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Epist. IX. AND DID ACTIC. 109
The feeling sense all other want supplies,
I rate no actor’s merit from his size.
Superior height requires superior grace,
And what’s a giant with a vacant face
Theatric monarchs, in their tragic gait,
Affect to mark the solemn pace of state;
One foot put forward in position strong,
The other, like its vassal, dragg'd along : éo
So grave each motion, so exact and slow,
Like wooden monarchs at a puppet show.
The mien delights us that has native grace;
But affectation ill supplies its place.
Unskilful actors, like your mimic apes,
Will writhe their bodies in a thousand shapes:
However foreign from the poet's art,
No tragic hero but admires a start.
What though unfeeling of the nervous line;
Who but allows his attitude is fine 92
While a whole minute equipois'd he stands,
Till praise dismiss him with her echoing hands!
Resolv’d, though nature hate the tedious pause,
By perseverance to extort applause.
When Romeo sorrowing at his Juliet's doom,
With eager madness bursts the canvas tomb,
The sudden whirl, stretch'd leg, and lifted staff,
Which please the vulgar, make the critic laugh.
To paint the passion's force, and mark it well,
The proper action nature's self will tell: _ze
No pleasing pow'rs distortions e'er express,
And nicer judgment always loaths excess.
In sock or buskin, who o'erleaps the bounds,
Disgusts our reason, and the taste confounds.
Of all the evils which the stage molest,
I hate your fool who overaćts his jest;
Who murders what the poet finely writ,
And, like a bungler, haggles all his wit,
With shrug, and grin, and gesture out of place,
And writes a foolish comment with his face. Zze
Old Johnson once, tho' Cibber's perter vein
But meanly groupes him with a num’rous train,
With steady face, and sober hum’rous mien,
Fill'd the strong outlines of the comic scene.
What was writ down, with decent utt’rance spoke,
Betray'd no symptom of the conscious joke;
The very man in look, in voice, in air,
And tho' upon the stage, appear'd no play’r.
The word and action should conjointly suit,
But ačting words is labor too minute. /32
Grimace will ever lead the judgment wrong;
While sober humour marks th’ impression strong.
Her proper traits the fixt attention hit, -
And bring me closer to the poet's wit;
With her delighted o'er each scene I go,
Well-pleas'd, and not asham'd of being so.
But let the generous actor still forbear
•To copy features with a mimic’s care l
'Tis a poor skill, which ev'ry fool can reach,
A vile stage-custom, honor'd in the breach. 24-
Worse as more close, the disingenuous art
But shews the wanton looseness of the heart.
When I behold a wretch, of talents mean
Drag private foibles on the public scene,
Forsaking nature's fair and open road
To mark some whim, some strange peculiar mode,
Fir’d with disgust, I loath his servile plan,
Despise the mimic, and abhor the man.
Go to the lame, to hospitals repair,
And hunt for humor in distortions there ! /*
Fill up the measure of the motley whim
With shrug, wink, snuffle, and convulsive limb;
Then shame at once, to please a trifling age,
Good sense, good manners, virtue, and the stage!
'Tis not enough the voice be sound and clear, 'Tis modulation that must charm the ear. When desperate heroines grieve with tedious moan, And whine their sorrows in a see-saw tone, The same soft sounds of unimpassioned woes Can only make the yawning hearers doze. 24,
The voice all modes of passion can express,
That marks the proper word with proper stress.
But none emphatic can that actor call,
Who lays an equal emphasis on all.
Some o'er the tongue the labor'd measures roll Slow and delib'rate as the parting toll, Point ev'ry stop, mark ev’ry pause so strong, Their words, like stage-processions, stalk along. All affectation but creates disgust, And e'en in speaking we may seem too just 2,
Nor proper, Thornton, can those sounds appear Which bring not numbers to thy nicer ear: In vain for them the pleasing measure flows, Whose recitation runs it all to prose; Repeating what the poet sets not down, The verb disjointing from its friendly noun, While pause, and break, and repetition join To make a discord in each tuneful line.
Some placid natures fill th’ allotted scene With lifeless drone, insipid and serene; -/30 While others thunder ev'ry couplet o'er, And almost crack your ears with rant and roar.
More nature oft and finer strokes are shown,
In the low whisper than tempestuous tone.
And Hamlet’s hollow voice and fixt amaze –
More powerful terror to the mind conveys,
Than he, who swol’n with big impetuous rage,
Bullies the bulky phantom off the stage.
He, who in earnest studies o'er his part, Will find true nature cling about his heart. 17°
The modes of grief are not included all
In the white handkerchief and mournful drawl;
A single look more marks th’ internal woe,
Than all the windings of the lengthen’d O.
Up to the face the quick sensation flies, L-
And darts its meaning from the speaking eyes!
Love, transport, madness, anger, scorn, despair,
And all the passions, all the soul is there.
In vain Ophelia gives her flowrets round, And with her straws fantastic strews the ground, zoe In vain now sings, now heaves the desp'rate sigh, If phrenzy sit not in the troubled eye. In Cibber's look commanding sorrows speak, And call the tear fast trickling down my cheek.
There is a fault which stirs the critic's rage; A want of due attention on the stage. I have seen actors, and admir'd ones too, Whose tongues wound up set forward from their cue; In their own speech who whine, or roar away, Yet seem unmov’d at what the rest may say ; – 220 Whose eyes and thoughts on diff'rent objects roam, Until the prompter's voice recal them home.
Divest yourself of hearers, if you can,
And strive to speak, and be the very man.
Why should the well-bred actor wish to know
Who sits above to-night, or who below :