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The Life of an Actor

An Autobiography

by H. F. Lloyd, Comedian

Late of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Glasgow

Index...

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

HOW OLD SHOULD HAMLET'S GRAVEDIGGER BE?

Mr Macready returned to Edinburgh on the following Winter season, and, on the morning after "Hamlet" had been played, he very kindly came up to me and, shaking hands, said:-

"Well, Mr Lloyd, and how are you? Still digging graves, eh?"
'How long has thou been a grave-maker?' - I could have gone on with the dialogue, but feared it might be taking too much liberty with the great man. He then continued:-

"You played your part better than ever last night - I've never seen it so well done. There is, however, one point I should like to argue upon. It never struck me until last night and, if our ideas about it should differ, I have no doubt you will give me good reasons for holding yours. Don't you think you made the grave-digger too young a man? Let me have your notion of it."

"Well, sir," I replied, "in the first place, the grave-digger's answer to Hamlet is that he has been sexton there, man and boy, for thirty years.'

"Well," said Mr Macready, "and pray what time do you suppose he commenced as a boy to dig graves?"

"Well, in our conversation in the piece last night, I intended to convey to you that I had been employed at it thirty years as a man and a boy, but you must remember the days of boyhood were numbered longer in those times. Boys were boys until they became men at twenty-one. Now you - Hamlet - were born the day I began my trade - which was the very day the last King Hamlet overcame Fortinbrass - which makes you thirty."

"Granted, said Mr M., "but how old were you when I was born?"

"I suppose about twelve," I replied .

"Good - that makes you forty-two. I think I shall be able to make you out about the age I think you ought to be, before we have done. You think forty-two is old enough?"

"Yes," I said, "that is about what I wished him to appear."

"Very well," returned Macready, "I should like him to be made about fifty - sober, steady, philosophic, self-satisfied man, fond of hearing himself talk; in short such a man as I should expect to be about fifty years of age, at least."
I thanked him for his hints, on which he said:-

"No, no, take no hints from what I have said. You play the part in every respect, with such an apparent study of the character that I should be sorry to think any ideas of mine, should disturb what you have evidently bestowed much time and thought upon."

After this conversation, I certainly wavered a little as to the gravedigger's age, but I had made my calculations - allowances for boyhood and manhood, &c. - with the result that I considered forty was old enough, and there I still keep him.

 

AN OFFER FROM LONDON

It was in 1836, four years after I had joined Mr Murray, that I received the first offer of a London engagement. It came from the great vocalist, John Braham, who had just then built the St. James's Theatre. The letter was in the handwriting of his acting manager, Mr Gilbert Abbot A'Beckett, afterwards one of the Punch staff, and later still, Police Magistrate at Southward. It was as follows:-

"St. James's Theatre, King Street, March 19, 1836 - Sir, I am requested by Mr Braham to inquire if you would be at liberty to accept an engagement at the above theatre for the season commencing Michaelmas, 1836. The salary he could give would be very moderate. An early answer will oblige, Yours truly, G. A. A'Beckett."

To this I replied, acknowledging receipt of the offer, but mentioning that the communication said nothing as to the line of business I was wanted for, the nature of the engagement, and the length of it, &c. This brought another letter, in which the writer said:-

"I have to inform you that you would take the place of Mr Mitchell in the company. Mr Barnett, who plays Frenchmen, and Mr Gardiner, who plays the second low comedy, remain in the theatre. The salary I am empowered to offer you is for an engagement of three seasons - determinable at Mr Braham's option at the end of each season - £3 for the first, £4 for the second, and £5 for the last. I presume you sing sufficiently for comic parts and concerted pieces."

In replying to this I said:- "I will commence with the most material point, which is the salary. I presume Mr Braham is not aware of the salaries given in Edinburgh or he would not offer me the same for a London engagement. Mine at present is £3 a week and two benefits in the year, which brings me in at least £5 a week. However, to the point, I will not leave my present situation to visit London for less than £5 a week, for three years and to have a benefit each year if I please. I must also remark upon the strange paragraph in your letter where you say - 'for an engagement of three seasons, determinable at Mr Braham's option at the end of each season.' That is as much as to say, that if Mr Braham is not satisfied with me, I am to be turned out, but that if he is, though I may not be satisfied with him, I must remain, whether I like it or not. As to singing, I will undertake any concerted or other pieces of music within the compass of my voice, provided I have time sufficient to study the same. However, I am only troubling you with so long a letter, as my mention of salary after the offer made, will frighten you. But I am so comfortable where I am, and where I can remain as long as I please that, as I said in a former letter, nothing shall tempt me to leave but a liberal offer without any proviso as to leaving at the end of season. If this reply to yours will not agree with Mr Braham's arrangements, I will not trouble you to answer.

 

MORE OFFERS AND MORE REFUSALS

No reply ever came. My next offer to go to London was from a Mr Penley, for the Lyceum Theatre. For the same reason as in Braham's case - too small salary proposed - I declined it, which turned out to be quite as well, as seeing that the theatre shut up in a few months afterwards.

The next offer was from Charles Dillon, when he took the Lyceum in or about the year 1857. It came through the late Mr Harry Widdicombe. I was then acting for a few weeks at the Queen's Theatre, Edinburgh, whilst at the same time, Mr J. L. Toole was at the Royal. Mr Widdicombe called upon me, and said he had been deputed by Mr Dillon to make me the first offer of the situation, and that if I declined he was to offer it to Toole. I did decline, and the offer was made to Toole, who accepted it and went to London; and so I missed my chance.

My fourth and last offer of the same nature was made to me verbally by Charles Mathews whilst he was fulfilling an engagement in Glasgow. It was for the following season at the Lyceum (again), and the salary £10 a week. This I also declined, through attachment to the country I had lived in for so long - Scotland. And - here I have stuck fast ever since. But, as the saying is, "What's the odds, so long's I'm happy?"

 

MY FIRST MANAGEMENT

A Sailor's High Jinks

As nearly as I can remember, it would be in the year 1842 that Mr Murray's brother, a Captain in the Merchant Service, and whom he had not seen for many years, paid him an unexpected visit. He was a rough-and-ready, good-natured, free and off-hand sort of a fellow - in fact, an excellent specimen of a sailor of the good old school. No two brothers could have been more opposite to each other in their ways and manners; Murray, a staid, contemplative man - a hypochondriac; his brother, a rollicking, thoughtless mortal, acting on the impulse of the moment merely, and recking little of the consequences - although grieving deeply on reflection should these turn out to be hurtful to anyone.

Naturally enough, Mr Murray asked his brother to stay with him at his house in Windsor Street - formerly the property of his sister, Mrs Henry Siddons; and it need not be very hard to believe that he fluttered a little the formality of this usually grave and sober establishment.

After Murray left the theatre in the evening, this jovial mariner would go down and spend the time in the kitchen with servants, not forgetting to take a bottle of whisky with him, and there remain, drinking and smoking his pipe, until he heard Murray at the street door, when, as quietly as he could, he would scuttle up stairs and go to bed.

I should mention that Mrs Murray, during these evenings, was almost invariably in the dining-room, ready to receive her husband's brother when he pleased to show himself, for whom however, the 'High Life Below Stairs', was metal more attractive. She was a most amiable lady, and never mentioned half of the sailor's pranks, of which she was aware, until he had gone away.

I remember well the first night that Captain Murray came to the theatre. Murray put him into his own private box, where, instead of remaining quietly esconced behind the curtains, he soon made himself the observed of all observers. Sitting as close as he could to the front, with his broad brown hands hanging over the box, each time that Murray appeared on the stage, he would bang them against the panelling with all his force, at the same time calling out,
"Bravo! Bill," and looking round to the audience with a knowing wink, as much as to say - "That's my brother, that is."

At last, Murray got into such a state of nervous excitement that he could stand it no longer, and sent round for him. Directly he got behind the scenes, and before Murray could utter a word of remonstrance, he seized the hand of the latter, and said, "By.....Bill, you're first-rate! How do you do it? D....n me if I don't have a try at it - let me go and give 'em 'Hearts of Oak'."

To pacify him, Murray said that he should do it some other night - that he would require to rehearse it with the band first. "D....n the band," he said, "I don't want music - look here," and he commenced singing at the top of his voice, till they had to push him out of hearing of the audience, into Murray's Dressing-room. Here, it was supposed, he was remaining all safe, when all at once was heard a violent screaming, accompanied by the sound of doors. On hastening to the door of a room from which the laughter seemed to come - the ladies' Dressing-room -Murray found his brother in the midst of them, some of them dressed and some undressed, romping about and kissing them; upsetting chairs and tables, and making general confusion all round.

Catching him by the collar, Murray turned him out, neck and crop, the while the sailor, who seemed immensely elated, exclaimed, "By...., Bill, this is the finest lark I ever had. Where did you get all those fine girls?"

The upshot was that the captain was never allowed to enter the theatre again. Before leaving Edinburgh, he told Murray that he had spent a glorious month here, and that he should come and see him every time he came off a voyage. "I shall be very happy to see you again," replied Murray - "but not on the same terms."

The first portion of this story was told me, by Mr Murray himself; of what took place in the theatre, I was personally a witness!

 

THE WIDOW'S RUSE

Nearly two years had elapsed since the captain had put in this "glorious month," when a letter from his wife, residing in London, came to Mr Murray informing him of her husband's death. It stated, moreover, that she was left penniless. All his savings had been expended in doctors' bills and procuring necessaries to keep him comfortable in his last days; and she had not, indeed, the means left to bury him decently. It concluded by saying how grateful she would feel if Mr Murray would, under these sad circumstances, send her some little assistance. Murray immediately wrote back, condoling with her in her affliction, and enclosing a bank order. He also stated that he would go up to town and attend the funeral, if she would let him know by return of post when it was to take place. In reply to this, he received a letter acknowledging, with thanks, receipt of the money, but stated that she could not think of putting him to the expense of a journey to London, having a friend who was looking after everything that was necessary for her. Murray had never seen this lady; and, from what he had heard of her, was not, I believe, very sorry that she had excused his attendance in town. Of his late brother, he spoke most kindly, simply calling him a good-hearted but foolish fellow who would be a sailor; and he went into mourning for him for the customary time.

 

DYING A SECOND TIME

And now, another interval of some eighteen months this time, is supposed to have elapsed. We were at rehearsal one morning, Mr Murray, as usual, being seated at his desk on the stage, opening and reading his letters. Suddenly he jumped to his feet, stood as if nonplussed for a moment or two, then locked up his letters in the desk, put on his hat, and left the theatre. We did not see him again until the evening, when he came into the green-room and took his customary seat near to the stove. I was standing by, when after a long silence, he said:- "Lloyd, I want to speak to you; sit down here. You remember seeing my brother, the sailor, when he was here?"
"Yes, Sir."
"You may remember also that he died some time afterwards."
"Yes, Sir."
"Well, he did not die, for I received a letter this morning from his wife, telling me that he died again yesterday. Her explanation is that on the former occasion it turned out that her husband had only been in a trance - and she wants me again to send her money. Now as I gave a handsome sum to bury him once I think it unreasonable that I should be expected to bury him again. However, I have written stating that, although I have paid her husband's funeral once, I did not feel inclined to make it an annual ceremony; but that if she would send me word that she was dead I would send double the amount to bury her, with the greatest pleasure."

Murray was much amused at that one passage in her letter, in which the women tried to flatter him; it was this - 'Your dear brother often spoke of you, and his last words were, Poor Willy, if he would only send me a good book and a bottle of brandy, I would die happy.'

Murray never spoke on the subject to me again but Sir William Allan, a great friend of his, told me that (Sir William) had met the captain, alive and well in London, even after the second application to Murray for assistance and that, from the conservation he had with him, he was convinced that the poor fellow was entirely ignorant of the correspondence between Murray and his wife, or of money having been sent to bury him. Murray was so indignant at being thus completely 'done,' as he said, that he vowed he would "never have anything to do with his brother again - dead or alive."

 

MY EXPERIENCE AS A GLASGOW MANAGER

I have now to refer to the most important episode in my professional career hitherto, namely, my seven nights of management at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, in 1843. It was one day in the month of May in that year that it came into my head to make a run over to that city and see if Mr Alexander, whose house was shut at that time, would let it to me for a week's speculation. After sitting up with him till four o'clock in the morning, we came to terms, although he said he could not hold out to me any hopes of success; as he himself had been obliged to close the theatre on account of bad business. Two days afterwards, my bill was out with the following announcement:-

 

THEATRE-ROYAL, GLASGOW.

"Under the sole management of Mr Lloyd, for seven nights only. Mr Lloyd begs respectfully to inform the nobility, gentry and public of Glasgow and its vicinity that, having made an arrangement with Mr Alexander, he intends opening the Theatre Royal for the above number of nights, the result of which he trusts will lend to a longer sojourn on some future occasion, or probably a permanent one. Mr Lloyd will have the honour of introducing the whole of the Edinburgh Company and the celebrated Orchestra, which, together with the company, will amount to nearly 79 artistes."

Amongst the ladies of the company in question were Miss Emmeline Montague (who afterwards became Mrs Henry Compton), Mrs Tellet and Mrs Leigh Murray. Of the gentlemen, let me recall the names of Mr Edmund Glover, who was my stage-manager on this occasion; the late Mr Ray, celebrated in after years for his personation of Eccles, in "Caste"; the late Mr Sam Cowell, Mr Henry Corri of English Opera reputation and the still extant Mr Barry Sullivan. The leader of the Orchestra was the well-known Mr James Dewar, his deputy being Mr McKenzie, father of the present popular and rising composer of "The Rose of Sharon."

Our opening night was Wednesday, 31st May, 1843, the pièce de resistance of the programme being Buckstone's comedy of "Single Life," produced then for the first time in Glasgow. On the following evening, the feature was "Romeo and Juliet," the latter being personated by Miss E. Montague, and the hero by Mr Edmund Glover; it being, in the case of both the lady and gentleman, a first appearance in Glasgow.

On Friday, we played "The Rivals" and "High Life Below Stairs," and on Saturday, (£50 only), to Douglas Jerrold's stirring domestic drama, "The Rent Day," and a compressed version of "The Taming of the Shrew."

 

MR MURRAY IN GLASGOW AFTER NINETEEN YEARS

But I had a trump card to play on Monday, in the person of Mr Murray who came over from Edinburgh to assist us during the remaining three nights. He had not been seen on the Glasgow boards for the long period of nineteen years - that is to say, since 1824, when he played for the benefit of Mr Charles Kemble in the old Queen Street Theatre. He made his first appearance on this occasion as Sir Mark Chase, in "A Roland for an Oliver", in which he sang a popular song of those days, 'Twas Merry in the Hall.' To this followed "The Eton Boy," in which he played Captain Popham; and "Perfection," in which he played Sir Lawrence Paragon, with the song of "The Brave Old Country Gentleman." The entertainments of the evening concluded with a drama called "The Conscript's Sister," in which Mr Murray appeared as The Emperor Napoleon; having thus assumed four widely differing characters, in the course of one evening.

The big success of the engagement, however, was on the next night (Tuesday), when the Edinburgh manager presented, in succession, his favourite and greatly successful assumptions of Falstaff, in the first part of "King Henry the Fourth," and Dominique, the Deserter, in the piece so named.

There was £167.15s in the House; rather a contrast to the £50 of the Saturday preceding and beating my benefit on the following night by nearly £18. On that occasion, being the last night of my term of management, Mr Murray appeared in other two of the parts with which, in Scotland, he was so closely identified - namely, Squire Broadlands and Grandfather Whitehead.

At the end of the second piece, I came forward and made a short address to the audience, in course of which I referred to the special compliment that had been paid me by Mr Murray, in his coming from Edinburgh and condescending to appear under my management. In concluding, I stated that from the great success which had attended the whole speculation, and more particularly during the three last nights, it was both my wish, and that of Mr Murray, to have remained for two nights more; but for some reason which, not exactly knowing myself I could not explain, the proprietor of the theatre had decreed that we should make our final bow that evening!

When I had retired, Mr Murray was loudly called for, and he, too, had to come in front and say a few words to them. In reference to what I had said about himself, he said that; "It did not require much persuasion on the part of my friend Lloyd, to win me 'westward ho', and, as to my condescension in enrolling myself under his banners, my worthy manager should recollect that, in addition to the pleasure of serving under so able an officer as he has proved himself to be, there was the delight of visiting my old friends and patrons; and I suspect, when Lloyd has wielded the managerial baton as long as I have done, he will find a temporary retirement to the repose of the ranks, a very agreeable relief from the troubles of command."

 

HOW THE ACCOUNTS STOOD

As I have mentioned, the receipts of this evening were not equal to those of the night before; but, considering what I had been led by Mr Alexander not to expect, I had much reason to be satisfied with the result of the speculation.

The admission to the boxes was 3s; to the pit 2s; to the galleries, 1s and 6d respectively; with the second prices to boxes and pit, 2s and 1s respectively; and at these prices, our total receipts for the seven nights were £760.7s.6d. Of this latter sum, by far the biggest item, almost the half in fact, went to Alexander, who received £227 for the use of the house. Of the money paid in salaried, the lion's share fell to Mr Murray, who had £100 for his three nights' services, with £5.11s.10d for travelling and hotel expenses. But then, he was worth it! He brought the money into the house. In proof of this I need but mention the fact that, whereas our takings during the four nights' before he came, were but £284, they amounted over the three nights' he was with us, to £476 - fractions omitted.

Apart from Mr Murray, the three most expensive members of my company were Miss Emmeline Montague, Mr Edmund Glover, and Mr Dewar, Musical Director, each of whom had £10 for the engagement. Mr W. Howard followed with five guineas, Mrs Tellet with £3.10s., Mrs Leigh Murray with £3.5s., Mr McKenzie (Orchestra) with three guineas, and Mr Barry Sullivan with £2. 10s. Myself, I put down at two guineas, with £1 for expenses, just about equivalent together, to my salary at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh.

At the close of these seven eventful nights in Glasgow, Mrs Leigh Murray and I were engaged for a few nights at Dundee, under the management of Mr John Daly, a well-known Irish comedian of those days and, when that was over, for a week more at Montrose. The engagement turned out very satisfactorily to all concerned and Mrs Murray and I returned by boat to Edinburgh, for the Summer season at the Adelphi there.

 

A NEWSPAPER WAR

On getting home, I found addressed to me a newspaper from Glasgow, containing a letter to the editor, touching my late management there; and there was also awaiting me a letter from a friend which had come by the same post, in which the writer said, it was expected by the public that I should make some reply to it. The result was a mighty pretty little paper war, into the details of which, at this time of day, I need not go at any length.

The parties engaged were Mr Alexander, the Glasgow Argus newspaper, and myself. The opening gun was fired by the first-named, who in an address "To the public of Glasgow and Edinburgh," about two-thirds of a newspaper column in length, took the Argus to task for having said, or insinuated, that he had been "chagrined at the success of the Edinburgh company," a charge which he altogether repudiated.
He had fully anticipated and predicted, he said, that the speculation would be an eminently successful one, and how could he possibly be chagrined at what he had so clearly and fully foreseen. But he added;
"I was certainly not a little annoyed at the proceedings which followed our arrangement, and which opened my eyes to the conviction that it had been artfully turned into an occasion of subserving the cause of an opposing faction, and I did not shrink from the avowal of my feelings. As the proprietor of the theatre, I had, by the arrangement with the Edinburgh Company, a share in the success and profits of the speculation; the free-list in which the names of myself and my family appeared with those of the leaders of an avowed faction, was an insult which I did not expect; and I committed an offence, it appears, by not availing myself of the privilege of entering my own house by permission."

He then went on to state that to this circumstance had been ascribed his refusal to let the company have the house for two nights more; whereas the fact was that such arrangement could not be carried out, because he, "had entered in to a treaty with another party, which although unsuccessful, he was bound to answer at the time." However, he added, "he had no hesitation in stating publicly that the idea of placing the proprietor of the theatre, and who actually had a share in the speculation, on the free-list, to walk into his own house 'by permission' was so gross a want of courtesy (though certainly ridiculously absurd) as to warrant me in feeling justly offended - and in declining to enter into a further contract, wherein I might be exposed to the same treatments."

In the course of a lengthened reply to this manifesto of the Glasgow Manager, the Argus said:-
"We confidently assert that Mr Alexander repeatedly, and in more places than one, expressed, in his own peculiar way, a hope that the Edinburgh Company would not succeed in their speculation. Will he dare to deny this? Again, will he deny that, during their stay in Glasgow, his ordinary conversation in references to them was that of a chagrined and disappointed man?"

Commenting on the matter of the free-list, the Argus said:- "Mr Alexander was 'annoyed' from a conviction that the arrangement with the Edinburgh Company had been 'turned into an occasion of subserving the cause of an opposing faction,' and his name being put on the free-list with 'the leaders of an avowed faction, was an insult which he did not expect.'

"What matchless impudence! Mr Lloyd takes the theatre, and, as manager for the time being, put some of his friends on the free-list. These gentlemen happen to be no admirers of Mr Alexander; they never, we believe, enter the theatre when under his management, and for this they are called an 'opposing faction,' and the wrath of Mr Alexander is roused because they are put upon the free-list. What, in the name of wonder, had he to do with the matter? He let the theatre to Mr Lloyd, and that gentleman had a right to admit whom he pleased, provided the rent was duly paid to the proprietor."

Again, says the Argus writer:- "The statement about another being in treaty for it, (the theatre), has not a leg to stand upon. The head and front of Mr Lloyd's offending was his having placed the proprietor on the free-list, let Mr Alexander profess what he chooses."

In the letter which I wrote to the Glasgow Herald, I tackled Mr Alexander's assertion that he had a share in my speculation. This I denied. "Mr Alexander," I said, "was certain of all; I was the speculator. He got a clear third of the receipts every night, before I touched one farthing towards defraying the great expenses, attending the business. He could not lose - I might have lost considerably; and this he calls being a 'party to the speculation'. Why, after signing the original agreement, Mr Alexander, to prove that he was determined that I should perfectly understand that it was to be no speculation on his part, sent over to me, in Edinburgh, a P.S. to the agreement as follows:- 'Mrs Alexander will receive the settlement nightly,' - and which I was to sign and return. I did so certainly, and although I felt hurt at his want of confidence in me, I must confess I was astonished at his forgetting a point of so much consequence in his management. As to my linking myself with any faction against Mr Alexander, the assertion is so perfectly ridiculous that I shall pass it over in silence. As to the matter of the free-list, Mr Alexander says he had a right to enter his own theatre without the ceremony of putting his name down at the door. I say, "No! He was not a partner, as he would give it out; if so, why did he not share the expense as well as the profit?"

To this letter, a reply, which Mr Alexander sent to the same paper, consisted mainly of lofty 'chaff' of my audacity in daring to differ from him in some matters connected with the internal arrangements of the theatre. "Here's the march of intellect with a vengeance!" he said. "Seven nights against 23 years practical experience! This is really more than gravity can bear," and so forth.

I took no notice of this letter and any interest which the 'public of Glasgow and Edinburgh - to whom Mr Alexander appealed - had taken in the matter, soon died a natural death.