« PreviousContinue »
* * *
yet his general excellence may be comprehended in one article, viz., a plain and palpable simplicity of nature, which was so utterly his own, that he was often as unaccountably diverting in his common speech as on the stage. I saw him once giving an account of some table-talk to another actor behind the scenes, which a man of quality accidentally listening to, was so deceived by his manner, that he asked him if that was a new play he was rehearsing. He scarce ever made his first entrance in a play but he was received with an involuntary applause, not of hands only, but by a general laughter, which the sight of him provoked and nature could not resist; yet the louder the laugh, the graver was his look upon it; and even the ridiculous solemnity of his features was enough to have set a whole bench of bishops into a titter, could he have been honored with such grave and right reverend auditors. In the ludicrous distresses which by the laws of comedy folly is often involved in, he sunk into such a mixture of piteous pusillanimity and a consternation so ruefully ridiculous and inconsolable, that when he had shook you to a fatigue of laughter it became a moot point whether you ought not to have pitied him. When he debated any matter by himself, he would shut up his mouth with a dumb, studious pout, and roll his full eye into such a vacant amazement, such a pak pable ignorance of what to think of it, that his silent perplexity gave your imagination as full content as the most absurd thing he could say upon it. * * * His person was of the middle size; his voice clear and audible; his natural countenance grave and sober. In some of his low characters that became it he had a shuffling shamble in his gait, with so contented an ignorance in his aspect, and such an awkward absurdity in his gesture, that had you not known him, you could not believe that naturally he had a grain of common sense."
Nature sometimes reproduces itself. There is much in this description to remind us of the late Mr. Liston. The following observations upon the great tragedian Betterton's personation of Hamlet are in the best style of dramatic criticism:
"You may have seen a Hamlet, perhaps, who on the first appearance of his father's spirit has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury; and the house has thundered applause, though the misguided actor was all the while tearing a passion into rags. The late Mr. Addison,
while I sate by him to see this scene acted, made the same observation, asking me with some surprise if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the ghost, which, though it might have astonished, had not provoked him. For you may observe that in this beautiful speech the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience limited only by filial reverence to inquire into the suspected wrongs that may have raised him from his peaceful tomb, and a desire to know what a spirit so seemingly distressed might wish or enjoin a sorrowful son to execute toward his future quiet in the grave. This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene, which he opened with a pause of mute amazement; then rising slowly to a solenın, trembling voice, he made the ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself; and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghostly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still governed by decency-manly, but not braving his voice never rising into that seeming outrage or wild defiance of what he naturally revered."
The book is full of pictures like this:
"In the solemn formality of Obadiah in 'The Committee,' he (Underhill) seemed the immovable log he stood for; a countenance of wood could not be more fixed than his when the blockhead of a character required it. His face was full and long; from his crown to the end of his nose, was the shorter half of it; so that the disproportion of his lower features, when soberly composed with an unwandering eye hanging over them, threw him into the most lumpish, moping mortal that ever made beholders merry."
Little bits of truth like this are also plentiful :
From whence I would observe, that the short life of beauty
is not long enough to form a complete actress."
Colley Cibber survived to his eighty-seventh year, retaining to the last the companionable qualities which had made his society coveted by persons of all ranks, and dying at last without decay and without pain.
Richard Cumberland is another vivacious specimen of dramatic authorship-more vivacious in his "Life" (I mean his printed life) than on the stage. Son of a popular and amiable bishop, grandson of the very learned but unpopular and unamiable scholar, Dr. Bentley, he competed successfully at Cambridge for the
honors of the University, took a high degree, obtained a Fellowship of Trinity, and might, probably, have attained to his grandfather's station as head of that eminent College, had he not been tempted by Lord Halifax to accept the post of his private secretary, a career for which the eminently irritable and susceptible temper which Sheridan has devoted to a cruel immortality in his Sir Fretful Plagiary rendered him eminently unfit.
It was, however, a very good position for seeing the world, and becoming acquainted with men of high name and various charThe play
This is his first impression of Garrick as an actor. was The Fair Penitent."
Quin presented himself, upon the rising of the curtain, in a green velvet coat, embroidered down the seams, an enormous fullbottomed periwig, rolled stockings, and high-heeled, square-toed shoes; with very little variation of cadence, and in a deep, full tone, accompanied by a sawing kind of action, which had more of the senate than the stage in it, he rolled out his heroics with an air of dignified indifference that seemed to disdain the plaudits that were showered upon him—Mrs. Cibber, in a key high pitched, but sweet withal, sang, or rather recitatived, Rowe's harmonious strain. But when, after long and eager expectation, I first beheld little Ga rick, then young and light, and alive in every muscle and in very feature, come bounding on the stage, and pointing at the, ttol Altamont and the heavy-paced Horatio (Heavens, what a transition!) it seemed as if a whole century had been swept over in the space of a single scene; old things were done away, and a new order at once brought forward, bright and luminous, and clearly destined to dispel the barbarisms and bigotry of a tasteless age, too long attached to the prejudices of custom, and superstitiously devoted to the illusions of imposing declamation."
His first introduction to official life was little to his taste.
The morning after my arrival, I waited on Mr. Pownall at his office in Whitehall, and was received by him with all possible politeness, but in a style of such ceremony and form as I was little used to, and not much delighted with. How many young men at my time of life would have embraced this situation with rapture. The whole town indeed was before me, but it had not for me either friend or relation to whom I could resort for com
fort or for counsel. With a head filled with Greek and Latin, and a heart left behind me in my college, I was completely out of my element. I saw myself unlike the people about me, and was embarrassed in circles, which, according to the manners of those days, were not to be approached without a set of ceremonies and maneuvers not very pleasant to perform, and when awkwardly performed not very edifying to behold. In these graces Lord Halifax was a model; his address was noble and imposing; he could never be mistaken for less than he was, while his official secretary, Pownall, who egregiously overacted his imitations of him, could as little be mistaken for more than he was."
One of his happiest characters is that of Bubb Dodington.
"His town house in Pall Mall, his villa at Hammersmith, and his mansion in the country, were such establishments as few nobles in the nation were possessed of. In either of these he was not to be approached but through a suite of apartments, and rarely seated but under painted ceilings and gilt entablatures. In his villa you were conducted through two rows of antique statues, ranged in a gallery floored with the rarest marbles, and enriched with columns of granite and lapis-lazuli; his saloon was hung with the finest Gobelin tapestry, and he slept in a bed encanopied with peacocks' feathers, in the style of Mrs. Montagu. When he passed from Pall Mall to La Trappe, it was always in a coach, which I could suspect had been his embassadorial equipage at Madrid, drawn by six fat, unwieldy black horses, short docked, and of colossal dignity. Neither was he less characteristic in apparel than in equipage. He had a wardrobe loaded with rich and glaring suits, each in itself a load to the wearer; and of these I have no doubt but many were coeval with his embassy above mentioned, and every birth-day had added to the stock. In doing this he so contrived as never to put his old dresses out of countenance by any variation in the fashion of the new. In the mean time his bulk and corpulence gave full display to a vast expanse and profusion of brocade and embroidery; and this, when set off with an enormous tie periwig and deep laced ruffles, gave the picture of an ancient courtier in his gala habit, or Quin in his stage dress. Nevertheless, it must be confessed this style, though out of date, was not out of character, but harmonized so well with the person of the wearer, that I remember when he made his first
speech in the House of Peers as Lord Melcombe, all the flashes of his wit, all the studied phrases and well-timed periods of his rhetoric lost their effect, simply because the orator had laid aside. his magisterial tie, and put on a modern bag wig, which was as much out of costume upon the broad expanse of his shoulders as a cue would have been upon the robes of the Lord Chief Justice. Having thus dilated more, perhaps, than I should have done upon this distinguished person's passion for magnificence and display, when I proceed to inquire into those principles of good taste which should naturally have been the accompaniments and directors of that magnificence, I fear I must be compelled by truth to admit that in these he was deficient. Of pictures he seemed to take his estimate only by their cost in fact, he was not possessed of any; but I recollect his saying to me one day in his great saloon at Eastbury, that if he had half a score pictures of a thousand pounds a-piece, he would gladly decorate his walls with them; in place of which, I am sorry to say, he had stuck up immense patches of gilt leather, shaped into bugle-horns, upon hangings of rich crimson velvet; and round his state bed he displayed a carpeting of gold and silver embroidery which too glaringly betrayed its derivation from coat, waistcoat, and breeches, by the testimony of pockets, button-holes and loops, with other equally incontrovertible witnesses subpoenaed from the tailor's shopboard."
Lord Halifax is sent as Lord-Lieutenant to Ireland, to which we owe the following portrait of a great celebrity of Dublin.
I had more than once the amusement of dining at the house of that most singular being George Faulkner, where I found myself in a company so miscellaneously and whimsically classed, that it looked more like a fortuitous concourse of oddities jumbled together from all ranks, orders and descriptions, than the effect of invitation and design. Description must fall short in the attempt to convey any sketch of that eccentric being to those who have not read him in the pages of Jephson, or seen him in the mimicry of Foote, who, in his portraits of Faulkner, found the only sitter whom his extravagant pencil could not caricature; for he had a solemn intrepidity of egotism and a daring contempt of absurdity that fairly outfaced imitation, and like Garrick's 'Ode on Shakspeare,' which Johnson said defied criticism, so did George, in the original spirit of his own perfect buffoonery, defy