AT the tender age of eight years, Miss Phillips was
already an actress. She never knew why her parents chose that profession for her, nor could she
remember her first appearance. Her earliest recollection of the theatre dated back to some play in which she
was required to jump out of a window. She feared to take the leap: she hesitated, until an actor standing at
the wings held up a big orange before her eyes, an inducement which she could not resist. She jumped,
was caught safely in his arms, and received the fruit as her reward.
Miss Phillips, whose family ties all bound her to
America, and the greater part of whose professional career was passed in this country, scarcely liked to
acknowledge that she was not an American. She was born in England, at Stratford-on-Avon, about the year
1835 ; her father English, her mother Welsh. When she was seven years of age her family came to America,
going first to Canada, and thence to Boston, where they established their home. It was in this city that the little
girl made her debut in January, 1842, appearing at the Tremont Theatre in the comedy of " Old and Young,"
in which she was required to personate five characters, and introduce several songs and dances. A year later
she joined the Boston Museum and amused the public with her representation of " Little Pickle" in "The
Spoiled Child," and soon after she was promoted to take part in a number of fairy spectacles. With the company
her bright sayings. her simple manners, and obliging temper made her a favorite.
They were so kind to me," she said in later years;
" they took such care of me, for I was but a child when I first appeared there, so much of a child that I used to
drive my hoop back and forth to the rehearsals. The work was play to me ; I learned my parts easily and was
petted and praised, which was very pleasant."
She was so much a child, too, that one day she arrived
at the theatre crying so bitterly that for some time she was unable to explain what was the matter. Her trouble
proved to be that a beautiful doll in a shop window that she passed every day, a doll which she had set her heart
upon possessing, had that morning vanished from its usual station. Somebody else had bought it, and Adelaide was disconsolate. It was long before she could be
comforted, and her happiness was not fully restored until the good-natured stage-manager presented her with
another doll, even prettier than the one she had longed for.
As she grew older she had many characters assigned
her, and worked faithfully in her profession. A farce always followed the play in those days, and she frequently
appeared in both. Often, too, she sustained a part in fairy spectacles such as Pair Star and Cinderella—pieces
in which her graceful dancing as well as her beautiful voice fitted her to shine.
Never but once did she lose command of her countenance upon the stage, and that was in these early days at
"It was," she said, " in some farce where Mr. Warren
was shut up in a pantry closet, while I, apparently unconscious of the fact, was playing the piano accompaniment
to a song. He suddenly opened the door and looked out, his face revealing that he had been solacing his
imprisonment by helping himself to some of the sweetmeats on the shelves, and he assumed such a look as only he could
call up. It was all over with me and my song ; fortunately, the audience also were too much convulsed with
laughter to notice my inability to proceed, until it was possible for the play to go on."
Those who have seen Mr. Warren at his funniest will
not wonder at Miss Phillips' loss of self-control. When she was sixteen or seventeen years of age, her
parents and relatives, recognizing the unusual power and beauty of her voice—a rich contralto—decided that she
would do wisely to leave the stage for a time and study for the Italian opera. Her teachers had the utmost faith
in her success.
Jenny Lind was then in Boston, and Adelaide Phillips
was introduced, and sang to her. The next day she received a friendly letter in which Miss Lind recommended
Emanuel Garcia, her own instructor, as the most suitable teacher for her young friend, and added much wise and
kindly advice concerning the career to which she aspired. Enclosed in the letter was a check for a thousand dollars.
In 1852, Adelaide Phillips went to London, and remained there nearly two years pursuing her studies
under Garcia. From London she went to Italy, accompanied by her father and sister, that she might better
acquire the Italian language, and receive the training of Signor Profondo in operatic acting. While in Italy he
kept a journal—a brief, business-like record, encumbered with very few of the raptures, sentiments, and gay
nonsense that fill the pages of most young girls' diaries. Here is an extract from the first entry:
" Mr. Biandi came and asked me if I wanted an
engagement; he had spoken of me to one of the agents who wanted a contralto. The agent came accordingly.
I sang to him ' Pensa alla Patria.' He seemed very much pleased with my voice. The place is Brescia, in
Lombardy. They offer four hundred dollars a month for four months. The first part to appear in, Arsace. Papa
will give an answer in a few days. Mr. Biandi brought me the opera of Semiramide and gave me some good
ideas. I commenced studying Arsace."
The offer thus mentioned was accepted, and she made
her debut at Brescia. It was customary that the last rehearsal of an opera should be in full dress, but in a fit
of girlish obstinacy, she refused to put on the armor of Arsace until the evening of the performance. The directors and musical critics, who were present in force,
showed their displeasure ; she retaliated by singing
through the part in demi-voice. Her manager was in despair, and it certainly was a foolish thing for her to do,
although she by no means realized its importance. The next night the house was crowded, and when she entered
as Arsace, in full armor, she was received in silence. No applause followed her recitative and andante, and it was
not until, provoked by their coldness to the utmost exertion, she gave the caballetta with superb power and
passion, that the audience, unable to resist longer, broke into a tempest of cheering. Her success was complete and
Other engagements followed ; then many
disappointments. Whenever she sang she pleased, but she could not always find an opportunity to sing, and sometimes
when she did the managers could not or would not pay her. Cheers and tears from the enthusiastic Italian audiences continued to greet her wherever she went, and
sonnets and flowers were showered upon the stage, but money was so difficult to obtain that in 1855 she left Italy
to try her fortune again in America. Her operatic debut in this country was made in Philadelphia, once more in
the part of Arsace, and was in every way successful. Her popularity soon became assured. During the next
few years she visited all parts of this country, and appeared successfully in Paris and other European cities.
ln Poland she was much struck by the appearance of her audience, all the ladies being attired in black. They
were in mourning for their country. In Cuba, where she learned to speak Spanish like a native, she was received
with a favor which she reciprocated.
"My greatest artistic success, my true appreciation,"
she used to say, " was in Havana."
During one of her visits to Havana with an opera
troupe, a young girl of the chorus with whom she had made acquaintance during the voyage, was attacked by
the yellow fever. Without a moment's thought of herself, Miss Phillips went to her and nursed her throughout
the whole of her illness. She took the disease herself, nearly died of it, lost all her beautiful hair, and was never
again the strong, healthy woman she had been. This was of course an exceptional act, but her kindness,
her generosity, and sympathy made her peculiarly dear to her friends. Her devotion to the interests of her family
was unfailing. She was never so happy as when she lived with her brothers and sisters in the lovely country
home at Marshfield, which she helped to beautify with her hands and her money. There she loved to be, whenever
her arduous profession allowed her to rest. There she watched the growth of fruit and flowers, spent half her
days out of doors, and enjoyed the society of half a dozen favorite dogs. There, too, she gave occasional
entertainments, when her beautiful voice, her powers of mimicry, and her rare talent as a story teller, were all called into
play to charm her guests. Although her heart was in this quiet country place, and the constant activity and
frequent journeys which her engagements necessitated were often distasteful to her, she held her profession in
honor, and loyally resented all imputations cast upon it.
"The actual work behind the scenes," she used to say,
"leaves no time for the sort of things people imagine; we are too busy, often too anxious, to attend to anything but
our parts. The heroes and the heroines of the opera are seldom the lovers they enact; often quite the reverse."
Nor did she undervalue the applause of the public. It was most welcome to her, and she labored with scrupulous
fidelity to deserve it, taking infinite pains with little things as well as great, never for a moment inattentive or
careless. She learned from an officer in the arm the best way to sheathe her sword, and for many other such details she
sought out and consulted those who she thought would be able to instruct her.
The praise she most enjoyed, however, was that of her
friends ; and the most precious tribute to her powers was not that of the critics. She always looked back with
peculiar pride to one evening at an entertainment in a fashionable house in New York, when she sang " Kathleen
Mavourneen " to a large company. While she was singing a young Irish serving maid entered the room with a tray
in her hand, and was so overcome with emotion, that forgetting her duties and her deportment alike, she sank
down in a chair and burst into tears. At another time, at a hotel in the mountains, where Miss Phillips had
refused to sing in public, having gone there in search of rest, she was found seated in the kitchen surrounded
by guides and servants, all crying heartily at her pathetic singing of " Auld Robin Gray."
The same magnetic power that characterized her
singing was exerted by her voice in speaking, when she chose to coax or command. Its influence was once
acknowledged by a naughty little girl, who, having successfully resisted her parents and relatives, came and seated herself
meekly at Miss Phillips' feet, saving
" You have made me good, though I did not mean you
Miss Phillips worked excessively hard, and after her
health began to give way she kept on too long. She went abroad with her sister in 1882, hoping that rest and change
would restore her. It was too late ; she died at Carlsbad, October 3, 1882, not fifty years of age. She lies buried
in the cemetery at Marshfield in Massachusetts, near the grave of Daniel Webster. She was a conscientious artist
and high-principled, too generous woman. There is perhaps no vocation so arduous as hers, for a public singer,
besides serving an exacting, fastidious, inconsiderate, and capricious master, the public, is also a slave to her voice.
She rests in peace after a life of arduous toil, and her memory is dear to many who knew her worth.*
* Adelaide Phillips, a Record. By Mrs. It C.
Waterston. Boston, 1883.