This text is intended for users whose text readers cannot use the "real" (unicode/utf-8) version or even the simplified Latin-1 version. A few letters such as "oe" and "ae" have been unpacked, and curly quotes and apostrophes have been replaced with the simpler "typewriter" form. One Greek word has been transliterated and shown between marks.
The printed book contained the six Numbers of Volume I with their appended plays. The Index originally appeared at the beginning of the volume; it has been added to the end of the journal text, before the play. Pages 189-268 refer to the present Number.
Errors are listed separately for the Mirror of Taste and for the Novice of St. Mark's.]
THE MIRROR OF TASTE,
Vol. I. MARCH 1810. No. 3.
HISTORY OF THE STAGE.
AESCHYLUS and SHAKSPEARE have each been styled the father of the drama of his country: yet their claims to this distinction stand on very different grounds. Aeschylus laid the plan and foundation of the Grecian tragedy and built upon it; but to his successor belongs the glory of improving upon his invention. Shakspeare raised the drama of his country at once to the utmost degree of perfection: succeeding poets have been able to do nothing more than walk in the path trod by him, at an immense distance, and endeavour to copy but without equalling his perfections.
The general admiration in which Aeschylus was held, gave birth to a herd of imitators, among whom were sons and nephews of his own; but as, like most imitators, they could do little more than mimic his defects without reaching his excellencies, they served only as a foil to set off the lustre of his great successor Sophocles, who, while yet his scholar, aspired to be his competitor, and gained the preeminence at the age of twenty-five.
SOPHOCLES was born four hundred and ninety-seven years before the birth of Christ, and at an early age rendered himself, like his master Aeschylus, conspicuous by his superior talents in war and in poetry. It happened, when Sophocles was not yet five and twenty, that the remains of Theseus were brought from Scyros to Athens, where festivals and games were made in honour of that heroic monarch, as well as to commemorate the taking of that island: among those a yearly contest was instituted for the palm in tragedy. Sophocles became a candidate, and though there were many competitors, and among them Aeschylus himself, he bore away the prize. The fondness of the Greeks for the theatre was so passionately strong, that in order to excite emulation among the poets, they gave rewards to those, who among the competitors, were judged to have the preference; and they entrusted the management of their theatres to none but persons of the most considerable rank and character. Hitherto the prize was disputed by four dramatic pieces only, three of which were tragedies—while the fourth was a comedy; but Sophocles brought about a new arrangement, and by opposing, in all cases, tragedy to tragedy, completely excluded comedy from its pretensions.
Another and an excellent revolution in the drama was brought about by this great man. He added one actor more to the dramatis personae, and raised the chorus to fifteen persons, introducing them into the main action, and giving to all of them such parts to perform as tended to the carrying on of one uniform, regular plot. Encouraged by the great success of his pieces, the honours conferred upon him, and the deference paid to his opinions, he continued to write with unabated enthusiasm for the stage, and obtained the public prize no less than twenty different times. The admiration and wonder with which his genius was spoken of through all Greece, induced a general opinion that he was specially favoured by heaven, and that he held an intimate communication with the gods. Cicero himself has gone so far as to assert that Hercules had a prodigious esteem for him; and Apollonius of Thyana, a Pythagorean philosopher, said in an oration he delivered before the tyrant Domitian, that "Sophocles, the Athenian, could tie up the winds, and stop their fury."
That Sophocles was a man of transcendant powers of mind, no one has ever doubted, Aeschylus himself condescended to visit him at his own house: Aristotle made his works the ground work of his Art of Poetry: The eulogists of Plato compared the advancements made by that great man in philosophy, to those made by Sophocles in tragedy: Cicero gives him the epithet of "the divine"—Virgil decidedly preferred him to all writers of tragedy; and to this day, his works make a part of the course appointed for students in the Greek language in all the great colleges and seminaries of Europe. The great rival of Sophocles was Euripides, who, in their public contentions for the prize, divided with him the applause of the populace. At that time the theatre was held to be an object of the highest magnitude and importance, and made an essential and magnificent part of their pagan worship. The Athenians, therefore, were delighted by the contentions of these two prodigious men: but, as it generally happens in cases of rivalship between public favourites, the people divided into two parties, one of which maintained the superiority of Sophocles, while the other insisted on the preeminence of Euripides. The truth is, that though rivals, and perhaps equals in talent, they could not afford a just subject of comparison. Magis pares quam similes—they were rather equal, than like to each other. In dignity and sublimity Sophocles takes the lead, as Euripides does in tenderness, feeling, and pathetic expression.
For the sake of human nature it is to be lamented that popular applause produced envy, and jealousy between them, and notwithstanding their divine talents, they sunk into the littleness that degrades the lowest of the poets (irritabile genus) and regarded each other with abhorrence. It is said, in vindication of the character of these great men, that they were abused into a mutual dislike merely by the calumnious misrepresentations of pretended friends. Finding, however, that their animosities provoked general ridicule and contempt, and that their quarrels had become the common theme with which the witlings and poetasters of Greece amused the people, they judiciously resolved to treat each other with the respect and confidence that became such exalted characters, and became friends again. It should seem that Euripides was the first to make an advance towards reconciliation; as appears from a letter of his, in which he speaks thus: "Inconstancy is not my character. I have retained every friend except Sophocles; though I no longer see him, I do not hate him. Injustice has alienated me from him; justice reproaches me for it. I hope time will cement our reunion. What mortal ill is not caused at times by those wicked spirits who are never so happy as when they sow dissension among those who by nature and reason are meant to promote the felicity of each other."
A weakness of voice under which Sophocles laboured often prevented his appearing in his own tragedies; but this did not at all injure his fame, for he continued to write into extreme old age with uniformly increasing reputation. It is recorded that he composed one hundred and twenty tragedies, of which not more than seven are extant—namely, AJAX, ELECTRA, OEDIPUS THE TYRANT, ANTIGONE, THE TRACHINIAE, PHILOCTETES, and OEDIPUS AT COLONOS. The last of those tragedies has been ever marked with particular regard on account of a most interesting circumstance that attended its production, and made it the apex of that great man's fame and fortune.
Like old Lear, Sophocles was cursed with ungrateful children. Shakspeare's imagination went no further than TWO ungrateful daughters: Sophocles had in reality four sons, all as ungrateful as those monsters of Shakspeare's brain. The extreme age and bodily infirmities of their venerable parent, having for sometime inflamed their anxiety to become masters of his possessions, they grew at last impatient and, weary of his living so long, formed a conspiracy against him, and accused him before the Areopagus, of being insane, a driveller incapable of governing his family, or managing his concerns—in short, a fool, a madman. He had fortunately, at that time, just finished his OEDIPUS AT COLONOS. When he heard the charge made against him by his ingrate sons, he offered no defence but this tragedy, which he read to the judges, and then with the boldness of conscious superiority demanded of them whether the author of that piece could be taxed with insanity. Heart-struck with the exquisite beauties and sublime sentiments of the piece, and astonished at the vigorous mind, the exalted truth, the profound moral wisdom, the accurate and solid judgment, and the almost divinely persuasive language that pervaded every act of it, they heaped honours along with their acquittal upon his head, dismissed him with a shout of praise, and sent his sons home covered with shame and confusion. If firm reliance can be placed on the authority of Lucian, the sons were, by the Areopagus, voted madmen for having accused their father.
Like Aeschylus, Sophocles was a high military character, and was ranked among the foremost defenders of his country. He commanded an army in the war which the Athenians (by the desire of the renowned Pericles, who so willed it at the instance of his mistress Aspasia) waged against the inhabitants of Samos; and he returned from it triumphant.
Great men are seldom let to die like ordinary people: a man like Sophocles of course must be provided with one or more modes of death unlike those which take off other men. Some have said that on the extraordinary success of one of his tragedies, he expired with extreme joy;—an effect rather extreme for one who had for more than sixty years been accustomed to such successes. Others have asserted that he dropped dead in consequence of holding in his breath, while reading his tragedy of Antigonus, so long that the action of his lungs ceased—an event not at all probable. Another (Lucian) says he was choked by a grape-stone. These various rumours destroying each other, not only by their contradiction but by their improbability, leaves the cause of his death in that uncertainty in which it might hitherto, and may forever remain, without any injury to the subject. Men of ninety-five are likely enough to go off suddenly, without violent joy—violent exertion, or even grape-stones. The story of the grape-stone is told also of Anacreon. Perhaps in both cases it was a poetical fiction to mark the love of wine which distinguished these two personages; for Sophocles is accused by Athenaeus of licentiousness and debauchery, particularly when he commanded the Athenian army. In like manner it is asserted by Pausanias that Bacchus appeared to Aeschylus under the shadow of a vine, and ordered him to write tragedies, thereby figuratively alluding to the well known truth that that poet drank wine excessively, and composed his tragedies while he was drunk.
The public influence of Sophocles was so great that, at his instance, the people of Athens went to the most unbounded expense in the construction and decoration of their theatres. The additional magnificence they derived from him is scarcely credible. In fact the expense was carried so far that it became a reproach to the country, and it was said that the Athenians lavished away more money on the representation of a single play, than on all their wars with the barbarians.
Some of the sons of Sophocles composed tragedy and wrote some lyric poems. But there exist no remains of their works, nor anything particular respecting themselves; some loose anecdotes excepted, which Plutarch has related respecting one of them of the name of Antiphon, who wrote a tragedy by which Dionysius the tyrant obtained a prize, long after he had put the author to death for dispraising his compositions.
EURIPIDES was born at Salamis in the year four hundred and eighty-five before the Christian era, and on the very day on which Themistocles with a handful of Grecians defeated the immense army of Xerxes. He was nobly descended on the maternal side, and was placed in due time under the first preceptors. From Prodicus he learned eloquence; from Socrates, ethics, and under Anaxagoras he studied philosophy. His parents having, before he was born, consulted the oracle of Apollo respecting his fate, were informed that the world should witness his fame, and that he would gain a crown. Of this answer which, like all the responses of the oracle, was constructed with purposed ambiguity, they could come to no decisive explanation: however, thinking it unlikely that the oracle could mean any other than the athletic crown, the father took especial care to fit him for a wrestler, and with such success, that he actually won the athletic crown at the games and festivals celebrated in honour of Ceres.
His original destination was to painting, to the study of which he applied for sometime, and, as tradition informs us, with considerable success. But nature, and the impulse of a vigorous genius, pointed out another road to him. He abandoned the pencil, and devoted his whole labours to the study of morality, philosophy and poetry. The drama being most congenial to his mind, greatly engrossed his attention: he lamented that the tragedies of even Aeschylus and Sophocles themselves, contained very little philosophy, and he diligently applied himself to the effecting of a more intimate union between moral philosophy and dramatic representation.
As he possessed the powers for accomplishing this valuable purpose in an eminent degree, his writings became the subject of universal applause and admiration with his countrymen. Indeed the effects that are related to have been produced by his compositions, are so prodigious as almost to stagger belief. His verses were in the mouths of persons in all countries in which the Greek language was spoken; if prisoners pleaded their cause in his words, they were dismissed with freedom; and it is an historical fact that the unfortunate Greeks who had accompanied NICIAS in his expedition against Syracuse, and were enslaved in Sicily, obtained their liberty by repeating some appropriate verses taken from one of his tragedies.
Sophocles was the great object first of his imitation, and then of his envy and jealousy. In order to enable himself to contest the palm of superiority with that great poet, Euripides frequently withdrew from the haunts of men, and confined himself in a solitary cave near Salamis, where he composed and finished some of the most excellent of his tragedies. The full vein of philosophy which pervaded his dramatic compositions, obtained for him the name of the philosophic poet, and so loudly did fame proclaim his extraordinary excellence, that Socrates, who never before visited the theatre, went constantly to attend the tragedies of Euripides. Alexander admired him beyond all other writers—Demosthenes confessed that he had learned declamation from his works, and when Cicero was assassinated, the works of Euripides were found clutched in his hands.
Together with this rare and felicitous genius, Euripides enjoyed the blessing of a firm undaunted spirit, a great and bold dignity, and a courage which nothing could shake. During the representation of one of his tragedies, the audience took offence at some lines in the composition and immediately ordered him to strike them out of the piece. Euripides took fire at their presumption, and indignantly advancing forward on the stage told the spectators that "he came there to instruct them, and not to receive instruction." Another time on the first representation of a new play, the audience expressed great dissatisfaction at a speech in which he called "riches the summum bonum, and the admiration of gods and men." The poet stepped forward, reproved the audience for their hasty conclusion, and magisterially desired them to listen to the play with the silent attention that was due to it, and they would in the end find their error, as the catastrophe would show them the just punishment which attended the lovers of wealth. The last of these anecdotes is a proof of the moral excellence and chastity, which the Grecian poets were constrained to observe in their public compositions.
Of seventy-five tragedies which this admirable poet wrote and had represented, nineteen only are in existence. The best of those are his PHOENISSAE, his ORESTES, MEDEA, ANDROMACHE, ELECTRA, IPHIGENIA IN AULIS, IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS, HERCULES, and the TROADES.
Euripides is particularly happy in expressing the passion of love, especially when it is exalted to the most lively, ardent tenderness. His pieces are not so perfect as those of Sophocles, but they are more replete with those exquisite beauties which strike the heart with the electrical fire of poetry, and his language is more soft and persuasive. The drama is on the whole, however, much more indebted to Sophocles, to whom Aristotle, who is certainly the very highest authority, gives the precedence in point of general arrangement, disposition of parts, and characteristic manner, and indeed in style also.
The most obvious point of inferiority in Euripides is the choice of his subjects, which are charged with meanness and effeminacy; while Sophocles and Aeschylus chose for theirs the most dignified and noble passions. He has moreover given very disgraceful pictures of the fair sex, making women the contrivers, the agents, and the instruments of the most impure and diabolical machinations. This unjust perversion was attributed to a hatred he had to women, which occasioned him to be called misogunes, or the woman-hater; but this he sturdily refuted by insisting that in those bad characters he had faithfully copied the nature of the sex. Notwithstanding this, he was married twice; but was so injudicious in his choice of wives, that he was compelled to divorce both. In his person Euripides was noble and majestic, and in his deportment grave and serious.
No poet ever took more pains than Euripides in polishing and perfecting his tragedies. He composed very slow, and laboured his periods with the greatest care and difficulty; anticipating the valuable instructions long afterwards given by Horace to poets. A wretched author, whose heart was as malicious as his poetry was miserable, once sarcastically observed that he had written a hundred verses in three days, while Euripides had written only three. "True," replied Euripides, "but there is this difference between your poetry and mine; yours will expire in three days, but mine will live for ages."
The disputes between Sophocles and our poet, the jealousy and envy of his great fame and endowments, and, as some say, the resentment of the female part of Athens, subjected him to a degree of ridicule and rancorous invective, which induced him to leave Athens; when he went into Macedonia, and lived at the court of king Archelaus, who considered it an honour to patronise such a great poet, bestowing upon him the most conspicuous marks of his friendship and munificence, and even carrying his esteem and admiration so far, as to make him his prime minister. This dignified office Euripides held when he lost his life, in a manner the most cruel and horrible that can be conceived.
In one of his solitary walks, in a wood to which he had been accustomed to repair every evening, for the purpose of uninterrupted contemplation, a pack of dogs belonging to the king set upon him and tore him to pieces in the seventy-eighth year of his age. So extraordinary and deplorable a death naturally gave rise to a multitude of conjectures, and, of course, not very charitable ones. By some, the creatures of Archelaus's court who hated him as a successful rival, and envied him the high favours bestowed upon him by the king, were suspected of having purposely procured the dogs to be let loose upon, in order to destroy him: a conjecture not at all probable. By others again it has been suggested that he was torn to pieces by women in revenge for his black pictures of the sex: a still more improbable conjecture, and probably borrowed from the fate of Orpheus; but which still serves to show how little kindness he was thought to deserve from the women; while others more rationally concluded that his encountering the dogs and their attacking him, was purely an accidental circumstance; and that having in the abstraction and absence of mind, attendant upon very profound meditation, encroached upon some part of the palace grounds, which the dogs were appointed to guard, he found his mistake too late to escape from their fury.
Sophocles outlived Euripides about a year, leaving behind him no one capable of improving, or even of tolerably supporting the tragic stage of Greece. The hopes of the Grecian drama was buried in the grave along with him. Of those who succeeded him we know nothing; nor should we know that any did succeed, if the history of Aristophanes did not inform us, that there were such, who served only as butts for his malevolent wit.
Never were greater honours conferred by national gratitude and pride than those which were paid by Greece to the memory of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Statues were erected to them by public edict, and their works were recorded as matters of state in the archives of the nation. This part of the history is worthy of very particular consideration. That great, wise, and high spirited free nation, who understood man's nature, and national policy of the best kind, as well as any other people that ever existed, knew the efficacy of the stage in meliorating the morals, the manners, and the opinions of a people, and, therefore, made use of it as a great state engine. Their poets studiously interwove the public events of Greece into their dramatic poetry, and made their tragedies national concerns, which, as such, were sanctioned by law and supported out of the public treasury. Thus the glories of their heroes were registered and rewarded—the influence of their example extended—a lively ambition to excel in valour, virtue, and wisdom was disseminated by the sentiments which the genius and skill of the poets put into the mouths of their leading characters, and young men endeavoured to model themselves by those characters and sentiments.
Dramatic criticism was not left by the Greeks, as it is by the moderns, to operate at random, or yielded up to the will or the caprice of vain, ignorant, presumptuous, or corrupt pretenders. A bench of judges to the number of ten, selected for their learning, integrity, and acknowledged excellence, were appointed by law to preside at theatric representations, and to determine what was fit for the public to hear, and what not. These were sworn to decide impartially, and they were vested with an authority which extended to the infliction of summary punishment on impure, mischievous, or offensive pieces. They had the power to punish with whipping, and were authorised to bestow great rewards for merit. Thus, Sophocles was awarded a dignified and lucrative government for one of his pieces, and an unfortunate comic poet of the name of Evangelus was publicly whipped. This circulated a spirit of correctness, and a chaste and delicate taste through the people, as was evidenced in the case already mentioned, of one of the tragedies of Euripides, which was instantly censured for the introduction of a vitious sentiment in favour of riches. How unlike our playhouse critics of modern times were those Athenians. By them, no regard was paid to private solicitation, to personal partiality, or to national, party, or other prejudice. At these times it is otherwise, at least in Great Britain and America; and the sentence to be passed on the piece or the player, in common with most other popular decisions, too often turns on the great master hinge of party spirit or personal prejudice. Imbecility is bolstered up, and merit blasted by the clamours of an ignorant and corrupt few, who, with roar and ruffian impudence spread their perverted opinions, and at last pass them through the ignorant multitude with the current stamp of public decision.
It would be unpardonable to omit in this part of the history the circumstance of Dionysius, the horrible tyrant of Syracuse, having been a candidate for fame in dramatic poetry. Though utterly destitute of poetical talents, or of any means of obtaining approbation for his writings, save only that of extorting it by terror, and even by the infliction of death, he laboured under the most inveterate passion for poetic honours. By means not known, he got possession of some loose writings and memorandums of Aeschylus, and from them patched up some pieces which he vainly endeavoured to pass for his own: but the people were not to be deceived. With a view to extend his fame he despatched his brother Theodorus to Olympia, with orders to repeat there in public, some verses in his name, in competition with some other poets for the poetical prize: the people, however, had too much taste to endure them, and rewarded his muse with groans and hisses. At Athens, however, he had better success; for he obtained the prize there for a composition which he sent in his name, but which was chiefly written by Antiphon, the son of Sophocles, whom he put to death for declining to praise some of his verses. Conscious, as he must have been, that the prize, though awarded to his name, did not belong to himself, he was more overjoyed at obtaining it than at all the victories he had ever obtained in the field of blood. And absurd as it may appear, he had so obstinately set his heart upon being considered a great poet, that he had recourse to the most mean as well as cruel expedients to accomplish it. For this purpose, he endeavoured to suborn a poet who lived under his patronage. The man, whose name was Philoxenus, had lost the favour of the king, and was imprisoned by him for the seduction of one of his female singers. Having written some verses, the tyrant bethought him of establishing their reputation by getting Philoxenus to express publicly his approbation of them, and for that purpose ordered him from his prison: but the poet, too proud and virtuous to purchase his liberty by the sacrifice of truth, refused; in consequence of which, Dionysius ordered him to the quarries to work as a slave. Some time afterwards, being released, he was asked at a public feast, his opinion of some of the king's verses; upon which, knowing that the inquirers were the tyrant's agents, he answered, by exclaiming aloud, "Lead me back to the quarries!" His answer had such an effect upon Dionysius that he forgave Philoxenus, and restored him to his favour.
[Footnote 1: This was the same Apollonius, who while one day vehemently haranguing the populace at Ephesus, suddenly broke off and exclaimed—Strike the tyrant, strike him!—the blow is given!—he is wounded—he is fallen—he dies! And at that very moment the emperor Domitian had been stabbed at Rome.]
[Footnote 2: Aristophanes ridiculed them both on the stage with great humour and success.]
BIOGRAPHY—FOR THE MIRROR
SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF THE LATE MR. HODGKINSON.
The illustrious lord Verulam, detailing in one of his essays the various motives to envy in the human bosom, says, "men of birth are noted to be envious towards new men—for their distance is altered." His lordship might with safety have extended the proposition to those whom either wealth, or casualty unconnected with high descent or personal merit, have raised to worldly power and prosperity. Men who have been lifted to the summits of society by the accumulation of money, still more than those who stand there in right of the decayed merit of their ancestry look down with scorn upon their fellow-beings who toil below, and too often view with jealousy and repugnance, the endeavours of those who aspire to that eminence, of which they themselves are so vain and ostentatious. Elevation from an humble condition to conspicuity and rank, bespeaks superior personal merit; and to many of those who figure in, what is called, high life, it is to be feared that the bare mention of personal merit, would look like an indirect reproach.
Not only in that class, however, but in most others of society, there are multitudes who can boast of very different sentiments—men of real worth and discernment, who do not disdain to contemplate the exertions of a powerful mind in its aspirations to dignity, nor turn with contempt from the man whom nature has enriched, though it should have been his lot to come into the world under the depression of a needy or obscure parentage.—Persons of liberal hearts, and luminous minds well know that in the moral world there are natural laws, which like those of gravitation in the physical, oppose the elevation of all whom chance has thrown down to the bottom of life, rendering it difficult or rather indeed utterly impracticable for them to rise, but by means of the most gigantic powers; and therefore consider those who emerge to the top by the fair exercise of their natural talents, as the only valuable levellers—the real and substantial asserters of the equality of men.
No apology therefore can be expected, for offering to the public a short sketch of the life of John Hodgkinson—a man, who, though dropped, at his birth, a darkling, into the world, contrived by the exercise of his personal endowments, without aid, friend, influence, or advantage, save those which nature in her bounty vouchsafed him, to mount to the highest rank in his profession—a profession to excel in which, requires more rich endowments of mind and person jointly, than any of those to which men have recourse for the acquisition of fame or fortune.
There may be some to whom the history of such a man, and the equitable adjudication of applause to such talents as he possessed will not be very palatable. Feeble men, ever jealous, ever envious, sicken at the praise of greatness, and pride will elevate its supercilious brow in disdain, at the eulogy of the lowly born. But the former may set their hearts at rest (if such hearts can have rest) when they are told that in the present instance truth will qualify the praise so richly deserved, with some alloy of censure not less so: and the latter, who affect to despise the stage while they draw from it delight and instruction, will perhaps forgive the man's endowments in consideration of his calling, and think the sin of his talents atoned by the penance of being a player.
The paternal name of this extraordinary actor was Meadowcroft;—but this he relinquished on a certain necessity that will be mentioned hereafter, taking in its stead, that of his mother's family, which he continued to retain long after that necessity had ceased to exist, and bore to the day of his death. At the time of his birth his father was an humble husbandman, and lived not far from Manchester; and very near to the mansion-house of —— Harrison, esquire. From this, he moved into the city where he set up a public house well known to several persons now in America, one of whom recollects to have seen young John figuring there in capacity of waiter, or as it is commonly called in England, pot-boy. His father dying, the widow married another husband—and John was put out to an apprenticeship, in some inferior department of the silk trade. Having, from his infancy, disclosed manifestations of that exquisite voice and fine taste for music, which afterwards acquired him such fame as a singer, he was put to sing with the boys in one of the churches of Manchester, where he very soon distinguished himself not only for the power and compass of one of the sweetest countertenor voices in the world, but for a taste and accurate execution uncommon to his age and untutored condition.
While the boy was drinking in, with rapture, the applause bestowed upon his musical talents, his master earnestly deprecated, and violently opposed the cultivation of them. In the contentions between this applause and that opposition—between the charming flattery of the one, and the mortifying severity of the other, the boy took that side which it was natural for him to prefer; and genius, the parent of courage and enterprise, suggested to him from time to time a variety of expedients for baffling all his master's designs, and eluding his sharpest vigilance. He collected around him a number of boys of about his own age, who by a weekly subscription which they contrived to collect, rented a cellar in an obscure retired alley—provided themselves with musical instruments, and, with paper decorations and patchwork, formed a little theatre, whither they resorted, every moment they could snatch by stealth or pretext, from their parents' and masters' control, in order privately to practise music and dancing, to spout and to perform (in their way) plays, operas and farces. At this time the whole amount of the schooling which the boy had received, barely enabled him to read a chapter in the testament, to scrawl a very indifferent manuscript, and to form an indistinct notion of the two or three first rules of vulgar arithmetic. Such was the cunning and address with which these youngsters managed their theatre, that they enjoyed it several months without THE OLD ONES being able to discover where they wasted their time. One answer always served JOHN when questioned by his master—"Where have you been miching now, you young rascal?"—"NOWHERE sir!" This NOWHERE (so very indefinite) the master construed into anywhere in the streets, playing at marbles, top, or chuck-farthing; but of the true place he had not the most distant conception. After some time they began to apprehend that their retreat would be discovered either by accident or the vigilance of the old folks, and this had the effect of increasing their caution and sharpening their ingenuity and cunning. They affected to loiter and play in distant streets, and courted detection there, in order to elude any suspicions that might lead to a discovery of their playhouse; and as they never ventured to indulge their ambition by figuring away before any but their own little society, and were the only auditors, as well as the actors of their pieces, they calculated upon being able to carry on their scheme till time should set them free from parental control; provided there should be no treachery among themselves. However, their confidence in one another was great. "Of one only," said Hodgkinson, to this writer, "we entertained the least doubt, and you will smile to hear the cause of it: it was, because he was the son of an attorney—he was bottom however to the last, and is now as worthy a man as any in society."
Most of what is here related came to the knowledge of the writer in desultory conversations with Hodgkinson, and two other persons now in America. "I have very often," said John, "reflected on the success of our stratagems, and could not help inferring from it a truth which moral philosophers have long since laid down; that little cunning is most perfect in weakest minds. I am persuaded that our company could not, when grown up to manhood, have acted with half the minute ingenuity which we displayed on that occasion." "I had one day, continued he, put on my best clothes for the purpose of rehearsing LIONEL. I panted for a suit of black for it, but could not obtain one; so I was fain to put up with one of blue. It was almost new to be sure, but was daubed over with brass buttons, and therefore rather unfit for the clerical Lionel. That, however, I dared not alter. Returning home when our play was over, I descried my master coming towards me, and, convinced that he saw me, I turned into a corner, as if to hide myself, knelt down in order to cover the knees of my small clothes with dust, pulled out my bag of marbles and chalk, which I always carried for the purpose of deception, and daubed my thumbs and fingers, and even my sleeves and waistcoat with chalk, as if I had been playing marbles. "Aha, you young villain, he cried, before he got up to me, you have been playing marbles, have you! I'll marble you, you rascal." Having accomplished my purpose, I ran away too fast for him to catch me. That night I heard him say, "One would think the fellow was too old to play marbles, by this time!—I dont know what the d—l to do with him." In fact (continued Hodgkinson) we were, like birds, in the daily habit of playing a thousand tricks to draw away intruders or suspicion from our nest."
After a concealment protracted to an astonishing length, however, the nest was at last discovered, the poor birds were dispersed, and our hero took his ill-fledged flight to perch upon distant sprays, and to pick his meat from the hand that caters for the sparrow. This was the pivot upon which the whole life of Hodgkinson turned. The irresistible impulse of a vigorous genius would, most probably, under any other circumstances, have sent him ultimately to the goal of his destination; but this event hastened it, most unpropitiously hastened it, and, in an evil hour, cast him forth upon the world, a youth, or rather a boy, ill educated, untutored, unprotected, a precocious adventurer, unprovided with money, and wholly dependant upon God and his own efforts, not only for the food that was to sustain his existence, but for the whole stock of prudence, moral rectitude, and knowledge that were to carry him through life. On this part of the history of Mr. Hodgkinson the candid reader will keep his eye steadily and unalterably fixed. If men who have been brought up with every advantage of excellent education, good breeding, and moral and religious instruction, and who have not been let forth from the hand of guardianship, till their knowledge has been established, and their morals confirmed by habit and good example, are daily seen running headlong into vice, and, with shipwrecked morals, sinking into ruin, can we at all wonder if a poor boy, cast forth into the world in the circumstances of Hodgkinson, and, like a half decked skiff, with lofty rigging and no ballast but its own intrinsic weight, drifted out upon the tempestuous ocean of life, without compass, or chart, or means of keeping reckoning, should have sometimes struck upon those treacherous shelves which lay hidden in the track before him? Is there not rather just cause for wonder that he did not speedily sink to the bottom, but that, on the contrary, he kept afloat, advanced to conspicuity and fame, and would, in all probability, have ultimately come with flying colours to a mooring in the port of honour and happiness, if Death had not unexpectedly arrested him in his progress.
It was a little after the time when Hodgkinson had entered his fifteenth year, that the retreating place of our little company of players and musicians was discovered. They were all lads not only of lively genius but of high mettle, and of vigorous animal spirits. Like master Dick, in Murphy's farce of the Apprentice, they had their heads stuffed with scraps of plays, with which they interlarded their discourse, cracked their jests, praised their favourites, and satirized their enemies, among which last the very worst, in their opinions, were their parents, guardians, and masters. "The character of Dick," said Hodgkinson more than once to this writer, "is not overcharged." Our youngsters were quite pat at stage gabble, and
Fathers have flinty hearts, no tears can move them,
with effusions of a similar tendency, every day resounded from their theatrical cellar, followed by bursts of thoughtless merriment and laughter.
One day our little cellar company were engaged in rehearsing Dibdin's comic opera of the Padlock. Being the best singer, Hodgkinson had the part of Leander allotted to him, sore against his will, Mungo being at that time his favourite character. As he played the first fiddle he was employed in scratching away an accompaniment to the Mungo of the day, in the song of
Dear heart, dear heart, what a terrible life am I led,
when a noise was heard at the door of a passage that led to the cellar, as if it were a person pushing against it. Interrupted thus unseasonably, master Mungo, in apparent panic, suddenly ceased to sing. "What do you stop for?" said John. "Didst thou not hear a noise?" said the other, assuming the tone, and perhaps feeling the alarm too, of Macbeth, in the dagger-scene. "Bravo, bravo!" cried Hodgkinson, "excellent! You can't do Mungo half so well. It is I, sir, I that can do Mungo to the very life. Now I say, boys, with what feeling could I pour out from my heart and soul, "Oh cussa heart of my old massa—him damn impudence and his cuss assurance." This he followed with a spirited twang of "Dear heart" on the violin, accompanying it with the words. Again a noise was heard. "What can it be?" said one. "What can it be?" said another. There was a push at the door. "Oh!" cried Hodgkinson, "it's only one of the hogs that roam about the alley, who, having more taste than the old ones, is come to hear our mirth and music." At this moment the door was burst open, and John's master entered. Before the latter had time to speak, or John to reflect, the boy's wit got the better of his prudence, and he roared out, in the words of Hamlet, "Oh my prophetic spirit! did I not tell you that it was a hog?" Hitherto the master had never gone so far as to strike him; but now, enraged beyond all control at what he saw and heard, he struck the boy with his fist in the face, wrung the fiddle out of his hand, and smashed it to pieces on his head. John, who could run like a greyhound, and well knew how far he could trust to his heels, no sooner got out of the cellar than he let loose the floodgates of his wrath, and poured forth upon his astonished master a torrent of invective, partly the slang of the mob, and partly supplied from plays and farces by his memory; then assuring "the ugly illnatured hunks" that he never should see him again till he was able to make his thick scull ring with a drubbing, he disappeared, and prepared to leave Manchester.
A few months antecedent to this event, a circumstance occurred to Hodgkinson the relation of which properly comes in here. Two persons, genteelly dressed, coming to his mother's house, called for a room and some beer, and asked if they could get dinner. It was Sunday, and John, as usual, spent the day at home. He was busily employed in the entry making a bridge for a fiddle, and, as he cut away, accompanied his labour with a song, upon which a person belonging to the house chid him angrily or rather very severely for singing on the sabbath. He made no other reply than that of changing from a soft song, which he barely hummed, to the laughing song of Linco in Cymon, which he roared out obstreperously, by way of asserting his independence. A verbal scuffle ensued, which he still interlarded with bursts of song and laughter; the door of the room opened; the two gentlemen interfered, and calling him into the parlour, requested him to sing Linco's song through for them. He complied; they lavished encomiums on his performance; and one of them said to the other "I'll be hanged if he does not sing it much better than Wilder," These words John never forgot; and he owned to this writer, about six years ago, that they still tingled in his ear, though, at the time they were uttered, he did not know who was meant by Wilder. The person who said this patted him on the head, stroked down his hair, affectionately, and added "You are a dear boy. May God Almighty bless and prosper you!" The other gave him a crownpiece, and desired him to keep it for his sake. Had he given him a hundred crowns they would have been nothing to the honied words of the former. In truth, the leading foible of Hodgkinson through life, was vanity—the great taproot of all his irregularities and errors. He was quite agog to learn who those two men might be: he asked, but no one knew them—they were strangers. In the afternoon, however, they were joined by some players who were performing in the town; and from one of those he learned that the two strangers were from Ireland—He who gave him the crownpiece being a gentleman of the name of Comerford, a merchant—he who gave him his blessing, a Mr. Dawson, a player of Dublin, who was an acting assistant, and a kind of purveyor for the manager of the theatre in that city, and stepfather to the celebrated William Lewis. The Mr. Wilder alluded to was many years an actor and singer in Dublin and the original Linco and colonel Oldboy of that city.
That crownpiece John had put into the hands of his mother, to keep. Having taken his resolution to leave Manchester, and seek his fortune, he went home, took the crown piece from the place where it was deposited, and getting up before break of day next morning, put on his best clothes, packed up a shirt, and took leave of Manchester. His first notion was to go to sea, to which end he took the road to Bristol, knowing that his master would, by means of the constant intercourse between Manchester and Liverpool, readily detect him if he went that road—an event more terrible to him than death; the penalty for runaway apprentices being very severe and disgraceful. It was on this occasion he dropped the name of MEADOWCROFT, and adopted the much less elegant one, of Hodgkinson.
Here the reader will naturally pause, in order to reflect upon the very extraordinary picture now presented to him. A boy of little more than fourteen years of age, unschooled; little better than illiterate; destitute of useful knowledge; cut off from parents, friends and connexions; and without any visible means of livelihood, rushing forward into a world of strangers, undismayed at the prospect before him; "full of life, and hope, and joy," and, like the lark of a summer's morning, caroling as he winged his way. Any reader who has felt the fears and anxieties of a parent when the dear boy of his heart has been for a short time missing, and remembers the pangs of doubt, the apprehension, the painful forebodings, nay, the despair itself into which an absence protracted beyond custom, and not to be accounted for, has thrown him, will be able, from a retrospect of his reflections on such an occasion, to imagine what must have been the danger of this boy, and what the courage he must have had to encounter it—and will, while pondering with admiration upon his fortitude and manliness, tremble for his fate. This writer once asked him if he was not horror-struck when he found himself in Bristol separated from all his friends, and well remembers his answer.—"No," said he, "Though I was little instructed and no book-scholar, I was not ignorant. Young as I was, I had formed opinions of life from its pictures in plays and farces, and taken full measure of my situation. I knew that I had nothing to expect in Manchester, or any other place, but from my own exertions, and therefore thought that the sooner I set to work the better. Those whom you call my friends, could do little for me if they were ever so well disposed, and I cannot say much for their disposition. I looked upon them and their purposes respecting me, rather as clogs and fetters, than as aids; and I am convinced I was right. I had no fear, because I had health and strength to do several things to earn my bread, (I could sing if I could do nothing else) and never once lost sight of the persuasion that I should one time or other be something better than a pot-boy or a mechanic. Nor did I meet in my journey anything to discourage me. Some suspected me of being a runaway 'tis true, and looked severely at me; but I minded them not; and one man, a wagoner who carried me a whole night in his wagon, owned that he had taken me in gratuitously, for the purpose of having me delivered up; but that I fairly sung and talked him into a regard for me, during the night. Few charged me anything for what I eat, and I brought more than half my crown into Bristol with me. I had besides a pair of silver buckles in my shoes, and a silver seal to my watch."
You had a watch then?—
"Yes—value sixpence, one of those they sell at fairs. I had bought it about half a year before—put a nice green riband to it, and a twopenny key.—This it was that got me the silver seal, and I'll tell you how. The Sunday after I bought it, I stood in the aisle of the church, looked at the great clock, and pompously pulling out my pewter watch, and looking at it as proudly as it were a real one, affected to wind it up and set it, studiously comparing it with the church clock and putting it up to my ear. A Mr. ——, a worthy man of some opulence, who lived near us and was in the habit of coming to our house to take his pint, came up to me and, with a serious air, pulling out his old gold watch, with a gold dial plate, gravely said to me, while he inwardly laughed—"Pray sir what is the time of the day by your watch,—let us see, do our watches agree, sir:" I blushed.—"Nay, said he, I do but jest with you my child—you must not be angry with me. Come, come; if you have not a gold watch, you shall have a silver seal to tie to your riband," saying which he brought me home and, taking one from the drawer of a black inkstand, gave it to me. What had a boy to fear that had three shillings in his pocket, a silver seal hanging to his watch string, and a pair of large silver buckles in his shoes? nothing—at least so I thought at that time."
(To be continued.)
[Footnote 3: I believe it was the man his mother married; but he never told me so, being retentive on that subject. —Biog.]
[Footnote 4: There are many people in America who remember Hodgkinson's excellence in singing the famous laughing song "Now's the time for mirth and glee."]
[Footnote 5: The writer laments that he has forgot this person's name.]
PORTRAIT OF THE CELEBRATED BETTERTON.
(Continued from page 140.)
Notwithstanding the extraordinary power he showed in blowing Alexander once more into a blaze of admiration, Betterton had so just a sense of what was true or false applause, that I have heard him say, he never thought any kind of it equal to an attentive silence; that there were many ways of deceiving an audience into a loud one; but to keep them hushed and quiet was an applause which only truth and merit could arrive at; of which art there never was an equal master to himself. From these various excellencies, he had so full a possession of the esteem and regard of his auditors, that, upon his entrance into every scene, he seemed to seize upon the eyes and ears of the giddy and inadvertent. To have talked or looked another way would then have been thought insensibility or ignorance. In all his soliloquies of moment, the strong intelligence of his attitude and aspect drew you into such an impatient gaze, and eager expectation, that you almost imbibed the sentiment with your eye, before the ear could reach it.
As Betterton is the centre to which all my observations upon action tend, you will give me leave, under his character, to enlarge upon that head. In the just delivery of poetical numbers, particularly where the sentiments are pathetic, it is scarce credible upon how minute an article of sound depends their greatest beauty or inaffection. The voice of a singer is not more strictly tied to time and tune than that of an actor in theatrical elocution. The least syllable too long, or too slightly dwelt upon in a period, depreciates it to nothing; which very syllable, if rightly touched, shall, like the heightening stroke of light from a master's pencil, give life and spirit to the whole. I never heard a line in tragedy come from Betterton wherein my judgment, my ear, and my imagination were not fully satisfied, which, since his time I cannot equally say of any one actor whatsoever; not but it is possible to be much his inferior with great excellencies, which I shall observe in another place. Had it been practicable to have tied down the clattering hands of the ill judges who were commonly the majority of an audience, to what amazing perfection might the English theatre have arrived, with so just an actor as Betterton at the head of it! If what was truth only could have been applauded, how many noisy actors had shook their plumes with shame, who, from the injudicious approbation of the multitude, have bawled and strutted in the place of merit! If, therefore, the bare speaking voice has such allurements in it, how much less ought we to wonder, however we may lament, that the sweeter notes of vocal music should so have captivated even the politer world into an apostacy from sense to an idolatry of sound. Let us inquire whence this enchantment rises. I am afraid it may be too naturally accounted for: for when we complain that the finest music, purchased at such vast expense, is so often thrown away upon the most miserable poetry, we seem not to consider that when the movement of the air and the tone of the voice are exquisitely harmonious, though we regard not one word of what we hear, yet the power of the melody is so busy in the heart, that we naturally annex ideas to it of our own creation, and, in some sort, become ourselves the poet to the composer; and what poet is so dull as not to be charmed with the child of his own fancy? So that there is even a kind of language in agreeable sounds, which, like the aspect of beauty, without words, speaks and plays with the imagination. While this taste, therefore, is so naturally prevalent, I doubt, to propose remedies for it were but giving laws to the winds, or advice to inamoratos. And however gravely we may assert that profit ought always to be inseparable from the delight of the theatre; nay, admitting that the pleasure would be heightened by the uniting them, yet, while instruction is so little the concern of the auditor, how can we hope that so choice a commodity will come to a market where there is so seldom a demand for it?
It is not to the actor, therefore, but to the vitiated and low taste of the spectator that the corruptions of the stage, of what kind soever, have been owing. If the public, by whom they must live, had spirit enough to discountenance and declare against all the trash and fopperies they have been so frequently fond of, both the actors and the authors, to the best of their power, must naturally have served their daily table with sound and wholesome diet.—But I have not yet done with my article of elocution.
As we have sometimes great composers of music, who cannot sing, we have as frequently great writers that cannot read; and though, without the nicest ear, no man can be master of poetical numbers; yet the best ear in the world will not always enable him to pronounce them. Of this truth Dryden, our first great master of verse and harmony, was a strong instance. When he brought his play of Amphytrion to the stage, I heard him give it his first reading to the actors, in which, though it is true, he delivered the plain sense of every period; yet the whole was in so cold, so flat, and unaffecting a manner, that I am afraid of not being believed when I affirm it.
On the contrary, Lee, far his inferior in poetry, was so pathetic a reader of his own scenes, that I have been informed by an actor who was present, that while Lee was reading to major Mohun, at a rehearsal, Mohun, in the warmth of his admiration, threw down his part and said, Unless I were able to play it as well as you read it, to what purpose should I undertake it? And yet this very author, whose elocution, raised such admiration in so capital an actor, when he attempted to be an actor himself, soon quitted the stage in an honest despair of ever making any profitable figure there.
From all this I would infer, that let our conception of what we are to speak be ever so just, and the ear ever so true, yet, when we are to deliver it to an audience (I will leave fear out of the question) there must go along with the whole a natural freedom and becoming grace, which is easier to conceive than to describe: for without this inexpressible somewhat, the performance will come out oddly disguised, or somewhere defectively unsurprising to the hearer. Of this defect too, I will give you yet a stranger instance, which you will allow fear could not be the occasion of. If you remember Estcourt, you must have known that he was long enough upon the stage, not to be under the least restraint from fear, in his performance. This man was so amazing and extraordinary a mimic, that no man or woman, from the coquette to the privy-counsellor, ever moved or spoke before him, but he would carry their voice, look, mein, and motion instantly into another company. I have heard him make long harangues, and form various arguments, even in the manner of thinking, of an eminent pleader at the bar, with every the least article and singularity of his utterance so perfectly imitated, that he was the very alter ipse, scarce to be distinguished from his original. Yet more; I have seen upon the margin of the written part of Falstaff, which he acted, his own notes and observations upon almost every speech of it, describing the true spirit of the humour, and with what tone of voice, look, and gesture each of them ought to be delivered; yet, in his execution upon the stage, he seemed to have lost all those just ideas he had formed of it, and almost through the character, laboured under a heavy load of flatness. In a word, with all his skill in mimickry, and knowledge of what ought to be done, he never, upon the stage, could bring it truly into practice, but was upon the whole, a languid unaffecting actor. After I have shown you so many necessary qualifications, not one of which can be spared in true theatrical elocution, and have at the same time proved, that with the assistance of them all united, the whole may still come forth defective, what talents shall we say will infallibly form an actor? This, I confess, is one of Nature's secrets, too deep for me to dive into. Let us content ourselves, therefore, with affirming, that Genius, which Nature only gives, only can complete him. This genius then was so strong in Betterton, that it shone out in every speech and motion of him. Yet voice and person are such necessary supporters to it, that, by the multitude, they have been preferred to genius itself, or at least often mistaken for it. Betterton had a voice of that kind which gave more spirit to terror than to the softer passions; of more strength than melody. The rage and jealousy of Othello became him better than the sighs and tenderness of Castalio: for though in Castalio he only excelled others, in Othello he excelled himself, which you will easily believe, when you consider, that, in spite of his complexion, Othello has more natural beauties than the best actor can find in all the magazine of poetry, to animate his power and delight his judgment with.
The person of this excellent actor was suitable to his voice, more manly than sweet, not exceeding the middle stature, inclining to the corpulent; of a serious and penetrating aspect; his limbs nearer the athletic than the delicate proportion; yet however formed, there arose from the harmony of the whole a commanding mein of majesty, which the fairer faced, or as Shakspeare calls them, the curled darlings of his time, ever wanted something to be equal masters of. There was some years ago to be had, almost in every print-shop, a mezzotinto, from Kneller, extremely like him.
In all I have said of Betterton, I confine myself to the time of his strength, and highest power in action, that you may make allowances from what he was able to execute at fifty, to what you might have seen of him at past seventy: for though to the last he was without his equal, he might not then be equal to his former self; yet so far was he from being ever overtaken, that for many years after his decease, I seldom saw any of his parts in Shakspeare supplied by others, but it drew from me the lamentation of Ophelia upon Hamlet's being unlike what she had seen him.
Ah! wo is me! T' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
The last part this great master of his profession acted was Melantius, in the Maid's Tragedy, for his own benefit, when being suddenly seized by the gout, he submitted, by extraordinary applications, to have his foot so far relieved, that he might be able to walk on the stage, in a slipper, rather than wholly disappoint his auditors. He was observed that day, to have exerted a more than ordinary spirit, and met with suitable applause; but the unhappy consequence of tampering with his distemper was, that it flew into his head, and killed him in three days, I think, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.
That Betterton was as good an actor as ever lived, and that he shone most conspicuously in parts of dignity and fire, is pretty certain; yet his externals were such as would at first sight be thought very unfavourable. The famous TONY ASTON, in a work called "A brief Supplement to Colley Cibber," gives the following picture of Mr. Betterton, the fidelity of which has never been questioned.
"Mr. Betterton though a superlative good actor, laboured under ill figure, being clumsily made, having a great head, a short thick neck, stooped in the shoulders, and had fat short arms, which he rarely lifted higher than his stomach. His left hand frequently lodged in his breast, between his coat and waistcoat, while with his right he prepared his speech. His actions were FEW, BUT JUST. He had little eyes and a broad face, a little pock-frecken, a corpulent body, and thick legs, with large feet. He was better to meet than to follow; for his aspect was serious, venerable and majestic. In his latter time he was a little paralytic. His voice was naturally low and grumbling; yet he could tune it by an artful climax, which enforced universal attention, even from the fops and orange-girls. He was incapable of dancing even in a country dance, as was Mrs. Barry; but their good qualities were more than equal to their deficiencies. Betterton was the most extensive actor from Alexander to sir John Falstaff."
"His younger cotemporary, Powel, who was only forty, when Betterton was sixty-three, attempted several of Betterton's parts, as Alexander, Jaffier, &c. but lost his credit, as in Alexander he maintained not the dignity of a king, but out-heroded Herod; and in his poisoned mad scene out-raved all probability, while Betterton kept his passion under, and showed it most, as fume smokes most when stifled. If I was to write of him all day, I should still remember fresh matter in his behalf."
The following facetious story of Betterton and a country tenant of his is related by Aston.
Mr. Betterton had a small farm near Reading, in Berkshire, and the countryman came, in the time of Bartholomew fair, to pay his rent. Mr. Betterton took him to the fair, and going to one Crawley's puppet-show, offered two shillings for himself and Roger, his tenant. "No, no, sir," said Crawley, "we never take money from one another." This affronted Mr. Betterton, who threw down the money, and they entered. Roger was hugely diverted with Punch, and bred a great noise, saying that he would drink with him, for he was a merry fellow. Mr. Betterton told him he was only a puppet, made up of sticks and rags. However Roger still cried out that he would go and drink with Punch. When Master took him behind where the puppets hung up, he swore he thought Punch had been alive. However, said he, though he be but sticks and rags, I'll give him sixpence to drink my health. At night Mr. Betterton went to the theatre, when was played the Orphan, Mr. Betterton acting Castalio, Mrs. Barry Monimia. "Well," said Master, "how dost like this play, Roger?" "Why, I don't know," said Roger, "it's well enough for sticks and rags."
This anecdote is falsely related of Garrick.
I have always considered those combinations which are formed in the playhouse as acts of fraud or cruelty. He that applauds him who does not deserve praise, is endeavouring to deceive the public. He that hisses in malice or in sport is an oppressor and a robber.
Dr. Johnson's Idler, No. 25.
Master Payne's performances concluded.
Of the characters represented by this young gentleman, those in which he has evinced greatest powers are Douglas, Tancred, and Romeo, while that in which he is least exceptionable, is Frederick in Lover's Vows. In his Octavian, which followed next after Douglas, some of the pathetic passages were beautifully expressed. Mrs. Inchbald, in her prefatory remarks to the play of the Mountaineers, says, "This true lover requires such peculiar art, such consummate skill in the delineation, that it is probable his representative may have given an impression of the whole drama unfavourable to the author. Nor is this a reproach to the actor who fails; for such a person as Octavian would never have been created, had not Kemble been born some years before him. But, notwithstanding the difference of their ages, it is likely they will both depart this life at the same time." While the difficulty of delineating Octavian, and the merit of a living performer of it are such, that it is scarcely possible to think of the play without thinking of Kemble, it has so happened that scarcely any character has been attempted by so many actors of all qualities—nor is there one in which so few have come off with actual disgrace. Men who could scarcely be endured in third or fourth rate parts, have selected Octavian to figure in, on their benefit nights. One man who was laughed at in every other character, was supposed by a misjudging audience to play Octavian well; nay, to our knowledge, was preferred to Hodgkinson and Cooper in it. The reason is plain: to the portraying of madness, the injudicious can imagine no limits. The more a madman raves and roars, the better; rags, slovenliness, and matted hair, and beard too, are the usual associates of awkwardness and vulgarity. Any man, therefore, who can rant and play the extravagant, no matter how ungracefully, may pass with some audiences for a very natural Octavian—an abominable absurdity! For these two reasons, Octavian is a very hazardous part for a performer who aims at substantial fame, to attempt. In Master Payne's performance of it, there was no extravagance to censure; nothing that had the least tendency to enrol him among the Bedlamite butchers of the character, nor was there, on the other hand, a complete uniform delineation of Octavian to afford him the same rank in that, which criticism willingly allows him in some other characters.
Not so Frederick, his performance of which was one consistent piece of natural, affecting, and indeed skilful acting. In the scenes of filial tenderness with his mother, and in the solemn but spirited remonstrances with the baron Wildenheim, he displayed such equal excellence that criticism might incur the charge of injustice by giving the preference to either. The character, as Master Payne acted it, was made up by him from the two antecedent translations of Mrs. Inchbald and Mr. Thompson;—by a union of both of which this youth has produced a better acting play than either. He lately published it at Baltimore with an advertisement prefixed, written by himself, to which we refer our readers, with a strong recommendation to them to peruse it.
In the characters selected by Master Payne there are but four which we can think judiciously chosen. For the whole selection we should find it difficult to account, if we did not know that they had before been chosen for Master Betty; by thus closely walking in the steps of whom, Master Payne has, in our opinion, wronged himself. It is evident that in choosing characters for the infant Roscius of England, his instructors had it more in view to exhibit the boy as a prodigy, than the characters well acted. The people were to be treated to an anomalous exhibition, and the greater the anomaly the better the treat. What but a determination to inflame public curiosity to the highest pitch by a contrast as absurd as unnatural, could have induced them to put forward a little boy of twelve years old in the formidable tyrant Richard? like modern composers of music, their object was not to produce harmony or natural sweetness, but to execute difficulties. As the actor was a boy loitering on the verge of childhood, the plan, if not correct, was at least politic. But the public do not look on Master Payne in that light, and therefore, he ought to have selected parts more suitable to his time of life and talents. Parts calculated to aid and not depress him. What judicious actor is there now living who would not think it injurious to him to be put forward by a manager in Selim or in Zaphna? The united powers of Mossop in Barbarosa, and Garrick in Selim could barely keep that play alive. We have seen Mossop play it to a house of not ten pound, though aided by the first Zaphira in the world, Mrs. Fitzhenry. From either of those characters Master Payne could not derive the least aid. His Hamlet we put out of the question—we did not see it.
On his Tancred we can dwell with very different sensations. Considering the materials he had to work upon, his delineation of the character was highly creditable to his talents. For the love part, little more can be done by a good actor, than by a good reader;—as poetry, it is soft, and sweet, and flowing; as a practical representation of that passion it is mawkish: yet, in the performance of Master Payne, it was not entirely destitute of interest. In all the rest; in every scene with Siffredi, particularly in his warm expostulations with the honest, but mistaken old statesman; in his subsequent indignation and despair; in his lofty bearing and menaces to Osmond, and thence onward to his death, he was truly excellent, seemed perfect master of the scene, and in depicting the tumult of passions which struggle in the bosom of the lordly Tancred, evinced that he possesses the legitimate genius, and true spirit that should inform the actor.
For his benefit he personified Romeo. The house was so crowded, and in all places that were accessible after the doors were opened, there was so much pressing, confusion, ill-mannered noise and struggle, and rudeness, that few but those who had places taken in the front boxes could see or hear the play out. From the upper gallery, where with difficulty we at last got a seat, we indistinctly saw what passed on the stage, and could hear a little by snatches. What we did hear and see induced us to lament our not hearing and seeing more, and to wish that we may speedily have another opportunity of witnessing a performance respecting which there is but one opinion, and that highly favourable to Master Payne's reputation.
Scarcely had master Payne disappeared in his transit southward, when Mr. Cooper followed, and, in describing his annual orbit, was seen here for nine nights; during which he performed the following characters.
Friday 29th Dec.—Richard the Third. Saturday 30th.—Zanga in the Revenge. Monday 1st Jan.—Leon in Rule a Wife and have a Wife. Wednesday 3d.—Othello. Friday 5th.—Macbeth. Saturday 6th.—Pierre in Venice Preserved. Monday 8th.—Hamlet. Wednesday 10th.—Hotspur. Friday 12th.—Michael Ducas in Adelgitha. Saturday 13th.—Penruddock—and after it Petruchio.
Of all the actors we have ever seen in the old world or in the new, he who imposes the most difficult task upon the critic is Mr. Cooper. It is scarcely possible to generalize his acting. The great inequality of his performance, the defects of some parts, the doubtfulness of others, and the amazing beauties which he frequently displays, forbid the critic, if he have a due regard to truth, to give to the different parts of any one character Mr. Cooper performs the same measure of praise or disapprobation.
Hardly have our nerves ceased to vibrate, and our hearts to leap in consequence of perhaps a series of electrical strokes of irresistible effect and beauty, when our patience is put to trial by some defect, or our feelings left to grow cold and languid for want of an appropriate continuous excitement. To walk step by step with him through those alternations, and to decide in circumstantial detail upon this gentleman's title to critical applause, would require a minuteness of description incompatible with the scheme of this publication; yet, since the high rank which he very deservedly holds in his profession renders it important that just opinions should be formed upon the subject of his performances, and that his merits should be as closely as possible canvassed, and as precisely ascertained, it would be inconsistent with the duty of a public critic wholly to decline the task, however difficult and laborious he may find it.
We have now before us a criticism upon Mr. Cooper which once appeared in a periodical publication at Charleston S. C. and in which I find the following passage.
"Nature husbands her gifts so carefully that where equality appears in all the parts of any object, supreme excellence is rarely seen; where great beauties are found, they are generally mixed with some considerable alloy. Of all the actors we have ever seen, Mr. Mossop was the one whom Mr. Cooper, in this respect, most resembles. With him, when it was not a blaze, it was a cloud. No man, not Garrick himself ever equalled his beauties; but his defects were great. The beauties, however, were so far superior in numbers to the defects, and in quality, to the excellencies of all other men, that he obtained from the greatest critic of that day, the tide of the Tragedy Sheet Anchor." All this is strictly true; but there is this difference between that great actor and Mr. Cooper, Mossop never committed a fault from negligence; studiously, I might almost say superstitiously, devoted to the cultivation of his professional talents, he left nothing undone which industry could accomplish, and whenever he went wrong, failed from an almost pedantic desire to do too much—from a stiffness and stateliness of deportment, and an embarrassment of which he had begun to get rid but a few years before his death. Mr. Cooper labours under no obstruction of this kind.
The natural talents displayed by Mr. Cooper in most of his performances forbid it to be believed that his failures result from incompetency; or that there is any excellence, to which the actors of the present day attain, too great for his grasp, if his industry were nearly equal to his personal endowments. But the honest and zealous critic loses all patience, when he sees first talents supinely contenting themselves with less than first honours. What are the natural or acquired endowments of Kemble or Cooke, whether mental or corporeal? Certainly not superior to those of Mr. Cooper. How do they respectively stand in the records of professional fame? It would be invidious to give the answer.
If one could, with certainty, estimate a player's actual performance from his untried talents, and were asked what disqualifying circumstance exists to prevent Mr. Cooper from playing Richard, Othello, Zanga or Hotspur as well as any man—we should answer none! But when, having seen him act, we come in the capacity of public critics to adjudge him his rights, we feel the mortifying necessity of speaking other language.
In Othello and Zanga, the inequality of Mr. Cooper's acting is strikingly conspicuous. Of the great distinction between the colloquial familiarity suitable to ordinary dialogue, and the solemn, dignified, and lofty delivery becoming the orator in a great public assembly, Mr. Cooper seems to have entirely lost sight in the celebrated speech to the senate, the first lines of which may serve as a lesson how the whole should be spoken.
"Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors, My very worthy and approved good masters."
The pompous sound of these words, as well as the awfulness of the place, and the august character of the assembly to which they are addressed, sufficiently indicate the manner in which they ought to be uttered. Instead of this Mr. Cooper (no doubt with the view to avoid pomposity and bombast) threw into them an air of familiarity like that of a person narrating a private transaction to an intimate friend or acquaintance: Yet no sooner does he come to the impassioned parts, where strong emotions call forth the manly energies, than he flames up with the character. In the third scene of the second act, he displays much force and dignity in the following lines:
He that stirs next to carve for his own rage, Holds his soul light; he dies upon his motion. Silence that dreadful bell, it frights the isle From her propriety.
Now by heaven My blood begins my safer guides to rule; And passion, having my best judgment collied, Assays to lead the way: If I once stir Or do but lift this arm, the best of you Shall sink in my rebuke, &c. &c.
And indeed through the whole of that scene he was impressive and important: nor, with the exception of those occasional lapses which we have to regret in almost every character he plays, even in his Macbeth, and the liberties he occasionally takes with the text, was there any reason to complain, while every now and then, he emitted some of those splendid scintillations of light which distinguish his acting from that of every competitor in America.
In the last act, his performance was superlatively great. So great indeed, that if all the other parts had been nearly equal to it, we should not at all hesitate to put it in competition with the Othello of any man now living. As it was, we pay it no compliment in saying that it was in every part much superior to that of Pope, the quondam Othello of Covent Garden.
The character of Zanga would at first sight seem to be well calculated for Mr. Cooper's talents: yet we cannot say that we very much admire him in it. That in his execution of the part Mr. Cooper goes beyond Mr. Kemble is certain, while his conception of it is nearly the same. In the latter, both are deficient. If there ever was a character which only one man in the world could play perfectly, Zanga is that character, and Mossop was that man. In a mixed company some years ago at Mr. Foote's, the celebrated doctor John Hill lanched out in praise of Mossop. Foote likewise admired him, but could not refrain from ridiculing and mimicking some of that great actor's stately singularities; upon which Richard Malone said, and Garrick was present, "You must own this one truth, however, because I have it from the highest authority (bowing to Garrick) that Mossop is the only man who was ever known so to act a character that the judgment of a nation has not been able to mark a fault in it." "I have often said," replied Garrick, "that Mossop's Zanga is perfectly faultless—but that is too little to say of it—it is a brilliant without a speck."
Upon that extraordinary actor's performance of Zanga, every word and action of which Fancy, while we are writing this, whispers in our ears and figures to our eyes, we build our conception of the character; and, in conformity to that conception, pronounce Mr. Cooper and Mr. Kemble to be both wrong in material points, chiefly in the first part of it. In the year 1800 we saw Kemble attempt the Moor, and endured great pain from his efforts; for not only his reading (as it is called) of the part was erroneous, but his organs were too feeble for the character; a defect of which Mr. Cooper has not to complain.
Of Mossop's Zanga, there was not one line from the beginning to the end which, while he was uttering it, a spectator would not believe to be the best. In every part the grandeur of Zanga's character broke through the clouds of horror and humiliation that surrounded him; and in the very first scene the magnanimity of the poet's Moor, was exalted to something of more than human sublimity, by the player. In the disclosing of his discontent to Isabella, the painting to her of his mental agonies, and the avowal of his hatred to Alonzo, the emotions which Mossop excited in the spectators were too awful and interesting to be imagined by those who have not felt them. The deep and affecting solemnity of his narrative, interrupted by the occasional flashes of passion which burst from him, was in strict congeniality with the dreadful elementary storm in which it is introduced. In the hands of other actors this part makes little impression.
Hear then. 'Tis twice three years since that great man, (Great let me call him for he conquered me) Made me the captive of his arm in fight.
The loftiness of the Moor's nature, and his conscious pride were by the peculiar delivery of the second line, as perfectly unfolded as they could be by volumes. Again:
One day (may that returning day be night, The stain, the curse, of each succeeding year!) For something, or for nothing, in his pride He struck me. (While I tell it do I live?) He smote me on the cheek.
The words comprehended in parentheses, are occasional starts of digression dictated by rage, and should be uttered passionately, we do not mean loudly, but with vehement indignation! So Mossop uttered them, changing his key and speaking the words with the rapidity expressive of rage—and then, after a struggle, falling down to the solemn level of his narrative again. These, however, Mr. Kemble spoke rather in a tone of whining lamentation. The limited organs of Mr. K. might make it policy in him to do so; but Mr. Cooper has not that plea to offer. Be that as it may, the character is defaced by it. The Moor's fire is not supposed to be extinguished; it is only covered up, to break out with more terrible fury, when the accomplishment of his purpose will allow it. In going over the sad recital of his woes, to a confidential friend, the poet, in order the more perfectly to unfold his character, makes the hidden fire burst forth in momentary blazes. To sink this is to deprive the character of one of its most essential beauties; to give it the directly opposite expression of piteous lamentation is, indeed, reversing the noble character of the Moor.
One of the wonderful excellencies of Mossop in this part was his artful display of hypocrisy in the words and purpose, while his external port silently asserted his superiority, and the native majesty of his looks and manner bespoke the magnitude of the sacrifice he was making to vengeance, thereby giving a deeper colouring to the inexorable vindictiveness of his nature, and more forcibly illustrating the inflexible firmness of his soul. All other actors that we have ever seen reduce Zanga to a mere slavish croucher in all points; and destroy the very basis of the character by an overacted humiliation, highly improper because too glaring not to excite Alonzo's suspicions. He must be a dull Alonzo indeed, if he could not look through such flimsy dissimulation.
Yet with all these defects, for which, as well as many other transgressions, the modern crop of young actors are indebted to the example of Mr. Kemble, Mr. Cooper gave us in several places as great satisfaction as with our remembrance of "THE Zanga," we ever hoped to experience. From the time he avows his villany to Alonzo, on to the end, he deserved unqualified praise; nor can we imagine how any one who had not made up his mind upon the great original, to whom we have alluded, could wish or conceive it to be more happily performed.
Mr. Wood's Alonzo was an animated and respectable piece of acting.
Mr. Cooper conceives that crookbacked usurper with sufficient accuracy, reads it with tolerable correctness, and acts it with great spirit. In this character he evidently has the greatest model extant [Cooke] in his eye. When first, some five years ago, we saw Mr. Cooper perform Richard, we thought he played it tolerably, but wanted weight. He is much improved in this respect since that time, and has acquired in those few years a sufficiency of the personal importance requisite for the character of Richard.
PIERRE is a character admirably suited to Mr. Cooper's talents. There are but few of his performances to which we sit with more pleasure. Few in which he is so little exceptionable. On this occasion he was supported by his friend JAFFIER in a manner that reflects much credit on Mr. Wood. And Mr. Wood is not a little indebted to his Belvidera also. Could we speak as favourably of his Iago, we should have introduced him in the proper place. Mr. Cooper's grenadier's cap, added nothing, to say no worse of it, to his appearance.
A fashion has prevailed for some years (introduced by the doctors of the perspective and statuary school of action) which sometimes increases the difficulty of giving verisimility to the scene, or rather destroys it altogether. We allude to the actors, in all possible cases, entering from the back, or near it. This though sometimes right, is peculiarly improper when the entering character is to speak aside as he enters, and is supposed by the cunning of the scene not to be heard by the character who is on the stage before him. It was particularly observable in the performances of Othello and Venice Preserved. In the third scene of the third act, when Othello, followed by Iago, enters to Desdemona, Emilia, and Cassio, (which last takes his leave suddenly on the Moor's approach) and Iago, in prosecution of his plan, exclaims, so as to be heard by Othello only, "HA! I LIKE NOT THAT," Mr. Cooper and Mr. Wood entering too far from the stage, rendered it necessary for the latter to utter those words (aside) so loud, that they must necessarily have been heard by all the other characters on the stage.
Again, in Venice Preserved, in the night-scene on the Rialto, Jaffier being on the stage in his proper place, soliloquizing, Pierre enters and says what certainly neither Jaffier nor any but the audience should be presumed to hear. Mossop, Sheridan, Henderson, et id genus omne, entered so near the stage, that the voice of Pierre might be supposed to reach the audience, without passing through Jaffier's ear. Side speaking ought always to be done in that way. Mr. Cooper, on the contrary, entered from the wing next the back scene, so that Jaffier stood between him and the audience, and must of course be supposed to have heard him, if the audience heard him; as they did, very distinctly too, from the remote end of the stage, say aloud,
"Sure I've staid too long: The clock has struck, and I may lose my proselyte."
Exclusive of which a great injury to the necessary illusion arises from the side speaker being obliged to speak so high that not only the characters on the stage, but the people in the neighbouring houses must be supposed to be all let into the secret, and he cannot, therefore, be thought to intend to speak aside. In the good old times they were as scrupulously exact in these matters, as they are now most blamably lax.
Many of Mr. Cooper's admirers set down his Hamlet as the best of his performances; a proposition to which we can never accede. Some parts of it, no doubt, are excellent, and in the play scene before the court, he is scarcely surpassed by any one. But in our opinion his Hamlet fades from the sight, when put in competition with his
in which he unquestionably takes the lead of all the actors that have ever appeared in this country; and is in our judgment preferable, in many parts, to either Kemble or Cooke; far, very far, superior to Holman. His dagger-scene is inimitably fine; but by following Mr. Kemble's idea, he loses much in his return from the scene of murder. Before Mr. Kemble every actor followed the plan of Garrick with more or less success; and from them, viz. Sheridan, Mossop, Reddish, Henderson, all of whom we have seen, we can state the difference between the old and new school in this most trying scene. We have never witnessed the performance of Garrick; but have seen pictures of him in that very part, one particularly by Sir Joshua Reynolds, of which there is an engraving, and which exactly corresponds with the action of all of his whole school, of whom the best was certainly Mr. Sheridan. Just as lady Macbeth, who is waiting his return from the chamber of blood, says, in soliloquy,
"Hark! I laid their daggers ready, He could not miss them,"
the noise of a hasty foot was heard within, she paused, and then proceeded,
"Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done't."
At that moment the door opened and Macbeth appeared, a frightful figure of horror, rushing out sideways with one dagger, and his face in consternation, presented to the door, as if he were pursued, and the other dagger lifted up as if prepared for action. Thus he stood as if transfixed, seeming insensible to every thing but the chamber, unconscious of any presence else, and even to his wife's address of "my husband." In this breathless state, he hastily said in a whisper, as if to himself,
"I have done the deed."
then, after a pause, in a tone of anguish and trepidation, without ever taking his eyes from the chamber, he still whispered in a quick, sharp tone,
"Didst thou not hear a noise?"
Nor did he quit this attitude, but with eyes still fixed upon the chamber door continued to carry on the broken dialogue that follows, in fearful whispers.
"L. M. Did not you speak? M. When? L. M. Now. M. As I descended? L. M. Ay. M. Hark! Who lies in the second chamber. L. M. Donaldbain."
Then for the first time he drew his hands together with the daggers in them, and in the most heart-rending accents exclaimed,
"This is a sorry sight."
Thus represented by Mr. Sheridan, this scene was perhaps the most interesting in the drama. What then must it have been when done by Garrick. A critic now before us speaking of Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard in this part, says, "His distraction of mind and agonizing horrors were finely contrasted by her apathy, tranquillity, and confidence. The beginning of the scene, after the commission of the murder, was conducted in terrifying whispers. Their looks and action supplied the place of words. The poet here gives only an outline of the consummate actor— "I have done the deed," &c. "Didst thou not hear," &c. The dark colouring given by Garrick to these abrupt speeches made the scene tremendous to the auditors. The wonderful expression of heart-felt horror which Garrick felt when he viewed his bloody hands, can only be conceived by those who saw him." MURPHY, who confirms this account by Davies, says that when Garrick reentered the scene with the bloody daggers in his hands, he [Murphy] was absolutely scared out of his senses. It is but fair to add, that the great dramatic censor who wrote in 1770 says "Without any exaggeration of compliment to Mr. Sheridan, we must place him in a very respectable degree of competition with Mr. Garrick in the dagger-scene; and confess a doubt whether any man ever spoke the words "this is a sorry sight," better."