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Title: The Collected Works of William Hazlitt - Vol. 8 of 12
Author: Hazlitt, William
Language: English
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                                  THE
                   COLLECTED WORKS OF WILLIAM HAZLITT
                           IN TWELVE VOLUMES


                              VOLUME EIGHT



                         _All rights reserved_

[Illustration:

  _William Hazlitt._

  _From a crayon drawing by W. Bewick executed in 1822._
]



                         THE COLLECTED WORKS OF
                            WILLIAM HAZLITT


                         EDITED BY A. R. WALLER
                           AND ARNOLD GLOVER

                        WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
                              W. E. HENLEY

                                   ❦

                 Lectures on the English Comic Writers

                      A View of the English Stage

                          Dramatic Essays from
                         ‘The London Magazine’

                                   ❦

                                  1903
                        LONDON: J. M. DENT & CO.
                   McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.: NEW YORK



               Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                                                       PAGE

            LECTURES ON THE ENGLISH COMIC WRITERS         1

            A VIEW OF THE ENGLISH STAGE                 169

            DRAMATIC ESSAYS FROM ‘THE LONDON MAGAZINE’  381

            NOTES                                       485



                 LECTURES ON THE ENGLISH COMIC WRITERS


                          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

The first edition (here reprinted) was published in 1819 in one 8vo.
volume (343 pp.), with the following title-page:—‘Lectures on the
English Comic Writers. Delivered at the Surry Institution. By William
Hazlitt. “It is a very good office one man does another, when he tells
him the manner of his being pleased.” Steele. London: Printed for Taylor
and Hessey, 93. Fleet Street. 1819.’ The volume was printed by J.
Miller, Noble Street, Cheapside. The ‘third edition’ (the second having
been presumably a mere re-print of the first), edited by the author’s
son and published by Templeman, appeared in 1841, and included some
additions collected from various sources. These additions are referred
to in the notes to the present volume. The first edition was republished
by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in Bohn’s Library in 1869, and the third edition
has quite recently been included in the Temple Classics series ‘under
the immediate editorial care of Mr. Austin Dobson’ (1900).


                                CONTENTS

                               LECTURE I.

                                                                    PAGE

 Introductory—On Wit and Humour                                        5


                               LECTURE II.

 On Shakspeare and Ben Jonson                                         30


                              LECTURE III.

 On Cowley, Butler, Suckling, Etherege, etc.                          49


                               LECTURE IV.

 On Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar                       70


                               LECTURE V.

 On the Periodical Essayists                                          91


                               LECTURE VI.

 On the English Novelists                                            106


                              LECTURE VII.

 On the Works of Hogarth. On the Grand and Familiar Style of
   Painting                                                          133


                              LECTURE VIII.

 On the Comic Writers of the last Century                            149



                              LECTURES ON
                        THE COMIC WRITERS, ETC.
                            OF GREAT BRITAIN


                         LECTURE I INTRODUCTORY
                           ON WIT AND HUMOUR

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal
that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what
they ought to be. We weep at what thwarts or exceeds our desires in
serious matters: we laugh at what only disappoints our expectations in
trifles. We shed tears from sympathy with real and necessary distress;
as we burst into laughter from want of sympathy with that which is
unreasonable and unnecessary, the absurdity of which provokes our spleen
or mirth, rather than any serious reflections on it.

To explain the nature of laughter and tears, is to account for the
condition of human life; for it is in a manner compounded of these two!
It is a tragedy or a comedy—sad or merry, as it happens. The crimes and
misfortunes that are inseparable from it, shock and wound the mind when
they once seize upon it, and when the pressure can no longer be borne,
seek relief in tears: the follies and absurdities that men commit, or
the odd accidents that befal them, afford us amusement from the very
rejection of these false claims upon our sympathy, and end in laughter.
If every thing that went wrong, if every vanity or weakness in another
gave us a sensible pang, it would be hard indeed: but as long as the
disagreeableness of the consequences of a sudden disaster is kept out of
sight by the immediate oddity of the circumstances, and the absurdity or
unaccountableness of a foolish action is the most striking thing in it,
the ludicrous prevails over the pathetic, and we receive pleasure
instead of pain from the farce of life which is played before us, and
which discomposes our gravity as often as it fails to move our anger or
our pity!

Tears may be considered as the natural and involuntary resource of the
mind overcome by some sudden and violent emotion, before it has had time
to reconcile its feelings to the change of circumstances: while laughter
may be defined to be the same sort of convulsive and involuntary
movement, occasioned by mere surprise or contrast (in the absence of any
more serious emotion), before it has time to reconcile its belief to
contradictory appearances. If we hold a mask before our face, and
approach a child with this disguise on, it will at first, from the
oddity and incongruity of the appearance, be inclined to laugh; if we go
nearer to it, steadily, and without saying a word, it will begin to be
alarmed, and be half inclined to cry: if we suddenly take off the mask,
it will recover from its fears, and burst out a-laughing; but if,
instead of presenting the old well-known countenance, we have concealed
a satyr’s head or some frightful caricature behind the first mask, the
suddenness of the change will not in this case be a source of merriment
to it, but will convert its surprise into an agony of consternation, and
will make it scream out for help, even though it may be convinced that
the whole is a trick at bottom.

The alternation of tears and laughter, in this little episode in common
life, depends almost entirely on the greater or less degree of interest
attached to the different changes of appearance. The mere suddenness of
the transition, the mere baulking our expectations, and turning them
abruptly into another channel, seems to give additional liveliness and
gaiety to the animal spirits; but the instant the change is not only
sudden, but threatens serious consequences, or calls up the shape of
danger, terror supersedes our disposition to mirth, and laughter gives
place to tears. It is usual to play with infants, and make them laugh by
clapping your hands suddenly before them; but if you clap your hands too
loud, or too near their sight, their countenances immediately change,
and they hide them in the nurse’s arms. Or suppose the same child, grown
up a little older, comes to a place, expecting to meet a person it is
particularly fond of, and does not find that person there, its
countenance suddenly falls, its lips begin to quiver, its cheek turns
pale, its eye glistens, and it vents its little sorrow (grown too big to
be concealed) in a flood of tears. Again, if the child meets the same
person unexpectedly after long absence, the same effect will be produced
by an excess of joy, with different accompaniments; that is, the
surprise and the emotion excited will make the blood come into his face,
his eyes sparkle, his tongue falter or be mute, but in either case the
tears will gush to his relief, and lighten the pressure about his heart.
On the other hand, if a child is playing at hide-and-seek, or
blindman’s-buff, with persons it is ever so fond of, and either misses
them where it had made sure of finding them, or suddenly runs up against
them where it had least expected it, the shock or additional impetus
given to the imagination by the disappointment or the discovery, in a
matter of this indifference, will only vent itself in a fit of
laughter.[1] The transition here is not from one thing of importance to
another, or from a state of indifference to a state of strong
excitement; but merely from one impression to another that we did not at
all expect, and when we had expected just the contrary. The mind having
been led to form a certain conclusion, and the result producing an
immediate solution of continuity in the chain of our ideas, this
alternate excitement and relaxation of the imagination, the object also
striking upon the mind more vividly in its loose unsettled state, and
before it has had time to recover and collect itself, causes that
alternate excitement and relaxation, or irregular convulsive movement of
the muscular and nervous system, which constitutes physical laughter.
The _discontinuous_ in our sensations produces a correspondent jar and
discord in the frame. The steadiness of our faith and of our features
begins to give way at the same time. We turn with an incredulous smile
from a story that staggers our belief: and we are ready to split our
sides with laughing at an extravagance that sets all common sense and
serious concern at defiance.

To understand or define the ludicrous, we must first know what the
serious is. Now the serious is the habitual stress which the mind lays
upon the expectation of a given order of events, following one another
with a certain regularity and weight of interest attached to them. When
this stress is increased beyond its usual pitch of intensity, so as to
overstrain the feelings by the violent opposition of good to bad, or of
objects to our desires, it becomes the pathetic or tragical. The
ludicrous, or comic, is the unexpected loosening or relaxing this stress
below its usual pitch of intensity, by such an abrupt transposition of
the order of our ideas, as taking the mind unawares, throws it off its
guard, startles it into a lively sense of pleasure, and leaves no time
nor inclination for painful reflections.

The essence of the laughable then is the incongruous, the disconnecting
one idea from another, or the jostling of one feeling against another.
The first and most obvious cause of laughter is to be found in the
simple succession of events, as in the sudden shifting of a disguise, or
some unlooked-for accident, without any absurdity of character or
situation. The accidental contradiction between our expectations and the
event can hardly be said, however, to amount to the ludicrous: it is
merely laughable. The ludicrous is where there is the same contradiction
between the object and our expectations, heightened by some deformity or
inconvenience, that is, by its being contrary to what is customary or
desirable; as the ridiculous, which is the highest degree of the
laughable, is that which is contrary not only to custom but to sense and
reason, or is a voluntary departure from what we have a right to expect
from those who are conscious of absurdity and propriety in words, looks,
and actions.

Of these different kinds or degrees of the laughable, the first is the
most shallow and short-lived; for the instant the immediate surprise of
a thing’s merely happening one way or another is over, there is nothing
to throw us back upon our former expectation, and renew our wonder at
the event a second time. The second sort, that is, the ludicrous arising
out of the improbable or distressing, is more deep and lasting, either
because the painful catastrophe excites a greater curiosity, or because
the old impression, from its habitual hold on the imagination, still
recurs mechanically, so that it is longer before we can seriously make
up our minds to the unaccountable deviation from it. The third sort, or
the ridiculous arising out of absurdity as well as improbability, that
is, where the defect or weakness is of a man’s own seeking, is the most
refined of all, but not always so pleasant as the last, because the same
contempt and disapprobation which sharpens and subtilises our sense of
the impropriety, adds a severity to it inconsistent with perfect ease
and enjoyment. This last species is properly the province of satire. The
principle of contrast is, however, the same in all the stages, in the
simply laughable, the ludicrous, the ridiculous; and the effect is only
the more complete, the more durably and pointedly this principle
operates.

To give some examples in these different kinds. We laugh, when children,
at the sudden removing of a pasteboard mask: we laugh, when grown up,
more gravely at the tearing off the mask of deceit. We laugh at
absurdity; we laugh at deformity. We laugh at a bottle-nose in a
caricature; at a stuffed figure of an alderman in a pantomime, and at
the tale of Slaukenbergius. A giant standing by a dwarf makes a
contemptible figure enough. Rosinante and Dapple are laughable from
contrast, as their masters from the same principle make two for a pair.
We laugh at the dress of foreigners, and they at ours. Three
chimney-sweepers meeting three Chinese in Lincoln’s-inn Fields, they
laughed at one another till they were ready to drop down. Country people
laugh at a person because they never saw him before. Any one dressed in
the height of the fashion, or quite out of it, is equally an object of
ridicule. One rich source of the ludicrous is distress with which we
cannot sympathise from its absurdity or insignificance. Women laugh at
their lovers. We laugh at a damned author, in spite of our teeth, and
though he may be our friend. ‘There is something in the misfortunes of
our best friends that pleases us.’ We laugh at people on the top of a
stage-coach, or in it, if they seem in great extremity. It is hard to
hinder children from laughing at a stammerer, at a negro, at a drunken
man, or even at a madman. We laugh at mischief. We laugh at what we do
not believe. We say that an argument or an assertion that is very
absurd, is quite ludicrous. We laugh to shew our satisfaction with
ourselves, or our contempt for those about us, or to conceal our envy or
our ignorance. We laugh at fools, and at those who pretend to be wise—at
extreme simplicity, awkwardness, hypocrisy, and affectation. ‘They were
talking of me,’ says Scrub, ‘for they laughed _consumedly_.’ Lord
Foppington’s insensibility to ridicule, and airs of ineffable
self-conceit, are no less admirable; and Joseph Surface’s cant maxims of
morality, when once disarmed of their power to do hurt, become
sufficiently ludicrous.—We laugh at that in others which is a serious
matter to ourselves; because our self-love is stronger than our
sympathy, sooner takes the alarm, and instantly turns our heedless mirth
into gravity, which only enhances the jest to others. Some one is
generally sure to be the sufferer by a joke. What is sport to one, is
death to another. It is only very sensible or very honest people, who
laugh as freely at their own absurdities as at those of their
neighbours. In general the contrary rule holds, and we only laugh at
those misfortunes in which we are spectators, not sharers. The injury,
the disappointment, shame, and vexation that we feel, put a stop to our
mirth; while the disasters that come home to us, and excite our
repugnance and dismay, are an amusing spectacle to others. The greater
resistance we make, and the greater the perplexity into which we are
thrown, the more lively and _piquant_ is the intellectual display of
cross-purposes to the by-standers. Our humiliation is their triumph. We
are occupied with the disagreeableness of the result instead of its
oddity or unexpectedness. Others see only the conflict of motives, and
the sudden alternation of events; we feel the pain as well, which more
than counterbalances the speculative entertainment we might receive from
the contemplation of our abstract situation.

You cannot force people to laugh: you cannot give a reason why they
should laugh: they must laugh of themselves, or not at all. As we laugh
from a spontaneous impulse, we laugh the more at any restraint upon this
impulse. We laugh at a thing merely because we ought not. If we think we
must not laugh, this perverse impediment makes our temptation to laugh
the greater; for by endeavouring to keep the obnoxious image out of
sight, it comes upon us more irresistibly and repeatedly; and the
inclination to indulge our mirth, the longer it is held back, collects
its force, and breaks out the more violently in peals of laughter. In
like manner, any thing we must not think of makes us laugh, by its
coming upon us by stealth and unawares, and from the very efforts we
make to exclude it. A secret, a loose word, a wanton jest, make people
laugh. Aretine laughed himself to death at hearing a lascivious story.
Wickedness is often made a substitute for wit; and in most of our good
old comedies, the intrigue of the plot and the double meaning of the
dialogue go hand-in-hand, and keep up the ball with wonderful spirit
between them. The consciousness, however it may arise, that there is
something that we ought to look grave at, is almost always a signal for
laughing outright: we can hardly keep our countenance at a sermon, a
funeral, or a wedding. What an excellent old custom was that of throwing
the stocking! What a deal of innocent mirth has been spoiled by the
disuse of it!—It is not an easy matter to preserve decorum in courts of
justice. The smallest circumstance that interferes with the solemnity of
the proceedings, throws the whole place into an uproar of laughter.
People at the point of death often say smart things. Sir Thomas More
jested with his executioner. Rabelais and Wycherley both died with a
_bon-mot_ in their mouths.

Misunderstandings, (_malentendus_) where one person means one thing, and
another is aiming at something else, are another great source of comic
humour, on the same principle of ambiguity and contrast. There is a
high-wrought instance of this in the dialogue between Aimwell and
Gibbet, in the Beaux’ Stratagem, where Aimwell mistakes his companion
for an officer in a marching regiment, and Gibbet takes it for granted
that the gentleman is a highwayman. The alarm and consternation
occasioned by some one saying to him, in the course of common
conversation, ‘I apprehend you,’ is the most ludicrous thing in that
admirably natural and powerful performance, Mr. Emery’s Robert Tyke.
Again, unconsciousness in the person himself of what he is about, or of
what others think of him, is also a great heightener of the sense of
absurdity. It makes it come the fuller home upon us from his
insensibility to it. His simplicity sets off the satire, and gives it a
finer edge. It is a more extreme case still where the person is aware of
being the object of ridicule, and yet seems perfectly reconciled to it
as a matter of course. So wit is often the more forcible and pointed for
being dry and serious, for it then seems as if the speaker himself had
no intention in it, and we were the first to find it out. Irony, as a
species of wit, owes its force to the same principle. In such cases it
is the contrast between the appearance and the reality, the suspense of
belief, and the seeming incongruity, that gives point to the ridicule,
and makes it enter the deeper when the first impression is overcome.
Excessive impudence, as in the Liar; or excessive modesty, as in the
hero of She Stoops to Conquer; or a mixture of the two, as in the Busy
Body, are equally amusing. Lying is a species of wit and humour. To lay
any thing to a person’s charge from which he is perfectly free, shews
spirit and invention; and the more incredible the effrontery, the
greater is the joke.

There is nothing more powerfully humorous than what is called _keeping_
in comic character, as we see it very finely exemplified in Sancho Panza
and Don Quixote. The proverbial phlegm and the romantic gravity of these
two celebrated persons may be regarded as the height of this kind of
excellence. The deep feeling of character strengthens the sense of the
ludicrous. Keeping in comic character is consistency in absurdity; a
determined and laudable attachment to the incongruous and singular. The
regularity completes the contradiction; for the number of instances of
deviation from the right line, branching out in all directions, shews
the inveteracy of the original bias to any extravagance or folly, the
natural improbability, as it were, increasing every time with the
multiplication of chances for a return to common sense, and in the end
mounting up to an incredible and unaccountably ridiculous height, when
we find our expectations as invariably baffled. The most curious problem
of all, is this truth of absurdity to itself. That reason and good sense
should be consistent, is not wonderful: but that caprice, and whim, and
fantastical prejudice, should be uniform and infallible in their
results, is the surprising thing. But while this characteristic clue to
absurdity helps on the ridicule, it also softens and harmonises its
excesses; and the ludicrous is here blended with a certain beauty and
decorum, from this very truth of habit and sentiment, or from the
principle of similitude in dissimilitude. The devotion to nonsense, and
enthusiasm about trifles, is highly affecting as a moral lesson: it is
one of the striking weaknesses and greatest happinesses of our nature.
That which excites so lively and lasting an interest in itself, even
though it should not be wisdom, is not despicable in the sight of reason
and humanity. We cannot suppress the smile on the lip; but the tear
should also stand ready to start from the eye. The history of
hobbyhorses is equally instructive and delightful; and after the pair I
have just alluded to, My Uncle Toby’s is one of the best and gentlest
that ‘ever lifted leg!’ The inconveniences, odd accidents, falls, and
bruises, to which they expose their riders, contribute their share to
the amusement of the spectators; and the blows and wounds that the
Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance received in his many perilous
adventures, have applied their healing influence to many a hurt mind.—In
what relates to the laughable, as it arises from unforeseen accidents or
self-willed scrapes, the pain, the shame, the mortification, and utter
helplessness of situation, add to the joke, provided they are momentary,
or overwhelming only to the imagination of the sufferer. Malvolio’s
punishment and apprehensions are as comic, from our knowing that they
are not real, as Christopher Sly’s drunken transformation and
short-lived dream of happiness are for the like reason. Parson Adams’s
fall into the tub at the ‘Squire’s, or his being discovered in bed with
Mrs. Slipslop, though pitiable, are laughable accidents: nor do we read
with much gravity of the loss of his Æschylus, serious as it was to him
at the time.—A Scotch clergyman, as he was going to church, seeing a
spruce conceited mechanic who was walking before him, suddenly covered
all over with dirt, either by falling into the kennel, or by some other
calamity befalling him, smiled and passed on: but afterwards seeing the
same person, who had stopped to refit, seated directly facing him in the
gallery, with a look of perfect satisfaction and composure, as if
nothing of the sort had happened to him, the idea of his late disaster
and present self-complacency struck him so powerfully, that, unable to
resist the impulse, he flung himself back in the pulpit, and laughed
till he could laugh no longer. I remember reading a story in an odd
number of the European Magazine, of an old gentleman who used to walk
out every afternoon, with a gold-headed cane, in the fields opposite
Baltimore House, which were then open, only with foot-paths crossing
them. He was frequently accosted by a beggar with a wooden leg, to whom
he gave money, which only made him more importunate. One day, when he
was more troublesome than usual, a well-dressed person happening to come
up, and observing how saucy the fellow was, said to the gentleman, ‘Sir,
if you will lend me your cane for a moment, I’ll give him a good
threshing for his impertinence.’ The old gentleman, smiling at the
proposal, handed him his cane, which the other no sooner was going to
apply to the shoulders of the culprit, than he immediately whipped off
his wooden leg, and scampered off with great alacrity, and his chastiser
after him as hard as he could go. The faster the one ran, the faster the
other followed him, brandishing the cane, to the great astonishment of
the gentleman who owned it, till having fairly crossed the fields, they
suddenly turned a corner, and nothing more was seen of either of them.

In the way of mischievous adventure, and a wanton exhibition of
ludicrous weakness in character, nothing is superior to the comic parts
of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. To take only the set of stories
of the Little Hunchback, who was choked with a bone, and the Barber of
Bagdad and his seven brothers,—there is that of the tailor who was
persecuted by the miller’s wife, and who, after toiling all night in the
mill, got nothing for his pains:—of another who fell in love with a fine
lady who pretended to return his passion, and inviting him to her house,
as the preliminary condition of her favour, had his eyebrows shaved, his
clothes stripped off, and being turned loose into a winding gallery, he
was to follow her, and by overtaking obtain all his wishes, but, after a
turn or two, stumbled on a trap-door, and fell plump into the street, to
the great astonishment of the spectators and his own, shorn of his
eyebrows, naked, and without a ray of hope left:—that of the
castle-building pedlar, who, in kicking his wife, the supposed daughter
of an emperor, kicks down his basket of glass, the brittle foundation of
his ideal wealth, his good fortune, and his arrogance:—that, again, of
the beggar who dined with the Barmecide, and feasted with him on the
names of wines and dishes: and, last and best of all, the inimitable
story of the Impertinent Barber himself, one of the seven, and worthy to
be so; his pertinacious, incredible, teasing, deliberate, yet unmeaning
folly, his wearing out the patience of the young gentleman whom he is
sent for to shave, his preparations and his professions of speed, his
taking out an astrolabe to measure the height of the sun while his
razors are getting ready, his dancing the dance of Zimri and singing the
song of Zamtout, his disappointing the young man of an assignation,
following him to the place of rendezvous, and alarming the master of the
house in his anxiety for his safety, by which his unfortunate patron
loses his hand in the affray, and this is felt as an awkward accident.
The danger which the same loquacious person is afterwards in, of losing
his head for want of saying who he was, because he would not forfeit his
character of being ‘justly called the Silent,’ is a consummation of the
jest, though, if it had really taken place, it would have been carrying
the joke too far. There are a thousand instances of the same sort in the
Thousand and One Nights, which are an inexhaustible mine of comic humour
and invention, and which, from the manners of the East which they
describe, carry the principle of callous indifference in a jest as far
as it can go. The serious and marvellous stories in that work, which
have been so much admired and so greedily read, appear to me monstrous
and abortive fictions, like disjointed dreams, dictated by a
preternatural dread of arbitrary and despotic power, as the comic and
familiar stories are rendered proportionably amusing and interesting
from the same principle operating in a different direction, and
producing endless uncertainty and vicissitude, and an heroic contempt
for the untoward accidents and petty vexations of human life. It is the
gaiety of despair, the mirth and laughter of a respite during pleasure
from death. The strongest instances of effectual and harrowing
imagination, are in the story of Amine and her three sisters, whom she
led by her side as a leash of hounds, and of the _goul_ who nibbled
grains of rice for her dinner, and preyed on human carcasses. In this
condemnation of the serious parts of the Arabian Nights, I have nearly
all the world, and in particular the author of the Ancient Mariner,
against me, who must be allowed to be a judge of such matters, and who
said, with a subtlety of philosophical conjecture which he alone
possesses, ‘That if I did not like them, it was because I did not
dream.’ On the other hand, I have Bishop Atterbury on my side, who, in a
letter to Pope, fairly confesses that ‘he could not read them in his old
age.’

There is another source of comic humour which has been but little
touched on or attended to by the critics—not the infliction of casual
pain, but the pursuit of uncertain pleasure and idle gallantry. Half the
business and gaiety of comedy turns upon this. Most of the adventures,
difficulties, demurs, hair-breadth ‘scapes, disguises, deceptions,
blunders, disappointments, successes, excuses, all the dextrous
manœuvres, artful inuendos, assignations, billets-doux, _double
entendres_, sly allusions, and elegant flattery, have an eye to this—to
the obtaining of those ‘favours secret, sweet, and precious,’ in which
love and pleasure consist, and which when attained, and the _equivoque_
is at an end, the curtain drops, and the play is over. All the
attractions of a subject that can only be glanced at indirectly, that is
a sort of forbidden ground to the imagination, except under severe
restrictions, which are constantly broken through; all the resources it
supplies for intrigue and invention; the bashfulness of the clownish
lover, his looks of alarm and petrified astonishment; the foppish
affectation and easy confidence of the happy man; the dress, the airs,
the languor, the scorn, and indifference of the fine lady; the bustle,
pertness, loquaciousness, and tricks of the chambermaid; the impudence,
lies, and roguery of the valet; the match-making and unmaking; the
wisdom of the wise; the sayings of the witty, the folly of the fool;
‘the soldier’s, scholar’s, courtier’s eye, tongue, sword, the glass of
fashion and the mould of form,’ have all a view to this. It is the
closet in Blue-Beard. It is the life and soul of Wycherley, Congreve,
Vanbrugh, and Farquhar’s plays. It is the salt of comedy, without which
it would be worthless and insipid. It makes Horner decent, and Millamant
divine. It is the jest between Tattle and Miss Prue. It is the bait with
which Olivia, in the Plain Dealer, plays with honest Manly. It lurks at
the bottom of the catechism which Archer teaches Cherry, and which she
learns by heart. It gives the finishing grace to Mrs. Amlet’s
confession—‘Though I’m old, I’m chaste.’ Valentine and his Angelica
would be nothing without it; Miss Peggy would not be worth a gallant;
and Slender’s ‘sweet Ann Page’ would be no more! ‘The age of comedy
would be gone, and the glory of our play-houses extinguished for ever.’
Our old comedies would be invaluable, were it only for this, that they
keep alive this sentiment, which still survives in all its fluttering
grace and breathless palpitations on the stage.

Humour is the describing the ludicrous as it is in itself; wit is the
exposing it, by comparing or contrasting it with something else. Humour
is, as it were, the growth of nature and accident; wit is the product of
art and fancy. Humour, as it is shewn in books, is an imitation of the
natural or acquired absurdities of mankind, or of the ludicrous in
accident, situation, and character: wit is the illustrating and
heightening the sense of that absurdity by some sudden and unexpected
likeness or opposition of one thing to another, which sets off the
quality we laugh at or despise in a still more contemptible or striking
point of view. Wit, as distinguished from poetry, is the imagination or
fancy inverted, and so applied to given objects, as to make the little
look less, the mean more light and worthless; or to divert our
admiration or wean our affections from that which is lofty and
impressive, instead of producing a more intense admiration and exalted
passion, as poetry does. Wit may sometimes, indeed, be shewn in
compliments as well as satire; as in the common epigram—

            ‘Accept a miracle, instead of wit:
            See two dull lines with Stanhope’s pencil writ.’

But then the mode of paying it is playful and ironical, and contradicts
itself in the very act of making its own performance an humble foil to
another’s. Wit hovers round the borders of the light and trifling,
whether in matters of pleasure or pain; for as soon as it describes the
serious seriously, it ceases to be wit, and passes into a different
form. Wit is, in fact, the eloquence of indifference, or an ingenious
and striking exposition of those evanescent and glancing impressions of
objects which affect us more from surprise or contrast to the train of
our ordinary and literal preconceptions, than from anything in the
objects themselves exciting our necessary sympathy or lasting hatred.
The favourite employment of wit is to add littleness to littleness, and
heap contempt on insignificance by all the arts of petty and incessant
warfare; or if it ever affects to aggrandise, and use the language of
hyperbole, it is only to betray into derision by a fatal comparison, as
in the mock-heroic; or if it treats of serious passion, it must do it so
as to lower the tone of intense and high-wrought sentiment, by the
introduction of burlesque and familiar circumstances. To give an
instance or two. Butler, in his Hudibras, compares the change of night
into day, to the change of colour in a boiled lobster.

              ‘The sun had long since, in the lap
              Of Thetis, taken out his nap;
              And, like a lobster boil’d, the morn
              From black to red, began to turn:
              When Hudibras, whom thoughts and aching
              ’Twixt sleeping kept all night, and waking,
              Began to rub his drowsy eyes,
              And from his couch prepared to rise,
              Resolving to dispatch the deed
              He vow’d to do with trusty speed.’

Compare this with the following stanzas in Spenser, treating of the same
subject:—

          ‘By this the Northern Waggoner had set
          His seven-fold team behind the stedfast star,
          That was in Ocean waves yet never wet,
          But firm is fix’d and sendeth light from far
          To all that in the wide deep wand’ring are:
          And cheerful chanticleer with his note shrill,
          Had warned once that Phœbus’ fiery car
          In haste was climbing up the eastern hill,
          Full envious that night so long his room did fill.

          At last the golden oriental gate
          Of greatest heaven ’gan to open fair,
          And Phœbus, fresh as bridegroom to his mate,
          Came dancing forth, shaking his dewy hair,
          And hurl’d his glist’ring beams through gloomy air:
          Which when the wakeful elf perceiv’d, straitway
          He started up and did himself prepare
          In sun-bright arms and battailous array,
          For with that pagan proud he combat will that day.’

In this last passage, every image is brought forward that can give
effect to our natural impression of the beauty, the splendour, and
solemn grandeur of the rising sun; pleasure and power wait on every line
and word: whereas, in the other, the only memorable thing is a grotesque
and ludicrous illustration of the alteration which takes place from
darkness to gorgeous light, and that brought from the lowest instance,
and with associations that can only disturb and perplex the imagination
in its conception of the real object it describes. There cannot be a
more witty, and at the same time degrading comparison, than that in the
same author, of the Bear turning round the pole-star to a bear tied to a
stake:—

               ‘But now a sport more formidable
               Had raked together village rabble;
               ’Twas an old way of recreating
               Which learned butchers call bear-baiting,
               A bold adventurous exercise
               With ancient heroes in high prize,
               For authors do affirm it came
               From Isthmian or Nemæan game;
               Others derive it from the Bear
               That’s fixed in Northern hemisphere,
               And round about his pole does make
               A circle like a bear at stake,
               That at the chain’s end wheels about
               And overturns the rabble rout.’

I need not multiply examples of this sort.—Wit or ludicrous invention
produces its effect oftenest by comparison, but not always. It
frequently effects its purposes by unexpected and subtle distinctions.
For instance, in the first kind, Mr. Sheridan’s description of Mr.
Addington’s administration as the fag-end of Mr. Pitt’s, who had
remained so long on the treasury bench that, like Nicias in the fable,
‘he left the sitting part of the man behind him,’ is as fine an example
of metaphorical wit as any on record. The same idea seems, however, to
have been included in the old well-known nickname of the _Rump_
Parliament. Almost as happy an instance of the other kind of wit, which
consists in sudden retorts, in turns upon an idea, and diverting the
train of your adversary’s argument abruptly and adroitly into another
channel, may be seen in the sarcastic reply of Porson, who hearing some
one observe that ‘certain modern poets would be read and admired when
Homer and Virgil were forgotten,’ made answer—‘And not till then!’ Sir
Robert Walpole’s definition of the gratitude of place-expectants, ‘That
it is a lively sense of _future_ favours,’ is no doubt wit, but it does
not consist in the finding out any coincidence or likeness, but in
suddenly transposing the order of time in the common account of this
feeling, so as to make the professions of those who pretend to it
correspond more with their practice. It is filling up a blank in the
human heart with a word that explains its hollowness at once. Voltaire’s
saying, in answer to a stranger who was observing how tall his trees
grew—‘That they had nothing else to do’—was a quaint mixture of wit and
humour, making it out as if they really led a lazy, laborious life; but
there was here neither allusion or metaphor. Again, that master-stroke
in Hudibras is sterling wit and profound satire, where speaking of
certain religious hypocrites he says, that they

                ‘Compound for sins they are inclin’d to,
                By damning those they have no mind to;’

but the wit consists in the truth of the character, and in the happy
exposure of the ludicrous contradiction between the pretext and the
practice; between their lenity towards their own vices, and their
severity to those of others. The same principle of nice distinction must
be allowed to prevail in those lines of the same author, where he is
professing to expound the dreams of judicial astrology.

                  ‘There’s but the twinkling of a star
                  Betwixt a man of peace and war,
                  A thief and justice, fool and knave,
                  A huffing officer and a slave;
                  A crafty lawyer and pickpocket;
                  A great philosopher and a blockhead;
                  A formal preacher and a player;
                  A learn’d physician and man slayer.’

The finest piece of wit I know of, is in the lines of Pope on the Lord
Mayor’s show—

            ‘Now night descending, the proud scene is o’er,
            But lives in Settle’s numbers one day more.’

This is certainly as mortifying an inversion of the idea of poetical
immortality as could be thought of; it fixes the _maximum_ of littleness
and insignificance: but it is not by likeness to any thing else that it
does this, but by literally taking the lowest possible duration of
ephemeral reputation, marking it (as with a slider) on the scale of
endless renown, and giving a rival credit for it as his loftiest praise.
In a word, the shrewd separation or disentangling of ideas that seem the
same, or where the secret contradiction is not sufficiently suspected,
and is of a ludicrous and whimsical nature, is wit just as much as the
bringing together those that appear at first sight totally different.
There is then no sufficient ground for admitting Mr. Locke’s celebrated
definition of wit, which he makes to consist in the finding out striking
and unexpected resemblances in things so as to make pleasant pictures in
the fancy, while judgment and reason, according to him, lie the clean
contrary way, in separating and nicely distinguishing those wherein the
smallest difference is to be found.[2]

On this definition Harris, the author of Hermes, has very well observed
that the demonstrating the equality of the three angles of a
right-angled triangle to two right ones, would, upon the principle here
stated, be a piece of wit instead of an act of the judgment, or
understanding, and Euclid’s Elements a collection of epigrams. On the
contrary it has appeared, that the detection and exposure of difference,
particularly where this implies nice and subtle observation, as in
discriminating between pretence and practice, between appearance and
reality, is common to wit and satire with judgment and reasoning, and
certainly the comparing and connecting our ideas together is an
essential part of reason and judgment, as well as of wit and fancy.—Mere
wit, as opposed to reason or argument, consists in striking out some
casual and partial coincidence which has nothing to do, or at least
implies no necessary connection with the nature of the things, which are
forced into a seeming analogy by a play upon words, or some irrelevant
conceit, as in puns, riddles, alliteration, &c. The jest, in all such
cases, lies in the sort of mock-identity, or nominal resemblance,
established by the intervention of the same words expressing different
ideas, and countenancing as it were, by a fatality of language, the
mischievous insinuation which the person who has the wit to take
advantage of it wishes to convey. So when the disaffected French wits
applied to the new order of the _Fleur du lys_ the _double entendre_ of
_Compagnons d’Ulysse_, or companions of Ulysses, meaning the animal into
which the fellow-travellers of the hero of the Odyssey were transformed,
this was a shrewd and biting intimation of a galling truth (if truth it
were) by a fortuitous concourse of letters of the alphabet, jumping in
‘a foregone conclusion,’ but there was no proof of the thing, unless it
was self-evident. And, indeed, this may be considered as the best
defence of the contested maxim—_That ridicule is the test of truth_;
viz. that it does not contain or attempt a formal proof of it, but owes
its power of conviction to the bare suggestion of it, so that if the
thing when once hinted is not clear in itself, the satire fails of its
effect and falls to the ground. The sarcasm here glanced at the
character of the new or old French noblesse may not be well founded; but
it is so like truth, and ‘comes in such a questionable shape,’ backed
with the appearance of an identical proposition, that it would require a
long train of facts and laboured arguments to do away the impression,
even if we were sure of the honesty and wisdom of the person who
undertook to refute it. A flippant jest is as good a test of truth as a
solid bribe; and there are serious sophistries,

         ‘Soul-killing lies, and truths that work small good,’

as well as idle pleasantries. Of this we may be sure, that ridicule
fastens on the vulnerable points of a cause, and finds out the weak
sides of an argument; if those who resort to it sometimes rely too much
on its success, those who are chiefly annoyed by it almost always are so
with reason, and cannot be too much on their guard against deserving it.
Before we can laugh at a thing, its absurdity must at least be open and
palpable to common apprehension. Ridicule is necessarily built on
certain supposed facts, whether true or false, and on their
inconsistency with certain acknowledged maxims, whether right or wrong.
It is, therefore, a fair test, if not of philosophical or abstract
truth, at least of what is truth according to public opinion and common
sense; for it can only expose to instantaneous contempt that which is
condemned by public opinion, and is hostile to the common sense of
mankind. Or to put it differently, it is the test of the quantity of
truth that there is in our favourite prejudices.—To shew how nearly
allied wit is thought to be to truth, it is not unusual to say of any
person—‘Such a one is a man of sense, for though he said nothing, he
laughed in the right place.’—Alliteration comes in here under the head
of a certain sort of verbal wit; or, by pointing the expression,
sometimes points the sense. Mr. Grattan’s wit or eloquence (I don’t know
by what name to call it) would be nothing without this accompaniment.
Speaking of some ministers whom he did not like, he said, ‘Their only
means of government are the guinea and the gallows.’ There can scarcely,
it must be confessed, be a more effectual mode of political conversion
than one of these applied to a man’s friends, and the other to himself.
The fine sarcasm of Junius on the effect of the supposed ingratitude of
the Duke of Grafton at court—‘The instance might be painful, but the
principle would please’—notwithstanding the profound insight into human
nature it implies, would hardly pass for wit without the alliteration,
as some poetry would hardly be acknowledged as such without the rhyme to
clench it. A quotation or a hackneyed phrase dextrously turned or
wrested to another purpose, has often the effect of the liveliest wit.
An idle fellow who had only fourpence left in the world, which had been
put by to pay for the baking some meat for his dinner, went and laid it
out to buy a new string for a guitar. An old acquaintance on hearing
this story, repeated those lines out of the Allegro—

                    ‘And ever against _eating_ cares
                    Lap me in soft Lydian airs.’

The reply of the author of the periodical paper called the World to a
lady at church, who seeing him look thoughtful, asked what he was
thinking of—‘The next World,’—is a perversion of an established formula
of language, something of the same kind.—Rhymes are sometimes a species
of wit, where there is an alternate combination and resolution or
decomposition of the elements of sound, contrary to our usual division
and classification of them in ordinary speech, not unlike the sudden
separation and re-union of the component parts of the machinery in a
pantomime. The author who excels infinitely the most in this way is the
writer of Hudibras. He also excels in the invention of single words and
names which have the effect of wit by sounding big, and meaning
nothing:—‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ But of the
artifices of this author’s burlesque style I shall have occasion to
speak hereafter.—It is not always easy to distinguish between the wit of
words and that of things. ‘For thin partitions do their bounds divide.’
Some of the late Mr. Curran’s _bon mots_ or _jeux d’esprit_, might be
said to owe their birth to this sort of equivocal generation; or were a
happy mixture of verbal wit and a lively and picturesque fancy, of legal
acuteness in detecting the variable application of words, and of a mind
apt at perceiving the ludicrous in external objects. ‘Do you see any
thing ridiculous in this wig?’ said one of his brother judges to him.
‘Nothing but the head,’ was the answer. Now here instantaneous advantage
was taken of the slight technical ambiguity in the construction of
language, and the matter-of-fact is flung into the scale as a thumping
makeweight. After all, verbal and accidental strokes of wit, though the
most surprising and laughable, are not the best and most lasting. That
wit is the most refined and effectual, which is founded on the detection
of unexpected likeness or distinction in things, rather than in words.
It is more severe and galling, that is, it is more unpardonable though
less surprising, in proportion as the thought suggested is more complete
and satisfactory, from its being inherent in the nature of the things
themselves. _Hæret lateri lethalis arundo._ Truth makes the greatest
libel; and it is that which barbs the darts of wit. The Duke of
Buckingham’s saying, ‘Laws are not, like women, the worse for being
old,’ is an instance of a harmless truism and the utmost malice of wit
united. This is, perhaps, what has been meant by the distinction between
true and false wit. Mr. Addison, indeed, goes so far as to make it the
exclusive test of true wit that it will bear translation into another
language, that is to say, that it does not depend at all on the form of
expression. But this is by no means the case. Swift would hardly have
allowed of such a strait-laced theory, to make havoc with his darling
conundrums; though there is no one whose serious wit is more that of
things, as opposed to a mere play either of words or fancy. I ought, I
believe, to have noticed before, in speaking of the difference between
wit and humour, that wit is often pretended absurdity, where the person
overacts or exaggerates a certain part with a conscious design to expose
it as if it were another person, as when Mandrake in the Twin Rivals
says, ‘This glass is too big, carry it away, I’ll drink out of the
bottle.’ On the contrary, when Sir Hugh Evans says very innocently,
‘’Od’s plessed will, I will not be absence at the grace,’ though there
is here a great deal of humour, there is no wit. This kind of wit of the
humorist, where the person makes a butt of himself, and exhibits his own
absurdities or foibles purposely in the most pointed and glaring lights,
runs through the whole of the character of Falstaff, and is, in truth,
the principle on which it is founded. It is an irony directed against
one’s-self. Wit is, in fact, a voluntary act of the mind, or exercise of
the invention, shewing the absurd and ludicrous consciously, whether in
ourselves or another. Cross-readings, where the blunders are designed,
are wit: but if any one were to light upon them through ignorance or
accident, they would be merely ludicrous.

It might be made an argument of the intrinsic superiority of poetry or
imagination to wit, that the former does not admit of mere verbal
combinations. Whenever they do occur, they are uniformly blemishes. It
requires something more solid and substantial to raise admiration or
passion. The general forms and aggregate masses of our ideas must be
brought more into play, to give weight and magnitude. Imagination may be
said to be the finding out something similar in things generally alike,
or with like feelings attached to them; while wit principally aims at
finding out something that seems the same, or amounts to a momentary
deception where you least expected it, viz. in things totally opposite.
The reason why more slight and partial, or merely accidental and nominal
resemblances serve the purposes of wit, and indeed characterise its
essence as a distinct operation and faculty of the mind, is, that the
object of ludicrous poetry is naturally to let down and lessen; and it
is easier to let down than to raise up, to weaken than to strengthen, to
disconnect our sympathy from passion and power, than to attach and rivet
it to any object of grandeur or interest, to startle and shock our
preconceptions by incongruous and equivocal combinations, than to
confirm, enforce, and expand them by powerful and lasting associations
of ideas, or striking and true analogies. A slight cause is sufficient
to produce a slight effect. To be indifferent or sceptical, requires no
effort; to be enthusiastic and in earnest, requires a strong impulse,
and collective power. Wit and humour (comparatively speaking, or taking
the extremes to judge of the gradations by) appeal to our indolence, our
vanity, our weakness, and insensibility; serious and impassioned poetry
appeals to our strength, our magnanimity, our virtue, and humanity. Any
thing is sufficient to heap contempt upon an object; even the bare
suggestion of a mischievous allusion to what is improper, dissolves the
whole charm, and puts an end to our admiration of the sublime or
beautiful. Reading the finest passage in Milton’s Paradise Lost in a
false tone, will make it seem insipid and absurd. The cavilling at, or
invidiously pointing out, a few slips of the pen, will embitter the
pleasure, or alter our opinion of a whole work, and make us throw it
down in disgust. The critics are aware of this vice and infirmity in our
nature, and play upon it with periodical success. The meanest weapons
are strong enough for this kind of warfare, and the meanest hands can
wield them. Spleen can subsist on any kind of food. The shadow of a
doubt, the hint of an inconsistency, a word, a look, a syllable, will
destroy our best-formed convictions. What puts this argument in as
striking a point of view as any thing, is the nature of parody or
burlesque, the secret of which lies merely in transposing or applying at
a venture to any thing, or to the lowest objects, that which is
applicable only to certain given things, or to the highest matters.
‘From the sublime to the ridiculous, there is but one step.’ The
slightest want of unity of impression destroys the sublime; the
detection of the smallest incongruity is an infallible ground to rest
the ludicrous upon. But in serious poetry, which aims at rivetting our
affections, every blow must tell home. The missing a single time is
fatal, and undoes the spell. We see how difficult it is to sustain a
continued flight of impressive sentiment: how easy it must be then to
travestie or burlesque it, to flounder into nonsense, and be witty by
playing the fool. It is a common mistake, however, to suppose that
parodies degrade, or imply a stigma on the subject: on the contrary,
they in general imply something serious or sacred in the originals.
Without this, they would be good for nothing; for the immediate contrast
would be wanting, and with this they are sure to tell. The best parodies
are, accordingly, the best and most striking things reversed. Witness
the common travesties of Homer and Virgil. Mr. Canning’s court parodies
on Mr. Southey’s popular odes, are also an instance in point (I do not
know which were the cleverest); and the best of the Rejected Addresses
is the parody on Crabbe, though I do not certainly think that Crabbe is
the most ridiculous poet now living.

Lear and the Fool are the sublimest instance I know of passion and wit
united, or of imagination unfolding the most tremendous sufferings, and
of burlesque on passion playing with it, aiding and relieving its
intensity by the most pointed, but familiar and indifferent
illustrations of the same thing in different objects, and on a meaner
scale. The Fool’s reproaching Lear with ‘making his daughters his
mothers,’ his snatches of proverbs and old ballads, ‘The hedge-sparrow
fed the cuckoo so long, that it had its head bit off by its young,’ and
‘Whoop jug, I know when the horse follows the cart,’ are a running
commentary of trite truisms, pointing out the extreme folly of the
infatuated old monarch, and in a manner reconciling us to its inevitable
consequences.

Lastly, there is a wit of sense and observation, which consists in the
acute illustration of good sense and practical wisdom, by means of some
far-fetched conceit or quaint imagery. The matter is sense, but the form
is wit. Thus the lines in Pope—

             ‘’Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
             Go just alike; yet each believes his own——’

are witty, rather than poetical; because the truth they convey is a mere
dry observation on human life, without elevation or enthusiasm, and the
illustration of it is of that quaint and familiar kind that is merely
curious and fanciful. Cowley is an instance of the same kind in almost
all his writings. Many of the jests and witticisms in the best comedies
are moral aphorisms and rules for the conduct of life, sparkling with
wit and fancy in the mode of expression. The ancient philosophers also
abounded in the same kind of wit, in telling home truths in the most
unexpected manner.—In this sense Æsop was the greatest wit and moralist
that ever lived. Ape and slave, he looked askance at human nature, and
beheld its weaknesses and errors transferred to another species. Vice
and virtue were to him as plain as any objects of sense. He saw in man a
talking, absurd, obstinate, proud, angry animal; and clothed these
abstractions with wings, or a beak, or tail, or claws, or long ears, as
they appeared embodied in these hieroglyphics in the brute creation. His
moral philosophy is natural history. He makes an ass bray wisdom, and a
frog croak humanity. The store of moral truth, and the fund of invention
in exhibiting it in eternal forms, palpable and intelligible, and
delightful to children and grown persons, and to all ages and nations,
are almost miraculous. The invention of a fable is to me the most
enviable exertion of human genius: it is the discovering a truth to
which there is no clue, and which, when once found out, can never be
forgotten. I would rather have been the author of Æsop’s Fables, than of
Euclid’s Elements!—That popular entertainment, Punch and the
Puppet-show, owes part of its irresistible and universal attraction to
nearly the same principle of inspiring inanimate and mechanical agents
with sense and consciousness. The drollery and wit of a piece of wood is
doubly droll and farcical. Punch is not merry in himself, but ‘he is the
cause of heartfelt mirth in other men.’ The wires and pulleys that
govern his motions are conductors to carry off the spleen, and all ‘that
perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart.’ If we see a number of people
turning the corner of a street, ready to burst with secret satisfaction,
and with their faces bathed in laughter, we know what is the matter—that
they are just come from a puppet-show. Who can see three little painted,
patched-up figures, no bigger than one’s thumb, strut, squeak and
gibber, sing, dance, chatter, scold, knock one another about the head,
give themselves airs of importance, and ‘imitate humanity most
abominably,’ without laughing immoderately? We overlook the farce and
mummery of human life in little, and for nothing; and what is still
better, it costs them who have to play in it nothing. We place the
mirth, and glee, and triumph, to our own account; and we know that the
bangs and blows they have received go for nothing, as soon as the
showman puts them up in his box and marches off quietly with them, as
jugglers of a less amusing description sometimes march off with the
wrongs and rights of mankind in their pockets!—I have heard no bad judge
of such matters say, that ‘he liked a comedy better than a tragedy, a
farce better than a comedy, a pantomime better than a farce, but a
puppet-show best of all.’ I look upon it, that he who invented
puppet-shows was a greater benefactor to his species, than he who
invented Operas!

I shall conclude this imperfect and desultory sketch of wit and humour
with Barrow’s celebrated description of the same subject. He says, ‘—But
first it may be demanded, what the thing we speak of is, or what this
facetiousness doth import; to which question I might reply, as
Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man—_’tis that
which we all see and know_; and one better apprehends what it is by
acquaintance, than I can inform him by description. It is, indeed, a
thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many
postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and
judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain
notice thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the
figure of fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known
story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging
an apposite tale: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking
advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their
sound: sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of luminous expression;
sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude. Sometimes it is lodged in
a sly question, in a smart answer; in a quirkish reason; in a shrewd
intimation; in cunningly diverting or cleverly restoring an objection:
sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech; in a tart irony; in
a lusty hyperbole; in a startling metaphor; in a plausible reconciling
of contradictions, or in acute nonsense: sometimes a scenical
representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical
look or gesture passeth for it; sometimes an affected simplicity,
sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being: sometimes it riseth
only from a lucky hitting upon what is strange: sometimes from a crafty
wresting obvious matter to the purpose: often it consisteth in one knows
not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are
unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless
rovings of fancy and windings of language. It is, in short, a manner of
speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and
knoweth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit
or expression doth affect and amuse the fancy, shewing in it some
wonder, and breathing some delight thereto. It raiseth admiration, as
signifying a nimble sagacity of apprehension, a special felicity of
invention, a vivacity of spirit, and reach of wit more than vulgar: it
seeming to argue a rare quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote
conceits applicable; a notable skill that he can dextrously accommodate
them to a purpose before him, together with a lively briskness of
humour, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination. (Whence
in Aristotle such persons are termed ἐπιδεξιοι, dexterous men and
εὐτροποι, men of facile or versatile manners, who can easily turn
themselves to all things, or turn all things to themselves.) It also
procureth delight by gratifying curiosity with its rareness or semblance
of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty but their rarity; as
juggling tricks, not for their use but their abstruseness, are beheld
with pleasure;) by diverting the mind from its road of serious thoughts;
by instilling gaiety and airiness of spirit; by provoking to such
dispositions of spirit, in way of emulation or complaisance, and by
seasoning matter, otherwise distasteful or insipid, with an unusual and
thence grateful tang.’—_Barrow’s Works, Serm. 14._

I will only add by way of general caution, that there is nothing more
ridiculous than laughter without a cause, nor any thing more troublesome
than what are called laughing people. A professed laugher is as
contemptible and tiresome a character as a professed wit: the one is
always contriving something to laugh at, the other is always laughing at
nothing. An excess of levity is as impertinent as an excess of gravity.
A character of this sort is well personified by Spenser, in the Damsel
of the Idle Lake—

               ‘——Who did essay
               To laugh at shaking of the leavés light.’

Any one must be mainly ignorant or thoughtless, who is surprised at
every thing he sees; or wonderfully conceited, who expects every thing
to conform to his standard of propriety. Clowns and idiots laugh on all
occasions; and the common failing of wishing to be thought satirical
often runs through whole families in country places, to the great
annoyance of their neighbours. To be struck with incongruity in whatever
comes before us, does not argue great comprehension or refinement of
perception, but rather a looseness and flippancy of mind and temper,
which prevents the individual from connecting any two ideas steadily or
consistently together. It is owing to a natural crudity and
precipitateness of the imagination, which assimilates nothing properly
to itself. People who are always laughing, at length laugh on the wrong
side of their faces; for they cannot get others to laugh with them. In
like manner, an affectation of wit by degrees hardens the heart, and
spoils good company and good manners. A perpetual succession of good
things puts an end to common conversation. There is no answer to a jest,
but another; and even where the ball can be kept up in this way without
ceasing, it tires the patience of the by-standers, and runs the speakers
out of breath. Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food.

The four chief names for comic humour out of our own language are
Aristophanes and Lucian among the ancients, Moliere and Rabelais among
the moderns. Of the two first I shall say, for I know but little. I
should have liked Aristophanes better, if he had treated Socrates less
scurvily, for he has treated him most scurvily both as to wit and
argument. His Plutus and his Birds are striking instances, the one of
dry humour, the other of airy fancy.—Lucian is a writer who appears to
deserve his full fame: he has the licentious and extravagant wit of
Rabelais, but directed more uniformly to a purpose; and his comic
productions are interspersed with beautiful and eloquent descriptions,
full of sentiment, such as the exquisite account of the fable of the
halcyon put into the mouth of Socrates, and the heroic eulogy on
Bacchus, which is conceived in the highest strain of glowing panegyric.

The two other authors I proposed to mention are modern, and French.
Moliere, however, in the spirit of his writings, is almost as much an
English as a French author—quite a _barbare_ in all in which he really
excelled. He was unquestionably one of the greatest comic geniuses that
ever lived; a man of infinite wit, gaiety, and invention—full of life,
laughter, and whim. But it cannot be denied, that his plays are in
general mere farces, without scrupulous adherence to nature, refinement
of character, or common probability. The plots of several of them could
not be carried on for a moment without a perfect collusion between the
parties to wink at contradictions, and act in defiance of the evidence
of their senses. For instance, take the _Médecin malgré lui_ (the Mock
Doctor), in which a common wood-cutter takes upon himself, and is made
successfully to support through a whole play, the character of a learned
physician, without exciting the least suspicion; and yet,
notwithstanding the absurdity of the plot, it is one of the most
laughable and truly comic productions that can well be imagined. The
rest of his lighter pieces, the _Bourgeois Gentilhomme_, _Monsieur
Pourceaugnac_, _George Dandin_, (or Barnaby Brittle,) &c. are of the
same description—gratuitous assumptions of character, and fanciful and
outrageous caricatures of nature. He indulges at his peril in the utmost
license of burlesque exaggeration; and gives a loose to the intoxication
of his animal spirits. With respect to his two most laboured comedies,
the Tartuffe and Misanthrope, I confess that I find them rather hard to
get through: they have much of the improbability and extravagance of the
others, united with the endless common-place prosing of French
declamation. What can exceed, for example, the absurdity of the
Misanthrope, who leaves his mistress, after every proof of her
attachment and constancy, for no other reason than that she will not
submit to the _technical formality_ of going to live with him in a
wilderness? The characters, again, which Celimene gives of her female
friends, near the opening of the play, are admirable satires, (as good
as Pope’s characters of women,) but not exactly in the spirit of comic
dialogue. The strictures of Rousseau on this play, in his Letter to
D’Alembert, are a fine specimen of the best philosophical criticism.—The
same remarks apply in a greater degree to the Tartuffe. The long
speeches and reasonings in this play tire one almost to death: they may
be very good logic, or rhetoric, or philosophy, or any thing but comedy.
If each of the parties had retained a special pleader to speak his
sentiments, they could have appeared more verbose or intricate. The
improbability of the character of Orgon is wonderful. This play is in
one point of view invaluable, as a lasting monument of the credulity of
the French to all verbal professions of wisdom or virtue; and its
existence can only be accounted for from that astonishing and tyrannical
predominance which words exercise over things in the mind of every
Frenchman. The _Ecole des Femmes_, from which Wycherley has borrowed his
Country Wife, with the true spirit of original genius, is, in my
judgment, the masterpiece of Moliere. The set speeches in the original
play, it is true, would not be borne on the English stage, nor indeed on
the French, but that they are carried off by the verse. The _Critique de
l’Ecole des Femmes_, the dialogue of which is prose, is written in a
very different style. Among other things, this little piece contains an
exquisite, and almost unanswerable defence of the superiority of comedy
over tragedy. Moliere was to be excused for taking this side of the
question.

A writer of some pretensions among ourselves has reproached the French
with ‘an equal want of books and men.’ There is a common French print,
in which Moliere is represented reading one of his plays in the presence
of the celebrated Ninon de l’Enclos, to a circle of the wits and first
men of his own time. Among these are the great Corneille; the tender,
faultless Racine; Fontaine, the artless old man, unconscious of
immortality; the accomplished St. Evremond; the Duke de La
Rochefoucault, the severe anatomiser of the human breast; Boileau, the
flatterer of courts and judge of men! Were these men nothing? They have
passed for men (and great ones) hitherto, and though the prejudice is an
old one, I should hope it may still last our time.

Rabelais is another name that might have saved this unjust censure. The
wise sayings and heroic deeds of Gargantua and Pantagruel ought not to
be set down as nothing. I have already spoken my mind at large of this
author; but I cannot help thinking of him here, sitting in his easy
chair, with an eye languid with excess of mirth, his lip quivering with
a new-born conceit, and wiping his beard after a well-seasoned jest,
with his pen held carelessly in his hand, his wine-flagons, and his
books of law, of school divinity, and physic before him, which were his
jest-books, whence he drew endless stores of absurdity; laughing at the
world and enjoying it by turns, and making the world laugh with him
again, for the last three hundred years, at his teeming wit and its own
prolific follies. Even to those who have never read his works, the name
of Rabelais is a cordial to the spirits, and the mention of it cannot
consist with gravity or spleen!


                               LECTURE II
                      ON SHAKSPEARE AND BEN JONSON

Dr. Johnson thought Shakspeare’s comedies better than his tragedies, and
gives as a reason, that he was more at home in the one than in the
other. That comedies should be written in a more easy and careless vein
than tragedies, is but natural. This is only saying that a comedy is not
so serious a thing as a tragedy. But that he shewed a greater mastery in
the one than the other, I cannot allow, nor is it generally felt. The
labour which the Doctor thought it cost Shakspeare to write his
tragedies, only shewed the labour which it cost the critic in reading
them, that is, his general indisposition to sympathise heartily and
spontaneously with works of high-wrought passion or imagination. There
is not in any part of this author’s writings the slightest trace of his
having ever been ‘smit with the love of sacred song,’ except some
passages in Pope. His habitually morbid temperament and saturnine turn
of thought required that the string should rather be relaxed than
tightened, that the weight upon the mind should rather be taken off than
have any thing added to it. There was a sluggish moroseness about his
moral constitution that refused to be roused to any keen agony of
thought, and that was not very safely to be trifled with in lighter
matters, though this last was allowed to pass off as the most pardonable
offence against the gravity of his pretensions. It is in fact the
established rule at present, in these cases, to speak highly of the
Doctor’s authority, and to dissent from almost every one of his critical
decisions. For my own part, I so far consider this preference given to
the comic genius of the poet as erroneous and unfounded, that I should
say that he is the only tragic poet in the world in the highest sense,
as being on a par with, and the same as Nature, in her greatest heights
and depths of action and suffering. There is but one who durst walk
within that mighty circle, treading the utmost bound of nature and
passion, shewing us the dread abyss of woe in all its ghastly shapes and
colours, and laying open all the faculties of the human soul to act, to
think, and suffer, in direst extremities; whereas I think, on the other
hand, that in comedy, though his talents there too were as wonderful as
they were delightful, yet that there were some before him, others on a
level with him, and many close behind him. I cannot help thinking, for
instance, that Moliere was as great, or a greater comic genius than
Shakspeare, though assuredly I do not think that Racine was as great, or
a greater tragic genius. I think that both Rabelais and Cervantes, the
one in the power of ludicrous description, the other in the invention
and perfect keeping of comic character, excelled Shakspeare; that is,
they would have been greater men, if they had had equal power with him
over the stronger passions. For my own reading, I like Vanbrugh’s City
Wives’ Confederacy as well, or (‘not to speak it profanely’) better than
the Merry Wives of Windsor, and Congreve’s Way of the World as well as
the Comedy of Errors or Love’s Labour Lost. But I cannot say that I know
of any tragedies in the world that make even a tolerable approach to
Hamlet, or Lear, or Othello, or some others, either in the sum total of
their effect, or in their complete distinctness from every thing else,
by which they take not only unquestioned, but undivided possession of
the mind, and form a class, a world by themselves, mingling with all our
thoughts like a second being. Other tragedies tell for more or less, are
good, bad, or indifferent, as they have more or less excellence of a
kind common to them with others: but these stand alone by themselves;
they have nothing common-place in them; they are a new power in the
imagination, they tell for their whole amount, they measure from the
ground. There is not only nothing so good (in my judgment) as Hamlet, or
Lear, or Othello, or Macbeth, but there is nothing like Hamlet, or Lear,
or Othello, or Macbeth. There is nothing, I believe, in the majestic
Corneille, equal to the stern pride of Coriolanus, or which gives such
an idea of the crumbling in pieces of the Roman grandeur, ‘like an
unsubstantial pageant faded,’ as the Antony and Cleopatra. But to match
the best serious comedies, such as Moliere’s Misanthrope and his
Tartuffe, we must go to Shakspeare’s tragic characters, the Timon of
Athens or honest Iago, when we shall more than succeed. He put his
strength into his tragedies, and played with comedy. He was greatest in
what was greatest; and his _forte_ was not trifling, according to the
opinion here combated, even though he might do that as well as any body
else, unless he could do it better than any body else.—I would not be
understood to say that there are not scenes or whole characters in
Shakspeare equal in wit and drollery to any thing upon record. Falstaff
alone is an instance which, if I would, I could not get over. ‘He is the
leviathan of all the creatures of the author’s comic genius, and tumbles
about his unwieldy bulk in an ocean of wit and humour.’ But in general
it will be found (if I am not mistaken) that even in the very best of
these, the spirit of humanity and the fancy of the poet greatly prevail
over the mere wit and satire, and that we sympathise with his characters
oftener than we laugh at them. His ridicule wants the sting of
ill-nature. He had hardly such a thing as spleen in his composition.
Falstaff himself is so great a joke, rather from his being so huge a
mass of enjoyment than of absurdity. His re-appearance in the Merry
Wives of Windsor is not ‘a consummation devoutly to be wished,’ for we
do not take pleasure in the repeated triumphs over him.—Mercutio’s quips
and banter upon his friends shew amazing gaiety, frankness, and
volubility of tongue, but we think no more of them when the poet takes
the words out of his mouth, and gives the description of Queen Mab.
Touchstone, again, is a shrewd biting fellow, a lively mischievous wag:
but still what are his gibing sentences and chopped logic to the fine
moralising vein of the fantastical Jacques, stretched beneath ‘the shade
of melancholy boughs?’ Nothing. That is, Shakspeare was a greater poet
than wit: his imagination was the leading and master-quality of his
mind, which was always ready to soar into its native element: the
ludicrous was only secondary and subordinate. In the comedies of
gallantry and intrigue, with what freshness and delight we come to the
serious and romantic parts! What a relief they are to the mind, after
those of mere ribaldry or mirth! Those in Twelfth Night, for instance,
and Much Ado about Nothing, where Olivia and Hero are concerned, throw
even Malvolio and Sir Toby, and Benedick and Beatrice, into the shade.
They ‘give a very echo to the seat where love is throned.’ What he has
said of music might be said of his own poetry—

             ‘Oh! it came o’er the ear like the sweet south
             Breathing upon a bank of violets,
             Stealing and giving odour.’

How poor, in general, what a falling-off, these parts seem in mere comic
authors; how ashamed we are of them; and how fast we hurry the blank
verse over, that we may get upon safe ground again, and recover our good
opinion of the author! A striking and lamentable instance of this may be
found (by any one who chooses) in the high-flown speeches in Sir Richard
Steele’s Conscious Lovers.—As good an example as any of this informing
and redeeming power in our author’s genius might be taken from the comic
scenes in both parts of Henry IV. Nothing can go much lower in intellect
or morals than many of the characters. Here are knaves and fools in
abundance, of the meanest order, and stripped stark-naked. But genius,
like charity, ‘covers a multitude of sins:’ we pity as much as we
despise them; in spite of our disgust we like them, because they like
themselves, and because we are made to sympathise with them; and the
ligament, fine as it is, which links them to humanity, is never broken.
Who would quarrel with Wart or Feeble, or Mouldy or Bull-calf, or even
with Pistol, Nym, or Bardolph? None but a hypocrite. The severe
censurers of the morals of imaginary characters can generally find a
hole for their own vices to creep out at; and yet do not perceive how it
is that the imperfect and even deformed characters in Shakspeare’s
plays, as done to the life, by forming a part of our personal
consciousness, claim our personal forgiveness, and suspend or evade our
moral judgment, by bribing our self-love to side with them. Not to do
so, is not morality, but affectation, stupidity, or ill-nature. I have
more sympathy with one of Shakspeare’s pick-purses, Gadshill or Peto,
than I can possibly have with any member of the Society for the
Suppression of Vice, and would by no means assist to deliver the one
into the hands of the other. Those who cannot be persuaded to draw a
veil over the foibles of ideal characters, may be suspected of wearing a
mask over their own! Again, in point of understanding and attainments,
Shallow sinks low enough; and yet his cousin Silence is a foil to him;
he is the shadow of a shade, glimmers on the very verge of downright
imbecility, and totters on the brink of nothing. ‘He has been merry
twice or once ere now,’ and is hardly persuaded to break his silence in
a song. Shallow has ‘heard the chimes at midnight,’ and roared out glees
and catches at taverns and inns of court, when he was young. So, at
least, he tells his cousin Silence, and Falstaff encourages the
loftiness of his pretensions. Shallow would be thought a great man among
his dependents and followers; Silence is nobody—not even in his own
opinion: yet he sits in the orchard, and eats his carraways and pippins
among the rest. Shakspeare takes up the meanest subjects with the same
tenderness that we do an insect’s wing, and would not kill a fly. To
give a more particular instance of what I mean, I will take the
inimitable and affecting, though most absurd and ludicrous dialogue,
between Shallow and Silence, on the death of old Double.

‘_Shallow._ Come on, come on, come on; give me your hand, Sir; give me
your hand, Sir; an early stirrer, by the rood. And how doth my good
cousin Silence?

_Silence._ Good morrow, good cousin Shallow.

_Shallow._ And how doth my cousin, your bedfellow? and your fairest
daughter, and mine, my god-daughter Ellen?

_Silence._ Alas, a black ouzel, cousin Shallow.

_Shallow._ By yea and nay, Sir; I dare say, my cousin William is become
a good scholar: he is at Oxford still, is he not?

_Silence._ Indeed, Sir, to my cost.

_Shallow._ He must then to the Inns of Court shortly. I was once of
Clement’s-Inn; where, I think, they will talk of mad Shallow yet.

_Silence._ You were called lusty Shallow then, cousin.

_Shallow._ I was called any thing, and I would have done any thing
indeed, and roundly too. There was I, and little John Doit of
Staffordshire, and black George Bare, and Francis Pickbone, and Will
Squele a Cotswold man, you had not four such swinge-bucklers in all the
Inns of Court again; and, I may say to you, we knew where the bona-robas
were, and had the best of them all at commandment. Then was Jack
Falstaff (now Sir John, a boy,) and page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of
Norfolk.

_Silence._ This Sir John, cousin, that comes hither anon about soldiers?

_Shallow._ The same Sir John, the very same: I saw him break Schoggan’s
head at the court-gate, when he was a crack, not thus high; and the very
same day did I fight with one Sampson Stockfish, a fruiterer, behind
Gray’s-Inn. O, the mad days that I have spent! and to see how many of
mine old acquaintance are dead!

_Silence._ We shall all follow, cousin.

_Shallow._ Certain, ’tis certain, very sure, very sure: death (as the
Psalmist saith) is certain to all, all shall die.—How a good yoke of
bullocks at Stamford fair?

_Silence._ Truly, cousin, I was not there.

_Shallow._ Death is certain. Is old Double of your town living yet?

_Silence._ Dead, Sir.

_Shallow._ Dead! see, see! he drew a good bow: and dead? he shot a fine
shoot. John of Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head.
Dead! he would have clapped i’th’ clout at twelve score; and carried you
a forehand shaft a fourteen and fourteen and a half, that it would have
done a man’s heart good to see.—How a score of ewes now?

_Silence._ Thereafter as they be: a score of good ewes may be worth ten
pounds.

_Shallow._ And is old Double dead?’


There is not any thing more characteristic than this in all Shakspeare.
A finer sermon on mortality was never preached. We see the frail
condition of human life, and the weakness of the human understanding in
Shallow’s reflections on it; who, while the past is sliding from beneath
his feet, still clings to the present. The meanest circumstances are
shewn through an atmosphere of abstraction that dignifies them: their
very insignificance makes them more affecting, for they instantly put a
check on our aspiring thoughts, and remind us that, seen through that
dim perspective, the difference between the great and little, the wise
and foolish, is not much. ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world
kin:’ and old Double, though his exploits had been greater, could but
have had his day. There is a pathetic _naiveté_ mixed up with Shallow’s
common-place reflections and impertinent digressions. The reader laughs
(as well he may) in reading the passage, but he lays down the book to
think. The wit, however diverting, is social and humane. But this is not
the distinguishing characteristic of wit, which is generally provoked by
folly, and spends its venom upon vice.

The fault, then, of Shakspeare’s comic Muse is, in my opinion, that it
is too good-natured and magnanimous. It mounts above its quarry. It is
‘apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable
shapes:’ but it does not take the highest pleasure in making human
nature look as mean, as ridiculous, and contemptible as possible. It is
in this respect, chiefly, that it differs from the comedy of a later,
and (what is called) a more refined period. Genteel comedy is the comedy
of fashionable life, and of artificial character and manners. The most
pungent ridicule, is that which is directed to mortify vanity, and to
expose affectation; but vanity and affectation, in their most exorbitant
and studied excesses, are the ruling principles of society, only in a
highly advanced state of civilisation and manners. Man can hardly be
said to be a truly contemptible animal, till, from the facilities of
general intercourse, and the progress of example and opinion, he becomes
the ape of the extravagances of other men. The keenest edge of satire is
required to distinguish between the true and false pretensions to taste
and elegance; its lash is laid on with the utmost severity, to drive
before it the common herd of knaves and fools, not to lacerate and
terrify the single stragglers. In a word, it is when folly is epidemic,
and vice worn as a mark of distinction, that all the malice of wit and
humour is called out and justified to detect the imposture, and prevent
the contagion from spreading. The fools in Wycherley and Congreve are of
their own, or one another’s making, and deserve to be well scourged into
common sense and decency: the fools in Shakspeare are of his own or
nature’s making; and it would be unfair to probe to the quick, or hold
up to unqualified derision, the faults which are involuntary and
incorrigible, or those which you yourself encourage and exaggerate, from
the pleasure you take in witnessing them. Our later comic writers
represent a state of manners, in which to be a man of wit and pleasure
about town was become the fashion, and in which the swarms of egregious
pretenders in both kinds openly kept one another in countenance, and
were become a public nuisance. Shakspeare, living in a state of greater
rudeness and simplicity, chiefly gave certain characters which were a
kind of _grotesques_, or solitary excrescences growing up out of their
native soil without affectation, and which he undertook kindly to pamper
for the public entertainment. For instance, Sir Andrew Aguecheek is
evidently a creature of the poet’s own fancy. The author lends occasion
to his absurdity to shew itself as much as he pleases, devises antics
for him which would not enter into his own head, makes him ‘go to church
in a galliard, and return home in a coranto;’ adds fuel to his folly, or
throws cold water on his courage; makes his puny extravagances venture
out or slink into corners without asking his leave; encourages them into
indiscreet luxuriance, or checks them in the bud, just as it suits him
for the jest’s sake. The gratification of the fancy, ‘and furnishing
matter for innocent mirth,’ are, therefore, the chief object of this and
other characters like it, rather than reforming the moral sense, or
indulging our personal spleen. But Tattle and Sparkish, who are fops
cast not in the mould of fancy, but of fashion, who have a tribe of
forerunners and followers, who catch certain diseases of the mind on
purpose to communicate the infection, and are screened in their
preposterous eccentricities by their own conceit and by the world’s
opinion, are entitled to no quarter, and receive none. They think
themselves objects of envy and admiration, and on that account are
doubly objects of our contempt and ridicule.—We find that the scenes of
Shakspeare’s comedies are mostly laid in the country, or are
transferable there at pleasure. The genteel comedy exists only in towns,
and crowds of borrowed characters, who copy others as the satirist
copies them, and who are only seen to be despised. ‘All beyond Hyde Park
is a desart to it:’ while there the pastoral and poetic comedy begins to
vegetate and flourish, unpruned, idle, and fantastic. It is hard to ‘lay
waste a country gentleman’ in a state of nature, whose humours may have
run a little wild or to seed, or to lay violent hands on a young booby
‘squire, whose absurdities have not yet arrived at years of discretion:
but my Lord Foppington, who is ‘the prince of coxcombs,’ and ‘proud of
being at the head of so prevailing a party,’ deserves his fate. I am not
for going so far as to pronounce Shakspeare’s ‘manners damnable, because
he had not seen the court;’ but I think that comedy does not find its
richest harvest till individual infirmities have passed into general
manners, and it is the example of courts, chiefly, that stamps folly
with credit and currency, or glosses over vice with meretricious lustre.
I conceive, therefore, that the golden period of our comedy was just
after the age of Charles ii. when the town first became tainted with the
affectation of the manners and conversation of fashionable life, and
before the distinction between rusticity and elegance, art and nature,
was lost (as it afterwards was) in a general diffusion of knowledge, and
the reciprocal advantages of civil intercourse. It is to be remarked,
that the union of the three gradations of artificial elegance and
courtly accomplishments in one class, of the affectation of them in
another, and of absolute rusticity in a third, forms the highest point
of perfection of the comedies of this period, as we may see in
Vanbrugh’s Lord Foppington, Sir Tunbelly Clumsy, and Miss Hoyden; Lady
Townly, Count Basset, and John Moody; in Congreve’s Millamant, Lady
Wishfort, Witwoud, Sir Wilful Witwoud, and the rest.

In another point of view, or with respect to that part of comedy which
relates to gallantry and intrigue, the difference between Shakspeare’s
comic heroines and those of a later period may be referred to the same
distinction between natural and artificial life, between the world of
fancy and the world of fashion. The refinements of romantic passion
arise out of the imagination brooding over ‘airy nothing,’ or over a
favourite object, where ‘love’s golden shaft hath killed the flock of
all affections else:’ whereas the refinements of this passion in genteel
comedy, or in every-day life, may be said to arise out of repeated
observation and experience, diverting and frittering away the first
impressions of things by a multiplicity of objects, and producing, not
enthusiasm, but fastidiousness or giddy dissipation. For the one a
comparatively rude age and strong feelings are best fitted; for ‘there
the mind must minister to itself:’ to the other, the progress of society
and a knowledge of the world are essential; for here the effect does not
depend on leaving the mind concentred in itself, but on the wear and
tear of the heart, amidst the complex and rapid movements of the
artificial machinery of society, and on the arbitrary subjection of the
natural course of the affections to every the slightest fluctuation of
fashion, caprice, or opinion. Thus Olivia, in Twelfth Night, has but one
admirer of equal rank with herself, and but one love, to whom she
innocently plights her hand and heart; or if she had a thousand lovers,
she would be the sole object of their adoration and burning vows,
without a rival. The heroine of romance and poetry sits secluded in the
bowers of fancy, sole queen and arbitress of all hearts; and as the
character is one of imagination, ‘of solitude and melancholy musing
born,’ so it may be best drawn from the imagination. Millamant, in the
Way of the World, on the contrary, who is the fine lady or heroine of
comedy, has so many lovers, that she surfeits on admiration, till it
becomes indifferent to her; so many rivals, that she is forced to put on
a thousand airs of languid affectation to mortify and vex them more; so
many offers, that she at last gives her hand to the man of her heart,
rather to escape the persecution of their addresses, and out of levity
and disdain, than from any serious choice of her own. This is a comic
character; its essence consists in making light of things from
familiarity and use, and as it is formed by habit and outward
circumstances, so it requires actual observation, and an acquaintance
with the modes of artificial life, to describe it with the utmost
possible grace and precision. Congreve, who had every other opportunity,
was but a young man when he wrote this character; and that makes the
miracle the greater.

I do not, in short, consider comedy as exactly an affair of the heart or
the imagination; and it is for this reason only that I think
Shakspeare’s comedies deficient. I do not, however, wish to give a
preference of any comedies over his; but I do perceive a difference
between his comedies and some others that are, notwithstanding,
excellent in their way, and I have endeavoured to point out in what this
difference consists, as well as I could. Finally, I will not say that he
had not as great a natural genius for comedy as any one; but I may
venture to say, that he had not the same artificial models and regulated
mass of fashionable absurdity or elegance to work upon.

The superiority of Shakspeare’s natural genius for comedy cannot be
better shewn than by a comparison between his comic characters and those
of Ben Jonson. The matter is the same: but how different is the manner!
The one gives fair-play to nature and his own genius, while the other
trusts almost entirely to imitation and custom. Shakspeare takes his
groundwork in individual character and the manners of his age, and
raises from them a fantastical and delightful superstructure of his own:
the other takes the same groundwork in matter-of-fact, but hardly ever
rises above it; and the more he strives, is but the more enveloped ‘in
the crust of formality’ and the crude circumstantials of his subject.
His genius (not to profane an old and still venerable name, but merely
to make myself understood) resembles the grub more than the butterfly,
plods and grovels on, wants wings to wanton in the idle summer’s air,
and catch the golden light of poetry. Ben Jonson is a great borrower
from the works of others, and a plagiarist even from nature; so little
freedom is there in his imitations of her, and he appears to receive her
bounty like an alms. His works read like translations, from a certain
cramp manner, and want of adaptation. Shakspeare, even when he takes
whole passages from books, does it with a spirit, felicity, and mastery
over his subject, that instantly makes them his own; and shews more
independence of mind and original thinking in what he plunders without
scruple, than Ben Jonson often did in his most studied passages, forced
from the sweat and labour of his brain. His style is as dry, as literal,
and meagre, as Shakspeare’s is exuberant, liberal, and unrestrained. The
one labours hard, lashes himself up, and produces little pleasure with
all his fidelity and tenaciousness of purpose: the other, without
putting himself to any trouble, or thinking about his success, performs
wonders,—

           ‘Does mad and fantastic execution,
           Engaging and redeeming of himself,
           With such a careless force and forceless[3] care,
           As if that luck, in very spite of cunning,
           Bade him win all.’

There are people who cannot taste olives—and I cannot much relish Ben
Jonson, though I have taken some pains to do it, and went to the task
with every sort of good will. I do not deny his power or his merit; far
from it: but it is to me of a repulsive and unamiable kind. He was a
great man in himself, but one cannot readily sympathise with him. His
works, as the characteristic productions of an individual mind, or as
records of the manners of a particular age, cannot be valued too highly;
but they have little charm for the mere general reader. Schlegel
observes, that whereas Shakspeare gives the springs of human nature,
which are always the same, or sufficiently so to be interesting and
intelligible; Jonson chiefly gives the _humours_ of men, as connected
with certain arbitrary or conventional modes of dress, action, and
expression, which are intelligible only while they last, and not very
interesting at any time. Shakspeare’s characters are men; Ben Jonson’s
are more like machines, governed by mere routine, or by the convenience
of the poet, whose property they are. In reading the one, we are let
into the minds of his characters, we see the play of their thoughts, how
their humours flow and work: the author takes a range over nature, and
has an eye to every object or occasion that presents itself to set off
and heighten the ludicrous character he is describing. His humour (so to
speak) bubbles, sparkles, and finds its way in all directions, like a
natural spring. In Ben Jonson it is, as it were, confined in a leaden
cistern, where it stagnates and corrupts; or directed only through
certain artificial pipes and conduits, to answer a given purpose. The
comedy of this author is far from being ‘lively, audible, and full of
vent:’ it is for the most part obtuse, obscure, forced, and tedious. He
wears out a jest to the last shred and coarsest grain. His imagination
fastens instinctively on some one mark or sign by which he designates
the individual, and never lets it go, for fear of not meeting with any
other means to express himself by. A cant phrase, an odd gesture, an
old-fashioned regimental uniform, a wooden leg, a tobacco-box, or a
hacked sword, are the standing topics by which he embodies his
characters to the imagination. They are cut and dried comedy; the
letter, not the spirit of wit and humour. Each of his characters has a
particular cue, a professional badge which he wears and is known by, and
by nothing else. Thus there is no end of Captain Otter, his Bull, his
Bear, and his Horse, which are no joke at first, and do not become so by
being repeated twenty times. It is a mere matter of fact, that some
landlord of his acquaintance called his drinking cups by these
ridiculous names; but why need we be told so more than once, or indeed
at all? There is almost a total want of variety, fancy, relief, and of
those delightful transitions which abound, for instance, in Shakspeare’s
tragi-comedy. In Ben Jonson, we find ourselves generally in low company,
and we see no hope of getting out of it. He is like a person who fastens
upon a disagreeable subject, and cannot be persuaded to leave it. His
comedy, in a word, has not what Shakspeare somewhere calls ‘bless’d
conditions.’ It is cross-grained, mean, and mechanical. It is handicraft
wit. Squalid poverty, sheer ignorance, bare-faced impudence, or idiot
imbecility, are his dramatic common-places—things that provoke pity or
disgust, instead of laughter. His portraits are caricatures by dint of
their very likeness, being extravagant tautologies of themselves; as his
plots are improbable by an excess of consistency; for he goes
thoroughstitch with whatever he takes in hand, makes one contrivance
answer all purposes, and every obstacle give way to a predetermined
theory. For instance, nothing can be more incredible than the mercenary
conduct of Corvino, in delivering up his wife to the palsied embraces of
Volpone; and yet the poet does not seem in the least to boggle at the
incongruity of it: but the more it is in keeping with the absurdity of
the rest of the fable, and the more it advances it to an incredible
catastrophe, the more he seems to dwell upon it with complacency and a
sort of wilful exaggeration, as if it were a logical discovery or
corollary from well-known premises. He would no more be baffled in the
working out a plot, than some people will be baffled in an argument. ‘If
to be wise were to be obstinate,’ our author might have laid signal
claim to this title. Old Ben was of a scholastic turn, and had dealt a
little in the occult sciences and controversial divinity. He was a man
of strong crabbed sense, retentive memory, acute observation, great
fidelity of description and keeping in character, a power of working out
an idea so as to make it painfully true and oppressive, and with great
honesty and manliness of feeling, as well as directness of
understanding: but with all this, he wanted, to my thinking, that genial
spirit of enjoyment and finer fancy, which constitute the essence of
poetry and of wit. The sense of reality exercised a despotic sway over
his mind, and equally weighed down and clogged his perception of the
beautiful or the ridiculous. He had a keen sense of what was true and
false, but not of the difference between the agreeable and disagreeable;
or if he had, it was by his understanding rather than his imagination,
by rule and method, not by sympathy, or intuitive perception of ‘the
gayest, happiest attitude of things.’ There was nothing spontaneous, no
impulse or ease about his genius: it was all forced, up-hill work,
making a toil of a pleasure. And hence his overweening admiration of his
own works, from the effort they had cost him, and the apprehension that
they were not proportionably admired by others, who knew nothing of the
pangs and throes of his Muse in child-bearing. In his satirical
descriptions he seldom stops short of the lowest and most offensive
point of meanness; and in his serious poetry he seems to repose with
complacency only on the pedantic and far-fetched, the _ultima Thule_ of
his knowledge. He has a conscience of letting nothing escape the reader
that he knows. _Aliquando sufflaminandus erat_, is as true of him as it
was of Shakspeare, but in a quite different sense. He is doggedly bent
upon fatiguing you with a favourite idea; whereas, Shakspeare overpowers
and distracts attention by the throng and indiscriminate variety of his.
His Sad Shepherd is a beautiful fragment. It was a favourite with the
late Mr. Horne Tooke: indeed it is no wonder, for there was a sort of
sympathy between the two men. Ben was like the modern wit and
philosopher, a grammarian and a hard-headed thinker.—There is an amusing
account of Ben Jonson’s private manners in Howel’s Letters, which is not
generally known, and which I shall here extract.

           ‘_From James Howel, Esq. to Sir Thomas Hawk, Kt._

                                       _Westminster, 5th April, 1636._

  ‘Sir,

  ‘I was invited yesternight to a solemn supper by B. J. where you
  were deeply remembered; there was good company, excellent cheer,
  choice wines, and jovial welcome: one thing intervened, which almost
  spoiled the relish of the rest, that B. began to engross all the
  discourse, to vapour extremely of himself, and, by vilifying others,
  to magnify his own Muse. T. Ca. (Tom Carew) buzzed me in the ear,
  that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it
  seems he had not read the ethics, which, among other precepts of
  morality, forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an
  ill-favoured solecism in good manners. It made me think upon the
  lady (not very young) who having a good while given her guests neat
  entertainment, a capon being brought upon the table, instead of a
  spoon, she took a mouthful of claret, and spouted into the hollow
  bird: such an accident happened in this entertainment: you
  know—_Propria laus sordet in ore_: be a man’s breath ever so sweet,
  yet it makes one’s praise stink, if he makes his own mouth the
  conduit-pipe of it. But for my part I am content to dispense with
  the Roman infirmity of Ben, now that time hath snowed upon his
  pericranium. You know Ovid and (your) Horace were subject to this
  humour, the first bursting out into—

         _Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ira nec ignis, &c._

  the other into—

                 _Exegi monumentum ære perennius, &c._

  As also Cicero, while he forced himself into this hexameter: _O
  fortunatam natam, me consule Romam!_ There is another reason that
  excuseth B. which is, that if one be allowed to love the natural
  issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a
  spiritual and more noble extraction?’

The concurring testimony of all his contemporaries agrees with his own
candid avowal, as to Ben Jonson’s personal character. He begins, for
instance, an epistle to Drayton in these words—

               ‘Michael, by some ’tis doubted if I be
               A friend at all; or if a friend, to thee.’

Of Shakspeare’s comedies I have already given a detailed account, which
is before the public, and which I shall not repeat of course: but I
shall give a cursory sketch of the principal of Ben Jonson’s.—The Silent
Woman is built upon the supposition of an old citizen disliking noise,
who takes to wife Epicene (a supposed young lady) for the reputation of
her silence, and with a view to disinherit his nephew, who has laughed
at his infirmity; when the ceremony is no sooner over than the bride
turns out a very shrew, his house becomes a very Babel of noises, and he
offers his nephew his own terms to unloose the matrimonial knot, which
is done by proving that Epicene is no woman. There is some humour in the
leading character, but too much is made out of it, not in the way of
Moliere’s exaggerations, which, though extravagant, are fantastical and
ludicrous, but of serious, plodding, minute prolixity. The first meeting
between Morose and Epicene is well managed, and does not ‘o’erstep the
modesty of nature,’ from the very restraint imposed by the situation of
the parties—by the affected taciturnity of the one, and the other’s
singular dislike of noise. The whole story, from the beginning to the
end, is a gratuitous assumption, and the height of improbability. The
author, in sustaining the weight of his plot, seems like a
balance-master who supports a number of people, piled one upon another,
on his hands, his knees, his shoulders, but with a great effort on his
own part, and with a painful effect to the beholders. The scene between
Sir Amorous La Foole and Sir John Daw, in which they are frightened by a
feigned report of each other’s courage, into a submission to all sorts
of indignities, which they construe into flattering civilities, is the
same device as that in Twelfth Night between Sir Andrew Aguecheek and
Viola, carried to a paradoxical and revolting excess. Ben Jonson had no
idea of decorum in his dramatic fictions, which Milton says is the
principal thing, but went on caricaturing himself and others till he
could go no farther in extravagance, and sink no lower in meanness. The
titles of his _dramatis personæ_, such as Sir Amorous La Foole, Truewit,
Sir John Daw, Sir Politic Would-be, &c. &c. which are significant and
knowing, shew his determination to overdo every thing by thus letting
you into their characters beforehand, and afterwards proving their
pretensions by their names. Thus Peregrine, in Volpone, says, ‘Your
name, Sir? _Politick._ My name is Politick Would-be.’ To which Peregrine
replies, ‘Oh, that speaks him.’ How it should, if it was his real name,
and not a nick-name given him on purpose by the author, is hard to
conceive. This play was Dryden’s favourite. It is indeed full of sharp,
biting sentences against the women, of which he was fond. The following
may serve as a specimen. Truewit says, ‘Did I not tell thee, Dauphine?
Why, all their actions are governed by crude opinion, without reason or
cause: they know not why they do any thing; but, as they are informed,
believe, judge, praise, condemn, love, hate, and in emulation one of
another, do all these things alike. Only they have a natural inclination
sways ’em generally to the worst, when they are left to themselves.’
This is a cynical sentence; and we may say of the rest of his opinions,
that ‘even though we should hold them to be true, yet it is slander to
have them so set down.’ The women in this play indeed justify the
author’s severity; they are altogether abominable. They have an utter
want of principle and decency, and are equally without a sense of
pleasure, taste, or elegance. Madame Haughty, Madame Centaur, and Madame
Mavis, form the College, as it is here pedantically called. They are a
sort of candidates for being upon the town, but cannot find seducers,
and a sort of blue-stockings, before the invention of letters. Mistress
Epicene, the silent gentlewoman, turns out not to be a woman at all;
which is not a very pleasant _denouement_ of the plot, and is itself an
incident apparently taken from the blundering blindman’s-buff conclusion
of the Merry Wives of Windsor. What Shakspeare might introduce by an
accident, and as a mere passing jest, Ben Jonson would set about
building a whole play upon. The directions for making love given by
Truewit, the author’s favourite, discover great knowledge and shrewdness
of observation, mixed with the acuteness of malice, and approach to the
best style of comic dialogue. But I must refer to the play itself for
them.

The Fox, or Volpone, is his best play. It is prolix and improbable, but
intense and powerful. It is written _con amore_. It is made up of cheats
and dupes, and the author is at home among them. He shews his hatred of
the one and contempt for the other, and makes them set one another off
to great advantage. There are several striking dramatic contrasts in
this play, where the Fox lies _perdue_ to watch his prey, where Mosca is
the dextrous go-between outwitting his gulls, his employer, and himself,
and where each of the gaping legacy-hunters, the lawyer, the merchant,
and the miser, eagerly occupied with the ridiculousness of the other’s
pretensions, is blind only to the absurdity of his own: but the whole is
worked up too mechanically, and our credulity overstretched at last
revolts into scepticism, and our attention overtasked flags into
drowsiness. This play seems formed on the model of Plautus, in unity of
plot and interest; and old Ben, in emulating his classic model, appears
to have done his best. There is the same caustic unsparing severity in
it as in his other works. His patience is tried to the utmost. His words
drop gall.

               ‘Hood an ass with reverend purple,
               So you can hide his too ambitious ears,
               And he shall pass for a cathedral doctor.’

The scene between Volpone, Mosca, Voltore, Corvino, and Corbaccio, at
the outset, will shew the dramatic power in the conduct of this play,
and will be my justification in what I have said of the literal
tenaciousness (to a degree that is repulsive) of the author’s imaginary
descriptions.

Every Man in his Humour, is a play well-known to the public. This play
acts better than it reads. The pathos in the principal character,
Kitely, is ‘as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage.’ There is,
however, a certain good sense, discrimination, or logic of passion in
the part, which affords excellent hints for an able actor, and which, if
properly pointed, gives it considerable force on the stage. Bobadil is
the only actually striking character in the play, and the real hero of
the piece. His well-known proposal for the pacification of Europe, by
killing some twenty of them, each his man a day, is as good as any other
that has been suggested up to the present moment. His extravagant
affectation, his blustering and cowardice, are an entertaining medley;
and his final defeat and exposure, though exceedingly humorous, are the
most affecting part of the story. Brain-worm is a particularly dry and
abstruse character. We neither know his business nor his motives: his
plots are as intricate as they are useless, and as the ignorance of
those he imposes upon is wonderful. This is the impression in reading
it. Yet from the bustle and activity of this character on the stage, the
changes of dress, the variety of affected tones and gipsy jargon, and
the limping affected gestures, it is a very amusing theatrical
exhibition. The rest, Master Matthew, Master Stephen, Cob and Cob’s
wife, were living in the sixteenth century. That is all we all know of
them. But from the very oddity of their appearance and behaviour, they
have a very droll and even picturesque effect when acted. It seems a
revival of the dead. We believe in their existence when we see them. As
an example of the power of the stage in giving reality and interest to
what otherwise would be without it, I might mention the scene in which
Brain-worm praises Master Stephen’s leg. The folly here is insipid from
its being seemingly carried to an excess, till we see it; and then we
laugh the more at it, the more incredible we thought it before.

Bartholomew Fair is chiefly remarkable for the exhibition of odd humours
and tumbler’s tricks, and is on that account amusing to read once.—The
Alchymist is the most famous of this author’s comedies, though I think
it does not deserve its reputation. It contains all that is quaint,
dreary, obsolete, and hopeless in this once-famed art, but not the
golden dreams and splendid disappointments. We have the mere
circumstantials of the sublime science, pots and kettles, aprons and
bellows, crucibles and diagrams, all the refuse and rubbish, not the
essence, the true _elixir vitæ_. There is, however, one glorious scene
between Surly and Sir Epicure Mammon, which is the finest example I know
of dramatic sophistry, or of an attempt to prove the existence of a
thing by an imposing description of its effects; but compared with this,
the rest of the play is a _caput mortuum_. The scene I allude to is the
following:

   ‘_Mammon._ Come on, Sir. Now, you set your foot on shore,
 In _Novo Orbe_; here’s the rich Peru:
 And there within, Sir, are the golden mines,
 Great Solomon’s Ophir! He was sailing to ‘t
 Three years, but we have reached it in ten months.
 This is the day wherein, to all my friends,
 I will pronounce the happy word, BE RICH;
 This day you shall be Spectatissimi.
 You shall no more deal with the hollow dye,
 Or the frail card. * * * * * * * *
             You shall start up young viceroys,
 And have your punks and punketees, my Surly,
 And unto thee, I speak it first, BE RICH.
 Where is my Subtle, there? Within, ho!

 _Face._ [_within_] Sir, he’ll come to you, by and by.

 _Mam._ That is his Firedrake,
 His Lungs, his Zephyrus, he that puffs his coals,
 Till he firk nature up in her own centre.
 You are not faithful, Sir. This night I’ll change
 All that is metal in my house to gold:
 And early in the morning, will I send
 To all the plumbers and the pewterers
 And buy their tin and lead up; and to Lothbury,
 For all the copper.

 _Surly._ What, and turn that too?

 _Mam._ Yes, and I’ll purchase Devonshire and Cornwall,
 And make them perfect Indies! You admire now?

 _Surly._ No, faith.

 _Mam._ But when you see th’ effects of the great medicine,
 Of which one part projected on a hundred
 Of Mercury, or Venus, or the Moon,
 Shall turn it to as many of the Sun;
 Nay, to a thousand, so _ad infinitum_;
 You will believe me.

 _Surly._ Yes, when I see’t, I will—

 _Mam._ Ha! why?
 Do you think I fable with you? I assure you,
 He that has once the flower of the Sun,
 The perfect ruby, which we call Elixir,
 Not only can do that, but, by its virtue,
 Can confer honour, love, respect, long life;
 Give safety, valour, yea, and victory,
 To whom he will. In eight and twenty days,
 I’ll make an old man of fourscore, a child.

 _Surly._ No doubt; he’s that already.

 _Mam._ Nay, I mean,
 Restore his years, renew him, like an eagle,
 To the fifth age; make him get sons and daughters,
 Young giants; as our philosophers have done,
 The ancient patriarchs, afore the flood,
 But taking, once a week, on a knife’s point,
 The quantity of a grain of mustard of it;
 Become stout Marses, and beget young Cupids.

        *       *       *       *       *

 You are incredulous.

 _Surly._ Faith, I have a humour,
 I would not willingly be gull’d. Your stone
 Cannot transmute me.

 _Mam._ Pertinax Surly,
 Will you believe antiquity? records?
 I’ll shew you a book where Moses and his sister,
 And Solomon have written of the art;
 Ay, and a treatise penn’d by Adam—

 _Surly._ How!

 _Mam._ Of the philosopher’s stone, and in High Dutch.

 _Surly._ Did Adam write, Sir, in High Dutch?

 _Mam._ He did;
 Which proves it was the primitive tongue.

        *       *       *       *       *

                                           [_Enter Face, as a servant._

                                           How now!
 Do we succeed? Is our day come, and holds it?

 _Face._ The evening will set red upon you, Sir:
 You have colour for it, crimson; the red ferment
 Has done his office: three hours hence prepare you
 To see projection.

 _Mam._ Pertinax, my Surly,
 Again I say to thee, aloud, Be rich.
 This day thou shalt have ingots; and to-morrow
 Give lords the affront. * * * * Where’s thy master?

 _Face._ At his prayers, Sir, he;
 Good man, he’s doing his devotions
 For the success.

 _Mam._ Lungs, I will set a period
 To all thy labours; thou shalt be the master
 Of my seraglio ...
 For I do mean
 To have a list of wives and concubines
 Equal with Solomon: * * * *
 I will have all my beds blown up, not stuft:
 Down is too hard; and then, mine oval room
 Fill’d with such pictures as Tiberius took
 From Elephantis, and dull Aretine
 But coldly imitated. Then, my glasses
 Cut in more subtle angles, to disperse
 And multiply the figures, as I walk. * * * My mists
 I’ll have of perfume, vapoured about the room
 To lose ourselves in; and my baths, like pits
 To fall into: from whence we will come forth,
 And roll us dry in gossamer and roses.
 Is it arriv’d at ruby? Where I spy
 A wealthy citizen, or a rich lawyer,
 Have a sublimed pure wife, unto that fellow
 I’ll send a thousand pound to be my cuckold.

 _Face._ And I shall carry it?

 _Mam._ No. I’ll have no bawds.
 But fathers and mothers. They will do it best,
 Best of all others. And my flatterers
 Shall be the pure and gravest of divines
 That I can get for money.
 We will be brave, Puffe, now we have the medicine.
 My meat shall all come in, in Indian shells,
 Dishes of agat set in gold, and studded
 With emeralds, sapphires, hyacinths, and rubies.
 The tongues of carps, dormice, and camel’s heels
 Boil’d in the spirit of Sol, and dissolv’d pearl,
 Apicius’ diet, ’gainst the epilepsy;
 And I will eat these broths with spoons of amber,
 Headed with diamond and carbuncle.
 My footboys shall eat pheasants, calver’d salmons,
 Knots, godwits, lampreys; I myself will have
 The beards of barbels serv’d instead of salads;
 Oil’d mushrooms; and the swelling unctuous paps
 Of a fat pregnant sow, newly cut off,
 Drest with an exquisite and poignant sauce;
 For which I’ll say unto my cook, _There’s gold,
 Go forth, and be a knight_.

 _Face._ Sir, I’ll go look
 A little, how it heightens.

 _Mam._ Do. My shirts
 I’ll have of taffeta-sarsnet, soft and light,
 As cobwebs; and for all my other raiment,
 It shall be such as might provoke the Persian,
 Were he to teach the world riot anew.
 My gloves of fishes and birds’ skins, perfum’d
 With gums of Paradise and eastern air.

 _Surly._ And do you think to have the stone with this?

 _Mam._ No, I do think t’ have all this with the stone.

 _Surly._ Why, I have heard, he must be _homo frugi_,
 A pious, holy, and religious man,
 One free from mortal sin, a very virgin.

 _Mam._ That makes it, Sir, he is so; but I buy it.
 My venture brings it me. He, honest wretch,
 A notable, superstitious, good soul,
 Has worn his knees bare, and his slippers bald,
 With prayer and fasting for it, and, Sir, let him
 Do it alone, for me, still; here he comes;
 Not a profane word afore him: ’tis poison.’

                                                     _Act II. scene I._

I have only to add a few words on Beaumont and Fletcher. Rule a Wife and
Have a Wife, the Chances, and the Wild Goose Chase, the original of the
Inconstant, are superior in style and execution to any thing of Ben
Jonson’s. They are, indeed, some of the best comedies on the stage; and
one proof that they are so, is, that they still hold possession of it.
They shew the utmost alacrity of invention in contriving ludicrous
distresses, and the utmost spirit in bearing up against, or impatience
and irritation under them. Don John, in the Chances, is the heroic in
comedy. Leon, in Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, is a fine exhibition of
the born gentleman and natural fool: the Copper Captain is sterling to
this hour: his mistress, Estifania, only died the other day with Mrs.
Jordan: and the two grotesque females, in the same play, act better than
the Witches in Macbeth.


                              LECTURE III
               ON COWLEY, BUTLER, SUCKLING, ETHEREGE, &C.

The metaphysical poets or wits of the age of James and Charles I. whose
style was adopted and carried to a more dazzling and fantastic excess by
Cowley in the following reign, after which it declined, and gave place
almost entirely to the poetry of observation and reasoning, are thus
happily characterised by Dr. Johnson.

‘The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning
was their whole endeavour: but unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme,
instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and very often such
verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the
modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by
counting the syllables.

‘If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry τέχνη
μιμητικὴ, _an imitative art_, these writers will, without great wrong,
lose their right to the name of poets, for they cannot be said to have
imitated any thing; they neither copied nature nor life; neither painted
the forms of matter, nor represented the operations of intellect.’

The whole of the account is well worth reading: it was a subject for
which Dr. Johnson’s powers both of thought and expression were better
fitted than any other man’s. If he had had the same capacity for
following the flights of a truly poetic imagination, or for feeling the
finer touches of nature, that he had felicity and force in detecting and
exposing the aberrations from the broad and beaten path of propriety and
common sense, he would have amply deserved the reputation he has
acquired as a philosophical critic.

The writers here referred to (such as Donne, Davies, Crashaw, and
others) not merely mistook learning for poetry—they thought any thing
was poetry that differed from ordinary prose and the natural impression
of things, by being intricate, far-fetched, and improbable. Their style
was not so properly learned as metaphysical; that is to say, whenever,
by any violence done to their ideas, they could make out an abstract
likeness or possible ground of comparison, they forced the image,
whether learned or vulgar, into the service of the Muses. Any thing
would do to ‘hitch into a rhyme,’ no matter whether striking or
agreeable, or not, so that it would puzzle the reader to discover the
meaning, and if there was the most remote circumstance, however trifling
or vague, for the pretended comparison to hinge upon. They brought ideas
together not the most, but the least like; and of which the collision
produced not light, but obscurity—served not to strengthen, but to
confound. Their mystical verses read like riddles or an allegory. They
neither belong to the class of lively or severe poetry. They have not
the force of the one, nor the gaiety of the other; but are an
ill-assorted, unprofitable union of the two together, applying to
serious subjects that quaint and partial style of allusion which fits
only what is light and ludicrous, and building the most laboured
conclusions on the most fantastical and slender premises. The object of
the poetry of imagination is to raise or adorn one idea by another more
striking or more beautiful: the object of these writers was to match any
one idea with any other idea, _for better for worse_, as we say, and
whether any thing was gained by the change of condition or not. The
object of the poetry of the passions again is to illustrate any strong
feeling, by shewing the same feeling as connected with objects or
circumstances more palpable and touching; but here the object was to
strain and distort the immediate feeling into some barely possible
consequence or recondite analogy, in which it required the utmost
stretch of misapplied ingenuity to trace the smallest connection with
the original impression. In short, the poetry of this period was
strictly the poetry not of ideas, but of _definitions_: it proceeded in
mode and figure, by _genus_ and specific difference; and was the logic
of the schools, or an oblique and forced construction of dry, literal
matter-of-fact, decked out in a robe of glittering conceits, and clogged
with the halting shackles of verse. The imagination of the writers,
instead of being conversant with the face of nature, or the secrets of
the heart, was lost in the labyrinths of intellectual abstraction, or
entangled in the technical quibbles and impertinent intricacies of
language. The complaint so often made, and here repeated, is not of the
want of power in these men, but of the waste of it; not of the absence
of genius, but the abuse of it. They had (many of them) great talents
committed to their trust, richness of thought, and depth of feeling; but
they chose to hide them (as much as they possibly could) under a false
shew of learning and unmeaning subtlety. From the style which they had
systematically adopted, they thought nothing done till they had
perverted simplicity into affectation, and spoiled nature by art. They
seemed to think there was an irreconcileable opposition between genius,
as well as grace, and nature; tried to do without, or else constantly to
thwart her; left nothing to her outward ‘impress,’ or spontaneous
impulses, but made a point of twisting and torturing almost every
subject they took in hand, till they had fitted it to the mould of their
self-opinion and the previous fabrications of their own fancy, like
those who pen acrostics in the shape of pyramids, and cut out trees into
the shape of peacocks. Their chief aim is to make you wonder at the
writer, not to interest you in the subject; and by an incessant craving
after admiration, they have lost what they might have gained with less
extravagance and affectation. So Cowper, who was of a quite opposite
school, speaks feelingly of the misapplication of Cowley’s poetical
genius.

               ‘And though reclaim’d by modern lights
               From an erroneous taste,
               I cannot but lament thy splendid wit
               Entangled in the cobwebs of the schools.’

Donne, who was considerably before Cowley, is without his fancy, but was
more recondite in his logic, and rigid in his descriptions. He is hence
led, particularly in his satires, to tell disagreeable truths in as
disagreeable a way as possible, or to convey a pleasing and affecting
thought (of which there are many to be found in his other writings) by
the harshest means, and with the most painful effort. His Muse suffers
continual pangs and throes. His thoughts are delivered by the Cæsarean
operation. The sentiments, profound and tender as they often are, are
stifled in the expression; and ‘heaved pantingly forth,’ are ‘buried
quick again’ under the ruins and rubbish of analytical distinctions. It
is like poetry waking from a trance: with an eye bent idly on the
outward world, and half-forgotten feelings crowding about the heart;
with vivid impressions, dim notions, and disjointed words. The following
may serve as instances of beautiful or impassioned reflections losing
themselves in obscure and difficult applications. He has some lines to a
Blossom, which begin thus:

           ‘Little think’st thou, poor flow’r,
           Whom I have watched six or seven days,
           And seen thy birth, and seen what every hour
           Gave to thy growth, thee to this height to raise,
           And now dost laugh and triumph on this bough.
                 Little think’st thou
           That it will freeze anon, and that I shall
           To-morrow find thee fall’n, or not at all.’

This simple and delicate description is only introduced as a foundation
for an elaborate metaphysical conceit as a parallel to it, in the next
stanza.

            ‘Little think’st thou (poor heart
            That labour’st yet to nestle thee,
            And think’st by hovering here to get a part
            In a forbidden or forbidding tree,
            And hop’st her stiffness by long siege to bow:)
                  Little think’st thou,
            That thou to-morrow, ere the sun doth wake,
            Must with this sun and me a journey take.’

This is but a lame and impotent conclusion from so delightful a
beginning.—He thus notices the circumstance of his wearing his late
wife’s hair about his arm, in a little poem which is called the Funeral:

              ‘Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harm
                  Nor question much
              That subtle wreath of hair, about mine arm;
              The mystery, the sign you must not touch.’

The scholastic reason he gives quite dissolves the charm of tender and
touching grace in the sentiment itself—

            ‘For ’tis my outward soul,
        Viceroy to that, which unto heaven being gone,
            Will leave this to control,
        And keep these limbs, her provinces, from dissolution.’

Again, the following lines, the title of which is Love’s Deity, are
highly characteristic of this author’s manner, in which the thoughts are
inlaid in a costly but imperfect mosaic-work.

             ‘_I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost,
             Who died before the God of Love was born_:
             I cannot think that he, who then lov’d most,
             Sunk so low, as to love one which did scorn.
             But since this God produc’d a destiny,
             And that vice-nature, custom, lets it be;
             I must love her that loves not me.’

The stanza in the Epithalamion on a Count Palatine of the Rhine, has
been often quoted against him, and is an almost irresistible
illustration of the extravagances to which this kind of writing, which
turns upon a pivot of words and possible allusions, is liable. Speaking
of the bride and bridegroom he says, by way of serious compliment—

               ‘Here lies a she-Sun, and a he-Moon there,
               She gives the best light to his sphere;
               Or each is both and all, and so
               They unto one another nothing owe.’

His love-verses and epistles to his friends give the most favourable
idea of Donne. His satires are too clerical. He shews, if I may so
speak, too much disgust, and, at the same time, too much contempt for
vice. His dogmatical invectives hardly redeem the nauseousness of his
descriptions, and compromise the imagination of his readers more than
they assist their reason. The satirist does not write with the same
authority as the divine, and should use his poetical privileges more
sparingly. ‘To the pure all things are pure,’ is a maxim which a man
like Dr. Donne may be justified in applying to himself; but he might
have recollected that it could not be construed to extend to the
generality of his readers, _without benefit of clergy_.

Bishop Hall’s Satires are coarse railing in verse, and hardly that. Pope
has, however, contrived to avail himself of them in some of his
imitations.

Sir John Davies is the author of a poem on the Soul, and of one on
Dancing. In both he shews great ingenuity, and sometimes terseness and
vigour. In the last of these two poems his fancy _pirouettes_ in a very
lively and agreeable manner, but something too much in the style of a
French opera-dancer, with sharp angular turns, and repeated deviations
from the faultless line of simplicity and nature.

Crashaw was a writer of the same ambitious stamp, whose imagination was
rendered still more inflammable by the fervors of fanaticism, and who
having been converted from Protestantism to Popery (a weakness to which
the ‘seething brains’ of the poets of this period were prone) by some
visionary appearance of the Virgin Mary, poured out his devout raptures
and zealous enthusiasm in a torrent of poetical hyperboles. The
celebrated Latin Epigram on the miracle of our Saviour, ‘The water
blushed into wine,’ is in his usual _hectic_ manner. His translation of
the contest between the Musician and the Nightingale is the best
specimen of his powers.

Davenant’s Gondibert is a tissue of stanzas, all aiming to be wise and
witty, each containing something in itself, and the whole together
amounting to nothing. The thoughts separately require so much attention
to understand them, and arise so little out of the narrative, that they
with difficulty sink into the mind, and have no common feeling of
interest to recal or link them together afterwards. The general style
may be judged of by these two memorable lines in the description of the
skeleton-chamber.

            ‘Yet on that wall hangs he too, who so thought,
            And she dried by him whom that he obeyed.’

Mr. Hobbes, in a prefatory discourse, has thrown away a good deal of
powerful logic and criticism in recommendation of the plan of his
friend’s poem. Davenant, who was poet-laureate to Charles II. wrote
several masques and plays which were well received in his time, but have
not come down with equal applause to us.

Marvel (on whom I have already bestowed such praise as I could, for
elegance and tenderness in his descriptive poems) in his satires and
witty pieces was addicted to the affected and involved style here
reprobated, as in his Flecknoe (the origin of Dryden’s Macflecknoe) and
in his satire on the Dutch. As an instance of this forced, far-fetched
method of treating his subject, he says, in ridicule of the Hollanders,
that when their dykes overflowed, the fish used to come to table with
them,

                ‘And sat not as a meat, but as a guest.’

There is a poem of Marvel’s on the death of King Charles I. which I have
not seen, but which I have heard praised by one whose praise is never
high but of the highest things, for the beauty and pathos, as well as
generous frankness of the sentiments, coming, as they did, from a
determined and incorruptible political foe.

Shadwell was a successful and voluminous dramatic writer of much the
same period. His Libertine (taken from the celebrated Spanish story) is
full of spirit; but it is the spirit of licentiousness and impiety. At
no time do there appear to have been such extreme speculations afloat on
the subject of religion and morality, as there were shortly after the
Reformation, and afterwards under the Stuarts, the differences being
widened by political irritation; and the Puritans often over-acting one
extreme out of grimace and hypocrisy, as the king’s party did the other
out of _bravado_.

Carew is excluded from his pretensions to the laureateship in Suckling’s
Sessions of the Poets, on account of his slowness. His verses are
delicate and pleasing, with a certain feebleness, but with very little
tincture of the affectation of this period. His masque (called _Cœlum
Britannicum_) in celebration of a marriage at court, has not much wit
nor fancy, but the accompanying prose directions and commentary on the
mythological story, are written with wonderful facility and elegance, in
a style of familiar dramatic dialogue approaching nearer the writers of
Queen Anne’s reign than those of Queen Elizabeth’s.

Milton’s name is included by Dr. Johnson in the list of metaphysical
poets on no better authority than his lines on Hobson the Cambridge
Carrier, which he acknowledges were the only ones Milton wrote on this
model. Indeed, he is the great contrast to that style of poetry, being
remarkable for breadth and massiness, or what Dr. Johnson calls
‘aggregation of ideas,’ beyond almost any other poet. He has in this
respect been compared to Michael Angelo, but not with much reason: his
verses are

                         ——‘inimitable on earth
                 By model, or by shading pencil drawn.’

Suckling is also ranked, without sufficient warrant, among the
metaphysical poets. Sir John was of ‘the court, courtly;’ and his style
almost entirely free from the charge of pedantry and affectation. There
are a few blemishes of this kind in his works, but they are but few. His
compositions are almost all of them short and lively effusions of wit
and gallantry, written in a familiar but spirited style, without much
design or effort. His shrewd and taunting address to a desponding lover
will sufficiently vouch for the truth of this account of the general
cast of his best pieces.

               ‘Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
                     Pr’ythee why so pale?
               Will, when looking well can’t move her,
                     Looking ill prevail?
                     Pr’ythee why so pale?

               Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
                     Pr’ythee why so mute?
               Will, when speaking well, can’t win her,
                     Saying nothing do ‘t?
                     Pr’ythee why so mute?

               Quit, quit for shame, this will not move,
                     This cannot take her;
               If of herself she will not love,
                     Nothing can make her;
                     The Devil take her.’

The two short poems against Fruition, that beginning, ‘There never yet
was woman made, nor shall, but to be curst,’—the song, ‘I pr’ythee,
spare me, gentle boy, press me no more for that slight toy, that foolish
trifle of a heart,’—another, ‘’Tis now, since I sat down before, that
foolish fort, a heart,’—_Lutea Alanson_—the set of similes, ‘Hast thou
seen the down in the air, when wanton winds have tost it,’—and his
‘Dream,’ which is of a more tender and romantic cast, are all exquisite
in their way. They are the origin of the style of Prior and Gay in their
short fugitive verses, and of the songs in the Beggar’s Opera. His
Ballad on a Wedding is his masterpiece, and is indeed unrivalled in that
class of composition, for the voluptuous delicacy of the sentiments, and
the luxuriant richness of the images. I wish I could repeat the whole,
but that, from the change of manners, is impossible. The description of
the bride is (half of it) as follows: the story is supposed to be told
by one countryman to another:—

             ‘Her finger was so small, the ring
             Would not stay on, which they did bring;
                 It was too wide a peck:
             And to say truth (for out it must)
             It look’d like the great collar (just)
                 About our young colt’s neck.

             Her feet beneath her petticoat,
             Like little mice, stole in and out,
                 As if they fear’d the light:
             But oh! she dances such a way!
             No sun upon an Easter-day
                 Is half so fine a sight.

                    *       *       *       *       *

             Her cheeks so rare a white was on,
             No daisy makes comparison,
                 (Who sees them is undone)
             For streaks of red were mingled there,
             Such as are on a Cath’rine pear,
                 (The side that’s next the sun.)

             Her lips were red; and one was thin,
             Compar’d to that was next her chin;
                 (Some bee had stung it newly)
             But (Dick) her eyes so guard her face,
             I durst no more upon them gaze,
                 Than on the sun in July.

             Her mouth so small, when she does speak,
             Thoud’st swear her teeth her words did break,
                 That they might passage get;
             But she so handled still the matter,
             They came as good as ours, or better,
                 And are not spent a whit.’

There is to me in the whole of this delightful performance a freshness
and purity like the first breath of morning. Its sportive irony never
trespasses on modesty, though it sometimes (laughing) threatens to do
so! Suckling’s Letters are full of habitual gaiety and good sense. His
Discourse on Reason in Religion is well enough meant. Though he excelled
in the conversational style of poetry, writing verse with the freedom
and readiness, vivacity and unconcern, with which he would have talked
on the most familiar and sprightly topics, his peculiar powers deserted
him in attempting dramatic dialogue. His comedy of the _Goblins_ is
equally defective in plot, wit, and nature; it is a wretched list of
_exits_ and _entrances_, and the whole business of the scene is taken up
in the unaccountable seizure, and equally unaccountable escapes, of a
number of persons from a band of robbers in the shape of goblins, who
turn out to be noblemen and gentlemen in disguise. Suckling was not a
Grub-street author; or it might be said, that this play is like what he
might have written after dreaming all night of duns and a
spunging-house. His tragedies are no better: their titles are the most
interesting part of them, Aglaura, Brennoralt, and the Sad One.

Cowley had more brilliancy of fancy and ingenuity of thought than Donne,
with less pathos and sentiment. His mode of illustrating his ideas
differs also from Donne’s in this: that whereas Donne is contented to
analyse an image into its component elements, and resolve it into its
most abstracted species; Cowley first does this, indeed, but does not
stop till he has fixed upon some other prominent example of the same
general class of ideas, and forced them into a metaphorical union, by
the medium of the generic definition. Thus he says—

              ‘The Phœnix Pindar is a vast species alone.’

He means to say that he stands by himself: he is then ‘a vast species
alone:’ then by applying to this generality the _principium
individuationis_, he becomes a Phœnix, because the Phœnix is the only
example of a species contained in an individual. Yet this is only a
literal or metaphysical coincidence: and literally and metaphysically
speaking, Pindar was not a species by himself, but only seemed so by
pre-eminence or excellence; that is, from qualities of mind appealing to
and absorbing the imagination, and which, therefore, ought to be
represented in poetical language, by some other obvious and palpable
image exhibiting the same kind or degree of excellence in other things,
as when Gray compares him to the Theban eagle,

                    ‘Sailing with supreme dominion
                    Through the azure deep of air.’

Again, he talks in the Motto, or Invocation to his Muse, of ‘marching
the Muse’s Hannibal’ into undiscovered regions. That is, he thinks first
of being a leader in poetry, and then he immediately, by virtue of this
abstraction, becomes a Hannibal; though no two things can really be more
unlike in all the associations belonging to them, than a leader of
armies and a leader of the tuneful Nine. In like manner, he compares
Bacon to Moses; for in _his_ verses extremes are sure to meet. The Hymn
to Light, which forms a perfect contrast to Milton’s Invocation to
Light, in the commencement of the third book of Paradise Lost, begins in
the following manner:—

          ‘First-born of Chaos, who so fair didst come
                From the old negro’s darksome womb!
                Which, when it saw the lovely child,
          The melancholy mass put on kind looks, and smil’d.’

                 *       *       *       *       *


And soon after—

         ‘’Tis, I believe, this archery to show
               That so much cost in colours thou,
               And skill in painting, dost bestow,
         Upon thy ancient arms, the gaudy heav’nly bow.

         Swift as light thoughts their empty career run,
               Thy race is finish’d when begun;
               Let a post-angel start with thee,
         And thou the goal of earth shalt reach as soon as he.’

The conceits here are neither wit nor poetry; but a burlesque upon both,
made up of a singular metaphorical jargon, verbal generalities, and
physical analogies. Thus his calling Chaos, or Darkness, ‘the old
negro,’ would do for abuse or jest, but is too remote and degrading for
serious poetry, and yet it is meant for such. The ‘old negro’ is at best
a nickname, and the smile on its face loses its beauty in such company.
The making out the rainbow to be a species of heraldic painting, and
converting an angel into a post-boy, shew the same rage for comparison;
but such comparisons are as odious as they are unjust. Dr. Johnson has
multiplied instances of the same false style, in its various divisions
and subdivisions.[4] Of Cowley’s serious poems, the Complaint is the one
I like the best; and some of his translations in the Essays, as those on
Liberty and Retirement, are exceedingly good. The Odes to Vandyke, to
the Royal Society, to Hobbes, and to the latter Brutus, beginning
‘Excellent Brutus,’ are all full of ingenious and high thoughts,
impaired by a load of ornament and quaint disguises. The Chronicle, or
list of his Mistresses, is the best of his original lighter pieces: but
the best of his poems are the translations from Anacreon, which remain,
and are likely to remain unrivalled. The spirit of wine and joy
circulates in them; and though they are lengthened out beyond the
originals, it is by fresh impulses of an eager and inexhaustible feeling
of delight. Here are some of them:—

                             DRINKING

               ‘The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
               And drinks, and gapes for drink again.
               The plants suck in the earth, and are
               With constant drinking fresh and fair.
               The sea itself, which one would think
               Should have but little need of drink,
               Drinks twice ten thousand rivers up,
               So fill’d that they o’erflow the cup.
               The busy sun (and one would guess
               By’s drunken fiery face no less)
               Drinks up the sea, and, when he ‘as done,
               The moon and stars drink up the sun.
               They drink and dance by their own light,
               They drink and revel all the night.
               Nothing in nature’s sober found,
               But an eternal health goes round.
               Fill up the bowl then, fill it high,
               Fill all the glasses there; for why
               Should every creature drink but I;
               Why, man of morals, tell me why?’

This is a classical intoxication; and the poet’s imagination, giddy with
fancied joys, communicates its spirit and its motion to inanimate
things, and makes all nature reel round with it. It is not easy to
decide between these choice pieces, which may be reckoned among the
_delights of human kind_; but that to the Grasshopper is one of the
happiest as well as most serious:—

             ‘Happy insect, what can be
             In happiness compar’d to thee?
             Fed with nourishment divine,
             The dewy morning’s gentle wine!
             Nature waits upon thee still,
             And thy verdant cup does fill;
             ’Tis filled wherever thou dost tread,
             Nature’s self thy Ganymede.
             Thou dost drink, and dance, and sing;
             Happier than the happiest king!
             All the fields which thou dost see,
             All the plants, belong to thee;
             All that summer-hours produce,
             Fertile made with early juice.
             Man for thee does sow and plough,
             Farmer he, and landlord thou!
             Thou dost innocently joy;
             Nor does thy luxury destroy;
             The shepherd gladly heareth thee,
             More harmonious than he.
             Thee country hinds with gladness hear,
             Prophet of the ripen’d year!
             Thee Phœbus loves, and does inspire;
             Phœbus is himself thy sire.
             To thee, of all things upon earth,
             Life is no longer than thy mirth.
             Happy insect, happy thou!
             Dost neither age nor winter know;
             But, when thou’st drunk, and danc’d, and sung
             Thy fill, the flowery leaves among,
             (Voluptuous and wise withal,
             Epicurean animal!)
             Sated with thy summer feast,
             Thou retir’st to endless rest.’

Cowley’s Essays are among the most agreeable prose-compositions in our
language, being equally recommended by sense, wit, learning, and
interesting personal history, and written in a style quite free from the
faults of his poetry. It is a pity that he did not cultivate his talent
for prose more, and write less in verse, for he was clearly a man of
more reflection than imagination. The Essays on Agriculture, on Liberty,
on Solitude, and on Greatness, are all of them delightful. From the last
I may give his account of Senecio as an addition to the instances of the
ludicrous, which I have attempted to enumerate in the introductory
Lecture; whose ridiculous affectation of grandeur Seneca the elder (he
tells us) describes to this effect: ‘Senecio was a man of a turbid and
confused wit, who could not endure to speak any but mighty words and
sentences, till this humour grew at last into so notorious a habit, or
rather disease, as became the sport of the whole town: he would have no
servants, but huge, massy fellows; no plate or household stuff, but
thrice as big as the fashion: you may believe me, for I speak it without
raillery, his extravagancy came at last into such a madness, that he
would not put on a pair of shoes, each of which was not big enough for
both his feet: he would eat nothing but what was great, nor touch any
fruit but horse-plums and pound-pears: he kept a mistress that was a
very giantess, and made her walk too always in chiopins, till, at last,
he got the surname of Senecio Grandio.’ This was certainly the most
absurd person we read of in antiquity. Cowley’s character of Oliver
Cromwell, which is intended as a satire, (though it certainly produces a
very different impression on the mind), may vie for truth of outline and
force of colouring with the masterpieces of the Greek and Latin
historians. It may serve as a contrast to the last extract. ‘What can be
more extraordinary, than that a person of mean birth, no fortune, no
eminent qualities of body, which have sometimes, or of mind, which have
often, raised men to the highest dignities, should have the courage to
attempt, and the happiness to succeed in, so improbable a design, as the
destruction of one of the most ancient and most solidly-founded
monarchies upon the earth? That he should have the power or boldness to
put his prince and master to an open and infamous death; to banish that
numerous and strongly-allied family; to do all this under the name and
wages of a Parliament; to trample upon them too as he pleased, and spurn
them out of doors when he grew weary of them; to raise up a new and
unheard-of monster out of their ashes; to stifle that in the very
infancy, and set up himself above all things that ever were called
sovereign in England; to oppress all his enemies by arms, and all his
friends afterwards by artifice; to serve all parties patiently for a
while, and to command them victoriously at last; to over-run each corner
of the three nations, and overcome with equal facility both the riches
of the south and the poverty of the north; to be feared and courted by
all foreign princes, and adopted a brother to the gods of the earth; to
call together Parliaments with a word of his pen, and scatter them again
with the breath of his mouth; to be humbly and daily petitioned that he
would please to be hired, at the rate of two millions a-year, to be the
master of those who had hired him before to be their servant; to have
the estates and lives of three kingdoms as much at his disposal, as was
the little inheritance of his father, and to be as noble and liberal in
the spending of them; and lastly, (for there is no end of all the
particulars of his glory) to bequeath all this with one word to his
posterity; to die with peace at home, and triumph abroad; to be buried
among kings, and with more than regal solemnity; and to leave a name
behind him, not to be extinguished, but with the whole world; which as
it is now too little for his praises, so might have been too for his
conquests, if the short line of his human life could have been stretched
out to the extent of his immortal designs!’

Cowley has left one comedy, called Cutter of Coleman Street, which met
with an unfavourable reception at the time, and is now (not
undeservedly) forgotten. It contains, however, one good scene, which is
rich both in fancy and humour, that between the puritanical bride,
Tabitha, and her ranting royalist husband. It is said that this play was
originally composed, and afterwards revived, as a satire upon the
Presbyterian party; yet it was resented by the court party as a satire
upon itself. A man must, indeed, be sufficiently blind with
party-prejudice, to have considered this as a compliment to his own side
of the question. ‘Call you this backing of your friends?’ The cavaliers
are in this piece represented as reduced to the lowest shifts in point
of fortune, and sunk still lower in point of principle.

The greatest single production of wit of this period, I might say of
this country, is Butler’s Hudibras. It contains specimens of every
variety of drollery and satire, and those specimens crowded together
into almost every page. The proof of this is, that nearly one half of
his lines are got by heart, and quoted for mottos. In giving instances
of different sorts of wit, or trying to recollect good things of this
kind, they are the first which stand ready in the memory; and they are
those which furnish the best tests and most striking illustrations of
what we want. Dr. Campbell, in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, when treating
of the subject of wit, which he has done very neatly and sensibly, has
constant recourse to two authors, Pope and Butler, the one for ornament,
the other more for use. Butler is equally in the hands of the learned
and the vulgar; for the sense is generally as solid, as the images are
amusing and grotesque. Whigs and Tories join in his praise. He could
not, in spite of himself,

                             ——‘narrow his mind,
           ‘And to party give up what was meant for mankind.’

Though his subject was local and temporary, his fame was not
circumscribed within his own age. He was admired by Charles II. and has
been rewarded by posterity. It is the poet’s fate! It is not, perhaps,
to be wondered at, that arbitrary and worthless monarchs like Charles
II. should neglect those who pay court to them. The idol (if it had
sense) would despise its worshippers. Indeed, Butler hardly merited any
thing on the score of loyalty to the house of Stuart. True wit is not a
parasite plant. The strokes which it aims at folly and knavery on one
side of a question, tell equally home on the other. Dr. Zachary Grey,
who added notes to the poem, and abused the leaders of Cromwell’s party
by name, would be more likely to have gained a pension for his services
than Butler, who was above such petty work. A poem like Hudibras could
not be _made to order of a court_. Charles might very well have
reproached the author with wanting to shew his own wit and sense rather
than to favour a tottering cause; and he has even been suspected, in
parts of his poem, of glancing at majesty itself. He in general
ridicules not persons, but things, not a party, but their principles,
which may belong, as time and occasion serve, to one set of solemn
pretenders or another. This he has done most effectually, in every
possible way, and from every possible source, learned or unlearned. He
has exhausted the moods and figures of satire and sophistry.[5] It would
be possible to deduce the different forms of syllogism in Aristotle,
from the different violations or mock-imitations of them in Butler. He
fulfils every one of Barrow’s conditions of wit, which I have enumerated
in the first Lecture. He makes you laugh or smile by comparing the high
to the low,[6] or by pretending to raise the low to the lofty;[7] he
succeeds equally in the familiarity of his illustrations,[8] or their
incredible extravagance,[9] by comparing things that are alike or not
alike. He surprises equally by his coincidences or contradictions, by
spinning out a long-winded flimsy excuse, or by turning short upon you
with the point-blank truth. His rhymes are as witty as his reasons,
equally remote from what common custom would suggest;[10] and he
startles you sometimes by an empty sound like a blow upon a
drum-head,[11] by a pun upon one word,[12] and by splitting another in
two at the end of a verse, with the same alertness and power over the
odd and unaccountable in the combinations of sounds as of images.[13]

There are as many shrewd aphorisms in his works, clenched by as many
quaint and individual allusions, as perhaps in any author whatever. He
makes none but palpable hits, that may be said to give one’s
understanding a rap on the knuckles.[14] He is, indeed, sometimes too
prolific, and spins his antithetical sentences out, one after another,
till the reader, not the author, is wearied. He is, however, very seldom
guilty of repetitions or wordy paraphrases of himself; but he sometimes
comes rather too near it; and interrupts the thread of his argument (for
narrative he has none) by a tissue of epigrams, and the tagging of
points and conundrums without end. The fault, or original sin of his
genius, is, that from too much leaven it ferments and runs over; and
there is, unfortunately, nothing in his subject to restrain and keep it
within compass. He has no story good for any thing; and his characters
are good for very little. They are too low and mechanical, or too much
one thing, personifications, as it were, of nicknames, and bugbears of
popular prejudice and vulgar cant, unredeemed by any virtue, or
difference or variety of disposition. There is no relaxation or shifting
of the parts; and the impression in some degree fails of its effect, and
becomes questionable from its being always the same. The satire looks,
at length, almost like special-pleading: it has nothing to confirm it in
the apparent good humour or impartiality of the writer. It is something
revolting to see an author persecute his characters, the cherished
offspring of his brain, in this manner, without mercy. Hudibras and
Ralpho have immortalised Butler; and what has he done for them in
return, but set them up to be ‘pilloried on infamy’s high and lasting
stage?’ This is ungrateful!

The rest of the characters have, in general, little more than their
names and professions to distinguish them. We scarcely know one from
another, Cerdon, or Orsin, or Crowdero, and are often obliged to turn
back, to connect their several adventures together. In fact, Butler
drives only at a set of obnoxious opinions, and runs into general
declamations. His poem in its essence is a satire, or didactic poem. It
is not virtually dramatic, or narrative. It is composed of digressions
by the author. He instantly breaks off in the middle of a story, or
incident, to comment upon and turn it into ridicule. He does not give
characters but topics, which would do just as well in his own mouth
without agents, or machinery of any kind. The long digression in Part
III. in which no mention is made of the hero, is just as good and as
much an integrant part of the poem as the rest. The conclusion is lame
and impotent, but that is saying nothing; the beginning and middle are
equally so as to historical merit. There is no keeping in his
characters, as in Don Quixote; nor any enjoyment of the ludicrousness of
their situations, as in Hogarth. Indeed, it requires a considerable
degree of sympathy to enter into and describe to the life even the
ludicrous eccentricities of others, and there is no appearance of
sympathy or liking to his subject in Butler. His humour is to his wit,
‘as one grain of wheat in a bushel of chaff: you shall search all day,
and when you find it, it is not worth the trouble.’ Yet there are
exceptions. The most decisive is, I think, the description of the battle
between Bruin and his foes, Part I. Canto iii., and again of the
triumphal procession in Part II. Canto ii. of which the principal
features are copied in Hogarth’s election print, the Chairing of the
successful candidate. The account of Sidrophel and Whackum is another
instance, and there are some few others, but rarely sprinkled up and
down.[15]

The widow, the termagant heroine of the poem, is still more disagreeable
than her lover; and her sarcastic account of the passion of love, as
consisting entirely in an attachment to land and houses, goods and
chattels, which is enforced with all the rhetoric the author is master
of, and hunted down through endless similes, is evidently false. The
vulgarity and meanness of sentiment which Butler complains of in the
Presbyterians, seems at last from long familiarity and close
contemplation to have tainted his own mind. Their worst vices appear to
have taken root in his imagination. Nothing but what was selfish and
groveling sunk into his memory, in the depression of a menial situation
under his supposed hero. He has, indeed, carried his private grudge too
far into his general speculations. He even makes out the rebels to be
cowards and well beaten, which does not accord with the history of the
times. In an excess of zeal for church and state, he is too much
disposed to treat religion as a cheat, and liberty as a farce. It was
the cant of that day (from which he is not free) to cry down sanctity
and sobriety as marks of disaffection, as it is the cant of this, to
hold them up as proofs of loyalty and staunch monarchical principles.
Religion and morality are, in either case, equally made subservient to
the spirit of party, and a stalking-horse to the love of power. Finally,
there is a want of pathos and humour, but no want of interest in
Hudibras. It is difficult to lay it down. One thought is inserted into
another; the links in the chain of reasoning are so closely rivetted,
that the attention seldom flags, but is kept alive (without any other
assistance) by the mere force of writing. There are occasional
indications of poetical fancy, and an eye for natural beauty; but these
are kept under or soon discarded, judiciously enough, but it should
seem, not for lack of power, for they are certainly as masterly as they
are rare. Such are the burlesque description of the stocks, or
allegorical prison, in which first Crowdero, and then Hudibras, is
confined: the passage beginning—

               ‘As when an owl that’s in a barn,
               Sees a mouse creeping in the corn,
               Sits still and shuts his round blue eyes,
               As if he slept,’ &c.

And the description of the moon going down in the early morning, which
is as pure, original, and picturesque as possible:—

                ‘The queen of night, whose large command
                Rules all the sea and half the land,
                And over moist and crazy brains
                In high spring-tides at midnight reigns,
                Was now declining to the west,
                To go to bed and take her rest.’

Butler is sometimes scholastic, but he makes his learning tell to good
account; and for the purposes of burlesque, nothing can be better fitted
than the scholastic style.

Butler’s Remains are nearly as good and full of sterling genius as his
principal poem. Take the following ridicule of the plan of the Greek
tragedies as an instance.

 —‘Reduce all tragedy, by rules of art,
 Back to its ancient theatre, a cart,
 And make them henceforth keep the beaten roads
 Of reverend choruses and episodes;
 Reform and regulate a puppet-play,
 According to the true and ancient way;
 That not an actor shall presume to squeak,
 Unless he have a license for ‘t in Greek:
 Nor devil in the puppet-play be allowed
 To roar and spit fire, but to fright the crowd,
 Unless some god or demon chance to have piques
 Against an ancient family of Greeks;
 That other men may tremble and take warning
 How such a fatal progeny they’re born in;
 For none but such for tragedy are fitted,
 That have been ruined only to be pitied:
 And only those held proper to deter,
 Who have th’ ill luck against their wills to err;
 Whence only such as are of middling sizes,
 Betwixt morality and venial vices,
 Are qualified to be destroyed by fate,
 For other mortals to take warning at.’

                                                       _Upon Critics._

His ridicule of Milton’s Latin style is equally severe, but not so well
founded.

I have only to add a few words respecting the dramatic writers about
this time, before we arrive at the golden period of our comedy. Those of
Etherege[16] are good for nothing, except The Man of Mode, or Sir
Fopling Flutter, which is, I think, a more exquisite and airy picture of
the manners of that age than any other extant. Sir Fopling himself is an
inimitable coxcomb, but pleasant withal. He is a suit of clothes
personified. Dorimant (supposed to be Lord Rochester) is the genius of
grace, gallantry, and gaiety. The women in this courtly play have very
much the look and air (but something more demure and significant) of Sir
Peter Lely’s beauties. Harriet, the mistress of Dorimant, who ‘tames his
wild heart to her loving hand,’ is the flower of the piece. Her natural,
untutored grace and spirit, her meeting with Dorimant in the Park,
bowing and mimicking him, and the luxuriant description which is given
of her fine person, altogether form one of the _chef d’œuvres_ of
dramatic painting. I should think this comedy would bear reviving; and
if Mr. Liston were to play Sir Fopling, the part would shine out with
double lustre, ‘like the morn risen on mid-noon.’—Dryden’s comedies have
all the point that there is in ribaldry, and all the humour that there
is in extravagance. I am sorry I can say nothing better of them. He was
not at home in this kind of writing, of which he was himself conscious.
His play was _horse-play_. His wit (what there is of it) is ingenious
and scholar-like, rather than natural and dramatic. Thus Burr, in the
Wild Gallant, says to Failer, ‘She shall sooner cut an atom than part
us.’—His plots are pure _voluntaries_ in absurdity, that bend and shift
to his purpose without any previous notice or reason, and are governed
by final causes. Sir Martin Mar-all, which was taken from the Duchess of
Newcastle, is the best of his plays, and the origin of the Busy Body.
Otway’s comedies do no sort of credit to him: on the contrary, they are
as desperate as his fortunes. The Duke of Buckingham’s famous Rehearsal,
which has made, and deservedly, so much noise in the world, is in a
great measure taken from Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning
Pestle, which was written in ridicule of the London apprentices in the
reign of Elizabeth, who had a great hand in the critical decisions of
that age. There were other dramatic writers of this period, noble and
plebeian. I shall only mention one other piece, the Committee, I believe
by Sir Robert Howard, which has of late been cut down into the farce
called Honest Thieves, and which I remember reading with a great deal of
pleasure many years ago.

One cause of the difference between the immediate reception and lasting
success of dramatic works at this period may be, that after the court
took the play-houses under its particular protection, every thing became
very much an affair of private patronage. If an author could get a
learned lord or a countess-dowager to bespeak a box at his play, and
applaud the doubtful passages, he considered his business as done. On
the other hand, there was a reciprocity between men of letters and their
patrons; critics were ‘mitigated into courtiers, and submitted,’ as Mr.
Burke has it, ‘to the soft collar of social esteem,’ in pronouncing
sentence on the works of lords and ladies. How ridiculous this seems
now! What a hubbub it would create, if it were known that a particular
person of fashion and title had taken a front-box in order to decide on
the fate of a first play! How the newspaper critics would laugh in their
sleeves! How the public would sneer! But at this time there was no
public. I will not say, therefore, that these times are better than
those; but they are better, I think, in this respect. An author
now-a-days no longer hangs dangling on the frown of a lord, or the smile
of a lady of quality (the one governed perhaps by his valet, and the
other by her waiting-maid), but throws himself boldly, making a lover’s
leap of it, into the broad lap of public opinion, on which he falls like
a feather-bed; and which, like the great bed of Ware, is wide enough to
hold us all very comfortably!


                               LECTURE IV
             ON WYCHERLEY, CONGREVE, VANBRUGH, AND FARQUHAR

Comedy is a ‘graceful ornament to the civil order; the Corinthian
capital of polished society.’ Like the mirrors which have been added to
the sides of one of our theatres, it reflects the images of grace, of
gaiety, and pleasure double, and completes the perspective of human
life. To read a good comedy is to keep the best company in the world,
where the best things are said, and the most amusing happen. The
wittiest remarks are always ready on the tongue, and the luckiest
occasions are always at hand to give birth to the happiest conceptions.
Sense makes strange havoc of nonsense. Refinement acts as a foil to
affectation, and affectation to ignorance. Sentence after sentence
tells. We don’t know which to admire most, the observation, or the
answer to it. We would give our fingers to be able to talk so ourselves,
or to hear others talk so. In turning over the pages of the best
comedies, we are almost transported to another world, and escape from
this dull age to one that was all life, and whim, and mirth, and humour.
The curtain rises, and a gayer scene presents itself, as on the canvass
of Watteau. We are admitted behind the scenes like spectators at court,
on a levee or birth-day; but it is the court, the gala day of wit and
pleasure, of gallantry and Charles II.! What an air breathes from the
name! what a rustling of silks and waving of plumes! what a sparkling of
diamond earrings and shoe-buckles! What bright eyes, (ah, those were
Waller’s Sacharissa’s as she passed!) what killing looks and graceful
motions! How the faces of the whole ring are dressed in smiles! how the
repartee goes round! how wit and folly, elegance and awkward imitation
of it, set one another off! Happy, thoughtless age, when kings and
nobles led purely ornamental lives; when the utmost stretch of a
morning’s study went no farther than the choice of a sword-knot, or the
adjustment of a side-curl; when the soul spoke out in all the pleasing
eloquence of dress; and beaux and belles, enamoured of themselves in one
another’s follies, fluttered like gilded butterflies, in giddy mazes,
through the walks of St. James’s Park!

The four principal writers of this style of comedy (which I think the
best) are undoubtedly Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar. The
dawn was in Etherege, as its latest close was in Sheridan.—It is hard to
say which of these four is best, or in what each of them excels, they
had so many and such great excellences.

Congreve is the most distinct from the others, and the most easily
defined, both from what he possessed, and from what he wanted. He had by
far the most wit and elegance, with less of other things, of humour,
character, incident, &c. His style is inimitable, nay perfect. It is the
highest model of comic dialogue. Every sentence is replete with sense
and satire, conveyed in the most polished and pointed terms. Every page
presents a shower of brilliant conceits, is a tissue of epigrams in
prose, is a new triumph of wit, a new conquest over dulness. The fire of
artful raillery is nowhere else so well kept up. This style, which he
was almost the first to introduce, and which he carried to the utmost
pitch of classical refinement, reminds one exactly of Collins’s
description of wit as opposed to humour,

                ‘Whose jewels in his crisped hair
                Are placed each other’s light to share.’

Sheridan will not bear a comparison with him in the regular antithetical
construction of his sentences, and in the mechanical artifices of his
style, though so much later, and though style in general has been so
much studied, and in the mechanical part so much improved since then. It
bears every mark of being what he himself in the dedication of one of
his plays tells us that it was, a spirited copy taken off and carefully
revised from the most select society of his time, exhibiting all the
sprightliness, ease, and animation of familiar conversation, with the
correctness and delicacy of the most finished composition. His works are
a singular treat to those who have cultivated a taste for the niceties
of English style: there is a peculiar flavour in the very words, which
is to be found in hardly any other writer. To the mere reader his
writings would be an irreparable loss: to the stage they are already
become a dead letter, with the exception of one of them, Love for Love.
This play is as full of character, incident, and stage-effect, as almost
any of those of his contemporaries, and fuller of wit than any of his
own, except perhaps the Way of the World. It still acts, and is still
acted well. The effect of it is prodigious on the well-informed
spectator. In particular, Munden’s Foresight, if it is not just the
thing, is a wonderfully rich and powerful piece of comic acting. His
look is planet-struck; his dress and appearance like one of the signs of
the Zodiac taken down. Nothing can be more bewildered; and it only wants
a little more helplessness, a little more of the doating querulous
garrulity of age, to be all that one conceives of the superannuated,
star-gazing original. The gay, unconcerned opening of this play, and the
romantic generosity of the conclusion, where Valentine, when about to
resign his mistress, declares—‘I never valued fortune, but as it was
subservient to my pleasure; and my only pleasure was to please this
lady,’—are alike admirable. The peremptory bluntness and exaggerated
descriptions of Sir Sampson Legend are in a vein truly oriental, with a
Shakespearian cast of language, and form a striking contrast to the
quaint credulity and senseless superstitions of Foresight. The
remonstrance of his son to him, ‘to divest him, along with his
inheritance, of his reason, thoughts, passions, inclinations,
affections, appetites, senses, and the huge train of attendants which he
brought into the world with him,’ with his valet’s accompanying
comments, is one of the most eloquent and spirited specimens of wit,
pathos, and morality, that is to be found. The short scene with
Trapland, the money-broker, is of the first water. What a picture is
here drawn of Tattle! ‘More misfortunes, Sir!’ says Jeremy. _Valentine._
‘What, another dun?’ _Jeremy._ ‘No, Sir, but Mr. Tattle is come to wait
upon you.’ What an introduction to give of an honest gentleman in the
shape of a misfortune! The scenes between him, Miss Prue, and Ben, are
of a highly coloured description. Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight are
‘sisters every way;’ and the bodkin which Mrs. Foresight brings as a
proof of her sister’s levity of conduct, and which is so convincingly
turned against her as a demonstration of her own—‘Nay, if you come to
that, where did you find that bodkin?’—is one of the trophies of the
moral justice of the comic drama. The Old Bachelor and Double Dealer are
inferior to Love for Love, but one is never tired of reading them. The
fault of the last is, that Lady Touchwood approaches, in the turbulent
impetuosity of her character, and measured tone of her declamation, too
near to the tragedy-queen; and that Maskwell’s plots puzzle the brain by
their intricacy, as they stagger our belief by their gratuitous
villainy. Sir Paul and Lady Pliant, and my Lord and Lady Froth, are also
scarcely credible in the extravagant insipidity and romantic vein of
their follies, in which they are notably seconded by the lively Mr.
Brisk and ‘dying Ned Careless.’

The Way of the World was the author’s last and most carefully finished
performance. It is an essence almost too fine; and the sense of pleasure
evaporates in an aspiration after something that seems too exquisite
ever to have been realised. After inhaling the spirit of Congreve’s wit,
and tasting ‘love’s thrice reputed nectar’ in his works, the head grows
giddy in turning from the highest point of rapture to the ordinary
business of life; and we can with difficulty recal the truant Fancy to
those objects which we are fain to take up with here, _for better, for
worse_. What can be more enchanting than Millamant and her morning
thoughts, her _doux sommeils_? What more provoking than her reproach to
her lover, who proposes to rise early, ‘Ah! idle creature!’ The meeting
of these two lovers after the abrupt dismissal of Sir Wilful, is the
height of careless and voluptuous elegance, as if they moved in air, and
drank a finer spirit of humanity.

        ‘_Millamant._ Like Phœbus sung the no less amorous boy.

        _Mirabell._ Like Daphne she, as lovely and as coy.’

Millamant is the perfect model of the accomplished fine lady:

            ‘Come, then, the colours and the ground prepare,
            Dip in the rainbow, trick her off in air;
            Choose a firm cloud, before it falls, and in it
            Catch ere she change, the Cynthia of a minute.’

She is the ideal heroine of the comedy of high life, who arrives at the
height of indifference to every thing from the height of satisfaction;
to whom pleasure is as familiar as the air she draws; elegance worn as a
part of her dress; wit the habitual language which she hears and speaks;
love, a matter of course; and who has nothing to hope or to fear, her
own caprice being the only law to herself, and rule to those about her.
Her words seem composed of amorous sighs—her looks are glanced at
prostrate admirers or envious rivals.

            ‘If there’s delight in love, ’tis when I see
            That heart that others bleed for, bleed for me.’

She refines on her pleasures to satiety; and is almost stifled in the
incense that is offered to her person, her wit, her beauty, and her
fortune. Secure of triumph, her slaves tremble at her frown: her charms
are so irresistible, that her conquests give her neither surprise nor
concern. ‘Beauty the lover’s gift?’ she exclaims, in answer to
Mirabell—‘Dear me, what is a lover that it can give? Why one makes
lovers as fast as one pleases, and they live as long as one pleases, and
they die as soon as one pleases; and then if one pleases, one makes
more.’ We are not sorry to see her tamed down at last, from her pride of
love and beauty, into a wife. She is good-natured and generous, with all
her temptations to the contrary; and her behaviour to Mirabell
reconciles us to her treatment of Witwoud and Petulant, and of her
country admirer, Sir Wilful.

Congreve has described all this in his character of Millamant, but he
has done no more; and if he had, he would have done wrong. He has given
us the finest idea of an artificial character of this kind; but it is
still the reflection of an artificial character. The springs of nature,
passion, or imagination are but feebly touched. The impressions appealed
to, and with masterly address, are habitual, external, and conventional
advantages: the ideas of birth, of fortune, of connexions, of dress,
accomplishment, fashion, the opinion of the world, of crowds of
admirers, continually come into play, flatter our vanity, bribe our
interest, soothe our indolence, fall in with our prejudices;—it is these
that support the goddess of our idolatry, with which she is every thing,
and without which she would be nothing. The mere fine lady of comedy,
compared with the heroine of romance or poetry, when stripped of her
adventitious ornaments and advantages, is too much like the doll
stripped of its finery. In thinking of Millamant, we think almost as
much of her dress as of her person: it is not so with respect to
Rosalind or Perdita. The poet has painted them differently; in colours
which ‘nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on,’ with health, with
innocence, with gaiety, ‘wild wit, invention ever new;’ with pure red
and white, like the wilding’s blossoms; with warbled wood-notes, like
the feathered choir’s; with thoughts fluttering on the wings of
imagination, and hearts panting and breathless with eager delight. The
interest we feel is in themselves; the admiration they excite is for
themselves. They do not depend upon the drapery of circumstances. It is
nature that ‘blazons herself’ in them. Imogen is the same in a lonely
cave as in a court; nay more, for she there seems something heavenly—a
spirit or a vision; and, as it were, shames her destiny, brighter for
the foil of circumstances. Millamant is nothing but a fine lady; and all
her airs and affectation would be blown away with the first breath of
misfortune. Enviable in drawing-rooms, adorable at her toilette,
fashion, like a witch, has thrown its spell around her; but if that
spell were broken, her power of fascination would be gone. For that
reason I think the character better adapted for the stage: it is more
artificial, more theatrical, more meretricious. I would rather have seen
Mrs. Abington’s Millamant, than any Rosalind that ever appeared on the
stage. Some how, this sort of acquired elegance is more a thing of
costume, of air and manner; and in comedy, or on the comic stage, the
light and familiar, the trifling, superficial, and agreeable, bears,
perhaps, rightful sway over that which touches the affections, or
exhausts the fancy.—There is a callousness in the worst characters in
the Way of the World, in Fainall, and his wife and Mrs. Marwood, not
very pleasant; and a grossness in the absurd ones, such as Lady Wishfort
and Sir Wilful, which is not a little amusing. Witwoud wishes to
declaim, as far as he can, his relationship to this last character, and
says, ‘he’s but his half-brother;’ to which Mirabell makes answer—‘Then,
perhaps, he’s but half a fool.’ Peg is an admirable caricature of rustic
awkwardness and simplicity, which is carried to excess without any
offence, from a sense of contrast to the refinement of the chief
characters in the play. The description of Lady Wishfort’s face is a
perfect piece of painting. The force of style in this author at times
amounts to poetry. Waitwell, who personates Sir Rowland, and Foible, his
accomplice in the matrimonial scheme upon her mistress, hang as a dead
weight upon the plot. They are mere tools in the hands of Mirabell, and
want life and interest. Congreve’s characters can all of them speak
well, they are mere machines when they come to act. Our author’s
superiority deserted him almost entirely with his wit. His serious and
tragic poetry is frigid and jejune to an unaccountable degree. His
_forte_ was the description of actual manners, whether elegant or
absurd; and when he could not deride the one or embellish the other, his
attempts at romantic passion or imaginary enthusiasm are forced,
abortive, and ridiculous, or common-place. The description of the ruins
of a temple in the beginning of the Mourning Bride, was a great stretch
of his poetic genius. It has, however, been over-rated, particularly by
Dr. Johnson, who could have done nearly as well himself for a single
passage in the same style of moralising and sentimental description. To
justify this general censure, and to shew how the lightest and most
graceful wit degenerates into the heaviest and most bombastic poetry, I
will give one description out of his tragedy, which will be enough. It
is the speech which Gonsalez addresses to Almeria:

       ‘Be every day of your long life like this.
       The sun, bright conquest, and your brighter eyes
       Have all conspired to blaze promiscuous light,
       And bless this day with most unequal lustre.
       Your royal father, my victorious lord,
       Loaden with spoils, and ever-living laurel,
       Is entering now, in martial pomp, the palace.
       Five hundred mules precede his solemn march,
       Which groan beneath the weight of Moorish wealth.
       Chariots of war, adorn’d with glittering gems,
       Succeed; and next, a hundred neighing steeds,
       White as the fleecy rain on Alpine hills;
       That bound, and foam, and champ the golden bit,
       As they disdain’d the victory they grace.
       Prisoners of war in shining fetters follow:
       And captains of the noblest blood of Afric
       Sweat by his chariot-wheels, and lick and grind,
       With gnashing teeth, the dust his triumphs raise.
       The swarming populace spread every wall,
       And cling, as if with claws they did enforce
       Their hold, through clifted stones stretching and staring
       As if they were all eyes, and every limb
       Would feed its faculty of admiration,
       While you alone retire, and shun this sight;
       This sight, which is indeed not seen (though twice
       The multitude should gaze) in absence of your eyes.’

This passage seems, in part, an imitation of Bolingbroke’s entry into
London. The style is as different from Shakspeare, as it is from that of
Witwoud and Petulant. It is plain that the imagination of the author
could not raise itself above the burlesque. His Mask of Semele, Judgment
of Paris, and other occasional poems, are even worse. I would not advise
any one to read them, or if I did, they would not.

Wycherley was before Congreve; and his Country Wife will last longer
than any thing of Congreve’s as a popular acting play. It is only a pity
that it is not entirely his own; but it is enough so to do him
never-ceasing honour, for the best things are his own. His humour is, in
general, broader, his characters more natural, and his incidents more
striking than Congreve’s. It may be said of Congreve, that the
workmanship overlays the materials: in Wycherley, the casting of the
parts and the fable are alone sufficient to ensure success. We forget
Congreve’s characters, and only remember what they say: we remember
Wycherley’s characters, and the incidents they meet with, just as if
they were real, and forget what they say, comparatively speaking. Miss
Peggy (or Mrs. Margery Pinchwife) is a character that will last for
ever, I should hope; and even when the original is no more, if that
should ever be, while self-will, curiosity, art, and ignorance are to be
found in the same person, it will be just as good and as intelligible as
ever in the description, because it is built on first principles, and
brought out in the fullest and broadest manner. Agnes, in Moliere’s
play, has a great deal of the same unconscious impulse and heedless
_naïveté_, but hers is sentimentalised and varnished over (in the French
fashion) with long-winded apologies and analytical distinctions. It
wants the same simple force and _home_ truth. It is not so direct and
downright. Miss Peggy is not even a novice in casuistry: she blurts out
her meaning before she knows what she is saying, and she speaks her mind
by her actions oftener than by her words. The outline of the plot is the
same; but the point-blank hits and master-strokes, the sudden thoughts
and delightful expedients, such as her changing the letters, the meeting
her husband plump in the Park, as she is running away from him as fast
as her heels can carry her, her being turned out of doors by her jealous
booby of a husband, and sent by him to her lover disguised as Alicia,
her sisterin-law—occur first in the modern play. There are scarcely any
incidents or situations on the stage, which tell like these for
pantomimic effect, which give such a tingling to the blood, or so
completely take away the breath with expectation and surprise. Miss
Prue, in Love for Love, is a lively reflection of Miss Peggy, but
without the bottom and weight of metal. Hoyden is a match for her in
constitution and complete effect, as Corinna, in the Confederacy, is in
mischief, but without the wit. Mrs. Jordan used to play all these
characters; and as she played them, it was hard to know which was best.
Pinchwife, or Moody, (as he is at present called) is, like others of
Wycherley’s moral characters, too rustic, abrupt, and cynical. He is a
more disagreeable, but less tedious character than the husband of Agnes,
and both seem, by all accounts, to have been rightly served. The
character of Sparkish is quite new, and admirably hit off. He is an
exquisite and suffocating coxcomb; a pretender to wit and letters,
without common understanding, or the use of his senses. The class of
character is thoroughly exposed and understood; but he persists in his
absurd conduct so far, that it becomes extravagant and disgusting, if
not incredible, from mere weakness and foppery. Yet there is something
in him that we are inclined to tolerate at first, as his professing that
‘with him a wit is the first title to respect;’ and we regard his
unwillingness to be pushed out of the room, and coming back, in spite of
their teeth, to keep the company of wits and raillers, as a favourable
omen. But he utterly disgraces his pretensions before he has done. With
all his faults and absurdities, he is, however, a much less offensive
character than Tattle.—Horner is a stretch of probability in the first
concoction of that ambiguous character, (for he does not appear at
present on the stage as Wycherley made him) but notwithstanding the
indecency and indirectness of the means he employs to carry his plans
into effect, he deserves every sort of consideration and forgiveness,
both for the display of his own ingenuity, and the deep insight he
discovers into human nature—such as it was in the time of Wycherley. The
author has commented on this character, and the double meaning of the
name in his Plain Dealer, borrowing the remarks, and almost the very
words of Moliere, who has brought forward and defended his own work
against the objections of the precise part of his audience, in his
_Critique de l’Ecole des Femmes_. There is no great harm in these
occasional plagiarisms, except that they make one uncomfortable at other
times, and distrustful of the originality of the whole.—The Plain Dealer
is Wycherley’s next best work; and is a most severe and poignant moral
satire. There is a heaviness about it, indeed, an extravagance, an
overdoing both in the style, the plot, and characters, but the truth of
feeling and the force of interest prevail over every objection. The
character of Manly, the Plain Dealer, is violent, repulsive, and
uncouth, which is a fault, though one that seems to have been intended
for the sake of contrast; for the portrait of consummate, artful
hypocrisy in Olivia, is, perhaps, rendered more striking by it. The
indignation excited against this odious and pernicious quality by the
masterly exposure to which it is here subjected, is ‘a discipline of
humanity.’ No one can read this play attentively without being the
better for it as long as he lives. It penetrates to the core; it shews
the immorality and hateful effects of duplicity, by shewing it fixing
its harpy fangs in the heart of an honest and worthy man. It is worth
ten volumes of sermons. The scenes between Manly after his return,
Olivia, Plausible, and Novel, are instructive examples of unblushing
impudence, of shallow pretensions to principle, and of the most
mortifying reflections on his own situation, and bitter sense of female
injustice and ingratitude, on the part of Manly. The devil of hypocrisy
and hardened assurance seems worked up to the highest pitch of
conceivable effrontery in Olivia, when, after confiding to her cousin
the story of her infamy, she, in a moment, turns round upon her for some
sudden purpose, and affecting not to know the meaning of the other’s
allusions to what she has just told her, reproaches her with forging
insinuations to the prejudice of her character, and in violation of
their friendship. ‘Go! you’re a censorious ill woman.’ This is more
trying to the patience than any thing in the Tartuffe. The name of this
heroine, and her overtures to Fidelia, as the page, seem to have been
suggested by Twelfth Night. It is curious to see how the same subject is
treated by two such different authors as Shakspeare and Wycherley. The
widow Blackacre and her son are like her lawsuit—everlasting. A more
lively, palpable, bustling, ridiculous picture cannot be drawn. Jerry is
a hopeful lad, though undutiful and gets out of bad hands into worse.
Goldsmith evidently had an eye to these two precious characters, in She
Stoops to Conquer. Tony Lumpkin and his mother are of the same family,
and the incident of the theft of the casket of jewels, and the bag of
parchments, is nearly the same in both authors. Wycherley’s other plays
are not so good. The Gentleman Dancing Master is a long, foolish farce,
in the exaggerated manner of Moliere, but without his spirit or
whimsical invention. Love in a Wood, though not what one would wish it
to be for the author’s sake or our own, is much better, and abounds in
several rich and highly-coloured scenes, particularly those in which
Miss Lucy, her mother Crossbite, Dapperwit, and Alderman Gripe are
concerned. Some of the subordinate characters and intrigues in this
comedy are grievously spun out. Wycherley, when he got hold of a good
thing, or sometimes even of a bad one, was determined to make the most
of it; and might have said with Dogberry, truly enough, ‘Had I the
tediousness of a king, I could find in my heart to bestow it all upon
your worships.’ In reading this author’s best works, those which one
reads most frequently over, and knows almost by heart, one cannot help
thinking of the treatment he received from Pope about his verses. It was
hardly excusable in a boy of sixteen to an old man of seventy.

Vanbrugh comes next, and holds his own fully with the best. He is no
writer at all, as to mere authorship; but he makes up for it by a
prodigious fund of comic invention and ludicrous description, bordering
somewhat on caricature. Though he did not borrow from him, he was much
more like Moliere in genius than Wycherley was, who professedly imitated
him. He has none of Congreve’s graceful refinement, and as little of
Wycherley’s serious manner and studied insight into the springs of
character; but his exhibition of it in dramatic contrast and
unlooked-for situations, where the different parties play upon one
another’s failings, and into one another’s hands, keeping up the jest
like a game at battledore and shuttlecock, and urging it to the utmost
verge of breathless extravagance, in the mere eagerness of the fray, is
beyond that of any other of our writers. His fable is not so profoundly
laid, nor his characters so well digested as Wycherley’s (who, in these
respects, bore some resemblance to Fielding). Vanbrugh does not lay the
same deliberate train from the outset to the conclusion, so that the
whole may hang together, and tend inevitably from the combination of
different agents and circumstances to the same decisive point: but he
works out scene after scene, on the spur of the occasion, and from the
immediate hold they take of his imagination at the moment, without any
previous bias or ultimate purpose, much more powerfully, with more
_verve_, and in a richer vein of original invention. His fancy warms and
burnishes out as if he were engaged in the real scene of action, and
felt all his faculties suddenly called forth to meet the emergency. He
has more nature than art: what he does best, he does because he cannot
help it. He has a masterly eye to the advantages which certain
accidental situations of character present to him on the spot, and he
executes the most difficult and rapid theatrical movements at a moment’s
warning. Of this kind are the inimitable scenes in the Provoked Wife,
between Razor and Mademoiselle, where they repeat and act over again the
rencontre in the Mulberry-walk between Constant and his mistress, than
which nothing was ever more happily conceived, or done to more absolute
perfection; that again in the Relapse, where Loveless pushes Berinthia
into the closet; the sudden meeting in the Confederacy between Dick and
Mrs. Amlet; the altercation about the letter between Flippanta and
Corinna, in the same play, and that again where Brass, at the house of
Gripe the money-scrivener, threatens to discover his friend and
accomplice, and by talking louder and louder to him, as he tries to
evade his demands, extorts a grudging submission from him. This last
scene is as follows:—

  ‘_Dick._ I wish my old hobbling mother han’t been blabbing something
  here she should not do.

  _Brass._ Fear nothing, all’s safe on that side yet. But how speaks
  young mistress’s epistle? soft and tender?

  _Dick._ As pen can write.

  _Brass._ So you think all goes well there?

  _Dick._ As my heart can wish.

  _Brass._ You are sure on’t?

  _Dick._ Sure on’t!

  _Brass._ Why then, ceremony aside—[_Putting on his hat_]—you and I
  must have a little talk, Mr. Amlet.

  _Dick._ Ah, Brass, what art thou going to do? wo’t ruin me?

  _Brass._ Look you, Dick, few words; you are in a smooth way of
  making your fortune; I hope all will roll on. But how do you intend
  matters shall pass ’twixt you and me in this business?

  _Dick._ Death and furies! What a time does take to talk on’t?

  _Brass._ Good words, or I betray you; they have already heard of one
  Mr. Amlet in the house.

  _Dick._ Here’s a son of a whore. [_Aside._

  _Brass._ In short, look smooth, and be a good prince. I am your
  valet, ’tis true: your footman, sometimes, which I’m enraged at; but
  you have always had the ascendant I confess: when we were
  schoolfellows, you made me carry your books, make your exercise, own
  your rogueries, and sometimes take a whipping for you. When we were
  fellow-’prentices, though I was your senior, you made me open the
  shop, clean my master’s shoes, cut last at dinner, and eat all the
  crust. In our sins too, I must own you still kept me under; you
  soar’d up to adultery with the mistress, while I was at humble
  fornication with the maid. Nay, in our punishments you still made
  good your post; for when once upon a time I was sentenced but to be
  whipp’d, I cannot deny but you were condemn’d to be hang’d. So that
  in all times, I must confess, your inclinations have been greater
  and nobler than mine; however, I cannot consent that you should at
  once fix fortune for life, and I dwell in my humilities for the rest
  of my days.

  _Dick._ Hark thee, Brass, if I do not most nobly by thee, I’m a dog.

  _Brass._ And when?

  _Dick._ As soon as ever I am married.

  _Brass._ Ay, the plague take thee.

  _Dick._ Then you mistrust me?

  _Brass._ I do, by my faith. Look you, Sir, some folks we mistrust,
  because we don’t know them: others we mistrust, because we do know
  them: and for one of these reasons I desire there may be a bargain
  beforehand: if not [_raising his voice_] look ye, Dick Amlet—

  _Dick._ Soft, my dear friend and companion. The dog will ruin me
  [_Aside_]. Say, what is’t will content thee?

  _Brass._ O ho!

  _Dick._ But how canst thou be such a barbarian?

  _Brass._ I learnt it at Algiers.

  _Dick._ Come, make thy Turkish demand then.

  _Brass._ You know you gave me a bank-bill this morning to receive
  for you.

  _Dick._ I did so, of fifty pounds; ’tis thine. So, now thou art
  satisfied all is fixed.

  _Brass._ It is not indeed. There’s a diamond necklace you robb’d
  your mother of e’en now.

  _Dick._ Ah, you Jew!

  _Brass._ No words.

  _Dick._ My dear Brass!

  _Brass._ I insist.

  _Dick._ My old friend!

  _Brass._ Dick Amlet [_raising his voice_] I insist.

  _Dick._ Ah, the cormorant [_Aside_].—Well, ’tis thine: thou’lt never
  thrive with it.

  _Brass._ When I find it begins to do me mischief, I’ll give it you
  again. But I must have a wedding suit.

  _Dick._ Well.

  _Brass._ A stock of linen.

  _Dick._ Enough.

  _Brass._ Not yet——a silver-hilted sword.

  _Dick._ Well, thou shalt have that too. Now thou hast every thing.

  _Brass._ Heav’n forgive me, I forgot a ring of remembrance. I would
  not forget all these favours for the world: a sparkling diamond will
  be always playing in my eye, and put me in mind of them.

  _Dick._ This unconscionable rogue! [_Aside_]—Well, I’ll bespeak one
  for thee.

  _Brass._ Brilliant.

  _Dick._ It shall. But if the thing don’t succeed after all—

  _Brass._ I am a man of honour and restore: and so, the treaty being
  finish’d, I strike my flag of defiance, and fall into my respects
  again.’

                                                 [_Takes off his hat._

The Confederacy is a comedy of infinite contrivance and intrigue, with a
matchless spirit of impudence. It is a fine careless _exposé_ of
heartless want of principle: for there is no anger or severity against
vice expressed in it, as in Wycherley. The author’s morality in all
cases (except his Provoked Wife, which was undertaken as a penance for
past peccadillos) sits very loose upon him. It is a little upon the
turn; ‘it does somewhat smack.’ Old Palmer, as Dick Amlet, asking his
mother’s blessing on his knee, was the very idea of a graceless son.—His
sweetheart Corinna is a Miss Prue, but nature works in her more
powerfully.—Lord Foppington, in the Relapse, is a most splendid
caricature: he is a personification of the foppery and folly of dress
and external appearance in full feather. He blazes out and dazzles sober
reason with ridiculous ostentation. Still I think this character is a
copy from Etherege’s Sir Fopling Flutter, and upon the whole, perhaps,
Sir Fopling is the more natural grotesque of the two. His soul is more
in his dress; he is a more disinterested coxcomb. The lord is an
ostentatious, strutting, vain-glorious blockhead: the knight is an
unaffected, self-complacent, serious admirer of his equipage and person.
For instance, what they severally say on the subject of contemplating
themselves in the glass, is a proof of this. Sir Fopling thinks a
looking-glass in the room ‘the best company in the world;’ it is another
self to him: Lord Foppington merely considers it as necessary to adjust
his appearance, that he may make a figure in company. The finery of the
one has an imposing air of grandeur about it, and is studied for effect:
the other is really in love with a laced suit, and is hand and glove
with the newest-cut fashion. He really thinks his tailor or peruke-maker
the greatest man in the world, while his lordship treats them familiarly
as necessary appendages of his person. Still this coxcomb-nobleman’s
effeminacy and mock-heroic vanity are admirably depicted, and held up to
unrivalled ridicule; and his courtship of Miss Hoyden is excellent in
all its stages, and ends oracularly.

_Lord Foppington._—‘Now, for my part, I think the wisest thing a man can
do with an aching heart, is to put on a serene countenance; for a
philosophical air is the most becoming thing in the world to the face of
a person of quality: I will therefore bear my disgrace like a great man,
and let the people see I am above an affront. [_then turning to his
brother_] Dear Tam, since things are thus fallen out, pr’ythee give me
leave to wish thee joy, I do it _de bon cœur_, strike me dumb: you have
married a woman beautiful in her person, charming in her airs, prudent
in her conduct, constant in her inclinations, and of a nice
morality—stap my vitals!’

Poor Hoyden fares ill in his lordship’s description of her, though she
could expect no better at his hands for her desertion of him. She wants
sentiment, to be sure, but she has other qualifications—she is a fine
bouncing piece of flesh and blood. Her first announcement is
decisive—‘Let loose the greyhound, and lock up Hoyden.’ Her declaration,
‘It’s well they’ve got me a husband, or ecod, I’d marry the baker,’
comes from her mouth like a shot from a culverin, and leaves no doubt,
by its effect upon the ear, that she would have made it good in the
sequel, if she had not been provided for. Her indifference to the man
she is to marry, and her attachment to the finery and the title, are
justified by an attentive observation of nature in its simplest guise.
There is, however, no harm in Hoyden; she merely wishes to consult her
own inclination: she is by no means like Corinna in the Confederacy, ‘a
devilish girl at the bottom,’ nor is it her great delight to plague
other people.—Sir Tunbelly Clumsy is the right worshipful and worthy
father of so delicate an offspring. He is a coarse, substantial contrast
to the flippant and flimsy Lord Foppington. If the one is not without
reason ‘proud to be at the head of so prevailing a party’ as that of
coxcombs, the other may look big and console himself (under some
affronts) with being a very competent representative, a knight of the
shire, of the once formidable, though now obsolete class of country
squires, who had no idea beyond the boundaries of their own estates, or
the circumference of their own persons. His unwieldy dulness gives, by
the rule of contraries, a lively sense of lightness and grace: his
stupidity answers all the purposes of wit. His portly paunch repels a
jest like a woolsack: a sarcasm rebounds from him like a ball. His
presence is a cure for gravity; and he is a standing satire upon himself
and the class in natural history to which he belonged.—Sir John Brute,
in the Provoked Wife, is an animal of the same English growth, but of a
cross-grained breed. He has a spice of the demon mixed up with the
brute; is mischievous as well as stupid; has improved his natural parts
by a town education and example; opposes the fine-lady airs and graces
of his wife by brawling oaths, impenetrable surliness, and pot-house
valour; overpowers any tendency she might have to vapours or hysterics,
by the fumes of tobacco and strong beer; and thinks to be master in his
own house by roaring in taverns, reeling home drunk every night,
breaking lamps, and beating the watch. He does not, however, find this
lordly method answer. He turns out to be a coward as well as a bully,
and dares not resent the injuries he has provoked by his unmanly
behaviour. This was Garrick’s favourite part; and I have heard that his
acting in the drunken scene, in which he was disguised not as a
clergyman, but as a woman of the town, which was an alteration of his
own to suit the delicacy of the times, was irresistible. The ironical
conversations in this play between Belinda and Lady Brute, as well as
those in the Relapse between Amanda and her cousin Berinthia, will do to
compare with Congreve in the way of wit and studied raillery, but they
will not stand the comparison. Araminta and Clarissa keep up the ball
between them with more spirit, for their conversation is very like that
of kept-mistresses; and the mixture of fashionable _slang_ and professed
want of principle gives a sort of zest and high seasoning to their
confidential communications, which Vanbrugh could supply as well as any
body. But he could not do without the taint of grossness and
licentiousness. Lady Townly is not the really vicious character, nor
quite the fine lady, which the author would have her to be. Lady Grace
is so far better; she is what she pretends to be, merely _sober_ and
insipid.—Vanbrugh’s _forte_ was not the sentimental or didactic; his
genius flags and grows dull when it is not put into action, and wants
the stimulus of sudden emergency, or the fortuitous collision of
different motives, to call out all its force and vivacity. His
antitheses are happy and brilliant contrasts of character; his _double
entendres_ equivocal situations; his best jokes are practical devices,
not epigrammatic conceits. His wit is that which is emphatically called
_mother-wit_. It brings those who possess it, or to whom he lends it,
into scrapes by its restlessness, and brings them out of them by its
alacrity. Several of his favourite characters are knavish, adroit
adventurers, who have all the gipsy jargon, the cunning impudence, cool
presence of mind, selfishness, and indefatigable industry; all the
excuses, lying, dexterity, the intellectual juggling and legerdemain
tricks, necessary to fit them for this sort of predatory warfare on the
simplicity, follies, or vices of mankind. He discovers the utmost
dramatic generalship in bringing off his characters at a pinch, and by
an instantaneous _ruse de guerre_, when the case seems hopeless in any
other hands. The train of his associations, to express the same thing in
metaphysical language, lies in following the suggestions of his fancy
into every possible connexion of cause and effect, rather than into
every possible combination of likeness or difference. His ablest
characters shew that they are so by displaying their ingenuity, address,
and presence of mind in critical junctures, and in their own affairs,
rather than their wisdom or their wit ‘in intellectual gladiatorship,’
or in speculating on the affairs and characters of other people.

Farquhar’s chief characters are also adventurers; but they are
adventurers of a romantic, not a knavish stamp, and succeed no less by
their honesty than their boldness. They conquer their difficulties, and
effect their ‘hair-breadth ‘scapes’ by the impulse of natural enthusiasm
and the confidence of high principles of gallantry and honour, as much
as by their dexterity and readiness at expedients. They are real
gentlemen, and only pretended impostors. Vanbrugh’s upstart heroes are
without ‘any relish of salvation,’ without generosity, virtue, or any
pretensions to it. We have little sympathy for them, and no respect at
all. But we have every sort of good-will towards Farquhar’s heroes, who
have as many peccadillos to answer for, and play as many rogue’s tricks,
but are honest fellows at bottom. I know little other difference between
these two capital writers and copyists of nature, than that Farquhar’s
nature is the better nature of the two. We seem to like both the author
and his favourites. He has humour, character, and invention, in common
with the other, with a more unaffected gaiety and spirit of enjoyment,
which overflows and sparkles in all he does. He makes us laugh from
pleasure oftener than from malice. He somewhere prides himself in having
introduced on the stage the class of comic heroes here spoken of, which
has since become a standard character, and which represents the
warm-hearted, rattle-brained, thoughtless, high-spirited young fellow,
who floats on the back of his misfortunes without repining, who forfeits
appearances, but saves his honour—and he gives us to understand that it
was his own. He did not need to be ashamed of it. Indeed there is
internal evidence that this sort of character is his own, for it
pervades his works generally, and is the moving spirit that informs
them. His comedies have on this account probably a greater appearance of
truth and nature than almost any others. His incidents succeed one
another with rapidity, but without premeditation; his wit is easy and
spontaneous; his style animated, unembarrassed, and flowing; his
characters full of life and spirit, and never overstrained so as to
‘o’erstep the modesty of nature,’ though they sometimes, from haste and
carelessness, seem left in a crude, unfinished state. There is a
constant ebullition of gay, laughing invention, cordial good humour, and
fine animal spirits, in his writings.

Of the four writers here classed together, we should perhaps have
courted Congreve’s acquaintance most, for his wit and the elegance of
his manners; Wycherley’s, for his sense and observation on human nature;
Vanbrugh’s, for his power of farcical description and telling a story;
Farquhar’s, for the pleasure of his society, and the love of good
fellowship. His fine gentlemen are not gentlemen of fortune and fashion,
like those in Congreve; but are rather ‘God Almighty’s gentlemen.’ His
valets are good fellows: even his chambermaids are some of them
disinterested and sincere. But his fine ladies, it must be allowed, are
not so amiable, so witty, or accomplished, as those in Congreve. Perhaps
they both described women in high-life as they found them: Congreve took
their conversation, Farquhar their conduct. In the way of fashionable
vice and petrifying affectation, there is nothing to come up to his Lady
Lurewell, in the Trip to the Jubilee. She by no means makes good Mr.
Burke’s courtly and chivalrous observation, that the evil of vice
consists principally in its want of refinement; and one benefit of the
dramatic exhibition of such characters is, that they overturn false
maxims of morality, and settle accounts fairly and satisfactorily
between theory and practice. Her lover, Colonel Standard, is indeed an
awkward incumbrance upon so fine a lady: it was a character that the
poet did not like; and he has merely sketched him in, leaving him to
answer for himself as well as he could, which is but badly. We have no
suspicion, either from his conduct, or from any hint dropped by
accident, that he is the first seducer and the possessor of the virgin
affections of Lady Lurewell. The double transformation of this virago
from vice to virtue, and from virtue to vice again, her plausible
pretensions and artful wiles, her violent temper and dissolute passions,
shew a thorough knowledge of the effects both of nature and habit in
making up human character. Farquhar’s own heedless turn for gallantry
would be likely to throw him upon such a character; and his goodness of
heart and sincerity of disposition would teach him to expose its wanton
duplicity and gilded rottenness. Lurewell is almost as abandoned a
character as Olivia, in the Plain Dealer; but the indignation excited
against her is of a less serious and tragic cast. Her peevish disgust
and affected horror at every thing that comes near her, form a very
edifying picture. Her dissatisfaction and _ennui_ are not mere airs and
graces worn for fashion’s sake; but are real and tormenting inmates of
her breast, arising from a surfeit of pleasure and the consciousness of
guilt. All that is hateful in the caprice, ill humour, spite, _hauteur_,
folly, impudence, and affectation of the complete woman of quality, is
contained in the scene between her and her servants in the first act.
The depravity would be intolerable, even in imagination, if the weakness
were not ludicrous in the extreme. It shews, in the highest degree, the
power of circumstances and example to pervert the understanding, the
imagination, and even the senses. The manner in which the character of
the gay, wild, free-hearted, but not altogether profligate or unfeeling
Sir Harry Wildair is played off against the designing, vindictive,
imperious, uncontroulable, and unreasonable humours of Lurewell, in the
scene where she tries to convince him of his wife’s infidelity, while he
stops his ears to her pretended proofs, is not surpassed in modern
comedy. I shall give it here:—

  ‘_Wildair._ Now, dear madam, I have secur’d my brother, you have
  dispos’d of the colonel, and we’ll rail at love till we ha’n’t a
  word more to say.

  _Lurewell._ Ay, Sir Harry. Please to sit a little, Sir. You must
  know I’m in a strange humour of asking you some questions. How did
  you like your lady, pray, Sir?

  _Wild._ Like her! Ha, ha, ha. So very well, faith, that for her very
  sake I’m in love with every woman I meet.

  _Lure._ And did matrimony please you extremely?

  _Wild._ So very much, that if polygamy were allow’d, I would have a
  new wife every day.

  _Lure._ Oh, Sir Harry! this is raillery. But your serious thoughts
  upon the matter, pray.

  _Wild._ Why, then, Madam, to give you my true sentiments of wedlock:
  I had a lady that I married by chance, she was virtuous by chance,
  and I lov’d her by great chance. Nature gave her beauty, education
  an air; and fortune threw a young fellow of five-and-twenty in her
  lap. I courted her all day, lov’d her all night; she was my mistress
  one day, and my wife another: I found in one the variety of a
  thousand, and the very confinement of marriage gave me the pleasure
  of change.

  _Lure._ And she was very virtuous.

  _Wild._ Look ye, Madam, you know she was beautiful. She had good
  nature about her mouth, the smile of beauty in her cheeks, sparkling
  wit in her forehead, and sprightly love in her eyes.

  _Lure._ Pshaw! I knew her very well; the woman was well enough. But
  you don’t answer my question, Sir.

  _Wild._ So, Madam, as I told you before, she was young and
  beautiful, I was rich and vigorous; my estate gave a lustre to my
  love, and a swing to our enjoyment; round, like the ring that made
  us one, our golden pleasures circled without end.

  _Lure._ Golden pleasures! Golden fiddlesticks. What d’ye tell me of
  your canting stuff? Was she virtuous, I say?

  _Wild._ Ready to burst with envy; but I will torment thee a little.
  [_Aside._] So, Madam, I powder’d to please her, she dress’d to
  engage me; we toy’d away the morning in amorous nonsense, loll’d
  away the evening in the Park or the playhouse, and all the
  night—hem!

  _Lure._ Look ye, Sir, answer my question, or I shall take it ill.

  _Wild._ Then, Madam, there was never such a pattern of unity. Her
  wants were still prevented by my supplies; my own heart whisper’d me
  her desires, ‘cause she herself was there; no contention ever rose,
  but the dear strife of who should most oblige: no noise about
  authority; for neither would stoop to command, ‘cause both thought
  it glory to obey.

  _Lure._ Stuff! stuff! stuff! I won’t believe a word on’t.

  _Wild._ Ha, ha, ha. Then, Madam, we never felt the yoke of
  matrimony, because our inclinations made us one; a power superior to
  the forms of wedlock. The marriage torch had lost its weaker light
  in the bright flame of mutual love that join’d our hearts before;
  then—

  _Lure._ Hold, hold, Sir; I cannot bear it; Sir Harry, I’m affronted.

  _Wild._ Ha, ha, ha. Affronted!

  _Lure._ Yes, Sir; ’tis an affront to any woman to hear another
  commended; and I will resent it.—In short, Sir Harry, your wife was
  a—

  _Wild._ Buz, Madam—no detraction! I’ll tell you what she was. So
  much an angel in her conduct, that though I saw another in her arms,
  I should have thought the devil had rais’d the phantom, and my more
  conscious reason had given my eyes the lie.

  _Lure._ Very well! Then I a’n’t to be believ’d, it seems. But, d’ye
  hear, Sir?

  _Wild._ Nay, Madam, do you hear! I tell you, ’tis not in the power
  of malice to cast a blot upon her fame; and though the vanity of our
  sex, and the envy of yours, conspir’d both against her honour, I
  would not hear a syllable.

                                                 [_Stopping his ears._

  _Lure._ Why then, as I hope to breathe, you shall hear it. The
  picture! the picture! the picture!

                                                     [_Bawling aloud._

  _Wild._ Ran, tan, tan. A pistol-bullet from ear to ear.

  _Lure._ That picture which you had just now from the French marquis
  for a thousand pound; that very picture did your very virtuous wife
  send to the marquis as a pledge of her very virtuous and dying
  affection. So that you are both robb’d of your honour, and cheated
  of your money.

                                                             [_Aloud._

  _Wild._ Louder, louder, Madam.

  _Lure._ I tell you, Sir, your wife was a jilt; I know it, I’ll swear
  it. She virtuous! she was a devil!

  _Wild._ [_Sings._] Tal, al, deral.

  _Lure._ Was ever the like seen! He won’t hear me. I burst with
  malice, and now he won’t mind me! Won’t you hear me yet?

  _Wild._ No, no, Madam.

  _Lure._ Nay, then I can’t bear it. [_Bursts out a crying._] Sir, I
  must say that you’re an unworthy person, to use a woman of quality
  at this rate, when she has her heart full of malice; I don’t know
  but it may make me miscarry. Sir, I say again and again, that she
  was no better than one of us, and I know it; I have seen it with my
  eyes, so I have.

  _Wild._ Good heav’ns deliver me, I beseech thee. How shall I ’scape!

  _Lure._ Will you hear me yet? Dear Sir Harry, do but hear me; I’m
  longing to speak.

  _Wild._ Oh! I have it.—Hush, hush, hush.

  _Lure._ Eh! what’s the matter?

  _Wild._ A mouse! a mouse! a mouse!

  _Lure._ Where? where? where?

  _Wild._ Your petticoats, your petticoats, Madam. [_Lurewell shrieks
  and runs._] O my head! I was never worsted by a woman before. But I
  have heard so much to know the marquis to be a villain.
  [_Knocking._] Nay, then, I must run for’t. [_Runs out, and
  returns._] The entry is stopt by a chair coming in; and something
  there is in that chair that I will discover, if I can find a place
  to hide myself. [_Goes to the closet door._] Fast! I have keys about
  me for most locks about St. James’s. Let me see. [_Tries one key._]
  No, no; this opens my Lady Planthorn’s back-door. [_Tries another._]
  Nor this; this is the key to my Lady Stakeall’s garden. [_Tries a
  third._] Ay, ay, this does it, faith. [_Goes into the closet._]’

The dialogue between Cherry and Archer, in the Beaux’ Stratagem, in
which she repeats her well-conned love catechism, is as good as this,
but not so fit to be repeated any where but on the stage. The Beaux’
Stratagem is the best of his plays, as a whole; infinitely lively,
bustling, and full of point and interest. The assumed disguise of the
two principal characters, Archer and Aimwell, is a perpetual amusement
to the mind. Scrub is an indispensable appendage to a country
gentleman’s kitchen, and an exquisite confidant for the secrets of young
ladies. The Recruiting Officer is not one of Farquhar’s best comedies,
though it is light and entertaining. It contains chiefly sketches and
hints of characters; and the conclusion of the plot is rather lame. He
informs us, in the dedication to the published play, that it was founded
on some local and personal circumstances that happened in Shropshire,
where he was himself a recruiting officer; and it seems not unlikely,
that most of the scenes actually took place at the foot of the Wrekin.
The Inconstant is much superior to it. The romantic interest and
impressive catastrophe of this play I thought had been borrowed from the
more poetical and tragedy-practised muse of Beaumont and Fletcher; but I
find they are taken from an actual circumstance which took place in the
author’s knowledge, at Paris. His other pieces, Love and a Bottle, and
the Twin Rivals, are not on a par with these; and are no longer in
possession of the stage. The public are, after all, not the worst
judges.—Farquhar’s Letters, prefixed to the collection of his plays, are
lively, good humoured, and sensible; and contain, among other things, an
admirable exposition of the futility of the dramatic unities of time and
place. This criticism preceded Dennis’s remarks on that subject, in his
Strictures on Mr. Addison’s Cato; and completely anticipates all that
Dr. Johnson has urged so unanswerably on the subject, in his preface to
Shakspeare.

We may date the decline of English comedy from the time of Farquhar. For
this several causes might be assigned in the political and moral changes
of the times; but among other minor ones, Jeremy Collier, in his View of
the English Stage, frightened the poets, and did all he could to spoil
the stage, by pretending to reform it; that is, by making it an echo of
the pulpit, instead of a reflection of the manners of the world. He
complains bitterly of the profaneness of the stage; and is for fining
the actors for every oath they utter, to put an end to the practice; as
if common swearing had been an invention of the poets and stage-players.
He cannot endure that the fine gentlemen drink, and the fine ladies
intrigue, in the scenes of Congreve and Wycherley, when things so
contrary to law and gospel happened nowhere else. He is vehement against
duelling, as a barbarous custom, of which the example is suffered with
impunity nowhere but on the stage. He is shocked at the number of
fortunes that are irreparably ruined by the vice of gaming on the boards
of the theatres. He seems to think that every breach of the ten
commandments begins and ends there. He complains that the tame husbands
of his time are laughed at on the stage, and that the successful
gallants triumph, which was without precedent either in the city or the
court. He does not think it enough that the stage ‘shews vice its own
image, scorn its own feature,’ unless they are damned at the same
instant, and carried off (like Don Juan) by real devils to the infernal
regions, before the faces of the spectators. It seems that the author
would have been contented to be present at a comedy or a farce, like a
Father Inquisitor, if there was to be an _auto da fé_ at the end, to
burn both the actors and the poet. This sour, nonjuring critic has a
great horror and repugnance at poor human nature, in nearly all its
shapes; of the existence of which he appears only to be aware through
the stage: and this he considers as the only exception to the practice
of piety, and the performance of the whole duty of man; and seems fully
convinced, that if this nuisance were abated, the whole world would be
regulated according to the creed and the catechism.—This is a strange
blindness and infatuation! He forgets, in his overheated zeal, two
things: First, That the stage must be copied from real life, that the
manners represented there must exist elsewhere, and ‘denote a foregone
conclusion,’ to satisfy common sense.—Secondly, That the stage cannot
shock common decency, according to the notions that prevail of it in any
age or country, because the exhibition is public. If the pulpit, for
instance, had banished all vice and imperfection from the world, as our
critic would suppose, we should not have seen the offensive reflection
of them on the stage, which he resents as an affront to the cloth, and
an outrage on religion. On the contrary, with such a sweeping
reformation as this theory implies, the office of the preacher, as well
as of the player, would be gone; and if the common peccadillos of lying,
swearing, intriguing, fighting, drinking, gaming, and other such
obnoxious dramatic common-places, were once fairly got rid of in
reality, neither the comic poet would be able to laugh at them on the
stage, nor our good-natured author to consign them over to damnation
elsewhere. The work is, however, written with ability, and did much
mischief: it produced those _do-me-good_, lack-a-daisical, whining,
make-believe comedies in the next age, (such as Steele’s Conscious
Lovers, and others,) which are enough to set one to sleep, and where the
author tries in vain to be merry and wise in the same breath; in which
the utmost stretch of licentiousness goes no farther than the gallant’s
being suspected of keeping a mistress, and the highest proof of courage
is given in his refusing to accept a challenge.

In looking into the old editions of the comedies of the last age, I find
the names of the best actors of those times, of whom scarcely any record
is left but in Colley Cibber’s Life, and the monument to Mrs. Oldfield,
in Westminster Abbey; which Voltaire reckons among the proofs of the
liberality, wisdom, and politeness of the English nation:—

                     ‘Let no rude hand deface it,
                     And its forlorn _hic jacet_.’

Authors after their deaths live in their works; players only in their
epitaphs and the breath of common tradition. They ‘die and leave the
world no copy.’ Their uncertain popularity is as short-lived as it is
dazzling: and in a few years nothing is known of them but that _they
were_.


                               LECTURE V
                      ON THE PERIODICAL ESSAYISTS

                  ‘THE PROPER STUDY OF MANKIND IS MAN’

I now come to speak of that sort of writing which has been so
successfully cultivated in this country by our periodical Essayists, and
which consists in applying the talents and resources of the mind to all
that mixed mass of human affairs, which, though not included under the
head of any regular art, science, or profession, falls under the
cognizance of the writer, and ‘comes home to the business and bosoms of
men.’ _Quicquid agunt homines nostri farrago libelli_, is the general
motto of this department of literature. It does not treat of minerals or
fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does
not meddle with forms of belief, or systems of philosophy, nor launch
into the world of spiritual existences; but it makes familiar with the
world of men and women, records their actions, assigns their motives,
exhibits their whims, characterises their pursuits in all their singular
and endless variety, ridicules their absurdities, exposes their
inconsistencies, ‘holds the mirror up to nature, and shews the very age
and body of the time its form and pressure;’ takes minutes of our dress,
air, looks, words, thoughts, and actions; shews us what we are, and what
we are not; plays the whole game of human life over before us, and by
making us enlightened spectators of its many-coloured scenes, enables us
(if possible) to become tolerably reasonable agents in the one in which
we have to perform a part. ‘The act and practic part of life is thus
made the mistress of our theorique.’ It is the best and most natural
course of study. It is in morals and manners what the experimental is in
natural philosophy, as opposed to the dogmatical method. It does not
deal in sweeping clauses of proscription and anathema, but in nice
distinctions and liberal constructions. It makes up its general accounts
from details, its few theories from many facts. It does not try to prove
all black or all white as it wishes, but lays on the intermediate
colours, (and most of them not unpleasing ones,) as it finds them
blended with ‘the web of our life, which is of a mingled yarn, good and
ill together.’ It inquires what human life is and has been, to shew what
it ought to be. It follows it into courts and camps, into town and
country, into rustic sports or learned disputations, into the various
shades of prejudice or ignorance, of refinement or barbarism, into its
private haunts or public pageants, into its weaknesses and littlenesses,
its professions and its practices—before it pretends to distinguish
right from wrong, or one thing from another. How, indeed, should it do
so otherwise?

         ‘Quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non,
         Plenius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.’

The writers I speak of are, if not moral philosophers, moral historians,
and that’s better: or if they are both, they found the one character
upon the other; their premises precede their conclusions; and we put
faith in their testimony, for we know that it is true.

Montaigne was the first person who in his Essays led the way to this
kind of writing among the moderns. The great merit of Montaigne then
was, that he may be said to have been the first who had the courage to
say as an author what he felt as a man. And as courage is generally the
effect of conscious strength, he was probably led to do so by the
richness, truth, and force of his own observations on books and men. He
was, in the truest sense, a man of original mind, that is, he had the
power of looking at things for himself, or as they really were, instead
of blindly trusting to, and fondly repeating what others told him that
they were. He got rid of the go-cart of prejudice and affectation, with
the learned lumber that follows at their heels, because he could do
without them. In taking up his pen he did not set up for a philosopher,
wit, orator, or moralist, but he became all these by merely daring to
tell us whatever passed through his mind, in its naked simplicity and
force, that he thought any ways worth communicating. He did not, in the
abstract character of an author, undertake to say all that could be said
upon a subject, but what in his capacity as an inquirer after truth he
happened to know about it. He was neither a pedant nor a bigot. He
neither supposed that he was bound to know all things, nor that all
things were bound to conform to what he had fancied or would have them
to be. In treating of men and manners, he spoke of them as he found
them, not according to preconceived notions and abstract dogmas; and he
began by teaching us what he himself was. In criticising books he did
not compare them with rules and systems, but told us what he saw to like
or dislike in them. He did not take his standard of excellence
‘according to an exact scale’ of Aristotle, or fall out with a work that
was good for any thing, because ‘not one of the angles at the four
corners was a right one.’ He was, in a word, the first author who was
not a book-maker, and who wrote not to make converts of others to
established creeds and prejudices, but to satisfy his own mind of the
truth of things. In this respect we know not which to be most charmed
with, the author or the man. There is an inexpressible frankness and
sincerity, as well as power, in what he writes. There is no attempt at
imposition or concealment, no juggling tricks or solemn mouthing, no
laboured attempts at proving himself always in the right, and every body
else in the wrong; he says what is uppermost, lays open what floats at
the top or the bottom of his mind, and deserves Pope’s character of him,
where he professes to

            ‘——pour out all as plain
            As downright Shippen, or as old Montaigne.’[17]

He does not converse with us like a pedagogue with his pupil, whom he
wishes to make as great a blockhead as himself, but like a philosopher
and friend who has passed through life with thought and observation, and
is willing to enable others to pass through it with pleasure and profit.
A writer of this stamp, I confess, appears to me as much superior to a
common bookworm, as a library of real books is superior to a mere
book-case, painted and lettered on the outside with the names of
celebrated works. As he was the first to attempt this new way of
writing, so the same strong natural impulse which prompted the
undertaking, carried him to the end of his career. The same force and
honesty of mind which urged him to throw off the shackles of custom and
prejudice, would enable him to complete his triumph over them. He has
left little for his successors to achieve in the way of just and
original speculation on human life. Nearly all the thinking of the two
last centuries of that kind which the French denominate _morale
observatrice_, is to be found in Montaigne’s Essays: there is the germ,
at least, and generally much more. He sowed the seed and cleared away
the rubbish, even where others have reaped the fruit, or cultivated and
decorated the soil to a greater degree of nicety and perfection. There
is no one to whom the old Latin adage is more applicable than to
Montaigne, ‘_Pereant isti qui ante nos nostra dixerunt_.’ There has been
no new impulse given to thought since his time. Among the specimens of
criticisms on authors which he has left us, are those on Virgil, Ovid,
and Boccaccio, in the account of books which he thinks worth reading, or
(which is the same thing) which he finds he can read in his old age, and
which may be reckoned among the few criticisms which are worth reading
at any age.[18]

Montaigne’s Essays were translated into English by Charles Cotton, who
was one of the wits and poets of the age of Charles II.; and Lord
Halifax, one of the noble critics of that day, declared it to be ‘the
book in the world he was the best pleased with.’ This mode of familiar
Essay-writing, free from the trammels of the schools, and the airs of
professed authorship, was successfully imitated, about the same time, by
Cowley and Sir William Temple, in their miscellaneous Essays, which are
very agreeable and learned talking upon paper. Lord Shaftesbury, on the
contrary, who aimed at the same easy, _degagé_ mode of communicating his
thoughts to the world, has quite spoiled his matter, which is sometimes
valuable, by his manner, in which he carries a certain flaunting,
flowery, figurative, flirting style of amicable condescension to the
reader, to an excess more tantalising than the most starched and
ridiculous formality of the age of James I. There is nothing so
tormenting as the affectation of ease and freedom from affectation.

The ice being thus thawed, and the barrier that kept authors at a
distance from common sense and feeling broken through, the transition
was not difficult from Montaigne and his imitators, to our Periodical
Essayists. These last applied the same unrestrained expression of their
thoughts to the more immediate and passing scenes of life, to temporary
and local matters; and in order to discharge the invidious office of
_Censor Morum_ more freely, and with less responsibility, assumed some
fictitious and humorous disguise, which, however, in a great degree
corresponded to their own peculiar habits and character. By thus
concealing their own name and person under the title of the Tatler,
Spectator, &c. they were enabled to inform us more fully of what was
passing in the world, while the dramatic contrast and ironical point of
view to which the whole is subjected, added a greater liveliness and
_piquancy_ to the descriptions. The philosopher and wit here commences
newsmonger, makes himself master of ‘the perfect spy o’ th’ time,’ and
from his various walks and turns through life, brings home little
curious specimens of the humours, opinions, and manners of his
contemporaries, as the botanist brings home different plants and weeds,
or the mineralogist different shells and fossils, to illustrate their
several theories, and be useful to mankind.

The first of these papers that was attempted in this country was set up
by Steele in the beginning of the last century; and of all our
periodical Essayists, the _Tatler_ (for that was the name he assumed)
has always appeared to me the most amusing and agreeable. Montaigne,
whom I have proposed to consider as the father of this kind of personal
authorship among the moderns, in which the reader is admitted behind the
curtain, and sits down with the writer in his gown and slippers, was a
most magnanimous and undisguised egotist; but Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.
was the more disinterested gossip of the two. The French author is
contented to describe the peculiarities of his own mind and
constitution, which he does with a copious and unsparing hand. The
English journalist good-naturedly lets you into the secret both of his
own affairs and those of others. A young lady, on the other side Temple
Bar, cannot be seen at her glass for half a day together, but Mr.
Bickerstaff takes due notice of it; and he has the first intelligence of
the symptoms of the _belle_ passion appearing in any young gentleman at
the West-end of the town. The departures and arrivals of widows with
handsome jointures, either to bury their grief in the country, or to
procure a second husband in town, are punctually recorded in his pages.
He is well acquainted with the celebrated beauties of the preceding age
at the court of Charles II.; and the old gentleman (as he feigns
himself) often grows romantic in recounting ‘the disastrous strokes
which his youth suffered’ from the glances of their bright eyes, and
their unaccountable caprices. In particular, he dwells with a secret
satisfaction on the recollection of one of his mistresses, who left him
for a richer rival, and whose constant reproach to her husband, on
occasion of any quarrel between them, was ‘I, that might have married
the famous Mr. Bickerstaff, to be treated in this manner!’ The club at
the Trumpet consists of a set of persons almost as well worth knowing as
himself. The cavalcade of the justice of the peace, the knight of the
shire, the country squire, and the young gentleman, his nephew, who came
to wait on him at his chambers, in such form and ceremony, seem not to
have settled the order of their precedence to this hour;[19] and I
should hope that the upholsterer and his companions, who used to sun
themselves in the Green Park, and who broke their rest and fortunes to
maintain the balance of power in Europe, stand as fair a chance for
immortality as some modern politicians. Mr. Bickerstaff himself is a
gentleman and a scholar, a humourist, and a man of the world; with a
great deal of nice easy _naïveté_ about him. If he walks out and is
caught in a shower of rain, he makes amends for this unlucky accident by
a criticism on the shower in Virgil, and concludes with a burlesque copy
of verses on a city-shower. He entertains us, when he dates from his own
apartment, with a quotation from Plutarch, or a moral reflection; from
the Grecian coffee-house with politics; and from Wills’, or the Temple,
with the poets and players, the beaux and men of wit and pleasure about
town. In reading the pages of the Tatler, we seem as if suddenly carried
back to the age of Queen Anne, of toupees and full-bottomed periwigs.
The whole appearance of our dress and manners undergoes a delightful
metamorphosis. The beaux and the belles are of a quite different species
from what they are at present; we distinguish the dappers, the smarts,
and the pretty fellows, as they pass by Mr. Lilly’s shop-windows in the
Strand; we are introduced to Betterton and Mrs. Oldfield behind the
scenes; are made familiar with the persons and performances of Will
Estcourt or Tom Durfey; we listen to a dispute at a tavern, on the
merits of the Duke of Marlborough, or Marshal Turenne; or are present at
the first rehearsal of a play by Vanbrugh, or the reading of a new poem
by Mr. Pope. The privilege of thus virtually transporting ourselves to
past times, is even greater than that of visiting distant places in
reality. London, a hundred years ago, would be much better worth seeing
than Paris at the present moment.

It will be said, that all this is to be found, in the same or a greater
degree, in the Spectator. For myself, I do not think so; or at least,
there is in the last work a much greater proportion of commonplace
matter. I have, on this account, always preferred the Tatler to the
Spectator. Whether it is owing to my having been earlier or better
acquainted with the one than the other, my pleasure in reading these two
admirable works is not in proportion to their comparative reputation.
The Tatler contains only half the number of volumes, and, I will venture
to say, nearly an equal quantity of sterling wit and sense. ‘The first
sprightly runnings’ are there; it has more of the original spirit, more
of the freshness and stamp of nature. The indications of character and
strokes of humour are more true and frequent; the reflections that
suggest themselves arise more from the occasion, and are less spun out
into regular dissertations. They are more like the remarks which occur
in sensible conversation, and less like a lecture. Something is left to
the understanding of the reader. Steele seems to have gone into his
closet chiefly to set down what he observed out of doors. Addison seems
to have spent most of his time in his study, and to have spun out and
wire-drawn the hints, which he borrowed from Steele, or took from
nature, to the utmost. I am far from wishing to depreciate Addison’s
talents, but I am anxious to do justice to Steele, who was, I think,
upon the whole, a less artificial and more original writer. The humorous
descriptions of Steele resemble loose sketches, or fragments of a
comedy; those of Addison are rather comments or ingenious paraphrases on
the genuine text. The characters of the club not only in the Tatler, but
in the Spectator, were drawn by Steele. That of Sir Roger de Coverley is
among the number. Addison has, however, gained himself immortal honour
by his manner of filling up this last character. Who is there that can
forget, or be insensible to, the inimitable nameless graces and varied
traits of nature and of old English character in it—to his unpretending
virtues and amiable weaknesses—to his modesty, generosity, hospitality,
and eccentric whims—to the respect of his neighbours, and the affection
of his domestics—to his wayward, hopeless, secret passion for his fair
enemy, the widow, in which there is more of real romance and true
delicacy, than in a thousand tales of knight-errantry—(we perceive the
hectic flush of his cheek, the faltering of his tongue in speaking of
her bewitching airs and ‘the whiteness of her hand’)—to the havoc he
makes among the game in his neighbourhood—to his speech from the bench,
to shew the Spectator what is thought of him in the country—to his
unwillingness to be put up as a sign-post, and his having his own
likeness turned into the Saracen’s head—to his gentle reproof of the
baggage of a gipsy that tells him ‘he has a widow in his line of
life’—to his doubts as to the existence of witchcraft, and protection of
reputed witches—to his account of the family pictures, and his choice of
a chaplain—to his falling asleep at church, and his reproof of John
Williams, as soon as he recovered from his nap, for talking in
sermon-time. The characters of Will. Wimble, and Will. Honeycomb are not
a whit behind their friend, Sir Roger, in delicacy and felicity. The
delightful simplicity and good-humoured officiousness in the one, are
set off by the graceful affectation and courtly pretension in the other.
How long since I first became acquainted with these two characters in
the Spectator! What old-fashioned friends they seem, and yet I am not
tired of them, like so many other friends, nor they of me! How airy
these abstractions of the poet’s pen stream over the dawn of our
acquaintance with human life! how they glance their fairest colours on
the prospect before us! how pure they remain in it to the last, like the
rainbow in the evening-cloud, which the rude hand of time and experience
can neither soil nor dissipate! What a pity that we cannot find the
reality, and yet if we did, the dream would be over. I once thought I
knew a Will. Wimble, and a Will. Honeycomb, but they turned out but
indifferently; the originals in the Spectator still read, word for word,
the same that they always did. We have only to turn to the page, and
find them where we left them!—Many of the most exquisite pieces in the
Tatler, it is to be observed, are Addison’s, as the Court of Honour, and
the Personification of Musical Instruments, with almost all those papers
that form regular sets or series. I do not know whether the picture of
the family of an old college acquaintance, in the Tatler, where the
children run to let Mr. Bickerstaff in at the door, and where the one
that loses the race that way, turns back to tell the father that he is
come; with the nice gradation of incredulity in the little boy, who is
got into Guy of Warwick, and the Seven Champions, and who shakes his
head at the improbability of Æsop’s Fables, is Steele’s or Addison’s,
though I believe it belongs to the former. The account of the two
sisters, one of whom held up her head higher than ordinary, from having
on a pair of flowered garters, and that of the married lady who
complained to the Tatler of the neglect of her husband, with her answers
to some _home_ questions that were put to her, are unquestionably
Steele’s.—If the Tatler is not inferior to the Spectator as a record of
manners and character, it is superior to it in the interest of many of
the stories. Several of the incidents related there by Steele have never
been surpassed in the heart-rending pathos of private distress. I might
refer to those of the lover and his mistress, when the theatre, in which
they were, caught fire; of the bridegroom, who by accident kills his
bride on the day of their marriage; the story of Mr. Eustace and his
wife; and the fine dream about his own mistress when a youth. What has
given its superior reputation to the Spectator, is the greater gravity
of its pretensions, its moral dissertations and critical reasonings, by
which I confess myself less edified than by other things, which are
thought more lightly of. Systems and opinions change, but nature is
always true. It is the moral and didactic tone of the Spectator which
makes us apt to think of Addison (according to Mandeville’s sarcasm) as
‘a parson in a tie-wig.’ Many of his moral Essays are, however,
exquisitely beautiful and quite happy. Such are the reflections on
cheerfulness, those in Westminster Abbey, on the Royal Exchange, and
particularly some very affecting ones on the death of a young lady in
the fourth volume. These, it must be allowed, are the perfection of
elegant sermonising. His critical Essays are not so good. I prefer
Steele’s occasional selection of beautiful poetical passages, without
any affectation of analysing their beauties, to Addison’s finer-spun
theories. The best criticism in the Spectator, that on the Cartoons of
Raphael, of which Mr. Fuseli has availed himself with great spirit in
his Lectures, is by Steele.[20] I owed this acknowledgment to a writer
who has so often put me in good humour with myself, and every thing
about me, when few things else could, and when the tomes of casuistry
and ecclesiastical history, with which the little duodecimo volumes of
the Tatler were overwhelmed and surrounded, in the only library to which
I had access when a boy, had tried their tranquillising effects upon me
in vain. I had not long ago in my hands, by favour of a friend, an
original copy of the quarto edition of the Tatler, with a list of the
subscribers. It is curious to see some names there which we should
hardly think of, (that of Sir Isaac Newton is among them,) and also to
observe the degree of interest excited by those of the different
persons, which is not determined according to the rules of the Herald’s
College. One literary name lasts as long as a whole race of heroes and
their descendants! The Guardian, which followed the Spectator, was, as
may be supposed, inferior to it.

The dramatic and conversational turn which forms the distinguishing
feature and greatest charm of the Spectator and Tatler, is quite lost in
the Rambler by Dr. Johnson. There is no reflected light thrown on human
life from an assumed character, nor any direct one from a display of the
author’s own. The Tatler and Spectator are, as it were, made up of notes
and memorandums of the events and incidents of the day, with finished
studies after nature, and characters fresh from the life, which the
writer moralises upon, and turns to account as they come before him: the
Rambler is a collection of moral Essays, or scholastic theses, written
on set subjects, and of which the individual characters and incidents
are merely artificial illustrations, brought in to give a pretended
relief to the dryness of didactic discussion. The Rambler is a splendid
and imposing common-place book of general topics, and rhetorical
declamation on the conduct and business of human life. In this sense,
there is hardly a reflection that had been suggested on such subjects
which is not to be found in this celebrated work, and there is, perhaps,
hardly a reflection to be found in it which had not been already
suggested and developed by some other author, or in the common course of
conversation. The mass of intellectual wealth here heaped together is
immense, but it is rather the result of gradual accumulation, the
produce of the general intellect, labouring in the mine of knowledge and
reflection, than dug out of the quarry, and dragged into the light by
the industry and sagacity of a single mind. I am not here saying that
Dr. Johnson was a man without originality, compared with the ordinary
run of men’s minds, but he was not a man of original thought or genius,
in the sense in which Montaigne or Lord Bacon was. He opened no new vein
of precious ore, nor did he light upon any single pebbles of uncommon
size and unrivalled lustre. We seldom meet with any thing to ‘give us
pause;’ he does not set us thinking for the first time. His reflections
present themselves like reminiscences; do not disturb the ordinary march
of our thoughts; arrest our attention by the stateliness of their
appearance, and the costliness of their garb, but pass on and mingle
with the throng of our impressions. After closing the volumes of the
Rambler, there is nothing that we remember as a new truth gained to the
mind, nothing indelibly stamped upon the memory; nor is there any
passage that we wish to turn to as embodying any known principle or
observation, with such force and beauty that justice can only be done to
the idea in the author’s own words. Such, for instance, are many of the
passages to be found in Burke, which shine by their own light, belong to
no class, have neither equal nor counterpart, and of which we say that
no one but the author could have written them! There is neither the same
boldness of design, nor mastery of execution in Johnson. In the one, the
spark of genius seems to have met with its congenial matter: the shaft
is sped; the forked lightning dresses up the face of nature in ghastly
smiles, and the loud thunder rolls far away from the ruin that is made.
Dr. Johnson’s style, on the contrary, resembles rather the rumbling of
mimic thunder at one of our theatres; and the light he throws upon a
subject is like the dazzling effect of phosphorus, or an _ignis fatuus_
of words. There is a wide difference, however, between perfect
originality and perfect common-place: neither ideas nor expressions are
trite or vulgar because they are not quite new. They are valuable, and
ought to be repeated, if they have not become quite common; and
Johnson’s style both of reasoning and imagery holds the middle rank
between startling novelty and vapid common-place. Johnson has as much
originality of thinking as Addison; but then he wants his familiarity of
illustration, knowledge of character, and delightful humour.—What most
distinguishes Dr. Johnson from other writers is the pomp and uniformity
of his style. All his periods are cast in the same mould, are of the
same size and shape, and consequently have little fitness to the variety
of things he professes to treat of. His subjects are familiar, but the
author is always upon stilts. He has neither ease nor simplicity, and
his efforts at playfulness, in part, remind one of the lines in Milton:—

                         ‘——The elephant
           To make them sport wreath’d his proboscis lithe.’

His Letters from Correspondents, in particular, are more pompous and
unwieldy than what he writes in his own person. This want of relaxation
and variety of manner has, I think, after the first effects of novelty
and surprise were over, been prejudicial to the matter. It takes from
the general power, not only to please, but to instruct. The monotony of
style produces an apparent monotony of ideas. What is really striking
and valuable, is lost in the vain ostentation and circumlocution of the
expression; for when we find the same pains and pomp of diction bestowed
upon the most trifling as upon the most important parts of a sentence or
discourse, we grow tired of distinguishing between pretension and
reality, and are disposed to confound the tinsel and bombast of the
phraseology with want of weight in the thoughts. Thus, from the imposing
and oracular nature of the style, people are tempted at first to imagine
that our author’s speculations are all wisdom and profundity: till
having found out their mistake in some instances, they suppose that
there is nothing but common-place in them, concealed under verbiage and
pedantry; and in both they are wrong. The fault of Dr. Johnson’s style
is, that it reduces all things to the same artificial and unmeaning
level. It destroys all shades of difference, the association between
words and things. It is a perpetual paradox and innovation. He
condescends to the familiar till we are ashamed of our interest in it:
he expands the little till it looks big. ‘If he were to write a fable of
little fishes,’ as Goldsmith said of him, ‘he would make them speak like
great whales.’ We can no more distinguish the most familiar objects in
his descriptions of them, than we can a well-known face under a huge
painted mask. The structure of his sentences, which was his own
invention, and which has been generally imitated since his time, is a
species of rhyming in prose, where one clause answers to another in
measure and quantity, like the tagging of syllables at the end of a
verse; the close of the period follows as mechanically as the
oscillation of a pendulum, the sense is balanced with the sound; each
sentence, revolving round its centre of gravity, is contained with
itself like a couplet, and each paragraph forms itself into a stanza.
Dr. Johnson is also a complete balance-master in the topics of morality.
He never encourages hope, but he counteracts it by fear; he never
elicits a truth, but he suggests some objection in answer to it. He
seizes and alternately quits the clue of reason, lest it should involve
him in the labyrinths of endless error: he wants confidence in himself
and his fellows. He dares not trust himself with the immediate
impressions of things, for fear of compromising his dignity; or follow
them into their consequences, for fear of committing his prejudices. His
timidity is the result, not of ignorance, but of morbid apprehension.
‘He runs the great circle, and is still at home.’ No advance is made by
his writings in any sentiment, or mode of reasoning. Out of the pale of
established authority and received dogmas, all is sceptical, loose, and
desultory: he seems in imagination to strengthen the dominion of
prejudice, as he weakens and dissipates that of reason; and round the
rock of faith and power, on the edge of which he slumbers blindfold and
uneasy, the waves and billows of uncertain and dangerous opinion roar
and heave for evermore. His Rasselas is the most melancholy and
debilitating moral speculation that ever was put forth. Doubtful of the
faculties of his mind, as of his organs of vision, Johnson trusted only
to his feelings and his fears. He cultivated a belief in witches as an
out-guard to the evidences of religion; and abused Milton, and
patronised Lauder, in spite of his aversion to his countrymen, as a step
to secure the existing establishment in church and state. This was
neither right feeling nor sound logic.

The most triumphant record of the talents and character of Johnson is to
be found in Boswell’s Life of him. The man was superior to the author.
When he threw aside his pen, which he regarded as an incumbrance, he
became not only learned and thoughtful, but acute, witty, humorous,
natural, honest; hearty and determined, ‘the king of good fellows and
wale of old men.’ There are as many smart repartees, profound remarks,
and keen invectives to be found in Boswell’s ‘inventory of all he said,’
as are recorded of any celebrated man. The life and dramatic play of his
conversation forms a contrast to his written works. His natural powers
and undisguised opinions were called out in convivial intercourse. In
public, he practised with the foils on: in private, he unsheathed the
sword of controversy, and it was ‘the Ebro’s temper.’ The eagerness of
opposition roused him from his natural sluggishness and acquired
timidity; he returned blow for blow; and whether the trial were of
argument or wit, none of his rivals could boast much of the encounter.
Burke seems to have been the only person who had a chance with him: and
it is the unpardonable sin of Boswell’s work, that he has purposely
omitted their combats of strength and skill. Goldsmith asked, ‘Does he
wind into a subject like a serpent, as Burke does?’ And when exhausted
with sickness, he himself said, ‘If that fellow Burke were here now, he
would kill me.’ It is to be observed, that Johnson’s colloquial style
was as blunt, direct, and downright, as his style of studied composition
was involved and circuitous. As when Topham Beauclerc and Langton
knocked him up at his chambers, at three in the morning, and he came to
the door with the poker in his hand, but seeing them, exclaimed, ‘What,
is it you, my lads? then I’ll have a frisk with you!’ and he afterwards
reproaches Langton, who was a literary milksop, for leaving them to go
to an engagement ‘with some _un-idead_ girls.’ What words to come from
the mouth of the great moralist and lexicographer! His good deeds were
as many as his good sayings. His domestic habits, his tenderness to
servants, and readiness to oblige his friends; the quantity of strong
tea that he drank to keep down sad thoughts; his many labours
reluctantly begun, and irresolutely laid aside; his honest
acknowledgement of his own, and indulgence to the weaknesses of others;
his throwing himself back in the post-chaise with Boswell, and saying,
‘Now I think I am a good-humoured fellow,’ though nobody thought him so,
and yet he was; his quitting the society of Garrick and his actresses,
and his reason for it; his dining with Wilkes, and his kindness to
Goldsmith; his sitting with the young ladies on his knee at the Mitre,
to give them good advice, in which situation, if not explained, he might
be taken for Falstaff; and last and noblest, his carrying the
unfortunate victim of disease and dissipation on his back up through
Fleet Street, (an act which realises the parable of the good
Samaritan)—all these, and innumerable others, endear him to the reader,
and must be remembered to his lasting honour. He had faults, but they
lie buried with him. He had his prejudices and his intolerant feelings;
but he suffered enough in the conflict of his own mind with them. For if
no man can be happy in the free exercise of his reason, no wise man can
be happy without it. His were not time-serving, heartless, hypocritical
prejudices; but deep, inwoven, not to be rooted out but with life and
hope, which he found from old habit necessary to his own peace of mind,
and thought so to the peace of mankind. I do not hate, but love him for
them. They were between himself and his conscience; and should be left
to that higher tribunal, ‘where they in trembling hope repose, the bosom
of his Father and his God.’ In a word, he has left behind him few wiser
or better men.

The herd of his imitators shewed what he was by their disproportionate
effects. The Periodical Essayists, that succeeded the Rambler, are, and
deserve to be, little read at present. The Adventurer, by Hawksworth, is
completely trite and vapid, aping all the faults of Johnson’s style,
without any thing to atone for them. The sentences are often absolutely
unmeaning; and one half of each might regularly be left blank. The
World, and Connoisseur, which followed, are a little better; and in the
last of these there is one good idea, that of a man in indifferent
health, who judges of every one’s title to respect from their possession
of this blessing, and bows to a sturdy beggar with sound limbs and a
florid complexion, while he turns his back upon a lord who is a
valetudinarian.

Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World, like all his works, bears the stamp of
the author’s mind. It does not ‘go about to cozen reputation without the
stamp of merit.’ He is more observing, more original, more natural and
picturesque than Johnson. His work is written on the model of the
Persian Letters; and contrives to give an abstracted and somewhat
perplexing view of things, by opposing foreign prepossessions to our
own, and thus stripping objects of their customary disguises. Whether
truth is elicited in this collision of contrary absurdities, I do not
know; but I confess the process is too ambiguous and full of intricacy
to be very amusing to my plain understanding. For light summer reading,
it is like walking in a garden full of traps and pitfalls. It
necessarily gives rise to paradoxes, and there are some very bold ones
in the Essays, which would subject an author less established to no very
agreeable sort of _censura literaria_. Thus the Chinese philosopher
exclaims very unadvisedly, ‘The bonzes and priests of all religions keep
up superstition and imposture: all reformations begin with the laity.’
Goldsmith, however, was staunch in his practical creed, and might bolt
speculative extravagances with impunity. There is a striking difference
in this respect between him and Addison, who, if he attacked authority,
took care to have common sense on his side, and never hazarded any thing
offensive to the feelings of others, or on the strength of his own
discretional opinion. There is another inconvenience in this assumption
of an exotic character and tone of sentiment, that it produces an
inconsistency between the knowledge which the individual has time to
acquire, and which the author is bound to communicate. Thus the Chinese
has not been in England three days before he is acquainted with the
characters of the three countries which compose this kingdom, and
describes them to his friend at Canton, by extracts from the newspapers
of each metropolis. The nationality of Scotchmen is thus
ridiculed:—‘_Edinburgh_. We are positive when we say, that Sanders
Macgregor, lately executed for horse-stealing, is not a native of
Scotland, but born at Carrickfergus.’ Now this is very good; but how
should our Chinese philosopher find it out by instinct? Beau Tibbs, a
prominent character in this little work, is the best comic sketch since
the time of Addison; unrivalled in his finery, his vanity, and his
poverty.

I have only to mention the names of the Lounger and the Mirror, which
are ranked by the author’s admirers with Sterne for sentiment, and with
Addison for humour. I shall not enter into that: but I know that the
story of La Roche is not like the story of Le Fevre, nor one hundredth
part so good. Do I say this from prejudice to the author? No: for I have
read his novels. Of the Man of the World I cannot think so favourably as
some others; nor shall I here dwell on the picturesque and romantic
beauties of Julia de Roubigné, the early favourite of the author of
Rosamond Gray; but of the Man of Feeling I would speak with grateful
recollections: nor is it possible to forget the sensitive, irresolute,
interesting Harley: and that lone figure of Miss Walton in it, that
floats in the horizon, dim and ethereal, the day-dream of her lover’s
youthful fancy—better, far better than all the realities of life!


                               LECTURE VI
                        ON THE ENGLISH NOVELISTS

There is an exclamation in one of Gray’s Letters—‘Be mine to read
eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon!’—If I did not utter a
similar aspiration at the conclusion of the last new novel which I read
(I would not give offence by being more particular as to the name) it
was not from any want of affection for the class of writing to which it
belongs: for, without going so far as the celebrated French philosopher,
who thought that more was to be learnt from good novels and romances
than from the gravest treatises on history and morality, yet there are
few works to which I am oftener tempted to turn for profit or delight,
than to the standard productions in this species of composition. We find
there a close imitation of men and manners; we see the very web and
texture of society as it really exists, and as we meet with it when we
come into the world. If poetry has ‘something more divine in it,’ this
savours more of humanity. We are brought acquainted with the motives and
characters of mankind, imbibe our notions of virtue and vice from
practical examples, and are taught a knowledge of the world through the
airy medium of romance. As a record of past manners and opinions, too,
such writings afford the best and fullest information. For example, I
should be at a loss where to find in any authentic documents of the same
period so satisfactory an account of the general state of society, and
of moral, political, and religious feeling in the reign of George II. as
we meet with in the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his friend Mr.
Abraham Adams. This work, indeed, I take to be a perfect piece of
statistics in its kind. In looking into any regular history of that
period, into a learned and eloquent charge to a grand jury or the clergy
of a diocese, or into a tract on controversial divinity, we should hear
only of the ascendancy of the Protestant succession, the horrors of
Popery, the triumph of civil and religious liberty, the wisdom and
moderation of the sovereign, the happiness of the subject, and the
flourishing state of manufactures and commerce. But if we really wish to
know what all these fine-sounding names come to, we cannot do better
than turn to the works of those, who having no other object than to
imitate nature, could only hope for success from the fidelity of their
pictures; and were bound (in self-defence) to reduce the boasts of vague
theorists and the exaggerations of angry disputants to the mortifying
standard of reality. Extremes are said to meet: and the works of
imagination, as they are called, sometimes come the nearest to truth and
nature. Fielding in speaking on this subject, and vindicating the use
and dignity of the style of writing in which he excelled against the
loftier pretensions of professed historians, says, that in their
productions nothing is true but the names and dates, whereas in his
every thing is true but the names and dates. If so, he has the advantage
on his side.

I will here confess, however, that I am a little prejudiced on the point
in question; and that the effect of many fine speculations has been lost
upon me, from an early familiarity with the most striking passages in
the work to which I have just alluded. Thus nothing can be more
captivating than the description somewhere given by Mr. Burke of the
indissoluble connection between learning and nobility; and of the
respect universally paid by wealth to piety and morals. But the effect
of this ideal representation has always been spoiled by my recollection
of Parson Adams sitting over his cup of ale in Sir Thomas Booby’s
kitchen. Echard ‘On the Contempt of the Clergy’ is, in like manner, a
very good book, and ‘worthy of all acceptation:’ but, somehow, an
unlucky impression of the reality of Parson Trulliber involuntarily
checks the emotions of respect, to which it might otherwise give rise:
while, on the other hand, the lecture which Lady Booby reads to Lawyer
Scout on the immediate expulsion of Joseph and Fanny from the parish,
casts no very favourable light on the flattering accounts of our
practical jurisprudence which are to be found in Blackstone or De Lolme.
The most moral writers, after all, are those who do not pretend to
inculcate any moral. The professed moralist almost unavoidably
degenerates into the partisan of a system; and the philosopher is too
apt to warp the evidence to his own purpose. But the painter of manners
gives the facts of human nature, and leaves us to draw the inference: if
we are not able to do this, or do it ill, at least it is our own fault.

The first-rate writers in this class, of course, are few; but those few
we may reckon among the greatest ornaments and best benefactors of our
kind. There is a certain set of them who, as it were, take their rank by
the side of reality, and are appealed to as evidence on all questions
concerning human nature. The principal of these are Cervantes and Le
Sage, who may be considered as having been naturalised among ourselves;
and, of native English growth, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, and
Sterne.[21] As this is a department of criticism which deserves more
attention than has been usually bestowed upon it, I shall here venture
to recur (not from choice, but necessity) to what I have said upon it in
a well known periodical publication; and endeavour to contribute my mite
towards settling the standard of excellence, both as to degree and kind,
in these several writers.

I shall begin with the history of the renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha;
who presents something more stately, more romantic, and at the same time
more real to the imagination than any other hero upon record. His
lineaments, his accoutrements, his pasteboard vizor, are familiar to us;
and Mambrino’s helmet still glitters in the sun! We not only feel the
greatest veneration and love for the knight himself, but a certain
respect for all those connected with him, the curate and Master Nicolas
the barber, Sancho and Dapple, and even for Rosinante’s leanness and his
errors.—Perhaps there is no work which combines so much whimsical
invention with such an air of truth. Its popularity is almost
unequalled; and yet its merits have not been sufficiently understood.
The story is the least part of them; though the blunders of Sancho, and
the unlucky adventures of his master, are what naturally catch the
attention of the majority of readers. The pathos and dignity of the
sentiments are often disguised under the ludicrousness of the subject;
and provoke laughter when they might well draw tears. The character of
Don Quixote himself is one of the most perfect disinterestedness. He is
an enthusiast of the most amiable kind; of a nature equally open,
gentle, and generous; a lover of truth and justice; and one who had
brooded over the fine dreams of chivalry and romance, till they had
robbed him of himself, and cheated his brain into a belief of their
reality. There cannot be a greater mistake than to consider Don Quixote
as a merely satirical work, or as a vulgar attempt to explode ‘the
long-forgotten order of chivalry.’ There could be no need to explode
what no longer existed. Besides, Cervantes himself was a man of the most
sanguine and enthusiastic temperament; and even through the crazed and
battered figure of the knight, the spirit of chivalry shines out with
undiminished lustre; as if the author had half-designed to revive the
example of past ages, and once more ‘witch the world with noble
horsemanship.’ Oh! if ever the mouldering flame of Spanish liberty is
destined to break forth, wrapping the tyrant and the tyranny in one
consuming blaze, that the spark of generous sentiment and romantic
enterprise, from which it must be kindled, has not been quite
extinguished, will perhaps be owing to thee, Cervantes, and to thy Don
Quixote!

The character of Sancho is not more admirable in itself, than as a
relief to that of the knight. The contrast is as picturesque and
striking as that between the figures of Rosinante and Dapple. Never was
there so complete a _partie quarrée_:—they answer to one another at all
points. Nothing need surpass the truth of physiognomy in the description
of the master and man, both as to body and mind; the one lean and tall,
the other round and short; the one heroical and courteous, the other
selfish and servile; the one full of high-flown fancies, the other a bag
of proverbs; the one always starting some romantic scheme, the other
trying to keep to the safe side of custom and tradition. The gradual
ascendancy, however, obtained by Don Quixote over Sancho, is as finely
managed as it is characteristic. Credulity and a love of the marvellous
are as natural to ignorance, as selfishness and cunning. Sancho by
degrees becomes a kind of lay-brother of the order; acquires a taste for
adventures in his own way, and is made all but an entire convert, by the
discovery of the hundred crowns in one of his most comfortless journeys.
Towards the end, his regret at being forced to give up the pursuit of
knight-errantry, almost equals his master’s; and he seizes the proposal
of Don Quixote for them to turn shepherds with the greatest
avidity—still applying it in his own fashion; for while the Don is
ingeniously torturing the names of his humble acquaintance into
classical terminations, and contriving scenes of gallantry and song,
Sancho exclaims, ‘Oh, what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! what
crumbs and cream shall I devour!’—forgetting, in his milk and fruits,
the pullets and geese at Camacho’s wedding.

This intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of things, or, as it
may be called, this _instinct of the imagination_, is, perhaps, what
stamps the character of genius on the productions of art more than any
other circumstance: for it works unconsciously, like nature, and
receives its impressions from a kind of inspiration. There is as much of
this indistinct keeping and involuntary unity of purpose in Cervantes,
as in any author whatever. Something of the same unsettled, rambling
humour extends itself to all the subordinate parts and characters of the
work. Thus we find the curate confidentially informing Don Quixote, that
if he could get the ear of the government, he has something of
considerable importance to propose for the good of the state; and our
adventurer afterwards (in the course of his peregrinations) meets with a
young gentleman who is a candidate for poetical honours, with a mad
lover, a forsaken damsel, a Mahometan lady converted to the Christian
faith, &c.—all delineated with the same truth, wildness, and delicacy of
fancy. The whole work breathes that air of romance, that aspiration
after imaginary good, that indescribable longing after something more
than we possess, that in all places and in all conditions of life,

                  ‘——still prompts the eternal sigh,
              For which we wish to live, or dare to die!’

The leading characters in Don Quixote are strictly individuals; that is,
they do not so much belong to, as form a class by themselves. In other
words, the actions and manners of the chief _dramatis personæ_ do not
arise out of the actions and manners of those around them, or the
situation of life in which they are placed, but out of the peculiar
dispositions of the persons themselves, operated upon by certain
impulses of caprice and accident. Yet these impulses are so true to
nature, and their operation so exactly described, that we not only
recognise the fidelity of the representation, but recognise it with all
the advantages of novelty superadded. They are in the best sense
_originals_, namely, in the sense in which nature has her originals.
They are unlike any thing we have seen before—may be said to be purely
ideal; and yet identify themselves more readily with our imagination,
and are retained more strongly in memory, than perhaps any others: they
are never lost in the crowd. One test of the truth of this ideal
painting, is the number of allusions which Don Quixote has furnished to
the whole of civilised Europe; that is to say, of appropriate cases and
striking illustrations of the universal principles of our nature. The
detached incidents and occasional descriptions of human life are more
familiar and obvious; so that we have nearly the same insight here given
us into the characters of innkeepers, barmaids, ostlers, and puppet-show
men, that we have in Fielding. There is much greater mixture, however,
of the pathetic and sentimental with the quaint and humorous, than there
ever is in Fielding. I might instance the story of the countryman whom
Don Quixote and Sancho met in their doubtful search after Dulcinea,
driving his mules to plough at break of day, and ‘singing the ancient
ballad of Ronscevalles!’ The episodes, which are frequently introduced,
are excellent, but have, upon the whole, been overrated. They derive
their interest from their connexion with the main story. We are so
pleased with that, that we are disposed to receive pleasure from every
thing else. Compared, for instance, with the serious tales in Boccaccio,
they are slight and somewhat superficial. That of Marcella, the fair
shepherdess, is, I think, the best. I shall only add, that Don Quixote
was, at the time it was published, an entirely original work in its
kind, and that the author claims the highest honour which can belong to
one, that of being the inventor of a new style of writing. I have never
read his Galatea, nor his Loves of Persiles and Sigismunda, though I
have often meant to do it, and I hope to do so yet. Perhaps there is a
reason lurking at the bottom of this dilatoriness: I am quite sure the
reading of these works could not make me think higher of the author of
Don Quixote, and it might, for a moment or two, make me think less.

There is another Spanish novel, Gusman D’Alfarache, nearly of the same
age as Don Quixote, and of great genius, though it can hardly be ranked
as a novel or a work of imagination. It is a series of strange,
unconnected adventures, rather drily told, but accompanied by the most
severe and sarcastic commentary. The satire, the wit, the eloquence and
reasoning, are of the most potent kind: but they are didactic rather
than dramatic. They would suit a homily or a pasquinade as well or
better than a romance. Still there are in this extraordinary book
occasional sketches of character and humorous descriptions, to which it
would be difficult to produce any thing superior. This work, which is
hardly known in this country except by name, has the credit, without any
reason, of being the original of Gil Blas. There is one incident the
same, that of the unsavoury ragout, which is served up for supper at the
inn. In all other respects these two works are the very reverse of each
other, both in their excellences and defects.—Lazarillo de Tormes has
been more read than the Spanish Rogue, and is a work more readable, on
this account among others, that it is contained in a duodecimo instead
of a folio volume. This, however, is long enough, considering that it
treats of only one subject, that of eating, or rather the possibility of
living without eating. Famine is here framed into an art, and feasting
is banished far hence. The hero’s time and thoughts are taken up in a
thousand shifts to procure a dinner; and that failing, in tampering with
his stomach till supper time, when being forced to go supperless to bed,
he comforts himself with the hopes of a breakfast the next morning, of
which being again disappointed, he reserves his appetite for a luncheon,
and then has to stave it off again by some meagre excuse or other till
dinner; and so on, by a perpetual adjournment of this necessary process,
through the four and twenty hours round. The quantity of food proper to
keep body and soul together is reduced to a _minimum_; and the most
uninviting morsels with which Lazarillo meets once a week as a
God’s-send, are pampered into the most sumptuous fare by a long course
of inanition. The scene of this novel could be laid nowhere so properly
as in Spain, that land of priestcraft and poverty, where hunger seems to
be the ruling passion, and starving the order of the day.

Gil Blas has, next to Don Quixote, been more generally read and admired
than any other novel; and in one sense, deservedly so: for it is at the
head of its class, though that class is very different from, and I
should say inferior to the other. There is little individual character
in Gil Blas. The author is a describer of manners, and not of character.
He does not take the elements of human nature, and work them up into new
combinations (which is the excellence of Don Quixote); nor trace the
peculiar and shifting shades of folly and knavery as they are to be
found in real life (like Fielding): but he takes off, as it were, the
general, habitual impression which circumstances make on certain
conditions of life, and moulds all his characters accordingly. All the
persons whom he introduces, carry about with them the badge of their
profession; and you see little more of them than their costume. He
describes men as belonging to distinct classes in society; not as they
are in themselves, or with the individual differences which are always
to be discovered in nature. His hero, in particular, has no character
but that of the successive circumstances in which he is placed. His
priests are only described as priests: his valets, his players, his
women, his courtiers and his sharpers, are all alike. Nothing can well
exceed the monotony of the work in this respect:—at the same time that
nothing can exceed the truth and precision with which the general
manners of these different characters are preserved, nor the felicity of
the particular traits by which their common foibles are brought out.
Thus the Archbishop of Grenada will remain an everlasting memento of the
weakness of human vanity; and the account of Gil Blas’ legacy, of the
uncertainty of human expectations. This novel is also deficient in the
fable as well as in the characters. It is not a regularly constructed
story; but a series of amusing adventures told with equal gaiety and
good sense, and in the most graceful style imaginable.

It has been usual to class our own great novelists as imitators of one
or other of these two writers. Fielding, no doubt, is more like Don
Quixote than Gil Blas; Smollett is more like Gil Blas than Don Quixote;
but there is not much resemblance in either case. Sterne’s Tristram
Shandy is a more direct instance of imitation. Richardson can scarcely
be called an imitator of any one; or if he is, it is of the sentimental
refinement of Marivaux, or of the verbose gallantry of the writers of
the seventeenth century.

There is very little to warrant the common idea that Fielding was an
imitator of Cervantes, except his own declaration of such an intention
in the title-page of Joseph Andrews, the romantic turn of the character
of Parson Adams (the only romantic character in his works), and the
proverbial humour of Partridge, which is kept up only for a few pages.
Fielding’s novels are, in general, thoroughly his own; and they are
thoroughly English. What they are most remarkable for, is neither
sentiment, nor imagination, nor wit, nor even humour, though there is an
immense deal of this last quality; but profound knowledge of human
nature, at least of English nature; and masterly pictures of the
characters of men as he saw them existing. This quality distinguishes
all his works, and is shown almost equally in all of them. As a painter
of real life, he was equal to Hogarth; as a mere observer of human
nature, he was little inferior to Shakspeare, though without any of the
genius and poetical qualities of his mind. His humour is less rich and
laughable than Smollett’s; his wit as often misses as hits; he has none
of the fine pathos of Richardson or Sterne; but he has brought together
a greater variety of characters in common life, marked with more
distinct peculiarities, and without an atom of caricature, than any
other novel writer whatever. The extreme subtlety of observation on the
springs of human conduct in ordinary characters, is only equalled by the
ingenuity of contrivance in bringing those springs into play, in such a
manner as to lay open their smallest irregularity. The detection is
always complete, and made with the certainty and skill of a
philosophical experiment, and the obviousness and familiarity of a
casual observation. The truth of the imitation is indeed so great, that
it has been argued that Fielding must have had his materials ready-made
to his hands, and was merely a transcriber of local manners and
individual habits. For this conjecture, however, there seems to be no
foundation. His representations, it is true, are local and individual;
but they are not the less profound and conclusive. The feeling of the
general principles of human nature operating in particular
circumstances, is always intense, and uppermost in his mind; and he
makes use of incident and situation only to bring out character.

It is scarcely necessary to give any illustrations. Tom Jones is full of
them. There is the account, for example, of the gratitude of the elder
Blifil to his brother, for assisting him to obtain the fortune of Miss
Bridget Alworthy by marriage; and of the gratitude of the poor in his
neighbourhood to Alworthy himself, who had done so much good in the
country that he had made every one in it his enemy. There is the account
of the Latin dialogues between Partridge and his maid, of the assault
made on him during one of these by Mrs. Partridge, and the severe
bruises he patiently received on that occasion, after which the parish
of Little Baddington rung with the story, that the school-master had
killed his wife. There is the exquisite keeping in the character of
Blifil, and the want of it in that of Jones. There is the gradation in
the lovers of Molly Seagrim; the philosopher Square succeeding to Tom
Jones, who again finds that he himself had succeeded to the accomplished
Will. Barnes, who had the first possession of her person, and had still
possession of her heart, Jones being only the instrument of her vanity,
as Square was of her interest. Then there is the discreet honesty of
Black George, the learning of Thwackum and Square, and the profundity of
Squire Western, who considered it as a physical impossibility that his
daughter should fall in love with Tom Jones. We have also that
gentleman’s disputes with his sister, and the inimitable appeal of that
lady to her niece.—‘I was never so handsome as you, Sophy: yet I had
something of you formerly. I was called the cruel Parthenissa. Kingdoms
and states, as Tully Cicero says, undergo alteration, and so must the
human form!’ The adventure of the same lady with the highwayman, who
robbed her of her jewels, while he complimented her beauty, ought not to
be passed over, nor that of Sophia and her muff, nor the reserved
coquetry of her cousin Fitzpatrick, nor the description of Lady
Bellaston, nor the modest overtures of the pretty widow Hunt, nor the
indiscreet babblings of Mrs. Honour. The moral of this book has been
objected to, without much reason; but a more serious objection has been
made to the want of refinement and elegance in two principal characters.
We never feel this objection, indeed, while we are reading the book: but
at other times, we have something like a lurking suspicion that Jones
was but an awkward fellow, and Sophia a pretty simpleton. I do not know
how to account for this effect, unless it is that Fielding’s constantly
assuring us of the beauty of his hero, and the good sense of his
heroine, at last produces a distrust of both. The story of Tom Jones is
allowed to be unrivalled: and it is this circumstance, together with the
vast variety of characters, that has given the history of a Foundling so
decided a preference over Fielding’s other novels. The characters
themselves, both in Amelia and Joseph Andrews, are quite equal to any of
those in Tom Jones. The account of Miss Matthews and Ensign Hibbert, in
the former of these; the way in which that lady reconciles herself to
the death of her father; the inflexible Colonel Bath; the insipid Mrs.
James, the complaisant Colonel Trent, the demure, sly, intriguing,
equivocal Mrs. Bennet, the lord who is her seducer, and who attempts
afterwards to seduce Amelia by the same mechanical process of a
concert-ticket, a book, and the disguise of a great coat; his little,
fat, short-nosed, red-faced, good-humoured accomplice, the keeper of the
lodging-house, who, having no pretensions to gallantry herself, has a
disinterested delight in forwarding the intrigues and pleasures of
others, (to say nothing of honest Atkinson, the story of the
miniature-picture of Amelia, and the hashed mutton, which are in a
different style,) are masterpieces of description. The whole scene at
the lodging-house, the masquerade, &c. in Amelia, are equal in interest
to the parallel scenes in Tom Jones, and even more refined in the
knowledge of character. For instance, Mrs. Bennet is superior to Mrs.
Fitzpatrick in her own way. The uncertainty, in which the event of her
interview with her former seducer is left, is admirable. Fielding was a
master of what may be called the _double entendre_ of character, and
surprises you no less by what he leaves in the dark, (hardly known to
the persons themselves) than by the unexpected discoveries he makes of
the real traits and circumstances in a character with which, till then,
you find you were unacquainted. There is nothing at all heroic, however,
in the usual style of his delineations. He does not draw lofty
characters or strong passions; all his persons are of the ordinary
stature as to intellect; and possess little elevation of fancy, or
energy of purpose. Perhaps, after all, Parson Adams is his finest
character. It is equally true to nature, and more ideal than any of the
others. Its unsuspecting simplicity makes it not only more amiable, but
doubly amusing, by gratifying the sense of superior sagacity in the
reader. Our laughing at him does not once lessen our respect for him.
His declaring that he would willingly walk ten miles to fetch his sermon
on vanity, merely to convince Wilson of his thorough contempt of this
vice, and his consoling himself for the loss of his Æschylus, by
suddenly recollecting that he could not read it if he had it, because it
is dark, are among the finest touches of _naïveté_. The night-adventures
at Lady Booby’s with Beau Didapper, and the amiable Slipslop, are the
most ludicrous; and that with the huntsman, who draws off the hounds
from the poor Parson, because they would be spoiled by following
_vermin_, the most profound. Fielding did not often repeat himself; but
Dr. Harrison, in Amelia, may be considered as a variation of the
character of Adams: so also is Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield; and the
latter part of that work, which sets out so delightfully, an almost
entire plagiarism from Wilson’s account of himself, and Adams’s domestic
history.

Smollett’s first novel, Roderick Random, which is also his best,
appeared about the same time as Fielding’s Tom Jones; and yet it has a
much more modern air with it: but this may be accounted for, from the
circumstance that Smollett was quite a young man at the time, whereas
Fielding’s manner must have been formed long before. The style of
Roderick Random is more easy and flowing than that of Tom Jones; the
incidents follow one another more rapidly (though, it must be confessed,
they never come in such a throng, or are brought out with the same
dramatic effect); the humour is broader, and as effectual; and there is
very nearly, if not quite, an equal interest excited by the story. What
then is it that gives the superiority to Fielding? It is the superior
insight into the springs of human character, and the constant
developement of that character through every change of circumstance.
Smollett’s humour often arises from the situation of the persons, or the
peculiarity of their external appearance; as, from Roderick Random’s
carrotty locks, which hung down over his shoulders like a pound of
candles, or Strap’s ignorance of London, and the blunders that follow
from it. There is a tone of vulgarity about all his productions. The
incidents frequently resemble detached anecdotes taken from a newspaper
or magazine; and, like those in Gil Blas, might happen to a hundred
other characters. He exhibits the ridiculous accidents and reverses to
which human life is liable, not ‘the stuff’ of which it is composed. He
seldom probes to the quick, or penetrates beyond the surface; and,
therefore, he leaves no stings in the minds of his readers, and in this
respect is far less interesting than Fielding. His novels always
enliven, and never tire us: we take them up with pleasure, and lay them
down without any strong feeling of regret. We look on and laugh, as
spectators of a highly amusing scene, without closing in with the
combatants, or being made parties in the event. We read Roderick Random
as an entertaining story; for the particular accidents and modes of life
which it describes have ceased to exist: but we regard Tom Jones as a
real history; because the author never stops short of those essential
principles which lie at the bottom of all our actions, and in which we
feel an immediate interest—_intus et in cute_. Smollett excels most as
the lively caricaturist: Fielding as the exact painter and profound
metaphysician. I am far from maintaining that this account applies
uniformly to the productions of these two writers; but I think that, as
far as they essentially differ, what I have stated is the general
distinction between them. Roderick Random is the purest of Smollett’s
novels: I mean in point of style and description. Most of the incidents
and characters are supposed to have been taken from the events of his
own life; and are, therefore, truer to nature. There is a rude
conception of generosity in some of his characters, of which Fielding
seems to have been incapable, his amiable persons being merely
good-natured. It is owing to this that Strap is superior to Partridge;
as there is a heartiness and warmth of feeling in some of the scenes
between Lieutenant Bowling and his nephew, which is beyond Fielding’s
power of impassioned writing. The whole of the scene on ship-board is a
most admirable and striking picture, and, I imagine, very little if at
all exaggerated, though the interest it excites is of a very unpleasant
kind, because the irritation and resistance to petty oppression can be
of no avail. The picture of the little profligate French friar, who was
Roderick’s travelling companion, and of whom he always kept to the
windward, is one of Smollett’s most masterly sketches.—Peregrine Pickle
is no great favourite of mine, and Launcelot Greaves was not worthy of
the genius of the author.

Humphry Clinker and Count Fathom are both equally admirable in their
way. Perhaps the former is the most pleasant gossiping novel that ever
was written; that which gives the most pleasure with the least effort to
the reader. It is quite as amusing as going the journey could have been;
and we have just as good an idea of what happened on the road, as if we
had been of the party. Humphry Clinker himself is exquisite; and his
sweetheart, Winifred Jenkins, not much behind him. Matthew Bramble,
though not altogether original, is excellently supported, and seems to
have been the prototype of Sir Anthony Absolute in the Rivals. But
Lismahago is the flower of the flock. His tenaciousness in argument is
not so delightful as the relaxation of his logical severity, when he
finds his fortune mellowing in the wintry smiles of Mrs. Tabitha
Bramble. This is the best preserved, and most severe of all Smollett’s
characters. The resemblance to Don Quixote is only just enough to make
it interesting to the critical reader, without giving offence to any
body else. The indecency and filth in this novel, are what must be
allowed to all Smollett’s writings.—The subject and characters in Count
Fathom are, in general, exceedingly disgusting: the story is also spun
out to a degree of tediousness in the serious and sentimental parts; but
there is more power of writing occasionally shewn in it than in any of
his works. I need only to refer to the fine and bitter irony of the
Count’s address to the country of his ancestors on his landing in
England; to the robber scene in the forest, which has never been
surpassed; to the Parisian swindler who personates a raw English country
squire (Western is tame in the comparison); and to the story of the
seduction in the west of England. It would be difficult to point out, in
any author, passages written with more force and mastery than these.

It is not a very difficult undertaking to class Fielding or
Smollett;—the one as an observer of the characters of human life, the
other as a describer of its various eccentricities. But it is by no
means so easy to dispose of Richardson, who was neither an observer of
the one, nor a describer of the other; but who seemed to spin his
materials entirely out of his own brain, as if there had been nothing
existing in the world beyond the little room in which he sat writing.
There is an artificial reality about his works, which is no where else
to be met with. They have the romantic air of a pure fiction, with the
literal minuteness of a common diary. The author had the strongest
matter-of-fact imagination that ever existed, and wrote the oddest
mixture of poetry and prose. He does not appear to have taken advantage
of any thing in actual nature, from one end of his works to the other;
and yet, throughout all his works, voluminous as they are—(and this, to
be sure, is one reason why they are so,)—he sets about describing every
object and transaction, as if the whole had been given in on evidence by
an eye-witness. This kind of high finishing from imagination is an
anomaly in the history of human genius; and, certainly, nothing so fine
was ever produced by the same accumulation of minute parts. There is not
the least distraction, the least forgetfulness of the end: every
circumstance is made to tell. I cannot agree that this exactness of
detail produces heaviness; on the contrary, it gives an appearance of
truth, and a positive interest to the story; and we listen with the same
attention as we should to the particulars of a confidential
communication. I at one time used to think some parts of Sir Charles
Grandison rather trifling and tedious, especially the long description
of Miss Harriet Byron’s wedding clothes, till I was told of two young
ladies who had severally copied out the whole of that very description
for their own private gratification. After that, I could not blame the
author.

The effect of reading this work is like an increase of kindred. You find
yourself all of a sudden introduced into the midst of a large family,
with aunts and cousins to the third and fourth generation, and
grandmothers both by the father’s and mother’s side;—and a very odd set
of people they are, but people whose real existence and personal
identity you can no more dispute than your own senses, for you see and
hear all that they do or say. What is still more extraordinary, all this
extreme elaborateness in working out the story, seems to have cost the
author nothing; for it is said, that the published works are mere
abridgments. I have heard (though this I suspect must be a pleasant
exaggeration) that Sir Charles Grandison was originally written in eight
and twenty volumes.

Pamela is the first of Richardson’s productions, and the very child of
his brain. Taking the general idea of the character of a modest and
beautiful country girl, and of the ordinary situation in which she is
placed, he makes out all the rest, even to the smallest circumstance, by
the mere force of a reasoning imagination. It would seem as if a step
lost, would be as fatal here as in a mathematical demonstration. The
developement of the character is the most simple, and comes the nearest
to nature that it can do, without being the same thing. The interest of
the story increases with the dawn of understanding and reflection in the
heroine: her sentiments gradually expand themselves, like opening
flowers. She writes better every time, and acquires a confidence in
herself, just as a girl would do, writing such letters in such
circumstances; and yet it is certain _that no girl would write such
letters in such circumstances_. What I mean is this:—Richardson’s nature
is always the nature of sentiment and reflection, not of impulse or
situation. He furnishes his characters, on every occasion, with the
presence of mind of the author. He makes them act, not as they would
from the impulse of the moment, but as they might upon reflection, and
upon a careful review of every motive and circumstance in their
situation. They regularly sit down to write letters: and if the business
of life consisted in letter-writing, and was carried on by the post
(like a Spanish game at chess), human nature would be what Richardson
represents it. All actual objects and feelings are blunted and deadened
by being presented through a medium which may be true to reason, but is
false in nature. He confounds his own point of view with that of the
immediate actors in the scene; and hence presents you with a
conventional and factitious nature, instead of that which is real. Dr.
Johnson seems to have preferred this truth of reflection to the truth of
nature, when he said that there was more knowledge of the human heart in
a page of Richardson, than in all Fielding. Fielding, however, saw more
of the practical results, and understood the principles as well; but he
had not the same power of speculating upon their possible results, and
combining them in certain ideal forms of passion and imagination, which
was Richardson’s real excellence.

It must be observed, however, that it is this mutual good understanding,
and comparing of notes between the author and the persons he describes;
his infinite circumspection, his exact process of ratiocination and
calculation, which gives such an appearance of coldness and formality to
most of his characters,—which makes prudes of his women, and coxcombs of
his men. Every thing is too conscious in his works. Every thing is
distinctly brought home to the mind of the actors in the scene, which is
a fault undoubtedly: but then it must be confessed, every thing is
brought home in its full force to the mind of the reader also; and we
feel the same interest in the story as if it were our own. Can any thing
be more beautiful or more affecting than Pamela’s reproaches to her
‘lumpish heart,’ when she is sent away from her master’s at her own
request; its lightness, when she is sent for back; the joy which the
conviction of the sincerity of his love diffuses in her heart, like the
coming on of spring; the artifice of the stuff gown; the meeting with
Lady Davers after her marriage; and the trial-scene with her husband?
Who ever remained insensible to the passion of Lady Clementina, except
Sir Charles Grandison himself, who was the object of it? Clarissa is,
however, his masterpiece, if we except Lovelace. If she is fine in
herself, she is still finer in his account of her. With that foil, her
purity is dazzling indeed: and she who could triumph by her virtue, and
the force of her love, over the regality of Lovelace’s mind, his wit,
his person, his accomplishments, and his spirit, conquers all hearts. I
should suppose that never sympathy more deep or sincere was excited than
by the heroine of Richardson’s romance, except by the calamities of real
life. The links in this wonderful chain of interest are not more finely
wrought, than their whole weight is overwhelming and irresistible. Who
can forget the exquisite gradations of her long dying-scene, or the
closing of the coffin-lid, when Miss Howe comes to take her last leave
of her friend; or the heart-breaking reflection that Clarissa makes on
what was to have been her wedding-day? Well does a certain writer
exclaim—

         ‘Books are a real world, both pure and good,
         Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
         Our pastime and our happiness may grow!’

Richardson’s wit was unlike that of any other writer—his humour was so
too. Both were the effect of intense activity of mind—laboured, and yet
completely effectual. I might refer to Lovelace’s reception and
description of Hickman, when he calls out Death in his ear, as the name
of the person with whom Clarissa had fallen in love; and to the scene at
the glove-shop. What can be more magnificent than his enumeration of his
companions—‘Belton, so pert and so pimply—Tourville, so fair and so
foppish!’ &c. In casuistry this author is quite at home; and, with a
boldness greater even than his puritanical severity, has exhausted every
topic on virtue and vice. There is another peculiarity in Richardson,
not perhaps so uncommon, which is, his systematically preferring his
most insipid characters to his finest, though both were equally his own
invention, and he must be supposed to have understood something of their
qualities. Thus he preferred the little, selfish, affected,
insignificant Miss Byron, to the divine Clementina; and again, Sir
Charles Grandison, to the nobler Lovelace. I have nothing to say in
favour of Lovelace’s morality; but Sir Charles is the prince of
coxcombs,—whose eye was never once taken from his own person, and his
own virtues; and there is nothing which excites so little sympathy as
this excessive egotism.

It remains to speak of Sterne; and I shall do it in few words. There is
more of _mannerism_ and affectation in him, and a more immediate
reference to preceding authors; but his excellences, where he is
excellent, are of the first order. His characters are intellectual and
inventive, like Richardson’s; but totally opposite in the execution. The
one are made out by continuity, and patient repetition of touches: the
others, by glancing transitions and graceful apposition. His style is
equally different from Richardson’s: it is at times the most rapid, the
most happy, the most idiomatic of any that is to be found. It is the
pure essence of English conversational style. His works consist only of
_morceaux_—of brilliant passages. I wonder that Goldsmith, who ought to
have known better, should call him ‘a dull fellow.’ His wit is poignant,
though artificial; and his characters (though the groundwork of some of
them had been laid before) have yet invaluable original differences; and
the spirit of the execution, the master-strokes constantly thrown into
them, are not to be surpassed. It is sufficient to name them;—Yorick,
Dr. Slop, Mr. Shandy, My Uncle Toby, Trim, Susanna, and the Widow
Wadman. In these he has contrived to oppose, with equal felicity and
originality, two characters, one of pure intellect, and the other of
pure good nature, in My Father and My Uncle Toby. There appears to have
been in Sterne a vein of dry, sarcastic humour, and of extreme
tenderness of feeling; the latter sometimes carried to affectation, as
in the tale of Maria, and the apostrophe to the recording angel: but at
other times pure, and without blemish. The story of Le Fevre is perhaps
the finest in the English language. My Father’s restlessness, both of
body and mind, is inimitable. It is the model from which all those
despicable performances against modern philosophy ought to have been
copied, if their authors had known any thing of the subject they were
writing about. My Uncle Toby is one of the finest compliments ever paid
to human nature. He is the most unoffending of God’s creatures; or, as
the French express it, _un tel petit bon homme_! Of his bowling-green,
his sieges, and his amours, who would say or think any thing amiss!

It is remarkable that our four best novel-writers belong nearly to the
same age. We also owe to the same period (the reign of George II.) the
inimitable Hogarth, and some of our best writers of the middle style of
comedy. If I were called upon to account for this coincidence, I should
wave the consideration of more general causes, and ascribe it at once to
the establishment of the Protestant ascendancy, and the succession of
the House of Hanover. These great events appear to have given a more
popular turn to our literature and genius, as well as to our government.
It was found high time that the people should be represented in books as
well as in Parliament. They wished to see some account of themselves in
what they read; and not to be confined always to the vices, the
miseries, and frivolities of the great. Our domestic tragedy, and our
earliest periodical works, appeared a little before the same period. In
despotic countries, human nature is not of sufficient importance to be
studied or described. The _canaille_ are objects rather of disgust than
curiosity; and there are no middle classes. The works of Racine and
Moliere are either imitations of the verbiage of the court, before which
they were represented, or fanciful caricatures of the manners of the
lowest of the people. But in the period of our history in question, a
security of person and property, and a freedom of opinion had been
established, which made every man feel of some consequence to himself,
and appear an object of some curiosity to his neighbours: our manners
became more domesticated; there was a general spirit of sturdiness and
independence, which made the English character more truly English than
perhaps at any other period—that is, more tenacious of its own opinions
and purposes. The whole surface of society appeared cut out into square
enclosures and sharp angles, which extended to the dresses of the time,
their gravel-walks, and clipped hedges. Each individual had a certain
ground-plot of his own to cultivate his particular humours in, and let
them shoot out at pleasure; and a most plentiful crop they have produced
accordingly. The reign of George II. was, in a word, the age of
_hobby-horses_: but, since that period, things have taken a different
turn.

His present Majesty (God save the mark!) during almost the whole of his
reign, has been constantly mounted on a great war-horse; and has fairly
driven all competitors out of the field. Instead of minding our own
affairs, or laughing at each other, the eyes of all his faithful
subjects have been fixed on the career of the sovereign, and all hearts
anxious for the safety of his person and government. Our pens and our
swords have been alike drawn in their defence; and the returns of killed
and wounded, the manufacture of newspapers and parliamentary speeches,
have exceeded all former example. If we have had little of the blessings
of peace, we have had enough of the glories and calamities of war. His
Majesty has indeed contrived to keep alive the greatest public interest
ever known, by his determined manner of riding his hobby for half a
century together, with the aristocracy, the democracy, the clergy, the
landed and monied interest, and the rabble, in full cry after him;—and
at the end of his career, most happily and unexpectedly succeeded,
amidst empires lost and won, kingdoms overturned and created, and the
destruction of an incredible number of lives, in restoring _the divine
right of kings_, and thus preventing any future abuse of the example
which seated his family on the throne!

It is not to be wondered at, if amidst the tumult of events crowded into
this period, our literature has partaken of the disorder of the time; if
our prose has run mad, and our poetry grown childish. Among those
persons who ‘have kept the even tenor of their way,’ the author of
Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla, must be allowed to hold a distinguished
place.[22] Mrs. Radcliffe’s ‘enchantments drear,’ and mouldering
castles, derived part of their interest, no doubt, from the supposed
tottering state of all old structures at the time; and Mrs. Inchbald’s
‘Nature and Art’ would scarcely have had the same popularity, but that
it fell in (as to its two main characters) with the prevailing prejudice
of the moment, that judges and bishops were not invariably pure
abstractions of justice and piety. Miss Edgeworth’s Tales again (with
the exception of Castle Rack-rent, which is a genuine, unsophisticated,
national portrait) are a kind of pedantic, pragmatical common sense,
tinctured with the pertness and pretensions of the paradoxes to which
they are so self-complacently opposed. Madame D’Arblay is, on the
contrary, quite of the old school, a mere common observer of manners,
and also a very woman. It is this last circumstance which forms the
peculiarity of her writings, and distinguishes them from those
masterpieces which I have before mentioned. She is a quick, lively, and
accurate observer of persons and things; but she always looks at them
with a consciousness of her sex, and in that point of view in which it
is the particular business and interest of women to observe them. There
is little in her works of passion or character, or even manners, in the
most extended sense of the word, as implying the sum-total of our habits
and pursuits; her _forte_ is in describing the absurdities and
affectations of external behaviour, or _the manners of people in
company_. Her characters, which are ingenious caricatures, are, no
doubt, distinctly marked, and well kept up; but they are slightly
shaded, and exceedingly uniform. Her heroes and heroines, almost all of
them, depend on the stock of a single phrase or sentiment, and have
certain mottoes or devices by which they may always be known. They form
such characters as people might be supposed to assume for a night at a
masquerade. She presents, not the whole-length figure, nor even the
face, but some prominent feature. In one of her novels, for example, a
lady appears regularly every ten pages, to get a lesson in music for
nothing. She never appears for any other purpose; this is all you know
of her; and in this the whole wit and humour of the character consists.
Meadows is the same, who has always the cue of being tired, without any
other idea. It has been said of Shakspeare, that you may always assign
his speeches to the proper characters;—and you may infallibly do the
same thing with Madame D’Arblay’s, for they always say the same thing.
The Branghtons are the best. Mr. Smith is an exquisite city portrait.
Evelina is also her best novel, because it is the shortest; that is, it
has all the liveliness in the sketches of character, and smartness of
common dialogue and repartee, without the tediousness of the story, and
endless affectation of sentiment which disfigures the others.

Women, in general, have a quicker perception of any oddity or
singularity of character than men, and are more alive to every absurdity
which arises from a violation of the rules of society, or a deviation
from established custom. This partly arises from the restraints on their
own behaviour, which turn their attention constantly on the subject, and
partly from other causes. The surface of their minds, like that of their
bodies, seems of a finer texture than ours; more soft, and susceptible
of immediate impulses. They have less muscular strength; less power of
continued voluntary attention—of reason, passion, and imagination: but
they are more easily impressed with whatever appeals to their senses or
habitual prejudices. The intuitive perception of their minds is less
disturbed by any abstruse reasonings on causes or consequences. They
learn the idiom of character and manners, as they acquire that of
language, by rote, without troubling themselves about the principles.
Their observation is not the less accurate on that account, as far as it
goes; for it has been well said, that ‘there is nothing so true as
habit.’

There is little other power in Miss Burney’s novels, than that of
immediate observation: her characters, whether of refinement or
vulgarity, are equally superficial and confined. The whole is a question
of form, whether that form is adhered to or infringed upon. It is this
circumstance which takes away dignity and interest from her story and
sentiments, and makes the one so teazing and tedious, and the other so
insipid. The difficulties in which she involves her heroines are too
much ‘Female Difficulties’; they are difficulties created out of
nothing. The author appears to have no other idea of refinement than
that it is the reverse of vulgarity; but the reverse of vulgarity is
fastidiousness and affectation. There is a true and a false delicacy.
Because a vulgar country Miss would answer ‘yes’ to a proposal of
marriage in the first page, Madame D’Arblay makes it a proof of an
excess of refinement, and an indispensable point of etiquette in her
young ladies, to postpone the answer to the end of five volumes, without
the smallest reason for their doing so, and with every reason to the
contrary. The reader is led every moment to expect a _denouement_, and
is as often disappointed on some trifling pretext. The whole artifice of
her fable consists in coming to no conclusion. Her ladies ‘stand so upon
the order of their going,’ that they do not go at all. They will not
abate an ace of their punctilio in any circumstances, or on any
emergency. They would consider it as quite indecorous to run down stairs
though the house were in flames, or to move an inch off the pavement
though a scaffolding was falling. She has formed to herself an abstract
idea of perfection in common behaviour, which is quite as romantic and
impracticable as any other idea of the sort: and the consequence has
naturally been, that she makes her heroines commit the greatest
improprieties and absurdities in order to avoid the smallest. In
opposition to a maxim in philosophy, they constantly act from the
weakest motive, or rather from pure contradiction. The whole tissue of
the fable is, in general, more wild and chimerical than any thing in Don
Quixote, without the poetical truth or elevation. Madame D’Arblay has
woven a web of difficulties for her heroines, something like the green
silken threads in which the shepherdesses entangled the steed of
Cervantes’s hero, who swore, in his fine enthusiastic way, that he would
sooner cut his passage to another world than disturb the least of those
beautiful meshes. To mention the most painful instance—the Wanderer, in
her last novel, raises obstacles, lighter than ‘the gossamer that idles
in the wanton summer air,’ into insurmountable barriers; and trifles
with those that arise out of common sense, reason, and necessity. Her
conduct is not to be accounted for directly out of the circumstances in
which she is placed, but out of some factitious and misplaced refinement
on them. It is a perpetual game at cross-purposes. There being a plain
and strong motive why she should pursue any course of action, is a
sufficient reason for her to avoid it; and the perversity of her conduct
is in proportion to its levity—as the lightness of the feather baffles
the force of the impulse that is given to it, and the slightest breath
of air turns it back on the hand from which it is thrown. We can hardly
consider this as the perfection of the female character!

I must say I like Mrs. Radcliffe’s romances better, and think of them
oftener;—and even when I do not, part of the impression with which I
survey the full-orbed moon shining in the blue expanse of heaven, or
hear the wind sighing through autumnal leaves, or walk under the echoing
archways of a Gothic ruin, is owing to a repeated perusal of the Romance
of the Forest and the Mysteries of Udolpho. Her descriptions of scenery,
indeed, are vague and wordy to the last degree; they are neither like
Salvator nor Claude, nor nature nor art; and she dwells on the effects
of moonlight till we are sometimes weary of them: her characters are
insipid, the shadows of a shade, continued on, under different names,
through all her novels: her story comes to nothing. But in harrowing up
the soul with imaginary horrors, and making the flesh creep, and the
nerves thrill, with fond hopes and fears, she is unrivalled among her
fair country-women. Her great power lies in describing the indefinable,
and embodying a phantom. She makes her readers twice children: and from
the dim and shadowy veil which she draws over the objects of her fancy,
forces us to believe all that is strange, and next to impossible, of
their mysterious agency:—whether it is the sound of the lover’s lute
borne o’er the distant waters along the winding shores of Provence,
recalling, with its magic breath, some long-lost friendship, or some
hopeless love; or the full choir of the cloistered monks, chaunting
their midnight orgies, or the lonely voice of an unhappy sister in her
pensive cell, like angels’ whispered music; or the deep sigh that steals
from a dungeon on the startled ear; or the dim apparition of ghastly
features; or the face of an assassin hid beneath a monk’s cowl; or the
robber gliding through the twilight gloom of the forest. All the
fascination that links the world of passion to the world unknown, is
hers, and she plays with it at her pleasure: she has all the poetry of
romance, all that is obscure, visionary, and objectless, in the
imagination. It seems that the simple notes of Clara’s lute, which so
delighted her youthful heart, still echo among the rocks and mountains
of the Valois; the mellow tones of the minstrel’s songs still mingle
with the noise of the dashing oar, and the rippling of the silver waves
of the Mediterranean; the voice of Agnes is heard from the haunted
tower; and Schedoni’s form still stalks through the frowning ruins of
Palinzi. The greatest treat, however, which Mrs. Radcliffe’s pen has
provided for the lovers of the marvellous and terrible, is the Provençal
tale which Ludovico reads in the Castle of Udolpho, as the lights are
beginning to burn blue, and just before the faces appear from behind the
tapestry that carry him off, and we hear no more of him. This tale is of
a knight, who being engaged in a dance at some high festival of old
romance, was summoned out by another knight clad in complete steel; and
being solemnly adjured to follow him into the mazes of the neighbouring
wood, his conductor brought him at length to a hollow glade in the
thickest part, where he pointed to the murdered corse of another knight,
and lifting up his beaver, shewed him by the gleam of moonlight which
fell on it, that it had the face of his spectre-guide! The dramatic
power in the character of Schedoni, the Italian monk, has been much
admired and praised; but the effect does not depend upon the character,
but the situations; not upon the figure, but upon the back-ground.—The
Castle of Otranto (which is supposed to have led the way to this style
of writing) is, to my notion, dry, meagre, and without effect. It is
done upon false principles of taste. The great hand and arm, which are
thrust into the court-yard, and remain there all day long, are the
pasteboard machinery of a pantomime; they shock the senses, and have no
purchase upon the imagination. They are a matter-of-fact impossibility;
a fixture, and no longer a phantom. _Quod sic mihi ostendis, incredulus
odi._ By realising the chimeras of ignorance and fear, begot upon
shadows and dim likenesses, we take away the very grounds of credulity
and superstition; and, as in other cases, by facing out the imposture,
betray the secret to the contempt and laughter of the spectators. The
Recess and the Old English Baron are also ‘dismal treatises,’ but with
little in them ‘at which our fell of hair is likely to rouse and stir as
life were in it.’ They are dull and prosing, without the spirit of
fiction, or the air of tradition to make them interesting. After Mrs.
Radcliffe, Monk Lewis was the greatest master of the art of freezing the
blood. The robber-scene in the Monk is only inferior to that in Count
Fathom, and perfectly new in the circumstances and cast of the
characters. Some of his descriptions are chargeable with unpardonable
grossness, but the pieces of poetry interspersed in this far-famed
novel, such as the fight of Ronscevalles and the Exile, in particular,
have a romantic and delightful harmony, such as might be chaunted by the
moonlight pilgrim, or might lull the dreaming mariner on summer-seas.

If Mrs. Radcliffe touched the trembling chords of the imagination,
making wild music there, Mrs. Inchbald has no less power over the
springs of the heart. She not only moves the affections, but melts us
into ‘all the luxury of woe.’ Her ‘Nature and Art’ is one of the most
pathetic and interesting stories in the world. It is, indeed, too much
so; or the distress is too naked, and the situations hardly to be borne
with patience. I think nothing, however, can exceed in delicacy and
beauty the account of the love-letter which the poor girl, who is the
subject of the story, receives from her lover, and which she is a
fortnight in spelling out, sooner than shew it to any one else; nor the
dreadful catastrophe of the last fatal scene, in which the same poor
creature, as her former seducer, now become her judge, is about to
pronounce sentence of death upon her, cries out in agony—‘Oh, not from
you!’ The effect of this novel upon the feelings, is not only of the
most distressing, but withering kind. It blights the sentiments, and
haunts the memory. The Simple Story is not much better in this respect:
the gloom, however, which hangs over it, is of a more fixed and tender
kind: we are not now lifted to ecstacy, only to be plunged in madness;
and besides the sweetness and dignity of some of the characters, there
are redeeming traits, retrospective glances on the course of human life,
which brighten the backward stream, and smile in hope or patience to the
last. Such is the account of Sandford, her stern and inflexible adviser,
sitting by the bedside of Miss Miller, and comforting her in her dying
moments; thus softening the worst pang of human nature, and reconciling
us to the best, but not most shining virtues in human character. The
conclusion of Nature and Art, on the contrary, is a scene of heartless
desolation, which must effectually deter any one from ever reading the
book twice. Mrs. Inchbald is an instance to confute the assertion of
Rousseau, that women fail whenever they attempt to describe the passion
of love.

I shall conclude this Lecture, by saying a few words of the author of
Caleb Williams, and the author of Waverley. I shall speak of the last
first. In knowledge, in variety, in facility, in truth of painting, in
costume and scenery, in freshness of subject and in untired interest, in
glancing lights and the graces of a style passing at will from grave to
gay, from lively to severe, at once romantic and familiar, having the
utmost force of imitation and apparent freedom of invention; these
novels have the highest claims to admiration. What lack they yet? The
author has all power given him from without—he has not, perhaps, an
equal power from within. The intensity of the feeling is not equal to
the distinctness of the imagery. He sits like a magician in his cell,
and conjures up all shapes and sights to the view; and with a little
variation we might apply to him what Spenser says of Fancy:—

      ‘His chamber was dispainted all within
      With sundry colours, in the which were writ
      Infinite shapes of things dispersed thin;
      Some such as in the world were never yet;
      Some daily seen and knowen by their names,
      Such as in idle fantasies do flit;
      Infernal hags, centaurs, fiends, hippodames,
      Apes, lions, eagles, owls, fools, lovers, children, dames.’

In the midst of all this phantasmagoria, the author himself never
appears to take part with his characters, to prompt our affection to the
good, or sharpen our antipathy to the bad. It is the perfection of art
to conceal art; and this is here done so completely, that while it adds
to our pleasure in the work, it seems to take away from the merit of the
author. As he does not thrust himself forward in the foreground, he
loses the credit of the performance. The copies are so true to nature,
that they appear like tapestry figures taken off by the pattern; the
obvious patchwork of tradition and history. His characters are
transplanted at once from their native soil to the page which we are
reading, without any traces of their having passed through the hot-bed
of the author’s genius or vanity. He leaves them as he found them; but
this is doing wonders. The Laird and the Baillie of Bradwardine, the
idiot rhymer David Gellatly, Miss Rose Bradwardine, and Miss Flora Mac
Ivor, her brother the Highland Jacobite chieftain, Vich Ian Vohr, the
Highland rover, Donald Bean Lean, and the worthy page Callum Beg,
Bothwell, and Balfour of Burley, Claverhouse and Macbriar, Elshie, the
Black Dwarf, and the Red Reever of Westburn Flat, Hobbie and Grace
Armstrong, Ellen Gowan and Dominie Sampson, Dirk Hatteraick and Meg
Merrilees, are at present ‘familiar in our mouths as household names,’
and whether they are actual persons or creations of the poet’s pen, is
an impertinent inquiry. The picturesque and local scenery is as fresh as
the lichen on the rock: the characters are a part of the scenery. If
they are put in action, it is a moving picture: if they speak, we hear
their dialect and the tones of their voice. If the humour is made out by
dialect, the character by the dress, the interest by the facts and
documents in the author’s possession, we have no right to complain, if
it is made out; but sometimes it hardly is, and then we have a right to
say so. For instance, in the Tales of my Landlord, Canny Elshie is not
in himself so formidable or petrific a person as the real Black Dwarf,
called David Ritchie, nor are his acts or sayings so staggering to the
imagination. Again, the first introduction of this extraordinary
personage, groping about among the hoary twilight ruins of the Witch of
Micklestane Moor and her Grey Geese, is as full of preternatural power
and bewildering effect (according to the tradition of the country) as
can be; while the last decisive scene, where the Dwarf, in his resumed
character of Sir Edward Mauley, comes from the tomb in the chapel, to
prevent the forced marriage of the daughter of his former betrothed
mistress with the man she abhors, is altogether powerless and tame. No
situation could be imagined more finely calculated to call forth an
author’s powers of imagination and passion; but nothing is done. The
assembly is dispersed under circumstances of the strongest natural
feeling, and the most appalling preternatural appearances, just as if
the effect had been produced by a peace-officer entering for the same
purpose. These instances of a falling off are, however, rare; and if
this author should not be supposed by fastidious critics to have
original genius in the highest degree, he has other qualities which
supply its place so well, his materials are so rich and varied, and he
uses them so lavishly, that the reader is no loser by the exchange. We
are not in fear that he should publish another novel; we are under no
apprehension of his exhausting himself, for he has shewn that he is
inexhaustible.

Whoever else is, it is pretty clear that the author of Caleb Williams
and St. Leon is not the author of Waverley. Nothing can be more distinct
or excellent in their several ways than these two writers. If the one
owes almost every thing to external observation and traditional
character, the other owes every thing to internal conception and
contemplation of the possible workings of the human mind. There is
little knowledge of the world, little variety, neither an eye for the
picturesque, nor a talent for the humorous in Caleb Williams, for
instance, but you cannot doubt for a moment of the originality of the
work and the force of the conception. The impression made upon the
reader is the exact measure of the strength of the author’s genius. For
the effect, both in Caleb Williams and St. Leon, is entirely made out,
neither by facts, nor dates, by black-letter or magazine learning, by
transcript nor record, but by intense and patient study of the human
heart, and by an imagination projecting itself into certain situations,
and capable of working up its imaginary feelings to the height of
reality. The author launches into the ideal world, and must sustain
himself and the reader there by the mere force of imagination. The sense
of power in the writer thus adds to the interest of the subject.—The
character of Falkland is a sort of apotheosis of the love of fame. The
gay, the gallant Falkland lives only in the good opinion of good men;
for this he adorns his soul with virtue, and tarnishes it with crime; he
lives only for this, and dies as he loses it. He is a lover of virtue,
but a worshipper of fame. Stung to madness by a brutal insult, he
avenges himself by a crime of the deepest die, and the remorse of his
conscience and the stain upon his honour prey upon his peace and reason
ever after. It was into the mouth of such a character that a modern poet
has well put the words,

                       ‘——Action is momentary,
               The motion of a muscle, this way or that;
               Suffering is long, obscure, and infinite.’

In the conflict of his feelings, he is worn to a skeleton, wasted to a
shadow. But he endures this living death to watch over his undying
reputation, and to preserve his name unsullied and free from suspicion.
But he is at last disappointed in this his darling object, by the very
means he takes to secure it, and by harassing and goading Caleb Williams
(whose insatiable, incessant curiosity had wormed itself into his
confidence) to a state of desperation, by employing every sort of
persecution, and by trying to hunt him from society like an infection,
makes him turn upon him, and betray the inmost secret of his soul. The
last moments of Falkland are indeed sublime: the spark of life and the
hope of imperishable renown are extinguished in him together; and
bending his last look of forgiveness on his victim and destroyer, he
dies a martyr to fame, but a confessor at the shrine of virtue! The
re-action and play of these two characters into each other’s hands (like
Othello and Iago) is inimitably well managed, and on a par with any
thing in the dramatic art; but Falkland is the hero of the story, Caleb
Williams is only the instrument of it. This novel is utterly unlike any
thing else that ever was written, and is one of the most original as
well as powerful productions in the English language.—St. Leon is not
equal to it in the plot and ground-work, though perhaps superior in the
execution. In the one Mr. Godwin has hit upon the extreme point of the
perfectly natural and perfectly new; in the other he ventures into the
preternatural world, and comes nearer to the world of common place.
Still the character is of the same exalted intellectual kind. As the
ruling passion of the one was the love of fame, so in the other the sole
business of life is thought. Raised by the fatal discovery of the
philosopher’s stone above mortality, he is cut off from all
participation with its pleasures. He is a limb torn from society. In
possession of eternal youth and beauty, he can feel no love; surrounded,
tantalized, tormented with riches, he can do no good. The races of men
pass before him as in a _speculum_; but he is attached to them by no
common tie of sympathy or suffering. He is thrown back into himself and
his own thoughts. He lives in the solitude of his own breast,—without
wife or child, or friend, or enemy in the world. His is the solitude of
the soul,—not of woods, or seas, or mountains,—but the desart of
society, the waste and desolation of the heart. He is himself alone. His
existence is purely contemplative, and is therefore intolerable to one
who has felt the rapture of affection or the anguish of woe. The
contrast between the enthusiastic eagerness of human pursuits and their
blank disappointment, was never, perhaps, more finely pourtrayed than in
this novel. Marguerite, the wife of St. Leon, is an instance of pure and
disinterested affection in one of the noblest of her sex. It is not
improbable that the author found the model of this character in
nature.—Of Mandeville, I shall say only one word. It appears to me to be
a falling off in the subject, not in the ability. The style and
declamation are even more powerful than ever. But unless an author
surpasses himself, and surprises the public as much the fourth or fifth
time as he did the first, he is said to fall off, because there is not
the same stimulus of novelty. A great deal is here made out of nothing,
or out of a very disagreeable subject. I cannot agree that the story is
out of nature. The feeling is very common indeed; though carried to an
unusual and improbable excess, or to one with which from the
individuality and minuteness of the circumstances, we cannot readily
sympathise.

It is rare that a philosopher is a writer of romances. The union of the
two characters in this author is a sort of phenomenon in the history of
letters; for I cannot but consider the author of Political Justice as a
philosophical reasoner of no ordinary stamp or pretensions. That work,
whatever its defects may be, is distinguished by the most acute and
severe logic, and by the utmost boldness of thinking, founded on a love
and conviction of truth. It is a system of ethics, and one that, though
I think it erroneous myself, is built on following up into its fair
consequences, a very common and acknowledged principle, that abstract
reason and general utility are the only test and standard of moral
rectitude. If this principle is true, then the system is true: but I
think that Mr. Godwin’s book has done more than any thing else to
overturn the sufficiency of this principle by abstracting, in a strict
metaphysical process, the influence of reason or the understanding in
moral questions and relations from that of habit, sense, association,
local and personal attachment, natural affection, &c.; and by thus
making it appear how necessary the latter are to our limited, imperfect,
and mixed being, how impossible the former as an exclusive guide of
action, unless man were, or were capable of becoming, a purely
intellectual being. Reason is no doubt one faculty of the human mind,
and the chief gift of Providence to man; but it must itself be subject
to and modified by other instincts and principles, because it is not the
only one. This work then, even supposing it to be false, is invaluable
as demonstrating an important truth by the _reductio ad absurdum_; or it
is an _experimentum crucis_ in one of the grand and trying questions of
moral philosophy.—In delineating the character and feelings of the
hermetic philosopher St. Leon, perhaps the author had not far to go from
those of a speculative philosophical Recluse. He who deals in the
secrets of magic, or in the secrets of the human mind, is too often
looked upon with jealous eyes by the world, which is no great conjuror;
he who pours out his intellectual wealth into the lap of the public, is
hated by those who cannot understand how he came by it; he who thinks
beyond his age, cannot expect the feelings of his contemporaries to go
along with him; he whose mind is of no age or country, is seldom
properly recognised during his life-time, and must wait, in order to
have justice done him, for the late but lasting award of
posterity:—‘Where his treasure is, there his heart is also.’


                              LECTURE VII
  ON THE WORKS OF HOGARTH.—ON THE GRAND AND FAMILIAR STYLE OF PAINTING

If the quantity of amusement, or of matter for more serious reflection
which their works have afforded, is that by which we are to judge of
precedence among the intellectual benefactors of mankind, there are,
perhaps, few persons who can put in a stronger claim to our gratitude
than Hogarth. It is not hazarding too much to assert, that he was one of
the greatest comic geniuses that ever lived, and he was certainly one of
the most extraordinary men this country has produced. The wonderful
knowledge which he possessed of human life and manners, is only to be
surpassed (if it can be) by the power of invention with which he has
combined and contrasted his materials in the most ludicrous and varied
points of view, and by the mastery of execution with which he has
embodied and made tangible the very thoughts and passing movements of
the mind. Critics sometimes object to the style of Hogarth’s pictures,
or to the class to which they belong. First, he belongs to no class, or
if he does, it is to the same class as Fielding, Smollett, Vanbrugh, and
Moliere. Besides, the merit of his pictures does not depend on the
nature of the subject, but on the knowledge displayed of it, on the
number of ideas they excite, on the fund of thought and observation
contained in them. They are to be studied as works of science as well as
of amusement; they satisfy our love of truth; they fill up the void in
the mind; they form a series of plates in natural history, and of that
most interesting part of natural history, the history of our own
species. Make what deductions you please for the vulgarity of the
subject, yet in the research, the profundity, the absolute truth and
precision of the delineation of character; in the invention of incident,
in wit and humour; in the life with which they are ‘instinct in every
part;’ in everlasting variety and originality; they never have, and
probably never will be surpassed. They stimulate the faculties as well
as soothe them. ‘Other pictures we see, Hogarth’s we read.’

The public had not long ago an opportunity of viewing most of Hogarth’s
pictures, in the collection made of them at the British Gallery. The
superiority of the original paintings to the common prints, is in a
great measure confined to the Marriage a-la-Mode, with which I shall
begin my remarks.

Boccaccio, the most refined and sentimental of all the novel-writers,
has been stigmatised as a mere inventor of licentious tales, because
readers in general have only seized on those things in his works which
were suited to their own taste, and have thus reflected their own
grossness back upon the writer. So it has happened, that the majority of
critics having been most struck with the strong and decided expression
in Hogarth, the extreme delicacy and subtle gradations of character in
his pictures have almost entirely escaped them. In the first picture of
the _Marriage a-la-Mode_, the three figures of the young Nobleman, his
intended Bride, and her Inamorato, the Lawyer, shew how much Hogarth
excelled in the power of giving soft and effeminate expression. They
have, however, been less noticed than the other figures, which tell a
plainer story, and convey a more palpable moral. Nothing can be more
finely managed than the differences of character in these delicate
personages. The beau sits smiling at the looking-glass with a reflected
simper of self-admiration, and a languishing inclination of the head,
while the rest of his body is perked up on his high heels with a certain
air of tip-toe elevation. He is the Narcissus of the reign of George
II.; whose powdered peruke, ruffles, gold-lace, and patches, divide his
self-love unequally with his own person—the true _Sir Plume_ of his day;

                ‘Of amber-lidded snuff box justly vain,
                And the nice conduct of a clouded cane.’

Again we find the same felicity in the figure and attitude of the Bride,
courted by the Lawyer. There is the utmost flexibility, and yielding
softness in her whole person, a listless languor and tremulous suspense
in the expression of her face. It is the precise look and air which Pope
has given to his favourite Belinda, just at the moment of the _Rape of
the Lock_. The heightened glow, the forward intelligence, and loosened
soul of love in the same face, in the Assignation scene before the
masquerade, form a fine and instructive contrast to the delicacy,
timidity, and coy reluctance expressed in the first. The Lawyer in both
pictures is much the same, perhaps too much so; though even this
unmoved, unaltered appearance may be designed as characteristic. In both
cases he has ‘a person, and a smooth dispose, framed to make women
false.’ He is full of that easy good-humour, and easy good opinion of
himself, with which the sex are often delighted. There is not a sharp
angle in his face to obstruct his success, or give a hint of doubt or
difficulty. His whole aspect is round and rosy, lively and unmeaning,
happy without the least expense of thought, careless and inviting; and
conveys a perfect idea of the uninterrupted glide and pleasing murmur of
the soft periods that flow from his tongue.

The expression of the Bride in the Morning Scene is the most highly
seasoned, and at the same time the most vulgar in the series. The
figure, face, and attitude of the husband, are inimitable. Hogarth has
with great skill contrasted the pale countenance of the husband with the
yellow whitish colour of the marble chimneypiece behind him, in such a
manner as to preserve the fleshy tone of the former. The airy splendour
of the view of the inner-room in this picture is probably not exceeded
by any of the productions of the Flemish school.

The young girl in the third picture, who is represented as the victim of
fashionable profligacy, is unquestionably one of the artist’s
_chef-d’œuvres_. The exquisite delicacy of the painting is only
surpassed by the felicity and subtlety of the conception. Nothing can be
more striking than the contrast between the extreme softness of her
person, and the hardened indifference of her character. The vacant
stillness, the docility to vice, the premature suppression of youthful
sensibility, the doll-like mechanism of the whole figure, which seems to
have no other feeling but a sickly sense of pain—shew the deepest
insight into human nature, and into the effects of those refinements in
depravity, by which it has been good-naturedly asserted, that ‘vice
loses half its evil in losing all its grossness.’ The story of this
picture is in some parts very obscure and enigmatical. It is certain
that the nobleman is not looking strait forward to the quack, whom he
seems to have been threatening with his cane; but that his eyes are
turned up with an ironical leer of triumph to the procuress. The
commanding attitude and size of this woman, the swelling circumference
of her dress, spread out like a turkey-cock’s feathers, the fierce,
ungovernable, inveterate malignity of her countenance, which hardly
needs the comment of the clasp-knife to explain her purpose, all are
admirable in themselves, and still more so, as they are opposed to the
mute insensibility, the elegant negligence of dress, and the childish
figure of the girl who is supposed to be her _protégé_.—As for the
Quack, there can be no doubt entertained about him. His face seems as if
it were composed of salve, and his features exhibit all the chaos or
confusion of the most gross, ignorant, and impudent empiricism. The
gradations of ridiculous affectation in the Music scene are finely
imagined and preserved. The preposterous, overstrained admiration of the
lady of quality; the sentimental, insipid, patient delight of the man,
with his hair in papers, and sipping his tea: the pert, smirking,
conceited, half-distorted approbation of the figure next to him; the
transition to the total insensibility of the round face in profile, and
then to the wonder of the negro-boy at the rapture of his mistress, form
a perfect whole. The sanguine complexion and flame-coloured hair of the
female virtuoso throw an additional light on the character. This is lost
in the print. The continuing the red colour of the hair into the back of
the chair, has been pointed out as one of those instances of what may be
termed alliteration in colouring, of which these pictures are every
where full. The gross bloated appearance of the Italian singer is well
relieved by the hard features of the instrumental performer behind him,
which might be carved of wood. The negro-boy holding the chocolate, both
in expression, colour, and execution, is a masterpiece. The gay, lively
derision of the other negro-boy playing with the Acteon, is an ingenious
contrast to the profound amazement of the first. Some account has
already been given of the two lovers in this picture. It is curious to
observe the infinite activity of mind which the artist displays on every
occasion. An instance occurs in the present picture. He has so contrived
the papers in the hair of the bride, as to make them look almost like a
wreath of half-blown flowers; while those which he has placed on the
head of the musical amateur, very much resemble a _cheveux-de-fris_ of
horns, which adorn and fortify the lack lustre expression, and mild
resignation of the face beneath.

The Night Scene is inferior to the rest of the series. The attitude of
the husband, who is just killed, is one in which it would be impossible
for him to stand or even to fall. It resembles the loose pasteboard
figures they make for children. The characters in the last picture, in
which the wife dies, are all masterly. I would particularly refer to the
captious, petulant, self-sufficiency of the Apothecary, whose face and
figure are constructed on exact physiognomical principles; and to the
fine example of passive obedience and non-resistance in the servant,
whom he is taking to task, and whose coat, of green and yellow livery,
is as long and as melancholy as his face. The disconsolate look and
haggard eyes, the open mouth, the comb sticking in the hair, the broken
gapped teeth, which, as it were, hitch in an answer, every thing about
him denotes the utmost perplexity and dismay. The harmony and gradations
of colour in this picture are uniformly preserved with the greatest
nicety, and are well worthy the attention of the artist.—I have so far
attempted to point out the fund of observation, physical and moral,
contained in one set of these pictures, the _Marriage-a-la-Mode_. The
rest would furnish as many topics to descant upon, were the patience of
the reader as inexhaustible as the painter’s invention. But as this is
not the case, I shall content myself with barely referring to some of
those figures in the other pictures, which appear to me the most
striking, and which we see not only while we are looking at them, but
which we have before us at all other times. For instance, who, having
seen, can easily forget that exquisite frost-piece of religion and
morality, the antiquated Prude in the Morning Scene; or that striking
commentary on the _good old times_, the little wretched appendage of a
Foot-boy, who crawls, half famished and half frozen, behind her? The
French man and woman in the Noon, are the perfection of flighty
affectation and studied grimace; the amiable _fraternization_ of the two
old women saluting each other, is not enough to be admired; and in the
little Master, in the same national group, we see the early promise and
personification of that eternal principle of wondrous self-complacency,
proof against all circumstances, and which makes the French the only
people who are vain even of being cuckolded and being conquered! Or
shall we prefer to this the outraged distress and unmitigated terrors of
the Boy who has dropped his dish of meat, and who seems red all over
with shame and vexation, and bursting with the noise he makes? Or what
can be better than the good housewifery of the Girl underneath, who is
devouring the lucky fragments; or than the plump, ripe, florid, luscious
look of the Servant-wench near her, embraced by a greasy rascal of an
Othello, with her pye-dish tottering like her virtue, and with the most
precious part of its contents running over? Just—no, not quite—as good
is the joke of the Woman overhead, who, having quarrelled with her
Husband, is throwing their Sunday’s dinner out of the window, to
complete this chapter of accidents of baked-dishes. The Husband in the
Evening Scene is certainly as meek as any recorded in history; but I
cannot say that I admire this picture, or the Night Scene after it. But
then, in the Taste in High-Life, there is that inimitable pair,
differing only in sex, congratulating and delighting one another by ‘all
the mutually reflected charities’ of folly and affectation, with the
young Lady, coloured like a rose, dandling her little, black, pug-faced,
white-teethed, chuckling favourite; and with the portrait of Monsieur
Des Noyers in the back-ground, dancing in a grand ballet, surrounded by
butterflies. And again, in the Election Dinner, is the immortal Cobbler,
surrounded by his Peers, who,

            ‘——frequent and full,
            In _loud_ recess and _brawling_ conclave sit’——

the Jew in the second picture, a very Jew in grain; innumerable fine
sketches of heads in the Polling for Votes, of which the Nobleman
overlooking the Caricaturist is the second best, and the Blind-man going
up to vote, the best; and then the irresistible, tumultuous display of
broad humour in the Chairing the Member, which is, perhaps, of all
Hogarth’s pictures, the most full of laughable incidents and situations;
the yellow, rusty-faced Thresher, with his swinging flail breaking the
head of one of the chairmen; and his redoubted antagonist, the Sailor,
with his oak-stick, and stumping wooden-leg, a supplemental cudgel; the
persevering ecstasy of the hobbling Blind Fiddler, who, in the fray,
appears to have been trod upon by the artificial excrescence of the
honest tar; Monsieur, the monkey, with piteous aspect, speculating the
impending disaster of the triumphant Candidate, and his brother Bruin,
appropriating the paunch; the precipitous flight of the Pigs, souse over
head into the water; the fine Lady fainting, with vermilion lips; and
the two Chimney Sweepers, satirical young rogues!—I had almost forgot
the Politician, who is burning a hole through his hat with a candle in
reading a newspaper; and the Chickens, in the _March to Finchley_,
wandering in search of their lost dam, who is found in the pocket of the
Serjeant. Of the pictures in the _Rake’s Progress_, exhibited in this
collection, I shall not here say any thing, because I think them on the
whole inferior to the prints, and because they have already been
criticised by a writer, to whom I could add nothing, in a paper which
ought to be read by every lover of Hogarth and of English genius—I mean,
Mr. Lamb’s Essay on the works of Hogarth. I shall at present proceed to
form some estimate of the style of art in which this painter excelled.

What distinguishes his compositions from all others of the same general
kind, is, that they are equally remote from caricature, and from mere
still life. It of course happens in subjects taken from common life,
that the painter can procure real models, and he can get them to sit as
long as he pleases. Hence, in general, those attitudes and expressions
have been chosen which could be assumed the longest; and in imitating
which, the artist by taking pains and time might produce almost as
complete _fac-similes_ as he could of a flower or a flower-pot, of a
damask curtain or a china-vase. The copy was as perfect and as
uninteresting in the one case as in the other. On the contrary, subjects
of drollery and ridicule affording frequent examples of strange
deformity and peculiarity of features, these have been eagerly seized by
another class of artists, who, without subjecting themselves to the
laborious drudgery of the Dutch school and their imitators, have
produced our popular caricatures, by rudely copying or exaggerating the
casual irregularities of the human countenance. Hogarth has equally
avoided the faults of both these styles: the insipid tameness of the
one, and the gross extravagance of the other, so as to give to the
productions of his pencil equal solidity and effect. For his faces go to
the very verge of caricature, and yet never (I believe in any single
instance) go beyond it: they take the very widest latitude, and yet we
always see the links which bind them to nature: they bear all the marks,
and carry all the conviction of reality with them, as if we had seen the
actual faces for the first time, from the precision, consistency, and
good sense with which the whole and every part is made out. They exhibit
the most uncommon features, with the most uncommon expressions: but
which yet are as familiar and intelligible as possible, because with all
the boldness, they have all the truth of nature. Hogarth has left behind
him as many of these memorable faces, in their memorable moments, as,
perhaps, most of us remember in the course of our lives, and has thus
doubled the quantity of our experience.

It will assist us in forming a more determinate idea of the peculiar
genius of Hogarth, to compare him with a deservedly admired artist in
our own times. The highest authority on art in this country, I
understand, has pronounced that Mr. Wilkie united the excellences of
Hogarth to those of Teniers. I demur to this decision in both its
branches; but in demurring to authority, it is necessary to give our
reasons. I conceive that this ingenious and attentive observer of nature
has certain essential, real, and indisputable excellences of his own;
and I think it, therefore, the less important to clothe him with any
vicarious merits which do not belong to him. Mr. Wilkie’s pictures,
generally speaking, derive almost their whole value from their
_reality_, or the truth of the representation. They are works of pure
imitative art; and the test of this style of composition is to represent
nature faithfully and happily in its simplest combinations. It may be
said of an artist like Mr. Wilkie, that _nothing human is indifferent to
him_. His mind takes an interest in, and it gives an interest to, the
most familiar scenes and transactions of life. He professedly gives
character, thought, and passion, in their lowest degrees, and in their
every-day forms. He selects the commonest events and appearances of
nature for his subjects; and trusts to their very commonness for the
interest and amusement he is to excite. Mr. Wilkie is a serious,
prosaic, literal narrator of facts; and his pictures may be considered
as diaries, or minutes of what is passing constantly about us. Hogarth,
on the contrary, is essentially a comic painter; his pictures are not
indifferent, unimpassioned descriptions of human nature, but rich,
exuberant satires upon it. He is carried away by a passion for the
_ridiculous_. His object is ‘to shew vice her own feature, scorn her own
image.’ He is so far from contenting himself with still-life, that he is
always on the verge of caricature, though without ever falling into it.
He does not represent folly or vice in its incipient, or dormant, or
_grub_ state; but full grown, with wings, pampered into all sorts of
affectation, airy, ostentatious, and extravagant. Folly is there seen at
the height—the moon is at the full; it is ‘the very error of the time.’
There is a perpetual collision of eccentricities—a tilt and tournament
of absurdities; the prejudices and caprices of mankind are let loose,
and set together by the ears, as in a bear-garden. Hogarth paints
nothing but comedy, or tragi-comedy. Wilkie paints neither one nor the
other. Hogarth never looks at any object but to find out a moral or a
ludicrous effect. Wilkie never looks at any object but to see that it is
there. Hogarth’s pictures are a perfect jest-book, from one end to the
other. I do not remember a single joke in Wilkie’s, except one very bad
one of the boy in the Blind Fiddler, scraping the gridiron, or
fire-shovel, I forget which it is.[23] In looking at Hogarth, you are
ready to burst your sides with laughing at the unaccountable jumble of
odd things which are brought together; you look at Wilkie’s pictures
with a mingled feeling of curiosity, and admiration at the accuracy of
the representation. For instance, there is a most admirable head of a
man coughing in the Rent-day; the action, the keeping, the choaked
sensation, are inimitable: but there is nothing to laugh at in a man
coughing. What strikes the mind is the difficulty of a man’s being
painted coughing, which here certainly is a masterpiece of art. But turn
to the blackguard Cobbler in the Election Dinner, who has been smutting
his neighbour’s face over, and who is lolling out his tongue at the
joke, with a most surprising obliquity of vision; and immediately ‘your
lungs begin to crow like chanticleer.’ Again, there is the little boy
crying in the Cut Finger, who only gives you the idea of a cross,
disagreeable, obstinate child in pain: whereas the same face in
Hogarth’s Noon, from the ridiculous perplexity it is in, and its
extravagant, noisy, unfelt distress, at the accident of having let fall
the pye-dish, is quite irresistible. Mr. Wilkie, in his picture of the
Ale-house door, I believe, painted Mr. Liston as one of the figures,
without any great effect. Hogarth would have given any price for such a
subject, and would have made it worth any money. I have never seen any
thing, in the expression of comic humour, equal to Hogarth’s pictures,
but Liston’s face!

Mr. Wilkie paints interiors: but still you generally connect them with
the country. Hogarth, even when he paints people in the open air,
represents them either as coming from London, as in the polling for
votes at Brentford, or as returning to it, as the dyer and his wife at
Bagnigge Wells. In this last picture, he has contrived to convert a
common rural image into a type and emblem of city honours. In fact, I
know no one who had a less pastoral imagination than Hogarth. He
delights in the thick of St. Giles’s or St. James’s. His pictures
breathe a certain close, greasy, tavern air. The fare he serves up to us
consists of high-seasoned dishes, ragouts and olla podridas, like the
supper in Gil Blas, which it requires a strong stomach to digest. Mr.
Wilkie presents us with a sort of lenten fare, very good and wholesome,
but rather insipid than overpowering! Mr. Wilkie’s pictures are, in
general, much better painted than Hogarth’s; but the Marriage-a-la-Mode
is superior both in colour and execution to any of Wilkie’s. I may add
here, without any disparagement, that, as an artist, Mr. Wilkie is
hardly to be mentioned with Teniers. Neither in truth and brilliant
clearness of colouring, nor in facility of execution, is there any
comparison. Teniers was a perfect master in all these respects; and our
own countryman is positively defective, notwithstanding the very
laudable care with which he finishes every part of his pictures. There
is an evident smear and dragging of the paint, which is also of a bad
purple, or puttyish tone, and which never appears in the pictures of the
Flemish artist, any more than in a looking-glass. Teniers, probably from
his facility of execution, succeeded in giving a more local and
momentary expression to his figures. They seem each going on with his
particular amusement or occupation; Wilkie’s have, in general, more a
look of sitting for their pictures. Their compositions are very
different also: and in this respect, I believe, Mr. Wilkie has the
advantage. Teniers’s boors are usually amusing themselves at skittles,
or dancing, or drinking, or smoking, or doing what they like, in a
careless, desultory way; and so the composition is loose and irregular.
Wilkie’s figures are all drawn up in a regular order, and engaged in one
principal action, with occasional episodes. The story of the Blind
Fiddler is the most interesting, and the best told. The two children
standing before the musician are delightful. The Card-players is the
best coloured of his pictures, if I am not mistaken. The Village
Politicians, though excellent as to character and composition, is
inferior as a picture to those which Mr. Wilkie has since painted. His
latest pictures, however, do not appear to me to be his best. There is
something of manner and affectation in the grouping of the figures, and
a pink and rosy colour spread over them, which is out of place. The hues
of Rubens and Sir Joshua do not agree with Mr. Wilkie’s subjects. One of
his last pictures, that of Duncan Gray, is equally remarkable for
sweetness and simplicity in colour, composition, and expression. I must
here conclude this very general account; for to point out the particular
beauties of every one of his pictures in detail, would require an Essay
by itself.

I have promised to say something in this Lecture on the difference
between the grand and familiar style of painting; and I shall throw out
what imperfect hints I have been able to collect on this subject, so
often attempted, and never yet succeeded in, taking the examples and
illustrations from Hogarth, that is, from what he possessed or wanted in
each kind.

And first, the difference is not that between imitation and invention:
for there is as much of this last quality in Hogarth, as in any painter
or poet whatever. As, for example, to take two of his pictures only, I
mean the Enraged Musician and the Gin Lane;—in one of which every
conceivable variety of disagreeable and discordant sound—the
razor-grinder turning his wheel; the boy with his drum, and the girl
with her rattle momentarily suspended; the pursuivant blowing his horn;
the shrill milkwoman; the inexorable ballad-singer, with her squalling
infant; the pewterer’s shop close by; the fishwomen; the
chimney-sweepers at the top of a chimney, and the two cats in melodious
concert on the ridge of the tiles; with the bells ringing in the
distance, as we see by the flags flying:—and in the other, the
complicated forms and signs of death and ruinous decay—the woman on the
stairs of the bridge asleep, letting her child fall over; her ghastly
companion opposite, next to death’s door, with hollow, famished cheeks
and staring ribs; the dog fighting with the man for the bare shin-bone;
the man hanging himself in a garret; the female corpse put into a coffin
by the parish beadle; the men marching after a funeral, seen through a
broken wall in the back ground; and the very houses reeling as if drunk
and tumbling about the ears of the infatuated victims below, the
pawnbroker’s being the only one that stands firm and unimpaired—enforce
the moral meant to be conveyed by each of these pieces with a richness
and research of combination and artful contrast not easily paralleled in
any production of the pencil or the pen. The clock pointing to four in
the morning, in Modern Midnight Conversation, just as the immoveable
Parson Ford is filling out another glass from a brimming punch-bowl,
while most of his companions, with the exception of the sly Lawyer, are
falling around him ‘like leaves in October;’ and again, the
extraordinary mistake of the man leaning against the post, in the Lord
Mayor’s Procession—shew a mind capable of seizing the most rare and
transient coincidences of things, of imagining what either never
happened at all, or of instantly fixing on and applying to its purpose
what never happened but once. So far, the invention shewn in the great
style of painting is poor in the comparison. Indeed, grandeur is
supposed (whether rightly or not, I shall not here inquire) to imply a
simplicity inconsistent with this inexhaustible variety of incident and
circumstantial detail.

Secondly, the difference between the ideal and familiar style is not to
be explained by the difference between the genteel and vulgar; for it is
evident that Hogarth was almost as much at home in the genteel comedy,
as in the broad farce of his pictures. He excelled not only in
exhibiting the coarse humours and disgusting incidents of low life, but
in exhibiting the vices, follies, and frivolity of the fashionable
manners of his time: his fine ladies hardly yield the palm to his
waiting-maids, and his lords and his footmen are on a respectable
footing of equality. There is no want, for example, in the
Marriage-a-la-Mode, or in Taste in High Life, of affectation verging
into idiotism, or of languid sensibility, that might—

                   ‘Die of a rose in aromatic pain.’

In short, Hogarth was a painter, not of low but of actual life; and the
ridiculous and prominent features of high or low life, of the great
vulgar or the small, lay equally open to him. The Country Girl, in the
first plate of the Harlot’s Progress, coming out of the waggon, is not
more simple and ungainly, than the same figure, in the second, is
thoroughly initiated into the mysteries of her art, and suddenly
accomplished in all the airs and graces of affectation, ease, and
impudence. The affected languor and imbecility of the same girl
afterwards, when put to beat hemp in Bridewell, is exactly in keeping
with the character she has been taught to assume. Sir Joshua could do
nothing like it in his line of portrait, which differed chiefly in the
back ground. The fine gentleman at his levee, in the Rake’s Progress, is
also a complete model of a person of rank and fortune, surrounded by
needy and worthless adventurers, fiddlers, poetasters and virtuosi, as
was the custom in those days. Lord Chesterfield himself would not have
been disgraced by sitting for it. I might multiply examples to shew that
Hogarth was not characteristically deficient in that kind of elegance
which arises from an habitual attention to external appearance and
deportment. I will only add as instances, among his women, the two
_élégantes_ in the Bedlam scene, which are dressed (allowing for the
difference of not quite a century) in the manner of Ackerman’s dresses
for May; and among the men, the Lawyer in Modern Midnight Conversation,
whose gracious significant leer and sleek lubricated countenance exhibit
all the happy finesse of his profession, when a silk gown has been
added, or is likely to be added to it; and several figures in the
Cockpit, who are evidently, at the first glance, gentlemen of the old
school, and where the mixture of the blacklegs with the higher character
is a still further test of the discriminating skill of the painter.

Again, Hogarth had not only a perception of fashion, but a sense of
natural beauty. There are as many pleasing faces in his pictures as in
Sir Joshua. Witness the girl picking the Rake’s pocket in the Bagnio
scene, whom we might suppose to be ‘the Charming Betsy Careless;’ the
Poet’s wife, handsomer than falls to the lot of most poets, who are
generally more intent upon the idea in their own minds than on the image
before them, and are glad to take up with Dulcineas of their own
creating; the theatrical heroine in the Southwark Fair, who would be an
accession to either of our play-houses; the girl asleep, ogled by the
clerk in church time, and the sweetheart of the Good Apprentice in the
reading desk in the second of that series, almost an ideal face and
expression; the girl in her cap selected for a partner by the footman in
the print of Morning, very handsome; and many others equally so,
scattered like ‘stray-gifts of love and beauty’ through these pictures.
Hogarth was not then exclusively the painter of deformity. He painted
beauty or ugliness indifferently, as they came in his way; and was not
by nature confined to those faces which are painful and disgusting, as
many would have us believe.

Again, neither are we to look for the solution of the difficulty in the
difference between the comic and the tragic, between loose laughter and
deep passion. For Mr. Lamb has shewn unanswerably that Hogarth is quite
at home in scenes of the deepest distress, in the heart-rending
calamities of common life, in the expression of ungovernable rage,
silent despair, or moody madness, enhanced by the tenderest sympathy, or
aggravated by the frightful contrast of the most impenetrable and
obdurate insensibility, as we see strikingly exemplified in the latter
prints of the Rake’s Progress. To the unbeliever in Hogarth’s power over
the passions and the feelings of the heart, the characters there speak
like ‘the hand-writing on the wall.’ If Mr. Lamb has gone too far in
paralleling some of these appalling representations with Shakespear, he
was excusable in being led to set off what may be considered as a
staggering paradox against a rooted prejudice. At any rate, the
inferiority of Hogarth (be it what it may) did not arise from a want of
passion and intense feeling; and in this respect he had the advantage
over Fielding, for instance, and others of our comic writers, who
excelled only in the light and ludicrous. There is in general a
distinction, almost an impassable one, between the power of embodying
the serious and the ludicrous; but these contradictory faculties were
reconciled in Hogarth, as they were in Shakspeare, in Chaucer; and as it
is said that they were in another extraordinary and later instance,
Garrick’s acting.

None of these then will do: neither will the most masterly and entire
keeping of character lead us to an explanation of the grand and ideal
style; for Hogarth possessed the most complete and absolute mastery over
the truth and identity of expression and features in his subjects. Every
stroke of his pencil tells according to a preconception in his mind. If
the eye squints, the mouth is distorted; every feature acts, and is
acted upon by the rest of the face; even the dress and attitude are such
as could be proper to no other figure: the whole is under the influence
of one impulse, that of truth and nature. Look at the heads in the
Cockpit, already mentioned, one of the most masterly of his productions
in this way, where the workings of the mind are seen in every muscle of
the face; and the same expression, more intense or relaxed, of hope or
of fear, is stamped on each of the characters, so that you could no more
transpose any part of one countenance to another, than you could change
a profile to a front face. Hogarth was, in one sense, strictly an
historical painter: that is, he represented the manners and humours of
mankind in action, and their characters by varied expression. Every
thing in his pictures has life and motion in it. Not only does the
business of the scene never stand still, but every feature is put into
full play; the exact feeling of the moment is brought out, and carried
to its utmost height, and then instantly seized and stamped on the
canvass for ever. The expression is always taken _en passant_, in a
state of progress or change, and, as it were, at the salient point.
Besides the excellence of each individual face, the reflection of the
expression from face to face, the contrast and struggle of particular
motives and feelings in the different actors in the scene, as of anger,
contempt, laughter, compassion, are conveyed in the happiest and most
lively manner. His figures are not like the back-ground on which they
are painted: even the pictures on the wall have a peculiar look of their
own. All this is effected by a few decisive and rapid touches of the
pencil, careless in appearance, but infallible in their results; so that
one great criterion of the grand style insisted on by Sir Joshua
Reynolds, that of leaving out the details, and attending to general
character and outline, belonged to Hogarth. He did not indeed arrive at
middle forms or neutral expression, which Sir Joshua makes another test
of the ideal; for Hogarth was not insipid. That was the last fault with
which he could be charged. But he had breadth and boldness of manner, as
well as any of them; so that neither does that constitute the _ideal_.

What then does? We have reduced this to something like the last
remaining quantity in an equation, where all the others have been
ascertained. Hogarth had all the other parts of an original and
accomplished genius except this, but this he had not. He had an intense
feeling and command over the impressions of sense, of habit, of
character, and passion, the serious and the comic, in a word, of nature,
as it fell within his own observation, or came within the sphere of his
actual experience; but he had little power beyond that sphere, or
sympathy with that which existed only _in idea_. He was ‘conformed to
this world, not transformed.’ If he attempted to paint Pharaoh’s
daughter, and Paul before Felix, he lost himself. His mind had feet and
hands, but not wings to fly with. There is a mighty world of sense, of
custom, of every-day action, of accidents and objects coming home to us,
and interesting because they do so; the gross, material, stirring, noisy
world of common life and selfish passion, of which Hogarth was absolute
lord and master: there is another mightier world, that which exists only
in conception and in power, the universe of thought and sentiment, that
surrounds and is raised above the ordinary world of reality, as the
empyrean surrounds this nether globe, into which few are privileged to
soar with mighty wings outspread, and in which, as power is given them
to embody their aspiring fancies, to ‘give to airy nothing a local
habitation and a name,’ to fill with imaginary shapes of beauty or
sublimity, and make the dark abyss pregnant, bringing that which is
remote home to us, raising themselves to the lofty, sustaining
themselves on the refined and abstracted, making all things like not
what we know and feel in ourselves, in this ‘ignorant present’ time, but
like what they must be in themselves, at in our noblest idea of them,
and stamping that idea with reality, (but chiefly clothing the best and
the highest with grace and grandeur): this is the ideal in art, in
poetry, and in painting. There are things which are cognisable only to
sense, which interest only our more immediate instincts and passions;
the want of food, the loss of a limb, or a sum of money: there are
others that appeal to different and nobler faculties; the wants of the
mind, the hunger and thirst after truth and beauty; that is, to
faculties commensurate with objects greater and of greater refinement,
which to be grand must extend beyond ourselves to others, and our
interests in which must be refined in proportion as they do so.[24] The
interest in these subjects is in proportion to the power of conceiving
them and the power of conceiving them is in proportion to the interest
and affection for them, to the innate bias of the mind to elevate itself
above every thing low, and purify itself from every thing gross. Hogarth
only transcribes or transposes what was tangible and visible, not the
abstracted and intelligible. You see in his pictures only the faces
which you yourself have seen, or others like them; none of his
characters are thinking of any person or thing out of the picture: you
are only interested in the objects of their contention or pursuit,
because they themselves are interested in them. There is nothing remote
in thought, or comprehensive in feeling. The whole is intensely personal
and local: but the interest of the ideal and poetical style of art,
relates to more permanent and universal objects; and the characters and
forms must be such as to correspond with and sustain that interest, and
give external grace and dignity to it. Such were the subjects which
Raphael chose; faces imbued with unalterable sentiment, and figures,
that stand in the eternal silence of thought. He places before you
objects of everlasting interest, events of greatest magnitude, and
persons in them fit for the scene and action—warriors and kings, princes
and nobles, and, greater yet, poets and philosophers; and mightier than
these, patriarchs and apostles, prophets and founders of religion,
saints and martyrs, angels and the Son of God. We know their importance
and their high calling, and we feel that they do not belie it. We see
them as they were painted, with the eye of faith. The light which they
have kindled in the world, is reflected back upon their faces: the awe
and homage which has been paid to them, is seated upon their brow, and
encircles them like a glory. All those who come before them, are
conscious of a superior presence. For example, the beggars, in the Gate
Beautiful, are impressed with this ideal borrowed character. Would not
the cripple and the halt feel a difference of sensation, and express it
outwardly in such circumstances? And was the painter wrong to transfer
this sense of preternatural power and the confidence of a saving faith
to his canvass? Hogarth’s Pool of Bethesda, on the contrary, is only a
collection of common beggars receiving an alms. The waters may be
stirred, but the mind is not stirred with them. The fowls, again, in the
Miraculous Draught of Fishes, exult and clap their wings, and seem
lifted up with some unusual cause of joy. There is not the same
expansive, elevated principle in Hogarth. He has amiable and
praise-worthy characters, indeed, among his bad ones. The Master of the
Industrious and Idle Apprentice is a good citizen and a virtuous man;
but his benevolence is mechanical and confined: it extends only to his
shop, or, at most, to his ward. His face is not ruffled by passion, nor
is it inspired by thought. To give another instance, the face of the
faithful Female, fainting in the prison-scene in the Rake’s Progress, is
more one of effeminate softness than of distinguished tenderness, or
heroic constancy. But in the pictures of the Mother and Child, by
Raphael and Leonard da Vinci, we see all the tenderness purified from
all the weakness of maternal affection, and exalted by the prospects of
religious faith; so that the piety and devotion of future generations
seems to add its weight to the expression of feminine sweetness and
parental love, to press upon the heart, and breathe in the countenance.
This is the _ideal_, passion blended with thought and pointing to
distant objects, not debased by grossness, not thwarted by accident, nor
weakened by familiarity, but connected with forms and circumstances that
give the utmost possible expansion and refinement to the general
sentiment. With all my admiration of Hogarth, I cannot think him equal
to Raphael. I do not know whether, if the port-folio were opened, I
would not as soon look over the prints of Hogarth as those of Raphael;
but, assuredly, if the question were put to me, I would sooner never
have seen the prints of Hogarth than never have seen those of Raphael.
It is many years ago since I first saw the prints of the Cartoons
hanging round the old-fashioned parlour of a little inn in a remote part
of the country. I was then young: I had heard of the fame of the
Cartoons, but this was the first time I had ever been admitted face to
face into the presence of those divine guests. ‘How was I then
uplifted!’ Prophets and Apostles stood before me as in a dream, and the
Saviour of the Christian world, with his attributes of faith and power;
miracles were working on the walls; the hand of Raphael was there; and
as his pencil traced the lines, I saw godlike spirits and lofty shapes
descend and walk visibly the earth, but as if their thoughts still
lifted them above the earth. There I saw the figure of St. Paul,
pointing with noble fervour to ‘temples not made with hands, eternal in
the heavens;’ and that finer one of Christ in the boat, whose whole
figure seems sustained by meekness and love; and that of the same person
surrounded by his disciples, like a flock of sheep listening to the
music of some divine shepherd. I knew not how enough to admire
them.—Later in life, I saw other works of this great painter (with more
like them) collected in the Louvre: where Art, at that time, lifted up
her head, and was seated on her throne, and said, ‘All eyes shall see
me, and all knees shall bow to me!’ Honour was done to her and all hers.
There was her treasure, and there the inventory of all she had. There
she had gathered together her pomp, and there was her shrine, and there
her votaries came and worshipped as in a temple. The crown she wore was
brighter than that of kings. Where the struggles for human liberty had
been, there were the triumphs of human genius. For there, in the Louvre,
were the precious monuments of art:—There ‘stood the statue that
enchants the world;’ there was Apollo, the Laocoon, the Dying Gladiator,
the head of the Antinous, Diana with her Fawn, the Muses and the Graces
in a ring, and all the glories of the antique world:—

              ‘There was old Proteus coming from the sea,
              And wreathed Triton blew his winding horn.’

There, too, were the two St. Jeromes, Correggio’s, and Domenichino’s;
there was Raphael’s Transfiguration; the St. Mark of Tintoret; Paul
Veronese’s Marriage of Cana; the Deluge of Poussin; and Titian’s St.
Peter Martyr. It was there that I learned to become an enthusiast of the
lasting works of the great painters, and of their names no less
magnificent; grateful to the heart as the sound of celestial harmony
from other spheres, waking around us (whether heard or not) from youth
to age; the stay, the guide, and anchor of our purest thoughts; whom,
having once seen, we always remember, and who teach us to see all things
through them; without whom life would be to begin again, and the earth
barren; of Raphael, who lifted the human form half way to heaven; of
Titian, who painted the mind in the face, and unfolded the soul of
things to the eye; of Rubens, around whose pencil gorgeous shapes
thronged numberless, startling us by the novel accidents of form and
colour, putting the spirit of motion into the universe, and weaving a
gay fantastic round and Bacchanalian dance with nature; of Rembrandt,
too, who ‘smoothed the raven down of darkness till it smiled,’ and
tinged it with a light like streaks of burning ore: of these, and more
than these, of whom the world was scarce worthy, and for the loss of
whom nothing could console me—not even the works of Hogarth!


                              LECTURE VIII
                ON THE COMIC WRITERS OF THE LAST CENTURY

The question which has been often asked, _Why there are comparatively so
few good modern Comedies?_ appears in a great measure to answer itself.
It is because so many excellent comedies have been written, that there
are none written at present. Comedy naturally wears itself out—destroys
the very food on which it lives; and by constantly and successfully
exposing the follies and weaknesses of mankind to ridicule, in the end
leaves itself nothing worth laughing at. It holds the mirror up to
nature; and men, seeing their most striking peculiarities and defects
pass in gay review before them, learn either to avoid or conceal them.
It is not the criticism which the public taste exercises upon the stage,
but the criticism which the stage exercises upon public manners, that is
fatal to comedy, by rendering the subject-matter of it tame, correct,
and spiritless. We are drilled into a sort of stupid decorum, and forced
to wear the same dull uniform of outward appearance; and yet it is
asked, why the Comic Muse does not point, as she was wont, at the
peculiarities of our gait and gesture, and exhibit the picturesque
contrasts of our dress and costume, in all that graceful variety in
which she delights. The genuine source of comic writing,

             ‘Where it must live, or have no life at all,’

is undoubtedly to be found in the distinguishing peculiarities of men
and manners. Now this distinction can subsist, so as to be strong,
pointed, and general, only while the manners of different classes are
formed almost immediately by their particular circumstances, and the
characters of individuals by their natural temperament and situation,
without being everlastingly modified and neutralized by intercourse with
the world—by knowledge and education. In a certain stage of society, men
may be said to vegetate like trees, and to become rooted to the soil in
which they grow. They have no idea of any thing beyond themselves and
their immediate sphere of action; they are, as it were, circumscribed,
and defined by their particular circumstances; they are what their
situation makes them, and nothing more. Each is absorbed in his own
profession or pursuit, and each in his turn contracts that habitual
peculiarity of manners and opinions which makes him the subject of
ridicule to others, and the sport of the Comic Muse. Thus the physician
is nothing but a physician, the lawyer is a mere lawyer, the scholar
degenerates into a pedant, the country squire is a different species of
being from the fine gentleman, the citizen and the courtier inhabit a
different world, and even the affectation of certain characters, in
aping the follies or vices of their betters, only serves to shew the
immeasurable distance which custom or fortune has placed between them.
Hence the earlier comic writers, taking advantage of this mixed and
solid mass of ignorance, folly, pride, and prejudice, made those deep
and lasting incisions into it,—have given those sharp and nice touches,
that bold relief to their characters,—have opposed them in every variety
of contrast and collision, of conscious self-satisfaction and mutual
antipathy, with a power which can only find full scope in the same rich
and inexhaustible materials. But in proportion as comic genius succeeds
in taking off the mask from ignorance and conceit, as it teaches us

                 ‘To see ourselves as others see us,’—

in proportion as we are brought out on the stage together, and our
prejudices clash one against the other, our sharp angular points wear
off; we are no longer rigid in absurdity, passionate in folly, and we
prevent the ridicule directed at our habitual foibles by laughing at
them ourselves.

If it be said, that there is the same fund of absurdity and prejudice in
the world as ever—that there are the same unaccountable perversities
lurking at the bottom of every breast,—I should answer, Be it so: but at
least we keep our follies to ourselves as much as possible; we palliate,
shuffle, and equivocate with them; they sneak into bye-corners, and do
not, like _Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims_, march along the high road,
and form a procession; they do not entrench themselves strongly behind
custom and precedent; they are not embodied in professions and ranks in
life; they are not organized into a system; they do not openly resort to
a standard, but are a sort of straggling non-descripts, that, like
_Wart_, ‘present no mark to the foeman.’ As to the gross and palpable
absurdities of modern manners, they are too shallow and barefaced, and
those who affect are too little _serious_ in them, to make them worth
the detection of the Comic Muse. They proceed from an idle, impudent
affectation of folly in general, in the dashing _bravura_ style, not
from an infatuation with any of its characteristic modes. In short, the
proper object of ridicule is _egotism_: and a man cannot be a very great
egotist, who every day sees himself represented on the stage. We are
deficient in comedy, because we are without characters in real life—as
we have no historical pictures, because we have no faces proper for
them.

It is, indeed, the evident tendency of all literature to generalise and
_dissipate_ character, by giving men the same artificial education, and
the same common stock of ideas; so that we see all objects from the same
point of view, and through the same reflected medium;—we learn to exist,
not in ourselves, but in books;—all men become alike mere
readers—spectators, not actors in the scene, and lose their proper
personal identity. The templar, the wit, the man of pleasure, and the
man of fashion, the courtier and the citizen, the knight and the squire,
the lover and the miser—_Lovelace_, _Lothario_, _Will Honeycomb_, and
_Sir Roger de Coverley_, _Sparkish_ and _Lord Foppington_, _Western_ and
_Tom Jones_, _My Father_ and _My Uncle Toby_, _Millamant_ and _Sir
Sampson Legend_, _Don Quixote_ and _Sancho_, _Gil Blas_ and _Guzman
d’Alfarache_, _Count Fathom_ and _Joseph Surface_,—have met and
exchanged common-places on the barren plains of the _haute
littérature_—toil slowly on to the temple of science, ‘seen a long way
off upon a level,’ and end in one dull compound of politics, criticism,
and metaphysics!

We cannot expect to reconcile opposite things. If, for example, any of
us were to put ourselves into the stage-coach from Salisbury to London,
it is more than probable we should not meet with the same number of odd
accidents, or ludicrous distresses on the road, that befel _Parson
Adams_; but why, if we get into a common vehicle, and submit to the
conveniences of modern travelling, should we complain of the want of
adventures? Modern manners may be compared to a modern stage-coach; our
limbs may be a little cramped with the confinement, and we may grow
drowsy, but we arrive safe, without any very amusing or very sad
accident, at our journey’s end.

In this theory I have, at least, the authority of Sterne and the Tatler
on my side, who attribute the greater variety and richness of comic
excellence in our writers, to the greater variety and distinctness of
character among ourselves; the roughness of the texture and the sharp
angles not being worn out by the artificial refinements of intellect, or
the frequent collision of social intercourse.—It has been argued on the
other hand, indeed, that this circumstance makes against me; that the
suppression of the grosser indications of absurdity ought to stimulate
and give scope to the ingenuity and penetration of the comic writer who
is to detect them; and that the progress of wit and humour ought to keep
pace with critical distinctions and metaphysical niceties. Some
theorists, indeed, have been sanguine enough to expect a regular advance
from grossness to refinement on the stage and in real life, marked on a
graduated scale of human perfectibility, and have been hence led to
imagine that the best of our old comedies were no better than the coarse
jests of a set of country clowns—a sort of _comedies bourgeoises_,
compared with the admirable productions which might, but have not, been
written in our times. I must protest against this theory altogether,
which would go to degrade genteel comedy from a high court lady into a
literary prostitute. I do not know what these persons mean by refinement
in this instance. Do they find none in Millamant and her morning dreams,
in Sir Roger de Coverley and his widow? Did not Etherege, Wycherley, and
Congreve, approach tolerably near

                           ‘——the ring
               Of mimic statesmen and their merry king?’

Is there no distinction between an Angelica and a Miss Prue, a
Valentine, a Tattle, and a Ben? Where, in the annals of modern
literature, shall we find any thing more refined, more deliberate, more
abstracted in vice, than the nobleman in Amelia? Are not the compliments
which Pope paid to his friends equal in taste and elegance to any which
have been paid since? Are there no traits in Sterne? Is not Richardson
minute enough? Must we part with Sophia Western and her muff, and
Clarissa Harlowe’s ‘preferable regards’ for the loves of the plants and
the triangles? Or shall we say that the Berinthias and Alitheas of
former times were little rustics, because they did not, like our modern
belles, subscribe to circulating libraries, read Beppo, prefer Gertrude
of Wyoming to the Lady of the Lake, or the Lady of the Lake to Gertrude
of Wyoming, differ in their sentiments on points of taste or systems of
mineralogy, and deliver dissertations on the arts with Corinna of Italy?
They had something else to do and to talk about. They were employed in
reality, as we see them on the stage, in setting off their charms to the
greatest advantage, in mortifying their rivals by the most pointed
irony, and trifling with their lovers with infinite address. The height
of comic elegance and refinement is not to be found in the general
diffusion of knowledge and civilization, which tends to level and
neutralize, but in the pride of individual distinction, and the contrast
between the conflicting pretensions of different ranks in society.

For this reason I conceive that the alterations which have taken place
in conversation and dress, in consequence of the change of manners in
the same period, have been by no means favourable to comedy. The present
prevailing style of conversation is not _personal_, but critical and
analytical. It consists almost entirely in the discussion of general
topics, in ascertaining the merits of authors and their works: and
Congreve would be able to derive no better hints from the conversations
of our toilettes or drawing-rooms, for the exquisite raillery or
poignant repartee of his dialogues, than from a deliberation of the
Royal Society. In manner, the extreme simplicity and graceful uniformity
of modern dress, however favourable to the arts, has certainly stript
comedy of one of its richest ornaments and most expressive symbols. The
sweeping pall and buskin, and nodding plume, were never more serviceable
to tragedy, than the enormous hoops and stiff stays worn by the belles
of former days, were to the intrigues of comedy. They assisted
wonderfully in heightening the mysteries of the passion, and adding to
the intricacy of the plot. Wycherley and Vanbrugh could not have spared
the dresses of Vandyke. These strange fancy-dresses, perverse disguises,
and counterfeit shapes, gave an agreeable scope to the imagination.
‘That sevenfold fence’ was a sort of foil to the lusciousness of the
dialogue, and a barrier against the sly encroachments of _double
entendre_. The greedy eye and bold hand of indiscretion were repressed,
which gave a greater license to the tongue. The senses were not to be
gratified in an instant. Love was entangled in the folds of the swelling
handkerchief, and the desires might wander for ever round the
circumference of a quilted petticoat, or find a rich lodging in the
flowers of a damask stomacher. There was room for years of patient
contrivance, for a thousand thoughts, schemes, conjectures, hopes,
fears, and wishes. There seemed no end of obstacles and delays; to
overcome so many difficulties was the work of ages. A mistress was an
angel, concealed behind whalebone, flounces, and brocade. What an
undertaking to penetrate through the disguise! What an impulse must it
give to the blood, what a keenness to the invention, what a volubility
to the tongue! ‘Mr. Smirk, you are a brisk man,’ was then the most
significant commendation; but now-a-days—a woman can be _but
undressed_!—Again, the character of the fine gentleman is at present a
little obscured on the stage, nor do we immediately recognise it
elsewhere, for want of the formidable _insignia_ of a bag-wig and sword.
Without these outward credentials, the public must not only be unable to
distinguish this character intuitively, but it must be ‘almost afraid to
know itself.’ The present simple disguise of a gentleman is like the
_incognito_ of kings. The opinion of others affects our opinion of
ourselves; and we can hardly expect from a modern man of fashion that
air of dignity and superior gracefulness of carriage, which those must
have assumed who were conscious that all eyes were upon them, and that
their lofty pretensions continually exposed them either to public scorn
or challenged public admiration. A lord who should take the wall of the
plebeian passengers without a sword by his side, would hardly have his
claim of precedence acknowledged; nor could he be supposed to have that
obsolete air of self-importance about him, which should alone clear the
pavement at his approach. It is curious how an ingenious actor of the
present day (Mr. Farren) should play Lord Ogleby so well as he does,
having never seen any thing of the sort in reality. A nobleman in full
costume, and in broad day, would be a phenomenon like the lord mayor’s
coach. The attempt at getting up genteel comedy at present is a sort of
Galvanic experiment, a revival of the dead.[25]

I have observed in a former Lecture, that the most spirited æra of our
comic drama was that which reflected the conversation, tone, and manners
of the profligate, but witty age of Charles II. With the graver and more
business-like turn which the Revolution probably gave to our minds,
comedy stooped from her bolder and more fantastic flights; and the
ferocious attack made by the nonjuring divine, Jeremy Collier, on the
immorality and profaneness of the plays then chiefly in vogue, nearly
frightened those unwarrantable liberties of wit and humour from the
stage, which were no longer countenanced at court nor copied in the
city. Almost the last of our writers who ventured to hold out in the
prohibited track, was a female adventurer, Mrs. Centlivre, who seemed to
take advantage of the privilege of her sex, and to set at defiance the
cynical denunciations of the angry puritanical reformist. Her plays have
a provoking spirit and volatile salt in them, which still preserves them
from decay. Congreve is said to have been jealous of their success at
the time, and that it was one cause which drove him in disgust from the
stage. If so, it was without any good reason: for these plays have great
and intrinsic merit in them, which entitled them to their popularity
(and it is only spurious and undeserved popularity which should excite a
feeling of jealousy in any well-regulated mind): and besides, their
merit was of a kind entirely different from his own. The Wonder and the
Busy Body are properly comedies of intrigue. Their interest depends
chiefly on the intricate involution and artful _denouement_ of the plot,
which has a strong tincture of mischief in it, and the wit is seasoned
by the archness of the humour and sly allusion to the most delicate
points. They are plays evidently written by a very clever woman, but
still by a woman: for I hold, in spite of any fanciful theories to the
contrary, that there is a distinction discernible in the minds of women
as well as in their faces. The Wonder is one of the best of our acting
plays. The passion of jealousy in Don Felix is managed in such a way as
to give as little offence as possible to the audience, for every
appearance combines to excite and confirm his worst suspicions, while
we, who are in the secret, laugh at his groundless uneasiness and
apprehensions. The ambiguity of the heroine’s situation, which is like a
continued practical _equivoque_, gives rise to a quick succession of
causeless alarms, subtle excuses, and the most hair-breadth ‘scapes. The
scene near the end, in which Don Felix, pretending to be drunk, forces
his way out of Don Manuel’s house, who wants to keep him a prisoner, by
producing his marriage-contract in the shape of a pocket-pistol, with
the terrors and confusion into which the old gentleman is thrown by this
sort of _argumentum ad hominem_, is one of the richest treats the stage
affords, and calls forth incessant peals of laughter and applause.
Besides the two principal characters (Violante and Don Felix) Lissardo
and Flippanta come in very well to carry on the under-plot; and the airs
and graces of an amorous waiting-maid and conceited man-servant, each
copying after their master and mistress, were never hit off with more
natural volubility or affected _nonchalance_ than in this enviable
couple. Lissardo’s playing off the diamond ring before the eyes of his
mortified Dulcinea, and aping his master’s absent manner while
repeating—‘Roast me these Violantes,’ as well as the jealous quarrel of
the two waiting-maids, which threatens to end in some very extraordinary
discoveries, are among the most amusing traits in this comedy. Colonel
Breton, the lover of Clara, is a spirited and enterprising soldier of
fortune; and his servant Gibby’s undaunted, incorrigible blundering,
with a dash of nationality in it, tells in a very edifying way.—The Busy
Body is inferior, in the interest of the story and characters, to the
Wonder; but it is full of bustle and gaiety from beginning to end. The
plot never stands still; the situations succeed one another like the
changes of machinery in a pantomime. The nice dove-tailing of the
incidents, and cross-reading in the situations, supplies the place of
any great force of wit or sentiment. The time for the entrance of each
person on the stage is the moment when they are least wanted, and when
their arrival makes either themselves or somebody else look as foolish
as possible. The laughableness of this comedy, as well as of the Wonder,
depends on a brilliant series of mistimed exits and entrances. Marplot
is the whimsical hero of the piece, and a standing memorial of unmeaning
vivacity and assiduous impertinence.

The comedies of Steele were the first that were written expressly with a
view not to imitate the manners, but to reform the morals of the age.
The author seems to be all the time on his good behaviour, as if writing
a comedy was no very creditable employment, and as if the ultimate
object of his ambition was a dedication to the queen. Nothing can be
better meant, or more inefficient. It is almost a misnomer to call them
comedies; they are rather homilies in dialogue, in which a number of
very pretty ladies and gentlemen discuss the fashionable topics of
gaming, of duelling, of seduction, of scandal, &c. with a sickly
sensibility, that shews as little hearty aversion to vice, as sincere
attachment to virtue. By not meeting the question fairly on the ground
of common experience, by slubbering over the objections, and varnishing
over the answers, the whole distinction between virtue and vice (as it
appears in evidence in the comic drama) is reduced to verbal
professions, and a mechanical, infantine goodness. The sting is, indeed,
taken out of what is bad; but what is good, at the same time, loses its
manhood and nobility of nature by this enervating process. I am
unwilling to believe that the only difference between right and wrong is
mere cant, or _make-believe_; and I imagine, that the advantage which
the moral drama possesses over mere theoretical precept or general
declamation is this, that by being left free to imitate nature as it is,
and not being referred to an ideal standard, it is its own voucher for
the truth of the inferences it draws, for its warnings, or its examples;
that it brings out the higher, as well as lower principles of action, in
the most striking and convincing points of view; satisfies us that
virtue is not a mere shadow; clothes it with passion, imagination,
reality, and, if I may so say, translates morality from the language of
theory into that of practice. But Steele, by introducing the artificial
mechanism of morals on the stage, and making his characters act, not
from individual motives and existing circumstances, the truth of which
every one must feel, but from vague topics and general rules, the truth
of which is the very thing to be proved in detail, has lost that fine
‘vantage ground which the stage lends to virtue; takes away from it its
best grace, the grace of sincerity; and, instead of making it a test of
truth, has made it an echo of the doctrine of the schools—and ‘the one
cries _Mum_, while t’other cries _Budget_!’ The comic writer, in my
judgment, then, ought to open the volume of nature and the world for his
living materials, and not take them out of his ethical common-place
book; for in this way, neither will throw any additional light upon the
other. In all things there is a division of labour; and I am as little
for introducing the tone of the pulpit or reading-desk on the stage, as
for introducing plays and interludes in church-time, according to the
good old popish practice. It was a part, indeed, of Steele’s plan, ‘by
the politeness of his style and the genteelness of his expressions,’[26]
to bring about a reconciliation between things which he thought had
hitherto been kept too far asunder, to wed the graces to the virtues,
and blend pleasure with profit. And in this design he succeeded
admirably in his Tatler, and some other works; but in his comedies he
has failed. He has confounded, instead of harmonising—has taken away its
gravity from wisdom, and its charm from gaiety. It is not that in his
plays we find ‘some soul of goodness in things evil;’ but they have no
soul either of good or bad. His Funeral is as trite, as tedious, and
full of formal grimace, as a procession of mutes and undertakers. The
characters are made either affectedly good and forbearing, with ‘all the
milk of human kindness;’ or purposely bad and disgusting, for the others
to exercise their squeamish charities upon them. The Conscious Lovers is
the best; but that is far from good, with the exception of the scene
between Mr. Thomas and Phillis, who are fellow-servants, and commence
lovers from being set to clean the window together. We are here once
more in the company of our old friend, Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq. Indiana
is as listless, and as insipid, as a drooping figure on an Indian
screen; and Mr. Myrtle and Mr. Bevil only just disturb the still life of
the scene. I am sorry that in this censure I should have Parson Adams
against me; who thought the Conscious Lovers the only play fit for a
Christian to see, and as good as a sermon. For myself, I would rather
have read, or heard him read, one of his own manuscript sermons: and if
the volume which he left behind him in his saddlebags was to be had in
print, for love or money, I would at any time walk ten miles on foot
only to get a sight of it.

Addison’s Drummer, or the Haunted House, is a pleasant farce enough; but
adds nothing to our idea of the author of the Spectator.

Pope’s joint after-piece, called ‘An Hour after Marriage,’ was not a
successful attempt. He brought into it ‘an alligator stuff’d,’ which
disconcerted the ladies, and gave just offence to the critics. Pope was
too fastidious for a farce-writer; and yet the most fastidious people,
when they step out of their regular routine, are apt to become the
grossest. The smallest offences against probability or decorum are, to
their habitual scrupulousness, as unpardonable as the greatest. This was
the rock on which Pope probably split. The affair was, however, hushed
up; and he wreaked his discreet vengeance at leisure on the ‘odious
endeavours,’ and more odious success of Colley Cibber in the line in
which he had failed.

Gay’s ‘What-d’ye-call-it,’ is not one of his happiest things. His
‘Polly’ is a complete failure, which, indeed, is the common fate of
second parts. If the original Polly, in the Beggar’s Opera, had not had
more winning ways with her, she would hardly have had so many Countesses
for representatives as she has had, from her first appearance up to the
present moment.

Fielding was a comic writer, as well as a novelist; but his comedies are
very inferior to his novels: they are particularly deficient both in
plot and character. The only excellence which they have is that of the
style, which is the only thing in which his novels are deficient. The
only dramatic pieces of Fielding that retain possession of the stage
are, the Mock Doctor (a tolerable translation from Moliere’s _Médecin
malgré lui_), and his Tom Thumb, a very admirable piece of burlesque.
The absurdities and bathos of some of our celebrated tragic writers
could hardly be credited, but for the notes at the bottom of this
preposterous medley of bombast, containing his authorities and the
parallel passages. Dryden, Lee, and Shadwell, make no very shining
figure there. Mr. Liston makes a better figure in the text. His Lord
Grizzle is prodigious. What a name, and what a person! It has been said
of this ingenious actor, that ‘he is very great in Liston;’ but he is
even greater in Lord Grizzle. What a wig is that he wears! How flighty,
flaunting, and fantastical! Not ‘like those hanging locks of young
Apollo,’ nor like the serpent-hair of the Furies of Æschylus; but as
troublous, though not as tragical as the one—as imposing, though less
classical than the other. ‘_Que terribles sont ces cheveux gris_,’ might
be applied to Lord Grizzle’s most valiant and magnanimous curls. This
sapient courtier’s ‘fell of hair does at a dismal treatise rouse and
stir as if life were in’t.’ His wits seem flying away with the disorder
of his flowing locks, and to sit as loosely on our hero’s head as the
caul of his peruke. What a significant vacancy in his open eyes and
mouth! what a listlessness in his limbs! what an abstraction of all
thought or purpose! With what an headlong impulse of enthusiasm he
throws himself across the stage when he is going to be married, crying,
‘Hey for Doctor’s Commons,’ as if the genius of folly had taken
whole-length possession of his person! And then his dancing is equal to
the discovery of a sixth sense—which is certainly very different from
_common sense_! If this extraordinary personage cuts a great figure in
his life, he is no less wonderful in his death and burial. ‘From the
sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step;’ and this character
would almost seem to prove, that there is but one step from the
ridiculous to the sublime.—Lubin Log, however inimitable in itself, is
itself an imitation of something existing elsewhere; but the Lord
Grizzle of this truly original actor, is a pure invention of his own.
His Caper, in the Widow’s Choice, can alone dispute the palm with it in
incoherence and volatility; for that, too, ‘is high fantastical,’ almost
as full of emptiness, in as grand a gusto of insipidity, as profoundly
absurd, as elaborately nonsensical! Why does not Mr. Liston play in some
of Moliere’s farces? I heartily wish that the author of Love, Law, and
Physic, would launch him on the London boards in Monsieur Jourdain, or
Monsieur Pourceaugnac. The genius of Liston and Moliere together—

               ‘——Must bid a gay defiance to mischance.’

Mr. Liston is an actor hardly belonging to the present age. Had he
lived, unfortunately for us, in the time of Colley Cibber, we should
have seen what a splendid niche he would have given him in his Apology.

Cibber is the hero of the Dunciad; but it cannot be said of him, that he
was ‘by merit raised to that bad eminence.’ He was pert, not dull; a
coxcomb, not a blockhead; vain, but not malicious. Pope’s unqualified
abuse of him was mere spleen; and the most obvious provocation to it
seems to have been an excess of flippant vivacity in the constitution of
Cibber. That Cibber’s Birth-day Odes were dull, is true; but this was
not peculiar to him. It is an objection which may be made equally to
Shadwell’s, to Whitehead’s, to Warton’s, to Pye’s, and to all others,
except those which of late years have _not_ been written! In his Apology
for his own Life, Cibber is a most amusing biographer: happy in his own
good opinion, the best of all others; teeming with animal spirits, and
uniting the self-sufficiency of youth with the garrulity of age. His
account of his waiting as a page behind the chair of the old Duchess of
Marlborough, at the time of the Revolution, who was then in the bloom of
youth and beauty, which seems to have called up in him the secret homage
of ‘distant, enthusiastic, respectful love,’ fifty years after, and the
compliment he pays to her (then in her old age), ‘a great grandmother
without grey hairs,’ is as delightful as any thing in fiction or
romance; and is the evident origin of Mr. Burke’s celebrated apostrophe
to the Queen of France. Nor is the political confession of faith which
he makes on this occasion, without a suitable mixture of vanity and
sincerity: the vanity we may ascribe to the player, the sincerity to the
politician. The self-complacency with which he talks of his own success
both as a player and a writer, is not greater than the candour and
cordiality with which he does heaped justice to the merits of his
theatrical contemporaries and predecessors. He brings down the history
of the stage, either by the help of observation or tradition, from the
time of Shakspeare to his own; and quite dazzles the reader with a
constellation of male and female, of tragic and comic, of past and
present excellence. He gives portraits at full length of Kynaston, of
Betterton, of Booth, of Estcourt, of Penkethman and Dogget, of Mohun and
Wilks, of Nokes and Sandford, of Mrs. Montford, of Mrs. Oldfield, of
Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Bracegirdle, and of others of equal note; with
delectable criticisms on their several performances, and anecdotes of
their private lives, with scarcely a single particle of jealousy or
ill-nature, or any other motive than to expatiate in the delight of
talking of the ornaments of his art, and a wish to share his pleasure
with the reader. I wish I could quote some of these theatrical sketches;
but the time presses. The latter part of his work is less entertaining
when he becomes Manager, and gives us an exact statement of his
squabbles with the Lord Chamberlain, and the expense of his ground-rent,
his repairs, his scenery, and his dresses.—In his plays, his personal
character perhaps predominates too much over the inventiveness of his
Muse; but so far from being dull, he is every where light, fluttering,
and airy. His pleasure in himself made him desirous to please; but his
fault was, that he was too soon satisfied with what he did, that his
indolence or want of thought led him to indulge in the vein that flowed
from him with most ease, and that his vanity did not allow him to
distinguish between what he did best and worst. His Careless Husband is
a very elegant piece of agreeable, thoughtless writing; and the incident
of Lady Easy throwing her handkerchief over her husband, whom she finds
asleep in a chair by the side of her waiting-woman, was an admirable
contrivance, taken, as he informs us, from real life. His Double
Gallant, which has been lately revived, though it cannot rank in the
first, may take its place in the second or third class of comedies. It
abounds in character, bustle, and stage-effect. It belongs to what may
be called the composite style; and very happily mixes up the comedy of
intrigue, such as we see it in Mrs. Centlivre’s Spanish plots, with a
tolerable share of the wit and spirit of Congreve and Vanbrugh. As there
is a good deal of wit, there is a spice of wickedness in this play,
which was a privilege of the good old style of comedy, not altogether
abandoned in Cibber’s time. The luscious vein of the dialogue is stopped
short in many of the scenes of the revived play, though not before we
perceive its object—

                       ‘——In hidden mazes running,
                 With wanton haste and giddy cunning.’

These imperfect hints of double meanings, however, pass off without any
marks of reprobation; for unless they are insisted on, or made pretty
broad, the audience, from being accustomed to the cautious purity of the
modern drama, are not very expert in decyphering the equivocal allusion,
for which they are not on the look-out. To what is this increased nicety
owing? Was it that vice, from being formerly less common (though more
fashionable) was less catching than at present? The first inference is
by no means in our favour: for though I think that the grossness of
manners prevailing in our fashionable comedies was a direct transcript
of the manners of the court at the time, or in the period immediately
preceding, yet the same grossness of expression and allusion existed
long before, as in the plays of Shakspeare and Ben Jonson, when there
was not this grossness of manners, and it has of late years been
gradually refining away. There is a certain grossness or freedom of
expression, which may arise as often from unsuspecting simplicity as
from avowed profligacy. Whatever may be our progress either in virtue or
vice since the age of Charles II. certain it is, that our manners are
not mended since the time of Elizabeth and Charles I. Is it, then, that
vice was formerly a thing more to be wondered at than imitated; that
behind the rigid barriers of religion and morality it might be exposed
freely, without the danger of any serious practical consequences—whereas
now that the safeguards of wholesome authority and prejudice are
removed, we seem afraid to trust our eyes or ears with a single
situation or expression of a loose tendency, as if the mere mention of
licentiousness implied a conscious approbation of it, and the extreme
delicacy of our moral sense would be debauched by the bare suggestion of
the possibility of vice? But I shall not take upon me to answer this
question. The characters in the Double Gallant are well kept up: At-All
and Lady Dainty are the two most prominent characters in this comedy,
and those into which Cibber has put most of his own nature and genius.
They are the essence of active impertinence and fashionable frivolity.
Cibber, in short, though his name has been handed down to us as a
bye-word of impudent pretension and impenetrable dulness by the
classical pen of his accomplished rival, who, unfortunately, did not
admit of any merit beyond the narrow circle of wit and friendship in
which he himself moved, was a gentleman and a scholar of the old school;
a man of wit and pleasantry in conversation, a diverting mimic, an
excellent actor, an admirable dramatic critic, and one of the best comic
writers of his age. His works, instead of being a _caput mortuum_ of
literature, had a great deal of the spirit, with a little too much of
the froth. His Nonjuror was taken from Moliere’s Tartuffe, and has been
altered to the Hypocrite. Love’s Last Shift appears to have been his own
favourite; and he received the compliments of Sir John Vanbrugh and old
Mr. Southern upon it:—the latter said to him, ‘Young man, your play is a
good one; and it will succeed, if you do not spoil it by your acting.’
His plays did not always take equally. It is ludicrous to hear him
complaining of the ill success of one of them, Love in a Riddle, a
pastoral comedy, ‘of a nice morality,’ and well spoken sentiments, which
he wrote in opposition to the Beggar’s Opera, at the time when its
worthless and vulgar rival was carrying every thing triumphantly before
it. Cibber brings this, with much pathetic _naïveté_, as an instance of
the lamentable want of taste in the town!

The Suspicious Husband by Hoadley, the Jealous Wife by Colman, and the
Clandestine Marriage by Colman and Garrick, are excellent plays of the
middle style of comedy; which are formed rather by judgment and
selection, than by any original vein of genius; and have all the parts
of a good comedy in degree, without having any one prominent, or to
excess. The character of Ranger, in the Suspicious Husband, is only a
variation of those of Farquhar, of the same class as his Sir Harry
Wildair and others, without equal spirit. A great deal of the story of
the Jealous Wife is borrowed from Fielding; but so faintly, that the
resemblance is hardly discernible till you are apprised of it. The
Jealous Wife herself is, however, a dramatic _chef-d’œuvre_, and worthy
of being acted as often, and better than it is. Sir Harry Beagle is a
true fox-hunting English squire. The Clandestine Marriage is nearly
without a fault; and has some lighter theatrical graces, which I suspect
Garrick threw into it. _Canton_ is, I should think, his; though this
classification of him among the ornamental parts of the play may seem
whimsical. Garrick’s genius does not appear to have been equal to the
construction of a solid drama; but he could retouch and embellish with
great gaiety and knowledge of the technicalities of his art. Garrick not
only produced joint-pieces and after-pieces, but often set off the plays
of his friends and contemporaries with the garnish, the _sauce piquant_,
of prologues and epilogues, at which he had an admirable knack.—The
elder Colman’s translation of Terence, I may here add, has always been
considered, by good judges, as an equal proof of the author’s knowledge
of the Latin language, and taste in his own.

Bickerstaff’s plays and comic operas are continually acted: they come
under the class of mediocrity, generally speaking. Their popularity
seems to be chiefly owing to the unaffected ease and want of pretension
with which they are written, with a certain humorous _naïveté_ in the
lower characters, and an exquisite adaptation of the music to the songs.
His Love in a Village is one of the most delightful comic operas on the
stage. It is truly pastoral; and the sense of music hovers over the very
scene like the breath of morning. In his alteration of the Tartuffe he
has spoiled the Hypocrite, but he has added Maw-worm.

Mrs. Cowley’s comedy of the Belles’ Stratagem, Who’s the Dupe, and
others, are of the second or third class: they are rather
_refaccimentos_ of the characters, incidents, and materials of former
writers, got up with considerable liveliness and ingenuity, than
original compositions, with marked qualities of their own.

Goldsmith’s Good-natured Man is inferior to She Stoops to Conquer; and
even this last play, with all its shifting vivacity, is rather a
sportive and whimsical effusion of the author’s fancy, a delightful and
delicately managed caricature, than a genuine comedy.

Murphy’s plays of All in the Wrong and Know Your Own Mind, are admirably
written; with sense, spirit, and conception of character: but without
any great effect of the humorous, or that truth of feeling which
distinguishes the boundary between the absurdities of natural character
and the gratuitous fictions of the poet’s pen. The heroes of these two
plays, Millamour and Sir Benjamin Constant, are too ridiculous in their
caprices to be tolerated, except in farce; and yet their follies are so
flimsy, so motiveless, and fine-spun, as not to be intelligible, or to
have any effect in their only proper sphere. Both his principal pieces
are said to have suffered by their similarity, first, to Colman’s
Jealous Wife, and next to the School for Scandal, though in both cases
he had the undoubted priority. It is hard that the fate of plagiarism
should attend upon originality: yet it is clear that the elements of the
School for Scandal are not sparingly scattered in Murphy’s comedy of
Know your own Mind, which appeared before the latter play, only to be
eclipsed by it. This brings me to speak of Sheridan.

Mr. Sheridan has been justly called ‘a dramatic star of the first
magnitude:’ and, indeed, among the comic writers of the last century, he
‘shines like Hesperus among the lesser lights.’ He has left four several
dramas behind him, all different or of different kinds, and all
excellent in their way;—the School for Scandal, the Rivals, the Duenna,
and the Critic. The attraction of this last piece is, however, less in
the mock-tragedy rehearsed, than in the dialogue of the comic scenes,
and in the character of Sir Fretful Plagiary, which is supposed to have
been intended for Cumberland. If some of the characters in the School
for Scandal were contained in Murphy’s comedy of Know your own Mind (and
certainly some of Dashwoud’s detached speeches and satirical sketches
are written with quite as firm and masterly a hand as any of those given
to the members of the scandalous club, Mrs. Candour or Lady Sneerwell),
yet they were buried in it for want of grouping and relief, like the
colours of a well-drawn picture sunk in the canvass. Sheridan brought
them out, and exhibited them in all their glory. If that gem, the
character of Joseph Surface, was Murphy’s, the splendid and more
valuable setting was Sheridan’s. He took Murphy’s Malvil from his
lurking-place in the closet, and ‘dragged the struggling monster into
day’ upon the stage. That is, he gave interest, life, and action, or, in
other words, its dramatic being, to the mere conception and written
specimens of a character. This is the merit of Sheridan’s comedies, that
every thing in them _tells_; there is no labour in vain. His Comic Muse
does not go about prying into obscure corners, or collecting idle
curiosities, but shews her laughing face, and points to her rich
treasure—the follies of mankind. She is garlanded and crowned with roses
and vine-leaves. Her eyes sparkle with delight, and her heart runs over
with good-natured malice. Her step is firm and light, and her ornaments
consummate! The School for Scandal is, if not the most original, perhaps
the most finished and faultless comedy which we have. When it is acted,
you hear people all around you exclaiming, ‘Surely it is impossible for
any thing to be cleverer.’ The scene in which Charles sells all the old
family pictures but his uncle’s, who is the purchaser in disguise, and
that of the discovery of Lady Teazle when the screen falls, are among
the happiest and most highly wrought that comedy, in its wide and
brilliant range, can boast. Besides the wit and ingenuity of this play,
there is a genial spirit of frankness and generosity about it, that
relieves the heart as well as clears the lungs. It professes a faith in
the natural goodness, as well as habitual depravity of human nature.
While it strips off the mask of hypocrisy, it inspires a confidence
between man and man. As often as it is acted, it must serve to clear the
air of that low, creeping, pestilent fog of cant and mysticism, which
threatens to confound every native impulse, or honest conviction, in the
nauseous belief of a perpetual lie, and the laudable profession of
systematic hypocrisy.—The character of Lady Teazle is not well made out
by the author; nor has it been well represented on the stage since the
time of Miss Farren.—The Rivals is a play of even more action and
incident, but of less wit and satire than the School for Scandal. It is
as good as a novel in the reading, and has the broadest and most
palpable effect on the stage. If Joseph Surface and Charles have a smack
of Tom Jones and Blifil in their moral constitution, Sir Anthony
Absolute and Mrs. Malaprop remind us of honest Matthew Bramble and his
sister Tabitha, in their tempers and dialect. Acres is a distant
descendant of Sir Andrew Ague-cheek. It must be confessed of this
author, as Falstaff says of some one, that ‘he had damnable iteration in
him!’ The Duenna is a perfect work of art. It has the utmost sweetness
and point. The plot, the characters, the dialogue, are all complete in
themselves, and they are all his own; and the songs are the best that
ever were written, except those in the Beggar’s Opera. They have a
joyous spirit of intoxication in them, and a strain of the most melting
tenderness. Compare the softness of that beginning,

                  ‘Had I heart for falsehood framed,’

with the spirited defiance to Fortune in the lines,

                   ‘Half thy malice youth could bear,
                   And the rest a bumper drown.’

It would have been too much for the author of these elegant and classic
productions not to have had some drawbacks on his felicity and fame. But
even the applause of nations and the favour of princes cannot always be
enjoyed with impunity.—Sheridan was not only an excellent dramatic
writer, but a first-rate parliamentary speaker. His characteristics as
an orator were manly, unperverted good sense, and keen irony. Wit, which
has been thought a two-edged weapon, was by him always employed on the
same side of the question—I think, on the right one. His set and more
laboured speeches, as that on the Begum’s affairs, were proportionably
abortive and unimpressive: but no one was equal to him in replying, on
the spur of the moment, to pompous absurdity, and unravelling the web of
flimsy sophistry. He was the last accomplished debater of the House of
Commons.—His character will, however, soon be drawn by one who has all
the ability, and every inclination to do him justice; who knows how to
bestow praise and to deserve it; by one who is himself an ornament of
private and of public life; a satirist, beloved by his friends; a wit
and a patriot to-boot; a poet, and an honest man.

Macklin’s Man of the World has one powerfully written character, that of
Sir Pertinax Macsycophant, but it required Cooke’s acting to make it
thoroughly effectual.

Mr. Holcroft, in his Road to Ruin, set the example of that style of
comedy, in which the _slang_ phrases of jockey-noblemen and the humours
of the four-in-hand club are blended with the romantic sentiments of
distressed damsels and philosophic waiting-maids, and in which he has
been imitated by the most successful of our living writers, unless we
make a separate class for the school of Cumberland, who was almost
entirely devoted to the _comédie larmoyante_, and who, passing from the
light, volatile spirit of his West-Indian to the mawkish sensibility of
the Wheel of Fortune, linked the Muse of English comedy to the genius of
German tragedy, where she has since remained, like Christabel fallen
asleep in the Witch’s arms, and where I shall leave her, as I have not
the poet’s privilege to break the spell.

There are two other writers whom I have omitted to mention, but not
forgotten: they are our two immortal farce-writers, the authors of the
Mayor of Garratt and the Agreeable Surprise. If Foote has been called
our English Aristophanes, O’Keeffe might well be called our English
Moliere. The scale of the modern writer was smaller, but the spirit is
the same. In light, careless laughter, and pleasant exaggerations of the
humorous, we have had no one equal to him. There is no labour or
contrivance in his scenes, but the drollery of his subject seems to
strike irresistibly upon his fancy, and run away with his discretion as
it does with ours. His Cowslip and Lingo are Touchstone and Audrey
revived. He is himself a Modern Antique. His fancy has all the
quaintness and extravagance of the old writers, with the ease and
lightness which the moderns arrogate to themselves. All his pieces are
delightful, but the Agreeable Surprise is the most so. There are in this
some of the most felicitous blunders in situation and character that can
be conceived; and in Lingo’s superb replication, ‘A scholar! I was a
master of scholars,’ he has hit the height of the ridiculous. Foote had
more dry, sarcastic humour, and more knowledge of the world. His farces
are bitter satires, more or less personal, as it happened. Mother Cole,
in the Minor, and Mr. Smirk the Auctioneer, in Taste, with their
coadjutors, are rich cut-and-come-again, ‘pleasant, though wrong.’ But
the Mayor of Garratt is his _magnum opus_ in this line. Some comedies
are long farces: this farce is a comedy in little. It is also one of the
best acted farces that we have. The acting of Dowton and Russell, in
Major Sturgeon and Jerry Sneak, cannot be too much praised: Foote
himself would have been satisfied with it. The strut, the bluster, the
hollow swaggering, and turkey-cock swell of the Major; and Jerry’s
meekness, meanness, folly, good-nature, and hen-pecked air, are
assuredly done to the life. The latter character is even better than the
former, which is saying a bold word. Dowton’s art is only an imitation
of art, of an affected or assumed character; but in Russell’s Jerry you
see the very soul of nature, in a fellow that is ‘pigeon-livered and
lacks gall,’ laid open and anatomized. You can see that his heart is no
bigger than a pin, and his head as soft as a pippin. His whole aspect is
chilled and frightened, as if he had been dipped in a pond; and yet he
looks as if he would like to be snug and comfortable, if he durst. He
smiles as if he would be friends with you upon any terms; and the tears
come in his eyes because you will not let him. The tones of his voice
are prophetic as the cuckoo’s under-song. His words are made of
water-gruel. The scene in which he tries to make a confidant of the
Major is great; and his song of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as melancholy as the
island itself. The reconciliation-scene with his wife, and his
exclamation over her, ‘to think that I should make my Molly _veep_!’ are
pathetic, if the last stage of human infirmity is so. This farce appears
to me to be both moral and entertaining; yet it does not take. It is
considered as an unjust satire on the city, and the country at large;
and there is a very frequent repetition of the word ‘nonsense’ in the
house, during the performance. Mr. Dowton was even hissed, either from
the upper boxes or gallery, in his speech recounting the marching of his
corps ‘from Brentford to Ealing, and from Ealing to Acton;’ and several
persons in the pit, who thought the whole _low_, were for going out.
This shows well for the progress of civilization. I suppose the manners
described in the Mayor of Garratt have, in the last forty years, become
obsolete, and the characters ideal: we have no longer either hen-pecked
or brutal husbands, or domineering wives; the Miss Molly Jollops no
longer wed Jerry Sneaks, or admire the brave Major Sturgeons on the
other side of Temple-bar; all our soldiers have become heroes, and our
magistrates respectable, and the farce of life is o’er.

One more name, and I have done. It is that of Peter Pindar. The
historian of Sir Joseph Banks and the Emperor of Morocco, of the
Pilgrims and the Peas, of the Royal Academy, and of Mr. Whitbread’s
brewing-vat, the bard in whom the nation and the king delighted, is old
and blind, but still merry and wise:—remembering how he has made the
world laugh in his time, and not repenting of the mirth he has given;
with an involuntary smile lighted up at the mad pranks of his Muse, and
the lucky hits of his pen—‘faint picture of those flashes of his spirit,
that were wont to set the table in a roar;’ like his own Expiring Taper,
bright and fitful to the last; tagging a rhyme or conning his own
epitaph; and waiting for the last summons, GRATEFUL and CONTENTED![27]

I have thus gone through the history of that part of our literature,
which I had proposed to myself to treat of. I have only to add, by way
of explanation, that in some few parts I had anticipated myself in
fugitive or periodical publications; and I thought it better to repeat
what I had already stated to the best of my ability, than alter it for
the worse. These parts bear, however, a very small proportion to the
whole; and I have used such diligence and care as I could, in adding to
them whatever appeared necessary to complete the general view of the
subject, or make it (as far as lay in my power) interesting to others.


              End of LECTURES ON THE ENGLISH COMIC WRITERS



                      A VIEW OF THE ENGLISH STAGE
                                   OR
                    A SERIES OF DRAMATIC CRITICISMS


                          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Published in one 8vo volume in 1818 with the following title-page: ‘A
View of the English Stage; or, a Series of Dramatic Criticisms. By
William Hazlitt. “For I am nothing if not critical.” London: Printed for
Robert Stodart, 81, Strand; Anderson and Chase, 40, West Smithfield; and
Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh. 1818.’ The volume was printed by B.
M’Millan, Bow Street, Covent Garden. The work was re-issued in 1821 with
a fresh half-title, ‘Dramatic Criticisms,’ and a fresh title-page
bearing the imprint: ‘London: John Warren, Old Bond-Street, MDCCCXXI.’
Selections from the volume have been made and published along with other
dramatic criticisms of Hazlitt’s, but the entire work has never been
republished. See the notes at the end of this volume for particulars as
to these volumes of selections. It is sufficient to state here that the
so-called ‘second edition,’ published by the author’s son in 1851 under
the title of ‘Criticisms and Dramatic Essays, of the English Stage,’
contains only a selection from the essays published in _A View of the
English Stage_. The present edition is reprinted from that of 1818, with
the addition of a Table of Contents. For the sake of convenience the
name of the journal from which the essay is taken and the date of the
journal are printed at the beginning of each essay. Hazlitt himself gave
the dates (very inaccurately), but not the names of the journals. In
some cases he gave the name of the theatre at the head of an essay.


                                CONTENTS

                                                  PAGE
                 Preface                           173
                 Mr. Kean’s Shylock                179
                 Mr. Kean’s Richard                180
                 Mr. Kean’s Hamlet                 185
                 Mr. Kean’s Othello                189
                 Mr. Kean’s Iago                   190
                 Antony and Cleopatra              190
                 Artaxerxes                        192
                 The Beggar’s Opera                193
                 Richard Coeur de Lion             195
                 Didone Abandonnata                196
                 Miss O’Neill’s Juliet             198
                 Mr. Kean’s Richard                200
                 Mr. Kean’s Macbeth                204
                 Mr. Kean’s Romeo                  208
                 Mr. Kean’s Iago                   211
                 Mr. Kean’s Iago (_concluded_)     215
                 Mr. Kean’s Richard II.            221
                 The Unknown Guest                 224
                 Mr. Kean’s Zanga                  227
                 Mr. Bannister’s Farewell          229
                 Comus                             230
                 Mr. Kean’s Leon                   233
                 The Tempest                       234
                 My Wife! What Wife?               237
                 Mr. Harley’s Fidget               239
                 Living in London                  242
                 The King’s Proxy                  243
                 The Maid and the Magpie           244
                 The Hypocrite                     245
                 Mr. Edwards’s Richard III.        247
                 Lovers’ Vows                      249
                 The School for Scandal            250
                 Mrs. Alsop’s Rosalind             252
                 John Du Bart                      253
                 The Beggar’s Opera                254
                 Miss O’Neill’s Elwina             256
                 Where to find a Friend            258
                 Miss O’Neill’s Belvidera          261
                 The Merchant of Bruges            264
                 Smiles and Tears                  266
                 George Barnwell                   268
                 A New Way to Pay Old Debts        272
                 The Busy Body                     270
                 The Midsummer Night’s Dream       274
                 Love for Love                     278
                 The Anglade Family                279
                 Measure for Measure               281
                 Mr. Kean’s Sir Giles Overreach    284
                 The Recruiting Officer            285
                 The Fair Penitent                 287
                 The Duke of Milan                 289
                 Miss O’Neill’s Lady Teazle        291
                 Mr. Kean                          292
                 Mr. Kean’s Shylock                294
                 The Oratorios                     296
                 Richard III.                      298
                 Romeo and Juliet                  300
                 Mr. Kemble’s Sir Giles Overreach  302
                 Bertram                           304
                 Adelaide, or the Emigrants        308
                 Every Man in his Humour           310
                 Mrs. Siddons                      312
                 New English Opera House           314
                 The Jealous Wife                  316
                 The Man of the World              318
                 Miss Merry’s Mandane              320
                 Exit by Mistake                   321
                 The Italian Opera                 324
                 Old Customs                       327
                 My Landlady’s Night-Gown          328
                 Castle of Andalusia               329
                 Two Words                         330
                 The Wonder                        332
                 The Distressed Mother             334
                 Miss Boyle’s Rosalind             336
                 Mr. Macready’s Othello            338
                 Theatrical Debuts                 341
                 Mr. Kemble’s Cato                 342
                 The Iron Chest                    342
                 Mr. Kemble’s King John            345
                 Coriolanus                        347
                 The Man of the World              350
                 Jane Shore                        352
                 The Humorous Lieutenant           353
                 Two New Ballets                   353
                 Mr. Booth’s Duke of Gloster       354
                 Mr. Booth’s Iago                  354
                 Mr. Booth’s Richard               357
                 Double Gallant                    359
                 Don Juan                          362
                 The Conquest of Taranto           366
                 The Touch-Stone                   368
                 The Libertine                     370
                 Barbarossa                        372
                 Mrs. Siddons’s Lady Macbeth       373
                 Mr. Maywood’s Shylock             374
                 Mr. Kemble’s Retirement           374


                                PREFACE

The Stage is one great source of public amusement, not to say
instruction. A good play, well acted, passes away a whole evening
delightfully at a certain period of life, agreeably at all times; we
read the account of it next morning with pleasure, and it generally
furnishes one leading topic of conversation for the afternoon. The
disputes on the merits or defects of the last new piece, or of a
favourite performer, are as common, as frequently renewed, and carried
on with as much eagerness and skill, as those on almost any other
subject. Rochefoucault, I believe, it was, who said that the reason why
lovers were so fond of one another’s company was, that they were always
talking about themselves. The same reason almost might be given for the
interest we feel in talking about plays and players; they are ‘the brief
chronicles of the time,’ the epitome of human life and manners. While we
are talking about them, we are thinking about ourselves. They ‘hold the
mirror up to Nature’; and our thoughts are turned to the Stage as
naturally and as fondly as a fine lady turns to contemplate her face in
the glass. It is a glass too, in which the wise may see themselves; but
in which the vain and superficial see their own virtues, and laugh at
the follies of others. The curiosity which every one has to know how his
voice and manner can be mimicked, must have been remarked or felt by
most of us. It is no wonder then, that we should feel the same sort of
curiosity and interest, in seeing those whose business it is to ‘imitate
humanity’ in general, and who do it sometimes ‘abominably,’ at other
times admirably. Of these, some record is due to the world; but the
player’s art is one that perishes with him, and leaves no traces of
itself, but in the faint descriptions of the pen or pencil. Yet how
eagerly do we stop to look at the prints from Zoffany’s pictures of
Garrick and Weston! How much we are vexed, that so much of Colley
Cibber’s Life is taken up with the accounts of his own managership, and
so little with those inimitable portraits which he has occasionally
given of the actors of his time! How fortunate we think ourselves, when
we can meet with any person who remembers the principal performers of
the last age, and who can give us some distant idea of Garrick’s nature,
or of an Abington’s grace! We are always indignant at Smollett, for
having introduced a perverse caricature of the English Roscius, which
staggers our faith in his faultless excellence while reading it. On the
contrary, we are pleased to collect anecdotes of this celebrated actor,
which shew his power over the human heart, and enable us to measure his
genius with that of others by its effects. I have heard, for instance,
that once, when Garrick was acting Lear, the spectators in the front row
of the pit, not being able to see him well in the kneeling scene, where
he utters the curse, rose up, when those behind them, not willing to
interrupt the scene by remonstrating, immediately rose up too, and in
this manner, the whole pit rose up, without uttering a syllable, and so
that you might hear a pin drop. At another time, the crown of straw
which he wore in the same character fell off, or was discomposed, which
would have produced a burst of laughter at any common actor to whom such
an accident had happened; but such was the deep interest in the
character, and such the power of rivetting the attention possessed by
this actor, that not the slightest notice was taken of the circumstance,
but the whole audience remained bathed in silent tears. The knowledge of
circumstances like these, serves to keep alive the memory of past
excellence, and to stimulate future efforts. It was thought that a work
containing a detailed account of the Stage in our own times—a period not
unfruitful in theatrical genius—might not be wholly without its use.

The volume here offered to the public, is a collection of Theatrical
Criticisms which have appeared with little interruption, during the last
four years, in different newspapers—the _Morning Chronicle_, the
_Champion_, the _Examiner_, and lastly, the _Times_. How I came to be
regularly transferred from one of these papers to the other, sometimes
formally and sometimes without ceremony, till I was forced to quit the
last-mentioned by want of health and leisure, would make rather an
amusing story, but that I do not chuse to tell ‘the secrets of the
prison-house.’ I would, however, advise any one who has an ambition to
write, and to write _his best_, in the periodical press, to get if
possible ‘a situation’ in the _Times_ newspaper, the Editor of which is
a man of business, and not of letters. He may write there as long and as
good articles as he can, without being turned out for it,—unless he
should be too prolix on the subject of the Bourbons, and in that case he
may set up an opposition paper on his own account—as ‘one who loved not
wisely but too well.’

The first, and (as I think) the best articles in this series, appeared
originally in the _Morning Chronicle_. They are those relating to Mr.
Kean. I went to see him the first night of his appearing in Shylock. I
remember it well. The boxes were empty, and the pit not half full: ‘some
quantity of barren spectators and idle renters were thinly scattered to
make up a show.’ The whole presented a dreary, hopeless aspect. I was in
considerable apprehension for the result. From the first scene in which
Mr. Kean came on, my doubts were at an end. I had been told to give as
favourable an account as I could: I gave a true one. I am not one of
those who, when they see the sun breaking from behind a cloud, stop to
ask others whether it is the moon. Mr. Kean’s appearance was the first
gleam of genius breaking athwart the gloom of the Stage, and the public
have since gladly basked in its ray, in spite of actors, managers, and
critics. I cannot say that my opinion has much changed since that time.
Why should it? I had the same eyes to see with that I have now, the same
ears to hear with, and the same understanding to judge with. Why then
should I not form the same judgment? My opinions have been sometimes
called singular: they are merely sincere. I say what I think: I think
what I feel. I cannot help receiving certain impressions from things;
and I have sufficient courage to declare (somewhat abruptly) what they
are. This is the only singularity I am conscious of. I do not shut my
eyes to extraordinary merit because I hate it, and refuse to open them
till the clamours of others make me, and then affect to wonder
extravagantly at what I have before affected hypocritically to despise.
I do not make it a common practice, to think nothing of an actor or an
author, because all the world have not pronounced in his favour, and
after they have, to persist in condemning him, as a proof not of
imbecility and ill-nature, but of independence of taste and spirit. Nor
do I endeavour to communicate the infection of my own dulness,
cowardice, and spleen to others, by chilling the coldness of their
constitutions by the poisonous slime of vanity or interest, and setting
up my own conscious inability or unwillingness to form an opinion on any
one subject, as the height of candour and judgment.—I did not endeavour
to persuade Mr. Perry that Mr. Kean was an actor that would not last,
merely because he had not lasted; nor that Miss Stephens knew nothing of
singing, because she had a sweet voice. On the contrary, I did all I
could to counteract the effect of these safe, not very sound,
insinuations, and ‘screw the courage’ of one principal organ of public
opinion ‘to the sticking-place.’ I do not repent of having done so.

With respect to the spirit of partisanship in which the controversy
respecting Mr. Kean’s merits as an actor was carried on, there were two
or three things remarkable. One set of persons, out of the excess of
their unbounded admiration, furnished him with all sorts of excellences
which he did not possess or pretend to, and covered his defects from the
wardrobe of their own fancies. With this class of persons,

          ‘Pritchard’s genteel, and Garrick’s six feet high!’

I never enlisted in this corps of Swiss bodyguards; I was even suspected
of disloyalty and _leze-majesté_, because I did not cry out—_Quand
meme!_—to all Mr. Kean’s stretches of the prerogatives of genius, and
was placed out of the pale of theatrical orthodoxy, for not subscribing
implicitly to all the articles of belief imposed upon my senses and
understanding. If you had not been to see the little man twenty times in
Richard, and did not deny his being hoarse in the last act, or admire
him for being so, you were looked on as a lukewarm devotee, or half an
infidel. On the other hand, his detractors constantly argued not from
what he was, but from what he was not. ‘He was not tall. He had not a
fine voice. He did not play at Covent-Garden. He was not John Kemble.’
This was all you could get from them, and this they thought quite
sufficient to prove that he was not any thing, because he was not
something quite different from himself. They did not consider that an
actor might have the eye of an eagle with the voice of a raven, a ‘pigmy
body,’ and ‘a fiery soul that o’er-informed its tenement’; that he might
want grace and dignity, and yet have enough nature and passion in his
breast to set up a whole corps of regular stagers. They did not enquire
whether this was the case with respect to Mr. Kean, but took it for
granted that it was not, for no other reason, than because the question
had not been settled by the critics twenty or thirty years ago, and
admitted by the town ever since, that is, before Mr. Kean was born. A
royal infant may be described as ‘un haut et puissant prince, agé d’un
jour,’[28] but a great and powerful actor cannot be known till he
arrives at years of discretion, and he must be first a candidate for
theatrical reputation before he can be a veteran. This is a truism, but
it is one that our prejudices constantly make us not only forget, but
frequently combat with all the spirit of martyrdom. I have (as it will
be seen in the following pages) all along spoken freely of Mr. Kean’s
faults, or what I considered such, physical as well as intellectual; but
the balance inclines decidedly to the favourable side, though not more I
think than his merits exceed his defects. It was also the more necessary
to dwell on the claims of an actor to public support, in proportion as
they were original, and to the illiberal opposition they unhappily had
to encounter. I endeavoured to prove (and with some success), that he
was not ‘the very worst actor in the world.’ His Othello is what appears
to me his master-piece. To those who have seen him in this part, and
think little of it, I have nothing farther to say. It seems to me, as
far as the mind alone is concerned, and leaving the body out of the
question, fully equal to any thing of Mrs. Siddons’s. But I hate such
comparisons; and only make them on strong provocation.

Though I do not repent of what I have said in praise of certain actors,
yet I wish I could retract what I have been obliged to say in
reprobation of others. Public reputation is a lottery, in which there
are blanks as well as prizes. The Stage is an arduous profession,
requiring so many essential excellences and accidental advantages, that
though it is an honour and a happiness to succeed in it, it is only a
misfortune, and not a disgrace, to fail in it. Those who put themselves
upon their trial, must, however, submit to the verdict; and the critic
in general does little more than prevent a lingering death, by
anticipating, or putting in immediate force, the sentence of the public.
The victims of criticism, like the victims of the law, bear no good will
to their executioners; and I confess I have often been heartily tired of
so thankless an office. What I have said of any actor, has never arisen
from private pique of any sort. Indeed the only person on the stage with
whom I have ever had any personal intercourse, is Mr. Liston, and of him
I have not spoken ‘with the malice of a friend.’ To Mr. Conway and Mr.
Bartley my apologies are particularly due: I have accused the one of
being tall, and the other of being fat. I have also said that Mr. Young
plays not only like a scholar, but like ‘a master of scholars’; that
Miss O’Neill shines more in tragedy than comedy; and that Mr. Mathews is
an excellent mimic. I am sorry for these disclosures, which were
extorted from me, but I cannot retract them. There is one observation
which has been made, and which is true, that public censure hurts actors
in a pecuniary point of view; but it has been forgotten, that public
praise assists them in the same manner. Again, I never understood that
the applauded actor thought himself personally obliged to the newspaper
critic; the latter was merely supposed to do his duty. Why then should
the critic be held responsible to the actor whom he _damns_ by virtue of
his office? Besides, as the mimic caricatures absurdity off the Stage,
why should not the critic sometimes caricature it on the Stage? The
children of Momus should not hold themselves sacred from ridicule.
Though the colours may be a little heightened, the outline may be
correct; and truth may be conveyed, and the public taste improved, by an
alliteration or a quibble that wounds the self-love of an individual.
Authors must live as well as actors; and the _insipid_ must at all
events be avoided as that which the public abhors most.

I am not aware of any thing necessary to be added to this Preface, but
to apologize for some repetitions to be found in the work; I mean some
passages and criticisms that have been transferred to other
publications, such as the account of the Beggar’s Opera, Coriolanus, &c.
In fact, I have come to this determination in my own mind, that a work
is as good as _manuscript_, and is invested with all the same
privileges, till it appears in a second edition—a rule which leaves me
at liberty to make what use I please of what I have hitherto written,
with the single exception of THE CHARACTERS OF SHAKESPEAR’S PLAYS.

                                                             W. HAZLITT.

 _April 24, 1818._



                      A VIEW OF THE ENGLISH STAGE


                           MR. KEAN’S SHYLOCK

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                     _January 27, 1814._

Mr. Kean (of whom report had spoken highly) last night made his
appearance at Drury-Lane Theatre in the character of Shylock. For voice,
eye, action, and expression, no actor has come out for many years at all
equal to him. The applause, from the first scene to the last, was
general, loud, and uninterrupted. Indeed, the very first scene in which
he comes on with Bassanio and Antonio, shewed the master in his art, and
at once decided the opinion of the audience. Perhaps it was the most
perfect of any. Notwithstanding the complete success of Mr. Kean in the
part of Shylock, we question whether he will not become a greater
favourite in other parts. There was a lightness and vigour in his tread,
a buoyancy and elasticity of spirit, a fire and animation, which would
accord better with almost any other character than with the morose,
sullen, inward, inveterate, inflexible malignity of Shylock. The
character of Shylock is that of a man brooding over one idea, that of
its wrongs, and bent on one unalterable purpose, that of revenge. In
conveying a profound impression of this feeling, or in embodying the
general conception of rigid and uncontroulable self-will, equally proof
against every sentiment of humanity or prejudice of opinion, we have
seen actors more successful than Mr. Kean; but in giving effect to the
conflict of passions arising out of the contrasts of situation, in
varied vehemence of declamation, in keenness of sarcasm, in the rapidity
of his transitions from one tone and feeling to another, in propriety
and novelty of action, presenting a succession of striking pictures, and
giving perpetually fresh shocks of delight and surprise, it would be
difficult to single out a competitor. The fault of his acting was (if we
may hazard the objection), an over-display of the resources of the art,
which gave too much relief to the hard, impenetrable, dark groundwork of
the character of Shylock. It would be endless to point out individual
beauties, where almost every passage was received with equal and
deserved applause. We thought, in one or two instances, the pauses in
the voice were too long, and too great a reliance placed on the
expression of the countenance, which is a language intelligible only to
a part of the house.

The rest of the play was, upon the whole, very respectably cast. It
would be an equivocal compliment to say of Miss Smith, that her acting
often reminds us of Mrs. Siddons. Rae played Bassanio; but the abrupt
and harsh tones of his voice are not well adapted to the mellifluous
cadences of Shakespear’s verse.

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                     _February 2, 1814._

Mr. Kean appeared again in Shylock, and by his admirable and expressive
manner of giving the part, fully sustained the reputation he had
acquired by his former representation of it, though he laboured under
the disadvantage of a considerable hoarseness. He assumed a greater
appearance of age and feebleness than on the first night, but the
general merit of his playing was the same. His style of acting is, if we
may use the expression, more significant, more pregnant with meaning,
more varied and alive in every part, than any we have almost ever
witnessed. The character never stands still; there is no vacant pause in
the action; the eye is never silent. For depth and force of conception,
we have seen actors whom we should prefer to Mr. Kean in Shylock; for
brilliant and masterly execution, none. It is not saying too much of
him, though it is saying a great deal, that he has all that Mr. Kemble
_wants_ of perfection. He reminds us of the descriptions of the
‘far-darting eye’ of Garrick. We are anxious to see him in Norval and
Richard, and anticipate more complete satisfaction from his performance
of the latter part, than from the one in which he has already stamped
his reputation with the public.

Miss Smith played Portia with much more animation than the last time we
saw her, and in delivering the fine apostrophe on Mercy, in the
trial-scene, was highly impressive.


                           MR. KEAN’S RICHARD

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                    _February 15, 1814._

Mr. Kean’s manner of acting this part has one peculiar advantage; it is
entirely his own, without any traces of imitation of any other actor. He
stands upon his own ground, and he stands firm upon it. Almost every
scene had the stamp and freshness of nature. The excellences and defects
of his performance were in general the same as those which he discovered
in Shylock; though, as the character of Richard is the most difficult,
so we think he displayed most power in it. It is possible to form a
higher conception of this character (we do not mean from seeing other
actors, but from reading Shakespear) than that given by this very
admirable tragedian; but we cannot imagine any character represented
with greater distinctness and precision, more perfectly _articulated_ in
every part. Perhaps, indeed, there is too much of this; for we sometimes
thought he failed, even from an exuberance of talent, and dissipated the
impression of the character by the variety of his resources. To be
perfect, it should have a little more solidity, depth, sustained, and
impassioned feeling, with somewhat less brilliancy, with fewer glancing
lights, pointed transitions, and pantomimic evolutions.

The Richard of Shakespear is towering and lofty, as well as aspiring;
equally impetuous and commanding; haughty, violent, and subtle; bold and
treacherous; confident in his strength, as well as in his cunning;
raised high by his birth, and higher by his genius and his crimes; a
royal usurper, a princely hypocrite, a tyrant, and a murderer of the
House of Plantagenet.

            ‘But I was born so high;
            Our airy buildeth in the cedar’s top,
            And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun.’

The idea conveyed in these lines (which are omitted in the miserable
medley acted for Richard III.) is never lost sight of by Shakespear, and
should not be out of the actor’s mind for a moment. The restless and
sanguinary Richard is not a man striving to be great, but to be greater
than he is; conscious of his strength of will, his powers of intellect,
his daring courage, his elevated station, and making use of these
advantages, as giving him both the means and the pretext to commit
unheard-of crimes, and to shield himself from remorse and infamy.

If Mr. Kean does not completely succeed in concentrating all the lines
of the character, as drawn by Shakespear, he gives an animation, vigour,
and relief to the part, which we have never seen surpassed. He is more
refined than Cooke; more bold, varied, and original than Kemble, in the
same character. In some parts, however, we thought him deficient in
dignity; and particularly in the scenes of state business, there was not
a sufficient air of artificial authority. The fine assumption of
condescending superiority, after he is made king—‘Stand all apart—Cousin
of Buckingham,’ &c. was not given with the effect which it might have
received. There was also at times, a sort of tip-toe elevation, an
enthusiastic rapture in his expectations of obtaining the crown, instead
of a gloating expression of sullen delight, as if he already clutched
the bauble, and held it within his grasp. This was the precise
expression which Mr. Kean gave with so much effect to the part where he
says, that he already feels

                   ‘The golden rigol bind his brows.’

In one who _dares_ so much, there is little indeed to blame. The only
two things which appeared to us decidedly objectionable, were the sudden
letting down of his voice when he says of Hastings, ‘chop off his head,’
and the action of putting his hands behind him, in listening to
Buckingham’s account of his reception by the citizens. His courtship
scene with Lady Anne was an admirable exhibition of smooth and smiling
villainy. The progress of wily adulation, of encroaching humility, was
finely marked throughout by the action, voice, and eye. He seemed, like
the first tempter, to approach his prey, certain of the event, and as if
success had smoothed the way before him. We remember Mr. Cooke’s manner
of representing this scene was more violent, hurried, and full of
anxious uncertainty. This, though more natural in general, was, we
think, less in character. Richard should woo not as a lover, but as an
actor—to shew his mental superiority, and power to make others the
playthings of his will. Mr. Kean’s attitude in leaning against the side
of the stage before he comes forward in this scene, was one of the most
graceful and striking we remember to have seen. It would have done for
Titian to paint. The opening scene in which Richard descants on his own
deformity, was conceived with perfect truth and character, and delivered
in a fine and varied tone of natural recitation. Mr. Kean did equal
justice to the beautiful description of the camps the night before the
battle, though, in consequence of his hoarseness, he was obliged to
repeat the whole passage in an under-key.[29] His manner of bidding his
friends good night, and his pausing with the point of his sword, drawn
slowly backward and forward on the ground, before he retires to his
tent, received shouts of applause. He gave to all the busy scenes of the
play the greatest animation and effect. He filled every part of the
stage. The concluding scene, in which he is killed by Richmond, was the
most brilliant. He fought like one drunk with wounds: and the attitude
in which he stands with his hands stretched out, after his sword is
taken from him, had a preternatural and terrific grandeur, as if his
will could not be disarmed, and the very phantoms of his despair had a
withering power.

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                    _February 21, 1814._

The house was crowded at an early hour in every part, to witness Mr.
Kean’s second representation of Richard. His admirable acting received
that meed of applause, which it so well deserved. His voice had not
entirely recovered its tone and strength; and when (after the curtain
had dropped, amidst a tumult of approbation), Mr. Rae came forward to
announce the play for Monday, cries of ‘No, no,’ from every part of the
house, testified the sense entertained by the audience, of the
impropriety of requiring the repetition of this extraordinary effort,
till every physical disadvantage had been completely removed.

We have little to add to our former remarks, for Mr. Kean went through
the part nearly as before, and we saw no reason to alter our opinion.
The dying scene was the most varied, and, we think, for the worse. In
pronouncing the words in Richard’s soliloquy, ‘I am myself alone,’ Mr.
Kean gave a quick and hurried movement to his voice, as if it was a
thought that suddenly struck him, or which he wished to pass over;
whereas it is the deep and rooted sentiment of his breast. The
reduplication of the words in Shakespear points out the manner in which
the voice should dwell upon, and as it were, brood over the feeling,
loth to part with the bitter consolation. Where he says to Buckingham,
‘I am not i’ the vein,’ the expression should, we imagine, be that of
stifled hatred, and cold contempt, instead of sarcastic petulance. The
scene tells for itself, without being pointed by the manner. In general,
perhaps, if Mr. Kean were to give to the character less of the air of an
ostentatious hypocrite, of an intelligible villain, it would be more
correct, and would accord better with Shakespear’s idea of the part. The
description which he has put into the mouth of Hastings, is a perfect
study for the actor.

          ‘His grace looks cheerfully and smooth this morning:
          There’s some conceit or other likes him well,
          When that he bids good-morrow with such spirit.
          I think there’s ne’er a man in Christendom
          Can lesser hide his hate or love than he,
          For by his face straight shall you know his heart.’

In the scene with Lady Anne, in the sudden alteration of his manner to
the messenger who brings him the news of Edward’s illness, in the
interview with Buckingham, where he desires the death of the children,
in his infinitely spirited expostulation with Lord Stanley, in his
triumph at the death of Buckingham, in the parting scene with his
friends before the battle, in his treatment of the paper sent to
Norfolk, and in all the tumult and glowing interest of the last scenes
of the play, we had fresh cause for admiration. It were in vain,
however, to point out particular beauties; for the research, the
ingenuity, and the invention manifested throughout the character are
endless. We have said before, and we still think so, that there is even
too much effect given, too many significant hints, too much appearance
of study. There is a tone in acting, as well as in painting, which is
the chief and master excellence. Our highest conception of an actor is,
that he shall assume the character once for all, and be it throughout,
and trust to this conscious sympathy for the effect produced. Mr. Kean’s
manner of acting is, on the contrary, rather a perpetual assumption of
his part, always brilliant and successful, almost always true and
natural, but yet always a distinct effort in every new situation, so
that the actor does not seem entirely to forget himself, or to be
identified with the character. The extreme elaboration of the parts
injures the broad and massy effect; the general impulse of the machine
is retarded by the variety and intricacy of the movements. But why do we
try this actor by an ideal theory? Who is there that will stand the same
test? It is, in fact, the last forlorn hope of criticism, for it shews
that we have nothing else to compare him with. ‘Take him for all in
all,’ it will be long, very long, before we ‘look upon his like again,’
if we are to wait as long as we _have_ waited.

We wish the introduction of the ghosts through the trap-doors of the
stage were altogether omitted. The speeches, which they address to
Richard, might be delivered just as well from behind the scenes. These
sort of exhibitions are only proper for a superstitious age; and in an
age not superstitious, excite ridicule instead of terror. Mr. Wroughton
makes a very substantial ghost, and Miss Boyce retains the same ruddy
appearance of flesh and blood, and the same graceful _embonpoint_, which
so well became her in the scene where she was wooed by Richard. Mrs.
Glover’s Queen was more natural and impressive than on the first night,
because it was less turbulent; and if she would use still less
vociferation, she would produce a still greater effect—‘For in the very
torrent and whirlwind of the passion, you should acquire a temperance
that may give it smoothness.’

Mr. Kean’s acting in Richard, as we before remarked in his Shylock,
presents a perpetual succession of striking pictures. He bids fair to
supply us with the best Shakespear Gallery we have had!


                           MR. KEAN’S HAMLET

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                       _March 14, 1814._

That which distinguishes the dramatic productions of Shakespear from all
others, is the wonderful variety and perfect individuality of his
characters. Each of these is as much itself, and as absolutely
independent of the rest, as if they were living persons, not fictions of
the mind. The poet appears for the time being, to be identified with the
character he wishes to represent, and to pass from one to the other,
like the same soul, successively animating different bodies. By an art
like that of the ventriloquist, he throws his imagination out of
himself, and makes every word appear to proceed from the very mouth of
the person whose name it bears. His plays alone are properly expressions
of the passions, not descriptions of them. His characters are real
beings of flesh and blood; they speak like men, not like authors. One
might suppose that he had stood by at the time, and had overheard what
passed. Each object and circumstance seems to exist in his mind as it
existed in nature; each several train of thought and feeling goes on of
itself without effort or confusion; in the world of his imagination
every thing has a life, a place and being of its own.

These remarks are, we think, as applicable to Hamlet, as to any of
Shakespear’s tragedies. It is, if not the finest, perhaps the most
inimitable of all his productions. Lear is first, for the profound
intensity of the passion: Macbeth, for the wildness of the imagination,
and the glowing rapidity of the action: Othello, for the progressive
interest, and rapid alternations of feeling: Hamlet, for perfect
dramatic truth, and the unlooked-for development of sentiment and
character. Shakespear has in this play shewn more of the magnanimity of
genius, than in any other. There is no attempt to force an interest, but
every thing is left to time and circumstances. The interest is excited
without premeditation or effort, the events succeed each other as
matters of course, the characters think, and speak and act just as they
would do, if they were left to themselves. The whole play is an exact
transcript of what might have taken place at the Court of Denmark five
hundred years ago, before the modern refinements in morality and
manners.

The character of Hamlet is itself a pure effusion of genius. It is not a
character marked by strength of passion or will, but by refinement of
thought and feeling. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well
be; but he is ‘a young and princely novice,’ full of high enthusiasm and
quick sensibility—the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune,
and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of
his character, by the strangeness of his situation. He seems incapable
of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur
of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where
he kills Polonius, and where he alters the letters which Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern take with them. At other times, he remains puzzled,
undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes till the occasion is
lost, and always finds some reason to relapse into indolence and
thoughtfulness again. For this reason he refuses to kill the King when
he is at his prayers, and by a refinement in malice, which is only an
excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to some more
fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act ‘that has no
relish of salvation in it.’ So he scruples to trust the suggestions of
the Ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his
uncle’s guilt, and then rests satisfied with this confirmation of his
suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon
it. The moral perfection of this character has been called in question.
It is more natural than conformable to rules; and if not more amiable,
is certainly more dramatic on that account. Hamlet is not, to be sure, a
Sir Charles Grandison. In general, there is little of the drab-coloured
quakerism of morality in the ethical delineations of ‘that noble and
liberal casuist,’ as Shakespear has been well called. He does not set
his heroes in the stocks of virtue, to make mouths at their own
situation. His plays are not transcribed from the Whole Duty of Man! We
confess, we are a little shocked at the want of refinement in those, who
are shocked at the want of refinement in Hamlet. The want of punctilious
exactness of behaviour either partakes of the ‘license of the time,’ or
belongs to the very excess of intellectual refinement in the character,
which makes the common rules of life, as well as his own purposes, sit
loose upon him. He may be said to be amenable only to the tribunal of
his own thoughts, and is too much occupied with the airy world of
contemplation, to lay as much stress as he ought on the practical
consequences of things. His habitual principles of action are unhinged,
and ‘out of joint’ with the time.

This character is probably of all others the most difficult to personate
on the stage. It is like the attempt to embody a shadow.

           ‘Come then, the colours and the ground prepare,
           Dip in the rainbow, trick her off in air,
           Chuse a firm cloud, before it falls, and in it
           Catch, ‘ere she change, the Cynthia of a minute.’

Such nearly is the task which the actor imposes on himself in the part
of Hamlet. It is quite remote from hardness and dry precision. The
character is spun to the finest thread, yet never loses its continuity.
It has the yielding flexibility of ‘a wave of the sea.’ It is made up of
undulating lines, without a single sharp angle. There is no set purpose,
no straining at a point. The observations are suggested by the passing
scene—the gusts of passion come and go, like the sounds of music borne
on the wind. The interest depends not on the action, but on the
thoughts—on ‘that within which passeth shew.’ Yet, in spite of these
difficulties, Mr. Kean’s representation of the character had the most
brilliant success. It did not indeed come home to our feelings, as
Hamlet (that very Hamlet whom we read of in our youth, and seem almost
to remember in our after-years), but it was a most striking and animated
rehearsal of the part.

High as Mr. Kean stood in our opinion before, we have no hesitation in
saying, that he stands higher in it (and, we think, will in that of the
public), from the powers displayed in this last effort. If it was less
perfect as a whole, there were parts in it of a higher cast of
excellence than any part of his Richard. We will say at once, in what we
think his general delineation of the character wrong. It was too strong
and pointed. There was often a severity, approaching to virulence, in
the common observations and answers. There is nothing of this in Hamlet.
He is, as it were, wrapped up in the cloud of his reflections, and only
_thinks aloud_. There should therefore be no attempt to impress what he
says upon others by any exaggeration of emphasis or manner, no talking
_at_ his hearers. There should be as much of the gentleman and scholar
as possible infused into the part, and as little of the actor. A pensive
air of sadness should sit unwillingly upon his brow, but no appearance
of fixed and sullen gloom. He is full of ‘weakness and melancholy,’ but
there is no harshness in his nature. Hamlet should be the most amiable
of misanthropes. There is no one line in this play, which should be
spoken like any one line in Richard; yet Mr. Kean did not appear to us
to keep the two characters always distinct. He was least happy in the
last scene with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. In some of these more
familiar scenes he displayed more energy than was requisite; and in
others where it would have been appropriate, did not rise equal to the
exigency of the occasion. In particular, the scene with Laertes, where
he leaps into the grave, and utters the exclamation, ‘’Tis I, Hamlet the
Dane,’ had not the tumultuous and overpowering effect we expected from
it. To point out the defects of Mr. Kean’s performance of the part, is a
less grateful but a much shorter task, than to enumerate the many
striking beauties which he gave to it, both by the power of his action
and by the true feeling of nature. His surprise when he first sees the
Ghost, his eagerness and filial confidence in following it, the
impressive pathos of his action and voice in addressing it, ‘I’ll call
thee Hamlet, _Father_, Royal Dane,’ were admirable.

Mr. Kean has introduced in this part a _new reading_, as it is called,
which we think perfectly correct. In the scene where he breaks from his
friends to obey the command of his father, he keeps his sword pointed
behind him, to prevent them from following him, instead of holding it
before him to protect him from the Ghost. The manner of his taking
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz under each arm, under pretence of
communicating his secret to them, when he only means to trifle with
them, had the finest effect, and was, we conceive, exactly in the spirit
of the character. So was the suppressed tone of irony in which he
ridicules those who gave ducats for his uncle’s picture, though they
would ‘make mouths at him,’ while his father lived. Whether the way in
which Mr. Kean hesitates in repeating the first line of the speech in
the interview with the player, and then, after several ineffectual
attempts to recollect it, suddenly hurries on with it, ‘The rugged
Pyrrhus,’ &c. is in perfect keeping, we have some doubts: but there was
great ingenuity in the thought; and the spirit and life of the execution
was beyond every thing. Hamlet’s speech in describing his own
melancholy, his instructions to the players, and the soliloquy on death,
were all delivered by Mr. Kean in a tone of fine, clear, and natural
recitation. His pronunciation of the word ‘contumely’ in the last of
these, is, we apprehend, not authorized by custom, or by the metre.

Both the closet scene with his mother, and his remonstrances to Ophelia,
were highly impressive. If there had been less vehemence of effort in
the latter, it would not have lost any of its effect. But whatever nice
faults might be found in this scene, they were amply redeemed by the
manner of his coming back after he has gone to the extremity of the
stage, from a pang of parting tenderness to press his lips to Ophelia’s
hand. It had an electrical effect on the house. It was the finest
commentary that was ever made on Shakespear. It explained the character
at once (as he meant it), as one of disappointed hope, of bitter regret,
of affection suspended, not obliterated, by the distractions of the
scene around him! The manner in which Mr. Kean acted in the scene of the
Play before the King and Queen was the most daring of any, and the force
and animation which he gave to it, cannot be too highly applauded. Its
extreme boldness ‘bordered on the verge of all we hate,’ and the effect
it produced, was a test of the extraordinary powers of this
extraordinary actor.

We cannot speak too highly of Mr. Raymond’s representation of the Ghost.
It glided across the stage with the preternatural grandeur of a spirit.
His manner of speaking the part was not equally excellent. A spirit
should not whine or shed tears.

Mr. Dowton’s Polonius was unworthy of so excellent an actor. The part
was mistaken altogether. Polonius is not exceedingly wise, but he is not
quite a fool; or if he is, he is at the same time a courtier, and a
courtier of the old school. Mr. Dowton made nothing, or worse than
nothing, of the part.


                           MR. KEAN’S OTHELLO

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                          _May 6, 1814._

Othello was acted at Drury-Lane last night, the part of Othello by Mr.
Kean. His success was fully equal to the arduousness of the undertaking.
In general, we might observe that he displayed the same excellences and
the same defects as in his former characters. His voice and person were
not altogether in consonance with the character, nor was there
throughout, that noble tide of deep and sustained passion, impetuous,
but majestic, that ‘flows on to the Propontic, and knows no ebb,’ which
raises our admiration and pity of the lofty-minded Moor. There were,
however, repeated bursts of feeling and energy which we have never seen
surpassed. The whole of the latter part of the third act was a
master-piece of profound pathos and exquisite conception, and its effect
on the house was electrical. The tone of voice in which he delivered the
beautiful apostrophe, ‘Then, oh farewell!’ struck on the heart and the
imagination like the swelling notes of some divine music. The look, the
action, the expression of voice, with which he accompanied the
exclamation, ‘Not a jot, not a jot;’ the reflection, ‘I felt not
_Cassio’s kisses_ on her lips;’ and his vow of revenge against Cassio,
and abandonment of his love for Desdemona, laid open the very tumult and
agony of the soul. In other parts, where we expected an equal interest
to be excited, we were disappointed; and in the common scenes, we think
Mr. Kean’s manner, as we have remarked on other occasions, had more
point and emphasis than the sense or character required.[30]

The rest of the play was by no means judiciously cast; indeed, almost
every individual appeared to be out of his proper place.


                            MR. KEAN’S IAGO

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                          _May 9, 1814._

The part of Iago was played at Drury-Lane on Saturday by Mr. Kean, and
played with admirable facility and effect. It was the most faultless of
his performances, the most consistent and entire. Perhaps the
accomplished hypocrite was never so finely, so adroitly pourtrayed—a
gay, light-hearted monster, a careless, cordial, comfortable villain.
The preservation of character was so complete, the air and manner were
so much of a piece throughout, that the part seemed more like a detached
scene or single _trait_, and of shorter duration than it usually does.
The ease, familiarity, and tone of nature with which the text was
delivered, were quite equal to any thing we have seen in the best comic
acting. It was the least overdone of all his parts, though full of
point, spirit, and brilliancy. The odiousness of the character was in
fact, in some measure, glossed over by the extreme grace, alacrity and
rapidity of the execution. Whether this effect were ‘a consummation of
the art devoutly to be wished,’ is another question, on which we
entertain some doubts. We have already stated it as our opinion, that
Mr. Kean is not a literal transcriber of his author’s text; he
translates his characters with great freedom and ingenuity into a
language of his own; but at the same time we cannot help preferring his
liberal and spirited dramatic versions, to the dull, literal,
common-place monotony of his competitors. Besides, after all, in the
conception of the part, he may be right, and we may be wrong. We have
before complained that Mr. Kean’s Richard was not gay enough, and we
should now be disposed to complain that his Iago is not grave enough.

Mr. Sowerby’s Othello, we are sorry to add, was a complete failure, and
the rest of the play was very ill got up.


                          ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                        _Nov. 16, 1813._

Shakespear’s tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra was brought out last night
at Covent-Garden with alterations, and with considerable additions from
Dryden’s All for Love. The piece seems to have been in some measure got
up for the occasion, as there are several claptraps in the speeches,
which admit of an obvious allusion to passing characters and events, and
which were eagerly seized by the audience. Of the execution of the task
which the compiler has imposed upon himself, we cannot speak in terms of
much praise. Almost all the transpositions of passages which he has
attempted, are, we think, injudicious and injurious to the effect. Thus
the rich and poetical description of the person of Cleopatra, in the
beginning of the second act—‘The barge she sat in, like a burnished
throne, burnt on the water,’ &c. which prepares the way for, and almost
seems to justify the subsequent infatuation of Antony, is here postponed
till near the catastrophe, where it answers no end, and excites little
interest. It would also have been much better, if the author had
contented himself merely with omitting certain passages, which he might
deem objectionable to a modern audience, without encumbering either the
plot or dialogue with any foreign interpolation. He might have separated
the gold of Shakespear from the alloy which at times accompanies it, but
he ought not to have mixed it up with the heavy tinsel of Dryden. We
cannot approve of the attempt to effect ‘an amalgamation of the
wonderful powers’ of these writers, who are, in the preface to the
printed play, classed together as ‘two of England’s greatest poets.’
There is not the slightest comparison between them, either in kind or
degree. There is all the difference between them, that can subsist
between artificial and natural passion. Dryden never goes out of
himself: he is a man of strong sense and powerful feeling, reasoning
upon what he should feel in certain situations, and expressing himself
in studied declamation, in general topics, expanding and varying the
stock of his own ideas, so as to produce a tolerable resemblance to
those of mankind in different situations, and building up, by the aid of
logic and rhetoric—that is, by means of certain truths and images,
generally known and easily applied, a stately and impressive poem.
Whereas Shakespear does not suppose himself to be others, but at once
_becomes_ them. His imagination passes out of himself into them, and as
it were, transmits to him their feelings and circumstances. Nothing is
made out by inference and analogy, by climax and antithesis, but all
comes immediately from nature—the thoughts, the images, the very words
are hers. His plays can only be compared with Nature—they are unlike
every thing else.

Antony and Cleopatra, though not in the first order of Shakespear’s
productions, is one of the best of his historical plays. It is every
where full of that pervading comprehensive power, by which the poet
seemed to identify himself with time and nature. The pomp and voluptuous
charms of Cleopatra are displayed in all their force and lustre, as well
as the effeminate grandeur of the soul of Mark Antony. The repentance of
Enobarbus after his treachery to his master, the most beautiful and
affecting part of the play, is here, for some reason, entirely omitted.
Nothing can have more local truth and perfect character than the passage
in which Cleopatra is represented as conjecturing what were the
employments of Antony in his absence. ‘He’s speaking now, or
murmuring—where’s my serpent of old Nile?’ Or again, when she says to
Antony, after the defeat of Actium, and his resolution to risk another
fight—‘It is my birth-day; I had thought to have held it poor, but since
my Lord is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra.’ The transition, in the
present compilation, from these flashes of genius which lay open the
inmost soul, to the forced mechanical style and architectural dialogue
of Dryden, is abrupt and painful.

The play was got up with every advantage of external pomp and
decoration. Mr. Young, as Mark Antony, exhibited a just and impressive
picture of the Roman hero, struggling between the dictates of his love
and honour. Mrs. M’Gibbon was a respectable and interesting
representative of Octavia. Mrs. Faucit’s Cleopatra conveyed at least a
reflex image of the voluptuous magnificence of the Queen of Egypt. In
the ironical scenes with Antony, her manner sometimes bordered too much
on the affected levity of a modern fine lady, and wanted the passion and
dignity of the enamoured and haughty sovereign. In the part of
Ventidius, we are sorry to say, that we think Mr. Terry was by no means
successful. His manner had all the turbulent ferocity of a gloomy
savage, none of the lofty firmness of the Roman Senator. The expression
of the passion was every where too coarse and too physical; his muscles
assumed a preternatural rigidity, and the mode in which he articulated
every sentence was distinct, almost to dislocation. The house, however,
seemed to be of a different opinion; for, in the several scenes with Mr.
Young, he was loudly and tumultuously applauded.


                               ARTAXERXES

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                        _Oct. 18, 1813._

Miss Stephens made her appearance again on Saturday at Covent-Garden, as
Mandane, in Artaxerxes. She becomes more and more a favourite with the
public. Her singing is delicious; but admired as it is, it is not yet
admired as it ought to be. Oh, if she had been wafted to us from
Italy!—A voice more sweet, varied, and flexible, was perhaps never heard
on an English stage. In ‘The Soldier tired,’ her voice, though it might
be said to cleave the very air, never once lost its sweetness and
clearness. ‘Let not rage thy bosom firing’ was deservedly and
rapturously encored. But if we were to express a preference, it would be
to her singing the lines, ‘What was my pride is now my shame,’ &c. in
which the notes seemed to fall from her lips like the liquid drops from
the bending flower, and her voice fluttered and died away with the
expiring conflict of passion in her bosom. We know, and have felt the
divine power and impassioned tones of Catalani—the lightning of her
voice and of her eye—but we doubt whether she would give the ballad
style of the songs in Artaxerxes, simple but elegant, chaste but full of
expression, with equal purity, taste, and tenderness.

Mr. Liston’s acting in Love, Law, and Physic, was as excellent as it
always is. It is hard to say, whether the soul of Mr. Liston has passed
into Mr. Lubin Log, or that of Mr. Lubin Log into Mr. Liston:—but a most
wonderful congeniality and mutual good understanding there is between
them. A more perfect personation we never witnessed. The happy compound
of meanness, ignorance, vulgarity, and conceit, was given with the
broadest effect, and with the nicest discrimination of feeling. Moliere
would not have wished for a richer representative of his _Gentilhomme
Bourgeois_. We insist the more on this point, because of all imitations
we like the imitation of nature best. The marked _cockneyism_ of
pronouncing the V for the W, was the only circumstance to which we could
object, and this is an interpolation on the part since we first saw it,
suggested (we suppose) by friends. It is a hackneyed and cheap way of
producing a laugh, unworthy of the true comic genius of Liston.


                           THE BEGGAR’S OPERA

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                        _Oct. 23, 1813._

The Beggar’s Opera was acted at Covent-Garden last night, for the
purpose of introducing Miss Stephens in the character of Polly. The play
itself is among the most popular of our dramas, and one which the public
are always glad to have some new excuse for seeing acted again. Its
merits are peculiarly its own. It not only delights, but instructs us,
without our knowing how, and though it is at first view equally
offensive to good taste and common decency. The materials, indeed, of
which it is composed, the scenes, characters, and incidents, are in
general of the lowest and most disgusting kind; but the author, by the
sentiments and reflections which he has put into the mouths of
highwaymen, turnkeys, their wives and daughters, has converted the
motley group into a set of fine gentlemen and ladies, satirists, and
philosophers. What is still more extraordinary, he has effected this
transformation without once violating probability, or ‘o’erstepping the
modesty of nature.’ In fact, Gay has in this instance turned the tables
on the critics; and by the assumed license of the mock-heroic style, has
enabled himself to _do justice to nature_, that is, to give all the
force, truth, and locality of real feeling to the thoughts and
expressions, without being called to the bar of false taste, and
affected delicacy. We might particularly refer to Polly’s description of
the death of her lover, and to the song, ‘Woman is like the fair flower
in its lustre,’ the extreme beauty and feeling of which are only
equalled by their characteristic propriety and _naivete_. Every line of
this sterling Comedy sparkles with wit, and is fraught with the keenest
and bitterest invective.

It has been said by a great moralist, ‘There is some soul of goodness in
things evil;’ and The Beggar’s Opera is a good-natured, but severe
comment on this text. The poet has thrown all the gaiety and sunshine of
the imagination, the intoxication of pleasure, and the vanity of
despair, round the short-lived existence of his heroes, while Peachum
and Lockitt are seen in the back ground, parcelling out their months and
weeks between them. The general view of human life is of the most
refined and abstracted kind. With the happiest art, the author has
brought out the good qualities and interesting emotions almost
inseparable from humanity in the lowest situations, and with the same
penetrating glance, has detected the disguises which rank and
circumstance lend to exalted vice. It may be said that the moral of the
piece (which some respectable critics have been at a loss to discover),
_is to shew the vulgarity of vice_; or that the sophisms with which the
great and powerful palliate their violations of integrity and decorum,
are, in fact, common to them with the vilest, most abandoned and
contemptible of the species. What can be more galling than the arguments
used by these would-be politicians, to prove that in hypocrisy,
selfishness, and treachery, they are far behind some of their betters?
The exclamation of Mrs. Peachum, when her daughter marries Macheath,
‘Hussey, hussey, you will be as ill used and as much neglected as if you
had married a Lord,’ is worth all Miss Hannah More’s laboured invectives
on the laxity of the manners of high life!

The innocent and amiable Polly found a most interesting representative
in Miss Stephens. Her acting throughout was simple, unaffected,
graceful, and full of tenderness. Her tones in speaking, though low, and
suited to the gentleness of the character, were distinct, and varied
with great flexibility. She will lose by her performance of this part,
none of the reputation she has gained in Mandane. The manner in which
she gave the song in the first act, ‘But he so teazed me,’ &c. was
sweetness itself: the notes undulated through the house, amidst murmurs
of rapturous applause. She gave equal animation and feeling to the
favourite air, ‘Cease your funning.’ To this, however, as well as to
some other of the songs, a more dramatic effect might perhaps be given.
There is a severity of feeling, and a plaintive sadness, both in the
words and music of the songs in this Opera, on which too much stress
cannot be laid.

                                                              _Oct. 30._

Miss Stephens made her appearance again last night at Covent-Garden, in
Polly, with additional lustre. Her timidity was overcome, and her voice
was exerted in all its force and sweetness. We find so much real taste,
elegance, and feeling, in this very delightful singer, that we cannot
help repeating our praise of her, though, perhaps, by so doing, we shall
only irritate the sullen fury of certain formidable critics, at the
appearance of a new favourite of the public. We are aware that there is
a class of connoisseurs whose envy it might be prudent to disarm, by
some compromise with their perverted taste; who are horror-struck at
grace and beauty, and who can only find relief and repose in the
consoling thoughts of deformity and defect; whose blood curdles into
poison at deserved reputation, who shudder at every temptation _to
admire_, as an unpardonable crime, and shrink from whatever gives
delight to others, with more than monkish self-denial. These kind of
critics are well described by Molière, as displaying, on all occasions,
an invincible hatred for what the rest of the world admire, and an
inconceivable partiality for those perfections which none but themselves
can discover. The secret both of their affection and enmity is the
same—their pride is mortified with whatever can give pleasure, and
soothed with what excites only pity or indifference. They search out
with scrupulous malice, the smallest defect or excess of every kind: it
is only when it becomes painfully oppressive to every one else, that
they are reconciled to it. A critic of this order is dissatisfied with
the _embonpoint_ of Miss Stephens; while his eye reposes with perfect
self-complacency on the little round graces of Mrs. Liston’s person!


                          RICHARD CŒUR DE LION

 _The Morning Chronicle._

                                                         _May 27, 1814._

Richard Cœur de Lion was brought out last night at Covent-Garden, in
which Miss Stephens made her appearance in the character of Matilda. She
looked and spoke the part well, but the favourite pathetic air of ‘Oh,
Richard! oh, my love,’ was omitted, we suppose in consequence of
indisposition.

The new farce, called ‘Tricking’s fair in Love,’ followed, but with
little success; for after being heard out with great fairness, it was
decidedly condemned at last, notwithstanding some inimitable acting by
Liston as Count Hottentot. We never saw his face in a state of higher
keeping. It was quite rich and unctuous.

A young lady (Miss Foote) afterwards made her first appearance in
Amanthis. Her face and figure excited the liveliest interest as soon as
she appeared; which her manner of executing the part did not diminish,
but increased as she proceeded. Her voice possesses great clearness and
sweetness, and her enunciation is exceedingly distinct and articulate,
without any appearance of labour. Her features are soft and regular. She
perfectly answered to the idea which we form of youth, beauty, grace,
and artless innocence in the original character. She seemed to be,
indeed, the Child of Nature, such as

                 ‘Youthful poets fancy when they love.’

Her reception throughout was flattering in the highest degree.


                           DIDONE ABANDONNATA

 _The Champion._

                                                      _August 14, 1814._

The Opera closed for the season on Saturday last. We attended on this
farewell occasion, without any strong feelings of regret for the past,
or of sanguine expectations for the future. The Opera, from its constant
and powerful appeals to the senses, by imagery, by sound, and motion, is
well calculated to amuse or stimulate the intellectual languor of those
classes of society, on whose support it immediately depends. This is its
highest aim, and its appropriate use. But, without the aid of luxurious
pomp, what can there be to interest in this merely artificial vehicle of
show, and dance, and song, which is purposely constructed so as to lull
every effort of the understanding and feeling of the heart in the soft,
soothing effeminacy of sensual enjoyment? The Opera Muse is not a
beautiful virgin who can hope to charm by simplicity and sensibility;
but a tawdry courtesan, who, when her paint and patches, her rings and
jewels are stripped off, can excite only disgust and ridicule. This is
the state to which she has been reduced by dissentions among her keepers
for the last season.—Nothing could be more unpleasant than the
impression produced on our minds by the exhibition of Saturday last.
Tattered hanging fragments of curtains, disjointed machinery, silver
pannels turned black, a few thinly scattered lamps badly lighted, were
among the various circumstances which threw a damp over our spirits.
Bankruptcy every where stared us in the face. The general _coup d’œil_
of the theatre had no affinity with gaiety or grandeur. The whole had
the melancholy appearance, without any of the sublimity, of some relic
of eastern magnificence.

The Opera was Didone Abandonnata, in which Madame Grassini performed the
part of the unfortunate Queen, and Signor Tramezzani (appearing for the
last time on the English stage), that of the faithless Æneas. During the
greater part of the first act, there was hardly any body in the pit, and
nobody in the boxes. The performance evidently partook of the apathy of
the public. We do not know otherwise how to account for the undress
manner in which Madame Grassini acted the part of Dido. She walked
through it with the most perfect indifference, or as if she had been at
a morning rehearsal before empty benches. The graceful dignity of the
character never left her, but it was the habitual grace of a queen
surrounded by her maids of honour, not the impassioned energy of a queen
enamoured of the son of a goddess, and courted by Numidian kings. Even
after the desertion of Æneas, and when the flames of her capital were
surrounding her, the terror and agitation she displayed did not amount
to the anxiety of a common assignation-scene; her trills and quavers
very artfully mimicked the uncertain progress of the tremulous flames;
and she at last left the stage, not as if rushing in an agony of despair
to her fate, but with the hurry and alarm of a person who is afraid of
being detected in a clandestine correspondence. In some passages,
however, both of the recitative and the songs, the beauty of the
movement or the force of the sentiment drew from her tones of mingled
grace and energy, which ‘might create a soul under the ribs of death.’
This effect seemed to be purely involuntary, and not to proceed from any
desire to gratify the audience, or to do justice to the part she had to
sustain.

The same objections cannot be applied to the acting of Signor
Tramezzani, in which there was no want of animation or effort. We are
not among this gentleman’s enthusiastic admirers; at the same time we
would not wish to speak of him more contemptuously than he deserves.
There is, we think, in general, considerable propriety in his
conception, and great spirit in his execution; but it is almost
universally carried into grimace and caricature. His heroes have the
fierceness of bullies; his lovers are the fondest creatures;—his frowns
and his smiles seem alike fated to kill. We object most to the latter.
Signor Tramezzani is really too prodigal of his physical
accomplishments: his acting is quite of the amatory kind. We see no
reason why Æneas, because Dido takes him by the hand, should ogle the
sweet heavens with such tender glances, nor why his lips should feed on
the imagination of a kiss, as if he had tasted marmalade. Signor
Tramezzani’s amorous raptures put us in mind of the pious ardours of a
female saint, who sighs out her soul at some divine man at a
conventicle. We hate such fulsome fooleries.

After the Opera ‘God save the King’ was sung. The first verse was given
by Madame Grassini, with that ease and simplicity which are natural to
her. The second was torn to tatters by Signor Tramezzani with every
preposterous accompaniment of imitative action. Into the homely couplet,

                         ‘Scatter his enemies,
                         And make them fall,’

he introduced as much heroic action, as if Jove, in the first line, had
had to shake a thousand thunderbolts from his hand, and in the next to
transfix the giants to the earth. The bow with which this celebrated
actor quitted the stage was endless and inimitable. The Genius of
Scotland would have turned pale with envy at the sight! Of the other
performers we shall say nothing. M. Vestris made an able-bodied
representative of Zephyr in the ballet.


                         MISS O’NEILL’S JULIET

 _The Champion._

                                                        _Oct. 16, 1814._

We occasionally see something on the stage that reminds us a little of
Shakespear. Miss O’Neill’s Juliet, if it does not correspond exactly
with our idea of the character, does not degrade it. We never saw
Garrick; and Mrs. Siddons was the only person who ever embodied our idea
of high tragedy. Her mind and person were both fitted for it. The effect
of her acting was greater than could be conceived before-hand. It
perfectly filled and overpowered the mind. The first time of seeing this
great artist was an epoch in every one’s life, and left impressions
which could never be forgotten. She appeared to belong to a superior
order of beings, to be surrounded with a personal awe, like some
prophetess of old, or Roman matron, the mother of Coriolanus or the
Gracchi. Her voice answered to her form, and her expression to both. Yet
she was a pantomime actress. Her common recitation was faulty. It was in
bursts of indignation, or grief, in sudden exclamations, in apostrophes
and inarticulate sounds, that she raised the soul of passion to its
height, or sunk it in despair.

We remember her manner in the Gamester, when Stukeley, (it was then
played by Palmer), declares his love to her. The look, first of
incredulity and astonishment, then of anger, then passing suddenly into
contempt, and ending in bitter scorn, and a convulsive burst of
laughter, all given in a moment, and laying open every movement of the
soul, produced an effect which we shall never forget. Her manner of
rubbing her hands, in the night scene in Macbeth, and of dismissing the
guests at the banquet, were among her finest things. We have, many years
ago, wept outright during the whole time of her playing Isabella, and
this we take to have been a higher employment of the critical faculties
than doubling down the book in dog-ears to make out a regular list of
critical common-places. To the tears formerly shed on such occasions, we
may apply the words of a modern dashing orator, ‘Sweet is the dew of
their memory, and pleasant the balm of their recollection.’

We have, we believe, been betrayed into this digression, because Miss
O’Neill, more than any late actress, reminded us in certain passages,
and in a faint degree, of Mrs. Siddons. This young lady, who will
probably become a favourite with the public, is rather tall; and though
not _of the first order of fine forms_, her figure is of that
respectable kind, which will not interfere with the characters she
represents. Her deportment is not particularly graceful: there is a
heaviness, and want of firmness about it. Her features are regular, and
the upper part of her face finely expressive of terror or sorrow. It has
that mixture of beauty and passion which we admire so much in some of
the antique statues. The lower part of her face is not equally good.
From a want of fulness or flexibility about the mouth, her laugh is not
at any time pleasing, and where it is a laugh of terror, is distorted
and painful. Her voice, without being musical, is distinct, powerful,
and capable of every necessary exertion. Her action is impressive and
simple. She looks the part she has to perform, and fills up the pauses
in the words, by the varied expression of her countenance or gestures,
without any thing artificial, pointed, or far-fetched.

In the silent expression of feeling, we have seldom witnessed any thing
finer than her acting, where she is told of Romeo’s death, her listening
to the Friar’s story of the poison, and her change of manner towards the
Nurse, when she advises her to marry Paris. Her delivery of the speeches
in the scenes where she laments Romeo’s banishment, and anticipates her
waking in the tomb, marked the fine play and undulation of natural
sensibility, rising and falling with the gusts of passion, and at last
worked up into an agony of despair, in which imagination approaches the
brink of frenzy. Her actually screaming at the imaginary sight of
Tybalt’s ghost, appeared to us the only instance of extravagance or
caricature. Not only is there a distinction to be kept up between
physical and intellectual horror, (for the latter becomes more general,
internal, and absorbed, in proportion as it becomes more intense), but
the scream, in the present instance, startled the audience, as it
preceded the speech which explained its meaning. Perhaps the emphasis
given to the exclamation, ‘_And Romeo banished_,’ and to the description
of Tybalt, ‘_festering in his shroud_,’ was too much in that
epigrammatic, pointed style, which we think inconsistent with the severe
and simple dignity of tragedy.

In the last scene, at the tomb with Romeo, which, however, is not from
Shakespear, though it tells admirably on the stage, she did not produce
the effect we expected. Miss O’Neill seemed least successful in the
former part of the character, in the garden scene, &c. The expression of
tenderness bordered on hoydening, and affectation. The character of
Juliet is a pure effusion of nature. It is as serious, and as much in
earnest, as it is frank and susceptible. It has all the exquisite
voluptuousness of youthful innocence.—There is not the slightest
appearance of coquetry in it, no sentimental languor, no meretricious
assumption of fondness to take her lover by surprise. She ought not to
laugh, when she says, ‘I have forgot why I did call thee back,’ as if
conscious of the artifice, nor hang in a fondling posture over the
balcony. Shakespear has given a fine idea of the composure of the
character, where he first describes her at the window, leaning her cheek
upon her arm. The whole expression of her love should be like the breath
of flowers.

Mr. Jones’s Mercutio was lively farce. Of Mr. Conway’s Romeo, we cannot
speak with patience. He bestrides the stage like a Colossus, throws his
arms into the air like the sails of a windmill, and his motion is as
unwieldy as that of a young elephant. His voice breaks in thunder on the
ear like Gargantua’s, but when he pleases to be soft, he is ‘the very
beadle to an amorous sigh.’ Mr. Coates’s absurdities are tame and
trifling in comparison.—_Quere_, Why does he not marry?


                          MR. KEAN’S RICHARD.

 _The Champion._

                                                         _Oct. 9, 1814._

We do not think Mr. Kean at all improved by his Irish expedition. As
this is a point in which we feel a good deal of interest, both on Mr.
Kean’s account and our own, we shall state briefly our objections to
some alterations in his mode of acting, which appear to us for the
worse. His pauses are twice as long as they were, and the rapidity with
which he hurries over other parts of the dialogue is twice as great as
it was. In both these points, his style of acting always bordered on the
very verge of extravagance; and we suspect it has at present passed the
line. There are, no doubt, passages in which the pauses can hardly be
too long, or too marked;—these must be, however, of rare occurrence, and
it is in the finding out these exceptions to the general rule, and in
daring to give them all their effect, that the genius of an actor
discovers itself. But the most common-place drawling monotony is not
more mechanical or more offensive, than the converting these exceptions
into a general rule, and making every sentence an alternation of dead
pauses and rapid transitions.[31] It is not in extremes that dramatic
genius is shewn, any more than skill in music consists in passing
continually from the highest to the lowest note. The quickness of
familiar utterance with which Mr. Kean pronounced the anticipated doom
of Stanley, ‘chop off his head,’ was quite ludicrous. Again, the manner
in which, after his nephew said, ‘I fear no uncles dead,’ he suddenly
turned round, and answered, ‘And I hope none living, sir,’ was, we
thought, quite out of character. The motion was performed, and the
sounds uttered, in the smallest possible time in which a puppet could be
made to mimic or gabble the part. For this we see not the least reason;
and can only account for it, from a desire to give excessive effect by a
display of the utmost dexterity of execution.

It is almost needless to observe, that executive power in acting, as in
all other arts, is only valuable as it is made subservient to truth and
nature. Even some want of mechanical skill is better than the perpetual
affectation of shewing it. The absence of a quality is often less
provoking than its abuse, because less voluntary.

The part which was least varied was the scene with Lady Anne. This is,
indeed, nearly a perfect piece of acting. In leaning against the pillar
at the commencement of the scene, Mr. Kean did not go through exactly
the same regular evolution of graceful attitudes, and we regretted the
omission. He frequently varied the execution of many of his most
striking conceptions, and the attempt in general failed, as it naturally
must do. We refer particularly to his manner of resting on the point of
his sword before he retires to his tent, to his treatment of the letter
sent to Norfolk, and to his dying scene with Richmond.

Mr. Kean’s _bye-play_ is certainly one of his greatest excellences, and
it might be said, that if Shakespear had written marginal directions to
the players, in the manner of the German dramatists, he would often have
directed them to do what Mr. Kean does. Such additions to the text are,
however, to be considered as lucky hits, and it is not to be supposed
that an actor is to provide an endless variety of these running
accompaniments, which he is not in strictness bound to provide at all.
In general, we think it a rule, that an actor ought to vary his part as
little as possible, unless he is convinced that his former mode of
playing it is erroneous. He should make up his mind as to the best mode
of representing the part, and come as near to this standard as he can,
in every successive exhibition. It is absurd to object to this
mechanical uniformity as studied and artificial. All acting is studied
or artificial. An actor is no more called upon to vary his gestures or
articulation at every new rehearsal of the character, than an author can
be required to furnish various readings to every separate copy of his
work. To a new audience it is quite unnecessary; to those who have seen
him before in the same part, it is worse than useless. They may at least
be presumed to have come to a second representation, because they
approved of the first, and will be sure to be disappointed in almost
every alteration. The attempt is endless, and can only produce
perplexity and indecision in the actor himself. He must either return
perpetually in the same narrow round, or if he is determined to be
always new, he may at last fancy that he ought to perform the part
standing on his head instead of his feet. Besides, Mr. Kean’s style of
acting is not in the least of the unpremeditated, _improvisatori_ kind:
it is throughout elaborate and systematic, instead of being loose,
off-hand, and accidental. He comes upon the stage as little unprepared
as any actor we know. We object particularly to his varying the original
action in the dying scene. He at first held out his hands in a way which
can only be conceived by those who saw him—in motionless despair,—or as
if there were some preternatural power in the mere manifestation of his
will:—he now actually fights with his doubled fists, after his sword is
taken from him, like some helpless infant.

We have been quite satisfied with the attempts we have seen to ape Mr.
Kean in this part, without wishing to see him ape himself in it. There
is no such thing as trick in matters of genius. All poetical licenses,
however beautiful in themselves, by being parodied, instantly become
ridiculous. It is because beauties of this kind have no clue to them,
and are reducible to no standard, that it is the peculiar province of
genius to detect them; by making them common, and reducing them to a
rule, you make them perfectly mechanical, and perfectly absurd into the
bargain.

To conclude our hypercritical remarks: we really think that Mr. Kean
was, in a great many instances, either too familiar, too emphatical, or
too energetic. In the latter scenes, perhaps his energy could not be too
great; but he gave the energy of action alone. He merely gesticulated,
or at best vociferated the part. His articulation totally failed him. We
doubt, if a single person in the house, not acquainted with the play,
understood a single sentence that he uttered. It was ‘inexplicable dumb
show and noise.’—We wish to throw the fault of most of our objections on
the managers. Their conduct has been marked by one uniform character, a
paltry attention to their own immediate interest, a distrust of Mr.
Kean’s abilities to perform more than the character he had succeeded in,
and a contempt for the wishes of the public. They have spun him
tediously out in every character, and have forced him to display the
variety of his talents in the same, instead of different characters.
They kept him back in Shylock, till he nearly failed in Richard from a
cold. Why not bring him out in Macbeth, which was at one time got up for
him? Why not bring him out at once in a variety of characters, as the
Dublin managers have done? It does not appear that either they or he
suffered by it. It seems, by all we can find, that versatility is,
perhaps, Mr. Kean’s greatest excellence. Why, then, not give him his
range? Why tantalize the public? Why extort from them their last
shilling for the twentieth repetition of the same part, instead of
letting them make their election for themselves, of what they like best?
It is really very pitiful.

Ill as we conceive the London managers have treated him, the London
audiences have treated him well, and we wish Mr. Kean, for some years at
least, to stick to them. They are his best friends; and he may assuredly
account us, who have made these sorry remarks upon him, not among his
worst. After he has got through the season here well, we see no reason
why he should make himself hoarse with performing Hamlet at twelve
o’clock, and Richard at six, at Kidderminster. At his time of life, and
with his prospects, the improvement of his fortune is not the principal
thing. A training under Captain Barclay would do more towards
strengthening his mind and body, his fame and fortune, than sharing
bumper receipts with the Dublin managers, or carousing with the whole
Irish bar. Or, if Mr. Kean does not approve of this rough regimen, he
might devote the summer vacation to the Muses. To a man of genius,
leisure is the first of benefits, as well as of luxuries; where, ‘with
her best nurse, Contemplation,’ the mind

            ‘Can plume her feathers, and let grow her wings,
            That in the various bustle of resort
            Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impaired.’

It was our first duty to point out Mr. Kean’s excellences to the public,
and we did so with no sparing hand; it is our second duty to him, to
ourselves, and the public, to distinguish between his excellences and
defects, and to prevent, if possible, his excellences from degenerating
into defects.


                           MR. KEAN’S MACBETH

 _The Champion._

                                                        _Nov. 13, 1814._

The genius of Shakespear was as much shewn in the subtlety and nice
discrimination, as in the force and variety of his characters. The
distinction is not preserved more completely in those which are the most
opposite, than in those which in their general features and obvious
appearance most nearly resemble each other. It has been observed, with
very little exaggeration, that not one of his speeches could be put into
the mouth of any other character than the one to which it is given, and
that the transposition, if attempted, might be always detected from some
circumstance in the passage itself. If _to invent according to nature_,
be the true definition of genius, Shakespear had more of this quality
than any other writer. He might be said to have been a joint-worker with
Nature, and to have created an imaginary world of his own, which has all
the appearance and the truth of reality. His mind, while it exerted an
absolute controul over the stronger workings of the passions, was
exquisitely alive to the slightest impulses and most evanescent shades
of character and feeling. The broad distinctions and governing
principles of human nature are presented not in the abstract, but in
their immediate and endless application to different persons and things.
The local details, the particular accidents have the fidelity of
history, without losing any thing of their general effect.

It is the business of poetry, and indeed of all works of imagination, to
exhibit the species through the individual. Otherwise, there can be no
opportunity for the exercise of the imagination, without which the
descriptions of the painter or the poet are lifeless, unsubstantial, and
vapid. If some modern critics are right, with their sweeping
generalities and vague abstractions, Shakespear was quite wrong. In the
French dramatists, only the class is represented, never the individual:
their kings, their heroes, and their lovers are all the same, and they
are all French—that is, they are nothing but the mouth-pieces of certain
rhetorical common-place sentiments on the favourite topics of morality
and the passions. The characters in Shakespear do not declaim like
pedantic school-boys, but speak and act like men, placed in real
circumstances, with ‘real hearts of flesh and blood beating in their
bosoms.’ No two of his characters are the same, more than they would be
so in nature. Those that are the most alike, are distinguished by
positive differences, which accompany and modify the leading principle
of the character through its most obscure ramifications, embodying the
habits, gestures, and almost the looks of the individual. These touches
of nature are often so many, and so minute, that the poet cannot be
supposed to have been distinctly aware of the operation of the springs
by which his imagination was set at work: yet every one of the results
is brought out with a truth and clearness, as if his whole study had
been directed to that peculiar trait of character, or subordinate train
of feeling.

Thus Macbeth, and Richard the Third, King Henry the Sixth, and Richard
the Second,—characters that, in their general description, and in common
hands, would be merely repetitions of the same idea—are distinguished by
traits as precise, though of course less violent, than those which
separate Macbeth from Henry the Sixth, or Richard the Third from Richard
the Second. Shakespear has, with wonderful accuracy, and without the
smallest appearance of effort, varied the portraits of imbecility and
effeminacy in the two deposed monarchs. With still more powerful and
masterly strokes, he has marked the different effects of ambition and
cruelty, operating on different dispositions in different circumstances,
in his Macbeth and Richard the Third. Both are tyrants and usurpers,
both violent and ambitious, both cruel and treacherous. But, Richard is
cruel from nature and constitution. Macbeth becomes so from accidental
circumstances. He is urged to the commission of guilt by golden
opportunity, by the instigations of his wife, and by prophetic warnings.
‘Fate and metaphysical aid,’ conspire against his virtue and loyalty.
Richard needs no prompter, but wades through a series of crimes to the
height of his ambition, from ungovernable passions and the restless love
of mischief. He is never gay but in the prospect, or in the success of
his villanies: Macbeth is full of horror at the thoughts of the murder
of Duncan, and of remorse after its perpetration. Richard has no mixture
of humanity in his composition, no tie which binds him to the kind; he
owns no fellowship with others, but is himself alone. Macbeth is not
without feelings of sympathy, is accessible to pity, is even the dupe of
his uxoriousness, and ranks the loss of friends and of his good name
among the causes that have made him sick of life. He becomes more
callous indeed as he plunges deeper in guilt, ‘direness is thus made
familiar to his slaughterous thoughts,’ and he anticipates his wife in
the boldness and bloodiness of his enterprises, who, for want of the
same stimulus of action, is ‘troubled with thick-coming fancies,’ walks
in her sleep, goes mad, and dies. Macbeth endeavours to escape from
reflection on his crimes, by repelling their consequences, and banishes
remorse for the past, by meditating future mischief. This is not the
principle of Richard’s cruelty, which resembles the cold malignity of a
fiend, rather than the frailty of human nature. Macbeth is goaded on by
necessity; to Richard, blood is a pastime.—

There are other essential differences. Richard is a man of the world, a
vulgar, plotting, hardened villain, wholly regardless of every thing but
his own ends, and the means to accomplish them. Not so Macbeth. The
superstitions of the time, the rude state of society, the local scenery
and customs, all give a wildness and imaginary grandeur to his
character. From the strangeness of the events which surround him, he is
full of amazement and fear, and stands in doubt between the world of
reality and the world of fancy. He sees sights not shewn to mortal eye,
and hears unearthly music. All is tumult and disorder within and without
his mind. In thought, he is absent and perplexed, desperate in act: his
purposes recoil upon himself, are broken, and disjointed: he is the
double thrall of his passions and his evil destiny. He treads upon the
brink of fate, and grows dizzy with his situation. Richard is not a
character of imagination, but of pure will or passion. There is no
conflict of opposite feelings in his breast. The apparitions which he
sees are in his sleep, nor does he live like Macbeth, in a waking dream.

Such, at least, is our conception of the two characters, as drawn by
Shakespear. Mr. Kean does not distinguish them so completely as he
might. His Richard comes nearer to the original than his Macbeth. He was
deficient in the poetry of the character. He did not look like a man who
had encountered the Weird Sisters. There should be nothing tight or
compact in Macbeth, no tenseness of fibre, nor pointed decision of
manner. He has, indeed, energy and manliness of soul, but ‘subject to
all the skyey influences.’ He is sure of nothing. All is left at issue.
He runs a-tilt with fortune, and is baffled with preternatural riddles.
The agitation of his mind resembles the rolling of the sea in a storm;
or, he is like a lion in the toils—fierce, impetuous, and ungovernable.
In the fifth act in particular, which is in itself as busy and turbulent
as possible, there was not that giddy whirl of the imagination—the
character did not burnish out on all sides with those flashes of genius,
of which Mr. Kean had given so fine an earnest in the conclusion of his
Richard. The scene stood still—the parts might be perfect in themselves,
but they were not joined together; they wanted vitality. The pauses in
the speeches were too long—the actor seemed to be studying the part,
rather than performing it—striving to make every word more emphatic than
the last, and ‘lost too poorly in himself,’ instead of being carried
away with the grandeur of his subject. The text was not given
accurately. Macbeth is represented in the play, arming before the
castle, which adds to the interest of the scene.

In the delivery of the beautiful soliloquy, ‘My way of life is fallen
into the sear, the yellow leaf,’ Mr. Kean was unsuccessful. That fine
thoughtful melancholy did not seem to come over his mind, which
characterises Mr. Kemble’s recitation of these lines. The very tone of
Mr. Kemble’s voice has something retrospective in it—it is an echo of
the past. Mr. Kean in his dress was occasionally too much docked and
curtailed for the gravity of the character. His movements were too agile
and mercurial, and he fought more like a modern fencing-master than a
Scottish chieftain of the eleventh century. He fell at last finely, with
his face downwards, as if to cover the shame of his defeat. We recollect
that Mr. Cooke discovered the great actor both in the death-scene in
Macbeth, and in that of Richard. He fell like the ruin of a state, like
a king with his regalia about him.

The two finest things that Mr. Kean has ever done, are his recitation of
the passage in Othello, ‘Then, oh, farewell the tranquil mind,’ and the
scene in Macbeth after the murder. The former was the highest and most
perfect effort of his art. To enquire whether his manner in the latter
scene was that of a king who commits a murder, or of a man who commits a
murder to become a king, would be ‘to consider too curiously.’ But, as a
lesson of common humanity, it was heart-rending. The hesitation, the
bewildered look, the coming to himself when he sees his hands bloody;
the manner in which his voice clung to his throat, and choaked his
utterance; his agony and tears, the force of nature overcome by
passion—beggared description. It was a scene, which no one who saw it
can ever efface from his recollection.


                            MR. KEAN’S ROMEO

 _The Champion._

                                                      _January 8, 1815._

Mr. Kean appeared at Drury-Lane in the character of Romeo, for the first
time on Monday last. The house was crowded at an early hour, and neither
those who went to admire, nor those who went to find fault, could go
away disappointed. He discovered no new and unlooked-for excellences in
the part, but displayed the same extraordinary energies which he never
fails to do on every occasion. There is, indeed, a set of ingenious
persons, who having perceived on Mr. Kean’s first appearance, that he
was a little man with an inharmonious voice, and no very great dignity
or elegance of manner, go regularly to the theatre to confirm themselves
in this singular piece of sagacity; and finding that the object of their
contempt and wonder has not, since they last saw him, ‘added a cubit to
his stature,’—that his tones have not become ‘as musical as is Apollo’s
lute,’ and that there is still an habitual want of grace about him, are
determined, till such a metamorphosis is effected, not to allow a
particle of genius to the actor, or of taste or common sense to those
who are not stupidly blind to every thing but his defects. That an actor
with very moderate abilities, having the advantages of voice, person and
gracefulness of manner on his side, should acquire a very high
reputation, is what we can understand, and have seen some instances of;
but that an actor with almost every physical disadvantage against him,
should, without very extraordinary powers and capacities indeed, be able
to excite the most enthusiastic and general admiration, would, we
conceive, be a phenomenon in the history of public imposture, totally
without example. In fact, the generality of critics who undertake to
give the tone to public opinion, have neither the courage nor
discernment to decide on the merits of a truly excellent and original
actor, and are equally without the candour to acknowledge their error,
after they find themselves in the wrong.

In going to see Mr. Kean in any new character, we do not go in the
expectation of seeing either a perfect actor or perfect acting; because
this is what we have not yet seen, either in him or in any one else. But
we go to see (what he never disappoints us in) great spirit, ingenuity,
and originality given to the text in general, and an energy and depth of
passion given to certain scenes and passages, which we should in vain
look for from any other actor on the stage. In every character that he
has played, in Shylock, in Richard, in Hamlet, in Othello, in Iago, in
Luke, and in Macbeth, there has been either a dazzling repetition of
master-strokes of art and nature, or if at any time (from a want of
physical adaptation, or sometimes of just conception of the character)
the interest has flagged for a considerable interval, the deficiency has
always been redeemed by some collected and overpowering display of
energy or pathos, which electrified at the moment, and left a lasting
impression on the mind afterwards. Such, for instance, were the
murder-scene in Macbeth, the third act of his Othello, the interview
with Ophelia in Hamlet, and, lastly, the scene with Friar Lawrence, and
the death-scene in Romeo.

Of the characters that Mr. Kean has played, Hamlet and Romeo are the
most like one another, at least in adventitious circumstances; those to
which Mr. Kean’s powers are least adapted, and in which he has failed
most in general truth of conception and continued interest. There is in
both characters the same strong tincture of youthful enthusiasm, of
tender melancholy, of romantic thought and sentiment; but we confess we
did not see these qualities in Mr. Kean’s performance of either. His
Romeo had nothing of the lover in it. We never saw any thing less ardent
or less voluptuous. In the Balcony-scene in particular, he was cold,
tame, and unimpressive. It was said of Garrick and Barry in this scene,
that the one acted it as if he would jump up to the lady, and the other
as if he would make the lady jump down to him. Mr. Kean produced neither
of these effects. He stood like a statue of lead. Even Mr. Conway might
feel taller on the occasion, and Mr. Coates wonder at the taste of the
public. The only time in this scene when he attempted to give any thing
like an effect, was when he smiled on over-hearing Juliet’s confession
of her passion. But the smile was less like that of a fortunate lover
who unexpectedly hears his happiness confirmed, than of a discarded
lover, who hears of the disappointment of a rival.—The whole of this
part not only wanted ‘the silver sound of lovers’ tongues by night’ to
recommend it, but warmth, tenderness,—everything which it should have
possessed. Mr. Kean was like a man waiting to receive a message from his
mistress through her confidante, not like one who was pouring out his
rapturous vows to the idol of his soul. There was neither glowing
animation, nor melting softness in his manner; his cheek was not
flushed, no sigh breathed involuntary from his overcharged bosom: all
was forced and lifeless. His acting sometimes reminded us of the scene
with Lady Anne, and we cannot say a worse thing of it, considering the
difference of the two characters. Mr. Kean’s imagination appears not to
have the principles of joy, or hope, or love in it. He seems chiefly
sensible to pain, or to the passions that spring from it, and to the
terrible energies of mind or body, which are necessary to grapple with,
or to avert it. Even over the world of passion he holds but a divided
sway: he either does not feel, or seldom expresses, deep, sustained,
internal sentiment,—there is no repose in his mind: no feeling seems to
take full possession of it, that is not linked to action, and that does
not goad him on to the phrenzy of despair. Or if he ever conveys the
sublimer pathos of thought and feeling, it is after the storm of
passion, to which he has been worked up, has subsided. The tide of
feeling then at times rolls deep, majestic, and awful, like the surging
sea after a tempest, now lifted to Heaven, now laying bare the bosom of
the deep. Thus after the violence and anguish of the scene with Iago, in
the third act of Othello, his voice in the farewell apostrophe to
Content, took the deep intonation of the pealing organ, and heaved from
the heart sounds that came on the ear like the funeral dirge of years of
promised happiness. So in the midst of the extravagant and irresistible
expression of Romeo’s grief, at being banished from the object of his
love, his voice suddenly stops, and faulters, and is choaked with sobs
of tenderness, when he comes to Juliet’s name. Those persons must be
made of sterner stuff than ourselves, who are proof against Mr. Kean’s
acting, both in this scene, and in his dying convulsion at the close of
the play. But in the fine soliloquy beginning, ‘What said my man, when
my betossed soul, &c.’—and at the tomb afterwards—‘Here will I set up my
everlasting rest, and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this
world-wearied flesh,’—in these, where the sentiment is subdued and
profound, and the passion is lost in calm, fixed despair, Mr. Kean’s
acting was comparatively ineffectual. There was nothing in his manner of
delivering this last exquisitely beautiful speech, which echoed to the
still sad music of humanity, which recalled past hopes, or reposed on
the dim shadowings of futurity.

Mr. Kean affects the audience from the force of passion instead of
sentiment, or sinks into pathos from the violence of action, but seldom
rises into it from the power of thought and feeling. In this respect, he
presents almost a direct contrast to Miss O’Neill. Her energy always
arises out of her sensibility. Distress takes possession of, and
overcomes her faculties; she triumphs in her weakness, and vanquishes by
yielding. Mr. Kean is greatest in the conflict of passion, and
resistance to his fate, in the opposition of his will, in the keen
excitement of his understanding. His Romeo is, in the best scenes, very
superior to Miss O’Neill’s Juliet; but it is with some difficulty, and
after some reflection, that we should say that the finest parts of his
acting are superior to the finest parts of hers;—to her parting with
Jaffier in Belvidera,—to her terror and her joy in meeting with Biron,
in Isabella,—to the death-scene in the same character, and to the scene
in the prison with her husband as Mrs. Beverley. Her acting is
undoubtedly more correct, equable, and faultless throughout than Mr.
Kean’s, and it is quite as affecting at the time, in the most
impassioned parts. But it does not leave the same impression on the mind
afterwards. It adds little to the stock of our ideas, or to our
materials for reflection, but passes away with the momentary illusion of
the scene. And this difference of effect, perhaps, arises from the
difference of the parts they have to sustain on the stage. In the female
characters which Miss O’Neill plays, the distress is in a great measure
physical and natural: that is,—such as is common to every sensible woman
in similar circumstances. She abandons herself to every impulse of grief
or tenderness, and revels in the excess of an uncontroulable affliction.
She can call to her aid, with perfect propriety and effect, all the
weaknesses of her sex,—tears, sighs, convulsive sobs, shrieks,
death-like stupefaction, and laughter more terrible than all. But it is
not the same in the parts in which Mr. Kean has to act. There must here
be a manly fortitude, as well as a natural sensibility. There must be a
restraint constantly put upon the feelings by the understanding and the
will. He must be ‘as one, in suffering all, who suffers nothing.’ He
cannot give way entirely to his situation or his feelings, but must
endeavour to become master of them, and of himself. This, in our
conception, must make it more easy to give entire effect and interest to
female characters on the stage, by rendering the expression of passion
more obvious, simple, and natural; and must also make them less
rememberable afterwards, by leaving less scope for the exercise of
intellect, and for the distinct and complicated reaction of the
character upon circumstances. At least, we can only account in some such
way for the different impressions which the acting of these two admired
performers makes on our mind, when we see, or when we think of them. As
critics, we particularly feel this. Mr. Kean affords a never-failing
source of observation and discussion; we can only _praise_ Miss
O’Neill.—The peculiarity and the strong hold of Mrs. Siddons’ acting
was, that she, in a wonderful manner, united both the extremes of acting
here spoken of,—that is, all the frailties of passion, with all the
strength and resources of the intellect.


                            MR. KEAN’S IAGO.

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _July 24, 1814._

We regretted some time ago, that we could only get a casual glimpse of
Mr. Kean in the character of Iago; we have since been more fortunate,
and we certainly think his performance of the part one of the most
extraordinary exhibitions on the stage. There is no one within our
remembrance, who has so completely foiled the critics as this celebrated
actor: one sagacious person imagines that he must perform a part in a
certain manner; another virtuoso chalks out a different path for him;
and when the time comes, he does the whole off in a way, that neither of
them had the least conception of, and which both of them are therefore
very ready to condemn as entirely wrong. It was ever the trick of genius
to be thus. We confess that Mr. Kean has thrown us out more than once.
For instance, we are very much inclined to persist in the objection we
before made, that his Richard is not gay enough, and that his Iago is
not grave enough. This he may perhaps conceive to be the mere caprice of
captious criticism; but we will try to give our reasons, and shall leave
them to Mr. Kean’s better judgment.

It is to be remembered, then, that Richard was a princely villain, borne
along in a sort of triumphal car of royal state, buoyed up with the
hopes and privileges of his birth, reposing even on the sanctity of
religion, trampling on his devoted victims without remorse, and who
looked out and laughed from the high watch-tower of his confidence and
his expectations, on the desolation and misery he had caused around him.
He held on his way, unquestioned, ‘hedged in with the divinity of
kings,’ amenable to no tribunal, and abusing his power _in contempt of
mankind_. But as for Iago, we conceive differently of him. He had not
the same natural advantages. He was a mere adventurer in mischief, a
pains-taking, plodding knave, without patent or pedigree, who was
obliged to work his uphill way by wit, not by will, and to be the
founder of his own fortune. He was, if we may be allowed a vulgar
allusion, a true prototype of modern Jacobinism, who thought that
talents ought to decide the place; a man of ‘morbid sensibility’ (in the
fashionable phrase), full of distrust, of hatred, of anxious and
corroding thoughts, and who, though he might assume a temporary
superiority over others by superior adroitness, and pride himself in his
skill, could not be supposed to assume it as a matter of course, as if
he had been entitled to it from his birth.

We do not here mean to enter into the characters of the two men, but
something must be allowed to the difference of their situations. There
might be the same indifference in both as to the end in view, but there
could not well be the same security as to the success of the means. Iago
had to pass through a different ordeal: he had no appliances and means
to boot; no royal road to the completion of his tragedy. His pretensions
were not backed by authority; they were not baptized at the font; they
were not holy-water proof. He had the whole to answer for in his own
person, and could not shift the responsibility to the heads of others.
Mr. Kean’s Richard was therefore, we think, deficient in something of
that regal jollity and reeling triumph of success which the part would
bear; but this we can easily account for, because it is the traditional
common-place idea of the character, that he is to ‘play the dog—to bite
and snarl.’—The extreme unconcern and laboured levity of his Iago, on
the contrary, is a refinement and original device of the actor’s own
mind, and deserves a distinct consideration. The character of Iago, in
fact, belongs to a class of characters common to Shakespear, and at the
same time peculiar to him, namely, that of great intellectual activity,
accompanied with a total want of moral principle, and therefore
displaying itself at the constant expence of others, making use of
reason as a pander to will—employing its ingenuity and its resources to
palliate its own crimes, and aggravate the faults of others, and seeking
to confound the practical distinctions of right and wrong, by referring
them to some overstrained standard of speculative refinement.

Some persons more nice than wise, have thought the whole of the
character of Iago unnatural. Shakespear, who was quite as good a
philosopher as he was a poet, thought otherwise. He knew that the love
of power, which is another name for the love of mischief, was natural to
man. He would know this as well or better than if it had been
demonstrated to him by a logical diagram, merely from seeing children
paddle in the dirt, or kill flies for sport. We might ask those who
think the character of Iago not natural, why they go to see it
performed—but from the interest it excites, the sharper edge which it
sets on their curiosity and imagination? Why do we go to see tragedies
in general! Why do we always read the accounts in the newspapers, of
dreadful fires and shocking murders, but for the same reason? Why do so
many persons frequent executions and trials; or why do the lower classes
almost universally take delight in barbarous sports and cruelty to
animals, but because there is a natural tendency in the mind to strong
excitement, a desire to have its faculties roused and stimulated to the
utmost? Whenever this principle is not under the restraint of humanity
or the sense of moral obligation, there are no excesses to which it will
not of itself give rise, without the assistance of any other motive,
either of passion or self-interest. Iago is only an extreme instance of
the kind; that is, of diseased intellectual activity, with an almost
perfect indifference to moral good or evil, or rather with a preference
of the latter, because it falls more in with his favourite propensity,
gives greater zest to his thoughts and scope to his actions. Be it
observed, too, (for the sake of those who are for squaring all human
actions by the maxims of Rochefoucault), that he is quite or nearly as
indifferent to his own fate as to that of others; that he runs all risks
for a trifling and doubtful advantage; and is himself the dupe and
victim of his ruling passion—an incorrigible love of mischief—an
insatiable craving after action of the most difficult and dangerous
kind. Our Ancient is a philosopher, who fancies that a lie that kills,
has more point in it than an alliteration or an antithesis; who thinks a
fatal experiment on the peace of a family a better thing than watching
the palpitations in the heart of a flea in an air-pump; who plots the
ruin of his friends as an exercise for his understanding, and stabs men
in the dark to prevent _ennui_. Now this, though it be sport, yet it is
dreadful sport. There is no room for trifling and indifference, nor
scarcely for the appearance of it; the very object of his whole plot is
to keep his faculties stretched on the rack, in a state of watch and
ward, in a sort of breathless suspense, without a moment’s interval of
repose. He has a desperate stake to play for, like a man who fences with
poisoned weapons, and has business enough on his hands to call for the
whole stock of his sober circumspection, his dark duplicity, and
insidious gravity. He resembles a man who sits down to play at chess,
for the sake of the difficulty and complication of the game, and who
immediately becomes absorbed in it. His amusements, if they are
amusements, are severe and saturnine—even his wit blisters. His gaiety
arises from the success of his treachery; his ease from the sense of the
torture he has inflicted on others. Even if other circumstances
permitted it, the part he has to play with Othello requires that he
should assume the most serious concern, and something of the
plausibility of a confessor. ‘His cue is villainous melancholy, with a
sigh like Tom o’ Bedlam.’ He is repeatedly called ‘honest Iago,’ which
looks as if there were something suspicious in his appearance, which
admitted a different construction. The tone which he adopts in the
scenes with Roderigo, Desdemona, and Cassio, is only a relaxation from
the more arduous business of the play. Yet there is in all his
conversation, an inveterate misanthropy, a licentious keenness of
perception, which is always sagacious of evil, and snuffs up the tainted
scent of its quarry with rancorous delight. An exuberance of spleen is
the essence of the character. The view which we have here taken of the
subject, (if at all correct) will not therefore justify the extreme
alteration which Mr. Kean has introduced into the part.

Actors in general have been struck only with the wickedness of the
character, and have exhibited an assassin going to the place of
execution. Mr. Kean has abstracted the wit of the character, and makes
Iago appear throughout an excellent good fellow, and lively
bottle-companion. But though we do not wish him to be represented as a
monster, or a fiend, we see no reason why he should instantly be
converted into a pattern of comic gaiety and good humour. The light
which illumines the character, should rather resemble the flashes of
lightning in the mirky sky, which make the darkness more terrible. Mr.
Kean’s Iago is, we suspect, too much in the sun. His manner of acting
the part would have suited better with the character of Edmund in King
Lear, who, though in other respects much the same, has a spice of
gallantry in his constitution, and has the favour and countenance of the
ladies, which always gives a man the smug appearance of a bridegroom!—We
shall in another article, illustrate these remarks by a reference to
some passages in the text itself.


                            MR KEAN’S IAGO.

                             (_concluded_)


 _The Examiner._

                                                         _Aug. 7, 1814._

The general groundwork of the character of Iago, as it appears to us, is
not absolute malignity, but a want of moral principle, or an
indifference to the real consequences of the actions, which the meddling
perversity of his disposition and love of immediate excitement lead him
to commit. He is an amateur of tragedy in real life; and instead of
exercising his ingenuity on imaginary characters, or forgotten
incidents, he takes the bolder and more desperate course of getting up
his plot at home, casts the principal parts among his nearest friends
and connections, and rehearses it in downright earnest, with steady
nerves and unabated resolution. The character is a complete abstraction
of the intellectual from the moral being; or, in other words, consists
in an absorption of every common feeling in the virulence of his
understanding, the deliberate wilfulness of his purposes, and in his
restless, untamable love of mischievous contrivance. We proceed to quote
some particular passages in support of this opinion.

In the general dialogue and reflections, which are an accompaniment to
the progress of the catastrophe, there is a constant overflowing of gall
and bitterness. The acuteness of his malice fastens upon every thing
alike, and pursues the most distant analogies of evil with a provoking
sagacity. He by no means forms an exception to his own rule:—

                      ‘Who has that breast so pure,
              But some uncleanly apprehensions
              Keep leets and law-days, and in sessions sit
              With meditations lawful?’

His mirth is not natural and cheerful, but forced and extravagant,
partaking of the intense activity of mind and cynical contempt of others
in which it originates. Iago is not, like Candide, a believer in
optimism, but seems to have a thorough hatred or distrust of every thing
of the kind, and to dwell with gloating satisfaction on whatever can
interrupt the enjoyment of others, and gratify his moody irritability.
One of his most characteristic speeches is that immediately after the
marriage of Othello:—

       ‘_Roderigo._ What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe,
       If he can carry her thus?

       _Iago._ Call up her father:
       Rouse him [_Othello_], make after him, poison his delight,
       Proclaim him in the streets, incense her kinsmen,
       And tho’ he in a fertile climate dwell,
       Plague him with flies: tho’ that his joy be joy,
       Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t,
       As it may lose some colour.’

The pertinacious logical following up of his favourite principle in this
passage, is admirable. In the next, his imagination runs riot in the
mischief he is plotting, and breaks out into the wildness and
impetuosity of real enthusiasm:—

       ‘_Roderigo._ Here is her father’s house, I’ll call aloud.

       _Iago._ Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell,
       As when, by night and negligence, the fire
       Is spied in populous cities.’

There is nothing here of the trim levity and epigrammatic conciseness of
Mr. Kean’s manner of acting the part; which is no less paradoxical than
Mrs. Greville’s celebrated Ode to Indifference. Iago was a man of
genius, and not a _petit maitre_. One of his most frequent topics, on
which he is rich indeed, and in descanting on which, his spleen serves
him for a muse, is the disproportionate match between Desdemona and the
Moor. This is brought forward in the first scene, and is never lost
sight of afterwards.

       ‘_Brabantio._ What is the reason of this terrible summons?

       _Iago._ Sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on your gown;
       Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul:
       ——Arise, arise,
       Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
       Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
       Arise, I say.’—[_And so on to the end of the passage._]

Now, all this goes on springs well oiled: Mr. Kean’s mode of giving the
passage had the tightness of a drumhead, and was muffled (perhaps
purposely so) into the bargain.

This is a clue to the character of the lady which Iago is not at all
ready to part with. He recurs to it again in the second act, when in
answer to his insinuations against Desdemona, Roderigo says,—

  ‘I cannot believe that in her—she’s full of most bless’d conditions.

  _Iago._ Bless’d fig’s end. The wine she drinks is made of grapes. If
  she had been bless’d, she would never have loved the Moor.’

And again, with still more effect and spirit afterwards, when he takes
advantage of this very suggestion arising in Othello’s own breast:—

        ‘_Othello._ And yet how nature erring from itself—

        _Iago._ Aye, there’s the point;—as, to be bold with you,
        Not to affect many proposed matches,
        Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
        Whereto we see in all things, Nature tends;
        Foh! one may smell in such, a will most rank,
        Foul disproportions, thoughts unnatural.’

This is probing to the quick. ‘Our Ancient’ here turns the character of
poor Desdemona, as it were, inside out. It is certain that nothing but
the genius of Shakespear could have preserved the entire interest and
delicacy of the part, and have even drawn an additional elegance and
dignity from the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed. The
character indeed has always had the greatest charm for minds of the
finest sensibility.

For our own part, we are a little of Iago’s council in this matter; and
all circumstances considered, and platonics out of the question, if we
were to cast the complexion of Desdemona physiognomically, we should say
that she had a very fair skin, and very light auburn hair, inclining to
yellow! We at the same time give her infinite credit for purity and
delicacy of sentiment; but it so happens that purity and grossness
sometimes

                                    ‘nearly are allied,
              And thin partitions do their bounds divide.’

Yet the reverse does not hold; so uncertain and undefinable a thing is
moral character! It is no wonder that Iago had some contempt for it,
‘who knew all quantities of human dealings, with a learned spirit.’
There is considerable gaiety and ease in his dialogue with Emilia and
Desdemona on their landing. It is then holiday time with him; but yet
the general satire will be acknowledged (at least by one half of our
readers) to be biting enough, and his idea of his own character is
finely expressed in what he says to Desdemona, when she asks him how he
would praise her—

                 ‘Oh gentle lady, do not put me to it,
                 For I am nothing, if not critical.’

Mr. Kean’s execution of this part we thought admirable; but he was quite
as much at his ease in every other part of the play, which was done (we
know not why) in a single key.

The habitual licentiousness of Iago’s conversation is not to be traced
to the pleasure he takes in gross or lascivious images, but to a desire
of finding out the worst side of every thing, and of proving himself an
over-match for appearances. He has none of ‘the milk of human kindness’
in his composition. His imagination refuses every thing that has not a
strong infusion of the most unpalatable ingredients, and his moral
constitution digests only poisons. Virtue, or goodness, or whatever has
the least ‘relish of salvation in it,’ is, to his depraved appetite,
sickly and insipid; and he even resents the good opinion entertained of
his own integrity, as if it were an affront cast on the masculine sense
and spirit of his character. Thus, at the meeting between Othello and
Desdemona, he exclaims—‘Oh, you are well tuned now: but I’ll set down
the pegs that make this music, _as honest as I am_’—deriving an indirect
triumph over the want of penetration in others from the consciousness of
his own villainy.

In most of the passages which we have hitherto quoted, Iago gives a
loose to his passion for theoretical evil: in the scenes with Othello,
where he has to put his theory in practice, with great risk to himself,
and with dreadful consequences to others, he is proportionably guarded,
insidious, dark and deliberate. In the very first scene with Othello, he
takes a very different tone;—that tone of hypocritical virtue and
affected delicacy, which always betrays the want of the reality.

             ‘_Enter Othello, Iago, and Attendants._

       _Iago._ Though in the trade of war I have slain men,
       Yet do I hold it very stuff o’ th’ conscience,
       To do no contriv’d murder. I lack iniquity
       Sometimes to do me service. Nine or ten times
       I thought to have jerk’d him here under the ribs.

       _Othello._ ’Tis better as it is.

       _Iago._ Nay, but he prated,
       And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms
       Against your honour, that with the little godliness I have
       I did full hard forbear him.’

But the part in which, according to our conception, Mr. Kean failed
most, was in the third act with Othello, where ‘comes the tug of war.’
The following passage is, we think, decisive to our purpose:—

     ‘_Iago._ My noble lord.

     _Othello._ What dost thou say, Iago?

     _Iago._ Did Michael Cassio,
     When you woo’d my lady, know of your love?

     _Othello._ He did from first to last.
     Why dost thou ask?

     _Iago._ But for a satisfaction of my thought,
     No further harm.

     _Othello._ Why of thy thought, Iago?

     _Iago._ I did not think he had been acquainted with it.

     _Othello._ O yes, and went between us very oft—

     _Iago._ Indeed!

     _Othello._ Indeed! Ay, indeed. Discern’st thou aught of that?
     Is he not honest?

     _Iago._ Honest, my Lord?

     _Othello._ Honest? Ay, honest.

     _Iago._ My Lord, for aught I know.

     _Othello._ What dost thou think?

     _Iago._ Think, my Lord!

     Othello. Think, my Lord! Alas, thou echo’st me,
     As if there were some monster in thy thought
     Too hideous to be shewn. Thou dost mean something:
     I heard thee say even now, thou lik’dst not that—
     When Cassio left my wife. What did’st not like?
     And when I told thee, he was of my counsel,
     Of my whole course of wooing; thou criedst, indeed!
     And didst contract and purse thy brow together,
     As if thou then hadst shut up in thy brain
     Some horrible conceit: If thou dost love me,
     Shew me thy thought.

     _Iago._ My Lord, you know I love you.

     _Othello._ I think thou dost:
     And for I know thou ‘rt full of love and honesty,
     And weigh’st thy words before thou giv’st them breath,
     Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more:
     For such things in a false disloyal knave
     Are tricks of custom: but in a man that’s just,
     They’re cold dilations working from the heart,
     Which passion cannot rule.’

Now, if there is any thing of superficial gaiety or heedlessness in
this, ‘it is not written in the bond:’—the breaks and stops, the pursing
and knitting of the brow together, the deep internal working of
hypocrisy under the mask of love and honesty, escaped us on the
stage.—The same observation applies to what he says afterwards of
himself:—

              ‘Though I perchance am vicious in my guess,
              As I confess it is my nature’s plague
              To spy into abuses, and oft my jealousy
              Shapes faults that are not.’

The candour of this confession would hardly be extorted from him, if it
did not correspond with the moody dissatisfaction, and suspicious,
creeping, cat-like watchfulness of his general appearance. The anxious
suspense, the deep artifice, the collected earnestness, and, if we may
so say, the _passion_ of hypocrisy, are decidedly marked in every line
of the whole scene, and are worked up to a sort of paroxysm afterwards,
in that inimitably characteristic apostrophe:—

         ‘O Grace! O Heaven forgive me!
         Are you a man? Have you a soul or sense?
         God be wi’ you: take mine office. O wretched fool
         That lov’st to make thine honesty a vice!
         Oh monstrous world! take note, take note, O world!
         To be direct and honest, is not safe.
         I thank you for this profit, and from hence
         I’ll love no friend, since love breeds such offence.’

This burst of hypocritical indignation might well have called forth all
Mr. Kean’s powers, but it did not. We might multiply passages of the
same kind, if we had time.

The philosophy of the character is strikingly unfolded in the part where
Iago gets the handkerchief:—

                              ‘This may do something.
            The Moor already changes with my poisons,
            Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
            But with a little act upon the blood,
            Burn like the mines of sulphur.’

We here find him watching the success of his experiment, with the
sanguine anticipation of an alchemist at the moment of projection.

                               ‘I did say so:
   Look where he comes’—[_Enter Othello_]—‘Not poppy nor mandragora,
   Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
   Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
   Which thou ow’dst yesterday.’

Again he says:—

                                    ‘Work on:
          My medicine works; thus credulous fools are caught,
          And many worthy and chaste dames even thus
          All guiltless meet reproach.’

So that after all, he would persuade us that his object is only to give
an instructive example of the injustice that prevails in the world.

If he is bad enough when he has business on his hands, he is still worse
when his purposes are suspended, and he has only to reflect on the
misery he has occasioned. His indifference when Othello falls in a
trance, is perfectly diabolical, but perfectly in character:—

       ‘_Iago._ How is it, General? Have you not hurt your head?

       _Othello._ Dost thou mock me?

       _Iago._ I mock you not, by heaven,’ &c.

The callous levity which Mr. Kean seems to consider as belonging to the
character in general, is proper here, because Iago has no feelings
connected with humanity; but he has other feelings and other passions of
his own, which are not to be trifled with.

We do not, however, approve of Mr. Kean’s pointing to the dead bodies
after the catastrophe. It is not in the character of the part, which
consists in the love of mischief, not as an end, but as a means, and
when that end is attained, though he may feel no remorse, he would feel
no triumph. Besides, it is not the text of Shakespear. Iago does not
point to the bed, but Ludovico bids him look at it:—‘Look on the tragic
loading of this bed,’ &c.

We have already noticed that Edmund the Bastard is like an episode of
the same character, placed in less difficult circumstances. Zanga is a
vulgar caricature of it.


                         MR. KEAN’S RICHARD II.

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _March 19, 1815._

We are not in the number of those who are anxious in recommending the
getting-up of Shakespear’s plays in general, as a duty which our
stage-managers owe equally to the author, and the reader of those
wonderful compositions. The representing the very finest of them on the
stage, even by the best actors, is, we apprehend, an abuse of the genius
of the poet, and even in those of a second-rate class, the quantity of
sentiment and imagery greatly outweighs the immediate impression of the
situation and story. Not only are the more refined poetical beauties and
minuter strokes of character lost to the audience, but the most striking
and impressive passages, those which having once read we can never
forget, fail comparatively of their effect, except in one or two rare
instances indeed. It is only the _pantomime_ part of tragedy, the
exhibition of immediate and physical distress, that which gives the
greatest opportunity for ‘inexpressible dumb-show and noise,’ which is
sure to tell, and tell completely on the stage. All the rest, all that
appeals to our profounder feelings, to reflection and imagination, all
that affects us most deeply in our closets, and in fact constitutes the
glory of Shakespear, is little else than an interruption and a drag on
the business of the stage. _Segnius per aures demissa_, &c. Those parts
of the play on which the reader dwells the longest, and with the highest
relish in the perusal, are hurried through in the performance, while the
most trifling and exceptionable are obtruded on his notice, and occupy
as much time as the most important. We do not mean to say that there is
less knowledge or display of mere stage-effect in Shakespear than in
other writers, but that there is a much greater knowledge and display of
other things, which divide the attention with it, and to which it is not
possible to give an equal force in the representation. Hence it is, that
the reader of the plays of Shakespear is almost always disappointed in
seeing them acted; and, for our own parts, we should never go to see
them acted, if we could help it.

Shakespear has embodied his characters so very distinctly, that he
stands in no need of the actor’s assistance to make them more distinct;
and the representation of the character on the stage almost uniformly
interferes with our conception of the character itself. The only
exceptions we can recollect to this observation, are Mrs. Siddons and
Mr. Kean—the former of whom in one or two characters, and the latter,
not certainly in any one character, but in very many passages, have
raised our imagination of the part they acted. It may be asked then, why
all great actors chuse characters from Shakespear to come out in; and
again, why these become their favourite parts? First, it is not that
they are able to exhibit their author, but that he enables them to shew
themselves off. The only way in which Shakespear appears to greater
advantage on the stage than common writers is, that he stimulates the
faculties of the actor more. If he is a sensible man, he perceives how
much he has to do, the inequalities he has to contend with, and he
exerts himself accordingly; he puts himself at full speed, and lays all
his resources under contribution; he attempts more, and makes a greater
number of brilliant failures; he plays off all the tricks of his art to
mimic the poet; he does all he can, and bad is often the best. We have
before said that there are some few exceptions. If the genius of
Shakespear does not shine out undiminished in the actor, we perceive
certain effects and refractions of it in him. If the oracle does not
speak quite intelligibly, yet we perceive that the priest at the altar
is inspired with the god, or possessed with a demon. To speak our minds
at once, we believe that in acting Shakespear there is a greater number
of good things marred than in acting any other author. In fact, in going
to see the plays of Shakespear, it would be ridiculous to suppose, that
any one ever went to see Hamlet or Othello represented by Kean or
Kemble; we go to see Kean or Kemble in Hamlet or Othello. On the
contrary, Miss O’Neill and Mrs. Beverley are, we take it, one and the
same person. As to the second point, viz. that Shakespear’s characters
are decidedly favourites on the stage in the same proportion as they are
in the closet, we deny it altogether. They either do not tell so much,
or very little more than many others. Mrs. Siddons was quite as great in
Mrs. Beverley and Isabella as in Lady Macbeth or Queen Katherine: yet no
one, we apprehend, will say that the poetry is equal. It appears,
therefore, not that the most intellectual characters excite most
interest on the stage, but that they are objects of greater curiosity;
they are nicer tests of the skill of the actor, and afford greater scope
for controversy, how far the sentiment is ‘overdone or come tardy of.’
There is more in this circumstance than people in general are aware of.
We have no hesitation in saying, for instance, that Miss O’Neill has
more popularity _in the house_ than Mr. Kean. It is quite as certain,
that he is more thought of _out of it_. The reason is, that she is not
‘food for the critics,’ whereas Mr. Kean notoriously is; there is no end
of the topics he affords for discussion—for praise and blame.

All that we have said of acting in general applies to his Richard II. It
has been supposed that this is his finest part: this is, however, a
total misrepresentation. There are only one or two electrical shocks
given in it; and in many of his characters he gives a much greater
number.—The excellence of his acting is in proportion to the number of
hits, for he has not equal truth or purity of style. Richard II. was
hardly given correctly as to the general outline. Mr. Kean made it a
character of _passion_, that is, of feeling combined with energy;
whereas it is a character of _pathos_, that is to say, of feeling
combined with weakness. This, we conceive, is the general fault of Mr.
Kean’s acting, that it is always energetic or nothing. He is always on
full stretch—never relaxed. He expresses all the violence, the
extravagance, and fierceness of the passions, but not their misgivings,
their helplessness, and sinkings into despair. He has too much of that
strong nerve and fibre that is always equally elastic. We might instance
to the present purpose, his dashing the glass down with all his might,
in the scene with Hereford, instead of letting it fall out of his hands,
as from an infant’s; also, his manner of expostulating with Bolingbroke,
‘Why on thy knee, thus low, &c.’ which was altogether fierce and heroic,
instead of being sad, thoughtful, and melancholy. If Mr. Kean would look
into some passages in this play, into that in particular, ‘Oh that I
were a mockery king of snow, to melt away before the sun of
Bolingbroke,’ he would find a clue to this character, and to human
nature in general, which he seems to have missed—how far feeling is
connected with the sense of weakness as well as of strength, or the
power of imbecility, and the force of passiveness.

We never saw Mr. Kean look better than when we saw him in Richard II.
and his voice appeared to us to be stronger. We saw him near, which is
always in his favour; and we think one reason why the Editor of this
Paper[32] was disappointed in first seeing this celebrated actor, was
his being at a considerable distance from the stage. We feel persuaded
that on a nearer and more frequent view of him, he will agree that he is
a perfectly original, and sometimes a perfectly natural actor; that if
his conception is not always just or profound, his execution is
masterly; that where he is not the very character he assumes, he makes a
most brilliant rehearsal of it: that he never wants energy, ingenuity,
and animation, though he is often deficient in dignity, grace, and
tenderness; that if he frequently disappoints us in those parts where we
expect him to do most, he as frequently surprises us by striking out
unexpected beauties of his own; and that the objectionable parts of his
acting arise chiefly from the physical impediments he has to overcome.

Of the other characters of the play, it is needless to say much. Mr.
Pope was respectable in John of Gaunt. Mr. Holland was lamentable in the
Duke of York, and Mr. Elliston indifferent in Bolingbroke. This
alteration of Richard II. is the best that has been attempted; for it
consists entirely of omissions, except one or two scenes which are idly
tacked on to the conclusion.


                           THE UNKNOWN GUEST

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _April 2, 1815._

The English Drama has made an acquisition of no less than three new
pieces in the course of the week. The Unknown Guest (said to be from the
pen of Mr. Arnold, the Manager) is, we suppose, to be considered as a
dramatic trifle: it is one of the longest and dullest trifles we almost
ever remember to have sat out. We think in general, that the practice of
making the Manager bring out his own pieces on the stage, is a custom
which would be ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance:’ it is
offering a premium for the rejection of better pieces than his own. In
the present instance, it would be a compliment to say, that the author
has failed in wit, character, incident, or sentiment; for he has not
attempted any thing of the kind. The dialogue bears no proportion in
quantity to the songs; and chiefly serves as a vehicle to tack together
a certain number of unmeaning lines, arranged for different voices, and
set in our opinion to very indifferent music. The music of this Opera
professes to be by Mr. Kelly and Mr. Braham, except that of one song,
which is modestly said to be—selected;—a title which we apprehend might
be extended to the whole. We do not recollect a single movement in the
airs composed by Mr. Kelly, which was not familiar even to vulgarity;
and the style of Mr. Braham’s songs has no other object than to pamper
him in his peculiar vices, and to produce that _mannerism_, which is the
destruction of all excellence in art. There are two or three favourite
passages which seem to dwell upon his ear, and to which he gives a
striking expression; these he combines and repeats with laborious
foolery; and in fact, sings nothing but himself over and over
continually. Nothing can be worse than this affected and selfish
monotony. Instead of acquiring new and varied resources, by lending his
imagination to the infinite combinations of which music is susceptible,
and by fairly entering into his subject, all his ideas of excellence are
taken from, and confined to the sound of his own voice. It is on this
account that we listen to Mr. Braham’s singing with less pleasure than
we formerly did. It is not assuredly that Mr. Braham has fallen off in
his singing; on the contrary, he has improved and perfected his
particular talent, but we constantly know what we have to expect, or
rather to apprehend, for this anticipation at last amounts to
apprehension: we perceive a limit, and this perception is always
painful, where it seems to arise from any thing wilful or systematic.
Those who first hear Mr. Braham, are struck with a noble simplicity and
fervour in his manner of expressing certain emotions, in the eagerness
with which he seems to fling himself into his subject, disdaining the
rules of art, like the combatant who rushes without his armour to the
battle: the sounds he utters, appear to rend his own bosom, or at other
times, linger in fluttering accents on his lips. The communication
between the voice and the feelings is immediate, instantaneous,
irresistible; and the language of music seems the language of nature and
passion. But when the sound becomes not only an echo to the sense, but
to itself—when the same alternation of bursts of heroic passion, and
thrillings of sentimental tenderness is constantly played off upon
us—when there is nothing but this trite transition from the _con furio_,
_con strepito_, to the _affettuoso_ and _adagio_ style, in their
greatest extremes—we then begin to perceive something like a trick, and
are little more affected than by reading the marginal directions in a
music book. The inspiration of genius is fled; that which before
breathed the very soul of music, becomes little better than a puppet,
and like all other puppets, is good only according to its compass, and
the number of evolutions it performs. We have here spoken of directness
and simplicity of style, as Mr. Braham’s _forte_ in singing; for though
we agree that he has too much ornament (a very little is too much), yet
we can by no means allow that this can be made an unqualified objection
to his style, for he has much less than other singers.

Of Mr. Phillips we would not wish to speak; but as he puts himself
forward and is put forward by others, we must say something. He is said
to be an imitator of Mr. Braham; if so, the imitation is a vile one.
This gentleman has one qualification, which has been said to be the
great secret of pleasing others, that he is evidently pleased with
himself. But he does not produce a corresponding effect upon us; we have
not one particle of sympathy with his wonderful self-complacency. We
should wish never to hear him sing again; or, if he must sing, at least,
we should hope never to see him act: let him not top his part—why should
he sigh, and ogle, and languish, and display all his accomplishments—he
should spare the side-boxes!—Mrs. Dickons never appeared to us any thing
but an ordinary musical instrument, and at present, she is very much out
of tune. We do not well understand what has been said of this piece
having called forth all the musical strength of the house: except
Braham’s, there was not a single song sung so as not to give pain, even
to a moderately cultivated ear. In this censure, we do not (of course)
include Miss Kelly; in seeing her, we never think of her singing. The
comic parts of this Opera (if such they can be called) were sustained by
Miss Kelly, Mr. Munden, and Mr. Knight. Miss Kelly did the little she
had to do, with that fine unobtrusive good sense, and reluctant
_naiveté_, which distinguish all her performances. If she carries her
shyness of the audience and of her profession to a fault, not so Mr.
Munden. He out-caricatures caricature, and out-grimaces himself. We have
seen him twice lately in the same character of a drunken confidant, and
were both times heartily tired. He is not only perfectly conscious what
he is about, but has a thorough understanding with the audience all
along. He makes his face up into a bad joke, and flings it right in the
teeth of the spectators. The expression of the masks hanging out at the
shop-windows, is less extravagant and distorted. There is no one on the
stage who can, or at least who does, draw up his eyebrows, roll his
eyes, thrust out his tongue, or drop his under jaw, in so astonishing a
manner as Mr. Munden; and if acting consisted in making wry faces, he
would be the greatest actor on the stage, instead of which he is, on
these occasions, only a bad clown. His over-desire to produce effect,
destroys all effect on our minds.[33]—Mr. Knight played the servant very
well; but in general, there is too much an appearance in his acting, as
if he was moved by wires. His feeling always flies to the extremities:
his vivacity is in his feet and finger-ends. He is a very lively
automaton.

                                                             _March 30._

The farce of Love in Limbo, brought out at Covent-Garden Theatre, has no
other merit than the plot, which, however, is neither very laughable nor
very probable.—The melo-drame of Zembuca, besides the attractions of the
scenery and music, has considerable neatness of point in the dialogue,
to which Liston gave its full effect.


                            MR. KEAN’S ZANGA

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _May 28, 1815._

Mr. Kean played for his benefit on Wednesday, the character of Zanga, in
the Revenge (which he is to repeat), and the character of Abel Drugger
from the Alchymist, (we are sorry to say for that night only). The house
was crowded to excess. The play of the Revenge is an obvious
transposition of Othello: the two principal characters are the same;
only their colours are reversed. The giving the dark, treacherous,
fierce, and remorseless character to the Moor, is an alteration, which
is more in conformity to our prejudices, as well as to historical truth.
We have seen Mr. Kean in no part, to which his general style of acting
is so completely adapted as to this, or to which he has given greater
spirit and effect. He had all the wild impetuosity of barbarous revenge,
the glowing energy of the untamed children of the sun, whose blood
drinks up the radiance of fiercer skies. He was like a man stung with
rage, and bursting with stifled passions. His hurried motions had the
restlessness of the panther’s: his wily caution, his cruel eye, his
quivering visage, his violent gestures, his hollow pauses, his abrupt
transitions, were all in character. The very vices of Mr. Kean’s general
acting might almost be said to assist him in the part. What in our
judgment he wants, is dignified repose, and deep internal sentiment. But
in Zanga, nothing of this kind is required. The whole character is
violent; the whole expression is in action. The only passage which
struck us as one of calm and philosophical grandeur, and in which Mr.
Kean failed from an excess of misplaced energy, was the one in the
conclusion, where he describes the tortures he is about to undergo, and
expresses his contempt for them. Certainly, the predominant feeling here
is that of stern, collected, impenetrable fortitude, and the expression
given to it should not be that of a pantomimic exaggeration of the
physical horrors to which he professes to rise superior. The mind in
such a situation recoils upon itself, summons up its own powers and
resources, and should seem to await the blow of fate with the stillness
of death. The scene in which he discloses himself to Alonzo, and insults
over his misery, was terrific: the attitude in which he tramples on the
body of his prostrate victim, was not the less dreadful from its being
perfectly beautiful. Among the finest instances of natural expression,
were the manner in which he interrupts himself in his relation to
Alonzo, ‘I knew you could not bear it,’ and his reflection when he sees
that Alonzo is dead—‘And so is my revenge.’ The play should end here:
the soliloquy afterwards is a mere drawling piece of common-place
morality. We ought to add, that Mr. Rae acted the part of Alonzo with
great force and feeling.


Mr. Kean’s Abel Drugger was an exquisite piece of ludicrous _naiveté_.
The first word he utters, ‘_Sure_,’ drew bursts of laughter and
applause. The mixture of simplicity and cunning in the character could
not be given with a more whimsical effect. First, there was the wonder
of the poor Tobacconist, when he is told by the Conjurer that his name
is Abel, and that he was born on a Wednesday; then the conflict between
his apprehensions and his cupidity, as he becomes more convinced that
Subtle is a person who has dealings with the devil; and lastly, his
contrivances to get all the information he can, without paying for it.
His distress is at the height, when the two-guinea pocket-piece is found
upon him: ‘He had received it from his grandmother, and would fain save
it for his grand-children.’ The battle between him and Face (Oxberry)
was irresistible; and he went off after he had got well through it,
strutting, and fluttering his cloak about, much in the same manner that
a game cock flaps his wings after a victory. We wish he would do it
again!


                        MR. BANNISTER’S FAREWELL

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _June 4, 1815._

Mr. Bannister had the comedy of The World, and the after-piece of The
Children in the Wood, for his benefit on Thursday last, at Drury-Lane.
Mr. Gattie, in consequence of the indisposition of Mr. Dowton, undertook
the part of Index in the play. This alteration occasioned a short
interruption; but after the usual explanation, the piece proceeded, and
in our opinion, Mr. Gattie made a very excellent representative of the
busy, whiffling, insignificant, but good-natured character which he
personated. The figure and manner of this actor are certainly better
fitted for the part than those of Dowton, who has too much weight and
sturdiness of mind and body, to run about on ladies’ errands, and take
an interest in every thing that does not concern him. He is not a Will
Wimble. Mr. Bannister played the character of Echo, which is a whimsical
mixture of simplicity, affectation, and good-nature, with his usual
excellence. Mr. Elliston’s Cheviot is one of his best characters.
Whatever requires spirit, animation, or the lively expression of natural
feelings, he does well. Sentimental comedy is the equivocal reflection
of tragedy in common life, and Mr. Elliston can rehearse the one just
well enough to play the other. The coincidence is complete. He raises
his voice to a pitch of romantic rapture, or lowers it to the tones of
sullen despondence and disappointment, with the happiest effect. The
Duke, in the Honey-Moon, is the _assumption_ of an impassioned
character. The Comedy of the World, is one of the most ingenious and
amusing of the modern stage. It has great neatness of dialogue, and
considerable originality, as well as sprightliness of character. It is,
however, chargeable with a grossness which is common to modern plays, we
mean, the grossness of fashionable life in the men, and the grossness of
fine sentiment in the women. Mrs. Davison did not soften down the
exuberant qualities of Lady Bloomfield into any thing like decency; and
the two fashionable loungers, Loiter and Dauntless, were certainly done
to the life by Decamp and R. Palmer. Between the acts, Mr. Braham sung
Robin Adair, and The Death of Nelson, in his most delightful style.

In the after-piece, Mr. Bannister played the favourite part of Walter,
in the Children in the Wood, for the last time.

He then came forward to take his leave of the Stage, in a Farewell
Address, in which he expressed his thanks for the long and flattering
patronage he had received from the public. We do not wonder that his
feelings were overpowered on this occasion: our own (we confess it) were
nearly so too. We remember him in the first hey-day of our youthful
spirits, in The Prize—which he played so delightfully with that fine old
croaker Suett, and Madame Storace—in the farce of My Grandmother, in the
Son-in-Law, in Autolycus, and in Scrub, in which our satisfaction was at
its height. At that time, King, and Parsons, and Dodd, and Quick, and
Edwin, were in the full vigour of their reputation, who are now all
gone! We still feel the vivid delight with which we used to see their
names in the play-bills, as we went along to the theatre. Bannister was
almost the last of these that remained; and we parted with him as we
should with one of our oldest and best friends. The most pleasant
feature in the profession of a player, and which is peculiar to it, is,
that we not only admire the talents of those who adorn it, but we
contract a personal intimacy with them. There is no class of society
whom so many persons regard with affection as actors. We greet them on
the stage; we like to meet them in the streets; they always recall to us
pleasant associations; and we feel our gratitude excited, without the
uneasiness of a sense of obligation. The very gaiety and popularity,
however, which surrounds the life of a favourite performer, makes the
retiring from it a very serious business. It glances a mortifying
reflection on the shortness of human life, and the vanity of human
pleasures. Something reminds us, that ‘all the world’s a stage, and all
the men and women merely players.’


                                 COMUS

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _June 11, 1815._

Comus has been got up at Covent-Garden Theatre with great splendour, and
has had as much success as was to be expected. The genius of Milton was
essentially _undramatic_: he saw all objects from his own point of view,
and with certain exclusive preferences. Shakespear, on the contrary, had
no personal character, and no moral principle, except that of
good-nature. He took no part in the scene he describes, but gave fair
play to all his characters, and left virtue and vice, folly and wisdom,
right and wrong, to fight it out between themselves, just as they do on
their ‘old prize-fighting stage’—the world. He is only the vehicle for
the sentiments of his characters. Milton’s characters are only a vehicle
for his own. Comus is a didactic poem, or a dialogue in verse, on the
advantages or disadvantages of virtue and vice. It is merely a
discussion of general topics, but with a beauty of language and richness
of illustration, that in the perusal leave no feeling of the want of any
more powerful interest. On the stage, the poetry of course lost above
half of its effect: but this was compensated to the audience by every
advantage of scenery and decoration. By the help of dance and song, ‘of
mask and antique pageantry,’ this most delightful poem went off as well
as any common pantomime. Mr. Conway topped the part of Comus with his
usual felicity, and seemed almost as if the genius of a maypole had
inspired a human form. He certainly gives a totally new idea of the
character. We allow him to be ‘a marvellous proper man,’ but we see
nothing of the magician, or the son of Bacchus and Circe in him. He is
said to make a very handsome Comus: so he would make a very handsome
Caliban; and the common sense of the transformation would be the same.
Miss Stephens played the First Nymph very prettily and insipidly; and
Miss Matthews played the Second Nymph with appropriate significance of
nods and smiles. Mrs. Faucit, as the Lady, rehearsed the speeches in
praise of virtue very well, and acted the scene of the Enchanted Chair
admirably. She seemed changed into a statue of alabaster. Miss Foote
made a very elegant Younger Brother.—It is only justice to add, that Mr.
Duruset gave the songs of the Spirit with equal taste and effect; and in
particular, sung the final invocation to Sabrina in a full and powerful
tone of voice, which we have seldom heard surpassed.

These kind of allegorical compositions are necessarily unfit for actual
representation. Every thing on the stage takes a literal, palpable
shape, and is embodied to the sight. So much is done by the senses, that
the imagination is not prepared to eke out any deficiency that may
occur. We resign ourselves, as it were, to the illusion of the scene: we
take it for granted, that whatever happens within that ‘magic circle’ is
real; and whatever happens without it, is nothing. The eye of the mind
cannot penetrate through the glare of lights which surround it, to the
pure empyrean of thought and fancy; and the whole world of imagination
fades into a dim and refined abstraction, compared with that part of it,
which is brought out dressed, painted, moving, and breathing, a speaking
pantomime before us. Whatever is seen or done, is sure to tell: what is
heard only, unless it relates to what is seen or done, has little or no
effect. All the fine writing in the world, therefore, which does not
find its immediate interpretation in the objects or situations before
us, is at best but elegant impertinence. We will just take two passages
out of Comus, to shew how little the beauty of the poetry adds to the
interest on the stage: the first is from the speech of the Spirit as
Thyrsis:—

            ‘This evening late, by then the chewing flocks
            Had ta’en their supper on the savoury herb
            Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
            I sat me down to watch upon a bank
            With ivy canopied, and interwove
            With flaunting honeysuckle, and began,
            Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
            To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
            Till Fancy had her fill; but ere a close,
            The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
            And filled the air with barbarous dissonance:
            At which I ceased, and listen’d them a while,
            Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
            Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds
            That draw the litter of close-curtain’d sleep:
            At last a soft and solemn breathing sound
            Rose like a steam of rich distill’d perfumes,
            And stole upon the air, that even Silence
            Was took ere she was ‘ware, and wished she might
            Deny her nature, and be never more
            Still to be so displaced.’

This passage was recited by Mr. Duruset; and the other, which we
proposed to quote, equally became the mouth of Mr. Conway:—

           ‘Two such I saw, what time the labour’d ox
           In his loose traces from the furrow came,
           And the swinkt hedger at his supper sat;
           I saw them under a green mantling vine
           That crawls along the side of yon small hill,
           Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots:
           Their port was more than human as they stood:
           I took it for a fairy vision
           Of some gay creatures of the element,
           That in the colours of the rainbow live
           And play in th’ plighted clouds. I was awe-struck,
           And as I pass’d, I worshipp’d.’

To those of our readers who may not be acquainted with Comus, these
exquisite passages will be quite new, though they may have lately heard
them on the stage.

There was an evident want of adaptation to theatrical representation in
the last scene, where Comus persists in offering the Lady the cup, which
she as obstinately rejects, without any _visible_ reason. In the
poetical allegory, it is the poisoned cup of pleasure: on the stage, it
is a goblet filled with wine, which it seems strange she should refuse,
as the person who presents it to her, has certainly no appearance of any
dealings with the devil.

Milton’s Comus is not equal to Lycidas, nor to Samson Agonistes. It
wants interest and passion, which both the others have. Lycidas is a
fine effusion of classical sentiment in a youthful scholar: his Samson
Agonistes is almost a canonisation of all the high moral and religious
prejudices of his maturer years. _We_ have no less respect for the
memory of Milton as a patriot than as a poet. Whether he was a _true_
patriot, we shall not enquire: he was at least a _consistent_ one. He
did not retract his defence of the people of England; he did not say
that his sonnets to Vane or Cromwell were meant ironically; he was not
appointed Poet-Laureat to a Court which he had reviled and insulted; he
accepted neither place nor pension; nor did he write paltry sonnets upon
the ‘Royal fortitude’ of the House of Stuart, by which, however, they
really lost something.[34]


                            MR. KEAN’S LEON

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _July 2, 1815._

We went to see Mr. Kean in Leon, at Drury-Lane, and, on the whole, liked
him less in it than we formerly liked Mr. Kemble in the same part. This
preference, however, relates chiefly to personal considerations. In the
first scenes of the play, Mr. Kemble’s face and figure had a nobleness
in them, which formed a contrast to the assumed character of the idiot,
and thus carried off the disgusting effect of the part. Mr. Kean both
acted and looked it too well. At the same time, we must do justice to
the admirable comic talents displayed by Mr. Kean on this occasion. We
never saw or heard looks or tones more appropriate and ludicrous. The
house was in a roar. His alarm on being first introduced to his
mistress, his profession of being ‘very loving,’ his shame after first
saluting the lady, and his chuckling half-triumph on the repetition of
the ceremony, were complete acting. Above all, we admired the careless
self-complacent idiotcy with which he marched in, carrying his wife’s
fan, and holding up her hand. It was the triumph of folly. Even Mr.
Liston, with all his inimitable graces in that way, could not have
bettered it. In the serious part of the character he appeared to us less
perfect. There was not repose enough, not enough of dignity. Leon, we
apprehend, ought to be the man of spirit, but still more the gentleman.
He has to stand in general upon the defensive, upon his own rights, upon
his own ground, and need not bluster, or look fierce. We will mention
one instance in particular. Where he tells the Duke to leave the house,
which we think he should do with perfect coolness and confidence, he
pointed with his finger to the door, ‘There, there,’ with the same
significant inveteracy of manner, as where, in Iago, he points to the
dead body of Othello. The other parts of the play were well supported.
Mrs. Glover deserves great praise for her Estifania. Mr. Bartley shewed
both judgment and humour in the Copper Captain; and yet we were not
satisfied with his performance. There is a thinness in his voice, and a
plumpness in his person, neither of which is to our taste. His laughing
when he finds that Cacafogo had been cheated by Estifania, was perfectly
well done; but there was an effeminacy in his voice which took away from
the hearty effect which Bannister used to give to this scene. Knight, in
the old woman, was excellent. His reiteration of ‘What?’ in answer to
the Copper Captain’s questions, had the startling effect produced by
letting off a pistol close at one’s ears. It evidently proceeded from a
person blest with ‘double deafness’ of body and mind. The morality of
this excellent comedy is very indifferent; and having been prompted by
the observations of some persons of fashion near us, we got into a train
of agreeable reflections on the progressive refinement of this our age
and country, which it was our intention to have communicated to our
readers,—but that we dropt them in the lobbies!


                              THE TEMPEST

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _July 23, 1815._

As we returned some evenings ago from seeing the Tempest at
Covent-Garden, we almost came to the resolution of never going to
another representation of a play of Shakespear’s as long as we lived;
and we certainly did come to this determination, that we never would go
_by choice_. To call it a representation, is indeed an abuse of
language: it is travestie, caricature, any thing you please, but a
representation. Even those daubs of pictures, formerly exhibited under
the title of the Shakespear Gallery, had a less evident tendency to
disturb and distort all the previous notions we had imbibed from reading
Shakespear. In the first place, it was thought fit and necessary, in
order to gratify the sound sense, the steady, sober judgment, and
natural unsophisticated feelings of Englishmen a hundred years ago, to
modernize the original play, and to disfigure its simple and beautiful
structure, by loading it with the common-place, clap-trap sentiments,
artificial contrasts of situations and character, and all the heavy
tinsel and affected formality which Dryden had borrowed from the French
school. And be it observed, further, that these same anomalous,
unmeaning, vulgar, and ridiculous additions, are all that _take_ in the
present farcical representation of the Tempest. The beautiful, the
exquisitely beautiful descriptions in Shakespear, the still more
refined, and more affecting sentiments, are not only not applauded as
they ought to be (what fine murmur of applause should do them
justice?)—they are not understood, nor are they even heard. The lips of
the actors are seen to move, but the sounds they utter exciting no
corresponding emotions in the breast, are no more distinguished than the
repetition of so many cabalistical words. The ears of the audience are
not prepared to drink in the music of the poet; or grant that they were,
the bitterness of disappointment would only succeed to the stupor of
indifference.

Shakespear has given to Prospero, Ariel, and the other characters in
this play, language such as wizards and spirits, ‘the gay creatures of
the element,’ might want to express their thoughts and purposes, and
this language is here put into the mouth of Messrs. Young, Abbott, and
Emery, and of Misses Matthews, Bristow, and Booth. ‘’Tis much.’ Mr.
Young is in general what is called a respectable actor. Now, as this is
a phrase which does not seem to be very clearly understood by those who
most frequently use it, we shall take this opportunity to define it. A
respectable actor then, is one who seldom gratifies, and who seldom
offends us; who never disappoints us, because we do not expect any thing
from him, and who takes care never to rouse our dormant admiration by
any unlooked-for strokes of excellence. In short, an actor of this class
(not to speak it profanely) is a mere machine, who walks and speaks his
part; who, having a tolerable voice, face, and figure, reposes entirely
and with a prepossessing self-complacency on these natural advantages:
who never risks a failure, because he never makes an effort; who keeps
on the safe side of custom and decorum, without attempting improper
liberties with his art; and who has not genius or spirit enough to do
either well or ill. A respectable actor is on the stage, much what a
pretty woman is in private life, who trusts to her outward attractions,
and does not commit her taste or understanding, by hazardous attempts to
shine in conversation. So we have generals, who leave every thing to be
done by their men; patriots, whose reputation depends on their estates;
and authors, who live on the stock of ideas they have in common with
their readers.

Such is the best account we can give of the class of actors to which Mr.
Young belongs, and of which he forms a principal ornament. As long as he
contents himself to play indifferent characters, we shall say nothing:
but whenever he plays Shakespear, we must be excused if we take unequal
revenge for the martyrdom which our feelings suffer. His Prospero was
good for nothing; and consequently, was indescribably bad. It was grave
without solemnity, stately without dignity, pompous without being
impressive, and totally destitute of the wild, mysterious, preternatural
character of the original. Prospero, as depicted by Mr. Young, did not
appear the potent wizard brooding in gloomy abstraction over the secrets
of his art, and around whom spirits and airy shapes throng numberless
‘at his bidding;’ but seemed himself an automaton, stupidly prompted by
others: his lips moved up and down as if pulled by wires, not governed
by the deep and varied impulses of passion; and his painted face, and
snowy hair and beard, reminded us of the masks for the representation of
Pantaloon. In a word, Mr. Young did not personate Prospero, but a
pedagogue teaching his scholars how to recite the part, and not teaching
them well.

Of one of the actors who assisted at this sacrifice of poetical genius,
Emery, we think as highly as any one can do: he is indeed, in his way,
the most perfect actor on the stage. His representations of common
rustic life have an absolute identity with the thing represented. But
the power of his mind is evidently that of imitation, not that of
creation. He has nothing romantic, grotesque, or imaginary about him.
Every thing in his hands takes a local and habitual shape. Now, Caliban
is a mere creation; one of the wildest and most abstracted of all
Shakespear’s characters, whose deformity is only redeemed by the power
and truth of the imagination displayed in it. It is the essence of
grossness, but there is not the smallest vulgarity in it. Shakespear has
described the brutal mind of this man-monster in contact with the pure
and original forms of nature; the character grows out of the soil where
it is rooted uncontrouled, uncouth, and wild, uncramped by any of the
meannesses of custom. It is quite remote from any thing provincial; from
the manners or dialect of any county in England. Mr. Emery had nothing
of Caliban but his gaberdine, which did not become him. (We liked Mr.
Grimaldi’s Orson much better, which we saw afterwards in the pantomime.)
Shakespear has, by a process of imagination usual with him, drawn off
from Caliban the elements of every thing etherial and refined, to
compound them into the unearthly mould of Ariel. Nothing was ever more
finely conceived than this contrast between the material and the
spiritual, the gross and delicate. Miss Matthews played and sung Ariel.
She is to be sure a very ‘tricksy spirit:’ and all that we can say in
her praise is, that she is a better representative of the sylph-like
form of the character, than the light and portable Mrs. Bland, who used
formerly to play it. She certainly does not sing the songs so well. We
do not however wish to hear them sung, though never so well; no music
can add any thing to their magical effect.—The words of Shakespear would
be sweet, even ‘after the songs of Apollo!’


                          MY WIFE! WHAT WIFE?

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _July 30, 1815._

The Haymarket is the most sociable of all our theatres. A wonderful
concentration of interest, and an agreeable equality of pretension reign
here. There is an air of unusual familiarity between the audience and
the actors; the pit shakes hands with the boxes, and the galleries
descend, from the invisible height to which they are raised at the other
theatres, half-way into the orchestra. Now we have certain remains of a
sneaking predilection for this mode of accommodating differences between
all parts of the house; this average dissemination of comfort, and
immediate circulation of enjoyment; and we take our places (just as it
happens), on the same good terms with ourselves and our neighbours, as
we should in sitting down to an ordinary at an inn. Every thing,
however, has its drawbacks; and the Little Theatre in the Haymarket is
not without them. If, for example, a party of elderly gentlewomen should
come into a box close at your elbow, and immediately begin to talk loud,
with an evident disregard of those around them, your only chance is
either to quit the house altogether, or (if you really wish to hear the
play), to remove to the very opposite side of it; for the ill-breeding
of persons of that class, sex, and time of life, is incorrigible. At the
great Theatres, it is sometimes very difficult to hear, for the noise
and quarrelling in the gallery; here the only interruption to the
performance is from the overflowing garrulity and friendly tittle-tattle
of the boxes. The gods (as they are called), at Drury-lane and
Covent-garden, we suspect, ‘keep such a dreadful pudder o’er our heads,’
from their impatience at not being able to hear what is passing below;
and, at the minor theatres, are the most quiet and attentive of the
audience.

It is the immemorial practice of the Haymarket Theatre to bring out,
every season, a number of new pieces, good, bad, or indifferent. To this
principle we are indebted for an odd play, with an odd title, ‘My Wife!
What Wife?’ and whether it belongs to the class of good, bad, or
indifferent, we could not make up our minds at the time, and it has
nearly escaped our memory since. Whether from its excellences or its
absurdities, it is altogether very amusing. The best part of it is a
very unaccountable, easy, impudent, blundering Irish footman, admirably
represented by Mr. Tokely, whom we here take the liberty of introducing
to the notice of our readers. ‘Good Mr. Tokely, we desire better
acquaintance with you.’ We do not know whether this gentleman is himself
an Irishman, but he has a wonderful sympathy with the manners and
peculiarities of the character he had to represent. The ease, the
ignorance, the impudence, the simplicity, the cunning, the lying, the
good-nature, the absurdity, and the wit of the common character of the
Irish, were depicted with equal fidelity and _naiveté_ by this very
lively actor; and his _brogue_ was throughout a complete accompaniment
to the sense. It floated up and down, and twisted round, and rose and
fell, and started off or rattled on, just as the gusts of passion led.

The Irish and the Scotch brogue are very characteristic. In the one, the
words are tumbled out altogether: in the other, every syllable is held
fast between the teeth and kept in a sort of undulating suspense, lest
circumstances should require a retractation before the end of the
sentence. The Irish character is impetuous: the Scotch circumspect. The
one is extreme unconsciousness, the other extreme consciousness. The one
depends almost entirely on animal spirits, the other on will; the one on
the feeling of the moment, the other on the calculation of consequences.
The Irish character is therefore much more adapted for the stage: it
presents more heterogeneous materials, and it is only unconscious
absurdity that excites laughter. We seldom see a Scotchman introduced
into an English farce: whereas an Irishman is always ready to be served
up, and it is a standing dish at this kind of entertainment. Mr. Tokely
sung two songs in the afterpiece with great effect. The laughing song
was a thing of pure execution, made out of nothing but the feeling of
humour in the actor.

Mr. Terry played the principal serious character in ‘My Wife! What
Wife?’ He is a very careful and judicious actor: but his execution
overlays the character. He is a walking grievance on the stage; a robust
personification of the _comedie larmoyante_; a rock dropping tears of
crystal; an iron figure, ‘in the likeness of a sigh.’ Mr. Jones was
intended as a lively set-off to Mr. Terry. It was but a diversity of
wretchedness. Mr. Jones is no favourite of ours. He is always the same
Mr. Jones, who shews his teeth, and rolls his eyes,—

           ‘And looks like a jackdaw just caught in a snare.’

Mr. Meggett has played Octavian twice at this theatre. He is a very
decent, disagreeable actor, of the second or third-rate, who takes a
great deal of pains to do ill. He did not, however, deserve to be
hissed, and he only deserves to be applauded, because he was hissed
undeservedly. He is a Scotch edition of Conway, without his beauty, and
without his talent for noisy declamation.

Our play-houses are just now crowded with French people, with or without
white cockades. A very intelligent French man and woman sat behind us
the other evening at the representation of the Mountaineers, (one of the
best of our modern plays) who were exceedingly shocked at the constant
transitions from tragic to comic in this piece. It is strange that a
people who have no keeping in themselves, should be offended at our want
of keeping in theatrical representations. But it is an old remark, that
the manners of every nation and their dramatic taste are opposite to
each other. In the present instance, there can be no question, but that
the distinguishing character of the English is gravity, and of the
French levity. How then is it that this is reversed on the stage?
Because the English wish to relieve the continuity of their feelings by
something light and even farcical, and the French cannot afford to offer
the same temptation to their natural levity. They become grave only by
system, and the formality of their artificial style is resorted to as a
preservative against the infection of their national disposition. One
quaint line in a thousand sad ones, operating on their mercurial and
volatile spirits, would turn the whole to farce. The English are
sufficiently tenacious of strong passion to retain it in spite of other
feelings: the French are only tragic by the force of dulness, and every
thing serious would fly at the appearance of a jest.


                          MR. HARLEY’S FIDGET

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _August 6, 1815._

Mr. Harley is an addition to the comic strength of the Lyceum. We have
not seen him in the part of Leatherhead, in The Blue Stocking, in which
he has been much spoken of; but as an intriguing knave of a servant, he
was the life of a very dull and incredible farce, which came out the
other night under the title of My Aunt; and we afterwards liked him
still better as Fidget, in The Boarding House, where he had more scope
for his abilities. He gave the part with all the liveliness, insinuating
complaisance, and volubility of speech and motion, which belong to it.
He has a great deal of vivacity, archness, and that quaint extravagance,
which constitutes the most agreeable kind of buffoonery. We think it
likely he will become a considerable favourite with the public; and the
more so, because he is not only a very amusing actor, but also possesses
those recommendations of face, person, and manner, which go a great way
in conciliating public favour. These are the more necessary in those
burlesque characters, which have little foundation in real life, and
which, as they serve chiefly to furnish opportunities for the drollery
of the actor to display itself, bring him constantly before us in his
personal capacity.

We are really glad to be pleased whenever we can, and we were pleased
with Peter Fidget. His dress and his address are equally comic and in
character. He wears a white morning jean coat, and a white wig, the
curls of which hang down like lappets over his shoulders, and form a
good contrast with the plump, rosy, shining face beneath it. He comes
bolt upon the stage, and jumps into the good graces of the audience
before they have time to defend themselves. Peter Fidget, ‘master of a
boarding-house, with a green door—brass knocker—No. 1, round the
corner—facing the Steyne—Brighton’—is a very impudent, rattling fellow,
with a world of business and cares on his back, which however it seems
broad enough to bear, the lightness of whose head gets the better of the
heaviness of his heels, and whose person thrives in proportion to his
custom. It is altogether a very laughable exaggeration, and lost none of
its effect in the hands of Mr. Harley.

In the new farce of My Aunt, Mr. Wallack played the character of a
fashionable rake, and he is said to have played it well. If this is a
good specimen of the class, we can only say we do not wish to extend our
acquaintance with it; for we never saw any thing more disagreeable. Miss
Poole played the Niece to Mrs. Harlowe’s Aunt; and seemed a very proper
niece for such an aunt. Mr. Pyne ‘warbled his love-lorn ditties all
night long;’—for a despairing lover, we never saw any one look better,
or flushed with a more purple grace—‘as one incapable of his own
distress.’ He appears to have taken a hint from Sir John Suckling;—

                  ‘Prythee, why so pale, fond lover,
                    Prythee why so pale?
                  Will, if looking well won’t win her,
                    Looking ill prevail?
                  Prythee, why so pale?’

We went to the Haymarket Theatre on Thursday, to see Mr. Meggett in the
Iron Chest, with that laudable desire which we always feel to find out
any error in our former opinions; but in this desire, as it generally
happens, we were disappointed. We however consider Mr. Meggett’s Sir
Edward Mortimer as a much more successful delineation than his Octavian.
The character is taken from Falkland, in Mr. Godwin’s Caleb Williams,
which is unquestionably the best modern novel. The character, as it is
treated by Colman, is one of much less genius and elevation than the
original. It is harsh, heavy, fierce, and painfully irritable, but at
the same time forcible and affecting. Such, at least, was the impression
we received from Mr. Meggett’s representation of it. What this actor
wants is genial expression, and a certain general impulse which is
inseparable from all passion. The tide of feeling in him frets itself
away in narrow nooks and estuaries. His habitual manner is too hard and
dry—he makes too dead a set at every thing. He grinds his words out
between his teeth as if he had a lockjaw, and his action is clenched
till it resembles the commencement of a fit of the epilepsy. He strains
his muscles till he seems to have lost the use of them. If Mr. Kemble
was hard, Mr. Meggett is rigid, to a petrifying degree. We however think
that he gave considerable force and feeling to the part, by the justness
of his conception, and by the energy of his execution. But neither
energy nor good sense is sufficient to make the great actor:—it requires
genius, which nothing can give. Study may teach us to distinguish the
forms and classes of things; but it is genius alone which puts us in
possession of the powers of art or nature. This play, when it first came
out, excited a great deal of idle controversy and vulgar abuse. It
appears to us to be a play of great interest; but that interest depends
upon the sentiment, and not on the story or situations, and consequently
is very little understood by a mixed audience.

Miss Greville made an interesting representative of Helen, the mistress
of Sir Edward Mortimer. Mr. Barnard had considerable merit in Wilford,
the Caleb Williams of the piece; though he seemed somewhat too
insignificant an instrument to produce such terrible effects. Mr. Tokely
played the ruffian (Orson) admirably well. Mrs. Belfield, his Dulcinea
in the gang of robbers, perfectly frightened us in the cave-scene. We
felt as much disconcerted by the uncalled-for phrensy of this theatrical
amazon, as the Squire of Dames in Spenser did, when he was carried off
by the giantess, Ogygia; or, as Mr. Capel Lofft must have done the other
day, when Mrs. Mary Ann Bulmer pounced upon him in the Chronicle.

Mr. Foote was the brother of Sir Edward Mortimer. This gentleman is of
the Wroughton school; that is, he belongs to the old English class of
honest country gentlemen, who abound more in good nature than good
sense, and who have a most plentiful lack of gall and wit. Mr. Foote
does not discredit this branch of the profession. These persons are
always very comfortable in themselves, and busy about other people. This
is exceedingly provoking. They speak with good emphasis and discretion,
and are in general of a reasonable corpulence. Whenever we see an actor
of this class, with a hat and feather, a gold belt, and more than
ordinary merit, we are strangely reminded of our old friend Mr. Gyngell,
the celebrated itinerant manager, and the only showman in England, who,
after the festivity of the week, makes a point of staying the Sunday
over, and goes with all his family to church.


                            LIVING IN LONDON

 _The Examiner._

                                                      _August 13, 1815._

A new Comedy, called Living in London, by the author (as it appears) of
Love and Gout, has been brought forward at the Haymarket Theatre. It is
in three acts. The first act promised exceedingly well. The scenes were
well-contrived, and the dialogue was neat and pointed. But in the second
and third, the comic invention of the writer seemed to be completely
exhausted; his plot became entangled and ridiculous, and he strove to
relieve the wearied attention of the audience, by some of the most
desperate attempts at _double entendre_ we ever remember. Thus a servant
is made to say, that ‘no one can _bring up_ his master’s dinner but
himself.’ We are told by very good authority, that ‘want of decency is
want of sense.’ The plot is double, and equally ill-supported in both
its branches. A lady of fashion (who was made as little disgusting as
the part would permit by Miss Greville) makes overtures of love to a
nobleman, (Lord Clamourcourt, Mr. Foote), by publishing an account of a
supposed intrigue between herself and him in the newspapers. The device
is new, at least. The same nobleman is himself made jealous of his wife
by the assumption of her brother’s name (Neville) by a coxcomb of his
acquaintance, by the circumstance of a letter directed to the real
Neville having been received by the pretended one, and by the blunders
which follow from it. The whole developement of the plot is carried on
by letters, and there is hardly a scene towards the conclusion, in which
a footman does not come in, as the bearer of some alarming piece of
intelligence. Lord Clamourcourt, just as he is sitting down to dinner
with his wife, receives a letter from his mistress; he hurries away, and
his Lady having no appetite left, orders the dinner back. Lord
Clamourcourt is no sooner arrived at the place of assignation than he
receives an anonymous letter, informing him that Neville is at his
house, and he flies back on the wings of jealousy, as he had come on
those of love. All this is very artificial and improbable. _Quod sic
mihi ostendis incredulus odi._

We were a good deal disappointed in this play, as from the commencement
we had augured very favourably of it. There was not much attempt to draw
out the particular abilities of the actors; and the little that there
was, did not succeed. Matthews, who is in general exceedingly amusing,
did not appear at all to advantage. The author did not seem to
understand what use to make of him. He was an automaton put into his
hands, of which he did not know how to turn the pegs. He is shoved on,
and then shoved off the stage to no purpose, as if his exit or his
entrance made the jest. One person twirls him round by the flap of his
coat, and another jerks him back again by the tail of his periwig. He is
first a stupid servant, and is next metamorphosed, without taking his
degrees, into an ignorant doctor. He changes his dress, but the same
person remains. He has nothing to do but to run about like a dog to
fetch and carry, or to fidget over the stage like the dolls that dance
(to please the children) to the barrel-organs in the street. For our own
parts, we had rather see Punch and the puppet-shew.


                            THE KING’S PROXY

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _Aug. 27, 1815._

A new Opera was brought out at the Lyceum, last week, called The King’s
Proxy; or Judge for yourself. If we were to judge for ourselves, we
should conceive that Mr. Arnold must have dreamt this opera. It might be
called the Manager’s Opera. It is just what might be supposed to occur
to him, nodding and half asleep in his arm-chair after dinner, having
fatigued himself all the morning with ransacking the refuse of the
theatre for the last ten years. In this dozing state, it seems that from
the wretched fragments strewed on the floor, the essence of four hundred
rejected pieces flew up and took possession of his brain, with all that
is thread-bare in plot, lifeless in wit, and sickly in sentiment. Plato,
in one of his immortal dialogues, supposes a man to be shut up in a cave
with his back to the light, so that he sees nothing but the shadows of
men passing and repassing on the wall of his prison. The Manager of the
Lyceum Theatre appears to be much in the same situation. He does not get
a single glimpse of life or nature, but as he has seen it represented on
his own boards, or conned it over in his manuscripts. The apparitions of
gilded sceptres, painted groves and castles, wandering damsels, cruel
fathers and tender lovers, float in incessant confusion before him. His
characters are the shadows of a shade; but he keeps a very exact
inventory of his scenery and dresses, and can always command the
orchestra.

Mr. Arnold may be safely placed at the head of a very prevailing class
of poets. He writes with the fewest ideas possible; his meaning is more
nicely balanced between sense and nonsense, than that of any of his
competitors; he succeeds from the perfect insignificance of his
pretensions, and fails to offend through downright imbecility. The story
of the present piece, (built on the well-known tradition of the Saxon
King who was deceived by one of his courtiers in the choice of his
wife), afforded ample scope for striking situation and effect; but Mr.
Arnold has perfectly neutralised all interest in it. In this he was
successfully seconded by those able associates, Mr. and Mrs. T. Cooke,
Mr. Pyne, Mr. Wallack, by the sturdy pathos of Fawcett, and Miss Poole’s
elegant dishabille. One proof of talent the author has shewn, we
allow—and that is, he has contrived to make Miss Kelly disagreeable in
the part of Editha. The only good thing in the play was a dance by Miss
Luppino and Miss C. Bristow.


                        THE MAID AND THE MAGPIE

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _Sept. 3, 1815._

A piece has been brought out at the Lyceum, called the Maid and the
Magpie, translated from the French, and said to be founded on a true
story of a girl having been condemned for a theft, which was discovered
after her death to have been committed by a magpie. The catastrophe is
here altered. The play itself is a very delightful little piece. It
unites a great deal of lightness and gaiety with an equal degree of
interest. The dialogue is kept up with spirit, and the story never
flags. The incidents, though numerous and complicated with a number of
minute circumstances, are very clearly and artfully connected together.
The spirit of the French stage is manifest through the whole
performance, as well as its superiority to the general run of our
present dramatic productions. The superiority of our old comedy to the
French (if we make the single exception of Moliere) is to be traced to
the greater variety and originality of our national characters. The
French, however, have the advantage of us in playing with the
common-place surface of comedy, in the harlequinade of surprises and
escapes, in the easy gaiety of the dialogue, and in the delineation of
character, neither insipid nor overcharged.

The whole piece was excellently cast. Miss Kelly was the life of it.
Oxberry made a very good Jew. Mrs. Harlowe was an excellent
representative of the busy, bustling, scolding housewife; and Mr. Gattie
played the Justice of the Peace with good emphasis and discretion. The
humour of this last actor, if not exceedingly powerful, is always
natural and easy. Knight did not make so much of his part as he usually
does.


                             THE HYPOCRITE

 _The Examiner._

                                        (_Drury-Lane_) _Sept. 17, 1815._

The Tartuffe, the original of the Hypocrite, is a play that we do not
very well understand. Still less do we understand the Hypocrite, which
is taken from it. In the former, the glaring improbability of the plot,
the absurdity of a man’s imposing on the credulity of another in spite
of the evidence of his senses, and without any proof of the sincerity of
a religious charlatan but his own professions, is carried off by long
formal speeches and dull pompous casuistry. We find our patience tired
out, and our understanding perplexed, as if we were sitting by in a
court of law. If there is nothing of nature, at least there is enough of
art, in the French play. But in the Hypocrite (we mean the principal
character itself), there is neither the one nor the other. Tartuffe is a
plausible, fair-spoken, long-winded knave, who if he does not convince,
confounds his auditors.

In the Hypocrite of Bickerstaff, the insidious, fawning, sophistical,
accomplished French Abbé is modernised into a low-lived, canting,
impudent Methodist preacher; and this was the character which Mr. Dowton
represented, we must say, too well. Dr. Cantwell is a sturdy beggar, and
nothing more: he is not an impostor, but a bully. There is not in any
thing that he says or does, in his looks, words or actions, the least
reason that Sir John Lambert should admit him into his house and
friendship, suffer him to make love to his wife and daughter, disinherit
his son in his favour, and refuse to listen to any insinuation or proof
offered against the virtue and piety of his treacherous inmate. In the
manners and institutions of the old French _regime_, there was something
to account for the blind ascendancy acquired by the good priest over his
benefactor, who might have submitted to be cuckolded, robbed, cheated,
and insulted, as a tacit proof of his religion and loyalty. The
inquisitorial power exercised by the Church was then so great, that a
man who refused, to be priest-ridden, might very soon be suspected of
designs against the state. This is at least the best account we can give
of the tameness of Orgon. But in this country, nothing of the kind could
happen. A fellow like Dr. Cantwell could only have got admittance into
the kitchen of Sir John Lambert—or to the ear of old Lady Lambert. The
animal magnetism of such spiritual guides, is with us directed against
the weaker nerves of our female devotees.

We discovered nothing in Mr. Dowton’s manner of giving the part to
redeem its original improbability, or gloss over its obvious deformity.
His locks are combed down smooth over his shoulders; but he does not
sufficiently ‘sleek o’er his rugged looks.’ His tones, except where he
assumes the whining twang of the conventicle, are harsh and abrupt. He
sometimes exposes his true character prematurely and unnecessarily, as
where he is sent to Charlotte with a message from her father. He is a
very vulgar, coarse, _substantial_ hypocrite. His hypocrisy appears to
us of that kind which arises from ignorance and grossness, without any
thing of refinement or ability, which yet the character requires. The
cringing, subtle, accomplished master-villain, the man of talent and of
the world, was wanting. It is, in a word, just that sort of hypocrisy
which might supply a lazy adventurer in the place of work, which he
might live and get fat upon, but which would not enable him to conduct
plots and conspiracies in high life. We do not say that the fault is in
Mr. Dowton. The author has attempted to amalgamate two contradictory
characters, by engrafting our vulgar Methodist on the courtly French
impostor; and the error could not perhaps be remedied in the
performance. The only scene which struck us as in Mr. Dowton’s best
manner, as truly masterly, was that in which he listens with such
profound indifference and unmoved gravity to the harangue of Mawworm.
Mr. Dowton’s general excellence is in hearty ebullitions of generous and
natural feeling, or in a certain swelling pride and vain glorious
exaggerated ostentation, as in Major Sturgeon, and not in constrained
and artificial characters.

Mawworm, which is a purely local and national caricature, was admirably
personated by Oxberry. Mrs. Sparks’s old Lady Lambert, is, we think, one
of the finest exhibitions of character on the stage. The attention which
she pays to Dr. Cantwell, her expression of face and her fixed uplifted
hands, were a picture which Hogarth might have copied. The effects of
the _spirit_ in reviving the withered ardour of youth, and giving a
second birth to forgotten raptures, were never better exemplified. Mrs.
Orger played young Lady Lambert as well as the equivocal nature of the
part would admit; and Miss Kelly was as lively and interesting as usual
in Charlotte. Of Mr. Wallack we cannot speak so favourably as some of
our contemporaries. This gentleman ‘has honours thrust upon him’ which
he does not deserve, and which, we should think, he does not wish. He
has been declared, by the first authority, to stand at the head of his
profession in the line of genteel comedy. It is usual, indeed, to
congratulate us on the accession of Mr. Wallack at the expence of Mr.
Decamp, but it is escaping from Scylla to Charybdis. We are glad to have
parted with Mr. Decamp, and should not be inconsolable for the loss of
Mr. Wallack.

The best thing we remember in Mr. Coleridge’s tragedy of Remorse, and
which gave the greatest satisfaction to the audience, was that part in
which Decamp was precipitated into a deep pit, from which, by the
elaborate description which the poet had given of it, it was plainly
impossible he should ever rise again. If Mr. Wallack is puffed off and
stuck at the top of his profession at this unmerciful rate, it would
almost induce us to wish Mr. Coleridge to write another tragedy, to
dispose of him in the same way as his predecessor.


                       MR. EDWARDS’S RICHARD III

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _Oct. 1, 1815._

A Mr. Edwards, who has occasionally played at private theatricals,
appeared at Covent-Garden Theatre in the character of Richard the Third.
It was one of those painful failures, for which we are so often indebted
to the managers. How these profound judges, who exercise ‘sole sway and
sovereignty’ over this department of the public amusements, who have it
in their power to admit or reject without appeal, whose whole lives have
been occupied in this one subject, and whose interest (to say nothing of
their reputation) must prompt them to use their very best judgment in
deciding on the pretensions of the candidates for public favour, should
yet be so completely ignorant of their profession, as to seem not to
know the difference between the _best_ and the _worst_, and frequently
to bring forward in the most arduous characters, persons whom the
meanest critic in the pit immediately perceives to be totally
disqualified for the part they have undertaken—is a problem which there
would be some difficulty in solving. It might suggest to us also, a
passing suspicion that the same discreet arbiters of taste suppress real
excellence in the same manner as they obtrude incapacity on the notice
of the public, if genius were not a thing so much rarer than the want of
it.

If Mr. Edwards had shewn an extreme ignorance of the author, but had
possessed the peculiar theatrical requisites of person, voice, and
manner, we should not have been surprised at the managers having been
deceived by imposing appearances. But Mr. Edwards failed, less from a
misapprehension of his part, than from an entire defect of power to
execute it. If every word had been uttered with perfect propriety (which
however was very far from being the case) his gestures and manner would
have made it ridiculous. Of personal defects of this kind, a man cannot
be a judge of himself; and his friends will not tell him. The managers
of a play-house are the only persons who can screen any individual,
possessed with an unfortunate theatrical _mania_, from exposing himself
to public mortification and disgrace for the want of those professional
qualifications of which they are supposed to be infallible judges.


At the same Theatre, a lady of the name of Hughes has been brought out
in Mandane, in the favourite Opera of Artaxerxes—we should hope, not in
the place of Miss Stephens. We do not say this for the sake of any
invidious comparison, but for our own sakes, and for the sake of the
public. Miss Hughes is, we believe, a very accomplished singer, with a
fine and flexible voice, with considerable knowledge and execution. But
where is the sweetness, the simplicity, the melting soul of music? There
was a voluptuous delicacy, a _naiveté_ in Miss Stephens’s singing, which
we have never heard before nor since, and of which we should be loth to
be deprived. Her songs in Mandane lingered on the ear like an
involuntary echo to the music—as if the sentiment were blended with and
trembled on her voice. This was particularly the case in the two
delightful airs, ‘If o’er the cruel tyrant love,’ and ‘Let not rage thy
bosom firing.’ In the former of these, the notes faultered and fell from
her lips like drops of dew from surcharged flowers. If it is impossible
to be a judge of music without understanding it as a science, it is
still more impossible to be so without understanding the sentiment it is
intended to convey. Miss Hughes declaimed and acted these two songs,
instead of singing them. She lisps, and smiles, and bows, and overdoes
her part constantly. We do not think Mandane is at all the heroine she
represents her—or, if she is, we do not wish to see her. This lady would
do much better at the Opera.

Mr. Duruset sung ‘Fair Semira’ with taste and feeling. We wish, in
hearing the song ‘In infancy our hope and fears,’ we could have
forgotten Miss Rennell’s simple, but sustained and impressive execution
of it.—Mr. Taylor played Arbaces, instead of Mr. Incledon.


                              LOVERS’ VOWS

 _The Examiner._

                                                      _October 8, 1815._

Lovers’ Vows has been brought forward at Drury-Lane Theatre, and a young
lady of the name of Mardyn has appeared in the character of Amelia
Wildenheim. Much has been said in her praise, and with a great deal of
justice. Her face is handsome, and her figure is good, bordering (but
not too much), on _embonpoint_. There is, also, a full luscious
sweetness in her voice, which was in harmony with the sentiments she had
to express. The whole of this play, which is of German origin, carries
the romantic in sentiment and story to the extreme verge of decency as
well as probability. The character of Amelia Wildenheim is its principal
charm. The open, undisguised simplicity of this character is, however,
so enthusiastically extravagant, as to excite some little surprise and
incredulity on an English stage. The portrait is too naked, but still it
is the nakedness of innocence. She lets us see into the bottom of her
heart, but there is nothing there which she need wish to disguise. Mrs.
Mardyn did the part very delightfully—with great spirit, truth, and
feeling. She, perhaps, gave it a greater maturity of consciousness than
it is supposed to possess. Her action is, in general, graceful and easy,
but her movements were, at times, too youthful and unrestrained, and too
much like _waltzing_.

Mrs. Glover and Mr. Pope did ample justice to the principal _moral_
characters in the drama; and we were perfectly satisfied with Mr.
Wallack in Anhalt, the tutor and lover of Amelia. Some of the situations
in this popular play (let the critics say what they will of their
extravagance), are very affecting, and we will venture our opinion, that
more tears were shed on this one occasion, than there would be at the
representation of Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth, for a whole
season. This is not the fault of Shakespeare, but neither is it the
fault of Kotzebue.


Mr. Dowton came out for the first time in the character of Shylock, in
the Merchant of Venice. Our own expectations were not raised very high
on this occasion, and they were not disappointed. All the first part of
the character, the habitual malignity of Shylock, his keen sarcasms and
general invectives, were fully understood, and given with equal force
and discrimination. His manner of turning the bond into a ‘merry jest,’
and his ironical indifference about it, were an improvement which Mr.
Dowton had borrowed from the comic art. But when the character is
brought into action, that is, when the passions are let loose, and
excited to the highest pitch of malignity, joy, or agony, he failed, not
merely from the breaking down of his voice, but from the want of that
movement and tide of passion, which overcomes every external
disadvantage, and bears down every thing in its course. We think Mr.
Dowton was wrong in several of his conceptions in the trial scene and
other places, by attempting too many of those significant distinctions,
which are only natural and proper when the mind remains in its ordinary
state, and in entire possession of its faculties. Passion requires the
broadest and fullest manner possible. In fine, Mr. Dowton gave only the
prosaic side of the character of Shylock, without the poetical colouring
which belongs to it and is the essence of tragic acting. Mr. Lovegrove
was admirable in Launcelot Gobbo. The scene between him and Wewitzer, as
Old Gobbo, was one of the richest we have seen for a long time. Pope was
respectable as Antonio. Mr. Penley’s Gratiano was more remarkable for an
appearance of folly than of gaiety.


                         THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

 _The Examiner._

                                   (_Covent Garden_) _October 15, 1815._

Why can we not always be young, and seeing the School for Scandal? This
play used to be one of our great theatrical treats in our early
play-going days. What would we not give to see it once more, as it was
then acted, and with the same feelings with which we saw it then? Not
one of our old favourites is left, except little Simmons, who only
served to put us in mind more strongly of what we have lost! Genteel
comedy cannot be acted at present. Little Moses, the money-lender, was
within a hair’s-breadth of being the only person in the piece who had
the appearance or manners of a gentleman. There was a _retenu_ in the
conduct of his cane and hat, a precision of dress and costume, an
idiomatic peculiarity of tone, an exact propriety both in his gestures
and sentiments, which reminded us of the good old times when every one
belonged to a marked class in society, and maintained himself in his
characteristic absurdities by a _cheveux-de-fris_ of prejudices, forms,
and ceremonies. Why do our patriots and politicians rave for ever about
the restoration of the good old times? Till they can persuade the beaux
in Bond-street to resume their swords and bag-wigs, they will never
succeed.

When we go to see a Comedy of the past age acted on the modern stage, we
too almost begin to ‘cast some longing, lingering looks behind,’ at the
departed sword-knots and toupees of the age of Louis XIV. We never saw a
play more completely vulgarised in the acting than this. What shall we
say of Fawcett, who played Sir Peter Teazle with such formidable breadth
of shoulders and strength of lungs? Or to Mrs. Dobbs, who made such a
pretty, insipid little rustic of Lady Teazle, shewing her teeth like the
painted dolls in a peruke-maker’s window? Or to Mrs. Gibbs, who
converted the delicacy of Mrs. Candour into the coarseness of a
bar-maid? Or to Mr. Blanchard, whose face looked so red, and his eyes so
fierce in Old Crabtree, and who seemed to have mistaken one of his
stable-boys for his nephew, Sir Benjamin? Or (not to speak it profanely)
to Mr. Young’s Joseph Surface? Never was there a less prepossessing
hypocrite. Mr. Young, indeed, puts on a long, disagreeable, whining
face, but he does not hide the accomplished, plausible villain beneath
it. Jack Palmer was the man. No one ever came so near the idea of what
the women call ‘a fine man.’ With what an air he trod the stage!—With
what pomp he handed Lady Teazle to a chair! With what elaborate
duplicity he knelt to Maria! Mr. Young ought never to condescend to play
comedy, nor aspire to play tragedy. Sentimental pantomime is his forte.
Charles Kemble made the best Charles Surface we have seen. He acted this
difficult character (difficult because it requires a union of so many
requisites, a good face and figure, easy manners, evident good nature,
animation and sensibility) in such a way as to make it truly interesting
and delightful. The only fault we can find with him is, that he was not
well dressed.—Mrs. Faucit was respectable in Lady Sneerwell. Mr. Terry,
as Sir Oliver Surface, wore a great coat with yellow buttons. Mr.
Farley, in Trip, had a large bouquet: and why should we refuse to do
justice to Mr. Claremont, who was dressed in black? The School for
Scandal is one of the best Comedies in our language (a language
abounding in good Comedies), and it deserves either to be well acted, or
not acted at all. The wit is inferior to Congreve’s, and the allusions
much coarser. Its great excellence is in the invention of comic
situations,[35] and the lucky contrast of different characters. The
satirical conversation at Lady Sneerwell’s, is an indifferent imitation
of The Way of the World, and Sir Benjamin Backbite a foolish superfluity
from the older comedy. He did not need the aid of Mr. Tokely to make him
ridiculous. We have already spoken well of this actor’s talents for low
humour, but if he wishes to remain on the establishment, we are afraid
he must keep in the kitchen.


                         MRS. ALSOP’S ROSALIND

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _October 22, 1815._

A Lady of the name of Alsop, a daughter of Mrs. Jordan (by a former
husband), has appeared at Covent-Garden Theatre, in the character of
Rosalind. Not only the circumstance of her relationship to that
excellent actress, but the accounts in the papers, raised our curiosity
and expectations very high. We were unwillingly disappointed. The truth
is, Mrs. Alsop is a very nice little woman, who acts her part very
sensibly and cleverly, and with a certain degree of arch humour, but ‘no
more like her mother than we to Hercules.’ When we say this, we mean no
disparagement to this lady’s talents, who is a real acquisition to the
stage in correct and chaste acting, but simply to prevent comparisons,
which can only end in disappointment. Mrs. Alsop would make a better
Celia than Rosalind. Mrs. Jordan’s excellences were all natural to her.
It was not as an actress but as herself, that she charmed every one.
Nature had formed her in her most prodigal humour: and when nature is in
the humour to make a woman all that is delightful, she does it most
effectually. Mrs. Jordan was the same in all her characters, and
inimitable in all of them, because there was no one else like her. Her
face, her tones, her manner were irresistible. Her smile had the effect
of sunshine, and her laugh did one good to hear it. Her voice was
eloquence itself: it seemed as if her heart was always at her mouth. She
was all gaiety, openness, and good-nature. She rioted in her fine animal
spirits, and gave more pleasure than any other actress, because she had
the greatest spirit of enjoyment in herself. Her Nell—but we will not
tantalize ourselves or our readers. Mrs. Alsop has nothing luxurious
about her, and Mrs. Jordan was nothing else. Her voice is clear and
articulate, but not rich or flowing. In person she is small, and her
face is not prepossessing. Her delivery of the speeches was correct and
excellent as far as it went, but without much richness or power. Lively
good sense is what she really possesses. She also sung the Cuckoo Song
very pleasingly.

Charles Kemble made an interesting Orlando. Mr. Young spoke the ‘Seven
Ages’ with propriety, and some effect. Mr. Fawcett’s Touchstone was
decent; and Mrs. Gibbs in Audrey, the very thing itself.


Mrs. Mardyn appeared at Drury-Lane Theatre in the play of The Will. We
like her better than ever. She has still an exuberance in her manner and
action, which might be spared. She almost _dances_ the character. She
is, or she looks, very handsome; is perfectly well made, and has a very
powerful voice, of which she makes full use. With a little more
elegance, a little more decorum, a little more restraint upon the
display of her charms, she would be the most fascinating comic actress
on the stage. We cannot express the only fault we have to find with her
better than by saying, that we think her manner was perfectly in
character in her boy’s clothes. The scene with Deborah, where she was
frightened by the supposed ghost, had wonderful effect. Mr. Wallack
played the young tutor as if he had been chaplain to a bishop.
Lovegrove’s humour in the old steward was feeble: it would not reach the
galleries.


                              JOHN DU BART

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _October 29, 1815._

John Du Bart is said to have made a great noise in his life-time; but it
was nothing to the noise he makes at present at Covent-Garden Theatre,
with his good ship Fame, and his gallant son Francis. We very much
doubt, whether the vessel in which the great John forced his way out of
Dunkirk harbour, was equal in size to the one in which Mr. Farley pipes
all hands on board, and assaults the chandeliers and side-boxes of the
Theatre-Royal. The ladies, like so many Andromedas, were thrown into
evident consternation at the approach of this sea-monster. To what a
degree of perfection the useful and elegant arts must have been carried
in a country, where a real ship, as large as the life, can be brought on
the stage, to the amazement and confusion of the audience! Speaking
within compass, the man of war which is now got up at Covent-Garden, is
full as large as any of the flotilla which last year ploughed the bosom
of the Serpentine River, and the sea-fight with which the Managers have
favoured us before Christmas, is as interesting as that which took place
in Hyde Park, between the English and American squadrons, under the
tasteful direction of the Prince Regent. We pronounce this the most
nonsensical farce (with the exception perhaps of the one just alluded
to) we were ever present at. The utmost that the poet or the mechanist
could have aspired to, must have been to produce the effects of a first
sea-voyage. There lay the ship of John Du Bart for half an hour, rocking
about on crape waves, with the sun rising on one side, and night coming
on in a thunder-storm on the other, guns firing, and the orchestra
playing; Mr. Farley on board, bawling himself hoarse, looking like the
master of a Dutch squabber, or still more like the figure at the
mast-head; Miss Booth as busy as she could make herself; Mr. Treby and
Mr. Truman doing nothing; Mr. Hamerton with a hat and feathers, as the
Crown Prince of Poland; Mr. Tokely very much at home drinking punch, and
Mr. Liston (the only sensible man on board) wishing himself in any other
situation. If any thing were wanting to complete the dizziness of brain
produced by all this, it was supplied by the music of Mr. Bishop, who
kept firing a perpetual broadside on the ears of the audience. From the
overture to the finale, we heard nothing but

           ‘Guns, drums, trumpets, blunderbuss, and thunder!’

Never since the invention of French Operas was there such an explosion
of dissonant sounds. If this is music, then the clashing of bells, the
letting off of rockets and detonating balls, or the firing a pistol
close at your ear on an illumination night, is music. John Du Bart is
taken from the French; and from the plot and sentiments, it is not
difficult to guess the date of the French piece. It turns upon the
preference due to an elected over an hereditary prince; and the chief
actors are made to utter such sentiments as this, that ‘treason consists
in supporting a monarch on the throne in opposition to the voice of the
people.’ We wonder it is suffered to be acted—since _the hundred days_
are over!


                           THE BEGGAR’S OPERA

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _November 6, 1815._

We are glad to announce another interesting Polly at Drury-Lane Theatre,
in the person of Miss Nash, from the Theatre-Royal, Bath. We are glad of
every thing that facilitates the frequent representation of that
inimitable play, the Beggar’s Opera, which unites those two good things,
sense and sound, in a higher degree than any other performance on the
English or (or as far as we know) on any other stage. It is to us the
best proof of the good sense as well as real delicacy of the British
public, to see the most beautiful women in the boxes and the most
veteran critics in the pit, whenever it is acted. All sense of humanity
must be lost before the Beggar’s Opera can cease to fill the mind with
delight and admiration.

Miss Nash is tall, elegantly formed, in the bloom of youth, and with a
very pretty face. Her voice has great sweetness, flexibility, and depth.
Her execution is scientific, but gracefully simple; and she sang the
several songs with equal taste and feeling. Her action, though
sufficiently chaste and correct, wanted ease and spirit, so that the
general impression left on the spectator’s imagination was that of a
very beautiful alabaster figure which had been taught to sing. She was
greeted in the most encouraging manner on her first appearance, and
rapturously applauded throughout. Indeed the songs and the music are so
exquisite in themselves, that if given with their genuine characteristic
simplicity, they cannot fail to delight the most insensible ear. The
songs to which she gave most sweetness and animation were those
beginning, ‘But he so teazed me’—‘Why how now, saucy Jade’—and ‘Cease
your funning.’ Her mode of executing the last was not certainly so
delightful as the way in which Miss Stephens sings it, but it was still
infinitely delightful. Her low notes are particularly fine. They have a
deep, mellow richness, which we have never heard before in a female
voice. The sound is like the murmuring of bees.

Miss Kelly played Lucy, and we need hardly add, that she played it well.
She is a charming little vixen: has the most agreeable pout in the
world, and the best-humoured smile; shews all the insolence of lively
satisfaction, and when she is in her airs, the blood seems to tingle at
her fingers’ ends. Her expression of triumph when Macheath goes up to
her rival, singing ‘Tol de rol lol,’ and her vexation and astonishment
when he turns round upon her in the same manner, were admirable. Her
acting in this scene was encored; that is to say, Mr. Cooke’s song was
encored for the sake of the acting. She is the best Lucy we have seen,
except Mrs. Charles Kemble, who, though she did not play the part more
naturally, did it with a higher spirit and greater _gusto_.

Of Mr. T. Cooke’s Macheath, we cannot say any thing favourable. Indeed,
we do not know any actor on the stage who is enough of the fine
gentleman to play it. Perhaps the elder Kemble might, but then he is no
singer! It would be an experiment for Mr. Kean: but we don’t think he
could do it. This is a paradox; but we will explain. As close a
resemblance, then, as the dress of the ladies in the private boxes bears
to that of that of the ladies in the boxes which are not private, so
nearly should the manners of Gay’s Macheath resemble those of the fine
gentleman. Mr. Harley’s Filch is not good. Filch is a serious,
contemplative, conscientious character. This Simmons perfectly
understands, as he does every character that he plays. He sings the
song, ‘’Tis woman that seduces all mankind,’ as if he had a pretty girl
in one eye, and the gallows in the other. Mr. Harley makes a joke of it.
Mrs. Sparkes’s Mrs. Peachum we hardly think so good as Mrs. Davenport’s.

Munden spoils Peachum, by lowering the character into broad farce. He
does not utter a single word without a nasal twang, and a distortion of
his face and body. Peachum is an old rogue, but not a buffoon. Mr.
Dowton’s Lockitt was good, but it is difficult to play this part after
Emery, who in the hard, dry, and impenetrable, has no rival. The scene
where Dowton and Munden quarrel, and exchange wigs in the scuffle, was
the best. They were admirably dressed. A hearty old gentleman in the
pit, one of the old school, enthusiastically called out, ‘Hogarth, by
G—d!’ The ladies in the scene at the tavern with Macheath were genteeler
than usual. This we were pleased to see; for a great deal depends on the
casting of that scene. How Gay must have chuckled, when he found it once
fairly over, and the house in a roar! They leave it out at
Covent-Garden, from the systematic attention which is paid there to the
morals of the town!


                         MISS O’NEILL’S ELWINA

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _November 19, 1815._

During the last week Miss O’Neill has condescended to play the character
of Elwina, in Miss Hannah More’s tragedy of Percy. ‘Although this
production,’ says a critic in the Times, ‘like every other of the
excellent and enlightened author, affords equal pleasure and instruction
in the perusal, we are not sure that it was ever calculated to obtain
very eminent success upon the stage. The language is undoubtedly
classical and flowing; the sentiment characteristically natural and
pure; the fable uninterrupted; the catastrophe mournful; and the moral
of unquestionable utility and truth. With all these requisites to
dramatic fortune, the tragedy of Percy does not so strongly rivet the
attention, as some other plays less free from striking faults, and
composed by writers of far less distinguished talent. Though the
versification be sufficiently musical, and in many passages conspicuous
for nerve as well as cadence, there is no splendid burst of imagery, nor
lofty strain of poetical inspiration. Taste and intelligence have decked
their lines in every grace of sculptured beauty: we miss but the
presence of that Promethean fire, which could bid the statue ‘speak.’ It
may be objected, moreover, to this drama, that its incidents are too
few, and too little diversified. The grand interest which belongs to the
unlooked-for preservation of Percy’s life, is, perhaps, too soon
elicited and expended: and if we mistake not, there is room for doubting
whether, at length, he fairly met his death, or was ensnared once more
by some unworthy treachery of Douglas. Neither do we think the passions
which are called into play by the solemn events of a history so
calamitous, have been very minutely traced, intensely coloured, or
powerfully illustrated. We have a general impression that Douglas is
racked by jealousy—Elwina by grief—and Percy by disappointment. But we
fain would have the home touches of Shakespear.’

Thus far the Times critic: from all which it appears that Miss Hannah
More is not like Shakespear. The writer afterwards tries his hand at a
comparison between Miss More and Virgil; and the result, after due
deliberation, is, that Virgil was the wiser man. The part, however, to
which the learned commentator has the most decided objection, is that
‘where Elwina steps out of her way to preach rather a lengthy sermon to
her father, against war in general, as offensive to the Prince of
Peace.’—Now if this writer had thought proper, he might have discovered
that the whole play is ‘a lengthy sermon,’ without poetry or interest,
and equally deficient in ‘sculptured grace, and Promethean fire.’—We
should not have made these remarks, but that the writers in the above
paper have a greater knack than any others, of putting a parcel of tall
opaque words before them, to blind the eyes of their readers, and
hoodwink their own understandings. There is one short word which might
be aptly inscribed on its swelling columns—it is the word which Burchell
applies to the conversation of some high-flown female critics in the
Vicar of Wakefield.

But to have done with this subject. We shall not readily forgive Miss
Hannah More’s heroine Elwina, for having made us perceive what we had
not felt before, that there is a considerable degree of manner and
monotony in Miss O’Neill’s acting. The peculiar excellence which has
been ascribed to Miss O’Neill (indeed over every other actress) is that
of _faultless nature_. Mrs. Siddons’s acting is said to have greater
grandeur, to have possessed loftier flights of passion and imagination;
but then it is objected, that it was not a pure imitation of nature.
Miss O’Neill’s recitation is indeed nearer the common standard of level
speaking, as her person is nearer the common size, but we will venture
to say that there is as much a tone, a certain stage sing-song in her
delivery as in Mrs. Siddons’s. Through all the tedious speeches of this
play, she preserved the same balanced artificial cadence, the same
melancholy tone, as if her words were the continued echo of a long-drawn
sigh. There is the same pitch-key, the same alternation of sad sounds in
almost every line. We do not insist upon perfection in any one, nor do
we mean to decide how far this intonation may be proper in tragedy; but
we contend, that Miss O’Neill does not in general speak in a natural
tone of voice, nor as people speak in conversation. Her great excellence
is extreme natural sensibility; that is, she perfectly conceives and
expresses what would be generally felt by the female mind in the
extraordinary and overpowering situations in which she is placed. In
truth, in beauty, and in that irresistible pathos, which goes directly
to the heart, she has at present no equal, and can have no superior.
There were only one or two opportunities for the display of her
delightful powers in the character of Elwina, but of these she made the
fullest use. The expression of mute grief, when she hears of the death
of Percy, in the last act, was as fine as possible: nor could any thing
be more natural, more beautiful or affecting, than the manner in which
she receives his scarf, and hurries out with it, tremulously clasping it
to her bosom. It was one of those moments of still, and breathless
passion, in which the tongue is silent, while the heart breaks. We did
not approve of her dying scene at all. It was a mere convulsive struggle
for breath, the representation of a person in the act of suffocation—one
of those agonies of human nature, which, as they do not appeal to the
imagination, should not certainly be obtruded on the senses. Once or
twice Miss O’Neill dropped her voice so low, and articulated so
internally, that we gathered what she said rather from the motion of her
lips, than from distinguishing the sound. This in Mr. Kean would be
called extravagance. We were heartily glad when the play was over. From
the very construction of the plot, it is impossible that any good can
come of it till all the parties are dead; and when this catastrophe took
place, the audience seemed perfectly satisfied.


                         WHERE TO FIND A FRIEND

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _November 26, 1815._

A new Comedy, entitled Where to find a Friend, and said to be from the
pen of a Mr. Leigh, has been brought out at Drury-Lane Theatre. The
Dramatis Personæ are as follows:

                   General Torrington Mr. BARTLEY.
                   Sir Harry Moreden  Mr. WALLACK.
                   Heartly            Mr. DOWTON.
                   Young Bustle       Mr. KNIGHT.
                   Barney             Mr. JOHNSTONE.
                   Tim                Mr. OXBERRY.
                   Lady Moreden       Mrs. DAVISON.
                   Maria              Miss KELLY.
                   Mrs. Bustle        Mrs. SPARKS.

The story is not easily told, for it is a story almost destitute of
events. Sir Harry Moreden has been for some years married to an heiress,
a woman of exemplary principles and amiable feelings; but who, as it
appears, through no other misconduct than a little playful gaiety of
manner, has so far provoked the capricious and irritable temper of her
husband, that he writes off to General Torrington, her guardian, gravely
proposing a separation. This letter brings the General down from London,
in order to learn from the Baronet his real cause of quarrel with his
wife; and a singular conversation ensues, in which, to every conjecture
of the General’s as to the nature of Lady M.’s offences, the
unaccountable husband answers in the negative, leaving it to the
discernment of her guardian to find out the actual source of his
disquietude. This, it appears, in the course of the play, is a certain
fashionable levity and sportiveness of manner, with which it is rather
extraordinary that Sir Harry should be displeased, as another objection
on which he sometimes dwells is the rusticity of his wife’s taste, in
not having any inclination for the dissipation and frivolities of a town
life. Some improbable scenes are however introduced to explain the
merits of this matrimonial question, in which the studied levity on one
side is contrasted with the unconscious violence on the other, until at
length Lady Moreden, hearing from her guardian that her husband is much
embarrassed in his circumstances, and almost on the point of ruin,
reproaches herself with her thoughtless habit of tormenting him; and
prevails upon the General to concur with her in applying her own large
fortune, left to her separately by her father’s will, to the relief of
her husband’s distresses: at the moment when Sir Harry is complaining of
his not knowing ‘where to find a friend,’ all his applications to those
whom he had considered such having proved unsuccessful, her guardian
introduces his wife to him, which produces the reconciliation between
them, and gives rise to the title of the play.

In the progress and developement of this story there is very little to
interest or surprise: the sentimental part of the comedy is founded on
the story of Heartly, whose daughter Maria has run away from him, and
been privately married to a man of fashion, but who having, for family
reasons, enjoined secresy upon her in his absence abroad, subjects her,
in her father’s eyes, to the supposed disgrace of a criminal connection.
Old Heartly retires into the country in a melancholy state of mind, and
Maria, finding herself unexpectedly near to his cottage, determines to
throw herself upon his forgiveness, prevails upon an honest old servant
to admit her to his presence, supplicates for pardon, and is again
received into his affections. This reconciliation is not well brought
about. Her seeking the interview with her father through the connivance
of a servant, after the repeated rejection of every application to his
tenderness, and when she has an advocate in General Torrington, an old
friend of Heartly’s, who has undertaken to bring about a reconciliation,
is not exceedingly probable. After her clandestine introduction by the
servant, the reconciliation is first effected between Heartly and Maria,
on the supposition of her guilt, and is afterwards acted as it were
twice over, when the sight of a ring on her finger leads to the
discovery of her innocence. The comedy opens with the arrival of Maria
at a country inn, near Moreden-hall, kept by the widow Bustle. The
introductory scene between this veteran lady of the old school, and her
son Jack Bustle, who is infected with the modern cant of humanity, and
is besides very indecorous in his manners, is tediously long. Maria’s
depositing the hundred pounds in the hands of Mrs. Bustle is a
gratuitous improbability; and it is with some difficulty that the notes
are retrieved for the use of the right owner by the busy interference of
Mr. Jack Bustle and the generosity of Mr. Barney O’Mulchesen, an honest
Irishman, who at the beginning of the play is the ostler, but at the end
of it, as he himself informs us, becomes ‘the mistress of the Black
Lion.’

Johnstone gave great spirit, and an appearance of cordial good humour,
to this last character. He has a great deal of ‘the milk of human
kindness’ in all his acting. There is a rich genial suavity of manner, a
laughing confidence, a fine oily impudence about him, which must operate
as a saving grace to any character he is concerned in, and would make it
difficult to hiss him off the stage. In any other hands we think Mr.
Barney O’Mulchesen would have stood some chance of being damned.
Oxberry’s Tim was excellent: in those kind of loose dangling characters,
in which the limbs do not seem to hang to the body nor the body to the
mind, in which he has to display meanness and poverty of spirit together
with a natural love of good fellowship and good cheer, there is nobody
equal to Oxberry. His scene with Dowton, his master, who comes home, and
finds him just returning from the fair, from the passionateness of the
master and the meekness of the man, had a very comic effect. This was
the best scene in the play, and the only one in it, which struck us as
containing any thing like originality in the conception of humour and
character. Of Mrs. Davison’s Lady Moreden, we cannot speak favourably,
if we are to speak what we think. Her acting is said to have much
playfulness about it; if so, it is _horse-play_.

A singularity in the construction of the scenes of this comedy is, that
they are nearly an uninterrupted series of tête-à-têtes: the personages
of the drama regularly come on in couples, and the two persons go off
the stage to make room for two others to come on, just like the
procession to Noah’s Ark. Perhaps this principle might be improved upon,
by making an entire play of nothing but soliloquies.

                                                        _Covent-Garden._

Cymon, an opera, by Garrick, was brought out on Monday. It is not very
interesting, either in itself or the music. Mr. Duruset played Cymon
very naturally, though the compliment is, perhaps, somewhat equivocal.
Miss Stephens looked very prettily in Sylvia; but the songs had not any
great effect: ‘Sweet Passion of Love’ was the best of them.

      ‘It is silly sooth, and dallies with the innocence of love.’

Mrs. Liston, who played a little old woman, was encored in the burlesque
song, ‘Now I am seventy-two.’ Mr. Liston’s Justice Dorus is a rich
treat: his face is certainly a prodigious invention in physiognomy.


                        MISS O’NEILL’S BELVIDERA

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _December 10, 1815._

Miss O’Neill repeated her usual characters last week. We saw her in
Belvidera, and were disappointed. We do not think she plays it so well
as she did last year. We thought her representation of it then as near
perfection as possible; and her present acting we think chargeable in
many instances, with affectation and extravagance. She goes into the two
extremes of speaking so loud as to ‘split the ears of the groundlings’
and so low as not to be heard. She has (or we mistake) been taking a bad
lesson of Mr. Kean: in our opinion, the excellences of genius are not
communicable. A second-rate actor may learn of a first; but all
imitation in the latter must prove a source of error: for the power with
which great talent works, can only be regulated by its own suggestions
and the force of nature. The bodily energy which Mr. Kean exhibits
cannot be transferred to female characters, without making them
disgusting instead of impressive. Miss O’Neill during the two last acts
of Belvidera, is in a continual convulsion. But the intention of tragedy
is to exhibit mental passion and not bodily agony, or the last only as a
necessary concomitant of the former. Miss O’Neill clings so long about
Jaffier, and with such hysterical violence, before she leaps upon his
neck and calls for the fatal blow, that the connection of the action
with the sentiment is lost in the pantomime exhibition before us. We are
not fastidious; nor do we object to having the painful worked up with
the catastrophe to the utmost pitch of human suffering; but we must
object to a constant recurrence of such extreme agony, as a convenient
common-place or trick to bring down thunders of applause. Miss O’Neill
twice, if we remember, seizes her forehead with her clenched fists,
making a hissing noise through her teeth, and twice is thrown into a fit
of agonized choking. Neither is her face fine enough in itself not to
become unpleasant by such extreme and repeated distortion. Miss
O’Neill’s freedom from mannerism was her great charm, and we should be
sorry to see her fall into it. Mr. C. Kemble’s Jaffier had very
considerable effect. Mr. Young’s Pierre is his best character.


A new Farce was brought out here on Monday week, the title of which is
What’s a Man of Fashion? a question which it does not solve. A young
lady (Miss Mathews) is left a fortune by her father, on condition of her
marrying a man of fashion within a year of his death. Her aunt (Mrs.
Davenport) is left her guardian, and locks her up to prevent her
marrying any one, that the fortune may devolve to her. Old Project
(personated by Fawcett) is instigated by the young lady, through the
key-hole of the door where she is locked up, to find her a husband who
shall also be a man of fashion; and just as the old gentleman, who is a
very strange mixture of the sailor, fox-hunter, and Bond-street lounger,
has undertaken this laudable task, he meets his nephew (Mr. Jones), whom
he fixes upon as the candidate for the young lady and for fifty thousand
pounds. The whole business of the piece arises out of the attempts of
Old Project to bring them together, and the schemes of the aunt to
prevent the conclusion of the marriage before the expiration of the
year, that is, before it strikes twelve o’clock at night. After many
trifling and improbable adventures, Old Project and his nephew succeed.
The clock strikes twelve, but the man of fashion and his mistress have
been married a few minutes before, though nobody knows how. We do not
think this farce a bit better than some we have lately noticed. The
author seems to have sat down to write it without a plot. There is
neither dialogue nor character in it, nor has it any thing to make it
amusing, but the absurdity of the incidents.


We have seen Miss O’Neill in the Orphan, and almost repent of what we
have said above. Her Monimia is a piece of acting as beautiful as it is
affecting. We never wish to see it acted otherwise or better. She is the
Orphan that Otway drew.

           ‘With pleas’d attention ‘midst his scenes we find
           Each glowing thought that warms the female mind;
           Each melting sigh and every tender tear,
           The lover’s wishes, and the virgin’s fear,
           His every strain the Smiles and Graces own.’

This idea of the character, which never leaves the mind in reading the
play, was delightfully represented on the stage. Miss O’Neill did not
once overstep the limits of propriety, and was interesting in every
part. Her conversation with the page was delicately familiar and
playful. Her death was judiciously varied, and did not affect the
imagination less, because it gave no shock to the senses. Her greatest
effort, however, was in the scene with Polydore, where she asks him,
‘Where did you rest last night?’ and where she falls senseless on the
floor at his answer. The breathless expectation, the solemn injunction,
the terror which the discovery strikes to her heart as if she had been
struck with lightning, had an irresistible effect. Nothing could be
pourtrayed with greater truth and feeling. We liked Charles Kemble’s
Castalio not much, and Mr. Conway’s Polydore not at all. It is
impossible that this gentleman should become an actor, unless he could
take ‘a cubit from his stature.’ Mr. Young’s Chamont was quite as good
as the character deserves.


Mr. Kean’s appearance at Drury-Lane on Tuesday, in the Duke Aranza, in
the Honey Moon, excited considerable expectations in the public. Our own
were not fulfilled. We think this the least brilliant of all his
characters. It was Duke and no Duke. It had severity without dignity;
and was deficient in ease, grace, and gaiety. He played the feigned
character as if it were reality. Now we believe that a spirit of
raillery should be thrown over the part, so as to carry off the gravity
of the imposture. There is in Mr. Kean an infinite variety of talent,
with a certain monotony of genius. He has not the same ease in doing
common things that he has energy on great occasions. We seldom entirely
lose sight of his Richard, and to a certain degree, in all his acting,
‘_he still plays the dog_.’ His dancing was encored. George II. encored
Garrick in the _Minuet de la Cour_: Mr. Kean’s was not like court
dancing. It had more alacrity than ease.


                         THE MERCHANT OF BRUGES

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _December 17, 1815._

The Merchant of Bruges; or, The Beggars’ Bush, altered from Beaumont and
Fletcher, was brought out at Drury-Lane on Thursday, with great
preparation, applause, and effect. Contrary, we believe, to Green-room
expectation, it answered completely. This, assuredly, is not a classical
drama; but the spirit of poetry constantly peeps out from beneath the
rags, and patches, and miserable disguise, in which it is clothed. Where
the eye was most offended by the want of costume, songs and music came
to its relief. The airs selected by Mr. T. Cooke were admirably adapted
to the situations, and we need not remind the critical reader, that the
lyrical effusions in Beaumont and Fletcher are master-pieces in their
kind. They are exactly fitted to be either ‘said or sung’ under the
green-wood tree. One or two of these were sung separately, with a good
deal of sweetness and characteristic _naiveté_, by Miss L. Kelly, who is
one of the supposed beggars, but a princess in disguise. Either we
mistook certain significant intimations, or she wished to make this
appear before the proper time. One of the oddest transformations in the
Beggars’ Bush, was, that it inspired Mr. Holland with no small degree of
animation and fancy; for he depicted the worthy Clause, who is at the
same time the King of the Beggars, the Father of the Merchant of Bruges,
and the old Earl of Flanders, inimitably well.

Again, Mr. Oxberry and Harley were most respectable Beggars, and had
their cues perfect (which was more than Mr. Pope had in the prologue);
Mr. Kean topped his part as the Merchant-Earl, Mr. Munden was not far
behind him as the drunken Burgo-master, and Mr. S. Penley, Mr. Rae, and
Mr. Raymond, served to fill the stage. The scenes from which this play
derived its interest, and which both for sentiment and situation were
admirable, are those in which Mr. Kean vindicates his character as a
Merchant and his love for Gertrude against the arrogant assumptions of
her uncle (Raymond), and disarms the latter in the fight. His retort
upon the noble baron, who accuses him of being a barterer of pepper and
sugar, ‘that every petty lord lived upon his rents or the sale of his
beves, his poultry, his milk and his butter,’ made a forcible appeal to
John Bull, nor did the manner in which Munden, who is bottle-holder on
the occasion, vociferated, ‘Don’t forget butter,’ take away from the
effect. The whole of this scene is (if not in the best) in the most
peculiar and striking manner of Beaumont and Fletcher. It is the very
petulance of youthful ardour and aspiring self-opinion, defying and
taunting the frigid prejudices of age and custom. If Mr. Kean’s voice
failed him, his expression and his action did full justice to the heroic
spirit and magnanimity of conception of the poet, where he says to his
mistress, after depriving his antagonist of his sword, ‘Within these
arms thou art safe as in a wall of brass,’ and again, folding her to his
breast, exclaims, ‘Come, kiss me, love,’ and afterwards rising in his
extravagant importunity, ‘Come, say before all these, say that thou
lov’st me.’ We do not think any of the German dramatic paradoxes come up
to this in spirit, and in acting as it were up to the feeling of the
moment, irritated by a triumph over long-established and insolent
pretension. The scene between Mr. Kean and Gertrude (Mrs. Horn), where
he is in a manner distracted between his losses and his love, had great
force and feeling. We have seen him do much the same thing before. There
is a very fine pulsation in the veins of his forehead on these
occasions, an expression of nature which we do not remember in any other
actor. One of the last scenes, in which _Clause_ brings in the
money-bags to the creditors, and Kean bends forward pointing to them,
and Munden after him, repeating the same attitude, but caricaturing it,
was a perfect _coup-de-théatre_. The last scene rather disappointed our
expectations; but the whole together went off admirably, and every one
went away satisfied.

The story of the Merchant of Bruges is founded on the usurped authority
of Woolmar, as Earl of Flanders, to the exclusion of Gerald, the
rightful heir, and his infant son Floris; the latter of whom, on his
father being driven out by the usurper, has been placed with a rich
merchant of Bruges; whilst the father, with his infant daughter, takes
refuge among a band of Beggars, whose principal resort is in a wood near
the town of Bruges. Young Floris is brought up by the merchant as his
own son; and on the death of his protector, whom he considers as his
real father, succeeds to his property, and becomes the principal
merchant in Bruges. Gerald, in the mean time, is elected King of the
Beggars; and, by the influence which his authority gives him over the
fraternity, he is enabled to assist his son with a large sum of money at
a time when he is on the verge of bankruptcy, owing to the non-arrival
of several vessels richly laden, and which are detained by contrary
winds. This circumstance gives the supposed Beggar considerable
influence over the actions of his son, who declares himself ready to pay
him the duties of a son, without being at all suspicious that it is
indeed his real parent whom he is thus obeying; and Gerald, determining
to reveal to his son the mystery of his birth, appoints an interview
with him at midnight, near the Beggar’s Bush, in the Forest. In the mean
time Woolmar, having learnt that Gerald and Floris, whom he supposes
dead, are still living, and that Gerald is concealed amongst the
Beggars, goes with a troop of horse at midnight to the Beggar’s Bush,
for the purpose of surprising him. His plan is, however, circumvented by
Hubert, a nobleman at the court of Woolmar, but who is secretly attached
to the right heir. Hubert conveys intelligence of the intended attempt
of Woolmar to Gerald, and a strong band of the Beggars are armed, and
set in readiness to seize him on his entering a particular part of the
forest, to which he is enticed by Hubert, under pretence of leading him
to the spot where Gerald is concealed. Here they arrive just at the time
Floris, by appointment, meets his father Gerald. Woolmar falls into the
trap prepared for him, and is, with his principal confidant, Hemskirk,
secured. An explanation takes place, and Gerald resigning his
pretensions to his son, Floris, the Merchant is restored to the
possession of the earldom of Flanders, and Woolmar, the usurping Earl,
is banished for life.


                            SMILES AND TEARS

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _December 24, 1815._

A new piece in five acts, called Smiles and Tears; or the Widow’s
Stratagem, has been produced, with very considerable success, at
Covent-Garden Theatre. The Dramatis Personæ are:

                   Mr. Fitzharding   Mr. YOUNG.
                   Sir Henry Chomley Mr. C. KEMBLE.
                   Colonel O’Donolan Mr. JONES.
                   Mr. Stanley       Mr. FAWCETT.
                   Mr. Delaval       Mr. ABBOTT.
                   Lady Emily        Mrs. C. KEMBLE.
                   Mrs. Belmore      Mrs. FAUCIT.
                   Miss Fitzharding  Miss FOOTE.

The plot is as follows: Lady Emily, a young widow supposed to possess
every amiable quality of body and mind, has for her intimate friend Mrs.
Belmore, who is also a widow, and engaged in a law-suit with Sir Henry
Chomley, by which she is likely to lose her whole fortune. Sir Henry has
by chance met Lady Emily at a masquerade, where he has become deeply
enamoured of her figure, wit, and vivacity, without having ever seen her
face; and having at length obtained information who she is, and where
she resides, writes to her, soliciting an interview, and declaring the
impression which her person and conversation had made on his heart. Lady
Emily being herself sincerely attached to Colonel O’Donolan, determines
to convert the passion of Sir Henry to the advantage of her friend Mrs.
Belmore; and as they have never seen each other, to introduce Mrs.
Belmore to Sir Henry as Lady Emily: but, aware that Mrs. Belmore will
not receive Sir Henry’s addresses, whom she regards as her enemy, on
account of the law-suit between them, she writes to Sir Henry that she
will admit his visits, but that it must, for particular reasons, be
under the assumed name of Grenville; and as Mr. Grenville, she prevails
on Mrs. Belmore to receive him in the name of Lady Emily, assigning as
her reason for this request, her fear of seeing him herself, lest the
Colonel’s jealousy should be excited. Several interviews take place
between Sir Henry and Mrs. Belmore, who conceive so warm an attachment
for each other, under their assumed characters, that when the widow’s
stratagem is discovered, they gladly agree to put an end to their
law-suit by a matrimonial union. The other, and the most afflicting part
of the plot, turns on a stratagem conceived by Lady Emily (who it must
be allowed is fruitful in stratagems), to restore Fitzharding to his
reason, and his daughter to his affections, both of which had been lost
by the dishonourable conduct of Delaval, who had first seduced, and then
deserted the lovely and unsuspecting Cicely Fitzharding.

All that is particularly good in this play arises from the mistakes and
surprises produced by the double confusion of the names of the principal
characters concerned in the Widow’s Stratagem. The scene between Charles
Kemble and Jones, when the former acquaints him with his success with
the supposed Lady Emily, and in which Jones testifies a resentment
against his rival as violent as it is in reality groundless, was in the
true spirit of comedy. Jones’s scene with the Widow Belmore (Mrs.
Faucit), in which the mystery is cleared up to him, is also conceived
and executed with great spirit and effect. The character which Jones
represents, an Irish Colonel, is one of the most misplaced and absurd we
remember to have seen, and the only excuse for whose blunders, rudeness,
officiousness, and want of common sense, is (as far as we could learn),
that he is a countryman of Lord Wellington. This is but an indifferent
compliment to his Grace, and perhaps no great one to Colonel O’Donolan.
There were two direct clap-traps aimed directly at the Duke’s
popularity, which did not take. The truth, we suspect, is, that his
Lordship is not very popular at present in either of his two great
characters, as liberator of Ferdinand VII. or as keeper of Louis XVIII.
Charles Kemble played the part of Sir Henry Chomley with that
gentlemanly ease, gaiety, and good nature, which always gain him the
entire favour of the audience in such characters. He indeed did as much
for this play as if it had been his own. Mrs. Faucit played Mrs. Belmore
exceedingly well. There was something that reminded us of a jointure and
a view to a second match in her whole look and air. We cannot speak a
word of praise of Mrs. C. Kemble’s Lady Emily. Neither her person nor
her manner at all suited the character, nor the description of it which
is several times interlarded in the dialogue. Her walk is not the fine
lady; she is nearly the worst actress we ever saw in the artificial
_mimmine-pimmine_ style of Miss Farren. We hope she will discontinue
such characters, and return to nature; or she will make us forget her
Lucy Lockitt, or what we should hope never to forget, her acting in
Julio in Deaf and Dumb.

There is a great deal of affectation of gentility, and a great deal of
real indecorum, in the comic dialogue of this play. The tragic part is
violent and vulgar in the extreme. Mr. Young is brought forward as a
downright common madman, just broke loose from a madhouse at Richmond,
and is going with a club to dash out the brains of his daughter, Miss
Foote, and her infant. This infant is no other than a large wooden doll:
it fell on the floor the other evening without receiving any hurt, at
which the audience laughed. This dreadful interlude is taken, we
suppose, from Mrs. Opie’s tale of Father and Daughter, of which we
thought never to have heard or seen any thing more. As the whole of this
part is conceived without the smallest poetical feeling, so Mr. Young
did not contrive to throw one ray of genius over it. Miss Foote behaved
throughout very prettily, dutifully and penitently; and in the last
scene, where, to bring back her father’s senses, she is made to stand in
a frame and to represent her own portrait playing on the harp, she
looked a perfect picture.


                            GEORGE BARNWELL

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _December 31, 1815._

George Barnwell has been acted as usual at both Theatres during the
Christmas week. Whether this is ‘a custom more honoured in the breach or
the observance,’ we shall not undertake to decide. But there is one
error on this subject which we wish to correct; which is, that its
defects arise from its being too natural. It is one of the most
improbable and purely arbitrary fictions we have ever seen. Lillo is by
some people considered as a kind of natural Shakespear, and Shakespear
as a poetical Lillo. We look upon Shakespear to have been a greater man
than the Ordinary of Newgate; and we at the same time conceive that
there is not any one of the stories in the Newgate Calendar so badly
told as this tragedy of Lillo’s. Lillo seems to have proceeded on the
old Scotch proverb,

              ‘The kirk is gude, and the gallows is gude.’

He comes with his moral lessons and his terrible examples; a sermon in
the morning and an execution at night; the tolling of the bell for
Tyburn follows hard upon the bell that knolls to church. Nothing can be
more virtuous or prudent than George Barnwell at the end of the first
act, or a more consummate rogue and fool than he is at the beginning of
the second. This play is a piece of wretched cant; it is an insult on
the virtues and the vices of human nature; it supposes that the former
are relinquished and the others adopted without common sense or reason,
for the sake of a Christmas catastrophe, of a methodistical moral. The
account of a young unsuspecting man being seduced by the allurements of
an artful prostitute is natural enough, and something might have been
built on this foundation, but all the rest is absurd, and equally
senseless as poetry or prose. It is a caricature on the imbecility of
goodness, and of the unprovoked and gratuitous depravity of vice.
Shakespear made ‘these odds more even;’ that is, he drew from nature,
and did not drag the theatre into the service of the conventicle. George
Barnwell first robs his master at Milwood’s instigation: (this lady has
the merit of being what Dr. Johnson would have called ‘a good hater’).
He then, being in want of money, proceeds to rob and murder somebody;
and in the way of deliberation and selection fixes upon his uncle, his
greatest friend and benefactor, as if he were the only man in the world
who carried a purse. He therefore goes to seek him in his solitary
walks, where, good man, he is reading a book on the shortness and
uncertainty of human life, bursting out, as he reads, into suitable
comments, which, as his ungracious nephew, who watches behind him in
crape, says, shews that ‘he is the fitter for heaven.’ Well, he turns
round, and sees that he is way-laid by some one; but his nephew, at the
sight of his benign and well-known aspect, drops the pistol, but
presently after stabs him to the heart. This is no sooner effected
without remorse or pity, but the instant it is over, he loses all
thought of the purpose which had instigated him to the act, the securing
his property (not that it appears he had any about him), and this raw,
desperate convert to vice returns to his mistress, to say that he had
committed the murder, and omitted the robbery. On being questioned as to
the _proceeds_ of so nefarious a business, our retrospective enthusiast
asks, ‘Could he lay sacrilegious hands on the body he had just
murdered?’ to which his cooler and more rational accomplice replies,
‘That as he had robbed him of his life, which was no doubt precious to
him, she did not see why he should not rifle his pockets of that which,
being dead, could be of no farther use to him.’ However, Barnwell makes
such a noise with his virtue and his penitence, that she is alarmed for
the consequences; and anticipating a discovery of the whole, calls in
the constable, and gives up her companion as a measure of precaution.
Her maid, however, who is her confidante, has been before-hand with her,
and she is also taken into custody, and both are hanged. Such is the
morality of this piece.


                             THE BUSY BODY

 _The Examiner._

                                                      _January 7, 1816._

The admirable Comedy of the Busy Body was brought out at Drury-Lane
Theatre on Wednesday, for the purpose of introducing Mrs. Mardyn in
Miranda. She acted the part very delightfully, and without at all
overdoing it. We seem to regret her former luxuriance of manner, and
think she might take greater liberties with the public, without offence.
Though she has lost some of the heyday vivacity of her natural spirits,
she looks as charmingly as ever.

Mr. Dowton’s Gripe was not one of his best performances. It is very much
a character of grimace, and Munden perhaps would do it better on this
account, for he is the greatest caricaturist on the stage. It was the
character in which he originally appeared. We never saw him in it, but
in several parts we missed his broad shining face, the orbicular rolling
of his eye, and the alarming drop of his chin. Mr. Dowton, however, gave
the whining tones and the dotage of fondness very well, and ‘his voice
pipes and whistles in the sound, like second childishness.’ If any
thing, he goes too far in this, and drawls out his ecstasies too much
into the tabernacle sing-song.

Mr. Harley played Marplot in a very lively and amusing manner. He
presented a very laughable picture of blundering vivacity and blank
stupidity. This gentleman is the most _moveable_ actor on the stage. He
runs faster and stops shorter than any body else. There was but one
fault in his delineation of the character. The officious Marplot is a
gentleman, a foolish one, to be sure; but Harley played it like a
footman. We observed also, that when Mr. Harley got very deserved
applause by his manner of strutting, and sidling, and twisting himself
about in the last scene, where he fights, he continued to repeat the
same gestures over again, as if he had been _encored_ by the audience.

We cannot close these remarks, without expressing the satisfaction which
we received from this play. It is not so profound in wit or character as
some other of the old Comedies, but it is nothing but bustle and gaiety
from beginning to end. The plot never ceases. The ingenuity of
contrivance is admirable. The developement of the story is an
uninterrupted series of what the French call _coups de théatre_, and the
situations succeed one another like the changes of machinery in a
pantomime. It is a true comic pantomime.


A lady of the name of Barnes has appeared in Desdemona at this Theatre.
Her voice is powerful, her face is pretty, but her person is too
_petite_ and undignified for tragedy. Her conception of the part was
good, and she gave to some of the scenes considerable feeling and
effect; but who shall represent ‘the divine Desdemona?’

Mr. Kean’s Othello is his best character, and the highest effort of
genius on the stage. We say this without any exception or reserve. Yet
we wish it was better than it is. In parts, we think he rises as high as
human genius can go: at other times, though powerful, the whole effort
is thrown away in a wrong direction, and disturbs our idea of the
character. There are some technical objections. Othello was tall; but
that is nothing: he was black, but that is nothing. But he was not
fierce, and that is every thing. It is only in the last agony of human
suffering that he gives way to his rage and his despair, and it is in
working his noble nature up to that extremity, that Shakespear has shewn
his genius and his vast power over the human heart. It was in raising
passion to its height, from the lowest beginnings and in spite of all
obstacles, in shewing the conflict of the soul, the tug and war between
love and hatred, rage, tenderness, jealousy, remorse, in laying open the
strength and the weaknesses of human nature, in uniting sublimity of
thought with the anguish of the keenest woe, in putting in motion all
the springs and impulses which make up this our mortal being, and at
last blending them in that noble tide of deep and sustained passion,
impetuous, but majestic, ‘that flows on to the Propontic and knows no
ebb,’ that the great excellence of Shakespear lay. Mr. Kean is in
general all passion, all energy, all relentless will. He wants
imagination, that faculty which contemplates events, and broods over
feelings with a certain calmness and grandeur; his feelings almost
always hurry on to action, and hardly ever repose upon themselves. He is
too often in the highest key of passion, too uniformly on the verge of
extravagance, too constantly on the rack. This does very well in certain
characters, as Zanga or Bajazet, where there is merely a physical
passion, a boiling of the blood to be expressed, but it is not so in the
lofty-minded and generous Moor.

We make these remarks the more freely, because there were parts of the
character in which Mr. Kean shewed the greatest sublimity and pathos, by
laying aside all violence of action. For instance, the tone of voice in
which he delivered the beautiful apostrophe, ‘Then, oh, farewell!’
struck on the heart like the swelling notes of some divine music, like
the sound of years of departed happiness. Why not all so, or all that is
like it? why not speak the affecting passage—‘I found not Cassio’s
kisses on her lips’—why not speak the last speech, in the same manner?
They are both of them, we do most strenuously contend, speeches of pure
pathos, of thought, and feeling, and not of passion, venting itself in
violence of action or gesture. Again, the look, the action, the
expression of voice, with which he accompanied the exclamation, ‘Not a
jot, not a jot,’ was perfectly heart-rending. His vow of revenge against
Cassio, and his abandonment of his love for Desdemona, were as fine as
possible. The whole of the third act had an irresistible effect upon the
house, and indeed is only to be paralleled by the murder scene in
Macbeth. Mr. Pope’s Iago was better acted than usual, but he does not
look the character. Mr. Holland’s drunken scene was, as it always is,
excellent.


                       A NEW WAY TO PAY OLD DEBTS

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _January 14, 1816._

Massinger’s play of A New Way to Pay Old Debts, which has been brought
out at Drury-Lane Theatre to introduce Mr. Kean in the part of Sir Giles
Overreach, must have afforded a rich treat to theatrical amateurs. There
is something in a good play well acted, a peculiar charm, that makes us
forget ourselves and all the world.

It has been considered as the misfortune of great talents for the stage,
that they leave no record behind them, except that of vague rumour, and
that the genius of a great actor perishes with him, ‘leaving the world
no copy.’ This is a misfortune, or at least a mortifying reflection, to
actors; but it is, we conceive, an advantage to the stage. It leaves an
opening to originality. The stage is always beginning anew; the
candidates for theatrical reputation are always setting out afresh,
unencumbered by the affectation of the faults or excellences of their
predecessors. In this respect, we conceive that the average quantity of
dramatic talent remains more nearly the same than that in any other walk
of art. In the other arts, (as painting and poetry), it may be supposed
that what has been well done already, by giving rise to endless vapid
imitations, is an obstacle to what might be done hereafter: that the
models or _chef d’œuvres_ of art, where they are accumulated, choke up
the path to excellence; and that the works of genius, where they can be
rendered permanent, and transmitted from age to age, not only prevent,
but render superfluous, future productions of the same kind. We have
not, neither do we want, two Shakespears, two Miltons, two Raphaels, two
Popes, any more than we require two suns in the same sphere. Even Miss
O’Neill stands a little in the way (and it is paying her a great
compliment to say so) of our recollections of Mrs. Siddons. But Mr. Kean
is an excellent substitute for the memory of Garrick, whom we never saw!
When an author dies, it is no matter, for his works remain. When a great
actor dies, there is a void produced in society, a gap which requires to
be filled up. Who does not go to see Kean? Who, if Garrick were alive,
would go to see him? At least, either one or the other must have quitted
the stage; ‘For two at a time there’s no mortal could bear.’ Again, we
know that Mr. Kean cannot have been spoiled by Garrick. He might indeed
have been spoiled by Mr. Kemble or Mr. Cooke, but he fortunately has
not. The stage is a place where genius is sure to come upon its legs in
a generation or two. We cannot conceive of better actors than some of
those we now have. In Comedy, Liston is as good as Edwin was when we
were school-boys. We grant that we are deficient in genteel comedy; we
have no fine gentlemen or ladies on the stage—nor off it. That which is
merely artificial and local is a matter of mimicry, and must exist, to
be well copied. Players, however, have little reason to complain of
their hard-earned, short-lived popularity. One thunder of applause from
pit, boxes, and galleries, is equal to a whole immortality of posthumous
fame; and when we hear an actor whose modesty is equal to his merit,
declare that he would like to see a dog wag his tail in approbation,
what must he feel when he sets the whole house in a roar? Besides, Fame,
as if their reputation had been entrusted to her alone, has been
particularly careful of the renown of her theatrical favourites; she
forgets one by one, and year by year, those who have been great lawyers,
great statesmen, and great warriors in their day; but the name of
Garrick still survives, with the works of Reynolds and of Johnson.

We do not know any one now-a-days, who could write Massinger’s Comedy of
A New Way to Pay Old Debts, though we do not believe that it was better
acted at the time it was first brought out, than it is at present. We
cannot conceive of any one’s doing Mr. Kean’s part of Sir Giles
Overreach so well as himself. We have seen others in the part, superior
in the look and costume, in hardened, clownish, rustic insensibility;
but in the soul and spirit, no one equal to him. He is a truly great
actor. This is one of his very best parts. He was not at a single fault.
The passages which we remarked as particularly striking and original,
were those where he expresses his surprise at his nephew’s answers, ‘His
fortune swells him!—’Tis rank, he’s married!’ and again, where, after
the exposure of his villanies, he calls to his accomplice Marall in a
half-wheedling, half-terrific tone, ‘Come hither Marall, come hither.’
Though the speech itself is absurd and out of character, his manner of
stopping when he is running at his foes, ‘I’m feeble, some widow’s curse
hangs on my sword,’ was exactly as if his arm had been suddenly
withered, and his powers shrivelled up on the instant. The conclusion
was quite overwhelming. Mr. Kean looked the part well, and his voice
does not fail as it used to do. Mr. Munden’s Marall was an admirable
piece of acting, and produced some of the most complete comic contrasts
we ever saw. He overdoes his parts sometimes, and sometimes gets into
parts for which he is not fit: but he has a fine broad face and manner
which tells all the world over. His manner of avoiding the honour of a
salute from the Lady Allworth, was a most deliberate piece of humour;
and the account of the unexpected good fortune of young Welborn almost
converts his eyes into saucers, and chokes him with surprise.

Mr. Oxberry’s Justice Greedy was very entertaining, both from the
subject and from his manner of doing it. Oxberry is a man of a practical
imagination, and the apparitions of fat turkeys, chines of bacon, and
pheasants dressed in toast and butter, evidently floated in rapturous
confusion before his senses. There is nothing that goes down better than
what relates to eating and drinking, on the stage, in books, or in real
life. Mr. Harley’s Welborn was indifferent, but he is upon the whole a
very pleasant actor. Mrs. Glover, as Lady Allworth, puts on some very
agreeable frowns; and Mr. Holland’s Lord Lovell was one continued smile,
without any meaning that we could discover, unless this actor, after his
disguise in the Beggar’s Bush, was delighted with the restoration of his
hat and feather.


                      THE MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _January 21, 1816._

We hope we have not been accessory to murder, in recommending a
delightful poem to be converted into a dull pantomime; for such is the
fate of the Midsummer Night’s Dream. We have found to our cost, once for
all, that the regions of fancy and the boards of Covent-Garden are not
the same thing. All that is fine in the play, was lost in the
representation. The spirit was evaporated, the genius was fled; but the
spectacle was fine: it was that which saved the play. Oh, ye
scene-shifters, ye scene-painters, ye machinists and dressmakers, ye
manufacturers of moon and stars that give no light, ye musical
composers, ye men in the orchestra, fiddlers and trumpeters and players
on the double drum and loud bassoon, rejoice! This is your triumph; it
is not ours: and ye full-grown, well-fed, substantial, real fairies,
Messieurs Treby, and Truman, and Atkins, and Misses Matthews, Carew,
Burrell, and Mac Alpine, we shall remember you: we shall believe no more
in the existence of your fantastic tribe. Flute the bellows-mender, Snug
the joiner, Starveling the tailor, farewell! you have lost the charm of
your names; but thou, Nic Bottom, thou valiant Bottom, what shall we say
to thee? Thou didst console us much; thou didst perform a good part
well; thou didst top the part of Bottom the weaver! He comes out of thy
hands as clean and clever a fellow as ever. Thou art a person of
exquisite whim and humour; and thou didst hector over thy companions
well, and fall down flat before the Duke, like other bullies, well; and
thou didst sing the song of the Black Ousel well; but chief, thou didst
noddle thy ass’s head, which had been put upon thee, well; and didst
seem to say, significantly, to thy new attendants, Peaseblossom, Cobweb,
Moth, and Mustardseed, ‘Gentlemen, I can present you equally to my
friends, and to my enemies!’[36]

All that was good in this piece (except the scenery) was Mr. Liston’s
Bottom, which was an admirable and judicious piece of acting. Mr. Conway
was Theseus. Who would ever have taken this gentleman for the friend and
companion of Hercules? Miss Stephens played the part of Hermia, and sang
several songs very delightfully, which however by no means assisted the
progress or interest of the story. Miss Foote played Helena. She is a
very sweet girl, and not at all a bad actress; yet did any one feel or
even hear her address to Hermia? To shew how far asunder the closet and
the stage are, we give it here once more entire:

           ‘Injurious Hermia, most ungrateful maid,
           Have you conspired, have you with these contriv’d
           To bait me with this foul derision?
           Is all the counsel that we two have shar’d,
           The sisters’ vows, the hours that we have spent,
           When we have chid the hasty-footed time
           For parting us—Oh! and is all forgot?
           All school days’ friendship, childhood innocence?
           We, Hermia, like two artificial Gods,
           Created with our needles both one flower,
           Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion;
           Both warbling of one song, both in one key;
           As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
           Had been incorporate. So we grew together,
           Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
           But yet an union in partition.
           And will you rend our ancient love asunder,
           And join with men in scorning your poor friend?
           It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly:
           Our sex as well as I may chide you for it,
           Though I alone do feel the injury.’

In turning to Shakespear to look for this passage, the book opened at
the Midsummer Night’s Dream, the title of which half gave us back our
old feeling; and in reading this one speech twice over, we have
completely forgot all the noise we have heard and the sights we have
seen. Poetry and the stage do not agree together. The attempt to
reconcile them fails not only of effect, but of decorum. The _ideal_ has
no place upon the stage, which is a picture without perspective; every
thing there is in the foreground. That which is merely an airy shape, a
dream, a passing thought, immediately becomes an unmanageable reality.
Where all is left to the imagination, every circumstance has an equal
chance of being kept in mind, and tells according to the mixed
impression of all that has been suggested. But the imagination cannot
sufficiently qualify the impressions of the senses. Any offence given to
the eye is not to be got rid of by explanation. Thus Bottom’s head in
the play is a fantastic illusion, produced by magic spells: on the stage
it is an ass’s head, and nothing more; certainly a very strange costume
for a gentleman to appear in. Fancy cannot be represented any more than
a simile can be painted; and it is as idle to attempt it as to personate
Wall or Moonshine. Fairies are not incredible, but fairies six feet high
are so. Monsters are not shocking, if they are seen at a proper
distance. When ghosts appear in mid-day, when apparitions stalk along
Cheapside, then may the Midsummer Night’s Dream be represented at
Covent-Garden or at Drury-Lane; for we hear, that it is to be brought
out there also, and that we have to undergo another crucifixion.

Mrs. Faucit played the part of Titania very well, but for one
circumstance—that she is a woman. The only glimpse which we caught of
the possibility of acting the imaginary scenes properly, was from the
little girl who dances before the fairies (we do not know her name),
which seemed to shew that the whole might be carried off in the same
manner—by a miracle.

                                                           _Drury-Lane._

The admirable comedy of a New Way to Pay Old Debts, continues to be
acted with increased effect. Mr. Kean is received with shouts of
applause in Sir Giles Overreach. We have heard two objections to his
manner of doing this part, one of which we think right and the other
not. When he is asked, ‘Is he not moved by the orphan’s tears, the
widow’s curse?’ he answers—‘Yes—as rocks by waves, or the moon by
howling wolves.’ Mr. Kean, in speaking the latter sentence, dashes his
voice about with the greatest violence, and howls out his indignation
and rage. Now we conceive this is wrong: for he has to express not
violence, but firm, inflexible resistance to it,—not motion, but rest.
The very pause after the word _yes_, points out the cool deliberate way
in which it should be spoken. The other objection is to his manner of
pronouncing the word ‘Lord,—Right Honourable Lord,’ which Mr. Kean
uniformly does in a drawling tone, with a mixture of fawning servility
and sarcastic contempt. This has been thought inconsistent with the
part, and with the desire which Sir Giles has to ennoble his family by
alliance with a ‘Lord, a Right Honourable Lord.’ We think Mr. Kean never
shewed more genius than in pronouncing this single word, _Lord_. It is a
complete exposure (produced by the violence of the character), of the
elementary feelings which make up the common respect excited by mere
rank. This is nothing but a cringing to power and opinion, with a view
to turn them to our own advantage with the world. Sir Giles is one of
those knaves, who ‘do themselves homage.’ He makes use of Lord Lovell
merely as the stalking-horse of his ambition. In other respects, he has
the greatest contempt for him, and the necessity he is under of paying
court to him for his own purposes, infuses a double portion of gall and
bitterness into the expression of his self-conscious superiority. No;
Mr. Kean was perfectly right in this, he spoke the word ‘Lord’ _con
amore_. His praise of the kiss, ‘It came twanging off—I like it,’ was
one of his happiest passages. It would perhaps be as well, if in the
concluding scene he would contrive not to frighten the ladies into
hysterics. But the whole together is admirable.


                             LOVE FOR LOVE

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _January 28, 1816._

Congreve’s Comedy of Love for Love is, in wit and elegance, perhaps
inferior to the Way of the World; but it is unquestionably the
best-acting of all his plays. It abounds in dramatic situation, in
incident, in variety of character. Still (such is the power of good
writing) we prefer reading it in the closet, to seeing it on the stage.
As it was acted the other night at Drury-Lane Theatre, many of the
finest traits of character were lost. Though Love for Love is much less
a tissue of epigrams than his other plays, the author has not been able
to keep his wit completely under. Jeremy is almost as witty and learned
as his master.—The part which had the greatest effect in the acting was
Munden’s Foresight. We hardly ever saw a richer or more powerful piece
of comic acting. It was done to the life, and indeed somewhat over; but
the effect was irresistible. His look was planet-struck, his dress and
appearance like one of the signs of the Zodiac taken down. We never saw
any thing more bewildered. Parsons, if we remember right, gave more
imbecility, more of the doating garrulity of age, to the part, and
blundered on with a less determined air of stupidity.—Mr. Dowton did not
make much of Sir Sampson Legend. He looked well, like a hale, hearty old
gentleman, with a close bob-wig, and bronze complexion;—but that was
all. We were very much amused with Mr. Harley’s _Tattle_. His
indifference in the scene where he breaks off his engagement with Miss
Prue, was very entertaining. In the scene in which he teaches her how to
make love, he was less successful: he delivered his lessons to his fair
disciple with the air of a person giving good advice, and did not seem
to have a proper sense of his good fortune. ‘Desire to please, and you
will infallibly please,’ is an old maxim, and Mr. Harley is an instance
of the truth of it. This actor is always in the best possible humour
with himself and the audience. He is as happy as if he had jumped into
the very part which he liked the best of all others. Mr. Rae, on the
contrary, who played Valentine, apparently feels as little satisfaction
as he communicates. He always acts with an air of injured excellence.

Mrs. Mardyn’s Miss Prue was not one of her most successful characters.
It was a little hard and coarse. It was not fond and yielding enough.
Miss Prue is made of the most susceptible materials. She played the
hoydening parts best, as where she cries out, ‘School’s up, school’s
up!’—and she knocked off Mr. Bartley’s hat with great good-will.—Mr.
Bartley was Ben; and we confess we think Miss Prue’s distaste to him
very natural. We cannot make up our minds to like this actor; and yet we
have no fault to find with him. For instance, he played the character of
Ben very properly; that is, just like ‘a great sea-porpoise.’ There is
an art of qualifying such a part in a manner to carry off its
disagreeableness, which Mr. Bartley wants.—Mrs. Harlowe’s Mrs. Frail was
excellent: she appeared to be the identical Mrs. Frail, with all her
airs of mincing affectation, and want of principle. The character was
seen quite in dishabille. The scene between her and her sister Mrs.
Foresight, about the discovery of the pin—‘And pray sister where did you
find that pin?’—was managed with as much coolness as any thing of this
sort that ever happened in real life.—Mrs. Orger played Mrs. Foresight
with much ease and natural propriety. She in general reposes too much on
her person, and does not display all the animation of which the
character is susceptible. She is also too much in female parts, what the
_walking fine gentleman_ of the stage used to be in male. Mr. Barnard
played Jeremy with a smart shrug in his shoulders, and the trusty air of
a valet in his situation.


                           THE ANGLADE FAMILY

 _The Examiner._

                                                     _February 4, 1816._

The well known collection of French trials, under the title of _Causes
Celebres_, has served as the ground-work of a new piece, brought out on
Thursday at Drury-Lane Theatre, called Accusation, or The Anglade
Family. The old historical materials are rather scanty, consisting only
of a narrative of a robbery committed on a nobleman by some members of
his own household, for which a M. D’Anglade, who with his family
occupied part of the same hotel, was condemned on false evidence to the
gallies, where grief and mortification put a period to his life before
his innocence was discovered. On this foundation an interesting drama
has been raised by the French author. M. Valmore is introduced as a
lover of Madame D’Anglade, who rejects his unlawful passion. In revenge,
he agrees with a worthless valet to rob his aunt, who resides under the
same roof with the family of M. D’Anglade, in whose hands part of the
stolen property (consisting of bank-notes—a trifling anachronism) is
treacherously deposited by an accomplice of Hubert, Valmore’s servant,
under pretence of paying for jewels which D’Anglade is compelled to
dispose of to satisfy the demands made upon him by a relation who was
supposed to have been dead, and whose estate he had inherited. He is
seized under strong circumstances of suspicion by the police, and
conveyed to prison; but the agents of Valmore are detected in stealing
away with part of the property from the place where it had been
secreted: they are stopped separately by the domestics of the injured
person—each is made to believe that his accomplice has betrayed him—and
on the manifestation of D’Anglade’s innocence and of his own guilt,
Valmore, unable to escape the pursuit of the officers of justice, puts
an end to his existence with a pistol, in a summer-house in which he has
in vain tried to conceal himself.

The interest excited is much of the same kind as in the Maid and the
Magpye: and we think the piece will be almost as great a favourite with
the public. There is a great deal of ingenuity shewn in the developement
of the plot; the scenic effect is often beautiful, and the situations
have real pathos.

The acting was upon the whole excellent. Miss Kelly, as the wife of the
unfortunate D’Anglade, gave a high degree of interest to the story. She
was only less delightful in this character than in that of the Maid of
Paliseau, because she has less to do in it. Mr. Rae was the hero of the
present drama, and he acquitted himself in it with considerable
applause. We never saw Mr. Bartley to so much advantage as in the rough,
honest character of the relation of D’Anglade, (we forget the name), who
comes to claim restitution of his fortune, to try the integrity of his
old friend, but who generously offers him his assistance as soon as he
finds him plunged in distress. Mr. Wallack was Valmore, and there was a
scene of really fine acting between him and Mrs. Glover, (the Countess
of Servan, his aunt), where she tries to probe the guilty conscience of
her nephew, and to induce him to release D’Anglade from his dangerous
situation, by a confession of the treachery of which he has been made
the victim. Mr. S. Penley played the part of the unprincipled valet very
unexceptionably, and Mr. Barnard made an admirable accomplice, in the
character of a strolling Italian musician. Knight, as the raw country
lad by whose means the plot is chiefly discovered, was as natural as he
always is in such characters. He perhaps has got too much of a habit of
expressing his joy by running up and down the stage with his arms spread
out like a pair of wings. Mr. Powell, as the faithful old servant of the
Anglade family, was highly respectable. One sentiment in the play, ‘The
woman who follows her husband to a prison, to share or to alleviate his
misfortunes, is an ornament to her sex, and an honour to human nature,’
was highly applauded—we do not know for what particular reason.[37]

                                                        _Covent-Garden._

The same drama has been abridged and brought out here as an After-piece.
We cannot speak highly of the alteration. The sentimental French romance
is cut down into an English farce, in which both the interest of the
story and the _naiveté_ of the characters are lost. The two characters
of the Valet and the Italian stroller are confounded in the same person,
and played by Mathews, who is death to the pathetic! Charles Kemble
played the Count D’Anglade in a very gentlemanly manner. Farley was the
most turbulent Valet we have ever seen.


                          MEASURE FOR MEASURE

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _February 11, 1816._

In the ‘Lectures on Dramatic Literature by William Schlegel,’ the German
translator of Shakespear, is the following criticism on Measure for
Measure, which has been just acted at Covent-Garden Theatre: ‘In Measure
for Measure, Shakespear was compelled, by the nature of the subject, to
make his poetry more familiar with criminal justice than is usual with
him. All kinds of proceedings connected with the subject, all sorts of
active or passive persons, pass in review before us; the hypocritical
Lord Deputy, the compassionate Provost, and the hard-hearted Hangman; a
young man of quality who is to suffer for the seduction of his mistress
before marriage, loose wretches brought in by the police, nay, even a
hardened criminal whom the preparations for his execution cannot awake
out of his callousness. But yet, notwithstanding this convincing truth,
how tenderly and mildly the whole is treated! The piece takes improperly
its name from the punishment: the sense of the whole is properly the
triumph of mercy over strict justice, no man being himself so secure
from errors as to be entitled to deal it out among his equals. The most
beautiful ornament of the composition is the character of Isabella, who,
in the intention of taking the veil, allows herself to be again
prevailed on by pious love to tread the perplexing ways of the world,
while the heavenly purity of her mind is not even stained with one
unholy thought by the general corruption. In the humble robes of the
novice of a nunnery, she is a true angel of light. When the cold and
hitherto unsullied Angelo, whom the Duke has commissioned to restrain
the excess of dissolute immorality by a rigid administration of the laws
during his pretended absence, is even himself tempted by the virgin
charms of Isabella, as she supplicates for her brother Claudio; when he
first insinuates, in timid and obscure language, but at last impudently
declares his readiness to grant the life of Claudio for the sacrifice of
her honour; when Isabella repulses him with a noble contempt; when she
relates what has happened to her brother, and the latter at first
applauds her, but at length, overpowered by the dread of death, wishes
to persuade her to consent to her dishonour; in these masterly scenes
Shakespear has sounded the depth of the human heart. The interest here
reposes altogether on the action; curiosity constitutes no part of our
delight; for the Duke, in the disguise of a monk, is always present to
watch over his dangerous representatives, and to avert every evil which
could possibly be apprehended: we look here with confidence to the
solemn decision. The Duke acts the part of the Monk naturally, even to
deception; he unites in his person the wisdom of the priest and the
prince. His wisdom is merely too fond of roundabout ways; his vanity is
flattered with acting invisibly like an earthly providence; he is more
entertained with overhearing his subjects than governing them in the
customary manner. As he at last extends pardon to all the guilty, we do
not see how his original purpose of restoring the strictness of the laws
by committing the execution of them to other hands, has been in any wise
accomplished. The poet might have had this irony in view—that of the
numberless slanders of the Duke, told him by the petulant Lucio, without
knowing the person to whom he spoke, what regarded his singularities and
whims was not wholly without foundation.

‘It is deserving of remark, that Shakespear, amidst the rancour of
religious parties, takes a delight in representing the condition of a
monk, and always represents his influence as beneficial. We find in him
none of the black and knavish monks, which an enthusiasm for the
Protestant Religion, rather than poetical inspiration, has suggested to
some of our modern poets. Shakespear merely gives his monks an
inclination to busy themselves in the affairs of others, after
renouncing the world for themselves; with respect, however, to privy
frauds, he does not represent them as very conscientious. Such are the
parts acted by the Monk in Romeo and Juliet, and another in Much ado
about Nothing, and even by the Duke, whom, contrary to the well known
proverb, “the cowl seems really to make a monk.”’ Vol. ii. p. 169.

This is, we confess, a very poor criticism on a very fine play; but we
are not in the humour (even if we could) to write a better. A very
obvious beauty, which has escaped the critic, is the admirable
description of life, as poetical as it is metaphysical, beginning, ‘If I
do lose thee, I do lose a thing,’ &c. to the truth and justice of which
Claudio assents, contrasted almost immediately afterwards with his fine
description of death as the worst of ills:

               ‘To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
               This sensible warm motion to become
               A kneaded clod, and the delighted spirit
               To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
               In thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice.
                             ——’Tis too horrible!
               The weariest and most loathed worldly life
               That age, ache, penury, imprisonment,
               Can lay on nature, is a paradise
               To what we fear of death.’—

Neither has he done justice to the character of Master Barnardine, one
of the finest (and that’s saying a bold word) in all Shakespear. He
calls him a hardened criminal. He is no such thing. He is what he is by
nature, not by circumstance, ‘careless, reckless, and fearless of past,
present, and to come.’ He is Caliban transported to the forests of
Bohemia, or the prisons of Vienna. He has, however, a sense of the
natural fitness of things: ‘He has been drinking hard all night, and he
will not be hanged that day,’ and Shakespear has let him off at last.
Emery does not play it well, for Master Barnardine is not the
representative of a Yorkshireman, but of an universal class in nature.
We cannot say that the Clown Pompey suffered in the hands of Mr. Liston;
on the contrary, he played it inimitably well. His manner of saying ‘a
dish of some three-pence’ was worth any thing. In the scene of his
examination before the Justice, he delayed, and dallied, and dangled in
his answers, in the true spirit of the genius of his author.

We do not understand why the philosophical critic, whom we have quoted
above, should be so severe on those pleasant persons Lucio, Pompey, and
Master Froth, as to call them ‘wretches.’ They seem all mighty
comfortable in their occupations, and determined to pursue them, ‘as the
flesh and fortune should serve.’ Shakespear was the least moral of all
writers; for morality (commonly so called) is made up of antipathies,
and his talent consisted in sympathy with human nature, in all its
shapes, degrees, elevations, and depressions. The object of the pedantic
moralist is to make the worst of every thing; _his_ was to make the
best, according to his own principle, ‘There is some soul of goodness in
things evil.’ Even Master Barnardine is not left to the mercy of what
others think of him, but when he comes in, he speaks for himself. We
would recommend it to the Society for the Suppression of Vice to read
Shakespear.

Mr. Young played the Duke tolerably well. As to the cant introduced into
Schlegel’s account of the Duke’s assumed character of a Monk, we scout
it altogether. He takes advantage of the good-nature of the poet to
impose on the credulity of mankind. Chaucer spoke of the Monks
historically, Shakespear poetically. It was not in the nature of
Shakespear to insult over ‘the enemies of the human race’ just after
their fall. We however object to them entirely in this age of the
revival of Inquisitions and Protestant massacres. We have not that
stretch of philosophical comprehension which, in German metaphysics,
unites popery and free-thinking together, loyalty and regicide, and
which binds up the Bible and Spinoza in the same volume!—Mr. Jones did
not make a bad Lucio. Miss O’Neill’s Isabella, though full of merit,
disappointed us; as indeed she has frequently done of late. Her ‘Oh fie,
fie,’ was the most spirited thing in her performance. She did not seize
with much force the spirit of her author, but she seemed in complete
possession of a certain conventicle twang. She whined and sang out her
part in that querulous tone that has become unpleasant to us by
ceaseless repetition. She at present plays all her parts in the Magdalen
style. We half begin to suspect that she represents the bodies, not the
souls of women, and that her _forte_ is in tears, sighs, sobs, shrieks,
and hysterics. She does not play either Juliet or Isabella finely. She
must stick to the common-place characters of Otway, Moore, and Miss
Hannah More, or she will ruin herself. As Sir Joshua Reynolds concluded
his last lecture with the name of Michael Angelo, as Vetus wished the
name of the Marquis Wellesley to conclude his last letter, so we will
conclude this article with a devout apostrophe to the name of Mrs.
Siddons.


                     MR. KEAN’S SIR GILES OVERREACH

 _The Examiner._

                                                    _February 18, 1816._

We saw Mr. Kean’s Sir Giles Overreach on Friday night from the boxes at
Drury-Lane Theatre, and are not surprised at the incredulity as to this
great actor’s powers, entertained by those persons who have only seen
him from that elevated sphere. We do not hesitate to say, that those who
have only seen him at that distance, have not seen him at all. The
expression of his face is quite lost, and only the harsh and grating
tones of his voice produce their full effect on the ear. The same
recurring sounds, by dint of repetition, fasten on the attention, while
the varieties and finer modulations are lost in their passage over the
pit. All you discover is an abstraction of his defects, both of person,
voice, and manner. He appears to be a little man in a great passion. The
accompaniment of expression is absolutely necessary to explain his tones
and gestures: and the outline which he gives of the character, in
proportion as it is bold and decided, requires to be filled up and
modified by all the details of execution. Without seeing the workings of
his face, through which you read the movements of his soul, and
anticipate their violent effects on his utterance and action, it is
impossible to understand or feel pleasure in the part. All strong
expression, deprived of its gradations and connecting motives,
unavoidably degenerates into caricature. This was the effect uniformly
produced on those about us, who kept exclaiming, ‘How extravagant, how
odd,’ till the last scene, where the extreme and admirable contrasts
both of voice and gesture in which Mr. Kean’s genius shews itself, and
which are in their nature more obviously intelligible, produced a change
of opinion in his favour.

As a proof of what we have above advanced, it was not possible to
discover in the last scene, where he is lifted from the ground by the
attendants, and he rivets his eyes in dreadful despair upon his
daughter, whether they were open or closed. The action of advancing to
the middle of the stage, and his faultering accent in saying, ‘Marall,
come hither, Marall,’ could not be mistaken. The applause, however, came
almost constantly from those who were near the orchestra, and circulated
in eddies round the house. It is unpleasant to see a play from the
boxes. There is no part of the house which is so thoroughly wrapped up
in itself, and fortified against any impression from what is passing on
the stage; which seems so completely weaned from all superstitious
belief in dramatic illusion; which takes so little interest in all that
is interesting. Not a cravat nor a muscle was discomposed, except now
and then by some gesticulation of Mr. Kean, which violated the decorum
of fashionable indifference, or by some expression of the author, two
hundred years old. Mr. Kean’s acting is not, we understand, much
relished in the upper circles. It is thought too obtrusive and
undisguised a display of nature. Neither was Garrick’s at all relished
at first, by the old Nobility, till it became the fashion to admire him.
The court dresses, the drawing-room strut, and the sing-song
declamation, which he banished from the stage, were thought much more
dignified and imposing.


                         THE RECRUITING OFFICER

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _March 3, 1816._

Farquhar’s Comedy of the Recruiting Officer was revived at Drury-Lane
Theatre on Tuesday, when Mrs. Mardyn appeared as Sylvia. She looked very
charmingly in it while she continued in her female dress, and displayed
some good acting, particularly in the scene where Plume gives her his
will to read; but we did not like her at all as Young Wilful, with her
jockey coat, breeches, and boots. Her dress seemed as if contrived on
purpose to hide the beauties of her natural shape, and discover its
defects. A woman in Hessian boots can no more move gracefully under such
an additional and unusual incumbrance to her figure, than a man could
with a clog round each leg. We hope that she will re-cast her male
attire altogether, if she has not already done it. The want of vivacity
and elegance in her appearance gave a flatness to the latter part of the
comedy, which was not relieved by the circumstance of Mr. Rae’s
forgetting his part. We do not think he played the airy, careless,
lively Captain Plume well; and Mr. Harley did not play _Captain_ Brazen,
but _Serjeant_ Brazen. Johnstone’s Serjeant Kite was not very happy.
Johnstone’s impudence is good-humoured and natural, Serjeant Kite’s is
knavish impudence. Johnstone is not exactly fitted for any character,
the failings of which do not lean to the amiable side. There was one
speech which entirely suited him, and that was where he says to his
Captain, ‘The mob are so pleased with your Honour, and the justices and
better sort of people are so delighted with me, that we shall soon do
our business!’ Munden’s Costar Pearmain, and Knight’s Thomas Appletree,
were a double treat. Knight’s fixed, rivetted look at the guinea,
accompanied with the exclamation, ‘Oh the wonderful works of Nature!’
and Munden’s open-mouthed, reeling wonder, were in the best style of
broad comic acting. If any thing, this scene was even surpassed by that
in which Munden, after he has listed with Plume, makes his
approximations to his friend, who is whimpering, and casting at him a
most inviting ogle, with an expression of countenance all over oily and
lubricated, emphatically ejaculates, ‘Well, Tummy!’ We have no wish to
see better acting than this. This actor has won upon our good opinion,
and we here retract openly all that we have said disrespectfully of his
talents, generally speaking. Miss Kelly’s Rose was played _con amore_;
it was an exquisite exhibition of rustic _naiveté_. Her riding on the
basket as a side-saddle, was very spirited and well contrived. Passion
expresses itself in such characters by a sort of uneasy bodily vivacity,
which no actress gives so well as Miss Kelly. We ought not to omit, that
she cries her chickens in a good shrill huswifely market-voice, as if
she would drive a good bargain with them. Mr. Powell played Justice
Balance as well as if he had been the Justice himself.

The Recruiting Officer is not one of Farquhar’s best comedies, though it
is lively and entertaining. It contains merely sketches of characters,
and the conclusion of the plot is rather lame. He informs us in the
dedication to the published play, that it was founded on some local and
personal circumstances that happened in Shropshire, where he was a
recruiting officer, and it seems not unlikely that most of the scenes
actually took place near the foot of the Wrekin.


                           THE FAIR PENITENT

 _The Examiner._

                                     (_Covent Garden_) _March 10, 1816._

The Fair Penitent is a tragedy which has been found fault with both on
account of its poetry and its morality. Notwithstanding these
objections, it still holds possession of the stage, where morality is
not very eagerly sought after, and poetry but imperfectly understood. We
conceive, that for every purpose of practical criticism, that is a good
tragedy which draws tears without moving laughter. Rowe’s play is
founded on one of Massinger’s, the Fatal Dowry, in which the characters
are a good deal changed, and the interest not increased. The genius of
Rowe was slow and timid, and loved the ground: he had not ‘a Muse of
fire to ascend the brightest heaven of invention:’ but he had art and
judgment enough to accommodate the more daring flights of a ruder age to
the polished well-bred mediocrity of the age he lived in. We may say of
Rowe as Voltaire said of Racine: ‘All his lines are equally good.’ The
compliment is after all equivocal; but it is one which may be applied
generally to all poets, who in their productions are always thinking of
what they shall say, and of what others have said, and who are never
hurried into excesses of any kind, good or bad, by trusting implicitly
to the impulse of their own genius or of the subject. The excellent
author of Tom Jones, in one of his introductory chapters, represents
Rowe as an awkward imitator of Shakespear. He was rather an imitator of
the style and tone of sentiment of that age,—a sort of modernizer of
antiquity. The character of Calista is quite in the _bravura_ style of
Massinger. She is a heroine, a virago, fair, a woman of high spirit and
violent resolutions, any thing but a penitent. She dies indeed at last,
not from remorse for her vices, but because she can no longer gratify
them. She has not the slightest regard for her virtue, and not much for
her reputation; but she would brand with scorn, and blast with the
lightning of her indignation, the friend who wishes to stop her in the
career of her passions in order to save her from destruction and infamy.
She has a strong sentiment of respect and attachment to her father, but
she will sooner consign his grey hairs to shame and death than give up
the least of her inclinations, or sacrifice her sullen gloom to the
common decencies of behaviour. She at last pretends conversion from her
errors, in a soft whining address to her husband, and after having
deliberately and wantonly done all the mischief in her power, with her
eyes open, wishes that she had sooner known better, that she might have
acted differently! We do not however for ourselves object to the
morality of all this: for we apprehend that morality is little more than
truth; and we think that Rowe has given a very true and striking picture
of the nature and consequences of that wilful selfishness of
disposition, ‘which to be hated needs but to be seen.’ We do not think
it necessary that the spectator should wait for the reluctant conversion
of the character itself, to be convinced of its odiousness or folly, or
that the only instruction to be derived from the drama is, not from the
insight it gives us into the nature of human character and passion, but
from some artificial piece of patchwork morality tacked to the end.
However, Rowe has so far complied with the rules.

After what we have said of the character of Calista, Miss O’Neill will
perhaps excuse us if we do not think that she was a very perfect
representative of it. The character, as she gave it, was a very fine and
impressive piece of acting, but it was not quite Calista. She gave the
pathos, but not the spirit of the character. Her grief was sullen and
sad, not impatient and ungovernable. Calista’s melancholy is not a
settled dejection, but a feverish state of agitation between conflicting
feelings. Her eyes should look bright and sparkling through her tears.
Her action should be animated and aspiring. Her present woes should not
efface the traces of past raptures. There should be something in her
appearance of the intoxication of pleasure, mixed with the madness of
despair. The scene in which Miss O’Neill displayed most power, was that
in which she is shewn her letter to Lothario by Horatio, her husband’s
friend. The rage and shame with which her bosom seemed labouring were
truly dreadful. This is the scene in which the poet has done most for
the imagination, and it is the characteristic excellence of Miss
O’Neill’s acting, that it always rises with the expectations of the
audience. She also repeated the evasive answer, ‘It was the day in which
my father gave my hand to Altamont—as such I shall remember it for
ever,’ in a tone of deep and suppressed emotion. It is needless to add,
that she played the part with a degree of excellence which no other
actress could approach, and that she was only inferior to herself in it,
because there is not the same opportunity for the display of her
inimitable powers, as in some of her other characters.


                           THE DUKE OF MILAN

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _March 17, 1816._

We do not think the Duke of Milan will become so great a favourite as
Sir Giles Overreach, at Drury-Lane Theatre. The first objection to this
play is, that it is an arbitrary falsification of history. There is
nothing in the life of Sforza, the supposed hero of the piece, to
warrant the account of the extravagant actions and tragical end which
are here attributed to him, to say nothing of political events. In the
second place, his resolution to destroy his wife, to whom he is
passionately attached, rather than bear the thought of her surviving
him, is as much out of the verge of nature and probability, as it is
unexpected and revolting from the want of any circumstances of
palliation leading to it. It stands out alone, a piece of pure voluntary
atrocity, which seems not the dictate of passion but a start of phrenzy.
From the first abrupt mention of this design to his treacherous
accomplice, Francesco, he loses the favour, and no longer excites the
sympathy of the audience. Again, Francesco is a person whose actions we
are at a loss to explain, till the last act of the piece, when the
attempt to account for them from motives originally amiable and
generous, only produces a double sense of incongruity, and instead of
satisfying the mind, renders it totally incredulous. He endeavours to
debauch the wife of his benefactor, he then attempts her death, slanders
her foully, and wantonly causes her to be slain by the hand of her
husband, and has him poisoned by a deliberate stratagem; and all this to
appease a high sense of injured honour, ‘which felt a stain like a
wound,’ and from the tender overflowings of fraternal affection; his
sister having, it appears, been formerly betrothed to, and afterwards
deserted by the Duke.

In the original play, the Duke is killed by a poison which is spread by
Francesco over the face of the deceased Duchess, whose lips her husband
fondly kisses, though cold in death, in the distracted state into which
he is plunged by remorse for his rash act. But in the acted play, it is
so contrived, that the sister of Francesco personates the murdered
Duchess, and poisons the Duke (as it is concerted with her brother), by
holding a flower in her hand, which, as he squeezes it, communicates the
infection it has received from some juice in which it has been steeped.
How he is to press the flower in her hand, in such a manner as not to
poison her as well as himself, is left unexplained. The lady, however,
does not die, and a reconciliation takes place between her and her
former lover. We hate these sickly sentimental endings, without any
meaning in them.

The peculiarity of Massinger’s vicious characters seems in general to
be, that they are totally void of moral sense, and have a gloating pride
and disinterested pleasure in their villanies, unchecked by the common
feelings of humanity. Francesco, in the present play, holds it out to
the last, defies his enemies, and is ‘proud to die what he was born.’ At
other times, after the poet has carried on one of these hardened
unprincipled characters for a whole play, he is seized with a sudden
qualm of conscience, and his villain is visited with a judicial remorse.
This is the case with Sir Giles Overreach, whose hand is restrained in
the last extremity of his rage by ‘some widow’s curse that hangs upon
it,’ and whose heart is miraculously melted ‘by orphan’s tears.’ We will
not, however, deny that such may be a true picture of the mixed
barbarity and superstition of the age in which Massinger wrote. We have
no doubt that his Sir Giles Overreach, which some have thought an
incredible exaggeration, was an actual portrait. Traces of such
characters are still to be found in some parts of the country, and in
classes to which modern refinement and modern education have not
penetrated;—characters that not only make their own selfishness and
violence the sole rule of their actions, but triumph in the superiority
which their want of feeling and of principle gives them over their
opponents or dependants. In the time of Massinger, philosophy had made
no progress in the minds of country gentlemen: nor had the theory of
moral sentiments, in the community at large, been fashioned and moulded
into shape by systems of ethics continually pouring in upon us from the
Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. Persons in the
situation, and with the dispositions of Sir Giles, cared not what wrong
they did, nor what was thought of it, if they had only the power to
maintain it. There is no calculating the advantages of civilization and
letters, in taking off the hard, coarse edge of rusticity, and in
softening social life. The vices of refined and cultivated periods are
_personal_ vices, such as proceed from too unrestrained a pursuit of
pleasure in ourselves, not from a desire to inflict pain on others.

Mr. Kean’s Sforza is not his most striking character; on the contrary,
it is one of his least impressive, and least successful ones. The mad
scene was fine, but we have seen him do better. The character is too
much at cross-purposes with itself, and before the actor has time to
give its full effect to any impulse of passion, it is interrupted and
broken off by some caprice or change of object. In Mr. Kean’s
representation of it, our expectations were often excited, but never
thoroughly satisfied, and we were teased with a sense of littleness in
every part of it. It entirely wants the breadth, force, and grandeur of
his Sir Giles.

One of the scenes, a view of the court-house at Milan, was most
beautiful. Indeed, the splendour of the scenery and dresses frequently
took away from the effect of Mr. Kean’s countenance.


                       MISS O’NEILL’S LADY TEAZLE

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _March 24, 1816._

Miss O’Neill’s Lady Teazle at Covent-Garden Theatre appears to us to be
a complete failure. It was not comic; it was not elegant; it was not
easy; it was not dignified; it was not playful; it was not any thing
that it ought to be. All that can be said of it is, that it was not
tragedy. It seemed as if all the force and pathos which she displays in
interesting situations had left her, but that not one spark of gaiety,
one genuine expression of delight, had come in their stead. It was a
piece of laboured heavy _still-life_. The only thing that had an air of
fashion about her was the feather in her hat. It was not merely that she
did not succeed as Miss O’Neill; it would have been a falling off in the
most common-place actress who had ever done any thing tolerably. She
gave to the character neither the complete finished air of fashionable
indifference, which was the way in which Miss Farren played it, if we
remember right, nor that mixture of artificial refinement and natural
vivacity, which appears to be the true idea of the character (which
however is not very well made out), but she seemed to have been thrust
by some injudicious caprice of fortune, into a situation for which she
was fitted neither by nature nor education. There was a perpetual
affectation of the wit and the fine lady, with an evident consciousness
of effort, a desire to please without any sense of pleasure. It was no
better than awkward mimicry of the part, and more like a drawling
imitation of Mrs. C. Kemble’s genteel comedy than any thing else we have
seen. The concluding penitential speech was an absolute sermon. We
neither liked her manner of repeating ‘Mimminee pimminee,’ nor of
describing the lady who rides round the ring in Hyde-park, nor of
chucking Sir Peter under the chin, which was a great deal too coarse and
familiar. There was throughout an equal want of delicacy and spirit, of
ease and effect, of nature and art. It was in general flat and insipid,
and where any thing more was attempted, it was overcharged and
unpleasant.

Fawcett’s Sir Peter Teazle was better than when we last saw it. He is an
actor of much merit, but he has of late got into a strange way of
slurring over his parts. Liston’s Sir Benjamin Backbite was not very
successful. Charles Kemble played Charles Surface very delightfully.


Guy Mannering, or the Gipsey’s Prophecy, taken from the novel of that
name, and brought out at Covent-Garden, is a very pleasing romantic
drama. It is, we understand, from the pen of Mr. Terry, and reflects
much credit on his taste and talents. The scenes between Miss Stephens,
Miss Matthews, and Mr. Abbott, as Lucy Bertram, Julia Mannering, and
Colonel Mannering, have a high degree of elegance and interest. Mrs.
Egerton’s Meg Merrilees was equal in force and nature to her Miller’s
Wife; and we cannot pay it a higher compliment. It makes the blood run
cold. Mr. Higman played the chief Gipsey very well, and nothing could be
better represented than the unfeeling, shuffling tricks and knavish
impudence of the Gipsey Boy, by Master Williams. Liston’s Dominie
Sampson was _prodigious_; his talents are _prodigious_. The appearance
and the interest he gave to the part were quite patriarchal. The
unconscious simplicity of the humour was exquisite; it will give us a
better opinion of the Scotch Clergy, and almost of the Scotch nation (if
that were possible) while we live.


                                MR. KEAN

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _March 31, 1816._

A chasm has been produced in the amusements of Drury-Lane Theatre by the
accident which has happened to Mr. Kean. He was to have played the Duke
of Milan on Tuesday, but as he had not come to the Theatre at the time
of the drawing up of the curtain, Mr. Rae came forward to propose
another tragedy, Douglas. To this the audience did not assent, and
wished to wait. Mr. Kean, however, not appearing, nor any tidings being
heard of him, he was at length given up, and two farces substituted in
his stead. Conjectures and rumours were afloat; and it was not till the
next day that it was discovered that Mr. Kean having dined a few miles
in the country, and returning at a very quick pace to keep his
engagement at the Theatre, was thrown out of his gig, and had his arm
dislocated, besides being stunned and very much bruised with the fall.
On this accident a grave morning paper is pleased to be facetious. It
observes that this is a very _serious_ accident; that actors in general
are liable to _serious_ accidents; that the late Mr. Cooke used to meet
with _serious_ accidents; that it is a sad thing to be in the way of
such accidents; and that it is to be hoped that Mr. Kean will meet with
no more _serious_ accidents. It is to be hoped that he will not—nor with
any such profound observations upon them, if they should happen. Next to
that spirit of bigotry which in a neighbouring country would deny actors
Christian burial after death, we hate that cant of criticism, which
slurs over their characters while living with a half-witted jest. Actors
are accused as a profession of being extravagant and intemperate. While
they are said to be so as a piece of common cant, they are likely to
continue so. But there is a sentence in Shakespear which should be stuck
as a label in the mouths of the beadles and whippers-in of morality:
‘The web of our life is of a mingled yarn: our virtues would be proud if
our vices whipped them not, and our faults would despair if they were
not cherished by our virtues.’

With respect to the extravagance of actors, as a traditional character,
it is not to be wondered at: they live from hand to mouth; they plunge
from want into luxury; they have no means of making money _breed_, and
all professions that do not live by turning money into money, or have
not a certainty of accumulating it in the end by parsimony, spend it.
Uncertain of the future, they make sure of the present moment. This is
not unwise. Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes
pass into the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle
of public favour, yet even there cannot calculate on the continuance of
success, but are, ‘like the giddy sailor on the mast, ready with every
blast to topple down into the fatal bowels of the deep!’ Besides, if the
young enthusiast who is smitten with the stage, and with the public as a
mistress, were naturally a close _hunks_, he would become or remain a
city clerk, instead of turning player. Again, with respect to the habit
of convivial indulgence, an actor, to be a good one, must have a great
spirit of enjoyment in himself, strong impulses, strong passions, and a
strong sense of pleasure, for it is his business to imitate the passions
and to communicate pleasure to others. A man of genius is not a machine.
The neglected actor may be excused if he drinks oblivion of his
disappointments; the successful one, if he quaffs the applause of the
world, and enjoys the friendship of those who are the friends of the
favourites of fortune, in draughts of nectar. There is no path so steep
as that of fame; no labour so hard as the pursuit of excellence. The
intellectual excitement inseparable from those professions which call
forth all our sensibility to pleasure and pain, requires some
corresponding physical excitement to support our failure, and not a
little to allay the ferment of the spirits attendant on success. If
there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this in the profession of a
player, it is owing to the state of public opinion, which paragraphs
like the one we have alluded to are not calculated to reform; and
players are only not so _respectable_ as a profession as they might be,
because their profession is not _respected_ as it ought to be.

There is something, we fear, impertinent and uncalled for in these
remarks: the more so, as in the present instance the insinuation which
they were meant to repel is wholly unfounded. We have it on very good
authority, that Mr. Kean, since his engagement at Drury-Lane, and during
his arduous and uninterrupted exertions in his profession, has never
missed a single rehearsal, nor been absent a minute beyond the time for
beginning his part.


                           MR. KEAN’S SHYLOCK

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _April 7, 1816._

Mr. Kean’s friends felt some unnecessary anxiety with respect to his
reception in the part of Shylock, on Monday night at Drury-Lane, being
his first appearance after his recovery from his accident, which we are
glad to find has not been a very serious one. On his coming on the stage
there was a loud burst of applause and welcome; but as this was mixed
with some hisses, Mr. Kean came forward, and spoke nearly as follows:

  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, for the first time in my life I have been the
  unfortunate cause of disappointing the public amusement.

  ‘That it is the only time, on these boards, I can appeal to your own
  recollection; and when you take into calculation the 265 times that
  I have had the honour to appear before you, according to the
  testimony of the Manager’s books, you will, perhaps, be able to make
  some allowance.

  ‘To your favour I owe all the reputation I enjoy.

  ‘I rely on your candour, that prejudice shall not rob me of what
  your kindness has conferred upon me.’

This address was received with cordial cheers, and the play went forward
without interruption. As soon as the curtain drew up, some persons had
absurdly called out ‘Kean, Kean,’ though Shylock does not appear in the
first scenes. This was construed into a call for ‘God save the _King_:’
and the Duke of Gloucester’s being in one of the stage-boxes seemed to
account for this sudden effusion of loyalty,—a sentiment indeed always
natural in the hearts of Englishmen, but at present not very noisy, and
rather ‘deep than loud.’ For our own parts, we love the King according
to law, but we cannot sing.

Shylock was the part in which Mr. Kean first sought the favour of the
town, and in which perhaps he chose for that reason to be reconciled to
it, after the first slight misunderstanding. We were a little curious on
this occasion to see the progress he has made in public opinion since
that time; and on turning to our theatrical common-place book (there is
nothing like a common-place book after all) found the following account
of his first reception, copied from the most respectable of the Morning
Papers: ‘Mr. Kean (of whom report has spoken so highly) made his
appearance at Drury-Lane in the character of Shylock. For _voice_, eye,
action, and expression, no actor has come out for many years at all
equal to him. The applause, from the first scene to the last, was
general, loud, and uninterrupted. Indeed, the very first scene in which
he comes on with Bassanio and Anthonio, shewed the master in his art,
and at once decided the opinion of the audience. Perhaps it was the most
perfect of any. Notwithstanding the complete success of Mr. Kean in
Shylock, we question whether he will not become a greater favourite in
other parts. There was a lightness and vigour in his tread, a buoyancy
and elasticity of spirit, a fire and animation, which would accord
better with almost any other character than with the morose, sullen,
inward, inveterate, inflexible, malignity of Shylock. The character of
Shylock is that of a man brooding over one idea, that of its wrongs, and
bent on an unalterable purpose, that of revenge. In conveying a profound
impression of this feeling, or in embodying the general conception of
rigid and uncontroulable self-will, equally proof against every
sentiment of humanity or prejudice of opinion, we have seen actors more
successful than Mr. Kean. But in giving effect to the conflict of
passions arising out of the contrast of situation, in varied vehemence
of declamation, in keenness of sarcasm, in the rapidity of his
transitions from one tone or feeling to another, in propriety and
novelty of action, presenting a succession of striking pictures, and
giving perpetually fresh shocks of delight and surprise, it would be
difficult to single out a competitor. The fault of his acting was (if we
may hazard an objection), an over-display of the resources of the art,
which gave too much relief to the hard, impenetrable, dark ground-work
of the character of Shylock. It would be needless to point out
individual beauties, where almost every passage was received with equal
and deserved applause. His style of acting is, if we may use the
expression, more significant, more pregnant with meaning, more varied
and alive in every part, than any we have almost ever witnessed. The
character never stands still; there is no vacant pause in the action:
the eye is never silent. It is not saying too much of Mr. Kean, though
it is saying a great deal, that he has all that Mr. Kemble _wants_ of
perfection.’

The accounts in the other papers were not to be sure so favourable; and
in the above criticism there are several errors. His voice, which is
here praised, is very bad, though it must be confessed its defects
appear less in Shylock than in most of his other characters. The critic
appears also to have formed an overstrained idea of the gloomy character
of Shylock, probably more from seeing other players perform it than from
the text of Shakespear. Mr. Kean’s manner is much nearer the mark.
Shakespear could not easily divest his characters of their entire
humanity: his Jew is more than half a Christian. Certainly, our
sympathies are much oftener with him than with his enemies. He is honest
in his vices; they are hypocrites in their virtues. In all his arguments
and replies he has the advantage over them, by taking them on their own
ground. Shylock (however some persons may suppose him bowed down by age,
or deformed with malignity) never, that we can find, loses his
elasticity and presence of mind. There is wonderful grace and ease in
all the speeches in this play. ‘I would not have parted with it (the
jewel that he gave to Leah) for a _wilderness_ of monkeys!’ What a fine
Hebraism! The character of Shylock is another instance of Shakespear’s
powers of identifying himself with the thoughts of men, their
prejudices, and almost instincts.


                             THE ORATORIOS

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _April 14, 1816._

The Oratorios are over, and we are not sorry for it. Not that we are not
fond of music; on the contrary, there is nothing that affects us so
much; but the note it sounds is of too high a sphere. It lifts the soul
to heaven, but in so doing, it exhausts the faculties, draws off the
ethereal and refined part of them, and we fall back to the earth more
dull and lumpish than ever. Music is the breath of thought; the audible
movement of the heart. It is, for the most part, a pure effusion of
sentiment; the language of pleasure, abstracted from its exciting
causes. But the human mind is so formed, that it cannot easily bear, for
any length of time, an uninterrupted appeal to the sense of pleasure
alone; we require the relief of objects and ideas; it may be said that
the activity of the soul, of the voluptuous part of our nature, cannot
keep pace with that of the understanding, which only discerns the
outward differences of things. All passion exhausts the mind; and that
kind of passion most, which presents no distinct object to the
imagination. The eye may amuse itself for a whole day with the variety
to be found in a florist’s garden; but the sense is soon cloyed with the
smell of the sweetest flowers, and we throw them from us as if they had
been weeds. The sounds of music are like perfumes, ‘exhaling to the
sky;’ too sweet to last; that must be borne to us on the passing breeze,
not pressed and held close to the sense; the warbling of heavenly voices
in the air, not the ordinary language of men. If music is (as it is said
to be) the language of angels, poetry is the most perfect language men
can use: for poetry is music also, and has as much of the soft and
voluptuous in its nature, as the hard and unyielding materials of our
composition will bear. Music is colour without form; a soul without a
body; a mistress whose face is veiled; an invisible goddess.

The Oratorios at Covent-Garden are in general much better than those at
Drury-Lane: this year they have had Braham, Miss Stephens, Madam
Marconi, and, if that were any great addition, Madame Mainville Fodor.
Of this last lady it may be said, that she ‘has her exits and her
entrances,’ and that is nearly all you know of her. She was encored in
one song, ‘Ah pardonna,’ to her evident chagrin. Her airs of one kind
scarcely make amends for her airs of another. Her voice is clear and
forcible, and has a kind of deep internal volume, which seems to be
artificially suppressed. Her hard, firm style of execution (something
like the dragging of the painter’s pencil) gives a greater relief to the
occasional sweetness and power of tone which she displays. Her taste in
singing is severe and fastidious; and this is, we suppose, the reason
that a connoisseur of great eminence compared it to Titian’s colouring.
Madam Marconi, on the contrary, has a broad and full manner; sings with
all her might, and pours out her whole soul and voice. There is
something masculine, and we might say, rather vulgar, in her tones, if
her native Italian or broken English did not prevent such a suggestion
almost before it rises in the mind. Miss Stephens sang with more than
her usual spirit, and was much applauded, particularly in ‘The mower
wets his scythe,’ &c.; but we do not think her _forte_ is in
concert-music. Mr. Braham’s certainly is; and his power is thrown away
on the ballad airs which he sings in general on the stage. The sweetness
of his voice becomes languishing and effeminate, unless where it is
sustained by its depth and power. But on these occasions there is a rich
mellifluous tone in his cadences, which is like that of bees swarming;
his chest is dilated; he heaves the loud torrent of sound, like a load,
from his heart; his voice rises in thunder, and his whole frame is
inspired with the god! He sung Luther’s Hymn very finely, with the
exception of one quavering falsetto. This appears to our ignorant
fancies at once the simplest and sublimest of compositions. The whole
expresses merely the alternations of respiration, the heaving or drawing
in of the breath, with the rising or sinking of hope or fear. It is
music to which the dead might awake! On the last night of the
Covent-Garden Oratorio, the beginning of Haydn’s Creation was played. It
is the accompaniment to the words, ‘And God said let there be light,’
&c. The adaptation of sound to express certain ideas, is most ingenious
and admirable. The rising of the sun is described by a crashing and
startling movement of sounds in all directions, like the effulgence of
its rays sparkling through the sky; and the moon is made to rise to a
slow and subdued symphony, like sound muffled, or like the moon emerging
from a veil of mist, according to that description in Milton,—

                                ‘Till the moon
              Rising in clouded majesty, at length
              Apparent queen unveiled her peerless light,
              And o’er the dark her silver mantle threw.’

The stars also are represented twinkling in the blue abyss, by intervals
of sweet sounds just audible. The art, however, by which this is done,
is perhaps too little natural to please.

Mons. Drouet’s performance on the flute was masterly, as far as we could
judge. The execution of his variations on ‘God save the King,’
astonished and delighted the connoisseurs. Those on ‘Hope told a
flattering tale,’ were also exquisite. We are, however, deep-versed in
the sentiment of this last air; and we lost it in the light and
fantastic movements of Mons. Drouet’s execution. He belongs, we
apprehend, to that class of musicians, whose ears are at their fingers’
ends; but he is perhaps at the head. We profess, however, to be very
ignorant in these matters, and speak under correction.


                              RICHARD III.

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _April 21, 1816._

The Managers of Covent-Garden Theatre have treated the public with two
new Richards this season, Mr. Edwards, and Mr. Cobham. The first, his
own good sense and modesty induced to withdraw, after the disapprobation
of the public had been expressed on his first trial. Mr. Cobham, who is
not ‘made of penetrable stuff,’ intends, we understand, to face the
public out in the character. This is an experiment which will never
answer. We shall take good care, however, not to be present at the fray.
We do not blame Mr. Cobham for the mortification and disappointment
which we have received, but the Managers. Self-knowledge is a rare
acquisition; but criticism upon others is a very easy task; and the
Managers need merely have perceived as much of the matter as was obvious
to every common spectator from the first moment of this actor’s coming
on, to know that it was quite impossible he should get through the part
with ordinary decency. The only scene that was tolerable was the meeting
with Lady Anne. But for his Richard—(Heaven save the mark)—it was a vile
one—‘unhousell’d, unanointed, unaneal’d, with all his imperfections on
his head.’ Not that this actor is without the physical requisites to
play Richard: he raved, whined, grinned, stared, stamped, and rolled his
eyes with incredible velocity, and all in the right place according to
his cue, but in so extravagant and disjointed a manner, and with such a
total want of common sense, decorum, or conception of the character, as
to be perfectly ridiculous. We suspect that he has a wrong theory of his
art. He has taken a lesson from Mr. Kean, whom he caricatures, and seems
to suppose that to be familiar or violent is natural, and that to be
natural is the perfection of acting. And so it is, if properly
understood. But to play Richard naturally, is to play it as Richard
would play it, not as Mr. Cobham would play it; he comes there to shew
us not himself, but the tyrant and the king—not what he would do, but
what another would do in such circumstances. Before he can do this he
must become that other, and cease to be himself. Dignity is natural to
certain stations, and grandeur of expression to certain feelings. In
art, nature cannot exist without the highest art; it is a pure effort of
the imagination, which throws the mind out of itself into the supposed
situation of others, and enables it to feel and act there as if it were
at home. The real Richard and the real Mr. Cobham are quite different
things.


But we are glad to have done with this subject, and proceed to a more
grateful one, which is to notice the Sir Pertinax Mac Sycophant of a
Gentleman whose name has not yet been announced.[38] We have no
hesitation in pronouncing him an acquisition to this Theatre. To compare
him with Cooke in this character would be idle; for it was Cooke’s very
best character, and Cooke was one of the very best actors we have had on
the stage. But he played the character throughout without a single
failure, and with great judgment, great spirit, and great effect. In the
scenes with Egerton, where he gives a loose to his natural feelings, he
expressed all the turbulence and irritation of his mind without losing
sight of his habitual character or external demeanour. He has a great
deal of that assumed decorum and imposing stateliness of manner, which,
since the days of Jack Palmer, has been a desideratum on the stage. In
short, we have had no one who looked at home in a full dress coat and
breeches. Besides the more obvious requisites for the stage, the
bye-play of the new actor is often excellent: his eye points what he is
going to say; he has a very significant smile, and a very alarming shrug
with his shoulders. The only objection that we have to make is to the
too frequent repetition of a certain motion with the hands which may
easily be avoided.

During a part of the representation there was some opposition most
absurdly manifested: partly from its being Easter week, partly from
persons who did not understand Scotch, and still more, we apprehend,
from those who did. Sir Pertinax has always been an obnoxious _up-hill_
character, and hazardous to a debutant. We see no reason for this on a
London stage. The Irish say, that we laugh at them on the stage: why
then should we not laugh at the Scotch? The answer is—that we laugh at
the Irish, to be sure, but we do not make them odious.


                           ROMEO AND JULIET.

 _The Examiner._

                                                       _April 28, 1816._

Romeo and Juliet was played at Drury-Lane to introduce a new candidate
for public favour, Miss Grimani, as Juliet, and to show off a very old
one, Mr. Rae as Romeo. This lady has one qualification for playing the
part of Juliet which is, that she is very pretty; but we are afraid
that’s all. Her voice in common speaking is thin and lisping, and when
she raises it, it becomes harsh and unmanageable, as if she had learned
to speak of ——. We cannot however pretend to say how far her timidity
might interfere with the display of her powers. Mr. Rae cannot plead the
same excuse of modesty for the faults of his acting. Between the
tragi-comedy of his voice and the drollery of his action, we were
exceedingly amused. His manner of saying, ‘How silver sweet sound
lovers’ tongues by night,’ was more like ‘the midnight bell that with
his iron tongue and brazen mouth sounds one unto the drowsy race of
night;’ and his hurried mode of getting over the description of the
Apothecary, was as if a person should be hired to repeat this speech
after ten miles hard riding on a high trotting horse. When this ‘gentle
tassel’ is lured back in the garden by his Juliet’s voice, he returns at
full speed, like a harlequin going to take a flying leap through a
trap-door. This was, we suppose, to give us an allegorical idea of his
being borne on the wings of love, but we could discover neither his
wings nor his love. The rest of the play was very indifferently got up,
except the Nurse by Mrs. Sparks.

After the play, we had Garrick’s Ode on Shakespear, and a procession of
Shakespear’s characters in dumb-show. Mr. Pope recited the Ode, and
personated the Genius of Shakespear as the Wool-sack personates the
Prince Regent. ‘Vesuvius in an eruption, was not more violent than his
utterance, not Pelion with all his pine-trees in a storm of wind more
impetuous than his action: and yet Drury-Lane still stands.’ We have
here used the words of Gray, in describing a University Orator at a
Cambridge Installation. The result, as given by the poet, was more
agreeable than in the present instance.—‘I was ready to sink for him,
and scarce dared look about me, when I was sure it was all over: but
soon I found I might have spared my confusion: all people joined to
applaud him. Every thing was quite right, and I dare swear not three
people here but think him a model of oratory: for all the Duke’s little
court came with a resolution to be pleased: and when the tone was once
given, the University, who ever wait for the judgment of their betters,
struck into it with an admirable harmony; for the rest of the
performances, they were just what they usually are. Every one, while it
lasted, was very gay and very busy in the morning, and very owlish and
very tipsy at night: I make no exceptions from the Chancellor to
Blue-coat.’

Mr. Pope did not get off so well as the Cambridge Orator, for Garrick’s
Ode ‘was sung, but broke off in the middle’ by the shouts and laughter
of the audience, less well-bred than the grave assembly above described:
nor was any one in the situation of the Chancellor or Blue-coat. We are
free to confess, that we think the recitation of an Ode requires the
assistance of good eating and drinking to carry it off; and this is
perhaps the reason that there is such good eating and drinking at our
Universities, where the reciting of Odes and other formal productions is
common.

After the Ode, the Mulberry Tree was sung by Mr. Pyne and Mr. Smith, not
in the garden, but in the street, before the house where Shakespear was
born. This violation of the unity of place confounded the sentiment, nor
was the uncertainty cleared up by a rabble of attendants, (more
unintelligible than the Chorus of the ancients), who resembled neither
waiters with tavern bills in their hands, nor musicians with their
scores.

The singing being over, the procession of Characters commenced, and we
were afraid would have ended fatally; for Mrs. Bartley, as the Tragic
Muse, was nearly upset by the breaking down of her car. We cannot go
through the detail of this wretched burlesque. Mr. Stothard’s late
picture of the Characters of Shakespear was ingenious and satisfactory,
because the figures seen together made picturesque groups, because
painting presents but one moment of action, and because it is
necessarily in dumb show. But this exhibition seemed intended as a
travestie, to take off all the charm and the effect of the ideas
associated with the several characters. It has satisfied us of the
reality of dramatic illusion, by shewing the effect of such an
exhibition entirely stripped of it. For example, Juliet is wheeled on in
her tomb, which is broken open by her lover: she awakes, the tomb then
moves forward, and Mr. S. Penley, not knowing what to do, throws himself
upon the bier, and is wheeled off with her. Pope and Barnard come on as
Lear and Mad Tom. They sit down on the ground, and Pope steals a crown
of straw from his companion: Mad Tom then starts up, runs off the stage,
and Pope after him, like Pantaloon in pursuit of the Clown. This is
fulsome. We did not stay to see it out; and one consolation is, that we
shall not be alive another century to see it repeated.


                    MR. KEMBLE’S SIR GILES OVERREACH

 _The Examiner._

                                                          _May 5, 1816._

Why they put Mr. Kemble into the part of Sir Giles Overreach, at
Covent-Garden Theatre, we cannot conceive: we should suppose he would
not put himself there. Malvolio, though cross-gartered, did not set
himself in the stocks. No doubt, it is the Managers’ doing, who by
rope-dancing, fire-works, play-bill puffs, and by every kind of
quackery, seem determined to fill their pockets for the present, and
disgust the public in the end, if the public were an animal capable of
being disgusted by quackery. But

                  ‘Doubtless the pleasure is as great
                   In being cheated as to cheat.’

We do not know why we promised last week to give some account of Mr.
Kemble’s Sir Giles, except that we dreaded the task then; and certainly
our reluctance to speak on this subject has not decreased, the more we
have thought upon it since. We have hardly ever experienced a more
painful feeling than when, after the close of the play, the sanguine
plaudits of Mr. Kemble’s friends, and the circular discharge of hisses
from the back of the pit, that came ‘full volly home,’—the music struck
up, the ropes were fixed, and Madame Sachi ran up from the stage to the
two-shilling gallery, and then ran down again, as fast as her legs could
carry her, amidst the shouts of pit, boxes, and gallery!

               ‘So fails, so languishes, and dies away
               All that this world is proud of. So
               Perish the roses and the crowns of kings,
               Sceptres and palms of all the mighty.’

We have here marred some fine lines of Mr. Wordsworth on the instability
of human greatness, but it is no matter: for he does not seem to
understand the sentiment himself. Mr. Kemble, then, having been thrust
into the part, as we suppose, against his will, run the gauntlet of
public opinion in it with a firmness and resignation worthy of a
Confessor. He did not once shrink from his duty, nor make one effort to
redeem his reputation, by ‘affecting a virtue when he knew he had it
not.’ He seemed throughout to say to his instigators, _You have thrust
me into this part, help me out of it, if you can; for you see I cannot
help myself_. We never saw signs of greater poverty, greater imbecility
and decrepitude in Mr. Kemble, or in any other actor: it was Sir Giles
in his dotage. It was all ‘Well, well,’ and, ‘If you like it, have it
so,’ an indifference and disdain of what was to happen, a nicety about
his means, a coldness as to his ends, much gentility and little nature.
Was this Sir Giles Overreach? Nothing could be more quaint and
out-of-the-way. Mr. Kemble wanted the part to come to him, for he would
not go out of his way to the part. He is, in fact, as shy of committing
himself with nature, as a maid is of committing herself with a lover.
All the proper forms and ceremonies must be complied with, before ‘they
two can be made one flesh.’ Mr. Kemble sacrifices too much to decorum.
He is chiefly afraid of being contaminated by too close an identity with
the characters he represents. This is the greatest vice in an actor, who
ought never to _bilk_ his part. He endeavours to raise Nature to the
dignity of his own person and demeanour, and declines with a graceful
smile and a waive of the hand, the ordinary services she might do him.
We would advise him by all means to shake hands, to hug her close, and
be friends, if we did not suspect it was too late—that the lady, owing
to this coyness, has eloped, and is now in the situation of Dame
Hellenore among the Satyrs.

The outrageousness of the conduct of Sir Giles is only to be excused by
the violence of his passions, and the turbulence of his character. Mr.
Kemble inverted this conception, and attempted to reconcile the
character, by softening down the action. He ‘aggravated the part so,
that he would seem like any sucking dove.’ For example, nothing could
exceed the coolness and _sang-froid_ with which he raps Marall on the
head with his cane, or spits at Lord Lovell: Lord Foppington himself
never did any common-place indecency more insipidly. The only passage
that pleased us, or that really called forth the powers of the actor,
was his reproach to Mr. Justice Greedy: ‘There is some fury in that
_Gut_.’ The indignity of the word called up all the dignity of the actor
to meet it, and he guaranteed the word, though ‘a word of naught,’
according to the letter and spirit of the convention between them, with
a good grace, in the true old English way. Either we mistake all Mr.
Kemble’s excellences, or they all disqualify him for this part. Sir
Giles _hath a devil_; Mr. Kemble has none. Sir Giles is in a passion;
Mr. Kemble is not. Sir Giles has no regard to appearances; Mr. Kemble
has. It has been said of the Venus de Medicis, ‘So stands the statue
that enchants the world;’ the same might have been said of Mr. Kemble.
He is the very still-life and statuary of the stage; a perfect figure of
a man; a petrifaction of sentiment, that heaves no sigh, and sheds no
tear; an icicle upon the bust of Tragedy. With all his faults, he has
powers and faculties which no one else on the stage has; why then does
he not avail himself of them, instead of throwing himself upon the
charity of criticism? Mr. Kemble has given the public great,
incalculable pleasure; and does he know so little of the gratitude of
the world as to trust to their generosity?


                                BERTRAM

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _May 19, 1816._

The new tragedy of Bertram at Drury-Lane Theatre has entirely succeeded,
and it has sufficient merit to deserve the success it has met with. We
had read it before we saw it, and it on the whole disappointed us in the
representation. Its beauties are rather those of language and sentiment
than of action or situation. The interest flags very much during the
last act, where the whole plot is known and inevitable. What it has of
stage-effect is scenic and extraneous, as the view of the sea in a
storm, the chorus of knights, &c. instead of arising out of the business
of the play. We also object to the trick of introducing the little child
twice to untie the knot of the catastrophe. One of these fantoccini
exhibitions in the course of a tragedy is quite enough.

The general fault of this tragedy, and of other modern tragedies that we
could mention, is, that it is a tragedy without business. Aristotle, we
believe, defines tragedy to be the representation of _a serious action_.
Now here there is no action: there is neither cause nor effect. There is
a want of that necessary connection between what happens, what is said,
and what is done, in which we take the essence of dramatic invention to
consist. It is a sentimental drama, it is a romantic drama, but it is
not a tragedy, in the best sense of the word. That is to say, the
passion described does not arise naturally out of the previous
circumstances, nor lead necessarily to the consequences that follow.
Mere sentiment is voluntary, fantastic, self-created, beginning and
ending in itself; true passion is natural, irresistible, produced by
powerful causes, and impelling the will to determinate actions. The old
tragedy, if we understand it, is a display of the affections of the
heart and the energies of the will; the modern romantic tragedy is a
mixture of fanciful exaggeration and indolent sensibility; the former is
founded on real calamities and real purposes: the latter courts
distress, affects horror, indulges in all the luxury of woe, and nurses
its languid thoughts, and dainty sympathies, to fill up the void of
action. As the opera is filled with a sort of singing people, who
translate every thing into music, the modern drama is filled with poets
and their mistresses, who translate every thing into metaphor and
sentiment. Bertram falls under this censure. It is a Winter’s Tale, a
Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it is not Lear or Macbeth. The poet does
not describe what his characters would feel in given circumstances, but
lends them his own thoughts and feelings out of his general reflections
on human nature, or general observation of certain objects. In a word,
we hold for a truth, that a thoroughly good tragedy is an impossibility
in a state of manners and literature where the poet and philosopher have
got the better of the man; where the reality does not mould the
imagination, but the imagination glosses over the reality; and where the
unexpected stroke of true calamity, the biting edge of true passion, is
blunted, sheathed, and lost, amidst the flowers of poetry strewed over
unreal, unfelt distress, and the flimsy topics of artificial humanity
prepared beforehand for all occasions. We are tired of this long-spun
analysis; take an example:

                             ‘SCENE V.

                         _A Gothic Apartment._

     _Imogine discovered sitting at a Table looking at a Picture._

     _Imogine._  Yes,
     The limner’s art may trace the absent feature,
     And give the eye of distant weeping faith
     To view the form of its idolatry:
     But oh! the scenes mid which they met and parted—
     The thoughts, the recollections sweet and bitter—
     Th’ Elysian dreams of lovers, when they loved—
     Who shall restore them?
     Less lovely are the fugitive clouds of eve,
     And not more vanishing—if thou couldst speak,
     Dumb witness of the secret soul of Imogine,
     Thou might’st acquit the faith of woman kind—
     Since thou wert on my midnight pillow laid,
     Friend hath forsaken friend—the brotherly tie
     Been lightly loosed—the parted coldly met—
     Yea, mothers have with desperate hands wrought harm
     To little lives which their own bosoms lent.
     But woman still hath loved—if that indeed
     Woman e’er loved like me.’

This is very beautiful and affecting writing. The reader would suppose
that it related to events woven into the web of the history; but no such
thing. It is a purely voluntary or poetical fiction of possible
calamity, arising out of the experience of the author, not of the
heroine.

The whole of the character of Clotilda, her confidante, who enters
immediately after, is superfluous. She merely serves for the heroine to
vent the moods of her own mind upon, and to break her enthusiastic
soliloquies into the appearance of a dialogue. There is no reason in the
world for the confidence thus reposed in Clotilda, with respect to her
love for the outlawed Bertram, but the eternal desire of talking.
Neither does she at all explain the grounds of her marriage to
Aldobrand, who her father was, or how his distresses induced her to
renounce her former lover. The whole is an effusion of tender
sentiments, sometimes very good and fine, but of which we neither know
the origin, the circumstances, nor the object; for her passion for
Bertram does not lead to any thing but the promise of an interview to
part for ever, which promise is itself broken. Among other fine lines
describing the situation of Imogine’s mind, are the following:

                ‘And yet some sorcery was wrought on me,
                For earlier things do seem as yesterday;
                But I’ve no recollection of the hour
                They gave my hand to Aldobrand.’

Perhaps these lines would be more natural if spoken of the lady than by
her. The descriptive style will allow things to be supposed or said of
others, which cannot so well be believed or said by them. There is also
a want of dramatic decorum in Bertram’s description of a monastic life
addressed to the Prior. It should be a solitary reflection.

           ‘Yea, thus they live, if this may life be called,
           Where moving shadows mock the parts of men.
           Prayer follows study, study yields to prayer—
           Bell echoes bell, till wearied with the summons,
           The ear doth ache for that last welcome peal
           That tolls an end to listless vacancy.’

That part of the play where the chief interest should lie, namely, in
the scenes preceding the death of Aldobrand, is without any interest at
all, from the nature of the plot; for there is nothing left either to
hope or to fear; and not only is there no possibility of good, but there
is not even a choice of evils. The struggle of Imogine is a mere
alternation of senseless exclamations. Her declaring of her husband, ‘By
heaven and all its hosts, he shall not perish,’ is downright rant. She
has no power to prevent his death; she has no power even to will his
safety, for he is armed with what she deems an unjust power over the
life of Bertram, and the whole interest of the play centres in her love
for this Bertram. Opposite interests destroy one another in the drama,
like opposite forces in mechanics. The situation of Belvidera in Venice
Preserved, where the love to her father or her husband must be
sacrificed, is quite different, for she not only hopes to reconcile
them, but actually does reconcile them. The speech of Bertram to the
Knights after he has killed Aldobrand, and his drawing off the dead
body, to contemplate it alone, have been much admired, and there is
certainly something grand and impressive in the first suggestion of the
idea; but we do not believe it is in nature. We will venture a
conjecture, that it is formed on a false analogy to two other ideas,
viz. to that of a wild beast carrying off its prey with it to its den,
and to the story which Fuseli has painted, of a man sitting over the
corpse of his murdered wife. Now we can conceive that a man might wish
to feast his eyes on the dead body of a person whom he had loved, and
conceive that there was no one else ‘but they two left alone in the
world,’ but not that any one would have this feeling with respect to an
enemy whom he had killed.

Mr. Kean as Bertram did several things finely; what we liked most was
his delivery of the speech, ‘The wretched have no country.’ Miss
Somerville as Imogine was exceedingly interesting; she put us in mind of
Hogarth’s Sigismunda. She is tall and elegant, and her face is good,
with some irregularities. Her voice is powerful, and her tones romantic.
Her mode of repeating the line,

           ‘Th’ Elysian dreams of lovers, _when they loved_,’

had the true poetico-metaphysical cadence, as if the sound and the
sentiment would linger for ever on the ear. She might sit for the
picture of a heroine of romance, whether with her form

           ‘—— decked in purple and in pall,
           When she goes forth, and thronging vassals kneel,
           And bending pages bear her footcloth well;’

or whether the eye

              ‘—— beholds that lady in her bower,
              That is her hour of joy; for then she weeps,
              Nor does her husband hear!’

Bertram, or the Castle of St. Aldobrand, is written by an Irish
Clergyman, whose name is Maturin. It is said to be his first successful
production; we sincerely hope it will not be the last.


                       ADELAIDE, OR THE EMIGRANTS

 _The Examiner._

                                       (_Covent Garden_) _May 26, 1816._

A tragedy, to succeed, should be either uniformly excellent or uniformly
dull. Either will do almost equally well. We are convinced that it would
be possible to write a tragedy which should be a tissue of
unintelligible common-places from beginning to end, in which not one
word that is _said_ shall be understood by the audience, and yet,
provided appearances are saved, and nothing is _done_ to trip up the
heels of the imposture, it would go down. Adelaide, or the Emigrants, is
an instance in point. If there had been one good passage in this play,
it would infallibly have been damned. But it was all of a piece; one
absurdity justified another. The first scene was like the second, the
second act no worse than the first, the third like the second, and so on
to the end. The mind accommodates itself to circumstances. The author
never once roused the indignation of his hearers by the disappointment
of their expectations. He startled the slumbering furies of the pit by
no dangerous inequalities. We were quite resigned by the middle of the
third simile, and equally thankful when the whole was over. The language
of this tragedy is made up of nonsense and indecency. Mixed metaphors
abound in it. The ‘torrent of passion rolls _along_ precipices;’
pleasure is said to gleam upon despair ‘like moss upon the desolate
rock;’ the death of a hero is compared to the peak of a mountain setting
in seas of glory, or some such dreadful simile, built up with ladders
and scaffolding. Then the thunder and lightning are mingled with bursts
of fury and revenge in inextricable confusion; there are such unmeaning
phrases as _contagious gentleness_, and the heroes and the heroine, in
their transports, as a common practice, set both worlds at defiance.

The plot of this play is bad, for it is unintelligible in a great
measure, and where it is not unintelligible, absurd. Count Lunenburg
cannot marry Adelaide because ‘his Emperor’s frown’ has forbidden his
marriage with the daughter of an Emigrant Nobleman; and so, to avoid
this imperial frown, he betrays her into a pretended marriage, and thus
intends to divide his time between war and a mistress. Hence all the
distress and mischiefs which ensue; and though the morality of the
affair is characteristic enough of the old school, yet neither the
Emperor’s frown nor the Count’s levity seem sufficient reasons for
harrowing up the feelings in the manner proposed by the author, and
plunging us into the horrors of the French Revolution at the same time.
The exiled St. Evremond saw ‘his lawful monarch’s bleeding head, and yet
he prayed;’ he saw ‘his castle walls crumbled into ashes by the
devouring flames, and yet he prayed:’ but when he finds his daughter
betrayed by one of his legitimate friends, he can ‘pray no more.’ His
wife, the Countess, takes some comfort, and she builds her hope on a
word, which, she says, is of great virtue, the word, ‘perhaps.’ ‘It is
the word which the slave utters as he stands upon the western shores,
and looks towards Afric’s climes—_Perhaps_!’—Of the attention paid to
costume, some idea may be formed by the circumstance, that in the
church-yard where the catastrophe takes place, the inscriptions on the
tomb-stones are all in German, though the people speak English. The rest
is in the same style. The _Emigrants_ is a political attempt to drench
an English audience with French loyalty: now, French loyalty to the
House of Bourbon, is a thing as little to our taste as Scotch loyalty to
the House of Stuart; and when we find our political quacks preparing to
pour their nauseous trash with false labels down our throats, we must
‘throw it to the dogs: we’ll none of it.’

Mr. Young, as the injured Count, raved without meaning, and grew
light-headed with great deliberation. Charles Kemble, in tragedy, only
spoils a good face. Mr. Murray, as the old servant of the family, was
‘as good as a prologue,’ and his helpless horror at what is going
forward exceedingly amusing.

Miss O’Neill’s Adelaide, which we suppose was intended to be the chief
attraction of the piece, was to us the most unpleasant part of it. She
has powers which ought not to be thrown away, and yet she trifles with
them. She wastes them equally on genteel comedy and vulgar tragedy. Her
acting in Adelaide, which in other circumstances might have been
impressive, was to us repulsive. The agonizing passion she expressed,
required that our feelings should be wound up to the highest pitch,
either by the imagination of the poet or the interest of the story, to
meet it on equal terms. We are not in an ordinary mood prepared for the
shrieks of mandrakes, for the rattles in the throat, for looks that
drive the thoughts to madness. Miss O’Neill’s acting is pure nature or
passion: it is the prose of tragedy; for the poetry she must lean on her
author. But strong passion must be invested with imagination by some
one, either by the poet or the actor, before it can give delight, not to
say, before it can be endured by the public. Her manner in the scene
where she asks Lunenberg about her marriage, was much the same as when
Monimia asks Polydore, ‘Where did you rest last night?’ Yet how
different was the effect! in the one, her frantic eagerness only
corresponded with the interest already excited; in the other, it
shocked, because no interest had been excited. Miss O’Neill fills better
than any one else the part assigned her by the author, but she does not
_make_ it, nor over-inform it with qualities which she is not bound to
bring. She is, therefore, more dependent than any one else upon the
character she has to represent; and as she originally owes her
reputation to her powers of sensibility, she will perhaps owe its
ultimate continuance to the cultivation of her taste in the choice of
the characters in which she appears. The public are jealous of their
favourites!


                        EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _June 9, 1816._

Mr. Kean had for his benefit at Drury-Lane Theatre, on Wednesday, the
Comedy of Every Man in his Humour. This play acts much better than it
reads. It has been observed of Ben Jonson, that he painted not so much
human nature as temporary manners, not the characters of men, but their
_humours_, that is to say, peculiarities of phrase, modes of dress,
gesture, &c. which becoming obsolete, and being in themselves altogether
arbitrary and fantastical, have become unintelligible and uninteresting.
Brainworm is a particularly dry and abstruse character. We neither know
his business nor his motives; his plots are as intricate as they are
useless, and as the ignorance of those he imposes upon is wonderful.
This is the impression in reading it. Yet from the bustle and activity
of this character on the stage, the changes of dress, the variety of
affected tones and gipsey jargon, and the limping, distorted gestures,
it is a very amusing exhibition, as Mr. Munden plays it. Bobadil is the
only actually striking character in the play, or which tells equally in
the closet and the theatre. The rest, Master Matthew, Master Stephen,
Cob and Cob’s Wife, were living in the sixteenth century. But from the
very oddity of their appearance and behaviour, they have a very droll
and even picturesque effect when acted. It seems a revival of the dead.
We believe in their existence when we see them. As an example of the
power of the stage in giving reality and interest to what otherwise
would be without it, we might mention the scene in which Brainworm
praises Master Stephen’s leg. The folly here is insipid, from its
seeming carried to an excess,—till we see it; and then we laugh the more
at it, the more incredible we thought it before.

The pathos in the principal character, Kitely, is ‘as dry as the
remainder biscuit after a voyage.’ There is, however, a certain good
sense, discrimination, or _logic of passion_ in the part, which Mr. Kean
pointed in such a way as to give considerable force to it. In the scene
where he is about to confide the secret of his jealousy to his servant,
Thomas, he was exceedingly happy in the working himself up to the
execution of his design, and in the repeated failure of his resolution.
The reconciliation-scene with his wife had great spirit, where he tells
her, to shew his confidence, that ‘she may sing, may go to balls, may
dance,’ and the interruption of this sudden tide of concession with the
restriction—‘though I had rather you did not do all this’—was a
master-stroke. It was perhaps the first time a parenthesis was ever
spoken on the stage as it ought to be. Mr. Kean certainly often repeats
this artifice of abrupt transition in the tones in which he expresses
different passions, and still it always pleases,—we suppose, because it
is natural. This gentleman is not only a good actor in himself, but he
is the cause of good acting in others. The whole play was got up very
effectually. Considerable praise is due to the industry and talent shewn
by Mr. Harley, in Captain Bobadil. He did his best in it, and that was
not ill. He delivered the Captain’s well-known proposal for the
pacification of Europe, by killing twenty of them each his man a day,
with good emphasis and discretion. Bobadil is undoubtedly the hero of
the piece; his extravagant affectation carries the sympathy of the
audience along with it, and his final defeat and exposure, though
exceedingly humorous, is the only affecting circumstance in the play.
Mr. Harley’s fault in this and other characters is, that he too
frequently assumes mechanical expressions of countenance and bye-tones
of humour, which have not any thing to do with the individual part. Mr.
Hughes personified Master Matthew to the life: he appeared ‘like a man
made after supper of a cheese-paring.’ Munden did Brainworm with
laudable alacrity. Oxberry’s Master Stephen was very happily hit off;
nobody plays the traditional fool of the English stage so well; he seems
not only foolish, but fond of folly. The two young gentlemen, Master
Well-bred and Master Edward Knowell, were the only insipid characters.


                              MRS. SIDDONS

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _June 16, 1816._

Players should be immortal, if their own wishes or ours could make them
so; but they are not. They not only die like other people, but like
other people they cease to be young, and are no longer themselves, even
while living. Their health, strength, beauty, voice, fails them; nor can
they, without these advantages, perform the same feats, or command the
same applause that they did when possessed of them. It is the common
lot: players are only _not_ exempt from it. Mrs. Siddons retired once
from the stage: why should she return to it again? She cannot retire
from it twice with dignity; and yet it is to be wished that she should
do all things with dignity. Any loss of reputation to her, is a loss to
the world. Has she not had enough of glory? The homage she has received
is greater than that which is paid to Queens. The enthusiasm she excited
had something idolatrous about it; she was regarded less with admiration
than with wonder, as if a being of a superior order had dropped from
another sphere to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. She
raised Tragedy to the skies, or brought it down from thence. It was
something above nature. We can conceive of nothing grander. She embodied
to our imagination the fables of mythology, of the heroic and deified
mortals of elder time. She was not less than a goddess, or than a
prophetess inspired by the gods. Power was seated on her brow, passion
emanated from her breast as from a shrine. She was Tragedy personified.
She was the stateliest ornament of the public mind. She was not only the
idol of the people, she not only hushed the tumultuous shouts of the pit
in breathless expectation, and quenched the blaze of surrounding beauty
in silent tears, but to the retired and lonely student, through long
years of solitude, her face has shone as if an eye had appeared from
heaven; her name has been as if a voice had opened the chambers of the
human heart, or as if a trumpet had awakened the sleeping and the dead.
To have seen Mrs. Siddons, was an event in every one’s life; and does
she think we have forgot her? Or would she remind us of herself by
shewing us what _she was not_? Or is she to continue on the stage to the
very last, till all her grace and all her grandeur gone, shall leave
behind them only a melancholy blank? Or is she merely to be played off
as ‘the baby of a girl’ for a few nights?—‘Rather than so,’ come, Genius
of Gil Blas, thou that didst inspire him in an evil hour to perform his
promise to the Archbishop of Grenada, ‘and champion us to the utterance’
of what we think on this occasion.

It is said that the Princess Charlotte has expressed a desire to see
Mrs. Siddons in her best parts, and this, it is said, is a thing highly
desirable. We do not know that the Princess has expressed any such wish,
and we shall suppose that she has not, because we do not think it
altogether a reasonable one. If the Princess Charlotte had expressed a
wish to see Mr. Garrick, this would have been a thing highly desirable,
but it would have been impossible; or if she had desired to see Mrs.
Siddons _in her best days_, it would have been equally so; and yet
without this, we do not think it desirable that she should see her at
all. It is said to be desirable that a Princess should have a taste for
the Fine Arts, and that this is best promoted by seeing the highest
models of perfection. But it is of the first importance for Princes to
acquire a taste for what is reasonable: and the second thing which it is
desirable they should acquire, is a deference to public opinion: and we
think neither of these objects likely to be promoted in the way
proposed. If it was reasonable that Mrs. Siddons should retire from the
stage three years ago, certainly those reasons have not diminished
since, nor do we think Mrs. Siddons would consult what is due to her
powers or her fame, in commencing a new career. If it is only intended
that she should act a few nights in the presence of a particular person,
this might be done as well in private. To all other applications she
should answer—‘Leave me to my repose.’

Mrs. Siddons always spoke as slow as she ought: she now speaks slower
than she did. ‘The line too labours, and the words move slow.’ The
machinery of the voice seems too ponderous for the power that wields it.
There is too long a pause between each sentence, and between each word
in each sentence. There is too much preparation. The stage waits for
her. In the sleeping scene, she produced a different impression from
what we expected. It was more laboured, and less natural. In coming on
formerly, her eyes were open, but the sense was shut. She was like a
person bewildered, and unconscious of what she did. She moved her lips
involuntarily; all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical. At
present she acts the part more with a view to effect. She repeats the
action when she says, ‘I tell you he cannot rise from his grave,’ with
both hands sawing the air, in the style of parliamentary oratory, the
worst of all others. There was none of this weight or energy in the way
she did the scene the first time we saw her, twenty years ago. She
glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition. In the close of
the banquet scene, Mrs. Siddons condescended to an imitation which we
were sorry for. She said, ‘Go, go,’ in the hurried familiar tone of
common life, in the manner of Mr. Kean, and without any of that
sustained and graceful spirit of conciliation towards her guests, which
used to characterise her mode of doing it. Lastly, if Mrs. Siddons has
to leave the stage again, Mr. Horace Twiss will write another farewell
address for her: if she continues on it, we shall have to criticise her
performances. We know which of these two evils we shall think the
greatest.

Too much praise cannot be given to Mr. Kemble’s performance of Macbeth.
He was ‘himself again,’ and more than himself. His action was decided,
his voice audible. His tones had occasionally indeed a learned
quaintness, like the colouring of Poussin; but the effect of the whole
was fine. His action in delivering the speech, ‘To-morrow and
to-morrow,’ was particularly striking and expressive, as if he had
stumbled by an accident on fate, and was baffled by the impenetrable
obscurity of the future.—In that prodigious prosing paper, the Times,
which seems to be written as well as printed by a steam-engine, Mr.
Kemble is compared to the ruin of a magnificent temple, in which the
divinity still resides. This is not the case. The temple is unimpaired;
but the divinity is sometimes from home.


                        NEW ENGLISH OPERA-HOUSE

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _June 23, 1816._

The New English Opera-House (late the Lyceum Theatre) in the Strand,
opened on Saturday week. The carpenters are but just got out of it; and
in our opinion they have made but an indifferent piece of work of it. It
consists of lobbies and vacant spaces. The three tiers of boxes are
raised so high above one another, that the house would look empty even
if it were full, and at present it is not full, but empty. The second
gallery, for fear of its crowding on the first, is thrown back to such
an unconscionable height, that it seems like a balcony projecting from
some other building, where the spectators do not pay for peeping. All
this no doubt promotes the circulation of air, and keeps the Theatre
cool and comfortable. Mr. Arnold’s philosophy may be right, but our
prejudices are strongly against it. Our notions of a summer theatre are,
that it should look _smoking hot_, and feel more like a warm bath than a
well. We like to see a summer theatre as crowded as a winter one, so
that a breath of air is a luxury. We like to see the well-dressed
company in the boxes languidly silent, and to hear the Gods noisy and
quarrelling for want of room and breath—the cries of ‘Throw him over!’
becoming more loud and frequent as the weather gets farther on into the
dog-days. We like all this, because we are used to it, and are as
obstinately attached to old abuses in matters of amusement, as kings,
judges, and legislators are in state affairs.

The New Theatre opened with Up all Night, or the Smugglers’ Cave; a
piece admirably well adapted as a succedaneum for keeping the house cool
and airy. The third night there was nobody there. To say the truth, we
never saw a duller performance. The Actors whom the Manager has got
together, are both new and strange. They are most of them recruits from
the country, and of that description which is known by the vulgar
appellation of the _awkward squad_. Mr. Russell (from Edinburgh, not our
old friend Jerry Sneak) is the only one amongst them who understands his
exercise. Mr. Short and Mr. Isaacs are singers, and we fear not good
ones. Mr. Short has white teeth, and Mr. Isaacs black eyes. We do not
like the name of Mr. Huckel. There is also a Mrs. Henley, who plays the
fat Landlady in the Beehive, of the size of life.—Mr. Lancaster, who
played Filch in the Beggars’ Opera, and Mrs. W. Penson, who played the
part of Lucy Lockitt tolerably, and looked it intolerably well. There is
also Mr. Bartley, who is Stage-manager, and who threatens to be very
prominent this season. There is also, from the old corps, Wrench, the
easiest of actors; and there is Fanny Kelly, who after all, is not
herself a whole company. We miss little Knight, and several other of our
summer friends.


_The Winter Theatres._—We must, we suppose, for the present, take our
leave of the winter performances. We lately saw at Covent-Garden Mr.
Emery’s Robert Tyke, in the School of Reform, of which we had heard a
good deal, and which fully justified all that we had heard of its
excellence. It is one of the most natural and powerful pieces of acting
on the stage; it is the sublime of low tragedy. We should like to see
any body do it better. The scene where, being brought before Lord
Avondale as a robber, he discovers him to have been formerly an
accomplice in villainy; that in which he gives an account of the death
of his father, and goes off the stage calling for ‘Brandy, brandy!’ and
that in which he finds this same father, whom he had supposed dead,
alive again, are, in our judgment, master-pieces both of pathos and
grandeur. We do not think all excellence is confined to walking upon
stilts. We conceive that Mr. Emery shewed about as much genius in this
part, which he performed for his benefit, as Mr. Liston did afterwards
in singing the song of Ti, tum, ti; we cannot say more of it. Genius
appears to us to be a very _unclassical_ quality. There is but a little
of it in the world, but what there is, is always unlike itself and every
thing else. Your imitators of the tragic, epic, and grand style, may be
multiplied to any extent, as we raise regiments of grenadiers.


Mrs. Mardyn, after an absence of some weeks, has appeared again at
Drury-Lane, in the new part of the Irish Widow, the charming Widow
Brady; and a most delightful representative she made of her—full of life
and spirit, well-made, handsome, and good-natured. If it is a fault to
be handsome, Mrs. Mardyn certainly deserves to be hissed off the stage.


                            THE JEALOUS WIFE

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _June 30, 1816._

The performances at Drury-Lane Theatre closed for the season on Friday
evening last, with the Jealous Wife, Sylvester Daggerwood, and the Mayor
of Garratt. After the play Mr. Rae came forward, and in a neat address,
not ill delivered, returned thanks to the public, in the name of the
Managers and Performers, for the success with which their endeavours to
afford rational amusement and to sustain the legitimate drama, had been
attended.

The play-bills had announced Mrs. Davison for the part of Mrs. Oakley,
in the Jealous Wife. We have seen nothing of this Lady of late, except
when she personated the Comic Muse (for one night only), on the second
centenary of Shakespear’s death. The glimpses we catch of her are, in
one sense,

             ‘Like angels’ visits, short, and far between.’

She was absent on the present occasion, and Mrs. Glover took the part of
the well-drawn heroine of Colman’s amusing and very instructive comedy.
Mrs. Glover was not quite at home in the part. She represented the
passions of the woman, but not the manners of the fine lady. She
succeeds best in grave or violent parts, and has very little of the
playful or delicate in her acting. If we were to hazard a general
epithet for her style of performing, we should say that it amounts to
the _formidable_; her expression of passion is too hysterical, and
habitually reminds one of hartshorn and water. On great occasions she
displays the fury of a lioness who has lost her young, and in playing a
queen or princess, deluges the theatre with her voice. Her Quaker in
Wild Oats, on the contrary, is an inimitable piece of quiet acting. The
demureness of the character, which takes away all temptation to be
boisterous, leaves the justness of her conception in full force: and the
simplicity of her Quaker dress is most agreeably relieved by the
_embonpoint_ of her person.

The comedy of the Jealous Wife was not upon the whole so well cast here
as at Covent-Garden. Munden’s Sir Harry Beagle was not to our taste. It
was vulgarity in double-heaped measure. The part itself is a gross
caricature, and Munden’s playing caricature is something like _carrying
coals to Newcastle_. Russell’s Lord Trinket was also a failure: he can
only play a modern jockey Nobleman: Lord Trinket is a fop of the old
school.

Mr. Harley played Sylvester Daggerwood, in the entertainment which
followed, well enough to make us regret our old favourite Bannister, and
attempted some imitations, (one of Matthews in particular) which were
pleasant and lively, but not very like.

The acting of Dowton and Russell, in Major Sturgeon and Jerry Sneak, is
well known to our readers: at least we would advise all those who have
not seen it, to go and see this perfect exhibition of comic talent. The
strut, the bluster, the hollow swaggering, and turkey-cock swell of the
Major, and Jerry’s meekness, meanness, folly, good-nature, and
hen-pecked air, are assuredly done to the life. The latter character is
even better than the former, which is saying a bold word. Dowton’s art
is only an imitation of art, of an affected or assumed character; but in
Russell’s Jerry you see the very soul of nature, in a fellow that is
‘pigeon livered and lacks gall,’ laid open and anatomized. You can see
that his heart is no bigger than a pin, and his head as soft as a
pippin. His whole aspect is chilled and frightened as if he had been
dipped in a pond, and yet he looks as if he would like to be snug and
comfortable, if he durst. He smiles as if he would be friends with you
upon any terms; and the tears come in his eyes because you will not let
him. The tones of his voice are prophetic as the cuckoo’s undersong. His
words are made of water-gruel. The scene in which he tries to make a
confidant of the Major is great; and his song of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as
melancholy as the Island itself. The reconciliation-scene with his wife,
and his exclamation over her, ‘to think that I should make my Molly
_veep_,’ are pathetic, if the last stage of human infirmity is so. This
farce appears to us to be both moral and entertaining; yet it does not
take. It is considered as an unjust satire on the city and the country
at large, and there is a very frequent repetition of the word
‘nonsense,’ in the house during the performance. Mr. Dowton was even
hissed, either from the upper boxes or gallery, in his speech recounting
the marching of his corps ‘from Brentford to Ealing, and from Ealing to
Acton;’ and several persons in the pit, who thought the whole _low_,
were for going out. This shews well for the progress of civilisation. We
suppose the manners described in the Mayor of Garratt have in the last
forty years become obsolete, and the characters ideal: we have no longer
either hen-pecked or brutal husbands, or domineering wives; the Miss
Molly Jollops no longer wed Jerry Sneaks, or admire the brave Major
Sturgeons on the other side of Temple Bar; all our soldiers have become
heroes, and our magistrates respectable, and the farce of life is o’er!


                          THE MAN OF THE WORLD

 _The Examiner._

                                                         _July 7, 1816._

We are glad to find the Haymarket Theatre re-opened with some good
actors from the Winter Theatres, besides recruits. On Monday was played
the Man of the World, Sir Pertinax MacSycophant by Mr. Terry. This part
was lately performed by Mr. Bibby at Covent-Garden without success; and
we apprehend that his failure was owing to the extreme purity and
breadth of his Scotch accent. Mr. Terry avoided splitting on this rock,
by sinking the Scotch brogue almost entirely, and thus this national
caricature was softened into a more general and less offensive portrait
of a common Man of the World. On the whole, Mr. Terry gave not only less
of the costume and local colouring of the character, but less of the
general force and spirit than the former gentleman. He however displayed
his usual judgment and attention to his part, with less appearance of
effort than he sometimes shews. If Mr. Terry would take rather less
pains, he would be a better actor. He is exceedingly correct in the
conception of his characters, but in the execution he often takes twice
the time in bringing out his words that he ought, and lays double the
emphasis on them that is necessary. In the present case, Mr. Terry,
probably from feeling no great liking to his part, laid less stress on
particular passages, and was more happy on that account. The scene in
which he gives the account of his progress in life to his son Egerton,
was one of the most effectual. Mrs. Glover’s Lady Rodolpha Lumbercourt
had considerable spirit and archness, as well as force. Of the new
performers in it we cannot speak very favourably. The young gentleman
who played Sydney, a Mr. Baker, seems really a clergyman by profession,
and to have left, rather imprudently, the prospect of a fellowship at
Oxford or Cambridge. His voice and cadences are good; but they are
fitter for the pulpit than the stage.


Mr. Watkinson, on Thursday played Sir Robert Bramble, in the Poor
Gentleman, with a considerable share of that blunt native humour, and
rustic gentility, which distinguish so large a class of characters on
the English stage. We mean that sort of characters who usually appear in
a brown bob-wig, and chocolate-coloured coat, with brass buttons. Of
this class Mr. Watkinson, as far as we could judge on a first
acquaintance, appears to be a very respectable, if not brilliant
representative. A Miss Taylor made an elegant and interesting Emily, the
daughter of the Poor Gentleman; and Mr. Foote played that
personification of modern humanity, the Poor Gentleman himself. There is
a tone of recitation in this actor’s delivery, perhaps not ill suited to
the whining sentimentality of the parts he has to play, but which is
very tiresome to the ear. We might say to him as Caesar did to some one,
‘Do you read or sing? If you sing, you sing very ill.’ We must not omit
to mention the part of Miss Lætitia Macnab, which was performed to the
life by a Mrs. Kennedy of Covent-Garden Theatre, whom we never saw here
before, but whom we shall certainly remember. Her hoop-petticoats,
flying lappets, high head-dress, face, voice, and figure, reminded us
but too well of that obsolete class of antiquated maidens of old
families that flourished about fifty years ago, who had no idea of any
thing but the self-importance which they derived from their ancestors,
and of the personal attractions which were to be found in the
ridiculousness of their dress. The effect was as surprising as it was
painful. It was as if Miss Macnab had come in person from the grave. It
was like the restoration of the Bourbons!

After this melancholy casualty, we had the Agreeable Surprise. Mrs.
Gibbs played Cowslip delightfully. Fawcett was exceedingly laughable in
Lingo; and would have been more so, if he had played it with more
gravity. Fawcett’s fault of late is, that he has not respect enough for
his art. This is a pity; for his art is a very good art. At the scene
between him and Mrs. Cheshire, (Mrs. Davenport), the house was in a
roar. We never knew before that Lingo and Cowslip were descendants of
Touchstone and Audrey. This is one of O’Keeffe’s best farces, and his
farces are the best in the world except Moliere’s. O’Keeffe is (for he
is still living) our English Moliere, and we here return him our most
hearty thanks for all the hearty laughing he has given us. _C’est un bon
garçon._ There are in the Agreeable Surprise some of the most
irresistible _double entendres_ that can be conceived, and in Lingo’s
superb replication, ‘A scholar! I was a master of scholars!’ he has hit
the height of the ridiculous.


                          MISS MERRY’S MANDANE

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _July 21, 1816._

A young lady whose name is Miss Merry, has appeared with great applause
in the part of Mandane, in Artaxerxes, at the New English Opera. Miss
Merry is not tall, but there is something not ungraceful in her person:
her face, without being regular, has a pleasing expression in it; her
action is good, and often spirited; and her voice is excellent. The
songs she has to sing in this character are delightful, and she sung
them very delightfully. Her timidity on the first night of her appearing
was so great, as almost to prevent her from going on. But her
apprehensions, though they lessened the power of her voice, did not take
from its sweetness. She appears to possess very great taste and skill;
and to have not only a fine voice, but (what many singers want) an ear
for music. Her tones are mellow, true, and varied; sometimes exquisitely
broken by light, fluttering half-notes—at other times reposing on a
deep-murmuring bass. The general style of her singing is equable, and
unaffected; yet in one or two passages, we thought she added some
extraneous and unnecessary ornaments, and (for a precious note or two)
lost the charm of the expression, by sacrificing simplicity to
execution. This objection struck us most in the manner in which Miss
Merry sung the beautiful air, ‘If o’er the cruel tyrant Love,’ which is
an irresistible appeal to the sentiments, and seems, in its genuine
simplicity, above all art. This song, and particularly the last lines,
‘What was my pride, is now my shame,’ &c. ought to be sung, as we have
heard them sung, as if the notes fell from her lips like the liquid
drops from the bending flower, and her voice fluttered and died away
with the expiring conflict of passion in her bosom. If vocal music has
an advantage over instrumental, it is, we imagine, in this very
particular; in the immediate communication between the words and the
expression they suggest, between the voice and the soul of the singer,
which ought to mould every tone, whether deep or tender, according to
the impulse of true passion. Miss Merry’s execution does not rest
entirely upon the ground of expression: she is not always thinking of
the subject. Her ‘Soldier tired,’ and ‘Let not rage thy bosom firing,’
were both admirable. Her voice has not the piercing softness of Miss
Stephens’s, its clear crystalline qualities. Neither has her style of
singing the same originality, and simple pathos. Miss Stephens’s voice
and manner are her own: Miss Merry belongs to a class of singers, but
that class is a very pleasing one, and she is at present at the head of
it. She is an undoubted acquisition both to the New English Opera, and
to the English stage.

Mr. Horn’s Arbaces was very fine. He sings always in tune, and in an
admirable _sostenuto_ style. He keeps his voice (perhaps indeed) too
much under him, and does not let it loose often enough. His manner of
singing ‘Water parted from the sea’ was of this internal and suppressed
character. Though this may be the feeling suggested by part of the
words, yet certainly in other parts the voice ought to be thrown out,
and as it were, go a journey, like the water’s course. Of the other
performers we can say nothing favourable.


                            EXIT BY MISTAKE

 _The Examiner._

                                                        _July 28, 1816._

We insert the following letter, which has been sent us, merely to show
our impartiality:

  ‘MR. EDITOR,—I have been to see the new Comedy Exit by Mistake, at
  the Theatre Royal Haymarket. As this piece is _sans_ moral and
  _sans_ interest, I am surprised at its being called a _Comedy_, for
  many of our old _Farces_ are more worthy of the name. Perhaps the
  author fondly anticipated much pathos from Mrs. Kendal’s scene with
  her son (Mr. Barnard), but it would have been much better if both
  mother and son had been omitted, for the latter is a hot-headed
  blockhead, who commits a most unjustifiable assault upon a
  _stranger_, in a _stranger’s_ house, by turning him out, which gross
  affront is in the last Act overlooked. In consequence of a letter
  about Mr. Roland’s departure, accompanied by his will, it is
  supposed he had departed from the _world_ instead of the _country_
  where he was. This is the ‘_Exit by Mistake_,’ but the chief
  mistakes arise from the _entrances_ of the performers. The executor
  hearing that Roland (Mr. Terry) is alive and in town, goes to an inn
  to meet him, but most unaccountably mistakes Mr. Rattletrap (Russel)
  an actor just arrived from America, for his own friend, and even
  calls the actor by the name of Rattletrap. Poor Mr. Roland, in order
  to recover his property, inquires for an attorney, and is told
  there’s one _below_. Soon after the executor enters, and though
  dressed in a _brown_ coat, he is mistaken for an attorney. There are
  other inferior mistakes in the piece, but the greatest mistake is
  the author’s—for it is a Farce instead of a Comedy. As the
  play-bills state, that this piece has since been applauded by
  ‘brilliant and crowded audiences,’ and that ‘no orders can be
  admitted;’ the proprietors have no right to complain of their rival,
  the Lyceum Theatre, except Mr. Arnold should produce a good Opera to
  oppose this Farcical Comedy, and then the public will see the
  utility of rival theatres. Mr. Tokely’s character in it (Crockery)
  is the same which the same gentleman performs in the author’s ‘Love
  and Gout,’ with this difference, that in one he is a dissatisfied
  gentleman, and in the other a whining servant. Mr. Jones’s character
  (Restless Absent) keeps him in motion the first two Acts, but in the
  last he is quite stationary.

                                                          ‘DRAMATICUS.

  ‘_July 25, 1816._’

  We do not agree with Dramaticus on the subject of the piece, which
  he so resolutely condemns. He puts us a little (though not much) in
  mind of John Dennis, who drew his sword on the author of a
  successful tragedy, without any other provocation. As to the title
  of this play, to which our critic so vehemently objects, we leave
  him to settle that point with the author. We do not judge of plays,
  or of any thing else by their titles.

  The writer says, the Proprietors of the Haymarket have no right to
  complain, ‘except Mr. Arnold should produce a good Opera to oppose
  this Farcical Comedy, and then the public will see the utility of
  rival theatres.’ We wish Mr. Arnold would lose no time in convincing
  the public. As we have not the same faith as our correspondent in
  the power of rival theatres in screwing up the wits of their
  opponents, we did not go to the new comedy of Exit by Mistake,
  expecting either a profound moral or high interest; and so far we
  were not disappointed. But with a good deal of absurdity, there is
  some whim in it: there are several very tolerable puns in it, and a
  sufficient stock of lively passing allusions. It is light and
  laughable, and does well enough for a summer theatre. The part of
  Crockery in particular is very droll, and to us quite new, for we
  are not acquainted with ‘the dissatisfied gentleman,’ his
  predecessor, in Love and Gout. Crockery is a foolish fat servant
  (personated exceedingly well by Mr. Tokely) who complains that every
  thing is altered since he went abroad with his master, ‘cries all
  the way from Portsmouth, because the mile-stones are changed, and is
  in despair because an old pigstye has been converted into a
  dwelling-house.’ This whimpering, maudlin philosopher, is as
  tenacious of innovation as the late Mr. Burke, and as great an
  admirer of _the good old times_, as the editor of a modern Journal.
  In one thing we agree with honest Crockery, where he does not like
  to see the sign of the Duke of Marlborough’s head pulled down for
  the Duke of Wellington’s; in the first place, because the Duke of
  Marlborough had a very good head, and the Duke of Wellington’s is a
  mere sign-post; in the second, because we think it a more
  meritorious act to drive out the English Bourbons, the Stuarts, than
  to restore the French Stuarts, the Bourbons, to the throne of
  _their_ ancestors. So much for the politics of the Theatre.


  There is another new piece, A Man in Mourning for Himself, come out
  at the new English Theatre, which, whether it is Comedy, Opera, or
  Farce, we do not know. But—_de mortuis nil nisi bonum_. So let it
  pass. But there is a Mr. Herring in it, whom we cannot pass by
  without notice. He is the oddest fish that has lately been landed on
  the stage. We are to thank Mr. Arnold for bringing him ashore. This
  _did_ require some sagacity, some discrimination. We never saw any
  thing more amphibious,—with coat-pockets in the shape of fins, and a
  jowl like gills with the hook just taken out. He flounders and
  flounces upon the stage with the airs and genius of a Dutch plaise.
  His person detonates with boisterous wit and humour, and his voice
  goes off like a cracker near a sounding-board. With these
  preparatory qualifications, he played a valet who is his own master;
  and the jumble of high life below stairs was very complete. This
  gentleman’s gentleman was very coarse and very mawkish; very
  blustering and very sheepish; and runs his head into scrapes without
  the slightest suspicion. We have never seen Mr. Herring before; but
  on this occasion he was, according to our tastes, in fine pickle and
  preservation.


  The Beggar’s Opera was performed on Thursday, when Miss Merry
  appeared in the part of Polly, and Mr. Horn as Captain Macheath.
  Miss Merry displayed great sweetness and taste in most of the songs,
  and her acting was pleasing, though she laboured under considerable
  embarrassment. We liked her ‘Ponder well,’ and ‘My all’s in my
  possession,’ the best. She seemed to us not to be quite perfect
  either in ‘Cease your funning,’ or in the exquisite little air of
  ‘He so teased me.’ We have no doubt, however, that she will make in
  time a very interesting representative of one of the most
  interesting characters on the stage, for we hardly know any
  character more artless and amiable than Gay’s Polly, except perhaps
  Shakespear’s Imogen. And Polly has the advantage on the stage, for
  she _may be sung_, but Imogen cannot be _acted_.

  Mr. Horn’s Macheath was much better than what we have lately seen.
  He sung the songs well, with a little too much ornament for the
  profession of the Captain: and his air and manner, though they did
  not fall into the common error of vulgarity, were rather too precise
  and finical. Macheath should be a fine man and a gentleman, but he
  should be one of God Almighty’s gentlemen, not a gentleman of the
  black rod. His gallantry and good-breeding should arise from
  impulse, not from rule; not from the trammels of education, but from
  a soul generous, courageous, good-natured, aspiring, amorous. The
  class of the character is very difficult to hit. It is something
  between gusto and slang, like port-wine and brandy mixed. It is not
  the mere gentleman that should be represented, but the blackguard
  sublimated into the gentleman. This character is qualified in a
  highwayman, as it is qualified in a prince. We hope this is not a
  libel. Miss Kelly’s Lucy was excellent. She is worthy to act Gay.


                           THE ITALIAN OPERA

  _The Examiner._

                                  (_King’s Theatre_) _August 4, 1816._

  In Schlegel’s work on the Drama, there are the following remarks on
  the nature of the Opera:

  ‘In Tragedy the chief object is the poetry, and every other thing is
  subordinate to it; but in the Opera, the poetry is merely an
  accessary, the means of connecting the different parts together, and
  it is almost buried under its associates. The best prescription for
  the composition of the text of an Opera is to give a poetical
  sketch, which may be afterwards filled up and coloured by the other
  arts. This anarchy of the arts, where music, dancing, and decoration
  endeavour to surpass each other by the most profuse display of
  dazzling charms, constitutes the very essence of the Opera. What
  sort of opera music would it be, where the words should receive a
  mere rhythmical accompaniment of the simplest modulations? The
  fantastic magic of the Opera consists altogether in the luxurious
  competition of the different means, and in the perplexity of an
  overflowing superfluity. This would at once be destroyed by an
  approximation to the severity of the ancient taste in any one point,
  even in that of costume; for the contrast would render the variety
  in all the other departments quite insupportable. The costume of the
  Opera ought to be dazzling, and overladen with ornaments; and hence
  many things which have been censured as unnatural, such as
  exhibiting heroes warbling and trilling in the excess of
  despondency, are perfectly justifiable. This fairy world is not
  peopled by real men, but by a singular kind of singing creatures.
  Neither is it any disadvantage to us, that the Opera is conveyed in
  a language which is not generally understood; the text is altogether
  lost in the music, and the language, the most harmonious and
  musical, and which contains the greatest number of open vowels and
  distinct accents for recitative, is therefore the best.’

  The foregoing remarks give the best account we have seen of that
  splendid exhibition, the Italian Opera. These German critics can
  explain every thing, and upon any given occasion, _make the worse
  appear the better reason_. Their theories are always at variance
  with common sense, and we shall not in the present instance,
  undertake to decide between them. There is one thing, however, which
  we will venture to decide, which is, that the feelings of the
  English people must undergo some very elaborate process
  (metaphysical or practical) before they are thoroughly reconciled to
  this union of different elements, the consistency and harmony of
  which depends on their contradiction and discord. We take it, the
  English are so far from being an opera-going, that they are not even
  a play-going people, from constitution. You can hardly get them to
  speak their sentiments, much less to sing them, or to hear them sung
  with any real sympathy. The boxes, splendid as they are, and
  splendid as the appearance of those in them is, do not breathe a
  spirit of enjoyment. They are rather like the sick wards of luxury
  and idleness, where people of a certain class are condemned to
  perform the quarantine of fashion for the evening. The rest of the
  spectators are sulky and self-important, and the only idea which
  each person has in his head, seems to be that he is at the opera.
  Little interest is shewn in the singing or dancing, little pleasure
  appears to be derived from either, and the audience seem only to be
  stunned and stupified with wonder. The satisfaction which the
  English feel in this entertainment is very much _against the grain_.
  They are a people, jealous of being pleased in any way but their
  own.

  We were particularly struck with the force of these remarks the
  other evening in the gallery, where our fellow-countrymen seemed to
  be only upon their good behaviour or self-defence against the
  ill-behaviour of others, some persons asserting their right of
  talking loud about their own affairs, and others resenting this, not
  as an interruption of their pleasures, but as an encroachment on
  their privileges. Soon after a Frenchman came in, and his eye at
  once fastened upon the ballet. At a particular air, he could no
  longer contain himself, but joined in chorus in an agreeable
  under-voice, as if he expected others to keep time to him, and
  exclaiming, while he wiped his forehead from an exuberance of
  satisfaction, his eyes glistening, and his face shining, ‘_Ah c’est
  charmant, c’est charmant!_’ Now this, being ourselves English, we
  confess, gave us more pleasure than the opera or the ballet, in both
  of which, however, we felt a considerable degree of melancholy
  satisfaction, _selon la coutume de notre pays_—according to the
  custom of our country.

  The opera was Cosi fan Tutti, with Mozart’s music, and the ballet
  was the Dansomanie. The music of the first of these is really enough
  (to borrow a phrase from a person who was also a great man in his
  way) ‘to draw three souls out of one weaver:’ and as to the ballet,
  it might make a Frenchman forget his country and all other things.
  This ballet is certainly the essence of a ballet. What a grace and a
  liveliness there is in it! What spirit and invention! What can
  exceed the ingenuity of the dance in which the favoured lover joins
  in with his mistress and the rival, and makes all sorts of advances
  to her, and receives her favours, her pressures of the hand, and
  even kisses, without being found out by the other, who thinks all
  these demonstrations of fondness intended for him! What an
  enthusiasm for art in the character of the master of the house, who
  is seized by the Dansomanie! What a noble and disinterested zeal in
  the pursuit and encouragement of his favourite science! What a
  mechanical sprightliness in all about him, particularly in the
  servant who throws down a whole equipage of china, while he is
  dancing with it on his head, and is rewarded by his master for this
  proof of devotion to his interests! What a sympathy throughout
  between the heels and the head, between the heart and the fingers’
  ends! The Minuet de la Cour, danced in full dresses, and with the
  well-known accompaniment of the music, put us in mind of the old
  chivalrous times of the Duke de Nemours and the Princess of Cleves,
  or of what really seems to us longer ago, the time when we ourselves
  used to be called out at school before the assembled taste and
  fashion of the neighbourhood, to go through this very dance with the
  partner whom we had selected for this purpose, and presented with a
  bunch of flowers on the occasion!

  The Opera had less justice done it than the Ballet. The laughing
  Trio was spoiled by Mr. Naldi, who performs the part of an ‘Old
  Philosopher’ in it, but who is more like an impudent valet or
  _major-domo_ of an hotel. We never saw any one so much at home; who
  seems so little conscious of the existence of any one but himself,
  and who throws his voice, his arms and legs about with such a total
  disregard of _bienseance_. The character is a kind of Opera
  Pandarus, who exposes the inconstancy of two young ladies, by
  entangling them in an intrigue with their own lovers in disguise.
  Mr. Braham, we are told, sings Mozart with a peculiar greatness of
  gusto. But this greatness of gusto does not appear to us the real
  excellence of Mozart. The song beginning _Secondate_, in which he
  and his friend (Signor Begri) call upon the gentle zephyrs by
  moonlight to favour their design, is exquisite, and ‘floats upon the
  air, smoothing the raven down of darkness till it smiles.’

              ‘And Silence wish’d, she might be never more
               Still to be so displaced.’

  Madame Fodor’s voice does not harmonize with the music of this
  composer. It is hard, metallic, and jars like the reverberation of a
  tight string. Mozart’s music should seem to come from the air, and
  return to it. Madame Vestris is a pretty little figure, and is in
  this respect a contrast to Madame Fodor.


                              OLD CUSTOMS

  _The Examiner._

                                                    _August 11, 1816._

  We have suffered two disappointments this week, one in seeing a
  farce that was announced and acted at the English Opera, and the
  other in not seeing one that was announced and not acted at the
  Haymarket. We should hope that which is to come is the best; for the
  other is very bad, as we think. Old Customs is a farce or operetta,
  in which an uncle (Mr. Bartley) and his nephew (Mr. Wrench) court
  the same young lady (Miss L. Kelly). She prefers the nephew, from
  whom she has received several letters. These, with her answers, she
  sends to Mr. Bartley in a packet or basket, to convince him of her
  real sentiments, and of the impropriety of his prosecuting his
  rivalry to his nephew. In the mean time, it being Christmas or New
  Year’s Day (we forget which), Bartley’s servant (Russell) receives a
  visit from his old mother, who, in this season of compliments and
  presents, brings him a little sister in a basket, and leaves it to
  his care, while she goes to see her acquaintance in the village.
  Russell, after singing a ludicrous lullaby to the baby, goes out
  himself and leaves it in the basket on the table, a great and
  improbable neglect, no doubt, of his infant charge. His master
  (Bartley) soon after comes in, and receives the letter from his
  mistress (Miss L. Kelly) informing him of a present she has sent him
  _in a basket_, meaning her packet of love-letters, and apologizing
  for the abrupt method she has taken of unfolding the true state of
  her heart and progress of her affections. Bartley looks about for
  this important confidential basket, and finds that which the old
  woman had left with her son, with its explanatory contents. At this
  indecency of the young lady, and indignity offered to himself, he
  grows very much incensed, struts and frets about the stage, and when
  Miss L. Kelly herself, with her father and lover, comes to ask his
  decision upon the question after the clear evidence which she has
  sent him, nothing can come up to the violence of his rage and
  impatience, but the absurdity of the contrivance by which it is
  occasioned. His nephew (Mr. Wrench) provokes him still farther, by
  talking of a present which he has left with him that morning, an
  embryo production of his efforts to please, meaning a manuscript
  comedy, but which Mr. Bartley confounds with the living
  Christmas-box in the basket. A strange scene of confusion ensues, in
  which every one is placed in as absurd and ridiculous a situation as
  possible, till Russell enters and brings about an unforeseen
  _denouement_, by giving an account of the adventures of himself and
  his little brother.

  Such is the plot, and the wit is answerable to it. There was a good
  deal of laughing, and it is better to laugh at nonsense than at
  nothing. But really the humours of punch and the puppet-shew are
  sterling, legitimate, classical comedy, compared with the stuff of
  which the Muse of the new English Opera is weekly delivered. But it
  is in vain to admonish. The piece, we understand, has since been
  withdrawn.


                        MY LANDLADY’S NIGHT-GOWN

  _The Examiner._

                                                    _August 18, 1816._

  The new Farce at the Haymarket-Theatre, called My Landlady’s
  Night-Gown, is made of very indifferent stuff. It is very tedious
  and nonsensical. Mr. Jones is the hero of the piece, and gives the
  title to it; for being closely pressed by some bailiffs, he suddenly
  slips on his Landlady’s Night-gown, and escapes in disguise from his
  pursuers, by speaking in a feigned female voice to one of them, and
  knocking the other down by an exertion of his proper and natural
  prowess. Such is the story which he himself tells, to account for
  the oddity of his first appearance. Yet the apology is not
  necessary. Mr. Jones himself is always a greater oddity than his
  dress. There is something in his face and manner that bids equal
  defiance to disguise or ornament. The mind is affirmed by a great
  poet to be ‘its own place:’ and Nature, in making Mr. Jones, said to
  the tailor, You have no business here. Whether he plays my Lord
  Foppington in point-lace, or personates an old woman in My
  Landlady’s Night-Gown, he is just the same lively, bustling,
  fidgetty, staring, queer-looking mortal; and the gradations of his
  metamorphosis from the nobleman to the footman are quite
  imperceptible. Yet he is an actor not without merit; the town like
  him, and he knows it; and as to ourselves, we have fewer objections
  to him the more we see of him. Use reconciles one to any thing. The
  only part of this entertainment which is at all entertaining, is the
  scene in which Russell, as the tailor, measures Jones for a new suit
  of clothes. This scene is not dull, but it is very gross, and the
  grossness is not carried off by a proportionable degree of wit. We
  could point out the instances, but not with decency. So we shall let
  it alone. Tokely’s character is very well, but not so good as
  Crockery. He is an actor of some humour, and he sometimes shews a
  happy conception of character; but we hope he will never play Sir
  Benjamin Backbite again.

                                                  _New English Opera._

  Miss Merry has disappointed us again, in not appearing in Rosetta.
  We may perhaps take our revenge, by not saying a word about her when
  she does come out. It was certainly a disappointment, though Miss
  Kelly played the part in her stead, who is a fine sensible girl, and
  sings not amiss. But there is that opening scene where Rosetta and
  Lucinda sit and sing with their song-books in their hands among the
  garden bowers and roses, for which we had screwed up our ears to a
  most critical anticipation of delight, not to be soothed but with
  the sweetest sounds. To enter into good acting, requires an effort;
  but to hear soft music is a pleasure without any trouble. Besides,
  we had seen Miss Stephens in Rosetta, and wanted to compare notes.
  How then, Miss Merry, could you disappoint us?

  Mr. Horn executed the part of Young Meadows with his usual ability
  and propriety, both as an actor and a singer. We also think that Mr.
  Chatterley’s Justice Woodcock was a very excellent piece of acting.
  The smile of recognition with which he turns round to his old flame
  Rosetta, in the last scene, told completely. Mrs. Grove’s Deborah
  Woodcock reminded us of Mrs. Sparks’s manner of acting it, which we
  take to be a high compliment.

  Mr. Incledon appeared for the first time on this stage, as Hawthorn,
  and sung the usual songs with his well-known power and sweetness of
  voice. He is a true old English singer, and there is nobody who goes
  through a drinking song, a hunting song, or a sailor’s song like
  him. He makes a very loud and agreeable noise without any meaning.
  At present he both speaks and sings as if he had a lozenge or a
  slice of marmalade in his mouth. If he could go to America and leave
  his voice behind him, it would be a great benefit—to the parent
  country.


                          CASTLE OF ANDALUSIA

  _The Examiner._

                                (_New English Opera_) _Sept. 1, 1816._

  We hear nothing of Miss Merry; and there is nothing else at this
  theatre that we wish to hear. Even Mr. Horn is nothing without her;
  he stands alone and unsupported; and the ear loses its relish and
  its power of judging of harmonious sounds, where it has nothing but
  harshness and discordance to compare them with. We are sorry to
  include in this censure Miss Kelly, whose attempts to supply the
  place of _Prima Donna_ of the English Opera, do great credit to her
  talents, industry, and good-nature, but still they have not given
  her a voice, which is indispensable to a singer, as singing is to an
  Opera. If the Managers think it merely necessary to get some one to
  _go through_ the different songs in Artaxerxes, the Beggar’s Opera,
  or Love in a Village, they might hire persons to read them through
  at a cheaper rate; and in either case, we fear they must equally
  have to hire the audience as well as the actors. Mr. Incledon sung
  the duet of ‘All’s well,’ the other night, with Mr. Horn, in the
  Castle of Andalusia, and has repeated it every evening since. Both
  singers were very much and deservedly applauded in it. Mr.
  Incledon’s voice is certainly a fine one, but its very excellence
  makes us regret that its modulation is not equal to its depth and
  compass. His best notes come from him involuntarily, or are often
  misplaced. The effect of his singing is something like standing near
  a music-seller’s shop, where some idle person is trying the
  different instruments; the flute, the trumpet, the bass-viol, give
  forth their sounds of varied strength and sweetness, but without
  order or connection.

  One of the novelties of the Castle of Andalusia, as got up at this
  theatre, was Mr. Herring’s Pedrillo; an odd fish certainly, a very
  outlandish person, and whose acting is altogether incoherent and
  gross, but with a certain strong relish in it. It is only _too much_
  of a _good thing_. His oil has not salt enough to qualify it. He has
  a great power of exhibiting the ludicrous and absurd; but by its
  being either not like, or over-done, the ridicule falls upon himself
  instead of the character. Indeed he is literally to the comedian,
  what the caricaturist is to the painter; and his representation of
  footmen and fine gentlemen, is just such as we see in Gillray’s
  shop-window. The same thing perhaps is not to be borne on the stage,
  though we laugh at it till we are obliged to hold our sides, in a
  caricature. We do not see, however, why this style of acting might
  not make a distinct species of itself, like the Italian _opera
  buffa_, with Scaramouch, Harlequin, and Pantaloon, among whom Mr.
  Herring would shine like a gold fish in a glass-case.


                               TWO WORDS

  _The Examiner._

                                                      _Sept. 8, 1816._

  It was the opinion of Colley Cibber, a tolerable judge of such
  matters, that in those degenerate days, the metropolis could only
  support one legitimate theatre, having a legitimate company, and
  acting legitimate plays. In the present improved state of the drama,
  which has ‘gone like a crab backwards,’ we are nearly of the same
  opinion, in summer time at least. We critics have been for the last
  two months like mice in an air-pump, gasping for breath, subsisting
  on a sort of theatrical half-allowance. We hate coalitions in
  politics, but we really wish the two little Theatres would club
  their stock of wit and humour into one. We should then have a very
  tight, compact little company, and crowded houses in the dog-days.

  The new after-piece of ‘Two Words,’ at the English Opera, is a
  delightful little piece. It is a scene with robbers and midnight
  murder in it; and all such scenes are delightful to the reader or
  spectator. We can conceive nothing better managed than the plot of
  this. The spell-bound silence and dumb-show of Rose, the servant
  girl at the house in the forest, to which the benighted travellers
  come, has an inimitable effect; and to make it complete, it is
  played by Miss Kelly. The signals conveyed by the music of a lone
  flute in such a place, and at such a time, thrill through the ear,
  and almost suspend the breath. Mr. Short did not spoil the interest
  excited by the story, and both Mr. Wilkinson and Mrs. Grove did
  justice to the parts of the terrified servant, and the mischievous
  old housekeeper, who is a dextrous accomplice in the dreadful scene.
  The fault of the piece is, that the interest necessarily falls off
  in the second act, which makes it rather tiresome, though the second
  appearance of Miss Kelly in it, as the ward of Bartley at his great
  castle, is very ingeniously contrived, and occasions some droll
  perplexities to her lover, Don ——, whose life she has just saved
  from the hands of the assassins, only escaping from their vengeance
  herself by the arrival of her valorous guardian and a party of his
  soldiers. On the whole, this is the best novelty that has been
  brought out during the season at the English Opera, and we wish it
  every possible success.


  Mr. Terry last week had for his benefit the Surrender of Calais. He
  played the part of Eustace de St. Pierre in it with judgment and
  energy, but without a pleasing effect. When Mr. Terry plays these
  tragic characters,

          ‘The line too labours, and the thoughts move slow.’

  He sticks in tragedy like a man in the mud; or to borrow a higher
  figure from a learned critic, ‘he resembles a person walking on
  stilts in a morass.’ We shall always be glad to lift him out of it
  into the common path of unpretending comedy: there he succeeds, and
  is himself. The Surrender of Calais is as interesting as a tragedy
  can be without poetry in it. It has considerable pathos, though of a
  kind which borders on the shocking too much. It requires
  accomplished actors to carry it off; but it was not, in the present
  instance, very heroically cast. The Haymarket Theatre inclines more
  to comedy than to tragedy; and there are several scenes in this
  tragedy (for such it really is _till it is over_), which, ‘not to be
  hated,’ should be seen at the greatest possible distance that the
  stage allows. One advantage, at least, of our overgrown theatres is,
  that they throw the most distressing objects into a milder
  historical perspective.


                               THE WONDER

  _The Examiner._

                                   (_Covent Garden_) _Sept. 15, 1816._

  The Wonder is one of our good old English Comedies, which holds a
  happy medium between grossness and refinement. The plot is rich in
  intrigue, and the dialogue in _double entendre_, which however is so
  light and careless, as only to occasion a succession of agreeable
  alarms to the ears of delicacy. This genuine comedy, which is quite
  as pleasant to read as to see (for we have made the experiment
  within these few days, to our entire satisfaction) was written by an
  Englishwoman, before the sentimental, Ultra-Jacobinical German
  School, of which a short and amusing account has been lately given
  in the Courier, had spoiled us with their mawkish platonics and
  maudlin metaphysics. The soul is here with extreme simplicity
  considered as a mere accessary to the senses in love, and the
  conversation of bodies preferred to that of minds as much more
  entertaining. We do not subscribe our names to this opinion, but it
  is Mrs. Centlivre’s, and we do not chuse to contradict a lady. The
  plot is admirably calculated for stage-effect, and kept up with
  prodigious ingenuity and vivacity to the end. The spectator is just
  beginning to be tired with the variety of stratagems that follow and
  perplex one another, when the whole difficulty is happily unravelled
  in the last scene. The _dove-tailing_ of the incidents and
  situations (so that one unexpected surprise gives place to another,
  and the success of the plot is prevented by the unluckiest accident
  in the world happening in the very nick of time) supplies the place
  of any great force of character or sentiment. The time for the
  entrance of each person on the stage is the moment when they are
  least wanted, and when their arrival makes either themselves or
  somebody else look as foolish as possible. The Busy Body shews the
  same talent for invention and _coup-d’œil_ for theatrical effect,
  and the laughableness of both comedies depends on a brilliant series
  of mis-timed exits and entrances. The Wonder is not, however,
  without a moral; it exhibits a rare example of a woman keeping a
  secret, for the sake of a female friend, which she is under every
  temptation to break, and her resolution and fidelity are, after a
  number of mortifying accidents and fears, happily rewarded by the
  triumph both of her friendship and her love. The situation of
  Violante is more prominent than her character; or, at least, the
  character is more moral than entertaining. She is a young lady of
  great goodness of heart and firmness of principle, but who neither
  displays any great superiority of wit in extricating herself from
  the difficulties in which her regard for the safety of her friend
  involves her, nor of spirit in repelling the insinuations to which
  her reputation is exposed in the eyes of her lover. She submits to
  her situation with firmness of purpose and conscious reliance on her
  own innocence.

  Miss Boyle, the young lady who appeared in this character on Friday,
  shewed herself not incompetent to its successful delineation. Her
  figure is tall, and her face, though her features are small, is
  pretty and expressive. Her articulation (for a first appearance) was
  remarkably distinct, and her voice is full and sweet. It is however
  rather sentimental than comic. She rounds her words too much, nor do
  they come ‘trippingly from the tongue.’ It is sufficient if the
  dialogue of genteel comedy comes with light-fluttering grace and gay
  animation from the lips; it should not come labouring up all the way
  from the heart. This young lady’s general demeanour is easy and
  unaffected; and when she has overcome her timidity, we have no doubt
  she will give considerable spirit and dignity to the more serious
  scenes of the story. Her smile has much archness and expression; and
  we hope, from the promise of taste and talent which she gave through
  her whole performance, that she will prove an acquisition to the
  stage, in a line of comedy in which we are at present absolutely
  deficient. She was very favourably received throughout.

  We do not think the play in general was well got up. Charles Kemble
  seemed to be rehearsing Don Felix with an eye to Macduff, or some
  face-making tragic character. He was only excellent in the drunken
  scene. Mrs. Gibbs at one time fairly took wing across the stage, and
  played the chamber-maid with too little restraint from vulgar
  decorums. Mr. Abbott never acts ill, but he does not answer to our
  idea of Colonel Briton. Emery’s Gibby was sturdy enough, and seemed
  to prove what he himself says, that ‘a Scotchman is not ashamed to
  shew his face any where.’


                         THE DISTRESSED MOTHER

  _The Examiner._

                                                 _September 22, 1816._

  A Mr. Macready appeared at Covent-Garden Theatre on Monday and
  Friday, in the character of Orestes, in the Distressed Mother, a bad
  play for the display of his powers, in which, however, he succeeded
  in making a decidedly favourable impression upon the audience. His
  voice is powerful in the highest degree, and at the same time
  possesses great harmony and modulation. His face is not equally
  calculated for the stage. He declaims better than any body we have
  lately heard. He is accused of being violent, and of wanting pathos.
  Neither of these objections is true. His manner of delivering the
  first speeches in this play was admirable, and the want of
  increasing interest afterwards was the fault of the author, rather
  than the actor. The fine suppressed tone in which he assented to
  Pyrrhus’s command to convey the message to Hermione was a test of
  his variety of power, and brought down repeated acclamations from
  the house. We do not lay much stress on his mad-scene, though that
  was very good in its kind, for mad-scenes do not occur very often,
  and when they do, had in general better be omitted. We have not the
  slightest hesitation in saying, that Mr. Macready is by far the best
  tragic actor that has come out in our remembrance, with the
  exception of Mr. Kean. We however heartily wish him well out of this
  character of Orestes. It is a kind of forlorn hope in tragedy. There
  is nothing to be made of it on the English stage, beyond experiment.
  It is a trial, not a triumph. These French plays puzzle an English
  audience exceedingly. They cannot attend to the actor, for the
  difficulty they have in understanding the author. We think it wrong
  in any actor of great merit (which we hold Mr. Macready to be) to
  come out in an ambiguous character, to salve his reputation. An
  actor is like a man who throws himself from the top of a steeple by
  a rope. He should chuse the highest steeple he can find, that if he
  does not succeed in coming safe to the ground, he may break his neck
  at once, and so put himself and the spectators out of farther pain.

  Ambrose Phillips’s Distressed Mother is a very good translation from
  Racine’s Andromache. It is an alternation of topics, of _pros_ and
  _cons_, on the casuistry of domestic and state affairs, and produced
  a great effect of _ennui_ on the audience. When you hear one of the
  speeches in these rhetorical tragedies, you know as well what will
  be the answer to it, as when you see the tide coming up the
  river—you know that it will return again. The other actors filled
  their parts with successful mediocrity.

  We highly disapprove of the dresses worn on this occasion, and
  supposed to be the exact Greek costume. We do not know that the
  Greek heroes were dressed like women, or wore their long hair strait
  down their backs. Or even supposing that they did, this is not
  generally known or understood by the audience; and though the
  preservation of the ancient costume is a good thing, it is of more
  importance not to shock our present prejudices. The managers of
  Covent-Garden are not the Society of Antiquaries. The attention to
  costume is only necessary to preserve probability: in the present
  instance, it could only violate it, because there is nothing to lead
  the public opinion to expect such an exhibition. We know how the
  Turks are dressed, from seeing them in the streets; we know the
  costume of the Greek statues, from seeing casts in the shop-windows:
  we know that savages go naked, from reading voyages and travels: but
  we do not know that the Grecian Chiefs at the Siege of Troy were
  dressed as Mr. Charles Kemble, Mr. Abbott, and Mr. Macready were the
  other evening in the Distressed Mother. It is a discovery of the
  Managers; and they should have kept their secret to themselves.—The
  epithet in Homer, applied to the Grecian warriors, κάρη κομόωντες,
  is not any proof. It signifies not _long-haired_, but literally
  _bushy-headed_, which would come nearer to the common Brutus head,
  than this long dangling slip of hair. The oldest and most authentic
  models we have are the Elgin Marbles, and it is certain the Theseus
  is a _crop_. One would think this standard might satisfy the
  Committee of Managers in point of classical antiquity. But no such
  thing. They are much deeper in Greek costume and the history of the
  fabulous ages than those old-fashioned fellows, the Sculptors who
  lived in the time of Pericles. But we have said quite enough on this
  point.

                                                         _Drury-Lane._

  The chief novelties at this Theatre for the present week, have been
  a Mr. Bengough, from the Theatre Royal, Bath, and a Mrs. Knight, of
  the York Theatre, who have appeared in the characters of Baron
  Wildenheim and Agatha Friburg, in Lovers’ Vows. Both have been
  successful. Mr. Bengough is an actor who shews considerable judgment
  and feeling, and who would produce more effect than he does, if he
  took less pains to produce it. The appearance of study takes from
  that of nature, and yet the expression of natural pathos is what he
  seems to excel in. He treads the stage well, and is, we think, an
  acquisition to the company.

  We wonder the long-winded, heavy-handed writer in the Courier, who
  has been belabouring Bertram so woefully, does not fall foul of
  Lovers’ Vows, as the quintessence of metaphysical licentiousness and
  the ultra-Jacobinism of ultra-Jacobinical poetry. We think that
  everlasting writer might build thirty columns of lumbering
  criticisms, ‘pointing to the skies,’ on any single passage of this
  effusion of German sentiment and genius. We hope the worthy author
  will take this hint, and after he has exhausted upon this work the
  inexhaustible stores of his unspeakable discoveries and researches
  into the theory of mill-stones, we would recommend him to turn his
  pen to an almost forgotten play, called Remorse, at the bottom of
  which, if he will look narrowly, he will find ‘a vaporous drop
  profound’ of the same pernicious leaven; and by setting it
  fermenting, with the help of transcendental reasoning, and the
  mechanical operations of the spirit, may raise mists and clouds that
  will ascend above the moon, and turn the Courier office into a
  laundry!—Oh, we had forgot: Mrs. Mardyn played her old character of
  Amelia Wildenheim more charmingly than ever. She acts even with more
  grace and spirit than when she first came out in it, and looks as
  handsome as she used to do.


                         MISS BOYLE’S ROSALIND

  _The Examiner._

                                                    _October 6, 1816._

  We have had a considerable treat this week, in Miss Boyle’s
  Rosalind, at Covent-Garden Theatre. It is one of the chastest and
  most pleasing pieces of comic acting we have seen for some time. We
  did not think much of her in Violante, which might be owing to the
  diffidence of a first appearance, or to the little she has to do in
  the character. But she rises with her characters, and really makes a
  very charming Rosalind. The words of Shakespear become her mouth,
  and come from it with a delicious freshness, which gives us back the
  sense. There should be in the tones of the voice, to repeat
  Shakespear’s verses properly, something resembling the sound of
  musical glasses. He has himself given us his idea on this subject,
  where he says, ‘How silver sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night.’ We
  were not satisfied with Miss Boyle’s enunciation in Violante. It
  wanted lightness and grace. Her Rosalind was spoken with more
  effect, and with more gaiety at the same time. The sentiment seemed
  to infuse into her the true comic spirit, and her acting improved
  with the wit and vivacity of the passages she had to deliver. This
  would be a defect in a character of mere manners, like Lady Townley,
  where there is always supposed to be an air or affectation of a
  certain agreeable vivacity or fashionable tone; but in a character
  of nature, like Rosalind, who is supposed to speak only what she
  thinks, and to express delight only as she feels it, it was a great
  beauty. Her eyes also became more sparkling, and her smile more
  significant, according to the _naiveté_ and force of what she had to
  utter. The highest compliment we can pay her acting is by applying
  to it what Shakespear has somewhere said of poetry—

            ‘Our poesy is a gum that issues
            From whence ’tis nourish’d. The fire i’th’ flint
            Shews not till it be struck. Our gentle flame
            Provokes itself, and like the current flies
            Each bound in chafes.’

  To realize this description would be the perfection of comic acting.
  We must not forget her Cuckoo-song; indeed we could not, if we
  would. It was quite delightful. The tone and manner in which she
  repeated the word Cuckoo, was as arch and provoking as possible, and
  seemed to grow more saucy every time by the repetition, but still,
  though it hovered very near them, it was restrained from passing the
  limits of delicacy and propriety. She was deservedly _encored_ in
  it; though this circumstance seemed to throw her into some little
  confusion. We have, however, two faults to find, both of which may
  be easily remedied. The first is, that there is a tendency to a lisp
  in some of her words: the second is, that there is a trip in her
  gait, and too great a disposition to keep in motion while she is
  speaking, or to go up to the persons she is addressing, as if they
  were deaf. Both these are defects of inexperience: the two necessary
  qualities for any young actress to set out with, in the higher
  comedy, are liveliness and elegance, or in other words, feeling with
  delicacy, and these we think Miss Boyle possesses. We were a good
  deal pleased with Mr. Young’s Jaques. He spoke several passages
  well, and is upon the whole an _improving_ actor.


  Mr. Macready’s Bentevole, in the Italian Lover, is very highly
  spoken of. We only saw the last act of it, but it appeared to us to
  be very fine in its kind. It was natural, easy, and forcible.
  Indeed, we suspect some parts of it were too natural, that is, that
  Mr. Macready thought too much of what his feelings might dictate in
  such circumstances, rather than of what the circumstances must have
  dictated to him to do. We allude particularly to the half
  significant, half hysterical laugh, and distorted jocular leer, with
  his eyes towards the persons accusing him of the murder, when the
  evidence of his guilt comes out. Either the author did not intend
  him to behave in this manner, or he must have made the other parties
  on the stage interrupt him as a self-convicted criminal. His appeal
  to Manoah (the witness against him) to suppress the proofs which
  must be fatal to his honour and his life, was truly affecting. His
  resumption of a spirit of defiance was not sufficiently dignified,
  and was more like the self-sufficient swaggering airs of comedy,
  than the real grandeur of tragedy, which should always proceed from
  passion. Mr. Macready sometimes, to express uneasiness and
  agitation, composes his cravat, as he would in a drawing-room. This
  is, we think, neither graceful nor natural in extraordinary
  situations. His tones are equally powerful and flexible, varying
  with the greatest facility from the lowest to the highest pitch of
  the human voice.


                         MR. MACREADY’S OTHELLO

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _October 13, 1816._

  We have to speak this week of Mr. Macready’s Othello, at
  Covent-Garden Theatre, and though it must be in favourable terms, it
  cannot be in very favourable ones. We have been rather spoiled for
  seeing any one else in this character, by Mr. Kean’s performance of
  it, and also by having read the play itself lately. Mr. Macready was
  more than respectable in the part; and he only failed because he
  attempted to excel. He did not, however, express the individual
  bursts of feeling, nor the deep and accumulating tide of passion
  which ought to be given in Othello. It may perhaps seem an
  extravagant illustration, but the idea which we think any actor
  ought to have of this character, to play it to the height of the
  poetical conception, is that of a majestic serpent wounded, writhing
  under its pain, stung to madness, and attempting by sudden darts, or
  coiling up its whole force, to wreak its vengeance on those about
  it, and falling at last a mighty victim under the redoubled strokes
  of its assailants. No one can admire more than we do the force of
  genius and passion which Mr. Kean shews in this part, but he is not
  stately enough for it. He plays it like a gipsey, and not like a
  Moor. We miss in Mr. Kean not the physiognomy, or the costume, so
  much as the _architectural_ building up of the part. This character
  always puts us in mind of the line—

              ‘Let Afric on its hundred thrones rejoice.’

  It not only appears to hold commerce with meridian suns, and that
  its blood is made drunk with the heat of scorching skies; but it
  indistinctly presents to us all the symbols of eastern magnificence.
  It wears a crown and turban, and stands before us like a tower. All
  this, it may be answered, is only saying that Mr. Kean is not so
  tall as a tower: but any one, to play Othello properly, ought to
  look taller and grander than any tower. We shall see how Mr. Young
  will play it. But this is from our present purpose. Mr. Macready is
  tall enough for the part, and the looseness of his figure was rather
  in character with the flexibility of the South: but there were no
  sweeping outlines, no massy movements in his action.

  The movements of passion in Othello (and the motions of the body
  should answer to those of the mind) resemble the heaving of the sea
  in a storm; there are no sharp, slight, angular transitions, or if
  there are any, they are subject to this general swell and commotion.
  Mr. Kean is sometimes too wedgy and determined; but Mr. Macready
  goes off like a shot, and startles our sense of hearing. One of
  these sudden explosions was when he is in such haste to answer the
  demands of the Senate on his services: ‘I do agnise a natural
  hardness,’ &c. as if he was impatient to exculpate himself from some
  charge, or wanted to take them at their word lest they should
  retract. There is nothing of this in Othello. He is calm and
  collected; and the reason why he is carried along with such
  vehemence by his passions when they are roused, is, that he is moved
  by their collected force. Another fault in Mr. Macready’s conception
  was, that he whined and whimpered once or twice, and tried to affect
  the audience by affecting a pitiful sensibility, not consistent with
  the dignity and masculine imagination of the character: as where he
  repeated, ‘No, not much moved,’ and again, ‘Othello’s occupation’s
  gone,’ in a childish treble. The only part which should approach to
  this effeminate tenderness of complaint is his reflection, ‘Yet, oh
  the pity of it, Iago, the pity of it!’ What we liked best was his
  ejaculation, ‘Swell, bosom, with thy fraught, _for ’tis of aspick’s
  tongues_.’ This was forcibly given, and as if his expression were
  choaked with the bitterness of passion. We do not know how he would
  have spoken the speech, ‘Like to the Pontic sea that knows no ebb,’
  &c. which occurs just before, for it was left out. There was also
  something fine in his uneasiness and inward starting at the name of
  Cassio, but it was too often repeated, with a view to effect. Mr.
  Macready got most applause in such speeches as that addressed to
  Iago, ‘Horror on horror’s head accumulate!’ This should be a lesson
  to him. He very injudiciously, we think, threw himself on a chair at
  the back of the stage, to deliver the farewell apostrophe to
  Content, and to the ‘pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.’
  This might be a relief to him, but it distressed the audience.—On
  the whole, we think Mr. Macready’s powers are more adapted to the
  declamation than to the acting of passion: that is, that he is a
  better orator than actor. As to Mr. Young’s Iago, ‘we never saw a
  gentleman acted finer.’ Mrs. Faucit’s Desdemona was very pretty. Mr.
  C. Kemble’s Cassio was excellent.

                                                         _Drury-Lane._

  The town has been entertained this week by seeing Mr. Stephen Kemble
  in the part of Sir John Falstaff, as they were formerly with seeing
  Mr. Lambert in his own person. We see no more reason why Mr. Stephen
  Kemble should play Falstaff, than why Louis XVIII. is qualified to
  fill a throne, because he is fat, and belongs to a particular
  family. Every fat man cannot represent a great man. The knight was
  fat; so is the player: the Emperor was fat, so is the King who
  stands in his shoes. But there the comparison ends. There is no
  sympathy in mind—in wit, parts, or discretion. Sir John (and so we
  may say of the gentleman at St. Helena) ‘had guts in his brains.’
  The mind was the man. His body did not weigh down his wit. His
  spirits shone through him. He was not a mere paunch, a bag-pudding,
  a lump of lethargy, a huge falling sickness, an imminent apoplexy,
  with water in the head.

  The Managers of Drury-Lane, in providing a Sir John Falstaff to
  satisfy the taste of the town, seem to ask only with Mr. Burke’s
  political carcass-butchers, ‘How he cuts up in the cawl: how he
  tallows in the kidneys!’ We are afraid the Junto of Managers of
  Drury-Lane are not much wiser than the junto of Managers of the
  affairs of Europe. This, according to the luminous and voluminous
  critic in the Courier, is because their affairs are not under the
  management of a single person. Would the same argument prove that
  the affairs of Europe had better have been under the direction of
  one man? ‘The gods have not made’ the writer in the Courier logical
  as well as ‘poetical.’ By the rule above hinted at, every actor is
  qualified to play Falstaff who is physically incapacitated to play
  any other character. Sir John Falstaffs may be fatted up like prize
  oxen. Nor does the evil in this case produce its own remedy, as
  where an actor’s success depends upon his own leanness and that of
  the part he plays. Sir Richard Steele tells us (in one of the
  Tatlers) of a poor actor in his time, who having nothing to do, fell
  away, and became such a wretched meagre-looking object, that he was
  pitched upon as a proper person to represent the starved Apothecary
  in Romeo and Juliet. He did this so much to the life, that he was
  repeatedly called upon to play it: but his person improving with his
  circumstances, he was in a short time rendered unfit to play it with
  the same effect as before, and laid aside. Having no other resource,
  he accordingly fell away again with the loss of his part, and was
  again called upon to appear in it with his former reputation. Any
  one, on the contrary, who thrives in Falstaff, is always in an
  increasing capacity to overlay the part.—But we have done with this
  unpleasant subject.


                           THEATRICAL DEBUTS

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _October 20, 1816._

  There have been two theatrical or operatic debuts, to which we are
  in arrears, and of which we must say a word—Miss Mori’s Rosetta in
  Love in a Village, at Covent-Garden, and Miss Keppel’s Polly in the
  Beggar’s Opera, at Drury-Lane. Both of them appeared to us to be
  indifferent. Miss Mori is by much the best singer of the two, but
  there is something exceedingly unprepossessing and hard both in her
  voice and manner. She sings without the least feeling, or lurking
  consciousness that such a thing is required in a singer. The notes
  proceed from her mouth as mechanically, as _unmitigated_ by the
  sentiment, as if they came from the sharp hautboy or grating
  bassoon. We do not mean that her voice is disagreeable in itself,
  but it wants softness and sweetness of modulation. The words of the
  songs neither seem to tremble on her lips, nor play around her
  heart. Miss Mori did not look the character. Rosetta is to be sure a
  waiting-maid, but then she is also a young lady in disguise. There
  was no appearance of the _incognita_ in Miss Mori. She seemed in
  downright earnest, like one of the country girls who come to be
  hired at the statute-fair. She was quite insensible of her
  situation, and came forward to prove herself a fine singer, as one
  of her fellow-servants might have done to answer to a charge of
  having stolen something. We never saw a _debutante_ more at ease
  with the audience: we suppose she has played in the country. Miss
  Matthews, who is a good-natured girl, and wished to _patronize_ her
  on so delicate an emergency, presently found there was no occasion
  for her services, and withdrew from the attempt with some
  trepidation.

  If Miss Mori did not enchant us by her incomprehensible want of
  sensibility, neither did Miss Keppel by the affectation of it.
  Sensibility is a very pretty thing, but it will not do to make a
  plaything of, at least in public. It is not enough that an actress
  tries to atone for defects by throwing herself on the indulgence of
  the audience:—their eyes and ears must be satisfied, as well as
  their self-love. Miss Keppel acts with very little grace, and sings
  very much out of tune. There were some attempts made to prejudice
  the audience against this young lady before she appeared: but they
  only had the effect which they deserved, of procuring a more
  flattering reception than she would otherwise have met with: but we
  do not think she will ever become a favourite with the town.


                           MR. KEMBLE’S CATO

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _October 27, 1816._

  Mr. Kemble has resumed his engagements at Covent-Garden Theatre for
  the season; it is said in the play-bills, for the last time. There
  is something in the word _last_, that, ‘being mortal,’ we do not
  like on these occasions: but there is this of good in it, that it
  throws us back on past recollections, and when we are about to take
  leave of an old friend, we feel desirous to settle all accounts with
  him, and to see that the balance is not against us, on the score of
  gratitude. Mr. Kemble will, we think, find that the public are just,
  and his last season, if it is to be so, will not, we hope, be the
  least brilliant of his career. As his meridian was bright, so let
  his sunset be golden, and without a cloud. His reception in Cato, on
  Friday, was most flattering, and he well deserved the cheering and
  cordial welcome which he received. His voice only failed him in
  strength; but his tones, his looks, his gestures, were all that
  could be required in the character. He is the most classical of
  actors. He is the only one of the moderns, who both in figure and
  action approaches the beauty and grandeur of the antique. In the
  scene of the soliloquy, just before his death, he was rather
  inaudible, and indeed the speech itself is not worth hearing; but
  his person, manner, and dress, seemed cast in the very mould of
  Roman elegance and dignity.


                             THE IRON CHEST

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _December 1, 1816._

  The Iron Chest is founded on the story of Caleb Williams, one of the
  best novels in the language, and the very best of the modern school:
  but the play itself is by no means the best play that ever was
  written, either in ancient or modern times, though really in modern
  times we do not know of any much better. Mr. Colman’s serious style,
  which is in some measure an imitation of Shakespear’s, is natural
  and flowing; and there is a constant intermixture as in our elder
  drama, a _melange_ of the tragic and comic; but there is rather a
  want of force and depth in the impassioned parts of his tragedies,
  and what there is of this kind, is impeded in its effect by the
  comic. The two plots (the serious and ludicrous) do not seem going
  on and gaining ground at the same time, but each part is intersected
  and crossed by the other, and has to set out again in the next
  scene, after being thwarted in the former one, like a person who has
  to begin a story over again in which he has been interrupted. In
  Shakespear, the comic parts serve only as a relief to the tragic.
  Colman’s tragic scenes are not high-wrought enough to require any
  such relief; and this perhaps may be a sufficient reason why modern
  writers, who are so sparing of their own nerves, and those of their
  readers, should not be allowed to depart from the effeminate
  simplicity of the classic style. In Shakespear, again, the comic
  varieties are only an accompaniment to the loftier tragic movement:
  at least the only exception is in the part of Falstaff in Henry IV.
  which is not however a tragedy of any deep interest:—in Colman you
  do not know whether the comedy or tragedy is principal; whether he
  made the comic for the sake of the tragic, or the tragic for the
  sake of the comic; and you suspect he would be as likely as any of
  his contemporaries to parody his own most pathetic passages, just as
  Munden caricatures the natural touches of garrulous simplicity in
  old Adam Winterton, to make the galleries and boxes laugh. The great
  beauty of Caleb Williams is lost in the play. The interest of the
  novel arises chiefly from two things: the gradual working up of the
  curiosity of Caleb Williams with respect to the murder, by the
  incessant goading on of which he extorts the secret from Falkland,
  and then from the systematic persecution which he undergoes from his
  master, which at length urges him to reveal the secret to the world.
  Both these are very ingeniously left out by Mr. Colman, who jumps at
  a conclusion, but misses his end.

  The history of the Iron Chest is well known to dramatic readers. Mr.
  Kemble either could not, or would not play the part of Sir Edward
  Mortimer (the Falkland of Mr. Godwin’s novel)—he made nothing of it,
  or at least, made short work of it, for it was only played one
  night. He had a cough and a cold, and he hemmed and hawed, and
  whined and drivelled through the part in a marvellous manner. Mr.
  Colman was enraged at the ill-success of his piece, and charged it
  upon Kemble’s acting, who he said did not do his best. Now we
  confess he generally tries to do his best, and if that best is no
  better, it is not his fault. We think the fault was in the part,
  which wants circumstantial dignity. Give Mr. Kemble only the _man_
  to play, why, he is nothing; give him the paraphernalia of
  greatness, and he is great. He ‘wears his heart in compliment
  extern.’ He is the statue on the pedestal, that cannot come down
  without danger of shaming its worshippers; a figure that tells well
  with appropriate scenery and dresses; but not otherwise. Mr. Kemble
  contributes his own person to a tragedy—but only that. The poet must
  furnish all the rest, and make the other parts equally dignified and
  graceful, or Mr. Kemble will not help him out. He will not lend
  dignity to the mean, spirit to the familiar; he will not impart life
  and motion, passion and imagination, to all around him, for he has
  neither life nor motion, passion nor imagination in himself. He
  minds only the conduct of his own person, and leaves the piece to
  shift for itself. Not so Mr. Kean. ‘Truly he hath a devil;’ and if
  the fit comes over him too often, yet as tragedy is not the
  representation of _still-life_, we think this much better than being
  never roused at all. We like

               ‘The fiery soul that working out its way,
               Fretted the pigmy body to decay,
               And o’er informed the tenement of clay.’

  Mr. Kean has passion and energy enough to afford to lend it to the
  circumstances in which he is placed, without leaning upon them for
  support. He can make a dialogue between a master and a servant in
  common life, tragic, or infuse a sentiment into the Iron Chest. He
  is not afraid of being let down by his company. Formal dignity and
  studied grace are ridiculous, except in particular circumstances;
  passion and nature are every where the same, and these Mr. Kean
  carries with him into all his characters, and does not want the
  others. In the last, however, which are partly things of manner and
  assumption, he improves, as well as in the recitation of set
  speeches; for example, in the Soliloquy on Honour, in the present
  play. His description of the assassination of his rival to Wilford
  was admirable, and the description of his ‘seeing his giant form
  roll before him in the dust,’ was terrific and grand. In the
  picturesque expression of passion, by outward action, Mr. Kean is
  unrivalled. The transitions in this play, from calmness to deep
  despair, from concealed suspicion to open rage, from smooth decorous
  indifference to the convulsive agonies of remorse, gave Mr. Kean
  frequent opportunities for the display of his peculiar talents. The
  mixture of common-place familiarity and solemn injunction in his
  speeches to Wilford when in the presence of others, was what no
  other actor could give with the same felicity and force. The last
  scene of all—his coming to life again after his swooning at the
  fatal discovery of his guilt, and then falling back after a ghastly
  struggle, like a man waked from the tomb, into despair and death in
  the arms of his mistress, was one of those consummations of the art,
  which those who have seen and have not felt them in this actor, may
  be assured that they have never seen or felt any thing in the course
  of their lives, and never will to the end of them.


                         MR. KEMBLE’S KING JOHN

  _The Examiner._

                                 (_Covent Garden_) _December 8, 1816._

  We wish we had never seen Mr. Kean. He has destroyed the Kemble
  religion; and it is the religion in which we were brought up. Never
  again shall we behold Mr. Kemble with the same pleasure that we did,
  nor see Mr. Kean with the same pleasure that we have seen Mr. Kemble
  formerly. We used to admire Mr. Kemble’s figure and manner, and had
  no idea that there was any want of art or nature. We feel the force
  and nature of Mr. Kean’s acting, but then we feel the want of Mr.
  Kemble’s person. Thus an old and delightful prejudice is destroyed,
  and no new enthusiasm, no second idolatry comes to take its place.
  Thus, by degrees, knowledge robs us of pleasure, and the cold icy
  hand of experience freezes up the warm current of the imagination,
  and crusts it over with unfeeling criticism. The knowledge we
  acquire of various kinds of excellence, as successive opportunities
  present themselves, leads us to acquire a combination of them which
  we never find realized in any individual, and all the consolation
  for the disappointment of our fastidious expectations is in a sort
  of fond and doating retrospect of the past. It is possible indeed
  that the force of prejudice might often kindly step in to suspend
  the chilling effects of experience, and we might be able to see an
  old favourite by a voluntary forgetfulness of other things, as we
  saw him twenty years ago; but his friends take care to prevent this,
  and by provoking invidious comparisons, and crying up their idol as
  a model of abstract perfection, force us to be ill-natured in our
  own defence.

  We went to see Mr. Kemble’s King John, and he became the part so
  well, in costume, look, and gesture, that if left to ourselves, we
  could have gone to sleep over it, and dreamt that it was fine, and
  ‘when we waked, have cried to dream again.’ But we were told that it
  was really fine, as fine as Garrick, as fine as Mrs. Siddons, as
  fine as Shakespear; so we rubbed our eyes and kept a sharp look out,
  but we saw nothing but a deliberate intention on the part of Mr.
  Kemble to act the part finely. And so he did in a certain sense, but
  not by any means as Shakespear wrote it, nor as it might be played.
  He did not harrow up the feelings, he did not electrify the sense:
  he did not enter into the nature of the part himself, nor
  consequently move others with terror or pity. The introduction to
  the scene with Hubert was certainly excellent: you saw instantly,
  and before a syllable was uttered, partly from the change of
  countenance, and partly from the arrangement of the scene, the
  purpose which had entered his mind to murder the young prince. But
  the remainder of this trying scene, though the execution was
  elaborate—painfully elaborate, and the outline well conceived,
  wanted the filling up, the true and master touches, the deep
  piercing heartfelt tones of nature. It was done well and skilfully,
  _according to the book of arithmetic_; but no more. Mr. Kemble, when
  he approaches Hubert to sound his disposition, puts on an insidious,
  insinuating, fawning aspect, and so he ought; but we think it should
  not be, though it was, that kind of wheedling smile, as if he was
  going to persuade him that the business he wished him to undertake
  was a mere jest; and his natural repugnance to it an idle prejudice,
  that might be carried off by a certain pleasant drollery of eye and
  manner. Mr. Kemble’s look, to our apprehension, was exactly as if he
  had just caught the eye of some person of his acquaintance in the
  boxes, and was trying to suppress a rising smile at the
  metamorphosis he had undergone since dinner. Again, he changes his
  voice three several times, in repeating the name of Hubert; and the
  changes might be fine, but they did not vibrate on our feelings; so
  we cannot tell. They appeared to us like a tragic _voluntary_.
  Through almost the whole scene this celebrated actor did not seem to
  feel the part itself as it was set down for him, but to be
  considering how he ought to feel it, or how he should express by
  rule and method what he did not feel. He was sometimes slow, and
  sometimes hurried: sometimes familiar, and sometimes solemn: but
  always with an evident design and determination to be so. The
  varying tide of passion did not appear to burst from the source of
  nature in his breast, but to be drawn from a theatrical leaden
  cistern, and then directed through certain conduit-pipes and
  artificial channels, to fill the audience with well regulated and
  harmless sympathy.

  We are afraid, judging from the effects of this representation, that
  ‘man delight not us, nor woman neither:’ for we did not like Miss
  O’Neill’s Constance better, nor so well as Mr. Kemble’s King John.
  This character, more than any other of Shakespear’s females, treads
  perhaps upon the verge of extravagance; the impatience of grief,
  combined with the violence of her temper, borders on insanity: her
  imagination grows light-headed. But still the boundary between
  poetry and phrensy is not passed: she is neither a virago nor mad.
  Miss O’Neill gave more of the vulgar than the poetical side of the
  character. She generally does so of late. Mr. Charles Kemble in the
  Bastard, had the ‘bulk, the thews, the sinews’ of Falconbridge:
  would that he had had ‘the spirit’ too. There was one speech which
  he gave well—‘Could Sir Robert make this leg?’ And suiting the
  action to the word, as well he might, it had a great effect upon the
  house.


                               CORIOLANUS

  _The Examiner._

                                                  _December 15, 1816._

  Coriolanus has of late been repeatedly acted at Covent-Garden
  Theatre. Shakespear has in this play shewn himself well versed in
  history and state-affairs. Coriolanus is a storehouse of political
  common-places. Any one who studies it may save himself the trouble
  of reading Burke’s Reflections, or Paine’s Rights of Man, or the
  Debates in both Houses of Parliament since the French Revolution or
  our own. The arguments for and against aristocracy, or democracy, on
  the privileges of the few and the claims of the many, on liberty and
  slavery, power and the abuse of it, peace and war, are here very
  ably handled, with the spirit of a poet, and the acuteness of a
  philosopher. Shakespear himself seems to have had a leaning to the
  arbitrary side of the question, perhaps from some feeling of
  contempt for his own origin; and to have spared no occasion of
  baiting the rabble. What he says of them is very true: what he says
  of their betters is also very true, though he dwells less upon it.
  The cause of the people is indeed but ill calculated as a subject
  for poetry: it admits of rhetoric, which goes into argument and
  explanation, but it presents no immediate or distinct images to the
  mind, ‘no jutting frieze, buttress, or coigne of vantage’ for poetry
  ‘to make its pendant bed and procreant cradle in.’ The language of
  poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. The
  imagination is an exaggerating and exclusive faculty: it takes from
  one thing to add to another: it accumulates circumstances together
  to give the greatest possible effect to a favourite object. The
  understanding is a dividing and measuring faculty: it judges of
  things, not according to their immediate impression on the mind, but
  according to their relations to one another. The one is a
  monopolizing faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of present
  excitement by inequality and disproportion; the other is a
  distributive faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of ultimate
  good by justice and proportion. The one is an aristocratical, the
  other a republican faculty. The principle of poetry is a very
  anti-levelling principle. It aims at effect, it exists by contrast.
  It admits of no medium. It is every thing by excess. It rises above
  the ordinary standard of sufferings and crimes. It presents an
  imposing appearance. It shews its head turretted, crowned and
  crested. Its front is gilt and blood-stained. Before it, ‘it carries
  noise, and behind it, it leaves tears.’ It has its altars and its
  victims, sacrifices, human sacrifices. Kings, priests, nobles, are
  its train-bearers; tyrants and slaves its executioners—‘Carnage is
  its daughter!’ Poetry is right royal. It puts the individual for the
  species, the one above the infinite many, might before right. A lion
  hunting a flock of sheep or a herd of wild asses, is a more poetical
  object than they; and we even take part with the lordly beast,
  because our vanity, or some other feeling, makes us disposed to
  place ourselves in the situation of the strongest party. So we feel
  some concern for the poor citizens of Rome, when they meet together
  to compare their wants and grievances, till Coriolanus comes in,
  and, with blows and big words, drives this set of ‘poor rats,’ this
  rascal scum, to their homes and beggary, before him. There is
  nothing heroical in a multitude of miserable rogues not wishing to
  be starved, or complaining that they are like to be so; but when a
  single man comes forward to brave their cries, and to make them
  submit to the last indignities, from mere pride and self-will, our
  admiration of his prowess is immediately converted into contempt for
  their pusillanimity. The insolence of power is stronger than the
  plea of necessity. The tame submission to usurped authority, or even
  the natural resistance to it, has nothing to excite or flatter the
  imagination; it is the assumption of a right to insult or oppress
  others, that carries an imposing air of superiority with it. We had
  rather be the oppressor than the oppressed.

  The love of power in ourselves, and the admiration of it in others,
  are both natural to man; the one makes him a tyrant, the other a
  slave. Wrong, dressed out in pride, pomp, and circumstance, has more
  attraction than abstract right.—Coriolanus complains of the
  fickleness of the people: yet the instant he cannot gratify his
  pride and obstinacy at their expense, he turns his arms against his
  country. If his country was not worth defending, why did he build
  his pride on its defence? He is a conqueror and a hero; he conquers
  other countries, and makes this a plea for enslaving his own; and
  when he is prevented from doing so, he leagues with its enemies to
  destroy his country. He rates the people ‘as if he were a God to
  punish, and not a man of their infirmity.’ He scoffs at one of their
  tribunes for maintaining their rites and franchises: ‘Mark you his
  absolute _shall_?’ not marking his own absolute _will_ to take every
  thing from them; his impatience of the slightest opposition to his
  own pretensions being in proportion to their arrogance and
  absurdity. If the great and powerful had the beneficence and wisdom
  of gods, then all this would have been well: if with greater
  knowledge of what is good for the people, they had as great a care
  for their interest as they have for their own; if they were seated
  above the world, sympathising with their welfare, but not feeling
  the passions of men, receiving neither good nor hurt from them, but
  bestowing their benefits as free gifts on them, they might then rule
  over them like another Providence. But this is not the case.
  Coriolanus is unwilling that the Senate should shew their ‘cares’
  for the people, lest their ‘cares’ should be construed into ‘fears,’
  to the subversion of all due authority; and he is no sooner
  disappointed in his schemes to deprive the people not only of the
  cares of the state, but of all power to redress themselves, than
  Volumnia is made madly to exclaim,

           ‘Now the red pestilence strike all trades in Rome,
           And occupations perish.’

  This is but natural: it is but natural for a mother to have more
  regard for her son than for a whole city: but then the city should
  be left to take some care of itself. The care of the state cannot,
  we here see, be safely entrusted to maternal affection, or to the
  domestic charities of high life. The great have private feelings of
  their own, to which the interests of humanity and justice must
  courtesy. Their interests are so far from being the same as those of
  the community, that they are in direct and necessary opposition to
  them; their power is at the expense of our weakness; their riches,
  of our poverty; their pride, of our degradation; their splendour, of
  our wretchedness; their tyranny of our servitude. If they had the
  superior intelligence ascribed to them (which they have not) it
  would only render them so much more formidable; and from gods would
  convert them into devils.

  The whole dramatic moral of Coriolanus is, that those who have
  little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all
  that others have left. The people are poor, therefore they ought to
  be starved. They are slaves, therefore they ought to be beaten. They
  work hard, therefore they ought to be treated like beasts of burden.
  They are ignorant, therefore they ought not to be allowed to feel
  that they want food, or clothing, or rest, that they are enslaved,
  oppressed, and miserable. This is the logic of the imagination and
  the passions; which seek to aggrandize what excites admiration, and
  to heap contempt on misery, to raise power into tyranny, and to make
  tyranny absolute; to thrust down that which is low still lower, and
  to make wretches desperate: to exalt magistrates into kings, kings
  into gods; to degrade subjects to the rank of slaves, and slaves to
  the condition of brutes. The history of mankind is a romance, a
  mask, a tragedy constructed upon the principles of _poetical
  justice_; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the
  few, is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and
  encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havoc in the
  chase, though they do not share in the spoil. We may depend upon it,
  that what men delight to read in books, they will put in practice in
  reality.

  Mr. Kemble in the part of Coriolanus was as great as ever. Miss
  O’Neill as Volumnia was not so great as Mrs. Siddons. There is a
  _fleshiness_, if we may so say, about her whole manner, voice, and
  person, which does not suit the character of the Roman Matron. One
  of the most amusing things in the representation of this play is the
  contrast between Kemble and little Simmons. The former seems as if
  he would gibbet the latter on his nose, he looks so lofty. The
  fidgetting, uneasy, insignificant gestures of Simmons are perhaps a
  little caricatured; and Kemble’s supercilious airs and _nonchalance_
  remind one of the unaccountable abstracted air, the contracted
  eyebrows and suspended chin of a man who is just going to sneeze.


                          THE MAN OF THE WORLD

  _The Examiner._

                                (_Covent Garden_) _December 29, 1816._

  Mr. Henry Johnston (from the Glasgow Theatre) who came out some time
  ago in Sir Archy Mac Sarcasm, with much applause, appeared on
  Friday, in Sir Pertinax Mac Sycophant. During the first acts, he
  went through this highly, but finely coloured part, with great
  spirit and force: but in the midst of his account to his son
  Egerton, of the manner in which he rose in the world by _booing_,
  and by marrying an old dowager, ‘like a surgeon’s skeleton in a
  glass-case,’ a certain disapprobation, not of the actor, but of the
  sentiments of the character, manifested itself through the house,
  which at this season of the year is not of a very refined
  composition; and some one cried out from the gallery for ‘another
  play.’ So little do the vulgar know of courts and the great world,
  that they are even shocked and disgusted at the satirical
  representation of them on the stage. This unexpected interruption
  given to the actor in the most prominent scene of the play, operated
  to damp his spirits considerably, nor did he rally completely again
  for the rest of the evening.

  This is the second time that we have seen an actor fail in this
  character, not by any fault in himself, but by the fault of the
  Managers, in bringing them out in this part in the holiday season.
  The other was Mr. Bibby last year, certainly not inferior to Mr.
  Johnston in the conception or delineation of the sordid, gross, wily
  Scotchman: but who was equally or more unsuccessful, from the
  unintelligibility of the Scotch dialect and sentiments to the
  untutored and ‘unclerkly’ Christmas visitants. Upon the entrance
  indeed of Lord Castlereagh and some company of the higher classes,
  into the Prince’s box, Mr. Johnston seemed to recover himself a
  little, and to appeal with more confidence from the ignorance of the
  rabble to these more judicious appreciators of the merits of his
  delineation of Macklin’s idea of a modern statesman.

  We wonder the Managers of either Theatre ever bring out a comedy
  relating to the artificial manners of high life, on occasions like
  the present. They ought either to have a tragedy and a pantomime, or
  two pantomimes the same evening; or a melo-drama, a puppet-show, and
  a pantomime. The common people like that which strikes their senses
  or their imagination: they do not like Comedy, because, if it is
  genteel, they do not understand the subject matter of which it
  treats—and if it relates to low manners and incidents, it has no
  novelty to recommend it. They like the dazzling and the wonderful.
  One of the objections constantly made by some persons who sat near
  us in the pit, to the play of the Man of the World, was, that the
  same scene continued through the whole play. This was a great
  disappointment to the pantomime appetite for rapid and wonderful
  changes of scenery, with which our dramatic novices had come fully
  prepared.

  The pantomime, with Mr. Grimaldi, soon brought all to rights, and
  the audience drank in oblivion of all their grievances with the
  first tones of their old friend Joe’s voice, for which indeed he
  might be supposed to have a patent. This great man (we really think
  him the greatest man we saw at the theatre last night) will not ‘die
  and leave the world no copy,’ as Shakespear has it, for his son is
  as like him in person as two peas. The new pantomime itself, or the
  ‘Beggar of Bethnal-green,’ is not a very good one. It has a clever
  dog and a rope-dancing monkey in it. The degeneracy of the modern
  stage threatens to be shortly redeemed by accomplished recruits from
  the four-footed creation. The monkey was hissed and encored, but
  this is the fate of all upstart candidates for popular applause, and
  we hope that _Monsieur_ will console himself for this partial
  ill-will and prejudice manifested against him, by the reflection
  that envy is the shadow of merit.—Miss F. Dennett was the Columbine,
  and played very prettily as the daughter of the Blind Beggar. But
  who shall describe the _pas de trois_ by the three Miss Dennetts,
  ‘ever charming, ever new,’ and yet just the same as when we saw them
  before, and as we always wish to see them? If they were at all
  different from what they are, or from one another, it would be for
  the worse. The charm is in seeing the same grace, the same looks,
  the same motions, in three persons. They are a lovely reflection of
  one another. The colours in the rainbow are not more soft and
  harmonious; the image of the halcyon reflected on the azure bosom of
  the smiling ocean is not more soft and delightful.


                               JANE SHORE

  _The Examiner._

                                     (_Drury-Lane_) _January 5, 1817._

  Miss Somerville, who gave so interesting a promise of a fine tragic
  actress in the part of Imogine in Bertram, last year, appeared the
  other evening in Alicia in Jane Shore. We do not think Rowe’s
  heroine so well adapted to the display of her powers as that of the
  modern poet. Miss Somerville is a very delightful sentimental
  actress, but she makes an indifferent scold. Alicia should be a
  shrew, and shrill-tongued: but Miss Somerville throws a pensive
  repentant tone over her bitterest imprecations against her rival,
  and her mode of recitation is one melancholy cadence of the whole
  voice, silvered over with sweet gleams of sound, like the moonbeams
  playing on the heaving ocean. When she should grow sharp and
  virulent, she only becomes more amiable and romantic, and tries in
  vain to be disagreeable. Though her voice is out of her controul,
  she yet succeeds in putting on a peevish dissatisfied look, which
  yet has too much of a mournful, sanctified cast. If Mr. Coleridge
  could write a tragedy for her, we should then see the Muse of the
  romantic drama exhibited in perfection. The fault of Miss
  Somerville, in short, is, that her delivery is too mannered, and her
  action without sufficient variety.

  Mr. Bengough, as the Duke of Gloster, was in one or two scenes
  impressive, in others ridiculous. He has a singular kind of awkward
  energy and heavy animation about him. He works himself up
  occasionally to considerable force and spirit; and then, as if
  frightened at his own efforts, his purpose fails him, and he sinks
  into an unaccountable vein of faltering insipidity. The great merit
  of Mr. Kean is his thorough decision and self-possession: he always
  knows what he means to do, and never flinches from doing it.


                        THE HUMOROUS LIEUTENANT

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _January 26, 1817._

  The Humorous Lieutenant, brought out on Saturday week at
  Covent-Garden, is a bad alteration from one of the most indifferent
  of Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays. It went off very ill, and was as
  fairly damned as any thing at Covent-Garden could be. They have some
  _jus theatricum_ here, which saves things and carries off
  appearances. So the play has been brought forward again, and its
  first failure attributed to the failure of the actress who played
  the part of Celia. That was certainly a failure, and an unexpected
  one; for the lady’s accomplishments and attractions had been much
  spoken of, and perhaps justly. Of her talents for the stage, we
  shall say nothing; for we cannot say a word or syllable in their
  favour. Nor shall we say any thing against ‘The Humorous
  Lieutenant:’ for it passes under the name of Beaumont and Fletcher,
  ‘whose utmost skirts of glory we behold gladly, and far off their
  steps adore:’ and indeed it is at an immeasurable distance, and by a
  prodigious stretch of faith, that we see them at all in the
  Covent-Garden _refaccimento_. Mr. Liston plays the heroic Lieutenant
  in it; but we shall live to see him in the _mock-heroic_ again!


                            TWO NEW BALLETS

  _The Examiner._

                                                   _February 9, 1817._

  There have been two new ballets this week, one at each Theatre. That
  at Drury-Lane, Patrick’s Return, is one of the prettiest things we
  have seen a long time. The dancing and pantomime are very
  delightfully adapted to a number of old Irish melodies, which we are
  never tired of hearing.—Zephyr and Flora, at Covent-Garden, is too
  fine by half for our rude tastes. There are lusty lovers flying in
  the air, nests of winged Cupids, that start out of bulrushes, trees
  that lift up their branches like arms:—we suppose they will speak
  next like Virgil’s wood. But in the midst of all these wonders, we
  have a more amiable wonder, the three Miss Dennetts, as nymphs,

                     ‘Whom lovely Venus at a birth
                     To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore.’

  They might represent Love, Hope, and Joy. There is one part in which
  they seem to dance on the strings of the harp which plays to them;
  the liquid sounds and the motion are the same. These young ladies
  put us in mind of Florizel’s praise of Perdita:—

           ‘When you do dance, I wish you a wave o’ th’ sea,
           That you might ever do nothing but that;
           Move still, still so, and own no other function.’


                      MR. BOOTH’S DUKE OF GLOSTER

  _The Examiner._

                                (_Covent Garden_) _February 16, 1817._

  A Gentleman of the name of Booth, who we understand has been acting
  with considerable applause at Worthing and Brighton, came out in
  Richard Duke of Gloster, at this Theatre, on Wednesday. We do not
  know well what to think of his powers, till we see him in some part
  in which he is more himself. His face is adapted to tragic
  characters, and his voice wants neither strength nor musical
  expression. But almost the whole of his performance was an exact
  copy or parody of Mr. Kean’s manner of doing the same part. It was a
  complete, but at the same time a successful piece of plagiarism. We
  do not think this kind of second-hand reputation can last upon the
  London boards for more than a character or two. In the country these
  _doubles_ of the best London performers go down very well, for they
  are the best they can get, and they have not the originals to make
  invidious comparisons with. But it will hardly do to bring out the
  same entertainment that we can have as it is first served up at
  Drury-Lane, in a hashed state at Covent-Garden. We do not blame Mr.
  Booth for borrowing Mr. Kean’s coat and feathers to appear in upon a
  first and trying occasion, but if he wishes to gain a permanent
  reputation, he must come forward in his own person. He must try to
  be original, and not content himself with treading in another’s
  steps. We say this the rather, because, as far as we could judge,
  Mr. Booth, in point of execution did those passages the best, in
  which he now and then took leave of Mr. Kean’s decided and extreme
  manner, and became more mild and tractable. Such was his recitation
  of the soliloquy on his own ambitious projects, and of that which
  occurs the night before the battle. In these he seemed to yield to
  the impulse of his own feelings, and to follow the natural tones and
  cadence of his voice. They were the best parts of his performance.
  The worst were those where he imitated, or rather caricatured Mr.
  Kean’s hoarseness of delivery and violence of action, and affected
  an energy without seeming to feel it. Such were his repulse of
  Buckingham, his exclamation, ‘What does he in the north,’ &c. his
  telling the attendants to set down the corse of King Henry, &c. The
  scene with Lady Anne, on the contrary, which was of a softer and
  more insinuating kind, he was more successful in, and though still a
  palpable imitation of Mr. Kean, it had all the originality that
  imitation could have, for he seemed to feel it. His manner of saying
  ‘good night,’ and of answering, when he received the anonymous
  paper, ‘A weak invention of the enemy,’ we consider as mere tricks
  in the art, which no one but a professed mimic has a right to play.
  The dying scene was without effect.—The greatest drawback to Mr.
  Booth’s acting is a perpetual strut, and unwieldy swagger in his
  ordinary gait and manner, which, though it may pass at Brighton for
  _grand, gracious, and magnificent_, even the lowest of the mob will
  laugh at in London. This is the third imitation of Mr. Kean we have
  seen attempted, and the only one that has not been a complete
  failure. The imitation of original genius is the _forlorn hope_ of
  the candidates for fame:—its faults are so easily overdone, its
  graces are so hard to catch. A Kemble school we can understand: a
  Kean school is, we suspect, a contradiction in terms. Art may be
  taught, because it is learnt: Nature can neither be taught nor
  learnt. The secrets of Art may be said to have a common or _pass_
  key to unlock them; the secrets of Nature have but one
  master-key—the heart.

                                                         _Drury-Lane._

  The charming afterpiece of Figaro, or the Follies of a Day, has been
  revived here, and revived with all its gloss and lustre. Miss Kelly,
  Mrs. Alsop, and Mrs. Orger, were all very happy in it. This play was
  written by a man who drank light French wines: in every line you see
  the brisk champagne frothing through green glasses. The beads rise
  sparkling to the surface and then evaporate. There is nothing in it
  to remember, and absolutely nothing to criticise; but it is the
  triumph of animal spirits: while you see it, you seem to drink
  ether, or to inhale an atmosphere not bred of fogs or sea-coal
  fires. This is the secret of the charm of Figaro. It promotes the
  circulation of the blood, and assists digestion. We would by all
  means advise our readers to go and try the experiment. The best
  scene in it, is that in which the Page jumps from his concealment
  behind the arm-chair into the arm-chair itself. The beauty of this
  is in fact the perfect _heartfelt_ indifference to detection; and so
  of the rest.—We never saw Mr. Rae play better.


                            MR. BOOTH’S IAGO

  _The Examiner._

                                   (_Drury-Lane_) _February 23, 1817._

  The Managers of Covent-Garden Theatre, after having announced in the
  bills, that Mr. Booth’s Richard the Third had met with a success
  unprecedented in the annals of histrionic fame, (which, to do them
  justice, was not the case), very disinterestedly declined engaging
  him at more than two pounds a week, as report speaks. Now we think
  they were wrong, either in puffing him so unmercifully, or in
  haggling with him so pitifully. It was either trifling with the
  public or with the actor. The consequence, as it has turned out, has
  been, that Mr. Booth, who was to start as ‘the fell opposite’ of Mr.
  Kean, has been taken by the hand by that gentleman, who was an old
  fellow-comedian of his in the country, and engaged at Drury-Lane at
  a salary of ten pounds per week. So we hear. And it was in evident
  allusion to this circumstance, that when Mr. Booth, as Iago, said on
  Thursday night, ‘I know my price no less’—John Bull, who has very
  sympathetic pockets, gave a loud shout of triumph, which resounded
  all along the benches of the pit. We must say that Mr. Booth pleased
  us much more in Iago than in Richard. He was, it is true, well
  supported by Mr. Kean in Othello, but he also supported him better
  in that character than any one else we have seen play with him. The
  two rival actors hunt very well in couple. One thing which we did
  not expect, and which we think reconciled us to Mr. Booth’s
  imitations, was, that they were here performed in the presence, and
  as it were with the permission of Mr. Kean. There is no fear of
  deception in the case. The original is there in person to answer for
  his identity, and ‘give the world assurance of himself.’ The
  original and the copy go together, like the substance and the
  shadow. But then there neither is nor can be any idea of
  competition, and so far we are satisfied. In fact, Mr. Booth’s Iago
  was a very close and spirited repetition of Mr. Kean’s manner of
  doing that part. It was indeed the most spirited copy we ever saw
  upon the stage, considering at the same time the scrupulous
  exactness with which he adhered to his model in the most trifling
  _minutiæ_. We need only mention as instances of similarity in the
  bye-play, Mr. Booth’s mode of delivering the lines, ‘My wit comes
  from my brains like birdlime,’ or his significant, and we think
  improper pointing to the dead bodies, as he goes out in the last
  scene. The same remarks apply to his delivery, that we made last
  week. He has two voices; one his own, and the other Mr. Kean’s. His
  delineation of Iago is more bustling and animated; Mr. Kean’s is
  more close and cool. We suspect that Mr. Booth is not only a
  professed and deliberate imitator of Mr. Kean, but that he has in
  general the chameleon quality (we do not mean that of living upon
  air, as the Covent-Garden Managers supposed, but) of reflecting all
  objects that come in contact with him. We occasionally caught the
  mellow tones of Mr. Macready rising out of the thorough-bass of Mr.
  Kean’s guttural emphasis, and the flaunting, _degagé_ robe of Mr.
  Young’s oriental manner, flying off from the tight vest and tunic of
  the little ‘bony prizer’ of the Drury-Lane Company.

  Of Mr. Kean’s Othello we have not room to speak as it deserves, nor
  have we the power if we had the room: it is beyond all praise. Any
  one who has not seen him in the third act of Othello (and seen him
  near) cannot have an idea of perfect tragic acting.


                          MR. BOOTH’S RICHARD

  _The Examiner._

                                    (_Covent Garden_) _March 2, 1817._

  This Theatre was a scene of the greatest confusion and uproar we
  ever witnessed (not having been present at the O. P. rows) on
  Tuesday evening, in consequence of the re-appearance of Mr. Booth
  here, after he had entered into an engagement and performed at
  Drury-Lane. For our own parts, who are but simple diplomatists,
  either in theatricals or politics, the resentment and disapprobation
  of the audience appear to us to have been quite well-founded. The
  only fault we find with the expression of the public indignation is,
  that it was directed solely against Mr. Booth, whereas the Managers
  of the Theatre were entitled to the first and fullest share. Mr.
  Booth may have been only _their_ dupe: they have wilfully trifled
  with the public, and tried to make a contemptible tool of a person
  belonging to a profession by which they exist, and from which they
  derive all their importance with the public. Their only excuse for
  inveigling an actor whom they refused to engage, from another
  Theatre where he had been engaged in consequence of such refusal,
  is, that by the rules of theatrical proceeding, one theatre has no
  right to engage an actor who has been in _treaty_ for an engagement
  at the other, within a year after the breaking off of such treaty,
  without leave of the Managers. First, it appears that no such
  understanding exists, or is acted upon: that the pretext, as a mere
  pretext, is not true: secondly, such a mutual understanding, if it
  did exist, would be most unjust to the profession, and an insult to
  the public. For at this rate, any Manager, by once entering into an
  agreement with an actor, may keep him dangling on his good pleasure
  for a year certain, may prevent his getting any other engagement, by
  saying that they are still in a progress of arrangement, though all
  arrangement is broken off, may deprive an ingenious and industrious
  man of his bread, and the public of the advantage of his talents,
  till the Managers, at the expiration of this probationary year of
  non-performance, once more grant him his _Habeas Corpus_, and
  release him from the restrictions and obligations of his
  non-engagement. The obvious questions for the public to decide are
  these: Why, having announced Mr. Booth as a prodigy of success after
  his first appearance in Richard, the Managers declined to give Mr.
  Booth any but a very paltry salary? In this they either deceived the
  town, or acted with injustice to Mr. Booth, because they thought him
  in their power. Why, the instant he was engaged at the other Theatre
  at a handsome salary, and on his own terms, and had played there
  with success, they wanted to have him back, employed threats as it
  should seem to induce him to return, and gave him a larger salary
  than he had even obtained at Drury-Lane? Whether, if he had not been
  engaged at the other theatre, they would have engaged him at their
  own upon the terms to which they have agreed to entice him back?
  Whether, in short, in the whole proceeding, they have had any regard
  either to professional merit, or to public gratification, or to any
  thing but their own cunning and self-interest? The questions for Mr.
  Booth to answer are, why, after his treatment by the Covent-Garden
  Company, he applied to the Drury-Lane Company; and why, after their
  liberal behaviour, he deserted back again, on the first overture, to
  the company that had discarded him? Why he did not act on Saturday
  night, if he was able: or at any rate, state, to prevent the charge
  of duplicity, his new engagement with his old benefactors? Whether,
  if Mr. Booth had not made this new arrangement, he would not have
  acted in spite of indisposition or weak nerves? Lastly, whether the
  real motive which led Mr. Booth to fall in so unadvisedly with the
  renewed and barefaced proposals of the Covent-Garden Company, was
  not the renewed hope dawning in his breast, of still signalising
  himself, by dividing the town with Mr. Kean, instead of playing a
  second part to him, which is all he could ever hope to do on the
  same theatre? But enough of this disagreeable and disgraceful
  affair. The only way to make it up with the public would be, as we
  are convinced, not by attempts at vindication, but by an open
  apology.

                                                         _Drury-Lane._

  The new farce of Frightened to Death, is the most amusing and
  original piece of invention that we have seen for a long time. The
  execution might be better, but the idea is good, and as far as we
  know, perfectly new. Harley, Jack Phantom, in a drunken bout, is
  beaten by the watch, and brought senseless to the house of his
  mistress, Mrs. Orger, who, in order to cure him of his frolics,
  determines to dress him up in an old wrapping-gown like a shroud,
  and persuade him that he is dead. When he awakes, he at first does
  not recollect where he is: the first thing he sees is a letter from
  his friend to his mistress, giving an account of his sad
  catastrophe, and speaking of the manner in which order is to be
  taken for his burial. Soon after, his mistress and her maid come in
  in mourning, lament over his loss, and as has been agreed
  beforehand, take no notice of Phantom, who in vain presents himself
  before them, and thus is made to personate his own ghost. The
  servant, Mumps (Mr. Knight), who is in the secret, also comes in,
  and staggers Phantom’s belief in his own identity still more, by
  neither seeing nor hearing him. The same machinery is played off
  upon him in a different mood by Munden’s coming in, and taking him
  for a ghost. A very laughable dialogue and duet here take place
  between the Ghost and the Ghostseer, the latter inquiring of him
  with great curiosity about his ancestors in the other world, and
  being desirous to cultivate an acquaintance with the living
  apparition, in the hope of obtaining some insight into the state of
  that state ‘from which no traveller returns.’ There was a foolish
  song about ‘Kisses’ at the beginning, which excited some little
  displeasure, but the whole went off with great and deserved
  applause.


                             DOUBLE GALLANT

  _The Examiner._

                                      (_Drury-Lane_) _April 13, 1817._

  Cibber’s Comedy of the Double Gallant has been revived at this
  Theatre with considerable success. Pope did Cibber a great piece of
  injustice, when he appointed him to receive the crown of dullness.
  It was mere spleen in Pope; and the provocation to it seems to have
  been an excess of flippant vivacity in the constitution of Cibber.
  That Cibber’s Birth-day Odes were dull, seems to have been the
  common fault of the subject, rather than a particular objection to
  the poet. In his Apology for his own Life, he is one of the most
  amusing of coxcombs; happy in conscious vanity, teeming with animal
  spirits, uniting the self-sufficiency of youth with the garrulity of
  age; and in his plays he is not less entertaining and agreeably
  familiar with the audience. His personal character predominates
  indeed over the inventiveness of his muse; but so far from being
  dull, he is every where light, fluttering, and airy. We could wish
  we had a few more such dull fellows; they would contribute to make
  the world pass away more pleasantly! Cibber, in short, though his
  name has been handed down to us as a bye-word of impudent pretension
  by the classical pen of his rival, who did not admit of any merit
  beyond the narrow circle of wit and friendship in which he moved,
  was a gentleman and a scholar of the old school; a man of wit and
  pleasantry in conversation; an excellent actor; an admirable
  dramatic critic; and one of the best comic writers of his age.
  Instead of being a _caput mortuum_ of literature, (always excepting
  what is always to be excepted, his Birth-day Odes), he had a vast
  deal of its spirit, and too much of the froth. But the eye of
  ill-nature or prejudice, which is attracted by the shining points of
  character in others, generally transposes their good qualities, and
  absurdly denies them the very excellences which excite its
  chagrin.—Cibber’s Careless Husband is a master-piece of easy gaiety;
  and his Double Gallant, though it cannot rank in the first, may take
  its place in the second class of comedies. It is full of character,
  bustle, and stage-effect. It belongs to the composite style, and
  very happily mixes up the comedy of intrigue, such as we see it in
  Mrs. Centlivre’s Spanish plots, with a tolerable share of the wit
  and sentiment of Congreve and Vanburgh. As there is a good deal of
  wit, there is a spice of wickedness in this play, which was the
  privilege of the good old style of comedy, when vice, perhaps from
  being less common, was less catching than it is at present. It was
  formerly a thing more to be wondered at than imitated; and behind
  the rigid barriers of religion and morality might be exposed freely,
  without the danger of any serious practical consequences; but now
  that the safeguards of wholesome prejudices are removed, we seem
  afraid to trust our eyes or ears with a single situation or
  expression of a loose tendency, as if the mere mention of
  licentiousness implied a conscious approbation of it, and the
  extreme delicacy of our moral sense would be debauched by the bare
  suggestion of the possibility of vice. The luscious vein of the
  dialogue in many of the scenes is stopped short in the revived play,
  though not before we perceive its object—

                 ——‘In hidden mazes running,
                 With wanton haste and giddy cunning!’

  We noticed more than one of these _double meanings_, which however
  passed off without any marks of reprobation, for unless they are
  made pretty broad, the audience, from being accustomed to the
  cautious purity of the modern drama, are not very expert in
  decyphering the equivocal allusion.—All the characters in the Double
  Gallant are very well kept up, and they were most of them well
  supported in the representation. At-All and Lady Dainty are the two
  most prominent characters in the original comedy, and those into
  which Cibber has put most of his own nature and genius. They are the
  essence of active impertinence and sickly affectation. At-All has
  three intrigues upon his hands at once, and manages them all with
  the dexterity with which an adept shuffles a pack of cards. His cool
  impudence is equal to his wonderful vivacity. He jumps, by mere
  volubility of tongue and limbs, under three several names into three
  several assignations with three several _incognitas_, whom he meets
  at the same house, as they happen to be mutual friends. He would
  succeed with them all, but that he is detected by them all round,
  and then he can hardly be said to fail, for he carries off the best
  of them at last (Mrs. Mardyn), who not being able to seduce him from
  her rivals by any other means, resorts to a disguise, and vanquishes
  him in love by disarming him in a duel. The scene in which At-All,
  who had made love to Clorinda as Colonel Standfast, is introduced to
  her by her cousin (who is also in love with him) as Mr. Freeman, and
  while he is disowning his personal identity, is surprised by the
  arrival of Lady Sadlife, to whom he had been making the same
  irresistible overtures, is one of the best _coup d’œils_ of the
  theatre we have seen for a long time. Harley acts this character
  laughably, but not very judiciously. He bustles through it with the
  liveliness of a footman, not with the manners of a gentleman. He
  never changes his character with his dress, but still he is a
  pleasant fellow in himself, and is so happy in the applause he
  receives, that we are sorry to find any fault with him. Mrs. Alsop’s
  Lady Dainty was a much better, but a much less agreeable piece of
  acting. The affected sensibility, the pretended disorders, the
  ridiculous admiration of novelty, and the languid caprices of this
  character, were given by the actress with an overpowering truth of
  effect. The mixture of folly, affectation, pride, insensibility, and
  spleen which constitute the character of the fine lady, as it
  existed in the days of Cibber, and is delineated in this comedy, is
  hardly to be tolerated in itself, with every advantage of grace,
  youth, beauty, dress, and fashion. But Mrs. Alsop gave only the
  inherent vice and ridiculous folly of the character, without any
  external accomplishments to conceal or adorn it. She has always the
  same painful ‘frontlet’ on: the same uneasy expression of face and
  person. Her affected distortions seemed to arise from real pain; nor
  was her delight in mischief and absurdity counteracted by any
  palliating circumstances of elegance or beauty. A character of this
  description ought _only_ to appeal to the understanding, and not to
  offend the senses. We do not know how to soften this censure; but we
  will add, that Mrs. Alsop, in all her characters, shews sense,
  humour, and spirit.

  Dowton and Miss Kelly, as Sir Solomon Sadlife and Wishwell, are two
  for a pair. We do not wish to see a better actor or actress. The
  effect which both these performers produce, is the best and
  strongest that can be, because they never try to produce an effect.
  Their style of acting is the reverse of grimace or caricature. They
  never overcharge or force any thing, and their humour is so much the
  more irresistible in its appeal, as it seems to come from them in
  spite of themselves. Instead of wanting to shew their talents to the
  audience, they seem hardly conscious of them themselves. All their
  excellence is natural, unaffected, involuntary. When the sense of
  absurdity is so strong that it cannot be contained any longer, it
  bursts out; and the expression of their feelings commands our
  sympathy, because they do not appear to court it. Their nature is
  downright sturdy, sterling, good old English nature, that is, the
  sort of nature that we like best. In the present play, it is hard to
  determine which is the best—Miss Kelly’s sulky suppressed abigail
  airs as Wishwell, her adroit irony and contemptuous expression of
  pity for Sir Solomon’s credulity, or Dowton’s deliberate manner of
  digesting his disgraces, chewing the cud of his misfortunes, and
  pocketing up his branching horns, in the latter character.
  Wishwell’s tingling fingers, uplifted eyes, pouting mouth, bridling
  chin, and Sir Solomon’s bronzed face, curling lips, blank looks,
  nods, winks, and shrugs, told their own story and kept their own
  secret (to themselves), as well as heart could wish. We have a
  stronger relish for this kind of dry pungent humour, than we have
  for the taste of olives.


  The Inn-keeper’s Daughter is a melo-drame founded on Mr. Southey’s
  ballad of Mary the Maid of the Inn. The ballad is better than the
  melo-drame. The interest of the story is less in the latter, and the
  machinery is complicated, and moves slow.

  Robinson Crusoe, the new melo-drame at Covent-Garden, is _not_ the
  old favourite with the public. It has not the striking incident of
  the notched post, nor of the print of a human footstep in the sand;
  but there is a poodle dog in it, and innumerable savages, English
  and Caribbee.


                                DON JUAN

  _The Examiner._

                                  (_King’s Theatre_) _April 20, 1817._

  Mozart’s celebrated Opera of Don Juan has been brought forward at
  this Theatre with every attraction, and with all the success which
  could be anticipated. The house was crowded to excess on Saturday
  week (the day of its being first brought out): on Tuesday it was but
  thinly attended. Why was this? Was it because the first
  representation did not answer the expectation of the public? No; but
  because Saturday is the fashionable day for going to the Opera, and
  Tuesday is not. On Saturday, therefore, the English are a musical
  public; and on Tuesday they are not a musical public: on Saturday
  they are all rapture and enthusiasm; and on Tuesday they are all
  coldness and indifference,—impose a periodical penance on themselves
  for the plenary indulgence of their last week’s ecstasies, and have
  their ears hermetically sealed to the charms of modulated sounds.
  Yet the writer of the preface to the translation of Don Juan assures
  us, that ‘the people of this country who frequent the Opera, are
  inferior to those of no other nation in their taste for fine music.’
  That may be so. But still we doubt, if Don Juan, ‘the matchless work
  of its immortalized author,’ had been presented to the English
  public for the first time on Saturday week, without those wonderful
  helps to public taste and discernment, the name and reputation of
  the composer, whether it would have met with any better success than
  it did in Prague in 1787, or at Paris some years after, and whether
  we might not have had to observe of its representation at the King’s
  Theatre, as Gerat, the singer, did of its representation at the
  _Academie de Musique_; _Don Juan a paru incognito à l’Opera_! The
  only convincing proof that the public, either in this country or on
  the Continent, are become more alive to ‘the refined and
  intellectual music’ of Don Giovanni than they were thirty years ago,
  is—that the author is dead.

  What inclines us the more to believe that the admiration of Mozart’s
  music in this instance is more a thing of rote than the consequence
  of any general feeling on the subject, is, that we hear of nothing
  but the sublimity and Shakespearian character of Don Juan. Now we
  confess that, with the single exception of the Ghost scene, we not
  only do not feel any such general character of grand or
  strongly-contrasted expression pervading the composition, but we do
  not see any opportunity for it. Except the few words put into the
  mouth of the great Commander (Don Pedro) either as the horseman
  ghost, or the spectre-guest of Don Juan, which break upon the ear
  with a sort of awful murmur, like the sound of the last trumpet
  ringing in the hollow chambers of the dead, but which yet are so
  managed, that ‘airs from heaven’ seem mingled with ‘blasts from
  hell,’ the rest of the Opera is scarcely any thing but gaiety,
  tenderness, and sweetness, from the first line to the last. To be
  sure, the part of the great Commander is a striking and lofty
  catastrophe to the piece; he does in some sort assume a voice of
  stern authority, which puts an end to the mirth, the dancing, the
  love and feasting, and drowns the sounds of the pipe, the lute, and
  the guitar, in a burst of rattling thunder; but even this thunder
  falls and is caught among its own echoes, that soften while they
  redouble the sound, and by its distant and varied accompaniment,
  soothes as much as it startles the ear. This short episode, which is
  included in four or five sentences printed in capital letters, is
  the only part of the opera which aims at the tragic: this part is
  not of a pure or unmixed species, but is very properly harmonised
  with the rest of the composition, by middle and reflected tones; and
  all the other scenes are of one uniform, but exquisite character, a
  profusion of delicate airs and graces. Except, then, where the
  author reluctantly gives place to the Ghost-statue, or rather
  compromises matters with him, this opera is Mozart all over; it is
  no more like Shakespear, than Claude Lorraine is like Rubens or
  Michael Angelo. It is idle to make the comparison. The personal
  character of the composer’s mind, a light, airy, voluptuous spirit,
  is infused into every line of it; the intoxication of pleasure, the
  sunshine of hope, the dancing of the animal spirits, the bustle of
  action, the sinkings of tenderness and pity, are there, but nothing
  else. It is a kind of scented music; the ear imbibes an aromatic
  flavour from the sounds. It is like the breath of flowers; the
  sighing of balmy winds; or Zephyr with Flora playing; or the liquid
  notes of the nightingale wafted to the bosom of the bending rose. To
  show at once our taste or the want of it, the song of ‘La ci darem’
  gives us, we confess, both in itself, and from the manner in which
  it is sung by Madame Fodor, more pleasure than all the rest of the
  opera put together. We could listen to this air for ever—with
  certain intervals: the first notes give a throb of expectation to
  the heart, the last linger on the sense. We _encore_ it greedily,
  with a sort of childish impatience for new delight, and drink in the
  ethereal sounds, like draughts of earthly nectar. The heart is
  intoxicated through the ear; and feels in the tremulous accents of
  Zerlina’s voice, all the varying emotions of tenderness, of doubt,
  of regret, and giddy rapture, as she resigns herself to her new
  lover. Madame Fodor’s execution of her part of this duet was
  excellent. There is a clear, firm, silvery tone in her voice, like
  the reverberation of a tight-strung instrument, which by its
  contrast gives a peculiar effect to the more melting and subdued
  expression of particular passages, and which accords admirably with
  the idea of high health and spirits in the rustic character of
  Zerlina. We are tempted to say of her in this character, what
  Spenser says of Belphebe,

              ‘——And when she spake,
          Sweet words like dropping honey she did shed,
          And ’twixt the pearls and rubies softly brake
          A silver sound, that heav’nly music seem’d to make.’

  She was less successful in the execution of the song to Massetto
  just after, ‘Batte, batte, Massetto:’ for she seemed to sing it as
  if she had hardly learned it by heart. To this, however, she gave a
  characteristic simplicity of expression; she appeared in the first
  part as if she would willingly stand like a lamb, _come agnellina_,
  to be beaten by her provoked lover, and afterwards, when she is
  reconciled to him, as if she was glad she had escaped a beating. Her
  song, _Vedrai carino_, promising him a remedy, when Massetto himself
  gets beaten, by offering him her heart, was charming, both from the
  execution of the air, and from the action with which she accompanied
  it.

  Of the other performers we cannot speak so favourably. Signor
  Ambrogetti gave considerable life and spirit to the part of Don
  Giovanni; but we neither saw the dignified manners of the Spanish
  nobleman, nor the insinuating address of the voluptuary. He makes
  too free and violent a use of his legs and arms. He sung the air,
  _Finche dal vino_, in which he anticipates an addition to his list
  of mistresses from the success of his entertainment, with a sort of
  jovial turbulent vivacity, but without the least ‘sense of amorous
  delight.’ His only object seemed to be, to sing the words as loud
  and as fast as possible. Nor do we think he gave to Don Juan’s
  serenade, _Deh vieni alla finestra_, any thing like the spirit of
  fluttering apprehension and tenderness which characterises the
  original music. Signor Ambrogetti’s manner of acting in this scene
  was that of the successful and significant intriguer, but not of an
  intriguer—in love. Sensibility should be the ground-work of the
  expression: the cunning and address are only accessories.

  Naldi’s Laporello was much admired, and it was not without its
  merits, though we cannot say that it gave us much pleasure. His
  humour is coarse and boisterous, and is more that of a buffoon than
  a comic actor. He treats the audience with the same easy cavalier
  airs that an impudent waiter at a French table-d’hôte does the
  guests as they arrive. The gross familiarity of his behaviour to
  Donna Elvira, in the song where he makes out the list of his
  master’s mistresses, was certainly not in character; nor is there
  any thing in the words or the music to justify it. The tone and air
  which he should assume are those of pretended sympathy, mixed with
  involuntary laughter, not of wanton undisguised insult.

  Signor Crivelli and Madame Camporese did not add any particular
  prominence to the serious parts of Don Octavio, and Donna Anna.
  Signora Hughes’s Donna Elvira was successful beyond what we could
  have supposed. This lady at the Italian Opera is respectable: on the
  English stage she was formidable. Signor Angrisani _doubles_ the
  part of Massetto and the Ghost. In the former, he displayed much
  drollery and _naiveté_; and in the latter, he was as solemn,
  terrific, and mysterious as a ghost should be. A new translation
  accompanies the Opera House edition of Don Giovanni. It is very well
  executed. But as it is not in verse, it might have been more
  literal, without being less elegant.


                        THE CONQUEST OF TARANTO

  _The Examiner._

                                   (_Covent Garden_) _April 27, 1817._

  The Conquest of Taranto continues to be acted here with a success
  proportionate to its merits. It is from the pen of Mr. Dimond, whose
  productions are well known to the public, and which have so strong a
  family-likeness, that from having seen any one of them, we may form
  a tolerably correct idea of the rest. _Ex uno omnes._ His pieces
  have upon the whole been exceedingly popular, and we think
  deservedly so; for they have all the merit that belongs to the style
  of the drama to which he has devoted his talents,—a style which is a
  great favourite with an immense majority of the play-going public.
  This style may be called the _purely romantic_; there is little or
  nothing classical in it. The author does not profess to provide a
  public entertainment at his own entire expense, and from his own
  proper funds, but contracts with the managers to get up a striking
  and impressive exhibition in conjunction with the scene-painter, the
  scene-shifter, the musical composer, the orchestra, the choruses on
  the stage, and the _lungs_ of the actors! It is a kind of _pic-nic_
  contribution, to which we sit down with a good appetite, and from
  which we come away quite satisfied, though our attention is somewhat
  distracted in the multitude of objects to which our gratitude is due
  for the pleasure we have received. The art of the romantic dramatist
  seems to be, to put ordinary characters in extraordinary situations,
  and to blend commonplace sentiments with picturesque scenery. The
  highest pathos is ushered in, and the mind prepared to indulge in
  all the luxury of woe, by the chaunting of music behind the scenes,
  as the blowing up of a mine of gunpowder gives the finishing stroke
  to the progress of the passions. The approach of a hero is announced
  by a blast of trumpets; the flute and flageolet breathe out the
  whole soul of the lover. Mr. Dimond is by no means jealous of the
  exclusive honours of the Tragic Muse; he is not at all disposed to
  make a monopoly of wit, genius, or reputation: he minds little but
  the conducting of his story to the end of the third act, and loses
  no opportunity of playing the game into the hands of his theatrical
  associates, so that they may supply his deficiencies, and all
  together produce a perfect piece. In the Conquest of Taranto the
  scene lies almost the whole time upon the beautiful sea-coast of
  Spain, and we do not feel the lack of descriptive poetry, while the
  eye is regaled with one continued panorama. In a word, the author
  resembles those painters of history who pay more attention to their
  back-ground than their figures, to costume and drapery than to the
  expression of thought and sentiment.

  The romantic drama, such as we have here described it, admits of
  various gradations, from the point where it unites with the pure
  tragic down to the melo-drame, and speaking pantomime, nor do we
  think that as it descends lower in its pretensions, its interest
  necessarily grows less. Where the regular drama studiously avails
  itself of the assistance of other arts, as painting and music, where
  the dialogue becomes the vehicle for connecting scenery, pantomime,
  and song in one dazzling and overpowering appeal to all our
  different faculties and senses, we are satisfied if the _tout
  ensemble_ produces its effect, and do not enquire whether the work
  of the author alone, in a literary point of view, is proof against
  criticism. He is supposed to write for the stage ‘with all
  appliances and means to boot,’ not for the loneliness of the closet,
  and is little more than the ballet-master of the scene. He is not to
  enter into a competition with his assistants in the several
  departments of his art, but to avail himself of their resources. In
  the division of labour it is ridiculous to expect the same person to
  do the whole work. This would be double toil and trouble, and would,
  besides, answer no end. An appeal to the understanding or the
  imagination is superfluous, where the senses are assailed on all
  sides. What is the use of painting a landscape twice—to the ear as
  well as to the eye? What signify ‘the golden cadences of verse,’
  when only employed to usher in a song? The gleams of wit or fancy
  glimmer but feebly on a stage blazing with phosphorus; and surely
  the Tragic Muse need not strain her voice so deep or high, while a
  poodle dog is barking fit to break his heart, in the most affecting
  part of the performance. We cannot attend to sounding epithets while
  a castle is tumbling about our ears, and it is sufficiently alarming
  to see an infant thrown from a precipice or hanging bridge into the
  foaming waves—reflections apart. Commonplace poetry is good enough
  as an accompaniment to all this; as very indifferent words are
  equally well set to the finest tunes.—So far then from joining in
  the common cry against Mr. Dimond’s poetry as not rising above
  mediocrity, we should be sorry if he wrote better than he does. And
  what confirms us in this sentiment is, that those who have tried to
  do better have succeeded worse. The most ambitious writers of the
  modern romantic drama are Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Maturin. But in the
  Remorse of the one, all Mr. Coleridge’s metaphysics are lost in
  moonshine; and in Bertram and Don Manuel, the genius of poetry
  crowned with faded flowers, and seated on the top of some high
  Gothic battlement, in vain breathes its votive accents amidst the
  sighing of the forest gale and the vespers of midnight monks. But
  enough of this.

  There is considerable interest in the outline of the present play,
  and the events are ingeniously and impressively connected together,
  so as to excite and keep alive curiosity, and to produce striking
  situations. But to this production of external effect, character and
  probability are repeatedly sacrificed, and the actions which the
  different persons are made to perform, like stage-puppets, have no
  adequate motives. For instance, it is quite out of our common
  calculation of human nature, that Valencia (Mr. Macready) should
  betray his country to an enemy, because he is jealous of a rival in
  love; nor is there any thing in the previous character of Valencia
  to lead us to expect such an extreme violation of common sense and
  decency. Again, Rinaldo is betrayed to his dishonour, by acting
  contrary to orders and to his duty as a knight, at the first
  insidious suggestion of Valencia. The entrance of the Moors through
  the subterranean passage, and the blowing up of the palace while the
  court are preparing to give a sort of _fête champêtre_ in the middle
  of a siege, is not only surprising but ridiculous. Great praise is
  due to Mr. Young as Aben Hamet, to Mr. Macready as Valencia, and to
  Mr. Booth as Rinaldo, for the force of their action, and the
  audibleness of their delivery:—perhaps for something more.—Miss
  Stephens, as Oriana’s maid, sang several songs very prettily.


                            THE TOUCH-STONE

  _The Examiner._

                                        (_Drury-Lane_) _May 11, 1817._

  Mr. Kenney’s new Comedy called the Touch-stone, or the World as it
  goes, has been acted here with great success. It possesses much
  liveliness and pleasantry in the incidents, and the dialogue is neat
  and pointed. The interest never flags, and is never wound up to a
  painful pitch. There are several _coups de théatre_, which shew that
  Mr. Kenney is an adept in his art, and has the stage and the actors
  before him while he is writing in his closet. The character of Dinah
  Cropley, which is admirably sustained by Miss Kelly, is the chief
  attraction of the piece. The author has contrived situations for
  this pretty little rustic, which bring out the exquisite _naiveté_
  and simple pathos of the actress in as great a degree as we ever saw
  them. Mr. Kenney, we understand, wrote this Comedy abroad; and there
  is a foreign air of homely contentment and natural gaiety about the
  character of poor Dinah, like the idea we have of Marivaux’s
  _Paysanne parvenue_. She seemed to have fed her chickens and turned
  her spinning-wheel in France, under more genial and better-tempered
  skies. Perhaps, however, this may be a mere prejudice in our minds,
  arising from our having lately seen Miss Kelly in such characters
  taken from French pieces. Her lover, Harley, (Peregrine Paragon), is
  of undoubted home growth. He is a very romantic, generous, amorous
  sort of simpleton, while he is poor; and for want of knowing better,
  thinks himself incorruptible, till temptation falls in his way, and
  then he turns out a very knave: and only saves his credit in the end
  by one of those _last act_ repentances which are more pleasing than
  probable. He is in the first instance a poor country schoolmaster,
  who is engaged to marry Dinah Cropley, the daughter of a
  neighbouring farmer. They cannot, however, obtain the consent of
  their landlord and his sister (Holland and Mrs. Harlowe), the one a
  town coquette, the other a commercial gambler; when just in the nick
  of time, news is brought that Holland is ruined by the failure of an
  extravagant speculation, and that a distant relation has left his
  whole fortune to Harley. The tables are now turned. Harley buys the
  mansion-house, furniture, and gardens, takes possession of them with
  highly amusing airs of upstart vanity and self-importance; is
  flattered by the Squire’s sister, who discards and is discarded by a
  broken fortune-hunting lover of the name of Garnish (Wallack), makes
  proposals of marriage to her, and thinks no more of his old
  favourite Dinah. Garnish in the mean time finding the pliability of
  temper of Peregrine Paragon, Esq., and to make up for his
  disappointment in his own fortune-hunting scheme, sends for his
  sister (Mrs. Alsop) whom he introduces to the said Peregrine
  Paragon. The forward pretensions of the two new candidates for his
  hand, form an amusing contrast with the sanguine hopes and rejected
  addresses of the old possessor of his heart, and some very
  ridiculous scenes take place, with one very affecting one, in which
  Miss Kelly makes a last vain appeal to her lover’s fidelity, and
  (Oxberry) her father watches the result with a mute wonderment and
  disappointed expectation infinitely natural, and well worth any
  body’s seeing. By-and-bye it turns out that the fortune has been
  left not to Harley, but by a subsequent will to Miss Kelly, who is
  also a relation of the deceased, when instantly his two accomplished
  mistresses give over their persecution of him, their two brothers
  set off to make love to the new heiress, who exposes them both to
  the ridicule they deserve, and Harley, without knowing of the change
  of fortune, is moved by a letter he receives from her, to repent
  just in time to prove himself not altogether unworthy of her hand.

  Such is the outline of this Comedy. Dowton acts the part of a
  friendly mediator, and spectator in the scene; and Hughes makes a
  very fit representative of a shuffling, officious, pettifogging
  attorney. The most unpleasant part of the play was the undisguised
  mercenary profligacy of the four characters of Wallack, Holland,
  Mrs. Alsop, and Mrs. Harlowe: and a precious _partie quarrée_ they
  are. The scrapes into which their folly and cunning lead them are,
  however, very amusing, and their unprincipled selfishness is very
  deservedly punished at last.


                             THE LIBERTINE

  _The Examiner._

                                     (_Covent Garden_) _May 25, 1817._

  The Libertine, an after-piece altered from Shadwell’s play of that
  name, and founded on the story of Don Juan, with Mozart’s music, was
  represented here on Tuesday evening. Almost every thing else was
  against it, but the music triumphed. Still it had but half a
  triumph, for the songs were not _encored_; and when an attempt was
  made by some rash over-weening enthusiasts to _encore_ the
  enchanting airs of Mozart, that heavy German composer, ‘that dull
  Beotian genius,’ as he has been called by a lively verbal critic of
  our times, the English, disdaining this insult offered to our native
  talents, _hissed_—in the plenitude of their pampered grossness, and
  ‘ignorant impatience’ of foreign refinement and elegance, they
  hissed! We believe that unconscious patriotism has something to do
  with this as well as sheer stupidity: they think that a real taste
  for the Fine Arts, unless they are of British growth and
  manufacture, is a sign of disaffection to the Government, and that
  there must be ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark,’ if their
  ears, as well as their hearts, are not true English. We have heard
  sailors’ songs by Little Smith, and Yorkshire songs by Emery, and
  the Death of Nelson by Mr. Sinclair, _encored_ again and again at
  Covent-Garden, so as almost ‘to split the ears of the groundlings,’
  yet the other night they would not hear of _encoring_ Miss Stephens,
  either in the Duet with Duruset, _La ci darem_, nor in the song
  appealing for his forgiveness, _Batte, Massetto_; yet at the Opera
  they tolerate Madame Fodor in repeating both these songs, because
  they suppose it to be the etiquette, and would have you believe that
  they do not very warmly insist on the repetition of the last song
  she sings there, out of tenderness to the actress, not to spare
  their own ears, which are soon cloyed with sweetness, and delight in
  nothing but noise and fury.

  We regard Miss Stephens’s Zerlina as a failure, whether we compare
  her with Madame Fodor in the same part, or with herself in other
  parts. She undoubtedly sung her songs with much sweetness and
  simplicity, but her simplicity had something of insipidity in it;
  her tones wanted the fine, rich, _pulpy_ essence of Madame Fodor’s,
  the elastic impulse of health and high animal spirits; nor had her
  manner of giving the different airs that laughing, careless grace
  which gives to Madame Fodor’s singing all the ease and spirit of
  conversation. There was some awkwardness necessarily arising from
  the transposition of the songs, particularly of the duet between
  Zerlina and Don Giovanni, which was given to Massetto, because Mr.
  Charles Kemble is not a singer, and which by this means lost its
  exquisite appropriateness of expression. Of Mr. Duruset’s Massetto
  we shall only say, that it is not so good as Angrisani’s. He would
  however have made a better representative of the statue of Don Pedro
  than Mr. Chapman, who is another gentleman who has not ‘a singing
  face,’ and whom it would therefore have been better to leave out of
  the Opera than the songs; particularly than that fine one, answering
  to _Di rider finira pria della Aurora_, which Mr. Chapman was
  mounted on horseback on purpose, it should seem, _neither to sing
  nor say!_

  Mr. Charles Kemble did not play the Libertine well. Instead of the
  untractable, fiery spirit, the unreclaimable licentiousness of Don
  Giovanni, he was as tame as any saint;

                ‘And of his port as meek as is a maid.’

  He went through the different exploits of wickedness assigned him
  with evident marks of reluctance and contrition; and it seemed the
  height of injustice that so well meaning a young man, forced into
  acts of villainy against his will, should at last be seized upon as
  their lawful prize by fiends come hot from hell with flaming
  torches, and that he should sink into a lake of burning brimstone on
  a splendid car brought to receive him by the devil, in the likeness
  of a great dragon, writhing round and round upon a wheel of fire—an
  exquisite device of the Managers, superadded to the original story,
  and in striking harmony with Mozart’s music! Mr. Liston’s Leporello
  was not quite what we wished it. He played it in a mixed style
  between a burlesque imitation of the Italian Opera, and his own
  _inimitable_ manner. We like him best when he is his own great
  original, and copies only himself—

                ‘None but himself can be his parallel.’

  He did not sing the song of Madamira half so well, nor with half the
  impudence of Naldi. Indeed, all the performers seemed, instead of
  going their lengths on the occasion, to be upon their good
  behaviour, and instead of entering into their parts, to be thinking
  of the comparison between themselves and the performers at the
  Opera. We cannot say it was in their favour.


                               BARBAROSSA

  _The Examiner._

                                        (_Drury-Lane_) _June 1, 1817._

  Mr. Kean had for his benefit on Monday, Barbarossa, and the musical
  after-piece of Paul and Virginia. In the tragedy there was nothing
  for him to do, and it is only when there is nothing for him to do,
  that he does nothing. The scene in which he throws off his disguise
  as a slave, and declares himself to be Achmet, the heir to the
  throne, which Barbarossa has usurped by the murder of his father,
  was the only one of any effect. We are sorry that Mr. Kean repeats
  this character _till further notice_. In Paul we liked him
  exceedingly: but we should have liked him better, if he had
  displayed fewer of the graces and intricacies of the art. The
  tremulous deliberation with which he introduced some of these
  ornamental flourishes, put us a little in mind of the perplexity of
  the lover in the Tatler, who was at a loss in addressing his
  mistress whether he should say,

                 ‘—And when your song you sing,
                 Your song you sing with so much art,’

  Or,

                 ‘—And when your song you sing,
                 You sing your song with so much art.’

  As Mr. Bickerstaff, who was applied to by the poet, declined
  deciding on this nice point, so we shall not decide whether Mr. Kean
  sung well or ill, but leave it to be settled by the connoisseurs and
  the ladies. His voice is clear, full, and sweet to a degree of
  tenderness. Miss Mangeon played Virginia, and in so doing, did not
  spoil one of the most pleasing recollections of our boyish reading
  days, which we have still treasured up ‘in our heart’s core, aye, in
  our best of hearts.’


                      MRS. SIDDONS’S LADY MACBETH

  _The Examiner._

                                     (_Covent Garden_) _June 8, 1817._

  Mrs. Siddons’s appearance in Lady Macbeth at this Theatre on
  Thursday, drew immense crowds to every part of the house. We should
  suppose that more than half the number of persons were compelled to
  return without gaining admittance. We succeeded in gaining a seat in
  one of the back-boxes, and saw this wonderful performance at a
  distance, and consequently at a disadvantage. Though the distance of
  place is a disadvantage to a performance like Mrs. Siddons’s Lady
  Macbeth, we question whether the distance of time at which we have
  formerly seen it is any. It is nearly twenty years since we first
  saw her in this character, and certainly the impression which we
  have still left on our minds from that first exhibition, is stronger
  than the one we received the other evening. The sublimity of Mrs.
  Siddons’s acting is such, that the first impulse which it gives to
  the mind can never wear out, and we doubt whether this original and
  paramount impression is not weakened, rather than strengthened, by
  subsequent repetition. We do not read the tragedy of the Robbers
  twice; if we have seen Mrs. Siddons in Lady Macbeth only once, it is
  enough. The impression is stamped there for ever, and any
  after-experiments and critical enquiries only serve to fritter away
  and tamper with the sacredness of the early recollection. We see
  into the details of the character, its minute excellencies or
  defects, but the great masses, the gigantic proportions, are in some
  degree lost upon us by custom and familiarity. It is the first blow
  that staggers us; by gaining time we recover our self-possession.
  Mrs. Siddons’s Lady Macbeth is little less appalling in its effects
  than the apparition of a preternatural being; but if we were
  accustomed to see a preternatural being constantly, our astonishment
  would by degrees diminish.

  We do not know whether it is owing to the cause here stated, or to a
  falling-off in Mrs. Siddons’s acting, but we certainly thought her
  performance the other night inferior to what it used to be. She
  speaks too slow, and her manner has not that decided, sweeping
  majesty, which used to characterise her as the Muse of Tragedy
  herself. Something of apparent indecision is perhaps attributable to
  the circumstance of her only acting at present on particular
  occasions. An actress who appears only once a-year cannot play so
  well as if she was in the habit of acting once a-week. We therefore
  wish Mrs. Siddons would either return to the stage, or retire from
  it altogether. By her present uncertain wavering between public and
  private life, she may diminish her reputation, while she can add
  nothing to it.


                         MR. MAYWOOD’S SHYLOCK

  _The Times._

                                  (_Drury-Lane_) _September 26, 1817._

  Mr. Maywood, from the Theatre Royal Glasgow, of whom report had
  spoken highly, and we think not undeservedly so, appeared here in
  the part of Shylock. He was received throughout with very great
  applause; nor was there any part of his performance at which the
  slightest disapprobation was expressed. His figure is rather short;
  his face, though not regularly formed, expressive; his voice full,
  and capable of great depth of intonation; his attitudes firm and
  well conceived: the most spirited scene, we thought, was that in
  which Tubal brings him information of Antonio’s losses and impending
  ruin, and of his daughter’s waste of his money. His exclamation,
  ‘Thank God! thank God!’ on hearing of the shipwreck, was as animated
  as any thing we ever heard. In the last scene, the glare of
  malignity with which he eyed Antonio after his defeated revenge
  recoils upon his own head, was truly terrific. Upon the whole, we
  consider this gentleman as an acquisition to the tragic strength of
  the theatre; and are persuaded that what seemed the principal defect
  in his performance, an occasional want of decision of tone, and
  firmness of action, was attributable only to that diffidence which
  is natural to a young actor on his first appearance before a London
  audience, in a part of so much prominence, and which has been so
  ably filled of late.


                        MR. KEMBLE’S RETIREMENT

  _The Times._

                                    (_Covent Garden_) _June 25, 1817._

  Mr. Kemble took his leave of the Stage on Monday night, in the
  character of Coriolanus. On his first coming forward to pronounce
  his Farewell Address, he was received with a shout like thunder: on
  his retiring after it, the applause was long before it subsided
  entirely away. There is something in these partings with old public
  favourites exceedingly affecting. They teach us the shortness of
  human life, and the vanity of human pleasures. Our associations of
  admiration and delight with theatrical performers, are among our
  earliest recollections—among our last regrets. They are links that
  connect the beginning and the end of life together; _their_ bright
  and giddy career of popularity measures the arch that spans our
  brief existence. It is near twenty years ago since we first saw Mr.
  Kemble in the same character—yet how short the interval seems! The
  impression appears as distinct as if it were of yesterday. In fact,
  intellectual objects, in proportion as they are lasting, may be said
  to shorten life. Time has no effect upon them. The petty and the
  personal, that which appeals to our senses and our interests, is by
  degrees forgotten, and fades away into the distant obscurity of the
  past. The grand and the ideal, that which appeals to the
  imagination, can only perish with it, and remains with us,
  unimpaired in its lofty abstraction, from youth to age; as, wherever
  we go, we still see the same heavenly bodies shining over our heads!
  We forget numberless things that have happened to ourselves, one
  generation of follies after another; but not the first time of our
  seeing Mr. Kemble, nor shall we easily forget the last! Coriolanus,
  the character in which he took his leave of the Stage, was one of
  the first in which we remember to have seen him; and it was one in
  which we were not sorry to part with him, for we wished to see him
  appear like himself to the last. Nor was he wanting to himself on
  this occasion: he played the part as well as he ever did—with as
  much freshness and vigour. There was no abatement of spirit and
  energy—none of grace and dignity: his look, his action, his
  expression of the character, were the same as they ever were: they
  could not be finer. It is mere cant, to say that Mr. Kemble has
  quite fallen off of late—that he is not what he was: he may have
  fallen off in the opinion of some jealous admirers, because he is no
  longer in exclusive possession of the Stage: but in himself he has
  not fallen off a jot. Why then do we approve of his retiring?
  Because we do not wish him to wait till it is _necessary_ for him to
  retire. On the last evening, he displayed the same excellences, and
  gave the same prominence to the very same passages, that he used to
  do. We might refer to his manner of doing obeisance to his mother in
  the triumphal procession in the second act, and to the scene with
  Aufidius in the last act, as among the most striking instances. The
  action with which he accompanied the proud taunt to Aufidius—

                  ‘Like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
                  Flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli;
                  Alone I did it——’

  gave double force and beauty to the image. Again, where he waits for
  the coming of Aufidius in his rival’s house, he stood at the foot of
  the statue of Mars, himself another Mars! In the reconciliation
  scene with his mother, which is the finest in the play, he was not
  equally impressive. Perhaps this was not the fault of Mr. Kemble,
  but of the stage itself, which can hardly do justice to such
  thoughts and sentiments as here occur:

                  ‘——My mother bows:
                  As if Olympus to a mole-hill should
                  In supplication nod.’

  Mr. Kemble’s voice seemed to faint and stagger, to be strained and
  cracked, under the weight of this majestic image: but, indeed, we
  know of no tones deep or full enough to bear along the swelling tide
  of sentiment it conveys; nor can we conceive any thing in outward
  form to answer to it, except when Mrs. Siddons played the part of
  Volumnia.

  We may on this occasion be expected to say a few words on the
  general merits of Mr. Kemble as an actor, and on the principal
  characters he performed; in doing which, we shall

                     ‘——Nothing extenuate,
                     Nor set down aught in malice.’

  It has always appeared to us, that the range of characters in which
  Mr. Kemble more particularly shone, and was superior to every other
  actor, were those which consisted in the developement of some one
  solitary sentiment or exclusive passion. From a want of rapidity, of
  scope, and variety, he was often deficient in expressing the bustle
  and complication of different interests; nor did he possess the
  faculty of overpowering the mind by sudden and irresistible bursts
  of passion: but in giving the habitual workings of a predominant
  feeling, as in Penruddock, or The Stranger, in Coriolanus, Cato, and
  some others, where all the passions move round a central point, and
  are governed by one master-key, he stood unrivalled. Penruddock, in
  The Wheel of Fortune, was one of his most correct and interesting
  performances, and one of the most perfect on the modern stage. The
  deeply-rooted, mild, pensive melancholy of the character, its
  embittered recollections, and dignified benevolence, were conveyed
  by Mr. Kemble with equal truth, elegance, and feeling. In The
  Stranger, again, which is in fact the same character, he brooded
  over the recollection of disappointed hope till it became a part of
  himself; it sunk deeper into his mind the longer he dwelt upon it;
  his regrets only became more profound as they became more durable.
  His person was moulded to the character. The weight of sentiment
  which oppressed him was never suspended: the spring at his heart was
  never lightened—it seemed as if his whole life had been a suppressed
  sigh! So in Coriolanus, he exhibited the ruling passion with the
  same unshaken firmness, he preserved the same haughty dignity of
  demeanour, the same energy of will, and unbending sternness of
  temper throughout. He was swayed by a single impulse. His
  tenaciousness of purpose was only irritated by opposition; he turned
  neither to the right nor the left; the vehemence with which he moved
  forward increasing every instant, till it hurried him on to the
  catastrophe. In Leontes, also, in The Winter’s Tale (a character he
  at one time played often), the growing jealousy of the King, and the
  exclusive possession which this passion gradually obtains over his
  mind, were marked by him in the finest manner, particularly where he
  exclaims—

         ‘——Is whispering nothing?
         Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?
         Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career
         Of laughter with a sigh (a note infallible
         Of breaking honesty)? Horsing foot on foot?
         Skulking in corners? Wishing clocks more swift?
         Hours minutes? The noon midnight? and all eyes
         Blind with the pin and web, but their’s; their’s only,
         That would unseen be wicked? Is this nothing?
         Why then the world and that’s in ‘t is nothing,
         The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia’s nothing,
         My wife is nothing, if this be nothing!’

  In the course of this enumeration, every proof told stronger, and
  followed with quicker and harder strokes; his conviction became more
  rivetted at every step of his progress; and at the end, his mind,
  and ‘every corporal agent,’ appeared wound up to a phrenzy of
  despair. In such characters, Mr. Kemble had no occasion to call to
  his aid either the resources of invention, or the tricks of the art:
  his success depended on the increasing intensity with which he dwelt
  on a given feeling, or enforced a passion that resisted all
  interference or control.

  In Hamlet, on the contrary, Mr. Kemble in our judgment unavoidably
  failed from a want of flexibility, of that quick sensibility which
  yields to every motive, and is borne away with every breath of
  fancy, which is distracted in the multiplicity of its reflections,
  and lost in the uncertainty of its resolutions. There is a perpetual
  undulation of feeling in the character of Hamlet; but in Mr.
  Kemble’s acting, ‘there was neither variableness nor shadow of
  turning.’ He played it like a man in armour, with a determined
  inveteracy of purpose, in one undeviating straight line, which is as
  remote from the natural grace and indolent susceptibility of the
  character, as the sharp angles and abrupt starts to produce an
  effect which Mr. Kean throws into it.

  In King John, which was one of Mr. Kemble’s most admired parts, the
  transitions of feeling, though just and powerful, were prepared too
  long beforehand, and were too long in executing to produce their
  full effect. The actor seemed waiting for some complicated machinery
  to enable him to make his next movement, instead of trusting to the
  true impulses of passion. There was no sudden collision of opposite
  elements; the golden flash of genius was not there; ‘the fire i’ th’
  flint was cold,’ for it was not struck. If an image could be
  constructed by magic art to play King John, it would play it in much
  the same manner that Mr. Kemble played it.

  In Macbeth, Mr. Kemble was unequal to ‘the tug and war’ of the
  passions which assail him: he stood as it were at bay with fortune,
  and maintained his ground too steadily against ‘fate and
  metaphysical aid;’ instead of staggering and reeling under the
  appalling visions of the preternatural world, and having his frame
  wrenched from all the holds and resting places of his will, by the
  stronger power of imagination. In the latter scenes, however, he
  displayed great energy and spirit; and there was a fine melancholy
  retrospective tone in his manner of delivering the lines,

      ‘My way of life has fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf,’

  which smote upon the heart, and remained there ever after. His
  Richard III. wanted that tempest and whirlwind of the soul, that
  life and spirit, and dazzling rapidity of motion, which fills the
  stage, and burns in every part of it, when Mr. Kean performs this
  character. To Mr. Kean’s acting in general, we might apply the lines
  of the poet, where he describes

               ‘The fiery soul that, working out its way,
               Fretted the pigmy body to decay,
               And o’er-inform’d the tenement of clay.’

  Mr. Kemble’s manner, on the contrary, had always something dry,
  hard, and pedantic in it. ‘You shall relish him more in the scholar
  than the soldier:’ but his monotony did not fatigue, his formality
  did not displease; because there was always sense and meaning in
  what he did. The fineness of Mr. Kemble’s figure may be supposed to
  have led to that statue-like appearance, which his acting was
  sometimes too apt to assume: as the diminutiveness of Mr. Kean’s
  person has probably compelled him to bustle about too much, and to
  attempt to make up for the want of dignity of form, by the violence
  and contrast of his attitudes. If Mr. Kemble were to remain in the
  same posture for half an hour, his figure would only excite
  admiration: if Mr. Kean were to stand still only for a moment, the
  contrary effect would be apparent. One of the happiest and most
  spirited of all Mr. Kemble’s performances, and in which even his
  defects were blended with his excellences to produce a perfect
  whole, was his Pierre. The dissolute indifference assumed by this
  character, to cover the darkness of his designs, and the fierceness
  of his revenge, accorded admirably with Mr. Kemble’s natural manner;
  and the tone of morbid rancorous raillery, in which Pierre delights
  to indulge, was in unison with the actor’s reluctant, contemptuous
  personifications of gaiety, with the scornful spirit of his Comic
  Muse, which always laboured—_invita Minerva_—against the grain. Cato
  was another of those parts for which Mr. Kemble was peculiarly
  fitted by his physical advantages. There was nothing for him to do
  in this character, but to appear in it. It had all the dignity of
  still-life. It was a studied piece of classical costume—a conscious
  exhibition of elegantly disposed drapery, that was all: yet, as a
  mere display of personal and artificial grace, it was inimitable.

  It has been suggested that Mr. Kemble chiefly excelled in his Roman
  characters, and among others in Brutus. If it be meant, that he
  excelled in those which imply a certain stoicism of feeling and
  energy of will, this we have already granted; but Brutus is not a
  character of this kind, and Mr. Kemble failed in it for that reason.
  Brutus is not a stoic, but a humane enthusiast. There is a
  tenderness of nature under the garb of assumed severity; an inward
  current of generous feelings, which burst out, in spite of
  circumstances, with bleeding freshness; a secret struggle of mind,
  and disagreement between his situation and his intentions; a lofty
  inflexibility of purpose, mingled with an effeminate abstractedness
  of thought, which Mr. Kemble did not give.

  In short, we think the distinguishing excellence of his acting may
  be summed up in one word—_intensity_; in the seizing upon some one
  feeling or idea, in insisting upon it, in never letting it go, and
  in working it up, with a certain graceful consistency, and conscious
  grandeur of conception, to a very high degree of pathos or
  sublimity. If he had not the unexpected bursts of nature and genius,
  he had all the regularity of art; if he did not display the tumult
  and conflict of opposite passions in the soul, he gave the deepest
  and most permanent interest to the uninterrupted progress of
  individual feeling; and in embodying a high idea of certain
  characters, which belong rather to sentiment than passion, to energy
  of will, than to loftiness or to originality of imagination, he was
  the most excellent actor of his time. This praise of him is not
  exaggerated: the blame we have mixed with it is not invidious. We
  have only to add to both, the expression of our grateful
  remembrances and best wishes—Hail, and farewell!


                  End of A VIEW OF THE ENGLISH STAGE.



                  ESSAYS ON THE ACTED DRAMA IN LONDON
                             CONTRIBUTED TO
                       THE LONDON MAGAZINE (1820)


                          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

  These essays, contributed to _The London Magazine_ in 1820, have
  never been republished in their original form. A great part of them
  was included in the so-called ‘second edition’ of _A View of the
  English Stage_ (see the bibliographical note to that work, _ante_,
  p. 170), but the essays were cut up and re-arranged, and many
  passages were left out altogether. In the present edition, all the
  essays are printed _verbatim_ from _The London Magazine_, except
  that a part of Essay No. VI. and the whole of Essay No. X., being
  plainly the work of another hand, have been omitted.



                          ESSAYS ON THE DRAMA

                                  FROM

                       THE LONDON MAGAZINE, 1820


                                 No. I

                                                     [_January, 1820._

  In commencing our account of the drama for the year 1820, and
  turning our eye back, as far as our personal recollection reaches,
  towards the conclusion of the last century, we do not think we
  should be justified, by the customary topics of comparison, or
  privileges of criticism, in making a general complaint of the
  degeneracy of the stage. Within our remembrance, at least, it has
  not fallen off to any alarming degree, either in the written or the
  acted performances. It has changed its style considerably in both
  these respects, but it does not follow that it has altogether
  deteriorated: it has shifted its ground, but has found its level.
  With respect to the pieces brought out, we have got striking
  melo-drames for dull tragedies; and short farces are better than
  long ones of five acts. The _semper varium et mutabile_ of the poet,
  may be transferred to the stage, ‘the inconstant stage,’ without
  losing the original felicity of the application:—it has its
  necessary ebbs and flows, from its subjection to the influence of
  popular feeling, and the frailty of the materials of which it is
  composed, its own fleeting and shadowy essence and cannot be
  expected to remain for any great length of time stationary at the
  same point, either of perfection or debasement. Acting, in
  particular, which is the chief organ by which it addresses itself to
  the mind;—the eye, tongue, hand by which it dazzles, charms, and
  seizes on the public attention—is an art that seems to contain in
  itself the seeds of perpetual renovation and decay, following in
  this respect the order of nature rather than the analogy of the
  productions of human intellect,—for whereas in the other arts of
  painting and poetry, the standard works of genius being permanent
  and accumulating, for awhile provoke emulation, but, in the end,
  overlay future efforts, and transmit only their defects to those
  that come after; the exertions of the greatest actor die with him,
  leaving to his successors only the admiration of his name, and the
  aspiration after imaginary excellence: so that in effect ‘no one
  generation of actors binds another;’ the art is always setting out
  afresh on the stock of genius and nature, and the success depends
  (generally speaking) on accident, opportunity, and encouragement.
  The harvest of excellence (whatever it may be) is removed from the
  ground every twenty or thirty years, by Death’s sickle; and there is
  room left for another to sprout up and tower to an equal height, and
  spread into equal luxuriance—to ‘dally with the wind, and court the
  sun’—according to the health and vigour of the stem, and the
  favourableness of the season. But books, pictures, remain like
  fixtures in the public mind; beyond a certain point incumber the
  soil of living truth and nature; and distort or stunt the growth of
  original genius. Again, the literary amateur may find employment for
  his time in reading old authors only, and exhaust his entire spleen
  in scouting new ones: but the lover of the stage cannot amuse
  himself, in his solitary fastidiousness, by sitting to witness a
  play got up by the departed ghosts of first-rate actors; or be
  contented with the perusal of a collection of old play-bills:—he may
  extol Garrick, but he must go to see Kean; and, in his own defence,
  must admire or at least tolerate what he sees, or stay away against
  his will. The theatrical critic may grumble a little, at first, at a
  new candidate for the favour of the town, and say how much better
  the part must have been done formerly by some actor whom he never
  saw; but by degrees he makes a virtue of necessity, and submits to
  be pleased ‘with coy, reluctant, amorous delay’—devoting his
  attention to the actual stage as he would to a living mistress, whom
  he selects as a matter of course from the beauties of the present,
  and not from those of the last age! We think there is for this
  reason less pedantry and affectation (though not less party-feeling
  and personal prejudice) in judging of the stage than of most other
  subjects; and we feel a sort of theoretical, as well as instinctive
  predilection for the faces of _play-going_ people as among the most
  sociable, gossipping, good-natured, and humane members of society.
  In this point of view, as well as in others, the stage is a test and
  school of humanity. We do not much like any person or persons who do
  not like plays; and for this reason, viz. that we imagine they
  cannot much like themselves or any one else. The really humane man
  (except in cases of unaccountable prejudices, which we do not think
  the most likely means to increase or preserve the natural
  amiableness of his disposition) is prone to the study of humanity.
  _Omnes boni et liberales_ HUMANITATI _semper favemus._ He likes to
  see it brought home from the universality of precepts and general
  terms, to the reality of persons, of tones, and actions; and to have
  it raised from the grossness and familiarity of sense, to the lofty
  but striking platform of the imagination. He likes to see the face
  of man with the veil of time torn from it, and to feel the pulse of
  nature beating in all times and places alike. The smile of
  good-humoured surprise at folly, the tear of pity at misfortune, do
  not misbecome the face of man or woman. It is something delightful
  and instructive, to have seen Coriolanus or King John in the
  habiliments of Mr. Kemble, to have shaken hands almost with Othello
  in the person of Mr. Kean, to have cowered before the spirit of Lady
  Macbeth in the glance of Mrs. Siddons. The stage at once gives a
  body to our thoughts, and refinement and expansion to our sensible
  impressions. It has not the pride and remoteness of abstract
  science: it has not the petty egotism of vulgar life. It is
  particularly wanted in great cities (where it of course flourishes
  most) to take off from the dissatisfaction and _ennui_, that creep
  over our own pursuits from the indifference or contempt thrown upon
  them by others; and at the same time to reconcile our numberless
  discordant incommensurable feelings and interests together, by
  giving us an immediate and common topic to engage our attention, and
  to rally us round the standard of our common humanity. We never hate
  a face that we have seen in the pit: and Liston’s laugh would be a
  cordial to wash down the oldest animosity of the most inveterate
  pit-critics.

  The only drawback on the felicity and triumphant self-complacency of
  a play-goer’s life, arises from the shortness of life itself. We
  miss the favourites, not of another age, but of our own—the idols of
  our youthful enthusiasm; and we cannot replace them by others. It
  does not shew that _these_ are worse, because they are different
  from _those_: though they had been better, they would not have been
  so good to us. It is the penalty of our nature, from Adam downwards:
  so Milton makes our first ancestor exclaim,—

              ——‘Should God create
              Another Eve, and I another rib afford,
              Yet loss of thee would never from my heart.’

  We offer our best affections, our highest aspirations after the good
  and beautiful, on the altar of youth: it is well if, in our
  after-age, we can sometimes rekindle the almost extinguished flame,
  and inhale its dying fragrance like the breath of incense, of
  sweet-smelling flowers and gums, to detain the spirit of life, the
  ethereal guest, a little longer in its frail abode—to cheer and
  soothe it with the pleasures of memory, not with those of hope.
  While we can do this, life is worth living for: when we can do it no
  longer, its spring will soon go down, and we had better not be!—Who
  shall give us Mrs. Siddons again, but in a waking dream, a beatific
  vision of past years, crowned with other hopes and other feelings,
  whose pomp is also faded, and their glory and their power gone! Who
  shall in our time (or can ever to the eye of fancy) fill the stage,
  like her, with the dignity of their persons, and the emanations of
  their minds? Or who shall sit majestic in the throne of tragedy—a
  Goddess, a prophetess and a Muse—from which the lightning of her eye
  flashed o’er the mind, startling its inmost thoughts—and the thunder
  of her voice circled through the labouring breast, rousing deep and
  scarce known feelings from their slumber? Who shall stalk over the
  stage of horrors, its presiding genius, or ‘play the hostess,’ at
  the banquetting scene of murder? Who shall walk in sleepless ecstasy
  of soul, and haunt the mind’s eye ever after, with the dread
  pageantry of suffering and of guilt? Who shall make tragedy once
  more stand with its feet upon the earth, and with its head raised
  above the skies, weeping tears and blood? That loss is not to be
  repaired. While the stage lasts, there will never be another Mrs.
  Siddons! Tragedy seemed to set with her; and the rest are but
  blazing comets or fiery exhalations.—It is pride and happiness
  enough for us to have lived at the same time with her, and one
  person more! But enough on this subject. Those feelings that we are
  most anxious to do justice to, are those to which it is impossible
  we ever should!

  To turn to something less serious. We have not the same pomp of
  tragedy nor the same gentility, variety, and correctness in comedy.
  There was the gay, fluttering, hair-brained Lewis; he that was
  called ‘Gentleman Lewis,’—all life, and fashion, and volubility, and
  whim; the greatest comic _mannerist_ that perhaps ever lived; whose
  head seemed to be in his heels, and his wit at his fingers’ ends:
  who never let the stage stand still, and made your heart light and
  your head giddy with his infinite vivacity, and bustle, and hey-day
  animal spirits. We wonder how Death ever caught him in his mad,
  whirling career, or ever fixed his volatile spirit in a dull _caput
  mortuum_ of dust and ashes? Nobody could break open a door, or jump
  over a table, or scale a ladder, or twirl a cocked hat, or dangle a
  cane, or play a jockey-nobleman, or a nobleman’s jockey, like him.
  He was at Covent Garden. With him was Quick, who made an excellent
  self-important, busy, strutting, money-getting citizen; or crusty
  old guardian, in a brown suit and a bob wig. There was also Munden,
  who was as good an actor then, as he is now; and Fawcett, who was at
  that time a much better one than he is at present. He, of late,
  seems to slur over his parts, wishes to merge the actor in the
  manager, and is grown serious before retiring from the stage. But a
  few years back (when he ran the race of popularity with Jack
  Bannister) nobody could give the _view holla_ of a fox-hunting
  countr