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THE DUENNA.-PURCHASE OF DRURY LANE THEATRE. THE TRIP TO SCARBOROUGH.-POETICAL CORRESPONDENCE WITH MRS. SHERIDAN.
MR. SHERIDAN had now got into a current of dramatic fancy, of whose prosperous flow he continued to avail himself actively. The summer recess was employed in writing the Duenna; and his father-in-law, Mr. Linley, assisted in selecting and composing the music for it. As every thing connected with the progress of a work, which is destined to be long the delight of English ears, must naturally have a charm for English readers, I feel happy in being enabled to give, from letters written at the time by Mr. Sheridan himself to Mr. Linley, some details relating to their joint adaptation of the music, which, judging from my own feelings, I cannot doubt will be interesting to others.
Mr. Linley was at this time at Bath, and the following letter to him is dated in October, 1775, about a month or five weeks before the opera was brought out :
"We received your songs to-day, with which we are exceedingly pleased.. I shall profit by your proposed
alterations; but I'd have you to know that we are much too chaste in London to admit such strains as your Bath spring inspires. We dare not propose a peep beyond the ancle on any account; for the critics in the pit at a new play are much greater prudes than the ladies in the boxes. Betsey intended to have troubled you with some music for correction and I with some stanzas, but an interview with Harris to-day has put me from the thoughts of it, and bent me upon a much more important petition. You may easily suppose it is nothing else than what I said I would not ask in my last. But, in short, unless you can give us three days in town, I fear our opera will stand a chance to be ruined. Harris is extravagantly sanguine of its success as to plot and dialogue, which is to be rehearsed next Wednesday at the theatre. They will exert themselves to the utmost in the scenery, etc., but I never saw any one so disconcerted as he was at the idea of there being no one to put them in the right way as to music. They have no one there whom he has any opinion of—as to Fisher (one of the managers) he don't choose he should meddle with it. He entreated me in the most pressing terms to write instantly to you, and wanted, if he thought it could be any weight, to write himself. Is it impossible to contrive this? could'nt you leave Tom* to superintend the concert for a few days? If you can manage it, you will really do me the greatest service in the world. As to the state of the music, I want but three more airs, but there are some glees and quintets in the last act, that will be inevitably ruined, if we have no one to set the performers at least in the right way. Harris has set his heart so much on my succeeding in
* Mrs. Sheridan's eldest brother.
this application, that he still flatters himself we may have a rehearsal of the music in Orchard Street tomorrow se'nnight. Every hour's delay is a material injury both to the opera and the theatre, so that if you can come and relieve us from this perplexity, the return of the post must only forerun your arrival; or (what will make us much happier) might it not bring you? I shall say nothing at present about the lady 'with the soft look and manner,' because I am full of more than hopes of seeing you. For the same reason
I shall delay to speak about G—; only this much I will say, that I am more than ever positive I could make good my part of the matter; but that I still remain an infidel as to G.'s retiring, or parting with his share, though I confess he seems to come closer to the point in naming his price.
Your ever sincere and affectionate,
"R. B. SHERIDAN."
On the opposite leaf of this letter is written, in Mrs. S.'s hand-writing,-" Dearest Father, I shall have no spirits or hopes of the opera, unless we see you. "ELIZA ANN SHERIDAN."
In answer to these pressing demands, Mr. Linley, as appears by the following letter, signified his intention of being in town as soon as the music should be put in rehearsal. In the instructions here given by the poet to the musician, we may perceive that he somewhat apprehended, even in the tasteful hands of Mr. Linley, that predominance of harmony over melody, and of noise
over both, which is so fatal to poetry and song, in their perilous alliance with an orchestra. Indeed, those elephants of old, that used to tread down the ranks they were brought to assist, were but a type of the havoc that is sometimes made both of melody and meaning by the overlaying aid of accompaniments.
"Mr. Harris wishes so much for us to get you to town, that I could not at first convince him that your proposal of not coming till the music was in rehearsal, was certainly the best, as you could stay but so short a time. The truth is that what you mention of my getting a master to teach the performers is the very point where the matter sticks, there being no such person as a master among them. Harris is sensible there ought to be such a person; however, at present, every body sings there according to their own ideas, or what chance instruction they can come at. We are, however, to follow your plan in the matter; but can at no rate relinquish the hopes of seeing you in eight or ten days from the date of this; when the music (by the specimen of expedition you have given me) will be advanced as far as you mention. The parts are all writ out and doubled, etc. as we go as I have assistance from the theatre with me.
My intention was to have closed the first act with a song, but I find it is not thought so well. Hence I trust you with one of the inclosed papers; and, at the same time, you must excuse my impertinence in adding an idea of the cast I would wish the music to have as I think I have heard you say you never heard Leoni,*
* Leoni played Don Carlos.
and I cannot briefly explain to you the character and situation of the persons on the stage with him. The first (a dialogue between Quick and Mrs. Mattocks,) * I would wish to be a pert, sprightly air; for, though some of the words mayn't seem suited to it, I should mention that they are neither of them in earnest in what they say. Leoni takes it up seriously, and I want him to show himself advantageously in the six lines, beginning' • Gentle maid.' I should tell you, that he sings nothing well but in a plaintive or pastoral style; and his voice is such as appears to me always to be hurt by much accompaniment. I have observed, too, that he never gets so much applause as when he makes a cadence. Therefore my idea is, that he should make a flourish at Shall I grieve thee?' and return to Gentle maid,' and so sing that part of the tune again.† After that, the two last lines, sung by the three, with the persons only varied, may get them off with as much spirit as possible. The second act ends with a slow glee, therefore I should think the two last lines in question had better be brisk, especially as Quick and Mrs. Mattocks are concerned in it.
"The other is a song of Wilson's in the third act. I have written it to your tune, which you put some words to, beginning, Prithee, prithee, pretty man!' I think it will do vastly well for the words: Don Jerome sings them when he is in particular spirits; therefore the tune is not too light, though it might seem so by the last stanza-but he does not mean to be grave there, and I like particularly the returning to
* Isaac and Donna Louisa.
It will be perceived, by a reference to the music of the opera, that Mr. Linley followed these instructions implicitly and successfully.