« PreviousContinue »
sir!-to persuade him he would make a hit as the Ghost of Hamlet's father! I saw her design at once-it was to kill me!"
"Kill you !"
"That is, professionally kill me; and I told Weazle so; and what do you think was the reward of my candour ?"
"We live in a base and ungrateful world, my dear sir—it is almost impossible to say."
"Why, the vain-glorious blockhead told me that I was not the only man of ability in the world-others, he flattered himself (he did flatter himself, indeed!) had talent-the Ghost had been too often entrusted to inferior actors, and he was determined the part should, for once, have justice done it! Justice!-Think, sir, of a shrimp of a fellow, scarcely five feet high, very asthmatic, with a crab-like shuffle in his gait, one leg being shorter than the other, and a voice like unto that of a penny trumpet, personating the buried majesty of Denmark!' How self-love will blind a man!-don't you think so?".
"I do indeed. But did it turn out as you anticipated ?"
"Worse, sir, much worse! Why, as soon as the Spirit appeared, and I commenced (in capital voice) my Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!' there was a universal grin all over the house; and when the trifling abortion went on to speak of his brother, whose natural gifts were poor to to those of his ! derisive cries of Well done, Weazle!-bravo, little Weazle!' shook the theatre. All this, would you believe it, the misguided man took in good faith! and has since talked of trying the part in London ! Well, this went on-very pleasant, was it not?—until he made his exit, squeaking out,Adieu, adieu, adieu ! remember me !' amid a tumult of noise and uproar which he calls applause. Now, this was excellent sport, and very agreeable, I dare say, to those who were enjoying themselves, but only imagine my situation! Can you conceive it, sir? There was Í standing gazing after my Father's Spirit with a countenance on which love, fear, pity, awe, horror, reverence, indignation, and amazement, were visibly depicted-and the whole house convulsed with laughter!"
"Shameful! shameful !!"
But what vexed me most was, that it entirely killed my attitude! I had taken some pains with it,-it was, in fact, supremely good, and I had made up my mind that it would produce a sensation ! I was, of course, unwilling to change it until the audience had sufficiently recovered from their ill-timed mirth to be able to appreciate its elegance and originality. This they were in no hurry to do, and I remained standing in the same posture until an impatient bumpkin in the gallery bawled out, 'I say, Measter Hamlet, be'st goin' to speak or noa?' This was rather too much, and so disconcerted me, that I forgot the text, but went on (appropriately enough) apostrophising the Spirit, Remember thee! ay, thou poor ghost!' and egad, I will not forget him in a hurry!"
But I am afraid I grow tiresome. It is a very different matter enjoying the good humoured detail of a gentleman's ludicrous distresses over a bottle, and coldly relating them to the public on paper.
Suffice it to say, that we enjoyed each other's company mightily; and on his informing me, among other matters, that his "benefit was fixed" for the ensuing week, when he proposed electrifying the inhabitants of Bwith his "Othello," I begged to know where tickets were to be secured. Upon this he produced from his pocket sundry pieces of card, on which were written," Mr. Stanley's Night-Boxes." Of these I took half-adozen, at two shillings each, paying the money for the same; the unexpected and unusual feel of which so elated the worthy tragedian, that he pressed me to walk towards the post road, where he could find an inn, and he would treat me to a beef-steak and a bottle of wine. This, however, I declined, and promising faithfully to see him make his grand effort in the ensuing week, I shook hands and parted with the happiest and most amusing "ill-used gentleman" I had ever met with.
The Monday evening of the ensuing week saw me quietly ensconced in the stage box of the temporary theatre at B- It was a building used for all the great events which occured in that marvellous little town. sorts of mountebanks, jugglers, travelling portrait painters, equestrians, quacks, lecturers on elocution, and other birds of passage, hired it during their brief sojourn; in it the B- Debating Society expended its weekly accumulation of eloquence; divines of every persuasion, but without any stationary congregation, held forth beneath its sheltering and important roof; and in it the several Auxiliary Branch Societies of the district annually gathered themselves together. In times of great political excitement, however, its mere local notoriety was emerged in its astonishing national importance. Public meetings were held in it, to overawe the government; and it was well understood by the inhabitants of B- generally, and by the leading speakers especially, that the passage of many important measures lately was principally owing (though the government did not like to confess it) to the over-powering floods of declamation that had issued from this very edifice. At present it was in the hands of Weazle, who had selected it as an eligible place from whence to disseminate a knowledge of Shakespeare and the legitimate drama, over the surrounding district; and, with the exception of the scenery, machinery, dresses, decorations, company, and orchestral department, the arrangements certainly did him credit.
It was a capital house. Nearly all the aristocracy of B———, consisting of the principal grocer, butcher, linen-draper, hatter, and publican, with their respective families, crowded the boxes with beauty and fashion; whilst several farmers and farmeresses in the vicinity represented the agricultural interest. The rest of the audience consisted of the usual miscellaneous contributions of a county district. Altogether there had not been such a house in B- - within the memory of the oldest play-going inhabitant; it contained upwards of £18 sterling, and the austere of the neighbourhood predicted that some signal calamity was certain to follow such a scene of gaiety and dissipation.
It is not my intention (did I possess the power) to systematically criticize the entertainments of the evening; parts of the performance seemed
a very fair counterpart to the account furnished me of Hamlet; notwithstanding which, the audience maintained that grave and decorous demeanour which ought always to pervade a house on the representation of a tragedy. I cannot, however, refrain from a passing notice of the Othello and Desdemona of the evening, personated by my friend and Mrs. Weazle. I have seen Kean as the Moor, and though much gratified on the whole, candour compels me to say, in justice to an unknown great man, in many respects he was decidedly inferior to Wiggins-that is to say, Stanley. I know very little about such matters, but it appeared to me that Kean neither stamped nor tore his hair (wool) with half the fury, nor rolled his eyes about until nothing could be seen but the white, with one quarter the effect. In the celebrated scene touching the loss of the handkerchief, there was no comparison. Wiggings reiterated his demand for "the handkerchief!"—" the handkerchief !"" the handkerchief !"—with a force, increasing the volume of his voice at each interrogation, of which Kean was physically incapable. Opinions may differ about shades of excellence, but facts are stubborn things; and it was ascertained that he was most distinctly heard by the village blacksmith on the opposite side of the street, during the operation of shoeing a horse. This speaks volumes. His exertions drew down thunders of applause, and proved among other things, that whatever might be the state of the pockets, prospects, or habiliments of the "ill-used gentleman," his lungs, at least, were in excellent condition and free from the slightest taint of pulmonary affection.
In the more pathetic portions of the character, I cannot say that I felt tearfully inclined; but this I rather attribute to a want of becoming sensibility on my part, as the frequent application of white handkerchiefs to the eye, and adjacent features of sundry farmer's daughters and dressmakers, incontestibly proved that my friend knew how to move the waters. In short, to use the emphatic words of the judicious and discriminating critic of the "B- Advertiser," with whom Wiggins used to smoke his pipe and take his pot―"it was one of the most powerful, pathetic, terrific, and energetic performances ever witnessed on any stage in any age.”
Of the Desdemona of Mrs. Weazle, I cannot speak so highly. The fact was, she was not exactly the figure for the part, being truly, as my friend had described her, "five feet eleven with beard." She was, too, extremely stout in proportion even to her height, and had a stride like a grenadier's, so that she fairly put one in mind of the heroines of the gender masculine in the ancient time, when, in the words of an old poet, men acted
"That were between
Forty and fifty, wenches of fifteen;
With bone so large, and nerve so incompliant,
When you call'd Desdemona-enter Giant !"
She was, in good truth, a formidable looking lady; and as I gazed at her, I thought, despite his faults, with sorrow and commiseration of Mr. Weazle. In her earlier years, she might have had a waist, but at present such an article did not constitute a portion of her anatomy, so that there
being no connecting link, her shoulders had the appearance of directly resting on a much more substantial pedestal. A glance at the extremity of the most prominent feature of her face was enough to convince the most sceptical, that the insinuation respecting the attachment to spirituous liquors was not without foundation. In addition to all this, she was labouring under a very decided hoarseness, and her white satin dress, from some cause or other, formed anything but a contrast to the colour of her lord's complexion; so, that, taking all things into consideration, she did not exactly come up to one's preconceived ideas of
"The gentle lady wedded to the Moor;"
and when her father, before the senate described her as
"A maiden never bold :
Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion
the grocer's heiress, who had been at a watering place on the coast, and knew something, looked very significantly at the publican's daughter; upon which, the publican's daughter shrugged up her shoulders.
The play, however, all things considered, went off very decorously, with the single exception of one scene, when I was a little apprehensive that there was going to be tragedy in earnest. It occurred after Othello had applied that very unbecoming epithet to his lady, which gives rise to Desdemona's delicate piece of circumlocution:
"DES.-Am I that name, Iago?"
"DES.-Such as she says my lord did say I was?"
Just as Mrs. Weazle had made this interrogation, I heard a most expressive "Hem!" and on looking to the side-wing from whence it proceeded, saw my friend Othello winking at me in evident allusion to the question that had just been put by Desdemona, and the well-understood frailty of Mrs. W., with his finger laid very significantly on one side of his nose. Desdemona, too, heard and understood the purport of the "Hem !” and, turning suddenly round, caught Othello in the fact, with his finger laid as aforesaid. Her face assumed at once a most terrific expression: she made but three strides to the side-wing, and had not the gallant Moor effected a preciptate retreat, Heaven only knows what might have been the consequence. A cry of order, however, induced her to waive her private resentments, in order to contribute to the gratification of the public, and the scene proceeded harmoniously.
Three days afterwards a gentleman called upon me. It was Stanley. He was in extravagant spirits, and a suit of second-hand clothes gave him quite an imposing appearance. He had taken his place for London, and after paying his fare, retained the almost incredible sum of £7 10s. in his pocket-book, on a spare leaf of which was pasted the criticism from the " B-- Advertiser." Fame and fortune, he said, were now within his grasp-he had only to stretch forth his hand. If he succeeded.
of which he did not entertain the shadow of a doubt, "untold gold," he assured me, would be but a slight acknowledgment for my kindness. He intended, however, once more to change his name, as a provincial reputation," he said, was rather injurious than otherwise in London, in consequence of the supercilliousness of the metropolitan critics; but under whatever cognomen after his first decided hit, I should indubitably hear from him. Two years have now elapsed, and I have not heard from him. Poor fellow! I am apprehensive his benefit at B has been but a partial gleam of sunshine, and that he is still kept back by the caprices of fortune, the blindness of managers, and the envy and ill-will of his brother actors-in fact, a regular conspiracy of the whole world. Never mind— he may be penniless, but he can never be poor whilst he retains his buoyant spirits and affluent imagination; though I am afraid he still continues, in his own opinion, what I found him- -a very ILL-USED GENTLEMAN."
CONSEQUENCE OF POPULARITY.
"My door," says Mrs. Siddons, was soon beset by various persons quite
unknown to me, whose curiosity was on the alert to see the new actress. some of whom actually forced their way into my drawing-room, in spite of remonstrance or opposition. This was as inconvenient as it was offensive; for, as I usually acted three times a-week, and had, besides, to attend the rehearsals, I had but little time to spend unnecessarily. One morning, though I had previously given orders not to be interrupted, my servant entered the room in a great hurry, saying, 'Ma'am, I am very sorry to tell you, that there are some ladies below, who say they must see you, and it is impossible for me to prevent it. I have told them over and over again that you are particularly engaged, but all in vain; and now, ma'am, you may actually hear them on the stairs.' I felt extremely indignant at such unparalleled impertinence; and before the servant had done speaking to me, a tall, elegant, invalid-looking person presented herself (whom I am afraid, I did not receive very graciously); and after her, four more, in slow succession. A very awkward silence took place; when presently the first lady began to accost me, with a most inveterate Scotch twang, and in a dialect which was scarcely intelligible to me in those days. She was a person of very high rank; her curiosity, however, had been too powerful for her good breeding.
"You must think it strange' said she, 'to see a person entirely unknown to you intrude in this manner upon your privacy; but, you must know, I am in a very delicate state of health, and my physician won't let me go to the theatre to see you, so I am come to look at you here.' She accordingly sat down to look, and I to be looked at, for a few painful moments, when she arose and apologized; but I was in no humour to overlook such insolence, and so let her depart in silence."
END OF THE FIFTH VOLUME.