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ADDISON ON BETTERTON.
universal attention even from the fops and orange-girls. He was incapable of dancing, even in a country-dance, as was Mrs. Barry, but their good qualities were more than equal to their deficencies."
Surely this is the picture of a chawbacon, qualifying, by a long course of awkward stolidity of look and attitude, to grin successfully through a horse collar at a fair! Yet this quintessence of the sublime and beautiful threw the brazen Duchess of Cleveland into hysterics, and moved the talkative Nell Gwynne to silence. Of him also Addison wrote a criticism distinguished by his usual refinement:
“Such an actor as Mr. Betterton ought to be recorded with the same respect as Roscius among the Romans. I have hardly a notion that any performer of antiquity could surpass the action of Mr. Betterton in any of the occasions in which he has appeared upon our stage. The wonderful agony which he appeared in when he examined the circumstance of the handkerchief in the part of Othello, the mixture of love that intruded upon his mind upon the innocent answers Desdemona makes, betrayed in his gesture such a variety and vicissitude of passions as would admonish a man to be afraid of his own heart, and perfectly convince him that it is to stab it to admit that worst of daggers-jealousy. Whoever reads in his closet this admirable scene will find that he cannot (except he has as warm an imagination as Shakspeare himself) find any but dry, incoherent, and broken sentences. But a reader that has seen Betterton act it, observes there could not be a word added—that longer speeches had been unnatural, nay impossible, in Othello's circumstances. This is such a triumph over difficulties, that we feel almost persuaded that the deficiencies themselves contributed to the success.”
A FLORENTINE FEAT.
The Memory of Actors.-How the Memory Strengthens by Practice.
How a Distinguished Actor Committed a Whole Play to Memory, by Simply Listening to it Once as Played on the Stage. — Marvelous Feats of Memory.— "Winging” a Part.— Modes of Memorizing.Learning a Whole Newspaper by Heart.-Treacherous Memories.Instances of Parts being taken at Short Notice.
By dint of practice, the memory of actors becomes remarkable for its quickness.
Not to have “a good study,” as it is technically called, would be an almost fatal drawback to the success of a histrionic aspirant, and such cases are rare.
Even a poor memory becomes wonderfully improved by the practice of memorizing stage parts, while the exploits of some actors whose memories must have been naturally good, and which have been strengthened by practice, are almost beyond the reach of credibility.
One actor, I remember, not a very long time ago, while in London, saw a play presented at one of the theatres ; and returning to his room sat down, and aided by memory alone, wrote it all down, word for word, from beginning to end, three lengthy and complicated acts, with long and diversified parts for as many as a dozen persons, running through the piece.
His copy was brought to New York and played. So completely identical was it with the author's manuscript, that it was of course supposed that he had obtained a written copy from some person who was not authorized to sell it. When he took oath that he had written it out from memory, many uninitiated people were inclined to doubt the statement; but any actor or actress could easily testify to its entire credibility.
A SHIFT OF NECESSITY.
The practice of “winging a part” is one so common among actors as to excite no surprise whatever among those who have been bred to the stage.
This consists in going on the stage to play a part without having studied it at all. The actor carries the part in his pocket, and when he vanishes from the sight of the audience, pulls it out and falls to reading the words, standing in the "wings” to do so. When his cue is called, he pockets the part again, goes on, and speaks it as well as he is capable of doing.
Of course, under these circumstances he is not expected to speak the part correctly. It is one of the shifts of necessity which sometimes arise in theatres, and an actor gets over it as well as he can,-speaks the words as far as he remembers them, and substitutes words of his own when he don't remember,-any way to get through the part, and enable the other actors to go on properly with theirs.
An old writer, in a quaint work, now obsolete, gives some interesting particulars relating to this subject. He says : “In provincial theatres, instances of memory occur nightly that are little short of marvelous. Mr. Munroe, now of the Haymarket Theatre, has on several occasions studied twelve to fourteen lengths from rehearsal until night; and I remember his playing Colonel Hardy quite perfect, having received notice of it at four o'clock, and going to the theatre at half-past six—the part is at least five hundred lines. I have known others study a hundred lines per hour, for five or six hours in succession, but these are extraordinary instances. Most actors find that writing out a part greatly facilitates the acquisition of it. Slow writers impress the words more on their memory than rapid ones; and it is said that you study more perfectly from an ill-written copy than a good manuscript, as the pains taken to ascertain the sentences
impress them indelibly on the memory. This is carrying matters perhaps a little too far. Cathcart (late of the Coburg,) never wrote out a part, or kept a book; once studied, he never forgets a line. Munroe never wrote out a line in his life, and will repeat parts at one reading that he has performed a dozen years before. Mr. Bartley, of Covent Garden, posesses a wonderful memory, and advocates repeating the part aloud, as the best means of study. Knight always learned the entire scene in which he was engaged, and not the words of his part alone. My readers are familiar with the story of Lyon, a country actor, learning the contents of a newspaper by heart in one night. The thing seems incredible; but it will be remembered that when this feat was performed, news. papers did not contain one-third of the matter they do at present, and their contents were not half so miscellaneous. A member of the present Covent Garden Company, while sojourning at Greenwich, a few years back, undertook to get by heart a copy of the Times newspaper; in the course of that week he had also to study seven parts for the theatre, yet he completed his task, and won his wager, delivering the whole of the journal, from the title and date to the end. This was averaged at six thousand lines; but the wonder consists more in the perplexing nature of the thing studied than the quantity.”
Dr. Abercrombie mentions an instance of treacherous memory, which was communicated to him by an able and intelligent friend, who heard it from the lips of the individual to whom it relates. A distinguished theatrical performer, in consequence of the illness of another actor, had occasion to prepare himself, on very short notice, for a part which was entirely new to him, and the part was long and rather difficult. He acquired it in a very short time, and went through it with perfect accuracy, but immediately after the peformance, forgot every word of it.