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Regan. And in good time gave it.
Lear. Made you my guardians, my depositories;
Regan. And speak it again, my lord. With me no more.
Finding himself thus unjustly and brutally treated by Regan, he irresolutely and inconsistently turns to Goneril. Rejected again by her, he has no resource, but in himself and heaven; wherefore, in the most pathetic terms, he invokes the gods to pity him, and tears himself away from the two “ unnatural hags" for ever- And assuredly if we could suppose immediate divine interposition to be obtained by prayers, we cannot imagine any that would win it with more certainty than the following:
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
-O fool, I shall
mad. Having gone through the two first acts of this extraordinary tragedy, we think it now time to suspend the analysis of the play, and for a time leave descanting on the beauties of the poet, in order to examine the merits of the performer.
Our general admiration of Mr. Cooke's acting does not extend to the whole of King Lear. Though in following him through it, we find nothing positively censurable, there are some parts of it in which it is his greatest praise to say that he is not incorrect. Of all dramatic characters this is the most difficult to personate throughout with equal merit. Few indeed are the actors who have been able to render it attractive: nor have there been many who, to fine feeling and critical taste, were barely tolerable. That Garrick was every
thing the most fastidious judgment could conceive, we do firmly believe. One of the most accomplished critics of modern times, in answer to some questions put to him by this writer respecting the comparative merit of Barry, Henderson, and Garrick, in Lear, made use of these remarkable words: “ You admire Burketo convey an idea of the superiority of Garrick in Lear to all other men, I cannot find any terms so exactly apposite as the very affecting words of Burke on the death of Johnson, Go to the next, and what is he? NOTHING.'-Yet Barry held, in London, a long and not unsuccessful competition with Mr. Garrick in the opinion of the multitude. No inconsiderable proof of the value of popular judg- . ment, since Henderson himself, though confessedly below Garrick, was very much superior to Barry. Of the actors we have seen perform this character their names stand, in our opinion, in the following rank of praise:
Henderson was little short of what we should be contented to receive as perfection; and we remember to have overheard the celebrated dean Barnard, the bosoin friend of Garrick, declare to a circle in the box room of Crow-street theatre, that Henderson's Lear of that night was but little inferior to that of his old friend; and he added, that he thought his Lord Chalkstone fully equal (Henderson played both characters that night for his benefit)—A high compliment indeed, particularly as Garrick had written the latter for himself, and left it, as it was imagined, without the chance of a representative.
Barry's figure, face and voice were of themselves, independent of his great histrionic powers, enough to overbear, in the general opinion, actors of much superior genius. He was the grandest looking old man in the world; yet in his Lear something was wanting which nothing but preeminent genius could supply.
Mossop was as little qualified for the personation of Lear as an actor possessed of one of the best voices in the world, real genius, and very fine feelings, could be. Yet was his misperformance of Lear in general more than redeemed by the great and indeed un
exampled beauty of certain passages of it. The earnest sententiousness and awful tremulous depth with which he uttered the rational gleams of moral reflection which break through the clouds of Lear's madness, seemed to harmonize with the storm, increased the sublimity of the scene, and appeared to lift the poet above even his great height, and almost dispelled all idea of fiction. These and the indescribable pathos with which he uttered the speech “ Pray do not mock me," and some others, to which we shall hereafter call the reader's notice, are not yet forgotten, nor ever can, by those who still live of his admirers.
Kemble never can picture the debility of old age. In his Lear consummate art is seen, struggling against nature, in-a vain attempt to put in practice Murphy's description of Garrick: but the laborious effort is seen, and the natural pathos of the poet is lost. In the few passages in which he is good, the critical cye can trace study and premeditation where there ought to be unexpected explosions of feeling. As Churchill says of Barry:
Behold him for the solemn scene prepare,
Five lines hence comes a ghost, and, hah! a start. We therefore think, that we neither overrate nor disparage Cooke when we give him the place we do inferior to Garrick, Hender. son, and Barry-superior to all others. To his great living rival, Kemble, the palm must be conceded in the studied graces of action and in dignity of person and deportment–in these no actor we have ever seen equals him; but Cooke takes the lead, at least as far, in natural expression of feeling.
Those who have given much of their time and attention to the stage cannot but have observed, that in every great, old, standing play there are certain passages in which actors following, like sheep, each the example of his leader, take their best spring, and exert themselves to outdo each other. Thus, in Richard, almost every one we have seen strains himself in “ Off with his head!.0 much for Buckingham.”-“Strike alarum drums! let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women rail on the Lord's anointed,” &c. Thus too in Hamlet, “ To be, or not to be," and “ Angels and ministers of grace defend me,” &c.--And in this way a kind of hereditary
Itomage is paid to a few passages, which are made to blaze with superior splendor while all the others are left to shift for themselves. Not so Cooke-far from hobbling on servilely in the very footsteps of others, he strikes out beauties of his own; and, by raising the depressed parts, makes the whole more uniform, even where the poet really flags supporting him, and where the scene lacks interest, and is dulled by a paucity of business, supplying both from his by-play and other resources. Though we have learned from experience to lay our account with finding in him more or less of this in every character he performs, we were still astonished and charmed with the force he gave to some passages of Lear, which in other hands pass unnoticed. It was the first time we saw bim play the character; and it was the first time that ever we observed the audience or felt ourselves to be attracted by the opening speech
Meantime we shall express our darker purpose:
In three our kingdom, &c. In the management of every other actor, that we have seen, this speech appeared a dull uninteresting explanation, necessary no doubt to the understanding of the sequel, but dilatory and tedious: in Cooke's it excited attention, it charmed, and elicited a loud peal of applause. We confess it surprised us, because we did not think the words susceptible of such expression, nor to this moment can we perceive how such effects could have been produced from such materials. From this specimen alone some conception may be formed of the extraordinary effects which are said to have been produced by the declamation of Quin, and of the wonders done by old Mr. Sheridan, though he was deficient in every physical quality-in voice, face, stature,' and person; which made Churchill, though a malignant satirist, say of the former
His words bore sterling weight, nervous and strong,
In manly tides of sense they roll'd along.
Just his conceptions, natural and great,
Envy would drive the color from his cheek. Sir Brook Boothby, in the preface to his translation of Britannicus, ascribes the general ignomance or neglect in reading poetry to the revolution made by Garrick, who being willing to depress a talent he did not possess, contrived to bring measured and barmonious recitation into disrepute: for with all his skill he was either by constitution, or natural deficiency of voice, unable to acquire reputation as a declaimer.
That there is something in elocution, independent of all rule, e natural privilege peculiar to itself,ma secret charm, which no art can infuse, no instruction impart, no rules determine or insure, the speaking of Cooke is a proof to which our readers may resort with certainty of conviction. Cooke frequently tramples down all scholastic rules,—the ordinary stops, and the whole doctrine of punctuation seem at times to be but the sports of his genius,-hurried on by nature, he wings his way over the impediments which check and fetter common formalists in speech, and in doing so, infuses into the meaning of the words a subtilty of sense and an energy of expression truly astonishing. It is this gift which drew from the late eloquent lord Loughborough, the intimate of Quin and Garrick, and the pupil and partial friend of Macklin, the opinion, that Cooke was the best stage-speaker he had ever heard. Hence it is that the most obscure passage in the obsolete speeches of Ben Jonson and Massinger, are, when uttered by this actor, intelligible to the meanest of his auditors.
Through the whole of that scene, his superiority to all we have seen is great and unquestionable;—the same distinctness, precision and force, which brought the first speech to a level with the lowest capacity in the house, pervaded those which followed. Even in that to Kent, in which his words are quickened by the impetuosity of rage, this extraordinary power, being ingrafted in his nature, never forsook him; and critical taste could not be more justly delighted,seldom has met such cause for surprise, as at the perfect discrimination of voice and accent, which, without effort, marked the two parentheses that follow, each close on the heels of the other:
Since thou hast thought to make us break our vows,
Our potency made good, take thy reward. To mark a parenthesis in the full current of speech is no easy matter. To a certain extent it may be acquired, however, by study and instruction. But to parenthesize as Cooke does, that is to say, to separate from the main speech a sentence which, though included in it, is distinct from and independent of it, by a mere inflection of the voice; to insulate it, and make that insulation perceptible to every ear, requires a determination of nature which no instruction can supply-no art attain. This we assert, not on conjecture, but from manifold experiment. We have tried it our