He sits there. His head is thrown back; his eyes are raised to hers; his face is drawn and pointed as though he were suffering. He has sat there now some three years, and every night the hundreds of people assembled before him have suffered with him. His misery has not been without company. He is leaning upon something, no one knows upon what. Some have thought it a stone, some an altar; some have thought it a table and some a little hand organ. His sweetheart has a wreath of flowers about to crown him; he is looking up at her. When one realizes that he has had to look at her face for almost three years, one does not wonder that he is delicate and has to lean upon something. Many people have hated this youth, but he seems an object of pity rather than hatred. When one thinks of the ugly little imps beneath him who proudly show those three words of Latin, and the awful strains of that awful medley that have floated up to him year after year, we ought to have charity for him. We, thank heaven, can go out and forget the anatomy of the naiads in front of him and the impossible architecture back of him, but he, poor wretch, must stay there always. And yet, it is not our fault that he is there, we would gladly dispense with him; we know of no good reason for his existing. Perhaps, when the world has found out which are Tintoretto's pictures and which are not, and when we discover what the frieze of the parthenon means, then we may also know why he sits there and upon what he is leaning.
The artist who painted the drop curtain in the beautiful Lansing theatre was unique. In art, to be unique is to be great. It is not every man who could paint so many yards of anatomy as are bathing in that weird fons vitalis and not have one square inch of beauty in it all. I do not know where one could turn to find ten such ugly women as the ten who are guilelessly disporting themselves in the middle of that picture. Without the nude art could not exist; but nudity is not necessarily artistic, nor is it the end of art. To paint draperies and ribbons may be frivolous, but to paint human flesh indifferently is desecration. One had better paint badly shaded draperies than badly shaped limbs. When an artist has no more beauty to show than Mr. Kettler exhibited in his naiads, he should veil his figures in something more substantial than mystery. In art, Apollo Belvidere is most proper nude, but Quasimodo must keep his clothes on.
It must have required an exceptional man to have painted so many pictures without once evincing the slightest knowledge of form or the slightest feeling for color. Mr. Fred Kettler has not even followed the lower French school; he was not even artist enough to make his naiads wicked; he has made them great, loosely stuffed, staring eyed, doll babies and one expects to see the sawdust come pouring out at any time.
There was and may be still just such a drop curtain in the new Boyd, but the manager had a neat little device of covering it up with a white canvas every night, until the oculists of Omaha bribed him not to cover the curtain any more, because times were hard and in Omaha people's eyes did not wear out fast enough in the natural way.
The men in red coats sigh and brace themselves for the struggle. They lift the battered brass instruments that are so old and dented one might think they had played for the original Light Brigade or sounded the charge of the Old Guard at Waterloo. But they didn't; they have never served any more martial purpose than to herald the arrival of Jo-Jo, the dog-faced man , or to conduct the Lilliputian queen through the streets and play sweet symphonies before the Wonderland musee. The men get their pieces in position and send forth a burst of music—minus its charms. Yes, it is the same strain we have heard these last five years; it has the same ambitiously high note and there is the same cracked, wheezing cornet that never reaches it. Every time, that cornet nerves itself hopefully, dashes ahead of the rest, leaps and grasps at the air; but it never gets anywhere. It has been leaping to reach that note every day for five years that I know of; it is strange that it does not grow weary of the utter futileness of its persuit. It is said that practice makes perfect; if so, this Wonderland band should long ere this have attained perfection. Strauss's orchestra could not practice more steadily and patiently, yet so far as one can tell they are not one whit nearer the right time than they were five years ago. And still we live and breathe and have our being.
It is a building on the corner of L and Eleventh streets, and it has been written up by a mightier hand than mine, but because I have had to look at it a great deal I desire to humbly express my wonder at it. It started out in life on a narrow scale, but when it grew to the second story it widened out and became twice as wide as its first story; then it repented of its expansion and narrowed again, narrower than ever. It has an overhanging balcony like old houses in Antwerp, and it has a facade which must have been modelled from the famous one in Venice. It has a very modern bay window and beside it a little diamond-paned window which might have been at home in old Puritan houses. The architecture is partly Roman and partly Gothic, and partly Greek and largely kinds that are not spoken of in books and were not eulogized by Ruskin . It is partially of brick and partially of wood, parts of it are painted one color and parts another. It don't look as though it had ever been built, it looks as though it had just happened. It not only has not unity, there is positive discord about it, it looks as though its members were warring together like Saint Paul's. Either the architect had gone mad or he needed the Keeley cure. Madame De Stael says that architecture is frozen music, if so then that building is the musee band congealed.
There is a lonely brown stone ruin on Fourteenth and P streets. It is not the relic of a lost civilization, its mutilation is not the work of Goths and Vandals, its future is entirely behind it, its history is already written in the great annals of the mortgage record in the county clerk's office. It is a monument not of blasted hopes or crushed ambitions, but of wind that went down and cheek that was smitten both upon the left and the right. The building has never grown beyond the first story, yet it is as complete as the builder thereof ever meant it to be; it has no roof, but the builder never intended it should have, he built it to be a ruin.
He built the building to help his credit and he built it on credit—credit which stopped at the first story. It is becoming quite an art in Lincoln to build ruins to boom credit. Some men have only had to dig foundations, but this gentleman had too large a past to bury in a foundation hole, so he really had to pile some bricks together. It is a strange thing to contemplate that a ruin should be built for ruin's sake and so fulfil its purpose. It is a degradation of architecture that must make the old architects restless in their graves. It is a thing that could have happened in just no other age or civilization or nation. In these times it is very much better to be born cheeky than rich.
It is a strange fact that people on the stage can't talk the English language like their fellow mortals. In these days there is a regular stage dialect, just as pronounced and set a dialect as any other. If in the real world anyone should gurgle the word "innocence" in the sensational actress manner, he or she would be sent to the first asylum that would risk receiving such a dangerous case. If any daughter should cry, "Me father!" in the fetching tone of the stage the frightened parent would most likely box his deluded darling's ears.
There is a peculiar difference in the way in which different actresses say the words "My God!" When Cora Tanner says them they are painfully suggestive of swearing; Margaret Mather says them daintily enough, but she is rather too conscious that she is saying them nicely; Edna May and Cecil Spooner shriek them as though the person addressed were deaf; Julia Marlowe says them very quietly, as though she did not want to say them at all and was trying to keep them back. Modjeska says them as Saint Ursula or Jeanne d'Arc might have said them, with wrapt belief and lofty conviction. It is as good as two or three sermons to hear the great Pole say those words. Clara Morris says them with terrible agony, like a woman in her extremity. Bernhardt says them—but who can say how Bernhardt does anything? But we think that the lips that speak must be a great deal naughtier than even those of the little Frenchwoman for the Deity to be wholly deaf when Bernhardt says "Mon Dieu!"
The most alert and observing, and certainly the most courageous and candid dramatic critics in Lincoln are the gods of the gallery. The actor has a right to be fond of the gallery folk and to get off his longest and most eloquent speeches for their benefit. They are always enthusiastic and always generous. If an actor repeats a noble sentiment, strikes a telling pose, they always applaud him. If he makes a pun they laugh at it just as though Noah had not rung a chestnut bell at that fun in his day. They are never cold and uncertain like the people down stairs, who are afraid of splitting their kid gloves if they applaud. They hold their breath when Monte Cristo makes his celebrated announcement concerning the world, and they are thrilled when Keene cries "Lay on, Macduff," in Richard III. just as much as if the lines belonged there. The gallery folks enjoy a play instead of analyzing it. Perhaps one reason the actors like the gallery so well is that it is largely filled with small boys and they furnish most of the enthusiasm and genuineness of the world anyhow. Yet, though the gallery is generous, it can also be terribly merciless, and when the gallery gods turn down their thumbs they never revoke their sentence of doom. Last Wednesday night the gallery rose nobly to the occasion. It found itself unable to endure the lovering part of Faust . The soul grew sick within it to see such protracted demonstrations of affection by a Faustus who would insist upon always keeping his mouth open and the guileless innocence of a Marguerite who was much older than Faust and more experienced in the ways of the world and who could doubtless have taught him many, many things. After the tenth minute of the twelfth embrace the gallery could stand it no longer, and those mighty ones who dwell on high began violently kissing each other, hundreds and hundreds of them. The reproach was unique and it could have been given by no one so effectively. The gallery deserves universal thanks.
Those three words of Latin: The words on the drop curtain are identified in Cather's 28 January 1894 column as "Somnium fons vitales." Somnium means a dream or fancy; fons means a fountain or spring; vitales means vital or living.
Tintoretto's pictures: Jacopo Robusti (1518-1594) was called Tintoretto after his father, who was a silk dyer. He was one of the great Mannerist painters, influenced by Michelangelo and Titian, but who developed his own style in the dramatic handling of color and light in rendering Biblical and religious subjects. He had three sons who, along with a number of other painters, assisted him in his workshop.Tintoretto's reputation declined in the 18th century, but John Ruskin re-awakened the public to his greatness in the 19th century.
Frieze of the Parthenon: The Parthenon, in Athens, was built as a temple to Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) between 447 and 438 B.C. under the supervision of the great sculptor Phidias. The outer frieze, below the roof, consisted of blocks of vertically grooved stones called triglyphs, alternating with metopes carved in low relief. Three of the sides depicted battles between the gods and the giants; the Greeks and centaurs, and the Greeks and the Amazons; the fourth side has been lost. Many of these sculptures have been removed, like the Elgin marbles, and are in various museums. The inner frieze runs around the wall of the cella, the interior room where the great statue of Athena by Phidias once stood; this frieze depicts a procession of citizens honoring Athena who come before a priest and priestess, with the gods seated beside them.
Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.
The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.
Apollo Belvidere: The Apollo Belvedere, widely considered the most beautiful male nude from classical antiquity, exists as a Roman copy of a Greek original attributed to the fourth century BC sculptor Leochares; it is in the Vatican.
Quasimodo: In The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), a novel by Victor Hugo (1802-85), Quasimodo is the hunchbacked bell ringer of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. He loves the beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda, and hides her when a mob (egged on by a hypocritical archdeacon) accuses her of witchcraft. When she is finally captured and executed, Quasimodo executes his own justice by throwing the archdeacon from the cathedral's bell tower.
the new Boyd: In Omaha, the New Boyd Theatre, at the corner of 15th and Farnam, opened in September 1891, after a fire destroyed Boyd's Opera House (built 1881). Cather visited Omaha once in 1892 to see Sarah Bernhardt, probably at this theater. The theaters were named for their proprietor, the former mayor of Omaha and governor of Nebraska (1891-93), James E. Boyd.
Light Brigade: Presumably the Light Brigade celebrated in Tennyson's famous poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The cavalry brigade suffered great loss of life when it obeyed its orders to charge into the face of a battery of cannon in the Crimean War between Great Britain and the Russia in 1854.
Old Guard at Waterloo: The Old Guard was the elite corps of Napoleon's army, composed of soldiers with a minimum of ten years service and at least two campaigns. His farewell to the Old Guard when he was exiled to Elba (1814) was considered one of the great speeches of the nineteenth century. When Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1815, 1,000 men from the Old Guard formed the nucleus of the army he gathered as he marched on Paris. Napoleon and his Old Guard were finally defeated by Wellington and the British and Prussian forces at Waterloo.
Jo-jo, the dog faced man: Feodor Jefticheff (died c. 1904) was born in Finland, the son of a performer who also suffered from hypertrichosis, the growth of long hair all over the face. He toured Europe and America with Barnum and Bailey's circus; one such visit to America is recorded in 1891. The name came to be used generically for similar sideshow performers.
The Lilliputian queen: The queen of Lilliputia, the land of miniature people in Swift's Gulliver's Travels. In context here, Cather may be referring to Lavinia Warren, the midget who was married to P.T. Barnum's Tom Thumb in 1863, or a similar sideshow performer.
Strauss's orchestra: Johann Strauss, the younger (1825-1899), known as the waltz king, combined his band with his father's orchestra when the latter died. His tours of Europe, and especially his waltz compositions such as "The Blue Danube" (1867), made him world-famous. However, he turned the orchestra over to his brothers in 1870 to devote himself to composing, though he still occasionally conducted the orchestra.
still we live and breathe and have our being: Acts 17:24-25, and 28 reads: God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; . . . For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
building at L and Eleventh . . . mightier hand than mine: Cather roomed in a house at 1029 L Street, between 10th and 11th streets in Lincoln, and 11th Street would have been her most direct route to the University, so she would have had to pass by this structure several times a day.
old houses in Antwerp: The ancient city of Antwerp, on the Schelde River in Belgium, near the Dutch border, stayed within its 16th century fortified walls until the mid-19th century. The upper stories of its late medieval and Renaissance houses jutted out over the ground floor. The city was the home of painter Peter Paul Rubens, his pupil Van Dyck, and other notable painters.
Famous one in Venice: Possibly the Ducal Palace in Venice, which John Ruskin (1819-1900) called "the central building of the world" in The Stones of Venice (1853) because it embodied gothic art and history, which Ruskin considered the highest and purest. However, Cather may be referring to a more domestic Venetian building: volume three of The Stones of Venice contains an index and description of every building of importance in or near Venice. The fa?ade of the Ducal Palace is highly complex and richly organized, yet harmonious, in contrast to the discordant elements of the Lincoln building Cather describes.
Old Puritan houses: Probably Cather means the 17th century "saltbox" style houses of New England; the windows are characterized by small, often diamond-shaped, panes since glass had to be imported from England, and large pieces of glass were not only very fragile but very expensive.
Architecture is partly Roman and partly Gothic, and partly Greek: Roman architecture was characterized by columns and barrel vaults; the late 19th century Romanesque style suggested these elements with round-headed windows. Gothic architecture of the late medieval period was popularly associated with pointed arch windows; the style was adapted for domestic architecture in America by Andrew Downing in the mid-19th century. Features of Greek architecture such as columns and horizontal lintels were adapted for Greek revival-style houses in the early 19th century in America. Eclectic style building such as this were criticized by arbiters of taste in the late 19th century.
Ruskin: British art and social critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) was influential in many areas of Victorian life and thought. In an age when access to works of art was limited, his writing sought to convey the visual and emotional qualities of the works he discussed. His Modern Painters (1843 and 1846) led to public appreciation of the work of J. M. W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. His Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853) did the same for Gothic architecture, and led to the founding of such organizations as the National Trust and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. As a social critic (and socialist), Ruskin was also influential in the trade union and arts and crafts movements.
Ruskin was also a poet and artist himself, as well as a writer of such fantasies as The King of the Golden River (1841).
Just happened: Possibly an allusion to Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) character Topsy, in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Topsy, a young slave child, showed that she had not been given any religious training when asked who made her; she replied that she just grew.
warring together like Saint Paul's: St. Paul's Cathedral in London is the fifth cathedral on that site. When the 11th century cathedral was destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren designed the new structure with its great dome, combining elements of neoclassical, baroque, and Gothic elements.
Keeley Institute: Civil war surgeon Leslie C. Keeley (1832-1900) founded the first Keeley Institute in Dwight, Ill., for the cure of alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics addiction. The centerpiece of his "scientific" cure was injections of bichloride of gold—hence the common nickname, the gold cure. Keeley's success rate, which led to franchise institutes in every state in the U.S. (including at least half a dozen in Nebraska), was due more to his recognition of alcoholism as a medical disease, and to the residential treatment facilities where forms of group therapy were practiced. After 1900, however, the popularity of Keeley institutes declined rapidly, though the original one in Dwight celebrated is 60th anniversary in 1939.
Madame De Stael: Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker (1766-1817), the daughter of Louis XVI's finance minister, became famous for her wit, conversation, and influence on French romanticism while still in her 20s. In 1786 she married Erik, Baron de Sta?l-Holstein, the Swedish ambassador to the French court. She was exiled by Napoleon but returned to Paris in 1814.
Says that architecture is frozen music: Mme de Staël's novel Corinne (1807), an early feminist and philosophical novel, expresses this idea in the phrase "tel monument est comme une musique continuelle et fixée" (book 4, chapter 3). The phrase is also attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) in his Philosophie der Kunst (1802-3 ), and to Goethe, who seems to have been quoting Mme de Staël, however.
brown stone ruin on Fourteenth and P streets: Brownstone, a reddish-brown sandstone, was used especially for the façades of houses in the mid- to late-19th century, and is especially associated with the houses of the well-to-do in New York City.
Future is entirely behind it: The German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is supposed to have said of the young French poet and playwright, Alfred de Musset (1810-57) that he was a young man with a great future behind him.
wind that went down: Luke 8.23 tells how "there came down a storm of wind on the lake" while Jesus was asleep in the boat; after the frightened disciples woke him, Jesus calmed the storm, then rebuked them for their lack of faith.
cheek that was smitten both upon the left and the right: In Matthew 5.38-39, Jesus says, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
Cora Tanner: Cora Tanner appeared on the New York stage between 1880 and 1902; she first appeared on the New York stage as a member of McKee Rankin's company in The Danites. She had made a hit in Alone in London, and her big production c. 1891-1892 was with her own company in Will She Divorce Him? She no longer appeared in New York after 1902. Cora Tanner made her professional debut at the age of fourteen in the McVicker stock company in Chicago; she first appeared on the New York stage in 1880 as a member of McKee Rankin's company in The Danites. In 1884 she played Princess Ida in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta of that name, in John Stetson's company. She was a member of one of Col. William E. Sinn's companies when she married him in 1885; early in 1893 Sinn sought to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that she was already married, but the court ruled their marriage was valid. By the late 1880s she was a star, with plays such as Alone in London and Fascination identified with her. Later in the 1890s she toured in The Sporting Duchess. Her last performances in New York were in a drama, The Last Appeal, in April 1902.Images: Marketworks NYPL Digital Gallery
Margaret Mather: Margaret Mather (1860-1898) was born in Quebec but came as a young child to Detroit, Michigan, where she supposedly sold newspapers in the street before going on the stage and becoming one of the most well-known Shakespearean actresses of her day. Her 1890 production of Cymbeline was supposed to have cost $40,000, a fabulous sum in its day. Mather died of tuberculosis while onstage, and was buried in her Juliet costume.Cather saw Mather as Juliet in Lincoln in 1892 and admired her voice, but when she saw Mather in the mid-1890s, she condemned her as superficial.
Edna May Spooner (1873-1953) was born in Centerville, Iowa, the daughter of Benjamin Spurgeon Spooner (1852-1899) and Mary (Mollie) Gibbs Manson Spooner (1858-?), part of the Spooner family acting troupe which toured the Midwest in the 1890s. About the turn of the century the family relocated to New York, where Edna May became the leading lady of the stock company at her mother's theater in Brooklyn, playing the standard emotional parts—Zaza, Camille, Magda, Juliet, Pauline, Leah—as well as costume dramas roles such as Nell Gwyn and Mme du Barry. In 1907 she became part of the Proctor Stock company at the 5th Avenue Theater. She married Arthur Behrens (Whaley).
Edna May Spooner was an ingénue whose voice Cather particularly disliked, remarking on its "old indescribable indistinctness" (see the review for April 23, 1895).
Spooners: The Spooners were a family acting troupe that toured the Midwest and played Lincoln regularly (see the review for 25 April 1895). Benjamin Spurgeon Spooner (1852-1899) married Mary (Molly) Gibbs Manson (1855-1940) in 1872; they were from Centerville, Iowa, where their three children, Edna May (b. 1873), Robert K. (b. 1876), and Cecil (b. 1878), were born. Benjamin's brother, Franklin E. Spooner (1860-1943), was also an actor. The stock company moved to New York about 1900; several of its alumni include Maurice Costello (1877-1950), who made his name as a screen lover in early silent films (and was the father of screen actresses Helen and Dolores Costello); J. Warren Kerrigan (1879-1947), one of the most popular silent stars of Westerns from 1911 into the 1920s; and J. Searle Dawley (1878-1949), who directed over 200 films for the Edison company, including Frankenstein (1910) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1912), and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1913) for Famous Players.
Julia Marlowe: Marlowe (born Sarah Frost in England in 1866) made her stage debut in 1878 and first appeared in New York in 1887. Her beauty and refinement made her immensely popular with audiences, and she toured frequently with her own company, with both her first husband, Robert Taber (married 1894, divorced 1900), and her second, the almost equally well-known actor, E. H. Sothern (married 1911). She was considered a romantic rather than an emotional actress, especially famous in Shakespearean roles. She retired in 1924 and died in 1950.
Modjeska: Helena Modjeska (1840 or 1844—sources differ) was born in Cracow, Poland, and went on stage in 1861; the name by which she is best known is a simplified version of her Polish stage name. She was acclaimed as the greatest Polish actress, but emigrated to a ranch in Orange County, California, in 1876 with her husband, Karol Chlapowski, a minor Polish nobleman; the titles of Count and Countess appear to have been bestowed on them later. Modjeska learned English quickly enough to make her American stage debut in 1877 and soon became one of the best known and most respected actresses in the country, known for her historical and Shakespearean roles as well as the modern emotional dramas. She retired in 1907 and died in 1909.
Modjeska appears in Cather's My Mortal Enemy (1926).
Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery and the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
Saint Ursula: A legendary 4th century virgin martyr. In The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (1265-66) she is described as a British princess who led a pilgrimage of 11,000 virgins to Rome and was killed with them by the Huns near Cologne in Germany. A 4th or 5th century inscription in St. Ursula's church gave the number of virgins as 11.
Jeanne d'Arc: Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) was born of a French peasant family. Believing herself to be guided by the voices of saints Catherine, Michael, and Margaret, she led French forces to victory over the English at Orléans and other English held garrisons, enabling the French heir to be crowned at Reims. She was at last captured and tried as a heretic. She was condemned and turned over to the English, who burned her at the stake on May 30, 1431.In Cather's One of Ours (1922) Claude Wheeler studies the trial of Joan of Arc at the University of Nebraska.
Clara Morris: Born Clara Morrison, Morris (1848-1925) made her New York debut in 1870 and was a great success playing passionate, suffering heroines in roles in such plays as Jezebel, Camille (1874), Miss Multon, a version of East Lynne (1876), Jane Eyre (1877), and The New Magdalen (1882). She formed her own company about 1878 and toured the country. She was never famous for her beauty, and her voice was flawed, but the emotional power of her acting overcame these defects. Morris retired in the 1890s as the new kinds of realistic plays of Ibsen and Shaw and Pinero made the older dramas seem old-fashioned and histrionic. In retirement she wrote articles and columns on acting, as well as volumes of reminiscences that show her acting was not so instinctive and unpracticed as Cather supposed.
Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
Image available at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
Sarah Bernhardt: Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), generally acknowledged as the greatest actress of her time, was born Rosine Bernard. She made her debut at the Comédie Française in 1862. By the mid 1870s her position was secure; though critics were divided as to her beauty, they agreed on the power of her golden voice, her realism, and her magnetic personality, which she cultivated off-stage as well. She owned her own theater in Paris and toured throughout the world in the 1880s and 1890s; Cather saw her in Omaha in 1892. Bernhardt played most of the great roles of the 19th century theater, and American and English emotional actresses such as Morris and Fanny Davenport frequently followed her lead, since a role Bernhardt made popular had a good chance of success elsewhere. University of Pennsylvania Library
chestnuts: In slang, a chestnut is a saying, joke, song, etc, that has been repeated until everyone but the speaker or teller is tired of it. A popular fad in the 1880s and 1890s was to wear a chestnut bell on your coat, to ring when someone began a tired joke or story.
The Count of Monte Cristo: This novel by the elder Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), published in 1844, has had an immense and lasting celebrity, and has had various stage and film versions of it made. The plot concerns the betrayal and imprisonment of a young sailor, who escapes, finds treasure, and returns to France as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo to seek vengeance on all who have betrayed him.
Mr. Keene: Thomas Wallace Keene (1840-1898), a New York-born actor whose real name was Thomas R. Eagleton, made several cross-country tours of America with his own company between 1880 and his death in 1898. He generally appeared in Shakespearean companies, and was known as a tragedian.
"Lay on, Macduff," in Richard III: The quotation, as Cather is well aware, is from Shakespeare's Macbeth, act 5, scene 8, Macbeth tells his enemy Macduff, "Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him who first cries, Hold, enough!" as they fight.
The lovering part of Faust: Presumably the seduction of Marguerite by Faust. Cather had reviewed a Lewis Morrison production of Faust on January 18, 1894.
Marguerite who was much older than Faust: Marguerite is the young maiden whom the Devil helps Faust obtain in Goethe's play. Cather's review on January 18, 1894, commented on the childlike smile of a Mr. Lyman, who played Faust; she does say that Miss Verne, the actress who played Marguerite, was beautiful.