Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Booth, Junius Brutus
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Booth, Junius Brutus
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BOOTH, Junius Brutus, actor, b. in London, 1 May, 1796; d. 3 Nov., 1852. His father, Richard Booth, the son of a silversmith of Bloomsbury, after studying law, having become imbued with republican ideas, embarked with a cousin to volunteer in the cause of American independence, but was taken prisoner and carried back to England. He practised his profession with success, lived in affluence in Bloomsbury, and was known as a scholar, but unpopular on account of his republicanism. It was one of his eccentricities to insist upon his friends paying reverence to a portrait of Washington in his drawing-room. Junius Brutus, the eldest son, received a classical education, essayed painting, sculpture, and poetry, was induced for a time to work in his father's office with a view of becoming a solicitor, and then, evincing a preference for naval life, was commissioned as a midshipman to Capt. Blythe's brig “Boxer”; but, when that vessel was ordered to Nova Scotia, the father, unwilling that his son should serve against the United States, dissuaded him from joining the ship. After appearing as an amateur in a small London theatre, he announced his intention of becoming an actor, and, against his father's wishes, made an engagement, and played subordinate parts, in Peckham, Deptford, and in 1814 made a professional tour through Holland and Belgium. A few critics and influential friends, who recognized his talents, seconded his efforts to secure a London engagement; but he was forced to accept an offer to play in the Worthing and Brighton theatres for the season of 1815. He left there in October, having finally secured a contract with the management of Covent Garden theatre. But, as he was announced for inferior parts instead of for Richard III., he returned to Worthing, and gained a triumph as a substitute for Edmund Kean in the character of Sir Giles Overreach, captivating an audience that was at first indignant at the young actor's presumption. He continued to play at Worthing, and found influential admirers, who prevailed upon the manager, Harris, to give him a trial as Richard III. at Covent Garden, where he appeared in that character on 17 Feb., 1817, and delighted the metropolitan audience. Before the third performance, after a quarrel with the manager, he was induced by Kean, of the Drury lane company, to enter into an engagement with the rival theatre, where he was announced to play Iago to Kean's Othello; but he soon learned with chagrin that in entrapping him into signing the articles Kean designed only to prevent rivalry by robbing the new favorite of the opportunity to appear in leading parts. Booth, when made aware of this, signed an agreement with the proprietors of Covent Garden theatre, who apprised him of legal flaws in the Drury lane contract. The town was divided into Boothites and Keanites, and Booth's reappearance at Covent Garden as Richard was the occasion of a riotous tumult, which was renewed on subsequent evenings. He played Richard and Sir Giles Overreach alternately, and then Posthumus in “Cymbeline,” appeared as Othello at Woolwich, afterward as Sir Edward Mortimer in “The Iron Chest” at Covent Garden, acted with applause, in July, 1818, at Glasgow and Edinburgh, strolled through the provinces, gave Shylock in the Jewish dialect at Covent Garden during the succeeding autumn, and in the winter entered into an engagement with the Coburg theatre, where he acted Richard, Horatius, and Brutus. In April, 1820, he appeared again at Covent Garden as Lear, which was recognized as one of his finest parts. In August, 1820, he performed with Kean at Drury lane, playing Iago, Edgar in “King Lear,” and Pierre. In the winter, while Kean was in the United States, he acted Lear, Cassius, and the part of an Indian chief at Drury lane theatre. On 18 Jan., 1821, Mr. Booth married Mary Anne Holmes, and after a wedding tour they sailed for the West Indies, but stopped at Madeira, and took passage thence for the United States, landing at Norfolk, Va., 30 June, 1821. On 6 July, Booth appeared in Richmond. His freedom from vanity and calculating self-interest was evinced in his sudden arrival unheralded in the United States. After a triumphant appearance in New York and in southern cities he seriously entertained the idea of retiring from the stage and spending his days in quiet as a light-house keeper. His first appearance in New York was at the Park theatre on 5 Oct., 1821. In the summer of 1822 he purchased, in Harford co., Md., twenty-five miles from Baltimore, a retreat in the midst of woods, to which he always afterward retired when not occupied on the stage, and where he carried on amateur farming with the help of a few slaves. Thither his father, the constant admirer of America, came the same year to pass his remaining days. In 1825 he again visited London with his family, and when the Royalty theatre was burned lost his entire wardrobe. After he returned to the United States he began an engagement at the Park theatre, New York, on 24 March, 1827, in which he acted Selim in the “Bride of Abydos” at his benefit. In June he appeared in the part of Pescara in “The Apostate,” a character written for him by Shiel. In 1828 he undertook the management of the Camp street theatre in New Orleans, and, while playing Richard III. to packed houses, studied French parts, and afterward personated characters in several French dramas, astonishing the audience with the purity of his accent and his familiarity with the peculiarities of French acting. The manager of the Théâtre d'Orléans persuaded him to take the part of Orestes in Racine's “Andromaque,” in which he greatly pleased the French-speaking public. In September, 1831, in New York, he played Pierre in “Venice Preserved,” and Othello to Forrest's Jaffier and Iago. The same year he took the lease of the Adelphi theatre in Baltimore. While his theatre was undergoing repairs he took the Holiday street theatre. During the season he appeared in several new characters, such as Roderick Dhu, Selim, Richard II., Penruddock, Falkland in “The Rivals,” and Luke in “Riches.” In January, 1832, he appeared in the Chestnut street theatre, Philadelphia, in “Sertorius,” a new play, by the Philadelphia lawyer, David Paul Brown. The death of two of his children robbed him for a time of his reason, and after his recovery an engagement, made with the actor Hamblin, for Richmond, was renewed for the Bowery theatre, New York. He next played in New Orleans and Mobile, and on a tour through the west, during which, and from that time forth, his mental disorder, slight attacks of which had occurred in earlier years, returned with increasing frequency and severity. As he grew older his partial insanity was aggravated by intemperance. After playing Shylock for eight nights to crowded houses at the National theatre, New York, and visiting Baltimore and Philadelphia, he sailed, in October, 1836, for Europe with his family, played Richard and Iago at Drury lane theatre, and in Birmingham, where he was prostrated with the news of the death of his favorite son, Henry Byron, in London, from small-pox. He immediately returned to the United States, and in the autumn of 1837 performed at the Olympic in New York, afterward sailed for the south on a professional tour, and during the voyage attempted suicide in a moment of aberration. On the same trip his nose was broken, impairing the beauty of his face and his rich tones of voice; but in the course of two years he regained the strength and scope of his vocal organs. During the last ten years of his life he spent much of his time with his family, residing in Baltimore, and only visiting his farm in the heat of summer. He played when and where he pleased, often in small, out-of-the-way theatres, but made annual visits to New Orleans and Boston, where he was an established favorite. In 1850 and the succeeding season he played at the National theatre, New York, and made his last appearance in that city on 19 Sept., 1851. In 1851 he performed several parts at the Chestnut street theatre, Philadelphia, and in the spring of 1852, with his son Edwin (Junius Brutus had previously gone thither), he went to California, playing to crowded houses in San Francisco with Edwin in companion characters. Leaving his sons, he returned to the east with the intention of retiring completely from the stage. Arriving at New Orleans in November, he performed six nights with his usual ability, but contracted a cold, and during his passage up the Mississippi river remained in his state-room, suffering from fever and dysentery, and died for lack of medical care. See Asia Booth Clarke's “The Elder and the Younger Booth” in the American Actor Series (Boston, 1882); Genest's “History of the Stage”; and “Booth Memorials,” by his daughter Asia (New York, 1866). —
His son, Edwin, actor, b. in Bel Air, Md., 13 Nov., 1833; d. in New York, 7 June, 1893, was named Edwin Thomas, in compliment to his father's friends, Edwin Forrest and Thomas Flynn. When a boy he received instruction from different teachers near his home; but this tuition was neither continuous nor thorough. He was thoughtful and studious, and made much of his limited opportunities. He was reticent and singular, profound and sensitive, and the eccentric genius of the elder Booth found in him an object of peculiar sympathy. The father and son were fondly attached to each other from the first, and while Edwin was yet very young his father made a companion of him in professional journeys. It was in the course of one of these tours that Edwin Booth made his first regular appearance upon the stage, at the Boston Museum, on 10 Sept., 1849. The play was Cibber's version of Shakespeare's “Richard III.,” and the youth came forward in the little part of Tressil. At first the elder Booth opposed his son's choice of the stage, but ultimately he relinquished his opposition. The boy persevered, and presently, still acting in his father's train, he appeared at Providence, R. I., at Philadelphia, and at other places, as Cassio in “Othello,” and as Wilford in “The Iron Chest” — the latter impersonation being deemed particularly good. Edwin Booth continued to act with his father for more than two years after the advent at the Boston Museum. His first appearance on the New York stage was on 27 Sept., 1850, at the National theatre, Chatham street, as Wilford. At the same theatre, in 1851, his father being ill, he suddenly and promptly took the place of the elder tragedian, and for the first time in his life enacted Richard III. This effort, remarkably successful for a comparative novice, was hailed as the indication of great talent and as the augury of a brilliant future. In the summer of 1852 he accompanied his father to San Francisco, where his elder brother, J. B. Booth, Jr., had already established himself as an actor and a theatrical manager, and where the three now acted in company. Other cities were visited by them, and the elder Booth remained in California for about three months. One night, at Sacramento, seeing Edwin dressed for Jaffier in “Venice Preserved,” he said to him: “You look like Hamlet; why don't you play it?” a remark that the younger Booth had good reason to remember, for no actor has ever played Hamlet so often or over so wide a range of territory. Just as the name of Junius Brutus Booth is inseparably associated with Richard III., so the name of Edwin Booth is inseparably associated with Hamlet. In October, 1852, the father and son parted for the last time. The California period of Edwin Booth's professional career lasted from the summer of 1852 till the autumn of 1856, and included a trip to Australia. The young actor at first played parts of all kinds, and he had a severe experience of poverty and hardship. Soon, however, he began to display uncommon merit, and thereupon to attract uncommon admiration. One of his earliest and best successes was obtained as Sir Edward Mortimer in “The Iron Chest.” For a time, indeed, he travelled in California, conveying his wardrobe for this piece in a trunk fashioned and painted to resemble a chest made of iron. His trip to Australia, in 1854, was made with a dramatic company that included the popular actress Miss Laura Keene as leading woman. Previous to this he had, in his brother's theatre at San Francisco, acted Richard III., Shylock, Macbeth, and Hamlet, had made an extraordinary impression, and acquired abundant local popularity. At this time his acting began to receive thoughtful attention from learned and critical authorities. He stopped and acted at the Sandwich islands on his return voyage from Australia to San Francisco, and reappeared there at the Metropolitan theatre, then (1855) managed by Miss Catherine Sinclair (Mrs. Edwin Forrest, who had left her husband and obtained a divorce from him), and he was then and there the original representative in America of Raphael in “The Marble Heart.” In 1856 he took leave of California, being cheered on his way by several farewell testimonial benefits, organized and conducted by one of his earliest and best friends, Mr. M. P. Butler, of Sacramento, and his steps were now turned toward the cities of the east. He first appeared at the Front street theatre, Baltimore, and then made a rapid tour of all the large cities of the south, being everywhere well received. In April, 1857, he appeared at the Boston theatre as Sir Giles Overreach in “A New Way to Pay Old Debts,” and his great success on this occasion, always regarded by him as the turning-point in his career, determined him to persist in the resolute endeavor to win the first place as a tragic actor. His career since then has been marked by many vicissitudes of personal experience and by fluctuations of fortune, but it has been one of lofty endeavor and of continuous advancement. On 14 May, 1857, he came forward in New York, at Burton's Metropolitan theatre, as Richard III., and in the following August he was again seen there in a round of great characters, all of which he acted with brilliant ability and greatly to the public satisfaction. On 7 July, 1860, he married Miss Mary Devlin, of Troy, N. Y., an actress, whom he had met three years before at Richmond, Va., with whom he shortly afterward made a visit to England. Their only child, a daughter, Edwina, was born in Fulham, 9 Dec., 1861. After their return to America, Mrs. Booth, sinking under a sudden illness, died at Dorchester, Mass., on 21 Feb., 1863. While in England, Booth appeared at the London Haymarket theatre, under the management of J. B. Buckstone, enacting Shylock, Sir Giles, and Richelieu. The latter part, with which, almost as much as with Hamlet, his name is identified, he had first assumed at Sacramento, Gal., in July, 1856. His performance of it was much admired in London, and also at Liverpool and Manchester, where he afterward acted. On returning to America, Booth soon became manager of the Winter Garden theatre, New York, which had been Burton's Metropolitan, but which Dion Boucicault had leased, refitted, and renamed. Here Booth appeared on 29 Dec., 1862, and with this house he was associated until 23 March, 1867, when it was destroyed by fire. A particular record of his proceedings at this theatre would make a volume. Here he effected magnificent productions of “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Richelieu,” and other plays, and here he accomplished the remarkable achievement of running “Hamlet” for one hundred consecutive nights, an exploit that was commemorated by the public presentation to him, on 22 Jan., 1867, of a gold medal, suitably inscribed, and offered in behalf of leading citizens of New York. In recent days such an artistic feat would not be so difficult of accomplishment; at that time it was an extraordinary exploit. Booth's brother-in-law, the celebrated comedian John S. Clarke, was his partner in the management of the Winter Garden theatre, and they associated with themselves an old journalist and theatrical agent, William Stuart (real name, Edmund O'Flaherty), formerly of Galway, Ireland, but then an exile. Clarke & Booth were also associated in the management of the Walnut street theatre, Philadelphia, from the summer of 1863 till March, 1870, when the interest of the latter was purchased by the former. The hundred-night run of “Hamlet” extended from 21 Nov., 1864, till 24 March, 1865. On 23 April, 1864, for the benefit of the fund for erecting a Shakespeare monument in Central park, Booth produced “Romeo and Juliet,” and enacted Romeo. In April, 1865, an appalling tragedy compelled Edwin Booth to leave the stage, and it was then his wish and purpose never to return to it; but business obligations constrained him, and he appeared at the Winter Garden on 3 Jan., 1866, as Hamlet, and was received with acclamation by a great audience. “Richelieu” was revived that year, on 1 Feb., with much splendor of scenic attire. An equally fine revival was made, on 28 Jan., 1867, of “The Merchant of Venice.” On 23 March the theatre was burned down. On 8 April, 1868, the corner-stone was laid of Booth's theatre, at the south-east corner of 23d street and 6th avenue, New York, and on 3 Feb., 1869, Booth opened the new house with “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo being played by himself and Juliet by Miss Mary McVicker. This lady was the daughter of Mrs. Runnion, who became the wife of James H. McVicker, of Chicago, a prominent actor and manager, and the child's name was changed from Runnion to McVicker. Booth married her on 7 June, 1869, and she died in New York, in 1881, leaving no children. Booth's theatre had a career of thirteen years, and its stage was adorned with some of the grandest pageants and graced by the presence of some of the most renowned actors that have been seen in this century. Its story, however, ended in May, 1882, when it was finally closed, its career ending with a performance of Juliet by Madame Modjeska. After this it was torn down, and a block of stores has been built upon its site. Booth's theatre was managed by Edwin Booth until the spring of 1874, when it passed out of his possession. During his reign therein as manager he accomplished sumptuous and noble revivals of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello,” “Hamlet,” “Richelieu,” “The Winter's Tale,” “Julius Cesar,” “Macbeth,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Brutus,” and other plays, and he presented on his stage a series of miscellaneous attractions of an equally reputable order. His stock company at one time included Lawrence Barrett, Edwin L. Davenport, J. W. Wallack, Jr., Mark Smith, Edwin Adams, A. W. Fenno, D. C. Anderson, D. W. Waller, Robert Pateman, Mrs. Emma Waller, Bella Pateman, and others — one of the ablest dramatic organizations ever formed in America. Among the stars who acted at his theatre were Joseph Jefferson, Kate Bateman, James H. Hackett, Charlotte Cushman, John S. Clarke, John E. Owens, and James H. McVicker. Booth's theatre was almost invariably a prosperous house; but it was not economically managed, and for this reason, and this alone, it eventually carried its owner into bankruptcy. Edwin Booth then began his career over again, and in course of time paid his debts and earned another fortune. In 1876 he made a tour of the south, which was in fact a triumphal progress. Thousands of spectators flocked to see him in every city that he visited. In San Francisco, where he acted for eight weeks, he drew upward of $96,000, a total of receipts till then unprecedented on the dramatic stage. In 1880, and again in 1882, he visited Great Britain, and he acted with brilliant success in London and other cities. He went into Germany in the autumn of 1882, and was there received with extraordinary enthusiasm. In 1883 he returned home and resumed his starring tours of America. Booth acted many parts in his day, but of late years his repertory had been limited to Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Iago, Wolsey, Richard III, Shylock, Richard II, Benedick, Petruchio, Richelieu, Payne's Brutus, Bertuccio (in “The Fool's Revenge,” by Tom Taylor), Ruy Blas, and Don Cæsar de Bazan. He published an edition of these plays, in fifteen volumes, the text cut and adapted by himself for stage use, with introductions and notes by William Winter (Boston, 1877-'8).