Page images

“ O'er the stage the Ghost of Hamlet stalks,

Desdemona mourns,
poor Monimia


her soul in love."

A different feeling then prevails :-close, close the scene upon them, and never break that fine phantasmagoria of the brain. Or if it must be done at all, let us chuse some other time and place for it: let no one wantonly dash the Circean cup from our lips, or dissolve the spirit of enchantment in the very palace of enchantment. Go, Mr. and sit somewhere else! What a thing it is, for instance, for any part of an actor's dress to come off unexpectedly while he is playing! What a cut it is upon himself and the audience! What an effort he has 'to recover himself, and struggle through this exposure of the naked truth! It has been considered as one of the triumphs of Garrick's tragic power, that once, when he was playing Lear, his crown of straw came off, and nobody laughed or took the least notice, so much had he identified himself with the character. Was he, after this, to pay so little respect to the feelings he had inspired, as to tear off his tattered robes, and take the old, crazed king with him to play the fool in the boxes ?

“No; let him pass. Vex not his parting spirit,
Nor on the rack of this rough world
Stretch him out farther!”

Some lady is said to have fallen in love with Garrick from being present when he played the part of Romeo, on which he observed, that he would undertake to cure her of her folly if she would only come and see him in Abel Drugger. So the modern tragedian and fine gentleman, by appearing to advantage, and conspicuously, in propria persona, may easily cure us of our predilection for all the principal characters he shines in. “Sir! do you think Alexander looked o'this fashion in his life-time, or was perfumed so ? Had Julius Cæsar such a nose? or wore his frill as you do? You have slain I don't know how many heroes with a bare bodkin,' the gold pin in your shirt, and spoiled all the fine love speeches you will ever make by picking your teeth with that inimitable air!"

An actor, after having performed his part well, instead of courting farther distinction, should affect obscurity, and “steal most guiltylike away,” conscious of admiration that he can support nowhere but in his proper sphere, and jealous of his own and others' good opinion of him, in proportion as he is a darling in the public eye. He cannot avoid attracting disproportionate attention : why should he wish to fix it on himself in a perfectly flat and insignificant part, viz. his own character ? bad custom to bring authors on the stage to

It was a

crown them. Omne 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 to grace and dignity 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.

[ocr errors]

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 «


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

« PreviousContinue »