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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow

Index

CHAPTER TWO

DRIFTING INTO THE PROFESSION

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, scene individible, or poem unlimited." - Shakespeare.

So far as school attendance goes, my education was completed at Christ's Hospital, in Newgate Street, where I was called a "privated scholar" for three years. The boys of the institution, an admirably-intended but very much abused charity, are, of course, taught free; but in my time each master had the privilege of adding to his income by taking boys, "private" pupils, who were not on the foundation. I was under the Rev. Mr. Greenwood in the grammar school, and Mr. R- in the writing school. At this time the system of corporal punishments was carried out in the school to such an extent that it was our painful lot to have to witness the most brutal floggings daily, some of which would last for ten minutes, at the expiration of which the recipient would be led away bruised and bleeding, scored with weals all over his back, and the fiendish inflictor retire wiping the perspiration from his forhead after the exertion, in which he seemed to take demoniac delight.

ACTRESSES OF MY TIME

After leaving here, nothing loth, although I occasionally attended evening classes for the purpose of brushing up some of the more difficult branches I had already gone through, I had a good deal of time to spend in reading Shakespearean and other plays, and also attending the Theatre. My taste for the drama grew daily more deeply rooted, and as I could generally procure plenty of "passes", I had every opportunity of gratifying my playgoing inclinations. And so it happened that, young as I was, I has seen nearly all the famous actresses and actors of the day. Of the former, I remember seeing Miss Foote (afterwards Countess of Harrington), Miss Maria Tree (who married Mr Bradshaw, a great landed proprietor in Ireland), Miss Paton (afterwards Lady Lennox), Miss Stephens, (afterwards, Countess of Essex), Miss Povey, Mrs Glover, Mrs Yates, Mrs Chatterly, Mrs Orger, Mrs W. West, Mrs Waylet, Mrs Keeley, Mrs Bunn, Mrs Fitzwilliam, Madame Celeste, Mrs Humby, Miss Kelly, Madame Vitris, and Miss Chester. The last-named was renowned for her personal attractions. Brought up in a charity school at Windsor, her native town, who grew up to be one of the most celebrated Beatrices on the stage, her performance of that part of the Benedick of Charles Kemble at Covent Garden being such as to give the piece a then unprecedented run. I once saw her getting out of her carriage in Regent Street, and a more magnificent specimen of Womanhood I never saw.

THE GREAT ACTORS.

A notice in the Times of Monday the 8th of December 1823 advertising 'Richard III' and 'Love, Law, and Physic' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - an evening which Horatio Lloyd attended when he was sixteen and wrote excitedly about in his autobiography.Amongst the greatest and the most popular performers of the other sex whom I have seen and remember, are - or rather were, for it must be about 20 years since the last survivor of them departed- Charles Kemble, Charles Young, Ward, Fawcett, Jones, William Farren, the elder; Blanchard, Tyrone Power, Harley, Mcready, the elder Chas. Matthews, Terry Yates, T. P. Coocke, James Wallack, John Reeve, Wright, Buckstone, Robert Keeley, Knight, Liston, and the immortal Edmund Keen.

The two last named I saw for the first time at Drury Lane, on the same evening. First Kean as Richard III., and then Liston as Lubin Log, In the favourite farce of those days, "Love, Law, and Physic." I can never forget the intense delight which afforded me. The magnificence of the theatre, the delightful music, the crowded auditorium, and the grand acting produced by a combination which enraptured my young brains.

Right - A notice in the Times of Monday the 8th of December 1823 advertising 'Richard III' and 'Love, Law, and Physic' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - an evening which Horatio Lloyd attended when he was sixteen and wrote excitedly about in his autobiography.

Subsequent to this I visited "Old Drury" regularly once a week. Every Monday evening found me quietly ensconced in the right-hand corner of the front seat of the two shilling gallery, anxiously awaiting the rising of the great green curtain. It was here and thus that I so often witnessed the performances of the two great stars I have mentioned-Liston more particularly. Although poor Kean's powers were evidently on the wane in the eyes of those who had enjoyed his earlier years, there was no such drawback in my case. I had never seen him in his prime, and in all he said or did now I could see no fault, but everything to admire.

A Bill for 'King Richard III and 'Love, Law, & Physic' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on the 8th of December 1823, printed in 'The Theatrical Observer' - Courtesy Jennie Bisset.Liston took me captive completely. I saw him in all his popular parts, and consider him the most glorious low comedian I ever saw and listened to. He must have been made expressly for a comedian.

He was remarkably ugly-that is to say, in so far as the physiognomy was concerned. Plump cheeks, one larger than the other, a turn up nose, and a twist on one side of the mouth-these were his leading facial features. But he was a tall gentlemanly man, with a very handsome figure. His face alone made the audience roar with laughter before he spoke a word.

He would come on the stage and stand silently looking at them, as if overcome with surprise, mingled with disgust at their rudeness. Then when he had got them almost into convulsions by his simple power of facial expression, he would begin muttering to himself, turn his back to them, and walk up the stage. This was the last straw; for the reason that the exhibition of the unusually ample proportions in the rear with which Nature had been pleased to endow him was considered by his faithful patrons to be the acme of humour.

With this sort of pantomime he would keep them into fits for five or six minutes without uttering a word. I repeat that I consider him to be the greatest low comedian I ever beheld. It was no acting; it was the man himself- nature- and that made his drolleries so acceptable.

Left - A Bill for 'King Richard III and 'Love, Law, & Physic' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on the 8th of December 1823, printed in 'The Theatrical Observer' - Courtesy Jennie Bisset.

A Review of Horatio's special night at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

A review from 'The Theatrical Observer' 9th of December 1823 - Courtesy Jennie Bisset.MR. KEAN, last night, re-commenced his arduous duties, in his celebrated character of Richard the Third. His reception from a numerous audience was enthusiastic. We regretted to perceive the traces of indisposition still about him. Between the third and fourth acts, an apology was made for any deficiencies which his ill health might have produced. It was almost unnecessary - he acted with great effect in most parts, and frequently received animated applause. He should not act more than twice in the week until he is stronger.

The above review is from 'The Theatrical Observer' 9th of December 1823 - Courtesy Jennie Bisset.

MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN PUBLIC

To return to my own story my first public appearance as an amateur was made in Exeter. I had gone down there on a visit to some friends of my father's and, after being two or three days in the town, I had the assurance to call on the manager of the theatre to ask if he would let me play some "little" parts, or song comic songs between the pieces. After looking at me form head to foot, he asked me how old I was, I was not fifteen; but, fearing my youth might be against me, I clapped on a year and said I was going on Sixteen." He next inquired if I had ever been on the stage before; and on my telling him that I had not, he said "Well my company is quite full at present; but, if you like you can come on Monday next, and I'll put you in the bills for a comic song. Only-I can't offer you a salary, not knowing what you can do. Next season, perhaps, I may make an opening for you." I thanked him and told him that I didn't want any salary.

On the following Monday morning I rehearsed my song, "The King and the Countryman," and when I sang it at night I got a good deal of applause. In fact, to my great delight, I was encored. More than that, the manager condescended to shake hands with me when I came off, observing at the same time, "That is very good, sir, for a beginner." After this I got a few little parts entrusted to me, in which I had such important lines to repeat as-"The carriage is at the door my Lord," or- "A gentleman without wishes to see you, sir," &c. Now, thought I , it is all right. I was called in the bills Mr Lord. The designation was the manager's choice, not mine. He never took the trouble to ask my real name; nor did he care what it was.

There is more information on Exeter Theatres on the site here.

MY FIRST LOVE AFFAIR

This went on for nigh a couple of months, when, of all things in the world, what should I do but - tumble over head and ears in love. My enslaver was a China merchant's niece - not a Chinese merchant of Shanghai or Hong Kong, but of crockery china, tea-cups and saucers, jelly pots, &c., in the main street of Exeter. We took our evening strolls in "The Lover's Lane" and elsewhere, unknown to her uncle, for whom she and her sister kept house. On our better aquaintance, I was at last invited to tea. It was for a Sunday evening, when "Nunky" was expected to be out of the way. According to appointment, I was there, when, just as we were sitting down, one of the girls exclaimed. "Hush! what's that?" and opening the dining-room door, said, "There's some one in the lobby." At the same time a voice at the foot of the stairs called up, "Jane - get tea ready-I'm not going out again to-night." It was the uncle. who had let himself in with his latch-key. Horror! what was I to do? It was certainly "A Regular fix:" and, nothing else seaming practicle, I was pushed into a large cupboard, where jams, jellies, spirits &c., were stored. it was the regular farce business so funny on the stage, but so very much the other way - as I found it, in actuality. In came the uncle and sat down; his first remark being, "Is anyone coming to tea?" - No," responded my girl, "Why?" "Only that you've got three cups and saucers here." said he. I trembled for the explanation of this: but, all right - "the devil never failed a woman at a punch." The dear inocent, without any hesitation said, "Well there's three of us." "Yet there was only two of you when I came in." returned he. The darling was ready for him - "I know that uncle, but when you called up for tea I placed another cup and saucer on the table. "Oh yes," said Nunky, " of course, I see." Now for the denoument and grand tableau. Tea having been discussed and cleared away, the old man called for his pipe and tobacco. "You'll find 'em down in the counting-house; and here, "he added, "some hot water, and a tumbler as well - I'll get the brandy myself." I shook with fear; and why? - the brandy bottle was by my elbow! What shall I do? Shall I rush out with the bottle boldly, say "here it is," and cut down the stairs? Or shall I stand firm? - that is as firm as my trembling nerves would let me. These were my flurried thoughts as the press door was opened and uncle put in his hand for the bottle. Seeing me, he cried out, "What the - is that?- "starting half across the room and tumbling over a chair. Recovering himslef quickly, snatched a poker from the fire-place, and, coming back, shook it in my face, as I stood still trembling within the press. Calling the girls to fetch a constable, he turned to me again and said - "Who are you? Come out, you - scoundrel." As I obeyed, a curious look came over his face, and he exclaimed, "Ho, ho! I know you now, you wandering vagabond; you belong to that player gang. How did you get in here? what did you expect to pick up? Is it a shirt you want, you penniless scamp? I'll pay you out for this, I will. I'll give you a reception to-morrow night - I'll send a batch of my fellows to hoot you off the platform. Out o' here - or I'll give you in charge." I shrunk form the room sideways, keeping one eye on that of the "Cruel uncle" and the other on his poker, as he followed me step by step - I fully expecting either a broken head or an ignominious aid to my exit - until I had slammed the door behind me. Then, when I found myself thus uncourteously thrust out into the cold, I looked up to the window above in anticipation of seeing "my pretty Jane" (Jane was her name) in tears of bitter sorrow over such a cruel crisis in our loves. What I did see, was the two sisters seemingly choking with laughter over the fun of it. " Frailty! thy name is woman."

There is more information on Exeter Theatres on the site here.

THE WICKED UNCLE

On the following night (Monday) I went on at the theatre, as usual, to sing my song. I was in such a miserably nervous state that I could not begin it. I kept looking around for the cruel uncle, and I fancied I saw in the faces of those before me the "fellows" he had threatened to send and hoot me off the stage. The symphony of my song had been played twice over, to give me time. I then began, but instead of at the beginning, I commenced at the third verse. "Skipping!" - shouted a rough boy in the gallery; "Begin again" - cried another; "Give that dog a bone" - squeaked a third. At last I stuck altogether; stood motionless; the audience laughed at me, chaffed me, and to conclude, I was literally hissed and pelted off the stage, amid the overpowering shouts of a crowded, brilliant, highly appreciative, and truly sympathising audience; it being positively my best appearance at the Exeter Theatre. Before leaving town, however, I came nigh never leaving it - in life, that is to say. On the last Sunday that I was to be in it, my father and mother came down from London to spend the time till the Tuesday following, when we were all to return to town together. The arrangement was that I should meet them on the arrival of the mail at mid-day at the London Hotel, and dine with them there.

There is more information on Exeter Theatres on the site here.

NOT BORN TO BE DROWNED

I had an appointment with a young friend for six o'clock that same morning to go and have a bathe in the Canal before breakfast, which was duly kept. Arrived on the spot, we undressed, and my friend, who was an excellent swimmer, struck off at once up the Canal; whilst I, not being an adept in the art, could only venture across from one side to the other. The Canal, I may mention, was not more than six feet at most in depth, whilst the water was so clear that you could see the pebbles at the bottom, with the sun shining through the water. At about three feet below the bank from where we were a large stone projected from the side, just big enough to form a platform from which to start for the swim across, and from this I made three of four trips to the other side and back. Feeling then more confidence, I thought I would take a few strokes down the water this time. I did so, and was getting on very well, when I bethought me that I was away from my landing place, the stone. I immediately turned round, but not at first being able to see it, I got bewildered and unnerved. However I did get sight of it and got to it but was so flustered, and in such a hurry to get out, that my foot slipped off it, and down I went, straight to the bottom, on my feet. Twice, I believe, I came to the surface and went down again, when a strange feeling came over me. In this state I saw my father and my mother waiting dinner for me at the hotel, while I was lying drowned at the bottom of the canal; I saw every relative I had: every incident of my life was before me. I felt no pain, had no suffering, but what I endured from the crowd of thoughts that filled my brain. There was not a foot of water above me. I could see the top perfectly well. Suddenly - by some merciful impulse enabled - "I will save myself yet," I said or thought. Frantically digging my nails into the bank I was up in a moment to the edge of it. There I fell forwards, my face on the bank and legs hanging down over it to the water. I could do no more, and I remembered no more of what occurred during a couple of hours thereafter, when I found myself in the house of a dock-keeper, with my friend sitting beside me. He told me that on his returning from his swim, he saw me lying as I have described, and thinking I was having a joke with him, he pulled my legs, which brought me back into the water and to the bottom once more. Seeing that something was wrong, he dived and brought me up to the surface by the hair of the head. Having with great difficulty got me on to the towing-path, he then laid me on my face, and, with the assistance of the dock-keeper, removed me to where I was, there efforts to restore animation being happily crowned with success. So effectual were they that, after getting another sleep, I was able to go home to my lodgings, have a change of clothing, and be at the hotel in time to meet my parents when they arrived by the mail. In due time I told them all about it, and endeavored to give them some description of the wonderful phenomenal appearances I had seen in my drowning moments. But such an experience is indescribable. Only those who have undergone it can have anything approaching an idea of what it is.

PRIVATE THEATRICALS

AN AMBITION FOR TRAGEDY

In the year 1828 I amused myself occasionally by playing parts at "private" theatres. The first I appeared at was Payne's or Pym's - I forget which - in Berick Street, Soho. The piece on this occasion was "The Castle Spectre," and I paid 10s for the privilege of being allowed to go on in it. In the character of Kenrick - a tragedy part I called it, for that was my ambition, and I resolved to make it so. Accordingly, my first step was to go to a costumier's in Longacre, and hire of him a complete Richard III. dress - for I felt persuaded that I was meant to be an Edmund Kean in the future, and the sooner I got into the mould of it the better. Then I borrowed a net of female ringlets, and had them stitched round the back part of Richard's hat, to appear like long ? hanging over my shoulders. As was the rule, I was allowed so many tickets of admission by the proprietor of the theatre, for my ten shillings; the number of tickets allowed at their theatres being according to the price paid for the part. I distributed the tickets among my friends; and on the afternoon of the great event, I was at the little theatre in Soho nearly three hours before it opened. I dressed at once, and then passed the time strutting up and down the stage by the glimmer of a solitary lamp, spouting - not the part I had paid for, but Richard's first monologue, "Now is the winter of our discontent, &co." The character I was to play in the "Castle Spectre" never entered into my mind.. I had my Richard's dress on, and I felt Richard all over. Thus I marched about, applauded myself, called myself before the curtain, bowed, made a speech, and thanked the (imaginary) audience for this overpowering reception.

AN AWKWARD CONTRETEMPS

At last the longed-for hour arrived; the doors were opened, I heard the rush, and had the vanity to suppose it was to see me. Now the curtain was up - I was told to be ready - then I caught the cue for Kenrick's entrance, and on I went. I strutted from left to right of the stage, back again, and then to centre, pulling on my gauntlets the while, à la Kean. I got a round of applause, which I acknowledged by taking off my hat and making a graceful bow to them. This was the signal for a roar of laughter. I had forgotten that Richard's long ringlets were sewn to my hat, so that, when I uncovered to make my obeisance, the picture I made was a peculiar one. Discovering the state of matters, I at once popped the hat on again but it was fated that this occasion was to be a case of 'the farther in the deeper.' In the flurry of the moment I put on the hat hind part foremost, so that the black ringlets hung over my face. Amid a renewed roar and cries of "Go on - never mind 'em," I righted the chapeau, and went at it again. To my consternation,I found myself suddenly interrupted by cries of "Bravo, Kean!" I had been so wrapt up in Richard's soliloquy that I had actually been giving them "the winter of our discontent'" instead of the words of Kenrick. A friendly voice in front suggested that I should "go off and begin again," and, taking the hint, I retreated, and in a minute or less, re-entered, not a whit disconcerted, amid such patronizing encouragements as "Now for it," "Give it mouth," "Very good, indeed," "Ah ! that's beautiful !" "Did you ever!" "Look out - take care of your calf - it's nearly out of sight." - and so it was. I had stuffed the calves of my legs with cotton to improve the symmetry of the limbs, but the stuffing in one of them, had gradually descended into the boot and, on my stooping to wriggle it up again into its proper place, I pulled it into such a pleasing variety of lumps, that it had the appearance of a leg that had been seized badly with cramps and left full of knots. During this operation the audience was in ecstacies at my serio-comic appearance and finding that the impression I had made on it was threatening to declare itself in rather too warm a fashion, I thought it prudent to make a somewhat hurried exit. As I did so, like an impudent schoolboy, I made faces at them and, putting my fingers to my nose, disappeared amid a shower of nut-shells and orange peel.

I TRY LOW COMEDY

As I threw off the Richard robes, I vowed never again to appear before such an unappreciative audience. Such vows, however, resemble pie-crust about as much as promises are said to do, and I did appear again. This time, however, I restrained my tragic impulses, and had ten shillings' worth of low comedy by way of a change. I took the part of Tommy in a farce called "All at Coventry," and, as I was neither hissed nor applauded, I may suppose I worked through it tolerably well. I recollect that I imitated Liston - at least I tried to do so. By the way, is it not a curious fact that, as a rule, amateurs commence their maniacal career by imitating some favourite actor, especially if the latter has any marked peculiarity about him? Such, at all events, was the case in my youthful days. The tragedians were all Keans; the comedians, all Listons, Harleys or Keeleys; the 'old men,' all Farrens or Blanchards; and the melo-dramatics, Wallacks, O. Smiths, or T. P. Cookes.

LADY AMATEURS

As for "Lady" amateurs of the period of which I write, I can say nothing, for the reason that I really cannot call to mind any of them. It was not fashionable in those days. The great difficulty then was to find any ladies who would condescend to tread the boards of a play-house. In these private theatres, the female parts had to be given away to any plebeian girls who liked to show off. After filling up his cast of male parts and receiving the cash for them, the proprietor, with well-feigned sudden recollection, would say:-

"But, by the way, where can we get a Juliet?"

"Oh," the fiery Tybalt would answer, "the greengrocer's daughter over the way could do it, if you will find her dresses."

"Dresses!" says the Friar, "there's only one wanted. She can wear her own night-gown and cap for the tomb scenes."

"No," said the future Romeo, "I won't have that red-headed costermonger for Juliet. See what a mess she made of Lady Macbeth, when she told me to 'screw my sticker to the courage post,' and bet me anything you like that we shouldn't fail. No thank-you. I'll get Jenny ......, the milliner in Compton Street. She'll do it. Besides, she can read and write, and find her own dresses."

These were the "lady" amateurs of this non-aspiring period! Mark the change. For those of the present day, we have the Hon. Lady This and the Hon. Lady That, Mrs This and Miss Tother - all ladies by birth, anxious to display their abilities as actresses. In reference to these, there can be no denying that they exhibit a certain kind of finish in what they do, in respect of their naturally graceful movements , their pure and correct speech, and innate elegance of manner. But will these combined qualities make the actress? I answer, "No." All will allow, that they are great enhancements to a possessor of genius, lacking a sufficient share of which the performance of such ladies can, at the most, be but "pleasing."

But what is to be said about another class of "lady" amateurs, ever ready to exhibit themselves on the boards for the admiration of their "masher" supporters? Born and bred no one knows where, and no one cares, their school-days would appear to have been passed where compulsory education was unknown. Their elegant attempts at repeating what is "set down for them" are something after the style of a girl delivering a recitation at an annual Board School Examination. Nay, don't let me wrong the latter. The unassuming girl would, in most cases at least, have been taught to understand what she was reading about, and how to speak it with proper emphasis and some degree of point. But the "masher's" lady thinks much more of showing off her figure to her spoony admirers in the stalls than of the point and meaning of any words with which she may have been entrusted to deliver. These are the women who bring the stage into more disrepute than all the poor Ballet girls in the profession, who undeservedly have the credit of doing so. But what remuneration do managers offer these ladies for their services? Nothing. What recommendations do they bring with them? None. Stop - yes - a few hundreds dropped into the treasury of the theatre, by some mysterious agency, has been known to cause a really talented actress to be put aside in order to make room for an imposter to show off her vain-glory and love for indiscriminate admiration on the stage. But are there no further attractions for such managers? Certainly there are. A stylish appearance in public, splendid silks and satins, a fine figure (perhaps), a pretty baby face - with as much expression in it as one of Madame Tussaud's wax heads, but painted and powdered with artistic taste, a tow wig, a good show of diamonds, and a brougham - all, of course, at her own expense. These constitute an external sign of talent, which much commends itself to some shrewd, economical, business-like theatrical directors.

NATURE BEST AFTER ALL

My final appearance at a private theatre was at a well-known establishment of the kind in Catharine Street, off the Strand. The character I represented on this occasion was that of John Lump, in the good old farce called "The Review", or the "Wags of Windsor." It is what is known on the stage, as a "countryman's" part and, with my remembrance of that dialect, I played him as a Yorkshire man. This time I attempted to imitate no one and, to tell the truth, I found it to be much easier to be natural and original, than while on the stage, to be muddling my brains with thinking of how another would play the part; how he would speak it, how he would walk the stage, or how he would twist his mouth. My fellow-performers, however, stuck to what they doubtless considered "the good old plan." Thus, Caleb Quotem was played by a young man in imitation of the elder Charles Mathews. Not satisfied with painting one side of his mouth to make it look awry - as Mathews's was naturally - this would-be facsimile of a great man, played the part with a limp, forgetting that poor Mathews's lameness was a result of an accident, and not assumed, having had his leg broken some time after he had been in the profession. Looney M'Twolter was an imitation of "Irish" Johnstone; Mr Deputy Ball, of Blanchard; and the old man Captain Beaugard of "Gentleman" Jones. Now, all these were celebrated actors at the two big theatres, and I remember the proprietor remarking that if he had known there was to be so much famous talent there that evening, he would have announced that, "on this occasion," several of the principal performers from the Theatre-Royal, Drury Lane, and Covent Garden would have the honour of appearing in Catharine Street.

...Chapter One - Chapter Three...

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