Abbildungen der Seite

the testator, to ride down to posterity on a horse of stone. He further ran the risk of his executors discovering that there were no assets for the equestrian monument, in which case also his memory would have been left without a record. Even with the law as it is now declared to be, it will always be the safest course for a man who thinks himself worthy of a public statue, and who can afford the expense, to erect it in his lifetime, and not leave so important an object to the chances of law and the sport of circumstances. Who knows but that another Judge of the Prerogative may upset the decision of Sir Jenner Fust? Who knows but that, even in the present instance, that decision may not be reversed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, to whom, we believe, there lies an appeal ?

The case of Mr. Hobart will probably stimulate thousands of testators to follow his example, and will thus do more for the encouragement of statuary than any thing that has happened in our time. London will probably soon be as full of statues as Pausanias found Athens, when he visited that renowned seat of the arts. The principle which Sic Jenner Fust calls“ vanity,” will set a thousand chisels in motion when it once begins to work. We think we could name some men who will not be satisfied with statues less than colossal. Of course the testimonial in every case will be of height and grandeur proportioned to the commemorator's estimate of his illustrious self.

The leading virtues, too, of every character, will naturally be most prominently represented and celebrated in suitable effigies and inscriptions; so that the wrong decisions of the public will be corrected upon the best authority. Thus supposing it to be the unanimous judgment of all inen living, that the pure love of country never directed the conduct of a given statesman, the error will be most effectually corrected when he is seen, in a monument erected by himself, represented as a Curtius on his charger, plunging into the chasm to save the commonwealth. Again, the popular sentence upon a Scroggs, or a Jeffries, would be instantly reversed on beholding the supposed type of judicial iniquity, self-mounted on a lofty pedestal, as a second Daniel, or Brutus, in white marble. Every jobber and peculator would set himself straight in the opinion of the world by a statue of Fabricius, in commemoration of his own incorruptibility. Men would approach the monument of a Wilkes, a Luttrell, or a Chartres, and find it covered with wreaths of lilies, statues of Innocence and Chastity, flowers of Paradise, and troops of little lambs disporting in alabaster. They would expect to see a Silenus with his goblet, and find an image of Mathew with his pump. An anticipated figure of Lucretia Borgia would prove a Lucretia indeed, but the Lucretia of ancient Rome. Where a Proteus was looked for, Constancy would be seen with her moveless features. Faction, in public life, would be Patriotism in monumental bronze. The most secular churchman would choose an apostle or a martyr for his emblem, and the most shameless apostate of the day, would order the sculptor to represent hiin as Truth, supported by Honour and Decency.




We made some remarks last month upon a Prohibited Comedy, which the manager of a theatre would have acted if the Lord Chamberlain would have allowed him. We are now called upon to make some remarks upon a Suppressed Comedy, which the Lord Chamberlain allowed, but which the manager would not act. These are hopeful signs for the stage, when prohibitions and suppressions suggest prominent topics for observation.

We take it to be an important part of the duty of the Public Press, in the present exigency of the drama—of authors and actors-plays and playhouses-to direct attention to every question that affects the substantive interests of the stage ; so that, if it be destined to fall, it shall not be said that there was not enough of courage and refinement left amongst us to mark and deplore every downward step in its descent. It is with this view that we are induced to take the subject into consideration. But before we enter upon the immediate question it will be desirable to say a few words upon Comedy generally, as living branch of the acted drama.

It is as much as can be said for it, that it is a living branch. It would have been dead before this time, had it not been for the sap it has drawn from the Haymarket Theatre. In every other theatre Comedy is fairly extinct. This is a startling fact to begin with.

Comedy has been gradually going out with the last batch of great actors. Thirty years ago there was a great school of comedians who sustained the public taste, and attracted dramatic genius in that direction. It would be absurd to suppose that comedies would continue to be written with the same zest and enthusiasm, when the means of producing them with equal effect no longer existed. The dramatist who undertakes to write a comedy for the stage now, has difficulties to contend against which were unknown to his predecessors. The principal difficulty is to procure a just representation of it before the public. The comedy, whose history we are about to notice, presents a curious illustration of this difficulty. It was accepted at the Haymarket, but could not be acted there, because Mr. Farren could not " see himself” in the principal character. It was acted at Covent Garden, but was withdrawn, apparently on the pretext that the cast was an inadequate one; and it would have been acted at Drury Lane, but that Mr. Bunn confesses he has not a company capable of doing it justice. This is a very forlorn state of things for the British stage—the stage that was so recently graced by Munden, Elliston, Fawcett, Emery, C. Kemble, Mrs. Davenport, and a dozen others, whose mantles have floated upwards with them. All we can reasonably look for now, is to get comedy in homeopathic doses of one or two acts, except when Mr. Webster favours us with a munificent draft from the legitimate fountain.

This condition of the stage is, in some measure, consequent upon the state of society. It is not altogether that the stage is suffering from internal decay, but also from external influences. The field of society is circumscribed to the actor as well as to the dramatist. The salient points of national character have become insensibly softened down by the operation of obvious causes ; the pressure of necessity upon the

increasing population has had the effect of curtailing the leisure of the middle classes, formerly so rich in striking peculiarities; the long peace, by opening up new channels of intercourse and observation, has materially modified our insular characteristics; and the dramatic phases of our manners and customs have given way, more or less, in all circles, to a tone of languid uniformity not very favourable to the province of the player or the playwright.

The dramatist of a past age found ample resources in the actual life of the people around him ; but these resources are now either wholly merged in the process of generalization, or exist only in such subdued forms as to be in a much less degree available to his purpose. He looks in vain for such marked traits as those which distinguished the beau of the Restoration, with his voluminous wig, his prodigal length of cravat, his muff and pocket-glass, his butterfly vivacity, egotism, and intrigues-or the fine ladies, who represented the spirit of their age, with their magnificent vanities and masculine wit-or the accomplished gallants, who kept the town in gossip and high spirits with their box-lobby criticism, their epigrams and duels—or the parvenu, crusted over with vulgarities, which have long ceased to be amusing, and for which people, grown mammon-wise, have even acquired something like a sentiment of conventional respect-or, indeed, any of the endless oddities of individualization thrown up to the surface in periods of transition, and forming minor classifications of their own. In Jack of such suggestive materials, the dramatist is compelled to extend the bounds of Comedy into regions not properly belonging to it; to deepen his serious interest for the sake of fixing the attention of his audience; and to heighten his humour, even at some risk of exaggeration. He is still further urged to adopt this course, because a mixed drama is much more likely to be presented with due effect by the present mixed race of actors, than a pure comedy, gay, aerial, and sparkling.

The art of acting high Comedy—at least in its more subtle and spiritual elements-is hardly more than a tradition with us just now. Who has succeeded Lewis ? Where are we to look for the new Miss Farren? In this dilemma--which drops out “Hamlet” by particular desire—the dramatist is forced to adapt, not his means to his end, but his end to his means. He must shape his design to the living capabilities of the stage, or abandon it altogether.

Nor is this all. The state of public taste in this matter is another impediment to the production of a comedy of the first class. Our English public possess no fixed canons on the subject. The structure of a comedy, as a work of art, never enters into the contemplation of their pleasure. The skill with which the edifice is built, has no part in their admiration—they look only to have commodious accommodation for their enjoyment. Now, this is a grave impediment to the poet. He cannot write an audience up, and, too often, in absolute despair, flies to the opposite alternative of writing himself down. The true poet would find success easier, as it would certainly be more grateful, were the principles of his art more generally understood. His work would then be tried by the standard to which it really appealed, and he would be sure of a verdict less influenced, at least, by ignorance or caprice. And no form of dramatic literature requires so exact a knowledge of art, such an exquisite critical faculty in its judges, as a comedy. this is the very sort of drama which, above all others, runs the greatest risk with us of being impaled on some fine point of artistical merit, while its actual faults not only escape condemnation, but are occasionally "applauded to the echo."

It is not very flattering to our national pride that, in a literary matter affecting the stage, we are obliged to refer to the French for examples. Nothing is more common in English criticism than sweeping censures against the French drama; yet, just as we eat their eggs while we abhor their poultry, we are perpetually replenishing our stock of new pieces from the repertoires we condemn. That the modern mixed dramas of France deserve, as a class, the grave rebuke of a thinking and Christian nation, is undeniable; but it is equally true that French Comedy is incomparably superior to the Comedy of all other nations. Perhaps it is that the temperament of the French does something peculiar for them towards this manifest excellence. But, be that as it may, our business lies with the results, and not the causes.

This perfect etherial French Comedy did not spring up in a night; it has been the patient growth of time and toil. Unlike our Comedy (we confine ourselves to the moderns), in which there is so much guesswork, so much substitution of the artificial for the artistical, and such a craving after effects, at any cost of taste or nature, the Comedy of the French takes a variety of settled forms, every one of which is well known to the play-goer. Not only have the dramatists invented various modes of Comedy, but they have succeeded in stamping them with such distinct characteristics, that the poet never incurs the hazard of having his aim misunderstood, or his production exposed to a false critical test. The public are familiar with the laws by which these different developments are governed, and their award carries with it, consequently, a weight of judgment which rarely attaches to the fiats of a miscellaneous English audience. French Comedy may be distributed into the following classes: Haute Comédie

Comédie d'Intrigue.
Comédie de Maurs.

Comédie Pastorale.
Comédie de Caractère. Comédie Historique.
Comédie Larmoyante

Comédie Anecdotique.
Comédie Ballet.

Comédie Episodique.
Comédie Héroique.

Comédie Moyenne. The previous knowledge, on the part of the audience, of these various forms, is not only a help, but a protection to the dramatist. It renders the verdict of approval more specific and binding; as, on the other hand, it renders condemnation final. A play thus approved of by an audience, bringing an instructed judgment to bear upon it, could not be played tricks with behind the curtain. The French poet is protected, therefore, in the recognition of his responsibility and his right on all sides. The English poet has no such protection. Neither his responsibility nor his right is thoroughly understood.

Now, here is a case—this Suppressed Comedy of “Mothers and Daughters"-which could not have happened in France. If the French audience had thought it worth the approbation bestowed upon it by the English audience, they would have thought it worth repetition, and have insisted upon its repetition. Whether the comedy itself deserved that approbation, is a question we are not called upon to entertain; we have here to do only with the facts of its success and its suppression.

We have touched upon all these points in reference to the difficulties under which Comedy writing labours in England, for the sake of

showing why it is that so few real comedies are written, and why it is that when such a work does appear, it ought to be more encouragingly received. The “ adventures" of Mr. Bell's Comedy disclose some curious evidences of apathy in those very quarters where, of all others, the dramatist ought to look for succour and incitement.

“Mothers and Daughters” was sent, in the first instance, to Mr. Webster, by whom it was accepted; but Mr. Farren could not “ see himself” in the principal character, and the play was consequently withdrawn. It was now placed in the hands of Mr. Bunn, who was so struck with the peculiar fitness of Mr. Farren for the character he had declined (a circumstance of which Mr. Bunn appears to have been ignorant), that" he actually offered him an engagement for the two months of the Haymarket recess, to appear in this very part !” Mr. Bartley was similarly impressed with Mr. Farren's fitness for the part : and so was every body else, even to the critics; yet the part was ultimately played by Mr. Vandenhoff! It is impossible to conceive any stage absurdity more absurd than the appearance of Mr. Vandenhoff in a character so expressly suited to Mr. Farren-except, perhaps, the appearance of Mr. Farren in one of Mr. Vandenhoff's parts; or the appearance of Mr. Cooper in a part written for Mr. Farren, which was the case once in a piece of Mr. Poole's, when Mr. Farren, in like manner, declined a part which appears to have been equally well suited to him.

This little incident in itself points to one of the crying grievances of the stage. That every actor in the legitimate exercise of his judgment should have a certain discretionary right in the choice of parts is essential; indeed, if it were not so, no man of sense or education would ever tread the boards of a theatre. But it is plain that if there be not limits set to this discretion, the actor must finally mould the drama to his own individuality, instead of making his own individuality subservient to the drama. It is quite proper that an actor should be at liberty to refuse any part calculated to make him ridiculous, or for which he is unfit, and which would, consequently, mar the general consistency of the play. Mr. Farren, for example, would be entirely justified in refusing to play Romeo, or Young Rapid; but what would be thought of his refusal to play Old Dornton, or Sir Anthony Absolute ? Yet here is an instance no less preposterous. Actors who pursue this principle never think of the drama--they only think of themselves. They are perpetually working themselves into the foreground, with a total indifference to the derangement they may occasion to the general effect of the tableau. It is the duty of managers to restrict this besetting vanity within its lawful bounds; and to be governed, not by the caprice of actors, but by the higher claims of the drama, as a whole. The actor is, after all, but one star in this celestial stage system, and ought to be kept within his own orbit. The image is rather more felicitous than the hasty reader may suspect; for it is to this system of “stars” that the evil is to be exclusively traced. We never hear of Mr. Clark, or Mr. Turnour, Mr. Gallot, or Mr. Worrall refusing a part. The right of marring plays belongs to the “ stars” alone. It is they alone who can say, “ There may be twenty Shakspeares-but here is only one Mr. Farren !" In the very nature of things this cannot last. It has an inevitable tendency to drag down the literature of the stage, and to desolate the profession itself. There can be no fair

« ZurückWeiter »