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had attained a really continental celebrity. When, then, we find that a new actor in Bogumil Dawison has carried the whole of Germany away with him, and is universally allowed to be the finest performer the century has produced, it is high time for us English to know more about him. We are very glad, therefore, to hear the rumour
that there is some hope of his crossing the Channel this summer. En attendant, our readers will not begrudge us a few pages devoted to the career of a very remarkable man.
Bogumil Dawison was born at Warsaw on the 15th of May, 1818. His parents were in poor circumstances, and he obtained but a scanty education at the city Lyceum, which was too often interrupted by revolutions. In his twelfth year he entered an attorney's office at a salary of five dollars (fifteen shillings) a month, and filled up his leisure time by writing bills and posters for shop windows. Thence he removed to the office of the Warsaw Gazeta, where he worked as a light porter. Every leisure moment he devoted to the study of German and French, and soon attained such progress that he was promoted to the rank of translator. After five years of this quiet life he was suddenly affected by the idea that he would be an actor, and with this resolute young man to will was to accomplish. He regularly attended the theatrical school at Warsaw, and worked with such perseverance that he was able to make his first appearance on the stage in 1837. He achieved a certain amount of success, and obtained an engagement at fifteen dollars a month. But the delight this caused him was soon dissipated; he was only entrusted with subordinate parts, and his proud spirit fretted for a year over the degradation. But his parents were now beggared, and their support fell upon him. He quitted Warsaw, and joined a Polish troupe bound for Wilna. Here his circumstances improved; he was allowed to play anything he pleased. And here he began to show the versatility of his genius; on one night he acted Romeo, on the next the Father of the Débutante, with equal success.
Thus Dawison lived and learned for two years; but then the company was dissolved, and he returned to Warsaw, where he met with an inhospitable reception. He had no chance of obtaining an engagement; and though he had been permitted to give a Gastrolle, when he dared to hint anything about salary he was regarded with amazement, and asked if he did not think it sufficient honour to have been allowed to appear on the Warsaw boards. He was in a desperate position, when he was suddenly relieved by a summons to Lemberg. He arrived in that city without a farthing, but happy. To get his first meal he was compelled to pledge a ring; but his situation soon improved. He was engaged at a respectable salary, and when Count Skarbek undertook the management of the Lemberg theatre he appointed Dawison his régisseur. Still he was not satisfied; he only regarded his success as an incitement to greater things. Dawison read the great dramas of the greatest German writers; he saw the first actors, and took lessons from them of what he should do or leave undone. By the kind assistance of Count Skarbek he was enabled to travel through Germany and France and pursue his studies carefully. In Paris he acquired his rare conversational tone, and his disgust for false rhetoric. On his return he set to work, studying carefully and perfecting himself in German; and some of his biographers,
who could not understand such energy, have asserted that, during this period of his life, he was mad. Such was not the case, as a modest notice from the Lemberg Leseblatt, in 1841, will prove:
“On Monday, 9th August, Herr Dawison, a much-admired member of the Polish company, will have the honour to appear, for the first time on any German stage, in Bauernfeldt's farce, · The Last Adventure. It affords us the greatesi pleasure to see the favourite of the Polish élite make his debut in a language so different from his native tongue. Unless we err, this is the first attempt of the sort ever made by a Polish artiste."
The attempt was perfectly successful, promising an ample reward for continued study. His next experiment was Ferdinand, in “ Cabal and Love,” followed by a number of comic characters. During this period Dawison still kept his engagement at the Polish theatre, but this division of strength must inevitably become impossible, and Dawison have to make his choice between the German and the Polish stage.
Before long the time arrived : Dawison carried out his long meditated design. In 1846 he suddenly quitted Lemberg to proceed to Germany, He gave up a proportionately very fine salary and left his bride behind in tears, saying, “I go out on the world to make my fortune. If I succeed in what I want I will come and fetch you.” In the first instance he proceeded to Breslau. He modestly asked to be allowed to give a specimen of his acting, but he was refused almost contumeliously. In Stettin he met with the same result: no one put any faith in the wandering Polish actor: no one dared to make the experiment with him. Repulsed on all sides, he then hastened to Berlin, where he hoped to obtain assistance from Louis Schneider, but an unfortunate accident immediately after his arrival detained him for four months in his bed. On his recovery he saw and pleased Schneider, who willingly gave him a letter of recommendation to Maurice, of Hamburg. Dawison has ever since spoken with the greatest gratitude of Schneider, whom he calls his guardian angel. On the 13th of February, 1847, Dawison made his first appearance on a German stage at the Thalia Theatre, in Hamburg, and with the very first representation his reputation was secured. His acting was so natural, and yet so true, that it moved many persons to tears. The continuance of his engagement brought in a golden harvest for the treasury, and for the public an enjoyment which they had long been deprived of. The sensation his appearance caused, and the attention paid to his performances by the public papers, induced Gutzkow to try and draw him to Dresden. From Berlin, in the same year, an engagement was offered him, with a standing salary of 1600 thalers, and 3 thalers for each night of performance; but he felt bound in gratitude to Director Maurice, and continued his engagement at the Thalia Theatre with uninterrupted zeal until 1849.
Thus Dawison had become what he had dreamed and striven forGerman actor. In May, 1848, he had taken two weeks' furlough, and suddenly made his appearance in Lemberg to fetch home his expectant bride. They hurried back to Hamburg, where Dawison continued to serve his apprenticeship and develop his talent and delivery. Only one engagement at Brunswick occurred during this epoch, in which, among other characters, Dawison performed that of Benedick, in “ Much Ado about Nothing." Soon after Dawison received an invitation from the
director of the Hofburg Theatre, in Vienna, to come and give a trial representation. * He could not resist this summons. On the 17th of October, 1849, he made his first appearance on the slippery boards of the Burg Theatre, where so many reputations had already made a fiasco. The success he met with was extraordinary. After six performances Dawison was offered a permanent salary, and he was thus the first to break through the hitherto invincible phalanx of the old Viennese actors. At length he had found a field worthy of his talents. With Antony, in “ Julius Cæsar,” he quitted his apprenticeship, and began his brilliant succession of artistic triumphs. This was followed by his appearance in his favourite character of Hamlet, and it was unanimously allowed that no such representation of the Prince of Denmark, as he lived and walked and had his being, had ever before been offered to the German theatrical world. In 1850, Dawison performed in Hamburg, Prague, and Pesth, and at Vienna came out in his second great Shakspearean character, Richard III. But his position in Vienna was far from being comfortable. His success lay in the fact that he had utterly broken through the old traditions, and this his colleagues could not forgive him. He was a constant topic for the Vienna press. While some writers exalted him to the skies, others trailed him through the mire, but, fortunately, neither praise nor abuse had the slightest effect upon him. He lived solely for his art, and had no time to spare from the development of his genius to notice the attacks of his rivals. In the mean while, Laube, the celebrated dramatic writer, had been appointed director of the Burg Theatre, and he took great pains to employ Dawison in all sorts of parts, although the actor's daring spirit at times alarmed him. On one occasion he said of him, “ He thinks too much, and such people are dangerous.”
Fully equipped with a rich repertory of classical parts and faith in his art, Dawison next proceeded to Dresden, which city, if not the cradle of his genius, was, at any rate, the real starting-point of his renown. It was a daring experiment, for the beau monde of Dresden justly regarded themselves as the arch arbiters in theatrical matters, and they had been accustomed to the perfection of art. People were disposed to greet him coldly as a dangerous innovator, and the period of his first appearance, a hot July day of 1852, was much against him. We may be here permitted to quote a passage from the German author to whom we are indebted for many of our details about Dawison: "I had seen a portrait of Dawison 'in character in the Illustrirte Zeitung; this, and a pressing recommendation from a friend at Breslau, induced me to visit the theatre. I shall never forget how Dawison's memorable representation of Hamlet converted the curiosity of the small audience into surprise, that again into interest, and from interest into admiration. His success was so incredible, so overwhelming, that the Dresden critics welcomed the artist with proud delight, and at the very moment when the English papers were conceding Emile Devrient's superiority to Macready, allowed that Dawison's representation of Hamlet was the most remarkable they had ever seen.
His Richard III. created a perfect frenzy of applause, and so deep was the impression it produced, that
• In Germany it is not the custom to offer any actor, however great his reputation, a permanent engagement until he has furnished a specimen, and the taste of the public has been consulted.
the managers repeated it to crowded houses at a period when theatres are generally deserted, namely, a fortnight before Christmas. His second engagement, in which he produced Mephisto, Carl Moor, and other new characters, caused an excitement if possible greater than the first, and his farewell performance in Clavigo' recalled the palmy days of the Sontag. Dawison had become a German celebrity, and, as such, he has since victoriously surmounted every trial. Professor Carrière of Munich wrote a series of brilliant articles upon his acting, which appeared in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, while he was performing at the Summer Theatre in 1852, at the same time expressing hope that the new actor would overthrow the received tradition, and show the world how Othello, Macbeth, and Faust ought to be played.”
Dawison returned to Vienna, but soon quitted that city. His beloved wife, a weak and tender plant, began to grow sickly, and the physicians ordered a change of climate. He had the greatest difficulty in getting his resignation accepted. It was unknown in the annals of the Burg Theatre that an actor would voluntarily lay down the honour of belonging to the troupe, and yet Dawison committed the grave insult. With his family he went to Dresden, where the management received him with open arms. With his Dresden engagement a new era commenced for Dawison. His reputation grew with every year; and not only his success, but the opinion of the best judges showed him to be one of the first in the ranks of the greatest actors. His two engagements in Berlin in 1855 and 1856—the metropolis of intelligence, it is well known, much prefers to discover or destroy celebrities than to recognise them—heaped honours upon him such as the oldest inhabitant could not remember having ever been offered to an actor. As Dawison would never play in Berlin except the orchestra was converted into stalls, the straw-splitting eritics got up a magnificent debate about the merits of music in a theatre, but better still, Dawison secured seven thousand thalers for a four weeks' engagement. Nor should it be forgotten in the history of “Schiller's houses” that a representation of Dawison's at Leipzig produced the greater portion of the funds to secure the small decaying Temple of Joy at Gohlis. Enthusiasm and gratitude rendered this one of the happiest and most brilliant days in Dawison's eventful life. But he finds his fairest reward and most honourable success in the enthusiastic recognition and faithful admiration he has irresistibly secured in his new home at Dresden. Under the influence of this flattering reception he has added many new characters to his repertory, among them being Othello and Macbeth, Mercutio, Ægisthus in “Clytemnestra," and he has revived some of his old and rare conceptions, such as Benedick and Mark Antony. He lives in an elegant villa, remote from the noise and activity of the city, in the bosom of his family, perpetually engaged in the highest objects of his art, and striving to extend it to the furthest bounds of potentiality.
Dawison, as an actor, is distinguished by many brilliant qualifications, which of themselves would raise him above mediocrity, without rendering him great. Any one who has seen him as Burleigh or Richard III. must
have recognised the magic of his external appearance, which supplies him with admirable material for the character he purposes to represent. Dawison addresses the public even before he speaks.' He explains
his part at the outset in his appearance, and presents historical portraits, over which you are sorry to see the curtain drop. His appearance, for instance, as Alba in “ Egmont" is an admirable prologue to the celebrated scene of the fourth act, and in his Antonio and Burleigh heads, Vandyke and Titian's expression has been repeatedly traced. In fancy parts, such as Mephisto, Franz Moor, Carlos, Hamlet, he prefers a striking, bold costume, which is frequently as much opposed to tradition as is his reading of the part. In the fifth act of " Macbeth," he reproduces Caulbach's magnificent drawings with marvellous fidelity. In his acting he is simple and natural to an excess, and in that, probably, his great success lies. He never attempts to blind the senses, but to move the feelings; he strives to paint life and not effects, and if differences of opinion may exist as to the correctness of his interpretations, there can be none as to their originality. Then, again, his universality is astounding; he is continually increasing his repertory, and before long, there is no doubt, he will have filled up the enormous gap between Faust and Falstaff. His Othello is a wonderful proof of the power of simple, unadorned delivery, and the charm can only be felt but not described, which Dawison imparts to the modest defence of the Moor before the senate, and to the greeting of Desdemona at Cyprus. His heart speaks through his eye and tongue with such wonderful effect, that you involuntarily doubt the possibility of such childish simplicity being allied with such gloomy thoughts. On this charm Dawison bases his conception of Othello's character. Through all his passion it reappears again and again as a reminiscence of his former felicity, and explains the greatness of the crime by the greatness of Othello's love. Another specialty of Dawison's acting is his careful attention to accessories. This is more especially visible in Macbeth, when the whispered conference with the murderers of Banquo through a secret door in the royal chamber forms a famous contrast, as regards the illusion of the scene, with the usual familiar dialogue just a couple of yards from the footlights.
From this slight and incomplete sketch it will be seen that the Germans live under the idea that they, too, have their Garrick at length born to them. Allowing for very pardonable exaggeration, enough remains to prove that Dawison's appearance is an epoch in theatrical history, and renders us the more anxious to hail his arrival among us, and an opportunity to judge for ourselves whether his interpretation of Shakspeare is destined to fill up the great vacuum which all true lovers of the stage have had such good reason to deplore for so painful an interval. If Dawison does not carry out the expectations entertained from him, we shall be forced to become converts to the paternal theory, and reluctantly confess that tragedy and John Kemble retired from the stage simultaneously.