MoboReader > Literature > Their Majesties' Servants (Volume 3 of 3)

   Chapter 14 NEW IDEAS; NEW THEATRES; NEW AUTHORS; AND THE NEW ACTORS.

Their Majesties' Servants (Volume 3 of 3) By John Doran Characters: 40336

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


Early in the present century, Mr. Twiss published his Verbal Index to Shakspeare; and this led to an attack upon the poet and the stage, as fierce, if not so formidable, as the onslaught of Prynne and the invective of Collier. The assailant, in the present case, was an anonymous writer, in the Eclectic Review, for January 1807. As an illustration of the feeling of dissenters towards the bard and players generally, this attack deserves a word of notice. The writer, after denouncing Mr. Twiss as a man who had no sense of the value of time, in its reference to his eternal state; sneering at him as one who would have been more innocently employed in arranging masses of pebbles on the sea shore; and bewailing "the blind devotion which fashion requires to be paid at the shrine of Shakspeare," professes to recognise "the inimitable excellences of the productions of Shakspeare's genius;" and then proceeds to illustrate the sense of the recognition, and to pour out the vials of his wrath, after this fashion:-

"He has been called, and justly, too, the 'poet of Nature.' A slight acquaintance with the religion of the Bible will show, however, that it is of human nature in its worst shape, deformed by the basest passions, and agitated by the most vicious propensities, that the poet became the priest; and the incense offered at the altar of his goddess will continue to spread its poisonous fumes over the hearts of his countrymen till the memory of his works is extinct. Thousands of unhappy spirits, and thousands yet to increase their number, will everlastingly look back with unutterable anguish, on the nights and days in which the plays of Shakspeare ministered to their guilty delights. And yet these are the writings which men, consecrated to the service of Him who styles Himself the Holy One, have prostituted their pens to illustrate! such this writer, to immortalise whose name, the resources of the most precious arts have been profusely lavished! Epithets amounting to blasphemy, and honours approaching to idolatry, have been and are shamelessly heaped upon his memory, in a country professing itself Christian, and for which it would have been happy, on moral considerations, if he had never been born. And, strange to say, even our religious edifices are not free from the pollution of his praise. What Christian can pass through the most venerable pile of sacred architecture which our metropolis can boast, without having his best feelings insulted, by observing, within a few yards of the spot from which prayers and praises are daily offered to the Most High, the absurd and impious epitaph upon the tablet raised to one of the miserable retailers of his impurities? Our readers who are acquainted with London, will discover that it is the inscription upon David Garrick, in Westminster Abbey, to which we refer. We commiserate the heart of the man who can read the following lines, without indignation:-

'And till eternity, with power sublime,

Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary time,

Shakspeare and Garrick like twin stars shall shine

And earth irradiate with a beam divine.'

"'Par nobile fratrum!' your fame shall last during the empire of vice and misery, in the extension of which you have acted so great a part!"

There is much more in this style, and it seems rather over-strained, however well meant. I must confess, too, that the writer had some provocation to express himself strongly, not in the writings of Shakspeare, nor in Twiss's Concordance, but in the meanness and blasphemy which Mr. Pratt, or Courtenay Melmoth, infused into his wretched epitaph on Garrick's monument. Charles Lamb has hardly gone further in attacking the monument itself. "Taking a turn the other day, in the Abbey," he says, "I was struck with the affected attitude of a figure which I do not remember to have seen before, and which, upon examination, proved to be a whole length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick. Though I would not go so far, with some good Catholics abroad, as to shut players altogether out of consecrated ground, yet I own I was not a little scandalised at the introduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a place set apart to remind us of the saddest realities. Going nearer, I found inscribed, under this harlequin figure, a farrago of false thoughts and nonsense."

Such falsehood and nonsense helped to bring the stage into disrepute; and the pulpits, for seven or eight years, often echoed with disparaging sentiments on the drama-and quotations from Shakspeare. Nevertheless, those who never worked, as well as those who were over-worked, needed amusement; and what was to be done?

"The devil tempts the industrious; idle people tempt the devil," was a saying of good Richard Baxter. Good men took it up in 1815. Well-intentioned preachers denounced the stage, and recommended rather an unexceptionable relaxation; the sea side, pure air, and all enjoyments thereon attending. But, while audiences were preached down to the coast, and especially to Brighton, there were zealous pastors at the latter place, who preached them back again. One of these, the Rev. Dr. Styles, of Union Street, Brighton, did his best to stop the progress of London-on-sea. He left the question of the stage for others to deal with; but, in his published sermons, he strictly enjoined all virtuously-minded people to avoid watering-places generally, and Brighton in particular, unless they wished to play into the devil's hands. He denounced the breaking up of homes, the mischief of minds at rest, and the consequences of flirting and philandering. He looked upon a brief holiday as a long sin,-at the sea side; and, with prophecy of dire results attending on neglect of his counsel, he drove, or sought to drive, all the hard workers, in search of health and in the enjoyment of that idle repose which helps them in their search, back to London! Then, as now, England stood shamefully distinguished for the indecorum of its sea-coast bathers; but, with certain religious principles, whereby to hold firmly, the good doctor does not think that much ill may befall therefrom; and he sends all erring sheep with their faces towards London, and with a reference to Solomon's Song, above all things!-bidding them to wait for the south wind of the Holy Spirit to blow over their spices!

On the other hand, good men in France were then seeking to render theatrical amusements universally beneficial; and a pamphlet, by Delpla, suggested a few reforms which evoked notice in this country. In some respects, the project was a development of that proposed in England, in 1732, when the idea of turning Exeter Change into a theatre and college was first started. M. Delpla held, that the public required stage exhibitions, but that they did not always know what was good for them. He thought that in every country there ought to exist a theatrical board, or censorship, composed, not of government officials, but of poets, reviewers, retired actors, and men of letters generally. There would then be, he thought (poor man!), a reconstruction of theatrical literature: the beautiful, preserved; the exceptionable, omitted; and the instructive, imported. Historic truth was never to be departed from; local costume was to be strictly observed; dénouements, in which virtue looked ridiculous, or vice seemed triumphant, were to be severely prohibited; and poets, critics, and ex-actors were to be charged with this responsibility! M. Delpla considered that, by such means, the theatre and the pulpit would be on a level, as public instructors; or, if any difference could be between them, the greater efficiency of instruction would rest with the stage. If they were simply equal, the writer concluded that bishops themselves would show their exemplary presence in the side boxes!

The French Government only adopted that part of M. Delpla's project which spoke of a censorship; but as the censors were not competent persons,-poets, critics, actors, literary men,-but "officials," they often came to grief. Their greatest calamity I may notice here, though it befell them at a later period, when a new law rendered the old censorship more stringent. To the authorised officials two well-known dramatic writers sent a new tragedy for examination and approval. It was returned in a few days, with 1500 erasures. The authors were required to modify 300 lines, replace 500 words, shorten 12 scenes, and change a score of names, all of which, in the original, was considered obnoxious to public tranquillity, political order, and dramatic propriety. On receiving the corrected manuscript, the rebuked authors addressed the following note to the censors:-"Gentlemen, we have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of our censured manuscript, with an accompanying letter. We agree with you in thinking that the passages marked for erasure may be of that perturbative character which you suppose; but as we do not dare to cut or modify the verses of Pierre Corneille, we prefer foregoing the representation of 'Nicomède' at the 'Théatre Fran?ais.'"

But let us get back to our own theatres, and to the manners of audiences, between the commencement of this century and the coming of Edmund Kean. Such manners are most strikingly illustrated by the O. P., or old price riots of 1809. In ten months a new Covent Garden Theatre had risen, at an expense of £150,000. Smirke had taken for his model the Acropolis of Athens, and in a narrow, flat street, had built, or hidden, his imitation of the mountain fortress of the Greeks. The house was unnecessarily large, and attendant costs so heavy, that the proprietors raised the price of admission to the boxes from 6s. to 7s., and to the pit, from 3s. 6d. to 4s. They had also converted space, usually allotted to the public-the third tier, in fact-into private boxes, at a rental of £300 a year for each. The pit and box public resolved to resist, and the gallery public having a grievance in its defective construction,-the view being impeded by solid divisions, and the run of the seats being so steep that the occupants could see only the legs of the actors at the back of the stage,-joined the insurrection.

The house opened on the 18th of September 1809, with "Macbeth," and the "Quaker." The audience was dense and furious. They sat with their backs to the stage, or stood on the seats, their hats on, to hiss and hoot the Kemble family especially; not a word of the performance was heard, for when the audience were not denouncing the Kembles, they were singing and shouting at the very top of their then fresh voices. The upper gallery was so noisy, that soldiers, of whom 500 were in the house, rushed in to capture the rioters, who let themselves down to the lower gallery, where they were hospitably received. The sight of the soldiers increased the general exasperation. "It was a noble sight," said the Times, "to see so much just indignation in the public mind;" and that paper scorned the idea that the prices were to be raised, to pay such vanities as were exhibited by Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble, who were on the stage "with clothes on their backs worth £500."

Such was the first of nearly seventy nights of riot, out of which the public issued with a cry of "victory," but under a substantial defeat. In alluding to this matter, it is only necessary to notice the additions to, or the variations in, the riot-in the conduct of which the proceedings of the first night were imitated, with this exception, that the insurrectionists did not enter the theatre till half-price.

First came the introduction of placards and banners, for furnishing pins to affix one of which, in front of the boxes, a lady received an ovation; then speeches were made against the exorbitant salaries of the Kembles, and prisoners were made of the speakers; magistrates appeared on the stage to read the Riot Act, and the public, preparing to rush on the stage itself, were deterred by the sudden opening of all the traps.

The proprietors then assembled partisans by distributing orders, and this introduced fighting. Between the combats, post-horns confounded the confusion. Pigeons were let loose-symbols that the public were pigeoned, and Kemble, compelled at last to come forward, only gave double fury to the storm, by asking "what they wanted," and, on being told, by replying that such demand was not reasonable, and they would think better of it! Lawyers addressed the house from the boxes, encouraging the rioters, and, in allusion to the expensive engagements of Catalani and others, declared that "the British stage should not be contaminated by Italian depravity and French duplicity"-at which declaration the modest and candid public flung some highly-seasoned aspersions at the immoral private-boxes, and retired, cheering.

Watchmen's rattles and "artillery whistles" next added to the storm which tore the public ear. Placards increased. Cheers were given for the British Mrs. Dickons, and groans for Madame Catalani. The very name seemed to give birth to cat-calls. The actors in no way interrupted the uproar. The Times remarked that this was kind, as the public had so often sat without interrupting them.

Kemble made stiff-necked speeches, and the house called him "fellow" and "vagrant," said his head was "full of a-ches," declared they would obey King George and not King John, and protested that they would be sung to by "native nightingales, not foreign screech-owls." The boxes looked like booths, so hung were they with placards and banners-the most loudly cheered of which former was one which announced that the salaries of the Kembles and Madame Catalani amounted, for the season, to £25,575. "Mountain and Dickons, no Cats, no Kittens!" Such is a sample of the O. P. row-the first series of which ended by Kemble announcing, on the sixth night, that Catalani's engagement had been cancelled, and that the house would be closed until the accounts of the proprietors had been examined by competent gentlemen. "Britons who have humbled a prince will not be conquered by a manager!"-in that form was reply made by huge placard; and, next day, the Times told the public that they would not be bound by the report of the examiners of the accounts, as the people had no voice in the choice of arbitrators.

The report appeared in a fortnight. In few words, it amounted to this:-If the present prices were reduced, the proprietors would lose three-fourths per cent. on their capital; but as the reporters could not even guess at the possible profits, the award was null. Meanwhile, the Times suggested that it would be better to reduce the exorbitant salaries. There was Mrs. Siddons with £50 per night! Why, the Lord Chief Justice sat every day in Westminster Hall, from 9 to 4, for half the sum.

The house re-opened on the 4th of October, with the "Beggar's Opera," and "Is he a Prince?" The war was resumed with increase of bitterness in feeling, and of fury in action. Jewish pugilists, under the conduct of Dutch Sam, were hired to awe and attack the dissentients. The boxer, Mendoza, distributed orders, by dozens, to people who would support the pugilists. The speech-makers were dragged away in custody, and Bow Street magistrates sat, during the performances, ready to commit them to prison-companionship with the worst class of thieves; and they lent Bow Street runners to the managers, and these runners, armed with bludgeons, charged and overwhelmed the dauntless rioters in the pit. Dauntless, I say; for, on a succeeding night, they fell upon the Jews in great number, and celebrated their triumph in a bloody fray, by hoisting a placard with the words, "And it came to pass that John Bull smote the Israelites sore!"

The incidents present themselves in such crowds, that it is hardly possible to marshal them. Among them I hear the audience called a "mob," from the stage; and I see Lord Yarmouth and Berkley Craven fighting in the pit, on the part of the managers; and there are "middies" and "gallant tars," or people so attired, addressing the house, in nautical and nonsensical, and rather blackguard style, from upper boxes and galleries; and Brandon is rushing in to point out rioters, and rushing out to escape them; and gentlemen, with "O. P.," in gold, on their waistcoats, laugh at him; and there is up above an encounter between two boxes, the beaten party in which slide down the pillars to the tier below; and, suddenly, there is a roar of laughter at an accident on the stage. Charles Kemble, in Richmond, has stumbled in the fight, with Mr. Cooke as Richard, and fallen on his nose, and the house is as delighted as if he had been their personal enemy!

Then the ear is gratefully sensible of a sudden hush! and the voices of the actors, for once, are heard; but it is not to listen to them the house is silent. A gentleman in the boxes has begun playing "Colleen" on the flute; the piece goes on the while, but it is only the instrumentalist who is listened to and cheered. Then, there is an especially noisy night, when rows of standing pittites are impelled one row over the other, in dire confusion. Anon, we have a night or two of empty houses; the rioters seem weary, and the managers' friends do not care to attend to see a Jubilee procession in honour of George III., in which the cars of the individualised four quarters of the globe are drawn by scene-shifters and lamplighters, in their own clothes!

Because the public were thus kept away, the proprietors thought they had gained a victory, and on the first appearance of a Mrs. Clark, in the "Grecian Daughter," Cooke alluded, in a prologue, to the late "hostile rage." This little scrap of exultation stirred the house to fury again; and when Charles Kemble died as Dionysius, the half-price rioters shouted as if one of their most detested oppressors had perished.

Then came the races up and down the pit benches, while the play was in progress; and the appearance of men with huge false noses, making carnival, and of others dressed like women, who swaggered and straddled about the house, and assailed the few bold occupants of private boxes in terms of more coarseness than wit. Then, too, was introduced the famous O. P. war dance in the pit, to see which alone,-its calm beginning, its swelling into noise and rapidity, and its finale of demoniacal uproar and confusion, even Princes of the Blood visited the boxes; and having beheld the spectacle, and heard the Babel of roaring throats, laughed, and went home.

Not so the rioters; these sat or danced till they chose to withdraw, and then they went in procession through the streets, howling before the offices of newspapers which advocated the managerial side, and reserving their final and infernal serenade for John Kemble himself, in front of his house, No. 89 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury.

The lack of wisdom on the part of the management was remarkable. The introduction of Jewish pugilists into the pit had been fruitless in good; and now I find them and other questionable-looking people admitted to the boxes. Of course, increase of exasperation followed. The rioters celebrated the jubilee of their row on its fiftieth night. Ladies who came wearing O. P. medals were cheered as if they had been goddesses, and gentlemen who had lost hats in the previous night's fray came in cotton night-caps, or with kerchiefs round their heads. The pit was in a frenzy, and so was the indefatigable Brandon, who captured two offenders that night, one of whom he charged with calling "Silence!" and the other with "unnaturally coughing!" The Bow Street runners also carried off many a prisoner, half-stripped and profusely bleeding, to the neighbouring tribunal; and altogether the uproar culminated on the jubilee night.

The acquittal of leading rioters gave a little spirit to some after displays; but it led to a settlement. Audiences continued the affray, flung peas on the stage to bring down the dancers, and celebrated their own O. P. dance before leaving; but, at a banquet to celebrate the triumph of the cause in the acquittal of the leaders, Mr. Kemble himself appe

ared. Terms were there agreed upon; and on the sixty-seventh night, a banner in the house, with "We are satisfied" inscribed on it, proclaimed that all was over.

After such a fray the satisfaction was dearly bought. The 4s. rate of admission to the pit was diminished by 6d., but the half-price remained at 2s. The private boxes were decreased in number, but the new price of admission to the boxes was maintained. Thus, the managers, after all, had more of the victory than the people; but it was bought dearly. In a few years the prices were lowered, but the audiences, except on particular occasions, were not numerous enough to be profitable. In fact the house was too large. The public could not hear with ease what was uttered on the stage, and spectacle was more suited to it than Shakspeare or old English comedy;-and huge houses, high prices, and exorbitant salaries, soon brought the British Drama to grief in the patented houses. Into this melancholy question I do not wish, however, to enter. I have only noticed the O. P. affair, as it marks an improvement in the manners and customs of our audiences. In the preceding century, at Lincoln's Inn Fields and Old Drury, rioters on less provocation went more desperate lengths. Destruction even by fire was often resorted to by them. In the O. P. matter, the insurrectionists did not even break a bench. Mixed with the fury of fight there was an under-current of fun. The combatants declared that they would attain their end by perseverance. They persevered, and did not attain it!

I have previously shown that the second George did not dislike to witness an insurrection of a theatrical audience. The third George was of a more placid temperament, and not only laughed at clowns who swallowed sausages, but at allusions to his own agricultural tendencies, which he accepted with a half-delighted: "I! I! good; they mean my sheep!" or some equally bright exclamation. As guests, he did not invite actors to his house; but his eldest son was more, and unnecessarily, condescending.

When Prince of Wales, and subsequently as Prince Regent, actors and managers were not unfrequently invited to Carlton House. The former seem to have appreciated their position better than the latter, at least as far as we may learn from instances afforded by the elder Bannister and the younger Colman. Charles Bannister told Mr. Adolphus, who had questioned him as to the Prince's bearing, whether it resembled that of Prince Hal, amid his boon companions? "The Prince never assumed familiarity with us, though his demeanour was always most gracious. We public performers sat all together, as all guests took their places, according to their rank; our conversation was to ourselves, and we never mixed in that of the general party, further than to answer questions. At proper moments, with inimitable politeness, he would suggest that he should be pleased with a song, and the individual selected received his highest reward in praises which his royal highness bestowed with an excellent judgment, and expressed with a taste peculiar to himself."

When the younger Colman obtained a day-rule from the King's Bench, in 1811, to dine at Carlton House, whither he was conveyed by the Duke of York, dramatic literature was not so pleasantly represented as the stage had previously been in the persons of Charles Bannister and his comrades. The guest behaved like a boor, the host still like a gentleman. Among the offensive queries put by the former to the Duke, was-"Who is that fine-looking fellow at the head of the table?" The Duke urged him to be silent, lest he get into a scrape. Colman would not be anything but ruffianly, and raising his voice, he exclaimed,-"No! no! I want to know who that fine square-shouldered magnificent-looking, agreeable fellow is, at the end of the table!" The Duke remonstrated; saying, "You know it is the Prince." "Why, then," said George, "he is your elder brother! I declare he doesn't look half your age. Well! I remember the time when he sang a good song, and as I'm out for a lark, for one day only, he will not refuse an old playfellow, if he is the same good fellow that he used to be." The Prince, with more condescension than was warrantable, laughed, and then sang a song, which, being done, Colman roared out applause at the magnificent voice, and with a round oath, expressed his determination to engage the singer for the next season at his own theatre! Peake, who tells the story in fuller detail, in his Memoirs of the Colman Family, adds that the Prince was not offended, and that Colman was, subsequently, his guest. If so, the former had forgotten, since Charles Bannister's days, that propriety which the actor so justly admired.

To the list of pieces by which this chapter is preceded, I direct the attention of those who desire to know the character of our stage literature half a century ago. I will not go so far as Gifford, who, on contemplating a similar list, remarked: "All the fools in the kingdom seem to have risen up and exclaimed, with one voice,-Let us write for the Theatres!" But the censure of Leigh Hunt is almost as strong, when he says, that being present at the comedies of Reynolds and Dibdin, he laughed heartily at the actors; but, somehow or other, never recollected a word of the dialogue! The truth is, that the actors, tragic as well as comic, were superior to the authors, especially to those who wrote parts expressly for them, and composed tipsy grimacers for Munden, and chatterers for Fawcett, and voluble gentlemen for Lewis; and, let the scene of the play be in what remote part of the world it might, always introduced an Irishman, because Johnstone was there, ready and richly able, to play it. The authors thus depended on the actors, and not on themselves; and this was so much the case that Leigh Hunt remarked, that the loss of Lewis would be as rheumatism to Reynolds; and the loss of Munden, "who gives such agreeable variety of grin, would affect him little less than lock-jaw!" The old sentimental comedy was bad enough, and we rejoice to this day that Goldsmith overthrew it; but he was followed by writers who mingled sentiment and farce together, who extorted tears, exacted rude laughter, and violated nature in every sense. With all this, however,-vapid in the reading, as some of these productions now appear, they reflected, with great distortion, no doubt, the manners of the times, and suggested, with some awkwardness, how those manners might be improved. The more obtrusively loyal such writers affected to be, the more loudly their clap-traps were applauded. The absence of servile sentiment, and the suspicion of the author being led by liberal principles in politics, could only bring down upon him condemnation. Poor Holcroft, who went through so many painful varieties of life, and who was a radical before the radical era, was one of the ablest writers of what was then called comedy, but he often failed, because of his politics, and was then taunted for his failure, and that by brother dramatists. "Holcroft has done nothing for literature," says Charles Dibdin; "because, perhaps, he has done little for morality, less for truth, and nothing for social order!" Holcroft belongs, indeed, to two centuries; but if the Administration had hanged him, as they wished to do, in 1794, when he took his trial for high treason, the author of the Road to Ruin would not have added his adaptation of "Deaf and Dumb," and the very first of melodramas, the "Tale of Mystery," to the list of his deserved successes.

The younger Colman justified the writing of nonsense, by metrically asking:-

"If we give trash, as some poor critics say,

Why flocks an audience nightly to our play?"

Nevertheless, there were authors who, in the French phrase, had frequently to "sup at the 'Bagpipes,'" like the minor French playwright, Dancourt, who was accustomed to failure, but who used to find solace under the catastrophe by supping joyously with his friends, at an inn with the above sign. One night, his candid daughter was present at the first representation of one of Dancourt's little comedies. At the close of the second scene, the sibilations commenced, and mademoiselle thereupon turned gaily to her sire, with the pleasant remark, "Papa, you are going to sup to-night at the 'Bagpipes!'" The Regent Duke of Orleans was less tender towards a dramatist who bitterly complained to him, not merely that his piece had been hissed, but that he had been horsewhipped by some of the audience, who disliked the coarse raillery of his satire. "Well," said the Duke, having listened to the complaint, "what is it you now want?" "Justice," answered the author. "I think," replied his highness, coolly, "I think you have had that already!"

English managers found authors quite as unreasonable. Early in the present century, there existed a writer of tragedies, named Masterton. Failing to get any of them represented, he printed one, the "Seducer," in 1811;-promising to publish all his rejected pieces, if his specimen tragedy obtained approval. His object, of course, was to shame the managers. Like most of the authors of this century, Mr. Masterton took Otway for his model,-but he did it after this wise-

"Beware, Olivia, of the wiles of man!-

You've seen one suck an orange in the street;

And when he's feasted, fling the rind away?

So will a man, who has despoiled a woman,-

When all's ta'en from her, cast her in the dirt."

Hayley was angry enough when the public damned his "Eudora," which act he thought, manifested only the bad taste of the public, seeing that his play had received the sanction of Lieutenant-General Burgoyne; but if Hayley knew little of practical triumphs of temper, and exhibited small discretion in printing his rejected tragedy, he at least showed that his tragedy was free from such nonsense as we find in Mr. Masterton's.

The two authors who most strongly contrast with each other as to their feelings under a disagreeable verdict, were Charles Lamb and Godwin. The former was present on the night that his farce, "Mr. H.," was played, and he heartily joined in the shower of hisses with which it was assailed by the audience. This was in juster taste than the conduct of Godwin, who sat in the pit, stoically indifferent, in all appearance, to the indifference of the audience to his tragedy-"Antonio." As the act-drop descended, without applause or disapprobation, the author grimly observed that such was exactly the effect he had laboured to produce. And as the piece proceeded amid similar demonstrations of contemptuous indifference, "I would not for the world," said poor Godwin, "have the excitement set in too early."

I question, however, if anything superior to "Antonio" was produced between 1800 and the first appearance of Edmund Kean. Soon after that event came Sheil, Maturin, Proctor, and a greater than any of them, Sheridan Knowles. Sheil wrote his tragedy, "Adelaide," expressly for Miss O'Neill; everything was sacrificed to one character,-and "Adelaide" proved a failure. The poem, however, contained promise of a poet. There was originality, at least there was no servile imitation, in the style, which was not indeed without inflation, and thundering phrases and conceits,-but there was, withal, a weakness, from which, if the writer ever extricated himself, it was only to fall into greater defect. The story is romantic, and something after the fashion of the day, in which there was an apotheosis for every romantic villain. Such a villain is Lunenberg, who, as he remarks in an early part of the play, had lured Adelaide's unsuspecting innocence,-

"And with a semblance of religious rites,

Abused thy trust, and plunged thee into shame."

This sorry rascal treats the lady so ill that she is driven to take poison, and Lunenberg, after fighting her brother Albert, and heroically running on his sword, dies with sentimental phrases in his mouth of pure and hallowed happiness to come, and with the prophecy that "when the sound of heaven shall raise the dead," he and Adelaide would "awake in one another's arms," which is a very bold image, to say the least of it.

Adelaide herself is so feeble a personage, in nothing superior to the heroines of the Leadenhall Street romances of the time, that she fails to win or to exact sympathy. How very silly a young lady she is, may be seen by her dying speech to the villain who had deceived her by a false marriage-

"When I am dead,

As speedily I shall be, let my grave

Be very humble in that mournful spot.

I pray thee, sometimes visit it at eve,

And when you look upon the fading rose

That grows beside a pillar down the aisle,

And watch it drooping in the twilight dews,

Then think of one who bloomed a little while,

E'en as that sickly rose, and bloomed to die."

There is more here of the small sweets of Anna Matilda than of the pathos and harmony of Otway, or the vigour of Lee.

Whatever promise this first tragedy gave, there was nothing of realisation in the author's next tragedy, the "Apostate." In this piece, Hermeya, the Moslem hero, renounces his faith, for love of the Christian lady Florinda, who is so perplexed between love and duty, even more than he between love and patriotism, that she at length finds expression for her condition in the unusually majestic line-"This is too much for any mortal creature!"-a line which was echoed by more than one critic. "Adelaide" was feeble; the "Apostate," in place of being stronger, was only furious. There was the bombast of Lee, but none of his brilliancy; the hideousness of his images without anything of their grand picturesqueness. Florinda, looking on at the execution of Hermeya, exclaims-

"Lo! they wrench his heart away:

They drink his gushing blood!"

-and when a compassionate gentleman requests that the lady may be removed, she sets forth this series of screaming remarks:-

"You shall not tear me hence; No!-Never! never!

He is my lord!-My husband!-Death!-'twas death!

Death married us together!-Here I will dig

A bridal bed, and we'll lie there for ever!

I will not go!-Ha! You may pluck my heart out,

I will never go!-Help!-Help!-Hermeya!

They drag me to Pescara's cursed bed!

They rend the chains of fire that bind me to thee!

Help!-Help!"

-and so, screaming, she dies. Not thus, despite some raving, was Belvidera frantic, calling on Jaffier;-and the audience failed to see a second Otway in Lalor Sheil.

It has hardly fared better with Maturin, who wrote especially for Edmund Kean. The year 1816 produced this new dramatic writer, and also a new actress of great promise, in Miss Somerville, who made her first appearance at Drury Lane, in Maturin's tragedy of "Bertram, or the Castle of St. Aldobrand," which was played for the first time on May the 9th. The plot is of the romantic school. Imogine, loving and loved by an exiled ruffian (Bertram), marries, in his absence, Bertram's enemy, St. Aldobrand, in order to save her sire from ruin. Bertram, the outcast, is wrecked near the castle of the wedded pair; and of course the old lovers encounter each other. From this time, with some hesitations of decency, all goes wrong. Imogine forgets her duty to her husband, whom Bertram kills, after seducing his wife. He, moreover, treats the lady very ungallantly; and Imogine, gaining nothing by her lapse from righteousness of life, goes mad, and dies; whereupon, Bertram, finding the world emphatically unpleasant, kills himself, with considerable self-exultation that he, captain of a robber band, who had lived with desperate men in desperate ways,-

"Died no felon's death;

A warrior's weapon freed a warrior's soul!"

There is no moral to this piece; but there is some beauty of language, with a load of bombast, and an old-world amount of fierce sentiment and grotesque horrors. Among the last may be enumerated, Bertram sitting with the body of the murdered Aldobrand; and Imogine sitting with that of her child,-who had been a good angel, of the best intentions, but never in time to save his mother from mischief. The German element-in story, style, speech, and minute stage-directions-prevails throughout the piece, which had a greater success than it deserved.

If Maturin, in this tragedy, followed the German model rather than strove to imitate the touching melody of Rowe, and the unaffected but energetic tenderness of Otway,-he brought back to the stage some of the grosser features of the dramas of the preceding centuries, which lowered the standard of woman, and made her not less eager to be won than dishonest lovers were to woo. The same villainous spirit marked the epilogue, furnished by the Hon. George Lamb (afterwards Viscount Melbourne). In it, the villainous Bertram was covered with the dignity of a hero; and of woman, generally, it was said by the writer, that-"Vice, on her bosom, lulls remorseful care."

As in the case of Sheil, Maturin's second tragedy, "Manuel," did not fulfil even the small promise of his first; and, after "Bertram," "Manuel" was found insipid,-but more pretentious, roaring, and bombastic. The interest of the play hangs on one incident. Manuel's son is reported as slain in battle; but Manuel accuses his kinsman, and once heir, before that son was born (De Zelos), of having murdered him. Trial by battle ensues, between Torrismond, son of De Zelos, and a stranger, who offers himself as champion of Manuel. This champion (Murad) is vanquished: and he confesses to have been the murderer, at the instigation of De Zelos; but, having been uneasy in his mind ever since, he had come to risk and render his own life, by way of expiation. The instigator stabs himself; Manuel dies; and of course there is no wedding for Victoria, the daughter of the latter, and her lover (Torrismond), the son of De Zelos.

A droll, minor incident, in this tragedy, is that in which De Zelos, when hiring the assassin, and very much desiring to be unknown, gives him a dagger, with the owner's name upon the haft. Thereby, of course, he is ultimately known and betrayed; and it was suggested, that the incident might have authorised the writer to call his tragedy a comedy, and to give it the name of the "Absent Man." For violation of nature, common sense, and I may add, sound, this tragedy of Maturin's equals anything of the kind produced in the earliest ages of the drama. To Edmund Kean, in the very bloom of his fame and best of his strength, was raving, like the following, consigned. De Zelos has just died,-hiding his face,-probably ashamed of the whole business, whereupon Manuel exclaims, spasmodically:-

"False!-False!-ye cursed judges!-do ye hide him?

I'll grasp the thunderbolt! rain storms of fire!

There!-There!-I strike! The whizzing bolt hath struck him.

He shrieks! His heart's blood hisses in the flames!

Fiends rend him! lightnings sear him! hell gapes for him!

Oh! I am sick with death! (Staggering among the bodies.)

Alonzo! Victoria!-I call, and none answer me!

I stagger up and down, an old man, and none to guide me:

Not one! (Takes Victoria's hand.) Cold! cold! That was an ice-bolt!

I shiver! It grows very dark! Alonzo! Victoria!-Very-very

dark! (Dies.)"

There is no such nonsense as this in the tragedies of Proctor, Milman, or Sheridan Knowles. "Mirandola," "Fazio," and "Virginius," will never want readers; and "Virginius," especially, will never want an audience, if it be but fittingly represented. The principal character in "Virginius" was written expressly for Edmund Kean; but mere and lucky accident conveyed it to Mr. Macready, who found therein golden opportunity, and knew how to avail himself of it. To the former, with a sketch of whose career I close my contributions towards a History of the English Stage, may be happily applied the lines of the French poet:-

"Ce glorieux acteur,

Des plus fameux héros fameux imitateur;

Du théatre Anglais, la splendeur et la gloire,

Mais si mauvais acteur dedans sa propre histoire."

* * *

KEAN AS SIR GILES OVERREACH.

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