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FRANCOIS JOSEPH TALMA (1763-1826)

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 380 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FRANCOIS JOSEPH TALMA (1763-1826), French actor, was born in Paris on the 15th of January 1763. His father, a dentist there, and afterwards in London, gave him a good English education, and he returned to Paris, where for a year and a half he practised dentistry. His predilection for the stage was cultivated in private theatricals, and on the 21st of November 1787 he made his debut at the Comedie Frangaise as Seide in Voltaire's Mahomet. His efforts from the first won approval, but for a considerable time he only obtained secondary parts. It was as the jeune premier that he first came prominently into notice, ferred to a strip of parchment, or teller's bill; this was then thrown down a pipe into the tally-court, a large room directly under the teller's office. In the tally-court were officers of the clerk of the "pelts"1 and of the auditor as representing the chamberlain of the exchequer. The teller's bill was then entered in the introitus or receipt-book by the officer of the clerk of the pells, and in another book, called the bill of the day, by the auditor's clerk. A tally was then made of the teller's bill, and it was given on application, generally on the following day. to the person paying in the money. At the end of the day, the bill of the day was passed on to the clerk of the cash-book, by whom all the day's receipts were entered (see the " Great Account " of Public Income and Expenditure, part ii. app. 13, July 1869, by H. W. Chisholm). The practice of issuing wooden tallies was ordered to be discontinued by an act of 1782; this act came into force on the death of the last of the chamberlains in 1826. The returned tallies were stored in the room which had formerly been the Star-chamber. This room was completely filled by them, so that in 1834, when it was desired to use the room, the tallies were ordered to be destroyed. They were used as fuel for the 1 So called from the pelts or sheepskins (Lat. pellis, skin) on which the records were written. The clerk of the pelts was originally the private clerk of the treasurer. His duty was to keep separate records of all monies entering and leaving the exchequer. These records were kept on two rolls, the pellis introitus, or pelts receipt roll, and the pellis exitus, or pells issue roll. The office gradually became a sinecure, its duties being discharged by deputy. Previously to 1783 the salary of the office was derived from fees and percentages, but in that year parliament settled the salary at £1500 a year. The office was abolished in 1834.and he attained only gradually to his unrivalled position as the exponent of strong and concentrated passion. Talma was among the earliest advocates of realism in scenery and costume, being aided by his friend the painter David. His first essay in this direction took the form of appearing in the small role of Proculus in Voltaire's Brutus, with a toga and Roman head-dress, much to the surprise of an audience accustomed to 18th century costume on the stage, and heedless whether or not it suited the part played. Talma possessed in perfection the physical gifts fitting him to excel in the highest tragedy, an admirably proportioned figure, a striking countenance, and a voice of great beauty and power, which, after he had conquered a certain thickness of utterance, enabled him to acquire a matchless elocution. At first somewhat stilted and monotonous in his manner, he became by perfection of art a model of simplicity. Talma married Julie Carreau, a rich and talented lady in whose salon were to be met the principal Girondists. The actor was an intimate friend of Napoleon, who delighted in his society, and even, on his return from Elba, forgave him for performing before Louis XVIII. In 1808 the emperor had taken him to Erfurt and made him play the Mort de Cesar to a company of crowned heads. Five years later he took him also to Dresden. Talma was also a friend of Joseph Chenier, Danton, Camille Desmoulins and other revolutionists. It was in Chenier's anti-monarchical Charles IX., produced on the 4th of November 1789, that a prophetic couplet on the destruction of the Bastille made the house burst into a salvo of applause, led by Mirabeau. This play was responsible for the political dissensions in the Comedie Frangaise which resulted in the establishment, under Talma, of a new theatre known for a time as the Theatre de la Republique, on the site of the present Theatre Francais. Here he won his greatest triumphs. Further development in costume and make-up was shown in his stage portrait of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1790), pronounced a wonderful likeness in Le journaliste des ombres. In 18or he divorced his wife, and in 1802 married Charlotte Vanhove, an actress of the Comedic Francaise. He made his last appearance on the firth of June 1826 as Charles VI. in Delaville's tragedy, and he died in Paris on the 19th of October of that year. Talma was the author of Memaires de Lekain, precedes de reflexions sur eel acteur et sur fart thedtral, contributed to the Collection des memoires sur l'art dramatique, and published separately (1856) as Reflexions de Talma sur Lekain et l'art thedtral. See Menzoires de F. J. Talnza, ecri-ts par lui-meme, et recueillis et mis en ordee sur les papiers de sa famille, by Alex. Dumas (185o).
End of Article: FRANCOIS JOSEPH TALMA (1763-1826)
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