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BONNELL THORNTON, ESQ.
BY ROBERT LLOYD, M. A.
ACTING, dear Thornton, its perfection draws
From no observance of mechanic laws;
No settled maxims of a fav'rite stage,
No rules deliver'd down from age to age,
Let players nicely mark them as they will,
Can e'er entail hereditary skill.
If, 'mongst the humble hearers of the pit,
Some curious vet'ran critic chance to sit,
Is he pleas'd more because 'twas acted so
By Booth and Cibber thirty years ago?
The mind recals an object held more dear,
And hates the copy, that it comes so near:
Why lov'd we Wilks's air, Booth's nervous tone;
In them 'twas natural, 'twas all their own.
A Garrick's genius must our wonder raise,
But gives his mimic no reflected praise.
Thrice happy Genius, whose unrival'd name
Shall live for ever in the voice of Fame!
EPISTLES CRITICAL, &c.
'Tis thine to lead, with more than magic skill,
The train of captive passions at thy will;
To bid the bursting tear spontaneous flow
In the sweet sense of sympathetic woe:
Through ev'ry vein I feel a chillness creep,
When horrors such as thine have murder'd sleep:
And at the old man's look and frantic stare
'Tis Lear alarms me, for I see him there.
Nor yet confin'd to tragic walks alone,
The comic muse too claims thee for her own.
With each delightful requisite to please,
Taste, spirit, judgment, elegance, and ease,
Familiar nature forms thy only rule,
From Ranger's rake to Drugger's vacant fool:
With powers so pliant, and so various blest,
That what we see the last, we like the best.
Not idly pleas'd, at judgment's dear expence,
But burst outrageous with the laugh of sense.
Perfection's top, with weary toil and pain,
'Tis genius only that can hope to gain.
The play'r's profession (tho' I hate the phrase,
'Tis so mechanic in these modern days)
Lies not in trick, or attitude, or start,
Nature's true knowledge is his only art.
The strong-felt passion bolts into the face,
The mind untouch'd, what is it but grimace?
To this one standard make your just appeal,
Here lies the golden secret; learn to FEEL.
Or fool, or monarch, happy, or distrest,
No actor pleases that is not possess'd.
Once on the stage, in Rome's declining days,
When Christians were the subject of their plays,
E'er persecution dropp'd her iron rod,
And men still wag'd an impious war with God,
An actor florish'd of no vulgar fame,
Nature's disciple, and Genest his name.
A noble object for his skill he chose,
A martyr dying 'midst insulting foes;
Resign'd with patience to religion's laws,
Yet braving monarchs in his Saviour's cause.
Fill'd with th' idea of the secret part,
He felt a zeal beyond the reach of art,
While look, and voice, and gesture all exprest
A kindred ardor in the player's breast;
Till as the flame thro' all his bosom ran,
He lost the actor, and commenc'd the man:
Profest the faith, his pagan gods denied,
And what he acted then, he after died.
The player's province they but vainly try, Who want these pow'rs, deportment, voice, and eye.
The critic sight 'tis only grace can please,
No figure charms us if it has not ease.
There are, who think the stature all in all,
Nor like the Hero, if he is not tall.
The feeling sense all other want supplies,
I rate no actor's merit from his size.
Superior height requires superior grace,
And what's a giant with a vacant face?
Theatric monarchs, in their tragic gait, Affect to mark the solemn pace of state; One foot put forward in position strong, The other, like its vassal, dragg'd along : So grave each motion, so exact and slow, Like wooden monarchs at a puppet show. The mien delights us that has native grace, But affectation ill supplies its place.
Unskilful actors, like your mimic apes, Will writhe their bodies in a thousand shapes: However foreign from the poet's art,
No tragic hero but admires a start.
What though unfeeling of the nervous line;
.Who but allows his attitude is fine?
While a whole minute equipois'd he stands, Till praise dismiss him with her echoing hands! Resolv'd, though nature hate the tedious pause, By perseverance to extort applause.
When Romeo sorrowing at his Juliet's doom, With eager madness bursts the canvas tomb, The sudden whirl, stretch'd leg, and lifted staff, Which please the vulgar, make the critic laugh.
To paint the passion's force, and mark it well, The proper action nature's self will tell : No pleasing pow'rs distortions e'er express, And nicer judgment always loaths excess. In sock or buskin, who o'erleaps the bounds, Disgusts our reason, and the taste confounds. Of all the evils which the stage molest, I hate your fool who overacts his jest ; Who murders what the poet finely writ, And, like a bungler, haggles all his wit, With shrug, and grin, and gesture out of place, And writes a foolish comment with his face. Old Johnson once, tho' Cibber's perter vein But meanly groupes him with a num'rous train, With steady face, and sober humʼrous mien, Fill'd the strong outlines of the comic scene. What was writ down, with decent utt❜rance spoke, Betray'd no symptom of the conscious joke ; The very man in look, in voice, in air, And tho' upon the stage, appear'd no play'r.
The word and action should conjointly suit,
But acting words is labor too minute.
Grimace will ever lead the judgment wrong;
While sober humour marks th' impression strong.
Her proper traits the fixt attention hit,
And bring me closer to the poet's wit;
With her delighted o'er each scene I go,
Well-pleas'd, and not asham'd of being so.