It is said that Kean swept away the Kembles and their Classical school of acting. He did not do that. The memory of Sarah Siddons, tragic queen of the British stage, was never to be effaced, and I would remind you that when Kean was a country actor (assured of his own powers, however unappreciated), resenting with passionate pride the idea of playing second to “the Infant Roscius,” who was for a time the craze and idol of the hour, “Never,” said he, “never; I will play second to no one but John Kemble!” I am certain that when his better nature had the ascendency no one would have more generously acknowledged the merits of Kemble than Edmund Kean. It is idle to say that because his style was solemn and slow, Kemble was not one of the greatest actors that our stage has produced. It is only those whose natures make them incapable of approbation or condemnation in artistic matters without being partisans, who, because they admire Edmund Kean, would admit no merit in John Kemble. The world of art, thank Heaven, is wide enough for both, and the hearts of those who truly love art are large enough to cherish the memory of both as of men who did noble work in the profession which they adorned. Kean blended the Realistic with the Ideal in acting, and founded a school of which William Charles Macready was, afterwards, in England, the foremost disciple.
Thus have we glanced, briefly enough, at four of our greatest actors whose names are landmarks in the history of the Drama in England, the greatest Drama of the world. We have seen how they all carried out, by different methods perhaps, but in the same spirit, the principle that in acting Nature must dominate Art. But it is Art that must interpret Nature; and to interpret the thoughts and emotions of her mistress should be her first object. But those thoughts, those emotions, must be interpreted with grace, with dignity and with temperance; and these, let us remember, Art alone can teach.