« AnteriorContinuar »
which concealed a small oaken door. The bucket was then hauled to the aperture, and we all passed into the still. After ascending and descending several rude steps, we reached an open space, from whence many passages branched off
. But this was the city, the chief place of the still, and a number of persons were congregated within it. The heat was intense, and the uproar almost deafening. At the extremity of a passage immediately opposite to that by which we had entered, a large furnace fire was blazing, and billows of grey steam rolled along the top of the roughly-hewn arch. Buckets, tubs, casks, piggins, with the more ponderous utensils of the still, were strewed about on every side. A wooden cross was erected in the centre, surmounted by stout pieces of oak, which served as props to the low roof, and the mud walls were plentifully adorned with glaring scriptural pictures, holy relics, and croslets of damaged arms. Several men were lying asleep in different corners; two young fellows were quarrelling over a little table that stood in a puddle on the ground, covered with dice, dominoes, and cards ; a third was sedately
counting his gains as he puffed his doothien; and the residue of those visible and awake were roaring the old Jacobite song of “The bonny night-bird,” round a large tub of raw spirit. On one side was a corpse covered with a sheet, upon which a black kerchief, in the shape of a cross, was affixed; and the deep-red flash of the still-fire glared on the haggard cheek of the Cointaghana, who still wailed at the head of the coffin, although it was long after mid-day. A pale girl was strewing the first flowers of the year upon the shroud, while another removed the withering funereal herbs that decorated the festoons of white linen which depended from the roof immediately above the place of lamentation.
We had been but a little time in the pit, when a party of young Pothieners brought in O'Dowell, the middle-man, whom they had found drunk and asleep in one of the pattaru huts. Swaney had already told his tale to the people of the still, who set up a shout so loud at the announcement of the middle-man, that he started from his torpor in considerable alarm. The scene must have been truly terrific to his unaccustomed eye. Torwy the Merman, with Tim the black, the Cointaghana, and mourning women, the extravagantly attired pattaru king, with the wild Pothieners laughing like demons through their rags at his affright, were grouped around him, apparently in liquid flames; while the still-fire blazed at his back, and the liquor he had drunk at the fair was, as he afterwards said, “ burning his vitals.” Fear subdued his drunkenness; but his tongue was parching with fever. He had already closed his eyes again, when young Swaney, with Columba kneeling by his side, presented him with a goblet of sparkling liquor. The gift was well timed ; and O’Dowell looked up with a blended expression of wonder and gratitude, while he quafied the delicious beverage which restored him to life and consciousness. In the breathing space between his first and second draught, he placed his hand upon the heads of Swaney and Columba, in token of forgiveness: the Pothieners rewarded him with three applauding shouts; and our party soon after left the pit, and journeyed onwards to the foot of Sliabh-namann, where the wedding of Gowry Duigenan and the young Lass of the Wreck was celebrated with the usual rustic ceremonies, "nut. brown myrtle" and joyous revelry.
SONG OF THE GREEKS.--BY T. CAMPBELL.
AGAIN to the battle, Achaians !
has whetted its blade.
blush for its story,
may his memory blacken,
LETTERS FROM ENGLAND.
BY M. DE 'ST. Foix.*
London, 1817. In tragedy the English have, I think, more merely good actors than we have; but a merely good actor is the most insipid person in the world to describe, so I shall tell you no more about them. But there is one tragic actor on the London stage by whom I have been so deeply interested, and whose powers appear to me of so extraordinary a description, that I shall take some pains to give you an idea of them. His name is Kean. The coincidence of name with our own celebrated Le Kain is remarkable. He is quite young—not more than six or seven and twenty, and this is only his second season in London ; and yet he has already established a reputation nearly as great as that of Talma. I expect, too, that you'll be a little startled, if not scandalized, when I tell you that I think he deserves it—that he is, upon the whole, nearly as great an actor-that he possesses as consummate a judgment, as pure and delicate a taste, as clear, quick, and vivid conceptions, and as admirable and wondrous a power of embodying those conceptions. For physical powers he is about as much and as little indebted to Nature as Talma is : but it is remarkable, that whatever Talma wants, Kean bas, and whatever Kean wants, Talma has. Unlike Talma, Kean's person is insignificant, and his voice is totally bad ; and unlike Talma, also, his eye is like lightning, and his face has a power of expression that is perfectly magical. The action of Talma is less constrained and redundant than that of any other French tragedian ; but Kean's is still less so than his. It has much more variety, and yet is much more simple and natural : his attitude in any given situation being precisely that which a consummate painter would assign to it. If I were to notice the general resemblance and the general difference between these two extraordinary actors, I should say that both draw their resources fresh and direct from Nature, and that both study her as she exists in the depths of their own hearts ; but that Talma has more imagination than passion, and Kean more passion than imagination.Not that Talma wants passion, or that Kean wants imagination ; but passion is the characteristic of the one, and imagination of the other. When Talma exclaims in Macbeth, “ Il est là! là !" the strength of his imagination kindles that of the spectators, till they absolutely see the image of the murdered king reflected from his face. His imagination is still more conspicuous in the tremendous power he gives to the words in the same play, "Arrête, donc, ce sang qui coule jusqu'à moi !" But surely the most splendid and astonishing of all theatrical exhibitions, and the effects of which are to be attributed to the realizing power of his imagination, is that of Talma in Edipus, at the moment that he discovers his involuntary crimes. It is a thing to be seen once, and remembered for ever ; but not to be described. Kean has nothing like this in the same class of acting. His characteristic, as I have said, is passion—passion under all its names and varieties--through all its windings and blendings--in all its delicate shades and most secret recesses. Its operation never for a moment ceases to be visible; for, when he ceases to speak, every motion of his thoughts is absolutely legible in the astonishingly varied expression of his face, and eye, and action. Passion seems to be the very breath of his mental existence—or rather its vital stream-into which every thing else resolves itself. If he has to express love, his whole soul seems to cling to the being on whom he is gazing-his voice melts-his eye swims and trembles—and the words fall from his lips as if they were the smallest part of what he would express. And in all this there is no show; no endeavour ; no pretence :-for real love is the most unpretending thing in the world ; the most quiet; the most able to repose upon itself, and the most willing to do so. If hatred and revenge are his themes, it is hardly possible to imagine yourself looking at or listening to the same person. His eyes glare ; his teeth grind against each other; his voice is hoarse and broken; his hands clinch and open alternately, as if they were revelling in the blood of his enemy; and
* Continued from page 145.
demon. This actor's delineation of all the other violent passions bas remorse, jealousy, despair, &c. seem to me to possess' alike a force, a truth, and a distinctness, which render them almost perfect. And all is done, too, without the slightest appearance of art or effort: "It is scarcely possible, while you are seeing him, to recollect that he is an actor; and he himself seems 'never for a moment to feel that he has an audience before him. Kean's picture of remorse, as it affects Macbeth after the murder of Duncan, if it has not the overwhelming and terrific force of that of Talma in the same play, has, I think, more variety, more intensity, and more truth. There is no extravagant and hurried action ; 'no loud and vehement tones of voice; there is no bursting forth of the flames: they are all within, and are only to be discovered by their torturing and withering effects upon the outward frame. The eye is fixed and vacant ; the hands hang down motionless, or are clinched in the fruitless endeavour to suppress the agony of soul; the knees tremble, and scarcely support the body ;- in the general and total convulsion of the frame, the tongue refuses to obey the will, and the voice becomes choked and lost in forced attempts at utterance. To all this succeeds a dead calm, which is not less fearful than the agitation which preceded. There is a point at which human suffering destroys itself. His agonized' mind and exhausted body can endure no more; and they sink together into a motionless stupor. A loud knocking is at this instant heard at the gate of the castle; but there he stands in the open hall, with the bloody witness of his guilt upon his hands--yet nothing can rouse him ; and his wife drags him away by force to his chamber. I have no hesitation in telling you that I think this piece of acting (including from the time Macbeth quits the chamber of Duncan, till he is forced away to his own), though it is not so tremendous as some parts of Talma's dipus, nor so fearfully grand as his Orestes, nor so, what I should call, beautiful as the Hamlet of that actor, is, without exception, the most affecting and impressive exhibition I ever beheld.
But there is one other character in which this actor displays still greater powers than he does in Macbeth : a character in which he ap. pears to me to have reached the absolute perfection of his art, in the very highest class of it. This is the Othello of Shakspeare. You know I am not very familiar with this celebrated English dramatist. But, since
I first saw Kean in Othello, I have taken great pains to make myself acquainted with this play in particular. I have seen it twice since, and read it twice; and though I have been a good deal puzzled by some of the old phraseology, yet the more intimately I come to understand it, the more I am astonished at the writer who could draw so miraculously true a picture of the human heart; and the more delighted admiration I feel towards the actor who can turn this picture into a living human being, and place it before us in all the breathing reality of Hesh and blood.
I wonder what the English would say to my admiration of their favourite actor; for he is their favourite, though they hardly seem to know it. At the theatre, indeed, the magical power of his genius sometimes works them up into something approaching to enthusiasm ; but, when they get home again, it is all forgotten: and if you ask their opinion of him, they tell you that he is a very clever little fellow, with an indifferent person and a bad voice—and that it is a pity he is not more prudent in his private character: that he makes an uncommonly good Richard III.; but that in Hamlet he is not near so much of a gentleman as Kemble was *, and that they don't think he could play Coriolanus at all !-and that is all they know about the matter! Even among the critics there is but one who has had the skill, the courage, or the justice, to speak of Kean as he deserves. How paltry this is, to withhold from a man the homage that his genius merits, merely because he is alive to receive and enjoy it!
The next English tragic performer who has struck me, is the young actress I have mentioned before, Miss O'Neil. She is, I believe, not more than twenty ; and there is nothing very remarkable in either her face or figure, though both of them are perfectly pleasing. It is of her acting alone that I shall have to speak; and in this there is something so very peculiar, and at the same time so totally unlike any thing we have on the French stage, that I expect I shall find it very difficult to express to you what I feel about her. Her nature seems to be made up of two elements only-smiles and tears. She seems formed to experience but two emotions-joy and grief. At least, all others seem to be but modifications of these; and these two proceed from different movements of but one passion—that of love. She is, indeed, the chosen and devoted priestess of Love's temple. He weeps or smiles in her eyes plays or droops about her mouth-grieves, or rejoices, or triumphs in the tones of her voice—moves in every movement of her form she seems unable to think or feel, or exist, but by and through him; and those thoughts, and feelings, and that existence, seem at all times ready to be offered up as willing sacrifices at his shrine.
I mean to state this as the peculiar characteristic of her talents, or rather her gifts; for talent is much too formal a word to use with reference to any of the qualities that belong to her as an actress. Talent seems to imply something of study and acquirement; but she is purely a gifted being—the very ideal of feminine nature, as it was conceived by the English poets of the age of Elizabeth ; and, with the exception of our own Rousseau, by them alone, either before or since: a being who, at a certain period of her life, that period at which poetry so de