by the return stage. So pack up your tatters and follow the drum.
"E. F."
"Philadelphia, 1st June, 1822.
"Mr. William Forrest, York, Pa.
"Dear Brother,—I take this opportunity of addressing myself to you and asking your pardon for my ungrounded belief that you had been guilty of misusing my letters. I have every reason now to believe that Mrs. Allen must have invented some lie and told it to Stanislas.
"I have the pleasure of informing you that your friend Sam
[Pg 74]
 Barr is married. Therefore wish him joy; for you know a man entering into such a state stands in need of the good wishes of his friends. I am sorry to relate that Sinclair is dead.
"'There would have been a time for such a word.'
"The actors are not undoing themselves at Tivoli. A young gentleman by the name of Ondes makes his appearance there this evening in the character of Octavian. Mrs. Riddle has left the company.
"I leave the firm in Race Street this day. When you can spare from your salary the sum of $5, I wish you would send it to me, as I at present stand in much need, and ere long I will transmit it to you again. We are all well, and hope that this will find you so. Write as early as possible; in expectation whereof I remain
"Yours, affectionately,
"Edwin F.
"P.S.—Mother is longing for your return, and I hope it will not be long ere our wishes are fulfilled."
For the next two months he was in earnest training, developing the muscles of his body and the faculties of his mind, practising athletics and studying rôles, looking out meanwhile for some regular engagement The following letter speaks for itself:
"Philadelphia, 7th Sept., 1822.
"James Hewitt, Esq., Boston.
"Sir,—Having understood from Mr. Utt that you were about to form a company of actors to go to Charleston, I have, by the advice of the above-named gentleman, written to know whether you would afford me an engagement in your concern or not, I having a desire to visit the aforesaid city. As you must already be acquainted with the line of business I have supported in Messrs. Wood and Warren's Theatre, it is useless to say anything farther on that head, referring you to Mr. Utt, Messrs. Wood and Warren, John Swift, Esq., of Philadelphia, or to Mr. Thomas A. Cooper: the latter gentleman having procured me an engagement in Mr. Dickson's theatre, Boston, which I declined, thinking it better to be more remote, for some years at least, from the principal cities.
[Pg 75]
"If, therefore, you have any idea of giving me a situation in a respectable line, juvenile business, you will hear farther from me by addressing a line to 77 Cedar Street, Philadelphia.
"Your most obedient servant,
"(In haste.)  Edwin Forrest.
"P.S.—I should be pleased to learn your resolve as early as possible, so that in case you decline my services I may be enabled elsewhere to make arrangements."
This letter, like the one he had two years before addressed to Caldwell, was fruitless. But his mind was firmly made up that he would persevere until his efforts were successful. And, a few days later, the opportunity he sought presented itself, and he left home to enter in earnest on a regular apprenticeship to the vocation he had chosen.
Here, for a little space, we drop the thread of personal narrative for the purpose of introducing a sketch of the origin and significance of the dramatic art. As the subject of this biography is to be an actor, his character to be shaped by the peculiar influences of the theatrical profession, his career and fame to be permanently associated with the history of that profession in America, an exposition of the origin and nature of the drama, of its different forms and applications, and of its personal uses, will bring the reader to the succeeding chapters with a fuller appreciation of their various topics, and give him some data for estimating the place which the art of acting has held, now holds, and is destined hereafter to hold, in the experience of mankind.

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