Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Scot in America
Public Entertainers


SCOTTISH entertainments and entertainers have from a very early period been remarkably popular in America. When the country had grown populous enough to give the drama a foothold, Scotch actors were very numerously represented among the followers of the Thespian art who ventured to cross the Atlantic and find a new field for their talents. While, like most pioneers, they did not themselves fare very well at the hands of fortune, there is no doubt that they started the American stage on a high level, so that it is to-day the equal of any stage in the world, not even excepting those of London and Paris. Scottish music, too, has invariably been popular here, and, although they seem unable to grasp the delightful smoothness of the grand old Doric, a privilege only vouchsafed (except in a few instances) to a native, many American amateurs sing the songs of the "Land of the Kilt and Heather" with a degree of taste and with so thorough an appreciation as to warm the heart of even the most obdurate of Scottish listeners. Of course, a Scotsman would any day prefer to hear his country's songs sung by a native, but the perfection attained in the singing of these by those who are not natives, and especially by non-natives who are of the tender sex, is gratifying at once to his patriotism and his musical sentiments. At times, too, one who is not a native struggles so successfully with the vernacular that it is difficult to detect a false accent, and, to take an illustrious instance, it may be remarked that Sims Reeves when singing a Scotch song presented the Doric so faultlessly as to give the Glasgow folks a chance for ventilating a tradition that the greatest of English tenors used in his younger days to act in a booth on the Green, Glasgow's historic public park, and that he there learned how to sing!

One of the first of really great Scottish singers to try his fortune on this side of the Atlantic was John Sinclair, a native of Edinburgh, where he was born in 1793. He made his first appearance in America in the old Park Theatre, New-York, in 1837, when he appeared as Francis Osbaldistone. An old Scot who was present on that evening has left on record a statement that he had never before, not even in "Auld Reekie," heard "The Macgregors' Gathering" sung with more fire, or "My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose " with more sweetness. Possibly this was because absence from home had sharpened his sympathies, and the sentiments which arise when a wanderer's thoughts turn back to "Auld Lang Syne" usurped the ordinary powers of criticism so natural in a Scot. However this may be, Sinclair before visiting America had earned the reputation in Scotland of being the best living interpreter of his country's songs, and his memory is still kept green in the musical history of his native land. He captured his New York audience from the moment he first appeared, and his engagement was in every way a most successful one. He repeated his success shortly afterward at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelpliia, as well as, later on, in Boston. At that time, by the way, a success in Boston was as gratifying to an artist as was one in Edinburgh.

"Sinclair," once wrote John Forbes Robertson of London to David Kennedy, "was a frank, genial fellow, ["the leddies' bonnie Sinclair," he used to be called,] and among his Scottish songs were 'Hey! the Bonnie Briestknots' and one of his own composition, 'Come, Sit Ye Down, My Bonny, Bonny Love."' One of Sinclair's daughters married Edwin Forrest, the famous tragedian, and the union gave rise to one of the most notable divorce trials ever held in America. Forrest, by the way, claimed to have descended from Scotch ancestors, and asserted that Montrose was their old home. Sinclair returned to England, and died there. in 1857.

The next vocalist from Scotland to visit these shores, and the grandest of them all, was John Wilson, who was born at Edinburgh in 1800, and at ten years of age was sent to learn the printing business. When his apprenticeship was over he became a proofreader in James Ballantyne's printing office, and is said to have been one of the few to whom the secret of the authorship of the Waverley Novels was made known. During this time, however, he was studying music and training his voice to speak as well as sing, and, in spite of the protestations of his friends, he made his first appearance on the stage, at Edinburgh, in 1830, assuming the character of Henry Bertram in the opera of "Guy Mannering." his success was complete. Wilson determined, in the height of his powers, to make an American tour, and he landed in the New World in 1838, and remained for two years. He was beyond question one of the most accomplished vocalists of his time, and, though he had made a brilliant reputation on the operatic stage, and had won laurels as a writer and as a composer, he was never happier or better than when singing the sweet and simple songs of his "ain countrie." His entertainments, such as "A Nicht wi' Burns," or "Bonnie Prince Charlie," proved wonderfully popular wherever he gave them, not merely among the Scottish auditors, whose enthusiasm knew no bounds, but among educated Americans and lovers of music of all classes. That he raised Scottish song to a high degree of popularity goes without saying, and he paved the way for the more complete financial success, long afterward, of the entertainments of the same class given by the late David Kennedy.

In 1849, accompanied by his wife and daughter, Wilson entered upon another American tour. While at Quebec, he was seized with cholera on July 7, and died two days later. His last wish was to be buried in a Scottish grave, but the circumstances of the case forbade that wish being carried into effect, and the great singer was laid at rest in Mount Hermon Cemetery, Quebec, and a handsome memorial was erected over the spot by his admirers. "Although far from his dearly beloved 'North Countrie,"' wrote Gen. James Grant Wilson of New York long afterward, "Wilson is surrounded by men of his own race, on whose tombstones may be seen Mackenzie and Macdougall, Campbell and Grant, Fraser and Forsyth, Ross, Turnbull, and other ancient Scottish names, many, if not most, of them the sons and grandsons of the 672 gallant fellows of Fraser's Seventy-eighth Highlanders, who followed Wolfe up the steep and narrow escalade to the field where he met his fate."

So far as America is concerned, Wilson's great successor as a singer of Scottish songs was David Kennedy. He was born at Perth in 1825, and died at Stratford, Canada, while on a professional tour, in October, 1886, and for some forty years he was before the public as a singer of Scotch songs. He sang the ballads of his native land round the world, visiting India, Africa, Australia, as well as every section of the United States and Canada.

While Kennedy's programmes were modeled on those of Wilson, and to a great extent presented the same songs, there was a wide difference in the style of their entertainments. Wilson was a faultless singer, a student of music, and as firm a believer in the sweetness, power, and melody, native to Scotch music, as is the modern American dilettante in the genius of Richard Wagner. Kennedy was by no means so grand a singer as Wilson; he never claimed to be so, in fact; but he had the knack of getting, as it were, into the heart of a song, and making every shade of its meaning become perfectly clear to his audiences. He was in many ways the best modern representative of the old Scotch minstrel we can imagine. Nobody ever excelled him in the telling of an old Scotch story, for he did not merely repeat such tales, he acted them, and filled the stage or the platform with their personages, and there was that strong personal magnetism about the man which is so indispensably requisite to public success on the concert or lecture platform.

The wonderful success of Wilson and Kennedy induced many Scottish singers, singly or in groups, to "cross the pond," and since they illustrated the fact that there was money in an auld Scotch song, there has rarely been a season when we have not had the pleasure of listening to native talent of various degrees of ability. The Fraser family of Paisley won, as they deserved, more reputation than any of them, and the Fairbairn family were also successful for a time. Phillis Glover, wife of Thomas Powrie, the once-famous Rob Roy, sang in New York for a season in 1875, and might have done well had not domestic trouble prevented her from taking advantage of her opportunities. William Gourlay, one of the Edinburgh family of that name, essayed a season in New York in 1877 with his "Mrs. MacGregor's Levee," but failed. Hamilton Corbett would have made a fortune had he been gifted with as much strength of will as beauty of voice, and that might, too, be said of a score of others whose names need not be repeated here. We cannot, however, forbear a line to the memory of Jeannie Watson, one of the sweetest female singers of Scottish songs we ever listened to, and who, after a life of misfortune, now lies at rest in the burial plot of the St. Andrew's Society of Toronto. She was a brilliant successor to such singers as Miss Reynolds and Miss Sutherland. The latter, who made her American bow at a ballad concert in New York on July 16, 1857, won high rank as a ballad singer, and was especially a favorite in Scottish circles. She described herself, or her managers described her, as "the Scottish Nightingale," and in that respect she was the forerunner of a host of "Scottish Nightingales," "Queens of Scottish Song," and so on, good, bad, and very indifferent.

Turning to theatrical records, we are met at the outset by the difficulty of stage names concealing the nationality and identity of many whose birth and talents ought to have given them some mention in these pages. The well-known antipathy which so long prevailed in Scotland against "play actors" led most of the Scotch aspirants to footlight fame to conceal their family names more closely than those who adopted a stage name for the sake of its appearance, as Melfort looks better on a Programme than Hodgkins. But both Scotch plays and Scotch players have won more than ordinary popularity in America.

In the early dramatic history of the United States the play that appears to have been the most general favorite was Home's now almost forgotten tragedy of "Douglas." Probably more American amateurs made their first bow before the public as professionals in the character of Norval than in any other up to the close of the first half of this century, and in early American playbills it constantly held a place. The best Scotch personator of the character here was Henry Erskine Johnston, who made his first American appearance in the National Theatre, New York, in 1838, in the character of Sir Pertinax in the still popular play of "The Man of the World." Johnston was a good and painstaking actor of the old school, and his Norval von thunders of applause in all the principal cities of the country, North and South. He played in the States only one season, and returned to Britain, dying there shortly after, in 1840.

Roderick Dhu was another Scotch character which was a favorite with the public, but it was only in the large theatres that the necessary scenic and spectacular display could be made to warrant the production of its play, "The Lady of the Lake." It was placed upon the stage, however, in Boston and New York, and J. H. Wallack, especially, made a great hit as the irate Highland chieftain. Of "Rob Roys" the American theatres were at one time full, and the Bowery boys used to he as familiar with the wrongs of the Macgregors as were the laddies in "Auld Reekie." None of the great Scotch Robs ever came here, but among its first delineators, if not the very first, was an actor from Edinburgh named Bennett, who had been a member of the company in that city, playing minor parts, under Murray. lie made his opening bow as Rob in the old Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1831, and was fairly successful. A much more able representative of the great cateran, however, was Thomas F. Lennox, a Glasgow man, who appeared in the character in the Chatham Theatre, New York, in 1838, and made a great hit. His personal appearance exactly suited the character. He had a powerful yet not unpleasant voice, and every time he started in to denounce the Sassenachs he made the gallery howl in chorus. Lennox was a good all-round actor, and a great favorite wherever he appeared. lie (lied at Memphis, Tenn., in 1849.

Quite a different sort of a Rob was John Henry Anderson, the "Wizard of the North," as he called himself in his advertisements and showbills. He first visited this country in 1851, and besides giving exhibitions of his really wonderful skill as a magician produced "Rob Roy" at Castle Garden, this city, with himself in the title role. Its merit may be understood from the remark of one of the most competent American critics of the time, that "Anderson was a very good magician, but a very bad actor."

In one way or another the redoubtable "Rob" has had his naive kept pretty well before the American public, possibly because Sir Walter Scott's novel of that name has enjoyed a larger American circulation than that of any other of the romances of "The Author of Waverley." The novel has appeared in nearly all the popular "series" of "standard works," without which no American publisher's catalogue seems complete, and in all other sorts of cheap series with which the United States market is flooded. Even James Grant's story of "The Adventures of Rob Roy" has, been issued in editions of thousands, and in more than one instance it has been given as a "supplement" to a Sunday newspaper.

But perhaps the most curious illustration of the popularity of the name was when it was used as the title to a comic opera in which the genuine cateran did not appear at all. It was written by a gentleman named Harry B. Smith, and from a historical point of view contained more sheer nonsense than possibly any other stage arrangement seriously or humorously founded on history. Its leading character was Rob Roy MacGregor, a Highland Chief, although the cateran was not a "chief" at all, and the cast describes him as a follower of Prince Charlie, although the real Rob died in 1738, when Prince Charlie's ideas of Scotland were the primitive ones of youth. Then we had the "Mayor" of Perth, who was an Englishman, and who seemed to have been the depositary of the ready money which the Government intended to spend in subduing the forces of Prince Charlie. There were all sorts of odd situations in the play, one of which showed us Prince Charlie as a prisoner in Stirling Castle, from which he was liberated by the efforts of Flora Macdonald, and the whole affair wound up with the marriage, or the arrangements for the marriage, of that young lady—who, by the way, was dressed throughout in a Highland male costume—and the Prince.

But lest some of our readers might think we are exaggerating the bundle of improbabilities and absurdities thus presented, we reprint here the synopsis of the play which appeared on the official programme:

The story of 'Rob Roy' is very interesting, inasmuch as it is founded on that romantic story of Sir Walter Scott's which deals with the escapades of Prince Edward Stewart the Pretender and his faithful follower, Rob Roy Macgregor. At the opening of the first act a party of Highlanders make a raid upon the house of the Mayor of Perth and appropriate a sum of money intrusted to that worthy for English troops. The Mayor has a fair daughter, Janet, who is secretly married to Rob Roy. Owing to the 'Mayor's desire to keep on good terms with both the English and the Scotch, he compels Janet to declare herself the wife of first an old Scotchman and then a young English officer. As a mere declaration constitutes a Scotch marriage, Janet finds herself the wife of three husbands belonging to opposing factions. Throughout the first act the romantic interest is maintained by Prince Charlie and his sweetheart, Flora Macdonald, whose adventures have historical foundation. At the end of the act Janet deserts the two husbands provided by her father and escapes to the highlands with Rob Roy. The scene of the second act is laid in the Highlands, when the Scotch are in hiding after the battle of Culloden. Janet, as a Highland shepherd, is waiting for the return of Rob Roy, who is fighting at Culloden. The greater part of the act is devoted to the machinations of the Highlanders to prevent the capture of their bonnie Prince Charlie. The act ends with Flora Macdonald giving herself up for the Prince. The third act, which shows the exterior of Stirling Castle by moonlight, with the English troops in, bivouac, sees everything happily arranged."

Amusing as this production was on account of its silly distortion of historical matter, a distortion which was not even required by the story, it was infinitely more respectable than a rendering of "Rob Roy" which was given in Chicago in 1895. We did not see this production, fortunately, but the following advertisement of its glories will sufficiently indicate to the reader its unique character: 'Rob Roy' will be given in the great amphitheatre, Burlington Park, Saturday, Aug. 3, 1895, under the auspices of the Scottish Assembly. Twelve special acts will be presented in tableaux and pantomime. Sham battle Highlanders and Zouaves vs. First Regiment, I. N. G. Thrilling and exciting conflict. Cannon roar, volley after volley fired, terrific fusillade; with great confusion the enemy is routed amid the applause of 10,000 spectators. The bold chieftain is free! The park will be on blaze during the evening with electric lights, so that the presentation of the soul-stirring drama will be produced with all the magnificent splendor possible."

But we must return to the players themselves, and dwell among a few navies which are more or less representative, although most of them are now forgotten, for nothing is more fleeting and perishable than a player's stage reputation.

Mr. and Mrs. Marriott, who came here from Edinburgh in 1794, made the old John Street Theatre be crowded to the doors each time they appeared in "The Fair Penitent," and they repeated that success in Philadelphia and Boston and in whatever city they performed.

In 1810, in the same New York theatre, a Dundee man named David Mackenzie made an equally great hit as Flint in the now long-buried play of "The Adopted Child." He afterward made a very successful tour through the country, but for some reason now unknown he ended his life by suicide at Philadelphia toward the close of 1811.

One of the greatest favorites of the Bowery' stage around 1826 was a Fife man named James Roberts, who was born in 1798, and died at Charleston, S. C., in 1833. In melodrama, either as a villain or as a hero, he was considered to have no equal. As much, at least, might be said of Richard L. Graham, a Glasgow actor, whose first appearance was made at the National Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1840, and who continued on the American stage until his death, at St. Louis, in 1857.

Another Scotch actor who was a great favorite in his time in New York was John Mason, a native of Edinburgh, who made a hit on his first appearance in America at the old Park Theatre as Rover in "Wild Oats." He afterward studied medicine, went to New Orleans, and built up there a large and lucrative practice.

P. C. Cunningham, a Glasgow man, visited America first in 1835, and made his first appearance that year in the Warren Street Theatre, Boston. He was especially noted for his excellence as a player of Irish characters and for his rendering of old men's parts. He closed his first season in America at Mitchell's Olympic, in New York, and then went back to Britain, where he acted successfully throughout the provinces. He returned several times to this country, being always certain of a hearty welcome on account of his merits as an actor. One of his last appearances was in 1852 at the opening of the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, when he took the part of Gibby in "The Wonder."

Many in the States and Canada will remember the tour of Sir William Don, a native of Berwick, in 1850, and the artistic success he won. Losing his fortune in the course of the process known as "sowing his wild oats," he turned to the stage as a means for earning his livelihood, and acquired a fair degree of popularity on the boards. He was the descendant of an old Scotch family, and on the female side was the representative of the Earls of Glencairn. His father for some time represented Roxburghshire in Parliament and was an intimate friend of Sir Walter Scott. In his younger and palmy days Sir William was an officer in a regiment of dragoons, and held the appointment of an aide de camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1845) he found himself so financially embarrassed that he had to resign from the army and adopt the stage as a profession. His course was deeply deplored, naturally, by his noble friends, but the public admired his independence in earning his own living rather than settling down as a paltry pensioner on whatever his relatives might allow him. In 1857 he married an actress, and together they made several successful tours through Britain. Sir William remained on the stage until his death, in 1862, and retained his popularity to the end. His widow, Lady Don, visited America in 1867, and was very successful in comedy and burlesque parts.

Robert Campbell Maywood may be regarded as a good representative of the Scots (and there have been many of them) who have held the reins of theatrical management in this country. He was born at Greenock, it is said, in 1786, and in 1819 appeared at the New York Park Theatre. In 1832 he became manager of the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, and he continued to manage theatres in that city until 1840, When he took a grand farewell benefit and retired from the stage. He died at Troy, N. Y., in 1856, from paralysis. It used to he said that whenever he was short of an attraction he invariably put "Cramond Brig" on the stage, and as invariably made a success of it.

The most noted, however, of the Scotch managers in America was Col. John A. McCaull, who, after a life of varied successes and misfortunes, died at Greensboro', Ala., in 1894, and was buried in Baltimore, Md. He was born at Glasgow in 1830, and was, when a child, taken by his parents to Virginia. When the civil war broke out he joined the forces of his native State, and served under General Mahone in the Confederate Army. When it was over he was for a term in the Virginia Legislature. But it was in connection with the stage that he became known to fame.

As an operatic manager he introduced more stars than any other man in America, but his fortunes declined in his closing years, and on Feb. 11, 1892, a monster benefit was given for him in the Metropolitan Opera House. It netted $8,000.

Among the Scottish actresses who won distinction on the American boards, besides those already named, the most famous in many respects was Mrs. Joseph Wood, who made her transatlantic debut in 1833 in the Park Theatre, New York, in the operetta of "Cinderella." She was born at Edinburgh in 1802, and received her musical training under the patronage of the Duchess of Buccleuch. Under her maiden name, Susannah Paton, she made her first bow to the public at concerts in her native city, and quickly became popular, her sweet voice and winsome appearance securing for her hosts of admirers. In her case, critics and public were unanimous in their praise. In 1820 she esayed the highest rank of her profession by appearing at the Haymarket, London, as Susannah in "The Marriage of Figaro." Her success in the British metropolis was also complete, and for three or four years her life was full of happiness. She was courted by Lord William Pitt Lennox, a younger son of the Duke of Richmond, and was married to him in 1824. Lord William, soon after their marriage, began treating her cruelly, and after a while she found it necessary to separate from him. Their domestic troubles created a great sensation at the time, but amidst all the talk the young actress retained the sympathy of the public, and every one was glad when she obtained a decree of divorce from the titled brute, and resumed her place on the stage. In 1828 she married Joseph Wood, a popular actor and operatic singer, and both maintained for many years a front rank on the British stage. Mrs. Wood's American experiences were of the most pleasing description, and she was magnificently received wherever she appeared, which was in all the large cities of the continent. She (lied at \Wakefield, England, in 1864.

Few lives have been more full of sunshine and shadow than that of Agnes Robertson, wife of Dion Boucicault, the actor and playwright. Born at Edinburgh in 1833, she became in early life famous as an actress in Scotland, and was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the country. Her marriage to Boucicault, in 1853, brought her more prominently than ever before the public, and the same year she made her American debut at Montreal. In North America she was a prime favorite wherever she appeared, and, whether in Scotch or Irish drama or in society plays, she proved herself to be a. finished and accomplished actress. The story of her later domestic troubles and her retirement from the stage are painfully familiar to people interested in theatrical matters, but amidst all the recriminations and lawsuits, and variety of stories which were circulated at the time, she never lost the respect of the public.

Among musicians and composers the Scot in America has also made his mark, and as a producer and interpreter of high-class music his efforts have made hint conspicuous. His quality as a producer is fairly shown in the career of William Richardson Dempster. This genius of song was born at Keith in 1809, and was apprenticed to a quiltmaker in Aberdeen. He was from his boyhood devoted to music, and applied all of his spare time to its study. In early life he crossed the Atlantic and was naturalized as a citizen of the United States, devoting himself to teaching music and to public singing, for his voice and ear were equally gifted. He gradually became known as a composer, but his efforts in that direction were not generally recognized until he published his setting for Tennyson's "May Queen," which at once became very popular wherever Tennyson's poem was known. Subsequently he composed music for many of the songs scattered through the works of the great Poet Laureate, and his latter years were spent pleasantly and at equal intervals on both sides of the Atlantic. In private life Mr. Dempster was much respected as a rigid moralist, a good man in all that men hold honorable, and a conscientious citizen, and his death, at London, in 1871, was regretted by hosts of friends in the United States, as well as in the motherland.


Return to Book Index Page