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Their Majesties' Servants (Volume 3 of 3) By John Doran Characters: 49507

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In the first half of the above century, if a quiet man in the pit ventured on making a remark to his neighbour, who happened to be a "nose-puller," and who disagreed with the remark, the speaker's nose was sure to be painfully wrung by the "puller." In the same period, those very nose-pullers sat quietly, merely grimacing, when the great people in the boxes found it convenient to spit into the pit! But, sometimes the house, pit and all, was full of great people. Thus, on the night of the 7th March 1751, Drury presented a strange appearance. The theatre had been hired by some noble amateurs, who acted the tragedy of "Othello," thus cast in the principal characters. Othello, Sir Francis Delaval; Iago, by John, subsequently (1786) Lord Delaval; Cassio, E. Delaval; Roderigo, Captain Stephens; Desdemona, Mrs. Quon (sister of Sir Francis, and later, the wife of Lord Mexborough); Emilia, Mrs. Stephens. Macklin superintended the rehearsals, and Walpole was present; for he says of the amateurs, in his characteristic way: "They really acted so well, that it is astonishing they should not have had sense enough not to act at all!... The chief were a family of Delavals, the eldest of which was married by one Foote, a player, to Lady Nassau Poulett, who had kept the latter. The rage was so great to see this performance, that the House of Commons literally adjourned at three o'clock on purpose. The footman's gallery was strung with blue ribands. What a wise people! what an august senate! Yet my Lord Granville once told the prince, I forget on occasion of what folly: 'Sir, indeed your royal highness is in the wrong to act thus; the English are a grave nation.'"

The prince, and other members of the royal family, were present in the stage-box on this occasion; and the presence of blue ribands, in place of livery tags, in the footman's gallery, was owing to the circumstance that tickets were issued numerously enough to completely fill the house, but without indicating to what part of the house the bearers would be admitted. The first who arrived took the best places; and tardy peers, knights of the garter, their wives and ladies, were content to occupy the gallery, for once, rather than have no places at all. Such an audience was never seen there before, and has never been seen there since.

At this time swords were still worn, and evil results followed, to others, as well as to the wearers. On the night of Saturday, September 21, 1751, as the "Way of the World" was being played at Drury, a quarrel, and then a fight with swords took place, between two gallants in the box-lobby. From some cries which arose, the audience thought the house was on fire, and fearful confusion, with fierce struggling, and terrible injury ensued. Many women attempted in their terror to drop from the gallery to the pit. This was not so frightful as it might at present seem, for in those days the front of the lower gallery came down to the roof of the lower boxes. The occupants were a recognised power in the house, often appealed to, and were of very great intelligence and respectability, in one especially favourite locality, the Old Haymarket, as long as the house lasted. Professional men, and poets, and merchants and their wives, sat there to see, hear, and enjoy, whose grand-daughters now sail into stalls, unconscious that there is a gallery in the house, and ignorant that they are of a race who once condescended to sit in it.

In those days royalty's presence formed a great attraction at the theatre; and royalty enjoyed a "row" as heartily as the most riotous there.

When Garrick, in 1754, found that he could not fill Drury Lane,-notwithstanding the ability of his company of actors, unless he played himself, and that his own strength was not equal to the task of playing without intermission,-he brought forward a magnificent ballet-pantomime, called the "Chinese Festival." It was composed by Noverre,-who had treated of his art, dancing, as a branch of philosophy! As many competent English dancers as could be found, were engaged; and there was a supplementary, but prominent and able body of foreign dancers. Little would have been thought of this but for the circumstance, that when the gorgeous show was set before the public, in the autumn of 1754,[4] war had recently broken out between England and France. Thereupon, John Bull was aroused in a double sense,-his patriotism would not allow of his tolerating the enemy on the English stage; and his sense of religious propriety, not otherwise very remarkable at that time, was shocked at the idea of his condescending to be amused by Papists.

His offended sense was further irritated by the circumstance, that George II., by his presence, on the first night, seemed to sanction favouritism of the enemy and the hostile church. Aggravated by that presence, which they did not at all respect, the pit heaved into a perfect storm, which raged the more as the old King sat and enjoyed,-nay, laughing at the tempest! The Brunswick dynasty was included within the aim of the hisses and execrations which prevailed. Had Garrick followed Lacy's counsel, he would have withdrawn the piece; but Davy was reluctant to lose his outlay, striving to save which, he lost hundreds more. As the "spectacle" was repeated, so was the insurrection against it; but the "quality" interfering,-as they deemed it the ton to uphold what great Brunswick approved,-a new element of bitterness was superadded. The boxes pronounced pit and galleries "vulgar;" and those powers waged war the more intensely, because of the arrogance of the boxes, whose occupants were assailed with epithets as unsavoury as any flung at the dancers. Then ensued strange scenes and encounters. Gentlemen in the boxes drew their swords, leaped down into the pit, pricked about them in behalf of "gentility," and got terribly mauled for their pains. The galleries looked on, shouting approbation, and indiscriminately pelting both parties. Not so the fair, who occupied the boxes. They, on seeing the champions of propriety and of themselves, being menaced or overpowered in the pit, pointed the offenders out to the less eager beaux who tarried in their vicinity, and who, for their very honour's sake, felt themselves compelled to out with their bodkins, drop into the surging pit, and lay about them, stoutly or faintly, according to their constitutions. The stronger arms of the plebeians carried the day; and when these had smitten their aristocratic opponents, they celebrated their victory with the accustomed Vandalism. They broke up benches, tore down hangings, smashed mirrors, crashed the harpsichords (always the first of the victims in the orchestra); and finally, charging on to the stage, cut and slashed the scenery in all directions. Some evidence of the improved civilisation of the audiences of this half of the century is afforded by the circumstance that no one suggested that the house should be set on fire. But, the pious and patriotic rioters rushed out to Mr. Garrick's house, in Southampton Street (now Eastey's hotel), and broke every window they could reach with missile, from basement to garret. The hired soldiery could not protect him; nor on their bayonets could he prop up the "Chinese Festival," wooden shoes and popery. This affair cost him a sum of money, the loss of which made his heart ache for many a day.

On our side of the Channel, royal personages have been more amusingly rude than the inferior folk. A good instance of this presents itself to my memory, in the person of the young King of Denmark, who married the sister of George III., and who frequently visited the theatres in London, in 1768. At the play of the "Provoked Husband," it was observed that he applauded every passage in which matrimony was derided; which was commented on as an uncivil proceeding, as his wife was an English princess.

This wayward lad offended audience and actors on another occasion, in quite a different way. In October, he commanded the edifying tragedy of "Jane Shore," during the performance of which he fell fast asleep, and remained so to the amusement of the audience and the annoyance of Mrs. Bellamy, who played Alicia. That haughty and hapless beauty was not likely to let the wearied King sleep on; and accordingly, having to pronounce the words, "O thou false lord!" she approached the royal box, and uttered them expressly in such a piercing tone, that the King awoke in sudden amazement, but with perception enough to enable him to protest that he would not be married to a woman with such a voice though she had the whole world for a dowry. Two nights later[5] he went to see "Zara," Garrick being the Lusignan; and it is to his credit that he sat through that soporific sadness without winking.

The greatest excitement prevailed among the audience when the King went to see Garrick act Ranger, in the "Suspicious Husband." The pit was so crowded and so hot, that every man (and there were few or no women there) took off his coat and sat in his shirt or waistcoat sleeves, in presence of the King. The various hues formed a queer sight; but many of the men fainted. At the thunder of the cheers which greeted his coming, Denmark looked frightened, but bowed repeatedly; and when at Garrick's appearance, the roar of applause was renewed, his majesty appropriated it to himself, and again bowed to all sides of the house, while Ranger waited to congratulate himself on "having got safe to the Temple."

There was little indecorum in Mrs. Bellamy's act of rousing the sleepy King of Denmark with a scream, but greater, and what would now seem gross and unpardonable liberties, were taken by the actors, with their patron George III. For instance, in the "Siege of Calais," there is a scene between two carpenters who erect the scaffold for the execution of the patriots. Parsons played chief carpenter, in which character it was put down for him to say, "So, the King is coming! an the King like not my scaffold, I am no true man." George III. and family were present, one night, at the Haymarket, when this piece was played by command, and Parsons gave this unseemly turn to the set phrase. Advancing close to the royal box, he exclaimed: "An the King were here and did not admire my scaffold, I would say, D-n him! he has no taste!" At this sally the King laughed louder and longer than even the hilarious audience!

Sir Robert Walpole was readier to take offence than King George. He could smile at the inuendoes of the "Beggar's Opera;" but when he was deeply interested in the success of his Excise Bill, and an actor sneeringly alluded to it, in his presence, the minister went behind the scenes, and asked if the words uttered were in the part. It was confessed that they were not; and thereupon Sir Robert raised his cane, and gave the offending player a sound thrashing.

In Parsons' case, monarch and audience alike, knew that no offence was intended, in detection of which loyalty rendered the audience over acute; as in the case when Jack Bannister got into disgrace with the house. "God Save the King" was being sung, and Jack, dressed for Lenitive in the "Prize," stood among an undistinguished group of choristers at the back of the stage. Gentlemen in the boxes called upon him vociferously to come into the front rank, and sing so as to be heard. There was great disapprobation, in which the press joined, and poor Jack, as loyal a Briton as any in those days, had to explain, that being dressed in an extravagant costume, he had kept in the background, out of respect, as his caricatured garb seemed to him to be out of keeping with the words of the national anthem, which, to his thinking, were as something sacred.

Indeed, the loyalty of the actors to "King and Country" could not be doubted. When the Emperor of the French was collecting a host for the invasion of this country, the actors were among the first to enrol themselves as volunteers; and it was not an unusual thing to find the theatre closed, on account of the unavoidable absence of the principal performers, summoned to drill, or other military service then rigidly enforced.

On the other hand, there were what was then called disloyal factions among the audiences, and these drove "Venice Preserved" from the stage for a time by the furious applause which they gave to passages in favour of Liberty, and which applause was supposed to indicate hostility to the British Constitution!

Yet many of these factious people, who did not dislike the King because they loved liberty, were delighted to mark the unrestrained enjoyment of the royal family at the theatre. If George III. roared at the oft-repeated tricks of the clown, little Queen Charlotte shook with silent laughter at the intelligible action of the great comic performers. Once, when Foote, caricaturing an over-dressed lady, with a head-tire a yard in height, and nearly that in breadth, accidentally let fall the whole scaffolding of finery, and stood bare-polled upon the stage, the Queen's laughter was then audible through the house. Perhaps it was all the higher as she herself wore a modest and becoming adornment for the head. Indeed, she was proud only of her beautiful arms, and these the plain-featured lady contrived to display to the lieges assembled, with a dexterity worthy of the most finished coquette.

There was great homeliness, so to speak, in this intercourse between royal and lay folk, in those days, and much familiarity. The young Princes were often behind the scenes. On one of these occasions, the "sailor-prince," the Duke of Clarence, saw Bannister approach, dressed for Ben, in "Love for Love." The actor wore a coloured kerchief round his neck. "That will never do for a man-of-war's man," said the Prince; who, forthwith, ordered a black kerchief to be sent for, which, putting round the pseudo-sailor's neck, he tied the ends into the nautical slip-knot, and pronounced the thing complete.

The royal patronage and presence did not always give rise to hilarity. Tragedy sometimes attended it. I can remember nothing more painful in its way than a scene, at the Haymarket, on the third of February 1794. The King and Queen had commanded three pieces, by Prince Hoare-"My Grandmother," "No Song, No Supper," and the "Prize." Fifteen lives were lost that night in the precipitate plunge down the old pit-stairs, as the little green doors were opened to the loyal and eager crowd. Whether those who rushed over the fallen bodies were conscious of the extent of the catastrophe, cannot be determined; but the royal family were kept in ignorance of it, from their arrival till the moment they were about to depart. While they had been laughing to the utmost, many a tear had been flowing for the dead, many a groan uttered by the wounded who had struggled so frightfully to share in the joyousness of that evening, and the King's own two heralds, York and Somerset, were lying crushed to death among the slain.

On another occasion, tragic enough in the character of a chief incident, the conduct of the simple-minded King rose to the dignity of heroism. I allude to the night of the 11th of May[6] 1800, at Drury Lane, when George III. had commanded Cibber's comedy, "She Would and She Would Not." He had preceded the other members of the royal family, and was standing alone at the front of the box, when Hatfield fired a pistol at him from below. The excitement, the dragging of the assassin over the orchestra, the shouts of the audience, the fear that other would-be regicides might be there, moved everybody but the King, who calmly kept his position, and, as usual, looked round the house through his monocular opera-glass. The Marquis of Salisbury, very much disconcerted and alarmed, if not for himself, at least for the King, urged the latter to withdraw. "Sir," said George III., "you discompose me as well as yourself; I shall not stir one step." He was a right brave man in this act and observation; and while the comedy was got through confusedly, the avenues to the stage crowded by people eager to see the assailant, the audience breaking spasmodically into cries in behalf of the King, and the Queen and Princesses in tears throughout the evening, George III. alone was calm, cheerful, self-possessed, and bravely undemonstrative.

Before we leave these august personages, let us take one glance at them, as they sit among the audience, "in State."[7]

When their Majesties, with the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, and the Princess Augusta, went thus, in state, on October 8, 1783, to see Mrs. Siddons play Isabella, there was much quaint grandeur employed to do them honour. The sovereign and his wife sat under a dome covered with crimson velvet and gold; the heir to the throne sat under another of blue velvet and silver; and the young ladies under a third of blue satin and silver fringe. My readers may desire to know how royalty was attired when it went to the play in state some fourscore years ago. There was some singularity about it. George III. wore "a plain suit of Quaker-coloured clothes with gold buttons. The Queen a white satin robe, with a head-dress which was ornamented by a great number of diamonds. The Princess Royal was dressed in a white and blue figured silk, and Princess Augusta in a rose-coloured and white silk of the same pattern as her sister's, having both their head-dresses richly ornamented with diamonds. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had a suit of dark blue Geneva velvet, richly trimmed with gold lace." The handsome young fellow, as he was then, must have looked superbly, and in strong contrast with his sire,-King in Quaker-coloured suit, and Prince in blue Genoa velvet.

George III. was not always lucky in his Thursday-night commands, and people laughed, when, after the solemn funeral of his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, he ordered "Much Ado about Nothing" to be played in his presence. For Shakspeare he had less regard than his father. Prince Frederick once suggested that the whole of Shakspeare's plays should be represented, under his patronage-at the rate of a play a week, but difficulties supervened, and the suggestion made no progress.

Let us turn from these royal to less noble folk. We find, on a July night of 1761, Mr. Walpole at Drury Lane, to witness the performance of Bentley's "Wishes." He has left a pleasant sketch of the audience-side of the house, whither he went "actually feeling for Mr. Bentley, and full of the emotions he must be suffering." But-"what do you think in a house crowded was the first thing I saw? Mr. and Madame Bentley perched up in the front boxes, and acting audience at his own play! No, all the impudences of false patriotism never came up to it! Did one ever hear of an author who had courage to see his own first night in public! I don't believe Fielding or Foote himself ever did. And this was the modest, bashful Mr. Bentley, that died at the thought of being known for an author, even by his own acquaintance. In the stage-box was Lady Bute, Lord Halifax, and Lord Melcombe. I must say the two last entertained the audience as much as the play. Lord Halifax was prompter, and called out to the actor every minute to speak louder. The other went backwards and forwards behind the scenes, fetched the actors into the box, and was busier than Harlequin. The curious prologue was not spoken, the whole very ill acted. It turned out just what I remembered it; the good parts extremely good, the rest very flat and vulgar; the genteel dialogue, I believe, might be written by Mrs. Hannah. The audience were extremely fair; the first act they bore with patience, though it promised very ill; the second is admirable, and was much applauded; so was the third; the fourth woeful; the beginning of the fifth it seemed expiring, but was revived by a delightful burlesque of the ancient chorus, which was followed by two dismal scenes, at which people yawned, but were awakened on a sudden, by Harlequin's being drawn up to a gibbet, nobody knew why or wherefore,[8]-at last they were suffered to finish the play, but nobody attended to the conclusion. Modesty and his lady sat all the while with the utmost indifference. I suppose Lord Melcombe had fallen asleep before they came to this scene." The piece was condemned, and the author was the first to recognise the fitness of such a fate. His nephew, Cumberland, sat on one side of him, and when Harlequin was hanged in the sight of the audience, as the fulfilment of the last of the "Three Wishes," Bentley whispered into his complacent kinsman's ear: "If they don't damn this, they deserve to be damned themselves!" The piece lingered for a few nights, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to revive it in 1782. So ended the (not first) experiment of introducing a witty-speaking Harlequin, in place of the dumb hero of pantomime.

At the period when this play was first acted, Garrick and his fellows laboured under a serious disadvantage, when attempting to give full effect to stage illusions,-I allude to the crowding of the stage by a privileged part of the public. In spite of this, Garrick could render perfect and seemingly real, on the same evening, the frantic sorrows of old Lear, and the youthful joyousness of Master Johnny, in the "School Boy." In Dublin, there was often more annoyance than what resulted from mere crowding. Garrick was once playing Lear there, to the Cordelia of Mrs. Woffington, when one Irish gentleman, who was present, actually advanced, put his arm round Cordelia's waist, and thus held her, while she answered with loving words to her father's reproaches. Our sparks never went so far as this, in face of the public, but their intrusion annoyed the great actor. Such annoyance was not felt by his colleagues, and when Garrick resolved once and for ever, in 1762, to keep the public from the stage, there was an outcry on the part of the players, who declared that on benefit nights, when seats and boxes, at advanced prices, were erected on the stage, they should lose the most munificent of their patrons, if these were prohibited from coming behind the curtain. A compromise followed, and Garrick agreed to compensate for driving a part of the audience from the stage, by enlarging the house, and thus affording more room, and the old advantages on benefit nights. Thus, one evil was followed by another, for the larger houses were less favourable to the actor and less profitable to managers,-but stage spectacle became more splendid and effective than ever.

At this time amateur-acting was a fashionable pastime, and it had princely countenance. The Blake Delavals led the taste in this respect at their neat little theatre in Downing Street. The Duke of York, who had distinguished himself early at the Leicester House theatricals, which Quin, I believe, superintended, was a very efficient actor, and he especially merited praise for the grace and spirit with which he played Lothario to the Calista of Lady Stanhope, a Delaval by birth. Admission to these performances was not easily obtained. Walpole did not lack curiosity, but he would not solicit for a ticket, lest he should be refused. "I did not choose," he says, in his comic-jesuitical way, "to have such a silly matter to take ill!"

English and French audiences essentially differed in one pleasant feature, at this time. In France it was not the custom for young unmarried ladies to appear at the great theatres, especially the Opera. As soon as they were married they appeared at the latter in full bridal array, and the plaudits of the house indicated to them the measure of their success. With us, it was otherwise. Ladies, before marriage, appeared at the Opera more frequently than at church; and with much the same feelings, regarding both. "I remember," says Lady M. W. Montague, writing to her daughter, Lady Bute, "to have dressed for St. James's Chapel with the same thoughts your daughters will have at the Opera."

At the latter house, one of the most conspicuous young ladies of her day was Miss Chudleigh, afterwards Duchess of Kingston. She was constantly challenging the attention of the house. On one occasion, when a chorus-singer happened to fall on his face in a fit, Miss Chudleigh drew more notice than sympathy to herself, by pretending to fall into hysterics, and accompanying the pretence with a succession of shrieks and wild laughter. Walpole characteristically ridicules this affectation: "As if she had never seen a man fall on his face before!"

But ordinary confusion was as nothing, compared with that made on benefit nights, when audiences stood, or were seated in a "building on the stage." When Quin returned to play F

alstaff for Ryan's benefit, the impatience of the house was great to behold their old favourite; but he was several minutes forcing his way to the front, through the dense crowd which impeded his path. As for Mrs. Cibber, Wilkinson had seen her as Juliet, lying on an old couch, in the tomb of the Capulets, all solitary, with a couple of hundred of the audience surrounding her. This occurred only on benefit nights, but even Garrick was unable to abolish it altogether.

It was really high time for this reformation, seeing that on one occasion, when Holland was acting Hamlet, for his benefit, and all Chiswick (his father's bakery still exists close to the churchyard) was there to support their fellow-villager, a young girl, seeing him drop his hat, the three-cornered cock, which Hamlet still wore, she ran, picked it up, and clapped it on his head, wrong side before, in such a way that gave the Dane a look of tipsiness; but see the respect of audiences for Shakspeare; they refrained from laughing, till Hamlet and the Ghost were off the stage, and then gave way to peal on peal of unextinguishable hilarity.

The author of a "Letter to Mr. Garrick," whom the writer treats with very scant courtesy, remarks, in contrasting the French and English audiences of his time, that it was then usual in France, for the audience of a new and well-approved tragedy, to summon the author before them, that he might personally receive the tribute of public approbation due to his talents. "Nothing like this," he says, "ever happened in England!" "And I may say, never will!" is the comment of the author of a rejoinder to the above letter, who adds:-"I know not how far a French audience may carry their complaisance, but were I in the author's case, I should be unwilling to trust to the civility of an English pit or gallery. We know it is the privilege of an English audience to indulge in a riot, upon any pretence. Benches have been torn up, and even swords drawn, upon slighter occasions than the damning of a play. Suppose, therefore, upon your principle, that every play that is offered should be received, and suppose that some one of them should happen to be damned, might not an English audience, on this occasion, call for the author, not to partake of their applause, indeed, but to receive the tokens of their displeasure. Maugre the good opinion which I have received of my own talents, I would not run the hazard of having my play acted upon these terms; for I think it less tremendous and much safer to bear at distance the groans and cat-calls of ill-disposed critics, than to stand the brunt against half-eaten apples and sour oranges from the two galleries." These calls, however, are now common enough; but the French were before us in adopting the fashion.

Truculent as were the fine gentlemen in our theatres, in the days when swords were worn, they were less pugnacious than Irish audiences in their wrath. Mossop found this, when he was manager at Cork, in 1769. On one night of the season the house was unusually thin, but especially in the pit, where sat one little Major, determined to see all, though he sat alone. Mossop, unwilling to play at a loss, and to save his having to pay the actors whose salaries were regulated by the number of days on which they performed, came forward, announced that there would be no play, and intimated that all the admission money would be returned. The little Major insisted that the play should proceed. Mossop remonstrated, but kept to his purpose. The Major drew his sword and continued to insist. Mossop gently put his hand to his and declined to act. In a couple of leaps the Major was on the stage, where the soldier and the player's swords were speedily crossed, and the two men fighting as fiercely as for some dear and noble purpose in peril. The actors and the audience seem to have enjoyed the spectacle; at least no attempt was made to part the combatants till the Major had run his sword through the fleshy part of Mossop's thigh, and Mossop had more slightly wounded the Major in the arm. Both sides claimed a victory; for the manager, unable to act, closed the theatre; and the soldier, too much hurt to be immediately removed, remained in the house, as he had declared his intention to do.

Since that period the manners of most Irish audiences have unfortunately improved, because the old fun and humour have departed with the exercise of the old license. Not that the old license was not frequently of a somewhat uncivilised nature, as when the Irish footmen in attendance upon masters and mistresses within, being angered by the withdrawal of some privilege, flung their lighted torches into the house, and nearly succeeded in burning both theatre and audience. Sometimes the license had an aspect of rough gallantry. When an actress was more than ordinarily pretty, it was the custom of ardent officers and gentlemen to insist upon escorting the lady home after the play. An incident of this sort once put John Kemble's life in peril. The father of Miss Phillips (afterwards Mrs. Crouch) being, through illness, unable to attend his daughter, procured for her the guardianship of Kemble, who was but too happy to afford it. After the play Miss Phillips's dressing-room door was beset by a crowd of adorers, sword in hand, and hearts burning beneath their waistcoats, sworn to see her home, whether she would or no. The lady was too alarmed to leave her room; but her deputed and faithful Squire urged her to do so, and as she appeared, he gave her his arm, announced the commission he held from the young lady's father, and he declared that he would resent any affront offered to her or to him. Therewith he moved forwards, with his charge under determined escort, and the riotous champions gave way, in good-natured admiration of his resolute courage. It was the more resolute, as the gentleman is said to have then entertained a tender regard for the lady; though, as with that for Mrs. Inchbald, it was all in vain.

Mr. Maguire, Mayor of Cork, and M.P. for Dungarvan, has recently stigmatised the Cork theatre as being a locality which has preserved all the ferocity, and lost all the accompanying fun of the olden time. But even a Cork audience, in the last century, could be shocked. The Rev. C. B. Gibson, in his History of the County and City of Cork, tells us of a tailor there who was hanged for robbery, but who was restored to life by an actor named Glover, who probably was in his debt, and dreaded the summary demands of executors. The process of restoration was long and difficult; after it had been accomplished, the tailor arose, went forth, and got drunk, in which state he went to the theatre in the evening, told his story, exhibited the mark of the rope, and tendered very tipsy acknowledgments to the actor for the service rendered. The audience did not at all relish this part of the evening's entertainment. At present the Cork gallery seems to be as vulgar and witless as that of the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, when filled with undergraduates. The liberty of English audiences has never been dealt with so harshly as that of audiences in continental theatres. In 1772, a theatrical riot took place in the Copenhagen Theatre. In a burlesque piece, a critic, who had dealt severely with the author, was quite as severely satirised, and a fierce tumult ensued. To prevent its recurrence, hissing and all equivalent marks of disapprobation were magisterially prohibited. This prohibition was long in force, and it is still maintained in continental theatres, when crowned heads are present. On these occasions the audience neither applaud nor hiss, but leave all demonstrations of approval or censure to the illustrious visitors, as if they alone were endowed, for the nonce, with critical acumen.

Charles Fox wound up the idler part of his early life by joining in private theatricals. Before he seriously commenced his career as a public man, in 1774, he played Horatio, in the "Fair Penitent," to the Lothario of his lively friend, Fitzpatrick, at Winterslow House near Salisbury, the seat of the Hon. Stephen Fox. In the after-piece, "High Life Below Stairs," Fox played Sir Harry's Servant with immense spirit; and after the curtain fell the house was burnt to the ground.

On the 10th of January, two days later, the Duke of Gloucester and his Duchess, formerly Lady Waldegrave, were at Covent Garden, "for the first time, in ceremony." The Duchess was confounded with the excessive applause; turned pale, coloured, and won by her modesty, confusion, and beauty the acclamations which the audience were willing to spare her, on account of the apparent condition of her health. The marriage of this pair had offended the King. The piece selected by them was "Jane Shore," as illustrative, perhaps, of the evils of dishonourable connections between princes and ladies of lower degree. Two nights after this visit of ceremony, the King and Queen went in state to Drury Lane, and saw the "School for Wives." It is only to be wondered at that numerous applicable passages in both plays were not noticed by the applause or murmurs of the audience.

Walpole gives a pretty picture of the audience side of Drury Lane, on the 25th of May 1780, on which night Lady Craven's comedy, the "Miniature Picture," which had been once privately played at her own house, was acted for the first time in public. "The chief singularity was that she went to it herself the second night 'in form,' sat in the middle of the front row of the stage-box, much dressed, with a profusion of white bugles and plumes, to receive the public homage due to her sex and loveliness. The Duchess of Richmond, Lady Harcourt, Lady Edgecumbe, Lady Aylesbury, Mrs. Damer, Lord Craven, General Conway, Colonel O'Hara, Mr. Lennox, and I were with her. It was amazing to see a young woman entirely possess herself; but there is such an integrity and frankness in the consciousness of her own beauty and talents, that she speaks of them with a na?veté, as if she had no property in them, but only wore them as the gift of the gods. Lord Craven, on the contrary, was quite agitated by his fondness for her, and with impatience at the bad performance of the actors, which was wretched indeed; yet the address of the plot, which is the chief merit of the piece, and some lively pencilling, carried it off very well, though Parsons murdered the Scotch Lord (Macgrinnon), and Mrs. Robinson, who is supposed to be the favourite of the Prince of Wales, thought on nothing but her own charms, or him. There was a very good, though endless, prologue, written by Sheridan, and spoken in perfection by King, which was encored (an entire novelty) the first night; and an epilogue that I liked still better, and which was full as well delivered by Mrs. Abington, written by Mr. Jekyll."

The prologue was called for a second time, at the conclusion of the play, which was acted after the "Winter's Tale." King had long before left the house, but though it was past midnight, the audience waited till he was sent for from his own residence, whence he returned to speak the address!

"The audience," adds Walpole, "though very civil, missed a very fair opportunity of being gallant; for in one of those logues, I forget which, the noble authoress was mentioned, and they did not applaud as they ought to have done exceedingly, when she condescended to avow her pretty child, and was there looking so very pretty. I could not help thinking to myself, how many deaths Lady Harcourt would have suffered rather than encounter such an exhibition; yet Lady Craven's tranquillity had nothing displeasing-it was only the ease that conscious pre-eminence bestows on sovereigns, whether their empire consists in power or beauty. It was the ascendant of Millamant, of Lady Betty Modish, and Indamore; and it was tempered by her infinite good nature, which made her make excuses for the actors, instead of being provoked at them."

Nineteen years later, Lady Craven, then Margravine of Anspach, "having with unprecedented kindness and liberality lent Mr. Fawcett the manuscript of her magnificent and interesting opera, the 'Princess of Georgia,'" that actor announced it for his benefit, April 19th, 1799, with an assurance that "nothing should be wanting on his part to render it as acceptable to the public as it was to the nobility who had the pleasure of seeing it at Brandenburgh House Theatre." On this occasion, however, the house was not so splendidly attended as when the "Miniature Picture" was represented, and in spite of the melody of Incledon, the grimaces of Munden, the humour of Fawcett, the grace of Henry Johnston, and the energy of his wife, the "Princess of Georgia" was heard of no more.

There is one circumstance which made a striking difference between the aspects of the French and English pit. One of the popular grievances which the French Revolution did not redress, was the appearance of an armed guard, with fixed bayonets, within the theatre. When the curtain rises, the menacing figures withdraw a little; but they are at hand. In the last century they remained throughout the performance, and they kept the pit in a purely passive condition, whatever might be its displeasure, disgust, or discomfort. Under the gleam of the bayonet, a spectator no more dared to laugh too loudly at a comedy, than to sob too demonstratively at a tragedy. But Gaul and Frank were not always to be restrained, and they would hiss heartily at times. Ah "Il est bien des sifflets mais nous avons la garde!" A too prominent dissentient was sure to be seized by the sentinel, who escorted him to the captain of the guard, who judged him militarily, and, after procuring the signature of the commissary of police, a pure matter of form, sent the offender, for the night, to prison.

With this restraint, it is not wonderful that the French audiences were coerced into brutality, and that they readily took offence, were it only to show their manhood. With us it was different. The whole house laughed aloud, or smiled contemptuously at sarcasms fired at them from prologue or epilogue, or by implication in the play. It is singular, too, that so late as 1782, though French audiences would express an opinion, the actors themselves cared little for its being unfavourable, and careless players grew accustomed to be hissed, without being the more careful for it. To remedy this, Mercier proposed the appointment of a writer who should watch the theatres and register the insults inflicted on the public by incompetent or indifferent actors, and by incapable poets. It was a proposition, in fact, for the establishment of a theatrical critic, whose judgments were to be recorded in the journals. There was public criticism of all other arts, but up to this time the art of acting was exempt from the censure of the French journals. So, at least, says Mercier, who seems, however, to have forgotten that when the Abbé Raynal conducted the Mercure some thirty years previously, the merits of actors were occasionally discussed.

French sentinels grew careless, or French individuals waxed bolder. Our own gallery was once famous for the presence of a trunkmaker, whose loud applause or shrill censure used to settle the destiny of authors. The house followed, according as the trunkmaker howled or hammered. I know nothing in French audiences to compare with this, except the notorious Swiss in the days of towering feathers and broad headdresses-a double fashion, which he succeeded in suppressing. When seated in the back row of a box, unable to see the stage for the fashionable impediments in front, it was his custom to produce a pair of shears and cut away all the obstructions between him and the delights for which he had paid, but could not enjoy. It was probably only a demonstration of destruction which he made, but the result was effectual. At first the ladies made way for him to come to the front; but ultimately they took down their feathers, and narrowed their head-gear, and the Swiss, shorn of his grievance, was soon forgotten.

This intruder must have often marred the efforts of the best actor; but I remember a case in which the best actor of his day was entirely discountenanced by the quietest and most attentive auditor in the house. John Kemble was playing Mark Antony, in Dublin, when his eye happened to fall on a sedate old gentleman, who was eagerly listening to him through an ear-trumpet. The first sight caused the actor to smile, and that at an inappropriate moment, for he was surrounded by his wife Octavia (Mrs. Inchbald) and her children, the play being Dryden's "All for Love," and the situation affecting. The more John Kemble endeavoured to suppress his inclination to smile, the less he was able to control himself; as his agitation increased, the ear-trumpet was directed towards him more pertinaciously; seeing which the actor broke forth into a peal of laughter, and rushed in confusion from the stage. The audience had discovered the cause, and laughed with him; while the deaf gentleman, unconscious of his own part in the performance, and marking the hilarious faces around him, dropped his trumpet with the vexed air of a man who had lost a point, and could not account for it.

Then, if there were infirm, so were there sentimental, auditors. In the Morning Post, of September 27, 1776, we are told that:-"A gentleman, said to be a captain in the army, was so very much agitated on Miss Brown's appearance on Wednesday night, that it was imagined it would be necessary to convey him out of the house; but a sudden burst of tears relieved him, and he sat out the farce with tolerable calmness and composure. The gentleman is said to have entertained a passion for that lady last winter, and meant to have asked her hand as a man of honour, but-!" There were other curiosities in front, besides this sentimental captain. The famous Lady Hamilton drew large audiences to Drury Lane towards the close of the century, when it was announced that the performance would be honoured by the attendance of herself and her husband, Sir William, our minister to the Neapolitan court. The house gazed upon the beauty, and the beauty was deeply interested in the acting of Mrs. Powell, who, in her turn, was as deeply interested in my lady. Between the two women a connection existed which was little suspected by the audience. The ambassador's wife and the tragedy queen had first met under very different circumstances, in the house of Dr. Budd, in Blackfriars, where Jane Powell filled the office of housemaid, and Emma Harte, as she was then called, was employed as under maid in the nursery.

At this period I do not know that our galleries at least were more civilised than they were in earlier days-that is, our provincial galleries: that of Liverpool, for instance-as the obese, little low comedian, Hollingsworth, once experienced. He was looking at the house through the aperture in the curtain, when the twinkle of his eye being detected by a ruffian aloft, the latter, running a penknife through an apple, hurled it, perhaps at random, but so fatally true, that the point of the knife struck the unoffending actor so close to the eye that for some time his sight was despaired of. The gallery patrons of the drama in London were as rude, but less cruel, in their ruffianism. An orange, flung at a lady in court dress, seems to have been a favourite missile for a favourite pastime. I meet with one of these ruffians in presence of a magistrate, who solemnly assures him, that if he is ever guilty of a similar outrage, he will be taken on to the stage and compelled to ask pardon of the house-an honour at which the fellow would, probably, have been exceedingly gratified.

We have a sample of the coolness of an Irish debutant and the patience of an audience of the last century; the first, in the person of Dexter, whom Garrick, on the secession of Barry from his company, brought over, with Ross and Mossop, from Dublin. Dexter, on the night of his first appearance, in "Oroonoko", was comfortably seated in the pit, where he remained chatting with his friends and supporters until the "second music" commenced. This music, in the old days, was ordinarily played half an hour before the curtain rose. This was a long period for an audience to be kept further waiting; but it was a short period wherein a tragedian might prepare and deck himself for a sort of solemn ordeal. The début proved successful; and Garrick generously expressed great admiration and hopefulness of the young actor, who, nevertheless, soon fell out of estimation of the audience, as might have been expected, from the cool and careless proceeding of his first night, when he walked out of a crowded pit to hastily dress himself for an arduous part.

This was a sort of liberty which a French pit would not have tolerated. It bore, however, with other freedoms. When it laughed, as the children were brought in, in "Inez de Castro," Madame Duclos, who was the weeping Inez, turned suddenly round, and exclaimed, "Fools! it is the most touching part of the piece!" and then resumed weeping. Again: Du Fresne, acting Sévère, in "Polyeucte," speaking low as he was confiding a perilous secret to a friend, was interrupted by cries of "Louder! louder!" "And you, sirs, not so loud!" cried the calmly-angry actor, to a pit which took the rebuke meekly;-as meekly as our public took the verdict of Foote, who says, in his Treatise on the Passions,-"There are twelve thousand playgoers in London; but not the four and twentieth part of them can judge correctly of the merits of plays or players."

Then, considering the measure of respect which actors used to profess that they entertained for audiences, the liberties which the former occasionally took with the latter was remarkable. When Mrs. Griffiths's "Wife in the Right" was coldly received, she laid the blame on Shuter (Governor Andrews), who had neglected to attend rehearsal. On a succeeding night, accordingly, the audience hissed Shuter as soon as he appeared. He defended himself by asserting that illness had kept him from rehearsal; "but, gentlemen," said he, "if there is any one here who wants to know if I had been drunk three days before, I acknowledge that I had, and beg pardon for that." The audience forgave the rude actor and condemned the play.

Again: a few years subsequently, at York, Mrs. Montagu was cast for the Queen in Hull's romantic play, "Henry II." She was a great favourite; and she claimed the more agreeable part of Rosamond, which had been taken by Mrs. Hudson,-the play being acted for her benefit. Mrs. Montagu refused to study the part of Queen Eleanor; and under the plea of illness preventing study, she sent an actor forward to state that she would read the part. Mrs. Hudson's friends insisted on Mrs. Montagu appearing, to explain her own case; and then the imperious lady swept on to the stage, with the saucy exclamation, "Who's afraid?" and the equally saucy intimation that she would read the part, for she had not had time to learn it. This excited the wrath of the house; and some one cried out that the audience would rather hear it read by the cook-wench at the next ale-house than by her. Then, dame Montagu, as she was called, fired by the remark, and by cries forbidding her to read and commanding her to act, looked scornfully at the pit, flung the book which she held into the centre of the crowd, and with a "There!-curse you all!" swept off the stage, amid the mingled hisses and laughter of the house. But she was not permitted to act again.

Covent Garden audiences were more patient with saucy actresses; and they could even bear with Mrs. Lesingham, the handsome and too intimate friend of Harris, the proprietor, coming on to speak a prologue, in which she was so imperfect, that a man stood close to her with a copy, to prompt her in the words. For less disrespect than this, the same audience had demanded the dismissal of an actor, and condemned him to penury. Macklin suffered twice in this way, from the capricious but cruel judgment of the house; and having here mentioned his name, I will proceed to notice the career of a man who belongs to so many eras.


[4] Should be 1755. The "Chinese Festival" was produced 8th November 1755.

[5] Probably a misprint for "Ten nights later," October 1 and October 11 being the dates in question.

[6] Should be 15th May.

[7] See the London Chronicle, 9th October 1783, for the account of this visit.

[8] Dr. Doran omits "this raised a prodigious and continued hiss, Harlequin all the while suspended in the air."

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