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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."
ON The DECLINE OF THEATRICAL TASTE.
TIE following letter appeared in a Dublin newspaper, called The Public Register, or Freeman's Journal, on the 12th of December, 1780. From this it is evident, that many of the same causes which operate now so detrimentally against the theatre, and a similar apathy on the part of the higher classes, existed in full force seventy years ago. The evils complained of are not altogether of modern growth, nor were they exclusively peculiar to the Irish metropolis. It is a recorded fact that Garrick, in the height of his reputation, acted at Drury-lane to a receipt of £3 17s.6d. : and this was the proximate cause of his continental tour. The general state of his health was the alleged reason, but his actual complaint was what is technically called “The Boxbook fever!” Truly, theatres are very paradoxical institutions. Where one succeeds, five at least are unproductive; yet the world can scarcely dispense with them. They continue to exist, increase, and multiply, and will continue to do so, while civilisation extends, and the human mind is constituted as it is at present. Still, there is an unceasing outcry, that the taste for the drama has declined, that its temples are deserted, and that the “good old days” of this, as of almost everything else, have gone by, and will return no more. Nevertheless, speculation in this line is more active than ever, regardless of admonitory failure. No sooner does one manager subside into nothingness, than another and another supplies his place, interminable as the line of Banquo, and each, like the heads of the hydra, growing out of the destruction of his predecessor. There are curious and complicated causes involved in all this, which the keenest ingenuity would be puzzled to unravel. A whole library of controversy, and very uncivil controversy too, has been written to prove the good and the evil, the social advantage and the moral enormity of the art dramatic, with its accessories.
Many are of opinion that the case is not yet determined, but vibrates, as a pendulum, between the conflicting arguments. It is almost as perplexing as the problem of Sir John £ silk stockings. A sort of interminable suit in chancery, which, in common with most matters resting more on opinion than on fact, will probably remain for ever sub judice, to be decided on either hand as men are swayed by their reason, their passions, or their prejudices. The most searching inquiry ' the question a sort of “Historic Doubt,” to be classed with the virtues of Richard the Third, the innocence of Queen Mary of Scotland, the identity of Perkin Warbeck, the Man in the Iron Mask, or the author of Junius.
Much of what is contained in this letter applies as directly in 1850, as it did when written, in the days of our grandfathers, in 1780. The coincidence will strike even the most inattentive reader:—
“To the Committee for conducting the Free Press.
“GENTLEMEN,—In the most flourishing days of Greece and Rome, dramatic entertainments were encouraged, and duly attended to, not only by the young and gay, but by the sages, philosophers, and legislators of antiquity. The stage was the friend to liberty and virtue.
“Is there not, then, a presumption, that when this school of manners shall be deserted, taste and true elegance will quickly decline—or a relish for inferior amusements and pleasures take place 2
“Though in polished countries, particularly, the drama is countenanced by the support and presence of the great, yet, of late years in Ireland, it hath almost become unfashionable to attend theatrical exhibitions. Hence the taste of persons in high life hath been called in question as well as the innocence of their amusements. Nor let it be said, that this indifference to the most pleasing and instructive of all our amusements has been occasioned by the want of good performers, or a well-regulated stage; because, within these few years, we have had the best actors that could be procured, and at most exorbitant prices, their book of rates (like Sir John Falstaff himself) being out of all compass! “What was the consequence? Mrs. Abingdon swallowed up almost the whole profits, and before she had performed six nights, the receipts lessened apace. Mr. Henderson, with two or three theatrical aides-de-camp, played to £30 houses; and last season, Mrs. Barry's second or third night (if I am rightly informed) produced but about £17. In such circumstances, what more could any manager have done? He had risked his all, and nearly ruined himself. This, not to name his own merit, gave him the strongest title-deeds to the public support. Is he not, also, as an actor, admirable in both the sock and buskin 7 And with truth it may be said, he in some sort is a company in himself. “The writer of this would not be considered as a party man; nor will he in the smallest degree be benefited by either the success or the ruin of the stage. Yet he cannot but on this occasion pay the tribute of praise to Mrs. Daly's excellence; nor does he thus detract from Mrs. Cornely's uncommon merit. The industry and promising powers of Mr. Daly likewise claim regard; and not to say that his company is respectable, were want of candour and justice. “But waving all such considerations, I wish success to both; and sincerely hope that rivalship may promote what single efforts could not. “Should we now inquire into the causes of the drama having been so shamefully neglected, perhaps the following are some of the principal, viz.:-‘The advance of luxury, and frequency of splendid domestic feasts. Nor are dances, drums, routs, cardparties, and particularly gaming assemblies, to be forgotten. To the attendants at such places, probably, dramatic exhibitions are too sober and sentimental. In what is called a parliament winter, political affairs and discussions, with late sittings, take up time and attention, to the great hurt of the theatre. So many dancing schools, likewise, having been opened in the evening, besides private balls, and the bottle, draw off numbers. “To restore, therefore, the stage to its former dignity and usefulness, a regular plan of operation will be necessary; the most vigorous exertions will be requisite. His Excellency has set a most laudable example, and is entitled to much praise for the countenance he has uniformly given to the
" Hazlitt on the Stage, p. 182, Ed. 1818.
drama. It is hoped that in the present decline of the stage, a generous Irish public will prevent its annihilation. It is said, his Grace the Duke of Leinster, and the Dublin Volunteers, are to bespeak a play, and appear at the theatre in their uniforms. Did other corps follow the salutary example, it would prove the happy means of diffusing life and spirit through dramatic exhibitions, as well as of assisting manufactures and the national spirit. “In a little plan of this sort such plays might be ordered as would promote the glorious cause of freedom and love to our country. Besides this, did our mobility and gentry, or ladies of distinction and high rank, bespeak such plays as should be agreeable, and in rotation exert their interest, it could not but be attended with the best effects. It would evince their good sense, and regard to Irish prosperity; for should our amusements become mean, or cease to exist, it might send persons of taste and fashion to reside in other countries. Surely the lovers of literature, the patrons of genius, and of merit, should at present unite to make one generous, effectual effort in such a cause—a cause, greatly important, and of more consequence than is generally imagined. “I wish to see a beginning made in this matter by different individuals. There should be a leading in the affair, and select meetings appointed. Our fair ones will unquestionably assist our gallant corps in what may with truth be termed a national business. They never look to more advantage than at the theatre, when shining in brilliant circles. Sense and refinement will lead to what is here recommended. “As I mean not to resume the subject, I leave the following little story with my readers:—When Charles Borromeo took possession of the Archbishoprick of Milan, he, out of zeal for religion, shut the theatre, and expelled the players. But he soon had reason to repent his rashness, for he found that the people, being deprived of proper amusements, ran quickly into every excess; they committed horrid crimes to pass away time that lay heavy on their hands. What followed ? Why, he recalled the players, established the stage, and had it adequately supported. “The application is obvious: should dramatic entertainments cease, we should soon wish for their re-establishment. “GARRick.”
Of all the passions to which the human mind can surrender itself, there is none
more absorbing than the mania of
book-collecting. Let, those speak honestly who have indulged in it. . It is a species of bulimia—an insatiable appetite, which “grows by what it feeds on.” I have purchased my experience of this matter rather dearly, having at one period occupied much time, and laid out more money than I like to think of, in forming a select and curious library. My books formed my chief solace and amusement during many years of an active and unprofitable professional life. The pressure of pe£ difficulties forced me to part with them, and taught me practically, though not pleasantly, the vast distinction between buying and selling. It was something to see placarded in imposing type, “Catalogue of the valuable and select library of a gentleman, containing many rare and curious editions.” But alas! the sum produced was scarcely a-third of the intrinsic value, and less than half of the original cost. There have been instances— but they are “few and far between”where libraries have been sold at a premium. Take for an example the collection of Doctor Farmer, of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, singularly rich in Shaksperian authorities and black-letter lore, which produced above £2,200, and was supposed to have cost the owner not more than £500. Many were presents. When you get the character of a collector, a stray gift often drops in, and scarce volumes find their way to your shelves, which the quondam owners, uninitiated in bibliomania, know not the worth of I once purchased an excellent copy of the quarto “Hamlet,” of 1611, of an unsuspecting bibliopolist, for ten shillings; my conscience smote me, but the temptation was irresistible." The best copy in existence of the Caxtonian edition of Gower's “De Confessione Amantis,” fol. 1483, one of the rarest amongst printed books, when found perfect, was purchased by a Dublin bookseller, at Cork, with a lot of old rubbish (in 1832), for a mere trifle), and was sold afterwards for more than £300. It is now in the celebrated Spencer Library at Althorp. For some time after the sale of my library I was very miserable. I had parted with old companions, everyday associates, long-tried friends, who never quarrelled with me and never ruffled my temper. But I knew the
* The signature of “Garrick” here is, of course, a mere fictitious sobriquet.
sacrifice was inevitable, and I became reconciled to what I could not avoid. I thought of Roscoe, and what he must have suffered in the winter of life, when a similar calamity fell on him, and he was forced by worldly pressure to sell a library ten times more valuable. I recollected, too, the affecting lines he penned on the occasion:
“To MY Books. (By W. Roscoe, on parting from his Library.)
“As one, who, destined from his friends to part,
What time does book-collecting occupy I what anxiety it excites! what money it requires! The great use of books is to read them; the mere possession is a fantasy. Your genuine book-collector seldom reads anything but catalogues, after the mania has fully possessed him, or such bibliographical works as facilitate his purchases. If you are too poor to buy, and want to read, there are public libraries abundantly accessible. There is a circulating library in every village, and there are plenty of private collections undisturbed by their owners. Subscribe or borrow; don't steal –a common practice enough, notwithstanding, and not without authority.f. If your friends are churlish and won't lend, and your pockets are empty, and you can't even subscribe, still you can think—you must try to remember what you have read, and live on your recollections of past enjoyment, as the wife of Bath did in old Chaucer's tale. You'll save your eyes, too; and when you get beyond forty-five that point is worth attending to. After all, what do we collect for? At most, a few years' possession of what we can very well do without. When Sir Walter Raleigh was on his way to execution, he called for a cup of ale, and observed, “That is good drink, if a man could only stay by it." So are rare and curious libraries good
* This small and dingy volume, originally published at sixpence, has sold for £12! * “This borrow, steal—don't buy."—Wide Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,
things, if we could stay by them; but we can’t. When the time comes, we must go, and then our books, and pictures, and prints, and furniture, and china go, too; and are knocked down by the smirking, callous auctioneer, with as little remorse as a butcher knocks a bullock on the head, or a poulterer wrings round the neck of a pullet, or a surgeon, slips your arm out of the socket, chuckling at his own skill, whilst you are writhing in unspeakable agony. Don't collect books, and don't envy the possessors of costly libraries. Read and recollect. Of course you have a Bible and Prayer-book. Add to these the Pilgrim's Progress, Shakspeare, Milton, Pope, Byron (if you £ * * History of England, Greece, and Rome, Boswell's Life of Johnson, and Napier's Peninsular War. A moderate sum will give you these; and you possess a Cabinet Encyclopedia of religious, moral, and entertaining knowledge, containing more than you want for practical purposes, and quite as much as your brains can easily carry. Never mind the old classics; leave them to college libraries, where they look respectable, and enjoy long slumbers. The monthly periodicals
will place you much more au courant with the conversation and acquirements of the day. Add, if you can, a ledger, with a good sound balance on the right side, and you will be a happier, and perhaps a better read man, than though you were uncontrolled master of the Bodleian, the National Library of France, and the innumerable tomes of the Vatican into the bargain.
Don't collect books, I tell you again emphatically. See what in my case it led to—“one modern instance more.” Collect wisdom; collect experience; above all, collect money—not as our friend Horace recommends, “quocunque modo,” but by honest industry alone. And when you have done this, remember it was my advice, and be grateful.
What I say here applies to private collecting only. Far be it from me to discourage great public libraries, which, under proper arrangements, are great public benefits; useful to society, and invaluable to literature. But as they are regulated at present, fenced round with so many restrictions, and accessible chiefly to privileged dignitaries, or well-paid officials, who seldom trouble them, they are little better than close boroughs, with a very narrow constituency.
IRELAND's SHAKSPEARE FORGERIES.
IN the whole history of literary forgery, there is nothing more remarkable, and at the same time more amusing, than this attempt of W. H. Ireland. How he must have chuckled and laughed, while he wondered at the credulity of his learned victims! Even the solemn Parr fell into the snare, though he afterwards recanted savagely, and called it a sacrilegious imposition, when the tide turned and the imposture became palpable. It is astonishing how many literary men of “note about town” were taken in on this occasion, including Dr. Warton, and others of similar calibre. One learned pundit actually fell on his knees, in devout adoration, kissed the precious relics, and “thanked Heaven he had lived to see that day.” When the tragedy of Vortigern was accepted by Sheridan, and put in rehearsal, Mrs. Siddons had misgivings, and “backed out” of the heroine, which was sustained by Mrs. Powell. John Kemble, who played the hero, had a laboured speech about death, which was expect
Kemble, who saw how matters were going, and was heartily tired of the task which his managerial position had imposed on him, gave this line with an unmistakeable emphasis and expression, which settled the business. There was an end of Vortigern; though, with all its sins, worse imitations of Shakspeare have passed current. It has long been the fashion to cry down Ireland as a common swindler and impostor. It is clear that at first he had nothing in view beyond a trick on his father; a very unjustifiable one, no doubt. Still a son taking a liberty with the weakness of his father, is very different from a knave speculating to make money on the £ of the world; but which the offender in this case had no idea of, until the world itself fed and expanded his notions, by its eager and wide-mouthed gullibility. ** &n' :–“I should never have gone so far, but that the world praised the papers so much, and thereby flattered my vanity." The mischief was twofold. The son was not only discarded by his father, but the elder Ireland was accused unjustly of aiding and abetting in the fraud; whereas he was clearly victimised, though he never could get rid of
Hear what he says himself in his .
the ruinous imputation. As far as regarded the public, they deserved to be
oaxed, and the wise heads who helped to dig the pit they fell into, and were afterwards ashamed of their own folly, would have shown more sense as well as more charity, if they had forgiven the deception for its bold ingenuity, and laughed at, instead of persecuting, the lad of nineteen, who had so successfully played off a clever trick on them.
oF ACTOR'S IN GENERAL, AND THEIR SALARIES IN PARTICULAR.
IN all ages successful actors have been an uncommonly well paid community. This is a substantial fact which no one will deny, however opinions may differ as to the comparative value of the histrionic art, when ranked with poetry, painting, and sculpture. The actor complains of the peculiar condition attached to his most brilliant triumphs—that they fade with the decay of his own physical powers, and are only perpetuated for a doubtful interval through the medium of imperfect ''' often a bad copy of an original which no longer exists to disprove the libel. In the actor's case, then, something must certainly be deducted from posthumous renown; but this is amply balanced by living estimation and a realised fortune. There are many instances of great painters, £ and sculptors (aye, and philosophers, too), who could scarcely gain a livelihood; but we should be puzzled to name a
eat actor without an enormous sa
ry. I don't include managers in this category. They are unlucky, exceptions, , and very frequently lose in sovereignty what they had gained by service. An income of three or four thousand per annum, argent comptant, carries along with it many solid enjoyments. The actor who can command this, by labouring in his vocation, and whose ears are continually tingling with the nightly applause of his admirers, has no reason to consider his lot a hard one, because posterity may assign to him in the Temple of Fame a less prominent niche than is occupied by Milton, who, when alive, sold “Paradise Lost" for fifteen pounds, or by Rembrandt, who was obliged to feign his own death, beforehis pictures would provide him a dinner. If these instances fail to content him, he should
recollect what is recorded of “Blind Moeonides"—
“Scven Grecian cities claim'd great Homer dead, Through which the living Homer begg'd his bread.”
No doubt it is a grand affair to figure in the page of history, and be recorded amongst the “shining lights” of our generation. But there is # practical philosophy in the homely proverb which says—“solid pudding is better than empty praise:” the reputation which wins its current value during life is more useful to the possessor than the honour which comes after death; and which comes, as David says, in the Rivals, “exactly where we can make a shift to do without it.” To have our merits appreciated two or three centuries hence, by generations yet unborn, and to have our works, whether with the pen or pencil, admired long after what was once our mortal substance is “stopping a beer-barrel,” are very pleasing, poetical hallucinations for
who like to indulge in them; but the chances are we shall know nothing of the matter, while it is quite certain that if we do, we shall set no value on it. Posterity, then, will be the chief gainers, and of all concerned the only party to whom we owe no obligations. The posterity, too, which emanates from the nineteenth century is much more likely to partake of the commercial than the romantic character, and to hold in higher reverence the memory of an ancestor who has left behind him 4:30,000 in bank stock or consols, than of one who has only bequeathed a marble monument in “Westminster's Old Abbey,” a flourishing memoir in the “Lives of Illustrious Englishmen,” or an epic poem in twenty-four cantos. I would not have it supposed that I depreciate the love of posthumous fame,