Page images

ance-and Mrs. Monfort sinks with her dainty, diving body to the ground, beneath the conscious load of her own attractions. The theatrical portraits in this work are drawn with the highest gusto, and set forth with the richest colouring. The author has not sought, like some admirable critics of this age of criticism, to say as many witty or eloquent things on each artist as possible, but simply to form the most exact likeness, and to give to the drapery the most vivid and appropriate hues. We seem to listen to the prompter's bell-to see the curtain rise-and behold on the scene the goodly shapes of the actors and actresses of another age, in their antique costume, and with all the stately airs and high graces which the town knows no longer.

Betterton is the chief object of our author's admiration; but the account of his various excellencies is too long to extract entire, and perhaps, on account of the spirit of boundless eulogy in which it is written, has less of that nicety of touch which gives so complete an individuality to his pictures of other per


The following are perhaps the most interesting parts of the description:

"You have seen a Hamlet perhaps, who, on the first appearance of his father's spirit, has thrown himself into all the straining vociferation requisite to express rage and fury, and the house has thundered with applause; though the misguided actor was all the while (as Shakspeare terms it) tearing a passion into rags. I am the more bold to offer you this particular instance, because the late Mr. Addison, while I sat by him, to see this scene acted, made the same observation, asking me with some surprise, if I thought Hamlet should be in so violent a passion with the Ghost, which though it might have astonished, it had not provoked him for you may observe that in this beautiful speech, the passion never rises beyond an almost breathless astonishment, or an impatience, limited by filial reverence, to inquire into the suspected wrongs, that may have raised him from his peaceful tomb! and a desire to know what a spirit, so seemingly distressed, might wish or enjoin a sorrowful son to execute towards his future quiet in the grave? This was the light into which Betterton threw this scene; which he opened with a pause of mute amazement! then rising slowly, to solemn, trembling voice, he made the Ghost equally terrible to the spectator as to himself! and in the descriptive part of the natural emotions which the ghastly vision gave him, the boldness of his expostulation was still governed by decency, manly, but not braving; his voice never rising into that seeming outrage, or wild defiance of what he naturally revered. But alas! to preserve this medium, between mouthing, and meaning too little, to keep the attention more pleasingly awake, by a tempered spirit, than by mere vehemence of voice, is, of all the master-strokes of an actor, the most difficult to reach. In this none yet have equalled Betterton.

"A farther excellence in Betterton, was, that he could vary his spirit to the different characters he acted. Those wild impatient starts,

that fierce and flashing fire, which he threw into Hotspur, never came from the unruffled temper of his Brutus; (for I have, more than once, seen a Brutus as warm as Hotspur;) when the Betterton Brutus was provoked, in his dispute with Cassius, his spirit flew only to his eye; his steady look alone supplied that terror, which he disdained an intemperance in his voice should rise to. Thus, with a settled dignity of contempt, like an unheeding rock, he repelled upon himself the foam of Cassius. Perhaps the very words of Shakspeare will better let you into my meaning:

Must I give way, and room, to your rash choler?
Shall I be frighted when a madnian stares?
And a little after;

There is no terror, Cassius, in your looks! &c. Not but in some parts of this scene, where he reproaches Cassius, his temper is not under his suppression, but opens into that warmth which becomes a man of virtue; yet this is that hasty spark of anger, which Brutus himself endeavours to excuse."

The account of Kynaston, who, in his youth, before the performance of women on the stage, used to appear in female characters, is very amusing. He was particularly successful in Evadne, in The Maid's Tragedy, and always retained "something of a formal gravity in his mien, which was attributed to the stately step he had been so early confined to" in his female attire; the ladies of quality, we are told, used to pride themselves in taking him with them in their coaches to Hyde Park, in his theatrical habit, after the play, which then used to begin at the early hour of four. There was nothing, however, effeminate in his usual style of acting. We are told, that

He had a piercing eye, and in characters of heroic life, a quick imperious vivacity in his tone of voice, that painted the tyrant truly terrible. There were two plays of Dryden in which he shone, with uncommon lustre; in Aurenge-Zebe, he played Morat, and in Don Sebastian, Muley Moloch; in both these parts, he had a ficrce lion-like majesty in his port and utterance, that gave the spectator a kind of trembling admiration."

The following account of this actor's performance in the now neglected character of Henry the Fourth, gives us the most vivid idea of the grave yet gentle majesty, and kingly pathos, which the part requires:

"But above this tyrannical, tumid superiority of character, there is a grave and rational majesty in Shakspeare's Harry the Fourth, which though not so glaring to the vulgar eye, requires thrice the skill and grace to become and support. Of this real majesty, Kynaston was entirely master; here every sentiment came from him, as if it had been his own, as if he had himself, that instant, conceived it, as if he had lost the player, and were the real king he personated! a perfection so rarely found, that very often, in actors of good repute, a certain vacancy of look, inanity of voice, or superfluous gesture, shall unmask the man to the judicious spectator; who from the least of those errors plainly sees the whole but a lesson given him, to be got by heart, from some

great author, whose sense is deeper than the repeater's understanding. This true majesty Kynaston had so entire a command of, that when he whispered the following plain line to Hotspur,


Send us your prisoners, or you'll hear of it!

he conveyed a more terrible menace in it, than the loudest intemperance of voice could swell But let the bold imitator beware, for with out the look, and just elocution that waited on it, an attempt of the same nature may fall to nothing.

"But the dignity of this character appeared in Kynaston still more shining, in the private scene between the King, and Prince his son: there you saw majesty, in that sort of grief, which only majesty could feel! there the paternal concern, for the errors of the son, made the monarch more revered and dreaded: his reproaches, so just, yet so unmixed with anger, (and therefore the more piercing,) opening as it were the arms of nature, with a secret wish, that filial duty, and penitence awaked, might fall into them with grace and honour. In this affecting scene, I thought Kynaston showed his most masterly strokes of nature; expressing all the various motions of the heart, with the same force, dignity, and feeling, they are written; adding to the whole, that peculiar and becoming grace, which the best writer cannot inspire into any actor that is not born

with it."

How inimitably is the varied excellence of Monfort depicted in the following speaking picture:


Monfort, a younger man by twenty years, and at this time in his highest reputation, was an actor of a very different style: of person he was tall, well made, fair, and of an agreeable aspect: his voice clear, full, and melodious: in tragedy he was the most affecting lover within my memory. His addresses had a resistless recommendation from the very tone of his voice, which gave his words such softness, that, as Dryden says,

-Like flakes of feather'd snow,
They melted as they fell!


share of it, or what is equal to it, so lively a pleasantness of humour, that when either of these fell into his hands upon the stage, he wantoned with them, to the highest delight of his auditors. The agreeable was so natural to him, that even in that dissolute character of the Rover he seemed to wash off the guilt from vice, and gave it charms and merit. For though it may be a reproach to the poet, to draw such characters, not only unpunished, but rewarded, the actor may still be allowed his due praise in his excellent performance.

And this is a distinction which, when this comedy was acted at Whitehall, King William's Queen Mary was pleased to make in favour of Monfort, notwithstanding her disapprobation of the play.

"He had, besides all this, a variety in his genius which few capital actors have shown, or perhaps have thought it any addition to their merit to arrive at; he could entirely man of sense, for the brisk, vain, rude, and change himself; could at once throw off the lively coxcomb, the false, flashy pretender to wit, and the dupe of his own sufficiency: of this he gave a delightful instance in the character of Sparkish in Wycherly's Country Wife. In that of Sir Courtly Nice his excellence was still greater; there, his whole man, voice, mien, and gesture, was no longer Monfort, but another person. There, the insipid, soft civility, the elegant and formal mien, the drawling delicacy of voice, the stately flatness of his address, and the empty eminence of his attitudes, were so nicely observed and guarded by him, that had he not been an entire master of nature, had he not kept his judgment, as it were, a sentinel upon himself, not to admit the least likeness of what he used to be, to enter into any part of his performance, he could not possibly have so completely finished it."

Our author is even more felicitous in his and high farce. The following critic brings description of the performers in low comedy Nokes-the Liston of his age-so vividly before us, that we seem almost as well acquainted with him, as with his delicious successor.

"Nokes was an actor of quite a different genius from any I have ever read, heard of, or seen, since or before his time; and yet his ge

All this he particularly verified in that scene of Alexander, where the hero throws himself at the feet of Statira for pardon of his past in-neral excellence may be comprehended in one fidelities. There we saw the great, the tender, article, viz., a plain and palpable simplicity of the penitent, the despairing, the transported, nature, which was so utterly his own, that he and the amiable, in the highest perfection. In was often as unaccountably diverting in his comedy, he gave the truest life to what we call common speech as on the stage. I saw him the Fine Gentleman; his spirit shone the once, giving an account of some table-talk, to brighter for being polished with decency: in another actor behind the scenes, which a man scenes of gayety, he never broke into the re- of quality accidentally listening to, was so degard, that was due to the presence of equal or ceived by his manner, that he asked him, if superior characters, though inferior actors that was a new play he was rehearsing? It played them; he filled the stage, not by elbow-seems almost amazing, that this simplicity, so ing, and crossing it before others, or discon- easy to Nokes, should never be caught, by any certing their action, but by surpassing them, one of his successors. Leigh and Underhil have in true and masterly touches of nature. He never laughed at his own jest, unless the point of his raillery upon another required it. He had a particular talent, in giving life to bons mots and repartees: the wit of the poet seemed always to come from him extempore, and sharpened into more wit from his brilliant manner of delivering it; he had himself a good

been well copied, though not equalled_by others. But not all the mimical skill of Estcourt (famed as he was for it) although he had often seen Nokes, could scarce give us an idea of him. After this, perhaps, it will be saying less of him, when I own, that though I have still the sound of every line he spoke, in my ear, (which used not to be thought a bad

gedy ever showed us such a tumult of passions, rising at once in one bosom? or what buskined hero, standing under the load of them, could have more effectually moved his spectators, by the most pathetic speech, than poor miserable Nokes did, by this silent eloquence, and piteous plight of his features!

one,) yet I have often tried, by myself, but in | vain, to reach the least distant likeness of the vis comica of Nokes. Though this may seem little to his praise, it may be negatively saying a good deal to it, because I have never seen any one actor, except himself, whom I could not at least so far imitate, as to give you a more than tolerable notion of his manner. But "His person was of the middle size, his Nokes was so singular a species, and was so voice clear and audible; his natural counteformed by nature for the stage, that I ques-nance, grave and sober; but the moment he tion if (beyond the trouble of getting words by heart) it ever cost him an hour's labour to arrive at that high reputation he had, and deserved.

"The characters he particularly shone in were Sir Martin Marr-all, Gomez, in the Spanish Friar, Sir Nicolas Cully, in Love in a Tub, Barnaby Brittle, in the Wanton Wife, Sir Davy Dunce, in the Soldier's Fortune, Sosia, in Amphytrion, &c. &c. &c. To tell you how he acted them, is beyond the reach of criticism: but, to tell you what effect his action had upon the spectator, is not impossible: this, then, is ail you will expect from me, and from hence I must leave you to guess at him.

spoke, the settled seriousness of his features was utterly discharged, and a dry, drolling, or laughing levity took such full possession of him, that I can only refer the idea of him to your imagination. In some of his low characters, that became it, he had a shuffling shamble in his gait, with so contented an ignorance in his aspect, and an awkward absurdity in his gesture, that had you not known him, you could not have believed, that naturally he could have had a grain of common sense. In a word, I am tempted to sum up the character of Nokes, as a comedian, in a parody of what Shakspeare's Mark Antony says of Brutus as a hero:

His life was laughter, and the ludicrous
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world-This was an actor."

The portrait of Underhil has not less the air of exact resemblance, though the subject is of less richness.

"He scarce ever made his first entrance in a play, but he was received with an involuntary applause, not of hands only, for those may be, and have often been partially prostituted, and bespoken; but by a general laughter, which the very sight of him provoked, and nature could not resist; yet the louder the laugh, the graver was his look upon it; and sure, the "Underhi! was a correct and natural comeridiculous solemnity of his features were dian; his particular excellence was in characenough to have set a whole bench of bishopsters, that may be called still-life, I mean the into a titter, could he have been honoured (may stiff, the heavy, and the stupid: to these he it be no offence to suppose it) with such grave gave the exactest and most expressive colours, and right reverend auditors. In the ludicrous and, in some of them, looked as if it were not distresses, which, by the laws of comedy, Folly in the power of human passions to alter a feais often involved in; he sunk into such a mixture of him. In the solemn formality of Obature of piteous pusillanimity, and a consterna- diah in the Committee, and in the boobily tion so ruefully ridiculous and inconsolable, that when he had shook you, to a fatigue of laughter, it became a moot point, whether you ought not to have pitied him. When he debated any matter by himself, he would shut up his mouth with a dumb studious pout, and roll his full eye into such a vacant amazement, such a palpable ignorance of what to think of it, that his silent perplexity (which would sometimes hold him several minutes) gave your imagination as full content as the most absurd thing he could say upon it. In the character of Sir Martin Marr-all, who is always committing blunders to the prejudice of his own interest, when he had brought himself to a dilemma in his affairs, by vainly proceeding upon his own head, and was afterwards afraid to look his governing servant and counsellor in the face; what a copious and distressful harangue have I seen him make with his looks (while the house has been in one continued roar, for several minutes) before he could prevail with his courage to speak a word to him! Then might you have, at once, read in his face vexation, that his own measures, which he had piqued himself upon, had failed;-envy, of his servant's superior wit ;-distress, to retrieve the occasion he had lost;-shame, to confess his folly and yet a sullen desire, to be reconciled and better advised for the future! What tra

heaviness of Lolpoop, in the Squire of Alsatia, he seemed the immovable log he stood for! a countenance of wood could not be more fixed than his, when the blockhead of a character required it; his face was full and long; from his crown to the end of his nose was the shorter half of it, so that the disproportion of his lower features, when soberly composed, with an unwandering eye hanging over them, threw him into the most lumpish, moping mortal, that ever made beholders merry! not but, at other times, he could be awakened into spirit equally ridiculous. In the coarse, rustic humour of Justice Clodpate, in Epsome Wells, he was a delightful brute! and in the blunt vivacity of Sir Sampson, in Love for Love, he showed all that true perverse spirit, that is commonly seen in much wit and ill-nature. This character is one of those few so well written, with so much wit and humour, that an actor must be the grossest dunce that does not appear with an unusual life in it: but it will still show as great a proportion of skill, to come near Underhil in the acting it, which (not to undervalue those who came soon after him) I have not yet seen. He was particularly admired too, for the Gravedigger, in Hamlet. The author of the Tatler recommends him to the favour of the town, upon that play's being acted for his benefit,

him to leave the stage, he came on again, for that day, to perform his old part; but, alas! so worn and disabled, as if himself was to have lain in the grave he was digging: when he could no more excite laughter, his infirmities were dismissed with pity: he died soon after a superannuated pensioner, in the list of those who were supported by the joint sharers, under the first patent granted to Sir Richard Steele."

We pass reluctantly over the account of Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Betterton, and others of less note, to insert the following exquisite picture of one who seems to have been the most exquisite of actresses:


wherein, after his age had some years obliged | whole various excellence at once, was the part of Melantha, in Marriage-Alamode. Melantha is as finished an impertinent as fluttered in a drawing-room, and seems to contain the most complete system of female foppery that could possibly be crowded into the tortured form of a fine lady. Her language, dress, motion, manners, soul, and body, are in a continual hurry, to be something more than is necessary or commendable. And though I doubt it will be a vain labour, to offer you a just likeness of Mrs. Monfort's action, yet the fantastic impression is still so strong in my memory, that I cannot help saying something, though fantastically, about it. The first ridiculous airs that break from her, are upon a "Mrs. Monfort, whose second marriage gave gallant, never seen before, who delivers her a her the name of Verbruggen, was mistress of letter from her father, recommending him to more variety of humour than I ever knew in any her good graces, as an honourable lover. Here, one actress. This variety, too, was attended with now, one would think she might naturally show an equal vivacity, which made her excellent in a little of the sex's decent reserve, though characters extremely different. As she was na-never so slightly covered! No, sir: not a turally a pleasant mimic, she had the skill to title of it; modesty is the virtue of a poormake that talent useful on the stage, a talent souled country gentlewoman; she is too much which may be surprising in a conversation, and a court lady, to be under so vulgar a confuyet be lost when brought to the theatre, which sion; she reads the letter, therefore, with a was the case of Estcourt already mentioned: careless, dropping lip, and an erected brow, but where the elocution is round, distinct, vo- humming it hastily over, as if she were impaluble, and various, as Mrs. Monfort's was, the tient to outgo her father's commands, by mimic, there, is a great assistant to the actor. making a complete conquest of him at once; Nothing, though ever so barren, if within the and that the letter might not embarrass her bounds of nature, could be flat in her hands. attack, crack! she crumbles it at once, into She gave many heightening touches to charac- her palm, and pours upon him her whole arters but coldly written, and often made an au- tillery of airs, eyes, and motion; down goes thor vain of his work, that in itself had but her dainty, diving body, to the ground, as if little merit. She was so fond of humour, in she were sinking under the conscious load what low part soever to be found, that she of her own attractions; then launches into a would make no scruple of defacing her fair flood of fine language and compliment, still form, to come heartily into it; for when she playing her chest forward in fifty falls and was eminent in several desirable characters risings, like a swan upon waving water; and, of wit and humour, in higher life, she would to complete her impertinence, she is so rapidly be in as much fancy, when descending into the fond of her own wit, that she will not give her antiquated Abigail, or Fletcher, as when tri-lover leave to praise it; silent assenting bows, umphing in all the airs and vain graces of a fine lady; a merit, that few actresses care for. In a play of D'Urfey's, now forgotten, called The Western Lass, which part she acted, she transformed her whole being, body, shape, voice, language, look, and features, into almost another animal; with a strong Devonshire In this work, also, the reader may become dialect, a broad laughing voice, a poking head, acquainted, on familiar terms, with Wilkes round shoulders, an unconceiving eye, and the and Dogget, and Booth-fall in love with Mrs. most bedizening, dowdy dress, that ever co- Bracegirdle, as half the town did in days of vered the untrained limbs of a Joan Trot. To yore-and sit amidst applauding whigs and have seen her here, you would have thought it tories on the first representation of Cato. He impossible the same creature could ever have may follow the actors from the gorgeous scene been recovered, to what was as easy to her, the of their exploits to their private enjoyments, gay, the lively, and the desirable. Nor was share in their jealousies, laugh with them at her humour limited to her sex; for, while their own ludicrous distresses, and join in her shape permitted, she was a more adroit their happy social hours. Yet with all our pretty fellow than is usually seen upon the admiration for the theatrical artists, who yet stage her easy air, action, mien, and ges- live in Cibber's Apology, we rejoice to believe ture, quite changed from the quoif to the that their high and joyous art is not declining. cocked hat, and cavalier in fashion. Peo-Kemble, indeed, and Mrs. Siddons, have forple were so fond of seeing her a man, that when the part of Bays, in the Rehearsal, had, for some time, lain dormant, she was desired to take it up, which I have seen her act with all the true, coxcombly spirit and humour that the sufficiency of the character required.

"But what found most employment for her

and vain endeavours to speak, are all the share of the conversation he is admitted to, which, at last, he is relieved from, by her engagement to half a score visits, which she swims from him to make, with a promise to return in a twinkling."

saken that stateliest region of tragedy which they first opened to our gaze. But the latter could not be regarded as belonging to any age; her path was lonely as it was exalted, and she appeared, not as highest of a class which existed before her, but as a being of another order, destined "to leave the world no copy," but to

enrich its imaginations for ever.

Yet have we, in the youngest of the Kemble line, at once an artist of antique grace in comedy, and a tragedian of look the most chivalrous and heroic-of "form and moving most express and admirable"-of enthusiasm to give vivid expression to the highest and the most honourable of human emotions. Still, in Macready, can we boast of one, whose rich and noble voice is adapted to all the most exquisite varieties of tenderness and passion-one, whose genius leads him to imbody characters the most imaginative and romantic-and who throws over his grandest pictures tints so mellow and so nicely blended, that, with all their inimitable variety, they sink in perfect harmony into the soul. Still, in Kean, have we a performer of intensity never equalled-of pathos

the sweetest and most profound — whose bursts of passion almost transport us into another order of being, and whose flashes of genius cast a new light on the darkest caverns of the soul. If we have few names to boast in elegant comedy, we enjoy a crowd of the richest and most original humourists, with Munden-that actor of a myriad unforgotten faces-at their head. But our theme has enticed us beyond our proper domain of the past; and we must retire. Let us hope for some Cibber, to catch the graces of our living actors before they perish, that our successors may fix on them their retrospective eyes unblamed, and enrich with a review of their merits some number of our work, which will appear, in due course, in the twenty-second century!


ciples of the revolution, detesting the French,
abominating the Italian opera, and deprecat-
ing as heartily the triumph of the Pretender,
as the success of a rival's tragedy. His po-
litical treatises, though not very elegantly
finished, are made of sturdy materials. He
appears, from some passages in his letters, to
have cherished a genuine love of nature, and
to have turned, with eager delight, to deep and
quiet solitudes, for refreshment from the fe-
verish excitements, the vexatious defeats, and
the barren triumphs of his critical career. He
admired Shakspeare, after the fashion of his
age, as a wild, irregular genius, who would
have been inconceivably greater, had he known
and copied the ancients. The following is a
part of his general criticism on this subject,
and a fair specimen of his best style:

JOHN DENNIS, the terror or the scorn of that age, which is sometimes honoured with the title of Augustan, has attained a lasting notoriety, to which the reviewers of our times can scarcely aspire. His name is immortalized in the Dunciad; his best essay is preserved in Johnson's Lives of the Poets; and his works yet keep their state in two substantial volumes, which are now before us. But the interest of the most poignant abuse and the severest criticism quickly perishes. We contemplate the sarcasms and the invectives which once stung into rage the irritable generation of poets, with as cold a curiosity as we look on the rusty javelins or stuffed reptiles in the glass cases of the curious. The works of Dennis will, however, assist us in forming a judgment of the criticism of his age, as compared with that of our own, and will afford us an opportunity of investigating the in-niuses that the world ever saw, for the tragic finences of that popular art on literature and

on manners.

But we must not forget, that Mr. Dennis laid claims to public esteem, not only as a critic, but as a wit, a politician, and a poet. In the first and the last of these characters, he can receive but little praise. His attempts at gayety and humour are weighty and awkward, almost without example. His poetry can only be described by negatives; it is not inharmonious, nor irregular, nor often turgid-for the author, too nice to sink into the mean, and too timid to rise into the bombastic, dwells in elaborate decencies for ever." The climax of his admiration for Queen Mary-"Mankind extols the king-the king admires the queen" -will give a fair specimen of his architectural eulogies. He is entitled to more respect as an honest patriot. He was, indeed, a true-hearted Englishman-with the legitimate prejudices of his country-warmly attached to the prin

"Shakspeare was one of the greatest ge

stage. Though he lay under greater disad vantages than any of his successors, yet had he greater and more genuine beauties than the best and greatest of them. And what makes the brightest glory of his character, those beauties were entirely his own, and owing to the force of his own nature; whereas, his faults were owing to his education, and to the age he lived in. One may say of him, as they did of Homer, that he had none to imitate, and is himself inimitable. His imaginations were often as just as they were bold and strong. He had a natural discretion which never could have been taught him, and his judgment was strong and penetrating. He seems to have wanted nothing but time and leisure for thought, to have found out those rules of which he appears so ignorant. His characters are always drawn justly, exactly, graphically, except where he failed by not knowing history or the poetical art. He had, for the most part,

« PreviousContinue »