Monday, April 23, 2012

Wallace, Bierce and Stanley at Shiloh


One hundred and fifty years ago in April of 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was fought in Tennessee. Considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, it saw its share of men who would go down in history. Some of these men would be remembered for their valor that day and some for accomplishments later in life. Lew Wallace was one of these men. He is remembered for a number of reasons, but perhaps most famously for his writing of Ben-Hur. Wallace was not the only survivor of Shiloh who would make his mark with writing. At least two other famous authors survived Shiloh, Ambrose Bierce and Henry Morton Stanley.


Lew Wallace at work, ca. 1899
 Ambrose Bierce was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist who is probably best-known for his short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical lexicon The Devil's Dictionary. His vehemence as a critic, his motto "Nothing matters" and the sardonic view of human nature that infused his work all earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.” Bierce was born in Ohio in 1842, but grew up in Warsaw (Kosciusko County) Indiana. His parents were poor, but his mother was a descendant of William Bradford and both his mother and father were interested in literature and instilled a love of books in their son. Ambrose was one of ten children—all of whom had names beginning with the letter “A.”

Ambrose was 19 when the Civil War broke out and he quickly enlisted in the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. Bierce fought in a number of engagements, including Shiloh. In June of 1864, he received a head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and spent months recovering. He returned to the field but left the military in January of 1865. In 1866, he rejoined the army for a brief stint with a former commander who was inspecting military operations out west. With this tour he ended up in San Francisco and left the army as a brevet major.

Ambrose Bierce 1866
Bierce stayed in San Francisco for several of years writing for a number of newspapers, often covering the local crime scene. From 1872 to 1875 he lived in London before returning to San Francisco in the late 1870s. He tried a number of different careers but always returned to writing and by the late 1880s, he was writing a column called “Prattle” and had become the first regular columnist and editorialist to be employed by William Randolph Hearst. He became one of the most important columnists in the West and stayed with the Hearst newspaper empire until 1906. For a time Bierce was posted in Washington, D.C. where he covered the behind the scenes activities of politicians and lobbyists, exposing deals and legislation that often embarrassed the participants.

Beyond his editorials and columns, his short stories are regarded as among the best of the 19th century. He wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in stories such as "What I Saw of Shiloh," "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "The Boarded Window," "Killed at Resaca," and "Chickamauga." Beyond his Owl Creek story, Bierce is also remembered for The Devil's Dictionary. This work satirized many of the celebrities of his day including Robert Ingersoll, the agnostic who spurred Lew Wallace to rework a story on the Three Wise Men that ultimately became Ben-Hur. In The Devil’s Dictionary Bierce included his version of the Ten Commandments in which the second commandment is, "No images nor idols make/for Robert Ingersoll to break."

Bierce married and had three children, but his two sons died before him and he divorced his wife after many years of marriage. In 1913, Bierce left his home in Washington, D.C. for a tour of Civil War battlefields where he fought. He travelled on to Louisiana and Texas and some historians think he crossed the border into Mexico to join Pancho Villa’s army as an observer. It is purported that he wrote a letter on December 26, 1913 to a friend indicating that he was with Villa’s army and he would be leaving the next day for a destination unknown. He vanished and was never heard from again.

Another man who survived Shiloh went on to have success as a writer but became most famous for finding someone the world thought had vanished! Henry Morton Stanley became one of the most quoted men of the 19th century when he asked: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Henry Morton Stanley was born in Wales. His parents were likely unmarried and his father, believed to be a man named Rowlands, died within days of his birth. He lived with his grandfather for several years until the grandfather died. After passing through the homes of a few relatives, young Stanley ended up in a workhouse for the poor. He stayed in the workhouse until he was 15. For a time his mother and two brothers were also in the workhouse, but because of the family separation, he didn’t recognize them. Stanley was able to complete an elementary education and for a short time was a teacher. In 1859, at the age of 18 he sailed to America and jumped ship in New Orleans. At that point fate stepped in to change the young man’s life.

He happened upon a man named Henry Hope Stanley who was sitting in front of his store in New Orleans. The young Welshman, hoping for a job, asked Stanley if he needed any help. Stanley did need help and a close relationship developed. The store keeper was childless and he ultimately adopted young Rowlands who changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley and did his best to drop his accent and deny his ancestry.

Stanley reluctantly fought in the Civil War as a Confederate and saw action at Shiloh where he was captured. When he was released from the prison camp in June of 1862, he joined the Union Army, but was discharged 18 days later due to illness. In 1864 he joined the Union Navy where he served as a record keeper; a job that led to a free lance writing career. In February of 1865, young Stanley, who had served in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy, decided to jump ship in an effort to find adventure! Stanley began a career as a journalist and quickly undertook an expedition to the Ottoman Empire. He was captured and spent time in a prison before talking his way out of jail and, not being satisfied with getting out of prison he also succeeded in getting restitution for damage to his expedition equipment!

Immediately after returning from the Middle East in 1867, Stanley was hired by Colonel Samuel Forster Tappan of the Indian Peace Commission, to serve as a correspondent to cover the work of the Commission for several newspapers. Stanley was soon retained exclusively by James Gordon Bennett, founder of the New York Herald, who was impressed by Stanley's exploits and by his direct style of writing. He became one of the Herald's overseas correspondents and, in 1869, was instructed by Bennett's son to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had vanished. According to Stanley's account, he asked James Gordon Bennett, Jr., how much he could spend. The reply (according to Stanley) was "Draw £1,000 now, and when you have gone through that, draw another £1,000, and when that is spent, draw another £1,000, and when you have finished that, draw another £1,000, and so on — BUT FIND LIVINGSTONE!" In actuality, Stanley had lobbied his employer for several years to mount this expedition which he hoped would lead to fame and fortune.

Henry Morton Stanley 1872
In March of 1871, Stanley travelled to Africa and began an exhausting expedition through unchartered jungles. As the group of more than 200 travelled through the Congo, pack animals, porters, and associates got sick and some died. On November 10, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, he found Livingstone and (reportedly) greeted him with the famous line. Together the two men explored more of the region. The New York Herald chronicled the expedition and upon his return, Stanley wrote a well received book about his exploits in Africa. This book did, in fact, offer Stanley some of the financial security he hoped for.

This was not Stanley’s last trip to Africa. In another financed expedition, he sought to find the source of the River Congo and follow it to the sea. This effort lasted 999 days and of the 356 people who started the trip only 114 survived with Stanley being the only European still alive at the end. This trip too was chronicled in a successful book. Stanley led other expeditions in Africa, some of them tainted by controversy. He returned to England, served in Parliament and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1899, in recognition of his service to the British Empire in Africa. Stanley died in 1904.

While it’s not recorded whether or not Lew Wallace, Ambrose Bierce, or Henry Stanley ever met on the battlefield at Shiloh, it is certain that the two days they spent there in April of 1862 changed their lives. Each of these men experienced war differently, but because of their service, opportunities opened up and each in his own way seized the moments and adventures they were offered. As Wallace wrote at the beginning of the Civil War: “May a man tell what he can do until he tries?”

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lew Wallace and Old John

During the Civil War, General John M. Thayer provided a description of Lew Wallace and his favorite horse, Old John.

I shall never forget the splendid picture the man and scene presented. The sun was barely rising of a cold, frosty morning. General Wallace was a princely figure, particularly in the saddle, and he rode a handsome blooded roan stallion, a single-stepper that was the pride of the division. As he came riding up, his military accoutrements flashing the red light of the rising sun, and the charger moving as though to the sound of music, he presented a sight that is not seen more than once in a lifetime.

Lew on Old John
Although Old John was a legendary horse and fondly remembered, there is much that we don’t know about him. It’s believed that Wallace purchased John from the Armantrout Farm. The Armantrouts were a family that settled about five miles south of Crawfordsville. The patriarch of the family, Frederick, served in the Revolutionary War and settled here with his son, Joseph in 1827. Joseph became one of the leading and most progressive farmers in the county. He pursued a number of ventures including the breeding of horses so it’s possible that Lew did acquire John from the Armantrouts, but we don’t know when Wallace bought the horse or how old the horse was.

During the Civil War, Lew relied on John and took great pains to provide for his horse. In his autobiography there are numerous references to John including this:

I loved this horse passionately. For five years he was my faithful, intelligent servant and friend; and in all that time there was never an hour in which I would not have gone hungry and thirsty if, by so doing, it had been possible to have saved him. He was in my mind when, long afterwards, in The Wooing of Malkatoon, I wrote these lines:

 But Othman waved them off: “Bring me my horse.
But yesterday from noon to set of sun
He kept the shadow of the flying hawk
A plaything ‘neath his music-making feet.
I will not comrade else.”
Tent born and bred,
The steed was brought, its hoofs like agate bowls,
Its breast a vast and rounded hemisphere,
With lungs to gulf a north wind at a draught.
Under its forelock, copious and soft
As tresses of a woman loosely combed,
He set a kiss, and in its nostrils breathed
An exhalation, saying, to be heard
By all around, “Antar, now art thou brute
No longer. I have given thee a soul,
Even my own.”
And as he said, it was,
And not miraculously, as the fool
Declares; for midst the other harmonies
By Allah wrought, the hero and his horse
Have always been as one.

Prior to the Battle of Fort Henry in February of 1862, Wallace wrote:

In a mood of royal expectancy, I called the servant who took care of John, my horse, the noblest of his kind. “Groom him now, and feed him well. He will have heavy work to do for me to-morrow.” And I sat till night fell watching that what I ordered was done.

As Wallace remembered his Fort Donelson experiences, John again played a featured role.

The big Heiman tent proved a welcome refuge, and, with my staff, I heaped blessings on the captain of the steamboat. While we were sounding the depths of his basket, I remembered, with a wrench of spirit, that my horse had gone since early morning without a drop of water or a bite of food. I reproached myself bitterly. It had been so easy to have dropped a bag of oats in one of the wagons! A teamster came to my help with a capful of shelled corn. Then, in place of water, the noble brute was given a long tether that he might make the most of the snow. Hard, truly!
 And from pitying the horse my sympathy went out to the men. . .

The morning of the 15th crawled up the eastern sky as a turtle in its first appearance after hibernation crawls up a steep bank. Just before it shook out its first faint signs of life, I went out to look after my horse John. Poor fellow! The blanket I had loaned him helped comfort him; but he had happed up all the snow in the circle of his tether, and that, not to speak of the appeal in his eyes, told me how he suffered for water. I had about made up my mind to take chances and have an orderly lead him back to the first running stream, when an unusual sound off to the right front of position attracted me. I listened. The sound broke at a jump into what was easily recognizable as a burst of musketry. . .

John was brought me, and I rode to Cruft and Thayer. Both were directed to have their men breakfast and stand by their arms. Cruft was told to call in his extra guard details.
 At my tent again, I borrowed a capful of corn for John, and while he was eating, the ever-handy basket surrendered its contents, and we were content to take our coffee out of the bottles cold.

Time and again, Wallace remembered sharing the burdens of war with John in the spring of 1862.

 . . . My horse objected to the dead men still lying in the road; but getting past them, the hill dipped down into a hollow of width and depth. At the left there was field; all else appeared thinly covered with scattered trees. The pickets in the hollow were maintaining a lively fusillade, so I turned into the field. I could then see the road ran off diagonally to the right. A bluff rose in front of me partially denuded, and on top of it Confederate soldiers were visible walking about and blanketed. Off to the left the bluff flattened as it went. In the direction I also saw a flag not the stars and stripes, and guessed that the fort lay in studied contraction under it. I saw, too, a little branch winding through the hollow, and thought of my poor horse, then two days without water. The men keeping the thither height caught sight of my party, and interrupted me in the study of their position. Their bullets fell all around us. One cut a lock of the mane of a horse of one of my orderlies. But I had what we came for, and got away, nobody hurt.

Upon rejoining them at the battery, the old regiments (Eighth and Eleventh) cheered me; whereat the fort opened, firing harmlessly at the sound. The Eleventh, from their stacked arms, crowded around John—“Old Balley,” they called him—and filling a capful of crumbled crackers, some of them fed him what he would eat. They would have given him drink from their canteens had there been a vessel at hand to hold the water.
 In these moves my horse had answered me readily but with his head down—a thing that had not happened before. The other horses of the company were worse off. There was need for me up on the height, but we stopped by the little brook and broke through the ice. While the poor brutes were drinking greedily, Colonel Webster came to me.

Finally, in April as the Battle of Shiloh loomed, Wallace wrote:

My last preparatory order brought John to the Landing. I went ashore to see him. The good horse might have to suffer again; but, fortunately for him as well as myself, the season of snow and boreal winds had passed.
 John, the good horse, had shared the night with me close by my sheltering tree. He was wet through and through, and like myself, more than willing to be in motion.
 “Ah, well the gallant brute I knew!”

Toward the end of the Civil War, there is a story of a horse race between General Wallace on “Old John” and General Ulysses S. Grant on his prize saddle horse “Cincinnatus.” Supposedly Lew was holding John back, and Grant realized it. He told Lew to let him run. “Old John” won the race, and Grant endeavored to buy him on the spot. Without even considering the offer from his superior, Lew replied, “not for love nor money.”

Research has not yet indicated just when John came into Lew’s life, how old he was when Wallace purchased him, and just when John died. We don’t even know when references to the horse went from “John” to “Old John.” Anecdotal stories indicate that John lived to be a very old horse and died around the turn of the twentieth century. This would have made John, very old indeed for a horse as he would have been in the neighborhood of forty years old. Again, according to legend, when John died, Lew had him buried on the grounds of the Study up near the southwest corner of the property. Visitors to the grounds as far back as the late 1920s have related that they were told by Mr. Elliott, the caretaker, that John was buried there.

One of the final references to John was recorded on January 1, 1900 by Miss Ella Kostanzer when she interviewed Wallace. Ella wrote:

I must relate an incident that was interestingly funny to me and which I think you will enjoy. In a high enclosure behind the house was “Old John” the General’s war horse, which carried him all through the Civil War. A creature of great size, power and spirit, he greatly annoyed his master by often breaking through the high fence and leaping over ordinary fences like a deer, getting into the streets and terrorizing the community. As no one but the General or his groom could get anywhere near him, it was very provoking to be compelled to throw pen and paper aside for the difficult task of capturing the old fellow. His conduct was most exasperating to the General.

Through legends and stories, John still continues to be a part of the history of the Study. It’s nice to think that when guests enter the Carriage House for a tour, the gift shop to the left was the stall that once housed the General’s pride and joy, the handsome blooded roan stallion named John.



Sources:


Erin Gobel-Researcher
Montgomery Magazine “General Lew Wallace’s Carriage House,” August 1999
Lew Wallace, Autobiography, 1906
Ella Kostanzer Interview with Lew Wallace, January 1, 1900



The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.





Monday, April 9, 2012

Lew Wallace and his Autobiography

It took Lew Wallace almost 30 years to write and publish his first novel, The Fair God. He started working on it at about the age of 19 in the 1840s and it was published in 1873 when he was 46. After the success of his first book, it took him approximately seven years to write and publish his second book, Ben-Hur. Other books he completed did not take so long, but he clearly worked with great diligence and care and did not publish his efforts until he was fully satisfied. By the turn of the 20th century, Wallace was focusing his efforts on the writing of his autobiography.


In April of 1901, he travelled to Louisville and hosted a grand dinner. The papers reported that he was in town to gather data for his memoirs. He stayed at the Louisville Hotel and the papers reported that he had already been working on the autobiography for some time. According to the published reports he expected to be done with the book by Christmas of 1901 at which time he would begin writing his first “American” novel.

Wallace related to reporters that his autobiography would cover all the periods of his varied and eventful life with special attention given to his careers as governor of New Mexico and minister to Turkey. The book would also cover the important aspects of his military career and research for that aspect of his life is what took him to Louisville in 1901. As he stated:

“I am here to see some of the distinguished confederates who fought in the great battles of the civil war [sic] and to get their personal experiences. I believe that the best history is that which is not burdened with dull data, but enlivened by personal accounts. I have already seen Gen. Duke, who was a war-time opponent, and Gen. Buckner. I will also see Col. J. Stoddard Johnston. I intend to visit the library of Col. R.T. Durrett.”

As can be imagined, Wallace was particularly interested in securing information from the Confederates on the Battle of Shiloh. On April 26, Wallace hosted his formal dinner for former adversaries in the Louisville Hotel with guests General S.B. Buckner, General Basil W. Duke, Colonel J. Stoddard Johnston, Major D.W. Sanders, Captain John W. Leathers, Logan C. Murray, James S. Barret, and Marmaduke Bowden.

Simon Boliver Buckner
General Simon Boliver Buckner was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and had seen significant fighting in the Mexican War. Buckner was from Kentucky and when the Civil War broke out he was offered high ranking positions in the Union army before ultimately deciding to serve the Confederacy. In the Civil War, Buckner again saw action, including at Fort Donelson in 1862. Buckner was in charge of Fort Donelson when it was attacked by the Union forces led by his old friend, Ulysses Grant. When defeat at Donelson appeared inevitable, Buckner sent a message to Grant requesting an armistice and a meeting of commissioners to negotiate surrender. Grant famously responded with his words: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner quickly surrendered the fort. Grant was courteous to Buckner following the surrender and offered to loan him money to see him through his impending imprisonment, but Buckner declined. The surrender was a humiliation for Buckner personally, but also a strategic defeat for the Confederacy, which lost more than 12,000 men and much equipment, as well as control of the Cumberland River, which led to the evacuation of Nashville. Lew Wallace was heavily involved in the battle for Fort Donelson and keenly interested in visiting with Buckner in 1901.

Basil W. Duke was another Confederate officer from Kentucky and happened to be the brother-in-law to John Hunt Morgan. Morgan carried out a series of small guerilla invasions in southern Indiana and Ohio during the war that Duke was party to. Lew Wallace was one of the Union men dispatched to chase Morgan back South. Duke was also involved in the Battle of Shiloh where he was wounded. When Duke died in 1916, historians lauded him saying: “No Southerner was more dedicated to the Confederacy than General Basil W. Duke.”

The other men that Wallace sought to interview, Colonel J. Stoddard Johnston, Major D.W. Sanders, Captain John W. Leathers, Logan Murray, Marmaduke Bowden, and James Barret each had their important stories to share from their Civil War experiences. This dinner was just one of many examples where Lew Wallace sought to build relationships with former adversaries in the years after the Civil War. Efforts such as these by Grant, Lee, Wallace and other Civil War leaders from both sides were vital to mending the sectional divisions created by the war.

As Wallace’s autobiography progressed, it grew larger in scope and it was not finished by Christmas of 1901. In fact, it was not finished by Christmas of 1902, 1903 or even 1904. At the time of Wallace’s death in February of 1905, he was only about half-way through his personal recollections. When he put his pen down for the final time, it’s reported that he was working on his memories of the Battle of Monocacy, which took place in 1864. Wallace approached the work in a largely chronological format, so many of the most important aspects of his life were not yet penned.

Mary Hannah Krout
Throughout her life, Susan Wallace had supported her husband’s creative efforts. The autobiography was no exception. After Lew’s death, Susan and her friend Mary Hannah Krout took it upon themselves to finish the work Lew had started. In a little over a year, Susan and Mary Hannah completed what it had taken Lew many years of painstaking effort to get half done. The two volume work was completed and in 1906 it was published. Just as the autobiography proved to Lew’s last major creative effort, it was also Susan’s last major writing. She died less than a year after its publication.

Although Lew’s prediction that he would be working on his first great “American” novel by the end of 1901 did not come true, in the same interview he also expressed great confidence in Indiana’s literary future. He was much closer to the mark on this prediction as people like James Whitcomb Riley, Meredith Nicholson, Booth Tarkington, George Ade, George McCutcheon, Gene Stratton-Porter, and others flourished during the golden age of Hoosier authors in the early twentieth century.

Sources:


The Crawfordsville, Journal, April 17, 1901
The Crawfordsville, Journal, April 26, 1901

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.





Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ben-Hur on the London Stage

In March of 1901, it was announced that Klaw and Erlanger, the producers of the Broadway presentation of Ben-Hur, had made arrangements with Arthur Collins, the director of London’s Drury Lane Theater to take the play to England. Collins had travelled to New York to stage a play, but also to secure the rights to Ben-Hur. Ben Teal and A.L. Erlanger were to superintend the London production. Collins, himself, would oversee the creation of the stage scenery and costumes. Rather than the eight horses generally used for the chariot race, the London production was to boast 16 horses in the great race. The horses and mechanical apparatus for the race were to be sent from America. In January of 1902, Joseph Brooks, who worked for Klaw & Erlanger and had negotiated with Lew Wallace for New York’s original production, sailed for England to supervise the final preparations for the London premier which was set for March 31.


The Drury Lane Theater that premiered Ben-Hur had been built in 1812 on the site of several earlier important theaters. It is still considered one of the most significant theaters in the world. Over the years the Drury Theater has seen its share of historic performances and personnel ranging from Edmund Kean and Lord Byron to Noel Coward to Rodgers & Hammerstein to Monty Python to Shrek the Musical.

Drury Lane Theater
Back in 1901, original plans called for using the Broadway cast for the London staging of Wallace’s play. However, as things turned out, only J.E. Dodson, who portrayed Simonides, travelled overseas. While most of the other cast members, almost 500 of them, were members of British theatre troops, Judah Ben-Hur was portrayed by the popular American actor Robert Taber. Taber had started his career in 1886 portraying Silvius in the play As You Like It with the famed acting company of Helena Modjeska. Taber went on to marry leading Shakespearean actress Julia Marlowe and enjoyed a string of successful stage performances in the 1890s in America. He also enjoyed great success in London at the turn of the 20th century including portraying Macduff in Macbeth at the Lyceum Theater and Orsino in a production of Twelfth Night at Her Majesties Theater.

Constance Collier as Cleopatra
The impressive London cast of Ben-Hur also included Constance Collier as the temptress, Iras, despite the fact that she was also starring as Calypso in Ulysses, another stage epic, at His Majesty's Theatre nearby. She would run between the theatres and slip out of Calypso's flowing robes into Iras's unkempt wig and exotic, dishevelled clothing. Born in Kensington, like her friend Charlie Chaplin, Collier had been a Gaiety Girl before she switched to "legitimate" theatre, specializing in goddesses, queens and romantic heroines.

With Taber in the lead, the play opened on schedule in early April of 1902. Friends of General Wallace who saw him about town in Crawfordsville at the time of the premiere were amused by published reports that he attended the London opening, sitting in the audience with famed actress Mary Anderson. Even the great General Wallace could not be two places at the same time!

The play had received acceptable reviews in America, and many in the English press liked the performances and were overwhelmed by the ingenuity of the production. The Illustrated London News's critic, stated that Robert Taber played the Jewish prince with "rare personal charm" and the whole was "capitally acted," while Collier was coyly described by the Sketch's critic as "very alluring.”

In spite of positive reviews some London critics were not amused and their reviews were scathing. If Wallace, Klaw & Erlanger, and Collins were distressed by these reviews, the thousands and thousands of dollars that came streaming in probably softened the blow. Ben-Hur opened to the largest receipts of any dramatic production for the Drury Lane Theater making over $50,000 in just 20 presentations. As word of mouth spread, attendance increased and the Saturday performances always exceeded $6,000 and its average take in a week was $23,000 making it the greatest financial success the London stage had ever seen. In May 1902, newspapers reported that attendance at the Drury had so hurt other theaters, that certain managers had lost heart and were closing until the excitement surrounding Ben-Hur subsided.

Although some critics continued to take issue with the play, their voices were drowned out by public acclaim. Even King Edward and Queen Alexandra enjoyed the show. They had a specially constructed box in the pit, which was considered a radical departure for royal viewing. According to published reports, their majesties highly commended the drama and its production and spoke of the very reverent manner in which its religious theme was treated.

Robert Taber with
Lena Ashwell
Although he was only in his 30s, Taber’s portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur would be among his last roles. He and Julia Marlowe had divorced by 1900. In 1901 and 1902, he was on the London stage and in 1903 he was involved in a scandalous affair with an English actress named Lena Ashwell. Just a year later he was ill with pleurisy and dying. His former wife, Julia, provided him a home in the Adirondacks in hopes that he would recover his health, but Taber died in 1904 at the age of 39.

At the same time the London production was being readied for its opening in 1902, another staging of the play was preparing for its opening at Her Majesty’s Theater in Sydney, Australia and plans were being discussed for productions in France, Germany, Austria, and Russia. While Wallace’s literary efforts had reached an international audience in the nineteenth century, just after the turn-of-the twentieth century, the stage play was proving equally successful at spreading the message of Ben-Hur and the name of Lew Wallace. The impressive production of the play contributed to this success, but beyond its theatrical presentation, as the critic for Sketches wrote of the London production, this play had the unique ability to move audiences, especially by its "beautiful finale, breathing peace to those who have suffered."



Sources:
Samantha Ellis, The Guardian, 2003
The Crawfordsville Journal, March 12, 1901
The Crawfordsville Journal, April 15, 1901
The Crawfordsville Journal, January 24, 1902
The Crawfordsville Journal, May 14, 1902
The Crawfordsville Journal, May 21, 1902




The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.