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such a glaring instance as this has rarely occurred. No one has ever supposed that the sovereign knows a tithe part of all that is done in the sovereign's name; and, in this particular respect, no one could suppose that the gracious mistress of this fair land, with noble and expansive views upon all subjects brought under her cognizance, could, for a moment, retain one vestige of a system of any by-gone absurdities.* No one ever dreamt that the prohibitions fulminated year after year against the dramatic performances of only some half-dozen theatres out of twenty, all within the boundaries of the metropolis, could have even been known to, much less received the sanction of, that illustrious and liberal Lady; who, in many instances, has manifested to those she has been surrounded and counselled by, the vast superiority of youthful attainments over aged prejudices. That such was the fact, and that our gracious Queen would never have sanctioned a continuance of regulations, equally unwholesome as contemptible, when once brought under royal consideration, may best be ascertained from the introduction of another fact, viz. that on the very first night of Lent, when the prohibition was taken off, Her Majesty was pleased to visit Covent Garden Theatre, and sit out the evening's entertainments. It can hardly be believed, were it not a matter of such recent occurrence, that the advisers of a sovereign could be found to denounce the adoption of a measure, which, on its adoption a few months afterwards, their sovereign set the noble example of countenancing.
Dismissing this subject, I take leave to refer to another, fully dilated upon in the course of these volumes, in which I was then much more responsibly interested, than I am now. A mass of correspondence will come under the reader's attention, which passed between the Lord Chamberlain's Office and myself, upon the re-introduction of a German Opera in this country. an entertainment that, by the admirable manner in which it was sustained in Drury Lane Theatre, in the year 1833, had become extremely popular; and, in addition to the approbation of the people, had obtained the sanction and patronage of the court. I had been desirous, season after season, of bringing it again before the public, but no favourable opportunity presented itself, until the arrival in this country of the Chevalier Spontini. The musical reputation of that composer was sufficient guarantee for
* As a proof how rooted has been the determination to carry out the position which I laboured so long but in vain, to maintain, it may be mentioned that when an attempt was made, a few days prior to the last Passion Week, to prohibit a continuance of the astronomical lectures then in course of delivery at Her Majesty's Theatre, by Mr. Howell, Mr. Duncombe brought the matter before parliament, and defeated the govern. ment opposition by 73 to 49.
the manner in which the undertaking would be carried on; but, without going over the ground a second time, the reader will perceive that I was prohibited from giving any such amusement; and, at the very moment I am writing these remarks, I am the acting manager of the German Opera, under a license from the Lord Chamberlain's Office, given to another. I can, however, so far solve two such apparently monstrous problems, by stating that the prohibitions were issued against me by the Marquis Conyngham, at that time Lord Chamberlain, and, in my humble judgment, the most oppressive and incompetent nobleman who ever filled that office; while their repeal was effected by the liberal policy of his Lordship’s enlightened and distinguished successor, the Earl of Uxbridge. To the courteous consideration of this noble Lord are the public now indebted for the enjoyment of some of the best operas of the German school; and by the same timely aid was Madame Vestris fortunate enough to have the power of availing herself of eleven nights, in an earlier part of her season, towards the number she proposed to play, by which she has been enabled to close so much earlier, and thereby to escape the fearful odds against a patent! manager, as the London season approaches its height *
While on the subject of “luck,” let me record such an instance, in this lady's management, as none of her predecessors ever had the good fortune to meet with. Mr. Charles Kemble, who, theatrically speaking, was inurned in the year 1837—to whom a public dinner, all sorts of honours, and, finally, a superb piece of plate, were given on his retirement from the stage, to take upon himself the uninterrupted fulfilment of the duties devolving on"the examiner of all theatrical entertainments—"having effected a transfer of that office to his son, suddenly made his reappearance on the stage he had so long adorned; not, of course, in the expectation of another dinner, any more honours, or any more plate falling into his lap, but in obedience to a wish of his gracious Sovereign, and at the same time to show her how a few characters in the drama ought to be acted. While some parties maintained that he had been dug-up," and Macready had thereby been “ buried,” others regretted that his first retirement was not his final one:--and while the Montagues declared that he acted finer than ever, the Capulets looked upon him as having
* It is impossible to withhold a smile at the nonsensical tirades that have appeared in print against the supposed premature close of Covent Garden Theatre. By virtue of these said eleven nights in Lent, and by the previous advantage of having opened in September, Madame Vestris has extended her season to the same length as many of her predecessors did, who played through the month of June.
gone altogether to decay. Be this as it may, I keep my own opinion to myself; being contented to record the most important part of the matter—id est, THE ISSUE. Mr. Kemble performed six nights, on each of which he filled most of the crevices in Covent Garden Theatre; and if his acting had no other effect, it possessed the very useful and salutary one of bringing other performers to their proper level; for while Hamlet by Mr. Macready failed to attract much more than half a house at the Haymarket, Hamlet by Mr. Charles Kemble filled Covent Garden Theatre to overflowing. This is one thing which redounds to the honour, and to the renown of Mr. Charles Kemble; and another is, that in a determination his performance should be solidly useful to the lessee of a theatre of which he is a considerable shareholder, no persuasion, and no offer, however tempting, could induce him to accept one farthing for his six performances. Such conduct as this is so totally without precedent amongst the theatrical community, that it is a duty to record it, which is quite equal to the pleasure doing of it. Mr. Kemble's reappearance must have contributed at least FIFTEEN HUNDRED POUNDS to the treasury of the theatre, which, without such aid, it never would have seen; and as that contribution arrived at so ticklish a period of the season, as that of Lent, it must have been doubly acceptable. Heaven forbid that, as an old manager, I should begrudge Madame Vestris such a piece of good fortune as this -on the contrary, I rejoice in it, and repeat, that there is no meed too great for so much talent and beauty as she personally subscribes to her present perilous undertaking—but I cannot help adding, it is an instance of such extraordinary and timely 66 luck
that, acceptable as it would always have been, never fell to my lot. Having so fully given my opinion on the utter impossibility, under existing circumstances, of making money, or barely of avoiding ruin, by the management of the patent theatres, and having adduced so many instances in favour of my argument, I regret to make the farther addition, to the list of sufferers, of this delightful lady. I have been told, and I believe it to be true, that Madame Vestris has received £10,000 more than was taken in the best of Mr. Macready's two seasons; and I have moreover heard, which I sincerely trust is not true, that notwithstanding such great receipts, she has lost £3,000. That she has suffered some loss admits of no dispute, for she honestly confessed as much in her parting address: and if, therefore, with her acknowledged attainments, her admirable tact and taste, her professional station, her indefatigable labours, her popularity, and the all powerful charm her sex carries along with it, she has not been able to “ put money in her house;" Who can be expected to do so? There are several points, in
the past season's management, open to objection, in my humble opinion-still this is only a matter of opinion between two persons of experience: but that any management of so much liberality and industry should not be highly prosperous, is a disgrace to a civilized country.
This, however, is not the last singular instance of the manner in which some of my arguments have been borne out, nor of the advantages enjoyed by others that were denied to me, nor of the doings that were approved of in others, while they were condemned in me. When, after years of severe trial and severe loss, after the introduction of all attainable talent, foreign and native, after the representation of some of the most popular pieces ever known, I was advised, AFTER THE SEASON HAD ALREADY EXTENDED TO 142 NIGHT, to give a few promenade concerts to enable me the more effectually to return to the usual dramatic preformances, the yell from one end of the theatrical part of the metropolis to the other was enough to make the welkin ring. I was denounced as a common mountebank, and my respected vituperator, George Robins mustered up an extra quantity of senatorial language to astound the listeners to his harangue, at the General Annual Meeting of the Proprietors. At this said General Meeting, the delight of the body at having secured such “ a catch” as the then new Lessee amounted almost to fits—they had all sorts of visions of dividends floating before their eyes, shares were set down at once as at a premium, and it was not doubted that there would be a scramble in the market, even to get a peep at one. Halcyon dreams! what a pity it is the beauties should ever have awoke from them! I have more than once come to the conclusion, after reading this report of their past, and their present, and this anticipation of their future fortunes that if I had happened to have entered the room in the midst to their disappointments on the one hand, and their ecstacies on the other, they would have thrown all the looking-glasses in it at my head. It is really distressing, if you come to think it over, that all the flow of language displayed at this memorable meeting, should have been distributed, however gratuitously, in vain, and that the vocabulary of slang and slipslop should have been exhausted to no earthly purpose.
It was not very long after they had indulged in the brightest of all possible prospects, that the new lessee, the pet of Mr. Durrant,—and ihe pride of one or two others of his colleagues, who had been promising to them (for he knew better than to promise any thing of the kind to himself) a most auspicious opening, began to waver in the fulfilment of such promise. As the introduction of all such expensive expedients as Mr. Bunn has resorted to was voted quite out of the question, and the sole
66 like a
reliance was to be placed on a good, and not too expensive a working company, it was reasonably expected that an effective, force would be collected together for the opening of the campaign. When, however, it became manifest that the aforesaid
working company” consisted principally of the dramatis personæ recently figuring at the Strand Theatre, and that with themselves they imported the additional treat of the pieces they had been playing, then their faith in the "pet" began to waver, and shares subsided at once to par. Confidence was not altogether shaken because a strong impression prevailed that something in reserve was coming out to astonish and delight mankind. Durrant was as certain as he was of his life, that Hammond was bottling up some first-rate idea to take them all by storm, and redeem all the incipient errors of the season. When, however, the panic in the Drury Lane money market became known, shares fell at once to a deplorable discount, and from that moment until the final close of NINETY NINE NIGHTS, between the 26th October, 1839 and 28th February, 1840, all was phantasma or a hideous dream.” A Drury Lane season, the first of a new lessee, and that lessee "Durrant's pet,” to extend but to four months and in those four months not a hundred nights of performance! By the term, "Durrant's pet," I feel assured my worthy friend, Mr. Hammond, will not be weak enough to suppose
my aim is to turn him into ridicule; for, though it may not be of much use to him, I have a very high opinion of him. My object is to throw into the ridicule they so justly deserve a medling set of people, who without a particle of information or experience, consider themselves to be theatrical judges, and by obtruding their advice where it is neither wished nor asked, lead to the involvement of a man, in schemes which, without such counsel, he never would have dreamt. When the doors of the theatre were finally shut, the wretched shares which had been fluctuating between premium, par, and discount, turned sulky, and were heard no more of, until all of a sudden a tangible offer was made by Mr. Beale. Unluckily for the good of the concern, Beale did not happen to be “a pet,” and an alteration in the terms accepted at the first meeting having been insisted on at the second, Mr. Beale “ took up his bed and walked.”
But as Mr. George Robins said of my efforts last year, " the worst remains behind,” for the building which had been consecrated to the genius of Kemble and Mrs. Siddons (not that ei. ther of them ever played in it!) has been turned into “THE SHILLING THEATRE!” What the devil will Robins say now, when THE VERY act into which I was forced but for a short time as a matter of expediency, is now adopted as a deliberate letting from the body of the proprietary to a new tenant? The shares which,