March 6, 1849 (Tuesday)

More wet, unpleasant weather.  Went to see Mr. Murdock at the Walnut St. Theatre, in the play of “Lady of Lyons.”  He acted excellently, as did also Miss Fisher.  Met several persons there from Norristown.

For more information on the Walnut Street Theatre, see the entry for January 8.

James Edward Murdoch (1811–1893) was born in Philadelphia and was, for a time, a bookbinder in his father’s establishment.  The stage beckoned, however, and by 1829 he was taking part in amateur productions at the Arch Street Theatre.  His career was slow to take hold; an accidental ingesting of arsenic nearly killed him and affected his health the rest of his life.  He retired temporarily in 1842 during which time he recuperated,  gave lectures and co-wrote Orthophony, or Vocal Culture in Elocution, an elocution textbook.

He returned to the stage in 1845 and enjoyed great success as a tragedian, playing Hamlet, Lear, Othello among other notable roles.  He showed versatility by being equally adept at light and comedic parts. When Nathan saw him, Murdoch was near the pinnacle of his fame.  In the early 1850s, Murdoch toured California to great acclaim and later played more than 100 performances in London’s West End.  When the Civil War began, Murdoch retired again.  He and his sons volunteered as nurses in Union hospitals; he also raised money for the Sanitary Commission.  According to his obituary in the New York Times, “he set the whole North on fire by his renditions of Buchanan Read’s ‘Sheridan’s Ride’ and that masterpiece by Whittier, ‘Barbara Frietchie.'” With the end of hostilities, Murdoch decide to give up acting permanently and spent his time studying.  The scholar’s life, however, was punctuated by the occasional lecture at Philadelphia’s School of Oratory among other venues. For a list of materials by or about James Murdoch held at the AAS, click here.

James Edward Murdoch

from the New York Times, May 20, 1893, page 9.

Alexina Fisher (1822–1887) was born in Kentucky to English parents.  Her father, Palmer Fisher, was an actor and, consequently, young Alexina was raised and educated on the stage.  She was based in Philadelphia and was known for her comedic roles.  In 1851, she married popular Philadelphia actor Lewis Baker.  Mrs. Baker remained a popular actress until her retirement about 1880.

The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride is a five act, romantic melodrama written in 1838 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873).  Murdoch played the part of Claude Melnotte (a role created by the great Edwin Forrest) and Fisher played Pauline Deschapelles.

Sources:

“Death of Alexina Fisher Baker.” Philadelphia Inquirer. March 29, 1887, page 2.

“Death of James E. Murdoch.” New York Times. May 20, 1893, page 9.

“James Edward Murdoch.” Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.

“Lady of Lyons, The”  The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, 3rd edn., Gerald Bordman and Thomas S. Hischak, eds., Oxford University Press 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Simmons College Libraries.  3 March 2011  <http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.library.simmons.edu/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t149.e1761&gt;

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