« PreviousContinue »
British, the parent from which the American has sprung, and without which the history of the theatre of our new world would be imperfect, and a mere unconnected fragment. With this view, we have not been forgetful of the necessity there would be for looking for information and documents, but have hitherto been 'unable to do more than collect a few materials from casual conversation, and from scraps which have accidentally fallen in our way.
We therefore receive with the thanks which the writer deserves, and the hearty welcome to which his communication is intitled, the letter of our Baltimore correspondent; and as a proof of the alacrity with which we adopt and wish to put in practice his suggestions, have made it the leading article of this number of the Mirror, the first that has been composed since the receipt of his favour. And as the public will not only better understand the subject from our correspondent's words than they probably would from ours, but will be encouraged, by his generous example, to come forward on the occasion, we transcribe his letter and, though perhaps before we ought in strictness to do it, give also the valuable and beautiful document it contains.
I take the liberty of suggesting to you the propriety of soliciting communications under this head. There are a great many old persons now living in various parts of the United States, who know anecdotes of players, and particulars respecting the first theatrical establishments in this country, which it would not cost them trouble to write down and send to your office, and which if not thus preserved, may soon sink into the grave with their sole and venerable depositaries.
Authentic copies of play-bills announcing the first or last appearance of actors or actresses who have since distinguished themselves, and bills of the first or last night's performance of a season, would be well worth preserving for the end I have suggested. Poetical addresses for any particular occasion, especially the opening of a new theatre, would also be of great importance at some future time, because they would illustrate the state of the
literature, as well as the dramatic history of the age in which they were written.
I do not, Mr. Editor, like many advisers, endeavour to'impose on others a task I would not encounter myself; but follow up these hints by sending you an important document to begin with; and, in case my project meets with your approbation, I promise that you sball hear from me on the same subject whenever I can spare a moment for that purpose, and your Mirror is ụnoccupied by abler correspondents.
With this letter you will receive a prologue, spoken at the dedication of the first regular theatre that was ever built in Boston, and was opened during the December of 1793, or the January of 1794, I am not certain which. It is a notorious fact that, even so lately as 1793, the legislature of Massachusetts could not, without great difficulty, be persuaded to repeal an act which declared all theatrical performances unlawful and immoral. Before this repeal, the actors evaded the statute by announcing, for example, that “ On Monday evening will be delivered at the exhibition room, in Board alley, a MORAL LECTURE, enforced by the affecting history of JANE SHORE, which will be alternately recited by Messrs. Harper, Powell, &c.: the evening's exercises to conclude with an Amusing Lecture in the facetious narrative of CHRONO'NHOTONTHOLOGOS." I quote this bill, which I once saw, from memory, but will procure the original, and send it to you at some future time.
When the prejudices of the Boston legislators were overcome, and the new theatre ready to be occupied, the proprietors offered a gold medal to the author of the best prologue which should be written on the opening of their establishment. The candidates for this distinction sent their several productions inclosed in a scaled cover, and without signatures; and after all had been read, compared, and read a second, and a third time, the preference was unanimously given to the following, which was afterwards discovered to be the work of Mr. Paine (since celebrated for his political songs), and to him the prize was awarded.
At that time Mr. Paine's name was Thomas; but not many years after he changed it to Robert Treat, out of affection for his elder brother, who died in 1798 or 1799, and to perpetuate the name of his father, The Hon. ROBERT Treat Paine, who is one of the few surviving signers of the Declaration of American Inde. pendence.
These reasons, however, were not assigned in Mr. Paine's peti. tion to the legislature; but wittily alluding to Thomas Paine, the infidel, he stated that “ he had no CHRISTIAN NAME, and, therefore, prayed for one.” The good old legislators smiled; the fact was admitted, and the prayer of the petitioner complied with.
A FRIEND TO YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK
Baltimore, October 24, 1811.
BY THOMAS PAINL, A. B.
But soon the Muse, by nobler ardours fir'd,
Hence artists grac'd, and heroes nerv'd the age,
• Not the present manager of the Boston theatre, but his brother, C. A. Powell, who afterwards settled in Halifax, and died there a year or two ago.
+ This theatre is not the one now standing in Boston. In 1799, (I give the date from memory) it was destroyed by fire, and the present theatre was built on the same spot.