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The substance of the following little Treatise 
teas delivered in the form of Lectw^es at the 
Royal Institution^ the Society of Arts, and the 
Royal Institute^ Hull. 

f^ l*^ A L^ O 






Distinction Between Actors and Performers - - 2 

Qualifications for Acting 3 

« Tone "— 

Impressionalism in Painting - - - - 5 

^^ Distinction^^ — 

Opposed to the Commonplace - ... 6 

**TheWell-Grac'd Actor" .... 9 


The Special Gift of the Old Actor - - - 11 

The Lover's "Yes" 12 

" I hate you, ffe^en / " - - - - - - 12 

Munden and the Pot of Beer - - - - 13 

Analysis of Mdlle. Vertpre's Acting, - - - 34 

Women should Present the Woman - - - 15 

*' Shonld an Actor Feel ? "— 

Diderot's " Paradoxe " - 17 

Emotion Uncontrolled not Dramatic - - - 17 

Also Ceases to be Artistic - - - - - 18 

Mr. Irving's Happy Juste Milieu - - - - 20 

** Facial Expression " — 

Swifter and more Potent than any Other - - 21 

The Art of Expressing the Mind in the Face - 22 

The Shorthand of Talk - - - • - 22 

Its Power over the Spectator - - - - 23 



The only Mode of Expressing Contending Emotions 24 
The Idea to be Indicated in Advance of the Utter- 
ance -------- 26 

" The Actor should A ppear to Think, not to 

Know ".------- 27 

The Garrick Club Portraits — Evidence of Culture 

of Expression ------ 28 

Elia on Dodd's Face ------ 29 

" Doing Nothing " on the Stage an Art - - 30 

Actors should Act for Each Other - - - 31 

Modern Lighting Unfavourable to Facial Expression 32 

"Make Up" ....--- 33 

A Vicious Principle ------ 33 

Illustrated by a Passage from Butler's * * Analogy " 34 

Lablache's Thunderstorm ----- 36 

" jE^^octi^io?i " not Seriously Cultivated - - - 37 

"Sloppy" Utterances ------ 38 

Shakespeare '* Gabbled" Over - - - - 39 

Lack of " Spontaneousness " on our Stage - : 40 

Slowness at Agitating Moments - - - - 41 

*' Asides" Spoken Trumpet-Tongued - - 42 

" Hoarse Whispers " 42 

Stage Laughter Unlike Ileal Laughter - - - 43 

The " Key " or Tone of the Play - - - 43 

Undue Emphasis on Passages - - - - 45 

Especially in Shakespearian Revivals - - - 47 

" Palmy Day Dramas " Unfairly Ridiculed - - 48 

Treated Scientifically Abroad - • - - 50 

Should Anticipate the Utterance - - * - 51 

Clairon Described by Goldsmith - - - - 52 

The^Suspended Gesture - -, - - - 53 



To Suggest Power, the Back of the Hand Turned 

to Audience ------ Note 53 

Draperies Multiply the Gesture - - - - 56 

Recipe for " Easiness " in Stage Clothes - - 57 

" Reserve " and '* Propriety " Analysed - - 58 
*' Stage Bushiess " — 

Why Significant ------- 60 

The " Stage Walk " -.--.. 61 

*' Crossing" -------- 62 

A New Character Makes a New Scene - - - 63 

Scenic Illusion Lost in the Stalls - - - - 65 

Legs Expressing Agitation - - - - 66 

* ' Character " the Foundation of Interest - - 69 

Observation of Character a Pastime - - - 70 

The True Type Found by Generalisation - 71 

A Realistic Imitation Fails ----- 73 

Illustration from Portrait-Painting - - - 74 

The Superficial Mistake — Accidents for the Essence 76 
Touches of Character — Inflexions to be Studied in 

Society 79 

Infirmities Spectacles ot buiieriiig unfit for Re- 
presentation ------- 80 

Realism Opposed to Dramatic Illusion - - - 81 

The Real Waiter as the Stage Waiter ^ - - 82 

Whimsical Grievance of an Actress - - - 83 

Protection against Realism found in its Stupidity 84 

*' Copies of Copies" 85 

Conventional Stage Types Reproduced - - 86 

''The Haughty Peer" ..... 86 

Detaille's Generic Soldier - - • - - 89 

" The Costermonger not a Costermonger " - - 92 

^Distortion of the Servant Character - - - 93 



"Fag" - - - - . - - -94 

Origin of this Distortion 95 

" The Red-nosed Butler " - - - - - 96 
The ''^Double Intention " — 

Founded on the Uncertainty as to Correspondence 

between our Neighbours' Thoughts and Acts 97 

Persiflage Sarcasm 98 

The Gentleman ** Breaking Out" through the 

Footman - - 100 

'' Buefulness'' - - 101 

Deliberate Hatred 103 

Of Comedy — 

Annoyances Alleviated by Patience and Good 

Humour ..-_._- 107 
We are not Gratified by the Misfortunes of our 

Friends, but are Pleased at their Follies being 

Corrected 107 

^^ Ilfaiit glisser sur heauconp'' - . _ . 109 
Struggle between iMother-in-Law and Sun-in-Law; 

between Husband and Wife — to be Exhibited 

on this Principle Ill 

Common Actors take it Seriously - - - - 112 

The Genuine Comedy Actor is Disappearing - 1 13 

" Comedy up to Date " - - - - - 116 

The " Literal System " 116 

As Applied to Joseph Surface . _ - . 117 

The True Method 119 

Sir Peter Teazle 121 

" Testy Fathers " in Comedy - - - - 122 

*' Young Marlow "—Two Sides of his Character - 124 
Not to be Alternately Exhibited, as is the Vulgar 

Fashion - - 125. 



The Shyness and Brazenness Inconsistent - - 126 

Behaviour to Hardcastle Analj^sed - - - 127 

False Interpretation ------ 129 

Trip in the " School for Scandal " - - - - 130 

"Mortgage on his Winter Clothes '' explained - 131 

"Staminer" - - - - - - - 133 

The " Backbites " and '' Sneerwells" Witty because 

Malignant 134 

" Careless Utterances " Part of Comedy - - 136 

Of Writing Flays — 

Good Plays make Good Actors - - - - 137 

For Great Plays Offer a Variety of Interpretation 138 

Every Play " Literary " - - - - - 138 

Character Contains Story 139 

Shown by the Titles of some French Pieces - - 140 

Meissonier's '^ Renseignements ' - - - - 141 

Ibsen's Influence Felt 144 

Stage Conventions and Rules Essential - - 144 

Scenic Effect — 

Unreality Produces the Impression of Reality - 145 

The Old System of Scenery ----- 147 

Regulated by the Counterpoise - - - - 148 

The Trappe Anglaise - - - - - - 150 

Movement of a Vessel - - - . - - - 152 

"Profile" - - - - ^ . - - - 153 

Stage Conflagrations 154 

Steam 155 

The " Corsican Brothers' " Ghost .... 156 

Thunder, Lightning, Rain 158 

Artillery, Ice, etc. 160 

Stage Joinery 161 

New Science Systems 163 



Hydraulic Stage - - - - - - 165 

Double Stage ^ ------- 166 

Orchestra over the Stage - - . . - 167 

Fechter Introduces the French System of Wings - 168 

'^ Built-up" Scenery ------ 169 

Serious Objections to this System - - - 172 

'* Mediums" - - ----- 176 

" Modelled " Scenery ------ 177 

No Dernier Mot in Scenery 179 

S6me Scientific Principles Necessary - - - 180 

Ttie Spectator's Position to be Defined - - 180 

*' What is the Scene ? " - - - - - 181 

In the AnsAver Contained the True Scenic Principle 181 

The Central Zone - - 182 

Not all that is Optically Possible to be Shown - 183 

Application of the Theory 184 

Absurdities of the Accepted System - - - 185 
The Modern System of Lighting Opposed to Stage 

Illusion -------- 188 

Footlights V. Headlights _ - . - - 189 

Arrangement of the House ----- 190 

Philosophy of the Green Curtain and Drop-Scene, 

etc. 192 

Principles of Acting and Scenic Illusion Homo- 
geneous - - 194 


One of the most engaging and fascinating 
of the arts, and which has an attraction 
for those even who do not frequent the 
theatres, is surely the Art of Acting. This 
art we must distinguish from the ordi- 
nary-, rough-and-ready, journeyman sort of 
performance which is found at many 
theatres, in which there is little pretence 
at art ; though the system is fairly suffi- 
cient, and found satisfactory by audiences. 
It is no libel on the profession to say that 

^'2^' ' ' ' mE ART OF 

''\ : \^lqW' ' ■' efforts ' ' are not scientific ; they 
mostly work by an intelligent instinct, or 
seem to be directed by ''rule of 
thmnb " principles. Indeed, we might 
say that there are actors^ and that there 
are performers. This distinguishes the 
cultured from the uncultured *' acting of 
commerce." The question of Dramatic 
Schools has often been discussed : it is a 
large one ; but it can be shown that there 
is but the one school for acting — the study 
\)f character j and character is only to, be 
studied in the great plays and great 
comedies, which offer all the turns and 
humours of character, and compel the 
actor to discover means and devices for 
representing them. Of course, schools 
for teaching the drill and technique merely, 


are most desirable ; but that is another 
thing altogether. 

And this Art of Acting, — what an ele- 
gant, many-sided art it is ! When we 
find an actor before us equipped with all 
its resources, graces, and refinements, what 
form of enjoyment can be so exquisite ! 
Nothing approaches it. But then what 
a vast number of qualifications are re- 
quisite : correct elocution and pronuncia- 
tion ; regulation and command of the 
voice; melodious cadence, so as to give 
pleasure to the ear; expression of the 
face ; expression of the eye and mouth ; 
contending emotions, expressed at the same 
moment or in succession ; gesture ; dignified 
walk ; the art of wearing clothes ; move- 
ments suspended with a sort of surprise, 


and movements that anticipate the ex- 
pressed meaning. 

Tone and ^'Distinction.'' 

Some of the more elegant and attrac- 
tive of histrionic gifts are so delicate as 
to be almost impalpable. They can be 
felt or inspired, but scarcely can be taught. 
There is Tone^ for instance. It is possible 
to convey the idea of the character with- 
out uttering a word or making a move- 
ment, and simply by tone or colouring. 
This is a precious and a mysterious gift, 
and rarely found. We see something 
akin to it in daily life, when we say that 
there is ^' something interesting " in sucli 
a person, something attractive, though the 


person has scarcely spoken, or moved. This 
tone may be acquired by the performer — 
by becoming thoroughly permeated with the 
essentials of his character, and not by 
accidents. Mr. Irving has this gift when 
playing characters such as Mathias. We 
find a good deal of this charm in the 
works of the Impressionalists, and of Corot, 
the French painter. Their principle is to 
record the tone of a scene, not the de- 
tails ; for they tell us that details are not 
noticed under such conditions. Thus we 
see, of an evening, an inexpressibly melan- 
choly tone come over the landscape — like 
gloom over the human face : it absorbs 
everything into itself — the trees, leaves, 
grass, all which these painters present in a 
misty way. The outlines of trees, leaves, 


branches, all become indistinct masses. 
There has been much extravagance in 
developing this system, but there can be 
little doubt that in the main it is the 
basis of art. It opens, too, an interesting 
speculation, closely connected too with 
histrionic art as to what should be the 
limit in presenting details, and at what 
point we should stop. 

Connected with this is another great gift 
— that of Distinction — also an impalpable 
quality, and little known in the profession. 
It is unintelligible to your journeyman 
actor. We hear of an ^' actor of distinc- 
tion," or that he imparted *' distinction " to 
the character; it is felt, but difficult to 
define. Distinction seems to be a disdain of 
vulgar details, of all trivial means and pro- 


cesses. The actor despises or ignores trifles.^ 
In real life a commonplace person, who is 
the opposite of a person with '' distinction," 
is abundant in details^ and very voluble in 
words, and explanations, and gestures, which 
to him are all-important. He thinks acci- 
dents and trivialities of moment; whereas 
one with the gift of distinction conceives 
everything in a large spirit, and sees the 
essence of things. He, in short, expresses '/ 
himself by the agency of mind rather than 
by any mechanical means. It is almost 
impossible to analyse this special charm; it 
comes, of course, from a native grace ofi/ 
soul, refinement, and elegance, and an ab- 
sence of affectation — which quality, in a per- 
former, is vulgarity. Difficult to define, it 
seems the result of high culture and practice. 


It suggests something of the effect produced 
when a well-bred man of the world enters a 
room, who, though he says or does nothing, 
impresses. One man has an air of reserve, 
though he may not be given to silence ; an- 
other has force of character; a third is poeti- 
cal of aspect. There is something of this in 
what is eaid of a well-dressed man: that 
you do not see or know how he is dressed. 
One of our most celebrated portrait painters, 
who is remarkable for his brilliant colouring, 
his vigorous handling and good likenesses, 
seems always to fail in this matter of dis- 
tinction. He lacks it because he rests m his 
methods, not in the spiritual element. 
Whatever objection may be taken to Mr. 
Irving's acting and style, his greatest op- 
ponents must admit that in whatever he 


does, whether in mounting a play, or in 
standing on the stage, or moving across the 
scene, there is always this '^note" of ^^dis- 
tinction." He is apart from his fellows. 
To him, on his own stage at the Lyceum, 
seem specially to apply the words of Shake- 

** As in a theatre, the eyes of men, 
After a well-grac*d actor leaves the stage, 
Are idly bent on him that enters next/ 

Exquisitely dramatic lines that seem 
charged with the flutter and excitement of 
the moment. It is just after some intense or 
thrilling incident ; the well-grac'd actor has 
gone : there is an air of vacancy. Our eye?, 
idly bent on the rest, have followed him — his 
tones still ring in our ears. The others are 



left ; but they seem creatures earthy as 
ourselves ; they have not ^' distinction." 
This contrast is often extraordinary; and 
there are players who contrive to vulgarise, 
instead of '' distinguishing," everything they 


" Breadth " is another of the mysterious 
powers which come from within, and is 
the result of intellectual force. . It arises 
from the actor being able to enrich a simple 
sentence, or ^ven a word, with its fullest 
meaning, with all the associations and illus- 
trations of which it is capable. The old, 
experienced actor, well trained in the pro- 
vinces and in all the old pieces, has 
^'breadth." Seeing one of these veterans 


in a modern company, we are struck by the 
contrast he offers to his other companions. 
All he says has breadth ; whereas in their 
utterances there is a thinness and leanness, 
even though they strive and do their best 
to supply breadth by extra emphasis, and 
the raising of their voice. And how have 
these old actors acquired breadth ? Simply 
by acting in the old pieces which have r 
breadth, and are so stored with thoughts and 
suggestions, that when they come to utter a 
sentence, the rich stock of ideas rushes on 
them, and forces them to give \ them some 
intelligent shape and utterance. This might 
be made clearer by a familiar illustration. 
A young man is asked by his old uncle to 
dine, and he will say ^'yes" coldly enough. 
But were he asked unexpectedly by the 


father of the young lady to whom he is 
attached and who is opposed to his pre- 
tensions, we would venture to say, were we 
listening, that we would recognise in that 
simple '' yes," a whole tide of different emo- 
tions. There would be joy^ eagerness^ love^ 
gratitude^ hopSy flutter, and the rest — yet all 
conveyed in that little monosyllable '^yes." 
There is a scene in our old, antiquated 
friend, " The Hunchback," where Julia 
has just dismissed her lover, Sir Thomas 
Clifford. Helen, her friend and con- 
fidante, is congratulating her, and ridicules 
and gibes at the discarded admirer, when 
Julia says, " I hate you, Heleny Lately 
a very capable actress was performing the 
part, and she gave these three little, but 
significant, words in an easy, comfortable, 


sort of way, according to its simple mean- 
ing, '* I hate you, Helen,''' Yet this was once 
one of the grand points of the play, and 
(used to "bring down the house." It was 
1 really a whole situation. Julia still loved 
Clifford^ but pride was at work on both 
sides. She was vexed with herself ; she 
felt that she ought to do as Helen advised ; 
that she did not hate her at all, but her- 
self. So, it should be spoken in a tone of 
grief and irresolution — '' I — I — I hate you, 

Again: Munden, a famous comic actor at 
the beginning of the century, at the close 
of a scene, sees a jug of beer on a table, 
and says merely, '^ Some gentleman has left 
his beer/' On the modern stage, a comic 
actor would probably wink slyly at the 



audience, and, seizing the beer^ drink it off. 
Munden made a whole scene out of this — 
first repeating the words in a ruminative 
way, as if it were an indifferent piece of 
news ; then in a tone of enjoyment ; then 
in a suspicious tone, as though he were 
being watched. Every moment he was 
drawing nearer. In short, it was a picture 
in little of a temptation, and gradual fall ; 
and all arising out of a quart pot. 

There is an account (in the "New Monthly" 
Magazine of 1829) of a French actress, 
Mademoiselle Vertpre, which happily illus- 
trates the charm of these nameless delicacies. 
'' A ' oui ' or ' non ' from her lips is elo- 
quent music, even when it has no particular 
meaning; but when it has a particularly 
pointed or condensed meaning, its effect is 


more potent than a whole speech. Nay, 
there is no moment when, though she says 
nothing, she is not speaking — either by a 
dead, statue-hke stillness or a hardly imper- 
ceptible movement, advancing] or retreating 
of her delicate body, or an indescribable 
and nameless motion of one or both the 
shoulders, too gentle to be called a jerk, and 
too graceful for a shrug — or, finally, that 
ineffable little female toss of the head, the 
effect of which it is as impossible to escape 
as to either describe, or account for." Then 
there was " the intensely feminine air which 
pervades everything she does — seeming to 
arise from an ever present, and ever active 
feeling of sex — you never for an instant lose 
sight of the woman in the character : one 
of the great secrets of attaining and pre- 


serving that personal ascendency over the 
audience which none but women ever 
possess, and which even they cannot main- 
tain in connection with any very striking 
representation of particular characters." 
How true is this! Many of our actresses 
lose sight of their sex and its graces : 
they become cold, hard, noisy, and harsh of 
voice, in obedience to the necessities of 
the scene, and from their efforts to give 
''point" to what they say and do. All 
delicacies are thus lost : they seem to be 
contending with the men, and on the same 

Should an Actor Feel? 

We now come to a more mteresting 
^question — Should an actor really feel the ' 


emotions lie is depicting ? Should lie slied 
real tears, utter genuine sobs, and would 
the performance gain by his so doing? 
This point was first started by Diderot, the 
French philosopher, over a century ago, 
in what is called his '^ Paradoxe," which was 
recently translated by Mr. Walter Pollock, 
with an interesting iutroduction added 
by Mr. Irving. It gave rise to much dis- 
cussion. Johnson, in his rough way, 
declared that- an actor who, even for a 
moment, could work himself up to feel 
like a murderer, ought to be executed after 
the play was over. But there can be little 
doubt that it must be decided in the nega- 
tive; on the ground that such emotional 
exhibitions are undramatiCy and that so 
much realism is mere crude nature. Indeed, 



such naturalism^ or Zolaism, seems out of 
keeping with the artistic and abstract as- 
sociations of the stage. 

A more serious objection is, that in this 
state the actor loses control of himself — and 
the effect accordingly ceases to he an artistic 
display. The actor, instead of controlling, 
is himself controlled. Were we to push the 
theory farther, the best way to represent 
sickness, or a person in a fever, would be 
to bring forward a really sich actor ; or in 
the case of intoxication, have the actor made 
intoxicated behind the scenes, and sent on. 
Yet, as we know, such realism would add 
nothing to the dramatic interest. And 
further, there is the serious objection taken 
by Diderot himself, that after several nights 
the fountain of tears would dry up, and, 


with our runs of from 100 to 200 nights, 
Niobe herself would be found unequal to 
the supply. 

''To keep one's head," said Regnier, ''while j 
appearing to give up one's heart, is the 
secret." Mr. R. Solly quotes Guizot : 
'' To successfully depict a passion, it is cer- 
tainly necessary to be capable of feeling it, 
sometimes to have experienced it : but to 
feel it at the moment is not necessary, and 
often does harm rather than good." Talma 
and Coquelin also hold the same view. 
Diderot goes so far as to maintain that ^'in 
the complete absence of sensibility is the 
possibility of a fine actor,'' and then de- 
scribes him as watching himself, listening to 
the tones of his own voice to see if it be 
equal to his standard In other words he 


'' gives us the recollections of his emotions." 
This seems to go too far. I am convinced, 
as Mr. Irving explained it recently, in his 
lecture before an Edinburgh meeting, that 
'* the true method, or compromise, is that 
the actor must have some emotion, or tend- 
ency to emotion, but he must keep it in 
hand,'* and watchfully regulate its course. 
Were only the phenomena of emotion ex- 
hibited, the audience would not be touched. 

Facial Expression. 

Now, if the average actor has a fixed 
principle, it is that there is but one effective 
method of expressing himself — and that is, 
by tongue, or speech. This is his end-all 
and be-all. Should he wish to be angry or 


excited, he raises his voice ; to be hateful 
or jealous, he lowers it ; and so on. But 
there is a means of expression far more 
potent, far more swift, direct, and instan- 
taneous, and which in a flash will express 
what it would take minutes to utter- — that 
is THE FACE. Facial expression is wonderful 
for all that it conveys, and for the immense 
force with which it conveys it. We have 
only to think of its multiplied resources — 
the power of the eye and the eyebrows, the 
mouth, the nostrils. In foreign theatres, 
facial expression is a regular part of stage 
education, and there is a regular system. 
It is so delicate an instrument, that it 
conveys the expression, in advance as it 
were. In real life we all speak with our 
faces, and read each other s faces in antici- 


pation. We note the pleasure, or dis- 
pleasure, or pain, before a word is spoken. 
A wonderful art this when we think of it — 
to express the inind in the face. And what a 
multiplied power of expression is there in it : 
the power of the eye, of the eyebrows, the 
mouth, the nostrils even — all which can be 
used in combination. But it is a delicate, 
sensitive instrument. We feel an emotion ; 
it rushes instantly to the face and reveals it- 
self. In conversation half the work is done 
by the face : we read each other s faces, we 
anticipate the coming utterance. It is, in 
fact, the shorthand of talk — and we have 
only to imagine conversation carried on 
in darkness, to see how halting and im-l 
perfect it would be. It is comparatively" 
neglected on our stage, but foreign actors] 


do marvels with their faces. It is a wonder- 
ful art, when we think of it — thus to force 
the mind upward into the face. 

And here is the wondrous value of facial 
expression for the actor, and for dramatic 
purposes generally, viz. the magical, and 
electrical influence it exercises on the be- 
holders. Any display of contending emotions 
in the face holds us enthralled like a little 
drama. How interesting, for instance, to 
see some young girl, unsophisticated, fresh 
from the country, a little confused at her 
novel situation, over whose face the by- 
standers see flitting and chasing each other 
all sorts of emotion : first shyness, then 
eagerness, then distress at having revealed 
her thoughts ; while we notice that, all the 
time, the spectators have their eyes riveted 

- ^4 THE ART OF 

on her face ; they follow these changes with 
smiling and sympathising glances, and attend 
to little else. Is not this a lesson for our 
actor ? as it surely supplies him with a 
cheap and ready method of holding his 
audience in the exactly same fashion. 

It should be borne in mind that facial 

J expression is the expression of things that 
cannot he spoken — it is a new language, where 
language fails. The contention of great 
passions can be efficiently expressed only 
by the face ; you may, of course, describe 
them in words, but that does not exhibit 
them. A dishonest servant is detected ; you 
see in his face, firstly, shame, then rage, dis- 
like, defiance, cringing, terror, indecision ; 
the whole story is to be read there. An- 
other complex expression -is the being 



'^ amused." Something is being told witli the 
pm^pose of deceiving, or impressing the 
listener ; but he is shrewd enough to under- 
stand the true state of the case. And his 
face shows that he does; he cannot help 
being entertained by this contrast; though 
he, at the same time, by his words and 
bearing, appears to accept the narrative. 
Thus is there a double manifestation — belief 
on the surface, disbelief within. This, it 
may be conceived, is a very delicate opera- 
tion, nay, of the highest delicacy. Even the 
would-be deceiver feels somehow that he is 
not being credited, though he has to accept 
the assurances. 

It constantly happens, says Mr. Eaymond 
Solly, in his lately issued, interesting little 
tract on acting, that, before beginning to 


speak, some feeling or idea should be in- 
dicated, in advance, as it were, of the first 
words spoken. This sort of reservation is 
implied in the little words, "but," "how- 
ever," '^ nevertheless," etc.; and conveys that 
there has been a little debate going on 
withui — a hesitation — a conflict of motives. 
This should be shown in the look or bear- 
ing, and the listener is, as it were, taken 
into confidence. "Without this due em- 
phasis, the "but" being glibly uttered 
without pause, the dramatic significance is 
lost, and it is actually conveyed that there 
has been no doubt or hesitation whatever. 
Got, a great histrionic instructor, always im- 
pressed on his pupils this art of suggesting 
deliberation. Whenever there is a change of 
\ idea or new departure, it should be heralded 


by an anticipating glance or movement. ^' 
^* An actor should always appear to think, 
not to know." 

'' The actor," Talma tells us, '' must learn 
the art of thmking before he speaks; and,^^ 
by introducing pauses, he appears to medi- 
tate upon what he is about to say. But 
his physiognomy must correspond with the 
suspension of his voice. His attitude and 
features must indicate that during these 
moments of silence his soul is deeply en- 
gaged; without this his pauses will seem 
rather to be the result of defective memory, 
than a secret of his art." 

I can now fancy our actor protesting that 
all this is Utopian : and that no face, on or 
off the stage, can be made to perform such 
feats and prodigies. But we have only to 


visit the remarkable Gallery of the Garrick 
Club, and gaze at the wonderful portraits 
displayed on its walls : and these prove what 
can be done in this way. The faces are 
literally brhnming over with expression; 
they are gnarled, and scored, and delved 
with deep lines of drollery or humour. The 
emotions within seemed to have forced their 
way to the face, and left their mark, just as 
suffering does. No wonder the old Macklin 
declared that he had not lines, but cordage 
in his face : and it was said of Garrick, that 
no man's face ^'showed more wear and 
tear " — owing to the constant expression of 
marked emotions. 

But in his own vivid way Charles Lamb 
shows what could be done by the face in 
these old days, and by one of these old 


actors. He is speaking of Dodd, one of the 
good low comedians : '' In expressing slow- 
ness of apprehension, this actor surpassed all 
others. You could see the first dawn of an 
idea stealing slowly over his countenance, 
climbing up by little and little, with a pain- 
ful process, till it cleared up at last to the 
fulness of a twilight conception — its highest 
meridian. He seemed to keep back his 
intellect, as some have had the power to 
retard their pulsation. The balloon takes 
less time in filling than it took to cover the 
expansion of his broad moony face over all 
its quarters with expression. A glimmer of 
understanding would appear in a corner of 
his eye, and for lack of fuel go out again. 
A part of his forehead would catch a little 
intelligence, and be a long time in com- 


niunicating it to tlie remainder." Such an 
exhibition seems to us lost art, and, it may- 
be doubted if it could be attempted by any 
performer of our day/ 

Innumerable indeed are the arts and de- 
^ , vices which belong to real acting. Acting, in 
fact, should go on during every moment that 
the player is upon the stage. It has been, 
happily, said, *'that there is nothing so diffi- 
cult as to do nothing on the stage, when the 
part requires you to do nothing." For 

^ The faces of most great actors are remarkable in 
this way : notably those of Clarrick, Kemble, Kean, 
Cooke, Macklin, Phelps, Irving and others. Meeting 
any of these in the street, we must turn to look after 
them. The French faces, more mobile, and more ex- 
ercised, are still more striking. I have a collection of 
photographs of leading comedians diwdi far^eurs^ which 
are truly astonishing. The most extraordinary is that 
of Frederic Lemaitre, which is the frontispiece of this 
little book. 


this " doing nothing " is acting. More es-_ 
sential still is the acting to another's acting : 
that is, the helping to act his part. This is 
not much attended to on our stage, or is 
carried out in an artificial way : the player 
transparently compelling himself to attend 
to his companion. There can be even an 
air of inattention, with an occasional rousing 
of the attention, as though obliged to at- 
tend, and this attracts the audience. " I 
know,'' said Dickens' friend, Regnier, '^how 
difficult it is to listen, more difficult even 
than to speak. Help your comrades ! " No- 
thing so facilitates the task of another actor 
as this real sympathetic attention. Nay, 
it will prompt him to new efforts, new 
and more natural tones and emphasis. ^' It 
is essential," goes on Eegnier, ** that there 


should be a close connection between all the 
actors in the same scene." It is equally 
certain, too, that the absence of such atten- 
tion will injure the other s efforts. '' If you 
allow your look," says Coquelin, ''to become 
inexpressive, your eyes to wander or ex- 
hibit any lack of interest, the public is at 
fault." It also loses its interest. 

Our modem stage system, however, is op- 
posed to the exhibition of facial expression. 
There is such a flood of light, and the face 
is so bathed in effulgence, from above and 
below, that there is little relief. There are 
no shadows. The eye is distracted by the 
general garishness. As it is said, " you 
cannot see the wood for the trees," so here / 
you cannot see the face for the light. Now, 
under the old dispensation, there was a ' 


better system : the light was furnished by 
four chandeliers, which hung over the 
actors' faces; the rest of the stage was in 
comparative shadow mystery, and the 
figures and faces stood out with a sort of 
briUiancy. Thus it will be seen how the 
eye was concentrated on the central objects, 
because it had nothing else to attract or 
distract it. 

It is odd, however, that, instead of this 
facial expression, we should have a strange 
substitute in what is called '' the make-up." 
There is actually an art of make-up, and 
some actors — performers, shall we say? — 
have achieved quite a reputation for this 
spurious device. They contrive to give them- 
selves an altogether new face and figure ; 

so that friends in front do not recognise 



them for some moments. We have actually 
in these days false noses worn in serious 
characters, which formerly were confined to 
pantomimes and burlesques. This seems 
rather ignoble work. But there is a curious 
Nemesis to come : for the actors who lean 
on these methods will find their intellectual 
powers dwindle, and grow more and more 
enfeebled. It is like swimming with 

There is a passage in Bishop Butler' t 
famous '^ Analogy " which proves this ver^ 
effectively — though it may seem a little 
incongruous introducing a grave and rev- 
erend prelate in this connection. He ii 
speaking of what he calls passive and 
active emotions ; and he shows that indul- 
gence in the one exclusively, becomes de- 


structive of tlie other. Thus, there is pity 
or compassion felt at the sight of a dis- 
tressful object : that is the passive emotion : 
the relieving of it, the active principle. 
Now, if a person indulges in the mere 
sentiment without following it up, he will 
find his active charity gradually disappear ; 
and thus we see sentimental people, who weep 
over novels^ and are greatly affected by sad 
sights, are quite unpractical ; they do not 
give anything. On the otlier hand, persons 
of active charity — doctors, nurses, and sisters 
of charity — lose sentiment altogether, and 
vt appear unfeeUng. This may seem rather 
i metaphysical ; but it will be eas}^ to apply 
it to this ''make-up" system, which repre- 
sents the passive principle. The per- 
former finds himself perpetually devising 


fresh '^ makes up," with a recurring diffi- 
culty of contriving novelty. The more it 
is indulged in, the more it will destroy 
the intellectual or active principle. On 
the other hand, the intellectual actor, 
who disdains these arts, will find a sub- 
stitute for them, and can assume what 
aspect he wishes. Thus he will have an in- 
tellectual *' make-up," coming from within. 
It was often told of Lablache that he 
could actually represent a thunderstorm 
by his face, the gathering clouds, the 
storm breaking and clearing off, etc. : that 
]/ is, he did not imitate it — but he suggested 
it, which is the true principle. 

I thhik it will be generally admitted 


that there is little attempt at formal 
elocution on our stage. Every one says his 
say, as best he can, and in his own way. 
And curiously enough this neglect ap- 
pears to be of a set purpose, and carried 
out with intention, and for the simple 
reason that it is not wanted. For the 
standard of imitation is nothing but the 
familiar colloquial tone of talk adopted 
outside, in the streets and houses. But 
as we know, from painful experience, 
this is a very disagreeable and earthy 
form of speech. These rude, sloppy, 
careless utterances of common conversa- 
tion may serve for every-day life, but 
are unsuited to the stage or its dignity. 
Often we cannot hear even a portion of 
what is said; the words seem to be 


'>^ dropped, or swallowed. This sort of un- 
finished speech leaves on us an impres- 
sion of meanness, and gives the idea that the 
sentiment, which comes to us in this vulgar 
guise, must be mean and vulgar also. The 
key or pitch should be loftier than that 
^ of ordinary life, because everything on 
the stage is an exaggeration. This can 
be well understood. From lack of training, 
the actor is uncertain as to the pitch or 
key of his organ ] he has not learned to 
speak in the low tone, without effort, which 
shall be sufiicient. Passages which should 
be given with an easy spontaneousness, 
are uttered with a loud, emphatic and 
forced declamation ; in fact, the general 
key is noisy and artificial, suggesting 
recitation. This unnatural key is owing 


to lack of command over the organ, and 
tlie actor is compelled to raise his voice, 
as being the only way he knows of 
making himself heard. What a treat to 
hear '' Le Misanthrope " at the Fran9ais, 
given in these elegant, harmonious cad- 
ences, when we feel that it is exactly in 
keeping with the rich laced dresses, the 
flowing wigs, as well as with the antique 
and somewhat pedantic sentiments. 

Nobody has suffered so much from this 
blemish as Shakespeare. Even in the best 
and most conscientious revivals we find an 
attempt to bring him down to the collo- 
quial measures of the day. We hear the 
young Venetian nobles rattling over their 
melodious and poetical lines in the tone of 
young "mashers." There is no time given 


for the audience to grasp the meaning. It 
becomes a sort of gabble. And there is 
always the glaring contrast between the 
high and noble thoughts, and exquisite 
poetical conceits, and the frivolous, idle 
tone in which they are delivered. 

There are some traditional blemishes 
which, strange to say, are clung to on our 
stage. Such, for instance, is the lack of 
"spontaneousness." With new performers, 
everything is recited^ even ostentatiously, with 
the air of having been got by heart. There 
is no hesitation. And when two persons 
are carrying on a conversation, the speeches 
are made with promptness and rapidity, 
without a moment's pause for thought. The 
French excel in this air of spontaneousness. 
They seem to say everything as if it had 


just then occurred to them at the moment ; 
nay, there is a sort of hesitation^ as if they 
were looking for the idea or the word : the 
thing comes out in the most natural way. 
Another strange anomaly is, that in critical 
situations, instead of showing hurry and 
agitation, our players become solemnly slow 
and measured — even at the most agonis- 
ing moment. When the hero is about to 
destroy himself, or to be killed, or when 
the enemy is bursting in the doors, he be- 
gins to utter his sentences with a solemn, 
and extra slow, deliberation. All this is 
I out of nature; for a person thus agitated 
feels that there is not an instant to be lost ; 
he hurries to and fro ; he crowds his words 
together. So when reproaches are uttered 
on some desertion, faithlessness, or betrayal. 


the Avords pour out with extraordinary 
rapidity, jostling each other at the door of 
the lips, as it were. This is a common, 
regular form on the French stage. 

Again, take the method of delivering 
^an *' aside." These are spoken irumpet- 
tongiwd, and often at good length, while the 
other performers suspend operations until 
the speech is quite finished. Often actors 
run into the other extreme, and give 
'' hoarse whispers," in which process the 
voice is forced or pumped out in an ex- 
traordinary, unnatural manner, as unlike a 
real whisper as could be conceived. So 
with laughter. The regular '' stage laugh " 
is really like nothing in life. Instead of 
being involuntary, it is purposed and vohm- 
tary, projected forth in a series of '' Ha ! 


ha ! ha's ! " Now most persons laugh 
silentl}^ — indeed, the laugh is seen more 
than it is heard. It is a series o "' rippling " 
smiles or ''chuckles;" but the laugh of 
enjoyment is mostly internal. Nor do we 
often see what may be called the nuances of 
laughter — that is, the incipient smiling — 
the attempt at enforced gravity — the sudden, 
overpowering burst — the struggle between 
gravity and jest. 

Then there is another view. Every 
play has, or should have, a particular tone 
or key. The claims of actors, the pro- 
iminence of particular incidents, all should 
be subsidiary to this. This tone is even 
more important in setting forth the play 
itself — in giving what is the true note 
or key of the whole. Mr. Irving attends 


particularly to this matter — he brings, 
all into harmony, softening down some 
portions, and setting others in proper 
relief, like the conductor of an orchestra. 
But the common practice is, that every 
one is given license to make the most 
of his own character, without regard to 
the interests of the piece. This system 
is adopted in dealing with revived, 
old-fashioned plays, and presents them 
before us very unfairl}^ Their strained 
sentiment often causes hilarity, and is con- 
demned as inherently '*out of date," ab- 
surd, and ''exploded." But had the actors 
transported themselves back to the period 
and tried to realise the feeling and con- 
ditions, under which the piece had been 
first presented, the effect would be very 


different. Indeed, the method used is to 
give it a modern air — to slur over the 
old-fashioned sentiment; and, by a sort 
of colloquial, familiar tone, force it to 
take the shape of every-day life.^ 

The result is a lack of proportion — 
an exaggeration of unimportant matters 
— which has the result of enfeebling 
the really significant portions of the 
play. I remember, on the produc- 
tion of a truly pastoral drama — which is 
founded on the simple habits and super- 

^ For instance, there is the familiar " Praise from 
Sir Hubert Stanley is praise indeed," always greeted 
with merriment, and the reason is that the actor has 
no faith in the sincerity of the speech, and does not 
believe in it. Bat we could quite conceive some one 
saying, in the House of Commons, 'that praise from 
some reserved, sarcastic member "would be praise 
indeed,^' and there would be no laugh. 


stitions of the peasants of the South of 
France — " L'Aiiesienne,'' not an opera, 
but a serious drama illustrated by Bizet's 
lovely music, the English actors, know- 
ing nothing of this atmosphere, were 
directed to ''make the most" of their 
parts, which they did according to their 
lights. They turned them into English 
low comedy rustics — matter-of-fact people 
— and I need not say with the most ludi- 
crous effect. All the tone, the poetr}^, 
vanished utterly. 

And I may add here that, in the pe: 
formance of Shakespeare's plays, this 
want of proportion is too often shown. 
The manager, who wishes to have a 
grand spectacular exhibition, when deal- 
ing with the incidents, seizes on and 


develops some trifling incident which 
Shakespeare only meant to dwell on, en 
Ijassant, as it were. At the beginning of 
'' Romeo and Juliet " there is a conflict 
between the rival houses. We have seen 
this actually worked into a grand effect 
and sensation — the stage filled with angry 
crowds, pouring in from the side streets ; 
windows thrown open ; alarm bells ring- 
ing ; a general battle. But it was really 
only a street scuffle between a few parti- 
sans. So with the wrestling match in 
''As You Like It," for which the stakes 
are pitched, a ring formed, and excited 
crowds gathered round, as though it were 
a tournament. So with the fencing scene 
in " Hamlet," often turned into a grand 
formal *'bout," or match, before a full 


court. It was really only a slight social 
incident : just as in this modern time, a 
game at billiards or at lawn tennis, might 
be suggested at a country house. This 
idea of spontaneousness and carelessness 
would make the scene infinitely more 
natural, and more tragic. 

Not long since was revived the old- 
fashioned, highly-strung, fossilised play 
of ^' The Stranger," whose sentiment 
has always seemed forced and unnatural. 
All the actors did their best to glide 
over these passages, and to give them 
a colloquial, familiar turn ; instead of, 
as they ought to have done, throwing 
themselves into their parts with perfect 
sincerity and faith. A feeling of reality 
would then have been infused into the 


whole. Some j^ears ago, when Mr. 
HoUingshead was manager of the Gaiety, 
and giving burlesques, there was a clamour 
raised for good old sterling comedies, such 
as it was said were given in the '* palmy" 
days of the drama. Growing fatigued at 
these complaints, and nettled at the hard 
things that were said of his taste, he an- 
nounced that he would revive what he 
called in his bills ^^ palmy day dramas ; " 
and accordingly we were treated to a series 
of such old, meritorious fossils, as " George 
Barnwell/' ^' The Castle Spectre,'* ^'The 
Miller and his Men," and such things. 
The result was roars of laughter, and 
the ingenious manager was admitted to 
have completely proved his case. But 
had he ? The pieces were performed 


by burlesque actors as a sort of joke. 
They did not know how to play them, 
The old actors had faith in these things, 
Their audiences were '*in touch," as i1 
were. They were performed with infinite 
care, and even elegance. But it would be 
*' forcing an open door" to dwell furthei 
on this point. 



Gesture on our stage is, I think, chieflj^ 
t prompted by the instinct of the moment 
But abroad, it is quite scientific^ and elabor 
ated, perhaps after the rules of Lavate: 
and others, with the result of very striking 
and original effects, which would rathej 
astonish some of our professors. Gesture!, 


regulated and studied, is nearly as potent a 
medium of expression as the voice itself; 
in many cases it is more subtle, swift, and 
comprehensive. There is a language in 
gesture, with innumerable shades of mean- 
ing. It will convey everything — doubt, 
hesitation, eagerness, anger, joy, sorrow; 
with many more delicate emotions for 
which words are too formal, and too slow 

There is one method of great force, and 
which is used to enrich the dramatic 
expression. It is, indeed, quite a common 
form on the French boards, but almost 
unknown to us. This is the anticipation 
of the utterance by the gesture. As an 
accomplished actress has truly said, ^' With 
us it is more art than nature ; with the 
French it is more nature than art." The 


body seems to run eagerly forward, in 
advance of the mind, as a sort of avant- 
coiirier. The dramatic result, which has 
extraordinary effect in the way of riveting 
attention, seems to work in this fashion. The 
anticipatory gesture is made. Then arises 
in the spectator's mind a sort of speculation 
as to whether the utterance to follow will 
correspond. Then a second or two of 
suspense follows : all is finally satisfied 
by the utterance itself. There is a passage 
in one of Goldsmith's essays, where he 
describes the acting of Clairon, the great 
French actress. " On her first speech," he 
says, " her hands and tongue never set out 
together, hut the one prepares us for the 
other. She sometimes begins with a mute, 
eloquent attitude ; but never goes forward : 


all at once, with hands, eyes, head, and 
voice. By this simple beginning is given 
a power of rising in the passion of the 
scene." This is an invaluable technical 
lesson for an actor; and what a light it 
throws, and how scientific is the device ! 

There are other devices — the suspended 
or intercepted gesture: (the classical '* quos 
egOj'') the attempt at self-mastery; and what 
is more effective than the simple gesture 
of despair, without a single word being 
spoken, and which conveys so much? 
Even where gesture has no particular 
significance, it is always welcome and 
agreeable to the eye/ 

^ Lord DufFerin, in a recent interesting address, 
recalled one valuable hint that had been given him 
by a well-known actor, who pointed out to him that 


The tendency, therefore, of gesture is 
in the direction of reserve, and economy of 
motion. It has been said by a French 
teacher, ''The more we multiply gestures, 
the more we make them insignificant." 
Fenelon tells us, ^^ It is not natural to be 
always using gestures in speaking; one 
should move the arms because one is ani- 
mated, but should not move them in order 
to appear animated'' There is a world 
of suggestion in this. Johnson, having 
the extravagant gestures of the players of i 
his time before him, declared that, '' The 
action of all the players in tragedy is bad. 

there is weakness suggested, when the palms of 
the hand are put forward, as is commonly done. 
The idea of power and strength was conveyed by 
turning the backs of the hands to the audience. 


It should be a man's study to repress the 
signs of emotion and passion, as they are 
called " — the repression being even more 
significant. A French professor, M. Du- 
pont-Vernon, has gone to the root of 
the matter when he lays it down that 
gesture is a language to express ideas 
that are not written^ that is, those delicate, 
almost impalpable thoughts and shadows 
of thoughts, for which words are too coarse 
and inefficient. 

One of our more refined actresses, now 
unhappily withdrawn from the stage, Miss 
Anderson, arrayed in her classical or 
Empire dress, as she moved about or sank 
into a chair, always gave pleasure from 
the grace she imparted to the movement. 
This movement was a language, for it 


spoke of refinement and grace, and of a 
refined nature within. It amounted to an 
uttered sentence, as tliough we had heard 
something refined, though not taking any 
distinct shape. 

Even the folds of the drapery multiply 
the expression. Thus, the bare arm may be 
raised with a graceful movement, and be- 
token some refined sentiment. But place a 
drapery on the arm, and each fold will as- 
sume an elegant form ; thus we have in- 
numerable shapes of expression instead of 
one, because each fold is the result of the 
feeling transmitted from within to the arm ; 
from the arm to the drapery; and from the 
drapery to the folds. It may even be said 
that the wearing of old-fashioned clothes is 
an art in itself, some performers carrying | 


them as if to the manner born, as though 
they were their habitual garments ; while 
others wear them with an air of stiff discom- 
fort, as if not at ease in them. One of our 
best actors, Mr. Hare, is so conscientious in 
this matter, that he always wears his clothes 
of antique cut in his own house for some 
days before the performance, so as to feel 
quite ^' easy " in them, and thus grow familiar 
to the constraint. This constraint shows 
affectation : the mistaking of means for the 
end; — the actor is thinking of his clothes 
rather than of the purpose for which clothes 
are worn. 

" Reserve " is yet another admirable ]/ 
histrionic gift. The actor seems to convey 
that he has a sort of '^ storage " of force : 
that there are powers of speech and action 


laid up and kept ready. The idea of force 
unused, but ready, is in itself a force, 
and there is a sort of mystery attending 
it. Silence, recollection, even in social 
life, will thus impress us. Vulgar minds 
associate power, with its manifestation, 
either by speech or action. Connected 
with this is the gift of '^ propriety," by 
which we would understand the limits of 
expression : that is the extent to which 
an actor should go in exhibiting the 
phenomena of his character. But too 
often he will employ every art, every 
idea that suggests itself, to enhance the 
effect, without reflecting that enough has 
been done. Occasionally we see char- 
acters performed with an exquisite ''pro- 
priety." We feel that no touch is wanting, 


and that not another touch could be 
added. The effect left is of perfect satis- 
faction. On the other hand, how com- 
monly do we not feel that a representation 
is quite unlike what such a situation 
would be in real life, that a person in 
ordinary society would be wholly different. 
We often see such persons acquitting 
themselves with a becoming tact, and 
reserve, and acknowledge that they have 
behaved as the situation required — doing 
neither more nor less than was necessary. 
This is '* propriety." 

^^ Stage Business''' 

And now we should consider how great, 
and excessive even, is the value and ira- 


portance of movements of all kinds upon 
the stage, and which are so apt to be con- 
sidered trivial and of small significance. 
The stage is, as the name betokens, only a 
raised platform, the centre to which a thou- 
sand pair of eyes are to be directed. And 
it is odd to think that there is no other 
situation in life where people exhibit this 
fixity of gaze, and keep their eyes riveted 
on an object for hours together. No ser- 
mon or religious rite can secure the same 
absorbing attention. And the result of this 
conspicuousness is, that to everything that is 
done on that platform, the spectator must 
attach a meaning and significance, and this 
though none be intended. It is like 
a number of men repairing the top of a 
high steeple, with a crowd in the street 


; below staring at them : hence every move- 
ment made, every little detail of the work, is 
watched with the deepest interest. And 
I this is fully shown by considering what a 
play really is. A play, or theatrical story, 
is a portion of real life, but highly condensed 
and compressed ; so that what would cover 
years or months, here takes place in an 
hour or two — a conversation that would 
fill half-an-hour, here must fill only five 
minutes. In space there is the same ab- 
breviation. A market-place or square, 
or a room in a palace, must here be squeezed 
into very few feet. Hence the exaggeration 
of what is called the ^^ stage walk," each 
step being equivalent to many steps in 
significance. Therefore, to be in propor- 
tion, sentiments, speeches, movements, every- 


thing must be selected^ as it were, and there 
must be nothing but what must have a 
meaning. Thus it is with gesture. And 
so it is with the '' crossings," which we find 
marked in the prompter s copy ; these are 
usually set down with a view to please the 
eye — capriciously enough^ — or to break up 
the monotony of the action. After a certain 
length of conversation, one actor is directed 
to '' cross" the other, and he starts afresh. 
But these ^'crossings/' on the principles we 
have been considering, should have real 
significance. They are a method of ex- 
pression. Suppose a gentleman conversing 
with a lady in her drawing-room. Were he 
to rise suddenly, ^' cross" and sit down 
on the other side, she would naturally in- 
terpret this as agitation, and possibly think 


that a declaration was going to follow. So 
with walking, or the '' stage stride.'' In 
society, no one walks about ; or if he did it 
would be thought to mean something. 
Everyone's eyes in a drawing-room would 
follow with astonishment the man who was 
thus promenading the room. On the 
stage there is this constant, unmeaning 
motion ; but it would be most useful if it 
expressed anything. 

So important do the French consider any 
change or movement on the stage, that when 
a fresh character comes on, or goes off, they 
call it a new scene^ as we can see in their 
play books. Even in the lower limbs, — 
often the least dignified portion of the 
figure, — there is a sort of expression. As 
we are speaking of the figure, I may mention 



a curious distortion which arises from the 
situation of the stalls, and which may not 
have been noticed. Few would imagine 
that the feet and lower limbs of the 
performers are some feet nearer to us than 
their faces. This is reversing the order 
of things, and destroys scenic illusion. For 
we are looking at people in the wrong way. 
In real life we look at them downwards, or 
on a level. In the face everything is 
sheltered, and under a sort of penthouse. 
The hair shelters the forehead — the eye- 
brows, the eyelids — the eyelids, the eyes — 
the nose, the mouth — the mouth, the teeth. 
This half -veiling — such as the hair covering 
i'J^!' part of the ear — has a sort of dramatic 
|||||*or artistic significance. But when we sit in 
the stalls, this is reversed. The revela- 


tion of the anatomy is disagreeable. We 
see upwards into the mouth, the palate, 
look up the nostrils even. The players' 
faces really seem to us like some sort of 
marine monsters — dog-fishes and the like. 
The shadows are all reversed. But when 
we look from the proper level— from the 
grand tier, which in the old well- designed 
theatres is a little above the line of the 
stage — the illusion is restored. This alone 
would show that the stalls are about the 
worst place for scenic illusion. ^ 

Lately I was conversing with a veteran 
play-goer, of immense age, who had known 
intimately, and seen often, the great John 
Kemble. He described to me, with rapture 
almost, his performance of the lugubrious 
"Stranger" — particularly the meeting with 



Mrs. Haller; and my venerable friend then" 
sat down in an arm-chair to show me how 
it was done. As the erring lady drew near, 
the great John began to exhibit the 
strongest agitation, in his knees and 
legs; as she came nearer they quivered 
with more and yet more rapidity ; and, as 
the old man assured me, the audience were 
profoundly affected by this exhibition* 
This seems rather comical, but still it is 
high authority. 

And now, it will be asked, why are all 
these true, simple, and very obvious prin- 
ciples of acting neglected, which are so 
certain in their results — so certain, too, to 
add to the attractions, popularity, and 
profits of an actor ? The answer is that 
another form of entertainment has been 


substituted, a sort of raree-show, or pano- 
ramic exhibition — intended for the eye 
rather than for the intellect, and whose 
attraction, as we have seen, is exhausted by 
repetition. And when in some luqid 
interval of good sense we are presented 
with a bit of acting that is founded on the 
old, true principled — its reception is so 
eager, and tumultuous, that it becomes an 
even more astonishing problem, that such 
an entertainment is not supplied. The 
reason would seem tp be that the spurious 
article is cheaper, and can be manufactured 
easily and at once. The mere imitative 
actor can ''get on the stage " without study 
or preparation : for what he is set to do 
needs scarcely any study or preparation- 
Real acting is a science, to be studied and 


mastered, as other sciences are studied 

and mastered, by long years of training. 


These things — minutely as we have treated 
them — form but the " drill " and discipline 
of the stage. They are akin to the arts 
and methods of the painter, who must 
learn to *' prime " his canvas, what 
colours to lay on over other colours — 
how to contrast them and the like ; the 
mere mechanism of the craft, which it 
takes years to acquire. But acting^ and 
the great science of acting, is still far off. 
We are only at the threshold, and the 
person who may have laboriously studied 
and mastered the principles we have been 


considering has not as yet begun to act. 
It will be interesting now to discuss this 
very important question. 

First, we must ask ourselves, '^ What is 
the foundation of all dramatic interest? 
What is it that so enchains our eyes, and 
ears, and faculties to the stage?" Not 
surely the shows and panoplies going on ; 
or the elaborate ''make-up," however 
clever : not the exact imitation of peculi- 
arities, voice, action, grotesque motions, 
; the perfect replica.^ in short, of the type — 
not any of these material things. The 
real attraction for the audience is the ex- 
; hibition of chai^acter; and the accurate pre- 
sentation of character, with all its contrasts, 
and mysterious tones, founded on study and 
observation, is what constitutes acting. 


There is no intellectiHil pastime more de- 
lightful than the observation of character. 
As we pass along the streets, or descend 
to *' the miderground," or mount to the 
garden seats on the familiar omnibus — no 
bad coign of vantage — endless dramas are 
being played about us ; touches of 
comedy, and humour, and character are 
perpetually turning up. But there is a 
regular art in this study ; we must 
generalise and abstract, and not mistake 
the accident for the essence. I once 
heard Mr. Dickens say, that he was con- 
stantly receiving letters with humor- 
ous suggestions, touches of character, of 
comedy and. the like, which he found to 
be of no value on this account. We 
must follow the methods of men of science, 


who compare and observe a great number 
of specimens until they discover one note. 
And thus we arrive at the generic type 
which will be recognised by all. Single 
special specimens — ^which may have been 
copied accurately — will not be recognised, 
being unfamiliar. This system is, of 
course, opposed to the cheap and familiar 
devices which pass current in the profession. 
No doubt, there is a sort of rule of 
thumb recipe, which, as the player fancies, 
answers very well for the pieces, and for 
the audience. According as the character 
is labelled^ so must it be throughout. If 
it be comic, tragic, grotesque, or eccen- 
tric, so he must make it comic, grotesque, 
or tragic to the end, and in every sentence. 
His assumption is that a particular char- 

72 THE ART OF m 

acter must reveal itself in every utter- 
ance and motion^ otherwise it will not 
be recognised. The results are, those dis- 
tortions and exaggerated caricatures of 
human nature, to which we are now 
grown so accustomed, that we see them 
without surprise. We are ever comic 
or tragic throughout; every moment 
we intermit : it is only when the occasion 
arises that the genuine display of native 
character is provoked. It is like the 
conscientious actor who blacked himself 
all over to play Othello. 

Acting is popularly supposed by our 
journeyman to be a faithful, photogra- 
phic imitation of the figures before us in 
real life, with all their ways, tones, 
peculiarities of speech, gesture, dress, and 


the rest. This idea is born of the gross 
realism so popular in onr day — for it is 
a day of servile copying and imitation, 
and realism reigns in every art. But 
acting, in its true sense, is a very different 
thing. It is an intellectual process, and 
^ealsjwit h what is withi n.^ It is the art, j/ 
as we said, of exhibit ing cha7'a ctei\, and 
all the phenomena of character. You 
canno l copy ch aract er^ but you can repre--^ 
d uce___ it. ^ Mere servile copying of the 
outer crust — of the clothes, manners, 
peculiarities, etc., is not acting; it is 
merely exhibiting or performing. I will 
show the difference between the two 
systems by a familiar illustration. We 
sometimes see on the Academy walls 
the portrait of some successful trader, 



some local fimctionar}^, whose vacuous fao 
composed to a pompous dignity, and saucer- 
like eyes, excite our mirth or ridicule ; 
yet his friends recognise it as a perfect 
likeness, and the painter can truly say, 
'^ I copied the man faithfully, exactly as 
I found him : there he is to the life." 
Yet it is no likeness. Now suppose the 
sitter to have fallen into the hands of a 
real artist — a Sir Joshua Reynolds or a 
Sir Thomas Lawrence, or our own Sir 
Frederick Leighton — the result would be 
very different. Such a painter would 
say to himself, '' This must be a success- 
ful man; for he has fought the battle of 
life well ; he has encountered and tri- 
umphed over many difficulties, and must 
have shown sagacity, cleverness, shrewd- 


ness in his trade. When he composes 
himself to a formal attitude of dignity, 
and ^strives to look 'genteel/ he will 
cease to be himself: his mind will be 
eclipsed, and his face assume a vacuity. 
But I will pierce to his real and better 
nature, and show him with his faculties 
kindled, and stimulated by his favourite 
calling." And the portrait that is the 
result will be full of life, shrewdness, 
and intelligence. There is the difference 
between acting of character, and the ex- 
hibiting merely external accidents. 

I venture to say that this principle 
here illustrated, if duly studied and de- 
veloped intelligently, would help to make 
a good actor. 

And, curious to say, after air this minnte 


and laborious copying of the dress- coats and 
the button-holes, and the cigarettes, the 
results are usually distortions, and untrue to 
life. And this, not on account of any ignor- 
ance of the manners and customs of society, 
but from the false emphasis laid on what 
are mere trivial accidents^ mistaken for the 
essence. Here is an example. There are 
two young men of high fashion in correct 
evening dress, with pink handkerchiefs 
protruding from their waistcoats. One is 
telling the other of his critical position — 
'' I'm in a hole, my dear boy," he will say ; 
^' I am stone broke;" or that his lady-love 
has, rejected him — he at this critical 
moment pulls out his cigarette case, and 
strikes a light. Now, at any crisis or agita- 
tion, the last thing one thinks of is pulling 

^ ACTING, 77 

out and lighting a cigarette. They have 
seen, no doubt, a couple of youths coming 
out of a club, and lighting their cigarettes, 
and there seemed to be something gay and 
degage in the process. So they imitate 
them. But this was in another situation alto- 
gether : it is a moment of relaxation. They 
are going into town, or to the Park. But 
the actor jumps to the conclusion that the 
operation is invariable, and done at all 

Every dramatic or spirited representation 
should be a selection, whereas common- 
place minds always run into particulars. 
They are concrete ; the dramatist is always 

^ abstract ; a painter selects, a photographer 
must put in everything, bad and good. The 
Robertson school failed in this, because it 



was fancied that by reproducing the on- 
ward characteristics of society — the flirtal 
tionSj trifling talk, etc. — they were pro 
ducing something dramatic. Now, these 
peculiarities have passed away, and with 
them the Robertsonian drama itself But 
Shakespeare and the great comedy writers 
dealt with human character, and the points 
of character that belong to every age and 
every comedy, and they have lasted. The 
actors who practise themselves in these 
trivial surface matters are wasting their 
powers — they are not acting at all. We 
have only to reflect that the ordinary con- 
versation of daily life is really irrespon- 
sible; half of it, or three-fourths of it, being 
verbiage and repetition; we often do not 
heed what we are saying. Often it is mere 


trivial nonsense. But what is dramatic 
should be strictly selected and representa- 
tive, just as in the case of a very famous 
book — Boswell's *' Johnson." 

Close observation of character has been 
the practice of all great actors; not with 
the view of imitating peculiarities, but of 
obtaining hints or suggestions which they 
can develop or apply, even in a different 
and unexpected way. In common talk 
many delicate and meaning intonations, un- 
studied and unprepared, lend effect to what 
is said. These inflexions ought to be re- 
membered, M. Dupont- Vernon says, *'like 
a tune." Notes of character must be 
widened when brought into use, and every- 
thing avoided which is special and individual. 
Charles Lamb has truly said that the 


infirmities of old age, the disagreeable inci- 
dents of sickness, and dying scenes, should 
not be presented on the stage, or, at least, 
insisted upon. In real life these are 
mere accidents and disabilities, matters 
which disturb the regular course of things, 
to be kept out of sight. There is no- 
thing dramatic in these things. The loss 
of a leg or an arm in real life is actually 
held to be, so far as it goes, a disability, 
a hindrance to action and social life. The 
blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, the 
spectacle of dying agonies, of sick beds, 
wounds, and slaughter have in them no- 
thing dramatic ; they must be endured, 
and cannot be stayed, because they are 
mechanical sufferings. To say or describe 
that one is sick, dying or dead, blind or 


halt, conveys everything at once. We 
know the full meaning. It is far other- 
wise with mental sufferings and emotions. 
These can be varied or averted, or changed, 
or suppressed, or abolished with an in- 
finite variety. One may vanquish or be 
vanquished in the struggle. They are 
therefore followed with a curious interest. 
A deaf person is sometimes introduced 
with a view of causing laughter. Thus 
there may be legitimate entertainment, when 
the character is an intrusive or fussy one : 
the ridicule being, as it were, a penalty or 
chastisement for other defects. 

The truth then is, that realisrn_is_op£Osed 
to^^dram^ti^__pni^^ An old property 

man once declared, when he saw a live 
elephant introduced upon the stage, that 




"he would be ashamed if he could not 
make a better elephant than that." He 
was unconsciously uttering an important 
principle of dramatic illusion. For every- 
thing on the stage must be prepared and 
adapted for its peculiarly artificial atmo- 
sphere, and duly selected and abstracted. 

I once saw an admirable instance of 
the reduction to the absurd of our modern 
realism. In a certain play a French 
waiter came on, who played his character 
so naturally, calling out, ''Siphon^ msieur! 
petit verve, '' etc., and was so generally 
like a Frenchman, that he gained the 
honours of the evening; and next day, 
in the papers, it was announced that here 
at last was the true, genuine acting— he 
should have an engagement at once. 


Years after, it was asked what had be- 
come of this promising performer; and the 
manager laughingly confessed that it was 
no actor at all ; that he had simply gone 
to a cafe in Soho, and selected an intel- 
ligent waiter ! What a satire on stage 
realism ! According to this we could come 
at last to do altogether without acting at 
all: you have only to introduce some- 
thing from the street or the outside world, 
and you have the true unadulterated 

•"■ Some years ago, a popular actress was seized 
with a desire to play a character which a great French 
actress had made famous. She played it ; it was a 
failure, and she wrote her complaints somewhat 
peevishly to the papers, an amusingly naive production. 
She urged that she had done her part; she had 
tried everything possible to make it a success. She 


But our best protection against this 
REALISM is its stupidity. The public 
soon tires of it. The first time a hansom 
cab ivas driven across the stage, what 
tumultuous shouts of delight that greeted 
it ! But the attraction soon palled. And 
no wonder. What coiftld. have been the 
attraction, considering the vast number of 
these vehicles that we see daily in the 
streets. J 

had gone to Paris, seen the play a dozen times over, 
had studied the " business " of the actress, had gone 
to the milliner, and ordered replicas of her dresses. 
Was it then her fault if the public did not appreciate ^ 
Now, there was something exquisitely comic in all 
this. The force of *' make-up " could not go farther. 
For she left out altogether the main element — the 
acting ! It was like the poet who said to Charles Lamb, 
that "he could write like Shakespeare if he had a 
mind." " So you see," said Lamb, " all that w^as want- 
ing was the mind." 



Study of Character, 

Is it fanciful to suppose that defects in 
acting are mainly owing to a want of initia- 
tive, and to a habit of following established 
precedents ? We have copies of copies : 
old methods and devices are slavishly imi- 
tated, and the young actor thinks he can do 
nothing better than model himself on a 
graceful predecessor. Mr. Willard intro- 
duced the icy, polished, genteel-mannered 
villain, and all the younger players strive to 
be so many Willards. Mr. Beerbohm Tree 
introduced the diabolical Italian, and has his 
followers. We had a certain " Gunnion," a 
senile rustic, in one of Mr. Pinero's pieces, 
and have been afflicted with numbers of the 
same pattern ever since. 


The average actor lias few opportunities 
of mixing with society, though some lead- 
ing performers have; he is obliged, there- 
fore, to be content with merely the external 
marks and tokens, such as he can pick up 
from a distance. His chief resource, then, 
is the fixed traditions of the stage; or he 
has to copy some person who has made a 
success in one of these parts. There are 
types which are invariably found in almost 
every modern comedy, such as the lord or 
lady of fashion, who must be shown as in- 
solent, arrogant, and haughty, and who 
refuse to give their lovely daughter to a low- 
born young man, but who possesses virtue. 
Unless this haughtiness and arrogance be 
expressed in language, how are we to knoio 
that the lord is so vile ? Accordingly, his 


language is quite outrageous. '' You are a 
plebeian, sir," he will say, ** a low fellow; a 
plebeian has no right to exist, or to breathe 
the same air with me." No doubt, there 
may be in the peerages persons of this sort, 
but they never give utterance to these 
thoughts, or '*give themselves away" in this 
coarse fashion. Rank is always reserved, 
and conveys insolence rather than utters it. 
It is so with the lady of fashion, who is all 
wrong as a picture, indulging in screams of 
stage laughter, walking about and tapping 
everyone with her fan. And it will be 
noted that when the fashionable company 
adjourns to another room, or to the garden, 
all file out arm in arm. 

Study of character is, no doubt, a very 
difficult one — almost a metaphysical process. 


and cannot be expected from the average 
actor. Moreover, the plays he is set to per- 
form offer him few opportunities, being 
of a thin, cardboarded texture, and based 
on mere superficial peculiarities. Study of 
character requires abstraction and selection, 
because Nature is very indiscriminate, and 
inixes up bad and good in her compositions. 
\J /As I said, to get at real types ^we must 

/follow the pTO (^-<^s« th^t smpntifir-. mm fnVlnw 

— namely, that of examining and comparing 
a number of specimens, until we discover 
the true notes of the species ; otherwise we 
are deceived by what are mere accidents. 
All this can be shown, or illustrated, by 
an illustration from the sister art of paint- 
ing. We sometimes see in a shop window 
a highly-coloured sketch of a soldier, say a 

ACTING. ?>9 

private in the Guards; we also encounter 
him in some picture in the Academy, sitting, 
it might be, with a nursery-maid in the 
Park. He is shown with his vivid coat, 
correct colours, side-arms, and everything. 
The painter has simply fetched in a private, 
and made him sit as his model. But is this 
a generic soldier, or the portrait of a par- 
ticular soldier ? Now, in France, there is a 
painter of soldiers, Detaille by name, who 
has produced wonderful and brilliant things 
of this kind. He limns every arm of the 
service — cavalry, foot, artillery, and the rest; 
and looking at his figures, we feel, by a sort 
of instinct, that they represent not the indi- 
vidual, but the type of the soldier. And 
what was his method? He lived among 
them, observed their pecuharities, what was 


common to every individual. He did not 
draw from a single specimen, but noted 
certain points which were common to all, 
though wanting in particular specimens. 
There is a peculiar gait, a way of wearing 
their clothes, above all an expression signi- 
ficant of the mind within — a sort of good- 
natured simplicity which is the result of the 
profession itself. And thus he arrived at a 
sort of general type. Peculiarities of an 
individual specimen cannot be recognised 
' by all, but only such as are found in most 
specimens — the others are accidents. It is ^ 
only long, j nmu|e__oIisei^ will dis- 

„CQveribr us_wli at points are com mon toeyery 
j^ecimen^_ This, then, is the method that 
all our great actors, consciously or uncon- 
sciously, follow, and it is the only method 



With characters of a lower degree, with 
which, as the actor has more opportunities 
of comiao; in contact, one would have 
thought he would be more successful. But 
here the same failure is found. He studies 
them from without and not from within— 
is content with the crust or shell, not the 
kernel. Say there is a costermonger, or 
some character out of the streets, so often 
presented in what are called the ''slum," or 
public-house dramas. When the grotesque 
actor goes to work he gives us the costume^ 
the rabbit-skin cap, the corduroy, the horny 
voice, the slang, the gait, everything to the 
life. He will talk of his ''barrer," address 
everyone as " guv'nor." But is this all? 
Does he think of getting at the real nature 
of the man? He has not studied ''the 


philosophy of clothes." He has not pierced 
to the costermonger character or nature. 
The only way to obtain the knowledge of a 
class is to generalise, and generalisation is 
only obtained by comparing a great number 
of specimens. In short, as Diderot has 
shown, it is not a costermonger or a Jew 
that is wanted, but the costermonger, and 
the Jew — no chance specimen, but the 
general type. This is the secret of the 
success of all the great comedies. The 
types are general, and the characters 
essential — of the essence, that is — and 
therefore acceptable to every generation : 
while characters, such as are found in the 
Robertson comedies, made up of local 
accidents and peculiarities, all on the sur- 
face — such as tea-drinking and small talk — 



become unrecognisable by other genera- 

A fair specimen of this distortion can be 
shown in the use made of one favourite 
type — the stage servant. In every modern 
comedy he is introduced, or rather ex- 
hibited — not to help the story forward, 
but as a comic figure. On the French stage, 
indeed, particularly in Moliere's pieces, they 
are often important characters in the drama, 
just as they are in French real life. But 
on our boards they merely perform mechani- 
cal functions, bringing in a letter or announ- 
cing visits. It is obvious that under such 
I conditions they are not characters at all, 
and are like the indistinct outlines in the 
I background of a piece of tapestry. They 
, ought really to come on unobtrusively, like 

94 THE ART OF \ 

shadows, and so depart. But no, the 
manager has to pay a salarj^, and we must 
make characters of them. They are in- 
structed to work up their business, extract 
a laugh somehow. The powdered menial, 
too, is invariably represented as a ridiculous 
creature, always lisping, or drawling, his 
head thrown back, his arms carried rigidly. 
The truth is, the average British servant is 
a person of extraordinary propriety, and 
we often admire his absolute reserve and 
quiet indifference. A genuine master of 
character, in a single touch, showed the 
true method. Fag, in the '' Rivals," it will 
be remembered, says something disparaging 
of Sir Anthony to his master, who rebukes 
him sharply and goes out. The servant, 
much disgusted, then complains : " Of all the 



mean things in the world, this venting your 
ill-humour on another is the meanest." A 
little page-boy sharply calls to him to go 
to his master, on which he turns on him 
and cuffs and kicks him soundly, calling 
him *'a hitchen-hred jpuppyy Now, this 
touch goes to the root of character, and 
belongs to the servant- character in all ages 
and countries. 

Out of what, then, has our actor evolved 
I this false type ? He has worked on that 
I superficial system of observation which I 
before alluded to. As he passes some 
great mansion he has seen these lofty 
creatures looking languidly from the hall 
window, or haughtily addressing trades- 
men's boys at the area gate. Here, indeed, 
are their absurdities best displayed. But he 


forgets that ^'Jeames" or "Chawles" is 
here manifested out of his office ; he is not 
supporting his character. When he is per- 
forming his functions, and in strict relation 
with his employers, these absurdities vanish. 
This truth, however, an actor has no 
opportunity of ascertaining, so he must con- 
tent himself with what he can see. So 
with the red - nosed, h - dropping butler. 
Such he has seen in the service of some 
pompous trader who has a villa in the 
country, and such, feeling a sort of con- 
tempt for their masters, acquire a sort of 
familiar and grotesque bearing. Or his 
model may have been the waiter at a 
public dinner, or some inferior club. 



The '' Double Intention.'' 

Now we come to a highly aesthetic, and 
most interesting question. What is the 
foundation of dramatic interest? What 
is it that holds our eyes enchained to the 
stage ? This interest is based, I believe, on 
a perpetual uncertainty or obscurity, always 
exciting and perplexing, as to what the 
character of our neighbour really is. We 1/ 
never know what our neighbour really is. 
There is always a veil or mask which we 
cannot pierce. We. do not know that 
what he says, or looks, or does, really 
represents what is within. There are 
ever the two currents — that of the mean- 
ing, and that of the utterance ; and 



ice do not know that they correspond. Now, 
this pleasing perplexity is the foundation 
of the charm that is found in social inter- 
course^ in society, and is the base of all 
wit, humour, irony, persiflage^ and such 
things. Thus a person says something 
complimentary, but his tone conveys the 
reverse: that is irony, or sarcasm. An- 
other may utter his thoughts solemnly, in 
a grave tone, and yet the speech may be 
frivolous — that is burlesque : or vice versa. 
If we all lived in a palace of truths and 
were forced to speak exactly as we felt, 
all this social intercourse would vanish : it 
would become, as was said of history, 
'' like an old almanack." We see this when 
we meet what are called matter-of-fact 
persons^ who, as Charles Lamb says, *' make 


every statement as if upon oath." When 
they speak, the thing is concluded ; there 
is no doubt, no speculation. 

And this leads us on to the great charm 
and mystery of all acting, the " double in- 
tention " — this double current, as it were, 1/ 
of sentiment and its expression, and which 
is the foundation of all dramatic interest. 
Suppose we say to some journeyman actor 
of the day, '' Why not try and do two 
characters at the one time ? " I could 
imagine the smile of contempt with which 
this advice would be received. And yet 
there is nothing fantastical in it — it is really 
possible ; as Hamlet said, '^ as easy as lying." 
There is a fine old comedy, " The Beaux 
Stratagem,'* in which a young man, in love 
with a lady in the country, goes down to 


her house and is engaged as her footman. 
It may be conceived what a pleasant 
imbroglio arises out of this. Someone was 
praising Garrick, who played the young 
man, in presence of Johnson, saying that he 
acted the footman admirably. *' No, sir," 
roared Johnson, '• he does not play the part, 
for " — and mark this ! — ^^Yi^does not allow the 
gentleman to break out through the footman y 
We see at once what a revelation is here. 
It is a perfect guide to an actor. Here 
are the two characters — the footman above, 
the gentleman underneath — both dis-. 
played together, the gentleman element 
betraying itself. I know, when I read it 
some years ago, I was inclined to cry out, 
" Eureka ! " for it seemed to furnish a key 
to all the principles of the drama. Our 

average actor would, as a rule, make the 
character as footman-like as possible, and 
take credit for doing so. It is business. 

This invaluable principle of the '^double 
intention" may be applied in innumerable 
ways, and the intelligent, versatile actor 
will find it his most useful instrument 
for the expression of those delicate 
emotions which go to make up: really fine 
acting. To give one example. It is easy 
enough, " plain sailing," to exhibit anger, or 
enjoyment, or any such simple emotions. 
But take the state of feeling to be presented 
to be annoyance under apparent satisfac- 
tion. The annoyance must break out 
through the satisfaction, and struggle with 
it. Such may be called a state of ruefulness^ 
a very delicate, compound emotion, and 

difficult of expression. There is a French 
piece, in which is shown a viveur, wealthy, 
but good-natured, who is preyed on and 
pillaged by the lady to whom he is 
attached, but whose demands on his purse 
grow every day with an alarming crescendo. 
As each claim was made he conveyed in 
his face and manner this good-humoured 
ruefulness : there was surprise, with re- 
luctance, an attempt at smiling complai- 
sance ; while there could be seen also a sort 
of painful sense below, to the effect that 
'' this was really going a little too far." Then 
there was the fear of offending, and yet an 
affected haste or eagerness to oblige. Our 
journeyman could only simply show open 

Slowness of utterance is connected with 


ACTING, 103 

deliberate hatred and dislike. The words 
seem to be chosen carefully, and the slow- 
ness is adopted to make them sink deeply 
and produce the more deadly annoyance. 
The utterer takes time, so as to enjoy the 
full effect. It cannot be loud, for the 
emotions of hatred enfeeble the voice. 

A situation that corresponds with this 
is where there is apparent satisfaction on 
the surface, with hostility beneath. The 
words and form of expression are friendly 
and complimentary, but the meaning is 
hostile. Such are the '^ speaking daggers," 
sarcasm, 'persiflage, banter, and the like. A 
compliment that is felt to be untrue, or 
exaggerated, or undeserved, is but an offen- 
sive and cutting form of speech. Then 
there is the display of contending emotions, 


which no uttered words will convey : anger, 
grief, and the rest. Some evil-doer is un- 
masked; — there is, first, rage, then mortifica- 
tion, then hatred, and so on. Or someone 
is compelled to talk with an indififerent air, 
while his mistress is engaged with a rival ; — 
the face would show the constrained in- 
difference, together with strained anxiety and 
jealousy. Uneasiness^ too, how difficult 
to express palpably; though our actor will 
undertake it, provided you furnish him with 
suitable words of uneasiness. As when we 
hear — *' The fellow begins to suspect some- 
thing. But no, I must carry it off, and 
throw him off the scent ! " Yet this could be 
far more powerfully expressed, and ought to 
be, by mere looks and bearing. uJ 

But it will be said all this is fine in 


theory, but how is it to be done ? Tlie 
average actor will protest that he is capable 
of exhibiting only one emotion at a time, 
and will contract to exhibit it in the most 
eifective way; or he will produce the 
various emotions in succession, one after the 
other. But this will be unmeaning. They 
must be simultaneous. The process is to be 
learned only by a serious psychological 
study, and diligent observation of character. 
The materials are always at hand ; — in the 
green-room even, complex emotions are 
being constantly displayed. He has merely 
to watch and study and copy. He does 
not do this, for the simple reason that he 
firmly believes that he has nothing to do 
with such things. Acting, as he fancies, is 
to be studied on the stage alone ; there are 



the regular traditions, and the methods of 
other actors, and that is enough for him. 

Of Comedy. 

There is no feeling so unique, so in- 
spiring, or that puts us in such good-humour 
with ourselves and with the world, as that 
of comedy. A good comedy is a sort of 
present to us for our lives ; and everyone 
finds himself, years afterwards, looking 
fondly to its scenes, and situations, and char- 
acters, and with a renewal of the enjoyment. 
Let us think, what could we do without the 
two Teazles^ and their scenes; without I/255 
Hardcasile and Young Marlow ; Sir Anthony 
Absolute and Sir Lucius 0' Trigger? There 
have been many definitions of comedy. 

ACTING, 107 

^'A picture of manners," said Johnson, 
which does not help us much. I fancy it is 
based on some such feeling as this — the 
spectacle of the annoyances of life^ made light ^ 
or alleviated^ by patience and good humour, 
No one is inclined to accept seriously De la 
Rochefoucauld's cynical speech, that there 
is something that gratifies us in the mis- 
fortunes of our friends ; and the man that 
did so would be a malignant wretch. But 
there is some truth in it, when we look at it 
in a ''comedy'' vein — namely, that certain 
^foibles and follies of our friends deserve 
correction,^ by way of wholesome chastisement 
— a little mortification, and what is called 
** taking down a peg," will do them good. 
It has been truly said — by Swift, I believe — 
that the finest piece of wit ever uttered, the 


best display of humourj never produced such 
hearty enjoyment and hilarity as the pulling 
away a chair when a person is about to sit 
down, and he rolls on the floor. Of course, 
if the victim be seriously hurt, the business 
becomes tragic, and amusement ceases; 
but if he accept it smilingly, and show that 
he is willing to contribute a little to the en- 
tertainment of the company, though with 
some ruefulness, the feeling is comedy. 
For we see that here is the spectacle of an 
apparent annoyance, alleviated or lightened. 
The general tendency is to assume that 
everything is more serious than it really is. 
We meet disagreeable things enough in 
society — contradictions, mortification , ridi- 
cule, annoying characters; — we constantly en- 
counter smaller family trials, which are treated 

ACTING. 109 

by the sensible person as trifles that are 
not to detain him, and which he almost 
ignores. When Tallyrand said, '^ jjour hien 
jouir de la vie il faut glisser sur beaucoup " — 
that is to say, " to enjoy life, we must glide 
oyer many things," — he was not merely 
uttering a wholesome truth, but speaking in 
the true spirit of comedy. Take, for in- 
stance, the vexations from servants, from 
nagging wives, and such incidents of the 
domestic life. Anyone who takes these 
things seriously, only converts them into 
genuine causes of trouble, into bitterness 
and even misery ; whereas, if they are dealt 
with as they ought to be, they will dissolve 
away. To the looker-on such things 
are a source of entertainment — and this 
should be the true view for the person con- 


cerned. In how many pieces do we find 
that much-abused, and much-ridiculed, and 
unjustly-abused personage, '' the mother-in- 
law," furnishing enjoyment to audiences? 
A really envenomed encounter between such 
a woman and her son-in-law, who is enter- 
ing on a serious conflict with her, the one 
using every method to dislodge her, the 
other struggling to keep her place, would 
give no entertainment, and is almost 
too painful and unpleasant. It is merely 
vulgar "squabbling." //;Real comedy is pre- 
sented when both contend seriously, but 
good-humouredly, — the lady affecting to 
hold the position unwillingly, — say from 
affection to her daughter-in-law, he waiving 
his strict right, and baffling her by the most 
effective, yet still courteous, procedure. We 


see this every day. Thus, all will admire and 
sympathise with the prudent, sensible man 
who, troubled with an impracticable wife, 
keeps her in hand, as it is called, and is 
never ruffled or fretted. This he contrives 
by infusing the spirit of comedy into his 
relations, gliding over trifling issues, or 
yielding good-naturedly — while he is firm 
on important points. The weak man will 
make a battle-ground of such scenes : like 
those that occur between Sir Peter Teazle 
and his wife. 

Of course our literal actor, ignorant 
of the true spirit of comedy, will turn 
this light and futile skirmishing into a 
solemn internecine conflict. On the other 
hand, a genuine comedian will contrive 
to give an air of lightness and unreality 


to the rather solemn struggle which the 
-svriter may have furnished him with. 
Does the average actor think of any 
of these things ? To him is it not all a 
sealed book, a language unintelligible? 
Give me business^ he will say ; or, if he 
meditate comedy, his notion is that of 
rattling through the part, with laboriously 
affected spirits, and restless motions. Yet 
to an intelligent performer even these 
inklings of the principle we have been 
following, imperfect as they are, would 
furnish him with quite a new light in the 

It is not too much to say that all comedy 

turns on these things ; they are the 

Vj staple of the great comedies ; that is, an 

annoyance proved to be no annoyance at 

ACTING, 113 

all, by judicious treatment, and alleviated 
by good-humour and good sense. In ^' She 
Stoops to Conquer," Marlow is thus chas- 
tised for his shyness — corrected, as it were 
— ^but he does not suffer seriously. In 
'*The Eivals," Sir Anthony unreasonably 
opposes his son's marriage with a lady that 
he liked ; and the old man's crankiness 
is properly corrected, but not with severity. 
In '^The School for Scandal," the lady's 
bickerings with her husband, and her flir- 
tations with Joseph^ have the air of serious 
events ; but they are mere light follies, 
corrected by the exposure of the Screen 

The genuine ''comedy actor," it is to 
be feared, has disappeared, and with him 
the delightful gaiety of the stage. We 


1 14 * THE ART OF 

know what it is to be in company with 
what is called " a pleasant person," who 
puts everything in an agreeable way, and 
handles even serious matters in the same 
vein. He is opposed to your literal, matter- 
of-fact person, who treats things as if he 
were upon oath, and who makes every state- 
ment with responsibility. All society is 
based upon this airy view of things. The 
good comedies were conceived in this spirit, 
and must be performed in this spirit ; but 
nowadays. the system is to give point and 
emphasis to each utterance, bringing out 
their apparent meaning with a business- 
like purpose. 

. How exquisite, too, and how seldom 
encountered, is the lightly uttered, care- 
less delivery of something that is specially 

ACTING, ' 115 

offensive — some speech reported, and in- 
tended to give pain. This airiness is 
supposed to convey the idea of irresponsi- 
bility, as though the reporter did not 
know the vaUie, or meaning even, of what 
he was saying. This makes the suffering 
of the victhn more exquisite ; for if the 
tale-bearer were to be consciously deliber- 
ate, the other would naturally conclude 
that it was malice that prompted the repeti- 
tion — had invented or exaggerated it. 
All these delicate nuances set the mind of 
the spectator working, keep him in a 
flutter, as it were, and constitute real 
acting. It was this '^ literal" system that 
so depressed Charles Lamb, when a 
monument to the poet Burns was sug- 
gested. He made a remark to this ef- 


feet, *^ Would that he were among us 
now ! " Two Scotch gentlemen jumped 
up and exclaimed, "Nay, raon, but he is 
dead ! " 

Latterly, we have even had a strange 
system of modernising the old comedies, 
making them practical and literal, and 
recently the vivacious Charles Wyndham 
ventured the experiment of giving us 
what was called ''^Sheridan Up to Bate^' 
with fin de siede jokes and illusions. 
This is bad enough, but the purely lit- 
eral system had set in so long ago as 
Elia's time. 

With masterly analysis Lamb showed 
what should be the true interpretation of the 
character of Joseph. He is generally exhibited 
as a hypocrite of the '^ Aminadab Sleek" sort. 

ACTING. 117 

**To go down now, he must be a downright 
revolting villain — no compromise ; his first 
appearance must shock and give horror ; 
his specious plausibilities, which the pleasur- 
able faculties of our fathers welcomed with 
such hearty greetings, knowing that no 
harm (dramatic harm even) could come, 
or was meant to come of them, must in- 
spire a cold and killing aversion. Charles, 
the real canting person of the scene, must be 
lovedy Such hjrpocrites were secure of their 
devotees, who relished, orinvited, their sancti- 
monious utterances. Joseph Surface, how- 
ever, was different. He moved in a free, 
irreverent society : he had, therefore, to 
be plausible, and restrain his imposition. 
It will be seen what a difference this 
makes. To Lady Teazle he came as the 


lover of a pleasing and sentimental sort, not 
as tlie whining utterer of pious platitudes 
at whom any lady of spirit would laugh. 
And there was the true comedy concep- 
tion. Mr. Surface was a gentleman. He 
moved in satirical society, where any 
Pharisaical display would be ridiculed. 
He was a man of culture and tact ; and 
though a hypocrite, he was a genteel, 
clever hypocrite. 

Let us now apply this test to the famous 
Screen scene, when he is making his 
advances to Lady Teazle. Speaking of 
her husband's treatment of her, and of 
her ''conscious innocence," he says, "Ah, 
my dear madam, there is the great mis- 
take ! It is this very conscious innocence 
that is of the greatest prejudice to you. 

ACTING. 119 

What is it makes you negligent of forms, 
and careless of the world's opinion ? Why, 
the consciousness of your own innocence." 
And then he adds, '' Your character at 
present is like a person in a plethora — 
absolutely dying from too much health." 
Now, this is always gravely urged as a 
serious argument — hissed craftily inta the 
lady's ear; but it sounds truly absurd. 
The real interpretation is this : in case it 
were resented, he could urge that it was 
merely joking, wit, and gay ^persiflage ; 
but, at the same time, there was the art- 
ful insinuation wrapped up in the wit, 
and which he hoped would sink. The 
lady could not be offended. 

So with the case of Sir Peter and his 
lady. There is something painful and 

120 THi: ART OF 

distressing, and not at all to be laughed 
at, in the wranglings of an old man who 
is married to a young wife. These do 
not form a proper subject for comedy. 
But the world has decreed that such an 
alliance is a blunder, for which the offender 
must pay some penalty ; and, in the case of 
a cantankerous old fellow, a little plagu- 
ing is considered by society to be fair 
and equitable chastisement. The Teazle 
episode is quite in this spirit — for Sir 
Peter, as he tells us himself, was only 
fifty, and would nowadays be considered 
a youngish man, or in the prime of life. 
Even after their disputes he speaks of his 
lady with affection.. Yet our modern 
actors turn him into a crabbed old man, 
dresses him up as such, and imparts the 

ACTING. 121 

greatest acrimony into their marital dis- 
putes ; and thus the whole spirit of comedy- 
disappears. Elia, in a well-known passage, 
has expounded this true theory in his own 
brilliant way, and has furnished actors with 
an invaluable vade mecum for interpreting 
comedy. Indeed, a skilled critic might 
thus expound the science of acting, tak- 
ing the imperishable " School for Scandal" 
for his text. 

" Sir Peter Teazle," he says, *' must be no 
longer the comic idea of a fretful old 
bachelor bridegroom — he must be a real 
person, capable in law of sustaining an 
injury — a person towards whom duties are 
to be acknowledged — the genuine cnm. 
con. antagonist of the villainous seducer 
Joseph. To realise him more, his suffer- 


iiigs under his unfortunate match must 
have the downright pungency of life — 
must (or should) make you, not mirthful, 
but uncomfortable, just as the same pre- 
dicament would move you in a neighbour 
or old friend." 

We can readily apply these principles 
to all exhibitions of testiness, parental 
anger, and family conflicts, which upon 
the stage are presumed to excite mirth. 
We are familiar with the cross-grained 
father, with his gout and stick, who, like 
Sir Anthony, is always threatening to dis- 
inherit his son because he won't marry 
the heiress. He is shown in a fury, 
choked with passion ; it becomes a sort 
of internecine battle between father and 
son ; so that at the end, we feel that the 

ACTING. 123 

animosity has been too serious, and that 
the sire cannot yield without humiliation. 
But, according to the true comedy view, 
the wrath of the old man should be no 
more than a senile wrong-headedness, the 
wilful and wayward explosions of a good old 
fellow who loves his child. The equities of 
the situation are with the young man ; it 
is expected by the audience that, though 
the parent's wilfulness should be baffled, 
he is still not to be humiliated : for 
according to the '' double intention " which 
is here vindicated, he has at heart his 
son's wishes and interests— which he fancies 
can only be gratified in his own way. 
And so here again we have 'Hhe art 
of treating lightly the annoyances of 

124 THE ART OF | 

One of the most exquisitely drawn, 
most delightful, and most difficult of char- 
acters is that of young Mario w in '^ She 
Stoops to Conquer." Every light co- 
median is pleased at being allotted this 
pleasant, gay, and *' rattling " young man 
of pleasure. To give point to the shyness 
and awkwardness, the actor must assume 
the gross manners of a lout; and to give 
point to the impudence, the rollicking 
airs of a "- fast " young ^^ blood." When 
he is introduced to Miss Hardcastle, the 
rule and tradition is that he must be shy 
to extravagance, and there is the estab- 
lished '^ business" of drawing away his 
chair, while the lady pursues him, as it 
were, with hers, until he is almost driven 
off the stage. Then being told to offer 


his arm, he is so confused and overwhelmed 
that he takes her shawl on his arm and 
walks away with it ! The late Mr. John 
Forster used often to expatiate with delight 
on the nature and ing^enuitv that is dis- 
played in this delightful combination, and 
which is in no wise to be interpreted after 
this clumsy fashion. In real life we do 
not find two different characters, in the 
one person, exhibited in an alternaiive 
way. Young Marlow was a gentleman 
who knew a good deal of the world, and 
it was impossible that he could acquit 
himself in so clumsy a fashion to a lady. 
He might be shy, awkward, confused. Of 
course the actor will urge that unless 
his faculties be exhibited as completely 
" dazed," he must have seen that the bar- 


maid and Miss Hardcastle were the same 
person. But all that he felt was awe 
and discomfort, so he could not venture 
to survey seriously this very superior lady. 
He tries to acquit himself as a gentleman, 
but only succeeds in being awkward : but 
this is different from behaving from an 
absolute idiot or clown. The character 
is, in truth, homogeneous throughout, and 
consistent. It is neither shy nor impudent. 
An ordinary person who has been reared 
genteelly and in good society would re- 
verse Marlow's methods. He would be at 
his ease with ladies, and shy and awkward 
in the company of barmaids. But, owing 
to the system of exaggerated emphasis, 
each situation becomes distorted and un- 

ACTING. 127 

In another telling situation in the play 
there is always exhibited the same false 
principle. When Mario w and his friend 
arrive at Hardcastle's house, believing it 
to be an inn, they are welcomed by the 
host with the greatest cordiality. This the 
visitors accept as the vulgar obtrusiveness 
of the landlord. The situation is ex- 
ceedingly humorous, but requires delicate 
treatment, as any undue emphasis must 
at once lead to discovery. But the 
modern actor, having got the idea of a 
sham landlord contrasted with sham guests, 
must '' work it up " to the utmost. Hard- 
castle thrusts himself into the conversation, 
so as to perpetually suggest the innkeeper, 
but in a fashion that is quite inconsistent 
with his being a gentleman ; he must act 


the landlord to show that he is one : while 
the guests repel his advances in a way 
that would at once prove to Hardcastle 
that they mistake him for a landlord ! 
When a cup of mulled ale is brought in, 
in which the supposed landlord wishes to 
pledge them, Mario w takes a draught : 
Hardcastle puts out his hand to drink 
next, but it is passed across him to 
Hastings, who drinks, and passes it back, 
still ignoring the landlord. The latter, in. 
a sort of pantomime style, puts out his 
hand each time to secure the goblet, but 
is always baffled. These absurdities are 
owing to the belief of the performers that 
the audience will not understand unless 
all is writ large. They forget that if they 
behave so exactly like guests, the eyes of 

ACTING, 129 

the landlord would be at once opened; 
and that if he overdo the private gentle- 
man, the guests will find out their mistake. 
In each case the application of the '' double 
intention" furnishes the true method of 
interpretation, and supplies the audience 
with the key. The host should "break 
through" the innkeeper, and the private 
gentleman " break through " the mere 
guest at an inn. According to Goldsmith's 
conception, neither the host nor the guests 
forget their courtesy or their natural 
character : both act like gentlemen — the 
one like the owner of a private man- 
sion, who is puzzled by the free and 
easy behaviour of the arrivals ; the 
guests, like guests who were half-amused 

at the overdone attentions of a host, 





which would be duly charged for in the 

To show that this is not all speculative, 
I will take another illustration from that 
most admirable of comedies, *' The School 
for Scandal," and will venture to instruct 
the actor, in explaining to him, by a single 
instance, how this spirit of comedy is to 
be applied and ^^mported" into a situa- 

Trip, it will be remembered, was Charles 
Surface's valet, and when Moses, the Jew 
money-lender, comes to the house. Trip 
waylays him with proposals for pecuniary 
assistance. " And you, Moses, have you 
been able to get that little bill dis- 
counted?" — ''It was not to be done, 
indeed, Mr. Trip."— ''A small sum — but 

ACTING, 131 

twenty pounds. Harkee, Moses, d'ye think 
you couldn't get it me by way of annuity, 
Moses?" — ^'Well, but you must insure 
your place. But is there nothing you 
could deposit? " — " Wh}^, nothing; capital 
of my master's wardrobe has dropped 
lately. But I could give you a mortgage on 
some of his winter clothes^ with equity '^of 
redemption before November^ or you shall 
have the reversion of the French velvety or a 
post obit on the blue and silver. These, I 
should think, Moses, with a few pair of 
point ruffles, as a collateral security y^^ etc. 
Witty and lively as this is, it is curious 
to think that it rarely produces any effect. 
The actor, with the best intentions, and 
determined to make the most of his Trip, 
will emphasise these money-lending allusions 


to the best of his powers and talents. He 
^'brings them out," as it were, with studied 
point and weight : but the audience listens 
without a smile, thinking it absurd and out 
of drawing that a common valet should 
seriously propose " a mortgage on winter 
clothes, with equity of redemption before 
November." But now let us consider 
for a moment what is the true view. 
As we know, the money-lenders were 
preying on Charles Surface : coming 
in and going out continually. His valet 
came to know them intimately, and to 
know their ways. As he waited at table 
or passed in and out of the room, he caught 
up the technical phrases, '' equity of re- 
demption," "mortgage," *' foreclosure," etc. 
He believed in and reverenced the power 

ACTING, 133 

of these things, though he did not under- 
stand their meaning very clearly. Every- 
one that has experience of the servant's 
mind knows how delighted they are to use 
strange and difficult terms, as if in a 
cabalistic sense. Once enquiring about a 
lately deceased friend, I was assured by his 
sympathising butler that what his master 
wanted was '* staminer," — ^' staminer/' he 
repeated over and over again, hugely en- 
joying the word. Trip, therefore, was not 
solemnly engaging to mortgage his master's 
clothes : he fancied that something could 
be done by the use of these magical terms — 
that it raised him to the level of his betters. 
Now, if an actor approached the part in 
this spirit, with a sort of desire to set 
himself on a level with those above him, 


and a grave earnestness and faith in the 
teims he used, we would have the true 
comedy spirit. 

It always seemed extraordinary that 
those weak, ill-natured creatures. Sir 
Benjamin Backbite, Lady Sneerwell, and 
the others, should have talked so wittily. 
"Come, come," says Sir Benjamin, ^*'tis 
not that she paints so ill; but, when she 
has finished her face, she joins it on so 
badly .to her neck, that she looks like a 
mended statue, in which the connoisseur 
may see at once that the head is modern, 
though the trunk's antique." Every one 
has felt this, and the scene rarely ''tells," 
because of the studious intention and con- 
sciousness with which the wit is delivered, i 
But what is the true key ? Why, that the 

ACTING. 13s 

malignancy and venom of malignant people 
often furnish them with wit — it barbs their 
tongues. It is difficult to say a really 
good-natured witty thing, or tell a good- 
natured story that shall have point; but 
not so difficult to say z7/-natured things, 
and even ill-nature can be entertain- 

How delightful, in real conversations, 
are what are called careless utterances, 
light criticisms of serious persons and 
solemn things ! The satisfaction, perhaps, 
arises from the sense that this airy treat- 
ment of important matters* proves that they 
are not such serious matters. On the other 
hand, what a trial is the matter-of-fact 
personage, who insists on everything being 
stated, as if '' upon affidavit." And how 


many actors are there who thus solemnly 
declare their opinions? With them tone 
and sense must exactly correspond ; where- 
as, in real acting, it is an art to use a 
tone that shall be opposed to the proper 
sense. A serious thing may be said lightly 
or humorously, or vice versd. It is art to 
sustain a conversation on some trivial 
or indifferent matter; while something 
indefinable underneath, either in the tone 
or in the air, conveys that the player is 
speaking in another language altogether. 
This forms the very highest entertainment 
for the spectator, and the duplicate interest 
holds him enthralled. 

ACTING. 137 

Of Writing Plays. 

Great interest is indeed now being 
taken in the subject of play-writing, and 
surprise is expressed that writers of wit 
and genius do not use their talent to 
supply the theatres with "good pieces." 

An important question here suggests 
itself: Which have the most potent in- 
fluence — actors on plays, or plays on 
actors? We can have little hesitation in 
answering that, whereas a good actor will 
not make a good play, a good play may 
make good actors. What true dramatists 
are, and how extraordinary is their effect 
both on audience and actors we see by 
the constant recurrence to Shakespeare, 


Goldsmith, and Sheridan. Their char- 
acters never grow old, and given to an 
ordinary actor, actually inspire him : he 
cannot help " doing something with them." 
These masterpieces are like realities : that 
is, the characters seem different at different 
times. One actor will take one view, 
another a different one. We also hear 
a complaint now-a-days that *^ the liter- 
ary element '' in a play is not wel- 
comed, though a conscientious author may 
strive hard to get it accepted. It could 
be easily shown that the "literary element" 
is essential to a play, and that anything 
without it has no claim to attention. 

An interesting question is whether char- 
acter or story should be the basis of a 
play. I venture to think that all true 

ACTING. 139 

works, particularly comedies, must be 
founded on character. A character is, 
in fact, a story, or contains a story. 
Conceive the character, and on the in- 
stant all the situations, perplexities, and 
conflicts, in which the character must be 
entangled, necessarily suggest themselves. 
On the other hand, when the opposite 
course is taken, and we start from a story, 
to make a story, there is no spontaneous 
development — the thing is complete, and 
there is the artificial process of fitting 
to it suitable characters. An actor who 
has to interpret a story is, as it were, 
horne.^ and confined within strict lines ; 
but give him a genuine character and it 
inspires him. It has all the vitality of 
character in real life, which is ever 


Protean, and ever novel in the luxuriant 
shapes it assumes. 

A hint of the curious truth, that ^^ char- 
acter is story," is indicated very clearly 
in the significance of the titles attached to 
French pieces, and which are often in 
themselves a story, or suggestion of a 
story. Take, for instance, " Le monde 
ou Ton s'emue," which in itself seems a 
philosophical epigram : there we see the 
whole play suggested, the " world," which 
it is supposed to entertain by its measured 
wit and cleverness, is instead '' bored " by 
these pretentious, affected figures, instru- 
ments of insipidity. A glance at the title 
calls up these personages. Many other 
pieces of this kind could be named, such 
as '^Les surprises de divorce," " Divor- 

ACTING. 141 

90ns/' '^ Le question d'argent/' '^Le 
gendre de M. Poirier/' 

The dramatists of our day are clever 
men, and, it must be said, are obeying 
the form and pressure of the time, and 
still more of the public, in supplying 
a particular form of article. They fur- 
nish plenty of eccentric and amusing types 
— which "serve," and serve well. But 
there is little display of the knowledge of 
character, or of that art of making char- 
acter pure and simple work out a story. 
If we contrast Meissonier with the or- 
dinary painter of genre, we shall see some- 
thing of the difference between the old 
comedy of character and that of our day. 
The French painter gives a scene — say 
the '' Renseignements " — a peasant giving in- 


formation to an officer and some soldiers, 
in a wood. A homely, commonplace 
incident, but how dramatic — -what an air 
of nature ! The reason is that the painter 
roused his imagination, had seen how 
the incident must have occurred, and had 
called up the scene before him. Moreover, 
he knew the dramatic side of human 
character, and how people must behave in 
such a situation ; or he had had a glimpse 
of something analogous in civil life — of a 
peasant before a magistrate. It is curious 
to compare with this picture one called 
" Sauve qui pent " — the flight from Water- 
loo — where the figures, horses, are arranged 
on stage principles. It is simply a number 
of mounted men riding away. Meissonier 
has shown the same dramatic feeling in the 

ACTING. 143 

wonderful ^' 1814/' and in all his single 
figures, where he has found the dramatic 
mot — not by copying from a model in the 
proper attitude, but by study of character. 
It is the fashion now to talk of the 
" ludicrous failure of Ibsen," while many 
a critic triumphs in his *' I told you so " 
prognostication. But this seems a short- 
sighted view. Ibsen may not have proved 
attractive to the public, for whom he is at 
present too strong a meat, owing to his 
repellant *' forms," and to the overstrained 
situations and characters, the local allusions, 
the coarse, gross topics in which he chooses 
to wallow, and which have been too much for 
the average spectator. But for all that, 
the principles have sunk deeply, and will 
reappear under more attractive forms. 


Our dramatists have been impressed, in 
spite of themselves, and will reproduce them, 
after their own fashions ; audiences also, in 
spite of themselves, will unconsciously re- 
quire Ibsenism in some shape. 

Already there is a protest against the old 
stage conventions^ as they are called, the 
manufacture chiefly of the stage manager, 
and adopted slavishly by the writers. This 
cry against long established rules and 
formulas is gaining in strength and volume, 
and it is actually assumed that these are so 
many fossilised restraints which fetter the 
exertions of talent. There is even laughter 
at the '' curtains," the concluding situation 
''led up to," secundum artem, and the 
''discoveries," methods of *' getting oJff," 
and the like. This is a mistaken view. 


In every art are found these ancient conven- 
tions, which even the greatest masters 
find it profitable to adhere to^ and which 
cannot be departed from without confusion. 

Scenic Effect 

The art of scenic effect or of illusion, 
with its accompaniments of scenery^ decora- 
tion, and dresses, should be scientific, and 
founded on regular principles. To pro- 
duce an appearance of reality, objects 
have to be made unlike reality, according 
to fixed rules. This principle is, of 
course, common to other arts, such as 
painting and architecture. What is in- 
tended to be seen at a distance under 
artificial lighting, and by large numbers 



at the same time, must be treated in a 
particular fashion. But in no department 
of life are such effects produced in so 
limited an area, and in so short a space 
of time, as on the stage. Streets, castles, 
cities, houses, are constructed in a few- 
minutes, only to disappear and give place 
to structures as imposing. These changes 
are wrought by applying a few conven- 
tional principles which have really scarcely 
altered during a period of two centuries 
— as in the case of the steam-engine, 
which, in spite of improvements of detail, 
remains practically the same as in the 
days of Watt. At the present moment 
the conventional scenic effects are brought 
to the highest perfection; and it may be 
said that, whatever task is set to the 

ACTING. 147 

scenic artist, provided he be found re- 
sources in money and means, he is cer- 
tain to carry out. 

Up to about thirty years ago, there 
was a regular system of scenery, and of 
working scenery, in the theatres of the 
world, which had been in use for nearly 
a couple of centuries. Great theatres, 
such as the Scala, San Carlo, Bordeaux — 
as we can see from the published plans 
— w^ere all fitted up on the same system. 
Over the stage was a series of flying 
galleries, and along the sides a number 
of props or shafts, while in the roof was 
an elaborate system of drums or wind- 
lasses contrived to secure as much powder 
as possible. These were connected in- 
geniously with a vast system of counter- 


poises, which ran in grooves down the 
walls. The moving of great weights in 
a theatre is contrived on this principle of 
balances, which ensures an even, equable, 
and certain motion, the counterpoises 
raising the machine, or object, and being 
merely controlled by the workman at his 
drum. The curtain, the drop-scene, even 
the vast opera-house chandelier, weighing 
many tons, are also so nicely balanced 
that a couple of men can raise or lower 
them. This power of the counterpoise 
was largely and ingeniously applied in 
spectacular plays which were in vogue 
twenty or thirty years ago, notably at 
the Gaiete, in Paris, or in our own pan- 
tomimes, when the engineers of the stage 
exhausted themselves in devising trans- 

ACTING. 149 

formation scenes which took, perhaps, 
twenty minutes to unfold. The basis of 
all such displays are large platforms, or 
''equipments," as the French call them. 
They are the essential portions of every 
'* transformation," and consist of a large 
stage rising slowly from below, and sus- 
pended by ropes and counterpoises, and 
so nicely balanced that a couple of car- 
penters can raise them, although burdened 
by a score of figurantes^ each strapped to 
her ^' iron." This is the principle which 
underlies all these effects, but it is in- 
finitely varied, and there are even plat- 
forms upon platforms which rise in their 
* turn after the first has been raised. 

It is admitted that the English are 
foremost in all the mechanical arrange- 



ments of the stage. The trappe anglaise 
is an English invention, and is more 
thought of abroad than it is here. A 
spirit or a genius will of a sudden dis- 
appear through a wall; and this is 
arranged by the " English trap," which 
consists of a number of elastic leaves of 
steel or twigs, like two combs placed 
with their teeth together. These are 
covered with painted canvas like any 
scenic door. The actor flings himself 
against it; it lets him pass through, then 
flies back to its original state. The same 
principle is carried out on the stage itself, 
when a pantomimist seems to pass through 
the boards, which close after him. The 
English trap, to be effectively used, re- 
quires a sort of courage and daring, as 

ACTING. 151 

the effect depends on its being, as it 
were, recklessly done. The French players, 
as a rule, do not relish the process. It 
is this native boldness that ranks the 
English as the first pantomimists and 
'^ tumblers." The same courage is shown 
by the girls who are engaged in panto- 
mimes, who suffer themselves to be 
hoisted up on irons some thirty or forty 

It may be interesting to consider for a 
few moments some of these mechanical 
tours cle force. The same principle is 
applied with little variation in all. I will 
then pass on to the remarkable changes 
that have recently taken place in the 
scenic system. 

Few devices were more ingenious than 


that of appearing to give motion to the 
stage representing the deck of a ship. This 
was first attempted at the French Opera, 
when the opera of ''L'Africaine " was re- 
presented; and when, the word being 
given to change the course of the vessel, 
the stage was seen to swerve to the right 
or left. This was in great part an optical 
delusion ; the back portion of the stage, 
where the stern was exhibited, was a large 
platform nicely balanced, which swayed 
round as required, moving with it the 
gunwale of the vessel. But the rude, 
tune-honoured fashion still survives, with- 
out any change, of producing the motion 
of the angry billows by a painted cloth, 
which a number of men or boys, lying on 
their backs, agitate with their legs. Nay, 

ACTING, 153 

up to this very year, this venerable but 
effective practice was pursued at one of our 
leading theatres. 

There is a material peculiar to the stage, 
and invaluable to the scene-painter, of 
which profuse use is made at Drury Lane, 
at pantomime season. It is known as 
/'Profile." Large surfaces of wood, about 
half an inch thick, are covered with strong 
canvas, saturated with glue and put away 
to season. Out of this material is cut all 
the edgings to scenery, foliage, capitals 
of pillars, and the like, which formerly 
used to be cut out of pasteboard and 
nailed on. In the rough changes attendant 
on a great pantomime, this solidity is 

Conflagrations on the stage seem alarm- 


ing things enough, from the thick volumes 
of smoke, the crimson glow, and masses 
of flame, and many think the risk is 
serious; but behind the scenes it seems 
but a tame process, and is perfectly safe. 
The effect is produced by burning in a 
pan a powder called '^ lycopodium," which 
gives out clouds of white smoke. On this 
is cast the glare of the lime light, through 
crimson glasses, and this gives a red, glow- 
ing tint to the fumes, revealed through 
jagged rents and openings. A huge 
bellows, like that of a forge, is employed 
to supply a blast to the fumes ; and, to 
appeal further to the imagination, there 
are falling beams, fire engines, etc. The 
important principle here indicated is that 
of using coloured glasses instead of 


coloured fires ; it is becoming a great 
element in scenic illusion. 

A new agent also is the use of steam, 
which is supposed to give the vaporous 
effect of clouds in motion, hitherto at- 
tempted by ''gauzes" and painted cloths. 
This was first used at the Munich Opera- 
house, and was elaborately- applied in the 
Lyceum " Faust." A regular steam boiler 
or generator is fitted up under the stage ; 
at the proper moment a number of cocks 
are opened, and the whole scene filled 
with vapour. Everyone will recall the 
first dramatic appearance of Mephisto- 
pheles* face through the clouds. This 
shows how every resource is being enlisted 
in the service of the stage. Electricity 
has also contributed its power, and blue 




fires are seen to flash alongthe blades of Faust 
and Valentine. The pure electric light, though 
it has been a good deal displayed in panto- 
mimes, seems to be rather cold in its effects. 
Nothing caused such mystery and as- 
tonishment as the well-known apparition 
of the ^' Corsican Brothers," which ad- 
vanced slowly, and at the same time kept 
rising, whilst no opening in the stage was 
visible. This was contrived by an inclined 
plane with two ledges or rails, starting 
from below the stage, and ascending at a 
gentle slope to the opposite side. A level 
stand was inserted at the bottom between 
the ledges, and on this the '' Corsican 
Brother," or his double, took his stand. 
In the stage was an oval opening sufficient 
to let a figure pass through, the edges of 


^ which were lined with bristles or brushes, 
and which made the opening, as it were, 
fit close to the figure. This opening was 
fixed between two travelling planks "or 
flexible strips duly jointed, on the principle 
of the wooden shutters which roll up and 
down in front of shop windows. This 
strip, for the time appearing to be part of 
the stage, is wound on the same windlass 
or drum to which the rope that draws the 
stand up the inclined plane is attached, so 
that both the aperture and the stand 
advance together. By the time the 
journey is completed, the flexible covering 
has been wound round the drum. Simple 
as this appears, much ingenuity is required 
to make all work smoothly, and a hitch 
or jamb would be serious. 


Formerly a large sheet of iron, hung 
up at the wing, was rattled noisily to give 
the effect of thunder, but the modern 
fashion is more terrible and effective. In 
the larger theatres the property room is 
placed over the audience ; a sort of truck 
laden with round shot is wheeled along, 
which tilts over, and sends the balls tumb- 
ling slowly over each other, followed by a 
hollow, reverberating sound, as they trundle 
along the floor. For the lightning, a long 
tin tube with a spirit-lamp is used; a 
powder is then blown through, which 
takes fire as it passes by the flame, 
and gives out a vivid flash. A more 
effective mode is to cut out of the scene 
zig-zag strips, in imitation of forked light- 
ning; these are covered with varnished 

ACTING. 1 59 

calico, painted, and a light flashed behind. 
Rain is imitated by the rolling of peas in 
a long tube ; wind, by revolving a roller 
against a rough cloth. The most absurd 
attempt at illusion, and which is still 
retained even at first-rate theatres, is the 
attempt to represent any crash, such as 
the breaking open of a door, or the falling 
downstairs. This is invariably done by 
an extraordinary sound of springing a 
large rattle with perhaps a heap of broken 
glass emptied from a basin. Battles on 
the stage are common enough, and cannon 
and muskets are discharged with good 
effect, a sort of drawing-room cartridge 
made of phosphorus having been invented 
specially, which on explosion leaves no 
trace. In aid of a general engagement 


there is a substitute in use in country 
theatres, consisting of a cyhnder, studded 
with knobs, which, as it revolves, strikes 
against projecting flaps of stiff wood, bend- 
ing them back and then releasing them, 
much after the principle of a gigantic 
rattle. This produces that terrific din as 
of a volley, and gives a frightful emphasis 
to the detailed explosions. Great caution, 
however, has to be observed in the use of 
fire-arms. The effect of ice breaking up 
on a vast sea has been successfully por- 
trayed by a curious illusive principle. 
Strips of whitened canvas representing 
the ice are slowly drawn away to the 
right and left, revealing the waters under- 
neath, which in their turn are represented 
by sheets of perfectly black bombasine,j 

ACTING. i6i 

not green or blue as might be expected. 
The effect produced on the audience was 
entirely owing to the contrast with the 
glaring white ice, which caused the waters 
below to look of an inky hue. The result 
was founded on ocular illusion, and, there- 
fore, on true scenic principles, and its 
success was in proportion. 

The carpentry or joinery of scenes 
is scientific, and has principles of its 
own. Nails are not used, and all 
joints and corners are secured by 
wooden pins. Iron nails would soon 
loosen, and the strain split the wood. 
Scene-men acquire great deftness in moving 
or shifting these huge frames, which are 
often some forty or fifty feet high, balanc- 
ing them nicely as they lift them, and 



keeping them perfectly perpendicular as 
they move them. 

I might dwell long on these and other 
mechanical devices ; but the principle 
varies little in most cases. A more im- 
portant and interesting matter is the curious 
change and complete transformation that 
has taken place in scenery within one 

It may be conceived that ingenious men, 
seeing the old and rather clumsy character 
of scenery, should have often tried to intro- 
duce a more purely scientific system. When 
the Paris Opera was being built, a crowd 
of inventors came forward with various 
schemes. One M. Eaymond submitted 
models of a kind of panoramic structure, 
which filled the back of the stage in a 

ACTING, 163 

semi-circular fashion, thus doing away with 
side scenes. The sky was formed by a 
hemisphere, so that the whole had the 
appearance of the apse of a cathedral. 
On these hemispheres moved, something 
after the fashion of the cowl of a chimney 
pot. On this framework the various 
scenes were painted, and could be moved 
around as change was required. The diffi- 
culties of this scheme were obvious — the 
least of which was the certainty of catching 
or " sticking," the impossibility of putting 
away the semi-circular scene that had been 
removed, while all the supporting ribs 
would be certain to imprint blackened 
marks on the canvas. Moreover, as 
*' borders " were abolished, the problem 
of lighting would have to be met. 


Foucault, tlie well-known deviser of the 
pendulum experiment, suggested a semi- 
circular back scene, witli a series of semi- 
circular side scenes in front, and it was 
supposed that all these curves would blend 
into each other, and present an indistinct 
idea of distance. It was found, however, 
that it was necessary to be exactly in 
the centre of the house, otherwise all 
the converging lines would not meet the 
eye. In every other part all seemed awry, 
as it were, and the effect was lost. In short 
these ideas were found Utopian, and 
though premiums were offered and every 
inducement held out to men of science and 
ingenuity, the result is that the most costly of 
modern theatres^ — and it cost four millions 
sterling— retains the old-fashioned system. 

ACTING, i6s 

The difficulty of dealing with the floor 
of the stage, the banks, hills, flights of 
steps, etc., which are so common in operas, 
also exercised the inventors. For the new 
Paris Opera House some ingenious plans 
were offered, and one was seriously enter- 
tained. This was of dividing the whole 
stage into small platforms, each supported 
on pistons moving up and down in 
hydraulic presses. A lever, put in motion 
by the stage manager, would thus elevate 
or depress any sections of the stage to the 
height or depth required. This was in- 
genious : it was elaborated with care and 
all but adopted, but the objections were 
found insuperable. The space below the 
stage would be lost, being filled up with 
pumps aud apparatus ; there were nearly 


a hundred pistons, but the real danger was 
the almost certainty of some part of the 
machinery getting out of order. The 
system was actually adopted at the new 
Vaudeville, but never came into use. 

In the Madison Square Theatre, New 
York, there is an odd invention of a double 
stage, one under the other, which descends 
and ascends, much like a hotel lift. Thus, 
when one act is going on, the portion below 
is being arranged for the next, and when 
the drop scene falls, the stage ascends and 
gives place to the next shelf. This ap- 
paratus weighs many tons, but the whole 
is so well balanced by counterpoises, that 
four men at a windlass can move it. 
But this bizarre idea is more ingenious than 
practical: as there must be an interval 

ACTING, 167 

between the acts to give the audience rest 
or repose, it is nearly always quite suffi- 
cient for the re-arrangement of the ordinary 
stage. Another New York novelty, adop- 
ted at two theatres, is the placing the 
orchestra over the stage. At the Lyceum, 
in that city, the music gallery is sus- 
pended in the air, between the drop scene 
and the curtain, and when its functions are 
over, is drawn up into the clouds. It must 
be said that nothing is gained by these 
fantastic arrangements, save a sense of 

Under the old system of flats, side scenes, 
and borders, we can all recall how a change 
of scene used to be affected. A shrill 
whistle was heard, a series of grooves 
working on hinges was let down for the 

1 68 THE ART OF 

side scenes to run in, one set was drawn 
away and another pushed forward, whilst 
the back scene, divided into two portions, 
met in the centre with a sharp report, or 
parted. In most foreign theatres, the side 
scenes work in slits, in the floor of the stage, 
and really travel over the mezzanine floor 
below on what are called ^^ chariots." 
Mr. Fechter, when he took an English 
theatre, introduced this system, as well as 
the sunken footlights. This arrangement 
of borders and side scenes is still necessary 
in large theatres with vast spaces aloft and 
at the sides, which it is necessary to cover 
in, and which it would be too costly to do 
by the enclosing scenery now fashionable. 
This old system was to be seen in full work 
at the late Olympic Theatre. 

ACTING. 169 

The first change in this system took 
place some fifteen or twenty years ago, 
when what was called "built-up-scenery" 
was introduced. This unhappy inno- 
vation, thought to be an improvement, 
has done much mischief, both to the form 
of the play and its dramatic interest, as 
well as to the sense of illusion. Owing 
to the bulk and ambitious character of 
these vast structures, it was impossible to 
change the scene often, hence each scene 
was an act, or else there was a profuse 
use of carpenters' scenes. The elocution 
and utterance of the actor suffered, his 
voice having to struggle with these huge 
and impeding constructions. At this 
period — only a few years back — whole 
plays were written to exhibit what was 


called a sensation scene, such as a re- 
presentation of Charing Cross or Waterloo 
Bridge, with which audiences were 
enchanted. A play which depended on 
one of these trophies was necessarily poor, 
and it may be said plainly that such 
things have no connection with dramatic 
interest. All this meant the introduction 
of that realism whose vices we have been 
considering^. What Lamb has so often 
enforced in reference to realistic character 
applied equally to scenery. We go to 
the theatre, he says, to escape from real 
life, not to bring it there with us, and 
in this view scenery should be as general 
as possible. Indeed, it always seems that, 
in proportion as the scene appears of 
this solid character, it enfeebles the airy 

ACTING. 171 

and romantic character of the play. A 
more serious objection to these elaborately 
built-up architectural scenes is, that the 
rules of perspective and distance cannot 
be properly carried out. A range of 
realistic pillars, for instance, may be gradu- 
ated in size and shortened, as they lie 
farther off, so that the last shall be about 
two or three feet lower than the first. 
But such shortening in nature is not so 
abruptly done, and requires long distances ; 
and on the stage the human figure, which 
is the scale by which the audience must 
measure everything, cannot be thus arbit- 
rarily abridged. 

The ingenuity of modern scenic artists, 
in obedience to the wishes of the dra- 
matists who desired a freer hand, and who 


felt cramped by being allowed only one 
scene in each act, discovered a mode 
of changing these heavy sets in sight of 
the audience. This consisted in "turn- 
ing them inside out," as it were, while 
removing them, or in turning the back 
to the front, or in drawing over one por- 
tion to the right, so as to uncover the 
inner side. There are the gravest ob- 
jections to this monstrous and cumbrous 
system. It is, in the first place, a most 
effective destroyer of illusion and dramatic 
effect ; for after such a grotesque mode of 
change, with many wheelings, grumblings, 
and creakings and heavings, the mind is 
quite perplexed with speculations as to 
what will be evolved out of such ex- 
traordinary gyrations. To see a tower] 

ACTING, 173 

travelling on castors about the stage, and 
then turning right round, so as to exhibit 
a portion of the interior of a room, de- 
stroys all idea of dramatic propriety. 
The expense, too, of these gymnastic scenes 
is immense. Indeed, the extraordinary 
shifts and contrivances to compass this 
changement a vue, as the French call it, 
are truly grotesque. Not long since at a 
leading West End theatre, when a room 
was to change to a village green, after 
the tables and chairs had been drawn - 
off in the usual way by cords, the large 
carpet might seem a difficulty ; but it had 
been attached to the bottom of the as- 
cending ball scene, and ascended with it ! 
With all these realistic displays the \ > 
^ result has been a real loss of illusion. 


The light has become so profuse and 
glaring that all distance and mystery is 
lost, while the scene painters are com- 
pelled, in self-defence, to make their 
colours as fiery as possible. There is 
one theatre, however, where true feeling 
and mystery and illusion is carried out 
under the most poetical conditions. I 
allude, of course, to the Lyceum. Here 
we find a most accomplished artist, Mr. 
Graven, worthy descendant of the line of 
Beverley and Stanfield. The Lyceum sys- 
tern is worth considering for a few 
moments, as here is cultivated the sense 
of illusion in the most perfect way. 

The system in use there, is like most 
systems of the day, an eclectic one; it 
selects and combines what will best carry 

ACTING. 17? 

out its purpose. It is a mixture of the old 
^'border" and '' flat " systems, and the *'built- 
up" one. Any method, in short, that will carry 
out the end, is adopted. There is a great 
advantage to start with in the beautiful 
and well-designed stage, well suited to 
set off the pictures of the artist, which 
are most welcome to the eye. But the 
charm is in the judicious control and 
subordination of all these agents to the 
general effect. 

There is also another element used here 
with extraordinary effect, namely, an 
elaborate system of varied lights, which is 
brought in aid of the colouring. These are 
apart from the usual gas '' battens" ; and are 
contrived by a complex series of coloured 
glasses or ^^ mediums" which are changed 


and experimented upon till the effect is 
found. Mr. Craven once explained some 
of his views, and they are interesting. '^ A 
particular art of painting," he said, ''has to 
be applied, by which seemingly hopeless 
combinations are made appear as one 
harmonious whole — giving height, breadth, 
distance, space, light, and colour; the 
effects of day, night, wind, and rain; the 
general hurly-burly of the tempest, and the 
calm of the mid-day sun." In the scenes 
for ''Romeo and Juliet," at the Lyceum, 
and afterwards in " The Mikado," he 
succeeded in portraying a bright, clear, 
blue sky by the introduction of an entirely 
new colour; the result was abundance of 
light, air, and colour. This subordination 
of detail to the general effect is carried out 

ACTING. 177 

in every direction. The lighting is sub- 
dued so as not to reveal details, the changes 
of scene are effected in obscurity ; the 
painting and colours are in low, rich tones, 
so as to throw out the figures. Every one 
will recall the original and strikingly effec- 
tive use of the ''gauzes" for supernatural 
effects in "Faust." Another element at 
this house is the abundant use of modelled 
architectural pieces, such as statues, sculp- 
tured pillars, the door of the monumental 
cathedral in ''Faust," and the elaborate 
temple that was exhibited in Tennyson^s 
'' Cup," the pillars of which were adorned 
with classical figures in high relief. All 
which prodigies, I may say, were wrought 
in pasteboard; that is, the design was 
moulded in plaster, and sheets of paper 



were pasted over it until the desired 
thickness was reached. Thus was in- 
geniously secured all the effect of stone — in 
a material excessively light and portable, 
and enduring any amount of what is called 
'^ knocking about." Beautiful and satis- 
factory as these results are, they are not 
without drawbacks. This elaborate model- 
ling affects the painted portions by con- 
trast, and imparts a flatness to painted 
details. An opening scene at the Savoy 
Theatre (also Mr. Craven's) represents in 
the most perfect way ''the last word" of 
scenery. Here we have sky borders, and 
building up, and coloured lights, and 
modelled portions, all with the most 
brilliant and satisfactory result. It re- 
quires, however, extraordinary efforts to 

ACTING. 179 

unite these systems, whicli are really 
irreconcilable, as anyone can see, who in 
a drawing-room scene will note ''borders" 
used as a ceiling in combination with side 
walls; for the edges of both cross each 
other at a right angle. 

A clever Frenchman, the other day, 
when shown some triumph of scenery, 
exclaimed, Voila le dernier mot! He was 
promptly assured by the manager that, 
*' in scenery there is never the last word — 
but only the last but one." That is, the 
scene painter engages, as it is called, '' to 
beat any previous record." But this is 
surely an unsatisfactory state of things 
for the public — who will gaze, with but 
sated eyes, at some spectacle that has 
cost an enormous quantity of time, thought, 


and money to prepare. As I said, there 
should surely be something scientific in this 
great art of the scene — some principles 
which should fix the proper laws of 
scenic effect and illustration. And I 
propose, before concluding, to formulate 
a few of these principles. 

The first point would be to settle clearly 
what is the true relation of the spectators 
to the action on the stage. The popular 
notion is that they are in the position of 
Asmodeus; the side of the house being, 
as it were, removed for their benefit ; 
through the great arch they see a room, 
a street, a castle. But this is not consistent 
with the dramatic theory, which assumes 
that the audience, though at a distance, 
is privy to all that goes on. The founda- 

ACTING. i8i 

tion of every drama is, that the audience 
and author are in each other s confidence ; 
for when the author attempts a surprise 
on the audience, it is always resented. 
The situation of the latter is, therefore, 
that of a person on the stage — and the 
fourth side of the room is really behind the 
audience. Supposing this view to be well- 
founded, the peep-show idea of the scene — 
that is, of the audience looking into another 
world through an arched opening — will not 

The question, ^' What is the scene? " and 
the answer to it, contains the true theory. 
By existing custom it seems to be held 
that ''the scene'' should be a complete 
representation of the locality. If it be a 
room, it is a complete room; if a square 


in a city, it must be an entire square ; if 
the outside of a house or castle, it must be 
nearly a whole castle. Yet in real life, 
when some critical incident occurs in, say, 
a drawing-room, or in the open street, the 
spectator, absorbed in the interest of his 
business, takes in, not the entire superficies 
of the room, but only the immediate back- 
ground or surroundings of the incident, 
*'the zone," as it were, comprising a few 
feet around the personages. This is suffi- 
cient, and the dramatic absorption allows 
of no more. There is an admirable 
passage in Lamb's Essays, where he is 
criticising one of Martin's great pictures, 
filled with architectural details and in- 
numerable figures, and where he sets out 
the true principle. *' Not all that is 

ACTING. 183 

opticall}^ possible to be seen," he says, 
*'is to be shown in every picture. In a 
day of horrors such as Martins 'Bel- 
shazzar's Feast/ the eye should see, as the 
actual eye of an agent or patient in the 
immediate scene would see, only in masses 
and indistinctness, only what the eye might 
be supposed to see in the doing or suffering 
of some portentous action." Not all that is 
optically possible is to be shown in a picture 
or a scene ! Most expressive words these. 

It will be asked, how is this theory to 
be applied in practice? The answer is 
that it has been applied, and that the 
old system of flats and side scenes was 
in a rude way based upon it. A room, 
for instance, was there: but only so much 
of the room as was concerned with the 


action, and this tlie whole system helped 
to indicate in the best manner. In the 
fashion, as it is called, of ''coming on" 
or '* coming oif/' the scene must illustrate, 
under the modern system, every step 
of an actor's progress. All that is 
•'optically possible" must be accounted 
for; he must walk to the wing, open the 
door, pass through, and close it, disappear. 
But by the old system the player went 
off or came on the scene — that is, he 
passed, as it were, from the zone of action, 
and merely disappeared at the wing. In 
real life it would be the same. Were we 
looking on at a dramatic crisis we would 
take no note of door, or passage to the 
door; all that would come within our 
ken would be that the person had left 

ACTING. i8s 

the scene of action ; the rest is too minute 
for observations. All this helps to make 
scenery general. 

In onr modern system this attempting 
to exhibit all that is '' optically possible," 
especially in built-up structures, leads to 
very absurd results. While the area is 
constant and invariable, there must be 
a perpetual alteration of scale in successive 
scenes. The same space serves in one 
for the interior of the cabin, in the next^ 
for the interior of a palace, or the elevation 
of a built-up castle, or for a large square 
or market-place. This is the result of 
minute imitation or reproduction of outside 
objects. To be at all faithful, it would 
require elasticity of space. But in the 
old system — viz. , the dealing scenically with 

t86 the art of 

the space only immediately round the 
performers, we have a factor that is always 
constant, and a scale that does not change. 
At the same time, the scenic artist who 
confines himself to canvas, has boundless 
resources for his perspectives and distant 
prospects on 'Hhe flat," and there is no 
danger of the scale being disturbed by the 
figure of the actor. 

I can fancy, however, that in time we 
may revert to this wholesome system, where 
the relief and distances will entirely de- 
pend on the skill of the painter. It is 
indeed possible, as a painter knows, 
to make a distinct art of the simulation 
of raised surfaces. Foreign artists make 
this imitation of relief and distance quite 
a study, and in Italian churches we see 

ACTING. 187 

figures in relief so high as to deceive 
the eye. At the same time it would be 
impossible to revert to the old baldness 
of flats and side scenes without due modern- 
isation. The glare of light in which our 
stages are bathed is fatal to all illusion- 
it reveals everything, the rifts in the 
boards, the texture and creases in the 
canvas, the streaks of the paint. The 
light, playing on the edges of the side 
scenes, would show us that they were 
mere screens ; but with subduedli^iLtia^^ 
and low, rich tones anrl cp lnnrg^ fV*^ edges 
would be softened away, and all made into 
one whole. 

This idea, that the scenic d ecoraticm 
should be bounded by the zone of dra matio— 
interest, is curiously supported by the old 

1 88 THE ART OF 

method of lighting. I have mentioned 
that in Garrick's time the stage was lit 
by no more than four chandeliers, with 
a half-dozen candles in each, hung over 
the heads of the actors, besides a few lamps 
and candles at the wings ; thus the light 
was thrown mostly on to the faces of the 
central figures, and the largest part of the 
stage must have been in obscurity. By 
this system of a dark background the fig- 
ures must have stood out with surprising 
brilliancy; the eyes of the audience must 
therefore have been directed to the illumin- 
ated portion, instead of, as now, being 
disturbed by the universal effulgence. 
We are so accustomed to the light being 
cast upward that we now cannot conceive 
them in any other position; yet the light 

ACTING, 189 

being thrown downwards, as in real life, 
the unimportant legs being left in com- 
parative shade, the effect must have been 
far better. M. Gamier, the architect of the 
new Paris Opera House, pleads for the 
footlights, and thinks it adds an air of 
youth. The relief of light and shadow 
makes up half the pictorial effect of life. 
We can see from the old theatrical 
paintings in the Garrick Club that the 
apartments and scenes in which the player 
moved were lit, as in ordinary life, with 
visible lamps. But now, with battens and 
footlights, each with two or three hundred 
jets all in one blaze, the figures seem part 
of a glittering tissue, and do not stand out. 
It does, therefore, seem that these splendid 
displays rather impair than increase illusion. 


Formerly, every one was virtually in 
the house, the pit (as in the old Haymarket) 
in the centre, encircled by the boxes. 
Now, the exigencies of making the house 
hold as many as possible, have driven 
the pit into an excavation under the boxes, 
with the stalls in front. The balcony 
projects far over their heads. To let the pit 
have some sort of view, the stalls are sunk 
down very low. These changes, however 
justifiable, have affected the sense of 
illusion in a very remarkable way. To 
the tenant of the stalls, there can be 
nothing illusive in what he sees. The 
same distortion arises from the arrangement 
of the boxes and balconies, which, in spite 
of ingenious bends and curves, never supply 
a suitable or comfortable angle of observa- 

ACTING, 191 

tion. Now, in the great architectural 
theatres, such as the noble one at Bordeaux, 
these matters are carefully looked into. 
The stalls are placed slightly below the 
stage, but ascend to the back, while the 
first tier of boxes is almost on a level 
with the stage. At the Alexandra Theatre, 
at Liverpool, the same arrangement is 
followed, with great nobility of effect. 
Such is the true disposition of a theatre, 
and it necessarily excludes the burrowing 
under the boxes to find space for a pit. 
The actors' voices are lost in these 
cavernous recesses ; they lose the inspiring 
sense of having the whole audience before 
them — the rows of intelligent and sym- 
pathetic faces. 

Illusion, then, js the great point, and 


very small resources will compass illusion. 
Even the familiar curtain can be made to 
contribute. It is becoming the fashion 
to have divided curtains, that fall between 
the acts, made of real or simulated 
tapestry. These close imperfectly, and 
nearly always indicate the '^ super" behind, 
who has to rush to hold them together. 
But does this suggest the idea of the great 
barrier that should always exist between 
the mystic scene and the hard practice of 
life ? It imparts a sort of trivial drawing- 
room association. We feel almost that 
we might step up on the stage and peep 
in. But it is otherwise with the old 
traditional heavy green curtain, which 
floats downwards with slow and solemn 
folds. Both curtain and drop-scene re- 

ACTING. 193 

present the barrier between the real and 
the ideal world. The floating green 
curtain, on which the eyes of the audience 
rest during the interval before the per- 
formance, has a special significance and a 
dramatic meaning. 

Again, the drop - scene, which marks 
merely a suspension of the dramatic in- 
terest, should not have the solemn finality 
of the green curtain. It is a subject of 
speculation what should be portrayed on 
its simple surface. Sometimes we have 
seen landscape, by Telbin or Beverley, 
enclosed in a border, or it may be a 
grouping of painted draperies and curtains. 
Gamier, the architect of the Paris Opera 
House, holds that this is the most fitting 
treatment, as it represents the function of 



the canvas, which is to be a curtain — and 
if these draperies be skilfully executed 
with pleasing colours, the effect is good. 
An objection to the landscape is that it 
impairs illusion, as it is in fact only another 
scene ; and when it rises, some of the effect 
of surprise is lost when the regular scene 
appears. This may seem a trivial point, 
but by being attended to, it fosters illusion. 

Space does not allow me to say more, 
but I think I have indicated, though in a 
sketchy way, all the crucial points of this 
most interesting question. 

It will be seen that the same principles 
regulate stage illusion and scenic effects, as 
those that direct the performance of an 
actor. The whole is, in fact, homogeneous, 
and forms one science. 




THE AET OP THE STAGE: Lamb's Dramatic 
Essays, with a Commentary. 





TO— i^ 


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