Page images
PDF
EPUB

personality was distinct upon every part that she played; yet the thinker who looks back upon her numerous and various impersonations is astonished at their diversity.

The romance, sorrow, and fortitude of Kate Verity, the impetuous passion of Katharine, the brilliant raillery of Hippolyta, the sweet candor and lovely innocence of Miranda, the sparkling vitality of Beatrice, the enchanting womanhood of Rosalindhow clear-cut, how distinct, how absolutely dramatic was each one of those personifications, and yet how completely characteristic each one was of the actress herself! Our works of art may be subject to the application of our knowledge and skill, but we ourselves are under the dominance of laws which operate out of the inaccessible and indefinable depths of the spirit. Compared with most players of her period, Ada Rehan was a prodigy of original force. Her influence, accordingly, was felt more than it was understood, and, being elusive and strange, it prompted wide differences of opinion. The sense that she diffused of a simple, unselfish, patient nature, and of impulsive tenderness of heart, however, cannot have been missed by anybody with eyes to see. And she crowned all by speaking the English language with a purity of enunciation that has seldom been equalled.

When, in reminiscent mood, I muse on the brilliant career of Ada Rehan, the character of the woman, as known to me, seems even more interesting than the achievement of the actress. That character and that

achievement can, perhaps, be significantly indicated, if not summarized, in these words:

Ada Rehan was a creature of simplicity and truth, and likewise of piquancy and fascination. She had not been trained under severe methods of education, but the fine discipline of mind that she possessed,-in which there was an element of great and gentle patience,

was mainly such as she had acquired in practical experience. Her reading, while it included numberless plays and other books such as naturally come within the scope of the dramatic profession, covered a wide field of biography and of imaginative literature. She was a reader of Thackeray,—an author seldom liked by women, perhaps because he understood their weaknesses too well,—and she especially admired the works of Balzac. She had carefully read the novels of those great writers, and had profited by them. Her knowledge of human nature, gained partly by keen intuition and partly by close observance,—was ample, various, and sound. Her thoughts, and often her talk, dwelt upon traits of character, fabrics of art, and beauties of nature, and she loved rather to speak of these than of the commonplaces and practical affairs of the passing day. Her grasp of character was intuitive; she judged rightly, and she was seldom or never mistaken in her estimate of individuals. Her perception was exceedingly acute, and she noted, instantly and correctly, every

essential trait, however slight, of each person who approached her presence. She was intrinsically sincere, modest, and humble—neither setting a great value upon herself nor esteeming her powers and achievements to be unusual; she has been known to be in tears, at what she deemed a professional failure, while a brilliant throng of friends was waiting to congratulate her on an unequivocal success.

Ada Rehan was a passionate lover of beauty, and she could discern, and cordially admire, the beauty of other women,—a happiness unusual with her sex. She could be conventional, having learned how to be so; but the conventional was not her natural way,—for her temperament had in it something of the romantic quality of the ideal gypsy. Her physical beauty was of the kind that appears in portraits of women by Romney and by Gainsborough,—ample, opulent, bewitching; and it was enriched by the enchantment of superb animal spirits. She had gray-blue eyes and brown hair, which prematurely became gray, and she had the tremulous sensibility of the Celtic nature; a careless strain of music or the lilt of an old ballad would bring tears into her eyes. She lived in feeling more than in thought. She was essentially feminine,-moved by fancies and caprices, subject to doubts and fears, and impressed by the strong will that achieves practical results instead of proclaiming ideal purposes. Her disposition was affec

tionate rather than passionate, and such as does not yield unduly either to love or grief. She was generous and grateful, and she never forgot a kindness. Her mind was free from envy and bitterness. She saw with pleasure the merited success of others, and she rejoiced in it, and she never spoke an ill word of anybody. Her spirit was mercurial, ranging easily from smiles to tears, but essentially she was joyous; and her image, in memory, will always be associated with mirth.

Ada Rehan was profoundly ambitious to excel in her art, and to that art she gave her life. The predominant characteristic of her acting was buoyant glee, which rippled over a depth of warm, sensuous feeling, and animated an affluent and incessant variety of spirited, flexible, cumulative movement. It possessed many other attributes,--for the actress could be stately, forcible, satirical, violent, arch, flippant, and demure; but its special allurement was a blending of sweetness and joy. She always aroused the eager interest of her audience, and imparted to it a sense of comfort and pleasure; but the amplest and most direct revelations of her mind and temperament were made in such characters as Rosalind, Lady Teazle, and Peggy Thrift. Her delivery of Rosalind's speech about woman's caprice, her wheedling talk to Sir Peter Teazle, her quarrel with him, and her demeanor of bland, demure innocence, and of sweet simplicity playing over latent roguery, in Peggy Thrift's Love Scene and Letter Scene, were perfect and irresisti

ble. Each of her achievements had a clear design and a symmetrical form, and her acting, if closely scrutinized, was seen to have been studied, yet it always seemed spontaneous: her handsome, ingenuous, winning countenance informed it with sympathy, while her voice,copious, tender, and musical,-filled it with emotion, speaking from the heart. She was intrinsically a guileless and noble person, and the structure of her acting,with all its drolleries of careless frolic, sportive coquetry, and tantalizing caprice,-was reared on the basis of a strong, self-contained, womanlike, lovely nature. The most completely finished and authoritative of her graver impersonations was Knowles's Julia, and her favorite woman in Shakespeare was Portia. Her best performance was that of Rosalind. Her most obviously effective and popular performance was that of Katharine. She acted more than one hundred and seventy parts, of record, and many others not recorded. Of characters in Shakespeare she impersonated Beatrice, Bianca, Celia, Cordelia, Desdemona, Helena, Julia, Katharine, Lady Anne, Miranda, Mrs. Ford, Olivia, Ophelia, Portia, Prince Edward, the Princess of France, Queen Elizabeth, Queen of France, Rosalind, Ursula, and Viola.

Ada Rehan's domestic life was, for the most part, tranquil and happy,—diversified with study, and with the sportive company of her animal pets. Among those pets were a monkey, named Chip, and a bulldog, named

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »