C. W. Elliott's "One Woman's Work," The Galaxy, Feb 1869

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C. W. Elliott's "One Woman's Work," The Galaxy, Feb 1869


Cushman, Charlotte Saunders, 1816-1876
Relationships--Patrons and Protégés
Actors and Actresses--US American
Gender Norms
Intimacy--With Readers/Addressees


In a dramatized biographical account, Elliott depicts a hard-working, ambitious Cushman and her rise to success. Elliott includes direct quotes, questions, exclamation marks, and behind-the scenes gossip which "[m]any will remember." The article emphasizes the networks she built: "Her years of toil and anxiety and painstaking had not been thrown away! By no means; they had made her and had created friends." The biographical sketch depicts Cushman as one of Macready's protégés but also alludes to the development and deterioration of their relationship when Cushman's reputation and celebrity status expanded: "She knew that Macready would come; that he would insist—that he would dominate her, and that she must quarrel with him if she resisted him."
The article builds on a supposedly intimate knowledge between author, readers, and actress: "Those of my readers who know Charlotte Cushman, know well that now, in the prime of life, she rests, in some degree, from her labors, the centre and the helper of a charming circle in the old and time-worn city of Rome. They know, however, that she is not supine and idle; they know that her life is one of helpfulness and encouragement to those who come in her way, of whatever sex or kingdom."

Cushman gratefully mentions this article in a letter to Helen Hunt Jackson on Nov 7, 1869.


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Few will now assert that work is not a blessed thing. But how to work, what to work at, is, and must ever be, to each individual man and woman, an important and complicated question. Few, while young, know what they can do, and fewer still are able to set themselves about the work they believe they can and ought to do. Few, very few, have fathers or mothers who are capable of advising or sustaining the anxious neophyte in his or her endeavors after a useful life; and of the few who can advise wisely and well, but a small number have the power to make their advice practicable in life. Therefore it happens that most of us are the sport of accident; most of us are ships sailing without rudders on a shoreless sea. And yet no human life was ever what it ought to be, unless the individual felt that he (or she) had done his best—or nearly so. To do our best, much is necessary; first, an occupation which is not distasteful; second, to find and grasp this early in life when the forces are all fresh and confident; third, to work at it persistently and faithfully until you can do it to perfection; and lastly, that it shall be an occupation which the world values, and will give praise and pay for doing well. It is permitted to few, either men or women, to live in an occupation which gives both praise and pay, fame and fortune. Few get either—most live a life of mediocrity and reasonable success. Therefore let us not curse God and die because the great prizes are not permitted to all mankind. The story I have to tell teaches, if it teaches anything forcibly, that work will pay; but it must, of course, be work well directed. Work inspired by genius and well directed is sure of success. But even then it does not come quickly. The great painters, architects, shipbuilders, lawyers, poets, writers, merchants, have become such in public esteem after long years of patient and persistent work. Then we come to another aphorism. Do not be discouraged if the world is slow to give you praise and pay—these you must have if you deserve them and will work on. But it is a shabby thing, the tendency of human nature to criticise and disparage at the start, to bespatter and bepraise at the end; human nature has a very mean streak in it, and sometimes one is disposed to say, “quite true” to the statement of the sardonic French philosopher, “I tell you, sir, the experiment of mankind is a total failure.” Blessed is the boy or girl who has parents and friends to say hopeful and encouraging words; blessed are they who suck in with their mother's milk “you can,” rather than “you can't.” In these days, when women are perplexed as to what work they can and ought to do, when marriage is becoming more rare and more difficult, and all are seeking for the means of subsistence, and a way to do their share outside their easy and ordinary sphere, it may be interesting to know how one woman has worked—through what trouble, trial, perplexity, and darkness-up to the high table-lands of success, where friends and fortune smile. - A little girl was born in Boston, in this century, one of four children. Forty years ago—even thirty—nearly all New England people were poor, and were not unhappy because they were. This little girl was not swathed in laces; she had no silver cups; she was baptized without gold or amber beads. But she grew as well without these things as with them, and, in due time, had a brown calico frock and a “Vandyck,” and went to a district school to learn to read, to write, and to cipher. And she did learn ; because, in this pale little body was a half conscious little soul, which whispered in half-intelligible words, Whateveryou do, do with your might, Things doneby halvesareneverdomeright. By the time she was twelve years old, trouble began to come. Failure—it is a wretched word, and yet it was one that this girl then began to hear ; it was one which she was to know and feel, and it was one which she was to triumph over. Someone had failed; and that one was her father. Just what it meant was not clear, but gradually, all too swiftly, it came to her, that it meant poverty and suffering. Then the struggle became serious and the burdens heavy. The quiet mother then began to show her staunch New England nature. She did not flinch from her work, but quietly—sadly, perhaps, and yet “manfully”—she put her shoulder to the wheel which bore her ark of the covenant, whose holy treasures were little children. She steadied this ark with her woman's hand, and was not struck down. No, she lived to see one at least of this brood arrive at wealth and fame, aided by those good angels Patience and Labor; and we can well believe that she died the happier for it. The struggle first was to live, and next to get these children up so that they should be strong, able, self-supporting. They lived on in small ways, and earned in small ways; they had a boarder or two ; they spent almost nothing ; and this girl Charlotte, young as she was, was the eldest, and to her it fell to divide the work, to share the troubles of the mother. “Many a night,” she said, “I have lain awake, watching my mother walking the room, nigh distracted, she not knowing which way to turn or what to do—I fearing that she would rush from the house to drown herself in the sea.” But she was kept back, for four strings from four little hearts were fastened round her heart, and she could not tear them away. And she began to scheme and to plan—to make a future for these children. What could this girl do—what was possible 2 It was not in the programme that she was to be idle—to wait sitting on the steps of her small castle, holding her lily hands, until some knight should come to fall at her feet and make her master of his heart and court. No ; she was to do something—to work. In her child's way, she sang; and the eager mother said: “Might she not do it—might she not learn so that she can teach others, and so live P” She had some little acquaintance with Captain Mackay, in those days the founder of “Chickerings”—they were then beginning their own fame and fortune. She went to him. He said: “Bring her here; we have a young teacher who comes to play upon our pianos, and I will arrange it that he shall give her lessons.” The girl came. She worked, she played, she sang; she did what she could, determined to deserve success. She had strange tones in that voice of hers, unlike other girls' voices. Whether they were fine or musical, no one was sure. But they were deep, rich, strange. The girl, too, did not know ; but she worked on. In due course she found a friend who sang in a Boston church; and there, in the organ loft, she began to sing the songs of Israel; and the first appear ance she ever made was to sing in a chorus of the Handel and Haydn Society, when, with childish eyes, she looked fearfully out upon a sea of upturned faces. The last appearance she made was to pronounce an ode before the same society, [illegible] Music Hall at Boston, By-and-by there drifted to these shores Mr. and Mrs. Wood. They were artists—singers; in their way they were great and glorious. What should they have to do with this slip of a girl, who was groping on blindly in Chickerings' piano-room? My dears, no one knows where her work is, or how it will come, or who will offer it. What we have to do is to put ourselves to work, to know how to do it well, and then the work will be apt to come to us. It was not likely that this Mrs. Wood, this prima donna from the operas, should ever knöw this little Charlotte, or care for her. A woman of the world, swimming along the river of success and fame—that she should need the aid of this child, come from old Puritan, “Mayflower” stock, was not likely. And yet she did need her, and this chance shaped a life. On Saturday evenings, in those days of Puritan Boston, the opera was not patronized. But a concert might do. Now, Mrs. Wood wanted a strong con tralto voice to match hers for a duet; and she heard of the girl at Chickerings'. She came and heard the voice, and it impressed her; she brought Wood to hear it. The result was that the girl, now seventeen, was engaged to sing in a duet before a Boston audience, with Mrs. Wood, the great prima donna. Now, then, came the next step in her life. Mrs. Wood asked her to sing with her a part in the “Marriage of Figaro”—an opera ! She did not flinch, but practised her part and spared no pains. But what was she to do for a dress? Neither her purse nor her mother's permitted it. But that mother's love, and hope, and earnestness magnetized a merchant, who granted her a credit, small but sufficient. A debt then seemed a fearful thing, but it must be dared. She sang, and it was a success; small, to be sure, but still a success. Now then, the way was open to fame and wealth. No! There was still before her a long, a painful, a toilsome steep. Did she dare attempt it? Mrs. Wood was friendly, she had in her company a conductor named Maeder; she said to him: “Teach this girl and make her a singer.” “Yes,” said he, “but she must be articled to me for three years.” That is, she was to be taught by him, to go where he wished, to sing as he wished, to appear in what parts he chose, and for this she was to have one-half of all she might be able to earn. But she was to pay her own way out of her own earnings, and to supply her own wardrobe. This she gladly accepted, feeling that she had the work in her, and the power to do it. She worked on, four, five, six hours a day, practising as he taught her. But it came to pass that he married, and married a voice, and it was a contralto voice; so it became de sirable for him that Charlotte should sing soprano parts, which she was not meant by nature to sing ; so he steadily trained a high head voice, and forced her to sing a soprano. She did it, for she could do it, and she always did what work she was set to do, if she could. In due time her master was engaged in an opera company for New Orleans, where Caldwell was their great theatrical manager. Thither she went upon a salary of twenty-five dollars a week, of which she was to have one-half. Out of this twelve dollars and a half, she was to eat, to dress, and to ride, if she ever did ride. Of course she could not do it, and for gloves and some small expenses her master was obliged to advance money, or she could not have made a decent appearance. But he charged it on account, and by-and-by, when she succeeded in earning more, she was to pay it. She did pay it, years after, to the penny. Here, then, she Canne before the world as a singer, in such operas as “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Cinderella,” “Rob Roy,” “Barber of Seville,” etc. But here came a catastrophe. Work will do wonders, it will remove mountains, it will accomplish miracles, it will secure fame and fortune; but it must be work well directed. You, who have a cunning hand to fashion wood and to mould brass, must not attempt to make an epic, or to thunder from the rostrum. You, who can hew down trees and make wheat, must not become a lady's-maid. You, who can sing bass, must not sing treble. Work, then, well directed work which one can do well, is the work to attempt. Charlotte, who could sing bass, was put to sing treble; she was being forced to do that which violated all the laws of her being.' But she did not know it. She knew only that to sing the parts she was put to sing tasked her utmost strength, forced her to clasp her hands in agony, filled her with a ner vous dread lest she should fail. And yet she did it, until she broke down and failed utterly. Her voice left her—she could not sing a note. She was useless, she was in despair. Her salary, small as it was, would cease; she would be no longer of use to her master, and he would need her no more. What could she do, to whom should she go? A girl, hardly out of the gristle, stranded on a strange shore, her only occupation gone But she was not the kind that lies down to die She went to Caldwell and laid her case before him. He knew her better than she knew herself; he had watched her as she sang her parts. “My child,” said he, “you are not a singer, you are an actress. You have mistaken your part; you will not succeed as a singer, as an actress you may.” Not a singer . This, then, to which she had devoted herself so long, was all a mistake and a disastrous failure. But still, in this man's words there was hope—“you are an actress.” Despair vanishes, light breaks in. She is familiar with the stage; she has grown tall and stately; she studies; and Caldwell prom ises to give her a chance. In those days, in New Orleans, they wanted the deepest tragedy or the broadest farce. In due time Charlotte's name was announced to play Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare's wonderful tragedy. But, at the last moment, she had no dress, and no money to buy one; she had not dared to tell Caldwell, fearing postponement or some other thing. After her name was announced, then she stated her dilemma. “Bless me,” said the manager, “why, what's to be done? Look in the wardrobe, is there nothing?” Nothing was there that would in any way answer, and she took a note from Caldwell to the leading tragédienne of the French theatre, to borrow a dress, if it be possible. But how was the dress of the short and fat actress to be made to cover the tall and thin one º She borrowed two skirts, and, piecing them to gether, made one ; and thus, in such borrowed plumage, she trod the stage for the first time, as the daring, desperate queen of the bold and aspiring Thane. She did her best; and energy and determination carried her through. This was followed by other parts, so that she began to taste a sense of power—of a power to do—the first and greatest of all earthly satisfactions. But seasons change and seasons end ; and, in those days, it was not thought possible to play anything a hundred nights—novelty must succeed novelty. And now came a return to New York—all the old life changed. Was she to find work there? So far, there had been little fame and little money for her. But there were two managers in New York to whom all aspirants looked–Hamblin, master of the Bowery Theatre, and Simpson, of the “Old Park.” The Park was the “West End”—the great metropolitan theatre; and, at that day, it shone with many lights. Belonging to it were Mrs. Wheatley and her two daughters, John Mason, Fredericks, Peter Richings, Chippindale, Mrs. Vernon, Mrs. Hil - ºthers, whose names still live in the memories of old New Yorkers. Charlotte, of course, wished to play at the Park; but Mr. Simpson said, frankly, “There is no place—I am full.” She applied to Hamblin. He tried her—had her to rehearse various parts to him in his private room. He found there was energy, at least, and a great desire. He finally engaged her at a sal ary of twenty-five dollars a week for the first year, thirty for the second, and thirty-five for the third. But he said to her: “Now, I can give you but four weeks to appear in such parts as you are able to fill.” She bent her energies to the preparing for this, and not only was she to study and practise her parts, but she was, in some way, to provide a wardrobe. There was no way to do it but to incur a debt amounting to three hundred dollars, which then seemed portentous. But work and energy must pay the debt. Now came a second catastrophe. Just before the time for her appearance she was laid down with a rheumatic fever. She could not move—could not lift a finger —could not be touched. It was agony. Overwork, anxiety, doubt, fear, had prostrated her physical strength. She must lie still and wait. But how could she lie still and wait 2 Everything depended upon life, action, work, at this very moment. One week passed, two weeks passed, and Hamblin said: “My child, what can we do—half of your time is gone’’ Something she must do; she appealed to her doctor, implored him to help her. He knew that she needed rest and ease, but he tried sulphur baths. Energy and sulphur got her up; she moved about, and prepared for her work. She went on the stage and played, and was received well; it was only for one week. But in that week she had made an impression, and her engagement with Hamblin was her great opportunity. Here again was life and hope and prosperity. She wrote to her mother, who was keeping a small boarding-house in Boston, to come to her; she wanted her, could give her a home, and could secure her against want. Happiness was nigh. In her little rooms on the upper floor of a house in street, mother and daughter met, and tasted once more the security of home—bread not made bit ter by anxiety. With the mother came a little boy, the youngest of all. He was bright and gay, the joy of their eyes; to him the future might be made safe, and perhaps golden. Here was love; here they were to live together and taste of happiness. Charlotte had played her week with satisfaction, and her little wardrobe— great to her—was left in the clothes-room of the theatre. Then the Bowery was burned to the ground ! With it vanished in smoke that wardrobe for which she still owed a debt; with it vanished her engagement with Hamblin. All was ruin. There was neither work nor home nor credit left. Misfortune seems to pursue us, to test us, to prove that we are true metal; it too often bears us down. She stood up; she rushed to the proprietor of a little theatre in Chatham street; poor and contemptible it was, enough to destroy her chances for success in any higher walk, for whoever was fit to play in such a place, could hardly be fit to play in a good theatre. But she dared it; she told her story—it was work or starvation. He sent her to Albany to play in a little provincial theatre, then managed by Blake, since so well known and so well liked. He found her valua ble and useful. She played with spirit and courage; she played any part, all parts, nothing was refused. She made friends among the country legislators, and began once more to creep upward. It was a small life, but it was life. In the midst of this came a blow. The little brother had gone with his teacher into Vermont to spend his holidays. He was riding an old country horse; he fell, and was killed. And now there came to Charlotte a box bearing the body of the dear little boy; he for whom the mother and the sister had hoped so much. To Charlotte it was like having the first-born, a man child, torn away. She could not eat, or sleep, or work. He was laid in his grave, and then she said to Mr. Blake, “I am useless ; I can do nothing; I must go away.” She went, and for a time it seemed as if the heavens were darkened, and there was no more light for her. Then it came to her as to all strong natures— “This is folly. I must go to work at something, at anything.” So she went to Mr. Simpson, and said to him, “I want work, and I will do anything; will take any part you put me to, and will do it as well as I can.” She became a part of the stock company at the Park Theatre, and during that time did anything, everything ; she played old women and young boys, sol diers and beggars, barmaid and travelling lady. She sang in chorus, and did whatever work was put upon her, without complaint, without praise; and earned some twenty-two dollars a week by doing it. It was a pittance, but she could live. During this time came to her her married sister, still very young. She, too, was now bowed down by a strong grief, for she had had an arrow in her heart, and life seemed hopeless. This young woman, too, must be sustained, must be lifted out of her slough. How? Perhaps she could be set to work, could be got to play a part, and so might forget her own woes. She tried ; succeeded, and at last the two sisters appeared in the same play. The stronger sustaining the weaker, who otherwise must have gone to the wall. Not yet twenty-one, Charlotte had shown, if not genius, at least industry, perseverance, and courage. She was making her way, but slowly. How could she increase her income now that her expenses were increased ? That was an important question. She laid the matter before Mr. Simpson, urging twenty five dollars a week for herself, and twelve for her sister—it does not seem ex orbitant, but Simpson said, “I can pay no more than I do pay.” So he allowed her to go, and for a time she played as a stock actress in Burton’s Theatre at Philadelphia. But the Park manager found, and he afterward said it, that he was obliged to engage four persons to do the work of this one ; and so she was brought back to the Park. Charlotte now was working for herself and for her sister, too; she had to see to the interests of both. A new actress appeared, a friend of a leading journalist of New York, and she was put into the good parts which this sister had played. The sister was lowered. Charlotte protested, but Mr. Simpson said he was powerless. Char lotte threatened to give up her place. Everywhere is a struggle for life—in the green room of a theatre as else where. This brought a letter from the journalist saying “that if Miss C. did not tread carefully she should be driven from the stage, if there was any virtue in a New York audience or strength in the New York press.” What should she do? Must she submit and swallow her slights P She went to one of the strong est and most powerful of the New York editors for advice. What ought she to do? Without telling her what he would do, he prepared an article and printed it, in which he laid before the New York public the threat which had been made against this girl. The next night she was to appear as Lady Gay Spanker. The theatre was crowded with men, for might there not be a sensation, a “row!’’ When the actor cried, “Look look here comes Lady Gay Spanker across the lawn at a hand gallop,” she was greeted with a surge of applause which si ler her antagonist, and confirmed her position before a New York audience. It was a fearful but a delicious moment. She was not powerless, then ; she had friends, and they were ready to stand by her. Her years of toil and anxiety and painstaking had not been thrown away! By no means; they had made her and had created friends. The next step was to Philadelphia, where she became manager. The chances, too, are coming. Across the Atlantic came a bit of news, then of some import ance. Macready, the great English tragedian, was coming to America. Is it not possible that Charlotte may find an opportunity to appear with him, and under the influence and inspiration of the best masculine actor, gather experience and knowledge? She was yet a learner. She has always been a learner. She gave up her theatre, set herself to studying the parts in the great plays, such as Lady Macbeth, the Queen in Hamlet, Emilia, Mrs. Haller, etc. The great actor came, proud, confident, capable, expecting to find our stage raw, weak, untrained. Charlotte awaited him; and now, firm, strong and capable, Macready found in her one willing to be taught, quick, responsive, observant, ambitious, determined. She impressed him from the start. She said to him, “I will try to play as you wish, only tell me frankly what you wish.” He said frankly, “You play to my entire satisſaction. I would not have you different. You fully appreciate what I wish to accomplish.” Both were satisfied, and no mean spirit of rivalry marred then, or ever, their active co-operation. Macready was the “star,” of course, and Charlotte was the “stock ’’ actress, but she, too, received a meed of applause and honor. Macready inspired her with a still greater desire for excellence; for whatever other faults he may have had, he was a man with a high and conscientious ambition. Together they played in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and else where. Charlotte was now some twenty-seven years old, had been some ten years at this work, but so far was only a stock actress, hardly able to command her place. But she had arrived at the point—a very great one—of being able to save money. She had saved what then seemed to her a great sum—six hundred dollars! With this might she not go to England and see with her own eyes what was best in her own profession—and might she not get an opportunity to appear, and test her powers there, where success would insure fame and fortune? She must go, and alone, only attended by a small maid; with two letters in her pocket, to Mr. Everett and Mrs. Hall, she went to Liverpool. She was as stingy of her little money as a miser could be, for that little was the fund which would enable her to wait her opportunity, if it should come. At Liverpool she found a letter from Macready, who was in Paris with Miss Faucit, the then great English actress, playing an engagement. He urged her to come to him, and promised she should have an opportunity to appear, but it was only in second parts; always she was to be second. She replied, asking to be allowed to appear as Lady Macbeth once—only once—and she would do all the rest. It could not be granted, for Miss Faucit was a power, and she wanted no rival. Charlotte decided not to go; she would wait and see. The Liverpool manager invited her to appear, but she said “No, I will wait.” Then cheaply, carefully, she went to Glasgow, Edinburgh, York, Leeds, and other towns, to see what the acting in those places was, to measure herself by that. She took courage, and proceeded to London; where, with her little maid, she got two small dark rooms near Covent Garden, when she could safely visit that theatre and see what the world was like. It was November; it was dark, cold, rainy, lonely. She was homesick and wretched. Her letters did her no good, but a letter from the Liverpool manager brought her into acquaintance with one of the London critics, who interested himself to get her free admission to the theatre, and brought her into some connection with theatrical people. But Buckstone had no place for her; Webster of the Haymarket none; Maddox of the Princess's tried to give her a chance, but it was not one that she thought she could accept. She refused—it was her only offer. What next? Homesick, alone, frugal to an extreme lest her money should be exhausted, she lived on, until two chance friends, kind and good, came to ask her to go to Paris with them. There was Macready. She counted her coin, carefully considered the cost, and decided to go for a fortnight. Macready was glad to see her, asked carefully as to her plans. She hardly had any—how could she have any—she who was waiting upon fortune, who is said to be blind She still had hope and determination. Macready urged her to appear with him in Paris; but he could give her only a second part. No, she would wait. Macready was touched—perhaps offended ; but it was only for a moment. He said : “Fortune presents you a flowing bowl, and you rudely push it away.” She sees Miss Faucit, and finds her totally, radically different from herself. The first was all grace and suppleness—the last all force and intensity. They could never be competitors or rivals. It is to be confessed here, that a great tragedian, man or woman, may sometimes be positive, wilful, arrogant, difficult to deal with. And then the life of a manager is tried to the utmost. Some thing of this kind had been experienced by Mitchell, the manager of the com pany at Paris. We can well believe that he looked about to see if any substi tute could be found for the Queen of the Stage. We can easily believe that Macready had said: “Why not try this American actress? I know her to be ready and ca pable.” The manager came, talked, suggested, proposed, and finally promised that she should appear in the parts she herself wished to play. Now, then, comes the great opportunity! Not yet. It had been made plain to Charlotte that the manager wished to use her as a whip to bring the refrac tory Faucit to the traces—to make her pull as he wanted her to pull. Now, the woman's instinct whispered to Charlotte : “Would you like it, to have some other woman used to whip you ?” The season at Paris, too, was nearly over. It had not been very successful. Might it not be a bad move to appear there and then, and so lose a better chance in London, if ever one should come? She hesitated, telling the man ager she cannot decide it at once; she will sleep on it. He left, promising to send Macready to see her the next day. The two kind friends with whom she came to Paris were totally ignorant of theatres and of all that pertains thereto, and they could not understand why she did not eagerly seize this chance. But more and more it was “borne in upon her ” that if she allowed them to use her in a sort of quarrel, it would be disastrous. She knew that Macready would come; that he would insist—that he would dominate her, and that she must quarrel with him if she resisted him. She packed her trunk and fled at daylight from Paris, back to her dark and lonely quarters at London. Nothing, then, was accomplished. Who can tell ? Many will remember the fierce rivalry which for a time existed between Forrest and Macready, the two great tragedians of the day; how it broke out in a riot in New York; how Forrest everywhere dared a comparison with the great Englishman; how they played the same characters the same nights in the same towns; and how Forrest came to Paris and applied to manager Mitchell to appear in the same characters which had been performed by Macready. Mitch ell declined, because there was little promise of profit in Paris. At this moment, after Charlote had fled, Maddox, the London manager, met Forrest in Paris. They talked, both were ready to do something, and Maddox suggested London. “But,” said Forrest, “who have you got to play with me?” Maddox told over his working company—all very well, but no lady among them met Forrest's requirements. He declined. Then Maddox says: “There is Miss C .” “Ah,” said Forrest, “she will do. Get her, and I will do it.” So they made an engagement for twelve nights upon these conditions. Mad dox then hastened back to London. Before Miss C. was up, a ring at her door, on a Tuesday morning, brought in the card of Mr. Maddox. She would see him, of course, in half an hour. Would he wait, or would he come again & He would come again. “Go to the window,” said Miss C. to her little maid, “and see where he goes.” He walked up and down before the door. “Aha!” said she to herself. “He wants me !” She was shrewd, too. In an hour he appeared—not over-anxious, to be sure, for managers must use craft. He told her what he wanted—that he wished her to appear in Lon don with Mr. Forrest. Of course this was what she wanted. “But in what play will you open?’’ “Othello.” “But I cannot begin with Emilia,” she replied. He urged, she declined. So matters stood. “No,” she said, “I have sworn to my own soul that I will appear in London in a part which shall give me my opportunity, or I will not appear at all. Give me a night before Forrest comes, and let me play Bianca, and then I will do whatever you wish.” It seemed impossible, but yet it was at last agreed to, and Thursday night should be hers. It was now Tuesday—short time for a stranger to know the new stage and the new players—short time for rehearsals. And would not these new players be hostile or indifferent? For two days she neither ate nor slept, so overpowering was this coming event. She ſound her actors at least indifferent, not familiar with their parts, her Fazio quite willing to cut his work down to the last possible word—why should he bother himself with these red Indians from across the sea, who proba bly knew how to act like red Indians, and no more ? But she held to her purpose with tenacity and force. There was almost no time to announce the appearance of a new actress, none to trumpet her ſame, if she had any. Besides, she was only to be a support to Forrest, of little value herself. But she valued herself; and now, knowing she was wanted, she had brought Maddox to her terms, ten pounds a night. He resisted, but he did it. Thursday night came and the curtain rose upon an indifferent house. She was anxious, watchful. The first act was gone through with, and her Fazio was a most unpromising one ; the curtain dropped and there was no sound of applause. The whole thing was dead, and things looked serious. But the little maid was waiting for her with cheering words—“never fear, you will bring them in the next act.” - In the second act she had more to do, and she did it with her strength; but yet she had not won her place ; the curtain fell and there was a hum of ap plause, yet it was not strong and assured. In the third act she must do or die. The slight applause had given her assurance and new life, and into the third and fourth acts she went, no longer Charlotte, but Bianca herself; she was Bianca in all her intensity and agony, and at last when she threw herself at the feet of Aldabella, pleading for her to save Fazio with her whole soul, she fell there exhausted, not only with the excitement of the part, but prostrate with physical exhaustion lt was not act ing; it was life itself. Then the whole audience rose to their feet and a wild shout of approbation shook the theatre. It was irresistible, irrepressible, unmistakable. Thence forth there was no doubt. She staggered to her feet; and when the curtain fell, she was too weak to go before it, in answer to the cries and shouts of the audience. She stood supported by the manager behind the curtain, and bowed her head in response to the hearty recognition of her power. But the great work was done. The stubborn and tangled forest had been cleared, the soil had been grubbed up and ploughed, the seed had been sown and covered, and patiently had it lain through the storms of winter. Now the seed was up and growing, and the harvest was at hand. For ten years this work had been going forward; and you, who suppose that glory and success may be grasped by him who dares, in a day, need remember it. Ten years of hard, faithful, patient work and watching were needed to secure these great results. Thenceforth the work to be done is to reap the harvest and to gather it into barns for the future use of man. The work was done, and the harvest was ready. Our story might almost end here, because here is plain what I have en deavored to make plain, that work will pay—work well directed and patiently and persistently followed is sure of success. For eighty-eight successive nights our little, pale New England girl—now grown to be a tall and stately and noble woman—delighted the best audiences of London and of all England. Thenceforth, from that day she was not friendless or solitary. Then, her two letters, which she had sent on her arrival in London, brought a response ; for, not only was she a successful actress, she was also a person much to be de sired by those who loved and valued talent and worth. Then Rogers, the poet and banker, came to see her, and placed his house and himself at her disposal ; and at his house she met and knew some of the first and best in England, and they are second to none in the world. Five years now passed, in which was work well done and well paid. All over England she went. Everywhere welcomed, everywhere commanding, not begging attention. She had that to give which all wanted, for what she had to bestow was the finest ore of genius wrought into perfectness by labor. Fame, praise, and money now flowed in upon her. To her then came from America, mother, brother, sister, leaving behind them hardship, fear, anxiety; they came to partake with her the bounties of success, the smiles of favor. There was no fibre of meanness or greed in this strong and generous nature ; she was ready to do, willing to give, quick to see, swift to act. And henceforth she was to have the ability to do that which her heart greatly desired, which is the great blessedness of earth. But while she has found her work and her place to do it, she has a sister who also wants work and needs success. Then she consents to lay aside the robes of Lady Macbeth, the trailing garments of the Queen, to put off from her her womanhood—for a time—that she might be Romeo to that sister's Juliet. It was a risk, a dangerous one ; for a great woman is always greatest as woman; and never can she ape the step and grip of man. But she dared the risk for the end to be gained ; and for thirty nights the two appeared as the fondest of lovers, most tender, most unfortunate. For a hundred and eighty nights she played in various parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, not thinking that that splendid physical nature was not made of steel and catgut. But it was not. She broke down, and for nigh a year was useless; not all the strength of will or the aspiration of the soul availed aught. The body must be fairly treated, or it breaks up in mutiny and calamitous rebellion. She was useless, would she ever be anything better Time and patience can repair many damages, if they do not restore to wholeness the broken branch ; and when the return of health and strength sent the good red blood coursing through those veins to that brain, it said, “Your work is not done—go home and do for your own people what you have been doing for strangers so long and so well.” She came, and through some years enjoyed the satisfaction of interpreting to us the great masters of the dramatic art as they had never been interpreted before. This is no place for criticism or comparison ; but let me say, that if ever there appeared to us a great actress, who was true to nature and the impulses of her own soul, it was this one. While she had seen and studied others, she had studied not to imitate, but to excel ; and always her models have been the inspirations of her own genius. As this is not a biography, but only a little sermon about work, with a few more words I will bring it to a close. Those of my readers who know Charlotte Cushman, know well that now, in the prime of life, she rests, in some degree, from her labors, the centre and the helper of a charming circle in the old and time-worn city of Rome. They know, however, that she is not supine and idle; they know that her life is one of helpfulness and encouragement to those who come in her way, of whatever sex or kingdom. The story I have so rapidly told has been told because, in these latter days, woman has begun to cry aloud : “What can I do? Where shall I find work?” It has been told to show that work must be faithful, patient, persistent, thorough, and well-directed; and such work, whether of woman or man, is sure of success.


Hathi Trust, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433090985627. Accessed October 12, 2021.



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“C. W. Elliott's "One Woman's Work," The Galaxy, Feb 1869,” Archival Gossip Collection, accessed July 15, 2024, https://archivalgossip.com/collection/items/show/885.

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