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The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow

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CHAPTER SEVEN

"NO SONG, NO SUPPER" - A REALISTIC PERFORMANCE

During the winter season of 1832-3 the good old musical interlude, "No Song, no Supper," was performed pretty often at the Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh, there being a good vocal corps in the company at the time. Thereby hangs a short tale which I may here rehearse. The man who played Endless was a Mr Mason; married, by the way, to a sister of the great Sarah Siddons. He was an excellent actor, a little thin man, but an enormous eater. He was commonly allowed, indeed, to be the greatest gourmand in Edinburgh. Now in "No Song, no Supper," it is a rule, rarely departed from, that the "spread" is not a mock, but a bona-fide one. A real boiled shoulder of lamb, with turnips, bread &c., is put upon the table on the stage. To this repast, Endless is invited to sit down by Crop's wife, and it is for him to give the cue for the others to come in and join.

Before proceeding with the story, however, I should explain that the duty of providing eatables and drinkables, as well as most other articles requisite in any piece, devolves upon the "property-man" of the theatre, as he is called. The cost of whatever is thus furnished, he enters in a book against the manager, who squares accounts with him at the end of the week. In many cases, it is said, the property-man is thus able to add a little to his salary by quietly sticking on a little beyond what he paid for the good, by way of commission. It is unfortunate, however - for him -when he is so forgetful as one of the tribe, who on a certain occasion presented his account with this as one of the items - "To two penn'worth of whip-cord, 6d."

But, to return, - On this particular evening, either Mason had been unusually hungry or the lamb looked unusually tempting, because he so contrived, by "gagging" and spinning out the introductory dialogue with Crop's wife, that when he could no longer postpone giving the word for the rest to come on, and they had got forward to the table, the joint was all but completely "punished." Probably it did not matter much to them but there was someone else whom it disagreeably astonished. All that remains on such occasions, is the perquisite of the property-man; and when, on this evening, he rushed forward at the close of the scene to secure it - from the attentions of any hungry scene-shifters - his disgust was deep at finding little more left than a rough bone. He resolved to resent such treatment on the first opportunity that offered; and it came the following week.

The piece was again produced, and Endless was about to repeat his former tactics, when to his disgust, this time, he found the lamb was scarcely warmed through - it was raw! He could not masticate a morsel of it. He saw this trick that had been played upon him, and in a moment made up his mind how to meet it. If he couldn't eat the meat, no one else should, if he could help it. Accordingly, he set to and sliced it into ribbons, lengthwise and crosswise, and then, taking out his big black snuff-box, he emptied its contents over the dish, rubbed the snuff well into the sliced lamb, threw it on to the stage, spat on it, and then kicked it under the table. Meantime, the manager and the actors enjoyed the fun immensely, from behind the scenes; whilst the audience, though not exactly seeing the joke, took it for granted that something funny was going on before them, and roared as well.

A MAN OF BUSINESS

At the conclusion of a season it was customary to have a notice posted up in the Green Room of the Theatre worded as follows, and signed by Mr Murray:-

Theatre Royal, Edinburgh (date)

"In thanking the ladies and gentlemen of the company for their kind assistance during the season, Mr Murray begs to intimate to them that the Theatre Royal will close on (date), and that the Adelphi will open for the summer on (date). Those ladies and gentlemen who may wish to renew their engagements will be good enough to write to Mr Murray within three days, who will then reply at the end of the week."

Mr Murray was such a thorough and cautious man of business that he never made any verbal arrangements. Everything was done by letter and every condition carried out most rigidly. At the conclusion of my first season with him, I observed the notice, as above, displayed in the Green Room, and can truthfully aver that I did not at first know what to do in the matter. I argued inwardly thus - Am I justified in applying for another engagement? True, the public have appeared to be satisfied with my efforts, and the press has been kind to me; but I am not satisfied with myself. Moreover, I worried myself as to what the manager's opinion might be. However, I at last resolved to write in, which I did and, after two or three days of anxious suspense, I received a kind letter engaging me for the Adelphi season, at the end of which the usual notice was posted to apply for re-engagements for the winter at the Royal, for which I also replied with the same result - and so on, as I have already mentioned, during 16 pleasant years.

THE ADELPHI

As I have just mentioned the Adelphi, this may be as good a place as any to give a brief glance at the history of that house from 1830 down to the present date. As the reader is aware, my first appearance of all in Edinburgh was at the Caledonian Theatre, to the manager of which, Mr Bass, I had brought a letter of introduction from my eccentric friend the agent, Mr Smythson. Mr Bass having made a complete "burst up" of it in 1830 - soon after I left to go to Alexander in Glasgow - Mr Murray, to prevent opposition, became the lessee of the house, and re-christened it - "The Adelphi Theatre." In this speculation he was at the outset joined by Mr Yates, of the London Adelphi; but that gentleman retired at the end of the first season, and Mr Murray remained sole lessee of this as well as the Theatre Royal, until his retirement from the stage and from business in November 1851. Mr R. H. Wyndham then became lessee, and continued so until the house was burned down on 23rd May, 1853, when he got the Theatre Royal. The Adelphi, having been rebuilt, got into the hands of a Mr Black, a merchant of Leith, who opened it on 19th December, 1855, under the name of "The Queen's Theatre and Operetta House." As, however, he knew nothing of theatrical management, the result was that he became bankrupt. Mr Wyndham then acquired the management, in addition to carrying on the Royal. As the Queen's Theatre, it was twice destroyed by fire during this gentleman's management - the last time being in January 1865. The old theatre, having been purchased by Government to make way for the new Post Office, Mr Wyndham transferred the title and patent to the Queen's, which it remained until it was again burned down, the fourth time, on 30th June, 1884, under the management of Mr Hislop. On it being again re-built, the ownership came into the hands of Mr H. Cecil Beryl, of the "Princess's Theatre", Glasgow, in the beginning of 1885.

MR YATES AND HIS ELEPHANT

The mention of the name of Mr Yates above, (father of the present editor of The World) reminds me that it was at the Caledonian Theatre I first came in contact with that gentleman, and under circumstances that may be worth recalling. He had come into possession of a famous trained elephant, called Mademoiselle Jeck, for which he had a piece written called "The Elephant of Siam." She was a most sagacious animal, certainly, and did many clever things in course of the piece, which had been so big a success in London that Yates determined on taking it round the provinces. When he came with it to the Caledonian in 1830, during my first Scottish engagement, it fell to my lot to play the part of a Grand Vizier, who had to walk in a grand procession, immediately in front of Mademoiselle Jeck. So close was I, that her trunk, which she kept constantly waving about, was sometimes over my head, then round my face, and almost touching my nose. I was in a perfect fever of fright on the opening night, expecting to be eaten alive every moment, it being my first so intimate acquaintance with one of the tribe, and ignorant of the diet they fed on. However, it never touched me, and I found myself at the end of the march, safe and sound.

THE GRAND VIZIER IN A DIFFICULTY

But, on the second night - I shall never forget it. The house was crowded, the first nobility and gentry, then resident in Edinburgh, being in the boxes in full dress. Everything went all right until I placed myself, as before, in front of Mademoiselle Jeck, when, as we marched along, she commenced tugging at my long pig-tail, which was sewn to a bald scalp and tied under my chin, with a kind of turban over it, which was also tied. She snorted, and seemed to be getting more and more excited, whilst I got more and more nervous. I was preparing to make a run for it, but she put her trunk gently round my neck and made a dead stop, not hurting me in the least. I got so alarmed that I could not stand, and sank down on the stage in a sitting posture. She then commenced at my pigtail again, and my turban, until she had torn them off my head. She took up the turban with her trunk, leaving the pigtail on the ground beside me, where I had fallen back in fear, and then - Oh! Horror! She lifted her great foreleg as if to resume the march. I looked up at the monstrous sole of her foot - it was a crusher! She then walked quietly over me, and concluded the march round the stage with the turban still in her possession, whilst I darted off on the opposite side, into my dressing-room, more dead than alive, amid the shouts of the audience!

UNREHEARSED BUSINESS

Would you believe it, kind reader, that next day it was all over Edinburgh that the tricks between Lloyd and the elephant were perfectly wonderful, and that no one should miss seeing it. When in my dressing-room, I began to think whether I had done anything to displease the animal, but couldn't recall anything of the kind. At last, a thought struck me all at once. Could it be my pigtail that annoyed her? Why was she so persistent at tugging at it? I saw it all now - she was jealous! My tail was twice the length of hers. That was it; for see how she carried away the turban, and left the pigtail contemptuously lying on the stage. In the midst of these reflections in came one of the actors, laughing heartily, who said -

"That was capital business, Lloyd, between you and the elephant."

"What business?" said I.

"Why the pigtail and turban."

"Do you think that I arranged to do that business, as you call it?"

"Well," he replied, "everybody thinks so and says so. Yates says, it's first-rate, and he'll have it introduced every night in the future."

"Will he?" said I - "Then he'll get another Vizier!"

I found out shortly afterwards, that some one had played a trick on me; for, when the elephant got off the stage, she tore the turban, and under the lining was discovered a quantity of sliced apple, which Mademoiselle's sensitive nose had discovered to my discomfiture.

On the third night of the piece, an unfortunate and unexpected event occurred which materially altered the complexion of the excellent houses it was drawing. As the procession was rounding the front of the stage, Mademoiselle all at once stopped short - and, in short, forgot herself! - showing a thorough contempt for the audience who were patronising her performances. After this faux pas on her part, the ladies who had hitherto graced the boxes absented themselves. The pit and galleries, however, continued to be crowded. The piece ran for a fortnight altogether, after which Mademoiselle walked to Newcastle, with her keeper on her back. The man, I heard, had been cruel to her unnecessarily, on the journey, kicking her on the legs, striking her on the trunk, and prodding her with a sort of harpoon &c. For this he duly paid the penalty. Mademoiselle did not retaliate on the spot: but, about a month afterwards, he was found dead on the ground of the stall wherein he slept with the elephant. She had trampled him to death.

STEADY SAILING

A SLIP OF THE MIND

MR MURRAY, as I have already mentioned, never made any verbal engagements with members of his company; and owing to this fact, I am in possession of a great many letters from him, mainly renewals of engagement, but some of them on other subjects. To only one or two of these need I make any reference here. The first is dated March 27, 1834; and was the means of my "going on for" a part I never attempted before and never since. Mr Murray wrote:-

"My dear Lloyd, - Want of numbers obliges me to request your assistance in 'Richard the Third.' Mason used to play Stanley, but, as I play Catesby, I think it will be more agreeable to you to take your fate with me and act Ratcliffe. We shall then be on together through the play. Mackay will resume his old part of the Lord Mayor. - Yours, in haste,

"W.H. MURRAY."

This request I readily complied with; but, when evening came, and it was my turn to deliver the speech as to Richard's courage on the field, mine left me on the stage, and I stuck in the middle of the words. Mr Murray found it so difficult to prompt me that he turned his back on me, and left me to my fate. He told me afterwards that my floundering made him so nervous that the words of his own part completely left him, and he therefore retired up the stage. I followed him; and the speech has never been delivered yet - by me. I forgot and forget every word of it; and not very surprising either - considering that I never knew them.

PLEASANT NEWS

Another of Mr Murray's communications, of some two years' later date, was of a more agreeable character. It ran thus:-

"My dear Lloyd, - It was always my intention to have made your salary three pounds per week next winter, and I am very happy to retain your valuable assistance at that advance. Go on and prosper, my dear Lloyd-and, when the time for London suits you, no one will regret your loss more, or wish for your success more sincerely, than yours truly,

"W.H. MURRAY"

This very complimentary letter I highly prized; and of course the rise of salary was sufficient to prove that Mr Murray was so satisfied with my abilities as to warrant him in offering me the highest remuneration then given in any of the great provincial theatres. This was my second and last advance of salary during the time I was under his management.

WITH DAVID PRINCE MILLER

Having the offer of a short engagement in the spring of 1846, from David Prince Miller of the Adelphi, I asked if he would grant me leave of absence. He replied:-

"My dear Lloyd, - You are a lucky fellow with your 'hundreds.' No wonder you won't dabble in management! But to business. On your promise never to put me in such a "fix" again, and, provided Miller will let me have Melbourne for the time at your salary, you shall go and make your millions. Yours, &c."

With reference to this note, all I need say is that, unhappily, I did by - and - by "dabble in management," and that the proposed arrangement about Melbourne going over to Edinburgh in my place was carried out. As the clergymen put it, Miller's first low comedian and I, for time being, "exchanged pulpits."

LAST DAYS OF THE EDINBURGH THEATRICAL FUND

It was during my first season at the Theatre Royal that a well-known institution ceased and determined for evermore. This was the triennial dinner of the Edinburgh Theatrical Fund; at one of which (that of 1827), it may be remembered, Sir Walter Scott first owned the soft impeachment that he was the author of those works known by the name of the "Waverley" novels. The society had been established in 1819, under the patronage of the Duke of York and a number of the nobility, for the purpose of "affording relief and support to actors and actresses, who, being members thereof, should by age or infirmity become incapacitated from continuing in the exercise of their profession."

On this occasion, which was fixed for Friday, 8th February, 1833, Professor Wilson was to have presided, and amongst the list of stewards were such names as those of the Earls of Kinnoul and Caithness, Lord Elcho and Meadowbank; Sir John Hope of Craigie Hall, Bart.; Sir Gibson-Craig, Bart.; Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Bart; the Solicitor General, and a goodly contingent of the then rising men at the Scottish Bar, including the names of Charles Neaves, Charles Gordon, James Ivory, George Grant, Henry Jardine, &c. The tickets for the dinner were one guinea each and, the secretary, Mr J. L. Pritchard, of the Theatre Royal, had intimated in the circular issued, that, "gentlemen intending to honour the dinner with their presences" should provide themselves with these on or before Wednesday, 6th February, as after that date none could be issued. Unfortunately, the number of gentlemen who contemplated thus "honouring" the dinner, or at least who came forward to do so, was so small that it was not deemed expedient to hold it.

The project was a complete breakdown, and the preliminary expenses incurred had to be paid out of the funds of the society. These amounted at that time to, I should think, several thousand pounds, with only one pensioner on the fund, who had £60 a year.

I may as well finish the story of the Fund while I am at it -

When I left Edinburgh for Glasgow in 1849, I delivered up the secretary's box and papers to Mr Mackay. There was then no one to receive the annual subscriptions or to write for them. There was no one to receive mine and I never heard more of the affair. My agent in Glasgow, wrote to Register House in Edinburgh regarding it, and all the information received in reply was a supposition, that the funds had been divided amongst the subscribers then living; I was the last secretary.

THE SHAKESPEARE CLUB AND HOW IT ENDED

The breaking up of another institution also took place during my period at the Theatre Royal, and was due to the conduct, on a particular occasion, of the secretary, Mr J. L. Pritchard, above mentioned.

The association in question was called "The Shakespeare Club." Its meetings, to which all the actors were admitted, were held monthly, in one of the principal halls in the city, presided over by some popular nobleman or some Lord of Session, and were looked forward to as most enjoyable events of the Winter season. On some occasions, I have seen as many as 500 or 600 of the first gentlemen in Edinburgh present.

But, to show what great events from trivial causes spring - I have to record that on 1st December, 1840, an incident occurred that put an end for ever to a delightful gathering which used to bring together in agreeable contact, the nobility, gentry and members of the theatrical profession. Yes! - it was all the result of - pulling a gentleman's nose.

The gentleman upon whom this indignity was put, was a Mr Jameson, a Writer to the Signet, and he brought an action against Mr Pritchard for assault, concluding for material damages. When the trial was about to proceed, however, an apology was tendered, which counsel for pursuer consented to accept, on condition that the costs of the suit should be paid by the defender. But, Mr Pritchard's counsel having stated, on the authority of his client, that a decree for expenses would be ruinous, or next to ruinous, to him, Mr Jameson's counsel consented to depart from the claim for costs. The following were the terms of apology tendered:-

"With reference to the occurrence which took place at a meeting of the Council of the Shakespeare Club of Scotland, held on 1st December last, the defender acknowledges (1) that in using personal violence against the pursuer, his conduct was wholly unjustifiable, and that he has now to express his sincere regret, and to tender his ample apology for the outrage and assault which he committed; (2) that the pursuer is at liberty to make such publication of this minute as he may think proper.

(Signed) "JOHN HOPE, for Pursuer. "DUN. McNEILL, for Defender."

That ended the matter between Jameson and Pritchard, but unfortunately, it also ended the Shakespeare Club.

WITH A TRAVELLING COMPANY AT ALLOA

On the closing of the Theatre Royal at the end of the Winter season, it was usual for the company to form into small parties and visit provincial towns on their own account. At the end of 1835 season, Montague Stanley asked me if I would join him in taking a small company to Alloa. I told him I had no objection and it was then arranged that he should go at once and engage the Assembly Rooms there for a month.

The company we engaged to go with us consisted of Mr and Mrs Hield, Miss Newton, Miss Mattley, Miss Nicol, Miss Hartley, Mr Joe Power, Mr Wilkins, and Mr Fitzpatrick. The last-named was an amateur, who said he would join the company gratuitously, on condition of being allowed to play MacDuff - he having purchased a dress which Edmund Kean was said to have worn in that part.

Whilst I was arranging about this corps dramatique, Stanley had gone on a-head, and was painting the scenery and proscenium, on brown paper! Mr Murray kindly lent us the dresses and a small curtain.

We did excellent business throughout, and Stanley and I made some first-class acquaintances in the town. Among the number of these I may name:- Mr Jamieson, Sheriff-Clerk of Alloa; Messrs Bonnar and Crooks, of the great Glass-works there; Mr Younger, the Brewer. In short, we were introduced to pretty well all that were worth knowing, and scarcely ever dined 'at home' - that is, at our hotel, the 'Royal Oak'.

Our announcement for the Farewell Evening, drew a bumper house. It was as follows:-

"THEATRE, ALLOA"

"Last night of the season, being for the benefit of Mr Montague Stanley, and under the distinguished patronage of the Right Honourable, the Countess of Mar, who has promised to attend in person on the occasion.

The performances to commence with - "Macbeth." Macbeth, by Mr Stanley; Macduff. by Mr Fitzpatrick; Lady Macbeth, by Mrs Hield; First Witch, Mr Lloyd; 2nd Witch, Miss Nicol; Third Witch, Miss Hartley.

After the tragedy, comic song, 'Humours of a Country Fair', by Mr Lloyd. To conclude with ' The Falls of Clyde,' by the company.

Great preparations were made for this occasion. Among others, a large easy chair was borrowed and placed in the centre of the front row of chairs, as a private-box for the Countess. On entering, however, her Ladyship ordered it to be removed, and took her place in a line with the others; Mr Jamieson, sitting by her side.

After the house was crowded, the cry was "still they come;" upon observing which, Mr Jamieson stood up and called for Mr Stanley. Upon Stanley's coming before the curtain in response to the call, Mr Jamieson said to him emphatically:-

"For God's sake, Mr Stanley, close the doors, or we shall all go through the floor into the school-room below."

This was accordingly done at once, and the curtain rose on the tragedy.

MACBETH, MACDUFF, AND THE BULL-DOG

All went excellently well until the end of the piece, when Macbeth and Macduff engage in mortal combat. After they had exchanged but a few passes, a big bull-dog darted forward from the back of the pit, jumped between and over the shoulders of the Countess and Mr Jamieson, across the orchestra, and on to the stage. There the animal seemed bent on making a triangular duel of it. Barking savagely and showing his teeth, he made now for one of the combatants and then for the other, each doing the best he could to keep the brute at bay, with his sword.

At this unrehearsed incident, the audience - a number of whom did their best to encourage the dog, roared with laughter, even the Countess being scarcely able to retain her seat. At last a shrill whistle was heard from the owner of the dog, a constable, who had just entered the hall; and who, after some coaxing, managed to get his savage retainer, to retire from the stage. Thereafter, all went smoothly until the close.

When the audience had dispersed, the constable came behind the scenes to apologise for the behaviour of his dog and, as the apology was worded in terms so complimentary to the profession, I may as well put it on record here:-

"I'm rare sorry, Mister Montague Stanley," he said, "That my dug stoppit the show, ackin' as he did. But, you see, he kens a' strangers in your line, as weel's I dae myself,' and frae the moment ony o' yer show folk comes in tae the toon, he follows them till they get to the other side o' the toll. He canna 'bide rags, sir. There's no a beggar or ony kin' o' vaigabon' but he kens as nait'rals a Christian."

MACREADY - HIS TEMPER AND HIS MANNERS

Amongst the errant stars of the profession, who visited Edinburgh during the following season (1836), was Macready. From what I had heard of him, I expected to find a tyrant; and certainly to some of the company, male and female, he proved to be so. He seemed to be displeased with everything, and with nearly everybody he had anything to do with.

Mr Murray never spoke to him, and never came near the rehearsals. He so much disliked him, and objected to the rude manner in which he addressed the company in directing the piece being rehearsed. He had really a most unpleasant way with him at these times. He scarcely spoke above his breath, and what he did say, sounded like a mumbling from the throat, varied by an occasional grunt, or a rather more audible "Hum! - hum! - idiot!"

In point of fact, the actors had difficulty in making out exactly what it was he wanted them to do. Over the rehearsal of "Hamlet", one poor fellow got so bewildered that at last, he mustered up courage to say,

"Well, Mr Macready, if you'll tell me what you wish me to do, I'll do it, but I can't hear what you say."

"Umph! - my G----," exclaimed the star, "I want you -umph! - to - there (pointing) - to stand here, sir -umph - you understand now?"

"No, sir, I do not."

"Oh! - umph! - you - fool - umph! - go on."

Thinks I, my turn will soon come now and when the fifth act was called, it was with some little trepidation that I came forward and went through my part. Much to my surprise, he never made a remark about it.

COMPLIMENTS THE GRAVEDIGGER

Next morning, just before commencement of the rehearsal of "King Lear," he came forward to where I was standing at the wing and addressed me thus: - "Mr - oh - Mr Lloyd, I - yes - I beg your pardon, Mr Lloyd, I was much pleased with your performance last night. I never saw it better acted - and so perfect. I am in the habit of seeing such buffoons in the character that I never trouble myself as to what is done with it - and am only too glad to see the gravedigger's back again." Here he was called away, but I found him most agreeable to me during the whole of the engagement. He conversed with me every time we met at rehearsal. When pleased, he had the most beautiful smile I ever saw on the face of a man. I met him after the play one night at supper at Prichard's, and at the end of his engagement saw his departure with a far more friendly feeling towards him than I had anticipated I should ever feel.

...Chapter Six - Chapter Eight...

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