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appendages to them, but in part from an inner conviction that they are being acted before us; that a likeness only is going on, and not the thing itself. They please by being done under the life, or beside it; not to the life. When Gattie acts an old man, is he angry indeed 1 or only a pleasant counterfeit, just enough of a likeness to recognise, without pressing upon us the uneasy sense of a reality 1
Comedians, paradoxical as it may seem, may be too natural. It was the case with a late actor. Nothing could be more earnest or true than the manner of Mr. Emery; this told excellently in his Tyke, and characters of a tragic cast. But when he carried the same rigid exclusiveness of attention to the stage business, and wilful blindness and oblivion of everything before the curtain into his comedy, it produced a harsh and dissonant effect. He was out of keeping with the rest of the Persona; Dramatis. There was as little link between him and them, as betwixt himself and the audience. He was a third estate, dry, repulsive, and unsocial to all. Individually considered, his execution was masterly. But comedy is not this unbending thing ; for this reason, that the same degree of credibility is not required of it as to serious scenes. The degrees of credibility demanded to the two things, may be illustrated by the different sort of truth which we expect when a man tells us a mournful or a merry story. If we suspect the former of falsehood in any one tittle, we reject it altogether. Our tears refuse to flow at a suspected imposition. But the teller of a mirthful tale has latitude allowed him. We are content with less than absolute truth. 'Tis the same with dramatic illusion. We confess we love in comedy to see an audience naturalised behind the scenes, taken into the interest of the drama, welcomed as bystanders however. There is something ungracious in a comic actor holding himself aloof from all participation or concern with those who are come to be diverted by him. Macbeth must see the dagger, and no ear but his own be told of it; but an old fool in farce may think he sees something, and by
conscious words and looks express it, as plainly as he can speak, to pit, box, and gallery. When an impertinent in tragedy, an Osric, for instance, breaks in upon the serious passions of the scene, we approve of the contempt with which he is treated. But when the pleasant impertinent of comedy, in a piece purely meant to give delight, and raise mirth out of whimsical perplexities, worries the studious man with taking up his leisure, or making his house his home, the same sort of contempt expressed (however natural) would destroy the balance of delight in the spectators. To make the intrusion comic, the actor who plays the annoyed man must a little desert nature ; he must, in short, be thinking of the audience, and express only so much dissatisfaction and peevishness as is consistent with the pleasure of comedy. In other words, his perplexity must seem half put on. If he repel the intruder with the sober set face of a man in earnest, and more especially if he deliver his expostulations in a tone which in the world must necessarily provoke a duel; his real-life manner will destroy the whimsical and purely dramatic existence of the other character (which to render it comic demands an antagonist comicality on the part of the character opposed to it), and convert what was meant for mirth, rather than belief, into a downright piece of impertinence indeed, which would raise no diversion in us, but rather stir pain, to see inflicted in earnest upon any unworthy person. A very judicious actor (in most of his parts) seems to have fallen into an error of this sort in his playing with Mr. Wrench in the farce of Free and Easy.
Many instances would be tedious ; these may suffice to show that comic acting at least does not always demand from the performer that strict abstraction from all reference to an audience which is exacted of it; but that in some cases a sort of compromise may take place, and all the purposes of dramatic delight be attained by a judicious understanding, not too openly announced, between the ladies and gentlemen—on both sides of the curtain.
TO THE SHADE OF ELLISTON.
Jotousest of once embodied spirits, whither at length hast thou flown? to what genial region are we permitted to conjecture that thou hast flitted?
Art thou sowing thy Wild Oats yet (the harvest time was still to come with thee) upon casual sands of Avernus? or art thou enacting Rover (as we would gladlier think) by wandering Elysian streams?
This mortal frame, while thou didst play thy brief antics amongst us, was in truth anything but a prison to thee, as the vain Platonist dreams of this body to be no better than a county gaol, forsooth, or some house of durance vile, whereof the five senses are the fetters. Thou kucwest better than to be in a hurry to cast off those gyves; and had notice to quit, I fear, before thou wert quite ready to abandon this fleshy tenement. It was thy Pleasure-House, thy Palace of Dainty Devices: thy Louvre, or thy WhiteHall.
What new mysterious lodgings dost thou tenant now 1 or when may we expect thy aerial house-wanning?
Tartarus we know, and we have read of the Blessed Shades; now cannot I intelligibly fancy thee in either.
Is it too much to hazard a conjecture, that (as the schoolmen admitted a receptacle apart for Patriarchs and un-chrisom babes) there may exist—not far perchance from that store-house of all vanities, which Milton saw in vision — a Limbo somewhere for Players? and that
Up thither like aerial vapours fly
Both all Stage things, and all thut In Stage things
Built their fond hopes of glory, or lasting fame 1
All the unaccomplished works of Authors' hands.
Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mixed,
Damn'd upon earth, fleet thither—
Play, Opera, Farce, with all their trumpery.—
There, by the neighbouring moon (by some not improperly supposed thy Regent Planet upon earth), mayst thou not still be acting thy managerial pranks, great disembodied Lessee1 but Lessee still, and still a manager.
In Green Rooms, impervious to mortal j eye, the muse beholds thee wielding posthu- | mous empire.
Thin ghosts of Figurantes (never plump on earth) circle thee in endlessly, and still their song is Xe on sinful Phantasy!
Magnificent were thy capriccios on this globe of earth, Robert William Ellistox! for as yet we know not thy new name in heaven.
It irks me to think, that, stript of thy regalities, thou shouldst ferry over, a poor forked shade, in crazy Stygian wherry. Methinks 1 hear the old boatman, paddliug by the weedy wharf, with raucid voice, bawling " Sculls, Sculls :" to which, with waving hand, and majestic action, thou deignest no reply, other than in two curt monosyllables, "No: Oars."
But the laws of Pluto's kingdom know small difference between king, and cobbler; manager, and call-boy; and, if haply your dates of life were conterminant, you are quietly taking your passage, cheek by cheek (O ignoble levelling of Death) with the shade of some recently departed candlesuuffer.
But mercy! what strippings, what tearing off of histrionic robes, and private vanities! what denudations to the bone, before the surly Ferryman will admit you to set a foot within his battered lighter.
Crowns, sceptres; shield, sword, and truncheon ; thy own coronation robes (for thou hast brought the whole propertyman's wardrobe with thee, enough to sink a navy); the judge's ermine; the coxcomb's wig; the snuffbox d la Foppington—all must overboard, he positively swears—and that Ancient Mariner brooks no denial; for, since the tiresome monodrame of the old Thracian Harper, Charon, it is to be believed, hath shown small taste for theatricals.
Ay, now 'tis done. You are just boatweight ; pura et puta anima.
But, bless me, how little you look!
So shall we all look—kings and keysars— stripped for the last voyage.
But the murky rogue pushes oft Adieu, pleasant, and thrice pleasant shade! with my parting thanks for many a heavy hour of life lightened by thy harmless extravaganzas, public or domestic.
Rhadamanthus, who tries the lighter causes below, leaving to his two brethren the heavy calendars—honest Rhadamanth, always partial to players, weighing their parti-coloured existence here upon earth,— making account of the few foibles, that may have shaded thy real life, as we call it,
(though, substantially, scarcely less a vapour than thy idlest vagaries upon the boards of Drury,) as but of so many echoes, natural re-percussions, and results to be expected from the assumed extravagancies of thy secondary or mock life, nightly upon a stage —after a lenient castigation, with rods lighter than of those Medusean ringlets, but just enough to "whip the offending Adam out of thee," shall courteously dismiss thee at the right hand gate—the o. p. side of Hades— that conducts to masques and merry-makings in the Theatre Royal of Proserpine.
PLAUDITO, ET VALETO.
My acquaintance with the pleasant creature, whose loss we all deplore, was but slight.
My first introduction to E., which afterwards ripened into an acquaintance a little on this side of intimacy, was over a counter in the Leamington Spa Library, then newly entered upon by a branch of his family. E., whom nothing misbecame—to auspicate, I suppose, the filial concern, and set it a-going with a lustre—was serving in person two damsels fair, who had come into the shop ostensibly to inquire for some new publication, but in reality to have a sight of the illustrious shopman, hoping some conference. With what an air did he reach down the volume, dispassionately giving his opinion of the worth of the work in question, and launching out into a dissertation on its comparative merits with those of certain publications of a similar stamp, its rivals! his enchanted customers fairly hanging on his lips, subdued to their authoritative sentence. So have I seen a gentleman in comedy acting the shopman. So Lovelace sold his gloves in King Street. I admired the histrionic art, by which he contrived to carry clean away every notion of disgrace, from the occupation he had so generously submitted to ; and from that hour I judged him, with no after repentance, to be a person with whom it would be a felicity to be more acquainted.
To descant upon his merits as a Comedian
would be superfluous. With his blended private and professional habits alone I have to do ; that harmonious fusion of the manners of the player into those of every-day life, which brought the stage boards into streets, and dining-parlours, and kept up the play when the play was ended.—" I like Wrench," a friend was saying to him one day, "because he is the same, natural, easy creature, on the stage, that he is off." "My case exactly," retorted Elliston—with a charming forgetfulness, that the converse of a proposition does not always lead to the same conclusion—" I am the same person off the stage that I am on." The inference, at first sight, seems identical; but examine it a little, and it confesses only, that the one performer was never, and the other always, acting.
And in truth this was the charm of Elliston's private deportment. You had spirited performance always going on before your eyes, with nothing, to pay. As where a monarch takes up his casual abode for a night, the poorest hovel which he honours by his sleeping in it, becomes ipso facto for that time a palace ; so wherever Elliston walked, sate, or stood still, there was the theatre. He carried about with him his pit, boxes, and galleries, and set up his portable playhouse at corners of streets, and in the marketplaces. Upon flintiest pavements he trod the boards still; and if his theme chanced to be passionate, the green haize carpet of tragedy spontaneously rose beneath his feet. Now this was hearty, and showed a love for his art. So Apelles always painted — in thought. So G. D. always poetises. I hate a lukewarm artist. I have known actors— and some of them of Elliston's own stamp— who shall have agreeably been amusing you in the part of a rake or a coxcomb, through the two or three hours of their dramatic existence; but no sooner does the curtain fall with its leaden clatter, but a spirit of lead seems to seize on all their faculties. They emerge sour, morose persons, intolerable to their families, servants, &c. Another shall have been expanding your heart with generous deeds and sentiments, till it even beats with yearnings of universal sympathy; you absolutely long to go home and do some good action. The play seems tedious, till you can get fairly out of the house, and realise your laudable intentions. At length the final bell rings, and this cordial representative of all that is amiable in human breasts steps forth—a miser. Elliston was more of a piece. Did he play Ranger? and did Ranger fill the general bosom of the town with satisfaction 1 why should he not be Ranger, and diffuse the same cordial satisfaction among his private circles? with his temperament, his animal spirits, his goodnature, his follies perchance, could he do better than identify himself with his impersonation 1 Are we to like a pleasant rake, or coxcomb, on the stage, and give ourselves airs of aversion for the identical character, presented to us in actual life 1 or what would the performer have gained by divesting himself of the impersonation 1 Could the man Elliston have been essentially different from his part, even if he had avoided to reflect to iis studiously, in private circles, the airy briskness, the forwardness, and 'scape-goat trickeries of his prototype 1
"But there is something not natural in this everlasting acting; we want the real man."
Are you quite sure that it is not the man himself, whom you cannot, or will not see, under some adventitious trappings, which, nevertheless, sit not at all inconsistently upon him? What if it is the nature of some men to be highly artificial? The fault is least reprehensible in players. Cibber was his
own Foppington, with almost as much wit as Vanbrugh could add to it.
"My conceit of his person,"—it is Ben Jonson speaking of Lord Bacon, — "was never increased towards him by his place or honours. But I have, and do reverence him for the greatness, that was only proper to himself; in that he seemed to me ever one of the greatest men, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that Heaven would give him strength; for greatness he could not want."
The quality here commended was scarcely less conspicuous in the subject of these idle reminiscences than in my Lord Verulam. Those who have imagined that an unexpected elevation to the direction of a great London Theatre affected the consequence of Elliston, or at all chauged his nature, knew not the essential greatness of the man whom they disparage. It was my fortune to encounter him near St. Dunstan's Church (which, with its punctual giants, is now no more than dust and a shadow), on the morning of his election to that high office. Grasping my hand with a look of significance, he only uttered,—" Have you heard the news ?"— then, with another look following up the blow, he subjoined, "I am the future Manager of Drury Lane Theatre."—Breathless as he saw me, he stayed not for congratulation or reply, but mutely stalked away, leaving me to chew upon his newblown dignities at leisure. In fact, nothing could be said to it. Expressive silence alone could muse his praise. This was in his great style.
But was he less great, (be witness, O ye Powers of Equanimity, that supported in the ruins of Carthage the consular exile, and more recently transmuted, for a more illustrious exile, the barren constableship of Elba into an image of Imperial France), when, in melancholy after-years, again, much near the same spot, I met him, when that sceptre had been wrested from his hand, and his dominion was curtailed to the petty managership, and part proprietorship, of the small Olympic, his Elba? He still played nightly upon the boards of Drury, but in parts, alas! allotted to him, not magnificently distributed by him. Waiving his great loss as nothing, and magnificently sinking the sense of fallen material grandeur hi the more liberal resentment of depreciations done to his more lofty intellectual pretensions," Have you heard " (his customary exordium)—" have you heard," said he, "how they treat me 1 they put me in comedy" Thought I—but his finger on his lips forbade any verbal interruption—"where could they have put you better?" Then, after a pause—"Where I formerly played Romeo, I now play Mercutio,"—and so again he stalked away, neither staying, nor caring for, responses.
O, it was a rich scene,—but Sir A
C , the best of story-tellers and surgeons,
who mends a lame narrative almost as well as he sets a fracture, alone could do justice to it,—that I was a witness to, in the tarnished room (that had once been green) of that same little Olympic. There, after his deposition from Imperial Drury, he substituted a throne. That Olympic Hill was his "highest heaven;" himself "Jove in his chair." There he sat in state, while before him, on complaint of prompter, was brought for judgment—how shall I describe her 1— one of those little tawdry things that flirt at the tails of choruses—a probationer for the town, in either of its senses—the pertest little drab—a dirty fringe and appendage of the lamp's smoke—who, it seems, on some disapprobation expressed by a "highly respectable" audience, — had precipitately quitted her station on the boards, and withdrawn her small talents in disgust.
"And how dare you," said her manager,— assuming a censorial severity, which would have crushed the confidence of a Vestris, and disarmed that beautiful Rebel herself of her professional caprices—I verily believe, he thought her standing before him—" how dare you, Madam, withdraw yourself, without a notice, from your theatrical duties?" "I was hissed, Sir." "And you have the presumption to decide upon the taste of the town 1" "I don't know that, Sir, but I will never stand to be hissed," was the subjoinder of young Confidence — when gathering up his features into one significant mass of wonder, pity, and expostulatory indignation —in a lesson never to have been lost upon a creature less forward than she who stood before him—his words were these: "They have hissed me."
'Twas the identical argument d fortiori, which the son of Peleus uses to Lycaon trembling under his lance, to persuade him to take his destiny with a good grace. "I too am mortal." And it is to be believed that in both cases the rhetoric missed of its application, for want of a proper understanding with the faculties of the respective recipients.
"Quite an Opera pit," he said to me, as he was courteously conducting me over the benches of his Surrey Theatre, the last retreat, and recess, of his every-day waning grandeur.
Those who knew Elliston, will know the manner in which he pronounced the latter sentence of the few words I am about to record. One proud day to me he took his roast mutton with us in the Temple, to which I had superadded a preliminary haddock. After a rather plentiful partaking of the meagre banquet, not unrefreshed with the humbler sort of liquors, I made a sort of apology for the humility of the fare, observing that for my own part I never ate but one dish at dinner. "I too never eat but oue thing at dinner,"—was his reply—then after a pause—" reckoning fish as nothing." The manner was all . It was as if by one peremptory sentence he had decreed the annihilation of all the savoury esculents, which the pleasant and nutritious-food-giving Ocean pours forth upon poor humans from her watery bosom. This was greatness, tempered with considerate tenderness to the feelings of his scanty but welcoming entertainer.
Great wert thou in thy life, Robert William Elliston! and not lessened in thy death, if report speak truly, which says that thou didst direct that thy mortal remains should repose under no inscription but one of pure Latinity. Classical was thy bringing up! and beautiful was the feeling on thy last bed, which, connecting the man with the boy, took thee back to thy latest exercise of imagination, to the days when, undreaming of Theatres and Managerships, thou wert a scholar, and an early ripe one, under the roofs builded by the munificent and pious Colet. For thee the Pauline Muses weep. In elegies, that shall silence this crude prose, they shall celebrate thy praise.