Typographical errors are listed at the end of the text. No attempt was made to regularize the use of quotation 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 relocated to the end of the journal text, before the play. Pages 1-108 refer to the present Number.]
THE MIRROR OF TASTE,
Neque mala vel bona quae vulgus putet. —Tacitus.
The advantages of a correct judgment and refined taste in all matters connected with literature, are much greater than men in general imagine. The hateful passions have no greater enemies than a delicate taste and a discerning judgment, which give the possessor an interest in the virtues and perfections of others, and prompt him to admire, to cherish, and make them known to the world. Criticism, the parent of these qualities, therefore, mends the heart, while it improves the understanding. The influence of critical knowledge is felt in every department of social life, as it supplies elegant subjects for conversation, and enlarges the scope, and extends the duration of intellectual enjoyment. Without it, the pleasures we derive from the fine arts would be transient and imperfect; and poetry, painting, music, and that admirable epitome of life, the stage, would afford nothing more than a fugitive, useless, pastime, if not aided by the interposition of the judgment, and sent home, by the delightful process of criticism, to the memory, there to exercise the mind to the last of life, to be the amusement of our declining years, and, when all the other faculties for receiving pleasure are impaired by old age and infirmity, to cast the sunshine of delight over the last moments of our existence.
In no age or country has the improvement of the intellectual powers of man made a larger share of the business of life than in these in which we live. In the promotion of this spirit the stage has been an instrument of considerable efficacy, and, as such, lays claim to a full share of critical examination; yet, owing to some cause, which it seems impossible to discover, that very important subject has been little attended to in this great commonwealth; and in Philadelphia, the principal city of the union, has been almost totally neglected. No apology, therefore, can be thought necessary for offering the present work to the public.
The utility of miscellanies of this kind has been sometimes called in question; nor are those wanting who condemn the whole tribe of light periodical productions, as detrimental to the advancement of solid science and erudition: yet, in the most learned and enlightened nations of Europe, magazines and periodical compilations have, for more than a century, been circulated with vast success, and, within the last twenty years, increased in price as well as number, to an extent that shows how essentially the public opinion, in that quarter of the world differs from that of the persons who condemn them.
Taking that decision as a decree without appeal, in favour of such works, the editors think themselves authorized in offering the present without any formal apology. If the perusal of such productions had a tendency to prevent the youth of the country from aspiring to deep and solid erudition, or to divert men of talents from the prosecution of more important studies, the editors would be among the last to make any addition to the stock already in circulation; but, convinced that, on the contrary, works of that kind promote the advancement of general knowledge, they have no scruple whatever in offering this to the American people; and so firm do they feel in the conviction of its utility, that they let it go into the world, unaided by any of those arts, or specious professions which are sometimes employed, in similar cases, to excite the attention, enlist the partialities, and seduce the judgment of the public.
Of those who possess at once the talents, the leisure, and the inclination to hunt erudition into its deepest recesses, the number must ever be inconsiderable; and of that number the portion must be small indeed, who could be diverted from that pursuit by the casual perusal of light fugitive pieces. On the other hand, the great majority of mankind would be left without inducement to read, if they were not supplied, by publications of the kind proposed, with matter adapted to their circumstances, to their capacities, and their various turns of fancy; matter accessible to them by its conciseness and perspicuity, attractive by its variety and lightness, and useful by its easy adaptation to the familiar intercourse of life, and its fitness to enter into the conversation of rational society. Men whose time and labour are chiefly engrossed by the common occupations of life, have little leisure to read, none for what is called study. In books they do not search for deep learning, but for amusement accompanied with information on general topics, conveyed with brevity; happy if, in seeking relaxation from the drudgery of business, they can pick up some new particles of knowledge. For this most useful and numerous portion of society, some adequate intellectual provision ought to be made. Nor should it be imagined that, in supplying them, the general interests of literature are deserted. The frequent perusal of well collated miscellanies imparts to youth an appetite for diligent reading; by slow but certain gradation, stores the young mind with valuable ideas; accumulates in it a large stock of useful knowledge; and imperceptibly insinuates a correct and refined taste. Nor is this all. It may serve, as it often has, to rouse the indolent from the gratification of complexional sloth, and recall the unthinking and irregular from the haunts of dissipation and vice to the blessings of serious reflection.
Few things have more tended to inflame the general passion for literature in Great Britain than the practice of uniting the plan of the reviews with that of the magazines, and making them jointly vehicles of dramatic criticism. Multitudes at this day know the character of books, and form a general conception of their subjects, who, but for the light periodical publications, would never have known that such books existed: many who would not otherwise have extended their reading beyond the columns of a newspaper, are led by the pleasures of a represented play, to read the critic's strictures upon it, and thence, by a natural transition, to peruse attentively the various other subjects which surround those strictures in the magazines. This is the reason why hundreds read the Monthly Mirror and similar productions of London, for one who reads the Rambler.
For the passionate love of books, and the rapid advancement of literature which distinguish her from all young countries, America is greatly indebted to her periodical publications. Those, though small in number, and, unfortunately, too often shortlived, have been read in their respective times and circles with great avidity, and produced a correspondent effect. THE PORT FOLIO alone raised, long ago, a spirit in the country which malicious Dulness itself will never be able to lay. Yet the disproportion in number of those miscellanies which have succeeded in America, to those which enrich the republic of letters in England, is astonishing, considering the comparative population of the two countries. London boasts of several periodical publications founded on the DRAMA alone; and though the other magazines occasionally contain short strictures on that subject, those have the greatest circulation which are most exclusively devoted to the stage.
IN AMERICA THERE HAS NOT YET BEEN ONE OF THAT DESCRIPTION.
To supply this defect, and raise the United States one step higher in laudable emulation with Great Britain, the editors have planned the present work, of which, (though not to the total exclusion of other matter) the basis will be
The first and by far the larger share will be allotted to the stage, and dramatic productions. The residue to miscellaneous articles, most of them connected with the fashionable amusements, and designed to correct the abuses, which intemperate ignorance, and Licentiousness, running riot for want of critical control, have introduced into the public diversions of this opulent and luxurious city.
In the composition of the several parts of this work, care will be taken to furnish the public with new and interesting matter, and to select from the current productions of the British metropolis such topics as will best tend to promote the cultivation of an elegant taste for knowledge and letters, and, at the same time, repay the reader for the trouble of perusal, with amusement and delight. Abstracts from the most popular publications will be given, accompanied with short critical remarks upon them, and, whatever appears most interesting in the periodical productions of Great Britain will be transferred into this; pruned if they be prolix, and illustrated by explanatory notes, whenever they may be found obscured by local or personal allusion.
As the leading object of the work is, not to infuse a passion, but to inculcate a just and sober taste for dramatic poetry and acting, the editors propose to give, seriatim, a history of the drama from its origin, with strictures on dramatic poesy, and portraits of the best dramatic poets of antiquity. To this will succeed the history of the British stage, with portraits of the most celebrated poets, authors, and actors who have flourished on it, and strictures on the professional talents of the latter, illustrated by parallels and comparisons with those who have been most noted for excellence on the American boards.
From that history the reader will be able to deduce a proper conviction of the advantages of the stage, and the importance, if not the necessity, of putting the actors and the audience on a more proper footing with each other than that in which they now stand. Actors must lay their account with being told their faults. They owe their whole industry and attention to those who attend their performance; but the editors hold that critic to have forfeited his right to correct the stage, and to be much more deserving of reprehension than those he censures, who, in the discharge of his duty, forgets that the actor has his rights and privileges also; that he has the same rights which every other gentleman possesses, and of which his profession has not even the remotest tendency to deprive him, to be treated with politeness and respect; that he has the same right as every other man in society, as the merchant, the mechanic, or the farmer, to prosecute his business unmolested; shielded by the same laws which protect them from the attacks of malicious libellers out of the theatre, and the insults of capricious Ignorance or stupid Malevolence within. "Reproof," says Dr. Johnson, "should not exhaust its power upon petty failings;" and "the care of the critic should be to distinguish error from inability, faults of inexperience from defects of nature. On this principle the editors will unalterably act. And, since they have cited the great moralist's maxim as a direction for critics, they, even in this their first step into public view, beg leave to offer a few sentiments from the same high source, for the guidance of AUDITORS. "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."
[Footnote 1: Johnson's Idler, No. 25.]
This work, therefore, will contain a regular journal of all, worthy of notice, that passes in the theatre of Philadelphia, and an account of each night's performances, accompanied with a critical analysis of the play and after-piece, and remarks upon the merits of the actors. Nor shall the management of the stage, in any particular, escape observation. Thus the public will know what they owe to the manager and to the leader of each department, and those again what they owe to the public. To make THE MIRROR OF TASTE AND DRAMATIC CENSOR, as far as possible a general national work, measures have been taken to obtain from the capital cities, of the other states, a regular account of their theatrical transactions. To this will be added a register of the other public exhibitions, and, in general, of all the fashionable amusements of this city, and, from time to time, the sporting intelligence of the new and old country.
To the first part, which will be entitled "The Domestic Dramatic Censor," will succeed the "Foreign Dramatic Censor." This will contain a general account of all that passes in the theatres of Great Britain, likely to interest the fashionable world and amateurs of America, viz. the new pieces, whether play, farce, or interlude, with their prologues and epilogues, together with their character and reception there, and critiques on the acting, collected from the various opinions of the best critics, together with the amusing occurrences, anecdotes, bon-mots, and greenroom chitchat, scattered through the various periodical publications of England, Ireland, and Scotland.
The next head will be Stage Biography, under which the reader will find the lives and characters of the leading actors of both countries.
These will be followed by a miscellany collated from the foreign productions, catalogues of the best books and best compositions in music, published or preparing for publication in Europe or America, with concise reviews of such as have already appeared.
Poetry, of course, will be introduced; not, as usual, under one head, but scattered in detached pieces through the whole.
The price of the Mirror will be eight dollars per annum, payable on the delivery of the sixth number.
A number will be issued every month, forming two volumes in the year.
To each number will be added, by way of appendix, an entire play or after-piece, printed in a small elegant type, and paged so as to be collected, at the end of each year, into a separate volume.
The work will be embellished with elegant engravings by the first artists.
THE MIRROR OF TASTE,
Vol. I. JANUARY 1810. No. 1.
HISTORY OF THE STAGE.
Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, et quae Ipse sibi tradit spectator. Hor. de Arte Poetica.
[Footnote 2: What we hear With weaker passion will affect the heart Than when the faithful eye beholds the part. —Francis. ]
OBJECTIONS TO THE STAGE CONSIDERED AND REFUTED.
That amusement is necessary to man, the most superficial observation of his conduct and pursuits may convince us. The Creator never implanted in the hearts of all his intelligent creatures one common universal appetite without some corresponding necessity; and that he has given them an instinctive appetite for amusements as strong as any other which we labour to gratify, may be clearly perceived in the efforts of infancy, in the exertions of youth, in the pursuits of manhood, in the feeble endeavours of old age, and in the pastimes which human creatures, even the uninstructed savage nations themselves, have invented for their relaxation and delight. This appetite evinces a necessity for its gratification as much as hunger, thirst, and weariness, intimate the necessity of bodily refection by eating, drinking, and sleeping; and not to yield obedience to that necessity, would be to counteract the intentions of Providence, who would not have furnished us so bountifully as he has with faculties for the perception of pleasure, if he had not intended us to enjoy it. Had the Creator so willed it, the process necessary to the support of existence here below might have been carried on without the least enjoyment on our part: the daily waste of the body might be repaired without the sweet sensations which attend eating and drinking; we might have had the sense of hearing without the delight we derive from sweet sounds; and that of smelling without the capability of enjoying the fragrance of the rose: but He whose wisdom and beneficence are above all comprehension, has ordained in another and a better manner, and annexed the most lively sensations of pleasure to every operation he has made necessary to our support, thereby making the enjoyment of pleasure one of the conditions of our existence. This is an unanswerable refutation of one of the most abominable doctrines of the atheists—the overbalance of evil; and as such, that wise and amiable divine, doctor Paley, has made use of it in his Natural Theology. It is true, that yielding to the tendency of our frail, overweening nature to push enjoyment of every kind to its utmost verge, men too often overshoot the mark, and frustrate the object they have most at heart, by eagerness to accomplish it. For though to a reasonable extent and in certain circumstances, all enjoyments are harmless, they degenerate into crimes, when excessively indulged, and particularly when the imagination is overstrained to improve their zest, or to refine or exalt them beyond the limits which Nature and sobriety prescribe. But this can no more be alledged as a reason for renouncing the moderate use of the enjoyment, than the excesses of the drunkard or glutton for the rejection of food and drink.
That man must have amusement of some kind, "Nature speaks aloud." He, therefore, who supplies society with entertainment unadulterated by vice, who contributes to the pleasure without impairing the innocence of his fellow-beings, and above all, who instructs while he delights, may justly be ranked among the benefactors of mankind, and lays claim to the gratitude and respect of the society he serves. To that gratitude and respect the dramatic poet, and those who contribute to give effect to his works, are richly entitled. Accordingly history informs us that in all recorded ages theatrical exhibitions have been not only held in high estimation by the most wise, learned, and virtuous men, but sedulously cultivated and encouraged by legislators as matters of high public importance, particularly in those nations that have been most renowned for freedom and science.
In the multitude and diversity of conflicting opinions which divide mankind upon all, even the most manifest truths, we find some upon this subject. Many well-meaning, sincere christians have waged war against the enjoyment of pleasure, as if it were the will of God that we should go weeping and sorrowing through life. The learned bishop of Rochester, speaking of a religious sect which carries this principle as far as it will go, says: "their error is not heterodoxy, but excessive, overheated zeal." Thus we find that the stage has ever been with many well-meaning though mistaken men, a constant object of censure. Of those, a vast number express themselves with the sober, calm tenderness which comports with the character of christians, while others again have so far lost their temper as to discard in a great measure from their hearts the first of all christian attributes—charity. We hope, for the honour of christianity, that there are but few of the latter description. There are men however of a very different mould—men respectable for piety and for learning, who have suffered themselves to be betrayed into opinions hostile to the drama upon other grounds: these will even read plays, and profess to admire the poetry, the language, and the genius of the dramatic poet; but still make war upon scenic representations, considering them as stimulants to vice—as a kind of moral cantharides which serves to inflame the passions and break down the ramparts behind which religion and prudence entrench the human heart. Some there are again, who entertain scruples of a different kind, and turn from a play because it is a fiction; while there are others, and they are most worthy of argument, who think that theatres add more than their share to the aggregate mass of luxury, voluptuousness, and dissipation, which brings nations to vitious refinement, enervation and decay.
In all reasoning of this kind, authority goes a great way, and therefore before we proceed any further, we will enrol under the banners of our argument a few high personages, whose names on such an occasion are of weight to stand against the world, and enumerate some great nations who reverenced and systematically encouraged the drama. If it can be shown that some of the most exalted men that ever lived—men eminent for virtue, high in power and distinction, and illustrious for talents, in different countries and at different times, have countenanced the stage and even written for it; nay, that some of that description have themselves been actors, further argument may well be thought superfluous: yet we will not rest the matter there, but taking those along with us as authorities, go on and probe the error to which we allude, even to the very bone.
It might not be difficult to prove by inference from a multitude of facts scattered through the history of the world, that a passion for the dramatic art is inherent in the nature of man. How else should it happen that in every age and nation of the world, vestiges remain of something resembling theatrical amusements. It is asserted that the people of China full three thousand years ago had something of the kind and presented on a public stage, in spectacle, dialogue and action, living pictures of men and manners, for the suppression of vice, and the circulation of virtue and morality. Even the Gymnosophists, severe as they were, encouraged dramatic representation. The Bramins, whose austerity in religious and moral concerns almost surpasses belief, were in the constant habit of enforcing religious truths by dramatic fictions represented in public. The great and good PILPAY the fabulist, is said to have used that kind of exhibition as a medium for conveying political instruction to a despotic prince, his master, to whom he dared not to utter the dictates of truth, in any other garb. In the obscurity of those remote ages, the evidences of particular facts are too faintly discernible to be relied upon: All that can be assumed as certain, therefore, is that the elementary parts of the dramatic art had then been conceived and rudely practised. But the first regular play was produced in Greece, where the great Eschylus, whose works are handed down to us, flourished not only as a dramatist, but as an illustrious statesman and warrior.
Without dwelling on the many other examples afforded by Greece, we proceed to as high authority as can be found among men: we mean Roscius the Roman actor. That extraordinary man's name is immortalized by Cicero, who has in various parts of his works panegyrized him no less for his virtues than for his talents. Of him, that great orator, philosopher and moralist has recorded, that he was a being so perfect that any person who excelled in any art was usually called A ROSCIUS—that he knew better than any other man how to inculcate virtue, and that he was more pure in his private life than any man in Rome.
In the Roman catholic countries the priesthood shut out as far as they could from the people the instruction of the stage. For ages the fire of the HOLY inquisition kept works of genius of every kind in suppression all over the south of Europe. In France the monarch supported the stage against its enemies; but though he was able to support the actors in life, he had not power or influence sufficient to obtain for them consolation in death; the rights of the church and christian burial being refused to them by the clergy.
In England, where the clouds of religious intolerance were first broken and dispersed by the reformation, the stage has flourished, and exhibited a mass of excellence and a constellation of genius unparalleled in the annals of the world. There it has been encouraged and admired by men whose authority, as persons deeply versed in christian theology and learned as it is given to human creatures to be, we do not scruple to prefer to that of the persons who raise their voices against the stage. Milton, Pope, Addison, Johnson, Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, and many others have given their labours to the stage. In many of his elegant periodical papers Mr. ADDISON has left testimonies of his veneration for it, and of his personal respect for players; nay, he wrote several pieces for the stage, in comedy as well as tragedy; yet we believe it will not be doubted that he was an orthodox christian. The illustrious POPE, in a prologue which he wrote for one of Mr. Addison's plays—the tragedy of Cato—speaks his opinion of the stage in the following lines:
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art, To raise the genius, and to mend the heart, To make mankind in conscious virtue bold, Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold: For this the tragic Muse first trod the stage, Commanding tears to stream through every age. Tyrants no more their savage nature kept, And foes to virtue wondered how they wept.
Warburton, the friend of Pope, a divine of the highest rank, wrote notes to Shakspeare. And an infinite number of the christian clergy of as orthodox piety as any that ever lived, have admired and loved plays and players. If in religion doctor Johnson had a fault, it certainly was excessive zeal—and assuredly his morality cannot be called in question. What his idea of the stage was, may be inferred from his labours, and from his private friendships. His preface to Shakspeare—his illustrations and characters of the bard's plays—his tragedy of Irene, of which he diligently superintended the rehearsal and representation—his friendship for Garrick and for Murphy—his letters in the Idler and Rambler, from one of which we have taken our motto for the Dramatic Censor, and his constant attendance on the theatre, loudly proclaim his opinion of the stage. To him who would persist to think sinful that which the scrupulous Johnson constantly did, we can only say in the words of one of Shakspeare's clowns—"God comfort thy capacity."
One example more. Whatever his political errors may have been, the present old king of England can never be suspected of coldness in matters of divinity, or of heterodoxy in religion. His fault in that way leans to the other side—for it is doubted by the most intelligent men in England whether his zeal does not border on excess. He has all his life too taken counsel from those he thought the best divines; yet he has done much to encourage the stage, and greatly delighted in scenic representations—particularly in comedy. But as a much stronger proof of his esteem for the drama, we will barely mention one fact: When his majesty first read Arthur Murphy's tragedy of the Orphan of China, he sent the poet a present of a thousand guineas.
The notion that the theatre should be avoided as a stimulant to the passions deserves some respect on account of its antiquity; for it is as old as the great grand-mother of the oldest man living. In good times of yore, when ladies were not so squeamish as they are now about words, because they did not know their meaning, but were more cautious of facts, because the meaning of facts cannot be misunderstood, young men had a refuge from the temptations of the stage in the reserved deportment and full clothing of domestic society, we cannot wonder that the good old ladies who abhorred the slightest immodesty in dress little, if at all less than they abhorred actual vice, should urge to their sons the necessity of keeping aloof from the allurements of the theatre. If at that time the costume of the stage differed essentially from that of private life, and was the reverse of modest, or if the actresses indulged in meretricious airs which dared not be shown in domestic society, there was a very just pretence, or rather indeed there was the most cogent reason for preaching against the theatre. But at this day, no hypothesis of the kind can be allowed. That beautiful young women ornamented with every decoration which art can lend to enhance their charms will perhaps excite admiration and licentious desires, is true; but that those arts are more generally practised, or those incitements more strongly or frequently played off on the boards of the theatre than in respectable private life, our eyes forbid us to believe. He who looks from the ladies on the stage to those seated on the benches, and compares their dress and artificial allurements must have either very strong nerves or very bad sight, if he persist in saying that there is more danger to be apprehended from the former than the latter. He knows very little of modern manners and must be a very suckling in the ways of the world who imagines that a young man has any thing to fear from the actresses on the stage, who has gone through the ordeal of a common ball-room, or even walked of a fine day through our streets. The ladies of London, Dublin, New-York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, have thrown those of the stage quite into the back ground in the arts of the toilet. Nor is this qualification confined to those of the haut-ton, but has descended to tradesmen's wives and daughters; to chambermaids, laundresses, and wenches of the kitchen white, yellow, and black, coloured and uncoloured.
Familiarity with impressive objects soon robs them of their influence; and if our natural disgust and anger at the shameful innovations in the female costume for which Great Britain and America stand indebted to the virtues of France, be blunted by the constant obtrusion of them on our sight, it is to be hoped that the pernicious influence of them upon public morals will be diminished also. In those regions where a tropical sun renders clothing cumbersome, and the costume of the ladies of necessity exceeds a little that of ears in transparency and scantiness, familiarity renders it harmless; little or nothing is left for the imagination to feed upon; cheapened by their obviousness, the female charms are rejected by the fancy which loves to dwell on what it only guesses at, or has but rarely seen, and the youthful heart finds its ultimate safety in the apparent excess of its danger. Thus the stage, if it ever possessed, has lost its vitious allurements, as a bucket of water is lost in the ocean. To test this reasoning by matter of fact we appeal to the general feeling, and have no fear of being contradicted when we assert that, with reference to their comparative numbers, more mischievous throbs have been excited in every theatre in London, New-York, and Philadelphia for some years past before, than behind the curtain.
We are aware that there are some who will object, as a thing taken for granted, the greater licentiousness of a player's life; but this, before it can be admitted in argument, must be proved, and the proof of it would be very difficult indeed. From a long and attentive consideration of the subject, founded upon a perfect knowledge of the private characters of the stage, and the general complexion of society off of it, we are persuaded that in point of intrinsic virtue the players stand exactly on a par with the general mass of society. That there are offenders against the laws of morality and religion among them is certain; but it must be remembered that they labour in this respect under great disadvantages, from the publicity of their situation. There, they stand exhibited to public view, every turn of their conduct, private and public, becomes a subject of general scrutiny. Ten thousand eyes are rivetted upon them, for one that is fixed upon individuals in private life. And though it often happens that some of them are suspected whose lives are perfectly pure, none who have deviated from the paths of virtue can long keep their fall concealed. Can the same be said of the other departments of life? No. Now and then indiscretion, accident, or a total abandonment of decency brings to light the misconduct of an individual; but in general the irregularities of private life either escape detection or are hushed up by pride. Sometimes indeed one vitious purpose occasions the detection of another, and family disgrace is revealed to pave the way to a divorce, with a view to another marriage, and perhaps to another divorce. Were the private conduct of individuals in other stations as well known as that of the people of the stage, the former would have no cause to exult at the superiority of their morals; and in truth if a candid review be taken individually of the actresses of the English stage, by which we mean every stage where the English language is spoken, it will appear that, with few exceptions, they stand highly respectable for private worth and pure moral character. In England, Scotland and still more in Ireland, an unblemished reputation is necessary to a lady's success on the stage. In some instances, the greatest favourites of the public have been driven for a time from the stage, for trespasses upon virtue, and when permitted to return were never after much more than endured. To these instances we shall have occasion to advert in the course of this work.
While we assert, on the best grounds, that the theatre may be made, by proper established regulations, a school of virtue and manners, we do not wish to conceal our persuasion that there is nothing more potent to debase and corrupt the minds of a people than a licentious stage. But it may be averred with equal truth, that the abuses of every other institution are fraught with no less mischief to the public. At this very moment the abuse of the pulpit is the parent of more public mischief in Great Britain and America than the stage ever produced in its most prolific days of vice; and it is deplorable to reflect that the former is rapidly increasing, while the vitiation of the latter has been for a century on the decline. The licentiousness of the stage in the reign of Charles II was enormous: but it was a licentiousness which the theatre in common with the whole nation derived from the court, and from a most flagitious monarch whose example made vice fashionable. In servile compliance with the reigning taste, the greatest poets of the day abandoned true fame, and discarded much of their literary merit: Otway and Dryden sunk into the most mean and criminal slavery to it—the former with the greatest powers for the pathetic ever possessed by any man, Shakspeare excepted, has left behind him plays which in an almost equal degree excite our admiration and contempt, our indignation and our pity. It is charitable to suppose that "his poverty and not his will consented." But Dryden had no such excuse to plead for his base subserviency to pecuniary advantage, or for the detestable licentiousness of his comedies. He who will take the pains to turn to that admirable tragedy, Venice Preserved, by Otway, will find in the scenes between Aquileia and the old senator Antonio enough to disgust the taste of any one not callous to all sense of delicacy. But had Juvenal lived at that period, he would have scourged Dryden out of society. To those we might add Wycherly. Congreve and other cotemporary authors succeeded: but the offences committed by those men can no more be alleged as a ground of general condemnation of the stage, than the works of lord Rochester can be set up as a reason for condemning Milton, Pope, Thomson, Goldsmith, and all our other poets, or the innumerable murders committed by unprincipled quacks, be alleged as a cause for abolishing the whole practice of medicine.
Exasperated by the outrages of the dramatic poets, on virtue and decency, Jeremy Collier, a non-juring clergyman, attacked the stage. His charge against the authors was unquestionably right; but his attack upon the stage itself, exhibited a disposition splenetic almost to misanthropy, and an austerity of principle urged to unsocial ferocity. In his fury he renounced the idea of reforming the stage; he was for abolishing it entirely. He attacked the poets with "unconquerable pertinacity, with wit in the highest degree keen and sarcastic, and with all those powers exalted and invigorated by just confidence in his cause." Thus arose a controversy which lasted ten years, during which time authors found it necessary to become more discreet. "Comedy (says Dr. Johnson) grew more modest; and Collier lived to see the reformation of the stage." Colley Cibber, who was one of those whose plays Collier attacked, candidly says, "It must be granted that his calling our dramatic writers to this account had a very wholesome effect upon those who writ after his time. Indecencies were no longer wit; and by degrees the fair sex came again to fill the boxes on the first day of a new comedy, without fear or censure."
[Footnote 3: Dr. Johnson.]
Such a licentious stage as is here described well deserved the severest attacks: but what is there to justify severity now? at this day not only the success of every new play so much depends upon its purity, but so scrupulously correct in that particular is the public taste, and so abstinent from every the slightest indelicacy are the authors of plays and even farces, that not a word is uttered upon the stage from which the most timid real modesty would shrink. In conformity to this happy state of the general taste and morals, all the old plays that retain possession of the stage, have been cleared of their pollution, and all the offensive passages in them have been expunged; some have been entirely thrown out as incapable of amendment, and in truth, purity of sentiment, and delicacy of expression, have become so prevalent, that it is very much to be doubted whether if it were proposed to act one of Wycherly's, Dryden's, or Otway's offensive plays in its original state, a set of players could be found who would prostitute themselves so far as to perform it.
From the offences of mankind arise despotic restrictions and penal laws of every kind. From the licentiousness of the stage in England, arose the licensing law which still continues to hold a heavy hand over all the dramatic productions that are acted; and which has too often been perverted to corrupt purposes.
But if the abuses of the stage in the times alluded to, serve to show its power to do mischief, the general reformation in the public taste, which followed that of the dramatic writings, equally show its competency to effectuate good. Rousseau, who had little less dislike to plays and players than Jeremy Collier, says, in a letter to D'Alembert, "Let us not attribute to the stage the power of changing opinions or manners, when it has only that of following and heightening them. An author who offends the general taste may as well cease to write, for nobody will read his works. When Moliere reformed the stage he attacked modes and ridiculous customs, but he did not insult the public taste; he either followed or explained it." So far Rousseau was right. It is the public that gives the stage its bias—necessarily preceding it in taste and opinion, and pointing out the direction to its object. In return the stage gives the public a stronger impulse in morals and manners. Wherever the stage is found corrupted with bad morals, it may be taken for granted that the nation has been corrupted before it; when it labours under the evils of a bad taste, it may safely be concluded that that of the public has been previously vitiated. The truth is evident in the wretched state of dramatic taste in England at this moment, where, corrupted by the spectacles and mummery of the Italian opera, by the rage for preternatural agency acquired from the reading of ghost novels and romances, and by the introduction of German plays or translations, the people can relish nothing but melo-drame, show, extravagant incident, stage effect and situation—goblins, demons, fiddling, capering and pantomime, and the managers, in order to live, are compelled to gratify the deluded tasteless multitude at an incalculable expense.
What the advantages are which could be derived from abolishing the stage can only be judged from a view of the moral state of those countries in which the drama has been for ages discouraged and held in disrepute, compared with that of countries where it has been supported and cultivated. Spain comes nearest to a total want of a regular drama of any Christian country in Europe; and if there be any person who prefers the moral state of that country to the moral state of Great Britain or America, we wish him joy of his opinion, and assure him that we admire neither his taste, his argument, nor his inference.
We have thus far entered into a vindication of the stage, not with the slightest hope of changing the opinion of its enemies, nor with the least desire to increase the admiration of its friends; but to awaken public opinion to a sense of its vast importance, and of the advantages which society may derive from giving full and salutary effect to its agency, by generous encouragement, and vigilant control—by directing its operations into proper channels, and fostering it by approbation in every thing that has a tendency to promote virtue, to improve the intellectual powers, and to correct and refine the taste, and the manners of society. This desirable end can only be attained by making it respectable, and sheltering its professors from the insult and oppression of the ignorant, the base-minded, and the illiberal. None will profit by the precepts of those whom they contemn; and the youth of the country will be very unlikely to yield to the authority of the instructor whom they see subjected to the sneers and affronts of the very rabble they themselves despise. Besides, if actors were to be treated with injustice and contumely, young gentlemen of talents and virtue would be deterred from entering into the profession; and the stage would soon become as bad as it is falsely described to be by fanatics—a sink of vice and corruption: but the wisdom and liberality of the British nation, after the example of old Rome, having, on the contrary, given to the gentlemen of the stage their merited rank in society, and raised actors and actresses of irreproachable private character, to associate with the families of peers, statesmen, legislators, and men of the highest rank in the nation, the profession is filled with persons eminently respectable for talents, learning and morals, and estimable as those of other classes in social life—estimable as husbands, fathers, children, friends and companions. But in Great Britain, they have a twofold protection—that of the audience and that of the law—from the insults and injustice of capricious, saucy, or malignant individuals. There, the line that separates the rights of the actor from those of the auditor has been exactly defined by the highest judicial authority. And if an individual assaults a performer by hissing without carrying the audience, or a large majority of it, along with him, the performer has his action against his malicious assailant, and is adjudged damages as certainly as persons of any of the other professions or trades recover for an assault, a calumny, or a libel. Hence the stage is looked up to as a great school, and the eminent actors are universally looked to as the best instructors in action, elocution, orthoepy, and the component parts of oratory. By following the same liberal and wise system with respect to OUR stage, we may reasonably hope soon to bring it to a reputable state of competition with that of Great Britain, and in that as in most other parts of the elegancies of life, not very long hence, to place the new on a complete footing with the old country.
[Footnote 4: By Lord Mansfield in the King's Bench, in the case of Macklin against Sparks, Miles, Reddish, and others.]
[Footnote 5: The audience, whenever an individual hisses against the sense of the house, always silence the offender by crying, "there's a goose in the pit (or wherever it is) turn him out," and if he persists they expel him by force. It is to be hoped our audiences would follow the example. It is frequently necessary.]
BIOGRAPHY—FOR THE MIRROR.
The passion for inquiring into the lives of conspicuous men is so universally felt, that we cannot help indulging it in cases where not only the person is unknown, but where his actions are so remote, that we can neither form a picture of the one, nor any possible way be affected by the other. The delight with which children themselves read the histories of remarkable characters, and the avidity with which, at every period of life, we read biography, are proofs that this passion has it source in nature, abstracted from any connexion imagined to exist between the object and our own heart. It is, however, more lively when the object lives in our time, and when his actions are the subject of daily conversation in our hearing, or when we have ourselves been witnesses of them; and still more so, when the person being still in existence has found means by the force of his talents to agitate a whole people, to rouse general curiosity and admiration, and to form, as it were, a landmark in any interesting department of civilized life.
That mankind, in general, derive greater pleasure from biography than from most other kinds of writing is universally acknowledged. One of the greatest moral philosophers of Britain justly observes, that of all the various kinds of narrative writing, that which is read with the greatest eagerness, and may with the greatest facility and effect be applied to the purposes of life is biography; and the accomplished and sagacious Montaigne, speaking in raptures, upon the same subject, says "Plutarch is the writer after my own heart, and Suetonius is another, the like of whom we shall never see."
As a master key to the study of the human heart, the biographical account of particular individuals is infinitely superior to history. History, in fact, is not a just picture of man and nature, but a registry of prominent actions which derive conspicuity from their name, place, and date, while the inward nature of the agent, the secret springs, the slow and silent causes of those actions, being left unnoticed and undistinguished, remain forever unknown. The man himself is seen only here and there, and now and then, and lies hidden from view, except in those points in which his conduct is connected with those actions. But biography follows him from his public exhibition into his private retreat, haunts him in his closet concealments, accompanies him through his house, where his desires, passions, irregularities, vices, virtues, foibles, and follies take their full swing—sits by his fireside—watches for his unsuspecting, unguarded moments,—catches and lays up all the ebullitions of his heart, when it is freed from all restraint by domestic confidence—scans all his expressions when he is mixing in free social converse with his friends and family, and thus penetrates into his heart—detects every secret emotion of the man's soul, even when he thinks himself most effectually concealed, and in every glance of his eye, every whisper, every unpremeditated act and expression, dives to the very bottom of his designs and brings up his real character.
In the regulation of life, therefore, or the improvement of moral sentiment, little benefit is to be derived from a knowledge of the events of history, the subjects of which are so far removed from the ordinary business of the world, that they seldom address a salutary example to the heart or understanding—seldom present an action in any way applicable to the ordinary transactions of the world, or which men in general can hope or wish to imitate, and which are therefore read with comparative indifference, and passed by without improvement, while biography conveys the best instruction for the conduct of life, by a happy mixture of precept and example.
Doctor Johnson has, in some of his writings, given it as his opinion that "a life has rarely passed, of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful; for not only, says he, every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients would be of immediate and apparent use; but there is such a uniformity in the state of man considered apart from adventitious and separable decoration and disguises, that there is scarce any possibility of good or ill but is common to human kind." How much more beneficial as a mass of precept and example, and how much more captivating as a narrative must be the biography of any person who has held a conspicuous place for any length of time in the eye of the world, particularly if, by the industrious exercise of vigorous or brilliant talents, he has contributed more than his share to the happiness, the improvement, or the innocent pleasure of society. In that case a mixed sentiment of admiration and gratitude insensibly fills the public mind, from which there arises a lively interest in all that concerns the person and an eager curiosity to learn his origin, his early education, private opinions and habits, the fortunes and incidents of his life, and, above all, the singularities of his temper, and the peculiarities of his manners and deportment. Few men in society stand so much in the public eye, or have such opportunities to engage popular interest and personal admiration as celebrated actors. In the general account current of life, casting up the debtor and creditor between individual and individual, the balance between the auditor and actor will be found largely in favour of the latter. There are few, we know, to whom this assertion will not appear paradoxical, because few have given themselves time to consider that there is no place where a person, having an hour or two to bestow on relaxation, can obtain so much delight and improvement with so little concurrence of his own efforts as at the theatre. "At all other assemblies," says Dr. Johnson, "he that comes to receive delight will be expected to give it; but in the theatre nothing is necessary to the amusement of two hours but to sit down and be willing to be pleased." Where the private deportment and moral character of a celebrated actor, therefore, are not at great variance with the general feelings, he becomes by the very nature of his profession and talents an object of general interest, and his life, character, and every circumstance belonging to him are inquired into with earnest curiosity and solicitude.
He who fairly considers the requisites indispensable to a tolerable actor, will allow that the professors of that art must be persons of intellectual capacity and personal endowments much superior to the common herd of mankind. The vivid intelligence, the high animal spirits, the aspiring temper, and the resolute intrepidity, which impel them to the stage and support them under its difficulties, are generally associated with an eccentricity of character and a giddy disregard of prudential considerations, which generate adventure and chequer their lives with a greater variety of incidents and whimsical intercourse with the world than falls to the lot of men of other professions. Hence it follows that the stage presents the most ample field for the biographer; and that whether he writes for the instruction or the entertainment of his readers, he will not be able to find in any other department of society men whose lives comprise such an interesting variety as the actors.
In selecting the persons with whose lives it is intended to enrich this work, the editors find it necessary in the very first instance to depart from the rule which their original purpose and strict justice, as well as a due regard to priority, had prescribed to them. The biography of the deceased Mr. Hallam, as the father of the American stage, no doubt lays claim to the first place. There were others too, whose priority to Mr. Cooper cannot be contested; but, as the materials were not to be immediately had they have been obliged to postpone them.
LIFE OF MR. COOPER.
Mr. Thomas Abthorpe Cooper is the descendant of a very respectable Irish family, though he was, himself, born in England. His father, doctor Cooper—a gentleman universally known, and not more known than beloved and respected by all who have had any intercourse with East Indian affairs, was a native of Ireland, and after having served his time to one of the most eminent surgeons in that kingdom, with the reputation of a young man of genius and great promise, went over to England, in order to acquire, in the London hospitals, more perfect practical skill in his business, and to avail himself of the lectures of the principal professors of surgery and medicine in that metropolis; intending to return to his native country again, and there practise for life. It happened with the doctor however, precisely as it does with the greater part of young Irish gentlemen, who have their fortunes to raise chiefly by their own efforts. London gradually unfolded to his view all her irresistible charms; the ligaments which tied him to his native home, grew every day more and more slender and weak: the dictates of common sense and prudence, in this one instance at least enforced by the attractions of pleasure, pointed out the vast superiority of England to the oppressed, impoverished country which he had left, as a field for genius and industry to work upon. Having a prepossessing face and person, and manners frank, conciliating and firm, he soon extended his acquaintance to a wide circle of friends, whose advice conspired with his own taste to bring him to a determination, in consequence of which he settled near the metropolis, and became a practitioner in surgery and physic. While he was successfully engaged in this career, he was introduced to some of the great men of Leadenhall-street, by whom he was appointed to the lucrative office of inspecting-surgeon of the recruits destined for the service of the East India Company. In the discharge of this duty it fell to his share to visit the ships preparing for a voyage to India, and of course to mingle with the company's servants of all ranks and conditions, by whom he was in no common degree beloved and respected—by the higher order for his agreeable and manly deportment—by the lower for his tenderness and humanity. Though he lived in England, he viewed his own country with a laudable fond partiality; and being constitutionally benevolent, and having a heart "open to melting Charity," and a hand prompt to indulge it, it may reasonably be conjectured that in his office of inspecting-surgeon he was exposed to many sharp attacks upon his feelings; the far greater part of the recruits who came under his inspection being unfortunate Irish youths who had thrown themselves upon a strange world, destitute of every thing but health, youth, and bodily vigor. By such objects, the sympathy of such a warm heart as that which beat in doctor Cooper's bosom, could not fail to be strongly excited, and it was pretty generally believed that his family had less reason than his unfortunate countrymen to exult at the goodness of his nature. Nor was his philanthropy confined to those wretched children of misfortune, the recruits; many young Irish gentlemen who were going to India as cadets, experienced his kindness also, but in another form. He had many friends, and considering his rank, very extraordinary interest with the high officers and commanders in the company's service. This he never failed to exert in favour of such of his young countrymen as he considered deserving of it: and in short strained his powers in every way to increase their comfort and accommodation during that trying ordeal, their passage to India, and to procure them friends when they got there.
His son Thomas, the subject of this paper, was born in the year 1777, and received an early liberal education. As doctor Cooper's interest lay wholly with the East India company, his children were sent to that emporium of wealth, Bengal, as soon as their ages fitted them for admission into the world. Had he lived till our hero was of a suitable age the probability is that the American stage would at this day want one of its greatest ornaments; and that the hand which now wields the truncheon of Macbeth, Richard, and Coriolanus on the American boards, would be grasping a sword or driving a quill in the service of the East India company in Bengal, whither doctor Cooper at last went himself, being promoted to a respectable rank on the medical staff of that settlement, and where at length he died to the deep regret of all who knew him, and to the irretrievable loss of an amiable family. To the last will and testament of the generous man there is seldom any great trouble in administering—doctor Cooper made a great deal of money; but retained little of it. We do not mention this as a feature in that worthy man's character to be imitated. On the contrary we wish it, so far as it goes, to operate as a warning against the indulgence of a spirit, which, though it be a virtue of the highest order when kept under the control of discretion, does, like every other virtue, degenerate into a foible, when carried to excess. Fortunately for that member of doctor Cooper's family of whom we are writing, he found, when his youth wanted it, a sincere friend. Mr. Godwin, whose name is well known in the republic of letters, particularly as the author of a work the name of which we will not put upon the same page with this honourable instance of posthumous friendship to doctor Cooper, took the youth to his own care; adopted, educated, and, as some say, intended him for an author; a scheme too absurd in our opinion, to be meditated by a person of Mr. Godwin's sagacity, who would at least postpone such a project till the genius of the young man should unfold itself in full maturity. Such, however, is said to have been the plan, which, whether the story be true or false, there is cause to rejoice was frustrated. At this distance it would be hopeless, if indeed it were very desirable, to trace that strange report to its origin, but we think it not at all a forced conclusion that it arose from the nature of the education which Mr. Godwin bestowed upon the youth. Hence without knowing the amount of Mr. Cooper's literary attainments, we think it may be fairly inferred from the existence of such a report, that his education was a learned one, and that he was early grounded in the dead as well as the most useful modern languages. Mr. Godwin cannot be suspected of intending for an author by trade, a youth from whom he had withheld the Greek and Latin classics.
It is not necessary to recur to the instructions of Mr. Godwin for the fervid partiality which Mr. Cooper early disclosed for the French revolution. In that feeling he partook in common with men who as radically, substantially, and essentially differed in principle from Mr. Godwin, as light from darkness, or heat from cold. Several high statesmen in England, who afterwards deplored it, at first viewed that extraordinary event with a favourable eye, as likely to better the condition of twenty millions of people. So, Mr. Dundas, now lord Melville, for himself and his colleague Pitt, openly avowed in parliament. And even Burke himself, whose penetrating eye discerned from the outset, and foretold all the mischiefs that lurked under that event, complimented a young Irish gentleman of reputable birth, upon his having fought as a volunteer with Dumourier, at the battle of Jamappe; adding, that he gloried in every instance in which he found his young countrymen disclosing an enthusiastic love of freedom. Nay, he did not scruple to declare very frequently that, considering the plausible appearance of the revolution, he should entertain but a very poor opinion of a youth who was not enamoured with it. With such an authority to warrant us, we feel no hesitation in stating it as an honourable trait in the character of Mr. Cooper, that he was delighted with the French revolution, and that in his enthusiastic admiration of that event, he resolved to abandon his literary pursuits to give his young arm (he being then not above seventeen years of age) to the defence of the new republic and, as he thought, the cause of liberty. He had scarcely taken this resolution, and made preparations to go to the continent and join the army of the French republic, when the war broke out between England and France, and totally overset his purpose and his hopes of military promotion, rendering that which before would have been lawful if not laudable, an act of treason to his country, of the bare contemplation of which, it is fair to believe, he was incapable.
It was on occasion of this disappointment and check to his military ambition, that Mr. Cooper turned his thoughts to the stage. Young as he was, he made a full and accurate estimate of his situation. Too proud by nature to be dependant, his feelings suggested the necessity of immediately doing something for his own support and advancement. He boldly resolved to be the architect of his own fame and fortune, and it is probable had too much common sense to take the author's pen either as a material or an instrument in constructing the edifice. Having made up his mind to try his fortune on the stage, he imparted his intention to Mr. Godwin, who received the communication with deep regret, and encountered it with the most decided disapprobation, and with every argument and dissuasive which ingenuity and a perfect knowledge of the subject could lend to friendship. It was in vain every topic was urged which could serve to dissuade, to deter, or to disgust: Mr. Cooper firmly adhered to his purpose, and Mr. Godwin perceiving him immovable, yielded to what he could not overcome, and resolved, since he could not divert him from the stage, to do all he could to set him forward on it to the best advantage. To this end, Mr. Holcroft, the friend of Mr. Godwin, was called in; and he gave the young man some preparatory lessons, a task for which he was exceedingly well qualified uniting in himself the several talents of actor, author, and critic.
To procure admission on the stage in England is not always an easy task. In the present instance it seemed to Mr. Holcroft and Mr. Godwin a matter of serious consideration to whom an application should be made for the purpose, and what theatre would be most likely to receive him with least disadvantage. At length application being made to Mr. Stephen Kemble he agreed, without seeing the young gentleman, to take him under his auspices; and to that end Mr. Cooper repaired to Edinburgh. Of his reception by Mr. Kemble the most ludicrous description has been given; a description, which, as biographers, we should not think of introducing on the present occasion, if it had not already appeared in public, accompanied with an assertion that it came from Mr. Cooper himself. "The writer of this sketch (says the publisher of that account) has heard Cooper himself describe with great pleasantry his first interview with the Scotch manager; he was at that time a raw country youth of seventeen. On his arrival in Edinburgh, little conscious of his appearance and incompetency, he waited on Mr. Kemble, made up in the extreme of rustic foppery, proud of his talents, and little doubting his success. When he mentioned his name and errand, Mr. Kemble's countenance changed from a polite smile to a stare of disappointment: Cooper had been prepared for young Norval; but he was obliged to exchange all his expected eclat for a few cold excuses from the manager, and the chagrin of seeing some nights after, his part filled by an old man and a bad player. During the remainder of the season he continued with Stephen Kemble, without at all appearing on the stage. From Edinburgh he went with the company to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there he lived as dependent, inactive, and undistinguished as before, till, owing to the want of a person to fill the part of Malcolm in Macbeth, he was cast to that humble character. In so inferior a sphere did he begin to move who is now become one of the brightest luminaries of the theatrical hemisphere. His debut was even less flattering than his reception from the manager had been. Till the last scene he passed through tolerably well, but when he came to the lines which conclude the play—
"So thanks to all at once, and to each one, Whom we invite to see us crown'd at Scone."
After stretching out his hands and assuming the attitude and smile of thankfulness, a slight embarrassment checked him, and he paused, still keeping his posture and his look—the prompter made himself heard by every one but the bewildered Malcolm, who still continued mute, every instant of his silence naturally increasing ten-fold his perplexity—Macduff whispered the words in his ear—Macbeth who lay slaughtered at his feet, broke the bonds of death to assist his dumb successor, the prompter spoke almost to vociferation. Each thane dead or alive joined his voice—but this was only "confusion worse confounded"—if he could have spoken the amazed prince might with great justice have said, "So thanks to all at once"—but his utterance was gone "vox faucibus haesit"—a hiss presently broke out in the pit, the clamor soon became general, and the curtain went down, amid a universal condemnation."
No part of biography is so interesting, or affecting as that which brings before us the struggles of unassisted vigour and genius with the obstructions which accident, or the ignorance or malice of vulgar souls throw in their way, and their ultimate triumph over adversity. Few men have enjoyed that triumph more than Mr. Cooper, for few have in their outset met with a more mortifying repulse, or more discouraging difficulties. There are not many whose resolution could have outlived such a cruel discomfiture as that at Edinburgh: but on him it seemed to have the happy effect of steeling his natural fortitude, and sending his spirit forward in its career with increased impetuosity.
Disappointed and chagrined, but not humiliated, he returned back to London, more determinately than ever resolved to persevere till he had mastered fortune and established a footing on the stage—exhibiting a degree of confidence which generally inheres in genius, and which his ultimate success well justified. Far from being depressed or obscured by his Edinburgh adventure, his talents had so much unfolded themselves and been so visibly improved, that his friends Godwin and Holcroft felt convinced he had not mistaken or overrated his powers; but, on the contrary, possessed qualifications, which, if diligently and judiciously cultivated, would raise him to a rank with the most eminent actors then living. The great bar to his advancement was that diffidence which occasioned his discomfiture in Edinburgh: but his friends knew enough of the human heart and powers to be assured that that very diffidence is so universally the concomitant of sterling merit, that where it superabounds wise men give credit for much excellence, and bestow their partiality with a liberal hand; while the want of it is generally suspected of denoting a great deficiency in merit: and they were right; for the young person who wants modesty wants every thing. Fraught with these considerations, those discerning men and steady friends thought that they would best consult their protege's interest by putting him into training in some obscure company, and took measures to introduce him into a routine of acting in the country theatres, from which novitiate they expected he would soon emerge well practised in stage business, and fully qualified to give out the whole force of his natural powers on some of the stages of the metropolis.
The country managers, however, seemed to think very differently from Messrs. Godwin and Holcroft of Mr. Cooper's capabilities. If they had not the genius, the discernment, or the "spirits learned in human dealings" of our hero's patrons, they had self-sufficiency and obstinacy in abundance, and what was more unfortunate, they had the power in their hands; a power which in such persons is rarely softened in its exercise by liberality or candor. These, notwithstanding the authority of Godwin and Holcroft's opinion, considered or affected to consider Mr. Cooper as a poor juvenile adventurer, who had no one requisite for the profession. "Their hands, they said, were already full—(of trash no doubt they were) every character even the lowest was engaged. To show their deference, however, to the high opinion of the young man's friends, they would endeavour to think of something for him to perform." In conformity to the dictates of this generous spirit, they vouchsafed him some inferior parts: but every one knows, who knows any thing at all of theatrical affairs, that the coldness of a manager to a young performer, creates at least, distrust in the audience—that the young candidate who is set forward in humiliation, is forbidden to rise; as he who is thrust into characters far beyond the reach of his powers will, for a time, get credit for talents which he does not possess: for discerning and despotic as the multitude think themselves, they are still the dupes or the submissive slaves of dexterous leaders in every department of life. By the error, the ignorance, or the churlishness of the country managers, Mr. Cooper was excluded from any fair opportunity to redeem the credit he had lost in Edinburgh—they considered, or affected to consider him as wholly incompetent to any character of consequence: those which were vouchsafed him were of so inferior a rank that they denied scope to the exercise of his yet latent powers; for such a genius as that of Cooper could no more dilate in a meagre character, than Eclipse or Flying Childers could lay themselves out at full speed in a city building lot; and it is reasonable to suppose that, notwithstanding all his fortitude, the spirits of the youth were depressed, and his faculties chilled by such humiliating neglect, and such reiterated disappointments. Who is he that would not, under such circumstances, sink into languor? It cannot be doubted that dejection every day detracted from his powers, and that by a kind of irresistible gravitation, he descended like a falling body in the physical world, with accelerated velocity, till at last he reached the very bottom of the profession. Reader, behold—and refrain from regret if you can—behold COOPER, on whom crowded theatres have since gazed with astonishment and delight, reduced to the condition of a mere deliverer of letters and messages upon the stage of a low country theatre. The writer of this cannot help picturing to himself the feelings of a multitude of great and worthy personages in Great Britain and India, and particularly the feelings of a sister, the lovely inheritress of her family's virtues, if they had known at the time, that which our hero's manly pride concealed, that the son of doctor Cooper, whose goodness of heart had often been the refuge of the distressed, was for months languishing under the chill of public neglect, and dragging on existence upon a miserable pittance which scarcely afforded him physical support; or if they had seen him in his unaccommodated removal from that situation, walking on foot to the metropolis.
The repulses of a mistaken and unworthy few, and the neglect of a world very little better, had no other effect upon Mr. Cooper's friends Godwin and Holcroft, than to quicken their sensibility and inflame their ardour to serve him. It is more than probable those mortifications tended to increase the conviction of the former that his eleve had made a deplorable choice of profession, but did not at all shake the opinion which both, and particularly the latter, entertained that he had great capabilities for the profession. The youth had now waded in so far, that to go back might be worse than to go forward; Mr. Holcroft therefore again took him in hand; read Shakspeare with him, and accompanied their reading with practical commentaries upon the force of that author's meaning, marked out to him those parts where the character was to depend for its interest and impression, on the actor's exertions; heard him over and over again repeat the most difficult speeches, and instructed him how to adapt his action, looks, and utterance to the passion which the author designed to exhibit, so as to excite appropriate feelings in the auditor. Though Shakspeare is above all others the poet of Nature, his meaning frequently eludes the dim or vulgar mind, and to be intelligibly elicited from the stiffness and obscurity which sometimes injures his language, requires profound consideration. For the minute investigation requisite for this purpose few men were better qualified than Mr. Holcroft—few men much more equal to the task of bringing forth from the rich mine where they lay and purify of their dross the talents of Mr. Cooper. With an earnestness and indefatigable zeal proportioned to the object, and which nothing but the most generous friendship could impel him to employ, Mr. Holcroft gave those powers to the instruction of our hero, and with such speedy and felicitous effect, that the young gentleman was, in the course of a few months, considered by his two friends as perfectly qualified to appear before a London audience in some of Shakspeare's most important characters. Having been for some time a successful dramatic writer, Mr. H. enjoyed the ear and confidence of the managers, and arranged with those of Covent Garden for his pupil's appearance on that stage. And now the time arrived when his fortitude was to be rewarded, his sufferings compensated, and his talents to find their proper levels. His first appearance was in Hamlet, in which he received unbounded applause. In two or three nights after he performed the very arduous part of Macbeth to a house so very full as to occasion an overflow. It is but justice to the Edinburgh and other provincial managers to observe, that when Mr. Cooper appeared on the London boards he was greatly improved in his externals. His person had grown more into masculine bulk and manly shape; his face had become more marked and expressive, and his voice had swelled into a more full deep tenor.
The friendship of Mr. Holcroft caused Mr. Cooper to be universally misjudged. The opposition prints represented him in the most extravagant terms of eulogy. The government prints ran into the opposite extreme, and he became at once the idol and the victim of party spirit. Yet such a reception, by a London audience, was a sufficient pledge of future success. He was still young, had much to learn in order to reach the first rank of that profession, and if a real, well-grounded, just fame had been his object, he ought to have felt that it could only be attained by perseverance, and by the customary natural gradations. The London managers offered him an engagement, which, though allowed to have been liberal, seems not to have come up to his own estimate of his deserts. Playing two or three or four characters well is a very different thing from sustaining a whole line of acting, to which long practice and great constitutional force are as necessary as any other requisite. In this view of the matter, as well as because managers neither desire nor will be permitted in England to supersede established favourite servants of the public, it will not appear surprising that the first rate rank of characters to which Mr. Cooper aspired, was refused to him by the managers, who thought that they better consulted the public feeling, their own interest, and even the young gentleman's fame and ultimate prosperity, by placing him in a secondary general line, in which he might improve himself by playing with and observing the best models, and in regular gradation make his way to the first, as Kemble, Cooke, and others had done before him. This however was too unpalatable for his ambition to swallow. The first he would be, or none. There is not a sentiment of Julius Caesar's that is thought so censurable and unworthy of his great mind as that which he uttered when, pointing to a small town, he said, "I would rather be the first man in that village than the second in Rome." This has been justly called perverted ambition, and Milton stamped it with terrible condemnation when he put into the mouth of his arch fiend the sentiment—"better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." The passions of youth extenuate those errors which in ripened manhood are criminal; and it is not improbable that Mr. Cooper's own opinion at this day concurs with ours when we say that his refusal of the manager's offer seems to us to have been very injudicious. From Plautus, with whom we dare say he had long before had an intimacy, he might have taken this profitable lesson,
Viam qui nescit qua deveniat ad mare Eum oportet amnem quaerere comitem sibi.
Had he not rejected that offer he would long ere this have had permanent possession of the rank to which he too prematurely aspired. His refusal was followed by a retreat into the country, where, with the perseverance of Demosthenes, he laboured in fitting himself for a more successful effort; resolved to force his way if possible to the high object of his ambition.
During his retirement intimations of his success crossed the Atlantic. Mr. Tyler, some time since the manager of the New-York theatre, received the intelligence from a friend in England: "Prepare yourself for astonishment," said his correspondent, "that identical Mr. Cooper who, a few months ago, was playing the very underling characters at our theatre, and who appeared so extremely incompetent, is now performing Hamlet with applause in London." Sometime after this the agent of the Philadelphia manager in England made proposals to Mr. Cooper, who exulting in the thoughts of obtaining in America that rank which he was refused in London, closed with the offer, and soon after passed over to America. In Philadelphia, however, he found that his object was not altogether so attainable as he imagined. In no place does favouritism flourish with much more rank luxuriance than in that city—in no place do personal prepossessions more frequently operate to the overthrow of judgment, to the exclusion of merit, and to the fostering of incapacity. The multitude had their favourites whose merit touched the highest standard of their conceptions—any thing beyond that was hid in an intellectual mist. The taste of the many was formed upon the kind of merit which they so much admired in their favourites, and little did it relish that of Mr. Cooper. It is astonishing how constantly fond overweening prejudice deceives itself. The philosopher who told the powerful despot, his sovereign, that there was no royal way to mathematics, was believed, because the despot had common sense—but a headstrong multitude can never be persuaded that a person can be incompetent to any one thing, if they only will him to be great in it: and thus it has happened not infrequently, in all cities as well as Philadelphia, that splendid talents have stood behind as lackeys, while doleful incapacity has feasted upon public favour.
The abilities of Mr. Cooper gave great uneasiness, for they every day forced a passage for themselves to some share of approbation, in the very teeth of favouritism and prejudice. Some there were who could discern no merit at all in him; some who industriously employed themselves in depreciating and denying the little which others allowed him. At last his vigorous struggles made it necessary to call in a corps de reserve which he little suspected; his private life was impeached, and the careless, irregular habits of youth—habits, by the by, in which no youth indulge more than our own, were arrayed against him. Unjust as this was, it produced the desired effect; for when his benefit was announced, very few seats were taken in the boxes. And here we have to record a feature in that gentleman's character which marks his honest pride and magnanimity in deep impression. The manager was bound by his contract to make up to a certain stated amount, the proceeds of Mr. C.'s benefit. To such an advantage Mr. C. disdained to have recourse. At the same time his pride shrunk from the thoughts of playing to empty boxes at his benefit. He resolved to have a full house, and hit upon an expedient which showed that, young as he was, he knew something of the human heart, and that, though a stranger, he had made a very shrewd estimate of the public taste, for which he had the skill to cater more appropriately and successfully than he could by merely dishing up a play of Shakspeare's in his own rough cookery. Fortunately for his purpose there had lately arrived in Philadelphia an actor of great weight and merit, a native of India, of whose immense and popular talents he resolved to avail himself; this was an elephant, which for the trifling douceur of sixty dollars, that is, near twice as much as the best actor in the city now gets for one week's labour, he prevailed upon to press the boards of the theatre for that one time only, and be the chief performer and great attraction of the night. This was what a seaman would call hitting the public between wind and water: Mr. Cooper therefore poured in a whole broadside of printed notices, which were put into every hand, and a huge playbill, which glared at the corner of every street in letters of elephantine size, informing the public that the distinguished performer already mentioned, had kindly consented to act a principal part in the entertainment of the evening. No sooner was this announced than the whole city was in one hubbub of curiosity—one twitter of delight; and Mr. Cooper had so many friends who were all at once intent upon giving him their dollar at his benefit, that the house was crammed, and there was as great an overflow from every part of it as if the renowned master Betty himself were to have occupied the place of the elephant.
Very different was Mr. Cooper's reception at New-York, whither he went when the theatre of Philadelphia closed for the season. On his very first appearance he established himself in the public opinion as a first rate actor. The New-York stage might about that time vie for actors in number and quality with the best provincial company that ever played in England. Hodgkinson, Cooper, Fennell, Jefferson, Harwood, Bernard, Mrs. Morris, and Mrs. Hodgkinson, besides two or three admirable comedians. Pierre is well adapted to Mr. Cooper's talents and style of acting, and he evinced his judgment in selecting it for his first appearance. Through the whole play the ball was well tossed to him by the other actors; the consequence was that the impression he made has never been erased. The opinion entertained of him was more substantially evinced than by mere applause. There was a unanimous desire that he should leave the Philadelphia theatre and engage at New-York; but to this it was objected, that he was bound by his contract with the manager of the former, to play for a certain time under a penalty of two thousand dollars; this objection, however, was soon superseded by a subscription raised among the gentlemen of New-York to pay off that sum if the manager should be able to enforce it. Thus honourably was Mr. Cooper planted in the city which he contrived to make his head-quarters till the beginning of the year 1803, when he passed over to England. During that period he paid a professional visit to Philadelphia, where he was so justly appreciated that he had no further occasion for the aid of the elephant.
It happened that Mr. John Kemble the chief actor, and once the acting manager of Drury Lane theatre, had in the year 1802, a misunderstanding with the proprietors, in consequence of which he left it, and visited the continent, leaving the first line of character very inadequately filled. Intelligence of this secession having reached America in the latter end of 1802, Mr. Cooper, who was invited, as it is said, by the proprietors of Drury Lane, to take Mr. Kemble's place, if his reception by the town would warrant them in retaining him, crossed the Atlantic, and once more appeared in London. His success was by no means equal to the expectations of his New-York friends. Those however who were better acquainted with the general subject and the state of the stage in England, who were aware how much actors of the greatest talents profit by constantly playing with men of equal standing with themselves, and how much they lose by the want of great models either to emulate or follow, were far from being so sanguine in their expectations. By the London audience he was handsomely received, and greeted with the applause and kindness due to a stranger of respectable powers: but in efficient benefit to the house and to himself he failed; wherefore, passing on to Liverpool, he played a few nights in that town with great applause, then took shipping and returned to America, where he was received with open arms.
After his departure the theatre of New-York fell into a state of decline for want of a proper manager and proper company. The deceased Hodgkinson having been joined in the management of the Charleston theatre, and brought along with him some of the best performers, it was resolved by the proprietors of the New-York theatre, to give it upon encouraging terms to a manager of sufficient qualifications to conduct the business of it successfully. Hodgkinson was elected to the management of it almost unanimously; but soon after died of the yellow fever. Mr. Cooper then undertook it—bought the theatre at a vast expense—improved and embellished the house, and was amply remunerated by the immense receipts of the first season; at the end of which he sold out his property in it to another gentleman, who we believe now owns and manages it.
No actor ever made so much money in America as Mr. Cooper. By a skilful distribution of his time and exertions, he takes care never to stay so long in one place as to satiate the public appetite. Regardless of the fatigues of travelling, and always supplied with the best cattle, he flies from city to city over this extended union, like a comet; one day he is seen at New-York, the very next he performs in Philadelphia. A few days after, we have an account of his playing at Boston, and perhaps before a month elapses we again have intelligence of his acting at Charleston, (S.C.) in each of which places he receives an enormous salary, and always has a full benefit. Thus if he possesses the gift of retention as he does that of gaining, he must necessarily become very rich. There are modes of getting rid of money, however, to which gossip Fame, we regret to say it, whispers he is much addicted. That he may be more extravagant than he ought to be, we can suppose without injury to his moral character. Whether he be so or not is not our business to discuss—but it is our duty to relate those things which may be set down as a counterpoise to the blamable disregard of economy of which he is impeached by many who are perhaps little capable of estimating his means or his motives. He is one of the most dutiful and generous of sons to an amiable mother, whose old age he cheers with punctual bounty, and by the most constant and pious filial reverence and affection.
Mr. Cooper has a sister, or at least had one, a lady of high personal endowments and great goodness. She was early married to Mr. Perreau of Calcutta, a gentleman who stands as high in the opinion of the world as any man in India.
Of the merit of Mr. Cooper as an actor we shall have occasion to speak in another part of this work.
LIFE OF ALLEYN, THE PLAYER.
Mr. Edward Alleyn, who though an actor, is ranked among "the British Worthies," was born in London in 1566, and trained at an early period to the stage, for which he was naturally qualified by a stately port and aspect, corporal agility, flexible genius, lively temper, retentive memory, and fluent elocution. Before the year 1592 he seems to have acquired a very considerable degree of popularity in his profession; he was one of the original actors in the plays of Shakespeare, and a principal performer in some of those of Jonson; but it does not now appear what were the characters which he personated. They were probably the most dignified and majestic, for to these the portly and graceful figure of his person was well adapted. At length he became master of a company of players, and the proprietor of a playhouse called the Fortune, which he erected at his own expense, near Whitecross-street; and he was also joint proprietor and master of the Royal Bear-Garden, on the Bank side, in Southwark. By the profits accruing from these occupations, added to his paternal inheritance, and to the dowries of his two wives, by whom he had no children, he amassed a considerable property, which he bestowed in a manner that has redounded more to his honour than his professional merit. The wealth thus acquired enabled him to lay the foundation of a college, for the maintenance of aged people, and the education of children, at Dulwich in Surrey, which institution, called "The College of God's Gift," subsists at this time in an improved and prosperous state. The liberal founder, before he was forty-eight years of age, began this building after the design, and under the direction of Inigo Jones: and it is presumed that he expended eight or ten thousand pounds upon the college, chapel, &c. before the buildings and gardens were finished, which was about the year 1617.