Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small]

ments of the theatre, but it is indeed incomparably more vain and foolish. For few actors upon a Stage have, I believe, ever had their imaginations so disordered, as to fancy they really were, what they appeared to be; or that they possessed the real honour and authority of a crown, because they wore it while the play lasted: whereas madmen are so drunk with the cares of life, and intoxicated with the enjoyments of this world, as to forget that they are transitory and empty; they swallow down gold with a vehement thirst of riches, and their greatness and power inflames their pride, and possesses their souls, though alas ! all these appearances are as deceitful as those of theatrical actors; death will put as certain and as complete an end to them all; and the generation which now fills the world, will be as clean sweeped off the Stage by “the besom of destruction;" for “ the fashion of this world passeth away." p. 222.

That the characters performed on the Stage at least some kinds of characters, by no means necessarily influence the conduct in private life, there is an instance mentioned in Dibdin's History of the Stage, which is worthy of being produced:

DOGGETT, as we are informed from good and impartial authority, was the most original and the strictest observer of nature of all the actors then living. He was ridiculous without impropriety, he had a different look for every kind of humour, and though he was an excellent mimic, he imitated nothing but nature. and dances he was admirable; and, if the description of his performance of Ben, in Love for Love, be 'correct, that part has certainly never been performed since to any degree of perfection. He was a great observer of nature, and particularly delighted at catching the manners in low life, as Congreve is said to have gone to Wapping to write Ben; Gay to Newgate, to furnish his Beggar's Opera; or as Swift used to listen for hours to the low Irish; but, with all this, the acting of Doggett was so chaste, and his manner in private life so well bred, that, though he never chose to be the actor any where but on the Stage, yet his company was warmly sought after by persons of rank and taste.” Vol. iv. p. 420.

I have it on good authority, that the gentleman who now performs the same line of characters, at one of our London Theatres, is exemplary in his conduct in private life; that he has ever been the dutiful Son, the affectionate Husband and Father, and is constant in his attendance at Church,

In Comic songs

L. p. 92. In Note H. p. 225. I promised to consider in this

в в 2

place, the Third and Fourth of Witherspoon's Essentials to a public Stage.

On the Third head, it appears to me, that if the Stage be considered as an amusement only, it is the business of the political economist to determine, whether the state of the population of a country is such, as to spare persons from necessary avocations, to administer to the amusements of mankind. If not, I fear the Players are not the only set of persons who will be called upon to bear a more active and useful part in social life. I must confess, however, it appears to me, that some kind of more important business might, in many cases, be followed with advantage, along with that of a player, especially in country towns, where the company do not play every night. I think I recollect to have heard instances of this being done.

Nor can I see, why a player should not be maintained, as the world now goes, at a higher expence than a peasant. I certainly wish I could see the opulent universally willing to part with some of their superfluities, in order to impart to the peasant who wants neces. saries; though, at the same time, we must not forget, that the luxuries of the rich do really, in many respects, administer to the wants of the poor ; there is a medium in all things. If the public are willing to pay players handsomely, and support them in a style of elegance and luxury, why are they not as much intitled to it as the tradesman, who has his elegant drawing-room for receiving company, or, as the private gentleman, who, perhaps, because he has enough to live upon without exerting himself at all, does not contribute either to the amusement or advantage of mankind ? But at the same time, it must be said here, likewise, that there is a medium in all things, and there is a wide difference between supporting a respectable player, in a state of affluence obtained by many years attention to the favour of the public, like a Garrick, and a Mrs. Siddons, and others who might be mentioned, and the exorbitant sums lavished in a short time upon some foreign singer.

The Author of the History of the English Stage, prefixed to The Play-house Pocket Companion, attributes a great part of the immorality of the Stage, to the introduction of female performers. Speaking of the state of the Stage before the Restoration, he says, " No women being admitted into their companies, they were clear from the scandal which has since fallen upon the Stage, from the frailty of the female part of the performers.” p. 21. Afterwards,

quoting Ralph, who, in his Case of Authors, says of Sir William Davenant, " it is to him we are indebted for- the graceful propriety of representing female characters, by female performers," he exclaims,

But, alas! this very elegant improvement, as it must certainly be allowed to be, was the cause of all that obscenity and immorality with which the Stage was afterwards, not without great reason, charged; and, moreover, of that looseness of morals, and irregularity of life, of which the players have never since been altogether clear. It is not to be admired, that the court of so gay and dissipated a monarch as Charles, should be dissolute, and it would be very admirable indeed, if the Stage, supported by such a court, should be tolerably decent. An obscene jest, or a double entendre, which would have lost half its poignancy out of the mouth of a young man, or boy in petticoats, was highly relished when spoken by a beautiful woman. A female, gay, loose, and wanton, represented by a beardless youth, would have been a character not likely to be well received; but when filled by a young woman, desiring, and desirable herself, it may be too, the very original from whence the poet in the warmth of his fancy. perhaps a little heated by love, drew the glowing picture) the odiousness of the representation was wiped off, vice was rendered amiable, and she herself became the object of impure desires ;-the women players become abandoned, their fellow-performers of the other sex could not possibly preserve the purity of their morals,”

P. 37.

The chief reason of the depravity of the female part of the performers on the Stage, is assigned before, Discourse IV. p. 85. and 87. and Note I. p. 229. and the propriety of admitting them on the Stage, or not, may admit of some dispute. When female characters were played by boys, dramatic writers did not make then so prominent in their pieces, and more propriety was observed in the delineation of them: “ though many of them (the female characters of Shakspeare) are purposely underwritten, yet there is a feminine truth and beauty in them, more winning than all we find in those over-charged characters, which, in some of the more modern trage. dies, a mode we have borrowed from the French, seem to have all the conduct of the piece.” Dibdin's Hist. vol. iv. p. 242. And Shakspeare, on the same account, whenever he could, put his female characters into men's clothes, as in Imogen, Portia, Rosalind and Viola. The appearance of boys in female characters would not be tolerated now; but the same reason ought equally to operate against women appearing in men's clothes ; a masculine woman is

as bad as an effeminate man, and the frequent and unnecessary introduction of women in men's clothes, to expose their persons and attract the profligate to the theatre, is one of the disgraces of the Stage. As the world now goes, I do not consider a female performing on the Stage as inconsistent with that modesty which ought to be the characteristic of the sex. To speak in public certainly requires courage, but I believe, as many instances have shewn, that it may be done by persons (humanly speaking) perfectly virtuous. And supposing the performer to be virtuous, and the sentiments so likewise, I do not see that female modesty is violated more by acting in public than by singing. The actress dressed with propriety and performing a good part, is a more modest character, than her, who, dressed Joosely, exhibits her person in a ball room; and is more feminine thran her, who goes about canvassing at an election. If there be an impropriety in a female appearing and speaking in public, it is in her getting the better of the natural timidity of the sex. But will not this apply, likewise, to the females who speak in public as preachers?

One practice, which is not uncommon on the Stage, when females are put into men's clothes, is the making them swear, I remember some instances of this in The Farm House, and in the character of a Midshipman, performed by a female, in Sprigs of Laurel.

M. p. 95. Yet, even this principle seems to require considerable limitation. If we are not, upon any account whatever, to have any concern with persons, who follow callings which are bad, or which Expose them to great temptations, we must not stop short at absenting ourselves from playhouses. The principle, carried on, ought to prevent us travelling by post-chaises and stage-coaches, on account of the lives of the drivers, aud the miseries endured by the cattle. It should operate farther to prevent us receiving letters by mail-coaches, and especially such as travel on Sundays. Upon this subject I am enabled to state Mrs. More's opinion from the Repository Tract of Tom White, the Post Boy, Part I. Tom, when he was a very wild lad, met with an accident in driving his chaise, and was taken to the hospital, where sickness and reflection brought him to a better way of thinking. As soon as he got well, and was discharged from the hospital, Tum began to think he must retum to get his bread. At first he had sone scruples about going back to his old employ: but, says he, sensibly enough, gentlefolks must travel,

be

travellers must have chaises, and chaises must have drivers : 'tis a very honest calling, and I don't know that goodness belongs to one sort of business more than another; and he who can be good in , a state of great temptation, provided the calling be lawful, and the temptations are not of his own seeking, and he be diligent in prayer, may be better than another man for ought I know : and all that belongs to us, is, to do our duty in that state of life, in which it shall please God to call us.

“ Tom now felt grieved that he was obliged to drive on Sundays. But people who are in earnest and have their hearts in a thing, can find help in all cases. As soon as he had set down his company at their stage, and had seen his horses fed, says Tom, A man who takes care of his horses, will generally think it right to let them rest an hour or two at least. In every town it is a chance but there may a church open part of that time. If the Prayers should be over, I'll try hard for the Sermon; and if I dare not stay to the Sermon, it is a chance if I do not catch the Prayers; it is worth trying for, how. ever; and as I used to think nothing of making a push, for the sake of getting an hour to gamble, I need not grudge to take a little pains extraordinary to serve God.”

MR. WEYLAND, in his Letter to a Country Gentleman, on the Education of the Lower Orders, very justly observes, that “ Human society is a compromise of what is perfect, with what is practicable," p. 148. and, I think, we must ever keep this in mind in our disquisitions respecting the Stage; ever keeping perfection in view, and endeavouring with sincerity, and with even step (and I trust it will be with certainty of success) to attain it, as far as it can be obtained in this world.

Some instances have been pointed out before, Note B. p. 216. wherein the audience have interfered with success.

Mr. Styles goes so far as to say, " that in the choice of a wife, a gentleman should peremptorily reject every female who has been five times at a theatre in the course of the last two years of her life. Young men, be wise; as you value domestic happiness, avoid a theatrical female, as you would avoid the bite of a serpent;

They may do very well for sisters and aunts, · But, believe me, they'll never make wives.”

Seeing the Stage in that very contaminating light, in which Mr. S. professes to do, I own I am surprised that he is not equally

[ocr errors]

p. 37.

« AnteriorContinuar »