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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Cushman, Charlotte Saunders

Appletons' Cushman Charlotte Saunders.jpg
Appletons' Cushman Charlotte Saunders signature.jpg

CUSHMAN, Charlotte Saunders, actress, b. in Boston, Mass., 23 July, 1816; d. there, 18 Feb., 1876. She was a descendant in the eighth generation from Robert Cushman. Her father rose from poverty to be a successful West India merchant, but lost his fortune, and died, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. Charlotte was a remarkably bright, sportive child, excelling her schoolmates and developing a voice of remarkable compass and richness, with a full contralto register. Two friends of her father, one of them John Mackey, in whose piano factory Jonas Chickering was then foreman, provided her with the best musical instruction. She sang in choirs, and aided in the support of the family from the age of twelve. When Mrs. Joseph Wood visited Boston in 1834, Capt. Mackey introduced Miss Cushman, who sang with her in two of her concerts. Through Mrs. Wood's influence she became an articled pupil to James G. Maeder, that lady's musical director, and under his instruction made her first appearance in opera in the Tremont theatre as the Countess Almaviva in the “Marriage of Figaro” with great success, and her second as Lucy Bertram in “Guy Mannering.” She went with his company to New Orleans, where her voice, which had been strained by the soprano parts assigned to her, suddenly failed. Seeking the counsel of James H. Caldwell, manager of the principal theatre of New Orleans, she was advised by him and by Barton, the tragedian, to become an actress, and given the part of Lady Macbeth to study, in which she made her appearance with complete success in 1835. Going to New York, she declined a trial at the Park theatre, to enter into a three years' engagement with Thomas Hamblin, of the Bowery theatre, where she appeared for a season in leading tragic roles. Miss Cushman brought her mother, who had supported the family by keeping a boarding-house, to New York; but soon after this the theatre was burned, and her wardrobe, for which she was in debt, was destroyed. Miss Cushman then secured an engagement in Albany, where she acted for five months, and made many acquaintances among politicians through her relative, Gov. Marcy, then in the U. S. senate. Convinced that she had not served a proper apprenticeship in her art, she applied to the manager of the Park theatre for any place that might be vacant, was engaged to do general utility business, and soon made her mark as a leading actress. This engagement lasted from 1837 till 1840. In 1842 she assumed the management of the Walnut street theatre in Philadelphia, which she retained till 1844, when she accompanied Mr. Macready on a tour in the northern states, in the course of which she undertook the higher range of tragic parts with great success. She was an ardent student, and rapidly added new characters to her list, such as Elvira, Bianca, Helen McGregor, Emilia, Queen Katherine, Cardinal Woolsey, Ophelia, Pauline, Viola, and Katherine in “Taming of the Shrew.” She was powerful and electric in tragedy, masterful in the depicting of every passion, great in Shakespearian characters, and in her young days was distinguished as a performer in high comedy parts. On 26 Oct., 1844, Miss Cushman sailed for England. In London she immediately achieved a triumphant success in the parts of Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Mrs. Haller, Bianca in “Fazio,” and Emilia. She sent for her family, and began her second season at the Haymarket as Romeo, a part she had chosen in order to bring out her sister as Juliet. The power of her impersonation created a sensation in London, and afterward in Dublin, while her sister's grace and beauty added to the success. She played other male companion parts with her sister, achieved a great success as Julia in “The Hunchback,” Meg Merrilies, a part that she had first performed at the Park theatre, New York, in 1841, Nancy Sykes, Lady Gay Spanker, and other characters, constantly added to her professional reputation, and made warm friends in the intellectual society of England. In August, 1849, she returned to the United States and played throughout the country. She took her farewell at the Broadway theatre, 15 May, 1852, visited friends in England, and travelled on the continent, but began playing again in December, 1853. Her house in Mayfair became a centre of artistic and literary society, and during the dramatic season she acted with undiminished popularity in London and the provinces, while part of her winters she passed in Rome. In 1857 she returned to the United States and performed during the winter and the spring of 1858, and returned to Rome, establishing herself in a spacious permanent winter home in January, 1859. In 1860 she again acted in New York, and appeared on several occasions for the benefit of the Sanitary commission. During the last six year's of her life Miss Cushman developed a remarkable ability as a dramatic reader, giving scenes from Shakespeare, ballad poetry, dialect poems, and humorous pieces with a success not less decided than her early histrionic triumphs. In 1871, after a residence in Europe, she resumed her career in the United States as a reader, besides fulfilling several dramatic engagements. Her farewell appearance was announced at least seven times in as many different years. Her final performance in New York at Booth's theatre, where she played the part of Lady Macbeth, was signalized by social and literary demonstrations. She took a similar demonstrative farewell in the same character in Philadelphia and other cities, and her career closed in Boston, at the Globe theatre, on 15 May, 1875. After a reading-tour to Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse, she retired with a large fortune to her villa at Newport, where she was seized with her final illness, and in October went to Boston and placed herself under medical treatment. An obelisk copied from Cleopatra's Needle was placed over her tomb in Mount Auburn cemetery in 1880. See “Charlotte Cushman, her Letters and Memories of her Life,” edited by Emma Stebbins, the sculptor, who was her intimate friend and companion at Rome for several years (Boston, 1878). — Her sister, Susan Webb, b. in Boston, Mass., 17 March, 1822; d. in Liverpool, England, 10 May, 1859, made her début on the stage in April, 1837, at the Park theatre, New York city, as Laura Castelli in Epes Sargent's play, “The Genoese,” and achieved an immediate success. She played Desdemona to George Vandenhoff's Othello, Grace Harkaway to her sister's Lady Gay Spanker, and other prominent parts in New York and Philadelphia, and made a remarkable success in “Satan in Paris.” In England her impersonation of Ophelia was regarded as of the first rank, her Juliet ran 200 nights, and in her old and many new characters her acting was greatly admired for its grace and delicacy. In 1847 she retired from the stage, and in March, 1848, married Dr. James Sheridan Muspratt, of Liverpool, the distinguished chemist and author.