By Charles Reade
To T. Taylor, Esq., my friend, and coadjutor in the comedy of "Masks and Faces," to whom the reader owes much of the best matter in this tale: and to the memory of Margaret Woffington, falsely summed up until to-day, this "Dramatic Story" is inscribed by CHARLES READE.—
LONDON. Dec. 15, 1852.
ABOUT the middle of the last century, at eight o'clock in the evening, in a large but poor apartment, a man was slumbering on a rough couch. His rusty and worn suit of black was of a piece with his uncarpeted room, the deal table of home manufacture, and its slim unsnuffed candle.
The man was Triplet, scene painter, actor and writer of sanguinary plays, in which what ought to be, viz., truth, plot, situation and dialogue, were not; and what ought not to be, were—scilicet, small talk, big talk, fops, ruffians, and ghosts.
His three mediocrities fell so short of one talent that he was sometimes impransus.
He slumbered, but uneasily; the dramatic author was uppermost, and his "Demon of the Hayloft" hung upon the thread of popular favor.
On his uneasy slumber entered from the theater Mrs. Triplet.
She was a lady who in one respect fell behind her husband; she lacked his variety in ill-doing, but she recovered herself by doing her one thing a shade worse than he did any of his three. She was what is called in grim sport an actress; she had just cast her mite of discredit on royalty by playing the Queen, and had trundled home the moment the breath was out of her royal body. She came in rotatory with fatigue, and fell, gristle, into a chair; she wrenched from her brow a diadem and eyed it with contempt, took from her pocket a sausage, and contemplated it with respect and affection, placed it in a frying-pan on the fire, and entered her bedroom, meaning to don a loose wrapper, and dethrone herself into comfort.
But the poor woman was shot walking by Morpheus, and subsided altogether; for dramatic performances, amusing and exciting to youth seated in the pit, convey a certain weariness to those bright beings who sparkle on the stage for bread and cheese.
Royalty, disposed of, still left its trail of events. The sausage began to "spit." The sound was hardly out of its body, when poor Triplet writhed like a worm on a hook. "Spitter, spittest," went the sausage. Triplet groaned, and at last his inarticulate murmurs became words: "That's right, pit now, that is so reasonable to condemn a poor fellow's play before you have heard it out." Then, with a change of tone, "Tom," muttered he, "they are losing their respect for specters; if they do, hunger will make a ghost of me." Next he fancied the clown or somebody had got into his ghost's costume.
"Dear," said the poor dreamer, "the clown makes a very pretty specter, with his ghastly white face, and his blood-boltered cheeks and nose. I never saw the fun of a clown before, no! no! no! it is not the clown, it is worse, much worse; oh, dear, ugh!" and Triplet rolled off the couch like Richard the Third. He sat a moment on the floor, with a finger in each eye; and then, finding he was neither daubing, ranting, nor deluging earth with "acts," he accused himself of indolence, and sat down to write a small tale of blood and bombast; he took his seat at the deal table with some alacrity, for he had recently made a discovery.
How to write well, rien que cela.
"First, think in as homely a way as you can; next, shove your pen under the thought, and lift it by polysyllables to the true level of fiction," (when done, find a publisher—if you can). "This," said Triplet, "insures common sense to your ideas, which does pretty well for a basis," said Triplet, apologetically, "and elegance to the dress they wear." Triplet, then casting his eyes round in search of such actual circumstances as could be incorporated on this plan with fiction, began to work thus:
TRIPLET'S FACTS. TRIPLET'S FICTION.
A farthing dip is on the table. A solitary candle cast its pale gleams around.
It wants snuffing. Its elongated wick betrayed an owner steeped in oblivion.
He jumped up, and snuffed it. He rose languidly, and trimmed it with his fingers. Burned his with an instrument that he had by his fingers, and swore a little. side for that purpose, and muttered a silent ejaculation
Before, however, the mole Triplet could undermine literature and level it with the dust, various interruptions and divisions broke in upon his design, and sic nos servavit Apollo. As he wrote the last sentence, a loud rap came to his door. A servant in livery brought him a note from Mr. Vane, dated Covent Garden. Triplet's eyes sparkled, he bustled, wormed himself into a less rusty coat, and started off to the Theater Royal, Covent Garden.
In those days, the artists of the pen and the brush ferreted patrons, instead of aiming to be indispensable to the public, the only patron worth a single gesture of the quill.
Mr. Vane had conversed with Triplet, that is, let Triplet talk to him in a coffee-house, and Triplet, the most sanguine of unfortunate men, had already built a series of expectations upon that interview, when this note arrived. Leaving him on his road from Lambeth to Covent Garden, we must introduce more important personages.
Mr. Vane was a wealthy gentleman from Shropshire, whom business had called to London four months ago, and now pleasure detained. Business still occupied the letters he sent now and then to his native county; but it had ceased to occupy the writer. He was a man of learning and taste, as times went; and his love of the Arts had taken him some time before our tale to the theaters, then the resort of all who pretended to taste; and it was thus he had become fascinated by Mrs. Woffington, a lady of great beauty, and a comedian high in favor with the town.
The first night he saw her was an epoch in the history of this gentleman's mind. He had learning and refinement, and he had not great practical experience, and such men are most open to impression from the stage. He saw a being, all grace and bright nature, move like a goddess among the stiff puppets of the scene; her glee and her pathos were equally catching, she held a golden key at which all the doors of the heart flew open. Her face, too, was as full of goodness as intelligence—it was like no other farce; the heart bounded to meet it.
He rented a box at her theater. He was there every night before the curtain drew up; and I'm sorry to say, he at last took half a dislike to Sunday—Sunday "which knits up the raveled sleave of care," Sunday "tired nature's sweet restorer," because on Sunday there was no Peg Woffington. At first he regarded her as a being of another sphere, an incarnation of poetry and art; but by degrees his secret aspirations became bolder. She was a woman; there were men who knew her; some of them inferior to him in position, and, he flattered himself, in mind. He had even heard a tale against her character. To him her face was its confutation, and he knew how loose-tongued is calumny; but still—!
At last, one day he sent her a letter, unsigned. This letter expressed his admiration of her talent in warm but respectful terms; the writer told her it had become necessary to his heart to return her in some way his thanks for the land of enchantment to which she had introduced him. Soon after this, choice flowers found their way to her dressing-room every night, and now and then verses and precious stones mingled with her roses and eglantine. And oh, how he watched the great actress's eye all the night; how he tried to discover whether she looked oftener toward his box than the corresponding box on the other side of the house. Did she notice him, or did she not? What a point gained, if she was conscious of his nightly attendance. She would feel he was a friend, not a mere auditor. He was jealous of the pit, on whom Mrs. Woffington lavished her smiles without measure.
At last, one day he sent her a wreath of flowers, and implored her, if any word he had said to her had pleased or interested her, to wear this wreath that night. After he had done this he trembled; he had courted a decision, when, perhaps, his safety lay in patience and time. She made her entree; he turned cold as she glided into sight from the prompter's side; he raised his eyes slowly and fearfully from her feet to her head; her head was bare, wreathed only by its own rich glossy honors. "Fool!" thought he, "to think she would hang frivolities upon that glorious head for me." Yet his disappointment told him he had really hoped it; he would not have sat out the play but for a leaden incapacity of motion that seized him.
The curtain drew up for the fifth act, and!—could he believe his eyes?—Mrs. Woffington stood upon the stage with his wreath upon her graceful head. She took away his breath. She spoke the epilogue, and, as the curtain fell, she lifted her eyes, he thought, to his box, and made him a distinct, queen-like courtesy; his heart fluttered to his mouth, and he walked home on wings and tiptoe. In short—
Mrs. Woffington, as an actress, justified a portion of this enthusiasm; she was one of the truest artists of her day; a fine lady in her hands was a lady, with the genteel affectation of a gentlewoman, not a harlot's affectation, which is simply and without exaggeration what the stage commonly gives us for a fine lady; an old woman in her hands was a thorough woman, thoroughly old, not a cackling young person of epicene gender. She played Sir Harry Wildair like a man, which is how he ought to be played (or, which is better still, not at all), so that Garrick acknowledged her as a male rival, and abandoned the part he no longer monopolized.
Now it very, very rarely happens that a woman of her age is high enough in art and knowledge to do these things. In players, vanity cripples art at every step. The young actress who is not a Woffington aims to display herself by means of her part, which is vanity; not to raise her part by sinking herself in it, which is art. It has been my misfortune to see ——, and——, and ——, et ceteras, play the man; Nature, forgive them, if you can, for art never will; they never reached any idea more manly than a steady resolve to exhibit the points of a woman with greater ferocity than they could in a gown. But consider, ladies, a man is not the meanest of the brute creation, so how can he be an unwomanly female? This sort of actress aims not to give her author's creation to the public, but to trot out the person instead of the creation, and shows sots what a calf it has—and is.
Vanity, vanity! all is vanity! Mesdames les Charlatanes.
Margaret Woffington was of another mold; she played the ladies of high comedy with grace, distinction, and delicacy. But in Sir Harry Wildair she parted with a woman's mincing foot and tongue, and played the man in a style large, spirited and elance. As Mrs. Day (committee) she painted wrinkles on her lovely face so honestly that she was taken for threescore, and she carried out the design with voice and person, and did a vulgar old woman to the life. She disfigured her own beauties to show the beauty of her art; in a word, she was an artist! It does not follow she was the greatest artist that ever breathed; far from it. Mr. Vane was carried to this notion by passion and ignorance.
On the evening of our tale he was at his post patiently sitting out one of those sanguinary discourses our rude forefathers thought were tragic plays. Sedet aeternumque Sedebit Infelix Theseus, because Mrs. Woffington is to speak the epilogue.
These epilogues were curiosities of the human mind; they whom, just to ourselves and them, we call our forbears, had an idea their blood and bombast were not ridiculous enough in themselves, so when the curtain had fallen on the debris of the dramatis personae, and of common sense, they sent on an actress to turn all the sentiment so laboriously acquired into a jest.
To insist that nothing good or beautiful shall be carried safe from a play out into the street was the bigotry of English horseplay. Was a Lucretia the heroine of the tragedy, she was careful in the epilogue to speak like Messalina. Did a king's mistress come to hunger and repentance, she disinfected all the petites maitresses in the house of the moral, by assuring them that sin is a joke, repentance a greater, and that she individually was ready for either if they would but cry, laugh and pay. Then the audience used to laugh, and if they did not, lo! the manager, actor and author of heroic tragedy were exceeding sorrowful.
While sitting attendance on the epilogue Mr. Vane had nothing to distract him from the congregation but a sanguinary sermon in five heads, so his eyes roved over the pews, and presently he became aware of a familiar face watching him closely. The gentleman to whom it belonged finding himself recognized left his seat, and a minute later Sir Charles Pomander entered Mr. Vane's box.
This Sir Charles Pomander was a gentleman of vice; pleasure he called it. Mr. Vane had made his acquaintance two years ago in Shropshire. Sir Charles, who husbanded everything except his soul, had turned himself out to grass for a month. His object was, by roast mutton, bread with some little flour in it, air, water, temperance, chastity and peace, to be enabled to take a deeper plunge into impurities of food and morals.
A few nights ago, unseen by Mr. Vane, he had observed him in the theater; an ordinary man would have gone at once and shaken hands with him, but this was not an ordinary man, this was a diplomatist. First of all, he said to himself: "What is this man doing here?" Then he soon discovered this man must be in love with some actress; then it became his business to know who she was; this, too, soon betrayed itself. Then it became more than ever Sir Charles's business to know whether Mrs. Woffington returned the sentiment; and here his penetration was at fault, for the moment; he determined, however, to discover.
Mr. Vane then received his friend, all unsuspicious how that friend had been skinning him with his eyes for some time past. After the usual compliments had passed between two gentlemen who had been hand and glove for a month and forgotten each other's existence for two years, Sir Charles, still keeping in view his design, said:
"Let us go upon the stage." The fourth act had just concluded.
"Go upon the stage!" said Mr. Vane; "what, where she—I mean among the actors?"
"Yes; come into the green-room. There are one or two people of reputation there; I will introduce you to them, if you please."
"Go upon the stage!" why, if it had been proposed to him to go to heaven he would not have been more astonished. He was too astonished at first to realize the full beauty of the arrangement, by means of which he might be within a yard of Mrs. Woffington, might feel her dress rustle past him, might speak to her, might drink her voice fresh from her lips almost before it mingled with meaner air. Silence gives consent, and Mr. Vane, though he thought a great deal, said nothing; so Pomander rose, and they left the boxes together. He led the way to the stage door, which was opened obsequiously to him; they then passed through a dismal passage, and suddenly emerged upon that scene of enchantment, the stage—a dirty platform encumbered on all sides with piles of scenery in flats. They threaded their way through rusty velvet actors and fustian carpenters, and entered the green-room. At the door of this magic chamber Vane trembled and half wished he could retire. They entered; his apprehension gave way to disappointment, she was not there. Collecting himself, he was presently introduced to a smart, jaunty, and, to do him justice, distingue old beau. This was Colley Cibber, Esq., poet laureate, and retired actor and dramatist, a gentleman who is entitled to a word or two.
This Cibber was the only actor since Shakespeare's time who had both acted and written well. Pope's personal resentment misleads the reader of English poetry as to Cibber's real place among the wits of the day.
The man's talent was dramatic, not didactic, or epic, or pastoral. Pope was not so deep in the drama as in other matters, and Cibber was one of its luminaries; he wrote some of the best comedies of his day. He also succeeded where Dryden, for lack of true dramatic taste, failed. He tampered successfully with Shakespeare. Colley Cibber's version of "Richard the Third" is impudent and slightly larcenic, but it is marvelously effective. It has stood a century, and probably will stand forever; and the most admired passages in what literary humbugs who pretend they know Shakespeare by the closet, not the stage, accept as Shakespeare's "Richard," are Cibber's.
Mr. Cibber was now in private life, a mild edition of his own Lord Foppington; he had none of the snob-fop as represented on our conventional stage; nobody ever had, and lived. He was in tolerably good taste; but he went ever gold-laced, highly powdered, scented, and diamonded, dispensing graceful bows, praises of whoever had the good luck to be dead, and satire of all who were here to enjoy it.
Mr. Vane, to whom the drama had now become the golden branch of letters, looked with some awe on this veteran, for he had seen many Woffingtons. He fell soon upon the subject nearest his heart. He asked Mr. Cibber what he thought of Mrs. Woffington. The old gentleman thought well of the young lady's talent, especially her comedy; in tragedy, said he, she imitates Mademoiselle Dumenil, of the Theatre Francais, and confounds the stage rhetorician with the actress. The next question was not so fortunate. "Did you ever see so great and true an actress upon the whole?"
Mr. Cibber opened his eyes, a slight flush came into his wash-leather face, and he replied: "I have not only seen many equal, many superior to her, but I have seen some half dozen who would have eaten her up and spit her out again, and not known they had done anything out of the way."
Here Pomander soothed the veteran's dudgeon by explaining in dulcet tones that his friend was not long from Shropshire, and—The critic interrupted him, and bade him not dilute the excuse.
Now Mr. Vane had as much to say as either of them, but he had not the habit, which dramatic folks have, of carrying his whole bank in his cheek-pocket, so they quenched him for two minutes.
But lovers are not silenced, he soon returned to the attack; he dwelt on the grace, the ease, the freshness, the intelligence, the universal beauty of Mrs. Woffington. Pomander sneered, to draw him out. Cibber smiled, with good-natured superiority. This nettled the young gentleman, he fired up, his handsome countenance glowed, he turned Demosthenes for her he loved. One advantage he had over both Cibber and Pomander, a fair stock of classical learning; on this he now drew.
"Other actors and actresses," said he, "are monotonous in voice, monotonous in action, but Mrs. Woffington's delivery has the compass and variety of nature, and her movements are free from the stale uniformity that distinguishes artifice from art. The others seem to me to have but two dreams of grace, a sort of crawling on stilts is their motion, and an angular stiffness their repose." He then cited the most famous statues of antiquity, and quoted situations in plays where, by her fine dramatic instinct, Mrs. Woffington, he said, threw her person into postures similar to these, and of equal beauty; not that she strikes attitudes like the rest, but she melts from one beautiful statue into another; and, if sculptors could gather from her immortal graces, painters, too, might take from her face the beauties that belong of right to passion and thought, and orators might revive their withered art, and learn from those golden lips the music of old Athens, that quelled tempestuous mobs, and princes drunk with victory.
Much as this was, he was going to say more, ever so much more, but he became conscious of a singular sort of grin upon every face; this grin made him turn rapidly round to look for its cause. It explained itself at once; at his very elbow was a lady, whom his heart recognized, though her back was turned to him. She was dressed in a rich silk gown, pearl white, with flowers and sprigs embroidered; her beautiful white neck and arms were bare. She was sweeping up the room with the epilogue in her hand, learning it off by heart; at the other end of the room she turned, and now she shone full upon him.
It certainly was a dazzling creature. She had a head of beautiful form, perched like a bird upon a throat massive yet shapely and smooth as a column of alabaster, a symmetrical brow, black eyes full of fire and tenderness, a delicious mouth, with a hundred varying expressions, and that marvelous faculty of giving beauty alike to love or scorn, a sneer or a smile. But she had one feature more remarkable than all, her eyebrows—the actor's feature; they were jet black, strongly marked, and in repose were arched like a rainbow; but it was their extraordinary flexibility which made other faces upon the stage look sleepy beside Margaret Woffington's. In person she was considerably above the middle height, and so finely formed that one could not determine the exact character of her figure. At one time it seemed all stateliness, at another time elegance personified, and flowing voluptuousness at another. She was Juno, Psyche, Hebe, by turns, and for aught we know at will.
It must be confessed that a sort of halo of personal grandeur surrounds a great actress. A scene is set; half a dozen nobodies are there lost in it, because they are and seem lumps of nothing. The great artist steps upon that scene, and how she fills it in a moment! Mind and majesty wait upon her in the air; her person is lost in the greatness of her personal presence; she dilates with thought, and a stupid giantess looks a dwarf beside her.
No wonder then that Mr. Vane felt overpowered by this torch in a closet. To vary the metaphor, it seemed to him, as she swept up and down, as if the green-room was a shell, and this glorious creature must burst it and be free. Meantime, the others saw a pretty actress studying her business; and Cibber saw a dramatic school-girl learning what he presumed to be a very silly set of words. Sir C. Pomander's eye had been on her the moment she entered, and he watched keenly the effect of Vane's eloquent eulogy; but apparently the actress was too deep in her epilogue for anything else. She came in, saying, "Mum, mum, mum," over her task, and she went on doing so. The experienced Mr. Cibber, who had divined Vane in an instant, drew him into a corner, and complimented him on his well-timed eulogy.
"You acted that mighty well, sir," said he. "Stop my vitals! if I did not think you were in earnest, till I saw the jade had slipped in among us. It told, sir—it told."
Up fired Vane. "What do you mean, sir?" said he. "Do you suppose my admiration of that lady is feigned?"
"No need to speak so loud, sir," replied the old gentleman; "she hears you. These hussies have ears like hawks."
He then dispensed a private wink and a public bow; with which he strolled away from Mr. Vane, and walked feebly and jauntily up the room, whistling "Fair Hebe;" fixing his eye upon the past, and somewhat ostentatiously overlooking the existence of the present company.
There is no great harm in an old gentleman whistling, but there are two ways of doing it; and as this old beau did it, it seemed not unlike a small cock-a-doodle-doo of general defiance; and the denizens of the green-room, swelled now to a considerable number by the addition of all the ladies and gentlemen who had been killed in the fourth act, or whom the buttery-fingered author could not keep in hand until the fall of the curtain, felt it as such; and so they were not sorry when Mrs. Woffington, looking up from her epilogue, cast a glance upon the old beau, waited for him, and walked parallel with him on the other side of the room, giving an absurdly exact imitation of his carriage and deportment. To make this more striking, she pulled out of her pocket, after a mock search, a huge paste ring, gazed on it with a ludicrous affectation of simple wonder, stuck it, like Cibber's diamond, on her little finger, and, pursing up her mouth, proceeded to whistle a quick movement,
"Which, by some devilish cantrip sleight,"
played round the old beau's slow movement, without being at variance with it. As for the character of this ladylike performance, it was clear, brilliant, and loud as blacksmith.
The folk laughed; Vane was shocked. "She profanes herself by whistling," thought he. Mr. Cibber was confounded. He appeared to have no idea whence came this sparkling adagio. He looked round, placed his hands to his ears, and left off whistling. So did his musical accomplice.
"Gentlemen," said Cibber, with pathetic gravity, "the wind howls most dismally this evening! I took it for a drunken shoemaker!"
At this there was a roar of laughter, except from Mr. Vane. Peg Woffington laughed as merrily as the others, and showed a set of teeth that were really dazzling; but all in one moment, without the preliminaries an ordinary countenance requires, this laughing Venus pulled a face gloomy beyond conception. Down came her black brows straight as a line, and she cast a look of bitter reproach on all present; resuming her study, as who should say, "Are ye not ashamed to divert a poor girl from her epilogue?" And then she went on, "Mum! mum! mum!" casting off ever and anon resentful glances; and this made the fools laugh again.
The Laureate was now respectfully addressed by one of his admirers, James Quin, the Falstaff of the day, and the rival at this time of Garrick in tragic characters, though the general opinion was, that he could not long maintain a standing against the younger genius and his rising school of art.
Off the stage, James Quin was a character; his eccentricities were three—a humorist, a glutton and an honest man; traits that often caused astonishment and ridicule, especially the last.
"May we not hope for something from Mr. Cibber's pen after so long a silence?"
"No," was the considerate reply. "Who have ye got to play it?"
"Plenty," said Quin; "there's your humble servant, there's—"
"Humility at the head of the list," cried she of the epilogue. "Mum! mum! mum!"
Vane thought this so sharp.
"Garrick, Barry, Macklin, Kitty Clive here at my side, Mrs. Cibber, the best tragic actress I ever saw; and Woffington, who is as good a comedian as you ever saw, sir;" and Quin turned as red as fire.
"Keep your temper, Jemmy," said Mrs. Woffington with a severe accent. "Mum! mum! mum!"
"You misunderstand my question," replied Cibber, calmly; "I know your dramatis personae but where the devil are your actors?"
Here was a blow.
"The public," said Quin, in some agitation, "would snore if we acted as they did in your time."
"How do you know that, sir?" was the supercilious rejoinder; "you never tried!"
Mr. Quin was silenced. Peg Woffington looked off her epilogue.
"Bad as we are," said she coolly, "we might be worse."
Mr. Cibber turned round, slightly raised his eyebrows.
"Indeed!" said he. "Madam!" added he, with a courteous smile, "will you be kind enough to explain to me how you could be worse!"
"If, like a crab, we could go backward!"
At this the auditors tittered; and Mr. Cibber had recourse to his spy-glass.
This gentleman was satirical or insolent, as the case might demand, in three degrees, of which the snuff-box was the comparative, and the spy-glass the superlative. He had learned this on the stage; in annihilating Quin he had just used the snuff weapon, and now he drew his spy-glass upon poor Peggy.
"Whom have we here?" said he. Then he looked with his spy-glass to see. "Oh, the little Irish orange-girl!"
"Whose basket outweighed Colley Cibber's salary for the first twenty years of his dramatic career," was the delicate reply to the above delicate remark. It staggered him for a moment; however, he affected a most puzzled air, then gradually allowed a light to steal into his features.
"Eh! ah! oh! how stupid I am; I understand; you sold something besides oranges!"
"Oh!" said Mr. Vane, and colored up to the temples, and cast a look on Cibber, as much as to say, "If you were not seventy-three!"
His ejaculation was something so different from any tone any other person there present could have uttered that the actress's eye dwelt on him for a single moment, and in that moment he felt himself looked through and through.
"I sold the young fops a bargain, you mean," was her calm reply; "and now I am come down to the old ones. A truce, Mr. Cibber, what do you understand by an actor? Tell me; for I am foolish enough to respect your opinion on these matters!"
"An actor, young lady," said he, gravely, "is an artist who has gone deep enough in his art to make dunces, critics and greenhorns take it for nature; moreover, he really personates; which your mere man of the stage never does. He has learned the true art of self-multiplication. He drops Betterton, Booth, Wilkes, or, ahem—"
"Cibber," inserted Sir Charles Pomander. Cibber bowed.
"In his dressing-room, and comes out young or old, a fop, a valet, a lover, or a hero, with voice, mien, and every gesture to match. A grain less than this may be good speaking, fine preaching, deep grunting, high ranting, eloquent reciting; but I'll be hanged if it is acting!"
"Then Colley Cibber never acted," whispered Quin to Mrs. Clive.
"Then Margaret Woffington is an actress," said M. W.; "the fine ladies take my Lady Betty for their sister. In Mrs. Day, I pass for a woman of seventy; and in Sir Harry Wildair I have been taken for a man. I would have told you that before, but I didn't know it was to my credit," said she, slyly, "till Mr. Cibber laid down the law."
"Proof!" said Cibber.
"A warm letter from one lady, diamond buckles from another, and an offer of her hand and fortune from a third; rien que cela."
Mr. Cibber conveyed behind her back a look of absolute incredulity; she divined it.
"I will not show you the letters," continued she, "because Sir Harry, though a rake, was a gentleman; but here are the buckles;" and she fished them out of her pocket, capacious of such things. The buckles were gravely inspected, they made more than one eye water, they were undeniable.
"Well, let us see what we can do for her," said the Laureate. He tapped his box and without a moment's hesitation produced the most execrable distich in the language:
"Now who is like Peggy, with talent at will, A maid loved her Harry, for want of a Bill?
"Well, child," continued he, after the applause which follows extemporary verses had subsided, "take me in. Play something to make me lose sight of saucy Peg Woffington, and I'll give the world five acts more before the curtain falls on Colley Cibber."
"If you could be deceived," put in Mr. Vane, somewhat timidly; "I think there is no disguise through which grace and beauty such as Mrs. Woffington's would not shine, to my eyes."
"That is to praise my person at the expense of my wit, sir, is it not?" was her reply.
This was the first word she had ever addressed to him. The tones appeared so sweet to him that he could not find anything to reply for listening to them; and Cibber resumed:
"Meantime, I will show you a real actress; she is coming here to-night to meet me. Did ever you children hear of Ann Bracegirdle?"
"Bracegirdle!" said Mrs. Clive; "why, she has been dead this thirty years; at least I thought so."
"Dead to the stage. There is more heat in her ashes than in your fire, Kate Clive! Ah! here comes her messenger," continued he, as an ancient man appeared with a letter in his hand. This letter Mrs. Woffington snatched and read, and at the same instant in bounced the call-boy. "Epilogue called," said this urchin, in the tone of command which these small fry of Parnassus adopt; and, obedient to his high behest, Mrs. Woffington moved to the door, with the Bracegirdle missive in her hand, but not before she had delivered its general contents: "The great actress will be here in a few minutes," said she, and she glided swiftly out of the room.
PEOPLE whose mind or manners possess any feature, and are not as devoid of all eccentricity as half pounds of butter bought of metropolitan grocers, are recommended not to leave a roomful of their acquaintances until the last but one. Yes, they should always be penultimate. Perhaps Mrs. Woffington knew this; but epilogues are stubborn things, and call-boys undeniable.
"Did you ever hear a woman whistle before?"
"Never; but I saw one sit astride on an ass in Germany!"
"The saddle was not on her husband, I hope, madam?"
"No, sir; the husband walked by his kinsfolk's side, and made the best of a bad bargain, as Peggy's husband will have to."
"Wait till some one ventures on the gay Lotharia—illi aes triplex; that means he must have triple brass, Kitty."
"I deny that, sir; since his wife will always have enough for both."
"I have not observed the lady's brass," said Vane, trembling with passion; "but I observed her talent, and I noticed that whoever attacks her to her face comes badly off."
"Well said, sir," answered Quin; "and I wish Kitty here would tell us why she hates Mrs. Woffington, the best-natured woman in the theater?"
"I don't hate her, I don't trouble my head about her."
"Yes, you hate her; for you never miss a cut at her!"
"Do you hate a haunch of venison, Quin?" said the lady.
"No, you little unnatural monster," replied Quin.
"For all that, you never miss a cut at one, so hold your tongue!"
"Le beau raisonnement!" said Mr. Cibber. "James Quin, don't interfere with nature's laws; let our ladies hate one another, it eases their minds; try to make them Christians, and you will not convert their tempers, but spoil your own. Peggy there hates George Anne Bellamy, because she has gaudy silk dresses from Paris, by paying for them, as she could, if not too stingy. Kitty here hates Peggy because Rich has breeched her, whereas Kitty, who now sets up for a prude, wanted to put delicacy off and small-clothes on in Peg's stead, that is where the Kate and Peg shoe pinches, near the femoral artery, James.
"Shrimps have the souls of shrimps," resumed this censor castigatorque minorum. "Listen to me, and learn that really great actors are great in soul, and do not blubber like a great school-girl because Anne Bellamy has two yellow silk dresses from Paris, as I saw Woffington blubber in this room, and would not be comforted; nor fume like Kitty Clive, because Woffington has a pair of breeches and a little boy's rapier to go a playing at acting with. When I was young, two giantesses fought for empire upon this very stage, where now dwarfs crack and bounce like parched peas. They played Roxana and Statira in the 'Rival Queens.' Rival queens of art themselves, they put out all their strength. In the middle of the last act the town gave judgment in favor of Statira. What did Roxana? Did she spill grease on Statira's robe, as Peg Woffington would? or stab her, as I believe Kitty here capable of doing? No! Statira was never so tenderly killed as that night; she owned this to me. Roxana bade the theater farewell that night, and wrote to Statira thus: I give you word for word: 'Madam, the best judge we have has decided in your favor. I shall never play second on a stage where I have been first so long, but I shall often be a spectator, and methinks none will appreciate your talent more than I, who have felt its weight. My wardrobe, one of the best in Europe, is of no use to me; if you will honor me by selecting a few of my dresses, you will gratify me, and I shall fancy I see myself upon the stage to greater advantage than before.'"
"And what did Statira answer, sir?" said Mr. Vane, eagerly.
"She answered thus: 'Madam, the town has often been wrong, and may have been so last night, in supposing that I vied successfully with your merit; but this much is certain—and here, madam, I am the best judge—that off the stage you have just conquered me. I shall wear with pride any dress you have honored, and shall feel inspired to great exertions by your presence among our spectators, unless, indeed, the sense of your magnanimity and the recollection of your talent should damp me by the dread of losing any portion of your good opinion.'"
"What a couple of stiff old things," said Mrs. Clive.
"Nay, madam, say not so," cried Vane, warmly; "surely, this was the lofty courtesy of two great minds not to be overbalanced by strife, defeat, or victory."
"What were their names, sir?"
"Statira was the great Mrs. Oldfield. Roxana you will see here to-night."
This caused a sensation.
Colley's reminiscences were interrupted by loud applause from the theater; the present seldom gives the past a long hearing.
The old war-horse cocked his ears.
"It is Woffington speaking the epilogue," said Quin.
"Oh, she has got the length of their foot, somehow," said a small actress.
"And the breadth of their hands, too," said Pomander, waking from a nap.
"It is the depth of their hearts she has sounded," said Vane.
In those days, if a metaphor started up, the poor thing was coursed up hill and down dale, and torn limb from jacket; even in Parliament, a trope was sometimes hunted from one session into another.
"You were asking me about Mrs. Oldfield, sir," resumed Cibber, rather peevishly. "I will own to you, I lack words to convey a just idea of her double and complete supremacy. But the comedians of this day are weak-strained farceurs compared with her, and her tragic tone was thunder set to music.
"I saw a brigadier-general cry like a child at her Indiana; I have seen her crying with pain herself at the wing (for she was always a great sufferer), I have seen her then spring upon the stage as Lady Townley, and in a moment sorrow brightened into joy: the air seemed to fill with singing-birds, that chirped the pleasures of fashion, love and youth in notes sparkling like diamonds and stars and prisms. She was above criticism, out of its scope, as is the blue sky; men went not to judge her, they drank her, and gazed at her, and were warmed at her, and refreshed by her. The fops were awed into silence, and with their humbler betters thanked Heaven for her, if they thanked it for anything.
"In all the crowded theater, care and pain and poverty were banished from the memory, while Oldfield's face spoke, and her tongue flashed melodies; the lawyer forgot his quillets; the polemic, the mote in his brother's eye; the old maid, her grudge against the two sexes; the old man, his gray hairs and his lost hours. And can it be, that all this which should have been immortal, is quite—quite lost, is as though it had never been?" he sighed. "Can it be that its fame is now sustained by me; who twang with my poor lute, cracked and old, these feeble praises of a broken lyre:
'Whose wires were golden and its heavenly air More tunable than lark to shepherd's ear, When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.'"
He paused, and his eye looked back over many years. Then, with a very different tone, he added:
"And that Jack Falstaff there must have seen her, now I think on't."
"Only once, sir," said Quin, "and I was but ten years old."
"He saw her once, and he was ten years old; yet he calls Woffington a great comedian, and my son The's wife, with her hatchet face, the greatest tragedian he ever saw! Jemmy, what an ass you must be!"
"Mrs. Cibber always makes me cry, and t'other always makes me laugh," said Quin, stoutly, "that's why."
Ce beau raisonnement met no answer, but a look of sovereign contempt.
A very trifling incident saved the ladies of the British stage from further criticism. There were two candles in this room, one on each side; the call-boy had entered, and, poking about for something, knocked down and broke one of these.
"Awkward imp!" cried a velvet page.
"I'll go to the Treasury for another, ma'am," said the boy pertly, and vanished with the fractured wax.
I take advantage of the interruption to open Mr. Vane's mind to the reader. First he had been astonished at the freedom of sarcasm these people indulged in without quarreling; next at the non-respect of sex.
"So sex is not recognized in this community," thought he. Then the glibness and merit of some of their answers surprised and amused him. He, like me, had seldom met an imaginative repartee, except in a play or a book. "Society's" repartees were then, as they are now, the good old tree in various dresses and veils: Tu quoque, tu mentiris, vos damnemini; but he was sick and dispirited on the whole; such very bright illusions had been dimmed in these few minutes.
She was brilliant; but her manners, if not masculine, were very daring; and yet when she spoke to him, a stranger, how sweet and gentle her voice was! Then it was clear nothing but his ignorance could have placed her at the summit of her art.
Still he clung to his enthusiasm for her. He drew Pomander aside. "What a simplicity there is in Mrs. Woffington!" said he; "the rest, male and female, are all so affected; she is so fresh and natural. They are all hot-house plants; she is a cowslip with the May dew on it."
"What you take for simplicity is her refined art," replied Sir Charles.
"No!" said Vane, "I never saw a more innocent creature!"
Pomander laughed in his face; this laugh disconcerted him more than words; he spoke no more—he sat pensive. He was sorry he had come to this place, where everybody knew his goddess; yet nobody admired, nobody loved, and, alas! nobody respected her.
He was roused from his reverie by a noise; the noise was caused by Cibber falling on Garrick, whom Pomander had maliciously quoted against all the tragedians of Colley Cibber's day.
"I tell you," cried the veteran, "that this Garrick has banished dignity from the stage and given us in exchange what you and he take for fire; but it is smoke and vapor. His manner is little, like his person, it is all fuss and bustle. This is his idea of a tragic scene: A little fellow comes bustling in, goes bustling about, and runs bustling out." Here Mr. Cibber left the room, to give greater effect to his description, but presently returned in a mighty pother, saying: "'Give me another horse!' Well, where's the horse? don't you see I'm waiting for him? 'Bind up my wounds!' Look sharp now with these wounds. 'Have mercy, Heaven!' but be quick about it, for the pit can't wait for Heaven. Bustle! bustle! bustle!"
The old dog was so irresistibly funny that the whole company were obliged to laugh; but in the midst of their merriment Mrs. Woffington's voice was heard at the door.
"This way, madam."
A clear and somewhat shrill voice replied: "I know the way better than you, child;" and a stately old lady appeared on the threshold.
"Bracegirdle," said Mr. Cibber.
It may well be supposed that every eye was turned on this newcomer—that Roxana for whom Mr. Cibber's story had prepared a peculiar interest. She was dressed in a rich green velvet gown with gold fringe. Cibber remembered it; she had played the "Eastern Queen" in it. Heaven forgive all concerned! It was fearfully pinched in at the waist and ribs, so as to give the idea of wood inside, not woman.
Her hair and eyebrows were iron-gray, and she had lost a front tooth, or she would still have been eminently handsome. She was tall and straight as a dart, and her noble port betrayed none of the weakness of age, only it was to be seen that her hands were a little weak, and the gold-headed crutch struck the ground rather sharply, as if it did a little limbs'-duty.
Such was the lady who marched into the middle of the room, with a "How do, Colley?" and, looking over the company's heads as if she did not see them, regarded the four walls with some interest. Like a cat, she seemed to think more of places than of folk. The page obsequiously offered her a chair.
"Not so clean as it used to be," said Mrs. Bracegirdle.
Unfortunately, in making this remark, the old lady graciously patted the page's head for offering her the chair; and this action gave, with some of the ill-constituted minds that are ever on the titter, a ridiculous direction to a remark intended, I believe, for the paint and wanscots, etc.
"Nothing is as it used to be," remarked Mr. Cibber.
"All the better for everything," said Mrs. Clive.
"We were laughing at this mighty little David, first actor of this mighty little age."
Now if Mr. Cibber thought to find in the newcomer an ally of the past in its indiscriminate attack upon the present, he was much mistaken; for the old actress made onslaught on this nonsense at once.
"Ay, ay," said she, "and not the first time by many hundreds. 'Tis a disease you have. Cure yourself, Colley. Davy Garrick pleases the public; and in trifles like acting, that take nobody to heaven, to please all the world, is to be great. Some pretend to higher aims, but none have 'em. You may hide this from young fools, mayhap, but not from an old 'oman like me. He! he! he! No, no, no—not from an old 'oman like me."
She then turned round in her chair, and with that sudden, unaccountable snappishness of tone to which the brisk old are subject, she snarled: "Gie me a pinch of snuff, some of ye, do!"
Tobacco dust was instantly at her disposal. She took it with the points of her fingers delicately, and divested the crime of half its uncleanness and vulgarity—more an angel couldn't.
"Monstrous sensible woman, though!" whispered Quin to Clive.
"Hey, sir! what do you say, sir? for I'm a little deaf." (Not very to praise, it seems.)
"That your judgment, madam, is equal to the reputation of your talent."
The words were hardly spoken before the old lady rose upright as a tower. She then made an oblique preliminary sweep, and came down with such a courtesy as the young had never seen.
James Quin, not to disgrace his generation, attempted a corresponding bow, for which his figure and apoplectic tendency rendered him unfit; and while he was transacting it, the graceful Cibber stepped gravely up, and looked down and up the process with his glass, like a naturalist inspecting some strange capriccio of an orang-outang. The gymnastics of courtesy ended without back-falls—Cibber lowered his tone.
"You are right, Bracy. It is nonsense denying the young fellow's talent; but his Othello, now, Bracy! be just—his Othello!"
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" cried she; "I thought it was Desdemona's little black boy come in without the tea-kettle."
Quin laughed uproariously.
"It made me laugh a deal more than Mr. Quin's Falstaff. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
"Falstaff, indeed! Snuff!" In the tone of a trumpet.
Quin secretly revoked his good opinion of this woman's sense.
"Madam," said the page, timidly, "if you would but favor us with a specimen of the old style—"
"Well, child, why not? Only what makes you mumble like that? but they all do it now, I see. Bless my soul! our words used to come out like brandy-cherries; but now a sentence is like raspberry-jam, on the stage and off."
"And why don't you men carry yourself like Cibber here?"
"Don't press that question," said Colley dryly.
"A monstrous poor actor, though," said the merciless old woman, in a mock aside to the others; "only twenty shillings a week for half his life;" and her shoulders went up to her ears—then she fell into a half reverie. "Yes, we were distinct," said she; "but I must own, children, we were slow. Once, in the midst of a beautiful tirade, my lover went to sleep, and fell against me. A mighty pretty epigram, twenty lines, was writ on't by one of my gallants. Have ye as many of them as we used?"
"In that respect," said the page, "we are not behind our great-grandmothers."
"I call that pert," said Mrs. Bracegirdle, with the air of one drawing scientific distinctions. "Now, is that a boy or a lady that spoke to me last?"
"By its dress, I should say a boy," said Cibber, with his glass; "by its assurance, a lady!"
"There's one clever woman among ye; Peg something, plays Lothario, Lady Betty Modish, and what not?"
"What! admire Woffington?" screamed Mrs. Clive; "why, she is the greatest gabbler on the stage."
"I don't care," was the reply, "there's nature about the jade. Don't contradict me," added she, with sudden fury; "a parcel of children."
"No, madam," said Clive humbly. "Mr. Cibber, will you try and prevail on Mrs. Bracegirdle to favor us with a recitation?"
Cibber handed his cane with pomp to a small actor. Bracegirdle did the same; and, striking the attitudes that had passed for heroic in their day, they declaimed out of the "Rival Queens" two or three tirades, which I graciously spare the reader of this tale. Their elocution was neat and silvery; but not one bit like the way people speak in streets, palaces, fields, roads and rooms. They had not made the grand discovery, which Mr. A. Wigan on the stage, and every man of sense off it, has made in our day and nation; namely, that the stage is a representation, not of stage, but of life; and that an actor ought to speak and act in imitation of human beings, not of speaking machines that have run and creaked in a stage groove, with their eyes shut upon the world at large, upon nature, upon truth, upon man, upon woman and upon child.
"This is slow," cried Cibber; "let us show these young people how ladies and gentlemen moved fifty years ago, dansons."
A fiddler was caught, a beautiful slow minuet played, and a bit of "solemn dancing" done. Certainly it was not gay, but it must be owned it was beautiful; it was the dance of kings, the poetry of the courtly saloon.
The retired actress, however, had frisker notions left in her. "This is slow," cried she, and bade the fiddler play, "The wind that shakes the barley," an ancient jig tune; this she danced to in a style that utterly astounded the spectators.
She showed them what fun was; her feet and her stick were all echoes to the mad strain; out went her heel behind, and, returning, drove her four yards forward. She made unaccountable slants, and cut them all over in turn if they did not jump for it. Roars of inextinguishable laughter arose, it would have made an oyster merry. Suddenly she stopped, and put her hands to her sides, and soon after she gave a vehement cry of pain.
The laughter ceased.
She gave another cry of such agony that they were all round her in a moment.
"Oh, help me, ladies," screamed the poor woman, in tones as feminine as they were heart-rending and piteous. "Oh, my back! my loins! I suffer, gentlemen," said the poor thing, faintly.
What was to be done? Mr. Vane offered his penknife to cut her laces.
"You shall cut my head off sooner," cried she, with sudden energy. "Don't pity me," said she, sadly, "I don't deserve it;" then, lifting her eyes, she exclaimed, with a sad air of self-reproach: "O vanity! do you never leave a woman?"
"Nay, madam!" whimpered the page, who was a good-hearted girl; "'twas your great complaisance for us, not vanity. Oh! oh! oh!" and she began to blubber, to make matters better.
"No, my children," said the old lady, "'twas vanity. I wanted to show you what an old 'oman could do; and I have humiliated myself, trying to outshine younger folk. I am justly humiliated, as you see;" and she began to cry a little.
"This is very painful," said Cibber.
Mrs. Bracegirdle now raised her eyes (they had set her in a chair), and looking sweetly, tenderly and earnestly on her old companion, she said to him, slowly, gently, but impressively "Colley, at threescore years and ten this was ill done of us! You and I are here now—for what? to cheer the young up the hill we mounted years ago. And, old friend, if we detract from them we discourage them. A great sin in the old!"
"Every dog his day."
"We have had ours." Here she smiled, then, laying her hand tenderly in the old man's, she added, with calm solemnity: "And now we must go quietly toward our rest, and strut and fret no more the few last minutes of life's fleeting hour."
How tame my cacotype of these words compared with what they were. I am ashamed of them and myself, and the human craft of writing, which, though commoner far, is so miserably behind the godlike art of speech: "Si ipsam audivisses!"
These ink scratches, which, in the imperfection of language, we have called words, till the unthinking actually dream they are words, but which are the shadows of the corpses of words; these word-shadows then were living powers on her lips, and subdued, as eloquence always does, every heart within reach of the imperial tongue.
The young loved her, and the old man, softened and vanquished, and mindful of his failing life, was silent, and pressed his handkerchief to his eyes a moment; then he said:
"No, Bracy, no. Be composed, I pray you. She is right. Young people, forgive me that I love the dead too well, and the days when I was what you are now. Drat the woman," continued he, half ashamed of his emotion; "she makes us laugh, and makes us cry, just as she used."
"What does he say, young woman?" said the old lady, dryly, to Mrs. Clive.
"He says you make us laugh, and make us cry, madam; and so you do me, I'm sure."
"And that's Peg Woffington's notion of an actress! Better it, Cibber and Bracegirdle, if you can," said the other, rising up like lightning.
She then threw Colley Cibber a note, and walked coolly and rapidly out of the room, without looking once behind her.
The rest stood transfixed, looking at one another, and at the empty chair. Then Cibber opened and read the note aloud. It was from Mrs. Bracegirdle: "Playing at tric-trac; so can't play the fool in your green-room to-night. B."
On this, a musical ringing laugh was heard from outside the door, where the pseudo Bracegirdle was washing the gray from her hair, and the wrinkles from her face—ah! I wish I could do it as easily!—and the little bit of sticking-plaster from her front tooth.
"Why, it is the Irish jade!" roared Cibber.
"Divil a less!" rang back a rich brogue; "and it's not the furst time we put the comether upon ye, England, my jewal!"
One more mutual glance, and then the mortal cleverness of all this began to dawn on their minds; and they broke forth into clapping of hands, and gave this accomplished mime three rounds of applause; Mr. Vane and Sir Charles Pomander leading with, "Bravo, Woffington!"
Its effect on Mr. Vane may be imagined. Who but she could have done this? This was as if a painter should so paint a man as to deceive his species. This was acting, but not like the acting of the stage. He was in transports, and self-satisfaction at his own judgment mingled pleasantly with his admiration.
In this cheerful exhibition, one joined not—Mr. Cibber. His theories had received a shock (and we all love our theories). He himself had received a rap—and we don't hate ourselves.
Great is the syllogism! But there is a class of arguments less vulnerable.
If A says to B, "You can't hit me, as I prove by this syllogism" (here followeth the syllogism), "and B, pour toute reponse, knocks A down such a whack that he rebounds into a sitting posture; and to him the man, the tree, the lamp-post and the fire-escape become not clearly distinguishable; this barbarous logic prevails against the logic in Barbara, and the syllogism is in the predicament of Humpty Dumpty. In this predicament was the Poet Laureate. The miscreant Proteus (could not) escape these chains!" So the miscreant Proteus—no bad name for an old actor—took his little cocked hat and marched, a smaller, if not a wiser man. Some disjointed words fell from him: "Mimicry is not acting," etc.; and with one bitter, mowing glance at the applauders, circumferens acriter oculos, he vanished in the largest pinch of snuff on record. The rest dispersed more slowly.
Mr. Vane waited eagerly, and watched the door for Mrs. Woffington; but she did not come. He then made acquaintance with good-natured Mr. Quin, who took him upon the stage and showed him by what vulgar appliances that majestic rise of the curtain he so admired was effected. Returning to the green-room for his friend, he found him in animated conversation with Mrs. Woffington. This made Vane uneasy.
Sir Charles, up to the present moment of the evening, had been unwontedly silent, and now he was talking nineteen to the dozen, and Mrs. Woffington was listening with an appearance of interest that sent a pang to poor Vane's heart; he begged Mr. Quin to introduce him.
Mr. Quin introduced him.
The lady received his advances with polite composure. Mr. Vane stammered his admiration of her Bracegirdle; but all he could find words to say was mere general praise, and somewhat coldly received. Sir Charles, on the contrary, spoke more like a critic. "Had you given us the stage cackle, or any of those traditionary symptoms of old age, we should have instantly detected you," said he; "but this was art copying nature, and it may be years before such a triumph of illusion is again effected under so many adverse circumstances."
"You are very good, Sir Charles," was the reply. "You flatter me. It was one of those things which look greater than they are. Nobody here knew Bracegirdle but Mr. Cibber; Mr. Cibber cannot see well without his glasses, and I got rid of one of the candles; I sent one of the imps of the theater to knock it down. I know Mrs. Bracegirdle by heart. I drink tea with her every Sunday. I had her dress on, and I gave the old boy her words and her way of thinking; it was mere mimicry; it was nothing compared with what I once did; but, a-hem!"
"Pray tell us!"
"I am afraid I shall shock your friend. I see he is not a wicked man like you, and perhaps does not know what good-for-nothing creatures actresses are."
"He is not so ignorant as he looks," replied Sir Charles.
"That is not quite the answer I expected, Sir Charles," replied this lively lady; "but it serves me right for fishing on dry land. Well, then, you must know a young gentleman courted me. I forget whether I liked him or not; but you will fancy I hated him, for I promised to marry him. You must understand, gentlemen, that I was sent into the world, not to act, which I abominate, but to chronicle small beer and teach an army of little brats their letters; so this word 'wife,' and that word 'chimney-corner,' took possession of my mind, and a vision of darning stockings for a large party, all my own, filled my heart, and really I felt quite grateful to the little brute that was to give me all this, and he would have had such a wife as men never do have, still less deserve. But one fine day that the theater left me time to examine his manner toward me, I instantly discovered he was deceiving me. So I had him watched, and the little brute was going to marry another woman, and break it to me by degrees afterward, etc. You know, Sir Charles? Ah! I see you do.
"I found her out; got an introduction to her father; went down to his house three days before the marriage, with a little coalblack mustache, regimentals, and what not; made up, in short, with the art of my sex, gentlemen—and the impudence of yours.
"The first day I flirted and danced with the bride. The second I made love to her, and at night I let her know that her intended was a villain. I showed her letters of his; protestations, oaths of eternal fidelity to one Peg Woffington, 'who will die,' drawled I,' if he betrays her.'
"And here, gentlemen, mark the justice of Heaven. I received a backhanded slap: 'Peg Woffington! an actress! Oh, the villain!' cried she; 'let him marry the little vagabond. How dare he insult me with his hand that had been offered in such a quarter?'
"So, in a fit of virtuous indignation, the little hypocrite dismissed the little brute; in other words, she had fallen in love with me.
"I have not had many happy hours, but I remember it was delicious to look out of my window, and at the same moment smell the honeysuckles and see my perfide dismissed under a heap of scorn and a pile of luggage he had brought down for his wedding tour.
"I scampered up to London, laughing all the way; and when I got home, if I remember right, I cried for two hours. How do you account for that?"
"I hope, madam," said Vane, gravely, "it was remorse for having trifled with that poor young lady's heart; she had never injured you."
"But, sir, the husband I robbed her of was a brute and a villain in his little way, and wicked and good-for-nothing, etc. He would have deceived that poor little hypocrite, as he had this one," pointing to herself.
"That is not what I mean; you inspired her with an attachment, never to be forgotten. Poor lady, how many sleepless nights has she passed since then, how many times has she strained her eyes to see her angel lover returning to her! She will not forget in two years the love it cost you but two days to inspire. The powerful should be merciful. Ah! I fear you have no heart."
These words had no sooner burst from Mr. Vane, than he was conscious of the strange liberty he had taken, and, indeed, the bad taste he had been guilty of; and this feeling was not lessened when he saw Mrs. Woffington color up to the temples. Her eyes, too, glittered like basilisks; but she said nothing, which was remarkable in her, whose tongue was the sword of a maitre d'armes.
Sir Charles eyed his friend in a sly, satirical manner; he then said, laughingly: "In two months she married a third! don't waste your sympathy," and turned the talk into another channel; and soon after, Mrs. Woffington's maid appearing at the door, she courtesied to both gentlemen and left the theater. Sir Charles Pomander accompanied Mr. Vane a little way.
"What becomes of her innocence?" was his first word.
"One loses sight of it in her immense talent," said the lover.
"She certainly is clever in all that bears upon her business," was the reply; "but I noticed you were a little shocked with her indelicacy in telling us that story, and still more in having it to tell."
"Indelicacy? No!" said Vane; "the little brute deserved it. Good Heavens! to think that 'a little brute' might have married that angel, and actually broke faith to lose her; it is incredible, the crime is diluted by the absurdity."
"Have you heard him tell the story? No? Then take my word for it, you have not heard the facts of the case."
"Ah! you are prejudiced against her?"
"On the contrary, I like her. But I know that with all women the present lover is an angel and the past a demon, and so on in turn. And I know that if Satan were to enter the women of the stage, with the wild idea of impairing their veracity, he would come out of their minds a greater liar than he went in, and the innocent darlings would never know their spiritual father had been at them."
Doubtful whether this sentiment and period could be improved, Sir Charles parted with his friend, leaving his sting in him like a friend; the other's reflections as he sauntered home were not strictly those of a wise, well-balanced mind; they ran in this style:
"When she said, 'Is not that to praise my person at the expense of my wit?' I ought to have said, 'Nay, madam; could your wit disguise your person, it would betray itself, so you would still shine confessed;' and instead of that I said nothing!"
He then ran over in his mind all the opportunities he had had for putting in something smart, and bitterly regretted those lost opportunities; and made the smart things, and beat the air with them. Then his cheeks tingled when he remembered that he had almost scolded her; and he concocted a very different speech, and straightway repeated it in imagination.
This is lovers' pastime; I own it funny; but it is open to one objection, this single practice of sitting upon eggs no longer chickenable, carried to a habit, is capable of turning a solid intellect into a liquid one, and ruining a mind's career.
We leave Mr. Vane, therefore, with a hope that he will not do it every night; and we follow his friend to the close of our chapter.
Hey for a definition!
What is diplomacy? Is it folly in a coat that looks like sagacity? Had Sir Charles Pomander, instead of watching Mr. Vane and Mrs. Woffington, asked the former whether he admired the latter, and whether the latter responded, straightforward Vane would have told him the whole truth in a minute. Diplomacy therefore was, as it often is, a waste of time.
But diplomacy did more in this case, it sapienter descendebat in fossam; it fell on its nose with gymnastic dexterity, as it generally does, upon my word.
To watch Mrs. Woffington's face vis-a-vis Mr. Vane, Pomander introduced Vane to the green-room of the Theater Royal, Covent Garden. By this Pomander learned nothing, because Mrs. Woffington had, with a wonderful appearance of openness, the closest face in Europe when she chose.
On the other hand, by introducing this country gentleman to this green-room, he gave a mighty impulse and opportunity to Vane's love; an opportunity which he forgot the timid, inexperienced Damon might otherwise never have found.
Here diplomacy was not policy, for, as my sagacious reader has perhaps divined, Sir Charles Pomander was after her himself.
YES, Sir Charles was after Mrs. Woffington. I use that phrase because it is a fine generic one, suitable to different kinds of love-making.
Mr. Vane's sentiments were an inexplicable compound; but respect, enthusiasm, and deep admiration were the uppermost.
The good Sir Charles was no enigma. He had a vacancy in his establishment—a very high situation, too, for those who like that sort of thing—the head of his table, his left hand when he drove in the Park, etc. To this he proposed to promote Mrs. Woffington. She was handsome and witty, and he liked her. But that was not what caused him to pursue her; slow, sagacious, inevitable as a beagle.
She was celebrated, and would confer great eclat on him. The scandal of possessing her was a burning temptation. Women admire celebrity in a man; but men adore it in a woman.
"The world," says Philip, "is a famous man; What will not women love so taught?"
I will try to answer this question.
The women will more readily forgive disgusting physical deformity for Fame's sake than we. They would embrace with more rapture a famous orang-outang than we an illustrious chimpanzee; but when it comes to moral deformity the tables are turned.
Had the queen pardoned Mr. Greenacre and Mrs. Manning, would the great rush have been on the hero, or the heroine? Why, on Mrs. Macbeth! To her would the blackguards have brought honorable proposals, and the gentry liberal ones.
Greenacre would have found more female admirers than I ever shall; but the grand stream of sexual admiration would have set Mariaward. This fact is as dark as night; but it is as sure as the sun.
The next day "the friends" (most laughable of human substantives!) met in the theater, and again visited the green-room; and this time Vane determined to do himself more justice. He was again disappointed; the actress's manner was ceremoniously polite. She was almost constantly on the stage, and in a hurry when off it; and, when there was a word to be got with her the ready, glib Sir Charles was sure to get it. Vane could not help thinking it hard that a man who professed no respect for her should thus keep the light from him; and he could hardly conceal his satisfaction when Pomander, at night, bade him farewell for a fortnight. Pressing business took Sir Charles into the country.
The good Sir Charles, however, could not go without leaving his sting behind as a companion to his friend. He called on Mr. Vane and after a short preface, containing the words "our friendship," "old kindness," "my greater experience," he gravely warned him against Mrs. Woffington.
"Not that I would say this if you could take her for what she is, and amuse yourself with her as she will with you, if she thinks it worth her while. But I see you have a heart, and she will make a football of it, and torment you beyond all you have ever conceived of human anguish."
Mr. Vane colored high, and was about to interrupt the speaker; but he continued:
"There, I am in a hurry. But ask Quin, or anybody who knows her history, you will find she has had scores of lovers, and no one remains her friend after they part."
"Men are such villains!"
"Very likely," was the reply; "but twenty men don't ill-use one good woman; those are not the proportions. Adieu!"
This last hit frightened Mr. Vane, he began to look into himself; he could not but feel that he was a mere child in this woman's hands; and, more than that, his conscience told him that if his heart should be made a football of it would be only a just and probable punishment. For there were particular reasons why he, of all men, had no business to look twice at any woman whose name was Woffington.
That night he avoided the green-room, though he could not forego the play; but the next night he determined to stay at home altogether. Accordingly, at five o'clock, the astounded box-keeper wore a visage of dismay—there was no shilling for him! and Mr. Vane's nightly shilling had assumed the sanctity of salary in his mind.
Mr. Vane strolled disconsolate; he strolled by the Thames, he strolled up and down the Strand; and, finally, having often admired the wisdom of moths in their gradual approach to what is not good for them, he strolled into the green-room, Covent Garden, and sat down. When there he did not feel happy. Besides, she had always been cold to him, and had given no sign of desiring his acquaintance, still less of recognition.
Mr. Vane had often seen a weathercock at work, and he had heard a woman compared to it; but he had never realized the simplicity, beauty and justice of the simile. He was therefore surprised, as well as thrilled, when Mrs. Woffington, so cool, ceremonious and distant hitherto, walked up to him in the green-room with a face quite wreathed in smiles, and, without preliminary, thanked him for all the beautiful flowers he had sent her.
"What, Mrs. Woffington—what, you recognize me?"
"Of course, and have been foolish enough to feel quite supported by the thought I had at least one friend in the house. But," said she, looking down, "now you must not be angry; here are some stones that have fallen somehow among the flowers. I am going to give you them back, because I value flowers, so I cannot have them mixed with anything else; but don't ask me for a flower back," added she, seeing the color mount on his face, "for I would not give one of them to you, or anybody."
Imagine the effect of this on a romantic disposition like Mr. Vane's.
He told her how glad he was that she could distinguish his features amid the crowd of her admirers; he confessed he had been mortified when he found himself, as he thought, entirely a stranger to her.
She interrupted him.
"Do you know your friend Sir Charles Pomander? No! I am almost sure you do; well, he is a man I do not like. He is deceitful, besides he is a wicked man. There, to be plain with you, he was watching me all that night, the first time you came here, and, because I saw he was watching me I would not know who you were, nor anything about you."
"But you looked as if you had never seen me before."
"Of course I did, when I had made up my mind to," said the actress, naively.
"Sir Charles has left London for a fortnight, so, if he is the only obstacle, I hope you will know me every night."
"Why, you sent me no flowers yesterday or to-day."
"But I will to-morrow."
"Then I am sure I shall know your face again; good-by. Won't you see me in the last act, and tell me how ill I do it?"
"Oh, yes!" and he hurried to his box, and so the actress secured one pair of hands for her last act.
He returned to the green-room, but she did not revisit that verdant bower. The next night, after the usual compliments, she said to him, looking down with a sweet, engaging air:
"I sent a messenger into the country to know about that lady."
"What lady?" said Vane, scarcely believing his senses.
"That you were so unkind to me about."
"I, unkind to you? what a brute I must be!"
"My meaning is, you justly rebuked me, only you should not tell an actress she has no heart—that is always understood. Well, Sir Charles Pomander said she married a third in two months!"
"And did she?"
"No, it was in six weeks; that man never tells the truth; and since then she has married a fourth."
"I am glad of it!"
"So am I, since you awakened my conscience."
Delicious flattery! and of all flattery the sweetest, when a sweet creature does flattery, not merely utters it.
After this, Vane made no more struggles; he surrendered himself to the charming seduction, and as his advances were respectful, but ardent and incessant, he found himself at the end of a fortnight Mrs. Woffington's professed lover.
They wrote letters to each other every day. On Sunday they went to church together in the morning, and spent the afternoon in the suburbs wherever grass was and dust was not.
In the next fortnight, poor Vane thought he had pretty well fathomed this extraordinary woman's character. Plumb the Atlantic with an eighty-fathom line, sir!
"She is religious," said he, "she loves a church much better than a playhouse, and she never laughs nor goes to sleep in church as I do. And she is breaking me of swearing—by degrees. She says that no fashion can justify what is profane, and that it must be vulgar as well as wicked. And she is frankness and simplicity itself."
Another thing that charmed him was her disinterestedness. She ordered him to buy her a present every day, but it was never to cost above a shilling. If an article could be found that cost exactly tenpence (a favorite sum of hers), she was particularly pleased, and these shilling presents were received with a flush of pleasure and brightening eyes. But when one day he appeared with a diamond necklace, it was taken very coldly, he was not even thanked for it, and he was made to feel, once for all, that the tenpenny ones were the best investments toward her favor.
Then he found out that she was very prudent and rather stingy; of Spartan simplicity in her diet, and a scorner of dress off the stage. To redeem this she was charitable, and her charity and her economy sometimes had a sore fight, during which she was peevish, poor little soul.
One day she made him a request.
"I can't bear you should think me worse than I am, and I don't want you to think me better than I am."
"But don't speak to others about me; promise, and I will promise to tell you my whole story, whenever you are entitled to such a confidence.
"When shall I be entitled to it?"
"When I am sure you love me."
"Do you doubt that now?"
"Yes! I think you love me, but I am not sure.
"Margaret, remember I have known you much longer than you have known me.
"Yes! Two months before we ever spoke I lived upon your face and voice.
"That is to say you looked from your box at me upon the stage, and did not I look from the stage at you?"
"Never! you always looked at the pit, and my heart used to sink."
"On the 17th of May you first came into that box. I noticed you a little, the next day I noticed you a little more; I saw you fancied you liked me, after a while I could not have played without you."
Here was delicious flattery again, and poor Vane believed every word of it.
As for her request and her promise, she showed her wisdom in both these. As Sir Charles observed, it is a wonderful point gained if you allow a woman to tell her story her own way.
How the few facts that are allowed to remain get molded and twisted out of ugly forms into pretty shapes by those supple, dexterous fingers!
This present story cannot give the life of Mrs. Woffington, but only one great passage therein, as do the epic and dramatic writers; but since there was often great point in any sentences spoken on important occasions by this lady, I will just quote her defense of herself. The reader may be sure she did not play her weakest card; let us give her the benefit.
One day she and Kitty Clive were at it ding-dong; the green-room was full of actors, male and female, but there were no strangers, and the ladies were saying things which the men of this generation only think; at last Mrs. Woffington finding herself roughly, and, as she thought, unjustly handled, turned upon the assembly and said: "What man did ever I ruin in all my life? Speak who can!"
And there was a dead silence.
"What woman is there here at as much as three pounds per week even, that hasn't ruined two at the very least?"
Report says there was a dead silence again, until Mrs. Clive perked up, and said she had only ruined one, and that was his own fault!
Mrs. Woffington declined to attach weight to this example. "Kitty Clive is the hook without the bait," said she; and the laugh turned, as it always did, against Peggy's antagonist.
Thus much was speedily shown to Mr. Vane, that, whatever were Mrs. Woffington's intentions toward him, interest had at present nothing to do with them; indeed it was made clear that even were she to surrender her liberty to him, it would only be as a princess, forging golden chains for herself with her own royal hand.
Another fortnight passed to the mutual satisfaction of the lovers. To Vane it was a dream of rapture to be near this great creature, whom thousands admired at such a distance; to watch over her, to take her to the theater in a warm shawl, to stand at the wing and receive her as she came radiant from her dressing-room, to watch her from her rear as she stood like some power about to descend on the stage, to see her falcon-like stoop upon the said stage, and hear the burst of applause that followed, as the report does the flash; to compare this with the spiritless crawl with which common artists went on, tame from their first note to their last; to take her hand when she came off, feel how her nerves were strung like a greyhound's after a race, and her whole frame in a high even glow, with the great Pythoness excitement of art.
And to have the same great creature leaning her head on his shoulder, and listening with a charming complacency, while he purred to her of love and calm delights, alternate with still greater triumphs; for he was to turn dramatic writer, for her sake, was to write plays, a woman the hero, and love was to inspire him, and passion supply the want of pencraft. (You make me laugh, Mr. Vane!)
All this was heavenly.
And then with all her dash, and fire, and bravado, she was a thorough woman.
"I want to ask you a question. Did you really cry because that Miss Bellamy had dresses from Paris?"
"It does not seem very likely."
"No, but tell me; did you?"
"Who said I did?"
"Yes, but did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Ernest, the minx's dresses were beautiful."
"No doubt. But did you cry?"
"And mine were dirty; I don't care about gilt rags, but dirty dresses, ugh!"
"Tell me, then."
"Tell you what?"
"Did you cry or not?"
"Ah! he wants to find out whether I am a fool, and despise me."
"No, I think I should love you better. For hitherto I have seen no weakness in you, and it makes me uncomfortable."
"Be comforted! Is it not a weakness to like you!"
"You are free from that weakness, or you would gratify my curiosity."
"Be pleased to state, in plain, intelligible English, what you require of me."
"I want to know, in one word, did you cry or not?"
"Promise to tease me no more then, and I'll tell you."
"You won't despise me?"
"Despise you! of course not."
"Well, then—I don't remember!"
On another occasion they were seated in the dusk, by the side of the canal in the Park, when a little animal began to potter about on an adjacent bank.
Mrs. Woffington contemplated it with curiosity and delight.
"Oh, you pretty creature!" said she. "Now you are a rabbit; at least, I think so."
"No," said Vane, innocently; "that is a rat."
"Ah! ah! ah!" screamed Mrs. Woffington, and pinched his arm. This frightened the rat, who disappeared. She burst out laughing: "There's a fool! The thing did not frighten me, and the name did. Depend upon it, it's true what they say—that off the stage, I am the greatest fool there is. I'll never be so absurd again. Ah! ah! ah! here it is again" (scream and pinch, as before). "Do take me from this horrid place, where monsters come from the great deep."
And she flounced away, looking daggers askant at the place the rat had vacated in equal terror.
All this was silly, but it pleases us men, and contrast is so charming! This same fool was brimful of talent—and cunning, too, for that matter.
She played late that night, and Mr. Vane saw the same creature, who dared not stay where she was liable to a distant rat, spring upon the stage as a gay rake, and flash out her rapier, and act valor's king to the life, and seem ready to eat up everybody, King Fear included; and then, after her brilliant sally upon the public, Sir Harry Wildair came and stood beside Mr. Vane. Her bright skin, contrasted with her powdered periwig, became dazzling. She used little rouge, but that little made her eyes two balls of black lightning. From her high instep to her polished forehead, all was symmetry. Her leg would have been a sculptor's glory; and the curve from her waist to her knee was Hogarth's line itself.
She stood like Mercury new lighted on a heaven-kissing hill. She placed her foot upon the ground, as she might put a hand upon her lover's shoulder. We indent it with our eleven undisguised stone.
Such was Sir Harry Wildair, who stood by Mr. Vane, glittering with diamond buckles, gorgeous with rich satin breeches, velvet coat, ruffles, pictcae vestis et auri; and as she bent her long eye-fringes down on him (he was seated), all her fiery charms gradually softened and quivered down to womanhood.
"The first time I was here," said Vane, "my admiration of you broke out to Mr. Cibber; and what do you think he said?"
"That you praised me, for me to hear you. Did you?"
"Acquit me of such meanness."
"Forgive me. It is just what I should have done, had I been courting an actress."
"I think you have not met many ingenuous spirits, dear friend."
"Not one, my child."
This was a phrase she often applied to him now.
"The old fellow pretended to hear what I said, too; and I am sure you did not—did you?"
"I guess not."
"I am afraid I must plead guilty. An actress's ears are so quick to hear praise, to tell you the truth, I did catch a word or two, and, 'It told, sir—it told.'"
"You alarm me! At this rate, I shall never know what you see, hear or think, by your face."
"When you want to know anything, ask me, and I will tell you; but nobody else shall learn anything, nor even you, any other way."
"Did you hear the feeble tribute of praise I was paying you, when you came in?" inquired Vane.
"No. You did not say that my voice had the compass and variety of nature, and my movements were free and beautiful, while the others when in motion were stilts, and coffee-pots when in repose, did you?"
"Something of the sort, I believe," cried Vane, laughing.
"I melted from one fine statue into another, I restored the Antinous to his true sex.—Goose!—Painters might learn their art from me (in my dressing-room, no doubt), and orators revive at my lips the music of Athens, that quelled mad mobs and princes drunk with victory.—Silly fellow!—Praise was never so sweet to me," murmured she, inclining like a goddess of love toward him; and he fastened on two velvet lips, that did not shun the sweet attack, but gently parted with a heavenly sigh; while her heaving bosom and yielding frame and swimming eyes confessed her conqueror.
That morning Mr. Vane had been dispirited, and apparently self-discontented; but at night he went home in a state of mental intoxication. His poetic enthusiasm, his love, his vanity, were all gratified at once. And all these, singly, have conquered Prudence and Virtue a million times.
She had confessed to him that she was disposed to risk her happiness on him; she had begged him to submit to a short probation; and she had promised, if her confidence and esteem remained unimpaired at the close of that period—which was not to be an unhappy one—to take advantage of the summer holidays, and cross the water with him, and forget everything in the world with him, but love.
How was it that the very next morning clouds chased one another across his face? Was it that men are happy but while the chase is doubtful? Was it the letter from Pomander announcing his return, and sneeringly inquiring whether he was still the dupe of Peg Woffington? or was it that same mysterious disquiet which attacked him periodically, and then gave way for a while to pleasure and her golden dreams?
The next day was to be a day of delight. He was to entertain her at his own house; and, to do her honor, he had asked Mr. Cibber, Mr. Quin and other actors, critics, etc.
Our friend, Sir Charles Pomander, had been guilty of two ingenuities: first, he had written three or four letters, full of respectful admiration, to Mrs. Woffington, of whom he spoke slightingly to Vane; second, he had made a disingenuous purchase.
This purchase was Pompey, Mrs. Woffington's little black slave. It is a horrid fact, but Pompey did not love his mistress. He was a little enamored of her, as small boys are apt to be, but, on the whole, a sentiment of hatred slightly predominated in his little black bosom.
It was not without excuse.
This lady was subject to two unpleasant companions—sorrow and bitterness. About twice a week she would cry for two hours; and after this class of fit she generally went abroad, and made a round of certain poor or sick proteges she had, and returned smiling and cheerful.
But other twice a week she might be seen to sit upon her chair, contracted into half her size, and looking daggers at the universe in general, the world in particular; and on these occasions, it must be owned, she stayed at home, and sometimes whipped Pompey.
Pompey had not the sense to reflect that he ought to have been whipped every day, or the esprit de corps to be consoled by observing that this sort of thing did his mistress good. What he felt was, that his mistress, who did everything well, whipped him with energy and skill; it did not take ten seconds, but still, in that brief period, Pompey found himself dusted and polished off.
The sacred principle of justice was as strong in Mrs. Woffington as in the rest of her sex; she had not one grain of it. When she was not in her tantrums, the mischievous imp was as sacred from check or remonstrance as a monkey or a lap-dog; and several female servants left the house on his account.
But Nemesis overtook him in the way we have hinted, and it put his little black pipe out.
The lady had taken him out of great humanity; he was fed like a game-cock, and dressed like a Barbaric prince; and once when he was ill his mistress watched him, and nursed him, and tended him with the same white hand that plied the obnoxious whip; and when he died, she alone withheld her consent from his burial, and this gave him a chance black boys never get, and he came to again; but still these tarnation lickings "stuck in him gizzard." So when Sir Charles's agent proposed to him certain silver coins, cheap at a little treachery, the ebony ape grinned till he turned half ivory, and became a spy in the house of his mistress.
The reader will have gathered that the good Sir Charles had been quietly in London some hours before he announced himself as paulo post futurum.
Diamond cut diamond; a diplomat stole this march upon an actress, and took her black pawn. One for Pomander! (Gun.)
TRIPLET, the Cerberus of art, who had the first bark in this legend, and has since been out of hearing, ran from Lambeth to Covent Garden, on receipt of Mr. Vane's note. But ran he never so quick, he had built a full-sized castle in the air before he reached Bow Street.
The letter hinted at an order upon his muse for amatory verse; delightful task, cheering prospect.
Bid a man whose usual lot it is to break stones for the parish at tenpence the cubic yard—bid such an one play at marbles with some stone taws for half an hour per day, and pocket one pound one—bid a poor horse who has drawn those stones about, and browsed short grass by the wayside—bid him canter a few times round a grassy ring, and then go to his corn—in short, bid Rosinante change with Pegasus, and you do no more than Mr. Vane's letter held out to Triplet.
The amatory verse of that day was not up-hill work. There was a beaten track on a dead level, and you followed it. You told the tender creature, with a world of circumlocution, that, "without joking now," she was a leper, ditto a tigress, item marble. You next feigned a lucid interval, and to be on the point of detesting your monster, but in twenty more verses love became, as usual, stronger than reason, and you wound up your rotten yarn thus:
You hugged a golden chain. You drew deeper into your wound a barbed shaft, like—(any wild animal will do, no one of them is such an ass, so you had an equal title to all). And on looking back you saw with horrible complacency that you had inflicted one hundred locusts, five feet long, upon oppressed humanity.
Wont to travel over acres of canvas for a few shillings, and roods of paper on bare speculation, Triplet knew he could make a thousand a year at the above work without thinking.
He came therefore to the box-keeper with his eyes glittering.
"Just gone out with a gentleman."
"I'll wait then."
Now Mr. Vane, we know, was in the green-room, and went home by the stage-door. The last thing he thought of was poor Triplet; the rich do not dream how they disappoint the poor. Triplet's castle fell as many a predecessor had. When the lights were put out, he left the theater with a bitter sigh.
"If this gentleman knew how many sweet children I have, and what a good, patient, suffering wife, sure he would not have chosen me to make a fool of!" said the poor fellow to himself.
In Bow Street, he turned, and looked back upon the theater. How gloomy and grand it loomed!
"Ah!" thought he, "if I could but conquer you; and why not? All history shows that nothing is unconquerable except perseverance. Hannibal conquered the Alps, and I'll conquer you," cried Triplet, firmly. "Yes, this visit is not lost; here I register a vow: I will force my way into that mountain of masonry, or perish in the attempt."
Triplet's most unpremeditated thoughts and actions often savored ridiculously of the sublime. Then and there, gazing with folded arms on this fortress of Thespis, the polytechnic man organized his first assault. The next evening he made it.
Five months previously he had sent the manager three great, large tragedies. He knew the aversion a theatrical manager has to read a manuscript play, not recommended by influential folk; an aversion which always has been carried to superstition. So he hit on the following scheme:
He wrote Mr. Rich a letter; in this he told Mr. Rich that he (Triplet) was aware what a quantity of trash is offered every week to a manager, how disheartening it must be to read it at all, and how natural, after a while, to read none. Therefore, he (Triplet) had provided that Mr. Rich might economize his time, and yet not remain in ignorance of the dramatic treasure that lay ready to his hand.
"The soul of a play," continued Triplet, "is the plot or fable. A gentleman of your experience can decide at once whether a plot or story is one to take the public!"
So then he drew out, in full, the three plots. He wrote these plots in verse! Heaven forgive us all, he really did. There were also two margins left; on one, which was narrow, he jotted down the locale per page of the most brilliant passages; on the other margin, which was as wide as the column of the plot, he made careful drawings of the personages in the principal dramatic situations; scrolls issued from their mouths, on which were written the words of fire that were flowing from each in these eruptions of the dramatic action. All was referred to pages in the manuscripts.
"By this means, sir," resumed the latter, "you will gut my fish in a jiffy; permit me to recall that expression, with apologies for my freedom. I would say, you will, in a few minutes of your valuable existence, skim the cream of Triplet."
This author's respect for the manager's time carried him into further and unusual details.
"Breakfast," said he, "is a quiet meal. Let me respectfully suggest, that by placing one of my plots on the table, with, say, the sugar-basin upon it (this, again, is a mere suggestion), and the play it appertains to on your other side, you can readily judge my work without disturbing the avocations of the day, and master a play in the twinkling of a teacup; forgive my facetiousness. This day month, at ten of the clock, I shall expect," said Triplet, with sudden severity, "sir, your decision!"
Then, gliding back to the courtier, he formally disowned all special title to the consideration he expected from Mr. Rich's well-known courtesy; still he begged permission to remind that gentleman that he had, six years ago, painted for him a large scene, illuminated by two great poetical incidents: a red sun, of dimensions never seen out of doors in this or any country; and an ocean of sand, yellower than up to that time had been attained in art or nature; and that once, when the audience, late in the evening, had suddenly demanded a popular song from Mr. Nokes, he (Triplet), seeing the orchestra thinned by desertion, and nugatory by intoxication, had started from the pit, resuscitated with the whole contents of his snuff-box the bass fiddle, snatched the leader's violin, and carried Mr. Nokes triumphantly through; that thunders of applause had followed, and Mr. Nokes had kindly returned thanks for both; but that he (Triplet) had hastily retired to evade the manager's acknowledgments, preferring to wait an opportunity like the present, when both interests could be conciliated, etc.
This letter he posted at its destination, to save time, and returned triumphant home. He had now forgiven and almost forgotten Vane; and had reflected that, after all, the drama was his proper walk.
"My dear," said he to Mrs. Triplet, "this family is on the eve of a great triumph!" Then, inverting that order of the grandiloquent and the homely which he invented in our first chapter, he proceeded to say: "I have reared in a single day a new avenue by which histrionic greatness, hitherto obstructed, may become accessible. Wife, I think I have done the trick at last. Lysimachus!" added he, "let a libation be poured out on so smiling an occasion, and a burnt-offering rise to propitiate the celestial powers. Run to the 'Sun,' you dog. Three pennyworth of ale, and a hap'orth o' tobacco."