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crown them. Omine ignotum pro magnifico est. Even professed critics, I think, should be shy of putting themselves forward to applaud loudly: any one in a crowd has “ a voice potential” as the press : it is either committing their pretensions a little indiscreetly, or confirming their own judgment by a clapping of hands. If
you only go and give the cue lustily, the house seems in wonderful accord with your opinions. An actor, like a king, should only appear on state occasions. He loses popularity by too much publicity; or, according to the proverb, familiarity breeds contempt. Both characters personate a certain abstract idea, are seen in a fictitious costume, and when they have “shuffled off this more than mortal coil,” they had better keep out of the way—the acts and sentiments emanating from themselves will not carry on the illusion of our prepossessions. Ordinary transactions do not give scope nity like romantic situations, or prepared pageants, and the little is apt to prevail over the great, if we come to count the instances.
The motto of a great actor should be aut Cæsar aut nihil. I do not see how with his crown, or plume of feathers, he can get through those little box-doors without stooping and squeezing his artificial importance to tatters.
The entrance of the stage is arched so high “ that players may jet through, and keep their gorgeous turbans on, without good-morrow to the gods!”
The top-tragedian of the day has too large and splendid a train following him to have room for them in one of the dress-boxes. When he appears there, it should be enlarged express for the occasion : for at his heels march the figures, in full costume, of Cato, and Brutus, and Cassius, and of him with the falcon eye, and Othello, and Lear, and crook-backed Richard, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and numbers more, and demand entrance along with him, shadows to which he alone lends bodily substance! “ The graves yawn and render up their dead to push us from our stools." There is a mighty bustle at the door, a gibbering and squeaking in the lobbies. An actor's retinue is imperial, it presses upon the imagination too much, and he should therefore slide unnoticed into the pit. Authors, who are in a manner his makers and masters, sit there contented—why should not he? “He is used to shew himself.” That then is the very reason he should conceal his person at other times. A habit of ostentation should not be reduced to a principle. If I had seen the late Gentleman Lewis fluttering in a prominent
situation in the boxes, I should have been puzzled whether to think of him as the Copper Captain, or as Bobadil, or Ranger, or young Rapid, or Lord Foppington, or fifty other whimsical characters: then I should have got Munden and Quick, and a parcel more of them in my head, till “ my brain would have been like a smoke-jack:” I should not have known what to make of it; but if I had seen him in the pit, I should merely have eyed him with respectful curiosity, and have told every one that that was Gentleman Lewis. We should have concluded from the circumstance that he was a modest, sensible man: we all knew beforehand that he could show off whenever he pleased !
There is one class of performers that I think is quite exempt from the foregoing reasoning, I mean retired actors. Come when they will and where they will, they are welcome to their old friends. They have as good a right to sit in the boxes as children at the holidays. But they do not, somehow, come often. It is but a melancholy recollection with them :
" Then sweet, Now sad to think on!”
Mrs. Garrick still goes often, and hears the applause of her husband over again in the shouts
of the pit. Had Mrs. Pritchard or Mrs. Clive been living, I am afraid we should have seen little of them it would have been too home a feeling with them. Mrs. Siddons seldom if ever goes, and yet she is almost the only thing left worth seeing there. She need not stay away on account of any theory that I can form. She is out of the pale of all theories, and annihilates all rules. Wherever she sits there is grace and grandeur, there is tragedy personified. Her seat is the undivided throne of the Tragic Muse. She had no need of the robes, the sweeping train, the ornaments of the stage; in herself she is as great as any being she ever represented in the ripeness and plenitude of her power! I should not, I confess, have had the same paramount abstracted feeling at seeing John Kemble there, whom I venerate at a distance, and should not have known whether he was playing off the great man or the great actor :
“ A little more than kin, and less than kind.”
I know it may be said in answer to all this pretext of keeping the character of the player inviolate_“What is there more common, in fact, than for the hero of a tragedy to speak the prologue, or than for the heroine, who has been stabbed or poisoned, to revive, and come for
ward laughing in the epilogue?” As to the epilogue, it is spoken to get rid of the idea of the tragedy altogether, and to ward off the fury of the pit, who may be bent on its damnation. The greatest incongruity you can hit upon is, therefore, the most proper for this purpose. But I deny that the hero of a tragedy, or the principal character in it, is ever pitched upon to deliver the prologue. It is always, by prescription, some walking-shadow, some poor player, who cannot even spoil a part of any consequence. Is there not Mr. C
always at hand for this purpose, whom the late king pronounced three times to be “a bad actor *?" What is there in common between that accustomed wave of the hand, and the cocked hat under
* Mr. Munden and Mr. C.
went one Sunday to Windsor, to see the King. They passed with other spectators once or twice: at last, his late majesty distinguished Munden in the crowd, and called him to him. After treating him with much cordial familiarity, the king said, “ And, pray, who is that with you?” Munden, with many congées, and contortions of face, replied, “An please your majesty, it's Mr. Cof the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.” “Oh! yes,” said the king, “ I know him well—a bad actor, a bad actor, a bad actor!" Why kings should repeat what they say three times, is odd : their saying it once is quite enough. I have always liked Mr. C -'s face since I heard this anecdote, and perhaps the telling it may have the same effect on other people.