« AnteriorContinuar »
of the middling and poorer classes, has no little effect in checking the rancorous feelings of envy which superior birth, wealth and station are apt enough to engender. The possessors of those obnoxious advantages are pardoned on account of the good humour and frankness with which they are worn; and a courtier, by laughing at the Beggar's Opera, like a bonny Scot applauding Sir Pertinax Mac Sycophant, disarms what he confronts. When the presence of the sovereign himself graces the audience, takes a part in the general pleasure of the evening, and renders generous or patriotic sentiments more energetically effective, by sharing in the enthusiasm which they call forth from his subjects of all ranks— this gives the royal sanction as it were to the approbation of lords and commons. The late King expressed that sentiment strongly when advised to abstain from attending the theatre after the madman Hatfield's attempt upon his life. Mr. Boaden has given us the words:— > “If with my family I cannot enjoy my amusements in the midst of my people, let them take my life, for existence is not worth holding upon such conditions.”—vol. ii. p. 263. - His present Majesty also occasionally gives his subjects this gratification, and receives an affectionate welcome—such as could neither be dictated by power nor checked by faction. A theatre speaks truth. In short, the drama is in ours, and in most civilized countries, an engine 4.". the most powerful effect on the manners of society. The frequency of reference, quotation and allusion to plays of all kinds, from the masterpieces of Shakspeare's genius down to the farce which has the run of a season, gives a dramatic colouring to conversation and habits of expression; and those who look into the matter strictly will be surprized to find, how much our ordinary language and ordinary ideas are modified by what we have seen and heard on the stage. We admit, as broadly as can be demanded, that the stage has been made, and is capable of being rendered again, as powerful an instrument for evil as for good. In this respect it is like the printing press, or rather like literature itself, which finds employment both for the actor and the printer, a tremendous power, which, as its energies are directed, may contribute to the welfare or to the ruin of a country. So the most efficacious medicines, ignorantly or maliciously administered, become the strongest poisons. But our purpose in having detained the reader with these preliminary observations is to persuade him of the consequence of the subject, and to serve as introduction to some remarks which we have to offer on the present state of our theatres, and the improvements which might bring these institutions nearer i. the the state of perfection of which we have theoretically considered the drama as susceptible. , . In the mean time, we must not altogether forget the works of which the titles are prefixed to this Article. This, to be sure, is a fashion with our caste, from which we do not pretend altogether te exculpate ourselves. If we admit not a fair and impartial division betwixt the reviewers and the reviewed, the neglected authors have a right to share the impatience of the witty Charles Townsend. When he came to Scotland, after having married a lady of that nation of the very highest rank, large fortune, and extensive connections, the tide of relations, friends and vassals who thronged to welcome the bride were so negligent of her husband as to leave him in the hall while they hurried his lady forwards into the state apartments, until he checked their haste by exclaiming “for Heaven's sake, gentlemen, consider I am at least Prince George of Denmark.’ Messrs. Kelly and Boaden would have the same reason.to complain of us, should we altogether forget them in an Article which we have decorated with their names. But they must wait at the bottom of the stairs, with gentle patience, for five minutes longer: we will show them up presently. The same circumstances, which give the drama itself interest, induce us to be curious investigators into the history of the art, and the sives of its chief professors in former times. The grave may think what they will of the levity of such pursuits: but as many folios and small quartos of the antique cast have been bestowed in behalf of Thalia and Melpomene as in that of the most serious of their sisters. But this is not all; we are not to be contented with the scraps which can be collected about Burbadge and Alleyn Kempe and Taylor:—we must also learn what can be told of the distinguished performers of our own time. We want to see these when divested of the pomp and circumstance with which the scene invests them. We desire to know whether we may venture to speak above our breath, or be guilty of a smile, in the presence of Mrs. Siddons; whether it be possible to look grave in that of Liston; whether Matthews has as many dramatic portraits in his gallery as he can present in his own person; if he who plays thé fool on the stage can be a man of sense in the parlour; and if the heroine looks still the angel after she has laid
aside her chopine, and come down a step nearer to the earth. And let it not be said that this inquiry into the private history of the scenic artists is capricious, or resembles that of a child who cries to have the toy which has been shown him placed in his own hand that he may see what it is made of. On the contrary, there is a natural touch of philosophy in our curiosity. It is a rational enough wish to discover what sort of persons those are who can - " - assume, assume, and lay aside at pleasure, thesemblance of human passion, and who, by dint of sympathy, compel the smiles and tears of others, when they have doffed their magic mantle and retired into the circle of social life. Besides, to judge from the common case, the duram pauperiem pati as often prepares the future exertions of the player as of the soldier. In the earlier events of a theatrical life, however successful, there most commonly occur adventures which form a diverting contrast with the ultimate and more splendid parts of, the career. And we may add to these honest jugredients of the general interest in dramatic biography, the malicious pleasure which human nature always takes in learning the mishaps; mistakes and misgovernance of those who have been objects of public attention and general admiration. -- * These things premised, we beg to announce Messrs. Boaden and Michael Kelly, or rather, to adopt the stage direction in Chrononhotonthologos, ‘Enter. Aldiborontiphoscophornio and Rigdum Funnidos.' The character and style of the two biogra*. are, indeed, as strongly contrasted as sock and buskin; Mr. oaden being grave, critical, full, and laudably accurate, serious in the most lively information which he communicates, and treating comedy itself as if it were a very solemn affair; while on the other hand, there is nothing so serious as to render Michael Kelly so. He has spent all his life among the lovers of laugh and fun, choice spirits, whom Time cannot exhaust, and who make good the boast of Anacreon, and are merry in spite of misfortune and grey hairs. Betwixt merits so various, how shall the critic decide? Were we to spend a morning in looking over Garrick's dramatic collection at the Museum, we should certainly wish to have Mr. Boaden with us to spare us repeated references to the Biographia Dramatica. But, in the evening, we fear we should be graceless enough to prefer Kelly's comic gossip, rich in song and jest, qualified by a touch of the traveller, and (what we never object to) a dash of the brogue. We do not, however, undervalue the solid English pudding of Mr. Boaden, though we have a special relish for the souflé of Seignor Kelly. - Or, rather, we would address them with the impartiality of Sir John, the jolly deer-stealing priest of Waltham towards the rival publicans, his comrades. “ eighbours Banks, of Waltham, and Goodman Smug, the honest smith of Edmonton, as I dwell betwixt you both, at Enfield, I know the taste of both your ale-houses—they are good both, smart both. To continue Sir John's metaphor, the beverage supplied by Mr. Kelly is a fine brisk species of yivacious bottled beer, like that unquestionably with which Beau Tibbs regaled the Duke, as we are informed by the sage o - - t
Chi Altangi, in the Citizen of the World. Boaden, on the other hand, draws us a double flagon of old English liquor, not the sophisticated potion which the vulgar denominate heavy wet, but Anno Domini, regularly dated and regularly tapped, like that which honest Boniface ate and drank, and upon which he always slept.
Kiowing precedence to be due to the more dignified person, we advert first to the Memoirs of John Kemble, combined as they are with a history of the stage from the time of Garrick to the present period. A great deal of curious information is accumulated in these two volumes, by a man who has had the best opportunities of collecting the dramatic history of the last half century.
We cannot, however, altogether approve of his blending the Memoirs of Kemble with an account of the theatre, so general, diffuse, and disproportioned in length to the pages which the life of his proper hero occupies. The fore-ground and back-ground are too extensive for the principal figure. We might have been very glad to have possessed the work arranged in two separate departments, one containing the Memoirs, the other the history of the stage. The present plan has rendered unavoidable the mingling the account of this distinguished man of talent with that of many ordinary performers, of whom we either never heard before, or never wish to hear again. Mr. Boaden, we have no doubt, has been justin his estimate of these subordinate persons;– but there are many whom he might have dismissed like Virgil with a single ‘fortemque,' and whom he ought not to have suffered to crowd the scene which they never adorned, and on which they are not now, perhaps, remembered at all. A man should have some title beyond mere respectability before he is handed up to fame. “What shall an homest man do in my closet?’ says Caius, and what business has a merely respectable man in our library? say we. We think it is John Dunton in his Life and Errors, who, in a history of the literature of Boston, the capital of New England, which he visited in the course of his wanderings, gives not only an account of authors, publishers, retail booksellers, and printers, but descends to stationers and bookbinders, has a few flying hints on printer's devils, and makes us unnecessarily acquainted with every one of these respectable persons as necessary appendages to literary history. We are far from quarrelling with the minute information conveyed by Mr. Boaden in a miscellaneous manner, somewhat similar to that of Dunton, but we wish it had been a little better arranged, and more connected in its topics than by the mere category of time. The history of Kemble is divided into so many detached pieces, that if seems like the body of an old man cut and ready for Medea's kettle. We will endeavour to collect some of the scattered fragments, so as to form from Mr. Boaden's work, assisted by our own recollections, a full length portrait, though on a reduced scale, of one of the best actors, most accomplished artists, and most kind and worthy men, that ever commanded the admiration. of the public, and the esteem of his friends. * - : John Philip Kemble was born 1st February, 1757, at Pres: cot, in Lancashire. The family from which he derived his origin was ancient and respectable; but ruined, we have heard him say; in the great civil war of the seventeenth century for their adherence to King Charles during that contest. His father was manager of a provincial company of actors; so that the members of this highly gifted race, who have attained such distinguished eminence, seem to have been dedicated to the stage from their birth upwards. Unquestionably, the natural bent of their minds must have leaned towards the family profession, of which they felt the full fascination, while its disadvantages, as being in ordinary cases considered a step lower than the more grave and established courses of life, could not occur as an objection to those who saw the art daily practised by the parents whom they were accustomed to love and honour. But Mr. Roger Kemble, the father of John, sensible of the disadvantages attending his own profession, resolved to give his son a classical education, designing him, it is believed, to take orders in the Roman Catholic church. Accordingly, John Philip Kemble received his first instructions at a Catholic seminary at Sedgeley Park in Staffordshire, and was a student for two or three years at the College of Douay, where he attracted attention by the gracefulness of his person, the strength of his memory, and the beauty of his recitation. - * During all the time which he spent at these early studies his own secret determination was always. to become a performer. He felt the strong vocation for the pleasing art in which he was destined to attain excellence, and never, we have heard him say, was tempted to swerve from his purpose even when his prospects appeared least promising. At the outset they were sufficiently
gloomy. - * He returned to England, and found his father disappointed and angry on learning that his thoughts were fixed upon the stage. ‘He might be allowed,’ says Mr. Boaden, “to feel some mortification at his son's choice; for what was then to predict the great and lasting eminence to which he attained ?” But the impulse was not to be withstood. John Kemble acted as his first part Theodosius, in the tragedy so called, at Woolverhampton,