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The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow




My fellow-lodger in Balmano Street was a medical student, and he and I became great chums. One evening we went out together for a stroll, and when at the corner of Ingram Street and Glassford Street, up the latter of which we had come, we passed a warehouse bearing all the signs and symptoms of having been unused for some length of time. The majority of the window panes were broken, and what remained were grimy with dirt. Just as we were turning in Ingram Street, some one threw a stone from the opposite side, which struck one of the panes in question with such force as to make a noise sufficient to bring the police on the scene at once. They decided that I had done it, and the pair of us were taken to the Police Office, where we were told we should have to leave a pledge for our appearance next morning. I offered them my silver watch, which they declined as not good enough; and so my friend had to leave his gold one. I never felt more ashamed in my life than when I appeared at the bar of the Police Court on the following forenoon, and so eager was I to get it all over that, when asked if I had broken the window, I said at once "Yes; I broke it," and without waiting for further questioning, added "But I was drunk at the time." Neither of these statements were true. I was fined five shillings for breaking the window, and five more for being drunk. Having paid the fines, and received back my friend's watch, I went direct from the Police Office to the place where the window had been broken, just to see how the premises looked in broad day-light. Fixed up in front of them was a board, on which was lettered "This Warehouse to Let, - Apply to Gilmour & Hall, writers, Miller Street." I called on these gentlemen there and then, and told them what had occurred, and how I was ten shillings out of pocket over this old warehouse of theirs. Mr Hall asked me to sit down for a minute or two, observing that they might as well have the money for the broken window as the police. Mr Gilmour said that he would go over to the office himself and see about it; and away he went. He was not a very long time gone; and, on his return, he pulled out of his pocket upwards of thirty shillings as the fruits of his expedition. It appeared that persons had been repeatedly apprehended and fined for breaking these windows; but, as Gilmour & Hall had never heard of it, they had never applied for the costs. And what Mr Gilmour now brought with him was accumulations of the latter which belonged of right to his firm as representing the owners of the property.


The finish of this little adventure was that Mr. Gilmore handed me over my ten shillings, and then, remarking that it was now four o'clock, moved that we should all go over to the Pope's Eye and have a beefsteak together. There being no amendment, the motion was declared to be carried, and at once put into action. We had the steak, and a bottle of good port to boot, paid out of the proceeds of the broken window fund. My introduction, under such peculiar circumstances, to these gentlemen was the foundation of a long friendship, with the senior partner more especially. Everyone knew "Willie" Gilmore to be as kind a fellow as ever breathed. I have here narrated my first and only visit to a police office; but, as showing the interest the guardians of the peace of those days took in the preservation of the public morality, I may just mention that, walking along Argyll Street one Saturday evening, and smoking a cigar, I was ordered by the police to put it out; and, on another occasion, similarly "requested" to cease whistling so late at night.



Amongst other "stars" of the profession who appeared in Glasgow (1831), I had the supreme delight of meeting with the celebrated Charles Young, the tragedian, who was then taking his farewell of the stage in the provinces, supported by Mr. Vandenhoff, senior. I had seen Mr Young often when I was a boy. He and his brother, the doctor, were old customers of my father's, and he would often drive up to the door in the Strand in his cabriolet, and leave it in charge of his groom, whilst he would sit in the counting house for an hour or two chatting about politics &c, with, my father and any other friend who happened to look in. He was a glorious actor. What a beautifully round full voice he had -what eloquent delivery! He had a slight lisp, which was barely perceptible, and which he evidently endeavoured to conceal. This, I think, accounted in a great degree for his precise reassured style, either in conversation or on the stage. What would I give to see such acting now! On the last night of his appearance in Glasgow, for his benefit, he played his famous part of Iago, Mr.Vandenhoff playing the Moor; and was also announced to appear as Megrim, in the farce of "Blue Devils", a character in which he was also very celebrated. In the farce, I was cast for the part of James, who has a long scene with Megrlm, on the careful acting of which depends some of the latter's best points. I confess that while highly delighted at the chance, I was also very nervous at having thus to "support" the great star. However, at the rehearsal of the piece, all went well, as I thought.


Young never said a word to me till it was over, when he called me on one side and said - "Mr Lloyd, would you mind remaining with me for a little after the others are gone, and we'll go through our scenes togther? I'll put you up to some fun that you'll be able to get out of your part, if you will allow me to take the liberty."

I thanked him for his politeness and said I should feel under an obligation to him for taking such trouble.

"No trouble at all, my boy; it will be a pleasure" - he replied. When the stage was empty, Young said, - "Now, Sir, we'll to't like French falconers." - and then commenced, what truly was, my first lesson in acting.

"Before we begin," he said, "let me ask you not to get fidgety or annoyed if I interrupt you occasionally. You are letter-perfect in the words, I know; but you are in too great a hurry to get quit of them. What I want you to do is - to take time - to pause where I shall tell you, and make your points, which will enable me, to make mine. Now we'll proceed; take it coolly -don't be nervous. We'll begin where you enter as I am writing at a table at the back of the stage."

We commenced there, accordingly, and went through the important scenes which follows between Megrim and James. As those who know the good old farce are aware, the scene in question is what is called an "equivocal" one throughout. Megrim, a hypochondriac, is referring to self-destruction, and James to his sweetheart; the result being that, when properly represented, the confusion thus inured, is mirth-provoking to a degree. Mr Young spared no pains with me; I was only too willing to be taught, and the hour's drilling I thus received from such a master of his art, was a lasting benefit to me. It taught me the necessity of thinking for myself, of keeping composed, of entirely forgetting , for the time being, that I was other than the character I was representing, and how to allow time for the laughter and applause of an audience, so that none of the words immediately following that which had tickled them, should be thrown away. It caused me to read over my parts more carefully, and consequently with more pleasure and profit combined.

I began, henceforth, to think of how and where any good points could be made judiciously, that is without interfering with the character of the piece or the business of any other performed on the stage, at the time as myself. It taught me, in short, that the mere acquiring of the words of a part, was but a very little on the way to playing it, satisfactorily.


After finishing our rehearsal, Young shook my by the hand, saying - "Thank you. I'm obliged to you. And now we'll go and rehearse our powers of mastication; and before you take your afternoon nap, read over your part carefully, and when you wake up you'll find it so stereotyped on your brain, that you'll have no more trouble with it." - "By the by," he added, "I forgot one thing, and that is that we are in Scotland, where laughter and applause are not bestowed upon us, poor players, with the same warmth and heartiness as in dear old England. We must be prepared for that." Upon this, I asked him what I should do if they neither laughed nor applauded at the pieces where he had told me to wait for it - "In that case," he said, "I'll quietly pat you on the shoulder, as a hint to proceed. And that reminds me of a story of John Kemble. He once said to me, "Young, you've been in Scotland. How d'ye like the people?" I said, "Pretty well, only it was a difficult matter to rouse them up and even then they don't overburden you with their applause.

"Applause!" said Kemble; "Why , the last time I was in Edinburgh they nearly killed me with their coldness - ay, Sir, nearly killed me. I had to speak to them, Sir. I played through nearly two acts of "Othello" with scarcely a hand. I was so annoyed and exhausted that I went forward and said, - "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you do not applaud me, I cannot go on. You do not give me time to breathe. (He was troubled with asthma, Young explained.) "I had to walk off and get a glass of water," Kemble continued "and I observed to Murray, the manager - afterwards -that they were worse than ever." - "Oh!" said Murray, "that's nothing; you don't know them as well as I do. Why, the first season I was here, I never went on the stage but they hissed me, before I opened my mouth. I got so accustomed to it at last that I actually used to wait for it, and commenced my words when it was done. But I got over them at last. One evening I went on, and, as usual, waited for it, but no hissing came. Still I waited, till at last some one in the pit called out, "Why don't you go on?" - In response to this, I made a bow, and said, in a significant way, "I'm waiting for my reception." At this, they laughed heartily, and gave me a round of applause. They never hissed me again. But I have never forgotten nor forgiven their savage conduct towards me; and I hope to have the pleasure some day of telling them so."


Young and I then walked to the stage door together and, when we were outside and about to go our respective ways, he said, "I went into the private box last night after I had finished, and was much pleased with the comic song you sang. It was you - if I'm not mistaken?" I replied that it was and that someone had hissed me. "My dear fellow," he said, "I wouldn't give a d-n for a low comedian that wasn't hissed sometimes; good morning," and away he went.

As Mr Young here drops for good and all, out of these reminiscences of mine, I may, by way of a parting shot, tell a little story of him which was told me by Mr Murray. During one of his engagements at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, whilst on the stage in some piece, the name of which Mr Murray mentioned, but which I now forget, Young suddenly ceased speaking, and commenced to cough violently. The audience, sympathising with him on this sudden attack, gave him a round of applause, upon which he went forward, and as well as he was able, under the circumstances, said "Ladies and Gentlemen, pray pardon me if I retire for a few moments - I have swallowed some of my moustache;" and then, in another violent access of coughing, walked rapidly off the stage at the "prompt" entrance. Seizing the book out of the prompter's hands, he exclaimed, "For God's sake, let me look - I've forgotten all the words." Having hurriedly run over the lost lines, he returned to the stage and proceeded with his part, after which he went through with a well-assumed short cough now and then, sustained to the end of the tragedy. Not every actor, similarly left in the lurch by a treacherous memory, would have exhibited the same presence of mind and readiness of resource, to enable him to have a look at the book!


The year 1832 was rendered a memorable one in Glasgow, as elsewhere, by the first visitation in this country of Asiatic cholera. As may be easily imagined, the state of mind into which the public were thrown by the ravages of the strange disease, so sudden and so fatal in its attacks, indisposed them from thinking about public amusements. The audiences at the theatre dwindled down almost to nothing. A production of "Rob Roy" - with Mackay brought over from Edinburgh to play the Bailie - was tried, to see if it would mend matters, but all would not do. The people would not leave their homes at night; indeed, they would hardly attend to their businesses during the day. This determined Mr Alexander, on terminating the season abruptly - which he did, and took the company to Dumfries and Carlisle; he, being at that time, lessee of the theatres at both places.


It was at Dumfries that I first met the late Samuel Phelps, who was engaged as leading man of the company. He was of a very studious disposition. At rehearsals, the book was never out of his hand, as, when not engaged in the scene being rehearsed, he might be found pacing up and down at the back, committing to memory parts which he expected hereafter to be called upon to personate. In this theatre, at the same time, was an actor of the name of Stewart, a Scotchman, well-known in Glasgow afterwards, as "Wee Davie Stewart." His line was general utility, and he used to boast, out of the theatre, that he played the leading military parts, from General Wellington to General Utility. He it was, who coached Phelps in the pronunciation of Scotch, when the latter was studying the part of Sir Perlinax McSycophant, for which he became, by and by, so famous.


In Dumfries, I had my wigs dressed by a hairdresser named Smith, who told me he had been a friend of Edmund Kean's, in his strolling days and in corroboration of the statement, he showed me several letters he had received from him. He leant Kean £20 to support him in London before his appearance at Old Drury; and the great tragedian, in return, sent him £50, and an invitation to go up to town and see him.

The invitation was accepted, and Kean, he told me, did not know how to do enough for him. Once, in the old days, Smith said, he took the theatre there for Kean, for one night, as a "spec". Unfortunately, it turned out what professionals term "a frost." Only one man came. In this state of matters, what Kean did was this - he sent for his solitary patron; returned him his shilling then he, Smith, and the stranger adjourned to a public-house and got drunk together.


And now, dear friends, who have followed me thus far, I approach the commencement of the longest and pleasantest period of my professional life. A Londoner born and bred, it was fated that my career should be carried out in Scotland; and it is on that considerable portion of it constituted by the sixteen years I remained under Mr W. H. Murray, of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, that I look back with the completest satisfaction. It was one morning at Dunlop Street that the prompter brought me a letter from the stage door. "Here's a letter for you from Edinburgh," he said; "and its Mr Murray's handwriting, I'm certain." This was on 24th August, 1832. The letter was from Mr Murray; and it contained the offer to me of an engagement at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, for the first low-comedy," in room of Mr George Stanley, who was leaving. I was delighted at the chance; and yet I feared that my youth and inexperience in the profession would scarcely justify me in accepting such a responsible position as that proposed. For it must be born in mind that at this time in Edinburgh, theatre was looked upon as the first in the provinces, and the stepping-stone to London. I accordingly wrote to Mr Murray, stating the doubts that I had of my capability of filling the position he had been so kind as to offer me: and I also said that, having become a favourite in Glasgow, I feared to change certainty for an uncertainty. Two days later I received the following:-

Edinburgh, 27th August, 1832

"My dear Sir,-I am fully aware of the very just popularity you enjoy in Glasgow, and certainly would not have said one word that might have induced you to leave for Edinburgh had I not heard that you had an idea of visiting the Liverpool Company. All I shall say now is that I shall be very happy to hear from you whenever you think of leaving your present situation.-Your very obedt. Servt., "W. H. Murray."

To Mr Lloyd, Theatre Royal, Glasgow." Upon receipt of this I regretted that I had written in a style to produce such a reply and possibly lost myself an opportunity I might never have again. I resolved to try and undo the mischief, if possible, and so wrote a reply stating that, having thought the matter well over, I was prepared to accept the engagement -merely hoping that he would not put me into any characters which Mr Stanley had made a special feature of. By return of post I received a note requesting me to forward a list of the parts I wished for and was willing to play and state my expectations as to terms. With this I was well pleased, and in reply sent a list of parts I wished to play, and a salary of £2 10s a week. Two days later there came to me the following:-

Edinburgh, 1st September, 1832.

"My dear sir,-your list is (with the exception of one or two parts in the possession of Mr Mackay) what I wish; but under present circumstances I could not offer more than two guineas per week. The only additional inducement I can propose is a sincere wish to make your visit to Edinburgh agreeable to you, and a readiness to forward your professional interests by the sacrifice of any characters in my own list. Should I have the pleasure of seeing you here we open on Monday, the 1st of October.- Yours, &c., "W. H. Murray.

"P.S.- As a matter of form, I add that should a wish to separate arise on either side, six weeks is the usual notice."

I immediately replied, accepting the engagement. I felt proud to think I had so rapidly arrived at the top of the tree, and that, without encountering any-at all events, but few- of those harassing and disgusting experiences that young beginners have so often to come through. I can scarcely believe, when I think of my youth and inexperience at that time, how it came about that I should have attained such a position in a first-class theatre, and been called upon to take the place of a talented and favourite actor of 40 years like George Stanley. Such was the fact, however, and I made my first appearance on the boards of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, on Monday, 1st October, 1832. I played the little part of Lopez in "The Honeymoon." I was exceedingly well received by the audience, and next morning had the further gratification of being complimented by my manager, who-let me say it here and at once-fully kept up his word with me in regard of promoting my professional interests in every way he could. In fact, his kindness was unbounded. He seemed proud of me, and treated me more like a son than a servant. As already stated, I remained under the banner of Mr Murray for the long period of 16 years-that is, in theatrical management, 32 seasons, winter and summer respectively-and, during all that time, never one angry word passed between us.


A few months after my appearance, I made my first decided hit. It was in the part of Jack Rag in the comedy of "The Climbing Boy." The piece was a success, having a good run - as runs went in those days - and bringing full houses. One sentence I had to speak in the piece, "Catch 'em coming back again," became a catch-word over in Edinburgh; and snuff-boxes, with my portrait as Jack Rag, on the lid, were for a time very fashionable.

I had to speak behind the scenes before entering and the moment the audience heard my voice, they invariably gave me three tremendous rounds of applause.

NB: The Climbing Boy (or The Little Sweep) was a play by Richard Brinsley Peake which had its first performance at the Olympic Theatre in London in 1832. - The play is thought to have been one of the inspirations for Dicken's 'Oliver Twist.'


In addition to soon becoming a public favourite, I was not long in commencing to form some private friendships, some of which proved to be lasting and of the most agreeable character. From my first arrival in Scotland, I found that it was more difficult to make acquaintanceship with the natives than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom; but I also discovered that, when once made, it was surer and more enduring. To be sure I never pushed myself forward and I confess that, unless the society I found myself in was above my own grade, I more enjoyed privacy.

During all the months I had been in Edinburgh before, at the Caledonian Theatre, I do not recollect making one casual acquaintance that I either cared to meet again or cared about parting from. That Theatre being looked upon as but a minor establishment, and of course, those connected with it were only minor members of the profession, and regarded as social nobodies. But, on my becoming a Member of the Theatre Royal, I soon made not only acquaintances, but friends galore, who continued so until their deaths; those who survive remaining so up to the present date. I have had old friends who, after 40 years' absence from the country, have come and looked me up for Auld Lang Syne.

The very next morning after my first appearance at the Royal, I was standing at the Box Office door, when a young gentleman, son of Sir Henry Jardine, the King's Remembrancer, came up to secure places for that evening. On leaving, he entered into conversation with me - told me he had witnessed my performance on the night before; asked me how I liked Edinburgh, and invited me to walk with him to the Café. There he ordered luncheon, and after a pleasant hour or so, we parted, with an agreement to meet again as soon as possible. This I may say, was the foundation of all my "big friendships" in Edinburgh.



My acquaintances, however, were not exclusively amongst the upper crust and the story of one of the exceptions - in justice to myself, I must say it was not one of my seeking - is somewhat of an amusing one.

On being engaged at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, I engaged to board and lodge with a highly respectable family of the name of E......, with whom, I may state, I remained until I married and set up a house of my own. Occasional visitors to the house were a family who held, or were supposed to hold, "the Quaker rule." The gentleman was, ostensibly , most rigid in his adherence to the forms and requirements of that body; his wife and daughter not so much so. Thus, on one occasion, when the mother was having tea with my landlady, the latter asked me if I could get her friend an order for the theatre some night. I said I could, and would; and I did. For the purpose of visiting the theatre, this elderly Quakeress attired herself in worldly garments borrowed from my landlady, who was to accompany her and off they set together.

On my coming home at night, my landlady met me at the door, and told me that Mrs D...... (the Quaker's wife) was there at supper with her husband, who had come to escort her home and she begged me, "For goodness sake to be careful and not let the cat out of the bag about Mrs D...... having been to the theatre."

Of course I promised this, and then went into the room. Here I found that the Quaker lady had got into her Quaker clothes again, and sat there beside her husband, looking 'Quaker primness personified.' Both of them soon left, as it was late for them to be out. It was a rule with them, they said, whenever possible, to be in bed by ten o'clock.


About a week or so after this, it was the turn of the Quaker daughter to be having tea in our house and I, as a joke, asked her if she would like to go to the Theatre. She looked grave, did not answer me; blushed, smiled, and turning to my landlady, said softly;

"Do you think I might, Mrs E......?"

"I don't see any harm in it, my dear," replied the other.

"Will you go with me?"

"I will."

"But I can't go with that bonnet of mine."

"Oh, I'll make that all right."

So the two of them retired to make the toilette arrangements requisite, after which we all went over to the Theatre, and I passed them in, returning with them to my lodgings when the play was over. Here Miss D..... resumed her own severely modest attire, and thereafter I had the pleasure of seeing her home. On the way thither, I received the strongest of injunctions never on any account to let her father or mother know where she had been to that evening. They would be so terribly distressed if they knew. - they couldn't bear the name of a playhouse. I swore - by the kiss - that I never would. The spirit had moved me and, for the first and last time, I saluted a Quakeress.


Not having seen any of them at the house for some months, I one night asked my landlady what had come over her Quaker friends.

"Well, Mr Lloyd," she said, "the fact of the matter is that I got so disgusted with their pretended morality and deceitful humbug, that I haven't encouraged their visits for some time. I never told you - but a singular affair that happened - let me see - aye, nearly three months since, determined me to have done with them. It was one evening you weren't in, that my husband brought home passes for four to the pit. With that I sent for Mrs D..... and her daughter, to come and take a cup of tea. Maybe I was to blame - I confess, I did it partly for a wee bit of devilment. When they were at the tea table I asked them both, in the presence of each other, if they would go with myself and the good man to the Theatre. Up springs Mrs D..... to her feet, as if she had been fired from a gun, and says to me:

"Mrs E..... what do you take me for? Don't you know that our religion prohibits us visiting any such places of abomination?"

I then said,"Perhaps your daughter will go without you?" - on which the lassie burst into tears. "Mrs D..... ," says I. "it's useless carrying on this scene any farther. You know that you've gone to the Theatre with me often - and your daughter also."

The words were scarcely out of my mouth when the goodman, who had been sitting listening with astonishment at the last part of our conversation, sings out: "Quack, quack, quack - folol de diddle ol - quack, quack, quack."

This sets us all on laughing, when the goodman says again,"Verily, our sisters have erred in the flesh, but we'll a' be freends for a' that! So wifey, gie's a gless o' toddy, and we'll awa' the-gither to the thayter."

And that's what we did. The ladies' clothes were changed as before, and away we went. And now comes the droll bit of a'. On getting to the pit door, we went straight forward to the check-taker's box with our passes. He put out his hand to take them, and look it out. And who do you think it was? Why Mr D..... himself - the head of the bonny Quaker family! As it all came out by-and-by, he had been a check-taker in the gallery there for more than six years, and had only that very night been transferred to the pit - and that's what way we found him out. Thus fate brought the three of them face to face.

"Are you going in?" said Mr D....., when he saw who it was.

"Certainly, says she, "what's good enough for you, is surely good enough for me."

And according to my landlady in concluding, "I've never seen them since."

It came out that as a check-taker at the Theatre, he had for fully six years been paid 10 shillings a week, none of which money he ever took home. It was spent at the public-house in Shakespeare Square, where, after his check-taking duties, he went to get moved by the spirits there dispensed. As he carried a latch-key, had a bedroom to himself, and kept his own counsel strictly, his wife and daughter were innocent of any knowledge of his goings-on, until after the exposé just related.

...Chapter Five - Chapter Seven...

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