Imágenes de página

silence which could not retrieve his character. He rather rebuked the Government when he spoke, than assisted it. He had gained by his con. version nothing but money, which he did not want, and lost by it all that he he did the smiles of party and the shouts of the multitude. Such is the natural and the deserved fate of those who begin by going too far. Flood was a demagogue until he became a placeman; he opposed every thing until he became bound to submit to every thing. Formed with great powers to guide the country, he was content to lead a faction; and, conscious that the true direction of public prosperity was in the path of peace, he exerted his fine abilities, his personal influence, and his Parliamentary weight, to urge the country into a practical rebellion against England. He finally made a desperate effort to return to his party. But its throne was vacant no longer. A younger aspirant was already seated there. Grattan had been fixed in popular supremacy by acclamation; and the patriot placeman was left to lament the original want of principle which had led him to embrace popularity for truthto embitter public passion instead of enlightening public ignorance; and, for the sake of seizing power by the violence of an excited people, inflame them, by the exaggerations and extra

vagances of popular harangues, into a hatred of the only country which could, or ever can, administer knowledge, tranquillity, or freedom to Ireland.

While Grattan was at the Temple, persuading himself to study law, a persuasion in which he never succeeded, he had opportunities of studying the more congenial statutes of party. Lord North's Ministry, once popular, had fallen into sudden disrepute. Wilkes was the thorn on which the Minister had most inadvertently trod, and which he could never extract. Nothing can be more against all sound policy in a minister, than to involve the Crown in a contest with an individual. The inequality of force itself makes it unpopular at once, and the thousands who hate all authority, instantly take up the quarrel on the plea of manliness; the cause becomes that of the oppressed against the oppressor; and a disturber, who ought to have adorned the pillory, is raised on the shoulders of the populace to an equality with his king. Burke expressively termed the whole process" A tragicomedy, acted by his Majesty's servants, at the desire of several persons of quality, for the benefit of Mr Wilkes, and at the expense of the constitution."

But the subject abounds on us, and we must, for the present, break off here.



"Ror your Italianos! for my part, I loves a simple ballat!" At the risk of being excommunicated from civilized society for the next twenty years, I honour the memory of the country mayoress, who gave vent to her outraged nationality in that most passionate and unsophisticated ejaculation. The spirit which gave birth to it was British to the backbone-a despiser of fashions, and a hater of Frenchmen. I can picture her to my mind's eye, seated by the side of her magisterial spouse on the front bench in the Town-Hall, glorious in crimson velvet and orange trimmings, majestic in feathers and furbelows, pre-eminent in paste, and magnificent in mosaic gold-listening, with open mouth and

kindling eye, to the "uptrilled strain" of some one of those great metropolitan stars, which every now and then condescend to shoot like meteors through our rural hemisphere, to turn the heads and empty the pockets of the wondering lieges by their "most sweet voices." I can fancy her speechless astonishment at the first burst of the unknown tongue upon her unprepared ear her glance of dignified expostulation at the unheeding man of semiquavers-and, finally, her indignation at the audacity which offers such an insult to her understanding bursting forth, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, in that most energetic of anathemas"Rot your Italianos!"

How far my taste and that of the

worthy lady in question might coincide in the selection of our " simple ballats," I cannot of course presume to decide; but, however we might happen to differ in the application, in principle we are one:-Rot your Italianos!-give me something I can understand.

I shall never forget the first time I ever went to the Italian Opera. Indeed her Majesty's Theatre (Alas that the theatre, par excellence her Majesty's, should be the only theatre in London where her Majesty's mothertongue is never spoken!) was the first playhouse in which I ever set my foot, and my anticipations were magnificent-though to attempt to describe them, after Charles Lambe's delightful account of a similar epoch in his existence, would be worse than idle. Tap, tap, tap, went the conductor's baton, and crash went the whole orchestra at once;-but what was the overture to one whose eyes were riveted upon the curtain, and whose whole soul was wrapt in expectation of the wonders it concealed? I have listened with delight since then to many a noble overture; but at that moment, had it been an angel's lyre, as far as I was concerned, its strings would have been swept unheeded. To me the play, and the play only, was the attraction-of course, I need not say that of the nature of an opera I had but a very imperfect conception. I knew that there would be a good deal of singing, but I had no notion there was to be nothing else; and I knew also that I should not understand the language to be spoken: but I thought that, if the performance were but true to nature, I might be able, at any rate, to make a tolerably good guess at what was going on, and I pleased myself not a little by the anticipation of my own success in this conjectural species of interpretation. Well, the overture, endless though it seemed, nevertheless gave the lie to appearances, and ended at last. Up went the curtain-and behold! a gentleman with an unexceptionable moustache, and a spick-and-span new suit of "complete steel," amusing himself with parading backwards and forwards before a castle gate only covered with ivy, and chanting at the top of his voice, in what Hamlet calls " very choice Italian." Now I, knowing nothing in the world of "that soft bastard Latin," and not being before

hand acquainted with the details of the story to be enacted, very naturally concluded, from the armour and the uplifted voice, that the worthy gentleman-for he was too smart for a warder was somebody or other of moderate personal courage, who was supposed to be going about his business in a neighbourhood of indifferent reputation, and singing as he went, either to let any lurking clerk of St Nicholas understand that he was by no means timorous, or, for the old classical reason, because he happened to have no superfluity of broad pieces in his breeches pocket, and consequently nothing to apprehend. As I afterwards learned, I never was more mistaken in my life-but that is anticipating. Well, after a proper quantity of walking, and ditto of singing, enter on the opposite side another gentleman, (whom, for the sake of perspicuity, I will call gentleman No. 2,) with a drawn sword and an inflamed countenance. Suddenly perceiving Gentleman No. 1, he stops, and thunders forth three lines of double bass, to which the individual so addressed responds in twice as many of counter-tenor, drawing his weapon also at the close of the sixth; whereupon Gentleman No. 2 turns his back unceremoniously upon Gentleman No. 1, and fortifies his spirits with a considerable quantity of gesticulation, and a trifle more of the double-bass. As it was now pretty evident that he was working himself up into a very murderous disposition towards Gentleman No 1, I was delighted to observe the Christian forbearance of the latter individual, in not taking advantage of so favourable an opportunity for smiting Gentleman No. 2 under the fifth rib at once; but I suppose that he, like a swan, had a sort of presentiment of his approaching latter end, and was determined to have another song before he took his departure: for, when Gentleman No. 2 had ceased, and was most heroically "winking and holding out his iron" before his eyes, he very composedly treated us to another five minutes, in a somewhat more warlike key; and then at it they went like a couple of gamecocks, till the predestined Gentleman No. 1 received a lunge in tierce, which I thought must have most effectually and immediately given him his quietus. But no ;-rearing himself on his elbow,

and fixing on Gentleman No. 2 a glance of the most withering scorn and intense detestation, he spake once again, and to my extreme astonishment, like Southey's Enchantress, "still his speech was song,"-clear, loud, sustained, "as though he felt no wound," until suddenly the uplifted voice and body fell together, and the unfortunate Gentleman No. 1 breathed his last in B flat.

I would go on to tell how there came on a "fayre ladye," weeping and wailing, and tearing her "lang lang yellow hair," and how she knelt by the side of the defunct Gentleman No. 1, and how she endeavoured to recall what the newspapers denominate "the vital spark," by a bravura of a quarter of an hour's duration; and how an elderly gentlemen, with a cracked voice and cranium to match, which latter was his only excuse for not knowing better, made dishonourable proposals to the said fair one, in a very long-winded solo for a Sexagenarian; and how, after much sorrow and trouble, the lady, towards the middle of the third act, after singing a passionate song over a small phial of poison, swallowed the contents at a gulp; and how the audience were treated to a specimen of an Italian coronach by fifteen young maidens, all with tresses carefully dishevelled, and as many serving-men in disordered liveries, headed by a Coryphæus in the person of the aforementioned old gentleman, by this time driven by remorse into a state of "very midsummer madness." But I should seem as one that mocketh to many a worthy and simple-minded country cousin, and I forbear. I have never been to the Italian Opera from that day to this. I look upon it as the greatest outrage to common sense that ever was perpetrated. I regard a ballet with a far more lenient, and even favourable eye. The ballet is a great philosophical experiment to ascertain the maximum degree of indecency which the eye of the most moral public is able to endure without flinching; but which, alas! seems destined, like too many meritorious undertakings, never to accomplish its object. My friend the mayoress would doubtless have preferred an old-fashioned "threesome reel" to all the elegant improprieties of the "poetry of dancing.'

Honestly and seriously, it gives me

more pleasure to hear even a street organ play a simple old English air, than it would to occupy the very choicest stall in the whole Italian Opera-House; and yet (though I fear I shall provoke nearly as many sneers as I shall have readers) I claim to be counted among the lovers of music. The dramatic part of the business is to me so irresistibly ludicrous, that the beauty of the music (and far be it from me to deny that of Italy its due share) is lost and gone in the utter absurdity of the tout ensemble. I cannot yield myself to any illusion at a spectacle so unnatural. I can no more sympathize with a hero who lives, loves, eats, drinks, fights, and dies singing, than I can sympathize, like the Morning Herald, (admirable, an editor though he be,) with a condemned murderer. I know many a sweet air, from many an opera, which I can drink in, again and again, with ever fresh delight; but it must not be within the walls of a theatre; there must be no tinsel and trappings-no footlights and finery—the air, the whole air, and nothing but the air-no "chromatic tortures of "quaint recitativos;"-and then I will sit and cry"Play on--let me have more of it!” till the fair fingers of the minstrel grow weary of their task, and the silvery voice pleads their excuse sweetly, that the melody of art is forgotten in that of nature.

[ocr errors]


A theatre is not, to my thinking, the proper place for vocal music; or, perhaps, it may be nearer the truth to say that vocal music is, for the most part, so awkwardly introduced in our drama, that I am apt unthinkingly to find fault with the practice, instead of confining my censure to its abuse. Nine-tenths of the songs which we hear upon the stage are so lugged in by the head and shoulders, that we cannot be surprised if they suffer from the operation. People in plays sing, for the most part, exactly when nobody. in his senses would dream of their being musical. Companies of banditti rove about, shouting out a chorus which cannot by any possibility fail to betray their whereabouts; young gentlemen, head over ears in love, chant beneath their mistresses' windows with a strength of lungs which must infallibly awaken the most snoring and somnolent of papas; and wicked little soubrettes display their

vocal powers in the drawing-room, at the imminent risk of being turned out of the house at a minute's warning by their justly infuriated "missus." No modern play-wright seems to have the slightest notion that there is a time proper for singing, and a time proper for holding one's tongue. Shakspeare introduced songs, and why shouldn't they? True; but Shakspeare never went a single inch out of his way to accommodate a song. His men and women sing exactly as men and women ought to sing -at the proper time, and in the proper manner; two requisites which we, who sing away, "ab ovo usque ad mala," have most unaccountably lost sight of. I quote the following words from the very last number of Maga, without curtailment, partly for the excellence of the criticism, and partly because they supplied the hint for these, my present rude lucubrations:-"Joanna Baillie," says the critic, for he is speaking of no less a name, "takes care to make no people sing in situations in which it is not natural for them to do so; the songs are all sung by those who have little or nothing to act, -[so Amicus, in As you Like It,]and introduced when nothing very interesting is going on; and they are supposed not to be spontaneous expressions of sentiment in the singer, but, as songs in ordinary life usually are, compositions of other people, which have been often sung before, and which are only generally applicable to the present occasion. these few words, which are nearly all her own, this great poetess has laid down the principles on which alone can any musical drama be constructed agreeably to nature.'


So much for theatrical song-singing; though, by the way, I have yet another crow to pick with it before I leave it, inasmuch as the better the song is sung, the more it tends, by producing an encore, to dispel still further the already fading illusion of the stage. The grand object of the drama is, of course, to "hold the mirror up to nature," that it may admire (which it may do without vanity) its own beauties, and see and amend its own follies and deformities. Foremost among its secondary aims, I take to be the endeavour. to impress the spectator with a belief, as far as such a thing is possible, that the scenes which pass before his eyes are not fic



tions but realities-to make him give himself up to the illusion of the moment, annihilating both time and space from the instant the curtain risestransporting himself through centuries, and across oceans-undergoing a living metempsychosis now "royal Dane," and now an antique Roman,"-and subsiding into his pristine John Bullism only when some second-rate son of the buskin glides delicately from behind the curtain, to announce the entertainments of the morrow. I do not know whether or no my principle be correct; but, be this as it may, it is that upon which I like to act myself, if the gods would only allow me. But no-the powers of the one-shilling gallery are a straightforward, matter-of-fact race of deities, that have no notion of being deluded in any way whatever: tailor outsqueaks tailor, barber out-bravos barber, baker outclaps baker, butcher outwhistles butcher-the play stands still the actors return to their old attitudes-the song is sung again; and Miss Snevellicci, act as she will, is, for the rest of the evening, Miss. Snevellicci, and Miss Snevellicci only. I never yet saw Richard dream or die a second time; but, should it ever be the pleasure of the British public to demand such an effort (and there are many things, as far as I see, more improbable), I could regard the exhibition with exactly the same degree of complacency. But I am running away from my friend the mayoress.

I suppose a lady of fashion now-adays would as soon think of admitting that she did not adore Italian music, as she would of confessing her age. For my part, I look upon our Italianizing dames pretty much as sturdy old Juvenal looked upon the Græcizing patricians—“ non possum ferre, Quirites, Græcam urbem." There is no end to our unnatural adoptions"Jampridem Syrus in Tiberim defluxit Orontes"-Italians, and French, and Germans-the Swiss family This, and the Dutch family That, and the Russian family T'other-Chanteurs Montagnards, Siffleurs, and Chinchoppers-Alpine minstrels, and Bo hemian minstrels, and minstrels from the Lord knows where; verily, the plague of foreigners is upon us, and of all live plagues defend me from this! Were the evil confined to the boards

of the Opera-House, or the purlieus of

Leicester Square, I should not mind it so much, though it would still be bad enough. But this is, alas! far from being the case. Read a programme of a fashionable morning con. cert-the probability is, that you will not find one English song in the list. Walk into a fashionable drawing-room, and ask Miss Mary or Miss Caroline to favour you with a little music fifty to one she strikes up some Italian rigmarole, of which you understand not a syllable, but which you are bound to pronounce the most beautiful thing you ever heard in your life, as you would escape being set down for a greater Goth than even Alaric himself. An English audience, "gaping for wonderment" at a modern morning concert, puts me strongly in mind of a congregation of Roman Catholics at their devotions. They are alike most admiring and devout listeners to a service, of the meaning of which ninetenths of them have no more comprehension than a cow has of mathematics. But the evil does not stop at morning concerts and crowded soirées; like the frogs of Egypt, it invades our very chambers, and takes its station unresisted by our parlour firesides-those very citadels of John Bullism-our very children of ten years old practise bravuras, and prattle of Donizetti.

The honest old English song never was at a greater discount than in this most musical age. We do not get a decent one once a-year; and, when we have that luck, it endures only for aweek. Our modern fashionable ballads are the most execrable compounds of mawkish sentimentality that ever melted the soul of a nursery-maid full of pale high brows, and dark flashing eyes, and long flowing tresses of raven blackness-strong spirit. yearnings, and heart-tempests of appalling violence. Unhappy music appears doomed henceforth to a perpetual state of ancient maidenhood for there is no longer any "immortal verse" to marry her to. Even good music, when burthened with the trashy words with which these days are afflicted, is, to my thinking, three parts ruined; but this is a matter about which our modern musicians trouble their heads very little-words are made for tunes, not tunes for words s; and one would think they were made by contract into the bargain; sometimes they rhyme, and for

the most part scan; but as to any thing beyond, why, a black swan would be nothing to the rarity. Our list of modern song-writers (I do not mean mere "metre-ballad-mongers" and Haynes Bayley-ites, but good honest song-writers) is small indeed; of living ones we have scarcely any. Moore seems to think he has done enough, and so he has, for fame; for there is immortality enough and to spare in the Irish melodies. Allan Cunningham has written several stirring strains-why is his pen idle? Poor Captain Morris is dead!-peace to his manes! his songs (and so were Dibdin's) were superb in their way— that is, when men were reasonably well advanced in the second bottle. Of Burns, I fear I may say, little but the name is known in these parts, save to a few. Walter Scott has written some glorious songs, but who sings them? and last, "not least in our dear love," Felicia Hemans has penned some strains of passing beauty, which one would think the world would not willingly let die; yet, are all these passing away silently to their oblivion, to be recalled, now and then, only by such old-fashioned folks as myself and the mayoress.

We English, I suppose, neglect our own music more than any people upon the face of the earth, and with as little reason for so doing. We are the most loan-loving nation under the sun; we borrow pretty nearly every thing; -our dresses, our habits of life, and now, at last, our music. We are not

an idle people, nor a foolish people; but somehow or other we have got hold of a notion that nothing of our own is worth a brass farthing, and that every thing belonging to every body else is worth its weight in gold. We go upon tick for taste, and we are put off with an inferior material into the bargain. I never yet heard an overture, or a fantasia, or a fugue, or an aria, that could stand any thing like a comparison with three-fourths of the old Irish and Scottish melodies, which one scarcely dares call for, for fear of being stared down by a parcel of people who never even heard of their existence. Those of Scotland, in particular, have to me, though I am no Scotchman, an inexpressible charm. I could listen to " Auld Robin Gray," and "Ye banks and braes," and " My love is like the red red rose," and

« AnteriorContinuar »