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Their Majesties' Servants (Volume 3 of 3) By John Doran Characters: 43440

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

A glance at the foregoing list[1] will serve to show that, from the retirement of Garrick to the close of the eighteenth century, tragic literature made no progress. It retrograded. It did not even reach the height of Fenton and Hughes, in whom Walpole discerned some faint sparkling of the merit of the older masters. After Shakspeare's time, "Theatric genius," says Walpole, "lay dormant;" but he adds, that "it waked with some bold and glorious, but irregular and often ridiculous flights, in Dryden; revived in Otway; maintained a placid, pleasing kind of dignity in Rowe, and even shone in 'Jane Shore.' It trod in sublime and classic fetters in 'Cato;' but was void of nature, or the power of affecting the passions. In Southerne it seemed a genuine ray of nature and Shakspeare, but falling on an age still more Hottentot, was stifled in those gross and barbarous productions, tragi-comedies. It turned to tuneful nonsense in the 'Mourning Bride;' grew stark mad in Lee, whose cloak, a little the worse for wear, fell on Young, yet in both was still a poet's cloak. It recovered its senses in Hughes and Fenton, who were afraid it should relapse, and accordingly kept it down with a timid, but amiable, hand; and then it languished."

And continued to languish; I cannot more fully show to what extent, than by remarking that the century which opened with Rowe concluded with Pye-both Poets Laureate, but of different qualities. "Tamerlane" and "Jane Shore" have not yet dropped from the list of acting plays; but who knows anything more of "Adelaide" than that it was insipid, possessed not even a "tuneful nonsense," and was only distinguished for having made Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble appear almost as insipid as the play. Godwin's "Antonio," played in 1800, was as complete a failure as Pye's "Adelaide."

For the tragic poets who occupy the period between Garrick's retirement and the coming of Pye and Godwin, a few words will suffice. Mason's "Caractacus" was a noble effort, but it produced less effect than D'Egville's ballet on the same subject in the succeeding century. Cumberland's "Battle of Hastings" was as near Shakspeare as Ireland's "Vortigern" was; and Home's "Alfred" died, three days old.

Jephson was, after all, the favourite playwright of Walpole, who says of his "Law of Lombardy," that it was even "too rich" in language! but then Jephson always improved the passages to which Walpole objected. Walpole gave orders for alterations in Jephson's plays, as he might for the repairs of a cabinet. Sometimes his criticism is excellent, and at others, it involves a social illustration, as in that on the "Count of Narbonne." Raymond, in the last scene, says, "Show me thy wound; oh, hell! 'tis through her heart!" "This line," says Walpole, "is quite unnecessary, and infers an obedience in displaying her wound, which would be shocking; besides, as there is often a buffoon in an audience, at a new tragedy, it might be received dangerously. The word 'Jehovah!' will certainly not be suffered on the stage." Walpole praises Miss Younge's acting, and says, "the applause to one of her speeches lasted a minute, and recommenced twice before the play could go on." Jephson, however, wrote fair acting pieces, which is more than can be said for Bentley's "Philodamus," which, in spite of being pronounced by Gray the best dramatic poem in the language,[2] was hilariously laughed off the stage. It was at least original, which can hardly be said of any of Cumberland's plays, except the "Carmelite," a tragedy that terminates merrily! Cumberland was as much out of his line in tragedy as Reynolds, whose "Werter" and "Eloisa" brought him eight pounds!

"And very good pay too, sir!" said Macklin, "so go home, and write two more tragedies, and if you gain £4 by each of them, why, young man! the author of Paradise Lost will be a fool to you!"

Hayley, of whom Walpole said, "That sot Boswell is a classic in comparison;" and Murphy, with undeniable powers, failed in their attempts at tragedy during this period. Boaden may be said to have been below the level of Pye himself. On the former's "Aurelio and Miranda" some criticism was made before it was acted. The author was reading his play to the actors, when he remarked, that he knew nothing so terrible as having to read it before so critical an audience. "Oh, yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Powell, "there is something much more terrible." "What can that be?" asked Boaden foolishly. "To be obliged to sit and hear it," was the reply of Lady Emma Hamilton's old fellow-servant.

But if tragedy languished miserably, comedy was vivacious and triumphant. This period gave us the "School for Scandal," perhaps the most faultless comedy of the whole century. It gave us Murphy's "Know your own Mind;" the "Critic," that admirable offspring of the "Rehearsal;" Macklin's "Man of the World," the most muscular of comedies, which contrasts so forcibly with the sketchy sentimental, yet not nerveless comedies of Holcroft; General Burgoyne's "Heiress," which is not only superior to General Conway's "False Appearances" (a translation from a comedy by Boissy), but is, perhaps, the second best comedy of the period; Cumberland's "Jew" and "Wheel of Fortune;" Colman's serio-comic "Mountaineers," and the rattling "five-act farces" of Reynolds. At the head of all these, and of many others, stood Sheridan's immortal comedy. He may, as he said, have spoiled Vanbrugh's "Relapse," in converting it into the "Trip to Scarborough;" but the "School for Scandal"[3] has been accepted as the best comedy of the English stage. In its dazzling brilliancy, the labour expended to effect it is all forgotten. Garrick took the greatest interest in its success, and when a flatterer remarked to him that its popularity would only be ephemeral, and that with Garrick himself the Atlas of the stage had departed, the latter calmly replied that, in Mr. Sheridan, his successor in the management, the stage had a Hercules equal to any labour it might require at his hands.

I turn, less to newspapers than to private contemporary sources, to see what was thought of this comedy on its first appearance. Walpole was present at the acting, and he says: "To my great astonishment, there were more parts performed admirably in the 'School for Scandal,' than I almost ever saw in any play. Mrs. Abington was equal to the first of her profession; Yates, Parsons, Miss Pope and Palmer, all shone. It seemed a marvellous resurrection of the stage. Indeed, the play had as much merit as the actors. I have seen no comedy that comes near it, since the 'Provoked Husband.'" The chief characters were thus represented: Sir Peter, King; Sir Oliver, Yates; Backbite, Dodd; Charles Surface, Smith; Joseph Surface, Palmer; Crabtree, Parsons; Lady Teazle, Mrs. Abington; Mrs. Candour, Miss Pope; and Maria, by Miss P. Hopkins, daughter of the prompter,-soon to be the wife of Brereton, and subsequently that of John Kemble.

Walpole objected, that the comedy was too long, despite great wit and good situations; and that there were two or three bad scenes that might be easily omitted, and which, to his thinking, wanted truth of character. He does not specify the scenes, and he acknowledges that he had not read the play, and that he "sat too high to hear it well." When he had read it, he came to the conclusion that it was "rapid and lively, but far from containing the wit he had expected, on seeing it acted."

To Walpole, the "Heiress," by Burgoyne, was "the genteelest comedy" in the English language. Of Macklin's "Man of the World," the same writer says:-"Boswell pretended to like it, which would almost make one suspect that he knows a dose of poison had already been administered; though, by the way, I hear there is little good in the piece, except the likeness of Sir Pertinax to twenty thousand Scots."

It was the great merit of nearly all these writers, that while they caricatured folly, they scourged vice; and not only showed society what it was, but instructed it in what it should be. Cumberland wrote his "Jew" expressly to create a feeling of sympathy for a despised people. Howard, the philanthropist, walked, under fictitious names, through more than one piece,-inculcating the duties of love and charity; and the too fashionable or foolish people of the day, by being rendered ridiculous, served to demonstrate, merrily, their own defects. In this application of dramatic literature, the ladies, whom I have not yet mentioned, were as busily engaged as the gentlemen.

If we glance at the ladies who wrote for the stage during the latter half of the last century, and some of them before, we shall find a marked contrast between them and their sisters of the preceding century. There is Hannah More, who introduces into "Percy" a sermon, of which the first part denounces war, and the second draws a character of the Saviour. Of Mrs. Cowley, kinswoman to Gay-the unknown Anna Matilda who corresponded with Della Crusca (Merry), the fastidious Walpole unjustly declared that she was as freely spoken as Aphra Behn. She was the first lady who held an "At Home day," on which to receive her friends. She affected, like Congreve, to despise being an "author," and showed skill in shaping old characters into new, in comedies which still survive; as well as in defending herself against the acute people who had "a good nose for inuendo." In tragedy, she was not so successful; and she winced at the epigram of Parsons, on her "Fate of Sparta," which said:-

"Ingenious Cowley! while we view'd

Of Sparta's sons the lot severe,

We caught the Spartan fortitude,

And saw their woes, without a tear."

Of Mrs. Griffith's plays not one is now remembered; but the author and actress is remarkable for having published, as guides to young people, the correspondence of herself and husband, before marriage, under the title of The Letters of Harry and Frances; and if they describe all the love making, the lady was not likely to have resembled the Platonic Wife, in her own play so called, who laments, throughout, that her husband will not be exactly what he was when he was her lover. An incident, connected with this play, will show how ungallant players could be to female poets, and how free they could be with their audience. In the third act, when Powell and Holland were on the stage, the hissing was universal; and at the end of it the two actors thrust their heads out from behind the drop curtain, and implored the house to damn the piece at once, and release them from having to utter any more nonsense!

The gentle Frances Brooke's novels are better than her dramas,-save the pretty musical farce, "Rosina," in which she has so cleverly secularised the scriptural story of Ruth and Boaz. Unlike Mrs. Brooke, Elizabeth Inchbald's plays are as good as her novels;-in both, the romantic daughter of a Suffolk farmer exhibited a skill and refinement, the latter of which she must have acquired after the period when, a wayward and beautiful girl of sixteen, she ran away from home, and manifested wonderful ability in framing stories of her own, to mislead the curious. After the death of her husband,-the "Garrick of Norwich,"-whose marriage with her was as romantically begun as it singularly ended, she took to writing for the stage, on which she was a respectable actress. In her plays, the virtues are set in action; and there is much elegance in her style. She was so successful, that a friend accused her of inculcating sedition in "Every One Has His Fault." Sometimes, her success was owing more to the actors than herself. King and Mrs. Jordan, as Sir Adam and Lady Contest, in the "Wedding Day," were such a pair as have never been quite approached by their successors.

Petulant Sophia Lee, daughter of a country actor, excelled all the foregoing ladies in one point,-the skill with which she mingled broad comedy with natural pathos,-as in her "Chapter of Accidents." The Lady Wallace was a thousand times more petulant than Miss Lee, without even a thousandth part of her ability. She resembled the female writers of the last century only in her vulgarity, and not in their poor wit. Then, there was Hannah Brand, school-mistress, like Hannah More; poet and actress, mad with much learning,-or with very little, of which she thought very much; and proud as an artchangel, as she pronounced the word! The great feat of imperious Miss Brand was in her "Huniades," which, on its failure, she altered, by leaving the whole part of Huniades out! She called the incomprehensible fragment "Agmunda," and heard it hissed (she playing the heroine), to her great disgust.

The century was within a year of its close, when Miss De Camp taught parents not to cross the first love of their children, in "First Faults." Then Joanna Baillie finished one and began another century, with her series of Plays of the Passions; none of which was intended for the stage, or succeeded when it was represented. The old Scots, who shuddered at "Douglas" being written by a minister, must have been stricken with awe, at the idea of the daughter of the divinity professor at Glasgow composing three profane tragedies in a single year.

In the supplement to the last chapter, indications will be found of the progress of Opera on the English stage. Music and singing were not uncommonly introduced into our early plays, and they ranked among the chief attractions of our masques, down to the reign of Charles I. Under the Commonwealth, and in the reign of Charles II., we had pieces sung in recitative, till Locke awoke melodious echoes by his music for the operas of "Psyche," "Macbeth," and the "Tempest;" and Purcell excelled Lawes in vigour and in harmony, and composed music to the words of Dryden.

Our first English male stage-singers were simply actors, with good, but not musically trained voices. Walker, the original Macheath, could "sing a good song," but he was a tragedian; and some of our songstresses might be similarly described. Mrs. Tofts, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and Miss Campion, were trained vocalists. In Beard and Miss Brent-he, living to marry an earl's daughter, and realise a large fortune; she, to want bread, and (as Mrs. Pinto) to thank the elder Fawcett for a shilling-Garrick found his most dangerous opponents. The "Beggar's Opera" and "Artaxerxes," mark epochs; and after Arne arose Linley, Jackson, Arnold, Dibdin, and Shield, as composers; and Leoni and Miss Browne-the former sweeter than Vernon, and the lady rich in expression, secured rare laurels for themselves and the "Duenna," in which opera they played the principal characters. Jackson's music in "The Lord of the Manor," brought Mrs. Crouch, then Miss Phillips, into notice; but it was not till Stephen Storace began his career, that concerted pieces and grand finales were introduced by him, and English opera rendered more complete. With his operas are most associated the names of Crouch, Kelly, and Braham-which last name, and that of Mrs. Billington, are the brightest in the operatic annals of the close of the eighteenth, and opening of the nineteenth century.

With operas and musical entertainments, the romantic drama greatly flourished for awhile. Indeed, the beautiful and hapless Mrs. Cargill made a romantic hero of Macheath; her tremor, when the bell sounded for execution, was a bit of natural tragedy which excited tears. But of real romantic drama, the most successful was the sensational "Castle Spectre," the merit of which was pointed out by a joke of Sheridan's. In a dispute with Lewis, the author, the latter offered, in support of his opinion, to bet all the money which that drama had brought into the treasury. "No," said Sheridan, "I'll not do that; but I don't mind betting all it's worth!"

So few of the plays in the preceding list have survived even in memory, that there must necessarily have been much suffering among disappointed authors. But it was not merely those of this half century who incurred disappointment. I have incidentally mentioned some of these before. I may add one more sample of the condemned in Flecnoe, who was among the worst of the writers of the seventeenth century, and was also the most independent, or the most truculent, in denouncing his critics. When the managers rejected his "Demoiselles à la Mode," he printed the piece with a preface, in which he remarked that:-"For the acting this comedy, those who have the government of the stage, have their humour, and would be entreated; and I have mine, and won't entreat them; and were all dramatic writers of my mind, the Masters should wear their old plays threadbare ere they should have any new, till they better understood their own interest, and how to distinguish between good and bad."

But poets better skilled than this ex-Jesuit had to endure disappointment. Rowe ranks among the condemned (the hilarious condemned), by his failure in comedy. His idea was good. In the early part of the century, society was beset by the "Biters." These were the would-be jokers of the day, who, on hoaxing their friends, exclaimed "bite!" and exposed the trick they had played. An instance is afforded in the Spectator, of a condemned felon, who sold his body to a surgeon, but who, on receiving the purchase-money, called out "bite! I'm to be hung in chains!" Rowe took one of these humorists for the hero of his bustling three-act comedy or farce, entitled the "Biter." This part, Pinch, was played by Pack, at Lincoln's Inn Fields, in 1704; but that clever actor rattled through it in vain. The jokes fell lifeless, to the great disgust of Rowe, who was in the pit. As the audience would not, or could not laugh, but rather yawned or hissed, the author set them the example he would have them follow, and at every jest he led the way with an explosion of laughter, which must have become the more lugubrious on every repetition. A good man struggling against evil destiny is said to be a sublime spectacle to gods and men; but a dramatic author, known to half the audience, upholding his own piece, and striving to rescue it from ruin by a convulsive hilarity, must have been a sight as astonishing to his foes as to his friends. The poor fellow laughed vehemently; but the house could not be tempted to sympathise with him, and the "Biter" was condemned under the applause and laughter of its hysterical author.

Aaron Hill took his failures more calmly. The public of 1710, at Drury Lane, would not tolerate his "Elfrid." Aaron shared the public opinion, and devoted twenty years to re-writing his tragedy, which was subsequently produced under the title of "Athelwold." Mrs. Centlivre was not equally patient with her public; from whom, a month earlier, she withdrew in pique her coolly-received comedy, "The Man's Bewitched." Elkanah Settle was so systematically visited with damnation, that he was at last compelled to bring out his plays under fictitious names, and during the long vacation, lest when the town was full, some enemy should discover him. Pope was as sensitive as Settle, if the story be true that he was one of the authors of "Three Hours after Marriage," and that the cool reception of this piece caused him to express dislike for the players. Dennis, however, was perhaps the most irritable of his race. When his adaptation of "Coriolanus" ("The Invader of his Country") failed, in 1719, to draw £100 to the house, and was consequently shelved by the management, Dennis thundered against the insolence, incapacity, and disloyalty of Cibber and his colleagues, and invoked against them the vengeance of the Duke of Newcastle, the Lord Chamberlain! Theobald took another course; and when the pit hissed his pieces, he abused the "little critics," in a preface, scorned their "ill nature," and appealed to "better judges."

Gay, considering his dramatic failures in tragedy, found more consolation than most damned authors. The public of 1724 had no sympathy for his "Captives;" which, despite Booth, Wilks, and Mrs. Oldfield, soon disappeared from the stage. To console the author, the Princess of Wales requested him to read this play in presence of herself and little court. On being ushered into the august company, Gay, nervous from long waiting, tragedy in hand, bashful and blundering, fell over a stool, thereby threw down a screen, and set his illustrious audience in a comical sort of confusion, which, notwithstanding the kindness of the princess, marred the self-possession of the poet. The piece, however, went off more merrily at Leicester House than it had done at Drury Lane.

More touching than this was the way in which the aged Southerne, in 1726, took the condemnation of his "Money, the Mistress," at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The audience refused the request made in the prologue to protect the man who had filled their mothers' eyes with tears. They had no particular reverence for "the last of Charles's bards;" nor especial regard for "great Otway's peer and greater Dryden's friend." The audience hissed mercilessly. The old man was standing at a wing with Rich, who asked him, if "he heard what they were doing." "No, sir," said Southerne, calmly, "I am very deaf!" So quietly did he see fall from his grey head, the wreath "for half a century with honour worn."

But "Money" was not more unequivocally damned on the first night than was the "Provoked Husband," in 1728, at Drury Lane. The difference was that the last piece suffered shipwreck, on political grounds, but survived the storm. All the Jacobites in town united to condemn a play, by the author of the "Nonjuror," with Vanbrugh for colleague. Cibber played Sir Francis Wronghead, in t

he face of the hurricane, and never forgot his part, though he gave up all as lost when, in the fourth act, the play was brought to a "stand-still," by the fierce antagonism of the house. Nevertheless, Colley persevered, and the comedy went on to the end. The critics acknowledged or boasted that it had been a miserable failure, but Cibber would not confess himself beaten. The "Provoked Husband" ran for eight-and-twenty successive nights, and on the last of those nights drew £140, "which happened," says the naturally-exulting Cibber, "to be more than in fifty years before could be said of any play whatsoever."

Gay read his tragedy, after it had been consigned to the limbo of such pieces, to a court circle; Tracy read his heavy "Periander" before it was damned at Lincoln's Inn Fields, in 1731, to a circle of friends, who were regaled on the occasion with a magnificent supper. Dr. Ridley spoke on behalf of himself and brother critics, and assured the author that they had been exceedingly well-pleased with the entertainment provided; he alluded particularly, he said, to the supper. This was held for wit, but it was not so neat, so happy, or so friendly as Carl Vernet's reply to the author of the Maison à Vendre. As the curtain fell, Carl remarked, "J'ai cru voir une Maison à Vendre, et je ne vois qu'une pièce à louer!"

Fielding took disapprobation with infinite indifference. In 1743, his "Wedding Day" was produced at Drury Lane, with Garrick as Millamour, and Macklin as Stedfast. Garrick had asked the author to suppress a scene which, he thought, would imperil the piece. Fielding refused. "If the scene is not a good one," said he, "let 'em find it out." This scene did excite violent hissing; and Garrick left the stage for the green-room, as violently disturbed. "There," says Murphy, "the author was indulging his genius, and solacing himself with a bottle of champagne. He had, at this time, drunk pretty plentifully; and cocking his eye at the actor, while streams of tobacco trickled down from the corner of his mouth, 'What's the matter, Garrick?' said he; 'what are they hissing now?' 'Why, the scene I begged you to retrench. I knew it wouldn't do; and they have so frightened me, that I shall not be able to collect myself the whole night.' 'Oh! d-- 'em!' replies the author, 'they have found it out, have they?'"

Fielding suffered as severely as most authors at the hands of the critics, but he was bold enough to publish one unlucky play, not "as it was acted," but "as it was damned at the Theatre Royal." He accounted, however, for such failures, in himself and others, through Fustian, his tragic poet, in "Pasquin." "One man," says Fustian, "hisses out of resentment to the author; a second, out of dislike to the house; a third, out of dislike to the actor; a fourth, out of dislike to the play; a fifth, for the joke's sake; a sixth, to keep the rest in company;-enemies abuse him; friends give him up; the play is damned; and the author goes to the devil." Fielding might have given another illustration,-such as that of the Frenchman who clapped and hissed at the same moment, and explained his apparent inconsistency, by stating that he had received a free ticket from the author, and that he clapped out of gratitude to the donor, but that he hissed for the satisfaction of his own conscience. Again, there was one French critic who took a more singular way still of expressing his opinion. In the tragedy of "Antony and Cleopatra," a mechanical asp was introduced, which hissed as "dusky Egypt" took it up to apply to her bosom. The Parisian critic, on hearing the sound, arose and said to the pit-"Gentlemen, I am of the same opinion as the asp!"

Fielding published his play, "as it was damned," but he did not add, "as it deserved to be." He was less candid than Bernard Saurin, a French dramatist of the last century. Saurin's comedy, the "Trois Rivaux," was pitilessly hissed. The author printed it, not to shame the critics, but to confess the justice of their verdict. "Authors who have been humiliated," he says, "are not always the more humble on that account. Self-love supports itself." After enumerating many instances, he adds: "There are few unlucky playwrights who do not look beyond their piece for the cause of an effect which their play alone has produced. After wearying the public by their insipidity, they disgust it by their pride, displayed in some haughty preface to their drama. Perhaps there is a refinement of self-love in what I am myself now doing, when I candidly confess, that my comedy of the 'Three Rivals' thoroughly merited its fate."

Less reasonable than Saurin was Anthony Brown, the Templar, who produced his "Fatal Retirement," at Drury Lane, in 1739. This conversational tragedy, in which nobody is excited much above the level of every-day talk, fell at the first representation. Anthony Brown attributed the failure to Quin, who, after selecting one part, chose another, and finally threw up both. This conduct, according to Brown, rendered the other players indifferent, and brought on a catastrophe, which the condemned poet, of course, held to be unmerited. Accordingly, down went Templars and the Templars' friends, night after night, to hiss the offending Quin. He was commanded to make an apology, and he did so in his characteristic way. Addressing the audience, he said, blandly, that he had read "Fatal Retirement," at the author's request, and, under like impulse, had given him his sincere opinion of the tragedy, namely, that it was the very worst he had ever read, and that he could not possibly take a part in it. The audience were amused at the apparent frankness of this communication, and the Templars, allowing Anthony Brown to be non-suited, satisfied their indignation by visiting it upon poor Parson Miller, who had been so ungallant to Mistress Yarrow and her daughter. The "Hospital for Fools" was not brought out in Miller's name, but the Templar champions of the fair knew it to be his, and hissed it from the stage accordingly, despite the acting of Yates, Woodward, and Mrs. Clive, and that part of the audience who would fain have listened, if the noisy Templars would only have allowed them. Out of Miller's fiasco, Garrick subsequently made a success, and on the "Hospital for Fools" founded his "Lethe," in which he was famous in the character of Lord Chalkstone.

There is one anonymous author who exhibited a strange humour in his protest against the condemnation of his tragedy, the plot of which had been pronounced improbable. "You (critics)," says the dolorous author, "harp eternally on my improbabilities. You deal rigorously with inferior dramatists, on the score of their delinquencies as to the probable; but when the same fault is found in some great master, like Shakspeare, oh! then you give the word probability quite a liberal and kindly latitude of interpretation. And is not improbability as great a sin in the richest as it is in the poorest dramatic genius?" Campbell's just reply is, "No: we forgive the fault, in proportion as it is redeemed by wit and genius."

This author, so angry at being damned, should not have ventured his plays on the stage. He would have done well to imitate Thomas Powell, who wrote dramas, but did not wish the public to know it. So fearful of condemnation was he, that when a friend, who thought well of a tragedy he had written, called "Edgar," on the same subject as Ravenscroft's and Rymer's, offered to present it to Garrick, in order to its being acted,-"No, no!" exclaimed sensitive Powell, "by no means would I wish even to be known as an author, attackable by all." The mere pleasure of writing was enough for him. He fancied his triumphs; and they were thus never marred by hiss from the pit, or howl from adverse critic.

Some have taken their fate swaggeringly, with a protestation that the public were not so enlightened as they might be. Others have whistled, some have sung, a few have reasoned over it, one or two have acknowledged the condemnation; not one, except Bentley, has confessed that it was just. When the best scenes in the "Good-natured Man" were bringing down hisses and imperilling the comedy, Goldsmith fell into a tremor, from which the bare success of the play could not relieve him. But he concealed his torture, and went to the club and talked loud and sang his favourite songs, but neither ate nor drank, though he affected to do both. He sate out the whole of the company save Johnson, and when the two were alone, the disappointed author burst into tears, and swore, something irreverently, that he would never write again. Johnson behaved like a true man, for he comforted Goldsmith, and never betrayed his friend's weakness. That, of course, Goldsmith was sure to do for himself. Long after, when they were dining with Percy, at the chaplain's table at St. James's, Goldsmith referred to the dreadful night, the hisses, his sufferings, and his feigned extravagance. Johnson listened in astonishment. "I thought it had all been a secret between you and me, Doctor," said he, "and I am sure I would not have said anything about it for the world."

Some poets thought the players had the better time of the two; but if poets incurred one peril, the players of this period incurred another. For instance, in 1777, the Edinburgh company going to Aberdeen by sea, were snapped up by an American privateer, and carried off captives to Nantz. How they were ransomed, I am unable to show.

Walpole may be registered, if not among the damned, yet among the discontented authors of this half century. Chute might be pleased, and even Gray approve; but Garrick seems to have had small esteem for Horace as a dramatic poet. Hence was Garrick, in Walpole's eyes, but a poor writer of prologues and epilogues, a worse writer of farces, and a patron of fools who wrote bad comedies, which they allowed Garrick to make worthless; but yet worthy of the town which had a taste for them! Walpole wished to see his "Mysterious Mother" acted, although he well knew that the story, and the inefficient way in which he had treated it, would have insured its failure. Indisposed to be numbered among the condemned, he ascribed his reluctance to venture, to two causes: Mrs. Pritchard was about to retire, and she alone could have played his Countess; "nor am I disposed," he says, "to expose myself to the impertinences of that jackanapes, Garrick, who lets nothing appear but his own wretched stuff, or that of creatures still duller, who suffer him to alter their pieces as he pleases." In this strain Walpole was never weary of writing. Of Garrick's "Cymon" the disappointed Horace was especially jealous, and he sneered at its pleasing "the mob in the boxes as well as the footman's gallery," which privileged locality was not yet abolished in 1772. Garrick might be the best actor, but, said Walpole, he is "the worst author in the world!"

I have noticed the mirthful dénouement of Cumberland's tragedy, the "Carmelite." Such dénouements were approved by some part of the French public.

When the "Gamester" was adapted to the French stage, under the title of "Beverley, a tragedy of Private Life," the adapter was the Saurin of whom I have spoken, and his attempt excited the critics, and divided the town. The poisoning fascinated some and revolted others. One French poet protested against the "horrible" in tragedy, and exclaimed:-

"Laissons à nos voisins ces excès sanguinaires,

Malheur aux nations que le sang divertie,

Ces exemples outrés, ces farces mortuaires

Ne satisfont ni l'ame ni l'esprit.

Les Fran?ais ne sont point des tigres, des feroces

Qu'on ne peut amouvoir que par des traits atroces."

The ladies united with the poet, and Saurin found himself compelled to give two fifth acts, and, as the piece was attractive, the public were informed whether the dénouement on that particular night would be deathless, or otherwise! In the former case, as Beverley was about to take the poison, his wife, friend, and old servant rushed in just in time to save him, and, in common phrase, to assure him that things were "made comfortable," in spite of his follies, his weakness, and rascality. Grimm jokes over plots admitting of double dénouements, and alludes to the Norman vicar of Montchauvet, who wrote a tragedy on the subject of Belshazzar. The vicar thought that dramatic catastrophes depended on how the poet started. In his tragedy everything turned upon whether Belshazzar should sup or not, in the fifth act. If he does not sup, there can be no hand on the wall, and so "good-night" to the piece. Accordingly, the poet says, in the first act, that the king will sup; in the second, that he will not; in the third, that he will; in the fourth, that he will not; and, consequently, in the fifth, that he must, and will. Had the vicar intended otherwise, he would have begun, he says, in different order!

Ducis adapted Shakspeare's "Othello" to the French stage, for which he furnished two versions. In the first, he killed Desdemona according to tradition. At this, ladies fainted away, and gentlemen protestingly vociferated. Ducis altered the catastrophe, whereat Paris became divided into two parties, who supported the happy or the tragic conclusion, as their feelings prompted them. Talma played the Moor; and, bred as he had been in the shadow and the sunlight of the English stage, he was disgusted with the liberty taken with Shakspeare. One night, when the piece was to end as merrily as a comedy, and the last act was about to begin, Ducis heard Talma muttering at the wing, "I will kill her. The pit will not suffer it, I am sure; well, I will make them endure, and enjoy it. She shall be killed!" Ducis tremblingly acquiesced, and Talma restored the old catastrophe. There was some opposition, and a little fainting on the part of the susceptible, but, in presence of the marvellous talent of the actor, all antagonism gave way, and Talma, with reasonable pride, notified to his friends on the English stage the successful effort he had made in support of the integrity of the Shakspeare catastrophe.

Some authors have altogether refused to despair of the success of their piece, however adverse or indifferent the audience may have been. Take, as a sample, the case of Joseph Mitchell, the Scottish stonemason, but "University-bred." Towards the middle of the last century, the public sat, night after night, quite incapable of comprehending the mysteries and allusions of his "Highland Fair, or the Union of the Clans." At length, on the fourth night, the audience took to laughing at the nonsense served up to them, and as the last act proceeded, the louder did the hilarity become. Poor Mitchell took it all for approval, and going up to Wilks, with an air of triumph, he exclaimed, "De'il o' my saul, sare, they begin to taak the humour at last!"

Hoole, another of the stage-damned, was less self-deluding. When his "Cleonice" was about to be played, a publisher gave him a liberal sum for the copyright, Hoole's reputation, as a poetical translator from the Italian, being then very great. The play, however, was condemned, and Hoole was the first to acknowledge the unwelcome truth. He accordingly returned a portion of the sum he had received to the publisher. He had intended, he said, that the tragedy should be equally profitable to both, and now that it had failed, he would not allow the chief loss to fall on him who had bought the copyright. The watchmaker's son was a gentleman.

Hoole was as indifferent to condemnation as the French dramatist, Hardy, with less greed for money than influenced the latter, who, however, was moved by the proper sense of the value of labour. This French author, Hardy, who died about the year 1630, saw his plays damned with as much indifference as he wrote them. He composed between six and eight hundred, published forty of them, and did not see one live a fortnight. A couple of thousand lines a day were nothing to this ready dramatist, who furnished the players for whom he composed, with a new drama every third day. And it was a day when French dramas were full of incident. We hear of princesses who are married in the first act; the particular heroine is mother of a son in the second, whose education occupies the third; in the fourth he is a warrior and a lover; and in the fifth he marries a nymph who was not in existence when the play began. Hardy was the best of these inferior poets, and was original in this; he was the first who introduced the custom of getting paid for his pieces, a thing unknown till then, and which the poets, his successors, have not failed, says a French writer, "to observe very regularly ever since."

Mrs. Siddons's Bath friend, Dr. Whalley, was not so indifferent to the success of his muse as Monsieur Hardy; but he ranks among damned authors who have accepted condemnation or neglect with a joke. His "Castle of Montval" was yawned at rather than hissed; but as it was acted beyond the third night, the Doctor went down to Mr. Peake, the treasurer, to know what benefit might have accrued to him. It amounted to nothing. "I have been," said the author, an old picquet player, to an inquiring friend, "I have been piqued and re-piqued;" and therewith he went quietly back to Bath, where he lived upon a private fortune, and the rich stipend from an unwholesome Lincolnshire living, which a kind-hearted bishop had given him on condition he never resided on it!

The tragedy of the other friend of Mrs. Siddons, Mr. Greatheed (the "Regent"), was not much, if any, more successful, than Dr. Whalley's; but the author was so satisfied with his escape, that he gave a supper-that famous banquet, which was followed by a drinking bout at the Brown Bear, in Bow Street, at which a subordinate actor, named Phillimore, was sufficiently tipsy to have courage to fight his lord and master, John Kemble; who was elevated enough to defend himself, and generous enough to forget the affair next morning.

Sheridan kept his self-possession under merrier control than this. His "Rivals" was at first a failure. Cumberland, the most sensitive author in the world, under condemnation, declared that he could not laugh at Sheridan's comedy. "That is ungrateful of him," said Sheridan, to whom the comment was reported by a particular friend-"for I have laughed at a tragedy of his from beginning to end!" But this not having been said in Cumberland's hearing, was less severe than a remark made by Lord Shelburne, who could say the most provoking things, and yet appear quite unconscious of their being so. In the House of Lords he referred to the authorship of Lord Carlisle. "The noble lord," said he, "has written a comedy." "No, no!" interrupted Lord Carlisle, "a tragedy! a tragedy!" "Oh! I beg pardon," resumed Lord Shelburne, "I thought it was a comedy!" The piece thus adjudged of was the "Father's Revenge," an adaptation from Boccaccio, of "Tancred and Sigismunda," never played and seldom read.

Cumberland, who bore his own reverses with impatience, and was ever resolute in blaming the lack of taste on the part of the public, rather than ready to acknowledge his own shortcomings, endured the triumphs of his fellow-dramatists with little equanimity. During the first run of the "School for Scandal," he was present, with his children, in a stage-box, sitting behind them. Each time they laughed at what was going on, on the stage, he pinched them playfully, and asked them at what they were laughing. "There is nothing to laugh at, my angels," he was heard to say; and if the juvenile critics laughed on, he less playfully bade them be silent-the "little dunces!"

The dramatists whom he "adapted," declined to be involved in his reverses. After his "Joanna," an adaptation from Kotzebue, had been damned, the German author took care to record in the public papers that the passages hissed by the English public were not his, but additions made by Cumberland. Sir Fretful found consolation. "If I did not succeed," says this frequently damned author, "in entertaining the audience, I continued to amuse myself.... I never disgraced my colours by abandoning legitimate comedy, to whose service I am sworn, and in whose defence I have kept the field for nearly half a century-till at last I have survived all true national taste, and lived to see buffoonery, spectacle, and puerility so effectually triumph, that now to be repulsed from the stage is to be recommended to the closet; and to be applauded by the theatre is little less than a passport to the puppet-show." This spirit of self-satisfaction, and depreciation of the public taste, was nothing new. The author or adapter of "Richard II." (Nahum Tate), finding his piece prohibited by authority, published it with a self-congratulatory preface; but he had already done more in the epilogue; mindful of past reverses, and anticipatory of present condemnation, he made Mrs. Cook say:-

"And ere of you, my sparks, my leave I take,

For your unkindness past these prayers I make-

Into such dulness may your poets tire,

Till they shall write such plays as you admire!"

This was thoroughly in the old spirit of Flecknoe; but of samples of the spirit of "damn-ed authors," having given enough, let us pass among the audiences of the last half of the eighteenth century, whose "censure," in the old signification of the term, was challenged by the playwrights.


[1] Vol. ii., pp. 398-406.

[2] "One of the most capital poems in the English language" is what Gray is reported to have said.

[3] Produced 8th May 1777.

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