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to it. He had sometimes an uncouth stateliness in his motion, a harsh and sullen pride of speech, a meditating brow, a stern aspect, occasionally changing into an almost ludicrous triumph over all goodness and virtue; from thence falling into the most persuasive gentleness and soothing candour of a designing heart. These, I say, must have preferred him to it."
“Nokes was an actor of a quite different genius from any I have ever read, heard of, or seen, since or before his time; and yet bis general excellence may be comprehended in one article, viz., a plain and palpable simplicity of nature, which was so utterly his own, that he was often as unaccountably diverting in his common speech as on the stage. I saw him once giving an account of some tabletalk to another actor behind the scenes, which a man of quality accidentally listening to, was so deceived by his manner, that he asked him if that was a new play he was rehearsing. * * * He scarce ever made his first entrance in a play but he was received with an involuntary applause, not of hands only, but by a general laughter, which the sight of him provoked and nature could not resist; yet the louder the laugh, the graver was his look upon it; and even the ridiculous solemnity of his features was enough to have set a whole bench of bishops
into a titter, could he have been honoured with such grave and right reverend auditors. In the ludicrous distresses which by the laws of comedy folly is often involved in, he sunk into such a mixture of piteous pusillanimity and a consternation so ruefully ridiculous and inconsolable, that when he had shook you to a fatigue of laughter it became a moot point whether you ought not to have pitied him. When he debated any matter by himself, he would shut up his mouth with a dumb, studious pout, and roll his full eye into such a vacant amazement, such a palpable ignorance of what to think of it, that his silent perplexity gave your imagination as full content as the most absurd thing he could say upon it.
His person was of the middle size; his voice clear and audible; his natural countenance grave and sober. In some of his low characters that became it he had a shuffling shamble in his gait, with so contented an ignorance in his aspect, and such an awkward absurdity in his gesture, that had you not known him, you could not believe that naturally he had a grain of common sense.”
Nature sometimes reproduces itself. There is much in this description to remind us of the late Mr. Liston. The following observations upon the great tragedian Betterton's personation of Hamlet are in the best style of dramatic criticism :
“You may have seen a Hamlet, perhaps, who on
the first appearance of his father's spirit has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury; and the house has thundered applause, though the misguided actor was all the while tearing a passion into rags. The late Mr. Addison, whilst I sate by him to see this scene acted, made the same observation, asking me with some surprise if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the ghost, which, though it might have astonished, had not provoked him. For you may observe that in this beautiful speech the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience limited only by filial reverence to inquire into the suspected wrongs that may
have raised him from his peaceful tomb, and a desire to know what a spirit so seemingly distressed might wish or enjoin a sorrowful son to execute towards his future quiet in the grave. This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene, which he opened with a pause of mute amazement; then rising slowly to a solemn, trembling voice, he made the ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself; and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghostly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still governed by decency-manly, but not braving--his voice never rising into that seeming outrage or wild defiance of what he naturally revered.”
The book is full of pictures like this:
“In the solemn formality of Obadiah in “The Committee,” he (Underhill) seemed the immoveable log he stood for; a countenance of wood could not be more fixed than his when the blockhead of a character required it. His face was full and long; from his crown to the end of his nose, was the shorter half of it; so that the disproportion of his lower features, when soberly composed with an unwandering eye hanging over them, threw him into the most lumpish, moping mortal that ever made beholders merry.”
Little bits of truth like this are also plentiful :
“From whence I would observe, that the short life of beauty is not long enough to form a complete actress.”
Colley Cibber survived to his eighty-seventh year, retaining to the last the companionable qualities which had made his society coveted by persons of all ranks, and dying at last without decay and without pain.
Richard Cumberland is another vivacious specimen of dramatic authorship—more vivacious in his “Life” (I mean his printed life) than on the stage. Son of a popular and amiable bishop, grandson of the very learned but unpopular and unamiable scholar, Dr. Bentley, he competed successfully at Cambridge for the honours of the University, took a high deg.ee, obtained a Fellowship of Trinity, and might, probably, have attained to his grandfather's station as head of that eminent College, had he not been tempted by Lord Halifax to accept the post of his private secretary, a career for which the eminently irritable and susceptible temper, which Sheridan has devoted to a cruel immortality in his Sir Fretful Plagiary, rendered him eminently unfit.
It was, however, a very good position for seeing the world, and becoming acquainted with men of high name and various character.
This is his first impression of Garrick as an actor. The play was “The Fair Penitent.”
Quin presented himself, upon the rising of the curtain, in a green velvet coat, embroidered down the seams, an enormous full-bottomed periwig, rolled stockings, and high-heeled, square-toed shoes; with very little variation of cadence, and in a deep, full tone, accompanied by a sawing kind of action, which had more of the senate than the stage in it, he rolled out his herocis with an air of dignified in difference that seemed to disdain the plaudits that were showered upon him-Mrs. Cibber, in a key high pitched, but sweet withal, sang, or rather recitatived, Rowe's harmonious strain. But when, after long and eager expectation, I first beheld little Garrick, then young and light, and alive in every muscle and in every feature, come bounding on the stage, and pointing at the wittol Altamont and the heavy-paced Horatio (Heavens, what a transition !) it seemed as if a whole century had been