« PreviousContinue »
suppressed--the glance of passion which escaped from the actor's eye and indicated the internal emotion which he appeared desirous to suppress-the whisper which was heard distinctly through the whole circle of the attentive audience-are all lost or wasted in the huge halls which have since arisen. The finest art of the performer--that of modulating features, tones, and action to the natural expression of human passion, is now lost. Extravagant gesture must be used; excess of rant must be committed by the best actors in their finest parts; and even their violence of voice and gesticulation can hardly make them intelligible to the immense circle in front.
Nor do we conceive this enlargement of the theatres to be more favourable to the interest of the proprietors than to the advantage of the art. A crowded house ought to be a frequent occurrence for the purpose of keeping up the appetite of the public, who are stimulated on such occasions by the desire of sharing a delight not to be purchased without some difficult But in these immense Dom-daniels difficulty of access can but rarely exist:-cold and cheerless vacuity is much more frequently the effect, even when the number which can be calculated upon as regular play-going people are dispersed through their immense spaces. Men are never stimulated to go thither from the feaj that a neglected opportunity may not return. What can be done at any time is seldom or never done, and the appearance of huge half-empty amphitheatres must suggest to every one who visits them the chilling idea of an amusement which has little attraction. Besides, the dead and unproductive expense laid out upon ornamental architecture and accommodation which is seldom wanted, loads the property and diminishes the productive capital which ought to be employed in the salaries of the actors and other legitimate expenses of the house.
It is also too true that the size of the theatres has greatly tended to increase the charge justly. brought against them in some respects as injurious to public morals. Upon the stage the entertainment presented to the public is of a character far more pure and correct in point of morality than was formerly the case. Those by whom it is represented are generally decorous and often exemplary in their private conduct; many mingle with and are well received in the best society; and the personal characters of respectable performers of this dáy may be most advantageously opposed to those of the Cibbers and Oldfields of former times, who only made their way into that species of company where profligacy
, is welcome, when accompanied by wit and the power of giving entertainment. But what has been gained in point of decoruni on the stage
has, we grieve to say, been lost among the audience. In an immense house where the business of the play can only occupy that part of the company who are near the stage, its proprietors are tempted to admit, nay encourage, the attendance of those who come thither for amusement of a less harmless nature. Saloons have been introduced, which are used for little other purpose than that of assignation; and the most abandoned class of females are so dispersed throughout the theatre, and practise their profession with so little appearance of controul, that much arrangement is necessary on the part of those who wish to make the female part of their family partakers of a rational and moral amusement, to place them out of the reach of hearing and seeing what must be unfit for their eyes and ears. It may be answered, and with some truth, that in a corrupted metropolis the presence of such company as we allude to is in some degree unavoidable. But, in small theatres, the decent and well mannered bear a much larger proportion to the less accurate part of the audience, and the delinquents, out-numbered and abashed, are compelled to behave at least with decency, and assume an appearance of the virtue which they have not. By limiting the profuse expense in useless. external magnificence, the proprietors would also lose the temptation to encourage this part of their audience, and would not need to plead the pitiable excuse,
• Our poverty and not our will consents.' Whoever has seen the interior of a: Parisian theatre will, and must admit, that they manage these things better in France.
But the Drury Lane proprietors having set the example of inereasing the extent of their theatre, those of Covent Garden would not be left behind, and theirs also rose in a still more expanded and expensive scale. They were stimulated by emulation, and like two rival country squires who stand against each other for an election went on without regard to their own interest, straining every nerve to out-show each other in prodigality of space and magnificence of architecture. Mr. Boaden has some sensible remarks on this subject, and compares them, in the extent of their preparations, to fishermen, who thought they could not fait to ensure the miraculous draught of fishes, if they made but their net large enough to hold them.
It is not impossible that Mr. Kemble's classical taste, and the high sense which he entertained of the dignity of his art, induced him to give his assent too readily to those schemes of magnificence, which were favoured by his colleagues as, the surest road to profit. The former was soon convinced of lus mistake, beholding that he had only afforded an opportunity for the further predominance of sound and show over the real drama. . But the
others, who supposed that, in consideration of the additional expenditure, the public would submit to a small increase of entrancemoney, were doomed to experience more direct disappointment and mortification. Of these, however, the chief burden fell in the first instance upon Kemble himself, though not more accessary than the other proprietors to the original proposal, and not at all guilty of some imprudent steps that had been taken in its support. 1. A blackguard transaction ought to have its name from the dictionary of the vulgar tongue, and the continued riot raised about the increase of entrance-money, which had remained the same for one hundred years, while all the expenses attending a theatre were increased in a ten-fold proportion, became the ground of the O. P. row, as was called a continued riot which lasted sixty-six nights. A large proportion of the most idle and unthinking of the audience, lads who escaped from their counters and desks at the hour of half-price, were joined with and instigated by others whose purposes were deliberately hostile to the theatre, and personally malignant to poor Kemble—for go we may term him, when his professional duty called him day after day and night after night, to expose himself to the determined brutality of a set of rioters, equally illiberal and implacable, who made him the object of their marked abuse and violence. This disorderly crew had for their nominal leader a gentleman rich in pedigree, but poor enough in understanding to suffer himself to be made the tool of such a mob.
At the same time, it must be admitted, the measures used to quell the rioters in the beginning were of a most improper complexion. Water-engines were brought on the stage as if in readiness to play on the audience, and the highly improper measure of introducing common bruisers and prize-fighters into the pit, as another mode of bullying the company, gave just offence, and drew many well meaning auxiliaries to the worser side. Neither of these injudicious devices had Mr. Kemble's sanction: he had too much sense and too much taste. But he reaped almost exclusively the harvest of odium which they excited. Not contented with the most violent expressions of hatred and contempt poured on him from the front of the house, and displayed on placards, lest their import should be lost in a din which overpowered the sound of a full band of musicians, (whis could only be known to play by the motion of their arms and fingers,) another vent for this low-bred malignity was found in a subscription list for defending the rioters who might be apprehended ard prosecuted. Here every blackguard might, for subscribing six pence or a shilling, indulge himself by announcing it to be a contribution from an enemy of Black Jack or King
John, or whatever impertinent nickname he chose to bestow on an accomplished, simple-hearted, and most honourable man, eminent for his own acquirements as well as for the delight which he had afforded the public. At length the rioters carried their animosity so far as to visit King John's house every evening after the close of the play, and alarm the female part of his family with their warwhoop. Kemble, hearing himself vociferously called for, resolved, with the mixture of intrepidity and simplicity which distinguished his character, ' to go out,' as he said, and speak to them. The prudence and affection of his brother Charles prevented his doing $0, or it is likely that the tempting opportunity afforded by darkness and confusion, with the exasperated feelings of the assailants, might have brought about soine desperate catastrophe.
The termination of this extraordinary riot is well known. The real right of their case, the laws by which they were protected, the nightly exertions of the police, though strengthened in an unusual manner,-all could not protect the proprietors of the theatre against a mob disciplined with the most extraordinary pains, taking wonder ful precaution to stop within certain limits, and so well organized, as to exhibit during the space of almost three months no appearance of diminishing in their numbers, or relaxing in their determination. They had leaders of their own, were managed by a secret committee, had their regular O. P. dinners, and 0. P. music, which was act tually published, their placards, their rattles, their whistles, their bells, their cat-calls, and, above all, their bludgeons. The proprietors were at length compelled to submit to foes so inveterate ;-to modify the proposed advance to that of a shilling in the boxes, and sixpence in the pit ticket;- and to renounce, in a great measure, that plan of private boxes which gave some chance of making the theatre once again the resort of the world of fashion. To com. plete the picture, and show the malignant and revengeful temper in which these wild proceedings were conducted, the rioters insisted that the proprietors of Covent Garden should dismiss Mr. Brandon, an old and faithful servant of the house, because, in his capacity of box-keeper, he had made strenuous exertions to protect the property and assist the rights of his employers. Such a conclusion was worthy of the spirit in which the whole row was con
We are of opinion that, though Kemble stood this storm like a man, he also felt it very deeply, and that his favourite art lost some of its attractions when he experienced to what unjust humiliation it subjected him, and that without the possibility of defence or re
He remained, indeed, for two years, making every effort to assist the theatre in its state of depression :--and mighty were those efforts, for it was during that space, that he brought
vour to recommend themselves by the superior manner in which they discharge the subordinate characters meanwhile entrusted to them: whereas the English performer too often acts carelessly, and sometimes malignantly neglects to support by due exertion the interest of the scene, with a rival whom he thinks unjustly preferred to himself. Kemble mentioned on this occasion, that, being behind the scenes at the Comédie Françoise along with Talma, he observed an individual conning his part with great attention, rehearsing it with different tones and actions, and, in short, so sedulous in his rehearsal, that it seemed he had some most important part to perform. Being greatly struck with the actor's assiduity, he inquired what weighty character this hard student was to represent? Talma informed him that he had only to say five words, ' Madam, the coach is ready; and that, notwithstanding the brevity and seeming unimportance of his part, whatever it might be, this man uniformly spent much time in studying and adjusting the action, tone, and manner of delivering himself. In short, the English actor thinks himself positively sunk and injured when obliged to perform a part of little consequence; the Frenchman, with happier vanity, considers that he may exalt
any part by his mode of playing it, and obtain at least such share of applause as may show that he too is a painter, though exercising his powers for the nonce on a limited scale. It is needless to say which system gives most effect to the scene: for, if it may be questioned whether the French or English stage has afforded the greatest actors taken individually, there can be no doubt that your Parisian theatre presents a company so completely drilled to work together, each doing his best to support the rest, that the whole entertainment is more illusive, and more captivating, than if one or two stars, as they are called, had shown themselves amidst a general darkness of ignorance, carelessness, and ill humour. There is also this convenience in the French mode-concordiâ res parva crescunt—by uniform and habitual co-operation, a company of even ordinary powers may at any time make a better amusement out of a well cast comedy suited to their different talents, than when a single part is performed with excellence, and the rest walked through or hurried over.
But Kemble's anxiety as a manager made him sometimes too busy; he was apt to be drilling the performers even during the time of the performance; a mode of mixing the duties of actor and manager which ought never to be suffered, as it checks the spirit of the superior performer's own part, while it sadly deranges the inexperienced actor, terrifies the modest, and doubly confuses the dull or negligent. Who can forget how Mrs. Siddons in her noviciate was appalled, almost annihilated, by the aside frown