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The Palmy Days of Nance Oldfield by Edward Robins

Part 2 out of 5

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"FOP. I have always a mind to an opportunity of entertaining your
ladyship, madame.


"MORE. O Charles, the insolence of this woman might furnish out a
thousand devils.

"SIR CHARLES. And your temper is enough to furnish a thousand such
women. Come away--I have business for you upon the terrace.

"MORE. Let me but speak one word to her.

"SIR CHARLES. Not a syllable; the tongue's a weapon you always have
the worst at. For I see you have no guard, and she carries a devilish

"LADY BETTY. My lord, don't let anything I've said frighten you away;
for if you have the least inclination to stay and rail, you know the
old conditions; 'tis but your asking me pardon next day, and you may
give your passion any liberty you think fit.

"MORE. Daggers and death! [What a picturesque, old-fashioned oath, is
it not? "Daggers and death!" Writers of English melodramas, please
take notice.]

"SIR CHARLES. Is the man distracted?

"MORE. Let me speak to her now, or I shall burst.[A]

"SIR CHARLES. Upon condition you'll speak no more of her to me, my
lord, do as you please.

"MORE. Pr'ythee pardon me--I know not what to do.

"SIR CHARLES. Come along, I'll set you to work, I warrant you. Nay,
nay, none of your parting ogles--will you go?

"MORE. Yes, and I hope for ever.

[_Exit_ SIR CHARLES _pulling away_ LORD MORELOVE."

[Footnote A: Here is the way in which several of our refined farcical
writers would have given it:

MORELOVE. Let me speak to her now, or I shall burst.

SIR CHARLES. Upon condition that you'll not burst here, in the
parlour, do as you please.]

* * * * *

There is about this and many other scenes the fragrance of an old
perfume, as of lavender. We take up the book after years of neglect,
and the odour, which is not that of sanctity, is still perceptible--a
potent reminder of the past. And Lady Betty Modish? She must
be--well-nigh on to two hundred years old (a thousand florid pardons,
sweet madame, for bringing in your age), but she is as blooming,
saucy, and interesting as ever.

What becomes of Betty in the comedy, the reader may ask. She goes on
her triumphant way, the same cruel enchantress, until the last act,
when she is quite ready to fall into the arms of Lord Morelove. Sir
Charles Easy, touched by the constancy and devotion of his wife,
announces that he will mend his wilful habits, and Lord Foppington,
who flattered himself that Lady Betty was madly in love with him,
accepts his dismissal with great good humour. Then we have a song
setting forth how:

"Sabina with an angel's face
By Love ordain'd for joy,
Seems of the Siren's cruel race,
To charm and then destroy.

"With all the arts of look and dress,
She fans the fatal fire;
Through pride, mistaken oft for grace,
She bids the swains expire.

"The god of Love, enraged to see
The nymph defy his flame,
Pronounced his merciless decree
Against the haughty dame:

"'Let age with double speed o'ertake her,
Let love the room of pride supply;
And when the lovers all forsake her,
A spotless virgin let her die.'"

Next, with the sound of this horrible warning ringing in our ears, Sir
Charles steps forward to give the tag: "If then [turning to Lady Easy]
the unkindly thought of what I have been hereafter shou'd intrude upon
thy growing quiet, let this reflection teach thee to be easy:

"Thy wrong, when greatest, most thy virtue prov'd;
And from that virtue found, I blus'd and truly lov'd."

So ends the comedy in a blaze of morality. We almost see Sir Charles
fitting on a pair of newly-made wings, as he prepares to float away to
some better planet; but let him go, by all means. We shall remain here
and watch that fair sinner, Oldfield.



Of all the vested rights that mankind is heir to none is more sacred
than the right of an actor to abuse his manager. It is among the
blessed privileges which help to make life cheerful and sunny, for,
when all is said, what would be the joy of existence if we might not
criticise those whom Providence has placed above us. Even a king may
be abused, behind his royal back, and so an humble manager shall not

There was a manager of Oldfield's day who surely did not escape, and
that was Christopher Rich, Esquire, one of the patentees of Drury Lane
Theatre, and sole director, as a rule, in the affairs of that Thespian
temple. Thespian temple, indeed! What cared Mr. Rich for Thespis or
for art? He looked upon actors as a lot of cattle whose sole mission
in life was to make him rich in pocket as well as in name, and who
might, after the performance of that pious act, betake themselves to
the Evil Gentleman for aught he cared. Several modern managers have
been equally appreciative, but it is a comfort to reflect that a
portion of the fraternity are vast improvements on crusty Christopher,
who was described by a contemporary as "an old snarling lawyer, master
and sovereign; a waspish, ignorant pettifogger in law and poetry; one
who understands poetry no more than algebra; he wou'd sooner have the
Grace of God than do everybody justice."[A]

[Footnote A: Gildon's "Comparison Between the Two Stages."]

This was the measly director in whose company Nance figured for a time,
and for whom she must have had a profound if discreetly-concealed
contempt. Cibber, who seems to have keenly gauged the man, has left us
an account of how Rich[A] treated his actors. "He would laugh with them
over a bottle and bite them in their bargains. He kept them poor, that
they might not be able to rebel; and sometimes merry, that they might
not think of it." How graphic is this picture, with its vision of sly,
crafty Christopher, as he denies the players their well-earned wages and
then hurries them off to a neighbouring tavern, there to get them
hilarious on cheap wine and grudgingly to pay the reckoning. "All their
articles of agreement," continues Colley, "had a clause in them that he
was sure to creep out at, viz., their respective sallaries were to be
paid in such manner and proportion as others of the same company were
paid; which in effect made them all, when he pleas'd, but limited
sharers of loss, and himself sole proprietor of profits; and this loss
or profit they only had such verbal accounts of as he thought proper to
give them. 'Tis true, he would sometimes advance them money (but not
more than he knew at most could be due to them) upon their bonds; upon
which, whenever they were mutinous, he would threaten to sue them. This
was the net we danc'd in for several years. But no wonder we were
dupes," whimsically adds Colley, "while our master was a lawyer."

[Footnote A: Christopher Rich was the father of John Rich, a manager
who excelled in pantomime, and who appreciated the "legitimate" as
little as did his father.]

And a very commonplace, foxy and inartistic lawyer he was, too, with
his fondness for money bags and his willingness to oblige the town
with anything it wanted. To his narrow mind there was no great
difference between a lot of rope-dancers and a company of players, or,
if there should be, the advantage was quite in favour of the former.
We see the same commercial spirit to-day, when the average manager
rents his house for one week to an Irving or a Mansfield, and perhaps
turns it over, the following Monday night, to the tender mercies of
performing dogs and cats. 'Tis all grist that comes to his mill, and
what cares he whether that grist represent "Macbeth" or canine drama?

Cibber was not above looking at the practical side of things, but he
had no patience, nevertheless, with the Philistianism of Rich, who
had that fatal fondness for "paying extraordinary prices to singers,
dancers, and other exotick performers, which were as constantly
deducted out of the sinking sallaries of his actors."[A]

[Footnote A: Operatic singers and dancers, mostly recruited from the
Continent, were fast becoming fashionable, and, as their appearance
on the scene interfered with the profits of the actors, it may be
imagined that the latter held the strangers in much contempt.]

For it seems that Master Rich had not bought his share of the Drury
Lane patent to elevate the stage, but rather to get a fortune
therefrom. "And to say truth, his sense of everything to be shown
there was much upon a level with the taste of the multitude, whose
opinion and whose money weigh'd with him full as much as that of the
best judges. [Colley was evidently thinking of himself as one of these
judges.] His point was to please the majority who could more easilly
comprehend anything they _saw_ than the daintiest things that could be
said to them."

Nay, Christopher actually went so far that he once sought the
services of an elephant to add to the strength of his company, thus
anticipating the realism of our own time, when a few cows, a horse or
two, a lot of chickens and some real straw will cover a multitude
of sins in the construction of a play.[A] Yet, sad to relate, the
elephant was never allowed to lend weight to the drama, as "from the
jealousy which so formidable a rival had rais'd in his dancers, and by
his bricklayer's assuring him that if the walls were to be open'd wide
enough for its entrance it might endanger the fall of the house [the
old theatre in Dorset Garden, which Rich wished to use] he gave up his
project, and with it so hopeful a prospect of making the receipts of
the stage run higher than all the wit and force of the best writers
had ever yet rais'd them to."

[Footnote A: Apropos to the appearance of elephants on the stage, a
capital anecdote is told by Colman in his "Random Records." Johnstone,
a machinist employed at Drury Lane during the latter portion of the
eighteenth century, was celebrated for his superior taste and skill
in the construction of flying chariots, triumphal cars, palanquins,
banners, wooden children to be tossed over battlements, and straw
heroes and heroines to be hurled down a precipice; he was further
famous for wickerwork lions, pasteboard swans, and all sham birds and
beasts appertaining to a theatrical menagerie. He wished on a certain
occasion to spy the nakedness of the enemy's camp, and therefore
contrived to insinuate himself, with a friend, into the two-shilling
gallery, to witness the night rehearsal of a pantomime at Covent
Garden Theatre. Among the attractions of this Christmas foolery a real
elephant was introduced, and in due time the unweildly brute came
clumping down the stage, making a prodigious figure in a procession.
The friend who sat close to Johnstone jogged his elbow, whispering,
"This is a bitter bad job for Drury. Why, the elephant's
_alive_!--he'll carry all before him, and beat you hollow. What d'ye
think on't, eh?" "Think on't," said Johnstone, in a tone of the utmost
contempt, "I should be very sorry if I couldn't make a much better
elephant than that at any time!"]

Yet it was under the auspices of such a man that Oldfield made
several of her most brilliant successes, not forgetting the memorable
appearance as Lady Betty. And all the while, no doubt, Mr. Rich was
thinking how much more sensible an attraction would be an elephant or
a tight-rope walker. But Nance, who had now a firm friend in Cibber,
went merrily on her way, creating new characters in comedy and
astonishing even her most enthusiastic admirers by the imposing air
she could frequently give to a tragic part. In none of them, grave or
gay, was she more charming than as Sylvia, the heroine of Farquhar's
"Recruiting Officer," a play in which she graced man's clothes. Sylvia
is a delightful creature who masquerades as a dashing youth, and
thereby has the privilege of watching her lover, Captain Plume. Of
course the deception is discovered, and all ends happily in the
orthodox fashion [the only bit of orthodoxy about the performance,
by-the-way]. The girl is allowed to marry the Captain and settles
down, we may suppose, to the pleasures of domesticity and woman's
gowns. The comedy was admirably acted throughout, Wilks, Cibber, and
that prince of mimics, Dick Estcourt, being in the cast, and the seal
of popular approval was quickly put upon the production. At present
such a seal should bring hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars into
the pockets of the author, but it is possible that a few paltry pounds
represented the profits of Farquhar.[A]

[Footnote A: The "Recruiting Officer" first saw the light in April

In the meantime the spirit of discontent was abroad among the members
of the Drury Lane company. Well it might be when the manager of the
house, as Cibber points out, "had no conception himself of theatrical
merit either in authors or actors, yet his judgment was govern'd by a
saving rule in both. He look'd into his receipts for the value of a
play, and from common fame he judg'd of his actors. But by whatever
rule he was govern'd, while he had prudently reserv'd to himself a
power of not paying them more than their merit could get, he could not
be much deceived by their being over or undervalued. In a word, he had
with great skill inverted the constitution of the stage, and quite
changed the channel of profits arising from it; formerly (when there
was but one company) the proprietors punctually paid the actors their
appointed sallaries, and took to themselves only the clear profits:
But our wiser proprietor took first out of every day's receipts two
shillings in the pound to himself; and left their sallaries to be paid
only as the less or greater deficiencies of acting (according to his
own accounts) would permit. What seem'd most extraordinary in these
measures was, that at the same time he had persuaded us to be
contented with our condition, upon his assuring us that as fast as
money would come in we should all be paid our arrears."

Lawyer Rich lived too soon. How useful would he have been in these
latter days, when irresponsible managers infest the profession and
turn an honest penny by trading on the credulity and unbusinesslike
qualities of many a deluded player. The average manager pays his
debts and is quite as stable and upright in his dealings as one could
desire, but what can be said of the man who take companies "on the
road," after making all sorts of glowing promises, and finally elopes
with the money-box, leaving his actors stranded in a strange city.
Incidents of this kind, which to the victims have more of tragedy than
any play in their _repertoire_, occur almost every day during the
theatrical season, but nothing is done to prevent the ever-increasing
scandal. The erstwhile proprietor of the company returns by Pullman
car to New York, complains loudly about "poor business," a "sunken
fortune," &c., and then prepares to take out another combination. As
for his dupes, who are probably half-starving in some third class
western town, they may walk home on the railroad ties.

Yes, Mr. Rich was evidently intended for a wider sphere and a more
progressive age than those he had to adorn. But despite all his
financial talents some of the best players in Drury Lane were ready to
desert from that house the moment the chance came.



The chance did come, in the season of 1706-7, when Mrs. Oldfield,
Wilks, Mrs. Rogers, and several others, went over to the handsome new
theatre in the Haymarket, and were joined there later by Cibber.
This imposing house was opened in the spring of 1705 by Congreve and
Vanbrugh, and to it had gone Betterton and his associates at Lincoln's
Inn Fields. But noble old Roscius, who had so long cast his welcome
spell upon London theatre-goers, was getting old and feeble, and so
were several of the other members; the spell was well-nigh broken, and
not even a trial of that "new-fangled" style of entertainment, Italian
opera,[A] could make the management a success.

[Footnote A: How Italian opera was despised by certain critics
of Queen Anne's reign has already been shown in "Echoes of the
Playhouse." In his "Essay on the Operas after the Italian Manners,"
Dennis writes (1706): "If that is truly the most Gothic, which is the
most oppos'd to Antick, nothing can be more Gothick than an Opera,
since nothing can be more oppos'd to the ancient Tragedy, than the
modern Tragedy in Musick, because the one is reasonable, the other
ridiculous; the one is artful, the other absurd; the one beneficial,
the other pernicious; in short, the one natural and the other

Now enters upon the scene the redoubtable Owen Swiney, who plays a
short but brilliant part in the theatrical world, and next, with all
his money gone, enters upon a twenty years' exile on the Continent.
Then he will come home, to be made Keeper of the King's Mews,
and presently our Colley will immortalise him in one of those
pen-portraits which make so many of the Poet Laureate's friends or
foes stand out clear and distinct against the background of the
"Apology." Here is the picture, fresh and beaming as ever:

* * * * *

"If I should farther say, that this person has been well known in
almost every metropolis in Europe; that few private men, with so
little reproach, run through more various turns of fortune; that, on
the wrongside of three-score,[A] he has yet the open spirit of a hale
young fellow of five and twenty; that though he still chuses to speak
what he thinks to his best friends with an undisguised freedom, he
is, notwithstanding, acceptable to many persons of the first rank and
condition; that any one of them (provided he likes them) may now send
him, for their service, to Constantinople at half a day's warning;
that Time has not yet been able to make a visible change in any part
of him but the colour of his hair, from a fierce coal-black to that of
a milder milk-white: When I have taken this liberty with him, methinks
it cannot be taking a much greater if I at once should tell you that
this person was Mr. Owen Swiney."

[Footnote A: Swiney, or MacSwiney, died in 1754, after making Peg
Woffington his legatee]

* * * * *

Swiney was an ardent Irishman who had, for some mysterious reason,
formed a friendship with Rich, and his advice and energy often stood
the manager of Drury Lane in good stead. When, in the summer of 1706,
Vanbrugh proposed that Swiney should lease the Haymarket, Sir John
being anxious to relinquish management, just as Congreve had done some
time before, cunning Christopher gave his consent, curiously enough,
to what was nothing more or less than the setting up of a rival
company of actors. In the first place, he probably looked upon his
players as an encumbrance, since he was in the vein for operatic
entertainments just then, and, furthermore, he pictured himself as
a future monopolist controlling the destinies of two houses. For he
never dreamed, did this haggling, pettifogging lawyer, that Swiney
would swerve from the old time allegiance to him, and he felt so
secure on this point that he privately encouraged the desertion of his
own forces. He made one exception, however, by stipulating that Cibber
should remain at Drury Lane. Colley was too experienced, too versatile
a man to be lost with impunity; he could do everything in a theatre,
from acting to writing good plays and bad poetry, and while the wily
Rich chiefly depended upon his singers and dancers, he said "it would
be necessary to keep some one tolerable actor with him, that might
enable him to set those machines a going."

It so happened that Cibber was one of the men that Swiney needed most,
and, while the new manager of the Haymarket apparently acquiesced in
the exception insisted on by Rich, it was not long before he showed
his hand. It was a better hand than that of his whilom associate, who
had been foolish enough to think that he held the trump card in the
game. The card in question was a little matter of two hundred pounds
owing from Swiney to Rich, and the latter fondly believed that this
loan would bind the debtor to him as with hooks of steel. But we
do not love men the more because they chance to be our creditors;
sometimes, indeed, we love them the less for it, and so these two
hundred pounds did not prevent the Celt from breaking over the traces
of the Englishman. Let Cibber continue the story:

* * * * *

"The first word I heard of this transaction was by a letter from
Swiney, inviting me to make one in the Hay-Market Company. whom he
hop'd I could not but now think the stronger party. But I confess I
was not a little alarm'd at this revolution. For I considered that
I knew of no visible fund to support these actors but their own
industry; that all his recruits from Drury Lane would want new
cloathing; and that the warmest industry would be always labouring
up hill under so necessary an expence, so bad a situation, and so
inconvenient a theatre," &c.

* * * * *

In fine, Master Colley resolved that it would be the course of wisdom
to stay at Drury Lane, where he seems to have enjoyed to an unusual
degree the confidence of the very manager whom afterwards he did
not hesitate to abuse. So when Cibber came up to London from
Gloucestershire, where he had been spending his vacation, he returned
to the fold of his old master.

* * * * *

"But I found our company so thinn'd that it was almost impracticable
to bring any one tolerable play upon the stage. When I ask'd him
where were his actors, and in what manner he intended to proceed? he
reply'd, _Don't you trouble yourself, come along, and I'll shew you_.

"He then led me about all the by-places in the house, and shew'd
me fifty little backdoors, dark closets, and narrow passages in
alterations and contrivances of which kind he had busied his head most
part of the vacation; for he was scarce ever without some notable
joyner or a bricklayer extraordinary, in pay, for twenty years. And
there are so many odd obscure places about a theatre, that his genius
in nook-building was never out of employment, nor could the most
vain-headed author be more deaf to an interruption in reciting his
works, than our wise master was while entertaining me with the
improvements he had made in his invisible architecture; all which,
without thinking any one part of it necessary, tho' I seem'd to
approve, I could not help now and then breaking in upon his delight
with the impertinent question of--_But, Master, where are your

* * * * *

This exhibition of a spirit so commonplace and inartistic proved too
much for Cibber. Perhaps he might have pardoned it had there been
no salary owing him, for your greatest apostle of the drama will
sometimes do a good deal of winking at glaring inconsistencies when
a money _quid pro quo_ looms up in the distance. Here was a case,
however, where the _quid pro quo_ loomed not at all, and the author of
the "Careless Husband" became correspondingly disgusted. I told him
(Rich) I came to serve him at a time when many of his best actors had
deserted him; that he might now have the refusal of me; but I could
not afford to carry the compliment so far as to lessen my income by
it; that I therefore expected either my casual pay to be advanced, or
the payment of my former sallary made certain for as many days as we
had acted the year before. No, he was not willing to alter his former
method; but I might chuse whatever parts I had a mind to act of theirs
who had left him.

* * * * *

"When I found him, as I thought, so insensible, or impregnable, I
look'd gravely in his face, and told him--He knew upon what terms I
was willing to serve him, and took my leave."

* * * * *

Shortly after the interview Cibber joined the Haymarket company, and
one result of his defection was an open quarrel between Rich and

This season of 1706-7 was a memorable one for Oldfield. She then
played for the first time with the chaste Anne Bracegirdle,[A] whom
she quickly cast into the shade. So apparent, indeed, was the shadow
that the elder of the two retired from the stage in the course of
a few months, in the very prime of her beauty. It was a pathetic
incident, and yet the cloud had its silver lining. How often are we
called upon to pity players who linger before the footlights long
after they should have made their exits; instead of departing at the
right moment, leaving behind them charming memories, they die by
inches in full view of the audience.

[Footnote A: "Mrs. Bracegirdle was perhaps a woman of a cold
constitution," says Genest.]


Perhaps poverty keeps them at work, but, be that as it may, the public
gives a sigh of relief when the few remaining sparks of genius are at
last snuffed out. When one of them is taken from us, and we read of
the death in the morning paper, we murmur, "Poor old Jones! Well, it's
certainly time he shuffled off." Then we drink our coffee placidly,
turn to some other news, and never think of him again. Many a
once-beloved actor gets this cruel epitaph.

There was nothing superannuated about Bracegirdle when she made her
exit, for the actress still displayed that comeliness which had, until
recently, held the attention of London. "She was of a lovely height,"
says Tony Aston, "with dark brown hair and eyebrows, black, sparkling
eyes, and a fresh, blushy complexion; and, whenever she exerted
herself, had an involuntary flushing in her breast, neck, and face,
having continually a cheerful aspect, and a fine set of even white
teeth; never making an exit, but that she left the audience in
an imitation of her pleasant countenance." When Aston wrote Mrs.
Bracegirdle was still living. "She has been off the stage these 26
years or more, but was alive July 20, 1747, for I saw her in the
Strand, London, then--with the remains of charming Bracegirdle." Poor
old Diana! Time brought her at least one revenge; she had outlived
Nance Oldfield these many years.[A]

[Footnote A: Bracegirdle died in September 1748.]

"Bracey," as Cibber loved to call her, had just left the boards when
George Farquhar's lively comedy, "The Beaux' Stratagem," was produced
at the Haymarket. Perhaps she saw the performance from the audience
side of the house, and was generous enough to admire the sparkle of
Oldfield as Mrs. Sullen; and perhaps, as she was a very charitable
body, Mistress Bracegirdle went to pay a last visit to the brilliant
author of the play. For poor, worn-out Farquhar was dying, nor could
the laughter with which the theatre re-echoed bring much merriment
into that poverty-stricken home which he was so soon to leave for a
world where there would be neither guineas nor debts.

The ill man was game to the last, and his sense of humour never
deserted him. When Oldfield was rehearsing Mrs. Sullen (a woman who
separates from one husband only to have another, Archer, in prospect)
she told Wilks that "she thought the author had dealt too freely with
Mrs. Sullen, in giving her to Archer, without such a proper divorce
as would be a security to her honor." Wilks, who was to play Archer,
spoke of this criticism to Farquhar in the course of a visit to the
dying playwright. "Tell her," gaily replied the latter, "that for her
peace of mind's sake, I'll get a real divorce, marry her myself, and
give her my bond she shall be a real widow in less than a fortnight."
Poor fellow! He was faithful to Mistress Farquhar unto the end, but
who shall say that he had forgotten the old days which began so fairly
at the Mitre Tavern?

[Illustration: MRS. BRACEGIRDLE

As the Sultaness]

Soon there will be another theatrical revolution by which the rival
companies of the Haymarket and Drury Lane will be united under one
management at the latter house, while Owen Swiney will be left free to
devote his attention to Italian opera. This union comes about through
the efforts of Colonel Brett[A], a very _debonnaire_ gentleman from
Gloucestershire, whom Cibber, his warmest admirer, trots out for our
inspection in the perennial "Apology." It appears that Sir Thomas
Skipwith, who has a share in the Drury Lane Patent, becomes so
disgusted with the antics of Rich and his refusal to make any
accounting of the profits of the house, that he presents Brett with
his interest.[B] To the Colonel the gift is a congenial one; he has
passed many a pleasant hour behind the scenes at Drury Lane, and
doubtless thinks that in doing so he writes himself down a very
knowing dog.

[Footnote A: Colonel Brett was the father of Anne Brett, who became a
very dear friend of George I.]

[Footnote B: Sir Thomas afterwards asserted that he only gave his
share to Brett strictly "in trust."]

Probably he is, for Cibber says that though he spent some time at the
Temple, "he so little followed the Law there that his neglect of it
made the Law (like some of his fair and frail admirers) very often
follow him." As he had an uncommon share of social wit and a handsome
person, with a sanguine bloom in his complexion, no wonder they
persuaded him that he might have a better chance of fortune by
throwing such accomplishments into the gayer world than by shutting
them up in a study.

* * * * *

"The first view that fires the head of a young gentleman of this
modish ambition just broke lose from business is to cut a figure (as
they call it)in a side box at the play, from whence their next step
is to the Green Room behind the scenes, sometimes their _non ultra_.
Hither at last, then, in this hopeful quest of his fortune, came this
gentleman-errant, not doubting but the fickle dame, while he was thus
qualified to receive her, might be tempted to fall into his lap. And
though possibly the charms of our theatrical nymphs might have their
share in drawing him thither, yet in my observation the most visible
cause of his first coming was a more sincere passion he had conceived,
for a fair full-bottom'd perriwig which I then wore in my first play
of the 'Fool in Fashion' in the year 1695."

* * * * *

This love affair would suggest what Mr. Gilbert calls:

"A Passion a la Plato
For a bashful young potato."

were we not to remember that in Anne's time handsome full-bottomed
periwigs were regarded with an enthusiasm far too fervid to be called
Platonic. Actors made it a point to have this indispensable headgear
as elaborate as possible, and it is even related that Barton Booth and
Wilks actually paid forty guineas each "on the exorbitant thatching of
their heads."

* * * * *

But let loquacious Colley have his say: "For it is to be noted that
the _Beaux_ of those days were of a quite different cast from the
modern stamp, and had more of the stateliness of the peacock in their
mein than (which now seems to be their highest emulation) the pert air
of a lap-wing. Now, whatever contempt philosophers may have for a fine
perriwig, my friend, who was not to despise the world, but to live in
it, knew very well that so material an article of dress upon the head
of a man of sense if it became him, could never fail of drawing to him
a more partial regard and benevolence than could possibly be hoped for
in an ill-made one."

* * * * *

Brett expresses such an admiration for this particular full-bottomed
periwig that Cibber is highly flattered, and the two are soon
laughing themselves into the best of terms. Nay, they spend the night
roistering over a bottle or two of wine, and dear, vain Colley, like
many who come after him, falls into the belief that he is a bold,
fast man. With an air of conscious rakishness that is charmingly
ridiculous, he writes: "If it were possible the relation of the happy
indiscretions which passed between us that night could give the tenth
part of the pleasure I then received from them, I could still repeat
them with delight."

Instead of pausing, however, to relate those happy indiscretions,
Cibber prattles on in his colloquial way, telling us that through the
goodly offices of Sir Thomas Skipwith, Brett was introduced to the
divorced wife of the Earl of Macclesfield, "a lady who had enough in
her power to disencumber him of the world and make him every way easy
for life."[A]

[Footnote A: One story of the day made this woman the mother of
Richard Savage.]

"While he was in pursuit of this affair [coyly adds the Apologist]
which no time was to be lost in (for the Lady was to be in town for
but three weeks) I one day found him idling behind the scenes before
the play was begun. Upon sight of him I took the usual freedom he
allow'd me, to rate him roundly for the madness of not improving every
moment in his power in what was of such consequence to him. [Oh, fie,
thou worldly old Colley.] Why are you not (said I) where you know you
only should be? If your design should once get wind in the town, the
ill-will of your enemies or the sincerity of the Lady's friends may
soon blow up your hopes, which in your circumstances of life cannot be
long supported by the bare appearance of a gentleman."

* * * * *

And now Cibber announces that he expects to shock us, although the
story he goes on to disclose is not in any sense improper. Could it be
that according to his eighteenth century reverence for precedence the
crime lay in the rough and tumble way in which, as he ventures to
show, an humble player treated the future husband of a dethroned
Countess. Here, at least, is the awful tale:

* * * * *

"After twenty excuses to clear himself of the neglect I had so warmly
charged him with, he concluded them with telling me he had been out
all the morning upon business and that his linnen was too much soil'd
to be seen in company. Oh, ho! said I, is that all? Come along with
me, we will soon get over that dainty difficulty. Upon which I haul'd
him by the sleeve into my shifting-room, he either staring, laughing,
or hanging back all the way. There, when I had lock'd him in, I began
to strip off my upper cloaths, and bade him do the same; still he
either did not or would not seem to understand me, and continuing his
laugh, cry'd, What! is the puppy mad? No, No, only positive, said I;
for look you, in short, the play is ready to begin, and the parts that
you and I are to act to-day are not of equal consequence; mine of
young Reveller (in 'Greenwich Park'[A]) is but a rake; but whatever
you may be, you are not to appear so; therefore take my shirt and give
me yours; for depend upon't, stay here you shall not, and so go about
your business.

[Footnote A: A play written by Mountford.]

"To conclude, we fairly chang'd linnen, nor could his mother's have
wrap'd him up more fortunately; for in about ten days he marry'd the

* * * * *

The gallant Colonel not only married the ex-Countess but became so
flirtatious with at least one other woman that he suggested to Cibber
the most _risque_ scene in the "Careless Husband." This, then, was the
model gentleman to whom Skipwith made over a share in the Drury Lane
patent, and through whose efforts the rival companies were united in
1708. Swiney, according to the orders of the Lord Chamberlain, was to
conduct the Haymarket for operatic performances, and the players were
all to act at the older house.

For a time life at the theatre went as merrily as a marriage bell. The
public, of both high and low degree, crowded Drury Lane, and every one
was happy excepting sour-faced Rich, who saw with disgust that the
plausible, insinuating Brett was fast overshadowing him in the
management. How wily Christopher schemed and schemed, and how the gay
Colonel was finally compelled to relinquish his portion of the patent
altogether, are details that need not be set forth here. It will
suffice to say, that as a result of all this intriguing, affairs at
Drury Lane assumed an almost chaotic character. Nor was it long before
Owen Swiney entered into treaty with Wilks, Dogget, Mrs. Oldfield and
Cibber, who were to come over to the Haymarket as the heads of a new

In this episode the sunny spirit of Nance was brought prettily into
the foreground. "When Mrs. Oldfield was nominated as a joint sharer in
our new agreement to be made with Swiney [again is the quotation from
Cibber], Dogget, who had no objection to her merit, insisted that our
affairs could never be upon a secure foundation if there was more than
one sex admitted to the management of them." Beastly, unchivalrous,
narrow-minded Dogget. Were you alive to-day, how the New Woman would
champ with rage. "He therefore hop'd that if we offer'd Mrs. Oldfield
a _Carte Blanche_ instead of a share, she would not think herself
slighted." And Oldfield, with the affability which sat so well upon
her, did not think herself in the least slighted. She "receiv'd it
rather as a favour than a disobligation. Her demands therefore were
two hundred pounds a year certain, and a benefit clear of all charges,
which were readily sign'd to."

In the meantime Drury Lane is closed by order of the Lord
Chamberlain,[A] on the ground that in seeking to take from the actors
one-third of their benefit receipts the management have proceeded
illegally. Soon the new forces of Swiney take possession of the
Haymarket, and for a short time London has but one playhouse. Mayhap
Mr. Rich is chagrined, or perhaps he is not ill-pleased, and in any
case he extracts great comfort from a manifesto published in his
behalf by the treasurer of Drury Lane, sweet-named Zachary Baggs. In
this formidable document, which seeks to prove that the seceders are a
lot of ingrates, Oldfield is held up to the public as a sad example of
depravity. Her account with Master Rich is thus itemised:

L s. d.
To Mrs. Oldfield, at 4 l. a week salary, which
for 14 weeks and one day; she leaving off acting
presently after her benefit (viz.) on the 17th of
March last, 1708, though the benefit was intended
for her whole nine months acting, and she refused
to assist others in their benefits; her salary for
these 14 weeks and one day came to, and she was
paid 56 13 4

In January she required, and was paid ten guineas,
to wear on the stage in some plays, during the whole
season, a mantua petticoat that was given her for
the stage and though she left off three months before
she should, yet she hath not returned any part of
the ten guineas 10 15 0

And she had for wearing in some plays a suit of
boys cloaths on the stage; paid 2 10 9

By a benefit play; paid 62 7 8

[Footnote A: June 1709.]

But what cares laughing Nance for Master Baggs' spiteful paragraph
about the mantua petticoat. Mantua petticoat, forsooth! she has more
artistic things to think about than that, and so pray do not plague
her, gentle reader, with so commonplace an incident. Let her act on
serenely until that glorious night in April 1713, when, back at Drury
Lane, under the triumvirate of Cibber, Wilks and Dogget, she helps to
make sedate Addison's equally sedate "Cato" a triumphant success.



"The soul, secur'd in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years;
But thou shall flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amidst the war of elements,
The wrecks of matter, and the crush of worlds."

So doth noble Cato philosophise when, in Addison's stately tragedy, he
gazes on his sword and plans to admit the Grim Visitor whom the most
of us wish to keep without our threshold until the last fatal moment.
How those lines used to thrill the classic hearts of our ancestors;
how Barton Booth, who

"shook the stage, and made the people stare,"

could put into this mild plea for suicide a fervour that caused Drury
Lane to ring with applause. What mattered it if the actor, as Pope
related, wore a long wig and flowered gown? Cato was none the less
himself for that, nor did Booth's elegance of delivery seem unwelcome
because his clothes pictured the dandified spirit of the eighteenth

"Cato!" The play is forgotten now, but there was magic in its name in
the palmy days of its author, gentle, kindly Joseph Addison. So potent
was that magic, such vivid impression did the fate of the grand old
Roman make on more than one mind, when thus retold in lofty verse,
that the tragedy was cited as a justification of self-destruction.

"What Cato did, and Addison approved
Cannot be wrong."

These lines, written on a scrap of paper by Eustace Budgell, were
found shortly after the death of that odd genius. From being an
honoured contributor to the _Spectator_, Budgell descended to the
depths of infamy, poverty, and despair, and so one day he threw
himself out of a boat under London Bridge, and the waters of the
Thames closed over him for ever. He owed his early prosperity to
Addison, his cousin, and by way of gratitude he sought to throw upon
his benefactor's memory the odium of this moist and melancholy exit
from the world.

Their lies no odium, nevertheless, where Addison is concerned. His
own life may have been clouded towards the last by the mists of
disappointment, but to us admiring moderns he is all sunshine. Not the
fiery sunshine of summer, but the genial, dignified light of an autumn
afternoon when nature seems in most reflective mood. For there was
nothing impetuous or ardent in the composition of this good-humoured
philosopher; and while he railed so well at the petty sins and
vanities of the England in which he dwelt, the satire had naught of
venom, malice, or uncharitableness.

Nowadays Addison and the _Spectator_ go rolling down to fame together,
an indivisible reminder--the very essence indeed--of the virtues,
peccadilloes, greatness and meanness of early eighteenth century life.
We may forget that Joe was quite a politician in his prime, we are
even loth to recall that there was ever such a play as "Cato," but so
long as the English language has power to charm, the dear old volumes
of the _Spectator_ will stand out as a delightful landmark of that
literature which forms the heritage of American and Briton alike.

How fondly do we turn the pages of the well-read essays, with their
pictures of good Sir Roger de Coverley, Will Honeycomb, and the rest
of that happy crew. And over what portrait do we linger more lovingly
than that of the _Spectator_ himself, wherein there is many a stroke
of the pen that brings Addison in view. When he tells us, for
instance: "I threw away my rattle before I was two months old, and
would not make use of my coral until they had taken away the bells
from it," the writer is indulging in a pretty bit of humour at the
expense of his own sedate youth.

* * * * *

"I have passed my latter years," the philosopher goes on to say, "in
this city (London), where I am frequently seen in most public places,
though there are not above half a dozen of my select friends that know
me.... There is no place of general resort wherein I do not often make
my appearance: sometimes I am seen thrusting my head into a round of
politicians at Will's,[A] and listening with great attention to the
narratives that are made in those little circular audiences; sometimes
I smoke a pipe at Child's,[B] and while I seem attentive to nothing
but the postman, overhear the conversation of every table in the room.
I appear on Sunday nights at St. James' coffee house, and sometimes
join the little committee of politics in the inner room, as one who
comes there to hear and improve. My face is likewise very well known
at the Grecian, the Cocoa Tree, and in the theatres both of Drury Lane
and the Haymarket. I have been taken for a merchant upon the Exchange
for above these ten years, and sometimes pass for a Jew in the
assembly of stockbrokers at Jonathan's. In short, wherever I see a
cluster of people, I always mix with them, though I never open my lips
but in my own club."

[Footnote A: Will's and Child's were popular coffee-houses, as were
also the Grecian, St. James', and the Cocoa Tree.]

[Footnote B: See footnote on page 97.]

* * * * *

It is easy to fancy Addison, shy but ever observant, mingling with the
people who thronged the coffee-houses and there settled the affairs
of the nation, discussed their neighbours, and sipped their coffee
or stronger drink, as the case might be. He must have laughed in his
sleeve many a time as he heard the know-it-alls predicting that the
British nation was on the brink of perdition or announcing, in the
most confidential of manners, the secret policies of his Christian
Majesty, Louis XIV. of France. Probably Joe agreed with Steele,
who, in speaking of a certain coffee-house, observed that in it men
differed rather in the time of day wherein they made a figure, than in
any real greatness above one another.


"I, who am at the coffee-house at six in the morning," Dick writes
on,[A] "know that my friend Beaver the haberdasher has a levee of
more undissembled friends and admirers than most of the courtiers
or generals of Great Britain. Every man about him has, perhaps, a
newspaper in his hand; but none can pretend to guess what step will be
taken in any one court of Europe, till Mr. Beaver has thrown down his
pipe, and declares what measures the allies must enter into upon this
new posture of affairs. Our coffee-house is near one of the inns of
court, and Beaver has the audience and admiration of his neighbours
from six till within a quarter of eight, at which time he is
interrupted by the students of the house; some of whom are ready
dressed for Westminster at eight in a morning, with faces as busy as
if they were retained in every cause there; and others come in their
night gowns to saunter away their time, as if they never designed to
go thither.

[Footnote A: _Spectator_, No. 49.]

"I do not know that I meet in any of my walks, objects which move both
my spleen and laughter so effectually as those young fellows at the
Greecian, Squire's, Searle's, and all other coffee-houses adjacent
to the law, who rise early for no other purpose but to publish their
laziness. One would think these young virtuosos take a gay cap and
slippers, with a scarf and party-coloured gown, to be ensigns of
dignity; for the vain things approach each other with an air which
shews they regard one another for their vestments. I have observed
that the superiority among these proceeds from an opinion of gallantry
and fashion. The gentleman in the strawberry sash, who presides so
much over the rest, has, it seems, subscribed to every opera this
last winter, and is supposed to receive favours from one of the

[Footnote A: Come, says my Friend, let us step into this Coffee House
here; as you are a Stranger in the Town, it will afford you some
Diversion. Accordingly in we went, where a parcel of Muddling
Muckworms were as busy as so many Rats in an old Cheese Loft; some
Going, some Coming, some Scribling, some Talking, some Drinking, some
Smoaking, others Jangling: and the whole Room stinking of Tobacco,
like a Dutch Scoot or a Boatswain's Cabbin. The Walls being hung with
Gilt Frames, as a Farriers shop with Horse shoes; which contain'd
abundance of Rarities viz. Nectar and Ambrosia, May Dew, Golden
Elixirs, Popular Pills, Liquid Snuff, Beautifying Waters, Dentifrisis
Drops, Lozenges, all as infallible as the Pope,

Where every one above the rest
Deservedly has gain'd the Name of Best

(as the famous Saffold has it).--WARD.]

As the day lengthens the scene changes. The gentleman with the
strawberry sash and uncertain morals and his servile subjects
disappear, giving place "to men who have business or good sense in
their faces, and come to the coffee-house either to transact affairs
or enjoy conversation. The persons to whose behaviour and discourse I
have most regard, are such as are between these two sorts of men;
such as have not spirits too active to be happy and well pleased in a
private condition, not complexions too warm to make them neglect the
duties and relations of life. Of this sort of men consist the worthier
part of mankind; of these are all good fathers, generous brothers,
sincere friends, and faithful subjects. Their entertainments are
derived rather from reason than imagination; which is the cause that
there is no impatience or instability in their speech or action. You
see in their countenances they are at home, and in quiet possession of
the present instant as it passes, without desiring to quicken it by
gratifying any passion or prosecuting any new design. These are the
men formed for society, and those little communities which we express
by the word neighbourhood."

Thus moved the panorama of the coffee-house. Perhaps nothing
contributed more importantly to the gossip of the latter than did the
mention of quiet Addison himself after the night in April, 1713, which
witnessed the triumph of "Cato." The essayist had always possessed,
like many other literary men, a secret longing to be the author of a
prosperous tragedy, and in his earlier days made bold to submit a play
to the inspection of Dryden. The poet read it with polite interest,
and, on returning the manuscript to the author, expressed therefor his
profound esteem, with many apologetic _et ceteras_, and only regretted
that, in his humble opinion, the piece, if placed upon the stage,
"would not meet with its deserved success." In other words, Dryden
saw that Addison was sadly wanting in dramatic instinct, but was too
forbearing to say this in plain, set terms. As for the young man,
he must have felt much after the fashion of the aspiring writer who
receives an article back from an unappreciative magazine with a
printed slip warning him that "the rejection of manuscript does not
imply lack of merit," &c. &c., the whole thing being intended as a
moral cushion to break the suddenly descending spirits of the sender.

Years later the great man was favoured with another cushion of this
sort by no less a person than his friend Alexander Pope, whose
august criticism he asked in behalf of "Cato." The major part of the
play--all of it, in fact, excepting the last act--had been written
when Addison first began to fall under the passionate influence of
French tragedy, with its tiresome regularity of form and attempted
imitation of the classic drama.[A] And a powerful influence it was
in the days of good Queen Anne, so powerful, verily, that it almost
emasculated the art of play-writing, and for a time well nigh bereft
the stage of originality of thought or freedom of expression. Form,
form, that was the cry still ringing in the ears of the author when he
put the finishing touches to a production which was to be famous for
the nonce, and then go down in the dark waters of oblivion with the
wreck of many like it.

[Footnote A: Just as the school of Racine and Boileau set its face
against the extravagances of the romantic coteries, so Addison and his
English followers, adopting the principles of the French classicists,
applied them to the reformation of the English theatre. Hence arose
a great revival of respect for the political doctrines of Aristotle,
regard for the unities of time and place, attention to the proprieties
of sentiment and diction--in a word, for all those characteristics
of style afterwards summed up in the phrase "correctness."--W.J.
COURTHOPE'S "Addison."]

"When Mr. Addison," related Pope, "had finished his 'Cato,' he brought
it to me, desired to have my sincere opinion of it, and left it with
me for three or four days. I gave him my opinion of it sincerely,
which was, 'that I thought he had better not act it, and that he would
get reputation enough by only printing it.' This I said as thinking
the lines well written, but the piece was not theatrical enough. Some
time after Mr. Addison said 'that his own opinion was the same with
mine, but that some particular friends of his, whom he could not
disoblige, insisted on its being acted,'"

These particular friends who were not to be disobliged seem to have
been shining lights of the Whig party. It was feared that the Tories
were conspiring to reinstate the male line of Stuart the moment Queen
Anne should take herself to another world, and the friends of the
Hanoverian succession grew sorely anxious. They were filled with
delight, therefore, on hearing that Addison had, peacefully slumbering
in his desk, a drama which, as Maynwaring explained, was written not
for the love scenes, "but to support the old Roman and English public
spirit."[A] Here was a chance to inspire the people with a passion for
liberty; the story of Cato, served up in all the elegance of French
style, should point a moral against the claims of the Pretender, and
pure politics might thus be taught from the rostrum of a theatre!

[Footnote A: Those who _affected_ to think liberty in danger, and had
_affected_ likewise to think that a stage play might preserve it.--DR.

So it came about that one fine day the company at Drury Lane began
the rehearsal of "Cato," under circumstances, however, which hardly
pointed to a successful production. There appears to have been some
difficulty in the assignment of parts, and it is easy to imagine
that at first the players exercised their prerogative of growling--a
prerogative not calculated to dispel the doubts fast assailing Addison
as to the outcome of the performance. Nance Oldfield made no fuss
at playing Marcia, Cato's daughter, for she was ever disposed to be
tractable; but when it came to casting the noble Roman himself the
trouble began. The story runs that the part was first offered
to Cibber, and that he sensibly refused it. Colley might make a
delightful fop, but the playing of dandies could hardly lead one up
very gracefully to the handling of Cato.

Next came the suggestion that John Mills[A] should try the character,
but fortunately he displayed no more enthusiasm for it than did
Cibber. Cato was too old a person for him to act, he said, and so
declined to have anything to do with the elderly hero. Afterwards he
was cast for the less important role of Sempronius, which proved in
every way a better disposition of affairs, for Mills was a plodder
rather than a genius. He belonged to the order of actors to whom,
in the present day, we apply the charitable word of painstaking, an
adjective which shows very plainly the nature of the man, while it
likewise allows the critic to escape the charge of unkindness. We all
know the painstaking player, and always cheerfully acknowledge his
virtues, but who shall blame us if, after giving him the benefit of
his earnestness, we yawn and creep out into the lobby while he holds
the stage?

[Footnote A: Mills was considered one of the most useful actors that
ever served in a theatre, but, though invested by the patronage of
Wilks with many parts of the highest order, he had no pretensions
to quit the secondary line in which he ought to have been

That Mills sometimes inspired this feeling of boredom may be imagined
from the way in which his performance of Macbeth was once received. To
those who remembered how magnificently Betterton had played the part,
the chill formalism of the new aspirant must have seemed presumptuous,
and one night the contrast proved too much for a country gentleman
possessed of more honesty than politeness. After watching the progress
of the tragedy with growing indignation his feelings became unbearable
at a certain point in the fourth act, where George Powell came on
as Lennox. "For God's sake, George," shouted the squire, "give us a
speech and let me go home!"[A]

[Footnote A: "I recollect," says Bellchambers, "an incident of the
same sort occurring at Bristol, where a very indifferent actor
declaimed so long and to such little purpose that an honest farmer,
who sat in the pit, started up with evident signs of disgust, and
waving his hand, to motion the speaker off, cried out, 'Tak 'un away,
tak 'un away, and let's have another.'"]

Thus every one must have given a sigh of relief when industrious John
objected to the age of Cato; every one, at least, excepting Wilks, who
had taken this actor under his theatrical wing and sought to elevate
him above one far greater than either of them--Barton Booth. The fact
was that Wilks hid within his breast the troublesome, green-eyed
monster of jealousy; he feared the rising genius of Booth, and, now
that he was part manager of Drury Lane, probably took pains to keep
the rival as much as possible in the background. Unfortunately for
this plan of annihilation the screen provided in the commonplace
person of Mills proved entirely too flimsy to hide the coming man.
Barton Booth was in many ways an ideal actor, in that he was blessed
with the poetic imagination and scholarship to understand his roles
and the tragic power to play them. He had, furthermore, a voice of
marvellous resonance, an aristocratic bearing and a handsome face and
figure which were sure to attract attention, whether he appeared
upon the stage or amid the more genial confines of the Bedford

It was to Booth, therefore, that Cato was finally assigned, the other
masculine parts being handed over to Cibber, Mills, Wilks, Powell,
Ryan, Bowman, and Keen. The latter was a popular actor of majestic
mould who used to play the King in "Hamlet" (a role too often left
to the mercies of third-rate mouthers) in a fashion which would
have justified the loyal and historic gentleman who preferred that
character to all others in the play. As already mentioned, Marcia was
to be acted by Oldfield, and to Mistress Porter, who usually revelled
in the delineation of high and mighty passions, was given gentle,
tearful Lucia, daughter to Lucius (Keen).

The rehearsals now went on apace, but evidently without much show of
enthusiasm. Addison assisted, probably dispirited and nervous but
outwardly unruffled, for he always presented a well-starched front to
the watching-world. Honest Dick Steele looked on, and in that frank,
ingenuous way he told his friends, with perhaps a suspicious flush
on his winsome face and a swimming gleam in his eyes, that he was
preparing to pack the theatre on the opening night in the interests of
worried Joe. Poor, good-hearted Dick! Then there was Parson Swift, who
sat behind the scenes with mild interest on his face and a sneer in
that ugly, gnarled heart of his. "We stood on the stage," he writes to
Stella, "and it was foolish enough to see the actors prompting every
moment, and the poet directing them, and the drab that acts Cato's
daughter (Mrs. Oldfield) out in the midst of a passionate part, and
then calling out 'What's next?'"

Lastly came the great Mr. Pope, with that poor, deformed body and
brilliant mind. He was not content merely to be a "looker on in
Vienna," or in Utica; he pottered around unceasingly, hobnobbed with
Oldfield (who now began to take the liveliest interest in the play),
and suggested several alterations in the text. Once Nance ventured to
criticise a speech of Portius; the amiable Addison, unlike the fashion
of some other amiable authors, heard her objections with approval,
and soon Mr. Pope was again called into consultation. There was more
hobnobbing, a change of diction, and the rehearsals continued. Then,
to cap the climax of poetic condescension, little Alexander honoured
"Cato" with a flowing prologue wherein he set forth, archaically
enough, that

"To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart,
To make mankind in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold:
For this the tragic Muse first trod the stage,
Commanding tears to stream through every age;
Tyrants no more their savage nature kept,
And foes to virtue wonder'd how they wept."

At last came the eventful evening of April 13, when "Cato" saw the
light. The theatre was packed, just as Steele promised that it should
be, yet the audience would have been large had Dick never existed.
There were no press agents to "boom" matters, but as it became
known that the Whigs stood sponsors for the tragedy there was a
corresponding desire to be in either at its triumph or its death. The
result has passed into history. The characters were, for the most
part, finely acted, and the play was admired for its lofty sentiments
and elegance of expression, while the Tories, _mirabile dictu_, vied
with their enemies in enthusiastic tokens of approval. The Whigs went
to the theatre expecting to appropriate all of Mr. Addison's illusions
to the sacred cause of liberty, and what must have been their horror
on finding that the Tories, refusing to be discomfited by any of those
illusions, applauded as violently as did the friends of Hanover?

Pope has left us a description of this first night, in a letter to Sir
William Trumbull. "Cato," he writes, "was not so much the wonder of
Rome in his days, as he is of Britain in ours; and though all the
foolish industry possible has been used to make it thought a party
play, yet what the author once said of another may the most properly
in the world be applied to him on this occasion:

"'Envy itself is dumb, in wonder lost,
And factions strive who shall applaud him most.'[A]

[Footnote A: From Addison's poem of "The Campaign," wherein the author
sings of the greatness of Marlborough.]

"The numerous and violent claps of the Whig party on the one side of
the theatre, were echoed by the Tories on the other; while the
author sweated behind the scenes with concern to find their applause
proceeding more from the hand than the head. This was the case too of
the prologue writer, who was clapped into a staunch Whig at almost
every two lines. I believe you have heard that after all the applause
of the opposite faction, my lord Bolingbroke sent for Booth, who
played Cato, into the box between one of the acts, and presented
him with fifty guineas, in acknowledgement (as he expressed it)
for defending the cause of liberty so well against a Perpetual
Dictator.[A] The Whigs are unwilling to be distanced this way, and
therefore design a present to the same Cato very speedily; in the
meantime they are getting ready as good a sentence as the former on
their side: so betwixt them it is probable that Cato (as Dr. Garth
expressed it) may have something to live upon after he dies."

[Footnote A: It is suggested by Macaulay that Lord Bolingbroke
hinted at "the attempt which Marlborough had made to convert the
Captain-Generalship into a patent office, to be held by himself
for life." The anecdote of Pope gives us an amusing example of the
stealing of Whig thunder by the clever Tories.]

So important a role did politics play in this first performance of
"Cato" that to many in the house the merits of the actors must have
passed unrecognised. And yet those merits were striking. Who could
have made a lovlier Marcia than did Nance; and how thoroughly she
must have justified the passion of that most virtuous of princes, the
sententious Juba. The character was not worthy of her genius, but
that did not prevent this true artist from giving to it all manner of
dignity and beauty. Who could help pitying her lover when Marcia first
repelled his amorous advances:

"I should be griev'd, young Prince, to think my presence
Unbent your thoughts, and slacken'd 'em to arms,
While, warm with slaughter, our victorious foe
Threatens aloud, and calls you to the field."

And when Marcia, having sent away the youth, explained:

"His air, his voice, his looks, and honest soul
Speak all so movingly in his behalf,
I dare not trust myself to hear him talk,"

the apology came with such delicious grace and plaintiveness that the
house forgot her coldness in sorrow for her woes.

And Barton Booth? His superb acting of Cato raised him to such an airy
pinnacle of fame that he soon became one of the managers of Drury
Lane. The other players were evidently all more or less effective,
barring Cibber, whose Syphax (the Numidian warrior who seeks the
downfall of Cato), must have made the judicious grieve. Indeed we can
easily believe that he used so many grotesque motions and spoke his
lines with such a cracked voice as to win only ridicule and "a loud
laugh of contempt."

Lord Bolingbroke's gift of fifty guineas had a disturbing effect not
only on the Whigs but on Manager Dogget as well. That worthy feared
the success of "Cato" would cause Booth to claim a share in the
direction of Drury Lane, as he did, of course, in a very short time.
In the hopes of shutting off all pretensions to this honour by a
paltry expedient Dogget thought that Cibber, Wilks and himself, as
joint managers, could relieve themselves of every obligation by
duplicating the generosity of the Tory statesman.

"He insinuated to us (for he was a staunch Whig)" relates Colley,
"that this present of fifty guineas was a sort of Tory triumph which
they had no pretence to; and that for his part he could not bear that
so redoubted a champion for liberty as Cato should be bought off to
the cause of a contrary party. He therefore, in the seeming zeal of
his heart, proposed that the managers themselves should make the
same present to Booth which had been made him from the boxes the day
before. This, he said, would recommend the equality and liberal spirit
of our management to the town, and might be a means to secure Booth
more firmly in our interest, it never having been known that the skill
of the best actor had received so round a reward or gratuity in one
day before.

"Wilks, who wanted nothing but abilities to be reduc'd to tell him
that it was my opinion that Booth would never be made easy by
anything we could do for him, 'till he had a share in the profits
and management; and that, as he did not want friends to assist him,
whatever his merit might be before, every one would think since his
acting of Cato, he had now enough to back his pretentions to it."

In the end Cibber's objections were overruled, "and the same night
Booth had the fifty guineas, which he receiv'd with a thankfulness
that made Wilks and Dogget perfectly easy, insomuch that they seem'd
for some time to triumph in their conduct, and often endeavour'd to
laugh my jealousy out of countenance. But in the following winter the
game happened to take a different turn; and then, if it had been a
laughing matter," says Colley, "I had as strong an occasion to smile
at their former security."[A]

[Footnote A: After Booth was admitted into the management Dogget
retired in disgust from Drury Lane, and brought suit against his
former associates. He was decreed the sum of L600 for his share in the
patent, with allowances for interest. "I desir'd," wrote Cibber, "we
might all enter into an immediate treaty with Booth, upon the terms of
his admission. Dogget still sullenly reply'd, that he had no occasion
to enter into any treaty. Wilks then, to soften him, propos'd that, if
I liked it, Dogget might undertake it himself. I agreed. No! he would
not be concern'd in it. I then offer'd the same trust to Wilks,
if Dogget approv'd of it. Wilks said he was not good at making of
bargains, but if I was willing, he would rather leave it to me. Dogget
at this rose up and said, we might both do as we pleas'd, but that
nothing but the law should make him part with his property--and so
went out of the room."]

"So much for one result of 'Cato's' first performance. The play had a
run of thirty-five nights and as cunning as Dogget, was so charm'd
with the proposal that he long'd that moment to make Booth the present
with his own hands; and though he knew he had no right to do it
without my consent, had no patience to ask it; upon which I turned to
Dogget with a cold smile [what a freezing, polar expression Cibber
could put on when he desired] and told him, that if Booth could be
purchas'd at so cheap a rate, it would be one of the best proofs of
his economy we had ever been beholden to: I therefore desired we might
have a little patience; that our doing it too hastily might be only
making sure of an occasion to throw the fifty guineas away; for if we
should be obliged to do better for him, we could never expect that
Booth would think himself bound in honour to refund them."

From this little conversation we see that art is not always the one
beacon light of the player or the manager. Cibber argued with his
natural shrewdness, but Wilks would not be convinced, and began, "with
his usual freedom of speech," to treat the suggestion "as a pitiful
evasion of their intended generosity."

"But Dogget, who was not so wide of my meaning, clapping his hand upon
mine, said, with an air of security, O! don't trouble yourself! there
must be two words to that bargain; let me alone to manage that matter.
Wilks, upon this dark discourse, grew uneasy, as if there were some
secret between us that he was to be left out of. Therefore, to avoid
the shock of his intemperance, I was the town crowded to the theatre.
Even the good Queen, who must have been more or less bored at the fuss
bestowed upon it, actually suggested that Mr. Addison should dedicate
the tragedy to her Royal self. To inscribe a work to a sovereign means
little or nothing in these days of republicanism, real or assumed,
but Anne's request came as a great compliment It was a compliment,
however, which had to be dispensed with, for Addison had already
proposed to dedicate 'Cato' to the Duchess of Marlborough, and he
harboured no wish to mortify the aggressive Sarah (now out of favour
with the Queen) by acting upon the hint of her one-time friend and
mistress. So the author diplomatically ignored both horns of the
dilemma, or, in other words, determined to consecrate his tragedy
neither to Queen nor Duchess."

When June was well nigh ended the Drury Lane players transplanted
"Cato" to the scholarly environment of Oxford, where, as friend Cibber
tells us, "a great deal of that false, flashy wit and forc'd humour,"
which had been the delight of London, was rated at "its bare
intrinsick value." The play was admirably suited to the temper of a
university audience, and its success proved so great, its sentiment so
uplifted, that Dr. Sandridge, Dean of Carlisle, wrote to Barton Booth
expressing his wish that "all discourses from the pulpit were as
instructive and edifying, as pathetic and affecting," as those
provided by Mr. Addison.

The "Apology" gives us an interesting account of the favour accorded
to "Cato," above all other modern plays, by the dwellers in thoughtful

"The only distinguished merit allow'd to any modern writer was to the
author of 'Cato,' which play being the flower of a plant raised in
that learned garden (for there Mr. Addison had his education), what
favour may we not suppose was due to him from an audience of brethren,
who from that local relation to him might naturally have a warmer
pleasure in their benevolence to his fame? But not to give more weight
to this imaginary circumstance than it may bear, the fact was, that on
our first day of acting it, our house was in a manner invested, and
entrance demanded by twelve a clock at noon, and before one it was not
wide enough for many who came too late for places. The same crowds
continued for three days together (an uncommon curiosity in that
place) and the death of Cato triumphed over the injuries of Caesar
everywhere. To conclude, our reception at Oxford, whatever our merit
might be, exceeded our expectation."

The ladies and gentlemen of Drury Lane posted away from Oxford in a
blaze of glory. They had actually behaved themselves, these despised
mummers, and their contribution towards the repairing of a church was
almost sufficient to bring them within the pale of holiness. "At our
taking leave," writes Colley, jubilantly, "we had the thanks of the
vice-Chancellor for the decency and order observ'd by our whole
society, an honour which had not always been paid upon the same
occasions; for at the act in King William's time I remember some
pranks of a different nature had been complain'd of. Our receipts had
not only enabled us (as I have observ'd) to double the pay of every
actor, but to afford out of them towards the repair of St. Mary's
Church the contribution of fifty pounds. Besides which, each of the
three managers had to his respective share, clear of all charges, one
hundred and fifty more for his one and twenty days' labour, which
being added to his thirteen hundred and fifty shared in the winter
preceding, amounted in the whole to fifteen hundred, the greatest sum
ever known to have been shared in one year to that time. And to the
honour of our auditors here and elsewhere be it spoken, all this was
rais'd without the aid of those barbarous entertainments with which,
some few years after (upon the re-establishment of two contending
companies) we were forc'd to disgrace the stage to support it"

The success of "Cato" proved as brilliant in a literary as in a
dramatic sense. The play was translated into several languages, not
forgetting the Latin, and even Voltaire was pleased, in after years,
to come down from his critical throne and honour Mr. Addison's verses
with his praise.[A] "The first English writer," he said, "who composed
a regular tragedy and infused a spirit of elegance through every part
of it was the illustrious Mr. Addison." Poor Shakespeare!

[Footnote A: One sees in Voltaire (who observed that "Hamlet" "appears
the work of a drunken savage") the old-fashioned tendency to belittle
Shakespeare. This tendency has one of its most amusing reflections in
a criticism by Hume, who said of the great poet that "a reasonable
propriety of thought he cannot for any time uphold."]

Smile as we may over that frigid elegance, it seemed none the less
impressive in the days of auld lang syne, and even yet we hear echoes
of the play in a round of familiar quotations.

"The woman who deliberates is lost;"


"'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it;"


"Curse on his virtues, they've undone his country."

still fall lightly on our ear. But the tragedy is forgotten, and why
seek to resurrect those once-beloved characters? Cato, Marcia, Juba,
and the rest--figures of classic marble rather than of flesh and
blood--have all gone to that bourne whence no stage travellers return.
They lie buried 'mid all the pomp of mouldering books, and there let
them peacefully decay.



The average comedian will whisper, if you are fortunate enough to get
him in confidential mood, that he was really designed by nature to
tread the stately walks of tragedy; that had not cruel fate intervened
he would now be enthralling the town with his Hamlet, Macbeth, or
Othello, and that even yet he has not lost all hope of adorning the
kingdom of Melpomene. But he is not to be believed, in at least
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, and while we listen politely to
his story of blasted ambition our hearts are exceeding thankful that
the chance he looked for never came.

Nance Oldfield brilliantly reversed this order of things. Although she
shone in comedy with the brighter light, she could play serious roles
with majesty and power, and feel, or pretend to feel, a trifle bored
in so doing. "I hate to have a page dragging my train about," she used
to cry, with a pout of the pretty mouth; "why don't they give Porter
those parts? She can put on a better tragedy face than I can." Yet
whatever might be the undoubted capabilities of Porter for assuming
the tragic mask, audience and manager sometimes insisted that Nance
should banish all the sunlight and becloud her features with the
sorrows of a high-strung heroine.

One of these heroines was Andromache, the title personage of "The
Distressed Mother," an adaptation by Ambrose Philips of Racine's
"Andromaque." This play seems heavy enough if we bother to read it
now, but it had a thousand charms for theatre-goers in the days when
Mr. Philips frequented Button's coffee-house and there hung up a cane
which he threatened to use upon the body of the great Mr. Pope.[A]
Addison, whom tradition credits with writing the entertaining
epilogue, took all manner of interest in the tragedy, and the
_Spectator_ treated it to an advance notice which we degenerates might
term an unblushing "boom."

[Footnote A: Pope had ventured to sneer at Philips' "Pastorals."]

"The players, who know I am very much their friend," says the
_Spectator_[A] "take all opportunities to express a gratitude to me
for being so. They could not have a better occasion of obliging me,
than one which they lately took hold of. They desired my friend Will
Honeycomb to bring me the reading of a new tragedy; it is called 'The
Distressed Mother.' I must confess, though some days are passed since
I enjoyed that entertainment, the passions of the several characters
dwell strongly upon my imagination; and I congratulate the age, that
they are at last to see truth and human life represented in the
incidents which concern heroes and heroines. The style of the play
is such as becomes those of the first education, and the sentiments
worthy those of the highest figure. It was a most exquisite pleasure
to me, to observe real tears drop from the eyes of those who had long
made it their profession to dissemble affliction; and the player, who
read, frequently threw down the book, until he had given vent to
the humanity which rose in him at some irresistible touches of the
imagined sorrow."

[Footnote A: _Spectator_, No. 290, February 1, 1711-12. This essay has
been credited to Steele.]

This picture of woe would hardly suit the theories of those
hard-hearted players who believe that the true artist is never
"carried away," or affected by the pathos of his part. Surely, the
scene is ridiculous rather than imposing, and one is tempted to
suggest, albeit with bated breath, that the _Spectator_ was indulging
in a bit of good-natured exaggeration. Exaggeration did we say? The
modern newspaper writer, who is always glad, when off duty, to call
things by their plain names, would brand the notice of the "Distressed
Mother" as a bare-faced puff. And who could quarrel with his
scepticism? Actors are not in the habit of weeping over the reading of
a play; they have little time for such briny luxury.

Yet in this very number of the _Spectator_ we have George Powell, who
was cast for Orestes in Mr. Philips' tragedy, writing that the grief
which he is required to portray will seem almost real enough to choke
his utterance. Here is what the hypocrite says:

"Mr. SPECTATOR,--I am appointed to act a part in the new tragedy
called 'The Distressed Mother.' It is the celebrated grief of Orestes
which I am to personate; but I shall not act it as I ought, for I
shall feel it too intimately to be able to utter it. I was last night
repeating a paragraph to myself, which I took to be an expression
of rage, and in the middle of the sentence there was a stroke of
self-pity which quite unmanned me. Be pleased, Sir, to print this
letter, that when I am oppressed in this manner at such an interval, a
certain part of the audience may not think I am out; and I hope with
this allowance, to do it with satisfaction.--I am, Sir, your most
humble servant, GEORGE POWELL."

Poor dashing, dissipated, brandy-bibbing George! Perhaps you had as
keen an eye to the value of advertising as have certain players who
never heard your name.[A]

[Footnote A: The original cast of the "Distressed Mother" included
Booth (Pyrrhus), Powell (Orestes), Mills (Pylades), Mrs. Oldfield
(Andromache), and Mrs. Porter (Hermione).]

The production of the "Distressed Mother" (March, 1712), was
accompanied by an exciting popular demonstration which must for the
nonce have made Powell quite forget those lines which gave him such
exquisite sorrow. It all came from the jealousy of Mrs. Rogers, she of
more virtue on the stage than off, and who always cherished, with the
assistance of kind friends, a very sincere belief that her powers far
exceeded those of Oldfield.[A]

[Footnote A: The rivalry between Rogers and Oldfield once reached such
a pass that Wilks sought to end it, and stop the complaints of the
former's admirers, by a severe expedient. "Mr. Wilks," says Victor,
"soon reduced this clamor to demonstration, by an experiment of Mrs.
Oldfield and Mrs. Rogers playing the same part, that of Lady Lurewell
in the 'Trip to the Jubilee;' but though obstinacy seldom meets
conviction, yet from this equitable trial the tumults in the house
were soon quelled (by public authority) greatly to the honour of Mr.
Wilks. I am, from my own knowledge thoroughly convinced that Mr.
Wilks had no other regard for Mrs. Oldfield but what arose from the
excellency of her performances. Mrs. Roger's conduct might be censured
by some for the earnestness of her passion towards Mr. Wilks, but
in the polite world the fair sex has always been privileged from

So when Nance was cast for the distraught Andromache there was
trouble. Rogers demanded the part, and on being refused set about to
make things as unpleasant as possible for her detested rival. Friends
of the disappointed actress packed Drury Lane when the "Distressed
Mother" was performed, and the appearance of Oldfield was made the
signal for a riot. Royal messengers and guards were sent to put an end
to the disorder, but the play had to be stopped for that night.

Colley, who had ever an eye to the pounds, shillings and pence, was
disgusted at what he chose to call an exhibition of low malevolence.
"We have been forced," he says, "to dismiss an audience of a hundred
and fifty pounds, from a disturbance spirited up by obscure people,
who never gave any better reason for it, than that it was their fancy
to support the idle complaint of one rival actress against another, in
their several pretentious to the chief part in a new tragedy. But as
this tumult seem'd only to be the Wantonness of _English_ Liberty, I
shall not presume to lay any further censure upon it."

Finally the combined charms of Oldfield and the "Distressed Mother"
triumphed, and young beaux who had helped to swell the riot were
glad to come back meekly to Drury Lane and extol the attractions of
Andromache. In the play itself Nance must have been all that the
troublous part suggested, but it was when she tripped on gaily and
gave the humorous epilogue that the house found her most delightful.
She, who could reign so imperially in tragedy, had glided back to her
better-loved kingdom of comedy, and what cared her captivated hearers
if this self-same epilogue made an inharmonious ending to a serious
play. It was quite enough that Andromache, with all her sufferings
dispelled, should say melodiously:

"I hope you'll own, that with becoming art,
I've play'd my game, and topp'd the widow's part.
My spouse, poor man, could not live out the play,
But dy'd commodiously on wedding-day,[A]
While I his relict, made at one bold fling,
Myself a princess, and young Sty a King.
You, ladies, who protract a lover's pain,
And hear your servants sigh whole years in vain;
Which of you all would not on marriage venture,
Might she so soon upon her jointure enter?"

[Footnote A: This is a coy reference to Pyrrhus, who was murdered
while his marriage to Hector's widow was being celebrated with royal
pomp. As he fell, it will be remembered, the King placed his crown
upon the head of Andromache.]

An epilogue leading off with these lines was hardly an appropriate
ending to a tragedy, yet are we fastidious enough in these days to
sneer at the anomaly? We have banished prologue and afterpiece as
something old-fashioned and inartistic, but never turn one solitary
eyelash when Hamlet follows up his death by rushing before the curtain
and grinning his thanks. Desdemonas who come forward, after the
smothering scene, to receive flowers, and Romeos and Juliets who rise
from the tomb that they may bow and smirk before an audience--while
we have such as these among us, let us not cast stones at the early

Addison has left, in the _Spectator_, a delightful story of dear old
Sir Roger de Coverley's experience with the "Distressed Mother." Sir
Roger, it appears, confessed that he had not seen a play for twenty
years, and was very anxious to know "who this distressed mother was;
and upon hearing that she was Hector's widow, he told me that her
husband was a brave man, and that when he was a schoolboy he had read
his life at the end of the dictionary."[A] So the old gentleman,
accompanied by the _Spectator_, Captain Sentry, and a retinue of
servants, set out in state for Drury Lane, and on arriving there went
into the pit.

[Footnote A: _Spectator_, No. 335.]

"As soon as the house was full, and the candles lighted, my old
friend stood up, and looked about him with that pleasure which a mind
seasoned with humanity naturally feels in itself, at the sight of a
multitude of people who seem pleased with one another, and partake of
the same common entertainment. I could not but fancy to myself, as the
old man stood up in the middle of the pit, that he made a very proper
centre to a tragic audience. Upon the entering of Pyrrhus, the knight
told me, that he did not believe the king of France himself had a
better strut. I was indeed very attentive to my old friend's remarks,
because I looked upon them as a piece of natural criticism, and was
well pleased to hear him, at the conclusion of almost every scene,
telling me that he could not imagine how the play would end. One while
he appeared much concerned for Andromache; and a little while after
for Hermione; and was extremely puzzled to think what would become of

"When Sir Roger saw Andromache's obstinate refusal to her lovers
importunities, he whispered me in the ear, that he was sure she
would never have him; to which he added, with a more than ordinary
vehemence, 'You can't imagine, sir, what it is to have to do with a
widow.' Upon Pyrrhus's threatening afterwards to leave her, the knight
shook his head, and muttered to himself, 'Ay, do if you can.' This
part dwelt so much upon my friend's imagination, that at the close of
the third act, as I was thinking of something else, he whispered me
in my ear, 'These widows, sir, are the most perverse creatures in
the world. But pray,' says he, 'you that are a critic, is the play
according to your dramatic rules, as you call them? Should your people
in tragedy always talk to be understood? Why, there is not a single
sentence in this play that I do not know the meaning of.'

"The fourth act very luckily began before I had time to give the old
gentleman an answer. 'Well,' says the knight, sitting down with great
satisfaction, 'I suppose we are now to see Hector's ghost,' He then
renewed his attention, and, from time to time, fell a praising the
widow. He made, indeed, a little mistake as to one of her pages, whom
at his first entering he took for Astyanax; but quickly set himself
right in that particular, though, at the same time he owned he should
have been very glad to have seen the little boy, who, says he, must
needs be a very fine child by the account that is given of him. Upon
Hermione's going off with a menace to Pyrrhus, the audience gave a
loud clap, to which Sir Roger added, 'On my word, a notable young

We can imagine Sir Roger going, a year later, to see Mrs. Oldfield
carry all before her as Jane Shore in Nicholas Rowe's play of that
name. The author had once been an ardent admirer of the glacierlike
but lovely Bracegirdle, at whose haughty shrine he long worshipped in
the hopes that the ice of her reserve might some day melt; and the
wits of the coffee-house were wont to say, not without a grain of
truth, that when the poet wrote dramas to fit Bracegirdle as the
heroine, the lovers therein always pleaded his own passion[A]. Now
that the charmer had left the stage, Rowe was forced to entrust the
title character of Jane Shore to Nance, who vowed, no doubt, she was
thoroughly bored at having to walk once again through a vale of tears.
But she made another triumph (the author himself coached her in the
part), and helped to give the production all manner of success.

[Footnote A: As Cibber says, Mrs. Bracegirdle "inspired the best
authors to write for her, and two of them [Rowe and Congreve] when
they gave her a lover in a play, seem'd palpably to plead their
own passions, and make their private court to her in fictitious

It is a curious fact that the writing of the tragedy was indirectly
due to political disappointment. Rowe had set himself assiduously to
the study of Spanish with the idea of securing from Lord Halifax a
diplomatic position, and his reward for this energy was so intangible
that he soon gave up hopes of foreign travel and turned his attention
to the tribulations of Jane. In other words, the noble Halifax merely
expressed his satisfaction that Mr. Rowe could now read "Don Quixote"
in the original.

Thus Nance played on, sometimes in comedy, and again in tragedy, when,
despite her customary objections, the pages had to drag her train
about. It was a train that swept all before it.

The speaking of trains and pages suggests the fact that in old times
the heroes and heroines of tragedy always wore, either in peculiarity
of dress or pomp of surroundings, the badge of greatness. Nowadays a
few bars of romantic music, to usher these characters on the stage,
will suffice. But things were different then; our ancestors insisted
that the aforesaid _dramatis personnae_ should be labelled, frilled
and furbelowed.

Addison has an interesting essay on the subject.[A]

[Footnote A: _Spectator_, No. 42.]

"But among all our tragic artifices," he says, "I am the most offended
at those which are made use of to inspire us with magnificent ideas of
the persons that speak. The ordinary method of making an hero, is to
clap a huge plume of feathers upon his head which rises so very high,
that there is often a greater length from his chin to the top of his
head than to the sole of his foot. One would believe that we thought
a great man and a tall man the same thing. This very much embarrasses
the actor, who is forced to hold his neck extremely stiff and steady
all the while he speaks; and notwithstanding any anxieties which he
pretends for his mistress, his country, or his friends, one may see by
his action, that his greatest care and concern is to keep the plume of
feathers from falling off his head. For my own part, when I see a man
uttering his complaints under such a mountain of feathers, I am apt
to look upon him rather as an unfortunate lunatic, than a distressed

"As these superfluous ornaments upon the head make a great man,
a princess generally receives her grandeur from those additional
encumbrances that fall into her tail; I mean the broad sweeping train
that follows her in all her motions, and finds constant employment for
a boy who stands behind her to open and spread it to advantage. I do
not know how others are affected at this sight, but I must confess my
eyes are wholly taken up with the page's part; and, as for the queen,
I am not so attentive to any thing she speaks, as to the right
adjusting of her train, lest it should chance to trip up her heels, or
incommode her, as she walks to and fro upon the stage. It is, in my
opinion, a very odd spectacle to see a queen venting her passion in
a disordered motion, and a little boy taking care all the while that
they do not ruffle the tail of her gown. The parts that the two
persons act on the stage at the same time are very different. The
princess is afraid lest she should incur the displeasure of the king
her father, or lose the hero, her lover, whilst her attendant is only
concerned lest she should entangle her feet in her petticoat."

In a succeeding paragraph the reader finds that a cherished
nineteenth-century custom--the representing of a vast army by the
employment of half-a-dozen ill-fed, unpainted supers--has at least the
sanction of age: "Another mechanical method of making great men, and
adding dignity to kings and queens, is to accompany them with halberts
and battle-axes. Two or three shifters of scenes, with the two
candle-snuffers, make up a complete body of guards upon the English
stage; and by the addition of a few porters dressed in red coats, can
represent above a dozen legions. I have sometimes seen a couple of
armies drawn up together upon the stage, when the poet has been
disposed to do honour to his generals. It is impossible for the
reader's imagination to multiply twenty men into such prodigious
multitudes, or to fancy that two or three hundred thousand soldiers
are fighting in a room of forty or fifty yards in compass. Incidents
of such a nature should be told, not represented."

Addison remarks that "the tailor and painter often contribute to the
success of a tragedy more than the poet," a trite saying which holds
good now, and he ends his essay with the belief that "a good poet
will give the reader a more lively idea of an army or a battle in a
description, than if he actually saw them drawn up in squadrons and
battalions, or engaged in the confusion of a fight. Our minds should
be open to great conceptions, and inflamed with glorious sentiments
by what the actor speaks, more than by what he appears. Can all the
trappings or equipage of a king or hero give Brutus half the pomp and
majesty which he receives from a few lines in Shakespeare?" Which is
all very true, yet "the tailor and painter" will continue popular, no
doubt, until the crack of doom.

The month of December 1714 saw the reopening of the theatre in
Lincoln's Inn Fields, under letters patent originally granted by
Charles II. to Christopher Rich, and restored by his broken-English
Majesty George I. The renewal created a dangerous rival to Drury Lane,
but it is not probable that the king worried over having planted such
a thorn in the sides of Messrs. Steele, Booth, Wilks, and Cibber[A].
He remembered, he told Mr. Craggs, "when he had been in England
before, in King Charles his time, there had been two theatres in
London; and as the patent seemed to be a lawful grant, he saw no
reason why two playhouses might not be continued."

[Footnote A: On the death of Queen Anne the old licence or patent of
Drury Lane lapsed, and when the new one was issued Steele was named
therein as a partner.] Several useful players left Drury Lane to go
over into Lincoln's Inn Fields,[A] chief among them being Mrs. Rogers,
who felt greatly relieved in transferring her affectations of virtue
to a house where she would no longer be overshadowed by the genius
of Oldfield. As for Nance, she was faithful to the old theatre,
and continued to be the fairest though perhaps the frailest of its
pillars, notwithstanding the personal charms of Mrs. Horton. The
latter was a strolling player recently admitted to the sacred
precincts of Drury. She had been in the habit of "ranting tragedy in
barns and country towns, and playing Cupid in a booth, at suburban
fairs. The attention of managers was directed towards her; and Booth,
after seeing her act in Southwark, engaged her for Drury Lane, where
her presence was more agreeable to the public than particularly
pleasant to dear Mrs. Oldfield."[B]

[Footnote A: 'Tis true, they none of them had more than a negative
merit, in being only able to do us more harm by their leaving us
without notice, than they could do us good by remaining with us: For
though the best of them could not support a play, the worst of them by
their absence could maim it; as the loss of the least pin in a watch
may obstruct its motion.--CIBBER.]

[Footnote B: Dr. Doran's "Annals of the Stage."]

So wagged the mimic world with Nance as its most attractive figure.
Sometimes she laughed her way through a play; and again she committed
suicide for the edification of the audience, as when she appeared in
"Busiris." This was a windy tragedy by Dr. Young (he of the "Night
Thoughts"), wherein Wilks, as Memnon, also had to kill himself.
The performance was, naturally enough, far from cheerful, and no
particular inspiration could have been obtained from the presence of
Busiris himself, that semi-savage Egyptian king to whom Ovid referred:

"'Tis said that Egypt for nine years was dry;
Nor Nile did floods, nor heaven did rain supply.
A foreigner at length informed the King
That slaughtered guests would kindly moisture bring.
The King replied, 'On thee the lot shall fall;
Be thou, my guest, the sacrifice for all.'"

Certainly a most ungenial host.

There were times when Oldfield could even arouse enthusiasm amid the
dullest and most unappealing surroundings. This she did, for instance,
in the stupid "Sophonisba" of James Thomson, who could write
delightful poetry about nature without being able to carry any of that
nature into the art of play-making. It was in this artificial tragedy
that the famous line occurred: "Oh Sophonisba! Sophonisba, o!" which
was afterwards parodied by "Oh! Jemmy Thomson! Jemmy Thomson, oh!"
and it was in the same ill-fated compilation that Cibber had the
distinction of being hissed off the stage. The latter, unlike
Oldfield, had a sneaking fondness for tragedy, and when "Sophonisba"
was first read in the green room he appropriated to his own use the
dignified character of Scipio. His egotism and foolishness had their
full reward. For two nights successively, as Davies tells us, "Cibber
was as much exploded as any bad actor could be. Williams, by desire of
Wilks, made himself master of the part; but he, marching slowly, in
great military distinction, from the upper part of the stage, and
wearing the same dress as Cibber, was mistaken for him, and met
with repeated hisses, joined to the music of cat-calls [notice, ye
theatre-goers of 1898, that the cat-call is not the invention of the
modern gallery god]; but, as soon as the audience were undeceived,
they converted their groans and hisses to loud and long continued
applause." Three years later, in 1733, Cibber retired from the stage.

With Mrs. Oldfield the picture was far different. She could not make
of Thomson's tragedy a success, yet she played Sophonisba (one of the
last parts in which she was ever seen) with a grandeur of effect that
well earned the undying gratitude of the author.[A] In after years her
old admirers were wont to thrill with pleasure as they recalled the
passionate intensity she gave to that much-quoted line,

"Not one base word of Carthage, for thy soul,"

as she stood glaring at the astonished Massinissa.

[Footnote A: Mrs. Oldfield, in the character of Sophonisba, has
excelled what, even in the fondness of an author, I could either wish
or imagine. The grace, dignity, and happy variety of her action have
been universally applauded, and are truly admirable.--Thomson.]

Among those who saw Sophonisba was Chetwood, whose "General History of
the Stage" gives us many a charming glimpse of dead and gone actors.
Dead and gone? Nay, rather let it be said that they still live in the
ever fresh and graphic pages of contemporary critics, and thus refute
the gentle pessimism of Mr. Henley when he asks so gracefully:

"Where are the passions they essayed,
And where the tears they made to flow?
Where the wild humours they portrayed
For laughing worlds to see and know?
Othello's wrath and Juliet's woe?
Sir Peter's whims and Timon's gall?
And Millamant and Romeo?
Into the night go one and all."

"I was too young," says Chetwood, "to view her first dawn on the
stage, but yet had the infinite satisfaction of her meridian lustre, a
glow of charms not to be beheld but with a trembling eye! which held
her influence till set in night."

Of Nance's tendency to escape tragic plays the same writer tells us:
"When 'Mithridates' was revived, it was with much difficulty she was
prevail'd upon to take the part; but she perform'd it to the utmost
length of perfection, and, after that, she seem'd much better
reconcil'd to tragedy. What a majestical dignity in Cleopatra! and,
indeed, in every part that required it: Such a finish'd figure on the
stage, was never yet seen. In 'Calista, the Fair Penitent,' she was
inimitable, in the third act, with Horatio, when she tears the letter

"'To atoms, thus!
Thus let me tear the vile detested falsehood,
The wicked lying evidence of shame!'

"Her excellent clear voice of passion, with manner and action suiting,
us'd to make me shrink with awe, and seem'd to put her monitor Horatio
into a mousehole. I almost gave him up for a troublesome puppy; and
though Mr. Booth play'd the part of Lothario, I could hardly lug him
up to the importance of triumphing over such a finish'd piece of
perfection, that seemed to be too much dignified to lose her virtue."

* * * * *

Perhaps the reader may think that this chapter, like several others,
is (as the theatre-goer said of "Hamlet") too "deuced full of
quotation." Yet what can give a better picture of old stage life than
these quaint and often eloquent records of the past? Pray be lenient,
therefore, thou kindly critic, if the most faded books of the
theatrical library are taken down from the dusty shelf, and a few of
the neglected pages are printed once again. As these very books seem
all the better in their dingy bindings, so do the old ideas, the odd
conceits, the stories that charmed dead generations, take on a keener
zest when clothed in the formal language of other days.

If we want to get that formal language in all its glory, let us bring
from the library a copy of some early eighteenth-century tragedy.
Shall we close our eyes and choose one at random? Well, what have we?
The "Tamerlane" of our friend Nicholas Rowe, in which is set forth the
story of the generous Emperor of Tartary, the "very glass and fashion
of all conquerors." The play is prefaced by a fulsome "Epistle
Dedicatory," addressed to the sacred person of the "Right Honourable
William, Lord Marquis of Harrington," and showing, almost
pathetically, how frequently the literary workers of Queen Anne's
"golden age" were wont to beg the influence of some powerful patron.
The dedication seems absolutely grovelling when viewed from the
present standards, but Mr. Rowe and his friends saw therein nothing
more remarkable than respectful homage to one of the world's great
men. The republic of letters was then an empty name.[A]

[Footnote A: "Tamerlane" was brought out in 1702, with Betterton in
the title role.]

The author of "Tamerlane" fears that in thus calling attention to the
play he may appear guilty of "impertinence and interruptions," and,
he adds, "I am sure it is a reason why I ought to beg your Lordship's
pardon, for troubling you with this tragedy; not but that poetry has
always been, and will still be the entertainment of all wise men, that
have any delicacy in their knowledge." Then, after wasting a little
necessary flattery on the noble marquis, he starts off into an
unblushing eulogy of King William III., whose clemency was mirrored,
supposedly, by the hero of the tragedy. "Some people [who do me a very
great honour in it] have fancy'd, that in the person of Tamerlane, I
have alluded to the greatest character of the present age. I don't
know whether I ought not to apprehend a great deal of danger from
avowing a design like that: It may be a task indeed worthy of the
greatest genius, which this or any other time has produc'd; but
therefore I ought not to stand the shock of a parallel lest it should
be seen, to my disadvantage, how far the _Hero has transcended the
poet's thoughts_"--and so on, _ad nauseam_.

To turn the leaves of the play, after wading through the slime of the
"Epistle," is to find amusing proof of the high-flown and at times
bombastic expression which elicited such admiration from audiences of
the old _regime_. (Do not laugh at it, reader; you tolerate an equal
amount of absurdity in modern melodrama). The very first lines are
charmingly suggestive of the starched and stately past. "Hail to the
sun!" says the Prince of Tanais:

"Hail to the sun! from whose returning light
The cheerful soldier's arms new lustre take
To deck the pomp of battle."

Playwrights of Rowe's cult loved to hail the sun. Just why the orb
of day had to be saluted with such frequency no one seemed able to
determine, but the honour was continually bestowed, to the great
edification of the groundlings. When Young wrote "Busiris," he paid
so much attention to old Sol that Fielding burlesqued the learned
doctor's weakness through the medium of "Tom Thumb," and wrote that
"the author of 'Busiris' is extremely anxious to prevent the sun's
blushing at any indecent object; and, therefore, on all such
occasions, he addresses himself to the sun, and desires him to keep
out of the way."

After the Prince of Tanais's homage to the sun we hear something
fulsome about the virtues of King William, alias Tamerlane:

"No lust of rule, the common vice of Kings,
No furious zeal, inspir'd by hot-brain'd priests,
Ill hid beneath religion's specious name,
E'er drew his temp'rate courage to the field:
But to redress an injur'd people's wrongs,
To save the weak one from the strong oppressor,
Is all his end of war. And when he draws
The sword to punish, like relenting Heav'n,
He seems unwilling to deface his kind."

A few lines later and we find one of the characters drawing a parallel
between Tamerlane, otherwise William, and Divinity:

"Ere the mid-hour of night, from tent to tent,
Unweary'd, thro' the num'rous host he past,
Viewing with careful eyes each several quarters;
Whilst from his looks, as from Divinity,
The soldiers took presage, and cry'd, Lead on,
Great Alha, and our emperor, lead on,
To victory, and everlasting fame."

How changeth the spirit of each age! Imagine Bronson Howard or
Augustus Thomas writing a play wherein the President of the United
States was brought into such irreverent contact with the Deity.[A]

[Footnote A: Yet it cannot be easily forgotten that a certain
clergyman, preaching, several years ago, at the funeral of a rich
man's son, compared the poor boy to Christ. And this very ecclesiastic
probably looks upon the stage as a monument of sacrilegiousness.]

But we need not follow the platitudes of Tamerlane and his companions,
nor weep at the sententious wickedness of Bajazet, that ungrateful
sovereign typifying Louis Quatorze, King of France, Prince of
Gentlemen, and Right Royal Hater of His Protestant Majesty William of
Orange. Heaven rest their souls! and with that pious prayer we may bid
them farewell, as

"Into the night go one and all."



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