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time he had taken a great fancy to hunting, as his reverend relation kept a small pack of hounds, and occasionally mounted his cousin during a holiday on one of his own horses. To quit such a scene of amusement for the drudgery of mercantile concerns, to abandon all ideas of a scarlet coat and the command of a regiment for the enumeration of casks of beer, and the superintendence of draymen, was a most miserable falling off; and accordingly he bitterly lamented his destiny for many
At first, young Palmer exhibited an equal degree of contempt and negligence in respect to business, which produced bitter reproaches on the part of his parents; but he at length altered his plan, and betook himself to his daily avocations with a degree of zeal and assiduity that had nearly proved fatal. A timely retreat into the country, however, restored him to his wonted health; and soon after his return to Bath, a new and important event occurred, which, by affording employment to his talents, and giving a new direction to his pursuits, banished for ever all the ideas so long and so fondly cherished of a military life.
Bath, which had even then outstripped every provincial city and town in the empire, and in many points of view was deemed preferable as a residence even to the metropolis itself, still proved deficient in one essential requisite for a place of entertainment. From the first appearance of Garrick, the histrionic art began to be cultivated in England with great attention, and new theatres were every where erected for the accommodation of the public. At Bath, however, an old, mouldering, ruinous building, had been converted to this use, although wholly unsuitable for a genteel audience, and at the same time utterly inconvenient to the actors themselves.
To remedy this glaring defect, ten of the principal inhabitants determined to erect a new and elegant play-house, on the most solemn assurances that the proprietors of the old one, who pretended to be actuated solely by the good of the city, would instantly apply their premises to some other purpose the moment that the new building was completed; but no sooner
did this occur, than the old play-barn was re-opened, and a most violent opposition, equally fatal to both parties, immediately took place. The partners of the new house, disheartened by continual losses and disputes, now withdrew one by one; on which, the senior Mr. Palmer, who was a complete man of business, immediately conceived the notion of taking the whole under his own immediate management. He accordingly purchased all the remaining shares on very easy terms, and completed the whole by granting an annuity to his adversary. From this moment all opposition ceased, and the new theatre became the sole point of attraction.
The wonderful increase of the city of Bath, which of course produced an influx of company, made this species of property every day more valuable. But that very circumstance rendered the prosperity of the theatre precarious; for being situate in the old town, it was of course at a considerable distance from the new buildings, and the proprietors of these began already to conceive the idea of erecting one for themselves. In addition to this, the new house was still unprotected by law, as a very severe act of parliament at that time existed against the public exhibition of dramatic performances.
The poor actor, also, to adopt the humiliating language of Churchill, was actually deemed a vagrant, and consequently
"Of the beadle's lash afraid!"
The manager, too, when he travelled along with his company of comedians, from town to town, was not unfrequently obliged
"To cringe, for wretched means of life,
"To madame may'ress, or his worship's wife."
Nay, the very prerogative of the crown was so strictly limited, as to be precluded from granting any future patent or licence beyond those already in existence for Drury-Lane and CoventGarden.
His Majesty himself, therefore, had he been so disposed, had it not in his power to extend his protection to the theatre at
Bath ; so that an act of parliament could alone guarantee the proprietor from hazard, and secure the personal safety of the performers from the penalties then most unjustly annexed to their profession.
To obtain these desirable ends, the elder Mr. Palmer presented a petition to both houses of parliament, which was warmly supported by the corporation, partly with a view of benefiting the city, and partly with a wish to gratify an old friend. His son John was selected on this occasion to solicit the act, and for this purpose, he immediately repaired to London. Although scarcely a man in point of years, he had uniformly distinguished himself by his vigour, ability, and perseverance; while a recent event had contributed not a little to his reputation Arthur, the contemporary and friend of Garrick, and then acting manager of the theatre, had been most unjustly attacked by Derrick, the master of the ceremonies. To repel a wanton accusation, he published two letters in the Bath Journal, which restored one party to the public favour, and assigned the other to disgrace.
Flushed with this successful effort of his “ maiden pen, his zeal and good conduct during his residence in the metropolis, procured him so many friends, that on this occasion also, he proved victorious. Accordingly after the lapse of two or three months, he returned home armed with a double authority; for in addition to an act of parliament, he had obtained all the splendour arising out of a patent, which conferred the title of Theatre Royal.
Immediately after this, he was entrusted with the superintendance and direction of it. One might have supposed that this alone would have proved sufficient to occupy all his attention. But he was young, and his mind was active and vigorous, so that he was enabled, even at this early period, to carry a new project, of which he had sometime since conceived the idea, into immediate execution. Singular as it may seem, this plan had nothing military, nothing theatrical in it;
* This was the first “ Theatre Royal” out of London.
it was a spermaceti manufactory! and what is still more singular, it not only succeeded, but proved highly advantageous !
Meanwhile, an histrionic revolution threatened the downfall of the theatrical empire, which had been some time committed entirely to his charge. The management of the stage had been lately entrusted to the sole superintendance of Mr. Lee*, who possessed considerable dramatic talents, but was accused to be somewhat too rigid in his official department, and a little too impetuous, perhaps, in his natural temper. Squabbles, disputes, and altercations soon ensued between him and the actors and actresses, and to such a height were these contentions carried, that a round robin was at length signed by all the performers, both male and female, with onef only exception, frankly declaring, “that unless the proprietors would discharge the acting manager, they would immediately throw up their engagements.”
On this, young Palmer, instead of entering into a treaty, or making conditions with the mutineers, instantly determined to demonstrate, that their insurrection could only be attended with ruin to themselves. He accordingly mounted his horse, and proceeded on a theatrical tour, for the express purpose of enlisting a fresh company. Accordingly, so successful did he prove, that after à journey of many hundred miles, he returned at the end of a fortnight, with an entire new set of performers. These, very luckily, were approved of by the public, so that the insurgents, crest-fallen and disappointed in their aim, were obliged to depart in search of engagements elsewhere.
The Bath stage now became the cradle of dramatic genius; for here were fostered a Henderson, an Edwin, and a Siddons ! To keep up his stock of players, he paid an annual visit.to most of the provincial companies in the kingdom, and constantly prepared a list of all candidates of any promise, with a
* This gentleman, who had been for many years on the stage, was the father of the Miss Lee, who wrote the “ Recess," and many other elegant productions.
of This proved to be the 'late Mr. Kcasbury, who afterwards became joint-patentce.
view to resort to them, whenever opportunity offered. About this period, too, he obtained a patent for the Bristol theatre, from which, on account of its immediate vicinity to his native city, he derived many great advantages.
Having now brought both his playhouses into great vogue, and rendered them highly beneficial, he at length determined, soon after the death of his father, to dispose of the property of his family in them. Accordingly, an agreement was entered into with Mr. Dimond, an actor reared under his own auspices, and Mr. Keasbury, who had refused to join the contumacious comedians against him; and to these he disposed of the patents, on terms highly advantageous to all * parties. Thus, Mr. Palmer fully proved to the world, that his talents were of a practical kind, and that every thing subjected to his controul, seemed to be constantly accompanied with the most prosperous results.
Meanwhile, the subject of this memoir contrived to make himself both beloved and respected by his fellow citizens. His predecessor, indeed, had rendered himself eminently dear to them, by dedicating the latter part of his life to their interests. The rivalship existing between the new and the old towns is well known to every one; and the inhabitants of the latter were greatly indebted to him, for his constant intervention in behalf of their interests, which were always watched with a jealous eye. The son profited not a little by this conduct, which, together with his own popularity, proved highly serviceable in the career pointed out by his ambition. He commenced by filling some of the subordinate, and concluded with attaining the highest honorary offices, in the power of the corporation to bestow. His mayoralty was more than usually splendid ; and he endeavoured, during the whole course of it, to be more than usually loyal, a circumstance that could not fail to be agreeable to a city which has uniformly supported the existing government. At the period now alluded to, the late war was exceedingly unpopular, and
* The sum of 20,000l. is said to have been obtained on this occasion,