"Charlotte Cushman as she was, and as she is", Spirit of the Times, Mar 15, 1851
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CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN AS SHE WAS, AND AS SHE IS.
Charlotte Cushman, the great tragedienne of the age, plays this week her last engagement in New Orleans, previous to her final retirement from the stage, with, it is currently reported, a larger fortune than any artist of her years has before amassed. Six years ago this nobly gifted woman made her appearance before a London audience; an appearance thus graphically described by Mary Howitt, in a sketch of the Misses Cushman which appeared in Howitt's Journal a few years ago :—
"It was the depth of winter, and a remarkably cheerless, gloomy season too : she was alone, excepting one female attendant, and ill, not only from a severe cold, but from anxiety and uncertainty. Nothing could exceed the depression of her mind as she looked around on the vast multitudes of London, living as yet friendless there; and yet in this very London lay her fate, and from these very multitudes she had come to win love and admiration! She had, it is true, brought some letters of introduction with her, but it so happened that they were not addressed to persons willing or perhaps able to serve her. Ill and alone, and oppressed with anxieties of various kinds, those melancholy first weeks in London will never be forgotten by her. But she could not afford to waste time in brooding over her own sad thoughts, even if a natural impatience to know the worst, or to enjoy the best, had not urged her on to make the trial for which she had come.
"She received offers from the managers of Covent Garden theatre, then open; from the St. James, and one or two others ; but here again a difficulty arose, which made her additionally unhappy. She knew not what was best or wisest to decide upon or do. She wanted at that moment a friend and counsellor; but she had none ! In the end she accepted an engagement at the Princess, and resolved to make her debut before a London audience in the character of Bianca, in Milman's tragedy of "Fazio.'' Her success was great and unquestioned ; nor must it be forgotten that at that time she was not known to a dozen persons in London, and no means had been taken to prepare the press, or dispose the public mind to her favor. All depended upon her own merit and original power; yet only one opinion prevailed regarding her. One engagement succeeded another, until she had acted there eighty-four nights, during which she appeared as Emilia to Mr. Forrest's Othello, as Lady Macbeth, Julia, in the 'Hunchback,' Mrs. Haller, Beatrice, Lady Teazle, Meg Merrilies, Rosalind, Juliana in the ' Honeymoon'—a range of characters which required extraordinary ability and power.
"An eye witness of Miss Cushman's debut assures us that, since the days of the elder Kean, such enthusiasm was never witnessed within the walls of a London theatre as that which hailed the unknown American artist as the greatest actress since the days of Mrs. Siddons. That this was no short-lived popularity, dependent upon stratagem and clap-trap, is already evinced in the rapid rise from poverty to wealth which six short years have witnessed. The foundation of her fortune, solidly laid in England, has received its crowning stone in the appreciation of her countrymen and women, whose suffrages she has sought and won in her recent triumphal career throughout the States."
It was in this city Miss Cushman commenced her professional career as a singer, pronounced by Mrs. Wood "to possess the finest contralto voice she had ever heard." In this city, also, after a few brief months, that voice was lost, owing in part to the change of climate, and "to the unwise attempt to overstrain her voice from a pure contralto to an available soprano." Nothing daunted by a disaster which would have crushed one less gifted with moral courage and genius, after a few weeks' severe study we find Charlotte Cushman on the boards of the old St. Charles, making her first appearance as a tragic actress in the character of Lady Macbeth, a character in which she is now universally acknowledged to stand side by side with her great predecessor, Mrs. Siddons.
It is no small compliment to the critical acumen of the New Orleans public that it at once awarded the palm to the youthful aspirant, and, in its support and judicious praise kindled that ambition which now, ripened and fulfilled, " bearing its blushing honors thick upon it," brings her back in the bloom of life to a grateful and cordial farewell to the scene of her early struggles and her recent conquests. Surely we, the citizens of New Orleans, will rally round the protege of former days, taking a warm and personal interest in the successful and closing career of this "true artist, and yet truer woman, of whom Mary Howitt has said, that, "whilst her distinguished talent is acknowledged by the public at large, her personal accomplishments, and her qualities of heart and mind, win for her the firmest friends."