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perched myself upon the stool to read it in less time than an ordinary pupil would have consumed in getting through the first three bars of “Ar Hyd y Nos.”
The play upon which I opened was “Zaïre.” Zaïre is not “Richard the Third,” any more than M. de Voltaire is Shakespeare; nevertheless, the play has its merits. There is a certain romance in the situation; an interest in the story; a mixture of Christian piety and Oriental fervour, which strikes the imagination. So I got through “Zaïre," and when I had finished “ Zaïre,” I proceeded to other plays—“Edipe,” “Mérope,” “Alzire,” “Mahomet,” plays well worth reading, but not so absorbing as to prevent my giving due attention to the warning doors, and putting the book in its place, and striking the chords of "Ar Hyd y Nos,” as often as I heard a step approaching; or gathering up myself and my music, and walking quietly back to the school-room as soon as the hour for practice had expired.
But when the dramas of Voltaire were exhausted, and I had recourse to some neighbouring volumes, the state of matters changed at once. volumes contained the comedies of Molière, and, once plunged into the gay realities of his delightful world, all the miseries of this globe of ours-harp, music-books, practisings, and lessons—were forgotten ; Miss Essex melted into thin air, “Ar Hyd
y Nos” a
became a nonentity. I never recollected that there was such a thing as time : I never heard the warning doors; the only tribulations that troubled me were the tribulations of Sganarelle ;” the only lessons I thought about—the lassons of the Bourgeois Gentilhomme.”
So I was caught; caught in the very fact of laughing till I•cried, over the apostrophies of the angry father to the galley..in which he is told his son has been taken captive. “Que diable alloit-il faire dans cette galère !” The apostrophe comes true with regard to somebody in a scrape during every moment of every day, and was never more applicable than to myself at that instant.
Luckily, however, the person who discovered my delinquency was one of my chief spoilers, the husband of our good schoolmistress, himself a Frenchman, an adorer of the great dramatist of France, and no worshipper of music. He was also a very clever man, with a strong and just conviction that no proficiency in any art could be gained without natural qualifications and sincere good will. Accordingly, when he could speak for laughing, what he said sounded far more like a compliment upon my relish for the comic drama than a rebuke. I suppose that he spoke to the same effect to my father. At all events, the issue of the affair was the dismissal of the poor little harp-mistress, and a present of a cheap edition of Molière for my own reading. I
have got the set still-twelve little foreign-looking books, unbound, but covered with a gay-looking pink paper, mottled with red, like certain carnations.
Such was my first regular, or rather irregular, introduction • to the delightful world of the written drama. Since then I have read in the originals, or
"I in such' translations as I could lay my hands upon, the plays of almost every country, from the grand tragedy of the Greeks (perhaps, next to Shakespeare and Molière, the finest drama that exists), down to Claudie, the charming French pastoral, which fell in my way last month.
Besides the plays themselves, the history of their writers has always had for me a singular attraction, especially when such histories have been written by themselves.
Colley Cibber, one of the earliest of these dramatic autobiographers, is also one of the most amusing. He flourished in wig and embroidery, player, poet, and manager, during the Augustan age of Queen Anne, somewhat earlier and somewhat later.. A most egregious fop according to all accounts he was, but a very pleasant one notwithstanding, as your fop of parts is apt to be. Pope gained but little in the warfare he waged with him, for this plain reason, that the great poet accuses his adversary of dulness, which was not by any means one of his sins, instead of selecting one of the numerous faults, such as pertness, petulance, and presumption, of which he was really guilty
His best book, the "Apology for his Life,” shows that he was a keen observer and a pleasant describer of his brother actors. My first extract is taken from a higher stage, and is one of the many graphic touches that give us so complete and personal a knowledge of the Merry Monarch, and make us almost partakers of the kindness which (unjustly, I suppose) was felt towards him by his subjects.
“In February, 1684-5, died King Charles II., who being the only king I had ever seen,
I remember, young as I was, his death made a strong impression upon me, as it drew tears from the eyes of multitudes who looked no farther into him than I did. But what, perhaps, gave King Charles this peculiar possession of so many hearts was his affable and easy manner in conversing, which is a quality that goes farther with the greater part of mankind than many higher virtues which in a prince might more immediately regard the public prosperity. Even his indolent amusement of playing with his dogs, and feeding his ducks in St. James's Park (which I have seen him do), made the common people adore him.”
The allusion in the next passage is probably to Titus Oates :
“The inferior actors took occasion, whenever they appeared as bravoes or murderers, to make them.
selves appear as frightful and inhuman figures as possible. In King Charles's time, this low skill was carried to such an extravagance, that the King himself, who was black-browed and of a swarthy complexion, passed a pleasant remark upon his observing the grim looks of the murderers in Macbeth,' when turning to his people in the box about him, “Pray what is the meaning,' said he, that we never see a rogue in a play, but odds fish! they always clap him on a black periwig, when it is well known one of the greatest rogues in England always wears a fair one ??
Here are some vivid portraits of actors.
“This actor (Sandford) in his manner of speaking varied very much from those I have already mentioned. His voice had an acute and piercing tone, which struck every syllable of his words distinctly upon
the He had likewise a peculiar skill in his way of marking out to an audience whatever he judged worth their more than ordinary notice. When he delivered a command, he would sometimes give it more force by seeming to slight the ornament of harmony. *
Had Sandford lived in Shakespeare's time, I am confident his judgment would have chosen him above all other actors to have played his Richard III. I leave his person out of the question, which though naturally made for it, yet that would have been the least part of his recommendation. Sandford had stronger claims