Read CHAPTER VI - SECOND VISIT TO EUROPE of Mary Anderson, free online book, by J. M. Farrar, on ReadCentral.com.

EXPERIENCES ON THE ENGLISH STAGE

The interval of five years which elapsed between Mary Anderson’s first and second visits to Europe was busily occupied by starring tours in the States and Canada. Mr. Henry Abbey’s first proposal, in 1883, for an engagement at the Lyceum was met with the same negative which had been given to that of Mr. Augustus Harris. But, happening some time afterward to meet her step-father, Dr. Griffin, in Baltimore, Mr. Abbey again urged his offer, to which a somewhat reluctant consent was at length given. The most ambitious moment of her artist-life seemed to have arrived at last. If she attained success, the crown was set on all the previous triumphs of her art; if failure were the issue, she would return to America discredited, if not disgraced, as an actress. The very crisis of her stage-life had come now in earnest. It found her despondent, almost despairing; at the last moment she was ready to draw back. She had then none of the many friends who afterward welcomed her with heartfelt sincerity whenever the curtain rose on her performance. She saw Irving in “Louis XI.” and “Shylock.” The brilliant powers of the great actor filled her at once with admiration and with dread, when she remembered how soon she too must face the same audiences. She sought to distract herself by making a round of the London theaters, but the most amusing of farces could hardly draw from her a passing smile, or lift for a moment the weight of apprehension which pressed on her heart. The very play in which she was destined first to present herself before a London audience was condemned beforehand. To make a debut as Parthenia was to court certain failure. The very actors who rehearsed with her were Job’s comforters. She saw in their faces a dreary vista of empty houses, of hostile critics, of general disaster. She almost broke down under the trial, and the sight of her first play-bill which told that the die was irrevocably cast for good or evil made her heart sink with fear. On going down to the theater upon the opening night she found, with mingled pleasure and surprise, that on both sides of the Atlantic fellow artists were regarding her with kindly sympathizing hearts. Her dressing-room was filled with beautiful floral offerings from many distinguished actors in England and America, while telegrams from Booth, McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, Irving, Ellen Terry, Christine Nilsson, and Lillie Langtry, bade her be of good courage, and wished her success. The overture smote like a dirge on her ear, and when the callboy came to announce that the moment of her entrance was at hand, it reminded her of nothing so much as the feeling of mourners when the sable mute appears at the door, as a signal to form the procession to the tomb. But in a moment the ordeal was safely passed, and passed forever so far as an English audience is concerned. Seldom has any actress received so warm and enthusiastic a reception. Mary Anderson confesses now that never till that moment did she experience anything so generous and so sympathetic, and offered to one who was then but “a stranger in a strange land.” Mary Anderson’s Parthenia was a brilliant success. Her glorious youth, her strange beauty, her admirable impersonation of a part of exceptional difficulty, won their way to all hearts. A certain amount of nervousness and timidity was inevitable to a first performance. The sudden revulsion of feeling, from deep despondency to complete triumphant success, made it difficult, at times, for the actress to master her feelings sufficiently to make her words audible through the house. One candid youth in the gallery endeavored to encourage her with a kindly “Speak up, Mary.” The words recalled her in an instant to herself, and for the rest of the evening she had regained her wonted self-possession.

From that time till Mary Anderson’s first Lyceum season closed, the world of London flocked to see her. The house was packed nightly from floor to ceiling, and she is said to have played to more money than the distinguished lessee of the theater himself. Among the visitors with whom Mary Anderson was a special favorite were the prince and princess. They witnessed each of her performances more than once, and both did her the honor to make her personal acquaintance, and compliment her on her success. So many absurd stories have been circulated as to Mary Anderson’s alleged unwillingness to meet the Prince of Wales, that the true story may as well be told once for all here. On one of the early performances of “Ingomar,” the prince and princess occupied the royal box, and the prince caused it to be intimated to Mary Anderson that he should be glad to be introduced to her after the third act. The little republican naively responded that she never saw any one till after the close of the performance. H.R.H. promptly rejoined that he always left the theater immediately the curtain fell. Meanwhile the manager represented to her the ungraciousness of not complying with a request which half the actresses in London would have sacrificed their diamonds to receive. And so at the close of the third act Mary Anderson presented herself, leaning on her father’s arm, in the anteroom of the royal box. Only the prince was there, and “He said to me,” relates Mary Anderson, “more charming things than were ever said to me, in a few minutes, in all my life. I was delighted with his kindness, and with his simple pleasant manner, which put me at my ease in a moment; but I was rather surprised that the princess did not see me as well.” The piece over, and there came a second message, that the princess also wished to be introduced. With her winning smile she took Mary Anderson’s hand in hers, and thanking her for the pleasure she had afforded by her charming impersonation, graciously presented Mary with her own bouquet.

The true version of another story, this time as to the Princess of Wales and Mary Anderson, may as well now be given. One evening Count Gleichen happened to be dining tete-a-tete with the prince and princess at Marlborough House. When they adjourned to the drawing-room, the princess showed the count some photographs of a young lady, remarking upon her singular beauty, and suggesting what a charming subject she would make for his chisel. The count was fain to confess that he did not even know who the lady was, and had to be informed that she was the new American actress, beautiful Mary Anderson. He expressed the pleasure it would give him to have so charming a model in his studio, and asked the princess whether he was at liberty to tell Mary Anderson that the suggestion came from her, to which the princess replied that he certainly might do so. Three replicas of the bust will be executed, of which Count Gleichen intends to present one to her royal highness, another to Mary Anderson’s mother, while the third will be placed in the Grosvenor Gallery. This is really all the foundation for the story of a royal command to Count Gleichen to execute a bust of Mary Anderson for the Princess of Wales.

Among those who were constant visitors at the Lyceum was Lord Lytton, or as Mary Anderson loves to call him, “Owen Meredith.” Her representation of his father’s heroine in “The Lady of Lyons” naturally interested him greatly, and it is possible he may himself write for her a special play. Between them there soon sprung up one of those warm friendships often seen between two artist natures, and Lord Lytton paid Mary Anderson the compliment of lending her an unpublished manuscript play of his father’s to read. Tennyson, too, sought the acquaintance of one who in his verse would make a charming picture. He was invited to meet her at dinner at a London house, and was her cavalier on the occasion. The author of “The Princess” did not in truth succeed in supplanting in her regard the bard of her native land, Longfellow; but he so won on Mary’s heart that she afterward presented him with the gift somewhat unpoetic, it must be admitted of a bottle of priceless Kentucky whisky, of a fabulous age!

If Mary Anderson was a favorite with the public before the curtain, she was no less popular with her fellow artists on the stage. Jealousy and ill-will not seldom reign among the surroundings of a star. It is a trial to human nature to be but a lesser light revolving round some brilliant luminary but the setting to adorn the jewel. But Mary Anderson won the hearts of every one on the boards, from actors to scene-shifters. And at Christmas, in which she is a great believer, every one, high or low, connected with the Lyceum, was presented with some kind and thoughtful mark of her remembrance. And when the season closed, she was presented in turn, on the stage, with a beautiful diamond suit, the gift of the fellow artists who had shared for so long her triumphs and her toils.

Mary Anderson’s success in London was fully indorsed by the verdict of the great provincial towns. Everywhere she was received with enthusiasm, and hundreds were nightly turned from the doors of the theaters where she appeared. In Edinburgh she played to a house of L450, a larger sum than was ever taken at the doors of the Lyceum. The receipts of the week in Manchester were larger than those of any preceding week in the theatrical history of the great Northern town. Taken as a whole, her success has been without a parallel on the English stage. If she has not altogether escaped hostile criticism in the press, she has won the sympathies of the public in a way which no artist of other than English birth has succeeded in doing before her. They have come and gone, dazzled us for a time, but have left behind them no endearing remembrance. Mary Anderson has found her way to our hearts. It seems almost impossible that she can ever leave us to resume again the old life of a wandering star across the great American continent. It may be rash to venture a prophecy as to what the future may bring forth; but thus much we may say with truth, that, whenever Mary Anderson departs finally from our shores, the name of England will remain graven on her heart.