Modern Standard Drama No. 1
Edited by Epes Sargent
MEMOIR OF MRS. A. C. MOWATT
ANNA CORA MOWATT is the daughter of Samuel G. Ogden, Esq., of the city of New York. Her mother's grandfather was Francis Lewis, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. At an early period in life, and long before she had seen the interior of a theatre, Mrs. Mowatt evinced a marked predilection for dramatic writing as well as for the acting of plays. In her thirteenth year she studied Voltaire's Alzire, and remodeled it for a private theatrical representation. Her spirited performance of the part of the heroine is yet vividly re- membered by those who witnessed it. Some years after her marriage Mrs. M. visited Europe, and passed sufficient time in France and Germany to acquire a remarkable colloquial facility in the languages of the two countries. While residing in Paris she was a frequent student of Rachel's classical and severe style of acting. While here she also wrote a five-act play, entitled "Gulzara," which, soon after her return to the United States, was performed by an amateur corps at her beautiful country-seat, at Flatbush, near New York. This play was published entire in the New World newspaper, in 1840. It is in blank verse, and evinces dramatic talent of a very high order. Not many months after its representation Mrs. Mowatt was induced, by reverses of fortune, to give public recitations from the poets. In this undertaking she met with a degree of success, which her most sanguine friends had not ventured to anticipate. Both in Boston and New York she drew large audiences, composed of the most cultivated classes. But the elocutionary effort required by these sustained recitations, proved far greater than that called for on the stage in the most effective feminine characters ; and she abandoned the profitable career that seemed opening for her, lest her health should suffer in these unsupported exertions. She now fell back upon her literary talent ; and, with an industry that has few parallels, wrote novels, tales, poems and compilations for publishers and magazines, until, in the winter of 1845, she resolved to try her hand upon a five-act comedy. "Fashion" was the result. It was produced at the Park Theatre in the spring, and met with a success which certainly has not attended any other American comedy having been played eighteen successive nights, to excellent houses In Philadelphia it also had an equally prosperous run.
It was now that Mrs. Mowatt first formed the intention of going upon the stage. She appeared in June of the same year upon the Park boards in the character of Pauline in the "Lady of Lyons." The house was crowded in every part ; and we doubt if ever debutante met with a success so brilliant and unequivocal. When the curtain fell on the fifth act the whole audience rose, and, by their cheers, bravoes, bouquets and waving of handkerchiefs, gave the stamp of their enthusiastic approbation to the young and gifted actress. A rank among the foremost was at once awarded her by the public voice. That rank she has maintained by the many admirable personations she has added to her Pauline. In none is there any mark of the novice in look, tone or action. Her Juliana, Juliet, Mariana, and Lucy Ashton are admitted by the best critics to be performances that have never been surpassed on the American boards by any actress foreign or native. This may seem almost incredible when it is considered that up to this period Mrs. M. has hardly been six months upon the stage; but it should be remembered that she did not enter unprepared upon her profession.
Her elocutionary powers had been almost incessantly cultivated from a child; her memory was one of extraordinary vigor and tenacity; and nature had given that personal grace of carriage and gesture, which the most arduous trainings of art cannot so well supply.
Jan. 1, 1846.
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