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majesty of Siddons, the dignity of Kemble, the pathos of Helen Faucit, the learning of Macready. The degradation of the stage is in great part the consequence, it is to be feared unavoidable, of the prodigious increase in wealth and population which has taken place in the empire during the last thirty years; and of the unparalleled augmentation of private business before the legislature since the Reform Act, which has attracted so vast a multitude of ill-educated strangers to the metropolis, during the most important months in the
year. In truth, the present depressed situation of the legitimate drama in Great Britain, is, it is much to be feared, in reality owing to a more general cause, inherent in the present state of society, and for which, without an entire revolution in ideas, habits, and institutions, it is hardly possible to see a remedy. This is the progressive, and now general rise of the middle and lower ranks into circumstances of comfort, and the advantages of education, which it is the deserved boast of modern civilisation to have effected. The theatres are now filled with a class who, though instructed to a certain degree, have not, and cannot possess, the refined and classical education, which is necessary to a due appreciation of excellence in the productions of the drama. The very names of the persons are unknown to them. Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Achilles, Antigone, Pompey, Cassius. Hecuba, Nero, Britannicus, Junia, Bajazet, Zaïre, Godfrey of Bouillon, Rinaldo, and the like, at which the heart of every scholar and really educated person of both sexes throbs, are to those men long and unknown names. They are like the titles of Hindoo rajahs or Persian princes, in general so tiresome and perplexing to a European reader. What the numerous inmates of the theatre require is not anyincidents founded on the history of such remote, and, to them, unknown times, but something rousing to the imagination, and stimulating to the senses, which all, in consequence, can understand.
When the majority of the play-going public come to belong to this class, from its rise in affluence and importance, the last hour of the legitimate drama, in that country at least, has struck. Dancing, processions, scenery, voluptuousness will prove more lucrative to the manager, and, therefore, speedily supersede power and sentiment in the poet,
genius or versatility in the performers. The highly-educated
The stage has one peculiar and melancholy feature, which
of the Æolian harp, it sinks into the heart, but lives only in the secret cells of the memory.
Notwithstanding this difficulty, it is possible, by writing, to convey some idea of the distinctive character of great performers. It is so, because every civilised age has, and ever will have, the stage, and therefore every one has some model—inferior, perhaps, but still a model—which he has witnessed, which aids him in embodying the conceptions which the writer wishes to convey. The same difficulty exists, though in a much lesser degree, in the description of scenery. If the reader has beheld no scenes in nature of the same kind, the most glowing language, the most graphic details, will fail in conveying any distinct or correct conception of them. He will think he is conceiving new scenes, when, in fact, he is only repeating old ones. But if he has seen some objects of the same class, though inferior in magnitude or effect, he will be able, from an accurate description of the leading features of a scene, to convey some idea of what the writer intends to convey. Thus, whoever has seen the Alps will have no difficulty in forming a conception of Lebanon or the Andes from the glowing pages of Lamartine or Humboldt ; and the rush of Schaffhausen will enable the imagination even of those who have never crossed the Atlantic, to figure the thunder of Niagara. It is in the hope that similar aids may assist the feeble efforts of the pen, that the following attempt is made to give a picture of the great tragic performers of the last and the present age.
Of GARRICK all have heard ; but none of the present generation have seen him, and it is the more advanced in years only who have received accounts of bis extraordinary talents from eyewitnesses. They were undoubtedly, however, of the very highest description. The estimation in which he was held by the greatest men of his own, not the least of any age, sufficiently proves this. The companion of Johnson and Burke, of Goldsmith and Reynolds, of Fox and Gibbon, must have been no common man, independent altogether of his theatrical abilities. Like all persons of the highest class of intellect, his talents were not confined to his own profession ; they shone out in every department of thought. He was as great at the supper of the literary club, when in presence of the eloquence of Burke, or the
gladiatorial powers of Johnson, as when he entranced the
As an actor, his most remarkable quality was his versa-
His figure, though not actually diminutive, was neither tall nor commanding ; his countenance was far from being cast in the antique mould, his voice neither remarkably sonorous nor powerful; but all these deficiencies were supplied, and more than supplied, by the energy of his mind and the incomparable powers of observation which he possessed. There never was such a delineation, at once of the tragic and comic passions. He united the eye of Hogarth for the ludicrous, and that of Salvator for the terrible ; that of Caracci for the pathetic, and that of Velasquez for the dignified. It was this close observation of nature which constituted his great power, and enabled him to wield at will, and with such surprising effect, the magic wand which swayed the feelings of his audience, alternately rousing them to the highest exaltation of the tragic, and the utmost stretch of the comic passions. This peculiar faculty, however, had its disadvantages; it made him fond of stage effect, and condescend to trick. He performed Lear on crutches, to add to the effect of the great scene, when he threw them away. It is difficult to conceive how such a combination can exist in the same individual ; and certainly experience affords very few instances of a similar union. But the examples of Shakspeare and Sir Walter Scott prove that such a blending of apparently heterogeneous qualities may be found in the most highly-gifted dramatic poets. Napoleon's celebrated saying, “ from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step,” may possibly afford, in a certain degree, a key to the mystery. And the peculiarity was probably founded, in both, on the same accurate eye for the working of the human heart, and power of graphic delineation, which, alike in the poet and the performer, is the foundation of dramatic excellence.
A most competent eyewitness has left the following
graphic picture of the wonderful power of imitating the expression of human passion which Garrick possessed. In the chapter in which Fielding describes the behaviour of Partridge at the theatre, he says,
“Partridge, upon seeing the ghost in Hamlet, gave that credit to Mr Garrick which he had denied to Jones, and fell into so violent a fit of trembling that his knees knocked together. Jones asked him what was the matter, and whether he was afraid of the warrior upon the stage.
66. Oh, sir,' he exclaimed, “I perceive now it is what you told me. not afraid of anything, for I know it is but a play; and even if it was really a ghost, it could do no harm at such a distance and in so much company; and yet, if I was frightened, I am not the only person.'
Why, who,' cried Jones, dost thou take to be such a coward here besides thyself ?'
"Nay, you may call me a coward if you will ; but if that little man on the stage there is not frightened, I never saw any man frightened in my life.'
“He sat with his eyes partly fixed on the ghost, and partly on Hamlet, and with his mouth open. The same passions which succeeded each other in Hamlet, succeeded each other also in him.
“ At the end of the play, Jones asked him which of the players he liked best. To this he answered, with some appearance of indignation at the question
"The king, without doubt.'
"• Indeed, Mr Partridge,' says Mr Miller, you are not of the same opinion as the rest of the town, for they are all agreed that Hamlet is acted by the best player who ever was on the stage.'
“ He the best player!' cries Partridge, with a contemptuous sneer. Why, I could act as well as he myself. I am sure, if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the very same manner, and done just as he did. And then, to be sure, in that scene, as you call it, between him and his mother, where
told me he acted so fine, why any man—that is, any good man —that had such a mother, would have done exactly the same.
I know you are only joking with me; but although, madam, I never was at a play in London, yet I have seen acting before in the country, and the king for my money. He spoke all his words distinctly, and half as loud again as the other. Anybody may see he is an actor.'”
It is impossible to imagine a finer compliment to the superlative skill of the actor which personated nature so exactly, that it was mistaken by the countryman for it.
If nature had done little, comparatively speaking, for Garrick, except endowing him with these wonderful powers, the same cannot be said of the majestic actress who, after him, sustained the dignity of the British stage. Mrs SiDDONS was born a great tragedian. Every quality, physical and mental, requisite for the formation of that character, appears to have been combined in that wonderful woman. A noble countenance, cast in the finest Roman model ; dark eyes and eyebrows; a profusion of black hair ; a lofty figure and majestic mien ; a powerful and sonorous, but yet melo