9 NOVEMBER 1891
THE ART OF ACTING
I have chosen as the subject of the address with which I have the honor to inaugurate for the second time the Session of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, “The Art of Acting.” I have done so, in the first instance, because I take it for granted that when you bestow on any man the honor of asking him to deliver the inaugural address, it is your wish to hear him speak of the subject with which he is best acquainted; and the Art of Acting is the subject to which my life has been devoted. I have another reason also which, though it may, so far as you are concerned, be personal to those of my calling, I think it well to put before you. It is that there may be, from the point of view of an actor distinguished by your favor, some sort of official utterance on the subject. There are some irresponsible writers who have of late tried to excite controversy by assertions, generally false and always misleading, as to the stage and those devoted to the arts connected with it. Some of these writers go so far as to assert that Acting is not an Art at all; and though we must not take such wild assertions quite seriously, I think it well to place on record at least a polite denial of their accuracy. It would not, of course, be seemly to merely take so grave an occasion as the present as an opportunity for such a controversy, but as I am dealing with the subject before you, I think it better to place you in full knowledge of the circumstances. It does not do, of course, to pay too much attention to ephemeral writings, any more than to creatures of the mist and the swamp and the night. But even the buzzing of the midge, though the insect may be harmless compared with its more poison-laden fellows, can divert the mind from more important things. To disregard entirely the world of ephemera, and their several actions and effects were to deny the entirety of the scheme of creation.
I take it for granted that in addressing you on the subject of the Art of Acting I am not, prima facie, encountering set prejudices; for had you despised the Art which I represent I should not have had the honor of appearing before you to-day. You will, I trust, on your part, bear this in mind, and I shall, on my part, never forget that you are members of a Philosophical Institution, the very root and basis of whose work is to inquire into the heart of things with the purpose of discovering why such as come under your notice are thus or thus.