During the remainder of the rehearsal one might have thought that I understood English, and that the American actors understood Italian, No further mistake was made by either side; there was not even the smallest hesitation, and when I finished the final scene of the third act between Othello and Iago, the actors applauded, filled with joy and pleasure. The exactitude with which the subsequent rehearsals of "Othello," and those of "Hamlet," proceeded was due to the memory, the application, and the scrupulous attention to their work of the American actors, as well as to my own force of will and practical acquaintance with all the parts of the play, and to the natural intuition which helped me to know without understanding what was addressed to me, divining it from a motion, a look, or a light inflection of the voice. Gradually a few words, a few short phrases, remained in my ear, and in course of time I came to understand perfectly every word of all the characters; I became so sure of myself that if an actor substituted one word for another I perceived it. I understood the words of Shakespeare, but not those of the spoken language.
In a few days we went to Philadelphia to begin our representations. My old acquaintances were in despair. To those who had sought to discourage me by their letters others on the spot joined their influence, and tried everything to overthrow my courage. I must admit that the nearer came the hour of the great experiment, the more my anxiety grew and inclined me to deplore the moment when I had put myself in that dilemma. I owe it in a great degree to my cool head that my discouraging forebodings did not unman me so much as to make me abandon myself wholly to despair. Just as I was going on the stage, I said to myself: "After all, what can happen to me? They will not murder me. I shall have tried, and I shall have failed; that is all there will be to it, I will pack up my baggage and go back to Italy, convinced that oil and wine will not mix. A certain contempt of danger, a firm resolution to succeed, and, I am bound to add, considerable confidence in myself, enabled me to go before the public calm, bold, and secure.
The first scene before the palace of Brabantio was received with sepulchral silence. When that of the Council of Ten came, and the narration of the vicissitudes of Othello was ended, the public broke forth in prolonged applause. Then I said to myself, "A good beginning is half the work." At the close of the first act, my adversaries, who were such solely on account of their love of art, and their belief that the two languages could not be amalgamated, came on the stage to embrace and congratulate me, surprised, enchanted, enthusiastic, happy, that they had been mistaken, and throughout the play I was the object of constant demonstrations of sympathy.
From Philadelphia we went to New York where our success was confirmed. It remained for me to win the suffrages of Boston, and I secured them, first having made stops in Brooklyn, New Haven, and Hartford. When in the American Athens I became convinced that that city possesses the most refined artistic taste. Its theatrical audiences are serious, attentive to details, analytical--I might almost say scientific--and one might fancy that such careful critics had never in their lives done anything but occupy themselves with scenic art. With reference to a presentation of Shakespeare, they are profound, acute, subtle, and they know so well how to clothe some traditional principle in close logic, that if faith in the opposite is not quite unshakable in an artist, he must feel himself tempted to renounce his own tenets. It is surprising that in a land where industry and commerce seem to absorb all the intelligence of the people, there should be in every city and district, indeed in every village, people who are competent to discuss the arts with such high authority. The American nation counts only a century of freedom, yet it has produced a remarkable number of men of high competence in dramatic art. Those who think of tempting fortune by displaying their untried artistic gifts on the American stage, counting on the ignorance or inexperience of their audience, make a very unsafe calculation. The taste and critical faculty of that public are in their fulness of vigour. Old Europe is more bound by traditions, more weary, more blase, in her judgment, not always sincere or disinterested. In America the national pride is warmly felt, and the national artists enjoy high honour. The Americans know how to offer an exquisite hospitality, but woe to the man who seeks to impose on them! They profess a cult, a veneration, for those who practise our art, whether of their own nation or foreign, and their behaviour in the theatre is dignified. I recall one night when upon invitation I went to see a new play in which appeared an actor of reputation. The play was not liked, and from act to act I noticed that the house grew more and more scanty, like a faded rose which loses its petals one by one, until at the last scene my box was the only one which remained occupied. I was more impressed by this silent demonstration of hostility than I should have been if the audience had made a tumultuous expression of its disapproval. The actors were humiliated and confounded, and as the curtain fell an instinctive sentiment of compassion induced me to applaud.
The celebrated actor Edwin Booth was at this time in Baltimore, a city distant two hours from the capital. I had heard so much about this superior artist that I was anxious to see him, and on one of my off nights I went to Baltimore with my impresario's agent. A box had been reserved for me without my knowledge, and was draped with the Italian colours. I regretted to be made so conspicuous, but I could not fail to appreciate the courteous and complimentary desire to do me honour shown by the American artist. It was only natural that I should be most kindly influenced toward him, but without the courtesy which predisposed me in his favour he would equally have won my sympathy by his attractive and artistic lineaments, and his graceful and well-proportioned figure. The play was "Hamlet." This part brought him great fame, and justly; for in addition to the high artistic worth with which he adorned it, his elegant personality was admirably adapted to it, His long and wavy hair, his large and expressive eye, his youthful and flexible movements, accorded perfectly with the ideal of the young prince of Denmark which now obtains everywhere. His splendid delivery, and the penetrating philosophy with which he informed his phrases, were his most remarkable qualities. I was so fortunate as to see him also as Richelieu and Iago, and in all three of these parts, so diverse in their character I found him absolutely admirable. I cannot say so much for his Macbeth, which I saw one night when passing through Philadelphia. The part seemed to me not adapted to his nature. Macbeth was an ambitious man, and Booth was not. Macbeth had barbarous and ferocious instincts, and Booth was agreeable, urbane, and courteous. Macbeth destroyed his enemies traitorously--did this even to gain possession of their goods--while Booth was noble, lofty-minded, and generous of his wealth. It is thus plain that however much art he might expend, his nature rebelled against his portrayal of that personage, and he could never hope to transform himself into the ambitious, venal, and sanguinary Scottish king.
I should say, from what I heard in America, that Edwin Forrest was the Modena of America. The memory of that actor still lives, for no one has possessed equally the power to give expression to the passions, and to fruitful and burning imagery, in addition to which he possessed astonishing power of voice. Almost contemporaneously a number of most estimable actors have laid claim to his mantle; but above them all Edwin Booth soared as an eagle.
After a very satisfactory experience in Baltimore, I returned for the third time to New York, and gave "Othello," "Macbeth," and "The Gladiator," each play twice, and made the last two appearances of my season in Philadelphia. After playing ninety-five times in the new fashion, I felt myself worn out, but fully satisfied with the result of my venturesome undertaking. When I embarked on the steamer which was to take me to Europe, I was escorted by all the artists of the company which had cooperated in my happy success, by my friends, and by courteous admirers, and I felt that if I were not an Italian I should wish to be an American.
[George Henry Lewes, in his book on "Actors and the Art of Acting," published by Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1878, says: