Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Biographical > Life of Edwin Forrest > chapter viii
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
chapter viii
 The next marked division in the biography of Forrest covers the period between his twenty-first and his twenty-eighth year, from the close of his first engagement at the Bowery in 1827 to his departure for Europe in 1834. No other actor ever lived who at so early an age achieved a series of popular successes so steady, so brilliant, so extensive as those which filled these seven triumphant and happy years. They yet remain unparalleled. It was undoubtedly the most fortunate and the most enjoyed period of all in his long career. His health and vigor were superb, his faculties joyously unfolding, his senses in their keenest edge, his glory spreading on all sides, money pouring into his purse, the general love and praise lavished on him scarcely as yet broken by the dissenting voices or alloyed by the signals of envy. His name was emblazoned in the chief cities all over the land, the press teemed with kindly notices, his performances were attended nightly by enthusiastic crowds, who applauded him to the very echoes that applauded again.
In his social relations,—the secondary domain of life,—he saw his desires flatteringly gratified in an increasing degree, his goings and comings announced like those of a king, the eyes of the throng turned after him wherever he went, his thoughts and passions taking electric effect on the excited crowds who gathered to gaze on his playing, choice friends suing for his leisure hours. The common estimate of him and the popular feeling towards him are accurately reflected in the sonnet addressed to him at this time by his friend Prosper M. Wetmore:
"Enriched with Nature's brightest powers of mind,
[Pg 157]
Deep is thy influence o'er man's feeling breast;
When fiercest passions come at thy behest
In all the magic strength of truth, they bind
'Neath their broad spell the pulses of the heart,
Freezing the soul with horror and dismay:
O'er Tarquin's corse, where Brutus leads the way,
Revenge stalks darkly forth: thy potent art
Recalls the aged Lear to tell his woes,
Enlisting in his cause each sense that thrills:
Stern Richard smiles upon the blood he spills:
Tell, patriot Tell, defies his tyrant foes.
"Eagle-eyed Genius round thy youthful name
Flashes the brilliance of a deathless Fame!"
And in the primary domain of life—his own physique—he was blessed with a basis of favorable conditions quite as rare. His clean-sinewed frame so firmly poised in its weighty centres, his rich flood of blood copiously nourishing the seats of function, his generous intelligence and his native fearlessness of temper, were the ground of a gigantic complacency in himself which was equally pleasurable to him and attractive to others so long as he intuitively experienced rather than consciously asserted it. He was vaguely aware, in an uncritical way, that his sphere was heavier than those of the men he met, that the elemental rhythms of his being were larger, that the gravitation of his personal force overswayed theirs. While this was indicated by nature without his knowledge, it made him interesting, a sort of magnet to which others swayed in loyal curiosity or affection. And such was entirely the case up to this time. His frank, fresh nature was as yet unwrung by injustice, malignity, and falsehood, unspoiled either by souring adverses or sickening satieties. He was a wholesome specimen of a man of the unperverted, untechnical human type, to whom, in his personal harmony and power, with his loving and trusted friends and his progressive grasping of the prizes of the great social struggle, the experience of each day as it came and went was a cup of nectar which he quaffed without a question, finding neither guilt at the top nor remorse at the bottom.
But he had sufficient force and height of character not to yield himself up to selfish indulgence. Notwithstanding the flattery bestowed on him, he felt the defects in his education, and
[Pg 158]
 determined to remedy them as well as he could. He knew that he needed the polish of literary and social culture and the training of critical studies alike to supplement the advantages and to neutralize the disadvantages of the coarse and boisterous scenes—the bold and lawless styles of men—amidst which much of his life in the West and South had been passed. Accordingly, when the opportunity was given him for a choice of associates, he took for his intimate friends in New York a very different class from those he had affiliated with in New Orleans. Without at all losing his taste for manly sports or shunning the company of their votaries, his preferred friends were men of literary and artistic tastes, of the highest refinement and the best social rank. A large number of accomplished persons, like Leggett, Bryant, Wetmore, Halleck, Inman, Ingraham, Dunlap, Lawson, were in those years on affectionate terms with him as his avowed admirers. From their example, their conversation, their criticism, he profited much. He became a liberal buyer of books, and soon had an excellent library, which he used faithfully, devoting a large portion of his leisure to reading. Nor did he read idly. He read as a student, reflecting on what he read, striving to improve his mind and taste by knowledge in general, as well as to pierce more deeply into the philosophy of the dramatic art in particular. He made himself familiar with the history of plastic and pictorial art, with engravings of celebrated statues and paintings, carefully noting their most impressive attitudes and groupings. He also explored the history of costume in the principal countries, classic, mediæval, and modern. The habit of reading and meditating which he formed at this time was fostered by many influences, grew stronger with his years, spread over wide provinces of biography, poetry, philosophy, and science, and was to the very last the chief solace and ornament of his existence.
While thus devoting himself with new zeal to mental culture, he did not forego one whit of his old assiduity in exercises for the furtherance of his bodily development. During his second year in New York he took a series of lessons in boxing. He felt a great interest in this art, became a redoubtable proficient in its practice, and was ever an earnest and open admirer of its prominent heroes. Those who feel this to be discreditable to him will find on reflection, if they think fairly, that it was, on
[Pg 159]
 the contrary, a credit to him. Multitudes of refined people have an intense admiration for superlative developments of physical beauty, force, and courage, though they conceal their taste because by the standards of a squeamish politeness it is considered something low and coarse. But Forrest always scorned that style of public opinion, defied it, and frankly lived out what he thought and felt. At the time of the famous fight between Heenan and Sayers for the belt of world-championship, it was clear that scholars, poets, statesmen, divines, and even fashionable women, felt the keenest interest in the contest. They read the details with avidity, and talked of them with the liveliest eagerness. The fascination is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather to be cultivated with pride. To a just perception, the fighting is not attractive, but repulsive and dreadful. It is the strength, grace, discipline, smiling fearlessness, superb hardihood, connected with the struggle, the rare exaltation of the most fundamental qualities of a kingly nature, that evoke admiration. Surely it is better to be a perfect animal than an imperfect one. When all things are in harmony, the finest corporeal condition is the basis for the highest spiritual power. A champion in finished training, with his perfected form, his marble skin, clear unflinching eyes, corky tread, and indomitable pluck, is a thrilling sight. When the crowd see him, their enthusiasm vents itself in a shout of delight. His mauling his adversary into a disfigured mass of jelly is indeed frightful and loathsome; but that is a base perversion, not the proper fruition, of his high estate. The functional power of his bearing is magnificent. He is in a condition of godlike potency. It is a higher thing to admire this glorious wealth of force, ease, and courage than to despise it. Personal gifts of strength, skill, fearlessness, are certainly desirable on any level in preference to the corresponding defects. To turn away from them with disgust is a morbid weakness, not a proof of fine superiority. While in this world we cannot escape the physical level of our constitution, however much we may build above it. Is it not plainly best as far as possible to perfect ourselves on every level of our nature? An Admirable Crichton, able to surpass everybody on all the successive heights of human accomplishments, from fencing with swords to fencing with wits, from dancing to dialectics, cannot be held, except by a mawkish judg
[Pg 160]
ment, as inferior to a Kirke White writing verses of pale piety while dying of consumption brought on by over-stimulus of literary ambition.
Forrest had pretty thoroughly practised gymnastics, the exercises of the military drill, horsemanship, and fencing, each of which has a particular efficacy in developing and economizing power, by harmonizing the nervous system, if the will does not interpose too much resistance to the flow of the rhythmical vibrations through the muscles. He now felt that there was a special virtue in the mastery of boxing; and to avail himself of it he secured the services of George Hernizer, a distinguished professor of the manly art, a man of immense strength, great experience, and not a little moral dignity. Supreme mastership, in whatever province it be achieved, even though it be in the mere ranges of physical force and prowess, gives its possessor an assured feeling of competency and superiority, which has an intrinsic moral value and reflects itself through him in some quiet lustre of repose and security. It is those whose equilibrium is most unstable who are the most irritable and resentful. It is weakness and insecurity that make one fretful and quarrelsome. Shakspeare says it is good to have a giant's strength, but tyrannous to use it like a giant. We know that the more gigantic the resources of a man the less tempted he is to put them forth. It is ever your weakling who is naturally waspish.
Before putting on the gloves with his pupil for the first time, Hernizer sat down with him and talked with him for half an hour in a wise and kindly manner on the morality of the art, or the true spirit in which it should be approached. He summed up in terse maxims the principles which ought to govern all who practise it, and enforced them with apt illustrations. He warned him especially never to lose his temper, and never to presume on the advantages of his skill to strike any man unnecessarily. He said that every boxer who had the instincts of a gentleman was made more generous and forbearing by his safeguard of reserved power. Forrest, eager to be at the work, and scarcely appreciating the propriety or value of the lecture, listened to it impatiently at the time, but remembered it with profit and gratitude all his life. As he recalled the circumstances and lingered over the narrative forty years later, a light of retrospective fondness
[Pg 161]
 played in his eyes, and his tongue seemed laved and lambent with love.
When he had taken lessons for about six months, one day when his nervous centres were aching with fulness of power, as he was sparring with his teacher, a sort of good-natured berserker rage came over him. The ancestral instincts of love of battle burned in his muscles, and he longed to pitch into the strife in right down sincerity. "Come, now, Hernizer," he cried, "let us try it for once in real earnest." "Pshaw! no, no!" replied the master, parrying him off. But waxing warmer and warmer in the play he pressed hard on him, putting in the licks so hot and heavy that at last Hernizer, rallying on his resources, fetched him a blow fair between the eyes that made him see stars and sent him reeling against the wall. "I have got enough!" exclaimed Forrest, with a laugh, as soon as he could collect himself, and went and threw his arms around his teacher; and the two athletes stood in a smiling embrace, their naked breasts clasped together, and the great waves of warm blood mantling through them. Such a passage would have made untrained and nervous men angry or sullen, but it only made these giants laugh with pleasure and sharpened their fellowship. However, Forrest said, he never again asked Hernizer to buckle to it in earnest.
Forrest did not inherit that herculean poise of power which for half a century made him such a massive mark of popular admiration. He attained it by training. And herein he is a splendid example to his countrymen, thousands on thousands of whom, in their whining debility, dyspeptic pallor, and fidgety activity, need nothing else so much as a thorough physical regimen to replenish their blood, soothe their exasperated nerves, and give a solid equilibrium to their energies. The Greeks and Romans, the nobles and knights of the Middle Age, were wiser than we in securing a superb physical basis for human perfection. Men like Plato, Pericles, Æschylus, Sophocles, were foremost in the palæstra as well as in the lists of mind. There never was another time or land in which the excited suspicions and emulations of society tended so terribly as in our own to fret and haggardize men and prematurely break them down and wear them out. Our incessant reading, our excessive brain-work, cloys the memory, impoverishes the heart, wearies the soul, and destroys the capacity
[Pg 162]
"The committee to whom the matter had been referred reported that a gold medal, with a bust of Mr. Forrest in profile on one side, surrounded by a legend in these words, Histriom Optimo, Eduino Forrest, Viro Præstanti, and a figure of the genius of Tragedy with suitable emblems on the other, surrounded, as a legend, with the following quotation from Shakspeare, 'Great in mouths of wisest censure,' would perhaps constitute the most expressive and acceptable token of those sentiments of admiration and regard which it was the wish of the subscribers to testify to Mr. Forrest. The report having been unanimously adopted, the task of drawing up suitable designs was confided to Mr. Charles C. Ingham. The dies were engraved by Mr. C. C. Wright.
"In accordance with the suggestions of many citizens, a public dinner to Mr. Forrest was agreed upon as furnishing the most appropriate opportunity of presenting to him this token of their regard. To this end a committee was charged to make the
[Pg 183]
 necessary arrangements, and the following is their invitation addressed to Mr. Forrest, together with his reply:
"New York, July 10, 1834.
"To Edwin Forrest, Esq.
"Dear Sir,—A number of your friends, learning your intention shortly to visit Europe, are desirous, before your departure, of an opportunity of expressing, in some public manner, their sense of your merits, professional and personal. It would be a source of regret to them if one so esteemed, while sojourning in foreign lands, should possess no memorial of the regard entertained for him in his own.
"We have been charged as a committee, with a view to carry this purpose into execution, to request the pleasure of your company at a dinner, at the City Hotel, on any day most agreeable to yourself.
"With sincere esteem and respect,
"We are your ob't serv'ts,
William Dunlap,
R. R. Ward,
Henry Ogden,
John V. Greenfield,
William P. Hawes,
Abraham Asten,
George D. Strong,  
Prosper M. Wetmore.
"Washington Hotel, July 12th, 1834.
"Gentlemen,—I have had the honor to receive your communication of the 10th instant, inviting me to dine with a number of my friends at the City Hotel previous to my approaching departure for Europe, and signifying a desire to bestow upon me some token of regard, which, as I journey in foreign lands, may preserve in my memory the friends I leave in my own.
"I have received too many and too important testimonials from my friends in New York to render any additional memorial necessary for the purpose you indicate. But, knowing the pleasure which generous natures feel in bestowing benefactions, I accept with lively satisfaction the invitation you have conveyed to me in such grateful terms; and may be excused if, in doing so, I express my regret that the object of your kindness is not more worthy so distinguished a mark of favor.
"With your permission, gentlemen, I will name Friday, the
[Pg 184]
 25th instant, as the day when it will best comport with the arrangements I have already made, to meet you as proposed.
"I am, with sentiments of great
respect and regard,
your ob't serv't,
"Edwin Forrest.
"Messrs. Wm. Dunlap, and others.
"On Friday last, the day named by Mr. Forrest, this gratifying testimonial of regard for an individual whose character as a citizen, not less than his genius as an actor, has insured for him general respect, was carried into effect at the City Hotel. The repast provided for the occasion by Mr. Jennings, the accomplished director of that establishment, displayed all that taste and splendor for which his entertainments are remarkable. At six o'clock a very numerous company, comprising a large number of our most distinguished and talented citizens, sat down to the table. The Honorable Wm. T. McCoun, Vice-Chancellor, presided, assisted by General Prosper M. Wetmore, Mr. Justice Lownds, and Alderman Geo. D. Strong as Vice-Presidents. On the right of the President was seated the guest in whose honor the feast was provided, and on his left the Honorable Cornelius W. Lawrence, Mayor of the City. Among the guests were the managers of the several principal theatres in the United States in which the genius of Mr. Forrest has been most frequently exercised, together with several of the most esteemed members of the theatrical profession; among them the veteran Cooper and the inimitable and estimable Placide.
"On the removal of the cloth the following regular toasts were proposed:
"1. The Drama.—The mirror of nature, in which life, like Narcissus, delights to contemplate its own image.
"2. Shakspeare.—Like his own Banquo, 'father of a l............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved