« AnteriorContinuar »
spirit-serves for a table round which they sit on rude but ample benches. The torches planted in the ground cast a broad light over the scene, making the ruddy wine glisten, and seeming by their irregular flickering, as if they too felt the influence of the spot. My friend, usually so gentle in his convivialities, has actually broken forth into a song, such as these vaults never heard; our respected senior sits trying to preserve his solemn look, but unconsciously smiling; and Mr. B -1, the founder of the banquet, is sedulously doing the honours with only intenser civility, and calling out for fresh store of ham, sandwiches and broiled mushrooms, to enable us to do justice to the liquid delicacies before us. The usual order of wines is disregarded; no affected climax, no squeamish assortments of tastes for us here; we despise all rules, and yield a sentimental indulgence to the aberrations of the bottle. “ Riches fineless” are piled around us; we are below the laws and their ministers; and just, lo! in the farthest glimmer of the torches lies outstretched our black Mercury, made happy by our leavings, and seeming to rejoice that in the cellar, as in the grave, all men are equal.
How the soul expands from this narrow cell and bids defiance to the massive walls! What Elysian scenes begin to dawn amidst the darkness! Now do I understand the glorious tale of Aladdin and the subterranean gardens. It is plain that the visionary boy had discovered just such a cellar as this, and there eagerly learned to gather amaranthine fruits, and range in celestial groves, till the Genius of the Ring, who has sobered many a youth, took him in charge, and restored him to common air. Here is the true temple, the inner shrine of Bacchus. Feebly have they understood the attributes of the benignant god, who have represented him as delighting in a garish bower with clustering grapes ; here he rejoices to sit, in his true citadel, amidst his mightier treasures. Methinks we could now, in prophetic mood, trace the gay histories of these his embodied inspirations, among those who shall feel them hereafter; live at once along a thousand lines of sympathy and thought which they shall kindle; reverse the melancholy musing of Hamlet, and trace that which the bunghole-stopper confines to "the noble dust of an Alexander,” which it shall quicken; and peeping into
the studies of our brother contributors, see how that vintage which flushed the hills of France with purple, shall mantle afresh in the choice articles of this Magazine.
But it is time to stop, or my readers will suspect me of a more recent visit to the cellar. They will be mistaken. One such descent is enough for a life; and I stand too much in awe of the Powers of the Grave to venture again so near to their precincts.
We notice this lamentable accident in our dramatic record, not for the sake of inquiry into its causes, or of multiplying the dismal associations which it awakens, but for the striking manner in which it has brought out the proper virtues of players. Actors of all ranks; managers of all interests; the retired and the active; the successful and the obscure; the refined and the vulgar; from Mrs. Siddons down to the scene-shifters of Sadler's Wells, have pressed forward to afford their sympathy and relief to the living sufferers. The proprietors of the patent theatres, who were just complaining of the infringements on their purchased rights, which have rendered them almost valueless, at once forgot the meditated injury to themselves, and saw nothing but the misery of their comrades. It is only on occasions such as these that the charities which are nurtured amidst the excitements and vicissitudes of a theatrical life are exhibited, so as to put the indiscriminate condemnations of the crabbed moralist and the fanatic to shame. There is more equality in the distribution of goodness and evil than either of these classes imagine; for the “ respectable” part of the community are powerful and permanent; and obtain, perhaps, something more than justice for the negative virtues. Far be om us to undervalue these, or to sympathize with any who would represent the ordinary guards and fences of morality as things of little value; but justice is due to all; and justice, we cannot help thinking, is scarcely done to those whose irregularities and whose virtues grow together on that verge of ruin and despair on
which they stand in the times of their giddiest elevation. A cold observance of the decencies of life excites no man's envy and wounds no man's self-love; and, therefore, it is allowed without grudging; while the dazzling errors and redeeming nobleness of the light-hearted and the generous are more easily abused than copied. To detect “ the soul of goodness in things evil,” is not to confound evil with good, or to weaken the laws of honour and conscience, but to give to them a finer precision and a more penetrating vigour. It is not by distinguishing, but by confounding, that pernicious sentimentalists pervert the understanding and corrupt the affections. They lend to vice the names and attributes of virtue; tack together qualities which could never be united in nature; and thus, in order to produce a new and startling effect, deprave the moral sensibility, and relax the tone of manly feeling. But it is another thing to hold the balance fairly between the excellencies and the frailties of imperfect man; to trace the hints and indications of high emotion amidst the weaknesses of our nature; to consider temptations as well as transgressions, and to estimate not only what is done but what is resisted. We can, indeed, do this but partially, yet we should, as far as possible, dispose ourselves to be just in our moral censures; and we shall find in those whom we call “ good for nothing people,” more good than we think for. Actors are, no doubt, more liable to deviate from the ordinary proprieties of conduct, than merchants or agriculturalists; it is their business to give pleasure to others, and, therefore, they must incline to the pleasurable ; they live in the present, and it is no wonder that, as their tenure is more precarious than that of others, they take less thought for the future. But if they have less of the virtue of discretion, they have also less of that alloy of gross selfishness to which it is allied ; they have much of the compassion which they help to diffuse; and ludicrous as their vanities sometimes are they give way at once on the touch of sympathy for unmerited or merited sorrow. Mr. Kean is an extreme instance, perhaps, both of imprudence and generosity; and accordingly no man living has been treated with greater injustice by a moral and discerning public. Raised in a moment from obscurity and want to be the idol of the town; courted, caressed, and applauded by the multitude, praised by men of genius, with
rank, beauty, and wit, proud to be enlisted in his train, he grew giddy and fell, and was hooted from the stage with brutal indignities. Al knew his faults; but how few were capable of understanding his virtues—his princely spirit, his warm and cordial friendship, his proneness to forget his own interests in those of others, his magnanimity and his kindness! The s respectable” part of the community do not engross all its goodness, although they turn it to the best account for their own benefit. Under the shield of this character, they sometimes do things which the vagabonds they sneer at, would not, and could not achieve; and such is the submission of mankind to custom, that they retain their name even when they are detected. An attorney, in large practice, convicted of a fraud, retains the addition “respectable”' till he receives judgment; the announcement of the failure of a country bank, by which hundreds are ruined, styles the swindlers “ the respectable firm;" and a most respectable member of the religious world speculates in hops, or in stock, without reproach, and, when he has failed for thousands, fraudulently gambled away, continues to hold shilling whist in pious abomination. We have been led to this train of reflection by seeing in a newspaper the speech of a most respectable Home Missionary, named Smith, at the Mansionhouse, in which he exults in the horrible catastrophe as "the triumph of piety in London!" And this person, no doubt, regards the accidental mention of the name of the Supreme Being on the stage as blasphemy. It is difficult to express one's indignation at such a spirit and such language without wounding the feelings of those whose opinions of the guilt of theatrical enjoyments has not rendered them insensible to the feelings of others.
It must be admitted that there is something in the sudden death of actors which shocks us peculiarly at the moment, because the contrast between life and death seems more violent in their case than in that of others. We connect them, by the law of association, with our own gayest moments, and fancy that they who live to please must lead a life of pleasure. Alas! the truth is often far otherwise. The comedian droops behind the scenes, quite chapfalled; the tragic hero retires from his stately griefs to brood over homely and familiar sorrows, which no poetry softens; the triumphant
shom we think for ordinary
calists; i herefore, "presente ecarious
to di eygira or me erhaps 10 man
al ani ty and