Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “The Drama (part II),” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 189-192


[page 189:]


[Broadway Journal, July 26, 1845.]

AT Niblo’s, Mrs. Mowatt is still delighting large, fashionable, and very intellectual audiences, who testify their sympathy with the woman, not less than their approbation of the actress, by the most profound and respectful attention.

Last week we had seen the fair débutante only in Pauline, but we have since been charmed with her delineations of Juliana, in “The Honeymoon,” and Lucy Ashton, in “The Bride of Lammermoor.” The former of these plays has very little to recommend it — especially to Mrs. Mowatt. Its leading incident is grossly absurd. A duke (Aranza,) wedding, in his character of duke, a haughty gentlewoman, (Juliana) makes her believe, after marriage, that he is not only a peasant, but more entirely brutal and disgusting than peasant ever yet was. He maltreats her in almost every way — sneers at her — insists upon her standing up in his presence and attending his friends in the capacity of a slave — locks her up in her chamber — refuses her communication with her parents — does everything in short but strike her — and makes his brutality only the more odious by putting on, at one point, the airs of a man of honor — drawing down the rapturous approbation of the audience by certain rhodomontade to the effect that

“Whoever lays his hand upon a woman.

Save in the way of kindness is a villain

Whom ’t were base flattery to call a coward,” [page 190:]

as if the severest personal chastisement he could have inflicted would not have been less cowardly than his other bestial affronts to her dignity and honor. But all this would be nothing if we were not required to believe that, by such conduct, the duke finally subdues the haughty temper of his wife, and actually secures her most passionate love! These things are so grossly unnatural as to destroy all the verisimilitude of the play — and the total irrelevancy of the under-plots confirm the difficulty and strengthen the disgust. “The Honeymoon,” in short, is a wretched affair, which has been unluckily saved to the stage (for its sins) by a number of sparkling points well adapted to tell with audiences too ill-cultivated to estimate merit otherwise than in detail — and especially by a quality which, so far from saving it, should have secured its instant condemnation — we mean its palpable plagiarism of all the worst demerits of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

In Juliana — because Juliana is a rôle altogether out of nature — we did not expect Mrs. Mowatt to do much — for not much is there for anyone to do. So far as a gracefully dashing demeanour goes, she nevertheless accomplished something — and

Oh what a deal of scorn looks beautiful

In the contempt and anger of her lip!

We were delighted, however, to find her announced as Lucy in “The Bride of Lammermoor,” for our remembrances of this opera were connected only with the music of Bellini and the glowing romance of Scott. If, in all the literature of fiction, there is a character for which Mrs. Mowatt is peculiarly [page 191:] adapted, it is the Lucy Ashton of the original “Bride of Lammermoor.” If the authoress of “Fashion” knew her own strength, she would confine herself, nearly altogether, to the depicting in letters, as well as on the stage, the more gentle sentiments and the most profound passions. Her sympathy with the latter is evidently intense. In the utterance of the truly generous — of the really noble — of the unaffectedly passionate — we see her bosom heave — her cheek grow pale — her limbs tremble — her chiselled lip quiver — and Nature’s own tear rush impetuously to the eye. Now it is this freshness of the heart which will provide for her the greenest laurels. It is this enthusiasm — this well of deep feeling — which should be made to prove to her an exhaustless source of fame! As actress, it is to her a mine of wealth — worth all the dawdling instructions in the world. Mrs. Mowatt, as she now stands, is quite as able to give lessons in stage routine to any actor or actress in America, as is any actor or actress to give lessons to her. Let her throw all support to the winds — trust proudly to her own grace of manner — her own sense of art — her own rich and natural elocution — and let her be assured that these qualities, as she now possesses them, are all sufficient, when considered simply as the means by which the great end of natural acting is to be consummated — as the mere instruments by which she may effectively and unimpededly lay bare to the audience the movements of her own passionate heart.

Feeling this — being well assured, from first seeing Mrs. Mowatt as Pauline, that her forte lay in the depicting of passion, we were anxious to see her in Juliet (a part which will yet render her immortal) and [page 192:] were delighted when we saw her announced for Lucy Ashton. But alas! it was Scott’s Lucy and not the Opera Lucy of which we dreamed. The play, as we saw it on Tuesday, is miserably ineffective — and the remembrance of that most passionate and romantic of novels, will intrude itself to render the defects of the dramatization more palpable. We even fancied that we could perceive the depressing influence of this remembrance in the countenance of Mrs. Mowatt. With a bosom full of emotion, she seemed to suffer from the total insufficiency of the words of the dramatist to give utterance to her thought. But what was to be done was done to admiration. The actress lost no opportunity. The appeal to the mother was very noble acting. The signing of the contract, and the wild shriek at the sudden entrance of Edgar, would have done honor to anyone. The apathetic and mute despair at the conclusion of the play, and during the interview with Ravenswood in the mother’s presence — the dumb, uncomprehending wretchedness — the half-conscious rendering up of the broken gold — the laboring anxiety for the relief of words — the final maddening confession, heart-breaking, and death in the lover’s arms — were the teachings not of Mr. Crisp, but of Nature herself — speaking in tones that could not be misunderstood. The audience grew pale, and were betrayed into silence and tears — and if anyone went away sneering that night, it is at least quite certain that he felt ashamed of the sneer.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 189:]

1.  Cf. The Literati, Vol. XV. — ED.





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (The Drama (part II))