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personal recollection of the deep impression produced by the "low deep accent of apprehension, or of conscious conspiracy which she sustained throughout, especially as it influenced the utterance of her Medean invocation to the
Spirits that tend on mortal thought,
and still more in the subsequent scene, where she chastises with her valour the hesitation of Macbeth". The sleep-walking scene was, he adds, so tremendous that whether literal in its truth to nature or not, with such a character, gnawed with the Promethean agonies of crime, it ought to have been natural. Her Queen Katharine is described by the same writer as only inferior to the sublimity of Lady Macbeth, yet hardly comparable with that part as being of so different a kind: "The manner in which she retired from the trial scene was equal to her grandeur at the banquet in Macbeth, and the sensibility with which she uttered 'God help me!' as she quitted the room, was perhaps the most exquisitely just expression of grief and feeling ever uttered in representation. I should, however, only tire in prolonging the description of her dignity and sensibility. Her excellence in these two great and rare qualities constituted the main ingredient of her amazing sorcery." Mrs. Siddons retired from the stage in June 1812, closing her great career in the part of Lady Macbeth. Her rare appearances on subsequent occasions ceased in 1819. The greatest of tragic actresses was a true and admirable woman in her domestic life; she had toiled for her children and endured with courageous resignation the sorrow
of surviving all of them but one. When her death took place on June 8, 1831, it was felt that a light and glory of England had been extinguished.
§ 66. Sarah Siddons' brother, Charles Kemble, became, by force of some native talent and much careful study, a graceful and refined actor. His Cassio, Faulconbridge, Macduff, Edgar, were each the best rendering of the part in his time. But his fame was obscured by the greater glory of his elder brother, John Philip Kemble. After some training at provincial theatres he appeared in 1783 at Drury Lane as Hamlet, and it was quickly felt that a new and distinguished actor had come upon the boards. Two years later he played Othello to his sister's Desdemona, and Macbeth to his sister's Lady Macbeth. His Lear, played in 1788 to his sister's Cordelia, was one of his most admirable performances. But it was in his Roman parts that John Kemble, with his noble figure and stately manner, showed to most advantage; in particular he identified himself with Shakespeare's Coriolanus. "Had he only acted in that character," writes a critic who was not insensible to the weaknesses of Kemble's stately mannerism, "he would have been deemed the very greatest male actor ever seen; it was in all points of conception, look, and utterance equal to the Lady Macbeth of Mrs. Siddons. In no other part whatever did he, or could he, attain equal eminence." John Kemble had received a liberal education at Douay, and he possessed in addition to his genius as an actor, something of a scholar's feeling for precision of detail in the representation of a play and in the arrangements of the stage. He had the
disadvantage of a weak voice; but his clear and measured elocution added a beauty to poetry if it were eloquent and rhetorical. He often failed to interpret the quick and various turns of passion, but where a steadfast strength of feeling or pathos, allied to dignity, demanded expression, he was in a high degree impressive.
§ 67. The Kemble dynasty, if it did not fall, tottered before the irresistible onset of Edmund Kean's genius. For sheer force of that which can only be conferred by divine gift-genius in the exposition of passion-Kean probably ranks highest among all actors of our English race. Each of his greater renderings of Shakespeare was an inspired commentary on the inmost spirit of the play. His imaginative energy of feeling penetrated to the heart of the mystery of each character which he assumed, or, to speak more correctly, which for the time he became. Even as we read the poor records and analyses of his presentations of Shakespearian characters, they are a light and a guide to criticism.
Edmund Kean was born in 1787, the child of a worthless mother who gave him only coldness, neglect, or cruelty. At three years old he was the Cupid of a ballet. All his earlier years were a ceaseless struggle against poverty, disappointment, almost despair; and yet there was that within him which made total despair impossible. In 1813 hope lit up his prospects; but bitterness was even then mingled with his joy. Dr. Drury, a member of the Drury Lane Committee, discovered his extraordinary powers, while he was playing as a stroller at Dorchester; an engagement was promised him, but
before he could leave Dorchester his first son, Howard, with whom his heart was bound up, had died. The 26th of February, 1814, was the most memorable day in the life of Edmund Kean, and one of the most memorable in the history of the English stage. At length his opportunity had come; on that evening he appeared at Drury Lane in the character of Shylock. As he trudged on foot through snow and fog to the theatre, "I wish", he exclaimed, “I was going to be shot!" When the curtain fell it was known to those who could discern that the greatest exponent of human passion ever seen upon the English stage had appeared. He hurried back to his poor lodgings; "Mary," he cried to his wife, "you shall ride in your carriage"; and to his infant Charles, "You shall go to Eton"; and then his face saddened as the words broke from him, "If Howard had but lived to see it!"
§ 68. To follow Kean through his successive triumphs is impossible in such a brief sketch as the present. His King Richard III. was a masterpiece even more extraordinary than his Shylock. The disadvantages of his small figure and sometimes harsh voice were entirely overcome or were forgotten; his pale face was illuminated with the inspiration of his mind. "Joyous and sarcastic in the opening soliloquy; devilish as he passed his bright sword through the still breathing body of Lancaster; audaciously hypocritical, and almost too exulting in the wooing of Lady Anne; cruelly kind to the young Princes, his eye smiling while his foot seemed restless to crush the two spiders that so vexed his heart; in representing all this there was an origin
ality and a nature which were entirely new to the delighted audience. Then they seemed to behold altogether a new man revealed to them, in the first words uttered by him from the throne,-'Stand all apart!' from which period to the last struggle with Richmond there was an uninterrupted succession of beauties. . . . The triumph was accumulative, and it was crowned by the tent scene, the battle, and the death. . . . In the faint yet deadly-meant passes which he made with his swordless arm after he had received his death-blow, there was the conception of a great artist; and there died with him a malignity which mortal man had never before so terribly portrayed."1
§ 69. Hamlet and Othello succeeded King Richard III., and in neither did any diminution of power appear. The passionate tenderness and the passionate fierceness of Othello were indeed rendered as they had never been rendered before.2 Macbeth, Romeo, Richard II., Timon showed under various aspects the same astonishing genius in the interpretation of passion. In 1820 Kean enacted for the first time the part of King Lear. He had studied and rehearsed with ardour; on one occasion he played scene after scene before the pier-glass from midnight to noonday; in order to qualify himself for the representation of the distracted king, he constantly visited the St. Luke's and Bethlehem hospitals. He determined in 1823 to discard the mawkish version of the play by Nahum Tate, and to retain the tragic 1 Doran: Annals, vol. iii. pp. 380, 381.
See a remarkable criticism of Kean's Othello in Letters on England by Victoire Count de Soligny, i.e. P. G. Patmore, vol. ii. pp. 96118.