The Life of an Actor
by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian
Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow
Having returned from Edinburgh in due course, I produced the entertainment reffered to above in the Minerva Hall, Argyle Street, Glasgow, in December, 1856. It was entitled "Jack in the Box; or, How to Catch the Ten," and I was assisted in it by my son Frederick. The adventure proved a very successful one; the Herald, speaking of the piece on its merits, remarking that "it contains something to please every taste, and father and son sustain with great ability a merry-going piece of much diversity, in which the interest never flags.
In the Autumn of 1860, Mr Edmund Glover died, the theatre being continued under the management of his widow and trustees.
Mr Glover and I had been very old acquaintances. As a manager and a man I can testify to the esteem in which he was universally held.
Personally speaking, I cannot be ungrateful, nor refrain from thus publicly acknowledging that he did me many acts of kindness. I have a sincere respect for his memory, and kind remembrances for those he left behind him.
It was in or about 1862, if I remember rightly, that we had a visit in Dunlop Street from Adah Isaac Menkin, an American female circus rider, who was starring about with a performance of Mazeppa. She afterwards, as may be remembered, became the wife of John C. Heenan, the pugilist.
The first night of the piece in Glasgow was a funny one. She was supposed, naturally enough, to have a trained horse of her own to travel with, (but some of the knowing ones said she never had), that her usual course, when she came to see us after rehearsal at any theatre, was to state that it had met with an accident, and had to be left behind at the last town. That, at any rate, was the apology made for not bringing the horse with her on this occasion.
Under the circumstances, her man had therefore to go round the livery stable and after considerable time he returned, bringing with him an old, worn-out white cab horse, which, he said, it had taken him considerable trouble to procure. Rehearsal was then commenced, the first proceeding being to lash the man (Menkin's servant and substitute at rehearsals) on the back of the animal. It was then led up the inclined platform a certain distance - but there it stuck fast - beyond that it refused to budge. All the tugging before, pushing behind, no amount of whipping would induce him to go farther up the 'mountain'.
At last, a happy thought entered the head of Mazeppa, (the man): "Send for a carrot," he said. It was sent for. "Now," said he to the prompter, "take this carrot in your hand and hold it towards the horse's nose, just close enough to let him smell it, and let him just have a nibble at it, now and then. There will be a 'set piece' hiding the incline as high up as your knees, behind which you must crawl to prevent the audience seeing you. When you get up to the corner, remain there; and have another man with another carrot ready at the turn of the incline upwards. Let him do as you did until the next turn, and so on to the top."
More carrots were sent for to try the effect of the suggestion, and the impression they produced on the noble animal, was wonderful. He pricked up his ears, licked his lips, and sniffed his nose readily in anticipation and acknowledgement of the treat. Manzeppa (the man), then took a big carrot and broke it in two unequal pieces, giving the smaller to his steed and the larger to be divided amongst the men who were to lure him higher and higher, up the steep.
"Now, boys," said Mazeppa (the man), "to your places, quickly, whilst he has the taste in his mouth." They went accordingly, and the carrot succeeded.
"Thank you," said Miss Menkin, to those engaged, and the rehearsal finished.
Night came, and at the proper situation the 'fiery, untamed one', supposed to be fresh caught, was brought on the stage, secured by strong ropes held by a dozen men, who pulled the poor brute now to the right, now to the left; and tickled him under the ribs to make him show a little life and spirit, such as might beseem a fiery one being made captive for the first time. But all would not do. The tickling time of life was past with him, and he didn't see the fun of it. So there he stood, quite too utterly docile by half, his head "bowed down by weight of woe," with his nose touching the stage and blowing up the dust with his nostrils. He heeded not the rude chaffing of the dii minores, when one of these made the insulting offer of three-half-pence per pound for him, including the skin.
"Don't hurt his feelin's," cried another ......."he was yince a great race horse."....... "ay, took up a third," ......"my father saw him rin at the 'Shaws sixty years since," ..... to which another added that he seemingly "had been oftener at 'Shaws, than the tawties (potatoes)."
Meanwhile Manzeppa (Miss Menkin now), was being bound on to the barebacked steed, the object of all this heartless contumely. This being effected, the ropes were loosened, and the miserable creature was led to the inclined plane where crouched man, No 1. with the carrot. He proceeded to ascend very cautiously, but still proceeding, until, on reaching the first turn, instead of merely getting a 'nibble' at the carrot of the second man stationed there, he jerked the whole of it out of his hand, and then, instead of going on any farther, he turned deliberately round, with his face to the audience, his head projecting over the "set piece", and kept munching away at the toothsome morsel, quite unconscious of how terribly he was stultifying one of the chief actors on the stage below, who was supposed to be marking his flight to the desert, and describing it hysterically to those around:
"See," exclaimed this performer, pointing off the stage, and innocent of the fact that the horse was standing, quietly overhead enjoying a tit-bit and looking the audience right in the face - "see how he urges on his wild career! Now, he makes for yonder lake; will he plunge into it? No, he changes his mind - look he rushes towards the cataract - oh, horror! - I hear it roar! - ah, he clears the awful chasm at one terrific bound. He falls, - no, he still maintains his maddening speed. He climbs the pointed rocks - they must be dashed to pieces - nothing can save them! - I can look no more, my eyes grow dim, - oh! oh! oh! - to which the audience joined in a monster chorus of - "ha! ha! ha!" - whilst the 'fiery steed', having finished his carrot, stood fast asleep - leaving the audience to witness his mad career, in their own more or less, vivid imaginations.
Mr Sothern at the Prince's
When, in the early portion of 1863, the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street, was burned to the ground one dark morning, it was so far lucky for all concerned that there was another 'local habitation' for the company to fall back upon. This was the Prince's Theatre, in West Nile Street, and thither, accordingly, the business was transferred.
Amongst other engagements, both Mr Sothern and the Keans had been booked to appear in succession at the Royal, and, under the circumstances, both willingly agreed to accept the minor house as a substitute.
Mr Sothern came first, and owing to the furore his personation of Lord Dundreary had created in London, it was only to be expected that it would do well enough in Glasgow. Accordingly, "Our American Cousin" was a complete success.
I, of course, assumed Asa Trenchard, the Yankee cousin, and was pleased to find that my performance of it gave much satisfaction all round.
By Sothern himself, it seemed to be highly appreciated, so much so that he made quite a fuss with me, leading me out before the curtain, at the call of the audience every evening, and generally, both in public and private, professing great liking for me.
At the end of Sothern's engagement, commenced that of Mr and Mrs Charles Kean, which was also a successful one. Amongst the pieces produced by them, was the fine play, "The Wife's Secret," which was performed twice at least. On the second night, Kean saw fit to make a certain alteration in the "cast." under these circumstances; - There is a scene in the play, where Sir Walter Amyott (played by Kean), is discovered sitting at a table, writing. To him, there enters a character clad in a suit of armour, with his vizor down. Well, on the first night the piece was played and on this occasion, this character on entering, received a round of applause. I think it was meant for the beautiful suit of steel armour he wore, which Kean had brought with him from London. When the applause had subsided, Kean asked his iron-clad messenger for his news, but, the moment the latter uttered the first words in reply, a shriek of laughter rang through the house and continued until the end of the speech.
Laughter, we know, is contagious, and Kean himself could not for the life of him refrain from joining in; though at the time ignorant of what had occasioned the merriment.
And who, Glasgow playgoer, do you think
was this mysterious armour-clad knight? Why no other than your old friend,
Hamblin - George Frederick Hamblin - with the peculiar tones of whose
voice you were so familiar, and which somehow or other, seemed to inspire
you with feelings other than reverential.
I must recall one more appearance of poor George. We were playing an old-fashioned melodrama one Saturday evening in which he had to personate the villain. As such, he was brought on the stage in custody in the last scene, where the other dramatis personae were ranged in order for the wind-up. At the cue, Hamblin commenced to curse us all around, with true melodramatic unction. He vowed vengeance on the whole vile crew of us; told us to "Beware," that a time would come - that he never forgave an insult - and then rushed off with the orthodox stamp and look back, and the loud defiant exclamation - "Beware! I say - Beware! Beware!" At the moment of his exit, a stentorian voice in the gallery shouted out, "Bravo! Wooden-guts," and by that, not over-refined appellation, he was known so long as he remained in the company.
A word more - again addressed to the Glasgow
playgoer. Did you ever see poor Hamblin crossing the Broomielaw Bridge
on his way home from rehearsal? Here he comes; look at him well. See
the self-satisfied smile which illumines his good-natured countenance;
his hands clutching each lapel of his frock-coat, with the elbows thrust
out to their full extent, pulling himself along, for all the world as
though he had got himself in custody. On he struts, upright as a post,
muttering to himself - most probably the words of the part he has been
rehearsing - and quite unconscious of the admiration he evokes from
Therefore, ye youths, ambitious of distinction on the stage, beware of making yourselves slaves to managers, by being too "useful!" Do, and do well, what lies within the sphere of your own proper department. If you do more - you will be known only as "a very decent, useful man," all your lives."
When, towards the conclusion of this season at the Prince's, the "benefits" began to come on, what I deemed a happy thought struck me with regard to my own programme. It was induced, I may explain, by the fact that Mr W. H. Kendal, who was then a member of the company, had, since Sothern's departure, been wont to exhibit, privately, his skill in mimicry by giving an admirably life-like imitation of the original Lord Dundreary. Accordingly, it was resolved that the piece "Our American Cousin," with Mr Kendall as Dundreary and myself as Asa Trenchard.
We played the piece from memory, merely, I should add, we having no copies of the parts. It gave great satisfaction, however, to a crowded house, and gained Mr Kendal golden opinions for his wonderfully close reproduction of Lord Dundreary. The fame of the performance altogether soon appeared to have travelled southwards, as a result of which I received, one fine morning the following polite note: -
"Dear Mr Lloyd, - There
is a report here that some of Mr Sothern's scenes of the 'American Cousin'
To this communication I sent following reply:-
"Dear English, - I could only reply to your letter today. I am amazed to think that a man like Mr Sothern should think it worth his while to find fault with a humble country actor for trying to make a trifle at his benefit, by advertising an imitation of Lord Dundreary. Why, it may be seen in every music hall in Glasgow; and I never thought such a paltry affair would have been heard of again; and such is the feeling of all that I have shown your letter to, - expressing Mr Sothern's great and Dundreary-like astonishment.; and tell him that I had an excellent house, and that the piece went well. This will perhaps astonish him still more.
Yours truly, H. F. LLOYD."
No more was said on the subject at this time but we were to meet again, his Lordship and I, as will appear in due course.
At the end of the season, Kendal and myself formed a company from the ladies and gentlemen who played in the "American Cousin," and went on tour with our version of the piece. We went first through Ayrshire, and then visited a few towns in the north, finishing up at Bridge of Allan, meeting all along with much success.
On the morning of our leaving, the latter place, after breakfast, I went over to the hall where we had given our performances to look after the luggage, to be sent to Glasgow, and found there waiting for me, the following communication from no less a person than the author of "Our American Cousin." It was addressed to "Messrs Lloyd, Music Hall, Bridge of Allan, N.B., and was thus worded:-
Local Government Board Office,
"Gentlemen, - Being informed that you are about to play 'Our American
Cousin' or selections from it, at the Bridge of Allan, on Friday the
23rd and Saturday the 24th insts., give you notice that the piece in
question is my property, and that in playing it without my permission,
you are violating my legal rights. I shall be compelled to resort to
legal proceedings for the purpose of protecting my rights, should you
act the piece in question, or any part of it. I am, gentlemen, your
"Sir, I have had so much study this week that I have only today been able to reply to your letter of 20th ult. There was no necessity for your writing me regarding your "American Cousin," as, after the letter you sent Mr Kendal, we did not intend to have anything more to do with it. But the advertisements were out long before you wrote and, on your objecting, we concocted something of our own for the purpose of Mr Kendal's giving an imitation of Mr Sothern. It seems to me that there has been a great fuss made about nothing. At the same time, if I committed a great offence, in having a few words of your piece spoken on the occasion of my benefit, (though nonsensical enough, but answering my purpose for the time being), I beg to apologise, and am, your obedt. servant,
H. F. LLOYD." - "To Tom Taylor, Esq.,"
To this no answer of any kind was returned, and so finished this all-important affair.
During the following season, Mr Sothern was again with us in Glasgow for a short time. It was very evident that he had neither forgotten nor forgiven my offence towards him.
On the third evening of his engagement, we played that more miserable farce called "Dundreary Married and Settled." At rehearsal in the morning, I happened to be ten minutes late of arriving, upon which Mr Sothern actually took a cab and drove to the residence of one of the chief trustees of the theatre, and insisted on my being fined; otherwise he would not act another night. This was promised, and so, on going for my salary on Saturday following, Mr Houghton (treasurer) said that he must stop 5s of a fine.
"No," said I, "I never was fined in my lifetime, and I won't be now. Here's your 5s," I said - taking the sum out of my pocket and handing it over to him, thus receiving my salary in full.
At night, Mr Houghton, a kind and courteous gentleman came up to me, and in his usual bland manner, said; "Lloyd, here's the 5s you lent me this morning," quietly slipping it into my hand."
Thus my friend, Sothern's attempt at revenge No.1 was a failure.
A week afterwards, "David Garrick" was to be played and at rehearsal in the morning, Sothern called all those engaged in the last act of that piece to the "prompt table," and said to them: "All the gentlemen in the last act must wear white silk stockings, with shoes and buckles."
To this I said that I had no white silk stockings, and that I should certainly not think of going to the expense of eight or ten shillings for a pair simply for this piece. In reply Sothern said he should insist on it, or the comedy should not be played. "The idea of you, Mr Lloyd," he said, "holding the position you do, and not having a pair of silk stockings!"
My temper got up at this, and I told him emphatically before them all that a better actor than he was, or ever would be as long as he lived, had no silk stockings in which to make his first appearance at Drury Lane, and had to play Shylock in a black worsted pair, bought for him by his landlady - and that actor's name was Edmund Kean!
About half an hour after this little scene, Houghton sent to say that he wanted to speak to me in the office. I went, and he began thus - "Here's another complaint against you, Lloyd. Sothern says you refuse to get silk stockings for 'David Garrick' ."
"Yes, I did refuse and I'll see him d...d first, before I'll go to that expense."
"Oh! don't, pray, - don't swear," said the peacemaker, "keep your temper, my boy, but you must have the silk stockings."
"I won't," said I.
"You shall," said Houghton. "Look here, now, just you go to Burton's, or some other place in Buchanan Street, and tell them to send me - to send me, mark and directly, - a good pair of silk stockings."
After a little more parley, I went to Burton's, selected a pair at 14s, and ordered them to be sent to Mr Houghton at the theatre. On my going to business at night, I found a small parcel addressed to me at the stage door. On opening it, I found the pair of stockings I had selected in the morning, and a little note enclosed. The latter simply said; "Dear Lloyd, - Accept these from me, and long may you live to wear them, and me to see you in them. Yours truly, C. Houghton."
Thus revenge, No.2 was also foiled. He made no more attempts during the remainder of the engagement, and I never met E. A. Sothern again.
During the summer recesses of following years I occasionally joined my son Arthur in professional tours throughout the Kingdom, in which, with the aid of a pianist, we gave a semi-dramatic, semi-musical, comical entertainment. On one of these occasions in 1875. I was much pleased when he told me that it was his intention on this tour to visit those ancient seats of learning, Oxford and Cambridge. He said he had no doubt that it would be a gratification to me to see the places themselves, but at the same time he warned me to be prepared for meeting uproarious audiences among the students. Having been in both places before, he knew the ropes; and what he particularly impressed on me was that, upon no consideration, was I to show any ill-temper at their conduct, but to go on with what I had to do without manifesting the slightest concern to their proceedings, and to appear as if I were in the best of good humor; because their greatest delight, he said, was to get a professional In a rage- to "get his shirt out," as the slang phrase goes.
If they succeeded in this, they would continue worrying him until they got him into such a state of nervous excitement that he would be quite unfit to go on with his performance- a result which they regarded as the acme of good fun. I confess this account made me feel a little shaky; but I determined to act strictly in accordance with the instructions which Arthur, out of his experience, had given me.
We appeared first at Cambridge, on 1st November of the year stated, before an audience which crowded the Guild Hall there. The front seats were filled with undergraduates, in their caps and gowns; whilst those behind were occupied by the town's people. As the time for our commencing drew near, so did the student element in front get more and more demonstrative. To me, whose first time it was of appearing before such an audience, they seemed to be a set of maniacs - singing, howling, dancing, cock-crowing, and every form of rowdyism they could think of. I never in my life met with a greater set of roughs. Strange, thought I to myself, that out of such unlicked cubs as these are to come, probably, some of the brilliant legislators and most famous members of the learned professions in the future.
The first of us who had to appear on the platform was our pianist, a young man of a very nervous temperament, very clever, very unassuming, and an excellent player. Unfortunately, thanks to the whim of some foolish parent or god-father, he was handicapped by the possession of a superfine Christian name. He was called Mozart W--- (Horatio didn't like to mention people's full names but we know that this was Mozart Wilson, who was often the pianist for the 'Two hours genuine fun' entertainment)
The moment he appeared he was greeted from the front rows with what I can only term an indescribable yell. The poor fellow stood facing them, bewildered and bowing, until, during a moment's partial lull in the storm, a voice called out- "Sit down, Mozart; give us a little music, old boy." He then sat down and commenced to play an overture; but, from the time he began until reaching the last bar, not a sound of the instrument could be heard. Nevertheless, when he retired, they gave him a tremendous round of applause and cheering.
The platform then being vacant, one of their number got up on it, sat down at the piano and played a set of quadrilles very fairly. Getting down again, he took the music-stool with him, and placing it on the floor in front of the platform, sat down on it, and commenced whirling himself round on it at a great rate,to the great apparent delight of his chums. On comes the pianist again to prepare for the playing of an opening symphony for the first item in the programme. He finds the stall gone, and looks about him in a pitiable condition, whilst the student audience are screaming with laughter at the forlorn looking plight he presents.
Then they begin to chaff him, various voices putting such questions as - "What's the matter, Mo?"- "Lost yer perch, Mo?"- &c., &c. At last, the stool was handed up to him, with the accompanying remark- "Here old boy-here's your rostrum-now fire away."
In the character which I represented, I had to wear a night-cap; and so when I made my appearance they saluted me with a shower of paper pellets, made out of the programmes of the entertainment, and politely told me to "Go to bed." When I had got through my little bit of business-some how-Arthur came on, and was received with a variety of greetings, as "Hullo, Arthur! How are you old boy?" "What! Are you going to sing, Arthur?" "Arthur, you're getting fat." "Silence for Arthur's song," &c.
He then began his song, during which these gentlemen kept on singing different songs at once, so the frightful discord may be imagined. They gave him a round of applause all the same as he was retiring, although they could not have heard a word he uttered. On his return to sing his song of "The Tragedian"- in which there is a great deal of "Spoken" matter-they consented to listen to most of it; at least, the interruptions were fewer, probably owing, to some extent, to the fact that some of them must have been pretty well tired out with their riotous exertions.
I never was more surprised than when Arthur spoke the following lines, which occur towards the end of the song in question. The "blighted tragedian" has to say-"I have acted before all the crowned heads - and before all the half crown-ed heads - in Europe. I have appeared before some of the greatest nobility and gentry, and before some of the greatest blackguards &c." Emphasising the last three words as Arthur did, I made sure there would be a tremendous row, and was prepared to run for it. To my utter astonishment they made no hostile sign whatever, but merely exchanged glances with each other and sat mute till the song was finished.
The town's people, however, between whom the "gownsmen" there is no love lost, took up the application with rounds of significant cheering. From that point the entertainment went without any interruption, and they all retired quietly; but Arthur determined never again to appear before the Cambridge students.