On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH: Retaliation, line 101
George L. Aiken, an older brother of Albert W. Aiken, was, in his day, a very well-known and successful actor, playwright, and author. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, December 19, 1830, and died of pneumonia, in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 27, 1876. He left school before he was fourteen and was employed in George A. Brewer's carpet warehouse, in Court Street, for three years. As a boy he was interested in theatricals, and with some companions of the same age, conducted an amateur theater at the corner of Charlestown and Medford streets and later at Haverhill Street, under the name of the "Spout Shop." Going on a visit to Providence, Rhode Island, where a cousin was manager of the Cleveland Hall Theatre, he obtained permission to act with the company for the six weeks he was there. Here was his first professional appearance, some time in June, 1849, as "Ferdinand," in "Six Degrees of Crime."
From Providence, he went to the "Lyceum" in Boston for a short time, then strolled in New Bedford. He next secured an engagement for "General Utility" at the Boston Museum. That was his first engagement in a first-class theater and his career as an actor commenced.
His greatest success was as a playwright in his dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In this he himself took the dual roles of George Shelby and George Harris in the opening at the Troy Museum, Troy, New York, September 27, 1852. After a run of one hundred nights, it was taken to Purdy's National Theatre, New York City, July 18, 1853, where it ran 325 nights. He dramatized Sylvanus Cobb's "The Gun Maker of Moscow" in 1856-57. His next success was his dramatization of Mrs. Ann S. Stephens' "Old Homestead," which opened November 3, 1856, and in which he played the leading part for some time. The play was rewritten and revived in 1887 by Denman Thompson, and was a continual success for some forty years. Aiken was dramatist at Barnum's Museum, New York, in 1859, but was again acting in Philadelphia, in the Arch Street Theatre, in 1860. In 1861 he was again with Barnum's Museum, and in April, 1862, he became associate manager of the Troy Theatre, Troy, New York. In 1871 he retired to his home in Brooklyn,(1) after having followed the stage for twenty-two years with very little intermission, and during that time he appeared in almost every city in the Union that had a stage, and in a great many that had not, often playing in dining rooms of hotels, schoolhouses, and vestries of churches. He wrote and acted in over seventy dramatic productions.
After his retirement, he continued writing dramas and novels, under his own name and under the pseudonym "Bernard Clyde" until his death. The name "Bernard Clyde" was taken from his novel of the same name, which was published as a serial in The Western World, beginning in No. 6, December, 1870. He also used the pseudonym †"C. Leon Meredith, given as a pen name of George Aiken by George Beck, was actually the pen name of Dr. George E. Blakelee. (Albert Johannsen, The Nickel Library; a Bibliography, Fall River, Mass., 1959, 39.)"
Besides his novels for Beadle, Aiken also wrote, among many other stories: "The Household Skeleton," 1865; "Cynthia, the Pearl of the Points," 1867; "The Doom of Deville; or, The Maiden's Vow," 1859; "The Emerald Ring," 1858; and "Josie; or, Was He a Woman?" 1870. His version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published by Samuel French, in New York, and also as No. 342, Dick's Standard Plays.
REFERENCES: T. Allston Brown, A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901, New York, 1903; Ibid., A History of the American Stage, New York, 1870; F. C. Wemyss, Chronology of the American Stage, 1852; Scribner's Dict. Amer. Biog., I, 1928, 127-28; Moses, Representative Plays of American Dramatists from 1765 to the Present Day, II, 605; George L. Aiken, "Leaves from an Actor's Life," Saturday Star Journal, VI, 1875, No. 278 et. seq.; Kunitz and Haycraft, American Authors, New York, 1938, 15.
Under his own name were published:
Saturday Journal. Nos. 252, 278, 309
Pocket Novels. No. 92 Dime Library. No. 102
Half-Dime Library. No. 261
Boy's Library (octavo). No. 137
Pocket Library. Nos. 224, 447
Under the pen name "Bernard Clyde" was published:
Starr's American Novels. No. 128
SPECIMEN OF GEORCE L. AIKEN'S STYLE
"Fergus Fearnaught, the New York Boy." Half-Dime Library No. 261, 4-5. July 25, 1882.
"Hallo! Who's that, I wonder?"
This inquiry was caused by a loud knock at the door of the sitting-room.
"Some peddler," answered Fleda. "Go and send him away."
Fergus went to the door of the sitting-room, opened it, and found Effingham H. Pickles standing in the hall in front of it, and this astute lawyer grinned at him in a most affable manner.
"Hallo, Pickles!" exclaimed Fergus, in great surprise.
"Mr. Pickles, if you please—there's a handle to my name," said the lawyer; and he crowded Fergus back into the room and closed the door. "Draw it mild, my bold Fergus, alias the Fearnaught. 'Familiarity breeds contempt.' Always pay proper respect to your elders and betters. Aha! not so badly fixed here after all. Might have been worse—yes, decidedly worse!"
"What brought you here?" demanded Fergus, belligerently.
Pickles smiled upon him in a patronizing manner.
"I might be facetious and reply my legs, my bully boy," he made answer, "but I will not indulge in unnecessary irrelevancy. I came to see you."
Having thus spoken, Pickles seated himself in the rocking-chair, crossed one leg over the other, began to nurse his hat upon his knee, and nodded benevolently at Fergus.
Fleda put her head in at the door leading to the kitchen.
"What did you ask him in for?" she cried, sharply.
"I didn't ask him in; he walked in without asking," replied Fergus.
Fleda bounced into the room, confronted Pickles, and exclaimed, shrilly:
"Well, drat your impudence!"
"Fergus, my boy, is this your sister?" inquired Pickles, composedly.
"No, she is not," he answered, shortly.
"But I'm just as good!" cried Fleda, quickly.
The lawyer took a keen and comprehensive survey of the features of the boy and girl as they stood side by side before him.
"Not the slightest resemblance between them, not the faintest shadow of a family likeness there," he told himself. "They are as unlike as chalk and cheese. The boy is a waif, undoubtedly, who has found shelter here. Now for a little judicious cross examination to elicit the truth." Then he said aloud:
"I have come here in a most friendly spirit, entirely for your good—en-tire-ly. Just listen to me, my brave boy, and answer to the best of your knowledge and ability a few questions that I am about to put to you, and it may be the best thing that ever happened to you."
Fergus surveyed him doubtfully.
This vague announcement of future good did not have a dazzling effect upon his mind. Fleda shared in his doubts of the little lawyer's friendliness.
"Don't you tell him anything, Fergus!" she cried, in her sharp way.
"Don't be so vinegary, my nut-brown, black-eyed damsel," said Pickles, insinuatingly. "What a sharp little gipsy you are, to be sure."
"She's up to snuff, and so am I," rejoined Fergus, significantly.
"Ah, yes, undoubtedly," answered Pickles, with his oily chuckle. "You've been kind of knocking round the world, getting more kicks than pennies ever since you can remember, eh, my bold Fergus?"
"I just have," replied the boy.
"Ah! no friends to help you along?"
"None but Fleda, here, and her mother."
"Ah, yes, I see; you were a stranger, and they took you in. Good, ve-ry good! Where did you come from?"
Fergus did not answer this question. Pickles played carelessly with his watch-chain, and scrutinized the boy covertly for a moment.
"Ah, you don't want to tell?" he continued, after a short silence.
"No," replied Fergus, decidedly.
"Why not?" insinuated Pickles.
'"Cause I don't!" rejoined Fergus, doggedly.
"Ah, a very good reason, but not sufficiently explicit. You must have some reason for being so close about yourself."
"P'r'aps I have."
"What is it?"
"What's that to you?"
Pickles was by no means offended by this plump answer.
"More than you may imagine, my bold Fergus," he answered. "I have taken quite an interest in you. I might give you a start in life that would send you a considerable distance on the highway to fortune. I might put you in the way of earning your living a great deal easier than you do now."
"Oh, we are going to earn our own living!" cried Fleda quickly. "All we want to start us is a dollar, and Fergus is going to borrow that from Clint—"
Fergus put his hand over her mouth and stopped her.
"Hush up!" he exclaimed, vexedly. "What do you want to tell him that for."
"Where's the harm?" sputtered Fleda, breaking away from him.
"You keep quiet!"
"I will," answered Fleda, submissively. She began to think that she had been rather too communicative. "But I didn't say nothing to hurt," she added, deprecatingly.
"Of course you didn't," he said; "on the contrary, what you have said will produce the capital you require to embark in the business you contemplate." He took out his pocket-book and selected a crisp one-dollar bill from its contents. "See here, now, Fergus my boy; answer me half a dozen questions, to the best of your knowledge and belief, and I will give you this dollar."
Fergus eyes glistened for a moment, but the next he shook his head doggedly. Fleda trembled excitedly; the bribe appealed more strongly to her than to Fergus.
"Oh, take it—take it—it's just what we want!" she cried, eagerly. "If you haven't done any wrong, he can't do you any hurt."
"On the contrary, I might do you considerable good," urged Pickles, seeing that Fergus was irresolute. "Who knows but what I might put you in the way of finding a rich father?"
Fergus's face flushed, and he quivered in every limb.
"A rich father!" he murmured, in pleasurable anticipation; and then his face clouded, and he shook his head gravely. "My father's dead," he said.
"How do you know he is?" questioned Pickles, artfully. "Did you see him die?"
"Then what makes you think that he is dead?"
"Because he would have looked out for me if he had been alive. I should have had a home as Fleda has here," replied Fergus.
"Ah! you are too young to understand what strange things happen in this world, my boy. People don't always get what belongs to them; there's a good deal of trickery and rascality at work all the time, and we lawyers know more about it than anybody else."
"I'll bet you do!" returned Fergus.
"You're sharp," he replied. "I wouldn't mind taking you in my office, and making a lawyer out of you. I want a boy—one about your size and age. Come, what do you say?"
"No," replied Fergus.
"I will give you three dollars a week—that's more than you can pick up by odd jobs on an average. Eh? think it over."
"No," answered Fergus, again; "I don't want to be a lawyer; I don't believe in lawyers, anyway."
"No, he's going into business with me," said Fleda; "and so we'll take the dollar, and he'll answer your questions." She quickly possessed herself of the dollar, and then added to Fergus: "You must tell him, now, because I've got the money."
Fergus looked a little annoyed, but he appeared to accept Fleda's action as binding on himself.
"Aha!" chuckled Pickles. "Sharp practice that. You'll do, Fleda! You have more reason than he has, which is not generally the case—it oftener goes vice versa. Now, my bold Fergus, tell the truth—you don't know what may come of it."
"Did that dark man, that took such a good look at me, send you here to find out all you could about me?" asked Fergus, quickly.
The suddenness of this question threw Pickles oft his guard.
"Eh? ah! no—why should you think so?" he stammered.
"He did!" cried Fergus, with decision.
"Umph—umph! what if he did?" rejoined Pickles, satisfied that he could not now drive this idea from the boy's brain. "Do you know him—did you ever see him before?"
"Never," answered Fergus, positively.
Pickles looked disappointed.
"Ah! I didn't know but what he might have been known to you," he said, musingly.
"You don't think he is my father?" cried Fergus, scornfully.
"Oh, no, no, no! certainly not—cer-tain-ly not. To my certain knowledge he is a bachelor—he has never been married, and, besides, he's rather young to be the father of so old a boy as you are. By the way, how old are you?"
"I don't know exactly; I suppose I'm about fifteen."
"Yes, yes, there or thereabouts, I should say, though there's no telling within a year or two; and when a youngster is thrown on his own resources, as you have been, his face gets older than his body. Do you know where you were born?"
"Have you any idea?"
Fergus shook his head.
"No; I can't tell you," he replied. "It 'pears to me, sometimes, that I was born here in New York. and then I think I must have been born up-country."
"That's rather vague. How far up?"
"Never you mind; I'm not going to tell you that!" replied Fergus, in that dogged way that he was in the habit of assuming.
"Oh, come, come, a bargain's a bargain!" expostulated Pickles. "You've taken the money."
"You can take it back," answered Fergus, indifferently.
"No, he sha'n't!" cried Fleda. "He came from Rockland county, near the lake."
"You hush up!" exclaimed Fergus.
"For the Lord's sake, where's the harm?" remonstrated Fleda. "You think they'll come after you, but I tell you, as I have often told you before, that they won't—they are only too glad to have the boys run away—then the town don't have to support them any longer."
"Aha! so you were in the county poor-house, and they half-starved you until you ran away to New York, eh?" questioned Pickles.
"Lordee!" ejaculated Fleda, surprisedly, "but you are good at guessing."
"You're good at blabbing!" exclaimed Fergus. "It was easy enough for him to guess that after what you told him." He turned defiantly to Pickles, adding: "Now you know it, what are you going to do about it?"
Pickles chuckled in his customary manner.
"Whatever I do will result in your good, my boy, you may be assured of that," he answered. "It may be that I shall find a father for you and mother too; and rich ones at that, for there's good blood in your veins, or I am very much mistaken. How long is it since you ran away from the poor-house?"
"And you came right down here?"
"How did you get here?"
"Worked my passage in a lumber schooner."
"How long have you lived with your little friend Fleda here?"
Pickles evinced some surprise at this.
"Is that all?" he inquired.
"Have you any idea who put you in the poor-house?"
"No; they said nobody ever came to inquire for me, and they guessed that everybody that belonged to me was dead."
"What name did you go by there?"
"Was that all?"
"You were never called by any other name?"
"Where did you get the Fearnaught from?"
"I gave it to him!" cried Freda quickly.
"You! How was that?"
Fleda explained volubly.
Pickles rose to take his departure.
"Very good—ve-ry good!" he said. "You have earned the dollar; and remember there is always a situation open for you in my office. You know where it is, eh? There's a sign at the door—'Effingham H. Pickles, Attorney-at-law'—you've seen it, eh? Neat but not gaudy. Come round and see me any time."
Pickles opened the door, entered the passage, and emerged into the street.
"Very satisfactory—ve-ry!" he muttered to himself as he walked along. "There's a history connected with that boy or Glendenning would not be so anxious about him. Well, I've got my finger in the pie, and if there're any plums in it I'm bound to have some."
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||New York City Directories, 1858-59 and 1859-60 list him at 61 Elm Street.
Brooklyn City Directory 1869—70 gives his address as Kosciusko near Broadway. In 1872—74 he was at 613 Kosciusko. Jersey City Directory for 1876 lists him as an author living at Communipaw Ave. near West Side Ave.