« PreviousContinue »
I WISH there were many of my readers who could remember as clearly as I do myself what was occurring just a century back from this midnight hour, at which I am now penning these lines in my comfortable sanctum, surrounded by contributors who are doing honour which cheers me, to my modest but hearty hospitality.
This night a hundred years ago, before I addressed myself to the task of writing that youthfully-audacious preface which heads my twenty-fourth volume, I and Henry Cave, successor of honest Edward, issued from under the ancient portal of St. John's to walk to Covent Garden, where Sheridan was playing Coriolanus against Mossop in the same character at the other house. We went, indeed, Cave and I, less to see Sheridan than to pass an hour or two with him and the other players in the green-room. The great man was in high spirits that night, and, as we entered, he uttered an “Oh, look there!” so perfectly after the manner of Barry, in the Earl of Essex, when contemplating the body of Rutland, that we, who when we heard Barry utter those words, on the first night of the tragedy, had, in common with the seventy-four critics who occupied the three front rows of the pit, burst into tears, now burst into laughter. We really had a joyous time of it, in that season of our boyhood, a century ago. Shuter, who was playing Menenius, and Mrs. Woffington, who acted Veturia (the “Coriolanus" was a combination of Shakspere's and Thomson's tragedies), kept up our hilarity when they came from the stage to the green-room, by mimicking Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard in Mr. and Mrs. Beverley; and then Ridout and that never-to-be-forgotten witch Mrs. Bellamy fell to imitating Barry and Mrs. Cibber in Jaffier and Belvidera. Well, Cave and I returned to St. John's in high spirits. Not only did we find awaiting us in the little room there our choice contributors, but three or four church dignitaries, who were among our most stanch supporters. The punch, I remember, was inimitable; and it was while Dean was brewing the third bowl, and Woodward and Macklin were disputing on a passage in Shakspere which neither of them understood, that I wrote my preface to the volume for the year. How I soared, and yet how modest I was, that night! How delicately I touched on the difficulty that yearly increased as prefaces were periodically required; and how complacently I prattled of the pleasure I experienced, seeing that the longer I should be called upon to write such articles, the more proofs I should have of my success with the public. Above all, how truculent I was with respect to my rivals; how defiant; how gloriously vaticinatory as to the fruitlessness of all competition against “ The Gentleman's !”
Well, it was young blood and flow of spirits that caused it all; not that what I averred was without foundation, for half England and all the clergy were purchasers, not merely readers, but purchasers of “ The Gentleman's" then. Nor was I a false prophet. I have stood my ground since then against a host of competitors, and I appeal from the partial friends and contributors who now encircle me, and that very same bowl filled by the Dean a century back, to the public at large, and ask “ Has not Sylvanus grown lustier as he has grown older ? Is not his blood as good, are not his spirits even better than they were of yore ?” There can be but one answer, and that reply emboldens me to ask not alone for continuance but extension of patronage. I am told that my
friends are anxious to present me with a testimonial. I fully deserve one. It would be mock-modesty to deny it. The only testimonial, however, that would really give me gratification, would be in each of my present subscribers marking this year by procuring the addition of a new subscriber to my list. This would be at once a service worthy of them and of me. There is nothing that so invigorates even the healthy aged as an improved “circulation.” Indeed, without it, death is apt to visit the strongest; and I may fancy, without exposing myself to the charge of senile vanity, that England could little afford to lose so time-honoured an institution as that which we founded long before George the Third was King. And here I fancy my friends breaking out into a chorus based on the old Cornish one of Trelawny,” and singing
And shall Sylvanus die ? And shall Sylvanus die ?
Then fifty thousand reading-men will know the reason why! But the chorus would be premature; and I am rather disposed to accept the fortuitous mention of the above number as an omen, and to conclude that my friends will fix at "fifty thousand reading-men," " the number of the intellectual contingent who will acknowledge as a leader one who will be, in return, their very obliged and grateful servant,
Embellished with a view of an OBELISCAL Cross formerly existing at LEEDS.