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kicentious avd sensual, made a jest of religion and mo. rality, and of all worthy men. He told a story pleasantly, and added inany circumstances of his own invention to heighten it. He had a good choice of words, and apt expressions, and could speak very well upon grave subjects; but he soon grew tired of serious conversation, and returned naturally to his favourite amusement
mimickry--in which he did not excel; for he drew caricatures by which inade you laugh more than a closer mimick. He was a coarse actor, yet he played the parts in his own plays better than any who have appeared in them since his death; for instance, Major Sturgeon, Aircastle, Cadwallader, &c.
He had a flat, vulgar face, without expression ; but where a part was strongly ridiculous, he succeeded, for he always ran into farce; so that I have been often surfeited with him on the stage, and never wished to see bim twice in the same character. Though he wanted simplicity in his acting, yet he was a very good judge of the stage; but so unfair, and so disposed to criticise, that you could not depend on his opinion.
As a writer he certainly had merit, and afforded great entertainment to the town for many years. If he had taken more pains in finishing his pieces, they would have been equal to most of our comedies; but he was too indolent, and too idle, to carry them to perfection.
Upon the whole, his life and character would furnish a subject for a good farce, with an instructive moral. It would shew that parts alone are of little use without prudence or virtue; and that flashes of wit and humour give only a momentry pleasure; but no solid entertainment.
REFLECTIONS ON DRAMATIC PERFORMANCES.
If the stage should be really what the generality of our polite writers tell us it ought to be, a school of agreeable inorality, it naturally follows, that those plays are the best which afford us the most pleasing instruction, and that it is neither a strict adherence to the severity of critical discipline, or a slavish iinitation of the ancients, which can possibly constitute the excellence of dramatic literature.
Nothing is more necessary for an author to cosider, who means to exhibit his productions upon the stage,
, than the genius of the people before whom they are tô be represented : different countries have their different manners, and on this simple account, it is utterly impossible ever to establish an universal criterion for dramatic excellence in writing. The cold declamations, for instance, which suit the taste of a French audience, would make an Englishman yawn at Drury-lane house; and on the other, that force of a fable, that strength of plot, and variety of business which is requisite to enter. tain an English spectator, would be deemed impertinent or pantomimical, barbarous or unnatural, according as the piece happened to be comic or distressful, by the refining criticism of a Parisian theatre.
It is whimsical enough to hear our modern critics recommending the ancients to our imitation, as the great futhers of the drama, when they themselves acknowledge, that even the best tragedy of Sophocles would be banished indignantly from our stage; not because it would want either the fire of exalted genius, or the spirit of animated poetry, but because it would want that redundancy of business, that complication of incident, which alone can keep a British audience from manifesting a public disapprobation. A fine poem may be a very bad play; a fine play may be a very bad poem. Addison's Cato is the former the versification is polished the sentiments elevated the characters marked
ihe inapners corsistent-and the conduct critical. Yet with all these advantages, it languishes most mise. rably in the exhibition.-All our reverence for the author is necessary to restrain our disgust, and had not the political circumstances attending its orignal appearance, fortunately render it a favourite no less with the tories than the whigs, we are confident it could never bave survived a second representation.
Yet even admitting that Sophocles, and the various celebrated tragic writers of antiquity abounded as much in incident, as they are notoriously deficient in that necessary article, there is one circumstance which would sender thein not only disagreeable, but ridiculous on our stage; the classical reader must see we allude to the chorusses of these poets, which are always offensive to common sense, and constantly destroying every idea of probability. About ten years ago a sensible satirical piece, entitled the Wishes; or, Harlequin's mouth opened, was performed in the summer season at Drury-Lane theatre, under the direction of Mr. Murphy and Foote.
The author of this ingenious performance introduced an episode, which illustrates the present observation relative to the Greek chorus very happily. The episode consisted of a mock tragedy, which was called Gunpowder Treason, and of which the supposed writer, Mr. Dise tress, made Guy Faux, naturally enough, the hero. When Guy comes to that passage, where he purposes to blow up the parliament house, the chorus exhorts him to reject so barbarous an enterprise, and makes use of all the arguments which are obviously applicable in such a situation. Guy however continues immoveably fixed, and prepares to execute his horrid resolution: On which one of the spectators inquires, why does not the chorus send for a constable, and carry the villain to a Justice of Peace. Mr. Distress answers something to this effect, 6 Poh, poh, that would be natural, and the chorus is. never to discover a secret.”
When we see therefore, that the greatest of the Grecian poets are so generally destitute of business, as to be mostly dramatic conversations, and when we see the chorus, the vehicle, through which the argumentative part of their plays is chiefly conveyed, is thus ridicu. lously fabricated, why are they eternally held up to us as objects of imitation ? Are we to imitate what we know will be disapproved, or to copy an absurdity' upon the authority of Sophocles or Euripides ? Are we to croud our stage with chorusses, when the chief persons in the drama are talking in a soliloquy of something wholly improper for a second ear? Or to tell a number of hu- . mane people our design to commit a murder, without ever suffering their humanity to operate agreeably to the dictates of justice? In fact, highly as the Greek stage may at present be admired by the affectation of criticism, our own is upon a much better establishment. It is not governed by the laws of composition, but by the principles of common sense. Whatever is repugnant to nature, is with us immediately condemned, and though we tole® rate many scenes in favourite pieces, which are palpably unnatural, the beauties nevertheless must greatly exceed the imperfections, to obtain so considerable an indul. gence at our hands.
EXPRESSION OF THE PASSIONS,
I In the countenance of dramatic heroes and heroines. · Has it been remarked, that in the violence of their efforts to represent excessive sorrow, bitter anguish, and violent rage, some of our best performers frequently lapse into broad caricature, and the grin of licentious diso tortion ?
I will not mention names, yet I could point out those of renown, who, in some of the most interesting scenes of our best tragedies, have actually excited laughter.
Perhaps, it may be asked, is an actor of feeling and. rapid perception to balance his limbs, discipline his features, and adjust his looks before a glass, previous to his appearing on the stage? Is he to regulate by a ther, mometer, the warmth of his inpressions, and consult a posture-master on the gracefulness of his attitudes, and the propriety of his gestures ?
I answer, yes, if his own taste and execution are not sufficiently correct: in acting, as in painting, the effect produced on the retina of the spectator, is every thing; effect is the grand business of a player's life, to which all rules, all favorite theories must be subservient; the tongue, the eyes, the lips, the muscles of the face, are the principal organs, by which the passions of the heart are demonstrated and conveyed; they are tools given to us by nature, to make certain impressions on the minds of others; but if, from a want of skilful' management, they produce sensations, and excite ideas, not only different, but exactly opposite to those which the dramatic artist meant to convey; if they do nothing by doing too much, they act as false interpreters, translate their lesson • wrong, and should be sent to school again.
It was the opinion of Leonardo D'Avinsi, that a man born dumb would be a good study for an artist, in the business of expression; but here too sobriety and moderation must not be forgotten, or we shall degenerate into pantomime.
It is the opinion of a friend, that I was seated too near the performers whose over-acting I censure; that the picture was not placed in its proper light and position; he is convinced, if I had been in a more distant part of the theatre, that what appeared coarse, violent and outra
geous, would havë met with my approbation, as natural and appropriate:
Ainsi foit il, mais parlons d'autres choses.
I cannot help remarking another impropriety, some: times exhibited on the stage : the giving young characters, whom passionate lovers are calling goddesses and angels, to aged, infirm, and wrinkled old women, or to others, who, however qualified by age, possess not a single attraction to render them objects of love or desire to a man of common sense, eye-sight, or discernment,
I am ready to make allowance for the vagaries of whim, and the extravaganza of capricious appetite; but it is not consistent with nature or experience, for a man to be pouring forth strains of rapture and admiration, when every spectator knows and feels that the object of the actor's adoration is old enough to be his grandmother; it is equally revolting to common feelings, as well as correct taste, to see a virago, well calculated for an oyster-basket, the slaughter-house, or a butt of porter, assuming the Medicean Venus, and caricaturing the Loves and Graces.
These improprieties sometimes perplex a good-natured audience, because the performers in question are frequently excellent in other walks, or stage veterans, who ouce knew better days, and for whom the majority of the persons present feel the strongest sympathy, and entertain the highest respect.
Is it avarice or cruel kindness in managers, thus to suffer or entice age and decrepitude to expose them. selves, and sport with the feelings of the public? Were a subscription proposed, I have little doubt of its being encouraged; but to pay six shillings for sitting three hours the harrassed spectator of scenes at once ridiculous and distressing, is what I will not again submit to.
C. P. B.
QUAK ERS, AND THE STAGE. The amusements of the theatre are strictly forbida den to Quakeis of every description; and this, partly because many plays are immoral, but chiefly (according to Mr. Clarkson *), because on the stage, men perso
# See his Portraiture of Quakerism,