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chapter xii
The interest of his friends and of the public at large in the returning actor was increased by the laurels he had won in the mother-country, and the prize hanging on his arm, whose beauty lent a choicer domestic lustre to his professional glory. Wherever he played, the theatre was crowded to overflowing, and the receipts and the applause were unprecedented. The only alloy in his cup—and this was not then so copious or so bitter as it afterwards became—was the acrimonious and envenomed criticism springing alike from the envious and malignant, who cannot see any one successful without assailing him, and from those whose tastes were displeased or whose prejudices were offended by his peculiarities.
While fulfilling an engagement in Boston, he received a very characteristic letter from Leggett, which may serve as a specimen of their correspondence. It will be seen that the tragedian had urged on the editor the writing of a play for him on the theme of Jack Cade and his rebellion. He afterwards induced Conrad to reconstruct his play of Aylmere, which in its original form was not suited to his ideas.
"New York, Wednesday evening, Oct. 25th.
"My dear Forrest,—I was in hopes of having a line from you before this time, telling the Boston news, or so much of it at least as concerns you and yours, which is what I care to hear. But you are determined, I suppose, to maintain the character you have so well earned, of being a most dilatory correspondent. I have had the pleasure of hearing this evening, however, through another channel, that you are drawing full houses; and I trust that all is going on well in other respects. Placide and I took a walk
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 out to Bloomingdale last Sunday afternoon, and as we were returning we conjectured that you and Catherine were just sitting down at the board of Mr. and Mrs. Manager Barry.
"I have been down town this evening for the first time these several days. I extended my walk to the Park Theatre, where Miss Tree was performing Rosalind. The house was about $500; that at the National, Vandenhoff, could not have exceeded $300. Miss Tree's engagement will conclude with her benefit on Friday evening, when she will probably have between $900 and $1000, making her average for the eleven nights about $650. This is considered a very handsome business. Mad. Caridora Allen opens on Monday evening, and her box sheet already shows a fine display of fashionable names. She will have a full and fine house. She has been giving a touch of her quality at some of the soirées of the exclusives, and is pronounced just the thing. The Woodworth benefit limps tediously along. The returning of your money makes a good deal of talk, and the conduct of the committee is much censured. The motive, to injure you, and foist up Vandenhoff at your expense, will meet with a sad discomfiture. My good public is too clear-sighted to be humbugged in so plain a matter.
"I hope you continue to make yourself acquainted with that insolent patrician Coriolanus. He was not quite so much of a democrat as you and I are; but that is no reason why we should not use him if he can do us a service. I wish Shakspeare, with all his divine attributes, had only had a little of that ennobling love of equal human liberty which is now animating the hearts of true patriots all over the world, and is destined, ere long, to effect a great and glorious change in the condition of mankind. What a vast and godlike influence he might have exerted in moulding the public mind and guiding the upward progress of nations, if his great genius had not been dazzled by the false glitter of aristocratic institutions, and blinded to the equal rights of the great family of man! Had I a little of his transcendent intellect, I would assert the principles of democratic freedom in a voice that should 'fill the world with echoes.'
"My own affairs remain in statu quo. I am still undetermined what to do. I have been solicited to write for the democratic 'Monthly Review,' just established in Washington, and there is
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 some talk among the politicians here of getting up a morning paper, and offering me the place of principal editor. I have been turning over the Jack Cade subject; but I confess I am almost afraid to undertake it. The theme is a grand one, and I warm when I think of it; but I must not mistake the ardor of my feelings in the sacred cause of human liberty for ability to manage the mighty subject. Besides, the prejudices and prepossessions of the world are against me, with Shakspeare on their side. Who must not feel his feebleness and insignificance when called to enter the list against such an antagonist? I must do something, however, and shortly; for I can now say, with Jaffier, though unlike him I am not devout enough to thank Heaven for it, that I am not worth a ducat.
"I took a walk out to New Rochelle on Monday afternoon, and returned yesterday morning. I need not say that you were the theme of much of the conversation while I was there. Many questions were asked me concerning your 'handsome English wife.'
"I shall long very earnestly for the 18th of December to arrive, when I count upon enjoying another month of happiness. 'How happily the days of Thalaba went by' during the five weeks of your late sojourn in this city! I shall not speedily forget those pleasant evenings.
"It is past midnight now, and Elmira has been long in bed; otherwise I should be enjoined to add her love to mine.
"Good-night, and God bless you both.
"Yours ever,
"Wm. Leggett."
Not long after his return from England, some of the most distinguished of his fellow-citizens joined in giving him the compliment of a public dinner. The festival was of a sumptuous and magnificent character, and drawing together, as it did, nearly all the marked talent and celebrity of Philadelphia, the honor was felt to be one of no ordinary value. Nicholas Biddle was president, supported by six vice-presidents and eleven managers. The banquet was held on the 15th of December, 1837. Over two hundred gentlemen sat down at the table. Mr. Biddle being kept away by a severe illness, the chair was occupied by Hon. J. R.
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 Ingersoll; Mr. Forrest was on his right, and in the immediate vicinity were Chief-Justice Gibson, Judge Rogers, Recorder Conrad, Colonel Swift, Mayor of the city, Dr. Jackson, of the University of Pennsylvania, Prof. Mitchell, Dr. Calhoun, Dean of Jefferson College, Morton McMichael, Robert Morris, R. Penn Smith, and Messrs. Dunlap, Banks, Bell, and Doran, members of the Convention then sitting to revise the Constitution of the State. Leggett was present from New York, by special invitation.
The room was elegantly ornamented. The name of the chief guest was woven in wreaths around the pyramids of confectionery, branded on the bottles of wine, and embossed about various articles of the dessert. No pains were spared to add to the entertainment every charm of grace and taste adapted to gratify its recipient. One of the city papers said, the next morning,—
"On no former occasion in Philadelphia has there been so numerous and brilliant an assemblage for any similar purpose. The selectness of the company, the zeal and enthusiasm they exhibited, and the cordial greetings they bestowed, must have been especially gratifying to the feelings of Mr. Forrest, springing as these testimonials did from a proud recognition of his worth as a townsman."
The following letter explained the absence of the chosen president of the day:
"Philadelphia, Dec. 15th, 1837.
"Hon. R. T. Conrad,
"My dear Sir,—I regret much that indisposition will prevent me from joining your festival to-day. Feeling, as I do, an intense nationality, which makes the fame of every citizen the common property of the country, I rejoice at all the developments of intellectual power among our countrymen in every walk of life, and I am always anxious to do honor to high faculties combined with personal worth. Such a union the common voice ascribes to Mr. Forrest, and I would have gladly added my own applause to the general homage. But this is impracticable now, and I can therefore only convey through you a sentiment which, if it wants the vigorous expression of health, has at least a sick man's sincerity. It is,—
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"The genius of our country, whenever and wherever displayed,—honor to its triumphs in every field of fame.
"With great regard, yours,
"N. Biddle."
The cloth having been removed, Mr. Ingersoll rose, and said,—
"The friends of the drama are desirous of paying a merited tribute of respect and esteem to one of the most distinguished and successful of its sons. Well-approved usage upon occasions not dissimilar has pointed to this our cheerful greeting as a fitting method for carrying their desires into effect. It combines the compliment of public and unequivocal demonstration with the kindness and cordiality of social intercourse. It serves to express at once opinions the result of deliberate judgment, and sentiments warm and faithful from the heart.
"To our guest we owe much for having devoted to the profession which he has selected an uncommon energy of character and peculiar personal aptitudes. They are both adapted to the happiest illustrations of an art which, in the absence of either, would want a finished representative, but, by a rare combination of faculties in him, is enabled effectually 'to hold the mirror up to nature.' It is an art, in the rational pleasures and substantial advantages derived from which all are free to participate, and a large proportion of the educated and liberal-minded avail themselves of the privilege. It is an art which, for thousands of years, has been practised with success, admired, and esteemed; and the men who have adorned it by their talents have received the well-earned plaudits of their age, and the honors of a cherished name.
"To our guest we owe the acknowledgment (long delayed, indeed) of the sternest critics of an experienced and enlightened public, not our own, that of one department at least of elegant literature our country has produced the brightest living representative.
"To our guest we owe especial thanks that he has been the prompt, uniform, and liberal patron of his art; that dramatic genius and merit have never appealed to him for aid in vain; that he has devoted the best-directed generosity, and some of his most brilliant professional efforts, to their cause.
"To our guest we owe unmeasured thanks that he has done
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 much by his personal exertion, study, and example, to identify our stage with the classic drama, and that he has made the more than modern Æschylus—the myriad-minded Shakspeare—ours.
"We owe him thanks, as members of a well-regulated community, that, by the course and current of his domestic life, the reproaches that are sometimes cast upon his profession have been signally disarmed.
"And, in this moment of joyous festivity, we feel that we owe him unnumbered thanks that he has offered us an opportunity to express for him an unfeigned and cordial regard.
"These sentiments are embraced in a brief but comprehensive toast, which I will ask leave to offer,—
"The Stage and its Master."
Amid loud and long applause, Forrest rose, bowed his acknowledgments, and replied,—
"Mr. President and Gentlemen,—I feel too deeply the honor this day rendered me to be able to express myself in terms of adequate meaning. There are times when the tongue is at best but a poor interpreter of the heart. The strongest emotions do not always clothe themselves in the strongest language. The words which rise to my lips seem too cold and vapid to denote truly the sentiments which prompt them. They lack that terseness and energy which the occasion deserves.
"The actor usually comes before the public in a 'fiction, in a dream of passion,' and his aim is to suit his utterance and the ''havior of the visage' to the unreal situation. But the resources of my art do not avail me here. This is no pageant of the stage, to be forgotten with the hour, nor this an audience drawn to view its mimic scenes.
"I stand amidst a numerous throng of the chiefest denizens of my native city, convened to do me honor; and this costly banquet they present to me, a munificent token of public regard. I feel, indeed, that I am no actor here. My bosom throbs with undissembled agitation, and in the grateful tumult of my thoughts I cannot 'beget a temperance to give smoothness' to my acknowledgments for so proud a tribute. In the simplest form of speech, then, let me assure you from my inmost heart, I thank you.
"I have but recently returned from England, after performing many nights on those boards where the master-spirits of the stage
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 achieved their noblest triumphs. You have heard from other sources with what kindness I was received, and with what bounteous applause my efforts were rewarded. Throughout my sojourn abroad I experienced only the most candid and liberal treatment from the public, and the most elegant and cordial hospitality in private. But I rejoice that the time has come round which brings me again to the point from which I started; which places me among those friends whose partial kindness discovered the first unfoldings of my mind, and watched it with assiduous care through all the stages of its subsequent development. The applause of foreign audiences was soothing to my pride, but that which I received at home had aroused a deeper sentiment. The people of England bestowed their approbation on the results of long practice and severe study, but my countrymen gave me theirs in generous anticipation of those results.
"They looked with indulgence on the completed statue; you marked with interest from day to day the progress of the work till the rough block, by gradual change, assumed its present form. Let me hope that it may yet be sculptured to greater symmetry and smoothness, and better deserve your lavish regard.
"The sounds and sights which greet me here are linked with thrilling associations. Among the voices which welcome me to-night I distinguish some which were raised in kind approval of my earliest efforts. Among the faces which surround this board I trace lineaments deeply stamped on my memory in that expression of benevolent encouragement with which they regarded my juvenile attempts, and cheered me onward in the outset of my career. I look on your features, sir" (said Mr. F., addressing himself to the Mayor of the city, who occupied a seat by his right), "and my mind glides over a long interval of time, to a scene I can never forget. Four lustres are now nearly completed since the event occurred to which I allude.
"A crowd was gathered one evening in the Tivoli Garden, to behold the curious varieties of delirium men exhibit on inhaling nitrous oxide. Several years had then elapsed since the great chemist of England had made known the singular properties of exhilarating gas; and strange antics performed under its influence by distinguished philosophers, poets, and statesmen of Europe were then on record. It was yet, however, a novelty
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 with us, and the public experiments drew throngs to witness them. Among those to whom the intoxicating agent was administered (on the occasion referred to) there chanced to be a little unfriended boy, who, in the instant ecstasy which the subtle fluid inspired, threw himself into a tragic attitude and commenced declaiming a passage from one of Shakspeare's plays. 'What, ho!' he cried, 'young Richmond, ho! 'tis Richard calls; I hate thee, Harry, for thy blood of Lancaster.' But the effect of the aerial draught was brief as it was sudden and irresistible. The boy, awaking as from a dream, was surprised to find himself the centre of attraction,—'the observed of all observers.' Abashed at his novel and awkward position, he shrunk timidly from the glances of the spectators, and would have stolen in haste away. But a stranger stepped from the crowd, and, taking him kindly by the hand, pronounced words which thrilled through him with a spell-like influence. 'This lad,' said he, 'has the germ of tragic greatness in him. The exhilarating gas has given him no new power. It has only revealed one which lay dormant in him before. It needs only to be cherished and cultivated to bring forth goodly fruit.'
"Gentlemen, the present chief magistrate of our city was that benevolent stranger, and your guest to-night was that unfriended boy. If the prophecy has been in any degree fulfilled,—if since that time I have attained some eminence in my profession,—let my full heart acknowledge that the inspiriting prediction, followed as it was with repeated acts of delicate and considerate kindness, exercised the happiest influence on the result. It was a word in season; it was a kindly greeting calculated to arouse all the energies of my nature and direct them to a particular aim. Prophecy oftentimes shapes the event which it seems only to foretell. One shout of friendly confidence at the beginning of a race may nerve the runner with strength to win the goal.
"Happy he who, on accomplishing his round, is received with generous welcome by the same friends that cheered him at the start. Among such friends I stand. You listened with inspiring praise and augury to the immature efforts of the boy, and you now honor with this proud token of your approbation the achievements of the man.
"You nurtured me in the bud and early blossom of my life,
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 and 'labored to make me full of growing.' If you have succeeded, 'the harvest is your own.'
"Mr. President and gentlemen, allow me to offer you, in conclusion, as my sentiment,—
"The Citizens of Philadelphia—Alike ready at the starting-post to cheer genius to exertion, and at the goal to reward it with a chaplet."
The newspaper reporter who described the occasion said,—
"It is not possible to convey by words any idea of the effect produced by this speech. His delivery was natural, forcible, and unaffected; and in many passages all who heard him were moved to tears. At the allusion to Colonel Swift, the Mayor of the city, the whole company rose, and, by a common impulse, gave six hearty cheers. Mr. Forrest sat down amidst the most vehement applause."
Several sentiments were read, and excellent speeches made in response. Morton McMichael ended his eloquent remarks thus:
"Before I sit down, however, allow me to call upon one whose genuine eloquence will atone for my tedious prattle. For this purpose I shall presently ask the company to join me in a health to one now near me, who, though young in years, has already secured to himself a ripe renown,—one who, in various departments of literature, has shown a vigorous and searching mind,—one who, in all the circumstances in which he has been placed, whether by prosperous or adverse fortune, has so acquitted himself, that in him
'Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, this is a man.'
I allude, sir, to the author of 'Conrad of Naples,' a tragedy which, though written in the early years of nonage, bears upon it the unmistakable impress of rich and fruitful soil. Nor is this the only thing which my friend—for I am proud to call him so—has achieved in the difficult walks of the tragic drama. His 'Jack Cade' is a fine, spirited, stirring production, full of noble sentiments, clothed in striking language; and if it could only be so fortunate as to secure for the representative of its hero our own Spartacus, its success upon the stage would be as pre-eminent as its deserts are ample. As an essayist, too, this gentleman has made himself extensively known by the energy and brilliance of
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 his style, the justness and solidity of his ideas, and the comprehensive range of his information. In years gone by, his contributions to the press of this city were everywhere recognized by their bold and manly eloquence; and in the gentle pursuits of the Muses he has exhibited a fervor of thought and a delicacy of expression seldom surpassed by any of our native poets. But I see, sir, that my praises are distasteful to him, and I therefore at once propose
"Robert T. Conrad—Distinguished alike by his success as a dramatist, his skill as a poet, and his rich, ready, and glowing eloquence."
The Hon. R. T. Conrad then addressed the company, as follows:
"To those who are acquainted with the gentleman who has just taken his seat, no act of generosity or kindness coming from him can be wholly unexpected. I will not, therefore, plead, in extenuation of my inability to return a suitable acknowledgment, the surprise which his flattering reference to me, and the still more flattering manner in which that reference was received, have excited. I may, however, regret that the excess of his kindness deprives me of the power of speaking the gratitude which it inspires,—gratitude which is only rendered more profound by a consciousness that his praises are partial and undeserved. The excitement which, when tranquil, fans and kindles expression, when turbulent, overwhelms and extinguishes it. I feel this on the present occasion. The compliment is not only beyond my ambition, but beyond my strength. It comes to me as Jupiter did to the ambitious beauty of old, consuming while it embraces. I am not, however, so completely consumed in my blushes but that enough of me is left to say to the gentleman who has done me this honor, and to the company who joined in it, that I thank him and them most sincerely.
"Mr. McMichael has alluded to my former connection with the drama. The memory of friendship alone could have retained or revived a thought of my humble association, at an earlier period of my life, with the literature of the stage. To me the recollection of those studies will ever be grateful. Even the severest and most ascetic student can have no reason to regret the time spent in the contemplation of the rich stores of the British drama.
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 He who has dwelt amid its glorious structures—who has had the wizard spell of its mighty masters thrown over his spirit—can never recur to it without enjoyment. Years may pass over him, and the current of life drift him far away from those pursuits, but, when recalled by an occasion like the present, he will come back to them with all his former feelings,—
'Feelings long subdued,
Subdued, but cherished long.'
He will find all its haunted paths familiar to him, and the flowers that bloom around those paths as fresh and as bright as when they first sprang forth at the call of genius. Its ancient and lofty halls will ring with the old and well-known voices, and its gorgeous and grotesque creations pass before him like things of life and substance, rather than the airy nothings of the imagination. If such be its ordinary magic, how potent is the spell when the vision becomes half real; when the leaves of the drama, like the written responses of the ancient oracles, flutter with supernatural life; when the figures start from the lifeless canvas and live and move and have their being in the mighty art of a Forrest! Who that has stepped within the charmed circle traced by his wand would sell the memory of its delight?
'His is the spell o'er hearts
Which only acting lends,
The youngest of the sister arts,
Where all their beauty blends:
For poetry can ill express
Full many a tone of thought sublime,
And painting, mute and motionless,
Steals but a glance of time.
But by the mighty actor brought,
Illusion's perfect triumphs come,
Verse ceases to be airy thought,
And sculpture to be dumb.'"
Mr. Conrad, with an allusion to the Hon. Joseph R. Chandler, gave this sentiment:
"The Press—The source and safeguard............
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