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AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DRAMATIC AUTHORS.
COLLEY CIBBER-RICHARD CUMBERLAND.
Of all literary fascinations there is none like that of the Drama, written or acted. None that begins so early, or that lasts so long.
With regard to actors, it is a sort of possession by evil spirits. Boys and girls from the school-room, and the counting-house, the shop-board, or the college, rush upon the stage, forsaking home and comfort, and the thousand realities of life, in chase of the phantom, Fame. And in authorship, the passion, although not perhaps so common, is hardly less engrossing, or less destructive. The “Honeymoon," one of the most delightful of modern comedies, was the seventh play presented by poor Tobin to different managers. He died, I believe, the very same night that it was performed with unrivalled success, certainly before the intelligence of its triumph could reach him. Gerald Griffin was even less fortunate. “Gisippus” was rejected on all hands, and only produced after his death, and after the destruction of his other tragedies, to secure for its author a posthumous reputation. Many, no doubt, more unfortunate still, have died and left no name; and many may still exist, dragging after them a weary weight of hope deferred, and genius unrecognised.
I have some right to talk of the love of the drama, the passionate, absorbing, worshipping love, since it took possession of me at the earliest age, and clung to me long. Nay, I am not even now absolutely sure, that if the Cruvellis and the Viardots would but say, instead of sing ; if we might but see in tragedy the dramatic power lavished upon opera, , I might not be simple enough to take up once more my old enthusiasm, and haunt the theatres at sixtyfive!
Luckily, the age is a musical age, and there is small danger that any Queen of Song should exchange her notes for words—especially in a country where the notes of a prima donna are synonymous with bank-notes.
The first play I remember to have seen was in a barn-tragedy of course—the tragedy dear to heroes of the buskin, and no less dear to their youthful auditors, “Richard the Third." Ah! I should have asked nothing better than to see Richard murdered in that barn every night! Then came other play-goings more legitimate; and readings of Shakespeare by bits, and here and there, I scarcely know how or when. For it may be reckoned amongst the best and dearest of our English privileges, that we are all more or less educated in Shakespeare; that the words and thoughts of the greatest of poets are, as it were, engrafted into our minds, and must, to a certain extent, enrich and fructify the most barren stock. Shakespeare came to me I cannot tell how. But my first great fit of dramatic reading was, I am ashamed to say, of very questionable origin; a stolen pleasure ; and therefore-alas ! for our poor sinful human nature !--therefore by very far more dear.
This is the story.
My childhood was, as I have elsewhere said, a very happy one; scarcely less happy in the great London school where I past the five years between ten years old and fifteen, than at home: to tell the truth, I was well nigh as much spoilt in one place as in the other; but as I was a quiet and orderly little girl, and fell easily into the rules of the house, there was no great harm done, either to me to the school discipline.
One exception, however, did exist, both to my felicity and to my obedience, and that one might be comprised in the single word-Music.
How my father, who certainly never knew the tune
of “God save the King" from that of the other national air “Rule Britannia," came to take into his head so strong a fancy to make me an accomplished musician, I could never rightly understand, but that such a fancy did possess him I found to my sorrow! From the day I was five years old, he stuck me up to the piano, and although teacher after teacher had discovered
that I had neither ear, nor taste, nor application, he * continued fully bent upon my learning it. By the
time 'my London education commenced, it had assumed the form of a fixed idea.
The regular master employed in the school was Mr. Hook (father of Theodore), then a popular composer of Vauxhall
instructor of average ability. A large smooth-faced man he was, good-natured, and civil spoken; but failing, as in my case everybody else had failed, to produce the slightest improvement, my father, not much struck by his appearance or manner, decided as usual that the fault lay with the teacher; and happening one day to fall in with a very clever little German Professor, who was giving lessons to two of my schoolfellows, he at once took me from the tuition of Mr. Hook, and placed me under that of Herr Schuberl, who, an impatient, irritable man of genius, very speedily avenged the cause of his rival musicmaster, by dismissing in her turn the unlucky pupil.
Things being in this unpromising state, I began to entertain some hope that my musical education would be given up altogether. In this expectation I did injustice to my father's pertinacity. This time he threw the blame upon the instrument; and because I could make nothing after eight years' thumping upon the piano-forte, resolved that I should become a great performer upon the harp.
It so happened that our school-house (the same by the way, in which poor Miss Landon passed the greater part of her life), forming one angle of an irregular octagon place, was so built that the principal reception room was connected with the entrance-hall by a long passage and two double doors. This room, fitted up with nicely bound books, contained, amongst other musical instruments, the harp, upon which I was sent to practise every morning; sent alone, most comfortably out of sight and hearing of every individual in the house, the only means of approach being through two resounding green baize doors, swinging to with a heavy bang, the moment they were let go ; so that as the change from piano to harp, and from the impulsive Herr Schuberl to the prim, demure little Miss Essex, my new music-mistress, had by no means worked the miracle of producing in me any love of that detestable art, I very shortly betook myself to the bookshelves, and seeing a row of octavo volumes lettered “ Théâtre de Voltaire," I selected one of them, and had deposited it in front of the music-stand, and