By WALTER LACY.
As a most indolent medical student of some twenty summers, rising in the afternoon, and making my main meal at midnight, on Mondays and Wednesdays at Offley’s, Tuesdays and Fridays at the Cider Cellars, and Thursdays and Saturdays at the Coal Hole, I used to vary my work in the dissecting-room with some speech I had heard the previous night at the play, such as — “Ye crags and peaks, I am with you once again,” after Macready, in “William Tell”; or, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the sun of York,” after the grand Edmund Kean, to see whom I have run breathless up the stairs of the lower gallery of the T. R. Drury Lane, or into the pit, according to the contents of my purse.
About this period an incident occurred worth mentioning, regarding the debut in private, of a boy who had been taken to see Edmund Kean. He was destined to be a great actor this curly little child. I received, with other students of the “London Hospital,” a ticket for a juvenile amateur performance of “Richard the Third,” and of course busied myself behind the scenes — probably painting the moustache of some of the small actors. The little Richard, with his black wig and scarlet dress, made a miniature resemblance of the great
actor, and seemed to have imbibed that wonderful combination of physical impulse
and inspiration that characterized the original, especially in the detonating and explosive power. The child’s mamma was a little fairy-like creature, at whose house I had
previously seen him with his own flaxen ringlets, half asleep, like a Blenheim dog, on the
skirts of her velvet gown.
Many years after I had been playing at the Princess’s, under Mr. Maddox’s management, it was my wont, when out of work, to stroll from my house, near “The Angel,” at Islington, down to the Grecian Saloon, being specially attracted by the clever comedian, Mr. Robson; and on one occasion I asked a little lady, sitting in front of me, to lend me her playbill; she turned round and showed, to my astonishment, the face of the mother of the boy who had made his infant bow as Richard III.
“Good gracious!” exclaimed I. “Mrs. __ ”
“Ah!” said she, “what is my name?”
“I really can’t remember exactly,” I replied; “but it is a short one — Biffin, or Tiffin, or something like that.”
As she would not enlighten me, I asked her what had become of her infant prodigy.
“That is he,” she replied, “now singing the ‘Country Fair.’ Robson is his stage name.”
Years rolled on, and when I was playing Count Pepinelli, in “Marco Spada,” during Charles Kean’s management at the Princess’s, Robson was playing the same part at the Olympic, and two notes crossed in the post.
“‘Dear Robson, — I am out of the bill on Wednesday, and should like to see your Pepinelli. — Yours, etc.,
“Dear Lacy, — I am free after the first piece, Friday, and want to see you in Pepinelli. — Yours, etc., “F. Robson.”
I On a later occasion, while playing Jeremy Diddler, at Drury Lane, Mr. Chester (rehearsing Fainwood), addressed me thus, “You don’t remember me, Mr. Lacy. I played Buckingham, when a boy, at the Assembly Rooms, in Mile End.” I shook hands, and asked him what Robson’s patronymic was. “Button,” was the reply; “who drew his inspiration from the grand Edmund Kean.”
I made my own first bow as Tressel, in “Richard the Third,” at the Pavilion Theatre, for the benefit of a popular East-End tragedian, who ended life sadly, committing suicide some twenty years after, while engaged as a poorly-paid law copyist in Chancery Lane.
My second attempt was at the Garrick Theatre, as Rambleton, in “Intrigue; or the Bath Road.” I then began seriously to brush up my anatomy, but without much credit, for Mr. Headington, the celebrated surgeon (President of the College), who used to invite his pupils to an annual dinner at his house, questioned them one after the other as to their progress; but when my turn came, he addressed me thus: “Now, then! my Othello friend! give us a speech from Shakespeare.”
One day — big with fate — Wilmott, the Anatomical Theatre beadle, came into the dissecting-room and informed me that a gentleman in a hackney-carriage wanted to speak to me.
The occupant of the hackney-carriage, evidently a Yankee, addressed me thus —
“Are you the young gentleman that wants to act?”
I replied, drawing myself up, “I have acted both in tragedy and comedy” (making the most of “Tressel “and “Rambleton”).
“Well,” said the American, “my wife, that’s Madame Celeste, is just going to play the ‘French Spy,’ and we want a young actor to play her lover. Major Lafont.”
“I’m ready,” said I, and springing into the coach was conveyed to the Tottenham Street Theatre, then the Queen’s; where I was introduced to a committee of actors, and
forthwith engaged at a nominal salary of two guineas, under the management of Macfarren, father to my present Principal at the Royal Academy of Music, where I have been the Professor of Elocution sixteen years last Christmas.
The parts played by me at shortest notice, were the said French Major; Selbourne, in “A Roland for an Oliver;” and Baron Longville, in the “Foundling of the Forest,” which last part was presented to me by Haynes — the author of the “French Spy,” who played under the name of Norton— at four o’clock in the afternoon, with an urgent request that I would oblige the company by playing the same night.
In my ignorance and delight at being among them, I went without a moment’s delay into an adjoining public-house, kept by Perkins, a retired prize-fighter, ordered some tea, with eggs and bacon, and set to at the words, getting through the first part of the performance comfortably enough, when I became confused, and was pushed about into the various situations, and prompted through the remainder of the piece. The company being on the sharing system, my first Saturday yielded me exactly half-a-crown (a magnificent sum), which Dillon, the father of the popular tragedian, made me instantly melt in beer, to pay my footing on the boards to the thirsty company.
As no “Ghost” walked (that is, there was no treasury), the following Saturday, a meeting was called, and Mr. Macfarren, with a nice regard to the claims of his company, announced that we were at liberty to take ticket nights, waiving his right to half the receipts, by which liberal concession my pocket was soon replenished; moreover, as some of my fellow medical students expressed regret at not being made aware of my night, I speculated further by taking the “Sans Souci ” Theatre in Leicester Street, now part of Russell’s Furniture Warehouse, in Leicester Square, for which I paid Smythson, the lessee, five guineas, and played Jaffier, in “Venice Preserved.”
I shall never forget with what elation I trod the boards of that little private theatre, with its pretty portico, facing the Leicester Hotel, in a black velvet dress, and sable plumes, the stage being classically covered with green cloth, while the orchestra played a couple of overtures, and was about commencing a third, when The Belvidera, to my great relief, arrived from York.
She was a ladylike creature of some experience, and a fine figure of a woman, who kept me in the right positions, notwithstanding the absence of rehearsal, and managed the embraces with delightful refinement. An amateur friend, Mr. Romford, a magnificent-looking man, played Pierre, and the following week took the theatre on his own account,
playing Hastings to my Young Marlowe, in “She Stoops to Conquer.” During the early
part of the performance of Goldsmith’s glorious comedy, a droll, though somewhat sad, incident occurred.
An old actor, named Southey (brother of the Laureate), whose lean figure and thread-bare snuff-brown great-coat, and light wig reminded me of Sir Walter Scott’s Peter Peebles, consented to play Old Hardcastle for five shillings, on condition that the tankard, which Diggory brings on, should be filled according to his prescription, to which my friend Romford readily assented, and consequently the “cup” of egg-wine and spice, regardless of expense, was prepared at the Leicester Hotel opposite, and sent over in a handsome silver flagon; but when Diggory brought it on and placed it in the hands of Southey, who was to have the first pull at it, his gaze of horror, when he lifted the lid, spoke for itself. The poor man let the lid fall on the empty flagon and fairly wept.
The carpenters, smelling the warm spiced cup, could not resist the temptation, and
passing it from hand to hand had drunk every drop of the precious liquor. I doubt
if ever acting was so natural as Old Hardcastle’s surprise and horror, with which we
sympathized fully, as we were to be sharers in the delicious drink.
Having made the plunge, I looked out seriously for an engagement. A business friend of my father introduced me to John Cooper, who was living in the drawing-room, over his varnish warehouse, now Bacon’s Hotel, in Great Queen Street, Long Acre. The actor, in a flowered dressing-gown, was busy studying for the Hay market, the work in which theatre he called “galley slavery.” Being asked if I could recite anything, I stated that I had learned a speech of William Tell’s, and as he doubted if he had a book of that play, I said, eagerly, “I’ve got one in my pockit.”
“Pocket, sir,” said John Cooper, sternly, “not pockit.”
This was my first lesson in elocution, which has since served me well. The interview resulted in a letter of recommendationvto the popular manager and celebrated actor,
Mr. William Murray, of the T. R. Edinburgh, where I made my first bow in the country, as Count Montalban, in the comedy of the “Honeymoon,” and having achieved the years allotted to man, after half a century of work, amidst much sunshine sprinkled with tears, that only seemed to have slaked the love of life and made it brighter, I am now happily fighting under the flag of the popular manager, and celebrated actor, Henry Irving, in mutual friendship and esteem. And, I thank God, in good health and fullest enjoyment of life!
An incident occurs to my mind, chiming in with original sing-song shops, where our merry midnight meals were made, although with an earlier appetite, we did the steak, chop, poached egg, or Welsh rabbit, with the accompanying pint of draught stout, at the “Rainbow,” or “Cock,” celebrated by the laureate of the present day, in his wonderful “Will Waterhouse.”
Now, in those jolly days, before vocal music had advanced so far that for the most part the sweet singers gallop quite out of hearing of the words, when John Braham sang, with as distinct regard to the libretto as John Kemble gave to the language of Shakespeare, each tavern had its special attraction. The Cider Cellars claimed precedence for glees. Somers, Wollidge, and Robinson, with pure throats, impervious to atmospheric influence, would enjoy a rump steak and stout, and then with a bowl of steaming punch before them, would remove the clay pipe from the lips, and sing “Mynheer Vandunck,” “The Darby Ram,” and “Lady of Beauty, Away, Away.”
Going together with the force of a cataract, being fed on British beef, and pulling up with startling suddenness, they would deal out notes like softest falling waters, as delicate as the dewdrop that “lies on the rose on a summer’s morning;” but the incident mentioned had reference to Offley’s, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, afterwards the house, for a time, of the Fielding Club, where Thackeray and the bright beings of literature and art solaced themselves before its establishment in Maiden Lane.
The crack singer at Offley’s was a stylish young man, yclept “Appleyard,” who enchanted the night with graceful and delicious ballads, and woe to the waiter who had the temerity to enter the room with “poached egg” or kidneys while Mr. Appleyard was singing.
Many years rolled on, until I had long merged from a medical student into a mature specimen of Shakespeare’s “poor player,” and was being rubbed down like a young horse after acting Henry VIII. for the hundredth time, the vigorous morrice dance being encored, in which it was my delight to lead out the dainty and classic Miss Heath,now Mrs. Wilson Barrett, who enacted Ann Bullen. The cue for the band under Jolly Jack Hatton, being, “Let the Music Knock it.”
Having thrown aside the sheepskin paddings of bluff King Hal, and put on dry underclothes, my dresser, as usual, going across to the “Wheatsheaf” tavern for a sandwich and some bitter beer, I addressed a solitary chorus-man, who sat at the end of the long room, in which I dressed. By the way, the incident I am about to relate could not have occurred during the run of “Henry the Eighth,” in Charles Kean’s time. My dressing-room, at that time, was a small square one, in which Harley, Meadows, and James Vining also dressed. It evidently was in the previous Maddox management, when I often played in three and four pieces a night. Anyhow, I invited the amiable chorus-man to have some drink, and a brandy-and-soda was brought for him.
We chatted pleasantly, especially about the days when I so much enjoyed those notes Ambrosian at the Cider Cellars and Coal Hole, down to the time when George Stansbury and Paul Bedford did their duets at Evans’s Hotel in Covent Garden. But when I remarked that Appleyard was the most popular ballad-singer, the chorus-man asked me if I should remember the voice again if I heard it. I replied, “Certainly I should;” when in somewhat tremulous, but sweet tones, he sang a verse of Appleyard’s favourite ballad, “Alice Gray.”
“Why, you are Appleyard!” I exclaimed.
“Yes,” he said, “that was my name at Offley’s, when I sang with such confidence and applause, but some of my patrons having induced me to acquire a knowledge of music, I lost my nerve as soon as I knew what I was about, and could no longer command a position.”
This most amiable and respected gentleman was the father of two beautiful and
accomplished actresses, not unknown to fame. The late Mr. Ranoe afterwards became
prompter at the Italian Opera, and was the best of good fellows.