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The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow




Celebrities in the Edinburgh Green Room

Mr Murray was the strictest man in carrying out the rules of a theatre I ever met. In the Theatre Royal Edinburgh, it was, indeed, a case of "No followers allowed." He would suffer no relative whatsoever of any actors or actresses of his company to go into the Green Room, behind the scenes, or into any of the dressing-rooms. I never saw even Mrs Murray, or any of his sons and daughters behind the curtain. The privileged ones, friends of the manager, who had the entree of the Green Room in my time were, Lord Ramsay, afterwards Marquis of Dalhousie, who became Governor General of India; Mr Fox Maule, afterwards Lord Panmure; Lord Robertson, of the Court of Session; the President of the Royal Scottish Academy; Dr Liston, the celebrated surgeon, and his assistant and successor in Edinburgh, Professor Millar; Mr (now Sir) Theodore Martin, where he first met Miss Helen Faucit, now Lady Martin; the Ballantynes, printers of Sir Walter Scott's novels; Professor Wilson; Dr Thatcher; and some others whose names I forget. Before my time, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Jeffrey had both been constant visitors.

In the Green Room of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, of those days, the same etiquette was observed as in that of Covent Garden, when Mr Murray was there as a youth. What the latter was, he described to me.

It was an elegantly furnished drawing-room, with mirrors, couches, chess-tables, &c., all the water carafes and tumblers having the Royal arms engraved upon them. No member of the company, male or female, not engaged in the performances of the evening was admitted, unless in full evening dress. Standing at the door were two pages in uniform in waiting to carry the trains of those actresses who wore them in character. The moment the lady left the door, the pages lifted the train in their arms, followed her to the place appointed for her going on the stage, then laid it down, and, spreading it out, they left her and went to whichever spot she was expected to leave the stage. There they waited until she came off, when they would again take up and carry the train back to the Green Room again.

Princes, Dukes and Generals might be found there nightly!


A Medal produced for the occasion of John Philip Kemble's retirement - Courtesy Alan JuddBy way of variety, I may as well recall here some of the stories told us by Mr Murray, in the dear old Edinburgh Green Room, many of which I have preserved in my diary. I shall begin with one or two about the great John Philip Kemble.

Right - A Medal produced for the occasion of John Philip Kemble's retirement - Courtesy Alan Judd, see below for reverse.

On one occasion, when the latter was playing Othello in Edinburgh, he was supported in the part of Cassio by Mr Murray, who was considered to play it very well. On the following morning at rehearsal, Kemble said to him, "William," - he always so addressed Murray - "I took note of your acting of Cassio last night; you played it admirably."

"I am obliged to you for the compliment," replied Murray.

"But," said Kemble, "there is one thing you appeared to forget. Cassio was a gentleman, and got drunk on wine; you were drunk on porter. Let it be amended."


The reverse of a Medal produced for the occasion of John Phillip Kemble's retirement - Courtesy Alan JuddThe next story tells how Kemble once got "drunk on wine," and what came of it. It was during the time he was manager of Covent Garden Theatre, and when George Frederick Cooke was a member of the company.

Right - The reverse of a Medal produced for the occasion of John Phillip Kemble's retirement - Courtesy Alan Judd, the text reads: 'Thou Last Of All The Romans Fare Thee Well'. (See above for front.)

Owing to the well-known convivial habits of the latter, Kemble had repeatedly to apologise to the audience for his non-appearance, and occasionally to play himself the parts, cast for Cooke. Well, it so happened that one evening, when Kemble was not engaged in the performances, he went to dine with one of the Royal Dukes; and, as ill-luck would have it, a disturbance took place in the theatre.

In response to loud calls for the manager, one of the actors came to the front and stated that Mr Kemble was not in the house. This excuse, however, was not accepted, the calls for the manager were redoubled, nor were the performances allowed to proceed.

The end of it was, that a messenger was despatched, post-haste in a hackney coach, for Kemble, and returned with that gentleman as soon as possible.

By his appearance, there could be no mistake but he had been dining. Not anticipating having to show at the theatre that evening, he had paid his attentions to the bottle imprudently.

By a mere accident, Cooke was behind the scenes at the time, and - also by a mere accident - he was dead sober. Seeing Kemble stagger past him, he rubbed his hands and chuckled with pleasure, saying loud enough for Kemble to hear it:- "Poor fellow! Shocking sight."

Kemble took no notice of him, however, but, drawing himself up, went on the stage, maintaining the perpendicular as well as he was able. Trying to look as dignified as possible, he endeavoured to ask what the disturbance was about, which he had scarcely done, when the audience burst into a roar of laughter. Kemble looked astonished for a few moments, and then, "smiled a kinder sickly smile" as if it dawned on him that the audience had discovered the plight he was in, and so they had but, it was not that which convulsed them. It was the conduct of Cooke, who had stepped softly on to the stage behind Kemble, and, unobserved by the latter, was now going through the most expressive pantomime of pity for the condition of the manager before them.

He had held up his hand, shook his head mournfully, and cast his eyes up to the ceiling. Then, touching his own head and pointing to Kemble, he moved his lips as if expressing pity for him. Finally, he drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and, applying it to his eyes, appeared to be overcome with emotion at the sad scene, as he walked quietly off at the wing.

Innocent of what was causing all the mirth, Kemble stood motionless and abashed, supposing that it was his own discomposed appearance that produced so much amusement. At last seeming to have more confidence in his legs, he bowed and retired without another word, whilst the audience, forgetting all about the original cause of the disturbance in their enjoyment of the fun, now allowed the performances to go on.

The moment the great John was off the stage, Cooke resolved to let his dignified manager see that he observed the state he was in, and coming up said:-

"You seem weak, Sir, tonight. Your cough is troublesome, (Kemble was asthmatic), pray take my arm."

Kemble took no notice of the attention thus paid him, but walked away to his own room, and there shut himself in; when Cooke, pointing to the door, exclaimed,

"Exit Black Jack (Cooke always called Kemble 'Black Jack'); drunk as a lord; enter (himself going into the Green Room), George Frederic Cooke, sober as a judge!"


One evening while Kemble was playing his famous part of Coriolanus at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, some rude fellow in the upper gallery called out in the middle of one of his finest speeches, "Gie's a comic sang, aul' chappie."

He told Mr Murray next day that the incident reminded him of a droll occurrence which took place when he was performing in a theatre in Yorkshire, belonging to his father. The play was "Hamlet," and when he, as the Prince, had got about half through the soliloquy, -"Oh! what a rogue and peasant slave am I, &c.," - a voice from the gallery shouted out, "Powse! Powse!," Kemble took no notice of it, but continued for a few lines, when again the same, joined in by others in the gallery, renewed the shouting of:, "Powse! Powse!."

Upon this, Kemble walked off the stage, and asked the prompter what might be the meaning of this. That official pretended not to know, and Kemble went on again. The moment he showed his face, however, he was saluted with shouts of, "Off! Off! Powse, Powse," - joined in now by more than half the house.

Kemble again retired, and, on his father coming round from the front, he appealed to him for an explanation. He then learned that the clamour was for a man of the name of Powse, a dancer, to give them a clog hornpipe. "And what am I to do?" asked Kemble.

"Wait till the dance is over," answered his father.

This was arranged accordingly, Powse receiving an infinitely more cordial reception than the melancholy Dan had met with. When the dance was over, Kemble was allowed to go through the remainder of the act in peace. But on getting to his soliloquy in the third act, - "To be, or not to be &c." again the cry got up, "Powse! Powse!"

Kemble said afterwards that he, at last, began to enjoy the joke himself, and he actually led Mr Powse on to the stage; this took place no fewer than four times, during the performance of Shakespeare's sublime tragedy.


One more Kemble story, told me in the Green Room by Mr Murray, who was an eye and ear-witness of the circumstances.

One of "Black Jack's" peculiarities was that he could not enter a room in which a fire was burning, without making his way up to it, then lifting the poker and proceeding to stir it up.

"You must know," said Mr Murray, "that in Covent Garden Theatre in those days, there were three Green Rooms - one for performers whose salaries were above £10 a week, another for those with £5 and under £10, and a third for those under £5 a week. Mr Kemble's custom was to go the round of these nightly, and on one occasion in the third-class room, his peculiarity of poking the fire happened to be the subject of conversation. The result was that one of the actors named Watson, offered to take odds that Kemble would not poke the fire on the following evening, which challenge was accepted by another named Parsloe, who gave two guineas to one, that he would. The next morning at rehearsal, Watson went up to the manager and asked if he might be allowed to have a word with him aside.

"Certainly," said Kemble, "What is it then?"

"Well, Sir, may I ask you a great favour that you will not poke the fire when you come into our room this evening?"

"Do I generally do so when I come there?"

"Yes, Sir and I have made a bet of a guinea with Mr Parsloe that you would not do so tonight."

"But, my good fellow," said Kemble, "that is not acting honourably."

"Oh," returned Watson, "we merely mean it as a joke - just to see how Parsloe will look."

"Ah, well," said Kemble, "if that's all, I won't spoil your joke on any account."

"In the evening we were all anxious to see the result of the bet, when, - enter Mr Kemble. with his usual salutation,

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen."

He sat down, but almost immediately rose again, walked up to the stove, and stooped as if to take up the poker. Watson ground his teeth, while Parsloe grinned with delight. Without touching the poker, however, Kemble turned round and walked to the other end of the room. Returning to the stove again, he took up the poker this time and flourished it about a bit, as if to tantalise Watson . At last, the restraint seemed to have grown intolerable, for he thrust the poker furiously into the middle of the fire, exclaiming in tones of much excitement, "By G-- , sir, I'll pay your guinea for you but, I must have my poke!"


The rock on which the gifted Edmund Kean split is sufficiently well known and Mr Murray told me a characteristic story in connection therewith. On one of his engagements in Edinburgh, he was nightly either quite drunk or partially so. His method was this - he would have a respectable quantity on board when he arrived at the theatre, then he would have a jorum in his dressing-room before going on the stage. Thereafter, his servant was ever in waiting for him at the side on which he came off, at his various exits, with a tumbler of brandy and water, which Kean would dispose of at a draught. This continued the whole evening, until, by the time the play was finished, he was as gloriously drunk as any gentleman needed to be.

In "Richard III", for instance, when the curtain fell on his being killed by Richmond, he would lie on the stage like a dead man. Drunk and incapable, he was carried to his dressing-room, laid on a sofa in his Richard dress, where he would sleep until the whole of the performances were over, at about midnight, when he would be put into a coach, driven home as he was, and put to bed.

One evening, - the play being "Richard" - Murray was determined to try to stop this detrimental game if possible. Accordingly, after Kean had had one or two doses, Murray went to the servant who supplied them and said he must not give Kean any more. The man, naturally enough, replied that he must do as his master bade him. The upshot was that, in the fifth act, when Richard rushed off the stage calling for "A horse, a horse," he missed the servant with the brandy and water. Murray had bundled him and his brandy into the scene-room, out of his master's way. The latter, meantime, was raging like a madman for his liquor, swearing that he would not go on the stage again until he had it, when suddenly he paused, and gave a 'sniff,' which seemed to indicate satisfaction of some sort, at the same time quietly saying,

"Methinks I scent thee now," then pushing past Murray, and guided by the scent, he dashed into the room amidst stock scenery, exclaiming, "D-n you! I'll kill you! - you'll deprive me of my only support, will you? - Where are you? Come forth!"

Then, having discovered the stowaway, he caught hold of the tumbler, drained its contents, and then, rushing back to the stage, went through his fight with Richmond with his usual fire, dying as gamely as ever, amid the most vociferous cheering of the audience.

I may just add that during the "wait", whilst Kean was hunting behind for brandy, the audience had been amusing themselves by hissing and calling out - "He's drunk!" - but the moment he re-appeared, the applause was immense.


Another of Murray's reminiscences was of Madame Vestris's first appearances in Edinburgh. The reputation of the lady for gaiety having preceded her, it was predicted that the engagement would turn out to be a dead failure. It was for a fortnight, and her first appearances were in legitimate comedy parts. Scarcely anyone came to see her. Her reception was as cold as the east wind; her acting altogether unappreciated by an unappreciative audience. Par parenthèse as to this last clause - I heard Mrs Charles once say that an Edinburgh audience generally came three times to see a piece, before they could make up their minds whether the acting of it was good or bad; not by their own judgment, but from hearing what others said of it. But to return to Madame Vestris;

In view of the wretched business being done, she suggested that Murray should allow her to appear in some of her male personations; But, oh dear me! He couldn't hear of such a thing. Why it would be the ruin of the theatre! The modern Athenians were also so moral in those days!

Each night having been worse than the one before it, Madame, thoroughly disgusted, went to Murray at the end of the week, and talked to him. It was no use mincing matters any longer, she said;

"The house can't be any worse than they have been. Let me show them my legs, and I'll bet you £5 they'll draw the people out."

Murray listened to her, and accepted the bet; it being arranged that the second week should be opened with her appearance in her famous part of Don Giovanni, in "Don Giovanni in London."

This was done accordingly and, although only one day's public intimation had been given of the programme, on the Monday night every box was taken, and the other parts of the house filled to overflowing. The same state of matters prevailed till the end of the engagement, which, despite the false start made with it, proved to be the most profitable one of the season.

Thus, you see, Legs made a triumphant "run" over the course, and Murray lost the stakes.


I have already mentioned Mr J. L. Pritchard, of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh. I have now to explain that he had a most terrific squint in his left eye - "Pritchard's conquering eye," the ladies of the company called it.

On the engagement of Madame Vestris, just referred to, this gentleman happened to be engaged in the piece with her, on the opening night. So struck, so infatuated was he with her beauty, that, on going on the stage to take his part, his memory left him; he fairly stuck for his words, whilst the squinting eye darted its penetrating lustre upon Madame:-

"Fixed and immovable he stood, and squinted more
Vilely than he was ever known to do before."

Madame Vestris was so taken aback by his silence, and by the mute eloquence of the optic, that, after a short pause, she involuntarily exclaimed:

"My G...., the Evil Eye is upon me," and burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, in which the whole audience joined. This had the immediate effect of rousing Pritchard from his fascination-induced lethargy, and the piece was proceeded with.

Curiously enough, he did not consider, at any rate he would not admit, that his vision was so very peculiar. His own words were;

"When I am excited, I sometimes have a slight cast in the eye. It's not very perceptible to others, but I am aware of the fact."

A gentleman in Edinburgh, once said to me;

"I'm tired of Pritchard's acting. He's the greatest mannerist I ever saw - he squints in every part he plays."


I shall conclude this chapter of anecdotes with one connected with Mrs Henry Siddons - Mr Murray's sister, and a charming actress.

It was on one of the summer excursions, and the company were then performing at a neat enough but very little theatre in Kirkcaldy - the "lang toon" in the kingdom of Fife. There lived in the town, a printer of the name of Birrell - Jamie Birrell, a good, kind-hearted man, liked by everybody. He was a good sample of what is called "a child of nature." Although he had printed the playbills of the theatre for many seasons, he had never ventured behind the scenes, and knew no more of the penetralia or working of such an establishment, than a Methodist parson is supposed to do. He was, however, a constant visitor to the front of the house, where everything that passed before him on the stage was to him as good as a reality, so completely did he become absorbed in the action of the piece.

On the occasion of Mrs Siddons's benefit the play of "Pizarro" was produced for the time, and the house was crowded in every part. Birrell, as a matter of course, was there, but on this occasion he could get no seat; he was compelled to stand in the pit, in a corner at the extreme end of the orchestra. (There were no stalls then.) There he stood, and there he remained until after the incident to be mentioned.

To realise it as well, and to put it as concisely as possible, please suppose a certain scene in "Pizarro" is being acted before you - Enter Mrs Henry Siddons as Cora, leading her child. Whilst she is on the stage, the voice of Alonzo, who is returning from the wars, is heard in the distance calling for her. Placing the child on a bank to sleep, she hastens out to meet her husband. Then, enter two Spanish soldiers, who, seeing the child and thinking it has been deserted, lift it up from the bank and carry it away.

And now, if you please, watch Jamie Birrell for a moment, where he stands in the corner rapt with the business of the scene. Then re-enter Cora, all delight at Alonzo's return; but on conducting him to the bank to look at their child sleeping, she finds it gone! At this point, it was that Mrs Siddons's fine personation of wild maternal grief moved poor Jamie quite beyond any self-control. With tears running down his dear old cheeks, and voice choking with emotion, he called out convulsively, "Mrs Cora, for G....'s sake dinna greet sae! The bairn's a' safe! I saw't the now eatin' a scone - there, ahint the screen," pointing to the prompter's box.

This was enough. It finished "Pizarro" before time. The audience shouted, "Bravo, Jamie!" - who having recovered from his temporary absence of mind, made his exit, amid three rounds of applause, such as had never before been heard within the walls of the Theatre Royal, Kirkcaldy!


A Brief Engagement in Glasgow

Between the death of my friend Montague Stanley in 1844 and the latter part of the year 1848, when the severance of my long connection with Mr Murray was first spoken of between us, my life was comparatively an uneventful one. "Happy," some one has said, "is the country that has no annals," and therefore, were the reader to assume that those years are included in the happiest portion of my life, I should not think it worth while to contradict him. It was just a matter of pleasant routine.

According to rule and custom, I wrote to Mr Murray at the end of each Spring for the ensuing Summer season at the Adelphi, and at the end of each Summer for the ensuing Winter at the Royal, and the replies were always pleasant, as for example:-

"My Dear Lloyd, - Nothing gives me more pleasure than to renew your Winter engagement. Yours truly, W. H. Murray." And again;

"Dear Lloyd, - Your letter requires no consideration. Yes, to both. Benefit and re-engagement. Yours very truly, W. H. Murray."

At the beginning of May, 1846, I got leave of absence from him for a month to go over to Glasgow and fulfil an engagement with Mr David Prince Miller at the Adelphi there. Whilst in Glasgow, I received the following note from him, (I should premise that he and I had been dabbling in railway shares at that time, which accounts for his opening query):-

"Dear Lloyd, - Have you heard anything of the Glasgow Harbour Mineral, or Ayrshire and Galloway? I hope you are doing well. Here we are awful. The heat kills everything, and I must soon thin my corps. Wilson, the artist, is going, and others must follow. Miller is going to shut up soon. Shall I recruit from some of his disbanded? Bedford got ....... last night, and did not act. Many must walk off. Whisky and warm weather are playing old Harry! Yours truly, W. H. Murray"


In June of the following year (1847) I had occasion to pay a visit to London on business. The Jenny Lind furore was just then at about its height, and on the evening of the 15th June, I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Swedish nightingale, as they called her in those days, in the Italian Opera House, Haymarket. It was a special "command" night of the Queen, who was there with Prince Albert.

The opera was "Norma", Jenny Lind, of course, appearing as the Druid Priestess, and the great Lablache as Orovesa.


Under the circumstances of there being so little of particular personal interest in my experiences during the period in question, I have resolved for the remainder of this chapter, to draw again upon the contents of my diary and common-place book, with little fear that the material will not be found sufficiently readable.

The first is a brief and exceedingly characteristic story of Frank Seymour, manager of the Queen Street Theatre, Glasgow, previous to its destruction by fire in 1829, and to whom I have referred in a previous chapter.

The victim was my old friend James Morris, Esq., of Ayr, and proprietor at the time of the Ayr and Kilmarnock theatres. Seymour, as I rather think I indicated before, had the reputation of being the most plausible Irishman, and the most unprincipled fellow that ever had the control of any public establishment. Whether he were in or out of funds, he would pay no one; and would resort to the most laughable, while at the same time the meanest, subterfuges to escape doing so.

He was owing Mr Morris no end of money as rent of the Ayr and Kilmarnock theatres. During one of the later engagements, in Queen Street, of Edmund Kean, the houses were crammed nightly, and Mr Morris naturally thought that now was the time to secure some of the proceeds of the great business in liquidation of his claims. Accordingly, he went to Glasgow and called on Seymour at the theatre. The moment the latter saw him, he rushed up to him, seized both his hands, and shaking them heartily, said, "How very odd! Bedad, wasn't I at this very instant thinking of you, and about writing to request you to come here and call on me? I am under obligations to you for untold favours, that may have seemed to you forgotten; but never, no never will they be blotted out from my memory. I am now, me boy, in a position to prove how anxious I am to repay you. Come and dine with me today, my dear, my best friend."

Morris accepted the invitation and, after the cloth was removed, expected, of course, that Seymour would refer to his indebtedness to him in a substantial form. But, nothing of the sort! Frank continued talking away on every subject but that to the purpose, until the time for opening the doors of the theatre. Then, suddenly rising and looking at his watch, he exclaimed, "Be jabbers, I must run."

Morris would have stopped him, but the crafty manager, bustling out, said, "I know what ye're goin' to say. Sure it's all right, - be aisy and depind upon my honour; see me after it's over, and I'll give you a cheque. Go to my private box."

Morris did so. He did see him after it was over and with what result? Affecting to be in a great rage, he d...d, "that secretary of Kane's (Kean's) for a lazy blackguard, for he couldn't," he said, "count the cash until the morning. But look here, Mr Morris, come to breakfast at nine o'clock prompt, remember. Honour's the word. Excuse me, goodbye. I have to sup with Kane."

Next morning arrived, and Morris arrived; nine o'clock also arrived, but no Seymour arrived. After waiting for a while, Mr Morris came away, most indignant at the treatment he had been subjected to, and went straight round to the theatre.

There he saw Seymour, who effusively declared that he was, 'just going for breakfast'. As a preliminary, however, Morris now insisted upon having something to account on the spot. Seymour pacified him by asking him to sit down for a few moments, while he went to draw the amount, adding, "My dear Morris, if ever I pay any man in the world, you shall be the first!"

Morris told me that he never saw Frank again, and remarked that, as the latter had promised that he should be first paid if he ever paid anyone, he had come to the natural conclusion that Seymour had paid, no one.


A Tragic Incident

The mention of Edmund Kean's name above suggests to me that I may as well insert here a remarkable story, told me by the late Alfred Bunn in the year 1850, which I give now exactly as written down in my diary, a few minutes after I had heard it narrated.

The death-bed scene of Edmund Kean, he said, had a special touch of romance about it, which, I believe, is not known to more than two or three others, beside myself. The great little man was residing at Richmond, in a house attached to the tiny theatre there, to which he had been removed after his memorable break-down in "Othello", in March of the same year (1833).

He had been suffering severely for some time from a complication of diseases; in fact, his once fine constitution was completely shattered. He could eat nothing and brandy only seemed to rouse for a time, the dying spark that flickered within. Brandy - raw brandy, was now meat and drink to him.

At last the fatal moment seemed to be near at hand, and he evidently was himself aware that such was the case. For, early in the morning on the day of which I speak, he called his secretary to his bedside and beckoned to him to be seated. After a short pause, he said in a low guttural voice, scarcely audible, "I am not long for here. I am dying fast, and must be brief. Mark me well. Am I speaking to be heard? Well then, you must hire a carriage immediately; drive to London; go to a house in ......Court, Fleet Street," (Bunn could not recollect the name of the court), "and on the third floor of that house, knock at the door. Ask to see an old woman who has been bedridden for some time. If they deny you, say you must see her - yes, - must. Bring her here, anyhow - she must come - that old woman is my mother! Haste you - or I may be gone before your return. - it is my dying wish to see her!"

The gentleman thus instructed, hastened at once to London, found the place and the old woman as described, and explained to her the object of his visit. She was carried downstairs, place in the carriage, and conveyed to Richmond. She was then taken into Kean's apartments, and, after they had embraced each other, she was removed to a bed in the next room; and in four-and-twenty hours after, Kean died The old woman soon followed.

Bunn said, she was a Miss Tidswell, who, it had always been suspected, was Edmund Kean's mother.

...Chapter Nine - Chapter Eleven...

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