Part 5 out of 5
would be dangerous to say how many generations. In either case there
seems to be an intimate connection between the music and the spirit of
the public for which it is provided. The peasant of the Campagna and
of the Latian, Alban and Sabine hills takes his pleasure, even that of
the dance, as an impertinent Frenchman said of us Anglo-Saxons, _moult
tristement_. That indescribable air of sadness which, as so many
observers have concurred in noting, broods over the district which
they inhabit seems to have communicated itself to the inmost nature
and character of the populations. They are a stern, sad, sombre and
silent race, for what I have said above of a tendency to noisiness and
vociferation must be understood to apply to the town-populations only.
Their dance is generally much slower than that of the city-folk. In
these latter days increased communication has taught some of them to
assimilate their dancing with more or less successful imitation to the
waltz, but in many cases these parties of peasants may still be seen
practicing the old dances, now wholly unknown in the city. But whether
they are keeping to their old figures and methods or endeavoring to
follow new ones, the difference in their bearing is equally striking.
The dancing of peasants must necessarily be for the most part heavy
and awkward, but despite this the men of the Campagna and the hills
are frequently not without a certain dignity of bearing, and the women
often, though perhaps not quite so frequently, far from devoid of
grace. Especially may the former quality be observed if, as is likely,
the dancers belong to the class of mounted herdsmen, who pass their
lives on horseback, and whose exclusive duty it is to tend the herds
of half-wild cattle that roam over the plains around Rome. These are
the "butteri" of whom I wrote on a former occasion in these pages--the
aristocracy of the Campagna. And it is likely that dancers on the
Piazza Navona on a Befana night should belong to this class, for the
Campagna shepherd is probably too poor, too abject and too little
civilized to indulge in any such pastime.
Little of either grace or dignity will be observed in the
Terpsichorean efforts of the Roman _plebs_ of the present day.
Lightness, _brio_, enjoyment and an infinite amount of "go" may be
seen, and plenty of laughter heard, and "lazzi"--sallies more or less
imbued with wit, or at least fun, and more or less repeatable to ears
polite. But there is a continual tendency in the dancing to pass
into horse-play and romping which would not be observed among the
peasantry. In a word, there is a touch of blackguardism in the city
circles, which phase could not with any justice or propriety be
applied to the country parties.
But it is time to go home. The moon is waning: _suadentque cadentia
sidera somnum_, if only there were any hope of being able to be
persuaded by their reasonable suggestions. But truly the town seems to
afford little hope of it. We make our way out of the crowd with some
difficulty and more patience, and are sensible of a colder nip in the
January night-air as we emerge from it into the neighboring streets.
But even there, though the racket gradually becomes less as we leave
the piazza behind us, there is in every street the braying of those
abominable tin trumpets, and we shall probably turn wearily in our
beds at three or four in the morning and thank Heaven that the Befana
visits us but once a year.
The stage of Paris has long been conceded to be the first in the
world. In France the player is not only born--he must be made. Before
the embryo performer achieves the honors of a public debut he has been
trained in the classes of the Conservatoire to declaim the verse of
Racine and to lend due point and piquancy to the prose of Moliere.
He is taught to tread in the well-beaten path of French dramatic art,
fenced in and hedged around with sacred traditions. If he attempts
to embody any one of the characters of the classic drama, every tone,
every gesture, every peculiarity of make-up, every shade and style in
his costume, is prescribed to him beforehand. Originality of treatment
and of conception is above all things to be avoided. So spoke Moliere,
so looked Lekain, so stepped Talma; therefore all the succeeding
generations of players must so speak and look and walk. Let us imagine
the process transferred to our English stage--the shades of Burbage
and Betterton prescribing how Hamlet and Richard III. should be
played--the manners of the seventeenth century forcibly transferred
to our modern stage. The process would be intolerable. Worse still, it
would have the effect on our comparatively undramatic race of crushing
out every spark of originality and of wholly hindering the development
of histrionic talent. With the French such results are happily, to a
certain extent, impossible. There is scarcely any French man or woman
of ordinary intelligence who does not possess sufficient capacity for
acting to be capable of being trained into a very fair performer. The
preponderance of beautiful women on the French stage above those to
be found in other stations of life may be accounted for on the ground
that any young girl of the lower classes possessing extraordinary
beauty and ordinary intelligence can readily, from the bent of her
national characteristics, be trained into an actress. But while the
high-comedy theatres and those of the melodrama flourish, there can
be no doubt but that the highest type of acting finds no chance for
development in France. The actor who possesses one spark of genius
soon escapes from the galling fetters of classicism and tradition, and
takes refuge in comedy or in melodrama. Thus did Frederic Lemaitre
in his prime, and thus, too, in later days, did the accomplished and
From these causes, or from others of a kindred nature, the French
tragic stage has within our generation possessed no actor of
commanding genius. One actress indeed adorned it for a few brief
years--the great Rachel. But she, strange and unnatural production
of unnatural art, was a phenomenon, and one not likely to be soon
reproduced. The art of the Comedie Francaise is to-day inimitable.
Like Thalberg's playing, it is the very apotheosis of the mechanical.
There talent is trained and cut and trimmed into one set fashion, till
the very magnitude of the work becomes imposing, as the gardens of
Le Notre in their grand extent almost console the spectator for the
absence of virgin forests and of free-gushing streams. But could the
forest be brought side by side with the parterre, could Niagara pour
its emerald floods or Trenton its amber cascades side by side with the
Fountain of Latona or the Great Basin of Neptune, Nature, terrible
in her grandeur, would rule supreme. Such has been the comparison
afforded by the appearance of Ernesto Rossi on the Parisian stage.
It was Shakespeare and genius coming into direct competition with
perfectly-trained talent and with Racine.
Early last October a modest announcement was made that Signor Rossi
would give two performances at the Salle Ventadour, one of them to
be for the benefit of the sufferers by the Southern inundations.
_Othello_ was the play selected for both occasions. The first night
arrived. The unlucky opera-house, shorn of its ancient popularity, was
not half filled. Public curiosity was not specially aroused. Nobody
cared particularly to see an Italian actor perform in a translation of
a play by an English dramatist. Of the scanty audience present,
fully one-half were Italians, and the rest were mostly English, lured
thither by the desire of comparing the new actor with his great
rival, Salvini. There was a sprinkling of Americans and a scanty
representation of the Parisian public.
When Othello came upon the stage the foreign actor received but a cool
and unenthusiastic greeting. His appearance was a disappointment
to those familiar with the majestic bearing and picturesque garb of
Salvini. His dress was unbecoming, and the dusky tint of his stage
complexion accorded ill with his blue eyes. Then, too, his conception
of the character jarred on the ideas of those who had seen the other
great Italian actor. It was hard to dethrone the majestic and princely
Moor, the stately general of Salvini's conception, to give place to
the frank, free-hearted soldier, intoxicated with the gladness of
successful wooing, that Rossi brings before us. Certain melodramatic
points, also, in the earlier acts, such as the "Ha!" wherewith Rossi
with upraised arms starts from Desdemona when Brabantio reminds him
"She has deceived her father, and may thee,"
seemed exaggerated and out of place. In the scenes with Iago he
equaled Salvini, yet did not in any one point surpass him. Nor did
he in any way imitate him. The fury of the two Othellos is widely
different. Salvini is the fiercer, for Rossi's rage has a background
of intensest suffering. One is an enraged tiger, the other a wounded
lion. Both are maddened--the one with wrath, the other with pain.
But in the last act, with the unutterable anguish of its closing
scenes--the swift remorse, the unavailing agony of that noble nature,
too late undeceived, the wild, pathetic tenderness wherewith Othello
clasped the dead Desdemona to his heart, smoothing back her loosened
tresses with an inarticulate cry of almost superhuman love and
woe--the horror of the catastrophe was all swallowed up in a sympathy
whose pain was wellnigh too great to be aroused by mimic despair. The
fall of the curtain was greeted with a tempest of applause. Men
sprang to their feet and wildly waved their hats in the air. Shouts of
"Bravo, Rossi!" and "Vive Rossi!" arose on all sides. Ladies stood
up in the boxes waving their handkerchiefs, and every hand and throat
joined in the universal uproar. Before noon the next day every seat in
the house was engaged for the second representation. The great actors
of the French stage came to study the acting of this new genius who
had so suddenly made his appearance in their midst. To this sudden
success succeeded the announcement of a prolonged engagement, the
failing health of the younger Rossi having decided his father to
relinquish all immediate idea of an American tour.
The second character that Rossi assumed was Hamlet, and in this he
achieved the greatest success of his Parisian engagement. The opera
of Thomas had rendered the public familiar with the personage of the
hero, and the magnates of the Grand Opera came to the Salle Ventadour
to study this new and forcible presentment of the baritone prince,
who wails and warbles through the operatic travesty of Shakespeare's
masterpiece. That the impersonation will prove wholly acceptable to
all Shakespearian critics in England or America is extremely doubtful.
For the Hamlet of Rossi is mad--undeniably, unmistakably mad--from the
moment of his interview with the Ghost. But once accept that view, and
the characterization stands unrivaled upon our modern stage. Nothing
can be imagined at once more powerful or more pathetic than that
picture of a "noble mind o'erthrown," alternating between crushed,
hopeless misery and wild excitement--thirsting for the rest and peace
that only death can bestow, yet shrinking from the fearful leap
into the dim unknown beyond the grave. The scene with the Queen is
inimitably grand. One feels that the entrance of the Ghost comes
only in time to stay the frenzied hand, and then follows the swift
revulsion when Hamlet, melting into tenderest pathos, kneels at his
mother's feet to beseech her to repent--a mood that changes anew to
frenzy when his wild wandering thoughts are turned toward the King.
It is only in the last scene of the play that the approach of death
scatters the clouds that have so long obscured the grief-tortured
brain. Nothing can be imagined finer or more picturesque than this
closing scene. On the raised dais in the centre of the stage, and
on the throne from which the King has been hurled, the dying prince,
conqueror and sovereign in this last supreme moment, dominates the
scene of death and carnage, triumphant over all, even in the clutches
of his own relentless doom.
As the Hamlet of Rossi is unmistakably mad, so his Macbeth is an
undeniable craven and criminal. I can compare this personation to
nothing so much as to that of a man haunted by a fiend. For the steps
of Macbeth are dogged ever by an unseen devil--namely, his own evil
yet coward nature. He is wicked and he is afraid. The whole physique
of Rossi in the scene in the first act where the king heaps favors and
commendations on his valiant warrior was eloquent of conscious guilt:
the constrained attitude, the shifting, uneasy glance, told, louder
than words, of a wicked purpose and a stinging conscience. From
the moment of the murder the wretched thane lives in a perpetual
atmosphere of fear. He is afraid of everything--first of his own
unwashed hands, and next of the dead king; then of Banquo and of
Banquo's ghost; and finally he is afraid of all the world. It is only
at the last that the mere physical courage of the soldier reasserts
itself, and Macbeth, driven to bay by Fate, fights with the fierce
energy of despair.
As to Rossi's Lear, it is not to be criticised. Words fail when the
heartstrings are thrilled to trembling and to tears. The pathos
of Lear's recognition of Cordelia was past the power of words to
describe. He stands at first gazing in vague bewilderment at the face
of his child, then into the darkened and troubled gaze steals anew the
light of reason and of recognition: unutterable sorrow, inexpressible
remorse, sweep across the quivering features, and with an inarticulate
sob Lear would fain sink on his knees at his wronged daughter's feet
to pray for pardon. That people rose and left the house in a very
passion of tears is the fittest criticism that can be bestowed upon
The list of the Shakesperian characters closed with Romeo. Rossi was
the divinest of lovers, in spite of his forty years and his stalwart
proportions, and the balcony scene was an exquisite love-duet that
needed not the aid of music to lend it sweetness. But in the Italian
version the play was so cut and garbled that there could be little
pleasure in listening to it for any one familiar with the original.
Outside of his Shakespearian repertoire, Rossi has appeared in only
two plays--the _Kean_ of the elder Dumas, and _Nero_, a tragedy
by Signer Cosso, The first, originally written for Lemaitre, is an
ill-constructed, improbable melodrama. But it contains one grand
scene--namely, that where Kean, whilst playing Hamlet, goes mad upon
the stage; and this scene Rossi renders superbly. As to Nero, it is
marvelous to witness the complete eclipse of the refined, accomplished
gentleman and intellectual actor behind the brutal physiognomy of the
wicked emperor. It is Hamlet transformed into a prize-fighter.
In person, Signor Rossi is less strikingly handsome than is his
rival, Salvini, but he possesses a singularly attractive and pleasing
countenance. He is a Piedmontese, blue-eyed and fair-complexioned,
with chestnut hair, the abundant locks of which are just touched with
gray. He is tall and finely proportioned, with the chest of a Hercules
and the hands and feet of a duchess. Off the stage he is peculiarly
pleasing in manner, and is said to be a noble-hearted and generous
gentleman, as well as an amiable and genial companion, singularly free
from conceit and delighting in his art.
BISHOP THIRLWALL'S PRECOCITY.
We do not remember to have seen in the various notices relative to the
late Bishop Connop Thirlwall, the well-known historian, any mention
of his precocity, which must have been almost without a parallel.
Thirlwall came of a long line of clergymen. His father was chaplain
to Dr. Percy (_Percy's Reliques_), bishop of Dromore, and in 1809
he published some specimens of the early genius of his son under
the title of "_Primitiae; or, Essays and Poems on Various Subjects,
Religious, Moral and Entertaining._ By Connop Thirlwall, eleven years
of age. Dedicated by permission to the Bishop of Dromore." In the
preface it is stated that at three years old Connop read English so
well that he was taught Latin, and at four read Greek with an ease and
fluency that astonished all who heard him. An accidental circumstance
revealed his talent for composition when he was seven. Mrs. Thirlwall
told her elder son, in her husband's absence, to write out his
thoughts on a certain subject. Connop asked leave to do the same, and
produced to her astonishment the following: "How uncertain is life!
for no man can tell in what hour he shall leave the world. What
numbers are snatched away in the bloom of youth, and turn the fine
expectation of parents into sorrow! All the promising pleasures of
this life will fade, and we shall be buried in the dust. God takes
away a good prince from his subjects only to transplant him into
everlasting joy in heaven. A good man is not dispirited by death,
for it only takes him away that he may feel the pleasures of a better
world. Death comes unawares, but never takes virtue with it. Edward
VI. died in his minority, and disappointed his subjects, to whom he
had promised a happy reign." These reflections were probably
suggested by some sermon the boy had heard, but the composition is an
extraordinary piece of work at such an age.
His effusions are on various themes, and comprise quite a pretty
little poem, written when he was eleven, on Tintern Abbey. But perhaps
the most remarkable circumstance of all is that this youthful prodigy
lived to amply fulfill the promise of his youth, and proved as
sagacious and moderate in the use of knowledge as he was marvelous
in his powers of acquiring it. There is a remarkable tribute to these
powers in John Stuart Mill's _Autobiography_, where he says: "The
speaker with whom I was most struck, though I dissented from nearly
every word he said, was Thirlwall, the historian, since bishop of
St. David's, then a chancery barrister, unknown except by a high
reputation for eloquence acquired at the Cambridge Union. His speech
was in answer to one of mine. Before he had uttered ten sentences I
set him down as the best speaker I had ever heard, and I have never
since heard any one whom I placed above him."
FREAKS OF KLEPTOMANIA.
A few months ago England, more especially the part thereof contiguous
to royal Windsor, was thrown into consternation by the report that
a box had been discovered, sunk just below water-mark in the Thames,
attached by a string to a tree, and containing a number of keys, which
were believed to belong to doors leading to the royal jewel-coffers.
The nine days' wonder which this intelligence, naturally enough,
produced, has since had a curious explanation. They were not keys of
the royal apartments at all, but Eton keys, the fruits of the
kleptic propensities of an unfortunate Eton boy, who--like a very
distinguished and noble member of Mr. Disraeli's cabinet, who is said
even now not to be able to resist the temptation offered at cabinet
councils by "Dizzy's" green kid gloves--had already paid the penalty
for similar offences by being sent away. A most extraordinary
instance of this propensity occurred a few years ago at a very wealthy
nobleman's house in the north of England. During a visit there
a lady's diamonds disappeared. There was great and general
consternation, and the detective police were summoned from London. The
jewels were subsequently discovered in a closet attached to the noble
LITERATURE OF THE DAY.
Round my House: Notes of Rural Life in France in Peace and War. By
Philip Gilbert Hamerton. Boston: Roberts Brothers.
The time has at last come when Englishmen and Americans seem disposed
to study the character of the French people with some care and to
judge it with impartiality. The overthrow of its military power did
less to lower the nation in the eyes of foreigners than its subsequent
course has done to raise it; and now that it is fairly entering on
a new career in a mood and under auspices that cannot but awaken
the strongest hopes, we have probably seen the last of the typical
Frenchman of the Anglo-Saxon imagination--a being capable of the most
frantic actions and incapable of a serious thought, a compound of
frivolity and ferocity, the fit subject and facile instrument of a
despotism that knew how to gratify his vanity while restraining his
mad ebullitions. Among the excuses that might be offered for such
misconceptions is the dearth of information in the literature of
France itself in regard to the life and habits of the general mass of
the population. In these days it is to novels that we chiefly go
for pictures of character and manners, and French novels are almost
exclusively devoted to pictures of Parisian manners. Balzac, it
is true, has given us delineations of provincial life; but the
delineations of Balzac are often more enigmatical than the problems
of real life, and even if we could always accept the portraitures they
give us as undistorted, they generally presuppose a knowledge on the
part of the reader on those points on which the foreigner is most apt
to be ignorant. In any case, we shall be best instructed by a writer
who both understands our lack and is able to supply it, and these
qualifications, with others scarcely less essential, Mr. Hamerton
has brought to his task. He has thoroughly familiarized himself with
French usages, but he has not lost his sense of the difference between
them and those of his own land, and of the consequent necessity for
explaining as well as describing, and of tracing peculiarities to
their source. If he is free from the common prejudices of the foreign
observer, he has not adopted the passions or the partialities of the
native. He can write with fairness of different classes and factions,
and can discriminate between ordinary impulses and actions and those
that have their origin in strong excitement. Finally, he neither
overloads us with facts and statistics nor seeks to amuse us with
fancies or caricatures. He is always sober and always agreeable.
The matter of this volume was collected during a fixed residence of
several years in one of the central provinces of France. No doubt Mr.
Hamerton had a previous acquaintance with the country and with its
language far exceeding that of the mere tourist, and his wife, it
appears, is a Frenchwoman, the daughter of an ex-prefet. But he makes
few allusions to any former experiences, and draws no comparisons
between the conditions of life or the characteristics of the people in
different provinces. This is perhaps to be considered a defect in the
book, though it might not have possessed the same attractiveness had
its scope been wider. It is an advantage, too, that the locality was
not one which excites curiosity by its strongly marked features or
abnormal types. Travelers often seem to imagine that they have only to
tell us about Brittany or Gascony to win our interest, whereas it is
precisely such regions that have the least novelty for us, just as
the scenery of the Scottish Highlands has been made more familiar
to Americans than that of almost any other part of Britain. Mr.
Hamerton's house, as he gives us clearly to understand, though he
suppresses names, was in the neighborhood of Autun. The situation
was a strictly rural one, but with easy access to the town and the
feasibility of reaching Paris, Lyons or Geneva in a night's journey
by rail. It had, he writes, "one very valuable characteristic in great
perfection--namely, variety. There was nothing in it very striking at
first sight, but we had a little of everything." It was in an elevated
plain about fifteen miles in diameter and nearly circular, girt by a
circus of hills rising fifteen hundred feet above the general level.
A trout stream ran through the property. There were pretty estates
around of about two hundred acres each, with houses in general of
modest dimensions and architecture, though occasionally aspiring to
the dignity of chateaux. Roman and mediaeval remains, with architecture
of different periods, were to be found in the city, as well as a
public library and art-gallery, cafes and the inevitable _cercle_. The
flora, owing to the diversities of elevation, was varied, and while
vineyards clothed the foot of the slopes and gigantic old chestnuts
looked down on them from above, the vegetation of the hill-tops
was that of Lancashire or Scotland. It follows, of course, that the
pursuits and habits of the population were correspondingly various,
and there was ample opportunity for studying the different classes of
society, from the noblesse to the peasants. The results of this study
are presented, not in the form of labored analyses, but in easy and
flowing sketches, sometimes in the form of narrative, always full of
illustrative details, and winning without much discussion or argument
a ready assent to the author's conclusions. Many statements in the
book will, of course, not be new to generally well-informed readers,
but it is not often that they come with the same force and freshness
from direct observation, and still more rarely is their relation to
each other or their bearing on the subject to which they relate
so clearly and correctly indicated. Among the points on which Mr.
Hamerton has thus thrown a stronger light are the characteristics and
position of French ladies, divided, "in this part of the world," he
writes, "into two distinct classes: the home women and the visiting
women--_les femmes d'interieur_, and _les femmes du monde_; the exact
theory of the _mariage de convenance_, which is popularly but
wrongly considered as based on mere mercenary motives; and the mental
condition of the peasant, with his natural quickness of intellect and
his stupendous ignorance, his adherence to tradition and ingrained
superstitiousness, and his suspicion of the nobles and tendency to
emancipate himself from clerical influence. It is France in a state
of transition that Mr. Hamerton paints, and his anticipations have
already to some extent been justified by events. "My hope for France
is," he says, "that a system of regularly-working representative
government may be the final result of the long and eventful
revolution, and that this form of government may give the country
certain measures which it very greatly needs. A thorough system
of national education is one of them, a real religious equality is
another. These would never be conceded by a French monarchy of any
type with which past experience has made the country familiar.... The
only chance of real representation lies in the Republic."
Improved Diary, or Marginal Index-Book of Daily Record: a Diary
provided with Marginal Indices so arranged that any day of the year
may be referred to at once, and the various subject-matters recorded
in it may be arranged for ready reference, together with Calendars,
Interest Table, etc. Devised and arranged by M.N. Lovell. Published
exclusively by the Erie Publishing Co., Erie, Pa.
The Review of Gen. Sherman's Memoirs. Examined Chiefly in the light of
its own Evidence. By C.W. Moulton. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co.
The Chevalier Casse-Cou: The Search for Ancestors. Translated from the
French original. By Thomas Picton. New York: R.M. De Witt.
Proceedings of American Association for the Cure of Inebriates, held
at Hartford, Conn., Sept. 28, 1875. Baltimore: Wm. K. Boyle & Sons.
Brief Biographies. Vol. II. English Radical Leaders. By R.J. Hinton.
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Foot Notes; or, Walking as a Fine Art. By Alfred Barren. Wallingford,
Conn.: Wallingford Printing Co.
Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education. No. 7.
Washington: Government Printing-office.
In Doors and Out; or, Views from the Chimney-corner. By Oliver Optic.
Boston: Lee & Shepard.
Among my Books. (Second Series.) By Jas. Russell Lowell. Boston: James
R. Osgood & Co.
The Reading Club and Handy Speaker, No. 3. By George M. Baker. Boston:
Lee & Shepard.
Her Dearest Foe. (Leisure-Hour Series.) By Mrs Alexander. New York:
Henry Holt & Co.
Pebbles from Old Pathways. By Minnie Ward Patterson. Chicago: C.J.
Burroughs & Co.
Bridge and Tunnel Centres. By John B. McMaster. New York: D. Van
Safety Valves. By Richard H. Buel, C.E. New York: D. Van Nostrand.
Guido and Lita. By the Marquis of Lorne. New York: Macmillan & Co.
The Asbury Twins. By Sophie May. Boston: Lee & Shepard.
Sea-Weed and Sand: Poems. By Ben Wood Davis.