John Augustin Daly’s widowed mother moved the family to New York City when he was still a child. In New York, Daly quickly developed an affinity for the theatre.
Recollections on the dramatic careers of William Warren, Laura Keene, Matilda Heron, Lester Wallack, James W. Wallack, Mark Smith, Edwin Adams, Henry J. Montague, Edwin Booth, Augustin Daly, Henry Irving, Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Edward H. Sothern, and Julia Marlowe. The book ends with a lengthy essay on "The Theatre and Morality."
The last time I met Matilda Heron,--it was not very long before her death,--she clasped me in her arms, almost lifted me from the floor, kissed me on the forehead, and impetuously exclaimed: "Willy Winter, you put the first gray hair in my head that ever was there!" This fervid assurance was allusive to articles that I had written, in the newspaper press, condemnatory of the pernicious influence of the play of "Camille," to the exposition of which she had been devoted during the greater part of her career. (59-60) That the courtesan and the virtuous woman are alike pure--that chastity is immaterial--is the chief meaning conveyed by the sophistry of the play. (68) Once, speaking to a writer, about a play that she wished should be written for her, she wildly exclaimed, "Give me a lost woman!" I know no why a woman "lost" should be thought to be more dramatic than a woman "found," but that was the kind of woman Matilda preferred to represent, and beyond question she made her intensely and movingly dramatic. (69-70)
Matilda Heron's career was gloriously bright for a while, and then dark with trouble and sorrow. It is easy for the moralist to say that she brought her miseries upon herself; it is,--as in all such cases,--more true and wise to say that Fate, which is Character, made her what she was, and shaped and ruled the current of her destiny. . . . She was a magnanimous, great-hearted, loving woman, and she was one of the most potent elemental forces in the histrionic vocation that have ever been exerted on the American Stage. (71-72)
In the Spring of 1865 she chanced to be acting at Ford's Theatre, Washington, and on the night of the fatal April 14, when President Lincoln was assassinated in that house, she was on the stage, as Florence Trenchard, in "Our American Cousin."--standing so close to the wing, on the prompt-side, that the assassin, as he rushed toward the stage-door, brushed against her in passing. From the effect of the shock that she received, on that terrible night, it was said by her relatives that she never entirely recovered.
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