Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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ALDRIDGE Ira, Negro tragedian, known as the "African Roscius," died in Lodez, Poland, 7 August 1867. The place and date of his birth are unknown. Some biographers say he was born in Bellair, near Baltimore, about 1810; that he was a mulatto, apprenticed to a ship carpenter; acquired a knowledge of German from German immigrants; accompanied Ednmnd Kean to England as his servant, where his natural talent for the stage was cultivated; and subsequently returned to the United States, where, in 1830-'31, he appeared on the stage in Baltimore, but was not successful; then returned to England and began a career of fame. Other biographers, claiming to be better informed, say that he was born in New York city about 1805, that his father was a full-blooded Negro, a native chieftain of Senegal, who came to the United States, was converted and educated, and became the pastor of a colored Church in New York. He intended that his son had should follow the same profession, but the boy had a passion for the stage, and demonstrated his ability in successful amateur performances. His father disapproved of his course, and sent him to England to be educated for the ministry. The son obeyed for a time, but his fondness for the stage soon took him away from his books. After some time spent in preparation, he made his debut at the Royalty theatre in London as Othello, where he met with immediate success. In England he was generally preferred in those plays to which his color was appropriate. He was highly appreciated by Edmund Kean, and appeared at Belfast as Othello to Kean's Iago. As an interpreter of Shakespeare he was very generally regarded as one of the best and most faithful. He appeared at Covent Garden as Othello in 1833, and at the Surrey theatre in 1848. In 1852 he visited Germany, where he played three years, and in 1857 the king of Sweden invited him to visit Stockholm. On the continent he ranked as one of the ablest tragedians of his time. Honors were showered upon him wherever he appeared. He was presented by the king of Prussia with the first-class medal of arts and sciences, accompanied by an autograph letter from the emperor of Austria; the Grand Cross of Leopold; a similar decoration from the emperor of Russia; and a magnificent Maltese cross, with the medal of merit, from the city of Berne. Other crowned heads of Europe conferred similar honors on him. He was made a member of the Prussian academy of arts and sciences, and holder of the large gold medal; member of the imperial and arch-ducal institution of our lady of the manger in Austria; of the Russian hof-versamlung of Riga; honorary member of the imperial academy of arts and sciences in St. Petersburg, and many others. His head was of uncommon size, measuring twenty-three and a half inches in circumference. He left a widow, an English lady, in London. At the time of his death he was on his way to fill a professional engagement in St. Petersburg.
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