From Becky Ruud, Student Assistant
Nestled in our manuscript section is an intriguing book full of autographs and photos of celebrities from 1897. This book was purchased by the Clark Library in 1950 and was unknown to me until I went through the bound manuscripts item by item. Featured in this book are many well-known — and some obscure — actors, authors, and artists of the later 19th century.
One of the first entries in the volume is for J. L . Tooles, an exceedingly famous farceur of the time. He was noted for his natural way with comedy, and often for being a brilliant dramatic actor as well. Dickens said of being struck by his, “power of passion very unusual indeed in a comic actor, as such things go, and of a quite remarkable kind”. His comedic acting was enhanced by his physique, being short with a broad face and his ability to command his deep cockney voice. A practical joker who, never forgot his trusty monocle, became an international sensation. The quote featured on his picture comes from his famous character Paul Pry, “I hope I don’t intrude”.
The book also includes photos and autographs of three theatre couples, the Bancrofts , the Terrys, and the Kendals. The three couples worked with each other from one time to another in their career. Marie Bancroft, having been born into the profession, was known for her ability to “play farce, tragedy, opera, comedy, melodrama, pantomime, ballet, change her costume, fight a combat, make love, poison herself, die, and take one encore for a song and another for a dance, in the short space of ten minutes” wrote Tom Robertson in 1860. Squire Bancroft was known for his acting, but proved to be a much more shrewd businessman. Together the Bancrofts managed many successful performances at the Haymarket Theatre and the Prince of Wale’s.
Madge Kendal, like Marie Bancroft, started acting at a very young age. Her husband, also much like Squire Bancroft, was an actor turned manager. When Squire asked for permission to mary Madge, Madge’s father, William Robertson, gave consent only if the couple would always act together. A promise they never broke.
The final couple, the Terrys, Fred (brother of Ellen Terry) and his wife Julia Neilsen grace the pages of this book. Fred Terry, began his career in a Bancroft production at the age of sixteen. Later he played the Sebastian to his sister Ellen’s Viola, in Henry Irving’s Twelfth Night. A production I could only wish to have seen in person!Neilsen was also a famous actress. In fact was W.S. Gilbert who encouraged Julia Neilsen to begin acting, where she would later meet Fred.
Perhaps my favorite photograph is one of Linley Sambourne, illustrator for Punch. His outstanding 43 years at Punch included mostly full page illustrations in realistic style. Sambourne’s early years feature many grotesque and whimsical drawings, while his later years are full of realistic and well-developed illustrations. His “Fancy Portraits” of the 1880s mocked the celebrities of the day; and perhaps his humourous included picture is made in homage to his cartoons. Today his home in London at 18, Stafford Terrace (as is engraved on his signature page) is open for visitors, displayed in the state that Sambourne and his family had decorated it many years ago.
Further pictures include:
Author W.B. Yeats, with two signatures included
Poet and artist Richard le Gallienne
Alfred Austin, poet laureate of Great Britain
Queen Victoria’s favorite vocalist, Madame Albani Gye
In addition, this lovely portrait of artist Solomon J.Solomon in his studio is included. Solomon is a known English portrait artist who trained at the Royal Academy of Art. During the first world war, he advocated the importance of camoflauge and began the camouflage school in Kensington Gardens.
Edward J. Poynter, President of the Royal Academy of Art.
The charming Charles Solomon, at the time the oldest living English composer, who included his signature on a line of sheet music he had composed for his own 83rd birthday. It is documented that Solomon composed a song for each of his birthdays.
Finally a portrait of the Victorian version of the Partridge Family, the Field-Fishers, who were a family of singers and entertainers
All of these entries, and many more exciting characters, can be found in this volume!
All information on the artists and authors was found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.