EDWIN FORREST, the first and greatest American tragedian, was born in Philadelphia in 1806. His father was a
tradesman, and some accounts state that he had marked out a mercantile career for his son, Edwin, while others
claim that he had intended him for the ministry. His wonderful memory, his powers of mimicry and his strong musical
voice, however, attracted attention before he was eleven years old, and at that age he made his first appearance
on the stage. The costume in which he appeared was so ridiculous that he left the stage in a fit of anger amid
a roar of laughter from the audience. This did not discourage him, however, and at the age of fourteen, after some
preliminary training in elocution, he appeared again, this time as Young Norvel, and gave indications of future
greatness. Up to 1826 he played entirely with strolling companies through the south and west, but at that time
he obtained an engagement at the Bowery Theater in New York. From that time his fortune was made. His manager paid
him $40 per night, and it is stated that he loaned Forrest to other houses from time to time at $200 per night.
His great successes were Virginius, Damon, Othello. Coriolanus, William Tell, Spartacus and Lear. He made his first
appearance in London in 1836, and his success was unquestioned from the start. In 1845, on his second appearance
in London, he became involved in a bitter rivalry with the great English actor, Macready, who had visited America
two years before. The result was that Forrest was hissed from the stage, and it was charged that Macready had instigated
the plot. Forrest's resentment was so bitter that he himself openly hissed Macready from his box a few nights later.
In 1848 Macready again visited America at a time when American admiration and enthusiasm for Forrest had reached
its height!. Macready undertook to play at Astor Place Opera House in May, 1849, but was hooted off: the stage.
A few nights later Macready made a second attempt to play at the same house, this time under police protection.
The house was filled with Macready's friends, but the vioolence of the mob outside stopped the play, and the actor
barely escaped with his life. Upon rea!ding the riot act the police and troops were assaulted with stones. The
troops replied, first with blank cartridges, and then a volley of lead dispersed the mob, leaving thirty men dead
or seriously wounded.
After this incident Forrest's popularity waned, until in 1855 he retired from the stage. He re-appeared in 1860,
however, and probably the most remunerative period of his life was between that date and the close of the Civil
war. His last appearance on the stage was at the Globe Theatre, Boston, in Richelieu, in April, 1872, his death
occurring December 12 of that year.
A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.
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