Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Richard Mansfield, Victorian Actor

Who will play the part?" asked A. M. Palmer, anxiously, looking over the members of his "Parisian Romance" company one night when the actor who had been playing 'Baron Cheval' failed to appear. "I will," spoke up an obscure young player, a serious, earnest man who had been "utility" for the company only a short time.

It was Richard Mansfield, and the part was given him. It had not been a conspicuous part up to that hour, but that night Mr. Mansfield made it a leading one. He saw in it opportunities for a deeper dramatic portrayal, for an expression of intense earnestness, and for that finished acting which ennobles any part in a play, however humble. Before the performance was over, he had opened the eyes of the company and the public to the fact that a new actor of great talent had come to the front at a bound.

In his beautiful home in New York, the other day, I found him surrounded by the evidences of wealth and artistic taste.

"So you represent Success, he exclaimed. "Well, I am pleased to have you call. Success pays few calls, you know. Ordinarily, we have to pursue it and make great efforts to keep it from eluding us." Mr. Mansfield made this remark with a quizzical, yet half-tired smile, as if he had himself found the chase exhausting.


"Yes," he went on, "success is a most fleet-footed — almost a phantom — goddess. You pursue her eagerly and seem to grasp her, and then you see her speeding on in front again. This is, of course, because one is rarely satisfied with present success. There is always something yet to be attained. To speak personally, I never worked harder in my life than I am working now. If I should relax, I fear that the structure which I have built up would come tumbling about my ears. It is my desire to advance my standard every year, —to plant it higher up on the hill, and to never yield a foot of ground. This requires constant effort. I find my reward, not in financial returns, for these are hardly commensurate with the outlay of labor; nor in the applause of others, for this is not always discriminative or judicious; but in the practice of my art. This suggests what, it seems to me, is the true secret of success.

"Love your work; then you will do it well. It is its own reward, though it brings others. If a young man would rather be an actor than anything else, and he knows what he is about, let him, by all means, be an actor. He will probably become a good one. It is the same, of course, in many occupations. If you like your work, hold on to it, and eventually you are likely to win. If you don't like it, you can't be too quick in getting into something that suits you better."


"I began as a dry goods clerk in Boston, and was a very mediocre clerk. Afterward I became a painter in London, and was starving at that. Finally, like water, I found my level in dramatic art."

The thing about Mr. Mansfield which most inspires those who come in contact with him is his wonderful store of nervous energy. It communicates itself to others and makes them keen for work.

"I cannot talk with him five minutes," said his business representative, "before I want to grab my hat and 'hustle' out and do about three days' work without stopping. For persons who have not, or cannot absorb, some of his own electric spirit, he has little use. He is a living embodiment of contagious energy."

His performances before audiences constitute a comparatively small portion of his work. It is in his elaborate and painstaking preparation that the labor is involved, and it is to this—to the minute preliminary care that he gives to every detail of a production, —that his fine effects and achievements before the footlights are, in considerable measure, due.


The rehearsals are a vital part of the preparatory work, and to them Mr. Mansfield has devoted a great deal of time. For weeks, between the hours of eleven in the morning and four in the afternoon, he remains on the stage with his company, seated in a line four or five deep on either side of him, like boys and girls at school, deeply engrossed in impressing upon the minds of individual members of the company his own ideas of the interpretation and presentation of the various parts. Again and again, until one would think he himself would become utterly weary of the repetition, he would have an actor repeat a sentence. Not until it is exactly right is Mr, Mansfield satisfied. Nothing escapes his scrutiny. At dress rehearsals he may see, to mention a typical case, a tall man and a small one of no special importance in the play standing together, and the tall one may be made up to have a sallow complexion and beard. Mr, Mansfield glances at them quickly. Something is wrong. He hastens up to the smaller one and suggests that, for the sake of contrast, he make himself up to look stout and to have a smooth face. The improvement is quite noticeable. Mr. Mansfield carefully notes the effect of light and shadow on the scenery; and sometimes, at the last moment, will seize the brush and add, here and there, a heightening or a softening touch.

An incident of his early youth will tend to illustrate his spirit of self-reliance. His mother was an eminent singer who frequently appeared before royal families in Europe, and usually had little Richard with her. On one occasion, after her own performance before royalty in Germany, the little Crown Prince, who was about the same age as Richard, and an accomplished boy, played a selection on the piano, and played it well. When he had left the piano, the company was very much surprised to see Master Richard Mansfield take his place, without an invitation, and play the same music, but in a considerably better manner than had the Crown Prince. When the boy had become a youth, he was compelled to support himself; and, having come to this country, he obtained a position as a clerk in the Jordan & Marsh establishment in Boston. Meanwhile, he was devoting all his spare time to studying painting. He afterward tried to make a living at it in London, and failed. He was finally given an opportunity as a comedian in "Pinafore." He had the small part of Joseph. It was but a short time afterward when he entered the employ of Mr. Palmer and got the chance of his lifetime.

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