Last year I related the story of an unusual find in a post titled “The curious case of a little old book”. I’ve had purchased a copy of the Roycrofter’s edition of Aucassin & Nicolette which also, unexpectedly so, contained a small gift note. Upon further research it turned out the book was originally bought by a famous Victorian era actress, a certain Clara Morris (Harriot). Since this post is going to build upon information provided in the previous one I recommend reading the original post first if needed (there is a link back to this article at the end). I originally planned on presenting this second part much sooner but for various reasons always got delayed, until now.
After unraveling the fascinating story behind the aforementioned note I decided to take my sleuthing a little further and try to find interesting items relating to Clara Morris. So I went back to eBay and started searching. There were quite a few interesting items to be found:
The first thing I came across was a CDV, a carte de visite or “visiting card”. These types of small, carded photographs became rather popular in the latter part of the 1800s and turned into collectibles that were often traded similar to baseball cards and such in more modern times. This particular CDV was produced by Sarony at 680 Broadway in NYC. There is no date printed but by the looks of it it seems to date from the mid 1870s. The clarity of the photo is quite astounding as is the depth of field. It can be seen on the right in the photo above. Further details regarding CDVs can be found here.
Next I found some type of trading card, this time a portrait rather than a photograph. It’s roughly the same size as the CDV but unfortunately has no date indicated either (probably also mid 1870s). It was made by Union Novelty Co. in Montpelier, Vermont. It’s advertising “The Favorite Pictorial, Defining and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language… neatly bound in Cloth and containing 320 pages.” It can be seen on the left in the photo on top.
Of course one of the most interesting items to find would be a play bill or any sort of program of one of her shows. Luckily such an item was up for sale, and not just for any theater but the Boston Theater. Given that I’ve lived around Boston that was a great find. “The Ray” was the official program of the Boston Theater and was published daily by H. A. M’Clenen. This issue dates from Monday, May 7, 1877, and advertises “Clara Morris, The Greatest Living Actress” in the play “Camille — Or, The Fate of a Coquette”. The author had the following to say:
“Clara Morris, This great actress, of whom it is said that she “fills the widest space in the public eye and the warmest corner of the heart of every lover of the drama in America,” will be with us for a brief season only, and will repeat the role of Camille every evening of the week (except Saturday), and on Saturday afternoon. During her stay she will produce “Miss Multon,” a grand play, dealing with a phase of human passion that touches an answering chord in every heart. Hoping to achieve success from the favor Miss Morris has commanded wherever she has appeared, other actresses have presented versions of “Miss Multon,” which compare with hers as thinnest veneering does to solid mahogany.” *Notes
Adding to this praise is a poem simply titled “Clara Morris”,written by a certain G. C. Howard of Cambridge, Massachusetts (I am assuming this is actor George C. Howard, later manager of the Howard and Foxes theater troupe whose repertoire included a rendition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Some details here):
“When Clara Morris treads the stage,
A queen commands the mimic scene;
This brilliant genius of the age
Paints what will be and what has been.
Yes, the fierce passions of the soul,
That sway the human heart through time,
Her magic powers so control
As render the effect sublime.
Society’s frail, fickle train
She illustrates with charms that please;
The proud her art cannot disdain;
The humble, near her, feel at ease.
As suffering “Multon,” her tones move
And set the heart and soul on fire;
Till, crushed by unrequited love,
We pity, weep, and then admire
Sensations gain from her their dower,
Which so enrich us through the play;
Even illness fails to check the power
In this great actress of the day.”
Well, even Oscar Wilde proclaimed once “Miss Morris is the greatest actress I ever saw, if it be fair to form an opinion of her from her rendition of this one role. â€? We have no such powerfully intense actress in England. She is a great artist, in my sense of the word, because all she does, all she says, in the manner of the doing and of the saying constantly evokes the imagination to supplement it. That is what I mean by genius. We have no one like her.” Judging by all this reverence Clara Morris must have been an actress comparable in fame to perhaps a Meryl Streep today.
Now that I had acquired the program I also wanted to see if I could find any of the books and stories Mrs. Morris had written. While most of them deal w