« AnteriorContinuar »
forward, but always obtrusive, and, in the end, intolerable. The result was, and it is difficult to state it without regret, the ruin of this clever man, the abandonment of the villa, on which he had wasted sums fully adequate to have secured to him a handsome competency for life; the sale of his pic tures for little more than a third, perhaps a fourth, of what they had cost; and the consciousness that a little prudence would have relieved him from the most painful sacrifices, have rendered the desperate efforts of his latter years unnecessary, and in all probability have prolonged a life, which mere necessity compelled him to exhaust in the vain attempt to retrieve his broken fortunes.
The volumes contain a number of letters from his friends. One from Poole, the author of one of the most original dramas of the age, Paul Pry, gives an account of a melancholy event which he happened to witness in Paris, (July 1819.)
"A dreadful accident has occurred here, which I saw and heard from my window. Madame Blanchard ascended from Tivoli in a balloon the night before last. It was illuminated, and she carried fire-works with her. Soon after rising, she entered a cloud, and was lost to the sight during several seconds. On re-appearing she let off some of the fire-works, and shortly afterwards I perceived a stream of fire from the lower part of the balloon. In an instant it was in flames, and she fell with a terrible rapidity from a great height, still in her car, struck with a frightful crash on the roof of a house just opposite my window, and thence rebounded into the street. I need scarcely add, that the poor creature was taken up dead. She was buried yesterday. I cannot get rid of the recollection of what I saw and felt at the moment, knowing, as I did, that it was beyond all human power to save her."
To turn from this frightful topic-as Sterne says of the sentimentalist, comical things come in the way of comical men. Mathews dined one day at the barracks in York, on the invitation of one of the officers. A monkey was brought in, after dinner, equipped by them in the full dress of the regiment! He was placed upon the table and drank a glass of wine, bowing all round. "I laughed myself nearly into fits. You may easily imagine the odd effect, with the complete dress, which cost three guineas. When
the tail was hid, it was a miniature officer."
Undoubtedly gentlemen have a right to caricature themselves if they please, but Mathews had the additional advantage of picking up a bull. One of the company said, "Colonel Ross brings him (the monkey) upon the table every day, and if you don't immedi. ately give him something, he will throw it at you."
But he caught a still more characteristic speech from the Colonel's servant, "a real Dermot," who, seeing the sun shining strongly in his face, said "Sir, if you please, does the sun disoblige you? If he does, I'll be after putting him out of the room."
All the odd people in England came in the way of Mathews from time to time. One of his curiosities in his visits to the north was the little Polish Count Borolawski. This was the most diminutive of all dwarfs; a little creature, however, of elegant form, graceful manners, and even of considerable accomplishments. Mathews thus writes from Newcastle, (1819 :)—
"I had £53 at Durham. Mrs Siddons was there; and I dined in her company, at Dr Haggitt's, prebendary of the Cathedral; Count Borolawski, dear fellow, was on the look-out for me with open arms. He begged I would imitate him; I did, and he was in the theatre. I never heard louder shouts. I walked about the streets with him yesterday morning, with his hand in mine like a child. It is an undoubted fact, that the Count has lately grown an inch, though eighty-one years of age! I measured him years ago; he was certainly only three feet three inches; I measured him yesterday, and he was as certainly three feet four. He said, 'Oh, I grow ; in five hundred years I will be big as you; I will be grenadier.'
From Newcastle he went to Edinburgh, where he gives the people credit for having had the good taste to like him. Mathews's early feelings had made him hostile to all the sectaries; for he regarded his father as having been bewildered by them, and his own inheritance as having been plundered in consequence. This made him enjoy the triumph of the following little anecdote: "I have received a letter, (which I will preserve,) from a Methodist preacher here, to say that he was the pastor of a congregation
which could not afford to purchase a Bible, and requesting me to make them a present of one, and I did so. I have made a condition, that the following inscription should be upon itThe gift of Charles Mathews, comedian.' It is finished, and will be announced to the congregation next Sunday."
Mathews had the most extraordinary ill luck with respect to weather. Every thunder storm of the summer seemed to be directed at his especial head; if a bridge was broken down, he either went down with it, or escaped only by miracle. If a road was flooded, he inevitably had to swim for his life. Winter warred against him with peculiar malice. He lived in snow-storms, was alternately drenched by torrents of rain, and dried by whirlwinds; and if our country had been fertile in avalanches and volcanoes, he would have been buried in the one and blown up in the other; or rather, if there were but one avalanche and one volcano, he would have been sure to
be iced in the one, and been turned into sulphuric acid in the other. yet we believe him to have been a man of veracity; but it certainly was his chance to meet perpetual scrapes of all kinds. This was in some measure to be accounted for by the rambling life which he led, crossing the empire at all times and seasons; still the proverb is true; Il n'y a que bonheur et malheur. Luck is every thing; and
the Fates had evidently determined
that he should encounter every possible accident, short of being hanged. He writes from Dumfries an account of a November adventure of this order:
"Did you happen to think of me on Tuesday night about seven o'clock? and did it happen to blow a hurricane at Highgate as it did in Dumfries-shire? you could, by possibility, have taken a peep at me about that moment, you must have screamed at the sight. We had proceeded from Glasgow to within seven miles of Moffat, where we proposed to stay for the night on our way to this town. There had been a deep snow of three hours' continuance, which was succeeded by a most tremendous storm of wind and rain. Daw (his attendant) was lulled to sleep, and I was enjoying home in perspective, when I was roused from my reverie by frequent warnings from our postilion, as I imagined, to some drivers of carts to keep on their own side. Suddenly a tremendous concussion
shook me directly off my seat, and threw me upon Daw; and in an instant the carriage broke down. George literally shrieked; and on lifting his head from under an umbrella, where he had crouched to protect himself from the storm, felt it instantly ascend (not his head but the umbrella) with the force of the wind; and found himself lying on the road, be
fore he could account for the cause of his sudden removal. As the body of the carriage lay upon the axletree, and the could scramble out. My first thought was head was up, it was some time before we
to discover the cause of our misery; and I sent George after the carts; there were about seven or eight without drivers! You may imagine our horror. The concussion was so forcible, that the front spring was forced quite out of its situation, two yards from the carriage, without being broken. Every bolt that attached it to the axletree was completely broken off, and there was apparently no possibility of its being moved from the spot.'
The situation was hopeless enough; but he had not reached the limit of his misfortunes. On the carters com
ing up, who had been drinking at the toll-bar, and had left their carts to take their chance, it was discovered that the carriage could not be moved until it was repaired. This was a situation! "Seven miles," says he, pouring, blowing, standing up to our "from any house but the toll-bar; ankles in wet, a frightfully bleak and mountainous country. It was too
dark to ascertain the extent of our
damage; and for the first time since candles for our lamps. we had come out, we had forgot the Another misfortune then happened. The driver, finding his horses fidgety, took them off to prevent further mischief; the horses, probably seeing the folly of remaining out in the storm, and remembering their stable, instantly took themselves off, on the way to Moffat, with the postilion after them.
this was not all; the carriage being dragged to the toll-bar by main force; and the post-horses being at last arrested in their flight, it was settled that Mathews should mount one of them, ride to Moffat, and send back a smith with ropes and bolts for the carriage. This was the worst experiment
"You may fancy my ride," says the unfortunate equestrian-" up mountains and down again, alternate sleet, snow, and pouring rain; and a stumbling old cart-horse, for he was
no better. At the top of a hill, one mile long, and equal to the steepest part of Highgate, a sudden gust blew my horse out of his course; I however reached Moffat in safety, drenched to the skin, and did not discover till I had arrived, that I had forgotten my hat, and had rode all the way in my cap, which I put on when the head of the carriage was up." He finishes, however, with a fun which never failed him,—“ I am perfectly well; the carriage is repaired, and all right but a pair of old boots that were obliged to be cut off my legs with a knife, and Daw's umbrella, which we suspect to be the one seen on the coast of Aberdeen, going towards the coast of Holland."
Those who think that the life of an actor must be all sunshine, ought to read these volumes as well as the former. In the earlier portion of his career, disappointments were natural to him, as a young and unknown actor; but he was now popular, confident in his own ability, and remarkably clever; yet even now he had many a theatrical vexation.
"I played one night," said he, "in this tour for nothing at Montrose, for the use of all the manager's theatres. He had three; but I was told he had six. In one
of them he was acting himself, which I understood I was to play in. Instead of that, (good fellow!) he marches me off to a place where he had no company, leaving these at one of the three, by which he left me one theatre, Aberdeen.-' I thought I was to have Arbroath?' Yes, Sir, but my company is there; happy to give you half the house.'-' Perth?' 'Why, Sir, that is repairing.' Then Mr Mason would not let me have Glasgow under L.30 per night ! A friend could have told me, had he known how to send to me, that I must be mortified if I came to Glasgow failures to the greatest amount ever known in one year; twenty thousand poor out of employment; radical meetings. When Kean was there a fortnight before, not a name in the box-book all the time; a few took places, but with initials. He played to L.30 and L.40; and left it at the end of his sixth night, though
engaged for twelve."
The accidents of the year were not over yet, though it must be acknowledged that his habits of travelling in the winter threw him in the way of such chances by flood and field; but there was a buoyancy of spirit about
the man which rendered prudence almost unnecessary, and which, if it did not carry him through uninjured, yet made him scarcely think of them when they were over, except as matters of pleasantry.、
In November, being at Whitehaven, the question was, how to get to Liverpool, where he was to exhibit? His council of war determined, that there were peculiar advantages in going by water; "the land journey a hundred and forty miles, the mountains of Cumberland almost impassable in frosty weather, bad road, post-horses scarce, only eight hours' daylight, two long days on the road." The passage by sea had every thing in its favour, "about half the distance-safe passage
constant traders-do it in twelve hours-save ten pounds." It was agreed. A fishing-smack was hired on purpose; the carriage was put on board; the vessel was a wretched-looking one, no cabin or beds; a deep fog, too, came on; Mathews felt horror, longed to say " he would not go," and recollected Captain Skinner's (the commander of the Irish packet) saying, "never afraid of any thing at sea but a fog.' However, he at last made up his mind to go; had just got the hand of a friend in his, saying farewell, and was descending the pier into the vessel with a heavy heart, when, crack went the foremast, and it broke off close to the deck. The act of hauling up the foresail had finished the rickety mast, and, Mathews observes, "if this had not providentially happened in the harbour, it must have happened at sea ;" and the probability was, that all his tours would have been finished within the next five minutes.
Still he was evidently overjoyed at the fortunate compulsion which saved him from the voyage; yet the land journey at that season of the year was scarcely a happier alternative. Unshipping the carriage, they set off to cross the Cumberland hills. His description is, "deep fog, roads like glass, horses slipping one foot forward, the other back, and a hundred and forty miles before us; still we were as merry as grigs. I did not know how to contain my joy. Please to remember the boat,' was our watchword, when any little misery occurred. We made, spite of all impediments, fifty-six miles that night, but almost starved to death." Next day, his
horses and driver came down together, descending a hill. "The first effect was terrific;" however, they escaped, and Mathews charmed the hearts out of the bosoms, and the money out of the pockets, of the men and maidens of Liverpool.
In one of his letters, he mentions his having "dined at Wilton's yesterday. Very pleasant, but too many strangers for me; the house absolutely princely; I think I am correct in saying, that in point of taste and elegance I have never seen it equalled." This old gentleman was one of the remarkables of London, and was called Beau Wilton, from his peculiar attention to dress, and "the East Indian Chesterfield," from the laborious finish of his manners. His passion was dress; but dress not for the sake of its extravagance, but for the sake of his personal attractions. He was at this time upwards of seventy; but having been handsome in his youth, having taken remarkable care of his person, and possessing the opu lence which enabled him to consult his own inclinations on the subject, he contrived to look (at the proper distance) little more than half his age. He lived the easy, idle, and trifling life of a "man about town." His associates were men of the clubs, actors, and old East Indians, like himself. But he never seems to have gone beyond this circle; he was never a man of fashion, and, as age came on, he made himself more ridiculous than respectable, by his dressy affectation of an appearance inconsistent with his time of life. Mrs Mathews says, that her husband considered him as the beau ideal of Lord Ogleby, and a perfect model for any performer of that character. We thought that Mathews had better taste. Lord Ogleby is an old nobleman, Wilton was nothing more than an old beau,
The life of an actor is a chapter of eccentricities, and often contains as many oddities of other men, as of his own. It also often lets us a good deal into the under-working of popularity. Mathews was perpetually assailed by the application of traders to give celebrity to their goods. One snuff-dealer offered to supply him with snuff for himself, and even for his friends, if he would only introduce his name and shop into one of his exhibitions. On the same terms another offered to supply polish for his
boots" to the end of his days. Patents, from surgeons' instruments to mangles, called for his recommendation. Lozenges came to be tasted, razors to be used, razor-strops to be tried, wines and waistcoats, boots and boot-hooks, new ventilating hats, and even patent filters, came, to make the owners' fortunes by being introduced to fame in his dialogues. An advertising dentist once presented himself, offering to supply the whole family with teeth, on condition of a panegyric; and Mrs Johnson, the proprietor of the " American Soothing Syrup," one night held forth the tempting bribe, that she and a party of friends would appear in the boxes! in the fond hope of hearing this "real blessing to mothers" pointed out to the maternal portion of the audience.
Mathews occasionally indulged in the vulgar custom of hoaxes; but he often met with individuals whose conduct was a practical hoax, without even the doubtful palliative of ingenuity. One of these is described in the instance of a military man, whose name, however, the biographer does not venture to mention. We tell it as it is told.
The Captain having accidentally met Mathews in some of his ramblings, and having discovered that he kept an excellent table, contrived instantly to "idolize him ;" found his way into his house, ate as many dinners there as he could, and repaid his pudding by his praise. At length, however, the Captain's sense of obligation made it necessary to propose some return, and he implored Mathews and his wife to visit him at Woolwich, where he resided; for the purpose of introducing the lady to his sister, and receiving them with a hospitality in some measure resembling their own.
Mathews had no wish to go so far for an entertainment; but the more he resisted the more the Captain made it a matter of neces sity. At length, an amateur play having been got up by the officers of the garrison, the Captain entreated that his dear friends would accept his hospitality on the occasion. Accordingly, Mathews gave way, and, something loth, he and his wife left their own very satisfactory menage, to take their chances of a bachelor's dinner in the suburbs of a very dirty town of a
very gallant corps. On referring to the Captain's letter, they, too late, observed that no particular address was to be found on it. This was the first symp. tom. However, Woolwich was deemed enough; and they drove up to the first inn to learn the Captain's address. On mentioning the name, a waiter ran out, told them "the gentleman" had been there, had settled every thing, and that they were to go into the inn. On enquiring for the Captain's house, the waiter "knew no" I see thing more on the subject." how it is," said Mathews, rather vexed," that thoughtless fellow has forgotten my lameness, and expects me to walk, perhaps a mile, which he thinks nothing, to his house.' Then, after a pause, and a look round, he added, "What a melancholy, wretched room this is. Well, we have not to remain long; it would drive me mad to sit here." However, after some sitting there, the door opened, and, not the Captain, but the landlord appeared, followed by a waiter, who laid the cloth, and placed dinner on the table, to the astonishment of the spectators. "Pray, do you know at what hour Captain
dines?" at length asked Mathews, "Can't say I do, sir," replied the landlord, and left the room. "Strange, that he does not come? "When was he here, waiter?” "Last night, sir; he came to tell us he expected you and your lady here, and desired us to have dinner provided, to the exact time, as he said you were very particular." "What, here! then we are to dine here, are we?" "The fact is," said Mathews, turning to his wife, “ I see; his means, I suppose, are not so competent to give us as good a dinner at his house as he wishes to give us, and the foolish fellow has therefore arranged it here. It's a great bore, but we must make the best of it." Mathews and his wife, tired of waiting for the Captain and his sister, now went to dress for the evening. Still the inviter did not come. At last, on the waiter's suggestion that the dinner would be spoiled, they sat down, malgré; dined; and, as the cloth was about to be removed, in rushed the Captain! welcomed them to Woolwich, "but could not stay a minute." "But wont you dine?" said Mathews, trying to detain him. "Dine! my dear sir," said the Captain; "I have
dined. I hope you found every thing here to your satisfaction." But, as the speaker was to dress for a part, he instantly fled. Tea, handsomely provided, was now brought in by the landlord. Equally vexed and surprised, they next set off for the Theatre. After walking a distance, which Mathews's lameness rendered painful, it occurred to them that they had heard nothing of the seats provided by their amateur friend. Mathews, who of course took it for granted that his admission was settled, mentioned his name to the box-keeper. The man "knew nothing of it." "Was it not in the box-plan?" "Oh yes," on enquiry, "in a back row; all the other places are taken." He proceeded to take possession of his seats, bad as they were, but was stopt by "Beg pardon, sir; you haven't paid." This was another omission of the worthy Captain! They paid; were stuffed into miserable seats, and Mathews, whose nature was simple in spite of all his knowledge of the world, still chiefly grieved over the vexation which the Captain must feel when he should recollect that he had not paid for their admission. At last, as every thing has an end, the play, She would, or She would not, was over, and Mathews's next embarrassment was the sight of the Captain in the stage-box, whom he concluded to be coming to receive compliments on his performance, the Captain's part of the play being one which his auditor could not compliment by any possible stretch of conscience. However, after waiting till the Theatre was empty, no Captain
Now constrained to leave the house, he proceeded to the inn, where he supposed the Captain and his sister would, at last, have arrived. His first question was, whether his friends were not up stairs? "No, sir," was the answer; "but your supper is quite ready." They found a supper large enough for a hungry family. Of this they could eat nothing; but, irritated and surprised, their only resource was to go to sleep in the meagre accommodations of a shabby inn. The morning rose in clouds and threatened to be wet; still they felt an awkwardness in going away without giving the Captain and his sister at least time to apologize; but as Mathews was to perform that night, they at length mounted their tilbury and prepared to move.